Friday, February 16, 2007

When is a flashback not a flashback?

I am so happy that Lost has started back up again. 16 straight weeks without a break. The first two episodes back have been doozies. Lots of crazy stuff going on. Lots of answers given.

My favorite moments:
1. Edmund Burke getting run over by a bus. It happened so fast and although it shouldn't have been a surprise, I was stunned.
2. Seeing Juliet's transformation from a weak, dominated researcher to a strong willed, clear-minded leader.
2. Mrs. Hawking and the information she gave Desmond. "The universe has a way of course correcting." That whole episode was CRAZY! And gives us a big hint about the island: time is not as linear as we think it is...

I am also loving the official ABC Lost podcast. Damon Lindelof and Carleton Cuse, the executive producers, are so so fun to listen to. You get a little look behind the scenes, you get a few hints of what's coming, and you get to laugh hard at them. Listening to that almost makes doing the dishes a pleasure.
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Les Choristes

When AJ was out of town, I watched The Chorus, a French film. It is the story of a dreary and hard-edged school full of trouble-making boys who have been ejected from other educational venues. It seemed to be a school of last resort for them. A failed musician comes as a new teacher and seeks to impose discipline and respect without the cruelty of the other staff, but without success. He finally decides to teach them to sing in a chorus. One of the biggest problem students is Pierre Morhange, but it turns out that he has an amazing musical gift.

It is a charming movie--Pierre's voice is angelic and I was emotionally moved by listening to him and the chorus of boys.
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Peacemaker in 2-year old Skin

Earlier this week, right after MJ had gotten up, she was camped out on the stairs, near a bunch of her stuff she had left out. I was still in my pjs, and was coming downstairs. I slipped on her toys and when my legs came out from under me, I bounced down the stairs on my rear. In my shock and pain, I was angry with her, and I forcefully took her over to the couch and sat her down hard, asking her why she had left her toys on the stairs. I then went back to the stairs and hurled the toys, one after another, into the family room, shouting that if we couldn't pick up toys, I was going to throw them out. I am not happy with how I reacted, but this is what happened. Then I went back over to the couch and sat down to tell her that she needed to pick up her stuff, that we could get seriously hurt by falling down the stairs, etc. T was standing nearby, watching the whole scene. He kept looking at MJ, a bit upset by her distress. Then he said to me, "She didn't mean to. Sometimes it happens that we get hurt." Just like that. I was totally floored. I couldn't believe those words were coming out of his mouth, but of course, he was right. And it broke the tension and I gave them both a hug.

I'm not sure if he has heard us use phrases like this, or where he got it. This was the first time I had heard him say this. And although his words were quite effective on this occasion, I didn't buy it this morning, when, after unrolling toilet paper in the bathroom and through the hall, he said, "I didn't mean to. It sometimes happens that I unroll toilet paper." That was the second time he tried to use those same words when he had made a mess of something. He must have seen how those words impacted me with MJ and decided to try them again to see if they could get him out of trouble.
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New Moon

I finally got Stephenie Meyer's new book from the library. I think when I reserved the book, I was 50th or 60th, something like that. I felt compelled to read it, even though I didn't absolutely love Twilight. I'm not going to say much, but I felt like

1. it was very plot driven
2. Bella was an emotional mess. I mean, I know break-ups are hard, but I felt like she couldn't get her life back together until Edward came back.
3. The plot swerved everywhere. There was one line going, then it totally veered off in a second direction and the two lines never came together. It seems that the book is a bridge between the first one and the third, not yet written, one. It didn't stand up on its own.
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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Other book group

I am still on the email list for the previous book group I attended. I love to hear what they're doing and reading. I just got an email about what they will be reading in the next year.

