Five things make a post

1. After four days of not catching any mice in the kitchen, we are tentatively hoping that we are mouse-free. We hope. I started cleaning the kitchen today. Let me say, scrubbing cupboards and drawers and all the contents therein has significantly increased the amount of dishes and dish-related work I do in a day. But, oh, please, please whatever powers that care about this, let us be mouse-free? Please? Else we’re going to have to start killing them.

2. The kids started a karate class today. It’s Running Tiger Shaolin Kenpo, for those who are interested, and the class is for homeschool kids. Which means it’s held at 12:30 on a Thursday, yes! I was pleased with the reports I got from the kids and J (I was out running errands) but I was especially pleased that, when asked about China, M reported on the Mongol invasions. A few weeks back J and I made a deal that I would cover history and social sciences on the days I do school, and she would cover language arts and grammar. I’m pleased to see that some of the history is sticking.

3. I’m going to be at Fallcon in a couple of weeks. I have a new comic to debut there, yay. I am also in the process of getting my website revamped. This revamping will mean I can host my comics as webcomics, giving lots of access to what I’ve already done.

4. I feel like I should get a Good Grown-Up and Good Parent star, for getting the kids’ homeschool attendance forms sent in to the local school district on time. Twenty-five-year-old me would never have accomplished this. I would have flaked out, or been afraid to do it because I might do it wrong, or I would have avoided calling around to find an address, and the whole thing would have been a crisis. I think I’ve grown up, or something.

5. My mom brought small gifts back from Europe for me and the kids. She got me pin-up postcards from the museum of comics. My mom brought me comic-book pin-ups.

It’s good to be known, it really is, but I’m not thinking about that too much, mmkay?


My favorite new television show of the fall season is the CW’s Hellcats. This show is far, far better than its commercials would lead you to believe.

Hellcats stars Aly Michalka (of the Disney stable pop band Aly & A.J., and many, many Disney tweener shows and movies) and Ashley Tisdale (also of the Disney stable, from the High School Musical franchise.) The show is about a college cheerleading team, the Lancer Hellcats. It features cheer routines, lots of very, very attractive people in small clothes, and both bippy pop music and angsty pop music. The commercials look shallow, if not vapid.

Yet there’s more to the show than that.

Hellcats is set in a Southern town, a college town or minor city with not much going for it. Class distinctions are a prominent feature of the show, with lead character Marti (played by Aly) being a townie. Her working-class, inappropriate, intemperate, extremely kind and proud and embarrassing mother works at a college bar and grill. Her best friend Dan knows he’s not getting out of the town, and has a contempt born of jealousy for the college kids who are just passing through. Money — specifically the lack of it — is a major theme of the show. All the students are in fear of losing their scholarships, and the cheerleading team itself is in danger of cancellation. Budget cuts are everywhere.

Faith is another theme handled reasonably well, so far. Savannah (played by Tisdale) is from an extremely conservative Christian family, church, school, and college. Her family are portrayed as being intolerant of Savannah’s choices. But Savannah’s faith in and of itself is treated with respect. It’s an important part of her character that doesn’t make her stupid or bigoted. How common is it, in recent years, to see the complexity of Christian religious faith portrayed on television? I mean, outside of a documentary?

The show passes the Bechdel test with ease. Half the cast and half the characters are women, who talk to each other about a variety of issues.

I think about half the cast is comprised of people of color. There’s a lead African-American couple, the cheer coach and her doctor boyfriend. And there are two interracial couples in the works or being hinted at. In addition, people seem to date across class lines — but not painlessly. Money, religion, and race all exist in the world of Hellcats, and all cause problems from time to time.

The show is glib eye-candy, certainly. The cheerleaders are all really, really pretty people. But the insane work and athleticism of cheering is highlighted. None of these characters are vapid, none are coasting by. Every character is working their ass off to achieve important long-term goals. The entire show is character-driven, motivated by who these people are. And they are reasonably interesting.

The writing is aided by the fact that the actors are all solid. Aly and Ashley are not only better actors than their Disney origins might lead you to think, they have great chemistry with each other. (Enough chemistry to occasionally make me wonder what they are doing in their dorm room, but that’s a personal quirk of mine and nothing in the show points to a textual attraction.) In fact, Aly and Ashley have decent chemistry with everybody in the cast. The romantic tensions are believable, as are the rivalries. The supporting cast is good, especially D. B. Woodside as the team doctor, and Robbie Jones as Lewis Flynn.

