Saturday, December 31, 2005

Chronicles of Narnia

I saw Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe this afternoon and I really enjoyed it. I reread the whole series yearly and had high expectations which were amply exceeded. So here are some thoughts.

The Good:

Georgie Henley and William Mosley as Lucy and Peter were fabulous. I especially enjoyed how accessable William Mosley made Peter's character. Peter was torn between two duties; to his siblings and the promise he makes to his mother, and to the longing to fight the good fight and his promise to Aslan. In the opening scene as Helen Pevensie places the children on the train to the country, this pulling of duty and desire is very well expressed. Peter shepherds his siblings, especially young Lucy, to the train and looks to see young men in uniform boarding a different train. They are obviously shipping out and obviously just a couple of years Peter's senior.

Aslan. If Aslan was bad then there was no movie, but Aslan was very very good. First, Liam Neeson's voice was spot on, there was a gravity there but also a gentleness. Kudos to the animators for being able to give expressiveness to a lion's face without making it a human expression.

There were many, many wonderful things but those were the two that really stood out.

The Different

James McAvoy's portrayal of Tumnus the Faun was completely different than anything I had pictured, but it was great. I don't know why, but I always pictured Tumnus as shrinking, mincing, kind of weak. I think it was all the crying in the book. While the character's actions really don't change dramatically, my impression of Tumnus' mettle increased.

Crossing the Ice. In a scene straight out of a Hollywood "action beat" list, the children are trapped on an icy river that is breaking up. The scene was well done but jarred. I wish the director would have taken that time to expand on Cair Paravel or the scene in the Beaver's house as they explained the prophesy of Adam's Flesh and Adam's Bone or Professor Kirke.


I loved some of the detail work in costumes and settings. The thrones at Cair Paravel had different insignia for each king and queen: Peter, a sword, Susan, a horn, Edmund, a broken Wand, and Lucy, a bottle. The Professor had an apple as his tobacco holder. (In Magician's Nephew, Diggory Kirke, brings back an apple from Narnia.) Peter riding a white unicorn was also a nice touch. (In The Last Battle, King Tirian of Narnia rides a white unicorn named Jewel.) I saw a clip of Andrew Adamson, the director, saying that he wanted to make a movie of the book as he imagined it reading as a child, I would say he succeeded. He did one better, he made it the way I imagined it as a child.

Radio Blogger has a good round up of reviews.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Split Pea Soup

My mother makes the best split pea soup: thick and creamy, but never heavy. This is her recipe but I am substituting a ham bone for her turkey drums. My in-laws bring up a spiral ham on thier post Christmas visit and when we've picked all the sandwich meat off of it, the ham bone becomes the base of this soup.

Split Pea Soup

4-5 cups dry split peas (green or yellow)
1/2 cup barley
1 medium yellow onion chopped coarsely
2 turkey drums or 1 ham bone
1 large bay leaf
1 tbsp sage
1/2 tbsp salt
7 peppercorns
5 carrots diced
3/4 cup milk (approx.)
2-3 tbsp butter

Put peas, barley, onion and meat in large pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil. After it's boiling, reduce heat to a lively simmer. Add seasonings. Stir occasionally until meat is falling off the bone. Remove meat from pot an let cool on a plate. Add carrots, simmer until they are tender. Add butter and milk. Add milk until at desired consistancy. Peel any remain meat off bone(s) and stir in. Serve with cornbread. NOTE: This makes a very large pot of soup, but it freezes great and makes delicious leftovers.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Enviromental Management

Michael Crichton delivered an interesting speech to the Washington Center for Complexity and Public Policy. It centered on enviromental management and more specifically scare tactics. He starts with an anecdote about researching for his novel State of Fear:

Some of you know I have written a book that many people find controversial. It is called State of Fear, and I want to tell you how I came to write it. Because up until five years ago, I had very conventional ideas about the environment and the success of the environmental movement.

The book really began in 1998, when I set out to write a novel about a global disaster. In the course of my preparation, I rather casually reviewed what had happened in Chernobyl, since that was the worst manmade disaster in recent times that I knew about.

What I discovered stunned me. Chernobyl was a tragic event, but nothing remotely close to the global catastrophe I imagined. About 50 people had died in Chernobyl, roughly the number of Americans that die every day in traffic accidents. I don’t mean to be gruesome, but it was a setback for me. You can’t write a novel about a global disaster in which only 50 people die.

Undaunted, I began to research other kinds of disasters that might fulfill my novelistic requirements. That’s when I began to realize how big our planet really is, and how resilient its systems seem to be. Even though I wanted to create a fictional catastrophe of global proportions, I found it hard to come up with a credible example.

So here is an intelligent man, a doctor, who finds his presumption about enviromental disasters challenged. What does he do? He looks up the data.

The initial reports in 1986 claimed 2,000 dead, and an unknown number of future deaths and deformities occurring in a wide swath extending from Sweden to the Black Sea. As the years passed, the size of the disaster increased; by 2000, the BBC and New York Times estimated 15,000-30,000 dead, and so on…

Now, to report that 15,000-30,000 people have died, when the actual number is 56, represents a big error.

