Saturday, May 31, 2014

Green Adventures

"Hate" is a strong word, but when it comes to lawn grass and ivy, I hate. I seethe. Putting greens infuriate me. Ivy-bedecked cottages make me nauseous. If it were up to me, every blade of lawn grass and every leaf of ivy would be plucked from the face of North America, and native plants put back into place.

This is one of those things that an individual doesn't have much control over. I can only do what I can do.

This summer I will be creating a micro-meadow in my back yard. Some damn lawn grass must remain, just so Mr. J can walk to his garage. Otherwise (neighbors are not being asked for feedback), I will be turning my yard over to native plants. I will be helped in this endeavor by a partner in crime lovely professor that The Spare had in college this past year. Turns out the professor is something of a specialist in native species, and she's going to get me seedlings. ..... *evil grin*

I love how many of the local flora that belong here have "weed" in their names: butterfly weed, milkweed, joe pye weed. I told the nice professor that I don't care how high these plants grow or how thick they get, or even if they take over my whole yard. We're going to plant them, and hopefully they'll know the terrain enough to wisely take root and multiply.

Guess who's going to be the most popular gardener in Snobville! Yeah, I know. Not Anne.

So that's my green adventure in the tiny plot of back yard that the Fates have allowed me.

The other green adventure is getting to and from work.

I've been rising at 5:30 a.m. and popping on The Spare's cruiser, and riding it to school. This takes guts, reader. This is New Jersey. The morning commute isn't bad, but in the afternoons, oh golly. I am even challenged on the bike path! I'm so wobbly that a puff of breeze could blow me over (and has). Furthermore, having grown up on a bike without ever wearing a helmet, I have trouble remembering to put one on now. Some mornings I get halfway to work before thinking, "Oh, this breeze feels so good on my hair!" only to realize that I'm missing the essential head protection that all wobbly biking women-of-a-certain-age ought to wear.

Biking to work is only an option in these few spring months when the days are at their longest. But I can always walk home. It's 4.5 miles, one way. I feel blessed to be so close to my place of employment.

Speaking of blessings, today is Walt Whitman's birthday. If my students learned anything this year, it was that an icon who heard America singing now sleeps in their community. May he filter and fibre our blood!

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Well-Regulated Militia

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

Here it is Memorial Day, and I'm thinking about re-animating dead people.

I would like to re-animate a Civil War soldier, maybe one of those ambitious 14-year-olds who lied about his age, and ask him, "What do you think of guns?"

I would like to re-animate Thomas Jefferson and ask him, "Could you be more specific about who should bear firearms? And oh, by the way, Tom. Look at this 21st century weapon! Who should keep and bear it?"

After all, it took at least 60 seconds to load and fire a gun in Jefferson's time.

The people who died in combat in our various wars were members of the well-regulated militia. They learned how to use weapons from professionals. They used weapons in professional situations. And a bunch of them died doing it. Given a second opportunity at life, how many of them would (as Shakespeare put it), throw their distempered weapons to the ground?

We talk about Big Coal and Big Oil, but we give short shrift to Big Guns. The selling of firearms and ammunition, the rental of target practice facilities, all of that is big business. The National Rifle Association is not a lobby for Constitutional freedoms. It is an arm of a big business.

My sister owns a weapon. She keeps it by her bed, in case someone breaks into her house and tries to rape her. She told me this. Now, she has a husband, a son, four dogs, and three parrots. Who is going to break into that house? And yet she worries about that rapist. This is brainwashing by Big Guns. And its a set-up for misuse of a dangerous weapon under non-rape circumstances.

You know what else I'm thinking about on this sunny Memorial Day? I'm wondering how many psychopaths are out there, behaving normal long enough to build arsenals, that they will then use to kill unsuspecting, innocent people.

Last week one of my most troubled students pulled yet another day in all-day detention. She wrote an essay according to a prompt (this is my standard assignment for "behavioral development program," aka sit in a room all day). The prompt was: "If you could live one day of your life over again, which would it be?"

The student wrote that she wished she could re-live the day of her brother's funeral, because at least she would get to see his precious face one more time. This brother did not die of a horrible illness. He was shot.

We have no well-regulated civilian militia. We have an Apocalypse. There is no solution. The cat is out of the bag. And just as in Shakespeare's plays, we won't quit until the stage is covered in dead bodies, and one or two baffled onlookers have to wipe up the mess.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Spoutwood Fairie Festival 2014

Well! I've had little to say about this year's Fairie Festival! Shame on me, it was three weeks ago!

I consider myself rather past the age to wear a tutu. I associate tutus with dance recitals that occurred back in the 1960s, when I was a tot. However, the Spoutwood Fairie Festival traditionally has a "tutu Friday," so I decided to join in.

