Tuesday, December 30, 2008

They Wanted War

During Hannukah, even as we discussed the Maccabees, we have been increasingly concerned with the renewed rocket attacks on southern Israel launched from inside the Palestinian State of Gaza. These attacks had been ongoing for eight years, and since the recent cease fire was not renewed by Hamas, rockets are once again being fired into the sovereign State of Israel.

In the past few days, the government of Israel has (finally!) run out of patience with the situation, and has begun a response with air strikes against Hamas. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) began by calling civilian cell phones in Gaza, warning them to leave buildings and areas inside Gaza in which the Hamas military stores arms, and from which plans are made and rockets are launched. They did this prior to beginning the air strikes against these military targets, thereby giving up the element of surprise. Currently, the air strikes continue, and the IDF has declared much of the border with Gaza a military zone, and has been moving in ground forces. A spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said that as far as the PM is concerned, this is all-out war.

Yesterday, as I was going through my e-mail, I saw this headline from the New York Times:

Israeli Troops Mass Along Border: Arab Anger Rises

My immediate reaction was to ask: Arab anger? What about Israeli anger? How long should a sovereign state tolerate attacks across its border with another state? One such incursion is an act of war that should not be tolerated by any government. One of the primary duties of government is to protect citizens against external aggression. Hamas initiated the war against Israel with the first rocket fired across her border. That the Israeli government has not responded until now could be seen by the citizenry as a dereliction of its duties, and indeed, that is one reason why the Olmert government has fallen and new elections have been called.

A further look at the NYT headline revealed this tag:

With the death toll in Gaza rising to nearly 300, a furious reaction spread
across the Arab world, raising fears of greater instability in the region.

Really? Instability in the region? No shit, Sherlock!
The NY Times has risen to new heights as the Master of the Obvious.
Isn't it clear that the region has been unstable for . . . oh, say, at least since World War I? Or maybe since the Crusades? Or how about when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and erected Aolea Capitolina? Maybe we could go back to the Aryan invasions in prehistory?
Evidently, like most of the rest of the country, the NYT writers have no firm grasp of history.

But I digress. With the Israeli response to Hamas aggression, the usual parade of PC terrorism apologists have once again come out of the woodwork. These are the same people that claim moral equivalency for the mujahideen that murdered nearly 200 civilians in Mumbai right after Thanksgiving. (For an excellent article about this, see this link at the Center for the Advancement of Capitalism). In whatever guise they frame their arguments, these people essentially claim that Israel has the moral obligation to sustain attacks and make no response in her own self defense. Their reasoning, no matter how convoluted on the face of it, is that it is precisely because Israel is a successful state that is capable of defending her people that she is morally obligated not to do so.

Essentially, these people are arguing that a successful state, capable of guarding the rights of its citizens, is morally obligated to commit suicide rather than respond appropriately to incursions by terrorist groups bent on the destruction of the very concept of civilized government.

As Americans, we are heirs to the founders who first framed the duty of government to protect the rights of citizens, and we should not be distracted by convolutions of the PC arguments. We should go right to the heart of the matter. The PC multiculturalist stance is one of radical hatred for Western culture and values, and for the civilization that it has built. If we love our culture and if we want to sustain it, if we love our very lives, then we must stand up for the right of self-defense on the individual and national level. We should frame this as a moral argument.

Israel, like any other sovereign state has the moral right, nay, the moral obligation to defend the lives and property of her citizens. When the Hamas terrorists fired that first rocket across the border with Israel, they were asking for war. Now they have it. Although the IDF has gone out of its way to reduce civilian casualties in Gaza, the moral responsibility for these casualties belongs to Hamas, and Hamas alone. It is they that began this war without regard to the lives and property of the people in whose name they claim to govern. As is typical of terrorists, Hamas has actually shown no interest in, nor concern for the people they claim to represent. If they had, they would not have attacked a country that has superior armed forces.

It is Hamas that wanted this war and Hamas that started it. Israel must now finish it, and should do so decisely, with moral clarity. A decisive victory using overwhelming force to root out and destroy Hamas will do more to reduce civilian casualties and the ongoing misery of the Palestian people than will years more of tolerating the intolerable. Israel's moral mistake is not in finally responding to attacks upon her people and their property, it is in tolerating the Hamas attacks for so long.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Eight Happy Nights: Hannukah 2008 Is a Wrap!


The sun has just set today, ending the minor Festival of Hannukah.
Although it is a minor festival according to the Jewish calendar, it is a major holiday in our hearts. That may be because it is a festival of identity and freedom, celebrated amidst the American Christmas. It may also be because it requires no long worship services, no intense preparation; it is relaxed, and people can go about their usual business during the days. It is only while the candles burn that we pause to enjoy the growing light each night, to enjoy songs and presents, to relax with one another.

On the first night, we lit candles at the house of friends in Edgewood.

