Mary: December 2006 Archives

They're here


That was fast--I ordered them day before yesterday. A boxed set of the first 6 Harry Potter books, in paperback, on sale at for $32.09 plus a few bucks for standard shipping. God, what awful cover art.

I won't start reading them for a while; I'm currently reading "Saving Fish from Drowning" by Amy Tan. It isn't what I'd call a "page-turner"--more of a 472-page rant on the stupidity and cluelessness of American tourists in Asia, thinly disguised as a novel, sometimes humorous--as when she's making fun of the Americans; Okay, Point Taken--sometimes grim, as when she's describing the horrors inflicted on Burmese tribes by the military government. I have no idea how to punctuate that sentence; please insert punctuation of your choice.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light
From now on,
our troubles will be out of sight

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Make the Yule-tide gay,
From now on,
our troubles will be miles away.

Here we are as in olden days,
Happy golden days of yore.
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more.

Through the years
We all will be together,
If the Fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.
And have yourself A merry little Christmas now.

Lyrics: Ralph Blane
Music: Hugh Martin
Published in1943. Sung by Judy Garland to Margaret O'Brien.

Science Lab


This has been another issue of Friday Dog Blogging.

Tears in my eyes


This is the most beautiful thing I've read in a long time.

Late on the bandwagon again

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First, I apologize for any incoherence in what follows. Dog’s been sick. You’ve heard that expression “Sick as a dog?” Oh yeah. I’ve had about 3 hours of sleep in the past two nights.

I feel as though I’m always late to climb onto any new bandwagon that comes along. This is particularly true where entertainment is concerned. I never heard of Firefly until it was off the air, I missed the first season of House as well as the first season of Lost, I’ve only recently started watching Battlestar Galactica and am still trying to sort out the characters, and I’ve yet to see a single episode of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, or any spin-off thereof.

The latest bandwagon onto which I’m about to belatedly climb is the Harry Potter bandwagon. I guess I could say I was once on the bandwagon but fell off: I saw the first two movies when they came out—2001 and 2002 was it? Too much hype to miss those. Mike was still living at home then and we went together. I enjoyed them, but after he left for college I rarely went to the movies alone and I didn’t see the third or fourth movies. I bought Mike the first book in the series shortly after it came out in 1997, but he never read it. I’m not sure why; he read quite a lot back then. It isn’t that he didn’t like fantasy or magic, on the contrary those were his favorite genres. Too much hype can be off-putting for Mike, or he may have decided, based on what he was hearing from classmates, that the whole Harry Potter thing was “a girl thing”. That would have killed it dead, for sure.

Anyway, I didn’t keep up with the story, the movies, the buzz. I forgot who was who. Then a couple of weeks ago, while channel surfing I landed on “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” and got sucked in. I was frustrated, though, because I realized I’d missed a movie and didn’t, for example, know who Sirius Black was. So, following my usual pattern when I have missed or, in this case, fallen off a bandwagon, I used a couple of gift certificates—the certificates I earn by using an credit card—and ordered a boxed set of the four movies on DVDs. I had a Harry Potter movie marathon this past weekend.

After the holidays, I plan to use a couple more gift certificates (I use that credit card a lot) to buy all six of the Harry Potter books. I plan to read them one after the other in a Harry Potter reading marathon, because that’s the way I like to do these things. I like thick books; the thicker the better. I like to sink into a book universe and never come up for air.

I’m wondering, though, if I’ll enjoy the books, having seen the movies first. I don’t know what to expect. Mike told me his roommate is a Harry Potter fan and I asked him if Joe had mentioned whether or not the movies are true to the books. All he said was that the movies “leave stuff out”. Well sure. The books are long. But do the movies leave out good stuff because there just isn’t time to fit it all in, or are these books like those by Peter Benchley, which make good movies after screenwriters cut out all the crap? (Jaws.)

Also, are there significant differences in the characters? I’ll say up front that if the physical description of Harry Potter differs significantly from that of Daniel Radcliffe, well, fuck that. That goes for the other characters as well, including my favorite: Professor Severus Snape. But here again I worry—is he as good a character in the books, or is Alan Rickman really responsible for making Snape the ambiguous character I can’t get enough of?

My concerns aren’t without justification. During the summer after 2nd grade I read “The Wizard of Oz” nine times, after which my parents (finally, sheesh) started buying me other books in the series. Before long I had read them all. And in case you don’t already know, there’s a major difference between TWoO, the book, and TWoO, the movie. In the books, Oz is real. When Dorothy taps her heels together and says “There’s no place like home,” she summersaults onto the front lawn at Auntie Em’s place. In later books she’s able to travel back and forth between Kansas and Oz at will.

Hollywood must never have heard of sequels when the WoO movie was made. Otherwise, how to explain their having ended it the way they did? How could they possibly do a sequel? Another dream? Another bump on the head? I quickly decided that the books were The Truth and the movie was A Lie. This was my introduction to “The book is better than the movie.” It mattered to me. I was an unhappy kid, at home and at school. I wanted Oz to be real because I wanted to live there; Oz was my escape.

There are probably a lot of kids out there today who are as unhappy as I was and are self-medicating with Harry Potter books. I’m a big fan of this childhood survival strategy.

"Christmas Letter"


Hey all, still on earth.

This planet is a mishmash of religions; it's the underlying cause of most of the wars here. The most prevalent religion in the country I'm living in is Christianity, which is admirable as religions go, since the prophet taught peace and forgiveness. (Tell that to some of his followers. Still, there are far worse religions in the galaxy, as we know too well! Bleg, is there still a statue of you on planet Snork? Haha!)

The Christian "holy days" are a mishmash too. In an attempt to win converts the religion co-opted pagan feast days and assigned Christian significance to them. About ten earth days from now, Christians will celebrate the birth of Jesus, the prophet who was martyred some 2000 earth years ago. His birthday celebration was scheduled to correspond roughly with winter solstice in the northern hemisphere. Go figure.

I participate in the festivities, of course. This year I have garlands with red ribbon and lights around the garage door and the front door, a wreath on the front door, and a couple of small deer on the lawn. Not real deer: deer-shaped wire frames covered with small lights. In the house I have an artificial tree decorated with small lights and ribbons and artificial fruits and berries. Most of the symbols--the tree, evergreen branches over the doors, holly and mistletoe and what-have-you--can be traced back to winter solstice celebrations, but the Christians don't care. (Wait till you hear about Easter and the rabbits and eggs!)

Another tradition associated with the holiday is the "Christmas Letter" which is a missive sent out to one's friends and relatives, letting them know what has transpired over the past year. So, in keeping with my decision to participate fully while assigned here, I am attaching this "Christmas Letter" of my own...

Merry Christmas one and all! Mike and I are still here on the third planet from Sol, in Virginia, which is in the mid-Atlantic region of North America. I live and work in Alexandria; Mike lives in Charlottesville most of the time, since he is attending the university there. He'll be graduating in May, and will then spend a few years at a law school; he has yet to decide which one.

That's it folks! Don't drink too much snorgle, and if you do, stay out of wormholes! Haha!

Five a.m. wake-up calls


ugh--this has been a tiring trip. They all are. It's amazing how much better I feel, though, when the last session has ended on the final day of meetings. I'm flying home tomorrow.

I'm in Albuquerque again. As work trips go, coming to Albuquerque isn't bad. By far my favorite work trips are to the UK, but they're in a separate category. I don't go there alone--I can't, not without risking a violation of ITAR-- the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. If I get a TAA, a Technical Assistance Agreement, I can go alone, but by the time that comes through continental drift will have brought the US close enough to the UK for me to shout across the water. In the meantime I can only go in the company of someone from the US govmint. Anyway, because I'm never alone over there, I always go out to eat with the guys I'm with, and we go to pubs together and drink beer. I like John Smith's Extra Smooth--it's my favorite beer, and I only drink it when I'm in the UK.

Albuquerque is a different story. I usually come here alone to attend meetings. I was lucky this time--I planned the trip early enough to get a room at my favorite hotel. By that I mean my favorite hotel that offers rooms at government rates and is right across from the airport. The only downside to staying here is the restaurant downstairs. When I'm tired and I don't feel like going out I eat here, but it's expensive and it's impossible to get a light meal. Last night I wanted a light supper--a bowl of soup, maybe, and a glass of wine. No Can Do here. I ordered trout, the lightest-sounding thing on the menu, and was served a huge portion, breaded and fried and covered with cream sauce and buttered crumbs of something, piled on top of a mountain of rice pilaf on a large platter. I ended up spending more than my total per diem on dinner. Tonight I drove to Appleby's and spent less than half, in spite of ordering an expensive margarita.

One nice thing about last night's dinner--there were only a few people in the restaurant and the waiter hung out by my table and talked to me. I usually hate eating alone in restaurants--except at Kyoto where I sit at the sushi bar and talk to Hiro, the sushi chef--so it was nice to have someone to talk to.

Tomorrow I'll get home just after dark. Mike got home shortly after I left on Monday so it'll be great to see him, and the dog will go insane with happiness at the sight of me, as always.

Mommy Blogs

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The blogroll on the right is a poor indication of the blogs I actually read on a daily basis. Almost all the blogs listed are political, while my actual blog-reading is as varied as my entries. A blogroll more indicative of my interests would include a couple of "mommy blogs", among other things.

I can't remember when or how I first came across a mommy blog. It probably came up as an extraneous hit when I googled something. It had to have been a fluke, because mommy blogs form their own universe on the internet: they aren't listed on the blogrolls of other blogs, and they only link to each other. Or so it seems.

Nor can I remember how I came across "The Big Yellow House," since renamed "notes from the trenches" . This blog is now one of my daily reads. Chris, the author, has seven children, six boys and a girl, whom she home-schools, although not for any ideological or religious reason. She and her husband are renovating a huge old house in Connecticut, doing all of the work themselves. Chris writes well and she's funny. Moreover, she has the world's cutest kids. Seriously.

Chris is living proof that we are not doomed to become our parents. As the only child of a mentally ill mother, she decided to have lots of kids and give them all Norman Rockwell childhoods. I'd say she's succeeding; she would probably laugh and say "riiiiiiight", or "oh, fuck yeah."

I read Chris's blog for a long time before I found another mommy blog that I liked as much. I browsed her blogroll and the blogrolls of those blogs, dozens of them, but it's a rare treat to find one that pulls me in. The other mommy blog I'd add to my list of daily reads right now is She Laughs at the Days. Carrien, who is expecting her third child, graduated from college and disappointed her professors by abandoning a career as a professional pianist in favor of motherhood. Carrien's blog isn't as consistently funny as Chris's, but it's thoughtful and well-written.

I live an alternate life vicariously through these mommy blogs. This is my life in a parallel universe, one in which I didn't marry an emotionally handicapped man (if you're new to my blog, check the Asperger's Syndrome archive)--sorry, to avoid giving offense I have to say "a neurologically atypical man." So atypical that he couldn't tolerate a child in his life and broke down following the birth of our son, never to completely drag himself out of the pit of rage he fell into upon realizing he would have to share the planet with this small person. I'm not imagining this. On the day he killed himself, in the last conversation we had, he regretted not having spent more time with his son, saying "I guess I just couldn't stand not being the center of the universe anymore." (I suggested they go to the driving range the following day, like that would fix everything. Riiiiight.)

But anyway, I can't blame him for the direction my life took, because by the time I met my husband I'd already educated myself out of the possibility of marrying a normal guy and becoming a stay-at-home mom. Normal guys don't date mathematicians. I mean, the set of guys who wouldn't immediately cross a woman with a PhD. in math off the list is vanishingly small.

And while Chris and Carrien both have college degrees, I haven't met a woman who went through five years of grad school knowing she intended to stay home and raise a family when she finished. I've heard of lawyers giving up careers to raise kids, but, sorry, law school can't compare. It only takes three years, and only the first year is really hard, supposedly--the third year is a joke, or so I've heard. I've never heard of a woman MD giving up a medical practice to stay home; nor of a tenured professor giving up her job at a university.

I did almost that very thing. I was working as a physicist at a nuclear weapons lab when I decided I couldn't stand it anymore. I couldn't stand having my son in daycare; I cried all day. My husband's emotional breakdown made the situation infinitely harder. I tried in vain to make him happy and at the same time shield our son from his father's resentment and rage. It was indescribably stressful. I couldn't go on; one of us had to stay sane. So I quit my job, against the strongly-worded advice of a female colleague who said it would be devastating to my career. We sold our house and moved so my husband could ride his bike to the university where he taught. Not that he was ever happy again.

And my colleague had been right; it was devastating to my career. When my son started school I was able to get back into my profession only by going in through the servants' entrance: I was never rehired as a government employee, but rather as a government contractor.

Government contractors are treated like dirt. We are the day-laborers of the professional class. We never have more than two years' job security and are subject to the chaos of government spending (imagine having a five-year-old run your household finances). When funding on a project gets cut, contractors are the first to get the ax. When a project fails contractors are blamed; when a project succeeds government managers take the credit.

So anyway, I read the mommy blogs and feel like a voyeur when I do so, like someone standing outside a house looking through the window at a party I would love to have been invited to. I've left a couple of comments on Chris's blog but for the most part I don't comment because I don't feel that I belong there. The mommy bloggers are younger than me, they have multiple kids, pre-school-age kids; they don't work outside the home. But I'd like to be able to say to these mommys: I'm just like you; my single child is my universe, my strength, my rising and setting sun.

July 2012

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