Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Blast From The Past

Last Sunday, DS#1 and I went to an 80th birthday party for an old friend of my parents. How old? Next year, Memorial Day, it will be 60 years since my mother and her best friend met the gentleman who became the husband of my mother's best friend. (The family of my mother's best friend also introduced my parents. Their reason? Both were Catholic and both liked to read!)

Along with another couple, they went on picnics, had "poker nights," celebrated holidays and special events together. And had kids. Six adults versus ten kids made the odds a bit more even. Unlike hanging with my cousins, I was the oldest--by a month. According to the younger kids, R & I were the "ringleaders." We masterminded creek diversions, cops-and-robbers games, Marco Polo, hide-and-seek, and whatever else we could come up with when our parents told us to "go out and play."

This all came out at the birthday party, along with memories of the brown leather suitcases, big enough to hold a martini shaker and two bottles, and round metal coolers with scotch plaid theme. And the fact that the birthday boy was never satisfied with the way his yard looked, so it was always under construction.

There were pictures, including us as children. Trying to figure out which girl that was in the bathing cap was a challenge because, in order to fit us all in, the picture taker was standing across the pool.

The biggest shock was a picture of my mother, taken when she was about ten years younger than I am now. My resemblance to her is uncanny. (Fortunately, I think Mom has aged well!)

Another surprise was the father and stepmother of my best friend were there! The connection is a little bit complicated--mostly it's a Mission High School connection. (It's that "six degrees of separation" thing that native San Franciscans seem to have.)

Two people were missing: the birthday boy's wife, who died suddenly about ten years ago, and my dad.

Before we left, we took a picture of those kids that were there (seven out of the ten) and our kids. We told each other how nice it was to get together when it wasn't a funeral.

On the way home, I tried to explain to DS#1 about how important these people were in my childhood. They are in nearly every memory I have, big ones but more importantly, the small ones, too. Getting up at the crack of dawn to go on a picnic. Eating barbecue in the backyard on the Fourth of July, dressed like Eskimos because it was so cold. One year when my dad gave up and barbecued in the fireplace in the living room on a hibachi. Setting off fireworks in the driveway. Waiting an hour before we could swim. The really cool wading pool at Almaden Park.
These are the people my parents could depend on in an emergency. These were the kids who were always there, who remember the pieces of my childhood that I've forgotten. Who, along with my siblings, could probably blackmail me effectively. (As I could them!)

DS#1 sort of understood. He's a young adult now and is starting to separate from the friends he had in high school. His life is moving in a different direction. The one family friend he's had since they were babies is in the Navy and I was glad to hear they still keep in touch.

The past keeps you grounded.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church

Deb is having quite a discussion over at her blog, ukok's place. Come on in, the water's fine. Just be civil, please!

Movie Review: Happy Feet

Emperor penguins find their true love by singing. This animated movie takes that idea and plays with it: what if a baby penguin was born who can't sing, but who can tap dance?

So the directors pick two Australians, Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, to give voice to two characters named Norma Jean and Memphis. Norma Jean has a high, breathy voice and Memphis sounds like Elvis (I guess "Graceland" wasn't masculine enough).

They do a creditable job singing the duet that brings them love and an egg.

Norma Jean goes off to fish; Memphis keeps the egg warm. There is some interesting speculation on penguin mysticism, during which Memphis looses the egg. He finds it and tucks it back under his belly, but when the egg is late in hatching and the chick cannot sing, Memphis feels guilty. He is determined that his son be seen as normal; otherwise, Memphis has to admit that he screwed up the most important job he had.

The chick is named "Mumbles." Why is not explained because he speaks just fine. He just can't sing. His dancing intrigues and captivates his peers, but it horrifies the elders who demand Mumbles be cast out of the colony. (Why the Head Penguin Priest speaks with a brogue is not explained.) The Elders hope this action will please the Penguin God and bring back the fish.

Mumbles goes out into the world and discovers another species of penguins who are smaller but who appreciate his moves. These penguins, including Ramon (voiced by Robin Williams) all speak with a Spanish accent. They also mangle the English language the way most Spanish (or Italian) characters do. Yet I don't remember any PC police questioning this. These penguins bring pebbles to their intended as a sign of their affection.

Lovelace (also voiced by Williams) is the head prophet/guru of this colony. He is clearly another species of penguin all together and he sounds suspiciously like a famous African-American preacher who is often in the news. (Again--not a peep from the PC police. Is it because of Robin William's political views?) Around his neck is the plastic six-pack ring, which he takes as a sign of favor. Of course, later those rings prove to be nearly fatal.

Mumbles, who has heard stories of strange aliens without feathers, asks Lovelace if he has ever seen any and if these aliens could be why the fish are gone. (We know the answer to this one, right?) Not satisfied with the non-answer Lovelace gives him, Mumbles is discouraged. But when Lovelace begins to choke because the six-pack rings are too tight, Mumbles, Lovelace, and the gang go off to find the aliens to see if they can release Lovelace from his bonds. Mumbles is also sure he can persuade the aliens to stop taking all the fish.

And that's where the movie starts to break down.

