Monday, December 31, 2007

Poem for Monday

Ha'tzofeh Le'tovah (The One Who Seeks The Good)
By Rabbi Avraham Itzchak HaCohen Kook
Translated by Rabbi Itzchak Marmorstein

It is the good that I desire,
Its glorious expanses entrance me,
Its lips, its roses, I kiss.
Its beautiful visions exalt me.

Absolute good, without limitation,
Without end, constriction or boundary,
That is not separate from anything alive,
That, with its love, koshers everything blemished.

Good for me, good for all,
Good without evil or severity,
Good full of pleasure for all,
Full of tranquility, without anxiety.

Good forever, good right now,
Good for every people and nation
Who seek the good and not the bad,
And the light and joy, as the One is there.

(Genesis: 21:17)


I'm at my in-laws in Pennsylvania, where my kids are currently teaching my father-in-law to play chess with his Civil War chess set and Paul is watching some football game or other (the Redskins beat the Cowboys to clinch a playoff spot earlier, and that's all I care about). My mother-in-law is working on an itinerary for their England trip in the spring so I am discussing our favorite things to do in London and Bath while typing this.

Earlier in the day, on the drive up, we stopped at Boyd's Bear Country because it's closing for renovations for several months starting tomorrow; we were hoping they'd be having a big sale, but they were pretty wiped out of everything but leftover holiday merchandise and some of the seasonal animals -- I wanted to buy a little bear dressed as a devil, but it turned out he was part of a set and separated from his fellows.

We went to dinner at Red Lobster with gift cards that Paul's aunt and uncle sent us and his parents for Christmas last year -- I had coconut shrimp and salmon, Daniel had crab legs, Adam had lobster tail, everyone is very full and content! Plus we exchanged holiday presents we missed over the actual holidays. Monday we are probably going to the museums in Harrisburg, depending on whether the rain stays rain or turns into snow overnight.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Poem for Sunday

Grief Calls Us to the Things of This World
By Sherman Alexie

The morning air is all awash with angels . . .
                                        -- Richard Wilbur

The eyes open to a blue telephone
In the bathroom of this five-star hotel.

I wonder whom I should call? A plumber,
Proctologist, urologist, or priest?

Who is most among us and most deserves
The first call? I choose my father because

He's astounded by bathroom telephones.
I dial home. My mother answers. "Hey, Ma,

I say, "Can I talk to Poppa?" She gasps,
And then I remember that my father

Has been dead for nearly a year. "Shit, Mom,"
I say. "I forgot he's dead. I'm sorry—

How did I forget?" "It's okay," she says.
"I made him a cup of instant coffee

This morning and left it on the table—
Like I have for, what, twenty-seven years—

And I didn't realize my mistake
Until this afternoon." My mother laughs

At the angels who wait for us to pause
During the most ordinary of days

And sing our praise to forgetfulness
Before they slap our souls with their cold wings.

Those angels burden and unbalance us.
Those fucking angels ride us piggyback.

Those angels, forever falling, snare us
And haul us, prey and praying, into dust.


We had a mostly quiet Saturday getting ready to go to my in-laws Sunday morning. Paul wanted to make cookies and Swedish rye bread, so we wanted to stop at Whole Foods to get ingredients, which meant we were near both the Hair Cuttery and Croydon Creek Nature Center in Rockville Civic Center Park. So we went to see the reptiles in the nature center -- they have many turtles, several snakes and toads, plus a beehive and an injured screech owl -- and walked around a bit on the rocks above the creek, then we went to the Hair Cuttery and forced boys to face the evil shears (younger son took off barely a half inch from his long hair, older son took off a couple from his short hair). And we went to Whole Foods to get rye flour, Bombay potatoes, etc. and to Petco to get cat litter and an all-important laser pointer, which has worn Daisy out.

A red-eared slider and a young terrapin -- I think it's a diamondback -- at Croydon Creek Nature Center.

An eastern box turtle peeking out of its log.

A big fierce snapping turtle. This one can't live in the wild, sadly.

I believe this is a rat snake, unless it's the pine snake and I have them backward!

The toads here live very well and get live albino crickets for lunch.

The little injured screech owl who lives in the nature center and clucks at visitors.

The queen bee is the one with the yellow dot on her back.

