Sunday, April 29, 2007

Day by the Sea

Yesterday saw us at Gulf Shores, Alabama, for the first time in several years. We used to go there freqently, as it's only about 3 hours from our house. It's something I highly recommend. We had a wonderfully lazy day in the Sun.

I took along some reading material, and I read an article about the railroad from inland China to Lhasa, Tibet. The train is controversial for political reasons, but the engineering is brilliant. It was ironic, I suppose, to sit on a warm beach and read about a train that runs across permafrost at an altitude of up to 16,000 ft. Also ironic in the article itself--China's ongoing effort to settle more Han Chinese in Tibet has resulted in Tibetan Buddhism becoming cool in other parts of China. I also got to the midway point of Doris Kearns Goodwins' Lincoln biography, which I hope to finish in the coming week. I'll write up a review of this excellent book when I'm done with it.

Oh, yeah, the beach. With middle age has come the wisdom to recognize that I'm a very white guy. Heavens, I'm pasty. I've resorted to using my kids' Water Babies sunscreen. My skin turns only one color in the Sun, and it ain't tan. Also, I have a mess of freckles on my back and upper arms--more than I used to--which gets DW a little concerned about my Sun exposure.

There are a few things that mid-40s, overweight men really should know better than to do. Posing on the beach appears to be one of them. But then, I am a Poser, after all.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Saw Meets Godfather II

HBO's faux-documentary about the making of Christopher's "Cleaver":

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Randy's self-improvement program number 7,624

I seem to be in self-improvement mode these days, even if my program has kind of come together gradually and without any real planning. I've been working seriously on my cardiovascular system for several months, and have taken off 20 pounds. I recently added some light weight training to my exercise agenda. I've been meditating more frequently and longer; for whatever reason, zazen really works well for me. Moreover, my therapy is going well at the moment, though that can be difficult and painful at times. Also, as compensation for the loss of Gentle Reader Craig's brain-stimulating blogs, I've resorted to reading publications like the Times Literary Supplement and the New Yorker--and even some real books--to keep in touch with the world of people who are smarter than I am. But, not to worry, I still dig Entertainment Weekly.

As part of my ongoing quest for cultrual relevance, I have changed my google/blogger avatar from Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus to Sanjaya Malakar from "American Idol." I wonder what my boss would do if I showed up at work with my hair like that.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Rough Audience of One

My youngest son, A., didn't much care for our new backyard swimming pool this past weekend. He played in it for a little while Sunday night, then again Saturday morning, but he had another place in mind for water play. Because A. is nonverbal, and because he employed trickery in an attempt to manipulate us, it took us a few minutes to catch on. He picked up swim suits and pointed out back, then, once he had a suit on, he ran to the front door, dropped to the floor and threw a tantrum. He wanted the beach, dammit, and that swimming pool was an inadequate substitute. This happened twice. And some people say children with autism are incapable of manipulating people . . . I would have just taken him, but he'll only let himself be driven around in our older car, which was making some odd noises, and which is in the shop today.

On Saturday morning, I took A. on a 4-hour walking tour of WalMart and the local mall. A. loves to watch the automatic doors open and close at WalMart, and he enjoys watching other kids at play in the video arcade and stuffed-bear "factory" at the mall. He also loves the lettering on the outside of Dillard's department stores. The local mall has two separate Dillard's stores, and there's another Dillard's sign at another mall entrance, so we essentially circumnavigated the mall, on foot, at a running clip. Moreover, the food court sells pizza and ice cream, and I had to make two pizza purchases and two ice cream purchases. Saturday evening saw us back at WalMart and the local park; Sunday morning had us at WalMart once again, making a circular route from one bank of doors to the other, both inside and outside the store.

A. was jealously possessive of your humble host over the weekend, and he demanded my undivided attention. When I wrote out some bills, he misbehaved to get me back into his room. He was in such a daddy mood that he wanted nothing to do with DW all weekend, though he usually is perfectly willing to include her in his play. Not this time. It stung her, and it took us a while to figure out what was going on with him on that issue.

A. was upset when we got back to St. Mary's yesterday, and I was exhausted from the weekend and the drive up. The nurse and one of the other parents commented that I looked like I was about to cry. Actually, no, I wasn't, but DW and I both frequently feel that way when we take our kids back to school, and we both have been teary in the car on the way home. Those moments of separation are emotionally tough for all four of us, though A. and T. are amazingly courageous and tough, and, by all accounts, get past the separations rapidly.

