Wednesday, December 27, 2006

On the Second Day of Christmas...

Over the years, I have tried to persuade Hubs of the wisdom of celebrating Christmas over 12 days. According to my calendar, I still have time to send out Christmas cards and those last few gifts that just didn't seem to get mailed in time.

He's still not buying it.

The gifts for his parents and his siblings were mailed overnight. They are short some of the stationery I was making because I just plain ran out of time. (DD#1 had a brilliant suggestion: I should make one "batch" every month. Then I'd be done by October!)

DD#1 and DD#2 helped me find Christmas gifts and birthday gifts for my mother. Her birthday is December 26, but we celebrate it Christmas night. And we found some great gifts for Hubs, who really only ever wants one gift and that my mother gives him (it's a fishing license for next year).

Several recipients of the stationery have told me they think this year's set is the best one yet. I'll have to take their word for it. I've looked at them so long, all I see is the flaws!

We missed all the San Francisco traffic on Christmas Eve because DS#1 was smart enough to check traffic conditions before we left and find an alternate route.

Hubs grumbled that 10:30 a.m. Mass on Christmas Day would put a crimp in our morning present opening. It didn't. I had to wake everyone up. I was a lector and got to read Isaiah: "How beautiful upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings glad tidings!" DD#2 was an altar server. The "senior" altar server, as it turned out--the other three were 4th Graders who have just begun serving. Hubs and DS#2 were tapped to help with the collection basket. DS#1 made it to Mass, but ended up sitting in the back of the church.

DD#2 got a great Cal sweatshirt. Fortunately, I don't have to steal hers because I got one, too! We found a great pictoral history of the Marine Corps that came with Marine Corps toys! The helicopter is not the one Hubs worked on, but he was able to find a picture of one in the book.

DD#1 got a sewing machine that works. DD#2 got a bike. There is some debate whether it's a men's bike or a women's, but she likes it anyway. Unfortunately, it poured yesterday, so she hasn't been able to ride it.

The boys were rather puzzled by their gifts: bed pillows. My excuse: "But it was on your list!" DS#1 has become rather fond of tea lately, so we found a cup with a tea infuser that he liked. He also got a "Game Card," that buys time for his favorite online video game.

DS#2 got clothes, a tiki torch (?), and tiki oil. Apparently he had requested them. At least, according to his siblings he did. He also got an erector set because he needed a toy.

I got luggage--with wheels!--so I can run away from home more easily.

Okay, it's for my trip this summer to Japan with the Girl Scouts. DD#2 has the same one. We try to buy matching luggage as a group to make it easier to identify.

I also received the complete works of Lewis Carroll. While I have read both Alice books (obviously), I've never read his other stories and poems. I'm looking forward to reading The Hunting of the Snark and Sylvie and Bruno.

Still, the best part was getting together with my extended family and having my immediate family home for two days. And I got to hold the newest baby as much as I wanted, under the guise of "giving his mother a break." Since my kids also held him--and walked him and bounced him--quite a bit, I'm hoping this will serve as a "Reality Check" about parenthood. Just a teensy bit.

I hope your Christmas was as successful as mine. What neat presents did you receive?

Bowl Game Theory

Tonight the University of California Los Angeles Bruins are playing the Florida State University Seminoles at AT&T Park (aka Pac Bell Park or the House that Barry Built). Tomorrow night, the University of California, Berkeley, Bears are playing the Texas A&M Aggies in San Diego.

Had the Bears played at AT&T Park and the Bruins played in San Diego, more alumni from those schools would have attended. In fact, it would have been like a home game for those two teams. Instead it's a 10-hour drive to San Diego from the Bay Area and an 8-hour drive to the Bay Area from the Los Angeles area.

I wonder if either game is sold out? If not, they could have been.

Of course, if Cal had gone to Pasadena, I wouldn't be wondering about this at all!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

And a "Happy Holidays to You, Too!"

Sometimes I think we Christians protest too much. Like all this fuss over "Happy Holidays" versus "Merry Christmas."

Frankly, either one is so much better than "Yo, B----! Get outta the way!" Or "Eat s--- and die!"


What Kind of Christmas Tree Am I?

Okay, I admit it. I'm copping out of writing serious entries because, well, it's the week before Christmas and I am nowhere close to being ready for it. My customers must feel the same way because I'm receiving a lot of phone calls that have a tone of urgency about them...

You Are a Traditional Christmas Tree

For a good Christmas, you don't have to re-invent the wheel.
You already have traditions, foods, and special things you bring out every year.

(H/T: Julie D. over at Happy Catholic, a sister Traditional Tree!)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

What Kind of Sports Car Am I?

I'm a Chevrolet Corvette!

You're a classic - powerful, athletic, and competitive. You're all about winning the race and getting the job done. While you have a practical everyday side, you get wild when anyone pushes your pedal. You hate to lose, but you hardly ever do.

Take the Which Sports Car Are You? quiz.

Which is very reassuring, especially as I'm stuck in full-blown, pre-Christmas Mom mode.

(H/T: The Anchoress and Julie D. at Happy Catholic)

Monday, December 18, 2006

What Kind of Christmas Ornament Am I?

You Are a Snowman

Friendly and fun, you enjoy bringing holiday cheer to everyone you know!

Well, it's been cold enough around here for snow. I'm glad I bring fun to everyone I know. I've been feeling kind of Scrooge-ish right now!

(h/t: Julie D., Happy Catholic)

Friday, December 15, 2006

Arguing with Platitudes on Posters

While running around during lunch, I saw a poster that said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge."

Is it?

I'm not so sure. Straight knowledge, with no imagination, is rather dull. But imagination with no knowledge is really useless. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak imagined a world where everyone had access to a personal computer--but without the knowledge of electronics (and physics and math and computer science), they would not have been able to build one and write the programming necessary.

There's probably some ideal combination of knowledge and imagination required to do great things. But to say one is more important than the other seems, on the face of it, rather absurd. And, yet, how many people will see that poster, read the platitude and say, "Oh, of course!" Then add it to their repertoire of Cliches for Suitable Occasions.

Remembering Peter Boyle

Peter Boyle was one of those character actors that turned up on TV or in movies pretty regularly and Hubs and I would say, "It's Frankenstein!" Okay, so really he was Frankenstein's monster, but we knew the difference.

So when he appeared in X-Files in the episode titled "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" I was interested in what his character would be.

I didn't expect to be moved to tears.

Mr. Boyle won an Emmy for his portrayal of Clyde Bruckman and deservedly so. His Clyde, a man with a gift that he definitely did not want, was quiet, understated, and powerful. I cared about Clyde and felt immensely sorry for his burden. The conclusion of the story was inevitable. I knew it. And I cried.

I've long had a pet theory (one of several, but I digress) that comics are often better actors than those who specialize in drama because being believable in comedy is so much harder. The talents of many comedians are often underrated, so they don't often get meaty roles. (I also think it's harder to write good comedy as well. So the two may be related. And I'm not referring to comic sketches, by the way.) Mr. Boyle showed what he was capable of in the role of Clyde Bruckman and for that I thank him. I also thank Chris Carter, the executive producer, and whomever else was responsible for hiring Peter Boyle for this episode.

Several of the tributes to Mr. Boyle have mentioned that he was a monk before becoming an actor. I didn't know that, but I'm not surprised. There's a kind of stillness in him, a quiet center, a steadiness that's evident in his character of Clyde Bruckman, but can also be seen in his portrayal of the monster in Young Frankenstein and as the dad in While You Were Sleeping. He seemed comfortable with himself even when--maybe because--he was playing just an ordinary, blue-collar guy. He wasn't, really. I mean, how many people had John Lennon as the Best Man at their wedding?

