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Aran's Driving Tests

Several weeks ago, Aran went in for his first driving test.  I had Kala take him to the testing grounds because I can't handle watching this kind of thing.

He didn't even make it out of the parking lot--they asked him to back into a parking space, which confused him terribly.  (I'm not sure why this is on the Mcihigan driving test. I've never come across a situation in which I was forced to back INTO a parking space.  Out, yes.  In, no.)  The parallel parking section he was perfectly able to do, but he'd practiced with our truck and our big trash container as markers, and the test uses tiny cones.

At home, I drilled him on the parking and the backing, using Maksim's soccer cones, until Aran was tired and sweaty from cranking the wheel around.  A week later, he tried again.  This time he aced the parking lot, but out in the street, he went for a yellow light that turned red.  That ended the test.  I wasn't happy with him over that.  Not only does he know better, each test costs $50.

I told him he was paying for the next test.

After he got back from Camp Grace Bentley, a summer camp for autists and other people with challenges, he signed up for a third test.  This time . . . he passed!

He and Kala stood in line for a little over an hour at the Secretary of State's office and finally got it.  Woo hoo!

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The BSA and Sock Puppets

The Boy Scouts of America have at last voted through their new policy: LGBT people can serve as both scouts and leaders (though troops that have church sponsorship may continue to discriminate if they wish).  And judging by the commenters on the news stories, you would think the world has ended!  Certainly it's the end of the BSA.  All of the commenters plan to flee the scouts, pull their sons out with impunity, and crouch on the front porch, quivering with indignation while this once fine organization implodes around a rainbow flag.  Why, half the commenters =personally= know at least two Boy Scout troops that have already folded because so many people have pulled out over this ruling!

Please.

First, it's obvious the yowling and spitting is hugely exaggerated.  As David Folkenflik has reported, we already know the right wing employs sock puppets in these stories. Fox News and other right wing groups hire "media consultants" who create dozens of fake accounts and make bombastic, crazy-ass remarks.  As the New York Times put it, "if your reaction to some comments is that nobody could really be that stupid, it may be that . . . someone has been employed to play stupid for fun and profit."

So a great many of the comments are completely fake, created to make it look like more people fall to the right than actually do.

Also, does anyone honestly believe that the BSA made this decision lightly?  Ever since Tim Curran's decades-long lawsuit against the BSA started back in the 80s, the Scouts have seen their reputation tarnished.  Despite Curran's and other challenges, the BSA kept up their policy of exclusion. They tossed out gay scouts.  They tossed out gay scoutmasters. They tossed out lesbian den mothers.  But then, things began to change.  More and more people became upset and outraged about it.  Not just LGBT people, but also their families, friends, and supporters--and there are a LOT of such people.

At this point, the howlers and spitters like to say, "It only affects 2% of the population. Why should we change an entire organization just to meet them?"

The answer here is obvious.  First, it's quite a lot more than 2%.  For some reason, howlers and spitters focus on 2%, which is the absolute low end of the population, and they never mention 7%, which is the higher end.  Most likely the number of LGBT people in the USA somewhere around 5%.  That's a hefty amount of ANY population.  That's about the number of Asian Americans in the USA.  It's more than the US Korean and Japanese populations combined.  It's more than DOUBLE the number of Native Americans.  But no one would discuss changing a policy that excluded Asian Americans or Native Americans from the Scouts because such a policy affected so few scouts.

Second, we don't make equality policy based on numbers.  When you feed your family, you don't say, "We have five girls and one boy, so we won't feed the boy.  We have so few boys, what does it matter?"

We also can't forget that when you toss someone out of the scouts for being gay or lesbian, you're affecting more than that person.  You're also affecting the entire scout troop, the person's family, and the person's friends, all of whom get upset.  That's a lot of people, far, far more than 5%.  Those people have been creating a larger and larger voice within the BSA.

Lastly, the BSA clearly considered this policy change for a long, long time.  (Too long, if you ask me).  During this long, long time, donors started pulling out.  Disney, which has granted equality of employment and access within its amusement parks for decades, said, "We can't donate to you anymore."  The United Way said, "We have an equality policy, and we can't donate to an organization that discriminates."  That HURT.  The United Way is the BSA's #1 source of funding, and they were threatening to leave the scouts high and dry over an outdated, increasingly unpopular policy.

And, of course, people were already pulling their kids out because of the exclusion policy.  I did.  It's why Maksim's tenure in Cub Scouts was so brief.  No matter how much he enjoyed it, I couldn't bring myself to support a group that hated me.

