Saturday, December 29, 2007

Family Ties

We spend Christmas Eve with my siblings and my cousins. Including the youngest generation, there are about 30-35 people for dinner. We don't use paper plates. Instead, the fine china, the good silver, and the crystal wine glasses are brought out. For most of us, and for our children, this is about the only time we see them!

My china was originally my grandmother's--the grandmother I share with my cousins. Several years ago now, DS#1 made the connection: he was holding a plate that his great-grandmother had held, a great-grandmother that died when his grandmother was a newborn. The great-grandmother who was also a redhead.

"Wow!" he whispered, in awe.

This year, my uncle, my mother's brother, was unable to join us. He's suffering from Alzheimer's and lives in secure assisted living. He becomes agitated when he's out too late, when there's a crowd, when there's a chaos and confusion. My cousins decided to leave him at his residence, although one of them would bring them to the celebration on Christmas Day, when it would be just his girls.

The absence of her brother--her only sibling--and her impending birthday got to my mother. During dinner she proposed a toast to the family. She wants us to continue to get together for Christmas Eve (and the Fourth of July) even when she's no longer around.

Fortunately, we all like each other and enjoy each other's company. Even better, our children seem to enjoy each other as well.

It's not that we always agree or never have fought (hey, we shared bedrooms as children!). It's not that we haven't driven each other crazy with our quirks, our actions, our beliefs. But we're family and some how that triumphs all else.

And we've seen what happens when family members hold a grudge. They miss out.

Christmas Day is dinner at Mom's with "just us." Including spouses, children, and the occasional family friend, that's "only" about 20. We're much more casual than on Christmas Eve. At Thanksgiving we draw names; the siblings and spouses in one pool, all the grandkids (known as "The Cousins Draw") in the other. At Mom's we exchange those gifts as well as the gifts from and to Mom. We open in order, starting with the oldest. We have to get the little kids when it's their turn. Once they've opened a package, they run off to play until their next turn.

After Christmas gifts, we celebrate Mom's birthday. Each year my cousins make her a birthday cake which she doesn't cut until after Christmas presents. We light a candle and sing and while we eat cake, Mom opens her birthday presents, even though her actual birthday isn't until the 26th. None of us ever remember her waiting.

On Dec. 26, my goal is to stay in my pj's all day. I try not to leave the house for any reason. The kids are too busy playing with their toys to notice, although they will watch a movie or two with Hubs and me.

And, yes, they still get toys. There's nothing like a Wii to bring the family closer together!

Movie Review: Sweeney Todd

Okay--who in their right mind would bring a two-year-old to a movie subtitled The Demon Barber of Fleet Street? The movie is rated R, it's by Tim Burton, and has Johnny Depp. At the very least you should have an inkling that it's going to be dark.

Yes, someone did bring their toddler and ended up taking her out just about every time the music rose to a crescendo and blood spattered the screen.

Just for the record: this isn't The Sound of Music.

DS#2 saw the movie with some of his friends. He enjoyed it, except for the music--he didn't realize Sweeney Todd is a musical. However, his biggest objection to the music is that the songs all sounded the same, just with different words. Part of it might be that Johnny Depp and Alan Rickman don't have a lot of range in their singing voices. But Jamie Campbell Bower, who plays Anthony Hope, and Jayne Wisener, as Johanna, are excellent. Helena Bonham Carter is Mrs. Lovett, who loves Sweeney Todd in her own limited way, and who owns "the worst meat pie shop in London."

Ed Sanders, who plays Toby, a young orphan Mrs. Lovett takes in, is a true find. I hope he finds work.

Hubs and I enjoyed it, although Hubs was expecting it to be more of a comedy. The ending is the only one it could have, but it's not happy. But it's not Old Yeller sad, either. The movie is shot in muted tones, which makes the red of the blood all the more startling and surprising.

I did find the fact that three of main actors, Rickman, Bonham Carter, and Timothy Spall, are also characters in the Harry Potter movies. (Spall plays Peter Pettigrew.) Rickman and Spall have several scenes together which just reminded me of Snape and Pettigrew. C'mon--aren't there other actors in England?

Johnny Depp does mad extremely well. I believed he was pushed over the edge of sanity and yet could remain capable of thinking logically. Rickman has done subtle evil so often it must be nearly second nature. (It must have been quite a relief to play a snotty British actor playing an coolly logical alien on Galaxy Quest.) Helen Bonham Carter walks the edge of madness and sanity, truth and lies, love and obsession. More than anything she wants a middle-class life: a home, a husband, a child. Mr. Todd is the closest chance she has of getting that and deep inside her, she knows he can't give normality to her. Toby is her surrogate child, but he forces her to see the reality she doesn't want to see and make a decision she doesn't want to make.

Several of the plot "twists" were obvious to both Hubs and I, in part because there are few resolutions for tragedies.

On the way home, Hubs and I debated whether or not DD#2 should see it and if she would enjoy it. (She's 14.) He didn't think so; I think she would, in part because, thanks to her older sibs, she's had a lot of exposure to dark comedy and to Tim Burton. I will admit several of the scenes made me jump even though I knew what was coming.

Can I recommend this movie? A qualified "Yes." Like the Stephen Sondheim musical it's based on, this won't be everyone's cuppa. IMDb classifies Sweeney Todd under "Thriller" and "Crime" as well as "Musical." I suppose those will do. I knew the general outlines of the story, so I was prepared and I enjoyed it. Hubs didn't know any of the storyline, but he's watched enough Tim Burton/Johnny Depp movies to have an inkling this wasn't going to be a light and happy holiday movie. He enjoyed it and is curious to see it as a stage play with actors who can sing.

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

crossposted at Catholic Media Review

Book Review: Beowulf

I read the translation by Seamus Heaney, with the Old English on the facing page. I can see why the movie producers & writers felt they had to "jazz up" the original: it's very talky and the description of the action is pretty minimal. Still, I would like to see someone present this as it must have originally been spoken, as a story around a mead-hall, with a winter storm raging outside.

Beowulf is a Geat, a people from southern Sweden, who sails across the water to the aid of the Danish King. After defeating the monster, Grendel, and Grendel's mother, Beowulf becomes king of his own people, ruling for 50 years, until a dragon threatens the Geats and Beowulf dies defeating it.

According to my edition, the fact that the English-speaking world even knows of this poem and this warrior is something of a miracle. There is only one manuscript, which survived a fire in the 18th Century, which has been, in Mr. Heaney's words, "...transcribed and titled, re-transcribed and edited, translated, and adapted, interpreted and reinterreted, until it has become canonical."

A fellow poet prefers the translation done by Howell Chickering--in his opinion it's more poetic. However, I found I enjoyed Mr. Heaney's translation. It reminded me of Leaves of Grass by Whitman: kind of a "natural voice" verse form, with consonant sounds repeated within the line rather than a forced rhyme at the end of each. If his transcription of the original Old English is at all close, it seems to me that this follows the original.

No, I don't read Old English. But I love words and it was interesting to look at the line in the Old English and compare it to the Modern. Some words, like helm, have come down intact through the centuries. Some make sense when read out loud phonetically. Others are a mystery. I enjoyed reading Mr. Heaney's introduction where he discusses why he chose the form he did and how he decided to translate some of the more obscure words.

As for the story... In Beowulf's bragging about his exploits, his courage, his strength, there is a lesson sent to young male listeners: this is how a hero behaves. These are his duties. If you act like this, your name and your deeds will also live on in song and be passed down through the ages. For Beowulf was no idle boaster--he was every bit as brave and daring as he claimed. He was loyal and was rewarded for his loyalty. In turn, he rewarded those who were loyal to him and he took care of the widows and orphans of those who stood with him but did not survive.

Embedded within the story of Beowulf are older stories: of betrayal, of the importance of having strong leadership, of the rubbing of old religions and ways of thinking and the new (Christianity).

The fragments is only about 3200 lines long--213 pages in my edition, which means about 107 in actual text pages. The story is simple and straightforward; much like I imagine the societies of that time to be. Yet, I recognize the beginning of the idea of chivalry, of protecting women and those who are weaker, that loyalty and reward run not just from subject to king, but also from king back to subject.

1300 years after it was written, Beowulf is still entertaining. And it just might have something to show us about ourselves as well.

On the March Hare scale: 4.5 out 5 Golden Bookmarks

crossposted at Catholic Media Review

Apologies, Apologies

My sincere apologies to the faithful few who continue to read this humble blog! Several things have conspired to keep me from posting, mostly the fact that the President of my division moved on to greener pastures (I hope!) and the CEO decided to Take Control. While I do not work in HQ, the Tech Guys (and Gals) do. Discretion being the better part of valor, I'm trying to behave myself. And keep my mouth shut.

