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Rumilluminations December 2012
By: Esther M. Powell
Posted on: Sun, December 02 2012 - 2:01 pm

December 31, 2012                                Madison, IN

The seventh day of Christmas is New Year's Eve.

This day is all about the count:  the countdown to the last day of the year, the countdown of the last 10 seconds of the old year to the new, our merely numerical (yet magical-feeling) opportunity for a new beginning.

My hearing of the Christmas story as a young girl was my first exposure to the idea of a census.  Mary and Joseph had to go to Bethlehem to be counted.

Even the poorest amongst us counts!  As an adult Jesus expounded on this idea when he talked about every sparrow being of importance to the Father in Heaven.  If individual sparrows deserve to be recognized, then certainly we deserve it, too.

The number seven has historically possessed religious significance, so on the biggest countdown day of the year I wish you a Merry Seventh Day of Christmas!

Or if you prefer, Xmas!  (What number would that "X" represent to you?)

December 30, 2012                                Madison, IN

Merry 13th Day of Saturnalia!

Oh, that's right, Saturnalia was only celebrated for nine days or so, wasn't it?  Our Christmas one-ups Saturnalia by offering us a twelve day feast, immediately followed by Epiphany.  (After all, we can't have a number 13 casting a shadow over our New Year, can we?)

For the sixth day of Xmas, our Christmas story (and song!) bring us - animals!

Not the traditional animals to hunt, but animals as friends, companions, and providers.

The shepherds on the hillside tend their sheep, who are also braving the elements to provide us humans with nice thick coats of wool to warm us.

Jesus is not reposing with his parents as fellow-guests with humans, but in a shed with animals.  He is lying in a manger, symbolic food not just for humans, but for the animals that feed and serve us.

So the Christmas story gives us sympathetic animals.  The herding dogs that help shepherds tend sheep as our servant companions may be the only ones watching over them when the shepherds come to worship the baby, but they are present by implication.

The animals in the shed where the family is staying appear in paintings to be worshipping the baby; maybe he is just a novelty to be sniffed out.  Or maybe they are really trying to figure out how to slip some of that hay out from under him!

At any rate, the Christmas story offers us true community with the animals in the most intimate way - real, if temporary, life companions, to whom we also give our lives in care and support.

December 29, 2012                                 Madison, IN

"The holly and the ivy, now both are full well grown.  Of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown."

The only ornament that I brought into our home for the season is some cut holly I bought for $2.50 from a local florist, so I must agree with those words!  On my walk today I saw snow-laden holly, the epitome of winter beauty possessing all three Christmas colors.  Beautiful.

Not only holly bears a crown, though, but so do the three wise men, and Jesus himself as the son of God.

So what is my Christmas story attraction of the day?  Royalty!

People love royalty.  From fairy tales to modern day public obsessions, princesses and princesses, queens and kings draw and focus attention to any narrative.

The three kings and their gifts, celebrated on Epiphany, could be said to be the crowning glory of the Christmas story!

December 28, 2012                                  Madison, IN

"On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me four calling birds."

Well, no birds in the Christmas story, but how about another winged creature - the angel?

Mary was initially informed of her pregnancy by an angel. Nine months later the shepherds tending their flocks in the fields were not only treated to their usual megadose of nature, but also the singing "Allelujah" of a heavenly host praising God.

Just as birds connect us to the sky, angels connect us to heaven.  Once in a while angels become popular to the point of a cultural obsession, but they are always intriguing, with their sexlessness and their halos and their magnificent wings.

The Christmas story promises the possibility of a similar revelation to any of us.  Happy fourth day!

And if you never see an angel, there are always birds.  Today on our cold walk we saw at least two times four white herring gulls!

December 27, 2012                                  Madison, IN

Before there was Christmas there was Saturnalia, a Roman holiday marked by the turnover of the natural order of things.  When I first heard about Saturnalia in high school Latin class, I was told it lasted nine days around the same time as Christmas.  Evidently the duration of the festival, which started a few days before the solstice, varied widely over the centuries.

Did this downtime arise over millenia as a way to cope with the darkness and enforced inactivity of the winter and perhaps a fear that the light would never return? (Sometimes it feels that way even to us, if the furor over the Mayan pseudo-Apocalypse is any indication!)

