Monday, April 20, 2009


I've mentioned recently that I'm not particularly brave, rather a chicken, in fact. People, especially, tend to make me wary, because they are unpredictable and it's hard to read their motives. You just can't know what's going on inside another person. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, because it's what I want from them, but it's hard not to interpret certain signals negatively and go into emotional-self-protection mode. My tendency is to duck and cover. I don't want to be hurt, and my instinct is to make myself a smaller target and "disappear" when I think other people are unhappy with me, or have rejected me. It's probably not the wisest approach to life. Things go unresolved when you disappear, and if other people can possibly interpret your motives wrongly, it's a pretty good bet that they will a large portion of the time. Protecting yourself emotionally by withdrawing from potential sources of pain can be interpreted as rejecting others, for example, or as punishing someone else for previous hurts. It doesn't matter what's true, usually, or how much internal good will you have toward others. What matters is what's perceived, and it's hard to reengage once walls have been built to hide behind. I usually need encouragement to come out from behind them, and it's often the case that that encouragement never comes. It would be far better never to hide in the first place, but instinct is a hard thing to fight. That's a problem I'm still wrestling with, the struggle between instinct and wisdom. May God grant me grace and strength for the ongoing struggle.

So what happens when this occurs on an international scale? What happens when it's countries interacting, interpreting motives, and even "disappearing?" China, for example, withdrew from the world for a good deal of the twentieth century. Isolating herself from other nations, she put up a big Do Not Disturb sign and turned her back on the rest of humanity. That has changed for the most part these days. China wants trading partners, and customers to buy the goods of her billion or so budding entrepreneurs. The world has pretty much thrown its arms wide to China, buying her merchandise and exploring this once closed land. The Olympics gave the Chinese government the perfect chance to cast as benign a light as possible on her culture, people and intentions. Still, the international community does not know China very well after all those years of isolation, and there's bound to be some legitimate suspicion.

As an example of a "how am I supposed to interpret that" scenario, what should the world make of China's development of new and extremely powerful weapons systems? Gizmag has an article out today about what is believed to be a new and truly scary Chinese anti-ship ballistic missile, "capable of targeting and destroying US aircraft carriers"--in one shot. How does the world, and the U.S. in particular, go about giving China the benefit of the doubt here? Are the Chinese, in their own way of thinking, just protecting themselves from real or perceived threats, or are they getting ready to attempt a take-over of Taiwan? How should the countries of the world react?

Is China's development of aircraft carrier killers any different than the U.S. developing what we would consider defensive weapons systems, like Star Wars, or is China just keeping ahead of the game in a big, bad world? Many would say that China has shown herself to be a bully, and that once places like Tibet are free, then we can talk about China's legitimate right to self-defense. Of course, many in the world (I consider them in error) would say that the U.S. is a bully, and has no right to limit the military acquisitions of any other sovereign nation. For example, some people would say Iran has a perfect right to develop nuclear weapons capability. They would claim that if we can do it, Iran should be able to as well. Of course, the U.S. doesn't go around supporting Canadian terrorists and threatening to wipe Mexico off the map, as Iran has done with Iraq, Lebanon and Israel, so I'd say there are moral canyons between America and Iran, but that doesn't change the fact that reasonable people can disagree on the rights of nations, and that it's a difficult task to interpret the motives of another person, let alone another culture. I'd say Iran is pretty hard to misinterpret, if you take them at their word at all, but China is a different story. China is not nearly as talkative as Iran. Can we really know what the Chinese powers intend?

So, how should the U.S. react to this Chinese development? The Gizmag article makes it seem that the U.S. is taking this new weapon pretty darned seriously. I'm glad that I don't have to make the decisions here. As I've said, I'm a bit of a coward. I'd probably just duck my head and hope the situation went away. Okay, not really, but I'm taking my earlier analogy to its ludicrous extreme. Hmm... is it so ludicrous, though? I'm sure there are lots of people here in the States who would love to give China the benefit of the doubt, as we would like others to give it to us, and assume that her intentions are totally self-protective and not at all aggressive in nature. They would love to simply ignore the situation and assume that China will just happily go along supplying Wal-Mart with inexpensive merchandise, but can we afford to be that charitable and trusting? Probably not. Instinct says that not everybody can be trusted. Wisdom actually says the same thing. I hope the Chinese motives truly are as benign as the face they tried to show the world during the Olympics, but I also hope that the U.S. military finds a counter to this aircraft carrier killer soon. Both instinct and wisdom are telling me that's a good idea. May God grant us all grace and strength for the ongoing struggle.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


