Monday, March 31, 2008

Update on my 101 list!

I checked off four items during the month of March.

Record family history (Create a family tree with my grandmother? Photos? Stories?)
Take Clay’s picture professionally at least once every 6 months
Make a will
Make a living will
Talk with Laura about Clay
Send a Christmas card to an estranged family member
Write to my grandmother
Attend services at three local churches
Volunteer in a way that’s meaningful to me
Go back to the gym – at least 3 times a week

Lose 10 pounds
Keep it off for 6 months
Train to run 3 miles without stopping
Try a yoga or pilates class
Go to the International Museum of Muslim Cultures
Go to the Smith Robertson Museum
Go to the Lauren Rogers Museum
Take an art class (pottery, painting, etc.)
Paint a picture
Learn to play at least one song on the guitar
Write a food article and get it published
Write at least one poem or short story
Paint the front porch swing - We picked white. It looks very pretty!
Tile the master bathroom
Plant some flowering shrubs in the back yard and DON’T let them die
Plant an herb garden
Fix the patio table
Get a window shade for the baby’s bedroom
Have an energy audit done on the house

Paint the shed in the back yard
Paint the inside of the garage
Take Clay swimming
Drink wine in California
Ride in a helicopter
Ride in a hot air balloon
Go to Graceland
Go to New York City
Create a “great books list” and start reading (at least 5 books)
Create a “great movies list” and start watching (at least 5 movies)
Treasure hunt on Highway 49
Host a New Year’s open house party
Host a “dinner among the leaves” party
Host an Easter brunch - This went great!
Throw a Kentucky Derby party
Celebrate the Chinese New Year
Pay off the last of my student loan
Buy some sexy new underwear
Attend at least one live concert
Go the fall flower show/festival in Crystal Springs
Visit a botanic garden
Learn more about the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict
Watch a meteor shower
Give blood
See snow
See the ocean
Adopt an Angel at Christmas
Go bowling
Pay for the person behind me in line
Do an anonymous good deed
Learn to bake a good loaf of bread
Go on a day hike
Write a letter to the editor of my local newspaper
Go on a vacation sans baby
Let Clay ride in the convertible with the top down
Perform in at least one stage production
Attend at least one Mensa meeting
Attend at least one college alumni event
Get back in touch with some of my college professors
Learn how to play poker
Learn how to shoot a decent game of pool
Make a real paella
Make a real sangria, to go with the paella
Get a facial
Start taking vitamins again
Take mom to have her makeup done
Discover 5 new recording artists I really like and buy their CDs
Find a pair of sunglasses that will change my life
Find my signature fragrance
Take some pictures of leaves turning color in the fall
Set up and take some faux-tography shots of the baby
Write to Grace - I sent her a photo of the baby, too!
Visit Grace in Oregon
Go on a picnic and eat food that I MADE, not food that I bought
Visit a dermatologist
Book a session with a personal trainer
Buy sheet music for a song I like and learn to play it on the piano
Learn to do a passable waltz
Bring the baby to visit my dad at work
Take a bubble bath
Light some candles just for us, when we DON’T have someone coming over
Make mint juleps and drink them on the front porch swing
Go ice skating
Preserve Clay’s foot and hand prints
Attain APR accreditation
Buy or make Clay a kick-ass Halloween costume
Give a gift that I made.
Send someone flowers for no reason
Begin using my wine notebook again and identify at least three new wines that I like
Buy a birdfeeder and set it up in the back yard
- It's ALREADY empty again! Geez, we have got some hungry birds around here . . .
Fix the broken window pane on the porch
Spend an afternoon lying in the hammock

First day of the challenge: January 1, 2008
Last day of the challenge: September 28, 2010

Great movie

I watched The Lookout, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeff Daniels, Matthew Goode, and Isla Fisher, this week. WOW. Where was the buzz about this film? It came out last year, and I'd honestly hardly heard of it until a few weeks ago.

Chris Pratt (Gordon-Levitt) is a popular high school student. His family is wealthy, he's the star of the school hockey team, and he's dating a beautiful girl. A horrific car accident, however, leaves him with a serious brain injury and two deaths on his conscience. After much rehab, Chris is living a lonely life as the night janitor at a bank. He lives in an apartment with Lewis (Daniels), a blind man with an eccentric personality.

Having a non-alcoholic beer at a local bar one night, Chris is approached by Gary Spargo (Goode). Spargo befriends him, introducing Chris to Luvlee Lemons (her stage name), with whom he strikes up a romantic relationship. Before long, though, the jig is up. Chris realizes that Gary is only softening him up in order to gain his participation in a robbery of the bank. With Gary's persuasion of power and a better life, Chris agrees to help.

Gordon-Levitt is amazing in this film, and the script is a thing of beauty. Daniels plays a role different from what I'm used to seeing him in, and he does very well with it. I was impressed with this film, and particularly with the character of Chris.

