Thursday, July 19, 2018

Spiritual Self-Defense: Master Your Biggest Enemy - Part One

Well, we've made it to the confusing-as-ever fifth installment of Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin's blog series "Spiritual Self-Defense".  In a refreshing change, this post attempts to focus on the spiritual aspects of how we choose to live.  As always, I disagree with 90% of their beliefs - but I am happier when the post fits the overall theme.

The first three paragraphs rehash the Botkin Sisters theme of "Biblical heroines fought back!".  Honestly, I'm not in the mood to explain why most of the references are misrepresentations, but maybe someday I'll feel like going on a Bible quest.  Ironically, many of the women the Botkin Sisters lionize from the Bible used sex as part of their plot but the Sisters ignore that simple reality.

The fourth paragraph, though, begins with a set of questions that threw me a bit:

Those of us who have never faced intense pressure from a seducer or predator may wonder: How would we actually respond to a situation like that? How strong are we, really?

My train of thought: "Of course I know how strong I am!  After dealing with the interpersonal warfare between girls that is late middle school/junior high...oh, but the Botkin crowd didn't....huh.  That's a bit of a puzzler for them..."

CP/QF families live a strange contradiction.  They are lights on a hill to reform the entire world - but they raise their children to be exceptionally sheltered from all peers who aren't exactly like their family of origin in terms of belief.    There's a whole spiel about protecting their children from bad influences that will lead the kids astray and not throwing pearls before swine... but they are also sending the message to their kids that the kids cannot be trusted to stand firm against temptation.

If I wanted to raise little Christian war-arrows (*rolls eyes*), I'd be dumping said arrowlets into peer groups all_the_time starting when they could talk.   The best way to figure out what strengths and weaknesses a kid has is to watch the kid in action.  I'm sure parents could figure out which kids are likely to flee the family belief system and which are super-straight arrows pretty early on.

After this question is a long, jumbled list of actions that a reader can use to see how well they might stand up to an attacker, an abuser or a boyfriend who wants some physical affection.  I've sorted the list by topic.  The first theme I want to discuss can be labeled as "stuff most people work on with platonic friends long before they start dating".

  • Do we say “yes” to the fears that make us keep silent when we know there’s something that needs to be said?
  • Do we say “yes” to the pressure to go along with things friends want to do, even when we know it’s a bad idea?
  • Do we say “yes” to the temptation to do nothing, when doing something sounds really hard and scary?
  • Do we back up the things we say with our actions?

If a child is raised in a diverse peer group, they've gotten some practice in these skills long before they are old enough to date.    Even among a close group of friends, there are always times where one person is out of line and needs to be told to stop their behavior.   
  • I had three close friends - E., B., and J. - in junior high.  E and B  had a love-hate relationship where they would be inseparable for 1 week (to the point of excluding J and I), interact normally for two weeks, then have a blowout fight and refuse to be around the other person - which meant I had to hang out with E while J friend hung out with B which meant J and I couldn't spend much time together until E and B made up.  J and I realized this pattern sucked for us - so we had a sit-down discussion with the other two during their "calm" period.  We informed them that they could do whatever they wanted - but we were not going to be forced to partner up with them while they weren't speaking to each other.  E and B thought this was funny; they weren't ever going to fight again!   Well, during the next explosive period, J and I ended up sitting together at lunch while E and B each sat alone scowling at each other and us.   This repeated a few times - and then E and B stopped having blowout fights!  Turns out the fun of dramatics fights aren't worth 1-2 weeks of sulking alone....
  • I went to a massive sleepover where all the girls from our class were invited in 6th or 7th grade.  E and B were at different schools by then and J wasn't interested in going so it was just me and 15 female classmates.  We had fun.  A few guys from our class came over and we did their make-up.   Eventually, things settled down when three of the girls decided to pull a prank on a former classmate who lived a few blocks away.   I demurred; pulling a prank on someone we hadn't seen in years seemed really mean and sneaking out at night was one of those things that my mom would react very strongly to when she found out about it.  (I was a pragmatist even then; I didn't trust that my classmates would be able not get caught - or keep their mouths shut if they pulled it off.)  So....I was left behind with three other girls who had some common sense.  Ironically, we four were the people who could have probably pulled the prank off, but I digress.  Turns out that four girls in a small house sounds remarkably different than 15 girls...and they were busted about 10 minutes after they left the house and long before they had gotten off the block.
  • I really enjoy public speaking now, but for years I was terrified of giving speeches or presentations.  I nearly passed out before giving a presentation in my freshman English class; I remember sweating profusely while shaking nearly uncontrollably in the hallway before I began.  After that, I decided I needed to get over that fear.  I started by offering to do readings at church since that was about the least threatening audience I could think of.  I also read books to groups of kids at the library. When I was older, I would volunteer to do daily readings at Mass - with only a single silent read-through just before Mass began.  Over time, the fear faded and was replaced with excitement and anticipation as I became a talented speaker.

Parents who homeschool well make sure their kids have experiences like these by giving them unsupervised peer time when they are old enough and by keeping their kids involved in outside activities that challenge the kids.   Parents who are more dedicated to indoctrination through homeschooling don't.

Scattered in the list is the second theme of "If you've had sexual feelings, you're not a real victim".
  • Do we say “yes” to inner emotional warm-fuzzies after a guy has flattered us?
  • Do we say “yes” to the temptation (we all have it) to dress or act in a way that will draw men’s eyes to us?
  • Do we say “no” when a guy friend gives us attention as though we were something other than “a sister, with all purity”?
More victim-blaming from the Botkin - but the questions are really bad advice in a culture that requires marriage to become an adult. 

 The second question is deeply ironic coming from the Botkin Sisters who espouse that women shouldn't dress to attract men - but being frumpy is an offense to God's Creation. 

Assuming girls can find an outfit they feel is pretty but not attractive to men, the other two ideas are going to send potential suitors the wrong message.  Jane Austen made this clear about Jane Bennet in "Pride and Prejudice" since Jane was so shy and undemonstrative naturally that Mr. Darcy was able to convince Mr. Bingley that Jane wasn't that into him.  At least Jane Bennet was allowed to dance with Mr. Bingley and have unchaperoned conversations with him; what hope is there for a good CP/QF boy to figure out which girls may be willing to court him?  God knows I wouldn't want to be dragged into the level of insanity that Geoffrey Botkin would level on a potential suitor unless I was certain the person I wanted to marry liked me!

The last theme is "Weird theology begets weird actions":


  • Do we say “no” to the inner voice that says “You’re not in any position to call someone to account for something – you’re a sinner too!”
  • Do we own the responsibility for our own sin, without blaming others?
  • Do we let other people dictate our sense of right and wrong, to the point that we feel guilt over things that weren’t wrong?
  • Do we ask first what God thinks about everything, before consulting our own inclinations and feelings?
  • Do we approach situations asking what we have to personally gain or lose?

  • The first question is based on the strange theological premise that sin is sin and therefore all sins are equally bad.   I don't understand the rationale for that - at all - because I grew up in a church where sin is bad - but sins that hurt other people are a whole lot worse than theological sins.   For example, skipping church on a Sunday or a Holy Day of Obligation or eating meat on a Friday in Lent are both sins in the Catholic Church.  Murder, rape and adultery are also in the Catholic Church.  The second batch is a whole lot more serious - with much more serious consequences - than the first batch. 

    This is why so many Catholics were horrified when the sexual abuse cover-ups became widely known.  Enabling someone to abuse a child or parishioner is SO MUCH WORSE than causing the Church to get bad press.  The laity in the pews know this - so how the hell did a bunch of bishops and cardinals fuck that up? 

    The Botkin Sisters have made ONE statement that deviates slightly from their father's belief system; they don't believe that rape victims who didn't cry out should be killed.  I'm glad they've made that slight step away - but I'm not going to be lectured by two women who have internalized their family-cult beliefs sans one example.   Let's be blunt - they've got a long way to go since they still believe victims who didn't cry out should feel guilty and ask for God's forgiveness.   That's a twisted, harmful belief that needs to be rejected!

    I'm not being wry in this next statement.  I don't know what God thinks about.  Saying that I know what God's preferred way of dealing with everything is a form of blasphemy to my way of thinking.  God is the Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer of the Universe who knows the struggles of all people and all things!  I've got some basic guidelines like "Make the World a Good Place for All" and "Don't be a Jackass" - but I'm making wild guesses most of the time.  Thomas Merton wrote a prayer that I find meaningful that includes the idea that we're probably screwing up when we do what we think God wants us to do - but hopefully God is pleased by the fact we're doing what we think God wants.

    Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin - along with other SAHD in economically secure families like Sarah Maxwell or Jana Duggar - can afford to NOT count the cost of a personal decision to do right or wrong.  They've internalized their family's values so much that the likelihood of doing something that would get them kicked out of their comfortable paternal home is close to nil.   In their cosseted prisons, they don't have to worry about the economic effects of offending an outsider.  Sarah Maxwell posted  a quick blog post about why she lives at home where she claims that she's completely capable of living on her own - but chooses not to.  A few sentences later, she explains that her life is totally full between her Titus 2 work, working as a part-time bookkeeper for her brothers' businesses, and working on her next self-published book.   

    Only a woman  girl living at home with her parents would confuse four marginally paid contract jobs (which includes the books she writes) for the amount of income needed to live independently of her family at the same socioeconomic level. 

    The next post in the series covers the confusing, poorly written incident between Emily and Bryan.



