Friday, March 30, 2007

Cancer and the Edwards' Decision

The Anchoress has an essay up about reactions, from the Left and from the Right, about her entry concerning the Edwards' announcement about Mrs. Edwards' cancer and Mr. Edwards' decision to continue his campaign for the Presidency. That the Anchoress expressed compassion seemed to amaze some of her readers.

When I first read that Elizabeth Edward's cancer had recurred and has metastasized to her bones my first thought was, "Damn it!" I had hoped that she had licked the Big C, would be one of the positive statistics, live long enough to dance at her children's wedding, spoil her grandchildren rotten.

An acquaintance of mine--our kids went to the parish school--also had breast cancer which spread to her bones. She was a fighter, a woman who wanted nothing more than to be the best wife and mother she could be. A mutual friend, who was with her at the end, told me that it was, finally, the pain that made her want to die. I can only imagine how horrific that pain must have been for her to finally decide that maybe dying wasn't a bad choice.

I hope Elizabeth Edwards doesn't have the same experience.

I understand why she wants her husband to continue his quest for the Presidency. She wants life to go on as normally as possible. She doesn't want to give into the disease because then the Cancer would win. Her decision is kind of like the decisions we made as a country after 9/11--they have bloodied us, but they haven't won.

But a small voice inside me asks, "What about the kids?" Dad will be on the road campaigning and Mom will be ill from treatments--who will the kids turn to? Who will reassure them, help them understand what is going on, comfort them when all this gets to be too much?

Cancer is such an ugly beast.

God bless and keep the Edwards family close to His heart.

In Thanksgiving...

...for the excellent outcome of the First Mate's (see The Captain's Quarters) kidney transplant and for the quick recovery for her and her donor!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Book Review: Farewell Summer

I was introduced to Ray Bradbury my sophomore year in high school when we were assigned Dandelion Wine. He had me from the first scene: getting new sneakers for summer because the magic had worn out from the old ones. They were, as I recall, P.F. Flyers. I knew what Mr. Bradbury was talking about because I felt that way about summer and sneakers myself. (Note: these were in the days before "athletic shoes.")

So when I discovered The Illustrated Man and The Martian Chronicles in my school's English Resource Center, I was estatic. And I was hooked.

Farewell Summer is the sequel to Dandelion Wine and what happens in Green Town when summer is over but no one quite wants to let it go. According to the Afterword,when Mr. Bradbury delivered Dandelion Wine (then titled the Blue Remembered Hills) to the publisher, they deemed it much too long. The original title for the portion that became Dandelion Wine was Summer Morning, Summer Night.

As with Dandelion Wine, much of Farewell Summer is autobiographical. The style is a bit more mystical than I remember Dandelion Wine being, but that could be the effects of memory. The focus of Farewell Summer is the battle between youth and age and it is fought literally as well as figuratively (much like the battle between Peter Pan and Captain Hook). Doug, his brother Tom, and their companions fight against Mr. Quartermain, the head of the School Board. Mr. Quartermain doesn't remember being young. Doug does not know about being old--except that it's something to be avoided.

Doug's grandfather is wise in the way of books, the world, and boys. He is there to guide Doug to making the choices that need to be made. Tom and the other boys are the chorus who, though looking to Doug for guidance in this war, also have ideas and opinions of how the battle should be waged and fought.

In the end, Summer leaves, as Summer must. The veterans of this war have all learned much about themselves, about each other, about the world.

Had I read this when I read Dandelion Wine, its impact would have been much different than now, when I am on the downhill slope of life. I recognize the battles with a foot in each camp. I'd be interested in reading a younger reader's reaction to it.

For Bradbury himself, is also in a much different place than when he wrote the first draft of Farewell Summer. So there is a tinge of nostalgia in this book, for battles fought long ago and a time and a place that no longer exists. But I remember Green Town and I remember the summer I turned 13.

Thank you, Mr. Bradbury, for the memories.