I am normally the person in the audience shouting at characters that make bad decisions. (As in, "Noooooo! You KNOW that is wrong! What are you doing??!! Stop! Stop right now and walk out of there!) But with this film, it is not so easy. Chris had everything. And now he feels that he has nothing. And he can't concentrate. And he can't even cook for himself, because he can't seem to put all the pieces together needed to open cans of tomatoes, boil pasta water, etc. He has lost so much. And he's still so young. And Gary comes in, smooth-talker that he is, and Chris wants so badly to believe that he can recapture who he was that he falls for it. I totally understood why Chris would have participated in the heist. I couldn't blame him.

This is not a predictable script. You honestly do not know what will happen next. Will Chris get out of this caper alive? Will he end up with the money? Will he rediscover himself? There are no pat answers (which is alot like life, I guess).

At any rate, see this movie. I really enjoyed it, and I think you will, too. There is some violence, but (in my opinion) it wasn't the gory, gratuitous kind.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Eat FRESH

I had the chance to go by the new Fresh Market in the Renaissance at Highland Colony development today, and I saw some very interesting things indeed. Fresh Market reminds me alot of Whole Foods, and it's clearly based on the same values.

The whole place is like porn for foodies, quite frankly. While I was there today, it was PACKED, and they must have been making money hand over fist. I saw several couples during the course of my visit in which one person was saying things to the other like, "They have make your own six-pack!! This is GREAT!" and "Oooooh, they have all the earth-friendly cleaning products!" and "Did you see the CHEESE?!"

The least remarkable section for me was produce. While they did have some good-looking stuff on offer, it didn't look too much better than what I see in my regular supermarket on a weekly basis. They did, however, have a few unique items for sale - lemongrass, purple asparagus, an assortment of organic potatoes - that caught my eye.

And, boy, do they know their customer. At the checkout, instead of a bunch of People and Us Weekly magazines, they have shelves of Gourmet, Food and Wine, Bon Appetit, Saveur, and other food-centric mags. Clearly, they know who they are selling to.

Here's why you should go:

5. The meat counter. OMG. Though expensive, the meat and fish there was some of the freshest I've seen in the metro area. PLUS, they had alot of cool make-at-home selections: prepared kebabs, chicken cordon bleu, fresh pot pies, little beef wellingtons, etc. Now these are not frozen, mind you. They have been freshly prepared, and you can buy them at the meat counter. Lastly, they also had selections such as duck breast and rack of lamb that can be difficult to locate in this area.

4. Take out. In addition to offering the standard rotisserie chickens (which looked REALLY good, but the way), they have take-away sushi, salmon, and a host of other items. I could totally see myself shopping there in the morning and picking up something for us to have for lunch back at home.

3. The bakery. You will weep, WEEP, I tell you! Freshly baked breads, and not just the standard varieties. They had sourdough, raisin-pecan, a medley of ryes, some multi-grain choices, plus rolls and cakes. Then, they had a dessert counter to DIE for: amazing-looking eclairs, cupcakes topped with fresh fruit, fruit tarts, cakes, pies, HUGE cream puffs. All of us counting our calories are in big trouble, is all I'm saying.

2. Coffee. They have quite a few whole-bean varieties of flavored coffee, offering much more selection than my normal grocery store. At $10 per pound, it's not any more expensive than the standard whole-bean hazlenut that I already buy, and I can try flavors like amaretto mocha and chocolate orange. You can grind the beans there, of course, or if you have a grinder at home (like me), you can just grind small batches at a time, resulting in VERY fresh coffee. Yummmmm . . .

And the number one reason you should go to Fresh Market?
1. Tomato paste in a tube. Yes, I know it sounds mundane, but how many of us have bought those little cans of tomato paste, used one tablespoon or so, and then let the remainder crust over in the can at the back of the fridge? Then, when you need tomato paste at a later date, the can looks gross, so you throw it out and buy yet ANOTHER can. NO ONE in the metro has been selling the tomato paste in a tube, which Ina Garten and other Food Network chefs whip out for their recipes.

So get on over there and get to cookin'! If you find yourself in need of hardware, Williams Sonoma is in the same shopping center. Make a day of it!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Con Man Extraordinaire

Hubs and I watched The Hoax, starring Richard Gere, Alfred Molina, and Marcia Gay Harden, this week. I thought it was an interesting look at hubris and the art of a con.

Clifford Irving (Gere) is a writer. Problem is, he's having a tough time getting his books published. Bills are mounting, Clifford's pride is wounded, and he keeps getting the brush-off from his contact at McGraw-Hill. Desperate for a book idea that will sell, Clifford comes up with what he thinks is a brilliant plan - he'll tell his agent that he's received authorization to write the definitive autobiography of Howard Hughes from the reclusive billionaire himself. Hughes doesn't go out, right? He doesn't talk to anyone. He doesn't make personal phone calls, and a recent legal settlment means the eccentric man won't set foot in a courtroom to prosecute. No one will REALLY know if the autobiography is truly authorized or not.

Clifford sells his idea to McGraw-Hill with little more than a few forged letters. Then, he begins concocting the hoax of a lifetime. He works with his trusted researcher, Dick Suskind (Molina), and his wife Edith (Harden) to produce a reasonable account of Hughes' life. He fakes letters from Hughes, aborted visits to the publishing house, the whole nine yards. When the book is complete, the publisher is thrilled with the result, and even interviewers who have actually spoken to Hughes himself agree that the manuscript is genuine.

