Sunday, July 31, 2005

A Moviegoer's (and Parent's) Lament

The Boy is now nearly 11, which means he's pretty much good to go anywhere--well-behaved and self-contained, even at nice restaurants, movies, live theatre, and concerts. But I remember a time when he was, say, two--and taking him to a movie or restaurant often meant either leaving mid-meal or mid-movie. And sometimes it meant not going at all. It's part of being a parent.

Today, Jim and I took The Boy to see Sky High at the AMC Burlington. It turned out to be that rare kind of family entertainment that can be enjoyed by pretty much everyone. Everyone over the age of 5 that is. We arrived in plenty of time to find good seats (the theatre was packed--I really think this is going to be an under-the-radar hit). Just as the credits rolled, a family of five sat down in front of us. Now in general, that's not a problem--three of the family members were kids and correspondingly small, so they didn't block the view.

Unfortunately, we quickly deduced that at least two of the kids were under the age of four, with the youngest (I'm guessing) around 20 months. Twenty months means mobile and talkative,but not particularly attentive. I suppose the parents were happy to find a movie the whole clan could enjoy, but it quickly become clear that their happiness was predicated on disrupting the viewing enjoyment of nearby patrons, including us.

The littlest one quickly became restless and starting babbling to mom, then dad. Rather than remove her, however, the parents just let her walk around the aisle. Then the middle one (perhaps four) also starting talking audibly to his parents, who made only minor attempts to shush him. I made a few lame attempts at saying "shhh," but the fact is, it isn't the children who are to blame, and I'm sure the parents caught on the first time I made a negative noise.

Jim finally got up and moved several aisles back to the side. I hate watching movies from the side, so I gutted it out with The Boy. In the end, the movie was good enough to overwhelm the disruption (that's not always the case, depending on the movie).

I'm very tolerant of the behavior of young children in public. We were all children ourselves, of course. (Okay, there was that one time in Virginia when a little girl leaned over a restaurant booth and spit on my Burburry suit ....) I know sitters are expensive. And the parents probably wanted to see the movie for themselves. But I've also been the parent of a young child, and sometimes an event is overwhelming for little ones. They invented DVDs (and before that, videotapes) for just such occasions, until our children are a little older.

I hope the parents were a little embarrassed. But I hope they didn't take their embarrassment out on the kids. Like I said, it's not the kids who are to blame.

Perfect Day

Yesterday, friends from work invited us out on their boat for a day of sailing (motoring, technically), fishing, swimming, and barbecue. We left Cape Ann Marina around 10 a.m., trolled for bluefish, and ended up at Wingaersheek Beach--a real find, one we'd never visited before--where we swam and played on the sand bars with the kids. The water in the shallow tidal pools was so warmed by the sun it was easy to forget we were on the Gloucester coast--not traditionally known for balmy surf.

It was as though the day were planned for a montage in a movie about the good life: calm waters, amazing weather (but not too hot), one 6 lb. bluefish on the line (which our friends graciously let The Boy reel in), barbecued sausages and grilled vegetables, beer, good conversation, a chance meeting on the water with our captain's brother on his boat. Even the chocolate chip cookies we brought caught the spirit, the chips melting in the warm air just enough that they seemed fresh out of the oven instead of fresh out of the package.

Seven hours and a touch of sunburn later, we led a small flotilla of boats heading back to the harbor for day's end, waving at other boaters as they passed by. Perfect.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Anyone Can Learn to Drive Like a Bostonian!

Caught dinner tonight in Arlington at Viet's Cafe, a place my whole family loves. (And I mean whole family. My parents always expect at least one trip there on their semi-annual sojourns from the south.) Don't miss the Vietnamese Pizza appetizer (more like a stuffed omelet, actually) or just about any of the soups. Topped it off with a visit to J.P. Lick's for mango sorbet.

What made the evening particularly memorable, however, was the jerk who parked his or her Subaru Forester a full 18 inches into the only space available on the street. Fortunately, I drive a small car (also a Subaru, but an Outback), and had learned--back in the day--the magical art of parallel parking on the streets of Old Town, Alexandria, Virginia (a neighborhood with many narrow streets, somewhat like Back Bay). What made it particularly galling was that Mr. or Ms. Forester had the last spot on the row, meaning that there was plenty of space to maneuver into place.

I just had to check the license plate, of course, and realized that this car belonged to that most fearful of drivers: the "I'm not from around here but I'll just jump right in and trump your bad driving habits with some of my own."

In other words: Illinois plates, Tufts Medical School stickers. Welcome to New England!

Under a Spell

I was a big speller in my earlier years. School champ two years, a regional winner once (never went to the National Spelling Bee, though I should have--a story for another time). In high school, I spelled for our high school forensic team my senior year (forensics isn't just for those debate-team show-offs, you know) and took second in my city (Va. Beach), first in my region (Tidewater, a six-city area) and third in the state (Virginia). If you want to meet someone who literally owns medals in spelling, I'm your gal. (I cried through a lot of Spellbound, though not because it made me sad--it actually made me very happy and hopeful.)

