Friday, December 22, 2006

Snow! Snow? Sn...rain?

It did snow here yesterday, big fat clumps of flakes that settled over the ground and melted in the gutters. Kids who were desperately waiting for the chance to play in it quickly built snowmen and had snowball fights and made the most of it.

Which was smart, as today, it started melting. Not on the sidewalks, where at least we would be spared the shovelling, but in a messy, patchy way. It had not been enough to cover the grass tips in the first place, and as the day wore on, the ground began to thaw and the mud began to ooze up.

Although, if you squint, and are a glass full kind of person, it's still a white Christmas. Sort of.

Economists--The Dismal Gift-givers

A thought provoking article in today's Slate about gift giving. Apparently, economic research has established that people derive 20% more satisfaction from buying something for themselves than from gifts. For example, buying your own Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank CD will give you more pleasure than the Ray Coniff Singers you got from your Aunt Fanny. (Um...OF COURSE!)

Which raises the question--why is cash considered gauche? Don't we want our loved one to be as happy as possible? Wouldn't it be more generous to allow your gift recipient to select his/her own gift than to impose your own taste? Why do we give gifts anyway? Can I fit any more questions into a single paragraph? I can? Should I stop now anyway?

The Slate article reports some theories as to why gift-giving--and not cash--persists. I have my own theories. Of course, not being an academic economist with a grant, my research assistance comes from Your results may vary.

1. A gift is not viewed as a spent economic opportunity. That is, when I receive a gift, I don't see it as a consumer choice that I would have made differently--even though I might have. Instead, it's like free money. Put another way--I might not spend my money on a Waterford crystal toilet brush holder, but I'll sure spend yours.

This goes along with a long held philosophy of gift giving that I have had: a gift should be something the recipient wouldn't buy for him/herself. Something that is frivolous, delightful, or luxurious that the recipient would like to have but won't spend the money on. The key point is that the recipient would like to have this thing: thus a rhinestone encrusted belly button lint brush does not qualify. Spa services, important jewelry and/or new automobiles do fit this category.

At its best, this kind of gift giving is a way to open up new ideas and experiences. It's a wonderful way of showing vulnerability and desire for deeper connection. If your boyfriend is a hard core Hobo Nephews fan, and wants to share that with you by giving you a CD (one that you wouldn't ever buy yourself), that's a declaration of love far in excess of the monetary value of the gift.

2. A gift is a mirror in which to glimpse ourselves as other see us. This is why some gifts are so fraught with danger. Your wife does NOT want a new vacuum cleaner for Christmas (not even the newest Dyson, so don't try it) because it signals that you see her as someone who keeps your house clean so you don't have to. This does not create romantic feelings, and may result in coming home to find all your possessions in a pile in the front yard and the locks all changed.

But, suppose you were to buy the Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank CD for your wife. It might suggest that you still see her as the adventurous, club-hopping hottie that she was when you met. It says that, despite hearing nothing but Barney songs for the last 3 years, you see her as in touch with cutting edge culture. It says "Hey, Blondie. Let's go hit the clubs and dance until the small hours, and then go back to my place and make out and sleep naked."

Of course, since there are no babysitters who will stay that late, this is not possible, but the sentiment is deeply appreciated, and you might just get some without having to leave the house. However, DO NOT send this CD to your Aunt Fanny, as you don't want her thinking those thoughts--and anyway, she'll probably just think it's a super fancy coaster.

3. Gifts are a measure of love. Again, this is where Danger lurks. Aunt Fanny, on receiving that Hobo Nephews CD--may feel insulted that you know her so little that you'd think she'd like such noise, when it just gives her a headache, and it isn't really music unless it's been on Lawrence Welk.

Which might be okay, if you don't see her so often. With your spouse, however, you'd better do better. Even some of the traditional gifts are now also risky:

You: presenting large, gaudily wrapped box.
Her: opening box and finding rare sable coat. How could you? Fur is murder, surely you know that! I don't eat meat and I won't wear dead animals! How long have I been the local chair of PETA? You don't even know, do you? How can I live with someone so insensitive to the rights of animals?


You: presenting small, tasteful velvet box.
Her: opening box to find flawless 3 carat diamond. You do realize that this represents the blood of native Africans who can find no work but to die slowly while mining these things, don't you? And that their price is kept artificially high by the DeBeers company which keeps vast reserves in their vaults? And that the cost to the people in the countries is not only their lives, but their self determination and dignity? How could you give me a product of such bloody oppression?

See--here is where you need to really know your recipient. This is where we get the saying "It's the thought that counts." You'd better have some good reason for giving the gifts above, reasons that say "I thought about you carefully, and all that you are, and I made this selection." Telling your girlfriend that the sable is from a new breed of sable that molts twice a year, for example, would be a good response--as long as it's true. Or "Darling, that's not a diamond--it's moissanette" is also good. If true.

Are you getting the sense that good gift giving is about mind reading? It can be. But when a gift is right--something that the recipient had never thought of, and loves more than they ever dreamed, when you get the reputation of being a thoughtful and romantic gift's priceless.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

White Christmas

It finally snowed. You'd think, living up here in Minnesota, we'd be guaranteed a White Christmas, but no! Even this morning, it was rain and rain and rain. It was even warm enough for me to go untangle the dog from where he'd wrapped himself around the swing set WITHOUT A COAT.

It's December...that's just not right. Not here, where we got 12 inches of snow on Halloween the year we bought our house. Yes, we were having an addition built on. No, there was no roof. Yes, we had to shovel out the kitchen. Twice. Because it snowed again on Thanksgiving and we still had no roof.

But around noon, the rain turned into slush! Falling from the sky! Little semi-frozen chunks of gloop knocking me on my head and then instantly melting down my neck! Yesssss!

By 2:00 the gloop had turned to honest-to-God snow. JUST in time for picking up kids from school and for RUSH HOUR! We sure do things right up here, don't we. Betcha you wish you could live here too!

But the Bunny was delighted. She's been roping her friends into doing Snow Dances during recess for the last week. It's been important for her to have a white Christmas, and now she's going to get it.

Because Christmas! Is coming! Is your goose getting fat?

Friday, December 15, 2006

Theological Confusion and Elvis Presley

I know, I know! You read the title and said to yourself "Whaaa? Elvis has never lead me astray theologically? Why, he's well known as one of the great explicators of the New Testament, and stands with such philosophical giants as Saint Augustine and Dietrich Bonhoffer!"

To which I say "yes, but have you listened to this song?"

That's right: Here Comes Santa Claus, as sung by Elvis on my Christmas iMix, is theologically suspect!

See, I was wrapping Christmas gifts, while listening to such purveyors of the hymns of the season as Brian Setzer Orchestra, and BNL, and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. Wrapping presents is a bit of a production for me. I have an obsessive love of things that sparkle and shine, and wrapping is an opportunity for me to go mad with glitter and bright ribbons and little ornaments tied festively to the packages.

But even amidst my sparkly delirium, the lyrics of this tune pierced through the glitter and forced me to listen. Here they are:

Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus,
Right down Santa Claus Lane
Vixen and Blitzen and all his reindeer
Pullin' on the reins
Bells are ringin', children singin'
All is merry and bright
Hang your stockings and say your prayers
'Cause Santa Claus comes tonight!

Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus,
Right down Santa Claus Lane
He's got a bag that's filled with toys
For boys and girls again
Hear those sleigh bells jingle jangle,
Oh what a beautiful sight
So jump in bed and cover your head
'Cause Santa Claus comes tonight!

Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus,
Right down Santa Claus Lane
He doesn't care if you're rich or poor
He loves you just the same
Santa Claus knows we're all God's children
That makes everything right
So fill your hearts with Christmas cheer
'Cause Santa Claus comes tonight!

Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus,
Right down Santa Claus Lane
He'll come around when the chimes ring out
That it's Christmas morn again
Peace on earth will come to all
If we just follow the light
So let's give thanks to the lord above
That Santa Claus comes tonight!

Now, the first two verses are just fine. Standard stuff for the season: Santa won't come until you are asleep sort of lyrics. But then, in the third verse, we get this incongruity:

He doesn't care if you're rich or poor,
He loves you just the same.
Santa Claus knows we're all God's children....