Copies of the book are printed and are on the verge of being distributed. But when the billionaire decides to make a rare public statement, Clifford's carefully constructed hoax folds like a house of cards.

Perofrmances in this film were great. All three of the primary characters have wonderful moments. As Clifford takes on Hughes' persona, Gere does some great work as a writer who finds himself in his subject. Molina's tragic realization of a man who discovers he has been unfaithful is touching, and Harden's "chance to be clean" speech has some of the best lines written for a lover's quarrel.

And the ultimate con? This movie, and the book is it derived from, are based on the true story of Clifford Irving's actual con of McGraw-Hill and the American public. Looks like Irving found a story that would sell after all . . .

Sunshine and sandwiches

Hubby and I seized the opportunity presented by the beautiful weather yesterday and took booger to lunch at the park. It was a gorgeous day, and little man enjoyed taking in the fresh air, examining pine needles up close, and trying to snag our sandwiches.

We went to Quizno's because I wanted to try one of their new "sammies." When they came out with them, I remember thinking - what great portion control! A sammie and a cup of soup or a small salad would be the PERFECT amount for lunch.

When I got to the counter to order, I noticed two things - a poster in the window proclaimed that all sammies were under 200 calories. A sign up near the counter, however, said they were 300 calories. Wha . . . ? Either they are 200 calories or 300 calories, right? Why have two signs with contradicting information in the same restaurant? I mean, I can READ, right?

Went to their Web site this a.m., and here's the skinny: If you order the sammie WITHOUT cheese and dressing (just bread and meat), it's 180 calories. (And who the heck does that, I'd like to know? If I want such an austere lunch, I'm prefectly capable of preparing it myself, not going out to Quizno's and paying $2 for it.) If you order the sammie AS IT COMES (with cheese and dressing), it's 320 calories. A bit deceptive, if you ask me, to have the poster proclaiming "200 calories!" in the window of the establishment.

FYI, though, the Bistro Steak Melt sammie is very good. Order it with a bag of baked chips, or a salad, and you still have a pretty low-cal lunch.

Eat less, move more.

I am happy to announce that I have lost 5 pounds of pregnancy weight! Now, I am between 2.5 and 5.5 pounds from the weight I was before getting knocked up. I started out tracking my calorie consumption and activity at www.fitday.com, but I eventually just began trying to eat less and move more. Now that the weather's nice, I pack booger up in the stroller and try to walk two miles per day. I don't make it every day, but I do it enough to apparently help with the scale.

I've got 5 more pounds to go to achieve my "lose 10 lbs." goal in my 101 things. I've actually been able to take care of several things on the list during the month of March. (Woo to the hoo!) In a couple of days, I'll post an updated list showing my progress.

YAY!

Choppers

Ok, I know that any of you tuning in to this here blog probably don't give a hoot about my occasional "Clay updates," but I had to post this one.

Since he was about five months old, Brian and I have been searching booger's little pink gums for his first tooth. Every time he was REALLY fussy with no apparent reason, we looked at each other knowingly and thought, "First tooth." Every time he gnawed on random objects (his toys, the tray of his high chair, his burp cloth, our clothing, etc.), we both surmised that the first tooth could not be far away. And yet, the months passed, and no tooth made its appearance.

Clay's little gums have had four tooth-like bumps for about three months now, but no actual teeth. I've wondered numerous times if the child would be going to prom with some pureed squash and a VERY ripe banana in the glove compartment.

So, it is with unimaginable relief that I tell you that Clay has FINALLY gotten his first tooth! And it looks as though the second one cannot be far behind. Here's to choppers!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Easter brunch

I hosted my annual Easter brunch today, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to spend time with my family! We invited both sets of parents, plus my sister and her family, to join us. Here's what we served:

Slow Cooked Eggs with Herbs - These were very good. You beat the eggs with half and half, salt a pepper before scrambling them over low heat with generous amounts of butter. When they are done, you can sprinkle them with chopped herbs of your choice.

Baked Ham - I used a spiral cut ham slathered with a maple-mustard glaze.

Honey Vanilla Yogurt with Fresh Fruit - I used plain yogurt, to which I added my own honey, vanilla extract, and vanilla bean seeds. I served it over strawberries, blueberries, and chopped papaya, with sliced almonds sprinkled on top for crunch. YUM.

Yogurt Lemon Cake - Sticky and lemony and wonderful. Served with a lemon sugar glaze.

Chive Biscuits - For some reason, these didn't rise properly for me. I followed the recipe instructions, but making the dough a day ahead might have impacted the success of this dish.

Peach Bellinis - I made my own peach puree for this, and if I were to make them again, I'd skip making the puree and just buy peach nectar. It would have made for a smoother, prettier drink.

All in all, though, it was a beautiful morning. It is wonderful to have family over, to have grandparents there to coo at the baby, to enjoy food and fellowship.