The late Steve Irwin is the voice of an elephant seal. He's allowed to keep his accent. We're never told what nationality the aliens are, although there is a scene with a church with a cross in the background. (The church looks vaguely like the one at Fort Ross in California, although the cross is Western.)

I don't know enough about the habits of factory fishermen in Antarctica to comment on the accuracy of the portrayal. Are there elephant seals in Antarctica as well? I don't know. I know they are in California and that they travel to the Arctic after giving birth. I know there are Orcas (killer whales) in the North Atlantic and the Arctic and there are factory fishing ships in the North Pacific. While I wouldn't be surprised that the writers and directors played a little fast and loose with the facts, I'm not certain they did.

DD#2 likes the music, which is basically covers of several classics and several modern pop-type songs. I found it just okay. Some of the songs Mumbles starts tapping to didn't have what I consider a "tapping beat," although the ending, where the penguins do more of a "stepping" type dance, was more effective. DD#1 and I were both very disappointed in the ending--we felt it was really weak. When I complained that Happy Feet didn't take better advantage of the differences in behaviors among penguins species, DD#1 pointed out that Happy Feet was released after March of the Penguins, so people were familiar with penguin species and behavior.

Penguins are among my personal favorites in the animal kingdom. I can see where they are fun to animate, to anthropomorphize (is that even a word?). And the art directors do a terrific job. Feathers blow in the wind. Mumbles coloring suggests a tuxedo and spats. The important penguins have individual physical characteristics that set them apart.

Still, this movie was a major disappointment for me. I didn't come away "tapping my feet." I didn't understand why the characters behaved the way they did. The penguins sure didn't look like they were starving and they had enough energy to waddle their way across Antarctic wastes. There were some cute moments, but not enough of them. The songs were just okay. I think we spend $1.99 buying this movie through On Demand (the regular rate is $3.99 I think), which was about all this was worth.

I had heard rumblings about "a gay theme" in this movie. If there is, it's only in the final scene where father and son reconcile and Mumbles tells his dad, "But I'm happy with who I am!" Okay--but I've had similar discussions with my young adult children and they are not gay (as far as I know). Frankly, that's the least of this movie's problems.

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

Book Review: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Arthur Dent is an ordinary, middle-class citizen of the United Kingdom on the planet, Earth. He wakes up one morning, goes into his bathroom to brush his teeth, sees something big, yellow, and menacing out of the window, spits, brushes some more, rinses his mouth, then realizes what that big, yellow something is. The local council is putting a bypass through--his house.

Understandably upset, Arthur argues with the foreman who is, in his turn, implacably determined that the bypass will be put through. Arthur takes the only course of action that seems rational at the time: he lays down in the mud in front of one of the bulldozers.

Enter Ford Prefect, an out-of-work actor and long-time friend of Arthur's. Ford has something important to tell Arthur. Now. At the local pub. He persuades the foreman to lay down in the mud in Arthur's place, runs off to the pub, orders six pints, and tells Arthur he has six minutes to drink three of them.

As Arthur is drinking--and trying to find out why, exactly, it is so important to drink the beer, Ford explains he is not from Guilford but from Betelgeuse. Arthur is convinced his friend has lost touch with reality and runs back home (don't you love these cosy English villages?) to find that his house is half-demolished.

Just then, a voice from above announces the presence of the Volgon Construction Fleet and the fact that Earth will be demolished in three make way for a new bypass.

And Arthur finds himself on board a space ship with Ford Prefect, the last surviving member of the human race. Ford, it turns out, really is from Betelgeuse and is also a roving field reporter for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the most widely sold book in the known Universe..

Well, not quite. Seems there was this party at this flat in Islington where Arthur met a girl, who, as it happens, has advanced degrees in math and astrophysics. Arthur tried to get on with her, but she left the party with a man claiming to have a space ship.

No, that's not the space ship Arthur and Ford are on now.

Douglas Adams was an absolute genius in coming up with names for his characters: Zephod Beeblebrux, Ford Prefect, Slartibartfast. His alien cultures are truly alien--the Volgons torture their captives by reading poetry. And if you've ever endured bad poetry, or art in any form, then read the critics rave reviews and wondered, "What are they talking about?", then you'll appreciate the scene where Arthur and Ford are captives of the Volgon and are forced to listen to the captain read his poetry. Truly genius.

That said, Hitchhiker's is definitely British, although the spelling in the Ballantine edition I picked up has been Americanized (pity, that). Think Monty Python in print. Not everything makes sense, although you have the feeling the story is going somewhere, although you're not quite sure where. I found myself smiling and laughing out loud, although if I had to explain it, I couldn't. The punch line is in the set up, which is often pages long.

This is my third exposure to Hitchhiker's and it didn't hurt. Watching the movie helped, although I suspect the movie combines elements of the second book, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. But when I read Marvin's lines, I hear Alan Rickman's wonderful rendition of the depressed (and depressing) robot.

I won't be giving away too much if I tell you the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything is 42. And humans are the third most intelligent species on Earth. Dolphins are second.