I'm going to miss seeing him pop up in movies and on TV when I least expected it.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Christmas Madness

I am not ready for Christmas this year. I would have to take all next week off and I still wouldn't be ready.

Hubs bought the tree last weekend. The lights were found--they were in the only box that was actually put away last year (the other boxes were scattered throughout the garage).

The Advent Calendar is up but the Advent Wreath is not.

The boxes with ornaments and the table decorations are in the family room with the tree. I managed to watch three of my favorite movies last Sunday: A Christmas Carol, with Alistair Sim, Miracle on 34th Street, with Natalie Wood, and A Muppet Christmas Carol, with Michael Caine, Kermit, et al. I was working on the 25 sets of stationery that I will hand out to my cousins, sisters, SILs, and close friends on Christmas Eve. This is what I do instead of baking. Doesn't smell as nice, unfortunately, and it takes over all available flat surfaces. But I made a deal with my family--as long as they use it, I'll keep making it. (I hate to see the cards not shared!) The quickest turnaround was the year that Sis#2 used a card I had given her on Christmas Eve for our mom's birthday card--which we celebrate on Christmas evening. (Her birthday is actually the 26th.)

This year we have family pictures and Christmas cards with the kids' picture on them. They may get out by Epiphany--which is the 12th day of Christmas, right?

Hubs, who comes from a family that has all their Christmas shopping done and cards out no later than Dec. 1st, just shakes his head. He has learned over the years not to say anything. Besides, we have obligations closer to home, including the annual school Christmas pageant.

Hard to believe that this will be our last one, after 16 years. DD#2 is a narrator, as the faculty has learned over the years not to ask the 8th Graders to sing. However, the 8th Grade does a grand job with speaking parts and handling the technical parts (lights and sound). Let them dress in black and fade into the background. No one "oohs" and "aahs" over gawky teens--not like they do over the Kindergarteners and First Graders. (Which reminds me, DD#2 wants to wear tights. And she probably needs black shoes, since her feet are too big to wear mine and too small to wear DD#1's. And she'll probably want heels. I am so not ready for this!)

And everyone wants to party. How can we not get together with friends, with co-workers, with family? How can we not let DS#2 go to his Winter Ball or DD#2 go to her "Holly-Day" dance?

One of these years, I told a friend, I'm just going to do all the neat holiday activities and forgo the Christmas shopping and decorating. I'm going to do the "Sing-Along Messiah" and all the public tree lightings and drive around and marvel over everyone else's house lights. I'm going to see as many versions of The Nutcracker Ballet and A Christmas Carol as I can. I'm going to drink hot chocolate and watch all the Christmas specials that I can find on TV. I may hang a wreath on the door. Then again, I may not.

I probably won't be able to get away with this plan until I'm about 80, though, and my kids are so busy establishing traditions with their kids that they won't miss the ones I'm not doing!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Book Review: The Glass Castle

That Jeannette Walls grew up to become an accomplished, competent adult is amazing. That she loves her parents is extraordinary.

Ms. Walls is a contributor to MSNBC and writes regularly about the lives and secrets of celebrities. She is beautiful, articulate, and eloquent. The Glass Castle is a memoir of her life from her earliest memory to shortly after the death of her father.

The book opens with Jeannette living on Park Avenue with her husband. She is on her way to a party and is worried that she is overdressed. Stuck in traffic, she looks out of the window of her taxi and sees her mother rooting in the dumpsters nearby. Worried that her mother might see her and call out her name, Jeannette returns home. Later, she contacts her mother and they meet for lunch at a restaurant. Jeannette confesses that she saw her mother picking through the trash.

"'Well, people in this country are too wasteful. It's my way of recycling.' She took a bite of her Seafood Delight. 'Why didn't you say hello?'

"'I was too ashamed, Mom. I hid.'

"Mom pointed her chopsticks at me. 'You see?' she said. 'Right there. That's exactly what I'm saying. You're way too easily embarrassed. Your father and I are who we are. Accept it.'

"'And what am I supposed to tell people about my parents?'

"'Just tell the truth,' Mom said. 'That's simple enough.'"

And so Jeannette does. Her first memory is her dress catching on fire while she's cooking hot dogs. She is three years old. When the nurses ask why she was cooking, Jeannette explains that she was hungry. Besides, "Mom says I'm mature for my age."

Rex Walls is a brilliant man. He reads books on mathematics for fun. He loves to invent things. He can fix just about anything. He can talk himself into being hired for just about any job. Keeping those jobs, though, is a bit of a problem. As is alcohol.

Rose Mary Walls is a "creative" person. She draws, paints, sculpts, writes. She doesn't drink anything stronger than tea. Her particular addictions are chocolate and excitement. And she's not above creating some when life gets too predictable.

Rex is building "The Prospector," a device that sounds an awful lot like the sluiceboxes the 49'ers used in California. Once perfected, the Walls family will be rolling in gold nuggets and Rex is going to build "The Glass Castle": a mansion made completely out of glass, in the desert that they love.

Rose Mary believes that people worry too much about their children, so she ignores them when they cry. They have to be tough and independent. Rose Mary also makes statements like "It's time I did something for myself... It's time I started living my life for me." She makes those statements in California, in Phoenix, and in West Viriginia.

Neither Rex nor Rose Mary seem to realize they are responsible for the welfare of four children. Electricity is a sometime thing, as is indoor plumbing. Food is erratic--sometimes it's there, sometimes it's not. When the bills pile up too high or Rex has gotten into one too many arguments with the locals, they "skedaddle," leaving most of their belongings behind.

And, yet, they love their children. They read Shakespeare and study the stars. They encourage their children to dream, that the material doesn't matter. Rose Mary is Catholic and the children go to Mass every Sunday, but she also tells them that everyone must come to religion in their own way.

That I didn't see Rex and Rose Mary as monsters is due entirely to the way Jeannette tells her story. We see her parents as she saw them then; only as she grows older does she realize that something is very wrong with her family's way of living. And she is determined to leave.

After I read The Glass Castle, I googled Jeannette Walls to find out more--what her mother and siblings think about the book, what the reaction has been, any other thoughts or insights she's had about her parents' behavior. I recommend that readers do the same after they've read the book.

This book was a fascinating and frustrating read. I wonder if Jeannette and her siblings would have been better off had they been removed from the family. I don't see Rex or Rose Mary as changing their behavior, although Rex might have attempted to kidnap his children back. Because their parents were pretty ineffective parents in the traditional sense, the children learned to rely on themselves and on each other from a very early age. Had they been put into foster care, they would have missed out on that. But what a price they had to pay!

On the March Hare Scale: 4 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks

Friday, December 08, 2006

Another Feast Day, Another Holy Day of Obligation

One of the "problems" with checking out the Many Catholic blogs out there is they never let you forget when there is a Holy Day of Obligation. Kind of like the Good Sisters who nagged us in grammar school--we used to get Holy Days off until they realized that many families were skipping out on the Mass part. If we were at school, we had to go to Mass.

Free will? Not if the Good Sisters had anything to say about it! :)

So last night DD#2 asked me, "Do you ever get a song stuck in your head?"

"All the time," I answered.

"Religious songs?"

"Which one?"

She hummed a few bars. I recognized it almost immediately: "Hail Holy Queen Enthroned Above." The 8th Grade was practicing for today's Mass during school.