And, as Easter is tomorrow, I will probably be doing more reflecting than blogging. So, TTFN!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Barack Obama's speech on race

At this moment, I finally know how I am going to vote in the next presidential election. Barring any crazy developments, my heart belongs to Barack Obama.

I should preface this by saying that I am not registered to either party. I tend to vote for the person, not the party, and, as a result, my ballot contains both Democrats and Republicans.

However, I heard something this week that was like a breath of fresh air. Like someone threw open the window to my mind. If you missed Barack Obama's speech on race this week, take 10 minutes and read the transcript.

Oh. My. Lord. FINALLY, someone is willing to acknowledge the complexity of the race issue in America. Someone who is not afraid to tell it like it actually is. Someone who sees that, although we all have our own issues, problems, and concerns, at the end of the day, we all want many of the same things. Someone who addresses the media's role in keeping race resentment a "wedge issue." Someone who, like me, has had enough of talking around all of our problems and is more interested in trying to actually fix them. Someone who does not talk at me, but TO ME, who realizes that I have the mental capacity to understand the grays of the issue. Someone who is more interested in a conversation than a soundbite.

Praise the Lord and hallelujah. It looks like someone just changed the game a little.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

For Aunt Grace

My little sister lives in Oregon, and so she hasn't seen the baby crawling yet. I promised her I'd post a video. So this is for you, Aunt Grace! Come visit soon!!

(*Please note - this is a big file! Don't click if you don't want to wait!)


Food and retail therapy

Went out last night with a group of friends to P.F. Chang's, which is fairly new to the area. The crispy green beans and the lettuce wraps were YUM. As an entree, I had the Cantonese shrimp, which is probably one of the few figure-friendly items on the menu! It was veryvery good, served with snow peas and brown rice. Ooooh, and the Imperial Peach martini is pretty dang good, too.

The restaurant is located in the new Renaissance at Colony Park shopping center off Highland Colony Parkway in Ridgeland. After dinner, we strolled around to check out the open-air development, which is scheduled for its grand opening TODAY. Stores we saw included Ann Taylor, Talbot's, Williams Sonoma, Solstice (designer sunglasses), Fresh Market (kind-of like Whole Foods), Chico's, Cachet, Harold's, Cellular South, GNC, Barnes and Noble, J. Jill, and a few others. All of the stores didn't look like they'd be ready for today's opening, so I'm not sure how many retailers will actually be open for business today. But the landscapers were out in full force, even last night at 8 p.m. They were putting in a few last geraniums, mulching flower bedds, and otherwise sprucing up the area in anticipation of the big day.

The development reminds me of Kierland Commons in Scottsdale, Arizona. It is an outdoor mall with a European aesthetic. The "streets" are cobblestone, with lots of wrought-iron lampposts and hanging baskets of flowers. It would be a very pleasant place to shop in good weather, as the layout lends itself to strolling.

At any rate, I may swing by there today, though booger doesn't usually let me get too much shopping done when he's around! (Like a typical male, he'd rather be almost anywhere than in a store.) I think this development will be great for Ridgeland, as Dogwood Festival mall has been enjoying alot of the business that County Line Road used to get. We'll see!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Our Father, who art in heaven . . .

Please help us keep Clay from killing himself. He has been pulling up to a standing position for the past few days, and the child has no fear.

Please keep me from being one of those ultra-paranoid moms who puts a helmet on her child, to be taken off only during bathtime from this stage of development until the booger has learned how to roller skate.

Please rub the balm of calm on my worrisome soul.

And please protect the kitties, who are discovering that there are fewer and fewer places that they are truly safe in this house.

Amen.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Choose another flower

I slogged my way through The Black Dahlia this week, and I'm here to keep you from doing the same. This is an AWFUL movie. Just awful. You'd think that a film starring Aaron Eckhart, Hillary Swank, Scarlett Johansson, and Josh Hartnett would be pretty decent, but NOT SO.

The story is about two detectives (Hartnett and Eckhart) who work together and just happen to be in love with the same woman (Johansson). The two detectives are working on the murder case of a young woman, who was killed in such a grisly manner that her death has captured public attention.

The script is a tragedy. There are no real characters, as the actors seem to be playing someone completely different in each and every scene. Some of the character arcs MUST have ended up on the cutting-rrom floor, because characters veer in wildly different directions from one scene to the next, with no adequate explanation as to the huge shifts (and alot of the movie supposedly happens over the course of one week). For example, in Johansson's first scene, you think, "Oh, she seems like an educated wise ass. Got it." Then, she goes all Betty Crocker on us for the next several scenes. She's madly in love with one man one minute, his partner the next. Ditto for Eckhart's character, who apparently first takes the case because it's high profile and will help his career (Opportunist. Got it.), and then becomes mentally unbalanced and completely obsessed with the dead girl, over the course of ONE scene change. (Eh?)

Hartnett's character is just rather vague and muddy. Swank's is inexplicable. The only decent performance in the whole she-bang was that of Mia Kirshner, who played the unfortunate victim.

It also doesn't help that the whole story is a nonsensical, depressing gore-fest, peppered with gratuitous nudity and profanity. Ick.