    Tuesday, July 17, 2018

    Making Great Conversationalists: Preface and Chapter One - Part One

    I'm sorry for dropping off the blogosphere for a week.  My little guy had a bunch of medical appointments while working on erupting his canines.  His left eye has been deviating inward especially when he was tired so he needed a few extra tests to figure out how much deviation there was.  Long story short: he's getting glasses next week along with patching his right eye for one hour every day.  Let me tell you: young todders adore having a dark, sticky patch stuck over their eye!  It's a great excuse to show his newest skill - temper tantrums.   Thankfully, we still had some really awesome toys (read: noisy electronic toys for toddlers) that I had stashed away after Christmas.  Having some "new" toys to play with while having his patch on makes it easier. 

    Little Guy has also learned how to pull himself up on furniture and people.  I'm glad he hit that milestone - but he's having to re-learn how depth perception works while standing.  He's a fast little guy, so he's taken a few spectacular falls already.  I'm fighting the urge to make suits of clothing out of bubble wrap for him - or at least a helmet whenever he's out of his crib.

    Magically, he took a three-hour nap today - and I used the time to start transcribing the hillarous crazy-land that is "Making Great Conversationalists" by Steven and Teri Maxwell.   I knew that this book was totally worth the $3.00 or so I paid for it from a second-hand book seller when I read the the first two sentences in the book:

    This book was conceived after many discussions our family had in the past ten years about the difficulty of having meaningful conversations with others. We realized this was because of a lack of conversation skills on the part of others. (pg. 7)

    Man, those two sentences crack me up every time! 

    The level of insularity and hubris blows my mind - and the author is completely unaware of either.   Taking the sentences at face value, eight adults spend ten years trying to figure out why talking with people outside of their family-cult is hard and their final conclusion is that the problem lies with the other people.     Additionally, the family think-tank realizes that although they cannot hold a satisfying conversation with outsiders the family does have the skills to write a book to teach outsiders how to hold good conversations....

    Remember, the main issue talking with a member of the Maxwell family is that the family has reached an insane level of sheltering where they do not watch TV, movies, or theater, do not read fiction, do not follow professional sports, do not participate in team sports, and don't do any outdoor recreational activities besides hiking as a family.  They do semi-CrossFit-like home exercises, run, drink coffee, bother random service workers about their salvation status and author random books. 

    The rest of the preface of the book is the same rah-rah self-help spiel as every preface written in CP/QF land - so I'll spare you the boredom. 

     The first chapter walks the reader through four "typical" conversations followed by four "improved" conversations that are within reach for families who use this book.  Personally, the "typical" conversations often don't teach the lesson the Maxwell authors want the readers to learn.    Let's look at the first scenario involving a mother, her 5-year-old, and a non-threatening stranger.

    Have you ever taken a child to the grocery store and had this experience? A pleasant Grandma looks at your five-year-old and tries to engage her in a conversation.

    " Hello, sweetie. Those pigtails are just too cute. What's your name?"

    Your child looks down at the floor and says nothing while you feel like melting into the floor yourself. However, you cheerfully attempt to prompt your child to answer.

    " Tell the nice lady your name, honey."

    No response. "Mommy said to tell her your name!"

    Still no response so you continue to press. " You need to tell the lady your name!" By this point the grandma is looking decidedly embarrassed and obviously wishing she had not asked the little girl her name. (pgs. 9-10)

    At this point, there are two people who are acting appropriately for their age and the situation - and one person who is acting like a crazed martinet.    Five-year-old Cynthia is acting like a standard kindergartener who is nervous about being expected to talk to a stranger.   Cynthia's mom, on the other hand, is throwing a hissy fit at her kid because the kid isn't performing on demand.   The kindly Grandma is probably feeling horrible that she's caused the crazy lady in front of her to lose it; after all, nice grandmotherly-types have had decades of experience with nervous children who are afraid to talk to strangers.

    Personally, I was a shy chatterbox.  If I didn't know a person - or was expected to strike up a conversation unexpectedly - I would be frightened and tongue-tied at first.   My parents handled the situation by waiting a short time to see if I would respond and if I didn't would gently answer the question while chatting with the person.  This would buy me some time to "warm up" to the person - at which point I became a torrent of random chatter.

    The weirdest bit of the conversation so far is the fact that Cynthia's mother has turned this into an entire power-play battle for control.   She's acting like Cynthia's health or well-being is threatened because Cynthia doesn't want to talk to a random stranger.   It's not.  Hell, it's not even a sign that Cynthia doesn't understand social cues because she's five!

    Finally, your daughter mutters under her breath, " Cynthia."

    " What was that, my dear? I am sorry. I couldn't understand you," the grandma replies.

    So you try again." Speak up louder, and say your name clearly."

    Again Cynthia says her name but still not so the lady can understand. You finally step in and tell her Cynthia's name. (pg. 10)

    I don't believe for a second that Grandma would have any response to the kid other than "What a nice name!" even if the kid was completely inaudible.   Seriously - don't give the crazy lady another reason to start pressuring her kindergartener. 

    Side note: the name Cynthia is one heck of a mouthful for a kindergartener.  Expecting her to say her name clearly might be beyond her speech capacities.  I say this as a fellow person with a tricky first name; most kids pronounce my first name "Melinda" as "Ma-WIN-da" in kindergarten - including me.

    This is a typical interaction for an adult with a five-year-old. It's what happens most of the time. How would you feel, though, if this were the way the conversation went instead?

    " Hello, sweetie. Those pigtails are just too cute. What's your name?"

    Your child looks at the grandma, smiles, and replies, " Thank you. My mommy likes to sometimes make pigtails for me. My name is Cynthia. What's your name?" (pg. 10)

    Well, since you asked how I felt, I would be weirded out.   Most kids don't ask random strangers what their names are.  I have no idea how to respond to the fact that Cynthia is wearing pigtails because her mom likes to put Cynthia's hair in pigtails.  Does Cynthia like pigtails?  Does anyone care if she does? 

    This whole conversation reminded me of a CP/QF point-of-pride that might be putting their kids at risk.  CP/QF homeschooling parents often wax poetic about how their kids spend all their time in intergenerational settings instead of being surrounded by their peers.   That sounds all well and good - but it also means that their kids are oblivious to the fact that adults don't usually spend time with random kids.    I do water aerobics for exercise and sometimes workout during busy "Open Swim" times.  Generally, people assort by family groups or peer groups.   There's usually groups of boys and girls within a few years of each other playing some game while the parents chat or exercise.    As an adult woman without a kid with me, my interaction with the kids in the pool is limited to occasionally retrieving a toy that has floated into an area that's too deep for the kid to go safely.    The kid gets my attention and asks if I can get the toy on the edge of the deep end.  I say, "Sure!" and return the toy to the kid who says "Thanks!" and we all go about our merry ways.   If I were to join in the kids' game when no other adults are playing -or strike up a conversation with the kid without involving their parent in some way - I would be behaving in a very strange manner would be at least uncomfortable for most kids.   

    Well, I'm going to stop there for now.  The next section of stilted dialogue revolves around a teenager at a doctor's office. 

    Friday, July 6, 2018

    Maidens of Virtue: Did We Read The Same Book?

    The last appendix in "Maidens of Virtue" by Stacy McDonald sets out an elaborate tea luncheon for girls to enjoy with their buddies.   There's an implication that this tea luncheon is totally like what British ladies do - but to me it feels more like a church potluck combined with an etiquette class.

    Anyways, teenage girls can't be trusted to talk about whatever topic comes into their head; that leads to the dreaded "peer-dependence" feared by every CP/QF parent.  Instead, Stacy McDonald included a list of approved books for the girls to read ahead of time and discuss at lunch.    I was seriously thrown by the fact that the second book on the list was "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte.   I love that book; it was one of those books that I stayed up all night to finish when I first read it in high school.  The reasons I love the book, though, should cause the book to be banned in most CP/QF families.   The luncheon information included a whopping ten questions to discuss about a classic of the English language.  When we read it in high school as part of our British Literature class in my junior year, we were lucky if we only got ten questions per chapter.

    I'd like to look at the ten original questions in-depth and propose additional questions that are far more interesting - and potentially life-changing - for young adherents of CP/QF.

    1. Read a short biography of Charlotte Bronte (You might even print a sheet from an online source to share). Do you feel the author brought her own experiences to bear upon writing? Does Jane reflect Charlotte Bronte's own struggles and dreams?

    I hate dumb leading questions.  These questions are pushing really hard in one direction and I find that deeply annoying.   I would end up writing a dead-serious essay that describes every substantive difference between Jane Eyre and Charlotte Bronte - mostly revolving around the fact that the wife of married man that Charlotte Bronte was emotionally attached to didn't have the decency to kill herself so that Bronte could marry him.

    The questions are also daft.  No writer can completely separate their life experiences from their writing so, yeah, Bronte's experiences live through Eyre.  Duh.

    Better Questions:

    A.  Research the social issues that governesses struggled with during this time period.  Compare and contrast the issues faced by governesses with stay-at-home daughters.

    B. Both Jane Eyre and Charlotte Bronte formed a deep emotional relationship with a man that they wished to marry - but whom was already married to another woman.  What circumstances make those relationships more likely to occur?  What circumstances make those relationships less likely to occur?  What are the benefits and drawbacks for women in those relationships.


    2. How do we get to know the characters through Jane's eyes? Notice how her perspective matures from childhood to adulthood.


