Wednesday, May 24, 2006

More on Immigracion


I have no quarrel with immigrants per se. I do have a problem with illegal immigration, however. I want to make that very clear.

I have, in fact, sponsored one person for legal immigration to the U.S. The forms I had to fill out, pre-9/11, were very clear that this person would be my responsibility should the U.S. decide to admit him/her. My responsibilities included providing food, shelter, clothing, medical services if needed. This person was ineligible for any assistance from the U.S. Government for a minimum of three years. I agreed to do so. This particular person, besides completing paperwork in their home country, also had to present a medical certificate and an affidavit that she/he had not been convicted of any crimes.

Immigrants who chose to come here illegally bypass those requirements. And I am riled when I see those who have chosen not to follow the rules demand special treatment. It's not fair to reward them, effectively penalizing those who did play by the rules. I have worked with many who have waited in long lines, filled out endless forms, who have been separated from spouses, children, parents, family for long months while negotiating the labrynith of the INS office. I have seen a line of people around the block at 8:00 a.m. around the building that houses the INS in San Francisco, standing patiently, forms in hand, trying to do the right thing.

Why isn't the MSM telling their stories?

There is an interesting article about immigration in Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle. The Chron, as it's fondly known around these parts, generally is not perceived as a conservative newspaper. I thought this article was pretty balanced and non-hysterical. Yes, it does blame the U.S. for some of the immigration problem, but this article is one of the few I've read that points out that Mexico is also responsible and that this mass immigration is not necessarily a good thing for their culture and economy, either.

Key paragraphs:

"Roughly 10 percent of Mexico's population of about 107 million is now living in the United States, estimates show. About 15 percent of Mexico's labor force is working in the United States. One in every 7 Mexican workers migrates to the United States.

"Mass migration from Mexico began more than a century ago. It is deeply embedded in the history, culture and economies of both nations. The current wave began with Mexico's economic crisis in 1982, accelerated sharply in the 1990s with the U.S. economic boom, and today has reached record dimensions.

"It is unlikely to ebb anytime soon."

The article continues: "Three-quarters of the estimated 12 million illegal migrants in the United States come from Mexico and Central America. Mexicans make up 56 percent of the unauthorized U.S. migrant population, according to the Pew Hispanic Center...

"Entire rural communities are nearly bereft of working-age men. The town of Tendeparacua, in the Mexican state of Michoacan, had 6,000 residents in 1985, and now has 600, according to news reports. In five Mexican states, the money migrants send home exceeds locally generated income, one study found.

"Last year, Mexico received a record $20 billion in remittances from migrant workers. That is equal to Mexico's 2004 income from oil exports and dwarfing tourism revenue.

"Arriving in small monthly transfers of $100 and $200, remittances have formed a vast river of "migra-dollars" that now exceeds lending by multilateral development agencies and foreign direct investment combined, according to the Inter-American Development Bank."

This migration causes problems, not only in the U.S., but in Mexico as well: "
While migration has long served as a safety valve for Mexico, the current wave may also be hindering the political and economic reforms that most agree are needed -- in education, taxes, energy, agriculture and law, where systemic corruption is a serious barrier to growth.

"The good news is that a million Mexicans were on the street recently demanding good jobs and good government and justice," Roger Noriega, former assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, told a recent panel at the American Enterprise Institute. "The bad news is they were marching in someone else's country. Every day, thousands of Mexico's most industrious people leave their families behind ... leading many to wonder why Mexico's political class is not capable of creating economic opportunity for its citizens in a land rich in mineral wealth, hydrocarbons, agricultural potential and human capital."

And then, there are those who make sensible suggestions: "Given the predominance of Mexicans and Central Americans in illegal immigration to the United States, Papademetriou wonders why the Senate's guest worker program would be open to all comers, if it is intended to provide temporary workers for the U.S. market.

"If 60 percent of our illegal immigration comes from a single country, and another 20 percent comes through that country, logic would say the vast majority of visas should go to the country of origin," he said. "The last thing you would do is create a global temporary worker program, as if somehow we should need Bangladeshis or Russians to pick our fruits and vegetables."

We, the citizens of the United States, are not going to come up with solutions to illegal immigration that are just and humane unless we can openly, freely, and calmly discuss this issue. Without name-calling. Without personal anecdotes. Without protecting sacred cows.

I am not in favor of changing the rule that being born here confers citizenship. I do think the laws currently on our books need to be enforced. The Border Patrol needs to be fully funded and armed with the latest technology. The cost of incarcerating illegal immigrants who are felons should be billed back to their home Governments. Once the felons have done their time, they should be repatriated. Perhaps money wired out of the country should be taxed. There should be a way for employers to check the validity of Social Security numbers and green cards. Employers who chose to hire illegals should be vigorously prosecuted.