Now, sure as anything, there are obvious problems here. If we are all God's children, and Santa loves us all the same, how come some kids get iPods and PlayStations and skis for Christmas, and some kids get sensible clothing, huh? I mean, any kid knows that there are significant disparities in gifts received across socio-economic lines. Even if they don't say it quite like that.

Plus, in equating Santa's gift giving with the acknowledgement that "we're all God's children," Elvis has squarely raised the question of why does an all-powerful, all-loving God give some kids underwear for Christmas? Are Santa's gifts a measure of how much we are loved by God? And what about the Jews?

Equally disturbing is the final couplet of the last verse: "Let's give thanks to the lord above/That Santa Claus comes tonight." Apparently positing that Santa's activities are, directly attributable to the [L]ord above, thus conflating Santa Claus and Jesus, who having been born in a desert community was not known to wear a red furry suit and black boots.

It's a disturbing juxtaposition of two worlds that, until now, have stayed firmly separate. But putting them together like this is kind of like seeing your seventh grade math teacher at the beach in a bathing suit. It just makes the brain freeze up, and makes the universe seem off balance. It is just wrong, people! Math teachers should stay off beaches, and Santa needs to stay away from the manager scene and nobody gets hurt.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Sampling the Classics

Doppelganger over at 50 Books has issued a challenge:

Say you met someone who'd never read any of the "great" books, but this person expressed to you a keen interest in exploring the classics. Bear in mind that this person is intelligent and literate; they just also happen to be innocent in the ways of fine literature. You'd want your suggestions to be accessible and engaging and, of course, great. What would you recommend? What wouldn't you recommend? Why?

Great question. I posted a comment, but of course, I have more to say. (Do I ever not have more to say? More than would be appropriate in the comments of someone else's blog? "Oh, excuse me, but I'm commandeering this here website. You'll get it back when I'm done.")

What is fine literature, anyway? I find I approach this question with writers from The Canon: the people whose names are familiar, but maybe you've never read. Because there's a reason a lot of these books are still around. Seriously--go take a look at a remaindered table, or a used book store, and look at how many authors you've never even heard of. Spooky!) I mean, as long as one is embarking on "Fine Literature," one might as well get some points for scholarly activity.

That said, there are plenty of ways to get introduced to famous authors without launching into huge and boring books that kill the joy of reading. So, for your perusal, my list of books to recommend to someone looking for "Good Literature." In no particular order:

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This is a slim book, but packs quite a punch. Some of the prose is absolutely beautiful: there is a description of Daisy Buchanan and her friend Jordan Marsh wearing gauzy dresses and lying on a sofa, while the breeze ruffles their skirts--absolutely beautiful. Gatsby rewards casual reading, while a quick Google trip to SparkNotes gives all sorts of depth to the text.

Alternatively, read Fitzgerald's short stories: Some of these are irresistably beautiful, full of sadness and nostalgia for the world--despite being written in the 1920s, they feel relentlessly modern. Winter Dreams will break your heart, and sums up Fitzgerald's talent as succintly as you could wish.

Billy Budd, by Herman Melville--nowhere nearly as daunting as Moby Dick, this novella captures the sea setting, the discipline and hardship of sailors' lives, the questions of fate and mercy with a poignant tale that explains just why Melville is so revered as a writer.

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. This story about an unloved orphan who grows up to find her place in the world contains many typical "Victorian" elements--the appalling school, the maudlin death of an unbelievably good character, a madwoman in the attic, a marriage that is foiled at the altar, fire and blood, and lectures on the inequalities of society. Jane Eyre remains fresh due to the dry wit and sharp observations of Jane herself, who refuses to accept the platitudes of her time.

Sherlock Holmes stories, by Arthur Conan Doyle. Again, start with the short stories before tackling the novels--the slower pace of the writing takes some getting used to. The stories themselves are well constructed, and some of them are downright scary. The Adventure of the Speckled Band is a good place to start; I'm particularly fond of The Musgrave Ritual as well. Both are ripping yarns with enough mystery and death to satisfy modern tastes.

Another easy to read Victorian is Edgar Allen Poe--The poems are memorable and eerie, the short stories were deliberately written to be only so long as to be finished in one sitting. The Cask of Amantillado, and The Tell-Tale Heart are deliciously creepy.

I could go on, but I've discovered to my delight how many of these are available online. Check out the Gutenberg Project for A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, or anything by P.G. Wodehouse. Find some famous names you've never read, and dip in to check them out.

(Cate wanders away from the blog into the labyrinth of Project Gutenberg, never to be seen again...)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Those Were The Days

Sweetney has a post with a darling picture of her little one suffering from an ear infection. And looking at it brought all sorts of memories absolutely rushing back. Those days of pre-schoolers in footie jammies, all logy and lethargic and sick, with the illness making their eyes seem larger and more luminous, while their little bodies just sagged, warm and heavy.

Those were the days that we all stayed in our jammies and crawled into the big MamaBed. We'd turn on PBS kids, or Nick Jr. or Disney, with the volume very low, and we'd snuggle and snooze--waking up occasionally to watch something until we fell asleep again.

My little girlies wanted Mama to stay with them and snuggle when they didn't feel well, and since I am a champion napper, we had warm and quiet recuperating days when we got to be together. I'd get up and get food, and do some minimal housekeeping chores, but the important work of the day was to rest.

This is how I remember September 11, 2001. Bunny was home sick. I had been at a family reunion for the weekend, and had gotten home the previous afternoon. Pony was fine, and Mr. Sweetie took her to school and then he came home before work.

That was when the news hit of the planes in New York and D.C. Mr. Sweetie had spent several years working in D.C. and was absolutely glued to the television news. I came downstairs to get a drink for the Bunny, and I stood, momentarily transfixed by the images of the planes hitting the towers.

I had a choice: I knew I could not be a good caretaker and be absorbed in the breaking news. So that morning, I made a conscious choice to take care of my sick baby--and to continue to live in the cozy world of cartoons and snuggles, rather than being connected to the adult world of the news.

And that is my 9/11 memory: I missed out on a lot of the national community response, because I was needed elsewhere. And as I look back on the horror of that day, I like to think that what I did was what many of the people who lost their lives, their families, would have wanted the chance to do themselves: to take care of a child who depended on them to keep the world safe.

Perhaps my response to the event would have been different had I not had a sick child at home. I might have understood the impetus for war as a response to those attacks. As it is, though, I find comforat in the fact that, while hpeople do terrible things to each other, on eresponse we can always have is tto hold on tightly to our families.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Windows Media Edition and iTunes--WTF!?!

Okay, I have no idea why iTunes WILL NOT play my dvd on my laptop. Windows Media Player will play it. Quicktime will play it. A bunch of other preloaded dvd readers will play it. But I WANT it on iTunes. WTF?!?!?!?

It doesn't even recognize that there is anything in the drive--either audio OR video. When I insert the dvd, I get a list of programs that will open the damn thing. . .none of which is iTunes! What is wrong here?

Yes, I went to Apple support. I updated iTunes and QuickTime. I updated the driver on my dvd player. I went to Microsoft to find what they had to say about it.

Is this the new Zune strategy? To freeze anything Apple out of even running on a Windows PC?

Can anybody help me?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Sadder But Wiser Girl

A word to the wise.

Chinese food and Irish whiskey.

Do not mix well.

That is all.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Christmas Is Coming...

Holey Buckets, but I'm ahead of myself this year! I've already mailed off boxes to Japan and California, which never happens before about the 15th of December! Usually, it's like this:

Me: Um. I'd like to send this box to Japan?

Postal/UPS/FedEx worker: You want surface, air or expedited?

Me: How long will those take?

P/U/Fw: Surface is about 8 weeks.

Me: (Slow boat to China? Isn't just a saying?) That won't work.

P/U/Fw: Air will take about 2 weeks.

Me: That will be after Christmas. What about "expedited?"

P/U/Fw: That'll take about 10 days.

Me: Do you deliver on the 25th?

P/U/Fw: No. But it will get there before February.

Me: Okay.

P/U/Fw: That'll be [insert cost figure equal to interest on National Debt].

Me: &*($^#&)Q&#&&$^&%@!?!?!?!? I've GOT to do this earlier next year!