    Moving from the two word answers from the first set of questions, explaining how characterization occurs in Jane Eyre is a potential thesis level question.  Oh, I know you can adapt it to the level of the teens - but even teenagers should get that this is a huge question.... The second question, though, accidently narrows the question far too much.  There are five characters that Jane knows as an adult and a child: Mrs. Reed, Bessie (Lee) Leaven, Eliza Reed, Georgiana Reed, and Maria Temple.  Of those characters, Jane only perceives Bessie Leaven differently as an adult than as a child.   Jane interacts much differently with Mrs. Reed (and to a lesser extent the Reed daughters) as an adult - but I would argue that the difference in her interaction is due to Jane's deeper understanding of herself than any change in perspective on Mrs. Reed per se.

    Better questions:
    A. You arrive at college and find out you can choose either Georgiana or Eliza Reed as your roommate.  Which would you pick and why?

    B.  Jane idolizes women some women like Maria Temple and Diana Rivers while having more balanced relationships with others like Bessie Leaven and Mrs. Fairfax.  What characteristics in women make Jane more likely to idolize them?  If Helen Burns had lived, would Jane have idolized her?  Why or why not?

    3.How does Jane treat Mr. Rochester? Compare this with how other women in the story treat him.

    I find this question strangely offensive.  One of the things I liked the most about "Jane Eyre" is that Jane lives in a predominantly female society and has very complex relationships with the other women in her life.    Instead of focusing on those relationships - or even on the relationship between Jane and Mr. Rochester - the girls are told to focus on the difference between Jane Eyre and Blanche Ingram.  (Added bonus points, though, if the woman the girls discuss is his first wife...)

    Better questions:
    A.  Defend Bertha (Mason) Rochester's  and Blanche Ingram's courtships of Mr. Rochester in light of the economic conditions facing gentlewomen during this time periods.  How does Jane's experiences after her flight from Thornfield Hall support or detract from the defense of the two other women who courted Rochester?

    B.  Jane and Rochester's relationship prior to her flight from Thornfield contained warning signs of potential abuse in the future.  Discuss these signs.

    C.  At critical points in her relationships with Mr. Rochester and St. John Rivers, Jane receives counsel from Mrs. Fairfax and Diana Rivers respectively.  What information did Jane receive from these women?  Why did these women share this information with Jane?  How did the counsel affect Jane's course of action?

    4. How do Jane's spiritual beliefs affect her relationships with others ( Mrs. Reed, her cousins, friends at school, the headmistress, Mr. Rochester, St. John Rivers, etc.)?

    Here we have another 15-20 page essay question to be discussed over lunch!  Although - now that I think about it - the effect of Jane's spiritual beliefs on her relationships with Georgiana Reed, Eliza Reed, Maria Temple and Helen Burns can be summed up as "not much, really." 

    Let me see if I can work out a better set of questions - but the first one might be a memory from a choice of essays from high school so if you like it, thank Sr. Irene Mary:

    A. Discuss how Helen Burns' religious beliefs affected Jane Eyre.  Which beliefs did she adopt?  Did she reject any of her beliefs?

    B. How did Jane's spiritual beliefs affect her interactions with Mrs. Reed as a child and as an adult?

    C.  Bronte faces a difficult transition when Eyre rejects Rivers to return to Rochester.  Discuss how Bronte uses mysticism to smooth this transition.

    5. Do you think Jane makes the right choice when she runs away from Mr. Rochester after discovering his secret?

    Depends.  Does that include her accidentally forgetting all of her worldly goods on the coach?  That bit always felt forced to me. 

    More broadly, I'm concerned that the CP/QF crowd will defend her flight based on morality - "Jane was right to flee from temptation" instead of as an act of self-defense.  From my point of view, running away was her safest option - even if she ended up sleeping in the moors.  Rochester's behavior from the time after his bigamy was discovered until she leaves his was frightening and violent.

    Better questions:

    A. Discuss the ways in which Rochester separated and threatened Jane between when Jane discovered his bigamy and when she fled Thornfield Hall.

    B.  What options are available for people who are fleeing abusive situations today that were not available to Jane?

    C.  How was Jane's flight from Thornfield Hall complicated by her lack of career choices?  How would her flight have been more difficult if she had discovered his bigamy after she had given birth Rochester's son?

    6. Do you think St. John's offer to Jane is a good one? Why or why not?

    From whose point of view?  It's a great offer from St. John's point of view; he gets the perfect subserviant wife to bring on his Indian missionary work.  It's not so great from Jane's POV - she gets a husband who views her as an interesting tool as she works herself to death.

    Interestingly, my feelings about the relationship between St. John and Jane changed the most greatly of any of the characters when I compare how I felt in high school compared to when I re-read the novel recently.  In high school, I viewed their potential marriage relationship much as Jane does in the book - as unacceptable due to the lack of romantic love on the side of St. John.  As a real adult, the lack of romantic love pales compared to St. John's narcissism and mind games.  RUN, JANE, RUN!

    Better Questions:
    A:  Over the course of one year Jane Eyre attracts two men with controlling personality issues.  What personality traits of Jane do you think are attractive to controlling men?  Why?

    B.  During Jane's formative years, she was under the control of two capricious guardians: Mrs. Reed and Mr. Brocklehurst.   How could this childhood and adolescence lead Jane to be attracted to men like St. John Rivers and Rochester?

    C.  List all the "tests" that Rochester and Rivers put Jane Eyre through during their "courtships".

    7. How does Jane reconcile with Mr. Rochester, and how does this demonstrate her unwillingness to compromise her faith and her moral convictions?

    *SNORTS WITH LAUGHTER*

    Whew.  I needed that.   Making Jane's reconciliation fit within the CP/QF framework requires ignoring studiously the timeline between when St. John Rivers proposes to Jane and when she proposes to Rochester.  Based on my read, Jane takes off to see what has happened to Rochester long before she learns of his first wife's death.  Since Jane struggled through the entire book to stay the course of her chosen moral path when she was near Rochester, I suspect she would have been hard tried to leave again once she met with him.

    Minor note: Rochester never asks Jane to compromise her faith - and only pushes at her moral convictions during that whole first-wife-is-alive-and-a-lunatic-but-hey-let's-get-"married"-anyways time period.  Bronte wrote the Bertha Mason backstory as overblown as it was both to point out the damages England's refusal to grant divorces once one spouse was insane did - and to create a situation where most period readers felt that Rochester's idea to live together in spite of a lack of a lawful marriage was moral.

    Better Questions:
    A.  Research the term "deus ex machina" and explain how it applies to the resolution of Mr. Rochester's first marriage.

    B. Describe the changes in power between Jane and Rochester throughout the book. 


    8. What do you think of the final paragraph in the book?

    Hello?!?  Let's discuss the sacchanine ending for Jane and Rochester before we dive back into the hot mess that is St. John Rivers, ok? (Seriously - it's more than a bit disturbing that Stacy McDonald, writer of "MAIDENS of Virtue", wants to spend most of the luncheon talking about the men in the book.)   Jane marries Rochester who has magically become a much nicer, calmer and less aggressively violent dude after going through the trauma of losing his home to fire, watching his first wife commit suicide, and suffering two life-changing disabilities.   Remember, this is the guy who threatened to kill Jane when she wouldn't marry him; how are we supposed to believe he's become less impulsive and less unstable when he's suffered severe mental and physical trauma?  (Answer "he found Jesus!" at your own peril.)

    Jane brings Adele who is now 7 or 8 years old back from a harsh school and tries to be her governess again - but Rochester's care takes up too much time so Adele is sent to a nicer nearby school. 

    Cool.  I can deal with that. 

    But how does Jane manage to care for a newborn baby while Rochester is still pretty helpless?  I know his eye has a magic recovery - but most of what Jane did for Rochester was more along the lines of being overly enmeshed in Rochester's daily life.  That's not going to work well with a small infant, fyi....

    As for the last paragraph - St. John manages to work himself to death by age 40.  Whoo-hoo. 
    Better - but mainly geeky - Questions:

    A.  (Throwback) Research typhus and typhoid fever. Which disease better fits the Lowood Epidemic?  Why?

    B.  Reseach sympathetic opthalmia and discuss how the course of Rochester's case of sympathetic opthalmia compares to the expected medical course.

    C. Describe the issues surrounding not-planning pregnancies when a family is also providing care to members who need specialized care.

    9. If you had to name one theme that ties all of Jane Eyre together, what would it be?

    This is actually a pretty good question.  My take-away is that people have a right to make their own life choices. 

    10. Which character is your favorite, and why?

    Oooh!  This is a nice question, too.  Personally, I've always liked the character of Bessie (Lee) Leaven.   I like her because her life was so very normal.

    Tuesday, July 3, 2018

    Spiritual Self Defense - Get Ready For War - Part One

    The fourth installment of the Botkin Sisters blog posts on sexual abuse, rape, harassment and consensual sexual relations that don't fit the CP/QF courtship mantra "Get Ready For War" is an astonishingly tone-deaf work about how victims of abuse, rape or harassment absolutely have to do something to stop their attackers from hurting anyone else afterwards. 

    At the end of reading this section, I had two basic observations.  First, most people who want their readers to do something include direct, clear, specific directions for the next steps.  If I want my readers to learn CPR, I'd include a blurb for the Red Cross or American Heart Association.  If I wanted readers to understand how to report child abuse/neglect or domestic abuse, I'd tell them that they call 911 if a child/erson is in immediate danger (e.g., a passerby sees a child being harmed by a parent; the couple in the apartment next door has a screaming, crying fight that includes the sounds of objects being thrown followed by dead silence) or the non-emergency line for their local police department for more chronic issues (e.g., concerns about a sister's refusal to get her niece medical attention for an ongoing issue).   The Botkin Sisters include absolutely nothing about how or even to whom to report abuse, rape, harassment. 