Pajamas Media has the story of some incredible women standing up against tyranny in Afghanistan. Appalling things are happening there, but given the history and current conditions, I'm amazed that these women could find the fortitude to protest. I'm pretty sure I could never be that brave...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

One Day This Will Be Funny

I was talking to my friend Mary today, telling her about my rather challenging weekend, and she told me I needed to write it down to remember later, as one day this story would be funny. I thought this was a good notion, because the adventures of the past weekend are probably worthy of special remembrance, with enough weight to hang around for a long time, growing and deepening, until the memory rightfully achieves the status of legend in the annals of home improvement here in Meowville. I can certainly see how telling it right could make it funny, and if I were Dave Barry or Bill Cosby, you would be clutching your sides already, holding back the chortles while you tried to focus your eyes through the streaming tears of laughter. Unfortunately for you, I am not Dave Barry, so I will simply relate the events as I remember them, and you can take your chances.

Saturday started out memorably for Ked and me for one clear reason. We had nothing on the calendar. Oh, we had lots of things we should be doing, and lots of places we needed to go, but the official events of the day had melted away one by one, so that we were left staring at a completely unstructured day, and complete freedom as to how to spend it. We wanted to watch The Passion of the Christ that night (since it was Easter Eve), but had a whole day to get something useful done!! It was liberating and terrifying all at the same time. I swallowed my guilt at not rushing over to the church to pick up work on the remodelling project which has languished there for the last month while Ked and I battled various illnesses, and together we decided to tackle a small-but-important task that has been needing attention here at home. For the last six months we have had a brand new toilet sitting in our garage, waiting patiently for the day to arrive when it would be officially installed into its new home. This was to be the final step in the bathroom overhaul which we started six months ago. The new tub, sink and most of the floor were in, and the toilet was the only major piece of the puzzle remaining unfinished.

We only have one bathroom, so we weren't willing to tackle this task without plenty of time to see the job through. We did not want to find ourselves with the project unfinished at the end of the day, and even though installing toilets is neither complicated, difficult, nor particularly time consuming, things can and do often go wrong in home improvement, and we didn't want to be taking any chances. So, the box stayed in the garage for all those many months until the moment finally arrive. We were excited. This was our chance!!

Oh, if only we had listened to ourselves about that "plenty of time to see the job through" thing. As the morning went on, and the phone kept ringing, and the hours crept past, we should have realized that this chance was rapidly slipping away. We even talked about it. "Oh gosh, the rest of the world is not cooperating. We've spent too much time on the phone, and responding to important emails. We better put this project off again." Did we listen to ourselves, though? No!! After deciding that we probably needed to delay the work, I made the choice to "just do a little of the prep work," and then Ked decided "just to bring the box in and have a look." Then we finally committed ourselves to lunacy, and at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, we jumped into the project full steam ahead, tore out the old toilet and tossed it, broken and bleeding, into our trailer to be carried away to porcelain heaven. It was a very old toilet, and we really did have to damage it to get it out of there, a circumstance which was to kick us a bit later, when we were down.

After the old unit came out, we spent some time replacing the last section of flooring and putting in some molding which was much easier to install with the giant porcelain barrier removed. Progress!! We were ready to move on to the main event. We very carefully followed the instructions which came in the big cardboard box. We made sure all the parts were there, and we gathered all the proper tools and materials. We successfully maneuvered our way through every step, and when we were done we were thrilled! It looked great, and felt solid. Now for the moment of truth! We flushed.

