Tuesday, February 27, 2007

10 Things Tuesday...

For this edition, the theme is the Oscars!

1. The only film I saw that was nominated for an Oscar in any category this year was Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (it won for visual effects and was nominated for art direction and sound).

2. Of the last 20 Best Picture winners, I have seen 12, and only 2 since 2000. Of these, my favorite is probably Dances with Wolves.

3. Despite #1 and #2, I have won the Oscar pool 3 of the last 4 years at my school (I tied with 4 other people this year because of upsets in the obscure categories).

4. No one has done as good a job at hosting the Oscars as Billy Crystal did. His Hannibal Lecter entrance in 1992 was priceless! The distinction of worst host in my lifetime goes unquestioningly to David Letterman.

5. I was born in the year of Midnight Cowboy, graduated the year Michael Douglas and Cher earned Oscars and got married most recently the year ¾ of the soundtrack to The Lion King was nominated for music Oscars.

6. The first Oscar show I can remember watching was in 1979. It was Johnny Carson’s first time hosting, and I remember thinking he was funny. I also remember Kramer vs. Kramer winning for Best Picture. Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) won a lifetime achievement Oscar that year, too. By the time he won the award, I had seen Star Wars more than 20 times.

7. The earliest Best Picture winning film I have seen in its entirety is Casablanca (1943). I have only seen parts of Gone with the Wind (1939) and Mutiny on the Bounty (1935).

8. I still have no idea how Rocky managed to win Best Picture in 1976. All the President’s Men was a much better film.

9. Of the last 20 Best Foreign Language Film winners, I’m sad to report that I have seen only 5. The last one was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, in 2000. My favorite of all these is Life is Beautiful.

10. When Al Gore started his acceptance speech for An Inconvenient Truth with the phrase, “My fellow Americans…” I, as well as the entire membership of the Democratic party, stopped what they were doing and wondered, just for a split second, if he was really going to enter the race.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Some of Today, in Pictures...

Today, I had these all day.

After breakfast, Mama headed off to work and we got dressed to go outside. I did this for about two hours...

...and the girls spent that time doing this.

We were all pretty cold after that, so we popped inside for a bit of...

...then we loaded into the car to go run our one errand of the day. We stopped along the way to see Mama at the office, then went here to get the gift card we needed for Seth's birthday.

We were hungry for lunch by the time we'd finished, so we walked over to here for a sandwich...

Then home for...

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Let's Review the Highlights of Today's To Do List...

1. Write some on the thesis. Check.

2. Return copious amounts of email. Check –. I still have several to do tonight, but I made a big dent in the list.

3. Update class blogs so students can submit BOTH their assignments before they come back from vacation. Check +. I even got several students’ work edited, so they can make corrections when they come back.

4. Go for walk. --. I postponed this because I needed to go out to get tomatoes for supper tonight, and discovered after the fact that I needed to replace the rear wiper blade on my car because it had basically fallen off. Not a complicated procedure, but going to the auto parts store and dealing with the problem ate up my walking time. Fortunately, I’ll have shoveling the driveway to look forward to as exercise. We’re due about 3” of snow, which is just enough to warrant clearing.

5. Make supper. Check. Stuffed tomatoes, inspired by this recipe, served with fettuccini. I cheated a little by using the rest of the pesto in the fridge instead of tapenade, but it worked. It got positive reviews by 2/3 of the women in the house (NiNi hates everything I make anyway, so whatever).

6. Post at least rudimentary replies to two of the blogs I read. Check. (Chili and Kizz, plus Wifeness)

7. Post to my own blog. Check.

All in all, a productive day! I think I'll reward myself with a cup of coffee and some episodes of the first season of Battlestar Galactica after the children are asleep.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

10 Things Tuesday—Wayfarer Edition

This tradition started with Chili, but when Kizz said she was thinking about jumping on the bandwagon, I said I’d join. Here is my first installment. Because it is the first one, it’s full of random observations.

1. When my wife and I play Rummy, she always (no, really, always) kicks my ass. If we play Scrabble, the opposite is true. When the game is Trivial Pursuit, no matter which edition we play, it always comes down to who gets the better final question. If she gets a Sports & Leisure question that has to do with potent potables, she wins. If I get an Entertainment question about the Muppets, the game is mine.

2. I have used the same razor since I turned 13. It’s an Atra and it still works perfectly. Along those same lines, I have used the same deodorant (Old Spice Classic) and worn the same jeans (Levi’s) since that same time.