All of which leads me to another great list from McSweeney's: Sentences That, If Used by Judges in a Spelling Bee, Would Prove Totally Unhelpful to Contestants Attempting to Derive the Meaning of the Word.

Reading this list is the spelling bee contestant's equivalent to the "I dreamed I had to take a final exam in a class I'd never attended" genre of nightmares. Except you'll wake up laughing instead of shaking.

Twelve Much Better Ways to Spend Your Time with Wolves

I just discovered the "Lists" section of McSweeney's. Though it is a treasure trove of wit, my current favorite is "Twelve Sequels to Dances With Wolves That, Due to Monetary Constraints, Were Never Produced," by Eric Feezell:
--Buys Drinks for Wolves

--Makes Sweet Love to Wolves

--Eschews the Calls of Wolves

--Goes Nearly a Year Without Seeing Wolves

--Runs Into at Safeway and Has Some Explaining to Do to Wolves

--Shrewdly Offers Extra Ticket to See Los Lobos at the Fillmore to Wolves

--Once Again, Dances With Wolves

--Begins to Seriously See Wolves

--Hastily Weds Wolves

--Is Repeatedly Untrue to Wolves (NC-17)

--Gets Sloppy, Perhaps in a Subconsciously Purposeful Gesture, and Is Discovered by Wolves

--Pays Alimony to Wolves
I didn't really care much for Dances with Wolves. A little too full of its own goodness, perhaps. And of course it committed the unpardonable sin of winning the Best Picture Academy Award over GoodFellas, though I guess you can't really blame the movie itself for that. I can tell you I'd rather watch GoodFellas again any day than Dances. But I love the list.

There's Plenty in a Name

They can call it the TD Banknorth Garden as much as they want, but "FleetCenter" was a lot easier to say and remember. And of course there are still folks who no doubt refer to that location as the Boston Garden, which is both easy to say and has that nice sense of place that's rapidly disappearing from most of our major entertainment venues. (Supposedly the "garden" in the new version is in fact a nod to the older name.)

Old habits die hard, but you don't have to make it even harder with a lame name like TD Banknorth Garden. It makes me think mergers, not music.

Similarly, how many people do you know who will probably always refer to the Tweeter Center as Great Woods? Plenty, I'm guessing.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Motor Scooter

My husband can't get enough of Rovegate. He's started calling it the "Karl and Scooter Show." It's apparent that--aside from the very real political implications of this whole mess--that Jim is fascinated by the idea of a grown man calling himself Scooter.

As a child, I had a friend, Rachelle, whose nickname was also Scooter. Her sister Melissa was known as Gus. Scooter and Gus, Gus and Scooter. By the time they hit their teens, they wisely asked everyone around them to PLEASE call them by their given names, Rachelle and Melissa. The nicknames disappeared.

Not so with our boy I. Lewis Libby, apparently. Scooter he is, and Scooter he shall always be.

(You just know, by the way, that one day he'll write a memoir, and of course, he'll call it I, Lewis Libby.)

Barry and Elliott, Superstars

Did you know that when you buy furniture from Jordan's, the delivery confirmation call comes from Barry?

"Hi, this is Barry from Jordan's Furniture. I'm calling to confirm the delivery of your furniture on ..."

Yes, I know it's a recording with computer-inserted delivery times. Yes, I know it probably took him less than five minutes to record (including retakes). But what a stroke of marketing genius! Instead of having some anonymous computerized voiceover message, you get one of the faces/voices of Jordan's. It's one of the most effective types of that much-vaunted "relationship building" marketing I've ever encountered.

These people know they've got a good thing going on. Despite--perhaps because of--all the self-deprecating humor in the Jordan's commercials (the one about the Led Zeppelin tapes still cracks me up) these guys are like rock stars around here. When I went to--yes, I confess it--a free taping of Dr. Phil held at the Wang Theatre last year, Barry and Elliott came onstage first to talk about charitable giving. The ovation they received was barely less the one Phil himself received minutes later. What I said earlier about Harvard professors and Red Sox stars? You'd have to add B and E to that list.

Oh, and the furniture arrived on schedule (a little early, actually), delivered without complaint, in perfect shape. Overall, a most excellent Jordan's experience.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Loving Every Minute of Summer--SFNE

Although I just had a most delightful weekend with my husband, it sounds like David had an equally wonderful time. Among other things:
After dinner, we took the water taxi to The Pavilion. The water taxi only costs $5 pp and is another under-utilized treasure hiding in plain sight. We enjoyed the cool breeze off the harbor while watching Elvis Costello perform with Emmylou Harris. After the show, we took the water taxi back to the Court House, got in our car and drove, with the windows down and sunroof open, along Storrow Drive, enjoying the Charles River with the huge, low, orange moon in tow.
My faithful readers (all 11 of you) know that I love the drive along Storrow, and imagining it as David saw it certainly sounds dreamy, doesn't it?

One of the things I've learned--and love--about New England in my four years here is that most people embrace the seasons, whatever the weather. Cold, colder, coldest? Time to ski! Brisk fall breezes? Enjoy the changing colors! Hot and humid? Hit the beach!

There's a certain zest for everything that comes down the pike. You can't change the weather, but you can use it for all it's worth.

Don't Skip the Gates!

