Monday, September 1

A Day at the Lake... But First - A Challenge Update!

Day 1 of September Shopping Challenge down!  It's harder than you think.

I actually did this week's shop yesterday, since I knew we'd be at the lake all day today. I was super proud of myself. I made a menu, checked what I already had in and made a shopping list, guessed each item's price and concluded my shopping would cost $167.

It was $160 before I remembered a few more things.

I went to the grocery store, stuck to my list (only bought four things that weren't on the list - two of which I actually needed and simply forgot about) and only skipped one thing on the list because I couldn't find it. My total came to $162!

I call that a super success.

I also covered all the other little payments - bills, Fiona's monthly swim team fees, wedding present purchase (stayed under my budget by literally 1 cent!) and school lunch cash.

Now the plan is to stay away from stores and shops all week. This won't be easy.  In fact, I had to go into one today. On the way to the lake, I realized I'd left Cailean's arm floaties at home. Not wanting to be miserable all day chasing after a drowning two-year-old, I stopped into a Dollar General to pick up some floaties.  Luckily, with summer stock being replaced with Halloween (already?!), the floaties were 50% off - making them $1.  I got two packs and... erm... a box of ding dongs.  Impulse buy confession. They shouldn't have Little Debbie's snacks just RIGHT THERE at the checkout. That's playing dirty!

Soooo....

Spider Man Floaties!
The lake, yeah, we went! I actually can't believe we've been here for two summers, and this was our first trip to the lake, only an hour down the road. It was practically empty, despite being Labor Day weekend, so we practically had the whole "beach" to ourselves. The kids LOVED it. Cailean got a huge kick out of throwing sand at everyone.  Fiona enjoyed snorkeling and trying to find fish.  Isla, of course, made best friends with the kids of the one other family on the beach with us.

Swimming with Mimi.
The Sandman.
Snorkel time.
We swam, played in the sand, and ate a picnic.  Unfortunately the leisure was cut (quite literally) short when Cailean cut his knee open. We didn't have any first aid with us (I'm a crap mum, I get it), so we cleaned him up as best we could and gathered up our stuff early to head back to my mom's camper site.  I figured we'd just doctor him up and head home, but we ended up hanging out with Mom and my step-dad (and my brother and sister-in-law) for another few hours, drinking beer and Diet Coke and whatnot.

That bad mother thing again.

Shell Collector.
The ride home was glorious... we all fell asleep. Except for Scott, luckily, since he was driving, and actually, I think Cailean may have stayed awake the whole time - how he didn't konk out straight away, I cannot fathom.

Me and my beach babe.
Oh, and even though I failed a little today with my ding-dong purchase, I DID manage to resist the urge to stop on our way home at Wendy's or Pizza Hut or something else junk foody and effortless and money-costing.  Even though we toyed with the idea, we were strong and came home instead, and I made delicious, if I do say so myself, homemade pizza for dinner. I even made an extra calzone to put in Fiona's and Isla's lunches tomorrow.


Errbody.
Thanks to my tripod, you see.

Saturday, August 30

SSC14 Helpful Lists

I mentioned earlier making a list of non-food items that should be checked before going to the store on my weekly shopping day. I've rewritten the list and thought I'd share it with you, saving you the effort of doing so yourself. You're welcome!

Add/subtract what you need off the list, print it and hang it on your fridge.  When you look through your fridge and cupboards while meal planning (which of course we are all doing regularly right? Right?....), you'll have this list to check through too.

If I've forgotten something major - particularly in the "Baby" section (it's been a while), comment and let me know so I can update the list.  Happy September Shopping!


Cleaning Supplies:
Kitchen disinfectant spray
Dishwasher detergent
Dish soap
Rinse-Aid
Toilet disinfectant spray
Toilet bowl cleaner
Disinfectant wipes
Sponges, etc.
Bleach
Floor cleaner
Dusting spray
Laundry detergent
Fabric softener, dryer sheets
Stain remover
Air freshener


Paper and Plastic Products:
Paper towels
Toilet paper
Cling film (plastic wrap)
Foil
Baking paper, wax paper
Sandwich bags, freezer bags, etc
Coffee filters
Air filters
Lightbulbs


Health and Hygiene:
Shampoo
Conditioner
Hair styling products
Soap
Body wash
Contact solution, etc
Deodorant
Face wash
Make-up
Shaving cream
Razors
After shave
Loofas, etc
Feminine hygiene products
Toothpaste, floss
Hand soap (for bathrooms and kitchen)
Vitamins
First Aid kit items (Band-Aids, anti-bacterial ointment, etc)
OTC drugs (ibuprofen, etc)


Baby:
Diapers
Wipes
Diaper cream
Pacifiers
Baby shampoo and bath wash


Pets:
Pet food, treats
Pet cleaning supplies (pet shampoos, accident cleaners)
Cat litter, puppy pads, etc


*************
31 August


In addition to yesterday's non-food essentials checklist (which I've updated about three times with things I'd forgotten like toothpaste and laundry products!), I've created another list for other easily forgotten grocery items - from the fridge and pantry.