3. According to a quiz I took recently, I am the 233,913,044th richest person in the world. Impressively, this still puts me in the top 4% of all people worldwide in terms of wealth. Sadly, despite all this wealth, my net worth is still less than the value of a cup of coffee.

4. Is there anyone in the world who can honestly deny that Dennis Haysbert’s voice is among the most mesmerizing on television? I’m a perfectly straight guy, and his voice makes me wet!

5. I have an internal timer in my body that will alert me exactly when rice is done. I have no clue how it works, but this same timer will also wake me up at the exact time I want to when I take a nap.

6. I eat a wide and varied diet, but I have serious psychosomatic aversions to three foods: Watermelon, root beer and wheat grass juice. The taste or smell of any of these will trigger a gag reflex.

7. I do not own a gun, but I do own (and can use) several varieties of knives, including a diving knife, a kukri, two throwing knives, two Swiss Army knives and a t’ai chi sword. The last of these is decorative, but all the others are honed sharp enough to shave with.

8. I can imitate a huge number of accents and voices, but I still cannot properly speak like any of the characters in the Disney's animated version of Winnie the Pooh.

9. I have not taken the stage in an acting role since 1988 because the process of putting a play on the stage causes me incredible stress. The play? Sexual Perversity in Chicago.

10. Today is Mardi Gras, and I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to be anyplace where celebrations are going on.

That’s it for today, mes amis. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

You are Making a Serious Mistake...

I received a letter from my father with the above opening in regards to my unwillingness to conspicuously celebrate Valentine's Day. The following is in reply to his letter. Please read and tell me if you honestly think this is the wrong viewpoint.


I have always rejected the viewpoint that that chocolate and roses, alone, suffice to honor everything that love (especially married love) represents. Don't get me wrong. I wholeheartedly support expressions of love--especially love of family, love of friendship and love of ethics and fairness. It seems to me, however, that Valentine’s Day does not truly celebrate any of these. Worse than that, it demeans everything else I do on the other 364 days of the year to show my love for her by reinforcing, through a complete lack of creativity, spontaneity and sense of compassion, the mistaken view that love must somehow require expression that is soul-crushing and ego-defeating.

I am an idealist in many ways, but at heart I am a pragmatic person. I don't suffer foolishness gladly, especially the kind of foolishness Valentine’s Day sells wholesale, and I resent the suggestion that failing to acknowledge that foolishness somehow means I do not love my wife.

I've made no secret of my belief that having a day where romantic performance is paramount takes the focus off of real love and real issues between mates--job sharing, equal chances for respite and personal growth, support, loyalty and who the hell is making dinner tonight. Aren’t both of our names on the bills, anyway? My belief is not without some foundation in my marriage. I can say that my wife is way more turned on and reassured about my love when I clean the bathroom than I am when I bring her flowers. Don't get me wrong--I’m sure she loves the flowers, but she loves them much more when they come unexpectedly, and they carry more weight when I come to bed smelling a little like dish soap once in a while. A beautiful card means far more to her when I am an equal partner in parenting, and chocolates taste right when they were given to her while she feels she is getting support for her goals and interests within our loving relationship.

We need to stop holding out these "I would die without your love" fairy tales to young women and men (we could do the same for the adults, too, while we're at it) and start talking about the sort of love that we ought to be honoring and asking kids to aspire to. I’m talking about love that is good for the people who are in it and supports and encourages growth in both partners, which someone I read recently equated to the Valentine’s Day sort of love as whole grain bread equates to Twinkies.

I keep Valentine’s Day a mundane day, even in the currently awesome and enormous face of tradition, particularly where very impressionable little girls are concerned. I know that I sound more than a little antiestablishment, but I steadfastly maintain that this is appropriate here. I want my girls to understand how to celebrate love in general, not romantic love in specific, and, instead of just drawing pink hearts and singing "all you need is love", I want them to understand that, they are both going to be needing an education and life insurance, and that the streets are littered with women (and men) who bought the commercialized Valentine’s Day idea of love and ended up lost because it turned out that there was a lot of dirty laundry, bitterness and misunderstanding under all that frilly pink adoration.

