Thursday, August 25, 2005

Rain Day = Snow Day Plus Heat Plus Wind Plus Rain

We're still down here in the Florida Keys, and Hurricane Katrina is bearing down on southern Florida. As she makes her way through the Atlantic toward Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, school system after system in Dade and Broward Counties have been cancelling classes since early this morning -- even while Katrina was still deemed a "mere" tropical storm.

I'd never really thought about this before. I've lived in many places where school gets cancelled for snow -- Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts -- but I've never lived in real hurricane belt country. Virginia Beach, my hometown, has been spared the brunt of many hurricanes through the years by dint of sheer luck, and I don't remember ever missing a day of school due to high winds or heavy rain. (On the other hand, the Beach is so ill-prepared for heavy snow that we once missed an entire week of school the week I turned 12 when it snowed less than a foot.)

So the Florida kids will no doubt see their school year extended by a few days now. On their calendars they probably talk about "hurricane days" and their effect on the school year. It might seem fun to have the equivalent of a New England-style snow day, but somehow I doubt it: instead of spending today or tomorrow sledding, many of them are sitting in emergency shelters worrying about their homes. Good luck, kids. Good luck, everyone.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Simple Friendship

We're heading off to Florida tomorrow, but before we went anywhere, we had to squeeze in one last playdate between my son and his best friend. Said friend had been away for the last two weeks, and tonight was the only time between vacations when the boys could see each other.

Apparently The Boy's friend had been asking his parents for the last four days (while they were still mid-journey) for a playdate. "Call them, Mom." "Call them, Dad." We hooked up via email this afternoon, parents already back at work, and made arrangements for tonight.

The Boy had been blue since leaving his last day of camp (he loves his camp). The news of tonight's meet-up wiped away all traces of sadness. When his friend showed up at our door, their sheer delight in seeing each other was a joy to behold. Videogames and rice pudding, the hours flew by.

I love my friends, and I love to see them, talk to them, IM them, email them, connect with them. But there is something about the bonding between 10 year olds that takes my breath away. Maybe because I was a 10 year old once, and I remember that intensity. And I wonder, did my mother feel the same way watching me with my friends?

"Call them, Mom. Please?"

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Cups o' Burnin' Love

I love driving south on Rt. 3A (Cambridge St.) in Burlington, if only for one reason: On the edge of a playing field near Burlington High, you can almost always see a message on the chain link fence.

A message in styrofoam cups.

Each cup, one per link, forms part of a letter, and the letters always spell out something positive: "Go Team" or "We Miss You Randy." This week's message is a paean of love to a girl with the unusual name of Jeska. (Perhaps her name is Jessica, but the message-writer ran short on styrofoam. We'll never know.)

So think the next time before you toss that coffee cup--you may be tossing a potential love letter, a future rallying cry for the basketball team, or just a cheer-up note for someone who needs it.

Author's note, one day later: Michele informs me that they're not styrofoam cups, they're recyclable Dixie cups. So the messages are both romantic and environmentally friendly!

Monday, August 15, 2005

Or Maybe Big Floppy Shoes?

Driving down 128 South this weekend, I happened to see a three-truck convoy from the Aleppo Shrine Circus, which is run as one of the fundraising arms of the Shriners.

The lead 18-wheeler, with its imposing black trailer, bore the markings "Clown Unit." Which begs the question: What do you think a big rig filled with clown paraphernalia is actually filled with? I'm guessing several dozen of those tiny little cars.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Going to (Not Running a) Marathon

We're taking my parents to Marathon, Florida, this coming Friday. That's the mid-Keys, about 50 miles northeast of Key West. We'll be starting in Miami and driving down in Avis' finest mini-van.

I haven't been to Marathon since I was 19, during a spring break jaunt while visiting my brother (AKA Pepper Bro), who was living in Miami at the time. For some reason, he and a friend decided around midnight that it would be a great idea to drive down through the Keys. Those two days are a jumble in my head of early, early morning driving (so early that we ended up sleeping in beach chairs next to a canal and only through the kindness of State Trooper Friendly did we not get run off or ticketed for trespassing); sunburn; heat; sunburn; and a seemingly genuine offer from my brother's friend to visit him and his family in South America, which I politely declined. Oh, and sunburn.

