Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Mental scars

Yesterday something terrible happened.

For the rest of my life now I will have a vivid and dreadful visual whenever I hear the phrase

Hair shirt.

ETA: It's been suggested I clarify. Okay, but follow the link at your own risk. Your mental scars are your responsibility.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Reading Aloud

My mother is a brilliant reader-alouder. From the time we were tiny she read to us - at the lunch table while I was trying to avoid eating my liverwurst sandwich, in the afternoons down in the den with me hanging upside down off the swing (yes, we had a swing in our den) or trying and failing to stand on my head. She read Francis Hodgson Burnett and Louisa May Alcott, Elizabeth Goudge and Eleanor Farjean. She read when we were driving to Colorado or Kansas to keep my sister and me from murdering each other in the back seat. She just read.

So I read too, to the Children, and have since they were babies. We used to be able to squash up into the couch together while we read A.A. Milne or Dr. Seuss. As the books (and the legs) got longer the children began to sprawl out on the floor or arrange themselves with drawing things, cards or other projects to keep their hands busy. I read them many of the books I was raised on, and added others of my own: Arthur Ransome, Susan Cooper and Philip Pullman. Usually after the book is over there is a general rush to claim it so one Child or another can re-read as quickly as possible. Child 3 won on His Dark Materials and then committed the cardinal sin of losing the book before finishing it (it found it again but things were a bit fraught for a while there!)

So now we're reading The Deathly Hallows. We got through nearly half on Saturday although it meant I had a rather sore throat. Sunday there were too many other commitments already made so we only squeezed in a few chapters, unfortunately leaving all of the final stuff still to come. Child 1 did indeed bring out its project bits and pieces and lay on the floor to listen, forgetting its card house now and then as things heated up in the story. Child 2 perched across the room and did glare at me whenever a particularly beloved character seemed in danger. It also has announced gloomily at every plot turn "XXX is going to die, I just know it. I KNOW it," just so that if the sad event does take place it will be well prepared - and have the consolation of being able to say "I TOLD you so!" Child 3 has punctuated the reading with wild predictions and shouts of "Oh! that's what happened..." and has also bounced into my room multiple times when it was supposed to be face-washing-teeth-brushing to tell me its latest ideas about What Will Happen Next.

Seven books worth of reading aloud; we'll finish this afternoon.

I wonder what we'll read tomorrow.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Harry Potter

Yes... I know... but the fact is that the Children are going to a midnight party tonight, and one of them will be dressed as a Death Eater, and another is seriously considering Hermione (having natural assets of unmanageable hair and a know-it-all attitude - Love you Child!) while the third has rejected my suggestion of an old pillowcase thus becoming Dobby.

Child 1 was given a Harry Potter book in Alaska by its very best friend. I had heard rumblings about the books, but since they were *gasp* popular I assumed they were also horrible and I wasn't going to have MY children read them. (see also cultural deprivation as described in an earlier post) But Child 1's best friend was a charming and wonderful person, and it insisted that the books were fantastic! Marvelous! Really, really great! So I practiced my best oh-well-if-you-must-but-we-all-know-we're-better-than-this face and read the book.

Like how many thousands of other children mine have now grown up with the series. I think of them geographically: books 1-3 were Alaska, book 4 we got in Virginia, book 5 in California.

So now we'll be going, at midnight, to pick up book 7. They still want me to read it aloud to all of them, although it's a little harder to cuddle everyone together now that legs have stretched so alarmingly and they come darn close to outweighing me. So probably Child 1 will have some project spread out over the floor as it listens, Child 2 will be ensconced in a corner of the other couch where it can glare at me if the plot goes against its likings and Child 3 will spend half its time bouncing up as its inspired to make something or try something out or shout out a prediction.

I'll probably stop at the end of every really exciting chapter and make to close the book. There's no point in ending at a boring bit - you have to make them suffer a little bit - and the Children will howl in anguish and insist I read just one more chapter... and then another...

So - do you think Harry will die?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


I was thinking about my grandfather the other day.

That's my father's father - the only one of my grandparents I knew very well at all; the other three died before I was seven.