Of course, Hitchhiker's is not the end of the story. So I'm off with Arthur, Ford, Zephod (the Original), Marvin, and Trillian (the former Trish McMillan) to the Restaurant at the End of the Universe. We're traveling first class, of course, on The Heart of Gold, equipped with the latest Improbability Drive. Zephod stole the ship at its launching, when he was President of the Galaxy. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

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

Good Morning!

For years I've maintained I am not a morning person, preferring, instead to snuggle under the covers until well past time more industrious people were up.

What I've discovered is: that's not quite true.

If I rise when I first wake up, I have about a two or three hour window when I can get a lot done. My brain is not fully engaged with the world and is still linked to my subconscious. I am tremendously creative. Or, as I do most work day mornings, I can operate on auto-pilot and get a lot of chores done, chores that will bore me beyond belief the rest of the day. The problem on weekends is I have to choose one or the other.

Today I'm choosing to write, although I have put a load of towels in the wash.

I'm not sure how to increase my afternoon efficiency. Sometimes I have no choice--some things just have to be done, such as answering the phone at work. Other times I drift, unsure of what to do next on my never-ending list of things to do. Afternoon naps, although I enjoy them tremendously, don't seem to produce the same results as waking up from the night's sleep, even if that sleep has not been the most restoring.

Perhaps the Brits have the right idea with tea at four o'clock. Sis#2 has a tradition when traveling with her family that she calls "four o'clock ice cream." It's a break in the day when you sit and restore your blood sugar. I've tried that when camping with my Girl Scout troop, although we usually don't have ice cream. But I bring granola bars or grapes--some type of healthy snack.

But tea... I'll have to remember to try that today and see if it helps. I have a lot of stuff to try to get done today. Hubs and DS#2 are returning from a week at Boy Scout camp, so the chaos and confusion will increase. I'd like to have a jump start on some of it!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Brain Drained

I'm having a difficult time thinking of something to write this evening. I spent three hours in a Peer-to-Peer training session, hashing out with my co-workers the best approach for training new customers. And discovering some of the flaws in the system that should be fixed.

It was a lesson in tolerance for me. I have my own ideas, my own methods that seem to work well for me. Others--not surprisingly--present the information differently. There was considerable discussion about how much information to present as well. (I'm firmly in the KISS--Keep It Short and Simple--camp.) The Sales Manager and one of the Reps were sitting in as well, and they, of course, had their own opinions.

A lot of information was processed today. I was going to start cleaning the garage when I came home, but I was so tired I took a nap!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Catholics and The Bible

LaShawn Barber has an article up in her blog about a young, promising college student killed by a drunk driver who also happens to be an illegal alien. According to the police report, the driver never hit the brakes before he hit Joycelyn Gardiner's car broadside. An the drunk driver had been arrested several times before--and not deported.

So what does this have to do with Catholics and the Bible?

In the comments that followed, Ms. Barber asked a question of a commenter: "Did you ask if she was a Christian." The commenter responded, "I assumed she was a Catholic." To which a third commenter stated that Catholics are not Christians because they don't read the Bible. A fourth commenter agreed with that statement. To which a long-time commenter replied, "Here we go again."

I was tempted to respond, but I didn't want to hijack the thread which really was about the consequences of not deporting illegal immigrants when they're caught. But I'm always amazed by the amount of disinformation and misinformation about the Catholic Church.

I wanted to tell these two ignorant commenters that Catholics read the Bible at Mass every day. Not just on Sunday or Wednesday night, but at each and every Mass--celebrated with a full Eucharist--and not just the Gospel, but the Old Testament, the Acts or the Epistles, and usually a Psalm. The words of the Consecration are those that Jesus spoke at the last Supper. The priest recalls Aaron and Melchisedek during the Offertory, repeats Isaiah when washing his hands, leads the congregation in "the words Our Savior taught us," the Our Father.

I wanted to point out to these commenters that if it weren't for the Catholic Church there would be no Bible. Catholic monks devoted their lives to faithfully copying and illuminating the Sacred Scriptures. I have run into people who believe the King James Bible is the only authentic version; that it is directly translated from the original Hebrew and Greek. Not quite, as it turns out. The King James Bible is an English translation of the Latin Bible in use at that time.

Would this convince those commenters that Catholics are, in fact, Christians? Probably not. Nor would it matter, I'm sure, if I mentioned that I studied the Old Testament my freshman year of high school and the New Testament as a sophomore. Last time I checked, those were the two major books of the Bible.

But then what do I know? I'm a Catholic!

Summer Reading List

For the last several summers, I've chosen different reading goals. I started when I decided I wanted to read War and Peace before I turned 50. Since I like Russian novels, I figured this was a challenge I could meet. Besides, I had just finished Order of the Phoenix, so length alone wasn't a problem. As it turned out, my lack of knowledge of the Napoleonic Wars was the bigger obstacle.

I thought about making this the Summer of Harry Potter, especially as both the movie and Book VII are coming out. But watching the movie and reading The Book is a given. Summer reading is a time to explore, try something different, read in depth. Last summer was Jane Austen; I thought maybe this summer I would revisit the Brontes. Or maybe tackle A Tale of Two Cities or Les Miserables.

