Tuesday, January 31, 2006

What I'm Really Looking Forward to at this Year's Oscars

I'm a big movie buff, have been since before I turned 10, and I haven't missed an Academy Awards broadcast in all that time. So I'm always excited to see the Oscar nominations come out. As it happens, I've seen all five Best Picture nominees this year, as well as many of the nominees in the other categories. It's a good year--I enjoyed all five BP noms, so I won't be yelling at the TV screen this year the way I did last year when Million Dollar Baby beat Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. (For the record, I liked Munich best of the five BPs, but I'm still sort of holding out for Brokeback Mountain, just because I'm from Massachusetts and damn it, I think we helped change the tone of the national conversation on this issue.)

But what I'm really looking forward to this year is the Best Song category. The nominators couldn't come up with a full five choices this year--showing how weak this area has become--but let's face it: Aren't you just dying to see how Debbie Allen or Kelly Clarkson or Clay Aiken or somebody performs "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" from Hustle and Flow? I can't wait to see how they pull this one off with a straight face. I know I'll be watching.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Um...I Think I Like My Way Better

I have a nearly foolproof method for stopping hiccups: Before the fifth or sixth hic--before the bout has really taken control--I say out loud, "I do not believe in hiccups, therefore I cannot have them." This almost always works for me. I learned it from my father-in-law, for whom it also almost always works. According to my husband, we are the only people for whom this works.

Whether or not the "belief treatment" for hiccups works for anyone besides me and Jim's dad, however, I'll still stick with it over this poor man in Columbia who tried to scare the hiccups out of his nephew with decidedly tragic results:
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) - A man in northern Colombia tried to startle his nephew from a bout of the hiccups by pointing a gun at him, but accidentally pulled the trigger and killed him, police said Tuesday.

The distraught uncle then turned the Smith & Wesson .38 special on himself and committed suicide, said Lieut. Orlando Valderrama, a policeman in Barranquilla, 700 kilometres north of Bogota.
Not good. Not good at all.

Helmet Hair

When plain old hat hair just won't do.

The skier's dilemma: Look good or ski safe? I went with safe, but the hair suffered.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

There's Snow Doubt We're Optimists

Maybe we're being crazy, or maybe it's just that this is the last weekend before my husband starts grad school again, but we're going up north to try skiing again. Which after our previous attempt (what? five days ago?) is pretty optimistic. Rumor has it, however, that Jay Peak has gotten more than a foot of snow in the last week, and it's even gotten cold enough to make the stuff.

Wish us luck. Jim and I are finally going to buy helmets, too. It's a little silly that we insist that The Boy wear one, but we don't. I wear one biking and rollerblading (although it's rare that you fall in snow when doing either of those things, and I've yet to run into a car up on the slopes), so it's time I got my own.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Why the Laundry Goddess Is Seriously Mulling a Strike

In my family, all laundry is taken care of by the Laundry Goddess. She looks amazingly like me, but my husband assures me that's just a coincidence.

Today, I noticed a small, yet vivid, red stain--a small spot--right in the center of my husband's nice button-down shirt. I asked him, "Where did that come from?"

"Sudafed," he said.

"Huh?" I responded in my inimitable, eloquent way.

"Well, I had a cup of coffee in my hand, and I stuck a couple of Sudafed in my mouth and took a swallow. I didn't realize just how hot the coffee was, so I was really startled. I didn't spit up any of the coffee, but the Sudafed flew right out of my mouth and landed on my shirt."

"Huh?" I responded in my inimitable, eloquent way. Then I burst out laughing. Then I remembered that I'd have to explain this red-dye #42 stain to the Laundry Goddess. She will just sigh in her own special, inimitable, eloquent way, then get out the Oxy-Clean Stain Fighter. Then she'll go lie down, as goddesses sometimes must.

Local Blogger Makes Good

Halley Suitt, of Halley's Comment, has been named CEO of Top Ten Sources, a new--and moreover, locally originated--site that rounds up currently hot blogs, arranged in categories, to make your surfing more fun. Although I know Halley as a friend and a fellow mom, most of you know her as one of the original, helped-to-spread-the-word-about-blogging bloggers.

Congratulations, Halley!

Snow Bust

This was supposed to be the four-straight-days-of-skiing weekend, up in Waterville Valley, NH. Unfortunately, we booked our visit (timeshare trade) in May, when it's a little unpredictable how the weather conditions will be. As a rule, however, you can figure that even if there's not much natural snow, at least it will be cold enough to make snow.