It's especially embarrassing because to mail overseas, you have to fill out a customs declaration which states how much the contents are worth. When the cost of shipping is greater than the value of the contents? Something is WRONG.

But not this year! Okay, so, it wasn't earlier enough to go by slow boat, but I still got it on its way before December was into double digits! I only have one more package to mail off, and the rest goes to people in town.

The Christmas tree is up, and mostly decorated. We are leaving some ornaments for the Pony and Bunny to hang together. Pony has had homework, and now is off to an overnight, so tomorrow we should be done. The stockings are hung, and garlands are strewn about stair rails and doorframes. The Christmas tunes have been loaded onto Mr. Sweetie's iPod so we can decorate to the sounds of the season.

We actually have two playlists of Christmas music, because I have a decided schizophrenia regarding music: either very elegant and lovely, or downright silly. So, Elvis and Brian Setzer and Sweetney's mix are on a playlist called "Profane Christmas." The tasteful music is all on "Sacred Christmas." I hardly ever play that one, myself.

Weekend plans? Well, let's see. I think I have ALL MY SHOPPING DONE! ALL OF IT! This is not a small thing, as I have distinct recollections of ducking under the decending security gates of stores late in the afternoon of the 24th, still trying to find just one more gift. And since I did so much of it online, I hardly bought anything for myself AT ALL! Thus, leaving my nearest and dearest the opportunity to get me something I haven't already bought for myself!

I am soooo thoughtful.

So, as cozy as it is, sitting here in my Victorian parlor with my (imitation) coal fire, surrounded by my Victorian decorations with my (not at all) Victorian laptop on my lap, I must pull myself out into the cold and take the world's cutest dog for a bedtime stroll. And then I'll further bask in the good feeling of being done with Christmas craziness before the 24th.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Once You Hit Bottom, There's Nowhere To Go But Up

So, Britney Spears is letting a little too loose these days, eh? Sure, I've seen the pictures, and maybe it's just a pre-emptive strike to eliminate any interest in the alleged sex tape. I mean, NO ONE wants to see Kevin Federline, in anything, so the interest must be in seeing Britney wearing even less than she did in her music videos.

Now that we've all been treated to photographs of her business, there's nothing left. "Nothing to see here folks. Move along, move along."

But even that is not quite hitting bottom. (Oh, look at my funny--Britney has no panties and I said "bottom!') No, hitting bottom is getting parenting advice from Courtney Love.

"Say what you will about me, and I'm not passing judgment, but when I had my daughter, I stayed home with her almost every night for the first year of her life."

Britney, this is a sign from God. Repent now, and go forth and flash no more.

(Although, this is a terrifically cute picture, isn't it? It looks like there is some real affection between them, so maybe Courtney has something to teach about parenting.)

This Is My New Mantra

We hate making dinner, am I right? When provided with a "conversation starter" card that asked "what task would like to never have to do again?" the right answer obviously! is "dinner."

I mean, didn't I just make dinner yesterday? What the hell's the matter with you people? You want dinner? AGAIN?!?!?

This is my personal demon, one I struggle with...wait for it...daily! (Oh, ha ha, what a card. I bet none of the rest of you make dinner every day...)

What I also can't stand is the need to preview dinner every day. "So, what's for dinner?" is a question that one just cannot answer "I don't know." Because, as The Mom, I'm supposed to know. I have to know. It's my JOB to know.

Why isn't "Frosted Flakes" an acceptable answer?

Bill Watterson did a great Calvin and Hobbes cartoon, where Mom was making stuffed peppers, and Calvin is clearly gearing up to not eat it, so she tells him it's "stewed monkey heads." "Cool! says Calvin. But now Dad won't eat it.

So here's a blog with a great answer: Poop and Boogies. I love this story!

My dad and mom used to have some interesting ways of dealing with the nine kids. My personal favorite was when one of us would ask at dinner, "Mom, what's in this?". My father always replied. "POOP and BOOGIES. Shut up and eat it.".

And really, doesn't that just say it all? So, maybe that will have to come out sometime when the question is especially hitting my buttons.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

In Which We Discover That Evil Has Few Friends.

Thanks to Unequivocally Moe, I have been tagged. The residents of Chez Evil wanted to know what that is, and the best I can describe it is a sort of chain letter. I never pass on chain letters. However, I am willing to play this game from Moe, but of course, being the Mistress Of All Evil, I will manipulate it to my own ends. Bwa ha ha ha ha!

Here are the rules [as received from Moe]:

Each player of this game starts with the "6 Weird Things about You." People who get tagged need to write a blog of their own 6 weird things as well as state this rule clearly. In the end you need to choose 6 people to be tagged and list their names. Don't forget to leave a comment that says 'you are tagged' in their comments and tell them to read your blog.

I am willing to post six weird things about myself, in fact, it might be interesting. However, I don't have six people I can tag, since almost no one I actually know has a blog. And let's face it, even though I have a major internet crush on Dooce, it's more of a lurker kind of thing, and she has no idea who I am. (Well done! No restraining orders yet!) So, with my apologies to moe, the chain will stop here, but at least I'll play along.

Six Weird Things About Me:

1. All my pets have pretentious names. My two Lhasa Apsos that I had from 1988 to 2003 were "B. Baxter Bentley" and "Hadley v. Baxendale." The family guinea pig is "Hazelnut Frangelico." Our current dog is "Constable Windsor Bermondsey of the Back Yard."

2. I like peanut butter, banana and mayonnaise sandwiches. My husband cannot fathom this at all, and lumps it with other unsavory dishes that Elvis used to eat while holed up in Graceland getting fat and dying. I have stopped eating them when any member of my family can see me.

3. My toes are very weird. I think my feet are rather nice looking, but I have been told that all my toes point in different directions. Mr. Sweetie thinks they look like vegetables. The toenails on my pinkie toes are almost too small to use a nail polish brush on. I don't care, I still like them.

4. Everyone in my real life thinks it's weird that I call myself the Mistress Of All Evil. Except my kidlets, who appreciate the joke, and have started pointing out what a bad Mistress Of All Evil I am. While at an archery range with Pony and a friend of hers, I held my shot while the friend picked up her dropped arrow. Pony said, disgustedly "What kind of a Mistress Of All Evil are you if you won't even kill my friends. Jeeeeez!"

5. I collect and reuse ribbon from Christmas packages. Also any little picks or decorations. I have several boxes of ribbons and ornaments and stuff that I use on my Christmas packages. I like overdoing the wrapping.

6. I am a serious night owl. I don't really get productive until after 6 p.m., when I have some sort of spike in my biorhythms and can actually run laundry, empty the dishwasher, and all that other dismal housekeeping sort of thing. I am off schedule from the rest of the family, and have yet to find a way to be totally in sync with the rest of the world as well.

Well, that's six. Guess I'm going to have to go get myself some friends around here now, aren't I?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

From The Stacks Challenge--The Amendment

The Challenge is to read five books that are already on your shelves--books that you haven't already read, ones that "you must have bought for a reason!"

It turns out that my RL bookclub is doing Charles Dickens Great Expectations for December. So, if I actually get it read, I'll substitute it for something that isn't going so well.

I'm looking at you, Kate Chopin.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Ring Some More Bells

After reading my post of yesterday, Mr. Sweetie told me "In some cities, the bell ringers are homeless people and the Salvation Army pays them."

So, think of it as a fabulous advertising campaign, and the collected change is just a bonus over the general increase in awareness of the Salvation Army. Gotta love an ad campaign that actually brings in more money than it costs.

So, today the Family of Evil meandered up and down Grand Avenue, and there were bellringers about every two blocks. Most of them had additional signs advertising the group doing the ringing--so it's a twofer!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Ring Those Christmas Bells

The bellringers are out now in force. Until just yesterday, the weather has been quite pleasant for this ARCTIC CIRCLE where we live. Yesterday, however, the temperature dropped well below freezing, the sky got that frigid blue where the sun actually doesn't provide any warmth, and I had to turn up the water heater so the shower water didn't get cold from the pipes before reaching my skin.

So, anybody volunteering to stand outside the grocery store and ring a bell for the Salvation Army is REALLY dedicated. And the colder it gets, the more there is a sort of increased sense of obligation to give, just to make it worth while for these poor freezing people.

Oh really? Yes, I read The Poor Little Match Girl too! I wonder if that has anything to do with it.

