Friday, December 28, 2007

Unexpected stuff from 2007

New Year's is a time to set new goals while reflecting upon how well we did at last year's goals. But that's so predictable. Today I will talk about stuff I did and stuff that happened to me in 2007 that I didn't see coming.

I went to an actual exmo gathering!!!

I'd met exmo Internauts before, but this time I got to go to my first real exmo gathering to meet the lovely lady exmos of Europe and Montana!!! Yay!!!

So any of you who were thinking I'm not a real person just because I'm never at any of the live events, Sister Mary Lisa can vouch for me -- and she knows everybody!!! :D

Blogging Awards:

I won a Stermy!!! I'd just like to thank Bill O'Reilly and all of the people who were waging war on Christmas who made this award possible for me.

On the other hand I also got farked, which is kind of the opposite of getting an award. The take-home lesson on that one? I'm not sure, but it looks like it's that you can write as many positive or mixed feminist critiques as you want, but if you write a negative one, then someone out there is going to see you as living proof that feminists are bitter, humorless, and hate everything. It's a little like being an exmo or an atheist, now that I think about it. The only annoying part is that I'm actually not bitter and angry. Maybe it would be simpler if I were, but I like to keep people guessing. ;^)

Nobody complained about the controversial part of my story

Maybe it was because I was careful to post a disclaimer? I've got the stats here, so I know it wasn't just that people didn't notice it. But seriously I was expecting at least one incensed Mormon to write me an irate letter about how blasphemous it was to have them, y'know, do it in the baptismal font. I had my explanation all prepared about how it was a question of logistics (it had to be in the building where the rehearsal was taking place, and there aren't so many choices) not a question of deliberate blasphemy (unlike an ex-Catholic who once told me she had a fantasy of doing it on the altar of a church, just to desecrate it). After all, Mormons can baptize people in lakes, rivers, swimming pools, etc., so logically the font shouldn't require special consecration (according to Mormon theology), hence it shouldn't be possible to desecrate it, right?

But as it turned out, the whole font thing didn't bother anyone. The take-home lesson? Teenagers having sex in a baptismal font is not all that scandalous. Now that I think about it, it probably happens all the time. Mormon kids are pretty resourceful -- I should give them some credit.

On a related note, I finished the illustrations for BYU plus the interlude. Hence I might be willing to move the start date up to February 5 if there's enough interest.

On a related related note, I'm pretty excited about my new story which I didn't imagine I'd write until I had written it. Unfortunately, industry pros tell me it is way too short to be published. It turns out that's a good thing, though, since I'd only wrapped up a few of the threads of the story, leaving plenty of others wide open, and I really like this imaginary country I've invented. So I'm going to keep going. I now have it mostly outlined, and I'm re-writing the weakest dialog in the original piece to make the political situation in the imaginary countries make more sense and to tie in better with the new stuff that's coming. :D

So, for anyone who's test reading and hasn't started yet, you're off the hook. Unless you want the new version so you can tell me whether this much of the novel tempts you to want to read more. ;^)

Big changes in real life!!!

I left my job of three years near the beginning of 2007 and set out to write a new Java book, and succeeded!!! That's the part I predicted. As soon as I was done, I found a new job with a company that was small enough that when they made me "director of client development" it meant that I was the one and only engineer writing the part of the program that runs on the user's cell phone. I saw the first product through to completion, and it was quite an exciting adventure! But as we were planning how the next project would go, negotiations broke down and I quit. Then I wrote an exciting story about the whole adventure, which I will probably post or something ten years from now. For the moment, of course, it's not appropriate -- I can't post any kind of professional details about existing companies. I've probably already written too much in this paragraph since it makes me look like a hot-head, which I'm not. Essentially they didn't give me the authority to make certain key tech decisions, and without it I couldn't accept the responsibility to guarantee the product would be done correctly and on time.

Meanwhile, my husband found himself a fantastic new job in Switzerland, so not having a job here wasn't such a bad thing after all. And now I've found myself a job in Switzerland too, so we're ready to go! The only problem is that moving an entire household to a foreign country is a humongous pain in the butt. That and I'm going to have to change the masthead of my blog. Oh, well.

