Sunday, December 28, 2008

Escape from Sobibor (1987)

Jon and I first saw Escape from Sobibor many years ago, and it made a huge impression. It was just as good the second time. It's the true story of the only concentration camp to stage a successful revolt--about 300 prisoners escaped. (There were a couple of revolts at other concentration camps, but they were not quite as successful.) This is an inspiring and moving film, definitely worth seeing. And though the subject matter is awful, of course, it's not gory; we actually watched it with our kids and then talked about World War II and the holocaust.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Bring It On (2000)

I've seen bits and pieces of this on TV over the years, but I just recently watched the whole thing, uninterrupted. (Or maybe it was a little interrupted; I think I watched in on hulu.com, but it's not there anymore.) It's a pretty good high school flick, though more crass than I hope my own teenagers will be. (One can hope.) Possibly even up there with my all-time 1990s favorites, Clueless and 10 Things I Hate About You.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Holiday Movies!

I've watched many a mediocre feel-good holiday movie in the last month or so, partly because our tiny library had a recent influx (I'm thinking ABC Family might be selling a cheap package deal of which they took advantage) and partly because I've been knitting crazily, trying to finish Christmas gifts. So here they are:

Snow (2004)

A bad guy steals one of the reindeer and the newest Santa--young, unmarried and good-loooking--goes looking for him at the zoo that bought him, where happens to work a possible future Mrs. Claus. Cute, harmless, certainly silly at times but not overly sappy.

Mrs. Santa Clause (1996)

A musical! Which made my kids a little fidgety, but we made it. Angela Lansbury is Mrs. Claus, who's feeling underappreciated and takes off with the reindeer and the sleigh to try out a new route before Christmas and, due to reindeer injury, ends up living incognito in 1910 New York for the week before Christmas. The movie introduces women's suffrage, the international feeling of New York in that time, and child labor laws as a backdrop to the simple story.

Holiday in Handcuffs (2007)

An unlikely premise, but more likely than the Santa stories, I suppose. A young woman desperate to please her parents just this once kidnaps a guy to bring home for Christmas. Melissa Joan Hart is likable and Mario Lopez is hot, and the family characters are believably annoying and funny. Definitely sappy, but not bad. (It's not rated but would probably be PG. In spite of this, it's not a kid movie--too many innuendos and other things objectionable.)

12 Days of Christmas Eve (2004)

A successful businessman who's lost sight of what's most important dies an untimely death on Christmas Eve and has twelve chances to live the day again and get it right. This was my favorite one, but I have to admit that my opinion was swayed by the inclusion of the word "catholic" (when asked if karma is a Catholic thing, a priest answers, "Small 'c' catholic...it is!") and grammatically correct lines (like "None of us is perfect"). Molly Shannon is the angelic "nurse" who keeps sending the main character, Calvin, back, and she's always a pleasure. Calvin's progress is also unusually believable, with lots of false steps but a convincing path to appreciating what's important.

I guess I haven't watched as many as I thought, because they've been interspersed with other knit-while-watching movies and online TV. More about them later.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

I think this is the first graphic novel I've ever read, and it's definitely worth reading. The author tells about her life as the daughter of freethinking parents in Iran during and after the Islamic Revolution. It's a very quick read and even though it's told from a child's perspective, there's plenty to think about.

What About Bob? (1991)

My favorite scene in this movie is where Richard Dreyfuss's character chokes and Bob goes to heroic and hilarious measures to save him, after which the family gathers around Bob congratulating and celebrating with him, while the deserted dad lies gasping for breath on the couch. I have to admit, though, that the first time I saw this, I didn't enjoy it much, because Bob reminded me too much of someone I knew at that time.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Iron Man (2008)

I watched this to see if the kids could watch it (answer: not yet). I didn't expect to like it, but I really did.

(I know I could fast-forward through any offensive parts in this and other movies. But I'm pretty sure the fast-forwarding would only happen the first time, while I was watching it with them. After that, the kids would just remember that they'd seen a movie, not which part to skip. But they can wait a little while. They might think it'll kill them, but it won't.)

Joy School by Elizabeth Berg

This was another enjoyable novel by Elizabeth Berg. The main character is a 13-year-old girl trying to figure out how she'll fit in to a new place and school. She's true to life and more evidence of Berg's talent with characterization.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Fever Pitch (2005)

I was surprised to find that this is actually very good, but less surprised when I saw that it's based on a novel by Nick Hornby. It's a romantic comedy, but it's meatier than most, addressing questions about how to make a relationship work by compromising without becoming a subservient shadow of yourself. I really liked it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Never Change by Elizabeth Berg

This is one of several books by Elizabeth Berg that I read recently. So far I haven't found one I didn't like, although I have mixed feelings about this one because of how it deals with the subject of assisted suicide. Still, I liked it. I'm impressed with Berg's ability to capture different personalities and insecurities.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Dance (2007)

The script in this film is better and the characters more complicated than in most LDS films, but I was still distracted by signs of mediocrity. Like the fake disco music at the dance, which seemed to be attended by about twenty people. Of course, I've never been to a young adult dance in Boston; maybe twenty people is a good turnout, but I'm guessing not.

However, it is based on a play (by Carol Lynn Pearson), which would also be sparsely populated.

Also, the title could use a little work. I did like the characters, who were more varied and had more depth than usual.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Wendell Baker Story (2005)

Written by Luke Wilson, who also stars, and directed by Luke and his brother Andrew Wilson, this was surprisingly charming and funny. It's about a laid-back, not yet financially successful con-man who's stringing his girlfriend along until he can make some real money. But then he gets caught and goes to prison, where he seems to be having such a good time that his girlfriend dumps him for good. Regret and reformation ensue as he tries to win her back after he's paroled. Besides Luke Wilson, you get Eva Mendes as Doreen the girlfriend, Owen Wilson as the slimy operator of a "retirement hotel," Will Ferrell as Doreen's new boyfriend with a real job (manager of a grocery store), and several other entertaining and well-acted side characters. I really liked it.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Mediocre (or worse) movies I watched recently

Jon was out of town for two weeks straight and I ran out of TV shows to watch online. And as I've said before, I try not to watch anything too good without him. So there's my excuse for watching (and sometimes even re-watching) crappy stuff.

Only You (1994)

Predictable. Marisa Tomei is pretty irritating, but Robert Downey Jr. is cute and Bonnie Hunt is always a pleasure. In retrospect, I am also annoyed by the picture on the DVD cover, which shows "Faith" dressed in her wedding dress, apparently dancing in an Italian fountain. And the back of the case shows her on a bike with "Bob" (oh, sorry, I mean "Peter"). But those scenes never happened in the movie. Why?

Head Over Heels (2001)

I think this was the movie that actually used pronouns correctly after prepositions (as in "There's nothing going on between him and me" instead of the increasingly prevalent "between he and I" and other similar horrors). But I can't remember for sure, so don't be mad at me if you watch it for the correct grammar and it's not there. Otherwise, the supermodels were slightly funny. Mostly, though, this was kind of dumb, predictable, and even downright crass a few times (as in teenage boy humor, although I can't imagine that teenage boys were the audience for this film).

Life or Something Like It (2002)

I have the impression that Angelina Jolie can act these days, but she couldn't back in 2002. Like Marisa Tomei in Only You, she always looks aware that people are staring at her. They are staring at her, but a good actress should be able to look like they aren't. (Nothing against Angelina, though; even though she and Brad have six nannies for their six kids, I'm still impressed with their number and apparent willingness to have even more. Good for them!) Tony Shalhoub has a mildly entertaining part, but it's not enough.

Two Weeks Notice (2002)

Okay, but predictable and full of stereotypes. This was my second time watching it, and it's really not worth watching more than once.

My Best Friend's Wedding (1997)

This doesn't follow the typical formula, does it? And I have to admire that. Still, I think it's kind of an annoying movie. Also, watching it in 2008, it's hard to get over the size of Julia Robert's mobile phone.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Traitor (2008)

Saw this in an actual theater, which is always something to celebrate. It was very exciting, well-acted, surprising. I have to agree with Eric Snider, though, who said the movie had "a tendency to bring up hot-button issues, frown thoughtfully at them for a few moments, then set them down again before moving on to the next superficially treated topic." There are some interesting concepts here, but they're not deeply entertained. But it was an entertaining couple of hours.

Note: Eric Snider used to write a humor column in BYU's newspaper The Daily Universe back when Jon and I were there. Now he's a film critic, but he still writes funny stuff, too.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

Those Who Save Us was not easy to read, but it was worth it. It's two stories, told in alternating sections, one about a young German woman living in Weimar during World War II and the other about her daughter 50 years later who's trying to figure out her past because her mother has never talked about it. It's hard to read because of the sometimes graphic war stories, not all of them about violence against Jews. Most of them aren't even violent; they're sexual, but they're still war stories. (That's my warning.)

It's also hard to read because the characters are so complex. There are no easy answers to why they make the decisions they make, but I think that's what makes this book outstanding. The answers aren't easy, but they're realistic and believable. After I finished the book, I dreamed about it all night and then told Jon all about it and why it was bothering me. His comment was "Life is messy." This book really captures that.

Our book club had a great discussion about it, too. It's a different perspective on World War II, and there's a lot to talk about. (See warning above, however! Having said that, I'm glad I read it.)