One of my students made this extravagant confection entirely out of SAT prep books, with some High School Proficiency Test practice books thrown in for color contrast. I've never seen anything more creative, and as a social statement it was par excellence. I can't think of a better use for SAT prep books!

Now, I know for a fact that two of my three readers are female. So if you want a fantastic STEMpunk tutu for your next cosplay convo, send Miss Annie a message! The darling young lady who made my tutu is a junior right now, which means she'll be a senior next year. I want to help her set up an Etsy account ... so if you know anything about that, help me out here! I may break down and take in foster kittens from time to time, but I will never be able to craft my way out of  paper sack... so Etsy is not a domain I know much about.

Now that I've opened the photo album, what do you think of this one of The Spare?
That one there is by the professional photographer who does the festival. His name is George Skepton, and he's from Baltimore.

We had a swell time with Mountain Tribe this year.
As you can see, we got some beasties to join Mountain Tribe by offering them incentives. This is the lot of them. They couldn't take two steps without being photographed.
We enjoyed the music and the drumming, and the weather was chilly but not wet. I got to see some dear friends I don't otherwise get to see much, and I'm gently bonding with some of the folks there, particularly the Pagan folks. Next year I intend to go to their Beltane fire.
The best thing about the Spoutwood Fairie Festival for me is the opportunity to bond with my dragon, Big Red. Here he is with me, and boy oh boy do I love him! Not sure why that young girl had to muscle her way into the shot, but oh well.

Last one, with Sis and Spare and a lively faerie who just photobombed us ... what fun!
The smiling little fellow in plaid is our Mountain Tribe's very own Sprogling! If you live in the vicinity of this festival, and you have a young child, come and join us!

I love Spoutwood. Ever since I lost the farm on Polish Mountain, that property in Pennsylvania's piedmont has sort of taken some of the sting out of the loss. The people who own the property are incredibly hospitable when 10,000 people descend upon them for a long weekend.

Blessed be!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

If It Ain't Broke, Break It

Every time I write a teacher post, I get emails from educational types asking if they can post here at "The Gods Are Bored." One even offered me lucre! But The Gods Are Bored is not for sale. It's proudly free content, just what the author wants to say.

Today I want to say that 96 percent of the juniors at my Title I school passed New Jersey's 2014 High School Proficiency Assessment.

To refresh your memory, the population of the high school where I teach is about 50/50 Black and Hispanic, with a smattering of Southeast Asians. There are three white kids out of over 700. Almost everyone qualifies for free or reduced meals. These kids proved that they could read and write high school level English. Our success rate at my school is equal to or better than any other high school in the state.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we hard-working tech school English teachers were rewarded with a continuance of the reduced class sizes and shorter teaching schedules that produced these results? You bet!

But of course that would be logical.

Instead we will all get larger classes and extra teaching assignments next year. The tutoring that helped so many struggling students has been cancelled, because next year's juniors get the new Common Core national exam. Since no one is sure what is going to be on that exam (even the examiners themselves), we can't teach to the test the way we did with the NJ HSPA.

At a recent teachers' meeting for my school, I received excerpts of the "anchor texts" that will be on the new Common Core test. The only thing on the list that I had read before entering college was Shakespeare. Everything else (except "The Gift of the Magi," which do not ask me why, is a perennial favorite) is college level. The NJ HSPA readings were not exactly Little House on the Prairie, but they weren't Kafka, either. And forget readable translations of such bored-God-approved texts as The Odyssey. The anchor translation was untranslatable.

If you're like me, you're thinking that preschoolers are being expected to be first graders, that first graders are being expected to be third graders, that third graders are being expected to be sixth graders, that middle school students are being expected to be high schoolers, and that high school is now college. Oh, and let's not forget that one size fits all. (Well, maybe it does. Look at our HSPA scores!)

When they roll out the new Common Core standardized testing next year, and the entire nation tanks, remember what you read here today. Almost every single one of my students was deemed high school proficient by the state of New Jersey.

Now things fall apart. I'll get larger classes and a busier schedule, and the students -- faced with a baffling new test that has no stakes whatsoever for them -- will tank alongside everyone else. Then, guess what? My deficiencies as a teacher will be revealed! Yes, I've been hiding behind these great state test scores too long!

The Great Conspiracy To Undermine Public Education is under way.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Yeah, I Know, I Know, I ... No ...

What is Annie's First Law of Volunteering? Oh! My three readers chime back : Say no! You've done enough! You work too hard! You're pulled too thin! Money is terribly tight! No! No! No!

Then someone leaves a box of kittens along the six-lane that runs between Camden and the seashore.

And I take them in.

Being a kitten foster is time-consuming, messy, and demanding. But it would take a far, far harder-hearted person than me to turn her back on any creature left so close to roaring traffic.

