Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day.

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.
The Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln. 

To those of all wars who gave that last full measure of devotion, thank you.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Bookmarking meta-post.

This post is really just for me.  I am under the probably delusional belief that if I actually say I am going to write about something, I will. There is plenty of evidence to the contrary.

I have written about several cases that were pending before the Supreme Court.  I have been remiss in reading SCOTUSBLOG the past several months, and have not written about the outcome of those cases (or other just as interesting cases).

I need to read and write about the outcome of the Stolen Valor Act case (if the decision came down, I didn't catch it in my haphazard scanning), Golan v. Holder (zombie copyrights -- the Court decided rights can be revived by Congress), the Montana navigable waters case (Montana lost), and one more case I have not written on, Blueford v. Arkansas.  This last was a recent decision, which I know only from the New York Times' article on the case.

The Court decided in Blueford that a person can be retried on all charges even if the jury has has decided to acquit on the most serious if the jury hangs on lesser charges. I need to read the case to see if my immediate and visceral outrage over this is warranted. It was a 6-3 decision, with Sotomayor, Ginsburg and Kagan dissenting. I find it interesting that the ideological break in this case coincided with a break along gender lines as well.  I wonder how many times that has happened since Kagan joined the court.

On its surface -- and an online news article is almost definitionally superficial -- it seems basically unfair.  It reads like the majority was bending over backwards to give the prosecutors what they wanted. Why was it so important that the defendant be convicted on murder charges -- as opposed to negligent homicide?

Was it a technical matter? Does it imply a devotion on the Court to technicalities that favor prosecutors regardless of the impact on fairness or justice? If so, how do I feel about that?  I can see ways in which this might be far less of a major deal than it seems on the surface (other than to Alex Blueford, of course).

But instead of reading and researching these posts (or working on the six other posts from the past month that lie around waiting to be finished) I am sitting at my Starbucks of choice, listening to Latin music, reading Facebook and contemplating .... nothing, really.  I thought of writing a post about the color of the sea to go with "Sky Blue," but am currently being too lazy. I did the research, however, with a little jaunt out to Pescadero State Beach this afternoon.

Time to pack up and go home.

Have a good Memorial Day, everybody.

Sky blue.

I have often proclaimed that I am not a Californian.  That said, I know that I would be loathe to leave the Bay Area.  It's the weather, it's the politics, it's the tolerance of the odd and unusual, it's the proximity to the ocean ...

And it's the sky.

In Florida, where I grew up, sky blue was a pale, hazy color. The light was strong, but diffuse, the blue often crowded with clouds.  Winter was the best time of year, because the humidity -- and therefore the haziness -- would diminish, leaving a clear strong blue sky behind. I loved it.

I have that sky much of the time here.

That crisp blue sky is the main reason summers here are at least bearable.  The length of days is overwhelming, and the strong light of summer afternoons floods into my brain causing sensory overload, regardless of the temperature.  The blue sky which emerges from the frequent morning gray marine layer soothes and helps calm my tortured synapses.  Those days when the sky is blue first thing in the  morning are more problematic, since no marine layer often means much heat, but at least some part of my psyche is happy for the sky.

Best of all is the early fall.  The days have not yet turned gray and rainy, and yet are shorter, the light more oblique. The afternoons are gold and cornflower, just made for football and late season baseball games.  The leaves often don't turn until after the rain starts, but days when it clears out and the leaves have changed red and gold are nirvana.

In the evenings the sky deepens, cornflower through royal blue through navy into midnight as the stars come out.  It can be almost too beautiful for words.

Plenty of reason to stay.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

I am watching Animal Planet's Cats 101 with Penwiper.  They are showing a piece on "klepto-cats."

I wonder if I should change the channel.  I don't want her to get any ideas.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sing! Sing! Sing!

I have had one singing lesson in my life, and enjoyed it immensely.  I often regret not having taken more, since I do enjoy singing, but the commute to see my voice teacher would have required a trip completely across the country.*

Elissa Weiss is a good friend; she is also a professional musician and a good teacher. If you live in or around NYC, and have yearned to learn to sing, but have been too bashful or fearful, she can help you discover your voice: her latest  "Everybody Can Sing!" workshop starts next week. (She also gives individual singing lessons. She's great -- as I said, I would love to take more lessons from her.)

C'mon, you know you want to...

*Yes, Elissa, I know I was supposed to find a local singing teacher and I didn't.  My loss. 

John Scalzi once again nails it.

In 2005, in the wake of Katrina, writer John Scalzi wrote a piece called "Being Poor" on his blog.  It hit a resounding chord in a lot of folks -- even people who have never been truly poor, like myself. I made all my kids read it.

A week or so ago, Scalzi wrote a piece called "Lowest Difficulty Setting," about how privilege in our society can be analogized to video game settings.  It's brilliant.  If you are one of the few people who have not run across this on your Facebook or Twitter feeds, I strongly encourage you to read it.

I can tell how widespread this has become: two days ago The Red-Headed Menace came into the kitchen and said he had seen something I needed to read -- and showed me Scalzi's piece.  He had found it all on his own; it was making the rounds among his friends.

Scalzi has made explaining what can be a difficult concept a lot easier. I'm glad his brilliant analogy is getting out there, especially to young men.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Sometimes, you get what you need.