I put a reminder on my Outlook calendar at work so I wouldn't forget to go at lunch time. St. Patrick's is an old parish--my grandmother was baptised there in 1898--and the church dates from the early 1910's. It was originally an Irish parish, so the stained glass windows list the counties of Ireland with their patron saints (so that's who St. Finbar is--the patron saint of Cork!). The altar is carved marble, filled with statues and symbols. There are five stained glass windows over the sanctuary: the Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, with St. Patrick in the middle. (Give the Irish some credit for a particular fondness for their favorite saint!).

Over the years, the parish culture has changed. Now Filipino star lanterns, called parols, hang from the lights. (More about Filipino Christmas traditions, including Simbang gabi and misa de gallo here.) A second collection was taken for the victims of the typhoon that recently hit the Luzon province in the Philippine Islands, with a special Mass for them tonight--many of the parishioners have family and friends back in the Islands.

Those of us who gathered to celebrate the noon Mass and to honor Mary and her Immaculate Conception are a mixed bag. We are blue collar, white collar, professional, and homeless. We are clergy, religious, and laity. We represent all the continents of the Catholic Church. We share the Mass in English, but it might not be our first--or even second--language. We are the Church.

No one would know if I didn't make it to Mass today. No one but God would care, frankly. I go to Mass now because it's important to me to do my best to follow the rules of the Church I claim to belong to. And, frankly, because those Good Sisters did manage to instill a sense of responsibility into me all those many years ago and I hate feeling guilty!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

When I was growing up, St. Nicholas Day was when my mother began decorating the house for Christmas. The tree would come about ten days later--my grandfather kept the German tradition that Santa Claus brought the tree on Christmas Eve, but my mother wasn't crazy enough to do that.

I've always thought there's kind a nice symmetry with having the Christmas season start with St. Nicholas Day and end with the Epiphany on Jan. 6. For the last couple of years I've tried to remember to have the kids leave their shoes either on the hearth or outside their bedroom door and stuff little trinkets in them, mostly as a reminder of their Germanic tradition. (The Advent Calendar is another one. And the tree, of course!)

This year I actually did well, except that I couldn't tell their shoes apart. I found seven shoes outside their door: two from DD#2 and five from DS#2. He didn't mean to leave his shoes out--it just sort of happened. But they were able to figure out whose trinkets were meant for whom anyway.

The Saint Nicholas Center has more information and some great pictures, old and new.

Fausta and The Anchoress have some special memories as well...

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Saint Who Chose Me

Here's my Saint for the year, thanks to Moneybags at A Catholic Life:

James the Lesser

[painting of Saint James]
Also known as
Jacobus Minor; James the Younger; James the Just
3 May
Apostle. Cousin of Jesus. Brother of Saint Jude Thaddeus. One of the first to have visions of the risen Christ. First Bishop of Jerusalem.

Having been beaten to death, a club almost immediately became his symbol. This led to his patronage of fullers and pharmacists, both of whom use clubs in their professions.

Like all men of renown, large stories grew up around James. He is reported to have spent so much time in prayer that his knees thickened, and looked like a camel's. Soon after the Crucifixion, James said he would fast until Christ returned; the resurrected Jesus appeared to him, and fixed a meal Himself.
martyred c.62 at Jerusalem by being thrown from a pinnacle of the Temple, then stoned and beaten with clubs, including fuller's mallets, while praying for his attackers
apothecaries; druggists; dying people; fullers; hatmakers; hatters; milliners; pharmacists; Uruguay
Prayer to...
fuller's club; man holding a book
Gallery of images of Saint James [5 images, 103 kb]
Additional Information
Google Directory
Lives of Illustrious Men, by Saint Jerome
Goffine's Devout Instructions
canonical Letter of James
So a lesser-known apostle has chosen me. I can't think of why at the moment. I'm not from Uruguay. I'm not a druggist/pharmacist/apothecary. I don't think I'm dying--at least, not imminently. He is holding a book and he did write an Epistle. Could that be the connection?

Guess I'll have to wait and see!

A Great Weekend for College Football

It was a great weekend. Cal beat Stanford but not without a fight. Too bad there weren't more Stanford fans out there to watch it and to cheer the great effort their team made!

The Stanford Band, who has moved from merely obnoxious to truly beyond the pale, was banned from performing at halftime. Meanwhile, the Cal student section took advantage of the fact with some truly clever card stunts. Kind of an old-fashioned way of teasing your opponents in this day of text-messaging, but it still looks really cool.

And then UCLA beat U$C in another tight defensive battle, the kind my dad taught me to love.

It's a good thing I don't have any training sessions scheduled for today--I'm hoarse.

So we're off to the Bowl Games. I know it's not as much money, but I kind of wish that Cal was playing in the Emerald Bowl and not UCLA. I could work half a day and then walk to the stadium.

Instead, Cal is playing in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego. On a Thursday night.

Cal is playing Texas A&M. (The oldest daughter of Julie D. from Happy Catholic is a freshman there.) Which means, much as I like Julie and despite the fact we often think alike, I'm going with Blue & Gold for this matchup!

Pregame is at 4:30 p.m., kickoff is at 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time. Guess I'll be leaving work early!

Update (sort of): DS#2 had to come up with another debate topic for Public Speaking. Of course, he asked me about it this morning as we were getting ready to leave. I suggested he research the controversy around the BCS ranking system and if college football really needs a playoff. (For the record, I'm ag'in it. The players--at least at Cal--are student athletes. They already take a lighter load during the fall semester and then they have practice during the spring and late summer. A playoff system would mean they spent even less time in class than they do now--and playoffs would be held during finals. And, too, what would we argue about during Christmas dinner? Politics? Religion? Yikes!)

Friday, December 01, 2006

A Treat for the Ears

My local classical radio station has a special online Christmas station:

It's classical and traditional carols, quite suitable for work or as background music. Never mind, I'm now listening to "White Christmas"--played on violins. Okay, so maybe it's not quite so traditional!

Their sister station has more contemporary Christmas music:

It's a little more secular but KOIT is actually broadcasting their Christmas music over the air as well as playing it online.

Both stations are actually advertising this music as Christmas music--not "seasonal" or "holiday" stuff. Give 'em a listen!

Give 'Em the Axe, the Axe, the Axe!

Give 'em the Axe, the Axe, the Axe
Give 'em the Axe, the Axe, the Axe
Give 'em the Axe
Give 'em the Axe
Give 'em the Axe

Right in the neck, the neck, the neck,
Right in the neck, the neck, the neck,
Right in the neck
Right in the neck
Right in the neck


Every time one of my children has had to write about Family Traditions, they've included our family tradition of Big Game. It started quite simply: my senior year at Cal I bought my mom and my football-afficiando father tickets to the Big Game between Cal and Stanford. After the game, we went out to dinner.

From that humble beginning grew a family tradition that involves my uncle, my cousins, in-laws, friends of the family, and assorted children. We start with a breakfast--which includes California Orange Juice fortified with Vitamin "Ch" (champagne) at the house closest to the stadium, then walk to the game, then back to the house for dinner. Depending on the results, we either celebrate with beer or cry in it. People come for breakfast or join us for dinner. It's potluck and, since my cousins, siblings, and I were all cursed by the same grandmother, there is always enough food.

The Band is always Great, even if the game isn't.

The team with the best record doesn't always win.

The last four seconds are often critical.

Usually the game is played for "bragging rights" in the Bay Area. There are many "mixed" marriages and families. In fact, there are many people who have divided loyalties, as it's not unusual to have an undergraduate degree from one school and a graduate degree from the other. In fact, the faculty often migrates from one school to the other over the course of their careers.

Here's a link to the History of the Axe.

