Thursday, December 29, 2005

DVD Review: Serenity

It's all Julie D.'s (Happy Catholic) fault. She started talking about this odd series, Firefly, that had been on Fox, who showed the episodes out of order and then canceled it because of low ratings. SciFi Channel--home to many of my favorite TV series, like the new Battlestar Galactica--had bought the series and was going to show them all, in order.

Hubs and I were hooked. Okay, so it doesn't take much to hook us: character, setting, plot, well-written scripts acted by a talented cast.

Then we saw the movie, Serenity. Which I added to my Christmas list. And got.

We watched it as a family the other night. The kids haven't watched the series and only DS#2 saw any of the movie (he came in for the last 10 minutes to find us). Serenity is one of those movies that bears watching again and again because you miss so much the first time. The kids enjoyed the movie as a whole. DS#2 thought the ending made more sense now that he saw the beginning. But we don't buy the DVD for just the movie. We buy it for the Extras.

If you're new to the Firefly/Serenity universe, watch Joss Whedon's introduction first. The movie will make much more sense in context.

After the movie, watch the Deleted Scenes. As DD#1 pointed out, most of these were concerned with character development rather than story advancement. And in this 'verse, the characters are at least as important as the story! The Bloopers were okay, except there was much adult (i.e., foul) language that was not bleeped out. The story behind how Serenity rose from the ashes of Firefly was interesting and attests to the power of fans who wanted more and a producer/director who just couldn't give this universe up.

DD#1 felt she would have enjoyed the movie more if she had followed the series and knew the relationships of the characters. Certainly, Hubs and I laughed in places that the kids (and others in the theater) didn't because we knew more of the backstory.

Still, the kids enjoyed it and this is one we'll probably return to because it gets better with the retelling.

Besides, Hubs birthday is coming up and what could be better than a boxed set of Firefly: The Series?

On the March Hare scale: 5 discs out of 5

Book Review: The Well of Lost Plots

This is the third book in the "Thursday Next" series by Jasper Fforde. The women in my family discovered this series independently and quite by accident, which doesn't mean that this is "chicklit."

But it's not easy to describe what it is, exactly.

Thursday Next lives in alternate reality where it is possible to:

  • Time travel
  • "Jump" into books, talk to the characters (when it's not their scene), stroll around
  • Change a story by altering the original manuscript
  • Have dodos as pets
  • Eradicate someone from all memory, kind of a la George Bailey
Many books are mentioned. The first book in the series, The Eyre Affair, concerns Jane Eyre. The second book, Lost in a Good Book, introduces us to Miss Havisham from Great Expectations. The third book, The Well of Lost Plots, introduces us to characters from books never published. Sprinkled throughout are references to Sense and Sensibility, David Copperfield, Shadow the Sheepdog, boilerplate detective fiction, "White Explorer in Africa" type stories, references to Greek myths, the Cheshire Cat, Waiting for Godot, and some I've probably missed.

Don't worry--you don't have to have read all these books. But it does help. DD#1, who has read the first two books in the series, never has read Jane Eyre. She did watch the movie version with me earlier this month and said she understood the plot of The Eyre Affair much better. My problem is that now I want to go back and re-read some of the Austen and Bronte classics and see what I've forgotten or missed.

Because these books are set in an alternate universe, I find it takes me a couple of chapters to fully get into the rhythm of the book. I read the first two fairly close together and I've received the second two as Christmas gifts; now that I've read The Well of Lost Plots, Something Rotten (Book 4) should be easier.

On the March Hare scale: 4 out of 5 bookmarks, especially if you like fantasy and literature (but aren't a literary snob).

Movie Review: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

This movie was much anticipated in our family and received mixed reviews, mostly split by gender.

Hubs, the girls and I enjoyed it. DD#1 and I have read the book (DD#1 has read the entire series, I believe) and felt that this version is very true to the story. Hubs and DD#2, who have seen other versions, liked the special effects and the acting. Aslan and the White Witch are the best we've seen. Aslan seems wild; the Witch is evil and cold and powerful, although her power literally melts in the light. Where previously I felt that Edmund was a spoiled brat, in this version I felt sorry for him. He's very much the neglected or overlooked "middle child." Peter and Susan rather bully him and baby Lucy. Mum does her best, but there is the stress of wartime and bombings, and Edmund seems to miss his dad more than the others. I can see why he does what he does.

The boys didn't like the movie. DS#1 thought the bombing part was overdone, until DD#1 and I pointed out that actually happened and explains why the children ended up in the house of The Professor. DS#2 thought the dialogue was "corny." I kind of get the feeling that they both felt their emotions were being manipulated (after all, this is Disney) and they didn't like that. DS#2 did admit the final battle scene was pretty cool. I thought the sword fight was well-choreographed; he didn't.

STAY FOR THE CREDITS! I'm a credit-junkie, anyway (victim of film classes in high school), but about half the theater left or were leaving and missed the last bit.

On the March Hare scale: 4 out of 5 Golden Tickets. I think this movie suffered some in comparison with the latest Harry Potter, which has a lot more action. I'm glad we waited a few weeks to see it.

By the way, did anyone else notice the similarity between the last name of the Narnia children (Pensevie) and the Pensieve of Harry Potter fame? (And the word "Pensive"?)

On the Fourth Day of Christmas, My Blogger Gave to Me...

Merry Christmas to One and All! May you sing with the angels "Gloria in Excelcis Deo", may you kneel in awe with the shepherds, and may you bring use the gifts He has given you to honor and glorify Him always.

Use all the days of the New Year wisely. If I were as organized as Julie D. over at Happy Catholic, I'd have a quote ready about treating each day as the gift it is: every minute of every 24 hours.

May you enjoy your gift of family, no matter how crazy they drive you. When I was a child, I often resented having so many brothers and sisters. As an adult, I am learning why God gave them to me. (Not an easy lesson--God often needs use a "clue-by-four.") As I watch my own brood grow and fight and laugh and tease and share and teach, I see memories being made and bonds formed that are strong and will help them as they grow older. And I wonder: who will they bring into the family, into my life?

