Saturday, February 02, 2013

I don't know how to quit you. Or it, as the case may be.

Okay, okay.  The last post, announcing the move to WordPress, was admittedly just too cutesy and cryptic.*  I admit it.

So, in any case, my new blog home is at The Wild Winds Of Fortune  (

I made it nearly three weeks before I resumed.  I guess I needed this more than I knew, and besides, one of my (unstated) reasons for the hiatus has resolved itself.   I still don't know how much I will be doing, for reasons I state over there.  I am worried about how much blogging will impact other projects I want to do.  Even though I want to do them, blogging provides the immediate gratification of seeing the results on paper in pixels. And "procrastination" is my middle name -- my parents only put "Marie" on the birth certificate to placate the nuns.

One last thing:  I have been porting over this blog at regular intervals to have a backup in case of, I don't know, me accidentally violating the Google TOS and the company freezing my accounts.**  So all of my prior posts are available at WordPress, plus a few that I posted over the last week, including one on the anniversary of the Columbia disaster.

*But see? If you had clicked on the link you would know already!
**Although if that happened, I would have a lot bigger problems than just my blog being  unavailable.  One of my Gmail accounts is used for business purposes, and is on my resume, and has been submitted to a lot of employers. Not to mention the few (but important) Google docs I have.

I'm your only friend, I'm not your only friend, but I'm a little glowing friend, but I'm not actually your friend, but I am....

Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch*
Who watches over you
Make a little birdhouse in your soul
Not to put too fine a point on it
Say I'm the only bee in your bonnet
Make a little birdhouse in your soul....

*I do in fact have a blue canary night light.  It was a Christmas present two years ago, and when I got it the Rocket Scientist spent part of Boxing Day rewiring the light switch next to my closet to have an outlet as well as a switch.  So now I have a "blue canary in the outlet by the light switch."  I cannot tell you how happy this makes me.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Hey, alligators.

Hiatus: A gap or interruption in space, time, or continuity; a break.

I have been posting on this blog off and on for seven years.  In some years it has been more off than on, admittedly, but for the past three I have been posting frequently (for me), even if not consistently.

I'm taking a break.

I'm not sure how long of a break.  It could be days, weeks, months, years.... forever.  It might not even last longer than tomorrow, if I chicken out or find I can't live without the delusions of .... not grandeur... influence maybe? .... that I get from this thing.

I have been thinking about leaving for some time now.  At first, I planned to walk away completely.*  Just leave it sitting here.  I had thought in December that when I hit 1000 published posts, that would be the perfect time.  That deadline came and went.  Then I thought that the New Year would be appropriate.  That has passed.  I found myself thinking about giving blogging up for Lent -- I have a couple of times in the past -- but that would be intellectually and spiritually dishonest; Lent has little meaning for me anymore, which fills me with deep sadness.

I had planned to write this post this past weekend. Then I chose to wait until I could post about Aaron Swartz's suicide. That done, I am writing it now.

This blog is a time sink, a distraction, a temptation.  Not just to write, but to obsess over unimportant statistics. To see how many people (not many) follow me, or how many hits I get a day, or which posts are most popular. It becomes a not-very-healthy compulsion.

It might not matter quite so much if I didn't feel so unhappy about the quality of my blogging these days.  Writing is slow and hard. I know that blogging is not real writing, but I seem to be spending a lot of time writing very short posts about very little things.  Not that there have not been any I have liked or been proud of:  my post on mental illness and violence, "Dickens Fair," and "I wish you joy" stand out for me.  Whether they are good in some objective sense is, as always, difficult for me to tell, but I like them.

I have other things I need to do.  I have skills I need to hone. I have people I need to reconnect with.  I would like to take some courses -- online and in real life.  I have books to read; the only way to become a better writer is to be an accomplished reader.   I have other writing, even, that needs to take place beyond the confines of this space and which I would never place here. I am hoping that without this blog to tempt me away, I can get some of that done.**

I'm sorry, this has all become needlessly melodramatic.  Contrary to what you might think from reading The Wild Winds of Fortune, I do actually try to avoid drama. In this case, I don't need to tell you why I am doing this, but I do need to have this explanation down for myself.

So.  Take care of yourselves; be happy, be healthy, be wise.

I'll see you on the flip side.

*I developed the idea of a break rather than blog-death from Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow.  For those who have read it, I'm deadheading this blog for a while.  For those who haven't, I recommend it heartily, unless you don't like science fiction.
**Next up: facing my unhealthy Facebook addiction.

Sad. So sad.

In July, 2011, I wrote about the Aaron Swartz case.  It was with sadness that I read that Aaron Swartz had committed suicide.

From all I have read, Swartz was a sweet guy.  He was only twenty-six, having done more in that short life than most of us do with the entirety of ours. It staggers me that he was young enough to be my son.

Depression is a tricky thing, and at the end of the day the only person responsible for a suicide is the person who takes their own life.  To say or believe otherwise is to act as though they lack free will, that indeed they had no other option. In truth, there is always another option.

That said, severe stress can make people much more susceptible to depression and suicidality. By all accounts, his life was made hell by zealous prosecution of a theft from an company, JSTOR, that itself declined to press charges, or pursue a civil case.  A lot of questions have been raised about the actions of the prosecutor, to the point that a petition have him fired has been posted on the White House's "We the People" site which has received almost 17,000 votes.

I said in 2011 that what Swartz was indicted for was theft.  Having read a lot more about the case in the past few days, I may have been wrong.* I am still mulling it over.  I definitely think that the laws under which Swartz was charged need to be overhauled: a potential sentence of 35 years? Really?

We have a country in which torturers get off scot-free.  Financial barons who drove the country's economy into the ground with their reckless behavior end up with bonuses.  Yet a kid who commits what is in essence a victimless crime for an act which would be much better handled with civil litigation is charged and threatened with over three decades in prison.

There is something very wrong with this picture.**

*For me, there is an object lesson on making sure you understand all the facts and the context in which they exist before making grand pronouncements on things.  The entire world is contextual, and I forget this at my peril.
**There have been suggestions that the charges were driven as much by Swartz's political activity as anything else, which would make the entire affair even  more outrageous.  The prosecution may have also engaged in fishing expeditions with subpoenas aimed at Amazon.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Now if I can just win that stupid Powerball thing...

Remember when I promised a list of the U.S. hotels* I want to stay at when I win the lottery?  This is it.  I chose hotels I am personally familiar with; there are many just as exclusive places -- certainly much more expensive ones -- to stay in this country, but I was not going to go hunt down lists of the most select hotels just for this post.  For example, I really want to go back to Hawaii, but I don't have a particular resort I dream about.