Avoid this movie at all costs. The ONLY redeeming thing about it: it led me to discover that the case of the black dahlia is REAL, based on an unsolved murder in LA in the 1940s. That sent me to the Web, which is the only place I found anything of actual interest.

Friday, March 14, 2008

What I've been doing today

Besides singing ALL of the verses to "Froggy Went A-Courtin'" over and over and over (Oh, yes. I know every single verse.), I've had a very nice day so far. My sister and sweet nephew first met me at Millsaps College for a little picnic. The grassy area called the Bowl is a perfect little green space in the middle of downtown, so we spread our blanket and had a quick bite. I also got the chance to catch up with some beloved professors and staff members, so there was that bit of wonderfulness as well.

THEN we headed over to the Garden and Patio Show at the Mississippi Trademart, which at once served as happy diversion and inspiration for spring planting. There were so many beautiful displays, and TONS of gorgeous plants for sale. I was particularly taken with the red double begonias, the succulents, and the ferns (which were very attractively priced). Lots of nice iron work was on offer, too, though I didn't find the hose-trees I was looking for. (WHERE are they, Iron Man Sam?! What do I have to DO to get you to start making hose-trees again, for crying out loud?!)

There are also seminars on herbs, flowers, veggies, container gardening, etc., scheduled throughout the duration of the event. Little people aren't particularly disposed to behaving well at such lectures, however, so we had to pass this time. But little people DID enjoy the children's area set up at the show, where kids can get their faces painted, plant tiny seedlings in pots, and make craft butterflies. This was entertaining for at least 20 minutes, and we took full advantage.

Admission is only $8 (which you would save on buying just ONE macho fern, specimens of which I saw being sold for around $18; I've seen them elsewhere in the metro for upwards of $25), and you get a free entry to win the Garden Lovers Dream Package. (We agreed to split the package if either of us won it; we are talking an INSANE gardening haul - pots, plants, mulch, a weekend vacation, plant stands, hardscape materials, mixed containers, tons of gift certificates, etc. Basically, it looks as though you get an entire yard makeover plus a little vacay if you win this. Oh, please, please, please . . . . ) The event continues through Sunday, so you still have time to go!

At any rate, I came home totally psyched for spring, and I immediately traded some of my credit card points for Home Depot gift certificates. YAY! Hubby and I have also just replaced the outdoor lighting on the porch AND painted our front-porch swing. The season is here at last! Whoopee!!!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A bone to pick!

Booger and I went to see the Bones exhibit at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science a week or so ago. The show features interactive kiosks where you can learn hands-on about different joints in the body and how they work. You can also make your way through a little computer program to discover your risk of osteoporosis and other bone disorders.

The exhibit runs through May 11, and admission is a mere $5 for adults, with children under 3 getting in FREE. (Admission for kids under 18 is $3.)

And in addition to gaining access to the Bones exhibit, your admission also gets you into the museum's permanent collection, aquariums, outdoor trails, AND LeFleur's Bluff State Park. Nice, huh?

I love the smell of Pantone 1777C in the morning

I've spent much of my professional life writing, reviewing, editing, creating, and otherwise poring over printed pieces. So when I left my job a few months ago to be at home with booger for a while, there was definitely a print-job void. In response, I've had to come up with personal projects to feed my glossy vs. matte, stock weights/types, die-cuts, and pearlescent inks fixations. Luckily, I've found a few sites online where customized print jobs can be ordered easily and (fairly) cheaply.

Invitingsmiles.com is where I designed and ordered both my son's birth announcement and our first official family Christmas card. You just type in your own text, upload photos/graphics, and away you go! For the birth announcements, they even sent the envelopes to me immediately, so I could pre-address them. Nice touch.

Photostamps.com allowed me to create custom postage stamps for our Christmas cards this year. While probably not an expense I'd be willing to spring for every year, it was worth it for baby's first Christmas. And people LOVED them.

VistaPrint is the mac daddy of cheap print sites. You can get stationary, business cards, and tons of other promotional printed materials on the cheap in a WIDE range of quantities (25 business cards, for example). I used them to print some personal "calling cards" listing my name, address, phone, and email address. (Beats scribbling things on the back of an old receipt at playgroup or elsewhere.) And did I mention that their prices are cheap, cheap, CHEAP?

So, minions, go forth, and work on your custom proofs!!

A Natural Storyteller

I recently finished reading Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner, and I had to weigh in. This book is powerful stuff.

Our story begins in Afghanistan during the 1970s. Amir is the son of a rich businessman. Ali, a servant to the little family, has a son named Hassan. Due to their close proximity in age, Hassan and Amir spend much time playing together, despite their class difference. They are the closest of friends, and Hassan makes it clear that he would do anything for Amir, sticking up for him on several occasions with neighborhood bullies, etc.

But one day, Amir witnesses something horrible happening to Hassan. And he does nothing to stop it. The subsequent guilt that Amir feels poisons his relationship with Hassan and haunts him into his adult life. Finally, years later, Amir has the chance to achieve redemption.

