Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Losing my Religion

A new study sponsored by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reveals that only 1.6% of Americans consider themselves atheists. Really? I would have guessed the number was higher... Do I live in the much of a bubble? Yes, probably. I had to search a bit to find that number actually since the Pew researchers buried it in the category of "other religions" -- lumping atheists in with agnostics and "nothing in particular." Altogether, this group of "other religions" (and yes, I object to that terminology) is 16.1% of the American population.

Of the folks in this group, only half were raised in that tradition:

"The survey finds that the number of people who say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith today (16.1%) is more than double the number who say they were not affiliated with any particular religion as children. Among Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion."

The other interesting tidbits I learned also concern how we were raised:

"More than one-quarter of American adults (28%) have left the faith in which they were raised in favor of another religion - or no religion at all. If change in affiliation from one type of Protestantism to another is included, 44% of adults have either switched religious affiliation, moved from being unaffiliated with any religion to being affiliated with a particular faith, or dropped any connection to a specific religious tradition altogether."

From here my brain wandered off into three directions: 1) will my children follow the new trend and leave the "faith" in which they are being raised? 2) this shifting about does represent a profound shift from American traditions where families stayed in a religious tradition generation after generation -- political parties, regional identities, etc. were built on such stability 3) this is still a pretty hugely religious country. I do know that my students tend to be religious (though I no longer have that overwhelming evangelical student body population I had at Georgia Southern), but most of them tend to keep it out of the classroom so it is easy for me to ignore.

Every once in a while I do run in to it, though. I remember a student who was following me back to my office once and discussing a moral issue that had come up in the reading on one of the activists we'd been studying. The activist rooted much of her perspective in a particular religious tradition and the student was searching her own experiences, trying to see how her religion had shaped her worldview (good, we like that in a student). The student then asked me about my religion. When I told her I'm an atheist, she got this look of pity on her face and said, "oh, that is so sad." She was worried, as my mother has been since I "fell from grace" (I was raised Methodist), that I would not have the comfort of faith in an all-powerful being. Um, no, see I just don't find that comforting. Physics... that I find comforting. Rational thought, oh yeah, that will get me through the night.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Wouldn't Kick It Out of Bed for Eating Crackers...

So... Winter Beerfest '08, Grand Rapids... Well, it did not reach the heights of frivolity of last year's fest, but it was fun nonetheless.

On the down side: The venue shift from a parking lot in old town Lansing to a baseball stadium in Grand Rapids was a disappointment. The tents this year were tucked into odd spaces that took lots of thought and maneuvering to reach and some of them (oh those poor pourers for New Holland!) were rather exposed to the wind. Walkways were narrow and not very well cleared of snow and ice. We all did a bit of slipping and sliding on the ramps and stairs and worried over those trying to get around on crutches or with other types of mobility limitations. Anyone in a wheelchair would have been pretty well shut out of this fest. There was no central hangout/meeting up area, so I did much less socializing than last year. The poor musicians were left to try and work frozen fingers over cold strings in odd spaces where it was difficult for the audience to stop and listen. Also, no veggie food. I certainly wasn't expecting much in the way of food, but is one warm, non-flesh option that hard to do? Finally, several of the fun people from last year were absent and much missed on this go-around.

On the up side: I had a lovely drinking crew consisting of Pete, Daye, Wendy's Matt, and Andy. There were some good beers and (thankfully!) some new things to try. Also, we did get to use the flush toilets of the ballpark and they even had heaters in there! I was feeling the need of some time away from the old homestead and beering/strolling/lolling/eating in GR fit the bill nicely.

Because of the set-up of the beerfest, I found it hard to take decent notes. Also, the coldness made it difficult to get a good read on the porters and stouts, in my opinion. They all came across as a bit sharper and less round/thick than they "should" have been, so I'm thinking temp had a lot to do with that and was fairly forgiving as a result. Considering all this, I'm not going to rank but rather will categorize:

The Good:
Copper Canyon, Rye-PA: Nice, bit of a bite, lovely floral smell

Founders, Porter: Nice enough

Founders, Black IPA: Excellent, crisp, IPA but not hard/bitter

Founders, Breakfast Stout: yum

Rochester Mills Beer Co, Coffee 'N Cream Stout: good, smelly! (nice coffee nose)

New Holland, Cabin Fever Brown: very nice coffee brown

Kuhnhenn, Aldebaran Double Red: Nice!

Michigan Brewing Co, Winter Warmer: rye/IPA that had some sweet/maltiness without being syrupy, too little smell though

Arbor Brewing, HXL Double IPA: lovely, lovely smell, right on the edge of sweet and thick, but it didn't fall over the edge... reminded me how lucky we are to have ABC/Corner right here in our neck of the woods!