Until the Real Thing Comes Along by Elizabeth Berg

I read Open House by this author several years ago and liked it, but this novel set me on an Elizabeth Berg path--I've since read two more novels and some short stories by her. It's like finding another Anne Tyler. Not that they are the same, but it's been a while since I've wanted to read more by a particular author. (It's also kind of nice to discover an author after she's written several books, instead of having to wait for whatever she's writing next.)

The descriptions of longing in this are so real they made my heart hurt. I loved it. I'll post about the other books by her soon.

Made of Honor (2008)

I liked this. I don't know if it's actually better than your average romantic comedy, but it seemed like it was. Maybe I just haven't watched any good ones lately. Anyway, it's good, and you get to see Patrick Dempsey in a kilt, albeit a "mini-kilt" that looks kind of ridiculous. I think the music was decent, too.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sydney White (2007)

I thought this was cute, a smarter-than-average teen flick based on the Snow White fairy tale. I could do without the feel-good speech at the end of a movie like this, but whatever.

The Painted Veil (2006)

This is not a happy film, but it's very good. Based on a novel by W. Somerset Maugham, it's about an English couple in a loveless and faithless marriage. The husband, a doctor specializing in infectious diseases, takes them off to a remote Chinese village to deal with a cholera outbreak, where they go through some harrowing stuff that changes their relationship. Very good.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

What Happens in Vegas (2008)

Run-of-the-mill rom-com, predictable but occasionally funny. My favorite line, from the Girl's best friend to the Guy's best friend: "If I could kill someone with my mind right now, it would be you."

The Devil and Miss Prym: A Novel of Temptation by Paulo Coelho

This little novel is a quick read, but unfortunately, I didn't like it much. It's possible that I objected most to the parable-like style of it. I had the same feeling of impatience while reading Ishmael by Daniel Quinn: interesting ideas, but just get to the point already!

On the other hand, we had a very interesting discussion about it at one of the book clubs I go to.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Waitress (2007)

This independent film was recommended to me by my friend Kim. I'd seen it in our local video rental store many times and was always intrigued, but I avoided it because the description on the back hinted that the main character, Jenna, might cheat on her husband, and normally I'm against that kind of thing and don't really want a movie to make me feel all warm and fuzzy about the new guy, who's so much better for her and really understands her, etc., etc.

But Kim recommended it, and I trust Kim. I liked it a lot. There is marital infidelity in it, but the movie doesn't force you accept it as somehow inevitable and the only way to true happiness, and it serves to develop the characters quite a bit. The characters are more complex than in most movies, too. There are great scenes where the Jenna, a waitress who makes unique pies at the diner where she works, creates pie recipes with names based on what's happening in her life: "I Hate My Husband" Pie (he's definitely hateable) and "Earl Murders Me Because I'm Having an Affair" Pie (I don't think I'm giving anything away here).

Anyway, it's a good movie that actually makes you understand life and people a little better. Thanks for the recommendation, Kim!

******************************************************

Don't read this part unless you want to be sad; it kind of ruined my initial enjoyment of the movie: The film was written and directed by Adrienne Shelly, who also plays Jenna's fellow waitress and friend Dawn. She was pregnant when she wrote the film, and her daughter plays the toddler at the end. Just after it was accepted at the Sundance Film Festival, Adrienne Shelly was murdered, apparently in a fairly random incident: she walked into her office and found someone stealing money from her purse, and he killed her and tried to make it look like a suicide by hanging her from a shower rod with a bedsheet. Her husband found her. The guy who did it is in prison now. Anyway, sad stuff happens to all kinds of people, I guess.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls

This is one of the most fascinating books I've ever read. It's the true story of the author's unusual childhood with parents who were intelligent and loving, but also eccentric, to put it mildly. They were often homeless, hungry, and "doing the skedaddle," which was her father's term for picking up in the middle of the night and fleeing bills and other responsibilities.

It's entertaining and easy to read, even when the stories are appalling. It's also thought-provoking on many levels. I coerced Jon into reading it after I finished. I could go on and on, but I'll settle for posting this right now, and if anyone wants to discuss, please comment. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Lace Reader by Brunonia Berry

This is a compelling and suspenseful first novel that takes place in Salem, Massachusetts, amid tourists, modern-day witches, future-divining women and a group of relgious fanatics. There is something strange going on, and it's fun to try to figure out what it is.

Also interesting is the story of the book's rise to publication. The author and her husband decided to publish it on their own. First, they gave copies of the manuscript to a local book group and asked for feedback. After their self-publication and subsequent success due to word of mouth and a PR firm, the author found an agent (or the agent found her). A bidding war between various big publishers followed, and Berry got to take her pick. A nice story for a first novel!

Here's an interesting online book group featuring Brunonia Berry, if you're interested.

America's Sweethearts (2001)

This is not great, but it's amusing and pleasant enough. I always like John Cusack.

Chaos Theory (2007)

I thought this would be a silly romantic comedy because Ryan Reynolds is in it. There are definitely funny moments, but it's actually kind of a serious story about family relationships. It's not the best movie in the world, but it has good messages about honesty and loyalty and (perhaps unintentionally) communication, and I like Ryan Reynolds' way of being funny, even if it doesn't change a lot from movie to movie.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

Not only do the Bourne movies have the best sequel titles, they're also just good sequels. The Bourne Ultimatum did not disappoint. I'm kind of glad we waited to watch it on a TV, because it has the same jerky, dizzying cinematography that The Bourne Supremacy had, and that's much easier to take on a small screen. It's a good movie, although I kind of missed the romance of the first. (There is a very vague hint of a past romance, but that's all.) Otherwise, it's exciting and tense and has a pretty satisfying ending.

The special features on the DVD are some of the most interesting we've ever watched. When the camera shot follows Bourne as he jumps from a roof into a window in the next building, that camera was actually following him. They strapped a camera onto a stunt man who jumped after him. Pretty cool.

Mr. Bean's Holiday (2007)

Several people said this was good, and I was surprised to find that they were right. For one thing, there's not much dialog, so when I watched it with the kids, their extra noise hardly bothered me at all. Otherwise, it's silly and over the top and very funny. I laughed out loud a lot.

One favorite thing: Willem Dafoe is hilarious as a self-important film director, and the screening of his new film at the Cannes Film Festival at the end of the movie is wonderful. I also enjoyed Mr. Bean saying "Gracias" to everyone while he's traveling in France.

My Mom's New Boyfriend (2008)

This was just okay. I fell asleep a few times.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (2008)

I really liked this movie as Jon and I were watching it (in a real theater!): the main characters were sweet but also funny and sarcastic; the music was good; it took place in a realistic, less glamorous New York that was refreshing; the romance was uplifting and believable; and it was just plain funny. But I liked it less after it was over, mostly because I'm a little old-fashioned, I guess. And maybe sheltered, too. Maybe in comparison to those raunchy rated-R movies that target teen audiences (which I've never seen), Nick and Norah is no big deal.

In any case, I got on my parental high horse after it was over and I thought of all the teens who will certainly see this movie. There are some good things about it--some straight-edge kids, who are clearly smarter and cooler than the friend who gets so drunk and lost and is truly ridiculous (but funny); the good kids trump the bad kids in the end; etc.

But why can't they just make out at the end? No, they don't have sex (or anything else that includes the word "sex"), but what they do is kind of weird and seems out of place. I applaud the sentiment for married couples, it was just weird for two kids who'd just met hours before.

Penelope (2006)

I enjoyed this delightful modern fairy tale very much. It has a great message about learning to like yourself the way you are. Christina Ricci's character is sweet and pretty, even with her pig nose, and while James McAvoy is not immediately pleasing, he grew on me. I'd like to let the kids watch this, but there's some innuendo that was funny but not for kids. I guess there's a reason it's called innuendo, though; mine probably wouldn't get it. Anyway, I loved it.

Eating habits of a three-year-old

Mira comes in with a handful of Corn Pops.

"What are you eating?" I say, just making conversation.

"It's poison blood," she says.

Of course.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Lantern in Her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich

I read this a long time ago, probably as a young teenager, and I loved it. This time around I got a little impatient with the speed of the narrative, which jumps years at a time and then gives lots of details about certain events, and with the constant self-sacrificing of the main character. I suspect that I'm being overly critical, and it's also possible that I'm feeling defensive because I don't give up everything for my kids, like this woman did. So, yeah, it might be guilt, because I live in a time when I can have a family and still do things for myself.

This is a book worth reading, though. You've got the story of the settling of Nebraska and also a life from childhood to old age. There's a lot to think about.

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

I loved Austenland and thought it was about time I tried something else by Shannon Hale. I didn't love Princess Academy in the same way, but I liked it pretty well. My favorite thing about it is how the main character learns that her assumptions about people are usually wrong. It's an entertaining story with good messages, just like a kids' novel ought to be.

Shannon Hale is a better writer than most of the LDS authors out there these days. I'll be reading more of her stuff.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Mira with Computer

We are at the library and things are quiet, as they tend to be at a library. Suddenly I hear Mira shouting, "Yes, I do! Yes, I do! YES, I DO!" Every time she says it, she yells louder. I rush over to where she is playing on one of the library's new computers. She has headphones on, of course. As I reach her, she yells one more time, "YES! I DO WANT TO QUIT!"