Peace be with you all, and always!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Movie Review: Satisfaction

I was suckered into watching this movie mostly because it is such a historical anachronism. Julie Roberts is in it, and her name appears in the secondary credits, after Debbie Harry who is in the movie for about 90 seconds. Liam Neeson is one of the "stars" and his accent is FOB ("Fresh Off Boat"), including using the word "aye?" at the end of a sentence (much like the Canadian "eh?").

The star of this movie is Justine Bateman. Justine Bateman!!! While I watch her brother, Jason, on Arrested Development, I haven't heard of her for ages. I wonder what she's doing?

The plot is absurdly simple. Justine is the "smart girl" from a New Jersey backwater. Or maybe it's in one of the New York City boroughs. Who knows, who cares? Anyway, she is also the lead singer and mastermind of a garage band, of which Julia Roberts is one of the members. Their keyboardist quits/gets arrested/is pregnant and Justine has to enlist the aid of the boy-across-the-street, who has been playing classical piano his entire life, to be the new keyboardist because the band has an audition "at the shore."

The club owner is played by Neeson, who is also a great lyricist/songwriter who hasn't written anything since his wife's death.

Justine becomes his muse. What a surprise!

Julia has a lowlife boyfriend who wants her to give up her dream of rockstardom and marry him. She is attracted to a blue-blood type who hangs out at the beach. Blue-blood invites her to a party and makes a move, meaning he is crass after all. Old boyfriend comes to beach to find Julia, asks her to marry him. She says yes.

Will Julia marry old boyfriend?

Will Justine forego her scholarship to 1.) move in with Liam or 2.) tour Europe with the band?

Will Liam let her?

Will the blonde band member/guitarist/singer succeed in overdosing?

Will the female hard-as-nails drummer finally allow the keyboard boy-across-the-street to be her boyfriend?

Are the answers in doubt?

The singing isn't bad. It's mostly covers of old songs. The film was released in 1988, so the clothes and hair styles are either very bad (madras plaid pants on the men) or tres chic (crop tops, miniskirts, and leather vests never go out of style).

The movie wasn't bad--but it ain't a classic.

On the March Hare Scale: 2 tickets out of five, if only for Liam Neeson and the nostalgia factor. And the music wasn't half-bad, if you're old enough to remember 1988.

An Honor and A Privilege

I love going to Boy Scout Courts of Honor where the Eagle Rank is being awarded. I especially enjoy those where the recipient is a young man I've known since he was a Cub Scout. Last night I attended one of those.

The recipient is kind of a quiet young man, intense and intellectual. I met him as a Wolf Cub at Day Camp and after he had graduated to Boy Scouts, he became my Den Chief for DS#2's den. So I was honored that he asked me to say a few words at his Court of Honor.

Next to writing a letter of recommendation, writing a speech about someone is the most awkward thing I've ever had to do. In our Boy Scout troop, speeches about the new Eagle usually include some ribbing, recalling all the dumb things the young man did on his way up the Eagle trail. Since this was not my troop, I had to be a bit more careful. I wrote my speech and e-mailed it to Hubs, who e-mailed back his comments. I called DS#2 at home for some memories, which I then proceeded to write down incorrectly. I blame that on DS#2's lack of enunciation; he blames me for being old and not being able to hear.

One thing I did get right: this particular Eagle candidate did not like hiking as a Cub Scout. That has not changed.

His Scoutmaster was the last to speak. "As I thought about what I was going to say," he began, "I wondered if what I knew was right. Listening to the other speakers, I think I have it nailed."

The Court of Honor was held in the lodge at the Scout Camp where we held Day Camp and where portraits of previous Eagle Scouts hang along the walls, including one of DS#1. ("I thought you just had two kids," one of the dads said to me last night.) We spend a lot of time showing the Cub Scouts and the new Boy Scouts these portraits, pointing out members of our troop or boys they know from Day Camp or Resident Camp, trying to inspire them to hang in there, do their best, and follow the trail. I know several of these young men and I am reassured about the future. They are not perfect. They may take their time getting to their goal or take several detours. But, ultimately, they come through. They are men of their word, men of action, leaders as well as followers.

Lord knows, we need them.

Monday, December 19, 2005

You Can Take the Girl Out of the Church, But...

Yesterday I pointed out to DD#2 that all four candles were lit on the Advent Wreath.

"Hmmm," she whispered. "I wonder if Sis will change the background on the TV."

"Change what background?"

"The background to the onscreen menu. She made it purple when Advent started, then changed it to pink last week. I wonder if she'll change it back?"

So, my DD#1, who argues with me long and hard about how irrelevant the Church is and how it is so much superstition, is following Advent in her own, unique way.

You may be able to take the Girl out of the Catholic Church, but you can't take the Catholic Church out of the Girl...

Fr. Whatshisname

"Who's saying Mass?" DD#2 whispered to me yesterday. And my mind went blank.

In my defense, our parish has had a lot of personnel changes during the last six months. Still, it was embarrassing. After all, I can still remember Fr. Farrell's name (and his face) some 25 years after his death.

Which got me to thinking about how we currently address our priests, at least in my parish.

We still call them "Father," but then we use their first name. Always have in the 19 years we've been here. Growing up, there was no way on God's green Earth that I would have ever been allowed to refer to Fr. Farrell by his first name. Nor any of the associate pastors that came and went over the years, no matter how old or how young they were. My mother's cousin was the only exception--because he was family. And even he was referred to as "Father Jack."

Our new pastor is a rather quiet, conservative kind of fellow. The kind who I would naturally address using his last name. But, following the lead of others in the parish, I don't. Neither do our children. But the children address their teachers and the principal by their last names. In fact, most of the children refer to any and all adults that way. It took me awhile to become comfortable being addressed as "Mrs. Hare," but that's how the kids at the school know me. And when I'm referring to other adults--the parents of my children's friends, for example--I use their last names and encourage my children to do so as well.

I don't know whether this relative informality is good or another symptom of cultural decline. I was deathly afraid of Fr. Farrell--he had been pastor for so long that he knew most of the families in the parish and could identify us by voice in the confessional. I didn't find out until much later that many of the adults in the parish were also afraid of him. They were afraid of priests in general: priests were just one step below the angels and had absolute authority on Earth. Priests were set up on impossibly high pedestals, which must have been rather lonely.