This has not been a good year, on a lot of different fronts, and I keep thinking about how completely self-indulgent all of this blogging ... stuff... strikes me as being. It takes up too much of my time, and I am not even really writing much lately.  The work -- which brings in no income into the house, and will not in the foreseeable future -- seems harder, and slower, and less... artful. I am less and less enamored of the sound of my own voice than I have ever been, and I have not really been all that in love with it for a fair while now, any possible appearance to the contrary. Discipline -- write something every day, at least -- has been harder and harder to come by, and frequently disappears altogether.

These feelings of self-indulgent inadequacy have been deepened by me looking over a partial rough draft of a project I have been working on for years -- a partial rough draft I sent out to several people, which received minimal feedback -- and being struck by the typos and other problems it contained.

In the  midst of all this self doubt, I happened to turn to my most overused resource these days, Facebook. And there, among shares of funny pictures and links to liberal leaning news stories, I found Neil Gaiman's speech at the University of Arts commencement. The entire twenty-minute speech is well worth listening to, but one section in the middle struck me particularly hard:

And remember that whatever discipline you are in, whether you are a musician or a photographer, a fine artist or a cartoonist, a writer, a dancer, a designer, whatever you do you have one thing that's unique. 
You have the ability to make art. 
 And for me, and for so many of the people I have known, that's been a lifesaver. The ultimate lifesaver. It gets you through good times and it gets you through the other ones. 
 Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do. I'm serious. 
Make good art. 
Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it's all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn't matter. Do what only you do best. 
Make good art. 
Make it on the good days too. 
And ... while you are at it, make your art. Do the stuff that only you can do.
...[T]he one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can. 
The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you're walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That's the moment you may be starting to get it right. 
The things I've done that worked the best were the things I was the least certain about, the stories where I was sure they would either work, or more likely be the kinds of embarrassing failures people would gather together and talk about  until the end of time. They always had that in common: looking back at them, people explain why they were inevitable successes. While I was doing them, I had no idea. 
I still don't. And where would be the fun in making something you knew was going to work? 
And sometimes the things I did really didn't work. There are stories of mine that have never been reprinted. Some of them never even left the house. But I learned as much from them as I did from the things that worked.

So there it is.  I have heard this message before, and failed to internalize it, but maybe this time it will stick.

I don't know to what extent this blog (or either of my other couple of projects) is good art, but I am pretty sure it is art, somehow. Maybe it is art only in the most general sense, just as making sweaters from cat hair is art, but it is art nonetheless.  I have a responsibility to make it as good as possible. I also have a responsibility to myself to get the other projects into good enough shape that I can do something with them. Telling myself that they will never be good enough for the world to see is unfair -- especially given how much drivel ends up out there in the world.

I do feel like I am walking down the street naked, sometimes, but who knows? Maybe that's what I am supposed to do.

Now, about that mutated boa constrictor...

Monday, May 21, 2012

From the sublime to the ridiculous.

On my Facebook page, I passed along a link to The Pubic Domain Review that a friend had posted, commenting "[Red-Headed Menace], this is the chance you have been waiting for to see The Battleship Potemkin."  He responded, "This is the chance I have been waiting for to see Plan 9 From Outer Space."

Sigh. Teenagers.

I can't go anywhere with these guys.

Today, the two younger boys, the Resident Shrink and I were on the way to see The Avengers, when we passed a beautiful vintage red Volkswagon Beetle stranded by the side of the road.  I hear "Ow" coming from the back of the car.

Me: "I hope you guys aren't playing 'Punch buggy'*. You know how I hate that game."

The Red-Headed Menace: "Railfan hit me! I want a retribution vehicle!"

Railfan: "What do you want, a Honda Civic bitch-slap?"

*For those of you who grew up civilized, "punch buggy" is a game where the first person to spot and identify a Beetle punches the person next to them on the upper arm. Among purists, there is some question whether newer generation Beetles count, but that did not come into play today because the car was clearly of an earlier era -- the early 1960s would be my guess.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

There are some people not worth listening to.

Recently, on one of the public television channels, I ran across the last five minutes of a Frontline episode on "the vaccination controversy." It's not really fair to judge a program on five minutes, and I recognize that, but I am going to do this anyway.

The portion that I saw had a political scientist talk to a panel of women -- not one man in the bunch -- about whether they thought that vaccination was presented as a choice.  After these women complained that they felt that had no choice but to vaccinate, the political scientist explained that parents needed to be allowed to feel that they were making the decision. And the voice over explained that it was a battle between pediatricians and public health officials and the need for parents to control what risks their children face.

Should parents make the decision to vaccinate or not? No.

Oh, wrong, that "no" is not appropriate.

 It should be "hell no."

Having a child is a choice. Vaccinating -- at least with the big ones, the MMR, DPT and polio vaccines -- should not be.  Any more than having a license should be optional for driving.

You may own a car, but before you can sit behind the wheel you need to prove that you can actually drive.  The exceptions are for vehicles driven totally on private property.  Anything else risks the life of everyone who happens to be on the road.

You want to have an exception for vaccination, for it to be optional? Fine.  Vaccination is a civic responsibility, the same as being trained and showing that you have been trained to drive is.  So let's have the same conditions apply.