Latkes--potato pancakes-remind us of the miracle of the oil. They are also warm and crisp on a cold winter's night. And nobody can eat just one!

There is a legend that Mrs. Maccabee's latkes were responsible for the Hannukah lights!

On the second night, the Engineering Geek led us in a rousing version of Maoz Tzur -- Rock of Ages.

He then reminded us of a family Hannukah story: how and why the Shammash (candle used for lighting the others) stays balanced on his musical Menorah. And how he convinced a gullible friend one Hannukah that it was by balance and magic that it does not fall!

On the third night, we saw that the light was growing. Little by little, the glow was beginning to fill the room.

On that night, the first of two snowstorms for the week had ended, but the Engineering Geek, the Boychick, and his friend A., and I were all snowed in together. This was the night of our best discussion about the Maccabees.

On the fourth night, we had been able to venture out for an hour, and A. was able to go home for he had to visit his grandma the next day.

This was a peaceful night. The three of us sang songs, and then settled down to listen to The Festival of Light CD (Produced by Six Degrees). This eclectic collection has jazz, klezmer, blues and Israeli, including my favorite version of Maoz Tzur on it.

The fifth night was December 25, and because it was during Hannukah, the Synagogue Men's Club did not put on the almost annual Movie and Chinese.

So after spending a quiet day at home in the snow, we made our own Chinese Dinner and we watched an Israeli movie after the candles burned down.

The sixth night was on Shabbat. We lit the candles just before dark, and enjoyed them in the dining room. We ate our Shabbat dinner and sang Shabbat songs, while they burned.

After, it was dessert, the Birkat Ha-Mazon (Grace after Meals) and then a quiet walk in deep snow. No movies on Shabbat!

On the seventh night, we began when we could count three stars in the night sky. Before lighting the Hannukah candles, we said good-bye to Shabbat with the sweet ceremony of Havdalah--Separation-- and sang of a good week to come.

Here, the Engineering Geek and the Boychick look at their fingers in the light of the braided candle as we chant the blessing for fire. The Hannukah candles stand ready in the Menorot.

On the last night of Hannukah, we celebrated many things. The Boychick's 15th birthday. The Chem Geek Princess's return home from England. And the presence of A. and his mom to celebrate with us!

By the eight night, the room is filled with the warm light of candles!

We remembered the miracles and wonders the deliverances and battles fought by our ancestors in those days at this season . . .

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Hannukah -Shabbat-Snow Day

The snowstorm that started Friday afternoon continued through Friday midnight and gave us about 8 inches of fine powder.

We are snowbound again, and thus have a nature-made Shabbat as a day of complete rest at home.

Here, the dark, stormy day is seamlessly becoming dusk, as the snow piles up around the leafless Aspen tree on the back patio.

Shabbat is nearly upon us.

On Erev Shabbat, the Menorah is lit before the Shabbat candles. Here, we have turned on the purely decorative window Menorah in the late afternoon, to enjoy it as we prepare the Shabbat Table.

We moved the table that we use for the Menorot from the great room to the dining room, so that we can enjoy the Hannukah lights while we eat the Shabbat meal.

After lighting the kosher Menorot and singing the blessings, the Boychick opens a present.
Although gift-giving is actually more of a Purim custom, in the United States, small gifts are usually given for Hannukah. It is an example of the many ways Jews have borrowed from the cultures they have lived among.

The as yet unlit Shabbat candles are in the foreground. Once they are lit, no other light will be kindled.

In the foreground, the Shabbat table is set, the Kiddush* wine has been poured in goblets and in the silver Kiddush cup, and we are getting ready for the transition from lighting the Hannukah lights to celebrating Shabbat.

*Kiddush, from the Hebrew word for holiness--literally 'Separation'--is the blessing said over a cup of wine that marks the transition from ordinary time into holy time. The wine is a symbol of joy and abundance. Jews tend to sanctify time rather than space.

I have laid the table on my special 'Hannukah-Winter" tablecloth, and I have put silver and blue garland decorated with dreidls and Stars of David on the chandelier above. Although there is no specific decor for Hannukah, it is customary to Hiddur Mitzvah, beautify the commandment, for any Jewish observance. Blue and white for Hannukah is a modern custom, tying the victory of the Maccabees to the hard-earned miracle of the modern State of Israel by using the colors of the Israeli flag.

The storm ended in the night last night, and as the stars came out, the temperature dropped precipitously and the winds became very strong, blowing snow into drifts everywhere.

The golden sunshine is deceiving in this picture, as the temperature was 9 degrees F.

Our morning walk was frigid, though the dogs were happy to go out, and we had to stop frequently to remove packed snow from between canine toes!

We are a little tired of being snowbound, so we are waiting for the snowplow. A few hours away this evening would be a nice diversion!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Hannukah, Teenage Angst, and Snowstorm Malaise

Here we go again!

I love snow. Normally. Really, I do. But in the past two weeks we have had one storm after another. And this week, I have left the subdivision once. On Wednesday. For an hour at the grocery store.

