Monday, November 22, 2010

Snow Bug!

6:00 PM, and it's still coming down outside!  The biggest snow fall since 2008!  Very exciting, indeed.  Prayers of safety for all motorists out there just trying to get home — especially Jason!

Sadie had some fun in the flakes!

The Difference Between Being Born and Bred in Southern California and Growing Up in South Dakota

Is never more apparent than when hubby (So. Dak.) and I (So. Cal.) wake up to a morning like this:

At 7:30 AM:

I am all that is delighted and giddy; he is all that is uninterested or mildly annoyed.  I know this isn't a lot of snow, but the delicate flakes are still silently falling and I've hope that we'll get a little accumulation.  Whoo-hoo!

Oh the weather outside's delightful
But Jason is just so spiteful
If we have to drive we'll take it slow
So let it snow!  Let it snow!  Let it snow!

Update at 9:45 AM:

It continues to fall!  I'm tickled to death; Jason is, I am sure, not as enthusiastic.

Update at 11:30 AM:

 And so the back door doesn't feel left out:

 All of this snow, of course, leads to this:

With this:

Bonfire of the Humanities: Rescuing the Classics in an Impoverished Age
And this:

Twinings Earl Grey Tea, Tea Bags, 50-Count Boxes (Pack of 6)
Happy Snow Day!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Justine's Christmas Music Showcase: Week 3

And now, a brand-new instrumental offering from BC's own Spencer Capier:

Album: Christmas Instrumental
Artist: Spencer Capier
Label: Independent, 2010

I really don't know anything about music, which makes me shy in writing about an album from a guy who know a whole heck of a lot about it and uses that knowledge so very well.  But, if my halting, yet appreciative, words can convince only one person to make the leap of faith to buy this exceptional collection, then exposing my ignorance in so blatant a fashion will be well worth it.

I have only a digital copy of this album — having had urgent need of it about three weeks ago, and no way to possess it immediately other than downloading the whole shebang from iTunes (sorry, FTL).  That means, of course, I have no listing of the instruments used on this album (though even my untrained ears can detect a host of the usual suspects — violin, bouzouki, and mandolin), nor whether any of the songs on it are original Capier compositions or obscure seasonal hymns pulled and polished for our pleasure.  I can really only tell you what I like about it, which is actually quite a lot, really.

So, with that lengthy disclaimer out of the way, welcome to Christmas Instrumental!  Isn't the cover art gorgeous?  I love the clever guitar trees and the wee perched bird.  I have a weakness for cheerful bright red, too.  It is very pleasing to the eye.  And, the album's inside matches its outside.

The opening track is "We Three Kings."  This upbeat rendition of an often melancholy classic sets the tone for the rest of the album — imaginative and complex and tinged with eclectic charm.  Flowing next is "In Dulci Jubilo," a song I was not familiar with, but one of my favorites from Christmas Instrumental.  I love the way it builds on joyful note after joyful note, with a nice rollicking beat in the background.

Here is an interesting thing about the collection of songs on this album:  You so rarely can sing along.  Christmas songs are ubiquitous in the minds of North Americans.  They are such a part of our cultural DNA, that any instrumental Christmas album runs the risk of being overshadowed by a boisterous outbreak of spontaneous singing on the part of those who really ought to be listening to the music.  Spencer has skirted this issue by choosing many songs that give a distinct wintry feel without being well-known to the larger, sing-along public.  This allows the gift of the music itself to really shine through.

A slower favorite on this album is "Not One Sparrow is Forgotten."  Spencer abandons the sprightly Eastern eclat for a moment to offer a sweet, sad Celtic-flavored song.  There is a calm center to this album, with a series of songs that evoke so easily wintry nights and firesides and long conversations with old friends interrupted by comfortable silences and trips into the kitchen to refill your mug of mulled wine or hot buttered rum.  "In the Bleak Midwinter" is finding a lot of acclaim, I've noticed — and rightly so.  Such a lovely, and yet again rather sad, song — one whose music matches well the poem on which it was based.      

I must confess that I do love when the album turns toward offering more well-known and frisky songs near the end (though I can rarely resist the temptation to add my most-unwelcomed voice to the mix).  "Ding-Dong Merrily on High" is fun — even without a group of Welsh miners singing along.  Probably my very favorite on this album, though, is "Here We Come a Wassailing."  It's got some sort of sound to it — darn it Justine! you ought to have payed better attention in music classes at Auggie! — I dunno . . . polka?  Is it blasphemous to even suggest polka?  Well, whatever it is, it rocks! 

"Auld Lang Syne" tops off this excellent offering, appropriately nostalgic and bluesy.  You won't want it to end; but, it will.  Lucky you, you smart fellow!  You bought the album and now you can start over again from track one!  This is an album that is definitely going into the "decorating the tree" rotation, and will also be on "driving around in the freezing rain while stuck in Christmas traffic" duty and — hopefully — will eventually make it to the aforementioned and highly desirable "hanging out with friends in front of a fire enjoying wintry drinks" round-up.  Thank you, Spencer, for giving us this beautiful Christmas present!  Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Best Health Food Drink Ever!

Diet Coke Plus — Diet Coke with Vitamins AND Minerals!
Who was the marketing genius who dreamed up this idea?
(I know sarcasm is hard to convey through the written word; and, to tell you the truth, I'm not sure if I meant the above in a sarcastic way or not.)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Gilbert Keith Would LOVE This!

G.K. Chesterton prophesied about blogging (or, at least, an easily accessible form of written media for the populace), you know, as quoted in an earlier post on Trivialities:

"I am in favour of one man one house, one man one field; nay I have even advanced the paradox of one man one wife. But I am almost tempted to add the more ideal fancy of one man one magazine ... to say that every citizen ought to have a weekly paper of this sort to splash about in ... this kind of scrap book to keep him quiet."

Mr. Chesterton would have adored blogging.  Would have blogged and been fantastic at it, I am certain.  And, I think that he would also have loved this amazing new technological break-through I've only just discovered (though it's been around for a while, I can imagine).  It is Blog Talk Radio.  Have you heard of it?

I just found out about it via the blog of a very caustic and acidic (therefore, often very funny) lady down in Arizona named Nikki Richards.  She writes According to Nikki, and there she slaughters every sacred cow on the altar of her own frothy irascibility.  Some of my own hapless beasts have been led to sacrifice; I do not hold that against Nikki.  Nor do I hold against her her lapses into semi-coherence, her utter disregard for grammar and punctuation, and her issues with those troublesome homophones.  I just picture this feisty lady of the Southwest pounding furiously on her keyboard, with no care for our stringent rules of written language, simply because she has something to say — and it makes me smile.  Gilbert Keith would have given her his blessing.

Anyway, Nikki apparently co-hosts with her long-time (and, I can only imagine, long-suffering) friend Namaste (My Voice on the Wings of Change) an infrequently-aired radio talk show through this Blog Talk Radio thing.  How cool is that?  I have yet to catch up with the archived episodes, but the next scheduled one of American Polichics is on Thursday, November 18 at 6 PM EST.  Of course, that would be the exact time I have to drive the after-school carpool.  I guess I'll be stealth-archive-girl for a while.

If G.K. — who never shied away from conversation, and was the epitome of "disagreeing without being disagreeable" long before Michael Medved came into being — liked the idea of one man one magazine, how much more would he have liked two chicks one talk show?  Talk on, ladies — talk on!

Monday, November 15, 2010

As Ithers See Us

Sadie describes her mom:

"A woman of discontentment who is never satisfied with her daughter who happens to be awesome."

As Robert Burns once mused:

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!

Thanks, Power!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Justine's Christmas Music Showcase: Week 2

OK, so here is another album that was brand new last year, but that I never got around to reviewing.  The group is Canadian; the CD came from Tukwila, though.

Album:  How Many Kings: Songs for Christmas
Artists:  Downhere
Label:  Centricity Music, 2009

It was the cover art that caught my eye.  I liked the cheerful red combined with the interesting crown motif.  Downhere, eh?  Never heard of them.  How Many Kings . . . hmmm.  So, I flipped it over in the store and read with approval the song list.  "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" — good.  "Angels from the Realms of Glory" — interesting.  "Good King Wenceslas" — ah, nice one.  "Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella" — ooh, I've always wanted to hear that one.  And a bunch of new ones.  Sounds promising, I thought.  I'll try to find out some more information.

So, I Googled them.  Found out they were Canadian.  Went to my best resource on all things musical and Canadian: Spencer Capier.  He said he'd heard of them, but did not know too much about their Christmas album.  So, I went to my next best resource on all things musical and Canadian:  Carolyn Arends.  She not only knew of them, she knew the history of the lead singer, and a bit about their style of music.  Guess who is now my best resource on all things musical and Canadian?  Anyway, she also didn't know much about their just-released Christmas album, but said to let her know if I decided to buy it and what I thought of it. 

I decided to buy it.

And I let her know what I thought about it.  I took the album out just the other day, to see if what I thought about it had changed over the past year, and — no; it pretty much reads the same to me this year as last.  So, this is what I told Carolyn in aught-nine (in better thought-out words than I originally used):

The new songs walk the line of banality and inspirational and fall over onto the banal side far too often.  The "covers" of traditional songs, however, are remarkable. 

Based upon that succinct review, Carolyn did not seem too impressed.  I felt bad, as though I had done Downhere a disfavor.  Because, I was in no way trying to say that How Many Kings was not a worthwhile album or addition to any Christmas collection.  This year, I am going to clarify and finesse and write out better what I really think, to redeem myself in my own view as a thoughtful listener.

How Many Kings is a pop-rock collection by the Christian band Downhere.  The eponymous track opens the album as a musically rich and vocally powerful original.  While the melody is pleasing to the ears, and the voices convey emotion and conviction, I cannot find the lyric all that absorbing.  Our church sang it during worship around Christmastime last year.  Why?  I have no idea. 

So, I'll share the not-so-great first:  The originals on this album just leave me pretty cold.  I like a pretty different kind of lyric, I guess, and stringing a bunch of nice-sounding, vaguely-rhyming sentiments together just won't cut it for me.  "How Many Kings" is probably the best of the original offerings.  "Christmas in Our Hearts" is probably the worst.  Jason disagrees and thinks it is catchy. To each his own.

But, much like the little girl with the curl right in the middle of her forehead, when Downhere is good, they are very, very good.  And they are very, very good with pulling out some traditional songs and giving them a fresh spin.  "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" has a nice, funky beat and some terrific harmonies.  "Angels From the Realms of Glory" has just the right amount of soaring, swelling tone about it.  "Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella" is surely a treat of a little known French carol.  But, the crowning glory of How Many Kings is "Good King Wenceslas."  Oh my, this is a great song.  The lead singer has a fantastic Freddy Mercury twist and the ragtime beat is sublime.  Love it!

What sounds like a very mixed bag when you pick it apart individually is actually a well-put together and pleasing album in its entirety.  Even the more lyrically mundane songs work well in context because they are, as Jason said, catchy and the guys' voices are all very nice.  This is more of a nice "decorating the Christmas tree" album as opposed to a "driving around in the freezing rain and Christmas traffic and singing along" album, and it is certainly not a "weep uncontrollably in light of the amazing gift of God until complete strangers feel comfortable asking you if everything is OK" album (but so few are that).  It moves along and is sprightly enough to motivate you to tackle hanging the umpteenth box of silver ball ornaments.  Merry Christmas! 

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Those Damnable French

The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis (Plus)O, pity all ye the Anglophile who constantly finds reasons to admire the French!

My dear friend, Flicka, loves to quote from Alan Jacobs's The Narnian that recounts a young Jack Lewis declaring to his father, "I have a prejudice against the French."  Asked why,the four-year-old coolly replied, "If I knew why, it wouldn't be a prejudice."

The comic genius, Jerry Lewis

Why do we hate the French almost reflexively?  Well, the Brits have their own reasons, I am sure, but for Americans it is most likely because we have the idea that they hate us.  The only actual French person I've ever had any sort of extended, friendly acquaintance with was a lovely young lady named Audrey who was from Provence.  She assured me that the only French people who hate Americans are the Parisians and they hate everyone, including Provençals.  (She then went on to insist that Jerry Lewis was a comic genius, which I found almost too awesome for words.)

"The French are a smallish, monkey-looking bunch and not dressed any better, on average, than the citizens of Baltimore. True, you can sit outside in Paris and drink little cups of coffee, but why this is more stylish than sitting inside and drinking large glasses of whisky, I don't know."

—P. J. O'Rourke

It's fun to be anti-French.  No matter what your opinion on the Iraq War, you probably got a kick out of some of the barbs thrown at France's non-involvement with the coalition forces.  Calling them "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" was a snort-inducing one.  Or how about General Schwartzkopf's assertion that "going to war without France is like going deer hunting without your accordion"?  Conan O'Brien quipped, "You know why the French don't want to bomb Saddam Hussein? Because he hates America, he loves mistresses and wears a beret. He is French, people!"  And Jay Leno threw in, "I don't know why people are surprised that France won't help us get Saddam out of Iraq. After all, France wouldn't help us get Hitler out of France either."  It's all in good fun, right François?  Hey, pass those Freedom Fries, will ya? (h/t)

But what to do, what to do when the French just start being a little too exceptional, a little too marvelous, a little too fascinating?  I've been wringing my hands and gnashing my teeth these past few weeks, because the stellar side of French culture has been revealed to me time and again.  And it hurts a little to confess that I have found oodles of delight and no little awe in the Gallic world even in realms I would not expect.

Manet's Olympia

I have long maintained that the best painters are, indeed, French.  Above me as I type is a large print of Manet's Olympia, every detail of her languorous repose a masterstroke.  And while Edouard is my favorite, so many other French painters also top my list: Ingres, Delacroix, Watteau, Fragonard, Caillebotte, Corot,  Degas and even, occasionally, Toulouse-Lautrec, Cézanne, and Renoir.


Despite their modern association with socialism and sloth, two of the geniuses of classic liberal economics are also, alas, French.  Frédéric Bastiat and Jean-Baptiste Say are giants -- the former for his ability to translate economic theory into a fun, easily digested parable about The Law; the latter for his economic theorizing that led to, among other things, Say's Law (which my husband keeps trying to explain to me; but frankly, I'd rather have another drink and simply trust that Say is all they ahem say).  Not to mention that the whole term "laissez-faire" capitalism comes from an apocryphal story of 17th century French merchants and industrialists who, upon being asked by the Finance Minister what the government could do to help them, resoundingly answered, "Laissez-nous faire!"

Man on WireIn science, architecture, cuisine, fashion, the French have never failed to make their marks.  Stinkin' French even manage to write well, occasionally  the bastards.  Not that they can hold a candle to England's trove of literary lights . . . but still, their track record beats America's  so far.  As I said, I have been sadly reminded of the lovely side of France lately by several back-to-back encounters.  The first was the documentary film, Man on Wire.

The Red Balloon (Released by Janus Films, in association with the (The Criterion Collection)I so did not want to see this movie.  I pulled such a moue when it arrived from Netflix.  Dolefully, I moaned to Jason, "I do not want to see some fey Frenchie skedaddle between the Twin Towers.  Bleh."  I was wrong so very, very wrong.  This is a fabulous experience.  I defy anyone not to fall in love with Philippe Petit and his puckish face and exuberant attitude.  His quest to string a wire between the World Trade Center towers in New York City and dance upon the air between them is a testament to not only the indomitable spirit of man, but to a particularly French sense of whimsy.  You can only imagine that this is a man who grew up watching that utterly charming short film The Red Balloon.  To me, Monsieur Petit's insatiable yearning to conquer the towers has a spiritual kinship with the portrayal of Little Pascal's protection of and friendship with a sentient balloon.  Both are expressions of a particularly fragile and ephemeral sort of beauty and a playful homage to impracticality that is so foreign to we practical Americans, yet is strangely attractive, too.  Make of that what you will.

Passionate Minds: Emilie du Chatelet, Voltaire, and the Great Love Affair of the EnlightenmentThe second delightful, yet consternating, French intrusion into my life was reading Passionate Minds by David Bodanis.  I was pretty sure I would like the story (and with a subtitle that promised "sword fights, book burnings, assorted kings, seditious verse, and the birth of the modern world," how could I not?), but I was not anticipating or prepared to really like the main characters, scientist Emilie du Châtelet and the poet Voltaire.  Unfortunately, those crafty Frenchies won not only my sympathy, but my approbation, despite their combined numerous adulterous and even moderately incestuous cavortings.  There is an advantage to being French if you're going to act like a mink:  no Englishman or woman could get away with such goings on, both in their own eras or from an historical distance.  But with the French, you just wave a disparaging hand and move on.


What was so captivating about Emilie and Voltaire's love story was that it was about so much more than sex.  It was about friendship and companionship and respect.  It was about two people from vastly different backgrounds meeting with minds as well as bodies to the benefit of the life's work of both.  In Mr. Bodanis's telling, the story more than delivers on its palpitations-inducing subtitled promises; but, the fast pacing does not detract from the point of the title.  In its entirety, it is about passionate minds, but much like Philippe Petit it is also about indomitable spirits.  From the standpoint of Emilie du Châtelet, the life she was able to carve out for herself in the midst of a stunted environment for an intelligent woman is the heart of the story.  From Voltaire's standpoint, the tide of societal change which he helped to front is the heart.  And the two hearts beat as one.


Though sex is not the point of the story, it does help to bring it to its end.  When no longer sexually involved with Voltaire, Emilie took up with a much younger lover and became pregnant at the age of forty-two.  Pregnancy was fraught with danger at any time during the 18th century, but it was even more so when the mother was older.  Emilie, having a premonition about her death that seems more the end result of logic rather than a supernatural revelation, worked in haste to finish her life's masterwork, a translation and illumination of Newton's Principia, entitled, Principes mathématiques de la philosophie naturelle de Newton, traduits du latin par Mme du Châtelet.  She finished the manuscript on August 30, 1749; she gave birth on September 3; she died on September 10.  Bodanis poignantly ends the main text of the book with this paragraph:

Voltaire was bereft: "I've lost the half of myself — a soul for which mine was made."  Months later, after Voltaire had abandoned Cirey [the country house they had shared] and moved back to Paris, Longchamp [his assistant] would find him wandering at night in the apartments he'd shared with Emilie, plaintively calling her name in the dark.  (p. 281)

Darn French making me cry with their romantic ways!

That same Flicka mentioned earlier confessed to me today that, deep down in the unexamined recesses of her soul, she fears that she, too, may have an affinity for the French.  In fact, she let it slip a while back that she would like to go to Paris someday.  And, I am beginning to suspect that I may have to go with her if only to visit the Musée d'Orsay and give some major props to my man Edouard.  It would even be worth it to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous Parisian snootiness to enjoy a glass of red with my BFF while overlooking the Seine.  That will be a moment of eating crow, indeed; which, considering what sort of cooking goes on in France, will probably be covered in some sort of heavy cream sauce.


Thursday, November 04, 2010

Justine's Christmas Music Showcase: Week One

November is here!  Hurrah!  I try every year to wait until October is in the can to pull out my Christmas music.  I do not always succeed.  For instance, last Saturday, Sadie caught me in my guilty secret while we were driving to do some shopping.  The Clumsy Lovers disc in the car CD player switched, and all of a sudden, Amy Grant started singing "Tennessee Christmas."  "Oh, Mom," Sadie reprimanded, "You've already broken out the Christmas music?"  "Don't judge me," I rebuked, and turned the volume up.

And why ought I to be ashamed, anyway?  Christmas music is GREAT!

So, to indulge myself (and possibly scare off any of the few remaining visitors to Trivialities -- lol!), I have decided to showcase a favorite Christmas album a week from now until Christmas.  So, without further ado, here is a gem that was released last year:

Album: Christmastide
Artist:   Bob Bennett
Label:   Independent, 2009

OK, I guess that everybody but me knew about the incomparable artistry of Bob Bennett years ago.  I plead both youth and heathenism for my ignorance of his 1980's awesomeness.  This, of course, means that nobody will be surprised to learn that his Christmas album released last year is a masterpiece from start to finish.  But, I'm going to tell you about it, anyway.

So, I didn't get the chance to review this on my blog last year, because I ordered it from Feed the Lake.  Feed the Lake is the premium source for the best in Christian artistry, but it is out of Canada.  That means that even to pseudo-Canada (i.e., Washington), orders take their time crossing the border.  These border crossings take a while, I surmise, because there is a Tim Horton's always on the Canadian side of any U.S./Canadian portal, and the temptation to stop for a Maple-Glazed and a cup of coffee whenever you approach is too great to overcome.  I am convinced that Bob Bennett's CD was munching pastries and slurping joe for a good week before making it into the States.  Always worth it to support Feed the Lake; and any amount of time is worth waiting for this glorious album.   

What to mention first -- the original songs, the arrangements, or the voice?  The Voice.  Truly Mr. Bennett has one of the most pleasant singing voices in the realm of popular music.  I love how it can be warm and deep and mellow -- and then lilt effortlessly upward to hit the higher notes.  The way he phrases a lyric is exceptional, too.  In a song like "Jesus Christ the Apple Tree," for instance, he has a way of taking the repeating lyric and infusing it with a slightly different interpretation with each recitation: here it is full of pathos; there it is full of barely-suppressed joy.  Fascinating.

It is so hard to find new Christmas music that is actually worth listening to.  Of course, that is because most new Christmas songs are not written by Bob Bennett.  Christmastide opens with an original offering: "God With Us."  A beautiful expression of Emmanuel is found in these words:

Make wide the way and straight the path/God with Us
He comes in mercy, not in wrath/God with Us
Behold an ancient mystery
God stepping into history
Hail the incarnate deity
God with Us
. . .
God with Us
Because we fell
Yeshua Hamashiach
God with Us
It was always meant to be
God with Us
With you, with me

If that doesn't make you feel warm and Christmasy all over, then you must be a Scrooge.  If so, the song "Christmas for Cynics" might be right up your alley.  Even more rare than good new Christmas music is hilarious new Christmas music.   For a season fraught with all sorts of set-ups for humor, the music tends to take only the sentimental or sacramental routes.  Even if you're a Christmas nut like me, you'll laugh along with "Christmas for Cynics" -- I promise.

I think my favorite of the original songs is "It May Not Have Been December."  Here, at last, is an answer to all those know-it-alls who try to rob the magic of Christmas by their insistence that Jesus was probably born in the spring, that the star of Bethlehem was probably a planet, that this whole holiday is a trumped-up paean to pagan winter solstice festivities.  Pooh to you!  Bob Bennett peels back the layers of protest and explanations to show just why we celebrate the Birth and how little it really has to do with the auxiliary things.  It is simply lovely.

It is always a treat to experience a musically delicious offering of little-known Christmas songs on an album.  Mr. Bennett has pulled out some beauties.  The aforementioned "Jesus Christ the Apple Tree" is ethereal and haunting in its simplicity.  And "Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day" delivers readily on all the joy promised by its title. 

There are some more traditional songs presented simply as instrumentals, and they serve as a nice bridge between the other songs.  "Come Thou Not Expected Bossa" is a particularly unique and festive one.

I am trying to model my effusions after my friend, Flicka, who writes better reviews than I because she is able to resist the temptation to write about every single song.  I could write lovingly about each of these tracks on Christmastide, but I think I shall be mysteriously reticent about the rest of the offerings.  I can assure you, though, that should you purchase this album for your holiday collection, you will not be disappointed.  Merry Christmas! 

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Fire From the Heartland: Can You Feel the Sisterhood?

I have never been one for sisterhood or feminism or girlie time.  On balance, I tend to like men as a sex far more than women.  I have a handful of dear, very dear, girlfriends, but a gathering such as a women's retreat with my church or some sort of girls-only webring would most likely bore me to death.  I have never seen The View, nor have I watched an episode of Oprah since I was in high school.  Once, when I was having a conversation with my stepmom, she mentioned something about, "Well, how do you think being a woman affected your position within the company?"  I stared at her a moment and said, "I really never think about things in terms of my 'being a woman.'  I'm just who I am." 

I am currently reading a fascinating book called Passionate Minds about the poet and playwright, Voltaire, and his love affair with a math genius and general 18th century French hottie named Emilie du Châtelet.  In this book, Emilie is constantly drawn to male companions, primarily because most women are far too silly for her.  Now, I am no genius -- math or otherwise -- but I can surely relate to her quandary.  Fortunately for me and other women of the non-silly variety, we can find our sort of people far more easily in this digital age.  Were Emilie alive today, she, too, would have had the opportunity to meet up with such amazing women as Flicka and Arielle and Joelle and the vermonster, etc (one or more of whom might very well be a math genius -- and, if you happen to be, ladies, please do not make me feel too stupid).

And I write all of the above merely as a prelude to this revelation:  I have found the sisterhood.  And it is conservative.  And it is awesome!

I really wanted to watch Fire From the Heartland for the first time with my best friend; Flicka, dear, I'm sorry, I just couldn't wait until my next trip to the Great Lakes region.  We'll watch it together soon and have a good bawl fest.  Last night, though, hubby was still at work, Sadie was napping after a traumatic encounter with a flu shot, so I lit a fire and then some candles, curled up on the couch under my favorite raggedy green blanket (the nice throw that Flicka got for us is decorously adorning the fancy couch upstairs), and watched the DVD.  It was a lovely time.

I think I have always been a conservative at heart.  When I was younger, I was a pretty active libertarian.  Then, as I was consecutively saved and became more religious, I started to re-think some of my more radical views.  My big 180° was on abortion.  The first time I ever voted Republican was in 2000.  From that point on, I began to identify more and more as a Republican until finally, in 2008, I just gave in an embraced the Elephant.  But, like many conservatives, I have never been fully enchanted with Republicanism.  Always, always there was a wishy-washy here and a squishy-squashy there to cloud my political complacence.         

Sarah Palin was a nice burst of joy in 2008 -- JOY!  My dad, who grows ever more conservative along with his daughter, said just the other day that Sarah Palin's heart is just obviously and overflowingly joyful -- that that is her most attractive characteristic and, ultimately, the thing that draws people to her.  After the elections of 2008, I wanted to crawl into a hole for the next four years.  But, Sarah Palin didn't.  So, she didn't.  As the attacks against her not only did not abate but seemed to grow fiercer -- more persistent, more desperate, more ludicrous -- she just seemed to grow stronger, more positive, more confident, more grounded.  And, rising with her on this tide of patriotism, concern, strength, confidence, and joy were the women portrayed in Fire From the Heartland.

Now, it didn't just start with Sarah P.  No.  She may have breathed a fresh life into it on the national stage, but conservative women seem to have always been the backbone of America.  You just know that if Caroline Ingalls were alive today, she'd be packing up boxed lunches for her four girls and Charles and driving the wagon to the nearest Tea Party rally.  Fire From the Heartland showcases conservative ladies of the past (Clare Booth Luce, Margaret Thatcher, Phyllis Schlafly), present (Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Michele Bachmann, et al.), and future (I'm thinking here of the pic of Sonnie Johnson's adorable daughter that flashed on the screen, along with the Tea Party activists who, I think, are just getting started).  In fact, Rep. Bachmann probably had the most time on screen and a story so absolutely compelling and uplifting, it's hard to believe that any person with even a vestige of decency within them could throw mud at her.  Probably, my favorite interviewee was Sonnie Johnson, of whom I had never previously heard, but from whom I expect to hear plenty in the future.  She has such a raw honesty about her, combined with a most charming sense of wry, self-effacing humor.  I loved the part when she said that she went and voted for Al Gore in 2000 (and -- wow! -- I cannot believe how thin Al Gore was in that clip they had of him!) and then went home and actually read about his positions and then realized that she did not agree with any of them -- such a delightful recounting of conservative awakening.

All in all, Fire From the Heartland is a warm and fuzzy movie.  If you are a conservative woman -- or a man who likes conservative women (hubba! hubba!) -- you will surely like this movie.  If you are a liberal woman or man, I like to think that this might improve your opinion of conservative ladies.  I don't know; I'll have to try to coax my most liberal friend, Holly, to watch it with me and give me her opinion.  I would have liked to have seen a wider pool of interviews.  Maybe some business leaders and teachers thrown in to mix it up.  Of course, had they scored an interview with Sarah Palin, that would have been nice.  A little more Ann Coulter screen time with a lot more snark would have been a bonus (her columns are one of my semi-guilty pleasures).  Had they found this super-funny, feisty lady, it would have been a fiery addition.  These quibbles aside, I can hardly wait to view it again with my BFF.  Oh, I'm coming, Flicka -- make sure you have popcorn on hand!

Monday, November 01, 2010

On the Election's Eve in Washington State: Starve the Beast!

An explanatory and apologetic note:  Politics, being neither adorable nor, unfortunately, trivial, is not a subject I broach often, enthusiastically, or with great specificity here at Adorable Trivialities.  In my ideal world, politics would not even be on my radar.  However, as I am a person with a brain and a soul and a patriotic heart, I cannot help but be troubled by this entirely wrong-headed direction my country's been traveling; nor can I help but desire that it get some ways back on track.  To this end, I've sort of let myself go off on the sitch here in WA.  And, I apologize as well in advance for the stronger than normal language (believe me, though, its targets are well deserving of any and all vitriol).

This is the most exciting election in WA since I moved here in 2000!  Not only do we have a GREAT candidate on the ballot for the U.S. Senate (giving us, at last, a real chance to break the shackles that have held us to the dim-witted Patty Murray lo these many years), we also have a slew of fascinating and important initiatives on which to vote.  Since almost every county in WA went to mail-in only ballots after 2008, I have already filled in mine and dropped it off at the King County ballot box (as Jason does not trust the mail -- or, really, the ballot box system for that matter, but we have no other choice).

The Senate:  Dino Rossi is, of course, my guy for the Senate.  See him above to the left?  Isn't he adorable?  I have voted for him every time he's appeared on my ballot: in 2004, when the governor's race was stolen from him; in 2008, when dispirited Republicans stayed home (not I, of course, but many, I think) and feckless Independents turned to the dark side; and now in 2010, when he is running against The-Queen-of-Spreading-About-Government-Largesse-That-We've-Borrowed-Mostly-from-China-But-Let's-Not-Mention-That-Too-Loudly-You-Know Sen. Murray.  My only qualm with electing Dino (please God!) is that he is too smart and reasonable and competent to be wasted in the Senate.  We seem to have this silly notion that senators are these august statesmen whose wisdom and expertise in law-making have elevated them to such an elite position.  In reality, "senator" is a job with little necessary qualifications in the realms of knowledge and common sense.  A pulse and a drool cup and someone to wheel you into the Capitol are about all you really need.  Dino Rossi will be (please God!) one of the smartest guys running around Capitol Hill.  It will be a boon for this great and glorious state to elect him to serve, and we should be grateful that he's willing to go through Dem mud-slinging hell for our sakes.  Thanks, Dino!

Initiative 1098:  Of all the initiatives concocted in smug, voters-are-greedy-and-stupid-ha-ha-ha hell, this one takes the cake.  I do not know whether to be more repulsed by Bill "I Gots Mine, Suckas" Gates, Sr.'s wretchedly condescending and misleading ads or the blatant attempts at class warfare in the fish tacos commercial.  Class warfare needs to stop.  It is unproductive, destructive and clearly breaks God's commandment against covetousness.  I-1098 is a diabolical attempt by mostly D.C. union leaders and a few lame rich people to impose a de facto income tax on Washington State -- one of the few blessedly non-income taxed states left in our great union.  Of course, the Yes bastards will tell you it's only going to be on households making more than $400K annually.  Oh sure, soak the rich!  There's a plan for the future!  Good one, you idiots!  This is deliberately misleading, because the state legislature can extend such an initiative to everyone by a simple majority after 2 years (unless 1053 passes -- see below).  BUT, even if the income tax were guaranteed never to extend down to the middle class and lower, this initiative is utterly disgusting because it is class warfare of the most nakedly execrable sort.  And, of course, it's all for the children.  You know what?  The last thing public schools need is more money.  Starve the beast!    

Initiatives 1100 and 1105:  I call these joint initiatives the "Gary Initiatives" after my dearest friend's husband, whose incredulous ejaculation upon hearing that liquor stores in WA are owned and run by the state was, "How is that even legal???"  Well, I-1100 and I-1105 are working hard to get the state out of the liquor business and into private hands.  Which is as it should be.  I voted "yes" on both.  They read as almost identical, with, perhaps, I-1100's going a little further in privatization and de-regulation.  Oh, the teeth gnashing and garment rending from the No people!  Don't you know that with liquor in private retail outlets teens will be drinking tequila every night?  Don't you know that children will die?  Aaaaaaaaaaaaaa! (That was my representation of a dramatic, over-the-top wail.)  This silly argument earned an excellent riposte from the Yes folks:  Are you saying that beer and wine in the hands of teens is safer, somehow?  Because, now beer and wine are in the same retail outlets that will, upon the passing of these initiatives, be selling hard liquor.  There is a false dichotomy here:  no alcohol in the hands of teenagers (surely the most stupid people on earth) is safe.  The answer to teen drinking is not a nanny state liquor store.  And, on a personal note, when I want to make a Bicardi rum cake or a Black Russian cake or Bananas Foster or Cherries Jubilee, I do not want to have to factor in whether the guv'ment store is open for business.

(I love actual, individual, flesh-and-blood children, by the way.  But, the bigger government gets and the more in-my-face it wants to be, the more I hate the generic group of "children," because they are the go-to excuse for every new tax or new regulation that the statists dream up.  Leave what's "best for the children" to their parents, you arrogant bastards.) 

Initiative 1053:  The No commercials for this initiative are laughable and ludicrous!  Ooooh -- 1053 is supported by Tim Eyman and Big Oil and Big Banks -- oooooh -- isn't that scary? -- ooooh -- don't we hate those nasty hobbitses, my precious?  Of course, what the No people do not ever want you to know is that 1053 is simply another attempt to limit the power of Olympia (that's our state capital, by the way) to raise taxes willy-nilly on us po' regular working folk.  Similar initiatives to force all proposed tax hikes to be voted on first by either the people or 2/3 of the state legislature have passed thrice before.  After the two year expiration date, Olympia has never failed gleefully to raise taxes.  Olympia -- especially under Governor Troll Woman -- simply lives for raising taxes.  Democrats never seem to have any more creative ideas for running government than "let's raise taxes and spend more money."  It is important to subdue this proclivity because of poisonous possibilities like 1098 -- see above.  So, when the Association of Washington Businesses comes out in favor of 1053, and some of those businesses may be in the fields of finance or petroleum products, 1053 is, all of a sudden, the tool of Big Banks and Big Oil.  As David Boze so excellently pointed out on his radio show last week, considering nearly identical initiatives have passed three times prior, couldn't you really say that the people most in favor of putting the brakes on Olympia's tax-and-spending sprees are Big Voters?  Another big Yes vote from me. Starve the beast!

Initiative 1082:  Open up the purchasing of Workers' Comp. insurance to private companies?  Heck yeah!

Initiative 1107:  Repeal the imposed tax on bottled water, candy and other snack products?  Sure!  Starve the beast!

Referendum 52:  Issue bonds to fund retro-fitting schools to be more energy efficient and environmentally friendly?  No way, Jose!  If it's so important, work within your budget to fund it without borrowing.  Starve the beast! 

A little known, but very insightful, American folk singer once wrote:

So, here's my advice for the folks in D.C. [or Olympia]
Please pause a moment to reflect
Just how big a boon our great nation could see
From a dose of benev'lent neglect. 

Do less for people and they'll instinctively do more for themselves.  We're not pets.  Cut taxes, cut spending, and leave people alone and you will marvel at how well they figure out their own lives.  And, for the truly helpless among us -- who are certainly far fewer in number than the sob sisters would have you believe -- there is charity and church and community.  I hope that, all across this country, my fellow Americans will vote tomorrow to starve the beast!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

You Wouldn't Want To Live in Any Era But This One

Do you dream of Empire-waisted gowns and tall, imperious men named Darcy?  Is the fancy dinner party you yearn for one of grapes and wine and oysters eaten while reclining leisurely on your lectus triclinaris?  Do your penchants for blue eyeshadow and unbridled power make you envy Cleopatra?  Would you give your eyeteeth for a chance to act on the stage of Shakespeare's Globe? 

If you, like me, feel often out of step with this current age and moon about sighingly for an era not your own, then I have the perfect antidote for you:  The You Wouldn't Want To series from Scholastic.  Read them and remember how darn lucky we are to have been born to a world with indoor plumbing and an advanced sewer system. 

Dearest Tom Hobbes felt blessed for civilization's achievements of good governance in the 17th century when he reflected that life in a state of nature is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short."  Of course, now we have lives that are "publicly broadcast, indolent, amoral, apathetic and long."  But, see there, I am already losing the gratitude I ought to hold for what Western civilization has become.  As much as I hate, hate, hate many aspects of it, I need only repeat the mantra "indoor plumbing, indoor plumbing, indoor plumbing" to get my head back around the right way.

Passionate Minds: The Great Love Affair of the Enlightenment, Featuring the Scientist Emilie du Chatelet, the Poet Voltaire, Sword Fights, Book Burnings, Assorted Kings, Seditious Verse, and...Because, without indoor plumbing and advanced sewerage, ew.  Truly, ew.  I was reading Passionate Minds by David Bodanis last night, and he was writing about a young Voltaire who, with much aplomb and misguided arrogance, falsely claimed to have written some seditious verses about the French regent, Phillipe d'Orléans.  When the officials who arrested him could not find the verses, Voltaire claimed that he threw them down the toilet.  They had to get the vidanguese — the local official responsible for emptying the city drains — to open the drain and peer inside.  She claimed that she could see no incriminating papers floating near the top.  So — barf-o-rama! — they made her open the drains and go inside to inspect further.  As she pushed her way in, the pressure was too much for the brick and mortar enclosure.  A pipe burst.  Everything came shooting out.  Everything.  But, no subversive writings were found, because Voltaire had been lying the entire time.  Forget the sedition — for that useless and disgusting excursion alone, they ought to have hanged him. 

The Wit & Wisdom of Ronald Reagan(When Voltaire was exiled to England a few years later, by the way, he was astounded at its modernity.  He was awed by its robust capitalism, its easy relationship between different religions, its freedom of expression.  And, just this past year, "Mohammed" was the most popular boys name registered in England.  "Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction" ~RR.  I'm going to miss that grand old lion.)

Scrubbing Bubbles Aerosol, Fresh Scent, 22-Ounce Cans (Pack of 12)Electricity, modern medicine, vacuum cleaners, portable music, inexpensive books, bicycles, automobiles, airplanes, trains, capitalism and free markets, clean water, aspirin, clean air, clean and inexpensive food, a system of laws and courts, private property, the right of redress, representative government, the chance of education, the ability to meet your pre-destined best friend even though she lives a few thousand miles away, central heating and air conditioning, ready-made clothes, deodorant, leisure time, opportunities, freedom of religion, sunscreen, Scrubbing Bubbles, water parks, computer games, the Internet, and the near-miraculous blessing of a highly advanced plumbing and sewer system (!!!) are all things to fill even the most secular of souls with gratitude.

I'm going to try to be better about not knocking this modern world.  After all, the implied point of the Scholastic series is right:  all things considered, I really wouldn't want to live in any country or era than this one.  Historic times and ancient cultures are lovely to read about, perfect objects for flights of fancy, fascinating to look back upon . . . but, most often, in the living of them, they were terribly, terribly stinky. 

Thursday, September 30, 2010

2010: The Year of the Cheeky Conservatives

Punchy.  Cheeky.  Sassy.  Saucy.  Fearless.  This ain't your grandfather's conservative movement.

If the Tea Party Movement has done one thing right (and I think it has done far more than one right thing), it has been to inject some adrenaline into the dehydrated veins of demoralized conservatives.  Remember how horrible it felt to wake up on Wednesday, November 5, 2008 and look about and wonder if we were heading — with the landslide win for the most liberal brand of Dems — toward that sort of limp-wristed, soft-underbellied slide into Western European-style socialism and whether we would have something as unique as the idea of America by the end of 2012?  Well, I do.  I awoke that morning at 4 AM and wrote a fable — an allegory, really — about our willful abandonment of all things rugged and wild and free called "Whosoever Treasures Freedom."  Well, I thought, that was a nice ride while it lasted.  And I was depressed — or, at least, depressed for me, which is still far too ebullient and gay for my husband's taste most of the time.

Then, 2009 got into full swing and — wonder of wonders! — the party of "Hell No!" arose.  Regular American people were jolted out of their slumber to gather together in defiance of this squishy slide.  The moral core of America fought back — not with rifles or bayonets or violence of any kind, but with feet planted firmly in the ground, arms crossed, eyes steely with resolve, saying, "Not on our watch.  Not to our children and grandchildren.  We don't want it.  We don't need it.  We can't afford it.  Stop it."

Now, with the amazing tools of things like blogs and Twitter and YouTube, conservatives are getting quite creative and ever more amusing.  Things like Tim Hawkins's The Government Can and Steven Crowder's I GotsA Peace Prize were only the beginning.  Now, with this catalyst of an election just around the corner, conservative causes are releasing sharp, focused and hilarious videos almost daily.  I came across this gem today:

(Backstory:  Rep. Alan Grayson (FL8-D) is thoroughly reprehensible.  Scummy, dirty, douchebaggery does not even begin to do justice to his absolute loathsomeness, but it is a good start.   He recently approved of a vile, repulsive concoction of lies and misrepresentations in the shape of a campaign ad about his opponent, Daniel Webster.  Perhaps most appalling and despicable is that he took cuts of Mr. Webster's speaking at a church function about marriage completely out of context — contriving to make Mr. Webster appear like a misogynist neanderthal and one who is completely obsessed by biblical exhortations of wifely submission — and ends the ad with the outrageous labeling of his Republican opponent as "Taliban Dan."  For the ad itself and the unedited video of Mr. Webster's speech, I direct you to Freedom's Lighthouse (my favorite source for all must-see videos and the latest polling information).  Mr. Grayson has been unapologetic when confronted with his malignant malfeasance, saying "in context, out of context, whatever.")

Well, Townhall released today a brilliant, biting, spot-on send-up of this Alan Grayson kerfuffle.  The ending is priceless!  Enjoy!

I think that this new, confident, bold and ballsy, in-your-face face of conservatism is largely due to one former governor of Alaska who was the first one to call out now-President Obama for being, essentially, a very silly person.  Most of the pundits and all the politicians (including, for way too long, his opponent in the general election, Senator McCain) were intimidated by his resounding, pastor-like delivery of frothy, empty sentiment, by his exotic family history and upbringing, by his academic accomplishments and pretensions to intellectualism, and by the seeming aura of destiny that surrounded his campaign.  Add to that the understandable American aversion to anything that could be construed as racism, and Candidate Obama seemed untouchable.  Then, in September 2008, Sarah Palin delivered a barn-burner of a speech that actually dared to poke fun at this pretender, this shyster, this voice in a suit.  For this, she was excoriated by most of the media, and even a great portion of the country.  So much gall packed into one woman!  So much hatred focused on same.  The campaign to destroy her was immediate and unrelenting.  But it failed.  And, up from the ashes of November 5, Gov. Palin has become one of the strongest voices for the resurgent fun factor in conservatism.  The smiler with a knife, she continues on — bold in her message that silliness cannot hold sway in such a sensible country for long, and that Americans are now as they have always been: a people who, paradoxically, are far better and wiser as a whole than the officials they elect.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Least Interesting Man in Washington . . .

. . . will make the best senator in D.C.!

I love Dino!  (And I love Not Dino, too!)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

How I Became the World's Greatest PTF President

There was really no campaign at all.  At the last PTF meeting that previous June, I happened to be walking by the auditorium while nominations were in process.  I yelled in, "Justine!" and no one seemed to notice.  So, I went on my way.  But, when the votes were tallied, I guess I came in first, because there was a call waiting on my answering machine at home saying, "Congrats! You're the new prez!"  Aw geez, I thought at the time, that's a lot of work!  Then, I forgot about it and went to the water park.

So, sometime that August, I got a call from someone on the PTF committee — can't recall her name — exhorting me to get working on the first major fundraiser of the year, selling Fosterbrook.  Basically, it's a bunch of wrapping paper and chocolate and other worthless things that the kiddos are socially pressured into foisting upon their sphere of influence (read: grandparents) in return for a paltry percentage of sales for the school.  I tell you, I looked through the proposed fall fundraising catalogue, and I didn't see anything worthwhile.  Seriously, not a Jane Austen or G.K. Chesterton book in the lot.  So, I sat down at my laptop and wrote a letter.

Dear Parents,

We all hate having our kids impose on neighbors, friends, and family with these obnoxious fundraisers.  Besides, Fosterbrook just sells a bunch of crap.  What's say you all cut me a check for $50 per kid, and we call it even?

Love and kisses,
Your PTF President

I sent that home with the kids on the first day of school, instead of the Fosterbrook packet, and the parents were so grateful that the checks just started rolling in.  Some of them even doubled their extorted gifts.  It was great!  Fosterbrook was not too happy, but who cares?  That was a nice little $15,000 padding with which to start the year.

Next up, someone started bugging me about Fall Festival, which, for some reason, is held within the first three weeks of the school year, when everyone has other things they would much rather be doing.  So, I cancelled it to much rejoicing.  Instead, I instituted Friday movie nights once a month in the auditorium.  For $10 per kid, the parents could drop them off to eat popcorn and watch a Roald Dahl movie while the parents got a few hours out and about.  It was a smashing success.  Over the year, that brought us in an additional $12,000.

After these remarkable decisions, I disbanded the rest of PTF and told the parent volunteers that I had it covered.  The only other position I kept was treasurer.  She was kept busy with all the fat receipts coming in from my brilliant ideas.  I doubled the size of the book fair — bringing in vendors other than just Scholastic.  I cancelled the hall rentals for the Christmas and Easter concerts and sent this letter out to the parents, instead:

Dear Parents,

It totally sucks having to sit through OPK's* performances at the concerts, right?  So, this year, we're going to host a series of small, separate concerts on campus, so you needn't be oppressed by the scraggly violins or off-key warblings of any rugrats not in class with your infinitely more talented offspring.  Please consider, in appreciation of my consideration for your time and eardrums, a modest gift to our school.

Hugs and atta-boys,
Your PTF Kommandant

Need I say it?  The money poured in so fast, my treasurer had to come in on the weekend to process it.  Since we were expending so little for these fundraisers, almost all the proceeds went directly into the school's coffers to fund stuff that we really want the kids to have — like awesome field trips.

The tricky one was the spring auction.  Traditionally, each classroom would put together one or two baskets that would then — with other donated items from local businesses — be auctioned off.  The problem, as I saw it, was not simply the expense of hosting such a gala (which, as always, seemed counter-productive), but the fact that parents had to contribute to make these baskets, and then, presumably, buy them back again at auction.  So, I thought maybe I could get some guidance from the other parents.  I sent out the following e-mail:

Hi Parents!

What do you guys think of the auction baskets, huh?  I know it's a major fundraiser for the school, but it seems rather redundant to me.  Did you ever wonder why the school doesn't just raise its tuition to what it needs for the year and then leave us alone?  Yeah, I know, me too.  So anyway, I don't know, this auction thing — let me know what you guys think, OK?

With a firm handshake and a solemn nod of the head,
Your Sovereign PTF Queen

Suffice it to say, I got a lot of good ideas as feedback, and not one of them included a classroom auction basket.  Now, how we raised the money might not be exactly legal, but it was certainly bonzer.  I cannot reveal more at this time, especially with the investigations still ongoing, but we ended up doing quite nicely, thank you, with no baskets.

Well, the year ended and so did my presidency.  All the parents gathered together to implore me to serve another year, but I told them that even such grand schemes as this had to meet their timely ends.  My farewell address brought tears to more than one eye, especially as the parents considered that next year would bring back Fosterbrook, the grand, 3-hour long, aurally abusive concerts, and the like.  They built me a cushioned litter and hoisted me up on the shoulders of the four strongest dads and paraded me around the parking lot while six lithesome moms threw rose petals in my path and a brass band played a triumphant march.  Then came the startling announcement from the principal:  My PTF had done such a miraculous job of raising funds, that PTF was far into the black for the next three years.  A grand "Hurrah!" rang up from the crowd, and I bowed slightly, graciously, and slowly walked to my Honda, waving all the while.  As I drove off, away from the school and my seat of absolute power, I realized that I had truly been the greatest PTF president that the school — and perhaps the world — had ever known.  And that was enough for me.

*Other People's Kids