Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Resting in the Lord

Yesterday I found I had about 20 minutes between errands and pick- up- kid time, so I stopped in at the Perpetual Adoration Chapel at Holy Family. A young woman rushed in with a seven-year-old child by the hand and a newborn in one of those baby carrier basket things. She set the baby down, genuflected, gave the older child a picture Bible and settled down for a few minutes with Christ.

About two minutes later I heard two things: the older kid playing at the back of the chapel, and the mom snoring peacefully.

He will give us rest if we give Him the chance.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


I still have no idea what "turn into the skid" really means. I don't think anyone does.

The Skids

So I had my first skid today. It snowed last night, a couple of inches on the roads, no big deal. But they take their time about plowing the streets. Either that or Minnesotans just dont' consider two or three inches real snow.

Anyway the main roads sort of cleared themselves- enough cars run over a road the stuff turns to slush-- but the side roads were still sheeted with ice covered with a layer of packed snow.

A block from my house with Sophia in the back seat I lost control fo the car, the brakes went useless and we smashed into a curb.

So we were lucky- it was only a curb, not even a tree or a trash can, and not, thank God, a living being. I was still rattled enough to take the car right to the mechanic and ask him to look it over to see if it was safe to drive. I felt a lot better when he showed me the skid marks he'd made an hour earlier. "These things just happen," he shrugged.

One day back in New York I was in Bronxville, getting gas at the station across from the hospital. The attendant and I watched as a car skidded in the middle of the road and hit another car. The attendant nodded. "Third accident in same spot," he said in a thick Russian accent. "I think, is plot. I think police have deal with someone, get piece of insurance. Maybe hospital in on it, too."

I just shrugged. There's no point telling a Russian some things just happen.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Thanks a Lot

My husband came home from church this morning in an expansive mood. "I think you should bundle up and go for a walk around the lake. But first, I've brought you a latte! A large one! It is a day of bounty!"

I think this means he's changed his mind about helping me clean out the basement this afternoon.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Minnesota Living!

I've only been in Minneapolis a little over a year now and I'm still trying to acclimate. Two days ago we had single-digit temperatures and a couple of inches of snow. So I dug out the boot s and the snowpants (even the grownups wear them here) and the ice skates (the lake was icing over, too). Now just in time for the weekend the temps are climbing toward 50. Which means we take another shot at cleaning out the garage, getting rid of the rest of the leaves, caulking up the windows... the usual fall weekend fun.

There are a lot of differences between life here and my former existence on the East Coast. The weather is probably the biggest one. Halloween here looks like Thanksgiving back home, and spring doesn't arrive until May. Also you dont' think about hurricanes much here but you do get warned about tornadoes. A lot. Usually while you're driving in the middle of nowhere and have the car radio on, and you can't remember the name of the county you;re in when the reel off the list of counties under warning.

But there are others. Candy is a big one. The people here are nuts about candy. I mean really. Yesterday I brought my daughter to kindergarten and the teacher was handing out Tootsie Rolls to every kid who brought in his homework. They were allowed to eat them, too. At 8:30 in the morning.

Everybody here gives out candy. The cashiers in the grocery stores keep buckets of lollipops- excuse me, "suckers"- to hand out with the receipts. Even the pediatricians give out candy. And I'm not talking little butterscotches, either. I'm talking Tootsie Pops. The big ones.

No one carries a wallet. They carry billfolds.
They really do say "you betcha." It can mean "hello."
I dont think they've heard about cholesterol yet.

They are also the worst drivers I've ever seen in my life. Aggressive and careless at the same time. I learned to drive in NYC. You learn aggression, sure, but iyou learn self-preservation at the same time. And to anyone who finds New Yorkers rude: I can honestly say I've been flipped off and cursed at more here than I ever was in The City. So much for "Minnesota Nice."

Well enough on life here in the Upper Midwest. I've got leaves to shove into bags.


Friday, November 18, 2005


Poor Maureeen Dowd. Day and night, night and day, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist wrestles with the essential question of her existence:

Is she Really Smart, or Really Dumb?

"Are Men Necessary?" (338 pp., $25.95) presents arguments for both sides. At least I think that's what it's doing. It's hard to tell.

Herewith a little evidence. You make the call.

1. Maureen is Really Smart!

How can you tell? Because she's read Books. Lots of 'em. Big books, too. Shakespeare! Tolstoy! Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde! Every other page of AMN drops a title or an author you should have read in school, or at least should have learned to lie about having read. She's practically a one-woman SAT prep course!