You can choose to not vaccinate your child as long as that child is kept isolated from any human being outside its family.  You cannot send them to public school.  You cannot take them to daycare. You certainly cannot take them to a store.  You cannot take them anywhere where anyone who has not been vaccinated for valid medical reasons may be exposed, or where they may be exposed to disease.

This is not a matter like motorcycle helmets, or even child car seats, where the issue is one of safety for the rider and indirect  costs to society.  Unvaccinated children pose dangers not only to themselves but to others who cannot be vaccinated: those who have immunocompromised systems, those who are too young to vaccinate, and those who have had allergic reactions to vaccines or their constituent parts. The only way for those people to be safe is through herd immunity; as long as a high enough percentage of the population is vaccinated,* the disease cannot get a foothold and it dies out.

For a program like Frontline to allow a voice to the anti-vaccination forces is to give them credibility. It is hard enough to fight against people who still believe falsely that there has been shown a link between vaccines and autism,** who claim that they contain mercury-containing thimerosol (they have not for years, and autism diagnoses have continued to climb well past the time when they did) without  a public television show giving a crackpot like Jenny McCarthy a forum.

I expect better of PBS.

*Also, adults, get your booster shots. Contrary to the popular belief, a single set of vaccinations will not protect forever in all cases;  at least with the DPT the initial shots have to be followed at ten-year intervals. This is especially true of adults who work with children a lot. Given that there have been a lot of cases out west, this  might be especially true of people on the Coast.

**On a personal note, the idea that the the risk of autism equals the possibility of death -- because these diseases can cause long-lasting disability and death -- offends me.  Autism is not a fate worse than death. Rather than go further down that road, I'll just say that generally speaking, I agree with Penn and Teller.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Passing the Test, the sequel.

I was watching Stardust, one of my very favorite movies, and thinking about how it passes the Bechdel Test.  I was wondering how many of my movies (as opposed to those which really belong to the whole household*) do so. I don't have that many movies (as opposed to television shows and DVDs of theatrical performances), and just about half (10 of 22) of them qualify. (Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 are simply unclassifiable, so I left them out.) The movies that I own are the ones that I really truly love.

There are animated features: The Incredibles, Spirited Away, Lilo & Stitch, Chicken Run, Despicable Me.  All of these have very strong women female characters**, and in all cases they are seeking to rescue themselves or ones they love from outside threats and return to or find one their home.

There are live action pictures Shakespeare in Love, Moulin Rouge, Dogma, and the aforementioned Stardust. (Not very many -- but then I don't own very many movies.) In two of these, the lead female characters want to become actresses. In Dogma, she wants to fulfill her mission --- which she only poorly understands -- and get back to her home.  More than that she is searching for God, and trying to find a glimpse of the divine in all the insanity that is happening all around her.

Out of all of the live action films, Stardust probably has the most strong women characters.  (Yes, even above Moulin Rouge.) It's not a chick flick -- I am not really a fan of rom-coms, and even ones that pass the Bechdel test tend not hold my interest: Terms of Endearment and Steel Magnolias are two of the most annoying movies ever made.  (I wish I had seen Bridesmaids -- I keep meaning to rent it.) The women characters in Stardust have a diverse set of agendas -- the most significant being the witches' hunt for the fallen star.***

What interests me is not just the movies I have that pass the Bechdel Test, but how many of them do not in any meaningful way: Master & Commander, Casablanca, Hair (the movie), Young Frankenstein, and Return of the King, UpA Christmas Story, and a Fish Called Wanda (small interactions between Archie's wife and daughter Portia). Shrek 2 (all the conversations between female characters revolve either around Shrek or Charming), Finding Nemo (there are interactions between the Peach and Flo, but these last a matter of seconds and can't really be called conversations), Toy Story 1 & 2, and Happy Feet, Wall-E. (If I am including the chickens, I really need to include toys, penguins, robots, and fish.)

The lack of no significant female characters makes sense in a lot of them: Master and Commander and Return of the King are war movies, pretty much. Casablanca is emblematic of its time.****  A Christmas Story is centered around a single male character, and A Fish Called Wanda plays heavily upon the sexual relationship between Otto and Wanda, and Ken's infatuation with her, and the balance of the movie would have been thrown off by another woman in the gang.

Then there is Mulan.  In spite of its faults, I think every girl under the age of ten (or over, for that matter), should own this movie.  Mulan is a wonderful story of female empowerment.  But I need to see it again to see if it would pass the Bechdel Test: working from memory, I don't think it does.  The conversations between Mulan and her mother may not be about a specific love interest, but are about the need for her to marry in general, and what she needs to make that happen.

It's not that these are bad movies.  They're good, as far as I am concerned, or I would not own them.  I don't think it is that I prefer male-centered movies, per se.  I think there are honestly fewer good movies that are not romantically centered that revolve around women characters.  Where are the movies about women on the prairie? Where are the movies about the suffrage movement?  Are they out there?

If so, I think I need to seek them out.