This book is rich with themes of guilt, self-worth, friendship/love, secrets. I saw some Faulkner in it, too - the past is not really past. It is all around us, influencing how we look at the world and what actions we take today. The past can be a living, breathing thing, and it is in this book.

Hosseini's writing is descriptive without being flowery. He tells you just enough to see (in your mind's eye) what he's describing, and no more. His style is concise and effective.

More than anything, though, this book made me think of all the innocent bystanders in violent conflicts around the world. They are powerless to stop what's happening, but they are still destroyed by it. The link above will take you to Khaled Hosseini's site, where you can find links about how to help the people of Afghanistan. Reading this book will make you want to take action.

FYI - This is Hosseini's first book. His second one, A Thousand Splendid Suns, is already out. In addition, The Kite Runner was made into a film.

Modern Greek tragedy

Hubs and I saw The Departed, starring Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, and Leonardo DiCaprio, this week. While REALLY LONG, the movie was good.

Nicholson plays Frank Costello, an Irish mob boss in Boston. Costello relies on Colin Sullivan (Damon) his plant in the Boston police department, to keep himself one step ahead of the law. But the police know there's a rat, so they plant their own undercover officers within Costello's organization. One of those officers is Bill Castigan (DiCaprio), who goes under deep cover and ends up being one of Costello's most trusted heavies. As quickly become obvious, however, there's no way this thing is ending well.

This is DiCaprio in what I consider to be one of his best roles to date. His Bill Castigan is a deft pretender, but he's extremely vulnerable and scared that he'll be on the receiving end of a bullet at any moment. Nicholson and Damon also give great performances, but this is DiCaprio's movie.

This film is a modern Greek tragedy. As the story unfolds, we recognize how it must end. However, it is the method that Scorsese and his cast uses to get us there that makes the film so watchable. As with many Scorsese films, it runs long, but the ending, when it comes, is swift and merciless.

Worth seeing.

Monday, March 10, 2008

VOTE!!

Tomorrow's primary day in Mississippi, and for the first time I can remember, it looks like little ole MS might actually be able to make a difference! (At least in the Democratic primary, anyway.) You do not have to be registered as either a Democrat or a Republican to vote in the primary, but you can only vote for candidates in ONE primary. (ie - You have to pick to vote in either the Democrat or Republican primary.)

Sooooo, get off your tukkus and VOTE!! The Clarion Ledger has an online voter's guide with a quick sketch of each candidate. Check it out: http://www.clarionledger.com/apps/pbcs.dll/section?Category=NEWS04.

We Are . . . on a movie kick

Hubby and I watched We Are Marshall, starring Matthew McConaughey, Mathew Fox, and David Strathairn, this week. I thought this movie was very well-done, and the story was inspiring.

At Marshall University in West Virginia, the "Thundering Herd" football team, along with a collection of boosters, parents, etc., is flying back from an away game when their plane crashes, killing the some 75 souls on board. The university and its town are crippled by the loss and want to suspend the football program at the school. However, a small number of remaining players organize a student protest to keep the game alive at Marshall. After many fruitless phone calls, the university president (Strathairn) finds a new coach - Jack Lengyel (McConaughey). Lengyel convinces former assistant coach Red Dawson (Fox) to return, and the NCAA grants the university the right to play freshmen. Lengyel and Dawson then fill their team with new recruits and begin playing football again.

This movie is based on a true story, and I became misty-eyed more than once as I watched it. I cannot imagine the horror of losing so many in the prime of their lives. It must have been a nightmare, both for the town and for the school.

Performances are very good, and though the cast boasts several "stars," I thought the best performance of the film was given by Anthony Mackie. Mackie plays Nate Ruffin, one of the remaining football players. Ruffin was not at the away game due to an injury. It is his determination to keep the football program going that makes it a reality. He had some wonderful scenes with McConaughey and Fox, and, in my opinion, he walked off with the movie.

Only one scene seemed pushed to me. Just before the new team's first home game, Lengyel brings the players to the graveyard where the victims of the crash are buried. He makes a speech there that inspires the new players. I didn't buy it. I don't know if it was the writing or the delivery, but it came off as maudlin and strained.

Other than that, though, this movie was right on target. I highly recommend.

Robby Jay's!

Brian and I have started frequenting a new restaurant for lunch. Robby Jay's Cafe, in a shopping center at the corner of Lakeshore Parkway and Spillway Road, opened in January, but we didn't get around to visiting until just recently. The place has a nice little salad bar and a selection of sandwiches and salads. Plus, they have lots of cookies and desserts to choose from. (The cakes REALLY look worth the calories.) Prices are extremely reasonable (sandwiches are $6, which includes a bag of chips, pickle, and a dum-dum sucker), and I myself can vouch for the "Rangeland Club" sandwich. YUM. Plus, they have some kid-friendly menu selections - grilled cheese and hot dogs.

You can call in your order to 601-919-0707, and it'll be ready when you get there.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

When the cat's away . . .

Occasionally, my husband travels on business. When he's gone, I miss him very much.