Yes, that's very difficult for me to do!

Then, of course, there were the Holidays. Or as I prefer to call them, The Holidaze. We went to visit my in-laws over Thanksgiving. DS#1 came home about a week before I expected. Gifts had to be purchased, sent, made.

I still can't find DS#2's school pictures from this year. They were just on the wine rack. Or the table. Or by the "big" computer.

Still, in the words of the Grinch, "Christmas came! It came just the same!" And mostly everything that needed to be done got done. Much remains to be completed before the 12th Day--Jan. 6, Epiphany, Little Christmas. My escape hatch!

My wish of the love of family and friends to all during this season and for 2008 as well! May God grant you the faith of the little children He gathers to him.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My Bookstack Runneth Over

I'm currently reading Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf. The story still stands the test of time. On the nightstand I have my recently purchased copy of The Essential Catholic Survival Guide by the Catholic Answers staff, along with Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, 1776 by David McCullough, my Bible, my Year with John Paul II, and One for the Money, a "Stephanie Plum" detective novel.

Next to the bed, in a whimsical book bag from Barnes & Noble that I just couldn't resist, are several craft books to inspire me as I enter my card-making mania.

Along the wall next to my dresser are more books, mostly purchased from used book sales. They are an eclectic lot because I never know what I might feel like reading next.

So what book did I pull out for my "before bedtime" reading pleasure?

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Yes, I'm re-reading it. I read it in such a rush before I left for Japan that I feel I didn't do it justice. I have to be careful, though--I tend to get sucked into it and time magically disappears.

(Am I the only one who is actually looking forward to when my favorite TV shows go into re-runs so I can read more?)

I've Got To Have This!

Mythbusters is a family favorite. It's the perfect combination of explosives, geekness, destruction, surprise, and science/engineering.

The other day, Kari (the lone female) was wearing a T-Shirt that said: GEEK. Only it was in Greek letters: G-Epsilon-Epsilon-Kappa.

Okay, I know G does not equal Gamma, which looks like an upside down L. And, yes, Epsilon is really S. But it makes a cool looking E--just look at the Sum Function button on an Excel spreadsheet.

Still, I thought it was clever. I wonder where she got it?

A Political Education

The other day I was reading yet another article about the demise of the family dinner around the table. This author claimed that discussions around the family table often provided a chance for the parents to pass on their political philosophies and values as well as honing the debating skills of the children.

Well... maybe. Sometimes, though, I think that the "family dinner table" has taken on the mythic aura of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Still, I feel badly because my family doesn't gather around the table each night. We do gather around the coffee table, usually with a program on we all enjoy (Mythbusters, anyone?) and talk about our day during the commercials. I had high hopes of having regular dinners, maybe on Sunday, with friends and family gathered 'round. I should have known myself better--I missed out on the "Martha Stewart" gene.

However, I have discovered that we have an alternative "roundtable": the family car. Five days a week, for about 20 minutes or so, DS#2, DD#2, and I are sequestered in our 1990 Corolla station wagon. A local classical music station plays in the background. We talk about many things, big and small, because we know we have a captive audience. Occasionally, the news report on the radio provides a jumping off point for discussion.

On Monday, the radio briefly mentioned a U.N. Special Report that stated "poorer" countries were going to need $85 billion dollars over the next several decades to combat the effects of Global Warming. This money should come from the "rich" nations, with the U.S. specifically contributing about $40 billion to this fund.

"What?!" I shouted at the radio.

DS#2, who was in an early-morning stupor, said, "What's wrong?"

I told him. And then I explained why I thought the U.N. was way out of line. First off, the only money the U.S. Government has comes from taxes paid by its citizens--governments, in and of themselves, do not "have" money. Secondly, most poor nations are that way because of their corrupt government officials, not because they lack in natural or human resources. (Mexico is an example of this.) Therefore, I do not want my money going to prop up corrupt regimes in foreign countries so the dictators and tyrants can build vast "Monuments to Me" instead of helping their countrymen. I used Saddam Hussein and the Oil for Food scandal, where millions of dollars intended to feed poor Iraqis instead went into building yet another palace for Saddam. And somehow, it was all the fault of the U.S.

Yesterday, DD#2 mentioned they were watching Supersize Me during P.E. class (they're currently doing a unit on Health).

"Is your teacher going to show the film about the woman who also ate at McDonald's for a month and lost weight?" I asked.

So we had a lively discussion about what the purpose of the film Supersize Me was. Was it blaming McDonald's for offering super-sizes? Was it showing the results of poor food choices and lack of exercise (the kids' opinion)? I mentioned that McDonald's had decided to drop super-sized portions because of the bad publicity from the film. The kids thought that was a good result. I pointed out that this limited their choices as consumers. Shouldn't they be able to make the decision to supersize their meal? Perhaps there was a reason they needed a supersized drink or fries (DD#2 said, "Like sharing," which is common among teens with limited cash). Would a film that showed the consequences of good choices at McDonald's and an exercise program be more effective?

This loss of choice, this acquiescence to the idea that "The Government Knows Best" is almost as worrisome as the threat of Islamic radicals who want to establish a global caliphate. In fact, the two are linked: if we cede our judgement to The Authorities, then how can we fight an Authoritarian Regime? How can we recognize an Authoritarian Regime? (And, no, I'm not talking about President Bush and V.P. Cheney.)

My generation used to have a slogan: Question Authority. I wish more of us would--and expand that to question all Authority, right, left, and center.

The bonus to these car trips is that Hubs brings the kids home. So they get 20 minutes with Dad in the evening. His favorite topics of conversation are School and Scouts, although he listens to talk radio.

Forty minutes of undiluted time with a parent, five days a week. Maybe we don't really need a "dinner table" after all.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Oh What A Beautiful Morning!

I'm not a fan of winter. However, the upside to getting up in the dark is the magnificent sunrises I share with my children every morning. Today's was especially spectacular: red clouds fading to the gold of the sunrise. And off to the side, a surprise--a rainbow, even though it wasn't raining. There must have been a lot of moisture in the clouds.

Too bad the woman in the BMW SUV behind me was in too much of hurry to enjoy it. After all, she had to get to where she was going thirty seconds faster than she would if she had stayed behind me.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

In Thanksgiving for Family

DS#1 came up for the weekend from college and DD#1 didn't have to work, so we were all together for Thanksgiving. I watched as the old family dynamic, especially among the siblings, quickly reasserted itself. DS#1 did notice that DD#2 seems to have blossomed since she entered high school, partly because she's only got one sibling--DS#2--to be compared with instead of three.

Sibling dynamics was a theme that kept coming up over and over this weekend.

We celebrated at Bro & SIL #2's, and most of the family was there. Politics barely came up. I did get the impression that Hillary might not have quite the support of the base as the polls indicate, although her nomination seems to be a foregone conclusion. (Which means voting in the primary is especially important!)

We spoke about schools, jobs, what happened to the Cal Bears. We drew names for Christmas, both siblings and cousins. Nieces and nephews were forced to hug and kiss their grandmothers and their aunts and uncles, because that's what we had to do when we were little.

And we marveled how well we all got along; how much we actually enjoy being together. Even our children seem to enjoy each other's company.

I tried not to be "Big Sister," especially since SIL#2, the hostess, is also the oldest sister in her family. I don't know how well I succeeded!

On Friday we drove up to visit Hubs' parents.

I'm always shocked to see how frail they've become, how Alzheimer's is slowly eating away at my FIL's memory. We were a fresh set of ears for his stories and a sounding board for both my MIL and Hubs Sis#2. She is the only one who lives in the area, so the bulk of taking care of the parents falls to her.

Hubs asked if he and the boys could set up Christmas lights, but they didn't want the fuss or bother. DD#2 and I made dinner: ham, sweet potatoes, salad, pumpkin pie. DD#2 also looked through the family albums, noticing that there were far more pictures of her oldest brother than of her. My MIL kept looking at DS#2 and wondering why she didn't know him as well as she knows DS#1. They retired and moved 300 miles away about the time DS#2 was born, so they only saw him when we were up there on vacation.

It's obvious to us all that my FIL will have to go to assisted living at some point, sooner rather than later. So will my MIL, although she is fighting that. She claims not to "need" it, but she has medical issues and is physically fragile. My SIL has health issues of her own. Hubs and I are not in a position to move closer--our jobs, our friends, our children's lives are firmly rooted and we don't particularly want to uproot.

Everyone has an opinion about what should be done. Some are more practical than others. I wonder what's in store for Hubs and I.

Hubs is the only boy and the baby of the family and has the only grandchildren. He is used to saying whatever outrageous thing comes to mind and getting away with it. His Sis#2 resents that some--after all, she is taking on the responsibility of caring for their parents. She feels unappreciated.

