Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween 2008!

Happy Halloween! I hope your costume is a good one, all the spirits and teenagers leave you alone, and you don't get any stupid health foods in the bottom of your trick-or-treat bag.

Yesterday, in honor of the holiday, NPR had a wonderful story about 2nd graders who learned a portion of the "Three Witches" poem from MacBeth. They especially enjoyed the poem because you just HAVE to use a scary voice when you read it out loud. It was incredibly cute.

Macbeth, Act IV, Scene I [Round about the cauldron go]

William Shakespeare
The three witches, casting a spell

Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison’d entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights hast thirty one
Swelter’d venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg, and howlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
Witches’ mummy, maw and gulf
Of the ravin’d salt-sea shark,
Root of hemlock digg’d i’ the dark,
Liver of blaspheming Jew,
Gall of goat, and slips of yew
Sliver’d in the moon’s eclipse,
Nose of Turk, and Tartar’s lips,
Finger of birth-strangled babe
Ditch-deliver’d by a drab,
Make the gruel thick and slab:
Add thereto a tiger’s chaudron,
For the ingredients of our cauldron.

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Happiness is...

Going out to Indian buffet lunch with a big family group. As the nan and samosas are being passed back and forth, to have Elder Niece decide that we need a more stimulating (to her) topic of conversation. What is one of Elder Nieces top favorite topics? Books! She directed each person to tell our top three favorite books (or series) of all time. We complained that this was too hard since there are so many good ones out there, but she would have none of it.

She picked Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, and The Lord of the Rings. I almost lost my composure (which would have horrified her) I was so delighted. I don't know if those are my favorites of all time, but they are certainly up there among my top picks. This must be what it is like for an evangelical Christian to hear their niece or nephew start spouting the bible. Of course, this virtually guarantees that my own children will be obsessed with sports or fishing or something of the sort.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Hindu Sweets

Recently, in my class, we did our annual study of comparative religion. Since the state changed the curriculum a few years ago, we no longer have much time to devote to the five major religions (chosen by number of followers). Therefore, we are forced to spend just one day on each.

We find that even this small amount of time gives kids enough perspective to better understand the history we are trying to teach. We also find that by teaching religions up front, we get less complaining (but that's another blog post) when the subject comes up in our history lessons.

Anyhow, we were about half way through our week of religions when we came to our study of Hinduism. A significant part of our lesson is a short video featuring young people talking about their religious beliefs and traditions. We saw the festival of Divali in particular including all the lights and a table full of sweets. After the video was over, we discussed it as a group.

Someone mentioned the sweets and I said "Oh yes, Indian sweets are wonderful, and I'll have to visit the Indian bakery and bring some in sometime." Now sitting in the front row of this class is a little girl who had not yet spoken. In fact, she has not done much speaking since the school year began. However, when she heard me say this, she raised her hand and said in her sweet Indian accent "Mrs. X! Mrs. X! I am a Hindu! I have sweets!"

It turns out that she is very excited to share some of her culture with her classmates in the form of goodies. It also turns out that her mom is a very talented cook. We then discussed a time when she might be allowed to bring in such goodies. Not to be outdone, three of the Jewish students (there are several) also piped up to talk about religiously-themed sweets.

In very short order, we had organized a class "culture" day where anyone can bring a food that is somehow tied to their heritage or religion. Nothing too perishable of course (cookies? yes beef dumplings? not so much). I'm lucky that my school doesn't have a "no home-cooked food" rule. I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Voting Grumpiness

All this has happened before, and it seems that now it's all happening again. The subject is voting. Once before, when I lived in Oregon, I had to watch my beloved right to vote at the polls go away. The last couple of elections before I moved away, we all got ballots in the mail. It felt like filling out a customer service questionnaire instead of participating in the democratic process. The state saved a little money (it really wasn't that much) and gave up a fair portion of voter anonymity and security. In addition, citizens are robbed of that one remaining civic activity that tied them to their community. Can you tell I don't approve of vote-by-mail?

Therefore, I was incredibly grumpy when a ballot measure similar to the Oregon law passed (I voted against it, but with no luck) in Washington state. Fortunately, the office of elections was unable (for several years) to ready itself for mail elections, and so we were saved. If they are to be believed, the election of 2008 will be the last polling place election in Washington State. Ever after, we will all have those awful mail-in ballots. Aw well, I thought to myself, at least we get to vote properly one more time. I was particularly happy that we would get to do things the traditional way for this, an historic presidential election.

Imagine my surprise, and displeasure, when I received a mail-in ballot at my house. I checked my voter status online, and found that I was listed as a permanent absentee. This was news to me since I'd never filled out the paperwork or checked the box for absentee. Calling the office of elections, I discovered the problem. Since all people will be mail-in soon, the elections people have decided to force some people to make the switch early. How did I have the fortune of being one of their victims? I had the temerity to change my name.

In fact, any kind of change to your voter information automatically tripped this switch. The helpful elections person on the phone informed me that there was no way to put me back on the rolls of poll voters. If I really wanted, I was welcome to drive down to my polling place with my ballot and fill it out in a little booth. Of course, I still can't put it into the machine because they expect mine to come in an envelope with my signature. Gah! They are missing the point! I might as well go into my garage, get out a cardboard box, and put in head in it while I mark my ballot.

It makes me sad to think that I won't get to take my children to vote with me the way my parents took me. I clearly remember the excitement of going to the public school with my mom, getting a look at the all important ballot, and squeezing into the little booth with her as she made her choices. It was the first time I ever thought about what it meant to be a citizen. Sometimes symbolic actions are important to remind people that they are part of something greater than themselves. So I'll mark my ballot, I'll sign my name, and I'll put the thing in the post box with my fingers crossed. However, I can't help feeling like we've lost something here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Smacking vs. Shacking

We all know that there's "just something about" those dratted red-staters, but what is it exactly? Religion? Maybe. Economic level? Perhaps. Educational level? It seems likely. Well now there is a whole new way to look at this divide. Slate has this absolutely fascinating article about the correlation between parenting styles and political affiliation. Bottom line? If you approve of kid-smacking you're much more likely to be a Republican. If, on the other hand, you prefer "nurturing" parenting, you're probably a Democrat. The other little piece of the socio-political puzzle? The more years people shack up before marriage, the more likely they are to be Democrats. I don't know about you, but this all holds true in my house.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Go Powell!

Big excitement in the news today as Colin Powell comes out in favor of Obama. Some say it's about race, others that it's retaliation for the way the Bush administration treated Powell when he was serving. There's only one person who knows for sure, and he's not saying. What struck me was not so much the endorsement, but one of the statements he made at the same time:

"Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, "He's a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

This is something I've been thinking about for quite some time, and he managed to sum it up in such a clear and precise way. I do believe we are engaging in a double standard when we say that it is not okay to paint all Christians, Jews, or Buddhists with the same brush, but we can and should do this with Muslims. Either we have religious tolerance in the United States or we do not. What is one of the best ways to ensure this essential tolerance? A true separation of church and state.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Nieces Go to the Symphony

I was so proud the other night that I might have burst. Some of our usual symphony crowd were not around for the first performance of the season, and they had kindly offered their season tickets to anyone we wanted to bring. Therefore, with much anxiety and trepidation, we offered to let both nieces attend the concert. Now Elder Niece (I can't really call them big and small anymore since they are both quite big at this point) has been to the symphony before. She behaved well, other people did not, and it was a mixed experience over all. Even so, Elder niece LOVED the music and has wanted to go back ever since.

Younger Niece, like so many younger siblings, really wants to prove that she can be just as mature and grown up as her sister. She also does not want to miss out on anything that might possibly be described as fun. We warned her and warned her that the symphony was hard going and that, in the words of Grandma, "lots of adults have trouble sitting still that long." Younger Niece remained undaunted and assured everyone that she would be as still and quiet as a statue.

Thus it was that we found ourselves in front of Benaroya Hall. Elder Niece was very elegant in slacks and a gold satin blouse, while Younger Niece was quite lovely in a red gown with black velvet ribbons. The usher was very kind as he welcomed them to the show, and then we were off to find our seats. A few people in the row behind us gave looks of utter disgust to see children at the symphony, but luckily, I don't think the nieces noticed. We were careful to arrange children and gown-ups so as to avoid conflict between siblings. Then the music began. I waited with baited breath. Would they misbehave? Would they talk or snuffle or tap their feet?

The results were quite impressive. With one or two reminders about tiny things (crinkling the program for example) they were in great shape. I would say that the behaved better than many of the other people who were sitting around us. At one point, I was just about to lean over and ask Younger Niece to be quiet, and then I realized that it was actually the middle-aged woman behind her making the noise! After the music ended, and people were getting up to go, the man behind us leaned down to compliment Younger Niece on her excellent behavior: "You did better than I did!" This made her smile at the floor, and mutter "thank you."

On the whole, I was very pleased with this symphony experience. I won't be buying the nieces season tickets, but I will feel comfortable taking them along a couple times a year. This also gives me the confidence to take them to other kinds of performances too. Given that Elder Niece likes "the clashing banging music" best, I'm wondering what she will review something like the Phantom of the Opera or Swan Lake. As they get older, it's fascinating to watch them develop a sense of self and of personal taste about all kinds of different things. One day they're telling you about their favorite stuffed animal, and then suddenly they're explaining why Mozart is better than Tchaikovsky. Amazing.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Poll Numbers

Yesterday I wrote about how annoyed I was by the Democratic stance on gay rights. That said, I am still absolutely planning to vote against McCain. My big goal in this election is to see McCain, and all those fun Republican policies, go down in flames (McCain already knows about that!). Therefore, I am quite happy to see the numbers on this website. The headline on one of these polling organizations is that McCain "continues to slide." Some pollsters put him as much as 14 points behind Obama. The number of uncommitted voters also gets smaller with every passing day. Fingers crossed! Fingers crossed!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Grave Disappointment

There are so many parts of the presidential election that I should be blogging. The one-liners from Palin alone would make for daily entries. However, I find myself too anxious about things to want to write much about it. My heart has been in my throat for months now, and I don't think that will get any better until after the election is over. The stakes are SO high this round (I didn't think they could be higher than last time, but they are) and jury still out on who will win. Nevertheless, I had to comment on one thing.

During the vice-presidential debate, I was very happy to see how well Joe Biden presented himself. He was knowledgeable, down to earth, and even likable. In that sense, the debate went well for our side. Still, one statement Biden made really hurt my impression of him, of Obama, and of the Democratic Party platform.

When asked about the issue of gay marriage, Biden dissembled. He said (to paraphrase) that both he and Obama support all the rights of a civil union, but that "marriage" was a "religious" matter and he/they would not use that word. When I got married, I had to get a MARRIAGE license from the government. I had to get an approved official (it certainly didn't have to be a priest/rabbi/etc) to make my MARRIAGE official. Afterwards, I was able to order a copy of my official MARRIAGE certificate from the state government. Saying that marriage is a purely religious event is not only patently ridiculous, but it also steals the significance of secular marriages like my own. In short, I am pissed six ways to Sunday! What a massive cop out.

In another era, liberals took a stand (sometimes an unpopular one) about racial inequality, and it was, without a doubt, the right thing to do. I see this situation in much the same light, but this time Democrats are trying to straddle the proverbial fence. Gay rights is THE civil rights issue of our era, and it amazes me that the supposedly liberal party is not standing up and making a strong statement in support. I am so disappointed with my party. Once again, I am reminded of the fact that my vote in November will be one against McCain but not really for Obama.

Friday, October 10, 2008


This is the time of year when many Jewish people try to consider their faults and make progress toward amending them. What an excellent idea. I, like so many others, have plenty of character flaws both large and small, and I know they've caused me to make plenty of mistakes in the past year. Being quick to anger and slow to forgive is certainly one of my most difficult challenges. For this reason, this un-attributed quote printed in a magazine struck me as wise:

Anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Costa Rica Part 7

The plan was for us to do our transfer from Manuel Antonio to Monteverde by roads, and I was actually fairly happy not to be waiting for another plane. Right on time, our driver picked us up at our condo, and we went off in search of our last stop. The drive was fairly uneventful for the first 9/10th of the trip, and then we turned off the main road and began to climb the mountain. Some people say that the trip up the mountain is a free back massage. Others warn that large-breasted women should wear a sports bra. Neither really does justice to the amount of bouncing and jouncing you do on that trip.

Think of the worst logging road you've ever been down. Now add about 50% more and larger potholes. Now stick that road to the side of a sheer cliff. Now add a lot of twists and turns and a fair amount of on-coming traffic (busses, heavy equipment, SUV's, and cattle). I'm not sure what it is in our biology that causes us to look green, but I was definitely there for much of the trip. After what seemed like hours (but was probably 90 minutes) we reached the top. I was very surprised by the size of the town. This place is many treacherous miles from anywhere, but it is a decent-sized little city perched in the saddle of two mountains.

Feeling more than a little green, we finally reached the town at the top of the mountain. It's quite a surprise to drive for miles upon miles through the most rural areas, and then arrive at a fairly large town. Monteverde is, by no means, a city. However, it does have quite a few businesses and homes clustered together around a central road. It's even more striking when you remember that everything in the town has to be trucked all the way up that long and terrible road.

Surprise, surprise, the town closest to the famous cloud forest is often lost in the mist. When we got to Monteverde Lodge, it was blanketed in white, and you could hardly make out the surrounding buildings or the ravine down below. The lodge itself was very well kept and clean, but it was something right out of the 1970s with dark wood paneling, avocado paint, and even a full sized wallpaper mural in the dining room. Speaking of the dining room, the food was beyond terrible. By far, this was the toughest part of the trip in terms of food. I'm sure the need to truck everything from far away didn't help, but there were just some very bad ideas residing on that menu.

Fortunately, there were also several good things about Monteverde. The Rainario or World of Frogs was beautiful and fascinating with dozens of different living frogs on display. We managed to see the two types of poison dart frogs we hadn't managed to see in the wild. We also got to visit the butterfly (and other bug) museum where I held a tarantula just to prove to myself that I could. The various butterfly houses were most impressive, and I have to confess that my impression of butterflies has changed since we went. I've always kind of written them off as being the symbol of silly people, but now I have a more fair and balanced appreciation for them.

Another wonderful animal we saw in Monte Verde was the horse. No, no, not wild horses running loose in the jungle. These were the domesticated kind with saddles and bridles. In fact, we went on M's very first horse ride ever. It was also my first time back on a horse since the painful loss of mine as part of my move to Washington. I think it went extremely well.

My horse, El Raton, was tall, thin, and did not like mud. We got along great because I let him pick his way around the mud puddles and run up all the hills. I remembered why I liked riding in the first place. M's horse, Mambo, was enormous in all dimensions. M had a harder time with his horse because Mambo did not like to move period. This meant that a stable hand had to ride along behind Mambo and yell at him to make him move. M got in a few decent canters, and I was very impressed that he did not seem inclined to fall off. We definitely need to do more horse riding in the future.

Last, but definitely not least, we went hiking in the cloud forest. Up so high, the climate is quite different from the jungles of the lowlands. Most of the reptiles are missing, and so are many of the bugs. However, the animals that love to live up that high are the birds. It seemed like there were birds and bird calls almost everywhere we went. The high point of our hiking was seeing the rare and beautiful Quetzal. We were certainly excited about this, but our guide was absolutely thrilled. We spent some time running up and down trails as he heard the call and tried to find her.

Finally, our last day came. We had another harrowing, sick-making trip down the mountain. We were driven back to the major city of San Jose, and back to that original hotel, Grana Del Oro. We had another fancy, French-inspired dinner, and then we were getting up early to take a short trip to the airport. I don't think either one of us was quite ready to go Our trip to Costa Rica was certainly one for our personal record books, and not just because it was our honeymoon. Usually, I'm not a fan of returning to places we've already been, but this is one place to which I would absolutely go back.

Monday, October 06, 2008

A Momentous and Happy Event

Great big fuzzy congratulations to our dear friends R and J who were married over the weekend. The wedding was incredible, but nothing could match the couple themselves. They are two people who completely deserve each other in the best way possible. May they be entirely happy for at least 10,000 years.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Signs of the Times

Yesterday, I happened to stop at a big box store to pick up a few items. While there I noticed a few interesting little signs that the times they are a changing. My first stop was the toothpaste aisle (yes, I know, my life is just full of drama and excitement) and I noticed a "special offer" on an end cap. It offered a two pack of Crass brand toothpaste for $3.79. I checked the price on a single tube and was surprised to see $2.99 for 8 ounces. Going back to the two packs, I noticed (in tiny print) a disclaimer. The second tube, in spite of being packaged in a regular-sized box, was "travel size" at 1 ounce. Even worse, the "regular" size tube was only 6 ounces! Therefore, you could have 8 ounces at $2.99 or 7 ounces at $3.79! What a cheat!

Thoroughly incensed, I moved on to the paper products. Now many people are saying that things like paper towels and napkins need to go anyway because they are a waste of money and resources. For the time being I can't seem to break my addiction. Pondering a box of facial tissue, I noticed another sneaky pricing crime. 1 box of tissues cost $1.09 while three boxes of exactly the same type, brand, and count were $4.00. Of course producers are banking on people thinking that buying in bulk saves money. Unfortunately, it probably works quite a lot of the time.

Last, but not least, when I got up to the check-out counter, I found my final sign of the times. There was a new screen on the debit card reader. Between entering the pin and approving the amount was a new message "do you want to put the entire amount on one card?" Because you don't have enough credit left on either card, so you need to use two? If these are symbols of our current situation, we may be in serious trouble.