Wednesday, June 28, 2006

When Parents Leave...

Last week Hubs went up to Boy Scout camp with the troop and I went on a business trip (my first one in about 25 years!). Which meant that three of the kids--DS#1, DD#1, and DD#2--were left home.

I did all the good mom things: I left a copy of my itinerary, I left the phone number of the hotel where I was staying, the number of my manager, all the aunts and uncles living in the area, several longtime local friends and neighbors, and medical treatment authorization allowing DS#1 and DD#1 (who are both over 18) to take DD#2 in to the doctor, dentist, and orthodontist just in case.

I didn't specifically cover changing your hair color.

DD#1, who has beautiful auburn hair, a color costs hundreds of dollars to duplicate in a salon, was streaking her hair burgundy and black. DD#2 asked her older sister to tip her hair. So, she did. The results are above.

DD#2 went to a birthday party. All her friends loved her hair. They thought it was so cool. And they were impressed that her mom (me) let her do it. So I guess I'm cool by association.

When I got home, DD#2 couldn't wait to show me. I think it looks kind of pretty and I'm also glad she did this early in the summer rather than, say, right before school starts. The color is supposed to fade in about six weeks. If it doesn't, we can always cut it (DD#2 goes to a Catholic K-8 school and they have a "No fad haircuts/no dyes" rule) without her hair being "too short."

However, if her hair still has some color by the first day of school, I might just let her keep it . She'll be starting 8th Grade, so this is our family's last year in the school. We are not known as being particularly fashionable or fashion-conscious. (I prefer to be a troublemaker in different ways.) The 8th Grade Homeroom teacher is pretty difficult to rattle and she might get a kick out of it--and then tell DD#2 to cut her hair.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Book Review: Northanger Abbey

A couple of months ago, Julie D. over at Happy Catholic posted a list of memorable first lines of books. The first line of Pride & Prejudice was one of them. The first line of Northanger Abbey is a close second: "No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her to be born a heroine."

And, thus, Jane Austen proves herself mistress of the opening sentence.

Northanger Abbey was written when Ms. Austen was in her early 20's, although it was not published until after her death. Even at this early age, however, Ms. Austen's eye for place and character is keen. Chapter Two begins with this description of Catherine:

In addition to what has been already said of Catherine Morland's personal and mental endowments, when about to be launched into all the difficulties and dangers of a six weeks' residence in Bath, it may be stated, for the reader's more certain information, lest the following pages should otherwise fail of giving any idea of what her character is meant to be, that her heart was affectionate; her disposition cheerful and open, without conceit or affectation of any kind--her manners just removed from the awkwardness and shyness of a girl; her person pleasing, and, when in good looks, pretty--and her mind about as ignorant and uninformed as the female mind at seventeen usually is.
Catherine loves to read novels, especially Gothic novels like The Castle of Udolfo (which is a real novel, by the way). Catherine is also naive about the ways of society. Her father is a minister and makes a comfortable living, but there are ten children to care for, including an older brother at Oxford, who also plans on being a minister. Mr. Allen, a wealthy man from the Morland's village, has been ordered to Bath to take the waters for his gout. His wife invites Catherine along to act as her companion and also to introduce her to wider society. Catherine is enthralled by Bath and falls in love with the first gentleman introduced to her at her first ball, Mr. Henry Tilney. He must leave, and in his absence, Catherine meets Isabella Thorpe and her two sisters. Catherine and Isabella become inseparable, but are astonished when Isabella's brother turns up with his good friend from Oxford--Catherine's older brother.

Mr. Tilney returns to Bath with his sister and their father and the games of British society in the early 1800's begin. What fascinates me is how little has changed in the mating dance between young men and young women. The forms have--we are on a first name basis with acquaintances, young men and women usually are not formally introduced. But the manipulations, the misunderstandings, the machinations still go on.

I liked Catherine a lot, in part because she reminded me so much of myself at seventeen. Many of her problems are caused by an overactive imagination and because she hasn't had much experience with manipulative people. Her generous impulses sometimes betray her, as does her belief that other people's motives are as simple and straightforward as her own. She is not a cynic and has not learned how to trust her own instincts.