Here goes:

Hotel Del Coronado, San Diego, California.
Really, I could just stop here.  I have loved this building since the first time I saw it.  For some reason it reminds me of some older Florida architecture -- The Grand Floridian at Disney World is modeled on the Hotel Del and looks completely at home in its surroundings. I want to stay at this hotel more than any other in the country. Maybe any other in the world.  And it's right on the beach! How can it be more perfect?

Vinoy Renaissance, St. Petersburg, Florida.
The Vinoy is a wonderful addition to downtown St. Pete, and I remember just how close it came to being demolished. I always love historic preservation efforts that succeed -- in Florida there are too many cases where they don't.

Waldorf-Astoria, NYC.
It's the freakin' Waldorf, dude.  (Although I would love to hang out at the restaurant in the Algonquin, inspired by the ghost of Dorothy Parker.)

The Bellagio, Las Vegas.
I love the Bellagio's refinement in contrast to some other Vegas casinos (at least those that were around when it was built -- the Venetian looks pretty good, as well) -- and, of course, there are the fountains.

The Breakers, Palm Beach.
Doesn't every Floridian want to stay at The Breakers?  In addition to the luxury and the architecture, oil and railroad magnate Henry Flagler made South Florida, for good or ill.

Hay-Adams, Washington D.C.
I had the good fortune to eat at the restaurant at the Hay-Adams; The Rocket Scientist and I had our tenth-anniversary dinner there.  It would be great to actually sleep there.

Little Palm Island, Little Torch Key, Florida.
Just look at the pictures.

Greyfield Inn, Cumberland Island, Georgia.
I have to admit, the main reason I want to stay here is that I love Cumberland Island, but I am completely over camping, and the Greyfield Inn is the only other option.  The fact that it is a) historical and b) luxurious, does not hurt.

Ahwhanee Hotel, Yosemite National Park.
See my comment about the Greyfield Inn, above.  I have seen the lobbies of several National Park hotels, but Ahwhanee is the best.  Gorgeous. And it's in Yosemite.

Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
Once again, history has its attractions: Greenbrier was founded in 1778 and has a long and storied past.

I am sure that I might get a chance to stay in a couple of these sometime down the line (although as long as we are paying college tuition, that's pretty unlikely).

So I have my U.S. tour all mapped out, with National Parks and resort hotels.  I think that covers everything.

*There is another list of international hotels I want to stay at -- starting with the luxury hotel located on Easter Island.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

My new bucket list.

Since I am close to finishing my art museum list, and inspired by Ken Burns' series on the National Parks, I am creating a new list.  There are fifty-eight national parks (fifty-nine if you count Pinnacles which will be one very shortly), but I don't want to see all of them.

National Parks I have seen:
Crater Lake
Carlsbad Caverns
Grand Canyon
Great Smoky Mountains
Petrified Forest
Rocky Mountain

National Parks I want to see again:
Yosemite: in spring, when the falls are full, and in winter.  I have only seen it in summer and fall.
Carlsbad Caverns
Grand Canyon
Great Smoky Mountains
Petrified Forest

National Parks I have never seen that I want to see (with appropriate emphasis):
American Samoa
Bryce Canyon
Dry Tortugas!
Glacier Bay
Hawaii Volcanoes!!
Mesa Verde
Mount Rainier
Virgin Islands!!!!***

I think the twenty-two parks mentioned in those last two lists should be good for years of traveling.  And that doesn't include any of the hundreds of National Monuments, National Battlefield Parks, National Historical Parks, National Historic Sites, National Memorials...

I want to head out and hit the highway.

Next up, a pipe dream:  the ten hotels in the United States I want to stay in if I win the lottery.

*Legislation passed the Senate upgrading Pinnacles from Monument to Park December 31st. -- it heads to the President, who is expected to sign it.  Apparently, the Senate took time off from dealing with the fiscal cliff to deal with another type of cliff.
**Yes, I know.  I grew up in Florida and I have never visited the Everglades.  My kids have grown up in the San Francisco Bay area and except for the Not-So-Little Drummer boy have never visited Alcatraz.
***I have been to St. Croix.  The National Park is the island of St. John.
I really need to pay attention to things when I make stuff up when cooking:  the totally kick-ass cranberry sauce I made with star anise, crystallized ginger, and chipotle powder has just been pronounced by the Resident Shrink to be the "best cranberry sauce ever."  I made it an hour ago, but I can't remember how much of each of the three ingredients above I used.  (I also substituted orange juice for half the water in the recipe.)

Too much star anise?  Not really a problem.  Too much crystallized ginger, if there can actually be such a thing? Not a problem.  Too much chipotle powder?

Big problem.

Monday, January 07, 2013

The Rocket Scientist in McMurdo, from yesterday:


He's the small speck of white (those are his pants) in front of the blue building.

He wrote yesterday that it was warm (34 Fahrenheit!) and that he had seen an Emperor penguin.

I think he's having fun.
Today, the Rocket Scientist has Antarctic "Survival School."  He's excited.  I'm not.

Before scientists are allowed to go into the interior to do their research, they have to demonstrate that they can handle the conditions.  They are tossed on the ice (with appropriate gear, of course) and left to survive on their own for forty-eight hours.

I know he'll be just fine.  I will too, but hopefully I can get through the next six weeks without developing an ulcer.

I know that he will have a lot of support while he is in Antarctica. Scientific research has been going on a long time there, so that there are a lot of things in place to help scientists.  In fact, it is some ways safer than going to Devon Island, which has only had research going on for fourteen years, and which is a much smaller operation.

Also, there are no polar bears in Antarctica.  He won't have to carry firearms, so there is no chance of him being accidentally shot by someone else.  He's easily a match for a rogue penguin. (Just joking; scientists are prohibited from interacting with or disturbing the penguins.)  He's too smart to develop hypothermia.  And there are no ATVs for him to ride, so there will be no possibility of one of them flipping over on him.

In fact, except for the possibility of his plane going down, all the items on my nightmare list for when he goes to the Arctic don't apply.  As I said -- less dangerous.

So I shouldn't worry, right?  Everything's going to be okay.

But I worry still.  That and the loneliness (mine, selfishly, not his) will make this a rough field season.

Ten days down. Depending upon the conditions and how his work goes, six weeks to go.

Oh boy.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Musically speaking, I tend to be well behind the curve.  I was late to the party that was gangnam style -- I still don't get it -- but I love this parody: NASA-Johnson Style.
The Rocket Scientist just texted a picture of him and other scientists in the plane that will take him from Christchurch, New Zealand to McMurdo Station, Antarctica.  They have been prevented from going for days, and yesterday they got an hour out and had to turn back because of engine trouble.  He left on December 29, and will be back in late February, having spent weeks on the Antarctic ice testing drills and drill automation software.