That's not where a father should be.

I'm glad my children feel comfortable around our parish priests. They have joked with some, played pick-up games of basketball with others, groaned at the bad puns favored by another. I, too, feel much more comfortable and less like I'm being called before the Throne of the Almighty when I'm at a potluck dinner or a committee meeting.

Still, I wonder if we have crossed a line maybe should not have been crossed. If so, I am responsible for encouraging my children to do the same.

Sis#2 lives in the U.K. and refers to her pastor by his first name as well. I don't know how common that is or if it's because her pastor is so young (another "Fr. What-a-Waste") or because her BIL is a priest and so she's used to hanging around them.

What's the custom in other parishes? Is this a fairly local, Bay Area phenomenon or is it more widespread? Does the age of the priest (relative to the congregation) matter? Does the personality of the priest make a difference as well? (FWIW, my parish has a large Hispanic and a large Filipino population. Many are immigrants. They also refer to the priests by their first names. I thought it might be due to difficulties in pronunciation, but several of our parish priests have been Filipino themselves.)

Sunday, December 18, 2005

At Home Movie Reviews

The best part of Hubs' job is the free movies. Yesterday was stormy--rainy and cold, with heavy winds. Hubs and DS#2 were camping with the Boy Scouts, so I stayed home with the girls and worked on Christmas presents. And caught up on a couple of movies we hadn't seen.

1.) Jane Eyre: this is the 1995 version directed by Franco Zeffirelli. DD#1 has read The Eyre Affair, but has never read Jane Eyre. It's been 20 years or better since I read it. This movie version was a good introduction and is pretty faithful to what I remember. Young Jane is played by Anna Paquin. Fiona Shaw (Aunt Petunia) plays Jane's mean Aunt Reese in this production. Joan Plowright plays the housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax. William Hurt plays Mr. Rochester. Charlotte Gainsborough plays Jane as an adult and seems young and plain and strong-willed--a very difficult combination to pull off. Zeffirelli also directed Romeo and Juliet back in 1968 and I fell in love with his ability to use the outer scenery to reflect what is going on in the interior of his characters. He does the same here to great effect.

2.) Hitch: Will Smith as the "Date Doctor." Funny and poignant. If available, watch the outtakes. And the dance scene through the credits. Will Smith is a great romantic comic and plays off Eva Mendes perfectly. There is also a terrific supporting cast, who are very important in this type of movie. Adam Arkin, one of my favorite underused character actors, plays the voice of reason to Mendes's character. Wish I could see more of him--but then I wish I could see more actors and actresses my age! A fairy-tale ending is just about called for and doesn't disappoint. My favorite scene is the Benadryl scene.

3.) The Notebook:A three hanky movie. It was pretty obvious who the story was about. Features James Gardner and Gena Rowlands, with Rachel MacAdams and Ryan Gosling who name is unfamiliar to me (although his face is familiar) playing the young couple. A story of true love and faithfulness. I found that it was a nice change that Lon, the third man in the young couple's story, was a good and sincere man, which gave Allie a really difficult choice to make at the end. I want to read the book, though, because the movie summary refers to Duke, the James Gardner character, as a "salesman" and that's not mentioned in the movie.

4.) Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason: Bridget is a girl after my own heart. Madly in love, basically insecure in it and with herself, good-hearted and loyal, her impulsiveness gets her into all kinds of trouble. Renee Zwelleger has the body of a normal 30-y.o. woman and looks good wearing it. Colin Firth plays Mark Darcy (and, I confess, is the primary reason I watched this movie again) loves Bridget, including her "wobbly bits," but doesn't quite know what to do with her joie d' vivre. Hugh Grant is back as the thoroughly charming rake, Daniel Cleaver. Mum (Gemma Jones) and Dad (Jim Broadbent) are back for comic relief. Bridget's friends include James Gallis (Dr. Gaius Baltar from Battlestar Gallactica) and Shirley Henderson (Moaning Myrtle in Harry Potter 2 & 4). I didn't recognize Ms. Henderson until she spoke. All-in-all a nice bit of fluff on a rainy night.

5.) I (Heart) Huckabees: Very strange movie. I was put off by the first 90 seconds of incredibly foul language, which occurred again later in the movie. This movie got all kinds of rave reviews for originality and comedy. And while it's clever, IMHO, the movie is too self-aware of its own cleverness to be truly funny. Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman play a husband-and-wife team who are existential detectives who Jason Schwartzman hires to determine if the coincidences in his life are truly coincidences or if they mean something. And the movie sort of goes from there with a lot of New Age overtones. While the philosophy stuff was played too broadly to be taken completely seriously, it wasn't exactly played for laughs, either. A bit too modern for my tastes, thankyouverymuch.

Book Review: The Piano Tuner

I picked this book up at my local warehouse store over the summer. I was drawn by the blurb on the back of the book: In 1886 a shy, middle-aged piano tuner receives.. an unusual commission from the British War Office: to travel to the remote jungles of northeast Burma and there repair a rae piano...

The opening pages begin: In the fleeting seconds of final memory, the image that will become Burma is the sun and a woman's parasol.

Frankly, this did not sound like the usual books I read. I thought this might be an heir to The Story of Pi; the story of the clash of cultures between the Oriental and the Occidental, the story of what happens when someone leaves the familiar.

Daniel Mason, the author, is a lyrical writer. Since this story is about a piano tuner, sound plays a significant role in the story, which is also difficult to capture on paper. He manages. He also manages to convey the humidity, the languid beauty of Burma, and its complicated history.

But... (you knew that was coming, right?)

The ending is quite ambiguous. There are many references that the piano tuner came to Burma not just to tune a piano, but because of something else. If, by the end, he knows what it is, I surely don't. Even his fate--does he die? does he live--is somewhat ambiguous.

Well-written, but frustrating, at least to me. The kind of book that, I'm afraid, that gets praised in modern English literature or creative writing classes because it is made for deconstruction.

And sure enough, there is a reading group guide available on the publisher's website. (I haven't checked it out yet.) Perhaps The Piano Tuner requires discussion to be fully appreciated.

