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I need to take a break from the homesteading half of my blog and focus a bit on the atheist part. Well, perhaps not so much the atheist part, per se, but the emotional and psychological toll being a non-believer can take in a world filled to the brim with believers.

It’s not new news that I married into a family full of bible-thumping fundamentalist Christians. However, I’ve never written much on the subject because it is of a rather personal nature and I’ve shied away from involving too much of my personal life in what amounts to a very public arena. In an effort to surmise my current emotional state, I must first explain a few things about my past. While I won’t use names, I’m sure anyone who can put two and two together and who knows me will be able to figure out of whom I speak. I ask that if you respond, you accede to my wish to keep things anonymous.

So, where to begin? Back in 2001 I met this wonderful, free thinking guy who was every bit the inquisitive nerd I was. We fell in love. We met each others families. I liked his family. They were nice to me, invited me over for meals and important events, and made me feel very welcome. I hid things from them at first. When they prayed before meals, I went along with it, feeling anxious and a bit disoriented because I had never been made to participate in this sort of thing when I was growing up. We went to church meals and plays and events with them. In our earliest years together, we didn’t make a fuss over religion. I think we considered ourselves somehow outside of the realm of supernatural belief, assuming that if we respected their right to practice then they’d automatically respect our right NOT to practice.

How wrong I was.

The trouble started when our wedding was announced. We started a wedding webpage to let our more tech-savvy family and friends know the when’s and where’s of everything that was happening. We announced that our ceremony was to take place not in the family church, but in an old Opera house. Not only that, but the entire ceremony was to be not only non-denominational but almost completely lacking in religion. We wanted no prayers. We wanted no religious discourse in speeches or vows. We found a pastor who claimed to understand our plight, and he did a beautiful job! But before the big day even came, my husband’s family attacked.

One of the elders in his family left a very long, scathing diatribe about how my husband and I were going to hell. Not only were we going to hell, but we were facing eternal suffering of our souls and the souls of all of the family members we had let down. I feel to this day that I was made the scapegoat, that I was the one they meant to be held accountable for the conversion of their poor, helpless son and grandson. To make it worse, the letter was public. They WANTED everyone to see it. They wanted us to know that everyone had seen it. Why? To shame us? To make us backpeddle and include their lunacy in our very own, special ceremony? To this day I don’t know. I sent a copy of it to my husband and deleted it from our wedding webpage. I wanted to uninvite his entire family after that. I wanted nothing to do with any of them, not just because one of them wrote those hateful things, but because after talking with individual members of his family we found that they all agreed. Sure, one or two thought it was probably not the best idea to write that on our wedding webpage, and perhaps it was a bit over-the-top vehement, but there was never any sincere apology.

We didn’t uninvite anyone. And we even granted them a few minutes to pray together after my husband and I retreated down the aisle after the ceremony. I thought we were very gracious compared to how rude they were about respecting our wishes. I see now that what we did was tantamount to prostrating ourselves on the ground for them to walk all over. By allowing the hateful elders to join us, by letting them have their little victory in the short prayer, we set ourselves up for a future of walking on eggshells when it came to religious matters.

Slap in the face number two was the very same elders who wrote the tirade giving us a personalized bible as a wedding present. I kid you not. And then they wondered why we never called or visited. They missed us sooo much, after all! We continued attending church dinners for a while, but the novelty soon wore off when I realized I really had nothing in common with these people around me. Their entire lives were about their god. Every breath they took, every thought they had, every action… it all revolved around their belief system. I could understand it, but at the same time I felt wrong about supporting it. My husband had a good excuse for missing the dinners – he worked. I eventually had to come clean with his family about why I just didn’t feel right going.

Then more “gifts” showed up. Books and tapes of atheists who suddenly realized the errors of their ways and converted to Christianity. Children’s books with religious themes. Pamphlets. Invites to other church events. I stopped holding their hands during prayer at family meals. I began resenting the fact that their religious rights were more important than mine in their eyes. A few times I caught myself openly scoffing at the outrageous things they would say or do in front of me, like my nephew proudly displaying a picture he colored of a semi-nude man staked to a torture device. “The red means the blood of his sacrifice!” I remember him proudly saying.

