Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Oscar Madness

Bless me, Oscar, for I have sinned. It has been a year since my last viewing of the Academy Awards and I have seen none of the nominees...

I'm not as big a movie-goer as Hubs is. But I average one movie a month. Usually it's family fair, PG-13 with an occasional R.

Somehow, despite the presence of George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, I have managed to miss every single one of this year's Best Picture nominations.

I prefer my sermons in Church rather than in the theater, unless they are slyly delivered and with panache. I prefer my history balanced. And I would rather that married couples not cheat on each other, regardless of the sex of the object d' affection.

How could Narnia not get a nod? (HP IV being omitted I can understand--there are three more to go!) What about Cinderella Man? Series of Unfortunate Events? Serenity?

Yeah, right.

Not even March of the Penguins (which I didn't see) is on their. Do you think the Academy thought it was about protesting nuns? Or, maybe, if the movie had been about protesting nuns, it would have been nominated.

And then Hollywood wonders why the General Public doesn't go to movies anymore. (Besides the $10.00 ticket prices--$6.00 for a matinee.)


We Can't Hear You--La La La La!

On SFGate.com, the headline reads "Democrats on Bush: 'There is a Better Way.'"

The lede paragraph begins:
"Democrats, who hope to regain control of the House and Senate this year, are expected to countere President Bush's take on the state of the nation, saying "there is a better way" to govern."

They have their arguments all marshalled. Their rebuttal is ready--and released to the press. And they still have 90 minutes to go before they actually hear the speech!

Why don't they just give the d...ned speech for him? Why waste his time and that of his speechwriters?

There is not even a pretense of courtesy anymore.


RIP, Mrs. King

Mrs. Coretta Scott King has passed away. One more link to the Civil Rights struggle and the turbulent 1960's is gone.

When I was in a senior in high school, in 1970, my English teacher said she felt sorry for us. She had been a student at Reed College in Oregon and had participated in the voter registration drives in the Deep South. "We felt that we really could make a difference," she told us. "We felt that we were doing something Important."

As it has turned out, the Civil Rights Act was the easy part of integration. Changing people's hearts was much more difficult. There was forced busing and riots. "White flight" from the cities to the suburbs. From No Admission to "Affirmative Action," which has gone on a lot longer than I expected. There were riots and entire neighborhoods destroyed.

Mrs. King watched her husband lead his people in protest, buried him, heard him praised, heard his failings, personal and public, exposed. Although I haven't always agreed with her politics, I always admired her dignity and strength.

Rest in Peace, Mrs. King. You have waited a long time to be reunited with your husband, as I hope you are.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Pride & Prejudice--The Video

On the March Hare Scale: 5 out of 5 Golden Tickets (with bonus points for Colin Firth)

There are several versions of Pride & Prejudice on video. This version is the A&E/BBC version, which ran as a miniseries in 1995. It's six hours long. And it's incredibly faithful to the book. If you're interested in my comments on the storyline, read Pride & Prejudice--The Novel.

I borrowed it from our local public library--all six tapes--and DD#1 and I watched all six hours on Saturday. I didn't plan on it, but once started I was hooked. She thought it was okay, even though the tapes were not in the correct box and we started with Tape 2 instead of Tape 1. But, since we watched Tape 1 next, she figured out what was going on.

There is more than just getting all the words right in filming a book, especially a book as well-known and as well-loved as P&P. The entire tone of the film--the settings, the actors, the costumes, the set pieces--have to be just right. The words have to sound like conversations that could actually happen. The emphasises, the silences, the inflections and the intonations have to be precises, especially since this is a "talking" movie rather than an "action" movie.

Colin Firth is a perfect Mr. Darcy. Jennifer Ehle was not quite as I imagined Elizabeth to be, nor was Susannah Harker as Jane. (Jane is reputed to be a great beauty and I thought Miss Harker to be a little plain.) Alison Steadman was a terrific Mrs. Bennet--after watching her, I understood just how foolish a woman she is/was. Benjamin Whitrow also did an excellent job as Mr. Bennet, illustrating how he played his wife and just sort of stood back and watched the chaos.

Much has been made of Colin Firth's wet-shirt scene, especially in Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason and in earlier reviews of this summer's remake of P&P with Keira Knightley. Let's just say I prefered the bath scene earlier in the movie, although, looking back, the wet-shirt scene had some terrific non-verbal acting by Mr. Firth.

My one caveat is the adaptation is so faithful to the book that I'm afraid that if you watched it, you would feel like you've read the book, so what's the point? On the other hand, it does give you an idea of what life in the early-19th Century looked like.

DS#2 came home from a Boy Scout snow camping trip on Sunday and asked me why I had checked out six tapes of the same movie. He was incredulous that anyone would make a six-hour movie and that anyone would sit through it! (He's never been through Star Wars marathons, either...)

Pride & Prejudice--The Novel

On the March Hare Scale: 5 out of 5

I read Pride & Prejudice in high school--so that makes it at least 35 years ago. I remember Elizabeth and Darcy and her intense dislike of him upon their first meeting. And the fact that her mother was desperate to have her daughters married.

What I had forgotten were the details. And how important are the details in this book! This is, much like Harry Potter: a book rich in language, meant to be savored. The dialog zips back and forth. Social barbs are skillfully hidden inside seemingly innocuous statements. Actions and thoughts have consequences--not just for the character involved, but for the family, the village, the county!

P&P is also a love story, or, more accurately, four couple stories. There are the main couple, Darcy and Elizabeth. There is Jane and Bingley. There is Lydia and her amour. And there is Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. Each couple is unique in their love, in how that love developed, in how their love is expressed, and whether Miss Austen thinks their love is lasting.

Darcy finds himself falling in love against his will. Elizabeth, who prides herself on being sensible, discovers that she has been prejudiced--for good and for ill--based on appearances. Jane believes the best of everyone and cannot imagine that others would conspire against her. She is also naturally quiet and reticent, which causes problems. Bingley values the opinions of others over what he feels and thinks. Lydia is impulsive and uncontrolled, spoiled by her parents. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet have been married long and the infatuation which brought them together has not withstood the test of time.

As I read this novel, I began to see why the story is still popular: its lessons still have relevance today. In 1817, when P&P was published, men needed women to help "civilize" them, to remind them of their duties to society and to the family. I find that's still my job today--insisting on "thank you" notes, greeting the older adults at family parties, reminding them to say "good-bye" and "thank you" to the host and hostess when leaving. My daughters may not need a man to provide for them, but I do want them to marry a man who will respect them and cherish them and one whom they will cherish and respect as well.

I also hope that they see that even though Hubs and I drive each other crazy at times, we love each other!

Family loyalty is another theme in P&P. But it is not a "blind" loyalty. There are times when one must have the courage of one's convictions and speak out, even if that means being unconventional. For Elizabeth Bennet, truth is more important than consistency. She is not afraid to speak it, even if it means risking loss or that she must change her mind. Lydia, on the other hand, shows what can happen if all impulses are followed, with no thoughts of consequences.

Now for some editorializing...

The copy I borrowed from the public library had a long, scholarly preface and a Notes on the Text. I decided that I wanted to read the book first, then go back to the references. (This is very unlike me--I'm generally a first-page-to-last-page reader.) The Preface, besides being pendantic, gave away some important plot points. P&P is, first and foremost, a novel. It is an enjoyable read. DD#1's biggest complaint about her High School English classes was that the teachers didn't let them read the novel before pulling it apart and analyzing it. Consequently, she did not enjoy them as much as she might have. That's a valid criticism.

So read P&P without commentary or footnotes. (Although this website has lots of interesting commentary about the background of the book, originally titled First Impressions, and English society of the time. Letters play an important part of the book and this website had interesting information about letter-writing customs of the time.) Enjoy it first.

There seems to be a general consensus that the vocabulary of the Average American, and especially of the Average American Teenager, is shrinking. The fact that teachers pander to the lowest-common-denominator and do not assign works of exceptional authors as reading material is, undoubtedly, a significant reason. I am so tired of the excuse I hear at Back-to-School Night: "But the kids won't read it if they don't think it's relevant!"

