Saturday, January 01, 2011

Ringing the Old Year Out, Ringing the New Year In

Traditionally, Rob eats cabbage and black eyed peas (not together) on New Year's Day, a good luck tradition, picked up from his family, that is supposed to invite prosperity into your life.  Given that I still don't have a job and he didn't have a gig on New Year's Eve for the first time in ten years, I think it is safe to say that this tradition isn't working for us.

So we decided to make our own tradition.  Our vision:  to have a meal of affluence, to symbolize our prosperity in a decadent meal that included . . .

Almonds, a lovely olive bruschetta, some foie gras, and caviar.  Admittedly, the caviar was not the best quality but that was not the intention.  The idea was to have the symbolic representation of affluence.  We may not have had beluga imported this year but next year . . .

Our next course included a creamy Lobster Bisque and Oysters Rockefeller.  Rob kept saying, "Nothing says 'money' quite like Rockefeller."  I can't really argue.  And the oysters were oh so yummy.  I am not a huge fan of lobster so the bisque was okay.  It certainly had a delicacy of flavor that surprised me.  And yes, the decadence continued.

New York Strip steak, pan seared, served with a stuffed baked potato.  To be honest, I didn't have a potato because I simply couldn't eat that much more.  And I suppose this wasn't "screaming" decadence but let me tell you that the dogs were in for a pleasant surprise as we actually gave them about 2 or 3 ozs of our steak.  From taking home doggy bags in restaurants to actually giving our dogs our leftovers . . . now that is aflluence!  They certainly appreciated it.

For dessert, Rob made (yes, from scratch!) some Crêpe Suzette.  Unfortunately, we couldn't get the flambé to work but the dessert was still quite delicious.  (Don't tell Rob but the tartness of the sauce left the roof of my mouth sore because it was already sensitive from some of the Christmas foods and hadn't quite healed.)  

Last but not least, we toasted the new year in.  I had some sparkling wine (next year it will be the real thing--champagne!) and Rob had some diet ginger ale.  The glasses have charms on them.  Mine says "Loyalty" and his says "Tranquility."  

So there you have it.  Our New Year's Eve dinner which we shared with one another in hopes of a more prosperous New Year.  

And if it doesn't work?  Well, we'll just come up with some other "good luck feast" and hope it works better. 

I wish you all a most joyous New Year full of compassion, first for yourself and then rippling out to others.  Let us all make 2011 the most loving year of our lives.

50 Awesome Happy New Year 2011 Desktop Wallpapers 

What I Watched in December

I tried to keep updating with what I've been watching from one week to the next but I soon found myself unable to remember what I had already posted about, what I had yet to write, and what I had forgotten to post altogether.  Sooooo . . . I am going to try to create a single post (a very long one, no doubt) in which I share the dvds, streaming movies, and television programming I watch during the month.  One post.  Very long.  Feel free to skim.  

Also, I will move all reviews, including video reviews to the other blog after this one goes live.  

National Geographic:  Nefertiti and the Lost Dynasty

I hate to start with a disappointment but this was the first thing I watched during December and I learned nothing about Nefertiti, her life, nor her death.  It is my own fault, I suppose, for already knowing too much but when I watch a documentary I have a hope that I'll learn something, anything, about the topic.

It began with Allen Drury's books A God Against the Gods and Return to Thebes.  These novels are out of print and, as with most historical fiction, their accuracy is probably far off the mark so I studied a great deal about Akhenaton, Nefertiti, etc.  The books are now out of print, which is unfortunate.  They were quite good.  I read them as an adolescent.

8 Mile

Every now and again, a movie choice will obviously be Rob's.  But this one barely blurs the line because I love Brittany Murphy and I really wanted to see this just because of her.

But Rob really wanted to see this so we finally saw it.

Not a terrible movie.  If you hate rap, you will feel like you're suffering through every second of this film.  And the plot is predictable.  Rocky with rap.  And good performances throughout.  I confess, I may not like what Eminem (Marshal Mathers) has to say but how he says it brutal and poetic all at once.  I still love Brittany Murphy.

Christmas Classics Volume 1

Some very old cartoons from the 30s and 40s which, to be honest, occasionally do not age terribly well.  There are some overtly racist moments, most especially evident in a cartoon that features Little Audrey, although there are other offensive moments.

I probably wouldn't want my young child to watch this but I can absolutely see how I might want to introduce these cartoons to an older, more discerning child, and discuss with him/her some of the issues.  My children have long chuckled over the sexism of Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer and I seem to be the only one who has issue with what I believe is a line that the screenplay writers added in which Ron mutters how something is about to burst out of Eloise Midgeon.  Hopefully, there will come a day when we look upon such remarks with the same horror, dismay, and distaste as we now do these racist moments in our previous generations' cartoons.

