Sunday, December 27, 2015

Powerful Editing Tool

In a creative writing class, we were taught to avoid adverbs if at all possible. I had spent this other class (a class on writing a novella) wishing for a "highlight adverbs" feature in Microsoft Word, or in Scrivener.

I hit Scrivener's feature request forum and did a search on "adverbs." Who'd have guessed I wasn't the first person to have the idea. The request was denied, but one of the comments referenced The Hemingway Editor.

The Hemingway Editor is a web-based app, but there is a downloadable desktop app. I only used the web-based one. It allows you to paste text into the editor, or compose within it.
 The app highlights adverbs, passive voice, difficult-to-read sentences, and overly-complex usages.

It grades your writing based on the number of sentences and words. The lower the grade, the better the writing. The grade may be commiserate with school grade levels - i.e., if it's rated a grade 4, a 4th grader could read it.


You can paste a surprising amount of text into that window and it doesn't crash. Like, more than 5,500 words.

The mechanism to find difficult-to-read sentences is nuanced enough that it has two levels of difficulty, "hard" and "very hard."

It highlights "wordiness." It found all the times I said "in order to" when "to" would have worked, and all the times I said "all of" instead of just "all." It also found fancy-shmancy words like "consolidate" and "portion." When you hover over a wordy word, it recommends a simpler word or phrase.

You can format the text in the editor. There are options to make lists, use bold and italics, and the normal rich-text options.


It doesn't find all the adverbs. It finds the ones with an "ly" ending, but misses "only," "even," "never," and some others.

If you paste a lot of words into the app, it can get confused. Switching the toggle from Edit to Write, pasting the text, and toggling back to Edit fixes this.

Pasting from Scrivener really confused Hemingway. The hard returns didn't transfer over, and this had an impact on the grading and on which sentences it thought were "very difficult." Often, adding a hard return where there should have been one downgraded the difficulty level and upped my grade.

It really wants you to write short sentences. Sentences without clauses. Simple sentences, with only one comma. That's great sometimes, but gets old after a while. I blame Hemingway himself for that one.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

A Merry Christmas - Mary Consoles Eve II

I've written about this picture before.

I thought maybe it was a common theme in the Catholic tradition. I thought, if I Googled, I would find all kinds of stained glass windows, and paintings, and sculptures. They aren't there. There's just this, and a song by Rain For Roots. Rain for Roots doesn't acknowledge this picture as an inspiration for the song, but I have my suspicions.

This picture is so powerful. Eve stands, covered by her locks of hair. Eve, who catches the blame for all sin, ever.* In this picture, she's still clutching the apple. The serpent is still wound around her leg, dragging her back into sin. Pregnant Mary stands opposite her. Mary, herself deserving of some consolation. Mary cups Eve's face in one hand, and holds Eve's hand to her belly with the other. The serpent's head is crushed under her foot. Eve's head is still bent in shame. Mary bends her head as if inviting Eve to raise her eyes.

Even Eve, the representative of all that is wrong with the world, is not beyond Christ's redemption. He was born and he died for all sin. Even that one. Even mine. Even yours.
I wanted to know more about how this picture happened. Fortunately, there's a podcast with an interview of Sister Grace Remmington by Pat Gohn. Sister Grace comes on at about 23:00. She starts talking about the picture at about 30:52.

Sister Grace says she doesn't consider herself an artist. She just doodles, usually when she's thinking. She was thinking about the difference between Mary and Eve when she doodled this. She says, "Perhaps it was the experience of living in a fallen world that made Mary realize... our need for God."

She says that Eve, still within sin's reach, unable to let go of the apple, spoke to the human condition, too, about our "inability to let go" of our sinful habits.

The sister also notes that Mary "brings the gift of Christ, the gift of mercy, the gift of compassion." Merry Christmas.

* I fervently believe that Eve does not deserve all the blame for all the sin. She had a lot of help falling from Grace, and even if she does deserve all that blame, perhaps she should also get some credit for developing humanity's free will. But that's another blog post.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Please Stop Clicking That Link (Or, The Very Public Face of... You pt. 2)

Several years ago, I had a bad week. I had joined a charitable organization, found myself overwhelmed and unable to contribute, and tried to make a graceful exit. And things went sideways. After a lot of thought, I blogged about it.

