Zero Dark Thirty

Jim and I played hookey Tuesday morning and went to see Zero Dark Thirty, partially because we had heard good things about the movie and partially because we wanted to see what all the fuss was about.  (Slight digression:  Dear Senators who don’t believe in the First Amendment:  please understand that the more fuss you make about a movie you don’t like, the more people will want to see it.)

Anyway, I haven’t seen any of Kathryn Bigelow’s other movies (although The Hurt Locker is on my list), so I can’t compare this movie to her other ones.  What I can say about Zero Dark Thirty is that the movie is surprisingly tension-filled despite the fact that the audience knows how the movie ends.  In addition, for all the deafening silence that Hollywood has expressed despite threats by governmental officials regarding the movie, the movie does not hide how inhumane and inhuman torture is, as it shows the effects of torture on both the interrogators and their victims.  The movie also does show that torture can be effective in extracting information but that it comes with a price–the loss of the moral high ground and the violation of the principles under which the United States was founded.

Zero Dark Thirty is not an action thriller movie, despite the impression the movie trailers give.  It is about the painstaking hunt for Usama Bin Laden, which involves tracking down every lead, no matter how trivial, and does not involve thrilling action scenes.  The most exciting action scenes are all in the last fifteen minutes of the movie, as the Navy SEALS attack Bin Laden’s compound.  Despite, or maybe because of, all the caveats, we found the movie excellent and compelling.  I think, perhaps, that Argo was a better movie at building suspense despite the known outcome (see my review here), but Zero Dark Thirty was a well-paced movie, demonstrating the difference one person’s persistence against all odds can make.

Storytelling via Facebook

aftermath of rainstorm

aftermath of rainstorm

I posted the above photo on Facebook a couple of weeks ago, and a story emerged in the comments.  I am copying the story here for amusement and to illustrate the power of social media (and the creativity of people who have too much time on their hands).  The posters shall remain anonymous, to protect the guilty.  But a heartfelt thank you to all of them for their contributions!


Coming soon, The Railsplitters, the long-awaited sequel to The Mole People

“Watch as four homesteaders make their way in the wilds of Northern Virginia.”

“After first purchasing designer sunglasses at the local mall to help their eyes adjust to the long unseen sunlight.”

The parents told their two children, “NEVER open the basement door! There are terrible and strange things beyond the basement door, so you must NEVER open it!” But one day the children disobeyed. They opened the basement door and went beyond its threshold and saw strange and terrible things they have never seen before. Like . . . the Sun. And grass. It was a new world for them.

And for a while, the parents were content to let the children live above ground in the Land of the Light. They felt comfortable doing this because they knew the children would never venture beyond the confines of the safe fence they had constructed. But then, one day during a rain storm, a mighty tree crashed through the fence and for the first time in their young lives, the children could venture beyond the their yard.

The little boy looked up at his big sister and took her by the hand. ‘Come on Sis, let’s explore. This is our chance. Mum’s out and we’ll be back before she gets home.’ The two nervously approached the broken fence which had, up to then, determined the limits of their existence. ‘You first,’ said Marcus, creeping a little behind Jade, Jade looked at the woods beyond the broken fence, ‘I’m not sure we should do this, Marcus, what if there is danger out there?’ ‘Oh,’ said Marcus, ‘don’t be such a scaredy cat. I’ll look after you…………’

As they stepped over the fence, their hearts in their mouths, Jade breathed deeply and holding Marcus’s hand, led the way into the forest. Feeling Marcus shivering nervously alongside, she hugged him closer and looked up at the trees. ‘It looks like they are alive, Marcus, look, see how they are moving. Shh! Can you hear them? It’s like they’re alive.’ The cold east wind had made the branches of the trees sway and the rustling sound their leaves made was indeed just like whispered voices. ‘I don’t like it here,’ said Marcus, ‘let’s go back.’ ‘You’re the one who wanted to explore,’ said Jade, ‘who’s the scaredycat now? Let’s just go on a little bit more.’