BUT I get to eat exactly what I want to eat. Like the flash-fried steak with white bean mash that I had last night. And the mushroom-lemon-thyme pasta that I made for lunch today. And the spinach and feta omelette that I made for dinner earlier this week. And the salmon that I had tonight. These are all dishes that, for one reason or another, he would have had an objection to.

And the OTHER thing that I get to enjoy when he's out of town? I get to catch up on all the movies that I've TiVo'ed that he doesn't care to see. Here's my rundown of the four I watched:

I saw The Guardian, starring Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher, first. This movie is basically about Ben Randall (Costner), a "legendary" rescue swimmer for the Coast Guard. After a rescue that goes drastically wrong (Ben loses his partner and crew), Ben is assigned to teach for a few months at the Coast Guard Academy. There, he meets Jake Fischer (Kutcher), a swim star who is determined to break all of Randall's previous records. After some initial head-butting, Randall and Fischer become close friends, later working together.

Ok, this is no Stay, but it is fairly entertaining, and it does give one more appreciation for our good folks at the Coast Guard. (There are some pretty tense rescue scenes. While it makes you appreciate the Coast Guard, it makes you wonder how these people get themselves into these messes. Chalk it up to the changing nature of the sea?)

I thought Costner was pretty darn good in this, and Kutcher, well, he wasn't wonderful, but he wasn't awful. I'd be willing to give him another chance in a another film. (If given the opportunity. He seems much more interested in production.) Not a must-see, but if it comes on tv, there are worse ways to kill a couple of hours.

Then, I saw The Good German. My Lord. I thought this film was pretty darn amazing. Starring George Clooney, Tobey Maguire, and Cate Blanchette, the film is set in post-war Berlin. Newspaper reporter Jake Geismer (Clooney) is covering the peace talks, and enterprising young Tully (Maguire, in probably the least sympathetic role I've ever seen him play) is his military-assigned driver during the trip. Who should Jake run into but Lena (Blanchette), his former lover? And Lena now just happens to be involved with Tully. Sound like too much of a coincidence? You bet it is. When Tully turns up dead, Geismer spends the rest of the movie trying to figure out whodunit and why. Fascinating stuff.

Shot in black and white, in the film noir style, the cinematography is a beauty to behold. Rich, dark shadows with angles of light. Blanchette's hair, black for the film, stands out in sharp relief against her pale coloring. Costumes are gorgeous and almost worth killing for. Even the cigarette smoke cooperates, wafting eerily through the scenes.

The performances are unbelievable. Blanchette is a chameleon. I fully believe this woman can be ANYONE. Maguire was easy to hate as the mercenary Tully, which was a nice change for him. His boyish face, which has worked so well for him as an awkward hero in the past, adds subtle dimension to this role as a very hatable character. See this movie ASAP.

Then, I saw The Queen, which tells the story of Queen Elizabeth II in the weeks leading up to and after the death of Princess Diana. Helen Mirren plays Queen Elizabeth, and no wonder she was nominated for an Academy Award for this performance. It is a tour de force. (Incidentally, Mirren has a resume longer than my leg. The dame knows what she's doing.) She embodied the Queen, making her a character that was at times exasperating, at times sympathetic, at times down right inspirational.

Michael Sheen as Tony Blair is also solid. And Elizabeth's dour warning to him, about how the public will someday turn on him as well, has eerie significance now. James Cromwell as Prince Phillip comes off as the definition of the "out-of-touch monarchy" the film seems to address.

I really liked that this film used actual footage of the events depicted to reinforce the world of the production. It IS interesting to imagine what must have been going on in the royal household during those times - whether they watched the coverage, how they handled the two young princes, etc. Worth seeing if only for Mirren's performance, though I think you'll find it entertaining as well.

Lastly, I saw Notes on a Scandal. There are almost no words to tell you how good this film is. Dame Judy Dench and Cate Blanchette. Those two names alone should have you running out to rent or buy this movie. Barbara (Dench) is a rather prickly teacher at a high school. She is not liked by the other faculty members, but she has been at the school for a loooong time (she's on the cusp of retirement) and the kids fear/respect her. Enter Sheba (Blanchette), the young, beautiful, wispy new art teacher. Barbara, who's looking for a way to end her solitude, strikes up a friendship with Sheba.

As the story unfolds, we begin to suspect that Barbara is angling for much more than friendship with the pretty new instructor. And when Barbara discovers that Sheba is engaging in a love affair with a 15-year-old student, she is at first angry, and then devilishly delighted, as she can use the secret to further enmesh herself in the life of her new "friend."

Barbara is one of the best characters I've seen on the screen in a while. First of all, she's our narrator, so we are privy to her innermost thoughts (which can be arresting, abhorrent, understandable, etc., at different points in the film). She's cunning. She's deperately lonely. She's almost parasitic in her need for "companionship." She is a woman of action. And Dench plays her fully, with a truth, a roundness, and a believability that one rarely sees in anti-heros.

And, not incidentally, Barbara is a woman of a certain age. It is refreshing and wonderful to see such a vibrant character written for a woman old enough to retire. There aren't enough parts like this out there for older, more accomplished actresses. Clearly, they can play them. So where are they? Writers, take note.