I was angry. I received some bad treatment at the hands of some one I had trusted. So, I outed that person. I shared - in anger - the things that person said, and the things I had said. That person had made some racist comments, and I called that person out. In anger. Because poor treatment and racism make me angry.
Funny/sad thing is, it's one of my most popular posts. I keep hoping that it'll fall into obscurity, like my other posts. But the stupid thing is in my top-ten for any given month, and it's been my second-most-seen post of all time for years, beaten only by a knitting pattern.

So, when I was playing with my blog layout, I took that into consideration. Should I use a side-bar with my top-five? Should I just go delete that post? Is there anything in it I should be ashamed of?
I keep thinking about it, though. I T.H.I.N.K. Was the post True? Yes. Was it Helpful? Maybe, as a cautionary tale. Was it Illegal? Certainly not. Was it Necessary? So much of the internet isn't necessary. It was necessary for me to vent at the time that I wrote it. Was it Kind? No, but being a Dr. Who fan, I aim for "never cruel nor cowardly." I'm not sure I even want to aim for "always kind."

I could delete it... but nothing you put on the internet is ever truly gone. It would exist somewhere. Besides, it is a part of me. I really did that. It was me. Not my finest moment, but also not my worst (I don't put those on the internet).
I decided to put the top-five posts this month on the blog and hope that puppy stays down around 7 or 8. I won't hide from a years-old moment of questionable judgement. If I'm ever a presidential candidate, I'm sure some one will bring that up (unless they can dig up my really good dirt). Until then, please stop clicking that link.

Edit: Part 1 of The Very Public Face of... You was about marketing and privacy.

Friday, December 4, 2015

4 Things The Wiz - Live! Got Right

I watched NBC's The Wiz - Live! last night (most of it - I missed the first hour). I had never seen any version of the play. If you missed it, you should go see it - it's still available on NBC's website.

Here are four places this version really nailed it.

1. It Boosted New Stars

The lead was played by Shanice Williams. Don't feel bad if you don't recognize her name. According to IMDB, she's best known for her role in The National Dog Show Presented by Purina. Yeah, I didn't see that, either. She got the role that was previously played by Ashanti and Diana Ross in other versions, and she killed it.

Other talented, but little-known actors include Amber Riley (Glee and a made-for-TV movie), Elijah Kelley (The Butler and a few other movies), and Uzo Aduba (OITNB, mostly).
Amber Riley as Addapearle

She was framed by some major names, too - Ne-Yo, Queen Latifah, Common, David Allen Grier, and Mary J. Blige. They provided draw, boosting viewership, and lending exposure to Williams and her fellow actors.

Hollywood needs this. Hollywood needs more African American actors earning money, making great films, and supporting each other. Those awards shows are still awfully predictable. That can change. This is part of that change.

2. It Portrayed Successful African Americans

Take a deep breath and stick with me through this point, okay?

While movies are more likely now to star African Americans, the actors often don't speak or dress any differently than their white counterparts (Annie, I'm looking at you). Aside from the color of their skin, they may as well be white.

The Wiz - Live! might engender criticism for having the characters speak in slang, but these characters are African American. They aren't African Americans striving to conform to the dominant culture in order to achieve success - by dressing like successful white people, or by talking like successful white people, for example. They find success not despite their identity, not because of their identity, but within their identity. And it's glorious.
Ne-Yo as Tin Man

Queen Latifah is the successful ruler of the Emerald City as the Wizard. Aduba and Riley (as Glinda and Addaperle) are successful Good Witches. Dorothy, Tin Man, Lion, and Scarecrow face challenges and rise above them. They don't conform to the (non-existent, in this film) dominant white culture in order to do so. They do it slang, clothing, and stereotypes included. They do it as they are.

This is what acceptance looks like.

3. Positive Body Image

Shanice Williams was adorable in her little plaid skirt. Mary J. Blige looked amazing in her costumes, and Uzo Aduba and Amber Riley looked beautiful in their dresses. None of these women are exactly tiny. And I loved seeing that.
Shanice Williams as Dorothy, Uzo Aduba as Glinda the Good

I love it that the show's producers didn't choose super-skinny women to play these characters - they chose women who could act and sing and dance to play these characters.

The women appeared comfortable in their appearances. Williams never tugged her skirt down in an attempt to hide her thighs. Aduba and Riley never tugged at their costumes in an attempt to hide their lovely curves. No one commented about diets or exercise regimens.
Williams, giving a pep-talk to David Allen Grier as the Cowardly Lion

I know - that stuff wouldn't have fit in that play. It was written about characters who wouldn't have worried about those things. But gosh. It was so refreshing to see stars on stage who, I felt, sort of looked like me.

