Sunday, April 30, 2006

Weekend in San Francisco 2: Why is this happening?

After the ballet we checked in to the hotel. The extremely new, extremely fancy hotel. So new it still smells new. Kind of like a new car. The lobby is very modern and understated, the hallways are all wood-paneled and quiet, and the room was big enough for two kids to play in happily. That's saying a lot when one of them is an extremely active boy who likes to run and jump. This hotel is so new and fancy that it has a touch-screen monitor that controls all kinds of things in the room: it raises the curtains, controls the lights, turns on the radio and sets the alarm, dials the lobby and the concierge, even has some kind of electronic do-not-disturb feature that replaces those little plastic things you hang from the door handle. My son and husband were in electronics heaven.

The windows were huge, with a good deep ledge next to them, useful for parking loose junk on, also good as a neutral zone for keeping kids running around like maniacs from getting too close while moving at high velocities. (I know they're not going to just burst through plate glass windows, but it always makes me nervous anyway.) Next to the ledge was a lovely chaise longue, placed parallel to it so you could recline and admire the view. So, what else? Maya sat down on it sideways, facing away from the ledge, leaned back, and immediately bumped her head on the ledge. She was fine, but I still thought, "What kind of idiot puts a sofa where somebody is going to bump their head like that?" and then I realized that no adult would ever have that happen. An adult is going to sit on it lengthwise and look out the window.

A big discussion then ensued about dinner. Ziad and Maya did not want to leave the room. The parents did. The parents had dinner reservations at a restaurant and were hungry to boot. The parents wanted to go out NOW. The parents finally prevailed. Ziad sat down on the chaise longue to put his shoes on. Ziad leaned back and bumped his head. Why did I let that happen? I have no idea. I didn't think it was a big deal, after all Maya had no problem when it happened to her. Ziad of course, was responding to pain in typical fashion, which is to say becoming furiously angry. I was just get ready to tell him not to make such a fuss when my husband sat down, felt the back of Ziad's head, and commented on the size of the bump there. It was really, really big. Ziad now flat out refused to even consider leaving the room any more, and didn't really want anyone trying to help him feel better.

I went out to look for an ice machine so we could put ice on the bump, but couldn't find one anywhere. We ended up holding some cold drinks from the minibar against it. (We put them back, unopened, later on.) He finally calmed down, and we actually had a nice walk over to the restaurant, and a pretty nice dinner, too. My husband even liked his food (I was surprised) and ate all the broccoli (a first).

The walk back was even better. We strolled around, ventured into Chinatown for a block or so (taking turns crying "Wow! Look at that!" every few feet as we saw exciting new items for sale in the store windows), cruised past Union Square (checking out the lobby of the St. Francis in passing), and generally took the long way home.

Weekend in San Francisco 1: I am a bad, bad mother

Well, I want to start by saying that we don't get out too much as a family. I take Ziad and Maya lots of places, but my husband works a lot, even by Silicon Valley standards. He works at nights on the weekends, both Saturday and Sunday. To him, missing a weekend night counts as taking a day off. This made it all the more surprising when he suggested a weekend in San Francisco. No work on Saturday night? That's a major vacation for us. He was even willing to go to the ballet, which is HUGE. So he made the hotel reservations, and I got us the tickets.

Now I am going to say, in my own defense, that when my kids get sick it rarely lasts very long. The progression is usually something like this: droopy and not very hungry in the evening, tired and maybe nauseous the next morning, feeling better by noon, and jumping around like nothing ever happened in the evening. Friday night, Maya was kind of listless, but nothing dramatic. It was really only noticeable in hindsight, because on Saturday morning she said she was tired and didn't want to get out of bed. She didn't eat or drink anything, but around mid-morning she threw up anyway, and the dilemma emerged, full-blown in its urgency. Should I try to change the tickets? Should we cancel the weekend? She didn't really seem too sick, and I did have every reason to think she would be feeling better by the time the ballet started that afternoon. When asked for her opinion, Maya said she wanted to try to go. So I gave her a bath, helped her dress, and we set off for San Francisco. And of course, halfway there, as we were stuck in traffic near the airport, she threw up again. I never saw it coming. I didn't even think she had anything in her stomach. (What kind of mother counts on an empty stomach to keep her daughter from throwing up? A bad one, that's what kind.)

Well, we had another dress for her to wear, and this time she said she really did feel better, so we actually went to the ballet anyway. I still can't believe we did that. And she really was fine, and it was beautiful, and Ziad sat very still in his seat and didn't annoy anyone. But every time Maya cleared her throat or coughed at all, I jumped. "Are you okay, do you need to go outside, are you okay?" She was always okay.

Today, though, the car still smells. I guess she did us a favor, because it really did need a good thorough cleaning, and it's getting that for sure.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Tuesday the 25th

On Tuesday, I took Ziad to a dress rehearsal of the San Francisco Ballet's Program Eight. It was a great afternoon. The seats were not reserved, so we got to pick out the seat that worked best for a young boy, which was not the seat with the best view. It was the seat with no one sitting in front or to the side, where he could kick his feet and wiggle as much as he liked. That was good, because he really enjoyed the music, but he enjoyed with his whole body, and that can get annoying for fellow audience members sometimes. There was one modern piece, one set to jazz music, and one to classical music. It was a very nice variety, and we both had a good time. Maya had a great afternoon being her grandmother's special guest, so the day worked out well for all of us.

Reading with Ziad and Maya

Well, we are now in the middle of Magic in Oz. This one is more suspenseful, making it difficult sometimes to find a good stopping place at night. I remember the first time I checked this book out from the library. Now Ziad and Maya are reading it for the first time -- is this one of those circle of life kind of moments? I just read whatever Oz books I could get my hands on, but Ziad and Maya are getting the sequential treatment. All the books by the original author, in the order in which they were written, and then they are on their own. It's interesting as an adult to look at the original publication dates (between 1900 and 1917, so far) and to think about the upheavals in world society and technology that are being reflected in these books.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Sunday the 23d

So I've been trying to upload pictures of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but so far no success. We took another trip down there on Sunday, so that the kids could participate in their Explorer program (the payoff is a celebration at the end of the year, and maybe a gift-certificate and a sweatshirt, if they complete enough activities). It wasn't quite the relaxing and enjoyable experience that Member's Night usually is. The aquarium was super-crowded, Ziad got a ferocious nosebleed and lost a stuffed shark, what else .... maybe that's all. Believe me, that was enough. It was nice to have a longer visit, though, and we got to parts of the aquarium we don't usually see. I have some very nice pictures of shorebirds that my husband took, and maybe one day I will actually be able to post them.

On the way home, since it was still light, we had the chance to stop at the nearby Dennis the Menace playground. Ziad and Maya really love playing there.

Monday, April 24, 2006

No nukes!

An article by Steve Kirsch in the Monday San Jose Mercury News (page 12A):

Most Americans know that burning fossil fuels is the major cause of global warming. The world's cars, factories and power plants are injecting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a much faster rate than it can be removed by natural biological processes.

America is responsible for a disproportionate portion of this problem. We contribute about one-fourth of all greenhouse gas emissions. In the automobile/truck/SUV segment, we consume 43 percent of the world's gasoline. So Americans must find alternatives to coal, oil and natural gas.

Nuclear power seems, at first, to be a very attractive alternative. It appears to be relatively cheap and relatively safe, and it produces no greenhouse gases.

This belief is dead wrong.

In general, the safer a reactor is, the more costly it is to build and operate. American-style reactors with redundant safety systems, containment shells and ever-more-elaborate security provisions are so expensive that no company will build them without subsidies.

Even with safeguards, the insurance industry considers nuclear plants risky. The industry was willing to insure New Orleans against a hurricane, but will not insure a nuclear power plant without a strict, low, absolute limit on liability guaranteed by federal law. If Congress repealed this liability cap, the nuclear industry would cease to exist.

Furthermore, American nuclear plants store their waste on site in above-ground casks, vulnerable to terrorist attack. Given the long radioactive life of nuclear material and ongoing terrorist concerns, it is wildly irresponsible to propose a major expansion of nuclear power until we know how to safeguard the waste for thousands of years.

And the claim that nuclear power produces no greenhouses gases does not hold up. Nuclear power plants themselves don't emit carbon dioxide, but the rest of the fuel cycle depends heavily on fossil fuels. Two of America's most-polluting coal plants, in Ohio and Indiana, mainly supply electricity for the very energy-intensive uranium enrichment process.

Nuclear power plants can also result in major accidents. In addition to plant workers who died immediately after Chernobyl (in what was then the Soviert Union), it is likely that up to 8,000 people will eventually die as a result of what happened. The largest nuclear plant accident in history exposed a thousand plant workers to radiation on the first day, and about 200,000 emergency and recovery operation workers over the 18-month initial clean-up. Even better technology and sophisticated and redoubled safety measures cannot guarantee against such disasters in the future.

But the most powerful argument against nuclear power is that, in this increasingly globalized world, America cannot build its eceonomy around nuclear power that it doesn't want to share with other countries. Nuclear power and nuclear weapons require the same materials and employ the same technical skills. Nuclear power specialists in India, Pakistan, Israel, North and Korea and Iran proved to be bomb builders as well. If America uses nuclear energy, others will want the same, and that opens the door to nuclear weapons prolifereration.

As a father, I want my children to live in a world in which nuclear war and nuclear terrorism are not possible. Horrible as Sept. 11 was, I can't help but contemplate the far greater carnage had a nuclear device been detonated there instead. That's why, in my view, nuclear power is not the energy solution to global warming.

April of this year marks two anniversaries: Chernobyl's 20th and Earth Day's 36th. They come at a time when ignorance about global warming remains. Those who want to sow doubt about it continue a calculated, well-funded misinformation campaign. But it is also a time when the world is alive with ideas for solving climate change.

Those of us in Silicon Valley have a huge concentration of the country's brainpower and entrepreneurial capital. An ever increasing portion of it should be devoted to finding cost-effective, reliable ways to harness renewable energy sources that produce neither greenhouse gases nor nuclear bomb materials.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Guadalupe River Garden

We celebrated Earth Day at the Guadalupe River Garden Park. Too bad it was so cold! There was a lot of interesting stuff to do and see, but we really kind of rushed through everything, shivering the whole time.

A particular highlight for me was the Tierra del Sol booth, selling drought-tolerant native plants. The woman in charge was very helpful and informative. I had to really hold myself back because all her plants were so attractive. Common sense prevailed, however, and we went home with one plant apiece. I got a wild current, which produces beautiful blossoms that butterflies like, followed by edible berries that birds are fond of; Ziad got a red dianthus, and Maya got a native fuchsia. She held our plants while we explored the rest of the exhibits.

There was a group of weavers there, letting children card, spin, and weave wool. They also had an activity where they could tie-dye a silk handkerchief. Ziad and Maya loved that part. Then we walked over to the model trains, presented by an organization promoting setting up model layouts in the garden. A long stroll through various other activities, including a scavenger hunt and a movie promotion, took up the rest of our morning. We were hungry and cold when we got home, but it was worth it.

Leonardo Da Vinci was crazy ...

With these immortal words, a science teacher brought Leonardo Da Vinci to the forefront of my son's interest and imagination. (Leonardo Da Vinci was crazy, he went around telling his neighbors that man would fly one day. He spent lots of time watching birds and figuring out how they did it. This kind of talk.) Unfortunately, all the children's biographies were checked out. In fact, all the children's books on the Renaissance were checked out. Someone must be doing a history project.

So when I stumbled across Leonardo: Flights of the Mind I felt obligated to read up and report back to the boy. Unfortunately, this very good book spends a lot more time discussing his art in great detail, and really only mentions his scientific work in passing. I enjoyed this book a lot, however, especially in contrast to The Other Boleyn Girl which is historical fiction. I enjoyed reading quotes from his notebooks and letters, as well as from other original sources, and liked knowing documented fact left off and author speculation began. So even though this book had no actual sex scenes (although a lot of speculation about Leonardo's sex life), and no snappy dialogue, I liked reading it a lot more. Of course all the reproduced drawings and color plates were also a big plus.

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Friday, April 21, 2006


Another day on the coast, this time the Sunset state beach outside Watsonville, then a brief stroll through Monterey before spending the evening at the aquarium. It was a lovely afternoon. Not as dazzlingly perfect as the rest of the week has been, the sky was slightly overcast and grey. That's all to the good on the beach, though. We had a great time looking at shorebirds, building sandcastles, and exploring.


I know, at some point in my past, I decided not to read any more thriller/detective novels. They just didn't seem worth it. There are so many great books out there, I always felt like I was wasting my time. So why, as I realized the other night, I have I plowed my way through so many series in the genre? Well for one thing, I really, REALLY like to finish what I start. So if I read one book, I have to read them all. Further, these particular series range from mildly humorous to seriously amusing (IMHO). And lastly, all of them are very easy to read. Here is my list of shame. It's short, but by my estimate represents almost 40 books:

Janet Ivanovich -- Stephanie Plum
Barbara Peters -- Amelia Peabody
Rhys Bowen -- Evan Evans
Dianne Day -- Fremont Jones
Alexander McCall Smith -- Precious Ramotswe

For what it's worth, I think the McCall Smith's Number One Ladies Detective Agency series is head and shoulders above the rest.

Monday, April 17, 2006


Today was so perfect that it seemed useless to try taking pictures. We drove up the coast to Rancho del Oso, where the visitor center is set up a hill from the coast. It wasn't just the visual beauty of the wide blue sky, the pine trees, the hillside. It was also the sound of the wind and the ocean beyond the trees, the cool breeze, the fresh air. It was the feeling of vastness and peace. We took a short nature walk, then spent some time on the beach, then had lunch in the courtyard of the visitor's center, and finished with a brief scavenger hunt. Then we drove back through the beautiful day, along the windswept ocean.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

La Jetee

Reading with Ziad and Maya

We are in the middle of Rinkitink in Oz, which is itself in the middle of the original series of 15 Oz books written by the original author, L. Frank Baum. It is one of my favorite Oz books, second only to Glinda of Oz, which is the last one we will read. I don't even remember when we started in on the Oz books, as our nightly reading is sporadic. We've switched over to power-through mode, though, and are now reading a chapter a two as we can find time during the day.


Saturday, April 15, 2006

Something Jennifer probably won't be surprised to find I think is very funny

I stole this from the comment thread on this blog. It is actually comment number 312 out of (at present) 809.

This is the first sentence of this story. This is the second sentence. This is the title of this story, which is also found several times in the story itself. This sentence is questioning the intrinsic value of the first two sentences. This sentence is to inform you, in case you haven’t already realized it, that this is a self-referential story, that is, a story containing sentences that refer to their own structure and function. This is a sentence that provides an ending to the first paragraph.

This is the first sentence of a new paragraph in a self-referential story. This sentence is introducing you to the protagonist of the story, a young boy named Billy. This sentence tells you that Billy is blond and blue-eyed and American and twelve years old and strangling his mother. This sentence comments on the awkward nature of the self-referential narrative form while recognizing the strange and playful detachment it affords the writer. As if illustrating the point made by the last sentence, this sentence reminds us, with no trace of facetiousness, that children are a precious gift from God and that the world is a better place when graced by the unique joys and delights they bring to it.

This sentence describes Billy’s mother’s bulging eyes and protruding tongue and makes reference to the unpleasant choking and gagging noises she’s making. This sentence makes the observation that these are uncertain and difficult times, and that relationships, even seemingly deep-rooted and permanent ones, do have a tendency to break down.

Introduces, in this paragraph, the device of sentence fragments. A sentence fragment. Another. Good device. Will be used more later.

This is actually the last sentence of this story but has been placed here by mistake. This is the title of this story, which is also found several times within the story itself. As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself in his bed transformed into a gigantic insect. This sentence informs you that the preceding sentence is from another story entirely (a better one, it must be noted) and has no place at all in this particular narrative. Despite the claims of the preceding sentence, this sentence feels compelled to inform you that the story you are reading is in actuality “The Metamorphosis’’ by Franz Kafka, and that the sentence referred to by the preceding sentence is the only sentence which does indeed belong to the story. This sentence overrides the preceding sentence by informing the reader (poor, confused wretch) that this piece of literature is actually the Declaration of Independence, but that the author, in a show of extreme negligence (if not malicious sabotage), has so far failed to include even one single sentence from that stirring document, although he has condescended to use a small sentence fragment, namely, “When in the course of human events,’’ embedded in quotation marks near the end of a sentence. Showing a keen awareness of the boredom and downright hostility of the average reader with regard to the pointless conceptual games indulged in by the preceding sentences, this sentence returns us at last to the scenario of the story by asking the question, “Why is Billy strangling his mother?’’ This sentence attempts to shed some light on the question posed by the preceding sentence but fails. This sentence, however, succeeds, in that it suggests a possible incestuous relationship between Billy and his mother and alludes to the concomitant Freudian complications an astute reader will immediately envision. Incest. The unspeakable taboo. The universal prohibition. Incest. And notice the sentence fragments? Good literary device. Will be used more later.

This sentence is the first sentence in a new paragraph. This is the last sentence in a new paragraph.

This sentence can serve as either the beginning of the paragraph or the end, depending on its placement. This is the title of this story, which is also found several times in the story itself. This sentence raises a serious objection to the entire class of self-referential sentences that merely comment on their own function or placement within the story (e.g., the preceding four sentences), on the grounds that they are monotonously predictable, unforgivably self-indulgent, and merely serve to distract the reader from the real subject of this story, which at this point seems to concern strangulation and incest and who knows what other delightful topics. The purpose of this sentence is to point out that the preceding sentence, while not itself a member of the class of self-referential sentences it objects to, nevertheless also serves merely to distract the reader from the real subject of this story, which actually concerns Gregor Samsa’s inexplicable transformation into a gigantic insect (despite the vociferous counterclaims of other well-meaning although misinformed sentences). This sentence can serve as either the beginning of the paragraph or the end, depending on its placement.

This is the title of this story, which is also found several times in the story itself. This is almost the title of this story, which is found only once in the story itself. This sentence regretfully states that up to this point the self-referential mode of narrative has had a paralyzing effect on the actual progress of the story itself—that is, these sentences have been so concerned with analyzing themselves and their role in the story that they have failed by and large to perform their function as communicators of events and ideas that one hopes coalesce into a plot, character development, etc.—in short, the very raisons d’être of any respectable, hardworking sentence in the midst of a piece of compelling prose fiction. This sentence in addition points out the obvious analogy between the plight of these agonizingly self-aware sentences and similarly afflicted human beings, and it points out the analogous paralyzing effects wrought by excessive and tortured self-examination.

The purpose of this sentence (which can also serve as a paragraph) is to speculate that if the Declaration of Independence had been worded and structured as lackadaisically and incoherently as this story has been so far, there’s no telling what kind of warped libertine society we’d be living in now or to what depths of decadence the inhabitants of this country might have sunk, even to the point of deranged and debased writers constructing irritatingly cumbersome and needlessly prolix sentences that sometimes possess the questionable if not downright undesirable quality of referring to themselves and they sometimes even become run-on sentences or exhibit other signs of inexcusably sloppy grammar like unneeded superfluous redundancies that almost certainly would have insidious effects on the lifestyle and morals of our impressionable youth, leading them to commit incest or even murder and maybe that’s why Billy is strangling his mother, because of sentences just like this one, which have no discernible goals or perspicuous purpose and just end up anywhere, even in mid

Bizarre. A sentence fragment. Another fragment. Twelve years old. This is a sentence that. Fragmented. And strangling his mother. Sorry, sorry. Bizarre. This. More fragments. This is it. Fragments. The title of this story, which. Blond. Sorry, sorry. Fragment after fragment. Harder. This is a sentence that. Fragments. Damn good device.

The purpose of this sentence is threefold: (1) to apologize for the unfortunate and inexplicable lapse exhibited by the preceding paragraph; (2) to assure you, the reader, that it will not happen again; and (3) to reiterate the point that these are uncertain and difficult times and that aspects of language, even seemingly stable and deeply rooted ones such as syntax and meaning, do break down. This sentence adds nothing substantial to the sentiments of the preceding sentence but merely provides a concluding sentence to this paragraph, which otherwise might not have one.

This sentence, in a sudden and courageous burst of altruism, tries to abandon the self-referential mode but fails. This sentence tries again, but the attempt is doomed from the start.

This sentence, in a last ditch attempt to infuse some iota of story line into this paralyzed prose piece, quickly alludes to Billy’s frantic cover-up attempts, followed by a lyrical, touching, and beautifully written passage, wherein Billy is reconciled with his father (thus resolving the subliminal Freudian conflicts obvious to any astute reader) and a final exciting police chase scene during which Billy is accidentally shot and killed by a panicky rookie policeman who is coincidentally named Billy. This sentence, although basically in complete sympathy with the laudable efforts of the preceding action-packed sentence, reminds the reader that such allusions to a story that doesn’t, in fact, yet exist are no substitute for the real thing and therefore will not get the author (indolent goof-off that he is) off the proverbial hook.

Paragraph. Paragraph. Paragraph. Paragraph. Paragraph. Paragraph. Paragraph. Paragraph. Paragraph. Paragraph. Paragraph. Paragraph. Paragraph. Paragraph.

The purpose. Of this paragraph. Is to apologize. For its gratuitous use. Of. Sentence fragments. Sorry.

The purpose of this sentence is to apologize for the pointless and silly adolescent games indulged in by the preceding two paragraphs, and to express regret on the part of us, the more mature sentences, that the entire tone of this story is such that it can’t seem to communicate a simple, albeit sordid, scenario.

This sentence wishes to apologize for all the needless apologies found in this story (this one included), which, although placed here ostensibly for the benefit of the more vexed readers, merely delay in a maddeningly recursive way the continuation of the by-now nearly forgotten story line.

This sentence is bursting at the punctuation marks with news of the dire import of self-reference as applied to sentences, a practice that could prove to be a veritable Pandora’s box of potential havoc, for if a sentence can refer or allude to itself, why not a lowly subordinate clause, perhaps this very clause? Or this sentence fragment? Or three words? Two words? One?

Perhaps it is appropriate that this sentence gently and with no trace of condescension remind us that these are indeed difficult and uncertain times and that in general people just aren’t nice enough to each other, and perhaps we, whether sentient human beings or sentient sentences, should just try harder. I mean, there is such a thing as free will, there has to be, and this sentence is proof of it! Neither this sentence nor you, the reader, is completely helpless in the face of all the pitiless forces at work in the universe. We should stand our ground, face facts, take Mother Nature by the throat and just try harder. By the throat. Harder. Harder, harder.


This is the title of this story, which is also found several times in the story itself.

This is the last sentence of the story. This is the last sentence of the story. This is the last sentence of the story. This is.


Monday, Monday

Our meeting last Monday was a lot of fun. We had a good time discussing both The Stranger and The Other Boleyn Girl (never say we're not eclectic), along with triplet FAQ (where the *a* is for *annoying*), passion parties (sex aids = tupperware (?)), friends, families, and jobs. And even more stuff I don't remember right now. What I do remember is laughing so hard that I cried. I love our bookclub.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

So what is existentialism, anyway?

Our official book for the last meeting was The Stranger by Albert Camus. I heartily thank Michelle for choosing it. Although there are no literature majors among us (at least I don't think so), this book prompted one of the most focused and sustained discussions I can remember. I especially like (and I know this is ironic coming from me) the fact that there was little mention of whether or not any one actually liked the book. We mostly talked about issues that the book raised, things about life and human nature. Sadly, our question about existentialism remained unanswered.


Is it a good thing?

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There seemed to be general agreement that The Other Boleyn Girl is trashy. The question is what to make of that. I would say the majority of our book club found that a plus, and that I was probably alone in not liking it. Apparently this book has helped many people to a new-found appreciation of English history. Those people might enjoy taking a look here. I especially recommend the portraits.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Bookclub Noir

For our next meeting we are reading The Maltese Falcon.


Getting Started

Right now, this blog is just an experiment. My goal is to have it serve as an online adjunct to our bookclub, where we can continue our book discussions as thoughts come to us, or comment on books we are reading as we go along. Eventually, it would be nice for these discussions to include a wider community, especially members who have moved away. Of course, like any goodbook club, discussions won't be limited to books.