On the March Hare Scale: 4 out 5 Golden Bookmarks

God's Sense of Humor

Let it not be said that God does not have a sense of humor.

One of my office mates has four tickets to several Giants games next week. Good seats. The two night games are Wednesday and Thursday. I contact Hubs who picks Thursday because he has Fridays off and he doesn't have to get up at 0-dark-thirty after getting home around midnight.

Of course, it's also Holy Thursday.

Now, DS#2--who loves baseball--is on Spring Break that week. DD#2--who isn't thrilled about baseball, per se, but is up for any adventure in The City--has a minimum day (because it's Holy Thursday). The stadium is just about a mile from my office. I also have Friday off--because it's Good Friday. So I don't have to worry about getting home late and getting up to go to work at almost-0-dark-thirty.

But I love the Triduum Services. And DD#2 is going to training this Saturday to be a Thurifer (incense bearer).

But I know I'll be praying at the Giants Game. And they're playing the San Diego Padres, of all teams. And at least the game isn't on Good Friday which is definitely not the day to be celebrating and having a good time.

We're going to the game. As a family (or at least part of a family). Who am I to ignore God's clue-by-four?

A Serious Lack of Me Time

The last several weeks have been rather stressful. There's the situation with my in-laws' health, which is still not resolved. There's the matter of DD#2 and high school. There's the usual end-of-the-school-year rush to get everything done that affects school and Scouts and sports. My department has been devastated by a major flu bug and the only reason I'm not affected is I work 3,000 miles away. Which also means that I'm "It" as far as customer service is concerned.

My quality time with DS#2 and DD#2 is limited to travel time in the car. Quality time with Hubs is even more limited. I'm communicating with DS#1 and DD#2 by e-mail because our schedules are so crazy.

So I feel damn selfish asking for time alone. (Commuting on a crowded BART train or working in my cubicle just doesn't cut it.)

But I've always needed time to daydream, to imagine, to write. A chunk of time, uninterrupted. And if I don't get it, I become really cranky. And then I lash out and everyone's feelings get hurt.

(One reason I look forward to Thursday nights is that it's Boy Scout Troop meeting night. If I can get "rid" of Hubs and the boys, I can count on having some uninterrupted time alone.)

I thought it would become easier as the kids got older. But while they might not need me front-and-center, it seems that their activities require more "behind-the-scenes" adult help. Which means committee meetings. At night. And then weekend activities.

So how do I kindly, compassionately, and lovingly tell my family that I need them to go away and get out my face for a couple of hours every week? Any suggestions?

Decisions, Decisions

DD#2 was accepted to her first choice high school. Everything about it is inconvenient, especially the cost (tuition & books are going to run at least $10,000) and the location (the opposite direction of where everyone else in the family needs to go in the morning and will be in the afternoon).


She really, really wants to go there. I can tell. It's in her eyes and her face when she talks about it.

The worst part is I know how she feels. I was in the same spot myself, 40 years ago. And Sr. Henry told my mother that I deserved to go to my first choice high school and that God would provide.


Hubs comes from a different background and has a different perspective. When we were first married I was the fiscally conservative one. Now he is. He sees the money spent on high school as money that could be spent on college. And he has a point: DS#1 is going away to Cal Poly in the fall; DD#1 will be leaving (we hope) for college/university in a year, followed by DS#2 the year or so after that. Hubs hates being in debt. High school is high school and he's hoping DD#2 is accepted into the same high-quality, out of district high school that DS#2 currently attends (and, with the grace of God, will graduate from).

Yeah, it would be nice not to have to juggle money and bills from month to month and paycheck to paycheck.

I am tired of being the parent who always says, "No." I really want to say, "Yes."

I took the chicken way out. I've asked Hubs to talk to DD#2 and to find out, for himself, why this high school is important to her. I'm asking him to say, "No."