Of course, the animated character on the screen was saying, "Do you want to quit now?" She doesn't know how to use a mouse yet. But you know, when are the computers going to start listening to us? She was speaking very clearly!

Friday, October 10, 2008

10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

And then, after Mean Girls, while we were still in teen flick mode, we also watched 10 Things I Hate About You, which is one of my all-time favorite teen movies. I love the paranoid OB/GYN dad, who makes his daughter wear "the belly" before she goes out.

Mean Girls (2004)

After watching Tina Fey in Baby Mama, I thought Jon needed to finally see Mean Girls, which she wrote. (I guess we are kind of fans of Tina Fey. We like 30 Rock, too, and I think her Sarah Palin impersonations are hilarious but not vicious, which is good. We liked her when she did Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live, too.) Mean Girls is one of the good teen flicks, with classic lines and believable characters. I like it.

Baby Mama (2008)

I thought this was really funny. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are hilarious, as usual. Steve Martin's relatively small part is also great. Well, I liked all of it, really. It made me laugh.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

If You Lived Here, I 'd Know Your Name by Heather Lende

This book of stories about the residents of Haines, Alaska, is funny, entertaining, and thoughtful. The author has written obituaries for the local weekly paper and a column for the Alaska Daily News for years, and she knows everyone in town. That's not particularly difficult, because Haines is an isolated town of 2500 people, accessible only by ferry and airplane, except in winter, when it's not really accessible at all. The locals are colorful and quirky; it's kind of like reading Northern Exposure, one of my all-time favorite TV shows, but these people are real.

I sometimes felt like I was reading about our current location, with the politics, hunting, nature, etc., and that made it even more fun. I really liked it.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

If no one calls and I don't speak all day, do I disappear?

Here's how I know that I'm a real Grown-Up with Responsibilities and Such: when I check voice mail, I'm happy when there are no messages.

In high school and college, there was nothing better than a message. Someone had called! Someone was thinking of me! Even better if it was a boy!

Then when the oldest kids were little and I was home all day, there were times when I felt like the title of this post, which is a line from "Single" by Everything But the Girl. Of course I was speaking, but it was the repetitious Mommy-speak that's necessary but sometimes mind-numbing: "Time for your nap!" "Don't put your fingers in your brother's eyes!" "Let's change your diaper." "Don't put that in your mouth!" I'd turn the TV on just to hear adult voices. Phone calls were good, too.

But now I'm getting older, and so are the kids, and I'd rather not hear that staggered dial tone that means there are messages. If it's a friend or relative, I'm relieved and happy, but chances are it's something that takes being responsible and busier. Almost every time I check for messages, I remember how excited I would have been 15 or 20 years ago, and I think about how things change. Or maybe about how I change.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Curiously (ha ha! couldn't resist!), I read this book at the same time I was reading Louder Than Words. Curious because The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is narrated by a 15-year-old autistic boy.

This is a really good book. (I know that's a lame description or review or whatever, but I have good music in my ears right now and I'm distracted. Thanks, Pandora!) There's a mystery, lots of insightful insight into a functional autistic mind, some humor, drama, family stuff. It's also a quick read. Jon read it, too, and liked it.

Louder Than Words by Jenny McCarthy

Until this book, I'd never read anything by Jenny McCarthy, and I think it was a good choice. She's not a great writer, but she's conversational, funny, and easy to read. Louder Than Words is the story of how her son was diagnosed with autism and what she did to make him better. The treatment and cause of autism can be fairly controversial, but she doesn't get too hung up on that, just shares her story.

An interesting recurring element in Jenny's story: two Mormon missionaries who keep showing up at her door. She doesn't "get" the church, but she treats them gently.

Across the Universe (2007)

I missed the beginning of this but still enjoyed it for the most part. As Jon pointed out, the ending is a too rosy, considering the many serious topics visited (drug use, the Vietnam War, sometimes violent war protests, etc.), but the remade Beatles songs sound great and are visually stunning and beautiful.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Pioneer Trek: 12-14 June, 2008

I posted this a while back on my private blog, so if you already read it there, you don't have to read it again! Also, it's very long.

Soon after Jon and I returned from Europe, our ward went on a pioneer trek in Wyoming. The youth and their leaders have been to Martin's Cove in Wyoming twice, but this time, they invited families to come, and Jon and I were eager to take our kids. I've always thought it would have been so cool to go on the big pioneer reenactment the church did for the Sesquicentennial several years ago, but I didn't know about that until it was happening. Anyway, I was really excited to do this, until we'd committed to doing it, and then it seemed like my attitude went downhill from there. I had a lot of excuses for this, among them confusion in the planning; getting our pioneer clothes ready, which was very time-consuming (and my friend Teresa actually made our skirts and the girls' bonnets, so I had it relatively easy); and worrying about the Women's Pull that I'd heard so much about, where the men get taken off to form the Mormon Battalion and the women have to pull the handcarts up some unpleasant hill.

So I got crankier as the time approached. The night before we were supposed to leave, Phin had an earache that moved from one side to the other. At about 2:00 am, Seth threw up all over his bed. I hadn't been feeling great, but the vomit made me feel worse. I thought it was just the typical sick stomach that accompanies having to clean up vomit, but by about 5:30 am, I was throwing up, too. We were supposed to leave at about 7:00 am, and everything was packed and ready to go in the Suburban.

I had been hoping for days that something would come up to prevent us from going, but Jon thought we should just all go. I knew that I would probably be fine in a few hours, Phin and Seth both felt fine, and the kids were excited to go. If I stayed home, I was pretty sure I'd feel bad the next day when I was perfectly healthy and Jon was out pulling a handcart by himself in the Wyoming desert. So I dragged myself into the shower, and we showed up on time at the church.

Just to make things interesting, it was raining and sleeting that morning, which made everyone nervous, as you can imagine, but on the drive to Wyoming, the sky cleared up and it got beautiful outside.

Our drive was about five hours. I guzzled Pepto-Bismol and slept for the first few hours. Felt pretty terrible through Pine Creek pass, which winds around a fair amount. But I never threw up again, and by the time we were 2/3 of the way there, I felt kind of hungry. I ate saltines and drank Sprite for the rest of the day.

My mood didn't pick up a lot, though, I'm sorry to admit. When we got to the Sixth Crossing visitor's center (I guess it's called a visitor's center; it's staffed by couple missionaries, who take care of the campground, handcarts, trails, etc.), it was windy and kind of cold. We set up our tents and the men set up the ward's super heavy-duty cooking shelter things. It got very windy in the evening, and our tent was threatening to fly away. I was a brat to Jon. He borrowed some huge stakes from the ward, and that helped a lot. (That is, it kept our tent stable in the wind; Jon wasn't attempting to change my mood by beating me with stakes.) The ward did square-dancing, and the kids had a great time.

Our trek was the next day. I was worried about walking so far after eating almost nothing but saltines and Sprite the day before. I know that's ridiculous, but I was still in Wimpy Self-pitying, 21st-century Sick mode, which is different from Malnourished with Dysentery Handcart Pioneer mode. I know I'm pathetic. I felt fine when we left, though, and felt better and better throughout the day. (It didn't hurt that our ward fed us very well. We had a big breakfast before leaving, various snacks on the road, a nice lunch, and a huge steak dinner when we got back, with some of the best steaks I've ever had.)

We left our tents set up and took our buckets, which were supposed to hold less than 17 pounds of stuff, the weight the handcart pioneers were also limited to. In reality, I would bet that nobody in our ward was pulling as much weight as the pioneers did, although by the time they reached Sixth Crossing (so named because it was the sixth time they crossed the Sweetwater River), the Willie and Martin handcart companies had gotten rid of a lot of their things to minimize weight even more, because they were weak, malnourished, ill, and experiencing early snowstorms. Anyway, our ward had ten handcarts, and our family was assigned to one. There were, I think, five families there with small children. The youngest three were babies in diapers but walking age. Also with us were several older women, Mary, the oldest, in her late 70s, I think. She gave birth to and raised 13 children, just so you know that she is tough.

It was very windy but sunny all day, so most of the day we were both cold and hot! But I'm so glad it didn't rain or hail or snow on us, which has happened to our ward before on their pioneer treks. And of course, anything goes with the weather in Wyoming, and mid-June might seem like summer to a Californian (me), but it's late spring up here.

It is surprisingly difficult to pull a handcart, and ours were modern versions of the ones the pioneers had, with wheel bearings that make them work a lot better. Well, at first it's not difficult at all, and in fact the kids had a great time Thursday night and even Friday night after the trek pulling each other around the camp (they have unlimited energy!). But pulling a handcart for any length of time gets old fast--your arms are constantly holding the bar up. It's actually easier to push it, but you have to have someone pulling all the time, too.

I kept wondering just how people came up with the idea to have humans pull their own belongings across the plains and mountains of America. And once they had the idea, who said, "Yeah, let's do that! That's a great idea"? But then it kind of reminds me of Jon and me, when we bought a push-mower (the no-engine kind) to mow our huge lawn in Virginia. You know, where the grass actually grows without extra watering! I don't know if we ever actually mowed the entire lawn with that mower. The pioneers, however, made it from Iowa to Utah with their hare-brained idea. In fact, the less famous handcart companies, the ones who made it without major incident, were faster than the wagon trains! So I guess it wasn't such a hare-brained idea, really.