2. Maureen Is Really Dumb.

"Little did I realize that the sexual revolution would have the unexpected consequence of intensifying the confusion between the sexes... It never occurred to me that the more women aped men, in everything from dress to orgasms, the more we would realize how inalienably different the sexes are."
As Shakespeare might have commented, "Hey honey, where do you think I got half my material from?"

And that's not her only dilemma, either. One or two others:

1. Maureen Is On the Cutting Edge!

The lady writes for the most important newspaper in the world, the New York Times. You don't get to the Times Op-Ed pages by being out to lunch, unless you're Frank Rich. You gotta keep up to hold that job. It's a daily after all, right?

2. Maureen Is Soooo Twentieth Century.

"The free-love idea that sex could be casual and safe and unfraught was, in retrospect, chuckleheaded."
Talk about old news. Sociologists have been publishing papers on that one for at least a decade now, and women like Phyllis Schlafly have been saying it for 25-plus years. ( P.S.- Jane Austen knew it, too. Remember Sense and Sensibility?)

Or this one:

1. That Girl Is A Riot!

It says so right on the jacket copy. "Saucy and insightful... chapters that surprise and amuse...Now comes a woman to cut through the tangle and tickle Adams' rib!"

2. Ummm....

"At thirty-six, Brian [Williams] was already the hair apparent to Tom Brokaw."

Get it? "Hair" apparent? The expression is really "heir apparent," but see how "heir" rhyms with "hair? See, Brian Williams has a full head of hair, and... you get it? It's a PUN!! Is that funny or what? She's got a million of 'em!

Now I ask you. With this kind of thing going through a girl's head night and day, is it any wonder that Maureen Dowd is positively bumfuzzled?

That's right, bumfuzzled. That's a new word for me. I found it in "Are Men Necessary?" I'm not sure what it means. It sounds vaguely British, and vaguely fungal, like some condition related to diaper rash. But that's what folks are these days, Maureen asserts: bumfuzzled.

It seems to mean confused, primarily over questions like "Are men intimidated by my braininess?" (Give yourself a pass on that one, Mo.) "Do men just not want powerful women- is that why I'm single?"

Oh, Mo. Don't make me say it. Even Hillary Clinton managed to get someone. Not to mention Margaret Thatcher, Joan Didion, Cokie Roberts... hey, is Alessandra Stanley married?

There there, Ms. Dowd. Don't go fuzzling your pretty little bum over all this. You'll find someone, someone smarter and more interesting and funnier. Really. You will. You'd almost have to, don't you think?

In the meantime maybe you should see someone about that bumfuzzle. It sounds like it could be serious.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

It's Never Too Soon start bitching about the holiday season!

I noticed last week that the houses for sale inmy neighborhood- there are a lot of houses for sale in my neighborhood- already have Christmas wreaths on their doors, I guess to give prosepective buyers that special hoome0for-the-holidays feeling. I talked to our gardener this morning who said he probably woulnd't be seeing us again until spring, since next week he has to start stringing lights and hanging garland for his posher customers. "People get started early around here," he said. "It just gets too cold after Thanksgiving."

I guess all this means the saason is upon us, already.

All right. The truth about Christmas.

Let's face it, Christmas is hell. No other time of year, with the possible exception of the dreaded day in April. gives anyone as many headaches as Christmas. This is especially true for women, upon whose shoulders most of the burden of merry-making falls. All the mind-wearying speculation about who wants what; all the cleaning, cooking, baking, decorating, all the runnign out of stamps followed by the trips to the post office where you get to wait on line for half an hour before you can accomplish anything; all the mail, all the bills, all the budgeting. And of course, all the shopping.

Christmas shopping. A special division of hell.

Get in the car, Stop for gas. FIllup in the cold. Drive to the mall. Look for a parking space. Look and look and look for a parking space. Maybe a fender-bender or two as you look for a parking space. Avoid eye contact with other spaceseeker s as this may compromise your integrity when you zoom into a space just before they do. Race into mall. Shop for gifts. Shop for hours before you see a possible gift. Decide you should do some comparison shopping before rushing into any foolish wastes of money. Find the same item in another store, at a higher price. Return to first store to buy it at lower price. FInd they have just sold their last one. End up traipsing back to other store and paying more. Kick self along the way.

Collect a couple of bags of gifts. Lug them around with you since you know your car will be broken into if you put them in the trunk. And let's not leave out every shopper's favorite activity: waiting on line at the cashier.

It was while waiting on such a line one year that I had my great revelation about Christmas. I was stanidn on line in the Men's Department at Macy's. I was buying, what else, socks. (Do men ever not ask for socks as a Christmas present?)