The two crept slowly forward looking fearfully behind every tree they passed. The late afternoon sun lending the long shadows of the trees an ominous, almost threatening presence. Jade suddenly stopped and grasping Marcus closely to her, said ‘Look, Marcus, there’s a house over there.’ They had arrived in a small glade, only dimly illuminated by the last of the rapidly disappearing sunlight, and the outlines of a small, timber cottage was just visible. ‘No, I don’t like it, Jade, let’s go,’ said Marcus; ‘come on, Mom will be home now, we’ll be in trouble, come on.’ He broke free of Jade’s grip and started to leave. ‘Wait,’ said Jade, ‘look, the door is opening……….’

As the door creaked slowly inwards, Marcus crept behind Jade and from between his fingers that were covering half of his face, peeked at the opening door. ‘Oh, Jade, come on, I’m scared. Let’s go now, please..!’ Jade was also scared but, made of sterner stuff than her brother, she was also intrigued. ‘No wait, let’s see what’s within.’ The door had by now swung completely open and, not seeing anything apparent inside, the children slowly approached and entered into the dark interior. As their eyes slowly became accustomed to the gloom, they espied the dark shape of a small person, kneeling in front of a fireplace, who appeared to be desperately trying to strike a spark from a flint in order to light the fire. Hearing the door creak and feeling the draft entering the room from outside, the figure stopped striking the flint and slowly turned towards the children….

Jade summoned up enough courage to stutter ‘who are you? Where are we?’ The small figure paused and then continued its attempt to light the fire. ‘I might well ask the same of you,’ it said, the voice curiously high pitched, seemingly neither male nor female. ‘What are you doing here? From where do you come? Do you not know this is sacred ground? Why do you despoil it?’

‘We were just looking for adventure,’ said Marcus, ‘we’ve never left the estate grounds before; our mother would not allow it.’ Why are these grounds sacred as you call them?’ The small figure having managed to get a flame going lit a brand and slowly stood up. The light of the brand provided some illumination as it slowly peeled back the cowl hiding its face….

To Jade and Marcus’s astonishment, the removal of the cowl revealed the head of a little blonde girl, the curly hair of whom tumbled down across her shoulders. ‘But,’ stuttered Marcus, ‘you’re just a little girl. What are you doing her all alone? Aren’t you frightened to be alone in the woods?’ The blonde girl smiled, ‘you mustn’t always believe your eyes, Marcus. Things may not be what they seem.’ ‘How do you know my name? Said Marcus, clutching Jade’s hand even tighter. ‘I know all about you,’ said the little girl. ‘I know that you have never been let out to play like other children. That you are forced to do your homework every night and to practice the piano and to never, ever, watch TV. That is why you now seek adventure. That is why I caused the tree to fall across your mother’s fence and help to liberate you. Now, you WILL have your adventures…..!’

After the blonde girl finished speaking, she winked and a light twinkled in her eyes. Glancing briefly down she slowly reached inside the folds of her voluminous cloak and slowly pulled a rectangular box from somewhere within. The children watched in shocked amazement, not sure what to expect, wary as if they were unsure whether they should flee or wait to see what new adventure presented itself. The blonde girl held up the small box and smiled openly at the children. “Jade,” Marcus peeped. “What does T-W-I-N-K-I-E spell?” The little boy leaned in a little more closely to his sister, unsure what the strange letters spelled. For Jade’s part, she could not offer the reassurance her little brother needed. “I don’t know,” she whispered. I’ve never seen anything like it before.” Jade took a tiny step forward, peering more closely at the small rectangular box, studying the small yellow gold rectangular cakes pictured on the outside. “Adventure,” was all she could say.

The blonde girl laughed; a weird, shrill, almost maniacal kind of laugh. ‘What does ‘TWINKIE’ mean? What does TWINKIE mean? You mean you’ve never heard of Twinkie?’ She laughed again, ‘Do you not know of the old man of the woods; The Wild, Insane, Naughty Ken, who, deep in the forest, bakes cakes that bring Inconceivable Excitement?’ ‘Oh,’ said Jade, ‘I did think they were some kind of cakeything, but I’ve never tasted one, so I don’t know really.’

Marcus approached the box. ‘Well they do look like cakeythings. I’ve never had one either, can I try one?’ The blonde girl laughed her throaty laugh again; ‘You’ve never tasted a twinkie? What sort of mother would deny her children such a wonderful adventure? Of course you may, my dear, they were brought in fresh by the TWINKIE this morning. Be careful, though, when you eat one of these TWINKIES, you may have to pay a forfeit. Are you sure you want to…?’ Marcus looked at Jade, ‘well, I’m ready to try if you are?’ Jade looked at the box of delicious looking TWINKIES, ‘But what will happen if we try one…?