Unlike The Anchoress, I am having a difficult time trusting President Bush on this particular issue. I wish he were as firm with Presidente Fox as he was with President Hussein. I wish he'd draw a line in the sand and say, "We're willing to help, but you cannot encourage your people to invade us illegally." A little more backbone, a little less red carpet. A little more American idea that you wait your turn and line-jumping is not allowed. (If President Bush needs an example, he should look at the section titled Park Policies on the website of Six Flags Amusement Parks.)

I'd feel a whole lot better about his other ideas, then.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Advantages of Having A Big Sister

The theme of the "Slumberless Party" was Teens on Broadway. The decorations included silver stars, autograph books, and a red carpet for the arriving celebrities. The girls, who were between the ages of 11 and 14, dressed up in their finest outfits and adoring paparazzi (i.e., parents) took their pictures.

DD#2's dilemma was what to wear that was glamourous, sophisticated, and could be pulled together from pieces already at home. Fortunately, she has an older sister!

DD#1 dressed her sister in long black gloves (Junior Prom), a sleek black dress (Women's Chorale), a sheer white fringed scarf (Senior Prom). She pulled DD#2's hair back into a bun, leaving two long tendrils in front, and stuck a couple of chopsticks (2004 Japan Exchange) into her hair for decoration. She then put lipstick, mascara, and maybe a little bit of eyeshadow (but not much) on DD#2.

DD#2 did wear her own shoes.

When I came home, DD#2 was standing at the top of the stairs, twirling around (the dress has a skirt made for swirling).

"Wow! You look good!" I said. And she did, although she still looked like a young teen playing dress-up. I would have worried if she looked 16 or 18 or 21.

DD#1 spent considerable time fixing up DD#2. Considering the difference in their ages, I'm always glad to see a moment of sharing like this. And I'm glad they have each other, even though they don't always appreciate it.

The dress-up part didn't last very long, on any of the girls. Most of them were in their comfy pj's, dancing, singing, munching, and giggling within an hour. Beauty, they discovered, can be very uncomfortable.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Work--the Break From My Weekend

I hate the month of May. My worlds--work, family, school, Scouts--go nuts trying to cram everything in before the end of the school year, the end of the Scout year, and summer vacations start.

Even the weather is cramming in one last storm!

This weekend was fairly typical of May. A "slumberless" party Friday night with the Girl Scouts. Then the matinee performance of Peter Pan, starring Cathy Rigby, on Saturday afternoon. (It was the only date our Girl Scout Association could get group tickets.) Then a leader's meeting for the GS Berkeley-Sakai Exchange group.

Sunday was a Lifeguarding/First Aid/CPR recertification. Then the Coolbrith Circle Board meeting (one of the few activities that is mine!), followed by the actual meeting for the Berkeley-Sakai Exchange, with the girls.

Tonight is the two-hour finale of 24. I am supposed to be at a meeting for our parish's annual Oktoberfest, but I think I'm going to stay in and fold the laundry that I managed to cram in during the weekend.

Blogging will happen when it will. Meanwhile, I invite you to check out those on my Blogroll who always have something wonderful, profound, witty, silly, or provocative to say!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

When Mother Is Superwoman

On Sunday afternoon, I went to a low-key poetry reading honoring a local poet and friend who passed away last February. Mel was a keen wit and could rhyme almost any word in the English language. I knew she had lived in Japan for a time while her husband, a professor of history at both Stanford and Cal, was doing research while on sabbatical. I didn't know she had been born in Calcutta, spoke fluent French as well as Japanese, taught several different subjects (including English and Philosophy) both at the high school and college levels, sang in different choirs, and acted in community theater.

I knew she had two children--we discussed our experiences of motherhood--and grandchildren she absolutely doted on. I also knew that she nursed her husband through Alzheimer's until nearly the bitter end.

She refused "to go gently into that good night," driving herself to writing workshops and living independently until the end, though her health was rapidly failing. In fact, she entered a poem in the Poets' Dinner Contest in January. You must be present at the dinner--held in April this year--to win. When the winning Third Place poem was announced, someone realized it was Mel's. After a hurried conference at the head table, an exception was made and Mel's poem was awarded the prize.

Mel did not hand out her praise lightly. So when she told me that she particularly enjoyed one of my poems at an open reading or that she thought I should consider publishing a chapbook (which means I had enough decent poetry for a 50 page book), I felt that maybe I wasn't quite the hack I often think I am.