At any rate, drunkeness and lechery abounded where there was normally (ideally) sobriety and virtue.  Masters served their slaves.  Gifts were given, including gag gifts.  The gifts were commonly of a value of inverse proportion to the status of the recipient.

Enter Christmas and the three wise men.  These are the highest representatives of their respective countries, and they give gifts of great value to the lowest of the low, this little baby they find in a feeding trough in a livestock shed.

Unexpected and expected gifts are celebrated all through the twelve days of Christmas in song and the thirteenth day, Epiphany, which is the celebration of the wise men.

Maybe we should properly give our X gifts (X for Saturnalia or Christmas!) on Epiphany, but I have a little secret to share:  for the most part, my partner and I didn't even hold off until Christmas!

December 26, 2012                                   Madison, IN

On this second day of Xmas, we are getting whitened!  The snow is coming down in big determined flakes and promises to stick.

Reminds me of another facet of the appeal of the Christmas story:  the natural world.  This old family favorite conjures up images of the hillsides outside of Bethlehem, where shepherds are watching their sheep.  The nights in that relatively dry climate are starry as we have rarely seen starry nights because then there was no electricity.  They are quiet as we do not know quiet, because there were no engines or motors.

Even people who don't know they hunger for nature need it, just as people on junk food are nutritionally starving for lack of vegetables.  Literary imagery of nature is better than no nature at all and reminds us of where we are.

That is why, I believe, that an outdoor creche scene is better than an indoor one.  It brings the shepherds and their lives more vividly into the picture.  If it is snowy and cold, all the better.  We need nature, and we need protection against it.

Happy second day of Xmas!  It brings us, along with shelter, the vast world (earth and skies) we sometimes need to escape from.

December 25, 2012                                    Madison, IN

Merry Xmas, all!  I offer this as a secular greeting to be all-inclusive as possible. 

I must confess to a bit of envy and wistfulness at not having a white Christmas this year.  Much as I hate to be socked into three months of nasty, gray, cold - no freeeeezing! - weather every winter, I do like a little of that silent beauty that is a snow-laden tree.

With any luck, though, it will come here, probably this winter.

Cosy and content as I am here in Madison with my mate, there are things I miss about past Christmases.  When I was a girl, my family always read the Christmas story from the King James version of the Bible on Christmas Eve.  It has been a long time since that was new-fangled language!

I was considering that tale, which has held so much power over centuries.  What is its appeal?

Well, first it has a search for shelter - a need that any child who has been waiting a little too long for an opportunity to go inside (even if it is only at recess!) can relate to.

Whoops!  This is getting too long.  I think I will celebrate the Christmas story and ruminate over its attractive facets for the entire twelve days of Christmas!

December 24, 2012                             Madison, IN

Ha, ha!  The NRA guy can maintain that there is no correlation between gun availability and gun-related deaths.

Sound familiar?  Like Romney is going to win the election?

Gore had the perfect title for his film about global warming, An Inconvenient Truth.

It takes a special type of person to deny the facts known about the effects of assault-type rifle banning in other countries (i.e. Australia.)

These people are fond of saying that statistics lie just because statistics can be marshalled to back different arguments.  It is too bad that their disbelief in statistics allows them to actively believe whatever they want about reality.

Even if it were true that armed guns would protect children in school, who wants to have their children in the presence of a military state?

I'd rather the President declare martial law for a month and confiscate all those pernicious weapons!

Oh, don't even say it.  You don't want that no matter what.

And it is about as likely to happen as the Mayan Apocalypse. 

December 22, 2012                              Madison, IN

Deb Wasserman says the NRA is "tone-deaf, no it is worse than that - deaf..."

I say they are stone deaf - from the percussion of too many gunshots in their ears!

Jay Leno collects cars and drives them.

Gun collectors collect guns to shoot for sport.  I can understand that.  But what sport requires assault guns.

These are toy collections that you should not use.

Sounds like a frustrating idea of fun.

December 21, 2012                              Madison, IN

Let me get this straight.  The nations managed nuclear disarmament - or at least reduction of nuclear weapons and stringent controls - or at least reduction in the number of governments having the power to blow up the world - or at least the right to attempt to stop the number of nations having the right to buy the capability to have nuclear weapons.