As part of our weekend-long date while The Boy played in the Berkshires, Jim and I took the T to Harvard Square for hamburgers and a movie. Of course, when I say "hamburgers" and "Harvard Square" in the same sentence, I am referring to Mr. Bartley's Burger Cottage.

The menu always overwhelms me, so I just jump to the back page with all the "named" burgers. (The names--mostly political bigwigs--occasionally change. I don't remember a Condi burger before she become Secretary of State, for instance.) The one that caught my eye this visit was the "Professor Skip Gates" burger--a teriyaki burger with a slice of grilled pineapple on top. According to the menu, Professor Gates himself gave his seal of approval to this concoction.

Although I love teriyaki sauce, what really drew me to the Professor Skip Gates (or just "SKIP, MEDIUM RARE!" in short-order cook parlance) was that I'd had the pleasure of meeting the man himself a few short weeks ago. I was at a kitchen-renovation-revelation party at my new friend Suzy's house in Framingham (beautiful kitchen, designed by Suzy herself, a real artist), when I started talking to a very trim man who was chatting about his childhood in West Virginia. Jim's mom is from Clarksburg, W.Va., so I joined in. His story was so compelling that I said, in all ignorance, "You should write a book about this!" And he said, "I have. My name is Henry Louis Gates. Please call me Henry."

Well, of course I'd heard of him for years, just didn't know him by sight. I'm not easily intimidated by titles. (Harvard professor--eh. I've learned that a certain amount of academic success is a crapshoot as much as an earned thing.) But achievement of his magnitude--that's something real.

I quickly learned why he's so successful. It's not just his intellect. I don't know whether it was the amusing conversation or his charming way of encouraging me to eat potato chips so he wouldn't have to indulge alone and guiltily, but I swiftly fell under his spell. I'm sure he's an amazing teacher (another attribute I value highly).

The deal was clinched when I learned that not only had he lived in Lexington for several years, but he had lived on my street. And not only on my street, but in "my house"--a beautiful old house I always point out to my husband and say, "That's my favorite house in the whole town!" His kids had gone to my son's school.

It was like a David Letterman "brush with greatness," but instead of some diva-ish movie star, it was with a delightful academic star. After all, the Globe did point out a few weeks ago that a Harvard professor is a star in Boston (though perhaps not quite at the level of a Sox player or Patriot). I'm starting to agree with that point of view.

So after that, how could I resist trying a Skip on my next Bartley's visit? Not surprisingly, it turned out to be very satisfying, though maybe not quite as good as meeting the real deal.

Women Play Games, Too (But Probably Not the Kind You're Thinking Of)

Those good people in Cambridge at MIT's (one of my daily reads) have an interesting piece today about women and video games. Apparently, we're a largely untapped market. This doesn't surprise me, given how many games (such as the controversial Grand Theft Auto) are aimed squarely at young men.
The data on who plays games are actually quite consistent -- men account for 70 percent of the players of games written for consoles (such as Xbox and PlayStation2), says Schelley Olhava, an analyst with the research group IDC. "Those numbers have changed little in the past seven years," she says.

Women could be a rich area for growth -- if the $10 billion video game industry figures out what games they want. But their point of view often goes unheard.

"There's no question that we need more diversity," says Justin Della Rocca, executive director of the International Game Developers Association. "We're saying that we need to grow the business and broaden the audience and yet the game creators are still mostly young white males."
As the mother of a young son who's not yet particularly interested in the more pneumatic sort of woman, I mostly encounter games that appeal to both sexes and all ages. In fact, my favorite video game of all time (for now!), cuts across all lines--it's addictive to anyone who picks up the controller.

There are some signs of change, however incremental. Although the market for more GTAs will no doubt remain strong, as the article states, this isn't just about ideas of "fairness" or "equity," it's about that all-important motivator: profits. There's a reason The Sims has become the best-selling PC game of all time--the audience is as broad as possible. Meaning that even broads like to play it.

I'm one of those broads who like to play. Any game company out there interested in my money? Come on, girls--let's get programming!

Monday, July 25, 2005

Krissy Likes Khushboo--and So Do I!

Krissy in Boston has lots of nice things to say about Khushboo, which is in the Lexington town center on Mass. Ave. Krissy says,
Since my friend, Elizabeth, is living in Lexington for the summer, I’m getting to experience some of the restaurants in downtown Lexington. Yesterday, I went to what I consider to be hands down one of the best Indian restaurants I’ve ever been to. Khushboo on 1709 Mass. Ave. is delicious.
Jim and I have been taking The Boy to Khushboo since it opened, a little less then four years ago (the restaurant's arrival paralleled our own). The Boy can't get enough of the mango lassis and the chicken tikka masala. I've been working the way through much of the menu, while Jim can usually be found ordering the sag paneer. Good service, good bread, good lassi.

Glad it's nearly time for dinner--I'm making myself hungry!

One More Thing About Murderball

I loved Murderball. But it really kind of freaked me out that Joe Soares, the guy who wants to get revenge on Team USA, is the spitting image of Enrico Colantoni, who plays Keith Mars, Veronica's dad on UPN's Veronica Mars. Almost the same voice, too, and definitely the same receding hairline. The resemblance is a really a "separated at birth" moment.