Sorry. I don't buy it. You are the teacher. You are the Adult-in-Charge. You decide, out of all the options you have, what your students are going to read. Assign them something challenging! As part of their assignment, have them find the current relevance in a 200-y.o. book about--gasp--male and female relationships! (Elizabeth Bennett is 20; Lydia is 15.) Have them write about it. You hold the power of the Grade!

If all they read is pap written at a 7th Grade level, how will they know they can actually handle something more difficult?

(Please note: this is for the average high school student, reading at or very close to grade level. There are students who, for various reasons, would not be able to read P&P without significant help.)

Okay, I'll step down from my soapbox now...

One Way to Get a Republican Senator From CA

That was the first thing I thought of when I saw this article on Michelle Malkin's blogsite: I WANT CINDY TO RUN.

Cindy Sheehan is considering running against Dianne Feinstein for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. I wish it was Barbara Boxer--Lady Di is almost a moderate and a rational human being compared to Babs. With Cindy and Babs, we would have been treated to see who could shift furthest to the Left without ending up in the Pacific Ocean.

However, Cindy is also going to set up her tent in Crawford during Holy Week, which is only a couple of weeks before the primary. How is that going to work? Is she going to campaign remotely? Is she just going to have the tent there as a visual reminder while she campaigns in California?

How down and dirty will Lady Di get to protect her Seat and her Station? Will she dig up some of Mrs. Sheehan's more outrageous quotes--e.g., the one from the speech at San Francisco State? How much money are Lady Di and her consort willing to spend?

And how will Mrs. Sheehan campaign in the North Counties of the State? The Central Valley? Fairfield--home to Travis AFB? And, coincidentally, close to her home base of Vacaville. Who will be standing by her on the stages and platforms?

Alas, it sounds like Mrs. Sheehan isn't serious about her campaign, for it rests on her one note, and one note only: the U.S. must leave Iraq NOW. Forget about jobs or logging virgin forests or illegal immigration or water rights, all of which affect California profoundly. Mrs. Sheehan's campaign will assist Lady Di--if she doesn't lose her head--in looking more and more like a rational, moderate choice that the rest of the State can support.

Now, if Lady Di gets some very bad advice and decides she has to move Left of Cindy, well, then, all bets are off. If the Republicans can find a candidate who is moderately articulate and can have a rational platform (for California), then maybe s/he could win it. But I haven't seen anyone stepping forward.

This could turn out to be quite an entertaining Senate race!

Friday, January 27, 2006

Happy 250th Birthday, Amadeus!

Today is the birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He was the musical genius, recognized by others, who changed the texture and sounds of Classical music forever. A complex man, to match his complex music.

His impact has endured for all these years. Kanye West should think--seriously--about what his musical legacy will be in 250 years before he embarasses himself with comparisons to other historical figures again.

(image of Mozart courtesy of Wikipedia)

Thank You, Vandals

from this week's Catholic Voice:

"Pro-life advertisements in BART stations and cars are drawing attention – positive and negative –as some outraged viewers have defaced the ads and others have responded with interest and support.

Some supporters learned of the ads through media coverage, which began with an article about the vandalism in the San Francisco Chronicle. Other newspapers, TV and radio reports followed, mostly in the Bay Area but also in other regions of the country.

This coverage has generated interest in a pro-life website run by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, according to Mary Jaminet of the bishops’ respect life office in Washington, D.C., who noticed an increase in feedback after the news reports appeared."

So, by attacking these ads, the vandals have shown themselves to be:
1.) Intolerant of freedom of speech and differences of opinion
2.) Childish
3.) Ignorant (Some of the ads have been defaced by graffit saying "LIES." Uh, no. Everything the ad says is true. The only editorial comment is the question: Have we gone too far?")
4.) Naive if they think that defacing the ads will make the ads disappear. Maybe temporarily, but now the local MSM is carrying the story and people are looking for them.

As I said in a previous post, I didn't realize my Diocese sponsored the ads when I first saw them. I was surprised at their boldness in questioning the issue of abortion in public and on mass transit. I am quite pleased that they chose to do this and that it does not use graphic images to convey their message.

Apparently they are too effective for some pro-choicers...

U.S. Bishops Advice on Iraq--Out of Step With Reality?

from this week's Catholic Voice:

WASHINGTON -- America'’s Catholic bishops have called for U.S. troops to leave Iraq '“sooner rather than later,”' and expressed concern that the war has drained funds from '“pressing needs' at home and abroad.

Bishop Thomas Wenski, writing for the bishops' international policy committee, called for an 'honest assessment'” of the Iraqi situation that avoids simplistic answers or partisan finger-pointing.

"Our nation cannot afford a shrill and shallow debate that distorts reality and reduces the options to `cut and run'’ versus `stay the course,'" said Bishop Wenski, who heads the Diocese of Orlando, Fla.

The bishop'’s eight-page statement, issued Jan. 12, said the Church ' historically an influential voice on matters of war and peace' wants to help guide the nation in a 'forthright' discussion that will lead to a '“responsible transition'” in Iraq.


The bishop warned against 'over-simplifying the challenges we face,' both in securing the peace and stabilizing Iraq'’s political future in '“the painstaking, but necessary, path to peace after war and violence.'

Those challenges include investigating and ending allegations of torture, securing rights for religious minorities in Iraq, loosening restrictions on Iraqi refugees, promoting economic reconstruction to help create reasonable levels of employment and economic opportunity, supporting the development of political structure to advance stability, political participation, and respect for religious freedom and basic human rights, while continuing to address problems --particularly poverty -- at home in the U.S., Bishop Wenski said."

Much as I admire many of the bishops, I have a couple of questions for them.

1.) What do they mean by "honest assessment"? What if the truly "honest assessment" means that their preconceptions about what is going on in Iraq is wrong?

2.) Do they believe Osama bin Laden and other Muslim leaders (Iran and Hamas come to mind) when these leaders say their goal is to kill the infidels and establish a global Islamic caliphate? If not, why not?

3.) Why do the Bishops think the war is distracting the U.S. from addressing poverty in this nation?
a.) Do they think that personal responsibility has any bearing on a person's poverty level? I am speaking here mostly of choosing to have children out of wedlock or choosing not to go to school or to study. I understand that drug and alcohol addictions are diseases, yet isn't there a modicum of personal responsibility on the part of the addict to find treatment?
b.) What is their definition of "poverty"? Those who are often considered "poor" in the U.S. would be rich by Third World (or even a previous generation's) standards. Without a defiinition, how will we know when poverty has ended? (When there is a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage?)

4.) When the Bishops refer to 'stay the course' what do they think that means?

5.) What do they think a 'responsible transition' in Iraq means? Why, after three successful elections and an increasing number of Iraqi police and security forces taking over day-to-day operations, do they think the current U.S. Administration is not currently following that policy?

6.) Have they not heard of the reconstruction that is going on in Iraq by native Iraqis, the U.S. military, and U.S. commercial interests? That the lights are back on and the water is safer to drink now than it was during Saddam Hussein's reign?

7.) Do they read blogs as well as the MSM? Have they read any of the military and Iraqi blogs? Many of the points they are making have been answered there.

8.) If the new Iraqi government says they do not want the U.S. military to stay forever, but that they do not want us to leave quite yet, shouldn't we believe them? Shouldn't we let the duly elected Iraqi goverment decide the timetable for our withdrawal? Why not?

I agree that the nation cannot afford a "shrill and shallow debate" on Iraq. But, actually, the Iraqis themselves should now be doing most of the debating. And we should be listening most carefully to them, rather than what we--liberal or conservative, hawk or dove--think they want.

I'm Ba-aack!

Workplace priorities + Blogger down + family committment = light blogging.

Sorry about that!

Monday, January 23, 2006

Who Cares About the Smart Kids?

Hubs and I went to a crab feed over the weekend with some friends of ours.

(DD#2: "Where are you going?"

Me: "On a date with your dad."

DD#2: "You still go on dates?")

The discussion turned to our local public school district. One couple had transferred their daughter to a neighboring district. We are considering doing the same with DS#2. I asked the dad what made him decide to transfer his daughter, since his son is currently in the district.

