Saturday, December 15, 2007

Meaningless, Yet Far-Reaching


I haven't posted much lately. I've been spending all of my time...

Blogging. Yes, blogging. The editor of the soccer site I write for left, so they hired a few people as part-timers to replace him. I'm one of them. So I'm spending a fair amount of time each day blogging about soccer -- either writing, or looking for stuff to write about. We can write about anything at all on the site, as long as it relates to soccer and we make it interesting.

It's an odd life. I described it in a recent e-mail (to the former editor, actually) as "meaningless, but incredibly far-reaching." That covers it pretty well. Between all of my blogs, I have a few thousand people each day reading my stuff. Or at least stopping by and reading the headlines and looking at the pictures. And the oddest thing is, the site I write for is big, so it gets read a lot by other people looking for stuff for their blogs.

Last weekend I was randomly searching though YouTube videos with the words "soccer hair." Soccer stars can go for some bizarre styles, which can be interesting.

Instead, I stumbled on a news story of a kid from Indiana who'd been kicked off the soccer team for having a mohawk. And not even a real mohawk, either. More "faux" than "mo." Somebody (friend? relative? the kid himself?) had taped it with a video camera held in front of a TV and posted it on YouTube.

I did a little google digging and discovered that there was no written policy in his district about hairstyles, and that the school had forced the team to retake the team yearbook photo without him, and that he wasn't recognized on senior night. The mom in me was appalled.

So I wrote a kind of humorous post, showing the video clip and adding photos of players who really DID have bizarre hairstyles. (Like Abel Xavier of the L@ G@l@xy, in the picture.) And in my heart of hearts, I wanted it to go viral to get this kid some justice.

I got my wish. Kind of. The post went viral. I know of at least six large blogs that linked to me, and several others wrote about it without linking, and others linked to them... When I googled this kid's name last week, before my post, I got the video and the school board minutes. When I google it now, I get links as far away as Poland. Yes, Poland.

Thing is, though? Not all of the comments in these posts have been nice. Most have agreed with me, but some have mentioned his looks, and/or his mannerisms. The word "emo" has been used. And now I'm thinking: Great. Wonderful. What if I've made life a living hell for some poor, different kid in rural Indiana?

Of course, I have to think that if he's going for a mohawk in rural Indiana, he probably likes the attention that comes from being different and won't be bothered by a little bit of negativity. He's gotten that already, without my help. That's what I tell myself.

With power comes responsibility, etc. etc. Nothing's ever simple, is it?

Sigh.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

And Now the Thanksgiving Torch Passes


I got the picture and this e-mail from my daughter today, describing the Thanksgiving dinner she and her friends put on last night. Made me smile.

Hey! Wanted to let you know that last night was a complete success! I'm attaching a picture of our table, and I would like you to know that of the 14 food items there, I made 9 of them!(with a little help on most of them) The turkey actually worked out! (though I'm not counting it a complete success until next week when I make sure no one got food poisoning) It thawed (mostly) and it cooked! It took an hour longer than planned, but I think that's sort of implied when you talk about cooking turkeys. I made the salad dressing from scratch, and the pumpkin pie has a homemade crust! The stuffing, gravy, and cranberry sauce are all my doing, but they all came from boxes and cans, so I'm counting them, but I shouldn't be. You can tell the cranberries were canned because I cut some into discs and then used cookie cutters to make cranberry cookies! Might be a little trashy, but I'm in college, so for now, it's just cute. There were a few setbacks, I won't lie. The stove caught on fire when the stuffing liquid boiled over. Shortly after that we dropped a pie. But other than that no casualties! No one was hurt, the house is in one piece, and everyone had a great time! So thank you for helping me through my first Thanksgiving. I'll bring the turkey cooker (or the cookie turker, as I kept accidentally calling it) back when I come home tomorrow. I love you.
Sarah

Monday, November 12, 2007

French Books on the Merde


I got an Amazon gift certificate today as a thank you from a soccer site I write for. This is just the incentive I need to buy the sequel to the book I read a month or so ago entitled "A Year in the Merde."

It is a hysterically funny book, written by an Englishman who moved to Paris, and it's almost entirely about what contrarians the Parisians are. It's filled with funny little tidbits about the French not liking people who make fun of the language, and Paris being filled with people who don't pick up after their dogs, and the fact that somebody in the city is always on strike. And the French, being the contrarians that they are, embraced it wholeheartedly. I bought my copy in the gift shop at Charles de Gaulle airport before I came home from Paris, and I spent the entire flight giggling hysterically, while trying to hide the fact that I was giggling hysterically because I had Frenchmen on both sides of me.

I thought I left my copy in JFK in New York, but it turned up a week or so after I got back in a gift bag for one of my kids. But I spent a week or so after I got home researching how to buy it in the US. And part of that research process involved reading reviews.

A lot of people thought it was funny, like I did, but a fair number thought it was insulting to the French. The funny thing was, the people complaining about it being insulting were always Americans. The French themselves seem quite comfortable with these aspects of themselves. They can both laugh at and embrace their own quirks. An admirable quality, in my opinion.

After the World Cup last year, much of the world was disgusted by the fact that the French loved Zidane ever more after he was sent off for headbutting Materazzi. The general thinking was that he should have been exiled in shame, not embraced. But that's not what happened. The most interesting description I read of the event came from a Parisian, and it was something like this: "Zidane has given us back our wonderful reputation for insolence."

Ah, yes. Vive l'insolence.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Canadian Francophonia

I zipped up to Vancouver, BC this week to catch my beloved L@ G@l@xy playing the Vancouver Whitecaps. (Note to anybody going from Seattle to Vancouver: Do NOT believe Mapquest. Call your hotel and get directions. You will thank me later.)

The game itself was boring -- a nil-nil draw. They only interesting part was the streaker. I don't think I've ever seen a streaker live before. (Because I love you, I'm embedding the video at the bottom of this post. It was hysterical. Although I did feel for the security guy who got stuck with the job of taking him down.)

But anyhoo. My favorite part of going to Canada is the availability of French-language radio and TV. From the time I get within about 50 miles of the border to the time I come back, it's all I listen to/watch. Someday I WILL be fluent. Not that it will make any difference in my life, but hey. A woman has to have goals, right?

The radio station does a lot of French-language interviews with French-speaking Canadians. And they are always asked one question: Are you a francophone?

It gets to be humorous after awhile. There was an interview with four members from the same band and it went something like this:

Interviewer: Music stuff, music stuff, music stuff. And are you a francophone?
Musician 1: Yes, I am. Music stuff, music stuff.
Interviewer: Music stuff, music stuff, music stuff. And are you a francophone?
Musician 2: Yes, I am. Music stuff, music stuff.
Interviewer: Music stuff, music stuff, music stuff. And are you a francophone?
Musician 3: Yes, I am. Music stuff, music stuff.
Interviewer: Music stuff, music stuff, music stuff. And are you a francophone?
Musician 4: Yes, I am. Music stuff, music stuff.

It was as if, amid all of the other stuff being talked about, this was the most important topic they could possibly be discussing. Does this strike anybody else as funny? I mean, I can't imagine an English-speaking interviewer asking English-speaking subjects, "Are YOU a native english speaker?"

I guess this is an obsession that is part and parcel with minority status, eh?

And here's your streaker:

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Papier-mâché, Pumpkins, and Neon Red Hair


My son is Gaara today. Gaara is a Japanese anime character.

It was very important, in that all-consuming, twelve-year-old way, that he be Gaara. And being Gaara requires spiky red hair, a huge gourd carried on his back, black clothing, a red belt, white strips of cloth...

And so the weekend was spent trying to figure out how to make the gourd. We decided early on that papier mâché (which, by the way, is French for "chewed up paper) was the way to go. But how to get the shell? First we tried chicken wire, but couldn't get it to bend the right way. Then we tried balled-up newspapers but couldn't get it to take shape. (Plus I was worried about the liquid soaking through to the middle and never drying.) Eventually we dicided to stuff two garbage bags half full with newspapers, then to stuff one bag in the other for a "gourd" shape, and then to tape newspaper around the bags to give the papier-mâché something to adhere to, and then to do the gunky deed itself. Final size is about 30" x 12", gourd-shaped.

The formation of the shape happened on Sunday -- a joint project. He did the newspaper-and-flour-glue type stuff on Monday night. On Monday morning I realized that the gourd wasn't drying thick and hard enough to keep it from breaking during a night of being carried around, so I added another layer of goo myself, then took the blow-dryer to it to be sure it was dry enough to paint by nighttime.

After school, we went and picked up paint and brushes, then went to Supercuts to get his hair cut short enough to spike. Then to the party store for swords and neon red hairspray. Then to Target for dark shirt and pants and hair gel for the spikes. Then to the fabric store for the fabric to tie around the gourd. (Two hours, total. Just so you know.) Then he spent a fair bit of the rest of the evening painting the gourd, then drawing in the markings, then spraying it with a sealant.

Right before bedtime, he came to me looking panicked. "Mom," he said, "I forgot I need a red strip of cloth to hold the gourd in place." Fortunately his mom is a quilter. I tracked down a yard or reddish-orange hand-dyed fabric, ripped it into strips and sewed them into one strip long enough to wrap around both him and the gourd. (The look of gratitude on his face was payment for the missed sleep.)