By now, you've probably guessed how this story ends: After planning to take time off from work, making arrangements to take the Boy out of school for a couple of days, leaving the pet care in the hands of a friend--we get a record-breaking warm spell. We even drove 90 minutes from Waterville to Jay Peak --figuring they must have snow there--and found nothing but icy slopes. Jay Peak, for God's sake! Where it normally snows more than 300 inches per year; there are resorts out west where it doesn't snow as much.

Picture this: We get to the top of the Metro Quad lift, which takes you to a nice, long green slope. Under ordinary conditions, an ideal run. Now imagine me taking off down the mountain and realizing that it's all ungroomed granular ice with plain old icy bald patches. Now imagine me doing that pizza wedge thing a lot, then finally deciding I need to get off this nice, long slope. So I head down the fall line, with a lot of so-called "positive self-talk" that went something like this:

"Remember, lean forward--you can't fall forward! Lean forward! Lean forward! Slow down! SLOW DOWN! Lean forward! Press your left toe into your boot and curve right! Press! Press! SLOW DOWN! You were meant to get off this mountain. You were meant to get off this mountain! How am I going to explain a broken leg to my boss? LOOK OUT FOR THAT LITTLE KID LEARNING TO SKI! You are NOT going to fall! Lean forward! Look--there's the bottom! You're almost there!"
The Boy had raced swiftly and gracefully to the bottom and was waiting calmly when I arrived, although he admitted that he'd been somewhat scared on the ice as well. We then waited almost 10 minutes for Jim. When he showed up, we learned he had lost a ski at the top of the slope and had to sidle down the mountain to catch the rogue runner, then come down.

Jim's much more fearless than I am, so I was about to announce that I needed a break (say for a week) before going back up. Before I could say anything, he said, "That was TERRIBLE. No way I'm going back up there today!"

Did I mention that's when it started to RAIN?

On the other hand, Jay looks like a great place to go under normal conditions, so we're determined to go back in the future. And we did get to eat lunch in this great, tiny little diner in nearby Newport, VT, called Family Recipe. Best. Baked. Beans. Ever.

Yesterday we took a look at skiing Cannon Mountain, but conditions weren't much better there and probably won't be till the end of this week; we didn't even bother buying lift tickets. Other skiers in the timeshare said Waterville Valley conditions weren't any better. At least my son made friends with the kids in the lobby, so for him it was fun.

So we finally decided to save our precious vacation and pack it up. We're home now--and of course it's snowing. But it will take most of a week to build up enough surface to make the skiing better (especially for the wienies like me and Jim). Even Jay is only expecting a few inches this week. (At Jay Peak, for God's sake!)

But maybe it will be cold enough for the folks at Cannon Mountain to make snow. Because we're talking about going back this weekend...

Friday, January 20, 2006

Local Boy Makes Good

He may not yet have the proven longevity of Bruce Springsteen, but it's still pretty amazing that Bode Miller pulled off a rock-star-like double-header, making the covers of both Newsweek and Time this week. I just read both articles (yes, I'm a magazine junkie and subscribe to two newsmagazines); they're both worthwhile in their own ways.

Each story has pretty much the same message, though: Franconia, New Hampshire's, Bode is unique, amazingly talented, and not too good at playing politics in the world of big-time sports, especially when appearing on 60 Minutes. I've seen the new Bode documentary, Flying Downhill, and man, has he overcome a few obstacles. If it were me, I'd have probably ended up dead in a ditch somewhere instead of looking at scoring four gold medals in Torino next month. You go, Bode--show 'em all!

Stage Fright of the Maternal Kind

My son was in a school choral concert yesterday. In addition to singing with the group, he had a brief (two-line) solo during one of the songs, which meant he stood at the front of the group with the other soloists. Each did his or her bit, then passed the wireless microphone to the next. They were adorable.

When I was in high school, I had large roles in several plays. I was never as nervous going onstage for a two-hour production as I was waiting in the audience for him to complete his two-line solo. I so wanted him to be perfect; I was suffering for him in a way I never did when my own reputation or potential sense of teenage embarrassment (the worst kind) were on the line. I was clutching my hands together, holding my breath. (And no, I'm not a stage mom--I didn't fuss over him beforehand. That would no doubt have been the opposite of helpful.)

I needn't have worried--he was perfect. Looking dashing in his new pinstripe pants, holding the microphone like a pro, singing out his lines with no hesitation. All the kids were great. Even a kid who messed up a little recovered and made a joke about it with panache.