I love the man enough to respect that he needs to do things like this, that he has a unique job that requires him to be away a lot in far off places, but I swear...

Sometimes I wish he were an accountant.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

But I was good.

My sister and her family gave me a Barnes and Noble gift card for Christmas.* Today I went to redeem it.

I was good: I did not buy very much.  I bought Les Miserables, because I want to reread the book (all 1000 pages of it).  I bought The Disappearing Spoon, and Other True Tales of Madness, Love and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean.  I bought a Simon and Schuster Mega Crossword book (S&S crossword books are great because they have perforated pages which are easy to remove). Along with those, I am rereading Nate Silver's The Signal and the Noise.**

They did not have in stock the other books I wanted -- Wolf Hall by Hillary Manet (they had the sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, but I wanted to read the first book in the series) or The Particle at the End the Universe by Sean M. Carroll. I decided to wait on the Errol Morris book about Jeffrey McDonald until it comes out in paperback.

So I have reading for a little while.  I didn't want to buy too much -- I do want to actually live in my bedroom, after all.  I need to get rid of three books.  (Five actually:  I got two books for Christmas.)

Although I don't have a Kindle, Nook or iPad, I can certainly understand the attraction of ebook readers.  (I use my phone to read when stuck in long lines, but the screen is too small to read for a great length of time).  You still can't take them in the tub -- or to the park, if it looks like rain, dog-ear the pages or write comments in the margins, though.

Books.  Mmmmm.

*In a case of like knowing like, I had gotten her and her husband Barnes and Noble gift cards as well.
**Non-historical nonfiction books I read once pretty quickly.  If the book is interesting (The Signal and the Noise is), intelligent (definitely), well-written (very much so), and if the author does not say anything egregiously stupid (Silver doesn't), I reread it to more thoroughly understand and mentally respond.  I may do this more than once:  I read The Tipping Point three times before I decided that Malcolm Gladwell had too simplistic a vision of the world.  Freakonomics did  not get reread even once: I was all on board with what Steven Levitt was saying, until I hit the chapter on voting (which is in the revised edition).  Levitt epically failed (as my kids would say) the "egregiously stupid" challenge and I decided I didn't trust what he was saying on other issues.

Friday, January 04, 2013

It has been several weeks since the Connecticut shooting, and I taken the time to reflect.  My thinking has evolved from my early knee-jerk reaction (how crazy was this guy?), which I think is a good thing.

On the page of posts I linked to about the tragedy, I included a quote from a friend of mine, Rebecca Wald, "why are Americans so profoundly concerned with proclaiming the right to access guns, and so profoundly unconcerned with the right to access mental health care?"   Then I also linked to When You Tie Shootings to Mental Illness by Kate Donovan.

These are not contradictory.

The conversation around mental illness needs to be taking place all the time.  The discussion about gun control needs to be taking place at the same time.

The two discussions should not be linked, except in the most tenuous way.  To do so taps into the worst stereotypes about the mentally ill, doing them a disservice, while failing to address the underlying problem of gun violence.

In many places in this country in this country,  those with illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder face significant stigma.  (A friend of mine once rather offensively referred to these as "scare the neighbors" diagnoses.)  When society immediately identifies mass shootings as the act stemming solely from mental illness as opposed to other causes, that stigma deepens. People become even more afraid of mentally ill people than they may already be, even though the mentally ill are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.

I have people close to me who suffer from mental illness, including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and schizo-affective disorder.  I know the extent to which stigma has resulted in difficulty in them finding jobs, how they have lost would-be friends and community, how they have needed to keep important parts of themselves secret from others.  When you are mentally ill, to be honest about who you are often requires a great deal of courage.

Because if people think schizophrenics are violent, then how likely are they to let them into their home?  What if a business owner thinks a bipolar person may walk into their widget factory and kill other employees? How much liability would that businessman think they would be facing if they knowingly hired a person with bipolar disorder, regardless of whether that person in fact presents any risk?

In many parts of this country, it is less problematic to come out of the closet as gay than to come out of the metaphorical attic where the mentally ill reside. Bigots may detest LGBT people, but they don't usually fear them.

This is not to say that mentally ill people do not sometimes commit atrocities.  Andrea Yates, whose doctor had practically begged her not to have any more children before her last pregnancy, was very, very sick when she killed her kids.  Seng-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech killer, had been adjudicated mentally ill and ordered to attend treatment. There is a reason that federal gun laws prohibit anyone who has been found mentally ill by a court or who has been involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility from purchasing or possessing a firearm.  Advocates for the mentally ill need to admit that these acts -- and violence on a smaller scale -- sometimes occur and stem from psychiatric causes.  The rest of us should be recognize that not all such tragedies fall into this class.

The tendency to classify all mass killers as mentally ill comes from a need for answers, a need to know why someone could do something so horrible.  If we could only identify these people we could protect ourselves.  We can force them to take medicine,* we can preemptively institutionalize them.  We can absolve ourselves of any responsibility we may have in the tragedy.  We can ignore the extent to which our failure to insist on decent gun control contributed to the death toll. It's not our fault -- they were crazy.

Yet that damns us on the other side of the equation.  If it is only the paranoid schizophrenics or those suffering from bipolar disorder or severe depression that walk into a school campus or workplace and open fire, then our collective willingness to reduce mental health budgets and make access to psychiatric services more difficult -- if the only way to afford the care you need is to be hospitalized, e.g. -- demonstrates a callous disregard for the potential violent death of innocents. And isolating and stigmatizing individuals makes it less likely that when a mentally ill person is in a dangerous state of mind someone will be in a position to intervene.

We need to restrict access to certain types of weapons, and increase access to  services. Each is independent of the other. Maybe if we attack both at once, we can reduce the possibility of large-scale massacres on the one hand, and improve the lives of suffering people on the other.

We have a moral imperative to try.

*This is a large and complicated issue.  Having watched people struggle with significantly  life-altering side effects (such as weight gain, significant cognitive effects, tardive dyskinesia, and others) from drugs which can lose their effectiveness with little warning, I view the "let's just force-medicate everyone with little regard for their wishes or quality of life" with an extremely skeptical eye.

In defense of "adorkability."

In its list of word we will be glad to never see again, the Today Show included "adorkable."  They're dead wrong about this.  "Adorkable" is a great word: it neatly encapsulates a concept I have been trying to describe for years.