The storms have come one after another, and the county is not doing a great job plowing our road. So we have been snowbound.

And our Hannukah has been strange. Not bad. Just strange. For the second and third night we had the Boychick's friend A. (also Jewish) snowed in with us. For some reason, the Boychick decided that it would be cool to demonstrate teenage angst about the Hannukah observance.

Before we light the candles, we usually talk about the meaning of Hannukah. On each night, our discussion is framed by a Hebew word expressing a Jewish value or a Maccabean value. On the first night that A. was here both boys acted like they had never heard of the Maccabees when we talked about Jewish Identity and the importance of knowing who we are.

This irritated me a bit because, after all, we have spent thousands of dollars and countless hours sending these little tw . . . uh, young men to Hebrew School and Machon. "What do you mean, you don't know much about Hannukah?" I said. Forcefully.

The Engineering Geek said to me (out of the side of his mouth), "This is the result of all those years of discussing the damn December Dilemma* rather than telling the kids straight up who they are and what they are expected to do about it." That may be true. But certainly they have discussed the Maccabees recently? The boys say that they haven't. But I don't want to get started on the state of Jewish education in the Reform movement these days . . . been there, done that, got the blog entries. And anyway, there was that eye-rolling, 'this is just so tiresome' teenage angst to deal with. So I made them watch the Sam Glaser/JewishFan You-Tube. I will leave the heavy sighs and peach-fuzz lip facial expressions to your imagination.

*It is rather peculiar that in the Reform Movement's Jewish Education, they spend more time talking about how it feels to be different in December, and how it's not so bad to have a Christmas tree in a Jewish home, rather than teaching a solid understanding of why we celebrate Hannukah, why it's not a major holiday, and what it has to do with Jewish Identity. In fact, it reminds me of a joke. But I will tell it later . . . Just think about Jessica Tansley's line in Driving Miss Daisy: With a nose like that, she has no right to be hollaring 'Merry Christmas!' But I digress.

On the nights of Hannukah, while the candles burn, we have a rule that all family members will stay in the room, and we will do something together. Usually, we sing some Hannukah songs, open a present, play games, or read aloud. But no TV and no computers.

On the same night as the Maccabee Ignorance Claim, we played dreidl for a while, after A. and the Boychick both opened their presents. A. actually got into it, but the Boychick used those special teen signals to let us know exactly how juvenile and tiresome it all was. Life. With. Parents. Is. Just. So. B-O-O-O-RING.

Bruce and I exchanged glances. And pretended we did not notice any of it. They. Do. Turn. Back. Into. Humans. Eventually.

But when they are being especially obnoxious, when they are performing for their friends, doing anything together as a family takes much more effort.

Over the next nights of Hannukah, I have been ready. On the third night I sat the boys down and said to them:
"Remember in the You-Tube how they said that studying Torah was a capital offense? Do you know what that means? Do you know what they did to the mothers and babies that were circumcised in defiance of the tyrant's decrees?" And we read Hannah and her Seven Sons from one of the books of Maccabees. (These are in the Jewish Apocrypha).

Then the EG asked them: Suppose you lived in those times. First, you were told you had to sacrifice to the genus of Antiochus. Then you were told you had to sacrifice a pig on the altar. Then you were forced to eat pig. Then you were forced to watch your sons compete naked in the gymnasium. Then you were forbidden to teach and study Torah on pain of death. Then you were forced to watch an execution of a woman and her baby because the baby had a bris. At what point would you stand up for your values? Why that point?"

They both responded with some sighs and angst, but then as they disagreed with one another, we actually had a reasonable conversation. Reasonable for teens.
And the Boychick's attitude has become more cooperative since A. went home. Not because A. is a problem, but because there's no one to perform for except parents. And we are not impressed.

Outside, we now have around six inches and the snow is still falling steadily.
Earlier we took the dogs out. They have to go, rain, shine or blizzard.

And our little Tomboy Lily made me reconsider my grumpy reaction to yet another blizzard.

She just loves snow! Her ears perk up, she gets excited. She romps and plays in it.

That's the thing about the dogs. They are always happy about something. They get excited about the important things: Snow. Snoozing. People coming home. Walks. Dinner. Being together.

They may create mischief now and then. But there's never a moment of angst.

Happy Hannukah!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Engagement at Hatfield: She's Getting Married!

The Chemistry Geek Princess has been a great fan of Britian's greatest Monarch, Queen Elizabeth I for many years.
Of English ancestry on her father's mother's side, she is also related to some of the first families of New England, but it is English history that has captured her imagination. Thus, this winter trip to England was a dream come true.

But only her step-father, the Engineering Geek, knew what other dream would come true in England. The Very Serious Man Friend had called him the day before leaving for London to request permission and blessing to ask for the CGP's hand in marriage. The EG was sworn to secrecy and kept mum until after the CGP told me herself. I could have kept the secret but . . .