(For those interested, in the book Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Book 4), Ron says he would rather go alone to the Yule Ball than go with Eloise.  Coming to her defense, Hermione Granger says that Eloise's acne has cleared up and says she is very nice to which Ron replies that her nose is off center.  Nowhere is it suggested, as it is in the movie version, that she is overweight and yet, when Professor McGonagall says that inside every girl is a swan waiting to burst into flight, Ron says "Something is about to burst out of Eloise Midgeon, but I don't think it's a swan."  The girl shown for a brief moment is somewhat overweight and I was appalled by the choice of the writers to do this.  Not as appalled, say, as writers adding a rape scene to a film adaptation but I reiterate that I hope someday these things will not be found amusing and we'll look back on that line with an appropriate cringe, which I do every time I watch that scene.)

Monarchy with David Starkey, Part 2

In the first part, Starkey's emphatic enunciation quickly grew tedious but apparently he learned to tone it down by the time they filmed this second part of the series.  It wasn't until after the Tudor era that I really began learning some new things but I enjoyed the entire series very much.  I would love to know if there is a third part that carries the story of the British monarchy forward to the present.

I definitely want to know more and so much happened going into the turn of the century and into the twentieth century that there could easily be a third part.  And there should be.  And if Starkey decides to revert to his emphatic enunciation then that's okay.  Good information is still interesting even when it is shared with an intense precision.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 3

Okay.  Not the first time I've watched this by a long shot.  I didn't clarify or say that I'd only share new things so I guess I'm being honest in saying I watched at least part of this show's third season during December.  This is up there as one of the better seasons, in my opinion.  This is also the season the children and I began seriously watching the show.  Eliza Dushku as Faith infused such energy into the show.  It's a shame that they didn't get her own show off the ground (because she'd already committed to another show).  And farewell to Angel, who moves onto his own show. I could blabber on and on about how clever the writing is on this show and, after seeing later seasons, I appreciate all the more the foreshadowing one finds upon re-viewing these episodes.  Whedon rocks!


Why did I do it? I knew better.  The minute I heard they had done a remake of this I knew it would be a watered down version of the original with most of the bite and grit completely removed.  I wasn't mistaken.  And yet, I watched this.

Ummmm . . . yeah . . . don't do what I do.

Trust me.  I didn't even love the first one but after watching this version I have to say I like it a lot more than I did before.

Bourne Identity

I know.  Remarkable that I'd never seen any of the Bourne movies before.  What with Clive Owen and Julia Stiles both being in this first one.  Oh well.  I finally bought into it and watched.  The romantic interest in this one, Franka Potente, reminded me of my friend Jorin Burr.  Something about her face in certain angles just made me think about her.  It was strange.  Nice but strange.

I never do well with the type of jerky camera work that was used in this film and my son assures me that the same technique is used throughout the films so it's just as well that I didn't try to watch them back-to-back or something.  I felt dizzy after watching the first one and needed to lie down.


I had a collection of Colette's novellas when I was young but at the time I was in the midst of my ancient history novels frenzy and was reading all about ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome.  The book went unread and has since been lost or given away.

This movie is lovely.  The costumes and performances are all just wonderful to watch. A sheer pleasure.  Michelle Pfeiffer is luminous and Rupert Friend has the chiseled features and elegant mannerisms that ease him beautifully into the past.  Truth is, I expected not to like this movie.  But I did.  I didn't love it but if you are home one day and need a light distraction, this one would suffice if only to appreciate the gorgeous costumes.

Dexter: Season 5

After Season 3, I was beginning to have second thoughts.  Season 4, however, blew me away.  Season 5 lived up to the previous season all the way until the final two episodes.  Then things felt a little contrived, a little forced, and a lot less fulfilling.

I won't say more because I don't want to give anything away.  Suffice it to say that Deb does something in the final episode that is, to say the least, disingenuous.  Her character's raison d’être was dropped completely in favor of giving the viewers a neat little package tied up on a narrative bow that, for me, simply didn't fit.  This is the second time that the writers have disappointed.  I hope there won't be a third.  The actors deserve better!

(An aside.  During one episode, the actor who play Quinn said something and both Rob and I said, "NY."  I did a quick search and . . . Desmond Harrington was born in Savannah, GA?!?!?!  WTF???  No.  Wait.  Born in GA but his parents moved to the Bronx NY when he was 3.  *whew*  I thought Rob and I were losing our touch.)

Lennon Naked

Great performances.  I would expect nothing less from a BBC production but . . .

the use of symbolism has all the subtlety of The Matrix and seems to buy into all of the hostile gossip that surrounded Lennon's leaving his wife and son for Yoko Ono.

I would give this 2 out of 5 because, really, it is more propaganda than truth.  One star for good performances and another for looking at Lennon's life through the spectrum of fatherhood. Ultimately, however, the story ends where it emotionally begins.  There is more to this story and the ball was clearly dropped.

Sex and the City 2

Rob and I finally got around to watching this (yes, I said Rob and I because he is the one who introduced me to this show when we were first dating).  Anyway, it was good enough up until they went to Abu Dhabi and then the whole thing sank into sit-com silliness and stereotypes.  The characters long ago became clichés of themselves and this movie didn't do the actresses any justice.  I'm genuinely surprised that they agreed to make this movie but then I'm assuming they read the script before signing on the dotted line.