Hope you had an exciting year too -- and Happy 2008!!! :D

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A typical conversation overheard at my house:

Boys! Boys!!! Don't fight, otherwise no story. And don't put that in your mouth Leo.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!!!

If you're not celebrating Christmas -- or if you are and you need a break from it ;^) -- here are some pseudo-carnivals where various bloggers have collected up posts they've found interesting around the web lately: Cafe Philos, Ordinary Girl, and Skeptic Play's Dispatches from the War on Christmas. (Also check out this Christmas card the ordinary girl got. I hope it's a joke, otherwise somebody donated $100 to the creation science museum in her name for Christmas??? -- Yikes!!!)

Also, does anyone know what happened to the Carnival of the Godless? I thought there was supposed to be one yesterday, but maybe I have my scheduling screwed up...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The "War on Christmas" and the war on being considerate to others...

So apparently the forces of Christmas have won the battle in Boston to call their public holiday tree display a "Christmas tree."

Here's my first reaction:

Considering that there's an actual war going on -- one where real people have given their lives -- how is it possible that it's not considered poor taste for the religious right to be calling this a war? And, really, could they even think of a stupider issue to use to distract the public from real issues like the president threatening to start yet another real war?

I don't even want to touch the whole first amendment establishment clause issue because it's been thoroughly and repeatedly covered by others. What I can't figure out is why anyone would even want to wage a war against the imaginary forces of anti-Christmas.

Apparently -- throughout the public sphere -- theocrats would like to see "Merry Christmas" replace "Happy Holidays." This is because "Happy Holidays" threatens Christmas's position as the one and only holiday people might possibly be celebrating during the holiday season. And poor Christmas feels degraded when it gets lumped together with less-important holidays like New Year's and Boxing Day and whatnot.

I guess I can almost sort of see the logic to that when it concerns people who celebrate Christmas. I love Christmas, and I'm happy to wish a very Merry Christmas to all my friends and family members who celebrate Christmas. The problem is that the crusaders for Christmas seem to want to insist that a Merry Christmas -- and only a Merry Christmas -- be wished to everyone, regardless of belief, by stores, by municipal holiday displays, at office parties, etc. In that case, what does "Merry Christmas!" even mean?

Here's what it means:

"I hope you have a warm and wonderful Christmas celebration! However, I don't hope that you have a happy Hanukkah. I don't hope you and your family have a happy (Pagan) Yule or Solstice celebration or a good Ramadan. And if you and your family celebrated Diwali this year, I don't care if it was a merry one or not."

What kind of person would want to say such a thing? Have they got something against being considerate to others? Call me crazy, but to me well-wishing should have some sort of (theoretical?) connection with actually wishing the person well. And especially during the holiday season, what's wrong with a little goodwill to all? Even to those people who are **shudder** a little different from yourself.

When it comes right down to it, the so-called "War on Christmas" isn't about the Christians vs. their favorite whipping-boy the atheists, as much as they'd like to paint it that way. Atheists sometimes join in the fray just on the principle of separation of church and state, but really, the apathetic-to-non-believing set aren't the ones being excluded. Atheism has no competing holidays, so non-believers tend to just stick with familiar traditions. That means that American atheists actually celebrate Christmas more often than not. Really, the "War on Christmas" is about Christian supremacists picking on other traditions and on other "people of faith."

Monday, December 17, 2007

Savage ethics II: What if one partner gets fat?

Sometimes I see Dan Savage as an advance scout, mapping out the ethical terrain of modern romantic/sexual relationships. But beating his way through all of this uncharted territory, he sometimes comes up with ideas that I think require a little further discussion by the rest of us. We had a very productive discussion here at LFaB about Dan Savage and the ethics of cheating, but now Dan has wandered into far more dangerous territory: the ethics of relationships and fat.

I almost hesitate to offer up my blog for such a touchy subject, but I'd kind of like to talk about Dan's conclusions. I'd also like to discuss his little stunt where he showed that his readers were okay with one partner (in a long term relationship) saying to the other "Honey, I'm not attracted to you anymore because of your weight gain -- shape up, or I'm shipping out," if -- and only if -- the partner who gained weight is male.