I feel sick about it. I feel that, somehow, all this comes down to my lack of faith. I always have difficulty when I'm at the crossroads of "practicality" and "faith." This is where I strain to find some guidance, some sign from God about the right path.

Maybe there isn't one. Maybe where DD#2 goes to high school isn't such a big deal in the larger scheme of her life. Again, my experience is that going to my first choice high school important and did make a difference in my life.

No matter what choice is made, someone is going to be unhappy about it. And I'm going to be stuck wondering "What if...?"

Prayer Requests...

...for Julie D. (Happy Catholic) and her family, especially her dad who is having health problems.

...for my co-worker who recently lost his sister and their families.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Book Review: The Angel and the Jabberwocky Murders

My "light" reading lately has been mostly science fiction, which happens when I try to catch up on my back issues of Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. (Highly recommended, by the way!)

I was in the mood for something different and stopped by the local library and found The Angel and the Jabberwocky Murders by Mignon F. Ballard. A mystery story! With an angel! With an Alice connection! Which promised "Heavenly Recipes"! This looks like a perfect piece of fluff.

The British have their "English village" mystery. Jabberwocky Murders is in a similar vein, but set in the town of Stone's Throw, South Carolina. I would call this a "little-old-lady" mystery, except the protagonist is my age!

Stone's Throw kind of reminds me of the town in Steel Magnolias--all the women know each other, they all go to the same beauty parlor, and everything is everyone's business. And it seems like everyone, except the college students, has two first names, or a strange one like "Willene" or "Weigelia."

Our heroine, Lucy Nan Pilgrim, is a widow, with two grown children, a daughter-in-law, and a six-year-old grandson. She is the part-time public relations director at the local restored plantation and is helping teach a "hands-on" history class at the local women's college. Lucy Nan is also a member of the Thursday Morning Literary Society, which now meets on Monday afternoons. The women are supposed to discuss books, but frequently get off track. The subject of discussion this particular October day is the college girl who has been having an affair with her English professor and who is now missing.

Lucy Nan also has a roommate: Augusta. Augusta is beautiful, wise, comforting, an oustanding cook and, oh yeah, she's an angel. A real one. The only people who can see Augusta are Lucy Nan (whom Augusta came to take care of) and Ellis, Lucy Nan's best friend since preschool.

While out in the woods on campus property, picking plants to dye wool, two of Lucy Nan's students find D.C.'s body. D.C.'s murder happened pretty close to where the body of another young college student was found four years previously. What ties these two murders together is that each received a photocopy of part of the poem Jabberwocky.

But who done it? Was it the English professor, who was known for having affairs? Could it someone else on the faculty or staff? And why?

And what is going on with Leslie, the great-niece of Lucy Nan's neighbor, Nettie? Why did Willene suddenly disappear in the dark of night? Tension mounts when Weilgelia's sister, Celeste, receives an anonymous note: another verse from Jabberwocky.

This is the fifth or sixth novel featuring Augusta Goodnight, so there's some backstory that I'm missing. But Ms. Ballard does a pretty good job of weaving the information you need to know into the narrative. There's a lot of "local color" and many discussions about food. As a bonus, recipes are included at the end of the novel for some of the featured dishes.

All in all, this book was exactly what I hoped it would be--a pleasant diversion on my morning and evening commute.

On the March Hare scale: 3 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks. Not particularly memorable, but not awful.

Note to Julie D: You'd probably enjoy the recipes! ;)

It's the Little Things...

...that seem to bug me the most. Or maybe it's just this week.


Last night Hubs and I were watching Criminal Minds. The Behavioral Analysis Unit of the FBI gets called to a different part of the country each week to investigate cases that have the local authorities stumped. The BAU looks at the details of the crimes and draws up a profile of the person who most likely committed the crimes.

This week's episode was about a serial arsonist who also enjoyed watched his victims burn. The show was interesting, but it was supposed to take place in San Francisco. Now, San Francisco is fairly easy to recognize and there were the obligatory set shots as the plane bearing our intrepid BAUers flew over The City.