I'm the in-law. I'm the neutral sounding board. I don't have to make any of the decisions.

We only spent about 24 hours there. The younger children have commitments and DS#1 has another 300 mile drive back to college in Central California. He's taking the truck because the semester will be done in two weeks. I'm not really thrilled about it because I worry that when he becomes bored, he'll jump in the truck and take off somewhere, looking for distraction, instead of studying. However, Hubs thought it was okay and DS#1 pointed out that he can't afford to buy gas. I reluctantly agreed. But I see a trip to the Central Coast early next year. Or springing for a train ticket.

And so another thread of memory is woven into the tapestry of life...

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Other San Francisco

San Francisco is known for doing some oddball stuff, especially politically. The fact that Speaker Nancy Pelosi comes from San Francisco doesn't always help or that Mayor Gavin Newsom seems to be more interested in pandering to the latest special interest group than in governing wisely or well. Still, I read people's reactions, especially in the conservative blogs, and I marvel at their descriptions of The City. They often bear no resemblance to what I see and experience every day.

When I arrive at the Embarcadero BART station every morning, I'm greeted with music--good music. The genre varies every day: mariachi, steel drum, saxophone, clarinet, banjo, mandolin, Peruvian pipes. Occasionally, a string quartet is there, playing classical music. At street level, there's a flower stand in the shape of a trolley car. The homeless guy--one of the regulars--smiles at me if he's aware enough, gently shaking his empty paper coffee cup. I can see the Bay down the street.

Last Friday, Hubs and two of the kids joined me after work for the lighting of the Embarcadero Center and the Christmas tree (and, yes, they call it a "Christmas" tree--not a "holiday" tree) in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency. There were performances, including the High School Jazz Honor Band and the Pacific Mozart Choir (who sang Christmas carols, a Capella), and an ice show. The owner of the management group for the Center presented a check to the guests of honor--the Marine Corps, for their fund to help wounded marines readjust to civilian life. No one booed. No one spit. There was lots of applause and cheers.

And then there was fireworks.

Most of the streets I walk every day do not smell like piss and a fairly free of trash. The homeless I pass do not harass me. Most say "hello" and "God bless," especially if I look them in the eye and smile.

The German restaurant near work has Friday evening polka nights. This is so popular, there's a cover charge. Up the street, the pub owners are Cal alumni, so the "Straw Hat" band (a subset of the full Cal Band) comes to perform before major football and basketball games. The Italian cafe features a tenor and a soprano singing arias during lunch hour.

On nice days working folk and families with kids--or nannies with kids--sit by the Bay, eating lunch, watching the boats and the seagulls. There's a sign announcing a new passenger terminal to be built, but the Port can't until they figure out to do with Red's Java House, a beat up burger-and-beer joint, reminiscent of the blue-collar roots of the waterfront. The Hills Brothers Coffee warehouse and roaster is now a plaza with offices and restaurants, but the statue of the Arab in turban and robes, drinking a cup of coffee is still on display. The plaza is also home to a day care center. And the Embarcadero YMCA, dedicated to sailors and Marines, runs day camps during summer and school vacation.

And besides the cable cars, there are the historic street cars, from cities all over the world: Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles, New Orleans (yes, the streetcar is named "Desire"), Osaka, Milan, Stockholm. They travel up and down Market Street on to Fisherman's Wharf and are a better bargain, at $1.50/adults, $0.50 for children and seniors, than the cable cars ($5.00).

There are the "dark" areas, especially around City Hall and the UN Plaza. The homeless, the down-and-outers are more edgy. There are also more police on foot or on bikes, especially during the holiday season. I am more alert here, more aware of my surroundings. The most difficult part is explaining to my children why: why these people might be here, why they might chose to live this way, why they might have to live this way.

Physically, San Francisco is small, so only a few blocks separate "safe" from "not-so-safe," "gay" from "straight," "financial" from "shopping," ocean from bay. It's a City and a County, with the Mayor elected at-large and the Supervisors elected by district, so there is constant tension between what is good for the City as a whole versus the special interests/needs of the districts. (When the Supervisors were also elected "at large" the politics were not quite so off-the-rails.)

San Francisco is not quite Sodom or Gomorrah. It is an example of the "Balkanizing" effect that special interest politics has on a city--or a state or a country--and how common sense is often the victim

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Movie Review: Beowulf

I enjoyed 300 and even Troy. I was looking forward to seeing Beowulf, to enjoy another epic story, filled with outrageous heroes and fantastic monsters. I read an excerpt of the poem when I was in high school, which was a long time ago. I read The Song of Roland about the same time and the two were muddled in my mind. This summer I bought Seamus Heaney's translation this summer and was looking forward to reading it.

So I was really looking forward to seeing this movie, especially when DD#2 said that she could get extra credit in English for watching Beowulf and then comparing it with The Odyssey, which she is reading.

I was really disappointed.

First off, I found the computer animated human characters extremely off-putting. We saw the movie on a regular screen, not 3-D, so I don't know if that makes any difference. But the synchronization of their mouths with the dialogue was off and their movements were strange--not quite smooth.

And then there are the accents. Here is a story about Danes and Geats and Thanes and everyone speaks with a well-modulated British accent, except for the serving girls. They speak with a brogue. Robin Wright Penn is the voice, and the body model, for the queen. Her accent isn't bad, but weren't there any British actresses available? Angelina Jolie looks great with an airbrushed body in gold leaf, but I'm not sure what her accent was supposed to be. In fact, according to the credits, there was another actress involved. I guess they were going for the "dragon lady" effect--Angelina's character was rather reptilian.

But the tragedy of this movie is that it didn't engage me. I didn't care about Beowulf or Hrothgar or the queen. I didn't care about Grendel or his mother. The effects were amazing, especially the dragon. But emotionally, the movie had no impact, no resonance. While it was clear that Beowulf was attracted to Hrothgar's young queen and she to him, there was little to explain what happened between the time of Beowulf's encounter with Grendel's mother and his encounter with the dragon. They profess their love for each other--but what happened?

Update: DS#1 is home for Thanksgiving. We were talking about this movie, which he thought was great. Turns out, he saw it in 3-D and it's apparently "awesome." Then, too, he was probably watching for the effects while I was watching for the story. That might also be the difference between seeing this movie in 2-D versus 3-D. However, I'm not spending the money to find out.

Also, Cliff Notes Online had an article about the themes in Beowulf, the original poem. Robert Zemekis (and screenwriters Neil Gaiman and Robert Avary) should have checked the site out.

On the March Hare scale: 2 out of 5 Golden Tickets

crossposted at Catholic Media Review

Book Review: An Acceptable Time

This book, by Madeleine L'Engle, is another story involving the Murry family. The protagonist is Polly O'Keefe, oldest daughter of Meg Murry and Calvin O'Keefe. Polly has found her educational options limited in the area where her family lives and has come to stay with, and be tutored by, her grandparents. Since her grandfather is an eminent physicist and her grandmother a Nobel-winning biologist, they are able to provide her with all the mental stimulus she needs.

Their neighbors are Dr. Louise Colubra, a local pediatrician, and her brother, a retired bishop who has traveled the world as a missionary. There is also a young man named Zachary, whom Polly met overseas. Zachary has a heart condition and has been told that he does not have much time left. But he is trying to live a normal life. The Bishop has some interesting ideas about God and heaven and angels.

Polly is just trying to deal with it all when she sees two young men and a young woman dressed rather oddly.

Turns out the circles of time between the present and 3,000 years ago are overlapping and drawing Polly, the Bishop, and Zachary in. Polly's grandparents and Dr. Louise are worried, but ultimately there is nothing they can do. Polly is a healer and is connected to the inhabitants of that long-ago time. She must bring peace between the People of the Wind and the People Across the Lake. And can Zach's heart be repaired by these long-ago healers, which modern medical science cannot do?

Ms. L'Engle does not try to explain how the time portals are crossed and opened to each other and she (and the Bishop) get a little New Age-y in her descriptions of how the "lines of love" connect everything and everyone. And the healer/shaman part is also a little odd (they can heal a heart but not a badly cut finger?). In A Swiftly Tilting Planet, one of the important characters is an Indian whose ancestors have come across the ocean from Wales, and that story is mentioned here. Two of the main characters are actually druids.

Polly and Zach mention events and people that must have happened in an earlier book--but, for the life of me, I can't figure out which one (or ones) it might be. But Ms. L'Engle writes as though the reader will just know. Or maybe she doesn't care. The first time that happened, I thought I'd missed something and went back to check. When I realized that it wasn't me after all, I continued on, but was still vaguely annoyed.

There are several more books, but the sequence, if there is one, isn't clear. So I'm moving on...