If you don't know who Keith Mars is, that means you're not watching VM. Which everyone should. Amazing TV.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Four-Movie Weekend!

My son went to the Berkshires for the weekend with a friend's family. Which meant, of course, that Jim and I could take in a couple of movies that might not be appropriate for The Boy. We ended up going to four--woohoo!

I love to talk about movies--years ago, my idol was Pauline Kael--and though I never ended up at the New Yorker, I was my college's movie critic for more than two blissful years (even won a statewide collegiate journalism award). So now I subject you to the following opinions:

We started with The Island, a classic blow-things-up-real-good Michael Bay-style movie, directed by--of all people--Michael Bay. If you like watching car chases with amazing stunt driving, by all means check it out. Plot holes aside, I was entertained in a "check your brain at the door" kind of way. And it has Steve Buscemi, which is always good. Even my husband, who can never remember actors or their names, came out saying, "I always like that guy who played the guy who helped them--you know, whatever his name is."

That would be Steve Buscemi, hon.

Saturday, we did a two-fer: Murderball at the Loew's Harvard Square, followed by Wedding Crashers at the Loew's Boston Common. (I love how you can plan a lovely day in Boston--and it was a lovely day--by using the T to get around. Just love it.)

Saturday's movie the first, Murderball--which sounds like a remake of a remake of a James Caan movie--is in fact a documentary about the American Quad Rugby Team. By "quad," they don't mean a foursome, they mean quadriplegic. And by rugby, they mean fearsome ball movement, but this time in specially designed wheelchairs on indoor courses. On the surface, this sounds like one of those tiresome "triumphing-over-adversity, look-how-much-better these men are than we are" movies. But there's not an ounce of sentimentality here. These guys drink, curse, sleep with hot women--and deal with some lousy hands that life has dealt with them. Truly moving. A keeper. Watch for this come Oscar time next February.

Parent's note: Except for some raw language from the rugby players and some nudity during clips excerpted from a rehabilitation-hospital sex tape for the wheelchair users, this would be worthwhile for older (post-12) kids, despite the R rating. If you think your young teen can handle about 20 seconds of nudity and rather clinical sex talk (plus some cursing), ignore the rating and take the kids.

Saturday's movie the second, Wedding Crashers. Vince Vaughn. Owen Wilson. A montage of dancing, laughing, eating cake, and picking up single women, all set to the tune of "Shout." Christopher Walken as the slightly scary dad. Need I say more? Go. Enjoy.

Parent's note: This is really an R-rated film, boobs and all. DO NOT TAKE THE KIDS. Don't make me have to come out and give you a piece of my mind if I see you trying to slip your 8 year old into the theater.

Finally, today we saw Hustle and Flow, which won the Audience Prize at Sundance this past year. This is basically your Rocky, "everybody's gotta have a dream" kind of movie.

About pimps and hos.

Not exactly Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland putting on a show.

H & F isn't great (maybe it was a slow year at Sundance), but it's a solid B. More important, it's a look at a world most of us are unfamiliar with. And the ending is a hoot--and very real if you know much about how hip-hop and rap stars are born. Which I know only by reading about, so why are you listening to me? (I still loved the ending.)

Parent's note:
Not a movie for the kids, not too surprisingly.

Also, I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not, but it's a testament to Terrence Howard's amazing performance as DJay that I found his character--a pimp, for god's sake--more attractive than the cheating fiancee played by Thomas Haden Church in Sideways. Go figure.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

In Lexington, This "Beauty" Is No Beast (Or, the Best Darn 8 Bucks You'll Spend this Weekend)

Just got back from the Lexington Youth Summer Theatre's annual production, in this case, the Disney musical Beauty and the Beast. Now if anyone out there has seen a full-blown professional production of this show, you're probably thinking, "Um, I know kids are cute and all, but this is a tough show." And if you're expecting Broadway sets and costumes, okay, this isn't it. And to tell the truth, I partly went because my son hadn't seen the show (just the movie) and one of his friends was appearing in it.

But boy, did I love it. The heart of this show is the emotion. For any girl like myself who grew up wishing for a guy who "gets her" so much that his big gift to her isn't a giant diamond but a WHOLE LIBRARY, the Disney version of B & the B is a dream come true. (I don't remember the library part when I originally heard the fairy tale as a child.) And maybe I'm a bit of a sucker for young actors (I confess: I was a Thespian throughout my teen years), but these kids were great. Especially considering that many of the parts were played by young 'uns (as young as third grade), the disciplined choreography, projection, and so on were pretty impressive. The three lead roles (played by teens)--Belle, the Beast, and Gaston--were exceptional. (Note to Belle--Micki Chernick--there's a little show out there called American Idol that you might be interested in when you turn 18.)

Okay, I'm gushing. I already admitted I'm a sucker for young actors, especially ones willing to put it out there on the live stage. And I'm a sucker for almost any show that makes me cry. (Which this did. Even after seeing the movie 10 times and the show once before.) But I took part in some topnotch high school productions in Virginia, and I doubt even we could have pulled this off as well, especially given the age range of the actors. The director, Garrett Blair, should be commended.