That was the last I saw of San Francisco.

The SFFD uniforms looked wrong. The SFPD uniforms looked wrong. Most of all, the houses where the victims lived were completely wrong. San Francisco homes are not single level ranch houses surrounded on all four sides by lush lawns, even in the wealthy areas of town. Because the real estate is so expensive, most houses are built flush with their neighbors, with the living area on top of the garage. Those homes that aren't built flush are older--certainly not 1950-1960's ranch houses.

And the neighborhoods were too flat. Not everyone lives on a hill, but it's difficult not to see one in the background. And the "harbor district" with the warehouses? Doesn't exist here.

I understand location shoots are expensive, but this episode didn't even make the effort to be realistic about the location. Whoever was in charge should have just made it some generic California-ish sounding town. (It's not that difficult--just slap a Spanish name on it, especially one that begins with San or Santa.)

Does anyone else notice these things or is it just me?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

What NCAA?

DD#2 is playing her last year of CYO Girls Basketball. Through the years, our team has not been known as a Powerhouse. They shoot--the ball rolls around the rim and drops out. The other team shoots--the ball rolls around the rim and drops in. DD#2's team plays strong defense and keeps the game close and then loses steam until the fourth quarter when the other team runs over them.

Last night was different. Last night they actually made the opposing coach lose her cool with her own team.

They were playing one of the better teams in the league and they had the lead up until the last minute of the game. DD#2's team lost in overtime, but they played well, they played as a team, and they played just as physically (and in some cases, just as physically aggressive!) as their opponents.

And I was a bit hoarse this morning.

The girls have been playing since 3rd Grade but since there are so many of them, they have two teams. Each year the mix of girls is a bit different, so they've had to relearn each teammates strengths and weaknesses. The beauty of this system is that it allows each girl to develop--DD#2 is a much better player now than she was even last year and her role in the team has expanded (along with her playing time). She hasn't been "locked in" to a position.

So, while she did not score last night, she did have two fouls, blocked several shots, fought for and gained control of the ball from her opponent, and when "bumped" by an opponent's hip she "bumped" right back.

Her team lost more because of poor clock management skills, but I can't blame them--they had never led in a close, hard-fought game before!

Unfortunately, they face the same team again Saturday--their very next game. I don't know if they're going to be able to keep up their intensity. I know the coach of the other team won't hesitate to remind her girls who they almost lost to!

Of course, the irony is that they begin each game with The Lord's Prayer and then immediately battle it out on the court.

I don't know if I can stand it! :)

Time Change

About the only good thing with moving Daylight Savings Time up two weeks is that I have seen some awesome sunrises that I would have missed. And the truly luminescent early morning moon, waning down to fingernail slice, in a bright blue sky, has started my morning drives with a reminder of the beauty around us.

But even the deer are confused. Why are all these cars out, disturbing our breakfast? (And where one is, two or three are gathered together.)

At least, I'm no longer falling asleep at my desk.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Chick Flick Weekend

One of my traditions--and, it turns out, other "Scout Moms" have a similar one--is that when Hubs and the boys are gone (usually at a Scouting event), I watch "chick flicks." I started the tradition with a VHS recording of Braveheart, but over the years I've branched out. We also have Movies On Demand and most of them, especially if they're a few years old, are free.

Last Saturday I watched one of my all-time faves, Somewhere In Time, with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. And a Rachmaninoff score.

The plot's pretty weak--I'm not really sure why Elise McKenna (Seymour) falls for Richard Collier (Reeve) and in such a short time span. And the apparent ability of Elise's manager, William Fawcett Robinson (Christopher Plummer), to predict the future is mentioned in passing but never explained.

But Somewhere In Time does have a wonderful setting, gorgeous period costumes, the ethereal beauty and grace of Jane Seymour, and Christopher Reeve's smile. And his ability to make fun of himself.