The worst thing ever is to start making a recipe just to discover you are out of flour or butter.  This happens to me all the time.  (A little tip by the way:  Hang a chalkboard in your pantry to write down items as you run out! I keep a piece of chalk in the front corner too.)

Below is a list, which will probably be updated a couple of times until I think I've covered it all, of pantry items and condiments that are easily overlooked when meal-planning and shopping list-making.  Again, if I've forgotten anything glaringly obvious, let me know.  Hope these lists are useful! They certainly have been already for me. (See the chalkboard? I'm out of baking soda!)

Pantry Items:
Flour (plain, self-raising, other)
Sugar (white, brown, icing/powdered, Splenda/Truvia, etc)
Baking soda/bicarbonate of soda
Baking powder
Cocoa
Yeast
Vanilla
Oils (olive, vegetable, coconut, etc)
Cooking spray
Vinegar (white, malt, apple cider, etc)
Salt
Pepper
Spices (check use by dates and replace if necessary!!)
Bouillon/ stock cubes
Peanut butter
Coffee
Tea
Lemon juice/ lime juice
Honey
Oats


Refrigerator:
Ketchup
Mustard
Mayonnaise
Barbecue sauce
Soy sauce (or fish sauce, etc)
Jam/ jelly
Butter/ margarine



September Shopping Challenge Time (Again)


You know me and my challenges. Last year I started the September Shopping Challenge to help me take charge of my budget and spending. I learned a lot about meal planning, budgeting, and self-control. I hate to spend large amounts of money all at once, but don't think twice about several small expenditures which really add up.

This year we're on a much more even keel, seeing as we aren't in the rebuilding our lives stage that we were in last year; we now have all the couches, beds, tables, dishes, towels, lawn mowers and cute wall decorations that one needs when moving into a house and owning nothing.  However, the challenge was so good for me last year, that I'm doing it again this September.

I'm still in the habit of meal planning, and I plan out my grocery shopping for two weeks at a time. I still set aside money for petrol (I insist "gas" be called petrol) for both cars.  What I'm not so good at is keeping track of cleaning supplies and other non-food necessities, and resisting impulse buys (aka clothes).  So these will be my focus this month.  

I made a list a few months ago - that I subsequently never looked at again - of household supplies that we inevitably run out of between grocery days.  The idea was to check the list before my shopping day, so I could avoid all those midweek trips to the store for toilet paper that end up costing $80 because of poor planning and unnecessary purchases.  You know the routine: you go in for toilet paper and come out with three bags of junk food, two sale rack t-shirts, new socks for the kids, a weird and wonderful wall hanging and an over-priced checkout line Diet Dr Pepper. And no toilet paper.

My plan for this month is to recreate that list.  I've also added lunch foods to my meal plan calendar to avoid running out of lunch supplies and having to pay for school dinners that weren't planned.

My goals for this September Shopping Challenge:

1. Only hit the shops one day a week.  Hit them hard but only once.  Get everything I need on that one day. On my schedule I have them alternating Mondays and Sundays.  

2. No eating out if it isn't planned.  We like to go to Zaxby's on Wednesdays every once in a while because kids eat free (yahoo!), but I've put that on the calendar.  We are also going to Nashville in two weeks for my college BFF's wedding (yay!) so there will be eating out a lot that weekend, and probably some extraneous spending, but it's on the calendar.  We have budgeted and planned for that.

3. Put money in savings.  With the spare money we will hopefully have saved from me not spending way too much, I'd like to bulk up our emergency fund.  I have a wee job now, and that money really ought to just go straight to savings. Other than the weekly milk, bread and cereal top-ups, I'd like to see that paycheck go mostly into savings.

4. Conserve petrol. I'm already pretty good at this, making my van's tank last about three weeks, but I'm putting it on the list because it's an easily achievable goal. 

