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27 posts from February 2008

February 29, 2008

I give you my words

I Give You My Words

by Rebecca the Bookseller

The words in this blog have been inside me for awhile. Sometimes words, like sneezes, just have to come out.

Words are important. We use them, not just to communicate, but to express and inspire and admonish and cajole. We use them to demonstrate rage because, for many of us, violence is not an acceptable option. We use them to ask for help, and forgiveness. We use them to make promises.

Some people are content, even happy, to use few words. Some are quiet by nature, and some choose silence. Alas, I am not one of them. I am, for better or worse, someone who writes. I write because, frankly, I have to. If I don't let the words out, they boil together and build up so much steam and force that I have to release them or risk expressing myself in less civilized ways.

Most of the time, that is a wonderful thing. I make my living as a lawyer using words. My words make people laugh and help bring people together in prayer.

But there are times when my words are such a burden that I am exhausted. Then my words are heavy and sad. They keep me from laughter. They keep me alone. In a very real way, they block my light.

This is nothing new. I wrote my first family newsletter when I was about twelve years old. When the Internet made communication easy and fast, I started writing via e-mail. I was blogging before it was even a word. I didn't get much feedback, or even return e-mails, but I kept doing it.

Even though I write legal stuff all the time, it's not enough. There are way too many words that just never find their way into a Stock Purchase Agreement or an Offering Statement, no matter how interesting the client's business might be. So I write. I can't seem to help it.

Why? The best explanation I can come up with is that writing is like an addiction. I don't do it for the money - there is none. I don't do it for any kind of recognition - are you kidding me? In case you didn't know, my name isn't really Rebecca. Plus, other than the semi-regular comments from my husband (thanks honey) nobody in my entire extended family even comments here, and I can count on less than one hand the number of 'real friends' who do. It used to bother me a great deal. Then I finally figured out that they don't give a shit, and it doesn't matter any way.

Because TLC has a fantastic group of commenters - even without the people who know me in my real life. Which is really amazing. Did you know that some of us have actually become friends from this blog? It's true. And not the creepy kind of stalker friends either - the kinds of friends who talk to each other and help each other.

Once, I wrote a blog on depression, and ended up hearing from people who really needed to read those words. We were able to share our pain and our hope.

But that's the exception. A wonderful, blessed one, but an exception none the less.

I'm not the only one who writes for no payback. There are lots of us. Even the authors who blog here every week could be saving their words for the books they sell. Instead, they hand them out to you for free.

I guess what I want you to know is that, these words are gifts. Gifts from our hearts and minds and souls and energy. They are given freely. You don't have to give anything back. Sometimes, you even get some laughs thrown in as a bonus, or you get a different perspective or you learn something new. Do you understand how incredible that is? To be able to, with a click of a button, receive that kind of a gift for nothing in return? It's extraordinary, and yet we don't even think twice about it.

Today, I want you to think about it.

When I give you my words, please see them for what they are: they are pieces of me.

February 28, 2008

The Fabulous Moolah

The Fabulous Moolah

by Nancy                Go to fullsize image

After a few days of looking at very pretty Oscar dresses and thinking about the poor selection of acting roles for women who work so hard on their bodies and professional skills for so little reward (maybe the offer to play a hooker or a dying mother or the chief of MI5 despite your Oscar) I found myself thinking about women working in other parts of popular culture who struggle to make a living and garner some respect in their chosen profession.

Also about my short, but nevertheless impending book tour for MURDER MELTS IN YOUR MOUTH.

Which all--in an admittedly circuitous confusion of synapses--reminded me of an obituary I read a couple of months ago for Mary Lillian Ellison, who was also known as The Fabulous Moolah.  Here's some of the obit from the NY Times:

Mary Lillian Ellison, whose flying drop kicks, flying head scissors and hair-pulling "flying mare" body slams brought her renown as the Fabulous Moolah, died Friday in Lexington, SC.  She was 84.

For more than half a century as a wrestler, promoter and trainer, the Fabulous Moolah was a leading figure on the women's circuit. She held versions of the women's wrestling championship for all but short intervals from the mid-1950s to the min-1980s. World Wrestling Entertainment brought her back at age 76. Clad in a sequinned jacket over a green leotard, she pinned her opponent, Ivory, in a match at Cleveland and was again proclaimed champion.

When she started in pro wrestling in the early 1950s, the promoter Jack Pfeffer decided a name change was in order. . . .  The name Lillian Ellison wouldn't do. Not flashy enough.

He asked her why she was wrestling, and, as she recalled:  "Annoyed, I blurted out: 'For the money.  I want to wrestle for the moolah.'"

