Saturday, May 31, 2008

Update on My 101

I checked off four items during May! Slow and steady . . .

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
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 - This one was new for May! We swam several times in the pool at the YMCA to gear up for our trip to the beach. Booger loves the water!
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
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
- This was another item that got checked off during our trip to Gulf Shores.
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 - Lovely! See previous post!
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
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 - Hubs and I did this one night. We had a nice, romantic late dinner after putting booger to bed.
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
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

Feeling beautiful

I took my mom to get a facial today in honor of Mother's Day. (I know, I know. I'm a bit late in celebrating, aren't I? May is an absolutely PACKED month for us - birthdays, anniversaries, etc.) Anyway, when I asked her what she wanted for Mother's Day, she asked for a facial at the salon where she gets her hair cut - Ambience in Clinton.

So, we showed up there this morning and each had a facial. It was sooooo nice! Rebecca was our facialist. I had never had a facial before, and I really enjoyed it. I can totally see why some folks get addicted to them. She cleanses your face, applies hot towels, gives you a face and shoulder/neck massage, applies a mask, just lots of cool stuff that feels absolutely wonderful. And my skin looks great.

For the 30-minute facial, the salon charges $45. I thought it was worth every penny.

Gibbons jag continues . . .

I've been reading more Kaye Gibbons lately. This week, I delved into Ellen Foster and The Life All Around Me by Ellen Foster.

Of the two, I liked Ellen Foster best. It's a slim volume, Gibbon's first novel. It's told from the searingly honest perspective of eleven-year-old Ellen, whose mother passes away. After her mother's death, Ellen manages to escape her abusive, alcoholic father. She moves in with a controlling, vindictive grandmother. After the grandmother, too, dies (by which time her father is also deceased), Ellen stays for a short time with her aunt (also a difficult situation) before joining a foster family that finally provides her with a real home.

Ellen is a fascinating character. Her voice is simple, but clearly intelligent and bent on self-preservation. Her eventual epiphany and acceptance of her "colored friend" Starletta is also a strong theme. The book reads quickly, and though Ellen endures considerable hardship, she does not wallow in self-pity. I recommend this novel.

The Life All Around Me by Ellen Foster is less satisfying, unfortunately. This novel revisits Ellen several years later, after she has grown up a bit, become more educated, and enjoyed the love of a strong parent figure. This novel tends to drag, and I had to force myself to keep reading a few times. Ellen's external problems are neatly solved here, though she clearly will have residual phsychological issues regarding her family for the rest of her life. Looking back, I wouldn't have missed much should I have skipped this read.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I go out walkin' . . .

Had to post - On Sunday, I bought booger one of those little push toys, the kind that are supposed to help kids out with their balance and encourage them to walk. We put it together Sunday night, but he didn't really get his hands on it until Monday morning, when he discovered that he could quite speedily race around the living room with it. It is so funny to see him lumbering past the couch. He can't steer very well, so we're frequently called on to turn him around when he's got himself stuck somewhere, but he is very pleased with himself.

And on Monday, he took his first tentative steps! Both hubs and I were there to see it. Totally magical!

It's all going by so fast!! The kid has six teeth now, and soon he'll be walking. Eeeek!

Romance-Suspense?

As I posted earlier, I didn't find much satisfaction in most of my trashy beach reads during vacation. But there was one that approached what I'd call an actual book. Mercy, by Julie Garwood, has a few different threads in the plot other than the developing relationship between the two primary characters.

Here's the skinny - Theo (a young widower) is a federal prosecutor. In New Orleans at a fancy banquet, he starts to feel sick and promptly throws up on Michelle, a beautiful young surgeon. Michelle takes him to the hospital, where she performs an emergency appendectomy. After some brief conversation upon his awakening, she departs for tiny Bowen, Louisiana, where she's from. See, Michelle is planning to leave the hospital and set up a little clinic in under-served Bowen so she can be close to her family and her home. When her father stops by the hospital to pick up some equipment being donated to the clinic, he and Theo have a little conversation about fishing, and an invitation to come fish in Bowen sometime is extended to Theo. You can see where this is going . . .