This morning he got up and showered and got dressed. We spent the next twenty minutes spiking his hair, then drying it, then spraying it neon red. Add the draped fabric strips and a bit of eyeliner, and voilà, Gaara. (But the gourd has been saved for tonight for logistical reasons.)

His dad took him to school. He got there, looked around... And panicked. Nobody, on first view, had dressed up. He and my husband sat there for awhile, each probably frantically thinking of alternate plans. Then several people in costume showed up, and my son took a deep breath and headed off into the world of junior high.

It's tough being an individual at this age. You desperately want to stand out but don't want any negative consequences. He's a resilient kid, though. He can take what comes. And I hope for the best.

This afternoon our older two are coming home to carve pumpkins. This is always fun, but moreso now that they're not always around. I've waited to mop the flour drippings off the floor until after the pumpkin carving, because there's no sense in doing it twice.

And then my youngest will head out for what may be his last round of trick-or-treating, and the older two will head back for a college Halloween.

And I will stay home and give out candy and try not to spend too much time thinking about knights and princesses and Halloweens past, as Gaara the Outcast makes his way in the world.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Passing the Blogging Torch

My twelve-year-old is a seventh grader in a 7-9 junior high. It's been a bit of a shock for him. In elementary school, everybody accepted everybody. In junior high, not so much. There are cliques and identities and a need to fit in. He's not unathletic, but he's not a jock. He doesn't quite fit the brainiac label either. He's not interested enough in conformity to be part of the "popular" clique. And so the first weeks of school were a bit tough.

He's finding his way, though. He seems to have a girlfriend, a sweet, nice, cute, vivacious, and totally non-cheerleaderesque type who goes to a different school. And he's fallen in love with Anime, Japanese-style animation. And he's sharpening his wit, which, like the rest of the family's, was already pretty well-honed to begin with.

The other night he had me help him start a blog. And what did he call it? "[Name's] Random Musings." How cute is that? And here is his most recent entry. (And yes, he asked me for permission to include the word "sucks." I gave it after some discussion.)

man.... my computer sucks


I tried to log on but as soon as the computer said welcome, it logged me out. NOT what I would call a warm welcome..... then I tried to log on a second time and I got as far as trying to email a friend when it freakin' logged me out again!! This computer has it out to get me. I really mean it. Then when Iwas trying to get onto my blog, it froze and I had to wait for five minutes more or less. I'm finally on my site- but then it won't let me log on! IS THERE NO WAY OUT??!!?? But then I realized that I forgot my 101 on my username...

Like shikamaru says, "it too troublesome"

so here I am writing all of what happened to my computer on my blog.

I have no life


Is this my child or what?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

What Are People Looking For?

On one of my soccer blogs, I get semi-frequent hits for search strings like, "Thierry Henry Naked" and "Lilian Thuram Naked." I'm not sure why this is, because I don't offer anything along those lines. Well, yeah, okay, maybe I've posted a shirtless photo or two. But naked? I think not. And yet Google continues to send them my way.

And Christmas is less than two months away, and the Stop the Cavalry hits are beginning anew. Last year I was one of the top destinations worldwide for people looking for lyrics and music to my favorite Christmas son, Stop the Cavalry. Seriously, I was one of the top ten hits for multiple related search strings, including my personal favorite, "Dub-a-dub-a-dum." And I got hits from, literally, all over the world. Made me darn proud. I'll be posting something similar this year, so stay tuned.

I'm also continuing to get many, many hits for search strings like "CCCP Jacket." The majority of them come from South Korea, for some reason, and they're not from the same ISP#. I would love to know the story here, but I probably never will. They come, they read my story, they leave. (If you are one of these people, please stay awhile and tell your story!)

And for some reason I have recently been getting a lot of hits for strings along the lines of "How to Talk to a Teenage Boy." Funny thing here is that they lead to a post about a teenage boy who doesn't talk. At least not to parents. It's not in his nature. And, believe it or not, I've come to accept that about him. Perhaps these people go away reassured? Or maybe not...

I've also recently gotten several hits for "poisonous spider in Washington." My guess would be that this is because it's the season for our humongous European House Spiders to make their appearance, and folks want some reassurance that these things in their houses won't kill them. Fear not, fellow Washingtonians. They're harmless.

And wherever you come from, know that when you stop by, you're welcome here. Come back again!

Monday, October 22, 2007

One Problem We Do Not Have in America


We all know America has problems, right? Corruption, erosion of rights, war profiteering, special interests owning the process that should belong to regular people, leaders unwilling to stand up for what's right...
It's all a bit scary.


I'll tell you what we don't have, though.


We don't have officials being killed by wild bands of marauding monkeys.


I guess we should be thankful for the small things.


Friday, October 19, 2007

Life, and Death, and Blogging

I sat here at the computer yesterday reading old blog posts with tears running down my face. It was a year ago that my father-in-law, who suffered from Alzheimers, had his second heart attack. He passed away ten days later after a roller coaster of events and emotions.

There was nothing I could do to stop or alter the process, so I blogged. And now reading about it again is almost like reliving it -- the difficulty of being an in-law, the mixed emotions involved when you lose someone with Alzheimer's, the wish that all of the rest of life could just stop so that death was all you needed to focus on. It's all there, to be experienced again. And it's somehow healing to read it now.

In going through the old posts I'm also struck by my own need, as this was going on, to occasionally focus on something else entirely unrelated to what was happening in real life. Reading back, watching myself turn my back on unfolding events to write on frivolous topics, it seems insensitive. Cold, even. And yet, having lived through the events themselves, I know how necessary it was, sometimes, to just escape.

(If you'd like to read the series, go to the October posts. Scroll down and start reading at the 16th and work your way up.)

I once read that sex is the natural response to death. It makes sense, doesn't it? To react to the loss of life with the act that can create it? But I wonder if creating -- writing, or painting, or quilting -- is not also a natural response. The need to say, yes, this is me, this is what I can create, this is what I have to offer this world, this is what will remain for awhile, at least, after I am gone.

And so we write, and we paint, and we quilt, in the hopes that somewhere, somehow, after we're gone, someone will say, "This person is dead, but look at what she gave us when she was alive."

My grandmother never sat down without some kind of craft project in her hands. Embroidery and crochet were the most common, but she also quilted. She's been dead thirteen years now, but I still have a couple of crocheted potholders, and an embroidered dishtowel, and some quilt blocks that she made.

I'm not sure she created for posterity. I think she created simply because she was not capable of not creating.

I write for the same reason. But if, someday, a great-great-grandchild should stumble on something I've written, and should understand, for a moment, a facet of my life?

Final score: Laurie 1, Death 0

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Small World of Blogging


My L@ s0ccer bl0g got an e-mail the other day that for some reason really touches me. There is a sweet trust and faith to sending off something you've created to someone you don't know.

Hi,

My name's "F" and I am from Poland. I read on theoffside.com that every user can write an articule, so I decided to write mine and I am sending it with hope that you would like it. As a person from non-English country, my English is not perfect yet but I am learning for 9 years. Of course there is a possibility that I've made some mistakes.
My text is about Abel Xavier, interesting footballer from Portugal. He's L@ G@l@xy player so I sent it to this e-mail.

I look forward to your opinion or reply about it. I have only written articules for Polish websites so far but I want to improve my 'skills' and try in theoffside.com

Greetings
,


The article he attaches is about Abel Xavier, the guy in the photo, who was bought by the G@laxy this summer to strengthen the back line. He's become one of my favorites.

And yes, I'm going to use what he wrote, as soon as I get a couple of clarifications of words I don't understand. (And provided he understands that all of us who write for the site write for love, not money.) I'll only make a couple of spelling and grammar corrections, and otherwise I'll leave it as it. The syntax and word choices make it real.

It's win-win. I get a blog post I don't have to write, and he gets to say he's written for an American site.

Sometimes it's a good thing to take a chance.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Not French, but European (with Eight Legs)


This little gentleman is a European House Spider. I tend to think of him more as a "Seattle House Spider," though, because I never saw one till I moved here.

And where do Seattle House Spiders live?

Why, in Seattle houses, of course. These are indoor spiders, not outdoor spiders, and they love basements and garages and dark closets.

For some reason I don't remember any close encounters with these guys in the two apartments I lived in after I moved here, but we made our acquaintance once my husband and I bought our first house.

I remember it clearly. I had watched "Arachnophobia" the night before. I got up that morning, took a shower, climbed out, grabbed the towel off the towel rack, and felt movement on my chest. My spider friend had apparently been sleeping inside my towel.

The word "scream" does not even begin.

Since then we have more or less made our peace. I have accepted the fact that they play a role in our ecosystem, and that these humogo guys are largely responsible for the fact that we have ver few poisonous spiders in western Washington. (Our Euro friends consider their venomous cousins to be delightful dining companions.) These spiders like to crawl around rooms at ceiling level in our basement, and as long as they stay there, I'm generally happy to let them be.

All bets are off when they decide to take a water break, though.

I shower in the basement bathroom. And I am incredibly nearsighted. Without my contacts or glasses, everything is fuzzy colors. And when one of these spiders gets wet, its legs kind of wrap up around itself and it shrinks. And my myopic eyes can't really tell the differenct between a spider, floating, and a clump of my older son's long, dark hair that he perhaps didn't clean from the drain. (And yes, I do usually clear the drains before getting into the shower, but occasionally I forget.)