Dan seems to be of the opinion that it should be okay for one partner to say this to the other and expect results. Perhaps, but there are a couple of very important points that I think he missed:

1. While some people do achieve significant, permanent weight loss, they are the exception rather than the rule. It's not as simple as "anyone can do it if they care enough to do it." This is not from personal experience -- I'm not fat and have never dieted -- but everything I've read indicates that an attitude of "So-and-so did it, so anyone can do it" isn't justified by the evidence.

2. A focus on weight and appearance can be counterproductive when making healthy lifestyle changes. Greta Christina wrote an excellent article about this here. Nearly all of us have lifestyle improvements we could make to be more active and eat healthier. So if two partners decide together on a change they'd like to make (replacing evening T.V. with an evening bike-ride, replacing fast food with actual food), and if the focus sincerely is on health and feeling better about your body, then you have a good chance of succeeding in making a long term, healthy change (even if you can't count on changing your size or shape). And, really, there's a good chance it will improve your sex life. ;^) But too much focus on the scale and the "your not hot enough for me" factor will likely scuttle your efforts as well as your relationship, not to mention possibly produce an unhealthy (yo-yo dieting) result.

All of this doesn't explain the double standard, though, where a weight-loss ultimatum was seen as more acceptable when placed on a man than on a woman. Some will probably contend the Mr. Savage is full of sh-t, and that in fact a man is more likely to leave a female partner for "letting herself go" -- and feel justified in doing it -- than a woman is to leave a man for the same reason. However, considering the volume of anonymous opinions Dan receives every day, I think it's reasonable to suppose that he's right about what his readers believe is ethical behavior. How people in society at large actually behave is an entirely different question from the ethical ideals of Dan's (mostly young and liberal?) audience.

So the questions I'd like to pose are the following:

1. What do you think is an appropriate response when one partner gains a dramatic amount of weight and the other doesn't?

2. Body and relationship expectations for men and women are different. Is there perhaps a justification for having a double-standard on this question? Or not?

What do you think?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Humanist Symposium!!!

There's a new Humanist Symposium up for your reading pleasure!!!

And if you'd like to participate -- perhaps host this carnival yourself -- please see this post for more info!!! :D

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Update on belief in Santa...

Last year I explained that I didn't think believing that Santa is real makes the Santa story any more fun, even for kids (see: I Believe in Santa Claus). So I decided I wouldn't tell my kids Santa is real.

How is this working out? You may be wondering...

Not quite as expected. Last year I asked Nicolas a few times whether he thinks Santa Claus is a real person or just a story. As I recall, I even stated directly a few times that Santa Clause is just a fun story we like to tell -- not a real person. Nico responded by insisting that Santa is indeed real. Of course last year I wasn't really sure whether Nico understood the difference between a real person and a fictional character.

Fast forward to this year. Nico spontaneously told me one day "Some people think Santa Claus is just a dream, but he's a real person." (I think he was influenced by the special The Year without a Santa Claus.)

I responded by asking him "Are you sure he's real and not just a story? In that Christmas movie he looks like a doll."

Nico thought about it, and said "No, he's real -- we saw him. You saw him too. At the place where we go see Santa." [At the mall or something, I assume...?]

Of course I could argue this point, but I figured I might as well let him think about it on his own for the time being. So I just said, "Oh, okay."

So the magic of Christmas defeats the atheist mom.... For this round!! ;^)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Festive Carols for a Merry (secular) Christmas and other Happy Holidays!!!

Do you love the family Christmas scene? The Christmas tree is lit with the little electric train running around it, and the parents signing Christmas cards or decorating cookies with the kids? All you need are some familiar Christmas carols to complete the effect. Don't let lack of belief stand in your way!!! Our culture has a such a long and varied tradition of Christmas music that the religious pieces are the exception rather than the rule.

