Fall Quarter by the Numbers
Dec 31st, 2013 by Dr Karma

Courses taught: 5

Papers graded: 870, not counting homework

Book contracts for an edited collection on Margaret Atwood given by Cambridge: 1

Car accidents: 1

Hours of physical therapy per week for over two months: 3-6

Nieces and nephews born: 2

Books read for work: about 20

Books read for pleasure: None, I think, even over break.

Upper GIs: 1

Cancers found by Upper GI: 0 (yay!)

Conference panels chaired: 2

Book chapters written and sent to editors: 2

Margaret Atwood Journal issues out: 1

Minor foot surgeries: 1 (a redo, since the Jan doc did it so badly)

Campus Book Project talks given: 1

Campus Book Project talks chaired: 3

Campus Book Project books chosen: 1

Plays attended: 3

Awesome Halloween costumes: 1

Mix CDs produced: 3

Kittens fixed: 2

Kittens taught to stay off the desk and counters: 0

New Recipes Tried: probably 15-20

New mentees for the Guardian Scholars Program: 1

Trips to take the boy’s car to the shop: 2

Letters of recommendation written: 6

Types of bitters homemade by me, Vanessa, Rae, Marina, and Melissa: 5

Trips to wine country: 2

Here’s to a better year (all the good stuff, but less of the silly medical stuff)!

A Modest Proposal for Young Children at the Movies
Dec 30th, 2013 by Dr Karma

Yesterday, I sat in a dark theatre to see the second Hobbit movie for a second time. The film is PG-13. The child sitting behind me with his father was about half the requisite age.

Now, each parent should get to make his/her own decision about whether a movie is too adult for the child in terms of sex and violence. While I think certain scenes were a bit much for a child that age, the parent knows what might cause his/her child nightmares much better than I do.

However, if you know your child doesn’t have the capability to follow the plot of a movie without your constant oral aid, perhaps this is a movie you could watch at home together.

I took my son to a ton of plays and movies before he was necessarily sophisticated enough for them–this made him a sophisticated audience member. Yet I didn’t allow him to talk through plays or movies. Questions were for after.

If your child can’t follow when we’re in “real” time or flashback, if your child doesn’t understand that most questions can be answered by letting the scene play out (who’s that? they’re about to tell you!), or if the movie is going to use a bunch of words your child doesn’t know (like “forge”), then you have three options, especially if you are incapable of teaching your child to whisper, as the father behind me was.

1. See the movie at home.

2. Have your child ask you questions after the movie.

3. Sit in what I propose to be the “not mentally up to this film” zone. I would like to suggest that the first few rows of films be reserved for young children (and others who aren’t ready for what they’re seeing). It’s not practical to put children and their parents in a separate theatre or have a walled-off space, but those first few rows tend to be fairly empty of other patrons. Also, children don’t get neckaches the way the rest of us do. (As for their parents, they don’t want to start arguing with me about being or having a pain the neck when their kids can’t shut up.)

This would allow those parents who want to see an adult film but not get a babysitter or who want to see an adult film but not alone or those who want to teach their children the magic of a film before the film hits DVD to view the movie (though they should still try to teach the art of the whisper).

This would have made life easier yesterday; I actually started anticipating questions, which was not a fun game even though I was spot on. It would not have solved the problem completely when I sat in front of a child who was MUCH too young for a Harry Potter movie and who started screaming and sobbing when Dobby died, but at least the screamer would have been a few rows farther away.

If that’s sitting too close to the screen for some parents, then might I suggest options 1 or 2?

Christmas Confessions
Dec 25th, 2013 by Dr Karma

I don’t love everything about Christmas. I don’t like that the season starts too early (thanks to our amazing commercialism); I don’t like realizing that while I’m in the midst of finals after what is usually my busiest quarter, I am behind on making, buying, baking, and shipping presents; I don’t like the pressure to buy things for people I don’t know well.

I don’t like how the phrase “Merry Christmas” is changing. I say both “Happy Holidays” and “Merry Christmas” interchangeably–I always have. Both are accurate for me and basically everyone I know. Almost all of us get Christmas off, so even the few people I know who don’t celebrate Christmas can still enjoy that break. Happy Holidays, despite what Fox news says, has always been fine–there are more than this month that we celebrate. I’ve never had anyone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas get upset with me for wishing them well. But now there are apparently people out there who get upset when I wish them well for more than one day in a season.

Dan Savage recently wrote about reading Sarah Palin’s book, which says you can’t wish people peace and love without wishing them “Merry Christmas” because there is no peace and love without Jesus. I guess that means a bunch of people I know, including myself, don’t really love. This war on the made-up war on Christmas is going to create the very thing it rails against, as I, like Dan Savage, now feel obligated to say “Happy Holidays,” as reaction against those who say we’re not allowed to. Years ago, those people took the American flag and made it the symbol for conservative rather than American; now they’re taking my ability to say “Merry Christmas.”

