Monday, March 23, 2009

Social Dancing

Social dancing. I'm not talking about the waltz, cha-cha or even disco. I'm referring to that "dance" you do in social settings. It's sometimes called "mingling."

Last weekend my daughter's school held its annual fund-raising auction. At this "adults only" event we're served drinks and hors d'oevers while we peruse the tables of silent auction items before the live auction starts. This year I attended it alone; my husband was bringing one daughter home from her college and couldn't make it.

As one of the older parents, I have a 7 year history with the school, teachers and families. Even though I know many of the parents, an event like this can be a bit awkward. This is not my regular social circle. Who will I talk to? What should I talk about? Small talk carries a conversation only so far. Sometimes walking into an event like this brings a rush of shyness and plummeting self-esteem.

How did I do? Pretty well, I think. To some extent, I've figured out the "dance" of conversations in these larger social settings:

Chat with someone you know about a common topic. When someone else joins the conversation, you watch to see if this newcomer includes you. No? Then mosey around to find someone else you know and start again. With some, you can start deeper or more complex subjects. With others you give a quick smile and say "Hi, how are ya?" without waiting for an answer. Can I join another two-some or would it be too awkward? I enjoy the comfort of easy conversations; I also challenge myself to meet someone new. When in doubt, I've found that asking questions and drawing others out almost always works.

At this event I spent most of my time with other parents of 5th graders. For many of us, this is one of our many "lasts" with the school. We've enjoyed one anther's company since Kindergarten and change is just around the corner. As we laughed and chatted, we danced around the topics of middle school, honor's projects, Wolf Ridge and generally getting older. I wanted to say, "I really like you ladies and want to be your friend." That would have been a mis-step.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

More Unusual Artwork

If your son is a drummer, he'll tap or pound on anything. I know, I have one who does. If your daughter sings and dances you can't stop her. If your son is an artist, it doesn't matter what the canvas is, or the medium.

Hence, a scene from the Magician's Nephew with dry-erase on the window seal in the den.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Book Report: Thunderstruck

I picked up a book, thinking it was another British mystery. To my surprise, it was more history than mystery. Erik Larson wrote the history of the wireless and the situations surrounding the world of science as if it was a novel.

In Thunderstruck Larson weaves the stories of two Edwardian men, a quiet doctor, Hawley Harvey Crippen,in an uncomfortable marriage and the obsessive inventor, Guglielmo Marconi. According to Larson "the dual stories provided a look at science, superstition and middle-class marriage in the Edwardian era through a very different window."

The book is set in the late 1800's and into the first two decades of the 1900's when scientific discoveries were amazing the European world. The realms of superstition and the supernatural were regularly exposed at the Royal Institute, "Britain's most august scientific bodies." (p. 9)

One story centers on the son of an Italian farmer/ businessman and an Irish woman from the whiskey empire. As one reviewer wrote: "Enter Marconi, a young man of Italian-Irish heritage, who dreamed of harnessing electromagnetic waves for long-distance communication. No matter that his contemporaries considered this idea far-fetched. Marconi's lack of a traditional scientific education, particularly his ignorance of physics, became an advantage as he worked obsessively to achieve his goal. Step by slow step, in an all-consuming process of trial and error, he was able to increase the distance over which he could send messages."

Dr. Crippen, a homeopathic doctor and creator of "remedies," is the protagonist of the other strand of this book. Married to a domineering and flamboyant woman, he continues to yield to her lifestyle and financial demands. Proving a failure on the stage, she cultivates the theater culture off-stage. Dr. Crippen meets a thoughtful and compassionate young woman and a romance develops.

The stories of these 2 men intersect when Dr. Crippen finds himself embroiled in an investigation by Scotland Yard. Marconi's amazing technology spreads the news of a trans-Atlantic police chase.

Thunderstruck leans much more heavily on the history side, and less on the mystery. Erik Larson did his own research for the facts and storyline of this book. (He includes 40 pages of notes at the end.) Much of the conversations and details come directly for letters and journals from Marconi, Crippen and their associates.

I'll close with another comment from another reviewer:
Larson has found compelling characters and a story arc that carries the reader as if it were created for a novel. The combination of the three elements; a carefully-built world, great characters, and a page-turning plot, provide all the thrills of reading a great novel, and something more. Reading 'Thunderstruck', we live in the past, but we cannot escape thinking about the present and the future.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes: Collector's Edition

My dear daughter, knowing my preference for British mysteries, gave me a collection of DVD's of Sherlock Holmes stories. In this collection are two movies and one documentary.

The mysteries, "Incident at Victoria Falls" and "The Leading Lady" star Christopher Lee and Patrick Macnee. The documentary about the identity of Jack the Ripper and the unsolved ghastly murders is narrated by Peter Ustinov.

I love reading Sir Conan Doyle's Holmes stories. Full of many details and complicated plots, these stories are engaging. The movies themselves are OK. I think that Christopher Lee is outstanding as Holmes. (Many are more familiar with Lee's role as Saramun the The Lord of the Rings movies.) He's refined and characteristically aloof, while occaisionally showing cinsideration and thoughtfulness. Personally, I prefer Jeremy Brett and his hawkish countenance as Holmes.