    Why do they repeatedly - and annoyingly coyly - state that their podcast and blogs aren't the right venue to discuss the nitty-gritty details of reporting?  I believe they refuse to do so because of the second observation: the Botkin Sisters are completely unable to function as adults.  That's a harsh assessment - but I believe this section highlights how unprepared and inexperienced the sisters are for women who are 32 and 30 years old respectively.

    Take a second to think about what you have experienced in your life prior to age 32-30 years (for those who are old enough) or what you've experienced so far if you are younger. 

    • In terms of education, I had earned a high school diploma and college credits through AP tests by 18.  I completed a bachelor's degree in Biology/Education with a minor in Chemistry and was a certified teacher for 6-12th grades in Biology and Chemistry.
    • In terms of a career, I had worked as a bagger/cashier/department clerk for 8 years and a teacher for 5-7 years. I earned tenure the year I turned 32.  I had held a variety of short term or contract jobs for supplemental income or experience building concurrent with my main income from working at Meijers or teaching.
    • In terms of building my nuclear family, I started dating seriously when I was 26 (I think...).  Most relationships petered out when the guy I was dating and I realized we simply were not suited for each other - but I did have one serious relationship with a depressed functional alcoholic who dumped me on his way to a vocational retreat for future priests after lying about his intentions to look into the priesthood.  He never made it into the priesthood - or back into my life.  After that cluster-fuck, I decided dating online could not possibly be worse than that last relationship so I went online and met my husband six months later.  We dated for about a year, and we were engaged for 9 months before we married.  We supported each other through depressive episodes, family squabbles and major surgery for my husband. 
    Keep your real life experiences in mind as we discuss some of the more jaw-dropping, eye-popping moments from the Sheltered Sisters:


    In response to the deluge of sexual abuse and harassment reports, it’s astonishing to hear so many voices – even from the feminist camp – implying that we can’t ask or expect a woman to do something that would be hard or require personal sacrifice. “She couldn’t have refused him… she might have lost her job!” “She couldn’t have told anyone; she knew a previous woman had told someone and gotten in trouble.” “She couldn’t have fought back; she had so much to lose here.”

    See, not all difficult personal sacrifices have the same costs attached.  Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin are kept women; their family's income is enough that they can live as upper-middle class adults without having to do anything as distasteful as finding jobs that support their accustomed lifestyle..   If you read the "About" section on their website, they include a non-descript statement that they 'collaborate' with the rest of their family on ministry items...and the only other item they include that describes work is house-cleaning for their immediate family and child-care for their niece and nephews.  I strongly believe that a lot of traditionally women's work like childcare, support for ill or elderly relatives, and care for a home is devalued since it doesn't earn wages.  Having said that, Anna Sofia and Elizabeth are kidding themselves if they think serving their immediate family including siblings is anything similar to the grind they would have to do if they had to earn their own living.  Their home includes six adults (Geoffrey, Victoria, Anna Sofia, Elizabeth, Lucas and Noah) and no young children or adults with needs for extensive caregiver needs.  Even if the male members do nothing but create messes, that's full-time work for one adult woman if she cooks three meals a day from scratch and does all the laundry.  A second woman might be useful if she gardens and keeps enough animals for food - but that doesn't sound like the Botkin Sisters.   Likewise, sporadic childcare duties and housecleaning support for the 2-3 kids of their married brothers is probably a great relief for their sisters-in-law - but it's nothing like trying to support a middle class lifestyle on house-cleaning and babysitting. 

    It's easy enough to preach while sheltered from reality.  Of course, Anna Sofia and Elizabeth would quit a job (or classily submit to being fired) if they were harassed; their income is pin-money for them.  How about if the two of them were supporting the other four adults in the home?  Would it be so easy to walk away from even a single babysitting or house cleaning job with a leering man if that job literally paid the rent?  That requires a bit of imagination on Anna Sofia and Elizabeth's part so let me make it more simple: why haven't Anna Sofia or Elizabeth categorically denounced Doug Phillips after Ms. Torres' accusations?  All the Sisters would be risking is whatever income they receive from lectures involving former Vision Forum members and potentially the disapproval of their father who holds the purse strings in the family.  Huh.  Not that easy, is it?    Hmm....what do we call people who tell other people to do a course of action that they themselves won't do because of the consequences of their actions?  Hypocrites. 

    Of course, we must sympathize with these women’s pain, fear, and prospective loss. Saying no or speaking up can cost a woman everything, and it has for many brave silence-breakers. But we also have to realize that statements like this send a message to young women: Doing the Right Thing is what you do when it’s not hard, when it’s not scary, and when there’s no danger that you’ll lose anything.

    Or...you know....we can speak out against the structural issues that cause people to lose everything when they speak up about unfair practices.   Let's start with an easy one: gossip.  The Botkin Sisters have managed to turn gossip-mongering into an income stream.  Their two books are filled with little anecdotes of how people they know personally have failed morally.  Is that kind?  Is that going to induce victims to feel confident that Anna Sofia and Elizabeth will support them in the aftermath of going public?  Heck, their podcasts subtly mock young women who ask them very specific questions about what is allowed and not allowed for women to do.  If they are that unthinkingly cruel to people who already trust them and confide in them, who in their right mind would disclose sexual harassment to them?

    Their spiel about doing the right thing even when it is hard is a hoot!  These two women have never traveled without a male immediate family member.  They've never volunteered to do physically or emotionally messy work in the community.  The thirty-something women live with their parents and don't have to cover the entirety of their expenses.  The "family ministry" that keeps them SO BUSY is moribund.  In thirteen years, they've written two books, made one documentary, and created one webinar.  They produce about 2 posts a year for their website - and their father's site is even less frequently updated.

    I know the two sisters find the idea of moving out of their parents' home morally repellent so I'll make this easier for them.  They should spend a year trying to earn enough money to cover what they would need if they were living independently.  They can do it however they want - home business, working for church members or revitalizing their ministry - but if they want to be taken seriously, the two of them need to start clearing enough income from their endeavors to pay for a two-bedroom apartment, transportation to and from their jobs, food, health insurance (or cost-share ministry), renter's insurance, clothing, and utilities.  Looking up apartment or house rental comps isn't hard; they can track their own needs for food, clothing and transportation; the rest they can get from talking to other people in their church or in their jobs.   On the months they fall short - and there will be months they fall short - they need to cut back in real life the same way they would if living separately from their parents.  (Added benefit: they'll understand the jokes people make about living on Ramen noodles, Tina's burritos, and bargain-basement pot pies since cooking from scratch falls apart when working 60+ hours a week with $100 a month for food.)

    Erin Lovette-Colyer, director of the University of San Diego Women’s Center, says that when it comes to dealing with and reporting harassment, “I tell students that whatever feels the most empowering for them is what they should do.” Which, we’re pretty sure, is how Harvey Weinstein’s whole network of effectual accomplices covering things up to protect their own careers and success were operating all along. Actually… we’re pretty sure that’s how Harvey Weinstein was operating, too.

    *slow claps*

    This is the level of analysis I would expect from a last-minute slapped together essay from a young high school student. 

    Harassment is a civil matter.  The most severe remedy for extreme cases involves filing a civil suit. Like many civil matters, there are relatively few hard-and-fast rules for how best to handle a given situation.  The Botkin Sisters - and the rest of their family as well - try to make the world black and white when it's filled with grey areas.  How a person chooses to react to harassment with vary depending on the severity of the incident, how the offender was connected to the person, the options the person thinks are available and the likelihood of the incident happening again.   IOW, getting harassed by a drunk stranger at a baseball concession stand will likely have a different response than the same behavior from a classmate, a professor or a supervisor.    Bluntly, "being empowered" in this situation is a different way of saying "listen to your gut."  If telling the guy at the lab table behind you that you don't want to overhear explicit stories of his sexual exploits sounds like the right response, it is the right response.  An undergraduate might choose to ignore a single issue with a professor that might be harassment as long as it doesn't reoccur - or they might feel the best option is to say to the professor that that interaction made them uncomfortable - or they might need to report the interaction through the college's system. 

    I don't know how Harvey Weinstein's associates justified dismissing Weinstein's reputation, but I suspect the process was pretty similar to how Geoffrey and Victoria Botkin managed to miss Doug Phillip's skeevy behavior when it benefited their family.  The family made at least one podcast based on their trip to Boston in 2009 for Vision Forum's Reformation 500 where Anna Sofia and Elizabeth got to do cos-play under the guise of representing important women in the Reformation.  A variety of bloggers from both the upper-class royalty of Vision Forum and the working class supporters describe how chummy the Botkin and Phillips families were - so how did the paragons of virtue in the Botkin family miss Doug Phillip's predilection to molest their nanny?
      (Side note: the description of Anne Boleyn's execution as being caused by her support for the Protestant religion in England is a hoot. A more accepted reading was that her inability to give birth to a healthy son doomed her to fall the internecine power-plays of the court...)

    This last quote is sad simply because the Botkin Sisters confuse feminism with the daily restrictions they place on themselves as members of a cult:

    With all its promises of strength and liberation, feminism leaves women in the ultimate bondage, the bondage to their own natural sinful tendencies. Bondage to the fear that says, “I just can’t.” To the apathy that says, “It’s not worth it.” To the ambition that says, “It would be OK to trade my principles for success.” To the pragmatism that says, “What would it profit me if I think about my soul and lose the whole world?”