(An aside: when Jon and I brought home our push mower in Virginia, our landlord rolled his eyes at us and said, "You guys are Mormon, not Amish!")

We waded through many a small stream for the first few miles, which gave us wet or partially wet feet right at the beginning. Jon pulled the handcart with Zed, Jacob and Phin, while I shepherded Lillian and Seth, helped them change shoes and/or clothes, etc. Mira rode in the cart and fell asleep pretty quickly.

The trek was 11 miles and took about 10 hours, I think. Our group moved pretty slowly and stayed close together, which was actually kind of annoying, because you didn't feel like you could go at your own pace. Mary’s son made her get into one of the handcarts right at the beginning, which she regretted, but she also didn't want to slow down the whole group. At the beginning, we were right in front of three teenage boys who were pulling her cart, and they were right behind us, even stepping on my heels a couple of times. Maybe it was good for us to stay together, but I'm sure the real pioneers were spread out over miles during the day, and that would have been nice sometimes.

I do think it was a great experience for those boys (and later one of the girls) to pull Mary in that handcart, and also for them to see what it really might have been like with little kids and babies. The youth were really great on the trek, many times running back to help push or pull others' carts on a big hill or something. Once I was pushing the cart up a steep hill and a guy came down after getting his own family's up the hill; he started pushing and running up the hill, which I was pretty sure would have caused me to land face-down in the dirt, so I let go. I actually didn't do very much pushing or pulling. Jon did a lot, and the boys helped a lot. Lillian and Seth helped a little, too.

We stopped at a few places and met couple missionaries who told us some stories about the Willie Handcart Company. We ate lunch next to the Sweetwater River. Originally we were supposed to cross the river with our handcarts (no bridge, just walking through the water pulling the cart) three or four times, but because the river was so high, they changed our route so we didn't cross so many times.

Soon after lunch, we met a man in 19th century uniform, who called all the men to join the military and march with him to California to fight for their country in the Mexican-American War. It's sobering to think of those hundreds of men who actually formed the Mormon Battalion (and one of my very own ancestors, Phoebe Draper Palmer Brown, who was one of the few women who went on the entire march). Here they were fleeing the United States to a place outside U.S. borders because of persecutions they had repeatedly experienced. They had appealed to the U.S. government many times for protection and redress and were always disappointed. But when they were called into the army, they went, and left their wives and children to fend for themselves. They never saw battle, but they did some important trail-breaking, and ended up in San Diego.

Anyway, all the men took off up the hill. I tried to keep my boys, claiming they weren't "men," but it didn't work. They were kind enough to take the babies, though, which was a big help. It would have been harder if we'd had crying babies in the carts. So I sent Mira up with Jon, Zed, Jacob, Phin, and Seth. It felt kind of weird to be left there with just Lillian and think about how hard it would have been to pull a cart like that.

While the men went up the hill, a sister missionary told us the story of a tiny 100-pound woman whose husband collapsed on the trek. He was quite large, but she got him into the cart and pulled him all the way up Rocky Ridge (several miles past where we were), a lengthy, rocky, and steep ridge where you can't really stop because the cart will roll backwards. It took her a very long time, though I can't remember if it was several hours or a couple of days.

At the top of the hill, the men heard the story of James Kirkwood. President Faust told this story in General Conference in 1992:

Let me tell you of James Kirkwood. James was from Glasgow, Scotland. On the trip west, James was accompanied by his widow mother and three brothers, one of whom, Thomas, was nineteen and crippled and had to ride in the handcart. James' primary responsibility on the trek was to care for his little four-year-old brother, Joseph, while his mother and oldest brother, Robert, pulled the cart. As they climbed Rocky Ridge, it was snowing and there was a bitter cold wind blowing. It took the whole company twenty seven hours to travel fifteen miles. When little Joseph became too weary to walk, James, the older brother, had no choice but to carry him. Left behind the main group, James and Joseph made their way slowly to camp. When the two finally arrived at the fireside, James "having so faithfully carried out his task, collapsed and died from exposure and overexertion."

I really hate that story. I'm sure all turned out excellently for James in the afterlife, but how did his mother feel? I hope she didn't feel guilty. But even though I don't like that story, it's something that really happened. A lot of terrible and amazing things happened, and it's important for us to know about them.

Anyway, moving on...

Fortunately, we had a lot more women than carts. Heather, a 17-year-old girl in our ward, came to help me. Mary got out of her cart. Her daughter Rachel and another woman from our ward pulled their cart, and Mary walked behind and pushed. She told me later that she was glad that at least she got to participate in the Women's Pull. We were just behind them, so our pace was fairly slow. The hill wasn't as bad as some that we tackled later, and since we had so much help, it wasn't that hard. The women who made it up first came back down and helped those of us in the back. There was a lot of that back-and-forth helping all day long. I wonder how far those helping actually walked?

The men were at the top of the hill, waiting for us. I made a flippant comment as we came up to the top that I regret now. Remember that they had just heard the story about James Kirkwood. Everyone was supposed to be feeling sober and reflective, and I hope I didn't totally ruin it for anyone.

Our one river crossing happened with about 2 miles left to go. There was a bridge there, so it was optional, and they wouldn't allow the handcarts to go across the river. The water was deep enough that the bearings in the wheels would have gotten wet, and they only want to reenact things to a certain point, of course. A couple missionary talked to us about the pioneers in the Willie Co., who crossed the river at this point in freezing weather. They had started later than desired; it was October and they'd been experiencing bad winter storms. They walked across the river, some carrying their babies and children, chunks of ice flowing by in the current (no doubt smacking into them now and then). As soon as they came out of the river, their clothes froze.

We walked through that same river, and I had a long skirt on, like the pioneers, but that's about where the similarity ends. I carried Mira about a quarter of the way across, but then Jon came back and got her from me. Then we went across together. I held onto Jon where the current was strongest. Zed, Jacob, and Phin also crossed, and our friend Nikki had to grab Phin when he started to lose his footing. The river wasn't very wide, but the water came up to about halfway between the tops of my thighs and my waist (pretty high on Phin). When we came out of the water, it was warm and windy, and my skirt was almost dry by the time I reached camp, a couple of miles later.

During that last stretch, Jon and the boys got way ahead of me and Lillian, but with about a mile to go, we caught up to Phin and Mira. Mira had stayed in the cart the whole time, until the end, when she wanted to walk. So Phin walked with her until we caught up. Of course, then she wanted to be carried, so I put her on my back piggy-back style. I had expected to have to carry her a lot more, so I felt pretty lucky. When Jon reached camp with the cart, he came back for us. Mira was happy to see him, so she got down and ran to him, and she walked the rest of the way.

Lillian and Seth walked the whole eleven miles! I'm so proud of them for walking the whole way. Of course, the boys did, too, but I think it's especially noteworthy for a 7-year-old and a 6-year-old. Mira was also very well-behaved and good-natured. Also, she was the perfect potty-trained child the whole time we were camping (she has since repented of her perfection in that regard). My friends with the babies didn't have such an easy time, what with all the diaper-changing and crying to get out of the carts. I don't think anybody was nursing their babies, so we didn't quite reach that level of authenticity.

The wind never stopped, and sometimes it was quite strong. There were no trees, except some stubby willows along the river. We saw prairie dogs at one point.

If anything, I think the trek proved to me that I don't have any idea what it must have been like to be a pioneer. Yes, my feet hurt and I was sore by the end. But I had good shoes, dry clothes, good and plentiful food, health, warm weather, my whole family alive and with me. The pioneers had no food by this time, no shoes, freezing weather (and I don't mean 32 degrees F; it was very, very cold, well below zero), snow, illness, and death. And they did it all day after day after day. We went back to camp, had an incredible dinner, slept in our newfangled tents, went home in our air-conditioned cars. No comparison!

On the way home, we stopped at Rock Creek Hollow, where 13 people died and were buried after getting up Rocky Ridge, among them James Kirkwood. The Willie Co. started out with something like 477 members. Around 400 arrived in the Salt Lake valley. There are a lot of amazing stories about them. You can learn some stuff at this website. The church has set up visitors' centers at Martin's Cove, Sixth Crossing, and Rock Creek Hollow. You can take a handcart and do a small trek or plan something longer and camp along the way. It's pretty cool that the church is spending time and money on this, so we can better appreciate what our ancestors and the founding members of our church did.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Revisiting the '80s

I was 14 and 16 when these two movies came out, so I was totally part of the target audience.

Sixteen Candles (1984)

The only thing I could have remembered off the top of my head from this movie was the foreign exchange student named Long Duk Dong, but it was all familiar when I watched it again on TV at my in-laws' house. Unfortunately, someone let me have the remote, and this is what I settled on. I forgot that it was so stupid, although Jake is still dreamy as the seemingly unreachable object of the girl's desire. My mother-in-law's brother (is that my uncle-in-law?) got a kick out of the stumbling bride high on muscle relaxers at the end.

Pretty in Pink (1986)

This movie aged pretty well, I thought. Duckie still looks goofy but edgy, the dialog is still funny but not retarded, and the romance is classic. (Although I am a jaded adult who wonders just how long the teen romance is going to last, I still like a good teen flick. Like Clueless and 10 Things I Hate About You.) The music's still good, too. I don't think Molly Ringwald looks very good in pink, though, I'm sorry to say.

