Sunday, March 25, 2007

Spring Break Quick Post

Just a quick check in--Kidlets are on spring break, and we are busy. Bunny is just back from a 9 day exchange trip to Mexico with 10 other kids in her grade. She stayed with a host family, toured Guadalajara, and had a great time.

Pony and I took the opportunity to make a quick trip to San Francisco to visit the Fabulous Sister. We mostly hung out in Chinatown and Fisherman's Wharf, and took a newly revised tour of Alcatraz.

The Puppy is enjoying his own vacation at Grandma and Poppa's house, where he is being ruthlessly spoiled.

We leave tomorrow morning for Williamsburg--twelve hours after picking up Bunny from the airport from Mexico we go back to fly into D.C.

Thus, enforced silence on the blog front, as I just don't get much time to get to the computer, and the withdrawal pains are starting to ebb. I'll be back for more irrelevant postings of the type you've come to expect in early April.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Do You Know What Day It Was Yesterday?

So, yesterday, the 14th of March. Write it like I do on my checks: 03.14 Recognize it?

How long have you been out of high school?

That's right. It was Pi Day. Which they celebrate at the Pony's school. Everyone eats pie, of course, write poems to pi, make up songs to pi, wear pi themed clothing, memorize many many digits of pi.

This year, it was covered in the local paper. The whole story can be found here, for at least a little while.

This is why I love this school. Education is taken seriously, but also as an opportunity for fun. The teachers model such a generous and curious spirit, and they draw so much out of the kids. This is a school where it is cool to be smart--and it might even get your name in the paper.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Speaking of Cheese

One of the beauties of the internet is what you stumble across while looking for something else. While searching for a picture of cheese to post on the last entry, I found this:

Real Wallace and Grommit Wensleydale cheese! According to some internet lore (thus disclaiming any representation as to its truthiness), the cheeserie was on the verge of financial ruin and collapse, until the advent of Wallace's love for "Wensleeedale, Grommit!" ignited interest in the item and rescued the world from authentic Wensleydale famine!

See! Art does serve the greater good! Go and get yourself some!

Mega Mix 80s Dance Party!

I picked up some cheap (a word which here means "craptastic") mix CDs at Target last week, and got them onto the iPod. So I could introduce the kidlets to the happenin' music scene that was the 1980s. (This was even before seeing Music and Lyrics.)

Because right now, they've got an inkling of the era, what with karaoke and television commercials, but really, everyone deserves the joy of butt dancing in the car to 867-5309/Jenny by Tommy TuTone. Even if that means you have to come up with another fake phone number to pass out at bars.

The thing about these compilation CDs is that they heavily feature one hit wonders, which is fine, because Soft Cell never did anything but Tainted Love, and anyway, it's only the single version anyway that has the seque into the Supremes. This is because back in the days of vinyl, I had the album only for Tainted Love and was heartily disappointed. Fortunately, my children won't experience the same heartache.

So, we had a pleasant roll around the music lesson circuit, listening to Thomas Dolby getting ocularly distressed by data ("Science!"). So, imagine my mixed reaction to the kidlets greeting the morning singing "She Blinded Me With Nachos."

Because cheese makes everything better, I guess.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Appropos of Nothing

For some reason, anthropomorphism is on my mind. I don't know why, but I woke up this morning thinking of the McDonald's "gang." You might remember Mayor McCheese, the Hamburgler, and the singing and talking Chicken McNuggets. Where have they gone? You don't see them anymore, and a Good Thing Too.

I mean, how do you convince a toddler that it's okay to eat something she's just seen behaving sentiently on TV? (Okay, I can already feel the hate about taking a kid to McDonald's--sure, maybe it's better not to have her eat anything from there, but let's just view this philosophically, can we? And the whole "watching TV" too.)

You could try and reason with her--that it's just something that was made up, it doesn't reflect reality, but does that work? I remember my mother trying to reassure me about clowns at a circus we had just seen, telling me that "They weren't real." Which, of course, I thought meant that I had hallucinated the whole thing, so I replied "But I saw them." You can imagine the usefulness of that conversation.