"When I was told by several members of the Board and the Administration that their focus was on those kids who didn't pass the high school exit exam. If you have a smart kid, like yours and mine are, they're not a priority. They're not concerned about the smart kids."

I wasn't surprised to hear that. In fact, I had suspected it, based on the experience DD#1 had the last couple of years. The quality of teachers and the curriculum in the College Prep and Advanced Placement courses has declined quite precipitously over the last three years.

I have a suggestion: if a student can't keep up in a college prep or Advanced Placement class, maybe s/he doesn't belong there.

Our high school has different levels of sports teams: Freshman, JV, Varsity. Everyone seems to recognize that not all players on the basketball team have the same skill set. Not everyone makes the Varsity, even after playing for four years; not all players get equal playing time.

Why is that acceptable in sports but not in academics?

I also believe that there is a certain minimum level of knowledge every high school graduate should have. They should be able to read and write a coherent, logical sentence. They should be able to do basic math and simple Euclidean geometry. But don't hold back those who can in order to catch up those who can't!

Yet that is what our school district wants to do. And they wonder why they are losing families to interdistrict transfers, private schools, and homeschooling.

Sometimes They Surprise Me: P.V

There's two parts to this post.

a.) Last night, DD#1 and I are watching Crossing Jordan. During the commercial break, the ad for the 11:00 p.m. news came on and featured an old politician "coming out of retirement." I couldn't immediately determine who it was, exactly, but then they showed a clip where the OP said, "...there is just so much corruption and deceit in the current Administration..."

"Aha," says I, "he must be a Democrat!"

DD#1 just shrugged.

"He's going to have to fight off Hillary if he wants to be President," I added.

DD#1 snorted. "Hillary will never be President," she said decisively.

I looked over at her, quite surprised. "You're not going to vote for her?"

"I don't think any woman will become President. I don't think they can do the job."

Now, DD#1 is 19. She has come of age in a post-feminist, women-can-do anything world. I worked full-time until she was four and went back to work full-time when she was 13. She has an aunt with a Ph.D. in engineering. She has another aunt who is running her own business. She has been encouraged to explore math and science as well as literature and theater. DD#1 doesn't see anything wrong with gay marriage or abortion. She thinks I am a reactionary.

She does not believe that Hillary Clinton--that any woman--can be President of the United States. Not that they can't be elected, but they cannot do the job.

"You have to be mean," she explained. "I don't think women can be mean enough."

Margaret Thatcher is not on her radar, nor is Ronald Reagan--she's too young to remember them. Queen Elizabeth II is merely a figurehead; Queen Elizabeth I is ancient history.

Somehow, after all the empowering speeches she has heard, after coming from a family with a tradition of strong females, she doesn't think women are suited for the Presidency.

I wonder how many of her friends feel the same way? I wonder if NOW knows?

b.) DS#2 was home today because of a school holiday. Everyone else was at school or at work. He IM'ed me at lunch time.

"I know why only children are so lonely."

He had complete command of the computer, the Internet, and the television. He had no one to talk to, no one to fight with, no one to boss him around. He was lonely, for maybe the first time in his life. The house was too quiet. The dog and the older cat like to sleep; the kitten is either crazy or sleeping herself.

DS#2 often complains that the Kid Next Door comes over whenever he's at his father's house and stays for hours. "He wants me to go everywhere with him, Mom!" DS#2 complained. "Sometimes I just want to hang out at home."

I would give my standard Empathy Speech. "He's surrounded by adults all the time. He doesn't have any siblings. You have to understand where he's coming from." Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Now DS#2 has had a taste of what it must be like. And as much as his siblings get on his nerves, there is always someone to watch TV or a movie or play a game with. Having to share isn't quite so bad as the alternative.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

This Week's Issue

I sent an old friend of mine a link to a site that details the versatility of a common impolite word--the infamous "F" word. The site made me laugh out loud, so I had to share it with a few of my friends who would enjoy it. (Neal Boortz linked to this site on yesterday's Reading List, if you'd like to check it out.)

My friend who e-mailed me back enjoyed it, but had to comment about that we might get into trouble if "Busch" caught us reading the site.

I shook my head. At least he didn't refer to Bush as "Bushitler."

I tend to have a rather cavalier attitude towards threats that The Government is reading my mail, whether paper or electronic. When I was a sophomore in high school, I wrote to the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C., and the Soviet Delegation to the U.N. in New York asking for information for a school project. They sent me two huge packages, including a defense of their suppression of the Czech uprising that had happened in August (I got the package in late September). My mother looked at the packages and said, "You're on The List now."

My life since then has been very circumspect. My mail is mostly bills. My reading lists from the library are all over the map, especially since my children can't seem to keep track of their library cards. If my grocery store monitors my purchases, it only seems logical that The Government would want to be able to monitor my Web surfing.

But my friend is right. We should be concerned about The Government poking its nose into our business. And we do need people to speak out and remind those of us who are not paranoid that The Government isn't always benign. Illegal things have been done, by many Administrations, across the political stripe.

What the Democrats don't realize, however, is they are rapidly becoming the Party Who Cried Wolf. The Republicans currently have a majority, but it is not overwhelming. If the Dems were savvy, they could exploit that difference, seek compromise, identify and work with those Reps who are ideologically in common. Instead, the Dems vote with the majority, then make excuses that they "didn't know." Or they yell, screech, and pout, embarassing themselves in the media. (And often end up voting with the Republicans anyway.)

If everything is a crisis, then nothing is.

And so, instead of getting up in arms and idignant about an important issue, We the People ignore it. The issue gets lost in the background noise of other Major Issues that Must Be Addressed. Last week it was Global Warming, this week it's Internet records, next week it will be--what? Education? Taxes? Social Security? Iran? Who knows? Certainly not the Democrats. And, to a lesser extent, not the Republicans.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The End of an Era

Just got a call from a friend that tomorrow is her last day at work. They are closing their doors. The President of the company has declared--way too late--that the patient is dead and there is no hope of revival.

I joined the company in 2001, brought back to an industry I thought I had left behind for good in 1990 by a phone call from a former boss: "So, are you ready to come back to work?"

"No, but make me an offer."

He did and I went back to work fulltime. Back to wearing skirted suits, hose, dress shoes, and commuting.

The company was small and served a very specific niche market. I handled Customer Service. It was a perfect way to get back into the swing of things. And, for awhile, life was good. I worked hard, met some great people who have become good friends, and learned quite a bit about how not to run a company.

In a quirk of fate, I was laid off the day before my boss accepted a job with a different company, done in by office politics.

Ah, but God never closes a door without opening a window. However, God's time is not my time, either, and He took His time.

Still, I have a soft spot for the company, for the group of people who worked there, for what the President was able to accomplish for almost 30 years before his own stubbornness and personal blindspots did him in. I still got together with some of my former colleagues for lunch about once a month or so. Now they're scattered across the Bay Area. We mean to keep in touch, but it's difficult when we're working at different places.

Book Review: Bridget Jones's Diary & Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason

Both by Helen Fielding. Both made into movies featuring Renee Zellweger, Hugh Grant, and Colin Firth.

Forget the movies.

First off, a confession: I have lately become obsessed with Colin Firth. Not quite sure why, but I've been on a Firth-a-thon lately. I may have to break down and buy the DVD of his BBC version of Pride & Prejudice.

I have read Bridget Jones's Diary previously and enjoyed reading the inner turmoil and travail of Bridget Jones, a 30-something career woman in London who is trying to find her inner serenity and the perfect mate. Since it had been awhile, I checked it out of the library and read it first. Last night. In one sitting. DD#1 came in and asked, "Don't you have to go to bed?"

I'm glad I did read it first because I had forgotten some of the crazier bits and plot lines. Like Bridget's mother, Pam. I know why Helen Fielding put a disclaimer in her acknowledgements to her mother.

Next up, Edge of Reason. I snuck a peek before getting out of bed and was almost late for work. (I hate when I become obsessed like that!) Read it on BART. Snuck peeks during work. Read during lunch. Snuck more peeks. (It was very slow today.) Will have to re-read juicier bits later.

Turns out I'm not the only one who is obsessed with Colin Firth.

