Friday, March 21, 2008

Palm Springs Vacation--The Opening Salvo

So the Grandparents Evil rented a house for the month of March in Palm Springs, and have graciously allowed the Evil/Sweetie horde to invade for 10 days. Thus, I am currently sitting in a 1950 moderne house, which is all squares and hard surfaces, looking out on the desert garden and blue sky. I would be sitting at the backyard pool, but my power cord doesn't reach that far.

Palm Springs experienced its big growth spurt back when the weary stars of 1930 Hollywood needed to get away, and bundled up their belongings for the 4 hour car jaunt to the desert. Now it is primarily a golfing destination, although it still trades on its glamor reputation. So, you have the ability to come to Palm Springs and seek out celebrities, as long as you prefer your celebrities---dead.

Thus, the Tours of the Stars' Homes features such cutting edge cultural icons as Rock Hudson, Liberace, Bob Hope and some other people you have never heard of. Many of the streets are named for other Palm Springs legends, such as Ginger Rogers, Gene Autry, and Frank Sinatra (which is actually way outside the swanky center of town, so maybe the people of Palm Springs weren't all that enamored of him).

Apparently, some stars still do come here, which makes this a great location for the Betty Ford Center. Your publicist can release a statement that you have come to P.S. for a little R&R--Rest and Rehab.

Mr. Sweetie and I, geeks that we are, are fascinated by the geology of the area. The Coachella Valley lies across one arm of the San Andreas fault, and the geography is highly fault-dependent. The mountains that surround the valley are either sharp and rugged, betraying their relative youth, or else they are piles of dirt and rubble, pushed up and splintered off as the tectonic plates rub against each other and fracture.

We toured the amazing 1000 Palms, which is a literal oasis in the desert, created by the San Andreas fault. Water is trapped below the surface, often even below layers of granite, but is able to seep to the surface where the tectonic plates meet. You can find the oases, and thus trace the path of the fault line, where palm tree groves stand scattered across the desert. While hiking an easy trail from the 1000 Palms visitor center, you literally stand in muddy, marshy wetness, then turn a corner to arid and bare desert.

As Mr. Sweetie pointed out, the desert is littered with granite stones of a pretty substantial size--at least 10 inches long, and 5-6 inches across. In Minnesota, we would immediately identify them as glacial scree--rocks picked up by the advancing glaciers and scoured smooth before being dropped by the glacial melt. But--no glaciers here! So where did they come from?

Again, from the fault line. The pressure of the two plates against each other fractures and splinters the underlying rock, pushing it to the surface as rubble. Quite a different process. Needless to say, we have managed to bore the kidlets stone cold with this discussion, and have had to make up to them with date milkshakes.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Nerd, Meet Geek: Geek, Nerd

Thanks to "Anonymous" (really, dear, I'm sure you have a much cooler online identity than THAT!) who commented on my Pi Day post, I have now taken both versions of the Nerd Test. Because back in my formative days, we had more or less undifferentiated nerds. "Geeks" were still actual circus freaks who bit the heads off chickens.

Since that time, as Dungeons & Dragons players have taken over the world via computers, there are now important distinctions to be made amongst the various subspecies of nerds and geeks.
Thus, I have come to consider myself more of a geek than a nerd--that is, I have the ability to get obsessive over matters of literature and history, but tend to live my computer life without needing to ever code--yes, I surf on the strength of other people's coding skill, and live my life at the software level.

So, when faced with the ability to actually test my nerdiness, I jumped at the chance. Although I fear I have compromised my results, as I took the test early in the morning, thus artificially lowering my score on the pivotal question of "how many hours have [I] been on the computer before taking this test."

In version 1.0, I rated fairly high on the nerd scale:

I am nerdier than 54% of all people. Are you a nerd? Click here to find out!

Version 2.o rated me along several vertices, and confirmed my suspicions about myself: says I'm an Uber Cool High Nerd.  What are you?  Click here!