On the March Hare scale: 2.5 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks

Friday, November 16, 2007

Scared Safe

DS#2 is at that age--he's eligible to get his license. So, as part of the preparation for that momentous event, he and I went to a "Drive Smart, Stay Safe" driving class given by the California Highway Patrol through the local adult school.

Two officers gave the class, dressed in uniform. I noticed a bit of black peeping out under the "v" of the female officer's uniform shirt, but over her white cotton t-shirt. Then it dawned on me: she was wearing a bullet-proof vest. The male officer's vest didn't show, but I could see the outline under his shirt as well.

Both were carrying guns, as well as their radios, handcuffs, keys, spray, and whatever else was on their utility belts. In fact, the belt looked like it weighed more than the female officer did.

Two fully-armed, fully-prepared officers in a classroom of middle-class students and their parents on a Wednesday night in suburbia, just blocks from a plaza containing several high-end stores. It seemed incongruous.

The class was designed to convince the teens that they are not invincible when they get behind a wheel of a car. I'm not sure it worked for them. The mothers in the class, including yours truly, were ready to tell our kids that maybe driving isn't such a good idea after all. Not that any child of mine make the same errors in judgment that cost the teens in the video their lives, but there are other people out there who would. And who would endanger my kid.

The video/DVD the officers showed were scenes from real accidents. The people lying with their bodies at impossible angles were not dummies. The blood on the windshields was not dyed sugar syrup. This was not ER or CSI. These people were really, truly dead. Their parents, their brothers and sisters, their friends, were really left behind to deal with the mess. I had to keep reminding myself and DS#2 of that, otherwise the scenes would be too easy to dismiss.

After the video, the officers talked about what causes most accidents and what violations they give the most tickets for. They talked about how they don't need a warrant to search your car or even a reason to pull you over--they can do a "vehicle inspection." And, come the holiday season, all 25 law-enforcement agencies throughout the Bay Area will be working to keep unsafe drivers off the road.

The male officer had a local example as part of his presentation. He talked about how the mother of the girl who was killed arrived at the scene and screamed and screamed. The officers at the scene couldn't sleep at night because every time they closed their eyes, they heard that scream.

The officers talked about what happens in a crash, about the physical impact to the car and to your internal organs as they slam into your skeleton or the steering wheel. About seat belts. About why drivers under 18 are given provisional licenses and can't have passengers in the car (and soon they won't be able to use gadgets like cell phones, even in hands-free mode).

They discussed the fatal results of showing off, of peer pressure, and road rage. They talked about how important it is that parents model good driving skills. They urged us to have a plan of action when our kids find themselves in a situation where they shouldn't be driving--the maximum blood alcohol level for anyone under 21 is zero. They asked how many of us would pick up our kids if they had been drinking at a party. We all raised our hands. They asked how many of us would be pissed off. I raised my hand. But I'd rather be pissed off at my kid and have him alive than pissed off and grieved that he was dead.

The next step is driving lessons for DS#2. And, of course, he has plans once he gets his license. I just hope he remembers some of what he saw...

Pet Peeves--Commuter Edition

People who sit on the aisle on BART or the bus and leave the window seat free. And won't move over when others (like me!) want to sit down.

I understand if they have a large package or a suitcase they are keeping in the aisle or if they are getting off at the next stop. However, if they're not--why should I have to crawl over them (and their laptops) just to get a seat? I have a briefcase and a purse, too, just like they do.

And if they don't want me to bump their laptop while I'm climbing over them on a moving train to get to the empty seat, either close the laptop or move over! How hard is this to figure out?

Sheesh.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Communicating With Adult Children

The complaint was a familiar one: "Mommy, I'm sick." The delivery method was different--DS#1 sent me an IM.

I did what any good mother would do when her child is sick and is 300 miles south. No, not jump in the car and tear down Highway 101. I IM'd him back: "Go to the Student Health Clinic."

DS#1 and I communicate at least once a week. Since he pays his own cell phone bill, he usually sends me an IM while I'm at work. It's a little bit awkward, since I can type faster than he can and I sometimes have to actually do the job I'm paid to do. But we generally catch up on what's going on. Like his plans for Thanksgiving. Or how his classes are going.

DD#1 still lives at home, but between work, school, and her social schedule, I rarely see her. Our usual mode of communication is text messaging via cell phone, since she seems to ignore her voice mails. I was floored when I came home on Monday and she was cooking dinner.

"What are you doing here?" I asked.

"Cooking dinner," she answered. She knew what my real question was; she chose to ignore it.

But I did get to see her latest piercing: a bar that transects the top of her ear.

"Why did you do that?"

"I've always wanted an industrial piercing and I knew you'd have a fit if I had my tongue pierced."

Damn straight, I would. Four years and $$$ worth of orthodontia and oral surgery endangered by a fad.

I admit that I just don't understand the point of the bar. Earrings are pretty. A steel bar is... well, a steel bar. However, she paid for it--and I was shocked at how much she spent. But, it's her money.

The younger two still depend on Hubs and I to drive them, so our communication is much more straightforward and person-to-person. I kind of miss that with the older two, although I will admit IMs are a much quieter way to argue!

Hyperbole--Or What Would Pols Do Without It?

A week ago Wednesday, I received an unusual phone call from a former colleague who lives in New Jersey:

"There's a rumor going around one of our ships hit your bridge. Do me a favor and look out your window."

Since the headquarters for Gap, Inc., blocks most of my view of the Bay and the Bay Bridge, I went to the website for the San Francisco Chronicle. The first thing I saw was the port side of a ship with "HANJIN" written in large white letters. The bow was caved in.

"Wow," I replied. "So, you're working for Hanjin now?"

Had I arrived at work 30 minutes later, I would have seen the ship hit the bridge. But I arrived at work early and had no idea what was happening just a mile (or less) away.

My first reaction was that the pilot and the captain will both lose their licenses. My second thought was what was Hanjin, which is a Korean shipping line, doing with a vessel named Cosco Busan, since Cosco is the national shipping line of China (China Ocean Shipping Co.)? Was the master Korean with a Chinese crew? Or a different nationality? (The last shipping company I worked for leased their ships from a Japanese company. The ships were registered in Micronesia, the captains were Japanese, and the crews were Filipino. English was their common language.)

It didn't take long for the politicians to start shouting. Threats of lawsuits filled the air even as the Chronicle tried to untangle the web of ownership and responsibility. Shouts of the need to improve pilot training filled the air, at least until it came to light that this particular pilot has worked the Bay for over 25 years. Shutting down the Bay on foggy days was strongly suggested--until someone pointed out how common foggy days are around here. Pols who never cared about the maritime industry and who have no clue about how it works--or how vital it is to the local economy--are suddenly experts. And they have to see what the damage is, which involves riding in a Coast Guard helicopter around the Bay to look at... well, there's not a whole lot to see from above because this is not crude oil. It's bunker fuel. It's light and floats close to the surface. It's difficult to photograph unless it's clumped on the beach or smeared on a bird.

And, of course, we have to blame the Coast Guard for their lack of response, even though they were on-scene in a matter of minutes (the Coast Guard base is just on the other side of the island the Bay Bridge is connected to). Forget that it was, indeed, a very foggy day with poor visibility. Forget that their first concern was to get the ship back to port and then to assess the damage. Forget that they were putting booms out. None of that matters because someone forgot to call the mayors of San Francisco and Oakland right away.

Yeah--the same mayors who are so hospitable to the military. Although the Coast Guard is now under Homeland Security (they were under Treasury).

Disclaimer: I have a personal fondness for the Coast Guard. Several friends joined; for years they hosted the Ancient Mariner Regatta for the Sea Scouts on Coast Guard Island; they do vital work keeping the Bay safe and inspecting commercial craft like ferry boats and fishing boats; they do search and rescue; they have the unpleasant task of retrieving the bodies of jumpers from the Golden Gate Bridge. Like most branches of the service, they are underfunded. With the closure of most of the military bases in the Bay Area (the Presidio, Treasure Island, Alameda Naval Air Station, Hunter's Point and Mare Island Naval Shipyards, and Hamilton Air Force Base), Coast Guard families don't have the option of military housing.

I don't take kindly to ungrateful pols dissing this particular branch of the service, especially when those same pols have not supported them.

The most outlandish hyperbole, however, had to be from the Port Director of San Francisco who claimed this was the "worst government response since Katrina."

Huh?

As far as I know, no one has died. There hasn't been a widespread breakdown of services and communication. Yes, marine life has been impacted, boating is being discouraged (to prevent the "tracking" of bunker fuel to unaffected areas and to minimize clean-up cost claims), and commercial fishing has been shut down. The fisherman and the oyster farms are going to be hardest hit financially. But Katrina-type damage? Let's be real, here.