We had our boys, one after another. They loved spending time with my in-laws, and I really wanted them to be a part of the boys’ lives. I tried hard not to rock the boat. Things were still fairly smooth despite the occasional rocky patch. Our solution to most religious differences was to either point them out then shut up and hope things blew over or to ignore them and hope that someday they would see the rift they were causing in our relationship with all of their evangelism. Hope is a fickle thing.

My husband went to Iraq. We had a rough patch due to the long distance separation, and it only made my temper flare all the more when his family pulled their little shenanigans. It was amplified by the fact that his sisters (“good” Christians, all) were going through men like bras, having babies they couldn’t take care of on their own, and in a constant state of living off of one relative or another in addition to government assistance. My mother-in-law had her grandkids who were taken from their mother by CPS because they were being abused and neglected. Four at first, then another that was taken from her in the hospital. Didn’t leave them much time to spend with me or my kids, having custody of five young kids with psychological problems from all the chaos. We had occasionally turned to family for help, but we tried to repay them as soon as possible and worked hard to live our lives on our own terms instead of knuckling under to the government for aide. We tried not to take advantage. We tried to be grateful. Obviously, frustrations run amok when living with a relative, but we tried hard not to overstay our welcome.

So my husband is gone, my family is 8 hours away. I am at odds with my in-laws over religion AND personal, moral matters that are impeding on our time together. I’m living less than an hour away and rarely get to see any of them, all living within five miles of each other. I finally let loose. I felt at the time that I and my boys didn’t rate high on my in-laws radar, and I let them know it. Maybe it was because I had held it in for so long, maybe it was because I wasn’t very good at sugar coating my honesty… whatever the case, I became the leper. His family not only stopped inviting me to family get-togethers and important occasions like Thanksgiving, but when he came home for a two week vacation around Christmas time his mom told him that he could bring the boys to visit her but I wasn’t allowed.

Heart break. Indignation. Loneliness. It wasn’t pretty, all the things I felt during that time. I was on an emotional roller coaster, and felt like the downward spiral would never end. I went on depression medication to help.

That was a little over a year ago. Thankfully, I wasn’t on the meds for long. They did their job. My in-laws also did their job. I no longer feel that I am loved or cherished as a member of their family. I no longer trust any of them with my feelings or my children. I had resumed phone conversations with my mother-in-law on the premise that she avoids certain topics (like religion and his idiot sisters), but lately the old ways are coming back to the surface. Today my son brought me my ringing cell phone and I saw her name. I hit ignore. She called again immediately after, and my finger paused over the answer button. What if it was an emergency? Then I set the phone down. I don’t even care. I had taken her and most of the rest of his family off of my facebook simply because there was too much tension and I couldn’t deal with it on a constant basis. Now I think I will have to stop phone conversations too.

So why did I title this post “Humility and Pride” if it was all about my in-laws forcing their insane religious beliefs on me and my family? Because I can’t be humble anymore. I matter, too. My kids matter. What they believe might be of the utmost importance to their personal lives, but I don’t have to accept it in mine. I have tried the humble route – all it got me was walked on. I was told constantly that humility was their god’s way of teaching peace. Screw that noise. I will no longer lay down and be preached at about humility by zealously pious people who claim to love me. I will no longer feel guilty for my lack of ability to believe in their religion, nor will I pretend to tolerate it.

I’m done. It’s been a long time coming, but I think I’m finally at the point where I can stand up and say that I’m proud to be free of religion. I’m proud that I came into this rational way of thinking by exhausting every other possible route first. I’m proud of being able to look at all of the world’s religion and mythology with open eyes. Maybe I’m a bit brash about my lack of belief at times, and yes, maybe I am starting to be a bit in-your-face about it. I’m due for it. I’ve sat meekly by, defending my own right to disbelieve as well as their right to believe… and where did that get me? Nowhere. The gloves are off. I know it won’t make me popular by any means, but I guess that’s just the price I have to pay. I’ll still fight for the freedom of belief, but I’ll do it with my chin held high and expose all the hypocrisy I can.