You know these guys*:  brilliant, awkward, often shy.  They were the geeks.  Then they grow up, get their Ph.D. (s), some of them -- others just become experts without bothering with that education business. Some of them slim down if they were pudgy, add a few pounds if they were skinny.  They may cut off the hair that obscured their face, or grow out the odd looking buzz cuts to be long and shaggy.  They exchange the round glasses that often made them look like owls confused by the sunlight for contacts, radial keratotamy, or skinny frames with Transitions lenses. They grow into the angles of their face.

In their field of expertise, they can be rock solid confident; outside of that, they can sometimes seem diffident.  They have a wry, self-deprecating sense of humor, and are usually far more adventurous than you might expect. They occasionally can come off as goofy or off-centered.

"Adorkable" is not the same thing as simply "brilliant."  My friend Jane is brilliant.  She is also beautiful, tough, compassionate, funny as hell, and has never suffered fools gladly, even when she was twenty, which is when I met her. Quite frankly, I'm glad she's my friend, because otherwise I would find her really intimidating.**  She's never been adorkable a day in her life.

For my adorkable friends, I used to use the term "geeky cute," but that required explaining. "Adorkable" fits the bill nicely.  I would hate to see it go away.

Because then, of course, I would have to just use the word sexy.

*Both men and women, although tending more toward men than women.
**She's a business litigator who can chew up her opposition into little bits, all the while smiling pleasantly at them.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Les Miserables: A Review.

I have never been a fan of Les Miz on stage.*  It's bombastic, overblown, and repetitive.  I originally had no desire to see the movie when it came out, even though I generally go see every movie musical that arrives on the big screen -- as  much to provide support for the genre as anything else.  I also resented how the writing team had softened and sentimentalized Victor Hugo's original ending, making the plea for forgiveness from Marius and Cosette empty and nonsensical.**

The trailer -- specifically, Anne Hathaway's despairing, broken version of "I Dreamed a Dream," normally one of the biggest offenders in the bombast department -- changed that.  I was intrigued: besides, it had Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, and Russell Crowe as Javert.  (A very big question for me:  could Crowe sing Broadway?  It's not like this was a TOFOG gig.)

The verdict:  I loved it.

As been reported, Tom Hooper had all his singers sing live when filming.  This eliminated that awkward canned feeling that can occur sometimes even in the best movie musicals (even Singin' in the Rain, where the dancing overshadows the singing).  The music closely matched the emotions displayed by the actors, and allowed the actors to be, where necessary, understated -- okay, more understated than the original.  Had this technique (along with casting changes) been used with Rent, it could have been something memorable, instead of the somewhat tame mess it ended up being.  It makes me want to scream.

The acting of the cast was stellar.  The singing of the cast was... mixed.

Jackman, Hathaway, and Samantha Banks, a incomparable Eponine, were terrific, as was Aaron Tviet, who played the doomed leader of the revolutionaries.   All of those are established stage actors and singers, either on Broadway or in the West End.  Then there were the actors without Broadway musical experience.

Eddie Redmayne? Wonderful.  Amanda Seyfried? pretty, but tremulous and a bit weak. Russell Crowe? Hmm.

I felt Crowe's voice was too rough, and that his voice, suited for rock, was too ragged for Broadway.  I thought his singing sounded forced.  The Red-Headed Menace, on the other hand, felt that the gravelly voice fitted the character of Javert.

There was so much else:  the cinematography (it was a visually stunning movie), the set design, the crowd scenes... the child actors, who were so much better than child actors usually are, especially the urchin Gavroche.  And Colm Wilkinson, who was the original Jean Valjean over a quarter of a century ago, played the bishop who redeems Valjean.

I cried numerous times -- and I heard the people around me sniffing as well.  And not only at big denouements, but at little moments as well, such as when Javert surveys the bodies of the revolutionaries laid out reverently and lovingly and ... is visibly moved by one of them. It was a moment which humanized what otherwise is a stern and inflexible character.  (In fact, Crowe's performance as Javert, issues about his singing aside, was lovely and nuanced.  Crowe can put more depth into a stoic glare than many actors can into much more expansive gestures.)

I really hope I can have a chance to see this again.  I have a  hunch I'll like it just as much -- or maybe even more -- the second time.

*Okay, so I have never seen it in a theater -- I have seen it performed on television, and I used to have the entire soundtrack.  I got rid of all but a handful of songs because, as I said, I found them repetitive to the point of annoyance. I do think it is intrinsically possible to determine whether you like a work on the basis of a soundtrack -- for all the musicals where I heard (and usually owned) the soundtrack first (e.g. Rent, The Producers, Company, most recently The Book of Mormon), when I did see the work my opinion matched that I formed from the soundtrack.
**In Hugo's book the pair (well, Marius, really) do have something to feel badly about.  It's not the worst crime of this sort -- that dubious distinction belongs to the Disney version of The Little Mermaid -- but it is bad nonetheless.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Goodbye 2012, and good riddance.

I sit here on the last day of 2012, looking at the past 366 days.  Thank God that's over.

It's been a bad year.  None of my immediate family or closest circle of friends died, and no one ended up in jail, but it was horrible nonetheless.  Even in December, when it looked like the year was going to go out like a lamb, I managed to torque my knee and badly pull a rib-muscle.  (A visit to the doctor is on the books for Wednesday -- I avoided going to a clinic when out of town because I wanted to see my doctors.)

The last indignity occurred on December 29, when I was stopped at an exit ramp off I-75 in Alachua, Florida, on my way to Atlanta and an elderly Canadian driver slammed into the back of the rented gold Chrysler Town and Country so hard you could see the imprint of the license plate holder.

Still, it could have been much, much worse.  We were all wearing seatbelts, and everybody was okay.  Nobody died, nobody went to jail, not even the other driver.

I am looking forward to the next year with bated breath, hoping against hope that things will get better.

It's all I can do.

I hope the next year goes well for all of you, too.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

T-shirt du jour

Worn by the Rocket Scientist this morning:

"1% of the known universe contains over 99% of the known life!  #OCCUPY EARTH #ASTROBIOLOGY"

The best gift I've ever given.

The Red-Headed Menace listed "dihydrogen monoxide" on his wish list for Christmas.

He loved it.

Christmas Day.

I am sitting here on the couch in my mother-in-laws house.  It's been  a couple of years since we have been here.

We have not yet opened presents -- we are waiting for my brother-in-law and my nieces to arrive.  I am making my fluffy scrambled eggs for breakfast, having discovered that what we thought was pancake mix was in fact mashed potatoes.  This waiting is a sign of growing up, or old -- we now no longer get up at the break of dawn so that the kids can quench their curiosity.

This has been a good, if bittersweet, trip.  We visited with a good friend from college, who has stage four cancer.  He was upbeat and strong, as he always has been, with the only dark note sounded as we left.  "See you later," said the Rocket Scientist. "I hope so,"replied our friend.