A piece of Big Game lore: Herbert Hoover, then manager of the Stanford football team, forgot to bring the game ball. (At the time, the game was played on neutral ground in San Francisco.) The game was delayed until a football could be located.

This Saturday's game will be played at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, one of the most scenic stadiums in the country. Behind the stadium is "Tightwad Hill" (they even have their own banner) where people sit on the steep hillside, in the dirt, and watch the game for free.

The stadium was built to commemorate those "Sons of California" who were killed in World War I. It is built over the Hayward fault, using state-of-the-art-at-the-time engineering: built in sections designed to move independently during an earthquake. Must have done a fairly decent job--it's still standing.

Okay. I'll stop now.

Go Bears!

What Kind of Reader Am I?

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Dedicated Reader

You are always trying to find the time to get back to your book. You are convinced that the world would be a much better place if only everyone read more.

Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm

Literate Good Citizen

Book Snob

Fad Reader


What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz

No surprise here. Although the table doesn't show the results for each subcategory, I scored very highly in the Obssessive-Compulsive Bookworm category and fairly well in the Literate Good Citizen.

(h/t: The Anchoress)

I'm not a Book Snob--I'll read anything that's printed!

Some Days I Feel Like Job

Today is one of them.

Christmas is right around the corner. Not only does that mean that we have the extra expenses typical of this time of year, we also have a lot of social committments: parties, activities, school dances, finals and midterms. Our money and our schedules are carefully choreographed, practically down to the minute.

On her way to college today, DD#1 was cut off by another car. She slammed on her brakes, lost control, and hit the median guard rail. Thank God, she's okay, although she may be sore and bruised tomorrow, but the car is totaled. Because we bought the car used and because it was a '95, we didn't get comprehensive insurance. Because she was cut off, the other car disappeared and there's no way to track down who it was to try to recover any money.

$4000.00 gone.

But at least she's okay.

I'm not sure what we're going to do. Winter break starts soon and both DD#1 and DS#1 will be on vacation. DD#1 is going to have to learn to drive a stickshift (something we've been putting off) and DS#1 may have to learn to share and take on some of the responsibilities for shuttling his siblings around. And DD#1 is going to have to get up earlier in order to get to class.

Meanwhile, thank God Hubs and I are both employed in decent-paying jobs that we're good in and enjoy. Thank God our children are healthy. That they are intelligent. That they are, for the most part, generous, kind-hearted, and family-centered. We have food on the table, a roof over our heads, and clothes on our backs. We are close to our families and friends. We have animals who give us unconditional love (well, maybe not the cats all the time).

We have a sense of humor. Some day we will laugh about this. Maybe when DD#1 has a daughter and gets a car.

Plus I have my faith.

When I was a child, I wondered if I would Suffer for God, like the martyrs and saints did. I expected some Grand Challenge.

Instead, I'm finding my challenge is more like dying from a thousand paper cuts. My challenge is in living every day, giving up control, trusting Him. And, you know, I hate giving up control.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The New Blogger

Over the long weekend, I was able to wrest one of the computers away from my children. {We had a really slow computer that the kids disdained so I used it. DS#1 upgraded both computers, so the formerly slow computer has been "rediscovered." (Sigh.)}

But I digress...

I took the opportunity to move my blog to Blogger Beta, which means that I can do all sorts of nifty things with my blog, include add labels to my posts. I hope to have time to play with the new templates and come up with a jazzier look--one more along the lines of what I prefer.

But don't hold your breath. :)

Thoughts on Gender Identity

A couple of posts back, I spoke about the puzzle of Gender Identity, specifically relating to transgendered persons. One commenter was kind enough to provide some informational links (I'm writing this on the fly and I apologize for not posting internal links).

The gist is that human gender identity seems to be established in utero and that it's fixed. The cells of the human brain have different degrees of sensitivity to sexual hormones, primarily estrogen and testosterone, and that determines whether an individual sees himself or herself as male or female.

If the results of this research is correct doesn't this contradict the feminist argument that gender is primarily cultural?

How does an honest feminist researcher into gender identity resolve this?

Based on my own, extremely limited, personal experience, I think that gender identity has a strong biological basis, but there is a certain flexibility due to cultural influences. (Much as genes can determine your maximum height, but nutrition and environment determines if you actually achieve it.) On a purely personal note, I can't remember if I ever didn't know that I was female, although my interests have not always followed "traditional" patterns, as understood by my grandmothers.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Stating the Obvious

I just love it when researchers spend Many Dollars to come to a conclusion that most people (at least most people I hang out with) know intuitively.

To wit: Women Talk Three Times More Than Men Says Study

My uncle has five daughters. I have two sisters. The first time Hubs, then just a Boyfriend, encountered all of us, he was absolutely shocked. There were at least three conversations going on around the table at any one time and I was keeping up with all of them. When he mentioned this fact, the other seven women looked at him and said, "What? You aren't?"

Hubs asked my uncle, who is taciturn by nature, how he coped with all this chatter. My uncle wisely said, "I just wait until they've finished and someone tells me what's going on and what I have to do."

And here's the best quote from the researcher who is a feminist at heart:

Dr Brizendine, whose book is based on her own clinical work and analyses of more than 1,000 scientific studies, added: "There is no unisex brain.

"Girls arrive already wired as girls, and boys arrive already wired as boys. Their brains are different by the time they're born, and their brains are what drive their impulses, values and their very reality.

"I know it is not politically correct to say this but I've been torn for years between my politics and what science is telling us. (emphasis added--ed.)

"I believe women actually perceive the world differently from men."

That's what's known in my family as a "Sherlock" moment (as in "No sh-t, Sherlock!"). Anyone who has ever had more than a passing acquaintance with males or females knows that boys and girls, men and women respond differently to the same situation.

But there are always the doubters:

"Other scientists, however, are sceptical about the effects of testosterone on the brain and say many of the differences between the male and female personality can be explained by social conditioning, with a child's upbringing greatly influencing their character.

"Deborah Cameron, an Oxford University linguistics professor with a special interest in language and gender, said the amount we talk is influenced by who we are with and what we are doing."

While I agree that upbringing can influence a child's character (kind of nice to have that acknowledged as well!), we humans are still subject to biological influences. Why is it acceptable to acknowledge that when speaking of gender identity and gender preferences but not when speaking of gender differences? There seems to be a quantitative difference between the amount of time women talk versus men and, while it may vary among individuals it seems there is a pattern between the genders.

As the French say, "Vive la difference!"

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Book Review: The Nanny Diaries

The authors, Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, have taken their years of experience working as nannies for some of Manhattan's upper class families and turned them into a novel that is funny, frustrating, and, ultimately, sad.

They are not kind to their former employers, skewering their obsessions with overprogramming their offspring to give said children an "edge" to get into the right preschool, the right grammar school, the right prep school, leading to the right university. Every minute of their children's lives is scheduled and manipulated, their diet monitored, their playdates arranged with an eye to all important social connections.

Nanny is a senior at NYU, studying child development. She has worked as a babysitter, and later as a nanny, since she was 13. She has the drill down cold. She also has divided the mothers into "types." Type A needs a nanny to provide "couple time" for people who work all day and parent the rest of the time. This type of mother will treat the nanny as a professional and with respect. Type B requires "sanity time" a few afternoons a week for a woman who is basically an "at home" mom. She recognizes the childcare as a job and after one "get acquainted" afternoon, leaves her children with the nanny and lets the nanny do her job. For Type C, "I'm brought in as one of a cast of many to collectively provide twenty-four/seven 'me time' to a woman who neither works nor mothers. And her days remain a mystery to us all."