To help get you started, here are some of the tunes you'll hear at my house:

Winter Songs:

There are many "Christmas carols" which aren't about Christmas at all -- they're just winter songs that have gotten sucked into the vortex of Christmas. Examples include Jingle Bells, Jingle Bell Rock, Sleigh Ride, and Winter Wonderland. There's also a whole sub-genre in this category just for songs about Winter cuddling: Let it Snow!, Baby, it's Cold Outside, I've Got my Love to Keep me Warm, Winter Weather, and Warm December.

Christmas Traditions with Family and Friends:

Then there are songs that are about celebrating Christmas. What better way to celebrate Christmas than to sing about celebrating Christmas? There's The Christmas Song (Chestnuts roasting), It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, The Christmas Waltz, Christmas Is..., Christmastime in New Orleans, and It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. Some of the oldest ones were originally party game songs (where the game is to make up words), but have since settled down to some standard festive Christmas-celebration lyrics: Deck the Halls and The Twelve days of Christmas.

This category also includes a number of songs about wanting to spend the holidays with loved ones: I'll Be Home for Christmas, There's no place like Home for the Holidays, Merry Christmas, Darling, I'll have a Blue Christmas, There is no Christmas like a Home Christmas, White Christmas, and one of my personal favorites: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

Wishing You a Merry Christmas:

There are a number of songs to sing about wishing someone else a merry Christmas. This includes traditional "luck-visit" songs: We wish you a Merry Christmas, Here We Come a-Wassailing, and God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen. Some of the luck-visit songs contain Christian references, but they're interesting because they're reminders of the old caroling/wassailing traditions where the poor received Christmas treats in exchange for a song. (Bring Us in Good Ale falls into that category as well, although they skip the part about wishing the host a Merry Christmas...)

Some more modern songs center around wishing others a merry Christmas such as the fabulous Have a Holly Jolly Christmas, Welcome Christmas (from the Grinch), and Happy Holidays, as well as bi-cultural favorites like Mele Kalikimaka and Feliz Navidad.

Symbols of Christmas:

Let's sing about Christmas Bells: Silver Bells, The Carol of the Bells, and Ring those Christmas Bells! Or let's sing about the Christmas tree: O Tannenbaum, Trim up the Tree (from the Grinch), and Rocking Around the Christmas Tree. Or cut the B.S. and go straight to the point: the presents! Merry Christmas, Baby, All I Want for Christmas (is my two front teeth), I'm Getting Nothing for Christmas, Christmas Kisses, I'd Like You for Christmas, and Jolly Old St. Nicholas.

Christmas Characters:

Speaking of His Jolliness, there's no shortage of songs about Santa Claus: Here Comes Santa Claus, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Little Saint Nick, Up on the Housetop, Petit Papa Noel, Santa Claus's Party, and Santa Claus is Back in Town. And there are a couple where Santa sure makes good use of his list of naughty girls, see: I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus and TMBG's Santa's Beard.

Then there's a whole list of other favorite Christmas characters: Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch. You can also throw in The Little Drummer Boy and various songs about the baby Jesus here if you're so inclined.

Other Winter Holidays:

While you're at it, why not throw in a few secular songs about some other holidays you may or may not be celebrating? Try What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?, Adam Sandler's Hanukkah Song, and TMBG's Feast of Lights. There's also Good King Wenceslas for the "Feast of Stephen." That one's not exactly secular, but it's cool: for once the miraculous reward for charity isn't further riches, it's magically-warmed footprints.


Some are harder to categorize. One of my all-time favorite Christmas songs is Fairy Tale of New York which is kind of sentimental and unsentimental in a way that's hard to describe. Then there's John Lennon's So this is Christmas... (Merry X-mas, war is over), which is hard to describe in a completely different way, even though its message -- Merry Christmas and peace to all -- couldn't be more standard Christmas fare. I guess it just seems controversial because when he talks about "peace on Earth," he means for real...

Then there are some complete Christmas musical productions: The Nutcracker Suite and Babes in Toyland.

And don't forget to throw in a few funny ones. My favorite is Monty Python's Christmas in Heaven. The South Park gang also have a few amusing selections.

Religious Carols:

Okay, I admit it -- I include some religious carols on my Christmas music playlist. I mostly just include the liveliest and most familiar of the bunch, and even then I usually go with instrumental versions. I like Greensleeves, so I include a few versions of that one, but rarely with the religious lyrics ("What Child Is This?").

There are a few exceptions, though, where I like the words as well as the music. There's The Holly and the Ivy and The Cherry Tree Carol. Both of these are fun because they seem very pagan, hence highlight the pagan roots of the Jesus story. I also like Rudi Cazeaux's Angels Are Singing. Then there's Veni Emmanuel. That one is cool because it's one of the oldest Christmas carols that is still popular today, written in the middle ages. That's not why I like it though. I like it because it reminds me of my husband. Many people get to listen to somewhat more romantic songs with their S.O.'s first name, but when you fall for someone whose parents were religious, you take what you can get. I also like to listen to It's Christmas Time and Time for a Carol for essentially the same reason: Christmas time is time for me!! :D

On that note:

It's time for a carol, don't you think? :^)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Saturday's Warrior wrap-up

I couldn't be more thrilled with the response I've gotten to the novella I posted about Saturday's Warrior (part III of my novel Exmormon). According to my stats, hundreds of people read along in real time as I serialized it. And from the comments, I can see that number included Mormons as well as exmos and "never-mos" (that's people who have never been Mormon, if you're not in the Mo-know ;^) ).

I'd be interested in getting more feedback on this, and of course I'd love it if you bloggers could get the ball rolling by posting a reaction on your own blog. I'll post links to any blog reactions whether they're positive, negative, or indifferent. And to those of you who didn't read along in real time because you missed the beginning and didn't think you'd be able to catch up, it's not too late. The novella is only nine chapters long, so you can read the whole thing in one sitting (here) then give your opinion as well.

Also note that I've scheduled the next segment, BYU, to begin February 19. I'd post it sooner, but between work, kids, and (especially) preparing to move, I'm having a little trouble getting the illustrations done in a timely manner. If you've already finished Young Womens' and Youth Conference and still want more, you can email me (chanson dot exmormon at gmail dot com) and I'll let you read my new novel(la) which is not yet available from any source other than emailing me. ;^)

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Carnivals, carnivals, carnivals!

It's time for the Carnival of the Godless again!!! Also, the science carnival Tangled Bank looks interesting.

Plus, there are a couple of fun spontaneous carnivals to look at. An Ordinary Girl has posted a reading list that includes a post of mine as well as Paul's post on teen sexuality (which deserves more attention) and some other fascinating stuff.

Then there's my Romney Roundup of what bloggers from the Bloggernacle, Outer Blogness, and the Atheosphere wrote for "Romsday." ;^)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Grinch and the True Meaning of Christmas

What happened then?
Well, in Whoville they say
that the grinch's small heart
grew three sizes that day.
And then the true meaning of Christmas came through,
and the grinch found the strength of ten grinches,
plus two.

The 1966 cartoon version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas is my all-time favorite Christmas special. I know last year I gave Heat Miser and Snow Miser the prize for "most entertaining," but this cute little cartoon about the Grinch is a masterpiece.

How much do I love this cartoon? Let me count the ways: (1) the fun poetry of it, read to perfection by Boris Karloff, (2) the humor and nonsense, beautifully captured in fanciful drawings, (3) the fabulous You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch as well as other delightful songs.

Plus this special has a very merry Christmas message for me and all of my not-quite-Christian friends who like to celebrate Christmas:

And he puzzled and puzzed till his puzzler was sore,
then the grinch thought of something he hadn't before.
Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store;
maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more...

See? Christmas isn't just an orgy of consumerism -- it means more than that.

But what?

The cartoon makes it very clear. Christmas is all about joy of celebrating and sharing traditions from one generation to the next.

It's easy to get disgusted with Christmas. It's this ever-escalating festival of gorging oneself, and then -- like some sort of penance for all the gorging -- getting reminded that you're supposed to be thinking about Jesus. But if Jesus were really the true meaning of Christmas, the clergy wouldn't have to keep reminding people of it. And if you believe in the standard model -- either Christmas is consumerism or it's Jesus -- then you've missed the warm and simple reason why the mid-winter festival of lights has been such a beloved and enduring tradion across so many different centuries and cultures.