But the United States can't manage to say "no" to legal automatic weapons - or at least war-style assault weapons?

We can't say to the NRA, "No, we don't want armed guards in our schools to protect our students from the customers of your backers?"

Is the NRA offering to pay for the public expense of armed guards in the schools?

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!  - I thought not!

American business is so attached to the profit from its guns that it is willing to make us pay for them.

With our lives.

December 20, 2012                              Madison, IN

Yes, it's a gun control issue.  Sure, mental health may play a role.

But above everything else it is an anger issue.  Why do our citizens feel so angry that they turn their anger in so many directions - including ultimately against themselves?

This is not just obsessive or directed anger.  It is explosive anger.

A law enforcement person once said in a meeting I attended, "Humans are hard-wired to please."

How do we get from that basic instinct that should nurture society and its members to a desire to hurt rather than help, seemingly make a name for oneself at any cost to oneself, kill oneself only after taking as many other people with you as possible?

Gun control?  Absolutely necessary.  A no-brainer.

Mental health?  Probably much less a determining factor than gender.

No, anger is the key, and anger management is not the solution.

Less anger is the solution.  Let's eliminate anger!

Anger is seldom groundless, but unfortunately it can become habitual.  I'm not pretending it is easy to eliminate.  I do believe, though, that as a society we have not really scratched the surface in attempting to do so.


December 19, 2012                              Madison, IN

Next year my social security check is going to be five dollars bigger than it was this year.


I said to my partner, "Honey, we're going to be getting five dollars more every month next year.  Do you want to do something special with that five dollars?"

He snorted.

"Yeah.  Toilet paper."

*   *   *

Yesterday I completed my trip home.  My drive from Cumberland Lake State Resort Park began with the five mile drive from the hotel to Highway 127.

The foliage in the woods was mostly a rose-beige which, combined with the pale-green of the grasses and some of the drying mosses made for a highly unusual winter color combination.  Add to that the structural elements of tree trunks and rocks.  This drive was really almost stunning in its beauty.

To let you know how impressive it was:  I imagined coming here with my partner in the summer and worried that the landscape would not measure up to my hyperbole in the summer months.

The drive up 127 takes you through hill country which gives way to farmland to Frankfort.  There I switched to 421, which kind of gives you a condensed version of the same.  The first part of the road winds up and down and around, then as you head farther north you get more shallow undulations.

Something happened on 421, though, that you won't experience often on the Interstates or even smaller highways.  I saw three deer cross the road up ahead.  It afforded a little bit of drama when I wasn't sure an approaching pickup could avoid hitting one of them.

On second thought, maybe some of you in this part of the country see deer crossing roads frequently.  Still, it was the only time I saw them on this trip.

Winter snowscenes I did not experience on this trip, for which I am grateful.  No ice, no sliding accidents, no invisibility, except what was caused by rain.  The holiday decorations made a December trip a great idea, though, for driving the smaller highways.  Just that much more interesting detail for the road-weary traveller. 

Dec. 17, 2012   When I left Nashville earlier than I expected I could not face the boring Interstate drive home, so I impulsively headed east on I40.  I have been on I40 all the way from Nashville to California at one time or other, but have never (to my recollection) ridden the highway very far east of Nashville.  My homeward trek afforded me the opportunity of seeing parts of Tennessee and Kentucky I had never seen before.

Wow!  If you want easy Interstate driving and gorgeous scenery too, maybe you should try the drive.  I had to get off in Cookesville, TN to head northward to home, but this country could easily have tempted me farther east.  Alas, I had to put the Smoky Mountains off for another time.  Some of these so-called hills seemed like mountains to me!

It became increasingly evident that the adventure I thought might add two or three hours to my trip was going to take longer than I thought.  In fact, when I encountered heavy rains and darkening weather at four o'clock, and saw road signs about Lure Lodge at the Lake Cumberland State Park being fifteen, then ten, then five miles off with seeming eternities of driving (and almost driving rain) in between, I had to admit I had miscalculated the time it would take to get home.

