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Saturday, December 31, 2005

Beaver!

For those of you who are hoping to see a list of New Year's Resolutions from me: Forget it.
Remember: click on the picture to enlarge it.

I've been tagged by Beaver, whom I've only recently met. She "is a Franco-Canadian chick, raised in Africa, educated in Canada, with roots spanning from Montreal to Ouagadougou, and passing through Paris". Whew!

Seven things I plan to do before I die:

1. Fly in an ultralight (although this may hurry up my demise)
2. Travel to India, Mexico, Brazil, Egypt, and Greece / Italy to see the temples and other landmarks
3. Buy a massive luxury catamaran and sail around the tropics
4. Finish and publish my books
5. Grow VERY old
6. Save, influence, and/or enrich lives when given the opportunity
7. Spend as much time as possible with friends and family

Seven things I can do:

1. Sing opera
2. Mountain climbing and spelunking
3. Marry people (I’m an ordained minister)
4. Model
5. Sandsculptures
6. Stand up for what’s right, and not for what’s easy
7. Sailing

Seven things I can't do: (I stole #6 from Beav)

1. Sing in front of an audience (stage fright!) even though I enjoy acting onstage
2. Discuss the Theory of Relativity knowlegably
3. Hurt an animal
4. Ski. I think.
5. Be unethical (I couldn’t sleep at night)
6. Listen to racist or hateful discourse and stay silent
7. Gymnastics (OW!)

Seven things that attract me to another person: (OK, I stole ALL of these from Beav)

1. honesty
2. curiosity
3. intelligence
4. culture
5. humility
6. generosity
7. sense of humor

Seven things I say most often:

1. @$#^& (I won’t repeat it here – it’s usually said in bad traffic)
2. Truthfully...
3. Seriously...
4. What EVER!
5. Good Gravy! (yeah, I really say that – how lame is THAT?)
6. Crap!
7. I love you (to friends, family, etc.)

Seven people to do this little blogger game:

Michelle (who won't talk about herself unless we force her)
Old Hoss
FTS
Tan Lucy Pez (TLP)
Eddo
Alex
Jamie Dawn

Friday, December 30, 2005

Michelle

This is the final design I've settled on. If you miss the mermaid design, Michelle has inherited it. Once she saw the mermaid, she was struck by how much it resembled her; and she was right! We each now have avatars that actually look a great deal like ourselves without giving away our identities.

Michelle is the one friend I don't blog about much, because (unlike my other friends) she blogs a great deal on her own. So, I figure that she can give away as much or as little about herself as she'd like, with no help from me.

But, I thought you might be interested in knowing how our friendship developed, because it was through very unusual circumstances.

During the Spring of 2005, we had an incident in one of our local schools that sparked a great debate in our community. It was about a very vicious little girl who had a horrific tantrum both in her classroom (which forced them to evacuate the classroom) and then in the Principal's office. What was amazing was that she was about 5 years old.

Because the school's staff wasn't allowed to intervene (there had been incidents of bad behavior before, and the mother had formally demanded they couldn't touch her - probably forseeing this) the police had to be called. Since there was no reasoning with her, and she was so violently defiant, the cops were forced to handcuff the kid and haul her off. Yes, it was that bad.

What made the situation unique was that most of it was caught on tape! So it was no longer up to interpretation: Everyone could see exactly what happened. This was sorely inconvenient for the mother, who had filed a lawsuit and was hoping to get rich off the proceeds.

There was a great deal of debate about it all, with the vast majority of the opinion going against the mother. This shocked the mother, because she was apparently under the impression that you could raise a child to be a Tasmanian Devil and as long as she was cute, she could get away with it.

It brought back discussions about spanking, discipline, and forcing parents to be responsible for their own children. Since it wasn't going in the right direction for her, the mother packed up her kids and moved.

During all the brouhaha there were some of us that developed a friendly acquaintance with each other: Polanco (a local teacher at that time), TC, and Mr. Gator were among them.

But Michelle and I clicked almost immediately. We took to emailing and then calling each other, and a strong friendship was developed. We eventually met in the summer, and found that our families clicked also. Since then we've tried to make a point of getting together regularly. I now count her as one of my closest friends.

If you'd like to read some of my posts about the topic as it was happening, feel free to go to Kids Out of Control (KOOCs), Disciplining Kids, Survival of the Fittest, and Solution to Kids Out of Control (KOOCs). And if you'd like to see the actual videos that started it all, go to videos of the KOOC and you'll be able to select from two different scenes.

And yes, Michelle really does look like that mermaid. With glasses.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Shampoos of Ages Past


I have ties to the salon industry, so I know a lot about shampoos. But what I want to talk about today is the Shampoos of Ages Past.

I grew up in the 70s and 80s, but I had parents and grandparents that were very involved in my upbringing, so I was exposed to a lot of things that many kids my age weren't. I remember most of the stories my father's parents told of WWII (and I have them on tape).

My father's mother was an advertiser's dream. She read all the ads in her ladies' magazines and seemed to believe every one. So, of course, we used a lot of Breck and Prell shampoo when we were at Grandma's house. Grandma was also a firm believer in Creme Rinse (hair conditioner) and happily, Breck made that too!

Breck was famous for the Breck Girls. They would get various pretty girls or movie actresses to pose for a painted portrait and then triumphantly trumpet that their hair was thanks to Breck (it usually wasn't).

Prell used pretty girls, but advertised that their shampoo was different because it was rich and green and was a thick gel! And people bought into that, too.

What people didn't know then was that both formulas were very caustic and horrible for the hair.

Incidentally, I got Grandma to deviate once and buy me a red bottle of "Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific!" so I can't judge her. I was enticed by all the television ads where a woman is flouncing down the street, and men stop her (and almost haul her off the sidewalk) saying in amazement, "Gee! your hair smells terrific!" I figured if that many men were impressed by the smell, it must be something else! It wasn't. But that's when I realized how effective advertising was.

Another time she bought me "Body on Tap" shampoo because she grew tired of my begging. Although it was advertised as having beer in it, I'd challenge anyone to find it. The commercials featured very coy people wagging a finger at the screen and telling you "Now remember, don't drink it!" As if! The stuff was shampoo, and that's all it was. Anyone who drank it would be blowing bubbles out their butts for weeks.

Then there was Wella Balsam which had the fragrance of Pine-Sol. Your hair smelled like a clean toilet!

I love how pretentiously comical the old ads are, and how easily they preyed on the weak and uneducated consumer of that time. Our consumers today are much more sophisticated, and these old ads would go over like a lead balloon.

You had a sampling of the Breck Girls at the top (does anyone recognize Erin Gray of the TV series Buck Rogers?) Now here are my favorites:

The Prell ads:


Obviously this was such a miracle that women and girls were in hysterics over it. These ladies at the top look as if they just got out of a charasmatic tent revival meeting! I don't know how the young lady below can contain herself; valium, perhaps?

As you can see, another joyous group of women are celebrating the arrival of Prell (which is cleverly spelled out in green gelled letters). At the top, we have a woman straight off the set of The Sound of Music. Nearby, a brunette is smirking with the secret knowlege of Prell's Perfection. But best of all, we have the beautiful-but-down-to-earth blond looking to the skies and thanking God himself for her beautiful hair. Who knew that Prell was divinely inspired?

Here we discover that hair can be younger-looking. Now, I don't know about you, but I've never looked at a woman and said "Wow, she sure looks young, but her hair gives her away..." This is really tapping into the "fear of aging", isn't it? Again, the woman is thanking God himself for her hair. In fact, she looks so excited, I think she's about to burst into song!

Just in case you weren't sure, we have all elements combined in this one ad. Prell is fabulous! Women are still worshipping it! In fact, there may be a Church of Prell somewhere near you! Why, young bathing beauties use it! Don't you want to have radiantly alive hair, too? Even the stodgy, practical redheaded business woman is cracking a smile!

Of course when I hear phrases like "radiantly alive" and "hair" together, I think of Medusa. But not the consumer of the 1950s and 60s! Heck no! They want to worship at the Church of Prell, too!