And these are not at the nature center, but at Petco...a Siberian hamster mother and her nearly-grown babies. Aww!

Evening entertainment has been the awesome Patriots-Giants game. I am so glad the Giants came to play, and even though I root against the Giants nearly all the time, I felt badly for them when they started to let the game slip away. I have no big investment in seeing the Patriots go undefeated (Miami's 17-0 record came against the Redskins in the Superbowl), but I'll root for them to do it at this point -- I like Brady, I just tend to root for NFC teams if they aren't, like, the Cowboys. Hey, it sounds like the Redskins game is on nationally so we'll probably get it at my in-laws'...

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Poem for Saturday

Driving Lesson
By Jane Shore

"Name the eight states that begin with the letter M,"
Mohammed, my driving teacher, says.
I'm forty-one. Am I in school?
I glance at the rear-view mirror, glad I can't see
my embarrassing STUDENT DRIVER bumper sticker.
I spread a ghost-map across the windshield,
scroll down the east coast, top to bottom.
"Maine. Massachusetts. Maryland."
Sweaty left hand gripping the turn signal,
I step on the gas, edging out
into congested Nassaue Street in Princeton.

Twenty years since I last drove a car,
twenty years since I was a passenger in the red VW Bug
my boyfriend Jeremy totaled on a Vermont back road,
twenty years since plastic surgery
fixed my broken cheekbone and eye socket,
my double-vision, but not my fear.

"Are you hurt?" the priest has asked,
standing over me as I lay dazed
on bloody gravel, waiting for the ambulance.
Last rites? He'd just happened to be driving by.
Where am I? It's as if I just woke up
and found myself in the driver's seat, steering
the company car onto suburban country roads
past ugly half-built multi-million-dollar mansions,
muddy sub-divisions, my right foot
on the gas, my cold hands at the wheel
nailed at ten and two o-clock.

"Minnesota," I say, "and Michigan,"
stopping inches from the crosswalk.
An orange hand flashes DON'T DON'T DON'T.
I check the speedometer, fuel guage--
dash board lit up like a cockpit.
"Mississippi, Missouri. Mobile, and in mobile,
as in automobile," I say. "Get it?"
Bearded Mohammed frowns, not in a joking mood.
Strip malls and luxury town-house condos streak by
as his sneakers tap-dance around his safety-breake.
We lurch. Stall. Cars behind us honk.
"Montana. Have I named them all?"

"Next lesson, I'll teach you how to park,"
Mohammed grins, adjusting his turban.
"Now, name four states that begin with the letter A."
I rev my engine. "Alabama, Arkansas."
At sea, I'm seasick in the Bible Belt.
"Arizona. Oh God, I almost forgot Alaska!"
"Relax," Mohammed says. "It's like I told you.
While you drive, you can keep your mind on
more than one thing at a time."


Another relatively uneventful day. In the morning I wrote a review of "Time Squared", and either all the complainers are on vacation or I wasn't controversial enough in discussing it, because there are no scathing complaints about it on the TrekBBS yet, heh. It's a good episode, particularly in the context of the use of the same themes later in The Next Generation.

In the afternoon my parents invited my kids and myself (since Paul had to work/go to the optometrist) to go with them to National Treasure: Book of Secrets, since they hadn't seen it yet. It holds up very well upon a second viewing even after having watched the first National Treasure earlier in the week; the ridiculous history is still ridiculous, the similarities are still pronounced and Sean Bean still isn't in the sequel, but it still has lots of good actors looking like they're having a great time and Ben is still adorable as Abigail and Riley team up to try to make him a better boyfriend. After the movie, Paul met us and we went to Hamburger Hamlet (well, I had fish, not a hamburger).

Here are a few more pictures from Mount Vernon.

A line of people wait to enter the groundskeeper's house on the way to the mansion.

The back porch seen from the hill sloping toward the Potomac River. If you saw National Treasure 2, this is where the party took place.

This is the view of the river from below the porch. You can see Fort Washington -- for many decades the only defensive fort protecting Washington DC, completed in 1809 -- across the river.

As a historic farm, Mount Vernon has cattle...

...and rare Hogg Island sheep whose wool is sheared, carded and spun throughout the month of May while visitors watch.

At this time of year they work as natural lawn mowers, grazing through to sunset in the fields.

Friday Fiver: I'll always be true
1. Tell us something you love:
The ocean.
2. Tell us something you know to be true: If you drop a marble on the kitchen floor within hearing of a cat, it will take you a very long time to get the marble back, and that's assuming you can get to it at all before it is batted under the refrigerator.
3. Tell us about someone new in your life: An awesome woman wrote to me about my Barbie Tarot deck. She's a graphic designer and said that she'd love to try to print a set for a friend of hers who's a Barbie fan, and I said it was fine with me but would love it if she printed an extra for me and I'd be happy to pay for materials. She sent me The Fool with a holiday card as a sample and a promise to send the rest when she had figured out the best way to reproduce the whole deck. I am completely psyched about this and so grateful to her.
4. Who can you never please? My poor starving big yellow cat who never, ever gets enough to eat.
5. Friday fill-in: You know I ___. You know I never know when to shut up.

The Friday Five: Totally Random
1. When did you "lose your innocence"?
This is absolutely none of the readers of a meme's business. Sometimes I really wonder why I bother with .
2. Would you say you have an accent? Other people tell me that they can tell my parents are from Brooklyn.
3. Do you hope to be married (married again if divorced)? Happily married, thanks.
4. If you could take one technology to a desert island (the obvious satellite phone excluded), what would it be? A spaceship.
5. What is the last activity you bought a ticket for? National Treasure: Book of Secrets.

Fannish 5: What are your five top hopes for your fandom(s) or your fan activities in 2008?
More fun, less wank.
2. A certain character's scenes cut entirely from the Star Trek movie.
3. A swift end to the writer's strike that benefits the writers.
4. Doctor Who schedules synchronized on both sides of the Atlantic.
5. Brilliant inspiration.

We're going to my in-laws for New Year's but won't leave till Sunday because they're flying home from my brother-in-law's in Oregon tonight and their flight was delayed getting in and out of a Chicago stopover due to weather conditions. So Saturday we will be getting ready and watching the Patriots-Giants game. Friday night, Maryland met Oregon State in the Emerald Bowl and the Terps played the Beavers in a very balanced game for three quarters, but then the Beavers went ahead and Maryland just couldn't catch up. Oh well!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Poem for Friday

Meeting at Night
By Robert Browning

The gray sea and the long black land;
And the yellow half-moon large and low;
And the startled little waves that leap
In fiery ringlets from their sleep,
As I gain the cove with pushing prow,
And quench its speed i' the slushy sand.

Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;
Three fields to cross till a farm appears;
A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
And blue spurt of a lighted match,
And a voice less loud, through its joys and fears,
Than the two hearts beating each to each!


A relatively uneventful day. Paul had a half-day of vacation left that had to be used by the end of the year, so he took the afternoon off since the weather was beautiful and we went to Great Falls National Park, the Maryland side, so we could walk along the C&O Canal. We didn't go out to the falls overlooks like we usually do but stayed on the towpath, walking about a mile and a half towards Washington, DC where some new bridges have been built and the clear, beautiful water reflected the evergreens on the rocky banks.

The C&O Canal reflecting trees on the rocks above it.

The canal boat Charles F. Mercer covered and docked for the winter.

Someone had strung Cheerios and berries on the evergreen as holiday decorations/food for the birds.

This is one of the lock houses where the person who had to open the lock for passing boats lived.

This bridge over the canal...

...has a built in floodgate to protect the canal in case the water levels rise.

The canal is lined with white oak trees like this one.

In the evening I had to watch a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode to review it ("Time Squared" -- holds up very well) and then on impulse put on "Breakaway," the first episode of Space: 1999. My kids tend to laugh at the original Star Trek for looking so cheesy so I expected them really to ridicule this, but older son in particular watched entirely attentively! It's a good episode, has government corruption and a scientific mystery and lots of action near the end, but when those Eagles crash...eep. Even so, the writing holds up passably and Barbara Bain looks great. So we will be watching more of those!

I always thought Benazir Bhutto was extremely brave. She knew that, like her father and brothers, she would probably end up dying young. I know that she had her faults as a leader and that her Harvard and Oxford education and wealth made her very atypical among women from her country. But she knew there were people who would try to kill her purely because of her gender, and others who would try to kill her because of her political views and alliances, her Western ties, her government's corruption and her expensive clothes. She could have chosen to remain a wealthy exile making speeches from a distance to foreign politicians and journalists about how best to help the people of her country. Instead, as soon as she was permitted, she went back to Pakistan, apparently believing that she could help fight for democracy in the face of considerable resistance to her personally and to her own previous mistakes. Now she's gone, and others have died and will die in her name and in opposition to her name. I find the news so heartbreaking.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Poem for Thursday

From "Shine on, Tottering Republic"
By W.S. Merwin

In the last days of the presidents a new star appeared. By then the organization of fear was vast and persuasive beyond anything that could have been conceived by the founding fathers. . . . On the domestic front the police were their own masters, and no branch of technology was closed to them. Any window, any light bulb, any picture might be a television camera connected to the nearest precinct. No one dared to examine too closely. Those who did might be arrested a few minutes later, charged with obstruction or conspiracy. Bail no longer existed, trials came seldom, sentences were inevitable, heavy, and without appeal. On the whole, it was said, the public was relieved at the steady disappearance of disturbing elements.


The kids and I were stuck at home with no vehicle this morning and I had laundry to fold, so we watched the first National Treasure, feeling nostalgic for it. I must admit that having Sean Bean definitely adds an element that was absent in the second movie, though I love Helen Mirren even in such a fluffy role; the first one is so much fun for me because I've spent lots of time in all the cities where it takes place, and the scenes in Philadelphia in particular are so much fun, plus I love the Founding Fathers as secret possessors of Masonic treasure. Paul came home early so we could pick up the van and get Adam the new Warriors book Dark River (we couldn't find the manga Warrior's Refuge, Thursday may have to brave the mall for that). CVS gave me a holiday present -- they had new for $7 the special edition DVD of Fatal Attraction with the original ending, which has been on my wish list for about six years!

Since the car place is right next door to IHOP, we went there for dinner -- it was surprisingly crowded but harvest nut pancakes, turkey bacon and hash browns make up for a lot. Then we came home and wanted to watch something seasonal before the inevitable football game (the Motor City Bowl, Purdue/Central Michigan, which actually had a completely thrilling fourth quarter), and wound up picking Kingdom of Heaven, which is a better movie than I expect every time I watch it. People who find fault with Orlando Bloom's performance in this are looking for reasons to find fault, because he holds his own very well with a great many terrific actors (Liam Neeson, Jeremy Irons, Alexander Siddig, Brendan Gleeson, Ghassan Massoud, Kevin McKidd, David Thewlis, Michael Sheen, et al). His chemistry's not terrific with Eva Green but I find her rather stiff overall...this would be a better film without the tempted-and-fallen-over-women stuff overall. The screenplay has some definite weaknesses but overall it's still a much better movie than it generally gets credit for being, I think.

The tomb of George and Martha Washington at Mount Vernon.

Behind their graves is a vault where other family members are buried.

In the new education center at Mount Vernon, sculptors worked with life masks made of Washington to create lifelike statues of him at various stages in his life. Here he is as a young surveyor...

...and later as a military commander. He was 6'2" which was quite tall for his era.

A wealthy man, Washington had a coach house but his family coach made by Clark Brothers does not survive today. This one belonged to Samuel Powel, Mayor of Philadelphia and Washington's good friend.

One of General Washington's pistols and a telescope that belonged to him.

The Washingtons also had a large kitchen, not connected to the rest of the house because although it looks like stone, it's actually treated wood, sprayed with sand and painted to give it the appearance of masonry, so there was significant fire risk.

Am laughing so much over Barron Hilton leaving his fortune to his father's charity, especially since he fought so hard to keep part of that fortune when his father intended to leave nearly his entire fortune to the charity but the son challenged the will. I really wish there were a maximum individual inheritance. And hey, the Giants/Patriots game will be on local TV on Saturday instead of just the stupid NFL cable network, so I know what I will be stuck watching that night!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Poem for Wednesday

In the Manner of SD
By Stuart Dischell

The day that I found art in my first name
Was the same day I saw hell in my last.

There was a girl there, of course, --
Touching a wet finger
To a postage stamp,
Pursing her lips
On the double bed.

I went to kiss
The cat-tongue rough
Of her each bent knee.

I was weak then, not yet a liar.
One of us had said,
What we do is our own business.
Then we broke the windows
And looted the store.


Another from Poet's Choice in Sunday's Washington Post Book World. "For each person, one utterance is so loaded with associations that it cannot be heard objectively: our own name," writes Robert Pinsky, citing Catullus, Villon and Elizabeth Bishop as examples of poets who reflected upon their names. "Stuart Dischell, in his new book, Backwards Days, writes an artful and striking variation on this theme...the way the last two lines revise and challenge the preceding phrase 'our own business' does, indeed, exemplify 'the manner of SD,' with its playful yet implacable stripping away of self-justification," adds Pinsky. "Dischell compresses a lot of narrative -- and much understanding -- into fewer than a hundred words. His poem teases and expands notions of personality and impersonality, the hellish and artful qualities of being a many-sided but particular person called by an identifying name."

I had a lovely Christmas that involved no celebration whatsoever of the holiday. We went to Mount Vernon, which was surprisingly crowded, for which the tour guides blamed, err, credited National Treasure: Book of Secrets (all the while assuring us that there are no secret tunnels on the property mapped by George Washington, his slaves or anyone else). Since Christmas is usually such a low visitor day, the third floor of the house was open to the public, which it has never once been in all the times I've visited; these were Martha Washington's private rooms after her husband's death, since she did not want to sleep in their bedroom where he died. Because it was warm out, the sheep, cows and horses were in the fields and the barns were open.

The tours were informal, with people passing through in a steady line rather than in tour groups, but as always we learned some new things and noticed some new things, and we got to visit the new visitor's center which has several movies including a reenactment of Washington's war years and Glenn Close narrating Martha Washington's private reflections on her husband, plus George Washington's weapons, telescope, drinking glasses, family Bible and dentures. Since it was only $5 more to buy yearly passes rather than just paying admission, we got the passes so we can go back for the colonial fair in the summer and drop in any time we happen to be nearby in Alexandria.

George Washington's formal dining room set for Christmas dinner at Mount Vernon.

Usually no photos are permitted in the house, but there were people on either side of us snapping away with flashbulbs and not getting scolded, so I took a chance and took a couple of photos with the flash off.

The color of the paint is matched to the original and this mantelpiece is the original, a gift from an admirer that Washington liked because it has farm animals and he considered himself a farmer.

The tables in the outer buildings for servants and riders are not as glamorous.

But the views of the river from all around the house are spectacular.

Here for instance is a side view off the back porch.

The grounds had few holiday decorations, but the visitor center had a tree trimmed with George, Martha and Mount Vernon souvenirs.

We had fondue for dinner and pumpkin pie for dessert, both Paul's choice -- since we do not celebrate Christmas at all, I figure he is entitled to eat whatever he wants that day -- and then, thanks to the kindness of strangers, we watched Voyage of the Damned. It wasn't my favorite Tenth Doctor episode -- wasn't even my favorite Tenth Doctor Christmas special, really -- but I loved it anyway. I was afraid it would be too Titanic for my taste, but it was much more Poseidon Adventure in all the best ways!

SPOILERS: I really dislike angels and appreciate that they are always bad news on Doctor Who ("Did you ever notice how in the Bible, when ever God needed to punish someone, or make an example, or whenever God needed a killing, he sent an angel? Did you ever wonder what a creature like that must be like?" -- The Prophecy). So the Heavenly Host tourist information and killing machines make me very happy! I had had it with the Doctor-as-Jesus parallels at the end of last season's series with Martha as His disciple on Earth, but even though he was playing the Reverend Scott role from The Poseidon Adventure -- without the dying-on-a-cross part -- I appreciated that it was toned down despite the theological imagery and his insistence/apparent belief that he could save them all. The fake professor Copper's explanation of Christmas, in which Santa is a god married to Mary and the people of the UK are at war with Turkey so they eat them for Christmas like savages, really made me howl.

I liked Astrid, didn't love her but we didn't really get to know her much, other than the usual starry-eyed-girl routine when meeting the Doctor which gets tiresome enough that I'm really looking forward to Donna biting his head off a bit. (I like the wonder at the universe, it's the worship of the man that goes with it that I can live without.) At least with her backstory -- waitress at a spaceport diner, saw the ships go to the stars and dreamed of doing the same -- her behavior makes sense, more to me than Doctor Jones' anyway. Plus she gave her life saving others without falling insanely in love, she didn't have time for that, she just did it because he'd have done it for her and the rest. I liked the randomness of the deaths, which unlike in Poseidon Adventure did not spare the innocent while killing off the whore, the crook, etc. though it's a bit annoying that the two white guys lived while both women, the alien, the black man's so true that Mr. Financial Asshole is not who I'd have picked!

I loved a lot of little images -- the big guy stuck like Winnie the Pooh trying to escape from the Host, the angels hurling their halos like Xena with a chakram while Astrid batted them away like baseballs, and the Doctor lifted up by angels (younger son started singing the John Farnham song, making me howl some more). And I did find the scene where he tries desperately to bring Astrid back, only to have to be convinced that she's really gone, quite moving, like the cumulative effect of losing people is getting worse and worse for the Doctor. I still wish there was more of Astrid there, but given how little time they had and how amazing the ship itself was in the glimpses we got, the party, the explosions, the engines, I think they did quite a good job.

I'm so sad about the tiger attack in San Francisco! What a holiday bummer. Wednesday I have boys home and no van for half the day, as the other one was making scary noises and is now at the shop. Eee!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Poem for Tuesday

Here We Come A-Wassailing

Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green;
Here we come a-wandering,
So fair to be seen:

Love and joy come to you,
And to you our wassail, too,
And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year,
And God send you a Happy New Year.

Our wassail cup is made
Of the rosemary tree,
And so is your beer
Of the best barley.

We are not daily beggars
That beg from door to door,
But we are neighbours' children
Whom you have seen before.

Call up the butler of this house,
Put on his golden ring;
Let him bring us a glass of beer,
And the better we shall sing.

We have a little purse
Of stretching leather skin;
We want a little of your money
To line it well within.

Bring us out a table,
And spread it with a cloth;
Bring us out some mouldy cheese,
And some of your Christmas loaf.

God bless the Master of this house,
Likewise the Mistress too;
And all the little children
That round the table go.

Good Master and good Mistress,
While you're sitting by the fire,
Pray think of us poor children
Who are wandering in the mire:

Love and joy come to you,
And to you our wassail, too,
And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year,
And God send you a Happy New Year.


I broke the cardinal rule of Christmas Eve, namely: Thou Shalt Not Approach the Mall. Actually the mall wasn't terrible, either getting there or getting a parking place, and when we ran in to pick up older son's reserved Super Mario 64 DS purchased with Chanukah gift money from my uncle, there weren't even crowds. But it was terrible driving from the mall to Bagel City to meet Heather, who brought me a lovely Dornick Designs necklace as a holiday present (I'd never seen Dornick's jewelry before, it is so much just my kind of thing!) and put up with my kids yakking nonstop through the meal. And then, after buying some bagels for breakfast -- if we were at my in-laws, we'd be having Swedish holiday pastry with marzipan, so I figured Paul should have good bagels at least -- we were caught in a nightmare of road closings and the recent Montrose Road rerouting, and the Shell station I went out of my way to reach to buy gas was closed, and it took me more than an hour to get gas and get home. Paul got there before I did, his office having closed early!

I got lots of cards over the past week, including cards from many online friends as well as relatives. Plus I got snow globes on Facebook -- thanks, all of you! We had a pretty quiet evening, having baked potatoes stuffed with chili for dinner and watching the Patrick Stewart A Christmas Carol for TNT. I love Stewart in this role and there are a lot of other actors (Laura Fraser, Dominic West) whom I like in supporting roles. But this put us in a rebellious mood so then we watched The Nightmare Before Christmas!

A pair of caroling penguins at Home Depot.

A pair of penguin decorations at a local Tara Thai restaurant...

...and a penguin on a yard decoration at Lowe's.

This cartoony inflatable nativity scene, also at Lowe's, cracks me up so I am including it.

Here is a selection of hardware store artificial trees.

And here, from Seneca Creek State Park's winter light display, is Santa.

Merry Christmas! And for those like me who celebrate different winter holidays, enjoy whatever you may be doing!