Anyway, it's been more than 20 years since my last visit. So does anyone have any can't-miss restaurants or family-style attractions I should plan for? All recommendations will be duly considered with my gratitude.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Can Two Conservatives and a Liberal Share an Apartment Without Driving Each Other Crazy?

Remember the wonderful show, The Odd Couple? The understandably anonymous author of Republimates goes Neil Simon one better: he's a liberal guy living with two Republican gals.

He hasn't posted much, but what there is, as Spencer Tracy once said about Katherine Hepburn--in Pat and Mike, for you sticklers--is cherce. For example, this post about moving day.
I arrived the day before move-in day to roll up the sleeves and get in some good cleaning time at the new-to-me apartment. There had been a long string of people overlapping their stints in the beautiful victorian house, so the kitchen and bath needed some serious lovin'. I jumped right into the kitchen (domain of the technologically advanced man) and went to work. Emptied out the fridge, threw out anything even remotely suspicious ("A carrot you can tie a clove hitch in is not fresh"), and gave it a good scrub. Voila!

Just as I was to turn around and attack the rangetop in all of its corroded glory, new roommate number two walks in, eager to help. Her grand entrance is made ever more fabulous (a word I know is politically charged) by her sporting of the "FRANCE SUCKS" t-shirt. It's one of those cheap $3.99 or 3-for-$10 50-50 blend tee's, and features a nice little beret draped over the "F."

Doesn't she know that creme brulee was invented in France? Her girth tells me she knows all about it.
As far as I know, the roommates are unaware of the blog. May it ever be thus.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Si vous pouvez lire ceci, alors vous savez plus fran├žais que je fais.*

Sometimes when I look at my site meter, I check my "by referral" URLs to figure out where at least some of my traffic comes from. Sometimes the URLs are from sites I recognize or have linked to in the past. Sometimes they're from the mysterious "unknown." Some of them probably just come from hitting the "Next Blog" button on the Blogger navigation bar.

But sometimes the referral comes from a foreign-language blog, in French or Spanish or Portuguese or any of another handful of languages I don't speak. And it reminds me once again how I wish I knew another language fluently. As an American, I've been allowed to be lazy, because the rest of the world bothers to learn English. (I have faked my way around with a phrase book. I've been told I have a knack for reading foreign languages with a passable accent. And I'm really good at smiling, pointing, and smiling some more, which is surprisingly effective.)

In high school, my mother insisted I study Latin, which I did--top of the class for three years. In truth, it probably helped my English skills a lot, but short of the Vatican, where could I go and practice? In college, I studied Italian for one dreadful year (the teacher was among the more memorable martinets I've had the misfortune of sitting in a classroom with) and Russian for almost three years until I finally realized I just didn't have the time or interest in studying to fluency. Again, no practice means I lost most of what I did know. (And I've still never been to Russia, though my year of Russian History was one of the most pleasurable in my college career.)

I've come to realize that most of the foreign words I know relate to food--I can make my way through menus in any number of languages. I'm not sure if that means anything beyond the fact that I love food (and food is certainly a wonderful starting point to immersing oneself into another culture). And I can read road signs in French--you can't visit Quebec without learning that lentement means "slow," because there's always some travaux (roadwork) ahead. I guess now I just have to wait for a foreign-language blog with a magical combination of material on restaurants, cooking, and driving backroads to pop up on the referring URL page--and hope I can find my phrase books.

Or maybe I should just book a trip to the Vatican.

French language phrase courtesy of the invaluable website,

Good Line from a Mediocre Movie

I saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory yesterday and wasn't thrilled. Didn't hate it--just didn't see the need to remake the Gene Wilder version, which is a childhood favorite of mine. And let's face it, Johnny Depp channeling Anna Wintour or whatever he was doing was kind of creepy. (And I happen to love Johnny Depp. Most of the time.)

There was a line that I loved, though (and this may be from the book; I haven't read it since third grade). As the group clutching their golden tickets enters the big candy meadow with the chocolate river, Willy Wonka (AKA Depp) tells everyone:

"Everything here is eatable. The trees, the flowers, the grass. Even I'm eatable, but that is called cannibalism and is frowned upon in most societies."
I'm not sure why he pronounces the word "eatable" instead of "edible," but no matter. But I liked the idea of cannibalism being frowned on merely in "most" societies.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

(New) Acronyms Are Us!