Erin has a really good post about feeling guilty about not donating--but she doesn't carry cash. She makes all her purchases on plastic--which I do a lot of too. It makes tracking purchases much easier because it's all online immediately, plus we get airline miles. But what does one do when confronted with bell ringers? I found myself compelled to post a comment, which got long enough I thought I'd make it a post here.

I’ve decided that I HATE feeling guilty. And GUILT works so well on me that I end up donating to things I would not necessarily give to if I didn’t feel so GUILTY about it. Plus there are SO MANY good causes. Plus, I am CHEAP.

So I’ve made it a goal to walk cheerfully past these bellringers, and even to say something nice to them. “You got a nice day–not to cold!” or “Love your hat” (one guy had on silly reindeer antlers). They can assume that I have already given generously, and don’t you think they’d rather have human interaction than the guilty “duck and dump” of whatever spare change I have in the bottom of my purse?

That’s what I tell myself, anyway.

On reflection, though, isn't that the best way? Don't you do it anyway? If I have cash, and I put it in the Little Red Post of Guilt on the way in, I don't feel obligated to put more in on the way out. Or, if I know I'm going to get some cash back and donate on the way out, I don't feel so guilty going in.

So, taking the next logical step--these bell ringers don't know if I've already given today or not. So, what if I've already dropped a couple hundred dollars into a pot--should I feel guilty for not doing it twice? OF COURSE NOT. So--why not just act as though I've put all my (substantial) cash in earlier in the day?

Or, I consider it from the other side of the transaction. Personally, I HATE asking for money, no matter how noble the cause. If people scurried past me, with their eyes averted with guilt, or apologized to me for not having anything right at the moment--what would I do?

I'd feel like I had to apologize for making them feel guilty
I'd be compassionate and understanding and give them absolution
I'd feel obligated to make more donations into my own pot.
AND I'd feel obligated to put money in every other pot I came across so that bell ringer wouldn't feel unsuccessful.

Which is, if you look at it objectively, Just Plain Silly. So--this season, give to the causes you believe in, look those bell ringers in the eye and thank them for their dedication. Remember, between charities, it's an exhibition, not a competition.


I'm a winner! But then, aren't we all?

Stormy Weather...Since My Man And I Aren't Together...

Mr. Sweetie is on a terrible business trip. He left Tuesday for El Paso, went to Mexico, then off to Raleigh-Durham and scheduled to return tonight. But, due to this:

his flights have all been cancelled. Acting as his Fabulous Personal Assistant, I did get him routed through Miami, rather than Chicago, and it looks like he might make it home tonight after all.

Now, all we have to do is put on a show, so Gramps can have that operation! I bet you have some old costumes in the attic, right? We can use our barn, er, garage, and who's got music?

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Puns--The Lowest Form Of Humor

I have found someone who enjoys painful puns even more than I do. Plus, he's made them up and illustrated them with Lego people. I have a new daily reading requirment: Irregular Webcomic.

Check out this little beauty----number 141:
Here's one about if Shakespeare had lived today--number 286:

Don'tcha love it? Erudite, modern, computer-centric, funny AND well illustrated.

I say--better go check him out!

From The Stacks Challenge--Part Deux

Well, I finished my second book in the From the Stacks Challenge--Broken For You by Stephanie Kallos. I have yet to post a review over at the Book Blog of Evil. My laxness in this matter reflects my laxness in this entire endeavor.

I've started the Kate Chopin. I've read about 7000 pages of Kate Chopin. So, how come I'm not finished? Huh? HUH? If you just look at the page numbers, you'd conclude that this is a novella of less than 120 pages. BUT YOU WOULD BE WRONG. This is a book that exists in an alternate dimensionality, one in which 7000 pages of boredom APPEAR to occupy less than 120 pages. Significantly less. Because I'm on about page 56, and I am bored bored bored.

Which is appropriate, since the characters are all spending a hot summer month on the seaside in Louisiana. The men go into New Orleans during the week, and come out on the weekends. The women and children fill their days looking at the water and then changing for meals. And talking in that horrible 1890s way of being polite and not actually saying anything.

Edith Wharton would have made this a page turner. Edith Wharton is a Good Read. Edith Wharton is a classic because people still love to read her. As far as I am so far, Kate Chopin is a classic because...she did something first. Not necessarily best, though.

So, when in a funk, I turn to children's books. Or "young adult fiction." In this case, I've gien up for the time being and turned to the Bunny's favorite "Enchanted Forest Chronicles." These are like potato chips. They are wry and funny and fresh and speedy and end with the bad guys defeated by the good guys. Plus there are princesses and witches and dragons and bad wizards and a lively twist on some fairy tale classics. I've finished the first two and am a third of the way through the third. If I count this series as one book, I still have to finish the Chopin. If I count each book seperately...

A moral dilemma. I wonder how it will turn out.

More Quiz Results!

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Midland

"You have a Midland accent" is just another way of saying "you don't have an accent." You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.

What American accent do you have?
Take More Quizzes

HA! Just wait until I'm on TV and radio, all you cool kids at the Cool Kids Lunch Table! Then I'll be and A-List Blogger!

Credit Where Credit Is Due

I've posted a NaBloPoMo winner button over there to the right. See it? Nifty, huh?

Of course I didn't do it myself, you silly. I'm not that good.

Did you participate? Did you finish? Do you want one too?

Go see Write Wizely and she'll give you one too!

Some Inconvenient Truths

So, having sampled widely through the NoBloPoMo participant blogs, I was coming to some uncomfortable coclusions. One is that despite having had this blog for 1.75 years, I am still an absolute tyro in this field. Also my kids are significantl older than most featured on their parents' blogs. This leads to the next uncomfortable realization: I myself am older than most of the bloggers that I read. Older enough to be their...older sister.
D-List Blogger
But this, this was the painful reality. The official determiner of your internet influence: Are You An A-List Blogger? I didn't expect to be A-List, of course, but finding out I am D-List just hurts. Sure, I've long suspected that the most views my blog gets are me, checking to see if my posts have published correctly. But there's something dispiriting about being told that I don't get to sit with the cool kids at the lunch table.

So, I'm going to stomp my little last season Prada shoes and pour myself some wine. Wine and whine--a winning blog combination.

Day 30--Across The Finish Line

So this is it--my 30th daily post and the official end of NaBloPoMo. I'm pleased that I managed to complete it, and I even learned some things in the process. Like what? you ask? How about a convenient list?

  1. Writing every day isn't as hard as I thought it would be. Making the commitment to showing up at the keyboard is easier than...oh..daily exercise...keeping the kitchen clean...laundry
  2. It's harder to be funny than I thought it would be. Shut up! I am so funny! Sometimes...
  3. Coming up with something to say everyday forces me to pay better attention to my life. I have learned to notice and remember specific things and then I have them as blog-fodder. I said "Blog-fodder," not "Godfather." Sheesh!
  4. There is so much more for me to learn about blogging: technical things to make this site look like I want it to; ways to make this a better site to read; making buttons and links: all the posiblities of links and HTML; taking advantage of the multi-media aspects of the internet. I have always been about words, but there is so much more out there that would be wonderful to be able to use.
  5. There are a LOT more people out there doing stuff than I would have imagined. Over 2000 NaBloPoMo participants, for example. People doing themed blogs, people with multiple sites, people doing daily comics, posting movies, designing and posting incredibly creative stuff. It's truly amazing and awe-inspiring.
  6. That maybe...just maybe...I could complete a NaNoWriMo.

So, thank you, THANK YOU Fussy! I deeply enjoyed this and would totally do it again. Even without prizes.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Less Than The Best Day

So, Mr. Sweetie of off on a business trip to the end of the week. His flight Tuesday morning before noon. And not an entire hour later, I managed to do the most clod-like thing I've done in ages. Hours anyway. Yup. I twisted my ankle.

I was doing some Christmas shopping. And I walked out of a store, and there was a step there. But I didn't see it. And so my foot went down...and down...and down (it was a big step). And this was no delicate little thing, oh no. I twisted the hell out of that ankle. A big, nasty turn that hurt so much that I nearly landed on the ground, curled up in a little ball of pain. Because of course, not only did I turn my ankle, but as a result I also lost my balance, and couldn't get it back, because of the not being able to stand on the foot with the twisted ankle! Go me!