5. No impulse buys.  When I do hit the shops on my one day, or if my planning turns out still poor and I absolutely must go on an extra day, stick to my list.  Just because there is a sale rack does not mean I have to visit it.  Just because cake mixes are 10 for $10 (gotta love Kroger) does not mean I need ten cake mixes. (Or one for that matter.)

6. Plan ahead with birthday gifts and cards. I have birthdays on my calendar so it's not like I have an excuse, but I always forget to check it.  I'll try to remember to check my birthdays before I go shopping.  And though I don't think I have any September birthdays in Scotland that I haven't already taken care of, I'll plan and budget for postage too.  

My one exception I'll allow myself is regarding Christmas presents.  I like to start my shopping early, and already have a stack of gifts on the top shelf of my closet.  If I see a good deal at the store while I'm doing my weekly shop, I'll consider it and possibly buy it.  That's it. That's my one SSC exception.

So, there it is. The September Shopping Challenge of 2014.  If you want to join me in this endeavor, please do, and let me know about it.  Or even better, blog or Facebook about it! I'd love to hear about your progress!

Tuesday, August 26

Love My Body Project - Final Postscript

For over a year, a tripod has been on my wishlist. A 50" tripod is only like $15, but every time I went to buy one, I found I couldn't justify it. My purpose for a tripod is so totally self-absorbed that I felt guilty spending $15 on one.

Well, with the October Dress Project coming up in just over a month, I finally decided to break down and get my tripod. Without a small child around to take photos of my October dress, I'd need it for selfies, right?

Self. Absorbed. I'm embarrassed.

Anyway, so I got it out this morning for my first selfies. Workout selfies. Eek.

The thing is, it just goes to show how far I've come. Not weightwise. I've lost some weight, and I'm super proud of that, but that's not what I'm talking about. I've come so far in another way.

You see those shorts I'm wearing? I've NEVER been comfortable wearing shorts to the gym. Like ever. Even when I was fifteen pounds lighter than I am right now, I couldn't wear shorts to the gym. Too self-conscious, too ashamed of my legs, my body. But since doing the Love My Body project in July, I've gained a totally new confidence about my body. My thighs will always be disproportionately large compared to the rest of my body. My hips will always be wider than my shoulders. But you know what? I don't care! I actually, truly do not care. As it turns out, I love the way I look now.

I have never been able to say that with such honesty and confidence before. In my life.

I'm not as thin as I used to be, but I'm so much healthier. I have more control over what I eat now. I don't deprive myself (which is why strict diets never worked for me), but I choose my "battles". I feel that I truly control what goes in my mouth - for the most part. Sometimes I choose poorly, but in general, I feel I have learned to make good food choices.

I am stronger. I go to the gym just about every day, Monday through Friday, and work out from one to three hours. GRANTED not everyone has that luxury. I'm lucky that I am a stay-at-home-mum and that my gym offers cheap childcare. I'm lucky that if I don't have time during the day to go to the gym that my husband happily lets me go in the evenings while he looks after the children. I don't take this luxury for granted. I'm thankful for it though. I'm thankful that my body has developed the stamina, after months of exercising, to withstand hard work. I remember going to Kickboxing at the very start of my fitness journey and being unable to breathe after twenty minutes. In fact, I remember being ready to leave after the warm-up! Now I get to the end of the class and think, "That was it?"

I can wear shorts. Even more amazing is I can take pictures of myself in shorts and not even think about what you're going to think about it.

Sweet Socks, not fat thighs, are what I see here.


Shaped like a human.  A lovely human. Like you.

Monday, August 25

Things You Should Know About Me

Lately I've been wanting to dispel some myths about atheists. Since "coming out", I've had a few people seem, I don't know, uncomfortable maybe? around me. It's as if they don't know what to think of me anymore.  I began writing out some myths about atheists, but I soon realized that there is no way to categorize all atheists and what they are or aren't.  Just as you can't categorize all Christians in the same way, atheists, believers, and everyone in between come in all shapes, sizes and temperaments. Since it would be impossible to dispel myths about "atheists", I simply want to dispel some assumptions about ME.

1. I don't hate Christians. Or God for that matter.
I still have total respect for my friends and family, just as I always have. I've not always agreed with everyone on everything anyway, and I good-naturedly argued various points with them, but I've never hated them or what they believed, and that hasn't changed now. In fact, I still very much enjoy a good theological debate. If you want to talk to me about your relationship with God, I still want to listen. I still understand you and empathize with you. I've been there. Talk away.  And I don't hate God either. I just don't think there is one. I'm not going to start saying mean, insensitive, blasphemous things to you. I still ask my kids not to use the Lord's name in vain, because I know it's insensitive. I also don't insult Muslims, Mormons, or Jews for what they believe either. I don't hate any of you or any of your beliefs. I just don't believe the same things as you.