Wifeness is working to make Valentine’s Day as much of a community affair as possible around here, and I enthusiastically support this approach. Her efforts to celebrate the “whole wheat” sort of love will, I hope, balance out that overwhelming tide of Twinkie love sweeping over them every day through pop culture. We’re both fans of real, whole love--the kind of love that makes for strong women who don't end up losing track of all of the dreams and hopes they had for their own lives because Valentine’s Day style love says that if you're in love that's all you need or, that if you still want things for yourself after you are in love, then you must not be in love enough. I want my daughters, (and everyone else’s kids, for that matter, because mine are going to need some well-adjusted people to marry) to have realistic expectations of love. I want them to know that the Valentine’s Day love isn't sustainable. It’s certainly not going to get you through taking out the garbage, losing your job or trying to raise children and do grad school at the same time. You need love with teeth for that.

Sure, my daughters will have their days where they will be knocked down and dragged through the snake pit of crushing romantic first love. We’ve all been there, and we run that gauntlet to learn something from the experience. They will likely get hurt and sob because they think they can't live without the object of their affection. I know this, and am preparing for it. All I'm trying to do by taking my stand as I have is to make sure that someday, when they gaze into their lovers eyes and the lacy and ruffled world of romantic love unfurls around them, that somewhere in the back of their heads is a little voice that says "Don't forget to have a bank account in your own name, Babycakes."

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Does YOUR mechanic have WiFi?

We have this fella who’s been working on our cars pretty much since we moved back to New England 8 years ago. He’s a Honda specialist, but does a variety of other foreign models as well (including Subarus, which is what I drive now). In fact, both the vehicles we currently drive at Wayfarer House were purchased from Rich. Every once in a while, he has one for sale out front—something he’s looked at and thought was worthwhile to sell—and it has been the best experience to buy our cars from him. He doesn’t talk a whole lot, but he is forthright, honest, dependable--and he’s got wireless! In a mechanic, this is as good as it gets!

As it happens, I’m at Rich’s garage today getting my oil changed. I can do this because it is a snow day and all the schools in New England are closed. Well, I don’t know if that’s factually true, but I’ll put dollars to donuts that a goodly percentage cancelled today. The storm is a big nor’easter that will dump a lot of snow across most of this part of the country. It is the first major storm for most of New England and, as usual, people are freaking out. There is panic about the impending loss of power, hysteria that the roads will be impassible for months and frenzied efforts to stock up on food, fuel and potable water to last the rest of the cold, bitter winter.

Sweet Mary, mother of Jesus!

Can I just say, it’s not that bad. It’s snowing. The roads will be slippery today (I skated down here to the garage myself on the unplowed parts of the road, and my car as all-wheel drive). There may even be winds and snow together enough to qualify technically as a blizzard. So what? Drive slowly if you have to go out. If you have electric heat or cooking equipment, find your blankets and candles, and go cook stuff up now, so you have something yummy if you do lose power. This is what you’re supposed to do when a big storm hits. If you’ve lived in New England any amount of time, you know this. You’ve been through these before. You know what to do, and there is no reason to go nuts. This is not the worst storm we’ve ever seen, on any level.

I’m not sure I understand why this attitude of panic and alarm has taken hold. People have dealt with severe weather in New England every year since 1620. Most of those years, people have made it through just fine (1620 was a little rough, but then, Walmart wasn’t around at that point). Now, all of a sudden, in this modern age, we’re worried that we won’t make it. What the crap, people?!? The news reports don’t help this mania at all, making each storm sound as though it could qualify as the Storm of the Century and strategically placing reporters “on scene” to document, live and in living color, just how bad it is. Trust me when I say that the camera adds ten pounds, and it also adds 6 inches of snow and 15 miles per hour of wind.

By lunchtime Thursday, it’ll all be over. People will be plowed out. Power will be restored. Walmart will be open (if it ever even closed). Life will go on. For me, it will go on with new oil in my car. Thanks, Rich!

Friday, February 9, 2007

Update on Goals for 2007

Kizz did an update of her 107 in 2007 list. She asked how everyone else was doing on their New Year’s Resolutions and, rather than fill up her comments section, I thought I’d devote a post to it here. My list is [HERE], if you’d like to reference.

#1: The thesis progresseth. Can you say that five times fast?

#2, #3: No progress to report.

#4: I’ve been making focused efforts on the diet and exercise front since right after Christmas, and it is bearing fruit. Since I started, I’ve lost 15 lbs (which I’d gained back over the last year after losing it rapidly following my gallbladder surgery) and I’ve steadily seen my strength and endurance improve toward the level I need to do #6. It’s too cold to do as much outside as I would like, but I’ve been able to make good use of my bike (which is attached to a trainer) and my weights. At some point, I’ll have to find a way to get good swim training in, but I’m going to deal with that when the weather is a little warmer.

