Saturday, December 31, 2011

It has been a year.

This was ... a year.  Not much else to say about it.  Although it had its less-than-stellar moments, the first quarter was mostly filled with excitement and hope; although not everything was horrible, the last was filled with illness and sadness.  (Interestingly enough, that was the opposite of the pattern of 2010.) Averaged out, it was a mediocre year.  I just wish it had not been so streaky, as one says in sports parlance.

I don't think I have the energy or time this evening (I am going out for New Year's in the first time in years -- wearing The Corset) to write up the year that was. I may save that task for tomorrow.  Or not, as the case may be. I am certainly not going to write new resolutions: last year's were really good, and I left so many of them unfulfilled, I am going to recycle them.

Goodbye, 2011.  Hello, 2012.  Here's to you being the best of all possible years. Or at least better (and more consistent) than this one.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Pout

Why is Sondheim: The Birthday Celebration from 2010 not on CD?  I can't watch it in the car or when I am doing something else.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

I am currently reading  Look I Made a Hat, by Stephen Sondheim. It is the second volume of an annotated collection of his lyrics; this volume covers 1985 to the present, and includes not only Broadway shows but pieces written for film, and odds and ends such as the song he wrote for Leonard Bernstein's 75th birthday.

Sondheim allows readers inside his mind during the creative process. Even more so than in the first volume, he is talking to those who are – or want to be – artists. The hat makers. His prose is clear and wryly self-reflective, and a joy to read. It is in many ways all that I aspire to as a writer.

This volume allows me to learn the songs I try to sing along to in the car. As a singer I am quite limited, with problems in phrasing, only a mediocre range, and a tendency to sing flat. What I lack in talent, however, I make up in enthusiasm, and many of the songs I love to sing are Sondheim's. As difficult as I find him to sing alone, I can sing along with them if I know the words. I particularly love his patter songs, but the speed at which they are sung often makes discerning the lyrics difficult, at least for me. (Also, lately I have had trouble distinguishing sounds and words, disturbingly so.) The first volume allowed me to learn the words to “Not Getting Married Today” from Company, and even better, “The God-Why-Don't-You-Love-Me-Oh-You-Do-I'll-See-You-Later Blues” from Follies. This volume allows me to learn all the words to “Putting It Together” from Sunday In The Park With George* and “Into the Woods” from Into the Woods.

I find the thoughts for posts springing from his lyrics. I am trying to find the time to put together and polish a post on the care and feeding of muses, and how much one quatrain from “Finishing the Hat” defines the relationship between the two main characters in the First Act of Sunday. (It will also contain a reference to Prince's “Little Red Corvette.” It makes sense in context, I promise.)

There will hopefully be a post about the artistic drive and the ways in which it can be damaged from very early on. I too want to be able to say “Look I Made a Hat,” but all too often put obstacles in my way. Or how maybe what I do here is my art, as well as my passion.

There will also be a post about “A Moment in the Woods” from Into the Woods about what those moments actually mean.

This post is a bookmark, to be sure, but in its own way it is also a love-letter. Mr. Sondheim, you are quite the hat maker.

 *Sondheim also includes the different versions of "Putting It Together" which he has written for various occasions and differing artistic occupations. It is really a song about the cost of Art, not the price of art. Of course, the entire musical is about that.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Symbolism?

Fulton Street in Palo Alto does things fancy for the holidays: much like Willow Glen in San Jose, every house is decorated, many of them extravagantly. Each house has its own small Christmas tree at curbside bedecked with familiar oval shaped Christmas tree lights. Even the streetlights -- built to look like early twentieth century streetlamps -- are decorated.  It is an impressive and cheering holiday sight.

That said, it is perhaps unfortunate that they choose to color the streetlights red.

Monday, December 26, 2011

YKIOK

On Friday, the Resident Shrink, the Rocket Scientist and I went to see A Dangerous Method, starring Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley and Viggo Mortensen in an account of the relationship between Carl Jung and a young woman who was his patient and became his mistress and protege, and Sigmund Freud.

Eh.  It was a bit long for my taste, and I found my mind wandering.  On the other hand, if you are into spanking, this may be the movie for you. Not a lot of scenes, mind you, but several... and besides, Keira Knightley is gorgeous even when being spanked.

The ghost of Christmas recently passed

It was a good Christmas, more or less.  I spent most of the day in my room with a migraine (courtesy of the woman in front of me at church with the perfume containing bergamot oil) and I tripped and rebroke my little toe (which is now swollen and purple again and sticking out at a strange angle), but everyone else seemed to have a pleasant holiday.

The food was good, if excessive.  We will be eating turkey, dressing and sweet potatoes for the next several days.  We still have some roasted parsnips and carrots left, but sadly the cranberry-goat cheese tarts are all gone.

Perfume aside, church was a moving experience.  The pastor at All-Saints' Episcopal Church in Palo Alto gave one of the most thoughtful -- and thought-provoking -- Christmas Day sermons I have ever heard. As soon as it is posted on the website (the Christmas Eve homily is up, but not that for Christmas Day) I will link to it.  It is well worth reading.

As predicted, we did not open gifts until 12:30, to the annoyance of Railfan but nobody else.  Everybody got things they wanted, with the most well-received being Railfan's X-Box and copy of Halo Reach.  He and the Red-Headed Menace have spent most of yesterday and today trying not to accidentally kill each other (electronically, that is).

I got the second volume of Stephen Sondheim's collected lyrics, and his observations on them (as well as so many other things), Look, I Made A Hat, which was listed on my Amazon wish list as "what I most want for Christmas." Continuing the Sondheim theme, I also received Everything Was Possible: The Birth of the Musical Follies, by Ted Chapin, who was a production assistant (i.e., gofer) for the show. I also got Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark. I am hoping to learn from the last one ways to write more compellingly.

I am still feeling melancholy, with a strange sense of loss and homesickness.  Christmas is the time I most feel out of place in my adopted home.  I don't long for a white Christmas, having never had one, but a warm and green Christmas would be nice. The Christmas song which keeps running through my head is not a religious carol, as in most years, but "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas." (That would be the version sung by Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis, with its strangely bittersweet lyrics: "Someday soon we all will be together, as the fates allow; until then we'll have to muddle through somehow.") Not going East this year, even though I know it was the right decision made for the right reasons, didn't help.

The unmooring of the holiday from its spiritual roots which has been occurring the past several years hit home.  The religious symbols of the season, which as the result of a crisis of faith had come to feel vaguely fraudulent, were also a comforting link to the past, to my past, which seems distant and out of reach. There was no Advent wreath, no Lessons & Carols service. I have become that most mocked of Episcopalian stereotypes, the Christmas and Easter church attendee. The words and visuals of the season, which help make it a season rather than simply a few weeks at the end of the year much like any other except with better food, were missing.

For very complicated family and other reasons, I have had limited contact with many of my friends recently. Yet another person I care about moved away earlier in December, leaving for the Sacramento area. I do not make friends easily or comfortably, and losing those I have hurts. Friends did invite me to go see A Christmas Carol with them, and I had lunch with another, and that was lovely, but underscored how I isolated I have been feeling lately. One of my current goals is to change that:  two friends and I are meeting for lunch later this week (not my suggestion, although I was more than happy to follow up on it). There is a whole world of people out there: I just need to meet some of them, and see the ones I already know more.  As I grow older, I need connection with other people in ways I never did before.

My writing has suffered.  My hope -- to write more than I did in either November or October -- proved beyond my reach.  I am seriously thinking of taking a formal hiatus from blogging so that if I am not writing at least I am not feeling guilty about not writing.  I am kept from doing that by the suspicion that doing so would have a negative impact on my mental health, and the belief that the unseen readers of this blog are in some sense my friends too: I need to feel that there is someone out there, as delusional as that may seem sometimes.  Not so delusional, though: there are a number of people who tell me that they follow this blog through either the RSS feeds or Google Reader.  That carries its own frustrations, sometimes: my friends know a lot more about what is going on in my life than I do about theirs, even those I follow on LiveJournal or Facebook.  Communication needs to run two ways in order to be meaningful.  A particular need of mine lately is to feel that I can be of as great support to my friends as they are to me.

Time to move on. Time to think about the new year, and what I need.  This year, which started in hope and excitement is ending in somber reflection.  This is the way the year ends, this is the way the year ends, this is the way the year ends, not with a bang but with a whimper.  Looking over my Eleven for '11, I achieved so few of them that I am going to simply list them as my resolutions for 2012.

After all, if the world is going to end in twelve months, it would be nice to have something to show for it.


For anyone confused about the religious and social dynamic that caused me to think of killing myself in the incident recounted in this post, read John Shore's "Pastor to Rape Victim: He should have killed you. At least you'd have died a virgin."  My upbringing was Roman Catholic, not fundamentalist Protestant, but at that time the mindset towards women and rape victims was the same.

God help us all, but that young woman most especially.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Tradition

We live in a multi-cultural household.  This year Christmas falls in the middle of Hanukkah.