At the poetry memorial, I met Mel's daughter. I confessed to her how often I felt in awe of everything her mother knew and how important her mother's praise was to me. And that I wished I had half Mel's knowledge, wit, and ability.

"Imagine what it's like being her daughter!" her daughter replied.

It must be intimidating to have such a talented mother. Mel often downplayed her abilities. "It's nothing," she'd say. For a daughter, though, it's something. And sometimes too much.

My own mother is a Superwoman herself, though not in writing poetry. Her talent is in keeping her sanity while raising six kids and sending us through Catholic grammar school, Catholic high school, and college without losing her sense of herself or her sanity. She was, at various times, president of the parish Women's Guild, a Girl Scout leader, a Den Mother, the school librarian, the office coordinator for the CCD program, the 8th Grade CCD teacher, room mother. She made time to take a class on the Documents of Vatican II. She took a couple of college courses. She had been a secretary and a bookkeeper before I was born--when she went back to work, she made the transistion from a manual to an electric typewriter and then to a word processor and, finally, to a computer. She's made the transition from wife and mother to grandmother and widow.

I am better educated, better off materially, and have fewer kids to cope with than my mother did, and I feel like the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass, running ever faster just to stay in place. There's no way I can be as competent as my mother is!

And then DD#1 or DD#2 (who hasn't quite knocked me off my pedestal) will say something and I wonder: do they consider me Superwoman? What standards are they setting for themselves based on my example?

Do we ever get out of this cycle?

Reasons Why I'm a "Mean Mommy"

Late for Mother's Day and in no particular order:

  • I had more than one child.
  • I expect them to do chores.
  • I nag them when their chores aren't done and take away privileges.
  • I don't pay them to do chores.
  • They are responsible for their own laundry.
  • Even though their father drives them crazy (and me, too, sometimes), I stay married to him.
  • In fact, their father and I have a healthy intimate relationship and I tell the kids they should be happy about it instead of thinking it's "gross."
  • They don't get everything they want.
  • I buy them clothes from second-hand stores and their shoes on sale.
  • I expect them to call other adults "Mr." or "Mrs." or "Miss" followed by that person's last name.
  • I expect them to say "Please" and "Thank you."
  • I make them greet the host and hostess at a party (usually the parents of their friends) and to thank the host and hostess when they leave.
  • I make them write legible Thank You notes, correctly spelled and punctuated, and following the correct form.
  • I make them go to Mass.
  • I sent them to Catholic grammar school.
  • I made them join Scouts.
  • Hubs and I are actively involved in their lives, especially Scouts.
  • I wouldn't let them quit an activity or a team in the middle of a season. And I made them feel very guilty if they couldn't play due to academic ineligibilty.
  • I read to them.
  • I made them read.
  • I made them join the local library's Summer Reading Program every summer.
  • I took them to museums and science centers, whether they wanted to go or not.
  • We stop at historical markers and read them.
  • I ask them personal questions.
  • I made them share their rooms with their siblings.
  • I don't buy junk food (much).
  • I don't take them to fast food restaurants often.
  • I don't cook a different dinner to each of them. If they have a problem with what I'm serving, they can fix themselves a bowl of cereal. Or pick out what they don't like.
  • For vacation, I make them camp in dirt and sleep in a tent and swim in a lake or a creek.
  • I drag them to historical re-enactments, Pioneer Days, and County Museums.
  • They didn't automatically get their license and a car at 16.
  • They couldn't/can't get a piercing of any sort until they are 18.
  • I made them go to Confirmation class.
  • At family parties, I made them greet each and every aunt, uncle, grandaunt, granduncle, and grandparent in the room. And kiss or hug them. (Kissing cousins is optional.)
  • I play classical music in the morning before they go to school. And in the car on the way to school.
  • If they don't like my music, I put on "Sourdough Slim, the Yodeling Cowboy."
  • I forced my children to listen to Celtic music and classic rock, too.
  • I dragged them to every special event that was free in our community. And to quite a few that weren't--especially Celtic festivals.
  • I talk about why I think abortion is murder.
  • I talk about why I don't support the death penalty.
  • I know everyone in my local community and they all spy on my kids for me. (Not quite true, but true enough!)
  • I have high expectations of them.
  • I expect them always to do their best and give 100% effort.
  • I know they're not perfect and I tell them that.
  • I love them anyway.

Competition Is A Good Thing

I took my Girl Scout troop to a Skills Camporee this past weekend. (Yes, on Mother's Day.) On Saturday, the girls competed against other troops at their age level (Cadette) in different events. Most of the events were timed and judged for speed and accuracy. One event asked them all sorts of questions about Girl Scouting.