#5: I am ashamed to say I have not done this yet. I will do this soon. Valentine’s Day is coming up soon, isn’t it?

#6: …coming in August!

#7: …coming when it’s not arsefreezingcold!

#8: I’ve been meditating on the matter of compassion of late, but I’m not really ready to share my thoughts on it yet. I'm missing the time I spend with my I Ching stalks. They're a great meditation tool for me. It's just that they properly require a goodly expenditure of time to do properly, and #1 really has to take precedence for the time being.

#9: I wrote 18 posts in January, which is about two a week. I wish I had more time to write more than this but, with #1 still in play, this is about as good as it’s going to get for the time being. I think I’d like to be able to do 4 posts a week by summer.

#10: …A couple of papa/kid possibilities have presented themselves. It’s too early to make definitive plans, but I’m not the only dad who wants to do something like this with his child.

#11: Hells bells! I am NOWHERE NEAR thinking about anything that’s not an emergency on the home front. It’s only February, though, so I’m not stressed about it yet.

#12: I’m researching projects. I have some vague ideas.

#13: I haven’t taken the bag down yet, but I’m totally inspired by what I saw from the photography students! Some samples of their work are sprinkled throughout this post.

Thanks, Kizz, for keeping me mindful of this list! I hope you keep making good progress on yours!

Time for a list!

I’ll call it Expectations Friday.

1. Today is exam day. Friday’s are always exam days. If you have class with me and today is Friday, expect an exam. Your homework is due today, too, since you’ve undoubtedly forgotten, even though that happens every Friday, too.

2. It hasn’t been above freezing in this part of New England since January 30th. The weather reports are looking remarkably consistent for this time of year, saying in essence that I should not expect it to warm up for the foreseeable future.

3. I have a staff meeting today. I bring my laptop to these meetings so I can get work done because only about 10% of the meeting requires my direct, undivided attention. I expect I’ll be able to post this during the meeting (check the time at the bottom of the post to see if it’s between 3:00 – 4:30).

4. SiSi has discovered the joys of computer games. She has several that she cycles through now. I expect her to ask if she can play one when she gets home.

5. Along the lines of #4, above, I expect NiNi to pull up a chair next to the desk where SiSi is, climb up and sit with rapt attention as her sister plays her computer game. She shows no inclination to learn to play them herself; she’s quite content to watch, but she does so with full attention.

6. I expect I’ll have to wait until tonight to go for a walk. It’ll be frigid, but I won’t get the chance to go before then and I’ve been trying very hard to do something active every day. I’ve done a good job with this so far (I’ll post on this next time).

7. The pile of work I have to grade this weekend is a good 6 inches high. I expect I’ll be seeing two episodes of Saturday Night Live this weekend: The regular broadcast that comes on at 11:30 and the classic rerun that follows it at 1am.

8. A posting for the job of webmaster at my school has appeared. I’m thinking of applying. I’ve done it before. It’s pretty straightforward. It has several advantages, among them that I don’t have to fit it into my school day, and I can do it with my laptop. The pay isn’t bad either. I know from past experience, however, that this position will inevitably require a lot of hours, and the fact that it’s been capped at 90 hours from now until the end of the school year will mean little once it’s been set up for staff to use. I firmly expect that whoever ends up with the job to have to tell people, “It’s gonna have to wait till next year.”

9. Softball starts on Monday. So, too, will begin the sniveling at having to do strength training indoors because it’s too cold to practice outside. They’ve known it’s been coming since November, though. If they’ve kept up with their training, it won’t hurt nearly as much. I’ll bring the Icy Hot, though, just in case.

10. My battery is low. If I don’t plug my laptop in soon, I bet I'm going to lose pow…

Thursday, February 8, 2007

The Order of the Phoenix

Sorry I’ve been away…

There’s always a little flurry of activity that surrounds the beginning of the spring semester, and I’ve been dealing with the myriad details that accompany that switch. I’ve also been trying to stay on top of my exercise, and I took a month a couple of days to read the 5th Harry Potter book in advance of the movie release.

I’ve been reading each of the Harry Potter books just as the movies come out. In part, this is because I’ve not really been able to take time to read for pleasure a whole lot the last several years. The bigger reason, though, is that I can only stand to read more than one book every couple of years, may Dumbledore have mercy on my soul.