White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era by Shelby Steele; definitely sounds like a great topic

Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
"Homer’s Odyssey is not the only version of the story. Mythic material was originally oral, and also local -- a myth would be told one way in one place and quite differently in another. I have drawn on material other than the Odyssey, especially for the details of Penelope’s parentage, her early life and marriage, and the scandalous rumors circulating about her. I’ve chosen to give the telling of the story to Penelope and to the twelve hanged maids. The maids form a chanting and singing Chorus, which focuses on two questions that must pose themselves after any close reading of the Odyssey: What led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to? The story as told in the Odyssey doesn’t hold water: there are too many inconsistencies. I’ve always been haunted by the hanged maids and, in The Penelopiad, so is Penelope herself." -- from Margaret Atwood’s Foreword to The Penelopiad

Freakonomics by Steven Leavitt: GREAT book, I read it last May on vacation; lots of fascinating material to discuss

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell: I also really liked this book. I suggested it for my book group, but it was an off-the-cuff idea, so I didn't pitch it very well, and they seemed turned off by the idea of it containing sex slavery. But, it would be a great book to discuss in book group.

His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph Ellis: I gave this to AJ for Christmas last year. Haven't read it yet, though.

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maughan
From Library Journal
Shallow, poorly educated Kitty marries the passionate and intellectual Walter Fane and has an affair with a career politician, Charles Townsend, assistant colonial secretary of Hong Kong. When Walter discovers the relationship, he compels Kitty to accompany him to a cholera-infested region of mainland China, where she finds limited happiness working with children at a convent. But when Walter dies, she is forced to leave China and return to England. Generally abandoned, she grasps desperately for the affection of her one remaining relative, her long-ignored father. In the end, in sharp, unexamined contrast to her own behavior patterns, she asserts that her unborn daughter will grow up to be an independent woman.

The Backslider by Levi Peterson
Book description: Frank Windham is just a Mormon cowboy—hard-working, trying to be honest, convinced he is going to hell for incurable lust, and convinced that he deserves to. He has an ultra-pious mother, a brother who is more than just a little touched in the head, and a comfortable Lutheran girl friend who knows she has been saved. This is a novel about sin and salvation, written with raunchiness and reverence. It is also an extraordinary landmark in Mormon fiction—the first to consider the tension between guilt and sexual frustration.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling: not sure how this one would play out in a discussion group, but could be fun

The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. A deadly virus has spread rapidly across Earth, effectively cutting off wildlife specialist Laura Byrd at her crippled Antarctica research station from the rest of the world. Meanwhile, the planet's dead populate "the city," located on a surreal Earth-like alternate plane, but their afterlives depend on the memories of the living, such as Laura, back on home turf. Forced to cross the frozen tundra, Laura free-associates to keep herself alert; her random memories work to sustain a plethora of people in the city, including her best friend from childhood, a blind man she'd met in the street, her former journalism professor and her parents. Brockmeier (The Truth About Celia) follows all of them with sympathy, from their initial, bewildered arrival in the city to their attempts to construct new lives. He meditates throughout on memory's power and resilience, and gives vivid shape to the city, a place where a giraffe's spots might detach and hover about a street conversation among denizens. He simultaneously keeps the stakes of Laura's struggle high: as she fights for survival, her parents find a second chance for love—but only if Laura can keep them afloat. Other subplots are equally convincing and reflect on relationships in a beautiful, delicate manner; the book seems to say that, in a way, the virus has already arrived. (Feb.)

The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo: I have this on my shelf, but it's been a long time since I read it. I remember liking it though.

The New Urbanism: Toward an Architecture of Community by Peter Katz
The New Urbanism is a movement that seeks to restore a civil realm to urban planning and a sense of place to our communities. It is a tangible response to the failed Modernist planning that has resulted in unchecked suburban sprawl, slavish dependence on the automobile, and the abandonment and decay of our cities.
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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Disappointing evening

Last night I attended book group where we discussed the authorized biography of Mother Teresa. It also seemed to be an authorized discussion of her as well, as virtually no one said anything askance about her. Except me that is. I tried to ask thought provoking questions in a non-offensive way about some of the issues I had read about and felt. But, most everyone was quick to support her. And my questions were mostly after the lengthy discussion about all the good things she has done. Which I agree are many. She is an amazing woman. I fully concur. But, she was not a perfect woman. Can we not talk about her in a human way? Why can't we say, "She made mistakes" instead of, "well, her mission was to love and to help the poor. That was all she could do. It doesn't matter that she didn't really do anything to prevent the spread of infectious diseases in her homes for death." I'm not saying that the previous statement isn't true. It very well might be. But, why can't we talk about it??? I guess I won't suggest that we read and study the background for the revelation about extending preisthood to the blacks. I can only imagine how this type of reaction would play out when discussing a prophet and the "only true and living church."