The seduction scene leaves much to the imagination--which is good. One of my faves, in fact.

The other chick flick I watched (Sunday night) was Shakespeare In Love. Joseph Fiennes plays Will Shakespeare, Gwenyth Paltrow play Viola--who becomes the muse of Shakespeare--and Colin Firth (sigh) plays Lord Wessex. Dame Judi Dench received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her eight minutes in the film, but they were important minutes, mind you.

The seduction scene in Shakespeare In Love leaves much less to the imagination, but has the advantage of showcasing lines that (we are to believe) Shakespeare incorporated into Romeo and Juliet. Except for that scene, this might be a way to introduce students to Shakespeare and to Christopher (Kit) Marlowe and the whole milieu of English Theater during the time of Elizabeth.

More gorgeous costumes, wonderful dialogue, terrific actors (Geoffrey Rush, of Pirates of the Carribean fame, plays the theater manager), and the best repeating line I've heard in awhile: "I don't know. It's a miracle."

Hubs was home at that point, but he fell asleep. I turned the volume down and I missed some of the dialogue because English actors just won't open their mouths and enunciate! But that's my personal rant.

I'm looking forward to the next Scout outing. I have Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason for starters.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


I apologize for not posting much recently. A week ago last Friday I was told I could go to a conference that I had been told I was going to in February and then told I was not going to the Tuesday before I had to leave. So I had to uncancel my hotel reservations for an overbooked hotel, cancel my Girl Scout troop meeting that I had uncanceled, let DD#1 know that she had to drive DS#2 to the bus stop for school, remind DS#2 that he had to get up earlier because his sister needs to leave earlier than we do to get to her 8:00 a.m. class, and he had to make his own lunch, and remind DD#2 that she also had to get herself up, her lunch made, and be out of the house in time to walk to school.

The conference turned out to be pretty interesting on both a professional and a personal level. One of my close friends, who relocated to the East Coast, was there, and we made arrangements to go to dinner. I ran into another former co-worker who was able to introduce me to the Vice-President of Sales at his company. I met a couple of customers I had trained. I met several groups from ports in China to whom we are either selling data or trying to. I met the representative from the port of Manzanillo, Mexico, who supplies my company with data for that port.

Best of all, from a strictly personal point-of-view, I felt like I belonged. I knew how to dress. I knew the lingo. The panel discussions made sense to me. I knew enough people that they introduced me to others and soon I was eating and drinking and laughing with a group instead of holding up a wall or wandering aimlessly with a drink in my hand.

In the wierdest coincidence of all, I met the marketing manager for a container company who is married to one of my classmates from high school and is the brother-in-law to another one. And he went to school with the guy I dated my junior year. This sort of thing often happens to two people who grew up in San Francisco, especially if their families have roots there. Others in our "cocktail cluster" were more surprised.

But being away meant that the reports and things I was supposed to produce during those two days didn't get done. (I don't rate a Blackberry or a Treo or a laptop.) I felt rather strange being away from a computer, kind of like a withdrawal. On the other hand, my most urgent issues were passed on to my colleagues and I couldn't worry about them.

The awkward part was Sunday night when I was on my own for dinner. I slipped a book into my purse and was thinking about my options (I didn't want to just eat in my room) when I ran into an associate. She was on her way to a dinner engagement but suggested I visit the Queen Mary, which is moored nearby. Turns out there is a free shuttle, so I spent several enjoyable hours poking around the shops and historical displays on board. I wondered if the restaurant would stick me in a corner, but they showed me to a window seat where I could enjoy the lights along the harbor.

Much better choice than room service!

I impressed one of the senior sales reps there, as I was able to introduce him to some of the accounts he is taking over from a rep who retired. ("You worked that room like a pro," was his assessment.) Since he's close to the President of our division, this is not a bad thing. In fact, there may be more travel in my future.

I'd rather have more money.

