Thursday, 30 August 2007

What's in a name?

While enduring numerous layovers at airports a few weeks ago, I entertained myself in the bookstores. I found a book called "Freakonomics" in Manchester and began to read a chapter on the economics of first names. I continued to read this in Newark and Houston. (I didn't buy it because I was already carrying two volumes of Harry Potter). I found it fascinating for all sorts of reasons but mostly because some of the top boy and girl names for low-income families feature in my family.
We have a Ricky (no.1 for boys in white low-income families). We have an Amber (very bad girl, she is) and a Brittani (she of the alcoholic, drug-addicted mother and daughter of Ricky). We have a Meaghan (with another alcoholic, drug-addicted mother). What we don't have are any of the top boy and girl names for high-income families. And you know what? I'm glad because those names suck bigtime.
I don't know if the Brittani and Meaghan in our family, who are still children, will break out of the low-income stigma attached to their names. I hope so because those children actually have had to put up with a lot because of their parents' various addictions. They are in better places now with other family members who care for them.
But back to the names. "Freakonomics" maintains that you can also tell a person's race by their name. But I think that only works in America. Certain names in the US that might be used by one race are used by another in the UK, I've found. Also, you can probably tell the age of the parents and who is a pop idol at the time of a child's birth. You don't meet any 4-year-old Mildreds, do you. Yet some old-fashioned names are making a comeback. Ruby, for instance. My name, so unique when I was growing up, is now a top girl name for low-income families in the UK. So what does that tell you?
While visiting the Little Bighorn Memorial, I was particularly interested in some of the Indian names: Bad Fair Hair, Bloody Knife, Crazy Horse, Lame White Man, Dog's Back Bone, Two Moons, and Noisy Walking, to name a few. So descriptive and evocative. Would Sitting Bull have had a different life as Noisy Walking, or vice-versa?
You can probably tell more about a person's parents from a name than about that person. The "Freakonomics" author gave one example of not judging a book by its cover. He wrote about two men, one from an upper-middle-class background where education was revered, the other from a low-income family in Los Angeles. One became a celebrated author and professor. The other became the Unabomber. Guess which one.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

It's all Crystal clear

Today is my and hubby's 15th wedding anniversary. Hard to believe. It doesn't seem that long ago at all that we were standing in the rain, photographer's assistant holding an umbrella over our heads, as we had our wedding photos taken. We had to have the real ceremony at the town hall because I was a scarlet woman in the eyes of the Church of England, being a divorcee (my, how things have changed). We were allowed a church blessing, which is what we invited all the friends and family to. My side was a little bit thin. There was my dad, my stepmother, my mother, my stepfather, my sister, my brother, my niece, and my friend who was with me the night I met hubby. All my family stayed at our house except for my friend who stayed with our neighbours. It was quite historic getting my dad and mother in the same house at the same time. Everyone behaved themselves.

Except for my mother-in-law, who was quite distraught at the idea of losing her son to a scarlet woman. Most of the family who came were from her side, and none of them knew I'd been married before till the wedding blessing. Such a scandal!

And here we are. I'm still in England, though many times I wanted to move back. I've even decided to go for dual citizenship at long last. We're still married, though at the beginning of the year I had thoughts of ending it. That's how this blog came to be born, in fact. While I was internally debating the pros and cons of this union, the mighty words of Dear Abby, that famous agony aunt in America, came back to me: Are you better off with him or without him? And the answer is with him, of course. So I told myself to Wake Up and Smell the Coffee and decided to blog about my life instead of keeping it locked up inside.

Hubby doesn't know about this blog, but I'm going to have to tell him because I get to meet Pixie in person next week and I have to tell hubby how I know her. I'm very excited at the thought of meeting one of my blogfriends!

Marriage is not the easiest relationship in the world to maintain. It's a bit like a car. With care and attention, you can keep it running forever. But if you ignore it, it can break down irretrievably. Usually, at this time of year I'm not very happy with hubby. I think it must be because it's right after our annual holiday with my family, and hubby usually makes some comment like it's not a real holiday and I feel hurt because it's the only time I see my family. That didn't happen this year. Maybe it's because we made an effort to do some different things or maybe hubby decided not to be a dickhead this year.

The 15th anniversary is crystal. He gave me a necklace with pearls and crystals like one he saw in Vogue (!!!) magazine. I give the guy credit for even looking in Vogue. I bought him (and me) a bottle of Cristal champagne. Extravagant, but my local wine merchant gave me a good deal.

So Happy Anniversary, hubby. Let's hope the next 15 years fly by as quickly.