The Resident Shrink's menorah sits on the entertainment center next to the decorated Christmas tree. Two nights ago, she made latkes for us, as she has for the last several years, in what has become a tradition for us on the second or third night of Hanukkah.  Tomorrow, the Rocket Scientist and I will attend a church service in the morning, having muddled our timing tonight so as to miss the eleven o'clock service that we would otherwise have gone to.  Christmas Eve church has been a tradition for he and I since before we were married. (It was easier back when I was a Roman Catholic, and Christmas services started at midnight.)

There will be turkey, which is traditional, because I chickened out on my intention to suggest having prime rib for once. There will be cornbread stuffing, and yam casserole, and home-made cranberry sauce.  New this year will be roasted red-pepper soup and cranberry-goat cheese tarts.

Traditions change as years go by.  The main change in tradition is that no one feels any need to get up before the crack of, oh, eight o'clock.*  We're all adults now, and have managed to learn to cope with delayed gratification. In fact, given that RS and I are going to church, we  may not even open presents until --gasp! -- close to noon.

It is odd.  Something about this Christmas seems melancholy.  I think it is because Christmas morning really is for small children, and we don't have any around, and won't, at least for (knock on wood) many years yet.

Traditions seem much more important when you are trying to pass them along.


*Except for those years in which we have really big turkeys, in which case the poor sucker on turkey duty has to get up earlier than everybody else. This year we have a  much smaller turkey than usual, so nobody will need to get up at six.

Note to self

Pat, dear:

It is always possible to add more ground chipotle pepper to the stuffing if you want to later.  It is  much harder to recover from accidentally doubling the chipotle in the first place.

The rum added to the eggnog might not have been helping, either.

Peace on earth, good will toward men

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Luke 2:8-14

For those of you who celebrate it, I wish you a joyous and peace-filled Christmas.

Alternative holiday decorations

Tonight the entire household - including a friend that the Not-So-Little Drummer boy brought home from college with him -- did our annual tour of Christmas lights. We were heading down streets in the Willow Glen area of San Jose, looking for the twelve-foot tall reindeer,* when a discussion arose about why almost every house had a light-bedecked tree in their front yard, even in cases where it clearly did not match the rest of the landscaping.  The general consensus was that there must have been some neighborhood rule requiring Christmas decorations.

Well, what about non-Christians? We came up with some alternative suggestions for seasonal (or not) decorations:

A giant blow-up menorah.
An upside down pentacle done in dark blue lights.
"God is Dead" written in small LEDs.
A simple large question mark.

And my favorite:

Written in twinkle-lights, "The Neighborhood Association made me put this up."

*The Willow Glen Reindeer even have their own Facebook page.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Protect the Internet

I'm tired tonight, but this is important.

If you don't know what the Stop Online Piracy Act (in the House of Representatives) is, or the Protect ID Act (in the Senate), read this article from the Stanford Law Review.  I could explain it, and why it is such a horrendous idea, but Mark Lemley, David S. Levine, and  David G. Post do such a great job -- so much better than I could (not surprising as they are professors of law) -- that it seems silly to reinvent the wheel.

[Edited to add: You can read Cory Doctorow's take on it here, here and here; and here is Mythbuster Adam Savage's opinion.  I think the second link -- Cory Doctorow's column on what this will do to everyday Americans -- should be required reading for anyone who accesses the Internet or even owns a computer.]


After you've read it...


Contact your Representative and Senator. Time is short.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

It's break. You're bored. You've had too much eggnog...

You need a diversion.  Check out the "History of English in Ten Minutes."  It will take closer to fifteen to work your way through it, given buffering and everything, but it's well worth the time.

And, more generally, check out openculture.com, for more free learning opportunities.

It sure beats fretting about your Chem grade, which you can't do anything about at this point anyway.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Dear Josh Groban...

I love your Christmas music.  Your voice seems tailored to fit well with traditional religious carols.  However, when you changed the words to "What Child Is This?" you not only lost the theological meaning, you lost much of the human interest, as well.

Singing "Raise, raise, the song on high, his mother sings a lull-a-bye" lacks the emotional depth of "Raise, raise the song on high, the Virgin sings a lull-a-bye." After all, "his mother" could refer to any baby born on December 25th.

If the content of the religious carols as written bothers you enough that you change the lyrics, maybe you should not be singing them in the first place.

Not fair.

I got my flu shot yesterday when I went into the doctor to get the results of my foot x-ray.  They gave me a paper with the list of possible side effects, but the nurse said I was unlikely to get them since I was getting the inactivated vaccine.  Those side effects were:

Low-grade fever. Got that.
Muscles aches. Got that.
Sore throat. Got that.
Tenderness and swelling at the injection site.  I have a hard, hot, red spot about 2.5 inches in diameter on my upper left arm; it hurts to move my arm, like it does after getting a tetanus shot. Boo.
I'm not sure if the headache is related, but it sure feels like it.

I know this is meant to keep me from getting really sick later.  But did I really have to get all the minor side effects, short of a severe allergic reaction or Guillane-Barre?

Hmph.  I'm in just the mood to go online Christmas shopping this evening. I am sure not going outside anywhere.

Establishing a demilitarized zone

My room has been traditionally Penwiper's stalking ground, metaphorically speaking, especially my bed. (She likes to watch television.)  Either cat is allowed in here, though, and Pandora hides in my closet a lot. (It has lots of semi-open boxes for her to crawl into.)  Both cats know how to open the door from the other side if it is not securely latched (headbutting and pulling with front paws in that order).

Just now, I heard the creak of my door while almost napping (Vicodin for my foot and the aftereffects of a flu shot can do that). When I got up, Pandora had come in, pushed the door shut securely behind her, presumably by headbutting it, and sat down in front of the closed door.

No.  I refuse to have a turf war in my room.

Oh, come on. Where's your aesthetic sensibility?

Me: That's a lovely shade of purple.
The Red-Headed Menace: Not on a human foot, Mom.*

*I broke my little toe.  It swelled, and the top of my foot turned this really lovely patchwork of purple, lilac and magenta. I have at least three different shirts that would color coordinate nicely with the bruises.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I know correlation is not causation.  I know that.

However , it seems clear to me that a Vermont fraternity being suspended over a survey question which asked "who would you rape?" stems from the same societal forces that result in, according to the most recent studies, nearly one in five women in America having been subject to sexual assault.

Also, of some relevance to the Plan B issue (and my post on my experiences), nearly half of rape victims reported that they had been under eighteen when they were raped.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Aftermath

Writing the last post was an intensely emotional experience.  Although tempted to do otherwise, I wrote it stone-cold sober, more or less stream-of-consciousness, in the form you read it.  I made a few changes to correct small grammatical errors, but otherwise it is as it came forth from my brain.  Afterwards, I was drained, and sad.

Writing my story was necessary -- it was my way of processing news I found very upsetting.  The post was born of fury at the small-minded worldview of people I would have hoped knew better.  And that is the charitable view: the thought that this was some sort of sop to conservatives, that the well-being of young women was sacrificed for political expediency, reduces me almost to incoherence.

Writing my story was necessary; publishing it was not.  I decided to do so after posting the text to my friends' list on Livejournal and having women thank me for writing it and encouraging me to publish.  I have also had suggested to me that I should submit it to other places. I am considering that.

I am tired and sad.  Yet I have not been struck by the feelings of shame and dirtiness I was afraid might result from revisiting the rape. I have been helped by the memory of a conversation I had earlier this year at a time when I was very triggered and vulnerable.

Remember H.R. 3? That was the bill that would have limited the rape exception for abortion coverage to forcible rape. I wrote a post about it.  That might have been the end of it  for me, except that when I was reviewing the post it struck me:  my rape didn't count.  Even if I had dared to report the it, there was no way that I could show it was forcible.

I fell apart.  Although I did  not have visual or aural flashbacks, I was overwhelmed by feelings I thought I had left far behind.  I felt broken, dirty, useless and unlovable. I took three showers a day, until my skin became cracked and infected from the frequent washing in tankfuls of hot water.

I felt I was losing my mind.  I had thought I had long ago found peace around this.  I had read others' stories, and told my own (albeit in a distanced and incomplete way*: I always left out details about my father and the reason I did not report it).  I had posted my story in my Livejournal as part of Rape Awareness Week.  I was healed, or so I thought.

I realized I could not go on like this, and started calling people.  After two unsuccessful calls ("revisiting my rape, call me" was not a message I wanted to leave on voicemail), I reached my friend the PLD.  He was busy, but arranged for me to call him back in forty-five minutes.  When I did so, he listened to me talk about my brokenness, my shame, my feeling that I was worth less than the dirt under my feet.

He started, "I can imagine..." and then he caught himself. "No, I can't imagine.  I've never been through anything like this, so although I can understand how horrible you must be feeling, I can't know what it's like, and don't want to belittle it by pretending I can." 