Geoff writes about the Bodleian Library at Oxford adopting the VTLS library system from Virginia Tech:
Naturally, I checked out their web site. I assumed that the VT in the name stood for Virginia Tech -- after all, both institutions are based in Blacksburg, VA. Nope - VTLS stands for "Visionary Technologies in Library Solutions". (That has to be one of the most blatant acronym redefinitions I've come across.)
As my Constant Readers (all 12 of you) know, I'm a proud Hokie (graduate of Virginia Tech), and unless I'm very mistaken, when the VTLS was created several years ago, the acronym did in fact stand for Virginia Tech Library System. Nobody talked about library "solutions" in 1989. That's a very 1990s, very new-millennium bit of jargon.

It probably has something to do with the company spinning off from the school, and the school protecting it's name. Still glad the Bodleian is using the VTLS, though--at Oxford, no less. I seem to remember it being a pretty good system, no matter what you call it. Though a little less jargon wouldn't hurt, I guess.

Random Thoughts from Coldplay

I saw Coldplay last night (Saturday, August 6) at the Tweeter Center, or as all of my New England-native colleagues correct me, "You mean Great Woods?" Yes, that's what I meant to say.

I won't try to fully sum up this wonderful concert, but here are a few impressions of the evening:

--These guys may well be going for the title "second most popular band in the world" (jokingly said in reference to that late, unlamented band Extreme, but we know they mean U2), and they're working hard to get there. Excellent, well-thought-out song set, robustly played.

--Highlight of the evening: Chris Martin running around the arena slapping hands with audience members during "In My Place" with a security guard chugging gamely behind. He asked us to sing for him as he ran. Since Martin took off during an instrumental section, it was a hoot to hear the crowd (myself included) join in at precisely the right moment for the last two lines of the song as he jumped back onstage--and collapsed in mock exhaustion. (Author's note: The Globe reviewer,Steve Morse, in an otherwise excellent review, said this happened during "Speed of Sound." He's wrong; it was during the three-song encore. "Speed of Sound" came much earlier in the show.)

--Always bring earplugs for your 10-year-old son. No matter how much you like the music, little kids get overwhelmed by the overamplified sound of a big show. Thanks to the anonymous Tweeter Center staffer who saw The Boy's discomfort and gave him his extra pair of plugs.

--When the opening act is someone you've never heard of and likely won't again, bring a magazine. It's light till past 9 o'clock in early August. You can put it away just in time for the main attaction. (Buh-bye, Black Mountain. You know you're in trouble when the Globe calls you "dreary" and most of the crowd seems to agree.)

--It's true: When a famous singer bothers to put local references into the act, it always gets 'em. "Thank you, Massachusetts, for letting us come back!"

--Is America getting clean, or what? It was at least 9:45 before I smelled my first whiff of pot. Of course, that could have had more to do with (a) the direction of the breeze and (b) concertgoers waiting for the sun to set before lighting up to avoid the watchful eyes of the staff.

--Always schedule your outdoor concert-going on such a beautiful night. Perfect weather.

--Although the T.C. french fries come with the ridiculous price of $5.50, they are delicious.

--Another highlight: Dropping big yellow balloons on the audience to pop during the band's first hit, "Yellow," (still not sure what that's supposed to symbolize) then finding they're filled with confetti. Hey, who says these guys only do mope-rock? I couldn't detect a mopey moment all evening. (Until the hour-long wait to get out of the parking lot ... but that's for another post.)

--When the band hasn't yet played its current showpiece number (in this case "Fix You," which they performed at Live8), you know they're coming back for an encore. Think about it for a minute and don't leave! I realize it's tough to get out of the parking lot (see above), but it was worth a much longer wait to hear the last three songs, including--surprise!--"Fix You."

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Why, Lakota Bakery, Why?

Is it not enough that Lakota Bakery on Mass Ave. in Arlington Heights makes those deceptively simple yet so very delicious, buttery, and rich, cookies (including my favorite, the mocha sandwich)? It's tough enough to be tempted by their tasty goodness. But now they've gone and added the Lakota Bar, which is sort of the everything bagel of bar cookies. Coconut, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, etc., etc. all wrapped up in one sizable chewy square. When temptation costs $1.50, what mortal can resist?

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Hi, I'm Paul! Who Are You?

Everyone of a certain generation--heck, of any generation--should get a kick out of this: What Beatle Are You?