So, that’s that. Geesh. I meant this to be a short post, and here I think I just set a record length. Kudos if you made it through. Double points if you still talk to me after you realize I’m now one of those asshole atheists who might just call you out on your idiotic, two-faced belief system. Triple points to my husband for sticking by me through all this drama. I love you to the moon and back, honey!

Our orchard has been invaded by little brownish, green beetles. They swarmed onto the grapes and the fruit trees (except the mulberry), so my husband brought a bunch home in an empty water bottle for me. I’d never seen them before. Have you? Here’s a picture of one of the beetles on my arm.

So what do you think? Good bug or bad bug?

My husband was the one who finally discovered what it is by googling multiple search terms including “beige beetle” “orange legs” “fruit trees” and a few others. This little guy is known as the Rose Chafer Beetle, or Macrodactylus subspinosus. According to Wikipedia:

After adult rose chafers emerge in late May to mid-June, they aggregate on leaves, buds, flowers, and fruit, in order to feed and mate. By chewing on plant tissues, the rose chafer induces the release of volatile compounds from the plant. Using their antennae, rose chafers can detect the plant compounds in the air and orient themselves in the direction of the feeding conspecific, leading to an aggregation of the beetles. 

The adult beetle feeds on the foliage, flowers, and fruit of many plants including grapes, apples, peaches, roses, and other garden flowers and fruits. On roses it skeletonizes the leaves, which can be rather bothersome for avid gardeners. Rose chafers are also a problem for vineyards as they eat the grapes at bloom as well as skeletonize the leaves. They also tend to appear suddenly and in swarms, and vines with over 100 rose chafers per plant have been observed. This huge amount of damage can result in almost total loss of photosynthetically active leaf area as well as reducing or prohibiting pollination. The larvae also cause damage as they feed on the roots of the plants, which can limit growth.

So I’m guessing it’s a good thing we caught this early. As soon as he told me how many beetles were on the trees (a lot!) I ran out and got some neem oil to dilute and spray the trees with. Hopefully this will control the spread before they do much more damage. I only noticed a few leaves with severe damage, more so on the grapes than the fruit trees, though they were in larger numbers on the fruit trees. Maybe they like to eat the grape leaves and get down n dirty on the apple leaves? Who knows. Strange bugs.

I was letting the beetle crawl all over me so we could get a picture of it. I’m very thankful now that it wasn’t a blister beetle, which looks similar. Why? Do a quick google of “blister beetle dermatitis” and you’ll see. I might have to be more careful about what I let crawl on me in the future. Eep!

So I figure it’s been a while since I posted any updates on the house construction. There are many reasons for that, but the main one is: life. I started working a part time job recently, the kids have had school, the weather hasn’t always cooperated, and we were at a stand-still for a few weeks due to an emergency surgery my husband had to go through. Now the kids are out of school for the summer, my husband is all healed, and the weather is starting to behave.

Today we went up to visit the land. We mowed A LOT, checked on all the trees in the orchard and the back pasture, and dug a bit more. We are sooo close to being done digging! Just a foot more in two last holes, and it’s done. Man, this was probably going to be the hardest part of building the house. We dug each of the 12 holes by hand using a shovel, post hole digger, and breaker bar. We also had to use some tow straps to get some rocks out once or twice. Here’s what the house site looks like as of this afternoon. I took this picture before I started the 12th hole.

It’s lookin good so far, and speaking of lookin good… here’s some more pictures from around the property.

The badger relocated to the south side of the hill, about twenty yards below where the fire pit and cherry trees are.

One of the cherry trees.

The orchard. All the trees are full of leaves and doing great. Three of the four grapes look like they’ll establish themselves well, too.

There’s probably a quarter acre of wild blackberries or raspberries on the property. Pretty sure they’re raspberries. We’ll see in a couple weeks!

The path from the bottom of the orchard back to the pasture and pond site. I’m in love with all the green everywhere.

The finished outhouse. Complete with a wasp trap because apparently the little buggers enjoy corrugated roofing for making nests.

The inside of the outhouse. Buckets full of sawdust will help to compost the waste and keep odors down. Who knew? An outhouse that smells good!

June 2012
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