Of course, the mother in The Nanny Diaries is Type C, with a high level, high powered investment banking husband who cannot remember Nanny's name. Neither parent acknowledges that Nanny might have a life outside of their apartment, although Nanny shares a studio with a friend and has given them her class schedule.

The child is named Grayer, and he is all but invisible to his parents, brought out for special occasions, displayed, then returned to Nanny's care.

Nanny's first challenge is to gain Grayer's trust. He is four and loves his previous caregiver who has been dismissed for having the audacity of requesting a week off in August. Nanny is not sure how to handle this until her dad advises her to be Glinda, the Good Witch, when Grayer is behaving, but to switch into Bad Witch mode when he is not. It works, and Nanny is swept into the whirlwind that is Grayer's life.

It doesn't take long before Grayer's mother, Mrs. X, begins to ask Nanny to do a "few errands" outside the scope of childcare. Nanny's own mother, her grandmother, and her father sound like a Greek chorus, urging Nanny to stand up to Mrs. X's demands, which are not truly outrageous, but are insidious.

To top it all off, Nanny meets someone, nicknamed "Harvard Hunk" (or H. H.) in the elevator of the apartment building. There may be chemistry between them--if they could only meet when she doesn't have Grayer by the hand or he's not leaving for school or vacation or an internship in a foreign country.

Then Nanny finds out that Mr. X is having an affair with the head of the Chicago office. Ms. Chicago sees herself as the next Mrs. X and is willing to use Nanny to force the situation. While Nanny doesn't care about Mr. X or Mrs. X, she does care about Grayer. And Grayer desperately wants the attention of his parents.

The situation comes to head at Nanny's graduation. And the resolution is true to what we've seen of the characters involved.

Along the way we meet other nannies, other household help, consultants, and parents who live in this insular world. Mrs. X doesn't quite know what to do when she meets parents who actually eat dinner with their children. Other parents seem quite willing to foist their offspring off on Nanny while they are visiting, even though they have never met her before. The adults and their children are lonely and lost. Nanny's family, on the other hand, are emotionally close. They might not like what their daughter and granddaughter is doing for a living, but it's concern borne out of love, not control.

This book is kind of like watching a train wreck. You know it's coming, you know the ending can't be any good, but you can't stop. I only wish that the parents portrayed in this book read it and recognize themselves (and save their children expensive therapy), but I don't think they will. Reflection is not something that is done.

The rest of us can shake our heads and maybe feel a bit better that not getting into Harvard might not be fatal.

On the March Hare scale: 3.5 out of 5 Golden bookmarks

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Book Review: A Breath of Snow and Ashes

This is Book 6 in Diana Gabaldon's ongoing series about Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser, a time-traveler from the 20th Century and her 18th Century husband, James (Jamie) Fraser.

What can I say? I've been hooked since Outlander.

980 pages gives Ms. Gabaldon a lot of room to explore the years from 1773 to 1775. Claire and Jamie have settled in the mountains of North Carolina, establishing a community of ex-Jacobite Highlanders and assorted others. But even there they are not safe from war.

Claire, her daughter, Brianna (Jamie's daughter as well, although Brianna was born in the 20th Century), and Roger, Brianna's husband, know what's coming. They know that the rebels will ultimately be victorious. They also know a price will be paid in blood.

But before Rebellion breaks wide open, Jamie must walk a tightrope. Although he lives on the frontier, his land grant is courtesy of the Crown. As a Catholic, Jamie is not entitled to such a grant--and the Governor uses this knowledge as a lever to ensure Jamie's cooperation.

Meanwhile, the Governor cannot guarantee the safety of those in the backwoods, nor does he seem able to protect them from corrupt Sheriffs, Judges, and other officials. Like a pot coming to boil, rebellion seethes just under the surface. The Governor calls upon Jamie to help keep order. Jamie's sympathies are with the rebels, but he can't declare himself--not yet.

Meanwhile, life goes on. Claire, a doctor in her time, must depend on the crude instruments and medicines available in her present. Brianna, who has a knack for engineering, tries to bring some of the conveniences and innovations of the future to her present as well. Roger, trained as a historian, has to learn to be an 18th Century husband and provider--which means hunting and butchering. Marsali, Jamie's stepdaughter, is assaulted and Fergus (Jamie's adopted son) feels particularly humilated because he cannot protect his wife. Their fourth child is born with a handicap, one which is particularly devastating in the 18th Century. Claire finds an apprentice, who is later found murdered in Claire's vegetable patch.

And the French gold intended for Bonnie Prince Charlie, but spirited away to help Jamie's aunt and uncle set up life in the New World is missing.

A Breath of Snow and Ashes is a book to get lost in. Snuggle under a comforter with a cup of tea or chocolate, suspend your disbelief, and fall under the spell of these people. Stay up reading way past your bedtime. Let the housework go. Forget the holiday stress.

One other note: There is considerable discussion about what it means to be a man, particularly an honorable man. Jamie has some very definite ideas about duty, honor, and loyalty. Much is made of his physical strength, but he is morally strong as well. And he appreciates the strength of his wife (in my experience, strong men often choose strong women for their wives). I'm not sure if this exploration of the roles of husbands and wives is more pronounced in this book than in the earlier books or if I noticed it because of discussions in the blogs (check the archives of The Anchoress and Fausta's Blog in particular).

On the March Hare scale: 4 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Not All My Ideas Are Crazy

One of the things I love about Christmas are the lights on the homes and one the commercial buildings and trees. The Embarcadero Center outlines its buildings with thousands and thousands of white lights (to the left is a very poor picture of the effect). Last Friday was the Winter Carnival and Official Lighting. Since I work nearby, I asked Hubs if he'd like to meet me there. And maybe bring the kids.

Hubs thought it was a grand idea. DS#2 thought it was "stupid," but asked if he could bring a friend. DD#2 was skeptical. DD#1 came because she had locked her keys in her car and Hubs drove out to the college with the spare set.

DS#1 was no where to be found.

The kids, electronic leashes (i.e., cell phones) turned on were let loose during the "boring" part. The San Francisco High School Honor Jazz band (not to be confused with JROTC, mind you) was the opening act at the outdoor ice rink. They were followed by a Cirque du Soleil type show, combining ice skating, rhythmic gymnastics, aerial acrobats, and a drum line. Sounds weird, but it worked. Mayor Gavin Newsome did the countdown and flipped the switch and then there were fireworks. I knew we had a hit when DS#2 tried to capture the fireworks on his cell phone video display.

The fireworks were pretty awesome, considering they were set off between one of the office towers and the Hyatt Regency with a few hundred people clustered in the plaza below.

After the outdoor show, we went into the hotel for the lighting of the Christmas tree in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency. The San Francisco Girls Chorus sang Christmas carols; young students from a local Circus arts school did a great show; there were stilt walkers and clowns strolling through the crowds, and the lobby had several displays of miniature villages from a private collector. Each display had several moving parts: trains, balloons, streetcars, toboganners. When the switch was flipped, not only did the 47' tree light up, but there are thousands of strings of lights cascading down from the ceiling.

The kids were impressed.

The best part was the cost: a BART ticket, hot chocolate and a sandwich.

I love it when one of my ideas works out!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Purely Personal Reaction to the Dems Victory

What I am dreading, more than almost anything the Democrats might actually do, is reading and hearing about "San Francisco Liberals" now that Ms. Pelosi is the Speaker-Apparent.

Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Boxer are not San Franciscans. Not really. They both are products of the East Coast.

Dianne Feinstein and SF Mayor Gavin Newsome are.

