Friday, August 31, 2012

This Homeschooling "Thing"

I am not going to talk about SouthLAnd today, as much fun as that would be.  I will talk about it again soon.  And when I do, I will speak of the wondrous Sammy Bryant. ;-)

Today, I am going to ponder "homeschooling".  It seems like a good time for this, as it is Labor Day weekend, the traditional final weekend of summer vacation.

Some people believe I have been a bit hard on homeschoolers in my blog.  Sorry if you feel that way.  I think homeschooling can be a wonderful thing.  I mean, I homeschooled my kids for a total of 13 years.  So, logically, I must find it to be a reasonably acceptable educational alternative.  The only other logical conclusion is that I am crazy.  And maybe I am a little crazy....  But, as with any decision in life, I think it is important to look at both the pro's and the con's, without getting overly defensive about your own position.  I believe this to be a healthy thing.

There are many positive aspects to homeschooling.  Firstly, when all the other kids were heading back to their educational institutions in August, my kids never started their studies until after Labor Day.  They also had two full weeks of Christmas vacation and their Easter break actually coincided with Easter.  There were  no teacher in-service days, and I could adjust the calendar so that we could accomplish everything by Memorial Day weekend.   So, you can see my first priority as a homeschool mom -- lots of time off.  (Tongue-in-cheek here.  So, don't get your undies in a bunch people.)

Seriously, though, there are many true benefits to home education.  I did teach in a public high school at one time, and I realized some things.  Most of the kids who did not succeed had poor basic skills -- reading, writing, math.  They were also disorganized and did not take personal responsibility for their work.  Of course, if you cannot read, write, and do math at a grade-appropriate level, you will probably not have much motivation to be organized and responsible.  I also came to the conclusion that if a person has strong basic skills, he or she will be able to tackle most of the other academic subjects with reasonable proficiency.  So, as a home educator, I was able to concentrate on helping my kids achieve proficiency in these basic skills in grades K-8, so that they were then able to apply them to a more rigorous high school curriculum which would prepare them for college.  Thus far, this approach has borne good fruit.  My two oldest have successfully graduated from college.  My youngest is a college sophomore, whose grades thus far have been very solid.  I do not mean to brag here about the greatness of my own children.  I believe this approach could work for many people's children, giving them opportunities for higher education that they might not otherwise have.  I know this is a bold assertion, unsupported by any formal research.  So, let me just call it an hypothesis.

Another wonderful aspect of home education is that the curriculum can be adjusted to reflect a child's interests.  This is fun for both the student and the teacher, as the student will have much more enthusiasm about his or her studies.  For example, my youngest son became a World War II buff at approximately age seven.  Therefore, he was eager to read and write about this topic; and he also came to appreciate the importance of mathematics in the area of aviation.  Fractions may be boring, in and of themselves, but he realized he would have to learn about them in order to be able to fly a plane like the aces of WWII.

On the other hand, though, there are negative aspects to homeschooling.  And these must be squarely faced, in my opinion.  If you are a home educator, and someone questions or criticizes your choice, you should not be defensive and accuse that person of persecuting you.  You should thoughtfully consider these questions and criticisms.  They might help you to be a better teacher to your children.  They might help you to strengthen your program.  Many people, for instance, wonder whether or not homeschooled kids have adequate extracurricular and social activities.  Most of these kids do have opportunities in these areas, but I have also seen some problems.  Socially, homeschoolers do tend to hang with other homeschoolers, who are of similar backgrounds and points-of-view.  This can be a wonderful thing for forging the bonds of friendship.  We all enjoy being with like-minded people.  But, on the other hand, children and teens who attend public (and private) schools do tend to be regularly exposed to those of differing viewpoints, and there are benefits that come with this.   One of these benefits, which I think is very important, is that the kids can come to view those with different opinions as actual human beings who can be VERY GOOD FRIENDS, friends who will truly stand by them in a time of need.  It is important for kids to learn that they can actually enjoy the company and wonderful qualities of those who are different from themselves.  And it has been my personal experience that many homeschoolers have difficulties when entering the "real" world, as they can be highly suspicious of those with the "wrong" viewpoints.

Because homeschooling is often undertaken without any connections with authorities in private or public educational institutions, there are those who will prey on homeschoolers and take unfair advantage of them.  There are people who privately provide extracurricular activities for home educated students.  Most of these people are wonderful, don't get me wrong.  But, I have also seen some of these providers make almost fraudulent claims about themselves.  These providers are also usually not subject to the background checks that are required of those who work in accredited private and public schools.  So, a warning to homeschool families:  Just because a person says he or she is a Christian, or supports Christian beliefs, or is going to vote for the pro-life candidate, doesn't mean you should trust that person.  There are people who will say these things in order to take advantage of you.  Be aware and beware.

Homeschoolers tend to be very bright and independent people, who firmly believe that it is the parents' right and duty to choose and provide for their children's educations.  I believe this, also.  And, it is not that I am a total "It Takes A Village" kind of person, but I think we need to remember that there are some advantages to what I think of as the educational "safety net".  If a child is in school, there are multiple people there to support the parents and the family.  And most educators truly do want to support the parents and the family, in spite of what some may believe.  So, as a parent, if you choose to remove yourself from the educational establishment, it is important to remember that sometimes you can misjudge a situation or make a mistake in a decision.  Humility is required.  If you have a friend or friends who care for you and are expressing concern about your educational decisions, at least listen and consider respectfully what they have to say.  In the end, your decisions are your own, but try not to be dismissive of the concerns of others. 

I hope I have clarified my views on homeschooling.  I do not regret my decision to educate my children at home, but after many years of doing this "thing", these are the conclusions I have come to about this choice.  May all parents be granted wisdom as they make decisions for (and with) their children about what type of education is best for them.  And may we realize that people do not all fit into the same mold, and that variety is the spice of life.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

How I Came To Watch "SouthLAnd"

Since I often refer to the TV show SouthLAnd in this blog, I figured I would explain how I came to watch it.  I don't know if this is interesting to you, but it is fun for me to talk about.

There is this very kind actor I follow on Twitter.  His name is Chris Bruno.  Back in January, I think it was, he was a guest star on SouthLAnd, so he tweeted something like, "I will be appearing on SouthLAnd tonight.  If you have time, you can watch it.  But, don't blink."  I thought his request was just so humble and self-effacing that I decided to watch the show.  I thought it was going to be about The South.  You know, like Tennessee or Mississippi or Alabama.  Imagine my surprise when it was a show about the LAPD.  I guess that explains the "LA" in "SouthLAnd".  Yeah.  I can be pretty dense sometimes.

I have now watched all the episodes of SouthLAnd, but this particular episode came in the middle of Season 4.  My children, after watching the series with me, have come to the conclusion that this was the most violent episode of them all.  I cannot disagree.

So, anyway, I turn on the show and I see the following things:  First.  A crazed woman in an old nightgown and bathrobe waving a knife.  A lady cop goes to tackle her.  Freeze frame.  But, you know nothing good is going to result.  Second.  Cute blond dude in bed with two ladies, who has to leap out of a second floor window when the husband of one of the ladies arrives home unexpectedly.  To his credit, this dude apparently did not know the lady was married.  At first, I do not know this young man is a cop, but later in the show, I learn that he is one of the main cop characters.  He then has to work hard to win me over, as I am not immediately impressed.  (Also, I do not personally understand why two women would want to share one guy.  I guess it's because I am Italian.  We do not share our guys.)  At this point I am thinking, "Chris, you are apparently a wonderful person.  But, WHAT IN THE HELL KIND OF SHOW IS THIS???"  And the grand finale of the episode?  A very large tattooed man viciously attacking one of the heroic police officers by knocking him over and latching his teeth onto said officer's neck.  They struggle for what seems like an eternity.  We are left not knowing what will be the fate of this obviously epic law enforcement official.  In the midst of all this action is Chris Bruno's scene, which is a lot of fun.  He plays a cop who has just put several bad guys out of commission, all by himself, using kick-ass martial arts skills.  Yes, perhaps he broke a few cop rules.  But, all's fair in love and war.  Right?