4. It Passed the Bechdel Test

The Bechdel test presents a series of wickets for a movie (or book, or video game, etc.) to hit: it has to have at least two female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man.

With Queen Latifah playing a definitely feminine Wizard (though she doesn't necessarily look very feminine at first), and Aduba and Riley as the good witches, there were a few scenes where the women spoke to Dorothy.
Dorothy (and cast) discuss the meaning of success
with Queen Latifah as the Wizard

They didn't even discuss hair, or nails, or clothes, much less diet plans and exercise routines. They talked about big stuff - identity. They talked about the meaning of success and the meaning of family.

It was women acting like women. (Mostly) supporting each other. It passed the test with flying colors.

Bonus Point: Excellent Conflict

That scene when Dorothy confronted Evillene was one of the best scenes I saw. Dorothy starts hurling insults about Evillene, and Evillene responds with, "If I'm wicked, what does that make you?"

She launches into a list of Dorothy's offences. She killed the other witch and then stole her shoes before the body was even cold. Dorothy didn't have a good comeback for that.
Mary J. Blige as Evillene, not taking Dorothy's hypocrisy

I wish the moment had been more powerful. There was potential for Dorothy to have self-doubt or defensiveness... but she kind of glossed over it.

The other point was made by the Wizard. The Wizard explained that things in Oz worked before Dorothy came. There was balance. Everyone knew their place. Then Dorothy went witch-killing and upset everything. Again, Dorothy never addressed that accusation, or even seemed to acknowledge it.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Plotting Help

Now that NaNoWriMo is almost at a close, you probably don't need this tool - unless you write during the "off-season," or are a struggling college student, like me.

I'm in the middle of a two-month class aimed at teaching students to write a novella - a ~100 page story, which we'll self-publish at the end of class.

I found myself in an existential plot crisis. Even though I had a strong start, I couldn't figure out where this novella was going. I needed some serious plot help. I Googled "plot diagram" and landed on this interactive tool.
Once you enter in your name and title, it presents a "mountain." You can use the slider bar at the bottom to change where the peak is (allowing for more or less rising and falling action). 
You enter in an event and a description, and drag and drop it to where you want it on the "mountain." Downside: once you drag that event, the only part that will be visible is the event title. You can't get back to see or edit your event description.
Hitting print will allow you to print or save the final version, but you can add events after you "print." Once you start over or navigate off the page, your work will be lost, so if you want to keep it, print it. This is what it'll look like:
Happy writing!

Edit: I found another interesting downside to this working aid: The events are numbered on the printed page as you entered them. So, using the example above, if you entered in Problem 1, then the Major Crisis, and then went back and entered in Problem 2, the bottom of your printout will list them as:
1. Character Intro
2. Problem 1
3. Major Crisis
4. Problem 2
5. Resolution 1
It's still a useful working aid... it's just not perfect.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Excuse Me, But You've Got a Thread...

Your clothing is sewn shut! I've seen it a lot lately, and commented about it to friends. Several of them didn't know you're supposed to cut those stitches.

Here's where to find the ones to cut:

  • The bottom hem of a new jacket or coat
  • The bottom hem of a new skirt
  • Pockets* (more on this in a bit)
  • The shoulders of a new jacket


The vent is the split in the back of a skirt or in a jacket or coat.

Here's What They Look Like:

The thread used to baste the vent shut is usually doubled, and is often a contrasting color. The stitches are big, and thread is knotted someplace visible (but usually on the inside of the garment). The accessible knot makes it easier to remove.

Why Are They Sewn Shut?

The stitches are there for a couple of reasons. One, to keep the garment from bunching up during shipping and handling. Two, to keep the vent protected while you try it on. If the garment is a little small, you could tug the vent too far open and stretch or tear the fabric.

Why Should I Remove Them?

All the other stitching in your garment is meant to not be noticed. Not those basting stitches. They should go. Keeping them in means the garment moves awkwardly, or bunches up as you wear it.

If you don't like the split in the jacket, skirt, or coat, buy clothing without a vent (there's lots out there).


Pockets are often also sewn shut. Opinions on opening pockets vary, and keeping them shut isn't obvious, unlike keeping vents shut.