Still, I remember my first awkward cocktail parties with customers, some thirty years ago. (That long? Yikes!) I wasn't sure how to juggle a drink, my purse, and a plate of appetizers. (I know now that I don't even try!) I drank drinks too quickly, trying to keep up. I worried I laughed too loudly. I didn't know how to move gracefully from one group to another. I clung to the people I knew like a drowning woman to a life preserver.

Kind of nice to move beyond that.

Prayers Requested...

Hubs' oldest sister called with news about their mom. The MRI revealed an aneuryism. We don't know much more than that because Mom hasn't been to the doctor to discuss options. Youngest sister (who the middle child--Hubs is the "baby") hasn't told Mom the results yet--she's waiting until the doctor appointment.

Unfortunately, their dad is in the early stages of Alzheimer's and is slowly slipping away.

Some hard decisions will have to be made, but it won't be clear what they are until after the doctor's visit sometime next week.

In Thanksgiving II...

When we came home last night, the mailbox was overflowing. There were two large envelopes from the high schools DD#2 had applied to.

I knew immediately what that meant, but DD#2 opened the envelopes and read the cover letter to be sure.

She got into both high schools. She called one of her best friends, who got into all four high schools she applied to and is also applying for the same out-of-district high school we are.

"I can't believe they don't want me to go to summer school," DD#2 said. I had already received her test scores from one school; the other school included them in the acceptance packet. (Her scores were a little bit higher for this school because she had already taken the test the week before.) I pointed out her percent ranking and her grade equivalent scores.

"I don't want to hear 'I'm stupid' any more," I told her.

She blushed.

Soon we'll have to make a decision: do we persue this? Catholic high schools are expensive and DS#1 is going away to college. And he's majoring in mechanical engineering which means his textbooks will start at about $100 dollars. Each. (One of the Assistant Scoutmasters offered to lend DS#1 his engineering texts. His wife and I laughed--his texts are probably a bit out of date!)

Right now, however, it's time to celebrate!

Happy Anniversary!

To us! Hubs and I have been married for 28 years, so to celebrate in appropriate style, after I finished selling Girl Scout cookies in the morning, I joined him at our local Boy Scout camp where he was in charge of the troop's Webelos weekend. 15 Boy Scouts (including DS#2) were introducing 30 or so 4th and 5th Grade boys and their parents to what Boy Scouts do. Because our troop is mostly boy-run, there was a lot of chaos.

There was also turkey baked in a (new) garbage can, "sparkling" potatoes, dutch over brownies, enough food for a small army, and a lot of laughing, chatting and talking. DD#2 came with me--she actually chose to! I didn't quite understand why until I saw her hanging out with some of the boys (hmmm... should I begin to worry?) and with one of her buddies from Girl Scouts. She also spent a lot of time with her brother (okay, maybe I won't worry).

DD#2 and I stayed until campfire was over. I'm glad we did. DS#2 spent last summer working at the Boy Scout Resident Camp and has learned a few things, like how to lead a campfire program. This was the first chance to see him lead songs, getting the audience involved--which means he had to cut loose and go over the top. He also doesn't have a bad singing voice, compared to the rest of the gang.

DS#2 has gone from being Younger Brother to a leader. In fact, I really like this particular group of older boys, having known most of them from Cub Scouting and watching them grow up. One of the guys has a difficult time in school--he has a severe reading disability. But he's one of the troop leaders, respected by his peers, renown for his antics and his flair for drama. Another boy, who has had a rough home life and who was in the shadow of his older brother, is starting to take on responsibility and leadership. He's coming into his own, becoming comfortable with himself.

And then, of course, there are the Assistant Scoutmasters, including Hubs. These are the kind of men I wouldn't mind my sons becoming. They sing, they dance, they cook, they lead by example, they challenge the boys in the troop to lead, to take on responsibility, to earn those rank advancements. They keep the light of Scouting burning brightly and they are eager to pass it on to the next generation.