The episode ended.  I thought, "Well.  It was fun to see Chris Bruno.  But, I am DONE with watching SouthLAnd."  The following week came around, though, and SouthLAnd was going to be on that night.  I couldn't help but wonder what was going to be the fate of the neck-bite victim.  Evening came.  I turned on the set.  And, so, there you have it.  Each week, I told myself that I was finished with this "dark and gritty" show.  Then, the next week would roll around, and I couldn't help but wonder what was going to happen next.  And, to be fair, I stopped seeing the show as being "dark and gritty."  The characters gained my sympathy and the writing is extremely compelling, providing a lot of food for thought.  The production value is also top-notch.   I finished watching Season 4 of SouthLAnd, and then proceeded to watch all the other episodes of all the other seasons.  Can't wait for Season 5.  Coming in 2013.  

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

My Hollywood Miracle

"Where shall we go on vacation?" I asked myself as the summer of 1994 approached.  My husband and I had an almost 2-year-old boy, a 4-year-old girl, and an almost 6-year-old girl at the time.  But, my adventurous spirit was undeterred, and I hatched a plan for the family to vacation in Santa Monica for a week.  A full seven days in one hotel room. You would have grounds to question my sanity.

We traveled separately.  My husband drove from the San Francisco Bay Area in our 1984 VW Jetta, with all the necessary equipment for life with small children, including a stroller and a porta-crib.  I flew down with the three kids.  I hate long drives, as does my middle child.  So, an airplane ride seemed as though it would be easier.  Ha-Ha.  Actually, the flight was uneventful, except for the part when daughter #2 announced, very loudly, to a very packed aircraft, "I AM GOING TO THROW UP."  I have never seen a flight attendant move so fast.  Thankfully, said daughter did not throw up.  A few sips of water were all that was necessary to quiet her upset tummy.  The really exciting part was the cab ride from LAX to the hotel on Santa Monica Blvd.  I had absolutely no idea how to get around LA, so I put my life and the lives of my children into the hands of a cab driver who barely spoke English.  He literally slammed on the brakes on the freeway when, again, my second child loudly announced her feelings of queasiness.  But, again, we were spared any tragic events and eventually arrived at our destination.  Hubby arrived a couple of hours later with the car and all our stuff.  So, I told myself, we are in for a fun-filled, rejuvenating week in LA.  So exciting!  Ha-Ha.

We did see many sights in the LA area and ate wonderful food.  LA may have crappy air and traffic galore, but it has the BEST food.  Healthy, fresh, flavorful -- even when you're at a place that serves quick informal meals, pizza, or take-out.  After all, there has to be some motivation for all those talented people to consent to live there.

The bottom line, though? This turned into the vacation from hell.  One toilet in the hotel room that clogged at least once a day.  A 4-year-old girl who refused to eat ANYTHING except small packages of cheese and crackers or peanut butter and crackers, until I fortuitously located an IHOP, where she proceeded to make up for lost time.  This 4-year-old girl also got really sick, which necessitated me spending at least an hour on the phone getting an o.k. from the Northern CA Kaiser beauracracy for my little girl to see a doctor in the Southern CA Kaiser beauracracy.  The journey to this approved doctor was at least a 2-hour round trip, in all the traffic.  It turned out that she had Fifth's Disease, which I came down with the following day.  My poor hubby, with all this stress, developed a very painful cold sore.  And, needless to say, with the one toilet constantly clogging up, everyone's pipes became a tad bit unhealthy.  TMI, I know.  There were also all the "normal" stresses of having two adults and three little people in one hotel room for a full seven days -- lack of space, lack of toys (which inspired the kiddos to turn the two double beds into trampolines), and lack of any privacy for the two adults.  And this plot had all been cooked up by me.  My Bad.

But, in the midst of it all came a little miracle.  My Hollywood Miracle.  As I have mentioned before in this blog, I went through a pretty painful faith crisis when my kids were small.  And I was in the middle of this difficult time when we were on vacation in Santa Monica.  I was hanging on by a very thin thread to my Catholicism.  When Sunday rolled around, though, I took a deep breath, and the five of us headed off to Mass -- at Saint Monca's Catholic Community in, of course, Santa Monica.  The Mass that day was held in the gym or parish hall (I can't quite remember which), because a recent earthquake had damaged the beautiful older church.  And I had an experience in which God touched my heart and reminded me that I didn't have to be perfect to be loved by Him.  There were many people there and, for the most part, they were very enthusiastic and welcoming.  And there was the most wonderful choir and band.  It was composed mostly of young adults, who actually sang on key (after all, this was the Land of Talented People).  The selections were primarily modern praise and worship music, which I have always found to be uplifting, comforting, and conducive to prayer.  Many people object to the use of this type of music at Mass.  I will not argue with their reasoning, but these songs were a balm to my weary soul.  And the instrumentalists were amazing.  I will never forget the drummer (I LOVE drums at church) and the bass player who looked like Encino Man.  So cool!  And the priest who said Mass.  Wow!  He said just what I needed to hear that day.  His sermon concerned the twelve apostles -- and he had twelve puppets, one for each of these men.  How I love this Land of Talented People!  And he spoke about each apostle, one by one.  He described each of their individual struggles and faults; his point being that Jesus chose them in spite of these struggles and faults.  And he pointed out that God loves and chooses each of us, too, in spite of our own shortcomings.  On that day, the Lord held onto my hand, even though I was tempted to let go of His.  I have never forgotten this Mass and how it was instrumental in saving my faith.

Saint Monica's still has this amazing musical group.  They play each week at the 5:30 Sunday evening Mass.  I think the same priest might still be there, as well.  I found a sermon online that was recently given at St. Monica's, and it sure sounded like this wonderful person.  His is a voice that I will never forget.  Someday, maybe I'll make my way back there and give a little thanks in front of the altar.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Appreciating Gifts Received -- Or, Kudos To The Dems

I am a registered Republican, though a somewhat reluctant one.  Because, more importantly, I am a Catholic; and if you study Catholic social teaching, you will realize that it contains ideas of both the Republican and Democratic parties.  And some of the ideas embraced by the Democratic Party are very important in Catholic thought.  For a while, I was registered as a non-partisan.  But, for various reasons, I decided it would be a good idea to choose a party, so I chose the GOP.  I tend to be a limited government sort of person.  I also believe in the idea of subsidiarity, which is important in both Catholic thought and conservative politics.  In this post, though, I am going to speak of the ways in which the Democrats have enriched my life all through the years.  And these are things for which I am truly grateful.  And when I ponder these things, it keeps me from being too partisan. 

Long before I was born, my Italian great-grandfather lived in the United States.  While here, I am told that he helped form the Furriers Union. So, as you can see, I have connections to the Democratic Party that go way back. After a while, this great-grandfather returned to Italy. But, when his children were grown, he sent them to America, to have better lives than they could make for themselves as peasant farmers in the "Old Country."  One of these children was my grandmother, Adele Caffoni.  She was followed to New York by her "boyfriend" -- Aldo Argenti.  Who, by the way, was almost immediately sent back to the land of his birth for fibbing to the immigration authorities about something or other.  He was in a holding cell on Ellis Island when a kind relative of my grandmother's showed up to bail him out, thus saving my future existence.  As a married couple, both of my grandparents worked blue-collar jobs -- factory work, construction, janitorial services.  And, as they explained it to me, they would never have had the pay, benefits, and security in retirement that they had without the efforts of the Democratic Party.  The Party of the Working Man.  And they did not squander the efforts of their party, either.  They were frugal and saved their money, and thus they were able to help their own children get a "leg up" in life.  My grandparents gave their children good educations and some financial assistance starting out in life, because of the benefits the Democrats helped them secure.  Their own children took this help from their parents with grateful hearts, worked hard, and achieved a good standard of living for themselves. Thus, I get a little annoyed when certain conservatives accuse the Democrats of wanting to give "hand-outs" to undeserving people.  I have seen that, with proper stewardship, less fortunate people can use these "hand-outs" to help themselves and their progeny achieve better lives.  Lives during which, by the way, they will pay their fair share of taxes to help other less fortunate people.