I turned into the road to the park, hoping (and really expecting) that I would find a room at the inn.  Good thing I did.  Lake Cumberland on a rainy day from the balcony of the room I got for a mere $73 dollars (including tax!) is one of the most serene views in my experience.

They are offering a New Year's dance and a room for around $90 a couple.  If I were mated with a dancer I would jump at it!

As it is, I can hardly wait to introduce my partner to the beauties of this place - my bet is that they are superlative no matter what the season.

December 15, 2012                                Nashville, TN

No doubt in my mind now that the quickest way to get from Madison, IN to Nashville TN is via Highway 62 west to I65 South.

Unfortunately, it is also the least interesting and the most truck-infested.

The countryside is beautiful, though, so compared to many Interstate stretches it is lovely!

Encountered rain on the way, and once in Nashville I enjoyed the balmy air and pansy bounty.  You would think it was Spring.

I imagined traffic would not be too bad, because I figure everyone is sobered by what happened in Newtown, CT yesterday.  Even if you managed to forget, all the flags at the government buildings and the highway rest stops were at half mast.

At any rate, traffic was not bad.  Nobody was outrageous.  People were very well-behaved.

And of course, that is the way it usually is.

Thank you to all the people who manage to live without falling apart.

Over the roadway outside Nashville there are signs that list the number of traffic deaths in Tennessee as being in the nine hundreds.  When I was last here the number was four hundred thirty-something.

I would call it sobering, but I was sober already.  Honest!

December 14, 2012                                  Madison, IN

I'm sorry, but Bill O'Reilly is just plain creepy.

We started watching him in the early 2000s and I thought he was right sometimes, wrong sometimes.  Even though I am a liberal, I was brought up by two conservative people.  I could at times relate to his point of view.

Then I heard him maintain statistics about women supposedly gathered by his fact-checkers in the face of the president of a national organization of women who had different (and in my opinion probably more reliable, being based on broader study and exposure to the facts) figures.  I turned him off, never to intentionally pay attention to him again.

Later I read in an Al Franken book that O'Reilly claimed to have won a Pulitzer when he really won a - what was it? - a Peabody, I think.  He was either lying or very confused.

Now I hear he has written two books:  Killing Lincoln and Killing Kennedy.

I might not be so offended if he weren't a Republican (and neither would Lincoln be by present-day standards.)  But to write two books about the assassinations of two political leaders with different politics than yours is kind of creepy.


And still I occasionally have to listen to him rant on other people's shows.

When asked by John Stewart what his next book would be, O'Reilly responded, Killing Colbert.

I laughed, I'll admit, from release of tension, not being at all sure I wanted to hear what he was going to say.

This is a wrong-headed, stubborn man who should know better by his age.


December 13, 2012                                   Madison, IN

Obviously when you lie you are misleading the person you are lying to (or to whom you are lying, if you want to be a pedantic liar!)  More importantly, maybe, is that when you lie you are misleading yourself!

After all, when you mislead someone else all their responses to you are based on something that is not-you.  You can't take their responses to you at face value because you know they are based on nothing real.

Maybe you think you don't care, and maybe you don't.  You might surprise yourself, though, and find yourself caring after all.  Then what?  If you come clean with the person, you must undergo whatever response that person has to the truth.  If you don't, you are estranged from yourself because someone you care about doesn't know who you are and you know you can't trust the feedback you get from them.

Yeah, this "web of deceit" can get pretty complicated, can't it, and you can't just suck it up like some spiders can!

Ha, ha - I don't think spiders spin their webs from their mouths, and neither do humans!

P.S.  In the interest of truth-telling, I looked up a little more about spiders.  They cannot retract their web threads from the secreting glands, I gather, because they secrete a liquid that solidifies when it hits the air.

They do, however, eat old webs, in which they have invested a good amount of protein.

Yum, yum!  Today we offer old spider webs or old lies.  Which would you prefer?

December 12, 2012                                   Madison, IN

What gives with businesses these days?

We pay our cable company with automatic withdrawals from our bank account, partly to save paper.  So what do they do?  Send us a statement, anyway, with a return envelope included.  Net result?  No savings, except postage for me - which I could have saved anyway if I wanted.  The business is on the way to the library - an easy walk.

