Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Time flies

I am home with the kids, still putting away stuff from being gone. Gary is gone (what else is new?).

And I have no time. None. It is nearly 11, I need to go to bed, and I am on the computer taking care of stuff that I would have liked to do earlier.

Such is life. (Though I did manage to carve out an hour to be in the pool - I was watching the girls, so it doesn't *really* count as R&R time. Just so we're clear.)

One daughter has band camp this week. One wants to play with friends. The oldest? She is learning to drive. TO DRIVE. Not sure I'll survive this part of my life.

Oh god - just dawned on me that she is only one of three. Help me.

Eye doctor visits, birthday preparations, work (much work) to be doing, and we're going away next week. The executive we - no kids. Thank goodness.

This is dull. Enough! May my brain fully engage tomorrow.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Two Kings

Post-Graceland, we are still a little hyped on Elvis. And I'm not really that into him - truly, the whole phenomenon is just sort of trippy. And you have to sort of love Elvis now don't you? It's all part of being American.

So, with apologies to the Utne Reader, where I first read this many years ago, here are my favorite similarities between Elvis and Jesus:

Jesus said: "Love thy neighbor." (Matthew 22:39)
Elvis said: "Don't be cruel." (RCA, 1956)

Jesus is the Lord's shepherd.
Elvis dated Cybill Shepherd.

Jesus was part of the Trinity.
Elvis' first band was a trio.

Jesus walked on water. (Matthew 14:25)
Elvis surfed. (Blue Hawaii, Paramount, 1965)

Jesus' entourage, the Apostles, had 12 members
Elvis' entourage, the Memphis Mafia, had 12 members.

Jesus was resurrected.
Elvis had the famous 1968 "comeback" TV special.

Jesus said, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink." (John 7:37)
Elvis said, "Drinks on me!" (Jailhouse Rock, MGM, 1957)

Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights.
Elvis had irregular eating habits. (e.g. 5 banana splits for breakfast)

Jesus is a Capricorn. (December 25)
Elvis is a Capricorn. (January 8)

Matthew was one of Jesus' many biographers. (The Gospel According to Matthew)
Neil Matthews was one of Elvis' many biographers. (Elvis: A Golden Tribute)

"[Jesus] countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow."(Matthew 28:3)
Elvis wore snow-white jumpsuits with lightning bolts.

Jesus lived in state of grace in a Near Eastern land.
Elvis lived in Graceland in a nearly eastern state.

Mary, an important woman in Jesus' life, had an Immaculate Conception.
Priscilla, an important woman in Elvis' life, went to Immaculate Conception High School.

Jesus was first and foremost the Son of God.
Elvis first recorded with Sun Studios, which today are still considered to be his foremost recordings.

Jesus was the lamb of God.
Elvis had mutton chop sideburns.

Jesus' Father is everywhere.
Elvis' father was a drifter, and moved around quite a bit.

Jesus was a carpenter.
Elvis' favorite high school class was wood shop.

Jesus wore a crown of thorns.
Elvis wore Royal Crown hair styler.

Jesus H. Christ has 12 letters.
Elvis Presley has 12 letters.

No one knows what the "H" in "Jesus H. Christ" stood for.
No one was really sure if Elvis' middle name was "Aron" or "Aaron".

Jesus is often depicted in pictures with a halo that looks like a gold plate.
Elvis' face is often depicted on a plate with gold trim and sold through TV.

Jesus said: "Man shall not live by bread alone."
Elvis liked his sandwiches with peanut butter and bananas.


Catch up

Wow. Coming home is tough. I still have not made it to the grocery store (because this is one of my least favorite tasks in the world - ick). We brought home a bunch of fruit with us, ordered a pizza, found stuff in the freezer, so we have not been starving. I must go today.

But I'm nearly done with my mountain of laundry. My washer is leaking - do I fix the 17-year-old washer or spring for a pricey new one? Such a dilemma .... laundry I don't actually mind, in the grand scheme of housework. It's bearable. I've almost folded everything - even the sheets. Though I hate folding fitted sheets. Mine usually look half folded; what's the diff, I figure, as they're either going into the linen closet or back onto a bed. Do wrinkles matter?

I fold my own sheets. For some reason, I do not care to delegate sheets and bed-making to the cleaner. I am more than happy to let her take care of all the rest, but I like my bed done a certain way, so I do that myself. I read recently that Mrs. Mitt Romney folds her own sheets, too. It may be the only thing the two of us have in common.

Much to do this week: Work stuff, eye doctor, getting ready for school, playdates for the girls, a movie day with friends ... and so on.

So, I've covered laundry, groceries, Mitt Romney, plans for the week. Evidently, I lead a very full and balanced life, rife with metaphysical questions. Or so I keep telling myself anyway ....

Friday, July 27, 2007


Ah, to be home. Two weeks away is a looooong time. Fun, yes, but alas, so long.

But it was wonderful. Saw my parents, my brothers, my niece, my brother's girlfriend. Hung out with my family, visited a friend from high school.

Then - and this was fun - spent a week on Lake Murray in southern Oklahoma at a UU camp. Unitarian Universalist. Not the church for everyone, but for us, it is so right. A week of solid community. Fabulous guest speakers (addressing the need for a resurgence of the religious left), workshops (on social justice, nonviolence), music, and friends. We had such fun - it feels so good to spend time with like-minded people. The kids love it, too. It just feels so good to start up a conversation with just any random person. To see a game of Mah Jongg getting started and say hey, mind if I join you? To look at someone at the karaoke party and say, I need someone to sing with. Let's do this together. It's that kind of community.

And now we're home again. It feels good to come home to a tidy house. But now there's laundry to do, mail to sort, an inbox full of e-mails to delete. Must grocery shop. Get organized.

In time, in time.

And ooooohhh, I finished The Book. But that's all I'll say. For now.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Vacation mid-point

First things first:

Visiting family does not equal vacation.

I see it as more of an obligation than a vacation. Vacation, to me, is going someplace really exciting (New York! Hawaii! Graceland in Memphis!) or somewhere lovely and relaxing (the beach) or someplace just fun (skiiing). Yet every year, we must make the trek to visit Gary's family in Missouri. This we do because ... well, because it is what one must do. Family harmony and all that.

So we did. And I am here to say we survived. But I am getting ahead of myself. First things first: We toured Graceland! I should clarify: I am not that big an Elvis fan. I mean, who doesn't find the '68 Comeback Special Elvis hot? (In that black leather get up? Exactly.) And you have to love his early stuff: That's All Right. Heartbreak Hotel. He's Elvis, right? So Graceland was just fun. (Though you see neither the television he shot at nor the toilet where he, um, expired. Too bad ...

And to make the day even more meaningful, we also visited the National Civil Rights Museum, which is housed in the actual Lorraine Hotel, site of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Very moving - I am so glad we took the girls. They saw the footage of fire hoses being turned on school-age children in the south, a replica of the Woolworth's lunch counter (saw the original in the Smithsonian), buses that told the story of Rosa Parks and that were firebombed when the Freedom Riders used them.

Wow. And Sylvia's response? "That's just mean."

Insightful comments from my 8-year-old. Funny that some adults don't see that.

Then came family time. Three days in DeSoto, MO, with Gary's family. The girls enjoyed seeing their grandparents, two great-grandmothers. It was nice to see them, and the girls enjoyed going out on the boat. One of Gary's cousins has a 17-month-old daughter, and the girls had fun with her. (Though the parenting skills I saw displayed were disturbing, to say the least - I'm not big on deception, as in: Eat your dinner or we'll get rid of the fish in the aquarium. Also not big on the need to "use my hand" on a 17-month-old. Nor on describing a not-quite 2-year-old as "horrible." She's just a little girl. Sigh.)

Three days with the Muellers didn't feel like enough punishment: We topped that with three days of Gerlachs, meeting my parents and brothers et al in St. Louis. For me, that actually is fun; my brothers are pretty entertaining to be with. John and Barb are actually quite fun to just hang out and play games with - Yahtzee, Taboo, Scrabble. We got to indoctrinate Andy, Jim and Emily into the competitive fray (my parents did not seem to have the stomach for it ...)

I could try to describe our somewhat unique way of playing Yahtzee. The party that was Shankfest 2007. Norm the Beer Gnome. But I'm pretty sure you had to be there.

To paraphrase a friend, every family has its own level of disfunction; those who say their family doesn't is just lying. It is so true - I saw every bit of it firsthand over the past week. But it's what you deal with. And in the case of my family, it just adds to the ... well, we'll just say "character" or "color" of the group.

Never the less, I'm glad we all got together. They're the people who understand us the best. That's the important thing.

Just don't confuse it with my vacation.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Ten hours in the car

Can make you want to kill your children.

We were up at the crack of dawn - after being up til midnight - and the girls' rooms were disasters. I thought I had made it clear that rooms were to be clean before we left. Who knows - maybe I hear those words in my head and don't articulate the thoughts. I was stunned at the amount of disorder upstairs. So we left an hour later than planned, but the rooms are in better shape. (Something has to change in the coming months ... but that's another post.)

We'd been on the road less than two hours before we heard complaints: I'm hungry. Can we watch a movie? At 11 we gave in, let them watch a movie. Stopped for lunch, then were back in the car.

And the fighting started. Keep in mind that we are driving in pouring torrential rain, and all I hear from the backseat is: She moved my seat up! But she moved it back. But I don't have any leg room. But I can't close the cooler.

Andonandonandon. Good golly. One of these two has the ENTIRE back seat of the van - three seats - to herself. And they are fighting over one lousy inch.

I finally told them I had had enough. Enough! One daughter was mad enough at me for laying down the law that she refused to speak to me til we hit the hotel. I can live with that - hey, it was quieter.

This reminds me of my own family vacations, where we fought in the back seat (in a car that was a whole lot smaller and less comfortable than ours - good grief, our van has every option under the sun) and my dad threatened to pull the car over. He never actually did, but the sight of that arm coming over the front seat was enough to scare us straight. We had no radio (those AM jobs didn't pick up much on the highway), and I'm not sure if we always had AC. (Though we did have the stench of my dad's cigarettes ...)

Just outside Memphis we hit some sort of accident and the Interstate was closed. So, after waiting awhile, assessing the situation, we (the administrative we, that is) riskily maneuvered the car around and headed back the way we came. This is where the Navigation system pays for itself, as it re-routed us and - at last! - we are settled into the Homewood Suites, complete with complimentary Internet access. (The last hotel where I stayed was in Europe, where nothing is free, and the Internet costs a pretty pfennig.)

Our room sort of smells funny. But it's OK. Because tomorrow we see Graceland. The Mississippi delta is shining like a national guitar. For reasons I can't explain, there's some part of me that wants to see Graceland. We all will be received in Graceland


I want to write about my moveon.org meetup, about blogging, about people who bug me.

But alas, no time. We leave bright and early tomorrow for a two-week vacation, and I need to get stuff together. Plus, we're meeting friends to see Harry Potter, so I really need to get this stuff done.

Pay bills, stop the mail, the paper, send a package. Tidy the house (hate to come home to a mess). Dog details. And so on.

The laundry is mostly done. Got Maddie to her friend's house. Downstairs is done. But I must pack, check on kids' rooms.

We're heading to Graceland, Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee. We're going to Graceland. The it's to DeSoto, Missouri, to see my in-laws. Then a few days in St. Louis with my entire family: parents, three brothers, one girlfriend, one niece. And us - first time in more than ten years. Wow.

Then we're spending a week on Lake Murray in Oklahoma. It's a Unitarian Universalist family camp - doesn't sound like much, but it's pretty fun. An entire week with like-minded people - wow. We had a great time last year.

But I've blocked my afternoons, no classes: I'm going to read Harry Potter before someone ruins it for me. We won't have media access, so it should work out just fine.

So, much to do. I'll be back, though, at the end of July. Maybe sooner, depending on Internet availability.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


When eating dinner in the presence of Her Majesty at Balmoral, one must remain until the Queen's pipers have played. To leave before the monarch would be in bad taste. Oh - and this happens every night.

You probably didn't know that.

You might not know, either, that Prince Charles, before strolling the grounds at Balmoral, phones the Queen's private secretary to make sure it's OK - Her Majesty might prefer the grounds to herself.

Or that Prince Philip must contact the Queen's secretary to see if she is free for luncheon. And that some evenings the Queen prefers to eat dinner alone on a TV tray while watching her favorite programs, apparently worn out from a week of people kissing up to her.

And how do I know these fascinating tidbits? It's all in The Diana Chronicles, Tina Brown's retelling of the Diana years.

It is a fascinating read. Well, perhaps not for everyone, but for me, definitely.