Storyline number two - Four friends who met in preparatory school have formed what they call "The Sowing Club," a secret alliance to procure ill-gotten gains. Dispersed in the banking, police, legal, and performance industries, the four friends are uniquely positioned to make mischief sucessfully, and they have squirrelled away millions of dollars. The friends have a pact that they will not touch the money until their 40th birthdays (still five years away at the novel's inception), when they will all cash out and go their separate ways. But something goes wrong with the club's plans, setting the two groups of characters (and their stories) on a collision course.

Ok, there are definitely some cheesy/sappy parts of this novel, but what made it worth reading was the HILARIOUS cast of characters that Garwood used to populate little Bowen, Louisiana. I laughed out loud - OUT LOUD, I tell you! - reading some of their conversations. Funny, funny stuff. Plus, it was romance, suspense, with some nice human interest thrown in for good measure.

So, if you're looking for an easy beach read that will neither tax your mind nor offend it, I can reccommend this novel. Before I head out to the seashore again, I will pick up something from this author.

Our Lady of Perpetual Reading

While I was on vacation, I had the opportunity to read a book that taught me alot. Our Lady of the Lost and Found, by Diane Schoemperlen, reminded me of Sophie's World in that it couched what was basically an educational book in a novel-like narrative.

The story is told by a narrator, a writer, who is visited by Mary (yep, THE Mary, Jesus' mother) for one week. It seems that, in preparation of May (a month designated to honor Mary), Mary needs a quick rest, and she is looking for a quiet, out-of-the-way place to cool her heels for a week before the festivities begin. So, she shows up at our narrator's house, wearing a pair of white sneaks and a blue trenchcoat, and asks if she may impose for seven days. Flabbergasted, our narrator nods.

The two spend the week reading, watching the news, making lunch, and doing a bit of sightseeing. While Schoemperlen does not use this extraordinary visit to get her narrator to ask Mary direct or confrontational questions, Mary's appearance later spurs our narrator to find out more about the history of Mary - her life, sightings of Mary, and miracles of Mary that the Catholic church has recognized.

It was a fascinating read. The book delved into the histories of various persons who have attained sainthood and thier relationships with God, Mary, and other followers. I never knew there were so many sightings/miracles attributed to Mary, and I never realized how much information has been documented about the phenomenon.

I have a skeptical personality by nature, but this book has definitely whetted my appetite to learn more and do further research.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Sand, sun, and seafood!

We're back from the beach!

We had a nice drive down to Gulf Shores last Saturday. The weather was amazing, and little man was remarkably well-behaved. We stopped in Hattiesburg for lunch, where we got burgers and spread a blanket on the ground at USM so everyone could enjoy the sunshine and stretch a little. (We walked through the rose garden before leaving, and it was GORGEOUS. I hadn't done that in such a long time. The plants are beautiful. Some of the stems had so many roses on them that they bowed down to the ground.) We also stopped about an hour later, in Lucedale. There is the sweetest little public park there, in the old downtown area. We swung booger in the baby swings, walked around some, and chatted with other parents who were there. It was very nice.

By early evening, we were checking into our condo. We rented a unit at Royal Plams, which is east of where I59 meets 182 (at the shoreline). I had never rented there before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. We needn't have worried. It was PERFECT! We had a one-bedroom, two-bath unit on the very top floor (14). Because Royal Palms abuts Gulf State Park on one side (and because this is one of the lower-density properties in the area), we had a beautifully uncrowded beach during our stay. Plenty of room to walk, look for seashells, and spread out. Plus, the condo had an indoor heated pool (perfect for little man), an outdoor pool, a spa, a sauna, and a steamroom. I would definitely stay at this property again.