My only, only complaint about Hellcats so far has to do with how I am viewing it. The CW streams episodes about four or five days after they air, which I appreciate. But each episode has five or more commercial breaks, each running five-to-seven commercials. The same ones. Each time. Which, honestly, I could tolerate better — I just play Echo Bazaar, or catch up on Twitter, during the breaks — if the streaming quality were any good. It’s not. It’s jerky, and small, and full of digital artifacts. Unfortunately, this is the only way I can watch it right now. But I am already looking forward to seeing Hellcats on dvd.

I’m going to have to learn to cook

Today was my annual physical. “Annual” in the sense that, about every two or three years I remember to do it.

According to the CDC and my nurse practitioner, Whooping Cough is making a resurgence. Vaccination wears off after a few years, you see. And if the whole population is vaccinated that’s just fine because no-one can spread it. However. Due to the anti-vaccination crowd, a number of infants are coming down with pertussis, aka whooping cough. A handful have died nationally. And these infants can spread the disease to their once-vaccinated-but-now-vulnerable adult companions. If you can’t afford to be sick for six months this year, stop by your doctor or clinic and get a T-DaP booster, mmkay?

In other news, I’m going to have to learn to cook.

My blood pressure just crept up to the “you need to watch your salt” level. I already have the “exercise 3-5 times a week” and the “eat 6-10 servings of fruits and vegetables” portions down. But I detest cooking. So I eat a ton of pre-packaged stuff.

Umm. I just got label shock in my kitchen. Everything I eat is full of added salt.

Okay, this isn’t actually news to me. I’ve known in a sort of vague way that pre-packaged food is full of salt. It just wasn’t particularly relevant to me until now. Now I am goggling at the 560 mg of salt in a can of black beans. Jeebus. So I made a perfectly healthy low-salt lunch that tasted like nothing at all. Blea.

Between this, and the hours I keep, and the fact that McDonalds’ breakfasts are off the list, and the fact that the cafeteria at work is intensely dissatisfying, I can sense cooking looming on the horizon.

Cooking. I could be doing something else with that time, dangit.

Circus and life skills

We’ve had two weeks of classes now, and things are going smoothly. Having class on two days a week instead of four is good from a driving and scheduling point of view, though the hours are a bit rough on the kids. We’ve re-introduced naps on Monday and Wednesday so that the kids can make it through the late hours and high demands of class.

K’s Multiple Trapeze II is going well. My goodness, that kid has good form. She is one of the very shortest kids in the class but is still perfectly capable of shimmying up to the top level of the equipment. Some fifteen or twenty feet up in the air, I think?

Both kids are taking Unicycle on Wednesday. I wish, I really do, that the instructors would make the kids do more work and less hanging around talking, but the class seems to work out okay regardless. I did have a word with M last night that five-minute pratfalls are a waste of everyone’s time, however.

M’s non-performing trampoline class is going well. We made sure to put him with the instructor he gets along with, and he is working really hard on his skills. It’s possible that M will perhaps be able to do a cartwheel by May, who knows?

K’s Acrobatics II class had taken a turn for the nit-picky and hardcore, a fact of which I APPROVE. Handsprings and forward and back walkovers are being learned, but the class is still focusing on perfecting form in cartwheel, somersault, and round-off.

Non-Performing Low Casting is fun. K is by FAR the shortest person in the class. Last night she worked with the instructor on just reaching the bar from the platform. By the end of class she could do it consistently.

As usual, I am watching the other classes while my kids are in class. There’s a Boy’s Aerial Development class that looks like an excruciating boot camp. These guys are exhausted by five minutes into class. But, if you want to do the straps act, or you want to be a catcher, well … You have to be insanely strong and fit. I also get to see Advance Team Wall Tramp. This seems to involve accidentally kicking each other in the head. Or, at least, the flyer in a given move accidentally kicking the catcher in the head. I also get to see a bit of Team Acrobatics III. It’s fascinating watching the kids who are *really* good at, say, a standing back flip, struggling with doing three flips in a row.

It’s a moving target, this “good enough” thing. There is no good enough in circus. You master one move, one skill, and there’s another waiting for you. There is always a person who can do something you can’t, there is always better. You could always be better.