2. Similarly, I'm not just angry at God either.
Just because I don't believe in something doesn't equate anger with that thing. To use a very poor, inadequate example, I stopped believing in the tooth fairy once, but it wasn't because I was mad that she forgot to pick up my tooth (true story). I just started putting all the pieces together and realized my mom was the tooth fairy and I hadn't told her I'd lost my tooth. I know God and the tooth fairy aren't the same thing, but the concept still holds - disbelief does not equal anger.  While I might have once been angry at God (and I was), I did not stop believing in him just to get back at him.

3. I have not lost my morals.
Some of my ethical and moral philosophies have shifted, true, but that does not mean I am now amoral. Just because I no longer fear divine retribution or eternal damnation for wrongdoings does not mean I now give myself license to wrongdoing. I care about my fellow man. I care about my children. I care about my husband. I don't want to hurt people, not by stealing, gossipping, cheating or injuring.  My motivation for being good has always been personal, out of my own desire to be a good person. I used to also feel accountable to God for my actions. But without that accountability, I still have that same personal desire to be the best person I am able to be. And when I do mess up? It's not because I've "lost my way" and "turned my back against God". It's because I'm human and fallible, just like I was before, just like you are, and we all make mistakes, with or without a god.

4. I am not "militant".
I may talk about my non-beliefs to or in front of you, but I have no intention of "shoving it down your throat." Similarly, I have no desire to make you change your beliefs. In fact, that is very much NOT what I want to do. I know firsthand how painful the exit from faith is. I don't want to force that on anyone else. If something I say resonates with you, that's different, but it's not my intention to tear apart your faith in any way. Just as I don't regard you merely talking about faith as shoving it down MY throat, I hope you'll see that my talking about my experience is the same. The only way we'll all understand each other is if we listen to each other. When anyone starts getting defensive or offensive, the lines of communication shut down. I understand your need to talk about what matters to you. If my talking about what matters to me is upsetting to you, just stop listening. I'll never talk about it as a backhanded way of denigrating or criticising you.

5. My life is not meaningless and death is not hopeless.
If anything, I feel my life has more meaning now than ever before. Now that I realize this is my only shot at life, and there is no life hereafter in which to atone for my mistakes (and there is no God to fix what I've done wrong), I now live life a lot more intentionally and purposefully. I try to repair my mistakes myself, now, rather than leaving it up to God to rectify. I am grateful for every second I am alive in which to awe at the splendor of this universe.  I don't believe in eternal damnation or glorification. I wish, oh I definitely wish, that I could one day watch the continuation of life progress from my comfortable mansion in heaven, but knowing that I can't just means I must appreciate every moment of living now. As for death, I'm not going to pretend the loss of the heavenly concept isn't a bit disappointing (I really wanted to prove I'm right about so many things to Scott after getting to ask God), but it's not hopeless. My body will be donated to science to be practiced on by the nation's future doctors, and then I will return to the earth. It's kind of wonderous. My energy, whatever energy is left of me when I die, will return to the earth and keep the process of life moving on. I came from nature and will return to nature. I think that's fascinating.

6. I'm not trying to be edgy and trendy.
Far from it. I never wanted to be an atheist. I assumed all atheists were licentious, angry and intolerable. I'm still a little uncomfortable with the label. I could just do away with labels altogether, but at the end of the day, it does accurately describe my view of divinity. I was much prouder of my Calvinist label than I am of my atheist one. It's not about being edgy. I got over the excitement of rebellion sometime around the age of 19 (except for when it comes to my hair color, piercings and tattoos!). That's about the extent of my edginess, says the girl with a Soccer Mom plate on her white minivan.

7. And finally, it's not just a phase.
I go through lots of phases: crafty phases, bento phases, pet phases, fitness phases. This is not one of them. I'll always miss certain things - the community of church, the comfort of believing in divine protection, the dream of an afterlife. I'll talk sometimes with longing about my past beliefs. But that doesn't make me a Christian in remission. I don't know for certain what the future holds for me, of course, but I'm pretty certain it doesn't hold a reconversion to religious faith. However, if you want to keep praying for me, I won't be offended by that. Prayers (honest prayers) come from a place of love, and whatever our beliefs, love is universal. I hope that our differences in religious beliefs won't displace love.