So, if you're looking for something family-oriented this weekend that won't blow the budget, you have two more chances to see it: Friday, July 22 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, July 23 at 2 p.m. at Cary Hall, 1595 Mass. Ave. in the Lexington. It's in the town center, and there's parking in the back. Tickets are available at the door, but I wouldn't come late, judging by the packed house tonight. Oh, and the proceeds go to three charities, all agreed upon by the children. What's not to love?

R.I.P. Gerry Thomas, Culinary God

My friend Joe points out, over at Libertarianism and Things, that a most important man has passed from our midst: Gerry Thomas, the inventor of the TV dinner.

When I was a kid, I thought there was something very cool and a little magical about those fried chicken or salisbury steak dinners that seemed to take forever to heat up in the oven. (It hasn't been the same since the proliferation of the microwave, but it's been quicker.) Ironically, my mom was (and still is) a very good cook, so it wasn't an edible meal I was looking for. Maybe it was just that, as a child, the novelty of the compartmented items (yes, with the aluminum foil over the dessert) was just as engaging as the TV I was allowed to watch while eating it. (We were otherwise a "sit at the table" kind of family, but when my mom was in grad school or teaching a late class, those little trays were a godsend.)

Joe's writing--insightful and entertaining, whether or not you're a Libertarian--is worth reading as always. Check it out.

Bloggers, Start Your Engines!

The good folks at MIT want you ... to contribute to a survey about blogs and bloggers. It only takes about five minutes to do, so come on--feel the data, become the data. (You do not have to live in the Boston area--all are welcome.)

Take the MIT Weblog Survey

Click the logo above to get started! (Thanks to Michele for the link!)

I especially love this because years ago, in Virginia, I worked for a statistical society, and one of my "other duties as assigned" was coming up with clever slogans that for tee-shirts and what not. Our best seller was a black tee with white lettering that said "may I show you my collection of random numbers?" I still wear that one.

Because Being a Teenager Is Just Too Darn Easy

The Washington Post TechNews reports today about a new "test" that should make being a teen more fun than ever. (With a son on the cusp of tweendom, such things concern me.)
If all of life is like high school, at last we have the answer to the question that goes to the core of our id-driven, zit-popping, green-eyed insecurity:

Are you more popular, at this very second, than the person who's instant-messaging you?
You, too, can now compare your popularity amongst the only group of people who matter--folks on your IM buddy list. (Remember that your score can fluctuate depending on who is online at the time you "fight.")

Sadly, I did this a few times and it's fun. Fun, fun, fun. Durn!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

A True Gem

I discovered Sapphire's blog, Aspiration, when she commented on one of my earlier posts. Her posts are long, complex, and honest. Take the time to read some or all of them. Her latest post, "If nothing works -- then do nothing!" is a remembrance tinged with both sadness and hope about a special friendship.

She's also British, like Illegally Blonde. This makes me think of two things: The web is a powerful communications medium that breaks geographical barriers in ways I don't think we've even begun to understand. And, considering that I live in Lexington, Mass., it looks like all is forgiven. (In fact, notice that she uses the same Blogger "lighthouse" template that I do. Mine to represent the coast of New England. Hers, to represent--well, whatever she wants. I'll let her tell us herself.)

Monday, July 18, 2005

John Adams, Erstwhile Citizen of the Old Dominion

This is just sad: According to the Associated Press, the new HBO miniseries based on the life of John Adams (to be titled, cleverly enough, "John Adams," and taken from the David McCullough book) is going to be filmed in ... Virginia.

Which is kind of funny, because apparently Adams never set foot in Virginia.

Now, as you all know, I'm a native Virginian, and I'm quite happy that my former home state stood in for New Jersey in the new War of the Worlds. (I admit it--I actually got a chuckle out of that.) And I'm downright relieved to hear that the new Terrence Malick film (yes, he's back!), called The New World, was filmed there, because ... it's about Virginia.

There are plenty of places in Massachusetts that are the equal of Virginia for beauty and historical authenticity. So when Massachusetts "aggressively vies" for the job of playing itself--AND LOSES--I think you can probably thank the Massachusetts Film Bureau . No doubt there are tax breaks and other business reasons for the shoot heading south, but let's face it, somebody dropped the ball.

(If I discover that we lost out because we weren't generous enough with the muffin baskets and Legal Seafood chowder for the producers, I'm going to be really, really upset.)

Au Revoir and Bonne Chance!

Following the seemingly endless crawl through New Hampshire, we eventually made it to Short Sands Beach (the one across the street from saltwater taffy central, the Goldenrod). We had a wonderful time, followed by a nice dinner. The only thing marring the day (other than the knowledge that our friends would soon be heading back to Europe) was the disappearance of N's watch. We'd moved our belongings several times to avoid the encroaching tides, and the watch didn't successfully make all the moves. It was a precious gift from N's boyfriend, and she was understandably sad. Imagine our delight when she found it the next day--down in the lining of her beach bag, where it had fallen through a rip in the fabric. "Bonne chance" (good luck) indeed.