Without warning, a bright light flashed, causing the children to shrink back in fright, shielding their eyes from the brilliance. When the light had faded, Marcus opened his eyes to see his sister crouching, her hands covering her face in fear.

“Jade… Jade…”, he said, shaking her gently. Jade lifted her chin ever so slowly, her lips trembling. “It’s okay. We’re okay. Look… the girl has gone.” Jade lifted her face fully to discover that what her brother had just said was true. While the girl had suddenly disappeared, and without explanation, there occupying the space she had been only moments before sat the small mysterious box of cakes.

With the caution of a woodland creature, Marcus stepped lightly towards the box and reaching out a tentative hand, touched the top of the box with his fingertips. When nothing unexpected happened, Marcus felt further emboldened to take the box in hand then stood, turning to face his sister, a grin spreading across his face. “Jade, look! I think she meant for us to have this!”

Jade stood there looking blankly at Marcus, her face betraying the fear that gripped her heart.

“Jade…”, Marcus said uncertainly. When his sister did not respond he added, “Let’s go. There is no more adventure here in this place.” His arm swept in a wide arc, indicating the expanse of the now dark and empty room. Jade only nodded, her face still blank and emotionless. “Let’s go find a place to hide. I want to open the box. They look really, really tasty!”

“NO!” Jade shrieked! “We CAN’T! Marcus, we can’t!” Jade’s voice was shrill, panicky, and Marcus gave her a sidelong stare not willing to believe she would resist the beautiful golden cakes.

“Why?” Marcus could not hide his doubt.

“Well, because… because…”

“Oh, come on Jade, don’t be such a scaredycat. They’re just cakes, after all. I want to try one; we never get to eat cakes at home!” Marcus placed his arm around Jade’s shoulders to stop her from shaking and led her outside. Looking around for a place to hide, he saw a small shed some yards from the house. “Look, over there! That shed will be fine, come on! I’m hungry.” The children pushed open the door of the shed and were surprised to feel warmth where they had expected cold. Against one wall of the shed, which was empty and now seeming much bigger than it had appeared to be from outside, was a large open fireplace with a roaring fire above which, suspended by a cable, was a large cauldron from which steam and a bubbling noise emanated.

“I don’t like this, Marcus,” said Jade, “someone must live here and they might come back at any minute.” “Oh, stop it,” said Marcus, “we’ll just finish off these cakes and then go home, ok?” Marcus laid the box of cakes on a table next to a lamp and looked around for a knife with which to open the box. Jade had by now recovered somewhat, but as she approached the table, she noticed something glowing on the box. “Wait, Marcus, look. What is that glowing on the box?” Marcus leaned over to better see. “It’s writing of some sort, but its shimmering so I can’t make them out.” “Let me try” said Jade..” I think it says…”

‘TWINKIE Golden Sponge Cake with Creamy Filling

To be eaten before December 1930’

“1930!” said Marcus, “are you sure? That’s more than 80 years ago, it can’t be..” The children looked at each other. “I told you so!” cried Jade, “we mustn’t eat them, they are past their sell by date, we’ll get ill.” “Nonsense,” said Marcus, “look,” he opened the box, “they look fine”. He touched the top of one of the cakes and felt it yield. “See? They’re fresh, Jade, I’m going to have one.” As he picked up the cake, Jade started towards him. “No! Don’t Marcus, do…” Too late, Marcus had taken a big bite of the twinkie and smiled with delight, “it’s delicious, Jade, why don’t you……Why, what’s the matter, Jade? Why are you looking at me like that? What’s wrong…..?

“Marcus, can’t you see…?  You’re floating!”  Marcus looked down and saw that his feet were now a foot off the floor.  “Hey,” he cried, “I’m flying, it’s great!  I’ve always wanted to fly—Jade, eat a Twinkie as well.”  Jade hesitated, she was scared, but she had been starved of Twinkies all her life and so she thought – ‘why not?  Just this once.  What harm can it do?  Marcus seems all right.’

