Saturday, December 13, 2008

Religion: Hazardous to Your Health

Our Advent Wreath sits on the coffee table in the family room. I try to keep the table clear of the Stuff that seems to collect on any horizontal surface in our house--I mean, these are real candles, with real flames. Usually someone is in the family room at all times.

However, no one told the cats.

We have four of them. Three are fairly intelligent; one is just, plain dumb. They love DD#1--she is their mother. When they see her, they cluster around meowing loudly until she gives them what they want. This particular cat loves milk, poured in a small dish and set upon the coffee table.

Apparently she didn't notice the Advent Wreath. Or, cat-like, chose to ignore it. She couldn't eat it--what good was it.

And so, while DD#1 was getting this cat her milk, the cat brushed against the candles and managed to set herself on fire.

I was upstairs when I heard DD#1 say, "What smells like hair burning?" (Yes, we've had some hair burning mishaps before.)

Then I heard, "Puppy! (Yes, the cat's name is Puppy. We also have a cat named Mouse.) You're on fire!"

Fortunately, Puppy just lost some fur. I was concerned that she would panic and set the house on fire. But DD#1 calmly put the fire out and Puppy maintained her dignity.

However, she no longer jumps on the coffee table!

Review: Mobile Gabriel

Mobile Gabriel is a website that has the readings for Mass, both Daily and Sunday. It's available for viewing over your computer or you can download it to your PDA or smartphone (iPhone, Treo, Blackberry, Centro, etc.) through an e-book reader called "Mobipocket." Mobipocket is available free of charge and Mobile Gabriel has instructions.

You can also download Mobile Gabriel to your PDA/smartphone through AvantGo, which is how I found Mobile Gabriel originally. (AvantGo has other sites, secular and religious, you can download as well.)

Mobile Gabriel is free. (I like free!) Besides the Daily and Sunday Mass readings there is a reflection written by Don Schwager which focuses on a key phrase from the Gospel.

The readings of Daily Mass either continue the theme of the readings from the previous Sunday or lead into the themes for the coming Sunday. Many of my favorite parables and Psalms appear in these readings. The same stories will often appear, but from a different Evangelist, so the same event will be told with a slightly different emphasis.

Reading the Daily Mass helps put the Sunday Mass into context and is especially useful for those weeks I'm a lector. By the end of three years (Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C), I will have read most of the Bible. And I don't have to flip through the different Books of the Bible to find the correct Chapter and Verse. Because I have my Centro with me, I'm more likely to follow the Daily Mass readings--I usually read them waiting in line for my BART train at the end of my work day. Waiting in line might not be the ideal time to contemplate the Divine; on the other hand, I'm reminded that God and Jesus are with me always. Besides, Jesus didn't just preach in the Temple. :)

On the March Hare scale: 5 out of 5 Golden Bytes.

crossposted at Catholic Media Review

Thursday, December 11, 2008

It's Christmas Time in The City

Out here in the Politically Correct Bay Area, Christmas seems to be making a comeback. The tree in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency Hotel (the largest hotel lobby west of the Mississippi), is called a Christmas Tree. Radio station KOIT calls itself the Christmas Music Station, playing secular songs and traditional religious Christmas carols. The classical music station, KDFC, intersperses traditional carols with classical music and offers classical Christmas music over the web.

Store clerks are as likely to wish me "Merry Christmas" as they are "Happy Holidays."

Mervyn's may be going out of business, but they let the Salvation Army station a bell-ringer out front.

My suburban town has a Christmas tree in the downtown park--and had a celebration to light it--as well as a string of lights in the shape of a star stretched across the street.

Kind of reassuring. Maybe we haven't completely lost our way.

"A Day Without... Whom?"

Okay--if I hadn't read about it on Michelle Malkin's blog, I wouldn't have realized that yesterday was supposed to be "A Day Without Gays." Even in Radical San Francisco there were no parades, protests, or signs. My BART train was full. The Holiday Party sponsored by the Management Group of the office building went on as planned. The food was as tasty as ever. The trio played all sorts of Christmas music.

If anyone called in "gay," I sure didn't notice.

The End of An Era

DD#2 had an appointment today at the orthodontist for a retainer check. When she came back to the front she announced, "I'm done!"

While she still has to wear her retainers, she no longer has any appointments.

DS#2's last appointment was this summer. DD#1's last appointment was a couple of months ago.

No more getting in the car at 6:30 a.m. for a 7:00 a.m. appointment. No more notes for school. After six years, we're done.

I feel kind of... sad. In a "another childhood milestone reached/completed" kind of way.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Movie Review: Australia

First Disclaimer: I would pay to watch Hugh Jackman read the phone book. So, no, this review is definitely not unbiased.

Australia is told from the point of view of a young boy, Nullah (Brandon Walters). He is a "creamy": half-white, half-aborigine. His grandfather, King George, is a "magic" man who is teaching young Nullah the songs that impart all the wisdom of the Aboriginal people. Nullah has some magic in him, too, but he also realizes that he does not belong to the Aboriginal world. Neither does he belong to the white world. He has to find his own spot.

Complicating matters, the Australian Government is removing mixed-blood children from their Aboriginal mothers, forcing the children to attend boarding schools with the intention of "breeding the black" out of them. So Nullah and his mother are ever watchful for the local law.

The year is 1939. World War II has begun, but is confined to Continental Europe for the moment. A young English woman, Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman), flies to Darwin, Australia, to persuade her husband to sell his cattle ranch and come home to England where he belongs. However, her husband's cattle station, Faraway Downs, is the only competition for the local cattle baron, King Carney (Bryan Brown). Carney is trying to drive Lord Ashley out of business so he will be the sole provider of beef cattle to the Australian Army.

Lord Ashley has sent his cattle drover (Hugh Jackman) to meet Lady Ashley at the pier in Darwin and bring her to Faraway Downs. The drover is self-employed, working for whomever he chooses. While waiting for Lady Ashley in the local bar, one of Carney's men insults him, calling him a "Boo lover." Drover slugs the man and the fight is on, moving out into the street, where Lady Ashley's luggage becomes part of the melee. She is horrified to see her lingerie scattered across the dirt street. Drover--for that's the only name he's called during the film--mutters an apology. They begin the two-day journey to Faraway Downs in a beat-up truck, overtopped with what ends up being a couch and arm chair.

Of course, Lady Ashley and Drover despise each other. She thinks he has designs on her. He informs her that he wouldn't sleep with her if she were the last female on Earth.

We know where it's going to lead--right?

Thirty minutes (or less--I wasn't looking at my watch), Drover has his shirt off and is washing up. For those who remember Mr. Jackman in Leopold and Kate, it's obvious Mr. Jackman has been working out. With good results.

When they reach Faraway Downs, Lord Ashley has been killed and King George is the primary suspect. Lady Ashley discovers that the foreman of the station has been working for Carney as well as beating Nullah (whom she suspects is his son) and Nullah's mother on a regular basis.

She fires him. He leaves, taking his men with him.

But there are 2000 head of cattle that need to be driven to Darwin if she is to have a chance at the government contract. She needs Drover's help. He's not sure that a well-bred Englishwoman can survive the tough ride.

And this is just the first half of the movie.

If you've ever watched a Western that involves a cattle drive, you know what will happen, more or less. What makes this drive different is Nullah. His grandfather is always watching from a distance. And Nullah is a special boy--he has learned his lessons well and he is brave. Frankly, Brandon Walters steals this movie from Ms. Kidman and Mr. Jackman, much as the director tries to limit his screen time.

There are lots of soulful looks between Lady Sarah and Drover. A lot of close-ups, which will probably play better on the small screen once this movie is released on DVD. There are discussions about the land and the importance of having a story and of song.

The cattle drive ends in Darwin, which sets up the next scene: a charity ball to fund the Mission where the mixed-blood children will live. This provides an opportunity for Ms. Kidman to wear a beautiful gown and for Mr. Jackman to clean up and wear a white dinner jacket. He does clean up well. The scene also gives Ms. Kidman a speech about how horrible it is to tear these children from their mothers and to show how small-minded and prejudiced the average white Australian was in 1939.