N’s son stayed with us last night (Sunday) for one last extended playdate. This morning saw hugs, some tears, the taking of photos, promises to e-mail, and an exchange of gifts—a box of Harbor Sweets Sweet Sloops and a "Beantown" stuffed duck (won by my son at Jordan’s Furniture, of all things) from us, and a stuffed animal and homemade candle from them.

N. and son will be doing one more SFNE activity tonight: taking in a Red Sox game. I'm glad they're using these last few days to enjoy some of the best of New England. (And for god’s sake, we’re playing Tampa—I hope our boys pull off a win. That would make a nice send-off.)

Don't Ask for Whom You Pay Tolls, Part 2

We have some new friends from France (my son and Nathalie's son met in school); they were here for N's work. Since they return home on Wednesday, we made plans this past weekend to hit the beach. Our first choice was Salisbury, but then I discovered neither of them had visited Maine during the entire year (Chicago, New York, Miami, L.A., yes--but not Maine). You can't spend a year outside of Boston and not visit Maine. (It's sort of like that old Seinfeld joke about his parents moving to Florida--it's the law.)

So we kept going past the turnoff for Salisburyand headed straight for ... the Hampton Tolls! (Insert spooky music here.)

WHAT WAS I THINKING? Because of the New Hampshire legislature's slowness in installing EZPass (and yes, I heard the tokens will be history in a year or so, and NH's installation of EZPass will become a reality), the lines to pay ONE DOLLAR were astoundingly long. Can you imagine how much the state of Maine must resent its neighbor to the immediate south right now? (Don't those big signs for the Maine Turnpike that scream "EZPASS ACCEPTED IN ALL LANES" have the ring of contempt to them?)

If I wasn't so determined to get our friends over the Maine border to York, we wouldn't have gone. Period. Otherwise, it just wouldn't have been worth an extra 40 minutes of my time, which is what it ended up taking.

Based on the recent news, I guess they're paying attention. I like to think I did my part through carefully thought-out whining.

Friday, July 15, 2005

The Perfect New England Pet!

Just got back from seeing March of the Penguins. Charming movie with compelling stars. Get these guys and gals some agents! (And some herring.)

Naturally, on the way home my family and I decided to get a penguin for a pet, so where are you going to turn but Penguin Warehouse? The good people at Penguin Warehouse have a really informative Q&A section on all things penguin, including care, feeding, and fish. I was really excited about bringing home little Tuxie or Slippy after reading this:

Q: Can I train my penguin?

A: Of course! Train them well and teach them all the good tricks and amazing mind powers. Someday one of those smart penguins (maybe yours) will become a Jedi penguin, an elite status of wealth, power and strength in the penguin empire.
I mean, who wouldn't want a pet like that? And with the weather around here, we could keep it outdoors for months at a time!

Frakkin' Great--BG Season 2 Starts Tonight!

Will Commander Adama die? Will Starbuck kill the Cylon Boomer? Will President Roslin ever cut her hair into something more flattering than that proto-Farrah Fawcett do? Let's all watch the Season 2 premiere of Battlestar Galactica on SciFi Channel tonight at 10 p.m. to find out. (Or catch one of the many repeats this coming week.)

Not holding out much hope for President Roslin's hair, though. Something tells me that Sally Hershberger and Frederic Fekkai didn't make it off the doomed planet of Caprica.

Does Community Boating Create Mind Readers?

Halley, who usually posts here, has a nice post about Boston's Community Boating program here. What's funny is, I haven't talked to her for a few weeks, but my husband and I have been talking--a lot--about going down there and taking lessons. Those plans have gone overboard (pun intended) for a while while Jim gets his back in shape again, but it's an amusing coincidence. And it's never a bad idea to give this great program some more publicity.

Jim is already a decent sailor of small boats, thanks to years of vacations at a YMCA family camp in Pennsylvania with a lake and lots of watercraft.

Me, I'm all about taking Dramamine and playing the all-important role of ballast. But I'm willing to learn.

Illegally Blonde from Across the Pond

I've been getting comments lately from a British blogger who calls herself "Illegally Blonde." She's got some good stuff--check her out!

I feel sympathy for her current job dilemma--not happy, wondering what her next move should be. I've been there--rotten boss, rotten situation, but not now. I love my job; I'm grateful for it every day. But it took me a few years to get here. The only advice I can say is: If you can change your situation, try. And if you need to, try again. I wish IB the best of luck.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Baby (Not) On Board! (Unless Mitt Has His Way)

Apparently we "immoral" blue staters are at it again. According to a story in last week's Herald, Gov. Romney believes our teen pregnancy rates are low enough, thank you very much:

Although Massachusetts has one of the lowest teen birth rates in the country, Worcester, Springfield, Holyoke and Pittsfield all saw double-digit increases from 2002 to 2003, according to the latest state statistics.

Pregnancy prevention can include counseling, sex education and sometimes condoms.

Romney vetoed $1 million that would have doubled the money spent on programs to prevent teen pregnancy. The Legislature could override the veto.

A Romney spokesperson did not return a call yesterday, but state public health spokeswoman Donna Rheaume said, "Our teen pregnancy rate is half the national average and we think the amount of funding is sufficient."