She took a little bite and was immediately overcome by the delicious sweetness and lightness of her being.  “Oh, Marcus, it’s lovely.  I’ve never tasted anything so fine – and loo, I’m floating too!”  As they both neared the ceiling of the shed, Marcus took Jade by the hand and they ducked under the door lintel and escaped to the outside.  As they continued to rise, they could see their house and the whole neighbourhood far below.  “Look, Marcus,” said Jade, “There’s Mom, she looks very small, but I can see it’s her because of her lovely hair.”

“She’s probably looking for us,” said Marcus, “it’s time for our homework and our chores before supper.  I expect she is worried Jade, why don’t you throw her a Twinkie so she knows where we are.”  The Twinkie tumbled down and landed beside the startled May making her jump.  She looked up to see from whence it had come and saw her precious children floating high up above the trees.  “What are you doing up there?” she cried.  “Come down at once, your supper’s ready and I’ve made your favourite spaghetti Bolognese.”  “Ugh,” said Marcus, “I had spag bol!  Think I’ll stay up here.”  Jade agreed and took a bite of another Twinkie.  “We’re staying up here Mom.  We’re fed up of doing chores and all that homework and eating spag bol.  Twinkies are much nicer and look what they can do for us.”

“Hmmmmm,” thought May, “I can play that game too.”  She took a bite of the Twinkie that had landed at her feet and was immediately overcome by the utter deliciousness of the taste and the overwhelming lightness of being.  “My God,” she thought, “What have I been missing all these years?”  May floated up into the heavens and joined her children as they finished off the Twinkies.  As the last three Twinkies disappeared into their mouths, each felt a strange sensation.  “I’m getting heavier,” said Marcus.  “Me too,” cried Jade, closely followed by their mother.  The three of them slowly tumbled head over heels to Earth, landing softly alongside the fence of their garden that was now mysteriously repaired.  They got to their feet just as the little girl reappeared.  “Look, Mom,” cried the children, “This is the little girl we met in the house in the wood.”  May was startled, but replied, “don’t be silly children.  There is no house in the woods.”  But there is, there is,” cried the children, “that’s where we found the Twinkies; she left them for us.”

The little girl stared at the three.  “I wanted you to taste a Twinkie for at least once in your lives, for do you know that they are no more?  For over 80 years, children and adults too, have enjoyed the sublime ‘Golden Sponge with Creamy Filling.’  Countless children have felt the sweetness and lightness of being that a Twinkie brings and now, because of strict Moms, they will no longer have that pleasure.  It’s so sad and now, they have no use for me either..”  The little girl turned and started to walk back into the woods and within three or four steps, had disappeared entirely.

May, ran her hands through her beautiful hair, put on her Jimmy Choo shoes that had fallen off as she had floated up and took the hands of her children.  “I’m so sorry I deprived you of those wonderful Twinkies, but it’s not too late, I own the Patent on them, so I’ll start to make them myself.  How’s that?”  “Oh, yes Mom, pretty please,”  chorused the children skipping along happily.


Chronicles of the Mole Family, Chapter 15

So the original intent of the post was to show you before and after photos of our driveway and front yard as the final items to have been renovated before winter set in.  Here they are:

"before" driveway

“before” driveway

"before" front yard

“before” front yard

"after" driveway

“after” driveway






"after" front yard

“after” front yard

The more entertaining photo, however, is of a tree that crashed into our backyard yesterday morning, after what was a fairly minor rainstorm.  Fortunately, no one was hurt.  (Evidently, our renovations are not yet at an end.  <sigh>)

aftermath of rainstorm

aftermath of rainstorm

I put up a photo of this on Facebook and a story thread began, with contributions from many people.  I may put the story (as it currently exists) up on the blog later (with the names of the contributors redacted, of course, in order to protect the guilty).

William, Victor (sort of), Charles and Peter

This past holiday break has allowed us to do some things that we don’t normally have time to do (like seeing 3-hour movies, but I digress).  There were several productions that we saw that we very much liked.

The first is the Shakespeare Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  The Harman Hall stage resulted in a very clever staging of this light-hearted comedy.  There were times, however, when I thought the staging was cleverer than the acting, but, overall, it was a pleasant and well-done version of the play.  The brawl between the two lead female characters was particularly well done.  Our two children both enjoyed the production as did we.