And my grandmother (sensible soul though she was) bought it hook, line, and sinker. Just as most people did back then. Many of us who are, or have been, in advertising salivate for those days.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Suicide

Suicides are always up at this time of year. Note: This is not about planned suicide as a way out of an illness. I'm talking about unexpected suicides.

Some of you have had a beloved family member or friend commit suicide, and it's never easy to live with. Just as people are all different, reasons for suicide are, too. That means that we are left with a big Scooby-Doo-sized shrug whenever someone asks us "why?"

However, the vast majority of cases are due to some form of depression. Many of the ones I encounter had just started their meds, but hadn't waited for them to kick in yet. And what depresses one person won't depress another.

I have heard of 4 suicides this month in just my circles alone (one of them is the son-in-law of a very close friend) and Tony Dungy's son is the most famous one currently.

To deal with suicides honestly, and in the hopes of preventing future ones, we need to also dig deeper and develop some strategies. But to do so, we must know the reasons, and what to look for.

For one thing, it is incumbent upon us to tell our children that there may be a time they consider suicide. If they do, they must tell us or seek counseling immediately so that they can get help. Although this is an uncomfortable topic, it's just as important to discuss this with our kids as it is important to discuss illegal drug use with them.

We also need to impress our kids that suicide is the coward's way out. I realize it sounds harsh, but the reason that suicide is committed is that it's usually seen as the "easy way out". So, kids need to be taught that their problems will never be greater than what others have faced and that there are always solutions. Most of the time it's simple: they're in mental pain, and don't want to deal with the pain any more. Well, pain is something that goes away. But suicide doesn't.

Another way to deal with suicide is to impress upon them a greater fear of the unknown. What if the Catholics are right, and suicides go straight to hell? I'm not Catholic, but I'd hate to stake the future of my soul on that doctrinal position!

Many suicides are also committed in the hopes that it will permanently scar someone: "I'll show him! I'll kill myself! He'll always regret he went back to Sue!" The problem is that it scars the innocent, but the guilty move on easily enough. After all, they lacked enough conscience to do it in the first place, didn't they? So kids need to realize that it's a poor tool of revenge. In fact, it often makes it even easier for the person they're trying to punish: "Yeah, she killed herself. It just shows how mentally unbalanced she was!" So, the best revenge is living well. And, sugar in the gas tank.

What are the signs of suicide? Oh boy is that a toughie. The suicide that hit close to home recently was typical in that no one had a clue until it was too late. He had been remarkably cheery, and seemed to be finally handling his depression and recent divorce. But the reason he was cheery was because he had made up his mind to do it, and was at peace with that decision. This is quite common. But perhaps if he'd heard some of Auntie Saur's tough talk, it might have made him think twice. Instead, he is leaving two teenagers behind and has injured other innocents on both sides of the family.

Of course if a loved one mentions suicide, it is important to never take it lightly, even if he laughs it off later. It is better to become the pushy relative who insists on counseling, than the one that is the pall bearer. And never hesitate to ask if they're having thoughts of suicide.

If the person is acutely suicidal, make sure that they are under 24-hour surveillance.

Don't take the burden on yourself. If the person asks you to keep a confidence, this is one of those cases where you cannot. You must get them professional help, STAT.

As I mentioned before, depression is almost always there, which is why counseling is highly recommended even when treating depression with meds. If the person suffering depression is not getting help, you need to find out what sort of an idiot he has for a doctor. No. I mean, you need to make sure he gets the help. But calling his doctor an idiot would be truthful.

Conditions Associated With Increased Risk of Suicide

1. Death or terminal illness of relative or friend.
2. Divorce, separation, broken relationship, stress on family.
3. Loss of health (real or imaginary).
4. Loss of job, home, money, status, self-esteem, personal security.
5. Alcohol or drug abuse.
6. Depression.
In the young depression may be masked by hyperactivity or acting out behavior. In the elderly it may be incorrectly attributed to the natural effects of aging. Depression that seems to quickly disappear for no apparent reason is cause for concern. The early stages of recovery from depression can be a high risk period. Recent studies have associated anxiety disorders with increased risk for attempted suicide.
7. Emotional and behavioral changes associated with suicide
8. Overwhelming Pain:
pain that threatens to exceed the person's pain coping capacities. Suicidal feelings are often the result of longstanding problems that have been exacerbated by recent precipitating events. The precipitating factors may be new pain or the loss of pain coping resources.
9. Hopelessness: the feeling that the pain will continue or get worse; things will never get better.
10. Powerlessness: the feeling that one's resources for reducing pain are exhausted.
11. Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt, self-hatred, “no one cares”.
12. Fears of losing control, harming self or others.
13. Personality
becomes sad, withdrawn, tired, apathetic, anxious, irritable, or prone to angry outbursts.
14. Declining performance in school, work, or other activities. (Occasionally the reverse: someone who volunteers for extra duties because they need to fill up their time.)
15. Social isolation; or association with a group that has different moral standards than those of the family.
16. Declining interest in sex, friends, or activities previously enjoyed.
17. Neglect of personal welfare, deteriorating physical appearance.
18. Alterations in either direction in sleeping or eating habits. (Particularly in the elderly) Self-starvation, dietary mismanagement, disobeying medical instructions.
19. Difficult times: holidays, anniversaries, and the first week after discharge from a hospital; just before and after diagnosis of a major illness; just before and during disciplinary proceedings. Undocumented status adds to the stress of a crisis.

Suicidal Behavior

1. Previous suicide attempts, “mini-attempts”.
2. Explicit statements of suicidal ideation or feelings.
3. Development of suicidal plan,
acquiring the means, “rehearsal” behavior, setting a time for the attempt.
4. Self-inflicted injuries, such as cuts, burns, or head banging.
5. Reckless behavior. (Besides suicide, other leading causes of death among young people in New York City are homicide, accidents, drug overdose, and AIDS.)
6. Unexplained accidents among children and the elderly.
7. Making out a will or giving away favorite possessions.
8. Inappropriately saying goodbye.
9. Verbal behavior that is ambiguous or indirect
: “I'm going away on a real long trip.”, “You won't have to worry about me anymore.”, “I want to go to sleep and never wake up.”, “I'm so depressed, I just can't go on.”, “Does God punish suicides?”, “Voices are telling me to do bad things.”
10. Requests for euthanasia information, inappropriate joking, stories or essays on morbid themes.

What Do You Think?

This is only a slight modification to the blogskin I had. It will have to do until something better comes along. But, like a woman with a new hairstyle, I have to ask: What do you think? Is it proportionate? Do the colors look harmonious to you on your screen? Please let me know.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Get This Book! Now!

Run, don't walk, to your nearest library or bookstore and acquire an edition of "Eats, Shoots & Leaves" by Lynne Truss. You need it! And, certainly, if you don't need it, someone you know does. And for all of you who are teachers: This should be mandatory reading in all high schools and colleges.

I am a horrible stickler when it comes to proper grammar. Perhaps it's because I'm a writer and began my love affair with the English language at an early age. To me, there is nothing more important than a properly crafted sentence which will appropriately convey what the author is intending to communicate.

For instance, I have been highly fortunate to have a vast assortment of experiences. I have written a wide variety of things, including co-writing a couple songs which have been hits. However, it took years of silently biting the inside of my mouth to quietly abide with some of the lyrics that most of the musicians produce. I have been known to drive along in the car and loudly correct the lyrics of a hit song. My kids will roll their eyes but they know I'm right. They do!

When I hear rap songs, I cringe. Not because they're violent, but because they're violently assaulting the English language. I feel like writing to them and saying politely, "Excuse me, sir. You really need to re-write "Die, Honky, Die" because there are a few lines that are grammatically incorrect. Incidentally, I'll happily proofread all future lyrics at no charge whatsoever." Of course, their next song might be "Die, Grammatician, Die" but it's hard to rap using words of more than two syllables.

Now, don't say "That's all very well for you, you neurotic little linguist. However, I would rather spend my time playing in a shuffleboard tournament than read a book about punctuation."

Well, this book is a #1 New York Times Bestseller and is a British Bestseller. And for a good reason! Here's why (from the book's back cover):

A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.

"Why?" asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

"I'm a panda," he says, at the door. "Look it up."

The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.

"Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves."

This wonderful, humorous book will make you want to run right out and buy a fresh blue pencil for markups (this is what editors use). But even if you heroically restrain yourself from that, you will be glad you read the book. Trust. Me.

P.S. If you click on the link I put at the top for "Eats, Shoots & Leaves" you will be able to read excerpts from the book.

Monday, December 26, 2005

And So...What Did YOU Get?

Christmas was a wonderful, relaxed day. I made the usual Christmas fare but I don't even sweat it any more (it's become such habit). Next year I'll try some new recipes. However, the family may resist because there are favorites (you know) and tradition. Heaven forbid we skip the potato casserole I have listed in Tabasamu's blog.

Family and friends drifted in and out and we wished they could've stayed longer. We gave close friends (who were Jehovah's Witnesses) Merry UNChristmas gifts. I was called a brat, and laughter and hugs were exchanged and they were delighted with their UNChristmas gifts.

But what did *I* get for Christmas? SaurKid sewed me this lovely long rice bag out of stretchy t-shirt cloth that can be microwaved and placed on my neck (it's heavenly). He even made me a box to put it in, and a tiny pillowcase for it. And The Other Half got me these marvellous dangly designer rhinestone earrings that are almost shoulder-dusters and a glitzy white gold (CZ) designer tennis bracelet that I have on right now. And we got the usual assortment of restaurant gift certificates, including one to a restaurant that will let us bring our two doggies.

What goodies did you luck out on this year?

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Eve

Do you know why the night before Christmas is called Christmas Eve? After all, if eve is short for evening, why wouldn't Christmas Eve be the night of December 25?

Because early church fathers followed the judaic tradition of reckoning a 'day' as beginning the night before. For instance, the Jewish Sabbath began Friday night and ran through Saturday. And so Christmas actually began the evening of the 24th; Christmas Eve.


Click on the cartoon to enlarge it.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Thanks For the Gifts: Now, Where Can We Return Them?

In today's paper there's an article about how pork barrel spending is benefitting us locally in the Tampa Bay Area. Gee, we're honored to be the first at the trough.

This is exactly why our government isn't working, and hasn't worked for at least 40 years. Government has been taken out of the hands of state and local officials (where there is forced accountability) and handed over to the Feds who continuously abuse their powers.

This is a typical case in point. Here we see that the monies which are extracted from every taxpayer in the U.S. are unproportionately distributed. In our particular area, we are getting back more than we're contributing. How very sad for the areas that aren't.

Michelle was just telling me about some inner-city schools that have almost no funding (she's doing an interesting series on racism in the school system and although I don't always agree with it, there are some valid points). She told me this story:

An affluent school had been told they were going to lose a teacher because they didn't have the funds to keep her. So, a drive was formed by the parents and they'd raised the money to keep her almost immediately. A ghetto school in the same area lost a teacher and there was nothing they could do about it. This school has boarded up windows, locks everywhere, and little money to even buy textbooks. (Of course to be fair, I need to point out that when there are different classes of people, there are often different classes of behavior. And there are some schools where it's the students' fault that everything is torn apart and ruined).

I am concerned when I see others suffering in less popular areas while we sit here, fat and happy, due to our congressman with heavy influence. Taxes need to be distributed per capita (in proportion to population) instead of where the power lies.

It's rather disheartening to think that the whopping taxes I paid last year (they were enough to provide a good salary to someone else) could all have gone for research into the interaction of medications and grapefruit juice. I would like to pick a more worthy cause, please.

I happen to personally know Bill Young, and he's a very pleasant and engaging fellow. I've even golfed with him. And it's precisely because he's so charismatic that we get what we're getting.

Don't get me wrong! I agree with much of what Bill Young stands for, but not this. Not this.

So, thank you for the gifts, Mr. Young. Now, where can we return them?

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Frankincense & Myrrh and Biblical Lore Surrounding the Birth of Jesus

In the Christian tradition of Christmas, we often see nativities that display Mary, Joseph (if you're lucky), some shepherds, baby Jesus in a manger (of course), angels, assorted barn animals and... wise men and the camels they rode in on. What's wrong with this picture?

The wise men didn't show up until Jesus was living in a house (see Matthew 2:11). Of course, Mary and Joseph were only staying in the stable temporarily. It's to be assumed they'd want to move out and get back home as soon as possible. (IMHO there's something else wrong with this picture, but I'll discuss it at another time).

Why were they in the stable?

Because there was a census taking place (see Luke 2) and all citizens were required to return to their birthplace during that census. Bethlehem was where Joseph was from and so naturally he took his pregnant fiance with him for the census because once you were engaged, you were seen to be as good as married. Since all the houses and inns were full, they ended up staying in the stables.

This was probably very common (though not much fun) for many of the travellers at that time. And because homes and inns were often structured around the animals, there wasn't much privacy. The animals were kept below, and some households lived in a level up from the animals, but exposed to the animals at all times.

Excavations have shown an arrangement where the house was made entirely out of mud and stone with a large pit in the middle of the house where the animals were kept. Then another level (up and out from the animal level) was where the family slept and cooked their meals. Picture it as shaped almost like a bowler hat, upside-down. It was often a convenient way to live because animals are warm in the winter and warm air rises. Often families slept on the rooftops in the summer.

So, Mary and Joseph were probably sleeping downstairs, but within sight of others who were staying upstairs. Not a lot of seclusion for an expecting mother.

There are four gospels in the Bible (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and each was written for a slightly different audience and by different authors, so each touches upon only what he thinks is important. Mark and John don't even feel that Jesus' childhood is significant, so there is no discussion of his birth.

The only mention of the wise men is in Matthew 2. Why is that?

The Book of Matthew was specifically targeted toward the Jews. The aim of the author was to tell the Jews that it was OK to believe that Christ was the Messiah predicted in the Old Testament. Since the Old Testament prophesies pointed to Jesus as being King of the Jews, it was very important to establish his lineage. How do you do that, if you're Matthew?

You discuss Joseph's ancestors, since the right to kingship is passed through the father's side. Mary also seemingly had a royal lineage, and it's possibly detailed in Luke (although there's debate about that).

You also discuss how important his birth was to everyone, and how it was heralded and even indicated by signs: "Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him." (Matt. 2:1-2)

So who were these magi, where did they come from, and why did they bring "...gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh"? Matthew doesn't give us a lot of details.

We know they came from the east but we don't know how long they travelled to get to Jerusalem. So, they probably would have been of middle eastern or asian descent.

Frankincense and myrrh are both resins (dried tree sap) that come from trees of the genus Boswellia (frankincense) and Commiphora (myrhh), which are common to Somalia. But that doesn't necessarily indicate that any of them were from Africa (which was west of Jerusalem) since traders went everywhere. It also doesn't exclude any nationality, since people were known to travel far away from their birthplaces.

They all were considered to be very wise and possibly practiced some form of magic (the word magi is the root for the word magician). There's no indication that they were kings, and so I would definately question the hymn "We Three Kings" (although I still love it).

They probably would have studied together, and they must have taken their beliefs very seriously if they travelled so far to worship Jesus so it might even indicate a buddhist monastery. We simply don't know.

We know that some of their beliefs probably included astrology, since they took the star seriously. However, perhaps the star would have been taken seriously by anyone at the time but most people didn't guess what it indicated. We have no knowlege about it's appearance, so we can only surmise.

Additionally, we have no idea how many magi there were. They probably represented a community, and there may have been as little as 2 or they could have numbered in the hundreds. They certainly impressed Herod when they approached him, and it wasn't always easy to get an audience with him! In fact, Herod was impressed enough to kill every male (age 2 and under) in Bethlehem in order to eliminate the competition (Mary and Joseph had already whisked Jesus away to Egypt for a while).

Why the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh? I have been burning frankincense and myrrh daily, and it smells wonderful. But not only were they burned for fragrance, they were used in toiletries and oils. They were products that were very expensive, and they would have been considered a frivolity for anyone less than royalty. These were gifts that were fit for a King. And thus Matthew's case was made.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Gold!

Wars have been fought over it, people have killed for it. What is the allure of gold?

Originally (it is guessed) man was attracted to gold because of its sheer beauty and the fact that it never tarnishes or rots in any way. Some ancient cultures associated it with the sun, gods, or royalty (often the three were intertwined in their beliefs). It was used to adorn valued things from jewelry to idols. It soon began to be used for currency. Why trade shells when you have gold?

These ancient cultures quickly learned how to add other metals to gold to ‘toughen it up’ because gold in it’s natural form is too soft to be practical. For gold, karat grade is used to express the proportion of gold in an alloy or the quality of a gold alloy. Fine gold (pure) is 24 karat. The proportions in other karat are listed below.

All jewelry is required by law to be stamped so consumers will know the quality of gold used. Jewelry made in North America is typically marked with the karat grade (10K, 14K, etc.), and jewelry made in Italy is typically marked with the "fineness" such as (417, 583, etc.). So if your jewelry does not have a karat grade stamped on it, check for a 3-digit fineness number.

10k gold has 10/24 parts gold to alloy, it's 41.67% gold, and the fineness grade is 417.

14k gold has 14/24 parts gold to alloy, it's 58.33% gold, and the fineness grade is 583.

18k gold has 18/24 parts gold to alloy, it's 75% gold, and the fineness grade is 750.

22k gold has 22/24 parts gold to alloy, it's 91.66% gold, and the fineness grade is 917.

White gold is a mixture of gold in its natural state (yellow) and white metals such as platinum, rhodium or nickel. 18K white gold will be much yellower than 10K. Additionally, it is always plated in rhodium which will wear off in 1-5 years and leave the gold less bright and shiny.

I wish they wouldn’t do that! I'd rather go without the plating, personally. I will only wear white gold because I believe it sets the gems off better (it doesn’t interfere with their tones) so I’m OK with that. I’m not so obsessed with shine that I’ll buy platinum instead, which is vastly expensive.

Many people are surprised to find out that we don’t have a gold standard for our currency any more. During WWI, the government began running out of money, so they started printing more. Why not? If you need it, make it. Right?

The problem was that the government didn’t have enough gold to back up what they were printing, and they still don’t. If every person in America walked up to the Federal Reserve tomorrow and asked to exchange their dollars for gold, they’d be severely surprised. In fact, the Feds would probably just tell everyone to go home. There simply isn’t enough gold to back up what is printed.

What does this mean?

It means that we will continue to have inflation because the American Dollar doesn’t have a set value. It fluctuates because the more volume that is printed, the more it is cheapened.

I’m not an economist by any means (though I loved macroeconomics in college) so I can’t speak authoritatively about this. But for more information, read The Case For a Genuine Gold Dollar.

Here’s another site that tells you what an ounce of gold is going for on any particular day: Live Gold Prices.

So yes! When you hear the commercials on TV about investing in gold, I would agree that it’s a wise investment. But invest carefully, and consult an expert.

Oh, and it wouldn’t hurt to tell your Other Half that buying you that gold ring this year is an investment, too.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Emeralds


Due to Michelle’s request yesterday, I’ll be discussing emeralds today and gold tomorrow.

I’ve always loved emeralds. They’re a member of the beryl family, which is the same family that the ruby and aquamarine (and the lesser-known pink morganite) come from.

It’s hard to find a quality emerald any more, because the mines that produced them are running out of top quality specimens. So, jewelers have learned to adapt. Instead of seeing the larger and clearer emeralds of yesteryear, you’re more likely to find an emerald ring made up of many smaller stones. Often the quality is poor, unless you’re willing to spend more to get more. Many emeralds I’ve seen are cloudy unless they’re treated, which was completely unacceptable 50 or more years ago.

Still, there are ways to enhance an emerald and make it appear more desirable than it really is. Some crooked gem merchants will do it, and pass the stone off as untouched. The better ones also enhance the stones usually, because emeralds today are so very imperfect. However, they disclose any treatments which have been made.

What are these treatments?

Nearly all natural emeralds are treated with oils or epoxy resins to stabilize the gem and enhance the color. For this reason, emerald owners are told never to clean their gems in ultra-sonic devices.

Sometimes the emerald is natural, but is an amalgam of pieced-together chunks which are difficult to detect when they are skillfully pieced together.

Many times the stones are irradiated to ‘clear them up’ a bit. To me this is the most acceptable process, as it is a permanent process that enhances the appearance.

Some jewelers go the route of synthetic stones. Although the way they are grown has changed, synthetic emeralds have been produced for many years. Certain of these stones even have inclusions that make them look natural. Some dealers may claim a synthetic is "real," and that is technically correct, since true synthetic gems have the same chemical characteristics as their natural counterparts, but a reputable jeweler will disclose that a gem is lab-grown.

If it looks exceptional, the chance is that it’s lab-grown. Either that, or the owners chose to invest a vast amount of money in jewelry (which is certainly possible).

Incidentally, great emeralds aren’t always clear. Often they are interlaced with fine markings that coinnoseurs call ‘jardiniere’, which is French for garden because it often looks like tree branches or ivy intertwined in the stone.

Because emeralds have always been popular, but not everyone was a jeweler, there have been times that even royalty was fooled. Some ancient Egyptian artifacts that were supposedly embedded with emeralds used either inferior emeralds or peridot. And in Thailand, one of the Emerald Buddhas is actually made out of green jade. However, there is another Emerald Buddha in Thailand that is the real thing and it’s gorgeous (as you can see). It’s 4 inches high and covered in gold and rubies. It resides in Chaing Mai.

The best emeralds come out of Columbia. Since a great deal of drug trade arises from Columbia, which is also known for terrorist organizations like Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), I wonder if emeralds are tied into organized crime in any way? I assume it’s probable, but can’t find any information on it.

And what about the lore surrounding emeralds? In Dragonwyck, by Anya Seton (one of my favorite gothic novels) the heroine is given an emerald as an engagement ring, which is seen as a portent of doom. But this is the only time I found anyone suggesting that emeralds bring ‘bad luck’.

And the mystical properties? This green beryl is said to bring security in love. It supposedly allows access to the mystery we hold deepest in our hearts, thereby healing and activating our highest heart’s desire. It is believed by some to assist in the healing of eyesight and speech impediments. Those who believe in the mystical properties of stones say that emeralds have a tranquilizing effect on the heart and mind, inspiring calm, clear assurance.

For additional information, you might be interested in reading this and this.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Holy Water

I've discovered a great series of books by Charlaine Harris. They're comical mysteries revolving around vampires. I can't stand romance novels (If you've got it, why bother? If you don't have it, why bother?) and I've never touched an Anne Rice novel in my life, but these really appeal to me.

Anyway, in the course of my reading, I got to wondering about silver: If vampires and werewolves don't like silver, what sort do they find unnacceptable? Sterling (.925)? Solid? Or is a more watered down version OK in fighting the undead?

And crosses: If vampires don't like silver, you'd think sterling crosses would be the haute coutre. But how big? And should people who believe in vampires wear a dog-collar necklace of crosses just to be safe? When I was a kid, I remember watching this one horror movie with my best friend which made a big impression because of this one scene: In it, the hero holds up a cross and the vampire laughs at it. "Do you really think it's the cross that stops me?" the vampire asks. "No! You don't believe in it, so it has no power over me." I always found that a very significant theological point, actually.

Of course there are no such things as vampires... right? ;o)

Well, there are always the fruitcakes who think they're vampires just because they want to be. But real vamps who are the walking dead, sleep during the day and feed on people at night? No.

Of course, if there are real vampires, you can try dousing them with Holy Water, too. Which leads me to ...

What is Holy Water?

Holy Water is primarily either a Catholic or Wiccan convention. It's basically just blessed water.

But in the Catholic church, it's "Made Fresh Daily"! I can see the Pope visiting the Holy Water Factory each morning and standing over large vats of water, making The Cross sign and mumbling some latin words. How effective it is probably depends on how effective he is, right? But other Catholic church honchos do it too (Bishops, etc.) I don't know if a simple parish priest can do it, though. Perhaps they're not high up enough in the hierarchy?

Wiccans believe you can bless it yourself and consecrate it, but only under certain circumstances: doing it under the full moon, adding salt, and going through a little ritual of their own.

So which is better and do either of them work?

As the movie vampire said, perhaps it all depends on what you believe.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

OK, Then... No More Short Stories

Well, the last post had only 4 responses so far. I think it's time we put a stake through it's heart and lay it to rest. I guess the story idea has run it's course. Regular blogging will resume tomorrow. I'll be checking in on all your blogs then. Thanks for understanding.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Christmas in Clearwater

I'll be honest with you. I don't think we have it in us to write another classic like "The Gift of the Magi" (O'Henry). But, let's try it! It's time for The Group Story once more. Yes, I stopped doing it for a month or so, because I thought I'd give you all time to sharpen your interest and your pencils. But now it's time for each and every one of you to show us how creative you can be!

The usual rules apply: Please pick up where the person prior to you left off. Please don't use bad grammar (kids read these story blogs). And please enjoy yourself!

Christmas in Clearwater

Tabitha stepped off the ramp leading from the airplane and immediately saw them. There were her cousins and her aunt and uncle all lined up to greet her, waving madly and grinning.

When all the hugs and kisses were exchanged, Aunt Becky stepped back and looked at her closely. "You look beautiful!" Aunt Becky said. "I'm amazed that a baby that was as ugly as a monkey could grow into such a lovely woman!" Everyone laughed. This, as with all family sayings, had a story behind it.

Tabitha had been born when Aunt Becky was a teenager, and one of the first things Aunt Becky had said was "I thought babies were supposed to be cute! This one is as ugly as a monkey!" Dad had laughed but mom had been furious until she realized it was a joke. But at 21, Tabitha hardly looked like a monkey anymore (thankfully, she thought).

"Are you here to stay, Tabby?" asked her little cousin, Abigail, who was no more than three years old.

"Yes, honey," said Tabitha. "I'm starting my new job here in a week!"

Abigail's older brother (who was a mature 7 years) said "Abby and Tabby, Abby and Tabby!"

"So that's all you have to contribute, Tim?" asked Uncle Bill. Tim looked at Tabitha and said "Um...Merry Christmas?"

Everyone laughed again, and Aunt Becky herded the whole flock to the baggage area. While they waited for the baggage, they started to catch up. The conversation included Tabitha's new job and finding an apartment for her nearby. The kids were even more anxious to talk about Christmas and Santa Claus (Timmy gave Tabitha a big wink every time anyone said "Santa Claus"). Uncle Bill laughingly said that if anyone deserved coal in his stocking it was Timmy!

"It's Christmas Eve. It's traditional that we go see the Christmas lights tonight," said Aunt Becky. "Do you want to go with us?"

"Sure!" said Tabitha.

"Great. It's almost dark, and we'll go there straight from here," said Aunt Becky decisively.

As they stepped out, Tabitha said in surprise "Wow! You guys were right! It's gotta be in the 70s tonight! I guess I didn't really need that jacket."

Uncle Bill nodded. "Lots of kids go to the beach on Christmas Day in Florida, if the weather's good for it," he said.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema


Bear with me while I go into lecture mode today. NOTE: Not many words, lots of pictures - an easy read!

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema is one of my favorite artists. It's sad that he's not as well known as some of the more famous (but in my opinion) less talented artists who simply had more flair and the ability to shock.

For instance, he died at the ripe old age of 76. He had never chopped off his ear and sent it to a hooker (Van Gogh). He never hung out with hookers and in dancehalls (Lautrec). He was never silly enough to try to get attention by sticking a crucifix in urine. He never did anything of any extreme eccentricity.

His first marriage was apparently a marriage of love and not convenience. His wife appeared as a model in some of his paintings, though after her death he would never speak of her. However, as we all know, relationships can be terribly complicated and he may have had mixed feelings as she was known to be of a nervous disposition. Possibly, he was quite relieved and guilty simultaneously. He snapped out of it quickly and fell in love with his second wife within less than a year.

He painted in a very classical style. He adored Pompeii and spent a great deal of time in the ruins. Greek art was a great inspiration to him. He was famous for his ability to depict marble accurately. Other artists at the time tried to imitate that, but failed to varying degrees. His trees were so lifelike you can almost see them wave in the breeze. Many of his paintings appear to be so real, you feel you might be able to simply walk into them.

During his life, he painted few nudes. Of course religious prudes objected (such as various Catholic Bishops of the time) but that sort of controversy was always to be expected. However, his nudes, as all his pictures, were exceptionally beautiful and realistic while simultaneously poignant and evocative.

His models aren't what we consider beautiful today, but remember that this was in an era with no medicines. Beauty was anyone that wasn't pockmarked, diseased, or missing teeth.

Without further ado, here are some of my favorites (don't forget that you can click on them to see a bigger version):

For additional information and more paintings of Sir Lawrence, go here.











Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Shop Dog

Yesterday I went to see a client. Yeah, I've been having neck problems but thankfully it wasn't so bad that I couldn't drive. Before I left, the secretary there warned me in advance: "This whole place is lined in gravel and broken up tiles, so be careful."

So, I dressed nicely but put on shoes that were so sensible a nurse would be envious.

I got there, and missed the narrow entrance entirely the first time around. It was a small gated entrance that had been pulled open for the day. The gate was metal chain link which also surrounded the entire property, and the entrance was funnel-like. You drove in and it gradually increased in size until you found yourself in a wedge-shaped area. Sure enough, there was gravel, rocks, and shattered tiles as far as the eye could see, and no grass anywhere. There was an old rusting mobile home off to the left, and a shack that looked as if it was falling apart to the right. Between them was a building that looked as if none of the builders could agree to a floor plan. I suppose there had been numerous additions over the years and there was no effort to make it look contiguous.

I pulled in and parked, and started toward the central building, which (of all the dilapidated buildings) looked the most promising.

As I approached the building, a dog that looked like Old Yeller got up and looked at me alertly. Now, I don't like construction shop dogs. They always 'look at you alertly' like that. And it always means one thing: they're sizing you up. Over the years I've learned to talk briskly but sweetly to them and it usually works. I haven't been treed yet, but I've come close.

What is up with 'Shop Dogs'? I don't think the owners usually train them to be mean (although some might) because it's a major liability. Believe you me, client or not, I would sue the pants off anyone whose shop dog bit me.

My guess is that 'Shop Dogs' are traditional in these industries, and kept in the hope that they'll be good guard dogs. But they're not trained to do anything in particular, and they're neglected just enough that they're too wild to be used effectively or cherished as a pet.

This one had that wide-eyed, bristly look they get when they first sight you. "Hey there, fella," I said in a sweet 'good doggy' voice. He gave the tiniest growl which almost was a hiccup. "Whoosa evil doggy," I said sweetly and with assertive confidence. "Yes you are! You're the evil doggy! Where's the office, doggy? Is this it?" and other assorted nonsense as I tried to get by without losing a chunk of my leg.

This particular shop dog was tied with a 10 foot rope to one of the poles on the porch, so he was somewhat limited as to where he could go. But his range included the front door and (as is usual) there was no one around. Eventually he calmed down and decided he didn't want to bother with me and I got to the door.

The meeting went well and, as I was leaving, I asked the secretary about him. "Oh, Sam?" she said. "He's only about 5 months old. He's part Chow and part Golden Retriever." I couldn't see the Chow, except for the unusual shape of the head (which wasn't consistent with Retriever).

"Is he yours?" I asked politely, already knowing he wasn't. "Nope," she answered. "Just a shop dog."

I walked by him as I was leaving. "Bye, Sam," I said. He looked just as suspicious as he had before. I held my hand out to him and he jumped away, eyeing me. She laughed. "Oh that's just Sam," she said. "He's a little shy."