It's a shame our governor likes to go around knocking "his" state--currently home to both low teen pregnancy rates and low divorce rates (compared to the rest of the country). I guess our family values are just out of touch with most of America. (Um, that would be the America he wants to lead as president, because he's clearly not too interested in leading this commonwealth.)

By cutting funding to a successful program that helps prevent teen pregnancy, he should have us moving in the national direction in no time! We'll fit right in! (No one wants to be a wallflower, ya' know.)

BTW, I realize this story came out last week, but even though I'm late with it, I wanted to get my druthers in. Get it? Late? <...crickets...>

Sunday, July 10, 2005

All Your Toad Are Belong to Us

I'm wearing my new Hypnotoad t-shirt today. For those of you who aren't familiar with the amazing Hypnotoad-- i.e., you don't watch endless reruns of the late, lamented Futurama--he's one of the few cartoon characters of the last decade to rival SpongeBob's pet snail Gary for sheer awesomeness. (Why, Fox Network? Why? How can you bring back Family Guy but not the underappreciated Futurama?)

Part of Hypnotoad's greatness is that he only appeared in two or three episodes, including, of course, the one where he becomes the star of his own show, "Everybody Loves Hypnotoad." He maintains an air of mystery by not being overexposed, thereby demonstrating true star power. (Are you listening, Tom Cruise?) To get a feeling for the mind-bending abilities of Hypnotoad, click here and stare at the screen for a while.

(And props to the website for acting as a storefront to thousands of small-scale artists and designers who would find it cost-prohibitive to set up their own professional-looking electronic storefronts. If you're looking for an oddball coffee cup, t-shirt, or stuffed animal, check it out. For other Futurama collectibles, check out "Futurama Collectorama.")

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Exactly WHERE Is That Sign Again?

Not to be giving anything away, but in The War of the Worlds there's a brief shot of a sign that says "Welcome to Boston."

Could one of you long-time Bostonian types please tell me where the heck that sign is? Pretty please? (We all know that Massachusetts has many virtues, but road signage isn't one of them.)

Why do I have this sneaking suspicion that this sign is like the "Georgetown stop" for the Washington DC Metro (that's the DC version of the T, folks) in the movie No Way Out? (Stretch your mind back to the '80s, if you must.) No such stop exists--much to the chagrin of people wanting to visit that parking-challenged hotspot--but when Kevin Costner comes out of the "station" (the signs are the wrong color, too, btw), it sure earned a big laugh from the Washington audience I saw it with.

Friday, July 08, 2005

London, Bloggers, and the Aftermath: From Slate & the WP has some has a broad range of opinion and reporting about the London bombings.

Robert MacMillan's always interesting "Random Access" column in the Washington Post's section has a special report called "Witnesses to History" about the role bloggers played in keeping the world informed during and after the explosions. In particular, MacMillan praises the big London dailies for allowing bloggers to post to their sites--something that's not too common in the newsrooms of America. (Reading this story may require free registration--take the time to do it; it's worth it.)

BTW, at risk of being beaten about the head and shoulders by my fellow partners-in-blog, I still think there's room in the world for professional journalists. But maybe we can all work together a little more.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

London: How Can You Get Used to This?

I've been reading reports that the Brits are acting in such a civilized manner in the wake of the awful bombings, in part because they got used to the IRA bombings of previous decades.

But how do you get used to losing a father, mother, child, sibling, friend, co-worker--or maybe just some fellow commuter you saw every morning--on what you thought was a normal workday? Who among us is ever prepared for that?

Our thoughts are with our friends across the pond.

NYC--Screwed Again

I can't judge the merit of London's winning bid for the 2012 Olympics or know for sure whether Paris was the real runner-up, as opposed to New York. But it's a real kick in the teeth when New York doesn't even get to throw its hat in the ring for 2016 without potential U.S. rivals. Apparently this goes against Olympic tradition, because losing U.S. bidders usually get to try again with no home-grown competition.

The truth is, New York never stood a chance. As my friend Russ says, the current administration has managed to destroy any residual international goodwill leftover from 9/11 in the last four years. Just wasn't going to happen. But the city should be given the courtesy of an unencumbered next try, don't you think? I mean, the Yankees aren't even close to being a threat this year, right?


Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Nintendo Nostalgia

We're a multi-platform videogaming household--GameCube, PS2, XBox, etc. Also GameBoy SP and the Nintendo DS. This is the result of (a) having an only child who occasionally needs entertainment and (b) having played videogames (originally in arcades) since I was about 17. For years, the only game at which I could routinely beat my brother (AKA "Pepperbro," for those of you who read my comments) was "Alpine Skier." I could beat anyone at "Alpine Skier." (Naturally, this is a game that hasn't been manufactured for about 20 years, as best as I can tell. I am, of course, thinking of the old "Alpine Skier," not the new one where you actually stand on virtual skis and move your body. I'm still trying to master actual skiing, thank you very much.)

Before The Boy was born, my husband bought me, in succession, an SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System, natch) and a Nintendo 64. The 64 was the true breakthrough system of the modern era. But aside from the superior graphics and faster chip speed, what really made it great were the games, such as "The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time" and "The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask," but most especially "Super Mario 64." (It tells you something that there's a Wikipedia entry on the game. Although maybe it tells you that some people have a lot of free time.)