The usual suspects love it: The New Yorker, The New York Times, The LA Times, USA Today, San Francisco Chronicle.

The Piano Tuner certainly isn't the worst book I've ever read. I didn't find it a "page-turner," although I was captivated by Mr. Mason's descriptions of Burma and the main character's reaction to the new cultures he experienced. If you want a taste of what Burma was like during the British Empire period (and before Burma became Myanmar), you will enjoy this book. If you like books with endings and resolutions, you won't like this one.

On the March Hare Scale: 2.5 to 3.0 bookmarks, depending on your tastes.

Friday, December 16, 2005

A Mixed Messenger from the Vatican?

From today's, the website of the San Francisco Chronicle:

Tolerant statements toward gays
Homosexuals can minister as priests, Niederauer says

"Some who are seriously mistaken have named sexual orientation as the cause of the recent scandal regarding the sexual abuse of minors by priests," Niederauer said in the interview with the Intermountain Catholic News, which was published Monday.

His reference to "sexual orientation" stands in contrast to the Vatican instruction's description of "persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies."

Niederauer said gay men committed to Christ and the church can effectively minister as priests, and he said sexual orientation was "a structure of human personality." In contrast, the Vatican instruction states that men "who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called 'gay culture' " are unfit for priesthood.


From the quotes used in the article, Bishop Niederauer's views seem not to have changed merely because he is moving from Salt Lake City to San Francisco. And he does not seem to be in tune with BVI.

Bishop Niederauer's previous ministry was in West Hollywood (home to Cardinal Mahony), which may explain much:

Francis DeBernardo, who leads New Ways Ministry, a national advocacy group for gay and lesbian Catholics, and met with Niederauer in Salt Lake City, said the bishop was genuinely interested in reaching out to the gay and lesbian community.

"With his pastoral experience in an overwhelmingly gay Catholic parish in West Hollywood, and his political experience dealing with extremism from anti-gay forces in Utah, I think that Bishop Niederauer is one of the best candidates to lead the heavily gay-populated Catholic community of San Francisco," DeBernardo said.

This does worry me, however:

As archbishop, Niederauer will have a central role in determining who is ordained in San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo, the counties included in the San Francisco.

Who in the Vatican is responsible for assigning bishops to diocese? Were they asleep at the switch or is this another nefarious plan by BVI to throw the opposition off-guard?

While the Diocese of Oakland is independent of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, San Francisco has certain adminstration oversight as well as slightly more secular influence. Additionally, they share the seminary. Bishop Vigneron is very conservative. It will be interesting to see how this plays out between them.

I'm not familiar with the bishops in the other dioceses of Northern California. I do not know how much influence they might have on, for example, the standards for the seminarians. I don't know whether they are conservative or liberal, theologically. If they form a "bloc," so to speak, they could be important.

Things I Miss... And Things I Don't

My kids did not fight over whose turn it was to start putting up the animals on our Advent Calendar. In fact, there's no discussion, even, over whose "day" it is and no high-pitched nagging if they've forgotten. While I enjoy the peace and quiet, I miss the fact that this tradition has become rather unimportant.

Lighting the Advent Wreath still sparks some interest, but it has more to do with playing with matches and hot wax than anything religious.

We watched the DVD of Miracle on 34th Street that I got for Christmas last year while we decorated the tree. It's the Edmund Gwenn/Natalie Wood version, in the original black & white. DD#1 was in charge of ornament restoration and repair; Hubs was in charge of the high places, DD#2 and I hung the rest of the tree and the tinsel. I am also in charge of Where the Ornament Goes, based on its sentimental and/or esthetic value. I started to get snippy about it (a bad tendency when I'm stressed) and DD#2 said, "Oh, the arguments are starting already."

Out of the mouths of babes.

Needless to say, that (and a glass of eggnog) brought me up short. The rest of the evening proceeded rather peacefully, although I'll be rearranging ornaments, seeking the perfect balance, until the day we take the tree down. (I'll need eggnog for that, too!) Yesterday I pulled DD#2 over and said, "You know, people tend to hang ornaments at eye level."

"Yeah. So?"

"Take a look at the tree."

DD#2 is almost my height now. There is a heavy concentration of ornaments at about the 5-foot level. She laughed.

"I miss when you guys were smaller," I told her. "Then the bottom of the tree was decorated, too."

Since we put the tinsel up, the kitten (Mouse) hasn't climbed the tree. Maybe it frightens her. Or maybe she's waiting until no one is at home.

I don't miss trying to find a babysitter or trying to cook dinner for the kids before we leave for parties.

I don't miss wrapping my husband's presents myself. DD#1 does a much better job.

I don't miss writing Christmas cards, except for special people.

I don't miss baking cookies. I do like eating them. DD#1 & DD#2 enjoy baking and do a fine job. Wish I could take credit for it, but they're self-taught. I mean, the directions are on the box of oatmeal and the back of the chocolate chip bag!

I miss the kids visiting Santa Claus and the pictures of them on his lap. I don't miss getting them all dressed up, keeping them "looking nice for the pictures," waiting in line, and trying to find the one special toy they requested from Santa to help keep the illusion alive another year.

I miss buying baby dolls and pretend kitchens and wooden train sets. I do enjoy watching the kids take giving gifts as seriously as they do receiving them.

I miss watching the TV specials like Rudolf and Frosty and How the Grinch Stole Christmas with the kids. It's just not as much fun watching it by myself.

However, these are the kids who got the bright idea to buy their father a Red Ryder BB Gun after watching A Christmas Story. So we can watch other shows together.

No, the BB Gun did not have a compass in the stock. They forgot that detail. Hubs liked it anyway.

Split Celebrations

Last night I had dinner with a group of women with whom I share an interest other than children, although I know two of these women from Girl Scouts. We are all rubber stamping enthusiastics and we get together once a month to share ideas and techniques that we've learned. We're quite an eclectic group and range in age from under-40 to great-grandmother. For the last three years, in lieu of a December meeting, we meet for dinner and a gift exchange.

We talked about families and the silly things that have happened over the month. The gift exchange involved a "Right/Left" story (pass the gift to the right every time you hear the word "right"; to the left every time you hear "left"), that had us laughing and joking. And, in my case, spilling a glass of water on what was, ultimately, my present.