The book is quite different from the movie. For one thing, I suppose it would have been rather schizophrenic to have Colin Firth play himself as a character and play Mark Darcy. And the book Mark Darcy is not quite as much of an arrogant ass as in the movie. The book Mark Darcy is standoffish because he isn't sure of himself. And the book Bridget isn't quite as needy or irritatingly clingy as in the movie. I kind of liked her better. I liked him better, too.

The character of Rebecca is completely different. So different I wonder why. (Note: Ms. Fielding wrote the screenplay for Diary, but not for Edge of Reason. Andrew Davies, who did the screenplay, also did the BBC screenplay for Pride & Prejudice.) Bridget's friends--Tom, Jude, Shazz, and Magda--are much more important in the book.

This is definitely a chic lit type of book. Good when the day is stormy and dreary, there's nothing good on TV and you don't want to go out. Indulge with a box of chocolates. Or a bottle of Chardonnay.

I will admit that, although I enjoy reading about Bridget's life, I have never lived anything remotely like it, even when I was single. The fact that this is set in London just makes this more of a fantasy/fairy tale.

On the March Hare scale: 4 bookmarks out of 5 if you're also obsessed by Colin Firth; 3.5 if you're not. ;)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

I Am One Big Fashion Don't

Manolo of the Shoe Blogs is one of my not-quite-sinful indulgences. He is witty. He finds the most super-fantastical shoes (although out of my price and comfort range). He celebrates women in all our curvaceous glory and encourages individual style--but not tackiness.

He also has a Carnivale of Couture #2 wherein many of his fans listed their "Fashion Don'ts That Make You Crazy."

I was surprised that several commenters hate--absolutely HATE--athletic shoes outside of the gym. Now I know that athletic shoes with business suits are NOT a fashion statement. But how can you hate athletic shoes with jeans????

Maybe it's an age thing. When I was growing up, jeans were "play clothes." And we played hard--crawling through backyard jungles, climbing trees, sliding into home on asphalt or on to our bottoms while roller skating. And we wore "tennis shoes," which were made of canvas and rubber. To me, athletic shoes are merely a more substantial version of tennis shoes. (I wish we had them when I was roller skating. Clamping skates on tennis shoes could hurt! I usually had a pair of old school saddle oxfords that I wore specifically for skating because they had the ridge around the sole that the clamps could grab.)

Of course, I pay $20.00 or less for my jeans. The "distressing" and fading on them comes after months of wear and abuse. Any holes--outside of the ones caused by chemistry classes in college--have likewise appeared naturally. I rarely wear "cute little loafers" with my jeans and I never paired them with heels!

One poster made the point that French women walk all over the cobblestone streets in high heels, so there is no reason for US women to wear athletic shoes with our business suits. If we must "save our shoes" we should get stylish flats to wear.

Obviously, this person has never walked a downtown street after an earthquake, littered with shattered glass. Or stood on a bus for 2.5 hours, then walked two miles from the bus stop to home. Which is what happened to me in 1989. I had my faithful athletic shoes (and socks) under my desk and once the building stopped shaking, I changed my shoes. I should have grabbed a granola bar as well, but I didn't realize how long it would take me to get to my parents' home. Athletic shoes are made for walking and that's what I did that night!

So now I carry a granola bar, a bottle of water, and a flashlight in my briefcase (it's dark when there are absolutely no lights on anywhere!). A pair of athletic shoes are under my desk, ready for my lunch time power walk or the next Quake. And I'll be smiling wisely at those lovely mam'selles who are mincing through the rubble in their stylishly strappy heels.

Unfortunately, The Tiger Has Teeth

I admire (and envy--just a little bit) those who express how I feel more eloquently than I can or do. Today's Townhall column by Suzanne Fields is one of those.

For the last couple of days, I've been trying to write about my cousin and her idea that America must "make nice" to the rest of the world to bring about peace. (That the world should "make nice" to America as well has not occurred to her.) Ms. Fields sums up this particular worldview, and its dangers, beautifully.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Meme of Four

Julie D. over at Happy Catholic tagged me with this...

Four Jobs I've Had in My Life:

  1. Dishwasher in a dorm cafeteria
  2. Companion to an Alzheimer's patient
  3. Marketing & Sales in the steamship industry
  4. Customer Support
Four Movies I Could Watch Over and Over, and Have:
  1. Braveheart
  2. Miracle on 34th Street (original version)
  3. It's a Wonderful Life
  4. The Wizard of Oz
Four Places I Have Lived:
  1. The San Francisco Bay Area. That's it.
Four TV Shows I Love To Watch:
  1. Battlestar Galactica
  2. ER
  3. Crossing Jordan
  4. 24
Four Places I Have Been On Vacation:
  1. Yosemite
  2. Sequoia/Kings Canyon
  3. London, England
  4. Annapolis, MD
Four Websites I Visit Daily:
  1. The Anchoress
  2. Happy Catholic
  3. Michelle Malkin
  4. J.K. Rowling
Four Favorite Foods:
  1. Hot Dogs
  2. Sushi
  3. Artichokes
  4. Bleu cheese
Four Places I Would Rather Be Right Now:
  1. Home
  2. London
  3. Sydney, Australia (it's summer there!)
  4. On a cruise...
Four People I Am Tagging With This Meme:
  1. The View from My Chair
  2. ukok
  3. Minivan Mom
  4. Philothea Rose

Battlestar Galactica Is Back!

Some hiatuses seem longer than others...

The new season of Battlestar Galactica is back. Once again, the writers and producers are tackling the tough issues: what does it mean to be human? When is it acceptable to break the chain of command? When is it necessary to kill another human being?

And then there is the whole question of relationships. Two men love the same woman--only she's really not the same woman. Another man has finally admitted he loves and cares for his woman, while yet another man cannot admit his love to himself or to the woman he cares about.

There is even a blossoming of love between the older male and female lead, born of hard earned mutual respect.

All this against a backdrop of a competing religions: the human one modeled after the Ancient Greeks and the Cylon one, which is monotheistic.

Question of the week:

Adama: Why do the Cylons hate us?

Sharon (Boomer): [Long speech which I've shortened to one line] What makes you think that humans have the right to live?

You just don't get that sort of writing from network TV.

Are You a Heretic?

You scored as Chalcedon compliant. You are Chalcedon compliant. Congratulations, you're not a heretic. You believe that Jesus is truly God and truly man and like us in every respect, apart from sin. Officially approved in 451.

Chalcedon compliant




























Are you a heretic?
created with QuizFarm.com

(H/T: ukok's place)

Monday, January 16, 2006

From Rugs to Nukes

DD#2 has to do a report on Zoroastrianism for Religion class. At one time it was the official religion of Persia and the subject of Richard Strauss' Opus 30: Also sprach Zarathustra, which Stanley Kubrick used in the opening sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I know the Greeks fought the Persians around 500 B.C.

I know the Persians have a tradition of beautiful, handmade rugs, made of rich colors and intricate patterns. Every model of a flying carpet is, in fact, a Persian rug.

I know the Shah of Iran was overthrown by the Ayatollah Khomeni in 1979. Before then, there were a lot of students from Iran (mostly in engineering and computer sciences) in my classes. If you asked their background, they asserted they were Persian, not Iranian. And they spoke Farsi, not Arabic. Although many of them were Muslim, they weren't terribly devout. But then, few of us were, in the early 1970's.

And now Iran looms big and large and menacing on the horizon and I realize I know very little about this country, really.

The threat of Iran was one reason I did not want the U.S. to rush into war with Iraq, for how can we decide one is a threat, yet ignore the other? I see limited options for the U.S. here. I'm reminded of High Noon, where the noble Sheriff faces the bad guys alone while the rest of the townfolk are hiding in the chapel, praying.

Much of the rest of the world is hiding, although the "chapel" is the U.N. building in New York City. (Can we bribe al Quaida to bomb it? Just kidding.) The members of the Security Council seem to be quaking in their boots--but aren't most of them nuclear powers themselves? The U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China? Will the idea of "Mutually Assured Destruction" work with Islamic fanatics who seem to feel it's their way or no way? For all the brinksmanship games the U.S. played vis-a-vis the Soviet Union, the Soviets did not seem to be in a big hurry to have their citizens killed in retaliation for an attack on the U.S.