Let me get it out there that I have none of the issues with the Harry Potter series that are commonly attacked by critics. I don’t see anything wrong with her kind of literature (and I do see it as literature), nor do I have any complaints about the content, message or popularity of her writing. I certainly do not believe that her use of witchcraft and wizardry constitutes a threat to Christianity. Hell, it barely constitutes a threat to reality!

On the whole, I have found the story of Harry Potter to be original, creative and full of detail--all the hallmarks of well-conceived fiction in my mind. Even great fiction, however, can become wearisome when stretched over seven books.

Here are my problems:

Over the five books I have read, the formula used to write the story has become formulaic to a degree I find horribly distracting. While it might be of comfort to some readers to know in advance what the plot devices are, it messes with my ability to willingly suspend my disbelief if I already know that, in any given book, Harry will be threatened with expulsion, that the three protagonists will have some sort of inane, trivial miscommunication and get angry at one another, that there will be a crisis at Hogwarts that somehow centers around the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher or that Draco Malfoy will be involved in some scheme to bully Harry and his friends. Great Argus Filch, will there be some break to this routine sometime?!

As the series has progressed, I’ve noticed that the pace of the books has slowed down considerably as less and less new information has been injected into the storyline. In the first book, a huge effort was made to introduce us to the many new and interesting things that were part of the wizarding world. As the story has moved forward, however, there has been less of the new and interesting which has not been adequately replaced by deepening knowledge of what is already there. This is especially true in character development. If you’re not going to show me more about the world I’m reading, I’m going to want a good deal more about the people living in it.

The fifth book took way too long to get to the point. It did not need all those pages to do tell the story it told. In fact, with all of them after the first, I finished the book with the feeling that I was not much further ahead in the story than I was when I started it. I get that there is some setup happening for the books that follow. I can appreciate that there’s a lot that needs to be saved for the end, but surely things could have been moved along in the story a little more briskly? I’m not talking about a Nimbus 2001 pace, now. Something more akin to the measured and slightly meandering pace of Pigwidgeon with a howler.

I started the fifth book with certain anticipations about where the story was going, but finished with such a sense of anticlimax about where it ended up. I offer as an example the whole Harry/Cho Affair. Harry’s been all about her since day one, but the entire subplot barely got off the ground before it fizzled like a wet sparkler from Zonko's Joke Shop. Another is the untimely departure of Sirius Black. He wasn’t around long enough or often enough for his death to carry all that much weight, and to kill him without any build up really left me wondering why she did it. Maybe there’s a reason for it that’ll make sense in the next book.

With the rest of my house chomping at the bit for the arrival of the final chapter in the epic, I expect I’ll have to read the rest of the series just so they can talk about it in the open. When the sixth book was released, they sniveled when I asked not to hear any spoilers. I’m not sure they’ll be able to keep their tongues once the last book comes out. I’m just hoping that, whenever I get around to reading it, I come away from The Half-Blood Prince feeling better than I do now about having invested time to read Harry Potter.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Some Groundhog Day journalism...

Dateline: Gobbler’s Knob, PA.

Punxsutawny Phil, the nation’s most famous weather oracle, has just announced that, due to the effects of global warning, winter will shortened to only 6 weeks on the East Coast in 2007. He regrets, however, that those living west of the Mississippi River will experience winter through July and that southern California will suffer its first ever blizzard as a result of El NiƱo. Furthermore, with the recent addition of AccuForecast©®™ subterranean doppler almanac forecasting technology, Phil and his team of prognosticators has been able to predict with a high degree of certainty that Hillary Rodham Clinton will be the cause of significant snowfall in Hell during the early winter of 2008.

These announcements come as Phil begins a national tour to promote his new book, “Driving Angry: One Groundhog’s Quest for Respect”, which is due in stores this week. The work, already expected to be a best-seller, is a tell-all biography that confirms many rumors about the rotund celebrity, including his affair with Groundhog Day co-star Andie MacDowell (“she wanted me to seduce her”) and his connection to Scientology. Phil’s engagements during the month of February include appearances on The Late Show with David Letterman and this week’s episode of Studio 60.

Punxsatawny Phil is a native of Pennsylvania, and holds degrees in Meteorology and Earth Science from the University of Pennsylvania. He resides at Gobbler’s Knob with his longtime companion, Geoffrey.