If I was as nervous for myself when I did those plays as I was for him, I'd never have gotten through. Even after 11 years, it's still a bit of a shock to realize how intense being a parent really is.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Flooded Again

One of those evenings (I won't say "one of those days," because the day, though a long one in terms of hours awake and meetings attended, actually was't bad). I took The Boy to his guitar lesson, then had to make the trek to Kohl's to buy him a white shirt and black pants for a school choral concert tomorrow. (Yes, it's true--heathenish non-church-goers are usually on the losing end of white-shirt ownership.) He actually looked rather dashing--the pants have pinstripes and were even ON SALE, because it's Wednesday and Kohl's always has sales on Wednesdays.

But the actual "those" part of the evening was getting home, going into the basement, and realizing we were flooded from the torrential, daylong rain. Not as badly as in the past, and nothing like what we experienced before we built a retaining wall in front of our basement doors. (More details about why of our screwy driveway--thanks, Town of Lexington!--and the horrible icy water experience here.) Naturally, Jim--who rarely travels for work--is out of town.

So on came the waterproof boots and a jacket, and out came the electric pump and hose. After about half-an-hour of mucking around, I called it a night--the water level had gone down below the pump's ability to take it and whoosh it out. This of course still left a very shallow sheen of water across the floor immediately in front of the doors, plus a little in the laundry room. I'm now relying on a fan and time to dry the remains. At least it's not very cold.

As far as I can tell, the only victim of the deluge was an eight-pack of papertowels I'd casually heaved to the bottom of the basement steps, awaiting redeployment for a future time that--sadly--will not come now. Everything else of value or non-washability sits on palettes or up on shelves.

I'm feeling very righteous-babe right now, having handled the crisis on my own. I mean, even Noah had pack animals, right?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Admit It . . .

you thought we were having one of the shortest, warmest winters on record, based on last week's temperatures. You were thinking short sleeves, light jackets, the end of hat hair.

Then, WHAM! POW!--winter's back! You probably saw it coming. But you just didn't want to think about it.

For MLK Today

First of all, check out the Google homepage, but do it today. You know the special graphics are gone in 24 hours.

Second, check out Glory Road, the new movie about the Texas Western (now UT-El Paso) basketball team that fielded an all-black team at the 1966 NCAA finals, a first in NCAA Division 1 history. (Against a University of Kentucky team led by Pat Riley, no less.) Saw it Saturday and loved it. For once, winning the damn game wasn't the only thing the team was going for.

One of my favorite moments, having lived in West Texas for 6 years: As the new players from Gary, Chicago, and the South Bronx are rolling across the high plains in a bus, they muse over whether they're still on the earth. Yes, the landscape is that different, if you've never been there.

This is a great movie for sports fans and history buffs alike. Sometimes its easy for people to forget what was at stake during the Civil Rights era; Glory Road is a fine introduction to the period. All wrapped up in a rousing sports movie, which means basketball fans (this means you, Pepper Bro) will love it, too.

Is the movie a little corny (in standard sports-movie tradition)? Yes. But does work to the story's advantage? Yes. Take the family. Enjoy. And think a little.

And be sure to stick around for the credits--many of the real people portrayed in the film (including the coach, Don Haskins, several of his players, and Riley) talk about how it felt to experience the spectrum of victory, defeat, racism, and respect.

Sometimes I'm Not the Silliest One in the Family

Although I occasionally go by the nickname "Silly Mom," today the silliness handle is awarded to my husband. Jim decided to go to Pat's Peak at 6:30 this morning to ski in the 7 degree weather. I'm sure he'll come back saying he had a great time, while The Boy and I were snug in our warm beds.

But if he has fun in the arctic air, more power to him. I had my fun yesterday--beat a bunch of teenage boys at laser tag --again. On the second game, I came in third out of 34, most of whom were kids between 14 and 18--real competition. One of those nice boys took me out with a shot and then apologized. I laughed, said, "No, no--don't apologize! I don't." At which point my five-second penalty was over and I took him out.

I'm not sure what this says about me as a person, but I've decided to focus on the fun (and aerobic) aspects and not look any deeper into my soul. Any place where taking a hit is usually followed by laughter or nothing worse than "Dang! You got me!" is okay by me.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Tragedy in Richmond

On Sunday, I learned about something my mom had known about for days, but hadn't known how to tell me: Bryan and Kathy Harvey and their two little girls had been brutally murdered on New Year's Day.