Yesterday, however, I did not get past the moement of separation very quickly. Last night, I lay awake thinking about how odd our family situation really is and how difficult it is on all of us--especially the boys, who can't understand why things are the way they are, or that they are progressing much better at St. Mary's than they ever did in the chaos of our home before they went there. I thought about DW's expectations of motherhood, which were shattered by her difficult pregnancies, then by A. and T.'s brain disorders. I thought about the contemptable people who make up what used to be my family of origin (I cut off all contact last year), and how much I still despise them for their ignorant, judgmental disapproval of, well, damn near all of our parenting decisions from day one. They can all go to hell. I had a very hard time getting to sleep, and I'm thoroughly exhausted today.

I'm reading Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" at the moment. Last night, I read about Edwin Stanton's deep love for his family. After his first wife died, the future Secretary of War was concerned that his then 2-year-old son would grow up with no memory of his mother. Stanton spent his free time writing a 100-page letter to the boy, explaining how much both of his parents loved him. I can't speak for DW, but that struck me as something I might want to do. I know A. and T. feel loved--by us and by most of the staff at their school--but I'd really like to them to understand how deeply I feel about them. If, sometime after DW and I are dead and buried, my kids' conditions are cured and they are capable of deeper understanding of the world around them (and I see more and more signs that their understanding is expanding, despite their limitations), I would like for them to know how deeply DW and I adore both of them. I suppose I could have such a letter placed in our estate planning papers.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Dystopian dilemmas

With many predominantly Caucasian Western countries concerned about immigration, and European countries in particular concerned about their low birth rates, it seems logical that those two concerns would be brought together, first in a novel, then in a movie. I haven't read the book, but I saw the movie last night on DVD. "Children of Men" takes those issues to extremes--a world in which infertility and immigration are the only issues anyone cares much about. I suppose that there's an unspoken metaphor for First World countries becoming impotent and sterile when they close their borders, needing infusions of life from the Third World. I don't know that the metaphor really works precisely with the entire world infertile, so maybe I'm reading too much in. I don't know.

The movie opens with the death of the youngest person on Earth, an 18 year old. For an unknown reason, the world has became completely infertile in 2008-09. Why, exactly, is a source of some conversation in the movie. The movie ends with the first birth in 18 years, to an African woman who evidently is an illegal immigrant to Great Britain. A pro-immigration terrorist organization plans to smuggle the woman to an underground fertility organization. Our reluctant hero, Theo (Clive Owen) is shanghaied to assist the woman, and there are several post twists along the way.

My viewing of the movie was informed somewhat by a couple of things. First, I recalled reading about some recent research suggesting that my own childrens' disabilities may have beeen caused by genetic quirks that, in turn, may have been caused by environmental events. Moreover, many parents of autistic children believe that childhood vaccines either caused their childrens' disorders or triggered whatever genetic predisposition may have been there. So I suppose anything is possible. Fortunately, however, the only truly universal environmental phenomenon of which I'm aware is global warming, which doesn't appear to have any genetic consequences. Second, all aspects of modern civilization pretty much collapsed around here in August 2005; I was thinking a little about that as I watched the brutality of the government and the deplorable living conditions of the illegal aliens in the film. If you think it can't happen here, you could be wrong.

"Children of Men" raises questions about the environment and, more directly, about migrations of people from the Third World to the First. For me, the movie was more provocative and thought-provoking about the latter question than was "Babel." It also presents a society without hope for a meaningful future. There is even a suicide drug in the film. It made me reflect on what a gift life, and future generations, really are. "Babel" was somewhat more hopeful, anyway. This is a movie that you'll think about for a while after seeing it, whether or not you agree with its politics. The acting, directing, and writing are quite good, and the action moves along at a good clip. Much of the story is told in the background visuals, which is a great technique. Check it out.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Superpower Stamps

I went downstairs to the post office this morning to mail my federal income tax return. The USPS is selling D.C. Comics superhero stamps, and now Batman adorns my annual submission to the IRS.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Easter 2007

We filled our kids' Easter baskets with items they currently enjoy. I'll confess that I had a brief brain fart yesterday and forgot what Easter is all about, other than it has something to do with Jesus. Oh yeah, it's only the central event in human history from a Christian perspective, something you'd think I would remember. Oops. Bad Randy! Good thing DW never reads this blog. Today, I'm fighting off some nasty gastro-intestinal infection that struck with a vengeance around 2:00 a.m.-4:00 a.m. today. Could it be divine retribution?