I managed to stumble crazily to the curb, where I grabbed hold of a lightpost. Yes! I know! I thought that was just a cliche too! But it was really quite sturdy, and I stood there, hand on the post, standing on one foot, waiting for that first pain rush to pass.

So, what was the best part? Was it that I did it on the busiest street corner in town? Was it that I did it a lunch hour in sight of four restaurants with full story-high windows? Was it that my car was two blocks away? Was it trying to drive with a swollen and painful ankle?

Sure, that was all bad, but the part that marked me as a total dunce? Was when I got home, got my shoes off and my feet up, and discovered that my socks didn't even match.

Arrrgh! What a clod! See--they are both basically oatmeal colored, with little pictures of dogs running up the sides. While wearing shoes and jeans, they would pass as a pair. But they are clearly NOT an actual pair of socks. Even though I have another pair just like them in my dresser. Gah!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Not The Call Of The Wild

This was in the Minneapolis Star Tribune this morning:

Country singer Troy Lee Gentry pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. District Court to a misdemeanor charge of falsely registering a trophy bear as wild when, in fact, it was a captive bear named Cubby, which he shot in 2004 on a game farm near Sandstone, Minn.

You'd think the squashed pork-pie hat and the pic-a-nic basket would have been a clue. Did he just not see the collar and tie?

Monday, November 27, 2006

The V.F.D. Is Everywhere

I have read the entire Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, and enjoyed very much. One of the principal frustrations of the book is the fact that the Baudelaire orphans have money, but it is in the hands of Mulctuary Money Management and is never used for their well-being. There is a vague promise of the money coming to them when "Violet comes of age," which is at least four years after the start of the books.

The entire cycle of books takes only a few months, months that (as Snicket might say) seem much longer than usual, due to the unbearable miseries that occur. The orphans are represented at the bank by a Mr. Poe, who remains ridiculously oblivious to the terrible situations he creates as he moves the orphans from one foster home to the next.

Clearly, a play on poet Edgar Allen Poe, I thought, but I couldn't understand the connection to the bank. Oh well, there probably wasn't one.

So, imagine my surprise and delight when I came upon this in The New Yorker:

[M]uch of [Alice B.] Toklas’s trouble stemmed from [Gertrude] Stein’s decision, “on sound tax counsel,” to place her estate under the jurisdiction of the probate court in Baltimore, and to the court’s appointment of a man named Edgar Allan Poe (the poet’s great-nephew) to administer it. . . .Gertrude had been precise about how her funds were to be spent, but, unaccountably, Poe proved to be an obstructionist and parsimonious in fulfilling her wishes, of which he seemed to disapprove, although it was none of his business[.]

The article details poor Alice's descent into dependency upon the kindness of strangers due to Mr. Poe's refusal to release funds. (!)

I thought I had missed some of the subtleties of these books, and now I am really certain of it.

A Picture's Worth A Thousand Words.

I stumbled across this photo after I wrote this. It's the George Bush and Pacific Rim world leaders pajama party! And you thought I was just making this all up, didn't you?

Photo courtesy of AP via this site.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

This I Did Not Know

Apparently, every last one of Emily Dickinson's poems can be sung to the tune of "The Yellow Rose of Texas." I wouldn't have thought of her being a particularly metrical writer--she who seemed to think that all vowels rhyme with each other.

Let's try it out, shall we?

An awful tempest mashed the air,
The clouds were gaunt and few.
A black, as of a spectre's cloak,
Hid heaven and earth from view.

Okay, that one works. Sure, it's got more verses, but let's not get carried away. How about this one?

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held just but ourselves
And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.

Oh yeah. That one too. Let's look at an index of first lines, shall we? Hmm. Well, not every every one fits, but an impressive number do. Do you have a favorite Emily Dickinson poem? Does it work with yours?

Next week, we test to see how many of Robert Frost's poems can really be sung to "Hernando's Hideaway." Ole!

Shameless Pandering

Yup, that's me. Shameless, I am. Pandering, I am. In a pathetic bid to win Emily's gourmet dog biscuit NaBloPoMo prize, I'm submitting this dog post.

We brought our first puppy home in the summer of 1988, the year of the drought. Temperatures here in Minnesota were hitting 105, and the grass had all turned brown. We found our dog in a litter of 8 week old puppies, living on a farm west of the Twin Cities.

"Oh, you got the Smart One," the farmer said. "He'll make breakfast for you."

The breeder gave us a terry shirt to put in the box, to take the smell home with us. The whole way home, he sat in the box in the footwell of the passenger side, and we said "Oh my god, how do we raise a dog. Oh thank god it's not a baby."

That summer was hot, even with central air. At night we would put the puppy into a box with a can of beer. He'd lie over the can with the bare skin of his belly on the metal for maximum cooling. Mmmmm...Leinenkugel's.

We had him with us for three days trying to think of a name for him. In the interim, he was "Buddy" and "Buster" and "Boy" and by the end of the three days it was clear that his name would start with a "B." One day, while talking on the phone with my husband, we were running through different B names, and he said "Bentley."

That was it, of course. Bentley, a name that conjures the elegant limosine of the type owned by rich English heiresses with country homes and London pieds-a-terre. Silk stockings and cloche hats and a body in the library. An elegant and enormous car, for a puppy small enough to fit in my hand.

But what about all those other names? Those other B names that weren't Bentley? Beowulf and Baxter and Buster and Buddy and Bernard and Bumper Car? Well, I am nothing if not about pretentiousness. So we named him, officially, "B. Baxter Bentley."

B. Baxter Bentley was always my dog. When he was still a tiny puppy and I was studying for the bar exam, he napped on my study guides. In the summer, he would plaster his furry body against my hips as he spent the night on my side of the bed. And even in his old old age, when I went to stretch out on the couch and read, I'd hear the "boom ba da boom ba da boom" of his feet as he ran across the house to jump up onto my chest as I read.

Bentley was a one woman dog. He was a handful with the vet, and the groomer had to sedate him to trim him up. But he'd let me put drops in his eyes, clip his nails, whatever needed to be done. Even the vet was amazed at how docile Bentley was for me.

He was a good little man in a fuzzy suit who lived to be fifteen years old. Even in his last hours, as he had seizure after seizure, he would calm when I was near. It broke my heart to say goodbye to him, and I cried all the way on the last trip to the vet with him.

This happened two and a half years ago, and I'm still tearing up with missing him. He was a little dog with a really big heart, and I only wish that there is a doggie heaven, where he can run without a leash, and there are no rules against feeding him pizza from the table.

[N.B. These are not actual pictures of Bentley, but they are astonishingly close. He left us before the advent of digital pictures, and these are some that I found on the web.]

Family Dinners Are So Enlightening

Mr. Sweetie: Our pastor just came back from Ecuador. You know what the number one news story there is? The war in Iraq. And the number two and three headlines are about American celebrities and break-ups.

Bunny: I don't want to be a movie star when I grow up and marry another movie star.

Mr. Sweetie: Why?

Bunny: Because people in Ecuador will find out about it!

Of course! That's the reason not to be a movie star! I knew I had one.

(Because I am a Pollyanna and desperately seek the silver lining in every gray cloud--I'm deciding that it's good news that Ecuador is all about celebrity break-ups. It means there's nothing so bad there that would push that kind of crap off the front page.)

So, I'm Not A News Junkie.

Actually, that's understating it. I abhor the news, especially as I get older and grumpier, and begin to wonder just why I'm being told most of the stuff that passes for news. It's a long way from the Jeffersonian ideal of producing an informed electorate to "actual footage of a car in flames after hitting a lamppost."

Much of my news comes through unreliable filters. Doonesbury is not a bad source, especially for something that takes about six weeks of production and so is invariably behind. Sure, I listen to NPR in the car--SINCE I DON'T HAVE AN IPOD--but there's a great deal of opinion and essay involved in hour long discussions about anything.

So, today, my dose of news came via Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me. I love this show. Even not keeping up with news, I manage to answer some of the quiz questions so it makes me feel smart. And, like Jon Stewart, Peter Segal makes fun of the people who most deserve it. So, why don't I listen every week? Why isn't it on my list of bookmarks so I can check in frequently? Excuse me, I have some computer organizing to do....