Shy, my eye. This dog is going to grow up to be just another Shop Dog.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Great Carnacki

There is a fantastic series of spine-tingling short stories out there, written by William Hope Hodgson. If you do a google on him, or put in the word 'Carnacki', I am sure you'll find plenty about them both. There would've been a great deal more, had Hodgson not been killed in WWI. But his stories live on, and in my opinion he's a better read than Poe or Stephen King. I think you'll agree! Here's a wonderful short story by him (in entirety). It falls a little flat at the end, but some of the description of the haunting makes your skin creep. I highly recommend it, but recommend his other stories even more.

I'll blog more tomorrow when my back and neck stop spasming. The doctor tells me that this is to be expected and that ups and downs will continue until I'm fully healed. Thanks to every one who was inquiring! ;o)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

No Santa? Shocking!

Forgive my not visiting your blogs recently. The weather changed about 4-5 days ago, and when it did my neck got very bad, very quickly. I've been in a lot of pain and babying it. I'll be so glad when I'm totally healed.

My family never had Santa as being part of the family Christmas tradition. We still loved Christmas, we still loved knowing that mom & dad were putting out the presents after we went to sleep, and we still loved the excitement of Christmas morning. We loved the carols and the hymns, we loved the lights on the trees and the houses, and couldn't wait to see the surprises. We also loved getting each other presents, and I adored watching people's faces when they opened the presents that *I* had got them. So, we never missed Santa. Santa? Santa Who?

When my son (SaurKid) was little, my ex and I were in agreement that we'd raise him the same way. When he got a little older, he couldn't help but hear about Santa, so we told him the truth: There is no such thing as Santa. Of course now he knows that the concept of Santa was really a marketing conceit of the 1800s and I just don't like lying. Plus, I like getting the credit for being the one who got him the toys. Why give the credit to a fictional character? I'll only do it when he lets me use his credit card!

Anyway, one day when my son was about 3 1/2, I had taken him shopping in a major department store. It was getting close to Christmas and people were everywhere. I should add that my son was a strikingly beautiful baby and toddler, and people would find any excuse to touch or talk to him (we kept wetwipes handy).

We were standing in line behind an elderly man and his wife. The well-meaning man turned to SaurKid and said jovially "Have you been a good boy so that Santa will bring you presents this year? What have you asked him for?"

SaurKid looked up at him solemnly and with some pity, and politely replied "There is no such thing as Santa." (You'd think an old guy like that would know this already!)

The man appeared as if he was about to have a heart attack. I got a look from him that spoke volumes. I could almost see the banner flying above my head: Worst Mom of the Year. "Um, we've never lied to him about Santa," I said apologetically. He never said another word.

Funny, isn't it, how seriously some people take this deceit? And if you choose to not play along with this piece of fiction, you're branded a traitor? I had never set out to send a message to the world about it. I wasn't some sort of militant Anti-Santa Crusader! I simply chose to practice Christmas differently in my little corner of the world.

And SaurKid, bless his heart, remains forthright and honest to this day. Sometimes a little too honest. I wonder where he gets it?

No, I'm not saying that it's evil to promote Santa. Many of my friends do, and SaurKid was taught a long time ago that 'discretion is the better part of valour'. But I'm suggesting that parents think twice about it. That is, unless you've got Santa's credit card in your back pocket.

How My Boyfriend's Daughter Found Out

She came into my life when she was 5. She was backwards and poorly developed mentally, having been neglected by her mother all her life. However, she was always loving and sweet. Over the years (and with work from myself, my family and friends) she blossomed into an intelligent, gifted and thoughtful young lady who is amazingly mature. We continue to share her with her mother.

Her mother always perpetuated the Santa Claus Myth. It was difficult to respect her mother's unspoken wishes and yet celebrate Christmas as we did. SaurKid and I learned to excuse ourselves from discussing anything about Santa. When she asked why Santa only brought presents to her mother's home, we would hem and haw and say "What an interesting question!"

One day as I was driving her to school, she asked "Saur, is Santa real?"

Being in Full Counselor mode and keeping my eyes steady on the road, I asked her "What do you think?"

"I don't think he is," she said carefully, studying my face.

"And how does that make you feel?" I asked. Thank goodness for a college education. ;o)

"I'm OK with it, I guess," she said. "But I feel a little silly since I'm the last kid in third grade that said they believed in him!"

I nodded. "Now you know," I said. "We wanted to tell you for a very long time, but it wasn't our place to do so. But look at it this way: all these years that you've been receiving gifts from Santa, you really have your mom to thank. And it's pretty important that you should know that."

She thought a little more, turning it all over in her head. "I don't think we should tell Mom that I know yet," she said wisely. "It means so much to her."

So, we kept it secret a year. Sometimes we have to protect the parents.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Presents

Whether you're celebrating Christmas, Kwanzaa, or Channukah, you are in need of gifts. Don't lie, you are... because you are not my mother.

My mother always starts her Christmas shopping immediately after Christmas. She hits some of the more important Christmas sales, and continues to look for things on sale all year long. The bargains she finds get tucked away until the following Christmas. That woman has amazing self-control and planning abilities. She should be the next President of the United States except that she's way to smart to want to do that.

For the rest of us mere mortals, we are left looking about desperately for gifts at the last minute.

I remember one year when one of my brothers did some last minute shopping at the local drugstore. For those of you who do all your holiday shopping on the day before (or even worse, the day of) the holiday, STOP DOING IT. We really don't want the type of quality gift these stores provide, such as The Pooping Reindeer:


and... Mother Teresa Breath Spray:


Or... this marvellous umbrella hat (my grandfather had one):


And...the ever popular Tatoo Sleeve (this WON'T go big with Mom):


So everyone, take a deep breath, get ready to make a list and check it twice, because it doesn't pay to be naughty - just nice. And do a little self-sacrifice ahead of time so that you won't go down in family history as The Man Who Bought Grandma The Pooping Reindeer.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Bird Flu (The Avian Flu)

My apologies to everyone who was looking forward to The Weekend Story once more. I promise that I'll do it next weekend, so start sharpening your writing skills! But this is just so important, I didn't want to neglect it.

I had breakfast with The Scientist yesterday morning. As many of you know, The Scientist is one of my favorite family members. He happens to be a brilliant, internationally known man in the scientific community. But he's modest, interesting, and down-to-earth. When we get together, we talk about anything and everything and laugh a lot. Among other topics yesterday was The Bird Flu.

I've heard people (who don't know much about it) belittle it and treat is as another simple flu. I've heard light comments like "Oh, so what's a couple days of throwing up?" Let me tell you that you have no idea what you're talking about! This is not just any flu. It is a flu with a 50% mortality rate.

Have you heard of the Flu of 1918? It killed 675,000 Americans and more than 20 million people around the world. Remember: there weren't as many people living on earth as there are now, so imagine how much of an impact it had! And that's the conservative estimate. Some estimates run as high as twice that!

In an age of transportation that is nothing like ours today, the Flu of 1918 spread across the globe like wildfire, killing indiscriminately. Some people thought that it was one of the plagues prophesied in Revelations and that it was the beginning of the end of the world.

Scientists have always wondered what the Flu of 1918 was. There were still some imperfectly preserved samples of it from then, preserved in paraffin. Then, more recently, a frozen corpse was discovered during an expedition that was known to have died of the Flu of 1918.

With the samples on hand, scientists have been able to recreate the Flu of 1918 and have discovered it to be a form of The Bird Flu. When The Scientist was telling me this part, he stopped and told me that he hopes they have this flu stored away carefully, but fears that it could be used for highly effective germ warfare.

The current Bird Flu is likely to be equally virulent. And we've known about it for a couple of years. So, do we have the vaccine for it yet? No. And The Scientist lays this at the door of the Bush Administration. They didn't take it seriously enough when it first reared it's ugly head; they had more important things to do then. And now, it may be too late.

Right now, they are in the process of creating vaccines. They're infecting eggs and waiting for the virus to develop so that it can be extracted. But it takes a lot of eggs, and a lot of time.

"However," The Scientist added, "it could be done faster." Faster? My mind swam with thoughts of some kind of 'Egg Accelerator' that had been developed and might be a boon to all poultry farmers. Yeah, OK, I knew better. But I hadn't had my coffee yet.