And, by the way, the SF Fire Department has two fire boats right in line-of-sight of the accident. Didn't they notice what was going on? Don't they communicate with the Coast Guard? Couldn't they pick up the radio and find out what was going on?

The seagulls, however, could care less. I'm not sure about the sea lions--I'll have to walk down to Pier 39 and check.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Book Review: Many Waters

It's difficult to say if this is the fourth book in Madeleine L'Engle's series that began with A Wrinkle In Time. Meg and Charles Wallace Murry are only mentioned in passing, but play no relevant roles in Many Waters. Instead, the twins, Sandy and Dennys, are the heroes.

In search of Dutch cocoa, the twins venture into their parents' lab which is just off the kitchen. Inside, besides beef stew bubbling over a Bunsen burner, they find their dad's "not-quite-ordinary-looking computer." (Note: this book was published in 1986. It was the dawn of the personal computer.) The keyboard has a lot of Greek symbols over it. Using the English standard keys, Dennys types in "Take me somewhere warm." Sandy adds "And sparsely populated."

The boys get their wish--in spades. Turns out their father, an astrophysicist, has been playing around with tesseracts, the places where space and time intersect and bend. Sandy and Dennys find themselves somewhere warm and sparsely populated: in the middle of a desert, alone.

They are rescued by Japheth, his minature mammoth, and a couple of unicorns who "are and then they are not." The boys suffer heatstroke and are taken care of by Japheth's family, including his father, Noah, and his brothers, Shem and Ham. Eventually, the boys realize where they are and, most importantly, when they are.

But unicorns, Biblical characters, and mini-mammoths are not enough. There are also seraphim and nephilim. It's not explicitly stated that these are angels, but there are references to "talking with El" and choosing to be on Earth versus forced to remain on Earth. The twelve seraphim and the twelve nephilim inhabit ordinary animals--pelicans, scarabs, roaches, rats, crocodiles--when not in their true, winged form. Both groups are convinced that it was not an accident that the twins ended up in this time and place. Neither group--nor the twins--knows why.

There is a struggle between the seraphim and the nephilim over the humans. And the names of Sandy and Dennys do not appear in the Bible. The twins are also moving towards adulthood and find themselves falling in love with one of Noah's daughters, who is also not mentioned by name. Does she survive the coming Flood? Do they?

And what does each twin learn about himself? For most of their lives, they've been the "normal" ones in their family. Here they are not. And they begin to discover that maybe they've got special gifts as well.

I found I was more intrigued by this book than by the Wrinkle in Time trilogy, although I figured out where they were several chapters before the twins did. I know of seraphim, but I've never heard of nephilim--I'll have to go look them up. Mrs. L'Engle does a nice job of mixing in the Bible story of the Flood and perhaps that will drive some readers into reading the story for themselves.

On the March Hare scale: 3.5 out of 4 Golden Bookmarks

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

An Eagle Has Landed!

Thursday, October 20, was DS#2's District Board of Review for his Eagle rank. He was one of seven that they had to interview--his took an hour; who knows how late the rest of the group were there.

The District Board consisted of three Scoutmasters. All of them knew DS#2; two have known him since DS#1 was in Cub Scouts. And they know that Hubs and I are active in the Scouting program.

That should have been DS#2's first clue that this Board of Review might be a little bit different than what other candidates experienced. Sure enough, one of the Board Members asked him, "So, how did your experience in Cub Scouting prepare you for Eagle?"

According to DS#2 (since parents are not allowed in the Board of Review), that question caught him off-guard.

"So how did you answer?" I asked.

"That my Pack really didn't help me, but having my mom as my den leader did because she was really strict."

I smiled. "And what did they say to that."

"They laughed because they all knew you."

So it must have been the right answer. I had worked with the Board Member who asked that question when I was the Program Director for Cub Day Camp and supervised the Scouts acting as Den Chiefs. He was in charge of the Webelos Weekend the year DS#2, as a second-year Webelos, and Hubs participated. I had to come by early to tell them my dad had died.

Hubs turned in the paperwork to Council and we're waiting for National to stamp it "official." When I came back to the parking lot at BART, my car had a new addition: a bumper sticker that says "I'm proud of my Eagle Scouts."

And I am!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Easy Listening

I finally learned how to download music into my PDA. I loaded up music that I like, but that make my children cringe when I listen to it at home. Albums like Simon & Garfunkel's Greatest Hits or Unforgettable by Nat King Cole.

On my way to BART, I decided to listen to my tunes to see how they sound. And I found myself singing along to Nat and dancing to the soundtrack to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Looking around, I was the only person doing this.

How do people listen to music without moving or singing? Or is it the fact that Simon & Garfunkel and Nat King Cole are just so much more singable than modern artists? (Although DD#2 also sings along with her favorite songs.) And how can you not dance to "Shoo Bop, Shoo Bop"? Unfortunately, much as I like to sing, I'm not very good.

Am I the only one who does this? Or is it a matter of finding more sedate songs?

Stressed Out Students

I don't often disagree with Michelle Malkin, but I am in this case.

DS#2 and DD#2 go to one of the top public high schools in the state. Hubs and I went through the appropriate channels to get an interdistrict transfer because of this high school's reputation. The counselor told DS#2 that in this school it's cool to be a good student. Even the jocks are scholars.

(Music to a parents' ears.)

These students are under tremendous pressure to be the best. It's not enough to get into a university--it has to be a top tier university: Cal, Stanford, Harvard, Brown. Mom and Dad are high-achievers themselves, with Dad often a partner in a law firm or a top executive or an entrepreneur. Mom might stay at home, but she's a volunteer fundraiser or a gourmet cook or she organizes all the paperwork for registration.

These students go to summer school not to make up classes but to get a jump on the next year so they can take yet another class. They join clubs and teams, looking for ways to improve their resume for their college applications, take classes after school to improve their SAT and ACT scores.

And some of these kids can't handle the stress, so they turn to drugs and alcohol, both readily available in the affluent suburb.

Some of these kids wait until they get into Harvard or Stanford to have their meltdowns.

To help prevent that, the school has started the "Stressed Out Students" program. Yoga isn't a part of it, but alerting parents to the problem is a start. Most of the program is common sense: eat right, exercise, get enough sleep. Encouraging students to talk to an adult if they feel overwhelmed. And emphasizing to the parents that it's more important that their child take a few AP classes and do well than take a lot and do poorly. That it's better if the student participates in one or to clubs or activities than list a raft of them where they're only nominally active.

The counselors encourage the students to use high school to find their passion--and encourage the parents to let them.

I don't think this is a bad thing.

In high school, there is no "recess." At my kids' high school, they get a 20 minute break mid-morning and a 50-minute lunch break. Classes start at 8:00 a.m. and end at 3:10 p.m., when it's time to do homework. (We're very fortunate that both the school library stays open until 6:00 p.m., providing a place for kids on sports teams a chance to do their homework before practice.)

Hubs and I try to keep our expectations realistic. And we remind our kids that life needs balance: academics are important, but so is friendship and fun, service to the community, and--most importantly--God. Stressed Out Students help those families who have forgotten this.

Shake, Rattle, and Roll--Again

So there DD#2 and I were at our Girl Scout meeting when the room began to shake. The feeling was subtle at first, beginning from the floor and moving up to the table. The shaking continued on for what seemed like a long time--relatively speaking. And then I asked the girls how strong they thought the quake was. I reminded them that every number increases the strength by a factor of ten. (These girls are in high school and they're all pretty good in math.)

The consensus was that the quake was between a 4 and a 4.5. I was quite surprised to discover that the preliminary indication is that the quake was a 5.4! I'm usually not that far off.

Hubs asked if I had the girls stand in the doorway. None of us felt that was necessary at the time. But the quake was a conversation stopper. Which is difficult to do with a group of 14- and 15-year old-girls.

Costume Capers

Much buzz over at Townhall and Michelle Malkin about skanky costumes aimed at young girls and boys as well. I have to admit, the first time I walked into our local costume chain store and saw a pimp outfit, I was surprised. What kind of boy would want to wear a costume like that? What kind of parent would let them? And what kind of a parent would pay real money (over $25) for a cheaply made costume the kids only wear once?

Back in the day when I had some control over what the little Hare wore, the only time I spent real money on costumes is when they were either pajamas or sweats. DS#1 wanted to be the Red Power Ranger one year. Toys 'R Us had Power Ranger sweats, complete with hoods. Unfortunately, there were no red ones. So he was the Blue Power Ranger and I bought a cheap plastic mask for him to wear. My parents actually bought the costume and they bought it big. DS#1 wore those sweats for two years. He was thrilled.