Tuesday, August 12

Kindergarten Concerns: A Fairy Tale

Isla's a little uncertain about starting kindergarten next week. So I told her this story.


Once upon a time, there was a little girl called Isla. She was getting ready for her first day of kindergarten. She was a little frightened. What if she didn't make any friends? What if her teacher didn't know her name? She didn't know how to read or add yet. She decided she didn't want to go to kindergarten after all. She hid her new Pikachu backpack and all her new school clothes under her bed.

The day before school started, Isla said to her mummy, "I'm NOT going to kindergarten tomorrow."

Her mummy said, "But don't you want to go to school to learn to read and add?"

"NO!" she shouted. "I'm not going to kindergarten and that's THAT!"

The next morning, Isla stayed in her pajamas. Her big sister Fiona ate her breakfast, put on her new school clothes and pretty new backpack, and got ready to go to school.

Isla said, "I'm NOT going with you."

Her mummy sighed and said, "If you REALLY don't want to go, then you can stay home." Her big sister left without her.

Isla played all morning, happy that she didn't have to go to school. After a few hours, she said, "I'm going next door to play with my best friend Brayden."

"But Brayden is at school," her mummy said.

Isla frowned. Who was she going to play with? She realized she'd have to just play with her baby brother all day until Fiona came home.

Fiona came home after school full of excitement. She told Isla all about her new teacher and all her new friends and how cool school is. She told her that Isla's teacher had asked where she was and that all the kids wanted to meet her. "Don't you want to go to school with me tomorrow?" Fiona asked.

"NO! I'm not going to kindergarten and that's THAT!"

The next morning, Isla stayed in her pajamas while Fiona got ready for school. Isla played with her baby brother for a while, but he wasn't really very much fun. All he did was punch and throw toys. After a few hours, she said, "Can I go play at Emily's house?"

"But Emily is at school," her mummy said.

Isla frowned. "Can I go play with Jonah?"

"Jonah is at school."

"Lila? Lilliana?" Isla suggested.

"Both of them are at school too," her mummy said.

This is rubbish, Isla thought. There was no one to play with. Not any of her friends and not her little brother. She was bored.

In the afternoon, her big sister Fiona came home. She said, "Isla, your new teacher wants to meet you! All the kids in your class want to meet you too! Won't you come to school with me tomorrow?"

"NO! I'm not going to kindergarten and that's THAT!" she said, but a little less sure of herself now.

The next morning, Isla stayed in her pajamas while Fiona got ready for school. She quietly watched Fiona leave and suddenly felt very lonely.

She imagined Fiona at school, learning all kinds of new things. She imagined her own class learning how to do new things like read or add. And then she got scared.

"Mummy! What if all the kids in my class learn how to read and add without me?!" she cried.

"Well, if you want, I can help you read and add here at home, so you don't get behind," her mummy replied.

Isla sat with her mummy at the table, while they looked at the alphabet, but Isla couldn't help but be worried. She didn't want all the other kids to learn to read without her. She wanted to learn to read, she really did. Later Fiona came home from school and told her all about how much fun school was and didn't Isla want to go with her tomorrow?

Isla didn't say anything. That night she couldn't sleep. She didn't want to miss out on learning to read and add. She quietly got her new Pikachu backpack and new school clothes out of their hiding spot under her bed. She thought about school all night.

The next morning, Isla put on her new school dress. She said to her mummy, "Maybe I'll try school just this ONE time." Her mummy said that was fine. Feeling a little worried and a little shy, Isla left with her big sister to go to school.

When she got to her new classroom, she saw the nicest looking lady she'd ever seen.

"Why, hello, Isla! I'm your teacher, Mrs Holland. So nice to finally meet you!"

Her teacher knew her name!

"Why don't you sit at this little table with these children?" Mrs Holland said, leading her to a table with five other little boys and girls.

"Hi, Isla! Want to sit with us?" the little boys and girls said, and they pulled out a little chair for Isla to sit on.

That day was the funnest day Isla ever had. They played Duck Duck Goose and did art crafts and learned about the letter D. Isla already knew the letter D, as well as the letters she'd missed, A, B and C. She wasn't behind after all! They learned how to add 1 + 2, and Isla already knew how to do that on her fingers too. She wasn't behind on adding either!

She ran home after school to tell her mummy what a fantastic day she'd had. She told her mummy all the wonderful things she'd done and all the friends she'd made and even showed her mummy a picture she had drawn.