So last week I saw a huge dark lump in the water on the side of the tub as I was getting in. And I'm thinking, "Must be just hair." I jumped out, got my glasses...and saw one of the hugest spiders I'd ever seen. I grabbed the vacuum cleaner, sucked him up, got undressed again, took off my glasses, turned on the water, climbed in, and...EEK! Another dark thing swirling around my feet. But surely this one...

It was another spider. This is the first time I've ever gotten a shower two-fer. And this one was too soggy to vacuum, so I had to grab it with toilet paper and flush it. And as I was about to drop it in the toilet, it started to wiggle again...

Shudder. And it's not even Halloween.

I will never, ever again get into the shower without shaking out the shower curtain. Twice.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Fans and Passion

This is a picture of a couple of the 15,000 Scottish fans who were at the France-Scotland soccer game in Paris when I was there. You can't see it here, but they're all wearing kilts.

I wrote up the experience of being around the Scotland fans for another blog, PitchInvasion.net. It's a site dedicated to the soccer fan experience worldwide.

The post is not about soccer -- it's more about what it means to be a passionate sports fan in general. And what it means to witness this kind of passion.

If you're interested, stop by to check it out:
An American in Paris, with Scots

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Seventy Cents for What?

If you want to use the restroom in a French train station, it will cost you .5 Euros. In today's dollar-impaired market, that's about 70 cents. No Euros, no potty. Hold it till you bust.

So what do you get for your .5 Euros?

A clean restroom with soap, running water, working hand dryers, and a place to leave your suitcase while you use all of the above.

What don't you get?

Well, according to signs in the ladies' room at Gare de l'Est train station, where I caught the train to Metz, what you don't get is the right to wash anything except your hands in the sink. That's what the sign (in French,) said. Something along the lines of "Washing anything but hands in this sink is strictly prohibited."

What does this mean? It means this:

Cost of using the facilities, .5 Euros.

The visuals of other possibilities which that sign put into my head?

Priceless.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Travel Karma, Part 1

I have good travel karma. Yes, it's true.

What this means is that, basically, my planes and trains leave on time and my reservations are for what I expect them to be. (And if you're one of those who has spent many hellacious hours sitting on a runway while the toilets overflow and the person next to you threatens to cough up body parts, well... Don't hate me. I'm sorry. It's not my fault.)

I have no idea where this travel karma comes from. It just is. Other than a couple of major alterations in The Force, like the Denver blizzard last winter, or the time the sausage-fingered American Airlines clerk typed in the wrong credit card number AND the wrong contact information for my ticket... Well, other than that, my travel generally goes as planned. (And there was also that train derailment thing, fifteen years ago. But I think there's a karmic statute of limitations on stuff like that, so I don't count it.)

I needed good travel karma this trip, given the fact that at 10:00 p.m. on the night before my 8:00 a.m. flight I had no Paris hotel reservations. I generally tend not to stress about travel, but even I was getting a little nervous -- particularly since a travel agen I'd talked to earlier in the day had told me that due to the Rugby World Cup and several fashion shows, there were no rooms to be had in the city. The only one she offered was eight miles from city center and provided access only by bus, not subway. NOT what I was looking for.

Occasionally, though, there is a positive side to procrastination. Apparently all of the tour operators have to release their unsold rooms a couple of days before the room dates. When this happens, the hotels release them to the discount sites like Expedia. This meant that when I went to look for rooms (again, at 10:00 the night before I would need one), there were plenty available. Not cheap, of course. Nothing in Paris is cheap. But they offered a bed, and a bathroom actually in the room. What more did I really need?

And so I plugged in "Paris" and "Parc des Princes" (the stadium where the soccer match would be held) to one of the discount sites, and there was my room. A two-star hotel near the stadium and near a Metro station.

And life was good.

Of course, a two-star hotel in Paris is generally "quaint," meaning it's nothing to write home about and not the same as a two-star in the US. The rooms were minute and the walls were paper-thin, which required me to listen to every activity my neighbors engaged in. Even with earplugs. (I could even tell what morning shows my next-door neighbor was watching on TV when she turned it on at 7:30 each morning.)

And the plumbing was ancient and prone to making odd splooshing, gurgling noises in the middle of the night, as if some long-ago plumber had expired on the job, yet decided not to allow that to keep him from dealing with that final, stubborn clog.

In the mornings I found myself wishing that he would take on the shower drain instead, because it only intermittently allowed water to pass. Every day I found myself ankle-deep in a shower whose lip was only ankle-high, meaning I either had to take incredibly fast showers or mop the floor afterwards.

Even so, though. I was in Paris, and I had a hotel. My travel karma held.

And life was good.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Ghosts in a Place Like McDonalds


I was thoroughly and hopelessly lost.

I'd been sitting in my room in Paris on Sunday afternoon, flipping through channels on the TV, when I saw that the South Africa-Samoa game of the Rugby World Cup was just ending. And not only that, the game was being played at the Parc des Princes stadium, just one Metro stop down from my hotel. I decided it might be a fun experience to see what life after a World Cup Rugby match was like, so I grabbed my purse and hopped on the the subway.

It was interesting to see. Thousands and thousands of people, most of them apparently South African and thrilled by their team's thrashing of the Samoans. Unlike in the US, they don't serve alcohol inside the stade, but they do serve it from booths on the street afterwards. No open container laws in Paris, apparently. So what I saw, mostly, were thousands and thousands of fans guzzling beer on the street under the watchful eyes of hundreds of police.

That number -- hundreds -- is not an exaggeration. Dozens of police vans were parked along the street, and their former occupants were everywhere around the stadium. I didn't see any of them actively policing; the crowds were well-behaved. But if anything were to occur, they would be ready.

I wandered around outside the stadium for awhile, taking it all in. Mounted police on huge horses, apparently because it's harder to get a grip on the rider of a tall horse than a small one. An all-ages marching band which apparently came from South Africa. And everywhere the green and yellow shirts of the South African team.

When I decided to head back, though, there was one minor problem: Every one of the 46,000 fans seemed to be having the same thought. Thousands were packed into the subway station and shoehorning themselves into the trains. Not my idea of a good time. I knew that my hotel was within walking distance if only I could figure out how to get there.

I asked one of the policemen for help, and he took me to a map of the area, found the street I was looking for, and pointed me in the right direction. (And I am proud to say that this was one of my conversations which took place entirely in French. Although I must admit that most of what was said involved pointing to the map, then to the street, and saying things like, "There?" "Yes, there." But still. All French.)

I would be coming back this same direction after the soccer match on Wednesday, so once I found the street I made sure to locate a landmark that would bring me back to the right place. And that landmark was... (You'll never guess.) McDonalds. Yes, there was a McDonalds, with lines out the door, on the corner of the street I needed to take. Oh, the irony.

And then I realized where I was. McDonalds. Near Parc des Princes, the stadium used by the soccer team Paris St. Germain. This couldn't possibly be that McDonalds, could it? In this beautiful, upper-class neighborhood? It wasn't possible.

But it was.

Last November, after an ugly PSG loss to the Israeli team Hapoel Tel Aviv, four members of the French Jewish community were chased by members of a right-wing PSG fan group. They split up and ran, but one was pursued and cornered by a group of up to 100 people. He had taken shelter in this McDonalds.

A policeman of Caribbean descent came to his defense and was also attacked by PSG fans yelling antiSemitic and racial epithets. The officer tried using tear gas to quell the crowd. When they knocked him to the ground, though, he pulled out his gun and fired, killing one and wounding another. (For a bone-chilling eye-witness account, click here.)

You wouldn't expect something like this to happen here, where I was. This was a neighborhood of wrought-iron balconies and red geraniums in window boxes. A neighborhood where a 1000 square-foot apartment sells for a million dollars.

And, yes, a world where non-whites aren't seen much, unless they are au pairs, or deliverymen, or taxi drivers.

There is a tension in French society that you don't really see as a tourist. I'm more aware of it because I'm a fan of the France national soccer team, which has a number of black players. This is a source of tension and anger for a small but vocal French minority. There is an underbelly of anti-immigrant, anti-African sentiment in the country that has the potential to turn violent at any moment.

Even in innocent places like this McDonalds.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Adventures in French Cuisine

I made an interesting discovery on my last night in Paris.

I was eating in a little brasserie -- the sidewalk cafes/bars that exist on virtually every corner in the city. After examining the menu, I decided on what felt like a safe choice: the salmon. I actually understood every word in the menu description, which was not always the case, particularly when we were talking about things like particular cuts or varieties of meat. And it sounded lovely: Salmon, marinated 48 hours, served with a "salad" of chilled green beans. My stomach growled.

I was ravenous and desperate for a hot meal. French cafes and restaurants are open only for certain hours, and my body clock hadn't adjusted. My jet lag never subsided enough for me to make it out of bed for breakfast. Lunches were generally not served after two, and cafes didn't start serving dinner until about 7:00 or so. And nobody ever grabs a bite to eat on the street. Outside of touristy areas like the Eiffel tower, it's just not done. If you can't arrange your body and your schedule on Parisian time, you go hungry. Or eat at McDonald's, which I hadn't been able to make myself do.