*To members of my household: has anyone seen my copy of the deluxe edition of Citizen Kane? I cannot find it, and I want to watch the documentary Battle for Citizen Kane which is also in the set. Also, Mary Poppins has gone missing.
**The hens in Chicken Run count. I am unsure quite whether the girls in Despicable Me and The Incredibles do, but I am opting to throw them in anyway.
***Stardust contains one of my favorite movie quotes: "Nothing says 'romance' like the gift of a kidnapped injured woman!" As far as the witches go, seeking youth after two centuries of decrepitude becomes more understandable as I age. They still seem evil, just more understandably evil.
****Of course, on the other hand, there is Gone With the Wind (a wonderful  movie I cannot stand -- the subject for a post for another day which I have been meaning to write for a while), Rebecca,  and The Wizard of Oz, none of which I own but all of which fall within roughly the same cinematic era as Casablanca.
It's been a while since I did a long, substantive post, let alone one that breathes fire.  I plan to get back to seriousness soon, but in the meantime, this picture needs to be disseminated among intelligent cinemaphiles and science fiction buffs everywhere: a wonderful use of Legos and an iPhone.

I am content. Content is good.

I am in an irrationally good mood.  All in all, the world could be a worse place.

The cats are back home safe and sound.  We will need to get blood work done tomorrow as a precaution, but they seem to be just fine (albeit a little mad at us). We had taken to singing to the cats on in the car to calm them, and on the way home the Red-Headed Menace did a lovely job singing Louis Armstrong style on "What a Wonderful World."

I just watched an exciting Preakness.  I don't think I'll Have Another is a Triple Crown winner, but I'll be cheering him on in the Belmont just the same. It's been thirty-four years since Affirmed. I think it would be good for national morale if he won the Triple Crown.

It is a beautiful day outside.

Yesterday, in between disasters, I did go and get my hair cut.  I like it, which is unusual for me. I took a picture of it so that I could remember how it was cut for the future -- see profile on sidebar. It even looks good the day after getting it cut, which is wonderful.

I will be making dinner tonight: spiral sliced ham, roast potatoes, watermelon salad, homemade French bread. I may go out afterwards to a movie, or maybe not.

So, yes, I spent money on a Clipper card yesterday that I did not use and an ungodly amount on vet bills, but the card will keep and the cats are safe.

For just this moment, I am content.

Friday, May 18, 2012

And then the day went even further downhill.

I have just returned from the emergency vet's office.  Some time ago, I had spilled a bottle of Excedrin Migraine in my backpack.  I had thought I had gotten all of pills out of there, but apparently not. I found two half crushed pills on my floor this evening, and my backpack had been knocked over.

Excedrin contains acetaminophen, aspirin and caffeine.  The latter two are bad for cats, the first is deadly.  Even a half a tablet could kill one.  So both cats had to be hauled to the vets.  They were quite unhappy about this, of course -- Railfan has a couple of very nasty scratches to show for this evening's work.

P&P are stashed tonight at the vets to have fluids (after having had their stomachs pumped, and activated charcoal laid down) and other meds, and we are out 2K in vet bills.  There is no question that we did the right thing, but... ouch.

If Pandora died, I would be very sad. If Penwiper died, I would be devastated. She's my therapy cat.

I can't even get roaring drunk.  Rick's Rather Rich Ice Cream (Chocolate Custard and Peppermint Chip in a waffle cone) is nice, but it is no Red Stag Cherry Bourbon and Coke.


All dressed up and no place to go.

I had  planned to spend the day in San Francisco looking at pretty pictures of beautiful women.  I had dressed, not up, exactly, but certainly more respectably than my regular schlubby self does.  Black corduroy slacks, a black v-neck sweater covered with a deep burgundy velvet shirt, jewelry, lipstick; in other words as  befits hanging around an art museum.* General business casual.  (I am having a bad hair day, but that seems to be the norm the past couple of weeks.  I desperately need to get my hair cut, something which I usually dislike getting done.)    The Rocket Scientist was going to take me up and we were going to lunch and then he was going to drop me off before heading to a weekend workshop further north.  I was going to take Caltrain back home, which I almost always enjoy. (I like riding trains.)

Life happens.  Specifically, defective radiators happen.  The radiator which we had installed in Vincent the sixteen-year-old black convertible a few months ago sprung a leak.  The good news is that it is still under warranty, the bad news is that the time it cost us to determined what was wrong and make alternate transportation arrangements precluded going up to the city.  Rats. We did have a nice lunch locally with the Not-So-Little Drummer Boy, who is home from college and whose company is almost always a delight, but it still is not the same thing as a museum trip that one has been planning for weeks.**

So I am sitting at home in front of my computer.  I feel like I should go out and do something this afternoon, just to make up for missing my museum outing. The house is pretty much clean, and even if it were not, I would want to change before doing housework.

Sigh. I hate having to figure out alternate plans.

*I am actually of the opinion that t-shirts and flip flops are okay for museums, as long as people are there and are really interested in the art. Enthusiasm covers a lot of sartorial sins in my book.
**I originally was supposed to go see this on my birthday, but I was ill and had to punt.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Decisions, decisions.

Along with (spurious statistic alert!) probably 75% of the other mothers in America, I received flowers for Mother's Day.  The florist did a superb job of creating a bouquet to last for days, mixing roses which were in full bloom with not-quite-opened irises and completely closed stargazer lilies. The roses were lovely, and the irises were quite pretty when they opened, but the lilies are spectacular. They're huge and beautiful and incredibly perfumed.

