Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Don't Forget to Eat Your Black Eyed Peas

Well, here it is, New Year's Eve ... the last day of 2008. Tomorrow a whole new year begins. Regardless of how you feel about that, there is one simple step you can take within the next 24 hours to help ensure that 2009 is a stellar year:

According to Southern tradition, if you want to have good luck and prosperity for the coming year, the first food you should eat in the New Year is black eyed peas.

(Southerners are maybe a little confused. These so-called peas are actually beans.)

You can cook and eat them in a variety of ways -- cooked with ham-hocks (deep south traditional method), spicy with ham and rice ("Hoppin' John"), cooked with greens, cooked with tomatoes, in a salad, or straight out of the can -- however you like them (and even if you don't like them, you are not excused from eating them). But the essential ingredient is the black eyed peas themselves. Don't start thinking you can just eat the ham that was cooked with the black eyed peas and get the same effect.

Also, don't ignore this as a silly Southern superstition. One year my best-ever friend ignored my pleas to eat the peas, and then got into a car accident on her way home on New Years Day. Fortunately, she was sober, it was daylight, and she wasn't hurt. But unfortunately, she did have to pay to get the car repaired. She told me she would eat her black eyed peas every New Years Day from that year forward. As far as I know, she has avoided additional car wrecks.

Because the black-eyed peas must be the very first thing you eat in the new year in order to be the most effective, I highly recommend eating them just after your midnight champagne toast to the New Year, so that you won't forget, in your drunken stupor, and eat something dumb like chocolate or peanuts or french fries or other bar food before you consume the all-important black eyed peas. So if you are going out somewhere and/or you don't have time to cook them to your liking at home, bring along a can, a can opener, and a spoon, and then just open them up and eat a spoonful with your midnight glass of champagne.

Assuming you can do so without blowing your grits immediately afterwards.

Because the second Southern tradition / superstition I want to remind you of is the one that says that whatever you are doing on New Year's Eve / Day is a predictor of what you will be doing the rest of the year.

Good luck and happy new year to you all, my bloggy friends!

Third Time's a Charm

Can you believe it? I have been nominated for a third award! Thank you, Sausage Mechanic! I am truly honored to be selected by bloggers I admire so much to receive awards I may not deserve, after my holiday hiatus from blogging... then again, the nominations rolled in before I took such a long break.

And I have yet to post the obligatory holiday review post, complete with photos of the ginger bear cookies and the power rangers who took over my home on Christmas Day. Well, that stuff can wait, there's an award at issue here!

This is the award:

I'm glad my attorney status did not automatically exclude me from consideration for this award. I know many people erroneously believe attorneys as a group are dishonest.

And here are the rules that came with this award:

• List 10 honest things about yourself - and make it interesting, even if you have to dig deep!

• pass the award on to 7 bloggers that you feel embody the spirit of the Honest Scrap

Because as an attorney I feel confident that it is within my power to amend award rules here on my blog, and because I just gave that other fantastic award to 5 bloggers yesterday, I am changing the "7" to a "5". I am also deleting the requirements that those 5 bloggers write anything at all or pass the award on to any specified number of bloggers, although of course they are welcome to write 10 honest things (or 3 or 100 or whatever) and may pass it along if, and to whoever, they wish. So , in summary, the new rules are as follows:

1. Follow the original rules if you like, or these amended rules if you prefer.
2. Post the award on your site if you want to.
3. Write some honest things about yourself if you want to. Make them interesting even if you have to dig deep.
4. Pass the award along if you want to, to any number of other bloggers from 1 to 10.

(Leave it to a lawyer to turn 2 rules into 4 while trying to "simplify" things... Ay yi yi.)

Here are 10 honest things about me. Note that I was careful not to duplicate the six random things I had to disclose for that meme thing that Fancy Schmancy tagged me with back in November. I hope they are interesting.

1. There was a boy in my fourth grade class who was friendly and nice enough, but was a little odd. OK, a lot odd. He worshipped "Batman," sang weird songs to himself at recess (including the "Batman" theme song), picked his nose when he thought no one was looking (at least he didn't eat the boogers), and wore bell-bottom jeans with funky patterns on them. Everyone teased him. For a long time I was nice to him because he wasn't a mean kid or anything, just odd. But then people started teasing me for being nice to him, so I started ignoring him. For Valentine's Day, we exchanged cards with the other kids in the class. I had those little cards that have cartoon characters on them and say things like "Bee Mine" and "You're Special." We were supposed to give a card to every other kid in the class, so I felt I had to give this boy a card, but I was afraid to give him a card because I didn't want anyone to think I liked him (like on "The Simpsons" when Lisa gives Ralph Wiggum the "Choo-Choo-Choose Me" card, and then he thinks she is in love with him....). I agonized over which card I could give him that wouldn't mean I actually liked him. In the end, I gave him the "Be My Valentine" card, but wrote the word "DON'T" in big letters before the "Be My Valentine." Because there was no enforcement of the "give everyone a card rule," he didn't get very many cards. But I was the only one who gave him a mean Valentine instead of a nice one. He cried. I felt terrible. I hope it didn't scar him for life.

2. I love to debate, and I love to win an argument. This is probably what drove me to attend law school. I know that it is best to avoid lawyerly techniques such as cross-examination, citing rules and statutes, and arguing by analogy to past cases when having a minor disagreement with one's spouse. But sometimes I can't help myself and I do it anyway.

3. I love to drive. I especially love to drive fast. I probably should have been a race car driver instead of a lawyer but when I was growing up, NASCAR didn't have many female stars. Within two years of getting my license, I had to find a new insurer (a "high risk" insurer) because I got too many speeding tickets. I have slowed down a bit now that I am a mom and a responsible attorney and all that. I rarely get tickets any more. But I am undoubtedly one of those drivers who annoy the crap out of you when they pass you on the right and/or tailgate you when you are going the speed limit -- or (dammit!) sometimes even when you are exceeding the speed limit. This is because you are driving too slowly in the left lane -- or perhaps you are even speeding in the left lane, but you are directly beside a car that is going the exact same speed in the right lane, and I want to go around you so I can happily exceed the speed limit by at least 5-10 mph and see nothing but open road in front of me. I don't like looking at your sorry taillights any more than you like seeing my freaking front grill in your mirror. So get out of my way, and then you won't have to be annoyed with me. I promise to smile and wave and say "Thank you!" as I pass you.