    I'm sure the Botkin Sisters know fear; they believe they are too gullible to discern the difference between a potential rapist and a potential suitor.  They believe that listening to a college lecturer who is an atheist discuss any topic will cause them to lose their belief system.  They believe they need their father to dictate where, when, and with whom they go places. 

    I'm sure the Botkin Sisters know apathy; descriptions of their busy life is somewhat less than the amount of work, fun, family time and community responsibility that an adult woman has - split across two single women.  I managed to keep up my blog while caring for a medically complex newborn; I have no idea why the Botkin Sisters can't do theirs except apathy or burnout.

    We've already discussed how the Botkin Family has chosen silence to maintain their standing in the CP/QF society - so deriding other people's ambition is hypocritical.

    Pragmatism - I would say that the Botkin Sisters have made a pragmatic choice.  To enjoy their lifestyle, they've passed up any opportunity to serve among the lost, forsaken, and hurting of the world so that they can be safely ensconced in the Botkin Family enclave.  By not reaching out, the Sisters avoid running into any of the inconvenient moments when life challenges their deeply beloved thoughts and actions.  After all, deviating from Geoffrey Botkin's plan means that they would risk having to support themselves like adults - so pragmatism dictates that it's better to skimp on following Jesus than risk losing their paycheck. 

    Thursday, June 28, 2018

    Maidens of Virtue: Scrapbooking Hell

    I have a confession to make.  I hate scrapbooking with a passion that I generally reserve for important matters.   My mother-in-law made one good-hearted and genuine attempt to sell me on the joys of making scrapbooks soon after I married.   She loves scrapbooking and hoped it would be something we could do together.  I made it clear that was never going to happen.   I have a hard time explaining exactly why I hate it - but let me give it a shot.

    • With mild cerebral palsy, using scissors to cut little shapes out of colored papers is physically painful when the muscles in the palms of my hands cramp up and exasperating because I will have a spasm that causes the scissors to cut in the wrong place destroying the shape.  
    • I like looking at photos.  I like arranging and curating descriptions for photos if needed.  Adding a bunch of doo-dabs and frills around the photo distracts from the photos themselves in my opinion.  
    • Those doo-dabs and frills seem insanely expensive especially since the final project must be carefully protected from all forms of liquid or oil or light. 
    I think most of these issues boil down to the fact that I arrange my home on utilitarian principles. That's my fancy way of  saying I don't like knick-knacks or purely decorative items that require more care than being hung on a wall and dusted every few months.   I add color and interest by purchasing or making visually interesting functional items.  I crocheted a three-color interlocking block patterned afghan made with 7 bold colors to add a splash of color to my beige apartment; it looked good and was warm.   I made a wall of metal hooks in our kitchen to hang pans, skillets, strainers and oddly shaped utensils; it's visually catching and freed up a lot of space in the cupboards.  The central decorative focus in bedrooms is a brightly colored or intricately patterned quilt; they are easy to swap out for guests and provide lots of warmth in an old farmhouse.

    Keep this in mind as we slog through the scrapbook section; it's pretty close to my version of hell.

    The scrapbook appendix starts with a nostalgic fable about how current maidens will someday show their scrapbook of purity to their grandkids:

    "This is the scrapbook your mother and I made together during our Maidens of Virtue study. She was 14 and so full of questions. I felt terribly ill equipped to teach her since no one had ever taught me. As God faithfully revealed his truth to us both, I learned what it means to be a true maiden of virtue by watching God create one- your mother."

    Elizabeth hugged her grandmother tightly. " Grandma!" she cried, " I want to become a maiden of virtue just like Mommy was. Do you think that's why Daddy wanted to marry her so much?"

    " Yes, Elizabeth, I think your mother's purity and virtue probably had quite a bit to do with your father's interest in her." She smiled. (pg. 195)

    First, I enjoy how Stacy McDonald manages to imply that Grandma was a sexual pervert; after all, Grandma had never been a "Maiden of Virtue".  (Also, I read "Maiden of Virtue" in a combination superhero-Oprah voice which makes the entire experience more pleasant.)

    Second, don't marry a guy who is interested in your "purity".   That's a sign of abnormal psychology and you don't want to get into that mess.

    Third, my husband's grandmother who recently passed away had been married to Opa for 66 years.  He first saw her on a boat passing under a bridge in the Netherlands.  He turned to a friend of his and asked "Hey, who's woman with the great knockers?"  (*After many detailed discussions with native Dutch speakers, the general consensus is that the closest English terms for breasts would be "tits", "knockers" or "hooters" depending on region.)  The well-endowed woman was the friend's younger sister - and Opa lost his ride home.  To this day, he swears it was worth walking 4 miles (and pissing off his friend) to find out who that lovely young woman was.   Their marriage survived living in two different countries where they didn't speak the language, four children and the problems of farm life - so I wouldn't put too much emphasis on the importance of "purity" in a marriage partner.

    Virtue, on the other hand, is important - but only if it includes the virtues of patience, forbearance, courage, justice, faith (in the broader sense of believing in goals larger than self), hope and love.  If virtue is being used as a signal word for "I'm sexually inexperienced, see the third section.

    Apparently, a major part of making the scrapbook of a "Maiden of Virtue" is forcing yourself to enjoy one specific style of femininity as evidenced by this strangely detailed list of ideas for page decorations:

    Antique engravings or illustrations from books beautiful, feminine images cut out of old stationary, calendars, or greeting cards ( examples: flowers, babies, leaves, herbs, dresses, ladies, carriages, perfume bottles, bonnets, Victorian-style letters and graphics, teacups, teapots, baking scenes, and cottages) (pg. 197)

    Yeah.  The Victorian Era - especially for middle/upper class women - is my version of hell.  I can visualize what that scrapbook page looks like and I want to consign the page to a bonfire.

    What is the purpose of idolizing this anyways?  A young woman can fill a scrapbook with pictures of hoop-skirts, ball gowns and bonnets, but she's not going to spend her life wearing them especially if she's from the lower income levels of CP/QF.  I enjoy flower arranging, growing herbs and cooking - but making a scrapbook page of those things doesn't increase a girl's skill level in those areas nearly as much as actually doing those things.

    Probably not allowed to make the babies look like they're getting drunk on perfume bottles that look like tiny flasks, huh?  And yet....that's what mine would have looked like.

    Final note: Please don't destroy real books to make a scrapbook; that's gross and short-sighted.

    The next series of projects is categorized under "Memory Making Projects" - but one of the projects feels a lot like a biography report I did in 4th-6th grade:

    Memory making projects

    Read a biography, or glean information from the encyclopedia or Internet about her life. Make sure you use the sources and take plenty of notes. Write down specific anecdotes or sketches from her life. Was she married? How many children did she have? Will she persecuted or murdered for her faith? What makes you think she was a Godly woman? (...)

    Lady Jane Grey

    Katie Luther

    Corrie Ten Boom

    Sarah Edwards

    Susanna Wesley

    Anne Bradstreet

    Elizabeth Prentiss

    Florence Nightingale

    Your mother or grandmother

    a Godly Titus 2 woman in your life (pgs. 201-202)

    Good luck finding a biography, reference book or online encyclopedia on your mother, grandmother or that nice lady from your church. 

    I ran quick internet searches for the other ladies - there's plenty of information on all of the women (especially if you recognize "Katie Luther" as Katharina Luther or Katharina von Bora) except Sarah Edwards.  She was the wife of Jonathan Edwards who preached "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God".  All I could scratch together on her was the fact that she was married to Edwards who was impressed by her piety and that they had eleven children.  I suppose Mrs. McDonald may view that as an adequate amount of information to scatter on a page among pictures of children playing with flowers in carriages with Gothic font - but I wouldn't send a kid off after such a scantly researched person.  Of course...she might have meant Esther Edwards Burr.  The third daughter of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards, she left behind a series of letters in a journal that describe her life and theological leanings.

    I wonder if it is by design that the two women who were unmarried and childless were Ten Boom (who is about the only person on the list I would recommend a kid research because she's awesome) and Florence Nightingale.  I've got no beef with Nightingale - but I doubt McDonald has really looked into her actual life accomplishments in statistics, epidemiology, and professionalizing nursing compared to the romantic myth of "The Lady with the Lamp".

    Mrs. McDonald has a thing about baths and cleanliness being next to godliness.  Enjoy this insanely detailed outline of how to make a page about the joys of bathing.

    Powdered and perfumed

    Create a "Powdered and Perfumed" page. Find Scripture verses pertaining to cleanliness and purity, and place them in hand-drawn "bath bubbles." Write out short statements that were meaningful to you during the section of study. Be sure to communicate why you think cleanliness is important.

    Use graphics, photos, stickers, or drawings of things pertaining to the bath. Decorate further with dried lavender, rose petals, or decorative soap wrappers.

    Graphic or drawing suggestions:

    Old fashioned bathtub, shampoo bottles, perfume bottles, herbs, soap, towels, bubbles, bathroom, Victorian dressing down, vanity table, slippers, rubber duck, scrub brush, water faucet, clotheslines, wash bucket. (pg. 203-204)

    I can see an immediate problem for me.  I do not own and do not want to own decorative soaps - or the wrappers they are sold in.    I'm sure there are ways to place decorative soap wrappers in a scrapbook tastefully, but mine would end up being crumpled messes held in place with Scotch tape.  Eventually, the wrappers would drop into the lap of unsuspecting victims like a mis-sized glitter bomb.