So, rather than talk my own kids out of what they had seen, we just pushed it further. Antropomorphize away! We dreamed up a "Food Party" in their tummies, and the food they hadn't yet eaten was excited to go to the Food Party.

Yeah. I don't know why this came up today either, but what the hey. It's my blog, reflecting the flotsam and jetsam of my brain. Let us all be very afraid.

Music and Lyrics--A Review

Mr. Sweetie and I took adavantage of the kidlets having an overnight, and had a movie date. With dinner too! Here is post Oscar land, there is kind of a dearth of movies I want to see, but we both thought Music and Lyrics would be a decent date movie.

And it was. I know! Usually I am so critical! (A word here meaning once who looks carefully and considers many aspects of the finished project, evaluating dispassionately and evenhandedly--right?) This movie, though, exists purely on charm, and it did charm me.

Briefly, Hugh Grant plays an 80s pop has-been--The Other Guy from the mythical band Pop. Think Wham!, and he's the one who isn't George Michael. He's managed to make a living reprising his old hits at class reunions and amusement parks, happy to be working at all. (This is where the charm has started, of course--"I'm a Has Been and proud of it.")

Plot intervenes, and he is challenged to write a new song for the world's reigning Pop Tart--Britney + Shakira, with an Eastern mystical flair. Or, as they say in the movie "Buddha with a thong." He needs a lyricist, and Drew Barrymore has already done the Meet Cute. Of course, they find a mutual attraction, write The Song, hit difficulties, make up for a Happy Ending. The plot really doesn't bear any kind of examination, but that's not the point.

The point is in the throw-away nature of the lines and the witty writing. Hugh Grant is not the Bumbling Cute Englishman his has trademarked, but is a man happy that he has accomplished something with his life, and realistic that his time has passed. He tosses off self-deprecating lines while going about the business of life, with a casual effortlessness that lets the jokes sink in a fraction of a second after he's already gone on with his next bit of business.

Drew Barrymore has matured quite a bit from Charlie's Angels, and credibly plays the Meg Ryan role with a bit more shadows and hidden heartache. She has moments of such goofy and loving chemistry, especially in a scene set at her sister's house, where she has managed to bring Hugh Grant for dinner. Kristen Johnson is the older sister, who is still madly crushing on her pop music idol, and the interaction when her little sister reveals she's slept with him is hilarious. Johnson is simultaneously excited that someone she knows is this close to a (former) superstar, and worried aobut her little sister getting hurt. Barrymore is also producing a fine mix of triumph and embarassment. It is on such moments that the film coasts over its rough spots and in the end makes me certain I will see it again.

The music is largely by Adam Schlesinger, of Fountains of Wayne, and the man who wrote "That Thing You Do" for the movie of the same name. (In fact, that movie's studio held a contest for songwriters to write the theme song, which Adam won. . .coincidence? I don't think so.) He gets the 80s sound pretty right, although none of the songs are are unforgettable as That Thing You Do. But as someone who remembers how new and exciting the 80s sound was after the bloated pretensiousness of much of the music of the 70s ("Nights In White Satin" anybody?) it hit its target. Yes, I am, sadly, one of those women of a certain age the film so gently ribs.

Although, in my own defense, it would take more than Andrew Ridgely (the "other guy" from Wham) shaking his booty to get me asking for an autograph, or even stopping between rides at the theme park.

Friday, March 09, 2007

It's The Midwest--Let's Talk About The Weather!

Last week--snow. Snow on snow. Lots and lots of snow. So much snow that the puppy had to swim through the back yard. That much snow.

This week? Forty-five degrees. Farenheit. Tomorrow is supposed to be fifty-five. People are wearing flip flops and shorts, outside, because it's practically balmy.

Nothing is turning green yet, but here at Chez Evil we're starting to think about landscaping. The addition of the new! garage has changed things quite a bit, and I can already tell that we need to do something about a path from the around it. Because as I went to carry the garbage out to the cans, all the lovely snow melt ran straight off the peaked roof and down the back of my neck. Note to self. Get a pathway that is farther away from the garage.

Also! since the yard was once (we are told) entirely a vegetable patch, it is Very Bumpy! With lots of interesting Dips! and Hollows! Which in the major melt we are having create Interesting! Water! Features! for the garden.

See, you can tell the medication is working, because I'm able to even conceive of "Interesting! Water! Features!" instead of "Bloody Great Mud Puddles In The Middle Of The Damn Yard!"

Freudian Slips

I have some pet peeves about pronounciation. The most ubiquitous irritant is the failure to aspirate the "h." Not that we hear the Eliza Doolittle dropping of the "h" entirely--" 'Eartford, 'Arrisburg and 'Ampton, 'urricanes 'ardly h'ever 'appen." Instead, we get the non-aspirated but pronounced "h"--"yuman" as in "We are all yuman beings." Absolutely drives me bonkers.

I heard a new one today--it's either a new pronounciation or a totally misselected word. In the wake of the Justice Department report about abuse of the PATRIOT Act by the FBI (and that's an entry by itself,) a commentator on NPR was discussing the response of other branches of government, including "ornery attorneys general."

Given the context, I expected the word "ordinary." You know, the ordinary ones, not Alberto Gonzoles. This is either a new low in the eliding of syllables into nonsense, or someone has a personal issue with those ornery attorneys general.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Winter Hazards

As I have mentioned, ad nauseum, we have had a lot of snow, recently. A great deal of snow. So much snow that when the snow plows cleared the streets, they left large piles of snow in the intersections.

Despite much snow, the temperatures have been quite pleasant. Warm even. The kind of weather where we don't put on a coat to go carry the garbage out to the cans behind the detached garage. The kind of warmth that leads to standing water on blacktop, where the solar heat has melted the snow. The kind of warmth that leads to large piles of snow left in the intersections to turn to slush, to get thrown up by passing tires and packed up into the tire wells of the cars.

With enough snow packed into the tire wells, it can make turning the wheels a bit tricky, and even noisy. The squeak and squeal of tires against packed snow sounds like a scrawny seventh grader who has been stuffed into his locker by the beefier eighth graders.

That's right--it's a winter wedgie, for cars!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Bumper Stickers To Challenge Assumptions

So. I was filling my gas tank at the SuperAmerica(TM) and a very old car pulled through. It was somehow squat, as if it were wider than it was tall, and a dingy maroon. The kid of color of maroon that inexplicably I associate wtih Denny's "early bird" dinners at 4:30, and inland Florida concrete housing. The driver was also short, and elderly looking. His glasses were wider than they were tall, but not in a Samuel L. Jackson kind of way. More like they had stopped growing up and started growing out. Given that this is winter time, there was no way that I actually saw what he was wearing, but I have a distinct recollection of a short sleeved cotton business shirt and plaid Sans-A-Belt slacks.

That last may be because this is Saint Paul, after all, and a surprisingly large percentage of our work population wears just that.

Saint Paul is also the Boston of the Midwest. This means that many of our police officers are still Irish and have Actual Irish Accents. Until quite recently, in fact, we didn't have neighborhoods, we had parishes, and families identified themselves by which Catholic Church they attended.

To say Saint Paul is conservative is to state the obvious.

So, when I saw the bumper stickers on this gentleman's maroon Old Man Car, I was, I confess, surprised.

I mean, I didn't expect that. And I found myself thinking--"Maybe this is his daughter's car. Or his granddaughter's car. And he's just taking it in to fill the tank and wash the windows." Which is just the sort of thing nice older gentlemen in Saint Paul do.

But who's to say? Maybe it was his car and maybe they were his bumper stickers. In which case, perhaps we are no longer as conservative as we used to be.

Paying It Forward

It's really winter here--we've had an entire season's worth of snow over the last week. Even after settling and compacting, we've got at least 8 inches of snow on the ground. This is a significant amount of snow at our house, because the dog's legs are significantly shorter than 8 inches, which makes life difficult and cold for him.

On Friday night, in the middle of the second series of big snow, I took the Pony over to Minneapolis for a sleep-over. I dropped her off, and started home. The house is on a large hill, and the only access is from the back alley. I had a couple choices of route--I could attempt to back up a fairly steep hill into the opposite driveway, and come out the way I came in. I could back up a slightly less steep hill, and then pull forward through the alley. Or I could just go forward down a second alleyway that lay just below the first one.

I knew there was ice under the snow whichever way I went, and there were some seriously solid concrete walls I would need to avoid while backing up. Meanwhile, the lower alley was downhill, required no clever backing up skills, and no risk of fishtailing. There was a long clear track where someone had driven down the alley before me--clear wheel tracks, and a straight shot to the next street. I picked the lower alley.

I picked badly.

I had gotten two buildings down the way when I got stuck. There was no going forward, so I tried to back up. Nope. Wasn't going to happen. I was good and stuck, and the alleyway was so narrow that I couldn't actually get out of my side of the car. Perhaps it was just that my Japanese vehicle wanted to stop right behind the Zen Center for some meditation, but we weren't going anywhere.

I ended up calling the parents hosting the sleepover, and they tried to get me out. It was soon apparent it was going to take a tow truck, which we called, and I waited inside the house, feeling very very embarassed to be such an idiot and to be imposing on their plans. This is very typically Minnesotan, as we don't like to be a bother.

Fortunately, these were also long time Minnesotans, and Mr. Host assured me that he had gotten stuck himself only the day before, and it had taken six guys to push him out, so he saw this as an opportunity to pay the favor forward.

The two truck showed up after half an hour, and it turned out to be my lucky day. Luck, like many things, being relative. Had my car made it an extra 12 inches further down the alley, the tow truck could not have gotten me out--I was at the extreme end of the reach of the winch cable. Incidentally, I was also "bottomed out," meaning that the snow was so deep that the bottom of my car was resting on the snow and thus my tires were not even touching solid ground. Plus the tire track that I had been following was wider than my car--apparently rather than being the sign of a drivable route, it had been the signs of an urban commando driving a Jeep.

Even with the tow truck, it took a good half an hour to extricate my car, and even out of the deep snow, I still was stuck in the driveways. The tow truck driver thought he could drive me out of the shovelled part of the alley, but I still ended up pushing my own car out onto the street.

The very next day--daylight, bright sunshine, our next door neighbors got their car stuck on the piles of snow left at the base of their driveway by the snowplows. Like me the night before, the car had bottomed out, and their efforts with an ergonomic shovel, kitty litter, and cardboard had not worked. Mr. Sweetie offered his help, and I came along. I'm not such a great shoveller--which had to happen--but I'm not a bad pusher. It took 15 minutes, but we got them out, and they were so grateful! Mr. Sweetie, bless his heart, even brought the new snowblower around and cleared their driveway too.

So, I think I may have paid my debt forward, because that's what we do here in the North. Give someone a push, or a jump to start a dead battery, because next time it may be you. However, our nice neighbors brought around a plate of home made brownies to thank us--on a very nice plate too. And you know you can't return a plate empty, right?

This may be the start of a beautiful friendship.

Lagaan--A Movie Review

We have had a lot of events over the past several days, and as a result, we have had tired kidlets. So on Saturday we ordered in pizza and have Family Movie Night. The movie was Lagaan.

We had it because the kidlets had seen Bride and Prejudice, the Bollywood extravaganza version of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, in which our protagonists sing and dance their way into matrimony across three continents. It's sheer exuberant silliness captured their imagination, so I thought it would be fun to show them another one.

I had forgotten what a big mouthful of bran and oatmeal Lagaan could be. It's actually four hours long, and the plot revolves around land taxation and a three day long cricket match. Mostly in Hindi, with subtitles. I actually began to have second thoughts. And third and fourth thoughts as well. But, amazingly, we all got caught up in it. I'd even seen it before and knew how it came out, and I was biting my nails over the tension in the final act.