The kids who are on Team are motivated by this. They are inspired to do better by their teammates calling out, “keep your legs together, tighter, tighter!” in a semi-innuendo-laden way. (These are teenagers, after all.) When they clock each other in the head they laugh and do mock-injury-limps and shake it off. And they applaud and cheer each other when a move is mastered. And then they get to work on the next thing.

Honestly, it reminds me of my work. I can always be doing my job better. There is no enough. There’s barely good enough, and there’s better, but there is always better to be had. Every day I work I do something that causes me to think, “Hnh, I coulda done that better.” And then I think, “okay, do it better next time.”

I think this is a valuable thing to learn, honestly. How to handle skills which are never mastered, but only gained. How to cope with an area in which you will never be done learning. Because that is life. That is adulthood. That is what it is to be a person — you’ve never DONE, you’ve never FINISHED, until you’re dead. There will forever and ever be some area or skill which you’ve never see before, never done before, and you won’t be sure how to proceed. Death of a loved one. Getting a promotion. Driving a manual transmission. Moving to a foreign country. Getting a dog. Replacing a water heater. And there will be things that you’ve done, but somehow that’s not really enough help when you do it again. Having a second kid. Burying both your parents. Renting your third apartment. Breaking up again. Re-writing your resume.

How do we teach this? How do I, as a parent, teach my kid that when she is living in Miami for graduate school she will not know what do do when her credit card number is stolen? How do I teach my kid that he won’t know what to say when one of his partners yells at him for being too huggy with another friend? And that this not-knowing is normal and dealable and not the end of the world. Life is constantly throwing The Next Thing at you, at us.

I can try to explain that, I guess. Try to make sure my kids have a wide range of skills and abilities, sure. But also, and perhaps more importantly, it’s my job to make sure they understand how to learn. How to make an attempt, how to ask people for help, how to listen to advice. Teach them to listen to the coach at circus, and watch the other kids when it’s their turn to get corrected. Watch the older kids and see what sorts of troubles they are having and how they handle those. To ask for help with a tricky move. To take chances and reach for the bar when it is really far out there, and to try again when you fall awkwardly and painfully into the mat.

I want my kids to understand that failure is a part of learning. That if you never fail, you aren’t growing. I want my kids to understand that rejection means you are reaching for something. I want them to learn now, when they are young and the stakes are low and there are mats under them.

I want to teach them how to not know what they are doing and go on anyway. That is a skill they will need their whole lives, regardless of how useful a back handspring may be.

Easy A

I saw Easy A yesterday afternoon at the theater. There was a handful of other people there, and I was not the only person bursting into laughter at multiple points during the film.

Easy A has a lot to recommend it. The writing is snappy and self-aware, without being preciously self-referential. The cast is great — all the supporting characters are well-executed, even if they are not deeply written. (Which not all of them are. Many, yes, but not all.) And Emma Stone is freaking amazing.

I loved this movie. I laughed most of the way through it. It’s a romantic comedy with a blunt, sarcastic bite, and I appreciated that. I also appreciated all the 80s movie shout-outs, though I have a question about that — Why is this teenager in 2010 obsessed with 80s movies? I mean, when I was 16, I was NOT in the SLIGHTEST interested in The Graduate, or Dr. Zhivago. Why has Olive even seen Say Anything?

I recommend the film. Yet I am not certain it will actually hold together on a second viewing. I think that there are some plot holes which I can’t quite put my finger on. However, I don’t think I care that much. I really, really liked this movie. I enjoyed watching it, and walked out of the theater smiling and happy.

The last few days

So, Monday I worked the early shift, 5:00 am to 1:00 pm. I came home, slept from 2-5, and got up in time for dinner. After dinner I took the kids to K’s first circus class on the term.

K’s class was Multiple Trapeze II. The first class was largely review, giving the instructor a chance to see where everyone was at. There are three or four other families there during that time slot that we know from previous terms, so I said hello to everyone and caught up about the summer. M, who has to play in the lobby during this class, has at least two friends to play with.

Speaking of the lobby, man is the building crowded at 7:00. Really, really crowded.

After circus, N took the kids home and put them to bed while I headed to work.

During circus, though, I got a message on my email saying that I had been locked out of Gmail for Terms of Service violations. I don’t even know. I couldn’t do anything about it overnight, though, besides worry and fret.