I don't get the idea that the current president of Iran cares if his people are killed, if his country is nuked.

This scares me. How do you negotiate with a madman? One who has so completely lost his moral compass, that he doesn't care what the end game is?

I wish we had the political will and the expertise to plan and execute a covert operation to blow up the Iranian nuclear facilities. I don't think we do. But I can't see another solution that doesn't involve outright war.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Home Alone--P.III

From today's Contra Costa Times:

San Ramon parents receive jail time for leaving boys alone

During the morning hearing, Calero (note: the father) pleaded no contest to two counts of felony child endangerment and was sentenced to 270 days in jail. De la Vega (the stepmother) entered the same plea to one misdemeanor count of being accessory to a felony. She received a 180-day jail sentence.

According to Calero's signed affidavit, de la Vega spent the night at her mother's home in Hayward on Dec. 29. He left their San Ramon home early on the morning of Dec. 30 while the boys were still sleeping.

Calero admitted to prosecutors that he often left the house before the boys woke up and came home after they had gone to bed, leaving the 10-year-old boy in charge of his brother, Cashman said.

This "continuous conduct" led to what Cashman called "extremely stiff penalties" compared to other child endangerment cases, especially considering the children were not harmed.

Calero's sister, Patsy Black, told the Times last week that her brother believed the boys' maternal grandmother was coming over to stay with his children. The grandmother, Liberata Holden, had said she never agreed to baby-sit.

Outside the courthouse Thursday, de la Vega's mother, Elvie de la Vega, said her daughter, and the rest of the family, believed the boys' grandmother was baby-sitting.

"Had we known they weren't, we could have taken them," she said.

Child welfare workers have placed the boys in Holden's care.

Because Calero and de la Vega may serve their sentences in home detention -- rather than in jail or prison -- the juvenile dependency court judge would have the option of granting the couple custody of the boys, said Pleasant Hill-based family law specialist Barbara Suskind.

"One of the factors the court will consider is whether the children will be safe there," she said. "It depends on the court's determination that the parents won't make the same mistakes."

I think this is fair and reasonable. I also think the parents were incredibly stupid. I mean, how can you leave your kids home alone while they were sleeping and just trust that someone was coming over to watch them?

Here's hoping that dad and stepmom will go to some parenting classes and will be more responsible in the future. And I hope dad apologizes to his boys.

Ads Are Getting Attention

Another example of "Free Speech for Me but not for Thee", courtesy of Code Pink on today's Contra Costa Times website:

Abortion rights supporters are angry with Bay Area Rapid Transit for allowing anti-abortion ads to run in its transit trains and stations.

The ads attack the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision and ask: "Abortion: Have we gone too far?" Many have been ripped down or defaced, and some passengers have called BART to complain.

"I think every woman has noticed them," Suzanne Joi, a member of Code Pink, a social justice and anti-war group, said Thursday. "I couldn't believe BART would allow something like this. Why are they doing this?"

Ads began appearing the day after Christmas. BART officials said 280 of the ads appear in BART's rail cars and 48 larger versions are displayed in stations.

BART officials said the ads are permitted under the First Amendment.

The Respect Life Ministry of the Oakland Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church paid $43,200 for the ads, scheduled for display through the end of January. Supporters are asking for extra display time to compensate for vandalism.

Why is BART allowing this Ms. Joi? Because BART doesn't care where the money comes from. Because, as long as the ad is not pornographic or offensive, BART will run it. It's a Freedom of Speech issue. Not everyone shares your opinion. And guess what? We are free to disagree with you. And we can publish our opinion or run ads asking the questions we feel (or in this case, the Respect Life Committee of the Diocese of Oakland feels) that our society needs to be asking.

This morning there were a couple of "Man on the Street" interviews at one of the BART stations. No one seemed offended. In fact, one man said that the ads were asking good questions.

So the campaign is effective. And, thank you, Ms. Joi for bringing even more publicity. Some who would not have noticed might actually start looking for these ads and reading them. Without your protest, Ms. Joi, they never would have noticed them at all.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Now I Don't Feel So Bad

I zipped over to J.K. Rowling's website this afternoon. She has a new feature: a diary on her "desktop" that she promises to update every couple of days.

On the January 5 entry, she has her "New Year Writing Resolutions."

Her first one is to "muck out" (lovely expression!) her study. I can relate to that, as every flat surface in my home is a horizontal filing cabinet.

Her second is not to lose her notebooks.

Her third is to guard her writing time.

I recognize that one! And I marvel that this woman who has written a series that has become a literary phenonmenon still has to guard her precious writing time. "Do they think the books pop up like mushrooms?" she asks.


I need time, space, and a certain amount of privacy (at the very least, no interruptions!) when I write. Thoughts flit through my brain and if my fingers don't capture them, and quickly, they are gone.

The fact that an extremely successful female writer and mother faces the same challenge reassures me: it isn't just me.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A Different Sort of Ad

Blogging will be light today and tomorrow due to the demands of work. (Y'know, the stuff I actually get paid to do!)

But I did want to point out and link to these cool ads I saw the other day on BART.

They are thought provoking, without being confrontational. They are quiet. They are sponsored by the Diocese of Oakland's Respect Life Committee.

But you'd never know that unless you read the very fine print.

I didn't realize it until I read this article in the current issue of The Catholic Voice, which is the diocesan paper: BART riders see pro-life message

According to the article: Monika Rodman, Respect Life resource specialist, said the aim is “to move hearts and minds toward greater support for our preborn brothers and sisters” and to educate “Catholics and the broader public about the extreme nature of our country’s abortion law.” The ads, which appear in two versions, were developed by the Second Look Project of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and were on display last January in Washington, D.C. buses and Metro cars. Each contains a photo of a young woman and includes facts about present abortion law.

I, for one, am very glad to see the Church speak out about abortion in a very public way. And to bring to the discussion the questions and the facts that many people would rather ignore. I wish this had been done earlier--like during the special election when one of the propositions was about parental notification. But that might have been seen as "politicking" and outside the purview of the Church. (Funny--it's only outside the purview of the Church when it's a position the Libs don't like. When the Church speaks out about just wages or corporate evil, that's perfectly okay.)

Read the article. This campaign has been done in other cities, in other public transit systems. I think it should be adopted nationwide.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Little Miss Perfectionist--Volleyball Edition

The weekend just past was a volleyball weekend. DD#2 had games on both Saturday and Sunday (it's CYO, which means games are scheduled after 1:00 p.m. on Sunday so everyone has a chance to go to Mass. ;) )

Our family isn't particularly athletic, although we do enjoy the outdoors. But running and hitting, kicking, or throwing a ball is just not something we do on a regular basis. So our kids depend a lot on the ability of the coach to teach them the skills they need, 'cause they aren't going to get them from Mom and Dad. And because they are not natural athletes, their learning curve takes a bit longer. Once they have it, though, they will have the skill for life. (So it's important that they learn the correct way as well!)

After watching, oh, a couple of thousand volleyball serves in my life, I am truly impressed by DD#2's coaches. All of her teammates have a smooth, controlled underhand serve. They don't toss the ball into the air; there isn't much wasted motion; most of the serves go over the net cleanly. There isn't one girl who can't serve at least part of the time, including the two girls who have never played before.

And the coaches emphasize teamwork. Last week they concentrated on setting the ball twice before hitting it over the net, rather than just power returns. When the girls seem to be getting flustered and losing their composure, the coaches call a time out and tell the girls to breathe. They remind them to focus. After the games, the head coach finds at least one thing that each girl did well or a skill that improved.

This is much different from DD#1's experience.

This year DD#2 has become a pretty solid volleyball player. All the old skills have come together and she's become more focused during games, more aware of where the ball is in relation to her position on the court. Her serves are pretty consistently to mid-court. She's made several saves and has served the game point several times. And, yet, she doesn't think she's a good player.