4. My favorite job ever was driving a bus in college. Even though buses don't go very fast, they were still fun to drive. I took great pride in driving safely and smoothly so that my passengers would have a pleasant ride. I drove the most hours (top of the seniority board!) and earned the most safety awards (9!) of all the drivers while I was there. I never got into accidents or got speeding tickets while driving the bus.

5. I never knew what a "camel toe" was until about 3 months ago when my husband explained it to me, while laughing so hard at my ignorance that he almost cried.

6. I never knew how to hit a baseball (or softball) until my husband taught me several years ago. I feared company (or neighborhood) softball games because I would always strike out, and I looked ridiculous besides. My husband didn't laugh at me for that one. He took me to the batting cage and he was a very patient and good teacher, and now my softball skills rival the best of the pathetically-bad and out-of-shape middle-aged softball players in the neighborhood!

7. I always thought I would not want children. The kids I babysat for when I was a teen were loud, whiny, boring, demanding, time-consuming and annoying (in my opinion; I'm sure their parents loved them very much) with no redeeming qualities that I could discern. Then when I turned 30 I began to think it might -- maybe -- be ok to have just one child. Then I had my daughter, and I immediately wished I had started this child-raising project when I was 22 so I could have had ten children. Kids are so cool! They are so fun! They are so cute! (And yes, they are sometimes loud, whiny, boring, demanding, time-consuming, and annoying, but oh-so-worth it!!) Ah, well, it's probably better for Mother Earth and society in general that I only have 2 little ones.

8. When I was a kid, my mom was working on getting her Ph.D. in psychology. She used me as a subject to practice giving various tests such as the Rorschach ("ink blot") test and IQ tests and so forth. Her friends used me as a practice subject, too, so I took some of the tests several times. I had a lot of fun tormenting the test-givers with that ink-blot test. I'd think the ink blot looked like a butterfly or a flower (or just a stupid symmetrical blob of ink!), but I'd say it looked like "two dogs doing it with a rat brain" or "a psychotic man," or "a blood-stained shirt." I had fun with those word-association tests, too. They'd say "pencil," and a normal response might be something like "write" or "paper." I'd reply with something like "insane asylum" or "race car" in an attempt to skew their results. I think my mom was actually worried about me for a while, but then she caught on to my game.

9. When I was a kid, I told my Mom I wanted to be Jewish. My friend Jennifer Goldstein was Jewish and she got tons of presents every day for 8 days for Hannukah (or however we're supposed to spell it these days), as opposed to just one day of lots of presents that our family got for Christmas. My Mom explained that what I really wanted, apparently, was to be rich and/or spoiled, and that even if we were Jewish, I wouldn't get that many presents for that many days. When I was in college (majoring in Religious Studies and dating a Jewish guy), I learned what a beautiful, tradition- and symbolism-rich, and family- and community-oriented culture / religion it really is, and then I wanted to be Jewish again, but for different reasons. I never did convert, though. (My boyfriend didn't want me to because he liked Christmas better for some reason. I think he said something about "better decorations" and "more presents"....)

10. Even though I am married to a wonderful guy and have two wonderful kids who love me a lot and I have a ton of very caring friends, I am secretly terrified that I will grow old and become very ill and have no one to care for me and will end up all alone in some horrible state-run nursing home with inadequate care, bored out of my skull with nothing but "Alf" reruns on the television 24/7, and getting bedsores and crying out repeatedly and fruitlessly for pain medication. I might deserve this fate after the way I treated that poor boy in fourth grade, but I hope it doesn't happen anyway.

Aaack, that was much longer than I intended. Sorry about that. Here are the five wonderfully honest bloggers who I believe have also earned this award, who have not already received it (to the best of my knowledge), and who I think might appreciate it:

1. The Grandpa, over at The Word Mechanic blog. He writes great poetry and offers an honest and refreshing perspective on life.

2. Moe Berg, over at the Simon Metz blog. He's a recent discovery (for me anyway). There's both comedy and tragedy in his blog. And even though he admits he's not "Moe Berg" or "Simon Metz," his heartfelt writing will quickly convince you he's telling the honest truth about everything, even if the names have been changed.

3. Tova Darling, at The Secret Life of Tova Darling. After her pole-dancing confession and with her "Totally Awkward Tuesdays" she's got the "honesty" award all wrapped up.

4. Kim Ayres, at Ramblings of the Bearded One. I tagged him recently with that bus story virus. He apparently decided not to participate, but I'm ok with that. I still love his blog and I think you will, too. Perhaps he'll appreciate an "honesty" award all the way from Arizona, U.S.A., with an optional writing assignment, more than he appreciated being given just a random writing assignment from a chick he'd never heard of until that day.

5. Talullah, at Skadooshed. Another of my recent discoveries. She doesn't write too frequently, but when she does she is entertaining, thoughtful, provocative, fun, deep, and -- oh, yes, honest. Check her out.

As always, there are lots more wonderful bloggers out there who deserve to win. I am completely crazy to reduce the number of winners from 7 to 5 for this award (and from 8 to 5 for yesterday's). Believe me, it's not that I can't think of more folks who deserve an award. It's just that half the bloggers I know and comment on have already won these awards (or have declared their blogs a "no award zone"), and besides, I have to save a few bloggers on my list who might care about winning an award from me, just in case I ever win another one. (Hey, don't laugh, it could happen....). After all, I can't keep giving awards to the same bloggers every time, now can I? Plus, like I said yesterday, all you have to do is click on the little links over on the side there, if you want to read all the blogs I love. We don't need an award for that, now do we?

Thanks to all of you for writing such great stuff.


Monday, December 29, 2008

Woo-Hoo, Another Award!

So, way back on December 18, That Damn Expat gave me an award. I must seem quite ungrateful, having apparently ignored it until now. But I'm really not ungrateful; just busy lately. In any event, I belatedly accept this gracious award from Mrs. Expat, PH.D. (Another award! I got another award! Woo-hoo!) So, here it is, in all its glory:

Isn't it beautiful?

According to the description of the award, the bloggers who receive it "are not interested in prizes or self-aggrandizement." Well, who doesn't love prizes? So that part of the award can't be quite accurate, now can it?