That last is a problem.  Strong fragrances -- even natural ones, such as star jasmine or, in this case, lilies -- can be migraine triggers for me.  I have spent the past two days flirting with a headache.

So, you say, throw them out.  I should.  Most sane people would.  But I can't seem to discard something so lovely.  The need to protect and nurture one's physical self can sometimes conflict with the need to nurture one's psyche, especially when the object which is so soul-satisfying is so very transient.

It's such a dilemma.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

An occasional list of things I am grateful for.

For light rail trains with free WiFi.
For pub trivia.
For Veronica, my favorite bartender/waitress.
That Railfan found a date to the prom, and that they had a very nice time..
That The Red-Headed Menace's AP is over so he can stop stressing about it.
That the Not-So-Little Drummer Boy is home for the summer.
For silly movie trailers that make me laugh.
For good friends who point me towards them.
For lemons.
For ice-cold watermelon.
For watermelon-mint salad dressed in balsamic vinegar and olive oil with feta cheese on top.
For baseball season.
For the Tampa Bay Rays.
For knitting.
For the St. Petersburg Times and PolitiFact.
For sunny days, even if they are too long.
For Monty Python and the Spanish Inquisition (theirs, not the real one).
For Netflix.
For Cadfael.
For Ken Burns.
For Jane Austen.
For J.K. Rowling.
For the teachers who taught me to read.
For iced tea.
For the right to vote.
For Cee Lo Green's "F*** You."
For Tony Bennett's Duets II.
For Stardust.
That President Obama actually admitted that same-sex marriage was a good thing.
For nurses.
For Mother's Day flowers with pink lilies that are just blooming.
For chocolate.
For other people.
For Company.
For the color of pine trees against a clear blue sky.
For caffeine, my drug of choice.
For search engines, which allow me to access my real drug of choice,  information.
For New York City, even if I do not get there but once a decade.
For San Francisco, even if I only go up there a couple of times a year (far too infrequently).
For Paris, even if I never get there again.  The idea of Paris, even.
For the Musee d'Orsay and the exhibit from there currently at the Palace of Fine Arts.

And, because I have to include these every time:
For the ocean.
For the color blue.
For my family, who with all their quirks and insecurities still rock.
For light.
For art.
For love, with its myriad complications and delights.
For life.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Words of wisdom from tonight's fortune cookie*

"If you want it -- take it!"

Maybe I should try that sometimes.

*Da Sichuan Bistro, 3781 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, California,  roughly halfway between Oregon/Page Mill and Charleston/Arastradero.**  Comfy if pedestrian atmosphere, friendly waitstaff, good food. The General's Chicken is great: sweet, but not syrupy or cloying, with heat, saltiness and acidity balancing out the sweetness. I also really like the sizzling steak on iron plate. The wonton dumpling in chili sauce is terrific, and taking the leftover chili oil sauce and drizzling it into your vegetarian hot and sour soup is trés yummy.  They have a good vegetarian menu, which means all the adults  in our house are happy with either eating there or getting takeout from there.  
** I hate intersections where streets change names.  The bistro is on the eastern (I think) side, a.k.a. the Oregon and Charleston side.  If you are familiar with the area, that last sentence makes sense.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Jedi way.

I have always thought that the process of creating Jedi laid out in the last three Star Wars movies (I always count them from release date) was far from ideal, bordering on child abuse. And now I think I can clearly articulate why.

I was in a discussion yesterday about mindfulness, and the concept of the rational mind v. the emotional mind v. wise mind (which is a combination of the two).  When the discussion turned to rational mind, the example was, as is usually the case, Star Trek's Spock.  One of the participants in the discussion mentioned that she had little experience with Star Trek, that she was really a Star Wars person, and that there was no comparable person in that universe.  When I suggested Yoda, I was immediately shouted down. Yoda exemplified wise mine, everyone said.

No, he doesn't.  And the Jedi ethos doesn't either, going as far as to openly reject emotion.  A Jedi must not fear, a Jedi must not be angry, a Jedi must not care about other individuals except in any but the most abstract and generalized way.  The good of all rather than the good of individuals is what matters.  Children were taken from their homes and mothers at a very young age, an age when attachments to others are very important, so they can grow up without needing love. One of the reasons Yoda gets so exasperated with Luke is that he is so emotional.

This is extremely unhealthy. People need other people.  All healthy people will feel anger sometimes, and will  feel love sometimes; our brains are hard-wired that way. To take children and deliberately make them unhealthy emotionally is abusive.

So I stand by what I said: the only difference between a Vulcan and a Jedi is that Vulcans are born that way, and Jedi are made.

The Wild Things mourn.

I often use Facebook to find things to write about. It has been an active week for my friends, and I have twenty-two open tabs with articles from everywhere – to the New York Times. I also have a post to write on Yoda, and a post to finish on gratitude (a list of fifty things minus the big fifteen I listed in my Meta-Gratitude post). I also want to write on a new thriller I am reading.

All of that has to wait.

Maurice Sendak has died.

I knew he was old. I knew he was in ill health. His frailty was obvious in the interview he did with Stephen Colbert earlier this year.