The other option is, of course, to make your own. Since I don't sew, this meant I had to become rather creative with a glue gun. (Kind of like when one of the kids had to be a cow in the school Christmas pageant.) Sweats and felt were my friends. So was the local thrift store. Do you know how many different costumes can be made using an old graduation gown? Especially if you want to be The Grim Reaper or a socerer. Just add mask or hat and that's it!

DD#1 decided to be a serial killer one year. She wore my old trench coat (over her school uniform) and carried a suitcase with a stuffed leg and shoe hanging out of it.

Pirates and gypsies have also been popular choices. Old bridesmaid dresses are the basis for fairies and princesses.

My children are now in charge of their own costumes and makeup. They rummage the attic or my closet, looking for inspiration. This year, DD#2 found a pair of black ankle boots at the thrift store. She dressed all in black, borrowed DD#1's black cape and used my make-up to create a "Goth" look. She actually looked pretty good! Best of all: all important parts were covered and the cost was minimal.

Homemade costumes allow children to be creative, don't break the bank, and keep us away from pseudo pimps and hookers who shouldn't even know whose those kind of people are, let alone try to be one! Hallowe'en should be all about the candy! Okay, and scaring your younger siblings.

Update: It looks like the same subject has been on the Captain's mind as well.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Book Review: The Shelters of Stone

This is the fifth book in the Children of Earth series (which began with The Clan of the Cave Bear) by Jean Auel. I didn't realize that she had written this book until I found this copy. The copyright date is 2002, which means Ms. Auel writes more slowly than J.K. Rowling!

Be that as it may...

When last we left Ayla, the H. sapiens woman raised by H. neandertals, and the love of her life, Jondalar, they had just crossed the glacier and were entering the region of Jondalar's family. Ayla is a bit concerned about how she will be accepted, since there is considerable prejudice against the "flatheads," as the Neandertals are referred to. (Ayla refers to them as "Clan.") Jondalar is worried as well. Not only has he been gone for a long time, but he has to tell his mother that his younger brother has died.

But they are not returning empty-handed. Ayla has tamed two horses, which they are riding, and a large wolf. She has discovered how to make fire using flint and iron pyrite and Jondalar has invented a spear thrower that will fling a spear farther and with more accuracy.

Ayla is also a skilled healer. She may also have a special connection with the Spirit world--a connection that the Zelandoni, the spiritual leader of Jondalar's cave, realizes early on.

Not everyone is happy to see Jondalar and Ayla. Marona was supposed to be mated with Jondalar when he decided to go on a Journey with his younger brother. Laramar is ranked low on the social scale, but feels that Ayla, as a stranger, should be ranked lower and is upset when she is placed near the head of the line. And Brukeval, who hates his Clan blood to the point of denying it, resents Ayla pointing it out.

Ms. Auel has spent a lot of time researching prehistoric Europe. Unfortunately, she wants to use it all. What she really needs is a good editor. Not only is there a lot of academic information, it's repeated. Then there is the matter of the poor writing. One of my pet peeves is when words (other than articles) are repeated in the same sentence or within a few short sentences. After awhile, I began to get a sense of deja vu: didn't I just read that description, conversation, action just a minute ago? (And don't get me started about The Mother's Song.

I felt like I was slogging through this book. Even the birth of Ayla and Jondalar's daughter, much discussed and anticipated throughout the book, is rather anticlimactic. It's a "set up" book, setting the stage for the next volume when all these people who object to Ayla will (presumably) begin to act out their parts of the drama. And Ayla has to decide if she will accept that she has a gift and become an acolyte to the Zelandoni.

But, really, it didn't need over 800 pages to tell this story.

On the March Hare scale: 2 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks


Book Review: A Site for Sore Eyes

I'm not sure where I picked up this book--some used book sale somewhere. The title caught my eye, though, because I love a clever title. And the fact that this is a mystery novel, a genre I was especially fond of in my youth. So, even though I didn't recognize the author (Ruth Rendell), I took a chance.

My first surprise was the book takes place in England. That information isn't in the blurb nor was it apparent in the first chapter. However, when the characters in the second chapter were talking about pubs and "ciggies," it dawned on me that this was not taking place in the U.S. When one of the characters moves to Notting Hill, I realized they were in London.

That mystery solved, I moved on to the next, which is how the three primary characters and their associates were going to finally come together.

First off there is Harriet. Harriet is famous because of a portrait painted of her and her rock star boyfriend. The only talent Harriet has is that she's breathtakingly beautiful--a talent she's traded on since she was 14. When the rock star throws her out, Harriet has to find another way to survive. She catches the eye of Franklin, a successful, married older man. Franklin divorces his wife, marries Harriet, and buys the house where the famous portrait was painted.

Meanwhile, there's Teddy. Teddy's parents, Eileen and Jimmy became engaged when Eileen found a ring in the ladies room on a trip organized by their pub. They got married after Jimmy's mum died and Jimmy realized that there was no one to take care of him and his brother, Keith, who also lived with their mother. Eileen didn't think she could become pregnant and was astonished when she did--but not enough to bother with going to the doctor. Nor had she or Jimmy thought of any names for their new child until their neighbor brought over a teddy bear as a "Welcome Baby" gift.

Having Teddy didn't make either Jimmy or Eileen sit up and take notice of what was going on around them. They drifted through their lives, not paying much attention to Teddy or to anything else. Keith had his motorbike and his cars. Only the neighbor, Mr. Chance, noticed the young boy and taught him woodworking. And Teddy's grandmother, who offered to give him a pound a week as allowance, but stipulated that Teddy had to come to her place to get it. And say, "Thank you, Grandma."

Despite this rather bleak upbringing, Teddy developed an inner esthetic, an appreciation for beauty. He attends a lecture while in college and during the slide show sees the portrait of Harriet. He is caught by the color, the lines, the composition. He is studying Graphic Design and Arts in college and, as a final project (kind of a senior thesis), he has to make something. He designs a mirror in a wood frame, which is exhibited in a local gallery, along with the projects of other students.

The third character is Francine. When she was a young girl, her mother was murdered while she was in her room, having been sent their as punishment. Francine hears the gunshots, hurries downstairs to find her mother in a pool of blood, which is where her father finds her when he returns home from work. Francine is traumatized and cannot speak. To help her, her father takes her to a child psychologist, Julia. Julia's qualifications are a bit dicey, but she does have a license. Julia takes an almost obsessive interest in Francine--which, in fact, does become obsessive once she marries Francine's father and becomes Francine's stepmother. Julia keeps Francine on a very tight leash, not allowing her to visit her friends at their houses or go to the movies or other normal activities. When Francine decides to attend Oxford, Julia talks about moving there to be near Francine. Instead, Francine decides to take a "gap" year. And her friend, Holly, persuades her to go on a double date and attend the exhibition where Teddy's mirror is displayed.

Teddy sees her and is struck by how beautiful and how perfect Francine is.

Meanwhile, Harriet, now considerably older, has a habit of hiring young handymen and seducing them. When she sees Teddy's ad (he's decided to go into cabinetry for himself now that he's graduated), she decides she needs some bookcases and hires him.

And the stage is finally set: three damaged people whose lives intersect. There are serious consequences because of that intersection, their actions, and the actions (or inactions) of those closest to them.

Site for Sore Eyes isn't a classic mystery in the Agatha Christie sense. Rather, it's more a psychological study, almost Hitchcockian. I wanted to shake some of the characters, those who showed they might have had some sense. It was kind of like watching a train wreck--horrifying and fascinating.

A good weekend book to curl up with under the covers with your favorite hot drink and snack nearby. No deep psychological dilemmas. Just kind of fun, in a creepy sort of way.

Since it was written in 1998 and is not by a commercially popular author, it probably won't be the easiest book to find.

On the March Hare scale: 3 out 5 Golden Bookmarks

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Just a Question...


Okay. I'm dense. But how can you have a religion that "embraces many different beliefs"? How can that be considered a religion? And what if my beliefs directly contradict yours? How can they both be valid?

The religion is Universalist Unitarianism. And they claim their lack of dogma allows everyone to search for the truth in their own way. All ways to the truth are equally valid.

Which leads to an interesting photo on their website: young women dressed in white wearing crowns of holly and candles on their heads. The caption claims it to be Candlemas; to me it looks like the Scandinavian Santa Lucia celebration. And one of the young women is wearing a hijab. Did no one see the irony of this?

So why the claim of "religion" rather than "philosophy"? Wouldn't that be a more accurate description of what the organization is trying to accomplish?

The UUA website freely admits they are liberal, which undoubtedly means social conservatives like myself need not apply. I'm tempted to say that it also means that they are a "guilt-free" religion--no need to feel badly about yourself and your actions as long as they were all done on the quest for truth. But that's probably just the cynic in me talking.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Book Review: A Swiftly Tilting Planet

This is the third book in Madeleine L'Engle's series that began with A Wrinkle In Time. So far, it's my favorite of the three I've read.