The kidlets were absolutely engrossed, except when the tension got too great, and the Bunny put her fingers in her ears and buried her head in the cushions chanting "I can't watch this, I can't watch this." We cheered on the good guys and booed the bad guys, and Bunny kept interjecting "I can't believe no one has slapped him yet. Someone should slap him. Maybe the elephant can step on him." My palms were itching too.

The plot concerns a bet: in 1893, the drought stricken village of Champener is behind in its taxes to be paid to the British forces, and they owe double taxes. The rains still haven't come and there is no way they can pay the taxes, much less double taxes, and they are already starving. While the villagers are asking for tax relief, the British officer issues a challenge--if the villagers can defeat the British at cricket, the tax will be cancelled for three years.

The impetuous (and deeply honorable) Bhuvan accepts the challenge, and now has to collect eleven players and learn the game. In the course of training the team, we see an allegorical unification of India: the squabbling neighbors unite, Muslims and Hindus play together, the village cripple is found to have a unique skill at bowling with spin, and even an Untouchable is accepted onto the team. In their desire to defeat the British and preserve their village, the traditional divisions of age, position, and cast are all overcome.

In the end (slight spoiler here) the British outpost is closed, and this small corner of India sees the withdrawal of British rule. After all, the Empire can't afford to have the entire country playing cricket to evade taxes--it's a dangerous precedent.

Simultaneously, there is a love story which parallels the story of Krishna and Radha. One of the village girls, Gauri, is in love with Bhuvan but he seems blind to her. An Englishwoman defies her countrymen and comes to help the villagers learn to play cricket, and finds herself falling in love with Bhuvan as well. Gauri sees this infatuation, and worries, but Bhuvan also seems blind to this. The parallel is not clear--which woman will Bhuvan/Krishna marry, and which will be his "Radha," the one who personifies pure and selfless love?

One of the beauties of Bollywood films is the singing and dancing, and even in Hindi the music is hummable and infectious. I went to scour iTunes for the soundtrack, but it's not available on the US version. It can be ordered from Amazon, however.

Now I'm looking for some more recommendations for more Bollywood. And we've put India on the list of places we need to visit.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

New Toys

Well, I got a snowblower this week. I never had one before, and it's not quite the same as a lawnmower. That is, I have never come inside from mowing the lawn with a solid 6 inch crust of mulch up my legs and my hair stiff with grass clippings.

I'm still getting the hang of remembering to point the funnel away from the inside of the garage, for example. And did you know that when you've got snow shooting over 20 from the top of your snowblower, it's a good idea not to stand downwind? Literally, my hair froze with all the snow I managed to blow onto myself.

Plus! Snow is more hazardous than lawn. Because more things can hide in 9 inches of snow and mess you up. The first time I tried to use the new snowblower, I managed to run over the cable for the dog leash. Because it was hidden under the snow! I had to leave the darn thing out overnight until I could buy a cable cutter, because it had gotten twisted up really really tight and the I couldn't unhook the cable from the stake (which was solidly set into the frozen ground) because all the clips had frozen closed.

Today, I managed to run over some orange twine. I was trying to do a good deed and do my neighbors' driveway--they've done ours for years, and I thought I'd return the favor. Plus I'm not entirely certain they are back from the Caribbean. So, I'm just at the point where I'm clearing away the snow that I had thrown from the other side of the driveway, when the thing lurches out of my hands and pulls to the left and dies.

And I think I'm maybe too short for the starter cord, because I couldn't get it started again.

It still beats shovelling, though.

Parenting Is Crazy

No school today, due to conferences. Just as well, as we got an assload (this is a technical term) of snow, and even conferences got cancelled after 1:30.

So, I'm home with two girls who have some project they are concocting together. Thus, I get the following requests:

"Where is Murtag's collapsible hut?"

"Do we have a working strobe light?"

Separated At Birth--Straight Guys Playing Gay Edition

Jake Gyllenhal and Steve Carell.