My partner could not get statements from the people who own his school debt for love nor money - until he started making automatic payments.  Now he gets his zero balance statements every month.  Of course there is a never-to-be-used envelope included.

I just got a bill from my Medicare Advantage insurance company, a BlueCrossBlueShield program called Anthem (which was free only last year and has this year gone up to $34.00!) in an envelope with no return address worth mentioning.  I could easily have thrown it out as junk mail.  What kind of company would do these things?

Sallie Mae, the administrator of part of my daughter's school debt, was happy to let me know when it began to look if she might miss a payment a few years back.  Now that I have started making regular payments because I was a cosigner and am happy to do so, I am the honored recipient of a once-a-year statement.  So far.  It is nothing I feel I can count on.

What's more, last year I asked over the phone if I could skip a payment if I wanted with no penalty, and they said no, that we were now paying down the principle.  So a couple of months ago I got a statement that no money would be due until May 2013.  Well, which is it?  Forget it, I'm just paying more than is required every month.  Why?  See the last sentence in the paragraph above.

Meanwhile the local hospital keeps sending me statements for money I don't owe.  When I call about them, wonder of wonders, Medicare sent the payment after all.  That doesn't stop a (collections?) agency for sending me a card offering to pay my nonexistent bills on credit.  I can't help but feel that they think I am so mentally enfeebled that I will pay the bill three times over if they only ask me to.

Forget the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing.  These institutions are octopi, and the number 3 tentacle does not know what the hell any of the other seven are doing!

Not surprisingly, neither do I.

December 10, 2012                                   Madison, IN

In the old days people used to carry their groceries home in a bag they brought with them.

When my mother used to shop for the family she was given paper bags to carry her groceries home.  She used them in the kitchen for trash and garbage disposal.

By the time I started grocery shopping, we were being offered a choice between paper and plastic.  As the years went by, the paper and plastic in the bags got thinner.  Sometimes we had to double bag.

During those same years, environmentalists and conservationists started lamenting the destruction and waste caused by throw-away bags.  A movement was afoot to persuade consumers to bring their own bags.

Co-ops and various small businesses started giving discounts or cash rewards to people who brought their own bags.  At the same time many of them sold reusable bags, the use of which over time save the environment (and coincidentally save the business money.)  Town and Country paid a nickel a bag.

My mate and I use our own bags for many of our purchases, but do bring some plastic bags home which we use for trash and garbage (filling about one a day, thanks to the lack of recycling in these apartment buildings.)  Sure, we are throwing away plastic, but at least we aren't buying those big thick garbage bags.

Now at least one major corporation has started charging the customer for every plastic bag he uses.  If you want to use one of their small but sturdy bags probably good for a few uses, you have to pay a dime!

If all the stores start charging, we will always have to bring our own bags, completing the food shopping bag cycle.

Dang!  We will have to find another solution for our home trash.


December 9, 2012                                    Madison, IN

When I was in graduate school I briefly dated a young man who thought people who had children were selfish - it was their way of trying to be immortal, he thought.

Many others think you are selfish if you don't have children - maybe a throwback to the admonishment of God to "Be fruitful and multiply."  Well, was that supposed to be an order, or was that just encouragement?  And why should people have children, if they are not so inclined?

The zero population growth folks believe you should only replace yourself (I used to be one of those myself until I had a third child) and the Chinese famously legislated only one child per couple.

What is all this judgment around child-bearing?  You're selfish if you have any, you're selfish if you have too many - if not criminal!

Honestly.  Think of the wealth of reasons to have children - or not to have them!

And "Doin' a-what comes natcherly" is not the least of them!


December 8, 2012                                    Madison, IN

I'll trade global warming for global farming;

Republicanization for Democratization;

Blaming-oh for flamingo and flamenco;

Rumor for humor.

I'll switch coal for sol

Goals for souls

Sticks and ditches for plumes and stitches

Sprees for trees.



December 7, 2012                                     Madison, IN

It seems that "the survival of the fittest" is one of our favorite phrases these days.

It is used to justify "might makes right" attitudes on the part of the powerful and cockiness on the part of those who see themselves as more intelligent and inventive.