There is an interlude of relative calm until 1942. Using newsreel footage, the move jumps forward to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and on the movements of the Japanese through Southeast Asia. Drover accepts an assignment from the Australian Army: a six-month "drove" of cattle. Nullah wants to go walkabout with King George. Lady Ashley doesn't want either of them to go, so Nullah sneaks off and she tells Drover that if he leaves, he shouldn't return. So (of course), he leaves.

However, Nullah hasn't gone walkabout--he's been taken by the sheriff and is going off to Mission Island, which is directly in the path of the Japanese. Lady Ashley can't save him, but she can help with the war effort, monitoring the radio transmissions from the priest at Mission Rock.

Meanwhile, Drover is having his psyche dissected by his best friend, who happens to be an Aborigine. They notice planes flying over--Americans--and Drover figures that this is not a good sign. They ride back to Darwin in time to see the place in flames. Drover assumes Lady Ashley is dead and, when he hears that Mission Island has been attacked, commandeers a boat to find Nullah.

The acting is uniformly good. The writing could have been tighter and more true to the time: would an English lady really leave the manor to travel to the Outback? Would she really go against the conventional thinking about Aborigines? To her credit, Ms. Kidman makes it seem plausible. Mr. Jackman plays the quintessential cowboy, albeit an Australian. His toughness covers his vulnerability. His actions speak instead of his words.

The love scenes are discreet. The language is clean for the most part.

I was happily surprised that this was not another "Convicts come to Australia" movie. I tend to forget how close to Southeast Asia and the Pacific Theater Australia was. I wish I had looked at map beforehand, though, to get oriented as to where Darwin is on the continent. In the opening credits, it looks like the film was signed off by a group representing the Indigenous People (I don't remember the exact name and it's not listed on IMDb). Their characters and their traditions are presented very respectfully. In fact, I wish there had been more about them in the movie.

At the end of the movie, there is a note that the forced removal of children was ended in the 1950's and the Australian Government issued a formal apology to the "Stolen Generation."

Word of warning: do not drink a large soda prior to the movie. There is no intermission. ;)

There wasn't quite enough action to keep Hubs completely engaged. (Nicole Kidman is too thin for his tastes.) DS#2 (18), DD#1 (22), and DD#2 (15) want to see it--and I'd be willing to see it with them.

A good movie if you need a break from the holiday madness.

On the March Hare scale: 4 out 5 Golden Tickets

crossposted at Catholic Media Review

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Gift Idea: Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine

Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine is known as a "pulp": printed on cheap newsprint, a little bit larger than a standard paperback. The format is a throwback to the pulps of the 1940's and '50's where now recognized Grand Masters--like Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and Theodore Sturgeon--first refined their craft. And in that tradition, Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine publishes short stories and novellas from current authors like Connie Willis and Alan Steele and new authors as well.

The stories vary in length, style, and subject. Some are hard SF, some are soft, occasionally there is fantasy. Each issue includes poetry, editorial columns, book reviews, web site reviews, and a Convention Calendar.

Subscriptions for one year (10 issues), U.S., is about $33.00. There are "double issues" twice a year. Check the website ( for details. There is also an online version.

I've been a subscriber off-and-on since the mid-1980's. A subscription is now on my permanent Christmas list (Thanks, Mom!). Some issues, some stories, some authors stand out more than others. Other authors have used the stories first published in Asimov's as a basis for their novels.

Content warning! This is not a magazine for children. Some stories contain adult language, adult situations--including sex scenes and drug use--and violence. Some authors are not sympathetic to organized religion--and that bias may show up in some of their stories.

A warning is usually included in the front of the stories the editors think might be the most offensive. However, everyone has different triggers. Over the years, I've noticed the themes of the stories come in waves: a spate of bionic soldier stories, a spate of global cooling stories, a spate of global warming stories, a spate of First Encounter stories.

Overall, the quality of the writing is excellent. The short story and novella format allows for a lot of experimentation with themes and ideas that isn't possible with a novel because a novel is a significant investment of time and money on the part of the author and the publisher.

Asimov's is my favorite "commuter" magazine: it's small and there's a lot of variety, both in story length and content. I usually find one story I really enjoy and there are some, like Connie Willis's annual Christmas story, that I look forward to. A year of enjoyment for the cover price of a single hardback!

On the March Hare scale: 4.5 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks, excellent for the discriminating SF reader.

crossposted at Catholic Media Review

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Book Review: Hannibal

Hannibal open seven years after the Silence of the Lambs. Clarice Starling, now a full FBI agent, is on a drug bust with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the D.C. police, and the Drug Enforcement Agency. They're bringing in a woman who is running a meth factory and who Clarice has arrested previously.

The bust goes bad. Clarice, who is a champion pistol shooter, ends up killing the woman. Unfortunately, the woman was carrying her infant in a sling and used the child as a shield. Clarice was able to kill her without harming the child, but the TV news clips don't show the woman firing. Her family files suit and someone's head must roll to appease public opinion.

In the midst of all this turmoil, Clarice receives a letter. She recognizes the handwriting--it's from Hannibal Lecter who has been silent for these seven years. His letter alternately taunts and comforts Clarice and reignites the search for Hannibal.

The FBI, however, isn't the only entity looking for Hannibal. His sixth victim, Mason Verger, has been looking for him and is offering a reward. Because of the attack, Mason is bedridden and a paraplegic and, with nearly unlimited wealth, revenging himself on Hannibal has become his reason for living. Mason has his contacts within the FBI and knows what they know, usually before they do.

Hannibal, in the meantime, is now living in Florence, Italy, and is a curator, the previous one having mysteriously disappeared. His appearance has been altered during his stay in Brazil, including the amputation of the sixth finger on his left hand. He is content until a local police inspector begins to suspect who "Dr. Fell" really is. However, greed gets the better of the good inspector and he tries to capture "Dr. Fell" outside normal police channels, with disastrous consequences.

Thus Hannibal finds himself back in the Eastern United States and his seduction of Clarice Starling begins.

During the course of the story,the author, Thomas Harris, gives us some insight to Hannibal Lecter, clues as to how he became the monster he is. We also see more of what makes Clarice Starling tick and her frustration at being thwarted from rising in the ranks of the FBI. But I never felt any real sympathy for either of them as people. Mason Verger is absolutely evil--there are no redeeming qualities about him at all. His sister is hardly better. In fact, the character I thought was most fleshed out was the Italian police inspector: his motives for his actions were clear and plausible. The rest of them--eh, not so much.

I admit I have not read Silence of the Lambs and there might have been some important information about the characters there. Or Red Dragon, which I believe is the first book about Hannibal Lecter.

The ending was a let down.

Content Warning! Hannibal is still a cannibal. Graphic descriptions of what Hannibal does to his victims and of Mason Verger's physical state. Also graphic descriptions of what Mason does to his victims. Lots of morally unsavory characters as well.

Fortunately, I bought this copy at a Used Book Sale at my local library, so I'm not out full price. :)

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

crossposted at Catholic Media Review

Now Back to Our Regular Programming

I hate migraines.

The old name for them were "megrims," which I think describes them a whole lot better. Because I do get pretty grim when I have one. This month I've had more of them than usual.

Modern medicine allows me to function, but there's a cost. By the evening, I am ready to sit on the sofa and be entertained by television--the fluffier, the better. Unfortunately, my family bears the brunt of my lethargy and grouchiness. So I try and pick up the slack when I'm feeling better, dealing with the stuff--like bills and budgets--that I didn't have the emotional energy to deal with when under a migraine attack.

My writing stalls. All the wonderful entries and essays I've composed in my head disappear along with any desire I might have to sit in front of a computer and type. And, in these parlous times, I'm also hesitant to write during working hours while using my work computer and their servers. Hubs is somewhat jealous of the time and attention I give to outside endeavors as well.

So output slows to a trickle.