Yukon not be serious: Sometimes the stupidity of people is just too much. While we were at Pompey's Pillar, my daughter signed the guestbook with our names and UK under state, there being no column for country. My husband then overheard some children who were looking at it ask their dad: "What state is UK?" Wise father replied, "That would be Yukon." The asshole didn't even know how to spell it.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Sad, sad news

Two items in the news today are of great interest. One I can hardly bear to read. The other I strain my eyes trying to see the fine print.
The first, about 11-year-old Rhys Jones whose life came to a premature and tragic end when he was shot in the neck two days ago in Liverpool, has resonance with me. I, too, have an 11-year-old, football-mad son. I, too, have been shopping with him for his school uniform for his new secondary school. I, too, live in the suburbs of Liverpool, but across the water and a safe (I hope) distance from drug-troubled estates. But my son will see his first day at secondary school, and Rhys will not. The sorrow his parents must feel must be almost too heavy to bear. And what of his friends? Those young faces should be thinking about Everton's match. Their biggest fear should be facing their new form teacher on the first day of school. Instead, their innocence has been snatched from them by a hooded youth on a bicycle. On the other side of the fence where they live, other 11-year-olds aspire not to join a football team, but to gain street cred by joining a gang. Who took their innocence away from them? Were they ever innocent?

My eyes have just about recovered from straining to read the A-level results of schools in our area. There is something of a hysteria in this country about exam results. A-levels have become easier, we are told, so that the marks can remain high. Why do these exams have such importance? So they can get into good universities, I presume. And then what? So they can get good degrees. And then what? So they can get good jobs. And the undercurrent of all this is the exams matter because of where the UK stands as regards the rest of Europe and the rest of the world. They say, "See. Our education system still can churn out bright minds." But does it? And what of the bright minds who can't find jobs in the UK? Science jobs are so scarce in Britain, apparently, that all the talent is going to the U.S. or France. What a waste of an A-level. I get just as caught up in all this hoohaw as the next person, but really all I want for my children is for them to have happy, successful, prosperous lives, to make a difference in some way, large or small, to the world, and to be caring, polite individuals. And I feel that a lot of the responsibility for showing them the way falls on my and my husband's shoulders. Not the school's. GCSE and A-level results will be the icing on the cake, but they won't be the cake.
But someone please remind me just in case I forget all that in a few years' time.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

A History Lesson

Funny how you can grow up thinking you know all about something and then learn you know nothing at all.
So it was for me with the Battle of Little Bighorn or Custer's Last Stand. I knew the Indians (because that's what we called them then) were the victors. I knew Custer and his men died at the scene. I knew Custer was a vainglorious man bent on destroying all Indians.
But I didn't know what led up to the Battle of Little Bighorn. I knew that the U.S. government had screwed the Indians but I didn't know all the details. I don't recall a single history lesson on this topic. Yes, I knew about Manifest Destiny, the Oregon Trail, the Gold Rush. But nothing about the relationship of Indians with the White Man other than the first Thanksgiving, Pocahontas and Sacagawea, tales in which the White Man comes off rather positively. Anything else I knew I learned from all the Westerns my dad took me to see. Other than Little Big Man, the Indians all are portrayed as brutal savages that try to massacre innocent white pioneers just trying to make a living.
The gentleman above on the left was Sitting Bull, a Sioux warrior and chief. His greatness and his claim to fame hinged on his refusal to move his tribe to a U.S. government-created reservation as so many other chiefs had done. He distrusted the White Man and was offended that they would try to take away the Indians' sacred hunting grounds. He rallied other tribes to join him in his stand against the White Man. More and more accepted this invitation, particularly after the White Man had tried to buy the sacred Black Hills from the Indians after gold had been found there.
By the time the gentleman on the right, Major General George Armstrong Custer, met up with Sitting Bull, thousands of Indians had joined the chief and his tribe. Custer, who graduated dead last in his class at West Point, had got lucky during the Civil War and somehow obtained the reputation of being a brave, though impetuous, fighter. His greatest strength, a lack of fear in rushing in against the enemy, was also his greatest fault. He didn't take time to assess his enemy's strengths and weaknesses. His arrogance and conceit led him to refuse the back-up
of other troops on the fateful day of June 25, 1876. He and the 7th Cavalry could defeat this ragtag group of Indians without any help, he declared. His last declaration. He hadn't bothered to see just how many Indians there were gathered in the plains.
Sitting Bull apparently decided he would remain in his tipi directing the Sioux on this day. His cohort Crazy Horse was apparently the real hero of the day. There are no photos of Crazy Horse as he refused to have his picture taken. He was killed not long after the Battle of Little Bighorn. Sitting Bull went on to join Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, but also was killed some years later.
The Indians won the battle that day, but ultimately they lost the war with the White Man as they were forced onto smaller and smaller reservations and the White Man tried to grab back any land that had any value. Today, some tribes have built casinos on their reservations as a way of gaining revenue. All Indians with at least one/eighth Native American blood are entitled to money from the Government. Some plow that money right back into the casinos. Alcoholism is rife, and now crystal meth is apparently a growing problem as well.
And what is the lesson to be learned from Little Bighorn? For me, it has a modern parallel with how the U.S. Government is dealing with Iraq. During the Indian Wars, there was a weak and inept president with a drink problem, Ulysses S. Grant, who had a failing economy and a divided nation to deal with. Today we have a stupid and inept president with an inactive drink problem (though not, if you read the tabloids) dealing with a volatile economy and nation divided by race and religion, among other things. Then, the U.S. Government proved itself ignorant and intolerant of the ways of the Indians. Some of the Indians, in their brutal uprisings, fed this ignorance and intolerance. Today, the U.S. government again proves its ignorance and intolerance of Muslims and of the different factions in Iraq, and responds to brute force with the same. Then, the Indian's sacred hunting grounds were smack dab in the middle of the way of progress in the form of the railway and also on top of some valuable gold deposits. Now, Iraq is right on top of some very valuable oil. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Perhaps George Bush or Dick Cheney (who, being from Wyoming, should know better) or Karl Rove should have visited the scene of the Battle of Little Bighorn to try to gain a historical perspective on how the U.S. Government has treated those it doesn't understand. But then that might have required a bit of intelligence on their part.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