And we ATE! We had wonderful meals at Gulf Island Grill (grouper . . . mmmmmmm . . .), Gulf Shores Steamer (pricey, but fabulous small steamer basket filled with crab, mussels, shrimp, and oysters), DeSoto's Seafood Kitchen (one of my favorite all-around places - great service, great food, great prices), Big O's Seafood (yummy oysters!), Old World Pizza and Bakery (get the signature "Old World" pizza), Bahama Bob's (fabulous burgers), Daylight Donuts, Hope's Cheesecake (Oh. My. Lord.) and soooooo many other places. I am sufficiently stuffed. I left complete reviews of all the restaurants we frequented online at TripAdvisor.

I also read tons of trashy (and not so trashy) books, some of which I'll review later, but mostly I spent time with my family and enjoyed the beach. One night, two pelicans flew so close to us on the balcony that we could almost touch them. (We really enjoyed the balcony. There were great views from up there, and hubs and I liked taking snacks out there during the baby's naps and watching the human parade below. Margaritas are much better with an ocean view, no?)

Sometimes, I'd take the baby out early in the morning to walk along the scalloped edge of the water. We'd discover the tawdry and sublime had washed up on shore during the night - a jellyfish, interesting pieces of driftwood, some discarded sand toys, starfish, all kinds of shells, the foam boob from a woman's swimsuit top. Then, we'd sit down for a bit. He'd pat the sand, run his fingers through it, watch other people walking by. He charmed everyone we ran into, cutting his eyes at them and grinning. He is a big flirt.

What I will treasure most, though, is the time and motivation I had to think. Something about watching the sea (which always seems to move in every direction at once) is inspiring. There is something to rest your eyes upon everywhere you look. The kids dig in the sand, play chase with the waves. Underfoot, the water crashes and ebbs, and shells of all shapes and sizes wash up on shore like little jewels. You can see life everywhere. In the evenings, the air is soft and briny. If you breathe in through your mouth, you can taste the ocean.

This was a different kind of vacation for me. Usually, I'm the early riser. You know, the one with the checklist? I know what I want to see in each destination. I drag people to museums and landmarks and the oldest church in Paris. But this trip was different. First of all, we had the baby with us, so that definitely impacted our schedule. Secondly, there isn't too much to do in Gulf Shores besides just enjoy being there at the beach. So I had to learn to slow down a little. And it was really nice!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Beach reads

Ok, ok, I know that I promised no blogging at the beach, and I WILL post a full trip report at a later date, but I just had to weigh in quickly on something becoming increasingly apparent to me.

In the condo we've rented at the beach, there is a nice stack of books for readers such as myself. Among these are some perfectly respectable tomes as well as some undeniably trashy romance novels. You know the ones I'm talking about. With names like "The Summer I Dared" and "Summer Pleasures," these books don't come very close to being literature. In fact, I could probably crank out a couple of them myself, if I had a mind to.

I realize that these novels are women's equivalent of porn; they are fantasies. There's always some impossibly beautiful heroine, paired with an equally impossibly handsome love interest. The two usually feel a distinct attraction upon meeting, but there are obstacles to their love (another relationship, time/distance, different personalities/values, etc.). These obstacles are eventually overcome, and the two beautiful people enjoy torrid sex in some atmospheric location. I mean, it's fairly formulaic.

Such mindless, cotton-candy reading is perfectly apt for the beach. In fact, my normal fare would probably require too much effort to read while lounging languidly in the sun. But here's the problem - I can never fully turn off my English-major brain. So, when I read the trite compliments that the heroes proffer to their loves, when the characters inevitably end up married and expecting a child, when I read yet another racy bit (I mean, how many ways are there, really, to describe the act of coitus?), I find myself rolling my eyes a bit. And while a teeny part of my brain wishes that I could have a charged, chance encounter with a burly lobsterman or a fortiutious meeting with a famous photojournalist who decided he could no longer live without me, most of me just wants to let out a giggle about the improbability of it all.

And really, if I WERE to meet a hunky horror fiction writer, I'd be much more likely to grill him about his work than try to get him into bed, where all of these stories seem to quickly lead. (Hubs and I had a bet regarding how long it would take the two main characters to sleep together in one of the novels I read. He said page 168; I thought she'd hold out until at least page 175. We were both wrong; that jezebel had her panties off by page 151! Sheesh.)

