Thursday, April 14, 2005

Gone to Carolina Archive: April 14, 2005

the curious incident of the dog in the night-time by Mark Haddon is one of the best books I've read recently. Christopher Boone is an autistic 15 year-old English boy who finds his neighbor's dog killed by a garden fork. Christopher does not like talking to strangers, but he decides he has to find out who killed the dog. He starts asking questions and ends up finding the answer to the crime. But the answer rocks his entire world. He embarks on a scary adventure, down paths he's never traversed before to deal with what he has learned.

I worked with autistic kids for one year when I was just out of college. I am amazed at Haddon's depth of understanding of autism. The book jacket says he too worked with autistic kids when he was a young man. He must have done this for some time, or even have some autistic tendencies of his own, to be able to crawl inside a child's head like that.

I'd not only recommend this book to every other adult I've met, but I think it would be a great book for teens to read as well. As a matter of fact, I think I'm going to suggest this to Nate's English teacher.

I've heard about school buses in the news twice in the past couple of days. A bus tipped over at the intersection of Marvin and Johnston Roads when a small pickup hit it. 3 people were sent to the hospital. That is a bad intersection. Actually, the entire stretch of Johnston from Old Lancaster Highway to Marvin Road is scary. Cars go too fast there and the road is curvy. It's difficult to tell how fast people are going and carolinian's penchant for not using turn signals definitely doesn't help, either.

The other bit of news was an item in The State newspaper out of Columbia. A woman is upset that the state legislature isn't considering a bill to force school buses to only have bus stops on the door side of the road. Apparently a bill of this sort of was introduced last year and died when the session ended for the year. It's not even been brought up this year. Good. It would be horrendously expensive to do that. Apparently the woman's child was hit and killed by a car when she was crossing the road to get onto the bus. There was no further information about that incident. I don't know what kind of road she was crossing, or whether it was deemed a "hazardous" stop. If we have a stop occur at an area where it can't be seen by at least a certain number of feet, it is deemed "hazardous" and must be marked with a "school bus stop ahead" sign. A good driver will also see if there is a way to move that stop or approach it in such a way that the stop is on the door side. But there are always stops where the kid is just going to have to cross the road. Never a highway, though. Anytime you have a kid cross a road, the driver is supposed to supervise that crossing and warn the student if someone is coming that might not stop. The driver's eyes should NEVER leave a kid who is on the pavement.

To have to re-write routes so that all stops are on the right side of the road would be terribly expensive. We have a law that says no student may have a ride longer than 1.5 hours. So if you had to have all that doubling back, you'd be lengthening routes and you'd end up having to add more buses.

I should also mention that we run into problems where we want to move a stop and the parents just won't let us. We have a stop on one of the routes for our school that is just way too hazardous. The children's grandmother just will not comply. She does not want the kids to walk 600 feet down the road to a safer spot. So even though the official stop is down there, she still has the kids standing at the hazardous spot. By themselves. Their driver pretty much has no choice but to pick them up. He can't just leave them standing there.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Gone to Carolina Archive: April 12, 2005

Today's entry is about butter. Much vilified butter.

Some years ago, when I was in Weight Watchers, I had an epiphany about butter. I was looking through my points book and...whaddaya know? 1 teaspoon of butter=1 point. 1 teaspoon of margarine=1 point. I vowed from that point on to stop using margarine. I've never looked back.

Sure, there are things in margarine that are less artery-clogging than butter. For a while there, though, margarine and it's trans-fat ingredients was much slandered as being almost capable of dropping one dead on contact.

Butter does have its problems. When you keep it in the refrigerator it's too hard to spread. You can keep it in the cupboard pretty successfully in the winter but when the weather warms up, it starts to sweat and get an off-look and taste to it. And a certain preacher, who eats with us on a regular basis, makes snide comments about it then. So for his and our benefit, I switch to whipped butter when the weather is warm. It's not the same, but close.