Lost:  Season 6

And I finally got around to seeing the final season of Lost.

I am content.  I had heard murmurs of discontent from people who found the ending unfulfilling.  Did they watch the same series as I did?  Or maybe they saw a different final episode because what I saw was spot on and precisely what I had hoped to see.

It doesn't really matter.  Most shows do not do a final episode well (*cough*Angel*cough*) while others do it brilliantly (Six Feet Under comes immediately to mind.)  This is not quite the best ending but damn near close.  I hope to see most, if not all, of these actors on other shows sooner rather than later.  Good stuff across the board.

The Snowman plus 7 Holiday Classics

This one is just dreadful.  The first cartoon, "The Snowman," is actually pretty frightening.  It is followed by a retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen classic "The Tin Soldier" but the ending is changed.  Then there's this barely recognizable version of "The Wizard of Oz."  Most of the cartoons on this dvd are the same as the ones on Christmas Classics Volume 1 so if you have the one you don't need the other.  But really, why would you even want, let alone need, this one?



Sometimes it takes me a surprisingly long time to watch something and this movie just wasn't on my "to be watched" list because I doubted that I would enjoy it.  I mean, Will Ferrell isn't very high on my list of woohoo actors.

So color me oh so delightfully surprised by an utterly silly movie that charmed me to the bone.  I giggled often, even laughed aloud a couple of times.  

Okay so there's a predictable ending. It's a Christmas movie.  I expect no less.

The Santa Clause

The children and I went to see this movie as our Christmas Eve movie once upon a time.  I liked it (although in the back of my mind I also kept thinking of the Marx Brothers skit about there being no such thing as a sanity clause).  

I'm not a huge Tim Allen fan but I liked him well enough in this movie.  And I'm a sucker for a heart warming story about a father reconnecting with his son.  I also love the elves--Bernard and Judy.  Rob would say I only like them because they have glitter on their face and they sparkle.  Who am I to argue?  

So cute movie.  Utterly ridiculous.  With a little family bonding to boot!  Oh, and a really great song.

Holiday Inn

It's hard to go wrong with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire.  I suppose you could really really try.  Yes, there are some uncomfortably racist moments.  I try to remind myself about the audience then and when these movies were made and then another delightful Irving Berlin song comes along and all is forgotten as I'm humming and singing and even bouncing along to the next song.

I end up humming and singing these songs for days afterwards, mixed in with all of the other holiday songs I sing and hum at this time of year.


The songs from this musical start filtering into my brain every year at this time so I must associate this movie with the holidays on some level.  I am not sure what it is.  I don't recall seeing this as a child.  

Great songs.  Wonderful dancing and acting.  But let's be honest . . . a serious dose of anti-Semitic sentiment.  Fagin is a remarkable character and clearly supposed to be Jewish.  

I remember reading the novel, Oliver Twist, and I disliked all but the last few chapters.  It was all so tedious and unhappy.  Of course, the last ten chapters have a typically Victorian happily ever after ending full of convenient coincidences.  Nevertheless, a charming movie in spite of the codependent relationship and racism.

Shira, the Vampire Samurai

I don't even know what to say or how to explain this.  First, I should say that we used to go to see movies on Christmas Eve.  We saw all sorts of good movies, like The Santa Clause and even a few great ones like Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings and Toy Story.  

Since I can't go to action type movies without feeling very sickened by the visual stimulation, I thought I'd rent this dvd.  Why?  Because my daughter's name is Shira and I thought it would be amusing.  I like B movies well enough.  After all, how bad could it be?  

It could be so bad that if it hadn't been the Christmas Eve movie, we probably would have turned it off altogether.  There is so much bad about this movie, from stereotypes that are so insulting to the intelligence of the audience I would be surprised if the actor isn't utterly ashamed, and derivative content that references everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Blade.  And all of it bad.  Very very bad.

Christmas Story

I watched this because my friend Saila, whom I miss constantly, lives in Finland and this movie is from Finland.  I guess it was my small way of trying to feel a connection over the distance, without even knowing if she has ever seen this movie.

It's charming.  Sweet.  Heartwarming.  All the things would hope a holiday movie would be.  I wish the version I watched was subtitled and not dubbed but even dubbed it enchanted.  

I'll happily watch it again.  And again.  I wonder if Saila has ever seen it . . . ?

Avatar:  The Last Airbender

Rob and I watched the entire series over weeks and weeks, watching one episode here and there.  If I'd been left to myself, I'd probably have watched it all much faster but there were a couple of times we watched two episodes back-to-back.  

By the third season, we loved all of the characters, especially how they worked as a team, playing off one another.  The story line was complex enough to keep us interested and there were some very cute moments mixed in with the deeper, more emotional ones.  There are definitely some poignant moments and although some of the characters are two-dimensional and never really change, that is to be expected.  And running gags.  I'm a sucker for any show with a running gag.  