Meanwhile, Hubs and three of kids were at the Boy Scout Troop Court of Honor and gift exchange. Somehow, they brought back a plateful of cookies.

"Everyone asked where you were," Hubs said. "I had to tell them you were at another party. Do you know there are parents there who've never seen you? They think I do this all by myself!"

"Well, then, you should be getting all kinds of sympathy points," I replied.

"You think?" Hubs said. He was kind of pleased to hear that.

Tonight is the last of the parties, until Christmas Eve. Next week should be much calmer. We've got A Christmas Story ("You'll shoot your eye out!") and Scrooged and, of course, White Christmas recorded on the DVR. I've got presents to wrap and a couple to assemble, packages to be mailed (we celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas--a noble tradition!), food to buy. But no homework, no finals, no meetings. I'm actually looking forward to it!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Check Out LaShawn's New "Hobby"

LaShawn Barber has a new hobby--her website, Fantasy Fiction for Christians. If you haven't checked it out yet, please do, especially if you enjoy fantasy like "Narnia" and "Harry Potter."

She hasn't given up on The Corner, either. And she has a business site, The Language Artist. And did I mention that she's also a member of PajamasMedia?


Christmas Is Coming, The Goose Is Getting Fat...

I wish it were just the goose!

Last night was the Christmas party for our company. This is one of the few places I've worked where spouses are invited, which makes it rather nice. Hubs and I get to have a "date night" without breaking the family budget.

I had the whole evening planned out. Hubs met me at work and we walked over to the California Street Cable Car Line. We had plenty of time, so we went to the lobby of the Hyatt Regency which has a wonderful and elaborate "Snow Village" display. The pieces are part of a personal collection of a man who set the entire thing up just so other people can enjoy it. He has several types of villages and cities, including a farm and a ranch. There were trains, street cars, and airplanes. There were skaters and skiers and kids visiting Santa. I don't know how long it took to set the displays up and I hate to think about storing all the pieces.

The Cable Car Line was down, so we ended up taking the bus. Not quite as romantic, but cheaper.

Then we got to eat and drink and talk to adults. We discussed kids, but we also got to talk about other things. Thankfully, politics was not a topic!

Today the phones have been very quiet.

Tonight I have a dinner with a group of women friends who get together to share rubber stamp art techniques. Tommorrow night is the holiday dinner for Hubs' company.

Dinner will be simple and low-calorie on Saturday and Sunday...

One Possible Reason for Lower Death Tolls

I was wondering...

The death toll of American servicemen in Iraq is remarkably low, considering the type of fighting that is going on in Iraq and the casualty rate of previous wars.

Could this be a result of modern medicine?

Consider that during the Civil War, more soldiers died from infections of their injuries and diseases (like dysentery or pneumonia) than were killed outright. Sulfa drugs were introduced during WWI; penicillin in WWII. During the Korean War, M*A*S*H units were established and the art of triage and evacuating those who needed more thorough medical attention was begun. The state of aid delivered on the battlefield and the ability to get the seriously injured to first-rate hospitals where appropriate care can be given quickly is steadily improving.

Personnel whose injuries would have been fatal in a previous era are being saved through modern medicine. Their injuries may result in serious disability; they may face months of rehabilitation or require prosthesis or special accommodations. But they are alive.

I haven't seen this discussed on the blogs, military or otherwise, that I frequent. It would be interesting to compare the death toll vs. the injured. If my guess is correct, the current Iraq War would have a higher injury vs. death ratio than other Wars.

There is also a benefit to the non-military population as well. Techniques developed on the battlefield are put to use in urban emergency rooms. It's a hell of a way to learn, though.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Back From Retreat

"So, how was it?" I asked DS#2 as he walked in the front door.

"'S okay," he answered. "What's for lunch?"

Forty-eight hours on a retreat with 50 kids from Youth Ministry and that's all I get out of him.

"Well, we're going to Mass at 5:30," I tell him.

He groans.

"You were told at the meeting," I answer.

"Me, too?" asks DD#2.

"You, too."

"Shoot. I was hoping you'd forget."

On Saturday I had run into a friend of mine (who also happens to be the Middle School Religion and Social Studies teacher at our parish school) at the city Christmas Tree Lighting Festivities. (The mayor said it was a Christmas tree and I'm not correcting her!) I mentioned DS#2 was on retreat and she panicked.

"Did I miss something?" she asked.

"No. This is for the first-year kids, not the Confirmation class."

We compared notes about the program. "I wish it was a little more rigorous," I told her. "We're telling these kids they're supposed to go out and defend the Faith and they don't know what it is!"

"You and me, both," she said.

Our current Youth Ministry Director is a "touchy-feely" kind of person. "What does your faith mean to you?" she asks. She is very serious about it. And there is a certain part of faith that is meant to be felt.

But there is a lot of theology and catechism in Catholicism. The kids need to know what makes Catholicism unique among Christian religions. What are our roots? Our theological history? Many people have spent considerable time and effort writing about and arguing about articles of Catholic faith. Is it too much to ask that our kids be exposed to some of that?

I didn't always feel this way. Vatican II was a current event and we spent a lot of time in class discussing what was going on and why the Mass was changing from Latin to "the vernacular." In high school, freshman year we studied the Old Testament; sophomore year, the New. How we actually felt about God was a new concept.

Now I find that I am explaining some basic concepts to my children--concepts that I'm surprised they haven't learned. Especially with DS#1 and DD#1, whose misunderstanding of the Church's basic teachings often surprises me.

Plus, my kids are bored by the "touchy-feely" stuff. To them it is a colossal waste of time. They game the system: "Just write down how it makes you feel all warm and cozy inside." I had to memorize the answers to all the questions in the Baltimore Catechism before I could receive Confirmation. Sister tested us regularly, both orally and in writing.

I'm not advocating that we return to those days, but give them something.

DS#2 did mention two things he received during the Retreat. One was a rather nice wooden cross necklace. The other was a new nickname: "Tall White Guy."

"You were the only one," I said.

"Yeah. Everyone else was either Filipino or Spanish."