Aristotle said that "The unexamined life is not worth living." I guess I know myself pretty darn well--for a nerd.

Secant, Tangent, Cosine, Sine/3.14159!

So, today is March 14th, also written as 3.14--and so it's Pi-Day!

The kidlets' school celebrates this date every year with art projects, poetry writing, and pie eating. Pony's math teacher even has a T-shirt she wears:

You can get one for yourself here.

I love it that they go to a school where it is so cool to be a geek!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Tallying Of Years

So I had a birthday this week. I know you are surprised! Here I had a birthday, and I never even said a word! How can I be so cruel--depriving you of your opportunity to make a fuss over me? Well, THAT just better never happen again.

Anyway, I had a birthday, and you know what? Mr. Sweetie earned his name that day. Actually, his new name had better be Mr. Totally Awesome And Generous To A Fault To The Spoiled Inner Child That Is His Wife And Oh My God He Totally Gave Me The Best Birthday Presents AND Cooked Dinner AND Cleaned It Up And Now I Really Am Embarrassed At All My Whinging.
But that is too long to type, so Mr. Sweetie it is!

Now, lest you think that I have put this off too long, since my actual birthday was on Sunday, I will say in my defense that I typed up a long paean to Mr. Sweetie and his awesomeness, but Blogger was being a poop and refused to let me post or even save it in draft. Which is just as well, since I said a lot of nice things but they were all so damn soppy that you would find yourself reaching for a pencil to stab yourself in the eyeball to avoid the pain of all the soppiness.

And anyway, the last time I looked at the name of this blog, I was the MISTRESS OF ALL EVIL--oh look, it still says that right up at the top--and HOW DARE YOU CRITICIZE ME?!?! I shall put a curse upon you, and all your silver will tarnish and your dentist will discover that all your fillings were done wrong the first time and they all have to come out and be replaced with new ones. AND the parking attendant will leave their post to go pee, and you will be stuck behind the lowered bar for fifteen minutes until they return, and so you will be late getting home and your family will yell at you. SO THERE.

Perhaps I will fill you in on the Premo Loot I scored for my birthday, and if I feel like it, I may even post some pictures. Rest assured that mimosas were drunk, ridiculously delicious food was consumed, and much love and attention was showered upon me. Which is as it should be, and is only my proper due.

So, on the occasion of my birthday, I was asked what I wanted to do this year, so that at my next birthday, I could look back and note my accomplishments with satisfaction. I realized that I have three:

  1. I want the seven years back that I lost to depression. So, N.B. to my siblings, I am now officially 38, and am now the YOUNGEST child in the family.
  2. I want to finish up the damn novel already. I've had hit kicking around for far too long now, and I need to either finish it or put it out of its misery.
  3. I hereby pledge that by my next birthday, I will actually weigh what it says I weigh on my drivers license. Or less.
There--that's not asking too much of myself, is it?

Kids Are So Crazy These Days

So the Bunny's 6th grade class is being placed into teams for a Jeopardy game to test their knowledge of the books they have read. Bunny's team has chosen to call themselves "The Cherries" and their team cheer was going to be "Heigh Ho Cherry-os!"

Sadly, another team also had a similar idea for their team cheer, "Heigh Ho Cheerios!" and they happened to be called on first to demonstrate their cheer.

Well! You simply can't have the same cheer as another team--that much is obvious. But there was no time to convene and choose a different cheer. So, when called upon to demonstrate theirs, one of the team members simply piped up:

"Who's gonna bring the blood and pain?"

And the rest of the team raised their fists and hollered "The Cherries!"

And to think we were worried that the Bunny's sense of humor might be too outre for the rest of the kids. We are finding out she is positively retiring in the midst of her goofy friends. What a relief.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Being Evil Means Never Having To Say You're Sorry

At least, that's what I tell myself.

However, if that is true, then being Evil must also mean never whining. I mean, does Dr. Evil whine? Does Ming the Merciless whinge? Does Mongo complain, even when the candygram blows up in his face?

I think not.