Instead this is shaping up to be the summer of Science Fiction. First it was A Feast For Crows, which I reviewed below. But then I found a complete paperback set of Douglas Adams's epic A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. All five books at a quarter each. Plus, there's my monthly Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, now celebrating it's 30th Anniversary. This month's cover story, "Fountain of Age" by Nancy Kress, is superb.

Can Harry Potter be considered Science Fiction? Not really, not classical SF, anyway.

Also in the July edition of Asimov's is a book review by Paul di Filippo of the works of a British author, Liz Jensen. He raves about her works, which sound dark, a little twisted, yet not without humor--I have to find them here in the States! Plus, in honor of the 100th Anniversary of the death of Jules Verne (back in 2005), a new translation of his novels is in the works. The first in this series is The Meteor Hunt, written near the end of his life. The new translation is by Frederick Paul Walter and Walter James Miller. The Meteor Hunt was published after Verne's death by his son, Michel, who (apparently) "edited" the work beyond coherence. So if I finish Hitchhiker, I have these two authors to track down and read.

A note about Hitchhiker... When the kids were younger and we actually took family vacations that involved long car rides, I would bring along books-on-cassettes that I had checked out from our local library. They were free and I could keep them for three weeks. DS#1, who hates to read but loves a good story, soon figured out that if he & his siblings fought while the book was playing, he'd miss some of the action and Mom (me) didn't believe in rewinding. We started out with the simple Disney books-on-tape, but soon progressed to classic children's literature: 101 Dalmatians, The Jungle Book, almost all of Beverly Cleary's Henry & Ribsy and Ramona series.

As the kids got older, I had to work a little bit harder to find books that kept the driver (Hubs) awake, kept the older kids' interest, but didn't bore the younger kids completely. Jack London was a good choice and so was science fiction. This is where we discovered Hitchhiker and all its subsequent novels. Hitchhiker, I've since learned was originally a radio show. The tapes we borrowed were read by Douglas Adams and some of the cast. The British accents--and the fact I was listening to it in a car full of kids, camping gear, at least one dog, going 70 on I-5--made the story a challenge to follow. But Hubs and the kids loved it. And we loved the movie that came out a couple of weeks ago. Reading the story, it now begins to make sense. Or as much sense as the story is going to make, anyway.

Seriously, I strongly recommend using books on electronic media as a way to introduce your family to literature they might not experience otherwise. Especially if they are trapped in the car with nowhere to go!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Thoughts on Immigration

I haven't written much about this subject, in part because I feel humbled by the series of postings by The Anchoress on this subject. And because I have very mixed emotions about the subject.

Immigration deals with people. With families. And, like health care, no solution is going to be perfect.

Two members of my own family are immigrants. One came as a spouse, the other as a political refugee. Over the years, I have worked with several people here on work visas. Or who were here as legal residents, went home and married a local man or woman, then returned to the U.S. to wait as the proper paperwork was processed by INS and their spouse could join them. In two cases, the wives in the U.S. had babies while their husbands were still living in the Philippines.

I've gone to pubs and restaurants where I've been served by waitresses with brogues who saw in the U.S. a chance for a better life. They came for a visit and simply stayed.

Back in the 1980's, there were two cases where crewmen simply "jumped ship" while in port. In the early 2000's, a Chinese national left his fishing boat and stowed away on board a container vessel bound for the U.S. In all three cases, the would-be immigrants were caught and returned home.

U.S. Customs found containers of human cargo arriving at U.S. ports. Most of those inside had died from suffocation, starvation, heat, or cold. The rest were mostly sent home.

I watch the news and the rallies exhorting "Reconquista!" and wonder why the advocates want to bring here what they fled there. Reconquista makes no sense to me. Who do they think would live in Azatlan? Who would pay for the infrastructure, maintain the roads and the schools? Don't they know their history? The Spanish conquered the Aztecs who conquered the Mayans who conquered the previous culture. True Reconquista would give the land back to the Original People.

My family is typical for the U.S., but unique among the world. We eat German potato salad and bow; barbecue and lumpia; baguettes and tortillas. We drink beer and wine and sake, coffee and tea. We are liberal and conservative; we are technically-savvy and technical Luddites. About the only thing we agree on is that underwear is not meant to be displayed, at least, once you are over the age of six.

Where else could we live but in the U.S.?

The U.S. is the place of second chances, where people have come to reinvent themselves, to build a new and different society. A place where what you do is more important (usually) than who you are.

I worry when I hear people advocating that we change the Constitution to eliminate birthright citizenship. I worry when I hear people advocating unilaterally rewarding those who have jumped the line. I worry when I hear the concerns of those who live on the front lines--whose homes have been burgled, whose livestock and pets have been killed, whose land has been trashed--dismissed out of hand.

I want the border secured. I want the drug-smugglers stopped. I want the coyotes caught and punished more severely than the desperate people they prey on. I want convicted felons returned to their home countries, preferably to serve their prison time there.

I want those who hire illegals punished. I want those state and federal agencies who hire illegals exposed.

I feel most sorry for those who were brought to the U.S. illegally as young children by parents who were desperate that they have a better life. Coming here was not their choice. Going back is not an option. They are the ones whose status should be resolved first. (How do you prove they've been here since childhood? Check school records.)