His brilliant wit was also well in evidence. I am so glad that Colbert gave us a chance to see the tamer of the Wild Things, the architect of the Night Kitchen.

I once gave a therapist who was leaving to go on maternity leave a copy of Where the Wild Things Are. I told her that every shrink's kid needed a copy of this book. I was speaking tongue-in-cheek, of course. I didn't really mean it.

I really think that everybody's child needs a copy of it. No matter what their age.

Sendak was somewhat scornful of the devotion that Where the Wild Things Are has elicited. I tend to think that that was because he was never a parent.

WTWTA was my favorite children's book. It still is. Partly it is what it seems to say: it conveys the “there are people who love you, there is a home for you” message in a way that is not cloying or seriously creepy. (As much as I adore Shel Silverstein's poetry and songs, The Giving Tree is not a healthy book. Even more disturbing is The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown, who also wrote Goodnight Moon.) More than that, the cadence of his prose was both simple and lyrical. It was elegantly straightforward.

In a world where your child may get hooked on a book and not want you to read anything else, reading Sendak's beautiful prose and showing off his pictures that managed to be whimsical without being cutesy is a blessing. This is not true if you are stuck reading Are You My Mother? Even Fox in Sox and Horton Hears a Who pale after a while.

So here's to you, Maurice.  At the risk of echoing a sentimentality which you would no doubt scorn, I hope that wherever your spirit is, a wild rumpus is going on.

You deserve no less.

Letter I am not going to send.

Dear Mythbusters,

I understand you probably get a ton of letters from mothers complaining about the experiments you run, in that it gives their offspring ideas that, as much as you say "don't try this at home," they still do, resulting in broken crockery and messy landscaping. My sons, on the other hand, find things to experiment with all on their own.

I  want to thank you for the times when my offspring suggest working on replicating some bizarre idea they've seen on the Internet  that I am able to say, with a straight face, "Won't work -- Mythbusters already did that."*

Most of the time I am even telling the truth.


*That's only when the issue is one of potential messiness. Safety is nonnegotiable. 

Tuesday, May 08, 2012


I was looking through all my thanksgiving posts, to see what things occurred more than once.  I came up with a list of the things I am most frequently thankful for.  In no particular order:

The color blue.
My family.
Health insurance.
The Bill of Rights.
The ocean.
For Starbucks Venti Non-fat No-whip Specialty Mochas.
Stephen Sondheim.
Great Big Sea.
Good people.
The Internet.
Good music.

I wonder if I should put them in a "Gratitude Hall of Fame" and leave them off future lists.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Stardust is one of my favorite movies.  After seeing it for the goodness-knows-how-manyth time, I really want a Babylon candle.  Mucking around with a minivan just seems so inefficient, somehow.

Must have had kids.

The Red-Headed Menace, working on a history assignment: "Hobbes said that man's life in a state of nature was nasty, brutish, and short.... it makes me wonder what kind of a home life he had."

"We're so geeky," moment deux.

I sent an email to my family, and the Red-Headed Menace responded in person, not telling me what I wanted to know, but criticizing the grammar of my email signature.

The cause of yet another "My God, we're so geeky" moment

This morning's discussion centered on whether the house's hot-water schema could be best analogized to riparian or diversionary water rights systems.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Still waiting for Clarence.

In this post, I tried to identify fifty things that I could say were ways that I have made the world a better place.  I could only find 28.  I have been working on finishing this list lately. I can now add four:

29. I am a courteous driver who often lets people merge without hassle and who doesn't respond when being cut off. I also don't play my music too loud, except for a recent occurrence.

30. I have a nice smile.

31. I have done work for organizations which helped them keep their doors open, even if it was not helping their clients directly.

32. Along with the Rocket Scientist, through the Combined Federal Campaign, I annually give money to Habitat for Humanity, Second Harvest Food Bank, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, and other charities.

Only 18 left to go.  This is hard.

Gratitude posts.

As part of my recovering from my awful April -- more accurately my awful mid-March to late April -- I have decided that there were a lot of posts that I needed to look at from time to time to remind myself of all the blessings in my life.  For all the problems that exist out there in the world, it still is a beautiful place and well worth living in.  I think those of us who concentrate on wanting to fix things or change the status quo forget that at our peril.

This is a bookmark for my own purposes; there is nothing for other people in this. (That  might by said of the original posts as well, but then again, the blog exists for my own purposes.  One of those purposes is feeling that I am reaching other people, but that is not the only one.) I plan to add to it as appropriate.

Looking back, I see a lot of repetition in some of these posts.  I am continually grateful for my family.  I should tell them this more often. I should write Stephen Sondheim an actual fan letter, as he is not getting any younger.  I can't tell the ocean or the color blue how much I love them, though.

Thanksgiving, 2011
My beautiful world.
Calling Clarence the Angel... and Still waiting for Clarence.
Proper Font Usage.
Another list of fifty things.
Ten things I've learned.
Food for the heart.
And the Angels in the Architecture Danced...
Eleven for '11
Pat's Greatest Hits?
Just a list of unrelated things...
Walking the Path: The Lessons of the Labyrinth
Small Graces.
Two more things about me.... (plus links)
Happy Thanksgiving.
A Stranger Shore.
[Edited to add: An occasional list of things I am grateful for.]
Things I am thankful for, 2012 Edition.