....hmmm, hmmm hmm...

...Okay I'm back. Anyway, how can you not love this little factoid--a tasty little amuse bouche that I just want to tuck into my cheek pockets and pull out to ruminate at leisure.

They should have known he was up to something when Bush told Camp David guests "I'm going to read." [Pause for disbelieving laughter from the audience] Now thatwas a Hutline political newletter that suggests the Bush's cabinet should have figured out that he was really going to go...where?

The answer, of course, was "to Iraq." The top secret whirlwind trip to Iraq was apparently "disguised" as a trip to the library. And we all know how fond Bush is of reading. After all, when you've got a book you are absolutely dying to get back to, don't you say "Farewell, guests. I'm going to read." It's just a clunker. Nobody who really reads says "I'm going to read."

Imagine the scene. Interior, Camp David cabin. A fire is roaring in the fireplace. Dick Cheney is cleaning his shotgun, and the rest of the Cabinet is as far away as they can get. Condi Rice and Alberto Gonzales are playing liars' poker with Donald Rumsfeld and Michael Chertoff, using Treasury notes provided by Henry Paulson. They are decorated with unflattering pictures of Ben Bernanke. The other Cabinet members are playing "guess who I am" with their real names. Bush is standing by the fire, his hands in his pockets, rocking up and down on his toes.

"Jesus, Dubya, will you quit fidgeting? You're making me nervous," orders Dick Cheney, as Bush sneaks another look at his wristwatch.

"Is that really the right time, Turd Blossom? Do you think my watch has stopped?" Karl Rove looks up from some cryptic notes he's making to glare at the President. He narrows his eyes and says "I'm sure it's fine."

Laughter erupts from the poker table as Condi Rice announces her hand "I've got a pair of twos, a pair of fives, and a stockpile of WMD!" Gonzales asks "Where's this salsa from? New York City?"

Everyone is wearing their "Camp David Tartan" flannel shirts, which they received on arrival. Everyone but the President. He's got a tailored blue suit, freshly pressed white shirt and red tie. His oxfords are polished to a mirror like sheen. Time is passing slowly for the President. He looks at his watch again, then announces to the room,"It sure is good to get away like this, isn't it. To just get away and relax." Up on his toes, and down. Up on his toes, and down.

Chertoff is out of the poker hand. He tried to bluff using bottled water and duct tape, and now he's looking over Condi's shoulder.

Cheney's got a good one. "So, I guy with no arms walks into a bar, and he come up to the bartender, and he says 'Can you help me out? I gotta go...'"

"Speaking of gotta go," Bush interrupts, looking at his watch, "I gotta go. Gotta I'm going to go read. I'll see you all later, when I get back. Back from reading. Um, yes, it's reading time."

Yeah, I'm guessing they figured out that something was up. But since they've gotten so good at pretending to believe everything else he says, that I'm sure he thought he'd fooled them.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

One Word Meme

I'm loving the NaBloPoMo randomizer! Found this meme, and appropriated it. C'mon! It builds character!

Yourself: Blogreading
Your Partner: Breakfasting
Your hair: Unwashed
Your mother: Betterer
Your father: Spry
Your favourite item: iPod
Your dream last night: Complicated
Your favourite drink: Diet
Your dream car: Hybrid
Your dream home: Tower
The room you are in: Kitchen
Your ex: N/A
Your fear: Pain
Where you want to be in ten years: Here
Who you hung out with last night: Family
What you’re not: OCD
Muffins: Banana
One of your wish list items: iPod
Time: 10:29 a.m.
The last thing you did: Blogged
What you are wearing: Jammies
Your favourite weather: Fall
Your favourite book: Possession
Last thing you ate: Meds
Your life: Blessed
Your mood: Quiet
Your best friend(s): Husband
What are you thinking about right now: Fireplace
Your car: Odyssey
What are you doing at the moment: Blogging
Your summer: School-less
Relationship status: Excellent
What is on your tv: Karaoke
What is the weather like: Warm
When is the last time you laughed: Thismorning

Okay, some of those weren't exactly one word. Some of them weren't real words at all. But hell! Shakespeare invented words all the time, and everyone thinks he's a great writer!

Building Character

So sue me. I like to take personality quizzes. I don't know if they are even close, but they do make me think about some unlikely things--like, what is my favorite heavenly body?

Check out this one:

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You are The Moon

Hope, expectation, Bright promises.

The Moon is a card of magic and mystery - when prominent you know that nothing is as it seems, particularly when it concerns relationships. All logic is thrown out the window.

The Moon is all about visions and illusions, madness, genius and poetry. This is a card that has to do with sleep, and so with both dreams and nightmares. It is a scary card in that it warns that there might be hidden enemies, tricks and falsehoods. But it should also be remembered that this is a card of great creativity, of powerful magic, primal feelings and intuition. You may be going through a time of emotional and mental trial; if you have any past mental problems, you must be vigilant in taking your medication but avoid drugs or alcohol, as abuse of either will cause them irreparable damage. This time however, can also result in great creativity, psychic powers, visions and insight. You can and should trust your intuition.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

I bet if I picked a different favorite heavenly body, I'd get a different result. Try it yourself. It'll build character.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Because We Can All Use Words Of Wisdom

Found this on another NaBloPoMo site:

If a hen and a half can lay an egg and a half in a day and a half, how long will it take a monkey with a wooden leg to kick the seeds out of a dill pickle?

~Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

Thanks Jitterbug's Beat!

So, Where's The Rings?

Justin Morneau was named AL MVP. Johann Santana won his second Cy Young Award. Joe Mauer (the catcher!) is the Batting Champ. Last time three different players from teh same team won all three awards? About 1962--or when the T. Rexes battled the Stegasauri for World Domination, I guess.

So...where's the rings?

Pie! on Day Twenty-four

We made the pies again this year. I do pecan--lots of brown sugar, lots of corn syrup, and a half cup of chocolate chips to make it all the more decadent. It's a crowd pleaser. In past years, I left the chocolate out of one of the two pies, I preferred it that way. That was the one the squirrel got, because no one else liked it as well. So I bowed to my audience and made two chocolate.

Mr. Sweetie does a fabulous pumpkin pie. It 's based on a recipe from his grandmother, but he doubles (or more!) all the spices, which makes it less like a vegetable, and more like a curry. He made two as well.

Every year we have a good natured battle over how much sugar to put into the whipping cream. He prefers none. I prefer too much. The front line waivers year after year on that battleground. This year we both forgot to buy the cream, so we went with what was at my brother's house: Cool Whip and vanilla ice cream.

New this year--someones else brought dessert too. In addition to our four pies, there was a cherry, an apple, and a flourless chocolate torte. For 17 people. We figured everyone got at least a quarter of a pie. None of us ate that much.

When we left, six hours later, no one had eaten any of the apple or cherry. About half of the chocolate torte was gone. There were two small slices of chocolate pecan left of the first pie, the second was untouched. The winner was Mr. Sweetie's pumpkin pie: one entirely gone, one piece missing from the second. We left the two pieces of pecan, and pulled out a slice of pumpkin for the nephew who had been asking for pumpkin pie since before we arrived.

In the refrigerator for later--80% of a pumpkin pie, and an entire chocolate pecan. Today the grocery stores are open again, and I'll buy some whipping cream.

(Photo courtesy of Creative Gifts To Go)

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving Day 23

Twenty-three days of daily posts, and I'm just getting more prolix. Here's an attempt to mark the day and be a bit pithier.

I'm Thankful for:

My sister in law who likes to entertain, so I only have to make pie this year.

My daughters, who don't like turkey leftovers.

The backspace key, so I didn't actually post "turdy leftovers."

That there is room in the refrigerator, so I don't have to put leftover pie on the porch, where the squirrels got it one year. (They ate the pecans first, but ate two entire pies, including pumpkin, all the way down to the pie tin. Crust and all.)

That my immediate family is so wonderful--I got lucky in my husband, my daughters and even my dog: they are all smart and funny and kind and generous (except for the dog) and they make my life better than it would be without them.

I'm thankful for all the normal stuff: health, friends, family, yadda yadda. But also iTunes, which lets me listen to all kinds of good stuff and to buy only the songs I like without having to drop $15 on an unproven CD.