First, she apprenticed as a valet for Nature Boy Buddy Rogers; she was billed as Slave Girl Moolah and clad in a leopard skin outfit.  Soon, she was wrestling as the Fabulous Moolah, and she won the championship belt in 1956. On July 1, 1972, when the New York State Athletic Commission lifted a ban on women's wrestling, she was the featured attraction at Madison Square Garden.

The Fabulous Moolah was only 5 feet 4 inches and 118 pounds when she began wrestling as a professional, and her physique did not seem particularly imposing. But her maneuvers wowed the crowds.

"Flying drop kick is when you jump flat-footed from the floor up as high as the person you're looking at and kick them in the face or the chest, wherever you want to kick them, and then you fall to the floor," she told National Public Radio's "Fresh Air" program in 2005.

"And then the flying head scissors is where you jump up, put both legs around their head and throw them forward as you come down. And a flying mare is when you get a girl by the hair of the head and pull her over your shoulder, then slam her to the mat as hard as you can. And I love doing that."

The Obit goes on to quote the Fabulous Moolah's daughter on the circumstances of her death (a probable heart attack after shoulder replacement surgery) and to clarify that Moolah lived for many years with Katie Glass, "a former midget wrestler known as Diamond Lil, who joined with her in training wrestlers."

A lot of the "lady wrestlers" came from difficult backgrounds and chose to join the wrestling circuit to escape really lousy lives. There are a lot of tough survival stories in that business.  But the Fabulous Moolah was one of the very few women who emerged from the ring to become A promotor of the sport--where the real moolah is, no doubt--rather than allowing men to keep her performing basically as a carnival side show.

Now, readers, what lessons can we draw from the life of the Fabulous Moolah?  Here's my thinking, but I hope to hear yours:

1.  Wearing a leopard skin leotard has to be a confidence-builder.

2.  If you're small, you have to find a way your own way of slamming the competition to the mat---and enjoy doing it.

3.  Part of becoming a champion again at the age of 76 has surely got to be just showing up, ready to rumble.

4.  The name Slave Girl Moolah is not nearly as empowering as the Fabulous Moolah.

5.  Having daughters and good girl friends has a lot to do with keeping a girl going strong to the age of 84.

6. The money does matter. It's a measure of respect in your field as well as a way to pay the mortgage.

7. Not that I'm trying to stir up a hornets' nest or anything, but I defy you to listen to that NPR story about women in a man's sport and not think about the situation for women and the Edgars these days. Go ahead, listen.

Meanwhile, since my book MURDER MELTS IN YOUR MOUTH, which is the 7th installment of the Blackbird Sisters mystery series, will be released next week, I'm wondering where I can get my hands on a sequinned jacket and green leotard. Because in order to compete in the bookstores for your book-buying dollars, I'm not sure my skill alone is enough. 

Here's a chapter, though, to get you started.

And if you're still looking for a good book to read this weekend, may I suggest NOTORIOUS, by our fabulous Michele Martinez?

And has anybody reminded you lately that our fellow Tart, Elaine Viets, has been nominated for an Agatha?  Needless to say, we're in an uproar here at the offices of The Lipstick Chronicles.

February 27, 2008

Big News for Big Men

Big News for Big Men

Elaine Viets

Florida has taken a big step forward. Last Sunday, the Marlins baseball team held tryouts for the Manatees, an "all-male, plus-size cheerleading squad."

In other words, they want fat men. But the Manatees cheerleading squad has to do more than just stand there and look big. They have to dance.

Most men I know will dance, but it takes at least two beers to get them out on the floor. The Manatees squad will have to dance cold, stone sober. This makes them braver than lesser men. The Manatees’ only comfort is that the Marlins draw the smallest crowds in major league baseball. They probably won’t embarrass themselves in front of more people than your Uncle Norton did when he got drunk at your cousin’s wedding.

Manatees are large, lovable mammals. So are the manatees who aren’t on the cheerleading squad –- they’re also known as sea cows. Manatees are about ten feet long and weigh about a thousand pounds. An adult manatee spends some six to eight hours a day eating, and the rest of the time resting, traveling or watching sports. OK, that last one isn’t true. But manatees are slow-moving. The poor things get run over by speedboats and badly cut by propellers because they aren’t fast enough to get out of the way.

You could say the Florida Marlins are honoring aquatic road kill.

The Marlins already have a cheerleading squad, the Mermaids. Some (male) sports fans claim the Mermaids are the baseball team’s true achievement, even better than its two World Series wins. The Mermaids are, well, I won’t say fast, but they are so slim and perky I’d like to run them down with a speedboat. Check them out at http://www.boxxet.com/Florida_Marlins/Video_Florida_Marlins_Mermaids_Cheerleaders.1gmi2k.d

Some fans question the need for cheerleaders at a baseball game. Did Babe Ruth or Stan Musial need them?