On Monday evening, December 22, after several days of sight-seeing in London and the surrounding countryside, the VSMF took the Chem Geek Princess to Hatfield House, the childhood home of Queen Elizabeth I, for a Madrigal Dinner in the Great Hall. The VSMF had made his arrangements well ahead of time, and in the course of the festivities, he was called up and "knighted." The "serving wenches" then brought the CGP up to the head table, and the VSMF got down on one knee and made a flowery proposal speech.

How romantic and how fitting for our Princess.

I have no pictures (yet--they have been promised), but I have been told they have some, and that the couple seated next to them also videotaped it all and will be sending it over. In the meantime, the picture on the right is of the Great Hall at Hatfield House.

My firstborn is GETTING MARRIED!!
And after this fairy-tale engagement story, I can't wait to see what they want to do for the wedding.
I think there is a Bridal Show in Albuquerque in a few weeks . . .

So now, I can't call her fiance the VSMF anymore. Since she is our Chemistry Geek Princess, and since he was "knighted"--all in good fun--I shall call him the Knight Errant.

We will see them Sunday, when they arrive home after spending the weekend in Dallas with the KE's family.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Sculptured Landscape


I haven't done a Walk With Me Wednesday in a very long time. Today is the perfect day. We had time for a long rambling walk in the snowy sunrise, and the snow and wind had done its work to make a sculptured landscape, sparkling like diamonds.

As we set out, the sun shone on the Sandia Mountain Front, but the clouds heralding the coming of the next storm were already coming across.

In the sunrise, the work of the wind and cold on the pristine snowfall was striking. The sharp cold overnight had preserved the wind's artistry on the new road.

The bare gravel on the edge of hill is contrasted by the deep snow at the bottom. The wind had playfully moved the snow from one place to another, and yesterday's footprints on the hillside were drifted in, but todays were already frozen in place on the road.

In the meadow, last summer's grass stands above the frozen drifts that sparkle in the sun and undulate as the blue shadows move in the morning sun. We are cold, but reluctant to leave this winter garden in which every turn gives new delight to the eye.

But breakfast awaits for the dogs, and coffee and hot chocolate are warming inside.

There is much to be done today, as the whispy harbingers of tomorrow's new storm are already drifting across the sky above the house.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Two years ago, the first year that we lived here in the East Mountains, we had seven weeks straight of weekend snowstorms, including the record-breaking New Years Blizzard.
This year, the storms seem to be coming on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Last night, our third Monday- Tuesday snowstorm began.
As we celebrated Hannukah, an inch of snow was falling past the window.

This morning, as I began walking the dogs, there were about three inches of snow on the ground.
It was not snowing at all. The Engineering Geek was trying to determine whether or not to drive to town for work.

South Mountain had snow on, as well, and clouds full of the promise of even more were lowering over it. As the dogs and I walked down the new road, gusts of wind began to play with the new snow, another sign of the impending storm.

As we were coming home for breakfast,
I saw that the clouds had hidden the top of South Mountain, and the wind was blowing steady from the west, and sudden, very strong gusts blew snow across our path.
Although it had not yet begun snowing, the promise of the lowering sky matched the forecast: more snow and blizzard conditions.

In the lee of the house, the low porch-garden wall showed the three inches of snow that had fallen the night before, and dark clouds on the south-western horizon tumbled and lowered over the mountains. As the dogs and I reached the door, the new snowfall began.
Inside, the Engineering Geek was listening to the local AM radio station. We were to get another 3-6 inches, and the winds were predicted to gust over 60 MPH. The decision was made. The EG is working from home today.

As we ate our breakfast, the blizzard commenced. An hour after it began, we had gotten more than inch of snow, blowing across the mountains, creating white-out conditions. At times, we could not see our neighbor's house across the street.

As the snow continued to accumulate, the blizzard roared on, and in the lee of the house, the low garden wall marked its progress.
It was much deeper late this morning, and has gone deeper still.
Jewish Mama that I am, I feel a sense of cozy pride that my family plus a friend all found shelter and warmth under our roof as the storm rages on outside.
Another Tuesday storm.

Hannukah: I Remember Judah the Maccabee

Rabbi Sam Glaser brings us a song about Jewish identity, Hannukah in the midst of an American Christmas, with apologies to John Lennon.

JewishFan brings us the story of Judah's fight for Jewish spiritual survival.



Monday, December 22, 2008

Hannukah: Celebrating Jewish Identity

Last night, Jews all over the world lit the first candle on the Menorah, and upon singing the blessings, ushered in Hannukah, the Festival of Lights. The word Hannukah comes from the phrase Hannukat ha-Bayit, which means Dedication of the House. On Hannukah, Jews remember the war with Antiochus the Tyrant, who called himself Epiphanes--"god made manifest." When the war was over, the victorious Maccabees held an eight-day celebration to rededicate the Holy Temple to the service of the Eternal One, G-d of Israel.