"How did you feel about that?"

He shrugged. "It was okay. Everyone knew who I was."

For a kid whose lived much of his life in the shadows of his mother and older brother and sister, recognition is enough.

A Last Lesson Lost

In Angels With Dirty Faces, Pat O'Brien and James Cagney play childhood friends who go on to lead very different lives as adults.

The movie also features a group of boys, known as "The Dead End Kids," which just about sums up their lives. Pat O'Brien's character is trying to save them. But The Kids want to be cool, like Cagney.

The movie ends with Cagney on Death Row. O'Brien comes in to hear his Confession. As penance, O'Brien asks Cagney to do one thing. They have one of those end-of-the-movie speeches, with Cagney talking about personal dignity and O'Brien talking about the responsibility a role model has.

In the end, Cagney does what O'Brien asks and The Kids see Cagney as not cool, but as a frightened adult, who messed up big time.

"Tookie" Williams could have used his final act on Earth to send the ultimate message to the kids he professed to love, the kids he wrote books for to keep them out of gangs.

Instead, writes Kevin Fagan in the San Francisco Chronicle: The execution of convicted murderer Stanley Tookie Williams was a defiant, determined and messy affair -- surprising right up to the bitter end, just like his unfortunate life.

In fact, Mr. Fagan titles his article "This was not a man who went meekly."

To the end, then, Mr. Williams saw himself as above the Law, apart from social conventions. His actions at his death seem to contradict the content of his books, the notion that he was reformed.

If, indeed, he was innocent of the murders of Albert Owens, Yen-I Yang, Tsai-Shai Chen Yang, and Yu-Chin Yang Lin as he insisted, he could have accepted his death as atonement for his involvement in gang life. By co-founding the Crips, Mr. Williams was responsible, directly or indirectly, for the murder and mayhem they have committed. Mr. Williams could have acknowledged that gangs and gang culture made him a likely suspect and that his conviction had a much to do with his lifestyle as what he might--or might not--have done.

Perhaps that was asking too much from an ordinary man. Perhaps that was asking too much even for a man who had been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Perhaps it could only have happened in Hollywood.

Schwarzenegger Doesn't Blink

from SFGate, the website of the San Francisco Chronicle:

"Without an apology and atonement for these senseless and brutal killings, there can be no redemption,'' the governor wrote. "In this case, the one thing that would be the clearest indication of complete remorse and full redemption is the one thing Williams will not do.''

There is something almost Catholic in Governor Schwarzenegger's written decision. Without admission of guilt and antonement, there is no absolution of sin, no reconciliation with God.

The governor nailed precisely what bothered me most about the whole circus concerning "Tookie" Williams' clemency. Mr. Williams never accepted personal responsibility for the killings of the four victims. Never apologized to the families. Even if he were innocent--and I don't believe he was--Mr. Williams could have apologized for allowing his shotgun out of his possession and supervision to be used in those crimes.

It took about 13 minutes for Mr. Williams to die, from the time the IVs were started. Terri Schiavo took 13 days. And she didn't kill anybody.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Unusual Christmas Traditions, or Destressing the Holidays

Sis#2 is using FlyLady's system to help get ready for the holidays. Apparently there is a section on "Destressing the Holidays." So Sis#2 wrote in one of our mother's Best Holiday Ideas Ever: pizza for Christmas breakfast.

Mom is not an enthusiastic cook at the best of times. And the thought of making a big Christmas breakfast followed by a big Christmas dinner was not her favorite way of celebrating. So one year (I was probably 12, which means Sis#2 was 1), Mom hit on the idea of serving pizza for breakfast.

"It has meat, dairy, and starch," she explained. "Just like bacon, eggs, and toast." With half the fuss. And bonus vegetables. The orange and banana in our stockings took care of the fruit requirement. We loved it.

Mom would pop the pizza into the oven and then we would open presents. Everyone was happy.

Apparently Mom's idea is a big hit on the FlyLady boards, too, according to the comments Sis#2 has read. And frozen pizzas--or even better, fresh made "take-and-bakes" are so much better than the ones we ate 30 years ago!

When she found out about the tradition, DD#2 asked, "Why don't we do that?" Well, mostly because Hubs hates frozen pizzas. But if I buy a couple of the "take-and-bakes" on Christmas Eve and hide them in the fridge...

This may be the year the tradition is revived!

Mary's House

I found this article through links on both The Anchoress and Happy Catholic.

This is my favorite quote:

"Once again, all those who come will return changed," said Fr. Adriano Franchini, resident of Meryem Ana Evi (the house of Mary) and superior of the Franciscan Custody of Turkey. "I am sure of that because the house of Mary brings consolation and peace to all."

Well, what else would expect from the House of the Mother of God.

There are two traditions about the last years of the life of the mother of Jesus. Some say she traveled with St. John the Evangelist to Ephesus but then returned to Jerusalem, where she died. Others say Mary spent the last years of her life here in a house St. John built, living in silence and in prayer.

I kind of like to think of Mary, after the drama of the Passion, Resurrection, Ascension, and Pentecost, spending her remaining years in quiet contemplation and prayer. I can't think of another human being who deserved it more. And the image of Mary as the first cloistered nun, the model for all who follow, appeals to me.

Please Pray For...

...DS#2 and the members of his Youth Ministry group who are going on a retreat this weekend. While I would prefer the program have a bit more catechetical rigor and a bit less of the "get in touch with your feelings about God" stuff, retreats from the world to concentrate on the Spirit are important. Even if he thinks he didn't learn anything or "get" anything from it.

Confirmation is a two-year process in our parish and DS#2 is in his first year, along with many of his former classmates from our parish school. So the group is still trying to discover their "identity" and form relationships and bonds. About 50 of them will be on retreat this weekend. I hope the weather cooperates, too!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

A Holy Day

Holy Days of Obligation usually slip right past me. They are announced at Sunday Mass, I note them on the calendar, and then... Well, things happen. Like today. Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception is, I believe, the Patroness of the United States, and, Lord knows, we need her patronage badly. (No puns, blasphemy, or disrespect intended.)