My one complaint with the book is that the ending seems a bit rushed and too neatly wrapped up, almost as though Ms. Austen was tired of the story and wanted to get on with something else.

The minor characters have their own quirks and foibles and add much to the texture of the story.

Northanger Abbey is not quite as long as Pride & Prejudice and might be a good introduction to Jane Austen, although the only listing for a movie that I found on IMDb is a made for TV movie from 1986. Too bad--this would be a good role for an up-and-coming young actress. Maybe Dakota Fanning?

On the March Hare scale: 4 out of 5 bookmarks

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Book Review: Ya-Yas In Bloom

I wonder if Rebecca Wells is a Louisa May Alcott fan? One of the first Alcott stories I read was Rose in Bloom. (I confess--I have never read the complete version of Little Women.) The titles are just too similar.


Ya-Yas In Bloom is written as a series of vignettes, more like Ms. Wells' first book, Little Altars Everywhere. In fact, after I read Ya-Yas In Bloom, I re-read Little Altars. These two books add a little more background to the story found in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. But I was vaguely disappointed in this one--most of the stories were essentially re-tellings of stories from the earlier books. (I mean, how many times can we hear about how the Ya-Yas met?) It's not until the end, when the Petites Ya-Yas and their children, the Tres Petites, become the focus that I felt the story really began. Unfortunately, that's not until the second half of the book.

Oh, there is the story, told from Sidda's POV, about the family's trip to Houston to hear the Beatles play.

The tone of this book is quite as cruel as Little Altars, but it's also not quite as sympathetic as Divine Secrets. Necie, the most "normal" of the Ya-Yas, has a deep, dark secret; one she has never shared with her Ya-Ya sisters. But the secret is only hinted at, although much is made about how her husband, George, does not fit in.

This book is a quick read and the final chapter, where the Ya-Yas and Tres Petites put on a Christmas pageant is laugh-out-loud funny, but I'm glad I got this out of the library and didn't buy it.

On the March Hare Scale: 2 out of 5 Bookmarks

The Meaning of My Life

The Anchoress has a great quote from St. Catherine of Siena, she who bullied the Pope until he left Avignon and returned to Rome: “If you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire."

She goes on to say, "I think most people have several things they can do well…but only one thing they do exceedingly well, a thing that, when they engage in it, places them outside of time."

I nodded in agreement. The few things that place me "outside of time" are usually creative, especially reading and writing. I'll start a book and when I look up, an hour--or two--have passed. Writing is the same way. I get going and then, BOOM! 60 minutes gone. I've been that way for most of my life, long enough that I know I cannot sit at the computer and "just" check my e-mail or log on to this blog and "just" type a few lines.

Nope. It's full sentences and a three paragraph essay, if you please.

Strangely enough, I hated writing essays in English class as much as anyone, even though, in those pre-SpellCheck days, I didn't have to worry too much about spelling correctly or grammar. (I do have to watch my tendency to use too many commas.) Until I read books on writing, I didn't realize I had "white page" syndrome: I was intimidated by a blank page. Once I got started, I was off to the races, however. And then I learned how to use a PC and I could make several false starts and had unlimited "do-overs." I could relax a little. No more tedious re-typing just to change one sentence in the middle of a paragraph.

So by now I should have written the Great American Novel and changed the face of American literature, right? I haven't. I have many excuses, mostly having to do with the reality of there being only 24 hours in a day and I have a family and a paying job (that I'm also very good at, but that doesn't involve writing). But mostly, I just haven't made time for writing; I haven't made it a priority. And when I don't, I can feel it in my soul.

Lately, I've been feeling that malaise. I have been away from the keyboard too long. There have been other demands on my time, important ones, but they are draining. I am "too tired" sit in front of the screen and think coherently, knowing, subconciously, that sitting and thinking out loud (which is what writing is for me), I would regain my energy. Regain my zest for the gift of life. Enjoy the absurdities that God has put there for me to discover.

Writing is what I have to do.

Next week, I'm going on a business trip and I won't have access to a computer. I'll have to do my writing the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper. (Hey, that's how J.K. Rowling writes Harry Potter!) There is something physically satisfying, something intimate, about writing that way, which I don't get from the keyboard. Most of poetry is written first with paper and pen, then transcribed. I am hoping that by being lifted out from my daily routine, I can shake some of the ennui I've been feeling and find a few nooks and crannies of my soul to explore that otherwise would have been buried in the routine of everyday.