And now I'm back

From outerspace. That's how I feel. It's 2:30 a.m. and I'm jetlagged and suffering from sinusitis. And I'm sad to be back, though that will change. I can't believe I went three weeks without blogging. Must be a record.
Lots happened while I was away:

1. I had a long talk with my mother about what her needs were. She doesn't want to move in with my sister after the stress of looking after my niece's three little girls (my niece apparently had Harry Potteritis before getting gastroenteritis). So I asked her what were the things she didn't want to/couldn't do. She doesn't want to cook, can't clean that easily, doesn't want to be cooped up looking after my stepfather all the time. I spent about 10 minutes going through the yellow pages till I found the appropriate agency that will supply home help. I handed my mother the phone and sat next to her while she made the phone call. The woman came out that day, said they offer cleaning at $10/hour (a bargain), respite care, personal alarms in case people fall (which my stepfather does a lot), and monthly meetings for carers. I suggested Meals on Wheels, but my mother said she'd prefer going to the Seniors Center for lunch as that would give her a bit of a social life. So, when I left she seemed much happier.

2. We went to Montana to visit Little Bighorn (Custer's last stand) and Pompey's Pillar (where William Clark carved his name). Along the way I saw heaven on earth -- the Bighorn Canyon Park. My husband, being the historian he is, always likes to visit these kind of places, and I'm so glad he does. I'll have more to say about this later.

3. On the way back we travelled over the Absaroke Mountains and were literally driving through the clouds at over 10,000 feet. My daughter and I sang all the songs from "Sound of Music" to take my husband's mind off the hairpin turns and to keep my mother from looking down.

4. Then we went through Yellowstone Park. In all the times I've been to Yellowstone I've never seen a bear, except when I was 6 and they used to come up to the cars. But we saw one this time. Yep, a black bear. We stayed in the car, unlike the idiots with their cameras. We saw lots of wildlife: yellow-bellied marmots, elk, antelope, deer, eagles, snakes, buffalo. I think it's because we came through a different entrance this time. Lots of Yellowstone is still somewhat barren from all the fires a few years back.

5. Then we went to Florida, which is always a different experience. Florida is my home state and so I have lots of family to visit. My kids love Florida, not only because of the theme parks but also because of the family. Lots of kids, though we saw none of my sister's kids and grandkids (I think we're a bit on the outs because of what happened at my mother's). I met up with some of my former classmates at the beach. That's what I love about Florida -- the beach. I grew up going to the beach most weekends, and I have the skin to prove it. What I find increasingly disturbing is my dad and stepmother's involvement in their extremely rightwing, conservative church. It's beginning to sound like a cult. The girls and women all wear long skirts and shirts with sleeves so they won't tempt men. When they go swimming, they wear baggy shorts and T-shirts. I met their pastor last year. I happened to be wearing (Bermuda) shorts at the time. The man would not look me in the eye and gave me the wimpiest handshake. Creepy! Normally, my kids like to go to church with my dad and stepmother because it means seeing their stepcousins (my stepbrother's kids), but we forgot the long skirt for my daughter and my stepmother made it clear she didn't approve of the way my daughter dressed (and my daughter tries so hard to fit in).