I kind of wish Andie had ended up with Duckie, though. He's so funny and cool and cuter than the rich guy. Oh! Since I assume that their teenage romance was doomed, I'll just imagine the sequel where Andie and Duckie get together in college! That makes me happy.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Bonneville (2006)

Named for the car in which the three main characters take an unexpected road trip after one of them is widowed, Bonneville is a not-too-sappy feel-good movie about learning to let go, and a little about learning to experience life adventurously. Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, and Joan Allen are wonderful actors, and it's good to see a movie about older beautiful women instead of the typical young Hollywood beauty it's impossible to relate to.

I was surprised that two of the main characters are obviously Mormon (and according to the "Behind the Scenes" stuff on the DVD, the other is, too). Also surprisingly, it's a pretty good representation of Mormons, though one character seems overly prim and the other overly casual. There's some humor here that will appeal only to the LDS crowd and those who've run into us a fair amount, like when the prim Mormon offers a Book of Mormon to a hitchhiker they're dropping off. I won't spoil the joke, but it's funny and realistic. I only noticed one very small error with regard to LDS practices, and there's a good chance that some LDS people don't know enough to spot it.

The road trip starts in Pocatello, Idaho, and ends in Santa Barbara, California, but most of the movie was filmed in some of Utah's most beautiful places, which also makes it worth watching.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Gilmore Girls

In the last few months, I have watched almost every episode of all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls. Ridiculously, I feel a sense of accomplishment about this. Also a sense of embarrassment. That's approximately 106 hours of TV watching.

In my defense, while I watched, I did a lot of knitting and caught up with a few years worth of entering receipts in GnuCash.

Mostly, I enjoyed the show. I liked all the references to books, music, art, etc. I liked the quirky characters. I liked the clever, funny, fast dialog.

I did not like the soap opera-like pace of the show and obvious manipulation to keep people (me) watching. It was so convenient for the money-makers that nobody on the show learns that honesty in a relationship is the best policy until the seventh season. But at least it all turned out right, and I can pretend that they've all learned their lesson and will never act like idiots again.

This is the nature of TV, though, and I'm hoping to stick with the 20-minute stuff in the future--The Office and 30 Rock. I feel kind of dumb that I've resisted 24 (2 1/2 seasons of which Jon and I watched) and Lost (watched the first season on DVD), but then I let myself get sucked into Gilmore Girls. Of course, part of the problem is that you can watch this stuff online now, which is really cool but requires more self-control than I have.

Oh, and I hated the theme song and the similar-sounding music that cropped up during the show. But I liked the town troubadour's music and other music in the background.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Ironing sheets

Today I did something I've never done before: I ironed a sheet. I wanted to use it for my daughters' birthday party as a tablecloth, and here's the accompanying explanatory stuff:

  • Yes, that apostrophe is appropriately placed. My two daughters were born on the same day, five years apart, and we are still having joint birthday parties for them.
  • Usually we just have family birthday parties, with a cake that may or may not be fancily decorated. But this time, we decided to have friends over, which meant, to me, that I ought to try a little harder. This was our first ever girly party, so I wanted girly stuff, but I am cheap and also prone to last-minute inspiration (or desperation, I guess). I don't have any girly tablecloths, but I do have some girly sheets, so I used a twin-sized flat sheet as a tablecloth. It was almost a perfect size but very wrinkled.
  • My usual method of dealing with a wrinkled tablecloth is to put it on the table, spray it with water, and let gravity do its work. It's pretty effective, but this time it didn't look like it was going to do the job. Hence the ironing. Yeah, I won't put much time into planning a birthday party, but apparently I will iron a sheet so no 8-year-old girl is offended by wrinkles.

So anyway, some people actually do iron sheets! I think that's really weird, but apparently it's true. And now I'd like to know if they have a special giant ironing board for sheets. Because it was kind of unwieldy, and it was only a twin. On the other hand, I like to iron (although I almost never do it), and ironing a big flat thing is nice--no weird-shaped corners or sleeves or pockets. I think ironing cloth napkins would be the best. I don't see it becoming a regular event for me, though.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising (2007)

Watched this with the kids. I'm having trouble remembering it, so that's not a great sign. But after a little effort, I remember that it was okay. I'm assuming the Susan Cooper book on which it's based is better.

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

The author of The History of Love is married to Jonathon Safran Foer, who wrote Everything Is Illuminated, which I have not read. Just some trivia for you.

I really liked this book. There are several narrators, and sometimes things get a little confusing, but not in a bad way. It's funny and sad and complex. The characters are realistic, interesting and have plenty of depth.

Thanks to Ethan and Courtney for giving us this book! I thought it was really good.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A few books I didn't finish

The older I get, the less I want to waste time on books I'm not enjoying. (Now if I could just apply that logic to a certain TV show that I am obsessively watching online. Well, I guess I'm enjoying that. Wasting time, yes, but enjoying it!)

The Constant Gardener by John le Carre

This is well-written and has a fascinating setting, but about halfway through I realized that I didn't give a flying crap what happened to the characters, so I put it down.

No! I Don't Want to Join a Book Club: Diary of a Sixtieth Year by Virginia Ironside

Mildly entertaining, but the narrator's cavalier attitude about her three past abortions bugged me too much.

Just Like Heaven or If Only It Were True by Marc Levy

I really like the movie Just Like Heaven, so I thought it would be fun to read the novel on which it was based--I'd heard that it was pretty different from the movie and I was curious. But this book would make a perfect anti-textbook for a creative writing class; everything a writer should never do is included here, and I couldn't get past it. I guess I'm just glad that someone out there made a decent romantic comedy out of it, though I can't imagine how this book got published in the first place.

Also, "If Only It Were True" joins my list of terrible titles.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Shopgirl by Steve Martin

I listened to this novella by the actor/comedian Steve Martin, and I liked it pretty well. The author read it, and some of the dialog reminded me of David Mamet movies that Jon and I have really liked. I liked the way the characters changed and grew during the story.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Chicken Tragedy

Note to readers: this post is kind of long and about our chickens, so if that's boring to you, don't read it.

A couple of nights ago, I was awakened at 3:00 am by the squawking of chickens, which is never a good thing. Their coop is visible from our bedroom window, but there was no moon and I couldn't see anything. Jon wasn't home--he'd gone up to Scout Camp to be with Zed and Jacob--so after yelling out the window, which usually scares predators away, I went outside with the flashlight. (I really don't like to yell outside at night, especially in the summer when people have their windows open, but it's better than a shotgun blast, I guess.) I don't really like to wander around outside at 3:00 in the morning, but it had occurred to me that I had not verified the shutting up of the chickens before we went to bed.

Well, the bad news is that I found the coop door open, and inside were two sleepy chickens. Not ten, like we'd had the day before, but two. Piles of feathers in various places: black, butterscotch, white. I looked around a little but saw nothing. The wind through the dry grass was kind of loud and spooky. For a while I imagined a human stealing our chickens--stuffing baffled chickens into a big Santa-like sack--because that's better than imagining what it most likely was: dogs, foxes, or coyotes. Seems like the smaller predators, like skunks, are more modest in their theft. They'll kill one or two, even leaving the body. But dogs and foxes just make off with as many as possible. I don't even know if they eat them. (One time after a similar chickie massacre, we found one headless body out in the field north of us.)

I felt pretty crappy and didn't sleep well after that. I hoped some or all of them would appear the next morning, which sometimes happens. They scatter in a panic and find their way home hours later, after hiding under the neighbor's porch or something. But morning came and no chickens returned. I mowed the lawn and moped and felt horrible and sad. Two chickens are not nearly as festive as ten, and this batch was so pretty and they hardly ever crapped on our front porch.

Around 6:00 pm, a small miracle happened. Phin went to feed our lonely two, and a third was wandering around next to the chicken yard! Who knows where she was all day. Now I like to imagine a few other survivors moving into other people's yards, unable to find their way home but alive and well. Yeah, I know they're dead, but it makes me feel better.

So we have three chickens left out of ten. Better than two, I guess. We have one Black Sex-Link (the name means that you can tell what sex the chicks are by their markings) and two gray Araucanas (or maybe Ameraucanas; I'm not sure about the distinction). At any rate, I'm glad to have them, because they lay blue eggs and have what Jon calls leg-warmers.

Sorry, chickies. We loved you!

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Dust Factory (2004)

This was a little too profound and confusing for the kids, but kind of an interesting movie. I'm also not sure the parallels or metaphors or whatever they should be called really worked that well. But the characters were likeable and the message was good.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008)

I'm all about taking the kids to the movies this summer, I guess.

I liked The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which we saw in a real movie theater right after it came out, but it didn't leave a lasting impression on me. When I've caught glimpses of it since then (one of the kids bought the DVD, so it's been viewed a few times), it seemed way too serious. So I wasn't all that excited about Prince Caspian. I enjoyed it, though.

Here's my take on the Chronicles of Narnia movies thus far: they're beautiful to look at, even stunning at times, and the action is exciting and intense (also strangely bloodless). I don't remember the books that well, but I suspect that what's getting glossed over in the movies is the thought processes of the characters as they make very important decisions. I also suspect that their choices and how they get there are the most important part of the stories, so maybe that's why the movies don't stick in my head.