I'm sure at this point the BSA hired a company to run studies and takes surveys.  How many people would leave the BSA if they reversed the policy?  How many people were leaving with the policy in place?  How much donor money was the policy endangering?  How much would they lose if they reversed the policy?

In the end, the BSA concluded the finanical and social damage from the policy was climbing too high, and whatever damage the policy's reversal would cause would be much lower.

So they reversed it.

We have another cheer from the progressives!  This is another home run in a long string of them for the left, and the dwindling right is being steadily reduced to a dozen people spitting and howling through sock puppet accounts on-line.

Don't be fooled.  The policy is popuar and much-supported.  We applaud and congratulate the Boy Scouts of America on a job well done!

Darwin's Birthday

Today we celebrated Darwin's 49th birthday.  Happy birthday, Darwin!

His birthday was actually yesterday, but he had to run a council meeting in the evening, so we put it off until today.  I asked him what kind of cake he wanted, and he said, "Cheesecake!  With raspberries!"

So over the weekend I set to work.  Three and a half pounds of cream cheese gave their all, baby!  I lined the bottom of my second-biggest springform pan with a buttery graham cracker crust, spooned in the smooth batter, set it in a hot water bath in the oven, and let it bake.  It came out perfectly!  As it happened, the store had raspberries on sale.  Cool!  I snagged a bunch, along with some raspberry topping (the raspberries weren't cheap enough to make home-made topping) and some cherry topping, too.

The boys were with me at the store, and I had them pick out a card each for Darwin.  Maksim picked one that played Gloria Estefan's "Conga" at you, and Aran picked a tender one that addressed the recipient as "Dad."

"Darwin's not your dad," Maksim said protested.

"That's the one I'm picking," Aran insisted stoutly.

I also asked Darwin what he wanted for supper that day.  Tradition states the birthday boy gets to have his favorite, you see.  But here he shrugged.  "I'm fine with anything," he said.  Darwin is extravagantly indifferent about food, if it isn't dessert.  When I'm making out the menu for the week and I ask for requests or ideas, he shrugs and says, "I'm fine with anything."  Getting food wants from him is like pulling teeth from a walrus!  We were over a year into our relationship before I discovered one of his favorite foods was cod, for example.

As it happens, I also know he loves parboiled chicken, and so do the boys, so that's what I ended up making.

For a present, I got him a t-shirt that says CITY MANAGER ONLY BECAUSE FREAKIN AWESOME IS NOT AN OFFICIAL JOB TITLE.  I saw him admiring it on-line a while ago and made a mental note of the web site.

Supper was delicious, and afterward we sang "Happy Birthday" and enjoyed rich and heady cheesecake with fresh raspberries on top.




Darwin liked the shirt very much, and he adored the cards.  It was a fine birthday.

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Wedding Bookery

Step 2 of the Great Grand Wedding: finding a venue

This was more difficult than you might think.  Darwin and I weren't all that worried about "won't someone think of the CHILD-dren" reactions.  Michigan politics are unfortunately conservative, but after ten years of recession, its businesses have more of a "show me the money" attitude.  No, the challenge came from just FINDING somewhere.

First, we had to settle on something we both liked.  Fortunately, we're both happy with a non-religious ceremony (Darwin is a non-practicing Christian, and I'm a fully-practicing Wiccan, and a non-religious ceremony is an essential middle ground).  So we set out to find non-religious venues.

Whoof.

Neither of us wanted to get married someplace . . . usual. We didn't want a hall or a hotel or a nonsectarian chapel.  Neither of us has a particular place we're attached to, either.  ("We first met in this park, so this is where we want to get married.")  We also wanted a place that could handle the wedding and the reception in the same location.  Neither of us enjoys the kind of wedding where you watch the ceremony and then drive half an hour to the reception (and meanwhile the wedding couple take two hours to get there because they're horsing around in a limo or taking photos while the guests are starving at the reception hall--I once left a wedding where there was a three-hour gap between wedding and reception, in fact).

We looked at the Detroit Princess, which is a riverboat that cruises the Detroit River. It books parties and weddings, and wouldn't that be cool?  But when I called them to ask, I was told to email the new wedding coordinator.  WTF?  I want to drop a few thousand dollars, and you don't want to talk to me directly?  I duly sent an email, and two days went by with no response.  Screw you, too, Princess.  I don't deal with businesses that don't call me back within an hour or two.