I'd survived my day of sightseeing with a couple of handfuls of peanuts and the remains of the snack food I'd picked up at a little corner grocery earlier in the week. (These little groceries are what we'd call a convenience store, much smaller than a 7-11, and with close to half their shelf space devoted to wine and alcohol. But they're where Parisians do their everyday shopping.)

So I placed my order for the salmon and prepared to wait. Amazingly, the plate was on my table in less than five minutes. I was pleasantly surprised until I saw why.

Hmm. I thought back to the menu description. Marinated salmon. Yes, that's what I had on my plate. But I guess it had never occurred to me to ask whether the salmon would actually be cooked after marinating.

What I had staring back at me was a slab of bright orange raw salmon, drizzled with olive oil and spices and surrounded by a mass of cold green beans.

I don't do raw. I hate sushi, I won't touch raw oysters, and I'd never consider anything tartare. Part of it is a microbe-phobia (what might still be alive in there?!?) and part of it is that I just can never get past that slimy texture.

On this night, though, I tried. I really did. I cut the salmon into small pieces, doused it liberally with the mayonnaise-based sauce it came with, and washed down a few bites with chardonnay. It really was very flavorful, and if I hadn't been spending every second thinking, "Ew. This is raw fish," as I felt it slip and slide around in my mouth... Well, if I'd been able to get past that, I might have enjoyed it.

As it was, though, I kept finding myself thinking, "I'm going to be spending several hours on a train tomorrow. What a joy it would be to have intestinal parasites as traveling companions." And so I cut the remainder up into pieces, mixed those pieces around with the green beans to try to hide the fact that I hadn't eaten, and called for the check.

The waiter, of course, asked if I'd disliked the food. I assured him that no, no, I just hadn't been hungry. A bald-faced lie, and I know he saw through me. Oh, well.

I paid the bill, then stopped by the little corner store and picked up a ham sandwich, which I ate in my room while watching the Rugby World Cup. And life was good.

So I'm not a gourmande. Sue me.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Lagging, of the Jet Variety

Here is my definition of the jet lag that comes from jumping across nine time zones:

You arrive at your destination. You follow the "rules" about not going to bed immediately, even if you've just skipped a night of sleep. Eventually, at last, you allow yourself to go to bed at a realistic hour, like 10:00 or 11:00 (or 22h00 or 23h00 if you're in, y'know, France.) You doze off blissfully, prepared for this bone-numbing exhaustion to be history by morning.

Two or three hours later, your eyes pop open and your body says, "Hey! Great! Thanks for the nap! Let's go finish the day!" And then you lie awake for three or four more hours, tossing and turning and unwillingly listening through paper-thin walls as your neighbors go about their intimate personal business. And you're trying desperately to clear your mind and not think thoughts like, "Whoa. Dude. Sorry about those prostate issues!"

You at last drift off at 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning and wake up unrested at 10:00. Repeat process for four or five days, at which point your body becomes acclimated at last.

And then you come home.

It's been the same process since Monday night. Short nighttime "nap" followed by a long awake period followed by a final, short, restless sleep. Last night I was so exhausted by 6:00 that I just had to go to bed. I abandoned a soccer game to do it, too -- Arsenal vs. Sevilla, Champions League. If you're a fan of European soccer, you know what it took to make me walk away from this game. Two amazing teams that play exquisite, attacking soccer. It was kind of like turning my back on a dinner that included both filet mignon and crème brûlée. But my body was giving me no choice.

I woke up a little after 2:00, but felt finally, at last, fully rested. Eight uninterrupted hours of sleep! I'd forgotten what that felt like.

Which is why I'm sitting here at 4:00 a.m., wide awake and writing about jet lag.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Dirty Clothes and Grocery Stores

(Note: We interrupt our Parisian travelogue to bring you a reality interlude. More on Paris demain.)

With my daughter, it was dirty clothes. With my son, a trip to the grocery store.

Two years ago, my husband and I dropped off our daughter at her dorm at University of Washington, the excellent state school that is maybe ten miles from our house. It had been a turbulent summer, full of the frustration and clashes that come when an eighteen-year-old prepares to leave home. I once read it described as "fouling the nest," a painful but necessary process that gives everyone the strength to let go and allow a child to move on to the next stage of life.

And one of the biggest sources of conflict that summer was dirty clothes left on the bathroom floor. These seems humorous, now. Then? Not so much. Rather than continuing to nag, or leaving them for everybody else to trip over, I took to scooping them up and dumping them on the floor in the doorway of her bedroom. (Hey, what would YOU have done?)

And then college was upon us.

On that Thursday we moved her things into her dorm, took her out to breakfast at a little cafe, and then turned her loose into her new life. I drove home, thinking, "I am handling this quite well." And then I got to our house, walked into the bathroom... And there were her clothes, in a pile on the floor. I burst into tears.

We have survived. She is now a junior, living in a house near campus with friends. And this summer she even remembered to pick up her clothes. On most days.

And today it was my son's turn.

I say this with much love, but he is the child I understand the least. This is a little strange, because he is also the child most like me -- the middle child, the non-shy introvert who keeps his thoughts to himself. He doesn't interact much with adults, never has -- a middle child thing. But he's a good kid with good friends, and he spent high school taking AP classes, lettering in track and cross country, and serving as both Junior and Senior Class Presidents. We didn't have the blow-ups we had with his sister because he isn't a blow-up kind of kid. He's a keep-it-inside kind of kid. Always has been.

But still I worry. And with some reason. While I was in Paris, he apparently got a last bill for housing and either didn't read it or didn't understand the import of it and let it go. When it didn't get paid, they dropped him from the dorm list altogether. When he called to get reinstated, he became a Priority 5 -- the lowest possible priority. They said that because he lived locally, he might have to commute for several weeks while everyone else sorted themselves out.

A painful lesson, no? Particularly for this kid, so ready to be out of the house. Fortunately for him there must have been a lot of people going to fraternities and sororities and alternate living arrangements, because he got an e-mail yesterday saying that he had a room and was moving in today.

So yesterday was spent with him panic-shopping, and packing, and running multiple loads of laundry, pausing only to ask questions like, "When I started it on 'medium' and the water stops, how do I get it to keep filling up for a big load?" Eventually it all got done.

Today was move-in day. We drove to the college, got directed to the dorm, and then sat and waited for the designated move-in helpers to show up with the luggage carts. I stayed with the car (a requirement that one person be there), watching all of the other parents and kids go through this same drama of transition, while my son and my husband moved his things up. Then my husband came down and I went up to see the room. Because he was so low on the priority list he's in a triple, with three boys sharing a room built for two, at least for the first month. It's cramped, but possible. But not an ideal situation for an introvert.

And so I cross my fingers, and worry, and pray, and know that in the long term this will all work out, but the first quarter may be painful.

Later on today I went grocery shopping. I hadn't had the chance since I got back from Paris, and we were out of everything. And it was in the grocery store that I had my clothes-on-the-bathroom-floor moment. No need to buy mac and cheese. (My youngest doesn't eat it.) No need for Wheat Thins. No need for all the little things I've gotten in the habit of buying over the years. He won't be eating here for awhile. It was my maternally activated, lump-in-the-throat moment.

Like most transitions, this one is bittersweet. One computer, available at all times! Nobody draining the hot water tank with one shower! And yet...my son is not here. An odd feeling that all of the planning in the world can't prepare you for, and that stings even when you've been through it already.

Hooray for universities close to home.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

That Language Barrier (OR: But I thought I parled français!)

Something one should know in visiting a foreign country: Studying a language for five years doesn't necessarily make one able to actually speak, or comprehend, that language.

The funny thing is, it's not as if I haven't used French since college. I read French articles on the internet several times a week, picking up the latest football news for one of the soccer blogs I write. And it's not that hard for me to follow French when it's spoken slowly and gramatically and contains only a few idioms.

Problem is, who speaks slowly and gramatically and without idioms in real life? Nobody I know. And not only that, when you're working at comprehending a language, it's a multi-step process. First, you have to hear what they say. (And Paris is not a quiet city.) Second, you have to break it down into individual words. (Harder than you might think when a language is spoken at an everyday pace.) And third, you have to mentally translate those words into your own language to (hopefully)form a coherent thought. And then you have to kind of reverse the process if you're trying to create a response.

You don't realize how much of your own intelligence and first-language linguistic competence you take for granted until you try to speak in a foreign tongue. Suddenly you find yourself trying to switch every thought to either present tense, or at least to a simple past or future tense. Out with the conditional! Away with the subjunctive! Into the garbage with sentences like, "If I'd known, I would have done it, but I couldn't tell." Switch that instead to, "I didn't do it." And even for that you have to figure out past tense and negatives and pronoun placement.

Ce n'est pas facile. (And since the "n'" part of the negative is pretty much used only in written and not spoken French, you'd actually say, "C'est pas facile." Very...challenging.)

I found myself eavesdropping on snatches of conversation all around me, trying to pick up even bits and pieces. My favorite was a girl of about eight, telling her au pair about sharing the tomatoes in her salad with a friend. Well, actually, it was my favorite because it was about the only one I fully understood. Otherwise I'd pick up individual words and occasional phrases, but when it came to full thoughts and conversations? Let's just say that my eavesdropping skills would not allow me to be a spy in France.