Restaurants seem to still be trying to get us to eat margarine, though. That's what prompted me to write this missive. This morning we bus drivers are to meet at Bojangles for a breakfast paid for by the PTA. It's Bus Driver Appreciation Week and the PTA and staffs of the schools we serve are treating us all week to little things.

When I go to Bojangles for breakfast, which I do as little as possible, I pack my own butter. The only item they have on the menu that I can eat is grits. Excellent grits. But nary a butter pat in the joint. Those wonderful grits are completely ruined by that whipped yellow plastic they make available in the condiment area. I don't understand how a restaurant, that wins competitions with their biscuits, can fail to have butter on hand.

Our local diner opened with no butter. We went there for supper the night before my surgery and the poor waitress about turned the joint upside-down trying to find real butter for my baked potato. She had to come and tell me "even the kitchen doesn't use butter". The following week she did present me with real butter at lunch with our cornbread. I, or someone, must have made an impression on them.

I am NOT a consumer of fake stuff. I want real butter, I want real sugar and I want real salt. If we use all these things in moderation, and we move around a bit more, we don't need to worry about using these things. And so I encourage you, my fellow Americans, to demand THE REAL THING! Accept no Substitutes!

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Monday, April 11, 2005

Gone to Carolina Archive: April 11, 2005

A beautiful weekend was had by all here in South Carolina. I had a good book, a good movie and even watched just the right 20 minutes of the Masters. Did a lot of walking around the neighborhood and reconnected with many of my neighbors and my church family.

Mom and Dad are pulling out today, heading back to Minnesota. They will start their golf leagues in 2 weeks and start tilling up their gardens in another month. I did get some garden work out of Mom this weekend, just to whet her appetite.

We planted a plot of 3 rose bushes for Soya's ashes. We planted them in a triangle with Soya's box of ashes down in between them all. We put them in the area where she used to lay in the sun. It was a bittersweet moment when we scooped the dirt back in on top of her box. She was a wonderful pet and companion.

Mensa Boy and I watched The Hudsucker Proxy on Saturday night. An absolute delight! This is a Coen Brothers movie, so of course you are ready to be entertained in the most twisted way possible. And the movie starts right out with a shocker, as the head of highly successful Hudsucker Industries commits suicide in the most stunning fashion. When it becomes known that the deceased's will calls for all of his shares to be offered to the public as stock, the board cooks up a plan to make a lot of money: They will hire a complete idiot to run the company. When the stock prices fall low enough, they will buy them for next to nothing and the restore the company's finances. There are many whacky depictions of corporate life in the movie and if you've ever worked for a big company, you'll recognize a few of them. Tim Robbins is brilliant as the patsy, Norville Barnes and Paul Newman is wonderful as the brilliant leader of the board, Sidney Mussberger. I think one could easily watch this movie over and over and see something new every time. I might need to buy this one!

I also finished reading Prince of Fire by Daniel Silva. Another excellent spy novel. I'm not sure why I have a hard time finding other people who read his stuff. Yes, he is one of those authors who uses the same hero in each book, but Silva does it right: each story is radically different from the last. There is no recycling of stories. But you definitely should start reading Silva's stuff by going back to the first Gabriel Allon novel: The Kill Artist, although I haven't read that one. I started with The English Assassin. You can pick up any of them and get caught up on Allon, but I would think it would be more enjoyable to begin at the beginning.

Gabriel Allon is a Jewish counter-terrorism agent. He spends his life alternately restoring fine art and chasing down Palestinian terrorists. In this novel, Allon is after the man who is plotting to set off bombs in Paris. The man is the son and grandson of palestinian terrorists, both of whom were eliminated by Allon's agency.

My only complaint about this novel is that it's hard to track all the characters sometimes. If I'd had 10 straight hours to just read the book from cover to cover this wouldn't have been a problem. But of course I had to read, put down, read, put down. So every once in a while I had to leaf back through the book to find a character to remind myself who he was.