Why Are They Sewn Shut?

To keep you from stretching out the garment by putting large items or your hands in the pockets. This is important before you purchase the garment. After the garment is yours, well... They're your pockets. But stretched-out jacket pockets make the garment hang awkwardly. Smoother lines create a more elegant appearance.

What About Pants Pockets?

If the pocket openings are horizontal, opening them is probably fine (but watch out for stretching them by sticking your hands in them).

If the pockets are slanted (close to the side-seams of your pants), they can have a tendency to gap open. Keeping them sewn shut helps them lie flat.
Those pockets are definitely going to be stretched out. :(

Sunday, November 8, 2015

On Accidental Saints and Made For Goodness - Week 2

On Perfection

I have to say, Nadia's chapter where she talked about the expectations of others really spoke to me. She said, "Maybe it's not only the leaders who think they should be perfect; maybe it's also their followers who expect them to have it all together."

I am totally guilty of this. Like, all-the-time guilty. I have high expectations of myself, and high expectations of others. I tend to know my friends well enough to love them and their imperfections. I love their snarky-ness, their sarcasm, their occasional falling-apart. I identify with all those things, and I do them myself. I know we're not perfect.

But I expect my leaders - in family, in church, at work - to be always forgiving, never snarky, never falling-apart. At least, not when I'm around. I have some amends to make, and I'll make them in person.
Desmond Tutu again echoes her: "As human beings, we hear in the command to be perfect a demand for flawlessness. But flawlessness is not the goal of God's invitation. ... Godly perfection is not flawlessness. Godly perfection is wholeness." I love him for saying this. I guess I have some work to do.
Desmond Tutu talks about practicing being good. He talks about how God gave us choice, but the choice really is ours, and it does take practice. I have to admit, this really confused me. Last week, he was saying that being good is something we are, not something we do, and now he's saying that we have to practice being good.

Not the Blessing

The other thing Nadia said that really struck me, was when she talked about how we are not the blessing that is bestowed upon others. I'm guilty of this one, too. Thinking that I will magnanimously step down from my ivory tower and bless people with my presence or my works. She points out that we are all both needy and needs-meeters. It was a difficult concept to wrap my head around. I think she's also saying that experiencing the need and the meeting of that need is to experience Jesus. It's not in the being needy or in the generosity - it's in the communion.

The Discussion Questions

  1. 1. What is your Nineveh? Has God ever moved you to confront that thing, person, or event that you would rather avoid? What happened, and how did it feel?

    Not so much, on this one. I would say that the closest it comes is at work. As a team-lead, I was a great coach, mentor, cheer-leader. But I wasn't good at giving negative feedback or conducting sessions where I had to counsel someone on poor performance. I had to do it, and it felt awful. I'm still much better at "A for effort!" than I am at "these are the expectations. Let's find a way for you to start meeting them."

  2. Have you ever felt like you were someone's "project" - as if they were trying to "minister" to you, yet somehow were serving themselves? How did it feel? Why is it so difficult for us to give to others without becoming self-important?

    Again, not so much. I've definitely been on the other side of that - believing that I could lead a youth group (I don't even like kids!) because I was young and energetic (I was) and I understood teenagers (nope. Not even when I was one). It was a gift I didn't and don't possess, and I failed miserably. I think we do better at ministration when it's in a way that comes more naturally.

  3. (Summarizing) When you were young, did you believe that Godliness meant following a list of prohibitions? ...Has that rules-based messaging affected how you live and feel as an adult? Is there such a thing as "Godly living"? Is the lifestyle and personality of the Christian the primary focus of faith?

    Oh, yes. Christians don't smoke, drink, smoke pot, swear, have pre-marital sex. I know now those things aren't true, but when I was a teenager, I vacillated between believing that we are saved by faith and that we are saved by works. When I thought we are saved by works, I was super-puritan. When I thought we are saved by faith, I took it as a free pass - I'm already saved, I can do whatever the hell I want. Now, I think it's both. I do still believe that we should aim for a lifestyle that treats ourselves and those around us well. I know that as sinners, we'll fall short. But I do believe we should be trying.

Adventures in Translation - Family

Demaryius Thomas has a tattoo that said "Family." He said, "Family - I love 'em all." And then there was ESPN's slogan, Football is family. Whatevs.