Big news, first in Richmond, then Virginia as a whole, and finally nationwide. I first read about it when the police announced they'd caught the likely killers in Philadelphia a week after the murders. Not only are the two men being charged with the Harvey family deaths, but with those of another Richmond family as well. Apparently the cops noticed the similarities in the murders, and the evidence trail led to the two suspects.

This would be a horrible story in any case, but rarely do such stories brush middle-class lives like mine--or the Harveys, for that matter. In this case, as I read with dismay about the murder of a somewhat prominent musician and his businesswoman wife in Richmond, I realized I only knew two people who fit that description: Bryan and Kathy.

It's not that I knew them well--in fact, I never met Bryan. But Kathy was the youngest daughter of one of my mom's best friends, a wonderful woman who died in the mid-1990s. I'd known Kathy since I was little, but she was several years younger and went to a different school. I mostly knew the kids--including her older sister Shelly, who's my age--from frequent visits to her mom and dad's house. (You might have heard of one of Anjo's other kids--the actor Steven Culp, who most recently played Rex on Desperate Housewives. He was Kathy's half-brother, from their mom's first marriage.)

Bryan Harvey had some renown with a late 80s/early 90s rock duo called House of Freaks. Though he and his partner never really made it big--Bryan was working for a local school system as a computer specialist by day, playing gigs with a new band at night--he "made it" enough to warrant an obit in the Hollywood Reporter and news in Rolling Stone. Kathy ran what's described as a funky gift shop in a nice Richmond neighborhood. Friends describe the family as happy, stable, loving. The city came out in droves to honor their memory.

My mom has pictures from their wedding. Kathy and Bryan made a handsome couple, and eventually had two beautiful girls, ages 4 and 9. What happened to them was a nightmare that no parent should have to live through, and my mom and I agreed on something we'd never even thought before, much less voiced: It was lucky that Anjo and John (and Bryan's parents, too), didn't live to see this.

Apparently the murderers came to rob them; instead, they killed them, up close and personal, with knives. I'm haunted by the images the news reports conjure, and try to force the pictures from my mind--with little success.

I hope the cops got the right people. I hope those people never see the light of a free day again.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Thanks, Mom!

Every year on this day, I like to call my mother and thank her because it's my birthday. After all, SHE did all the hard work; I don't remember a thing about it.

And now, after a mere 11 years of motherhood, I realize that labor and delivery don't even scratch the surface of the "hard work" of parenting. That all comes afterward. And she did a great job of that, too.

So thanks, Mom! I love you!

Friday, January 06, 2006

And That Famed SFNE Rudeness Is Where, Exactly?

This morning Team SFNE decided to stop at Dunkin for coffee and breakfast while taking The Boy to school. As we got ready to depart, a big delivery truck from Vincenzo's Bakery in Somerville pulled up alongside. Normally this isn't worth noting, except that the vehicle blocked my view of the parking lot's traffic. (This is one of those extra-busy Dunkins in a not-quite-big-enough strip center lot. Visibility and maneuverability are dicey at best, even without a big delivery truck parked next to you.)

Seeing that I was ready to back out, the driver of the truck motioned for me to stop, got behind the car, and directed me out of the spot--all the while slowing other cars so we could make our getaway safely. Thanks to people like the Vincenzo's Bakery truck driver, my day got off to a great start.

But we have to keep in mind that many people don't like having their beliefs shaken up, such as the belief that all New Englanders are uniformly rude and cold. So don't go spreading this story around, unless you want your weekend to get off to a great start.

Wal-Mart Goof: Randomly Offensive

The power of blogging continues apace. According to a story in the Washington Post, Wal-Mart--in attempt to offer Amazon-style "if you liked this then you'll love this" cross-marketing--had better start screening it's computer programmers a little more closely, 'cuz the bloggers are gonna getcha:

Wal-Mart apologized yesterday after its retail Web site directed potential buyers of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "Planet of the Apes" DVDs to also consider purchasing DVDs with African American themes.

The world's largest retailer said in a statement that it was "heartsick" over the racially offensive grouping and that the site was linking "seemingly random combinations of titles."

"It's just simply not working correctly," said Mona Williams, vice president of corporate communications for Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
The company said it was alerted to the problem early yesterday afternoon after word began spreading among bloggers. When visitors to Walmart.com requested "Planet of the Apes: The Complete TV Series" on DVD, four other movies were recommended under the heading "Similar Items." Those films included "Martin Luther King: I Have A Dream/Assassination of MLK" and "Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson."
Um, you think that might offend people just a little? Not surprisingly, Wal-Mart, which just can't seem to get that whole community- and public-relations thing right, has discontinued its cross-selling function and will investigate how it happened.