I keeping thinking of Nadia.  Several years ago it was on Christmas Day that she had the seizure that indicated that the brain cancer had returned. Unbeknownst to all of us at the time, the cancer was more advanced than we thought, and she died in mid-June.

I miss her.  I look at her daughters, and can see her written in their faces, in their personalities.  They are wonderful girls.

I have no idea what I am getting (other than I accidentally caught a glimpse of Nate Silver's new book in the closet, which was on my wish list) and don't particularly care.  Just being around each other matters.  There is a calm that has not always been present in Christmases past, and it surrounds and comforts me.  While I recognize that it is still early, and there is always the chance for disaster, I think this is going to be a  very good day.

Tomorrow we leave to see Mom.  I am looking forward to this immensely -- I worry every time I see her that it will be the last.

That is true of everyone here.  For once, I have a feeling of how important it is to experience and appreciate the moment you are in, because it will never come again, and you never know when you will have all those you love around you.

I wish you and yours a peaceful and happy Christmas.

I have been busy with family obligations so that I have not been posting the last week or so.

But I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of those who celebrate it a very Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Clothing observations

Wearing my pretty wine-colored velvet calf-length dress from Coldwater Creek to a holiday party seems to invite people I've just met into asking if they can stroke my arm.  That's a bit unnerving.

It's also hot to dance in.*

Of course, I might have had the same outcome had I worn the pretty black velvet calf-length dress also from Coldwater Creek.**

I have to get some less ... sensual ... dresses.

*I'm not that good a dancer, sadly.
**These were both gifts from people who know how much I love Coldwater Creek.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Dear Mayan "expert":

An event that happens every 100 years is in astronomical terms (and pretty much in human terms, as well) not "very rare."  In terms of the cosmos, that's less than a blink of an eye.

I think a remedial astronomy course is in order.  And a history course might not hurt, either.


Today’s “I can’t believe I am even having this conversation” moment.*

After Railfan and The Red-Headed Menace attended a “Legend of Zelda” concert (a symphony playing music from the game series) through various backroads the discussion ended up about Link’s (“Legend”’s hero) sexual orientation.

“Link has to be at least bi,” said the RHM.  “In the second game, there were these young women characters standing in front of houses saying “Your life points are down.  I can help you restore them.”  Then the Link and a woman would go into the house and the screen would go black and when Link reappeared his life points would be back.”

“Prostitution in video games,” I gasped, laughing so hard I could barely get the words out.

“They weren’t charging him anything.”

“So they were just easy.”**

“Yeah, pretty much.”

It was at this point Railfan said “I cannot believe we are talking about this.  Can we change the subject please?”  I have to admit that, as much fun as I was having, I understood his point of view.  Discussing the sexual orientation of a collection of pixels on a screen just seems so… wrong.

*God knows I have enough of them in this family.
**Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

Friday, December 14, 2012

I can't write about the Connecticut shooting yet.  I have very strong feelings about gun control (I was part of the Million Mom March a few years ago), and right now my head is simply screaming "Why does this surprise us anymore?" and "Oh, my God, those poor children (and adults.)" I cannot say anything that would be worth reading.

But others can:

David Atkins at Hullabaloo: Politicizing the Tragedy (Again)

Jennifer Margulies: What Will You Say to Your Kids About the School Shooting in Newtown, Connecticut?

From Erik Loomis over at Lawyers, Guns and Money, a not particularly profound piece but one that captures the screaming voices in my head exactly:  Responsibility

Edited to add: and a very important post about the impact incidents like this have on the stigma against the mentally ill: When You Tie Shootings to Mental Illness, by Kate Donovan.

Observations from a couple of my friends:

"Why are Americans so profoundly concerned with proclaiming the right to access guns, and so profoundly unconcerned with the right to access mental health care?" Rebecca Wald.

"To everyone who is saying 'Today isn't the day to discuss gun control,' I ask you this: how many children being shot will make it time?" R. J. Johnson

And then, unfortunately, there is this: Pastor Claims God Could Have Prevented This, But Didn't.  Bryan Fischer, my God finds you to be an asshole.

Finally, I tend to agree (somewhat) with the Onion, "Fuck Everything, Nation Reports."

Thursday, December 13, 2012

R.I.P., Dave Brubeck

Dave Brubeck died last week.  He was one of America's treasures.

I do not believe that music is intrinsically better than sex*, but I have a list of musical pieces that, if I had to choose between them and physical intimacy, celibacy would look awfully tempting:

"Rhapsody in Blue," by George Gershwin.
"Appalachian Spring" and "Rodeo," both by Aaron Copeland.
The bridge between "Polythene Pam" and "She Came In Through the Bathroom Window" in the song cycle on the Beatles' Abbey Road.
And, increasingly, "Sunday," sung by the chorus, and "Move On," sung by Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters, both from Sunday in the Park With George, by Stephen Sondheim.

"Take Five" is on high on that list.**

It seeps into your veins, into your soul.  Cool and sinuous, and yet exciting at the same time. So, so wonderful.

Thank you, Mr. Brubeck, and rest in peace.  I will certainly remember you when it is time to set out for the deserted island.

*It depends entirely upon the music, and the sex.
**Although "Blue Rondo a la Turk" is pretty great, too.
Calling Indiana Jones.... We've got your mail.

If this turns out to be from an applicant, I hope Chicago has the good sense to admit them. You don't see awesomeness like this every day.

Song for the day.

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free 
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be, 
And when we find ourselves in the place just right, 
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain'd, 
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd, 
To turn, turn will be our delight, 
Till by turning, turning we come 'round right.
                                     "Simple Gifts," Traditional Shaker song.*

Okay, so I am still working on this.

*I have sung a version that includes the opening lines "tis a gift to be honest, 'tis a gift to be true, 'tis a gift to do the good that you can do."  I can't remember the rest of the verse, and my Google-fu is utterly failing me this evening.  It may be that someone at church wrote that verse, but that strikes me as unlikely.

Well so much for *that* job...

[I decided that, on the whole, this paragraph was unwise.]

Rats.  And I really liked this job (at least according to its Craiglist description).

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I am excited -- I have a ticket to hear Sonia Sotomayor on January 28th in Redwood City.

I generally find myself agreeing with most of her decisions.  I have great respect for the hard work she had to do to get to where she is now.   But mostly, she gets cool points from me for appearing on Sesame Street.  Twice.

On her first visit, she settled a dispute over broken furniture.

To tell the truth, Sotomayor kind of blew the call on that one.  Aside from the jurisdictional issue, Goldilocks was clearly guilty of criminal trespass on Baby Bear's house. The young lady needs to learn not to simply enter into other people's property without their approval, or she may find herself in trouble once she is old enough to be tried as an adult.*

On her second visit, she explains the word "career" to the young Muppet named Abby.