Although my favorite Beatle was George, I came out as Paul both times I took the test (changing a couple of answers I'd waffled on the first time). Maybe it detected my naturally monogamous nature--gotta give props to Paul for that.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Doin' the Dunkin Dance

I love Dunkin iced coffee, something I don't keep secret. I especially love that even the decaf iced tastes good, since my doctor recommended I cut back on the caf. (The withdrawal headaches are coming less frequently now...)

What really fascinates me about early morning visits to Dunkin--besides the fact that there seem to be 2,000 DDs in a 50-mile radius of my home, yet every one of them is busy at 7:30 a.m.--is the little dance people do as they enter and exit. Most DDs have two sets of doors, which is helpful in the blustery winter. But that makes it tough to exit, especially if both your hands are full.

Rather than just let the exiters struggle, however, the enterers (is that a word?) generally hold the doors. Which results in the exchange of a little hip swing, a little twirl around, a touch of jazz hands with the cups of joe, and a heartfelt "Thank you!"

I guess the arrivals are so happy to be there--especially for that first cup of the day--that they get a nice jolt of politeness. Drop a door at DD? Never!

Could You Pass the Test?

A story in today's Chicago Tribune discusses the concerns that groups on both sides of the political fence have about the government's ongoing effort to redesign the naturalization test:
To become U.S. citizens, many immigrants study for months to pass an exam of English and the basics of the American political system. On Test Day, they might have to know that Dick Cheney is the vice president or that senators serve six-year terms.

But while immigrants learn Civics 101, the government's ongoing effort to redesign the naturalization exam has become a textbook political tussle, bringing in liberal immigrant advocates, a conservative veterans group and lawmakers of both parties.

Immigration officials say the redesign process is vital to ensure that a growing pool of naturalized citizens assimilate into the United States.

The seemingly simple bureaucratic exercise, however, raises a sensitive question: How do you prove you are a good American?
I've always found it interesting that we ask immigrants to this country to answer questions about our history and the functioning of our government that many--if not most--native-born Americans would struggle with. (Think about all those Leno and Letterman bits where they send a cameraman out into the street to ask history and geography questions. Most of the people whose answers make it onto the show fail miserably.)

The Trib offers a sample of current questions. If you had to take a citizenship test tomorrow, could you pass? And are these questions a good measure of citizenship or just a bunch of trivia?
How would you do?
Immigration officials hope to have a new citizenship test in place by 2008. Liberal immigrant advocates fear making the test too hard and conservatives say some of the current questions are meaningless. Here are a few questions from the test, introduced in 1988.

1. Can you name the 13 original states?
2. What is the minimum voting age?
3. Who has the power to declare war?
4. What is the 4th of July?
5. What do the stripes on the flag mean?
6. How many representatives are there in Congress?

How did you do?

I Can Tell You a Little More About Thunderstorms

Beth, over at Grand Mental Station, has a nicely written reminiscence about surviving a fierce thunderstorm when she visited her grandparents in North Dakota when she was 15. She's right--the storm we experienced a few days ago was mighty loud and pretty scary, but can't compare to a storm on the plains.

I speak from experience on this myself. Living on the High Plains of West Texas for six years, we were subjected to numerous mighty loud and pretty scary thunderstorms, plus damaging hail storms (we lost two roofs and a couple of car windshields to golf-ball size pellets), and tornado warnings.

But the worst came on a night when the rain hadn't even started falling yet. Sometimes we'd get that dry lightning, when you could see the strikes for miles into the distance. This was one of those nights.

We were all packed up and ready to move to New England. The moving van had left the day before, and we were camping out on the carpet tying up a few loose ends before departure from Texas. We ate dinner with friends. My friend Melody had told me, "If you ever move from Lubbock, I'll never speak to you again!" Fortunately, she didn't keep her promise, and we had a bittersweet dinner with them.

On the way home, I heard one of the loudest crack-BOOMS! I'd ever heard. I nervously said, as I often did, "Whoa--hope that didn't hit OUR house." Ha. Ha.

As we pulled into the driveway, I saw smoke pouring out of the attic. A boy from across the street ran up to us and yelled, "Your house was hit by lightning! I already called 911!" That crack-BOOM had indeed struck our house.