So, anyhoo, I guess what I'm saying is that I've learned that purportedly "mindless" romance reads don't really hook me anymore. I mean, surely there was a time when they did? When I was younger, less cynical? Am I too old and jaded for the genre? Have I lost my taste for romance? I don't know. I will think on it for a while. In the meantime, however, I think I'll stick to weightier reading material.

Friday, May 16, 2008

How lovely to be a woman . . .

In anticipation of our beach vacation, I got a manicure and a pedicure today. More than an hour of sitting on my duff in a massage chair while people rubbed my skin with scented lotion, dipped my hands in a paraffin wax, and tinted my nails a rosy shade of pink. Ahhhhhhh. I feel like a pretty pretty princess! Let's hope the results, which I think are quite nice, hold up to a week of sand, surf, and sun.

As I have been packing for our little trip, which will be baby's first vacation, I've come to a realization. The days of throwing a pair of panties in a bag and hitting the road are over. Traveling with a baby is like being a turtle. It takes forever to get anywhere, and you have to take your whole house with you. Already, the list includes the pack and play (to sleep in), a stroller, a blanket to play on, toys, bottles and formula, snack food, bibs, the crib toy (which he LOVES), floppy hats, tons of sunscreen, outlet covers, a floatie for the pool, the list goes on (and on and on and on). I think we will leave some of it at home and buy it on site. Eeesh.

At any rate, I'll be out for a while, so no blogging until closer to the end of the month. In the meantime, enjoy your summer!

More Gibbons

Had the chance to read two more Gibbons novels this week: A Virtuous Woman and On the Occasion of My Last Afternoon. Of the two, I liked A Virtuous Woman best.

Remember how I wrote earlier that I'd read Ellen Foster years ago? Now I'm beginning to doubt myself. I must have read A Virtuous Woman. I knew from the first page that I'd read this novel before. But the writing is so fine that I settled in to read it again. (Something I NEVER do. Nev. Er.) But this novel is dang good. It tells the story of a married couple, Ruby and Jack, who meet each other, fall in love, and marry. Ruby later contracts lung cancer. Facing her death, she ruminates on her adventures and tries her best to prepare Jack to live without her. Jack savors the memories of the two of them, even as he knows he must move beyond them to continue his life. Chapters of the novel are alternately narrated by each of the two primary characters, a style which is effective because it lets us see the inner thoughts of both.

I enjoyed how this novel dealt with the definition of love. It is a subject worth considering, and one that can easily become too sentimental. However, Gibbons' characters look at it with a steady, nearly objective eye. The characters know who they are and what they need from a mate. And when they find one another, there is a quiet cherishing that they do of one another. The love Gibbons writes of is a wise love, not young and foolish, not headstrong and impassioned, but matter-of-fact and solid as bedrock. I can appreciate such a story.

On the Occasion of My Last Afternoon tells the story of Emma Garnet, a young girl growing up in the years before the Civil War. Emma chafes under the imposing hand of a tyrannical father, who is newly rich but yearns for the respectability of old money. His war-mongering political opinions, restrictive ideas of a lady's place, and violent nature drive even his family away. Emma is luckly enough to escape to a happy marriage, and the novel follows her throughout raising a family, mourning the loss of those she loves, and weathering the storms of the Civil War.

I thought this was a good novel, and I enjoyed Emma Garnet as a character. However, much was made of her own battles with her father, and of secrets of her father's past that had been kept from her. When these secrets were finally revealed, they were not substantial enough to satisfy the curiousity that Gibbons had stoked in them throughout the book. I was left wanting to know more about him to justify his role in the story. How did he come by his fortune? How did he espy Emma Garnet's mother and mark her for his own? Simply, the secrets (or "secret," as it turned out to be only one) did not live up to more than 225 pages of anticipation.

While a good read, it was not as good as A Virtuous Woman (or Charms for the Easy Life, for that matter). I plan on checking out Ellen Foster next.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Rib cage slide for 4, hip thrust for 6 . . .