"How?" I asked.

"Tissue culture," he said. "But the administration is too cheap, and this is privatized. And as we know, companies look at the bottom dollar - not at what is best for all mankind. So, they're only using the old method instead of a faster one which would speed the vaccine to the market. It just goes to show that the Republican party is wrong about privatization: not everything can or should be privatized. And this is a classic example."

Let me add that The Scientist is (as I am) a moderate Republican. That means, he's a Republican with his eyes open.

"What can we do?" I asked. He shrugged.

So here are my thoughts on this bleak topic: It's coming. What do we do about it? If we want to minimize the deaths, we need to get those vaccines as soon as possible. Instead of allowing them to continue to get away with doing this 'on the cheap' we'd better speak up now, or we'll forever hold our peace.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Bermuda Triangle Movie, Debra LaFave, Kids' Concert, and Charity

OK, I rarely watch TV but will make exceptions for Law & Order, CSI, and assorted quality (by my definition of quality) movies. But recently I've seen the Bermuda Triangle trilogy on the SciFi channel, so I figured I'd take a brief time-out to talk about it. Very brief.

The SciFi Channel's Bermuda Triangle Movie

This was a stinker, pure and simple. Not even the incredible acting talent of Eric Stoltz could save this. There were a couple other Minor Big Names like Luis Valdez (La Bamba) but the reason they're Minor Big Names is that most of them can't act their way out of a paper bag. Not so with Eric, but one good actor cannot make good an entire film. It tanked. I could go into details, but it's like giving a second-by-second account of an autopsy. I'll spare you.

Debra LaFave

If ever a woman deserved to be put on a small raft in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle, it would be Debra LaFave.

It looked as if she was getting off with a cushy plea bargain of house arrest, but due to public outcry, the judge has said "No way!" Good for the judge! I hope he follows my earlier sentencing guidelines, as we all know that she is "way too pretty to go to jail" (according to her attorneys). AH HAH HAH HAH... not that I'm ...er... gloating... *ahem*

Kids' Concert

I just went to the worst Kids'-Holiday-Season-God-Forbid-It-Should-Contain-Any-Religious-References-Concert. My daughter, who is completely tone-deaf, was in it. However, since all the children (and apparently the instructor) were tone-deaf as well, she fit right in. The only thing worse than a kids' concert is one that has songs about how Santa went to Mexico to learn Spanish. And yup, that was this year's concert. My ears are still bleeding.

Speaking of Christmas songs, SaurKid (my son) went surfing for holiday carols the other day (don't ask me why. Why do kids do anything?) and ran across a Catholic charity's Christmas carol list which includes Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer. Guess the Pope isn't as stuffy as we thought.

Charity

A new study just released said that of all the charities that are donated to each year, the charities for our fellow humans only receive 8% of the donations. The rest goes to things like greyhound rescue, horse farms, and whatnot. And human charity has been declining steadily for 10 years.

A sad fact, but it makes sense. It's much easier to feel sorry for something cute and cuddly rather than that old, unwashed homeless man. I have no easy answers here, except to point out that there are times that the government can not privatize everything. Charity for humans should not be privatized.

But on an up-note: Today it was reported that someone dropped 5 gold rings into a Salvation Army kettle. Well, it beats trying to stuff 4 calling birds or 3 french hens in there.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

John Lennon

It's the 25th anniversary of John Lennon's death. If you are a rabid John Lennon fan, please read no further. Seriously. You don't want to see this. And I'll give him some props: yes, I know he wrote a couple of pieces of pretty music. But that's all that he was good for. And I have good reason to feel this way (and so do many others). If you want to know more, read on.

Why is it when a celebrity dies, society fawns all over him or her? Examples abound! Marilyn Monroe, JFK, John Lennon, and more. All people who probably would have passed into relative obscurity if it wasn't for their deaths. Oh sure, at the time they died they were riding the wave of popularity. But, I don't think any of them had it in them to be what the public has since seen them as: larger than life.

Let's take John Lennon and examine him in the cold light of truth. On his 20th Death Anniversary, his son Julian was strong enough to release this letter:

“I wonder what it would have been like if he were alive today,” Julian wrote. “I guess it would have depended on whether he was ‘John Lennon’ (Dad) or ‘John Ono Lennon’ (manipulated lost soul).

“Once I began to look at his life and really understand him, I began to feel so sorry for him, because once he was a guiding light, a star that shone on all of us, until he was sucked into a black hole and all of his strength consumed. Although he was definitely afraid of fatherhood, the combination of that and his life with Yoko Ono led to the real breakdown of our relationship. We did not see each other for extended periods of time and as the saying goes, out of sight, out of mind! But the Beatles themselves played no part whatsoever in our demise.”

Julian struck a blow against all absentee fathers with this honest and heart-wrenching letter.

But John Lennon was also a man with a very poor self-image, who (just like a child) was always grasping at the chance to show-off. In fact, he was just plain tacky. He took every possible advantage of the limelight.

For instance, he posed nude repeatedly with his bizarre wife Yoko Ono (she looked like Pol Pot and he was simply pathetically unattractive).

He and Ono staged a 'bed in' for world peace in 1969. Well, we know how well that worked. The only thing that came out of that was more publicity for the needy couple.

Of course everyone remembers when Lennon claimed that the Beatles were 'More popular than Jesus' but I never really saw that as scandalous (although let's credit the poor guy with trying).

He was a very nasty person at times. In later life Lennon expressed great hatred for his mother (who had never abused him, but had chosen to leave his father and live with another man). His father’s second wife, Pauline, testified that the mere mention of her name “triggered a vicious verbal attack on [his mother], whom he reviled in the most obscene language I had ever heard…”

By the late 1950s, Lennon was a profane and brawling street youth. He shoplifted, abused girls, drew obscene pictures, lied “about everything,” despised authority, and was the ringleader of a group of rowdies. The young Lennon was also very cruel. He tried to frighten old people and made fun of those who were crippled or deformed. The new music called rock & roll fit his licentious lifestyle. Later Lennon described himself as “a weird, psychotic kid covering up my insecurity with a macho fa├žade”.

He dabbled in every illegal drug he could find, and cheerfully admitted he ate acid like candy. Gee, what a great role model for our youth of today.

The man who sang about love (“all you need is love”) and peace (“give peace a chance”) was actually very noncompassionate, self-centered to the extreme, and violent. His biographers speak of “the infamous Lennon temper.” He frequently flew into rages, screaming, smashing things, hitting people. He admitted, “I was a hitter. I couldn’t express myself and I hit. I fought men and I beat women”.

Lennon confided to a friend, “I’ve always wondered what it would be like to kill a woman, many women! It was only becoming a Beatle that saved me from actually doing it”.

When Yoko was pregnant with their son (Sean Ono Taro Lennon) John Lennon once kicked her in the stomach during an explosive confrontation; Lennon later hit the young Sean, even kicking him once in a restaurant. In 1979, Lennon flew into a rage and trashed his apartment while “filling the air with a stream of profane invective”. As for love, even Lennon’s celebrated relationship with Yoko Ono was filled with everything but love. After 1971, “John and Yoko’s great love was pretty much a public charade designed to help prop up their often flickering careers”.

Was Lennon very bright? Most definately. But intelligence alone is nothing to respect if it isn't tempered by any virtues. Did he truly believe in anything at all? For the most part, I would say he didn't. His desperate bids for press coverage indicate that he would have said and done anything to get the attention that he craved.

When I hear about his Death Anniversaries, I always wonder what he would have been like should he have lived: Probably not much at all. This year he would be 65. As he once said, "I don't intend to be a performing flea any more. I was the dreamweaver, but although I'll be around I don't intend to be running at 20,000 miles an hour trying to prove myself. I don't want to die at 40."

The only thing that his death should convey to us is that life can be short, and you never know when your time is up.

My sources: memory, various internet sources, and "Lennon in America" by Giuliano.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

SaurKid

OK, I'm going to take a rare Mom Moment. I have to take a brief interlude to share something that my son just wrote. I am really impressed.