We actually watched the following sometime before Christmas but I forgot to record it in this blog post.  

Pretty Baby

Perhaps best known for controversy, this Louis Malle film is pretty.  Brooke Shields is lovely and every character is wonderfully cast and performed.  The story, however, is supremely distasteful, about a girl who is raised in a brothel where her virginity is eventually auctioned off to the highest bidder.  

There was some nudity in it that has apparently been modified by zooming in on the shots to remove the bulk of exposure and at the time there was an outcry that a then 12-year-old Shields was shown nude at all.  Her mother denied that her daughter was ever actually nude, saying she would never allow her daughter to pose nude.  Unfortunately, I had a friend whose father was in the advertising business and, as part of his work, he had many promotional materials from various modeling agencies, including one from the one that had signed Brooke Shields.  In this particular booklet, Shields and several other young models are shown in two poses, first as a child and then as a vixen.  So in one, a young girl is in her red footy-pajamas, her hair in blonde curls, all doll-like and wide-eyed innocence.  On the very next page the same girl is in front of a fireplace in a red silky nightgown, her face fully made up, her curls now tousled and wild.  The last pair of pages showed a child-like Brooke Shields in a bubble bath and then her standing in a dark marble bathroom, surrounded by steam, her glistening body rising from the dark water where she was exposed from below the knees up.  

Nothing left to the imagination.  And this press-release or promo-kit was something I saw before this movie was released.  So, in spite of her mother's vehement protestations, there were an awful lot of people that simply didn't buy it.  The fact that the modern dvd zooms in to hide as much of the child's nudity as possible reinforces the implication that a body double was never used.  

Time After Time

The premise:  Jack the Ripper finds a way to transport himself to 1979 where he can continue his reign of terror.  How a movie starring Malcolm McDowell doesn't cast him as Jack the Ripper is beyond me but . . . he is cast as H G Wells, which is supposed to explain how Jack moved into the present.  

This movie is so poorly researched as to be an insult to anyone who has studied Jack the Ripper and his murders.  The last murder shown before Jack's escape is obviously not the last one that has actually been credited to the man.  And although Mary Steenburgen is lovelier than I ever remember her being, her role is predictable and contradictory; a staunch feminist who behaves more like a damsel in distress or desperate to be remarried than a true women's libber.

Happy New Year!

50 Awesome Happy New Year 2011 Desktop Wallpapers

Friday, December 31, 2010

The Final Caldecott Book Review of 2010 (and the last book review for this blog)

Abraham Lincoln

One of the things I noticed, as I was reading these Caldecott Medal winners in relatively reverse chronological order, is that the older the book, the more likely there would be more text.  This book is mostly story, telling about the life of Abraham Lincoln without ever addressing his assassination.  There is a lot to commend this book but I confess being a bit put off by some of the images.  Written in a different time, the parts and pieces that may not be “politically correct” lend themselves to further discussion.  Still, it is wonderful to have a past President celebrated in such a clear and engaging manner.

And this is the last Caldecott Review for this year because my library doesn't have at least one book and I didn't go back and add the most recent winner.  I'll catch up in 2012.  For that reason alone, you'll want to read that other blog to see if I remember a year from now what I didn't finish now.  Feel free to remind me where I left off.

And because of the content for this one book, there is a lot of "further exploration" recommendations.  No apologies.  Some topics merit deeper exploration.

For Further Exploration

  • Look at a map and find the places where Abraham Lincoln lived–from Kentucky to Illinois to the White House.
  • Research “horn books” (there are images of Lincoln and his older sister carrying one to school).  
  • Bake some gingerbread men from scratch.  
  • This book lists several books Lincoln read as a young boy (the Bible, Pilgrim’s Progress, etc.).  If you are so inclined, why not read one or more of these books together?  
  • Lincoln worked hard to earn money so why not give your child a chance to earn some money?  Assign chores and a monetary value to the chores.  
  • Also, research the currency used in the US during the early 1800s.  
  • There are many different types of boats pictured throughout the book.  Look up the different types of boats and what they were used for, how they were built, etc.  Make a model of one or more.  
  • Talk about slavery, its history in United States and beyond.  For the older child, watch Roots and Ken Burns’ wonderful documentary The Civil War.
  • One of the stories shared is about a time Lincoln walked 3 miles to pay back some money.  Pack a picnic and take a 3 miles walk with your child.  Sit down and enjoy your picnic before making the walk back, thinking about Abraham Lincoln’s commitment to fairness.  
  • Research Black Hawk and the Sauk Native Americans.  For the older child, discuss the challenges that Native Americans faced after America was “discovered.”
  • Find some of Abraham Lincoln’s speeches in print (including, of course, the Gettysburg Address).
  • Using a blank map of the United States, color in the different states by which were in the Confederacy, which were in the Union, and which tried to remain neutral.  
  • For the older child, read more about Abraham Lincoln’s life.  While some of his personal tragedies are discussed in this book (his mother’s death, etc.), many are not discussed at all.  
  • Read Walt Whitman’s O Captain! My Captain! which is a tribute to Abraham Lincoln.
  • Pick another president from the country’s past and write a children’s book version of his life.  Illustrate it.

The Best American Short Stories of 2005 edited by Michael Chabon

The Best American Short Stories of 2005 edited by Michael Chabon is one of the fifteen books I chose to read or get rid of in 2010.  Although all of these stories are very good, some appealed to me more than others.

That is one of the reasons I enjoy reading an anthology such as this; it affords me the opportunity to sample new writers without committing to an entire novel.  A short story that engages me and makes me think or feel or think and feel is bound to make me seek out the author, especially if they have published a novel or two.

The challenge in putting together an anthology like this is to keep each story from conflicting too much with the next, of creating a sort of integrity hard to attain with such disparate authors and themes.  Chabon does a remarkable job of making this work.

The stories that stood out for me are:

The Smile on Happy Chang’s Face by Tom Perrotta
Eight Pieces for the Left Hand by J Robert Lennon
The Secret Goldfish by David Means
Justice Shiva Ram Murthy by Rishi Reddi

At the back of this book, a brief bio about the author is given plus the author’s explanation of how they came to be inspired to write the story.  I found this added feature fascinating because I am always curious about the creative process of other writers.  In the few paragraphs (one for each writer of a short story), I learned as much as the hundreds of droning pages of some other books.  Inspiration comes from anything, from anywhere.  Rough starts are made and then changed and then revised until, after much work, the final product is there before you.

For anyone wanting to meet new authors on the page, these best of anthologies are a worthy investment (or worth borrowing from the library anyway).  I definitely enjoyed this one and wouldn’t turn my back on another collection from this series if it were to come my way.  But not in 2011; not unless it is edited and written only by women, that is.

(An interesting aside.  There are 21 stories total, 7 written by women.  I chose only one written by a woman as a favorite.  Usually, I am more balanced but I wonder if I was slanted in this gender biased direction due to the balance already being skewed.  Earlier today I read a list of the most anticipated young adult novels of 2011.  The list was written by a young woman and every author on the list was also a woman.  On another list, a business man asked for book recommendations and every book mentioned thus far is written by a man.)

The Creative Process by Brewster Ghiselin

The Creative Process: Reflections on Inventions in the Arts and Sciences edited by Brewster Ghiselin is the sixth book in the Transformational Book Circle and the last one I chose to read.  Not because it is also the thickest but because I honestly couldn’t get into it.  I would pick it up, start reading a few of the essays, become bored, pick up something else to read.

This is the problem with anthologies–odds are you won’t find every piece–whether a short story, a poem, or a collection of essays–engaging.  I found so few of these pieces of any interest mostly because they are redundant.  How many times can you read about the creative process being a gradual experience where the seed of an idea slowly germinates, often coming to fruition in a moment of subconscious inspiration.  Do I really need to read more than 20 essays that pretty much say the same thing?  Inspiration, the idea, is the easy part and the rest is hard work.

I also thought that I would actually be inspired by some of the things I read.  Not in the least.  I found myself so bored by what was shared that I was no more inspired to be creative after I read than I was before I started.  That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy reading any of the essays.  Some were interesting enough but none were so stimulating that I found myself rushing to the page to express myself in poetry or even an expressive journal entry.  I truly wish it had been otherwise but there are other resources out there that can hopefully inspire me.  This one merely left me intellectually bored and creatively dulled.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

I Am Legend by Robert Matheson

I Am Legend by Robert Matheson, in this volume, is a novella compiled with ten other short stories by the author who made a name for himself writing for the Twilight Zone and Star Trek.  I had heard that the movie did not do justice to the novella and I have to say, I agree.  The movie is different in the typical Hollywood way, infusing the story with some pathos that simply doesn’t do the original story any justice.  Matheson’s original vision is far darker and the ending is more perverse.  No doubt, the graphic novel does the story more justice than the movie.

As for the ten short stories, they all have very typical and often predictable “surprise” endings.  It’s rather like reading episodes of the Twilight Zone without the cool music and resonant voice-over leading into and away from each story.  Some are good.  Some are just silly.  None of them is as good as the novella.  Unless you really really want to read the entire book, you can stop after reading the novella and move onto something else more interesting.  

More Caldecott Medal Books--Eight This Time!

Animals of the Bible

Pretty black and white illustrations and quotations from the King James Bible offer a variation on the picture Bible tradition with its emphasis on the stories that include animals, from Eve’s temptation by the serpent to the peaceful kingdom promised in Isaiah.  Definitely a book written for Christians, with Catholic overtones in the imagery.

For Further Exploration

  • Study each of the species mentioned in this book, how they live, their natural habitat, etc.
  • Make models of each of the different animals, using clay or even salt dough.
  • Read the same stories from a different picture Bible story book or from a different translation of the Bible.
  • Make your own picture Bible story book, copying sections of the Bible and illustrating them.

Prayer For a Child

Another clearly Christian book with adorable illustrations.