And finally, the Masters. I am not a golf fan. I am one of those who sees the game of golf as "a good walk spoiled". But of course we had it on for 3 days here, so Dad could watch it. Mom and I were in an out, so I just caught snatches of it. Just the right snatches, apparently. I saw that guy's ball roll off the green after Tiger's ball landed on there. "Vibrations?" That was weird. And I was brushing my teeth in preparation for a church council meeting when Tiger chipped that ball into the 16th hole. If only all golf were that exciting...

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Saturday, April 09, 2005

Gone to Carolina Archive: April 9, 2005

It was very sad yesterday morning to wake to NPR and hear the translator say (I'm paraphrasing) "...our dear Pope".

I'm not Catholic, but I did admire the Pope. I'm wishing he'd done a bit more to allow modern men and women, especially women, to feel comfortable in the church. While I personally divorce as a viable option, I've seen people's spiritual lives torn apart as they've been discarded from their church at one of the worst times of their lives. I've also seen people struggle with a church that does not condone birth control or abortion. Not being an abortion-rights advocate myself, I can see the church's point there. But no birth control seems downright irresponsible to me. Not only from the standpoint of preventing conception, but also for preventing sexually transmitted diseases.

But this pope, the only pope of my adulthood, had a special way of acknowledging everyone, even people of different faiths. He truly was "dear" to Catholics and even to many of us Protestants.

I know speculation is that the cardinals will choose someone older, who might not be a pope so long. And if they do, that pope might not travel as much as John Paul II. I hope that's not the case. In my outsider's opinion, the Catholic church needs someone who can continue to trot the globe and bring unity.

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Friday, April 08, 2005

Gone to Carolina Archive: April 8, 2005

For the last two days I've just rested. Read books, walked around the neighborhood, watched movies. It's been nice. And it's made me feel a bit ambivalent about going back to the bus...even if it'd only be for 4 weeks or so.

Books:

Terminal Man by Michael Crichton. This is a pretty old book by now, and the technology Crichton writes about is no longer an issue, but it's still a fascinating read. A man suffers from epilepsy and assaults people to the point of almost killing them when he has a seizure. He undergoes an experimental procedure that wires a pacemaker-type device to his brain. When a seizure comes on, he gets a mild shock. Of course everything goes wrong. Otherwise there'd be no story. It's a good one and a quick read.

Light on Snow by Anita Shreve. I have never read anything by Shreve before. This is a really fast read and enjoyable. A father and daughter find a newborn in a sleeping bag in the woods. They take the infant to the local hospital and are subject to quite a bit of questioning from local authorities. The notoriety is disconcerting to the father, who moved himself and his daughter to this rural area after losing his wife and other daughter in a car accident. Their lives are further disrupted by the arrival of a stranger with a load of emotional baggage.

Movies:

M.A.S.H. I'm sure I've seen this before, but I hadn't remembered much about it. I definitely hadn't remembered that the theme song was "Suicide is Painless". It's fun to go back to old movies every once in a while. This movie is funny but also very much "adult content".

The movie Sideways. I can't think of a single redeeming quality about this movie. A groom-to-be and his best man embark on a week-long tour of northern California wine country, with the intention of drinking their way up and down the state with a little golf in-between. But it becomes apparent that the groom-to-be intends to sow some wild oats along the way. The movie is vulgar and uncomfortable.

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Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Gone to Carolina Archive: April 6, 2005

I think my Dad has a new hobby in his "golden years". It appears that he is collecting store discount cards wherever he goes. So far he's gotten cards from all 3 local grocery stores and yesterday he hit a pharmacy. None of these establishments have locations in Minnesota.

It should be noted that my Dad HATES these cards.

Yesterday we went rose shopping. We'd like to plant 3 rose bushes along the west side of the house, and put Soya's ashes in there with the plants...in the container underground. We went to Lowe's and Home Depot and stopped at Walmart because we were passing by. We found some nice-looking bushes at Walmart and hope to plant them on Friday when Mensa Boy is off. Eventually we may plant more bushes all down that side to sort of screen off the utility area we have back there...the hose reel, the water valve cover, etc. The bushes should get to about 3 feet tall, so we can see them well from inside and they won't block our view of the back yard.