Kung Fu Panda (2008)

Oh, that Jack Black is a hoot, even as an overweight panda who dreams of being a ninja. Some great lines from the beginning: "Legend tells of a legendary warrior whose Kung Fu skills were the stuff of legend.... It is said that his enemies would go blind from over-exposure to pure awesomeness!"

It's not all about Jack Black, though. His awesomeness is actually somewhat restrained and totally appropriate for kids. I liked this movie a lot, and I think the kids did, too.

Monday, July 21, 2008

I Am Legend (2007)

Will Smith is really a good actor, and he's great in this. I had some pretty disturbing and vivid dreams after watching it, though. I really need to read the book someday. There are two other movie versions: The Last Man on Earth (1964) with Vincent Price and Omega Man (1971) with Charlton Heston. I've seen Omega Man, and I think it was pretty corny, but I can't remember it that well. Anyway, I Am Legend is very far from corny. It's suspenseful and scary.

Definitely, Maybe (2008)

This is pretty good, but I had a surprisingly violent reaction to something in one of the special features. The director or writer or someone was talking about the movie (you know that every movie is special, right, and deserves its own thoughtful discussion about how they came upon their wonderful idea, how they found the perfect actors, etc.), and he said, "We wanted New York to be a character in the movie." I suddenly felt the urge to yell "Shut up!" and throw a pillow at the TV. Like 2/3 of all movies aren't set in New York!* Yawn. Or commit violence with throw pillows. Take your pick.

It was original as far as romantic comedies go, and the backdrop of the Clinton campaign and administration was pretty interesting. I had some problems with the movie (not just with the special features), but I think they might be considered spoilers, so I will leave it at that.

*This statistic is a fabrication. If anyone knows what the real statistic is, please tell me.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Eastern Standard Tribe

It's been close to 3 years since Brian Dunn gave me a couple of books that he'd just read: Eastern Standard Tribe and Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, both by Cory Doctorow. The other day I realized that they're not keepers for me, so I pulled them off the shelf to put in our bye-bye books box. (Books in that box sometimes get traded for credit at one of the used books stores around here, sometimes given to the second-hand store, sometimes given to the local public library for their "holiday reading" section from which anyone can take books permanently.)

First, I profusely praise the author for releasing his works under a Creative Commons license that allows for free redistribution. That's really cool, and for that he deserves lots of credit (and support by purchase of physical books such as Brian did!).

As I flipped through my copy of Eastern Standard Tribe, I found some notes I took on hotel note paper, and chuckled at my fussy copy-editor side. The notes:

  • Fixed width font fi ligatures
  • EST = GMT-5, EDT = GMT-4 ([wrong] several times)
  • Lexis-Nexus
  • p. 67 London = noon, Toronto = 6 am?

To address those in turn: It is really annoying to read computer output, email, etc. in fixed-width fonts but see ligatures that (1) are quite unlike what you see in a fixed-width font on a real computer terminal, and (2) break the uniform spacing of the font and mess up the alignment of the rest of the line. It's certainly more genuinely problematic in technical books, where I frequently see it as well, but it's annoying enough in a book of fiction published by Tor, who I'd expect to know better.

Lexis-Nexus: Yeah, it's just spelled wrong, consistently. It should be LexisNexis. Perhaps it was intentional to avoid using a trademark, but I kind of doubt it.

But most significantly, in a book that's all about time zones, I sure thought I must be crazy, because the time zone differences seem to be calculated wrong! Please comment and explain how I'm wrong if that's the case, but there were numerous times that Eastern Time was mentioned as 6 hours earlier than London, but by my calculations, it is only 5 hours earlier, and only 4 hours earlier than Greenwich Mean Time (which doesn't change for daylight saving time aka summer time).

Yes, I'm a pedant, but shouldn't that really be right in this book? Toronto is in the same time zone as New York etc., right? I really hope I'm wrong about this.

As to the story itself: It was enjoyable, and it was just the right length (longer would've been a waste, and I love it when authors don't pad stories). But the story seemed really unbelievable to me. The idea of people forming tribes based on their particular 1-hour time zone struck me as fairly absurd. I work from a home office with people from all time zones in the United States and a few elsewhere. While the difference in time between California and New York (3 hours) is indeed noticeable, the difference between, say, Kansas and Idaho or Virginia on either side (1 hour) barely registers.

People seem to be getting more accustomed to working across timezones, not less so. Either there needs to be more nuance, or, more likely, the premise just doesn't really work. For me, anyway. As long as I set that fundamental problem aside, it was an engaging read.

Down and Out's premise was even more problematic for me. The whole story seemed a little absurd. Deadly serious themes revolving around ... Disneyland? Again, I'm probably a sub-ideal reader for this, since I'm not interested in much Disney, ever, much less futuristic post-scarcity Disney. But like the other book, it was paced well, and short enough not to annoy.

I'd like to read other fiction by Cory Doctorow and see if it has more staying power for me. I've enjoyed his essays unreservedly.

Links (including free downloads):

Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie S. Tolan

This entertaining young adult novel is about a rebellious kid who gets kicked out of several schools and finally ends up with an artistic home schooling family. The message is positive and the characters are quirky and funny.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Speed Racer (2008)

Maybe the Wachowski brothers only had one good story in them (The Matrix), but they still make great-looking movies. Speed Racer is fun to watch, but there's not much else to it. It's also too long--over two hours. We saw it at our little drive-in, which I love. I think I've mentioned that before.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

WALL-E (2008)

I think my expectations were too high for this movie, so it was a little disappointing. But it's good. The portrayal of humans 700 years in the future is especially funny and insightful, but not cynical or mean like it could have been. There's plenty of cleverness and humor, even with little dialog in some parts.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

At least they're entertaining

I gave the kids some failed lemon bars tonight--I overcooked them and the crust had kind of disappeared into the lemon part. Possibly a result of using whole wheat flour, too. Anyway, the following conversation ensued:

Seth: "These lemon bars taste kind of weird. But they're still good! No offense, Mom!"

Mira: "MOM IS NOT A HORSEY! SHE IS NOT IN A FENCE!"

It is still making me laugh.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Greatest Game Ever Played (2005)

I got kind of tired of seeing things from the ball's perspective, but this was an okay movie. Jon said that the class issues made it an interesting story, and he was right.Otherwise it would have been pretty dull. I'm sure golf is exciting to some people, but not necessarily to me. It's a true story, though, and that made it more interesting.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

In-flight Entertainment

I discovered on our nine-hour flights between Denver and London that there are only certain movies that are suitable for viewing on the tiny, 5"x5" screen in the seat in front of you. They should be entertaining but not great, because you want to be entertained, but you don't want to watch anything that might become a classic on a tiny screen a foot from your face with mediocre headphones for the sound. Also, nothing with sweeping scenery or detailed costumes. In fact, maybe something you wouldn't go out of your way to watch otherwise. Here's what I watched:

Mad Money (2008): fit the in-flight entertainment requirements perfectly. I like Queen Latifah. I think I'd like to be called Queen something.

I Could Never Be Your Woman (2007): In spite of having one of the worst movie titles ever invented, this movie wasn't bad. I kind of enjoyed it. I had never heard of it before, and nobody else has ever heard of it either.

Later: I'm remembering more good stuff about this movie: good music, including "I Wish I Looked a Little Better" by Sparks; plentiful mockery of Hollywood; several hilarious moments; Jon Lovitz as the amusing ex-husband.

The Bucket List (2007): This was much better than I thought it would be.

Hanging Up by Delia Ephron

This was my other vacation novel while we were in Europe, and it was entertaining. I liked it. I kept imagining Meg Ryan, Diane Keaton, and Lisa Kudrow as the characters in the book, since they starred in the movie. They seemed to fit pretty well.

State of Fear by Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton's novel about a global warming conspiracy was my entertaining escape fiction while we were in Europe. Kind of a guilty, over-the-top pleasure, I admit, but definitely fun.

Beauty and the Beast: A Latter-day Tale (2007)

Jon hated this movie from the other room, where he was trying to work while Ivy and I watched it. He kept yelling at us about how terrible the argumentative dialog was. Ivy and I enjoyed Jon's response to the movie more than we enjoyed the movie.

The Water Horse (2007)

The historical elements in this movie are surprisingly good and informative. Good story, too.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

P.S. I Love You (2007)

Wow. If I'd paid attention to the real plot of this, I don't think I would have rented it--too sad and painful. But it's really a very good movie, and I'm glad we saw it. Strangely enough, we laughed more during this movie than we did during 27 Dresses, because it has some great comic elements. It's a painful movie to watch, but the ending is hopeful and at least somewhat happy. Definitely recommended, but not if your loved one is away on a business trip or anything like that.

27 Dresses (2008)

Pleasant and mildly entertaining. The best thing about this movie was the believability of the characters. The hero and heroine who hate each other at the beginning of the movie but end up together at the end is not a new concept in a romantic comedy, but in 27 Dresses, I thought their antagonism was particularly realistic. Instead of their differences being overcome by their physical attraction or whatever, these two actually seemed to complement each other. I could believe that they would be better together than apart, which seems unusually thoughtful for a rom-com, though probably accidentally so.