Plus, when I got home, I got to watch one of my favorite "chick flicks," uninterrupted and without apology! ;)

Thursday, March 08, 2007

In Thanksgiving...

...after a long wait, DS#1 was accepted at his first choice university (Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo) for the fall semester. One set of challenges down; another just beginning.

...that the mechanical problem with the truck proved to be relatively simply and--relatively--inexpensive to fix.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The "Eff" Word

I met Hazel soon after I started working. She was petite, impeccably dressed, white hair flawlessly coiffed. She had worked for the company for twenty years when I started and worked ten more before she retired.

Her retirement party was part celebration, part roast. Hazel had learned a thing or two from the longshoremen back when the company office was actually on the docks. And she wasn't afraid to use her knowledge on those in the office who deserved it, including a young man, working for his uncle during his vacations from college, who later became a Senior Vice-President of the company. Who was gleefully telling the story while Hazel tried to hide under her napkin.

Much like the military, the "eff" word is used liberally in the steamship business. It's a noun, a verb, an adjective, an adverb--sometimes all in the same sentence. Things go wrong all the time. Sometimes it's merely annoying. Sometimes it's serious. Occasionally it's fatal. The "eff" word covers all those situations.

Because the word is so common, it's easily absorbed into daily conversation and used indiscriminately. I had to "unlearn" my use of the "eff" word (among others) after DS#1 was born and I realized that 2-y.o.s shouldn't use that kind of language. I found it to be kind of an addiction--ultimately, it was easier just to not use the word at all rather than trying to limit my use.

I do pretty well--so much so that when I let loose, co-workers and acquaintances are shocked that not only do I know those words, I know how to use them. After all, they see a middle-aged mother of four who dresses professionally, if not impeccably, and whose hair, while not white, is getting pretty close.

Earlier this week I went to lunch with a long-time friend and it turned into a gripe-and-steam-blowing session. We were in one of his favorite restaurants when I let loose my feelings in what Capt. Kirk once described to Mr. Spock as "colorful metaphors." I must have been a tad bit loud (oops!) because we got a few looks.

And then I thought of Hazel, God rest her soul. A true lady and pioneer who is probably laughing wickedly at me wherever she is.

What Are You Giving Up for Lent?

This was the question we were asked at our latest Confirmation Candidate/Sponsor meeting. The candidates were giving up things like MySpace or Internet games or IMing or chocolate. The sponsors were trying to be more patient and understanding, not giving into anger, although some were giving up coffee or alcohol. (Coffee?! Are they nuts?)

In the past I've given up popcorn, chewing gum, chocolate, alcohol. I've promised to read more spiritually uplifting books and pray more. I've tried to be more patient, more understanding, more forgiving of my friends and relatives.

This year, I'm trying something different.

If the Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions, then my road is smooth as glass. So this Lent, I'm going to try to follow through on those Good Intentions and not let them languish on my "To Do" list.

I'm not doing really well. But I am trying. My worst fault is that, although I love to write and I love to make greeting cards and stationery, I'm probably the worst at sending them out. Just little notes to let people know I'm thinking of them and wishing them well. But I get caught up in having to do it BIG instead of, you know, just doing it.

So tonight, I'm following through on a couple of good intentions. I'm giving up TV to do it.

Just as soon as I get off the computer. ;)

Book Review: The Rise of Endymion

This is the final book in the series that began with Hyperion. In The Rise of Endymion, Dan Simmons not only ties up the loose ends flapping around in the first three books, he also takes on the challenge of explaining what, exactly, makes up The Void That Binds. To do this, Mr. Simmons draws on Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and throws in a little bit of the Grand Unification Theory of physics just for good measure.

The Catholic Church plays a significant role in this universe, although its a Church quite removed from the one we currently have. The Church is the ruling authority on most of the inhabited worlds, maintaining control by the ironically named Pax--the military arm of the Church. Priests can be male or female and can be warriors as well as spiritual leaders.