    Earlier, Mrs. McDonald rightfully pointed out that floral material needs to be stored in waxed paper envelopes within the scrapbook.  Decorating the bath section with rose petals and lavender will both hasten the breakdown of the scrapbook from acids within the plants and attract a fascinating series of mites.  (Ask me how I know...)

    The repeated descriptions of lotions, soaps and powders are making my skin itch.....

    The best way to normalize a new, strange ritual is to include descriptions of a daughter pledging her heart to her father over and over and over:

    A daughter's heart

    Compose a poem or letter to your father describing your trust in his guidance. Let him know by your words that you are committed to remaining pure and are thankful for his protection and leadership.

    You could take the idea from chapter 18 and plan to give a symbolic " heart" to your father as a gift. www.jamesavery.com has various unique and reasonably priced heart charms to choose from. Ask your mother if she is interested in contributing to your project by buying a chain or pin from which the charm can dangle. It will be a great blessing for him to have a reminder that you have willingly surrendered your "heart" to him.

    Make a "kingly protector" scrapbook page. Fill it was father-daughter momentos. Include poems, letters, photos, postcards, or other reminders of your relationship. Be sure to include special photos of the giving or receiving of heart charms, promise rings, or other symbolic gifts. (pg. 204)

    I laugh every time I think of the poor fathers whose daughters stumbled into EmoPure themselves who get this insane letter from their daughters.  I suspect that if I had handed that letter to my dad, either he - or more likely my mom - would have had a serious sit-down talk with me about....dunno really.....growing up?  Being an adult? Not letting fear control my life?  The creepiness of an Electra complex? 

    Much to my surprise, the www.jamesavery.com site is still fully operational - but hardly what I would call affordable for most CP/QF families.  The cheapest heart charms are $30.00 each.  I also cannot find any masculine jewelry that could hold a heap of heart charms. 

    How many letters can you fit on a scrapbook page?  One?  For families in which the father doesn't do long distance travel, how many letters or postcards do dads write to their kids?   Of course, mine would be decorated with scraps of theatrical lighting gels that I purloined interspaced with Canadian coins and bills. When I was a kid, I was fascinated by lighting gels - but I wasn't allowed to play with them because the oils on hands can degrade the material... so I collected the tiny scraps leftover from burnt gels from my Dad's productions.   Dad took a yearly trip to Stratford, Canada with his high school students to watch a well-done Shakespeare play.  He brought us back souvenirs - but my favorite was always the far-cooler Canadian coins.   Long live the loonies and toonies!

    Courtship and marriage
     Write a short letter to God indicating your trust in him and that you are committed to remaining faithful to your future spouse (whether a husband or the Lord, if God calls you to remain unmarried). Decorate it with beautiful fonts, stickers, flowers or other embellishments, and place it in your scrapbook. Include Scripture that relates to purity, trust, faithfulness, contentment, and joy. Pray that God will guard your future husband's heart and help him to remain pure in thought and deed for you as well. Ask the Lord to bless your womb and give you children to train up for his glory.

    Warning! Be careful to guard your heart against of obsessing. Remember that God is sovereign and it is possible he may call you to single maidenhood. Remember, God will not only equip and give you special grace for whatever he calls you to do, he will also give you joy in it! Therefore, be content. Ask your mother if she feels it is wise for you to do this project. If it might cause you to fall into temptation, it is better that you skip this one. (pg. 204)

    Warning!  This is a bad idea.  If young women are following this advice literally, they are stuck writing a strangely divided letter that declares their trust in God who will decide if they should marry or stay single - but the girl would really appreciate it if God keeps her future husband's heart pure...and blesses her womb with kids....unless she's going to be single. 

    I don't know which would be worse - coming upon this letter years later as a SAHD in her late thirties who expected to be a mother celebrating her 15th anniversary by this point or coming upon this letter as an unhappily married woman who is feeling trapped because of her large family and few job prospects.

    We have one post left in this series: A series of ridiculously shallow questions on the great classic novel "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte!

    Monday, June 25, 2018

    Spiritual Self-Defense: Make Your Plan - Part Two

    I believe that the Botkin Sisters have succumbed to a terrible unintended by-product of Purity Culture or Emotional Purity: they believe that they are worthy of love and respect from a good man only because they are virgins. I think it is this belief more than anything that leads them to the strange standoff they are in now where victims are not to be blamed for being raped while still holding beliefs that if women just do everything right they will not be raped.  The Botkin Response to sexual threats runs a disturbingly high chance of escalating a dangerous, but survivable situation into a situation where the victim ends up dead or in the ICU.  The only way that risk is acceptable is if the Botkin Sisters believe that being raped is a fate worse than death - and that's a terrible way to go through life.

    I, on the other hand, would prefer to be alive.  I've got a son who I would like to see grow up.  I don't want my husband to be a widower.   I'll do whatever I think is the best option for getting me home alive and safe - including not screaming like a stuck pig if I know there is no one to hear me.

    Digital or analog clocks that are broken are still right twice a day - and given enough time the Botkin Sisters and I will agree in broad terms.

    Decide before you’re in an emotionally volatile situation what you will and will not allow in the way of physical contact, one-on-one time, verbal affection, emotional bonding, etc. – and be ready to stop any interaction in its tracks if it steps over the line, no matter how much you love or trust the person doing it

    That's solid advice.  Hell, it's the overarching theme of "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte.   When I was dating, I consciously decided what level of physical contact I was comfortable with based on the status of the relationship.   This never felt like a ground-breaking idea to me - but after reading so much Botkin drivel I need to state it again.  I make decisions based on how actions fit within my moral understanding of the world.  I've never phrased it - even in my head - as what it is ok for a man to do to me - but rather what I was ok with happening.

    The Botkin Sisters and I divulge on making decisions about one-on-one time, verbal affection and emotional bonding, I suspect.  I have a loose set of boundaries on each of those for men who are not my spouse or a close relative to reduce the risk of falling in love outside of my marriage.  My guidelines aren't like the Pence Rule, though, because I trust that as long as I stay within the bounds of basic professional behavior I'm not going to end up in dangerous territory.    Really, that standard makes decision-making easy.   I've gone to dinner with male colleagues because I do that with female colleagues as well.  I don't use verbal affection unless standard workplace praise counts.

    I'm really curious about the emotional boundaries part.  I get physical boundaries.  I get how to set boundaries around time or activities.  How do you set boundaries around feelings?  Equally important, how do you prevent crossing that boundary?

    The next quote shows how being raised in a cult can lead to surreal spiritual beliefs:

    All boundaries should start with a strong internal sense of how much God values our safety, our holiness, our sexuality – and a willingness to create sensible barriers to keep these things safe from trespassers.

    "God values our sexuality" is a phrase I've never read, heard, or thought before.     God values so much about us: our sacrifice, our helpfulness to others, our praise of God, the way we care for ourselves, others and the world, our ongoing efforts to overcome our faults, our efforts to reform the world.... the list goes on and on!   Thanks to a K-12 Catholic schools, I've learned that God's Plan seems to get done in spite of humans' best efforts to thwart it.  The Bible records Tamar's bravery and wiles when she gets pregnant by her father-in-law after he refuses to marry his son to her in violation of Levirate marriage rules.  If God valued sexuality above everything, Tamar should have been struck down or punished in some way.  Instead, she gets pregnant with twin sons - and survives a nasty nuchal arm breech birth!  Bathsheba - derided as a fallen women by conservative Christians - is the mother of Solomon.

    The next paragraph I've quoted is mostly written in sentence fragments.  Since God appreciates our charity towards others , I'm going to assume that was a decision by the Botkin Sisters to emphasize the myriad of ways you can set up boundaries.

    We can’t tell you what your specific boundary lines should be, but we will say that a lot of unnecessary pain and regret is avoided by keeping a distance from danger zones. Making restrictions for being around certain people alone, or allowing certain kinds of physical contact, or going to certain parts of town alone at night. Setting guidelines for how much interaction we have with someone (over any medium), how intimately we talk with someone, how dependent we let ourselves become on someone or vice versa, or how exclusive the relationship is. Maintaining borders around kinds of interactions that really do belong inside the marriage covenant. Putting barriers around our time, our emotions, our bodies.

    "I don't want to tell you what to do, but here's what to do..."    *giggles*

     Look, I don't think most of those ideas will work out as easily as the Botkin Sisters think they will.   Oh, people certainly have the right to set whatever boundaries they like - but there are always unintended consequences.  To me, the Botkin Sisters have given up adulthood in exchange for a fleeting sense of security surrounding sexuality.   I grew up in an area of town that the Botkin Sisters wouldn't visit at night alone.  It's the same area I taught in for years.  I am deeply certain that the Botkin Sisters would never be alone with most of my male coworkers - which is a shame.   The funny bit is that those down-trodden rough around the edges areas of town are generally pretty safe for the people who live there - but learning that requires moving out of the Botkin Family home.    Yup, the Botkin Sisters will be pretty darn safe from willingly falling in love if they never allow themselves to be open with unrelated males.  It's a pretty effective way to remain single as well....

    The next quote is oddly framed due to a long, rambling sentence/paragraph that I cut in the middle.  This is the second time the Botkin Sisters decide to mention tonic immobility in humans - and I think the subject deserves more discussion.