I'm not the only one who has noticed the difference. Her coaches have commented. Other parents, both team member parents and parents we know from other teams, have commented. Hubs and I pass the complements along and complement her ourselves. But she compares herself to the two girls who are on a competitive team during the off-season and to other teammates who are naturally athletic. I'm not sure what it will take for her to realize that solid is good. She doesn't even realize that she's getting more playing time than she did last year or that her playing time has increased over the season.

She's playing in a tournament this Sunday (another CYO event). The tournament team will be a combined team, mixing players from both teams (there are 18 girls total, but not all of them will show up). CYO does have rules about the playing time each team member should have during regular season games; however, these rules do not apply to tournaments. It will be interesting to see how much playing time she'll actually get. If she comes close to what the "stars" get, then maybe she'll realize how much she's improved.

My Own Personal Mission Statement

Occasionally, God hits me with a clue-by-four because I HAVEN'T BEEN PAYING ATTENTION!

Okay, most of the time God HAS to hit me with a clue-by-four because I DON'T PAY ATTENTION!

He got it on Sunday.

Fr. P. was the homilist and he spoke about "following your star", much as the Magi did to find Jesus. He pointed out that this is the time of year when we stop and review where we are. The President makes a State of the Union address to Congress. The Governor gives a State of the State address to the Assembly and State Senate. Pastors give a State of the Parish report to the bishop. And part of this is to see how closely your actions have matched your goals or your mission statement.

Sometimes, Fr. P warned us, we see that what we've spent our time, talent, and treasure on has very little relevance to our Mission Statement and we must determine why. Are we off track? Did we lose sight of what we wanted? Is life taking us in a different direction? He used as an example the recent termite report he received for the Church and the Parish Center: $10,000 and $28,000, respectively, to take care of the problems.

"That's ~certainly~ what Fr. G and I were hoping to do when we were ordained," he commented wryly, "deal with termite reports."

The congregation laughed. Most of the adults have been there.

"But, as pastor, it's something I have to deal with. The care of the parish buildings is part of my mission."

I looked over at DD#2, DS#2, and Hubs who were sitting in the pew with me and light dawned: I HAVE HAD THE WRONG MISSION STATEMENT!

For years I have wanted to be a published writer. This means, of course, actually writing something and then pursuing publications. While I have had some very modest success locally, I have felt thwarted because I just don't seem to have the time or energy required. I have been taking care of my family--both as chief domestic goddess (a Roseanne Barr-ism from her early days that I love) and also as an income provider.

Well, maybe that IS my Mission Statement. At least right now.

And, truthfully, directing my time, talent, and treasure that way seems to be paying off. DS#1 is finding his direction in life. DD#1 seems to be returning from wherever she was last year. Although I wish both of them had a deeper faith--or any faith--they go to Mass when I ask them to: Christmas, Easter, family occasions. (I keep praying that they'll see the light. Anyone have a Novena for St. Monica?) DS#2 and DD#2 haven't rebelled against religion--yet. They still enjoy Scouts, they are generally nice to their friends, they do their chores with only moderate nagging, they're beginning to accept more responsibility around the house and for their lives.

I really can't complain. Much. ;)

I am raising the next generation of competent adults, ones who will, I hope, make a positive contribution to society by working hard, being reliable, being faithful husbands and wives and parents. This contribution, by Hubs and I,because I certainly don't do this alone, may be more important in the long run than anything I may write.

After reading Mark Steyn's article on Demography, it surely seems that way!

Friday, January 06, 2006

DD#1, Day 2 Post-Op

We're trying to figure out what DD#1 looks like. Her cheeks, alongside her nose, and her upper lip are swollen. She sort of looks like Curious George. DS#2 is threatening to put her picture up on MySpace, but he hasn't figured out how to download the pictures from our very first digital camera. And I haven't been home to help him.

Okay, I wouldn't. But Parental Revenge Fantasies can be fun!

If she's bruised, they haven't come to the surface. She did eat some soup last night--she was tired of fruit-flavored stuff (juice and yogurt) and wanted something salty.

"I guess popcorn is out, huh?" I asked.

"I think so," she replied.

I know she's not feeling good--that was a very mild retort for her.

Monday I start cranking her appliance to spread her palate. She's really looking forward to that experience (NOT!). I can sympathize: when I was 12, I had the same type of appliance. I didn't need the surgery because I was younger, but in my 7th Grade school picture, there's a huge gap between my two front teeth.

Home Alone--P. II

The couple who left their boys home alone while they went to Vegas for five days have been charged with felony child endangerment. And their bail ($200,000 each) was upheld.


I did have some of the facts wrong earlier, and some details have been revealed which makes this case stranger and stranger.

Grandma is the maternal grandmother. Her daughter died of breast cancer in 2003. One would think that suffering a loss like this together would make the father more sensitive to the needs of his sons. Apparently not.

The dad and stepmother had given each other puppies as Christmas presents. They found sitters for the puppies and not for the boys. According to reports, the oldest boy said his parents explained that the puppies were "too small to be left home alone."

My own personal experience has been that it's usually easier to find someone to watch our kids than our pets. But that's just me.

The parents told the boys not to answer the phone or the door. Grandma became suspicious when she tried to call her son-in-law and got no answer. When the police went to the apartment, no one answered the door. They entered the apartment through an unlocked door on the balcony and found the boys asleep. It was about 11:00 p.m. Saturday night, so the boys were alone about 24 hours.

The parents asked Grandma to watch the kids, but she told them she was too busy. However, she has custody of them now. She lives in the Central Valley, too far for her to drive up and check on the kids herself. (I had wondered why she got the police involved. I thought maybe she was getting back at the boys' father for something that happened previously.) The boys' godmother also lives in the Central Valley and had babysat them in the past, but didn't indicate if she had been asked to watch them on this occasion.

No information if the parents tried any other friends or relatives.

The parents initially refused to answer their cell phone and did not seem to rush back home. They refused to talk with police or press until they had spoken with their lawyers. (They each have their own.)

Besides all the oddness of this case, there's this: the family seems to be Filipino. At least, Grandma is. The Filipinos are about the most family-oriented culture I know. Going to Vegas is not unusual. Not taking the children and/or Grandma is. In fact, it's usually Mom, Dad, kids, Auntie, Uncle, cousins, and grandparents. The kids are given a chunk of change, the older kids are "in charge" of the younger ones, and they play video games while the adults gamble nearby. (And everyone has everyone else's cell phone number.) They eat together, they might see a show together (or ride the roller coaster or whatever), an adult might take the kids swimming or shopping. They don't like their kids "going away" to college, which makes it ~very~ important that they do well enough in school to get into Cal or Davis or Cal State East Bay.

Something is seriously out of joint with this family and, right now, I putting most of the responsibility on the father. They are his kids, first of all, and should have been his first concern. (Don't get me started on the lack of wisdom of bringing two puppies into a household with a special-needs child. Just what everyone needs: more stress!)

And the parents are not youngsters, either. Dad is 39, stepmom is 32.

Sr. Henry was right: commonsense is not very common.

Happy Epiphany!

Or Merry Little Christmas. :)

In honor of the occasion, go visit Epiphany at Minivan Mom and wish her "Happy Namesake Day." She's usually got good stuff to read as well--and a cheese sauce recipe I might have to try.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Thanks for the Prayers

DD#1's oral surgery went really well. She recovered from the anesthetic quickly and had no bad reactions, other than a headache. (Understandable, since surgery was at 1:00 p.m. and she hadn't eaten since midnight!)

They sent us home with a couple of ice packs designed to fit around her jaws, so she looks like the ghost of Jacob Marley. I told her that, too, and she immediately came back with the line, "You will be visited tonight by three ghosts." So her sense of humor is intact. And she felt well enough to eat some yogurt last night.

Her face is puffy, which we were told will last for a couple of days. The bruising hasn't appeared yet, but we did get some great pictures (snicker) that will serve as inspiration for Hallowe'en. We can start cranking her appliance on Monday. Classes start on the 17th and she should be back to her normal self.

Hubs did really well, too. It was a mild and sunny day, so we went to a local restaurant for lunch during the surgery. When we got back, she was in recovery and we got to see her about an hour later.

Thanks to all who offered up a prayer. Surgery is never minor when it's your "baby"!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Home Alone... When?