Arcadia Brewing Co, Hop Rocket Imperial IPA: probably the crispest of the big IPAs, lovely with a light smell and hop, perhaps too clear

The Hideout Brewing Co, Smuggles Hazelnut Stout: yum... seemed more chocolate than hazelnut, but extremely tasty and unsubtle

Black Lotus, Hip Hops American Pale Ale: good smell and as good as it was at summer beerfest -- nice to see that kind of consistency from a newish place

The Bad... (or at least seriously middling)

Sherwood Brewing, Alaskan Sister Wit: lots of banana (too much!) and coriander

Shorts, Cup A Joe: yet another coffee stout but it was okay

Shorts, Huma Lupa Licious: not much taste but nice freshly mowed lawn smell

Dark Horse, Double Crooked Tree IPA: fine

Arbor Brewing, Super Snapper Imperial ESB: last beer of the day... but fine

Mountain Town Station, Iron Horse IPA: fine, really not all that fine except that is was way better than the other beer from here that I'd had right before it

The Hideout Brewing, Midnight Oatmeal Stout: no huge mistakes, but no unique character

The Hideout Brewing Chicago Typewriter Double Red: pretty hoppy!

Black Lotus, Generation X Porter: Solid, but not anything in particular to distinguish it from the other porters of the day.

And the Ugly (several of these were bad enough to be poured out):

North Peak Brewing, Whitley's Wheat: yellow beer with spice - forgettable

New Holland, Pilgrim's Dole Wheat Wine: icky sweet -- mostly a style issue, me no likely wheat wines!

Michigan Brewing Co., Imperial IPA: waaaaaay too thick and sweet

Mountain Town Station, Winter Warmer: this was a spiced wheat that was so bad I got a "do over" on this and the guy poured me a IPA instead

Schmohz, Kiss My Scottish Arse Scotch Ale and Mad Tom's Porter: all the beers here had been "Jolly Pumpkin-ized," meaning they were way too similar

Darkhorse, Whisky Richard Belgian Ale: way too sweet with a liquor-like finish

Walldorff Brewpub, Hopnoxxxious IPA, Bee Sting Honey Rye, and Old Woody Imperial Stout: afraid they were all stinkers and all got dumped. I think that might be some kind of record for suckiness.

Looking back over this list, I'm thinking beerfest was actually pretty successful despite its inadequate venue. Along the way I also got to see a little more of Grand Rapids. It has a solid downtown that had an impressive amount of foot traffic, some nice brick streets and "office block" height buildings (def. looks like a downtown, but is not particularly tall), good signage (shows some love and $$ has recently gone into the town), and some happening spots. The new location for Founders turned out to be pretty impressive. Long and narrow, it had high ceilings and a good sound mix for both bands (the Werks and Back Forty). The streetside wall consists of windowed garage doors that can be opened in the summer which should rock in July and owners have thoughtfully decreed the bar non-smoking but provided a separate enclosed smoking porch for those so inclined. They also now have proper food, something very much lacking at the old location. The place is huge compared to the old digs, so I was worried that they might be getting a bit too big, but the beers remained solid (although the Red's Rye I had there was wicked bitter, but I'm thinking that after a long day of drinking, a nap, and sinus issues, my taster may have been off). And now they have their good beer and their good music space a bit closer to downtown. I approve.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

And so it begins...

The Minor Kitchen Overhaul '08

When we first looked at this house, there were two things that jumped out at me as "must be changed" items in an otherwise acceptable house.

The first was the big bathroom: a crooked light fixture over the vanity, a huge medicine cabinet that stuck out from the wall and had a very worn finish, and a terrible combination of green sponge painting and ivy wall paper borders put up in unusual places. It took 3 years, but I finally tore out the worst of the stuff, repaired the ceiling, repainted, and replaced the mirror, light, and vanity hardware. It is not stunning, but the room does not horrify me whenever I enter it.

The other "must go" item was the kitchen wallpaper: a color co-ordinated combination of flowered paper, plaid paper, and a border of large flowers... all in hues of rose, green, and country blue. I dislike wallpaper intensely. And that plaid section? Aack. If you don't know this about me already, you should: I HATE plaid. But for six years I have lived with the wallpaper. We put up lots of kid art to cover the big expanses of wall and learned to live with it. You see, once you start messing with the kitchen, it raises all sorts of questions about new cabinets, retrofitted old ones, moving appliances, new flooring, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc. and that made my brain spin. We didn't have the money or energy to rip it all out, so we just did nothing.

Well today -- with kids on vacation from school and eager to help (at least for a while) -- I finally tackled the wallpaper. Andy came by and joined in. We finished 2 1/2 walls. I'm slightly freaked by the amount of work still to be done, but I'm excited about the possibility of finally having just a nice solid color of paint (that I chose) on the walls and fresh paint on the trim. Even though I did go out to Ikea today and allow some fantasy kitchens to enter my brain, I'm going to keep this project rather small -- just paint, new shelves, new window treatments, ceiling fan replacement, and a new hutch (cabinet? cupboard? still looking for the right piece) for returnables and lunch boxes to land. We can do more later. Who wants to help paint cabinets this spring????

Friday, February 15, 2008


This is the first day of a long weekend for the kids. They have a friend over to spend the night and the three of them have been happily building pillow forts in the basement and playing "snake family."