I am tempted to make a snide comment about the NYT here but I'll refrain. He went on to cite a report that said the greatest harm was done by the misinformation; the curse of the self fullfilling prophesy if you will. Once the research on Chernobyl, shook him out of his blindness he examined other predicted disasters. Y2K, the "population bomb", poison by pesticide, cancer brought on by a whole host of things like saccharine and food coloring (remember the red M&M scare?), his list goes on. Can I add a bugaboo from my childhood, acid rain? For at least a year I was scared to go out in the rain. Living in the Pacific Northwest, that meant I spent a whole year of my kidhood afraid to play outside.

Well Y2K fizzled, population numbers have hazardously declined in many parts of the world, DDT could stamp out malaria if given a chance, the list goes on. I still live in the Pacific Northwest and 23 years later acid rain hasn't gotten me yet. Crichton goes on to point out that the enviroment is not a linear equation. If "a+b=c" and we change the value of "a" we don't necessarily produce "d". Rather if we change "a" who knows what will happen? Not the enviromentalists.

First the clearcutting of rainforests were hazardous, now trees may not be the solution:

In the effort to slow Earth's rising temperatures, even a well-intentioned proposal could backfire, scientists said Wednesday.
One suggestion has been to grow more trees, which absorb carbon dioxide, the gas blamed for trapping heat. More trees mean more carbon dioxide removed from the air.

New computer simulations, however, indicate that establishing new forests across North America could provide a cooling effect for a few decades to a century, but that after that, they would lead to more warming.

Global warming can mean whatever Greenpeace says it means. Steven Guilbeault, Greenpeace director made this clear:

"Global warming can mean colder, it can mean drier, it can mean wetter. That’s what we’re dealing with.”

Huh? No. I thought warming meant you know, warm, as in not cold. I bring all this up not because I want to trash enviromentalists, because I think thier goals are laudable. That is, if thier goals are a planet that it is a pleasure to live on and good stewardship of what we have been entrusted with. I get the feeling though if some bright scientist ever got cold fusion to work and we could power our homes with a tablespoon of seawater; we'd start hearing about the plight of red sea algae and how it's loss would bring untold doom on our heads.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Santa Visits

The Muralist, Verbalist and Infant are enduring a brief respite from gifts, sweets and attention. The lull before the second storm, as it were. The Dear Husband's parents are on the ferry as I type, with thier own brand of Christmas spoilage.

Christmas Eve found us at my sister's church for Christmas service. The Verbalist wanted his own candle, thank you very much, and sat on the end next to his uncle well away from Mom and the rest of those girls. My middle daughter and niece giggled and bounced and requested 10 gazillion potty breaks, as prophesied by Sis, which is why we sat at the rear of the very crowded room. Home again to consume pizza whilst watching A Christmas Story. The phone rang.

"Ho, Ho, Ho!" boomed my father's voice. "I am hitching up Reindeer to visit your house. Are good little children in bed yet?"

"Oh no Santa," reply I with heads swiveling towards me. The eyes fixed on the phone with a mixture of terror, greed, joyful anticipation, and certitude of righteousness. "They are still eating thier dinner. They will hurry and get into thier jammies."

"Ho, Ho, Ho! I sure hope so! I wouldn't want to pass by the house because they were still awake."

The Verbalist began cramming the rest of his dinner in his mouth, and jumped up to get PJs. The Muralist still dallied at her food. DH began to play the NORAD Santa Sightings on his computer. The Verbalist was glued to the screen, awed by this official confirmation of Santa's existence. The Muralist awoke to the gravity of her situation and ran to get pajamas.

ching ching ching ching, ringla jing ching ching

Sleigh Bells sounded outside the kitchen window. The Verbalist's eyes practically popped out of his skull. "No! No Santa waiiiiiiiiiiiiiiitttttttt! I'm getting in bed nowwwwwww!!!!"
Thump, thump, thump. Down the hall he went. "I can tuck myself in Dad! I've already prayed!" he threw over his shoulder as he jumped under his covers. Palpable silence emminated from his room.

"Mom, mom, mom, mom!!" entreated the Muralist. "You have to help me hurry, faster faster." Her hands fumbled in thier haste to pull her nightgown on. "I'm good, I'm good, I'm goooooooooddddd Santa!" Thump, thump, thump, down the hall she went. Theatrical snores for a moment, then silence. I glance at the kitchen window, my father's face gleeful.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Christmas and Scrooge

I have been watching Christmas movies. The is a spot on the very end of my kitchen counter where I can look at the TV in the family room. I stand at the end of the counter and bake and watch Christmas movies. I started out with Charlie Brown Christmas, moved on to Grinch (not the horrid live action one), went on to Santa Clause, and The Nutcracker. I couldn't find either the version with the Maurice Sendak sets or Baryshnikov, and stumbled onto this bizarro version with McCauly Culkin as the prince!!!!! It was too weird for words. From there I have moved away from kid flicks to A Christmas Carol (George C. Scott), It's a Wonderful Life, and Ben-Hur. Yes, I watch Ben-Hur alot. It's one of my favorite movies.

I love Christmas movies, but I especially like A Christmas Carol. Dickens certainly was someone who had a handle on the more depressing aspects of life, but the story is so up lifting I read it every year. Scrooge is such a wonderful portrait of repentance and redemption. I mean repentance in the best Biblical sense. There are a three Greek words in the New Testament which translate "repentance". The snese I am talking about combines the meaning of the words metanoeo (verb) with metanoia (noun).

The meaning of metanoeo is to "change one's mind and purpose after gaining knowledge". Metanoia means "a change of one's mind and life and purpose - to which remission of sin is granted." Sounds like Scrooge? Easton's Bible Dictionary has a wonderful definition appended to these Greek words:
Evangelical repentance consists of (1) a true sense of one's own guilt and
sinfulness; (2) an apprehension of God's mercy in Christ; (3) an actual hatred
of sin (Ps. 119:128; Job 42:5, 6; 2 Cor. 7:10) and turning from it to God; and
(4) a persistent endeavour after a holy life in a walking with God in the way
of his commandments. The true penitent is conscious of guilt (Ps. 51:4, 9), of
pollution (51:5, 7, 10), and of helplessness (51:11; 109:21, 22). Thus he
apprehends himself to be just what God has always seen him to be and declares
him to be. But repentance comprehends not only such a sense of sin, but also an
apprehension of mercy, without which there can be no true repentance (Ps. 51:1;

What an exact description of Scrooge! The comprehension not only of his sense of wrong, but the apprehension of mercy afforded him with the intervention of Marley and the Christmas Ghosts. The story goes on to detail not only his change of heart but the change in his attitudes and practices. For if you do not follow your repentance with a change in practices, how is that true repentance?

Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.

Scrooge also asked forgiveness of those he wronged.

He had not gone far, when coming on towards him he beheld the portly gentleman, who had walked into his counting-house the day before, and said, ``Scrooge and Marley's, I believe?'' It sent a pang across his heart to think how this old gentleman would look upon him when they met; but he knew what path lay straight before him, and he took it.

``My dear sir,'' said Scrooge, quickening his pace, and taking the old gentleman by both his hands. ``How do you do? I hope you succeeded yesterday. It was very kind of you. A merry Christmas to you, sir!''

``Mr Scrooge?''

``Yes,'' said Scrooge. ``That is my name, and I fear it may not be pleasant to you. Allow me to ask your pardon. And will you have the goodness --'' here Scrooge whispered in his ear.

There is a fabulous scene inserted in the Scott version where he asks forgiveness of he nephew for all the wrong he had done to him. It is illustrative of Scrooge's change of character. Oh how eager his family is to forgive him! So dear readers let us ponder on not only repentance and forgivness but the joy it brings, the lightness.

He went to church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and fro, and patted children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of houses, and up to the windows: and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed that any walk -- that anything -- could give him so much happiness.

While Linus speaks straight to the source of mercy and joy; let us end by examining our role as described by Marley:
``Business!'' cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. ``Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!''

Richmond is also talking movies, but more lighthearted.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Ha Ha

Unless circumstances unforseen arise, I will not be blogging until after Christmas. I've got a great reason. My cat bit me. Hard. On my right thumb. It's very painful and while I could type if I wanted to, I've decided that I would rather not.

The funny thing is I was watching Return of the King and thought, "Boy it sure would suck to get a finger bit like that. That has got to hurt, ya know even if it didn't get bit off." Ha, ha as Nelson would say.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

myWhidbey Perspectives

A local news and community portal, myWhidbey, has a new series called Perspectives up. A conservative (that'd be me) and a leftist each present articles on a given topic. We don't see each other's articles, they are posted by an Administrator at the same time, with a basic head to head format. The first involves military recruiters on campus. Here is a link to Rob for the opposition. I'm reproducing my article in full below. I am hoping to do a little rebuttle on Rob's piece here, Christmas activities allowing, in the next couple of days.

Recruiting in Our Schools

The debate centers on a law known as the Solomon Amendment, Title 10 Section 983 of the US Code . It states: federal money given to schools (or schools within schools) may be withheld if those schools do not allow military recruiters on campus or allow students who so choose to meet with ROTC representatives. So if Harvard Law says that recruiters from the military JAG corps can not be a part of job fairs on campus, then Harvard Law AND Harvard forfeit Federal money. High Schools which receive funding from No Child Left Behind and the Department of Education are also subject to this same law.

There are two major arguments I hear against recruiters on campuses. The first contends that recruiters pressure young people into joining the armed forces without outlining the consequences of service. This in turn preys on young people without adequate grades or money to choose a different course in life. The second argument, and the one which has been brought before the Supreme Court in FAIR v. Rumsfeld, concerns the military’s “Don’t ask don’t tell” policy. Institutions which ban recruiters from campus because they find this policy is discriminatory claim by withholding federal money from institutions which bar recruiters and ROTC, the federal government is violating those institutions first amendment rights.

Let’s first deal with the argument that recruiters prey on young people without other options, either from grades or money.

In Who Bears the Burden? Demographic Characteristics of US Military Recruits Tim Kaine of the Heritage Foundation analyzes enlistees based on income, race, education and regional/rural origin. He says, “This paper also reviews other evidence that is at odds with the image...that the military exploits poor, ignorant young Americans by using slick advertising that promises technical careers in the military to dupe them into trading their feeble opportunities in the private sector for a meager role as cannon fodder.” (ellipses mine)

“Put simply, the current makeup of the all-voluntary military looks like America. Where they are different, the data show that the average soldier is slightly better educated and comes from a slightly wealthier, more rural area . We found that the military (and Army specifically) included a higher proportion of blacks and lower proportions of other minorities but a proportionate number of whites . More important, we found that recruiting was not drawing disproportionately from racially concentrated areas .” (bolding mine)

We are all familiar with the story of the recruiter promising the na├»ve young person that they will spend their tour in Hawaii in condos, but I submit that today’s skeptical generation is under no illusions about such pie in the sky stories. There as many stories about the rigors of boot camp as there are the luxuries of Hawaiian postings. So much for coercion; we should consider that these young people know what they are doing. At 18 years of age, youths are considered adults and subject as such under the law.

Now let’s play “Suppose”. Suppose I set up a scholarship fund available to anyone who wanted to make use of it and all I asked in return was for those taking advantage of the scholarship to hear my pitch on becoming a purveyor of yak flavored ice cream. (Made from US raised yaks! Comes in delicious soy options!) They don’t have to agree to eat yak ice cream or promote it in any way, merely allow me the opportunity to tell you about it. Not only that, but I wouldn’t even demand a forum wherein I was the only culinary spokesperson, nope my booth is right beside folks pitching Trout-pops and Dog-hair donuts. Sound reasonable? The flap in South Whidbey centers on the school giving military recruiters the same information they give to college recruiters, plus there is a built in opt out policy for parents.

First, does the federal government have the right to allocate money for higher education? The Claremont Institute’s amicus brief in FAIR v. Rumsfeld says this: “An examination of the original understanding of the Spending Clause shows that the clause does not authorize Congress to provide federal funding to local institutions of higher education. However, such funding may still be authorized under some other power granted to Congress in the Constitution. When funding of higher education is restricted by the Solomon Amendment to institutions allowing military recruiters on campus, this overall program – or at least parts of it-is permissible under Congress’ power to raise and support armies. U.S. Const. Article 1 section 8 clause 12.” So federal funding of education is Constitutional when it’s tied to the possibility of Congress’ authority to raise an army.

Second, does withholding funds from schools infringe on those schools First Amendment rights? No. In Rust v. Sullivan it was determined that “when Government appropriates public funds to establish a program it is entitled to define the limits of that program.” The limits of the program being: funds must be tied to an opportunity for government to raise an army. The schools are not obligated to take federal money. The schools are not entitled to tax money, and they are not made to espouse what they conceive to be discriminatory practices. Students are not obligated to meet with recruiters. Families are not obliged to release any “directory information” (name, phone numbers, etc.) to ANY recruiters, including military ones. It is the obligation of the schools to inform parents of their options, Department of Education recommends a notice in the student handbook.

Let’s sum up: 1) Congress is only allowed to spend federal money on education under the aegis of educating possible future soldiers. 2) No school is obligated to take federal funds. 3) Schools are obligated to inform parents they can remove “directory information” from list available to military and college recruiters. 4) Military personnel recruit across the spectrum of American citizens. Not happy with an “opt out” policy? Get Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to the Spending Clause to change how the federal government can legally fund schools.

Fudge, Sweet Sweet Fudge

Fudge is a labor of love, but nothing quite compares to that dense chocolatey goodness. As I like to do, I will give you a basic recipe and then my favorite variation. Fudge is best served with a good earthy coffee, like Sumatran or Sulawesi, Indonesians are your best bet. Alternatively, a full bodied Pinot Noir is also excellent, I recommend something from the Willamette Valley, especially Chateau Benoit. Not pricey, they have yet to turn out a bottle of wine that I dislike.

Basic Fudge

3 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter
2/3 cup evaporated milk
12 squares of baker's semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 cups marshmallow creme
1 tsp vanilla

In large saucepan on medium heat sugar, butter, and milk to a full rolling boil. Stir constantly. Continue at full boil about 4 minutes (234 degrees F on candy thermometer). Remove from heat and stir in chocolate, vanilla, and marshmallow creme until melted and thoroughly combined. Pour IMMEDIATELY into foil lined 9 inch square pan. Cool at room temperature 4 hours. Cut into squares.

Tango Fudge

Ok, there is an inside joke here which accounts for the name, but this is basically an espresso fudge. To the above recipe add:

2 tbsp espresso grind (or really finely ground) coffee (espresso roast is best)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg

stir in at the same point you stir in the vanilla. It's nice to mark those fudge squares out with a coffee bean. Let me also share a bit of hard earned wisdom: do not under any circumstances give this flavor of fudge to a toddler. Ok, unless your aim is for a sleepless night. Duly warned.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Picking Nits

I am deeply disappointed in the Isaac Asimov Super Quiz. Unless they have a source of knowledge unknown to the rest of the world, the answer to question three (Freshman Level) is unknown.

How many wise men went to see Jesus? Answer unknown, not three, sheesh. Why yes, I do have biblical reference. Matthew 2:1-12 says:

1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”
3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
5 So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:
6 ‘ But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
For out of you shall come a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.’[a]

7 Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”
9 When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
12 Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.

Note the lack of specific numbers. Correctness is to be desired when you are composing a trivia quiz. /rant off.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Guerillas in the Midst

Triangulation and quick strikes, fading back into the crowd, thier mission accomplished. My children got to see Santa today. The Jolly Old Elf was holding court at the local K-mart. I went up to my sisters' house to retrieve a turkey which had resided in her spare freezer space. As I walked out her door she throws out, "The Man in the Red Suit is at K-mart."

In the car I ask, "You guys want to see Santa Claus?"

Hyperventilating commences. Not that they harbor any trepidation, they are over the top excited. The iPod kicks up a selection from Handel:

Who may abide the day of His coming?
Who can stand when He appeareth?
For He is like a refining fire. (Joel 2:11)

"Is that song about Santa?" asks the Verbalist in hushed tones.

"No sweetheart." I stop for a moment to reflect on Santa as a Refining Fire. Nope. Not even as a purveyor of switches and coal. In the grand scheme of repentance inducing individuals, Santa rates about a 60 watt bulb; the easy bake oven rather than a smelting furnace.

Santa was duly provided with the exact list. Santa doled out candy canes and coloring pages and then we trooped back out to the car. iPod provides the appropriate sound track once again.

Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion
Rejoice O daughter of Jerusalem!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

O Christmas Tree

The Christmas Odyessy continued at our house today as we hunted Santa and a tree. Usually we visit Santa at a local Christmas villiage sponsered by the Soroptimists, but they didn't host one this year. We heard rumors of a Santa holding court at a local Chinese food restaurant, only to arrive to an empty chair and queing ropes and candy canes stored to one side. The Big Man had left. The Navy Base had a Santa, but we were not with our Naval connections and could not get to see him. So we told disappointed children that letters to Santa would have to suffice, and went to get a tree.

The Muralist had a very specific plan.

"First, you go to where the trees are." Check.

"Then you sneak up on them quietly." (That one is harder when the under five children are running and yodeling, "Christmas is almost HEEEERRRRRREEEE!") Anyway, Check. Mom and Dad can sneak.

"Don't let them see you." Check.

"Grab one before it runs away." Me: "The tree?" Muralist: "Yes." Check.

"Take it home and decorate it." Check.

"How," queries Dear Husband of the Muralist, "can trees see you?"

"Don't be silly," laughs Verbalist with as dry a chuckle as a four year old can muster. "Trees can't see you."

"Why?" persists the DH, with a sideways grin at me, mining this rich vein of humor.

"Because, I am watching them," declares the Verbalist with emphasis. In other words, those wily trees might want to look around but dare not lest they find a four year old catching them out.

Needless to say, we lost our way trying to find the tree farm we use every year, and discovered a delightful one. Trees were half the price of our usual farm and the old coot who bound our tree with twine did not even miss a beat when the Muralist described catching the tree before it ran away.

The DH hoisted the tree on top of our little economy car with the Chiclet engine, and set about securing it with knotty precision, bourne of boyhood sailing and scouting. The DH has become less retentive about tying the tree. In years past he would use five ropes; all interwoven and anchored for every conceivable point. This year it was a single rope but by jimminy it would be tight.

I don't think that tree moved an inch during the drive home. We arrived and I escorted the young'uns in as Dear Husband hacked off another inch of trunk and went to work putting the tree in the stand. Nothing says Christmas spirit like grimly wrestling with tree stand screws in a chilly driveway, then breaking out your powerdrill because, ya know, its gotta help get that tree straight in the stand.

Of course, nothing says Christms spirit like unwinding the Gordian knot of Christmas lights either. That's my job. Dear Husband washed his hands of Christmas lights in the first year of our marriage. If I want lights, it's up to me to provide them. Each year I open the box marked lights, stockings, and bells. The bells go up outside the door, the stockings get unpacked from their snowman bag and are hung by the chiminey with care. The lights get a shudder and are ignored for as long as possible.

Each year I pull out the strings of lights which were packed away with meticulous care the year before. Each year the lights have snarled into a tangle which makes a Celtic knot look like a bow. I plug in the strings. When I had put them away all the strings work perfectly, when I plug them in half of the bulbs are out and the rest glare malevolently. "Jiggle the cord wrong," they say, "and we'll go out too."

"That's right," I declare. "I was going to buy new lights this year." I sit for a minute or two, contemplating the purchase of new lights. Then I sigh and start fiddling with the strings in my lap.