One of my migraine triggers is changes in the weather. This year we have had cold-and-sunny, warm-and-sunny, rainy, foggy, morning-fog-and-afternoon-sun. Saturday was the 111th Big Game between Cal and Stanford and I was sitting in the stadium in my shirtsleeves. It was warm enough to wear shorts--well, until the sun went down. Today, it's rainy and looks like November. The leaves from our liquid ambar tree are all over our driveway, the sidewalk, the front yard, and the street. They're rather pretty: deep red and bright orange. But they do need to be swept. Hopefully the weather will stay this way for awhile and let my head settle down.

And I'll be able to find a moment or two to write down my thoughts.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Heebie Jeebie--The Spirits Are About to Speak!

"Are they friendly spirits?"
"Just listen!"

--Courtesy of Jay Ward and the Rocky & Bullwinkle Show

The mood seems calm around the Conservative blogsphere, with warnings of how the Right should behave towards President-Elect Obama and what the GOP needs to do to renew itself. The biggest concern is how long before the "Fairness Doctrine" reasserts itself on the radio and affects the Internet--and if there are enough Republicans and "Blue Dog" Democrats to oppose reinstating it.

Of course, there is no discussion about adding print media under the Fairness Doctrine.

Looking into my cracked and foggy crystal ball, this is what I foresee:

  • The MSM, including (or especially) Print Media will give President Obama a longer than usual honeymoon for a couple of reasons. They want to appear "post-racial." They are afraid of being "kicked off the plane" or out of the press room. President-elect Obama is a Democrat and one of them. The MSM can't admit they're wrong.
  • Disillusionment will begin with the Base when ordinary folks discover that as President Obama can't pay their mortgage or put gas in their car. And when they discover that, according to the Democrats, they are now "rich."
  • We will rediscover that turning the Ship of State is kind of like turning the Titanic. It can be done, but it will take longer than most people think it will.
  • The Republican Leadership will still play by the old rules, although I think some are beginning to realize the rules have changed.
  • Unless the Republicans come together and work very quickly, the Democrats will hold the edge in Congress through 2012.
What do I think the message of the GOP should be in the intervening years?
  • The United States is a country ruled by law--and those laws apply equally to all.
  • Equality under the law does not mean equality of outcomes. Just as not everyone is capable of playing basketball (for example) at the NBA level, not everyone is capable of attending a top-tier university or being a CEO.
  • We are personally and primarily responsible for ourselves and our families. Educational reform begins at home, not with the government. Opportunity exists, but ultimately we are responsible for reaching out and taking advantage of it.
  • The United States as a country is not "wealthy." Her people are wealthy and are among the most generous people on the planet. We are generous in our private donations (as we should be) and also we have one of the highest rates of voluntary tax compliance. That will change, though, if the people feel they are being overburdened or unfairly taxed.
  • We have a duty to be good stewards of the planet; however, we also need to be mindful of the unintended human consequences of our actions, whether in maintaining a pristine environment or exploiting it.
But, hey, if the Powers That Be aren't listening to bigger, braver, and more articulate bloggers, they won't listen to little ol' me.

For example: This post on Hot Air by Ed Morrissey who channels Claudia Rossett. Yeah, Liberty is a great word!

On a final note: Yesterday I was reading baldilocks, who is one of my favorite bloggers. Juliette was discussing the results of the election with her step-father, a conservative Methodist minister, and a staunch Republican. He told her, "Don't you ever go to bed at night without praying for that man." Good advice. Sometime in January, once all the hoopla and the adrenaline dies down, President Obama will be mugged by reality. I think he's going to need all the spiritual support he can get.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Election


Then I remember why I began fasting and praying: "Not my will, but Thy Will be done."

For some reason, it's more difficult to leave the future of my country in His Hands than it is the future of His Church. :)

I have been reading A Year with John Paul II: Daily Meditations from His Writings and Prayers (edited by Fr. Jerome Vereb). The Meditation for today, November 5, is titled "My Deepest Thoughts":

I have lately given much thought to the liberating force of suffering. It is on suffering that Christ's system rests, beginning with the cross and ending with the smallest human torment. This is the true messiad (the true source or hope of belief in a Messiah).

--Letter to Mieczyslaw Kotlarczyk, November 2, 1939

I am also reading St. John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul: how the journey of self denial leads to perfect union with God. In Chapter V, St. John discusses the imperfections of the beginner in the matter of anger. Numbers two and three stood out for me: those who are angry with other people for their faults and who consider themselves "guardians of virtue" and those who become angry with themselves "with an impatience that is not if they would be saints in one day."

Here's the terrifying part: "There is no perfect remedy for this but in the dark night."

I don't know that I'm ready for a "dark night."

Meanwhile, Virgen de Guadalupe, pray for us and watch over this country. Open the minds and hearts of our leaders, both current and newly elected, to the Will of your Son.

Update: As usual, The Anchoress puts it all into perspective for me. :)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Dressing the Part

"Wow! You look nice. Do you always dress up this way?"

"Yes, she does."

The conversation took place in the lobby of the gym where I take an aqua aerobics class three times a week. The participants in the class are used to seeing me in a swimsuit with my hair pulled back in a pony tail, not in my usual work outfit of heels, nylons, skirt, and tailored shirt. I was really surprised that the second person had actually noticed how I dress.

"Do you have to dress this way for work?"

I never know how to answer that question. In fact, my company has a "business casual" policy, but the president of the company I worked for previously was much more traditional. So even though we technically had a "business casual" policy, the men all wore ties and most women wore suited skirts, dresses, or pantsuits. So when I came to work at my current company, I had six suits, several suits, a couple of blazers, lots of tailored shirts--and three pairs of pants.

So guess what I wear?

Besides, dressing professionally puts me in a professional frame of mind. Blame it on my upbringing: I wore a uniform to school for 12 years. Getting dressed in the morning was simple and once I put on my uniform, my brain knew what was coming. In a sense, it was--and is--kind of like dressing for a part in a play. It's much easier to act like an executive when I'm dressed like one. And I find that I am treated like one as well--my words are taken seriously.

So when I heard that the Republican National Committee spent $150,000 to outfit Gov. Palin and her family, I gasped. And then I thought, "They want her to look Presidential." And they want her family to look like they belong as well.

Shortly after I began working, John T. Molloy wrote Dress for Success and then, later, a special edition for women. I found many of his tips useful, especially since neither of my parents were executives and I looked very young. One of his tips was "Dress for the next level"--dress for where you wanted to be, not where you were, indicating that you were ready to move up the corporate ladder. My success with that has been mixed: I'm not a VP, but I've been involved in some high level projects.

Gov. Palin has a more difficult job: she has to look like she belongs in D.C. but not lose her "common touch." Her wardrobe has to reflect taste, quality, fit well, and not be ostentatious. No "obvious" labels. She has to exude self-confidence and her clothes have to show that. The Political Mavens are harsh: remember the hatchet job they did on the outfits Mrs. Roberts chose for herself and her children when Justice Roberts was sworn in? And the comments about Sen. Clinton and her choice in pantsuits? Or Barbara Bush and her pearls? Or the gown Rosalyn Carter wore to Mr. Carter's inauguration?

I hate to think how my readywear suits from Macy's and no-brand shoes would fare under close scrutiny.

And if those red peep-toe pumps are a size 8 and come up for auction, I might just have to bid on them. :)

UPDATE: On the way to BART this morning, the radio newscaster referred to a recent study that found that, in order to be successful, female politicians need to be attractive and confident while male politicians only need to be confident. (Sorry--I didn't catch the name of the institution that did this study.) The female newscaster and the male DJ both seemed surprised--after all, this is 2008!

I'm not.

I found my first job through a headhunter, who flat out told me that I would be easy to place because I was clean, neat, and reasonably attractive. My surprise must have shown on my face because she went on to clarify what she meant: I wasn't grossly obese, I didn't have any distracting moles or birthmarks or scars. The fact that I was intelligent was almost a handicap--employers would worry that I was too qualified for an entry-level job, would become bored quickly, and would leave. (This was during the Carter economy and the unemployment rate was in double digits.)

