Sunday, November 27, 2005

Rock with Passion

This is going to be a random assortment of thoughts about the Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert I just got home from.

Oh. My. God.

Please note that I have gone to this concert every year since they started touring. This was my seventh one. And that's still my reaction.

Oh. My. God.

If you have a chance to see this concert, you really should try. It's rocked-out Christmas music. It's a rock opera with a very touching story. It's a Gregorian Chant combined with an 18th century orchestral piece played with driving drums and rockin' guitar. It's Beethoven's Fifth with flameballs.

It's a freakin' electric violin.

I'm sure all good musicians play with passion. But these people are different. This is three months of intense touring. They're playing three shows in two days just in Hershey, and they were in Connecticut three days ago. I don't know how anyone can keep up that level of intensity, but they all manage to make each show look just as fun as the last one.

Each year the show gets bigger and better. I find the history of the band as inspiring as the music and the performers, and I never get tired of it. I admit to a for Dave Z, the bass player, who is also a member of ZO2.

Anyway, I guess the bottom line is that every year, this show and these people inspire me to attack my own craft with the same passion with which they attack theirs. My dream is to someday make someone feel about my books as I do about their music.

And in the meantime, I'll just engage in annual swooning.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Thankful Boat

Last year, my kindergartener brought a new tradition to our holiday.

Our friend Cheryl used to care for her after school. They made a milk-carton models of the Nina and at Thanksgiving, we all wrote on slips of paper what we were thankful for. Then we went around the table, drawing the slips from the boat and reading them aloud.

This was our second year of the tradition, and we really like it. It doesn't put anyone on the spot, especially when you've got a crowd of family at various levels of relationship, and everyone has time to think of what they want to say. It also gives the kids a bigger role in the day's activities, besides drowning out the football games and spilling their milk at the kids' table.

So, here's what we're thankful for this year:

I am thankful...

...for my friends and teachers. I wish them a long and happy life.

...for our house still standing straight.

...that right now I have no major worries.

...because my family loves me.

...for all the things I have and all the things I love. I wish all the things [people] I love to live a long and happy life.

...that I have a dream worth pursuing and people who help me pursue it.

...for having such wonderful kids who respect themselves as well as Mommy and Daddy.

...for my marriage to a man who balances my strengths and weaknesses and loves me in spite of them.

...for my room and my bed being in there. have the children I have and that I wouldn't change a thing about them.

...for being me.

...for having a roof over our heads, food on the table, and love in our hearts.

...for vacation and breaks.

...for our kids getting older so I can sleep in with Mommy. [smiley face with zzzzz]

...for my mom and dad and my sister.

...for games. Silly, I know, but games to play with children, games to watch my children play, games of football to watch, and computer games for me to play.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Cinema Is Not Dead

Last night, a friend talked me into attending the midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Regular Indulge Yourself blog readers and those familiar with my Passions page will not be surprised to hear I eagerly jumped on this idea, despite the two hours of sleep it would mean. On a work night.

For me, movies are not just a form of entertainment. They are an experience. There is something unique about the big screen, the Dolby surround, the smell of the theater, the feel of the seats, the energy of being in a crowd. I love the previews and the music over the credits and watching at home can't even come close to duplicating it. So this year I've been very dismayed by the whole Box Office Situation. Mediocre films (Fantastic Four) and outright bad ones (War of the Worlds) did okay but not always what their hype foresaw. Good films (Elizabethtown and Kingdom of Heaven) and great ones (Serenity) were failures, either real or perceived. It all generated a fear in me that the movies I like, the ones I eagerly go to the theater to see, won't be made anymore.

Well, I'm happy to say my fear is premature. Maybe it's a no-brainer that HP will do well, but more importantly, it has saved the whole movie experience for me.

We had a new movie theater open in June. Every time I've been there, the theater has been only half full, even for films I expected to be a big draw. It worried me, because this theater is part of a family-owned chain and more vulnerable, I believe, to the whims of the marketplace.

Well, color me stunned. This midnight show on a school/work night was packed. And I mean sold out, every seat filled half an hour before show time, when normal show times have an empty theater that far before the start of the movie. There was cheering when the film started, and that set up that energy I mentioned earlier. We're talking college-age and young adult attendees here, not teeny-boppers or kids. It was very heartening.