So I am done with the whining about my birthday. I was such a pain in the ass about it before hand, that poor Mr. Sweetie--even after having outdone himself--still worries if he did enough.

Okay, being Evil probably also means that you want those around you cringing in fear--however, they should not be in fear that your lip will quiver and your Bambi eyes will fill with tears.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Deadline Approacheth

I have a birthday coming up. I may have mentioned before, but I am Officially Very Difficult about my birthday. I can be a flexible, accommodating person most days of the year--at least I think so--but my birthday brings out the worst in me.

I want to be feted! I want to be adored! I want to get the birthday equivalent of an Oscar (TM) Award for having been born! I want to be pampered and fussed over and celebrated and generally be a big old Entitled Diva Who Has Everything.

Needless to say, this makes things difficult for those around me who have to live with me. Especially who have to live with me on the Day After my birthday--a dangerous day if I feel that I have not been suitably spoiled. (*cough* Mr. Sweetie *cough*)

Last night, Mr. Sweetie hosted a dinner party at a restaurant for two of his co-worker/friends. It was proposed to me as a "and spouses" event, but I was the only spouse who made it. Their task was to drill me into giving up some ideas of what I might want for my birthday.

So, the question was put to me: "If you could have anything you wanted, what would it be?"

I like this question. Although it does open up loads of possibilities--"Anything? Really?"

It took me about 45 seconds to say "I'd like a country house in Kent. With unlimited tickets on RyanAir."

But then I realized it was a question about what I wanted for my birthday, and not just a philosophical exercise. Even I don't think I'm about to get a country house in Kent. Which is just as well, since I was wavering between that and a house in the South of France.

And it would be so embarrassing to get the wrong one.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Momilies--Starbucks Edition

I am reading Michael Gates Gill's memoir How Starbucks Saved My Life, allegedly a book about how the privileged Gill ruined his life, found a job at Starbucks and learned to live "like the rest of us."

I will be reviewing this over at the Book Blog of Evil later--I'll wait until after my bookclub meets on it a week from now.

For now, though, I have this thought I will share:

Forever namedropping, Gill writes of meeting Ernest Hemingway in Spain on the day of the running of the bulls. Hemingway tells him to run with the rest of the young men in front of the bulls, which he then does.

So: If Ernest Hemingway told you to jump off a cliff, would you do it, Mr. Gill?

EDITED TO ADD: I finished it. I have one word for anyone picking up this book: Don't.


Monday, March 03, 2008


Oh God. I remember this time: Welcome to the Nuthouse. ( article--you might encounter an ad before reaching the site, but it's worth it.)

This is the well written story of exactly how it feels to be a new mother. The whole "Didn't I used to be competent? Didn't I used to be able to do more than one thing at a time? Why can't I do one single damn thing right?"

And--oh god--how the time crawled. You'd wake up in the morning with the baby, and twelve years later, it wouldn't even be lunchtime yet. And in all that twelve years, what had I done? I'd fed the baby. AGAIN. And it would be another twelve years--at least--until Mr. Sweetie came home and I'd be able to do--what? What did I think I was going to do? Something exciting, like grocery shopping? In the two hours before I had to feed the baby? AGAIN?

I remember sitting at the dinner table--yes! I'd been able to make something for dinner! Big accomplishment!--but I couldn't eat, because I had to feed the baby again. And I remember being literally unable to believe that there would ever be a time when I wouldn't have this baby attached to my body in some way: feeding, being carried, being rocked, something.

Childbirth is hard--but it is a limited amount of time, and there are books! And articles! And friends who have had the same experience! Transforming a fetus into a baby takes a fixed amount of time and can be documented and explained. Transforming yourself into a mother? That is a process that you do alone, without help, and with no benchmarks for progress.

And I was lucky, I know it. I have a friend whose first child had colic--the baby didn't stop crying for 6 very long months. My friend and her husband were living alone in a foreign country, and my friend had no one to help her. And what can you do? You can't just give up on trying to soothe the baby, can you?