But of course, to accept the award, one must comply with certain rules. Here they are:

"This blog invests and believes in the PROXIMITY - nearness in space, time and relationships! These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in prizes or self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers! Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this cleverly-written text into the body of their award."

And then I am supposed to pass the award on to 8 bloggers who must choose 8 more and so on.

But, as I tend to do with these meme and award things, I am changing the rules a bit. (Are you appalled that I'm a lawyer and I'm not following the rules of the award? Well, just consider that I've amended them, much as a statute might be amended to better fit the current circumstances. After amending the rules, I'll follow them exactly.)

The first amendment to the rules is that I will "tag" only 5 bloggers with this award. This is because (giggle! smile!) I've been tagged with another award, too, and I am trying to keep things reasonable around here with the blogger lists. Truly, if you want to read all the bloggers I admire, all you have to do is go over to the blog list -- it's right there on the right hand side of your screen -- and then also click on the icons of all my wonderful "followers" -- also right there on the right hand side of your screen. (You see, I've been too lazy to add some of them to my blogroll. When I want to visit their blogs, I just click on their adorable little icons. You should do the same!)

The second amendment to the rules is that the folks I have tagged for this award are not required to do anything at all except enjoy the fact that I picked them for an award. They should simply bask in the glory and smile. If they'd like to post the award on their site, they can do that, too. Speeches are also ok. Of course, if they wish to tag 1, 5, 8, 10, or 80 others, that is completely fine, as well. You see, I'm a very flexible and reasonable attorney, and so I won't try to stop them from amending the rules on their web sites, too.

And now to comply with the amended award rules.

The hard part is narrowing my list to 5 bloggers, and then trying to make sure they haven't already received the award for being so kind and excellent. So, just give me a couple of minutes here to look through my blog roll and my followers and the blogs I follow and do a quick search to make sure my proposed winners haven't already won....

* * * * * *

. . . just a few more minutes. Bear with me, here...

* * * * * *

Ok, here we are at last -- my 5 picks for this prestigious and beautiful, not to mention relationship-building, award:

Green Yogurt. She's green. She's yogurty. She's awesome. She is also a very perceptive person and blogs often about relationships with friends, relatives, roommates, co-workers, and the other fascinating people she encounters living in San Francisco. Check her out. You'll love her as much as I do.

Legal Diva. She's a mom and law student who manages to find time to write an entertaining blog called "The Reasonable Person," presumably named after that fictional character who has appeared in literally hundreds of thousands of tort cases to set the standard by which we measure our expectations of human behavior.

Jenners. She has two blogs, "Find Your Next Book Here" and "Life With A Little One and More." She can put the award on either blog (or both, if she is so inclined!), as both meet the stated criteria -- i.e., both show her charm and her focus on finding and being friends.

Lisa. Her blog, The Butterfly Farmer, is beautiful, touching, and all about relationships.

Dave. His blog "Five String Guitar," which chronicles his sudden deafness due to illness, his cochlear implants, his wife's battle with leukemia, and his teenage son, is often entertaining, often touching and hopeful, sometimes sad, and usually insightful -- and some days it's all of these at once.

Happy reading everyone!

And congratulations to the new winners! (And if you've already received this award from someone else, I apologize for the duplication).


Monday, December 22, 2008

The Big Holiday "Do List"

It's been a little ... hectic around here lately.

I am sure this won't be as exciting as Whiskeymarie's lists generally are, but here are just a few of the things I've accomplished since my last post:

Worked a lot, but not as much as my clients may have wanted
Told kids to clean their rooms
Helped husband with food drive at his school
Thought about posting something interesting on my blog
Online / virtual world shopping for gifts
Real-world shopping for gifts
Told kids to clean their rooms
Helped older kid with school project
Attended kindergarten "holiday program" to listen to small kids singing holiday songs; watched my kid do the "pee-pee dance" throughout
Cleaned living room and dining room to prepare for decorating for Christmas; found and disposed of petrified raisins and six-month old peanuts in sofa cushions
Cleaned bathrooms so guests won't be horrified
Thought about posting something interesting on my blog
Told kids to clean their rooms
Pulled out 28 boxes labeled "Christmas" from storage cabinets in laundry room; found battery-operated light strands that were needed for the Fantasy of Lights parade last month but could not be found at that time. Added this year's collection of battery-operated lights to the box.
Bought Christmas tree
Decorated Christmas tree while playing Christmas music and singing loudly (and badly) and drinking to excess (mmmm, eggnog.... )
Nursed hangover
Thought about posting something interesting on my blog; head hurts too much
Cleaned living room again
Told kids to clean their rooms
Washed 12 loads of laundry
Received awesome box of gifts for me, husband, and kids from best-ever friend who has spent the past 6 months in China and managed to mail gifts on time all the way from China while I haven't even bought gifts for her and her kids yet
Online shopping for best-ever friend & her husband and kids, with rush delivery option so gifts will arrive on time
Thought about posting something interesting on my blog
Told kids to clean their rooms
Hung lights outside
Sorted through 28 boxes of various holiday decorations to find a few treasures for decorating inside house
Told kids to clean their rooms
Washed holiday plates and put them in cabinets
Put "regular" plates in boxes and put the boxes away
Cleaned dining room again
Read my favorite blogs, commented on some; thought about how I really should try to post something interesting on my blog
Told kids to clean their rooms
Cleaned bathrooms again
Costco trip to stock up on holiday necessities like wine and blueberries
Told kids to clean their rooms
Re-packed 28 boxes of Christmas crap and empty packaging materials and put them back in cabinets in laundry room
Attended "Velveteen Rabbit" play with both kids
Told kids to clean their rooms
Shopped for holiday gifts for kids' teachers, coaches, & music instructors
Wrote and delivered cards with gifts to kids' teachers, coaches, & music instructors
Wrote, addressed, and mailed holiday greetings to current and former clients
Thought about trying to post something interesting on my blog
Told kids to clean their rooms
Entertained friends while drinking to excess
Nursed hangover
Took kids to see "Santa" at the mall; camera battery died when I tried to take a photo
Bought expensive photos (3 for $20! Highway robbery!) of kids from Santa rip-off artists at mall
Bought new batteries for camera
Told kids to clean their rooms
Thought about posting something interesting on my blog
Grocery shopping for Christmas Day holiday extravaganza, featuring visits from relatives and friends galore
Wrote, addressed, and mailed holiday greetings to friends and family, enclosing photos of kids for those who would be interested.
Told kids to clean their rooms
More online / virtual world shopping for friends and family who live out of town
More real-world shopping for friends and family who live in town
Wrapped gifts
Told kids to clean their rooms
Gave up on posting something interesting on my blog and posted this instead