Unfortunately, every photo I took of T. came out bad. So here's a recent picture of him on the beach instead. We noticed last weekend here, and the other day in Alexandria, that T. is far less intense and high-strung than he has been in months. Also, he didn't request French fries until the very end of our visit with him. Last week, he wanted them every time we got anywhere near a McDonald's.

We spent three Easter Sundays in a row attending mass at the St. Mary's chapel. Last year was a fiasco, as A. and T. both wanted to get out of there as soon as they saw us. This year was an unchurched holiday, at least for DW, A., and me. T. went to the usual Sunday morning service. We split our visits with the boys, taking each one individually. A. and I attended a morning service at the Alexandria Temple of Commerce, a/k/a WalMart.

A. looks joyously at his favorite work of art, the Pepsi logo on the drink machine in the WalMart foyer. I wore a Pepsi T-shirt while I was with him, knowing how much he loves that logo, but he didn't seem to give a hoot about it. I look really fat in the photos, despite having taken off some weight, so I'm not posting them.

A. loved his plush toys. We had an interesting moment yesterday, after A. overstuffed himself with Chips Ahoy cookies and Barq's root beer. We were in the pool, and he coughed, barfing up his snack. Hilariously, we were the only people who got out of the pool. Other people saw it, but evidently thought nothing of it. A. later had a great time stuffing himself at his favorite restaurant.

Overall, it was a very good weekend for my family.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Daily Zen

That the self advances
And confirms ten thousand things
Is called delusion;
That the ten thousand things
Advance and confirm the self
Is called enlightenment.

- Dogen (1200-1253)

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Upcoming show

PBS will be airing a four-hour documentary, "The Mormons," later this month. The LDS Church is ready to rumble. Only an extreme cynic would think that the Church might be telegraphing some hopeful last-minute editorial suggestions to PBS in its pre-broadcast press release, and I'm no extreme cynic. This could be moderately interesting. Or not. Who knows? I might even watch part of it. But not if it's up against, say, a re-run of "The Closer."

Monday, April 02, 2007

Weekend at Randy's

It looks like those inflatable-rim swimming pools are a thing of the past at my house. We went through a couple of those every year--the kids inevitably would lean on the rims until they created a leak, deflating the rim and causing the water to pour onto the ground. They loved watching the water cascade from the pool onto the ground. That's nice and all, but not very efficient or environmentally responsible. Either DW or I would go outside and pump up the rim every 15 minutes (if the kids were actually playing in the pool) and/or refill the pool several times a day. Well, it's not like water is a scarce resource in Louisiana, but still. I picked up a rigid-framed pool at WalMart a few weeks ago, and used it for the first time this past weekend. T. loved it, especially when he ginned up the will to jump from the top of the ladder into the water. I like it too, and I'm sure I'll be going out back for the occasional dip. Speaking of T., a little parental bragging is in order. For months, he has been having me draw little pictures for him, then refusing to put pencil to paper himself. He had me buy him a little device the other day that has an erasable screen underneath a tiny computer screen that shows how to draw various shapes, letters, and numbers. I caught him drawing a rectangle and bisecting it, which is one of his favorite pictures for me to draw. I think he wants perfection before he lets me see anything he draws.

I had an interesting experience at Target the other night. T. and I were in the toy section, and he was interested in a Dora the Explorer cash register that I didn't want to buy. I diverted his attention to a toy cell phone, then put him in the cart to leave the store. There was a gentleman speaking on his cell phone in what sounded like German, watching his son at the Thomas the Tank Engine display. As I walked past him, he asked whether T. is autistic. It turns out that his 3 year old was diagnosed a few months ago. The father is in the flooring business, and they moved here recently due to the favorable environment for people in the construction trades. He needed to talk, so we conversed while T. was staring at that cash register, which was by now directly in front of him. I ended up having to buy the dang thing, but it's still in the original packaging, so maybe it'll go back. OTOH, T. is learning about money, so it might not be a bad thing to have. The German fellow made one observation about America that I found interesting--he said that in Berlin, you take your kids to the park and see the same people over and over, making friends along the way. In America, OTOH, you never see the same people twice at the park. That frustrated him, as his son really has no friends. However, the boy is in school, which is where we Americans probably pick up most of our friends.