That's why I love this response to the article.

Imagine that you are a buddhist nun practicing a particularly difficult and advanced form of meditation: the Strolling the Screaming Baby While Waiting Desperately for the Laundry meditation. Inside these difficult abrasive periods of time, which can be short or long, but which always feel like torture, is the opportunity to let go, to breathe, to allow it just to be what it is. If you've done all you can and you still don't know how to soothe her, then don't try to soothe her. Just keep walking and meditating and enduring, until the world turns a little and everything is a little different.

I swear--new parents leaving the hospital need this--emblazoned on a banner--more than they need samples of baby formula. Parenting is hard hard HARD to do with a newborn, and we expect so much of ourselves--we expect to do the 21st century equivalent of birthing the baby and going back into the fields and harvesting turnips. But, really--those peasant women didn't do it because they wanted to.

In Japan, so I understand from my sister-in-law, the new mother's own mother comes when the baby is born and stays for a month--cooking, cleaning, taking care of the house and family so the new mother can take care of herself and the newborn. They don't expect that a woman will handle a newborn like slipping a breakfast meeting into a busy Filofax calendar. It is a process--the process of becoming a mother, and that process really doesn't even begin until the baby is born.

I would want to tell that woman a number of things. It will pass. Things will get easier. Get all the sleep you can--that helps a lot. Be gentle with yourself--this is all new and foreign and you will become oriented and fluent in this new language. Give yourself time.

And thank you. It is writing like this that helps all mothers realize that parenting is not all Hallmark cards and laundry commercials. It is hard work that we are doing, and we are not alone in feeling overwhelmed.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Other Boleyn Girl Movie--A Review

Mr. Sweetie and I went to see The Other Boleyn Girl yesterday. Since reading the book, I have become fascinated by the people who were influential during Tudor times, and I had been looking forward to this movie for a while.

Let me save you some time. It is NOT good.

The first hint that this was a stinker came when the release date was moved from October 2007 (well positioned for Oscar consideration) to February 2008 (a time when standards are a whole lot lower), where it's opening weekend competition is Will Farrell's 427th comedy mocking the 70s, and Larry the Cable Guy getting naked in "Witless Protection."

I had read a number of reviews before heading out to the theater, and they were luke-warm at best. Even with only 19 review in, Rotten Tomatoes had it rated at only about a 46. But you know what? I wanted to see it, and the faint praise didn't put me off. But it should have warned me away from dragging Mr. Sweetie, who is not the avid Tudor history consumer that I am. Poor man--he started looking at his watch after the first hour, and really, who could blame him? It was THAT not good.

Shall we start the autopsy? First is the problem of the novel. It is huge, with literally dozens and dozens of characters and plots and heavily perfumed with sex in a way that makes it hard to dramatize and keep either coherent or something less than R-17. As a matter of fact, although the movie admits it is "based on" the novel by Philippa Gregory, I cannot recall a single scene that was not invented for the movie. Really. I don't think there is a single scene that actually comes from the novel--all that is really there is the fact of Mary Boleyn, and the alleged rivalry she had with her sister Anne. Everything else is entirely new.

Oh, and the sex? It's hard to believe, but for all that the plot turns on mistresses and lovers and wedding and bedding. . .there is very little prurience displayed. In fact, except for Scarlett Johansson's naked back, there is scarcely any skin displayed at all. Even so, the movie manages to be more lurid than the book--creating a scene where Henry rapes Anne, and we see her anguished face. Which is something I could have done without, and is totally foreign to the tone of the book. We also are treated to the sight of Anne--desperate for a son--seducing her brother, who cries at the prospect. In the novel, at least, Gregory had left that question ambiguous.

Second, there is the problem of un-Tudored American public. (Yes, it is an evil pun. So sue me.) How many Americans understand the dilemma of Henry VIII and his great need to have a male heir? How many understand that Katherine of Aragon was approaching menopause, leaving Henry in a very difficult spot indeed? The answer to those questions is apparently "not many." So, within a very few minutes, we are treated to the appearance of Thomas Howard, the third Duke of Exposition, who tells us all this (as quickly as possible) and tells Anne she has to seduce the king, have a son, and then their family will be untouchable.