The line was long. It stretched from the cashier's station all the way across the big divide and into the cosmetics department. Estee Lauder ladies were shooting sniffy glances at people clutching flannel shirts and boxers.

I ususally bring a paperback along with me whenever I go Christmas shopping. I get a lont of reading done at this time of year. For a while I tried bringing along sopme spiritual reading- Advent plus shopping, I was going for a twofer- but with bustling crowds, piped in Christmas carols and those constant bingbons you're always hearing on department stroe sound systems I finally concluded I didnt' have the requires powers of concentration. So I switched to trashy mysteries.

Anyway this one time I had forgotten anything to read. There I was for what seemed like hours. clutchig my three pairs of wool socks while people in front of me were ringing up entire wardrobes.

My mind wandered. I found myself looking at the decorations- how much does Macy's spend on Christmas decorations, I wonder? probably enough to retire the debt of at least three coutries- listening to the seasonal muzak, and studying my fellow shoppers. Weary women, impatient men.

How many of them, I wondered, were there with even half an intention to honor the birth of Christ?

That's when it hit me: that was why I was here. I was here because this is how Americans honor Christ's coming, by running ourselves ragged trying to make everyone happy for at least one day. That was why I bought the presents, that was why I carted them home and wrapped them up and put them under the tree.

I knew this was true not because I had any particular depth of soul.

I knew it because I knew there was no way in hell I'd set foot in Macy's in December for anyting less than the arrival of God on earth.

It was the first time in my life I could honestly say I was doing something to honor Christ and His coming. I don't know what He'd say about my method, but at least my intentions were- amazingly- pretty damn pure.

Monday, November 14, 2005

How To Cook Your Daughter. By Jessica Hendra with Blake Morrison. Regan Books, 271pp., $24.95

One day in 2004 Jessica Hendra, an actress and mother of two living in LA, learned that her father, Tony Hendra, had published his spiritual autobiography, "Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul."

After hyperventilating a while at home, Jessica raced to a bookstore. To her horror, she discovered her father's "spiritual autobiography" was not primarily concerned with herself. Specifically, it omitted any detailed account of the two instances of sexual abuse she claimed to have suffered at his hands as a child.

The British-born Ms. Hendra reacted the way any red-blooded American would to such an insult: she called her lawyer. Was it too late to sue Dad? she asked, Unfortunately, the lawyer replied, it was. Undaunted ("Did that mean I should simply say nothing about what my father had done to me? What would I tell [her daughters] if they ever found themselves in this kind of situation? I would say speak out."]), Ms. Hendra next called a writer friend. And so "How To Cook Your Daughter " was born.

Ms.Hendra recounts the story of growing up on the fringes of comdey's bigtime, first in LA and then on the East Coast. As an undergraduate at Cambridge her father had performed with John Cleese and Graham Chapman. In America he struggled to make a living in comedy, finally becoming an editor of National Lampoon.

That Hendra was and remains proud of his career at National Lampoon tells you plenty about the man right there. Not to put too fine a point on it, in the 1970s at least, the magazine was a cesspool. That anyone could see the magazine's stock depictions of rape and sexual abuse as zany laff riots is sad and sickening. The culture of perversion at National Lampoon was so strong that when the young Mr. Hendra told colleagues things like he had "f**ked" his daughter or played "hide the bologna" with them, they considered it yet another example of his dazzling wit.

"How To Cook Your Daughter"- the title comes from a piece Tony Hendra wrote for the Lampoon-describes a lonely childhood with an unfaithful father, a long-suffering mother and a picked-on sister. (Both girls developed serious eating disorders that went untreated for years.) Famous people came to their home to do drugs, even when money was so scarce the family could not afford to keep warm. There were many, many nights when Tony did not come home, and when he did come home he was unbearable. It's a sad, sad story.

Ultimately the family fell apart. But against all odds the Hendra women pulled themselves together, recovered from their disorders and made lives for themselves, Jessica as an actress and her sisteras a physician. Things were going along pretty smoothly for Jessica when the "Father Joe" bombshell fell.

I read "Father Joe" last year, when it came out. Reading Ms. Hendra's reactions " I sometimes found myself wondering if she and I had read the same book.

To Ms. Hendra, the dedication of her father's book "gives the impression of a reconciled family." But all that is actually printed on the dedication page is a roster of names: "This book is for Judy, carla, Katherine, Nicholas...." The list isn't even followed by an "I love you all" or similar feel-good phrase.

Was she supposed to just go along with the reviewers and "pretend my father is a great guy?" I dont' know about any reviewers, but speaking for myself "Father Joe" did not leave me with the impression that Tony Hendra is a great guy. Quite the reverse, in fact. Drugs, booze, overindulgence of every human appetite imaginable and the massive egotism of the man- no, not the kind of guy you want to invite home to dinner.