We also saw the National Theatre’s production of Les Miz (the movie is on our list of things to see).  Jean Valjean is the linchpin of any production of Les Miz, of course, and we thought this particular production had a strong actor in that role.  Javert was also excellent.  (Our daughter wasn’t a fan of Javert because the actor reminded her of a substitute teacher that she particularly disliked.  It lent an air of authenticity to the production for her.)  Fantine’s voice was beautiful as well.  It is one of our favorite musicals, and this particular production did not disappoint.

One of our annual holiday traditions is taking the entire family to see Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol at Ford’s Theatre.  It gives us goosebumps every year to look up and actually see the box that Abraham Lincoln was sitting in when he was assassinated.  As with Les Miz, the casting of the main character, Ebeneezer Scrooge, is the key to a successful production.  This year’s actor was the same as last year’s actor, but he played the character a little differently than last year.  Less curmudgeonly but more Grinch-like, if that makes any sense.  We do require a satisfying redemption scene at the end of the play in order to feel complete, and this production fulfilled our expectations in that regard.  Christmas doesn’t feel like Christmas if we don’t see A Christmas Carol.

Finally, the behemoth Peter Jackson film otherwise known as The Hobbit.  We had originally seen it in the Udvar-Hazy theatre (the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum near Dulles Airport) with its six story IMAX theatre.  Fifteen minutes before the end of the movie (when all the dwarves, Gandalf, and Bilbo are treed, for those who have seen it), the entire museum lost power.  Oops.  I then went and saw it again (at a lesser theatre) so that I could see what happened in the last fifteen minutes.  I understand the criticism leveled at the movie—it very much is not in the tone of the book but, rather, is more epic and in the same vein as the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  The movie also moves slowly in parts.  On the other hand, it is beautifully filmed and much of the background plot (derived from The Silmarillion and some of Tolkien’s other works) is meant as a richer prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy than most prequels are.  It clearly works for Tolkien geeks.  I’m not sure how well it works for the normal human population.  All I know is it works for me.  The movie is rated PG-13, and I think it’s a fair rating.  There is a lot of violence in the movie, mostly directed at orcs and goblins.  The themes are also fairly mature.  That being said, our eleven year old son loved it and happily sat through the almost 3 hour movie with no complaints.  Our fourteen year old daughter was thoroughly bored, but she is not a Tolkien fan.  I am seriously thinking of disowning her for her heresy.

May’s Rules for Ragamuffins in Restaurants

Tom Sietsema, the food critic for the Washington Post, has a weekly online chat about various restaurant and food-related issues.  Every so often, there are chatters who complain about parents who bring children into restaurants.  So I have decided to write May’s Rules for Ragamuffins in Restaurants in response.  (This is mostly a venting session because I believe parents should be able to bring kids to restaurants but then said parents have a certain set of responsibilities when they do so.)

We have a 14 and an 11 year old, whom we have taken regularly for years to restaurants of all sorts (from fast food to the Inn at Little Washington).  But we started early and with a few iron-clad rules starting when they were babies. So, the following are May’s Rules for Ragamuffins in Restaurants:

1.         Always bring snacks for younger kids – younger kids don’t yet understand and have difficulty coping with the ebb-and-flow of restaurant ordering.  Yes, cheerios or goldfish may ruin a meal, but it’s much better than a hungry, and therefore, cranky, child.

2.         Always bring entertainment, whether books or (quiet) toys or iPhones (set on vibrate).  Starting at around 9 or 10 years of age, children should be expected to be polite and attentive participants in the dinner conversation.

3.         Start out with small, ethnic restaurants that are generally more child friendly.  We particularly like Chinese and Central American restaurants.  Tip generously for the mess your child will inevitably make.

4.         The second your child gets even a little fussy (note:  this is well before the crying at full volume stage), take your child out of the restaurant.  Eating in turn isn’t as much fun as eating together, but it’s the price you pay for being a parent.  Not to mention it’s the considerate thing to do for the other guests in the restaurant.

5.         Eat at off peak times so as to minimize disruption to the restaurant’s other guests.

6.         Expect and demand good behavior in restaurants.  If you, as parents don’t do so, why would you expect your children to provide it?

My children aren’t perfect by any means, but we regularly receive compliments on their behavior at restaurants by waitstaff and other diners.  And they love good food!

[Rant over]