I have been depressed the last few days. And I came home last night depressed. Between this and a small incident last week, I feel lonely and am longing for some local friends. Not just really nice people who I can associate with (of which there are quite a few), but friends who want to puzzle about issues and ask questions and who I can have in depth, interesting, and meaty conversations with. Everyone last night seemed happy about MT's very traditional view on women. "Isn't it great how she spoke out on abortion?" In a very radical and militant way, in my view. "And how she wanted women to stay in the home?" "Isn't this a great quote: 'Home if where mother is.'" It made me feel so abnormal.

Maybe part of the reason why I have been depressed is the resurfacing of the issue of my place. I don't feel comfortable where I'm at right now. I don't love it. It doesn't feel "right". I wish I knew that someday I would feel settled in a (metaphysical) place. We had dinner with an amazing couple whom I desparately wish live in our ward boundaries. She is my age and has just started grad school in rhetoric and women's studies. She has two kids, both a little bit older than MJ and T. Her life is crazy and busy, but she has a direction and a path that she feels great about, and to me, it's an exciting one. Too bad she's so busy that she doesn't have a lot of time to socialize. We talked about so many interesting things. Maybe that also made me long for things that I don't have in my life right now.

How do I find more women like this? I want to start another discussion/book group. Oh, how I miss my my NYC friends and my book group in Pittsburgh. (They also met last night, and I couldn't help but think about what they were talking about.) I'm sure these kind of women must exist in the greater Minneapolis area, but how do I find them?
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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Mother Teresa, Beyond the Image

To supplement my reading of Spink's authorized biography of Mother Teresa, I turned to Anne Sebba's biography Mother Teresa: Beyond the Image. It was immensely more readable than Spink's. So too, it was a more balanced portrayal of her. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when in the introduction I read "No individual is perfect, and by blacking out those aspects which make them a fully rounded human being, the media and those who collude with them do her a disservice. Once any small weakness is observed, people feel let down, cheated; eventually, the person is exposed to attack."

The first half of the book recounts chronologically the details of her life, and the second half examines questions arising out of Mother Teresa's work and philosophy.

In Spink, I got little hints of some aspects of her personality that were confirmed in Sebba's account.

  1. Mother Teresa was a bit of a control freak. She wanted to be in charge and micro-manage every aspect of the Missionaries of Charity. She had a set of rules and was scrupulous in making sure the sisters followed them. She never wanted to colloborate with others, and when the Co-Workers started growing too much, she disbanded their institution.
  2. She strongly favors faith and prayer over knowledge. In her houses of death, she was more likely to say that someone was going home to God, rather than to try to implement any medical procedures and practices that might help that person recover. She refused to use trained nurses, and refused to separate the infectious patients into their own area. The missionaries of charity were not to read any newspapers or books, since they were not needed to inform them. Rather, they should trust in the Holy Spirit for all the knowledge that they needed. Missionaries were tranferred quickly from place to place, without the opportunity to build up specialized practical or language skills. Love was all they needed.
  3. She was fierce in her insistence of the order's subjection to poverty. Sebba recounts an experience in San Francisco where a house had been readied for the Missionaries of Charity. When Mother Teresa showed up, she was very disapproving of the "luxury" there, and rugs and mattresses were thrown out the windows, along with the water heater. In another case, she chastized sisters for canning tomatoes during a time of thier abundance. "MofC do not store things, but must rely on God's providence."
  4. She was relentless in her support of the Catholic church and its authority, and was especially vocal about speaking up against abortion and contraceptive use. She would not give her babies for adoption to couples who used contraception since they "cannot love freely and unconditionally."
  5. Temporal rules such as building and fire codes were deemed unimportant, since God would provide. This goes hand in hand with point 2. She refused to spend time compiling accountability reports to individual donors who had given money to her institution, so there was often very little understanding of how much money had been given and to what use it was going.

I have highlighted criticisms of her here, but this is not to suggest that Sebba's book was only critical. There were several portions of the book where I felt renewed awe and inspiration at her life and work.

And finally, I liked this description of the difference between the two books:

Spink's life of Mother Teresa has the appearance of a pre-Vatican II holy card--an uncritical image of a saint always naively happy and trusting completely in Providence...In contrast, Sebba's work contains light and shadows as she asks key biblical questions that Mother Teresa struggled with every day of her life: What are the poor among us and how can we respond to their needs?
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Thursday, February 01, 2007

July 21, 2007

Today, I received emails from, Barnes and Noble, and Borders all informing me that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will be released for sale on July 21, 2007. Yipee! I am very excited for the final installment. Although, I think it will be sad too--no more books to look forward to. And no more speculation on what will happen next. For the record, I think Snape will redeem himself in this book. I believe this for the simple reason that Dumbledore always had reason to trust him. We never found out why, but I suspect that we will in Deathly Hallows.

With the three emails, each imploring me to pre-order from them, with a guaranteed delivery on the 21st, I thought back to the way we have gotten the last three books.

Book 4 was released in the summer of 2000. We were staying overnight with two kids from a ward family. J was 7 (I think), but was quite the boy wonder reader, and he had already read books 1-3. So, AJ took him to the Barnes and Noble in Princeton and they waited in line until midnight, coming home with a book each.

Book 5 was released in the summer of 2003 when we were living in NYC. We must have had a babysitter staying with MJ, but I can't remember who it was. We went to a Barnes and Noble on the upper west side to also try to obtain a just past midnight copy, but by the time we got there, the line stretched from the top floor of the store, down the stairs, and out the door, all the way up the block. It seemed it would be quite a wait, and dubious whether we would ever be able to lay our hands on our own copy, so we gave up and went home. I was so mad. The next day, I went to a Barnes and Noble on the east side, and they had scads, so I got one there. It was raining, and I walked up the street, found a Subway, and camped out there reading the first few chapters while eating a sandwich. Later, I heard from a lot of friends that they had gotten their copies from Amazon or B&N the first thing the morning it was released, and I kicked myself for not going that route.

Fast forward to the summer of 2005. We were in Pittsburgh, and I had decided to order a copy rather than battle crowds. I watched and watched for the UPS truck that morning, but it didn't come. When I was at the post office in my neighborhood in Squirrel Hill, I jealously looked at a woman in line reading a copy of the Half Blood Prince, then walked up the street to the B&N there. There was a huge stack of books, and the crowds were thin! Ugh--Foiled again. I think the delivered copy arrived at 4 or so that afternoon.

We are in another place now, so I have no idea what it will be like here at the B&N at midnight. I don't know when I can expect a package delivered, if in the morning, the afternoon, or when. Yes, those extra few hours matter to me! I know it's silly, but oh, how I love laying hands on a new volume of Harry Potter and devouring it in short order. I want to be one of those who is reading it the first moment it is available.

This summer, in a long distance move and with lots of painting to do , I discovered the audio recordings by Jim Dale. I listened books 1-6 and I adore them. When we were in NYC, we could have gone to a B&N to hear him read Chapter 1 of The Order of the Phoenix. We didn't, and I now regret it.

While there are already 1701 people with their names on a waiting list at the library for the book, they haven't opened up a file for the audiobook. Should I read the book, and then just wait for a while to listen to the audio? Should I try to read and then listen directly after? Or...hmm. What about listening first??? That would take me back to my childhood when I eagerly awaited the next chapter of the book my mom was reading out loud to us first. I would almost certainly have to fork over the $50 or so bucks to get it on CD, because I know I wouldn't be able to wait to get a copy from the library. It would be awesome, though, to be the first one to check out a library copy of the audio book. But, how could I finagle that? Ahh! The sweet anticipation.
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