Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Brief Hiatus...

Because my life isn't complicated enough, on Thursday I broke my arm. It's not a bad break, as these things go, but it is painful. I've been spending a lot of time drugged and sleeping. As of now, I don't need surgery. I'll know more on Monday. (Technically, I broke the top of my humerus--the long bone in the arm. It's my left arm, a small blessing as I'm a righty!)

I slipped in the shower on the wayto the pool at the "Y". I was wearing my new aqua-aerobic shoes--guess the non-slip soles didn't work too well! I was in my Speedo swimsuit for about 8 hours. (Think one piece, nylon and lycra, snug fitting, no hooks or clasps.)

There is more to the story, some of it actually funny. But it will have to wait until I can type with two hands!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

In Memoriam: Bernadette

I knew Bernadette was fighting breast cancer. Her name appeared each week in our Parish Bulletin in the column asking for prayers for the sick. I saw her at Mass several months ago--was it Easter? Mother's Day? I hugged her and asked how she was doing. Bernadette was petite, but I was surprised how fragile she felt under my arms. She let me know she was fighting, physically and spiritually, and introduced me to her parents.

We met through the Girl Scout troop at our parish school; Bernadette's daughter was two years ahead of DD#1. Bernadette had been a Girl Scout back in New Jersey; I had been a Girl Scout here in the Bay Area, but it didn't matter. We knew many of the same songs and the same "lingo." At camporee, we made "Girl Scout chili" from a recipe she had copied down from her time at camp.

Bernadette's daughter moved up and out of Girl Scouting, but Bernadette and I would run into each other. For years she ran the White Elephant booth at Oktoberfest. Then she volunteered at a local thrift shop. I'd see her at Mass or at the store. She'd send me e-mails with jokes and prayers. She went back to teaching, sometimes special ed, sometimes junior high English.

An artist, she always wore colorful clothes and had an eclectic style. Okay--she looked like a refugee from Telegraph Avenue or Haight Street. She favored hats, especially large ones with floppy brims, even before she lost her hair during chemotherapy.

Sometimes it was a challenge carrying on a conversation with her. Her sense of the here and now wasn't always in the same realm as the rest of us.

She always made Hubs laugh and shake his head in wonder.

On the Feast of the Holy Family, during the Prayers of the Faithful when the lector reads the names of the recently departed, her name was read.

I was in shock, in part because I thought I would have heard something if she was so close to the end of her fight. I looked up her obituary and discovered she died Christmas morning.

Please pray for Bernadette's family: her husband, her son, and her daughter. I hope Bernadette finds a halo to her liking up in heaven--shiny, purple maybe, with a wide, floppy brim and an oversized flower or two.

Catching Up on the New Year

I have been spending a lot of time thinking over my New Year's Resolutions. I know, I know--January is almost over and where have I been? Working, among other things, and dealing with family issues. But I've also spent some time thinking about why I make the same resolutions over and over and why I fail to keep them.

The Resolutions aren't bad. They're usually include writing for 15 minutes a day, eating healthier, exercising more, staying in contact with old friends, getting birthday and anniversary cards out on time. If I'm really ambitious, I'll include cleaning out the garage, getting our finances in order, and scrapbooking all those pictures in boxes in the attic.

It never happens.

The thing is, I enjoy doing all of those things. I really do want to have a neat and orderly life. I love to write. I miss hearing from my long-time friends from grammar school, high school, and my early working career. I love the way I feel after a walk or after I've worked out.

So why don't I follow through?

Well, in part because when I begin a project I get caught up in it. I can't just write for 15 minutes. I can't jot a quick note to my friends, just like I can't just sign Christmas cards and send them out. Each card has to have a personal note. So I end up not sending any cards at all.

I caught myself hyperventilating at work when I was assigned several projects at the same time because I wanted to finish them all right then. When I realized what I was doing, I was able to back off a little bit and prioritize. And give myself permission to finish some of the projects later in the week.

There is a YMCA around the corner from my office and they offer an "aquacize" class from 12:30-1:10 p.m. every work day. I've been pretty faithful about going this last month, even on days--especially on days where the phone has been ringing like crazy and monthly data has just been released and I have reports due to clients around the globe. I have voice mail. I have e-mail. And FedEx doesn't pick up until 5:15 p.m. I am entitled to my lunch hour, free of clients.