I am also very grateful to the Democratic Party for my high school and college educations.  I attended a private elementary school (grades 1-8), where books, supplies, and heat during the winter always seemed to be in short supply.  I remember doing assignments on paper that resembled recycled paper towels and shivering in the classroom during the winter.  And sharing a textbook with another child, when one of you is on page 20 and the other is on page 30, can be a bit stressful when you are 9 years old.  So, when I went to a public high school, I was basically in educational heaven.  It was calm, orderly, clean, and well-stocked.  The teachers were well-trained, and most knew how to inspire a kid with positive words of encouragement.  I attended a publicly-funded college, as well -- San Francisco State University.  There I was given the opportunity to get a very good education alongside people of diverse opinions and walks-of-life.  This was invaluable to me, as it helped me learn how to enjoy and appreciate all kinds of people.  I also found, at these public institutions, that my rather conservative religious and political views were treated with respect by my teachers and classmates.  We were able to talk with each other about our differing ideas in a way that was positive for all.  I never felt like I was treated badly by anyone -- instructor or student -- because of my more traditional opinions.  To me, it was the best of what you might call a truly liberal education.  An education where all points of view are considered in the discussion, in a fair and respectful manner, with everyone still calling each other "friend" at the end of the day. 

Because of programs championed by the Democrats, I had many enriching experiences as I grew up.  There was that wonderful summer school program where I got to play Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz.  There were swimming lessons, which provided me with a healthy, life-long activity that I love.  There were also dance lessons, driving lessons, library books, opportunities to attend plays -- I could go on and on...  Without the Democrats, I would probably not have been able to partake in any of these activities.  My father did have a good job and we had a wonderful home-life, but his income would not have supported these things, even if he was in a lower tax bracket. 

And I have to say this about publicly-funded programs, also -- especially those of an educational type.  They do provide the opportunity for people of diverse backgrounds to interact.  And this is something that I believe to be of great value -- at least it was for me and for others I have known.

So, this Republican tips her hat to the Democrats.  I recognize the value in much that you have done.  And I hope we can all work together for the common good.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The PDA -- Or, Sweet Memories Of Youth

The Public Display of Affection, or PDA.  What is a young person to think or do?  This is my view on the whole thing, which may be entirely wrong.  Please do not be offended or feel that I expect you to agree with me.

My two daughters went to institutions of higher education where there were fairly strict rules about the PDA.  Although, at one of the colleges, there was some latitude.  PDA's were discouraged in the main campus area, but in the "lower campus" and off-campus, as I understand it, your business was your own.  The other institution, as it seemed to me, was a bit stricter.  A couple could be fined or at least "talked to" for PDA-ing pretty much anywhere they might be spotted by an authority figure from the school, including off-campus.  My understanding is that those in charge of running the school were concerned for the reputation of the school.  And, I do believe, they had the best interests of the young people at heart.  I do have a bit of an issue, though, with the policy of this latter college.

I  appreciate the idea of encouraging in young people the development of a proper social decorum.  In a professional situation, and attending classes at a college could be viewed as such, the idea of treating others in a more formal way is a very positive one.  On the other hand, school is not the workplace, so a little hand-holding and a kiss for your special someone as you see him or her off to class is really not that big of a deal, and is even rather sweet, at least in my book.

When it comes to locations that are outside the area of the school itself, though, it is my personal opinion that these young people should basically be left alone, with perhaps some gentle guidance from their elders.  It can be a bit uncomfortable to see a couple making out in a hallway or common area, appearing as though they are unaware of the presence of anyone else, but it can be handled with a GENTLE word or good-natured ribbing by a friend or authority figure.  I see absolutely no need to humiliate the young people.  And fining them monetarily seems completely ridiculous to me.  After all, these people are young, but they are also adults.

Personally, I remember my own days of young adulthood, when I so much enjoyed lavishing affection on my beloved.  (I would like to apologize to my own kids, if this is TMI.)  I would have been getting fined ALL THE TIME, and it most likely wouldn't have stopped me.  I would have just set apart a budget for PDA fines.  Rebel yell. ;-)

Yes, we need to help young people develop common sense about romantic behaviors.  But, we also need to have some heart for these lovely individuals.  PDA's can often be some of the sweetest memories of youth and of our early times with our spouses.  My dad, who I spoke of in another post, was very smart about this and the following anecdote still makes me laugh.  There was an old sofa in the living room of the home where I lived until I married.  The old sofa was eventually replaced by a new sofa, and the day it arrived, my dad solemnly announced, with a twinkle in his eye, "Here is the new couch.  For you and Chris to make out on."

And this leads me to my own PDA advice.  Making out is fun, but carries with it less danger when undertaken in a place where you can easily be caught.  Enough said.

This post is written from my own perspective on things.  I am not The Pope, or any definitive Authority.  If I have made any mistakes or you feel I am being unfair, please forgive me.  If you disagree with my views, I understand.   

Friday, August 24, 2012

King David, The Pool House, And The Big, Comfy Bed

It is Friday.  I am in a celebratory mood. And I am just going to have fun writing this crazy-ass post. ;-)

As I have said before, my daughters and I are engaged in the endeavor of watching The O.C.  This is a TV show which ran for four seasons starting in 2003.  And, yes, I am quite behind in my television watching.  The main character is a young man of 17 named Ryan Atwood (played by a 20-something Ben McKenzie).  Ryan is truly a King David-type character (but, that is another post), though possessing a rather troubled past.   He is taken in by the family of his public defender after a scrape with the law.  The public defender makes no money, of course, but is married to a fabulously wealthy woman, with whom he has one son who is the same age as Ryan.  Thus, they all come live together in the very upscale community of Newport Beach in Orange County.

When Ryan arrives at his new home, the mother of the family decides that he will take up residence in the pool house.  When the doors to the pool house are opened, we see, in the middle of the room, a giant comfy bed -- made up with masculine linens and all sorts of fluffy pillows.  Uh-huh.  If I was the mother in this household, there is no possible way I would put my new, handsome, 17-year-old, King David-like, worldly-wise stepson all by himself in a pool house with this big, wondrous bed right smack dab in the center of it.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME???  Perhaps I am just narrow-minded, but anyway....

As the story of Ryan and his new family and friends unfolds, I have come to see this bed being used to indicate the status of this boy's relationships with all the different characters, and also his own moods.  Fascinating.  Everything revolves around the bed.  If Ryan is feeling lonely, he reclines by himself in a mopey mood on the bed.  If he has decided that life must take a more serious turn and he is thinking about his future, he is seen studying on the bed.  If he is not feeling so close with his girlfriend, they sit on the edge of the bed; and if he is feeling closer to her, of course they make out on the bed atop all the fluffy pillows.  With a platonic friend, a closer relationship is indicated if they talk on the bed together; more distance is reflected if Ryan is sitting on the bed and his friend on the floor or a nearby chair.  A tentative new relationship with a girl might be illustrated by both of them sitting on the floor at the foot of the bed, perhaps playing a video game.  When the girl that Ryan gets pregnant comes to reside with this family for a while, she is given the pool house to stay in and the big, comfy bed to sleep in, with Ryan being moved into the main house (where I personally would have put him in the first place; but, then nobody would have watched the show).  You see her -- a very beautiful young woman -- through the windows of this lovely structure, making the bed.  Meanwhile, Ryan and his current girlfriend sit together outside, with Ryan looking, understandably, concerned (drastic understatement here).  The visual effect of this scene shows us and causes us to feel the pain of Ryan's situation in a way that 1000 words never could.  And when Ryan leaves his happy new community to go back to his hometown with the pregnant girl, because he feels it is his duty to do so, the image of the mother of the family stripping this bed while crying many tears is stunning -- leaving the audience to grasp fully the impact Ryan has had among the people who have come to love him.  He eventually does return, but during his absence, there are shots of the bed with the blankets and sheets carefully folded at the foot of it.  A stark illustration of a heartbreaking situation.