Blanchette is also amazing to watch in this, but Dench truly steals the show. (How could she not, eh?)

As the viewer, you begin to sense what is coming. And yet, it is fascinating to see all the strands of the web come together as the end of the film nears. The music used in the score is also very cleverly used to heighten this effect. A must-see.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

What to Expect . . .

I am an avid book reader. In fact, my family often jokes that I can't do anything unless I read a book about it first. So when I was pregnant, I read What to Expect When You're Expecting religiously. It was my go-to reference throughout my pregnancy. And since little man's arrival, I've been reading What to Expect the First Year *quite* often. I see that the writers of these books also have a What to Expect the Toddler Years book, and I plan on buying that once booger turns a year old.

So, what the heck am I going to do after that? I mean, what, there's no What to Expect During Preschool? How about What to Expect - the Teenage Years? I am starting to freak out. Are you telling me that once this kid is not a toddler anymore, I am out there on my own?! These folks had SERIOUSLY better get to writing me some reference materials, because Clay ain't getting any younger.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Oprah's Big Give

Ok, did anyone watch this last night? I think it's a fantastic premise for a show, and when those two little girls released balloons tied to messages for their dad (in heaven), I thought I was going to lose it. This might become one of my must-sees.

Only one question - how on Earth did they choose the judges? I mean, Jamie Oliver? The dude's a celebrity chef. Chris Rock's WIFE? A pro sports player? I'm wondering why they didn't pick the executive directors of some philanthropies already doing great work. (You know, folks who work at United Way, Red Cross, etc. People who've dedicated their lives to helping others.) Not only would people like that have been more qualified to judge the efforts of the contestants, being on the show would have given their organizations much-needed visibility, which would also have fed in to the whole concept of the program. KWIM?

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Please don't go

I saw Stay, starring Naomi Watts, Ryan Gosling, and Ewan McGregor, recently. I WOULD link to the movie Web site, but Fox is doing an increasingly annoying thing: re-directing you from the original movie Web site address to its online store, where you can purchase the DVD of said movie. As a result, the original movie site has been taken down. Boo on you, Fox. You'd do better to leave the initial sites up (especially since they are already created and you are clearly still paying to own the Web address) and offer the option to buy the DVD there.

At any rate, the movie is very very good in a mindbending sort of way. Here's the skinny: Standing in for a sick colleague, New York psychiatrist Sam Foster (McGregor) begins counseling disturbed art student Henry Letham (Gosling). Seemingly inspired by his idol, a painter infamous for committing suicide on his 21st birthday, Henry tells Sam he will shoot himself Saturday at midnight--the moment he turns 21. Sam, having previously saved his suicidal girlfriend Lila (Watts), takes the threat seriously but fails to detain Henry so he can be taken into medical custody (a rather grim prospect). Instead, while trying to track his patient down, Sam learns more about Henry and is gradually drawn into his world - Henry's parents are dead (Henry insists it's all his fault.), his girlfriend is "gone," he seems to know what's going to happen before it does, he's sure he's going to hell, he tells Sam it's "too late" to save him, etc. The more Sam learns about Henry, the more he begins to lose his own grip on reality. (But for those of you who hate ambiguity, don't fret. All is revealed in the final scenes of the film.)

First of all, the film is beautifully shot. Henry is an art student, and the film itself has a very artistic vibe. Scenes bleed into one another in a beautiful but disorienting manner. Shots are jumped in interesting ways. The closing credits are even artistic. The film's tone is mostly a collection of blues and grays, lots of dark shots, some cool silhouettes.

Secondly, the film does a good job of keeping the audience off-track. You're never quite sure what is happening. Is Henry mad? Is Sam going mad? Are Henry and Sam one in the same? What is reality and what is psychosis? Even at the close, when the film's endgame is revealed, your brain has to chew on it for a while to put all of the pieces together.

OK, SPOILER ALERT. Don't read further if you don't want to know the ending.

Here's what's really going on: Henry is never really Sam's patient at all. He's the victim of a car accident. He's been thrown from the vehicle (he was driving), and he's lying faceup on the Brooklyn Bridge. Sam is simply a bystander who witnessed the car accident (in which Henry's parents and girlfriend have died) and has stopped to help.

The movie is really a study of the mind - what an injured brain is thinking as death nears. Henry is conscious of Sam and the onlookers (all who appear in previous incarnations in the film, in Henry's "world"), and his racing mind is trying to reconcile things and make sense of them. Should he fight to try and live (with his family and girlfriend dead?), or should he succumb to death? He knows Sam is trying to help him, but is it really too late? Is the beauty of the world worth trying to stick around for? Suffering from a head wound and shock, how can Henry know what is real and what is only in his mind in those final moments, as time bends and distorts?

I thought this was a BRILLIANT film. Highly original content treated in a totally engrossing, entertaining, beautiful manner. Performances were wonderful, and I was totally hooked. I did not see the ending coming, which was sooooo refreshing. While there is some adult language, and the film certainly deals with adult subject matter, this one is a MUST-SEE.