But the writing thing takes me out of myself. Before I know it, an hour is gone and I am late for the next item on my list. (The same thing happens when I read as well. I have been known to miss my stop. I'm afraid to listen to books-on-tape when I drive because I fear I will become so lost in the story, I won't pay attention to the road.) It doesn't matter if I'm writing on my blog or a poem or a letter to a friend. Time slips by, unnoticed. So if I have to be somewhere in 15, 20, or 30 minutes, I dare not start writing.

And time I spend on a project is time not spent with my family. I hide away when I write; I am unavailable when I work on a project, like cleaning the garage or organizing the files for the taxes. I feel like I'm neglecting Hubs and the kids by not spending time with them, even if that time is something as simple as watching a movie or a TV show. For some reason, if I multitask, it drives Hubs crazy.

One of my favorite bloggers is Manolo of Manolo's Shoe Blog, although his blog has expanded to include much more than shoes. One of his entries was about New Year's Resolutions and he suggested that one simply resolves to make everyday a "Superfantastical day." One doesn't have to do something difficult--one can merely smile at everyone on the street, be polite to the shopgirl and the transit driver, look one's best for all the strangers on the street. Unfortunately I can't find the exact article or quote, but I do remember thinking, "I can do that!" So I laugh with the clerk at the Y who checks me in. I smile at the homeless men along the street and wish them "Good morning" or "Good afternoon." One of them always replies, "God bless!" and I can certainly use all the blessings I can get from God.

What's harder is to be polite and cheerful and to look my best for my family. I'm easily annoyed when DD#2 doesn't load the dishwasher when I ask. Or when Hubs drops his socks on the bathroom floor instead of putting them in the hamper. I forget what they have done for me, concentrating on what they haven't done or completed.

I can choose to see the glass as half-full.

So I'm taking care of my physical body (and I'm not taking away any family time doing so--a bonus!) and I'm tryin to make the world more Superfantastic one person one day at a time, and that leaves my soul and my relationship with the Almighty. For several years now I've tried to pray the Rosary during my morning commute. Again, that only works if I'm not driving--I don't know how other people can do it, but I can't. The other problem I've always had saying the Rosary on my own is that I doze off in the middle of it. Or my mind wanders off and suddenly I'm far from any of the Mysteries.

Currently, I'm relying on modern technology as a solution: I've downloaded a podcast of the Scriptural Rosary as written by Eva Hite at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. Ms. Hite goes through all four sets of Mysteries, using the familiar lead and response for the prayers. Before each Hail Mary, she reads a bible verse that relates to the particular mystery she's on. Ten Hail Mary's; ten bible verses. At the end of each decade, there are traditional petitions, and the rosary ends with "Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy." The timing is perfect: the Rosary ends just as I pull into my destination. I don't worry about losing track of where I am and if my mind wanders (and it does, still) I can usually find my way back. I can foresee a day when this particular version becomes too familiar and I will need to find another podcast or other solution. Hopefully, that won't be for awhile!

Book Review: How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents

The story begin in 1989. The third Garcia daugther, Yolanda, has returned to the family compound on the Island--the Dominican Republic. Yolanda hasn't been back in five years, an eternity in this close-knit family of aunts, uncles, and cousins. Yolanda hasn't told her family yet, but she's thinking of staying permanently this time, not returning to her family.

There are four Garcia girls and they left the Island with their Mami and Papi in the 1960's because of Papi's political activity. In the Dominican Republic, they lived surrounded by servants and family, but also constrained by social conventions. Their lives in the U.S. were harder: mastering a new language, new social expectations, new customs. The girls are sent "home" every summer so they do not forget who they are. They manage to evade the watchful eyes of Mami, Papi, and the Tias, and learn to become Americans. But assimilation comes with a price.

Sofia (Fifi) is the youngest and adapts the easiest, but is alienated from her Papi. Carla, the oldest, is a psychologist but has been married, divorced, and now remarried. Yolanda (YoYo or "Joe") was married, divorced, is a poet and a professor, but is having an affair with a married colleague. Sandi was the artist, but a traumatic experience back home has stifled her creativity. Now her connection to reality is tenuous.