    And when we’re startled or frightened, we’re also up against the brain’s hard-wired responses to stress or danger, which can include freezing. Freezing is not a sin, or a sign of weakness; it’s part of the body’s “defense cascade,” and we should expect to encounter it. But it’s also something that can be overcome.

    Soldiers train to be able to control freezing under stress, ...

    Tonic immobility is a real defense mechanism that humans share with a whole lot of other animals.  The best local example for me of an animal that uses tonic immobility is an opossum.  Opossums play dead when threatened - but "playing dead" implies that the opossum has far more control over their reaction than they do.  Tonic immobility literally overrides the ability of the opossum to move while flooding the mammal's body with painkillers to reduce the likelihood of shock killing the animal.   We had a half-grown labrador retriever that managed to corner an opossum in our backyard one day.  Instead of leaving the possum alone when it "died", she started nudging it happily with her nose and trying to flip it over.   My mom and I rushed outside, corralled the dog and moved the opossum to the relative safety of our enclosed compost bin filled with fallen leaves.   It took the possum a good 20 minutes to be able to get up and move after my mom and I went inside with the dog in tow.

    Why do I bring this up? 

    Well, the Botkin Sisters are mixing up tonic immobility in dangerous situations with the momentary freezing response that many people have when a sudden, potentially dangerous situation occurs. 

    The momentary freezing response has happened to me when I was in a car accident, when faced with a pop quiz, when I see a person injured, and when I saw some campers climbing over a fence into an area where tall weeds hid sharp, rusty metal.    The difference is that training - or a clear command - or a few seconds - is generally enough stimuli to break someone free of a momentary response.  When I froze at camp, I snapped out of it when the whistle I was wearing thumped my chest.  I grabbed the whistle, blew it three times (which is the US is used at camp pools to signal "Get out of the water and buddy up!"), and belted "Freeze!" to get all the campers to stop moving.   My whistle and yelling "unfroze" several other counselors who grabbed the kids in danger and pulled them to safety.

    The fact that the Botkin Sisters mention soldiers training to avoid tonic immobility is ironic since it is because of the military that psychologists understand that tonic immobility cannot be entirely prevented by training.  No matter how realistic training is, a certain percentage of people will have tonic immobility triggered by warfare. 

    And really, that makes sense. 

    We discuss "fight or flight" but the actual response in nature is "hide-or -fight-or-flight".   Fight or flight both assume that the victim has a decent shot at fighting off or running away from an assailant.  Hiding - or even pretending to be dead - is generally the best option for women or children as well as men who are not evenly matched.   Tonic immobility allows a person under attack to play dead effectively; they cannot voluntarily move. 

    There is a downside to tonic immobility; people who have that reaction show much higher rates of PTSD after the event.  We don't know yet how the two are connected - but the Botkin Sisters are not doing anyone any favors by pretending that living at the gun range and "hating sin" will prevent tonic immobility in rape victims.  A far kinder message is that your body was trying to protect itself; you might wish you had screamed or fought - but your body recognized on an unconscious level that the attacker would become dangerously violent if you resisted - so your body prevented you from doing that. 

     (On a random side note, there's a Canadian reality show known as  "Mantracker" where a trained wilderness search and rescue guide pairs up with a local guide to see if they can locate and capture two contestants who are heading for an unknown endpoint before the contestants get there.  The main "tracker" admits that he has a much harder time with female contestants because male contestants consistently run when the tracker approaches them on horseback.  Female contestants, on the other hand, hunker down and remain stationary until after the tracker decides he must be in the wrong area and leaves. )

    The Botkin Sisters eventually get around to rehashing their favorite Biblical duo of Abigail and Bathsheba.

    David’s reputation as man “fighting the battles of the Lord” seems to have reached Abigail prior to the news that he was on his way to kill all the men of her household, but rather than assume that this godly man “must know what he’s doing,” Abigail confronted God’s warrior with what she could see and he could not. Bathsheba – perhaps in awe of David, perhaps in desire to please him, perhaps in fear of disobeying him, perhaps trusting that he knew best – ultimately abetted him in making the worst mistake of his life. Abigail, in keeping her spiritual senses turned on, drew him back to the path instead.

    I'm always baffled that the Botkin Sisters think the stories of Abigail and Bathsheba are substantially different from each other.    Here's my understanding of the two stories: 
    • David wants Nabal's food and drink for one hell of a party in spite of the fact that Nabal needs that food to fulfil his obligations under the Law to his workers.  Nabal says "no". David comes to destroy Nabal et al., which Abigail prevents by giving David what he wants and flattering him.  Nabal has a stroke when he realizes what his wife has done.  David married Abigail.
    • David wants to have an affair with Bathsheba after he breaks the  Law by spying on her while she's undergoing a ritual washing at the end of her period.  Bathsheba - who we can assume realizes David is as crazy as Abigail did - complies by having sex with David.  When Bathsheba finds out she's pregnant, David doesn't want to get caught so he tries to get her husband Uriah to sleep with her to mask the paternity.  He refuses because there's a war going on and he's a good commander.  David has him killed.  David marries Bathsheba.
    If women need a take-away from those stories, a good one is that God won't hold it against you if you placate a warlord to try and save your family.   Hell, God must like Bathsheba on some level; her second child with David is Solomon.  CP/QF preachers always leave that tidbit out - but God gave Solomon to Bathsheba, not Abigail. 

    Most disturbingly - the Botkin Sisters are so wound up in how Abigail and Bathsheba affected David that they miss the horrific tragedies of the two stories.  Abigail manages to placate David only to have her husband die within a short time.  Nabal sounds like a jackass - but he was a fairly wealthy landowner whose wife had a certain level of freedom and respectability.  When he dies, Abigail becomes one of David's multitude of wives...which may not end well for her as an old woman if she didn't bear David a living son.   Bathsheba is stuck between a rock and a hard place; David is capricious and violent.  Having an affair with him was probably the safest option - and we'd have never heard of her if she hadn't had the bad luck of getting pregnant.  David has her husband killed - and then the child that she conceived died after an illness.

    Just to be clear, I don't want any woman to have to make the choices Abigail and Bathsheba did - and I'm aghast that the Botkin Sisters can hold them up as simple black-and-white examples of morality.

    The last quote is creepy in terms of how shallowly the idea that victims aren't to blame for rape has actually percolated into the Botkin Sisters' brains.


    Specifically, have good relationships and communication with wise, mature people who could help you. Don’t wait until there’s an emergency to try to find people like this, establish your own credibility and integrity, and build good lines of communication.


    Question: Why do young women need to establish their credibility and integrity with people prior to a sexual assault?    Young women are not asking the "wise and mature" people to act as a prosecutor, judge and jury after an attack; they are asking simply to be believed and supported.    There's a wide gulf between the level of evidence required to convict an accused person of rape and the level of evidence needed to connect a friend with the local sexual assault support services. 

    I'm glad the Botkin Sisters are starting to look critically at their previous views on sexual assaults - but there's still a lot of room for them to grow.


    Wednesday, June 20, 2018

    Spiritual Self-Defense: Make Your Action Plan - Part One

    I'm trying to figure out why this series by the Botkin Sisters on a divine plan revealed in the Bible to prevent rape, abuse, or guys saying "You look pretty today.  Wanna go on date?" took more than two posts to complete.   The first post decries that state of the world today (as all Botkin posts do) and the second post lays out the right way to do things.  Boom.  Finished.

    And yet, there are still four more posts in the series filled with strange, surreal ideas.....

    Right off the bat, there is a sentence that encapsulates the Botkin Sisters' confusion around sexual assault and normal responses:
    An inappropriate or dangerous overture comes like a bolt from the blue, and suddenly we’re having to make split-second decisions under high stakes, intense adrenaline, and sometimes tonic immobility (the freezing response.)

    Let's separate out the easiest part first.  "Inappropriate" does not automatically mean "dangerous".

     Inappropriate in mainstream society means that a person has violated a widely held social norm.  A boss asking their direct report out on a date would be inappropriate.  In CP/QF land, inappropriate is stretched to mean any activity that doesn't align with the family's standards of behavior so something that would be viewed as appropriate by mainstream society - like a single man asking a woman on a date with no parental oversight or a dating couple hugging - is labeled inappropriate.  This broadened meaning of "inappropriate" makes discussing anything involving sexuality more confusing because we've now lumped a broad category of actions into a single category.

    Dangerous is more straightforward because both groups agree that a dangerous situation is one where one or more people fear immediate or short-term injury to their person, reputation or property.  An inappropriate situation can be dangerous if the victim is concerned that addressing the inappropriate behavior will allow the other person to retaliate against them with consequences that exceed the normal level.

    The strangest part is that the Botkin Sisters conflate all inappropriate and all dangerous situations into fraught moments that require immediate action.   That's simply silly; most inappropriate actions and some dangerous situations can be mitigated simply by stalling for time. 

    Tonic immobility is a real thing  - but the Botkin Sisters have it messed up in this post.  Again.  I've typed that so many times.  Tonic immobility is an involuntary freezing survival instinct in which the brain of someone who is in a very dangerous situation overrides their voluntary muscle control and floods the brain with chemicals that dull pain and keep muscles relaxed.   In easier terms, a person's body decides that it is time to stay still until the danger passes and proceeds to do so regardless of if the person wants to or not.  It's been studied in police officers and members of the military.  It is less well studied in rape victims but no one doubts that the same actions come into play in violent crime situations.