Oh, the joy! Oh, the triumph! Oh, the water gushing everywhere!! What had gone wrong? We tightened bolts, we examined connections. We took off the lid and poked and prodded. We inspected everyplace that could possibly be leaking. We came up with no clue why our meticulously installed toilet was making puddles on our new floor. Aargh!! This is why you do not start projects like this at 2 in the afternoon! We figured it was time to take the thing out and start over. We figured we must have messed up when we put on the wax seal. So, we knelt down to start the removal process, but decided to give it one last flush to see if the problem would reveal itself. That's when I saw it. As I lay on the floor in a position in which you almost never find yourself in relation to toilets (unless you are living in a college dorm), I saw it. It was a hole in the porcelain, right there where the bowl meets the pedestal. An honest-to-goodness, straight-from-the-factory chasm, through which poured more water than I could imagine coming from a hole which was not big enough to observe without close and desperate inspection, but which turned out to be plenty big enough to flood the area with H2O.

Get used to the word Aargh!! We used it a lot that day. Out came the brand new toilet. Into the box it went. We knew we had a receipt somewhere, but it was now going on four hours that we had been without a toilet (did I mention we only have one bathroom?), and we were feeling pretty strongly inclined to remedy this situation, so off we went to Home Depot. We knew they would be good about the receipt. All we wanted was to exchange the unit for one which came without pre-fabbed extra holes, and besides, this could be classed as something of a plumbing emergency, right?

Home Depot was, as we knew they would be, really great about it. The helpful cashier wrote down the brand info for us, so that we could go hunt down another toilet, while he got the return taken care of at his end. We went back into the bowels of the store (sorry, I couldn't resist), only to find that they didn't have any more of this unit. As it turned out, they had never had any of this unit! It had been six months since we bought it, and we had forgotten that we had been at Lowe's when we made the purchase. Terrific. We waved goodbye to the uselessly helpful Home Depot employee and made our way out to Gresham. It only took us about half an hour to make the trip. What's half an hour when you have all day? Oh wait--we didn't have all day. By this point, it was nearly seven. We made the exchange at Lowe's, after a little more fuss from them about the lack of receipt than we had experienced from the Depot, but eventually we found the identical toilet, put it in the back of our car and started what seemed to us to be a very long drive home. We stopped for a quick burger along the way, since home improvement never goes well on an empty stomach, and we didn't want tempers to start flaring. We made it home by about 9.

Eagerly, we lugged the big heavy box in the house, plopped it down in the dining room and cut the tape which sealed the container at every conceivable fold, joint and seam. Out came the tank. Out came the bowl. No holes. We're ahead of the game! Out came the seat, and then out came... nothing. There was no hardware in that box. As taped up as that box had been, we didn't notice that the unit had been opened and returned by a previous customer, who had neglected to include everything which came with his purchase when he sealed things up again. I can't even begin to tell you how frustrated we were. It's nearly nine-thirty. We have no toilet. The stores close at ten, and we can't even put the old toilet back in to get us by for awhile, because we broke it when we took it out! Get ready for it--Aargh!! (Although, I must admit, the language had gotten a bit less printable than that at this point.)

Out we trudged to Gresham again, just beating the store closing. This time we inspected every box, and discovered that ALL the toilets of that brand had boxes that appeared to have been previously opened. This did not bode well for future installation, so we decided to move on to a different option. Of course, when we looked, there was this reason why we couldn't get that affordable toilet, and that reason why we couldn't get another, and by the time we were done, we ended up spending another $180, on top of the money that we already had invested in the ticking time bomb that sat in our garage for six months, waiting to pounce on our unsuspecting and hopeful Saturday. By this point we didn't even care. We just wanted to get home and get the blasted thing installed. Ked had to be up at six in the morning to make it to worship rehearsal for Easter Sunday service. This toilet promised "40% faster installation." We plunked down our money and headed home.

It is with great gratitude that I report that the extra-spendy toilet really did install 40% faster than the gusher did. We finally had a working bathroom by approximately eleven o'clock that night. We heaved a deep sigh of relief. (Actually, I coughed a deep sigh of relief. I am still recovering from the worst flu bug Ked or I have ever had during the whole course of our 22-year marriage. To say I was tired at this point would be an understatement of very large proportions.) Anyway, our movie time was trashed, but we would not have to knock on the neighbor's door at two in the morning begging to use their facilities. We had survived!