This is the first year we've ever gone, so it was a new experience for them. For me, it was reminiscent of events I had participated in with my Senior troop when I was in high school.

I told them that we were going to check it out. Their first priority was to have fun. I would be happy if they got some points and didn't come in last. Sure enough, on Sunday they got Fourth Place in the Girl Scout Facts. You would have thought they came in First!

Walking back to the campsite to pack up, I asked them if they wanted to do this again next year.

"Yes!" was the resounding answer. And they've already started talking about what kind of troop t-shirt they should wear and when they should start practicing the events, now that they have a feel for them. (Four months was kind of the consensus opinion.)

After more years than I can count of having to deal with "New Games," where nobody loses, and hearing about the importance of always having consensus and how everything should nurture the girls' self-esteem, I was rather pleased to see that the egos of these girls are not quite so fragile as some would make them.

They even had a suggestion for improving the Camporee: they should encourage SWAPS, so the girls could meet each other.

Sounds reasonable to me!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Exit Exams

It's not like the State of California has high expectations for its graduating high school seniors. The Exit Exam only demands a "middle school" math level and 10th Grade English. There is no testing on U.S. History or Government. No complicated Geometry. No science of any sort, whatsoever. No computer proficiency. Frankly, the Exit Exam leaves out more than it requires.

And it's not like the students don't have a lot of chances.

DD#1 took the exam as a sophomore and passed on her first try. Her opinion is that DD#2, a lowly 7th Grader, could pass the exam today. (In fact, one of the questions we parents had was if the kids pass the exam, how do we convince them they still need to stay in school?)

DD#1's class, the Class of 2005, was supposed to be the first class to have to pass the test in order to graduate. However, The Powers That Be (mostly the judiciary on behalf of the Teachers Union) decided that there had not been "enough time" to prepare the students adequately for the test, even though the Class of 2004 had taken the test as freshmen to try it out. And the fact that these students have had to take a standardized state test (STAR) every year since second grade.

If you don't pass the test as a sophomore, you can take it again. You can take special classes in summer school--by law, school districts have to offer them. You can take the test twice more as a junior and three times as a senior. You only need to pass the math portion by 55%. English is a little tougher: that standard is 60%.

90% of the Class of 2006 has passed. But that's not good enough in this "must-protect-the-child's-self-esteem-at-all-costs" society.

As Debra Saunders points out in her column in today's San Francisco Chronicle: "At issue is the larger question of whether schools exist to make children learn or to make children feel good. If Freedman decides that undereducated students can graduate because it's not fair to deny them a diploma, Sacramento might as well give up on improving the schools."

I wonder if it would make any difference to the editorial writers to point out that children who can't read don't buy newspapers?

California and Poverty

The headline of the article is shocking: State has No. 3 poverty rate in U.S., study shows

The lede paragraph is a bit calmer: "California's high housing costs and large population of working poor drove the state nearly to the top of a new poverty ranking, a study released today shows."

Well, that's true. Housing costs are high out here, especially in the urban centers: San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, San Diego. Cheaper housing is out in the rural areas, dependent upon agriculture, tourism (think the Sierra), logging, and mining.

But wait: "Less-educated workers make less money in California than in other parts of the country and a larger number of low-education, low-wage workers live here, including many who are foreign-born."

Oh, my! Would that, could that include those who are here illegally?

You have to read to the middle of the article for this nugget: "For foreign-born Latinos in California, Reed's adjusted poverty rate is 27 percent, but for U.S.-born Latinos the rate is nearly halved, to 14 percent."

So, if you're Latino, the longer your family has lived in the U.S., the less likely you are to be poor. That could have something to do with the ability to read, write, and speak English fluently and increasing levels of education across generations (a trend that happened in my own family, BTW).

I love this statement: "Other studies have put the cost of living in California much higher than Reed's poverty-line adjustment -- up to $80,000 for a family of four in one study."

Wow! That means that when I was a stay-at-home Mom and six of us were living on Hubs salary, we were living below the poverty level! How come we never qualified for any government assistance? We did ask for, and receive, discounts on school tuition and Scout camp fees, which were much appreciated. We "paid" those organizations back by volunteering and working fundraisers and other events.

At the end of the article:

"Reed found one factor cutting into California's poverty rate is an increased number of working single mothers.

"The percentage of such mothers in the work force following changes in welfare policy increased from 69 percent to 80 percent in the late 1990s and early 2000s. That led to a decrease in poverty rates in single-mother families, though the rate is still high, at 41 percent."