The tree is up now. It only fell over twice. No where near our record, which is seven, I think, that was Christmas 1999. The top is graced by the angel Dad insists I stole from him, but which Mom gave to me on my first Christmas of wedded bliss. The rest of the tree is heavy into Santas, snowmen, mice and trains. Happily, the Klingon Bird of Prey is not making an appearance this year, although Garfield, Winnie the Pooh and Snoopy were each tested in places of pride before settling down to their temporary homes. I will enjoy the ornaments of kidhood and be pleased that Batman has not yet made an appearence on the tree. According to the Verbalist, the Joker has had his eye on the Three Kings. Batman might be needed to safeguard the gold, frankincence, and myrrh.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Lawyers Earning thier Keep

Receptionist: "Yes, Offices of Pott, Pott, Cast and Iron, Mr. Pott holding for Mr. Kettle."

Kettle: "This is Kettle speaking. How can I help you Mr. Pott?"

Pott: "I'm calling on behalf of my client, Child in the House, to tell you he has a cease and desist order against your client from intruding into the bathroom."

Kettle: "Mother of the House has invoked numerous orders and even been to arbitration with Child on the issue. It is lucridous to say my client is at fault. Child has repeatedly asked for assistence...."

Pott: "Nevertheless, Child is now insisting on complete autonomy and holds in reserve the right to enter bathroom whenever needed. Requests for assistence in no way grant Mother any bathroom privileges other than what has been expressly laid out by child previously."

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Greek Wedding Cookies

Kourambiedes, or Greek Wedding Cookies, summon the feel of Christmas when they bake. Studded, with cloves they smell wonderful when they come out of the oven. Usually I don't like to recommend recipes with things that the average harried mom wouldn't have in her kitchen, but cake flour is a must for these cookies. Also, sifting is essential. I almost never sift even when a recipe tells me to, but I find this recipe works better if you do.

2 cups butter softened
1 egg yolk
1 1/2 tbsp brandy
4 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
whole cloves
1-1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar

Cream butter until thick and fluffy. Gradually add 3/4 cup sugar and then egg yolk. Mix well. Add brandy. Gradually add in flour, about 1/2 cup at a time. Dough should be soft but not sticky. If sticky refridgerate and hour, DON'T ADD MORE FLOUR. Spoon into 1 inch balls and stud with clove. Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 350 until just golden, about 12 minutes. Cool and roll in more sugar. Yields about four dozen.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Prince Caspian

Is set to be filmed next year according to rumor. I think that they ought to film Prince Caspian. then break and then film Voyage of the Dawn Treader back to back to back with Silver Chair and Last Battle. They could keep it in the can while they work on Magician's Nephew and Horse and His Boy and not worry about the ages of the kids who play Edmund, Lucy, Eustace and Jill Pole.

Narnia Quiz

I rather thought I'd be Edmund or Eustace but I came out:

Peter! Who knew I was so cool and noble? Thanks to Richmond for the quiz link!

Monday, December 12, 2005

Feminism and Labels

There has been an ongoing debate about the meaning of the label "feminist" between earnest, leftist ladies at Feministe and The Countess and the ribald Jeff Goldstein (who has a fetish for correct terminology). It's been entertaining reading, especially considering that I would call myself feminist but would most assuredly be labeled "anti-feminist" by those ladies. Darleen agrees with the arguement that the divide comes between opportunity (or equity) feminists and gender feminists and counts herself as an equity feminist and by and large I agree with her (and Jeff). There needs to be a clearing of the threshing floor here. Where lies the fundemental difference between the two, where does it begin? I'm not talking differences of policy or politics, differences of legislation or goals. I will make a wager here, the difference is between the value and emphasis placed on gender as part of the whole.

I label myself or identify my roles differently based on the different circumstances I find myself in. In my women's Bible study my emphasis is on how long I have self identified as a Christian, a wife, and a mother. If I were to introduce myself to a new person I would introduce myself as a Christian, writer and mother of three. In the context of a woman's group, my identification with aspects of my gender role are emphasised because that is where those roles are important and have bearing on what I say, more than if I said that I was a writer. Obviously, being a woman has bearing on all my perspectives, but it is not the most important factor in every role I undertake. So here is my wager, to what degree does gender emphasis play in leftist feminist labeling? For example, do most or all of thier self labels include the words "female, feminine, or woman"? I am not a writer but a female writer; I am not a CEO but a woman CEO? I say alot. I am woman, hear me roar?

There is nothing wrong with advocating for your gender, for celebrating it's difference from men, from it informing the myriad roles you perform each day. When gender is exaggerated out of balance, when it is given more emphasis than it deserves, it distorts your view and you become deceived into thinking that everyone places the same emphasis on it that you do.

So what do I mean by feminist? A feminist is someone who believes that the female gender is equal to the male. That our roles are distinct and unique and that to compare them is to compare apples to oranges. In exercizing our opportunities, we must not abdicate our responsibilities - but wait that goes for men too. That whole equality thing, huh, go figure.

Light Blogging

Light blogging lately for many reasons. The foremost reason springs from the fact that I have been asked to be the conservative social/political columnist for a local news and community portal. I have been hard at work with my first column. Second because it's the holiday season and I have more on my plate with family and all right now. Sorry.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Elocution and the 3 year old

TV: ..."former Iraqi Dictator Saddam Hussein...."