For Further Exploration

  • Find a poem and illustrate it line for line.
  • Have your child write a prayer poem, listing things in the room, home, etc. to be blessed.
  • Once a month, listen to your child’s prayers (if you are welcome) and write them down.  On a rainy day, have your child create a prayer journal with illustrations of prayers.  Especially note any that have been answered.
  • On your child’s birthday, write a prayer poem of your own for your child.  Over the years, collect these and, upon your child’s moving from your home, collect them into a scrapbook with photographs.
Many Moons

I think the version of this book I borrowed from the library is not the one that one the Caldecott Medal.  Darn.  I was oh so excited because this story is by James Thurber who has long been a favorite of mine.  What can I say?  I grew up with The New Yorker.

For Further Exploration
  • Watch the cycles of the moon through the month.  Perhaps have your child take a photograph or draw a picture of the moon.
  • Study the moon.  How far is it from the earth?  Several answers are suggested in the book but are any of them right?  What is the moon made of, really?  How large is it?  Etc.
  • Talk about the different people of the court and their roles in the kingdom.
  • What is a motley?  Look at different images of motley costumes.  
  • For the older child, study space exploration, watch documentaries about the moon landings, and movies about space exploration milestones (The Right Stuff, Apollo 13, etc.).
  • For the older child, watch King Lear and discuss the fool’s role in the play.  If your older child is interested, why not read the play as well?  
The Rooster Crows

What merit this book offers, lies in the American tradition.  Some traditional nursery rhymes mixed in with brief rhymes that are strictly “new world” come together with some illustrated, some not.

For Further Exploration
  • Study some of the symbolism of the different rhymes.
  • Choose some (or all) of the rhymes that are not illustrated and make an illustrated book of those rhymes.
I can’t really think of any more because I’ve never been overly fond of nursery rhymes.

They Were Strong and Good

I have misgivings about this book but I also like it very much.  The author shares his family tree, from maternal ancestors coming to America through slave owning on his paternal family’s side.  And therein lies the problem.  To say that they were strong and “good” throws into question the absolutely not good history of slavery.  Perhaps this book is best saved for an older child with whom one can discuss the ideas implied in owning a slave and what it means to be good.

For Further Exploration
  • Write down some of the stories you remember your parents telling you about your family.  Don’t worry about how accurate these stories are.  These stories will be lost or forgotten if not recorded so start sharing them now.
  • Discuss with your older child the history of slavery.  (For the still older child, you might want to look into the implications of “slavery” in child-prostitution and children soldiers.)
  • Create your own family tree, filling it out as far back as you can.  Make a copy for your child to continue building upon in later life.
The Little House

Here is a great example of how my memory simply doesn’t work.  I remembered this book about a little house in the country that becomes part of city as industrialization intrudes.  And how the owners of the house fight to keep it where it is, as it is, nestled there amongst the tall buildings.  Having grown up in Manhattan and seen how things changed so much in my own neighborhood(s), my memory created a story where most things change but there is this one haven of sameness.  My memory was wrong and that is not how the story ends.  Oops.

For Further Exploration
  • This book does a wonderful job of looking at time and how days turn into months which turn into seasons which turn into years.  Have your child tell your home’s story for one year.  What does your house (apartment, townhome, whatever) see from one day/week/month/season to the next?
  • Think about some of the things that were new when you were a child (remember walkmans?).  Discuss the idea of change, of how technology evolves.  
  • Throughout the book, you can see how the emotions of the little house change; discuss personification and make a list of other books or stories that include personification.
  • The illustrations in this book are evocative of folk-art traditions.  Look at other examples of folk-art paintings and drawings.  Have your child create a story, illustrated with folk-art-like drawings.

Mei Li

Cute book that brings to light gender roles in the context of Chinese culture during the 1930s.

For Further Exploration
  • Study about the Kitchen God and other Chinese New Year traditions.
  • If you live in an area where there is a Chinese community, why not attend a Chinese New Year celebration?  Bring ear plugs.  They can be noisy.
  • If you do not live in an area that has a “China Town” you can go out to dinner at a local restaurant or order take-out and enjoy an Americanized version of a Chinese meal.
  • Better yet, why not make your own Chinese dinner from scratch?  All that measuring and mixing will teach some real life skills.
  • For the older child, discuss gender roles in the book. 
Make Way for Ducklings

Another classic I remember from my childhood.  At least this one I remembered correctly, the details holding strong in spite of the passing of time.