This morning, I got on the train, settled into my favorite seat (I can do that when I get on at the beginning of the line), reached into my purse, and discovered my rosary beads were missing. I pulled everything out of my purse, checking all the little pockets and corners where my rosary likes to hide. Not there. I checked my coat pockets, even though I never put my rosary in my coat. Just tissues.

I received this rosary as a Confirmation gift. The crucifix and five beads at the beginning of the rosary are in a box in my dresser, having become detached during one of nights when I tried to say the Rosary in bed. (Not a good idea, especially at 13.) I put the rosary in my purse when it seemed like I was going to a wake every couple of months. And then I got the bright idea, since my rosary was in my purse anyway, maybe I should say it every morning on my way to work. (It seemed like such a, I don't know, Catholic thing to do!)

So for the last several years, that's what I've done. I still have a problem nodding off somewhere in the middle of it--I catch myself saying the "Hail Mary" over and over or, worse, blending the "Our Father" with the "Hail Mary" into a totally new prayer. But I make the effort. When I finally accepted that my rosary was not to be found, I used my fingers.

And I put in a special prayer to St. Jude, St. Anthony, and the BVM. I promised her that if I found my rosary, I would go to Mass today.

My rosary was not hidden in the corners of the stairs on my way out of the station. They were not near the ticket machine where I stopped yesterday. I got to my desk, opened the drawer where I stash my purse--and, yes, there they were.

Next problem: getting to Mass.

My parish has a Mass tonight at 7:30 p.m. DD#2 has a volleyball game tonight at a different parish at 7:30 p.m. I got on the Internet, brought up the website for the Archdiocese and began to search for churches near Downtown. I knew of one in Chinatown, which is a lot closer than I thought it was, according to MapQuest. But then I found a 12:10 Mass at a church on Mission Street which was a little bit closer. That church also happens to be where my grandmother was baptized.

This parish was built to serve the immigrant population. When my grandmother was baptized, the immigrants were from Ireland and Mass was said in Latin. Now the immigrants are from the Philippines and from Mexico and Mass is said in English, Tagalog, and Spanish. About ten of us who got on the same bus stop, got off at the church. The pews were full, which is pretty good considering it's a Thursday and lunch time and I keep hearing about a "crisis of faith" in the American Catholic Church. (Must be related to the same "crisis of faith" the MSM reports that Americans have about Iraq, the economy, and President Bush in general.)

So, my Obligation is fulfilled, my rosary is safe in its pocket in my purse, and all I have to do now is get DD#2 to the gym on time!

The Morning After December 7

I meant to write about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, but life got in the way. So I'm blogging today about what happened on Monday, December 8, 1941, and over the next several years.

In the months before Earl Warren stepped down as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, there was a campaign, albeit very low-key, asking him to apologize for the internment of the Japanese while he was still Chief Justice. At the time of the Internment, Earl Warren was Governor of California. I was old enough to follow the discussion and I asked my mother about it.

"Well," she said, "times were different then."

My mother and father were high school sophomores in San Francisco on December 8, 1941. My mother's brother had been drafted a few months prior and was in Alaska (then a U.S. territory), serving in the Army. The attack on Pearl Harbor happened at 9:00 a.m. Pacific time. Initial radio reports were confused, but there was one thing almost everyone was sure of: the West Coast was next.

Not just California--the entire West Coast, including British Columbia. Canada was part of the British Empire and was already at war with Germany, an ally of Japan. There were panicked reports of sub sightings and plane sightings, some real, many imagined. The Bay Area, with one military base and two naval shipyards, was considered a legitimate military target.

The high school my mother attended, the High School of Commerce, had many Japanese students. On Monday morning, the principal called an assembly. According to my mother, the mood was tense. What she remembers from the assembly was this message from the principal: "I don't want to hear of any incidents."

The Internment did not happen immediately. The father of one of my mother's friends was taken from his home at dinner time because he was the head of a Japanese-American association, something like the Japanese-American Chamber of Commerce. Eventually, though, the Japanese students left for the Relocation Camps. Most went to the Tanforan Racetrack in San Bruno, where Seabiscuit had overcome tremendous odds a few years earlier. The teachers brought their students books, typewriters, and letters from their fellow students. My mother still exchanges Christmas cards with one of her friends, whose family was lucky. The white man they "sold" their store to when they were forced to leave took good care of it and gave it back to them on their return.

My father was at Sacred Heart High School, at that time all-male and predominantly Catholic. His reaction was to volunteer for the Navy as soon as he was old enough. I asked him once, "Why the Navy?" He answered, "I figured I would have to walk less." When the Navy sent him away to college in North Dakota, he deliberately flunked out. He wanted to be where the action was, not stuck in the snow in the middle of nowhere.

My uncle, newly married and stuck in the snow in the middle of nowhere, saw his enlistment extended.

One of my father's shipmates served aboard the Arizona on December 7. My parents were his guests at the 50th Anniversary Memorial of the Attack. According to my mother, Arizona survivors are treated like royalty. Red velvet ropes are removed. Navy officers in dress whites showed them to their seats and acted as guides. They attended a special, private ceremony where the ashes of a former crewman were carried by a Navy diver down to the actual Arizona itself and interred there. It was, according to my mother, an awesome experience. My father didn't talk about it--he was too emotional.

Generally, the men I knew who were at Pearl Harbor on December 7 didn't talk much about the experience. Two gentlemen I knew worked together for about five years and didn't realize that both had been young ensigns stationed at Pearl Harbor until the subject happened to come up during lunch. They spoke of the chaos, the confusion, and very, very briefly of the crewmates who died. Their memories were not for display and discussion, but were quite private.

Pearl Harbor is gently fading from memory to history.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

"Tookie" Williams, Hollywood Libs, and Short Attention Span Theater

I believe the Death Penalty should be abolished. Once we kill someone, they have no chance to repent and ask forgiveness. Sometimes those killed come to be considered "martyrs."

"Tookie" Williams has a lot to repent. He murdered four people. He founded a gang that has terrorized many ghetto neighborhoods and killed many people. He continued these activities behind bars.

He has not repented of the shootings. Indeed, to the very day, he continues to proclaim his innocence despite the evidence against him.

