Friday, May 29, 2009

Is It Just Me?

Business Man Reading a Newspaper

Is it just me or does watching two people attack each other instead of attacking their arguments turn you off? I think it is just me.

I do not watch The View: too much yelling. I do not even watch McNeil Leher for the same reason. Glenn Beck makes me want to climb under my couch and wait things out. What's a girl to do?

The newspaper is thinner everyday, in every sense of that word. I've got to get my coverage somewhere. My local TV news is great: it even touches on the world stage, but it leaves the big stuff up to the network and you know how that goes: although it's pretty to watch them swoop and dive after the same bug, I want to know what all those birds are swooping by.

So here I am, on-line again and reading the same story twice. The president is perfect. The president is evil. It's Obama's fault. It's Bush's fault.

Business Man Reading a Newspaper

Give me a break. And while you're at it, give me world peace, too.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Procedure: How to Milk a Goat

Since so many have asked, here it is: a complex procedure involving cats, dogs, children, infants, diplomacy, anger management skills, and lightning fast reflexes.

Step One: Wake Up

A milk goat gets incredibly full of milk. Milking has to take place on a schedule: every 12 hours or bust, so to speak. So even on your day off, you are still on a routine. This is just fine because the children get you up even before the moaning goats do.

Step Two: Feed the Kids

Not the goats, the children. They complain a lot when hungry. Get this out of the way fast. Get that coffee down while you're at it.

Step Three: Get the Gear Ready

You need something to put the milk in, a bucket, and something to clean her off with, a soapy pail and a rag. She's been laying in poop most likely. Goats are not particular about where they poop and she probably had her evening constitutional just before she bedded down for the night.

Step Four: Go Outside

This involves a hallway, negotiating stairs, the dog who is antsy because you forgot to feed her, the bucket which needs to be sterile, the sloshy soapy water which can't slosh into your bucket or you're going to have to resterilize it, the baby you must also carry and who wants the rag in the sloshy soapy pail, the other three kids who are being knocked into walls by the hungry dog, and someone crying. Figure out who that is and bribe them. Open the door, yell at the dog before she knocks a toddler down the stairs, and maneuver into the backyard. If it is a nice day, the older kids will head for the swing set. If not, they will cry, or at least complain. Either way, be stern or they will have nothing to brag about when they are old, "Oh yeah? My mom used to take me out in six feet of snow in a thunderstorm to milk goats!"

Step Five: Shut the Gate to the Backyard

When you deal with animals, this is always a good rule. Whenever you go through a gate, shut it behind you. This rule is important because if you forget, the procedure will get a whole lot longer and it will involve neighbors.

Step Six: Get the Baby and the Gear into the Milk House

Don't trip over the dog. Don't slosh water onto the baby. Don't drop anything, especially the baby. You may yell at the dog or cat if you are tripped, otherwise greet warmly.*

Step Seven: Stow Gear and Start Feeding and Watering

Check every water trough every feeding. Animals can live without food for a few days but can sicken in hours without water on a hot humid day. If the water is clear and full, feed cats, put ration on the milking stand and carry the alfalfa to the goat pen. This will all need to be done one handed because you are still carrying the baby. Do not let her eat the alfalfa as she only has a one-chambered stomach. She will insist you are mistaken. Remain firm.

Step Eight: See Step Five

There's a gate between you and the goats and their hay basket. Manage baby, alfalfa, gate and goats without a goat escaping or you dropping anybody(thing) and without any yelling.

Don't forget to close that gate.

Dump alfalfa in the alfalfa bin, grab the collar of the oldest nanny goat (never ever forget the pecking order or the younger gals will pay dearly all day) and guide her to the gate. She is eager to follow you, so this takes little effort. She will walk briskly. If you are late, she will trot. Try to keep up. The baby likes it when you run. She will giggle.

Close that gate when you, the baby, and the goat are through it.

Step Nine: Reassure the Goat

No matter how many times she has seen your children on the swing set (twice daily for 1 to 2 years depending on the goat in question), the sight of them will bring her to a stunned halt. You will have to coax her, cajole her, yank and pull her past this daily terror. Meanwhile, remember to check in with the kids with comments such as,

"Yes you are going so high!" "You can do it! Pump your legs!" "Forwards and backwards and forwards and there you go!"

Succumb to the pleas, release the goat (she only has one objective in mind anyway if her terror will ever allow her to think again), and spend a few moments pushing the kids on the swings. Don't drop the baby and don't forget to stand sideways so as not to have a swinger crash into her.

Enjoy yourself until the goat recovers her composure. Sigh and follow her to the milk house.

Step 10: Clean Her, Milk Her

Put the baby in her little chair. Although she is convinced she is a ruminant and can handle it, do not let her eat the bedding. It's wood shavings.

The goat has already mounted the stand and is eating. You need to lock her head in the stanchion and clean her udders. This is the easiest part of the procedure.