"I LOVE kindergarten!" Isla exclaimed.

"Do you think you'd like to go again tomorrow?" her mummy asked.

"Well, I'll maybe go again, just this ONE time," she replied. And she gave her mum a big cuddle.

The End.

Monday, August 11

Saying Goodbye To Summer

My alarm woke me up a little too early this morning at 6am. Though I promised myself I wouldn't, I hit snooze until 6.20. The girls' alarm went off at 6.30; Fiona got up and went back to sleep on the couch, and Isla stayed in bed.

School starts next week meaning this week is that dreaded time where we start getting used to going to bed early at night and waking up early in the morning. While the girls very obediently went to bed at 8pm last night, I on the other hand stayed up way too late.

I crawled out of bed when I heard Cailean in his room shouting 'Mama! Mama!' and stumbled through to get the kids their breakfast. The goal was to be 'school ready' by 7.30, as if it was a real school day. The girls whined and moaned as I prodded them out of bed (or off the couch as the situation may be), coaxed them to eat their breakfast, cajoled them into appropriate clothing and nudged them to brush their teeth. Amongst all that, they had to do their morning chores, like feed the cats and organize the shoe rack at the door. And guess what? They were ready by 7.30! Hair brushed, socks on and everything. I even had myself dressed and Cailean, well, somewhat dressed. It was a successful dress rehearsal for the real thing next Monday.

Morning Checklist

***

This morning we went to the gym, where the girls went to their last Monday KidFit class. The very last KidFit class for them will be on Wednesday. On Mondays, they play games in the gym, and on Wednesdays they get into the pool. It was kind of sad for me. Isla has been going to KidFit twice a week since February. Fiona was excited to get to join her all summer. But now, my little Isla is starting Kindergarten, so our little routine is about to change. It makes me feel a little weepy, not so much because she went to her last gym-room KidFit class, but because our little year together is coming to a close. I'm looking forward to easier days with just Cailean, but I'll miss my little Isla.

Furthermore, there were noticeable absences at my own Kickboxing class. All the summer regulars - the teachers - were back at work today. The class felt kind of empty.

Socks and Shoes

***

In the mail this afternoon, both girls got postcards from the school telling them about Open House on Thursday and providing their teacher's names. I don't know who either teacher is, but I guess I'll meet them on Thursday. Just another little reminder that school is starting very, very soon.

You've Got Mail

***

Fiona and Isla went over to a friend's house today. It's just me and Cailean, a little taste of things to come. I love the quiet, the no-fighting, the relaxed atmosphere, the running errands with ease, but I think I might just miss the little monsters next week when they are at school. They drive me freaking crazy, but gosh, I love them anyway. Without two big sisters to lug around, Cailean and I came home from the gym and took a bubble bath, got dressed leisurely, took a bag of clothes to Goodwill that has been in my room for over 7 months, went to Sally's Beauty Supply to buy pink wash-out hair dye (for Fiona and Isla) and bought some groceries at Walmart. It was easy peasy. We came home and had lunch, then I made a meatloaf. In a few minutes, I'm going to make a recipe to take to my Pampered Chef meeting tonight. All with leisure. I really can get used to this; I'll miss the girls, but wow, life is so easy with just a single child! (If you'd told me that when I had just Fiona, though, I might've hated or at least glared at you.)

Mummy/Son Selfie

It's just about time to say goodbye to summer.

Thursday, August 7

Roundabout Rules for the Uninitiated American

Our town just got its first roundabout. There is a second one opening within the next two weeks (supposedly). I have heard countless people stress out, complain, predict doom and disaster, and criticize the city over this.

It's only a roundabout, folks. It's just an intersection with a circle in the middle.  They exist in every country, and so far, have not brought down the apocalypse. They are in fact safer and better at regulating traffic.  Easier on your gas too, cutting down on all that stop-and-starting stop signs make you do (which in essence is better for the environment, pollution-wise).

But I understand that for those who have never used a roundabout (sometimes called a traffic circle or rotary), it can be a little intimidating.  And if you are unsure of the rules of a roundabout, I can see how you might approach one with a little confusion and trepidation.

So I'm giving you five little roundabout rules and tips that will hopefully make you feel a little more confident next time you approach one.

1. First thing to realize is that roundabouts are basically the same thing as a four-way stop, only with a yield (and an island in the middle).  Imagine that island as a large piece of roadkill you don't want to run over.  You'd bend around it right?  And that's what you do at a roundabout.