Our friends were still with us (they'd followed behind so our sons could play in the nearly-empty house), so I stayed back with the two boys, while Jim ran into the house to save our pets. All of them live in cages, so three trips later, everyone was safe outside. (Though we learned on the drive to Massachusetts that Jim had earned himself a case of smoke-induced pneumonia.)

We were lucky in some respects: The volunteer fire department that provided coverage for our rural street was having it's weekly meeting, so all hands were on deck and available to respond immediately. The moving van had already left, so only the few items still in the house for our camp-out were damaged by the smoke and water. (It turns out that many things can't be salvaged after severe smoke or water damage, so the insurance company cuts you a check. Which is fine for a sofa, not so good for your photos or your child's toys.) Our insurance company paid to rebuild the damaged parts of the house--much of the house, since it was a single-level ranch--without a fuss. Our Realtor took on the job of general contractor, overseeing the restoration while waiting patiently for the house to be marketable again.

The clothes we'd saved for the trip were smokey and wet, so a fire-recovery company took them away for repair, and I shopped at Wal-Mart at midnight for a couple day's worth of stuff. I still wear the cotton sundress I picked out for the next day's going-away party at Texas Tech, where they served barbecue--and Jim couldn't bear the smell of smoked food.

It's been four years since then. And Jim can handle smoky barbecue again. And the pets are just fine, including our parrots, which you'd think would have been most affected by smoke (in the tradition of the canary in the coalmine). I've even started joking that the lightning strike was a classic, Texas-sized goodbye, the ultimate "don't let the door hit you in the butt on the way out."

So, yes, Monday night's storm was a thriller. But I've seen worse. And I hope never to again.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Cognitive Dissonance

Maybe it's just that I can't get used to the pairing of W and the word "intelligent" in the same sentence...

Two Firsts: Kris Meets Stephanie and Stephanie Dines Alone

Kris had the great pleasure of meeting the lovely and talented Stephanie Pearl-McPhee of Yarn Harlot fame at a book signing in San Diego this past weekend. Michele (Kris's sister) and I had that same pleasure earlier this year. Stephanie was equally impressed with the lovely and talented Kris, writing nice things about her and her beautiful sweater.

Stephanie also touches on something that I think is not exclusive to women, but perhaps we just feel more acutely: the fear of being alone in a busy, unfamiliar place.
I'm writing this from a restaurant, where I'm doing something that I've never done before. Eating alone. (You know, it's not so bad...)
This is the trip that I try to learn new things, this is the trip that I don't spend all my time in the hotel room, looking out the windows because I'm a big chicken. This trip (in the 3 hours of free time I have in each city) I'm seeing stuff. I'm shaking off the fear of getting lost far from home and I'm going out there.
I understand what she means. The first time I went to a movie alone, I became convinced that everyone was looking at me, thinking "What's she doing here ALONE?" The fact that I never gave a moment's thought about other people should have given me a clue that--past high school--few people are paying attention to whether you're under escort or not. In fact, if you look around most movie theatres, a lot of people are there alone. (It's not a bad solitary activity when you come down to it. And you don't have to share your popcorn or your M&Ms.)

I know there have been times when fear--not physical fear, but emotional fear--has kept me from doing some things alone. I salute Stephanie for her vow to get out of her hotel room and into the wonderful surroundings her travels are taking her to. It's both harder--and easier--than you may think to do certain things the first time. Here's to breaking the ice!

Monday, August 01, 2005

An Off-Key Note on Safety

Seen on the giant Burlington Mall marquee tonight:

Visit Safety Town
August 15-19
Sing Up at Customer Service

If you can't carry a tune, you might want to start wearing a helmet more often, 'cause buddy, you're out of luck!

1,000 Pages and Counting

The Boy decided that it was time to start reading the Harry Potter books. I couldn't agree more. Although his reading ability has been more than up to the task for a while, I tend to agree with an interview I read several years ago with J.K. Rowling, who believes that her books are best read by people ages 10 and up. Earlier than that, and some of the content can be overwhelming. I'm--well, let's just say I'm a few years past age 10--and the books have made me cry more than once.

So he started with Sorcerer's Stone last Monday and just kept going. Here it is, just his eighth day of H.P. reading, and he's already well into The Goblet of Fire (my personal favorite). That's more than 1,000 pages in a week. A summer week no less, with day camp during weekdays and family activities on the weekend.

Jim is racing to complete the latest (sixth) book, Half-Blood Prince, before The Boy catches up. It will be close.