Here at Sedillo, as the Solstice sunset lit a fiery sky, we also began the preparations for Hannukah.

This first night, we celebrated with friends in Edgewood. They made a roast and the obligatory latkes, the potato pancakes, fried in oil, to remind us of the miracle of the oil--the miracle of Hannukah. The story goes that when the war was finished, the Maccabees came to the Temple in Jerusalem, to purify it from the depredations of the Syrian Greeks, and dedicate it (khannuk) once again to the service of the Eternal. They found only one small cruz of oil that bore the seal of the high priest, and thus was fit to light the great Menorah. The oil was not enough to keep the Menorah lit for the seven days it would take to purify more oil for the Rededication of the House. But they lit the great seven-branched lamp anyway, and TAMO (then a miracle occured, as the Boychick says) and the lamp burned for eight days.

The oil in the story represents the burning flame of identity within each Jew, passed on from generation to generation, from individual to individual. This is the fire of Torah, burning white fire upon black fire; that covenant that we mark upon the bodies of our sons, and that burns within, transforming our hearts.

Each year, as our children light the candles, the light growing from day to day, we remember Judah the Maccabee, son of Mattayahu the Priest of Modi'in. When Antiochus the Tyrant decreed that all the conquered peoples of his empire must lose their unique identities in order to create a false unity in service to the king, there were many Judeans who went along for the sake of peace, and to consolidate their own wealth and power. But when Antiochus decreed that to bring a son into the covenant by the ritual of B'rit Milah (circumcision), that to teach and study Torah, that to pray as a Jew, that these were all capital crimes, Judah and his brothers stood up and said that they would rather die fighting to be Jews than to live on their knees, subject to the whims of a tyrant.

The covenant of Torah is a Covenant of Law. The Law is supreme over all human beings, and even a king is subject to it. That Antiochus put himself above the Law by calling himself "Epiphanes" made him, in the eyes of the Maccabees, a tyrant and a fool. Thus they called him "Antiochus Epimanes" -- Antiochus the Fool.

The miracle of Hannukah is the miracle of passing the flame of our identity, the knowledge of who we are. We are am k'shei oref -- that 'stiff-necked people' that bows before no man because we understand that no human being is above the Law. In every generation, we have chosen to live the covenant, we have chosen for ourselves and for our children, so that we and they might have the fullness of life and freedom. And too often, we have paid for our freedom with our lives, for that stubborn flame of identity that burns within will allow us to accept no human being as a god to rule us.

To be a Jew is to accept no substitute for freedom. Our story began with our liberation from slavery; slavery of the soul and the mind, as well as of the body. Our story continues as we pass down that stubborn insistence that human beings must be free, that they must be able to choose good from evil, and the Law declares that no one else may choose it for them; that each one is responsible for his own choice.

It may be that in the coming days, we will be required to remember who we are once again, and to stand up for our freedom to live under the Law, bowing to no tyrant. Thus, each year at Hannukah, we rededicate that flame of identity that burns within us. And as we watch our children ignite the fire, candle by candle, we see each one catch flame, the light growing with each passing day of dedication.
For as Zechariah admonishes us, it is:
"Not by might,
and not by power,
but by spirit alone,
says the Eternal."

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Winter Solstice, Stonehenge Solstice

At the moment I am writing, 10:28 AM MST, the sun at at the Northern Hemisphere Winter Solstice point. In the new calendar, this is the first day of winter, but in the old calendar, this is Mid-Winter's Night, when the daylight hours are the least of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. The revolution of Planet Earth around our star is the Master Clock by which human beings have been counting time for millenia.

The Chemistry Geek Princess is in England right now, and she is/did go to Stonehenge today.
Although the big Stonehenge day is the Summer Solstice, I think it would be pretty cool to be at Stonehenge for the Winter Solstice as well.

This picture of Stonehenge in winter was downloaded from Google Images, because the CGP has not sent pictures yet.

Here in New Mexico, the Solstice dawned pink, as the incoming frontal clouds indicated an unsettled upper atmosphere.
The storm going through Washington State, Oregon, and northern California, will reach us tomorrow evening and Tuesday.
Our side of the Sandias are in the high-pressure cold-front side of the clouds, but behind the mountains, a warmer, wetter air mass bringing low-pressure is approaching, bringing us snow a few days hence.

We captured images of the Solstice sunrise from two new locations this year. The incoming clouds made them dramatic indeed!

Here is the Sunrise at Teypana and Via Sedillo. This corner is our Winter Solstice marker, because on this day, the sunrise is directly over the road going to the top of the ridge in front of our house.

And here is the Solstice sunrise from the top of the ridge itself. The clouds will soon cover the sun, as it rises up behind them, so we will not see the sunrise from the meadow behind our house this day.