Although he's 12, he's getting ready to go to college at 14. No, we're not pushy parents. In fact, we tried to hold him back. But he gets bored easily, and we finally threw in the towel and decided to homeschool him since he can't advance as many grades as he needs to in the conventional school system.

I should add here that (overall) my ex and I are getting along much better than we have in the past, which I've been asking for all along. And when it comes to schooling, we're in agreement. I won't go into a lot of details because I try to keep relatively anonymous and I try to avoid giving too many hints about our families. So please understand that I don't wish to give any more details than that.

Because SaurKid's so advanced, he's doing prep work for his college SATs. That means he must get used to writing essays off the cuff, on any topic he's thrown. Here's a recent one he wrote (notice that he's still very much a kid with his little cartoon character at the bottom):



Tuesday, December 06, 2005

How Did I Fall Into Poverty to Begin With?

OK, here's Part Deux: Ad Nauseum. What was the tool which I used to pry myself out of poverty? Ultimately, it was education.

I would quickly caution you, though, that education is achievable for anyone and so ultimately no one has an excuse! And if a child (or that child's parents) rejects education, then they are rejecting their future as well. Education is free for all and every child has a choice: are you going to take advantage of that free education, or are you going to act the fool?

My parents demanded that I use my mind, even if I did nothing else. They exposed me to literature and the best minds that ever were. They encouraged me to take my education seriously, and I did. But let me emphasize again: even without parents who care, a child can make the right choices. Of course it is very important for them to have some adult they can discuss them with, which is where teachers come in (such as the excellent ones that I interract with in BlogLand.)

When I got married at 18, my parents begged me to finish out my college because you never know if something might happen. If my husband died unexpectedly, I would need more than life insurance to make it. So, I went to college. I need to add right here that there are many successful people that didn't go to college but made it in life because they at least finished high school. To not finish either is to betray yourself. I cannot say this enough.

My ex and I both went through and finished college together. We worked when we could to support ourselves and also took student loans. We worked a short time after, got lucky enough to get pregnant, and I retired. I was a stay-at-home mom for a couple years. Until he slapped me with the divorce.

Our marriage wasn't working (there is no doubt there) so his judgement was sound up to that point. But he was also a Christian fundamentalist (as was I at the time) and his only hope of continuing to be accepted by the fundamentalist community would be to paint me as a Jezebel. And I found out later that he'd been having an affair with my best friend. Remarriage is a tough sell in the fundie community unless you can paint your ex as being an adulteress or even worse (if possible). And, if you recall, I was too proud to fight the allegations.

So when he filed for divorce, he had been very clever to cut off all my funds. He had closed all the credit cards and the bank account. It was war. And I had no weapons. So, he won... and got everything he wanted.

But he wasn't content with all of that. He desperately wished to destroy me. A dead ex-wife is even easier to explain away. So, he did everything he could to drive me to suicide. Yes, I am certain that this was his underlying motive in all his actions. Although it sounds extreme, you must realize that his campaign was extreme: When you batter someone psychologically and monetarily, eventually they can become so punch-drunk that they look for the easiest way out.

To go into all his schemes and all the viciousness is to dwell where we don't need to dwell. And I am no saint. There were times I struck back or lashed out. But overall, I was poor, struggling to make ends meet, and juggling my demands and the demands of the court system. I was relatively powerless. And I worked where there was no education needed, at first... but it helped. You see, when you're out of the workforce for a number of years, you must start at the bottom again.

So, instead of stewing about it all, I decided to begin to work positively toward my goals. I began to re-open my connections with the few people that I knew who weren't in the fundie community. They were suprisingly supportive and encouraging. I used those connections to get increasingly better jobs, and made every person who referred me proud that they had done so.

I worked hard, but was friendly and sociable. Whenever I took a job as a secretary, I was promoted within 3 months. When I left a job it was only for a job with better pay, or because I had discovered something that was wrong and was being asked to help cover it up (once I found that my employer was keeping 2 books - one to give to the IRS, and the real one).

My jobs improved steadily, and so did my life. I met the Other Half 6 years ago and he has been a great support. And, my ex is actually afraid of him (the Other Half is a blackbelt with steely eyes).

But my life could not have improved, and I never would have attracted the Other Half, if I had either killed myself or buried myself in too many "Why Me"s.

Disasters always happen. And sometimes people wish you evil. And there will always be ups and downs. But if people make the most out of whatever education they can get, and if they continue to self-educate and follow the rules in my last post, then they will be successful too.

It's that simple.

Monday, December 05, 2005

How I Climbed Out of Poverty

In Michelle's blog there's a discussion going on right now about poverty, and it's been implied by a couple of people that living in poverty excuses raising children badly. Yeah, Michelle's blog was started by me and we're both technically moderators but I turned the reigns over to her for the most part and rarely participate because I have so much on my plate. But this subject got me going.

I pointed out that being poor doesn't excuse bad parenting, and I used myself as an example. I was living in abject poverty at one time, and yet my son never took a gun or knife to school, never beat up other kids, never spit on a teacher or acted up on a bus. Schools cannot replace parenting, and bad parenting cannot be blamed on income levels.

So, someone asked me (perhaps in an effort to prove me wrong) what did *I* consider to be abject poverty?

Here was my answer:

Anon of 4:26,

Not knowing where my next meal was coming from.

Barely scraping enough money together to pay the rent on a one room hovel of an apartment in a bad area of town.

Buying my child's Christmas presents at The Dollar Tree, and happy that I could even do that.

Not being able to afford to buy a TV for a year, and then being able to only buy one that was 20 years old in a garage sale.

Not having cable for 3 years.

Going without insurance on my car at times because I couldn't scrape together the payments, and hoping to god the cops wouldn't catch me.

Trying to make a meal of dry cheerios and a small glass of orange juice into an exciting 'tea party' so my son didn't know that it was all we had.

How's that? Want more examples?


I didn't really expect the next question, which was "Saur, How long did you live like this? And what did you do to pull yourself out of poverty?"

Climbing Out of Poverty

If you don't have a lot of time and don't wish to read any further, I'll sum it up for you: hard work and persistance.

Do you know how many women who've known my story have come up to me and said "I want to be just like you, how do you do it?" I don't make any secret of it. I tell them it's simple:

Show up to work on time. Work hard. Be kind to others and help them when they're in need so that they'll help you when you're in need. Be consistent. Treat your customers well. Follow up on whatever you say you'll do. Return all phone calls as soon as possible. Be pleasant no matter how you feel. Don't talk too much about yourself, let the customer talk. Admit when you're wrong, and fix it. These rules are valuable no matter what profession you're in.

I even recommend books if they want to read them (although they're not necessary, they're helpful).

But here's what's shocking: There isn't a single woman who told me that she wanted to be like me that stuck with it.

Why? Because most people don't have that inner backbone and the strength that they need to do it. And it's by choice.

I know, because I see them wrestle with themselves. They think to themselves "I've made it all these years without having to work hard or rise above anyone else. In the end, I'm relatively happy with the status quo."

You see, they don't really want it! Sure, they want it if it's easy. But if it takes any work, well... they've grown up in an entitlement-minded society which has taught them that Uncle Sam will be there for them, from cradle-to-grave. And as long as you have a safety net, you don't have to be too careful or work too hard. It becomes a choice, and not many people will willingly make the choice to work hard and struggle for years for the chance to make it big.

Did I have times where I cried myself to sleep at night? Of course! Did I ever know how I was going to drag myself out of poverty? Of course not! But what I did at the time was follow these basic rules because those are the right things to do.

You see, it really all boils down to this: Do you do the right thing, when others around you don't? Or do you believe that what they do justifies your actions? And, are you content to live like they do all your life?

As my mother once told me: "If everyone else was jumping off a cliff, would you go with them?" I chose to set my own path in life and not be a lemming.

I'll give you more details tomorrow. This wears me out, as I don't talk of it much and would willingly forget it. But, to forget your past is to repeat it, and perhaps I need the reminder right now as much as anyone else does.