Last night, we held our class recital for the bellydancing course I've been taking at Millsaps. Curtain was a 7 p.m. at Hal and Mal's. Eeeek!

I was pretty darn impressed with myself for remembering all the shimmies, figure eights, and shoulder dips. Not too shabby for someone with two left feet! It was actually really fun! A few people I knew were there. (Through absolutely no effort of my own. I, fearing I'd be mortified, didn't invite ANYBODY.) But it was cool, because after the performance was over, we got to stay and chat over drinks and dinner. (While all the guys in the bar sidled up to us to ask why we were wearing jewels on our foreheads and tons of gold jewelry. To which I replied something to the effect of, "The performance was invitation ONLY!!")

Anyhoo, I ended up really liking the class, and I may even take it again! As Janice Jordan (our instructor) said, "If you think you're a bellydancer, you ARE a bellydancer." Gotta love that Janice . . .

P.S. I also personally think that our bellydancing routine could be performed quite successfully to Outkast's "Hey Ya." I will be privately experimenting with this and reporting on the results.

Wonderfuller and wonderfuller!

As a first-time mom, I MUST recap my glorious first Mother's Day weekend! On Saturday, hubby took excellent care of little man while I went out shopping for THREE UNINTERRUPTED HOURS. I type that in all caps so that you truly understand what a luxury that was. I picked up some fun, beachy clothing, poked my head into some shops I'd been meaning to check out, shopped for swimsuits (unsuccessfully. ~sigh.~), and just did some general browsing. It was nearly cathartic.

That night, after I put booger to sleep, hubby served me a delicious dinner that he cooked himself - Caesar salads with garlic bread, steaks with asparagus and creamed potatoes, and strawberry shortcakes for dessert. YUM!

On Sunday, I found two Mother's Day cards on my breakfast table setting, one from hubby and one from the baby. So sweet. I will keep those forever. They are already in my hope chest.

LASTLY, my official present was funding for a Home Depot garden run! Woo to the hoo! I'm buying an arbor to replace the one that got ruined in the spring storms. I've already picked it out. I just have to get myself over there at some point to load it up.

And on top of all of this, sweet hubby sent me a dozen red roses for our recent wedding anniversary. (I immediately put them in the bedroom so the kitties wouldn't eat them for lunch. They are lovely, lovely.)

Shucks. How did I get so lucky?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

A charming read

I finished reading Kaye Gibbons' Charms for the Easy Life this week, and I must say that I enjoyed it immensely.

The book details the lives of three women: Charlie Kate, a smart, stubborn, self-taught healer; her daughter, Sophia, a beautiful woman searching for companionship; and her granddaughter, Margaret, a shy girl growing up in the WWII era. The book follows each woman as she finds love, manages family relationships, and blazes an unconventional path towards her own happiness. Through it all, the women demonstrate an immense and admirable thirst for knowledge.

The story is told from granddaughter Margaret's point of view. The writing is evocative and engaging. In addition, the character of the grandmother is one for the ages. Uncompromising, set in her ways, and sure of her talents, she is not a woman you will forget easily.

The novel is largely about how family cares for one another, about how Charlie Kate, Sophia, and Margaret are each one another's "charms," making life easier, happier, and more livable. You will thoroughly enjoy keeping their company for a while.

I read Gibbon's Ellen Foster years ago, and this book has motivated me to read some of her other titles. Expect more Gibbons reviews in the near future.

All wet.

I had the opportunity to see The Squid and the Whale this week. I was expecting great things. After all, critical buzz about the picture when it was released (in 2005) was good, and the film was nominated for some Golden Globes and and Oscar (for screenwriting).

Either my hopes were too high, or the film just wasn't as good as everyone made it out to be. Here's the skinny: The Squid and the Whale relates the disintegration of the Berkman family, who are living in 1980s Brooklyn. Father Bernard (Jeff Daniels) is a pompous, know-it-all novelist who has begun the downward arc of his career path and is now teaching literature at a college. His wife, Joan (Laura Linney), is the long-suffering mother of their two children. (But not TOO long-suffering. She's had several affairs.) When Bernard and Joan decide to call it quits, they bring children Walt (16) and Frank (12) in for a family conference to break the news. The children naturally find themselves taking sides. The duration of the movie shows how the children and their parents cope with the divorce and their changing lives.