How about the movie itself? I mean, War of the Worlds made over $200 million and it was the worst movie I've seen since Catwoman.

Goblet of Fire is definitely the best Harry Potter movie yet. It was condensed and stripped and modified, and I wasn't thrilled with ALL of the changes from the book, but it was meaty and well-acted and really, really funny.

Sorcerer's Stone was an experiment. Even with Chamber of Secrets, the jury was out on whether these kids could act, whether they could fulfill the expectations generated by JK Rowling's wonderful characterization and storytelling. Prisoner of Azkaban convinced me they could, but in Goblet of Fire, they have really come into their own. Especially Daniel Radcliffe, who was oh-so-earnest in the first film and is now good enough to mine his and others' experiences and convince us he's really feeling what he's supposed to be feeling.

Most of the rest of the casting is as superb as ever. Many students and teachers from past editions are marginalized, but there is still enough Snape to make Megan sigh, and Neville gets a much greater role, something in which nerds everywhere (and I'm one) can rejoice.

Probably the best surprise of this film is the humor. The book has plenty of it, a lot generated by things that aren't in the movie, like the old man in his housecoat at the Quidditch World Cup, Stan Shunpike trying to impress a Veela, and Dobby the House Elf. The movie manages to make everyday comments and images funny. Fred and George are a hoot (would always love to see more of them!) and though Brendan Gleeson's interpretation of Mad-Eye Moody is much different from Jim Dale's, he does a great job.

Ralph Fiennes is a superb Voldemort, and I'm looking forward to more of him in Order of the Phoenix. I'd like Michael Gambon to settle his Dumbledore down a little, however.

My only REAL complaint is that after a year that saw a new book and a new film, the delay before the next one of each will be, once again, far too long (book 7 is not to be worked on until next year, probably not finished until 2007, and not published until 2008, and OP the movie starts filming in a few months, to be released in June 2007).

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Thoughts on LOST

I had a really coherent and well-planned post on this in the shower this morning, but alas, things always get lost between shower and computer. So this may not be as smoothly flowing as I'd planned.

At first watch, last night's episode of LOST might not seem to have revealed much, or given us many hints, or generated many questions. The more the scenes percolate in my head, however, the more clear--or more UNclear--things become.

Some facts for certain:

--Despite many debates on the subject, last week showed us the truth, and Ana Lucia DID shoot Shannon. Lest anyone still think it's unclear, just watch the preview for next week, in which Ana says, "I shot his girlfriend."

--Goodwin was one of the gang that dragged people off and Ana killed him to protect her survivors. He infiltrated the group in a manner similar to Ethan's.

Now, some not-so-factual things.

I used to think there were two groups of Others. The ones with gasoline and bullets, and the ones who operate more primitively. Then Goodwin confirmed that he was part of the group grabbing people off the beach. That seemed to blur the lines between them, since he was obviously good enough to fool the others into thinking he'd been on the plane. Ana Lucia and the others seem to think Nathan was the wrong man, since she knew for sure, in the end, that Goodwin was an Other.

But Goodwin being an Other doesn't mean Nathan wasn't. It's just too coincidental that his name was Nathan and he was from Canada (remember Ethan from Ontario?) and they hadn't seen him on the plane and he was "going to the bathroom" for two hours. Now, two-hour bathroom visits aren't a stretch in real life. But when you've had nothing to eat for a week? Less likely.

Goodwin said Nathan was not a good man, and "that's why his name wasn't on the list." Does that imply that Ana Lucia and the others are not good, either? I don't think so. Eko is certainly an enigma, and maybe Libby and Cindy have secrets that belie what we've seen of them, but I have a really hard time believing Bernard, married to a woman like Rose, is "not a good man." So could Goodwin possibly have been referring to an opposing group of Others when he talked about Nathan?

It's not cut-and-dried, of course. Nathan doesn't seem to recognize Goodwin or know the island as well as the Others, because he asked which way the beach was. But that doesn't disprove my theory, it just means maybe he hasn't been on the island that long.