Heck, I might even start feeling sorry for the company--at least the PR staff--once I quell my righteous indignation and stop laughing.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Sidekick Comment: I Said My Guinea Pigs Are HARMless, not HAIRless

Someone commented on my recent post about our family's guinea pigs, Jennie and Alice, which ran in today's Boston Globe Sidekick. More specifically, the commenter was taken aback by the photo that accompanied the piece--a rather frightening picture of a hairless guinea pig. Although I'm more than happy that the Sidekick editor printed my musings on cavies and the supposed toughness of their owners, I'd like to assure my readers that the Sidekick's "face-only-a-mother-could-love" photo doesn't resemble either of our little ladies. Both Alice and Jennie have sleek, full coats of fur: Jennie is a striking strawberry roan (reddish orange with white highlights) and Alice, as befits her namesake in "Dilbert," is a snappy brunette.

Maybe the photo editor confused my "Harmless" post with my "Hairless" one? Whatever the reasoning, rest assured that our pigs look distinctly to be of the guinea, not hog, variety.

Note: This photo of a black guinea pig is actually from the Haliburton Highlands Secondary School in Canada. My pigs were sleeping when I went to take a photo. But this one looks just like Alice, and as you can tell, she's neither hairless nor scary.

My Two Cents: Keep Those Cards and Letters Coming!

A reminder to all my wonderful readers: Don't forget that postage rates go up--from $.37 to $.39--this Sunday, January 8 (also my birthday--quel coincidence!). So if you have leftover stamps from holiday cards or bills you haven't gotten around to paying, then use 'em. But don't lose 'em--you can always add those annoying 2 cent stamps to your existing stash.

Me, I'm ordering some new ones, just to be safe. Fast and convenient. Plus, the irony of ordering snail-mail supplies over the Internet directly from the Postal Service never fails to elicit a quiet chuckle.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Watch Out! Middle-Aged Beginner Coming Through!

I didn't start skiing until we moved to New England four years ago. (I don't count an abortive attempt on vacation years ago in Colorado. Worst. Instructor. Ever.) Skiing isn't exactly in my blood, having grown up in a completely flat, seaside city where the highest piece of ground is a manmade hill composed of garbage covered in dirt and made into a park. (As Dave Barry would say, I'm not making this up.)

But we live here now, so we took up skiing. ("Good excuse to get outside in the winter," said Jim, the ultimate "when in Rome" person. He even bought a cowboy hat in Texas to ward off the sun.) Although I've been skiing for the last three years or so, I'm still in the rank beginner category. (Did I mention that I'm not a natural athlete either?) Thanks to some good instruction and a little (okay, a lot of) patience, I've mostly conquered my lift departures and can usually get through an entire day on the slopes without falling.

I've even reached the stage where, though I still rent my equipment, I know exactly what size boots to request and how to put them on. Even better, when I get out onto the snow, it actually feels almost natural standing on the skis. "Natural" being a relative term, you understand.

Yesterday we celebrated what we thought was the last day of winter break (who knew they'd be closing the schools today?) by hitting Pat's Peak, in Henniker, NH. Finally, the weather gods smiled on us. It was downright beautiful--temps in the low 30s, sunny, not windy. Pat's Peak is an excellent choice for the beginner (I'm trying to avoid the word "wienie") because you can buy a discount "Valley" pass for two lifts that take you up to some nice green trails: long and wide, curvy but not too steep, through the woods--but not through the woods, if you know what I mean. Perfect for perfecting your S-curves or even going fairly fast, if you've built up your courage (as I did toward the end of the day). "Fast" being a relative term, you understand.

A bonus of the Valley ticket: Off to your left (from the two-seater lift), you can watch the crazy kids snowboarding on the Turbulence Park and remind yourself why they invented helmets. (And why you don't want to make the wrong turn off the lift and end up on the double black-diamond Turbulence Park.)

My only tumble yesterday came when my husband and The Boy, going up on the lift ahead of me, dropped a ski pole. In my rush to pick it up, I slipped on the concrete departure ramp of the ski lift, fell, hit my hand hard (bruise to prove it), and then got hit by a lift chair as it came around the corner. Very graceful indeed. My husband says that the fall doesn't count, given as it came in a "no good deed goes unpunished" moment.

So--first time on skis since March, and a beautiful day it was. Despite the ski lift tumble, I'll call yesterday a success in my ongoing effort to move beyond "beginner" all the way to "intermediate beginner."

"Intermediate" being a relative term, you understand.