Still to do:
More work for clients, who would like for me to do even more than I am planning to do
Tell kids to clean their rooms
Clean living room, dining room, and bathrooms again for friends who are coming by this evening
Tell kids to clean their rooms
Bake Christmas cookies, brownies, and breads while listening to Christmas music and singing loudly (and badly) and drinking to excess
Nurse hangover
Tell kids to clean their rooms
Package cookies etc. in nice little holiday tins / plates and deliver them to neighbors
Tell kids to clean their rooms
Wrap gifts
Post something interesting on my blog
Clean kids' rooms
Relax in front of fire on Christmas Eve with hot cocoa, reading "The Night Before Christmas" and other Christmas favorites to the kids
Watch while kids discover their Santa gifts and unwrap their presents on Christmas morning
Smile a lot and remember why I love this time of year

Happy holidays everyone! I have lots of stories for you and will try to post something interesting soon.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Good Luck Mobile

Fancy Schmancy's post from yesterday reminded me of this story, I guess because her car's "symptoms" seem similar to what I experienced. I am hoping her car story will have a happy ending, too, and not just be a cash drain the week before Christmas.

Way back in the dark ages, when my husband and I were still "just dating," we took a vacation to San Francisco. We drove up the Pacific Coast Highway in my husband's Suzuki SJ-410. It was a tiny Japanese-made jeep-like car with a lawn mower size engine, that was the precursor to the Samurai. (Remember those? They were famous for rolling over in the '80's.)

Near Coachella, California, there is an area where the average wind velocity is 40 mph. In the '70's, they erected lots of wind turbines there, to harness the wind energy. There are thousands of them, in little rows on the hills surrounding this one town.

Something about the rows and rows of those huge, slow-moving and mesmerizing mechanical things always reminds me of the marching hammers in Pink Floyd's movie, "The Wall." (See the below video, starting at about 1:30).

Of course, the wind turbines are not scary like the hammers. (Unless you're a bird. Apparently a fair number of birds are killed each year by these wind turbines). I do not feel the abject terror that those hammers induced in the movie. It is just something about the mechanical relentlessness of the turbines that reminds me of those relentlessly forward-marching hammers.

Anyway, as we drove through this area, the SJ-410's engine was really straining. The wind blows in an Easterly direction, and we were driving West on the freeway. Even with the gas pedal floored, the car would not go above 40 mph. Although this was frustrating, it made sense and we weren't too worried about it because the top speed on the speedometer was about 80 mph, and we were facing at least a 40 mph headwind. Many people communicated with us by honking and waving and showing us their middle fingers. I think this is some sort of friendly driver code for "it would be ok with me if you drove a little faster." Or maybe it meant "Get off the road with that stupid lawn mower you f-ing idiots!" One of those.

Many hours later we stopped in a small town about an hour south of SF for gas. After filling the tank, the car would not start. Hmmmm. Strange. Let's try that again....

Still won't start. Very strange..... Again? No. Again? No. Again? .... you get the idea. (What is it that makes us think that after we have tried 38 times to start the car, it will actually start on the 39th try?)

People were starting to communicate with us again -- something like, "it would be ok with us if you moved your car away from the gas tank so we could get in there." Or maybe it was "Move that stupid lawn mower you f-ing idiots!" One of those.

We pushed the car across the street to the service station (the gas station we had stopped at did not have mechanic service), where we ultimately were told that the alternator was dead.

Normally this would not be a problem; they could simply replace the alternator. But I'd like you to remember what kind of car this was. An SJ-410. Have you ever heard of that? Of course you haven't. Well, maybe some of you who live overseas have, but those of you who live here in the US most certainly have not. They were not manufactured for sale in this country. My husband had bought it used from the Suzuki/Jeep dealer, who had taken it in trade from someone who had brought it back with him when he came home after military service.

The mechanic said he had called the manufacturer, and they could ship us a new alternator from Japan, which would cost something like $500 (plus labor for installation) and would take two weeks to arrive. Or he could charge the battery for us, and we could hope we had enough "juice" to make it to SF, where perhaps another service station might maybe have one in stock or be able to obtain one faster, or where we could perhaps buy a real car instead of continuing to drive a lawn mower. Not having two weeks to hang out in a podunk town in California, we took option "B."

They charged the battery for an hour, and we drove North toward SF. 45 minutes later, as we approached SF, it was getting dark and, as often happens in SF, it began to rain. We had no lights and no windshield wipers, and the car was starting to sputter and die, so the freeway began to seem like a bad idea. We pulled off at an exit ramp about 3 miles from our hotel. The car died at the bottom of the exit ramp. Oy!

Across the street was a AAA truck jump-starting another car that had died on the frontage road. Being a AAA member, I walked across and, after much arguing with the man that we should not have to walk 2 miles to a pay phone (this was before cell phones were ubiquitous) and then wait 2 hours for it to be "our turn" for a AAA truck, when he was only approximately 100 feet from my car right now, I convinced the man to drive across the street and jump-start my car, too.

We drove another couple of miles or so, then the car died at a stop light as we waited to turn left. We pushed it on around the corner and into a parking space in front of a large building. We walked the remaining half mile or so to our hotel, pulling our luggage in the light rain, checked in, had some dinner and drinks, and went to bed.

The next day, we returned to the car in the morning to try to figure out what to do about it. We figured we'd try to start it another 38 times or so, then call AAA again. Well, it turned out that it was parked right in front of the AAA of California headquarters building. Woo hoo! Things were looking up already.

We walked inside and explained our dead car dilemma, they had it towed to a nearby service station, and the mechanics there said they could rebuild the alternator for us for about $150 in about 5 days – exactly the amount of time we were planning to be in SF. Given that parking at the hotel was $25 per day, and we wouldn't have to pay that for the 5 days, we figured it was not a bad deal at all.