The next shopping bit on our agenda is to find a picture for the family room. The "theme" in there, if you could call it a theme, is sort of "northwoods cabin". So I'm looking for a photo of something that reminds me of northern Minnesota. It'll have to be a big one. I was thinking we might try to go today but we've been very busy 2 days in a row now and I'm noticing this morning I woke up tired. So I may have to lay around today and hit the pavement again tomorrow.

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Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Gone to Carolina Archive: April 5, 2005

I've got to return a couple of books today and I need to tell you about them.

Michael Crichton's State of Fear: Don't. That's it. Just Don't.

State of Fear is about environmental terrorism and global warming. The story is actually good, but the academic discussions about global warming and whether it's really a threat or not just totally bog down the book. One of our heroes is an expert on the subject and he's an arrogant jerk. You just don't even care that he's an expert. If Crichton took out the discussions about climate and the charts and graphs(!) and just had the characters give us the "skinny" on the topic, we'd still learn and not feel like it's being rammed down our throats. It would definitely make a good movie, though. In fact, I'd probably even go see the movie, even though I've slogged through the book. The story is good.

The Broker by John Grisham. Do. Definitely Do. And you don't need a lot of time to do it. Joel Backman, high-powered attorney in Washington(nicknamed "The Broker"), currently in prison serving time, is pardoned by an outgoing puppet President. The CIA wants him pardoned and secreted away in Italy for a while, where they will keep him safe for a period of time before leaking his location to some other countries in hopes that one of them will assassinate him. Apparently Backman has knowledge of some special satellite technology that could compromise the national security of these countries. This is a great book...no lagging along...clicks right along and you can finish it in about 10 hours.

Today I pick up Daniel Silva's latest, Prince of Fire. I've enjoyed every one of Silva's efforts and am looking forward to this one. I do see, however, that it's another "terrorism" novel.

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Monday, April 04, 2005

Gone to Carolina Archive: April 4, 2005

Slowly

Going

Insane

The "pizza detector" outside my office door, which is also in the kitchen, started chirping at 8 am. These detectors are hard-wired into the house and have a battery backup. It's very hard to figure out how to change the batteries in these things. And with the 10 foot ceilings and the incision across my stomach, it's out of reach for me.

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Friday, April 01, 2005

Gone to Carolina Archive: Taylor and the Tooth

"It's gross! I want to go to the dentist and have it pulled out NOW"
This from Taylor the other day. Yes, this is the kid that, a mere 3 years ago, wouldn't let go of a tooth that was dangling by a thread. Mensa Boy had to literally pin him on the floor and yank one out one year on Christmas Eve. Now he's begging to go to the dentist to have a solid, "unloose" tooth pulled.
Taylor is 10 1/2. He's got a new tooth coming in on the top on the side that has broken through the gum on the outside of his mouth above the baby tooth it will eventually replace. But the baby tooth isn't even loose yet. This happens with virtually all kids. I remember when Nate had it. It does look weird. There's this tooth appearing to angle out of the bright red gum, seemingly way out of whack.
When Taylor gets an idea in his head, he will not listen to any facts or opinions about it, unless the person has absolute stellar credibility on the subject. Usually the person he needs is just the other parent, or perhaps Grandpa or Grandma. But this time no one would suffice.
So, we called Dr. Aten. Deborah Aten, DDS, is our family dentist. She has Aten Family Practice on Toringdon Way in Charlotte. I'd link, but there is no website. Anyway, we called. I explained the situation to receptionist Pam. Could Dr. Aten either call Taylor, or see him for a consult for about 10 minutes? No problem. Dr. Aten called the next day and spoke with Taylor. She explained that he doesn't want that baby tooth pulled out before it's ready because then he'd have a hole there and everything might shift and then he'd be totally messed up. She asked him to check it for looseness every day and when it gets loose, start wiggling it. She explained that he has an appointment in 8 weeks and they could decide together what to do. And most of all, she told him not to worry...that big new tooth won't stay in that spot forever.
That shut the kid up.
For now.

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