Female cheerleaders are a good way for a team to lose half its audience. Watching them is a depressing experience for many women. We start thinking that not so long ago, we had thin thighs, trim middles and hair down to there – and we threw it all away on the man stuffing his face with pork rinds in front of the TV. Maybe mother was right and we should have married Clarence the stockbroker.

This does not promote healthy family relationships.

You might expect me to call for male hotties to cheerlead for the Marlins -– Mermen, if you will. Svelte hunks dancing in tiny scraps of Spandex. Fair is fair, right? If the guys get to look at hot bodies, women should, too.

But, no. I believe the Manatees squad is better for baseball and its fans. Why would I want to look at fat guys jiggling?

(1) Fat men can be sexy. The late Luciano Pavarotti was no Chippendale, but the man had sex appeal.

(2) Fat male cheerleaders can save marriages.

When couples watch sports events together, men sometimes make unwise comments, such as "Look at the uh, enthusiasm on that blonde cheerleader in the front row."

We can see her enthusiasm. It’s at least a C cup, and definitely false. At this point, a female companion may launch into a tiresome lecture beginning, "Do you want your daughter shaking it in a stadium full of drunken oafs? Do you know how little those poor women make? They can barely afford enough material to cover their . . . enthusiasm."

But the male Manatees make no money at all. They will get free tickets, but no cash.

Besides, it makes sense that the Marlins should have a cheerleading squad of fat men. After all, they are an expansion team.

February 26, 2008

Paradise by the Dashboard Lights


By Sarah

So what is it with kids today, huh? When I was a teenager, I couldn't wait to drive Dad's Dodge Dart. Maybe that was because I had two very older brothers or, having started Kindergarten at age four, I was69swinger340ad  the last in my class to get her permit. But, man, once the driver ed teacher lifted his foot from his safety brake and was carried off to the emergency room to have his heart restarted, I was roaring to go.

Such a contrast to today's generation who, according to recent studies, is none too eager to get behind the wheel. Fewer sixteen year olds are driving thanks to all sorts of official, boring reasons - tougher state laws, a cutback in school driver ed programs leading to a heavier reliance on expensive private lessons. Sky-rocketing Insurance. Lawsuits.

But that's not why. Kids aren't driving because they don't have to. And I'm not talking about free rides and public transportation. I'm talking about sex.

As the mother of a teenager about to hit her seventeenth birthday with no license in sight, I've 16_birthday_cake witnessed this phenomenon first hand. My daughter's friends who learned how to drive once they blew out the last sixteenth candles were the ones who were the first to lose their virginity. Ditto for those who got their licenses later. Negotiate the cones? K turns? Parallel park? You're ready for advanced intercourse in the narrow back seat.

Society would be well served if the DMV handed out condoms with every laminated donor's card.

The ones who aren't driving also aren't having sex. And, no, that's not just the mother of a "good girl" talking. I know her unlicensed friends. And God help you should you pass them on the road when they're taking driver's ed this spring. These are serious go on red, stop on green kind of brainy, nerdy airheads. Beware.

The thing is that in other less rural parts of the country where kids are having sex at younger ages and in more sophisticated urban/suburban areas, the car has lost its nostalgic role as a Motel 6 on wheels.Trojan_condom  Parents work so kids can have sex right at home. At any time! A famous story circulating our high school involves a kid and his girlfriend who lived across from the school's football field. Talk about convenient - why they could slip in a quickie between lunch and biology. Kind of like a hands-on lab.

Then there are those parents who are "so cool" they allow their kids, even encourage them, to have sex on the premises instead of the car. Don't they know how they're denying their offspring the classic Meatloaf moment of sweat and hesitation and desire tempered by uncomfortable steering wheels? It's a shame, really, to miss that right of passage just because mom and dad would rather have junior safe and protected, a drawer full of Trojans ready to offer coverage.

Sex in the car was heady independence. Dangerously exposing, it fed our voyeuristic urges and Meatloaf challenged us to be daring. There was a built in excuse to fumble, to grope and pant. Back seats squeaking, windows fogging. In the end it was a sweaty, awkward mess. How many adults have sex in cars? Few, I imagine. We know better by now what feels good and what doesn't. And a stick shift there definitely is not wanted. Plus, we appreciate a soft bed and cleansing shower. Also, perhaps, a quick nap and to finish that New Yorker article about Hillary Clinton.

But, oh, to go back for just fifteen minutes.....This generation doesn't know what it's missing.


P.S. Michele's NOTORIOUS comes out today! Please, don't forget to pick up a copy this week. Just what you need in dreary February, a great page turner, right? Notorious

February 25, 2008

The Oscars Suck and I Don't Care

We interrupt this blog to bring you an important announcement from our sponsor: Michele's new book, Notorious, hits bookstores tomorrow!  Read the first two chapters here.  Once you've read them, you'll have all the info you need to enter this contest to win autographed copies of Michele's first two Melanie Vargas books.

Notorious About to bring a famous rap star to trial for murder, prosecutor Melanie Vargas becomes the sole witness when a car bomb kills the rapper's lawyer.  Her career and her safety are on the line, but so is her heart: Melanie's relationship with the charismatic defense lawyer was more than strictly professional. Publisher's Weekly calls Notorious "exciting" and "engaging," and Romantic Times says "Martinez is at the top of her game. Her writing sparkles in this exceptionally well-written suspense novel."  Read more about Notorious in these great pieces posted at FreshFiction.com and Shades of Romance.

We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming.

The Oscars Suck and I Don't Care

by Michele

As I'm writing this, it's Sunday afternoon and I don't know yet who won the Oscars.  As you're reading this, it's Monday, and I may still not know.  Why?  Because I'm not planning on watching the Oscars tonight.  The first Indiana Jones movie just came in the mail from Netflix.  Raiders of the Lost Ark -- remember that one?  1981!  Nearly thirty years ago now.  Now that was a good movie.  And Harrison Ford, man, he was a real movie star.  Tonight, I'm going to introduce my kids to Indiana Jones, and when I'm done with that, I'm going to do some laundry or get a little extra sleep.  Because I just can't care about the Oscars this year.

No, I'm not one of those people who refuses to see artsy or violent films.  I generally really like both artsy and violent films, and I've seen every single one of the movies nominated for Best Picture (Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, No Country for Old Men, and There Will Be Blood) because I see a lot of movies. But did I like them?  Three of them, no, I was bored out of my mind.  What I'm sick and tired of is this pose that films have taken on in recent times.  You see it a lot in books, too.  The idea is, people are rotten at heart, life is bleak and evil, institutions are corrupt, and violence is the only truth.  Awards judges seem to think this attitude is necessary to render a movie worthy of praise, or at least, nominations.  Yeah, maybe the first five hundred times you see it.  It worked in The Graduate, and Serpico and The Godfather and Scarface.  It worked, for me, as late as Unforgiven, which was made in 1992.  But aren't we done yet?  Can't we come up with something new?

(Two of the movies weren't like that.  Juno and No Country for Old Men both had wicked senses of humor, and likeable characters, and ultimately believed human beings have some intrinsic worth.  For that reason, they seemed fresh and original.  I loved both of those movies, but will either one of them win?  I'd bet against it.  They aren't bleak enough.) 

So I'm casting my protest vote by opting out.  I need movies to have a sense of humor and some redeeming feeling that human beings have value.  I need books to have those qualities, too.  (I'd say I'd like to see women in roles other than that of victim or sex toy, but c'mon, let's be real.)  Not only because films and books are too depressing otherwise, but because they're just boring and pretentious and done-to-death.  And not credible.  How many times can we watch the cliche of the divorced cop with the drinking problem who plants evidence or lies about important matters on the job?  The people writing those characters have never even met a cop.  They've just seen a lot of movies about divorced, drunken, lying cops, and they think that's what they're supposed to write.  But cops aren't like that.  Most cops are funny and decent and possessed of a moral code.  Married, certainly.  A good number are even nice.

So the Oscars suck this year, but here's where we get to the second part of the title of today's blog.  I don't care. The Oscars have become irrelevant to me.  I don't need to care, because I can watch anything I want whenever I want from Netflix, or from the free movies that I DVR.  And probably sometime in the next five or ten years, all I'll have to do is Google a movie, click on the title and it'll play on my tv.  If not a movie, then a tv show.  In the past month, I've watched every single episode of The Office and 30 Rock, and you know what, that made me really happy. Those shows are funny, the writers seem to like people, and I don't want to shoot myself when they're over.  These days, that's saying a lot. 

Now, break out the popcorn and let me at Indiana Jones.


February 24, 2008

Guest Blogger Lila Shaara

Last November, The LIpstick Chronicles published a guest blog on the subject of The Bodies exhibition. Since then, many voices have contributed to the backblog, and ABC News has opened up the story.  And our "comments" section has generated some terrific dialogue. Here's Lila Shaara's original blog on the subject. 

Of Two Minds

by guest blogger, Lila Shaara, author whose debut novel, Every Secret Thing is available here.

You may have heard of "Bodies: An Exhibition," in which preserved ("plastinated") organs and entire human bodies are displayed, the latter flayed and posed. It's now in Pittsburgh, where I live.  My first reaction was ambivalent disgust. I'm an anthropology professor, and I see a woeful lack of understanding in my students of the basic fact that we are animals (primates specifically, just like chimps and baboons!)  You'd be surprised, or maybe you wouldn't, by how few young Americans have any real understanding of where their food comes from. Their connection with death is even more peculiar; they've seen thousands of murders on TV and in film, mostly fictitious unless they're fans of snuff films. On the other hand, unlike those in most cultures, few of us have bathed our Aunt Hester's dead body to prepare it for burial, unless we happen to be morticians.

So I have some sympathy with any attempt to drive the fact of our animal nature home to us. But the ads for "Bodies" are designed to shock; a man with no skin stands with his hands on his hips in a sporty pose, only he is split completely down the middle; his two halves are joined by a fat, bumpy string of internal organs. The majority of the exhibit's venues around the country are not museums or universities, but Expo Marts and exhibition centers, where the goal of profit-making is clear. On the Carnegie Science Center's website, there's a lot of highfalutin' talk about the appreciation for healthy living it brings the viewer, the marveling at our inner workings, and how much you can learn about human anatomy. You can learn as much from a good textbook, but I suspect the real motive for many is the same one that makes movies like The Hills Have Eyes and Saw IV hits, and the Carnegie is exploiting it for revenue. But I don't tell people that they shouldn't go just because I think it's gross and prurient. That's just me.

The thought that children are being taken to this by the score appalls me. Mine certainly won't be going. But this won't be the first time that I could be accused of worrying too much about how quickly our culture wants our children's innocence ripped from them or wants to turn them into voracious consumers. So I would never tell other people that they shouldn't take their own kids. That's  just me.

The specimens are reportedly from "unclaimed" Chinese cadavers, and I had to wonder if that was justification enough for them to be used in such a way, without consent, even if it's legal. These people likely didn't have many breaks when they were alive. Now their flayed carcasses are posed kicking a soccer ball for the edification of overfed suburban teenagers. I find that disturbing. But maybe that's just me.

But the main objection my husband and I shared with many other people was the issue of the bodies' true origins. A hospital in Dalian, China, "plastinates" specimens and then sells them. There are horrifying rumors all over the internet and other news media that the Chinese government is "harvesting" bodies and organs from political prisoners. Such abuses are not inconsistent with everything else that we know the Chinese government is willing to do to its citizens. (According to CBC Canada, an investigation by former MP David KIlgour and humans rights lawyer David Matas found that 41,500 organ transplants performed in China came from "unexplained sources.")

The Carnegie's response to these concerns has stayed the same since the issue was brought up. The short version is that the doctor that does the plastinating says that no donor died of trauma, and the guy at Premier Exhibitions (the owner of "Bodies") agrees with him. This was, of course, not good enough for many thinking people. Then David Hilldenbrand, CEO of the Carnegie Museums in Pittsburgh wrote an editorial in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about how those who objected to "Bodies" didn't understand what art is supposed to be about. Except this was the first time the thing was called art. And he didn't address the actual controversy; instead, he just said that art is supposed to make people argue. That's what it's for. And then you know what he said? "We've been asked similar questions [which questions are those?] about a number of the [Andy Warhol Museum's] electic, sometimes gut-wrenching exhibitions . . . Why the Abu Ghraib photos? Why an exhibition about lynching in America? . . . I shudder to think of the day when our museums explore only those topics that make us feel all happy and comfortable."

What? The point of the Abu Ghraib photograph exhibit was to illuminate human rights horrors. The point of "Bodies" is quite possibly to profit from them. At the very least, the exhibit's stated function is to show in exquisite detail which organs go where and what your nerve fibers look like; these are unlikely to stimulate any tough special questions. Hillenbrand's argument suggests that he is either alarmingly clueless or jaw-droppingly cynical.

So Rob and I wrote a letter to the newspaper. We didn't expect that it would start a groundswell of interest in China's human rights abuses. We just thought it was the right and ethical thing to do, to shake our tiny fists at a gargantuan injustice. But I was shocked at the reaction of a number of people; "I'm going to go but I respect your opinion, even though it differs from mine." In this context, what does "I don't agree with you," mean?  Does the speaker disagree that such things could happen in China? Then he's simply ill-informed. Or does she disagree with the notion that a government killing its citizens for profit is bad? I have a sinking feeling that what's actually going on is that an increasing number of Americans think that "But I want to," is a reasoned argument.

Rob suggested an interesting hypothetical scenario. Say the "unclaimed" bodies had been sold to an American entrepreneur by an Iraqi doctor. What if allegations were made that some of the bodies were those of unconsenting Americans, lost through the vicissitudes of war? Would those "Bodies" patrons be less eager to plunk down their twenty-two bucks? My guess is, you bet your Hummer.

But you know, that's just me.

What about you?

For the ABC News 20/20 coverage: http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/story?id=4284629&page=1

For a thorough look at the issues from the perspective of a museum employee who resigned over this issue:  http://mysite.verizon.net/vzexqyla/anti-bodies-virtual-picket-line/

The Kilgour-Matas Report: http://www.organharvestinvestigation.net/index.html   


February 23, 2008

Guest Blogger Karen Olson

Guest blogger Karen Olson, is the author of the Annie Seymour Mystery series.  Check out Karen's latest release, DEAD OF THE DAY.