He was Grandfather with a rolled "r" and and emphasis on the GRAND. I seriously envied my friends who had a grandpa, but he was introduced to me as GRANDfather and GRANDfather he remained.

He was the dean of an episcopal cathedral which meant he got to wear really impressive robes, and all of our birthday cards came with a return address to "The Very Reverend." That certainly added to the grand impression, and when I wasn't around him it was easy to think of him as terribly stern and very, very holy.

He tended to destroy that image in person since he liked to wear plaid golfing caps with little bobbles on the top and started out every visit by announcing "You grew just enough this year - your legs are just long enough to reach the ground!" I used to get a wonderful image of myself the next year solemnly wading around in several inches of earth.

His wife, my grandmother, died when I was six and I have no real memories of her. We went to visit when she was very ill and I vaguely recall being frightened because the room was dim and she was so terribly frail. I wish I had known her because she sounds like an amazing woman. She went to a very posh college where she majored in chemistry and (according to my probably twisted memory) also acquired the skill of eating a banana with a knife and fork. She also single-handedly got my grandfather through divinity college by writing all of his papers for him.

He remarried fairly quickly - a member of the cathedral who spent the rest of her life calling him "the dean." We weren't to call her GRANDmother or even Grandma - she was Mimi (meye-meye). She took wonderful care of him, keeping his house meticulously tidy and cooking enormous meals. She loved to take us shopping and my grandfather was the chauffeur. She would keep up a constant stream of comment "I think that was the turn... are you sure this is the exit we need? Now, you're not going by the railroad are you??" and he would serenely smile as he drove just the way he wanted. We realized that he had been discretely turning off his hearing aid just before he got in the car and literally turning a deaf ear.

We toured his cathedral several times - I covered myself with glory once by successfully identifying Judas in a stained glass window (he was the grumpy one with the huge bag of money). I remember attending Midnight Mass one magical Christmas (I got to stay up! As a child! On Christmas Eve!) and not recognizing the purple-stoled man with the deep voice. My parents were what my mother calls "heathen" when I was a small child, and then converted to a non-episcopalian religion to my step-grandmother's chagrin. When we stayed with them my sister and I were often asked to say grace before dinner. Our prayers were fairly short, casual embarrassed affairs including rote phrases from our own church ("keepusfromharmoraccident," "blessthisfoodthatitmaynourishandstrengthenourbodies") and just as we were rushing for the end Mimi would shoot out an iron hand, grasp our wrists and say firmly "Aaaaaaand..." adding in all the things we had missed out and closing with "andmakeusevermindfuloftheneedsofothers [breath] throughChristourLord [significant pause] Ahmen."

When Kirk and I were married in my parent's living room - a five minute service by a very nervous Mormon bishop who had never performed a marriage before - Mimi stood up at the end and announced that my grandfather would give us a wedding prayer. Kirk, who had just been feeling terribly relieved that his endless ordeal (in front of at LEAST 12 people) was over, swallowed hard and agreed. I don't remember what he said, just that he smiled sweetly at us at the end and told us we should kiss again (which we did very awkwardly). "There," Mimi said with relief, "he doesn't tie many slip knots!"

He didn't.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Second Hand Harry Potter Review

So, I took the Children to the Harry Potter movie yesterday, but that's all I did. I bought the tickets, drove to the theater (sorry, I save Theatre for ackshual plays what have people in 'em. At least when I remember I do), threw them enthusiastically out the door and waved buh-bye.

It's not that I have anything against Harry Potter - I like Harry Potter. I refuse to dislike it on the basis of popularity OR fantasy genre OR books-for-kids.

It's just that I have a few things I truly cannot bear in plots and while books have this really neat feature where you can skip on a few pages and Ta Dah! Icky bit over! Movies in theaters don't let you do that, and your Children might be a wee bit embarrassed if their mother sits through much of the movie with eyes squinched shut, finger jammed in ears saying "la la LA LA LA IS THAT PART OVER YET?"

One of my real problems is people making fools of themselves. I've never liked that. It makes me squirm for the poor saps - even if it's the bad guy I get all twisty and uncomfortable and I want to look away QUICKLY. That's why I hated Laverne and Shirley. Or I would have if we had watchable television in our house.

The thing that I really have trouble with though is any story line that depends on the hero being framed or falsely accused. I don't know why, it's just the way I am. Now, not to spoiler anyone who hasn't seen the movie or read the book, but let's just say there's a weency bit of that sort of thing in this film. So I sent my kids on ahead as scouts to see if all the good stuff was going to make the misery of the bad stuff worthwhile.

This is made more difficult because we have a family rule about Not Spoiling Movies For People Who Have Not Seen Them. So they honestly tried to give me the information I wanted without actually ruining the whole thing. Here's their report as far as I can translate:

"OMG! It was so cool with the... I mean, the dementors, they redesigned them (insert nerdy question from me on the art design and lighting) and there's this part where... no never mind. But then! They didn't have some of the stuff - oh, but they did have the part where, and I'd tell you about it, but I can't! Oh! And pink kittens, and Umbridge was like 'hem!' and that was.... but the end was really! And the rooms! With the... oh, and I liked the kiss."

So there you are. Three thumbs up and a resolution from me to wait until either the theater will be fairly deserted and I can hide under my seat in peace, or it comes out on DVD and I can take frequent bathroom breaks while the Children shriek "Wait Mom! This is the best part!"

Thursday, July 12, 2007


I was culturally deprived as a child. It's sad to say that, because my parents probably wanted what was best for me, but it's quite true. We had only one television in the entire house, and for many many years it was a black and white one so I honestly believed that Leave it to Beaver, M*A*S*H and Happy Days were all filmed in the 50's. It also meant that I did indeed shout loudly and with consternation, "Hey! Who colorized this??" when watching Wizard of Oz in college. Oh yeah, that'll leave a scar.

We did not have cable so I missed the entire time frame when MTV actually played music (except for illicit viewing at various friend's house). I saw maybe... mentally totting up.... maybe 12 movies in an actual movie theatre by the time I hit high school and that includes Snow White where I wept bitterly for the last 20 minutes or so because Dopey had cried (I was going to marry Dopey and take him away from all his friends. Grumpy would have beaten the crap out of me), and Sleeping Beauty where I had to hide under my seat for much of the end what with the ginormous dragon and the possibility that the ginormous dragon would somehow come back and eat the poncey prince (leaving the three fairies as after dinner mints probably). I didn't see any Molly Ringwald movies when they came out which meant I had to get my fashion tips second hand (wait, no fingers in the gloves? And how many pairs of socks are we supposed to wear? Dangit, my mom won't let me wear a sweatshirt with the neck cut out 'cause it might show my bra strap) AND I missed the television airing of Red Dawn which had all the rest of my friends discussing how far from the blast point of a nuclear bomb you'd have to be to ensure instant snuffing rather than long, drawn out radiation sickness agony.

To be fair I was given alternatives. I could tell you who the Secret Seven were, I knew which new girls were likely to cause the most trouble each year at Saint Clare's boarding school and I had read every last Agatha Christie by the time I was 11. Oh yeah, I was really great at parties.

Kirk on the other hand had been handed a summer pass to the movie theatre each year (with strict instructions not to lean his head back on the seat - stranger hair goo is contagious, not to sweat, and not to come home for at least four hours). He was served his fast-food dinners on a tray in front of one of the two or three televisions there were in the living room alone. I was a granola child - he was definitely twinkies.

But I felt the isolation of not sharing culture with my peers, I truly did. So when I had children of my own I was definitely going to make sure that they were well exposed to all the most important and useful bits of popular culture. As a result they know most if not all of the really seminal Monty Python sketches (Dead Parrot naturally, but they also like Close Order Swanning About) along with several other really vital things, like Yes Prime Minister and Good Neighbors (British title - The Good Life). Recently I realized though that maybe this doesn't quite provide a large range of experiences. They need to be prepared for the tough life ahead. Perhaps old Brit coms aren't enough?

So we've been watching Animaniacs cartoons all week. I'm such a good mom.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

NPR drive by

While half-listening to NPR in the background -

Me: Hey, is that Beverly Sills?