When I found myself unemployed a couple of years ago and back in the job market, Hubs suggested I dye my hair "to look younger." Gray hair makes a man look "distinguished" but makes a woman look "old." Mrs. Pelosi is a grandmother, as is Senator Feinstein--yet neither of them have a gray hair on their head. With five children, I'm sure Gov. Palin also has a few gray hairs of her own, too, artfully hidden among her highlights.

This physical double standard is a fact of life and I suspect it has roots in our biology. If so, it's going to take active effort on the part of both men and women to overcome it.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Moment of Beauty & Tranquility

Shots like this are about the only reason I can think of to keep Daylight Savings until November. I captured this moonset as I was leaving the house for work last week.

Aaargh--Or Snatching Defeat From the Jaws of Victory

Fans of Cal Football don't ask for much: defeat USC, defeat UCLA, beat Sanford. And get us to the Rose Bowl. Under Jeff Tedford, the Bears have caught wind of the Roses, and every year have shot themselves in the foot.

Last night's game against Arizona was a case in point. Up by ten at the half, the Bears had a disastrous third quarter. Arizona scored four--yes, four!--touchdowns. And Cal couldn't come back. Even replacing Nate Longshore, who only threw one interception and actually had a pretty decent game, with Kevin Riley didn't help. I couldn't stand it and by the middle of the fourth quarter I couldn't watch the game.

Especially since I'm fasting from alcohol.

I hope God noticed. ;)

On Friday night, the kid's high school lost to their cross-town rivals as well. Hubs and I were working the snack shack, slinging hot chocolate, cup o' noodles, and nachos for 2.5 hours. So I didn't have to watch that game. But we were busy all night, so I don't think the game was too exciting.

The Bay Area pro teams? I don't think I can stand any more frustration. I have meeting minutes to write, a pig race binder to clean up before passing along, and stationery gift sets to make.

Maybe I ought to include football in my fast. :)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Wisdom of Solomon

The Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream at night.

God said, "Ask something of me and I will give it to you."

Solomon answered:
"O Lord, my god, you have made me, your servant, king to succeed my father, David; But I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act. I serve you in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted.

"Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong. For who is able to govern this vast people of yours?"

The Lord was pleased that Solomon made this request.

So God said to him:
"Because you have asked for this--not for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of you enemies, but for understanding so that you may know what is right--I do as you requested. I give you a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now and after you there will come no one to equal you."

1 Kings 3: 5, 7-12

That was the first reading on Sunday, July 27. I had the privilege of proclaiming it at Mass and it struck me how appropriate--how necessary--this reading was to our country's situation.

I find it even more appropriate now.

So when The Anchoress stated she was going to pray and fast until the Election was over, I decided to join her, especially when she explained her idea of fasting was more a Lenten type fast. For me that means three small meals, no snacking, no sweets, no alcohol.

I'm tired of feeling helpless. I am praying to God and asking Our Lady of Guadalupe, one of my favorite icons of Mary, to watch over us here in America and guide us with a mother's care. (Maybe Our Lady of Perpetual Help would be more appropriate?) Like the Anchoress, I'm praying for guidance for my personal vote as well as guidance for the country. I'm leaving the results in His Hands--much like I do when the cardinals select the Pope.

I've slipped up: a s'more at Camporee, beer at my parish's Oktoberfest, cake at an Eagle Court of Honor. I have managed to avoid the fresh-baked cookies at work. :)

After Mass on Sunday, I was talking to one of my fellow parishioners. I mentioned the video at and how it would make an excellent meditation piece for a parish prayer service because of its emphasis on voting for life, for family, and for your conscience. His eyes lit up, "What a great idea! We should have a Mass of Discernment the Monday before the election. I'll talk to Father at the Parish Council meeting tomorrow night." We both agreed this wouldn't be a matter of telling people how to vote, but encouraging them to pray over their decisions and reflect on them. There are a couple of State Propositions and local issues on the ballot that are also important--it's not all about the Presidency.

I don't know if Father bought into the idea. But it's a mustard seed.

Can mustard seeds overcome ACORNS? I guess we'll find out.

(The Anchoress is also posting Compline and Vespers, for those inclined to more formal prayer and reflection.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Feminism, Sarah Palin, and Me

I was a senior in high school when the "Second Wave" of feminism moved to the popular consciousness. I was intrigued--the Second Wave promised that all life choices a woman made would be respected: mother, homemaker, career-woman, doctor, nurse. In liberating women, the theory went, men would be freed as well: free to express their emotions, no longer bound to "male" jobs, encouraged to bond with their children. Their ideas were exciting, although in many cases what the feminists were doing was giving a new name (Consciousness-raising sessions) to an old activity (women's neighborhood social groups). I changed my career path from nursing, which I had wanted to do since I was five, to medicine--mostly because a teacher of mine pointed out, rightly, that I was much better at giving orders than following them and that if a doctor was making a mistake, I would correct him or her in front of his or her patient or colleague.

In the beginning, Feminism was all about choice. I'm not sure when abortion became the sine qua non of Feminism, but it was sometime after I was graduated from college.

I did not go to medical school, in large part because of Organic Chemistry and the fact that Boomers like myself were applying to medical schools, law schools, and other professional schools in record numbers, even without considering women applicants. In four short years, the percentage of women in professional schools, especially in the health field and in law, was about equal to that of men.

Feminists wanted more. They began to attack "The Glass Ceiling," talked about "The Mommy Track," and began to deride women who chose a more traditional lifestyle path. Men became The Enemy, and control over our bodies, which originally began as a health issue, became the right to unrestricted abortion at all times, at any age.

The Wisdom of the Crone was ignored.

I like men--they're some of my favorite people. Always have been. I married one; gave birth to two. Most of them were good guys, struggling to make a living, to do the right thing, pursuing happiness. When my arms were full of baby and baggage, when I was pushing a stroller and herding a toddler, I appreciated having doors held open for me. When I was pregnant, I was grateful for a seat on BART. A lot of the "old school" social rules began to make sense. And abortion became The Issue.

I have two daughters. As painful as it might be for me to hear they are pregnant out-of-wedlock, I still would want to know, especially if they were minors. And 12-year-olds are minors.

So Feminism and I have drifted apart. I decided I am nobody's Victim in general, although I may be in particular. I am grateful for those women who pioneered the way in business and I knew several of them in my industry. I'm also grateful for the men, especially those of my father's generation, who saw more potential in me than I saw in myself and who mentored me.

What has this to do with Sarah Palin?

I recognize her as a kindred spirit (or as Anne of Green Gables might say, "a member of the race of Joseph"). She is "one of the guys" while wearing a skirt and heels. She's the kind of person you want on your task force at work or your committee on the PTA: give her a goal and she'll get the job done. No excuses. No endless "discussion." No subcommittees and study groups. Just "here's the problem, let's try this to solve it."

A woman equally comfortable in a skirted suit and makeup or jeans and a flannel shirt. Yeah, I relate. Big time. :)

Her husband seems to be loving and supportive, equally at ease working in the oil field and holding a baby. Okay--he's had plenty of practice with that last one before appearing in front of a national audience. He might not have been so comfortable when first holding Track. The Palins seem to be the Feminist Ideal Couple: true equals.

So while I expected some outcry about her--that she was a "stunt" by the Republicans, that she was a Conservative--I didn't expect the outright venom. I thought that the furor would die down after a few weeks, and it has, but the attacks are still intense.

The night of the Vice-Presidential Debates, I overheard the following conversation on the way home:

"Are you going to watch the Debates?"

"Yes! I can't wait to see her fall on her ass!"

The last sentence was from a woman, who uttered it with absolute glee in her voice. I was stunned. I wanted Gov. Palin to do well, I wanted her to do better than Sen. Biden, but I didn't want him to "fall on his ass." What is wrong with these people? It's not enough for their candidate to win; the other candidate must be humiliated?

And lies, vicious lies, must be spread about her and her family? I thought we were moving towards a "more enlightened" civilization.