I thought, what if I got that tattoo in Arabic? I'm not into tattoos of words - even in a foreign language, even in a beautifully written one, like Arabic - but if I were into that, the tattoo would say الاهل - al-Ahal. The folks. Family.

Like اهل الكتاب - ahal al-Kitab - people of the Book. Believers. Jews, Christians, Muslims. Family.

Like اهلي - Ahali - my family.

Like اهوال الدنيا - Ahwal al-Dunya - Peoples of the world. Family.
Yes, there are other words for family. I think أسرة - usrah - is more "proper."

Greetings in Arabic can be extensive. "How are you? How's your health? How are your affairs? How's your family?" all rapid-fire, while the other person says, "Good, thank God, thank God, good."

The word used - at least in my experience - isn't the proper usrah, but the more general اهل. How are your people? Your family?

Friday, November 6, 2015

Stop Using That Hashtag

Victim Equaling

You probably already know what a "topper" is. Whatever you say, they've done it better, gotten a bigger one, done it more, or had it worse.

Victim-topping is this thing I see on the internet lately, and it's not so much topping, as it is "equaling." If you were at a party, it'd go like this: You say, "Thank God someone brought a veggie platter. I'm deathly allergic to peanuts, and they are in everything!" And they say, "Yeah, I'm a vegan. We should all demand more choices from our grocer."
The way it plays out in the internet, is there's some movement and a counter-movement. The thing is, we have movements for a reason: The status quo isn't getting it for some people. In order to change the status quo, a movement is born.

The #BlackLivesMatter movement is a good example of a movement with a counter-movement. This movement draws attention to "the ways in which Black people are intentionally left powerless at the hands of the state."

That Other Hashtag is a Straw Man Argument

The counter-movement, All Lives Matter, is a straw man argument that seeks to reinforce the status quo. In this day and age, we can pretty much agree that all lives matter. Hence the straw man part. No one is going to disagree with you on that one. No one was even making that argument.

By saying "all lives matter," you're seeking to diminish the power of the request for change by changing the focus of the argument. You're working to halt the change others depend on by reinforcing the status quo.

A Constructionist Reading

When you use that other hashtag, you're using the same well-recognized format as #blacklivesmatter, which draws a comparison between the two. "All lives matter" would have no meaning without the association to Black Lives Matter. By saying "all lives matter," you aren't drawing attention to a specific problem, you're just muddying the water. Because of this association, you're drawing a comparison which brushes aside the problem Black Lives Matter tries to address; you're making room at the party for a lesser problem.
Let me just clarify here. You're probably enraged, so let me clarify. When I say "lesser problem," I'm talking about the size of the problem in terms of number of victims and the rate of victims. When compared to white people, African Americans have it much worse in the justice system. They suffer more at the hands of the state and within the system in which we all live. I'm not interested in arguing statistics. That's not what this post is about.

Lastly, I'd like to remind you that Black Lives Matter is not a zero-sum game. A system that treats black people fairly won't suddenly turn on white people. More fair treatment does not necessitate the displacement of injustice from one group onto another group.

So, stop using that hash-tag. You're not helping anyone, and you're hurting some.

20151108 Update: edited to fix a typo.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

On Accidental Saints and Made For Goodness - Week 1

I can't always make it to church, and that means missing book group. So I'm participating via blog, at least on the weeks I can't make it.

Overall Impressions

The choice to read these two books together was brilliant. They echo each other using different voices for much the same message, and it's a good and powerful message. So far, I'd say the message is, "You are worthy - it'll be okay."

Nadia Bolz-Weber's voice in Accidental Saints - Finding God in All the Wrong People is humorous, at times irreverent. She uses swear words! She sounds like someone I'd like to have coffee with. It's refreshing to "hear" someone speak on Godly matters without the lofty speech that often makes books on the subject inaccessible to the average Joe.

Desmond Tutu's voice in Made for Goodness and Why This Makes All the Difference is grandfatherly. Kind, approachable, instructive. His text is a little denser than Nadia's, which is why I think it's a good thing that we typically read three chapters of her book to two of his. He has a much different outlook than Nadia (for some obvious reasons), but still manages to relate to the American experience.

What Spoke to Me

One of the best quotes from Accidental Saints is: "There is nothing we have done that God cannot redeem." It's really hard to internalize this one. Tutu helps a bit: "God already loves us perfectly; God cannot love us one iota more. Equally, there is nothing we can do that will make God love us one iota less." This, too, is difficult to internalize, but remembering God's love is perfect is helpful.