His comment was unexpected, and exactly right.  It not only expressed sympathy, it recognized and honored the enormity of my experience and the feelings associated with it. He went on to reassure me that I was, in fact, a wonderful person who had a great deal to offer the world. Although I was still shaking when we hung up, I had started to feel better.  It took a couple of days, but I was able to move on.

That conversation has stayed with me.  It reminds me of my strength.  It reminds me that what happened to me was significant, that my feelings around it are not craziness but a natural reaction to a horrible event. The comments I've received in my LiveJournal and elsewhere from other women who have read my story remind me that I am not alone: telling our stories is the first step towards creating change, so that hopefully one day far in the future incidents like this will be extremely rare. Both of those together have meant that I could write about what happened and not feel worthless or ashamed. I'm not only going to be all right, I'm okay as things stand.  I did not even come close to having the feelings I had last winter.

I don't think I ever told him the effect his words had on me.  And I need to thank those who have responded to what I wrote. So here goes:

To the women who have responded to my story: thank you for your encouragement.  It has made me feel that what I say matters. It reminds me once again that "the personal is the political," and that all policies affect real human beings, and that the first step to change is knowledge.

And to my friend:  I don't know what to say, except... I hope you understand how important that conversation was to me.  Thank you.

*Edited to add: so incomplete, in fact, that the Rocket Scientist told me that he learned things from my post that I had never told him, and we've known each other for over three decades.


Friday, December 09, 2011

What about the girls, Mr. President?

“As the father of two daughters,” Obama said. “I think it is important for us to make sure that we apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine.”

There was this girl.  She was young and naive.  Because of other family dysfunction, she spent a lot of her teenage years raising herself. There was a lot she didn't know about the world, even more so than other teenagers.

She had a friend.  This friend had a car and a boyfriend who lived out by the beach.  The girl had had no chance to learn to drive, but didn't think about the possible consequences of being in a location miles from home with no way out.

It was a warm evening in late July.  The friend, her boyfriend and his friend who lived next door began drinking. Although she actually had never drunk much (just a glass of wine when she turned eighteen, three months before), the girl joined in.

It is at this point that I have to stop.  The third person, which I had thought to use for this story until the end, will not do.  I use it sometimes to protect myself when telling this story to people I don't know, as a way to distance myself from what happened.

This time, I have to tell it as myself, as my own story.  Making it about some theoretical girl protects me, but it also minimizes what I went through.

I and my friend Lorrie went out to the beach to visit her boyfriend, Doug, and his friend who lived next door, named Gary.  All of us were drinking: the booze started with beer, and moved on to rum and tequila. Heady stuff for a young woman who had had no exposure to any alcohol but a glass of red wine on her previous birthday.

Lorrie and Doug moved from kissing to necking to the inevitable decision to have sex.  They kicked me out of Doug's half of the duplex he shared with Gary, leaving me alone with no place to go.  Had I been more street-smart, I would have stayed in the car until morning.  Instead, I accepted Gary's suggestion that I come into his place.

I was drunk.  Very, very drunk.  I had never been drunk before in my life, and was having trouble coping with the room swimming around my head, let alone walking much. I sat on the bed, while Gary bolted the door.

I am not going into all the details. There are details I don't remember because I passed out. There are other details that I could remember if I tried very hard, but the memory of them would break me.  Although every once in a while something happens to leave me feeling shaken and broken, I have not had actual waking flashbacks in a very, very long time and am not going to risk triggering one now.

There are details that I remember that I can relate.  Unless I try very hard, I cannot remember what my rapist's face looked like, because my mind protects itself.  I do remember the house, though, and the pink stucco walls.  I remember begging "please no, please no, God please don't do this I'll do anything you want just please...." and I remember having my arms pinned down. To this day I am likely to react badly if my arms are immobilized.  Once, in the middle of a mutually consensual tickle fight, I kneed a man in the groin -- hard -- because he pinned my arms down.

Afterwards, while Gary sprawled on his bed, having fallen asleep, I went and took a shower.  I ran the shower until all the hot water was gone, got dressed, unbolted the door, and went to the car.  When Lorrie stumbled out early in the morning, I said nothing of what had happened.  We drove home, with her chatting away about Doug, oblivious to my silence.

I said nothing to anyone.  I had to say nothing to anyone.

My father was an ex-Marine who took a very dim view of people hurting himself or his family. He was never abusive towards his wife or any of his kids, but when he felt his safety or ours was threatened he could become violent.  I knew that he had once hooked a man in the neck with a fishhook who was trying to run him off his fishing hole with a motor boat.  When the man approached him at the dock, Dad pulled out a filleting knife. I knew that many years before, when my eldest sister was run over in our driveway by a delivery truck completely by accident, Dad had gone out with a shotgun looking for the driver.  Fortunately, his hunt was unsuccessful.

I knew where he kept the revolver, and the ammunition.  I knew as well what would have happened had I told my dad what had happened -- or if he had heard it from anyone else.  Dad would have blown Gary's brains out.  (I would have been lucky: there are families where the first fatality would not have been the rapist but the girl.) While I would have had no problem with Gary's death, I could never have lived with my dad spending the rest of his life in prison because of me, because of what I thought I had done.

Because in my own mind, it was my fault.  I had grown up a Roman Catholic, and like far too many of us had internalized the vile idea (not from my parents but from the priests) that sexual violence was the fault of evil women tempting men into lust.  Gary was simply acting on his natural instincts.  Although I was never sure of what exactly I had done to tempt him, other than being drunk and female,  I was sure it was something.  I was a sinful woman who had essentially only gotten what she deserved.

I was terrified that I might be pregnant.  I spent three weeks praying to the God I was sure hated me that if nothing else I not be pregnant.  Being pregnant would mean that my horrible secret would be exposed.  I was prepared for pregnancy, though: as I said, I knew where my dad kept his gun.

When I hear someone -- in this case, the President -- say that Plan B or other emergency contraception should be kept behind pharmacy windows, available only to those over seventeen, I shudder.   I think about my rapist, and my dad, and the gun that would have ended my life had I been pregnant.  Yes, I would have been old enough to purchase Plan B had it been available, but what of sixteen-year olds? Sixteen is old enough to be a junior in high school.  Old enough for a girl to drive, but according to the administration (in complete disregard of the FDA's position on this), not old enough to take steps to protect her health.

No one should have to go through what I went through.  Rape is horrific enough, but to disallow medicines to young girls that would lessen the damage is almost unthinkable to me.  Not every rape is reported -- sometimes for very good reasons.  And in those cases, withholding drugs that help to ensure that a young woman will not have to carry the additional burden of a pregnancy by her rapist is obscene.

People think about what parents want. Sometimes even the victims think primarily about the good of their families rather than their own well-being.

Someone needs to think about the girls.
I am pretty sure that I am preaching to the choir.  At least, I hope that I am.

Another teenager, this time in Tennessee, killed himself in response to being bullied. It sounds terrible, but I am not particularly surprised.

This Daily Kos post contains two powerful videos.  The first, by a boy named Jonah Mowry, talks about the terrible pain of being bullied.  The second, equally moving, is from a bully who harassed Jonah, apologizing and explaining the origins of his bullying.

I know grown adults who as children literally lived in fear of their lives from bullies.  I know people whose lives were destroyed, who were forced to reconstruct their sense of self slowly, bit by bit, and who bear scars -- physical and psychological -- that will never go away.  People who were driven to the brink of suicide. People who today as grown adults struggle to cope with PTSD as a result of this trauma.

There is another, larger price to bullying.  Schoolyard bullies can turn into adults who commit violence.  Gay-bashers do not spring full-fledged into adulthood:  they are nurtured from a young age to hate and to use that hate to justify hurting others. Every man holding a "God Hates Fags" sign, who thinks that some African countries have the right idea when they jail or execute homosexuals, was once a boy who might have felt justified in torment he heaped upon others.

Violence begets violence.  Exclusion and hatred beget more exclusion and hatred.

As the Red-Headed Menace observed, sometimes the whole world is too much like middle-school.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Politics

I really should end this hiatus from political blogging.  There are just too many important things out there that beg to be commented on.

There is the Defense Authorization Bill.  A thorough post on that will come along at some point, hopefully, but let me just observe that it passed 93-7.*  That means that a whole lot of Democrats had no problem with it, which is appalling, or were relying on President Obama to veto it,** which is cowardly, or were sure the Supreme Court will declare the objectionable parts unconstitutional, which is foolhardy and callous.  Foolhardy, because you can never predict how any given Court will rule on anything.  See Ledbetter v. Goodyear, or Kelo v. New Hampshire, or, much more to the point, Korematsu v. United States.  Callous, because if there is an as-applied challenge to the law, it means someone will have had to go through a lot of anguish.  Even when (not if) there is a challenge to the law on its face, it will cost money to pursue this through the courts, money which could be much better spent elsewhere. And yes, I know there is some language in part of the bill (I actually have read it) which states that American citizens are not included -- except that is not what a lot of the Senators who voted for it claim. I find that very instructive. If nothing else, it means there is ambiguity***, which should always be construed to result in the worst case scenario, because it usually will.