We looked at a restored train depot (history!) and a pavilion on Belle Isle and at an aquarium and . . . sheesh. A stunning lot of them didn't call back or didn't post their prices on-line or . . . Don't you WANT people to rent from you?

We even talked about renting a tent and having it at our own house, but tents are scandalously expensive to rent, and then you have the chairs and the tables and everything else, and by the time you're done, you have all the cost of renting a hall and none of the advantages.

In the end, we kept drifting back to the Montague Inn: http://montagueinn.com/

Back in 1986, the Montague Inn bed and breakfast opened in Saginaw and they wanted an Event to create a splash.  At the time, I was 19 and a producer for a small, mobile theater troop.  The Inn hired us to put on a murder mystery weekend to open the Inn with.  It was a lot of work, but an enormous success.  It was so successful that a year later, we did another one for them.  I'd always wanted to stay there as a guest, but never did.

The Inn is still open, 30 years later, and they do weddings and receptions.  They were at the upper edge of what we could afford, but we wouldn't have to do much more than show up with the tuxedos. And they were available on one of the days we wanted.  So we grabbed it.

Venue achieved!

The weekend right after that, Darwin and I drove up there to spend a night so he could see what it's like (and I could revisit it).  It was just as I'd remembered it, and Darwin was completely charmed. If the weather is good, we'll have the wedding in the garden down by the river. If it's bad, we'll be in the main house.  Another advantage of the Inn--we can be in or out as we like!  The grounds are beautiful, the rooms and common areas are lovely.

Did I mention the Inn has a library with a secret room, a secret door, and a secret cupboard?  We used them in the murder weekends, you bet!

We blocked out the entire Inn and the extra guest house out back for wedding guests.  Only wedding people can stay there that night, so we'll have the run of the place.  Yay!  It's so cool!  We sent out a "save the date" email and let people know they could reserve rooms, and as of this writing, there are only two rooms left.

It's going to be awesome!  The Inn will be filled with nothing but friends and family from both sides for the whole day and night.  So cool!

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Wedding Announcement

Many people who read this blog know this stuff already, but I've never talked about it directly.  Well, times have changed.  The Supreme Court made its earth-shattering ruling.  The EEOC made another one.  So here I am.

For those of you who don't know, Darwin McClary and I are getting married in October.  Whoo!  Darwin manages a village near Wherever (he does what everyone thinks the mayor does), and we've been seeing each other for quite a while now.  Unfortunately, Michigan law wouldn't let us get married, and other laws--or lack of them--allowed businesses and government agencies to fire employees based on sexual orientation.  Now, however, the laws have changed.  You can marry who you want and the EEOC has ruled it's illegal to fire someone based on their choice of romantic partner.  So we can get married!  We're so happy about this.

I've been posting about it elsewhere, and here I'm playing catch-up.

Step 1 to the Great Grand Wedding: set a date.

Darwin and I talked about this quite a while ago.  If SCOTUS ruled in our favor, when would we get married?  And how?  I flatly refused to elope or run to the courthouse.  "It's like we're sneaking away to get married because we're ashamed of it," I said.  "I'm not doing that.  I'm inviting everyone I can afford and standing up to get married in a traditional American wedding BECAUSE I CAN. It's part wedding and part political statement.  If we sneak down to the courthouse, we're denigrating decades of fighting."  And so we're having a traditional American wedding.

But when?  If we had been sure of SCOTUS, we would have set a date for the current summer, but we weren't sure, and we didn't want to make deposits and send out invitations, only to have the Court flatten us.  But SCOTUS ruled in late June, too late for us to get married this summer.  On top of it all, my sister announced she was getting married in July of 2016--smack in the middle of summer. While this was great news, it made it difficult for us.  If we chose summer of 2016 for our own wedding, everyone in my family would either be getting ready for or recovering from her wedding.

Also, summer of 2016 would mean we WOULDN'T be married for a long time.

And so we decided to get married in late October.  We'd get the benefit of being married in 2015 (especially medical benefits) and we'd have it completed before my sister's started up.  A fall wedding!

Here we go . . .

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Vacation, Baby! Part 3

Sunday, we lounged about the cottage, resting from Saturday's exertions.  I read some more and went out for some bike riding around the area.  We played DUNGEON some more and barbecued on the grill.  Maksim and I went boating and swimming.  Later, so did Darwin and I.  There was some kind of pontoon boat party going on in the shallows farther up the shore, and we watched the people for a bit as we drifted by.  We had a final fire that evening, and all decided we didn't want to leave in the morning.