There are, however, all sorts of ways to survive.  Those who are quickwitted and flexible tend to think of themselves as superior and, bored with life away from "where the action is," flock to cultural centers to make their marks.

Those who are tenacious and adverse to change are perhaps more willing to stay where they are and develop the skills necessary to prosper in loco.

Who knows which personality types manage to perpetuate and propogate the species the best?

It makes me happy to think that it takes all of these skills at different times to make the world go round --

Not to mention survive when it turns on its axis!

December 6, 2012                                      Madison, IN

Facebook is turning out to be addicting.  Or like homework - I can't decide which.

It makes me wonder.  Was homework just something mindless to do - an addiction?  As soon as it got really challenging, I tended to lose interest.

Same thing happens on Facebook.  I enjoy reading the posts of others.  I hear a lot about what's going on in the world pretty rapidly sometimes.  I enjoy the laughter and the banter and the autobiographical narratives.

But when the arguments get too detailed, too esoteric, and overbearing, I lose interest.

Am I addicted to ease?  To escapism?  Am I too much of a generalist?

Or am I just not convinced that the truth lies in any too narrow or arguable view of the world?

Funny phrase, that -- the truth lies.

December 5, 2012                                      Madison, IN

Now that Christmas is coming, this erstwhile Christian can't help but think about religion.

Religions do have something going for them, in that most of them do seem to have a tendency to urge their followers to at least a modicum of introspection.

Or they would seem to.

How does the far political right correlate with the Christian right?

We seem to lump them in one group, what with all the challenges to Obama's Christianity.

But are they?  Christ supposedly died on the cross for the sake of everybody's immortal soul, yet the conservatives don't seem inclined to give up a nickel to the Federal Government for social purposes, even though the Federal Government probably gives more money to the less fortunate among us than probably any church (or combination of churches, for that matter.)

Hmmm!  I'd like to see some statistics about that!

As people are asking, what is all the quarrel about?  More power?  Control?  Greed?  Different people have different opinions about that.  Maybe it is about all of the above, plus a few more mortal sins.

Oops - there I go - back to religion again.

December 2, 2012                                      Madison, IN

December has arrived.  There are still some roses blooming near the ground that have been spared by the frost.

I have yet to don my flannel-lined blue jeans, let alone my warmest socks and sweaters.

The temperature is 60 degrees F today, though it is kind of rainy and definitely cloudy-gray.

Maybe that is why people seem cooler - at least the business-in-the-ether people.  No, I'm not talking about the anaesthetic - I'm talking about the ether that everyone thought didn't exist.

It must exist!  Phone service disappears into it, as proven by the scamdel.  (Well, maybe they didn't mean it, but they became completely unaccountable, anyway.)

When I tried to set up a new contract with T-mobile about a month ago, I thought it was basically set when I got cut off from a representative by the hills we were driving through.  (Heh, heh, here you can get cut off between the literal uptown on the hill and the downtown along the river.)  She never called back even though she had my number.  Er well, maybe she couldn't call back even though I could call out.  I didn't know who of the hundreds, maybe? of reps I was talking to, so, having had a bit of trouble in the past few days, I let it go.

We decided to take the 45 or so minute drive to Clarksville to the nearest T-mobile dealer (a real, present, human) to sort out our phone service.  She could find no evidence of a contract, so we started all over with her.

Between that visit and another straightening-out-of-the-bill phone call to T-mobile, we have ended up with a very sweet and loveable deal.  Thanks to a real person and all the good (and decidedly ghostly!) folks who have since disappeared into - you guessed it - the ether.

The latest ether has materialized in the form of a cloud.  The Amazon cloud, whatever that is.

We tried to order some books on Kindle and they have not arrived to feed my Kindle, maybe because it is not a fire!  Anyway, my partner has googled the mess and found out the problem from other users.  We will get it straightened out, I am sure.  We will magically conjure our books out of the cloud and into my already out-of-date electronic device.

With no personal help or communication or explanation from Amazon, however (although they certainly let us know in October that our credit card number was no longer useable.)

Where has accountability gone?

-- into the skyblue ether.

As far as I can tell, the younger generation doesn't seem to mind at all.  It is something they have grown up with.

And the oxygen of accountability seems to have evaporated.

Hope I can survive on ether! 

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