Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Books for Prison Inmates: Obstacles & Options

Over the weekend at Oz Comic-Con in Adelaide, Australia, actor (and book aficionado) Benedict Cumberbatch was quoted as saying that “prisoners should be given books," encouraging the audience to "send books to prisoners.” 

While Americans (like me) may have first thought their favourite TV detective was just being considerate of those serving time behind bars, and others believed it a call for compassion from an actor to his ever-increasing number of fans, news-savvy audience members (especially those in the UK) knew better. This wasn’t just an “Oh, isn’t he thoughtful!” moment, but a call to action and criticism of a current situation

However, before you go through your bookshelves or do your spring cleaning and box up volumes to drop off at the nearest detention center, let me fill you in a bit so you can find the best way to follow Cumberbatch’s advice. 

In the world of British politics, Chris Grayling is a particularly newsworthy man of the moment, the “British Conservative Party politician who has been the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice since 2012” (Wikipedia) UK readers likely already know about Grayling – and how much, er, attention he’s gained from authors recently, including an open letter published in the Daily Telegraph on March 25.

Grayling is the face of the so-called “book ban” in prisons in England and Wales, (introduced in November 2013) which forbids prisoners receiving parcels from family or friends (which includes books). He's defended the move, stating that prison libraries are available, and books can be ordered if necessary. Opponents of the ban believe books are NOT a luxury item, the logistics of transporting prisoners regularly to the on-site library are challenging at best – and that the current process of screening parcels received at a prison finds any contraband material that might be concealed. In short, critics from all corners want the ban lifted. Only time and talk will tell.

In the meantime, what can you do to support literacy and a love of reading to those who are incarcerated? Aside from signing a petition on Change.org to request a review/amendment to the current ban, you can do more. 

In the UK, one option for book lovers to get reading material into the hands of prisoners is Haven Distribution, located in London http://www.havendistribution.org.uk/. A press release on their site states (in part): 

“Haven has been sending books to prisoners since 1996 and despite Chris Grayling's recent restriction on sending free books to prisoners, as a charity set up for this purpose we shall remain committed to do so.”

From Haven’s website, you can donate funds via cheque, money order or PayPal, as well as use their link to shop on Amazon, where they receive 5% in referral fees from every purchase: http://astore.amazon.co.uk/havendistribu-21.  
In the US, rules and regulations vary by state. A national directory (last updated 9/2013) is available here: http://www.prisonbookprogram.org/resources/other-books-to-prisoners-programs/, but those with books to donate should contact the program closest to them via phone or e-mail first.  

Founded in the early 1970s, Books to Prisoners (a volunteer program based in Seattle, WA), is another option, offering people the chance to volunteer, donate funds - or books. Similar to Haven in the UK, using their link to shop on the US Amazon site, the non-profit earns a 5% referral fee. They receive over 1,000 requests each month from prisoners asking for dictionaries, thesauruses and history books, as well as popular fiction and non-fiction. 

So, there you have it: The issue at hand, why Benedict brought the issue to fans’ attention - and what you can do to help. We aren’t condoning any actions taken by the inmates. We are encouraging them to be more, believing in the power of the written word to transform and transport any reader willing to turn the page.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Muppets Most Wanted. . .to Be BETTER

As a parent, I WANT to like family-friendly films.  Don't you? You're spending the equivalent of a week's worth of Happy Meals to sit for an hour and a half with strangers in seats you'd never want to see in sunlight.

If you're a mom, you know what I mean. You're in love with your DVR and Netflix because you can watch what you want when your kids have gone to bed or  - even better - gone to someone else's house.  Heaven is an internet connection and a remote with fresh batteries. You don't need a $15 popcorn/soda combo-for-1 in a megaplex to make you happy. You need 90 minutes to yourself to watch something that doesn't set off a snooze button inside your head.

Unfortunately, real life reminds us that kids don't want to see you in yesterday's tee shirt and yoga pants, holding a wine juice box while your tablet is paused on True Detective and one ear bud is dangling down your shoulder. 

(Hypothetically speaking.)

So, it's Saturday and you took the time to change out of your pajamas before noon to see the family-friendly feature, Muppets Most Wanted, the Disney-produced sequel to The Muppets (which brought Kermit & Miss Piggy back into the hearts of viewers in a big way.) Starring Jason Segal (who co-wrote the script) and Amy Adams - and featuring a number of clever cameos (including Jack Black & Jim Parsons) - the Muppets' return to screens in 2011 was a warm and witty welcome back into the world Jim Henson created. 