Most of all, I'm tired of feeling like the World's Doormat. I'm tired of hearing what my country has done wrong, how terrible my country is, how inferior its culture. Then why are so many people so desperate to come here? Why does a movie like Pirates of the Carribean III set box office records worldwide? (Is it just Keith Richards?) I'm tired of two-bit dictators and presidents of corrupt governments telling me what my country has to do.

Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn. I don't have to bribe a police officer to stay out of jail. I don't have to bring my own food and linens with me to the hospital. I don't have to worry about the water that comes out of my tap. And the only time I have to worry about a bridge collapsing is during an earthquake.

I don't have to walk behind my husband. I don't have to cover myself. I can enjoy sex. I can read what I want. I can write what I want. I can drive where I want.

If I have the money, I can buy whatever the market has to offer. And while I can be fired, I can also quit. I can start my own company and work for myself. My success and my failure is largely up to me.

You, of course, are free to agree with me or disagree, read me or ignore me. Buy what I have to offer or refuse it.

But for all this to work, we must respect the rule of law. All of us resident here. Otherwise this just won't work.

Rather than pushing through yet another bill with provisions that will be selectively enforced, how about enforcing the laws we already have on the books? How about funding Border Guards and letting the IRS and Social Security Departments compare notes to see who is using invalid Social Security Numbers. And then going after those companies and government agencies where this seems to be a persistent problem.

Let's identify the immigration status of those in our jails. Those who are here illegally need to be remanded to the authorities in their home countries.

Perhaps cities and municipalities who think they are above enforcing federal law should not receive federal funds.

Once the laws already on the books are enforced properly, maybe then we can talk about what to do about the special cases, about where we go from here.

And there is a lot to talk about...

Movie Review: A Night at the Museum

One of the best things about this movie is the chance to see Anne Meara (wife of Jerry Stiller and mother of Ben), Dick Van Dyke (who can still dance), Mickey Rooney, and Bill Cobbs. Those actors can still perform, still have energy and enthusiasm, and can still take a pratfall.

Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) is a single dad about to be evicted from his apartment. He is an inventor, a dreamer, but none of his ideas have worked out. His ex-wife (Kim Raver) is threatening to keep their son, Nick (Jake Cherry), from staying overnight with Larry because Larry has broken so many promises to Nick. She also has a new fiance, a highly successful bond trader.

Desperate, Larry goes to an employment agency. The only job he is even remotely qualified for is as a night guard in the Museum of Natural History.

There Larry meets Rebecca (Carla Gugino), a guide who is writing her Ph.D thesis on Sacajawea. Larry also meets Cecil (Dick Van Dyke), Gus (Mickey Rooney), and Reginald (Bill Cobbs), the three night guards who are being forcibly retired.

Cecil takes Larry on a tour of the museum and greets some of the exhibits by name. He also gives Larry a set of instructions, advising him to be sure to read it. "And don't let anything out of the Museum," he warns.

Of course, Larry doesn't. Until the T. Rex skeleton comes alive. Desperately, he calls Cecil who tells him, "Read the instructions!"

Larry does. The first one says, simply, "Throw the bone." Larry sees an enormous bone in front of him and throws it. T. Rex bounds off and fetches it, then drops it at Larry's feet, like an enormous puppy.

The secret of the museum is that everything comes alive at sundown. With the help of Theodore Roosevelt (Robin Williams), Larry muddles his way through. When Larry talks with Cecil in the morning, his advice is to "Read your history. It will help."

The second night, Larry thinks he is prepared. Things go well at first but ultimately chaos reigns as one might expect with a mix of cultures and animals from all different ages. Still, Larry manages to get almost everything back into place by morning.

However, when the fussy Museum Director comes in, he notices one of the Neanderthals is missing from his exhibit (he was caught outside the Museum at dawn and turned to dust) and fires Larry. Unfortunately, Nick has come by with some of his friends and witnesses the scene. Larry pleads for his job, the Director relents, Larry talks to Nick, and suggests they spend the night together at the Museum.

Of course, the exhibits don't come alive.

Nick is disappointed, once again, in his dad.

Larry is puzzled--why aren't the exhibits coming back to life?

The answer to that question lies with Cecil, Gus, and Reginald who have made a copy of the main key and have snuck into the Museum.

Will Larry keep his job? Will Nick respect his dad? Will the Cowboys and the Romans learn to get along? Will Dexter give Larry back his keys? Will Teddy find the courage to talk to Sacajawea? Will Larry find the courage to talk to Rebecca? Will she believe him when he does?

Gotta watch the movie.

I give this movie points for an imaginative use of setting and older actors. I've dragged my kids to the Academy of Science in Golden Gate Park, but many kids haven't been to an old-style museum. Maybe this will inspire some parents to take them. Some kids may want to know more about Teddy Roosevelt, Sacajawea, Manifest Destiny, Aztecs, Roman conquest, T. Rex, or Egyptian pharaohs after seeing this movie. Or maybe not--but this movie is a great tease for what kinds of knowledge lie in wait at a museum.