Maybe I am imagining this whole thing, through the oft-strange workings of my mind, but I don't think so.  I believe what I am seeing is some delightful creativity and compelling story-telling.  And I tip my hat to the creators, producers, writers, and actors of The O.C.  Kudos!!!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

My Father's Wisdom

I was very fortunate in having the father I had.  He passed away about two and a half years ago, but he left a lot of good sense in his wake.

My father was the son of Italian immigrants.  His first language was Italian, and he didn't learn English until going to school.  He actually skipped kindergarten, because he ran away the first three days. So, his teacher told his mom to keep him home until first grade.  After that, he did very well in school, although he never enjoyed it.  And that was one of his lessons to us -- sometimes, you just do what you are supposed to do, because you are supposed to do it.  And you do your best, whether or not you are having a good time.  More people could use that lesson, methinks.

After high school, my dad was drafted into the U.S. Army during the time of the Korean War.  Being in the army was something he didn't much care for, either.  But, he was of good character and had some excellent leadership skills, so he was made a squad leader.  During his time in this position, my dad got so angry with a fellow soldier -- who was unwilling to take part in the weekly cleaning of the barracks -- that he broke a broom over his back.  Yeah, my dad was kind of fiery sometimes.  You know how Italians can be.  As he said, though, he did not want to have his weekend liberty revoked because of this lazy dude.  Understandable.

After his hitch in the army, my dad tried college, but he only lasted a semester.  As I understand it, he was unwilling to spend his time listening to philosophy teachers wonder about whether or not we actually exist.  So, he took a job as a teller at Bank of America, and was quickly promoted up through the ranks.  During the 1970's, though, BofA began hiring a lot of MBA's fresh out of places like Stanford University.  My father announced to our family that these guys were going to ruin the bank -- but, not out of any fault of their own.  He explained that the Powers That Be at BofA hired these people fresh out of school, with no experience, and had them follow him around with clip boards for a couple of weeks, after which they were expected to do the same kind of job he was doing after working there for 16 years.  When the big financial crisis hit a few years back, and we all found out the shenanigans that had been going on at BofA, I called my dad and said, "Well, you were right.  The MBA's did end up ruining the bank."  He did not disagree.

Upon seeing the writing on the wall at Bank of America, my dad fell back on the trade he learned from his own father.  He renewed his general contractor's license and went into business for himself.  He built new homes and remodeled older ones, always doing gorgeous work.  People would often wait a year for him to do a job, rather than try to find anyone else.  He built his own custom cabinets out of maple in the workshop he had in our garage; and he always, always cleaned up each job site immaculately at the end of each and every work day -- something that was greatly appreciated by his customers.

My dad had a reputation, among many people, of pretty much always being right.  One of the reasons for this, I believe, is that he had an excellent intuitive grasp of human nature, of what makes people tick.  Everyone loved my dad, no matter their religion, politics, sexual ethics, whatever -- because he was cool with all of them.  He did dispense his advice, but usually gently, with an understanding that if you push people too hard, it will inevitably backfire.  Here are a few of examples of what I mean.

 My father interacted with a lot of young people -- family, children of his friends, subcontractors -- during the era of the "sexual revolution".  Now, my father was a very good Catholic and very old-fashioned in his values.  But, he also made people feel comfortable around him.  So, often these young people -- well, the guys, anyway -- would tell him of their sexual adventures.  Instead of acting shocked and lecturing them, my dad would listening patiently and with good humor.  And then, with a small smile on his lips, would ask something like, "Do you really think that's a good idea?"  You see, my father understood that people have to make up their own minds about things, that they have to make their own choices and learn from them.  And these people would, over the course of the years, come back to my father at the different phases of their lives and talk to him about their issues.  And he always would listen and have some wisdom to quietly impart.  His patient manner invited them back.  If he had moralized, they never would have given him another chance.

His parenting style was very similar.  As I have said before, I was kind of a rebel.  I would take it into my head that I wanted to do some crazy thing or other.  My dad would have it out with me.  We would often argue, quite loudly.  But, in the end, he would say, quietly, "Well, it's your life.  Do what you want to do."  My defenses would thus go down, and I would think to myself, "Uh. Do I really want to do that crazy-ass thing?"  And the answer was, usually -- no.

One of the best things my father ever did for me was this.  When I was 20 years old and in college, I became engaged.  It did not work out.  Due to reasons I will not go into here, I called off the wedding one week before it was supposed to happen.  I was 21 and devastated.  I did not have the mental energy to go back to school.  My father was sitting in his recliner chair a few days after the big event was cancelled, and he said to me, "You need a job."  He then picked up the Want Ad section of the paper, looked for a few minutes, and announced, "Here is a good job.  They need a loan clerk at the San Mateo County Credit Union.  Call this lady -- Devonia."  And he showed me the number.  I picked up the phone that very minute and called this nice lady.  I went for an interview the next day and was hired on the spot.  It was the best thing that could have happened to me at the time.  It was a wonderful job -- great co-workers, great life lessons, money in my pocket.  And, there were LOTS of cops, deputies, and firefighters who had accounts at the credit union, and all of us gals there had great fun with them.  Most of these guys had wonderful forearms; and if you have read my other posts, you know how I feel about great forearms on a guy. ;)  This was all just what I needed to get over Mr. Wrong.  I did end up going back to college, but I will always treasure the time I spent at the credit union.  It is one of my fondest memories.

I really miss my dad.  A lot of people do.  He had a great impact on many, and this impact came through his quiet wisdom about life and about people.  He taught me to listen; to not push too hard, especially as a parent; to respect the right of individuals to make their own decisions and to learn from them; to trust that, if given the freedom to do so, most people will make the right choices for themselves, at least eventually.  And maybe we need to strive to learn from my dad's insights when looking at our society.  Perhaps we need to give each other some space, even when we don't like each others' opinions and decisions, having hope that the majority of our fellow citizens do want to do the right thing when all is said and done.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My Hope

There are three beautiful, bright, thoughtful, well-educated brothers.  As a group, they are a little bit older than my own children.  Now, these brothers are very active in the arts and in public life, conveying through their words and deeds a great concern for our country, for our world, for those who suffer.  They were raised by a father who is a lawyer and a mother who is a poet -- a combination bound to produce some pretty amazing individuals.

My own three children -- two girls and a boy -- are also beautiful, bright, and well-educated.  They are also very concerned for the well-being of our society, for the poor and oppressed.  They wish to alleviate the suffering they see around them, hoping to live their lives in a way that will be a force for good in the world.

I see these two groups of siblings, lovely people all, and I see that they all hope for beauty, truth, and goodness in their lives and in their civilization.  And this is something else I see:  they are on opposite sides of the political fence in many ways.  But, not in all ways.

Could they ever sit down together and discuss their hopes, dreams, and fears for their own lives, for their own culture, for the cultures of other peoples?  Could they see what unites them?  Could they really listen to each other when discussing their differences, so that even if they don't agree, they could at least have compassion for each other?  Could they see a way through these differences so that the people in our very diverse society could live together in a peaceful way, with everyone's rights and beliefs respected?  Is this possible?

I sure hope it is possible.  I fear the consequences if it is not.  Because, right now, I am seeing things in my country and in my world that make my stomach ache.  I see people so entrenched in their belief systems, on both sides of the fence, that no one is willing to give the other the benefit of the doubt.  I see statements being taken out of context and people being accused of having evil motives.  I don't see many individuals who are willing to calmly listen to opposing points of view.  What I am seeing is a society tearing itself apart, with each side blaming the other for the tearing.