In other words, if you're a mother, being married is a key to being above the poverty line. What a novel concept! I wonder if the Church knows about it? Quick, call the Dems--maybe they can use this as the foundation to rebuilding their party base! Encourage men and women to marry before they have children and cure poverty! What a concept!

As for California, if we increase the number of U.S. born Latinos and somehow decrease the number of foreign-born Latinos (by, I don't know, enforcing the border), the poverty level of Latinos overall will decline. One thing the boom should have taught us is that when labor is scarce, labor rates (salary and wages) go up. Programmers just out of college received ridiculous amounts of money for their unproven skills. Why wouldn't the same thing happen with the lower end, if the source dried up?

I know, I know. I'm making too much sense here...

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Feast Day of Blessed Damien of Moloka'i

Today is the Feast Day of Blessed Damien of Moloka'i. He has special significance for my parents: when his bones were disinterred and transferred to Belgium, the coffin and its escort, who I believe was the Belgian Counsel or his representative, made a stop in San Francisco (no direct flights from Hawai'i to Europe in those days). The stop and Father Damien's story of selfless tending of the lepers on Moloka'i were big news and touched the hearts of my parents, both high school students at the time.

My father attended the Memorial Mass honoring Father Damien at St. Mary's Cathedral, along with his classmates at Sacred Heart High School.

Several years, and one World War, later, my parents met, married and had children. They also discovered they both were deeply moved by Father Damien's life. So Bro#2 was given Damien as a middle name.

Then, of course, came the novel and the movie "The Omen" and the name Damien came to mean something else all together.

I wanted to give DS#2 Damien as a middle name as well. Unfortunately, Hubs couldn't get past "The Omen," so DS#2's middle name is my maiden name instead. Ah well, there is always Confirmation.

One book that my parents read, and recommended to me when I became interested in Father Damien, is Damien, the Leper by John Farrow (Mia Farrow's father). Although the book was first published in 1954, it's still considered a classic. The fact that Mr. Farrow took a sabbatical from his filmmaking and directing career speaks volumes about the impact Father Damien's life had on people outside of the leper colony and Hawai'i. Mr. Farrow follows Joseph De Veuster from birth through boyhood to the priesthood where Joseph took the name "Damien" after St. Damian, an early Christian doctor. The selection was prescient.

Father Damien was assigned to the leper colony on Moloka'i and was to remain there only a short while. When the time came for him to be reassigned, he begged to stay with his flock. His superiors relented and Father Damien remained on Moloka'i for the rest of his life, contracting leprosy because he refused to remain aloof physically from his parishioners.

For most of his mission, Father Damien was alone. Eventually he was joined by another Father and by an order of Sisters (I can't remember which ones) to aid him, especially when his health began to fail. Interestingly, none of his associates contracted leprosy.

And now he is "Blessed" and has his own feast day. Another modern saint whose life is worthy of examination and emulation.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Warming the Cockles of My Heart

After watching the academic standards of our local public high school slip steadily downhill, and realizing that $10K/per year for the local Catholic high school just wasn't within our budget, Hubs and I applied for an interdistrict transfer for DS#2 because, sad to say, even the best high school in our district is only somewhat better than our local school. If I'm going to be inconvenienced, it had better be worth my while!

The trick is to find a class offered in the new district that is not offered in ours. We considered Latin, but DS#2 is already through one year of high school Spanish and is doing very well. Considering the problems he has with language in general, we want to encourage his success. The answer, provided by the friends who guided us in the process, was a class called "Oral Interpretation." Offered under the Drama Department, Oral Interpretation involves public speaking, but also listening to and learning from how other people present information and arguments. Since DS#2 is a "mush-mouth" (I'm always after him to slow down and enunciate), practicing public speaking is not a bad idea. And analyzing speeches by actors, politicians, newscasters, and others isn't a bad skill to have either.

DS#2's application was accepted and we saw the counselor at his new high school last Friday to choose his classes for the coming year. They're pretty standard sophomore classes: English 2, Spanish 2, PE 2, Chemistry, Geometry, and Oral Interpretation. I thought about asking if he could repeat World History since his current class is pretty much a waste of time, but I didn't. He has to maintain a "B" average to stay in the school, which means he can't have the "sophomore slump" DS#1 and DD#1 had at our local public high school when they realized they just didn't have to work hard to get passing grades.

The counselor warned DS#2 about the teacher for Oral Interpretation. She's very strict, very exacting, expects her students to do things her way, and they must go to every competition during the year, no matter what else is planned for the event. The counselor said, "If there's a competition the same day as your sister's wedding, you go to the competition." Fortunately, the English teacher DS#2 has now (I requested he be moved to Advanced Freshman English because he was getting an "A" without working too hard) is much the same way.