What IS good about the film - all the performances are great, with Daniels in particular fully inhabiting Bernard's academic elitism and utter vanity. Bernard is just always so sure he's right about everything. Plus, he has an angry competitive streak and doesn't seem to want anyone else to win anything except him. (No wonder Joan was boinking other guys, eh?) In addition, the characters are rendered fully on the page, although continuous reinforcements of who they are (rather than who they will become?) become tiresome as the script grinds along.

What I didn't like - The plot isn't particularly compelling. We watch as the family breaks apart and how each member of the family deals with this event in different ways. But because I didn't like most of the characters, I found it difficult to care too much one way or the other. Also, I thought the movie was overly preoccupied with sex. Each character has their own manifestation of a sexual storyline, and that felt very contrived to me. Also, there was alot of language, particularly from the youngest character, that I didn't think was necessary or added much to the story. But mostly, I didn't feel that enough HAPPENED. I didn't feel that the characters made any meaningful inner journeys or underwent any meaningful changes. I just felt like there was alot of extraneous junk in the script that could have been jettisoned in exchange for more of an actual plotline.

So, regardless of the film's critical acclaim, I can't recommend it. If I could get those two hours of my life back, I think I would.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

So, are we the sheep?

I saw The Good Shepherd this week, and I loved it. Parts of it were difficult to watch, but it is a highly interesting, engaging film.

The films tells the story of Edward Wilson (Matt Damon), an idealistic young poetry student at Yale. The son of a high-ranking federal judge, Wilson is tapped to become a member of the elite Skull and Bones society. After accepting, he is drawn further into a world where the expectations of others will govern his decisions. After a passionate roll in the hay with Clover (Angelina Jolie) at a Skull and Bones retreat, Edward learns she is pregnant. Though he is in love with another woman (the hearing-impaired Laura, played beautifully by Tammy Blanchard), Edward weds Clover.

The film is set at the end of World War II, when the OSS/CIA were operating/forming. Due to the strong connections of previous members (many of whom went on to work in the military and in government), several young men in the Skull and Bones society are chosen to work in intelligence and counterintelligence. Edward begins work, and the audience watches as he sacrifices one thing after another for his career. Protecting the United States is a noble calling, true, but Edward pays a high price for his devotion. He doesn't even see his son until the boy is more than five years old, because he's been working overseas. His relationship with his wife, what little there was of it to begin with, deteriorates due to neglect. He can't trust anyone, and so he doesn't.

What's fascinating about this film is that it isn't all flash and dazzle, like other spy films you may have seen. This film shows the slow, quiet work of the CIA. It shows the strategy behind the organization and what kind of power it wields. It also shows the birth of intelligence gathering in the United States, and it is pretty darn intriguing to go poking into some of those corners of U.S. history. More than anything, though, it illustrates what working in the intelligence industry does to the individuals who commit to it. (And it ain't pretty.)

I think Damon plays a role different from his "type" in this film. Edward has such a character arc. He starts the film with a wonderful, tender relationship with Laura. Though he never seems to be jolly, he is an earnest boy who is not without humor. But by the end of the film, Edward is so careful. He is so silent. He is damaged. Damon expertly paints Edward in all the tones of the things he does not say. This performance is a precise study in minimalism.

Angelina Jolie has some aching moments as Clover, as well. Being married to a ghost takes an enormous toll on Clover, and I have rarely seen Jolie play a character with such frailty. It was quite touching.

The films also boasts fine performances by Robert DeNiro (who also directed), William Hurt, Billy Crudup, and Alec Bladwin. I found this movie riveting, with both character and plot to spare. Acting is fabulous, and the subject matter couldn't get much jucier. Worth seeing.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Artful, character-driven, and lovely

I watched The Painted Veil, starring Naomi Watts and Edward Norton, this week. WOW.