I've been toddling around upstairs, keeping an ear out for conflict or over-the-top craziness, but all I'm hearing is giggling. For something on the order of an hour, the trio has been giggling wildly. As adults, you know we would have puked long ago from all that mirth, but they are just cruising along.

Oh sure, there was that moment when exuberant play led one child to crash into another and then that child smashed his face on a hard doll head... but the tears didn't last. They shifted from the basement to the bedroom and the giggles resumed. Soon I will have to try to convince them to go to sleep and stay that way until a respectable hour in the morning, but for now, it is the easiest night I've had at home in a long time.

This allows me to ramble on about other things:

1)Cake. W and I stole away for lunch out on Thursday after my PT appointment. We split a hazelnut torta for dessert. It was super yummy. Don't worry, I didn't really lick the plate, I was only smelling the hazelnuts and gingered cream...

2)Sledding. We had the hill to ourselves yesterday for the Second Annual Valentine's Day Sled Fest. While there was lots of interest in the event, only my family, Andy, Matt, Stacey, and her kids came out. Yep, adults outnumbered the kids! The snow was not particularly fast, but it was still fun and nice to not have to worry about reckless sledders running anyone down. Well, Stacey did overtake O and knock him out of his sled at the bottom of the hill on one run, but no injuries were sustained. Andy wins the "most reckless sledder" award for trying to recreate the spectacular fall Andre took last year (sleds are not for standing on, people!) -- and his neck is hurting today, hmmm.... Geo and Warren win the award for longest run. Riding double on Uncle Bob and having received a nice push off the top from L, they were able to hit the snow fence at the bottom. Dinner at Aubree's followed. The place was pretty well empty (not a romantic Valentine's Day destination, I guess), which meant the kids could be left to play tag among the pool tables while the grown-ups drank tall, tall beers...

3)Dalat. We like this Vietnamese restaurant in downtown Ypsi quite a bit. After surfing around through the menu, we've now settled on our favorites and order the same thing every time: 61, 62, 64, 66 -- a good amount of food and enough diversity to please all. But the restaurant has been closed of late -- and not for their annual trip to Vietnam. A friend sent me a pic of the sign that is on the door, but it doesn't really clear things up. Anyone know what's up and when they might be open again?

4)BeerFest. It's coming. Feb. 23. Yep, I'm as excited as Daye! I think I'll go do a bit of delious warm up by checking out the scheduled beer line up. What could be better than drinking beer on a February afternoon in Michigan on an outdoor ball field? Sounds perfect to me :)

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Dirt on the Dirty Show

Checked out the Dirty Show last night. My second time there and I guess I am left with the same "eh" feeling I had last year. I certainly didn't have a bad time (helped along by the good Dark Horse Black Bier -- great beer selection on tap -- and the cute bartender at Slow's before the show), in fact I had a lovely evening out overall, but I had a hard time finding traction with most of the art.

The quality varies widely, not surprisingly, but most are photographs with a good number of paintings/drawings, etc. I really wish there were more sculpture, and more variety in the 2-D art. After a while, all the boobs, clits, and penises start to run together. What then made something stand out was almost always 1) interesting lighting or 2) a funny/clever title. I started to find myself actively annoyed at the huge number of "untitled" works. There are no artist bios with the pieces and when an artist did have multiple pieces in the show (rare), they weren't generally grouped together. These choices on the part of artists (lack of titles) and show organizers (displays) made it a hard to develop much connection to artists and pieces -- I guess I'm not willing to just take it all on face value. I want to see a larger vision, know why it was created, how things connect...
A few pieces did stand out. There was a bronze of a woman doing an almost downward facing dog pose with a wild spray of hair on the floor -- it was cool and her round rump was just begging to get a playful grab. :) The Lego mosaics (below is an example) were fun -- though the one in black and white of female figure was the best because the effect was much more subtle and you had to be up close to see what it was made of. There were certainly also some photographs that captured interesting textures of skin and light. These were scooped up early -- didn't see anything I would even have considered buying that wasn't marked "sold" already.

People-watching is, of course, the other reason to go to the Dirty Show. My suspicion is, however, that the real freaks who come out are not the folks in vinyl fetish gear or garter belts thongs and tape over their nipples, but the folks in jeans and sweaters.

Oh yes, and there are live shows going on, usually with bad techno music playing along. So much potential, but the shows generally just ended up being cheesy stripteases. In general, I think folks did remember that humor is erotic, too.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

A New Blog

I've been getting into posting about my research and would do more, except that it seems to be taking over the blog. I actually like that so many strands of my life come together on this blog, but I don't want it to become lopsided. I also thought there might be a time when I want to direct colleagues or even students to some of my public space ramblings, so I've decided to make a new blog where more of these things can live.

If you like, check it out.

Thursday, February 7, 2008


I wanted to pick just one picture and tell the story of just that one day/event/outing with Zoe, but there were just too many pictures and too many stories. Here are smattering of images of our life together. You'll notice that W and I look mighty young in some of these pics. She lived a good, long life (14 years) and I'm so glad she lived them with me.