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

I was so eager to read this novel--it seemed like exactly the kind of thing I'd love--but I struggled to keep interested through the first half of the book. The second half picked up a lot, and I thought the ending was good--entertaining and suspenseful. It's possible that my expectations were too high, because it's well-written and has some very good historical parts. Anyway, I think I'd recommend it, if only to get some other people's reactions to it.

Just Like Heaven (2005)

Jon and I saw this first at the drive-in when it was new. We liked it fine the first time, and it was still entertaining the second time, though nothing special. At the drive-in, we noticed during the closing credits that the film had apparently been playing slowly--we could tell because "Just Like Heaven" by the Cure sounded a little slow and weird. I felt better after seeing it at the right speed. Not that it made any difference, really. I mean, we didn't notice until the very end. But whatever. I was happy to hear "Just Like Heaven" at the right speed anyway.

Catch Me If You Can (2002)

This was the second time I've seen this movie, and it's a pretty amazing story. I'd like to read the book someday, which is by Frank Abagnale, the guy who actually did successfully pretend, at a young age, to be a PanAm pilot, a pediatrician, and a lawyer, cashing millions of dollars worth of fraudulent checks. It's a fascinating story.

Vitus (2006)

An excellent film in Swiss German about a child prodigy and his creative ways of coping with the pressure he feels from parents, teachers, etc. We watched it with the kids, and aside from a little dialog that's probably too mature, it was great. Recommended.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Anxiously Engaged (2007)

This was released as Picadilly Cowboy, which is kind of a dumb name. But it's kind of a dumb movie. At least they were actually in London for the filming, which made it interesting to look at. And the characters are somewhat likable. It's loosely based on Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew," but it's an LDS version.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

This novel about a certain area of 19th century China is fascinating. For one thing, I learned about the secret women's writing called nu shu that has been passed down from mother to daughter in one rural Hunan province for about a thousand years. Also, the book has a vivid but fairly unemotional description of foot binding that made me feel physically ill. That's just evidence of my ignorance rather than a recommendation not to read the book. I knew about foot binding before, but only in the vaguest way. Then there's the heavy stuff about the friendship between the main character and her "old same," a friend bound to her by contract when they were young. Anyway, it wasn't a light read, but it was fascinating and important.

An Ideal Husband (1999)

This movie based on an Oscar Wilde play is clever and funny but more meaty than The Importance of Being Earnest. This was my third time watching it (I've been trying to knit at night, and I have to watch TV while I knit, right?). I can't remember if I've read the play, and I wonder how close the movie follows it.

Pride and Prejudice (2005)

Yep, I watched it again. I think that's probably five or six times now. I love the music. I love the sympathetic take on even the most annoying characters. Keira Knightley is too skinny for the part, but she's also a friendly and modern version of Elizabeth you can imagine being friends with. Of course, the 1995 A&E version is the best and most faithful to the novel. But it's also five hours long, and this one's only two, so I can watch it while knitting and still go to bed before midnight. Or 1:00 am or whatever.

Kolya (1996)

Jon and I have been learning a little Czech (and I mean a little) because we are going to Prague for about 24 hours after a week-long trip to Berlin for Jon's work. (I say that so casually, but this is very exciting for us. So far, we have only aspired to be world travelers. Hopefully, this will be the first of many trips to various cool places.) So I found this movie in Czech at our local video rental place. I think we understood one phrase, with the help of the subtitles, which is daunting, of course, but the movie was really good. It takes place just before the Soviet Union released its hold on Czechoslovakia, and it was cool to see the quiet resistance of the Czech people to the Russian occupation. There was a fair amount of womanizing by the main character, but the story, about an older, jaded man whose outlook is changed by a little boy, is heart-warming.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Bee Movie (2007)

I'm pretty sure that Jerry Seinfeld isn't much of an actor, and here's my evidence: on his TV show, his name was Jerry. And in Bee Movie, his name is Barry! Yes, it has long been an untried and nonsensical theory of mine that not-very-good actors get parts that have their same first name. I guess so they don't get confused or something? Well, I'm not ready to defend my theory, and I'm kind of embarrassed that I'm going public with it, but there it is. (We can talk about many of the supporting actors in the The Office later if you'd like--Creed, Phyllis, Oscar, etc. Maybe they will bury my theory once and for all.)

But while there is other evidence that Jerry Seinfeld isn't a great actor (like when he used to deliver some of his lines on Seinfeld with a barely concealed smile), he's pretty dang funny. And so is Bee Movie, which kind of surprised me. I especially liked John Goodman's unprincipled lawyer character (and Jon laughed for ten minutes when he came out from behind his table in one of those baby walker things) and the plane landing in the manner of a giant bee. We all liked it a lot.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Far Away, So Close! (1993)

Far Away, So Close! is the more accessible sequel to Wings of Desire. Both are German movies about angels who choose to become human. (City of Angels, with Meg Ryan and Nicholas Cage, was an inferior but somewhat interesting American remake of Wings of Desire, although the endings of the two movies are radically different.)

Far Away, So Close! is about the angel Cassiel, who becomes human when he's not quite ready. He's just trying to help, but he ends up making some bad choices, getting involved with scary people, hurting people he loves, and eventually learning about consequences and other profound stuff. It's really a good movie. My favorite character, or at least my favorite name for a character, is Emit Flesti, which, cleverly, is "Time Itself" spelled backwards.

It's mostly in German, but there's also Italian, French, and English. Oh, and a little Russian! There's a cameo of Mikhail Gorbachev. It's all subtitled, of course.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Matrix trilogy (edited)

The Matrix is so good, although this time around I was surprised to see that its wonderful special effects are already looking dated. The Matrix Reloaded is like watching a video game. Not playing a video game, but watching one. Way over the top with the fighting, car chases, etc., and boring. The Matrix Revolutions was okay, and helped make a little more sense of the second. But it's also possible that watching the second one causes many brain cells to die and then the third one looks better than it otherwise would.

Here's a site where you can buy edited movies. Or rather, you buy a movie and they provide a free archive copy that happens to be edited (similar to PG or PG-13, your choice). I don't know how long their trickery will last, but apparently it's legal to make archive copies of DVDs that you've purchased, so that's their angle.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I think she means to reassure me.

Me: Did you go potty?

Mira: Yeah!

Me: When?

Mira (very happy and loud): At two firty seven!

This time the number actually sounded like a time, but often it's something like "Sixteen fifty two!" Which is a time when you're referring to the 24-hour clock, but I don't think she's that smart.

It's probably not a fair question to ask a 2.5-year-old. Like I expect her to have a record of her potty breaks or something.

Another frequent conversation is the following:

Me: Let's go potty!

Mira: I already did yesterday!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Enchanted (2007)

I think Enchanted might be Disney's best princess movie ever. I should probably mention that I'm not a big fan of the Disney princesses in general, but I like this one a lot! Amy Adams captures perfectly the wide-eyed wonder of a cartoon princess, and the concept of a Disney fairy tale character showing up in New York City is clever and funny.

(A character from any real fairy tale--Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson, for example--would probably feel right at home in New York City. After all, in those stories, the Little Mermaid gets turned into sea foam instead of getting the prince, and Cinderella's stepsisters cut off their heels and toes to fit into the glass slipper and their deception is discovered when blood starts dripping out of the shoe. Also, I believe their eyes are pecked out by birds. But maybe that's making New York City out to be worse than it is. I love New York.)

Anyway, in spite of the lame name (I keep forgetting the name, or going through different forms of "enchant" before I get to the right one), it's delightful. A little over the top at the end, but at least it's the girl who saves the day. That's a pleasant change.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

I Think I Can...

My youngest child, who is 2 1/2 years old and precocious, if you want to use a nice word for it, was messing around in my room today while I was doing something (something important, I'm sure) on my computer. I was trying to keep my eye on her, because she is into everything these days. She was jumping on my bed and "looking" at our books and hiding behind things, peeking out at me to see if she was hidden enough to do whatever dastardly deed she was about to do. I kept talking to her, just to let her know that I was paying attention, and taking things away from her.

At one point, she got quiet (you know that's not good), and I could suddenly hear that unmistakable sound of a pencil on paper. "What are you doing?" I asked in my accusatory Mommy voice. And she said, "Trying not to color on your book."

Apparently she wasn't trying hard enough. But I guess it's a start?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks

This book by an Australian female journalist who worked in the Middle East for years is fascinating. She shows a lot of different aspects of women's lives under Islamic regimes, including the militant women who choose to wear hijab and fight alongside men to bring Islamic regimes to power. It's not all about the oppression of women, but about different ways Islam has treated women over the centuries and how women have dealt with their religion in several Muslim countries.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

Parts of this Dracula novel are deliciously tense and creepy. It's a smart, well-researched retelling of the Dracula legend, but I was a little disappointed in the end, which seemed a little too much like every vampire movie you've ever seen. However, I admit that in a different mood, the references to our pop culture Dracula probably would have delighted me.

The novel includes a lot of fascinating and disturbing stories about the historical Vlad the Impaler, on whom the Dracula legend is supposedly based. I loved the vivid descriptions of some Eastern European cities. It's long, but I'd recommend it. (Bram Stoker's Dracula is also worth reading.)