So -- to my theist and atheist friends who celebrate Christmas as I do -- Merry Christmas!!!

And for all the other holidays you're celebrating this holiday season: Happy Holidays!!!

Be sure to share and pass along whichever holiday traditions you loved as a kid: decorating, singing, preparing holiday treats, etc. And feel free to join me in one of my favorite holiday traditions: watching The Grinch.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The sort of spiritual experience eternal companions should share

Walter arrived in his suit and tie since the plan was to go out to a fine restaurant. Dressed like that and with his haircut, he looked like he was on his mission already. With his gorgeous looks and friendly manner, it was clear that he would have no difficulty approaching people and convincing them to be receptive to his message in the two years to come.

We spent most of dinner talking about how excited he was about his mission. As I already knew, he was being sent to the Florida Jacksonville Mission. That part was a bit of a disappointment because, like everyone else, he had been hoping for a foreign call. But some people were needed to spread the gospel stateside, and it was important to go where the Lord called you and needed you.

When we got back into the car he told me that he wanted to take me somewhere special and show me something that he had never shown anyone. I agreed a little nervously.

Noting my unease, he laughed in a friendly manner. "Don't worry," he said. "It's nothing bad. In fact, it's exactly the opposite -- it's something very, very good." Read the rest of the story ->

Saturday, December 01, 2007

But that's a girl phone....

I took my four-year-old son Leo grocery shopping the other day, and once I'd finished selecting all the food items on my list, I let him lead me to the toy aisle to pick out a treat. (I know, buying the kid a treat every time is a very bad habit, but that's a post for another day...)

Anyway, after examining all of the possible choices, one toy caught his eye: a toy cell phone colored bright pink with a shimmering pink carrying case that had a pearly-pink beaded handle. And as soon has he grabbed it, can you guess the first thing that came out of my mouth?

"But, that's for girls."

And as soon as I'd said it, I was biting my tongue and thinking I'm a bad parent, I'm a bad parent, I'm a bad parent...

I've bought my kids toys before that are probably more marketed to girls (a few dolls and toy dishes), but the thing is that they'd never asked for anything quite so, well, pink before. They're just barely getting to the age where the toys for their age group are strongly gender-segregated. My involuntary reaction shows I hadn't thought much about this yet for my own kids, mostly because they're boys and the "boy version" of each toy tends to be inoffensively neutral (so I have no problem buying it), whereas the "girl version" ends up gendered. Take a toy cell phone, for example: it's obviously a gender-neutral toy. Why would a girl need a feminine version?

Back to my story, I gathered up the three possible choices of toy cell phones to let Leo select the one he wanted. The choices were (1) the pink one, (2) a kind-of-feminine lavender one that wasn't quite so over-the-top as the pink one, and (3) a red one with a picture on its fake screen of someone parachuting. I can only assume that cell phone #3 is the one boys are supposed to pick, although I wouldn't object to giving that one to a girl. Leo was sure he wanted the pink one (a reasonable choice since it was the sparkliest and most fabulous of the three), so I figured "Why not?" and bought it for him. We brought it home and Leo had lots of fun making fake phone calls and rough-housed with it until he'd broken the beaded handle off the case. (Then he got the beaded handle stuck in one of the keyholes of our old house, and I had the fun of figuring out how get it back out...)

The next day, Leo brought his fabulous phone to school, and when he came home, he didn't have it anymore. I didn't notice at first (and neither did he), but a few hours later he remembered and started crying about it. Apparently some other boy at school had taken the phone away from him. Leo said the boy took it because it's a girl phone (so he presumably then gave it to a girl...? Not sure...). So I hugged Leo and told him not to worry, and that I'd buy him a new phone.

Then the next time I took Leo grocery shopping, we went to the toy aisle to pick out his replacement phone. Can you guess which one he picked this time? It was #3, the red one for boys.

So the problem was solved in a sense, but it has a bit of an unsatisfying conclusion. What do you think? Parents out there -- what do you do about the whole pink-gendered-toy question?