    Well, the Botkin Sisters include their new standard statement that victims don't deserve or cause crimes - which we all agree is a good step - and then explain how victims clearly screwed up by asserting all of their rights as people:

    When we realize that being wise and wary enough to avoid danger sometimes means choosing not to exercise the full extent of our rights to go where we want, when we want, with whom we want, it can be tempting to say, “But that isn’t fair!” or “But their sin isn’t my responsibility!” And both are true. But if we love wisdom, hate evil, and value our safety as much as God does, we have to be willing to let the reality of other people’s sin change how we approach certain areas of life.


    So...if you are a victim of a crime, you were in a bad place with a bad person or at a bad time - and you should have avoided it.   I mean - Ms. Torres was nannying in the home of a married religious leader who lead a group who preaches the importance of morality and avoiding sexual sin when she was molested by said religious leader.    Clearly, she should have known better because.....oh, wait.  This is terrible advice that won't work at all for the majority of abuse and sexual assault that occurs in homes and between people who already know each other.


    I'm all about sensible precautions to reduce the likelihood of being a victim of crime committed by random strangers - but the Botkin Sisters take this to a crazy extreme.   One of the women mentioned casually in "Good Girls and Problem Guys" to obey the limits set by fathers in terms of where they are allowed to go, whether they need chaperones and curfews like the Botkin girls do.  Now, I had restrictions on where, when and with whom I was allowed to go places when I was a pre-teen and young teenager.  By the time I was in my late teens, my parents trusted me to make good decisions which included staying safe.  All my mom asked was that I wake her up when I came home late (i.e., after she went to bed) so that she wouldn't worry that I hadn't made it home when I had.  The fact that the Botkin daughters have never been freed to make their own choices implies one of two things.  Either the girls are exceptionally immature and reckless as adult women or their family is overly restrictive.

    Equally importantly, restricting time around scary people and places isn't a particularly great defense.  The time I was most concerned about the behavior of a strange man who was following me was when I was exiting a grocery store in the middle of the day.  Learning to be cognizant of surroundings and the people nearby is a far better choice - and much more effective.

    The Sisters then decide to double-down by trying to make restricting women's activities is a kind thing to do....for the criminals....

    The Lord wants us to take the dangers of other people’s sin seriously – even to the point of sometimes choosing to forgo our personal rights (or things that would technically be “lawful” for us), to do what is most wise, prudent, helpful, loving, and up-building, for ourselves and for others.


    I expect daft writings from the Botkin Sisters - but this wins a new award. 

    "Peeps, we need to worry about the souls of the men waiting to attack us in dark alleyways late at night!  If all women stay locked up safe at home, no men will ever be able to rape another woman and God's Kingdom will be upon us!" 

    Nevermind that the solution does nothing to change the hearts and attitudes of violent people towards others; it simply hands the keys to the world over to them and declares that peace prevails. 

    The Botkin Sisters probably don't realize this - but most of Europe attempted that method of appeasing Germany prior to World War 2.  Hint: It didn't work on any count.  World War Two happened and Germany enacted genocide on Jews, Romani, people with disabilities and people with different gender or sexual identities other than cis-heterosexual that had been turned away from other countries.

    I doubt this plan would end better for women in the US.

    *I apologize for the late post.  I was in a minor car accident Monday evening when a really poorly thought-out parking lot design led a pick-up truck to turn right in front my medium sized hatchback.  Thankfully, no one was injured - and the baby was at home with my husband.  The pickup truck received a barely visible dent where my car hit the side panel of the bed.,  The front end of my car is a mess so I spent Tuesday doing all of the random things that needed to be done for insurance and the repair shop while stretching to keep my torso and shoulder loose.

    Thursday, June 14, 2018

    Maxwell Reading Criteria Review

    I pulled out my copy of "Raising Sons to Provide for Single-Income Families" and realized that we are finished with the review!  The last chapter is simply a mild rehash of the first few chapters without any particularly interesting quotes to discuss.  The next Maxwell book on the docket to review is "Raising Great Conversationalists" - which amuses me on so many levels.   Before I start that, I realized that I've alluded to, but never discussed, the chaotic mess of rules the Maxwells have created around reading books.  We already know that the Maxwells abstain piously from any visual media, watching professional sports, playing team sports, owning outdoor recreation vehicles, hunting or fishing.  For me, getting rid of all of those activities would greatly increase the amount of time I spent reading.  The Maxwells, though, have managed to ban the vast majority of books written in English - so starting a conversation with them will be tricky.

    Before we dive into the prohibitions, take a few moments to think of your favorite book as a child, as a preteen, as a teenager and as an adult.  Luxuriate in the details of the plot.  Enjoy the art of the writing.  Think of how much pleasure you have received from that book.  Realize that the Maxwell kids (especially the ones born after Sarah) have probably never read any of those books - and never will.

    The section on the family's reading rules is in an appendix in "Managers of their Schools".  It's pretty much a bunch of Bible quotes with restrictions supported by the quotes.   The heart of the matter is summarized at the end of the first paragraph.

    We would rather not read than to read what we don't see as matching up with Scripture.

    If Steven and Teri Maxwell wanted to obey that dictum themselves, I can support their right to do that as adults - but they hold the same principles for their homeschooled kids.   Practically, their kids received no language arts training in any fiction or nonfiction forms of literature after the kids were reading fluently in 3rd grade.    Disturbingly, the Maxwell adults swear that their kids don't need to learn about things like "structure, style, theme, plot, character development, figurative language, imagery, symbolism and tone" (pg. 43) because their adult children aren't going to be spending time reading fiction as adults so why bother?

    The obvious rebuttal is that non-fiction uses all of those things as well and looking critically at fiction when young makes adults more savvy consumers of written media.    (Bluntly, if you don't know that non-fiction uses all of those things, you have no business creating your own homeschool curricula for your kids; the Maxwells are clearly in over their head.)

    I digress.  Think of books you like.  Let's see how long they survive on the list.  I've added books that I enjoy that are banned in italics followed by my thoughts and musings for each rule.

    Themes/subjects that cause books to be banned:

    • Animal characters that act like humans (IOW, anthropomorphism)
      • Rejected books: The Berenstain Bears Series; Llama Llama Series, the Click, Clack, Moo series,  Corderoy, Curious George, Ferdinand the Bull, the Narnia Series, Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, Watership Down, Animal Farm...and the first Chapter of Genesis along with the story of Balaam the Donkey.
      • There is an implication that exposing kids to anthropomorphism makes them unable to differentiate between truth and fiction.  In reality, kids get that animals don't really act like humans from the animals they see in everyday life.
    • Sibling fighting 
      • Rejected books: Every book where a child character has siblings.  Most books where adult characters have siblings.
      • At this point, the vast majority of kids' fictional books are out.  For most kids, their life revolves around dealing with the interpersonal stresses of living in families and schools with friends who have disagreements with them - so banning disagreements from fiction really limits the options for storylines.  
    • Disobedient children (without consequences) AND/OR
    • Bad role models even if the bad actors receive consequences for their actions.
      • Rejected books: the Boxcar Kids series, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events series, Anne of Green Gables series, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry trilogy
      • This section is contradictory because the first sentence of the paragraph states that the kids can't read anything with bad role models regardless of comeuppance - and after the required Bible verses - the last sentence states that books with kids who do bad things and are not punished should be banned.  So...which is it?
    • Silliness or foolishness
      • Rejected books: Anything I read before age 6 or so..... including Dr. Seuss and "Good Night, Moon."
      • I can't think of a children's non-board book that's still in play.  My 18 month old son's board book library would be down to books that are essentially early vocabulary books long with "Where's Your Hat, Abraham Lincoln?" and "Cheer Up,  Ben Franklin."
    • Fairy tales and myths
      • Rejected books: Peter Pan, Cinderella, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, Rumpelstiltskin, Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, Johnny Appleseed, Pandora's Box, Gilgamesh, Beowulf.
      • On a "positive" note, the Maxwell children will never be disturbed by the fact that the first few chapters of Genesis are taken from previous civilizations' writings.  Yay?
      • On the negative side, they won't understand why I was so excited to read that retting flax in dew compared to running water changes the color of the thread from silvery-white to golden-white.  You really can teach people to spin straw into gold.
    • Mythical characters, witchcraft and magic
      • Rejected books: Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit, the Harry Potter series, A Wrinkle in Time series, the Discworld series, some of the Goosebumps series.
    • Any discussion of luck. 
      • Rejected books:  Um...I'm drawing a blank on books that would be knocked out on this characteristic.
      • This one feels like a blanket chance for the Maxwell parents to take away any book that's made it past  the other stipulations.
    Additional stipulations:
    • Books must be non-fiction or fiction that is plausible. (And on a completely unrelated note, Sarah Maxwell writes and sells these!  The appendix includes how to buy those....)
      • This knocked out any science fiction that might have survived. 
    • Books must be edifying and encourage people to a stronger walk with Christ.  However: 
      • Description of other world religions or mythologies are banned.
        • The parents pre-read history textbooks and use permanent marker to blacken out any sections that factually describe other religions.  
      • Any type of evil (defined as violence, crime, wickedness and sin) will cause the book to be banned.  
    • Stories involving war are also banned to avoid militarizing their sons. 
    So...does anyone know of edifying books that have no mention of other religions, sin, violence, crime or war?   Because - and I'm dead serious - they knocked out the Bible without realizing it.  

    I'm tempted to go to one of the Maxwell conferences and try and strike up a conversation with one of the Maxwell adult children about books....