The mid shift was fine — completely uneventful, which is how we prefer things to be at two in the morning. Uneventful. I actually finished up my half of the shift at 2:15, and decided to head home. I mean, I was going to sleep on the break room couch until 5:30 anyway — why not head HOME and sleep? So I took some leave and headed out. I drove home and finished listening to The Invisible Hook, the book about the economics of piracy in the 17th and 18th centuries. I then started The Poisoner’s Handbook, about the start of forensic medicine. Awesome.

Got home at 3:15, slept fitfully (having anxiety dreams about my email lockout) as my family got up and got ready until 9:30, then got up. It was time to get ready for M’s birthday party, right after I set up my computer and dealt with Gmail.

I logged in and everything was fine. I have no idea what’s going on with that.

M’s birthday is actually the 20th, but yesterday was when we could get everyone together for the Kid Party. M invited a few friends to a place to play laser tag, minigolf, and other assorted indoor recreation things. The party was entirely successful, and everyone enjoyed it. The best/worst part, though, from my point of view, was that the minigolf course had a weeping angel statue. I nearly shrieked.

It was a small statue, only about three feet high. But STILL.

After the party we came home and M opened his presents. Today, during school, M needs to start on his thank you notes. Then J agreed to feed the kids dinner so I could go see Resident Evil Afterlife.

The Resident Evil movies always do a few things well. Milla Jovovich is always good. Her character of Alice is well-written, and she does a good job performing said character. I was also pleased to see Ali Lartner return for this movie, reprising her role as Claire Redfield. The two women are good actors, and they act well together. In addition, the supporting cast was racially diverse, the people of color were not killed first, and at no time did a woman strip off her clothes in order to be killed.

I feel that it is appalling that I should even need to mention that. But it is visibly different, that there is no naked murder. I can’t tell you how much I approve of this.

The dialog was good, the story was solid. I love that the franchise constantly refers back to events occurring in previous films and expects the audience to keep up, without lots of flashback montages.

On the other hand —

On the other hand, the points where the worldbuilding is good only remind me of the points that go unexplained. Where is all this airplane fuel coming from, seriously? But the worst feature of the film was the chief bad guy, who was doing an APPALLING job of channeling the villain from the Matrix films. Ugh. Terrible, terrible acting choices, there.

I did like, though, that the franchise bought-back some things that would have made Alice an unplayable character. Oops. Erm, that would have made it difficult to construct plots for her. I do tend to think of these things in terms of RPGs — how the HELL would I GM a game with THAT power set in it, etc?

After I got back from the movie I put the kids to bed. J and I then watched Bring It On: Fight to the Finish. I do love a cheerleader movie. I mean, I love sports movies, and I love dance movies, and I love musicals, and cheerleader movies are at the intersection of these things. I love that the plots are so predictable that I can sort of zone out during them, yet not so predictable that I can actually guess which fork of the Likely Ending Tree the film will take. And I love, deeply love, watching the spectacular dance-athletic scenes.

God, I do love a training montage.

Today, well, today is going to be another busy day. Up, heading to the Y, running a couple crucial errands, lunch, school, dashing off to circus. The kids have five classes between them in three hours this afternoon and evening. When we get home I will put the kids directly to bed, oh yes.

Birdstrike facts!

When I got to work I had to go do my monthly CBI Refresher Training. This, as you may recall from previous posts, consists of short lessons of things we need to be reminded of. This month’s Refresher contained a reminder that re-routing aircraft carrying radioactive material over populated areas is illegal. It also contained an extremely informative lesson on birdstrikes. Here is your birdstrike trivia:

What is the species of bird most commonly reported in birdstrikes? The herring gull, with 32% of reported strikes.

At what altitude are the majority of bird strikes reported? At or below 3,000 feet, on approach to an airport.

What is the highest recorded birdstrike? 32,000 feet.

What is the population of year-round resident Canada Geese in the U.S.? 2.9 million, mostly residing on golf courses, parks, or cleared lands around airports.

What is the weight of bird of jet and turboprop aircraft are certified for? 2.5 pounds.

What is the weight of a Canada Goose? 12 pounds.

What bird will NOT dive when it sees a threat approaching? The turkey vulture, who has no airborne predators. The turkey vulture weighs 4 pounds.