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.