The story moves backwards in time, beginning in 1989 and ending in 1956. And the story moves among the viewpoints of the sisters as well as the third person. Reading this book is sort of like watching a movie backwards. We don't fully understand the actions of the girls or of their parents until later. And it can be kind of confusing trying to remember whose story we're reading.

In fact, Carla's story gets short shrift, as do the college years of most of the girls, especially their early years at an all-women's college. Mami and Papi are presented mostly through the eyes of the girls, although Mami does get a few short chapters.

All in all, the book left me frustrated. I wanted to know more. Why and how did the girls fall away from the Church? How did Mami cope with losing the support of her family, her status? What happened with Carla's first marriage? Besides Sofia's children, did the other girls have any?

I thought this was going to be a story about the Americanization of these four young women, but I found that the author, Julia Alvarez, seemed to take shortcuts, stating the girls became American without showing how. Why was YoYo considering returning to the Domenican Republic to live? Did she feel more secure? Was she trying to recapture something from her past? Was she looking for a sense of belonging?

I did enjoy the interaction of the sisters: the jealousies, the closeness. I felt those scenes were faithfully captured, based on my experiences with my sisters and from what I've seen with my cousins and friends.

One of the reasons I read is to live another life, another's experiences, at least vicariously. I guess what I was looking for was a sense of experiencing the lives of the Garcia girls, at least vicariously. I never got that sense with this book, and I was very disappointed. The stories were interesting, but not particularly engaging.

The girls come of age during the 1960's and 1970's, so there is plenty of sex, casual and otherwise. There's some drug use, mostly marijuana. The girls have much to hide from their parents, especially when they are in college, which involves some elaborate schemes and lying. Except for Sofia, the girls do not seem particularly happy with their lot in life, with the choices they made. Their relationship with each other seems strong, their parents do love them, and there is much strength in their extended family, if only they could see it.

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

crossposted on Catholic Media Review

Movie Review: The Tale of Sweeney Todd

This non-musical version of Sweeney Todd stars Ben Kingsley in the title role and Joanna Lumley as Mrs. Lovett. The basic story is the same as the musical: Sweeney Todd is a barber on Fleet Street who murders those clients he feels do not deserve to live and Mrs. Lovett takes care of the bodies by baking them into her "specials" whose secret ingredient she does not disclose. And, in the end, Mr. Todd is killed by his apprentice.

The motivation for Mr. Todd's wrath is different, however. Instead of suffering at the hands of a particular magistrate, Mr. Todd has spent time in Her Majesty's Army in Africa. One of his comrades-in-arms was a man who died there, leaving behind a young daughter, Alice, whom Mr. Todd vowed to raise and to protect.

What happened to Mr. Todd and his comrades in Africa and its importance is revealed slowly. And, in fact, Mr. Todd's actions might never have been revealed except that he happened to kill a rich merchant. And a young American, Ben Carlyle (Campbell Scott) comes to London, looking for this merchant who owes Ben's employers either $50,000 or the equivalent in diamonds.

Ben happens to be staying at the inn where Mr. Todd's ward, Alice, is a maid. As Ben tries to locate the merchant, who has been missing for several weeks, he and Alice fall in love. Alice confides in Mr. Todd, who is less than pleased.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Lovett has calculated that she and Mr. Todd finally have enough money to escape from London--and a pretty dismal place this London is, too. A war has been going on for years and is a drain on the economy and the morale of the common folk. (I'm guessing it's the Napoleonic war, but it's never stated.) Additionally, there are the "Runners," a quasi-police force, led by a "Major." They are supposed to keep order, which they do by use of force and bullying. They aren't really interested in finding the missing merchant, unless there is something in it for them.

Mr. Todd also has an apprentice, a young mute whom Mr. Todd has rescued from the asylum. Charlie knows that Mr. Todd has killed the merchant Ben is looking for, but he since he cannot talk, and is intimidated by Mr. Todd, he doesn't tell anyone.

Except for Lucy, who works in the basement of Mrs. Lovett's, grinding the meat Mrs. Lovett feeds into the hopper. On a rare break from work, Charlie makes Lucy understand that he knows what happened to the merchant. Mrs. Lovett becomes suspicious and asks Mr. Todd to "take care of her." He does. And he also chains Charlie to the wall in the basement because he is fond of the boy, in his way, and decides not to kill him.