The sequel? A world tour that goes off-course. 

You want to believe Muppets Most Wanted will be great. I wanted to believe it, too. It had:

  • Two multi-talented comedians who've proven themselves as actors, awards show hosts, writers, and producers: Tina Fey (on more than one wish list to replace the retiring David Letterman on the Late Show) and Ricky Gervais (producer and star of Derek - returning for its second season on Netflix on May 30).  For parents struggling to enjoy recent family-friendly releases (*cough* The Lego Movie *cough*), the lead roles were a glimmer of hope that there would be a hint of humor that flew above our children's heads and seared into our psyche, while still maintaining the mood created by, well. . . 
  • Jim Henson's Muppets: You love them or you wouldn't have come. 
  • Cameos: That's part of the fun of a Muppets production. Who stopped by this time? There's a complete list & ranking of them here (SPOILER ALERT), but Danny Trejo ("He really WAS in prison!" my husband snickered) and Ray Liotta were memorable, as was the stunning Salma Hayek. Tom Hiddleston fans aren't forgotten, either.
  • Music: Bret McKenzie won an Oscar in 2011 for his original song, "Man or Muppet" - and performances of his work by Gervais & Fey (particularly Fey) are, in my opinion, the saving grace of this movie. 
  • Sounds good so far, right? I know. We're so close to having a great time, but the movie starts and we get a little song, a little dance - and a lot of foreshadowing about the detour we're about to take. Note reference to "half-decent plot":

Unfortunately, that witty introductory number tells you WHY bringing all of this talent together created little more than a cash cow dancing to box office receipts totaling $42 mil since its March opening. The $50 mil production budget may have been warranted, but it's not enough for me to sing praises about a movie without the heart we saw on screen and in the script in 2011. (Wherefore art thou, Jason Segal?) 

Younger children will likely enjoy this film as much as the original, but, for me, the story is what suffers. Fey and Gervais ARE talented performers, but the perspective in this picture is, much like characters they often portray: silly, sneaky, sarcastic and snide. The original didn't take us down that path, and we didn't need to travel the world through the eyes of Kermit's evil amphibian twin and his accomplice this time around. I laughed out loud and groaned - when I wasn't supposed to. It ain't easy being green - or lean on plot.

What I wanted was the Muppets. What I got? Left wanting more.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Why Can't a Woman Be More like a Man?

Hello there! Have you got your cup of room-temperature coffee by you, still in your robe as the dryer hums (sending the message: "Yes, I AM working today. I did laundry!") You may even have poured Pine-Sol in the sink or toilets, because if it smells clean, YOU cleaned it. Well done, you!

Note: This may or may not be reflective of the author's current status as she sits at the computer, wondering why she told her daughter she'd write "something" if she got 500 followers on Twitter. Accountability to your children is such a burden sometimes.

Anyway. . .

If you're a man, some of what I just described at the beginning may sound similar to what you'd do, but not all of it. Oh, you might have the robe (especially if you're a dad and your partner said, "Put SOMETHING on. NO, your underwear doesn't count. NO, the children shouldn't see you like that. NO, it doesn't matter that they've seen it all before." You might even have the coffee - or a leftover Monster - or beer. (There's almost always beer.) The key difference? The housework. Did you feel the need to defend yourself to yourself as you sat around doing nothing on this last week before Daylight Savings Time? Doubtful.  If you're not productive on a "day off" - do you go on a guilt trip accompanied by your mother's voice? I don't think so.  (The whole concept of having that conversation inside your head is enough to make you think, "Oh, shit. Don't do this to me. Don't ask me questions. You're gonna yell, aren't you?) 

(Oops. The dryer stopped. Wrinkled clothing will give me away, and I'm not in the mood to spray Wrinkle Release on everything. Pardon me.)

(Of course, that's EXACTLY how I'm dressed, especially when it's raining and 40 degrees outside. One always wears stockings and heels while folding the family's underwear. Hope you like my pedicure.)

Now, where was I?

Oh, if you're a man, dirty dishes might have made it to the sink (if you forgot to buy paper plates and plastic forks) -  or the dishes may be stacked waiting until you finish a movie or reach triple digits playing Flappy Bird. The thing is, your day off is just that. A day OFF. I've not met many men who ask themselves if they can fit in time for a haircut and the laundry, the yard or picking up the kids from school. It goes a little more like this:

  1. Walk by a mirror
  2. Notice your hair 
  3. Think, "I need a haircut,"
  4. Announce, "I'm gonna get a haircut. I'll be back." If feeling magnanimous, ask, "Do you need anything while I'm out?" as your partner picks up the dog poo and lets in the cat.
  5. Leave.