The rules of a four-way stop apply.  The person who approaches from the right of you has right of way.  You don't - I repeat DON'T - have to come to a full stop each time you approach.  But you do have to yield if anyone else besides you is approaching or already on the roundabout.

2.  Saying that, unlike a four-way stop where everyone proceeds one at a time, you can actually enter the roundabout simultaneously with someone else if they are coming the opposite direction or are far enough around the roundabout for you to SAFELY enter it too.  This is why it's so effective for traffic control. If you can safely slide in without slowing anyone on the roundabout down, you may proceed.

3.  This is why SIGNALLING is so important on a roundabout.  Here's a breakdown of when and where to signal.

Upon approaching roundabout,
If you are going to take the first exit (on the right), signal RIGHT.
If you are going straight through the roundabout, do NOT signal at all UNTIL you have passed all the exits on the right, then signal right to indicate you are now taking the straight across exit.
If you are taking any exits in between the first right and straight on, don't signal until you have passed the last exit before your exit, then signal right to take your exit.

If you are going left (any exit past straight on), signal LEFT upon approaching the roundabout. This allows everyone else approaching from other exits to know that you are going to be passing by all of them. Keep signalling left until you approach your exit, then signal right to take your exit.

4.  Roundabouts let you legally do U-turns.  You can just approach the roundabout, signal left and keep signalling left until you've made your full U (then signal right to exit). You can even do a full circle if you want, but this is rarely necessary unless you missed your exit, are completely lost or have trouble making decisions and can't cope with too many choices.

5. Go slowly. Always be aware of who is entering, exiting, approaching, and already on the roundabout. Slot in where safe to do so. Stop only when you have to, otherwise, yielding is fine.  Always be aware when you are approaching that someone may be about to cross in front of you, even if they are not signalling.  Not everyone knows to signal and not everyone bothers to signal.  Don't blindly trust other people's signalling either. Just like you wouldn't pull out in front of a car onto a street simply because they are signalling to turn (because you never know if they are actually turning until they start to), do the same with roundabouts.  Roundabouts have rules, but not everyone follows them.

Hopefully, however, this little set of rules will help YOU follow and understand the rules, and maybe teach someone behind you a little about signalling, and hopefully your new roundabout will be a safe and effective traffic installment, not a disaster waiting to happen.

For more information, click on this helpful little graphic of a simple four-way roundabout from Wikipedia.



I am resisting the urge to mark this with the label 'death'.

Wednesday, August 6

The Origins of Christianity and the Early Church: Books by Bart Ehrman

You are officially a 'grown-up' when you start preferring news radio over music. Back in Scotland, BBC Radio 4 became my station of choice. I enjoyed Book of the Week and Woman's Hour and the occasional drama series. I liked keeping up with world news through radio. Now that I'm in the US, I am an avid NPR listener, who makes an effort to catch Science Friday, and will sit in the car to finish hearing the discussions on The Takeaway and All Things Considered and the Diane Rehm Show.

Just before Easter this year, I heard an interview on Fresh Air with historian Bart Ehrman on his latest book, How Jesus Became God. It was a fascinating interview, which piqued my interest in early Christian history.

As an evangelical, I always felt a bit hazy on early church history. I tried to learn more about it, about what the earliest Christians were like and believed, but finding useful information seemed difficult. I couldn't find very much beyond legend in Christian media, and secular historians seemed hell-bent on destroying any evidence of legitimacy. Aside from the Acts in the Bible, I didn't really know much at all about early Christianity or how the Bible was put together.

I remember sharing this concern with a pastor friend of mine. I wanted to know how the Bible as we know it today became the canon, and why it happened so late after Jesus' life. I knew it was roughly the fourth century, but I was hazy on who and how. To be honest, it really bothered me that a bunch of Roman Catholics (pre-Martin Luther, which meant to my Protestant mind, a very dubious group of church leaders indeed) seemingly sat down and picked and chose which books "fit" and which ones didn't. I could believe that the Holy Spirit directed them to decide which to choose, but I also could conceive of men "misinterpreting" the Holy Spirit and making mistakes. My pastor friend gave me a book he assured me would help me understand how the books of the Bible were chosen.

I read a chapter of the book and put it down. It made no sense to me, was overly academic and really wasn't assuaging my doubts. From then on, I just sort of allowed myself to forget about it. I allowed it to be one of the few intellectual things I'd simply not pursue and let faith in past knowledge and expertise reign. I wasn't one to do that generally; I like to understand how things work and how things came to be and form my own opinions. But this subject was just too deep - and too treacherous - for me to delve any further into.