And in my heart, I see these two beautiful groups of siblings -- different, yes, but all wanting goodness, fairness, freedom, justice.  I do not want to see them at war with each other.  They have all been raised by parents who love them, who have provided them with good educations, who want them to bring light to the darkness.  May they find a way to do this together, in spite of their differences. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

John Cooper And This Catholic Lady

I homeschooled my kids for 15 years, during which I didn't have much time for movies or TV.  And when I did turn something on, it had to be at least pretty kid-friendly, with all my kids gathered round the set.  So, I wouldn't have watched something like SouthLAnd during those years, because I wouldn't have wanted to try to explain why Officer Sherman was in bed with two ladies.  Call me lazy...

The kids grew up, though, and one of them earned a college degree in "Communications Media, With An Emphasis In Entertainment Media".  In short, a "film degree".  Hence, she watched many movies and TV shows while completing her education; and upon her return home after graduation, continued to watch many movies and TV shows in the house.  Thus, I was drawn in.

Through a series of events, involving my daughter's love of a TV show called Numb3rs, Twitter, and a very kind actor named Chris Bruno, I was led to watch SouthLAnd.  YES!  I am going to talk about SouthLAnd again!  But, today I will not be discussing Ben McKenzie's character, but a character named John Cooper, played most excellently by Michael Cudlitz.

John Cooper is an officer in the LAPD.  And he is a gay character.  And he totally changed my idea of Hollywood and the "gay agenda".

As I educated my children, I hung with people who were mostly very conservative in their views.  I am mostly conservative in my views; but I do have kind of a rebel side, as you know if you have been reading my blog.   The prevailing opinion of the people I hung with is that Hollywood is aggressively promoting the gay lifestyle, trying to get us to accept and condone it, threatening us with "white martyrdom" if we don't.  And, I admit, this became my point-of-view as well, even though I never actually watched any movies or TV shows dealing with gay-rights issues or involving gay characters. (And please don't take any of this as a criticism of homeschooling.  All homeschoolers are individuals, and should not be stereotyped.  This is just my personal experience.)

But, as I watched the character of John Cooper in SouthLAnd, I came away with a different view of things.  In this show, the gay man John Cooper is portrayed in a way that could be construed as very Catholic.  He is portrayed, first and foremost, as a man -- a human being.  He is a man of integrity who works hard, is a good friend, is trustworthy and honorable, with his own share of demons (having to do with an addiction to prescription painkillers).  He is a person like any person -- gay or straight.  And his sexual orientation is just part of who he is as a person.  It is not paraded around by the writers of the show in a way that is aggressively promoting any kind of political agenda.  And when, on a police call,  he has to talk to a teenage boy who has just come out of the closet to his parents -- causing a near knock-down, drag-out fight in their home -- he takes the boy outside and gently encourages him to give his parents time to adjust to this new reality in their lives.  He tells the boy that it is a lot for his parents to digest, and encourages him to have patience.  The feelings of the parents are treated with respect by the show's writers -- even though they are not "politically correct" -- through the character of John Cooper, and I was quite touched by this.

So, this has me thinking.  Maybe Hollywood is not necessarily trying to promote a threatening agenda, but is trying to encourage the idea of gay people as human beings, first and foremost.  Perhaps there is a legitimate concern that gay people have been abused by many in our society, including by many Christians, just because they are gay.  We can debate gay marriage and other gay-rights issues.  But, as we do, we need to correctly discern the concerns of those with opposing views.  We need to try to understand those concerns.  And we need to remember that there are human beings at the center of this debate.  Human beings who want to have what we all want to have -- freedom to live their lives without fear and persecution, compassion, friendship, family, and love.  All of us in our society need to pursue truth, but we need to pursue truth in charity.  In ALL things -- charity.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Grieving The Loss Of Tony Scott

Tony Scott has been a gift to me.  He directed "Top Gun" -- my all-time favorite movie.  He also produced one of my favorite TV shows -- "Numb3rs".  Well, this family man, this creative genius, this person who was loved by many, apparently took his own life yesterday.  And I am so sad.

I wish I could tell him how "Top Gun", aside from being so much fun to watch, opened my eyes to the world of Naval Aviation.  Naval Aviation has always been of great interest to my husband and, through the medium of this movie, I also became interested in the topic.  This has given me a lot of happy times in my marriage, which I otherwise would not have had.  Times at air shows, times watching military documentaries, times looking through pages of books filled with pictures of and information on fighter jets, and even times flying in small aircraft with former fighter pilots, participating in mock dog fights.  This love of my husband also became a love of mine because of Tony Scott.  And I will always be so grateful.

My son's life would also not be the same without Tony.  I let this child watch "Top Gun" when he was about two years old, because he was having a fussy day and I was desperate.  Why did I put that movie on, instead of a more child-friendly one?  Well, I think it was actually the only video we owned at the time.  And my son was enthralled.  He asked to watch it pretty much every day.  Because of that movie, my son's interest in aviation and military history was sparked.  He is now majoring in history in college, is hoping to be a military officer, and has done many things he probably would not have done otherwise -- been a Civil Air Patrol cadet, learned everything it is possible to know about World War II and the Cold War, flown small aircraft, and worked as a docent at the Flying Leathernecks Aviation Museum (where he has the reputation of knowing as much as, or even more than, the old-timers).  He has even been allowed to fly the real FA/18 Hornet simulator at MCAS Miramar (the one on which the actual pilots train).  And due to my son's exposure to the many wonderful people who serve our country in the military, he has developed a gracious manner when dealing with others.  These fine individuals have been such good examples to him of how to behave and interact with those of all backgrounds and walks of life. Thank-you, Tony, for opening my son's eyes to this amazing world.

Actually, my whole family's life would not have been the same without Tony Scott.  Because of him, my two daughters have happily attended air shows and watched many hours of military documentaries (when their brother commandeered the only TV set in the house).  They know things about our country's history, and the brave men and women who have defended her, that they never would have been aware of otherwise.  And they have an appreciation of our men and women in uniform that I doubt they would have had the opportunity to develop without the presence of Maverick and Goose in our home.

We will miss you, Tony Scott.  May God grant you a place of light, happiness, and peace.  And may He grant comfort to your family, loved ones, friends, and all of us who grieve at the loss of you.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Bikini Battle

There is apparently a lot of controversy surrounding the wearing of The Bikini.  Is it modest enough?  Is it ever appropriate for a proper young lady to wear one?  Should you allow pictures of yourself wearing said swimwear to appear on Facebook?

Now, this is a personal decision, which each lady needs to make for herself, perhaps in conjunction with parents and faithful friends.  But, this is my take on the whole thing.

I was always allowed by my mother to wear The Bikini.  My mother was fairly strict, and there were some rules that I was expected to follow.  As far as the panty portion of The Bikini was concerned, it needed to sufficiently cover the entire bum, and the waistband could not dally too far below the navel.  As far as the top portion of The Bikini was concerned, it had to sufficiently cover the breasts.  I hope I have not offended you by using the word "breasts".  Sorry if I have....  These rules were not only set forth because my mother was concerned about feminine dignity, but because they allowed me to actually swim and dive while wearing The Bikini without fear of having it come off at inconvenient times.  I could also have surfed in The Bikini, but I never learned how to surf -- something which saddens me even unto this very day.  Thus, my bikinis were truly pieces of swimwear.  I was never embarrassed wearing The Bikini and I was never inappropriately ogled by dudes.  Sometimes, as a young woman, I thought it would be fun to be inappropriately ogled by dudes, but that is a different issue.  And, now, I am grateful for the common sense of my mother.  Who, by the way, also wore 2-piece swimsuits well into her 30's.

Thus, I come to the next issue -- Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and all those other wondrous social networking inventions that I love.  People go to the pool.  People go to the beach.  People go to the hot-tub.  People take pictures of each other at these places and send them to these internet sites, where they can easily be viewed by God-knows-who.  And it is understandable for a pretty young lady not to want to become a pin-up in the room of God-knows-who in some foreign country, the name of which she can't even pronounce.  Discretion, therefore, is important.  But, also, if you are following my mother's rules concerning The Bikini and you are not acting like a drunken, partying maniac, it should not be too much of a worry.