The Winter Solstice is the astronomical event from which Northern Hemisphere cultures took their midwinter festivals: the Celtic Yule, the Roman Feast of the Unconquerable Sun, the Indian Devali, and the Jewish Hannukah Festival of Light, and the Christian Christmas. Each festival has it's own stories and origins, but they all are gathered 'round the common theme of growing light and warmth against the darkness and winter's cold. They all stem from the ancient celebration of the Winter Solstice.

Here is a You Tube video of Witches Circle bringing you Silent Night, Solstice Night.

Hannukah--our Festival of Light, and Feast of Dedication begins tonight at sunset. For eight days, we will celebrate the growing light against the darkeness, a minor festival in the Jewish Calendar, but one that reminds us to be strong in who we are in the face of those who wish us to become a different people.

Here is the Ragamuffin Household's wish for Joyful Holy Days and a Prosperous New Year to you and yours. The Christian prayer for "Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men" is one to which Ragamuffin House joins in saying AMEN!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

"Twas the Week Before Winter Break . . .

. . . and all through the house, everyone was stirring with angst and excitment, waiting for snow days, finals, Winter Ball, and the coming of that precious commodity, DOWN TIME.

On Monday, we had the aforementioned bigger, badder snowstorm.

On Tuesday, the sun rose past the ridge on the far south-of-east horizon. The roads had finally been plowed, but the wind kept drifting them over. It was a full-fledged snow day for the Boychick and me.

I planned on spending the day doing some housework in the morning, and then, in the afternoon, editing the introduction to a paper on cortical thickness for Dr. C., my Behavioral Neuropsychology advisor.

I got the dishes washed. I got the counters thoroughly wiped. I got the floor vacuumed and mopped.
But before I went on to do the front hall, the dogs began barking and the doorbell rang. Two Bernalillo County sheriff's Broncos were parked in my driveway. Two peace officers were at the door.

Did I own a blue Ford Focus parked down the hill?

I allowed that I did and told them that I would get it moved as soon as possible, that I was unable to get it up the hill on Monday in the snowstorm. "That's not the problem Ma'am. Somebody broke out the back window."

The deputies drove me down the hill and one of them got the car out of the snowplow-made snowbank. We are still unsure if the window was broken by a vandal or by the snowplow. But everything that I left in the car was still there, including a rather expensive gift for the Boychick in the trunk. I drove the car to the Ford dealership in Edgewood, and spent an hour waiting for them to give me a ride home. Then I spent the rest of the afternoon phoning up the insurance company and determining how to deal with having only one car for a while.

On Wednesday, the roads were clear, and although the high country was covered in white, Albuquerque was sans snow.
The Engineering Geek took his 9/80 day off that he had missed the previous Friday to deal with fixing the car window and getting a claim from the county to pay for it. The police report had determined that the snowplow broke it.

That afternoon, I came home from work, drove the EG into Edgewood to pick up the car and back to the house. We walked the dogs, fed them, and the cats, picked up the Boychick at school, and drove to Albuquerque's West Side. We had given ourselves tickets to a theater simulcast of a live stage performance that was taking place on the east coast. It was called The Christmas Sweater.
Yes, I know! What kind of Jew goes to a Christmas performance?
Although the story was set at Christmas, the themes of forgiveness, second chances, facing life's storms, and finding oneself worthy of happiness are universal.
We enjoyed the performance quite a lot, and the themes have been the occasion for several conversations since, because . . .

Thursday and Friday brought the Boychick's FINALS.
These are the first comprehensive exams he has done, and he was somewhat overwhelmed. He had a bad day on Thursday, because the Humanities final, some of which was take-home, required a great deal of writing. In addition, he had not done the last ten of fifty notecards for his Inquiry Project. So he had to stay after that day to do them.
When I went to get him, I went in to talk to his special education teacher, and we talked about second-chances and getting up to try again.
After a dentist appointment, we went to Men's Wearhouse to buy a suit for . . .

. . . Friday, the night of the EMHS Winter Ball.
The Boychick had a date with a girl. I remembered at the last minute that the boy brings the girl flowers, so on Friday morning I ordered a bouttoniere as well as a wrist corsage for the pretty and bubbly L., a fun date for Winter Ball. I thought it was smart of me to order both from a florist near Men's Wearhouse, since I had to pick up the suit (they did a rush job on the alterations) but since both were near two malls, and it was the Friday before Christmas . . . It took me more than an hour.

But it was worth it! Isn't the Boychick dapper in his new suit? His first, best girl, his dog Lily, just had to get in the picture. Maybe she's jealous of the vivacious L., her rival?

After driving the Boychick to get his date, and bring them to the dance, the Engineering Geek and I had a quiet Shabbat dinner by candlelight. The Boychick reported later that he had a great time at the dance. He recounted the songs the DJ played, none better than "School's Out!" I am not sure he believed me when I told him that that song had been popular when I was in high school.

At any rate, the song is true. School's out for Winter Break.
And so is the UNM.
Sandia is set to go on Winter Shutdown on the 23rd.
We are all more than ready for downtime, board games, Hannukah and hot chocolate.