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

I thought I was going to get through this Vonnegut novel without encountering any aliens, but I was wrong! Their appearance is very brief, and they're not directly involved in the story, but they're there. Besides that, it was an interesting book with plenty to talk about, but my brain isn't up to discussing it meaningfully right now.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne

I read the Winnie the Pooh books to my 2-year-old before nap time every day in an attempt to make the nap more palatable to her. It didn't really work, but I loved these stories. I had never read them before, and they are delightful. Eeyore has always been my favorite character in the Disney version, and I was surprised to find that his pessimism is much, much worse in the books. He is ridiculously pessimistic, and I thought he was hilarious. I highly recommend them.

A Year with Frog and Toad

The kids and I went to see a live production of this at a (sort of) local theater. It was delightful. The plot could have been more complicated, even for kids, but the music was energetic and delightful, and the performers excellent. Even my 2-year-old was transfixed.

The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969)

I liked this movie about a group of Italians who cleverly and peacefully stand up to the Germans who occupy their small village during World War II. However, I admit that I slept through part of it. Jon says it was good, though, and I liked what I saw. I'd watch it again.

Frankie & Hazel (2000)

This was okay. A ballerina secretly plays on a baseball team against the wishes of her strict grandmother. Her friend is refreshing--feminist, political, opinionated. Otherwise, just okay.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferriss

I'm not often drawn to a get-rich-quick book, and to be honest, I wasn't drawn to this one. Jon made me read it, mostly for the travel ideas. Tim Ferriss does have good ideas about how to travel and do worthwhile things while you're young instead of waiting until you're old and retired. (That's right, Mom, OLD!) (I remember hearing my dad's good friend Sherman talking about how he thought society was all backwards: we should be retired when we're young and energetic and go to work later, when we're ready to settle down. This book made me think of him.)

It's not really a get-rich-quick book, though. It's more about figuring out how to live your dreams instead of allowing yourself to be oppressed by your job and what everyone says you have to do in order to be successful. Tim Ferriss seems a little unscrupulous sometimes (like when he wins the world kickboxing championship by taking advantage of technicalities he found in the rules), but the ideas outlined in his book don't require that. It's worth reading.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Quarterlife

I watched the series premiere of this TV show while I was at Ivy's house and liked it pretty well. The next day I read that it was watched by so few people that it probably wouldn't air a second episode. Ha ha! Considering how often I watch TV, this has happened to a large proportion of the TV shows I've watched and liked, like Keen Eddie. But Quarterlife apparently began life as a web series, so I guess if I really care, I could watch more of it. Maybe someday. I don't think it was great, just not as inane and annoying as the rest of what's typically on TV.

The Da Vinci Code (2006)

I read the book a few years ago and thought it was pretty good entertainment reading--suspenseful and exciting. People took it too seriously, but the author was partly to blame for that, considering his statement at the beginning of the book about "facts" he'd included. I wasn't very excited to see the movie (obviously I didn't rush out to see it), but it turned out to be better than I thought it would be. I was surprised that it was fairly slow-moving, possibly even less suspenseful than the book. It wasn't great but not bad.

The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A.J. Jacobs

I loved this book. It's light-hearted (but not frivolous), easy to read, thoughtful, hilarious, entertaining. A.J. Jacobs, a secular Jew (he describes himself as Jewish like the Olive Garden is Italian), decides to live all the rules, laws and advice of the Bible for one year, even the most obscure and bizarre. Along the way he finds other groups and individuals who try to follow those laws, and he's always respectful and fair-minded. Like Jon said when he finished it, it wasn't long enough, which is a pretty good gripe to have about a book. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

80th Annual Academy Awards

Since I was at Ivy's when this aired, I got to watch it. But it was kind of boring. Jon Stewart was funny in an I-think-the-Oscars-are-stupid kind of way that I find interesting. It's fun to see pregnant actresses (Nicole Kidman, Jessica Alba and Cate Blanchett). And I'm glad Juno won at least one of four awards it was nominated for (best original screenplay). Otherwise, like I said, kind of boring. But I got my TV fix for a while!

Mansfield Park (2007)

The 1999 Mansfield Park is pretty edgy and takes some liberties with Jane Austen's story. This PBS film sticks to the story a little better but isn't as satisfyingly passionate. The Crawfords in the movie are immediately untrustworthy and shallow, while Austen's Crawfords are much more interesting and surprise you with their deceitfulness. At least that's how I remember the novel. Anyway, it was entertaining but not as good as Persuasion and Northanger Abbey.

Northanger Abbey (2007)

I read the novel within the last year and enjoyed it more than I thought I would. The new PBS film is delightful, capturing the heroine's overwrought imagination quite well. I loved it.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan

The cover of In Defense of Food advises "Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants." Small parts of it are recycled from The Omnivore's Dilemma, which is an amazing and wonderful book, but there's also a fair amount of original stuff about nutrition research that was pretty eye-opening. His conclusions about how to eat for health weren't earth-shattering to me, but they were useful and are helping me get back on track after feeling kind of derailed about what we're supposed to be eating. I liked it a lot.

Persuasion (2007)

I liked this new PBS version of Jane Austen's Persuasion better than the 1995 film, which I found confusing, even knowing the story. It was a nice way to spend one evening after the eleven children went to bed. (You might think I'm very casual about watching that many kids, but you might also notice that I keep mentioning the eleven children.) Anyway, it was a great escape film.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets

The second National Treasure movie is even cornier than the first, but still enjoyable. We couldn't see a lot of it towards the end because we saw it the drive-in and a pretty thick fog rolled in. That was kind of weird.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Out of Step (2002)

This LDS movie about a Utah girl who goes to New York as a dance student has more complicated characters than we usually see in LDS films and isn't as silly as some, but it was kind of hard to believe that the setting is supposed to be New York. Jon and I had just been there and walked right by NYU, where the story takes place. The students in the movie look more like University of Utah students, and I bet the professor is more like a U. of U. professor, too.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Sea of Monsters and The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan

The second and third books in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series are just as entertaining and exciting as the first. Fun reading, with lots of references to Greek mythology.

Morality for Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith

Same as what I thought about Tears of the Giraffe.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Two things I've learned

If the youngest is crying, and you give some bubbles to the big kids so they can distract him, he might stop crying, but the arguing among the elder children might be so loud and vehement that you consider taking the bubbles away, even if the little one starts crying again.

If there is a water and ice dispenser in the door of the refrigerator, there will always be at least 20 cups and glasses on the table, half-filled with water and ice. Even though there are only eleven children.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The next great musical sensation ...

I'm spending this week at Ivy's house while Ivy and her husband are gallivanting around Orlando, Florida. (I totally approve of the gallivanting, by the way. They'd better be having marathon fun!) That makes me, the lone adult, with eleven children, ages 19 months to 12 years. Of course, more than half are my children, so it's not really as big of a deal as you'd think. The days start off pretty calmly, and it's only around dinner time that the noise reaches such a level that I start to feel like joining along with the screaming. And right after that, it's bed time, the best part of the day.

Ivy and I have watched each other's kids several times, and it's interesting to see how interactions between the kids change as they get older. For example, the older boys now spend a lot of their time talking about their "band." Keep in mind that none of them plays an instrument. Well, Ivy's oldest is taking guitar lessons, and my boys play the piano. Occasionally I hear a couple of bars of something familiar from the guitar, but that's about it.

Of course they've discussed band names, and isn't that the most important part of being in a band? A few of their ideas are Fried Chicken, Fudge, and The Band. (There have been a lot of ideas, but I can't remember any more than that right now.) They've had some pretty heated arguments about who's going to play which instrument. I've also heard this sentence spoken: "What if someone doesn't practice enough before the concert?" That's when I wanted to yell, "What concert?!" But I refrained. They are 12, 10, and 9 and don't appreciate their ridiculousness.

I think it would be kind of cool if they actually learned to play drums, guitar, bass, etc. and covered some Foo Fighters songs or something. But I doubt that they'll come to me for suggestions. Maybe they'll let me make anti-suggestions: please not "Ironman" and only "Sweet Child of Mine" if you're joking. I'll just be hoping they don't get anything pierced or tattooed, and trying not to stand too close to the drum set, which is really loud, did you know? Even a kid size one. Even when it's being played by a 2-year-old.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

The fourth book in the Harry Potter series has a pretty slow and meandering start that lasts for about 3/4 of the book. Maybe I was a little burned out on Harry by the time I started it. I also remembered the movie pretty well, and maybe that made it less exciting. I do think the plot moves more slowly than in the others and it's not even really clear what the plot is, because the connections between events are intentionally unclear until the end.

However, the end was so suspenseful and exciting that it made up for the rest. Even though I knew what was going to happen, I was riveted. It also set up the fifth book in a way that the movie didn't.

So I guess I'm a Harry Potter convert. I resisted for a long time. But after I finished Goblet of Fire, I had that familiar bittersweet feeling of missing the characters as if they were real friends that I'd lost contact with. I can reread the books and see the movies, especially the coming sixth and seventh, but there won't be any new adventures. So why is that feeling bittersweet, instead of just bitter? I think it's because knowing the characters was a good experience, one I wouldn't give up. And while the Harry Potter books are great adventure stories, there's also a lot to learn from them, and not just about really evil evil vs. regular good, but about friendship and growing up.

And here's my favorite Dumbledore quote, from the movie because the book has apparently been swallowed by the black hole that is the kids' library: "Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy."