Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween

My kids love Halloween. Of course they do. What's not to like? Costumes, candy, staying up late -- it's all good. And pumpkins. We LOVE pumpkins. So we were kind of bummed when someone stole the pumpkin right off our front porch this afternoon. I keep wondering why someone would do that. Our neighbors seem to have been allowed to keep theirs. Of course ours was spectacularly beautiful; I guess it's siren song of autumn magic was just too much for some passer-by.

We went to Los Gatos to trick-or-treat this year. Having been warned (by not just one, but actually three different friends) about the mob scene, we went early. It was awesome. The houses were beautiful, the streets were blocked off so no worries about cars ... very relaxed and friendly. We didn't get much in the way of candy; didn't even really go to many houses, just kicked back and enjoyed the atmosphere, then left before it got too crowded or dark.

Of course, since we were all in Los Gatos, there was no one at home to hand out candy; but then, there never is at our house, since my husband is never home from work at that time and I always go with the kids. We just leave a big bowl of candy on the front porch. Our neighborhood is pretty quiet; we usually have pretty much the whole bowl left when we get back. This year, for some reason, I put the candy in a big wooden bowl I've had forever, and when we got close to home I began to worry that someone had stolen my bowl. I was still kicking myself for not having used a plastic bowl, one that I wouldn't have missed, when we pulled into the driveway and saw the bowl still there. Phew!

Then Ziad went out to bring in the leftover candy and surprise! Someone had emptied out the whole bowl. So even though we had a pretty nice day, we're just feeling ripped off. And now I hear someone setting firecrackers off in the street. Honestly!

Recommended Listening

Around the World in Eighty Days

I am really entranced with this recording. This is an unabridged version from Listening Library, read by Jim Dale, with musical backgrounds and sound effects throughout that suggest the countries where the chapters are set. We've listened to it all the way through once in the car, and are planning to listen to it again, a chapter at a time, at bedtime.

This description from Wikipedia sums the novel up well:
Verne is often characterised as a futurist or science fiction author, but there is not a glimmer of science-fiction in this, his most popular work (at least in English speaking countries.) Rather than any futurism, it remains a memorable portrait of the British Empire "on which the sun never sets" at its very peak, drawn by an outsider.
Although Verne was an outsider relative to the British, he doesn't limit his snarky comments to them. He has something to say about everyone, including the French. In this era of political correctness that kind of humor has become passe, but in this context it's pretty funny. I especially enjoyed his descriptions of Americans, as in the following scene:

The train Phileas Fogg is riding on is delayed when the railway engineer says a bridge is unsafe. This generates considerable agitation and discussion. But as the narrator says,
.... given the generally carefree attitude of the Americans, you can be sure that, when they begin to be cautious, there really is cause for concern.
I just love the image of the Americans larking about in the sunshine with never a care in the world, unaware of the hazards they are passing through unscathed, while their old-world counterparts grimly take the necessary precautions and proceed with care. It's the grasshopper and the ant all over again.

Although I've tried, I haven't been able to find out who translated this version. I know there are unattributed translations out there, so perhaps this is one. I liked the language, with its semi-obscure vocabulary and usages that have become non-standard in modern English. Altogether a most enjoyable recording.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Welcome Back Monarchs Day

Did you know that a Monarch butterfly can fly up to 100 miles in a day?

Did you know that they only need liquid once a week?

Did you know that it's the female that has the most vivid markings?

We learned these facts and many more at Welcome Back Monarchs Day at Natural Bridges State Park. We also ate pumpkin ice cream and chocolate chip cookies, made some lovely paper flowers, played in the woods, and admired the ocean. We saw monarch caterpillars at various stages of their development.

This is our fourth year going to Welcome Back Monarchs Day, and the first year we've gone when I haven't been fasting. It didn't really fit in our schedule all that well this year, but my grim determination to have a taste of the pumpkin ice cream could not be denied. And you know what? The ice cream was delicious, and even our short visit was totally worth it.

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Monarchs are hard to photograph. If you click on this picture, you will see some black butterfly silhouettes (barely visible here as black dots in the sky). This picture completely fails, however, to capture the way they animate the landscape. They glow in the air as they fly overhead. Their gently fluttering wings as they cluster on tree branches create a wave of movement all around. This grove is a wonderful place to be when the monarchs are visiting.


Monday, October 22, 2007

Adventures in Carschooling

I have always viewed this as a twisted concept, a sad affirmation of all that has gone askew in our fast-paced, overscheduled lives. Well, having given the matter some thought, I am now prepared to admit that there may be some merit to the idea of having children do schoolwork in the car.

Think about it. What is the most difficult thing about getting children to do their workbooks? In my experience, the first difficulty is getting them to actually sit down and start, followed closely by getting them to continue until they are finished. Well, when they're confined in their car seats, there's not too much controversy about whether or not they have urgent business in another location. And they're not really going anywhere outside the car until we've gotten to our destination. Voila! Two difficulties overcome right off the bat.

I'm not really saying I think they should crack the books every time we take a five-minute jaunt to the store or the library. But if we're looking at 45 minutes or more in the car, then, yeah, getting some schoolwork in makes sense. So today, faced with the 2 to 21/2 hour drive up to Santa Rosa where my dad lives, we initiated our carschooling venture. My instructions to them, "I will play the Suzuki guitar CD. For the duration of this CD, you will be working on your math workbooks. When it's done, you can stop. We will do this three times on the way to Grandpa's house, and when we get there I'm going to check your work."

Overall it went pretty well, but being the crazy iconoclasts that we are, we didn't follow the plan exactly. Instead, Ziad and I ended up having an extended discussion of his word problems that went well beyond the allotted time. Have you ever tried to do word problems in your head that a 9 year old boy is reading to you? Some of them were fine, but there were a few moments when I thought my head was going to explode. On the way home, Maya needed help figuring out her spelling sentences. That was fun for all of us.

I know that one good experience is no guarantee of future good experiences. But frankly, regardless of how any of us feel about their working in the car, the fact is I needed to come up with some time in their schedule when they could get some book-learning in, and this seemed like the most obvious way to do it. And the other good thing is, in the car they're sitting down anyway. That may sound like exactly what I said above, but what I mean this time is -- they have to be sitting down. I don't have to feel bad that I'm not letting them play in the yard, or stare at a tree, or have a tea party with stuffed animals. This is time that they could not be doing something else that might possibly be better. They are even free to pursue their normal car activities (reading, origami, puzzle games) in the non-work intervals, which were actual the bulk of our car time today.

Carschooling. I really am a Silicon Valley mom.


Stealing Your Life

by Frank Abagnale

This is the same Frank Abagnale who was the subject of Catch Me if You Can, the movie with Leonardo di Caprio and Tom Hanks. (And actually Catch Me if You Can is the title of one of his memoirs. ) Speaking of which, there's an amusing anecdote towards the end of the book where he is stopped by a police officer while driving a U-Haul somewhere. The police officer runs his license and comes up with his previous criminal record, which is actually substantial. Mr. Abagnale points out that these are all a long time ago, and tells the officer he is now legit. What is his current job? He is a consultant on crime prevention for the FBI. To which the officer replies, "What do you take me for? I wasn't born yesterday!" Too bad that actually happens to be the truth.

As a consultant for various law-enforcement agencies, Mr. Abagnale is in a position to see a lot of identity theft, and this book is his response to what he views as an epidemic increase in this crime. It's interesting to read, with lots of case histories, and also lots of practical advice. Not only does he outline the steps you need to take if you become a victim, but he also gives his personal ideas on the steps you should take to avoid it. He also veers ever-so-slightly into the self-serving, since he is a spokesman for a company that provides identity-theft protection, and has designed a shredder he thinks should replace the common confetti shredder. Assuming, however, that he genuinely believes that in the protection these offer, he would be remiss in not mentioning them, and he certainly doesn't spend an inappropriate amount of time singing their praises. Just the facts, ma'am.

This book is well worth reading. I think I'm going to look into his other two books, too.


Yet another side track

I imagine everybody has seen The Kiss once or twice in passing. It's been made into posters, greeting cards, needlework kits, you name it. I'm not sure you can walk down the length of the mall without seeing it reproduced somewhere. So here it is again:

My point, however, is that before I started looking around for images of his art, this is about the extent of my knowledge of his work. I'd seen a few other works, but they were mostly in the same style. So I was surprised (and happy) to find these other paintings, which are so different, but still kind of the same, and which I like very much.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

We now return you

to your regularly scheduled blog.

When I first started this blog, it was my intention to use it as a kind of journal of our bookclub. I thought I would write down a summary of our book discussion, and maybe we would have follow-up conversation in the comments. You know how sometimes three days later an idea will hit you? I thought that a blog would be a great vehicle for keeping the communication flowing. It never really worked out that way, though, and when Jennifer started an actual bookclub blog that all of our members contribute to, I just let the whole book discussion idea go. I had thought all along that there would be sidetracks and extraneous discussions about life matters large and small, but not nearly as many as I eventually indulged in.

Well, I want to get back to reading more, and thinking about reading more. So it is now my intention to direct this blog more towards its original focus.

Blogs are really good for keeping track of things, though, so now I've started another one (God! It's catching! And how many blogs do YOU have?) for my family's field trips. It's maybe the one educational area that I come close to excelling in; one that I have lots of ideas about and plenty of energy for following through with. I need to document them anyway, for the charter school program we're enrolled in, and I've come to realize that a blog is a great place to keep track of all the links and announcements that are currently clogging up my e-mail.

So (ta-da!)here is the link:

Three for the Road

Although it's primarily for my own use, it may be that there will be information there of interest to others. I hope so, anyway. Maybe we can meet up somewhere!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Big Old Sidetrack

More favorite moments from opera:

I heard this duet on the British Airways commercial, and was completely captivated. Then I heard it again on one of those commercials for Time-Life recordings such as constantly being hawked on late-night TV -- Your Favorite Arias, or Opera's Greatest Hits or some such. So I was able to figure out what opera it came from (I hate to admit that it took me two or three passes at the commercial), then I got a CD of the opera, and finally stumbled across this concert version on YouTube while sampling the many versions of Mozart's der Holle Rache that are posted there.

Flower Duet from Lakme:

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Magic Flute III, or Queen of the Night

The high point of the opera, for our family at least, came in the second act. It is the famous aria, "Das Holle Rache," sung by the Queen of the Night.

I personally love the title "Queen of the Night." To me it sounds peaceful and benevolent, and I think of the night spreading her wings over the landscape and protecting the little animals nestled in their burrows. Mozart seems to have taken a different view; the Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute is a figure representing malevolence and disorder.

An interesting aside to all this is that this opera was written with specific performers in mind. Some of them were not such great singers, and their parts are both easier to sing, and supported by the orchestra, which gives them the right note to start on and plays their melody along with them. The Queen of the Night's music, on the other hand, is known as some of the most challenging in all opera. As Lesley mentioned in some previous comments, it was written for Mozart's sister-in-law.

The aria that she sings in the second act is nothing short of electrifying. The quick series of arpeggios in the upper register may have been meant to suggest demonic crazy laughter. To me, though, they are just beautiful.

It's easy to get lost in all the various versions of this aria on YouTube. This one is my favorite:

Having watched many, many clips, I can tell you that it is apparently impossible to hit those high notes without the facial contortions. Oh, and how high are those high notes? Three Fs above middle C. Go look at a piano and see how high that is. I can't even sing two Fs above middle C, and I've had vocal training.

There is a certain perception of classical music/opera as the province of some elite, long-haired, intellectual minority. So I was surprised to see that when I did a search for Mozart on YouTube I got more hits (27,700) than I did for Eric Clapton (11,700). And speaking of Eric Clapton ....

I like his music, too.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Magic Flute, Part II

Normally, taking children to the opera would not be that comfortable of an experience for me. No matter how cheap the seats are, I always feel very concerned that their natural childlike behavior is going to compromise the enjoyment of people in our immediate vicinity. Going with a whole group of homeschoolers is a whole different kettle of fish. There were other kids there that my kids know, and lots of boys who are at least as disruptive as Ziad. In fact, I felt like I was sitting in a veritable field of squirming, and it felt good. Maya was wiggling in her seat, Ziad was laughing uproariously, a certain small amount of quiet discussion was not out of place. We had fun.

We were totally up in the nosebleed section. The singers onstage were mere blurs. And we were so high up that the lines of sight to the stage were interrupted by the curtain framing the stage. I know from experience that this will sometimes mean that you can't see the entire stage set, so I was not overly surprised when the Queen of the Night made her first entrance, hovering in the air somewhere over midstage, and all we could see of her was the lower half of her body. Several children were bending and twisting trying to get their eyes low enough to see her face, but no such luck. I kind of expected her to eventually get lowered down to the ground, but this didn't happen, so we didn't get to see her face until the second act.

One good thing about this vantage point however was the excellent view it afforded of the stage floor. And the stage floor turned out to be my favorite part of the entire production. It was covered with a design that was vaguely reminiscent of Gustav Klimt. (This detail from Klimt's work Hope 2 is meant to show the kind of design I mean.)

The amazing thing about this floor is the way different lighting completely changed its appearance. There was gold light that brought out all the detail and made the floor a rich, vibrant mosaic; then there was a greenish light that somehow made a lot of the detail disappear so that only the larger shapes and cooler colors stood out, so that the design looked much simpler and more austere. I loved watching that floor. You can almost see it in this picture:


As for the opera, when I asked Ziad what he thought, he said, "It was too long." I have to confess, he took the words right out of my mouth.


Eid Mubarak

Farewell to Ramadan writing for another (lunar) year.

No more breakfasts with my husband every morning. I'm going to miss that, but not enough to continue getting up at 4 to make them.

This is the first year I haven't gotten sick while fasting.

And this year, for the first time, I'm going to go to Welcome Back Monarchs Day at Natural Bridges, and eat the pumpkin ice cream. I've been waiting three years for Ramadan to pass this celebration by.

None of these things are particularly profound. There is, however, a quiet feeling of accomplishment, and strength, and maybe a serenity that doesn't lend itself easily to words.


The Magic Flute, Part I

We went to the opera last night! How fun! Another great homeschool field trip. I find I have a lot to say about this opera. So I'm going to split it up, beginning with a (relatively) brief discussion of the plot.

Synopsis as apprehended by a spectator with no prior knowledge of the opera:

Someone is walking around, when he is menaced by a huge monster. He faints in terror. Three women come and kill the monster. They decided the guy is cute, and after exclaiming about this for a while, decide to go tell the queen in the hopes that this will cheer her up, because she is apparently unhappy about something. After they leave, a bird-like person appears. He sings about how great a bird-catcher he is, but his song gradually changes to reveal his deep longing for love and a wife. The guy recovers from his faint, the three women come back, the Queen of the Night appears. She sings about how her daughter was kidnapped by the magician Sarastro, and that this guy, now revealed as a prince, should go rescue her. She gives the prince a magic flute, the bird guy some magic bells, and also tells them that three boys in a boat that flies through the air will accompany them and give them advice, which they should follow. So they set off.

For some reason, Papageno (the bird guy) immediately arrives at the place where the princess (Pamina) is being held captive, and they escape. The prince (Tamino), however, wanders around until he comes to some temples, where a priest informs him that Sarastro is their benevolent leader, and the Queen of the Night is no good. Papageno and Pamina are re-captured, Sarastro refuses to release her, Tamino shows up and it is decided that Tamino and Papagena will be initiated into the temple (oh, by the way, it turns out they're in Egypt) and earn the love of their women (it is hinted, although we don't see her, that there is a bird woman for Papageno around somewhere).

Tamino and Papageno enter the temple. The Queen of the Night appears to her daughter and gives her a knife, telling her to kill Sarastro. Tamino passes his tests, Papageno fails his. Papageno is on the verge of suicide, but the bird woman, Papagena, comes to him and saves him. Tamino and Pamina go through fire and water protected by the magic flute. The Queen of the Night appears and sings about how she's going to conquer everybody, but then without notice sings instead that she is conquered. She leaves with her three handmaidens. There is a big triumphal ending.

I've been reading about how this is witty and profound, but my initial impression was more that it was disjointed and lacking in sense. If the Queen of the Night is so evil, how come she gives Tamino the magic flute, which is good, and sends the three boys to give him advice? If Sarastro is good, why did he kidnap Pamina? Plus, why are we supposed to all of a sudden believe the followers of Sarastro about who is good and who is bad? Yet, apparently, this is not a plot twist, but a revelation of truth.

Now that I think of it, there were some funny lines. I can't help thinking they were probably funnier in 1791 when this opera was composed, and people didn't get around so much. 216 years later, they're amusing, but a little shopworn.

So, if you're still reading, here is the synopsis from SFO's website:

Tamino, a prince from a far country, is seeking the court of the Queen of the Night. As he nears his goal he is attacked by a dragon, but three ladies in the service of the Queen save Tamino and hurry off to inform their mistress of his arrival. Papageno, a bird catcher, bounces in and proclaims that he has slain the dragon.
The ladies soon return and, after punishing Papageno for lying, give Tamino a portrait of the Queen’s daughter Pamina, who has been enslaved by the evil Sarastro. Tamino falls in love with her instantly and offers to rescue her. The Queen suddenly appears and describes the grievous loss of her daughter. She confirms Tamino in the task of returning Pamina and promises to make her his bride.
The ladies instruct Papageno to accompany Tamino on his journey. Each receives a magic musical instrument for use in time of trouble: a flute for Tamino and a set of silver bells for Papageno. Finally, the ladies summon three wise boys to guide them to the tyrant’s lair.
Meanwhile Pamina bravely tries to escape from her captivity, but she is intercepted by the slave master Monostatos. He intends to rape her, but is thwarted by Papageno, who has been sent ahead by Tamino to scout Sarastro’s citadel. Papageno reassures Pamina that help is on the way and releases her from her chains.
The three boys have led Tamino to the threshold of Sarastro’s realm where the prince is confronted by three doors. Tamino demands admission and the speaker of the temple informs Tamino that he has been misled by the Queen of the Night. True, Sarastro has abducted Pamina, but he is not an evil tyrant. If Tamino wishes to discover the whole truth and find Pamina, he must undergo initiation to the temple. Mysterious voices assure him that Pamina is still alive. In gratitude, Tamino plays his magic flute for the first time. Wild beasts assemble to listen to the flute, but they disperse at the sound of Papageno’s pipes.
Upon hearing the pipes, Tamino goes off in search of Papageno, who arrives immediately from another direction with Pamina. They are again apprehended by Monostatos. This time the silver bells get them out of trouble, but by now it is too late, for Sarastro himself has arrived with his entourage.
Pamina confesses to the attempted escape, using Monostatos’s lust as her reason. Sarastro forgives Pamina but dismisses her love for her wicked mother. Pamina must now transfer that love to a man. At this moment she sees Tamino for the first time, led in under arrest by Monostatos. She recognizes him at once as the man she is destined for, and they rush into each other’s arms. Sarastro gives orders for Tamino and Papageno to be initiated into the mysteries of the temple.

Tamino is accepted as a suitable candidate for the brotherhood. Sarastro sees Tamino’s recruitment and marriage with Pamina as decisive in the power struggle with the Queen of the Night. Tamino goes unflinchingly through his trials, culminating in the ordeals by fire and water. He is accompanied by Pamina through the ordeals, but not before she too has her faith in Tamino and Sarastro sorely tried—first by her mother and later by Tamino himself, whose vow of silence she misinterprets as rejection. Papageno has a very difficult time with his trials and doesn't make it through. He is frightened of the dark, talks throughout the trial of silence, is separated from Tamino, and gets lost in the temple. He didn’t wish to undergo the initiation in the first place, and his interest is only kept alive by the prospect of finding the wife promised to him by Sarastro. Papageno’s wife-to-be, Papagena, seems to be propelled to him by the power of music and eventually turns him from suicide to a fulfilling life with her.
In the end, Sarastro's strategy successfully annihilates the Queen of the Night's power as the people hail Isis, Osiris, and the triumph of courage, virtue, and wisdom.

And if you've really got stamina, there is an excellent synopsis on Wikipedia.

For my money, even when written up by someone who knows the opera, this plot makes no sense. Good thing Mozart writes such beautiful music. So, just like an opera, in fact, I have taken a huge number of words to say only: Nice music, but the plot makes no sense at all. Even for an opera. So little sense that I feel compelled to go on and on about how little sense it makes. But I'm going to stop now. Really.


Thursday, October 11, 2007


So my face is all wrinkly and frowny-looking, my pants are falling off my hips and my bras don't fit right. But that roll of fat around my abdomen? Still present and accounted for. Cellulite on my thighs? Yessiree, Bob, right where it always was. I wish I could say I see some physical benefits to fasting, but I don't. I really like the way changing your habits throws a spotlight on the many little things you do without even thinking about it (a bite of food while cooking, the coffee or tea pick-me-up that causes more energy fluctuations than are really worth it). I also like the feeling of accomplishment that comes from choosing a hard task and sticking to it. Furthermore, as someone who really can eat all she wants (just not always exactly when I want it, for now, anyway) it's really interesting to see how sustaining non-food experiences can be. Man does not live by bread alone, indeed.

But I can't say I think it's doing my body any good.

Thursday, Friday.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007


What a blast! Orienteering is a kind of cross-country race with maps and compasses. It's entered the digital age with little electronic keys that you use to check in with at various points along the course, and when you're done you can download the information to get a printout of your times. Very cool. They have many different degrees of difficulty, but since we'd never done it before, I decided (in spite of Ziad's displeasure) that we were starting out with the easiest.

Our route took us up and down hills,

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through the woods,

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past a small lake,

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past the coolest climbing tree ever,

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and back to the parking lot. We liked it so much we hiked it again after completing it the first time. We weren't trying all that hard to race (in fact, before we began, I categorically stated that racing was OUT, we were just doing it to see what it was like) but I still thought our time of 32 minutes was pretty awesome. Apparently not. We came in 9th out of 17, which places us squarely in the bottom half of people who finished. (Results are here.) Well, next year, I'm going to get out my track shoes and train, because I know Ziad and Maya could have done it much faster if I hadn't been holding them back.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The hardest moment

of Ramadan came tonight, when it was all I could do to keep my hands off the cookies I was baking, right before, but not quite at, time to break my fast. I kept on having kind of hallucinatory intervals of thinking that the fast was over, and then remembering just in time that it wasn't. When it was time to eat, I came very near to making an entire meal of fresh-baked cookies. As it was, I probably ate more than I should have.

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday .....


Palo Alto Pumpkin Patch


We are huge fans of blown glass in this family. Even though I am not a person who should be allowed to collect anything, due to my complete inability to maintain a physical environment where collections can be showcased as they deserve, I actually have a tiny collection of various glass items. Little blue glass elephants from Venice, a few blocks of glass with little glass fish swimming around inside, some millefiore paperweights (I especially love millefiore). And now I have a glass pumpkin, and Ziad and Maya each have one, too. At least it's all in a good cause.


There are at least two glass pumpkin patches that I know of around here, both of them benefits. One is held on the lawn at Los Gatos High School, one on the lawn of the art museum in Palo Alto. We went to the one in Palo Alto because it's closer to my Mom's house, and she likes glass pumpkins, too.

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Then we had to leave for their three-hour guitar marathon (two classes of one and a half hours each), the one made all the more charming because I am fasting. I have started taking my knitting along, and no amount of dirty looks from guitar instructors will make me stop. However, perhaps because I only got four hours of sleep the night before, I spent more time ripping stitches out than putting them in.


Monday, October 08, 2007

Music in the park


I'm on the e-mail list for the San Francisco Symphony. I'm glad I am, too, because I found this in my inbox a few days ago:

Join Us for a Free Outdoor Concert in Downtown San Jose

Join the San Francisco Symphony on October 5 for a new event—a free noontime concert at the Plaza de Cesar Chavez in downtown San Jose. Resident Conductor Benjamin Shwartz leads music by Copland, John Adams, and Gershwin.

Bring your lunch, take a break from your day and join us for this outdoor performance.

No tickets required!

When: Friday, October 5 12pm
Where: Plaza de Cesar Chavez

Benjamin Schwartz conductor
San Francisco Symphony

Copland -- Fanfare for the Common Man
John Adams-- Short Ride in a Fast Machine
Prokofiev-- Suite from Romeo and Juliet
Gershwin -- Cuban Overture

Who could pass that up?

It was a beautiful day. Our house was cold, so cold I almost decided against going, but when we got downtown it was warm and sunny.

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The music was beautiful. It was noisy downtown, but that was part of the charm. Ziad and Maya enjoyed the music, too.

The Mercury News was even there! Their article about the concert is here.


Sunday, October 07, 2007


I love this picture of the first day of Ramadan. It is an amazing picture, because the moon was actually below the horizon at night and too faint to see after the sun rose. (This picture was take from an airplane.) The Islamic calendar is a lunar one, so each month begins with the new moon. If you're interested, you can read more about it here.

Ramadan, although venerated by Muslims, is basically one month of 12 in the Islamic calendar. A month that is now almost over. Less than a week is left, and now each day I am saying to myself that it is the last of these weekdays that I will fast. And oddly, fasting is getting hard again, to the point where one day I woke up last week thinking that I could not possibly do it any longer. Although, of course, I could and did.

This is the last Sunday I will fast this year. A week from today I will be eating pizza and birthday cake. Yeah!


In the middle of the night

Last night, when I was sound asleep, there was a knock on the front door. I woke up, wondering if I had, in fact, just heard a knock on the door, when the door bell rang. I assumed it was Nabil coming home, having forgotten his house keys or something. So I got out of bed without getting dressed, and went downstairs. As I approached the front door, I heard a voice say, "San Jose Police, checking about the status of a car." This got my attention all right. In the back of my mind, I am always worrying that one night Nabil will be too tired to drive safely and that something bad will happen. I realize looking back on it that this was foolhardy, but I opened the door enough to stick my head around while I was still standing behind it. There was a police officer, all right, asking me whether I have a Honda Civic and does somebody else drive it.

"Yes," I said, still thinking about Nabil.

"Is it black?"

"No, it's white."

Wait a minute, I just realized, the white car is a Nissan. JENNIFER is the one who drives a Honda, and it's registered in my name, and although it's not black it's a weird purple color that could easily be taken for black at night. And Jennifer is a girl who likes to party, although I could swear she is not one to drink and drive. She's more of a call a cab or get a hotel room ahead of time kind of person.

Fortunately, from this point of view at least, what had happened was the following: the police were following a stolen car. The people driving the car jumped out and got into another car and were trying to drive away in it. This second car was Jennifer's, and the police were making sure that it was not stolen as well. I called her on the phone, waking her up also (and it wasn't easy, either, I had to call three times before she answered), and she was just fine. The police were also outside her house, with the car, and they wanted her to come out and talk to them, which she did, and there appears to be no lasting damage to her or the car. My night's sleep was a thing of the past, however. I had to call Nabil at work and tell him about it. Jenny eventually called me back, too, which was a considerate act she wouldn't have made a few years ago.

There was a post on the Yarn Harlot recently about milestones. She takes an interesting view of them, and I quote:

I feel like as the girls get older they hit these milestones that make you heave great sighs of relief. Your daughter turns 16? Awesome. No matter what, she can never be a 15 year old mother. 17? Wicked. She can never be a 16 year old addict. 18? The police can never bring her home charged under the young offenders act.....

At last someone who takes as pessimistic a view as I do. Which is why I am so grateful for every day we get under our belt with all of us healthy and happy and capable of living our lives. Every day makes my two little ones more capable of fending for themselves, should the need arise.

And last night was a milestone, too. The first nighttime visit by the police, the one I've been dreading all these years. Thank heavens it wasn't anything really serious.

And now Maya is telling me about her crazy dream where she heard me talking on the phone to someone about Jenny's car getting stolen ....

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Medicare, Part II

I feel that I should add that if you are a friend of mine, of course you are welcome to call my house at any hour you choose. And if you know me, you know that I am usually up at 7:30 and have no problems with phone calls at that time. What I was trying to express was my feeling that a phone call so important to the well-being of my in-laws should not be made at some uncertain, off-hour kind of time.

That said, the phone call seems to have been just another dead end, because after telling my husband she would pass the matter on to her supervisor, our mysterious Medicare caller rung off, and we haven't heard a peep from anyone else all day. So, we're back in the limbo we were in before, and who knows when my father-in-law will get his oxygen.



This is what I want to know. Who the f@(k calls someone at home at 7:30 in the f%$king morning. I mean really!

My husband's family has been having big problems with Medicare. His father needs oxygen to breathe at night, and both his parents have ongoing health issues, all of which are very expensive, and for some reason Medicare has decided to deny them benefits. This is because (no surprise here) of an error that MEDICARE itself has made with their records. Medicare freely acknowledges that it is their error, and that the error has been straightened out, and then continues to deny them benefits. My husband has been to the Medicare office several times in an effort to fix this, and is not getting very far. So today we finally got a call. At seven thirty!

Why does this bug me? Because we could so easily have missed it. My older daughter called last night after I had gone to sleep. The phone rang, she left a message, and I never heard a thing. At 7:30, chances are good that people will be asleep. If my husband had been home alone, he certainly would have been. Or maybe a family is in a rush to get their kids out the door and has no time to answer the phone. Maybe they're in the shower. And as you may know from dealing with the government in other capacities, there is no way to return a phone call directly to anyone in the Medicare office. You have to go through their elaborately recorded phone triage, with its endless messages of buttons to push, only to end up with some person you have never spoken with before, who has no clue about your particular situation, who says they will fix it and then voila! It doesn't get fixed.

I suppose I should be happy that Medicare was awake and on the job at 7:30. I'm certainly happy I was able to get to the phone. And if it turns out this is finally, really fixed, for once and for all, then I will be ecstatic.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Isn't it ironic

that the reason I feel each day of fasting is getting easier to get through is that I see the end of Ramadan coming closer and closer? So theoretically by the time we finish I will be thinking, "Oh, this is nothing!" and at the same time "Thank God this is over and done with!"

Today is the 20th day, so tonight, I can start counting down the 10 days left. This is a good thing.