Therefore, give a warm, wonderful, Gods Are Bored welcome to Asbury, Brielle, and Neptune!.

Given that one foster kitten is much like another, here's a close approximation of the situation at hand. This is a batch from yesteryear whose names I have completely forgotten.
Cats on the freeway? I couldn't say no.

Saturday, May 17, 2014


Every year the good folks at Woodstock Trading Company
hold a Maypole celebration. Usually it dovetails with the Spoutwood Fairie Festival. This year it was today.
We had The Jugband playing Grateful Dead and a bunch of happy people on the lawn, wrapping the Maypole. A fun time was had by all.

Here I am with the finished product. Welcome to May, to May, to May!

Thursday, May 15, 2014


I share the horror and dismay over the 200 young women kidnapped in Nigeria, just because they were attending school. However, my horror does not stop there. It hardly even registers there.

Millions of children all over the world are forced into sexual slavery or heavy labor every year. Pre-teen girls and boys are smuggled into India, where they become the playthings of traffickers. American children are brutalized for pornography -- babies, even. Kids make bricks, dig gold, pick cocoa beans and coffee. They sew hair on Barbie dolls and make sneakers.

When did children cease to be important, except as commodities?

One of the most chilling books I've read in recent years is this one, about a boy in Sierra Leone who became a child soldier. But there's no smirking from me on this side of the pond. Camden has child soldiers too.

When did children cease to be important?

I submit that the brutalization of children began when the world population grew to saturation point. At some time in our past, there must have been more food than there were people to eat it. This was before recorded history, so we have no way of knowing when that time might have been. Then children were valued. Then their education and health were important. Both genders.

Last night, I was looking at Facebook and someone had posted a picture of a child's skull that still had all its adult teeth. The caption was, "They really are aliens." I sat there aghast. That skeleton with the adult teeth still up in the gums represents a dead child, one who died at a very tender age. Little do we care. Call it an alien, make it a joke.

Again, far be it from us to point fingers at Nigeria and cry for justice there. Our culture has a pervasive anti-child bias as well. From the age of three children are told to sit still and learn their letters and numbers, sitting ever stiller for ever longer as they grow, facing ever more rigorous school work, until many of them need drugs to be able to stand it. Their play has become regimented, their imaginations usurped by technology. There are 12 children under 10 years of age on my block, and I never see them outside, just playing. They aren't making bricks, but they're not being kids, either.

Lately I have noted another interesting phenomenon, as well. Two weeks ago or so, there was an outcry over a rape scene in Game of Thrones. After that I saw several earnest editorials about the cavalier rapes in the book and on the television show. But I have not seen one commentary on the heroine Arya Stark, who is a killer by age eight. As I read that series, I grew ever more uncomfortable with Arya. She is a child soldier, and we root for her to kill people. Maybe if I wasn't acquainted with Ishmael Beah, I wouldn't mind Arya's role, either. But kids don't belong in armies any more than they belong in brothels. And they populate both. Seems alright if they're killers, especially if the victims are adults.

If this episode in Nigeria does anything, it should remind us to put a value on childhood. We grow too soon old in this world. And yet still we rush the process along. It is our worst sin.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Similarities and Differences between Riding a Bicycle in New Jersey and Appalachia, by Anne Johnson

      This essay will describe the similarities and differences between riding a bike in New Jersey and Appalachia. There are many similarities and many differences between riding a bike in New Jersey and Appalachia.

     First, one similarity between riding a bike in New Jersey and Appalachia is that in both places, bikes have wheels. The wheels go around and the bike moves forward. You push the wheels with pedals, and this happens in New Jersey and Appalachia.

     Second, another similarity between riding a bike in New Jersey and Appalachia is that in both places, bikes have handle bars. You use the handle bars to steer the bike. If you push them to the right, the bike goes right. If you push them to the left, the bike goes left. This is the same in New Jersey and Appalachia.

     Third, in both New Jersey and Appalachia, bikes have brakes. Brakes cause the bike to stop. This is important and it happens in both places. You sometimes have to stop.

     The first difference between riding a bike in New Jersey and Appalachia is that in New Jersey you have to wear a helmet. This is the law. It is not a stupid law. If you are riding a bike in New Jersey and you get  crushed by a NJTransit bus, you want to look pretty in your coffin. In Appalachia you are not going to get crushed by a transit bus, so you don't need a helmet.

     The second difference between riding a bike in New Jersey and Appalachia is that Appalachia has hills and New Jersey doesn't. New Jersey is basically as flat as a pancake, except where the road goes over another road, and that's a bridge, and it has a hill. In Appalachia there are basically hills everywhere you look. You have to pedal real hard to get up the hill, and then use your brake to go down, so your bike doesn't go out of control. In New Jersey you only need your brake to go around road construction, like those big orange barrels or the traffic cones. Which slows you up but not much, not like puffing up those steep hills in Appalachia.