For indoor plumbing--which, aren't we all?

For having the entire universe of the internet and my blogging peeps, who help me gain perspective on my own pathetic little irritations, and keep me engaged in the world at large, which is sometimes tricky for an introvert.

Happy Tryptophan Day everybody!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Day 22--and God Bless Fussy!

You know, this NaBloPoMo & Internet Happy Hour thing is positively addicting. So many new blogs to read! With so many new posts! Shiny fresh new posts Every. Single. Day.

Like this one:

Rumor Has It That Snape Bought Five Copies


Desperate to support their growing Butterbeer habits, the boys of Slytherin resort to posing for the infamous Nerds in Kneesocks Calendar.

Thanks so much, Threadbared! Now I've got wine up my nose! That'll teach me to drink and randomize.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Save An Elf--Or Don't!

This website is just too much. How far must a majority population group go to feel persecuted and victimized? "Happy Holidays" is de facto "anti-Christmas"? Maybe it's because Fox News has lost Congress, and it has to beat people over the head with something.

Michelle says it very well:

If it is such a spiritual holiday to you, have at it, celebrate, enjoy the meaning of the holidays and stop forcing your beliefs on everyone else. Happy Holidays isn't war on anyone, it's inclusive and comes from "holy days" so really, don't you win anyway? Do people really stop shopping at stores that wish you Happy Holidays? Are the stores actually enforcing particular greetings? Aren't we missing the point that it's the commercial, gift giving, secular part of the season that is being attacked for not wishing people Merry Christmas?

The "Save An Elf" website is giving us this useful information:

The Tally Board of who is promoting Christmas and who is not.....

Merry Christmas
Happy Holidays
  • Best Buy
  • Neiman Marcus
  • Staples
Does this mean that if we go into Best Buy, Neiman Marcus and Staples any time between now and New Year's, we won't hear Christmas music? They aren't sending out flyers in newspapers the day after Thanksgiving? Because the Elf people say these stores aren't promoting Christmas...

I appreciate the spiritual side of the season--really, I do! But take a second and think--what would Jesus do if he heard someone say "Happy Holidays"? This is a guy who ate with tax collectors, touched lepers, and comforted sinners. I kind of think the whole "turn the other cheek" idea has been lost here, guys.

Or--what would Legolas say? Now there's an elf I can get behind saving!

P.S. Don'tcha know it--the Elf guys even have a store! Because nothing says "I'm a Christian" like a cheesy drawing of an elf on a sleeveless t-shirt! Wear it to church on Sundays!

Marie Antoinette: A Movie Review

I thought this was going to be a total chick flick, and I was planning on sneaking off and seeing it by myself. Then Mr. Sweetie mentioned he was interested in seeing it, so we caught it in the last remaining theater before it left town.

What a gorgeous film! Everything was pretty--there was nothing that wasn't styled within an inch of its life, which was kind of the point. Beautiful people wearing beautiful clothes, eating beautiful food in beautiful rooms, buying beautiful shoes...

There were several things going on in the movie, none of which was an attempt to bring historical perspective to the screen. Instead, we have what one reviewer called "Lost in Versailles"--a child in a marriage she didn't fit, thrust into a foreign land with odd customs she couldn't understand. I also saw many similarities with Princess Diana--sneaking out from protocol to go to a party in disguise, the tempermental mismatch with her husband, the fascination/obligation of fashion, the ridiculous formality of life as a royal. Marie Antoinette was never a commoner, but as protrayed in this film, the difference between the Viennese court and Versailles was big enough that she might as well have been.

More than this, though, are the themes of helplessness. Marie Antoinette was a human being, thrust into a role where she had no control over her life and no way to succeed. She was trapped in a lose-lose situation throughout her life, and the movie shows us how a human being in that position might try to make the most of what she could.

To start with, her marriage to the Dauphin was seen as a strategic alliance between the Autro-Hungarian Empire and France. This marriage was politically and militarily important, and Marie Antoinette's position in France was only valuable to France if she produced an heir. Years went by with no pregnancy--possibly even with out consummation. As portrayed in the movie, this was not her fault. She did what she could to make herself attractive to a man who was paralyzed with fear about sex. She had the responsibility to bear a child, but no way to make that happen: she was caught between the demands of her mother, fear that her marriage could be annulled at any time, the hatred of the court...and with no power to make anything any better.

Writ large, this was her political problem with all of France. She was out of touch with the realities of French life, but there was no way she could ever have left the rigorous protocol and confines of life at Versailles. She--as the Austrian princess who lived esconced in a palace--became a flashpoint for political hatred. Yet it had almost nothing to do with the woman Marie Antoinette actually was. It was her role, her place in the world, about which she had no control and could do nothing to alter.

Early in the movie, the young princess is awakened from her sleep in Vienna: the curtains are abruptly pulled back and the light pours on her face, waking her. From then on, we see that her life is a series of rude awakenings--resonant both as a sign of her powerlessness (she isn't even allowed to be in charge of when she wakes up) and as a metaphor for her life.

It makes one wonder--why is it that we know of Marie Antoinette? How many other French queens can you name? How many other European queens of any country can you name? Especially those who were not themselves the ruler, but were the king's wife? So--why is she so reviled?

Day Twenty-one--and the Million Dollar Baseball Card

"Baseball as America" is the new exhibit at the Minnesota Historical Society Museum, and Mr. Sweetie and I went to the preview opening last night. We gave Dadster two tickets for his birthday present, and so he, JoMama, SueFunky and her FIL were there too.

I like baseball. I have learned to understand many of its charms through the graceful tutelage of Mr. Sweetie. I enjoy going to see the games, and I always wait until my team is batting to go to the bathroom, because it's more fun to watch them play defense. This, according to Mr. Sweetie, marks me as a "real" fan.

However, I have to admit that my love of baseball is of very recent vintage, and so I have almost no way of viscerally connecting to the older players and the mementos of the past. I don't have the "I remember when" thing going for most of this stuff, because all these people were already famous before I came to the sport.

Which is really a pity for me, but then it meant that I got to see the joy in Dadster and Mr. Sweetie's eyes when they told me they "shook hands with Tony Oliva!" Or as Dadster saw an original ticket window from Comiskey Park. The Honus Wagner card, pictured above, was in its own eight foot tall display case. The card itself is smaller than you'd expect--not like a regular baseball card, but more of a business card size. I think it really is worth a million dollars.

There was a display of great local sports photography. The site that is now the Mall of America, Ikea, and a whole lot of pavement was nothing but farm fields in 1955 when they broke ground for the old Metropolitan Stadium. By 1966--there was still nothing, as evidenced by a great photo of a farmer on his tractor, with the stadium in the far background.

There was a terrific photo of Kirby Puckett leaping above the glass in left field, robbing the Braves of a home run in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. Mr. Sweetie and I were there. We were just outside the frame of the picture, even--our seats actually were perfectly placed to see the two most dramatic moments of that game: Puckett's catch, and then his home run which crossed the fence almost where he'd made that spectacular catch.

(This is not the exact photo--But it is Kirby stealing another home run.)

Mr. Sweetie was talking about that moment, and another man, slightly younger, turned and said breathlessly "You were there?" Yes. Yes we were. And then the Twins actually won the series on Mr. Sweetie's birthday.

There was a buffet for the event. Yup, you guessed it. Hot dogs. With all the ballpark condiments: catsup, mustard, diced onions and pickle relish. Even ice cream in little tubs. But no wooden spoons.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Happy Feet--Take Two

So, I was beginning to feel guilty about being so harsh about a kids' movie. Maybe I had been unfair, due to the bitter, shrivelled, blackened lump of ash that is my heart.

But then! I spoke with my sister-in-law this weekend, and she had also seen Happy Feet with her 10 year old. And she totally hated it! She was appalled, actually, and insulted that there should be such a polemic forced onto a kids' movie. I think she even hated it more than I did.

So, I went over to Rotten Tomatoes to see what the summary judge\ment was--and it looks like it was well loved. Until I started actually reading even just the snippets of the reviews. Sure, they recommended it--I probably would too, as the dancing is fun and the animation is gorgeous. I would add a caveat about the bad storytelling and the hamfisted political message--and so do the critics at RT.