Lovely.  Sotomayor explains that being a princess is not a career.  She says girls can be a lot of different things, and what her career is.  She really is a role model.

What has Scalia done that's so cool?

*Top YouTube comment: "Bear vs. Locks: A person or party may be afforded the right to trespass within private property, and while in said private property, the trespasser's legal obligation to duty of care is waived under the condition that said trespasser is reasonably able to provide manual labor as full compensation for negligent injuries or property damages in which the trespasser is directly or indirectly at fault."

More realistic problems.

Looking at my last post, I have to face the fact that the self-flagellation I engage in is a luxury.

I don't have to worry about living on a few dollars a day.
I don't have to decide between food and drugs.
I have not had my child just die from measles.  According to the WHO, this happens every fifteen minutes somewhere in the world.
I don't have to worry that I am going to lose my house.
I have healthy sons.
I have my brain.
I am not struggling against cancer.
I have friends who love me.
I don't have rockets raining down on my house.
I don't have to worry about my home being bulldozed as part of a turf war.
I don't have to worry about armed men showing up at my door killing my family.
I don't have to worry about losing my livelihood due to drought.
I have not had my home and neighborhood destroyed by a storm.
Or an earthquake.
I don't have to worry about my kids getting shot on the way to school.

And, in so many ways, my life could be so much more miserable.  So I just need to chill.

I wish my brain would just shut up, sometimes.

[Warning: this post is going to be a whine.  I am blogging this because it's too long for Facebook and I want a reminder of the first part of the post. I am disabling comments because, while reassurance is always lovely, I need to figure out how to fix this problem for myself.]

I've been working on resumes and cover letters.  Yesterday, I gave up on trying to figure out what to say about myself (how does one say nice things about oneself? enquiring minds want to know) and reviewed my LinkedIn recommendations for ideas.

Those were pretty good and included phrases like "Pat is an absolute delight! I would hire her again in a heartbeat," "Patricia distinguished herself, combining stolid (sic) performance with an eye for process improvements and well-timed suggestions for enhancing efficiency of the smallest office duties through large scale project conclusions," "You can count on Patricia for an excellent job well done no matter what is thrown at her, and always done on time and within budget,” "Her intelligent, effective contributions would be a boon to any organization, and I recommend her very highly," and so on.

Part of this is the nature of LinkedIn.  People only get good reviews -- they only ask recommendations from people they know will say nice things, and only disclose those that say how wonderful they are. Still, I think mine are pretty good, and they were obtained from people who would refuse to write a review rather than lie. I did not have to hide a single recommendation.

Edited to add: A friend of mine emailed me to say that she has some ambiguous recommendations to weed out jobs she's pretty sure she'll  hate. One of them says that she would make a perfect second wife.

I used some of them in my cover letter, and in the process got to feeling pretty upbeat.  I'm not half-bad at things. I'm smart.  I work hard. I problem solve.  I am a "team player" who can work with just about anyone.* I write well. With that wind in my sails, I was able to urge the company I was writing to to hire me for a job which is well within my  capabilities; according to the Rocket Scientist, beneath me (then again, he's really biased).

Today, I had to turn my attention to other things. And my brain revolted.

It spent all day reliving moments that I really screwed up.  What I had done that hurt other people. How my own stupidity had hurt me. How I had made choices which, while they seemed like the best option at the time, left me with an uncertain future.  How I had not looked long-term enough when making life decisions. How I had failed to live up to expectations. How I had lost people through my own idiocy.  It's almost as though I am incapable of feeling good about myself for any length of time without outside assistance.

I hate feeling this way.  Maybe I should just reread the recommendations every day.  Of course, while that will reassure me as to my worth as an employee, it doesn't say all that much about me as a human being, other than I play well with others.

Insecurities 'r' us.

*That's pretty much true: at PAL I was known for working with the most difficult members with tact and grace.  Of course, the knowledge that quickly percolated through the cabal of the most crazy members that I was a Stanford-trained attorney (I didn't mention the "haven't practiced in many, many years" bit to them) probably didn't hurt my reputation.  Once they found that out, they were actively nice to me while they could be snarling dogs to everyone else.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Yet one more reason to love Stephen Colbert.

In September, Colbert (who is devoutly Catholic) appeared at Fordham University along with Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.  A question was raised from the audience about how to maintain joy while many Christians spread hatred of others, especially gays. According to the New York Times,

Cardinal Dolan responded with two meandering anecdotes — one about having met this week with Muslim leaders, and another about encountering demonstrators outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral. But Mr. Colbert’s response was quick and unequivocal. “If someone spreads hate,” he said, “then they’re not your religious leader.”


*A question came from a young man who was considering the priesthood whether he should date.  Cardinal Dolan said it would be a good idea, followed by "let me give you the number of my nieces."  Colbert was more to the point: “It’s actually a great pickup line: I’m seriously considering the priesthood. You can change my mind.”

This is so completely true of me.

"I am not a morning person in the same way that the stars are not fruit-bats." Neil Gaiman.

I love you.

Rachel Kay Albers on why she never plays hard to get.

I agree with her completely, and  I do as she does, with one notable exception:  with romantic partners, unless I was very sure that I knew how they felt about me, I did not say "I love you," even though I may have wanted to. I said other things -- "take care of yourself" chief among them -- but not the Three Big Words.

I have had no trouble at all saying "I love you" to friends or family.  They are safe; I generally know that they love me too, and if they reject me it hurts but does not devastate me.  It was only when something more than friendship was on the line that I hesitated.

"I love you" have always been dangerous words.  Scary words.

They made me far too vulnerable: if I said "I love you" then I was setting myself up for finding out that the other person did not love me back.  Worse, I risked being seen as needy and clingy, as causing unnecessary drama.  I possibly caused discomfort or embarrassment to the other person, resulting in them thinking less of me. Worst of all, I could have caused emotional pain to someone else, which I determinedly try to avoid at all costs as a matter of principle. And not just "someone else" -- someone I loved.

Admitting that you love someone can result in a bar to them remaining friends with you.  I have never believed in dating people with whom you would not want to be friends over the long haul, and I would have hated to lose a friendship because of my feelings.

Yet, like Rachel Adams, I think this is a form of dishonesty; more accurately, inauthenticity.  It is allowing fear to rule you.  It disregards the fact that all of us go through this world only once,  that life is uncertain and death can lurk just around the corner.  It ignores that we need other people, as friends, as lovers, as companions on this road.   It closes our eyes to the possibility of joy.