But Monday dawned, and we had to pack up.  We'd rented the place through Airbnb, so we did more than the usual cleanup, but it didn't take long.  In no time at all, the car was loaded, the bikes were on the rack, and we were ready to head home.

It was a fine vacation!

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Vacation, Baby! Part 2

A side note: I'm trying to post pictures, but LJ won't process them because they're too big.  I'll try to resize later.

On Thursday, Maksim wanted to go back to the street fair to hang out with Zach and ride more rides.  I was reluctant until I realized it would mean Darwin and I could have a day alone.  What was the problem again??  We dropped Maksim off with money for lunch and supper, then went back to the cottage for grownup alone time, including hiking, canoeing, and lounging around.  I barbecued steaks for supper.  Ohhhh, yeah!

Maksim, meanwhile, sent a steady stream of text messages.  He was here with Zach.  They had ridden the Gravitron this many times.  They had found a cheap place for lunch and supper--so much junk food.  :)

After we picked him up, we had a fire on the beach with s'mores (something we did several times that week) and played DUNGEON.

Friday was more hanging around the cottage with beach and boats.  I read a great deal and napped in the hammock set up near the water.  It was lovely!  But by the end of the day, we were getting restless.  So for Saturday I proposed we visit Mackinac Island.

Mackinac Island is Michigan's most famous tourist destination, and has been since the 1800s, after the place lost its military significance.  Since 1920, cars have been banned on the island, so the place is filled with foot traffic, bicycles, and horse carriages.  The main street is relentlessly commercial, with gewgaw shops and fudge places and so on, but we always love Mackinac Island.  The historical sites and the parks and the cottages and the atmosphere are just wonderful, and we can never get enough.  Like a lot of people, we fantasize about a cottage on Macinac, but they go for millions of dollars, and everything you own has to be brought in by ferry and delivered by horse, so such a place is an expensive, inconvenient proposition.  People still fight for the privilege, though.  If I had the money . . .

Anyway, the three of us took the ferry across.  The new ones only take 20 minutes.  In my youth, it was a 45 minute ride!  We had brought our bikes with us, and we disembarked at the main street.  Literally thousands of bikes line the parking area, and no one worries about theft--where would you take a stolen bike?  We parked ours amid the throng and had lunch at a pub, then headed off to bike around the island.

The road around Mackinac Island is stunning.  The forested cliff rises up on your left and the lake stretches out to your right.  The road itself is perfectly flat, and you can pull off at any time, meaning the eight-mile ride can be as quick or as leisurely as you like.  Darwin noted that the last time we were here, he'd had to pull over and rest quite a lot.  This time, he didn't, which was great!

Along the shore road are a number of interesting places to stop--Arch Rock, the Devil's Kitchen, Skull Cave, and so on.  Most of these require you to park your bike and climb a zig-zag wooden staircase to the top of the cliff, which gives you a dizzying view of the straits.  Darwin is acrophobic, and last time he contented himself with waiting for us at the bottom.  This time he decided to go for the climbs.  To his and our delight, he made it all the way to the top each place we stopped.  We were very proud of him!

A new feature of the island showed up--stacked rocks.  A visiting artist had started this.  He stacked rocks in interesting and gravity-defying ways on a beach.  It takes some work and some art.  Apparently, the practice took off--there were hundreds and hundreds of these stacks all along the shore road, and they weren't there two years ago at our last visit.  They look very interesting and unexpected.  Neat!

After the ride, we got some supper--delicious lobster salad sandwiches with tomato bisque soup.  Maksim loved the sandwiches and wanted more.

Usually we try to visit the historical sites in the middle of the island, but this time we didn't have the energy, so we wandered about downtown Mackinac and looked more closely at some of the things we hadn't spent much time with before.  We saw two weddings, and Darwin and I wondered aloud what it would cost to have a wedding on Mackinac.  It would be romantic, but expensive!

At last we grew tired and boarded the return ferry for home.

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Vacation, Baby! Part 1

Last week was Vacation, Baby!

It was a small affair this time around--just me, Darwin, and Maksim.  We rented a cottage on West Twin Lake near Lewiston, Michigan.  The cottage was right on the lake, as in "walk out the back door and you're in the water."  It was awesome!  Exactly the kind of place I love staying.  Northern Michigan is much cooler and more rural than southeastern Michigan (which is why everyone loves to vacation there), and this cottage was the perfect place for a Relaxing Vacation(tm).  We did the Adventure Vacation(tm) over spring break, so this time we were ready for something quieter.