Sharing the headlines with the coal mine explosion, the state education budget, and the damage caused by the winter storms, is a story about two brothers, 9 and 5, who were left home alone while their father and stepmother took a five-day vacation to Las Vegas.

The boys' situation was discovered Monday night, when police were tipped off by the grandmother, who suspected the boys were left alone. The police found the gas fireplace on and the boys asleep in bed. They had been eating cold cereal and microwave dinners. The family lives in one of the upscale suburbs of the Bay Area.

The parents had told the boys not to answer the door or the telephone. The 5-y.o. is reported to be subject to seizures and mildly autistic. The parents gave them a cell phone number to call "in an emergency." The police, the grandmother, and Child Protection Services all called the number and got no answer. The parents later called CPS.

The parents are due in from Vegas today.

I don't have the whole story here. Last night the grandmother (I don't know whether she's the paternal or maternal grandmother) was interviewed. She reported her side of the discussion she had with the parents, which was, basically, they should spend New Year's with the family. The parents reply, again according to the grandmother, was along the lines of "We work hard. Don't we deserve a vacation?" The news report implied that the father and stepmother had married only recently.

DD#1 pointed out that the parents probably were stressed and needed a break, especially if the youngest son was autistic and had seizures.

This morning, the stepmother reportedly has said that she thought the grandmother was taking care of the kids.

So this kerfluffle is going to take a bit to sort out.

My questions to the parents:

  • If you thought grandma was taking care of the kids, wouldn't you make sure that either the kids were at grandma's or that grandma was at your house before you left?
  • If you have a child who has seizures, would you ever leave him alone with the 9-y.o.?
  • Wouldn't you call to check in with your kids on a regular basis?
  • Isn't it safer to leave your heater on instead of your gas fire?
  • If CPS, the police department, and your MIL call about your kids, wouldn't you call all of them immediately? And wouldn't you be on the next plane out? Even if it was just one of you? (Like the father?)
  • Why did they think the kids would be okay by themselves?
The first time Hubs and I left our children alone for the entire night was about 18 months ago. DD#1 and DD#2 were home alone for about four days while Hubs and sons were at Scout camp and I was in England. DD#1 was 17, almost 18 and DD#2 was 10, almost 11. They had my itinerary, phone numbers of all the local relatives and friends, Hubs cell phone number, and the emergency number at camp. Hubs also called them a couple of times to check up on them, as did various adults who were either coming home from camp early or going up to camp mid-week.

I don't remember leaving DS#1, who is three years older than DD#1, home alone overnight before then. However, our kids have been "latchkey" kids for about five years now. And we haven't hired a babysitter for days or evenings out since DS#1 was 12. (DD#2 was 2 and was on regular food. We also put her in disposable diapers for the evening.)

Because our house is rather small and everyone shares bedrooms (as well as the common areas), time alone is prized. Our kids love to stay home alone for a couple of hours, and, frankly, so do I. :) Fortunately, our neighborhood is rather safe and we have family friends who live and work in town. And there is that ultimate electronic leash, the cell phone, which I must leave on because whenever I happen to turn it off, someone calls and it's always important (NOT) and I hear about it when I get home.

In California, BTW, there is no legal minimum age for a child to be left home alone and for how long. Since most people I know have some kind of sense, I am rather glad the state hasn't taken away all of my ability to make decisions about my children. However, instances like the Vacation in Las Vegas parents certainly make it more likely that someone will scream "We have to do something!" And a politician will certainly agree.

What say the rest of you? Have you handled this issue? And how?

My Prayers are With...

...the community of Tallmansville, WV, and the families of the coal miners killed in the explosion. The first reports indicated that 12 of the 13 were alive; however, that was false: 12 of the 13 were dead. The remaining miner is in critical condition.

West Virginia beat Georgia in the Sugar Bowl earlier in the week and the sportscasters talked a bit about how this event impacted the team. Many of the players were coal-miners sons; some were from Tallmansville itself. The team had an added reason to beat Georgia. But the emotions from a football victory are hollow compared to an event like this.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in Peace. Amen.

Book Review: Something Rotten

This is Book 4 of the "Thursday Next" series, which sees our intrepid heroine (Thursday) returning to her hometown of Swindon, England. With her are her son, Friday, her ever-faithful dodo, Pickwick, Pickwick's son, Alan, and Hamlet. Yes, that one.

Tuesday's husband is still eradicated, so Tuesday moves in with her mum, who has kept Tuesday's bedroom the same since Tuesday was 19. Staying with Mum are Otto von Bismark and Lady Emma Hamilton, the mistress of Lord Nelson.

Don't worry--Hamlet is not rewritten, although Hamlet is amazed to find there are so many interpretations of him. (Side note: Hamlet ultimately likes my personal favorite best. However, I may have to find a copy of the Kenneth Branaugh version--which is 4 hours long--and check that one out as well.)

Tuesday's primary mission is to stop a fictional character from becoming Dictator for Life of England. Along the way, she rescues the President of England from a premature death, witnesses the second coming of Swindon's own 13th Century saint and seer, is the target of an assassin who is the wife of a very good friend, tries to find reliable childcare for Friday (who speaks only in Lorem Ipsum, and has to manage the Swindon Mallets Croquet Team in the SuperHoop championship, the results of which could save the world from Armaggedon. Note: the croquet played is not your grandmother's croquet. The players on the Swindon Mallets wear body armor.

All in under 400 pages. And I haven't even mentioned the Minotaur or the Neanderthals.

Jasper Fforde manages to tie up several loose ends that have been flapping about since Book One: The Eyre Affair. So, while it's not essential that you have read the first three books, I think you'd be a bit lost if you haven't. I read The Eyre Affair about 18 months ago, so some of the details are fuzzy. Fortunately, DD#1 also read it and her memory is fresher than mine.

There is an "Author's Note" at the beginning of Book 3 and Book 4 that directs you to Mr. Fforde's website. There are two sections relating to these books--since they're full of spoilers, you must enter the code word, which you won't know unless you've read them. Mr. Fforde has some "deleted scenes" and talks about how the writing process works for him. There are also some text corrections and some translations of Britishisms to Amerglish for those of us on the left bank of The Pond. (If you've read enough Brit Lit, you'll know most of them. If you were taught how to infer meaning from the sense of the text, you'll figure out the rest. I mean, come on, this isn't Russian!)

Again, this is not a book for everyone. Mr. Fforde is quite surreal, although not as bad as Monty Python. This is the type of book I like to take on vacation: not too quick a read, but not totally empty calories.

Mr. Fforde has another series out, The Nursery Crime Series. The first story is The Big Over Easy, featuring Detective Jack Spratt and Sergeant Mary Mary. They investigate the great fall of one Humpty Dumpty. I haven't read it yet, but it's going on the list--maybe for the long weekend over President's Day.

On the March Hare scale: 4 out 5 bookmarks.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Movie Review: King Kong

On the March Hare scale: 4 Golden Tickets out of 5. We all enjoyed it.

This movie is director Peter Jackson's homage to the 1933 version of King Kong, starring Fay Wray. And the film does have that early-30's feel to it, not only with costumes and sets, but dialogue, too.

Mr. Jackson tried to stick closely with the original script. DD#1, who watched the original version on cable recently, said that Mr. Jackson did a pretty good job.

Word of warning: this film is 3 hours long. No intermission. I do not recommend drinking a large soda just before or during the film.

How good was this film? Hubs sat through the whole thing.

Most of the film takes place (or seems to, anyway) before the humans even get to Skull Island. This part is rather slow, maybe because we know what's coming and what the crew is going to find, and I, for one, couldn't wait to get there.. But there are gems of moments scattered throughout the setup. Adrien Brody, Jack Black, and Naomi Watts are well-cast in their roles as the Playwright, the Movie Producer, and the Girl. The relationship between the Playwright and the Girl develops leisurely. DD#2 thought the Movie Producer was stupid; I thought he was just so single-minded that he couldn't recognize the consequences of his actions.