There is the Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny -- or REINS -- Act, passed by the House, which would trash the regulating power of the Administration. A quick reading of the bill shows to it be even worse than reported by the Huffington Post, which is not often the case. A more detailed post on the Act requires a very thorough reading of the bill, so that I can talk about just how bad it is. (Or not, as the case may be. Sometimes things are not as bad as they would seem at first blush.)

There is the decision by the administration that Plan B and other emergency contraceptives should not be sold on store shelves but by pharmacists, and available to women under 17 only by prescription.  Obama claimed he was thinking of parents with that last one, but he should have been thinking of teenage girls.  Teenage girls sometime face not just restriction of their reproductive rights, but actual violence if they are discovered to be having sex.  Not to mention that there are teenage victims of rape or incest who for whatever reason cannot tell their parents or the authorities.

There is Rick Perry's assertions about how Christians are persecuted, but that really is old hat. Fundamentalists have been claiming this for years.

There is the Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination (PRENDA) in the House, but I don't think my blood pressure is up to that one right now.  It was a little high last time I went to the doctor, and discussing this bill is sure to send it through the roof.

There are various insane statements by Newt Gingrich, but I think I'll ignore him for now. 

 See? Too many important things happening in the country. You would think that people would ease up in December.****

*Good for Republicans Thomas Coburn, Oklahoma; Mike Lee, Utah; Rand Paul, Kentucky; Democrats Thomas Harkin, Iowa; Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, both of Oregon; and the wonderful Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

** Obama has says he will veto it, but for other reasons.

***Reading it over, I was struck by the inconsistency of several provisions.  So yes, I do think it is ambiguous.

****I know.  Everyone wants to get things passed before they go home for the holidays, and the "Christians are persecuted" meme resurrects itself every December.*****

*****Pun not really intended -- but I like it anyway. I think Jesus would have liked puns.

Question of the day.

Do Tim-Tams from Australia actually taste better than the ones made in the U.S. by Pepperidge Farm?*

Discuss amongst yourselves.

*We're talking regular Tim-Tams, which are great, but not Mint Tim-Tams which are the world's best mass-produced cookie** (filling the void left by the late, lamented Mystic Mints***) but which I have yet to see anywhere.


**Girl Scout cookies do not count: they are only available seasonally. 

***Fudge-covered Mint Oreos are not the same.  Sorry.



Wednesday, December 07, 2011

That's a good question.

The Red-Headed Menace, upon listening to Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor": "What inspired that? What sort of a bad day had he had?"

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Tuna Jerky: Yuck. Tuna Jerky Souffle: Yum.

Elizabeth Falkner is a very nice woman who makes really kick-ass souffles.

I have just returned from spending the evening at Orson, her restaurant (which right now is only being used as an event space), where she was hosting a viewing of Episode 6 of The Next Iron Chef.  Given that she won the Chairman's Challenge with (*gulp*) tuna jerky souffle, the food served this evening was, natch, souffles.

She started by passing around pieces of the actual tuna jerky.  It was unpleasant, although not nearly as bad as I thought it would be.  She then served the souffle she made on the show.  Oh, my God.  Silky, smooth, just fishy enough, salty -- as the judges said, she used the tuna jerky almost like one might use bacon.  So good.

She later served kale souffle, ham and cheese souffle, and best of all, a tangerine-vanilla souffle with chocolate sauce. Wonderful.  There were also special house drinks available (three free drinks came with the tickets to the event).

She answered questions about the show -- and it was fun just to watch the show with a group of cheering partisans.  At the end, there was a raffle -- a bottle of Reisling, a bottle of port, a case of Whoppers malted milkballs,* and, best of all, a pair of tickets to the next event.  Guess which one the Rocket Scientist won.

I so hope she wins this show.





*Apparently, after she won the Chairman's Challenge in Episode 3 with food featuring malted milk balls, Hershey's sent her an entire pallet of the things.  I guess the people at Hershey's were not paying attention during the point in the show when she said she didn't  like malted milk balls.  [Edited to add: I rewatched the episode (which I should have done before I referenced it) and no, she didn't say she did not like malted milk balls -- she said she didn't cook with candy.  It was Michael Symon who said he did not like malted milk balls -- and who then said he could eat an entire tub of Chef Falkner's barley and malted milk ball ice cream.]

My current fave show

I have come to love Food Network's The Next Iron Chef.  The first season it struck me as gimmicky, and I was severely disappointed that my favorite chef, John Besch, didn't win.  (In fact, the second season my favorite chef, Amanda Freitag, didn't win either.) Over time, and especially as the new Iron Chefs have proven successful, my attitude has changed.  I realized that my original argument ("Who are these guys?") was as valid of most of the original Iron Chefs (except Morimoto, whom I recognized from the original Iron Chef program) as it was the NIC contestants, given that I don't live in New York where most of them have restaurants.  Nor did I watch their other shows on Food Network.*

This season is especially fun.  Most of the chefs have appeared on other Food Network shows** and therefore bring with them their reputations and relationships with each other.  This clearly affects the mood in the kitchen.

So, herewith, my opinions of the chefs through episode 6:

[Do I really need a spoiler warning at this point?  Sigh.  WARNING: SPOILERS]

Chef Most Deserving Of Being The Next Iron Chef:  Elizabeth Falkner.  Three words: tuna jerky souffle. No, wait, nine words: tuna jerky souffle with tuna jerky cream dashi sauce.  As Alton Brown commented, the words are enough to fill one with dread.  That she actually won that challenge given such a horrid ingredient was remarkable. (Forget that she only had twenty-five minutes: that she was able to make anything remotely palatable from tuna jerky is impressive.) Anne Burrell's complaint that Falkner is a pastry chef and doesn't cook "real food" ignores both Falkner's work in the competition as as a whole and that of the other judges.  It is as valid for Falkner to rely on her ice cream/souffle skills as it is for Burrell to return to her Italian cuisine roots, or for Zakarian to concentrate on French style preparations.  Falkner's "country" simply happens to be desserts rather than an actual place. She also seems unflappable, which I deeply respect.

Chef I'd Most Like To Have As A Dinner Companion at a Fancy Restaurant: Geoffrey Zakarian.  Urbane and intelligent, he'd be a wonderful addition to any sophisticated party.  Although, actually, my ideal dinner companion would be the delightfully snarky Alton Brown. (I loved his comment to Michael Chiarrello, when the chef said that he could cook live Maine lobster in sixty minutes ("so could any first year culinary student").)

Handsomest Chef: Marcus Samuelsson. Hands down. If it weren't the expressive eyes, it would be the cheekbones to kill for.

Chef I'd Least Like to Work For: Alex Guarnaschelli. Don't get me wrong, I like Guarnaschelli -- on other shows (or even in NIC when she's commenting, not cooking).  She's funny and insightful, and was the chef I was rooting for at the beginning of the competition.  But man, is she a holy terror in the kitchen.  She also tends to panic, a bad thing in an Iron Chef.

Chef I'd Most Like To Teach Me To Cook: Anne Burrell.  She seems very personable, and my hunch is that she would have the right mix of encouragement and pushing.  Also, I love the hair.

Chef I'd Most Like To Be Related To, And Have Over Every Thanksgiving: Beau MacMillan.  As Simon Majumdar observed as MacMillan was eliminated, he seems like a genuinely nice guy.

Favorite judge: Majumdar.  Maybe it's the accent.

Least favorite judge: Judy Joo.  She gushes, which I find annoying in the extreme.

Judge Or Contestant I'd Most Like To Simply Hang With: Michael Symon.  As with Beau Macmillan, he seems like a nice guy.  Also, he giggles, which I find cute.  Not to mention the shaved head.

All in all, a fun show.  I can hardly wait for the last two episodes. 

* Actually, the very first season of Iron Chef America, Wolfgang Puck was an Iron Chef.  Him I had heard of.  

**The message board hostility towards Elizabeth Falkner has often centered around the fact that she is not a"Food Network Chef but  Bravo chef," as one commenter put it, along with the fact that she was eliminated relatively early from Top Chef Masters.  This is ridiculous: the fact that she is not affiliated with FN does not diminish her skills, and as far as the other competition goes, any chef can have a bad competition. The speculation that the competition is rigged to result in the Next Iron Chef being a woman does not even deserve comment.

Monday, December 05, 2011

How to tell if a piece of legislation may be important...

No the only way, of course, but...

When your college-junior son texts you to ask if you are as "genuinely terrified" (his words, not mine) about the defense authorization bill as he is, the bill in question really is significant.

My response: "Yes. I have read the bill."*

[Edited to add: just as I was publishing this post the Red-Headed Menace asked, completely out of the blue, "Hey, mom? Have you heard about the new defense authorization bill?" And no, I had not been talking about what I was writing.  When legislation filters down to enter the awareness of high-school sophomores, it's a really big deal.]

*I am working on a post about it, really truly I am.  The post is turning out to be more complicated than I thought, if for no other reason I find myself more interested in what this bill says about the politicians who voted for and against it (and its various amendments) than I am in the content of the bill itself. 

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Orcs and Ents and Elves, oh my!

The Red-Headed Menace, Railfan and I were watching The Two Towers earlier, which led to some comments:

"Do you guys have a LARP* today?" "No, we're fulfilling our LARP duties by watching this movie."

"The Orcs had a legitimate grievance.  How would you like to be treated like they were?"

"How come Legolas's hair always looks great when everyone else's looks terrible?" "Magic."

"You know, Frodo and Sam would have a much easier time if they had only had a GPS."

[Edited to add: at dinner, RHM asked, "If he was Samwise the Brave, does this mean that they will have a beer at the Green Dragon called Samwieser?"]

And so on.

This however, is nothing compared to John Scalzi's LiveTweeting of the entire trilogy.  Note: put down all beverages, especially hot or acidic ones, and do not read anywhere where laughing out loud is likely to disturb others.  My favorite comment: "You'd think they could password protect a palantir."

*Live Action Role Play.  Basically, think of a bunch of kids, and by that I mean 14- to 35-year olds, running around the woods acting out fantasy fanfic.

You can't always get what you want.

It's Sunday afternoon.  I am sitting in my favorite Starbucks so that I do not inflict violence on any one member -- or any multiple members for that matter -- of my household.

There is a party going on that I could be at -- I feel I should be at -- except I did not sign up because I was not sure I would feel better enough today to go.  It's been going on for a while now, and I suppose I could go anyway, but ... eh.  I'm really bad company right now and I would not want to inflict myself on a bunch of what are surely to be almost all strangers.*

I like Christmas music, but the selection this place is playing is boring me to tears.  Come on, people -- better, better!

I did not make an Advent wreath again this year.  Last year was the first time in ten years I had not.  The reasons I did not made sense at the time I made the decision, but I find I am grieving the loss of tradition. Although there are likewise very good reasons for not going east this Christmas, it means I will  not get to see my Mom, who is 84 years old, or my older siblings, whom I love in spite of the fact that we have almost nothing in common -- especially not politics or religion.  They are nice people.

I want magicI want miracles.

There is a lot to be said for making your own magic, your own miracles. 

But I am not doing that.  I am sitting in a Starbucks listening to Dean Martin trying to seduce a woman whose voice I do not recognize by singing "Baby, It's Cold Outside" and Nat King Cole extolling the virtues of chestnuts roasting on an open fire and watching various college students tensely reading thick textbooks, highlighters in hand.

Oh, it could be worse: I could be one of those college students.  I'm not sure that would be worse, actually -- I loved college and law school. I am a natural student.  It's something I am pretty competent at.

Okay, lady.  It's time to move on from this mood.  It's time to concentrate on the good that has happened and that will happen:

I am slowly feeling better, and getting out of the house  a lot more.

The Red-Headed Menace's most recent paper was well-organized and he needed a minimum amount of help on it today (mainly typos -- the kid's capitalization has gotten better, but is still not there yet), unlike other recent papers.

The California Academy of the Sciences was enjoyable yesterday, especially the Caribbean reef exhibit in the aquarium.  I love the brightly colored fish, and it reminded me of time spent in St. Croix and Hawaii.  I was struck again by the graceful beauty of the rays, perhaps my favorites fish of all.

Friday, The Muppets was wonderful, made all the better by seeing it with not only the Rocket Scientist but my friend Sarah.

Best of all, on Tuesday night a friend I had not seen in many months joined me for trivia, and we won, but much more importantly, we talked.

I have a lot of tasks to keep me busy next week. This is a good thing when I am feeling restless. And Tuesday, the Rocket Scientist, the Resident Shrink and myself are going into the city to Orson, Elizabeth Falkner's restaurant, for "The Next Iron Chef: Super Chefs Popup," in which she plays this week's episode and provides commentary.  Given how much I am enjoying the show, this promises to be a lot of fun.

The Not-So-Little Drummer Boy will be home in ten days for the holidays.  I love the boy, and as he has reached adulthood and the day approaches when he will be gone for good, I treasure our time together.

As much as I want them, maybe I don't need magic or miracles.  Maybe all I need is peace.

That's possible.

*I probably should not be inflicting myself on you either, but you guys have heard me whine before.  I trust that you will skip over this post.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Um, sorry. Aka: everything's okay. Really.

I am noticing that I got something on the order of 40 hits for my post titled "Phew" in three hours. Assuming these are not all ad-spam, I am wondering if people were concerned that something bad had happened, rather than me simply panicking over my parking situation.  If that's the case, sorry for worrying you.

I really do need to think about how I title these posts.

Christmas fun

Hurrah! Time for Christmas jollity!

First are my two favorite secular Christmas songs: "Elf's Lament" by the Barenaked Ladies, and "Fifty Kilowatt Tree" by the Bobs.  For something a little more thought provoking, there is "The Christians and the Pagans" by Dar Williams.  And who can miss "Merry Christmas From the Family" by Robert Earle Keene?  (Though the Jill Sobule version is pretty cool, too.)

And one of the many music synced light shows. I like this one because it does not contain "Wizards in Winter."* And someone who may have neither the skill nor the patience to compete with the neighbors when it comes to light displays.**

And my all-time favorite Christmas blog post, "The Year Kenny Loggins Ruined Christmas," from Hyperbole and a Half.  Forget laughing until I cried, I laughed until I choked.

Enjoy!

*Although it still sounds like the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.  It certainly is not Metallica, more's the pity.
**Or maybe they just don't want to foot the insane electrical bill people with massive displays must run.

Phew.

I never use Google Map street view.  Never.  Quite frankly, it creeps me out a bit.  Today, however, it came in very handy.

Remember how I said I was panicking about having missed a reason that a parking space was open?  I was worried about having not seen a red curb or a fire hydrant.

Never fear, Google Street view is here! After fumbling around a bit, I managed to find the spot I was parking on the street view.  It showed a car parked right where I had parked.  Unless there is a temporary "No Parking" sign, and I do not think there is,  I should be fine.

Whew.

The smell of learning

I am at the California Academy of Sciences today, having driven the Red-Headed Menace and a classmate into the City for a leadership training conference by the Alliance for Climate Education. I have a lovely seat on the balcony outside the education center, looking out the glass wall on the front of the building to the Music Concourse and the de Young Museum across the way.  I have wireless.  I have a bottle of water, somewhere, and in any case, I believe there is a cafe somewhere in the building.  All I have to do is chill for the next four and a half hours.  Not a bad thing. I even found street parking so that I do not have to pay $28 for the underground garage.*

It is a beautiful day outside, but brisk.  The sky is lovely.  I have the best of both worlds: I can see the lovely sunshine, and not freeze while doing it.  And the best part is how the air smells in here.

The California Academy of Sciences is home to the Steinhart Aquarium.  Where I am in the building smells like the ocean: clean, salty, comforting.

All in all, there are much worse places I could be.

*Of course, right this very instant I am panicking -- I got the space right as someone pulled out.  I did not see a red curb, but what if there was a fire hydrant I missed? If it were not a significant walk (at least in my current state of health, and lugging my computer, etc.)  I would go out and check.  The last thing I need today is a tow.

Friday, December 02, 2011

That kid is *strange*, er, creative.

The Red-Headed Menace's idea for a movie he wants to see made:

A live-action Pokemon movie....
Starring Samuel L. Jackson as the old man in Veridian City....

Directed by... [deep breath...]

Quentin Tarentino.

Mahna Mahna

In spite of being tired, after resting for much of the day, I went to see The Muppets with the Rocket Scientist.  I am not going to give a full review, but I do just want to say...

I will never hear "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in quite the same way ever again.

"The river is deep and the river is wide...." Not really, actually.

PPL Montana, LLC v. Montana is it.  My favorite case pending before the Supreme Court this term.  It has nothing to do with the AEDPA or zombie copyrights or the Stolen Valor Act.  It is about...

Navigable waters. Oh, boy.*

Without going into detail (because I'm really, really wiped and not thinking clearly and because the good folks at SCOTUSBlog do such a much better job of that than I do), the issue is what tests do you use to determine whether the waters of a river were navigable at time of statehood?  In this case, 1889. (It should be noted that, in the words of the Montana Supreme Court, “the concept of navigability ...  is very liberally construed by the United States Supreme Court.” No joke.) This matters because the state owns title in the riverbeds of bodies of water that were navigable at the time of statehood.

Part of the evidence that has been introduced are the journals kept by Lewis and Clark.  This case is a Western history buff's wet dream.

For me, the most interesting aspect to this case is its origins.  The case before the Supreme Court is an action on the part of Montana to recoup back rent for the sections of the Missouri, Clark's Fork, and Madison riverbeds under several dams.  The oldest dam had been built in 1891, only two years after Montana achieved statehood.  All of the other dams likewise were decades old, and all had been bought by PPL in 1999-2000.  At no point between the time the dams were built and 2003 did the state attempt to collect compensation for use of these lands.