Boss: I think so

Me: Oh.... um, isn't she dead?

Boss: Yes, I'm pretty sure.

Me: Well, in that case, she sounds great.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Indoor League

My boss told me a story today about how her step-sons were using their airSoft guns to fight some sort of sibling-annihilating guerrilla war game inside their mother's house. We both agreed easily that probably this is not an idea that would have flown had any reasonable female, and even some reasonable males, been around. Which instantly made me remember a story...

I came home in California one day to find the living room furniture all desperately hugging the walls. The rug had been rolled up and put aside as well to expose the grey carpet, and an entire field complete with goal boxes, midfield and free kick lines was marked out with masking tape. The combatants were spread out around the room and all looked up with a certain amount of guilt.

Except for one of course - the largest one. It had been his idea in the first place. Granted, Kirk felt he was being very responsible and sensible by insisting they replace the real soccer ball with a balloon. It was hardly his fault that one of the children still bears a scar from a mid-air collision when going for a header.

These things just happen you know, even in the best regulated households.

Monday, July 09, 2007


Child 3 took its hard earned cash to Sharper Image and purchased one of these: Ripstik. It promptly demolished the packaging (leaving a hamster trail of shredded cardboard and bits of foam packing) in the back seat of the car and settled down to read the Instruction Manual.

The front cover says in large formidable letters: Read This Before Using This Product

Then there are about four inner pages which give the following instructions for enjoying this fine piece of recreational equipment.


INJURY or DEATH can result if you do not wear the following VERY IMPORTANT SAFETY GEAR: Helmet, elbow pads, knee pads, long sleeved shirt, long pants, well soled shoes in good condition.

DEATH or INJURY may result even if you do wear the VERY IMPORTANT SAFETY GEAR

INJURY or DEATH may result from replacing worn parts with UNOFFICIAL parts. USER must CALL US before using UNOFFICIAL parts.

PARENTS must READ and UNDERSTAND these instructions, and explain them to the child. These instructions should be REREAD every few months.

Oh, and you clean it with a damp cloth.

Child 3 has spent a happy three days Ripstiking around the neighborhood. Despite not wearing any of the VERY IMPORTANT SAFETY GEAR (except shoes - it is wearing shirt and shorts) it has not yet managed serious INJURY or DEATH.

I think its just not trying.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Slave Labor

Kirk and I have always been lovingly honest with our children. We would look into their beloved wee faces and croon "now darlings, you know we only had you for the slave labor, right?" and they would wrinkle their adorable noses up at us and lisp back, "of courth, and may we do the vacuuming now?"

Or something like that.

In practice they have a mixed history when it comes to household chores. Child 3 is willing, sometimes, but has a peculiar blindness to anything that is in contact with another object or surface. So it will swear absolutely that its room is clean and looks on with astonishment when I point out the bread-crumb trail of lego pieces up against the walls. Child 2 read The Gammage Cup at far too early an age and was happy to discover a fictional character who believes strongly in the "organize with heaps" method of room cleaning. Child 1 will cheerfully tidy up when pressed but is blissfully unaware of messes left behind when showers are taken or clothes changed.

We did have one glorious coup when we convinced them all that dish-washing was a terribly, terribly grown-up and exciting thing to do. Child 1 had watched one of us at the sink (taking in the unbelievable possibilities of foamy white suds and a large amount of water) and had asked if it could wash dishes some time. We wrinkled our brows and looked dubious - oh, I don't know really. Maybe when you're older, if you're really good we might let you wash dishes as a very special treat. But not now sweetheart, not yet. We spun that out for several weeks and as a reward got a full six months of happy, even grateful dishwashing. Even better, Child 2 watched the whole thing, green with envy, and tacked an extra three months on the end of that. Child 3 however managed to spread the water so far and wide that it was ruled out on the basis of collateral damage.

Apparently that's the hard way to get 'em to do things though. My parents came up with a much more simple plan. For the last week all three Children have happily weeded, stacked wood, ripped up and disposed of carpeting, removed ancient and well-glued tiles (of unknown matter - probably asbestos lightly seasoned with lead), washed walls, swabbed floors, sanded, plastered, patched and painted apparently without complaint.