Hollywood Liberals have adopted Mr. Williams as their latest cause. Because he has written a few children's books that attempt to dissuade them from joining gangs, Mr. Williams is "reformed." He is an "asset" to the community. We, in the general population, are better off if Mr. Williams is alive.

If Mr. Williams is fortunate and his sentence commuted to life in prison without possibility of parole, what happens then? His commutation will be celebrated amidst cheers and a flurry of self-congratulatory messages from the Hollywood Liberals.

And then the spotlight will go dark.

Mr. Williams will be moved out of Death Row to--where? The general population? Solitary?

Will he continue to write?

Will his "literature" be nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature? Or the Nobel Peace Prize?

Will anyone important care about him once his Death Sentence is commuted?

My guess--and it is only that--is if Mr. Williams' is not executed he will be housed in the high security section of San Quentin. And the Hollywood Liberals, having done what they set out to do, will move on to the next Death Row inmate who "deserves" not to die. The nominations for Nobel Prizes will end. They are not needed.

How will Mr. Williams handle that? Will he continue to write? Will he stop since he has achieved his goal of not being executed? Or will he set himself a new goal--to be released from prison, to receive a pardon?

The Hollywood Liberals don't really care about "Tookie" Williams, the man. They don't care if he repents. They don't really care about the four people who were murdered--people who didn't get a chance to write books, who were just living their ordinary lives. They care about the spotlight. Read the names of some of those involved. When was the last time Mike Farrell got this much publicity? When he was starring in M*A*S*H? And Danny Glover's last successful film was...? Okay, Martin Sheen is in a very popular TV series, playing a president. But even that is ending.

Whether Mr. Williams lives or dies, in the long run it doesn't matter. Soon enough the Hollywood Liberals will move on to the Next Big Issue. Global Warming, Iraq, the Death Penalty. It doesn't matter, as long as their faces are on TV and in the paper. As long as people are Paying Attention.

And in Short Attention Span Theater, that's not nearly long enough.

I'm Devolving!

Sheesh... Miss a few days posting and suddenly I've gone from a Slithering Reptile to a Multicellular Microorganism.

Oh, well, that's more than a biology professor of mine managed to produce after a month of rocking and zapping chemicals. All he got were organic chemical precursors.

Friday, December 02, 2005

March Hare's Special Holiday Marshmallow Treats

My do not take nearly as much time and/or effort as The Anchoress's Rainbow Cookies. But they are a tradition in the Rabbit Warren:

Use the standard recipe for Rice Krispie Treats(tm), only buy the special red & green Rice Krispies(tm) that come out this time of year.

Melt the marshmallows and butter in the microwave. It's quick and easy. Also use generic/store brand marshmallows. Those are 16 oz. versus the 12 or 14 oz. in the name brand bag. The more marshmallows, the chewier the treats.

Make the treats in usual manner. Put in a baking pan.

In the microwave, melt together chocolate chips and mint chips. Or use chocolate mint chips. Whatever your store has. Melt more than you think you'll need. The only waste it will go to is yours!

Spread the melted chocolate mint mixture over the top of the treats. If you're like me and are making these treats at the last minute before you have to actually take them someplace, like a PTA meeting or school party, stick the baking pan in the freezer. That will set the marshmallow treats and harden the chocolate mint topping.

When the pan has cooled, the topping will harden like a candy bar. Cut into squares. You may want to dip the knife into hot water to help cut it.

It takes about 20 minutes to make the treats, including the topping, and about 30 minutes or less for them to cool in the freezer.

My favorite commercial for these is the mom who is reading a novel in the kitchen. She keeps telling her family, "Just a couple more minutes!" and goes back to reading. Just before she walks out with a plateful of treats, she dips her hand into the flour and sprinkles some on her face. She walks into the dining room, sighs, and smiles at the grateful and enthusiastic response she receives from her family.

I've never had the guts to actually sprinkle flour on my face!

Iraq and Learning to Ride a Bike

Is anyone else becoming tired of the "He said...He said" game that Congress and the Prez are playing? You know, the one that prints a quote that, for example, points out how dangerous Saddam Hussein is and then shows that it was President Clinton or John Kerry or Ted Kennedy or (name of Demonic Democrat du jour)? And that proves that said Demonic Democrat felt the same way as our Sainted Prez.

News flash: the Kids in the Halls aren't listening.

Nor will they believe you. They have their Truth from their Prophets and you can take them back with a Pensieve so they can witness what was said for themselves and they still won't believe you.

I say it's time to stop this nonsense. It's time for the Prez to act patriarchal, in the old-fashioned, Biblical sense.

The U.S. is in Iraq. It doesn't matter how we got there. We aren't leaving. Deal with it.

We're like the parent teaching their child to ride a bike. The training wheels are off, but we have hold of the seat. We'll run along behind until that magic moment when we know it's time to let go. How will we know? We just will. It's a feeling you get, when the wobbling stops--or is minimal--when you know your child can do it and s/he isn't quite sure that s/he can. So you let go. And they go on. And when s/he falls, you yell encouragement, maybe help her/him pick up the bike, get back on, and do it again.

The Iraqis are almost there. The training wheels have come off, but the support we give isn't just psychological. We're not at the cheering from the curb when the child rides by, solo. Not yet. But soon. Our troops know. They can feel it, they can sense it--judging by the comments I'm reading in the milblogs--and the Iraqis know it, too.

But the petulant Dems are like kids with their fingers in their ears, singing "LA LA LA, I CAN'T HEAR YOU!" over and over again, their eyes tightly shut.

From my experience, there's only one way to deal when they get like that. And it's not to waste time showing them how illogical their worldview is. It's not showing them Reality.

It's time to show Authority.

Forget about how we got into Iraq. We're there now. We're not leaving until the Iraqi government asks us to. Which will be when they have faith that their own Army and Police Force will be able to keep the population safe and secure. And for those who don't have their fingers in their ears, here's the progress that we've made, the schools we've built and the number of children--boys and girls--attending, the number of battalions/units/whatever the Iraqis have manned, the barrels of oil they're producing, the number of markets that have opened, the number of hospitals that are open and the supplies they have.

The Iraqis still have a ways to go. And we'll be there to help.

End of story.