I confess, I have not always had this proclivity toward all things royal. Before Diana, the House of Windsor was decidedly dull. This is the woman, the queen, who, upon returning from a lengthy overseas trip, shook her 5-year-old son's hand. The dogs, the horses, the tramps through the bogs in Wellingtons - not exciting stuff. With the exception of Princess Margaret - who early on decided to tow the royal line - they were a rather tiresome group.

But the post-separation Diana made things fun. They needed someone to shake things up. To wear clothing designed after 1955.

In 1976-77, we lived in England, in a tiny hamlet called Repton. It was the year of the Queen's Silver Jubilee. Our village, like all of them throughout Britain, had massive Jubilee celebrations on the green. It was a carnival atmostphere, with games and prizes. All students were presented with Jubilee Crowns (coins) and spoons to commemorate the occasion. And I got a coffee mug for my birthday - it sits in my china cabinet to this day, holding my crown and spoon.

Four years later, in 1980-81, my father was on sabbatical in Northern Ireland. This was the year of the royal marriage, and he brought home some of the many millions of items emblazoned with best wishes for the happy couple - I have a tea towel (a popular British souvenir, for those who don't know) and a T-shirt. He also bought a book called Not the Royal Wedding, a wickedly funny spoof of the nuptials, including a photo of Prince Philip talking to Princess Anne, who looks remarkably like a horse ...

I got up early to watch the weddings of Princess Anne, of Charles and Diana, and of Andrew and Sarah. His occurred just before I went to spend a semester in London, in 1986. This must have been at the height of the Wales' marriage difficulties. She seemed pretty but rather vapid. We heard rumors - I heard that they were adulterous, that if Diana had been off the front pages of the papers for a few days, that she would wear something particularly outrageous.

I didn't believe any of it. Silly me.

I think it was all true. If you've read any of these books - and I confess, I have - from Paul Burrell to Andrew Morton to Simone what's-her-name - they all paint the same picture: a Diana who was sooo young, so unprepared, and left on her own to deal with a very rigid, very strange, and very isolating existence, one where infidelity by one's husband was simply accepted and never discussed, where one simply does as one is told.

Diana, it appears, did not always deal with it in a mature fashion. She threw fits, she was petty and manipulative. She was not that bright, not well educated, not an intellectual by any means. But she did grow into a savvy woman, one who figured out her role and knew how to get what she wanted by using the press.

She could be mean and vindictive. It was she, apparently, who anonymously blew the whistle on others' behavior, hoping to detract from her own exploits. She cut off her friends for minor transgressions, after expecting them to answer her every beck and call, every whim. After the Andrew Morton book, when she told certain of her friend sto cooperate, she later cut off these same friends for betraying her. Her ladies-in-waiting were sent out at all hours to get her whatever she wanted. And if they displeased her, she quit speaking to them and could be cruel.

Yet knowing all this, knowing how spoiled she was, I still have a soft spot for her. She used. She was young - only 19 - and there is no way she was prepared for the role being thrust upon her. She was not sophisticated enough to handle the job nor the stress, and she and Prince Charles had nothing in common. She was duped into thinking this could ever work.

Sure, she was petty and did not behave well. But she used her talents, such as they were, to bring relief to others. You can't argue with her charity work. Maybe her reasons weren't as altruistic as she might have had you think. But she lent her name and credibility to causes when they needed them most - touching AIDS patients, showing the world that they were still human.

And let's face it - she looked fantastic. Not early on, but by the 90s, she was a knockout.

Absolutely fabulous.

Like her or not, the book is amazing. It's the same story, but told in a completely captivating way by Brown, former editor of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. The details are smoking - more than you ever wanted to know about Charles and his bedroom predilections - and while parts of it are making me uncomfortable, it's hard to put down.

Diana may not have really given us much. But she gave us a story so good that no fiction writer could have come up with it. They wouldn't have dared.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Summer Learning

The rain won't stop.

It has rained here, off and on, for the past several weeks. Those of you who don't live in Texas have, no doubt, heard about the deluge, the flooding. Thankfully - well, for us - we don't live in the part of the state that has been hardest hit - that would be the area northwest of Austin. Here in Houston, it's just daily thunderstorms and showers. We sneak in a dip in the pool when we can.

And I didn't exactly panic about a fire hazard as we shot off fireworks on the fourth - nothing here is going to ignite. We were lucky to find a brief respite from the rain to start the grill, light a few sparklers.

Yet the children must be entertained. As a parent, it is my duty to enlighten them, engage their minds on issues of relevance. History, for example.