Grab a teat, close off the top of the teat with your thumb and index finger, close the middle, ring and pinkie in succession. Milk comes out. Aim. Keep aiming and keep an eye on the baby. Get a rhythm and keep it until she's dry. Clean the goat up again, get the milk pail out of the way, and spray her teats with an iodine and water solution. Pick up the baby, maneuver the goat off the stand, and repeat steps eight, nine, and ten with the cranky goat.

Step 11: The Cranky Goat

She will not get onto the stand. Drag her. She will not eat, coax her with sunflower seeds. She will eat those. Close the stanchion. Dodge that hoof. Clean her. Dodge hoof. Milk with one hand (the other one will hold the bucket away from the hoof). Aim. Watch the baby. Watch that hoof. Watch that bucket. Do not cuss. The children will wander in. Dodge that hoof. Swing that pail. Do NOT cuss. The dog will clean that. WATCH THAT BABY. Stop the milking and stop the baby. Resume milking. Watch that other hoof, too. The cats will clean under there. Dodge that dog and cat fight. Pick up baby, pick up milk. Find out who's crying and why. Reassure child that the dog and cat will be friends after the milk is gone. Banish the dog and cat from the milk shed. Cat will slink back in through hole in the back. Dog will whine at locked gate. Put down baby. Resume milking. Do not cuss when kicked. You forgot to watch.

Step 12: Blame Daddy

When a toddler repeats a "word we only use when milking Rosie, honey" during that quiet pause at church, remember this rule and point his way. Look innocent.

Step 13: Finishing Off

Put that uncussed goat back into her goat yard, gather up the milk, the baby, and the children and head back inside to process the milk.

That process involves heat and homeschooling.

*Dogs have short memories. Although the dog has accompanied you throughout the entire procedure, from waking to milking, a new setting demands a repeat of a doggie greeting ritual which involves jumping up and not on you, barking and/or whimpering, excited wiggling, tail flailing, and drool. It's in their contract. The cats on the other hand, may be greeted once daily, as needed.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

My Conversion Real Quick

My conversion to the Catholic Church took about three seconds. I was an arrogant fool sitting in on my very first Mass and watching it like I'd watch a National Geographic nature film. I was analyzing away, "Those pews are so phallic, who are they kidding that this isn't all about a patriarchy?" when I heard something Jewish. A cantor sang the Psalm. It caught my attention and stopped the haughty drift of my thoughts. I began to be interested. What else might they have stolen from the Jews?

This led to other discoveries, like the parading of the Gospels. "Well, if Jesus does claim to be the Jewish Messiah, I guess there should be Jewish elements in the worship," I thought dismissively until it occurred to me I'd never seen Jewish elements in the Protestant churches I'd attended as a girl. Why not? I puzzled that one out for awhile. I'm not the kind of dog to drop a bone, so I puzzled awhile.

About the time for the consecration (I had no idea what it was called at the time), I had come all the way around to the skeptical thought, actually accompanied by a quiet sarcasm-laden snort, "What if all this were true?"

Then I was hit repeatedly in the head with a 2 x 4. That process took all of three seconds.

I say that comically, but the wave upon wave of revelation breaking over my stunned mind was actually very painful. And beautiful and exquisite and utterly horrifying. I saw things, felt things, all in quick succession with the complete clarity of the words, "It is all true," ringing me like a bell.

Then an actual bell rang signalling the consecration. Jesus himself was upon that altar, and I was done for. I had a choice to make and it was my very last chance. It was true. I could never again deny the truth of it, but I could still deny Him. A yes would cost me every friend I had, the community I'd built, my reputation. Everything. Was I willing to give it all up?

Oh, God, yes.

Then I came back from that heady place to reality where the Mass continued before me. I was Catholic now, but that priest up there on the dais was the first one I had ever been in the same room with. I was Catholic now, but my husband wasn't. What now? I was Catholic, but I had no idea what that meant. I decided to start with the little pamphlet my husband had given me on a whim as we walked past a display on the way into the church. It was on the Rosary. As I read through the mysteries all I remembered of the life of Jesus came back to me. Then I came upon the Assumption.

"The Assumption?" I thought, "What the hell is that?" (The conversion of my heart was won; my conversion of behavior was incremental) I was a dog with a bone again.

The Mass ended. It was a daily Mass, so there wasn't a crowd. The priest was at the back of the church talking with a woman. They both greeted my husband and I warmly, the priest asking a few questions of the new people. He quickly discovered my husband was an ex-Catholic and I wasn't anything I was willing to own up to publicly yet. I said I wanted to join the Catholic church and shot a guilty look at my husband. I knew it wasn't nice to tell him like this, but I didn't have the guts to face him all at once. Maybe he could get over the initial reaction and be polite by the time we got to the car.

Then I blurted out my question before I lost my nerve and before the polite chit chat wound down, "What's an Assumption?"

"The Assumption?" the priest looked surprised. He gave an answer too small to satisfy my hunger, "It was when Our Lady was taken to heaven to reign as Queen Mother."