Mr. Jackson refers to events that were happening in the '30's, actors and actresses (including Fay Wray) and movies from the period, popular literature (Conrad's Heart of Darkness). I also liked the Supporting Cast--their dialogue hinted at a substantial backstory that gave them a history with each other and some depth (as opposed to "Jedi #1" or "Crewman #2").

On the downside: the natives on Skull Island aren't terribly sympathetic and were, in fact, rather cartoonish.

Kong himself is played by Andy Serkis, who played Golem in LOTR. Not only were Mr. Serkis's facial expressions used for the CGI Kong, Mr. Serkis actually played opposite Ms. Watts so that she (and Kong) could react against each other. That makes their scenes so much more convincing than if she were acting to a tennis ball against a green screen. Much trust and love (?) seems to develop between Kong and the Girl. Great scene in Central Park with Kong and the Girl and a frozen pond. Quite lyrical.

On the downside, I caught myself thinking: "Stockholm Syndrome?" I mean, would I be so forgiving of a large gorilla who carried me about like a doll?

And, yes, Virginia, there is a moral to this story. Just the same as in 1933.

See this movie in the theater, on a big screen. This is a movie meant to be enjoyed as a communal experience. It has a PG-13 rating for the violence and the intensity of the action. Frankly, kids much younger than 10 won't be able to sit through three hours, anyway.


It's the time of year when we see a lot of lists: Best of... Worst of... Milestones... One question that is always popular, especially during election years, but even now, is "Are you better off now than you were a year ago?"

I think that's the wrong question.

For one thing, that particular question assumes that life is like an escalator: you're either on the way up, on the way down, or the elevator is stopped and you're stuck. But my life doesn't move like that. Parts of my life may be better--I have a fulltime job I love, the kids are doing relatively well in school this year (for the most part), Hubs and I are still in love with each other. Other parts of my life are rocky: while we have no huge debt other than our mortgage, all of our cars have over 100,000 miles and are falling apart a piece at a time. Although our jobs pay well, we often juggle the "big bills" like car repair, holidays/birthdays, and school expenses for the kids. Even though the two in college attend the local community college, tuition must be paid and books must be bought. And college textbooks are not cheap--especially in math, science, and engineering. (IOW, DS#1's major.) Hubs and I should be saving more for our retirement; instead we're paying off our home.

We still have a home and we still have jobs--we know of people who have lost both. Friends of the family have died; babies have been born. Everyone is still pretty much talking to everyone. My mother just celebrated her 80th birthday and still lives on her own. My uncle, her brother, is 89 and is in secure "assisted living."

Our local public high school has deteriorated rapidly before our eyes, so rapidly I can hardly believe it. No one seems to know quite how to counteract it, especially the Principal. She picks one course of action and then, at the first sign of distress or hardship or opposition, switches to a different one. Hubs and I are now exploring alternatives. Friends are moving to school districts that offer better opportunities or sending their children to private high schools, then taking out loans for college.

I struggle between being the over-involved mom who runs her children's lives and the mom who doesn't pay enough attention, who isn't quite sure who my kids are hanging out with, who is trying to decide whether a change in attitude is a sign of hormones or of drug abuse.

OTOH, my children went willingly to the big family party on Christmas Eve and the smaller family party on Christmas Day. They fight and they tease, but they love each other. Most of the choices they are making seem to be good ones, based on the values Hubs and I have tried to instill, even if I can't always get them to Mass on Sunday. After a few years of drifting, DS#1 seems to be actively working toward an academic goal and he'll probably get there.

I started a blog and I'm writing regularly. However, my writing habits are still not regular. I haven't finished my novel. My poetry is still stuck (mostly) in free verse. I've been published (yippee!), but not for any financial remuneration.

So--am I better off than I was a year ago?

I'm another year older, another year wiser. I have learned much and realize there is much left to learn. My hair is grayer, my skin wrinklier, my reflexes slower. I have used my gifts and wasted them, much as I have used time and wasted it.

I am worried about the future and reassured when I see my brothers and SIL's with their (relatively) new families, when I see my nephews and niece growing up, taking on new tasks or new-to-them tasks, when I see the progress my children have made from diapers and total dependence to a dependence of a different kind.

In the great, slow, turning of the world; in the endless succession of days, weeks, months, years, I put one foot in front of the other, live each day the best that I can, and move from my personal Alpha to our own Omega. If I am doing that, without going mad, without causing too much pain and suffering, making one person's day easier or brighter, coming closer to the Person God intends me to be, then, yes, I am better off than I was a year ago.

The rest of the stuff--the material stuff--isn't really important, is it?

Please Pray For...

...DD#1. She is having palate expansion surgery tomorrow, which will bring her top teeth into proper alignment with her lower teeth. She has an appliance in place that I will have to crank twice a day, about four days after her surgery, that will help move her teeth and jaw into place.

This condition must be genetic, as I had a similar appliance in my mouth, but didn't have to have surgery.

The surgery is considered minor, although she will be under anesthetic, she'll come home the same day. Since she is a redhead (peaches & cream complextion, freckles everywhere, green eyes), the doctor warned her she'll probably swell terribly and possibly bruise. Still, it's surgery and she is my child, my baby, and prayers couldn't hurt! ;)

If all goes as planned she won't miss any classes at the local Community College.

Hubs and I are both taking the day off (I took today off as well) tomorrow. Hubs does not do well waiting--we went for a walk during DD#2's tonsillectomy last year, after giving the receptionist our cell phone numbers. If it's raining, I don't know what I'm going to do with him!

A Blessing for the New Year

The feast of The Solemnity of Mary is celebrated on January 1 in the Catholic Church. It is also a Holy Day of Obligation--which means, we have to go to Church. As I grow in "wisdom and grace" (or try to), I've come to see that starting off the new calendar year by going to Mass and praying for peace, as Mary is the Mother of Peace, is not a bad idea at all.

The readings for this feast day remain the same through the A-B-C cycle, which means the Church thinks the ideas and blessings contained in these readings are very important.

The Old Testament reading is from Numbers 6:22-27:

The Lord said to Moses:
"Speak to Aaron and his sons and tell them:
This is how you shall bless the Israelites.

"Say to them:
The Lord bless you and keep you!
The Lord let His Face shine upon you,
and be gracious to you!
The Lord look upon you kindly
and give you peace!

"So shall they invoke My Name upon the Israelites,
and I will bless them."

The New Testament reading is from Galatians 4:4-7:
"Brothers and sisters:
When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son,
born of a woman, born under the law,
to ransom those under the law,
so that we might receive adoption as sons.
As proof that you are sons,
God sent the Spirit of His son into our hearts,
crying out, 'Abba, Father!'
So you are no longer a slave but a son,
and if a son then also an heir, through God."

The Gospel is from Luke 2:16-21, which repeats the Gospel traditionally read at the Christmas Mass at dawn, with this bit added:

"When eight days were completed for His circumcision,
He was named Jesus, the name given Him by the angel
Before He was conceived in the womb."

Fr. P, our current pastor, tends to give homilies that explore the meanings behind the readings, spending time on more accurate translations of the Greek or Hebrew words used in the earliest translations. He emphasized the following verse: And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. According to Catholic tradition, Mary told the story of Jesus's birth and early years directly to Luke, and they became the foundation of his Gospel. By then, Mary would have had a lot of time to go over all that she had been told and all that had happened during Christ's short life. Fr. P used the analogy of how rocks are polished: ordinary rock is put into a cylinder with some grit and water, then tumbled around for days. The dull outer layer and sharp edges are worn smooth and a beautiful pattern emerges. According to Fr. P, the Greek word used was more active than what the English word "reflect" generally means. Mary didn't just store her memories of Jesus's birth and childhood away, but actively tumbled them around, trying to discern their pattern and beauty.

And here we are, 2000 years later. God is still blessing us, still being gracious and kind to us, still granting us peace. He has adopted us and made us His Sons and Daughters. We are no longer Sons of Adam, not just Daughters of Eve. We are the Children of God and we will inherit His Kingdom.

Like Mary, we need to hear this message and reflect on it, actively tumbling it around in our minds and our hearts, keeping the message polished and bright.

So the Church reminds us, every year. Not a bad way to begin the secular New Year--as sons and daughters of God.