Sunday, September 28, 2008

Obstacle Tennis

We had a perfect Indian summer weekend - the boyscouts were camped in the woods across the valley, the sun shone with all its might, and I went to play tennis with my son and got sunburn!
We went to the tennis court that used to belong to someone in the village - now abandoned for at least 25 years.
The tennis court is surrounded by an orchard. The wire fence has collapsed under the weight of vines, and the small apple orchard that once must have been part of a quaint garden is now overgrown and unkept. The court itself must have been excellent quality when it was built, for although gravelly and with a couple weeds poking through, the lines are still visible and the footing isn't too bad. The net is tied to a fence pole at one end with nylon rope, and at the other end it's attached to the sagging doorpost with the rest of the metal wire running through the top. It's held up in the middle by a large crate, which is handy when you hit it with a ball - it bounces the ball back at you.
From the village, the court is invisible. You can only catch sight of it at a certain angle from the dirt road that leads out of the village past the crest of the hill - the road that runs parallel to the golf course on the other side of the valley. And you wonder as you see the tennis court in the middle of a rampant tangle of wild grape vine and long grass - "how do you get there?"
I call it the "Beam me down, Scotty" tennis court. In fact, there is a small path that dips steeply down from the dirt road, a path that you can easily miss if you're not looking.
My son and I played for about 45 minutes - long enough to give me a nice sunburn on my nose. We don't keep score. We just hit back and forth and are careful not to hit the balls out, because once it leaves the court, a ball is irrevocably lost. Usually we bring our dog along to find lost balls. But today we went alone - and we lost a ball. Since we only had two to start with, it made things tense at the end.
When I got back home, my husband asked who won the game. I forget that he's a professional athlete and a game is something with a beginning, middle, and ending complete with score, winner, and losers. I replied that I (Venus Williams) did very well against my son (Rafael Nadal) and that there was no score - we just played. My husband does not 'get' playing for fun. My son and I are not competitive, and fun, for us, is hitting the ball back and forth and getting all out of breath and laughing when the ball hits a rough patch or plant, and bounces crazy.
The tennis there is sort of a obstacle tennis, where you're never sure what kind of bounce you'll get, and you have to be on your toes (and careful not to slip). The neighborhood kids use the court for a clubhouse, for goofing around, and for playing tennis and so far, no one has damaged the court and the net is treated like some antique, religious relic. It's strung and unstrung with care, the frayed rope replaced when broken. The crate in the middle is never moved. Sometimes I wish the village would buy the property and turn it into a proper public tennis court. That would make the games better, but take some of the magic away.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Indian Summer Mornings

We're having an Indian Summer. The sky is teacup blue, the wind is balmy, and the leaves are stoutly refusing to change color except for the vine on the side of my garden shed, which is bright scarlet and looks like some showgirl's feather boa.
Nights are crisp and the stars are bright.

Mornings are chilly and the heater now kicks on, which always wakes me up even before the churchbells start ringing. I love coming downstairs when everyone else is asleep and sip my coffee while the sun turns the sky peach.

That is rare now that school has started. My kids are early risers. My sons are up at 5 to get ready to grab the train to Paris for their respective universities (Paris 6ieme and Paris 5ieme) (science and psychology). My daughter gets up early as well. She comes down and turns on the computer and plays her horse games while eating breakfast. The dogs always come and sit at her feet - hoping for crumbs - and because they love her.

So when I get up, there is usually already a crowd downstairs - but the water is steaming in the kettle and the sun is already warming the windows.
Winter is on its way - but for now, mornings are still golden.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Alice Walker is my heroine.

I love Alice Walker's books. My father gave me the first one to read, and I devoured the rest - she writes so beautifully and her stories are so incredibly touching.
She's written an article for the Guardian - go read it.

Dear Ms. Walker, I love your voice and your writing. Your books are lined upon my shelves, each one beloved. I echo your thoughts here. Compassion has been replaced by contempt. I saw it start in the Reagan years, when suddenly the poor were horrid crawling things that wallowed in the mud of their own making, and the mentally ill were simply victims of their own delusions. Suddenly what mattered was making a profit, and the US, on the surface, became a place that mirrored Reagan's Hollywood dream. And Americans in droves fled to that dream, refusing to see the reality - that you have to be united in compassion, and not united in contempt. Right now the US is only united in contempt - contempt for foreigners, contempt for the poor, contempt for the ill, contept for the elderly, and contempt for those who don't share the same moral values or religious views. And with all that loathing, we have no place for compassion in our hearts or minds. And so people with words that echo the hatred in our hearts are heard, and those who speak of kinder things are ignored - or worse - held in contempt.