This morning the EG and I woke with the sunrise (rather than before it) and we lazed about in bed. We had brunch instead of breakfast. I made cinnamon rolls to go with the World Famous Engineering Geek's Good Heat Transfer Cheese and Green Chile Omelet.

We read the paper. The EG and the Boychick listened to the Lady Lobo game on the radio.
I read some blogs.
It's popcorn and board games after the EG and I take a hot bath in our Wonderful Tub.
It's Winter Break.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Is Atlas Shrugging?

So last summer, as I was commuting to Fanta Se . . . oops, slip of the finger, of course I meant Santa Fe . . .( every Wednesday, I got into the habit of listening to talk radio on the drive. Yep. I have become one of those people; you know the type--one of those bitter persons clinging to G-d and guns. Well, strictly speaking, I have been shooting since I was 12, and being Jewish, well, let's just say we invented G-d a long time before talk radio was even thought of . . . at least by mere mortals.

So on one of the afternoon drives, as I was sitting in what amounted to traffic on the frontage road just off of Cerillos Road, I was listening to one of the talk gurus, and he made a book recommendation. (It's unbelievable, I know, but there are those rare talk radio hosts who actually read). He said, and I quote, "You know, if you haven't already, you really ought to read Atlas Shrugged."

I had read Atlas when I was a teen, but I used a lot of skippibus, as Darwin was wont to call it, and although I had the basic plot, it had been a long time. So I made up my mind to read it, and the Chem Geek Princess, ever happy to find a new book challenge, was ready to join in.

She was a little bit disconcerted when she found out that it was by Ayn Rand, who had written The Fountainhead. The CGP read that book in high school, and she liked Howard Roark quite well, and understood him; but she emphatically did not like the heroine of the story, Dominique. "Mom," she said heatedly, "That woman's self-destructive marriages remind me of some of the girls I knew in high school. And really, if she was in love at first sight with Howard, why did she play that ridiculous game with the hearthstone? How . . . teenybopper can a character be?" Times and young women have certainly changed.

In the end, we agreed to read it and discuss it during our regular weekly coffee hours.
As we read, the Chem Geek Princess was impressed. And I was re-impressed. And on a very different level. There were many things to discuss, and eventually I will blog some of those discussions. However, what was downright disconcerting was how well Ayn Rand seemed to have predicted what was (and is) happening to our country right now. The book was first published in the 1950's, and could well have been written today.

As I read the book, I would turn to the Engineering Geek and say things like: "Sweetie, you've just gotta hear this . . ." and then read a passage aloud to him.
And being the Engineering Geek, soon my desk was littered with newspaper clippings labeled in that neat, all-capital Engineer printing: DEAREST ELIE, DOES THIS REMIND YOU OF THAT BOOK PASSAGE YOU READ?
And it would. In fact, as I began to realize how much so, I began to become very worried about the future of our freedom and our prosperity.

For example, sitting in front of me at this moment is a neatly clipped little article from The Albuquerque Journal: Bottlenecks Slow Grain Transfer.
An AP story from sometime in August, the article says:
"Across the country, from grain elevator to grain elevator, golden wheat and corn are piled in towering mounds, waiting for a rail car to haul them to market . . ."
The article dicusses the outdated and inadequate infrastructure, much in poor repair, that has caused the grain to ". . . sit for a month or more on the ground, exposed to wind, rain and rats." Billions of dollars worth of American cereal grains are lost due to inefficient processing and shipping to get them to market.

Such a problem, but on a much larger scale, is described in Atlas Shrugged, as well as the resultant loss of harvester factories and the ripple affect across the country and their suppliers and the suppliers of the suppliers are all put out of business. In Atlas, the event and its impact on an already faltering economy is described in such detail and with such force that I felt like I had had the wind knocked out of me. I literally had a sick feeling in my kishkes as I thought about the economic loss and hunger such as event would create.

So as the Chem Geek Princess and I read, and the Engineering Geek, inspired by our frequent need to share passages, clipped, my desk was soon piled with what we began to call "the Atlas chronicles." And as the pile grew, we became more and more dismayed. Because Atlas describes a United States that is slowly but surely grinding to a halt by some mysterious malaise. Factories are closing, infrastructure is neglected, supplies become scarce, and people go from being poor to desperate. In the book, the productive people of the country are being systematically looted by those who have produced nothing and yet feel entitled to take wealth away from producers.

As this summer turned into fall, it seemed that the pace of the looting in the real world has increased rapidly, with the crash of the stock market in September, and the failure of the commercial paper to keep business, small and large afloat. Since then, we have nationalized banks, and we are now printing billions of dollars to prop up every large concern that comes to Washington for a handout.

In our family, as we have been preparing for the crisis that is nearly at the door, we have begun to ask each other: "Is Atlas shrugging?"