It was fun, though. An intellectual Mt. Everest that got marginally easier to scale as the week went on. When I'd get exhausted with dealing with people, I'd go back to my room and watch TV. (Which is funny, because it's almost impossible for me to sit and watch TV in the US.) I got addicted to French game shows, and actually picked out a couple of the Wheel of Fortune clues before the players could solve the puzzle. And news shows were surprisingly easy to understand because they met my "slow, grammatical and idiom-free speech" qualifications. I'd watch them and think, "Oh, this language stuff is getting easier!" And then I'd switch channels to a show where actual conversation was going on and Voilà! More linguistic stew.

Funny thing, though. Despite my incompetence, the language part was one of the most interesting things about the trip. Holding a conversaton with a front desk clerk or waiter or taxi driver entirely in French became cause for celebration.

Think about it. Once we get out of school, how often do we get actual intellectual challenges? Far too rarely, I think. Or maybe that's just me.

So let's hear it for intellectual challenges, for linguistic stew, and for the simple present tense.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Visiting a Different World


I got home at about 10:00 last night, twenty-five hours after waking up in my hotel near Charles de Gaulle airport, just outside of Paris.

Yes, Paris. (Insert exclamation points as desired.) I went on my own, by myself, for ten days (plus two in transit.) Eight days in Paris, proper, two in the little town of Metz, on the German border. They were among the most amazing, fascinating, exhausting, lonely, exhilarating days of my life. I don't think I would ever do it again, but I'm so happy to have done it this once.

So. How did I end up in Paris?

I will be honest here and admit that I am a little...unusual. Because it all goes back to soccer.

Of course it does. Probably to last summer's World Cup, where my passion for my beloved France National Team reached a boiling point. And all of a sudden my desire to go back to France moved from "want" to "need," and I started dropping pointed hints to my husband. And he agreed. In theory.

Problem: He doesn't have a flexible schedule. We made tentative plans to go last October or so and they fell through. Then plans for Christmas/New Year's, but the number two guy in his office quit, leaving him with all of the work. So that was out. Then we thought about spring, but that didn't work out either.

And Paris was completely my choice, too. He would happily go to be with me, but there are a million places he would prefer to visit. (We went together when I was pregnant with our youngest, twelve years ago, and had a great time, but I think if it were left completely up to him, he'd tell you that he's got his Paris merit badge.)

And then, in July, I was visiting the website of the fff -- the Fédération Française de Football -- and lo ang behold, they were offering tickets to the France-Scotland Euro qualifier on September 12. And I started clicking on links, and suddently they were offering me a good seat. And so I called up my husband, he said, "Great, go do it!" and that was that. Suddenly I was going to Paris.

I'll write more about the trip later. But it was incredible.

And I am SO glad to be home.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Behind Closed Doors

It wasn't that long ago that I knew a lovely woman with a lovely life. Or that's what it looked like from the outside. She was a few years younger than me, blonde, beautiful, vivacious, outgoing... Her oldest daughter is the same age as my youngest son. (I have two older, she has two younger.) Our kids went to school together all through elementary school. Her family seemed happily, solidly together. She and I played soccer together -- moving from same team to different team to same classes -- for two or three years, seeing each other every week, and we did several volunteer activities together at our kids' school.

In early June I was flipping through the newspaper and my eyes fell on a mugshot of a man in his thirties. I almost turned the page without reading the article, because these kinds of things don't usually affect me. But the article was about a local man who had been arrested for molesting a fouteen-year-old girl at the church where he'd been a youth leader several years before. The girl had let it go without telling anyone for four years, but reported it to the police when he e-mailed her asking if she had any interest in getting together again. While the police were investigating this instance, they discovered at least one more victim. According to the police reports, there is more than enough computer evidence for convictions regarding both of them.

It was my friend's husband.

The tragedy starts with him and ripples out, catching more victims, causing more pain. His wife, his children, his victims, their families, their future partners and families. People don't recover from something like this. They just work at mending the broken spots, and if they're lucky they eventually learn to embrace their newfound strength and the life they've been given, and try to forget about the lives they could have had. But it's not easy. Ask anyone who's been through it.

I saw her a couple of times, afterwards, at school. She was putting on a happy face. A brittle, happy face. I sent her an e-mail offering help and support and got no response.

They showed up together at our children's sixth-grade graduation. How do you respond in a situation like that? I found myself furious that he was there, furious that she was still supporting him.

But what's the right thing here? Should he be barred from his daughter's graduation? Should she keep him from having any contact with his kids? Would that make things better?

They were both clearly uncomfortable at the event, and everyone avoided them. I couldn't make myself speak to her, even though I still hurt for her. It would have felt hypocritical to ignore the issues, and I wasn't about to ruin the children's event by bringing it up. Everyone else seemed to feel the same. The two of them sat stiffly through the ceremony, then kept to themselves afterwards, with only their daughter and her friend for company. I wondered if the daughter's friend's mother knew, and whose business it was to tell her.

These things happen, behind closed doors, in places you'd never expect.

They are in my prayers. Yes, all of them.

Friday, August 10, 2007

What was that again?

My husband and I saw the following bumper sticker on a car yesterday:

Don't let the car fool you. My real treasure is in heaven.

It was pasted the the rear window of a BMW.

What's wrong with this picture?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Hypothermia and Physical Empowerment (OR: Why Camp is a Good Thing)

The average summer surface temperature in Puget Sound is somewhere between fifty and fifty-five degrees. That is cold. In case you were wondering. Time from immersion to death from hypothermia, according to one report I read, is about two hours.

Of course I read this several days after I spent an hour in the water. For fun.

There's something magical for me about swimming in the Sound. When you start out, it's so cold you have to go in about an inch at a time, and every progression makes you gasp. But once you're finally immersed the endorphins kick in, your skin goes numb and you are no longer cold. It's the definition of euphoria. I could stay there all day. (Except for the minor fact that it would be fatal. There is that.)

Of course, once I came out and realized I couldn't walk a straight line and couldn't open the door to my cabin? Well, that's the point where I realized that I might have overdone it a bit. Live and learn.

(And don't worry. We protect the campers from this kind of stupidity. Where the adults are concerned, we assume common sense. Ahem.)

It occurred to me, late in the week, that camp is all about physical explorations like this. And where else in the universe can this happen?

Yes, you can enter freezing cold water and live to tell the tale. Yes, you can hike through the woods, up and down hills and over mossy bridges while battling mosquitos the size of small birds. Yes, you can leap from a four-foot-high platform onto a wooden disk attached to a twenty-five-foot rope and fly through the air as the rope swings away from the hill, until you're looking down from twenty feet in the air. And then you can use your own upper body strength to hold onto the rope and slide off until your feet hit the ground and you realize you have landed, safely. And then you can get back in line to do it again.

This is what camp is.

My family and I got back on Saturday from our annual sojourn to a local Methodist church camp. This one was for grades 3-7. My husband and I run the week, our older two are leaders, and our yougest is a camper. It's one of our favorite weeks of the year, for a lot of reasons. And one of those is this sense of physical empowerment that is so rare in the real world.

I don't think I would ever have tried kayaking if not for camp. Now our annual night kayaking experience (leaders only) is one of my favorite events of the year. You glide through the water with the moonlight lighting up everything around you, and the miracle of phosphorescence dripping off of your paddle like a million diamonds. When you stick your hand in and splash around, the water lights up. When fish swim underneath you, you can follow their paths by the phosphorescent light they leave in their wake.

We were out Thursday night at around midnight, five leaders, two LITs (one male, one female, both fifteen) and Brad, the lifeguard/guide. At one point the five adults were cruising smoothly back toward camp when Brad caught up to us and asked us to hold up. The LITs were dawdling and flirting back a few hundred yards and he couldn't make them hurry up. And since we all needed to hit the shore at the same time, he asked us to raft up (pull in beside each other, holding onto the paddle of the kayaks on either side) and wait. And so we sat there for five minutes or so, staring up at the stars, enjoying the moonlight and the laughter that comes automatically when you're at camp with people whose company you enjoy.

A few minutes later we looked behind us and thought we saw the other kayaks. As we watched, they got closer quickly. One of my leaders said, "Doesn't look like they're dawdling now. I wonder what Brad said to hurry them up?"

It turned out that Brad hadn't done anything. While they'd been dawdling back by themselves, a sea lion had surfaced out of the black a few feet from their kayaks and scared the holy heck out of them, causing them to decide that being with the larger group wasn't such a bad idea after all.

They will still be telling this story in fifty years.

And that's the magic and the miracle of camp. The kayaks and the Sound and the rope swing and the stories that will stick with you forever.

(But if you're considering swimming for an hour? I don't recommend it. Except that I really do.)

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Blogging in a Small World (or What Hath Beckh@m Wrought?)


You know you've been neglecting your blog when you have to concentrate fiercely to remember your login info. I have mentally written many, many blog posts on topics as diverse as expensive baseball season tickets and sex offenders (two different topics, just so you know) in the past few weeks, but for some reason none have made it as far as my computer screen. I shall try to do better.

But yes, I have been soccer blogging. In case you've been living under a rock, David Beckh@m officially came to the L@ G@laxy yesterday. A zoo, a circus, and not quite as fun to write about as it was when the team was just a bunch of losing nobodies. (And Landon Donovan. Attach that sentence to the previous one as desired.)