For Further Exploration
  • Study mallard ducks, their habits, migration, etc.  Look at images of other species of ducks.  
  • This book mentions many landmarks in the Boston area.  Look at photographs of some of these locations and compare them with the drawings in the book. (There is also a statue that pays homage this book so look for photographs of this as well.)
  • Study the history of Boston from the indigenous people to the present times.  There is a long timeline of history to be explored.  How might the duck's experience been different if they had lived 100 years ago?  Or 300 years, even?  What about if the story had been written today?  What differences might there have been?  (Notice that the boys on the bikes are not wearing any protective gear, etc.)
  • Make a map tracing the route of the ducks using what you learned by studying Boston.
  • Take a walk around your neighborhood and make a list of some of the landmarks you see.  Now have your child write a story about your neighborhood from an animal's perspective. It might be a bunny trying to move from one back yard to another or a squirrel in search of the best place to find food for the winter.  
  • For the older child, watch March of the Penguins.  There are some scenes that may be too intense for younger children.  Discuss the differences in how the mallards are portrayed (personification) in the book and how the penguins are presented (naturalism) in the film.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Reiki Links

In this video, Jan Wheeler shares her holistic approach to her life which includes a daily Reiki practice.

For the full article click here.

Reconnecting with Reiki when you have been out of practice is discussed in this video:

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

We Had a White Christmas

Well, it wasn't quite covered in white. You could still see patches of dirt and such through the snow.  But the fact that it snowed at all, let alone enough to stick, and enough for Rei to make a couple of snow-things . . . that is just what you have to call a Christmas Miracle.

The Great Divorce by C S Lewis

The Great Divorce by C S Lewis seemed a natural choice after reading Richard Matheson’s What Dreams May Come.  Both deal with the soul’s experience after death but from different perspectives.  I remembered reading and very much liking this book and, for that reason, I dreaded rereading it because I wondered what I would think of it now.  I have already been disappointed with some of Lewis’ other writings up rereading, after all, and yet I wanted to give it one more try because I feel drawn to reread Julian of Norwich but am loathe to do it lest I turn from love to dislike.

So poor Lewis became my litmus test, if you will.  Before daring to profane my fond memories of Julian I went ahead and threw The Great Divorce under the bus and hoped I would come through to the other side still liking it.

And I do.  Whew!

In the allegorical tale, the narrator (Lewis himself) is in a dismal town where there is nothing but sadness.  He boards a bus, along with some other people, and they soon find themselves ascending to another place where there is light and beauty.  They themselves, however, remain insubstantial and moving around is painful.  On the bus and in the new place, Lewis participates in and is witness to various conversations that address different eschatological issues.

The story itself is obviously giving nods to other literary devices and figures.  Drawing on everyone from Dante to Bunyan, including directly or by reference other figures like George MacDonald (a sort of literary inspiration and mentor to Lewis) and Julian of Norwich (aha!), there is much to ponder and discuss in this rather slender volume.  The ending is a throw away, derivative at best and academically insulting at worst but the last chapter is so brief that it hardly outweighs the merit of the rest of the text.

Let me once again sigh with relief (whew!) that I still appreciate and like this book very much.  Now my fingers are crossed that, during 2011 when I am only reading books by women and am hoping to revisit Julian of Norwich, this appreciation does not begin and end with this book by Lewis.  One can most certainly hope . . .

Monday, December 27, 2010

blog blog blog blog blog blog blog

I’ve been struggling for a long time with the whole online presence thing and I notice very time I begin to stick my little head out from my shell, something comes up to remind me why I prefer not to be “out there.”  In spite of this, I made a commitment to keep a blog about my vertigo and living with vertigo.

The truth is, I haven’t done what I thought I would do with that blog.  It is factual and mostly impersonal.  In other words, it was emotionally safe.  Then a few weeks ago while the board members of the Wellness & Writing Connections organization were talking, I started thinking more deeply about the mission statement.
Wellness & Writing Connections provides a forum for the exchange of information about research, theory, practices and resources among people from diverse backgrounds and disciplines. The resulting interdisciplinary synergy supports individuals who write toward wholeness, affirming that an intentional practice of creating and composing in words and images contributes to physical, mental, and spiritual health.
Notice the last part: physical, mental, and spiritual health.  Here is where I was lingering, thinking about what each of these things means to me.

In a way, one could argue that this blog, the one in which this post is appearing, is mostly about my intellectual experience what with the book reviews dominating.  (Albeit, one could argue that the movie choices negate any hint of intellect whatsoever but let’s pretend my film choices are as interesting as my book choices.)  There are occasional posts about family or, recently, Christmas trees.

But it doesn’t meet any of those three standards of our mission: physical, mental, spiritual.  So let’s break this down a bit.


I have vertigo and am committed to writing about having vertigo, what this means in my life, etc.  However, when I think of physical, I don’t think about “meaning” so much as the “gross matter” of being; in other words, I think about my body.  I have a body blog in which I had hoped I would track my amazing discipline and weight loss success.  Last year did not see success. In fact, if the goal was to lose weight (and it was) then what my blog showed was the exact opposite.  Ouch!

I still saw some success there.  My tenacity.  My commitment.  I didn’t gain a pound or five or ten and just shrug it off.  I sat down and tried to figure out why.  I renewed my commitment to exercising, looked at other ways of losing weight, modified my diet, continued hoping, striving, researching.  And in 2011 there will be a renewed commitment to updating that blog regularly with an added component which I hope will make it more interesting to read and relevant to the reader.