I mean, I am going to be on a plane for five hours each way...

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Movin' On Up

The 8th Grade graduated from our parochial school last Friday. So, as of Monday, the 7th Graders are now, officially, the oldest kids in the school.

DD#2, my baby, and her friends asked if they could eat lunch at the 8th Grade tables yesterday.

"The 8th Grade has tables?" I asked her.


"Does each grade have their own?"

"Uh-huh," she answered and then told me where they were. The tables are all the same color and are not marked in any way. Custom alone has designated them.

"So were you allowed to eat there?" I asked.

"Yes, if we didn't make a mess. And we didn't."

DD#2 is my baby. She is the last of the Warren at the school. When she graduates next June, we will have been there for 16 years.

I'm going to be a basket case...

The Simpsons Personality Test

You Are Marge Simpson

You're a devoted family member who loves unconditionally.

Sometimes, though, you dream about living a wild secret life!

You will be remembered for: your good cooking and evading the police

Your life philosophy: "You should listen to your heart, and not the voices in your head."

I saw this one coming, even though my hair is not a blue bouffant and I don't do housework in a dress with pearls. Okay, I don't do housework unless the Health Dept. is coming, and then I wear a hazmat suit.

(H/T: Minivan Mom)

Monday, June 05, 2006

A True Memorial Day Celebration

Over the Memorial Day weekend, I took my Girl Scout troop to a Civil War reenactment, complete with cannons, canvas tents, and women wearing corsets. The reenactment happens every year and was part of a package put together for Cadette and Senior Girl Scout troops by a friend of mine.

When I first got the information about the weekend, I figured the reenactment would be the "boring" part of the weekend, at least for the girls. I knew Hubs would enjoy it, especially since it involved simulated battles with lots of black powder. And I'm a history buff, so I knew I'd find something interesting. But the girls--sixth and seventh graders--really surprised me.

First of all, we happened upon the tent of Dr. Mary Walker, the second woman to become a surgeon in the United States and the first woman to be a surgeon in the U.S. Army. She had a collection of antique surgical instruments and talked about the state of medicine during the Civil War. The lack of understanding of simple sanitary precautions caused more deaths than battlefield injuries. She also spoke about how the change in bullet shape, from round to pointed, and rifling caused a dramatic change in battlefield injuries. Surgeons had neither the time nor the skill for reconstruction. About all they could do was amputations and they had about 90 seconds to do it before the patient bled to death. She also told us there are about 400 documented cases of women disguising themselves as men and fighting in the army, both Union and Confederate.

In real life, the woman is an administrative assistant. All this knowledge, all her equipment she has picked up on her own. This is her hobby.

The next tent had a mother and daughter who were burned out of their home by the Yankee soldiers. They barely had time to gather grandmother's china and a few carpets. They were on the road, looking for the mother's brother. "We heard he might be down in Atlanta and we were headed there," the mother told me. "But we heard tell that Sherman is headed that way. And we don't want to go where Sherman is. So we're headed to Savannah."

There was a "fashion show," which included the seven layers of undergarments that all ladies always wore. Sidearms were often worn by Southern ladies to defend themselves against renegade soldiers and who were forced to hunt for food.

And they met "Annabelle," whose tent featured a sign that stated "Gentlemen Welcome." That sign took a bit of creative explaining. Later, the girls actually met "Annabelle," who was quite well dressed and who had a Confederate $50 tucked in her bodice.

By this time the girls were primed.

"Can we take our picture with you?" they asked her.

"Of course," she said.

After the picture, one of the girls asked, "What do you do?"

"I'm a lady of the evening," she replied.

"What's that?" asked my youngest Girl Scout.

The LOTE looked at me and asked, "Shall I explain further?"

I shrugged. Then light dawned and I asked, "Are you Annabelle?"

"Indeed I am," she replied. "Have you heard of me?"

"We found your tent," one of the girls answered, while I told my youngest GS, "This is Annabelle whose tent we saw where she entertains gentlemen."

"Oh!" said she said. "You mean she's a prostitute!"

"Uh, yeah," I answered. This was one topic they never covered in leader training.