Apparently, some choices are more Womanly than others. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton must be spinning in their graves. And I am happy to join Gov. Palin in the ranks of those humans with XX chromosomes who are not "really a woman." (Though Hubs may beg to differ.)

Postscript: I read part of Maureen Dowd's column on Gov. Palin's acceptance speech. Ms. Dowd noted Gov. Palin's red peep-toe pumps and commented on her pedicure. Where the heck was Ms. Dowd sitting that she could tell the color of the polish?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

In Honor of the VP Debates Tonight

And to show solidarity with my preferred candidate, I am wearing my red pumps to work (Step-Ups by Dr. Scholl's).

Of course, this is a much better picture, but in brown:

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Remembering Ezra Aviles

He was my assignment for the 2996 Project, honoring those who perished in the attacks on 9/11. My post is here.

Michelle Malkin
remembers as well.

September 11, 2001

I turn on the TV and watch as the plane slowly flies into the Tower.
Hail Mary, full of grace,
My daughter wanders downstairs, shoes in hand, turns to look at what has me transfixed on a weekday morning.
The Lord is with thee.
“Where is that, Mommy?” she asks.
Blessed are you among women
“New York,” I answer. She nods. The name is familiar, like Venus. Like Mars.
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
“Do we know anyone there?” Her eyes are blue and full of innocent concern.
“No,” I answer, thinking of friends, family, business associates, safe here.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
She has seen the green glass tower where I work, tucked amongst taller buildings.
Pray for us sinners,
But a skyscraper in one city looks much like the next.
“Where’s the tallest building in the United States?”
And at the hour of our death,
My daughter looks relieved.

--written November 9, 2001

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Heat Is On--Politically

That darn John McCain! He didn't follow the script! He was supposed to choose some boring, sober white guy as his running mate. This is the Democrats' time! They're supposed to resume their rightful place running the world. They're the Progressive Party--they nominated an African American, for cryin' out loud! That'll impress the masses and the Europeans.

/sarc off

I was so jazzed when I heard John McCain selected Sarah Palin as his running mate! Not only was the choice inspired, his timing was superb.

When I read "10 Reasons to vote for Sarah Palin," (apologies for not posting the link--I'm writing on the fly), I had to send it to Hubs. She hunts, she fishes, she has five kids, she's outspoken. In other words, she's a lot like me--so, of course, Hubs will love her! (He does. ;)

The Heat Is On--Climatically

I'm not talking politics. I'm talking about the temperature outside. It was hot enough that I've been going bare-legged. And I'm an old-fashioned gal--going to work sans-hose is a serious decision.

So we're at the end of the summer. And my legs are ivory-white. So white that my colleague thought I was barefoot because my legs matched my shoe color!

Of course, it hasn't been this warm for most of the summer. The kids started back to school this week, so we traditionally have a heat wave now. (The other traditional time for a heat wave is just before school lets out in June.) And, rather than walking, I've been taking an aqua-aerobics class in an indoor pool. So, the color of my legs is no surprise.

I do have one question: how in the heck do women wear regular shoes without stockings and not get blisters? The shoes I wore yesterday are a pair I've had since I was pregnant with DD#1, so it's not the fact that they're new. But I see women wear pumps and no stockings all the time. How do they do it? Take them off when they get home and cry?

Movie Review: Tropic Thunder

Update: Legitimate concerns have been raised about how the mentally challenged are portrayed in Tropic Thunder. I don't think Ben Stiller is making fun of those who are challenged per se; rather he is making fun of the fact that the movie industry often rewards actors and actresses who take on those roles to gain "gravitas" within the industry. In fact, there is a scene between Tugg Speedman and Kirk Lazarus where Kirk explains why actors such as Dustin Hoffman (Rain Man), Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump), and Sean Penn (I Am Sam) did or didn't get nominated for the Oscar for these roles. During this discussion, Kirk utters the line, "They didn't go full retard."

Unfortunately, someone in Marketing thought "Don't Go Full Retard" would be a terrific line to license for t-shirts, etc. And it's now showing up at local malls. And, yeah, I can understand why that line would appeal to a certain segment of the population, especially young adult males who are not noted for their subtlety and empathy.

Apparently Ben Stiller is among them.

Mr. Stiller could have made his point about the movie industry honoring only those actors who make "serious" movies, about "issues" using a different example. In fact, he missed a great opportunity since Jon Voight, who made his film debut in Midnight Cowboy dealing with male prostitutes, makes a cameo in Tropic Thunder. He could have used gays or films where physically beautiful actors or actresses get into the gutter. Mr. Stiller would have upset a different population, but it would have been a population that could fight back on their own. That would have been the braver choice.

Also, Mr. Stiller mocks current celebrities adopting children from the Third World, fulfilling a need within themselves rather than any need of the child. Because Tropic Thunder is a spoof, this all goes horribly wrong and Tugg Speedman seems to be throwing a child off a bridge who, at the time, was stabbing Tugg in the back. To me and DD#2, it was obvious that he threw a dummy--but still.

Again, parts of this movie are funny. Again, I would not rate this movie a "must see." But there will be teens and young adults who see this movie and the above are issues that should be discussed.

Hubs saw Tropic Thunder first and then dragged me to theater to see it. DD#2, who is now 15, came along, too. Commercial reviews of the movie were mixed. But Hubs was adamant that I'd enjoy it, so we went.

Looking back, I didn't realize the movie was rated "R." Had I paid attention, I might have been more cautious about bringing DD#2 along.

The movie opens with a "commercial" for an energy drink and a series of "trailers" that are so seamless done I didn't realize the movie had started. My first clue was that they were really over-the-top. My second clue was one of the trailers featured Ben Stiller, only he wasn't called Ben Stiller.

Then comes a voiceover, reading the opening lines on the screen about a mission to Vietnam. Ten men went in, four came out, two wrote a book, only one was a bestseller and this is a movie about that bestseller. Jump to the movie s The director, Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) is shooting key scene and the leading actor, Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller) can't bring the right emotion to the fore because the other actor in the scene, Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey, Jr.) is spitting on him. Cockburn has a meltdown, which causes the special effects director to blow up the jungle.

The movie is two months behind schedule and it's only the second day of shooting.

After Cockburn is royally chewed out by the studio head, the author of the book the movie is based on, Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte), suggests that they go for more realism by setting up cameras in the jungle, dropping the actors off, and shooting the film as they make their way back to the helicopter. Cockburn thinks this is a wonderful idea.

At the dropoff, he collects the actors' cellphones, hands Speedman the outline of the script and a map, tells them he has the only radio that can summon the chopper, and steps on an old French landmine, blowing himself up. The actors are appalled--except for Speedman, who thinks this is a stunt. But he needs to make this movie, so off the band goes.

And a what a band it is. Tugg Speedman is the star of a disaster movie franchise who also played the lead character in Simple Jack, who is retarded--a performance ignored by the Academy. Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) is noted for playing multiple characters in a series of comedy movies where the main jokes--the only jokes--revolve around farts. He's also a drug addict. There is a young black rapper, Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson) whose only acting experience is in music videos and advertisements for an energy drink called "Body Sweat." He resents that Lazarus is playing a black man when he is, in fact, white and an Aussie. Lazarus is a "serious" actor and never drops out of character, even when the cameras are not rolling. Problem is, his character is a stereotype. Finally, there is Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel) who is the straight guy. He's read the book, the script, the in-flight magazine. He's also been in the Army and is the only one who can read a map.

They are not alone, however. They have been dropped in the midst of territory controlled by the Golden Dragons, a drug cartel who think the band of actors are D.E.A. agents.

What happens next is pretty predictable. The band splits up, with Speedman insisting that this is a movie set and the helicopter is one way and the rest of the crew going the other. Speedman is captured and taken to the headquarters of the drug cartel. The rest of the group finds him by accident.

Meanwhile, the special effects guy and Tayback go looking for the Cockburn and the band, finding only the site of the explosion and the walkie-talkie.