Actually, the state of Montana did not initiate this action, either -- parents representing Montana schoolchildren did. In Montana, some state-owned public lands are administered by the State Land Board for the benefit for the public schools.  The parents in this case argued that the land under the dams were part of the school trust lands, and that the power company was required to compensate the state.  

It was at this point that the state decided to join the suit, even though it had never sought payment for the use of the property before.** A couple of successful motions for summary judgment later, and violĂ !, here they are at the Supreme Court getting ready to argue over whether sandbars and portages made the rivers in question unnavigable in 1889.

I hope that every high school civics class in the state is following this case closely.  It's a rare chance to see the Court deciding on something that you can so clearly identify as being in your own interest -- in this case, whether the schools in Montana get the extra millions of dollars in their budget that a victory on the part of the state would provide.  And just think how much fun this would be to study in American History.  Talk about teachable moments.  It just goes to show how history really is just like a .... um, yeah.

I cannot wait for December 7th and the oral argument on this.

*No, I am not being sarcastic. I really do find navigable waters questions interesting.  Besides, as the Rocket Scientist pointed out when I told him about this, no one is going to die if the Court does something stupid, unlike in many of the cases I am passionate about.
**I am, of course, glossing over a ton of procedural and other case history here.  The history of the project and the case is more complex than I make it appear, and there are a whole set of affirmative defenses (estoppel, laches, preemption by federal law) that the Montana courts kicked out. Also, prior cases about the state school trust lands had held that the state had a fiduciary duty in administering those lands for the schools, and so the state joining the suit made sense.

Status report.

Still exhausted.  I think unless I am significantly better by Monday, another visit to the doctor is in order. 

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Whine whine whine whine whine.

I have had a busy day, running errands, going to my Thursday class, some housecleaning.

I have about ten different tabs up on my Firefox windows that need to be written up.  The most important, of course, is about the Senate version of the defense authorization bill.  I need to write it up soon, because once the President vetoes it as he has threatened to, it will be moot. Well, maybe not: the very fact that the Senate passed this turkey -- and voted down the Udall Amendment that would have fixed the worst parts -- says a lot about the state of the country. [Edited to add: wow, I'm far more intellectually-challenged than I thought.  Of course I know about the reconciliation process, and that this may get changed before it ever reaches the Oval Office...]

There is also a tab about Siri, Apple's automated personal assistant, and issues it has concerning women's reproductive rights.  This post would also more generally talk about the wisdom of having an automated response system with attitude.  When a machine replies to "I need the morning after pill" with "Is that so?," hipness and snark slide over into offensiveness.

There are, finally, various holiday themed tabs.  I will probably just compile those into a single post.

Even beyond that, there are other posts I keep thinking about.

I need to write.  I need to write.  I need to write.

But I am so damned tired.  Before, when I first got sick,* I did not have the energy to write, but I also did not have the energy to care.  Then I spent a lot of time resting, and doing some writing that was not too taxing. Yesterday, I had the energy to write, but then I had not really done all that much.

Now I care.  I just have no brain capacity.

Meh.

*Turns out everybody else in the family probably did have the bug from hell I had a few weeks back that turned into bronchitis.  It is, according to the Rocket Scientist's doctor, a "para-flu" -- he has it currently.  It hits people who had their flu shot very mildly.  The Red-Headed Menace (who gets sick if you look at him wrong, and who stays sicker longer than anyone else) had it and was out for three days.  I had it, was in bed for at least four, and then it turned into bronchitis.  I first got sick on November 8, and I am still not completely over it.  Guess who is the only person who has not had her flu shot in this household? Want to make any bets about whether I'll remember to next year?


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"I have calmed and quieted my soul."

Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul,
         Like a weaned child with his mother;

         Like a weaned child is my soul within me. 
                                                   Psalm 131:2.



It has taken awhile.

Usually, in the fall, I am filled with a sense of calm and well-being. The lengthening days and increasing dark soothe me.

For a variety of seasons that simply did not happen this year.

Today is a gentle day. I am experiencing a sense of calm and content that has eluded me for a while. The sky is the clear cornflower blue that I love so dearly. The afternoon sunlight “pours in like butterscotch,”* and drenches everything in a golden glow. The light is almost visible.

The holidays are coming. I can listen to holiday music now without my family complaining (too much). I am not going anywhere this December, so I can look towards a hopefully not-too-stressful Christmas. The traditions of our family, which whatever the condition of my faith mean a great deal to me, are on the horizon: The Not-So-Little Drummer Boy will be home in a couple of weeks, there will be the annual tree hunt and decorating, and the latke dinner cooked by the Resident Shrink on the second night of Hanukkah. And this year, I may return to Midnight Mass, the comforting ritual of a Catholic upbringing. There are always the carols we sing on Christmas Eve evening, a holdover from The Rocket Scientist's family.

There will be the lights, and the annual trip around various neighborhoods to see the displays. The highlight for the past few years has been the ten-foot tall reindeer in Willow Glen. The lights bring me great joy.

This is not to say there is not a lot in my life right now that is cause for concern or sadness. I am still without a job, with all the economic and personal uncertainty that brings, and a close friend just lost hers. Various members of my family are going through times of great stress, even pain. I am there for them as much as I can be. I am still recovering from being sick, given to bouts of great fatigue. (I recognize that this may contribute to my sense of calm: I really do not have the energy to be stressed about anything.)

But my life is what it is.

And at just this very moment, that's okay.

*From “Chelsea Morning,” by Joni Mitchell.

Still not king...

...and still pretty wiped out.  I had two different meetings today, and now want to nap.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Important reminder

 It is vitally important not to try to watch the Colbert Report while drinking milk.  Oww.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Good food.

So, I'm still weak, fatigued and coughing.  I did go to Starbucks for a couple of hours today with the kids.  We had a far ranging, interesting discussion, as is our wont. 

Then I came home and slept, and talked to friends. I did not do either of the things I had half-planned to do: beading, or writing a post about the movie Gone With The Wind. (Short version: dangerous movie because of stereotypes, great performances from several of the principals, which in some ways makes it even more dangerous.) I did watch Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade -- because even at whatever age he was when he made the film, Sean Connery is easily as sexy as Harrison Ford. 

But the best part of the day, so far? The Not-So-Little Drummer Boy made dinner.  Dinner was steamed kale, with garlic, almonds and lemon, and sandwiches.  The sandwiches were perfectly cooked sliced steak, sharp cheddar cheese, grilled onions and cilantro, or pesto, fresh mozzarella, and tomato, both on sourdough.  They rocked.

He's a good kid, and a good cook.

Friday, November 25, 2011

QOTD, for several members of my family

... and you know who you are.

"[Geocachers] use multimillion dollar military equipment to find Tupperware hidden in the woods."*
Ken Jennings, during a talk abut his new book Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks.


*Just to be clear, he thinks geocaching is a great thing.

New Christmas music

Each year, I add a few songs to my collection of Christmas music.  Last year it was Josh Groban.  This year it is...

Straight No Chaser, "The Twelve Days of Christmas (Live)," and...

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," by... Twisted Sister.

Simplicity: is that so hard?

"Silent Night" is a simple song.  That's what makes it so very moving: simple does not mean empty or shallow.  It is like "What Child Is This?," beautfiul and simple but not plain.

That simplicity may be why so many singers choose to add all sort of flourishes when they record it.  I am going through iTunes looking with little success for a version that is simply sung, in the spirit of a song written for voice and guitar (because the organ was broken), not for trumpets and strings.

It is a song of quiet wonder, not glory and majesty. 

That should be saved for the "Hallelujah Chorus, " or at least "Angels We Have Heard on High."

Day.... whatever.

I am really trying to post every day, whether or not I think I have anything to say.  Writing something is the beginning to writing something worth reading, and this is the forum I am most comfortable writing in.  What this means for you is that there may be a lot of dross for the few flakes of gold.  Sorry about that.

I must have been much sicker than I thought when I went into the doctor.  I knew I felt bad, but generally bronchitis does not mean three days in bed for me, especially not on Zithromax.  Usually with Zithromax, I feel a lot better the next day, or certainly the day after.  I do feel a little better, just not by very much.

I mentioned this to the Rocket Scientist this morning, and he did not look surprised.  He had said he had been prepared to take me into the doctor on Wednesday whether or not I agreed, because he said I looked really ill and he did not want to spend Thanksgiving in the E.R.  When I told this to the doctor, he looked at me very seriously and said "You need to tell him thank you."

I am can tell I am getting a little better -- I feel really weak and unable to do anything, but I am bored and developing a bit of cabin fever.  I may go out to the drive-in Starbucks just to get out of the house for half an hour, and then come back to bed.

[Edited to add: did that, now I feel like I want to collapse.  Bad idea.]