Last week we concentrated on mid-century history. Namely, we watched some Elvis Presley movies.

This week? We've turned the clock forward a bit and watched some classic television.

I've already introduced the girls to much-loved television like That Girl, Bewitched, Leave it to Beaver, and Andy Griffith. But it's time now to move to the next decade. Our show of choice?

The Partridge Family.

The girls love it. We discuss the fashions (which don't look as dated as you might think). The music and the way two adults and four talent-free kids sound like a chorus of 15. Even without rehearsal. We take note of the guest stars and who was on before they were famous: Farrah Fawcett, Jaclyn Smith, Vic Tayback, Pat Harrington. Or big stars, like Ray Bolger, Morey Amsterdam, Dick Clark, Johnny Cash.

(And it's a little scary how many of the songs I can sing along to ... I mean really, who can't sing "I
Think I Love You"? or that early one, "Together ... having a ball ..." or "I woke up in love this morning." Now those are some lyrics.)

Clearly education is a value we hold dearly in our family.

Well, that, and a penchant for kitschy television. I can hardly wait to do Get Smart.

Isn't parenting fun?

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Summer Weekend

My days have changed, and for the better. No more summer school - Alison finished her three-week PE course, finished her driving school session, so we are free. Free! No more shuttling kids.

Which doesn't mean my days are wide open - there is still plenty to do. Work, kids, house, planning. But my time is more flexible - I am not boxed in by pick-up times.

Gary was gone last week, returned Friday from Moscow. I was there in 1986, when it was the Soviet Union, and it was interesting to compare. The hotel where we stayed - Hotel Rossia - was an Intourist Hotel where they tried to put all foreign guests, in order to contain them. Gary stayed at the Marriott, only blocks away, but he saw the hotel where we stayed. Lenin's tomb was not open, so he didn't see that. But his general impression was that Moscow was much like any other European city, bustling with busy outdoor cafes, the streets full of billboards and western shops. The exact opposite of what I remember as a drab, colorless city, devoid of activity.

But that was 20 years ago. Things have changed.

And I digress. Thursday night we celebrated Alison's end of school by going out to eat and running to Academy sporting goods. New swimsuits for the girls, new workout clothes for me - now I have to exercise more ... Alison and I stayed up and watched Steve Martin's Shopgirl which was ... not the best movie I've ever seen. Sort of a downer. Friday morning was Alison's first day free of PE class. So? She and I got up and went for a run. (The new Nike gear is great, by the way :))

Came home and swam - have to jump in when the skies are clear these days, as we're getting more than our share of rain - cleaned up, puttered around, then took the girls bowling. After three years of league bowling, I've bowled exactly once since moving to Houston. And it showed - all three girls were beating me through the fifth frame. At about frame six I managed to get my act together, and my final score was 114 - bad considering what my average was, but impressive when you consider my score in the fifth.

Saturday was mostly a day of taking care of little details: Spray-painted a shelf for the kitchen to hold cookbooks, put up a new shelf in Alison's bathroom, cleared some clothes from the closet (including all of Gary's ugliest clothes), de-cluttered my kitchen desk. Not tasks of monumental importance, but essential, none the less. Swam late in the day.

And watched O Brother, Where Art Thou? with the girls. They quite liked it. Though if I'd remembered how much language there was, I might have reconsidered. No f-bombs, but GD this, that, and the other. Perfect parent I'm not, but I do try to set a good example.

Today was baseball: The Astros played the Rockies. I'm big on historic preservation, old architecture. Which includes old ball parks. But I have to say, I really like some of these new ball parks. Minute Maid is no exception. They are all designed so well - there are no bad seats, unlike old stadiums like the old Busch, where every seat was a bad one. I'm also not big on watching baseball indoors - it feels unnatural. But Minute Maid has a wall of windows, and the dome opens when the weather is right. And let's face it, Houston is awfully hot. Plus today was raining - it's nice to know there are no rain delays or cancellations.

We got the cheap seats and had a great time - saw two home runs, lots of great plays. But no Craig Biggio - he was off today. Houston beat the Rockies 10-0. And we got lots of good people watching in - my personal fave was the woman wearing a purple floral smock - it looked like something our cafeteria workers would have worn. Hmmm ... the blue heels with the capris made for a nice look.

So the weekend comes to an end. And this week is July 4 - fireworks. Let's hope there's no rain ...