At the drug cartel HQ, Speedman is recognized as the lead in Simple Jack. Turns out it's the cartel's favorite movie and they want him to reprise his role. In turn, Speedman re-evaluates his life and decides to "adopt" a cute little toddler living at the compound.

Has the movie taken a turn toward the Serious and Introspective?

C'mon! This is Ben Stiller!

Tropic Thunder is rude and crude. The "F-word" is used liberally. Ben Stiller uses a sledge hammer to make his point about race, sex, drugs, and Hollywood.

I found myself laughing out loud. Several times.

The actors look like they were having fun on the set (I'd love to see the outtakes--this was filmed in Kau'i). Lots of cameos by different actors who played off their public personas. Nothing is sacred; no one is safe.

Did Tropic Thunder deserve an R rating? Yes, due to language, over-the-top violence, and portrayals of drug use (although those were not sympathetic--Jeff Portnoy is shown as being out-of-control). Although there are no scenes of explicit sex, there is much discussion about it, usually at the "locker room" level.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie, though I wouldn't rank it as a "must see." DD#2 enjoyed it as well, although I'm glad she's not any younger.

crossposted at Catholic Media Review

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Quote of the Month

Live your life so that when you put your feet down on the floor in the morning, Satan says,
"Oh, CRAP! She's awake!"

(Change the pronoun for males. :)

Prayers Requested...

First for Anthony, whose battling cancer and having bad reactions to the medication. Anthony was one of the first friends DS#2 made when he moved to a new high school his sophomore year. Anthony is short; DS#2 is tall. Anthony is extremely smart and articulate; DS#2 is more laid back and often struggles to put his thoughts into words.

After conquering cancer in grade school, it came back last year. On top of that, Anthony had a bad reaction to the medication and spent most of the school year in the hospital. He did make it to Junior Prom. Bald, but in a tux and with a date.

Now, his senior year, he's moving to a medical facility in San Diego (about 500 miles south of us) to try and beat this thing. Those of you who have had kids graduate from high school understand how difficult it will be for Anthony to move away and miss all the fun and excitement of the last year in high school. DS#2 will miss him as well, even though they keep in touch electronically.

My second request is for Corrinne, who is battling pneumonia and a bacterial infection that has affected her heart. Her doctors don't think there is any damage, but they are not sure. Corrinne is an amazing woman and the linchpin of our local Girl Scout neighborhood as a Girl Scout leader, Day Camp Director, and Neighborhood Chair. Oh, and she doesn't have any children of her own.

Book Review: A Pocket Guide to the Bible

Written by Scott Hahn, this Guide is part of a series of Pocket Guides published by Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division. And this Guide truly is pocket-sized.

First is a short explanation of what the Bible is: the Word of God in human words. Mr. Hahn then discusses the organization of the Bible into the Old and the New Testaments, who wrote the Bible (meaning the human authors--he notes right off that God is the Author), how the different books were chosen to be included--and why the Jewish Old Testament and the Protestant Bibles are different from the Catholic Bible--finishing the first section with the relationship between the Bible and the Church.

Mr. Hahn next discusses how to understand the Bible. The Bible is literature and can be read that way, but it contains many different types of genres. There are the stories, the history, the laws, the census count, the poems, the advice column, the letters, and the prophecies. I especially liked Mr. Hahn's explanation that the Bible is the history of our salvation and can be seen as a series of covenants between God and humanity, beginning with Adam and ending with the New Covenant through Jesus Christ. I had never thought of the Bible that way before, but it makes great sense.

There is a section about reading programs, specifically mentioning three: reading straight through, following the Lectionary, or reading your favorite stories. It really doesn't matter which one(s) you choose. The important thing is to read the Bible.

The longest chapter covers all the different books of the Bible with a brief synopsis of what each book covers. The last chapter is titled "Where to Find..." and then has several sections with the corresponding book, chapter, and verse. Mr. Hahn includes the Mysteries of the Rosary and the Liturgy of the Mass in this section, which is handy for apologetics. I also find this type of listing useful because Catholics don't place as much emphasis on quoting chapter-and-verse as some of our Protestant brethren do. Often I know there's a section dealing with the subject under discussion in the Bible; I just don't quite remember where. "Where to Find..." will help.

(BTW, I think it's more important to read the Bible and understand it as a whole than to memorize bits and pieces. The difference in emphasis might be why many Protestants think that Catholics "don't read the Bible." --Ed.)

Mr. Hahn manages to cram an awful lot of information into 79 pages the size of a quarter-sheet of paper. The language is simply, the size is not intimidating--this Guide would be excellent for Middle School and High School faith formation classes, such as Confirmation. In fact, DD#2 (a sophomore in high school) will be starting her second year of Confirmation preparation soon and I'm going to "test" this Guide out with her as well as share it with our parish Youth Minister. But I'm going to buy another copy--I'm keeping this one next to my Bible!

On the March Hare scale: 5 out 5 Golden Bookmarks

This review was written as part of The Catholic Company product reviewer program. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on A Pocket Guide to the Bible.

(cross-posted at Catholic Media Review)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Guilty Pleasures--Olympic Version

Yes, I know China has a horrid human rights record. I know that they are trying to destroy the people and the culture of Tibet. I know their environmental record is abysmal. I also know that winning is a cultural obsession.

Still, I'm enjoying the Olympics.

The Olympics is the only time women's sports get significant air time. The first set last night between the U.S. Beach Volleyball team and the underdog team from Belgium was a nailbiter. Would Misty and Kerri actually lose? The set went to 24 points before the American team won.

(By the way, has anyone else noticed that, with the exception of swimming, the women's competitive uniforms seem to be getting smaller? While the men wear big, floppy shirts and shorts?)

DD#2, just returned home from Japan, was watching the women's volleyball match between the U.S. and Japan. She was at an International Jamboree in Japan during the opening days of the Olympics, so had some catching up. She was able to watch some events with her Japanese host family--like the volleyball match between Japan and Argentina. Oddly enough (!), the Japanese Olympic broadcast was not all Michael Phelps all the time. (Not to detract from Mr. Phelps--he is truly amazing to watch. But I do want to stuff a Speedo in the mouth of the commentators.)

She cheered when the U.S. team missed a difficult shot. "I'm rooting for the Japanese," she stated matter-of-factly.

"I thought you would," I answered.

I rooted for the Korean who won that country's first gold in swimming. I enjoy watching talented athletes from smaller countries pull off upsets. There's something so... I don't know... American about rooting for the underdog. And I enjoyed watching the women's individual saber fencing finals. We had a lively family discussion about what the scoring rules were.

I still want Michael Phelps to break records. :)

My favorite moment of the Olympics is the Parade of Nations at the Opening and the Closing. Because I've worked in the shipping business, I've got a pretty fair idea of where most of the countries are geographically and I've worked with citizens of several of them. I especially enjoy looking at the native dress. And the fact that, for a change, the U.S. women did not have the most tacky attire--that award goes to Hungary. (Sorry, Hungary!)

Am I surprised there is controversy? No. Olympics and controversy seem to be synonymous. Am I surprised that the IOC and the various international sporting federations are doing nothing? No. I mean, really, this is the body who accused the U.S. women swimmers of being "bad sports" when they complained there was something odd about the East German women back in the '70's. And has not apologized when it was revealed that the East Germans were using steroids.

The Swiss are the premier men's beach volleyball team in the world? Really? Who would have thunk it?

And then there are the personal stories. Lopez Lomong, the flag bearer for the U.S., was one of the "lost boys" from Sudan, kidnapped from his family, adopted from a refugee camp. He watched the Olympics in Sydney and became inspired.

And now he's an Olympic athlete. In Beijing. Capital of the country that helped bankroll the strife in Lopez's native country. The irony makes me smile. No overt protest. Just a subtle dig.

And I just heard that Lopez has been reunited with his birth parents who had no idea he was still alive. That's really good news.

So I'm addicted. The T.V. is tuned to NBC and I'm watching whatever they're showing. I have my favorites--swimming, crew, gymnastics, volleyball--but I'll watch anything that's on. Really.