Aran didn't come this time.  Every year he goes to Camp Grace Bentley, which is a campground for people with physical or mental challenges.  He adores Camp Grace, and we decided to let him go there instead.  It would mean him staying home alone for a few days because his session at GB wasn't scheduled until Thursday, but he's eighteen now and able to stay home overnight.  Like most teenagers, he was looking forward to having the house to himself, I think.

We drove up to the cottage on Monday, explored a bit, and unpacked.  All three of us loved the lake, including the boardwalk that ran from the back door straight down to the dock and the water.  We spent considerable time on the lake that afternoon and evening, kayaking and canoeing.  At one point, Darwin and I were only ten feet from a pair of loons that were diving and surfacing.  We stayed very quiet to watch them.  Later that evening on the shore, we heard their twittering, laughing call across the water.

Tuesday was rainy and chilly--yuck!  We spent the day inside, reading and watching videos and playing games.

Wednesday cleared up but it was too windy to do anything on the lake. Fortunately, the nearby city of Gaylord was having a street fair, complete with rides, so we headed down there.  It was a perfect day for it.  The cool breeze kept the sun from heating us up.  Maksim got a wristband for rides and Darwin and I perused booths and stores.

In one of the stores, I found a copy of the board game DUNGEON, a game I loved playing with my cousins in the 80s.  It never occurred to me that it might still be around.  I snagged it and we played it that evening.  To my delight, I found I still liked it.  So did Darwin and Maksim, and we played it several times that week.

It turned out that by sheer coincidence, some good friends of ours Michelle and Steve were vacationing in the area with their in-laws and daughters, so we decided to get together for food at the fair.  We made a decent dent in the community pig roast.  Maksim made a friend, a boy named Zach who was visiting from Texas, of all places, and the two of them set about setting a record for most rides on the Gravitron.  It was a very nice day.

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Bigotry and the Boy Scouts

Dear Bigots,

I'm noticing a lot of you threatning that the Boy Scouts of America is finished because the organization has announced it will allow gay leaders, just as it recently allowed gay scouts. You are going to pull their kids from scouting, and so are all their friends, and blah de blah de blah.

Snort.

Mr. Gates and the BSA are way, way ahead of you. They've studied the matter extensively. (You've looked at it for, what, sixteen seconds?) Their research has shown them that a majority of people in the BSA think it's WRONG to exclude LGBT people from scouting. That's where this policy comes from. The BSA knows they'll lose a few bigots (like you). They also know they'll lose lots and lots MORE people and MORE MONEY from donors if they continue to exclude LGBT people. In other words, you bigots are in the MINORITY.

You can whine and moan and yowl in the comments section on news stories, but the fact is, your voice is faltering. Fewer and fewer people care what you think. Certainly the BSA doesn't care. The organization has made that clear (which is, no doubt, another reason you're all whining so much).

No, the BSA isn't going to sink because you're on the floor pounding your fists like at two year old. The fact that a few dozen of you will pull your special little snowflakes out of scouting will have absolutely no impact on the BSA whatsoever. And more people will be able to enjoy scouting without your hateful ways and without worrying about your hateful comments. Because you bigots won't be there. And that's the most splendid news I've had today.

Hugs and kisses,
A former scout

Marriage Equality Across the World

The media and many Americans have missed one of the biggest and most important needs for marriage equality in the United States: other countries.

In the aftermath of the SCOTUS ruling, a number of other countries have started movements and protests demanding marriage equality. The latest: Taiwan.  http://news.yahoo.com/taiwan-rallies-against-ruling-party-over-gay-marriage-181825148.html Why is this happening? America is a trend-setter.

Other countries look to the USA for leadership in both politics and culture. Even when other countries say they hate American this or that, they adore American culture--food, movies, TV, fashions, music, language, wealth, behavior, and culture in general. It's the biggest reason the Middle East is so upset with America--it sees American culture as a threat to theirs.  American culture is popular, and Middle Eastern clerics are afraid American culture will alter or even supplant their own.

It's true that the United States has come a little late to the equality party.  Most European nations already have marriage equality.  Even Ireland beat us to it.  But no European nation--and I'm being brutally honest, here--is a superpower.  A number of people may see French culture, for example, as admirable or sophisticated, but no one tries to emulate at home.  For that, a lot of countries look to America.

So when the United States legalizes marriage equality, people in other more repressive countries see it's possible and will demand (are demanding) it from their own governments. The American idea of equality spreads.  The SCOTUS ruling granted freedom to millions of Americans.  The ruling will also help bring freedom to millions throughout the world.

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