Third, there is the problem of being a "prestige" film: with the cast and topic they had; with the costumes and extras; with filming at castles and royal houses--they couldn't be content with just lighting it like a soundstage. That's not sufficiently "prestigious." So we get everything--EVERYTHING--filmed in chiaroscuro. Sure, the Tudors had a lot of darkly paneled rooms, and only candles to light them with, but a ridiculous amount of acting had to be done with only half of the actors' faces since the rest was obscured by shadow. Which made the whole "dungeon-like" lying in scenes look no darker than the rest of the movie.

Perhaps this was itself an artistic trope, but much of the movie was also filmed through half opened doors, or from behind large shoulders that filled a third of the screen. I can imagine that the idea was that we could not see everything--could not know everything that happened. Plus, candlelight is Romantic--everybody knows that. Sadly, I felt more like asking them to bring in some more candles--they will ruin their eyes, trying to see anything in that gloom.

It turns out that speed is also a problem in this movie. Somebody made a decision that everything had to happen fast. You can just imagine a director summoning the cast and crew and clapping his hands for attention. "Now, people! We have a lot to cover here, so we are going to have to go fast." Lines are delivered fast. Scenes last about 45 seconds. The horses are always galloping. People are forever striding quickly, or scurrying out of the way. (And I have to tell you, watching King Henry and Thomas Howard stride purposefully toward the camera--with their ginormous puffy sleeves--it's hard not to giggle They look like Weebles.) People fight, then make up a minute and a half later. There is so much speed, and so little sense of actual time passing, that you would be forgiven for supposing that the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn happened in about three weeks.

It doesn't help that nobody ages in this film. Sure, there is an establishing scene of the Boleyn siblings at around 6 years old, but the next thing you know, that blonde preschooler is Scarlett Johansson, and even though the events of the novel stretch out across 17 years, nobody looks like they aged a single day. And just how likely is that? Sure, Anne Boleyn was no older than 36 when she died, and possibly younger. As portrayed in this film, however, she stayed 22 no matter how many pregnancies she went through.

Finally, there was a fundamental confusion about what story was being told, which meant that the movie ended up with almost no center. Was this a story about a rivalry between sisters? Or was it Anne's story? A character study, or a historical recreation? Or maybe a superheated bodice buster? Was it supposed to be erotic, or the opposite? Is this a cautionary tale about ambition, or do we see this as the precursor to the glorious reign of Elizabeth I?

In the end the movie tried to be a little of each of these, and thus became nothing at all. The tight focus on the Boleyn girls didn't make it clear there was much of a rivalry, since any rift was explicitly forgiven moments later. It did create a hothouse atmosphere, where there were no inconvenient national or world events to interrupt the wooing and courting and scheming.

The English Reformation? It was just a clever legal trick to accomplish a divorce--there was no apparent affect to it other than to allow Henry to marry Anne. There is no reason to suspect that there would be an conflict over the succession of the Catholic Mary I--the Church of England is just a way to spin things so a willful king to get what he wanted.

Rivalries and wars fought with France and Spain? No sign of them -- the king can't be bothered with world events when there are women he hasn't bedded walking around at Court.

Which is all such a waste. Natalie Portman has the looks and intelligence to play Anne Boleyn, and she actually manages to find moments in the movie where she is a human being, and not just a force of history. The scene of her execution is well done, as is her panic as she realizes her life depends on bearing a son. She challenges the king with her wit and spark in a scene in which she is all the more remarkable given how clunky the dialogue and blocking are.

Scarlett Johansson is lovely, as usual, and she is believable as a warm hearted woman making her way in a confusing world. The production values are high--locations and costuming are sumptuous and lovely.

Such a pity that so many remarkable ingredients were wasted.