Just say NO to Coke.

"....The union in Carepa was smashed. The leadership was in hiding, exiled or dead. The members, cowed by guns, threats and intimidation, had signed away their rights. Meanwhile, the managers of the plant introduced a pay cut - according to Sinaltrainal, the wages for experienced workers dropped from between $380 and $450 a month to $130 a month: Colombia's minimum wage. When asked about this, Coca-Cola failed to respond. "

Read the entire article here:

And do you think there are parallels in the US? I hear that union membership is severly discouraged in Walmart, for example. Are you for or against unions?
I get frustrated with unions in France when they decide to go on strike, for example. But at least here, you can get by with a minimum wage job, and we get 4 weeks of paid vacation a year. All that thanks to unions.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Rule of Three

There is a saying in France : 'never two without three'.
Anyhow, in September, my washing machine broke down. My dryer broke down. And today, my car broke down. (Again...)
I suppose that it's true that all the machines were old. Washing machine and dryer, 10 years old. Car, 14. But still, it's frustrating to see your entire paycheck disappearing into replacement and repair.
The Pollyanna side of me says, "At least you have a job that can help pay! Not everyone has a job. Be thankful for what you have."
The Whiner in me says, "I really wanted a new living room sofa. And I wanted to replace the chairs in the dining room."
Pollyanna says, "The sofa is fine. And the chairs are fine."
The Whiner sulks. "I hate fluffing up that feather sofa every day, and the dining room chairs have holes in the seats."
Pollyanna says, "There are slip covers on the chairs and you can't see the holes. The couch is very comfortable when it's fluffed up."
The Whiner sticks her tongue out at Pollyanna. Pollyanna looks smug.
Then Pioneer gal pipes up with, "Fluffing up the couch is great exercise. Pollyanna, your arms muscles lack tone. You should fluff more often. And I don't think we need a dryer. Heck, we can string up a line in the garage and dry them clothes. And why do we need a car? We got legs, don't we?"
Whiner and Pollyanna glare at Pioneer Gal. But they know she's here to stay. I already hung a line in the garage, and I have a feeling I'll be doing a lot more walking in the future. And there is the sofa to fluff up. I missed gym this morning, but the sofa will give me a good workout.
(Pollyanna always has the last word.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Pray for Climate change

I just got the visit of two charming ladies who asked me if I knew what climate change was, and how it should be stopped.
I recognized them as the seventh day adventists by their nervous smiles, their dowdy clothes, and the bibles clutched in their hands. I was nice to them. I like people who smile, even if they did remind me of two mice sent to knock on all the cats' doors.
The woman who did all the talking told me that climate change was serious, and asked if I knew how to stop it.
I have to admit, that caught me off guard. "There are so many things we have to do," I admitted cautiously.
She beamed at me, and read me a passage in the bible that said, "Our father who art in heaven, thy kingdom come, thy will be done," and then told me earnestly that this meant that God would take care of climate change. All we had to do is pray. "When all the world lives under God's grace, then he will make it a paradise," she said. "We have to pray."
I told her I was praying very hard that Obama would win the election because I was counting on him to tighten up emissions regulations and encourage developement of clean energy sources. In the meantime, I explained, I cut down on my driving, buy energy saving lightbulbs, recycle, and do my best to save water and energy. I said I was confidant in the power of prayer, and that if enough people actually prayed for Obama, there might be a glimmer of hope in the world for climate change.
"I understand that you have different opinions than mine," said the woman smugly.
"That's a start," I said cheerfully.
She shrugged and left, after giving me one of her paphlets.
So, being open minded I gave the pamphlets a glance. Points in favor: they cited millions of years of climate change, so they aren't creationists. The paphlet puts the blame on the greed of humans (in a way quite true). And on the disregard for others. (Again, true when you look at the ecological damage caused by oil and chemical companies in third world countries.)
A lot of the points were true. I was starting to think we might have more in common than I thought. But instead of doing something concrete about the mess we're in, these poor people are falling on their knees to pry to God to help make the world a better place. And here is where our opinions differ. They believe that if everyone follows the same moral compass they do, we'll all end up in paradise. What they don't seem to understand is that morality is the right hand of hypocracy. And greed is always just around the corner, waiting to move in and take a bite. There are many men and women in positions of power who give lip service to morality, and then grant drilling rights to fragile land, who encourage waste and who don't care if the poor and the meek don't have health insurance, a retirement fund, or a roof over their heads.
Relying on God to do your work for you is a pretty shabby excuse for doing nothing. God is like Santa Claus - we all pretend he's there, but we know who really buys the presents.
Well, I'm off to town and I'm car-pooling to save gas, so I have to go pick upi my friends.
Have a great day!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Consider this...