And connected to the Beckh@m hoopla, I received the following e-mail through my G@laxy blog yesterday.

Hi Laurie

I'm dropping you a quick email from [Name of] Press in England with an
opportunity I hope you might be interested in. We are currently
considering a book about Beckh@m's move to L@ for our forthcoming
list. The book would follow his journey from England and Real Madrid
reject, thru signing for the Gal@xy, rehabilitation and triumph with
England and Real, and cover his first (partial) season in LA. It's
intended that it would be insightful and irreverent, covering not just
the soccer but also the fairly ridiculous 'circus' that surrounds the
Beckhams. We need someone 'on the ground' to give us a US perspective. I've been following your very good blog and wonder if you'd like to be involved? Let me know, and I'll supply more details.

Best regards,


[editor name]

[name of] Press


I researched the publisher last night, and they're small, independent and British. So it doesn't sound like the book would be expected to be huge.

It's odd. I love to write. I love soccer. I'm incredibly flattered. And I'm uncertain. I'm a nobody. I know nothing. I'd have to give up my anonymity. I don't know that I WANT my real name and real life to be associated with the Beckham circus.

But still, it's kind of cool to be asked. I've got an e-mail in asking for more info. We'll see where this goes.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Summer Begins (Or: OUCH!)

Today was, in my house, the first official day of summer.

I know that on the calendar summer started last week. But wait a minute. Not so fast. My youngest son didn't get out of school till yesterday. But more important, today was the first day I went kayaking.

In other words, today was the day when I found out:

-- whether my paddling calluses had softened. (Answer: Only on the left hand.)
-- how much my paddling muscles had atrophied. (Answer: A lot!)
-- how effective sunscreen is when it's past its use-by date. (Answer: Still pretty much effective. But, amazingly, it only works where you use it! What's up with that?!? I have two sunburned arms, sunburned cheeks, and funny little Vs on both thighs where I missed with the application.)

Still, though? Kayaking is magical. We were on Lake Washington today, starting in Medina, home of Bill Gates. If we'd gone north we would have passed his home. Instead we went south, where we passed many that were equally palatial.

What amazed us most is how few people are ever out enjoying these magnificent houses. We see lot of gardeners, sure. The occasional housekeeper. Some roofers and construction guys. But when it comes to homeownere enjoying their multi-million dollar homes? One woman putting on a wetsuit for a swim, and one young woman in a bikini sitting under a sun umbrella on her dock, perusing a laptop. That was it.

I think that none of these people could match me (and my friend Anita, the kayak owner) when it comes to sheer joy.

Because it's that happy time again, the time for the kayaks.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Legend and Lore

A young woman who graduated with my son informed my husband tonight that there is a MySpace (or something similar) petition online entitled "Save [Michael's] Diploma." As of earlier today it had been signed by at least fifty people, all of them apparently unaware that he actually now has his diploma. This is how news travels during the summer -- in bits and pieces via text messages and phone calls.

"Did you hear...?"
"Yes, and also...?"
"Yeah, I know! And somebody told me..."

I think this is how Paul Bunyon got started.

The humor here is that this is a child who generally keeps a low profile, at least in the adult world. So much so that the former leader of the youth choir had a hard time coming up with anecdotes for the church Baccalaureate, even though she's known him since he was two.

And now he is famous. Although perhaps not in a way that he had planned.

(I've done a web search for the site but can't find it. I'll ask my daughter when she gets home.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Dissolving Into Happy Sighs


Graduation is over. The controversy is done. The diploma is safely in hand. The relatives have all left.


My husband is out of town. I have a book of Sudoku, a couple of soccer games I could watch on the computer, and a brand new book by Janet Evanovich, courtesy of a trip to Costco. Oh, and a new iPod, loaded with a bunch of my favorite songs.


Life is good.


Happy sigh.

Monday, June 18, 2007

So. Yeah. Ask Me How Graduation Went

To: Ms. X, School Counselor

We are writing to express our thoughts and concerns about our son, Michael XXX, and the school's delay in awarding him his diploma due to his giving a previously-approved talk at the RHS graduation ceremony.

Our biggest concern is that it seems that he is now being punished for giving a speech that had been approved by the RHS administration. It would seem to us that the appropriate time for the school to express its concerns would have been before the speech was approved rather than after it was given. The fact that the school now appears to be applying sanctions after the fact that could potentially have long-term repercussions is of great concern to our family.

We are not unreasonable parents, and we do understand your concerns about the talk. Our goal is not to undermine the school's authority on this issue. The young adult years are a time for making mistakes and learning from them, and this may be an excellent time to make a point on appropriate vs. inappropriate times and uses for humor. We have no problem whatsoever with your requirement that he make apologies to the faculty members involved.

If this is not settled today, however, or if the school plans any additional sanctions or punishments that could in any way affect Michael's future, we hope and expect that you will contact us directly so that we can ensure that his interests are well-represented.

Thank you for your efforts in this matter.

Sincerely,

[Michael's Parents]

************************
Graduation was Wednesday. Michael was so nervous beforehand that he couldn't eat dinner. There were approximately 6000 people in the audience. His talk was fantastic and hysterically funny -- the only interesting and/or entertaining event of the night -- and it was approved by the vice principal in advance. It poked fun at the Culminating Project and implied (or actually more or less stated flat out) that nobody, himself included, had really jumped through all of the hoops required to pass. On Friday, when he went in for his diploma, he was told to see his counselor.

Sigh.

We got a nice response to this letter telling us that this was ending here, and that our son is a nice young man and we should be proud. And that he handled this well -- maturely and apologetically -- once he was called on the carpet.
"I care about Michael. He is a wonderful young man. I don’t know if
he told you Mrs. XXX acknowledged the error on the administrator’s
part.

What I really care about is that Michael, as he is
growing up—which he will be doing for several more years—take good care of
himself and learn to use good judgment for himself. He obviously is sought
out by his peers to be a leader. He may be in leadership positions in the
future. We talked about how his humor was hurtful to others----his peers
who worked so hard on CP and his teachers. Michael handled himself
thoughtful and genuinely when we talked on Friday—you would have been very proud
of him."

He now has his diploma, as of an hour ago. Lesson learned.

The last graduation visitors left today also. The inside of my lower lip is raw, apparently from being gnawed on, unbeknownst to me. I am exhausted. The week was fun, at least on balance and in retrospect.

And I am SO glad it's over.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Senioritis Attacks

As the Senior Class President, my son will be doing one of the commencment addresses. Here was our conversation on the topic:

Me: So do you have to submit the talk before you give it?
Son: Yes.
Me: And are you going to give the talk you submit?
Son: Uh... I'm not sure.
Me: *Sigh* Just don't do anything that will offend your grandparents or keep you from getting your diploma, okay?
Son: Uh...okay.

This mirrors a previous conversation.

Me: So how are your grades this semester?
Son: Uh...well...uh... Not as good as last semester.
Me: And that means...?
Son: Uh... Right now I have a C in Statistics. And I have a 79.9 in Gov, but...
Me: *Sigh* Just don't do anything that will cause UW to rescind your acceptance, okay?
Son: Well, since they admitted 10,000 last year and only rescinded 20...
(Hmmm. This shows that he's given this some thought.)
Me: You need a 3.0 for the insurance price break.
Son: Um... Okay.

And then today I was at the grocery store and ran into another mom.
Other mom: Where was Michael today for the awards ceremony?
Me: Awards ceremony?
OM: Yeah. He got an award. I can't remember what it was, but I was all ready to take a picture. I can't remember what it was...
Me: Well, we'll have a little talk about that...
OM: Yeah, a LOT of the kids weren't there!

Sigh.

The bad news: Senioritis has attacked.
The good news: It hasn't attacked as hard as it attacked either me or his father. Or his two-years-older sister, for that matter.

Please, God, let it not hit hard enough to affect college. Amen.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Reuters and Me? We're Buds Now.

My soccer blogs at the Offside list incoming links, so you can see who's linking to what you write. I get maybe a couple a week, mostly other bloggers writing on some topic I also wrote about.

This week, though? Reuters. As in:

Reuters is the world's largest international multimedia news agency, providing investing news, world news, business news, technology news, headline news, small business news, news alerts, personal finance, stock market, and mutual funds information available on Reuters.com, video, mobile, and interactive television platforms.


Okay, so yeah, it was actually a Reuters blog, but still. The link says "Reuters."

They were quoting opinions on soon-to-be-Galaxy soccer player David Beckham's recall to the England National Team and picked my blog as one on the "pro" side. Granted, the post they linked to was kind of insipid. And it doesn't actually express my full and more ambivalent feelings on the matter, which I cover in other posts.

But still. Reuters. (As I said in the comments section of the post, maybe I should just curl up and die now, because it only goes downhill from here.)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Purses and Valuables











I will admit to having a bad financial habit or two. I enjoy eating out, even when I could cook at home. I like to buy quilting stuff. I probably buy a latte or two (or three) every week.

I tell you where I draw the line, though. I draw the line at the $148,000 purse.