I don't even have the energy to write a post on the "Happy Holidays" versus "Merry Christmas" crap that always rears its ugly head this time of year, like some really obnoxious gopher. (I am firmly in the Happy Holidays and Season's Greetings camp.  The best explanation I can give is this one, although that was written at a time I felt a lot more filled with faith than I do now.  Even though I currently lack personal and emotional resonance with what I wrote, I find it still valid intellectually.)

I hate being this sick.  The Not-So-Little-Drummer Boy is home for Thanksgiving, and I want to go do things with him and his brothers, rather than what I am doing right now, which is lying in bed, writing on my computer and listening to Christmas music through the cable service. Well, we are definitely going to our traditional Saturday morning Starbucks coffee tomorrow, even if I have to go home and sleep the rest of the day.

After he goes, we have two weeks to get the house ready for his return for the holidays.  He's bringing a friend with him, so it won't be quite the same, but it still is so lovely to have him around.

Have I ever mentioned how utterly cool I find my kids?

And it's not just mine.  I know mine are special, but I know few teenagers that are not at some level interesting.  I have never figured out how people can be so dismissive of them.

This may be why we have never faced full-on teenage rebellion.  Yes, there are discipline issues, and no, they do not get to do whatever they want (except for the NSLDB, because he just turned *gasp* twenty-one), but we have never been anything other than perfectly clear with them that they are their own people.  To the extent that rebellion is a matter of differentiation from parents, ours don't have to do that: they are already different, from us and certainly from each other.

I talk to all of them.  I enjoy their company.  I know a lot of parents who do not feel the same way.

I am so so lucky.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving

A list of fifty things I give thanks for, in varying levels of importance:

  1. For my household. The boys, The Rocket Scientist and the Resident Shrink.
  2. For my mom and my siblings.
  3. For my friends.
  4. For continued employment for my husband.
  5. For the roof above our heads.
  6. For the food on our table.
  7. For the clothes on my back and the shoes on my feet.
  8. For health insurance.
  9. For the meds I take and the medical equipment I use to keep my health conditions at bay.
  10. For Zithromax.
  11. For my doctors, of every stripe.
  12. For the U.S. Constitution, especially the Bill Of Rights.
  13. For writing.
  14. For Georgia, and before her, Jan, who opened the world for me.
  15. For this blog.
  16. For Facebook and LiveJournal, which make it possible for me to keep track of friends all over.
  17. For Occupy Wall Street, for speaking the truths that need to be speaking.
  18. For the Loft, and Tuesday night trivia, and the friends I have found there, who make me feel valued.
  19. For Starbucks. 
  20. For Venti Non-fat No-whip Salted Carmel Mochas.
  21. For Coke with grenadine. 
  22. For Thanksgiving dinner.
  23. For tangelos.
  24. For kind strangers.
  25. For good public schools.
  26. For the classes I'm taking.
  27. For Jane Austen.
  28. For Terry Pratchett.
  29. For Jon Stewart.
  30. For Stephen Colbert.
  31. For Alton Brown.
  32. For Stephen Sondheim.
  33. For road trips.
  34. For the colors of the leaves in the trees in Oregon and the vineyards in Paso Robles.
  35. For fall.
  36. For California weather.
  37. For the ocean.
  38. For the color blue.
  39. For good music.
  40. For good books.
  41. For good food.
  42. For good wine.
  43. For good coffee.
  44. For good sex.
  45. For love in all its varied forms and with all its myriad complications.
  46. For art.
  47. For light.
  48. For beauty.
  49. For laughter.
  50. For life.

Musings on cosmology

I am currently under orders from my doctor to rest, having been diagnosed with severe asthma, acute bronchitis and a sinus infection, all courtesy of the crud I had a couple if weeks ago.  (I should be better in a few days.  Thank God for Zithromax!)

In between doing odds and ends for Thanksgiving dinner (the heavy lifting -- both figuratively and literally -- is being done by the Rocket Scientist and the Resident Shrink), I am amusing myself by watching the PBS specials with Brian Greene*, "The Fabric of the Cosmos." I like programs such as these because they make me think about the world beyond my experience or understanding.

In my exhausted, oxygen deprived state, just as I'm about to nap, I keep thinking about the theory of the multiverse.

We know the universe is bounded.  We can determine where the boundaries are due to the background radiation that is the remnant of the Big Bang.  But if there are indeed a multitude of universes, what about the space** in which the multiverse exists? Is that bounded?  Logic says it probably must be, that the multiverse exists in a larger... super-universe? ... but is that bounded? Where does it end?  Is it turtles all the way down?

The other issue has to do with the nature of the debate.  I still cannot grasp from watching the show the extent to which the multiverse can be shown empirically beyond the realm of mathematics.  That is, the math says that it must exist, but it's not testable.

So at what point does the belief in the existence of the multiverse approach religion?  Although, as The Rocket Scientist said, there is a lot more mathematical support for the existence of the multiverse than the existence of God.

And that's not even discussing M-theory, which as far as I can tell from watching the program, gives the necessary support for these ideas.

I feel stupid.  Maybe I should watch this when I am better, and have more brains than a sheep.

*No relation, unfortunately.
**I'm not sure if that is the right word, but I'm not sure what word to use, so indulge me.

It was inevitable

First Thanksgiving disaster: I put too much pineapple in the cranberry sauce.  It's too sweet: almost a cranberry-pineapple preserves rather than a sauce.  Pooh.

I wonder if adding Tabasco (heat) would help?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Resolution

It's Thanksgiving week.  Followed by the holidays in December.  I have too much to do.

I am declaring myself on a political moratorium at least through the end of the week, both here and Facebook.  It won't make that much difference here -- for the past little bit I have only occasionally been posting political items.  Over in Facebook, I do a lot more.

This does not include posts about law.  While it is true that the two are almost inextricably entwined, I do not view a post on the implications of a case to be the same thing as a rant about the Tea Party.


I don't rent cranes or other construction equipment, but if I did, I know for sure who I would not rent them from.  As can be seem in this photo,  U.S. Cranes, LLC is refusing to hire people as long as Obama is in office.

Note: when contacted, the owner did not say he was unable to hire people, but that even if he could, he would not as long as a Muslim in the White House.
 
The answer to this? Boycott U.S. Cranes and all other businesses that espouse this position. Any company that places political ends above the well-being of their fellow citizens deserves to go out of business. That is as true of the guy shown here as it is of Bank of America.
 

Yep, he's home.

Me: Did you know that Torani makes bacon syrup? That seems just so... wrong.

The Not-So-Little-Drummer Boy: You live in the twenty-first century, Mom, If they don't have bacon-flavored air fresheners by now, we're not in the future.

An email I actually did send

[To Michael Morrill, in response to a Move-On.org email asking people to sign a petition calling on Congress to give up their "federally subsidized health care."]

Dear Sir:

MEMBERS OF CONGRESS DO NOT GET FREE HEALTH CARE.  They are entitled to *purchase* the same healthcare that all federal employees get.  Check  Politifact.com (http://www.politifact.com/florida/statements/2011/aug/30/steve-southerland/southerland-says-his-health-insurance-no-different/) if you don't believe me.

I am a progressive.  But you do not get a pass from me for spreading misinformation, unwittingly or not, simply because I believe in the same general political principles you do.

Every time you are shoddy with the facts, you damage our cause, because you damage our credibility. There are so many things to scream at Congress for (from being captive to special interests to completely callous and uncaring for the plight of many average Americans), don't waste time -- mine, yours, and ours as a movement and a nation -- on statements that are easily disprovable. The truth is our best weapon against the status quo.

A fellow progressive,

Pat Greene

PS:  In case you are interested, I wrote a blog post on just this issue: http://madameverdi.blogspot.com/2011/09/fact-of-matter.html

Monday, November 21, 2011

Another important decision...

What wine?

We do not have my (and Ted Allen's) wine of choice to go with turkey, which would definitely be a Gewurtztraminer. We do have some other wines, though.  In fact, we have a fair amount of wine, which is part of the problem.

Most of the wines are medium-bodied to hearty reds, in accordance with the preferences of the members of the house who drink wine.  We have some white which is relatively but not too dry -- but I am not a fan of most white wine and often use it for cooking instead of drinking.  When faced with a situation where white wine would be appropriate, I prefer a dry cider or perry.

I have yet to find a Chardonnay which I  like.

I suppose we could go out and buy a Gewurtz, but quite frankly I am hesitant to buy more wine when we have so much ready to be drunk up.

Edited to add: we have 32 bottles of various types and vintages (including a couple of nice Stag's Leaps and a Sterling Merlot).  Among them is a relatively recent German Riesling which should do very nicely.

Decisions, Decisions...

[Cross-posted to FB]

Thinking aloud, or maybe an informal poll: I am making or buying a pumpkin pie for those person(s) in my house who like pumpkin. I am making a key lime pie for those who like key lime. I am torn between making a chocolate sour cream pie or warm brownies with vanilla ice cream for those who don't like either of those.