I pressed for more information and he asked me to make an appointment. I was there the next day and in RCIA by the end of the week. I was a thorn in that program's side. I read book after book, and completely ignorant, each question generated more questions. I took to carrying a notebook to jot them in. People would actually groan when at the end of the RCIA class my hand would go up when they asked, "Are there any questions?" I had pages full.

Somebody in Heaven took pity on my classmates and drew my attention to a bumper sticker with the local Catholic Radio station on it. I tuned in my dial and there I found the depth and breadth I craved.

My husband was kinder than I knew. He had been uncomfortable with the direction our spiritual life had taken us and was relieved to come home to the faith. He joined a Landings Group and began his own Catechesis. Meanwhile, my conversion was a big secret from my family and friends. There were two reasons for this: my family and my friends.

My family was Church of Christ. While it was never spoken of from the pulpit growing up, the handouts available on the tables in the vestibule often held tracts that spouted things like the Catholic Church was the whore of Babylon and the Pope was the Anti-Christ. A few people in the church had family members convert to Catholicism. This news was greeted in the same manner as people whose family members had come down with cancer: with condolences, disbelief, and shocked horror. Although my mother and father made it clear they did not approve of the tracts, neither did they approve of Catholics and their beliefs. I grew up with the impression that they were a strange cult, like the Moonies.

My friends were another matter entirely. They loathed Christians, Catholics especially. One had told the story of her son accompanying her to visit her mother at a senior facility. Some little old ladies in the lobby had made semi-rude gossipy comments about them as they walked past. The little boy got on the elevator, rolled his eyes and said, "Probably Christians." His mother laughed as she told that story, so did everyone present. I didn't. As far from Christian as I was, I thought she was training up a bigot. That's never funny.

I told one friend what was happening with me. She was pretty neutral except that she was worried how it would change the dynamics of our relationship. We still keep in touch loosely. The others were a different story. I announced it finally and endured tears and anger and finally a scathing acceptance of "my truth." I had lost all credibility and, in their eyes, any claim to intelligence. After a few abortive attempts, all contact with that group of friends was lost. No one would return my calls or even my Seasons Greetings Cards. Finally, after a few years I just started sending Christmas Cards thinking what could I loose? One responded and now we exchange biannual letters. The others dumped me because they couldn't be friends with someone like me, an intolerant Catholic.

Hard to believe an average bunch of gals could be so anti-Catholic in this day and age? Not in the New Age. We were actually a group of goddess worshipping pagans and I was a priestess. I was a leader in the community. I taught classes, wrote songs, led rituals, the whole shebang. And for those of you who don't believe in these sorts of things, I was able to do all sorts of unbelievable things, like mild prognostication and other creepy stuff. The allure of these "gifts" is such that I will not go into details. Suffice it to say, my group was astonished that anyone would be willing to give up such power.

Now that I am free, it amazes me how enslaved I was to it all. I didn't see myself as worshipping the devil or demons, I just thought I had found a legitimate power source. I was amazed at the "miracles" I could perform. I was heady with it. The power is the bait. It hooks you and then turns on you. The people involved stagnate and become trapped into cycling through personal issues over and over. It's similar to the stagnation of the personality caused by alcohol and drug abuse, and the experience is very much like an addiction. With this much personal dysfunction, the groups can get ugly. One of the most chilling comments during my "confession" to my group was from the group leader, "There's a reason we used to kill oath breakers." She didn't mean our group in particular but the groups in the largely recreated neopagan past. Her reference was historically dubious, but I was never so glad to dust myself off and move on in my life.

I found myself filling my days not with the chatter of friends, but the chatter of Catholic Radio. It was a lonely but a wonderful time. I was discovering things and growing as a person in ways I never could have imagined. My husband was also undergoing a transformation. Our marriage had never been better. Incrementally, I was learning just how self centered and sinful I was, and I was learning how much I was loved. I had, all my life, yearned for something, unknowing. Now I knew, and I had that something.

In the midst of this, I told my parents. They were not pleased, but they were not condemning either. They said they would tell the rest of the family for me, meaning aunts and uncles. It was their way to spare everyone any unkindness or awkwardness stemming from the initial shock. Then my parents said something that surprised me, "This will be good for your family."

That they found some good in my conversion was an incredible surprise at the time. Of the two groups, family vs friends, I had expected the opposite reactions. I had feared that my family would disown me and expected my friends to work out a new relationship with me. Exactly the opposite occurred. I was disowned by my friends, but my family and I have worked things out.

Why did I visit that church that day? Like any convert I was looking for something and found more than I bargained for. I was considering attending the Catholic Church because I wanted a community large enough to hide myself in. I wanted respectability without having to actually be respectable. In a sense, Cafeteria Catholics evangelized me. I walked in that door thinking I might go to the cafeteria to pick and choose what I wanted from table. I would remain unchanged.

God had other plans.