But what really warmed the cockles of my heart was one of the counselor's final statements: "It's cool to be smart in this school. Football players take drama and AP classes. It's cool to behave well, too." That's why we're here. This attitude is what the Administration, the teachers, and the parents expect from the students, so the students expect it themselves. It's the attitude that has slowly disappeared, drop by drop, student by student, from our local public high school.

Part of me feels guilty for pulling DS#2 out, thereby eliminating another drop. But while Hubs and I can fight the good fight, DS#2 has only one chance at high school. We could keep him at the local high school, expose him to the fights, the foul language, the teachers who are too busy merely trying to keep order to teach, and load him up with enrichment programs and classes at the local community college. Or we can send him to a high-quality school and still fight the good fight politically, for all the kids whose parents can't or won't. We won't be able to hold the Administration accountable with quite the same moral authority, but, on the other hand, we won't have to worry (too much) about retaliation against him. (Although we will have to petition for the interdistrict transfer each year for him and for DD#2 next year when she is in 8th Grade.)

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Movie Review: Emma

Hubs and DS#2 are away this weekend on a Boy Scout Camporee. And that means... Chick Flicks!

The girls have, of course, different ideas about Chick Flicks than me. DD#2 thinks that it means Harry Potter, especially the last two. (Do you think it has anything to do with the fact that the cast is getting older? Nah...) DD#1 will watch period pieces with me, but mostly out of curiosity. She wasn't home when I chose Emma, so she didn't have a vote.

If you've seen Clueless with Alicia Silverstone, you know the plotline for Emma. Beautiful, wealthy, intelligent, and good-hearted, Emma Woodhouse, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, tries to make good marital matches for her friends and acquaintances. She, however, is content to live with her father, a fussbudget of a man who also loves his daughter dearly.

The movie begins at the wedding of Emma's former governess, Mrs. Weston (Greta Scacchi), whose marriage Emma feels she helped arrange. Also at the party is Mr. Knightley, the younger brother of Emma's brother-in-law. Mr. Knightley has known Emma most of her life and, because of his relationship, is considered family.

Emma's particular friend is Miss Harriet Smith, played by Toni Collette (who played the mother of Marcus in About A Boy, opposite Hugh Grant who starred with Emma Thompson in Sense and Sensibility.) Nothing is known about Miss Smith's family, as she was raised under the guardianship of Mrs. Goddard. Emma decides to make Harriet her project. Although Harriet has received a proposal from Mr. Martin, Emma deems the earnest young farmer too low for Harriet and encourages her to set her sights on Mr. Elton, the local vicar.

Mr. Elton misreads Emma's intentions and, instead of proposing to Harriet, proposes to her. Emma, caught completely unaware, refuses him and he huffs off. Fortunately, another man appears and, although he catches the fancy of Emma herself, she soon realizes that he is shallow and vain. However, under the influence of his society, Emma says some terribly cruel things to Miss Bates, a long-time family friend who has fallen on difficult times. (Miss Bates is played by Sophie Thompson and her mother is played by Phyllida Law, her mother in real life. Ms. Thompson is the sister of Emma Thompson--who starred in Sense and Sensibility and who helped write parts of the screen play for Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightly. Ms. Law is, of course, her mother as well.) Mr. Knightley chastises Emma for her bad behavior, saying that he expects more and better from her.

Emma takes his words to heart and tries to make amends. In the meantime, Mr. Elton returns with his new wife and Miss Smith becomes infatuated with Mr. Knightley, who, seeing her snubbed by Mr. Elton at a ball, asks her to dance and pays attention to her the rest of the evening. When Miss Smith confides her feelings for Mr. Knightley to Emma, Emma is surprised to find that she loves Mr. Knightley--and not just as a brother.

But what can she do?

There is, of course, the wonderful wordplay and dialogue I've come to expect from Jane Austen's writing, the absurd characters who don't realize how absurd they are, the intelligent, headstrong female lead who leaps before she looks, the male lead who loves her because of her intelligence and impulsiveness. Though written two hundred years ago, and though the courtship rituals have changed, the dance between men and women hasn't changed much since Miss Austen's day. And there's something romantic about men and women who, while they operate under strict rules of conduct, manage to make their feelings known to each other and who don't rush to bed--or even kiss--at the first opportunity.

The women also seem to have a great deal more independence than we would think. These women go for long walks, together or alone, and are seldom bothered. They are expected to be able to sew, draw, play an instrument, sing, dance (and the dances are complicated set pieces, much like square dances without the calls), and manage a household--including the budget. I think we modern women often misunderstand and underestimate our sisters from that era. They were much more resourceful and accomplished than they are credited.