Another observation: The Whispers. Last week, Shannon and Sayid heard them before they saw Walt. Ana and her group heard them, too. But last night I realized that it was the FIRST time the Tailies had heard the whispers. I think that's highly significant.

I'm looking forward to seeing Ana Lucia and Sayid go head to head. She's got guilt, for sure, but she's not going to let him take his revenge. In the preview, she fires a gun, which is confusing. She said last week "one gun and one bullet won't stop them." When she shot Shannon, the slide was back on the gun, which all the gun experts say shows the gun is now empty. I'm guessing she gets Sayid's gun away from him, and considering his background in the military, that says something about Ana's skill. I doubt she shoots anyone, though.

I'm also thinking I'm not going to like Sayid for a while. Loss has shown every character at their worst, and he's going to be no different. But Michael came around, and Sawyer came around, and Shannon was even coming around, so Sayid and Ana will end up comrades against the enemy in the long run.

I can't wait to see Bernard and Rose, and Sun and Jin reunited. Jack will have his hands full for a bit, and will once AGAIN have to save Sawyer's life. Won't Sawyer HATE that?

That's all I can think of now. I'll edit later if more comes to mind.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Pride and Joy

My husband and I are both avid readers. He read to both of our kids before they were born (Dr. Seuss Classic Collection) and my oldest "read" 30 books a day on our long morning/evening commute, so she's been naturally obsessed with books all her life. But my youngest has suffered from second child syndrome in this most shamed of ways. We haven't read to her as much as the first kid, a fact I've always hated. So she hasn't shown the same interest (passion!) in books as the rest of us.

So I was thrilled at the end of this summer when she just flipped the switch. I never pushed either of them to read to their potential before kindergarten. They did daycare/preschool and were going to be bored enough as it was. So though M was at the advanced end of the range last year, she wasn't off the charts.

Except she was. The school did a reading assessment in August, before classes started, and her teacher told me she was well above the placement her kindergarten teacher had noted, and it was likely she'd be the only student in her reading group. I don't know if that kicked on her competitiveness, or if her skill reached critical mass so she understands enough to take pleasure in what she's reading, or if she just read one particular thing that grabbed her interest. For whatever reason, she became a reading machine. She blows through a whole Junie B. Jones book at breakfast, and her teacher has to pull books from higher classes for her reading assignments in school.

It's thrilling to me, a writer and a compulsive reader, to see the joy she takes in finishing a chapter. To hear her read a complex word with confidence, then go back and count the letters to see if she beat her record (she was stuck at 11 for a long time, but finally hit 13 the other day). To see her pack half a dozen books so she can read at the bus stop, on the bus, before school starts...

Generally, evenings are family times. Even if we have practices or homework or dance class, Jim and I spend our time at least near the kids, if not directly interacting with them. We don't indulge in our own interests until they're in bed. But tonight he didn't want to wait. He proposed that they (ages 10 and 6) put themselves to bed while we went downstairs to watch the episode of Prison Break we TiVo'd last night.

I didn't think they'd go for it. In fact, I vetoed it repeatedly before they even got him to explain what he wanted. They both pounced on the idea and sent us on our way. They showered and got ready for bed all on their own, while we watched TV.

It felt so wrong, yet so good. :)

Anyway, what do these two things have to do with each other? M came down at 8:00, her bedtime, and said she was 4 pages from the end of her book and could she ppplllleeeeasssseee finish? I'm no stranger to the Finish the Book syndrome, so I said yes immediately. When she hugged me, she lingered. I was stretched out on the couch under a very soft fleece blanket (that ironically says, "It's All About Me" across the bottom) and apparently made a pretty comfy pillow. I said, "You can stay, but then you can't read." And she said...

Here it comes...

"I love you more than reading."

Can any kid make a more heartwarming statement to a mother?

Then she displayed her wit by immediately saying an emphatic "No!" when Daddy asked if she loved him more than soccer. (She hastened to assure him she was kidding. It was quite funny.)

So. My kids are smart. They love to read. They don't mind putting themselves to bed on a rare occasion. And Wentworth Miller gazed at me with those electric eyes off and on for 42 minutes.