Anyway, that was the game that really let you see some of the possibility in videogames: Big world, many levels, fun tasks, a charming main character. The problem was, we got it when our son was about 2 (when it came out) and ... we could never finish the frakkin' thing. We were always a few stars short of winning. We finally gave up and waited.

Naturally, what we waited for was for The Boy to get old enough to play the game. And, naturally, he finished it off in short order. Because kids have that dexterity and concentration that adults begin to lose after we start working 8 hours a day and give up all hope of becoming professional gamers.

The reason I bring this up is that my son recently asked Jim to get the N64 out again and hook it to the TV. It was in the car, because for long trips, you can't beat a cartridge-based game connected to a little portable television; the new-generation disk-based games hate the vibrations of the road. But we haven't taken a long trip by car for most of a year, so it was mainly gathering dust. (As an aside, this is our second N64--the special Pikachu/Pokemon edition--because the first was "blowed up real good" as they say in Texas in the same lightning strike that nearly burned our house down right before moving to New England. But that's a story for another day.)

The games don't look as spectacular as the current ones (though they sure stunned us 10 years ago), but the fact is--a good game is a good game. It's the story more than anything. "Mario 64" is still a kick-ass game--still many worlds, fun puzzles, a charming plumber with a hat that lets him fly. It takes me back to the early days of my son's toddlerhood, when I'd play a level or two during the rare moment I had to myself.

Now, the system is his, and The Boy, of course, runs circles around me at "Mario." And "Zelda." And "Mischief Makers." And you name it.

And after all these years, it still makes me happy to believe a plumber can fly.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Thank God the Convicted Sex Killer Doesn't Want Dunkin Iced Coffee!

Whenever I travel with my family in Canada, we're always glad to see a Tim Horton's along the highway. Something of the equivalent of a Dunkin (though the doughnuts are better at Tim's, coffee better at Dunkin), they're open long hours and are always welcoming to the weary traveler. (The ones in New Brunswick that serve beans and toast for breakfast are particularly good.)

This weekend, the Canadians released from prison convicted killer Karla Homolka, one of the most notorious women in the country. In terms of national consciousness, she's comparable to a Ted Bundy or Ted Kasczynski; Homolka and her husband's crimes were as gruesome (though not as numerous) as Bundy's. Her release after just 12 years--part of a deal she struck to testify against her now-ex-husband--has caused an outcry from a Canadian public that still hasn't forgotten the details of the crime and the trial.

So you can imagine the dismay when Homolka, speaking in French, said that the first thing she'd like to do when she gets out:

"This is stupid,'' Homolka, now Canada's most notorious female ex-inmate, told Radio-Canada. "I'd like to have an iced cappuccino. An iced cappuccino from Tim Hortons, that's what I'd like to do.''
Despite the chain's tradition of friendly service, she shouldn't expect much love in her quest for caffeine:
Reaction from Tim Hortons employees in Homolka's hometown of St. Catharines, Ont., where she participated in the grisly sex slayings of two teenagers, made it clear Homolka should stick to her newly adopted province of Quebec for her caffeine hits.

"Absolutely not,'' the manager of one outlet replied when asked whether Homolka would be served in her store.
Not to make light of Homolka's terrible crimes, but just imagine: An endorsement from a convicted sex killer is (understandably) the third rail of corporate PR. I don't even think they teach that case study at the most advanced business school.

Hope You Had a Happy Fourth!

Did you miss me? I've been a little busy lately, but I'm back.

Speaking of "back," that word has been on my mind lately, because my husband is dealing with that mid-forties standby, a bad back. In the last 15 years, he's hurt his back a few times. There was the time he had to pluck our son out of a slide at Discovery Zone a little too vigorously. (Did New England have DZs? Virginia and Texas did--they had nice indoor play areas for kids, but then they ran into financial trouble and--oh, never mind.) A few years earlier(pre-child), he went down a water slide at DisneyWorld and the water stopped coming out of the little jets, so he was pitched out of the slide. That's just plain weird. But in the past he's always recovered pretty easily, usually through exercise or walking.

This injury wasn't so dramatic. It came from cleaning out the basement--a little too vigorously. Lifting too many boxes into a dumpster in too short a time can apparently cause a twisted or wrenched back. He's seeing a chiropractor, but still in a lot of pain. Walking isn't good, and standing is hell. That meant our Fourth activities were somewhat constrained. We saw a couple of movies (sitting is okay most of the time for him) and we did take our son to the beach with a friend, where Jim stretched out on the sand while I watched the boys. Beautiful day, and with hotdogs and hamburgers from Foote's in Salisbury. Check it out if you're ever in that neck of the woods.

I love Salisbury State Beach--only $7 per carload for a daypass, with lots of parking, bathrooms, and sand. I would call it "undiscovered"--at least perhaps compared to Crane Beach--but then that would mean I was hallucinating the hordes of people who were there this weekend. So maybe "under-discovered" is the right word. In the spring, when it's nearly empty, it's an awesome place to fly a kite.