And, I want this list absent the rest of the post which spawned it:

Tell the people in your life how much you love them.
Hug your kids.
Hug your kids more.
Reach out to the friends you've lost track of.
Ask that really cool person from church/work/school/Facebook out to coffee.
Listen to the birds.
Watch the sunset every so often.
Go home early from the office now and again.
Explore off the beaten trail.
Overtip the waitress.
Find your passion.
Forgive other people.
Forgive yourself.

And always follow the sign to the chinchilla races.


After a labored pun about Descartes and horses, I commented that my ability to make puns had come back.  For some reason, I started spontaneously making puns over the past week, something which I had not been doing in casual conversation for a while.

"I'm not sure that that is a feature," said the Rocket Scientist.


Saturday, May 05, 2012

When worlds collide.

Yesterday, I was sitting at a stoplight in the van.  It was a perfect day, warm but not too much so. I had the window open to catch the gentle breeze.

A car pulled up.  The music was blaring, making it difficult to hear my own stereo.  I have always waited for this situation, but heretofore been too chicken to react.

I turned my music up, drowning out his. He turned his louder.  I responded.  He cranked his still louder: I could feel the bass of his music throbbing through my door.  I cranked mine until it was painful. Had a cop been around, both of us would have been cited for being a public nuisance, although I would have been willing to go to court on this one.

He had just turned his even louder when the light changed and he burned rubber getting away.  I smiled gently, turned my stereo down (and waited for my ears to stop ringing), and eased away from the intersection.

His music? Some sort of rap, in Spanish.  It was nothing I recognized. Mine was ...

Tony Bennett and Michael Bublé singing "Don't Get Around Much Anymore."

As I said, I've always wanted to do that.

Sometimes the simple things in life are the best.

Homemade bread just out of the oven spread with softened butter is a good reason to go on living.

I'm so bored, I'm posting menus.

I've been cooking this week.  I understand that that might not sound like much, but I don't cook all that much (as opposed to simply making something to eat), except for holidays and special events and the occasional set of brownies or pie for my family.

Monday, I made something, and I do not remember what.
Tuesday was trivia, hence no cooking.
Wednesday was quesadillas.
Thursday was leftover turkey (at Easter, the local market had turkeys at 39 cents a pounds, so we bought two), fresh string beans sauteed in garlic butter and homemade garlic bread.
Last night was chicken breasts pounded flat and cooked in lemon and garlic butter (think lemon piccata without the capers) and a sauce of the drippings plus white wine, more butter and ground savory; watermelon and mint salad dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and topped with feta cheese (oh, my God, so good); and oven roasted potatoes.
Brunch today was homemade peach coffeecake, scrambled eggs with fresh-laid eggs from a friend's chickens, leftover salad, orange juice, and homemade espresso.

My plans for dinner tonight include homemade french bread (if it lasts until dinner -- Mr. "I should eat my weight in carbs," a.k.a the Red-Headed Menace, is around), ham and cauliflower.

Everyone in my family is happy about this. Even me. Now, time to go taste test one of the loaves of French bread (this is a new recipe for me).

If I keep going, maybe next week sometime I'll try my hand at croissants.  We have a marble board that is criminally underused.

That should be fun.

Friday, May 04, 2012

The tarnished hero.

Having finished watching all episodes of Ken Burns' Baseball (including the extra episodes he did in 2007), I am struck again how angry I am at Barry Bonds.

It is not that he is a private person and snarls at the press.  I have never asked of my sports heroes that they be particularly media-savvy, and he is right -- the media are generally out to get you.

No, I am angry at how selfish he was.

First, let me just say that Hank Aaron is one of my sports heroes. Another private man, he was nonetheless gracious. He went through an incredible amount of nastiness in the run-up to breaking Ruth's record, and handled it calmly and professionally.  He was also dedicated to baseball: after he stopped playing, he ended up working for the Braves as vice president and director of player development and in many ways is responsible for the greatness Atlanta enjoyed in the 1990s. It would have been hard for me to see anyone break his record.

I also question whether Aaron got the iconic status he deserved.  When Bonds passed Ruth in the home run standings, the San Jose Mercury News had a columnist who wrote about being at the ballpark watching Bonds "break Ruth's record." (I wrote a snarky letter to the editor, suggesting that the columnist walk across the office and talk to the sportswriters.)

Bonds used steroids. I think there is little to no doubt of that. Writer Daniel Okrent suggests that there should not be an asterisk after his name because everyone was doing it; it was just one of the conditions of the game.  He is right, sort of, but it was not a condition of the game the entire time Bonds was playing.

Before the time Bonds is believed to have started using steroids, he had already hit 400 homers and stolen 400 bases, the only player ever to have done that.  He was already being called perhaps the greatest position player of all time. He did not need the home run record to cement his status as a Hall of Fame member-to-be. He was as good as settled in at Cooperstown.  He was a greater player even than his godfather, Willie Mays.

He could have not used steroids, and he still would have ended up high on the all-time homer list.  But no.

He is the kid at the party who is bigger and stronger and who gets the most candy from the pinãta, but is not happy until he gets it all. Well, he did get it all; and in the process, along with Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clements and all the other players who used 'roids, trashed the good name of the game he claimed to love.  He tarnished the greatness which he already had shown.