There is one little addendum to this tale of woe. As we were inspecting the toilet during the initial gushing fiasco, we had to remove the lid. We placed it on the vanity, miscalculated the distance, and dropped it in our new porcelain sink. That sink did not survive. The toilet top punched a five inch hole in the bottom of the sink, reducing our once-functional bathroom temporarily to nothing but a tub. We tore the rest of the bowl out on Monday and plan to replace it sometime over the course of the next few days. Yes, we currently have no bathroom sink, and are brushing our teeth in the kitchen these days. The saga continues. Oh well. At least we have a toilet, and a story to tell. Someday, we may even laugh at it. Wish Dave Barry were here.

Quike The Adventure!

Hee hee. I bet you think I forgot to use Spellcheck, don't you? I bet you think I meant to write Quite The Adventure, isn't that right? Good logic, based on standard English usage, but ever so wrong, despite your solid reasoning. Then what in the world has happened to the English language, you may be wondering? Could this be yet another new word invented to cover some remarkable new tech discovery, or some new form of kid-speak that is sweeping through text messages like wildfire? No, I assure you, if it were some new lingo for the under-twenty-five set, I would have next to no way of knowing about it, ancient as I am. Okay, I do have some friends on Facebook who are in the text-speak generation, but most of what they write in said language goes completely over my head and I require translation on a regular basis. So, I would not dare to attempt to such generationally sensitive pseudo-gibberish myself without intense underage supervision, and Spellcheck would be as useless as a rotary-dialed cell phone.

Well then, what about the new-tech thing? No, that's not really it either. The word "quike" does not refer to a new-fangled technological breakthrough, though we're getting warmer. In fact, although there has, indeed, been a new twist added, the technology of which I speak is quite old. The humble bicycle was making its mark as innovative and cutting-edge way back in the 19th century, and the horse-and-buggy crowd were mocking bicycle riders as early as 1885. However, as we all know, forward-thinking bicyclists have had the last laugh. Nowadays, only the rich and the Amish can afford to stable horses, while the bicycle is used by millions of people for their principal means of transportation. Seen any video out of China lately? The bicycle is king. A little impractical for winter transportation in Oregon, maybe, but still a reliable and enjoyable means of getting around. Indeed, biking is my husband's favorite form of exercise.

So, now for the twist. A bike has two wheels, so the quike would have? Yes, I win the obvious-question-of-the-day award. It doesn't take the quadratic equation to figure out that a quike would have four wheels, along with the ability to cover rough terrain and carry loads that a mere bicycle would never be able to manage. (Although I've seen some of that aforementioned video out of places like China where skilled pedalers carry impossible-looking loads on their two-wheelers--balancing burdens the size of small cars on bicycles the size of, well, bicycles.) Four wheels add stability and weight distribution, and also add an ability to share the load when there's a second seat for additional pedal power.

So, what is the use for all that extra hauling ability? Four wheels probably wouldn't make it any easier to navigate the crowded streets of Beijing. What about more open landscapes, though? Rough rural roads, sand and snow? Well, there are a couple of ambitious and energetic young people out of Australia who are planning to muscle close to a thousand pounds of gear, supplies and body weight on a 7,400 mile, year-long journey that will take them through "Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Mongolia, Western China (Xinjiang) and Southern Russia (Tuva)." It's a pretty interesting story, which you can read here, along with some design info on the quike.

Roger Chao and Megan Kerr are hoping to document some of the vanishing local customs and stories from the cultures they will encounter, even as they take on the tremendous physical challenges of the trip. You can read more about their objectives at their website. They plan on keeping an ongoing online journal of their trip. (Ahh, the blessing of video cameras, tiny, portable computers and satellite technology. The twenty-first century does have a few things going for it.) I hope they do well in this effort. It would be interesting to read about their journey as it happens and explore these distant locations and cultures vicariously. I love discovering different places and people, although I don't think I would ever have the ambition to commit to peddling my way across 7,400 miles of remote and rugged, and multi-languaged terrain. That, like text-speak, is something best left to the young.