With any luck, you didn't leave the toilet clogged (it is the morning and you had your coffee), or a something frying on the stove. If you're feeling particularly ambitious - and the weather's right, you'll go to the car wash, too (and congratulate yourself for being so hardworking.)

I can't imagine how streamlined this process is. It's so logical. Practical. Freeing, almost.


Except, I'm not wired that way, and I don't believe many women are. Oh, sure, we're going to fight to shatter the glass ceiling. . .but we're the ones genetically predisposed to want the mess of that ceiling cleaned up. NOW. 

My tween daughter told me one day (soon after the "health talk" in middle school) that if reincarnation exists, she'd want to come back as a man. "It's so much simpler for them, Mom." she remarked. "Don't you think so?" 

"Yes." I agreed, "it is." I hugged her and said, "That should help you now - and as an adult. Keep your eyes and ears open - and know what you want from your life later on."

I shared this conversation with another, who commented, "It's a shame that she sees it's unfair already."

I disagree. It's not a shame that she saw the difference. It shows she has insight into who we are.

We have evolved, for better and worse, to the state we are in today. Some of the girls in her class want to be known for their beauty or their athleticism, while others focus on intelligence or creativity. In school, students can be labeled geeks or jocks or snobs or drama queens. The thing is, males aren't required to choose between family and career after they grow up, while females are. It may not seem fair, but life never is. We're all wired to find balance, delegate and manage our needs with those of people we love (and keep their voices from drowning your own inside your head), but women either work harder to prove they belong in a man's world, or make sacrifices to (in her heart and mind) ensure the stability of her family. Men may have some of those conflicts, but, c'mon, a good partner raising your children or earning an income to support the family simplifies things immensely.

Oh, if you think your children won't be affected being raised by someone other than a parent or close relative,  that's another conversation. ;) We'll leave that for the week I have PMS. Bring chocolate and wine.

Usually, women are either career-minded or family-minded, but not both at the same time - because it IS hard. You might be able to have it all, but certainly not all at once. A man CAN have it all: career and family, because being a man makes it easier to earn more money, more quickly in our job market. In addition,  his DNA allows him time. Studies may show that older sperm may contribute to health problems in offspring, but that doesn't mean the man in charge doesn't enjoy sending his little swimmers on a trip if the diving board retained its rigidity. ;) Women have to make choices earlier, and decision-making can be a pain in the butt when you've dealt with the minutiae at work or at home, or both - and society expects you, and you expect you to be at the top of your game, no matter if the game is at home or away on a business trip.

You're going to want a day off.

The thing is, it never quite works that way. We are no more wired to just leave it all alone for day than we are to leave an abandoned puppy in a parking lot. We can put things off with great skill for a time, but compartmentalizing our lives the way a man can and usually does? Not so easy - and I'm glad I'm that way. Finding balance between home and work, family and self is a skill we all need. This is my life now. It will change once my child is an adult, but if she sees the choices I made, and her grandmothers made as well, as well as the choices of successful women in business, politics, science, technology or entertainment - and it influences how she wants to live her life for the better? That's EXACTY what she needs (as well as a day off every once in awhile).

Now, if you'll excuse me. it's too quiet in the house, so I need to start the dishwasher and spray some Lysol and furniture polish. ;) 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

I feel fine. . .

So, NaBloPoMo's prompt for today asks, "How did you feel when you lost a game?" (as a child)

Oh, perhaps a little something like this:

Checkers, Yahtzee - and Solitaire.

My fury knew no bounds.

I'm much better now.



I have a child now and she gets to have the tantrums. I'm saving up my strength for menopausal rages (aka the end of the world as you know it.)  I feel fine. ;)


Move along. There's nothing to see here. :)

Oh, thank you NaBloPoMo, for a theme that I could rename "Much Ado about Nothing"

The question for May 7?

Monday, May 7, 2012
What sports did you play as a child?

Well, that's a tough one.

There was cycling - and a banana seat bike was the best. Naturally.

Nope, that's not me, but I had that hair. Just not those siblings - or a Dad with sideburns.
Photo courtesy: www.hopelesslyflawed.com

and my Lemon Twist:

Spin it. Twirl it. Swing it around your wrist and hit someone!
Photo courtesy: www.70schild.blogspot.com

Does unpacking adjectives count?

Probably not. 

"Athletically inclined" is NOT a phrase one would use to describe me. It's not just the "only child" thing, although you know how I love to bring that up. 