On the March Hare Scale: 4 out of 5 Golden Tickets.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Walking With Kids

This article reminded me of What Life Was Like when I was growing up. Two car families were actually rare in the late-1950's/early-1960's, so it wasn't unusual to see moms pushing strollers to pick up a few items from the corner store. Later on, as we kids got older, it was almost a rite of passage to be entrusted with a dollar or two to go to the store to pick up bread, milk, and a penny candy or two as a reward.

Of course, a half gallon of milk and a loaf of bread in a paper sack got pretty heavy on the way home!

Obesity is a problem for some members of my family. Eating healthy and increasing physical activity has become almost a Quest for Hubs and me. This year, I've been encouraging DD#2 to walk home from school, a distance of two miles, rather than taking the bus. Hubs fixed the flat on her bike, she plays basketball, and her school has a pretty intense PE program. DS#2 walks to and from high school, about a mile each way. His complaint is that he has PE last period--and it's all uphill to our house!

When I tell people that DD#2 walks home by herself or rides the bus, they are shocked. "Aren't you afraid?" they ask me. Afraid that she might be harassed or hurt or assaulted. Afraid she might be snatched or lost.

But if I don't let her walk home or ride the bus now, in the relative safety of our small suburban town, what is she going to do when she leaves home? She wants to go to Cal and Berkeley is a much rougher city than where we live now.

The article also talks about the lack of "free play" time most kids have now. Where we spent lots of time "hanging out" at the local school field, making up games and the rules, playing "army" in the jungles of our suburban backyards, or even just chewing on sourgrass watching the clouds float by, many of today's kids are overscheduled. They're not just taking dance classes--they're in competition. They don't just kick a ball around, they play soccer. They don't have "pick up" games of baseball, with the older kids teaching the younger ones, they're on teams with uniforms and spend a lot of time on the bench. (And many of them listen to adults yelling loudly and angrily at each other, with an occasional fistfight thrown in.)

Taking a walk, around the block or to the park, allows parents and children to slow down and take a look at the world around them. They can watch the seasons change by looking at the neighbors' yards. They can see the clouds and the shadows cast. In our neighborhood, you can look at turkey vultures, hawks, squirrels, redwinged blackbirds, butterflies, and bumblebees. We've even surprised some wild rabbits living in the brush of the local park.

With the rainy season behind us (I hope!), the end of school and homework, and the longer daylight of summer, I'm hoping to get in more after-dinner walks. The dog could use some walking, too!

An Early Mother's Day Message

My mother (80 years young!) sent me this. Now I know that attitudes about housekeeping are genetic!


I don't wax floors because ...

I am terrified a guest

will slip and get hurt

then I'll feel terrible

( plus they may sue me.)

I don't disturb cobwebs because ...

I want every creature

to have a home of their own.

I don't pull weeds

in the garden because ..

I don't want to get

in God's way,

HE is an excellent designer!

I don't do gourmet meals
when I entertain because ...

I don't want my guests

to stress out over what

to make when

they invite me

over for dinner.

I don't stress much on anything because

"A Type" personalities

die young

and I want to stick around

and become a wrinkled up crusty ol' woman!!!!


a clean house is a sign of

a broken computer!

(It's also a sign that there is nothing in the house to read and it's time to go the library or the bookstore!)

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Book Quiz

You're One Hundred Years of Solitude!

by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Lonely and struggling, you've been around for a very long time.
Conflict has filled most of your life and torn apart nearly everyone you know. Yet there
is something majestic and even epic about your presence in the world. You love life all
the more for having seen its decimation. After all, it takes a village.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Hey, I've heard of this book. I'd like to read it, too--someday. And it beat's Julie D.'s book, too! (Although I have issues with the "It takes a village" quote that I'll have to expound upon someday soon.)

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

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Book Review: Memoirs of a Geisha

I have to admit, I enjoyed reading a historical novel about a subject I know little about. I was able to enjoy this story without nitpicking every little detail. And I found the subject fascinating.

Chiyo is nine years old, living with her parents and older sister in the fishing village of Yoroido. But her mother is dying of cancer and her elderly father is unqualified to take care of his daughters. And he needs money to pay for his wife's medicine and (eventual) burial. The owner of the fish market persuades Chiyo's father to sell the girls--Chiyo, because of her remarkable blue-gray eyes, goes to an okiya or geisha house in Kyoto; the older sister, who is rather plain, is sold into prostitution.