The film is based on the Somerset Maugham novel of the same name. (And, being based on Maugham, you know this ain't gonna end well, right?) Set in the 1920s, The Painted Veil tells the story of Kitty (Watts), a beautiful young woman who, as our story begins, is yet unmarried. Just as Kitty is feeling increasing pressure from her family to wed, Walter Fane (Norton) walks into her life. Fane is a brilliant, quiet bacteriologist who is currently working in Shanghai. Fane is quickly infatuated with Kitty, and he promptly asks her to marry him. Kitty agrees (due to a variety of reasons), and the two are wed and travel to China together.

Once in China, however, the couple's differences sharpen. Kitty finds comfort in the arms of a lover, and when Walter discovers her transgression, he confronts her. Walter's terms are simple: 1.) He can divorce her publicly for adultery, ruining her reputation; 2.) She can join him in a small Chinese village where he has agreed to serve as a doctor. (The village is battling an awful cholera epidemic.)

Kitty finds herself traveling to the Chinese countryside with her husband. The stench of adultery hangs palpably between them, and the two seem to despise each other. However, over time, Kitty and Walter begin to rediscover themselves and each other, leading to a conclusion that is redemptive and (in some ways) affirmative of the capacity of the human spirit.

This is an amazing, character-driven film. Performances by Watts and Norton, which make up the bulk of the screen-time, are unbelievable. Kitty is initially rendered as a slightly shallow woman who really doesn't know herself. She has not concerned herself with anything that is not about her. She chooses to marry Walter because she wants to get away from her mother and because she's beginnig to feel it necessary to marry SOMEONE to satisfy her family. However, as the film continues, Kitty grows up. She begins to think of the world outside of herself. She begins to yearn for a useful life.

Walter, a serious scientist, is not a social person. But he sees Kitty and is drawn to her. His need to be back in China is pressing, so he rushes an awkward courtship and proposes. There is much more to Walter, however, than Norton initially lets us see. His intelligence, his astute conclusions about human nature, his capacity for vengeance, his capacity for forgiveness. There are no flat characters here. These are intriguing, real, flawed people, and they are fascinating to watch.

Panoramic shots of the varied landscape of China are beautifully done, and the costumes are wonderful. The real show, though, is the evolving relationship between Kitty and Walter.

Soooooo worth seeing. A beautiful film to watch, and a performer's tour de force.

How to create a print of your 9-month-old's hands and feet

1. When baby awakes from nap, change him and feed him. (This step is to hopefully ensure a happy, rested baby.)

2. Prepare "touchless" ink pad and impression paper.

3. Notice that size of "touchless" ink pad is remarkably tiny compared to 9-month-old's feet and hands. Plunge blindly forward.

4. Press baby's foot to ink pad and impression paper. Notice that bottom of baby's heel is cut off in first impression.

5. Repeat the first part of step 4. Realize that baby scrunched up his toes during the second impression, resulting in what looks like an ape foot on the impression paper.

6. Decide to move to the hand impression. Again, note how tiny the ink pad seems in relation to baby's hand.

7. Attempt first impression, which results in an inky mess on the impression pad due to baby's fascination with CLOSING his fingers onto any object which comes within proximity.

8. Attempt second hand impression, during which baby's entire hand spasms erratically, smudging all the fingers on the impression.

9. Fruitlessly beg baby to please remain calm and still.

10. Attempt third hand impression, in which several fingers on the impression appear cut off because baby will not keep his little hand within the "touchless" ink pad area.

11. Attempt a third foot impression, which is only *slightly* cut off.

12. Rip "touchless" ink pad into three pieces and discard.

13. Curse vehemently, hoping all this while that baby's first word will not incorporate profanity.

14. Get out white acrylic paint and try to salvage at least one hand and foot print by touching up the smudges. Allow prints to dry.

15. Put touched-up prints in a frame and hang.

15. Vow never to try and capture baby's prints again, unless baby is somehow rendered unconscious.