Muralist: "I wacky dick stator?"

Me: "hahahahahahaha"

Verbalist: "What's so funny mom?"

Welcome to the Araradaro

"Color! Color! We want to Color!" chant the Verbalist and Muralist together in syncopation.

The Muralist stuck with her colorbook but the Verbalist had grander schemes in mind.

"Mom," he said with the air of one imparting a grave declaration, "I MUST have a blank piece of paper." Blank paper duly dispersed I went back to the news.

"Jingle Bells, jingle bells, hmmm hmmm hmmm THE WAY!!!!!" cheerfully pipes the Muralist as she colors. "Hmmm dooo dooo dooo tooo dooo SLEIGH! Jingle Bells!"

Jingle Bells invades the news. A 1995 law known as the Soloman BELLLS! Hearings continue in the JINGLE Hussien. I give up the news. I begin to close the computer when the Verbalist cuts across the endless refrain of Jingle Bells with a request.

"How do you spell Santa, Mom?" followed by requests for the words: Batman, Daddy, baby, pirates, dog, candy, and panda."

"Need any more help spelling?" I ask full of expectation.

"No," he replies bouncing on his toes a little. "I am going to work on my own words now."

I try to return to the news, Jingle Bells has ceased and the muralist is now a ninja dinosaur. STOMP, STOMP "Roarrrrr! Highya!" Stomp, Stomp "Roarrrrrr! Take that bad guy! Dinosaur techniques!"

"Mom," interrupts the Verbalist again, "read my words." I look, deciphering the sprawling letters of a four year old, A-R-A-R-A-D-A-R-O.

"What is an araradaro?" I ask.

"My workshop, where I make contraptions to catch Santa." I look on the opposite side of the paper where diagrammed out is a contraption to catch Santa, landmarks labeled. Baby, Batman, Daddy ('s chair), Pirates (ship), Panda everything that is the constellation of importance in my son's life, all have a part to play. Welcome to the Araradaro.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Not the Gum Drop Buttons!

I promised cookie blogging didn't I? OK, cookies that started out as an artform? Check. Delicious food made by monks? Check. (Lager, espresso, champagne, cheese, cookies - those monks certainly hit the high points of food life.) So Gingerbread Cookies. Gingerbread cookies originally began as carvings. Monks would take a big sheet of cookie and carve various Saints and religious motifs. Eventually as spices became less costly and with increased secularization, motifs expanded to include lords, ladies, flowers, soldiers and you guessed it castles. Kind of puts that gingerbread house into perspective, huh?

The title of the post refers to the immortal words of a water-boarded (or would that be milk boarded?) Gingerboy in Shrek. Do you know the Muffin Man? Perhaps they would have gotten around to asking about Gingie the evil gingerbread man from Jasper Fforde Nursery Crime gumshoe The Big Over Easy. We'll never know.

Gingerbread People

3 cups all purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp cloves
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup molasses
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsp ground ginger (or 1/4 cup fresh grated)

Stir flour, soda and dry spices together and set aside. Cream butter, sugar and vanilla together. Then add molasses and egg. If you used fresh ginger add it now. Slowly add in flour mixture. Cover and chill 3 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 375. On lightly floured surface roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut with cookie cutters. Try cutting shapes as close together as possible, the less you roll and handle dough the better your cookies will turn out. Place 1 inch apart on lightly greased cookie sheet. bake approx. 6 minutes or until edges are firm and bottoms lightly browned. Cool cookies on wire racks. Ice and decorate with cinnamon candies, gumdrops, smashed starlight mints or whatever else you want.

Royal Icing

2 cups sifted powdered sugar
4 tsp meringue powder
1/4 tsp cream of tarter
1/4 cup warm water
food coloring

Combine first three ingredients then add warm water. Beat with mixer on low speed until combined then high speed until stiff about 10 minutes. Separate into thirds. Mix food coloring into the thirds. Pipe on cookies with decorating tip. Or if you have kids let use a ziploc bag with a small hole cut in the corner.

Here is a good link to Gingerbread House making techniques as well as a recipe for good stiff icing cement. Here are some great photos of a Maryland Gingerbread House contest. And Grand Rapids. Carnival of Recipes here, good stuff.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Pa Rum Pum Pum Pum

The Infant is teething, which means I get to revisit crossword puzzles at 2 am. When that doesn't work, I play Pharoah, a city building game by Sierra. The Infant is either sleeping or fussing, and with this in mind, I foolishly went Christmas shopping. Off island. When snow was forecast.

Sis and I loaded up her minivan and went up island as snow began to fall. "It's not sticking," we mutually reassured each other. Indeed, it wasn't sticking and we did just fine. Until my niece got motion sick and vomited on herself. We pulled over at the next gas station and hey presto 7 minutes later she was clean, changed and we were back on the road. 3 minutes after that the predictable complaint: "I'm hungry!" chorused from the back seats. So we headed to the buffet (or in Muralist parlance "buffalo") and the children picked and nibbled and hoovered and gummed. The Infant, alert and remarkably cheery, went to work on a garlic breadstick off the pasta bar. All was right in the world; Sis and I felt it opportune to go to the shops with contented children.