Just the other day, I said “Merry Christmas” to a local business owner on the way out the door. He commented that he “had” to say “Happy Holidays” so as not to alienate people. He had mistaken my automatic I’m-leaving-now holiday wish as a statement against political correctness. I probably gave him the impression that I’m conservative and Christian by my thoughtless use of a phrase. I just noted that I say both phrases and that I’ve never gotten in trouble for either one. He confessed that he had never been corrected by someone for using the Christmas word in his greetings, so in the spirit of Christmas getting-along, we were able to agree that since neither of us had actually experienced this particular front of the war on Christmas, it was likely just something those people on TV made up.

Why, you might ask, do I celebrate Christmas if I’m not Christian?

Well, like most Americans, I was raised Christian, so Christmas is part of my childhood, part of my life. It represents family, the gorging on gifts that comes with being a kid, and the only time when my mother and stepfather would try not to fight, when my mother’s smile would return for days on end.

When it was my turn to be a parent, I didn’t want to lose that connection to childhood or to rob my child of it. Christmas can be magic. Not celebrating the birth of Jesus (which would be in Spring anyway, Biblical scholars agree) is surprisingly easy, given how pagan the whole holiday is. We combine solstice festival traditions, medieval traditions, and the Roman sun-God Baal’s day (today) into a frenzy of presents, singing, eating, drinking, and decorating trees inside the house.

However, what I’d like to confess about Christmas is how much I love it. Despite all its problems, despite the commercialism, despite the war I’m apparently in about it, I love it.

I love finding the perfect gift for someone. I love those moments when my friends find that perfect thing for me.

I love the baking. Although I cook all through the year, I rarely give myself the time to bake. Each Christmas, there’s a little frenzy. Alexander says it’s the most stereotypical mom thing about me. Each year, I make some classics, which, because I only make them once a year, mean it’s Christmas when I bite into them (eggnog pie, cranberry apple pie, scotchies, oatmeal lace cookies, sour cream drops with burnt butter frosting, etc). And each year I try something new. This year, it was Mansikkalumi, Finnish Strawberry Snow. And then there’s the ham, which I usually only get at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and which is my very favorite meat.

I love the movies and TV shows. Not all of them, of course. Today, Alexander and I are watching Doctor Who Christmas specials and Simpsons and Futurama Christmas episodes. I haven’t had the chance to watch the movies this year–Christmas is often like that–once I’m ready for it to be Christmas, there isn’t time to see everything I love, from strange Finnish horror films about Santa (Rare Exports) to Bridget Jones’ Diary to Scrooged to About A Boy to the original Miracle on 34th Street, the ultimate Christmas movie. (Back when I wrote a movie column, I wrote about the best Christmas films:;;

As the creator of 9 volumes of Christmas mix cds, I must admit that there are several songs I apparently love as well, some traditional, some new. “The Carpenters Christmas Portrait” is my favorite cd of the old hits. I had the records as a child. I also have a house mix of totally secular awesome Christmas songs by Weird Al, Jonathan Coulton, etc.

I love the tree almost most of all. My stepfather’s house had a large, open foyer. He would put a big tree on a very big table in front of the sweeping staircase. I would spend hours playing in the tree. The more anthropomorphic ornaments became my dolls for a short season. My smallest toys would find their own places in the branches. My tree is always the first signal that it’s really Christmas and is usually with us for way longer than it should be. This year, I refrained from putting breakable ornaments on it, due to the mischievous presence of two little kittens, but it’s still here, staying moist from all the water bottle punishment sprays it takes with Jareth and Anubis.

Finally, I love Christmas because it’s the time of the year when I get out my address book and send a little something to those I love. I try to call people I haven’t talked to lately, but whom I miss.

(And did I mention the eggnog?)

Happy Holidays!


Dec 13th, 2013 by Dr Karma

It’s the season that critics are posting their Best Of lists for the year. (What always strikes me as a bit odd is that year is not technically over when the critics do this.)

As I don’t want to be like everyone else, I’m going to use the rest of the month to post about non-traditional “Best Of”s.

The best ABBA song?



Not because it won the Eurovision competition in 1974, but because it begins:

“My, my, at Waterloo Napoleon did surrender
Oh yeah, and I have met my destiny in quite a similar way”

I just can’t imagine any pop song today beginning with a historical reference. This song not only does that, but continues all the way through, comparing this woman’s finally giving into love to Napoleon’s defeat. The military analogy somehow blends perfectly with the upbeat, danceable tempo.

“So how could I ever refuse” to love this song?

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