Almost exactly 10 years ago, my husband and I met our daughter in a dingy, cold government building in Changsha, Hunan, China.  A single lightbulb dangled from the concrete ceiling as 15 waiting families held their new daughters for the first time. The girls were dirty and small. Our daughter weighed only 15 pounds at a year and couldn't even pull herself up into a sitting position if she was lying down. She clutched two rice crackers, one in each hand. When we got back to the hotel room, we peeled off five layers of clothing and discovered a disposable diaper was being held on her tiny body with a rubber band. She screamed hysterically for two days, until she realized we were giving her food. Her first smile came when my husband was feeding her rice with chopsticks. Still, food was not to be wasted, and she carefully picked up each grain of rice that fell on her shirt or pants and put it in her mouth.

Her name is Julia Elna, but we kept her Chinese name---Xin, which we were told meant prosperity---as a second middle name. She's 11 now. As American as any other kid, but raising a child of another race has had its ups and downs. We've heard from the moment we started telling people we were adopting a baby from China that she'd be "smart, good in math." She was also described as "a beautiful China doll." Okay, so she's pretty and smart and good in math. She also plays the violin.  Some stereotypes you can't get away from.

I did have a stranger walk up to us when she was about 2 and say, "Don't they kill baby girls in China?" And if I had a dollar for every time someone asked me "how much did it cost," I probably would have been able to adopt again. One woman actually asked me if we were going to tell her she's adopted. I mean, she IS Chinese and we aren't.  She'd be able to figure it out.

Funny thing is, for a long time apparently she didn't realize she looked Chinese. When she was about 3, we were in a Chinese restaurant and she asked if all the people who worked there were Chinese. I said yes, why do you think so? She said, because they look Chinese. I said, well, you're Chinese.  She looked at me calmly and said, but I don't look Chinese. I asked her, what do you think you look like? She said, I look like you. Later, at home, we looked in the mirror together. Her expression was one of disbelief as she turned me to and exclaimed, I look Chinese!

We belong to a group called Families with Children from China. Lots of other families in our area who have adopted girls from various provinces. It's a great organization, and we've been able to show Julia families that look like ours: Caucasian parents, Asian children. But when she was 5, we realized we did too good a job having her accept this. She met a little girl during kindergarten orientation who was also Chinese, and she was so excited. She asked, did you see her father? He's Mexican. I said, he's probably not Mexican, sometimes Asians look Hispanic. I'm sure he's Chinese, too.  She asked, why would he be Chinese? She didn't realize Chinese kids could have Chinese parents.

These are all things we didn't realize we'd have to address when we flew across the country to meet her that first time. We felt we were prepared; my husband had lived in Japan for three years and knew firsthand what it was like to be a minority. But as we all know, parenting is on the job training as you go. Julia is a confident girl, proud of her Chinese heritage but very American at the same time. She's taken a great interest in the presidential primaries, and she's upset that she can't run for president because she wasn't born here. She has set her sights on Yale already. As I watch her growing up, I realize that there's nothing else she can't do, and I remember that tiny person being handed to me in that stark gray building 10 years ago. For those people who have insensitively asked me "when I would have a baby of my own," I always respond by saying that Julia IS my child. I'm not a particularly religious person, but I do believe that things happen for a reason, and if I had a biological child, I would never have met Julia. I truly believe she was destined to be our daughter. And I can't imagine life without her.

For more information, try these links:

Holt International

China Adoption

An adoption blog

Families with Children From China Heritage Tours.

February 22, 2008

Real Wedding Vows

Real Wedding Vows

by Rebecca the Bookseller

Blog_weddingYou don't have to call me Rev, but you could. Yep - I am now licensed to perform marriages. How did I do it? About five minutes online. Free. Why did I do it? To see if I could.

So any local official who wants to go out on a limb and issue a marriage license to a gay couple, call me. I'll do the ceremony. Sure, I could lose my license. Who cares?

Until then, I decided to seek the fine wisdom of our TLC community to devise some REAL wedding vows. All that pledging of troths might have worked in the past, but it's time for change.

Let's start by taking a page from Pastor Paul Wirth of Florida, who is challenging his married flock to have sex every day for a month. Our friend Chris, who sent me the article, put it best: "Hallelujah, I have found Jesus." Pastor Wirth believes it will help lower the divorce rate. It could. Conversely, given the average age of many Florida congregations, I'd look for an equivalent spike in cardiac incidents.

Regardless, the Pastor has a good point - when we get married, we promise NOT to have sex with anyone else. But we don't promise TO have sex with each other. Some people may not care. No comment. But lots of people do.