To the craft store we went, the children were impressed by the array of glueable and sparkling products. We were all greatly cheered by the display of trees and decorations, which cons mothers of three into forgetting they are not clones of Martha Stewart. As I stood pondering the aesthetics of shiny versus frosted faux cranberries in Christmas decor, the Infant snuffled in a quiet sniff that communicated DOOM. Tears glistening in her eyes, she yakked up lunch. Even the scent of cinnamon scented pine cones and eucalyptus were not enough to mask to odor of garlic bread and bananas wafting to the nostrils. As I rushed to the bathroom, Bing crooned "pa rum pum pum pum"; each sinister "pum" coinciding with a new profusion of regurgitation.

Fortunately, the Infant's quilted jacket soaked up enough effluvia that her seat remained slime free. I dressed the Infant in spare clothes and stood grimly rinsing garments in the sink, Bing still "pa rum pum pumming" in the background. Infant slept peacefully.

The remainder of our trip was problem free, and did yield a priceless quote from the Muralist. As we drove over Deception Pass Bridge on the way home the Muralist paused in her dialouge with her cousin and looked at the falling snow.

"Nope," said she decisively, "Santa's not there yet."

Friday, December 02, 2005

Social Conservatives

In Deconstructing the Social Conservative Vote, Whidbey Islander explores the factions that make up social conservatives. In doing so he makes a leap in logic with an equation. He says:
"Social Conservatives" = "Political Christians."

There. Having in one fell swoop decrypted 50% of current political newspeak, let me expand my remarks

Which, while largely true, is still wrong. Perhaps he is indulging in an exaggeration because it is largely true. Not being a man prone to much exaggeration, I am more inclined to think he is making the fallacy which is pervasive these days and reinforced by the contexts given by those which engage in "political newsspeak". He identifies three large social conservative blocs: Catholics, African American Christians, and Evangelicals. He misses socially conservative libertarians.

Personally conservative, this group views governmental regulation of behavior as detrimental to the health of the nation. While conservative libertarians may include Christians, it is the niche of the conservative atheist, the agnostic, conservative Jew and the perfunctory religious. Please do not think because I lump in conservative Jews in this group that I consider their religious beliefs perfunctory, rather that like atheist and agnostic they can not be lumped in with Christians.

The problem in fact, arises in what you mean by social conservative. It is handy to use Evangelical or Catholic views as a rule of thumb but only by the broadest strokes. Take a defining issue of social conservatism, abortion. There are many attitudes about the acception of abortion that may still be considered conservative: from never, to in cases of rape, to the first boundaries of fetal pain, ect. Other life issues are as complex if not more so and we have yet to touch on the state's fingers dabbling in the pool of parental rights and child rearing.

This is why the paranoid leftist fantasy of a Republican Evangelical Theocratic Nation, herding gays into concentration camps and moulding children into Ned Flanders clones, is so laughable. Conservatives and conservative Christians could never come to a consensus.

Whidbey Islander ends his post this way:

Evangelicals have been Republican's most stalwart base, sticking with the party even when they were marginalized. Since 1984 every Republican presidential candidate has had to have a "born again" story to include in their stump speech. GWB quite frankly has a stem-winder.

Wither "Social Conservatives?" What will 2006 and 2008 bring? I think that rank-and-file social conservatives will vote for a McCain or a Guliani, if they feel that they have a conservative Supreme Court to guard the legacy of their gains of the last 20 years.

Will Democrats be able to tell a convincing narrative to Evangelicals? Perhaps. Gov. Mark R. Warner of Virginia might be able to do so. But to do so he will have to Square the Circle and Untie the Gordian's Knot

I think he over estimate's McCain appeal and I stand by my earlier comment:

"Social conservatives" will be split down big vs. small government lines in '06, but will ultimately back a tough Hawk in '08 as Western Europe slides deeper into dhimmitude.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Deviled Eggs

Deviled eggs usually make a big appearance right after Easter (in lovely pastel hues!) but they are my all purpose, fall back, holiday appetizer and I never seem to take any home after the event.

1 dozen hardboiled eggs
1/4 cup mayonaisse
1/8 cup mustard
3 green onions
coarse ground black pepper

I am not going to tell you how to boil an egg. They can though. Carefully slice eggs lengthwise and remove yolk. Lay out whites cup side up and place yolks in seperate bowl. Mash yolks with fork until they are finely mashed with no large pieces and add mayo, mustard, salt and pepper to taste. Mince green onions finely and mix thoroughly with yolk mixture. Filling should now be creamy and smooth but able to be formed. If mixture is still dry at mayo until you reach desired consistency. Pipe into cup formed by egg white and dust lightly with paprika. My Southern brother in law would blench at the knowlege that I do not use real mayo but that stuff with the "tangy zip", that is because I am a mayonaisse heretic and unashamed of the fact.

Last Carnival of the Recipes with a "hot n' spicy" theme is here.