The next quote from Accidental Saints captures the idea that we are all complicated. I think this speaks to the idea that we're all marred by sin in some way, but also reflects the idea that we're all saints, too: "On All Saints' Sunday, I am faced with sticky ambiguities around saints who were bad and sinners who were good." This pairs nicely with one from Made for Goodness, which reminds us that even though we are all complicated, we're also all good: "There is not a single person that God gives up on, because God knows that we are made to be like God, who is goodness itself."

Nadia talks about her struggles with racism, and that resonated with me. She says that for all her anti-racism talk and liberal leanings, she can't get around the fact that she reacts differently to (for example) young black men she sees on the street. She also references white privilege and her empty outrage at the inherent racism in our society. She says she feels that if she could just "show the right level of outrage, it'll make up for the fact that every single day of my life I have benefited from the very same system that acquitted George Zimmerman." Tutu has a slightly different take on it: "If wrong was the norm, it wouldn't be news... Murder and mayhem are not the norm. The norm is goodness." This brought me hope. It's easy to feel discouraged watching the news. Whether it's local stories or international news, there are atrocities everywhere, and there's so much of it I can't do a thing about. I like this reminder that while it may seem that stuff is everywhere, there's also goodness everywhere. It's almost like he's speaking to her outrage, here.

Desmond Tutu devotes a lot of time to explaining that our efforts to "be good" get in the way of our recognition that we "are good." One of the things he says is, "Attached to that notion of "being good" are all the "oughts" and "shoulds" that we think will win us... God's love and divine favor." I've been in therapy a few times. One of the more recent was because of the stress I was facing with accepting a decision that meant our family was geographically spread out, and I was (temporarily) a single mom. I had stopped sleeping. I had almost stopped eating. I was consumed by anger and stress. The therapist worked with me using cognitive behavioral therapy - changing your thinking in order to better control your thinking. He talked about "musterbating" - allowing too many toxic thoughts into your head. "It must be fair" (no, it isn't always fair), "I must do the dishes" (no, you don't have to do the dishes, but maybe there's a way to remind yourself that you want to), "I must be understood" (nope, that doesn't always happen, either). Focusing on that stuff will drive you certifiably crazy. Tutu also said, "We cannot choose how we feel. We can choose what we do, how we act." I'm not sure I agree with this. I think you can make choices about how you feel. I think my therapy did just that. I think when we are angry, that's as much a choice we make as when we decide to move forward from a set-back.

One of the first things I highlighted from Accidental Saints was a quote about the saints in our lives: "Saint Paul describes the saints as "a great cloud of witnesses," so when they have passed, we still hold them up, hoping perhaps that their virtues... might become our own virtue, our own strength." I had never considered our (Episcopal) view of the saints in this light, but I like the idea. It was an "aha!" moment.

There's this, on leadership, from Accidental Saints: "I'm a leader, but only by saying, 'Oh, screw it. I'll go first.'" I wonder how much of corporate leadership is this "Fine - I'll go first" kind of attitude and how much is "We (meaning you) need to go this way." Is one way better in the corporate world? More effective? Is there room for high-level corporate leaders to "go first"? I'd like to say that going first is the best leadership... But honestly, I'm not sure the guys at the top can do that. Not in any "corporate vision" kind of way. Maybe they can sometimes. I don't know.

The Discussion Questions

1. I rarely think of myself as a saint. Mostly, I realize how broken I am - I'm so mean, sometimes. Often, even. I've said before that if my mom, my aunt, and my husband are praying for you, you're going to be okay. While each of these people is merely human - they each have their flaws - I also know that they can be my strongest supporters. I've always felt their spiritual health was really high, even when they were in crisis or questioning their faith.

2. I think I'm often in places where I say the wrong thing, or I react the wrong way. I think loving (in a Christian kind of way) the people around you helps you empathize with them more, and might help you not say the wrong thing, but I think getting it right 100% of the time is impossible for humans. I think Desmond Tutu answers this better, by encouraging us to not try to say the right thing or do the right thing, but to remember that we are good, even when we're not.

