Monday, June 20, 2005

Father's Day

If my family was bad about Mother's Day (and we were) we were even worse about Father's Day. I don't remember ever even discussing why we weren't celebrating it, let alone actually doing anything for it.

But really, that's too bad. After all, there's never anything wrong with going out to brunch. Or dinner. Or even both.

I have heard that while Mother's Day is the biggest day of the year for florists and card sellers, Father's Day is the biggest for collect calls.

That's ridiculous. It's so ridiculous I hope it's a joke, even if Garrison Keillor is passing it along as if it were true.

We took Mark to the river for a picnic. There was a dead fish lying in the river kinda close to where we were picnicking, but we managed to ignore that and eat our chicken and carrot sticks and grape tomatoes and rolls. The kids waded out into the water. Nick got in up to his waist, and for once there was actually a towel in the back of the car for him to sit on.

Then there were presents and cake and ice cream when we got home. Small gifts, but fun ones. A book (yes, I bought my husband a kids' book), a mix CD (Mariah made it), a cup Nick glazed in school and a "hand" from Nick: he traced his hand on construction paper five times, and wrote promises on each one. "I will set the table." "I will pack my lunch." "I will feed the cat." "I will wash the car." "I will help cut the grass." He delivered on three of them today.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

day lilies

It seems too early for day lilies. I remember them as an August flower, blooming when everything else is too hot to care. Maybe that's a New England memory. In any event, they're out now in our backyard, our imported day liles. They sat in a bucket for almost two years, I think, when we first moved here, before we got them in the ground, and they have repaid that neglect with a glorious display, all red-orange and vibrant.

These days pretty much all I'm good for is dead-heading day lilies. I pull off the dead blooms the next day and throw them out in the hope that this will save some energy for newer blooms. It's a mindless and satisfying task.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

My Harry Potter post

I have always liked the Harry Potter books. Jack Zipes thinks they're sexist and derivative (among other things) and other critics have found other problems with them. Bah, I say!

Well, not really. Yes, I agree with Zipes and other feminist critics that Rowling replicates traditional gender roles. Hermione is only a side-kick, other than McGonagall the women professors are ludicrous or stereotyped, other than Hermione the girls are pretty lame as well. (I have high hopes for Ginny Weasley in the next book, though...) Mrs. Weasley stays home and worries about the kids while Mr. Weasley goes to work--same as the Dursleys, in fact. (Hmm, anyone else notice the near-rhyme of those names?)

And, yes, they have become a marketing bonanza, so that kids who've never even picked up a book know who the characters are and what products associated with them you can buy. Right now, in fact.

But there I was at one in the morning still reading--that must count for something! Rowling does a few things brilliantly, I think. One is, she has pulled together elements of a variety of popular genres: the school story, the mystery, the education of a wizard (think Wizard of Earthsea for that one), the cosmic fight between good and evil (Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia), the orphan story (Harry is Cinderella, down to the abuse by step-family), and rolled them all into one. Yes, that's derivative, as Zipes says, but it's also innovative, in that I don't think we've seen quite this combination of genres before. And they are genres that do have something to tell us, that continue to nourish--so why not keep at them?

The books are also full of incident. This annoys people who don't read them--it's relatively easy to distill the plot of any one novel down to its bare elements (Harry confronts Voldemort or his minion(s) and wins, with help from Dumbledore and/or his friends), but that doesn't really convey the texture of the books. Mark, watching the first movie, noted that the "plot" didn't really get going until the last half hour or so, and he was right, but all those incidents along the way (the troll in the bathroom, Hagrid's dragon, etc.) are part of the pleasure of the novel. The novels are also very funny in places (much funnier than the two movies from the series that I've seen); the Weasley twins account for a lot of the comic relief, but so does Dumbledore, who seems to be based on Gandalf--a seemingly doddering fool who blows smoke rings (Gandalf) or has a sweet tooth (Dumbledore) but turns out to be a nearly-omniscient figure of immense power and divine wisdom.

And while we know the basic outlines of each novel, each one also manages a surprise. "Good" people turn out to be "bad" (Scabbers, Ginny, Mad-Eye Moody) and "bad" people turn out to be good (Snape, over and over again, but also Sirius Black). And then good guys make mistakes, like Cornelius Fudge or Harry or even Dumbledore. The concepts of good and evil are becoming more complex in these novels--unlike in, say, The Chronicles of Narnia, where other than one relatively predictable "traitor" who makes good in each book, good and evil are clear and easy to discern. In this Rowling is doing something closer to what Pullman does in His Dark Materials: calling into question the categories, but suggesting (as is typical in children's fantasy) that nonetheless children have almost an instinctive ability to sort them out.

So I'm interested to read the next one, though I doubt I'll stand in line for it. Then again, maybe I will: we'll be in England then, and it might be fun to see how Harry Potter mania works on the other side of the pond.

Monday, June 13, 2005

pot, meet kettle

So it's pretty clear where my obsessive reader came from. I decided I should re-read the Harry Potter books, both because I'll be teaching #1 (again) this summer, and because I wanted to be prepared for the new one when it arrives. While I was away, Nick stayed up until 2 a.m. one night reading #4. He just forgot to stop, he said, and no one came in to tell him to do so. Sigh.

So what was I doing at 1 a.m. Saturday?


I have now, however, finished re-reading all five, so am ready for the next.

(What do I think of them? Oh, that's another subject...)

Saturday, June 11, 2005

back again

not surprisingly, it was easier to find a few minutes to blog while I was on vacation than now that I'm back into whatever our summer "routine" is. The kids still have school but there's no more homework, and Mariah only has half days next week for exams, so things are definitely winding down. Naturally, therefore, Nick has come down with strep throat. After he burst into tears at the dinner table Mark mentioned to me that a note had come home last week announcing that the kids had been exposed to scarlet fever. Despite the scary-sounding name and my memories of Mary in the Little House books going blind as a side-effect of it, scarlet fever is really just strep with a rash--and Mary's blindness actually had other causes. Nick, however, just has regular old strep and a bunch of bug bites (which raised our anxiety last night, since they seemed potentially rash-like). So now he has taken tylenol and amoxicillin and wants to go out and ride his bike.

I'm trying not to be boring here but frankly the heat and the humidity in Richmond, after the lovely weather in the Bay Area, have me a little slow and stupid. (more than usual, that is) So maybe no more blogging until I reacclimate?

Monday, June 06, 2005


Are you supposed to be on vacation while you're "helping" with a new baby? That's about how it's been here...sleep late, wake up to fresh latte, lounge around, play with the baby, play with the toddler, read a little.

So I'm pretty boring right now. Brownies just came out of the oven and bread dough is rising for flatbread, and that's about the extent of my accomplishments.

Oh, I did finish reading Rebecca, which I've been meaning to read for years. That and the Michel Faber neo-Victorian novel, The Crimson Petal and the White. Rebecca channels Jane Eyre in interesting ways--much younger, plain, working girl marries older, more experienced, wealthy man with a past. I read an interesting article by Rey Chow arguing that both put the man's story at the center, as in the end it is all about him and his status that determines the heroine's story. I think maybe, though less in the case of Jane Eyre than Rebecca. The creepy thing about Rebecca, of course, is that the dowdy girl falls even more in love with her husband when she discovers that he's murdered his first wife, that's he's never loved her. It is almost as if the murder restores his past to her, makes him the innocent with no history that he also wants her to be. (Don't we have to suspect she isn't, really, as well? What else is she doing as a companion to a wealthy American woman in Monte Carlo?)

Faber's book explores the seamy underbelly of Victorian London, detailing the rise into gentility of a whore named Sugar. She, too, needs to be defined through a man, though she's far more open and self-aware about this than her real Victorian--or even modernist--counterparts. What I find intriguing about The Crimson Petal and the White is the way that the more genteel she becomes, the more maternal--she discovers her inner "mother," as it were, when she has the money and the opportunity to do so.

Both Rebecca and Jane Eyre project maternity for their heroines, though only Jane Eyre delivers (sorry, no pun intended). But parenthood is so secondary to the marital relationship--what's important for Jane is that she gives Rochester an heir, for example--that it's hard to imagine either of them as a mother, or motherhood as in any way transformative for them. Du Maurier had children, Brontë¨did not, so it's not a case of personal experience driving the narratives so much, I think, as cultural expectations: marriage was expected to produce children, but children were not expected to transform either the marriage or the mother.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

HUMAN EVENTS ONLINE :: Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries

I'm proud to say I routinely teach one of these books, and also a few on the "honorable mention" (funny concept) list. I also routinely teach at least one book on the same folks' list of ten books every student should read in college, so I may be an equal-opportunity offender.

I do understand that there are harmful ideas in the world, and we need to debate them. But ad hominem attacks on the authors (Engels was a "limousine leftist," Betty Friedan was "for a time even the lover of a young Communist physicist working on atomic bomb projects in Berkeley’s radiation lab with J. Robert Oppenheimer”--guilt by association, anyone?) are not effective argument. And this list frankly just seems silly, though I do wonder whether any of my students will complain about having to read books that appear on it. Or whether their parents will.

Friday, June 03, 2005

reading to toddlers

It's been a while since I spent any quality time reading to a toddler. (Or a pre-schooler. I forget which category three-year-olds fall into, actually.) Anyway. It's been, in fact, almost five years since I spent any significant time reading to a three-year-old. So I had forgotten that the best thing you can do for a three-year-old, in the reading arena, is read the same book over and over. And over. And over.

Luckily my nephew has excellent taste. So we've been spending some time sitting on the couch reading the Little Bear books, by Else Holmelund Minarik (illustrations by Maurice Sendak).

I love these books.

I love them because Mother Bear tells her son he can't have the things he wishes for, but still gives him what he needs. I love them because Grandmother Bear tells Little Bear a story about his mother. I love them because Grandfather Bear tells Little Bear a story about a goblin. And I love them because Little Bear makes his own birthday soup.

So I don't mind at all reading them over and over again. But check with me again at the end of the week.

how they get here

Ever since this blog began (August 2003, if you're counting) I have gotten hits from people doing google searches for the "highest IQ ever recorded." This is completely bizarre to me.

Here's the entry in total that brings up those hits:

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

The Highest IQ Ever Recorded
Can I just say that this is not what I was talking about when I was talking about the Lord's Prayer? Sheesh! (And thanks to Diane at Nobody Knows Anything for pointing it out...) The Highest IQ Ever Recorded

I can't help but imagine that the folks who find that are disappointed. And now they can find it twice!

Why is this a source of such fascination?

Thursday, June 02, 2005

remote blogging

So, do I look different? I always feel different in California, as if somehow the light and the climate conspire to change me as well. Same old me, though, just in a different environment. I'm visiting the best houseguests ever, and am hoping that I can do them some justice in return. So far my duties have involved basic aunt-stuff: holding the baby, walking with his big brother so he can be nursed, reading books to his big brother, that sort of thing. At some point I may cook something, but so far I have just been waited on hand and foot, even though they're the new parents at the moment. It's a rough life.