While Mayor Newsome supported gay marriage, he also supported keeping JROTC in San Francisco public high schools. When the School Board voted to eliminate JROTC, Mayor Newsome commented that they just made it more difficult to keep families in San Francisco. (Out-of-reach home prices have something to do with it, too!)

Senator Feinstein understands San Francisco's military heritage and that having a military is essential to the country's well-being. While mayor, she reinstituted Fleet Week. She tried to have the USS Iowa anchored at SF as a history museum.

Yes, San Francisco is, at its heart, a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat-and-Labor-Union town. And, like many cities, it was at once blue-collar and ultra-rich. That began to change in the '60's and '70's when San Francisco eliminated residency requirements for its civil servants. Police officers, fire fighters, teachers, even letter carriers no longer lived where they worked. Yuppies and "Guppies" moved in and they did not have children. People had "lifestyles" instead of lives.
At one time the Board of Supervisors were elected at large, which meant they had to appeal to those who lived in the Castro, the Sunset, the Mission, the Western Addition, Chinatown. Now they are elected by district and consequently their politics is driven more by identity than by an overarching concern for the welfare of The City.

The Navy closes Hunter's Point shipyard? Good--we don't want the monstrous, beastly military there anyway. Forget that hundreds of skilled blue-collar jobs (which paid well) disappeared. The Army closes the Presidio? That's great. We can use the prime real estate and buildings as "study centers" for folks like George Lucas and Mikhail Gorbachev. And we need the open space--even though the kids living in Hunter's Point or the Bayview or the Tenderloin can't get there to enjoy it.

A Christian Evangelical group held a rally at AT&T Park. During the rally, they preached about the evils of the homosexual lifestyle. A Supervisor protested, "This isn't what San Francisco is about! We're about tolerance! We're about freedom!"

One Supervisor disagreed: Michaela Alioto. She pointed out that "tolerance" means that even opinions you disagree with can be heard. Yep, she's another native.

A Odd Prayer Request

First, some background...

My kids' orthodontist is a big man and very outgoing. He usually has a smile on his face. He jokes with the kids and puts them at ease. He had me laughing when I signed the contract to pay for three sets of braces and assorted orthodontia.

In his waiting room is a montage of newspaper clippings. Seems the good doctor was a center for Joe Kapp--and the last Cal team to make it to the Rose Bowl, the Holy Grail of Pacific 10 College Football. Cal hasn't been since 1958; it's been longer since they actually won. Two years ago, USC was headed for the National Championship game and the Rose Bowl invitation was open. Cal, as usual, had a critical game coming up.

Doc happened to come into the waiting room. I smiled and said, "So, are you going to the game this weekend?"

We chatted for ten minutes or so about Cal football, about the alumni of that Rose Bowl team, about how most of them were professionals--doctors, lawyers, dentists, successful businessmen, and how they were really tired of being known as "The Last Cal Team to Play in the Rose Bowl." They were ready to hand that legacy on.

Last year, we received a letter letting us know Doc was undergoing chelation treatment for heavy metal poisoning. A couple of months ago we received a letter introducing his new partner. At DD#2's appointment last week, I asked one of the staff how Doc was doing.

"Not good," she said. "He's failing fast."

"Oh, no," I replied. "What is it? Cancer?"

"ALS," she said. "Lou Gehrig's disease."

Cal was on track to go to the Rose Bowl this coming January, until they lost to Arizona last weekend. This weekend they face USC at Memorial Stadium in Los Angeles. In order for Cal to assure themselves of a Rose Bowl bid, they have to beat USC. Cal is the underdog, by about 25 points. USC has lost once this season and they're not ready to repeat that experience.

So there are two parts to my request: one, that Cal beats USC and goes to the Rose Bowl and two, that Doc stays healthy enough to enjoy it.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Importance of Having Humor

First, go read the excellent article about "American Culture" written by The Anchoress. I'll wait.

Back again? Good.

Okay, one of the reasons I think her article is excellent is that I happen to agree with her. But, then, I have noticed that I have a somewhat odd sense of humor, one of the many legacies my father left me.

My father--in fact, his entire family--loved a bon mot, the more bon, the better. Sitting around the table at family gatherings, especially when the wines and the liquers had flowed, I learned the fine art of verbal sparring. My first attempts were crude and clumsy, more like broadswords than rapiers, but with practice I improved.

Of course, I had to learn the hard way that not everyone appreciates this sort of humor. Nor is it appropriate under every circumstance. You have to know your audience. (I also found that age improves the acceptability of this sort of humor. What got my children into no end of trouble in grammar school is now considered "witty" by their peers and adults.)

Rocky & Bullwinkle were right up my dad's alley. It was one of the few "kids' shows" we were encouraged to watch. What I didn't realize until I watched the shows on VHS many years later was how rich they were. While I caught the essential silliness of Rocky & Bullwinkle, Peabody & Sherman, Aesop & Son, and the Fractured Fairytales, what I didn't always understand was the context and the puns. I did a mental double-take when I first heard of the opera Boris Godunov.

Of course, Rocky was not the only cartoon my dad enjoyed. He liked some of the Warner Brothers and Disney classics, especially the ones that skewered the Hollywood elite or the pompous. He liked the Goofy cartoons were purported to teach safe driving skills or skiing or how to be a good dad. Or the ones were Donald Duck courted Daisy and ended up having to take care of Huey, Dewey, and Louie. (When we thought Sis#2 was going to be twins and started coming up with appropriate names, Huey, Dewey, and Louie were mentioned. Along with Faith, Hope, and Charity, as well as Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperence. Sis#2 is very glad she is a singleton!)

Dad also loved comics. When he discovered that Sis#1 and I had been buying them fairly regularly with our allowance, he asked, "Do you have any more?" We brought out our stash, thinking we were in Big Trouble. Instead, he told us, "I'd like to read them when you're finished." We should have known better--after all, we usually had to wait in line to read the funnies on Sunday. He enjoyed the action/adventure comic books (he would have laughed at the pretentiousness of "graphic novels" as well as shudder at the price), he enjoyed Prince Valiant and The Phantom, but the strips that focused on the foibles of everyday life were the ones he bother to bring to my attention.

"Did you see Zits this morning?" he would ask. Or, Hagar the Horrible. Or Sherman's Lagoon. Or BC. The theme was usually parents and kids or husbands and wives. The stuff of everyday life that drives us crazy while its going on and becomes fodder for stories around the table many years later. Okay, or just months later.

This gift of finding humor, appreciating humor, sharing humor, got me through my dad's final illness and his funeral.

"Father John came by," my mother said at the hospital when we came by to visit my dad. "He heard your dad's Confession and gave him Communion."

"Really?" I said. Turning to my dad, I added, "And he made it out of here in time to preside at evening Mass!"

Dad gave me his Evil Eye(tm) and shook his finger at me.

At his funeral, one of his close friends commented that while she had often seen my dad lying down, she had never seen him with rosary beads. She was standing in front of his open casket at the time.

"He should have the remote," Bro#1 replied. And we all cracked up, including my mother. And, I want to add, one of the few times I can remember where Dad didn't have the last word.

Today would have been his 81st birthday. To celebrate, I think I'm going to pull out my Wassamatta U. sweatshirt and visit Frostbite Falls. After, of course, picking up DS#2 from soccer tryouts. Maybe I can find a gentle bon mot in his tan knees and white legs...

Book Review: Cell

Stephen King has a knack for using ordinary things as agents for evil: a car, a dog, a small town in Maine. In this book, it's cell phones.

Clayton Riddell is "a young man of no particular importance to history." He is in Boston and has just sold his first graphic novel and its sequel for a large sum of money. To celebrate, he has bought a gift for his estranged wife and is planning on buying the latest Spider-Man for his young son. But, first he stops to buy himself an ice cream cone.