This, therefore, is my take on The Bikini.  Use your judgement and do what is comfortable for you.  Don't be pressured by others.  Whether to wear The Bikini or not is your decision.  Make it wisely and have fun in the water!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Why? -- Part II

So, why did I hang in there with the Catholic Church?

When I was going into fifth grade, I went to summer school at a public elementary school near my house.  I normally went to Catholic school, which I detested.  This was not because of anything having to do with religion, though.  It was because of the atmosphere at that particular school -- untrained teachers, large class sizes, insufficient school supplies, overzealous disciplinary measures.... (But, that's another post.)  When I went to the summer program at the public school, I found a very different atmosphere -- calm, relaxed, orderly....  And one of the best things I encountered was a teacher who had been a former priest.  His name was Sid.  He told me that the story I wrote and the picture I drew were beautiful because I had done them -- something I had NEVER heard before.  And he let me play Dorothy in the school's production of The Wizard of Oz.  He was the director.  He actually let three of us play Dorothy, because he didn't have the heart to cut anyone (we just rotated scenes).  It was an altogether delightful experience I had with him that summer.

Years later, after I was married, I met up with Sid again at the Catholic parish we attended.  Even though he had left the priesthood, he was still very active in the Church.  He always loved The Lord so much!  We were together at a party one day, a day when I was just fed up with the whole "Catholic Scene".  I said to him something along the lines of -- "I don't even know anymore what we are supposed to believe.  And this whole anti-contraception thing is just too hard."  Sid looked at me very kindly, because he never failed to be kind, and he told me, "First of all, remember that the Lord loves you unconditionally.  UNCONDITIONALLY."  And then he told me that there was a new Catechism of the Catholic Church that had been promulgated by Pope John Paul II.  He told me that it was wonderful and that I should get a copy.  The next day, that's just what I did.  And I read the whole darn thing from front to back.  And it's pretty long.

I learned a lot from that read.  But, in a nutshell, I found that ALL of the Church's teachings, including the one against contraception, are based on the idea of loving one another in a completely selfless, self-giving way.  I liked that idea, and that's why I hung in there.

Do I still struggle with this teaching, and sometimes other teachings of the Church?  Sure, I do.  Do I believe that people who practice contraception can still love each other completely?  I absolutely do.  But, when I struggle these days, I always remember what Sid told me.  God loves me UNCONDITIONALLY.  And He loves you that way, too -- no matter your sins or your struggles.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Why? -- Part I

Today I am going to reflect on why I am a Catholic.  I almost wasn't.  There was a time when I just about left the Church, and it wasn't when I was a teenager or young adult.  It was when I was 29 years old.  As my kind husband wisely put it -- "Your faith was smashed upon the rocks of birth control."  Yup.

As Catholics, my husband and I did not want to practice artificial contraception; so, when we were engaged, we took a course in Natural Family Planning, or NFP.  We also both wanted a good number of babies.  We do love children.  Anyway, when using NFP, the woman interprets the days on which she is fertile using a number signals given to her by her body.  I won't get into all that here.  There are plenty of ways to find out all about this, if you wish.  Herein, though, I discovered something about my own young self:  using the method of NFP that we were taught, I appeared to be fertile about 75% of the time.  This is just not how it was supposed to work.  Anyway, our NFP instructor was very kind and told us that she had never seen cycles quite like mine before.  And, after my husband and I got married, she asked me, "How important is it that you not conceive?" Because there were reasons that we wanted to wait for a little while before I got pregnant.  I thought about it, and told her, "I guess it's not really all that important." So, she gave me some advice based on that statement.

A bit of time went by, and my husband and I got our "ducks in a row" and were in a position to conceive.  About 6 months after our wedding, I very, very happily found out I was pregnant.  But, this is something I realized:  even if I hadn't been ready to get pregnant, I would have conceived, anyway, using the advice given to me by our NFP instructor.  To be fair, though, if I had told her that we absolutely weren't ready to conceive, she would have given me different advice.  This would have involved abstaining about 75% of the time.  Kind of a tall order for newlyweds.

Over the next 4 years, my hubby and I VERY JOYFULLY welcomed three beautiful children.  All of whom were wanted.  Please don't misunderstand that.  But, a few other things happened along the way to influence my feelings about this whole NFP thing.  I got violently ill when I was pregnant; my fertility returned within two months of giving birth (even when following all the advice about breastfeeding and natural child spacing, which is supposed to keep your cycles from returning for at least 6 months); my fertility signs were very confusing (due to breastfeeding hormones and not being able to take an accurate basal body temperature, as I had to get up about 3 times a night with the babies); and I lost a lot of blood during the birth of my third baby, which I think caused me to feel pretty exhausted and unwell for quite a while.  So, let's just say I built up a lot of resentment toward the whole Church teaching against contraception and, hence, against the Church, too.  I was ready to call it quits with the faith.  Thanks be to God that my husband is such a loving and understanding person.  It was really his love and a few other amazing things that helped me to hang in there.

And in the next part of this 2-part series, I will explain why I did decide, once-and-for-all, to hang in there.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The War Between Women

There seems to be a lot of hoopla right now concerning Mrs. Romney, wife of the Republican candidate for president.  Apparently, Mrs. Romney has been accused of something along the lines of never working "a day in her life."  And now, the entire Sisterhood of Women in America seems to be engaged in a type of civil war, and I think it's more than a little nauseating.

I am going to speak here in generalities.  I don't mean to offend any specific people here.  And this is only my opinion, for whatever it's worth, if anything at all.

Women need to stop attacking each others' choices.  Women need to stop being offended by other women who make different life decisions. 

I am a housewife and mother.  I am happy I made that choice.  It suits my temperament, my energy level, my interests.  It is what I really wanted to do.  Nobody pressured or forced me into making this decision.  It was mine, and I own it.  This is what makes it work for me when times get tough.

But, other women have different temperaments, energy levels, interests.  I respect that.  And I respect their freedom to be mothers with jobs or careers outside the home.  I have seen women make this choice and raise wonderful children. 

Some people speak of  the War On Women.  I am speaking of the War Between Women.  And I would like to see a truce.  Let's look at it both ways.  The Silicon Valley working woman who supposedly insulted Mrs. Romney did have a point.  Working outside the home is very different from working inside the home.  I have done both, and I know this to be true.  So, if said "feminist" feels that Mrs. Romney can't relate effectively to a great number of today's women, perhaps she has a point.  But, it would also be fair if women who work outside the home can see the value and amount of labor being done by women in the home.  After all, if you have both kids and a job, you are paying someone to do at least some of the work you would be doing if you were at home.  This is not meant to be a judgement or an insult.  It is just a fact.  But, I do admire women who raise families and hold outside jobs.  They work very, very hard.  Probably harder than me.  And some of the best doctors, dentists, teachers, retail workers, insurance agents, bankers, artists, etc. that I have come across are women who are raising kids.  And I value their presence in the workforce.  It has benefited me greatly.

So, here's to the Sisterhood of Women in America.  I hope we can all learn to appreciate each other, draw from each others' strengths, and help each other in our needs.  Let's lift each other up, instead of tearing each other down.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Ben And The Bunnies

SouthLAnd. Yep. Told you I was obsessed with this show.  So, I am going to talk about it some more today.  I will probably talk about it on a lot of days.  Sorry if this bores you, but I just can't help it.  The whole thing is just so much damn fun.

Officer Ben Sherman is one of the main characters on SouthLAnd.  He is played by Ben McKenzie.  Anything Ben McKenzie does is pretty much worth watching -- and not just because of his forearms, either. Anyway, Officer Sherman is a rookie, having typical rookie experiences.  There are things that shake him up, knock him down, rock his world.  Things that inflate his ego, too. So, with all this emotional drama taking place inside his soul, what better refuge could there be than the bunnies -- the badge bunnies.  Or, as my daughter called them, the badge "buddies" -- a term that I like better.  It just makes me grin.