And--surprise, surprise--there were boys there. Boys the age of my girls. Boys who were more than happy to show off in front of them and explain the parts of a cannon or a rifle, how to aim, show them around camp and explain how it was set up. Boys who, following the custom of the 1860's, tipped their hats to the girls and kept their gloves on.

That didn't keep them from exchanging phone numbers, however!

One the way home the next day, the girls discussed the weekend. They all agreed the re-enactment was their favorite part, better than the Beach-Boardwalk.

"I learned so much!" one of the girls exclaimed.

"I wish we could learn all of history this way," another said. "It's so much more interesting!"

"Can we come back next year?" was the universal chorus.

"You know, the boys might not be there," I said.

"We don't care. We still want to come!"

I may ask them to do some research of their own, however. I am rather surprised, and appalled, frankly, at how much they don't know about the Civil War. One girl didn't know which side won. None of them were too sure about why the war was fought in the first place. They recognized Abraham Lincoln, but had no clue who Jefferson Davis was. They were surprised that many of the officers of the Union and Confederate Armies had been classmates at West Point prior to the war. I filled in some of the gaps as best as I could, but I thought that the subject would have been introduced in fifth grade, when they were first studying states and presidents. How can you talk about Lincoln without introducing the Civil War? How can you understand Martin Luther King, Jr., without knowing about Southern plantations and slavery and the peculiar agriculture economy of the South? I know that eighth graders learn about the U.S. Constitution and some history and that they study U.S. History again as junior in high school (and we used to have to study it once more in college, but I think that requirement has been watered down).

One re-enactor referred to the Civil War as "America's heart attack." The very fact that we are still "The United States" depended on the outcome of this war. Is history becoming too important a subject to leave to the whims and educational fads of the professionals? Perhaps it is...

Book Review: Emma

Emma Woodhouse is a young woman of 21 who, although quite intelligent, has been sheltered and spoiled most of her life. Her mother died when she was young, and her older sister is married and gone. Her father is somewhat neurotic and hypochondriacal who loves his daughters unreservedly and unconditionally and, unfortunately for Emma, does not challenge their intellect or character. Neither did Emma's governess, the recently married Mrs. Weston, who fell under Emma's charm and became more of a friend than a mentor.

Indeed, the only person who holds Emma to a higher standard is the older brother of Emma's brother-in-law, Mr. Knightley. Emma has known him since she was thirteen and values his opinion of her.

Emma means well, but her actions, unfortunately, cause more harm than good. The novel opens with the wedding of Mr. & Mrs. Weston, and Mr. Woodhouse's lamenting of it. Emma is happy for her friend and, furthermore, feels that this wedding would not have happened without her assistance. Flush with her apparent success and flair for matchmaking, Emma befriends of young woman of doubtful parentage and decides to introduce her into proper society.

But her matchmaking plans for Harriet go awry, not once, but three times.

Emma, like all of Austen's novels, takes place within the rigid social strictures of England of the early 1800's. Emma's father is a gentleman, as is Mr. Knightley, but the estate, Hartfield, is truly part of the village of Highbury. The residents of Highbury have watched Emma grow up and feel that she is as much a part of them as she feels they are of her. Social status is not solely dependent upon one's financial situation, as Mrs. Bates and her daughter, Miss Bates, are treated as old friends of the family and invited to visit, to dinners, to balls, and to picnics.

Emma has decided she will never marry. For one, she is financially secure and doesn't have to. For another, her father, who detests change of any sort, could not do without her. And, finally, she is not in love with anyone. Frank Churchill, the son of Mr. Weston, comes to visit his father and Mrs. Weston, and, for awhile, Emma thinks she might be in love with him. After Frank leaves, Emma realizes she is "getting over" him far too quickly for what she feels to be real love. Frank becomes a friend to flirt with and nothing more.

But flirting can be dangerous, especially in Victorian England.

Emma is called to task for her behavior and, in a moment of self-reflection, realizes some unpleasant facts about herself. She has to make a decision about her actions and take responsibility for them.