It's a damn shame.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Incomprehensible thought of the week.

From my written meanderings during Tuesday's trivia game:

"Pay no attention to the pink elephant(s) standing in the corner shouting that the theater is on fire."

There are mixed metaphors and then there are mixed metaphors deluxe.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Errata, sort of.

I realized this afternoon that I wrote a (rather over-the-top) post on Monday about making the butterfly earrings, stating that they were the first jewelry I had created in a year.  This morning I wrote a post in which I said that I created a bracelet in April to match the necklace I had made years ago.

Obviously, those statements are inconsistent.

Except they don't feel so to me.  The bracelet did not feel like creating jewelry, merely stringing beads together.  There was no wire work (the handmade clasps were already in my stock) or even design involved: I simply took a few beads I had which matched the necklace and strung them on beading wire.  It almost immediately broke -- I ended up restringing it on Friday.  It never felt like making jewelry.

Maybe this is emblematic of how I discount so much of what I do.  Food for thought, certainly.

More jewelry.

I like this set almost in spite of myself: it is composed completely of fakes. The pearls are Swarovski, and with the exception of the clasp, the silver is all plated. Even the hematite is not authentic: it is a substance called "Hemalyke" from Fire Mountain Gems.*

I  made the necklace a few years back as a throwaway for some event I was going to; I love the way the silver plated balls and bead caps have tarnished slightly, giving the piece a faintly antique look.  I  made the bracelet in early April, again for an event and to match the necklace; it is not as pretty as the necklace because the silver balls are still shiny and new.

I only wish I had a better picture of them.  When you have tremors, it is hard to keep the phone still enough to take a decent picture.  iPhoto just cannot help  you when the original is slightly out of focus.

Necklace detail.

*According to what I have read, most hematite on the market is fake, especially the cheap beads.  I still use it because I love the steel gray look.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Odd thoughts for today.

I am sitting in the coffee shop the Resident Shrink frequents, having succumbed to the siren song of a slice of lemon meringue cake and a large decaf iced mocha, waiting to drive to Trivia.  The cake is, unusual in such things, absolutely as delicious as it looks, moist and not too sweet.  I am being good: I did  not tell the young man behind the counter that he looks and sounds like a cross between Emile Hirsch and Jonah Hill.  He is too young to overtly flirt with.  (Yes, I know.  I never flirt. I am trying to learn.)

I keep forgetting to ask R.S. what determination she arrived at about the tax-deductibility of coffee.  Not that that matters to me, as I have no business from which to deduct expenses, but inquiring minds want to know.

April was a very difficult month, we say with great understatement. Nobody died, nobody went to jail, so I guess in the end we're all going to be okay, but damn, I don't want a month like that anytime soon. As April had no interest in going out quietly, last night required a trip to Urgent Care. Pro tip: don't show up at Urgent Care just as they are closing when you have what may be a serious condition (it proved not to be), when you have driven yourself.  You find yourself with being threatened with the ER and an ambulance ride to get there, unless you can present someone within fifteen minutes to drive you.  For God's sake, just run the damn EKG already.*

It is May Day, and I should write something about the workers of the world and politicians, and how in America so many have been screwed over by the same system that too many of them want to protect. But I am tired, in body, mind, and spirit, so I think I'll let someone else try to change the world today.

And last, but not least, my family rocks.  Just sayin.'

*They did, and I am fine. The concern was a potentially fatal side effect of new meds.  As I said, it turned out to be nothing, but it could have turned out to be something, so I went.  Everybody told me I did the right thing. A previous post notwithstanding, I really should give up consuming large amounts of caffeine.

How do I keep missing these stories?

Google used its Street View project to possibly grab emails?  And they used a car to do it? Seriously?  Why not snatch whatever they wanted off people's GMail accounts?


Democracy is not a spectator sport.  Lotte Scharfman, former president, Massachusetts League of Women Voters.

For all my California friends, you only have twenty days (until May 21) to register for the primary election on June 5.  This year there has been a very important change to the rules: the top two vote-getters move on to the general election regardless of party preference or whether one of the candidates got a majority of the votes cast.  

It's not only the presidential primaries that matter, you know, nor the House and Senate races, as important as they are.  The people who sit in the State Legislature, county commissions, city councils, and school boards have as significant an impact (if not more) on your day-to-day life.  Your representative does not decide teachers' salaries or whether you can get the variance you need to build your house if it exceeds the prescribed maximum footprint area.  That judge you voted for  may sit on your neighbor down the street's drunk driving case.

So participate. Be part of this country. Don't stand on the sidelines and watch.

Register and VOTE.

We don't need no stinkin' decaf! (Well, actually, we do.)

My father once told me that there is no such thing as coffee that is too strong.  Generally speaking, I believe this to be true: I have made coffee probably forty times since the beginning of the year, and only twice have I made coffee too strong for me to drink, although others have often complained about it.*

Unfortunately, I also adulterate my coffee with enough sugar and cream to choke a small Welsh pony.

Dad would have never let me live this disgrace to our family name down.

*It is always better to make coffee too strong: the faint-hearted in the family (i.e., everyone else) can cut theirs with hot water.