Here is where I think I may be making some more changes.  I am considering moving all my reviews to a separate blog.  The title of this blog is Satia’s Journal and I just don’t think that an endless series of reviews qualifies as journaling.  And if I do that, what will happen here, in this blog?

Therein lies the crux of my dilemma because it goes against my locking myself in a shell.  So I am meditating on these things, the mission statement and my less than stellar past blogging experiences.  If I recognize that the other blog is mostly intellectual, an academic approach to writing and its benefits, and I move my reviews for other people’s writing to a different blog then that leaves this blog for . . . . what?


Yes, a small voice said, “What about your spiritual life?”

What about it?  I am at a very distinct cross-roads with my spiritual path, so much so that I don’t know if one could be more diverse and even disparate.  I have always protected my spirituality in my online presence, assuming that anyone who was determined to know what I believed could get some sense of my spiritual growth from looking at my reading choices.  Yes, I realize that there is some conflict between one book in relation to another.  That is where I am spiritually–conflicted.

You know how sometimes you’ll be wondering “Should I or shouldn’t I?” and something or someone will come along and, without saying so, give you a resounding “Yes” or “No”?

That happened to me.  I had just finished reading Karen Armstrong’s Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life and I was considering how lovely it would be to explore compassion more fully, to dig into the idea of loving-kindness as taught in Buddhism, to meditate more fully on Quan Yin and Karuna, and maybe, just maybe, sharing some of these things in my blog, in this blog.

Then my mother and I talked yesterday, sharing about our perfectly lovely holidays and about the approaching new year.  She said she was sending me (and two of her friends) a book by Sharon Salzberg about loving kindness because this is something she wants to focus upon in the coming year and she thought that by enlisting others into reading the book along with her there would be an accountability.

Of course I could feel the confirmation of my own thoughts on dedicating 2011 to more than just reading women’s books and how synchronicity works in surprising and lovely (loving) ways.  Then she said it:

“And I thought this would give you something to journal about.” 

So there you go.  I don’t need a piano to fall on me to get the point.  If I am meditating on something in my heart and then a rather random convergence occurs and before I know it I am swept away.  Or, let’s be honest, it all falls flat. Others will resonate and affirm what I am thinking and jump into the pool with me only to jump back out, dry off, and walk away, leaving me alone, swimming aimlessly, trying to make sense of how I ended up here, of all places.

Like here, in this blog, writing about blogging.  How the hell did I end up here?

Well, that’s another story for another day.  In the meantime, we are here now and with 2011 just around the corner, now is as good a time as any to say that there are changes coming and I am going to try to share more deeply some of the things that are pressing on my heart.  The reviews will be moved to a new blog and I will be updating my body blog with information about vertigo.  The Reiki related content will remain here because that will probably be tied in with my meditation practice and other spiritual experiences.  However, it may shift over to the body blog.  We’ll see.  And my thoughts on writing and wellness, which I have not been putting into words very often lately, will begin showing up in my wellbeing blog.  There will be some confluence, no doubt and I would be surprised if some of what I write in one blog doesn’t inform the content of another.


The three branches of health mentioned in the mission statement (physical, mental, spiritual) is a good basis of “what” I am focusing upon and the various blogs allow space for each without flooding one blog with too many posts.  If you want to know how I’m doing with my weight loss, if you want to encourage me by holding me accountable or sharing your own day-to-day (or week-to-week) experiences with exercise and food, etc., then you can read that blog and if you are curious about what I’m reading you can follow the review blog.

As I said, I’ll likely have some confluence, times of cross-posting or referring one post to another.  It is my intention that I will post a monthly summary of all blog posts here, perhaps on a separate page.  I would like to commit to that but I tend to forget things.  (Now that I’ve put it into writing, however, I will be less likely to forget and I invite you to send me a reminder.)  If I can remember to post summaries, it won’t be necessary to follow all the blogs.  You can pick and choose.  Want to know more about the latest research on writing, how narrative medicine and poetry therapy are being used to help heal, and about vertigo?  Then read this blog.  Want to commiserate on body issues, talk about menopause and self-image, curious to know how I live with vertigo and struggle to lose weight?  Read this blog.  Want to know what it is I recently read and what my thoughts are about this endless pile of books I have at hand or just want to see what I’ve been seeing lately?  Read this blog.

I’ve a feeling that all of this will result in something else altogether.  More poetry.  More creative writing.  What home will this writing find?  I’d rather not create a separate blog.  It’s possible I’ll add a page somewhere in this blog or another, where I share rough drafts or works in progress, to be rotated regularly.  Depending on the speed with which I write, this could be a monthly cycle or only a seasonal one.  Or it might be bi-weekly.  I just know from past experience that when I begin to explore things more deeply, other things are stirred, that one thing leads to another.

I know I am not along in this, that 2011 holds a great deal of promise for us all.  Change is inevitable and, for me and my blogging, there are many changes coming.  I hope to see you there or here or both.

If nothing else, I think I can honestly say that you won’t have to face more blog posts that are this long in the new year.  But I won’t promise.