Chiyo doesn't realize how beautiful she is, but the adults around her do, including the head geisha of the okiya, Hatsumomo. Recognizing a potential rival, Hatsumomo does her best to denigrate and belittle Chiyo every chance she gets, including accusing her of stealing an emerald brooch. The value of the brooch is so great that Chiyo will never work off her debt to "Mother," the woman who runs the okiya.

In her despair, Chiyo meets a gentleman referred to as the "Chairman." He treats her kindly--the first kindness she has had since coming to the okiya. And his kindness changes her life, more than she knows until much, much later.

The author, Arthur Golden, has done a great deal of research on geishas and life in Japan during the 1930's, '40's, and early '50's. And his research shows. The Japanese had a much different view of sex and fidelity in marriage. Mr. Golden details the training that young girls received in special schools; the elaborate layers of a kimono, the rigors of maintaining the traditional hairstyles, and the symbolism of it all. He also details the changes the postwar period brought to Japan and to some of the traditions, including that of the geisha.

Of greater interest was the internal growth of Chiyo, who becomes the geisha known as Sayuri. At first, she floats along the currents of her life, buffeted by forces she does not understand and cannot control. As she grows, she begins to see that she does, in fact, have choices, though they are not always optimal.

I found that I became totally engrossed in Sayuri's life--to the point where I would sit in my truck at the BART station to finish a chapter that I hadn't finished on the train! Since Sayuri is telling the tale, the story is rather quiet but intense, rather than action-packed and dramatic.

On the March Hare Scale: 4 out of 5 bookmarks.

Monday, May 01, 2006

A Different Perspective

A couple of weeks ago, I was at lunch with two friends. As often happens we got into a debate, this time on Immigration. I'd love to say that the discussion was calm and rational, but two of us are Irish and the other is Scot. Fortunately, the discussion took place in an long-standing Irish pub, so noise is not a problem as long as you don't break any furniture. We didn't and the debate didn't hurt our friendship or our respect for each other.

During the debate, the waitress--who has a wonderful brogue--was called upon for her opinion. Turns out she initially came to the U.S. illegally, overstaying her tourist visa, and was part of the underground economy about 15-20 years ago. Ireland was economically depressed and there were no jobs for college-educated young Irish adults. She took advantage of amnesty to become legal and is now a citizen.

Her opinion was that since most illegals are here to work, give them a work permit and let them stay.

I asked her how many Irish were here illegally now and she said, "One to two million." We were all surprised. She pointed out that most of them are in the East Coast, in the big cities--Boston, New York, D.C., with a sizable group in Chicago. Here on the West Coast, of course, the vast majority of illegal immigrants are Hispanic. She thinks they should learn English so they can get better jobs and improve their lot.

The other surprising (to us) statement she made was that the U.S. does a much better job with immigration than any other country she can think of or that she knows. Ireland is experiencing an economic boom and for the first time in its history, people want to come and work there.

"The Immigration Office in Dublin has maybe ten people," she pointed out. "And most of their job has been letting people leave, not welcoming people in." There is a significant immigration to Ireland now from Africa and the Irish are overwhelmed. They don't know how to handle these new immigrants. Do they learn Gaelic? Do they learn English? What services do they need and how are they supplied?

Immigrants to America become Americans. That just doesn't happen elsewhere in the world, especially in Europe.

Gave the three of us food for thought, I tell ya...

May Day Mayday!

Today is supposed to be the Immigrant walkout to show us native-borns and citizens what life would be ike without immigrants.

Well, so far, except for an enterprising man selling commemorative T-shirts, it's been pretty quiet. I did see a group of young kids, about high-school age, strolling on the Embarcadero. Weather-wise, it's been the nicest day in a long time and many of us were out enjoying the sun and blue sky.

BART was carrying extra trains from my station, not in support of the rally but because a retaining wall collapsed yesterday and closed two lanes of traffic on I-80. But the trains weren't crowded. Very little construction is going on, so there are no pile drivers or jackhammers.

It's actually kind of quiet, which is really nice.

Meanwhile, as columnist Debra Saunders points out in her column dated April 30, "When I read, "no escuela" (no school) on MAPA flyers, and that the Los Angeles Times reported that in Southern California some 40,000 students may have skipped school to join in past protests, I think of the 18 percent of Latino high school seniors who have not yet passed the state exit exam."

And without passing the Exit Exam, the student will not receive a high school diploma. (Just so everyone is clear, to pass the High School exit exam, a student needs to show s/he can pass Middle School level math and 10th Grade level English.)

I expect my wastebasket will not be emptied tonight. And that's about all that will affect me personally.