6. We did our annual Busch Gardens trip, but I was suffering from sinusitis by then so wimped out of Sea World. I did manage to go on most of the rides at BG, twice in some cases. And I got my free beer. My husband and the kids loved Sea World, had a great time, etc. We went to a water park one day. Never again. It was filthy and disgusting and probably the reason I'm not well yet.

7. I got to compare the U.S. and U.K. health care systems. I was suffering so badly I had to go to one of those Walk-In Clinics. The dr. and nurses there were very professional, but the first thing they wanted to know was how I was going to pay for the ($98) treatment. Then I went to a pharmacy to fill the prescription for antibiotics. $99!!!!! America, you are being ripped off bigtime by the drug companies. A prescription in the U.K. is £6 something or about $12-$13. A lot of people in the U.K. like to knock the NHS, but it does have its advantages. Compared to the U.K., the U.S. has cheap gas and expensive health care. What does that say?

I must try to sleep now. I'll have more to post later. My fingers are itchy to move around the keyboard some more.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Wyoming: Going Home

Instead of boring you with more of the mother saga, here's a taste of Wyoming.

Beautiful Florida

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

And The Beat Goes On

And here's the latest news on my mother. I got this email from my sister last night saying my niece is in the hospital with unexplained vomiting, my aunt wants an urgent private meeting with my mother before I get there on Saturday, and my mother is left in charge of the four little girls.

So I call my mother. My niece had been vomiting uncontrollably for a few days and finally had to go to the hospital. They don't know what's wrong with her. My sister thinks it's a cyst on her ovary. Sounds more like food poisoning to me. I had something similar in India. Last week they went to a bbq where there was barbecued pork, which my niece claims she's allergic to so she took her kids to KFC (and we all know how healthy that is). See, my sister runs an alternative health business and employs my niece (as well as my brother and a nephew). So everything with them is about food allergies, etc. (And I'm not telling her I'm taking HRT). Also, my niece spoke to her husband, who supposedly is disabled by a back injury and takes a lot of pain meds. Somehow he managed to take his mother, sister, and nephew to Disney World and helped give the nephew a bath when he won't do that for his own girls. So I wonder if there isn't a hysterical element to this vomiting.

Meanwhile, my nephew has been running around doing odd jobs for my stepfather's daughter and doing the shopping. Which leaves the octogenarians in charge of the little girls. Whoever wrote little girls are made of sugar and spice hadn't met this group. My mother borrowed a playpen and plonked the 13-month-old in it and leaves her there despite her shouting. Meanwhile, the three others are running in and out, digging holes in the yard, climbing trees and falling out of them, torturing the dog. Here's the age range: 13 months, 3 years, 5 years, and 7 years. I had to laugh at the thought of all that chaos and my mother and her husband in their old people chairs that lift them up to standing position. Can you imagine? My mother decides she has to run after the girls, but first let's get out of this chair. The little girls apparently aren't allowed soft drinks at home but have been drinking them nonstop at my mother's (because that's all my mother drinks). So they're probably all hyped up on whatever is in those drinks. My niece has to go back home tomorrow and my nephew has to drive her to Denver, an 8-hour journey, spend the night, then go back the next day. And we arrive on Saturday.

Now onto the urgent meeting. Many years ago my mother sold her share in her parents' house to her sister, for a song, I might add. My uncle insisted on a codicil saying if my aunt ever wanted to sell the property, my mother would get first refusal and would be allowed to live there till her death should she need a place to go. My aunt wants to sell the house to her grandson, but he wants the codicil removed. My aunt wants my mother to sign off on the codicil in exchange for $5,000, and wants her to do it before I get there because she's afraid I'll talk my mother out of it. Neither my mother nor I want her to live in that house. However, I'm not sure what it's worth. My nephew has had my mother give him power of attorney so he has to be present if she signs anything. That power of attorney then transfers to me when I get there. I want my mother to see a lawyer specializing in property law before she signs anything.

And this brings me back to the question of my mother moving. She feels living in my sister's house with all the comings and goings of the various residents (I could write post after post about that) would be too stressful. She'd rather live in some sort of assisted living place. So we have to ascertain if she can afford that. Also, she told me that apparently if she outlives my stepfather, she's due to get some $30,000 in CDs (certificates of deposit). That's IF she outlives him. Also, the CDs might not actually be worth $30,000. Is $30,000 worth living the life she's living?