My favorite summary has to be this one by Brian Juergens of Freeze Dried Movies: "More like Environmentally Responsible, Emotionally Resonant, and Sorta Bleak Feet." Or this one from the Village Voice: "Even the wee ones may start to notice something's amiss when the movie's theme goes from 'be yourself" to 'we must regulate the overfishing of the Antarctic oceans.' No, for real."

Other critics have noted that it "lost its way in the approach to the finish line" (James Berardineli, REELREVIEWS) and "colorful, energetic, fast-moving, visually eyepopping and slightly soulless" (Eleanor Ringel Gillespie, Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

So, it wasn't just me! And my shrivelled heart!

Day Twenty--and Happy Birthday Dadster!

The Dadster is 75 today. These days, 75 is, like, the new 50. When I was in high school drama class, we were challenged to improv a 77 year old. I was the only one who wasn't bent over an imaginary cane, hobbling along like a tortoise on hind legs.

Hell--75 still bowls. And plays golf. And volunteers to fill out tax forms for those OTHER Old People. Not Us!

The World's Best sister and possibly Best Daughter too flew in from Cali with her husband for the occasion. Brother managed to arrange both kids' hockey schedules to come with his wife as well (One of the World's Best Sisters-In-Law--definitely.)

We went to dinner Saturday Night at Nye's Polonaise--a restaurant/bar that inexplicably attracts a hipster crowd, as well as the people who have been coming since it opened in 1844 or something. The place hasn't changed in decades: the bar lounge is upholstered in gold glitter plastic, the house band is The World's Most Dangerous Polka Band, and the menu runs heavily toward sauerkraut. We had a lovely time.

Sunday, we wanted to include the four grandkids, so we went bowling. After the first three frames, we had the bumpers raised so we could minimize the gutters. For all of us, of course. Dadster threw five balls, got 4 gutters and a strike. So instead we played Billiards Bowling, where if you play the carom right, you can get a strike. We also ate Festive Bar Food--Nachos, onion rings and fried mushrooms. Mmmmm...fried mushrooms...

Did you know that a ball rolled at 3.96 mph will actually make it to the end of the lane? And may even have enough leftover force to topple a pin? Did you know that the number 5 pin is the least likely to fall? Did you know that bowling gets easier and scores get better with beer?

JoMama invited everyone back to the Homestead for dinner and birthday cake. We brought the Karaoke Dance Party, and Bunny and her 10 year old cousin had an epic dance-off. But the highlight of the evening was my nephew, who is almost 7, crooning his way through "Play That Funky Music." Yes, he is a very white boy. And a trooper who lasted the entire song, despite having a complete lack of funk. Whatta guy!

Tonight, the actual birthday date, we go to a sneak preview of a baseball exhibit with items from Cooperstown. Dadster's a lifelong White Sox fan. Smack may be spoken here.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Day Eighteen--and Happy Feet--The Movie

Bunny had no school yesterday--conferences, as I think I have already mentioned. So, we had a couple of girlfriends over: sort of a playdate/daycare kind of deal, and we went to see the new movie Happy Feet.

Now, as a seasoned viewer of kid flicks, I feel I don't ask for much. Not every movie can be The Incredibles, or even Lilo and Stitch. I look for charm, humor, nothing too scary, a decent story arc. The kidlets hate to see anything in jeopardy or even characters who are sad. Lovely animation is a bonus. I had some concerns about Happy Feet, because the reviews emphasized that this was a movie that went "deep and dark," that dared to be a movie with a message.


FernGully is a movie with a message. That whole damn movie is about cute little animals and fairies trying to save the rainforest from humans and heavy equipment. THAT is a message movie. Happy Feet is a family movie with some human bashing thrown in at the end but tied up tidily in about 15 minutes, a schizophrenic mash-up that sacrifices a real story arc for a 98 minute running time.

The first half of the movie is classic kid flick fare; it's Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer at the Other Pole. Mumbles the penguin is born with happy feet--he can't sing like the rest of the penguins, but he can tap like Savion Glover. EXACTLY like Savion Glover, in fact, due to the magic of motion capture. This is considered an abomination among the penguin elders, and Mumbles ends up banished, but not before the prettiest penguin in EmperorLand falls for him.

He meets up with some quirky sidekicks, goes on a quest, yadda yadda, comes home and gets the girl happy and finds his place the end. That would be a 90 minute family movie, about the power of embracing one's differences, the fear of not conforming and the joy of learning how not to.

But, that's somehow not enough. So a second 90 minute plot is forced onto this one. Somehow, despite living hundreds of miles inland, word gets around that the fish supply is being depleted, and the penguins are starving. Not so's you notice it, mind you. There's no animation support for that proposition--they all still look fat and happy, there's no decrease in their numbers or change in their motion habits. Just take the dialogue's word for it--there's no food. One of the elder penguins--voiced by Hugo Weaving and looking for all the world like a vulture--declares that it's a sign from the great Guin that they have tolerated the abomination of Happy Feet and Mumbles ust be driven out to restore the balance.

Okay, that too might be a plot--it might even be cool to explore what a penguin religion might be, and how they might conceive of something other than ice and snow. But religion is just the tool of the Big Bad Old Guy, and Mumbles (who has managed to not molt either--it's not cute, just kind of mangy) heads off to figure out what is happening to the fish.

Well, of course, it's those Nasty Humans, netting huge numbers of fish with their commercial boats. Not only that, but those nasty humans have built some sort of industrial station, and then abandoned it, leaving behind a backwash of crap. One penguin, voiced by the unavoidable Robin Williams, wears a soda can six-pack ring around his neck, which doesn't manage to strangle him, but does render him voiceless for a large part of the movie.

Well, of course, Mumbles gets angry at these "aliens" who don't seem to care they are taking the fish, and he swims after them. So, here's a second quest, which could also have been its own movie--but since it's just jammed onto the first movie, we cut to Mumbles passed out on the Jersey shore. He wakes up in a zoo, where he tries to communicate with the humans and goes mad. The other penguins call him "Dave" and they all talk like HAL 2000. So, here we have a bit of zoo bashing, just tossed in for why? I don't know. Because after some unnamed number of months (and he's still not molted yet--what is it about this perpetual immaturity?) he does his happy feet thing. And the next thing we know, he's back at EmperorLand with a radio remote mounted on his back convincing the younger penguins that if they all dance, the fish will come back because the humans want to help.

So, a research helicopter appears and humans come make a videotape of the thousands of STOMPing penguins and it becomes a huge hit on television and people think that if penguins dance then we have to stop commercial fishing and nobody points out that the fish are being taken to feed humans because fishing is just evil and the humans who oppose the ban just don't understand how cute penguins are but then everything is okay and a fishing ban is made and the fish come back and happilyeveraftercakes. This part takes about 90 seconds, excluding the big penguin dance number.

Whaaa? When did we get nice humans? Why did they make the connection between one dancing penguin and returning him to Antarctica? Why does he trust them? How did they mount that radio to his back--superglue? It looks implanted and creepy. What kind of smack does it say about humans that it takes 60 seconds of dancing penguins on videotape to resolve a major ecological issue--and why didn't they just throw in the ozone layer while they were at it? And WHY doesn't that damn Mumbles EVER MOLT?

Sure, the animation is beautiful--you'd never believe they could do so much with a palate of just white. The snow blocks shearing off and crashing into the ocean are fabulous--the desolate beauty of Antarctica is awesome. The movie tackles the problem of how hard it is to do CGI humans by blending the CGI with actual film of human beings. Visually, it's stunning. Sure, the tap dancing is a bit weird when performed by birds with virtually no legs at all and big horny clawed feet, but it's still oddly jubilant. The Moulin Rouge music mashes kind of work, although I got very tired of the Marilyn Monroe voice of Nicole Kidman. We have singing, we have dancing, we have Elijah Wood leading yet another band of misfits to deal with the adverse effects of a ring, we have religious fanatics driving out misfits, we have an Elvis impersonator, we have ecological finger-wagging, we have good humans, bad humans and humans who can't dance.

So, I'm asking--what was the point of this movie? And what the hell happened to the arc of storytelling? I mean, geez, what kind of third rate script is this? I gotta tell you, all three 5th grade girls I was with walked out of the theater saying--"And THAT'S why it's bad to eat fish."