And it is definitely true that there is no mention of sexual abuse in Father Joe. But again Ms. Hendra's fears and a reader's impressions are at odds here. "Would anyone buy a book- would anyone publish it?- if he talked about what he did to his daughter that night in New Jersey?" From what I've seen of the publishing industry and the bestseller lists, my guess is yes .

I understand Ms. Hendra's grief. Anyone who has been deeply hurt by a parent does. And I know as surely as Tony Hendra does that in the end God will demand an accounting of everyone.
On the other hand, I am confident that God will forgive everyone who repents of his sins. Everyone means everyone, including Tony Hendra. And in the end, this is what really bugs Jessica Hendra."The details that my father won't mention... those are the details that everyone my father hurt lives and breathes. And some of us remain there, emotionally damaged. I know them. My mother, for one. My sis ter, I suspect. And me. Stranded. And as he walks away on the path to eternal life, he declares himself forgiven and absolved of these generalized sins, specifics spared to protect himself."

If the saintly Father Joe was half the confessor he describes, Tony didnt' get away with any "generalized sins." And however much he may have liked to, Tony could never have declared himself absolved. That's what you need a confessor for. And once again I am left wondering if Ms. Hendra and I read the same book.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

C'est la vie

I told a friend in Paris I'd started a blog.

"I haven't started a blog yet," he replied. "I still just mutter to myself on buses. I find it serves the same purpose."


Monday, November 07, 2005

"The Narnian"

It's tough writing about C.S.Lewis. Granted, the guy was a master storyteller. Personally I view any childhood that avoided The Chronicles of Narnia as sadly deprived. He was a decent apoligist, too, and if he lacked the power of a G.K. Chesterton or the breadth of a Frank Sheed, at least he was clearsighted and direct when it came to human nature. Anyone who has read The Screwtape Letters knows that sharp wince that accompanies seeing one's own faults- especially the ones you thought nobody knew about!- right there on the printed page for all the world to read.

But then there's that other thing about Lewis: he was, face it, more than a little strange.

Lewis had a hard start in life. His mother died when he was nine, his relationship with his father was proper but distant, and his years in school were for the most part sheer torutre, first under a sadistic headmaster who was later declared insane and died in an asylum, later under the ruthless "fagging" of powerful schoolboy prefects. In later life he would declare that school was more loathesome to him than the Army, and he was hardly cut out for military life.

Shortly before being sent into the trenches of World War I, Lewis and best friend Paddy Moore made a pact: If Lewis were killed, Paddy would look after Lewis's widowed father in Belfast; if Moore died, Lewis would look after his mother in Bristol. Moore died. Lewis got Janie ("Minto") Moore. For the next thirty years.

If there are any positive accounts of Minto Moore, I have yet to find them. Lewis's biographers, from his brother Warnie to the most recent contributor, Alan Jacobs, ("The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis") describe Moore as petulant and demanding, and her declining health only exacerbated her faults. And she was. of course, old enough to be Lewis's mother. But Lewis seems to have loved her, at least for a while. He sacrificed most of his scarce spare time to attending to Moore's needs until the day of her death in 1951.

Biographers are divided on what role Lewis and Moore played in each other's lives. Some insist it was strictly a mother/son relationship, while others say it must have been sexual. I can believe the latter theory much more easily than I can the former. At any rate Lewis was silent on the particulars of their relationship.

A year after Minto's death, Joy Davidman Gresham showed up. The American's marriage was on the rocks when she insinuated herself into Lewis's life, first through overseas fan mail, then face to face when she travelled to England to meet Lewis. Later she brought her two sons to england, It was around that time that she discovered that she couldnt legally remain in Englad much longer, unless of course she happened to get married to a British subject. Before Lewis knew what hit him he was a married man, with another needy female to support.

The marriage of Joy and Jack Lewis has been much romaticized, on stage, on screen, and but the Lewises themselves. But come on- Joy was a schemer. Even at the time of her arrival Lewis's friends knew, because he had told them, that if Lewis weren't a confirmed bachelor he would marry an old friend named Ruth Pittman. But Joy elbowed her aside, as she did anyone who objected to her union with her favorite author. She had her heart set on the altar, and Lewis- ignorant of women as he was- didn't stand a chance.

Scarecely four years later Joy died of cancer. Along the way Lewis came to love and cherish her. But he could never say he chose her.

i dont' know, there's just something not quite right about Lewis, something kept too long in the dark and nevera llowed to bloom; too many pieces missing. I love his books, but I find the man a tough sell.