Ben has learned enough to start to put the pieces together. Mrs. Lovett can feel the net closing but Mr. Todd will not leave. Mrs. Lovett arranges to kidnap Alice and tells Mr. Todd that she will release Alice when they are safely on the ship away from England. Ben shows up at the barber shop and he and Mr. Todd begin a dangerous dance of words, where Mr. Todd reveals what happened in Africa to him and to Alice's father.

The movie ends with the death of Mr. Todd at the hands of his apprentice. Alice and Ben are free to go off to America, with Alice never realizing the truth about her guardian.

Ben Kingsley's Sweeney Todd is much more likable than Johnny Depp's. He is a charmer, obsequious to his customers, who include the local vicar. He chatters while he shaves, sharing the local gossip. Joanna Lumley's Mrs. Lovett's relationship with Mr. Todd is more a matter of convenience than love, as is Mr. Todd's with her. The madness of this Mr. Todd lurks far beneath the surface, with few clues surfacing. The only person Mr. Todd really cares for is Alice.

There are a couple of scenes with partial nudity, one where Mrs. Lovett is "spanking" (with a leather strap) the Major, one with Mrs. Lovett and Mr. Todd in bed, and one where Alice is rising from Ben's bed and puts on her chemise. The throat-slitting scenes are not as dramatically bloody as in the musical version. Mrs. Lovett's butchery is done behind closed doors. Ben discovers the decomposing bodies in the sewer, munched on by rats.

This is an Irish-British production, originally shown in the U.S. on the USA Channel in 1998, so there is no MPAA rating. Because of the subject matter, I would definitely rate this PG-13 or higher, depending on the child. And because this version is less theatrical, the horror is more subtle. Mr. Todd's reason for revenge is less obvious and so his revenge is less focused and more diffuse. This movie also recreates the London of the 1800's, illustrating the squalor and the hardships of the lives of the common citizens of that time. (It's not Jane Austen country, certainly!) Plenty of opportunity for discussion across many subjects.

Hubs didn't care for it as much as the musical, but then he's partial to musicals. I was fascinated, especially by Ben Kingsley's performance.

On the March Hare scale: 4 out 5 Golden Tickets

crossposted at Catholic Media Review

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Mrs. Edwards Doesn't Know Her Horses

from Michelle Malkin's blog:

"At both a rally in Manchester this morning and the event in Nashua this afternoon, Elizabeth Edwards played into the horserace analogies of the presidential contest by comparing her husband to the legendary racehorse Seabiscuit.

"'Seabiscuit was the horse of the working class, you know, owned by a bicycle repairman, and ridden by someone who wasn’t supposed to be able to make it,' she said in Nashua. 'But that’s what this campaign is about, isn’t it? The dog who wasn’t supposed to be able to make it.'"

Uhm, Mrs. Edwards? Seabiscuit's owner, Mr. Charles Howard, might have started as a bicycle repairman when he first came to San Francisco, but he quickly saw opportunity and began repairing autos. In fact, he opened the first Buick dealership on the West Coast.

By the time he owned Seabiscuit, he was wealthy, owning homes in San Francisco and a ranch in Sonoma county. He paid $8,000 for Seabiscuit--not an insignificant sum of money for a racehorse.

I'm getting weary about both Edwardses playing up the "working man" connection. It's not a sin to be rich, especially if you've worked hard for it. The fact a bicycle repairman could become rich enough to own a racing stable (for Mr. Howard owned more horses than just Seabiscuit) used to be a point of pride--anyone could work their way up the ladder (with emphasis on work) in the U.S. Even the son of a millworker could go to college, become a lawyer, then a U.S. Senator, and dream of being President.

That's not a bad thing, Mrs. Edwards. Obscuring the facts, however, is.

Hubs' New Toy

Hard to believe but Hubs just celebrated his 30th Anniversary with the same company. Okay, it's not really the same company--it's been bought and sold several times over the years. Fortunately, he's only had to reapply for his job once. And his seniority has always carried over.