The NPR interview with Ehrman, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, re-sparked my interest. His newest book, the one he was being interview about, explained how the earliest followers of Jesus likely viewed him as the Messiah in an earthly sense - the literal human king of the Jews prophesied in Scripture  - but upon believing he had risen from the dead, began to believe he was greater than that. This isn't in and of itself entirely foreign to a Christian believer, but what was fascinating is how the early Christians developed their theology of Jesus. From believing he had been adopted as Son by God upon his death and resurrection (or at his baptism) to believing he'd been God incarnate in Mary's womb, to believing he was God before time, the belief in who Jesus was grew and morphed and became increasingly more sophisticated as time - and the educational levels of believers - went on. He uses the New Testament as his primary evidence of these theological changes, using the Gospels and Paul's letters to show the chronological changes in these beliefs through the NT books themselves. I'd read the Gospels countless times, but never realized until he pointed them out, how different each Gospel is - and particularly how different the Gospel of John is, the latest Gospel authored.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. After listening to the interview, I went to order the book. However, it was not yet released at that time, so I ordered one of his older books first, Misquoting Jesus. This book turned out to be the perfect starting point for my studies. It explained how the manuscript we call the Bible today came to be - the very question I'd been wanting answered for years. While it didn't go as late as the Council of Nicaea who eventually formed the canon, it did explain where all the earliest manuscripts came from, and how those manuscripts got copied and distributed. What struck me the most was the fact - one I'd never even heard before - that we don't actually have any of the original manuscripts. Not one. All we have are copies, which were likely copies of copies, if not copies of copies of copies. And of all the copies of each book or letter of the New Testament that are available to scholars today, most of them don't even match each other. Some bear only slight mistakes - spelling, a changed word - but some actually have entirely different sections added or subtracted. Since there is no way of knowing which copies were copied from the originals and which were copied from changed copies, we have no way of knowing what the originals even said.

Furthermore, the originals were not even penned until, at the earliest, twenty years after Jesus' death. The earliest letters of Paul were written twenty years later, and the Gospels were written even later than that, the earliest Gospel Mark being written approximately forty years later and John near the end of the first century, about sixty years later. And they were not penned by the authors the books are named for, but extremely literate foreigners, in Greek no less.  The disciples and early followers were uneducated, illiterate Aramaic speakers. These were things I'd never known or considered before.

Misquoting Jesus was a good precursor to How Jesus Became God. It laid the foundation of textual criticism which gets touched on in HJBG. Both books were incredibly enlightening. I know I'd never have been able to read them as a Christian; they'd have come across as more secular Christian history bashing. Except for one thing. One thing that would have bothered me deeply.

Bart Ehrman was once an evangelical himself. He attended Moody Bible Institute and all.

It was through his study of early church manuscripts and texts that he developed a more "liberal" view of the Bible, seeing it as a very "human" book instead of the inspired word of God. It wasn't this by itself that eventually led to his agnosticism (this is covered in another book, God's Problem, which I've also ordered, though haven't read yet), but it played a large part. Knowing this about his personal history gave these books more credibility to me. He is not a "militant atheist" out to destroy any chance that the Bible might be true. He's a man who once believed in Biblical inerrancy and divine inspiration and who himself once had a "personal relationship with Jesus". He didn't go into the field of textual criticism to debunk Christianity; he went into it to strengthen it.

Bart Ehrman has written several books, and I'd like to get my hands on all of them eventually. So far, I've read the above mentioned two, as well as Did Jesus Exist? (he ardently and scholastically argues yes, he did, even if the other claims about his life are less easy to prove), and have God's Problem and Lost Scriptures: Books That Did Not Make It Into the New Testament waiting on my shelves.   The haze of early church beliefs has finally started to lift for me, as I see Christianity for what it really is - an intriguing history of religion and culture, a religion that expanded in nuance and theology through time and gained popularity through Roman politics and power.  While I now don't believe in Christianity's claims to be truth anymore, I'm am still interested in it from an historical viewpoint and have become fascinated by its origins.

Friday, August 1

Change Your Bookmarks!


Change your bookmarks - We're a .com now!


Hoping to get both the blog.scottandlori.co.uk and the scottandlori.co.uk to redirect to this blog, too, but I'm not very clever with these things. If you're DNS smart, um, I'd accept your help?!


Anyway - yay!  Been trying to get the .com domain for YEARS!

[ETA:  It all works now!]