I consider this my luckiest car-breakdown story ever. We didn't have to worry about the car at the hotel, and we paid about the same to fix the car as we would have paid to park it for 5 days. We certainly did not need the car in SF with its fantastic mass-transit system and pedestrian-friendly tourist areas. We had a blast in SF for 5 days. The mechanics were true to their word and had the car ready for us when it was time to check out of our hotel for the drive home. And they did a good job. My husband had the car for several years after that, and never had another trouble with that alternator.

Fancy Schmancy, I hope your car troubles will melt away as easily as mine did that charmed week in SF.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Seriously Funny Stuff and a Haunted Ship

We interrupt today's regularly-scheduled program to bring you this special announcement:

I was clicking around the internet this morning and found this (reminiscent of a Seinfeld episode) via a link from today's post from Ramblings of a Green Yogurt (an excellent blogger in her own right). I love this new discovery. This guy, Simon Metz, is seriously funny, rivaling even the famous, award-winning blogger from West Chester, Dr. Zibbs for laugh-out-loud hilarity, although in a slightly different sort of way.

If you haven't already discovered Mr. Metz, you should go there right now and read a few of his posts.

Go ahead, I'll wait.

. . . . .

Oh, good, you came back! I was a little afraid you'd abandon me entirely once you found him.

Now for our previously scheduled program:

A few family vacations ago, after spending a couple of weeks at the beach in California, we decided to add a couple of extra days to our planned itinerary and we booked a room on the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California.

As you may (or may not) know, the Queen Mary is an old cruise ship, a steamer, that was converted to military use during WWII, and was used to transport troops. After WWII, she was put back into service as a luxury cruise ship, even carrying the Queen Mother in 1954.

In her time, she was one of the fastest ships around, which was why she was such a great choice for transporting troops -- her speed kept them safe from potential attackers. She held records for "fastest Atlantic crossing" for many years, up to the 1960's, shortly before she was decommissioned as a cruise ship. She was longer than the Titanic. Heavier, too. And apparently sturdier, as she lasted for over 1000 trans-Atlantic voyages, while the Titanic sank during its maiden voyage. (Then again, the Queen Mary didn't run into any icebergs as far as I know, so there's no way to know whether she would have survived such an encounter.)

In 1967, however, her cruising days ended and she was sold to the City of Long Beach, California, for $3.45 million. In December that year, she made her last ocean voyage, to Long Beach -- and has been docked there ever since.

The City of Long Beach runs the Queen Mary as a tourist attraction. You can book a room there, much as you would at a hotel, and enjoy the luxurious accommodations of an early to mid-twentieth century cruise liner. The plumbing was quaint, but functional. The furniture was sturdy and old (vintage, I guess you'd say). It was fun to walk around the ship and see the historical displays and read about the ship's history. The kids enjoyed it, we enjoyed it -- all in all, it was good family fun.

Quick side note for those of you familiar with the Queen Mary / Spruce Goose combo tickets they used to sell in the '80's: The Spruce Goose (originally built by Howard Hughes, as outlined in the 2004 movie The Aviator, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, who also starred in the 1997 film Titanic) has been moved to Oregon.

Sadly, while the Queen Mary was serving as a troop transport ship during WWII, she was involved in an accident in which she accidentally ran over one of her escort ships, slicing it in two, and causing the death by drowning of (I believe) all 300 soldiers on board the smaller vessel as well as some folks on board the main ship. The Queen Mary was damaged, too, but was later repaired. Because of this incident, they claim, the Queen Mary is haunted.

For a small admission fee, you can take the "Ghosts and Legends" tour, during which they promise you will learn about (and maybe see) the ghosts aboard the ship. They have a sign posted warning that people who have high blood pressure, heart conditions, or who are pregnant may want to avoid this tour. My husband read the sign and cheerfully said, "Woo hoo! This'll scare the baby out of a pregnant lady! Sign me up!!"

So we bought our tickets, waited a short while in line, and began our tour -- complete with creepy tour guide escorts who stare grimly and refuse to speak.

Did I mention that the City of Long Beach runs the Queen Mary as a tourist attraction? Because this tour was all cheesy tourist kitsch, bad video and flashing lights, melodramatic sound effects, and things that suddenly go "boo" -- rather like the fake haunted houses that spring up like pumpkin vines every year around Halloween.

You start the tour in a room where you watch a video (a little like the "Twilight Zone" video at the beginning of the haunted hotel ride at Disneyland) that tells you the history of the crash and the hauntings. It was actually an interesting video, with good historical information. It did set the scene well, too -- after the video I was ready to be scared. Then it's down to the bowels of the ship to see the ghosts. They take you past the first class pool, and through the boiler room, and past some bunks, showing you "ghosts" along the way. They tell you about a boiler room accident that caused some deaths and then, predictably, the lights dim and the pipes start shaking and you hear noises like water hissing and boiling, and the tour guide warns that the pipes might burst -- it is almost funny, it's so cheesy, and indeed I heard a couple of people chuckling.

Truly, I think people with heart problems, high blood pressure, and pregnancy would probably have been just fine... But my little guy, who at the time was 3 years old, was actually scared by it all. Halfway through, he demanded that I carry him. He buried his head on my shoulder every time the lights went down or started flashing. He hugged tight around my neck every time strange noises were heard. He repeated, over and over, "I'm scared mommy." "Can we leave now?" I almost felt bad for bringing him along. I hugged him back, and reassured him we would be fine, and that daddy and I would keep him safe.

At the end of the tour, they tell you about the repairs that were made -- or perhaps not made very well -- to the Queen Mary after the incident in which she ran over the escort ship. The walls then shake a bit, and water sprays into the room, and you are told to evacuate quickly! So you all pile into the elevator for the trip back up to the exit room. The tour guide congratulates you on an orderly evacuation.

The lights came on in the elevator. Everyone was standing there, sort of crammed in, smirking at each other and not saying much. Then my little guy pipes up loudly with, "I've seen monsters on Scooby Doo before, and they weren't this scary!!"

So maybe the tour would scare the baby out of a pregnant woman, after all...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My Husband Is Homer Simpson

So the other evening, my two kids were out back playing ball. They were not fighting, which is unusual. They were laughing, hitting baseballs, running around, having fun.

My husband flipped on the tv while starting to cook dinner.