It's Thanksgiving, and the Murry family is gathered at the family home. Meg has married Calvin and is expecting their first child. Calvin, however, is overseas at a conference, but Meg invited his mother to join them. For the first time, she agreed to join the Murrys. The twins, Sandy and Dennys, are in law and medical school. Charles Wallace is fifteen and in high school.

Before dinner can start, Mr. Murry receives a phone call from the President of the United States. A tyrannical dictator, Mad Dog Branzillo, has threatened war. Should he launch his nuclear missiles, the U.S. will have no choice but send their anti-ballistic missiles.

Mrs. O'Keefe, who has been silent, says, "At Tara in this fateful hour..." And becomes irritable because she can't remember the rest of "Patrick's Rune." Her grandmother from Ireland taught it to her and "set great store on it to ward off the dark."

And then she looks at Charles Wallace and states, "You. Chuck. I come because of you."

Charles Wallace realizes he must go out and face whatever it is that must be faced, using Patrick's Rune. But he is not alone. He meets a unicorn at the Murry's stargazing rock and Meg is home to kythe with him. Charles Wallace must travel through time and space and save the world.

Mrs. L'Engle plays with some interesting ideas about the importance of individuals in history and that opportunities can be missed because of inaction. Patrick's Rune is as much about using the power of Heaven and the Universe as it is about one teen and one unicorn standing together.

There's also the message that there often is more to people than meets the eye. Meg comes to understand why her mother-in-law is the way she is.

Although the book was written in the mid-1970's, it is uncannily prescient about current events. Pretty sad--the world hasn't changed much.

Meg is less whiny in this book. The interweaving of local historical events and world events was quite well done. The introduction of the unicorn was okay, but I'm not sure it was necessary. I also didn't really see the point of Meg kything with Charles Wallace, except as witness to the story.

And a minor quibble: The main characters are Welsh. Wouldn't it be "David's Rune," rather than Patrick's? Okay, they're both Celtic cultures, but really...

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

Another Anniversary

After DS#1 was born I asked Hubs to bring me a copy of that day's San Francisco Chronicle. My mom kept a copy of the paper on the day we were born and I wanted to continue the tradition.

Little did I guess the headlines would read "241 Marines Killed in Lebanon."

There I was with my precious newborn son, wondering what kind of world I was bringing him into.

Shortly before his 18th Birthday, the Twin Towers fell. That weekend we were at an Eagle Court of Honor and I looked around at the young men I'd known since they were Cub Scouts, wondering what would become of them. Would the world erupt in flames? Would they be drafted? Would they volunteer? How many would be killed or maimed?

On the hill in front of the Lafayette BART station, there are nearly 4,000 crosses. They represent all the men and women in the military killed in Iraq. But where are the crosses for the 241 killed by a suicide bomber, while sleeping in their barracks, on a peacekeeping mission in Lebanon? Where are the crosses for those killed guarding the U.S. Embassy in Iran, trying to prevent those inside from being taken hostage? Or the Khobar Towers? Or the U.S.S. Cole? Or Afghanistan? Or even the 3,000 killed on 9/11?

But Lebanon is an Inconvenient Truth. The U.S. barracks were bombed (as were the French barracks) and President Reagan withdrew our forces. No retaliation. No scenes. Just picked up our marbles and left.

But, of course, in this case, the U.S. and President Bush are the war-mongering, imperialist, capitalistic fascists. Everything would be honky-dory if the U.S. Just Left.

Yeah. Right. That strategy worked so well 24 years ago.

Happy Birthday--Okay, A Day Late :)

For me, Mother's Day will always be October 23. That's the day DS#1 was born. Hubs and I became responsible for a helpless human being--a fact which hit me like a ton of bricks the morning we took him home. (Hubs also learned, rather quickly, about post-natal hormone fluctuations!)

And now I've been a mom for nearly a quarter of a century. I've learned a lot, mostly that parenting is a balancing act, that a child is not a tabula rasa at birth, mistakes will be made, and my parents were right: I have done things I never would have had I not had children. (And that life really does begin after 40. But that's another post!)

This is the first year that DS#1 has not been home to celebrate with us. In fact, we probably won't see him until Thanksgiving. Thanks to the miracle of AIM, we do communicate often. And I send him snail mail. But he's living his own life, as is appropriate for a young man in his mid-20's, trying to discover who he is and what he wants to be.

Still, I kind of missed having a cake with him and the rest of the gang last night.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Book Review: Baby Proof

Too busy to blog does not mean too busy to read. (One more reason to ride BART!)

I was looking for something fun, quick, and easy to read and Baby Proof, by Emily Giffin, fits the bill. I read it in two nights.

Claudia Parr has known that she does not want to be a mother since she was young. Now in her mid-30's, she has a terrific job as an editor in New York City and has resigned herself to a life of singledom. For most of the guys she's dated, her statement that she does not want children is the "deal breaker."

Then she meets Ben. Also single, articulate, and straight, Ben also does not want children. After several months of dating, they elope and enjoy two years of married, childfree bliss.

Until their best friends announce they are expecting.

Claudia figures that once the baby arrives, Ben will realize all the problems that come with one, but the baby is, of course, one of those "perfect" children: no colic, no tears, minimal mess. Ben wants a child more than ever and Claudia is upset and hurt that Ben broke their agreement.

They divorce.

Claudia looks for support for her decision from her friends and family, but receives little. In fact, more than one suggests that the real reason for Claudia's reluctance to become a mother has more to do with Claudia's mother than anything else. Meanwhile, the marriage of Claudia's older sister is falling apart (because that sister chose the flashy but unfaithful guy over the duller but madly-in-love with her guy) and her middle sister and brother-in-law are suffering the strains of infertility.

Baby Proof is an interesting look at how the legacy of our childhood follows us into adulthood, the bond between sisters who are very different, and female friendship. There's some discussion of why women chose the men the do and the consequences of those choices. And how very often, other people have a clearer insight to our behavior than we do.

Not bad for a "chic lit" book!

The ending is pretty realistic as well. Not all the ends are neatly tied up, but they're not quite left undone. The sad part is I'm probably closer to the age of Claudia's mother than I am to Claudia and the women of my generation don't come off so well!

However, it was a nice change from the science fiction that seems to be dominating my reading lately.

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

Where Has the Time Gone?

My last post was October 1? What the heck?

Well, I know that I've had meetings of one sort or another almost every night for the last two weeks. That's what happens when you're in charge of two different events for two different organizations on consecutive weekends. And then DD#2 was in charge of the "Songs & S'mores" event as her Silver Award project, so I was involved in that. And the Girl Scouts "Amazing Bay Day," which I wasn't in charge of, but my troop participated.

Anyway, my parish celebrates Oktoberfest the first weekend of October. It's our parish festival that raises money for the parish and the school and brings all of us together in celebration. I'm not quite sure how, but apparently Oktoberfest was originally a city-wide Fall Festival. When the city decided not to sponsor it, our parish did. The biggest supporter was Fr. Paddy, a Marist priest from Ireland.

And our city was originally part of a Spanish/Mexican land grant.

The most popular food booth is the Filipino food booth. A Frenchman runs the pasta dinner.

I run the pig race.

At the beginning of September, each school and Faith Formation class receives a neon-colored, battery-operated plush pig. They dress the pig up and we have a beauty pageant. Then we race them. The winners get a trophy.

However, the first race is always the school principal and our three priests. This year the Director of Youth Ministry also raced--my last child is in the first year of Confirmation prep and I badgered her into it. Anyway, we time the races so that Mass is done. And every year, Fr. R. cheats. Okay, he's 80. And after six years, it's tradition! It's wild and crazy and the kids and draws a huge crowd.

Last weekend was our Girl Scout Association Camporee. 90 girls and almost as many adults spent a rather damp weekend under the redwoods. The raccoons, who are generally obnoxious, must have been somewhere else. The older girls taught the younger girls important skills, like using a compass or building a shelter. Then the younger girls got to hide the older girls for another group of older girls to find. That activity was almost a bigger hit than the "treasure" the older girls were holding ("banana boats", which involve bananas, chocolate, and marshmallows).

And my employer expected me to show up at the office and actually do some work. The nerve!

One more event in October and then its back to the normal get-ready-for-the-holidays stuff!

Monday, October 01, 2007

It's Bye-Bye, Barry


image courtesy of graphics.jsonline.com

The title of this column is taken from Hall-of-Famer Lon Simmon's, long-time "voice of the Giants" radio announcer, call whenever a Giant hit a home run: "It's bye-bye, baby!" And Barry Bonds certainly hit plenty of them while wearing a Giant's uniform.