The woman in front of him in line is wearing a "power suit" and has a poodle on a leash. A cell phone is clipped to her ear. Behind her are two teenage girls. One has a "peppermint-colored" phone clipped to her waist. The woman begins a conversation with a friend, the girl's phone rings and she holds it up so her friend can hear the conversation.

Then the world goes crazy. The woman attacks the ice cream vendor. The girl with the phone attacks the woman. Her friend looks at Clay and asks, "Who are you? Who am I?"

It doesn't take long for Clay to realize that most of Boston has gone crazy. Worse than crazy--they have become savage. Clay rescues another "normal" man and together they head back to Clay's hotel, trying to avoid the savages running amok in the street and trying to understand what, exactly, has happened. It doesn't take long for them to figure out it has something to do with the cell phones.

Besides an estranged wife, Clay has a young son living in Maine. While neither he nor his wife have cell phones, his son does--for emergencies. He knows Johnny doesn't always bring his cell phone with him, so there is a chance his son has not been affected. Land lines are down, so Clay decides to go home.

The rest of the novel is the trek of the trio from Boston to Maine and Clay's search for his son. Along the way, Clay and his companions meet the Head of an elite boys' school and one of his charges. The boy has figured out what has happened to the "phonies"--much like a computer hard drive, their brains have been wiped and are in the process of rebooting. But they are becoming something other than human. The "phonies" seem to be acting as a group, as a hive.

At this point, strange graffiti appears: "Kashwak = No Fo." What could it mean?

The group makes a fateful decision and does, eventually, figure out what the graffiti means.

Like many of King's novels, his descriptions of the mayhem is very graphic. His characters range from blue collar to, well, the Head of an elite boys' school. Like many of his novels, the ending of this one is a little weak and not all together satisfying. But what a ride he takes us on to get there!

I'll never quite trust my cell phone again.

On the March Hare scale: 3.5 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

More About Raijon

In my original post about Raijon Daniels, I wondered where his father was. That part has been answered.

From the Contra Costa Times:

On the day prosecutors charged the mother of an 8-year-old boy with torture and child abuse in connection with his grisly death last week, the boy's father could only shake his head in disbelief, wondering why it happened the way it did.

Desmond Landers was angry that nobody informed him about the alleged abuse.

"I'd have stepped up," Landers, 26, said outside a barbershop in downtown Richmond. "There ain't no question."

According to Mr. Landers, Ms. Moses and her family kept him from seeing Raijon. In fact, he was sending child support payments until Ms. Moses told him to stop and that Raijon was not his son. He didn't believe her--but he didn't pursue custody or request a paternity test.

Given the above, would Children & Family Services even have known there was a father around? Mr. Landers changed his name several years ago--is that change reflected on Raijon's birth certificate?

The adults in Raijon's life clearly let him down, beginning with his parents.

He didn't need a village. He needed one person who cared.

Messing with Mother Nature

The Anchoress has a link to this article in the New York Times: "New York Plans to Make Gender Personal Choice".

The idea: Under the rule being considered by the city’s Board of Health, which is likely to be adopted soon, people born in the city would be able to change the documented sex on their birth certificates by providing affidavits from a doctor and a mental health professional laying out why their patients should be considered members of the opposite sex, and asserting that their proposed change would be permanent.

But if they did that, how would the Transgendered make the plea that x% of the population is transgendered and they should be a protected minority? Wouldn't they just become part of the general population then?

But for me, this was the "money" quote:

Joann Prinzivalli, 52, a lawyer for the New York Transgender Rights Organization, a man who has lived as a woman since 2000, without surgery, said the changes amount to progress, a move away from American culture’s misguided fixation on genitals as the basis for one’s gender identity.

“It’s based on an arbitrary distinction that says there are two and only two sexes,” she said. “In reality the diversity of nature is such that there are more than just two, and people who seem to belong to one of the designated sexes may really belong to the other.”

(emphasis added--mh)

Okay, I only majored in Cell Biology at The University, but I seem to remember there are only two chromosomes that determine the gender of the human primate, X and Y. Now, if a human has a Y chromosome, that person is male, no matter how many X's may also be present. There are a whole host of physical problems associated with those who have more than two of the gender chromosomes or with those who have fewer. But, as far as I know, they still are either male or female, not some third type of creature.

There are, in fact, fish and amphibians (and possibly reptiles, though I can't think of any specifically) who can, in fact, change their genitalia in response to environmental or chemical cues. I don't know of any mammals or birds that can do the same--but, as I said, my field of study was not zoology.

However, I'm willing to wager that it was not Ms. Prinzivalli's major, either.

The only place where I've read that three (or more) sexes are needed for reproduction is in science fiction. Although male dolphins need a second male to help support the female during mating. But I think that might have more to do with the fact they are in water and don't have an efficient gripping limb.

I feel sorry for those who are uncomfortable within their own skin, who don't identify with the gender they are born with. But is the answer really to let them change their birth certificates? What if they decide they aren't transgendered at a later date? Can they change their birth certificates back?

New York City is thinking about doing this for a population that admits it's a minority. And only those born in NYC would be able to alter their birth records; merely living in NYC doesn't count. This also changes public health records and Census records.

And it avoids the whole messy issue of why these people are transgendered in the first place. Is the study of human anomalies no longer viable? Is everything "normal"? In this morally relative culture, it certainly seems that is the case. But I'm not convinced that Nature is quite so accommodating.

Friday, November 03, 2006

In Case You Missed It...

...because you were sleeping under a rock or in an Internet-free zone or were confined to the MSM for all your news:

(H/T: Free Republic)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Please Pray For...

...the soul of Raijon Daniels. You might also pray for his mother, Teresa Moses, who was arrested for his murder.

Raijon was 8-y.o. When his mother called 911, saying there was a medical emergency, the police found signs that Raijon had been badly abused physically. He was also locked in a room which mom monitored by using a baby monitor with a camera.

Child & Family Services had been contacted previously, on at least three occasions, and in each case dismissed the charges without inspecting the home.

Ms. Moses was 15 when Raijon was born. She also has a 2-y.o. daughter, who is now in protective custody. The daughter does not appear to be abused.

A couple of things stand out for me. One is how young Ms. Moses was when Raijon was born. What kind of family support did she have to help raise the boy? Did she get any parenting classes? The other is she claimed to homeschool Raijon because of conflicts she had with his school. I'm waiting for someone to claim that Raijon would still be alive if he had still been going to school. After all, no rational parent would want to deprive their child of the important social skills learned in a public school classroom. What are these parents hiding? Why don't they want their children interacting with the general public, with the children's peers?

Actually, the school was one of the agencies that reported suspected abuse to Child & Family Services. They were worried that Raijon was not being fed properly. When CFS investigated, Ms. Moses wrote, "I changed my slothful attitude and non-responsive spirit to proper discipline, to constructive discipline, time-outs, reading books, stay in your room and study, things of that nature when necessary to complete a balance in his life." I wonder if she also joined a church or a Bible group that has a literal view of "spare the rod." If she had, I'm sure that will come out and much will be made of "fundamentalist Christians abuse their children in the name of religion."

And where were the men of the family? Ms. Moses accused her ex-husband of abusing the boy, but CFS found no evidence of molestation and Ms. Moses did not return follow-up calls. The article does not indicate if the ex-husband was the father of Raijon.

Perhaps Raijon looked like his father and that caused Ms. Moses to retaliate against her son. Perhaps Ms. Moses didn't know how to handle--or couldn't handle--a high-spirited, active boy. Perhaps being a single mother of two, working full-time, and trying to homeschool was too much for her.