What else is really important? Let's take a moment in the bathroom. Toothpaste, toilet seat - changing the paper - using the bath mat instead of leaving a slippery patch - these are things that should be agreed upon from the get-go.

And the kitchen. There is a silent, yet vicious, war going on about the best way to load the dishwasher. And when to take out the trash. Is it okay to keep smashing it down so that it melds so closely with the can itself that you need the jaws of life to remove the bag? Or should you take it out as soon as the contents are visible at the top edge? What about wedging the pizza box in there so that it takes up all the room? These things are critical.

Then there is the temperature tempest. Sure, when you're young, you think you can adjust. But I am here to tell you, gentlemen, when your wife approaches a certain age, you'd best stock up on warm socks and sweaters. Because when she resets that thing to 60 degrees, you had damn well keep your mitts off.

Get the idea? So let's go - what promises should really be included in the wedding vows? I'll start:

I promise not to finish the coffee/soda/milk without replacing it or at least warning you before the next morning. (Leaving half an ounce counts as finishing.)

I promise that if you get sick, and you want to be left alone, I will honor your wishes. (Alternative vow for men: I promise that I will NOT get sick every time you get sick. And I promise not to act like a toddler and moan and whine when I do get sick.)

I promise not to make fun of whatever you read, be it Playboy (for the articles) or a cheesy romance novel.

I promise to pay attention when you say: "I don't want to talk about it." This promise must be accompanied by its companion promise: I promise not to say "I don't want to talk about it" unless I really mean it.

I promise to negotiate in good faith about the bathroom and the trash, and to abide by our collective decision. Especially about the pizza boxes.

Your turn - you'll note that I left the sex vow out of it. I'm counting on the rest of you to come up with that one. heh.

February 21, 2008

Too Stupid To Live?

Too Stupid to Live?

by Nancy

If you've read or written crime novels or romance novels for any length of time, you're familiar with the character who is Too Stupid to Live. This is often a young woman who decides to check out that funny noise in the basement after the local newscaster reports a serial killer has escaped and the local butcher was robbed of his knife collection.  She puts on her nightgown, grabs a candle and tiptoes down the basement stairs--alone, of course.

Nowadays, I wonder if that character isn't our national mascot.

Are we celebrating stupidity these days? When that Simpson girl opened a can of Chicken of the Sea and asked if she was eating chicken or fish, we laughed. But that was a few years ago now, and I wonder if we've decided to embrace idiocy in a big way? (And this isn't a political blog, so lay off the presidential jokes. I'm warning you.--I've become a connoisseur and only appreciate the very best.)  Is the constant flow of entertainment making us all into morons? And have we reached the point of wanting to believe that's a good thing? Do we aspire to be nincompoops?

Have you seen Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? Sure, it's funny, but I'm not certain we're cheering for those brainy elementary school kids. We're hoping the adults will make fools of themselves, aren't we?

In her new book, The Age of American Unreason, author Susan Jacoby believes Americans are taking an intellectual nosedive. We're not only stupid, but we compete to see who's the stupidest. (At least somebody had the wits to cancel that Caveman show.)  And she thinks we're hostile about being forced to learn. If you'd take a walk into the urban high school that's located 8 blocks from my house, you'd agree with her. (This school even looks like a prison.--No windows.  And no grass growing in the yard---er, football field next door.) A teacher acquaintance of my husband admits that the kids in his 10th grade class are so resistant to learning anything whatsoever---they don't want to get caught "acting white"--that many teachers have given up and simply pass out magazines at the beginning of every class and let the kids look at pictures or nap.  No child left behind? Hell, these kids WANT to be dumb.  At least, they think they do.

But who's dumb and who's dumber? The kids or the teachers? Or the parents? Or the community that allows the situation to continue?

Me, I'm not exactly a brain surgeon. I attended a liberal arts college that believed profoundly in the liberal arts by insisting all students take a variety of courses that would (presumably) mold us into well-rounded adults. Which means I know a little bit about a lot of things.

Although I planned to be an English teacher (after a brief stint in the theater department) I was required to take plenty of courses in history, math, art, a foreign language and--God help my professors---science, too. In fact, my college was so committed to the liberal arts concept that we weren't offered any courses that would prepare us for specific work.  ("If you want to be a plumber, go somewhere else," a fatuous professor memorably said at freshman orientation.  Since then, I have thought countless times that--well, nevermind.  Let's just say that if one of my daughters brought home a plumber to join the family, I would be overjoyed.) We took no how-to classes at my college, but plenty of theory.  The idea was that if we knew enough about education, for example, and had a depth of general knowledge, we'd become good teachers without any training.  The broader the base of what we knew, the better.

Uh . . . are my classmates the teachers now passing out magazines, do you suppose? Because nowadays there are plenty of programs to help teachers better inspire and educate students.  Maybe the liberal arts could use a bit of brass tacks, after all?