I have mixed emotions about Barry leaving--as a friend pointed out over the weekend, I feel much like I did when the 49'ers let Joe Montana go. I understand that baseball is a business and Barry is more of a liability than an asset at this point. The Giants are a National League team and there is no DH spot.

Still, if Yankee Stadium is the House that Ruth Built, Pac Bell/SBC/AT&T Park is the House that Bonds Built. There were sellout crowds the first four years after the stadium was built--and that wouldn't have happened without Barry. In fact, that whole area of the City (known as South Beach/China Basin) has been rejuvenated because of the stadium (and the 1989 Earthquake that demolished the freeway). Love him or hate him, Barry brought attention to the game and put fans in the seats. There was a sellout crowd for his final game in a Giants uniform--which would not have happened in an otherwise disappointing season. Even before then, when there was a glimmer of hope, when Barry came up to bat, cameras and phones came out to capture his stance, his swing. You never knew if he was going to hit a homer or where that homer would land.

And when he was younger, you never knew when he was going to steal.

The saddest part about the steroid scandal is that Barry had real talent. He had Hall of Fame numbers before he allegedly started taking steroids. And, rumor has it, he started taking them because he was jealous of the attention Mark McGwire was receiving during his run after Roger Maris's record.

I think there's a deeper reason: all Barry has, really, is baseball.

Unlike other Bay Area sports celebrities, Barry is not personable. He has no chance of making commercials or endorsements, even locally. He's burned Bay Area sportswriters and sportscasters; he's burned his teammates. (He had the same reputation in high school.)

But he seems to have had a good relationship with his dad, Bobby Bonds. Barry took time off to be by his dad's bedside during his fight with cancer--while the Giants were making a run for the National League title. After his dad died, Barry made the gesture pictured at the top of the post after every home run, acknowledging his dad.

And then Barry heads to the dugout to give his son a hug and a kiss. The son who is now almost as tall as his dad.

For many years, Barry wore the same earring on game day. It was a cross--and the cross belonged to his grandfather.

And Barry is very respectful towards his godfather, Willie Mays, and another great, Willie McCovey, acknowledging their skill and their importance to the game.

But his divorce from his first wife was spectacularly nasty. And it played across the sports pages of the local papers. That must have been difficult to deal with.

I wish Barry well. I hope he finds happiness--maybe with another team, a team that has a chance to win a World's Series and give Barry the ring he's missing. I hope he finds inner peace and a purpose beyond baseball. Maybe not coaching, but maybe scouting for new talent. For the next skinny kid with uncanny eye-hand coordination.

I hope the Giants will be able to use some of their freed up payroll and hire some decent pitchers. And honor Barry when he enters the Hall of Fame as (I hope) a Giant.


Monday, September 24, 2007

Book Review: A Wind in the Door

This is the second in Madeleine L'Engle's quintet (quilogy?) concerning the Murry Family.

Charles Wallace has started First Grade and life is not going well. When the other children are in the class, they announce they have chickens or that our bodies are made up of skin and bones and "stuff." Charles Wallace announces he is currently fascinated by mitochondria and farandolae. He then starts to explain that these are prokaryotes that were incorporated into our cells.

His teacher tells him to stop making stuff up and moves on the next child.

Because he is different, Charles Wallace is beaten up every day at school or on the way home. The principal's response is that Charles Wallace must learn to "adapt."

I had to check the copyright date at this point. Could it be possible that a teacher and a principal would not know about mitochondria? Would a principal really allow a child to be beaten up regularly on the way home from school and tell the parents (and Meg, Charles Wallace's older sister) that the child must learn to adapt?

Well, the copyright is 1973, which means Ms. L'Engle was probably writing the book in 1971-72. Mitochondria (and other cell organelles) certainly were in my high school biology textbook at that time. And I knew about prokaryote and eukaryotes. But I was actually interested in that kind of stuff. So I'm not the best example of what was commonly known!

The reason Charles Wallace is interested in mitochondria and farandolae is there is something seriously wrong with his. He has no energy, becoming winded walking across the orchard on the Murry family farm. His mother, a biologist, is worried and suspects the problem is with his farandolae, but she doesn't know what.

But all this comes later. The novel starts with Charles Wallace telling Meg, "There are dragons in the twins' vegetable garden." Turns out this particular entity is not really a dragon after all, but a cherubim. And this cheubim, named Proginoskes, is a Namer. And, he solemnly informs Meg, so is she. "Progo," as he is nicknamed, is accompanied by a Teacher--and it turns out that the twins, their pet snake, and the family doctor are all Teachers. Or, in the case of the twins, will be.

In the meantime, darkness threatens the world, caused by beings called the Echthroi, who are busy "unNaming" the universe, causing sections to become nought. The Ecthroi are wreaking havoc with Charles Wallace's farandolae because Charles Wallace is Special.

Meg learns to kythe, which is kind of like mental telepathy, but stronger. Meg and Progo must use their kything and their naming to save Charles Wallace and the universe--and Mr. Jenkins, Meg's former principal and nemesis from junior high.

Calvin is there to keep Meg grounded and because he has some special abilities, too, although what they are isn't made clear. Meg, meanwhile, is a very typical 14-y.o. girl, which means she whines, "Why me?" a lot and doubts her abilities even though everyone around her tells her that she underestimates herself and she is a lot smarter/prettier/stronger/etc. than she realizes. Since a 14-y.o. female currently resides with me, I can confirm that Mrs. L'Engle certainly got that part right! I became so annoyed with Meg, I wanted to shake her, although I undoubtedly would have been more sympathetic if I were also fourteen. (Yeah, I was pretty annoying.)

Besides the science, there is a lot of religious symbolism and mythology in this story. Names are important--and since they are mostly Latin and Greek, Mrs. L'Engle does explain some of them. But she also relies on the reader's knowledge of cherubim and a familiarity of the responsibility God gives Adam in Genesis to name all the creatures of the land, the air, and the sea. I wonder if teachers explore this background information with their junior high students? Unfortunately, these concepts are not really explored in depth. The book is rather short and moves kind of quickly. Perhaps the series is meant to be taken as a whole.

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

A Silver Moment

The second highest award in Girl Scouting is the Silver Award. For those familiar with the Boy Scout program, this is the equivalent of Life Scout. There are prerequisites, including leadership, career exploration, interest patches (badges), and reflection. And then there is the Project, which must take at least 40 hours, including planning and doing.

Unlike Boy Scouts, the girl must do all the prerequisites and the project in the three years from seventh through ninth grade.

DD#2 thought that she would like to do a "Welcome Back to Girl Scouting" event for the troops in our neighborhood to get the school year started. Our neighborhood had penciled in a "Songfest" event--a chance to get together and sing at just the right time. Next thing she knew, DD#2 was in charge.

"But I hate leading songs!" she protested to me.

"So ask someone else to lead the songs," I answered calmly. "You just have to plan it and make sure everything is covered. You don't have to actually do it all."

Now DD#2 has been going to Scout campfires (Boy Scout, Girl Scout, and Cub Scout) since she was a year old. She's watched me lead them, her brothers, her sister, other Scout leaders, camp counselors, other troops. She's led songs at Day Camp and at Camporee. So why did she suddenly insist that she didn't know how to put this event--which was essentially a campfire at the beach--together?

Because she's never been in charge before. Events sure look different when their success or failure hinge on you.

The most difficult part for me was not taking over.

"Has she done this yet?" asked the neighborhood coordinator.

"I don't know. You'll have to ask her," became my standard reply. My other job was to be a sounding board, to ask her questions like, "What usually happens? What are your favorite songs? What are your options?"

And to keep Hubs from driving her crazy. She is, after all, his baby, too. Worse, since he doesn't often get to see her in a leadership role, he forgets that she is pretty competent. She knows her stuff, even if she doesn't always realize she does.

The flyers were done, the registration happened, the s'more supplies were purchased, the fire laid.

"How do I start?" was her last agonized whisper to me.

"Well, you should probably welcome everyone and introduce yourself and your song leaders," I said. "Then go from there."

The neighborhood coordinator referred to DD#2's look as "deer-in-the-headlights." As the program got underway and the group (there were about 75-80 people) settled in and started singing, DD#2 became more sure of herself and lost that look. We had enough wood and enough s'more supplies. We did not set the grass on fire (Hubs' biggest concern, although there was little chance of that happening). It did not rain.

Now there is the final paperwork and the patches to be ordered. The feedback we're receiving is very positive--everyone had fun, which means our neighborhood will probably hold a similar event next year.

I'm very interested to hear DD#2's evaluation of the event. She did an excellent job, but she has my tendency to focus on what went wrong rather than what went right. And she may not enjoy leading songs, but she's good at it--and I wonder if her opinion will change after she completes a year of public speaking (which includes competitions).