And, yes, I'm the same way about the Winter Olympics

Monday, August 04, 2008

Book Review: 1776

David McCullough begins 1776 on October 26, 1775. His Royal Majesty, George III, is addressing the opening of Parliament on "the increasingly distressing issue of war in America." The King and Parliament see the war as rebellion. The Americans, in contrast, really do not want to be independent from Britain. Rather, they want their rights as Englishmen to be recognized. They want representation. They want their concerns heard. The idea of independence has been whispered, but has not yet taken hold.

The year 1776 proves to be a pivotal year. By July, independence from Britain is declared and those who sign the formal Declaration fully understand the cost. The American "rabble" have proven themselves equal to the British Army, then the finest in the world, on several occasions. But they also have made serious strategic mistakes and, but for the grace of Providence, the rebellion could have been over in a year. And these men and women do believe the hand of God is guiding their affairs.

Mr. McCullough uses many primary sources: letters, journals, memoirs. But he includes not only those of the famous men and women--Washington, John Adams, Nathanael Greene, Henry Knox--but those of the common soldier, the ordinary men who left home, their fifteen-year-old sons who joined them, the twelve-year-old drummer boys and fifers. We read the frustration of Washington who pleads for money from the Continental Congress, who is unsure of what the British Army and Navy are planning, who waits almost too long before evacuating Brooklyn Heights, who plans an audacious raid on Trenton and succeeds. The British generals and admirals underestimate the courage and tenacity of the common American; still, had the weather cooperated or had they been a bit bolder, the British would have defeated the colonials.

At the end of year, Washington has learned much. Still the war doesn't end until 1783 and the Treaty of Paris, six and a half years later--a fact we present-day Americans tend to forget.

The Revolutionary War also laid the foundation for the "American character." Washington was a self-educated man, a fact that he felt keenly, especially among the Virgina aristocracy. But he had tremendous strength of character: whatever doubts or misgivings he had, he kept private. He also promoted men of talent, no matter their age, experience, or station in life. He inspired tremendous loyalty which held the Continental Army together through defeat and privation. He was also a consummate politician and established the tradition of civilian oversight of the Army.

Washington also learned from his mistakes. And he made plenty of them--another fact we tend to forget. Wars never go as planned.

France and the Netherlands offered financial assistance as well as troops and ships to the young American colonies, but only after it seemed that the Americans might win.

Mr. McCullough's decision to concentrate on one year--and to focus on the military battles, rather than the political ones--keeps the narrative from being overwhelmed. Using primary sources from those in the trenches as well as the generals brings an immediacy and intimacy that is often lacking in standard history texts. I find Mr. McCullough's style easy to read and absorbing (although I wish he had included modern maps of the battle fields as well as the contemporary ones drawn by the British and American armies). 1776 might not be your typical "beach book," but it's not your dry history tome, either.

Most importantly, this book reminds us of the cost of our freedom from Britain. The Declaration of Independence was paid for in blood and in the personal fortunes of many of those we now consider patriots. Families were torn apart, with many Loyalists fleeing to England, leaving behind their friends, family members, livelihoods, property. The cost in lives equaled 1% of the population, a figure that would not be exceeded until the Civil War.

In my not-so-humble-opinion, 1776 should be required reading for every high school student taking U.S. History.

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

crossposted at Catholic Media Review

My "Olympic" Moment

This morning I took DD#2 to San Francisco International Airport. She's off to Japan, again, to participate in an International Camporee sponsored by the Osaka Girl Scout Council to celebrate their 60th Anniversary. She is one of three girls and one adult representing the U.S. at this event, along with 900 Japanese Girl Scouts and 45 Girl Guides/Girl Scouts from other countries. Last year we went together as part of an exchange program; this year, I'm staying home. She was excited and a little nervous--just like I was.

Did I mention she's only 15?

While we're waiting for the rest of the group, we check out fellow travelers in the International Terminal. There is a large group of young women wearing light blue warm-up jackets with "USA" on the back. Their luggage consists of various boxes and bags, including navy blue daypacks with red trim, bearing the Speedo brand name and USA embroidered in white.

"I bet they're going to the Olympics," I said.

"What event?" DD#2 answered.

"Swimming?" I guessed. Okay, the Speedo logo was a giveaway.

We had walked over to cases of Victorian majolica ceramicware on display in the concourse since we had time to spare. On our way back to our meeting spot, I noticed that one of the young women had a navy blue jacket that said "Synchro" on it.

"They're the Olympic Synchronized Swim Team," I said.

"How do you know?" DD#2 was a bit impressed until I told her about the jacket.

We watched them for a bit and I have to admit, both DD#2 and I were a bit starstruck. I mean, real Olympic athletes were only about 100 feet away! "Take a picture," I suggested, thinking she would take a picture from where we were standing.

But DD#2 surprised me. She took out her camera, walked over to the group and asked the coach (a woman my age) if she could take a picture. And confirmed that, yes, this was the Synchronized Swim Team. The coach suggested DD#2 wait until all the team members were there. When everyone had arrived, the group gathered for pictures (there were several proud parents and friends to see them off) and DD#2 got her picture. (I was watching her luggage.) Unfortunately, I didn't think to take one with my cell phone, so her picture is currently in Japan.
We did notice one piece of the Synchronized Team's luggage bore a tag that read "Too Heavy to Steal." And they didn't wait in the usual baggage check line.

Later, when the group walked to Security someone started to chant "U-S-A!" And there was a round of applause as they passed by. I said, "Good luck, ladies!" and one team member said, "Thanks!" They looked excited and giddy and happy--just as young adults off to the Olympics should look.

So I'll be watching the Synchronized Swimming competition with more than my usual interest and DD#2 asked that we record it for her, in case she's not home.

For those who think Synchronized Swimming is not a "real" sport, I beg to differ. I took Synchro for PE in college. Not only did I build up my arm strength--almost every move uses only your arms--but I had to remember to point my toes, move to the beat of the music, and smile at the same time. I gained new appreciation for the sport and it wasn't nearly as demanding as it is now.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Another Week in Paradise

Saturday afternoon I returned from a week at Girl Scout camp where I volunteered to be a counselor to a group of 11-13 y.o. girls. I really enjoy this age--especially when I'm not related to them! They're in the process of discovering who they are, so they are "trying on" different personalities and interests. As "not-the-mom," I enjoy it. I'm not invested in their grades or how well they're doing in soccer or swimming or dance. I can appreciate them for who they are and who they are becoming.

Of course, there's drama. Of course, they are irresponsible and I often feel that I must repeat each instruction individually to each girl. On the other hand, most of these girls have been away from home before and most of them have been to this particular camp. So they are familiar with the lack of amenities and the idea that they have camp wide chores to do--like "hopping." ("Hoppers" set the tables, get the food and drinks for the table, get seconds when needed, bus the tables after the meal, wipe off the table, and sweep the dining hall floor. And they also chose which Grace the camp will sing.) They also have to clean the shared bathroom and at least once during the week, clean up their tents.

They were surprised when I announced tent clean-up and sleeping bag airing, especially when I said, "I know that your duffel bags have exploded everywhere. I want you to find all your underwear and all your socks now." One camper asked me, "How did you know?"

Because I'm a mom of four and an experienced counselor.

This year I was really fortunate to work with five amazing women. We complemented each other well and we all had a rather wicked sense of humor. This was especially amazing since three of us, including me, caught the "camp crud" that was going around and were laid low for several days. (I still have a pretty nasty cough.) I was looking forward to kayaking in the slough, but decided to conserve my strength for the drive back to camp.

But I did get my "dirt" fix. And my beach fix. And my campfire and s'more fix. I didn't get to sing much because of the crud, but I enjoyed the music and the skits and the dancing and the general craziness that goes on at camp. My biggest triumph: I made one very solemn girl smile. It took me all week to do it and it was a small smile, but I'm counting it!