Can life get any better than this?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

What Was I Thinking?

I finished the Firefly TV series DVDs last Friday night, and on Saturday I loaned them to a friend I see once a month, if that.

Sunday I wanted them back.

I can’t help myself. The writing and acting and characterization and humor and cleverness are all so good. I watched an ep we had taped (the last one ever filmed, so I’d just watched it two days before that) but it’s only on once a week so I can’t even feed my addiction via TiVo.

Luckily, Firefly isn’t the only well-done show I have access to. Prison Break turns the screw tighter and tighter each week. Every time they solve one problem, a new one arrives. And next week Michael’s wife comes to see him.

Wait. Michael’s wife?

Damn. How’s he gonna hook up with the doctor if he’s married? (I don’t believe she’s really his wife, for the record.)

And how about that LOST episode last night? Even though I guessed Shannon (though I thought Libby was a good possibility because of the way they laid out the promo) would bite it, I didn’t know how it would happen until I heard the gunshot.

I love the interaction between Michael and Sawyer, as they come to understand and, yes, care about each other more.

I love Jin’s loyalty to them, and the threesome’s ability to communicate despite the language barrier. Did you notice that Sawyer understands what Jin's saying, now?

I love that Ana Lucia’s giant chip on her shoulder is going to become so much heavier. I’m more intrigued by her than just about anyone else. She obviously has training, and I’ve heard rumors that she’s a cop or something, and I believe it because of the way she handles herself. But even more, because of the way she feels responsible for her people and so damaged by her failure to protect them. Jack took on the responsibility of the Fusies because he’s a doctor, and doctors heal and help. Ana took on the responsibility of the Tailies because she’s a cop (or whatever), and cops serve and protect. They’re natural leaders, in leadership positions on the Outside.

Except neither one is managing very well on the Island, are they?

So, who was Walt warning about? For those who didn’t hear it, click here. Was he talking about the Others or the Tailies? To whom will he show himself now that Shannon is gone?

Next week looks really good, but I’m looking even more forward to the following episode, where they all meet up together. I can’t wait for Rose and Bernard and Sun and Jin to be reunited.

Though I really, really hate to admit it, Alias isn’t compelling my interest as much as it used to. I still enjoy watching it more than most TV and it isn’t something I can take or leave, but it’s getting closer to Numb3rs level: Something I enjoy but won’t race to the TV for. I don’t like Rachel or the actress who plays her, so that’s part of the problem. But it may be just that I had enough. It’s a very rare show that I watch through its entire run. Short attention span? Well, maybe, if you consider several years short. :) But it’s more that I have so many other demands on my time, that I have no room for shows that aren’t top-notch.

Which makes Lost and Firefly all the more remarkable.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Of All the Nerve

I just did something I've never done before. I wrote in to a morning radio show.

They do this "dear Sue" feature where people write with a problem and Sue tries to give advice while the host and the news guy make fun of the person writing in.

This morning, an anonymous single man complained that this fall, at least four people at his place of work asked him to buy something from their kids' fundraisers, and he feels like a bad guy if he says no, but he thinks parents should only ask other parents to buy.

Geez. Talk about center of your own universe.

I do understand how he feels. I work in an office with mixed parents and non-parents. In the fall, with school and sports, we're flooded with fundraising efforts. But here's the thing: If it's something you don't want, say NO. The coward should just tell the parents, "no thank you," and he can even say "please don't ask me again," but that might burn him in the butt if he ever decides, "hey, a giant Kit-Kat would taste really good right now."

Why should HIS preferences dictate what everyone else's choices are? I have a non-parent in my office who asks when the fall fundraiser is starting because she gets all her holiday wrapping paper from my kids. I know a woman who does all her "little" holiday shopping--stuff for teachers, the cleaning people, the mail carrier, the newspaper person, stuff like that. Some LIKE buying frozen pizzas and subs and knowing they're helping some worthy group out and saving themselves from having to cook dinner at the same time. Those same people all ignore the candle sale for the dance studio and the coupon books for the fifth grade trip. And that's fine. It's their choice.

And isn't that what our lives are all about in this day and age? Choice. For everyone.