Next thing I know, I hear him yelling out the back door to the kids:

"Hey kids, come on inside! "The Simpsons" is on! It's a new one!"

. . .

Fine parenting moment #283.

Do you think the neighbors were impressed?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

On the Bus - a Blogger Tale

That Damn Expat tagged me for a story meme. I guess she thought I was too critical of Mr. Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize winning literary effort and perhaps ought to see just how difficult it is to write a good story.

The basics of the game are that one person starts a story, tags the next who adds to it and tags another. The goal is to keep it going until the story just doesn't make any sense any more. Your job is to tag at least one person who continues the story. Here is the complete set of instructions (from Splotchy, who originated this meme). I am adding a rule, though, as a condition of my participation. You are not required to tag more than 5 people. If you tag 5 and they all wimp out on you, hey you tried and the meme fairies can haunt them, not you!

And here is the story:

The bus was more crowded than usual. It was bitterly cold outside, and I hadn't prepared for it. I noticed that a fair number of the riders were dressed curiously. As I glanced around, I stretched my feet and kicked up against a large, heavy cardboard box laying under the seat in front of me. (Splotchy)

I hunched down to see what it was, but as I did, the bus violently veered to left. I was thrown up against a heavyset Asian woman with blond hair. I pardoned myself, but she faced forward with no reply. Just then, a man wearing a jumpsuit of silver and gold stood up at the front of the bus. He was holding a megaphone and a box of graham crackers. He held the megaphone up to his face and began to speak... (Some Guy)

"Ladies and Gentlemen...please do not be afraid! I am here to help you" he said in a mighty booming voice. As he began to step towards me I felt a hand creep its way around my throat and all of a sudden I was pressed against the mighty bosom of the Asian woman as she she hauled me to my feet. She began to back away from the costumed crusader all the while holding me, feet dangling in the air. I panicked and my eyes searched the bus, hoping to connect with someone, anyone who would be able to help me. My eyes met those of the hero in gold and just as I began to gasp for air he yelled... ( ~E)

„Put her down and no one gets hurt,“ he yelled at the Asian woman. All the passengers turned to see what was going on and, as they did, I noticed they were more panicked than I was. A small bespectacled man closest to us hissed at my captor and said in a low voice „Take me, just don't hurt her.“ My fear gave way to curiosity. Who were all these people, and why were they so concerned for my well being? The Asian blonde's back was now pressed against the back of the bus, and she increased her grip on me as the megaphone man crept slowly towards us. As he passed through the bus people started getting up, and now they formed a small army behind him. He raised the box of graham crackers above his head and put his lips to the megaphone... (That Damn Expat)

The Asian lady's grip tightened around my neck and I could not breathe at all. "Put her down," said the man in gold again, into the megaphone, "she is not the one you seek." I couldn't figure out why he needed the megaphone. He was less than fifteen feet from the Asian lady who was slowly choking the life out of me. "Put her down, Ariella, she's not the one," he said again, louder, through the megaphone. The grip on my throat tightened more and I desperately tried to pry Ariella's (Ariella? Was my captor named after a Disney princess?) hands from around my throat. She responded with an even tighter grip. I went limp. Ariella strained forward, glaring at the man in gold and asked, "What did you say?" "SHE IS NOT THE ONE YOU SEEK!" the man in gold screamed into the megaphone, dragging me back from the brink of unconsiousness. "Eh? She's not? Why didn't you say so to begin with?" said the woman, as she loosened her grip around my throat. I gasped for air. My mouth, nose, and throat filled with the dank air of the bus, the Asian lady's overbearing, spicy perfume, and the ripe odor of weeks-old sweat from the disheveled and dirty man who sat in the seat next to where we stood, grinning toothlessly at the scene before him. Apparently, he was not scared. Perhaps he was not even sane. He was wearing a tattered and stained overcoat that once had been grey, a dirty white wool sweater, torn blue jeans, and what looked like brand new bright red Converse sneakers encrusted in rhinestones. He reached out his bony hand .... (LegalMist)

I tag Sausage Mechanic, Ms. Florida Transplant, and (in an attempt to send this overseas to Scotland), Kim Ayres, whose blog I have read for quite some time but who probably doesn't know who the heck I am. No matter, he's a good story teller, and I hope he will take the challenge!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Pulitzer Project - The Hours - Michael Cunningham - 1999 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Please read the Spoiler Alert before reading this review.

The Hours (Michael Cunningham, 1998) tells separate stories about a day in the life of each of three different women: Clarissa Vaughan, a modern New Yorker planning a party for a close friend who is dying; Laura Brown, a 1950's homemaker in a Los Angeles suburb; and Virginia Woolf, struggling to recover from (apparently) her mental illness and migraine-type headaches in a London suburb while beginning to write the novel Mrs. Dalloway in the early 1900's. Interspersed within the chapters about these three women, the book also provides some details of a day in the life of a fourth woman – Clarissa Dalloway, the title character of the book Virginia Woolf is writing.

A quick plot refresher – not intended to be comprehensive:

Clarissa Vaughan is planning a party for her friend, Richard Brown, who has won a literary award for his writing but who is also dying of AIDS. On the surface, the novel tells of her party preparations – buying flowers, arrangements for the food, stopping to visit Richard. The real focus, however, is on Clarissa’s thoughts, history, and relationships - with her friend and former beau Richard, her lesbian partner, her daughter, and her daughter's lesbian friend.

Laura Brown is planning a family birthday celebration for her husband and trying to make the "perfect" birthday cake while pregnant and caring for her three year old son. She is struggling with depression and finds that reading is her only escape from the harsh reality that she is unhappy with her seemingly perfect husband, home, and life. Her neighbor "Kitty" (also a 1950's homemaker) comes by with the news that she has to have exploratory surgery for a growth in her uterus, and they share a sensuous but ultimately awkward almost-kiss while her son looks on. Mrs. Brown is, for this day, obsessed with reading Virginia Woolf’s novel, and ends up guiltily leaving her son with a neighbor while she checks into a hotel room for several hours to read Mrs. Dalloway. Again, the real focus of the story is on Laura's thoughts, history, and relationships - with her husband, her son, and her neighbors.