DD#2 opted not to come to camp with me but work at our local GS Day Camp instead. She's a "junior counselor" this year, assigned to work with an adult counselor with whom both DD#1 and I have worked. Tomorrow is the Family Dinner & Campfire--I can't wait to get the report on how she did! It was kind of nice going to camp on my own, although I did have some worries about how the family would manage to get everyone where they needed to be while I was gone. They managed. DS#2 has even been cleaning the living room/family room/craft area slowly but surely. He wants to have a party--great motivation!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Book Review: The Time Traveler's Wife

Six-year-old Clare Anne Abshire is in The Meadow, an isolated area behind her family home, when a naked man suddenly appears. He asks for the beach towel she is using and she gives it to him. He introduces himself: he is Henry DeTamble. Clare does not know him but Henry knows her because he is her husband in the future.

Henry has a problem: he is a Time Traveler. In times of stress, he returns to important scenes or places in his life. He can't control his comings and goings and he can't bring anything backward with him (which means he always arrives at his location naked--a problem in the winter). Clare is normal, living her life one day at a time in sequence. This causes some unusual problems in their relationship. In the beginning, Henry knows about her future; later, she knows what will happen to him before he does. For example, when Clare finally meets Henry in her present, she is 20 and he is 28. She recognizes him from her past. He hasn't met her yet and doesn't realize that she will become his wife.

And there are paradoxes. Older Henry often visits his younger self, acting as a mentor, teaching him how to survive in the time he's in until he jumps back to his current present. And when he visits events that are personally traumatic, like the death of his mother, there is nothing Henry can do to prevent it.

Audrey Niffenegger does an excellent job keeping all this straight. She tells the story both from the point of view of Clare and of Henry, noting the relative ages of each (or of each Henry if the scene is one where Henry meets himself) at the top of the each section. Henry's problem causes peculiar difficulties not only for him but also for his relationship with Clare and with others in his life: his friends, his co-workers. Henry and Clare search for a cure or a way to control his jumping. And Clare desperately wants a child. Theirs is not a fairy tale life, although perhaps their jobs are (Clare is an artist, Henry works at a rare book library).

The Time Traveler's Wife is a romance and a science fiction novel, albeit "soft" science fiction (Henry's ability to time travel is given only a cursory explanation). Still, they are a team and they remain faithful to each other through it all.

As a side note: Clare is Catholic, or has been raised Catholic and I believe Henry is Jewish. However, except for a scene at Midnight Mass and their wedding, religion is not discussed. Henry is agnostic or atheist; Clare does not seem to practice her religion at all. I think Ms. Niffenegger missed an interesting opportunity here.

DD#1 (who is 21) also enjoyed the story. We both liked it better than The Secret Life of Bees. An excellent vacation book.

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

crossposted at Catholic Media Review

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Movie Review: WALL*E

The folks at Pixar have done it again. WALL*E is a work of art, both technically and as a story.

But first, the short!

Like the short in Ratatouille, this short has no dialogue. It does, however, involve a rabbit, a carrot, a magician, and two magic hats. The rabbit is a cute, white bunny who is definitely not shy or retiring. He knows what he wants and he's going to get it.

The magician, on the other hand, has an act to perform.

Whomever wrote this short was definitely a Warner Brothers fan. There's more than a little Bugs Bunny here! In fact, at one point the orchestra breaks into a song I know was used in a Bugs and Elmer episode.

I like Pixar's tradition of opening the movie with a short (shades of my childhood when every Disney film was a double feature-plus-short) and I hope they consider releasing the shorts on a DVD at some point.

Okay, on to the main feature.

Much has been written about the storyline of WALL*E in other reviews. And strong stories are a Pixar trademark. So I'm going to spend a little more time on the ambiance of the movie.

It opens with a song from Hello, Dolly! Cornelius is telling Barnaby there's a whole world out there beyond Yonkers and breaks into the song, Put on Your Sunday Clothes. That song and one other, Dancing, serve as touchpoints, appearing at significant moments in the film.

With eyes shaped like binoculars and a body that's basically a metal box, WALL*E is no mere machine. Although his job is to compact trash into blocks and then stack it into tall, imposing structures, he also collects odd objects: a garbage can lid, rubber duckies, a Rubik's cube. And he has a pet. ten minutes in (or less), I forgot I was watching an animated feature. WALL*E is a character, with personality and feelings.

The humans don't appear until more than halfway through the film, and--with one interesting exception--they definitely look animated. But it looks like a deliberate choice and isn't jarring. (John Ratzenberger keeps up his string of voicing characters, by the way.)

The other major character is another robot: EVE. For much of the movie, she's an egg, but as the action unfolds, she develops a full-fledged persona.

There are a lot of references to pop culture as well: the Blue Danube Waltz plays at an appropriate time and there is a steward robot named "Gofer." I probably missed as much as I caught--which means we're going to have to buy the DVD and watch it again. :)

Hubs and I saw this at a Sunday afternoon matinee and there were plenty of kids in the audience. However, during the climax, the theater was dead quiet. Not easy to do, but Pixar did it, just like the best Disney movies do. The technical quality of the film is amazing, combining some "live action" with animation seamlessly. It all fit. The character voices didn't overwhelm the animated characters (a pet peeve of mine with Dreamworks animations), but complemented them.

Yes, there is a social message. But I thought the message didn't overwhelm the story and the ending was hopeful and uplifting.

For the ending credits, Pixar used several different styles of art, from cave dwellings to Egyptian hieroglyphics to Impressionism to Van Gogh--kind of a mini art history. I wouldn't have caught it unless the woman behind me mentioned it to her son. I thought it was rather clever.

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

crossposted at Catholic Media Review

Saturday, June 28, 2008


Last weekend I was at a gathering of poets for a Board Meeting of a local poetry circle. We were discussing what to do about some stock that the group was recently given, whose price has been dropping rather dramatically over the last few months.

All of these people are liberals.

Most of them are upper-middle class. Most of them are retired.

When one member said, "I think we'll see a change in November, an increased optimism," I knew he fully expected Obama Barack to be elected as the next President.

When one member talked about the "recession we're in," I pointed out that, by definition, we're not.

"You don't think we are?" he asked, surprised.

Not wishing to get into a big debate about it, I shrugged it off.

How can these otherwise intelligent people see that, overall, life is actually pretty good? Home prices are down, but many of those prices were overinflated. Teachers and police officers and firefighters can now afford to buy homes in the communities where they work. Isn't that a good thing? Home ownership is the highest it has ever been and 94% of mortgage holders are not in default and not late with their payments. Unemployment is still historically low (although I've now got two brothers looking for jobs).

Yes, gas and oil is expensive. But, if you factor in inflation, the price of gasoline should be around $3.00/gallon anyway. Last year, gasoline was actually cheaper than it was during the 1970's.

Does anyone remember the '70's? I graduated from U.C. Berkeley in 1975 with a degree in biology and I was competing with Ph.D candidates from Stanford for lab jobs that were basically washing dishes. Oil prices were all over the place and changing daily. We had odd/even rationing with stern warnings "not to top off" our tanks. But we did anyway because the gas station may have run out by the time our day came. Home mortgages were 13-14% and many experts predicted the days of single-digit rates was over.

Does this economy look anything like that?

Iraq seems to be stabilizing, North Korea--under pressure from China--may be coming to its senses, plots by terrorists to play havoc in Europe seem to be discovered every day, fortunately before they are carried out.

There are many reasons to be optimistic now. Why wait until November? And why would the election of a man who has limited experience (Caroline, take note: even your father had more legislative experience than Mr. Obama) and whose philosophies and friendships change with the polls (did he study at the feet of Bill?) bring optimism? I haven't been impressed by the knowledge, skill, or finesse of his advisors now--I should be optimistic about his potential Cabinet appointments? He guessed wrong on the constitutionality of the D.C. gun ban law--and he's going to appoint judges?

The worrisome part is these fellow poets mean well. They really, truly want a Utopian Society, where there is no strife, no want, no disease. Ironically, without challenges there would be no poetry, no art. They don't seem to recognize that. But it seems so self-evident to me that I'm not sure how I can (if I can) change their point of view.