Summer is a perfect time for a field trip.

I also give this movie points for being family friendly. Larry, his ex-wife, and even her fiance, care about Nick. There is some "rude humor," but nothing I didn't hear when my boys were younger. Positive messages about following through and having courage. Perfect for a family movie night.

On the March Hare scale: 4.5 out of 5 Golden Tickets

Book Review: A Feast For Crows

George R.R. Martin is the slowest writer in the known universe. Okay, maybe not, but it sure feels that way.

A Feast for Crows is Book 4 in the series A Song of Fire and Ice, which started back in 1996 with A Game of Thrones. There are three more books planned; however, as Mr. Martin originally envisioned this as a six-book series, then realized he had far too much material and split Book 4, I wouldn't be surprised if this series ended up with eight or even ten books total.

A Game of Thrones takes place in a world that resembles Medieval Earth. There are seven known kingdoms, there are knights, there are serfs and common folk who get trampled when the seven kings decide to play their game of thrones. Technology is primitive at best. Maesters are the local "wise" men, kind of like Merlin, but without his magic.

There is magic, however, of a limited sort. And there are now dragons, which were thought to be mythological creatures. Only a few have actually seen them. Only one controls them.

The power of women depends on the kingdom and her station. Some cultures accept a female ruler; others have only men in charge, although the women in those situations work behind the scenes. Some kingdoms and their associated houses have a lot of power. Others had power, but have lost it, have limited power, or have traditionally been the "bannermen" to a more powerful house.

In the northernmost reaches of the civilized world is The Wall. The men of the Wall guard against the incursion of the uncivilized, including some who might not be alive in the usual sense. The Wall is also a perfect place to banish someone or to be rid of an inconvenient bastard son or younger son that a king or noble just can't kill.

Bastards are common. Their surname indicates who their father is, generally by using a geographic feature of their particular kingdom. Thus Jon Snow is the bastard son of Eddard Stark, king of the northernmost kingdom.

The seasons are longer than our seasons and the weather is more severe. This is important because hostilities break out at the end of summer. Winter is coming and the common folk (and those of the nobility with any common sense) realize that burning the fields and killing off the peasants now means starvation later.

Oh... add to the mix a couple of major religions, one old and the others newer. They have varying degrees of political power. The kings are not above using the Septons for their own ends and the Septons have an agenda as well.

Autumn is coming at the beginning of A Feast for Crows. Several major characters have been killed or injured and one has been "re-animated"--it hardly seems fitting to call it "life." A female knight is looking for the oldest daughter of Eddard Stark to fulfill a vow she made to Eddard's wife, Catelyn. The youngest Stark daughter, presumed dead, finds herself in the novitiate of yet another religion. A Brother of the Wall is sent by his commander to The Citadel to return the Wall's Maester home and then to study for himself. The king on the Iron Throne, the most powerful king of Westeros, is an eight-year-old boy. His grandfather, the Regent, has been poisoned by his uncle. The king's mother is now the Queen Regent and wishes to show herself truly worthy of being her father's heir.

The king is not the son of the previous king, although he called him "Father." Only a few know the truth, although more suspect it.

Children are traded amongst the houses, partly held as hostages but also to instill some sense of loyalty to the household they are raised in. And the hosting household is required to keep that child safe, as well as ensure their education and upbringing. This system doesn't always work. And there are consequences, as one princess discovers when she, thinking her father is weak, takes matters into her own hands and her plans go terribly astray.

In fact, most plans have unintended consequences. No one is truly trustworthy.

And off the the west are the Iron Islands, a Viking-like people, born and bred to the sea. They also have claims to the land of Westeros (as well as their own religion); claims which their new king has promised to fulfill.

My mass-market paperback weighs in at 976 pages of story, plus another thirty or so of characters and their relationships plus another fifteen of a preview of the next book. (So why isn't it out already?!)

This saga isn't for everyone. You have to be patient. You have to enjoy tales of King Arthur and the Saxons and the Vikings and the complicated relationships of noble houses and crowns (think Eleanor of Aquitaine, King Henry of England, and King Louis and King Philip of France). Each chapter tells the tale of a different character from their point of view, usually at about the same time as the previous character.

You have to be willing to step into this world completely and accept its mores and customs. And learn a bit of the language as well. (Although the vocabulary is not as complicated as that of Middle Earth.)

I find it helps if you have someone to discuss this with. In my case, it's BIL#3, who gave me the initial three books as a Christmas present. He hadn't quite finished the third book at that point. When he realized that this was not a trilogy as he had thought, he apologized. We now keep each other updated regarding when the next volume is due out. (Volume 5 is late, according to Mr. Martin's website.) Since BIL#3 travels a lot, he was able to re-read the first three volumes before reading the fourth. I don't have that kind of time, but there were enough clues to remind me of the previous events. I was especially grateful for the family trees in the back of the book. I'm sure I missed some subtleties.

On the March Hare scale: 4 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks. Since Mr. Martin is older than I am, may he continue in good health until this magnum opus is completed!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

You Know You Look Good...

...when the homeless guy you pass every afternoon compliments your outfit.

My kids thought I looked pretty good, too, when I got home. Too bad they were asleep when I left that morning, when my outfit and my makeup was fresh.

Hubs's comment: "Why are you wearing the red dress?"

DD#1 answered for me: "Because it's hot outside, Dad!" The dress is cotton and sleeveless. And I chose it because I knew it was going to be a very warm day, even in The City.

I'm Doing What?

So the Marketing Department at work decides to do a Customer Satisfaction Survey and one of the results is our customers want more training. And the Sales Department decides that Yours Truly is the best person to offer this training on a live webcast.

My boss thinks this is a WONDERFUL idea.

So I speak with the Marketing Director and my boss about what should be covered in this webcast. Then we meet with Sales. They have a totally different idea.


We--meaning the Marketing Director and the Sales Manager--come to a compromise. And I have to write up an outline. This is not easy, as I tend to be "off-the-cuff" when I train.

This training is supposed to be more advanced than the basic training Customer Service gives initially. There is no set manual or outline for that, so, while I know what I teach, I don't know how much detail my compatriots give. Since they are 3,000 miles away, there isn't an easy way for me to find out.

I have to please Marketing, Sales, Upper Management (who will be listening in, I'm told), and our customers.

This is the first time our company has tried anything like this.

It will either be a spectacular success or spectacular failure.

80 people RSVP. 56 actually log in.

Of course I have technical difficulties and so I'm late logging in myself. And it turns out our customers have lots of questions, which I end up answering even though I said we would limit the questions because of time constraints. I did not cover everything I hoped to. But I didn't fall flat on my face, either--although I did lose my train of thought at one point.

My boss was happy. The Sales Manager was happy (I think mostly because he wasn't answering any questions). The Marketing Director thinks the webcast went well, but there are a few things we need to tighten up.

I'm happy its over. I'm hoping the next webcast, which discusses using Excel, will be given by our resident Excel guru rather than me.

I'm also getting a few more Customer Service phone calls than usual because participants in the webcast are looking up my direct line. However, some of them don't seem to realize that I am on the West Coast and leave messages for me at 6:00 a.m. Or they don't care; they want to talk with me anyway.

Thank God the webcast did not include video. I have a habit of closing my eyes while I talk--it helps me focus. I also have a stress ball (it's a globe) that I bounce on my desk top when I'm thinking. I'm glad I didn't have to worry about my quirks as well as what I was saying!

Getting Back to Normal... Mostly

I thought life would resume its "normal" pace after DD#2's graduation, DS#2's Eagle Project and Confirmation celebration.


The Monday after graduation, DD#2 and I were in the Counselor's office at her new high school, selecting classes. Freshmen don't get many choices: P.E., English I, Algebra I, and World History are assigned. Language is expected, with a choice of Spanish, French, or Latin. (After three years of taking Spanish in Middle School, plus the four years of introductory Spanish in grammar school, DD#2 is taking Latin.) She knew she was going to take Oral Interpretation, the first year of Public Speaking because that's how she qualified for the necessary interdistrict transfer.

"Do you want to take a seventh period or a study hall?" the Counselor asked.

This was DD#2's chance to do something fun; explore her talents a little bit. But making decisions are not her strength, especially on the spur-of-the-moment. She knew that she would be spending quite a bit of time at the library, waiting for Hubs or I to pick her up, so she was pretty sure that she didn't want to spend more time there. But what to take?

We looked over the electives. "She's interested in Architecture. What do you recommend?" I asked.

The Counselor recommended Engineering Drawing. It's a prerequisite to CAD and, because it's a computer-based program available only at the school site, there is very little homework.

"Here's your chance to check it out," I said. On the way home, I elaborated. "Think of high school as your opportunity to try out your interests, to find out what you like to do and what you're good at."

She thought about that for a moment.

"Okay. I want to try crew."

"If I can figure out a way to get you there," I said. (If my family has a sport, it would have to be crew. I'm not sure why, but we seem to have some talent for sitting in a boat, pulling long oars. Could be we're all stubborn, which is a useful trait to have.)

After we were done, the Counselor and I spoke about DS#2 and his difficulties with writing. Language Arts are not his strong suite by any means and the fact that he's doing as well as he is demonstrates his ability to compensate, his willingness to work hard, and his innate intelligence. I told the Counselor I'm concerned about next year: DS#2 is facing the PSAT, the SAT, English III, and U.S. History, which all have strong writing components. In fact, it was the writing portion of the California State High School Exit Exam that I thought he might not pass. He did, although his scores showed exactly where his weaknesses are. So we're going to monitor his progress and get him help early if he needs it.

When I spoke to Hubs about my conversation, he was impressed. "This is what counseling is supposed to be!" Unfortunately, that wasn't our experience in our home school district.

The rest of the week was devoted to DS#2's finals, end of the year celebrations for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, work (of course!), and a picnic in Sonoma celebrating the Bear Flag Republic. Oh, and DS#2 found out that the Eagle Project he thought was completed, wasn't. He spent the weekend trying to find out what exactly the ranger wanted him to do, where the materials were going to come from, and rounding up volunteers to help.

The good news is he was able to get a crew together for this afternoon and the ranger signed off that the project was complete. What's left now is the paperwork, the letters of recommendation, and one final merit badge that's almost complete.

His speech teacher agreed to give him a recommendation, so, on the last day of school, DS#2 dropped off the letter and the stamped, addressed envelope. When he returned to the car, he was shaking his head.

"I thought she hated me," he said. "But she told me how much I'd improved and how glad she was to have me in her class. I kind of feel bad now that I'm not taking Speech next year!"

"She'll have your sister," I commented.

"And DD#2 is going to hate her," he replied. He's probably right. DD#2 is going to have to do things the way the teacher wants them done and when the teacher wants them done. This teacher does not accept late work or excuses. But, better DD#2 learn that now rather than later.

Next week Hubs and DS#2 head off with the troop for a week of Boy Scout camp. When he comes back, DS#2 has summer school. DD#2 and I head off for Japan; Hubs and DS#2 head out a few days later. When we come back, DS#1 will be moving down to San Luis Obispo and his new life at Cal Poly. DS#2 and DD#2 will get their classes and DD#2 will go through orientation. The Scout meetings will start up again along with homework and I'll be back to regular hours at work.

No wonder summer seems so short!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

End of an Era

Last night, at 8:30 p.m., Pacific Daylight Time, the youngest child of the Hares stepped up to the sanctuary in our parish church and received her diploma from the pastor.

Thus ends 16 years of Hare family involvement in our local parish school.

I took yesterday off and Hubs (who has every Friday off) and I spent it basically involved in the last day of grammar school for DD#2. We went to the final morning assembly. We helped serve at the breakfast. We watched the Final Prayer Service where the 8th Graders line up and every student teacher, and aide said their good-byes. We took pictures as they stood in the Middle School Quad, holding hands in a circle, listening and counting down for the final bell.

And, of course, we went to the Graduation Ceremony that night.

Coincidentally, it was also the regular parish First Friday Mass, so there were more than a few parishioners who weren't quite sure what was going on. And because it wasn't the regular Sunday crowd, Communion was a bit chaotic. I was able to serve my family, including my mother who later remarked, "I never expected to receive Communion from one of my daughters!"

I thought I would be a basket case, but there was too much to do. I teared up during the Final Prayer service and I teared up during the opening of the Processional, which was Aaron Copeland's Fanfare for the Common Man. (But I always tear up when I hear it.)

Many people asked me how I was doing. I don't really know. It's been strange to read about registration forms and Emergency Forms all due back before the end of the school year and know that I don't have to worry about it. I wrote a note after my signature in my final Family Envelope, knowing that I won't have to ask for it each Monday afternoon (or Tuesday morning). A big part of me will miss my seasonal routine. Another part of me is kind of excited--I can begin to rediscover my life, my talents and interests. Hubs and I can become a couple again, rather than just "The Parents of ______." (Okay, we've got a couple more years before that happens. But we can start!)

What I'm going to miss most are the other families, the familiar faces I see at the Back to School Coffee, Back to School Night, work next to at Oktoberfest, sit with at school potlucks. I'm going to miss sitting next to them at volleyball and basketball games and finding out about projects and book reports that are due on Monday that my children "forgot" to tell me about. (That was my secret to being the all-knowing Mom my children believed me to be. What I learned sitting on the bleachers at games and on the benches in the breezeway before and after school was invaluable.)

I asked DD#2 if she was ready for high school. Her siblings certainly were. But her experience has been different. Last summer, her 7th Grade Homeroom teacher was killed in a biking accident, while training for his last race in the Nationals. He lingered for a week and she and I checked the Caring Bridge website every day. At his Memorial Service, his students came together in the middle of the summer and shared their memories. This set the tone for the rest of the year.

Mr. C. was mentioned at the Awards Dessert and at Graduation. He was not universally beloved, but he was respected. From the comments made, DD#2 was not his only student who began to understand what he really wanted from her. At the end of last school year, DD#2 made a promise to me and to herself: she was going to show him what she could do.

This year she made an excellent start. Academically, socially, personally, it was her best school year yet. Although she didn't win any of the "big" awards, she was recognized for her ability in art, in poetry, her enthusiasm in Spanish class, her service to the school and the community, her commitment as an Altar Server. She has a group of six close friends and I hope they stay in touch through high school.

DD#2 is the kind of student who drives teachers nuts: lots of potential, but she hasn't realized how smart she truly is, how much leadership ability she has, how much talent. She has a tendency to hide from the world, especially if she is unsure of herself or her place. I blossomed in high school--I hope she will, too.

Today is the family party: a BBQ at a local park (and, of course, it's foggy and cold!). Tonight is a classmate's party. Tomorrow a party for one of the "Seven Musketeers," many of whom are coming to her party this afternoon. Monday is the Academic Counseling appointment at her new high school, the rigorous one in the neighboring school district DS#2 attends. She wants to take Latin and Oral Interpretation (the first year of Public Speaking). We already know that she's going to be challenged by the OI teacher who doesn't accept lateness in any form.

Registration is due for the Youth Ministry--the two-year program for Confirmation.

And the Hare Family will become just another family in the Parish.