Love is a great thing.  It needs to be confessed and celebrated, not hidden away in a closet, regardless of what others may think.

So, were I ever to find myself faced with this situation again, I hope I would have the courage and maturity to admit loving someone. Who knows how great the result could be?

Monday, December 10, 2012

DIckens Fair.

I spent Sunday before last at the Dickens Fair. It required a great suspension of disbelief on my part.

Like its brother, Ren Fair, Dickens Fair is a venue where adults can go to pretend that they are back in a period of time when life was simpler, more interesting.  It doesn't work for me because a) the anachronisms* (aside from all the people not dressed in garb at all, the fashions range through a wide time period -- like today, women's fashions changed relatively rapidly) and b) I was a history major in college.

A history major with an emphasis on women's history.  With a particular interest in women's history in Britain and the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries. It's been nearly thirty years since I graduated, but I remember enough to know that no sane woman would want to return to Dickensian England.

Life for the upper classes could be comfortable, for the middle class tolerable, for the working poor miserable.  This goes double for women.  A woman's property (and children were seen as property), including her dowry if she had one and her earnings, if she were a working woman, legally belonged solely to her husband.  He could -- and in some recorded cases, did -- return home only to divest her of whatever she had before leaving again. Divorce for any reason -- including cruelty or adultery on a husband's part -- was a disaster for women: it meant ostracization, and loss of children, home, and property.

The double standard was extreme: it was assumed that men would indulge their sexual desires, where women were expected to be pure and chaste.  Women's emotions were seen often as pathological, hysterical.  (One interesting side effect was the cure: inducing orgasms.  The vibrator was invented by a Victorian doctor who was tired of the fatigue of "vulvular stimulation." See the movie Hysteria, which while not exactly accurate did get some basic facts right.)

Rates of infant and maternal mortality were incredibly high.  This was an era before antisepsis.  A hospital was where you were taken as a matter of last resort.

There was child labor. There were debtor's prisons. Dickens was very familiar with both: his father spent time in the latter, and Charles was forced to work ten-hour days at a boot blacking shop.

There was no safety net -- you starved if you did not have enough food.

The zeitgeist of the era -- at least where women, or at least those who were not poor, were concerned -- was conveyed by the contemptible poem "The Angel in the House" by Coventry Patmore.  Women were to be devoted, submissive, meek, living only for home and family and above all pure.  They were not supposed to think.

There was no higher education for women. The first college for women at Cambridge, Girton Hall, was founded in 1869, the year before Dickens died, but women were not granted Bachelor of Arts degrees until 1921. The first college for women at Oxford, Lady Margaret Hall, was established in 1878 -- eight years after Charles Dickens died -- and women were not allowed to receive degrees from the university until 1920. Women were prevented from becoming doctors or lawyers.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson became the first woman to get a medical license in England in 1865, only five years before Dickens died.  No medical school would admit her, so she applied for the School of Apothecaries, where she was successful in obtaining her license to practice.  After she graduated, the school amended its charter to prevent women from enrolling. (She later attended the University of Paris, and received a medical degree from there. The British Medical Register did not accept this qualification.)  It was not until 1922 that Carrie Morrison became the first woman solicitor.

Not to mention the suffrage movement, which was in its infancy.  I could go on and on, but since I suspect I am already addressing people who know some of this anyway, I'll stop.

I'm not sure why all of this bothers me so much.  After all, Dickens Fair really is just "LARPing for adults" as the Red-Headed Menace calls it.  People dress up (and I thought about wearing my corset and a black skirt, even though I would have looked like a spectacularly disreputable dance-hall girl) and pretend.

I blame Hollywood.  The reason this entire endeavor is so attractive to people is because of how the world of Dickens is portrayed on the big and small screens.  The children in Oliver! appear hungry -- if that -- not starving.  The streets in any version of A Christmas Carol that I've seen are clean, not filthy.

That world is neat and tidy, even as it proclaims itself not to be. It is the glamorization of what was a dirty, unpleasant time. The Disneyfication of history.

I love history.  It is incredibly important that we view the past as clearly as we can, as honestly as we can.  To do otherwise risks us minimizing the hard work of the people who have brought us so far: the women who fought for suffrage, the scientists and doctors who fought for proper medical care and cleaner living conditions, the activists who fought to end child labor. It took effort on the part of a great many people,most of whom never made it into the history books, to create the world of today. And while it may be fun to play act as though I am in Dickensian London, it's so much better to look around and recognize the world I live in.

A world without children working ten hours a day or people dying from cholera and where women are (at least in theory) allowed to pursue whatever dream they might have seems good enough to me.

*My favorite anachronism story: when the family visited the reenactment of the Battle of Tewkesbury in 2008, while we were discussing the costumes, the Red-Headed Menace mentioned that he saw some EMTs.  "How are they dressed? In armor?" I asked sarcastically.  "No, in blue uniforms with "PARAMEDIC" written on the back."  My other favorite story from that day: the Not-So-Little Drummer Boy asked "Which side do you think is going to win?"  I explained that this was a reenactment, that the House of York won every year, the same as they had in 1471. "The same side wins every year?  What's the point of replaying it then?"  I had to admit he might have a point.

The Red-Headed Menace just suggested that there needs to be Godspell 2: The Islam Edition.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

I,  along with many people -- most people, perhaps -- view Handel's Messiah as a Christmas piece.  It's not:  it covers the foretelling of Jesus, his birth, death, resurrection and return.  In fact, the "Hallelujah Chorus" occurs in Part II, which deals with his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, not his birth.

Likewise, I have always thought of the musical Godspell as having an Easter theme.  But, given that it is based on the Gospel of Matthew, it too deals with the entirety of Jesus' life. All of which is to say, I just realized that "Prepare Ye" is really a Christmas song.

Time to update my holiday playlist.

I found all of these links amusing... thought others might as well:

Newbie lawyer forecloses on BofA.  (This was originally reported on in 2011, but I missed it at the time.)

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence crash Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio's dinner in Union Square. You go Sisters!

And finally, the best...

Monsters are people, too -- a report on a scientific paper involving monsters, D&D, and whose lead author is fourteen.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012


I call The Rocket Scientist "dear."

I call the kids "hon" (individually -- as a group they are "you guys"), usually with my eyes shut and my hand rubbing the bridge of my nose in exasperation*: "Hon, just because the girl you like can't hang out with you does not mean it is the end of the world.  Trust me, when you get older you will find plenty of women who are attracted to red-headed athletic guys who can intelligently discuss the differences between materialism and idealism, or give refutations for the teleological explanations for the existence of God."**

I call Penwiper "sweetheart." I don't call Pandora anything; she and I have a truce which consists of us mutually ignoring each other's existence.