The community is shocked. The attitude is that, once again, the government let them down. But this community does not talk to government authorities. They'll maybe call 911 to report a gunshot victim, but they haven't seen or heard anything. Did this willful blindness--born out of a necessity to survive, by the way--cause some to overlook Raijon's neglect? To stay out of what they perceive as "family business"?

Perhaps we can name this New Orleans Syndrome; the idea that it's the Government's job to take care of all our ills, all our problems. If the people in authority don't see a problem, then there isn't one. We don't have to get involved. We don't have to take care of our family, our neighborhood. Someone else will clean up the mess.

There will be an investigation. Heads will roll. Procedures will be changed, will be tightened. Some social workers, already stretched emotionally and physically to the max, will quit. The remaining workers will do more with less. And the community will forget Raijon until the next child who dies at the hands of his mother.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Why Does Phil Angelides Need John Kerry?

No, really, I'm serious. In a state that is strongly Democratic, why did Phil bring John Kerry in to shill for him?

Do you think maybe Phil forgot about John's foot-in-mouth disability?

Do you think Phil has watched much-to-much Cal football (or Raider football) over the years and subconciously wants to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?

Here's the link to the Blog on Phil's Official Website:

There are pictures of Phil and John, but no video. No transcripts. No mention at all of John's speech to the students at Pasadena Community College. In fact, no identification at all of where these pictures were taken. (To be fair, he doesn't have much information about the pictures with Senator Obama, either.)

The Good Sisters who taught me many years ago used to claim that "silence means assent." Does Phil's silence on John's faux pas mean that Phil actually agrees with what John said?

How far is Pasadena from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA? You know, where at the Defense Language Institute, military personnel and a few other Government-employee types can learn languages that may be useful in protecting National Security. Like French. Or Chinese. Or Arabic. Easy languages like that.

But, surely, John did not mean those fine men and women! He must have meant the grunts on the ground. Or the ones at the guns, like on his Swift Boat.

Well, Phil, why don't you say what you think John meant? Be a pal; help him remove his foot from his mouth. It must be very uncomfortable by now, especially since he seems determined to drive it in deeper...

Monday, October 30, 2006

Light at the End of the Parenting Tunnel?

Last week Hubs, DD#2, and I had conference with DD#2's teacher, who greeted us with a hug and, "It's your last parent-teacher conference!"

Yes, it is. This particular teacher is the only one to have taught all four of our kids. Her oldest daughter was in DD#1's class through high school and part of community college. In fact, I knew her as a mom before I knew her as a teacher.

We've been through a lot together.

DD#2 is having a terrific year. We can all feel it and the evidence is in--except maybe for math. But DD#2 seems to have found her niche. She has her core group of friends to hang with. She seems more relaxed. She's smiling and laughing more. She's being more responsible, even if she did have to stay up until midnight to complete her book of poetry, finishing up the illustrations and binding the book.

And why am I concerned that she didn't pack everything on her list for Caritas Creek this week? Why am I a bit worried that not everything will come home? Because I'm still her mother, she's still my "baby," and she's still a blonde.

There seems to be a pattern in our family: we don't come into our own until high school. It could be that it's tough to find classmates who share our interests in the relatively static population of a Catholic grammar school. It's easy to get stuck, especially when you've been together for eight years.

However, when I was growing up, kids were expected to work out their own social problems and the adults only intervened in cases of blood or where the ostracism was truly blatant. Now it seems like the adults jump in all too quickly.

"She doesn't smile enough. She doesn't play with others during recess."

Well, how often is she supposed to smile? And is she not playing with others because she's excluded or because she doesn't want to? I tried to explain that, in a large family, finding time to be with your own thoughts is difficult and sometimes you just want to be alone.

The adults at school weren't buying it. And so part of my job became protecting my children's right to be unpopular, to have a few friends rather than a lot, to let them develop at their own pace, in their own way.

The kid who got in trouble for being a smart-aleck then is now considered witty. The tomboy is now wearing make-up and jewelry--jewelry that she's made. The class goat now makes friends easily and flows easily between jocks, Scouts, nerds, and "normal" kids. The kid who listened to discussions in the car about infinity and imaginary numbers is good in math.

So, with the grace of God, they will turn out okay after all.

Although DS#2 is going to school tomorrow dressed as a Girl Scout for Hallowe'en...

Book Review: The Thirteenth Tale

From the back cover of the book:

My gripe is not with lovers of the truth but with truth herself. What succor, what consolation is there in truth, compared to a story? What good is truth, at midnight, in the dark, when the wind is raoring like a bear in the chimney? What you need are the plump comforts of a story. The soothing, rocking safety of a lie. --Vida Winter

I bought this book because the review in the Borders ad was enticing and the discount with the coupon brought the price of the book down to a reasonable level. The Thirteenth Tale is a mystery story. A detective story. A ghost story. A love story. A story about the special relationship between reader and author. The perfect Hallowe'en book for those of us who appreciate a well-written sentence, who have read Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Turn of the Screw, and, perhaps, a touch of Rebecca.

Margaret Lea grew up in an antiquarian bookstore, amidst a treasure trove of books: timeless classics, specialized histories and mathematics. As Margaret notes, "The shop itself makes next to no money. It is a place to write and recieve letters. A place oto while away the hours waiting for the next international bookfair. In the opinion of our bank manager, it is an indulgence, one that my father's success entitles him to. Yet in reality--my father's reality and min; I don't pretend reality is the same for everyone--the shop is the very heart of the affair. It is a repository of books, a place of safety for all the volumes, once so lovingly written, that at present no one seems to want.

"And it is a place to read."

In the bookstore, Margaret found her vocation: writing biographies of the "also-rans" in literary history. She enjoys finding the diaries and memoirs of those who were almost famous in their lifetimes and have since become unknown.

Then she receives a letter from Vida Winters. Vida is contemporary writer, still alive, though gravely ill. She has chosen Margaret because the time has come to tell the truth about her life. That night Margaret takes a copy of Miss Winters first book: Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation. Despite her best intentions, Margaret is sucked into the stories and discovers there are only twelve stories, not thirteen. Whatever happened to the thirteen tale?

According to Mr. Lea, no one knows. The thirteenth tale was not ready at the time the book was published. No one knows what became of it. Perhaps Margaret can resolve this mystery.

Margaret meets Miss Winter who persuades her to write her biography. Miss Winters conditions are simple: every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. And Margaret must let Miss Winters tell her story her way. No skipping around. No questions.

And there's one more thing:

"Tell me your story," Miss Winters askst.

"I don't have one," she answers. Of course, that is not true. Everyone has a story and slowly Margaret's story is revealed.

Diane Setterfield is a masterful storyteller. And she is a Reader, one of the Tribe for whom books are not merely pieces of paper but a necessary part of life. I found myself nodding in agreement with several descriptions of losing oneself in a book, knowing a book by its feel, writing and having time slip away. I believe this is Ms. Setterfield's first novel and there are few "clunky" passages--for the most part, the novel caught me up and carried me along with it. It has a quiet, deliberative feel: events march at their own pace, there is very little sense of hysterical urgency. It is a very British book--moors and manors and countrysides--and there is also no sense of when this all might be taking place. It could be the early-20th Century, it could be more modern, though there is no mention of the modern gizmos most of us take for granted. (Ms. Lea, for example, writes in long-hand, with pencil and paper.)

The Thirteenth Tale is a good book to use to take a break from the sturm und drang that accompanies this election season. A wonderful escape!

On the March Hare Scale: 4.5 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks