Monday, October 31, 2011


aka Halloween before it got messed with.
Halloween on a Monday is just sort of odd and sad. We did Halloween things all weekend, really, so it's all right. The boys will get to go out Trick-or-Treating, and though I expect there will be fewer kids out this year we'll be giving out candy. Costumes this year are scrounged from mostly existing costume parts from years past, and I carved no new fancy pumpkins this year, though the old ones are still around.
We did at least get to carve real pumpkins this year, thanks to Karen and Greg and their excellent pumpkin carving party. The boys each carved their own for the first time, really, and they both got into it and had a good time doing it.
Riely, Greg and another friend whose name I cannot recall carving away.
Riley carved a long time all the way around the pumpkin.
Mine is on the left, Casey's classic is on the right
Riley carving away. I never got a decent picture of his finished one, alas.
 A lot of great pumpkins got carved up and the amount of creativity was fun to see. Between helping boys and hanging out, I carved my own basic pumpkin and called it good. So we'll have real Jack-O-Lanterns to put on the porch all lit up tonight along with the fancy carved ones from years past. Just have to clean off the porch and get it all set up before dark...
Happy Halloween.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sticky Grimy Hands

ArgleBargle, as my sister Heather would say.

I have been 'helping' the boys do their homework, which really involves more acting as a rather grim policeman and threatening judge rather than a kindly helpful mom who supplies tasty snacks to the hard working little dears who work so diligently at their given tasks. It (inevitably) dissolved into my yelling at them here and there, since one had lost his math packet somewhere and therefore could not actually do that portion of his homework. This after several incidents in the past few weeks of doing stupid things like misplacing homework to turn in, or not turning it in on time, or having The Messiest Desk In The Entire Class And That Is a Shameful Thing Says His Teacher. Shameful. This Is Shameful And Cannot Continue. (Heh, just come look at this house and tell me it cannot continue. Some of them never change. Apple. Tree. Short distances.)
Well. I suppose there are plenty of more shameful things than having the messiest desk, but then again his teacher is trying valiantly to knock some sense into that one's shaggy mop of forgetfulness. The Mop is also incapable of shutting up in class and talks incessantly and ended up having a GIRL put onto the task of keeping a running tally of how many times he actually talks without raising his hand and thinking first. Yeah, you can guess which twin that would be. He was very proud of the fact that he only had 4 tallies against him that day.

The other one went into the bedroom to change for gymnastics and didn't come out. After about half an hour when I realized he had simply disappeared I called him and it turned out he was messing around doing STUFF and had conveniently forgotten that he was supposed to do his homework. "Whut?"

Homework did eventually get done, what could be done. I have come to hate this time of day since they have been cooped up all day at school and they simply want to goof off. Getting them to do the bloody homework is like pulling teeth. Herding cats. Pulling out a splinter. Cleaning the garage. I keep stifling this loud voice filled with intense resentment; it says that I did my time, I paid my dues, I was a good girl and I did all my stupid meaningless homework already in this life and why oh why do I have to do it all over again times two with these squirmy little rascals with their sticky grimy hands and dirty faces?
Urk, did I say that out loud? But I chose to be a parent, didn't I? Would I have chosen the same again had I known I'd be in such a ridiculous hell of my own making?

Adjust my attitude, I tell myself. Breathe. Breathe in, down deep, feel it circulate, let it out. Again.
I love my boys, I do. They're intelligent, funny, mostly kind and really very interesting people.
They are ten now. The picture above is from almost a year ago now, though it's hard to believe.

We survived through the preschool days when they were so rowdy that the preschool wanted to toss them out for being too energetic. They tried to tame them, get them to behave like good quiet little children should. Epic Fail. Energetic, noisy, smart and mischievously inventive. Really challenging for anybody trying to take care of them, really.
We went through Kindergarten when the mean evil substitute teacher tried to break Riley like a wild colt. He survived, spirit and rowdiness intact, though she never returned. I actually felt some sympathy for her, having to deal with this kid in her class. He would not give in. He is proving to be one of the most stubborn and self-assured people I have ever known, and he's been that way right from the beginning.
They both thrived in 1st grade with the excellent teachers they had, though I know that Casey's teacher despaired that Casey would ever be able to sit still and had him regularly doing push-ups in the back of the room during story time so that he could work off some excess energy.
In 1st grade they learned to really read (thank god, since they would get enthralled enough with books to sit still and read for some periods of time). Of course books opened up whole new ideas for imaginative play involving rather dangerous scenarios, but we have all survived. So far, at least.
In 1st grade they also got into gymnastics, which suited them very well and worked off some of that energy and helped them settle down a bit in school. Only a bit, though.
The rowdiness continues, though they may be learning a bit better when it's okay and when it's not. It feels like trying to tame wild beasts in many ways. They are not domesticated animals.
They may never really be tame but maybe we can train them to pass in regular society at least. Luckily they're smart and do well academically.  
Sports are helping them channel some of the energy, and training them in ways that we just can't.

 We're up to fifth grade now, and the girls are developing and are acting like little adults and they simply can't believe how immature and gross the boys are.

And the boys are making stupid fart and poop jokes. Oh wait, they never really grow out of those. Overheard last week driving home: "Well, you know he really only brought that sports magazine to school so that he could draw mustaches and beards and uni-brows on all the people in it." "Yeah, Billy is so immature in some ways." "Yeah, he farts a lot too!" Loud and inventive farting sounds follow. Both dissolve into helpless gales of laughter.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Age of Reason

When do we reach the age of reason? Does it apply to populations and societies too? Things here in the US are pretty crazy right about now, and nobody really seems very reasonable or rational. Has reason just been abandoned? I try not to talk much about politics because it makes me crazy, it usually makes me depressed and it's very easy to get sucked down into a downward spiral that I can't allow for so many reasons. But sometimes it gets to be too much.

I asked Paul last night what all the Occupy Wall Street was about, since I never considered myself up on politics or economics much. I probably qualify as a fairly well educated ordinary citizen here in the US. It was helpful to talk it out with Paul, since he has a very logical mindset and he's good at seeing all sides of an argument. I knew the basic idea was that The People have just had it with the 1% fatcats who are sucking up all of the money and resources and telling the rest of us sheep to just work for ever-lower wages, not think about it too hard, suck it up, pay our taxes to the 1%, give up our basic democratic rights like voting and go off and just die if we can't afford private health care. Well, that pretty much sums up what I've been hearing and how it feels lately, anyway.
It was really good to talk with Paul about all of this, but also pretty scary to hear him voicing some of my own thoughts, and to realize that even in his quiet, well-reasoned views, things are wildly out of control in this country and that the loud, extreme right-wing elements are indeed not only frighteningly beyond any reason but also determined to spread hatred and evil for their own gains. Paul is a very intelligent, well spoken and well reasoned person whose opinion and rationality I trust a great deal. To realize that he is frightened at the state of things is more scary to me than almost anything else. To hear that he has thought about emigrating to another country (which I've also thought about, despite the fact that I love this country) was a shock. He wouldn't even muse about such a thing unless he felt things were really, really bad.

Keith Olbermann read a press release from the Occupy Wall Street group, and whatever you think of Olbermann, the declaration he read is interesting. It's a passionate declaration, but it's so wide-reaching that it becomes unwieldy. Their dissatisfaction seems so huge and all-encompassing that it all feels impossible. The statement keeps talking about 'They' as a sort of faceless evil that is to blame for all of the many ills listed. There is no real call to specific action, it sounds like, except for a call to gather in peaceful protest. Assert your power to peaceably assemble, the statement says. Make your voices heard, it says. Which can be a powerful thing, as Ghandi proved, but doesn't it need a cohesive and coherent path to follow for things to get fixed? It's too big and too vague.

I feel the desire to cheer them on, these people who are peaceably occupying, but I can't help wondering if the amorphous fatcats will simply wait them out and ignore them and hope that the lack of porta-potties will eventually make them disperse. I hope that the movement grows and continues to spread to other cities. Of course it's reminiscent of the protests against Vietnam in the late 60's and early 70's, but one of the huge differences between the two is that there was a very clear goal in the Vietnam protests: get the hell out of Vietnam. Simple, pithy, clear and unequivocal. This movement now expresses a deep anger and long-building dissatisfaction with so many parts of this society as a whole that it's overwhelming and hard to know where to even start to begin to fix things.
From a health care town hall meeting here back in 2009.
Recent estimates of actual unemployment numbers now in 2011 are more like 17%.
This all may be overly simplistic on my part, but I'm a fairly intelligent, college educated adult who has supposedly reached the age of reason, and I have just about no freaking clue of how to fix the mess we're in. I could join the protests and hope that some wise souls are out there who have the knowledge of the best way to effect change, and the best interests of the people at heart, and who actually have the power and ability to change things. Maybe someone like that is out there and able to have some impact, but from where I'm sitting it sure looks like all of the reasonable people who have a clue and have a conscience are being systematically discredited and silenced, rendered helpless and ineffective. I've been watching Elizabeth Warren, she gives me hope, but voices of reason like hers are being discredited and suppressed by the financial goliaths (as shown by the recent abject failure to actually appoint her as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency that she developed). We are in crisis, and it's been building for a long time, and we have failed to recognize the warning signs. How do we recover from this? Can we?

I have been feeling increasingly helpless and alarmed at the state of things in the economy, in politics, in the types of laws being put out there by the right wing, in the steps backward in civil rights. It seems inconceivable that these things are happening. I don't recognize this country. I do think people need to stand up and be heard, and not just the right-wing crazies with the really loud voices.
It makes me wonder if I always had an overly rosy ideal of what the country stood for and maybe I've clung stubbornly to that ideal.  There is a huge difference between a country run on the principles of democracy and a country run badly on the worst sort of capitalism, though few people seem to really understand that there is a difference between the two. I don't want to think that the promises of democracy are all a lie, that commerce at any cost and bottom-line profit and taking everything you can get at the cost of others' lives is all it ends up amounting to in the end. Where is the reason in that world view of 'take all you can get and screw everyone you can at every turn'? It's ultimately self-destructive and my tendency is to want to characterize it as plainly evil.

Paul pointed out to me several things that were helpful in seeing things more clearly. He pointed me to DC Douglas' video post about Occupy Wall Street. It points to 4 things that could be done that would help the overall situation:

--Reinstate Glass-Steagall (separation of commercial banks and investment banks)
--Audit the Federal Reserve (who actually got those trillions of dollars?)
--Reverse No. 08-205 by amendment (the Citizens United case, wherein a majority of the Supreme Court held that corporations have the same rights as individuals, and that by regulating corporations' ability to contribute money to political causes, the government would be stifling their right to free speech [questionable on both grounds])
--Overhaul 1% Corporate Tax Code (make the 1% pay a fair percentage)

It will be interesting to see whether any of these potentially helpful ideas get done, since they are all things that the GOP and the big corporations are solidly against.

In other news, Paul's company has decided to stop providing the health care coverage for its employees' families. It looks like we need to figure out how we will keep some sort of coverage for the rest of our little family. Not that the health coverage really makes us safe from catastrophic health care costs, but it's perhaps better than nothing. It means that to keep us covered under the same coverage Paul will have, in effect Paul ends up taking (another) pay cut. Things are tight over here, and we're some of the lucky ones, but it's going to get tighter.

I'm going to go do something else and try to savor some of the simpler, easier things in my life. Enough despair.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Seanan's Traveling Circus and Snake-Handling Show

(Well, actually no snakes in this post; they're all in my last post.)

I was going to try to list a few links in Facebook and Google+ and suchlike about all the people who participated in Seanan's latest book release party, but those social media sites are too limited in what they'll allow me to say at one time. And since I tend to ramble on at length, I decided to blather on to my heart's content over here. So here's my link-fest combined with my own thoughts about all of these amazing people.
Seanan during rehearsal at our place
 Let's start with Seanan, shall we, since she's the reason we all got together and had a blast playing music and such. Her latest book to be released is One Salt Sea, the fifth in her October Daye series.

Seanan McGuire is a force of nature. I first met her many years ago (when she was still a teen) at a convention where she walked up to me and pronounced herself astounded that I existed, since she had been convinced that I was a figment of Paul's imagination. I have considered her to be like a younger sister for years, and there have been times when I threatened mayhem to people who had caused her pain. She's a very successful, relatively new author writing under both her own name, Seanan McGuire, as well as Mira Grant. Seanan was the winner of the 2010 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and her novel Feed was named as one of Publishers Weekly's Best Books of 2010. She was nominated for a Hugo award this past year, as well as hitting the New York Times Bestseller list. Her delighted squee-ing could be heard across three states, though she tried valiantly to contain her enthusiasm.

She sings and composes and has put out several music albums (my own favorite is Wicked Girls, and not just because I got to play harmonica on some of the songs) and she writes prolific amounts of poetry as well as prose. She's funny and poignant and multi-talented and I am always amazed at all she accomplishes. I feel very proud of her, though of course I had nothing to do with her success.
Seanan signing books at Borderlands Books
 So Seanan likes to put on fantastic book release parties when she has a new book coming out, and she found kindred spirits at the Borderlands Books in San Francisco, which is dedicated to Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror books. It's a wonderful place, if you ever get over there. It's filled floor to ceiling with books, there's a comfortable cafe with wi-fi and lots of comfy chairs right next door. Great place to people watch, too.
Borderlands Books
Where was I? Seanan hosts these large parties and she brings fancy cupcakes from Cups and Cakes with flavors like Pretty Pretty Princess and Pancake Breakfast and Mat Hatter's Tea Party to share with all the people who show up (including the musicians, yum).

Mia brought her pendants, which are inspired by Seanan's books and use words and phrases literally taken from her books. They're subliminal and pretty and dark and magical all at the same time. She calls her shop Chimera Fancies; the pendants she had at this book signing were all from One Salt Sea.
Mia's pendants
There are raffle prizes and giveaways and book signing and she does a reading from the latest book, in this case One Salt Sea. (Riley told me later that her reading this time around was like a hard core fight scene intermixed with lots of sassy.) And of course there is lots of music, as Seanan gets a lot of her music friends to come out and play with her. It's a ton of fun, if rather epic and exhausting.

So Jeff and Maya Bohnhoff were there; Jeff brought all of his sound equipment, with speakers and mikes and sound board and everything a traveling band could want pretty much, and he set it all up and took it all down and it was honetstly a ton of work for him. The sound went off without a hitch, all thanks to Jeff.
Maya and Jeff Bohnhoff
Jeff and Maya are stellar musicians. They've played together in bands of various incarnations over the years, always together. They do a mixture of funny parodies, usually written by Jeff, with serious original songs written by them both. I'm particularly fond of both their Mobius Street album and Manhattan Sleeps, which have more of their original music. Jeff has branched out recently into putting some of his parodies to video, with hilarious and impressive results, like Midichlorian Rhapsody, among others. Jeff has his own recording and sound engineering studio, Mystic Fig Productions. He recorded and engineered Seanan's album Red Roses and Dead Things, as well as all of their own albums. Maya Bohnhoff is also a Science Fiction writer, with her most recent book being Star Wars: Shadow Games. She's always writing, and always manages to balance all of the disparate parts of their busy lives. She makes it all look easy, and she does it with good humor and grace. I aspire to be more like Maya (but don't tell her that; it'd be kind of embarrassing).

And Betsy Tinney was there, playing cello on most all of the songs because she's really that good and when she plays on your song you wonder how it ever stood on its own without the cello before. Betsy plays with numerous bands; she's in great demand. Betsy is so fun and easy to play with; she's such a consummate professional that she can jump in and accompany on a song and make it sound effortless and beautiful. She's a founding member and essential part of Tricky Pixie, performing and writing some of their original material with SJ Tucker and Alexander James Adams. Betsy also raises Maine Coon cats; Seanan got 2 of her wonderful cats from Betsy. Betsy's cool in so many ways.
Betsy on cello
Vixy and Tony were there, too, and Vixy sang on almost all of the songs, as did Maya. Vixy not only has a beautiful voice but is also a gifted songwriter, with both serious and funny songs to her credit. She's also a talented visual artist and we like getting to geek out together about art stuff.
Vixy during the concerts
Tony is not only a great guitarist (partly taught by Jeff when they were both younger) but he's also the mad genius behind Monkey Brains Studios, his own recording and sound engineering studio.
Tony during rehearsal
And we were there too, Paul and I and the boys. The boys didn't play any music, they hung out with Amanda, Jeff and Maya daughter, who is 2 years younger then the boys but is mature in intellectual ways far beyond the age of 35. I like having deep discussions with her about the state of the world and how annoying boys can be.
Amanda at last year's Consonance
So Paul played a set, Jeff and Maya played a set and Vixy and Tony played a set, and Seanan sang songs interspersed in all of the sets, and Betsy played cello throughout and I accompanied on harmonica on a number of songs in the sets as well. It was fun and exhausting. The bookstore was hot that night; though it was cooler and quite humid outside, all of the people crowded into the bookstore made it quite hot up there playing music.
Paul off in the background after his set
Paul got Vixy and Maya to sing on several of his songs, and Jeff accompanied on guitar and Betsy and I played along on several as well. I know Paul really misses playing with Puzzlebox, but it's hard to get together now since everyone has moved to different states. I'm really glad he's still playing and writing songs; and it's wonderful that more local music friends like Jeff and Maya are ready and willing to play music with us.
Vixy, Paul, Maya and Jeff belt it out on Jeff's "Get Offa My Lawn!"
So we all played music and Seanan sang and gave away raffle prizes and signed books and did a reading from One Salt Sea and answered questions from the audience and man, she must have been really wiped at the end of the night; I know I was even with my small role in the whole endeavor.
Breath of cool air near the end of the evening
It always impresses me, how much work Seanan puts into doing events like these; she doesn't do them in a half-hearted way either, she's there and present and she really interacts and talks on a real level with everyone who wants to speak with her. She loves being an author and getting her books out there and she's so appreciative of her readers and the people that support her writing and music. And man does she put on a good book party. :)