He was able to chose a gift from a catalog, which caused considerable discussion. I finally told him to pick something for himself--he's made several sacrifices over the years, including agreeing to live on one salary with three kids in Catholic school and getting up at the crack of dawn to commute to his current location.

Since he loves music, he chose an iPOD. He thought it was just a simple 8GB model. Wrong--it's the 80GB model with Bose stereo headphones as well as the little bitty earbuds. So besides downloading just about all the CDs we own, and some of the stuff the kids have (our children have very eclectic tastes in music), he downloaded Pirates of the Caribbean: The End of the World.

The iPOD actually made Christmas shopping for him very easy this year: he got accessories. So he has the strap on case so he can listen while he works out. He got the docking station/alarm clock/radio (which is so bright I can almost read by it). And he got the docking station that connects his iPOD to our Home Theater System (such as it is).

The plus is the music quality is pretty decent. The minus is that Pirates appears very dark on our TV. We recently watched it via On Demand and the color was fine. The video appears normal when viewed on the iPOD, so we're not sure what the problem is.

Unfortunately this docking station comes with a remote. A little one that we're sure to misplace. It also means that as Hubs is showing me the neat things his iPOD can do, so we can't listen to a complete song. I don't mind if it's an instrumental, but I'm just getting into a ballad by Simon & Garfunkel and then we're in Chicago. Or an Irish ballad. Or the music from Pirates.

I hate that.

He's now left it on the 40 songs from the three Pirate movies. (Aren't they all the same?) And he's left the room while I write.

However, one of the pieces he's downloaded is Fanfare for the Common Man, which is one of my faves. Now that I know we have it, I may have to use it as the "alarm" for DS#2 and DD#2 on school mornings!

BTW, any suggestions for other iPOD accessories that are Good To Have would be appreciated. I'm especially interested in accessories for the car--Hubs commutes in our 1997 Dodge Caravan, which has a radio, but the cassette player is broken. Rather than fix it, I'm thinking that an iPOD dock would be nice. But is there a model out there that will fit the minivan, delivers decent sound, and won't break the bank?

Movie Review: National Treasure: Book of Secrets

The scene starts with a crowded street. It's April 1865. Two men meet, chat, and separate. One heads to the stage entrance of a theater, where he is recognized. The other man goes to a tavern. There he meets Thomas Gates who is known for his ability to solve ciphers. While he works on the cipher, President Lincoln is shot by the man in the theater--John Wilkes Booth.

Word of President Lincoln's assassination spreads quickly. Thomas Gates solves the cipher and realizes that the man he is solving it for is a Knight of the Golden Circle--an organization dedicated to a Confederate Victory. When Gates' young son rushes in with the news of assassination, Gates tears several pages out and attempts to burn them. The Knight manages to grab a partially burnt page from the hearth and flees. Gates grabs his son and tells him, "The debt all men must pay."

The next scene is a college lecture hall. Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage) and Patrick Gates (Jon Voight) have just presented a lecture about their ancestor, Thomas Gates, and the Booth diary when they are challenged by a member of the audience. Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris) has one of the missing pages. Thomas Gates is listed along with other members of the conspiracy. Could Thomas Gates have been the leader of the plot to kill Lincoln?

Ben and Patrick do not believe this and Ben is determined to clear his great-grandfather's name. But he can't do it alone. He needs Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) and his expertise. Riley, who is having serious financial problems, is more than happy to go along. However, Ben also needs some information from his house. The problem is that he and Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) are splitting up and it's not amicable. (No, they're not married.) Ben and Riley break in and surprise Abigail who figures out that the boys are on another treasure hunt.

Riley solves the cipher and they're off to Europe. And then--hang on to your hats because the chase is on.

The pace is quick so there is no time to mull over implausibilities or historical inaccuracies. I felt like I was on the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland--just along for the ride. And it's a marvelous ride! Wilkinson is on their tails and they have to elude him. They find one clue and the only person in the whole world who can translate it is Ben's mother, Patrick's ex-wife, Emily Appelton (Helen Mirren). When Patrick and Emily meet after 31 years of not speaking to each other, they take up their argument where they left off. It's a great scene mostly because of Mr. Voight and Ms. Mirren.