I could suggest it's the kindness of their hearts and their deep and abiding love for their wonderful grandparents.

But I'm pretty sure it's the cold, hard cash.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Glorious Fourth

It always feels a little petty of the universe to put the Fourth on a Wednesday. No four day weekend naturally, but worse, you have to then get up and go back to work the next day as though the entire neighborhood weren't firing off illegal fireworks well past 11 the night before.

Good fun was had though. Children 1 and 2 went one direction to incite acts of arson among young and impressionable types while Child 3 and I spent the evening with friends on the other end of town. They have a house that looks out over much of the city with a gorgeous view of the firework displays held at the fair-grounds, the balloon park, at least two country clubs as well as the enthusiastic if law-breaking neighbors. Since it's monsoon season we also had a very impressive lightening display and were finally chased out of our chairs by the rain.

No one lost a limb although Child 1 managed a small burn on the sole of its foot. It needs to come up with a really good story for that though because "sparkler accident" just doesn't sound all that heroic somehow. Nope, it definitely needs something that starts out:

"There I was..."

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Alan Johnston is Free

Thanks to all of you who emailed me - this is amazing news. Alan Johnston has been freed after 114 days in captivity. You can read the BBC article here.

What an incredible and wonderful thing to happen.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Kandahar Journal

I found a wonderful blog the other day. It's the journal of Richard Johnson, a Canadian illustrator who is documenting his time in Afghanistan. The sketches are fascinating (and it's interesting to see him gain assurance as he goes along - he mentions in the first post that he's a little rusty), but the prose is just as good.

Afghanistan is often overlooked with all the noise and confusion and anger over Iraq. It's good to see this ongoing effort to rebuild and restore being documented so vividly.

News combat art isn't seen much anymore, but there's something very evocative about it. Maybe it's because the sketches have to be done with deliberation. I certainly find something in them that reaches me in a way photographs don't.

A Kandahar Journal

Monday, July 02, 2007


I met a man in Target the other day.

I was waiting for Child 1, sort of browsing-not-buying in the movie section and I had just picked up Flags of Our Fathers. He tapped me on the shoulder and said, "I was just looking at that."

Have you seen it yet? I said, I saw it in the theater, and it was pretty good. But I read the book first, and that helped.

No, I didn't need to see it. I was there.

He was a navy corpsman in the Pacific, and he was quick to say that he wasn't on Iwo, he just treated the guys who were evacuated. We talked for a while there in the store. He said he loves to find Marines and go give them a hard time, calling them "jarhead." Then he tells them what his job was, and every last one of them has given him a hug.

I can understand that.

He didn't go into medicine when he got out, he said. He went to work for the post office instead. But he was glad of the medical training, because when his wife got cancer a few years ago he could be her nurse - the only one she had. He cared for her until the day she died. She was his second wife - he had been married 21 years the first time, 28 the second. That made him about 53 he said, and I agreed.

His son wanted him to move out to California, but he wouldn't go because his wife was buried in the national cemetery in Santa Fe and he didn't want to leave her grave. She had been a WAV in Korea and you could see the way his shoulders straightened when he talked about that. He was going to be buried with her - not beside her, but with her, and he told the officials at the cemetery that he didn't care what they said about his service so long as hers was on the marker.

He asked me if I'd ever been to Washington DC, and then wanted to know if I'd seen the memorial. I knew for him it wasn't the Vietnam Memorial, the one most people of my generation think of, but the World War II Memorial. I had, I told him, and I thought it was about time they put one up too. He shrugged.

He had an application form sitting on his desk at home for the American Legion. He was already a member of the American Veterans of Foreign Wars, but he didn't think he wanted to join the Legion. Their literature was all about benefits, he said, all about getting what was owed you. No one owes me anything.

I think we do, I told him, but he shook his head.

Nope, look at me, I have all my limbs, I've got my head on (for all the good it does me), no one owes me anything. I had an adventure, that's all. I saw a lot of stuff, and some of it was pretty hard, but I was just doing what we all needed to do.

He smiled at me then, and slowly wheeled his basket away.