On the one hand, fridge space will be a a premium, and the pies need to be refrigerated.  On the other hand, pies are more traditional. Not to mention that if I make brownies on Tuesday, I will have to fight everyone in my family to keep them from being eaten up before Thursday. (Wednesday is for making cornbread for the stuffing as well as chopping and sauteing the veggies, cooking sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and the other pies (including roasting the pumpkin if I choose to go that route rather than buying one), as well as various and other sundry preparations.  Thanksgiving Day, we make the turkey and stuffing, the mashed potatoes and ambrosia, as well as finishing the sweet potato casserole.)

Yes, I know, we make an obscene amount of food, and all those desserts are good for no one in our family. But it's traditional for us, and we eat off this for a week in some form (turkey and dressing sandwiches with cranberry sauce, yum). If anything needs to go, it's the ambrosia, which is a pain to make and which can oxidize pretty quickly, and is the dish we are most likely to throw out some of. Definitely a first-world problem.

We are blessed with abundance.

Edited to add: Any suggestions for changes in either menu or staging to make all of this easier would be most appreciated.

A jug of wine and thou, alone in the ... country

The Rocket Scientist and I spent the weekend in Cambria, California, a quaint (as in the cutesy and somewhat overpriced sense) seaside town about 10 miles south of San Simeon.  And, for all of you who may be in that part of the country, some suggestions....

If you are driving from the Bay Area, unless the weather is God-awful, drive down Route 1 to get there.  It will take a couple more hours, but Big Sur has stunning scenery whereas Salinas does not.  We were lucky.  Although it looked overcast and gloomy when we had to make the decision to leave U.S. 101 to go over to Monterey, we gambled and it panned out: the weather cleared and the drive was movie-scenery gorgeous.  That's not an exaggeration: if you see a car ad with people driving over a bridge with arched supports spanning a chasm next to a seaside cliff, you are almost certainly looking at Bixby Creek Bridge.

We stayed at the El Colibri Hotel in Cambria.  It was lovely: the room was beautiful, with a spa tub and a fireplace.  In fact, the gas fireplace was the heater for the room. The continental breakfasts were nothing much -- you would be better off going into town to Linn's Restaurant.

Cambria is a good jumping-off point for three very different activities.  Twenty miles north, Piedros Blancos lighthouse is the seasonal home for a large colony of elephant seals.  Elephant seals are impressive creatures, but since we had limited time (and I've seen elephant seals before, at Ana Nuevo north of Santa Cruz), we skipped them.  However, we did walk along the Moonstone Beach in Cambria:  any place there is beach access is well worth taking a stroll. 

On Saturday, we drove through the Paso Robles wine country. Think Napa, only less crowded. (Of course, I've never been to Napa in November.)  We did not visit all that many actual wineries, but driving around the spectacular rolling hills covered in the vineyards' brilliant fall foliage to reach some of the more remote ones was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

I have hit a problem here: how many times can one say "wonderful," "beautiful," "scenic," "spectacular" or "amazing" and not be completely boring?

Reading the blurbs in the visitor's guide, the Paso Robles wineries seem to produce mostly reds.  That was certainly true with the four we visited.  One of those was Kukkula, where we purchased another bottle of the Lagniappe (a zin, syrah, grenache and mourvedre blend). We also went to Eos, which had less impressive offerings, and came away with a dessert wine. On Sunday, we visited Lone Madrone (simply to try their Bristol's apple cider, which is a must if you like complex, fruity yet dry ciders) and Barrel 27.  We visited the last pretty much based on their winery guide blurb being the most humorous, least pretentious description of any winery anywhere.  The lack of pretention was appropriate: Barrel 27 is located in a small office/commercial park.  It was clearly the winery, though, and not merely the tasting room:  you could see the wine barrels in the back.  Lack of pretention does not mean lack of quality: Barrel 27 also had what were probably my favorite wines: the Rock and a Hard Place Grenache, and especially the Bull by the Horns red blend.

The highlight of the trip came Saturday evening with the evening tour of San Simeon. I have been several times to Hearst Castle during the day: it's pretty much a standard tourist experience; Disneyland without the rides. At night, however, and near the holidays....

For the night tour, people  in period costume wander through the estate, hanging out in the rooms chatting or playing billiards, interacting with the tour guides that come through. (The Rocket Scientist had the best description: "It's a Depression-era Ren Faire.") The buildings seem much more like what they were -- a house, albeit an insanely extravagant one -- and less like a oddly put together art museum.  The house was brilliantly lit up, and the Christmas decorations had been put in place in many of the rooms. (Our docent, dressed in 1930s suit, with period overcoat and hat, mentioned that the Christmas decorating had to start early since it took so long to finish all of it.)

Because of my mobility issues (over three hundred stairsteps were simply not going to be possible for me), we took the Handicapped Accessible tour.  On the one hand, we did not see the upper floors of the main house, which included Hearst's suite, which is by all accounts fascinating. We also did not view the staggering outdoor pool. On the other hand, our tour had a grand total of five people: the Rocket Scientist, myself, and a young couple, one of who was on crutches (and then on a wheelchair) and our guide.  We were driven through the grounds from house to house on a small golf cart.  Best of all, we had a knowledgeable (in addition to being a professor of communications at Cal Poly, he had also written a master's thesis on the relationship between Hearst and his architect, Julia Morgan) and chatty guide, and got more information (and certainly were better able to ask questions) than those on the thirty-person tours.

If you have never seen Hearst Castle, by all means go during the day.  You have more of a chance to see around the grounds, and as I said, viewing the outdoor pool should be pretty much mandatory.  If you have seen it already, take the night tour.

Sunday, we drove back through the Paso Robles wine country to 101.  The weather had turned bad, and while Big Sur is a delight in nice weather, the thought of driving it with sheets of rain hitting the windshield makes me faintly nauseous.

All in all, Cambria, the Central Coast, and Paso Robles get high marks all around.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The best laid plans of mice and men...

...collapse when one has had simply too much wine.

I was going to spend a little time tonight (while the Rocket Scientist was involved with other business) running down a list of current cases before SCOTUS and why they interest me.  There are more than usual this term, and more that interest me that lie outside my normal narrow capital punishment/juvenile justice/takings or environmental cases from the 9th or 11th Circuits box than is usually the case.

However, I have killed at least half a bottle of Kukkula Lagniappe Red Wine (Paso Robles, 2008), which is rather strong for wine, being 16% alcohol. It's quite tasty.

When you get vertigo just from sneezing, trying to use your critical thinking skills and coming up with anything even remotely coherent is probably a lost cause.

Edited to add:  Let me tell you, Kukkula Lagniappe (Paso Robles, 2008) is good wine, and not just because it is redolent of chocolate and cassis.  I killed over half a bottle by myself over the course of maybe two hours last night.  I woke up this morning after 4.5 hours of sleep, and I have no hangover.

Thankfully.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Calling Christopher Moore

I had a wonderful drive down the California coast through Big Sur today with the Rocket Scientist.  The weather was cool, crisp and brilliantly sunny, with the late afternoon sky turning that gorgeous golden color that looks like it should be in a movie.  The sky held just enough clouds to create a beautiful sunset.

We are now in Cambria, California, which according to what I have heard was the model for the town of Pine Cove in several books by Christopher Moore, including Practical Demonkeeping

We're going to be keeping our eyes open for anything suspicious.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Pleasant events, or maybe not.

I have mentioned once or twice that I am taking a class on Thursdays which revolves around mentally healthy habits for adults.  I missed last week, due to the cold (or whatever it was) from hell, and was reviewing last week's work before class today.

Last week covered the concept of a "pleasant events schedule."  That is, rather than letting good things arise organically from your experiences and surroundings, you actively plan in a certain amount of pleasant events every week, with a minimum of one a day.  Pleasant events ranged from "traveling abroad" to "recognizing you have done a good job" or "thinking how much more fortunate you are than others you may know."

Looking down the list, I noticed that "throttling people in your life who oh-so-richly deserve it"* is not on there.  Pity.

A lot of other activities on the list have potentially significant downsides: flirting, eating, gambling, sex.  Why not a little premeditated homicide?

No, I have to remember that throttling people is wrong. Oh, wait, no, that's judgmental.  I am supposed to avoid being judgmental.  I should instead say "throttling people is inconsistent with my core value which requires me to respect the sanctity of human life."

But sometimes it is also very tempting.

*No, there is no one right this minute who is annoying me that much, but I just recognize the general principle.

Because you never know when you'll meet a knight with a white horse.

I was in the downtown Starbucks, which I like because it has long tables which allow me to work without feeling that I am hogging a table all to myself which other people would want.  (Said tables all have power outlets underneath them, which make them even more attractive.)  A young man came in who had been at the bank down the street.  He was carrying two plush white ponies.

He saw me looking at them.  "They're cute," I said.  "Want one?" he responded.

After hemming and hawing, I succumbed to his suggestion that a grown woman needed a small stuffed white horse named, according to the tag on its ear, "Snowflake."  "You can call it Starbucks," he said.

So I now own a white plush pony named "Starbucks." Yet another sign that I am not growing up, but instead back towards childhood.  As if I care about that.