Part of the Church's authority comes from the cruciforms, symbiont's or parasites that live inside humans and are used to resurrect them from the dead. In fact, this act of resurrection has become the eighth sacrament.

Not everyone accepts this gift nor the Church's authority. Jews, Muslims, other Christian and Catholic sects, and Buddhists have emigrated to various worlds during the Hegira away from "Old Earth." The Pax come after them all. Those they cannot convert, they kill.

The Pax also kills humans who have used biotechnology to adapt themselves to outer space. During one of these raids on the "Ousters," Father Captain de Soya and his crew realize that they are killing children and infants. They rebel against the Pax and begin a series of guerrilla raids against their former friends.

Previously, Father de Soya had been sent out to kidnap the girl, Aenea, who is the offspring of a human woman and a cybrid of John Keats, the English poet. Although the cybrid was killed before Aenea was born, he was able to download his memories and implant them in Aenea's mother. His memories whispered and instructed Aenea during her gestation, imparting her with wisdom far beyond that of humans.

At the end of Endymion, Aenea and her companions--Raul Endymion, who has been entrusted to protect her, and the android, A. Bettick--have arrived on Old Earth and have found Taliesin West, the studio of Frank Lloyd Wright. Or the construct of Frank Lloyd Wright. At the compound, Aenea learns to build and Raul learns more about his charge. All good things must come to an end, however, and Aenea sends Raul off on his own, telling him to find their ship (left behind on a previous world) and to meet her at world called T'ien Shan. There are things she must do which do not involve Raul.

Much like The Odyssey, Raul travels through several different worlds before finding the ship and returning to Aenea. Because of the physics of space travel, he has only aged a few months, while she has aged several years. Aenea is now an architect of note and also has a gathering of students, including the latest incarnation of the Dalai Lama, who come from all over this world to hear her lectures, to ask her questions, and to receive communion of her blood.

These lectures provide the opportunity for Mr. Simmons to show off some of his knowledge of major religions and to expound on what really makes up the "black matter" that keeps our universe tied together. This part of the book--and the other sections like it--were heavy going.

Meanwhile, back at the Vatican...

Once a person receives communion with Aenea, they can no longer wear the cruciform. Death is the true death--there is no resurrection. The Church's authority is threatened as well as the fate of all humanity. The Church sees Aenea as a virus which must be stopped. And they make a bargain with the "devil" to do it.

Humans, it seems, are merely pawns in a much larger game and the players include some who are decidedly not human.

And humans of this far future are just as venial, greedy, lustful after power, as those of the present day.

Oh, yeah... there is the poet, Martin Silenus, who is writing his Cantos, an epic prose-poem about the adventures of the original group on the Shrike Pilgrimage and their off-spring. He is nearly a thousand years old and is anxious to complete his opus. Will Raul complete his mission so Martin can write the ending? Will Martin live long enough?

The Rise of Endymion was copyrighted in 1997, so parts of it seem a bit dated. The way the Catholic Church evolved bothers me--it's a Church that has kept much of its pomp and circumstance and traditions, but without understanding why these traditions are important. Would the Church make up a sacrament that had not come down from Christ? Would the Church revert to the military church of the Renaissance?

I think not, based on the papacies of the last half of the 20th Century and the beginning of the 21st. I pray not.

Endymion and The Rise of Endymion need to be read together. Enough backstory is included that the book will probably make some kind of sense if you haven't read Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion. I read the first two about ten years ago (or more) and reading the summary on Amazon brought back most of the main themes of the novels. If you know something of John Keats and his poems, Hyperion and Endymion, which I don't, you may get more of the symbolism and the structure of these stories.

These novels have lots of theories ripe for discussion, as well as some terrific action scenes and descriptions of strange new worlds. Might be interesting for a book club, especially one with a scientific/philosophical bent.

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