One thing about Jane Austen's novels is the supporting cast is just as interesting as the major characters. Emma is no different. There is Mr. Elton, the curate of the parish, who misunderstands Emma's actions. Later there is Mrs. Elton, his wife, who charges into Highbury and takes command. There Miss Bates, a compulsive talker, and her mother, who does not--or cannot--say two words in a row. There is Jane Fairfax, a contemporary of Emma, whom Emma cannot stand, although she knows she really has no reason to dislike Jane so. There is Isabella, Emma's sister and mother of five, who has several of her father's tendencies and whose husband, quite reasonably, limits her contact with her father and sister.

The movie, Clueless, starring Alicia Silverstone was adapted from Emma. And, indeed, Emma reminds me, a lot, of my own daughter who is about the same age. There is a lot of self-centeredness at this age, while they struggle to find their place in the world. At the same time, they realize they really are not the center of the universe. They see themselves as either saints or sinners, and their behavior often reflects this pendulum swing. So while the social milieu has changed, young adult women really have not. And Miss Austen's observations are as valid now as they were then.

That said, I like Elizabeth Bennet better than Emma Woodhouse. :)

On the March Hare Scale: 4 Golden Bookmarks.

Next Austen book on the list: Northanger Abbey

Friday, June 02, 2006

My Mothering Style

I found Question #3 of this quiz the most difficult to choose. But overall, I have to say this does sound like me:

Your type is: enfp —The “Kids R Fun” Mother

“Whatever I enjoy—playing tag or singing in the car—I can do it with kids around. And it’s totally legitimate!”

  • Playful and energetic, the ENFP mother finds her children to be good company and enjoys being with them. In fact, she says being with children justifies her own “being a kid again.” And children say she’s fun to be with — spontaneous, hearty, and imaginative.
  • Naturally drawn to introducing her children to the joys of life, the ENFP is something of a free spirit. She is less concerned with rules, routines, and schedules, and more inclined to give her children plenty of free time to play, explore on their own or with her, and have fun together.
  • Tuned in to her children, the ENFP mother enthusiastically encourages each one’s individuality and unique potential through a great variety of experiences. She is also quick to identify with others’ feelings and thoughts, making her an empathetic supporter of her children, not to mention her mate and many, many friends.

To learn more about your personal strengths, plus tips for making the most of your natural mothering style, be sure to read your full profile in MotherStyles.

Click here to read about all types

Well, it does explain why I enjoy being a Den Leader and a Girl Scout leader!

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

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Condolences to The Anchoress and Her Family

I complain about my life. I complain that DS#1 doesn't seem to appreciate what a great gig he has living at home. I complain that DD#1 doesn't seem to have any ambition or passion in her life. I complain that DS#2 does incredibly stupid stunts that get him into major trouble without even trying. I complain that DD#2 is lazy and seems to prefer to take the easy way through life.

And I complain about Hubs because very often he just doesn't seem to see the world the way I do.

Then I read The Anchoress and find out that her brother-in-law, the man who has been a part of her life for a long, long time, has been diagnosed with cancer, is failing rapidly, and--finally--is now gone, leaving behind a widow. They had been planning a cruise together. Now she is planning his funeral.

I don't know whether it's better to know for a long time that someone you love is dying or if being surprised by how quickly they go is preferable. If they linger, you have lots of time to say good-bye, to get your mind around the idea of them leaving. But then you have to watch them suffer. Going quickly gives the family no time to tie up loose ends (and there are always loose ends), mend fences, say all the good-byes that need to be said. But you don't have to watch them linger.

Funerals and graves are for the living. When my father passed away (5 years ago--already! I meant to write about it, but I didn't), we knew he wanted to be cremated. We sat around the dining room table that my parents received as a wedding present and joked about where we would scatter his ashes--where would Dad most like to be? Surprisingly, my youngest sister felt very strongly that Dad should have a gravesite with a headstone. She needed a place to come visit Dad, a place to connect to him, to take her children and her (eventual) grandchildren to and share her stories about him.

Somehow that need morphed into my mother buying a family plot. I joke with my children that they now know where they are going to be buried. (And it's not too far from where my great-grandparents are buried, oddly enough.)

The Anchoress's sister is only 10 years older than me. And that's kind of scary because I know how fast those 10 years will fly. The DD#2 and DS#2 may not even be out of the house--or not long fledged.

I think I'll go home and hug my family tonight...