Macnee is a quintessentially faithful Dr. Watson. The date of these productions is 1992 and the films have that late "80's " feel. Morgan Fairchild, playing in "The Leading Lady," causes the movie to lose some of it's British flavor. These were produced as a mini-series, and therefore lacks some of the tightness of a shorter film.

The documentary was interesting, if not a bit too graphic. I didn't realize how dreadful the murders had been. My youngest daughter watched the Holmes stories with me; the accounts of Jack the Ripper would have given her nightmares.

Would I recommend these movies. Well, it depends on what you are looking for. If you want acting/cinematographic excellence you'll be disappointe. If you want something mildly engaging to pass the time or unwind with, this is you film!

Northfield First

My daughter's Prairie Creek class held a rally, called "Northfield First" this afternoon at Bridge Square in Northfield. To top off their study of economics and commerce in our community they congregated at a central part of our downtown to encourage Northfielders to "Save our Stores" and to "Shop Local."

As they stood along the curb with signs made in the classroom, they motioned for drivers to honk and chanted "Save our town" and "We shop Northfield, yes we do! We shop Northfield, how about you!" Parents, students, business people, the mayor and Saturday shoppers mingled on the square as the kids from the Elms class urged people to sign a petition to shop local stores. If you signed the petition you received a "Northfield First" magnet and a discount card for downtown stores. The children also offered face painting.

Someone from Just Foods Coop joined the children as part of their kick off of their "Eat Local" campaign. Mary Rossing, our new mayor, spoke and thanked the class for taking an active part in civic affairs. A reporter from the Star Tribune came and took pictures, videos and interviewed students.

To celebrate a great rally, most of the students met at Tiny's for hot dogs, chips and frosty root beer. All in all, a productive afternoon!!

Northfield Library's Mini Golf

The Northfield Library held a fundraiser for the teen board this winter: a mini golf course in the Library itself. As members of the Teen Board, two of my kids volunteered to build the course and to run it. Fortunately, as homeschoolers they were able to put in extra offers.

The event was held Friday, February 20th at 6:30, just after the library closed for the evening. The teens set up the 9 holes and the refreshments. Everyone who attended had a great time. It's nice to have somewhere fun to go on a cold wintery night. Northfielders especially like to support community events.

In addition to pictures we took, you can check out the TAB (Teen Advisory Board for the Library) blog

Friday, March 6, 2009

Facebook is the New "Scooping the Loop"

In 9th grade I moved from one small Iowan community to another. Each town had its own gathering places for teens. Leaving Charles City for Storm Lake I traded Teen Tavern, Ray's Pizza, the bowling alley and the Mall for Hardee's, The Villager, Conee Corner, Puffs and Chautauqua Park. In Storm Lake we had another unique asset to our social lives --- "Scooping the Loop." Anytime students were not in classes, their cars would follow (scoop) a circuitous path (the loop) through the center of town.

Here's how it went:

Heading south on Lake Avenue (the main street of businesses) we'd drive until we met the lake and take a left heading east on W. Lakeshore Drive. This took us past Chautauqua Park which bordered the lake. At the corner near Super America and Puff's we'd take another left to head north on Flint Drive. This four-lane street curved westwards and passed the high school which was on Tornado Drive. Flint Drive turned into Milwaukee Drive where it intersected with Lake Avenue. Again, another left kept us on the Loop and we'd start the route again. After a few times we'd take travel loop in reverse.

"Honk and Wave" was our mantra as we socialized from our cars. (I'll never forget the day my mom came home from driving my car. "What in the world are you up to in town?" she asked, horrified that so many people honked and waved at my car.)

These were the days before text messaging, cell phones and e-mail. With the exception of an intentionally planned party, our gatherings were of a more serendipitous nature. Should we see a friend while cruising the loop we would wait for them to meet us at one of our favorite places.

Facebook is the new "Loop." As I log on, I check the News Feeds, Status Updates, and Live Feeds. Who else is on? Who's clever and interesting today? Any new pictures? Anyone missing or long silent? I can write a quick note on a Wall, comment on notes or photos, or have private conversations via messages or chats. I can make a lunch date or attend the same event as other friends.

I would wager that those who find no need for Facebook probably wouldn't have spent much time "scooping the loop."

Thursday, March 5, 2009

"I guess you never stop being Mom"

Today, on leaving the coffee shop, I passed 2 women in their early seventies on the sidewalk. One appeared to be wiping her eyes as she said, "I guess you never stop being Mom." For a brief moment, I was looking down the corridor of time at myself ...

I've seen these two older women around town and know them to be civic-minded and politically active. Though we are at opposite ends of the political spectrum, I admire their active, intelligent and involved lives. Witnessing that brief interchange in front of the cafe reminded me that all mothers, regardless of lifestyle differences, "never stop being Mom."

As I drove home, I thought of the conversations I've had with my brood over the past week. With 7 children ranging in ages from 11 to 24, the topics are quite a mix:

playground politics,

catty co-workers

recovering from the flu

roommate issues

teenage divas

aches and pains from working out

too much homework

getting grounded

classroom dynamics

a hankering for French fries

French wine

growing pains

not liking a job

loving a job

broken hearts

lonely hearts

stupid jokes

witty come-backs


No matter what the age or how many kids, once a mom, always a mom!