"...Consider these facts. The right wing says it cares about groups, rather than individuals; and yet it favors the most rampant form of 'dog-eat-dog' capitalism. The left wing is suspicious of markets and wants to even the playing field across citizens. The right wing claims that its positions will reduce crime and strengthen the families. Yet it is the most left wing states that have the lowest crime rate and the strongest, most stable marriages. Happiness ratings are highest in the socialist societies, while lowest in right wing authoritarian societies. This list could be extended.

Why, then, do right wing partisans ignore this evidence and continue to support policies that are patently dysfunctional? I believe it is because, having stated a position, based on either their own family values or those dictated by their religion, they are loathe to change their minds and declare that they have been wrong. And so, following Festinger, the disconfirming evidence causes them (or at least many of them) to dig in their heels more deeply.

Another element operates as well. Right wing positions are more frequently associated with Protestant evangelicals and with traditional (Reagan) Catholics. Often the leaders of these groups (e.g. television evangelists, sinning priests) epitomize the opposite of the stated values. But both of these groups embrace forgiveness, absolution, being born again. Other groups—atheists, non-fundamentalist Jews and non-fundamentalist Protestants—do not have the option of absolution; they make firmer demands on themselves and are oppressed by their superegos. Note the 'pass' that non-combatants Bush and Cheney received, in comparison to Gore and Kerry who volunteered to serve during the Vietnam War. Note the forgiving attitude toward to Sarah Palin, with her sinning family, which would never be afforded a comparable Democrat. "What we profess is important—not what we have done"."

Howard Gardner

Friday, September 05, 2008

A Changeling Contest!

Contest from Changeling Press!

Read a Changeling book you really love? Write a reader review and enter to win a free e-book of your choice!

1) Read any Changeling book
2) Post your reader review to the Changeling Reader Loop ( ) with the subject line "Great Books"

That's it. Simple, huh?

Winners will be drawn weekly. Weekly e-book winners will be eligible for a random monthly drawing for a free print book.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

More about Palin

After reading comments about how ethical she is, I decided on a rebuttal. Sarah Palin is under investigation for alleged abuse of power. The details are here, but in a nutshell, the story is:

"We rely on elected officials not to use the power of their office to pursue personal agendas or vendettas. It’s called an abuse of power. There is ample evidence that Palin used her power as governor to get her ex-brother-in-law fired. When his boss refused to fire him, she fired him. She first denied Monegan’s claims of pressure to fire Wooten and then had to amend her story when evidence proved otherwise. The available evidence now suggests that she 1) tried to have an ex-relative fired from his job for personal reasons, something that was clearly inappropriate, and perhaps illegal, though possibly understandable in human terms, 2) fired a state official for not himself acting inappropriately by firing the relative, 3) lied to the public about what happened and 4) continues to lie about what happened."

And then...
Did Palin Really Fight The “Bridge To Nowhere”?
Republicans have been heavily touting Sarah Palin's reformist credentials, with her supposed opposition to Alaska's "Bridge to Nowhere". But how hard did she really fight the project?
Here's what she told the Anchorage Daily News on October 22, 2006, during the race for the governor's seat (via Nexis):

"Would you continue state funding for the proposed Knik Arm and Gravina Island bridges?"
"Yes. I would like to see Alaska's infrastructure projects built sooner rather than later. The window is now--while our congressional delegation is in a strong position to assist."