What is a badge bunny, you may ask?  She is a hot, young (or maybe not-so-young, yet well-maintained) lady, who likes to give cops a good time.  Maybe she is hoping to get one for her very own, to have and to hold, for the rest of her life.  Or, maybe she is just being recreational about the whole thing.  One should not try to stereotype the bunnies.

Well, Officer Ben likes the bunnies and they like him.  All seems well and happy, especially when things are going his way on the job.  And even when things might not go his way, the bunnies put a smile on his face and a spring in his step.  As time goes on, though, and Ben is assaulted spiritually, mentally, and physically by what goes on in his very stressful job, we see a shift in his relationship with the bunnies.  He is still cavorting his way through his time off in the company of these beautiful gals, but he starts to look a little disturbed at times.  You just see it in his face. (And nobody, absolutely nobody, can nail an appropriate facial expression like Ben McKenzie.)  He starts to look a little tortured -- especially after he punches a teenaged girl in the nose while on a call, and a video of the whole thing ends up on the internet -- and he realizes that at least some of the bunnies are "turned on" by this incident, an incident of which he himself is not in the least bit proud.  We see a process going on that is a bit like something that might happen with alcohol.  The more Ben's soul and psyche are assaulted by the dark side of society, which he has to deal with each and every moment on the job, the more the badge bunnies become a self-medicating addiction, a coping mechanism. And this very good, idealistic young man sees himself behaving in ways of which he appears to be ashamed, and yet he almost can't help it.

What do I take away from all of this?  A couple of things.  Maybe Hollywood doesn't always promote "illicit" sexual behavior as much as I might have assumed.  Ben's "sewing of his wild oats" may be illustrated as just fun-loving behavior at times, but it is also shown as something that reflects the pain in his heart.  And this reminds me to be careful about judging people.  A person's situation, choices, and actions may just be, and probably are, more complicated than I might think.  And maybe a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on may be what someone actually needs from me.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Golden God Of The Sidewalk

A couple of days ago, I wondered in this blog about giving teens a little space to try stuff out, to take some chances. I would like to give a personal example of what I was talking about. You will see what a goose I was, but this experience taught me one hell of a lot.

One summer vacation, when I was in my late teens, I was a little bored -- waiting for school to start again. It was a hot day and I decided to take the dog for a walk, wearing my cute little shorts and top. On the last leg of my journey, I came upon who I will refer to as The Golden God Of The Sidewalk. He was a young man I found sunbathing in a lounge chair on the sidewalk in front of his house. A young man a little older than I, with beautiful blond curls cascading down to his shoulders, a gorgeous tan, and a lot of upper body going on -- wearing nothing but his little pair of shorts. So, we struck up a conversation and I ended up asking him if he wanted to come home with me for a visit.

Lest you fear what happened next, I will tell you now that my entire family was home -- dad, mom, and two younger sisters. They all visited amiably with said Golden God and he visited amiably with them. He even played my youngest sister's guitar, getting suntan oil all over it in the process. Something that I don't think she has ever forgiven me for, even unto this very day. I thought he was pretty cool.

Upon leaving, though, he turned toward me, took my face in his hands, and kissed me. Quite dramatically. My first kiss. He merrily departed, leaving me with the realization that the entire lower portion of my face was covered in, um, his saliva. Ryan Atwood's talents he did not possess. Running to the bathroom, I proceeded to wash my face with hot, soapy water and then disinfect it with alcohol. Sort of an over-reaction? Yup.

I thought that was the end of that. But, over the course of the next month, he called me at least a few times a week, saying things like, "I got a car. You wanna go out?" In my great maturity, I made lame excuses and had my sisters tell him I wasn't there. Real dignified and kind of me, right?

About a year later, I saw him in a shopping mall. He had a new hairstyle and a hickie on his neck. When I spied him, I turned around and fled and hid in a store. But, he had also spied me and chased me through the mall, came into said store, and searched for me. He did find me. We had a brief conversation and parted ways.

I proceeded to feel awful about all this.Not because I brought him home and kissed him, but because I failed to behave kindly toward him when he was obviously so fond of me. It taught me something, the hard way, about how to behave toward others.

But, it is also now a sweet memory. My Golden God Of The Sidewalk, who gave me my first kiss and thought I was hot enough to be worth chasing -- at least through a mall. ;)

Friday, August 10, 2012

The OC -- Selling Teen Sex, Or Not?

Have you seen The OC? Yes, I am way behind on my television watching. Recently, though, I have been watching this fascinating show in the company of my 22 and 23 year old daughters. It concerns a group of friends and relatives living in the wealthy conclave of Newport Beach who are visited upon by a young man from Chino named Ryan Atwood. Ryan is thoughtful, a little haunted, worldly-wise, sensitive, and, yes, a hottie. He could also be the U.S. Ambassador to Iran, so sensible and skilled at bringing together warring factions he is.

Anyway, you have this dude Ryan making his way around Newport in his white tanks, with other attractive youths, both male and female, swarming around him and so -- here comes the teen sex.

Now, many people would say this show sells teen sex. You have all these very attractive "teens" -- most of whom are actually played by people in their 20's -- in various sexual situations. Sometimes making out. Sometimes more than making out. Kind of appealing to a 16-year-old, right? I mean, I have never seen anyone plant one onscreen like that Ryan person. Except for Chris Bruno in "The Last Of The Romantics", which is probably the sweetest movie kiss ever. But, I digress.

When you really look at what happens, though, could this show actually be doing the opposite of selling teen sex? Ryan gets a beautiful girl pregnant and she tells him the baby is not his so that he will go to college and have a bright future. She is a strong and selfless person, who really shows that there is some true love for him in her heart. He is strong and selfless, too, willing to give up his plans to be with her. And so we are shown that teen sex is not without consequences -- serious consequences. And then we have the sweet couple -- Seth and Summer -- who also really love each other and decide to have sex. Which is pretty much an unromantic disaster in the beginning. Very REAL. There are also Luke and Marissa. She loses her virginity to him, which makes all the difficulties in their relationship and their eventual break-up just that much harder to bear. I mean, let's face it, teens are emotional creatures just learning to form romantic relationships. Sex is like throwing gas on the fire, and The OC illustrates that in a powerful and human way.

And there is also all the talk about condoms in The OC. As you see, I am giving this subject its very own paragraph. The show's writers are trying to be responsible, I presume, by incorporating the subject of condom usage into the characters' sexual activities. Summer asks Seth if he has a condom on him, for example, before they have their first intimate encounter -- the encounter that ends up being an epic disaster. So, you can look at it this way. Two teenagers. Trying to figure out how to make love for the first time, while simultaneously attempting proper condom usage in the midst of it all. Yeah.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, and for considering this possibility:  Ryan Atwood -- The Anti-Teen-Sex God. And Ambassador to Iran??? ;-)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Just Wondering

Teens. I love teens. I love their unbridled emotions, their sincere thoughts, their enthusiasm, their rebel natures. I taught high school once and I have raised my own teens. And through all these years, I have asked myself: What is the best way to help them grow up?

When I was younger, I tended more to strictness. Why? Mostly out of fear, wanting to protect them -- from drugs, alcohol, sex, car wrecks, heartbreak, bad grades. And I think it is valid to want to protect them from these things. But I also have been wondering this: if we protect too much, do we keep them from having experiences they need to mature. Let's face it -- we learn much from our screw-ups.

Over the past week or so, a few things have caused my little brain to focus on these issues. My son returned to college for his sophomore year. Another mom expressed how much she cries upon sending her son away to school, because she will miss him, but also because she worries he might get into trouble. One of my daughters, who went to a strict Catholic college (her decision), said to me, "People act like having sex is the worst thing you could possibly do." She also told me that a couple of young women who got pregnant at her school were asked to leave until they gave birth. This struck her as rather unfair. I agreed, saying to my pretty traditional girl, "Now you know why women's lib happened." And as I have mentioned before, I homeschooled my kids, thus causing me to hang with a lot of homeschool moms. No offense intended here, but not many people can out-do homeschool moms in their efforts to protect their kids from the evils of modern society. These efforts are loving and well-meaning. And, despite what you may think, homeschoolers generally have excellent social lives, though usually with other homeschoolers who are also being protected from the evils of modern society.