I do not call anyone darling or sugar -- not that I have any real objections to the terms, but I just don't.

I do NOT call anyone anything cute like honey-bunny*** or cutie-pie or snookums.

Because, as I have been saying for years,  I am NOT cute.****

*Usually with the Red-Headed Menace, because although all of my kids can be exasperating, he occasionally turns it into an art form.
**Not actually a real conversation, although I have had very similar ones with him.
***Although, since Pulp Fiction came out, "honey-bunny" has a sort of dangerous, armed coke-addict vibe to it.
****"I am dark... and mysterious... and pissed off."  Almost Famous.

Well of course, silly. She's a *cat*.

Penwiper strolls through the living room into the dining room, where I am sitting.

Me:  Good morning, sweetheart.
The Rocket Scientist, from the kitchen: I assume you were talking to the cat, not me.
Me: That's right -- how did you know?
RS:  You never call me "sweetheart."
Me: True.
RS: Hey, I know where I fit in the hierarchy around here.*

*I asked him if he wanted me to call him "sweetheart," and he said no, as long as I did not start calling the cat "dear."

[Insert own post here.]

Calming down, I've decided that, while I am still quite angry over the Senate refusing to ratify the UN Disabilities Treaty, calling people names is not productive and is in fact in violation of my values of respecting other people and engaging in civilized political discourse.

So I removed the post.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Today's words of wisdom from the Red-Headed Menace:

"I looked at the Intro to Calculus section at the back of my Trig book.  It was so cool!  Calculus is the Fantasy Football of mathematics!"*

"Santa is really creepy.  He's like one of those serial killers from Criminal Minds, without the dead bodies."

The kid is many things, but boring isn't one of them.

*Please don't ask me to explain what he meant by that. I have no clue whatsoever. Then again, I never took Calculus.

This is for Sarah...

Because I promised my friend Sarah... Josh Groban (aka Neil Gaiman's* younger lookalike) sings Kanye West Tweets.

For a long time, perhaps because of the sort of music he generally sings, I just assumed that Josh Groban would be a really boring person.  Then I saw him in Jimmy Kimmel's "I'm F***ing Ben Affleck" video, and realized that here was a guy with a well-developed sense of humor.  Every interview I've seen with him sense has reinforced that.

Edited to add: And.... then there is this: your favorite Kanye West Tweet hand-stitched and made to order. (Thanks to my friend Cathy for the heads-up.)

*I would like to note that I have just had further evidence that Blogger is by and for geeks:  the text window recognizes Gaiman but not Groban or Kimmel.  Not that I didn't know this already, I just find it amusing.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

My name is Pat, and I am powerless over...

I have just spent time reading over all my "Gratitude Posts." (See sidebar.)  I feel pretty good.

I write acceptably well, but there tends to be a lot of overlap in the lists.  This is not surprising, since I wrote them at disparate times and without referring to previous iterations.  I am grateful for certain things on an ongoing basis, and it strikes me that while most of the repeated items are pretty significant in the world -- my family, art, love, life, the ocean, the color blue -- various stripes of Starbucks Venti flavored mochas are not.

It makes me not want even to think about how much money I have given the Starbucks Corporation.


There are things in this world which I admit are fully beyond my imagination. I was reminded of them yesterday when talking to my friend Sarah about her trip to Uganda and Rwanda this summer.

In The Book of Mormon, the chief villain is a local warlord who terrorizes villagers. I cannot imagine what that must be like, other than I am positive it would be much worse than Matt Stone and Trey Parker portrayed.  There are so many little details about life in dangerous situations and places that I would never even think of. Sarah told me how, in the cities in Rwanda that she visited, the streets did not have street signs. She asked someone about this, and was told that that was to make it harder for soldiers during the genocide to find the person they had set out to kill.

I would never have imagined that.  There are probably many more details about living in a war zone -- or, in the case of Rwanda, genocide -- that I don't know and fall outside my comprehension.

 I have been reminded that, while life here is not perfect (especially as a woman), there are ways in which it could be much worse. The jokes about things being “first world problems” ring true: so much of what I face on a daily basis or which troubles me about life in America pales in comparison to living in terror.

Yet even as I type this, I face the fact that there are those who live in their own type of terror in this country. Maybe they do not face murdering warlords, but they do face homelessness and hunger, and lack of medical care. The social safety net is frayed and badly needs mending. Although I am a relatively empathetic and understanding person, I am completely sure that there are details about homelessness that I cannot imagine.  I know it is increasingly easy to become homeless in this country but what it would be like to experience on a first hand basis, especially for the most desperate homeless people living on the streets staggers me.

 As we head into the beginning of the season of “goodwill to all men,” I need to think hard about ways in which I contribute to change to make people’s lives better. Charitable contributions* and political action come to mind first, but I’m sure there are other ways if I could think of them.

 After all, it is the season of hope, as well.

*Our family contributes through the Combined Federal Campaign (a program for federal workers which deducts charitable contributions from paychecks) to a number of different charities.  Right now, those include Second Harvest Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity, and Heifer International.  Next year, I want to add Kiva and Doctors Without Borders.

If you don't care where you are, you're not lost

Last Tuesday, I went to Grace Cathedral to walk the labyrinth.  Afterwards, I felt calm and centered, and decided to engage in a favorite activity, ignoring Google Maps and just driving around the city. Although I generally really dislike driving in San Francisco if I have to actually get somewhere (what do you mean, you can't turn left anywhere along Market Street?), just wandering is fun.

In some ways, it is impossible to get lost in San Francisco.  You go long enough in any direction and you hit either a freeway or a waterfront.  As long as you know what to do once you hit the water, and as long as you don't end up on I-80 and on the Bay Bridge going to Oakland (I'm quite okay with going over the Golden Gate), you're fine.

I know which way west is from Grace Cathedral, and in any case the sun was low in the horizon.  I took California as far as I could, then cut over onto Geary to Point Lobos Avenue, and made my way to the Great Highway running along the seashore.

The sea was lovely. The sun was low in the sky, obscured by clouds, but with light escaping from behind them.  I have often said that the sea is rarely blue:  the waves were a dull gold, reflecting the muted sunshine in the late-afternoon sky.  At the edge of the ocean, the breakers were white and green.

I rolled down the window and felt the soft, cool, ocean breeze on my face.  The salt air was soothing in my nostrils.

I love the ocean.  I will take any reasonable opportunity to be near to it, even if only for the short while it takes me to drive the Great Highway down to Skyline Boulevard.  I was good:  I did not forsake my obligations at home to drive along the coast for another hour.

As I said, wandering San Francisco is fun.  I hope I can get lost there again soon.