Wish I was still reading Among Others

I finished reading Jo Walton’s much prize-winning book, Among Others yesterday. Throughout, I found myself sort of drifting, liking the book, but not feeling terribly compelled. Now that it is done, however, I find that I am missing it. Not necessarily in that way that you wish you knew what happened to Harry after Voldemort, but rather… well, I just miss it. The characters, the world, the is-it-or-isn’t-it magic, the feel of it.

I’m picking something else to read now, but I sort of just feel like sitting and daydreaming about Among Others a little while longer.

Quite a book. Not for everyone. ymmv.

Is philanthropy heroic?

Yeah, so Lance Armstrong is a jerk. He won seven Tour de France races, but has just not-admitted that he won them all with the help of performance enhancing drugs. He used those wins to fuel a shockingly successful endorsement career, and used that money to fuel a shockingly widespread philanthropic effort.

Oh, and he beat cancer, too. (Before he won all the Tours de France, mind you.)

The Livestrong Fondation’s donations to cancer research are estimated at $470 million by Forbes. Charity Navigator rates the organization very highly, higher than any other cancer charity in the country. It’s a good organization, and it would not exist if Lance Armstrong had not won all those races.

So he’s a cycling hero, who has crashed off that bike. He was a sports hero, and now, he is not.

But, does his philanthropic work make up for that? Is he Robin the Hood, not the storybook character, but the real outlaw, killing and stealing for some Other Good? Did he bilk his sponsors out of millions, cheating his way into their coffers, in order to use that money and fame to build the Lance Armstrong Foundation?

And is that so bad?

Honestly, I don’t know. Cheating is bad. Giving is good. Cheating corporations is, well, not as bad. Lying to kids, however, is pretty bad. Giving hope to millions of cancer patients (some of them kids, some of them cycling fans)? Undoubtedly good.

Personally, I’m not so broken up about his cheating in the bike races, but I am not a huge cycling fan. My mother is in remission from cancer, and I appreciate anything the Livestrong Foundation’s $470 million might have indirectly had to do with her treatment.

So yeah, regardless of what I think of Lance Armstrong, I think philanthropy is heroic. And I think Lance Armstrong may have come to the same conclusion.

The search for church

I’ve never been a religious guy. I don’t believe in God. I see a lot of the crap that goes down in the world in the name of one God or Another, and it doesn’t do much to change my opinion. My mother used to take me to church when I was little (she took the whole family), but all I got from it was an abiding love for sugar cubes and a memory of a burning bush collage I once made.

As a young and not so young adult, I dabbled in churching, but nothing ever stuck. I married Catholic, so we tried that (shout out to Sacred Heart in Omaha!) but we also checked out the Methodists and several Unitarian Universalist congregations.

But you know what? Going to church every freakin’ week is hard. So we didn’t.

Then we had kids. Coupled with our recent move to Kansas City—a move we hope and plan to be our last—that set us to church hunting again. The local Catholic parish is pretty strictly conservative, so they were out. We tried a UCC congregation in the neighborhood, as they are pretty inclusive, yet still Christian (something we wanted to try on for size), but between feeling like fresh meat and their public reciting of the creed (which I will paraphrase as “do good in the name of Christ”), we did not feel completely comfortable.

So we went back to the well, and looked up the local Unitarian Universalist church. The Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church (SMUUCh, and if that isn’t reason enough to join…)

The first time we visited, we found it full of people. Young, old, families. There was singing, and food afterwards, Sunday school and a sermon. It was like real church! As we walked up to the front door, seeing Priuses in the parking lot, the hipster glasses on the woman greeting us at the door, I turned to Tiffany and joked, “these are Our People.”

But I was right, I think. Four months later, we are members (if you know us, you know we don’t buy ice cubes without researching them for a month prior). The community is large, vibrant, engaged and engaging. They have extensive religious education classes, extensive adult groups, and a strong community service ethic. The church is active in the national UU organization.

And, if you’ll pardon the language… they are Liberal as fuck.

So, we’ve found a community. It happens to be a church. They have accepted us despite our foibles, as they accept everyone. They will help us learn and grow and most important of all, they will help our children learn and grow and be Good People.

I still don’t believe in God, but I have always believed in something. Now I can go, once a week, to be with people who also believe in something. This isn’t our first time at a UU church. They vary widely, and depend significantly on the minister at the front of the room. But more importantly, the community behind the church is what drives it (and, more prosaically, hires and fires the minister…) That community is what we were looking for, what we have found, and what we have joined.

Thank God.

I wish you all the best of luck finding a community you can connect with, churchy or not.

Elephant graveyard

Cardinal feathers

Cardinal feathers

We’ve lived in our new house for about four months now. In that time, my wife (bless her) has collected and disposed of two dead squirrels, a fully grown but dead rabbit, and a moribund cardinal. We do have dogs, but neither of them are competent enough to have caught any of the above.

Which leaves either a neighborhood killer (cat, mountain lion, hexavalent chromium?), or the mystical: our new backyard is the neighborhood’s elephant graveyard, where dying animals go to leave their bones. Or in our case, carcasses.

Perhaps this is not an unusual number of dead things? But in our previous fourteen years of home ownership I can think of… well, one poisoned rat, one threadbare squirrel, and two animals I killed with a lawnmower (a wee baby bunny and a garter snake). So, that’s four in fourteen years, versus four in four months.

Methinks something is up.

Remote sensor for thermostats

This is one of the Million Dollar Ideas. Please, take this idea, and make it a reality, so I can buy it. And if you know that this exists now, please point me to it!

You know those weather/temperature stations you can buy everywhere now? The ones with the 2, 4 or 16 remote sensors, so you can see what the temperature is outside, in your room, and in the dog house? Well, someone needs to take that technology and apply it to the thermostat.

I want my thermostat, wherever it is (inconveniently) located, to be able to access 2, 4 or 16 remote sensors about the house. Then it could be programmed to set the temperature based on the reading in our bedroom at night, the kitchen in the morning, and the baby’s room during nap time.

It seems like an easy, cheap way to approximate zoned heating.