And every day there are news stories that are alarming in that they characterize the extent to which we have sold our birthright for a mess of pottage, consumed in haste and gone forever.

NOTE: Atlas is a mystery story in which the heroine (a strong, competent woman much more to the Chem Geek Princess's liking) is searching for the inventor of a motor that could run the world, and through this search the reader also finds out what is causing the country to grind to a halt. But the story is much more than that. It is also a moral justification for the liberty of the unfettered mind and for capitalism, which requires and supports liberty. There are some stylistic elements that will surely displease literary critics, such as long speeches by the main characters, but I thought that the story was well constructed, well told, and it kept me up nights thinking. I also think that it provides a framework for understanding the many disparate news items that are so unsettling.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Innundated! The Second Storm

See the top of the driveway? There are no vehicles.

This morning, the promised second snowstorm, bigger and badder, came early. It was supposed to be here this afternoon. So I gingerly crept down our hill to take the Boychick to school. I thought I'd be able to go in to work for a few hours at least, before the snow began to fall.

However, it was snowing lightly as I dropped the Boychick at East Mountain High, and it was accumulating on the ice from yesterday. So, prudence being the better part of valor, I decided to hit the grocery store and see how the weather developed.

By the time I got back to EMHS, north 14 was already snowpacked, and I decided to just sign the Boychick out. As I stood in the office, I got the Robo-Phone call; they were dismissing school early.

I ended up taking A. home as well, because both of his parents were still in town and could not leave right away.

We did well until we reached our long, windy road that climbs from the top of Sedillo Hill to our subdivision. I got up the first two hills, slowly. But the ice under the snow, the 6% grade, and the curve on the last hill defeated me. I parked on the same side road that I left Henry the Lonely Red Truck on about two years ago, during the Valentine Storm.

After walking the last mile in the snow, the boys still had the energy to take the dogs out to play in the snow.

Boys are amazing. The dogs have been out in the snow several times today. Zoey (in the foreground with A.), being an old lady now, is having a well-deserved nap.
Lily, on the other hand, loves the snow and can't get enough of it. Here she is, pulling the Boychick for a slide.

After our adventure, I advised the Engineering Geek by phone to make arrangements to stay at the Chem Geek Princess's home tonight. He had his emergency bag in the car, so they will Geek Out tonight, armed with popcorn and movies. I will miss my warm husband tonight, but I just heard that traffic on I-40 East and Route 66 into Tijeras Canyon is in gridlock. Cars are sliding off the road because of the ice hidden under the snow.

So tonight, I have the boys, the dogs and the cats.

The snow continues to fall, and it is predicted to continue through tomorrow evening.
I expect the kids will have a snow day in the morning.
And even if they don't, we aren't going anywhere until we can hike down and dig out our vehicle.

When we bought our vehicles, we lived in town.
We didn't need four-wheel drive.
If I had owned chains, I could have got up the hill today.
You can guess what I will buy when the roads are clear again!

The snow is much deeper so far than predicted. And as dusk creeps in, it is still falling.
I doubt we're going anywhere tomorrow, either.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Red Sky at Morning, Blizzard Warning

I woke this morning to the sound of high winds whistling past the eaves.
Clouds were moving fast across the clerestory window to the west, and the Aspen branches were rotating and gyrating, silver gray against the dark clouds.

To the east, the dawn was eerie, deep yellow and red. Red dawn, a tumbling sky, bringing heavy weather.

We got up quickly, dressed and got the dogs on their leashes. We walked them up the new road quickly, a blizzard wind driving snow out of the west, into our faces.

They found sheltered places among the trees, in the lee of the ridge, to take care of their business. Going back, the wind was at our backs, blowing snow into canine fur.

The driveway looked dangerous, and we made our way down hill through the woods, and across by the dog run to the porch.

The snow continued, and winds gusted to 60 mph, a veering flaw, from west to north to south, the snow making dust-devils in the drive.

Then New Mexico-like, it tapered to flurries and stopped by noon. We thought we'd get into town to enjoy an early winter holiday dinner at the Chem Geek Princess's new home.

But the road out to Old Route 66 was perilous; it is winding and narrow, and some of the north downhills were sheer ice. We might have gotten down safely. And then again, maybe not. But we'd certainly not have made it up again. And there are the animals to consider. We turned around just before the first steep, curved grade, and came home.

The Boychick is deeply disappointed. The Chem Geek Princess is leaving for London on Thursday, a dream trip. Oxford at Christmastide, with the candles and red academic robes for the Christian holy day. She'll be gone until his birthday at the very tale-end of the year. And he was expecting presents tonight.

So we'll eat the slow roast I was making for this week.

We'll try again on Tuesday.

But the second storm is supposed to come through tomorrow. Bigger. Badder. With heavier snow lasting until Tuesday afternoon.

We might be having the postponed early holiday celebration very late. On the 28th. The last night of Hannukah. The Boychick's birthday.