It's an overall health thing - as I was rocking the hip brace before I could walk (convenient, no?) - which later led to one leg being an inch shorter and scaring the crap outta me in junior high when a school nurse (I hope) and a school employee/witness did that highly scientific scoliosis check. Y'know the one. You're in the teacher's lounge or counselor's office or some "discreet" cramped room on campus that smells like old books and decades of body odor and you're asked to take off your shirt.  You hope you've reached the age where you're wearing a bra, yet absolutely mortified. 

Of course, it's all very professional and scientific. After all, they're looking to see if you look like this (although you get to keep your pants on):

So apparently I looked like this from the back? Just call me Quasimodo.
Photo courtesy: www.umm.edu

Once they informed my parents - and me - that I was lopsided, my athletic career ended, and my geekdom was secure.  It wasn't scoliosis, but my congenital gift of hip dysplasia and its treatment (hip brace) leaving a calling card: a shorter leg (and still deformed hip joint). Lifts added to shoes, no PE classes (medically excused) - and a headstart on cellulite. It was like a booster shot to ensure my ego remained portable.  

There was that one time. In junior high. Was all sorts of cool wearing braces (important later). For some reason, we were practicing track events INSIDE.  Why? I have no idea. These were the folks who convinced me I had a hump, remember?

Anyway, I believe I was trying for a triple jump (or long jump) with the mat/pad against the brick wall of the gym. Why? I was a pleaser kid, even in PE. Idiot.  Anyway, the pad was lined up so that it was landscape, not portrait (meaning there was less pad between the jumper and the, um,  brick wall.)

You can imagine what happened next. I think I looked a bit like this. 

Aside from making others laugh and bruising my dignity, I didn't notice anything else (likely due to the concussion). I was sitting in class next period with Mr. Breed, the teacher who used a golf club as a pointer, when I was running my tongue over my teeth. (Y'know. Typical behaviour. . .right?) Well, things didn't feel quite right. There wasn't any blood (that I knew of) or any loose teeth (that I could tell), but there was wire. Loose wire. Poking the inside of my cheek and freaking me out wire. I had hoped I wouldn't have to tell my parents of my misadventures in athleticism, but I think they already knew I was not destined for the Olympics (unless they were the Special ones). 

Turns out my mouth of metal saved my teeth - and I got to share my story with my orthodontist and his assistants. 

Good times. 

I think I'll add some more Bailey's to my coffee now. I've enjoyed our little chat.. Haven't you?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Retro Romance

For those who didn't already know, RetroRenovation Rules!

When we've looked at homes in South Carolina, I'm drawn to the mid-century houses. I even nicknamed one the "Bewitched House" because the crown jewel was its Frigidaire Flair electric range. I am NOT kidding.

I think it's an addiction.

My parents have often said that I was born during the wrong decade. Granted, there was nothing any of us could do about that little hiccup - what with my conception taking place the winter before the Summer of Love (by two people my parents never met).  Adoption makes for interesting family trees - a bit like roses that are spliced together in a greenhouse. Besides, I wouldn't have become a mom if it weren't for the advances in diabetes care, BUT -

- they do have a point.

I spent today:

  • searching on eBay for mid-century modern ANYTHING (dishes, wall decor, Christmas ornaments)

  • listening to Frank Sinatra on Spotify

  •  and making meatloaf for Sunday dinner:

. . . all while wearing a dress. On Sunday. On purpose. 

We didn't even leave the house.  I wasn't June Cleaver in the pearls and crinoline, but it was a dress.

"Ward, dear, wash up for dinner. I made your favorite!"
Photo courtesy: www.muffintopmommy.com
(How brilliant is THAT name? I read her latest post - and she makes me laugh, which is ALWAYS a good thing.)

Oh, and I baked cake mix cookies.



Photo courtesy: www.cookiesleuth.com

I highly recommend, especially in Spring. :)

So, here's to today's technology that let me travel back in time for just a little while - and work on a day of rest.

In a dress.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Father daughter moment. . .

My husband works nights - and has worked nights for 13 years. Our daughter is 9, so this is her "normal" - for better or worse.

This morning, Hubby comes in from work, bringing treats from Dunkin' Donuts for breakfast. He takes Kidlet in his arms and asks, "Wanna know something mind-bending?"

Her reply: "The length of your nose hair?"

Oh, how I love this child.

By the way, the mind-bending news is that our 18th wedding anniversary is Monday, and that Kidlet is 9. Apparently, he was hoping to impress her with this tidbit.

The nose hair beat him to it.