So, upon reflecting on the things mentioned in the paragraph above, I am asking myself: how much protection is healthy and is it always such a bad thing to get into some trouble? I am not talking here about irrevocable trouble. And I am not talking about abandoning our kids to fend for themselves in our hedonistic society. You should always, always be there for your kids. But, maybe it is ok for them to try a few things, to have a few close calls, to check out that cute guy or girl, to wear a daring outfit once in a while, to hang with people who think differently. Maybe we shouldn't be so quick to tell them that the normal events of growing up are sins. Maybe we should allow them the normal events of growing up, with mom and dad serving as the "guard rails", if you will. Maybe they will be better adults for it.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The OC, Chino, and Home

This post is not actually about The OC. But, The OC did inspire this post. Because in The OC -- which is a TV show, in case you didn't know -- the main character comes from Chino. I have never been to Chino; but, as it is portrayed in the show, it is exactly like my hometown: Redwood City, CA.

I grew up in Redwood City, as did my husband. We lived there for the first 9 years of our marriage. Our 3 kids were born there.

There are wealthy areas in Redwood City, and there are areas which are like Chino in The OC. My young little family lived in one of these not-so-wealthy areas. And it was the BEST thing we could have done for ourselves and our kids.

I am now going to speak of our lifestyle choices. Don't feel judged if they are not yours.

Upon marrying, we wanted to have kids right away. Hubby was 26 and I was 24. He was an engineer and I was a teacher. We both aspired to have me stay home with the babies, so we chose to live in a poorer area of town where we could afford a house. Thus, we moved into a 900 square foot, 2 bedroom, 1 bath house that glowed with an eerie orange light when the sun shone through the windows. This visual effect was caused by the orange and gold, early 1970's era, carpet, paint, and draperies.There was a drug-dealer living next door, but he was the friendly type. And we really didn't mind his parties, which lasted from sundown on Thursday nights to sundown on Sunday nights. But, only during warm weather.

This is the thing, though. Most of the people in that neighborhood were the best kind of people. Unspoiled, hard-working, generous, kind. Nobody had any extra money, so there were picnics in the park and frozen treats from the ice cream truck (on the days when there was a little extra cash). Such
fun birthday parties there were for the kids, with wading pools, squirt guns, hot dogs, and cake from the super market. No one could afford a bouncy house or a rented cartoon character. The kids 
themselves were the Power Rangers, and they did it better than any paid adults could have. There were no fancy pre-schools, but the recreation center down the street offered some lovely children's activities for a reasonable price; and I met some awesome friends there. Oh, and the park. A lot of us Redwood City mamas would bring our kids there each and every morning. Not an official play group,  but maybe better. No stress. No official duties. Just playing. And visiting. No gossip, either. Life was too basic to offer any fertile ground for gossip-worthy topics.

So, when I watched The OC today with my oldest daughter, and the setting was Theresa's engagement party in the family backyard in Chino -- complete with ice chests containing bottles of beer, sodas, tables with food under (very informal) tents, homemade flower arrangements, cinder block walls separating the neighbors' yards, well-worn paint on the house, old cars lining the streets -- well, it just brought me back. And I'm glad my kids spent most of their years as little children in a place like that. It gives them some perspective. If your furniture doesn't match, but you have a burger and a beer, well -- you are blessed.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

What I Learned From The Naked Hot-Tubbing Guy

People who know me know that I am a fairly, um, pretty much, well, mostly conservative person -- depending on how you define that term -- "conservative". I am Catholic. And if you really learn about Catholic teaching, you will find that it is neither conservative nor liberal, at least according to the contemporary understanding of those terms. And I believe in what the Church teaches. And this is why -- because it all really boils down to doing what is truly good for others. Doing what is truly loving. I can dig that idea. But, people would think of me as a conservative because of my neighborhood, my career as a wife and mom, the car I drive (unless they notice the Harley stickers on that minivan), the clothes I wear (but, you know, I am just not built for bootie shorts), and the fact that I homeschooled my kids (yeah).

Anyway, I -- this apparently conflicted individual -- would like to comment on a phenomenon that I am becoming increasingly distressed about. The US vs. THEM wars. The Culture Wars. The Chicken Sandwich Conflict. 

It seems to me that we, as a society, have almost completely forgotten how to talk to each other, how to listen to each other, how to empathize with each other. We are all so afraid of the "other side" that we have forgotten that the other side is made up of people. People who might actually be good, honest FRIENDS if we let them. Some of the most wonderful people in my life, people who have really been there for me, have had completely different opinions than me. Even on the "vital" issues of the day. 

Like the Naked Hot-Tubbing Guy. This guy was in my limnology class in college. A class with about 7 people, so we all bonded. He sat by me in his ripped clothes and shaggy ponytail. He had a really high IQ and a lifestyle that was a 180 from mine. He lived with his older lady friend in Marin County and would tell me about how they went naked hot-tubbing . He would also help me with my homework. And he was very kind. And I, in my well-kept blue jeans and cleavage-covering t-shirt, was completely charmed.

Let's hear it for the other side!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Those Forearms and That Greyhound

Two very in-shape creatures.

My Little Obsession

I just have to talk about SouthLAnd. I am pretty obsessed with it. It's a cop show -- my all-time favorite kind of show. I mean, when I was 8, I had this ridiculous crush on Joe Friday. If you don't know who he is, well, look him up. Epic, he was.

Anyway, SouthLAnd is a cop show that just basically trumps all other cop shows. Of course, there are very hot cops. Something for everyone... And there is shooting, fast cop-car driving, and to-die-for foot chases where Officer Ben Sherman (Ben McKenzie) inevitably prevails. This guy needs to give Tom Cruise running lessons, so that old Tom can actually look cool while running. The sound work on the show is also outstanding. And I am not usually someone who would notice that kind of thing-- especially with all the forearm muscles going on.

Seriously, though, what is really best about SouthLAnd is how it draws you in and gives you a little education about what really has to be dealt with up in those streets of LA. Nothing is sugar-coated. There is no attempt at political correctness or nausea-inducing sob stories meant to turn you into a bleeding heart. You may sob and your heart may bleed, but it will be because of stories that hit your gut in a way that is real. (And the stories are based on actual cop experiences. Just like in the days of Joe Friday).

And if none of this convinces you, Ben and Sammy (Shawn Hatosy) should be enough to make you give it a shot. And there is also the stunning Regina King, for all you gentlemen.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


People I know and love and respect and admire are very concerned about modesty. Of women's clothing. In Church. It has been said that women -- most likely, young and pretty women -- should be careful not to distract dudes in Church. And I suppose this is a valid concern, but I just get annoyed by the whole thing. First of all, boys getting distracted by girls is just a natural phenomenon and no one should feel guilty about it. I just tell my son that if a girl, or anything else, distracts him in Church, to just gently bring his attention back to the Mass. No. Big. Deal.

I also don't think it's quite fair to put everything on the girls. I mean, let's face it, the guys can be pretty distracting, too. Maybe Ben McKenzie should be asked to wear long sleeves anytime he goes into a house of worship? I mean, have you seen those forearms? :)

A Little About Me And This Blog

Hey, there. My name is Marla. I am 49 years old, married, and have 3 young adult kids, who are 23, 22, and 19. Two girls and a boy. I thought I would use this blog to write about the many random thoughts that enter my head. Many of my opinions are probably wrong. And I tend to be able to argue issues from both sides of the fence, if you will, so I often end up confusing myself. So, if I confuse you or you disagree with me, that's cool.

I also have a greyhound named Augusta. A retired racer. I will post her picture, after one of my kids tells me how.