Virginia Woolf is struggling to write her novel about a single day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway. She is also planning tea for her sister and sister’s children, who are supposed to arrive at four p.m. that day. The novel details the herculean struggle it takes for Virginia Woolf to overcome her crushing headache pain and to write her novel (or even to eat) and to entertain her sister and the kids. The real focus, again, is on Virginia's thoughts, her overwhelming desire to return to the big city, London, from the suburb where she currently lives, and her relationships - with her husband, her cook, her sister, her sister's kids. The prologue outlines Mrs. Woolf’s later suicide by drowning.

The subject of Virginia Woolf’s novel, Clarissa Dalloway, is also making party preparations. Woolf tells us that in the novel she "will have had" a love, a "girl she knew during her own girlhood," and she will "kill herself over something that seems, on the surface, like very little." (pages 83-84*).

My rambling thoughts:

The characters, although living in different times and circumstances, are tied together by the similar tasks that lie before them and the similar psychological challenges they face in getting through their days which appear ordinary and even potentially fun, yet are difficult for them due to their feelings of desperation and being not fully present, but more like spectators of their own lives. In this sense, the book is a comment by the author on the continuity of the human condition across the generations and the universal human experience of isolation and despair.

The stories of the three women are told in separate, alternating chapters. At first I found it a little confusing to keep up with which character was which, particularly because Clarissa Vaughan’s nickname (given to her by Richard) is "Mrs. Dalloway" and her chapters are labeled "Mrs. Dalloway," so at first I kept thinking her chapters should be about Virginia Woolf’s character. But overall, reading the women’s stories in separate chapters made it easier to keep the characters and their stories straight in my mind.

But the separateness of the stories also nearly blinded me to the ultimate connection between Clarissa and Laura: At the end of the book, after Clarissa Vaughan’s party preparations have been made, she stops by to help Richard get ready for the party (page 195*), but he is sitting on the window ledge in his fifth-floor apartment when she enters ... and he jumps from his apartment window and kills himself. Clarissa returns to her apartment where her lesbian partner has assisted in calling off the party, then welcomes Richard’s mother into her home to begin the grieving process.

It wasn’t until several days after I read the book that I realized that Richard’s mother, Laura, who came to Clarissa’s apartment after Richard’s suicide, was the same Laura Brown featured in the chapters on "Mrs. Brown" with her three year old son "Richie." Either I’m clueless (most likely conclusion), or the book is a bit obscure, perhaps intentionally, on this point.

The author inserts tons of parallels between the lives of the three characters in this book, and the character in Virginia Woolf’s book, Mrs. Dalloway. From the types of flowers they buy, to the similar structures of their days, to their depressing thoughts and attempts to be happy despite their despair, the novel provides a smorgasbord of foreshadowing and parallel events, exploring each character’s reaction to similar events. The author "mixes it up" a bit with some opposition, as well -- for example, Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Woolf are each married to (kind, loving) men, while "Mrs. Dalloway" (Mrs. Vaughan) is in a long-term lesbian relationship -- though at one point she refers to herself as being like a typical housewife. Mrs Woolf and Mrs. Brown both live in the suburbs, while Mrs. Dalloway (Vaughan) lives in New York city.

On one hand, this parallelism and foreshadowing can be a useful literary device, allowing the reader to draw connections between the characters and highlighting ideas that otherwise might pass unnoticed. On the other hand, I found it distracting to be so constantly reminded of the parallels between the characters’ lives. For me, it was harder to "suspend my disbelief" and get into the characters’ minds because the constant discovery of ways in which this character’s life was somehow parallel (or opposite) to that character’s life merely served to remind me that the whole thing was made up by a single author, Michael Cunningham, who could insert these random parallel facts wherever he liked.

My initial reaction to the book was, therefore, that I did not understand why it won the Pulitzer Prize. It was an entertaining enough read, but rather clumsily (I thought) drawn – I noticed the literary devices too much, and felt that the characters and plots were a little too similar. And among all these distracting parallels and other connections between the characters, I missed the obvious and probably most important one -- that Clarissa's friend, Richard Brown, was also Laura Brown's son "Richie."

But the book grew on me, particularly after I made the connection between "Richie" and "Richard" and "Mrs. Brown" and "Laura Brown" and then went back and re-read portions of the book. I found myself liking the characters more, and liking the story more.

Recognizing this connection gave me a lot more to think about: Was Richard's preoccupation with "Mrs. Dalloway" (calling his friend Clarissa "Mrs. D") caused by his mother's obsession with Virginia Woolf's book early in his life? (On the first read-through, I had seen it as merely another "random" connection between the characters). Is the author really showing us the "universality" of human experience, or trying to say that Virginia Woolf's book Mrs. Dalloway was so powerful that it could so profoundly alter these three lives? (Should I rush out and read Mrs. Dalloway next? Or is that a recipe for disaster?) Is this another instance of society (or this particular author) trying to blame women in general (Virginia Woolf as author) and mothers in particular (Laura Brown) for their children's mental health problems (depression, suicide) as adults? How does this theory fit with Clarissa's musings on her relationship with her daughter?

And what of Laura Brown's marriage? She married her husband, she says, out of "guilt" and a sense of duty. Wow. I can't think of anything that is less fair to a person than to marry them because you think you should instead of because you love them. How did that color her relationship with her son, and her son's subsequent relationships with the women and men he loved in his life? Is it, after all, the mother's fault that the son ended up depressed and suicidal? Yes, I recognize he was depressed due to his physical illness and probably suicidal because of the med's he took, but there are many reactions to physical illness; was his reaction merely a genetic predisposition, or do we, as a society, perhaps even unconsciously, blame his mom? Or is this a comment on the universal experience of human suffering and isolation?

I also found myself more intrigued by the slightly different perspectives of the characters and the fact that their different personalities showed through, even though much of what they did and said was similar. Clarissa Vaughan, for example, remains determined to be or become happy in spite of her inclination not to be, while Virginia Woolf's determination, it seemed to me, was merely a determination to "push through." Is this seemingly small difference enough to account for Virginia's eventual suicide? And there are interesting observations about human nature and human interaction throughout the book. For example, the discussion of Virginia's relationship with her maid / cook and her sense of a sort of power struggle in the relationship was fascinating.

So in the end, for those who haven’t read it, I recommend the book as one worth reading if you are "into" character studies and can stand a book so focused on depression and suicide. If a book makes me want to take a second look at it, it must be doing something right. However, if you are seeking a fast-paced adventure story, or a suspenseful thriller, this is not the book for you.