Yes, $148,000. No, that's not a misprint. Here's how Forbes describes it:

"Hermes Birkin in Croc Porosus Lisse $148,000 Named after French singer/songwriter Jane Birkin, this 35 centimeter croc porosus lisse tote boasts 9-carat diamonds with 1.86 carats of diamonds on the lock itself. Pictured here: the same Birkin tote sold at auction in 2005 by Doyle New York. Each is made-to-order."

I guess one of the things that amazes me about this is that it's not all that impressive looking. Very few people could recognize it for the obscenely expensive outlay that it represents. (Which is, by the way, almost exactly double what we paid for our first house.) What this means is that one would be spending a huge amount of money to impress the handful of people who covet what you've bought enough to know what it costs. And why would you want to impress these people, exactly?

I have an acquaintance who misplaced her purse in a hotel last year. Fortunately it showed up intact at the hotel front desk. Her biggest concern in telling the story? Not the driver's license, or the credit cards, or the irreplaceable baby pictures. Her concern was that "It was a thousand-dollar Louis Vuitton."

Humor here: I get a lot more pleasure from being able to pronounce "Louis Vuitton" correctly in French than I would from actually owning one of his purses. But then again, I get a thousand times more pleasure out of being able to translate articles from l'Equipe about French soccer, so maybe I'm not a good gauge of this kind of thing.

If my house were on fire I would save:

1) People
2) Pets
3) Photographs
4) Computers (with irreplaceable documents and photographs on them), and
5) Quilts

Other than that, it's all just stuff. And most of it's silly stuff, to boot.

Yes, silly. Like, y'know, a $148,000 purse.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Firsts, Lasts, and Not-Quite-Lasts

My daughter, who will be a college junior next year, signed her first lease a couple of weeks ago. She and seven friends will be sharing a large house off campus next year, dealing for the first time with the trials and tribulations and freedoms of not living somewhere with some person in authority in charge.

My youngest son, a sixth grader moving on to junior high next year, played in his last elementary chess tournament at Nationals on Mother's Day weekend.

And my middle son, a senior, went to his prom on Saturday, taking a girl who's been a friend for years.

It's a year of transitions, for them and for us. A year of looking back and looking forward. A year of being ready to move on, and a year of occasionally wishing you could go backwards.

My son missed the early prom pictures with his date because he was running in the District high school track meet. (The humor of this is that he has nobody but himself to blame for the scheduling conflict, since it was the job of last year's Junior Class President -- i.e. my son -- to schedule the date and location of the prom.) The District track meet is a big event. Only the top four finishers in each event in the County meet get to attend. And only the top four finishers at Districts get to go on to State.

My son ran Cross Country last fall and consistently finished in the top six on the team. Six being the magic number, since the State team consists of the top six runners. Unfortunately he spent the season battling agonizing shin splints, so bad some days that he could barely walk. They slowed him down enough that by the end of the season he realized that the team would be better off with someone else running. He attended State as an alternate. He never complained, but that had to sting a little.

And now he was running track, and again battling shin splints. He never complains, but he comes home every day and pops an Advil and pulls out the ice pack.

He didn't qualify for Saturday's Districts in the individual events, but his 4x400 relay team made it. They're pretty fast, but not blisteringly so. What they have going for them is consistency and the fact that they've run together for two years now. Three of the runners are seniors.

The 4x400 relay is always the last event of the meet,and my husband and I got there about half an hour before they ran. My son and the relay team were on the field where we couldn't talk to them, but the rest of the track team looked dejected. In event after event, they had not finished in the top four, meaning many of the top performers wouldn't be going to State. The boys team especially hadn't done as well as expected. Aside from one who qualified in discus and one who qualified in two distance events, they'd come up with pretty much nothing. The 4x100 relay, which had never lost a race up to that point, had finished sixth.

For the next half hour we watched my son and his teammates stretch and sprint and pass the baton as they prepared for the race. When they lined up, they were in what I consider the worst possible position -- the 8th, outside lane, where the runner starts far ahead of the inside lane to make up for the difference in distance around the track. Running in that lane makes it impossible to see the competition until they pass you, and there's noplace to go from there but down.

When the starter's gun went off, the first runner settled in and ran a solid lap. He was quickly passed by three other runners, but managed to hold his own, running close to the same speed as a member of a fifth team. The handoff to the second runner wasn't great, though, and the second runner fell to fifth place, at one point running about twenty to twenty-five feet behind the runner in front of him. He made a good handoff to my son, but my son wasn't able to make up much of the distance. Fortunately, though, he had a perfect handoff to the fourth runner, who was able to take off like a rocket. He gained on the runner in fourth position for the first half of the lap, finally overtaking him on the far side of the track. They battled for position for much of the remainder of the race, but our runner slowly managed to inch ahead. When they passed in front of the stands he was leading by about four feet, and he managed to hold that lead across the finish line as we screamed and yelled and cheered.

They finished fourth. The last boys team of the day to qualify for State. The are one of only sixteen 4x400 relay teams heading to the State meet this weekend.

Of course, their chances of even making it out of the preliminaries on Friday and into Saturday's final eight are infinitesimal. But I don't think that really matters. They'll be feted this week as "the team going to State." They'll be getting out of two days of school. They'll be spending two nights with their teammates and coaches in a hotel...

And this particular "last ever" event, the last ever track meet, gets delayed by one more week.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Damage Done in the Name of God

My uncle will turn eighty next year. He's eight years my mother's senior, delightfully eccentric, has worked the the "theatuh" his entire life. He stage managed on Broadway for years and worked with all the great stars of the sixties and seventies. When I was in college, he toured for several months with Leonard Nimoy. My grandmother had an autographed picture of Jean Stapleton on her wall till the day she died, a cherished gift from the days my uncle worked with her. Last year the Actor's Equity Magazine printed a long interview with him about the fifty years he had spent as an Equity member. His accent is vaguely British despite the fact that he was born and raised in rural Kansas. He lives in California, but he's never been to Los Angeles -- instead he's visited "Los ANGle-eeze." Hard G.

My uncle is eccentric, funny, devotedly Catholic, well-traveled, well-read, and ferociously intelligent.

And my uncle is gay.

This is who he is, not what he does. It's as much a part of him as his nearsightedness and his wiry body. It's not something he chose, any more than he chose eyes that would require a lifetime of glasses. I don't know that he's ever had a relationship, (these things were not talked about when I was growing up), but that fact does not change his essential identity, and that identity is this: he is a person who is gay.



I've been thinking about my uncle this week because of the death of another man in his seventies, the Rev. Jerry Falwell. The man who is probably one of the people most responsible for the shape of conservative Christianity today. He turned the focus of Christianity away from so many of the things damaging our society, like poverty (and its American flip-side, materialism) and turned it firmly onto other people's sexual sins, making sex the number one priority of the religious right. He coined the term "moral majority" and then used it as a bludgeon against those he disgreed with. And particurlarly against people like my uncle.

I'm not sure why homosexuals were chosen for vilification. If you ask, they'll say, "Because the Bible says so! You can't pick and choose!" But the reality is more complicated. The Bible also says that slavery is okay, and the hair-braiding and wearing gold and eating shellfish are wrong. (Oysters, anyone?) The reality is that vilifying homosexuality is easy, and that creating villains is politically expedient. (I once read an article saying that it was no accident that the real vilification of homosexuals didn't start until after the fall of communism. It became necessary to replace one set of villains with another.)

I generally don't wax political here. I'm not sure why, as I am a fairly political person. But I was raised to avoid delicate and controversial topics in your average social situations, particularly when I don't know the beliefs of the people I'm talking to. Which, in general, is a good thing. But there comes a time when you need to speak up. A time when you need to be heard.

Because my uncle is the way God made him. And my husband's nephew, whom we also adore, and who is also gay, is the way God made him as well. And I can't accept that God made a mistake with either of them, or that either of them was put on this earth and expected to live a life without loving.

When I started writing this I was angry. I was so, so angry at Reverend Falwell for the way he lived his life and the damage that can be done by zealots who have convinced themselves that the course they choose for themselves is blessed by God. Now, after writing this, I'm sad -- sad at the amount of wasted energy, the amount of time that could have been used to pursue the ideals that Christ really cared about.

Ideals that my uncle and my nephew, each of them Christians in the best sense of the word, both care about as well.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Because I liked the photo

















The one on the right is a puppy. The three on the left aren't.
Baby tigers, abandoned by their mother in China, now being raised by a mother dog. Is this not just the cutest photo ever?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Reality of Fiction



I finished the most tragic book on Monday, just a little after I arrived home from Nashville. It was by my favorite author, Elizabeth George. I love the way she writes, because she captures the human condition better than any author I know.

I had a hard time starting this book. I bought it before Christmas, but I couldn't start it until our trip to Nashville. The reason? Because I know how it ends. It's a tangential part of a series, and in the most recent book in the series, a major character is killed. We were not told why. This book is the story of the why.

It is a brutally honest, eyes-wide-0pen look at the underclass -- those who so many want to refer to as "those people." "Those people" being the poor, minorities, drug addicts... As in, "Why can't those people get their act together?"

This book is painful. It is unfliching. It is accurate. It shows how so many factors work together to keep people caught up in a life that will destroy them, even when they want something better and are capable of more. It's what I see when I volunteer in prison.

It should be required reading for every person heading into a career in social work, or into any career path where they may not understand how "those people" can end up where they are. It is a book that everyone should read.
It left me in tears. It left me depressed. It left me amazed at its accuracy. It left me wishing that something could be done to help. And it left me amazed, again, at how this author can make her characters so real.

Read the book. You won't be sorry.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Our Newest Family Addition


How old does it make me feel to have not just one but TWO grand-nephews?!? (My husband's brother was ten years older, so our niece is just fifteen years younger than I am.) At least they're both adorable -- that takes some of the sting out of the fact that yes, we are getting old!!
The big brother is Parker, and the baby is Addison. Adorable, no?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A Nationals Photo





Well, Nationals wasn't quite what my son had hoped for, with ferocious games and competition and lots of painful losses. (And yes, a couple of wins too.) But he'll always have this trophy from Bughouse (a pairs game.) And he'll always have the memory of walking through three different airports and having strangers stare at this trophy and ask where he got it.

At first I think he felt a little guilty for getting a trophy like this in an auxiliary competition rather than the main one, but I told him that if they didn't mean for it to be taken seriously, they would have given tiny trophies and not monstrous ones like this. Now I think he's just proud. As he should be.

The photo is my son (on the left) and his partner in the competition. It was taken in a dark room on a cell phone, so the quality isn't great, but it captures the moment.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

National Lessons

I'm spending a week with my youngest son at the National Elementary Chess Championships. We're at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, a place I absolutely detest. (The hotel, not Nashville, which we won't get a chance to see. But the hotel is a topic for another time.)

Peter, my son, is twelve. He's in sixth grade and more than ready for junior high. Puberty lurks. His voice is struggling to decide which octave to claim as its own. He's recently gotten a bit of fuzz on his upper lip and enjoys walking around saying, "I've got a mustache!!" He's grown six inches in the past year, and in the way of all boys who've just grown six inches, he can't walk down a hallway without leaping into the air to touch the things he couldn't touch just a few months ago -- doorframes, ceilings, light fixtures... He's a scant inch shorter than I am.

This is our second Nationals. The Nationals experience is: Seven games, played over three days, each game lasting up to four hours apiece. On Saturday they start at 9:00 a.m. and can go as late as 11:00 p.m.

Nationals is a mixed blessing. It's a learning experience. It's a... Well, if you're a parent, you know what I mean. Insert all those words and phrases you use to help your child deal with disappointment and life lessons and you'll have the experience of Nationals.

Thing is, though? We'll go away with great memories, just as we did after last year's Nationals in Denver where he got pulverized, scoring 2.5 points out of 7. The individual losses sting a bit, but he enjoys playing the best players in the country, even when they beat him badly. Or at least after the tournament he will be able to say it was a good experience. The moment-to -moment experience of Nationals, though? That can be a little tough.

He's playing in the elite Championship section by choice. He could have played in the U1000 section among the less elite players because the Washington State rating system and the national system are run separately and Washington kids' national ratings are usually much lower than their playing abilities. He would have won more games if he'd played down, maybe gone home with a trophy. I asked him yesterday if he regretted not doing that. He looked amazed by the question and responded with an emphatic "No! Why would I...?" Even at twelve, he's old enough to recognize that he gets to be the big fish enough at home. He doesn't need that here.

He's a good kid.

This week, though, two wonderful things have happened that will more than tip the scales to positive, regardless of the outcome of the tournament itself.

On Thursday, he and a partner teamed up in the Bughouse competition -- an odd game that's played in pairs, where one player can capture pieces and give them to his partner, who can place them on the board in his own game. It requires a much different strategy and they played well together, finishing 9th. In the nation. The awards ceremony was this morning, and the trophy is HUGE! Three columns and multiple tiers. I'll post a picture after we get home. If we can get it home. Cross your fingers that Frontier will have mercy on us.

And the second thing was that my son got to meet his idol, Josh Waitzkin, the boy from "Searching for Bobby Fischer," now all grown up. The line for autographs took forever because Josh took his time with each player, talking to them like real people, causing each of them to light up from the inside out. A very genuine and gracious young man, and proof that chess, when balanced with life, can be a positive influence.

So yes, Nationals is a mixed blessing. And yes, those losses hurt. But we go home with more than we came with. And I'm not talking just about the trophy.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Sometimes It's Okay to Focus on the Little Things

I guess I've been waiting to write here until I have time to write about the big things. Big things like the fact that I have coached my last elementary chess function after eleven years. Which is both relief and trauma.

But that's too deep and would require a lot of energy, so I don't write about it. And I feel as if I shouldn't focus on trivial things, because I should be writing about deep things, which I don't feel like writing about... So I write about nothing at all.

Well, except soccer, of course, on other sites. But that's another story entirely. Or maybe not. Maybe that's what I'll write about here, just so I can write again.

Three and a half months ago I started writing for a soccer site about a team I knew nothing about. (The L@ G@laxy, for what it's worth.) And I didn't pretend to know anything about it. I just learned as I went and tried to keep it entertaining. If you're easily shocked, I'd probably recommend you not visit, because I am, at heart, extremely...well...irreverent by nature. Which means that my blog is sometimes PG-13 rated, with the occasional cleavage-heavy picture and controlled substance humor.

Hey, is it my fault that our future superstar is married to a self-obsessed former Spice Girl and that our chief sponsor's logo resembles a a cannabis leaf? I think not. Should I pretend I don't notice? Not a chance.

So I've just been traveling merrily along, writing two or three mostly short little posts a day and having fun with it.

The April numbers came out last week. My little blog about a team I know nothing about got 13,800 hits in one month. That's more than double the March totals and nearly ten percent of all the hits for the entire soccer site (which has pages for probably 30 or 40 teams worldwide.) When you google "L@ G@laxy," I'm in the top ten. How scary is that?

So here I am, today, writing about inconsequential stuff. Which is, of course, what I'm really best at.

And I'll be back with more, and soon this time. I mean it.

Monday, April 23, 2007

What's the S. Korea Connection to my CCCP Jacket?

I'm dying of curiosity here. In the past couple of months, I've had close to a dozen hits on this blog from South Korea to the post I wrote about my CCCP jacket and the Goodwill Games. I have no idea if these hits are from the same person, or if there's just some S. Korean connection to my jacket.

What do you think?

And if you're my South Korean friend(s), can you drop me a note to let me know what the deal is? Thanks!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Post-Easter Thoughts

I think we've decided it was sixteen years ago. Somewhere along the way we lost count. That was the year that one of my husband's (now former) admin people said, "Wouldn't it be fun to do an Easter Dinner for homeless and low-income people?" Since we were senior high youth group leaders at the time and our church had the space, it was logical for us to pick this up. (His admin person lost interest after the first meeting, but we were already committed.)

Huge plans were made. We'd have a sit-down dinner! And Easter baskets for the kids! And different Easter baskets for the adults, with things like shampoo and toothbrushes and toothpaste! We'd get homemade desserts! And we'd get grants and donations from businesses!

We did all those things that year. It was a high stress event. One of our youth group kids went to several businesses and ended up with $1000 in donations. We notified all of the agencies in the area that served low-income residents. We did all the purchasing. And then we sat back and waited for the people to flow in.

And waited. And waited. We were hoping for 150 people that first year. We got perhaps 40. We served them graciously, sent them home with bags of stuff, and phoned around till we found other social service agencies that could use our leftovers.

It would have been easy to quit after that, but it felt wrong. We were already so far up the learning curve! A little tweaking and we'd be in business.

The following year we ditched the requests for grant money and asked church members to donate. They were thrilled to do it. My husband and I put together a sample Easter basket and stood outside the Food Bank for three hours passing out invitations. We had people sign up in advance, and then my husband phoned them the day before the event. (Somewhat entertaining to listen to, since so many did not speak English.) We added an ending time (4-6 instead of 4:00, so people wouldn't feel they'd missed it if they couldn't arrive on the hour.) We scaled down the adult Easter baskets and our expectations. The result: A steady stream of people over the two hours, totaling about 125. The following year it was close to 200, and we were terrified of running out of food. But of course we didn't. (Although there was one year that my kids had to sacrifice their Easter baskets, because we were exactly three short of what we needed. They were great sports about it, and of course we replaced them the next day when the stores opened.)

And that's how it went, year after year, 125-200 people. Until last year. We were both busy -- my husband had just started a new job -- and all of the things we needed to do in advance, like get the signup sheets out to the Food Bank, or mail order the Easter basket stuff -- kept getting put off. In the end, we realized that burnout had taken its toll and we decided to cancel. (It was not an easy decision.)

Last year was the oddest Easter ever. It felt unfinished. We had nothing to do. My husband eventually went down to the church to direct anybody who showed up to a local Mexican restaurant, where we'd opened a tab. One twelve-person family took us up on it. But at the end of the day, we realized that this Easter Dinner had become so much a part of our lives (my youngest attended his first one when he was eleven days old) that we couldn't NOT do it.

And so this year we started again. We again waited a little too long to hand out signup sheets. and we worried about the loss of momentum that would come from skipping a year. But our fears were groundless. Every table was full within 45 minutes. And everybody -- attendees and volunteers -- was happy to be back.

It's funny how things like this take hold of your heart. I'm thinking about this especially this weekend, as my youngest and I head down to the State Chess Championships, just like I've done with one child or the other for the past eleven years. He is a sixth grader now, and this will be my last year.

I'm almost sure of it.