The clue leads to a special book--a Book of Secrets--whose existence has only been a rumor and the stuff of conspiracy buffs. And, yes, Ben has to find it. And it won't be easy. Or safe. And we do get to see more of Ms. Mirren (in a good way!).

I was captivated until the very end when I had a problem with where the treasure was. Apparently I was the only one: Hubs and DD#2 thought it was just fine. (As DD#2 keeps telling me, "Mom, it's a MOVIE.") And, except for that one point, the resolution was solid, with one loose end that may indicate there will be a third movie.

The caliber of the actors is impressive, even for the relatively minor roles (Harvey Keitel is back in his role as FBI Agent Sadusky). The location shots are stunning. And if this inspires a few kids to pick up a history book, so much the better.

I do wish that Ben and Abigail would get married, though. Patrick wants them back together but does not suggest marriage. Patrick and Emily are divorced and the reasons for their divorce are discussed--turns out it was a lack of communication rather than infidelity. There is a lot of shooting and mayhem and a lot of shouting, which may bother young children. But on the whole, this is truly a movie for the whole family. Disney does it again!

Added Bonus: Before National Treasure began, we were treated to an original cartoon, just like the good old days. This cartoon was in the classic "How To" genre that Goofy seems specially suited to: "How to Set Up Your Home Theater System." Watch for Walt Disney's picture and other "inside" jokes that Disney cartoonists are noted for. If you've ever bought a TV from an electronics store, you'll appreciate this cartoon!

Like the Pixar shorts, bringing back the cartoon before the feature is something I hope Disney continues to do!

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

crossposted on Catholic Media Review

Friday, January 04, 2008

Living Life to the Fullest?

This morning I was reading the San Francisco Chronicle while waiting for my bagel to toast when I came across this review: Her Last Death: A Memoir by Susanna Sonnenberg. The following paragraph caught my attention (not easy, since I've only had one cup of coffee):

"Daphne is a formidable figure; her behavior inexcusable, shocking and, ultimately, irresponsible. A compulsive liar, an incorrigible cheat, a promiscuous siren with an insatiable sexual appetite and an addiction to cocaine and other drugs, Daphne can quite rightly be viewed as the mother from hell. But Sonnenberg doesn't paint her as pure evil. She also portrays her positive side, her charm, her grandeur, her capacity to live life to its fullest. No one else was quite like her, and no one else made Susanna feel special the way she did." (emphasis added-Ed)

It occurred to me that the only time I hear or read the highlighted phrase is if the person described is otherwise a wild person: an addict, an alcoholic, sexually promiscuous, unable to form long-term commitments. Will Sean Preston or Jayden James Federline someday describe their mother, Brittany, as having "lived life to the fullest"? She looks pretty pathetic to me right now. And the more I read of the review of Ms. Sonnenberg's memoir, the more I wondered if she thought her mother "lived life to the fullest" or if the reviewer was putting words into her mouth. (I also wonder where the adults were in Ms. Sonnenberg's life, but the review doesn't ask that question.)

Does "living life to the fullest" really mean spending your money on booze, drugs, and men while neglecting your children? Is travel really broadening when done while your brain is in a fog? Is this really the kind of example we want for ourselves and our children?

Not me.

Personally, I think JPII lived life to the fullest. Or Mother Teresa. Or my own mother who lived through the Great Depression, WWII, was married to the same man for almost 50 years, raised six kids on a single salary, sent those six kids to college, and loves to read and to travel. She might have slowed down, but she hasn't stopped. She's still planning ahead, still looking forward. Still living until she dies.

That's living life to the fullest!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A New Blog!

Julie D. from Happy Catholic has started a new group blog, Catholic Media Review. She's asked me to join them and I was happy to accept. As far as I know, none of us are "professional" media critics. We're ordinary people--moms, dads, aunts, uncles, grandparents--who happen to have a particularly Catholic outlook on life. And we will bring that sensibility to our reviews.

My hope is you'll find our reviews useful, although, since I tend to only spend my money on movies I have a pretty good idea I'm going to like, I don't know how critical I'll be! I hope there will be some discussion, as well, on what makes a good movie or book or music and if a particular movie, book, or music reflects the values of Christianity in general or the Catholic Church in particular.

Please check it out and let me know what you think!