If you have read it, I bet you have come up with many more interesting questions and thoughts about the book than I have. I'd love to hear your thoughts on any of the above questions, or pose your own questions and I'll think about them, too. I have not read any other reviews of this book (other than the blurbs on the book jacket) because I didn't want any preconceptions about the book. Perhaps I'll go read some and see if those reviews spark any additional thoughts.

I’d also love to hear from anyone who has seen the movie (with Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, and Nicole Kidman). Is it worth renting? Better, or worse, than the book?

Please read the Ground Rules before submitting comments.

* All page references are to the October 2002 paperback version of the book by Picador U.S.A.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Pulitzer Project Book Announcement

The first book for the Pulitzer Project will be Michael Cunningham's The Hours, which won the prize in 1999. I'll post the review tomorrow.

I'll announce the next one ahead of time so those of you who want to read along with me, rather than waiting for the review to decide whether to read the book, can do that.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Pulitzer Project - Spoiler Alert

Spoiler Alert:

As explained in a prior post, I am (slowly) reading through all of the Pulitzer prize winning novels, and providing "book reviews" which reflect my humble opinion of the relative merits of the books. Because these books have been reviewed numerous times already by professionals (and, indeed, have been deemed so fantastic that they’ve won a prize), I don’t expect that my opinion will heavily influence the historical debate over the merits of these books. In other words, this is just for fun.

In line with my goal of making this "fun" (and being a lawyer and finding it "fun" to debate things) I’d love to start a mini-debate here in the blog. If you’ve read any of these books (or seen the movies based upon them, if applicable), please weigh in with your opinion about the book and/or the movie. If you agree or disagree with something I’ve said about a book, by all means, tell me. If the movie does it better, or worse, tell me. If you disagree with what another commenter has said about the book or the movie, let us know! But please, read the rules for discussion before commenting, and be kind.

Also in line with the goal of making the discussions fun and lively and generally unconstrained:

All aspects of the book will be open to discussion, including important turning points, surprise endings, and other typical "spoiler" material.

So, if you haven’t read the book or haven’t seen the movie and you want to read it or see it with all of its surprises intact, do not read my review or the comments!


Pulitzer Project - Rules for Discussion

Please see here for an introduction to the Pulitzer Project.

Please also read the Spoiler Alert.

I'll be posting my first book review soon, so (being a lawyer) I thought it would be a good idea to come up with some rules for participation in the comments section regarding the book reviews.

Here they are:

1. Feel Free to Express Any Opinion About Any Aspect of a Book Or Review.

My goal is to encourage open discussion about the books, almost like a college literature class, or a book club that hasn't turned into a wine and cheese and gossip session instead. (Although wine and cheese and gossip is also encouraged here -- if you need an address to send the wine and cheese to, send me an email).

So, if you think I've misinterpreted something the author wrote, tell me. If you think my analysis of the plot is all wrong, tell me. If you hated a book that I loved, feel free to say so, and tell me why. I may or may not change my mind, but I want to hear your perspective on it. Similarly, if you loved a book I hated, tell me what you loved about it. Maybe I’ll re-read it with a new perspective and love it, too. Or maybe not, but I’d love to know what made the book great for you. If you think my analysis is right on, obviously I'd love to hear that, too.

You may also feel free to be provocative and play "devil’s advocate" if you like -- make a point for the "other side" just for the sake of argument.

(If this all sounds like too much work for you, then feel free to just read the reviews for whatever you think they are worth, and move on -- although I would appreciate a quick comment to let me know if you agree, disagree, or, if you haven't read the book, whether my review makes you more or less likely to want to read it.)

2. Be Respectful.

To encourage discussion, I will demand respect for all contributors.

I was an English Lit major for only about a year and a half in college. So although at one time (20 or so years ago) I learned the basics of critical analysis of literature, I am not an expert. Most of my commenters are probably not experts, either.

If you are an expert, or even just a better literature analyst that the rest of us, tread gently. Feel free to point out why my interpretation is misguided or just plain wrong, but do it nicely. Sometimes I am reading when I am tired or distracted by kids or subway people or the television, and sometimes I am just not that bright, and so I miss something huge in the story. I want to know what I’ve missed, but I don’t want to be called names or belittled for missing it. Similarly, treat your fellow commenters with respect. Comments deemed to be disrespectful or a personal attack or otherwise in violation of these rules (or spam) may be deleted, in my sole discretion.

So far, that’s all the rules, but this is my blog and I can add more rules any time I feel like it, so you may want to check back here to see what rule you’ve violated if you find that your comment was deleted and you don’t know why.


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

(And it only took me four tries...)

I did it! I named all 50 states, and in less than 5 minutes....

I named 50 US states in 10 minutes How many US states can you name in 10 minutes?

...And it only took me four tries.

The first three times, I used up all 10 minutes and still forgot huge portions of our country -- not many states, mind you, just big ones like, say, Nebraska or Montana or Oklahoma (Oklahoma! How could I forget Oklahoma?!? There's a whole musical about Oklahoma, for cryin' out loud!).

All I can say in my defense is, it's harder than it seems like it ought to be. Especially if you attended elementary school in the deep south, where they required you to learn the names and locations of only the Confederate states.

Give it a try. Let me know how you fare. Good luck!


Monday, December 1, 2008

Fantasy of Lights Parade 2008

Here is a photo of my daughter's Girl Scout troop in the Fantasy of Lights Parade on Saturday. This year's parade theme was "Christmas Ornaments."

My daughter's troop dressed as angels, in case you can't tell. I was having a bit of trouble with my camera and did not manage to get a very good photo.

They made their own costumes and they sang Christmas songs while they marched in the parade. They also pulled a wagon with a CD player with the music to sing to, and a 4-foot Christmas tree decorated with Angel ornaments. You can't see that wagon in this photo, though.

They were in a big group of Scout troops, and each troop wore coordinated costumes. There was a troop of gingerbread girls (with the troop leaders dressed as bakers with hats and aprons), a troop of reindeer, a troop of candy canes, a troop of snowflakes... it was all quite adorable.

Here are photos of a few of the other parade floats and groups:

As you can tell, I haven't perfected the art of uploading photos in Blogger yet. The parade looked a lot better in person.