Anyway, I've been thinking a lot about teachers lately.  They're kind of our last line of defense in the dumbing down of our country. Obviously, I didn't last long in the profession. After 5 years of struggling to understand inner city 7th graders--let alone teach them anything worthwhile--I couldn't cope any longer. It took more than my "depth of general knowledge" to succeed. I have huge respect for teachers, though, who stick it out, take the low pay in stride and strive to improve themselves and their students year after year.

Right now, we're in an era when many parents think it's more important that their kids become a professional athletes than high school graduates. We're willing to pay private coaches to teach our 12-year-olds the subtleties of baseball, but not algebra. Personal trainers aren't uncommon, but private math tutors are. Kids---hell, all of us!--spend hours surfing the web, but one in four Americans didn't read a single book last year. How are teachers supposed to function in this atmosphere?

I look back on the good teachers I experienced from kindergarten through grad school.  (I'll skip over Mrs. White who spent our daily math class teaching us the Flut-o-phone instead of multiplication tables.) I had a chemistry treacher in high school who--despite my wandering around the lab in a state of total discombobulation---managed to help me understand the big concepts and show me that I wasn't entirely stupid---just a victim of the common belief that girls couldn't be scientists. My 8th grade homeroom teacher was also my English teacher, and one day as she was reading a paper I'd written in her earlier class, she turned to me (as I was killing time playing table football---remember that game?) and said with some respect and wonder, "Where do you get the words?" Which was incredibly encouraging to me.

I know I'm preaching to the choir here.  You're all brilliant thinkers (if you read TLC every day, how can you not be?) and interested in many things. (Who among you can please explain the Kosovo/Serbia situation in a succinct and unbiased way?  I'll bet somebody can.) But did a teacher help you become who you are? Or do you remember only the bad ones?

Last week, somebody mentioned the Fractured Fairy Tales, which were smart story-telling for kids.  Here's one.  Enjoy.

February 20, 2008

Take the Long Way Home

Take the Long Way Home

By Elaine Viets

"You can go to the store," my mother said. "But you are not allowed in the alley, understand?"

I understood.

I understood that the alley was the coolest place in my neighborhood, as well as the shortcut to the Kroger store. If I was old enough at seven to get a whole dollar to buy a gallon of milk and bring it home, then I should be allowed to make a detour through the alley.

Now, this was not your standard city alley. It was a suburban alley, paved with concrete and lined with almost new yellow brick buildings. It was fairly clean for an alley.

But it was still a wicked place. Even at seven, I knew that.

That was where the bad boys smoked cigarettes they shoplifted from the drug store. They kissed nasty girls here. They also wrote bad words in black paint on the walls. Last time, they’d written FUCK A DUCK.

I was pretty sure I knew what the F-word meant, but I couldn’t figure why they’d write that.

I followed my mom around the house asking, "Why would anyone want to do that to a duck?" until she threatened to tell my father when he got home from work if I didn’t shut up.

Now Mom was out of milk again – which happened a lot with four kids – and she wanted me to go to the Kroger store with my little brother, who was five. I was supposed to be proud of this responsibility, but it was a drag. The kid wouldn’t listen to me, even though I was a whole lot older. On the plus side, it allowed me another chance to explore the alley. He knew better than to snitch me out.

We’re talking 52 years ago. The world wasn’t any more innocent then, but kids weren’t quite as aware of stranger dangers. We were told we should NEVER take candy from strangers. We were warned about kidnapers. The whole state reacted in horror to the kidnaping of a little boy whose father owned a car dealership. Even after the boy’s parents gave the kidnapers a hundred thousand dollars, he was still killed. That poor little boy and his newspaper photo lived in the nightmares of my generation.

We didn’t realize the chances of kidnapers holding a nearly penniless electrician’s child for ransom were pretty slim.

Anyway, I was headed for the Kroger store, little blond brother in tow and my mother’s dollar bill clutched in my hand. Naturally, I made a beeline for that fascinating alley. My little brother didn’t object. He liked the alley, too.

We were almost to the store when a man stepped out from behind the Dumpster. To my kid’s eyes, he looked about nine feet tall, but that’s the only description I could give. He took my brother’s hand and said, "Come here, little boy" in a weird, stagy voice.

He did not sound nice at all.

"No," I said. "You can’t have him. He’s my brother." I yanked my brother’s hand away.

The man started laughing. He kept laughing, a dirty, horror movie sound, as I ran down the alley with my brother.

My brother and I went to the store. I bought the milk. We took the long way home. We never told Mom what happened.

I never went back in that alley again. I never saw the man.

It was only years later that I realized what a narrow escape we’d had. I still can’t figure out why the man let my brother go.

Sometimes, I still hear the man laughing in my dreams.