3. Figuring out just what crap I've had exchanged for Jesus's blessedness is pretty hard. I know I've got a lot of crap. Figuring out which has been more or less directly exchanged is a tall order. I suppose, I could say that there have been a few times when I said exactly the wrong thing to someone... And those people chose to keep talking to me, to be my friends, to forgive me. I guess that's my crap for His blessedness.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Big Deal About Some Washington, D.C. Bike Lanes

If you're following me on Facebook, you've already seen most of this. This post lays out the background information, both sides of the argument, and my stance in it.

The Current Situation:

There are bike lanes all around this piece of Washington, D.C., but few that connect the areas with a lot of bike lanes to the areas with few bike lanes, and fewer continuous north-south bike lanes nearby. The marker is for New York Ave. and 6th street, northwest. Solid lines are bike lanes, dotted lines are "bike-friendly streets" - places where Google has noted there are bicyclists, though I question their equation of large numbers of cyclists to "friendliness." 6th street is like a bike-lane desert.

In 2014, 12 bicyclists and 16 pedestrians were hit along the stretch of 6th street under consideration, and 14 bicyclists and 7 pedestrians were struck along the portion of 9th street under consideration, according to FOIA data cited by the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA). So, bicyclists and pedestrians do use the street, but not safely.

On 6th street and M street (jut north of the marker on the above map) is a large church of long-time congregants, the United House of Prayer. The New Bethel Baptist Church is at 9th and S. Northwest D.C. has seen a lot of gentrification.

The United House of Prayer enjoys street parking, where about 75 cars can park diagonally on Sundays. The proposed changes to 6th street would allow only parallel parking, meaning the loss of an unknown number of parking places.

The Proposals:

There are four proposals for adding bike lanes to either 6th or 9th streets in northwest Washington, D.C. They all allow for some street parking, at least at "non-peak" times, which would presumably include Sunday mornings.

Here's my favorite proposal, which provides for protected bike lanes in each direction, two or four lanes of travel (four in peak times), and 2 lanes of parking during non-peak times. The plan for 6th street north of New York Avenue looks the same as this, which shows 6th south of New York Avenue:

The Conundrum:

Gentrification has forced many of the congregants to the suburbs. The churches may see a concerning situation where congregants are far from their church and have trouble parking once they get there. They are arguing that this loss of parking impinges on their freedom of religion.

The city has adopted Vision Zero, which aims to eliminate traffic deaths. Protected bike lanes are a major portion of this vision.

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) asserts in their post on the recent public meeting that while concerns about gentrification are valid, using the proposed bike lanes as a proxy for this argument is inappropriate.

My Stance:

As Christians, we are told to protect the vulnerable. This extends to vulnerable street users, such as bicyclists and pedestrians. The benefit of being "strong" (in the majority, supported by your environment, and physically secure) is that you can afford to help the weak. As Christians, we are commanded to do so, even at the expense of our comfort.

As Christians, we are told that we are the stewards of our environment. While biking isn't free from environmental harm (tires are a petroleum product), it is more responsible than driving. As Christians, we should be encouraging bicycling and walking as means of transportation.

As Christians, we are told to love one another, above all else. The importance of community and inclusiveness is reinforced through scripture. Our public policies and behaviors should reflect these values.

Unfortunately, the behavior of the those representing the churches at the public meeting did not represent Christian values. Besides holding their right to park above others' right of physical safety, they shouted down and cat-called opposing viewpoints.

I hope that should my church find itself in a similar situation, that we will demonstrate the Christian values we claim as our own.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Busch Gardens Williamsburg, VA - Review & Tips

We went to Busch Gardens theme park over Columbus Day weekend. Here's the review.

What if Some Members of My Party Don't Like Roller Coasters?

Don't worry - there's plenty to keep them busy, too! The lines for the roller coasters (especially the Griffon and Mach Tower) tend to be pretty long. They do a good job of keeping the line moving and there's good stuff to look at, so you don't really realize you've been waiting for an hour to get on the ride. While the scare-lovers are waiting in line, the non-scare-lovers can ride bumper cars or check out the live animal exhibits or play fairway games. Or point and laugh at their roller-coaster-riding companions as they scream their heads off.

Why Should I Go to Busch Gardens Instead of the State Fair?

Just kidding, you should do both. While Busch Gardens is much more expensive than the state fair, you won't find roller coasters like those at your state fair. You'll eat better at Busch Gardens (they have salads and vegetables, in addition to some more traditional fair foods), though you will pay more to do so. Also, Busch Gardens is really clean, and it's clear that the people who work there actually enjoy their jobs. That makes a huge difference. The people running the various boutiques took ownership and pride in their shops. One commented on the Hallo-Scream shenanigans, with a gentle complaint about the screaming 13-year-olds "running through my store." She wasn't having it.