So she was very much for the bridge and insisted that Alaska had to act quickly—the party of Ted Stevens and Don Young might soon lose its majority, after all. By that point, the project was endangered for reasons that had nothing to do with Palin—the bridge had become a national laughingstock, Congress had stripped away the offending earmark, shifting the money back to the state's general fund, and future federal support seemed unlikely. True, after Palin was sworn into office that fall, her first budget didn't allocate any money for the bridge. But when the Daily News asked on December 16, 2006, if she now opposed the project, Palin demurred and said she was just trying to figure out where the bridge fit on the state's list of transportation priorities, given the lack of support from Congress.

I keep hoping McCain will fire her (can that even happen?) and find someone better. There are plenty of Republican senators with better records than Palin. However, I did hear that certain women 'identify' with Palin's problems, seeing her as a 'real person with failings'. That is great for a fiction character, or your favorite soap opera character, but a person with failings such as dishonesty is not one I'd choose to help run the country.

First day of school - first novel

My daughter started school today. She's in her last year of college (middle school in France) and next year she'll be starting in the lycee (highschool).

She was looking forward to her new year. She likes school, pretty much, and has a lot of friends there. Being a sociable girl, she gets along with everyone.

Her favorite class is math and then physics, then science. Her least favorite is French, because she's dyslexic and her grades are low from bad spelling, mostly. She reads a lot, but she continues to spell eratically using phonetics, and so horrible is often spelled 'oribel'.

She's writing her first novel and is on chapter five already. It's a fantasy book, with dragons, witches, and a unicorn in it. The unicorn is old and skinny, the dragon tells riddles, and the heroine has to learn how to use a magic necklace she got at birth. She has a talking cat with her, and they are trying to outwit the evil fairies...It's actually a hoot to read, (if you can get past the spelling, lol.) She is a natural with dialogue - I'm quite impressed. She has a tendancy to over describe things (beginners often do) and she's put everything but the kitchen sink into the story, so it's getting a little complicated. (Simplify, simplify!). I told her not to bug my friends to read the story, and that I'd be her editor and beta-reader.

She's already written lots of short stories. Her first story was just pictures she drew when she was about 2 and a half, and she asked me to write the words. It's about our dog Fudge, a ghost, and an ice-skater. I still have it somewhere. Her next book was an illustrated story about a girl and her horse, and the girl's daughter. (a family saga?) They turn into mermaids and go live in the ocean when the horse dies, and then when the parents die, the girl returns to land to live. (After shouting "I'm free!" - I wondered about that when I read it.)

Anyway, it's fascinating to see a novelist grow and develop. I have no doubt she'll be a writer someday. She deals well with criticsm, learns from her mistakes, has an incredible imagination, and sticks with her projects until they're done. I can't wait to read her first novel!

Monday, September 01, 2008

Rainy Monday in my Town

We live in a limestone area - eons ago, this was a shallow sea and millions upon millions of shells and sea creatures lived, died, and were made into limestone. (I think that's cool though I have no idea How it happens. I can't imagine the time or the quantity it took!)
Down below the village (I use up and down because we're on a hill up here, and if you leave the village, you just automatically head down) is a well-known site for finding fossil shells. I often go down there to dig around for fun. The shells we find look as if they just came off the beach yesterday. The digging site is amazing. The sand and shells for some reason never formed into solid rock, so it's like picking at packed sand, and the shells just drop out, intact. After a hard rain, there are hundreds just lying on the ground. I think I'll take a walk down there soon and look around.
The fossils are from the Eocene epoch, which is when the first mammals made their appearance, and when the first great extinction event occured. The stratas delimitating this epoch are very clear in the small area where we dig for fossils. A black line, about three inches thick, marks the end of it. The sand is suddenly different, black, and full of organic matter. The shells disappear, all except one type, a sort ot tree snail, which is still found in the black matter. After that line, there are no more shells. What provoked the extinction is anyone's guess. But what is certain is that the ocean dried up and forest took its place, and the millions of sea creatures living here formed into limestone, which was used for centuries to build the cities of Mantes, Versailles, and Paris.

Today it's raining, but I'm happy - my new washing machine arrived. When they took out the old one, I found three socks that I'd been searching for for ages, and a mega-huge-spider scurried away under the counter. But I have decided to get over my spider phobia and so I will ignore it. It will probably grow to the size of a small terrier and then Auguste will have a playmate (with eight legs - do you think he'll mind?). The washing machine is chugging away happily. I have about ten loads of laundry to do. It also has wheels! Is this a new feature? I can pull it out easily and clean behind it! No more losing socks and such!