     The third difference between riding a bike in New Jersey and Appalachia is that you crash in very different ways. In Appalachia, you crash when you ride smack dab into a big-ass spider web with a spider as big as a half dollar sitting in the middle of it, which it then hits you between the eyes. Guarantee you are going to wipe out if that happens. In New Jersey, you crash because a speeding line of ginormous SUVs go roaring past you, honking for you to get out of the way, and then you come to an intersection with five lanes and you have to sit there surrounded by cars until the light changes, praying that everyone sees you and hoping that a few of them at least don't have active road rage against bicycles. This can lead to a crash. But it won't matter because you have a helmet.

      In conclusion, these are the similarities and differences between riding a bike in New Jersey and Appalachia. Thank you for reading my essay.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's Day

One of the toughest tasks I ever faced was buying a Mother's Day card for my mom. You see, I didn't love her. So those heartfelt Hallmark fluffy bunny cards seemed hypocritical to me.

When I got old enough to be independent of my mom, and more savvy about the world, I would just go into the store and choose the first card in the first row, and just sign it without even looking at the text.

Mom taught me how to read and write when I was three. She was a public school teacher who was thwarted by her bad health and was unable to work.

Her bad health was bipolar disorder.

When I was two she had her first major breakdown requiring hospitalization. I don't remember what she did during that episode, but judging by how she like to discipline with her fists and/or a paddle, she may have hurt me. Certainly in subsequent episodes of mania she hurt my sister and my father, and once threatened my life.

Mom's bipolar disorder was complicated by her upbringing. Her parents hated each other, and she was in fact a "love child" born of an extramarital relationship. The father who raised her, in short, was not her father. He was a nasty racist with an awful temper, but so, apparently, was the man who was my mom's biological dad. Mom grew up to be a nasty racist with an awful temper.

Growing up, I made one vow. I would not be the kind of mother that fate dealt me.

Having raised two daughters of my own now, the youngest an incredible 20, I think I know the glitch that made parenting so hard for my mother. I don't think she looked at me as a person. I had to be what she wanted, which early on was a Shirley Temple doll, and later on was a show-off prodigy. Seems like I was always performing on demand, usually at family gatherings as my cousins smirked and the adults studied their feet.

I've looked at my children as human beings since the moment they were born. I respected them. Of course we have had arguments, but I never called them names or whacked them with a paddle. I wasn't ever a model mother (if there is such a thing), but I wasn't a nightmare, either.

Heir and Spare are both fabulous individuals. They both love me. Today, Mother's Day, one of them is in Romania and the other is in Baltimore. But they didn't have to lard me with flowers and cake. I know how they feel about me.

As for how I feel about my mom, well, let's just say that being able to understand her, forgive her, and move on has been one of the major challenges of my life. I'm working on it, though.

On this Mother's Day, may the Goddess look down upon those whose mothers are damaged and dysfunctional. May those who suffer such mothers reach around and beyond them and find the wellspring of mother-love, which is the Divine.

Blessed be the Goddess. Love your Mother.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

The Incredible, Passionate Collaboration of Heir and Spare

We at "The Gods Are Bored" are all about making you laugh. All three of you readers! Check out this original film by Spare, starring Heir.


Francis in Nature

Monday, May 05, 2014

Shall We Pray?

Wow! I'm so excited! Today we scored yet another victory for prayers to the busy God at government meetings! This is great news for those of you who feel that municipal matters are best handled after consulting a higher power, in public, and on the taxpayer dime.

Our Supreme Court, which is laden to the plimsol line with sneaky legislators impartial Constitutional experts, has decided that an iddy biddy prayer at the beginning of a meeting doesn't violate that ... oh, what was it called? Forget it. Not important. Let us pray.

All of this is so very fair, after all. If enough Pagan people in a community ask for their share of the praying, and they get it, then what harm is done? At the government meeting we will get our Prayer That Unites All Druids before a heated discussion on the local raccoon population and what can be done about it.

But wait a minute. There are quite a large number of people who don't believe in any deity whatsoever. (Yes, reader, I feel bad for them too, but everyone has a right to their own views.) These people are known as atheists. When do they get their turn to pray? And if they do pray, what will they pray?

Maybe we at "The Gods Are Bored" can help with that.


Our Municipal Government, which in City Hall doth dwell, hear our prayer.
There is no god. There never was a god. There never will be a god.
Praying to a god is a waste of time.
So let's get down to business, and thank you for supporting the atheist cause.

I should copyright this, don't you think?