Basic Logistics - What to Take, What to Leave

The stroller (obviously). 

If you have a kid in a stroller, you'll be fine, though the stroller can't go on the scary roller coasters.

A drawstring shoulder-bag. 

Bags are allowed, and it's really nice to have one place to stash your stuff. Put your cell phone and wallet in there, so you can leave it with someone or in a locker before a ride where it might go flying.

Food and Drinks? 

I don't think you're allowed to bring your own in. Food and drinks are pricey, especially the beer ($8.50 for a metal bottle of Bud Light). You will get hungry and thirsty, but if you plan ahead a bit, you can make good choices at the dining areas. Also, at the gift shops, if you buy a Busch Gardens water bottle for $8, you can refill it anywhere, all day long. I wish I had done that - I could have been drinking a lot more water!


If you're a smoker, don't fear. There are smoking areas spread throughout the park. I mean, it's run by the same guys who make Budweiser. They won't keep you from having a smoke-break... But they also won't let you smoke right by the kiddie rides.

Pay for VIP Parking? 

I wouldn't. For starters, if you're worried about walking too much, Busch Gardens is not the place for you. You will do a lot of walking, all day long. What's a little further to your car? Secondly, when the VIP parking is full, they don't stop taking your money. So, you could end up paying for VIP parking, and still park in the next town over. If you end up parking far away, there'll be a tram to take you to your parking area, so it's not like you'd have to walk for miles. Speaking of your parking area, take a picture of the sign with your country and number with your cell phone, so you don't have to remember it all day.

Pay For a Quick Pass? 

The quick pass lets you hop to the front of the line for rides. There's a one-time option, and an all-day option. They're really expensive, even the one-time option. We didn't get them and I don't feel like we missed out. Besides, like I said, the lines are entertaining, and they keep moving.

The Rides! Oh, the Rides!

There's lots out there on the rides. Some of them are really pretty terrifying. I loved it, but that Mach Tower was a religious experience. Seriously, I'm not sure I've ever prayed so fervently in my life. I cried at the end. It's an eternity of free-fall from 240 feet high. The Cape Hatteras lighthouse, the tallest in the U.S. is only (only! Ha!) 193 feet tall.
Yup. We're in free-fall.

That's the relieved grin of someone with a new lease on life.
These are people too smart to go on the Mach Tower

 Photo Ops!

There are lots of cool places to take photos.

Very appropriate choices of placement

Busch Gardens Does Hallo-Scream in October

It's pretty normal during the day - some Halloween decorations, and I think the haunted houses were running, though that's not our shtick, so we didn't go. You can get some pretty amazing body art, too,

At night, it gets really dark. The lights are dimmed, there's fog everywhere, and people dress up in costumes and scare park-goers. There are warnings during the day that Hallo-Scream may not be appropriate for small children. No, really. I'd recommend this only for kids 10 and older, maybe a brave 8-year-old. It's really dark, with a lot of flashing lights, and a ton of noise (mostly in the form of dub-step). People jump out at you screaming and waving things. It's kind of overwhelming and disorienting, even for the grownups. It would be a pretty cool date for high-school or college students, though. They all seemed to really be enjoying it.

To the park's credit, some idiot was dragging their terrified first-grader through the park, and a guy with a fake chain-saw jumped out and scared the kid half to death. So, the chain-saw-guy stopped and showed the kid that it was just a toy - no blade - and that he was just a normal guy, and the family got a photo with the still-terrified kid, mom, and chain-saw-guy. Not sure if that was park-provided training, or just really good common sense on the part of chain-saw guy, but good for him.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Character Worksheet

In my creative writing class at APUS, we were asked to fill out a very vague character template. I said I was used to more robust character templates, and cited the pretty awesome one at Scrivener, but noted that I also liked the Dungeons & Dragons format... except that you have to wade through a lot of the stuff for the game that doesn't necessarily apply to writing. So, I made my own.* It's pretty thorough, but I'd encourage any users to go ahead and ignore the bits they don't like. Being detail-oriented, I think I'll start using this for my future characters.

* In case the hyperlink doesn't work, try this:
Leave me a message me if it doesn't work and we'll figure something out.