THE OSCARS ARE COMING!

February 28, 2014 in Reflections on Pop Culture

There are a lot of things to love about the Oscars—great movies, beautiful performances, humorous witticisms from the host, presenters, and winners, the fashion, the spectacle of it all—but my favorite part is participating in my sister’s annual Oscar poll.

Every year, she invites her fellow movie aficionados (of which she is the queen) to predict the Oscar winners in 11 select categories. Not only do you get to share your Oscar predictions with the other participants, you get to explain why. If you are not passionate about movies, then you may not appreciate the beauty of this, but if you are, then you know exactly how great a feature this is. Movies are polarizing, and so are actors and actresses. I might be enamored with a performance by an actor someone else can’t stand. I might despise a movie someone else thinks is brilliant. But we all get our moment to defend our picks, and if the situation warrants it, to talk smack about someone else’s picks. (cough **Frankie** cough)

I do my best to see all the Best Picture nominees, but have never done it. My sister does, though, which means she is the one to beat. (See her reviews of all nine Best Picture nominees here.) I have a lot of different strategies for making my picks (sometimes it even includes seeing the movies), but I get hung up every time because of my own personal belief system: the Oscar should go to the BEST performance.

In 1992 (and yes, I am still stewing about this), I saw Denzel Washington in Malcolm X and he was mesmerizing. He simply was Malcolm X on the big screen. It was a stellar performance deserving of much more than just his Best Actor nomination, but he lost  to Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman. Pacino’s performance in that movie was—well, I don’t want to say because I don’t want to get on his bad side. Let’s just say he is unquestionably a good actor, just not in that movie.

Pacino had never won an Oscar, despite being nominated seven previous times for wonderful performances in both Godfather movies and in Dog Day Afternoon. He was getting on in years and Denzel Washington had already won an Oscar for his supporting role in Glory. I have no proof, but I am willing to bet that the Academy members checked the box next to Al Pacino’s name for reasons other than the quality of his performance.

It’s like watching a race where the first place winner crosses the finish line, but the trophy is given to someone else further back in the pack because…well who knows why anyone would do that, but it happens all the time. Read the February 28, 2014 issue of Entertainment Weekly where anonymous Hollywood bigwigs explain who they voted for and why. One actress said:

“I’ve always adored Sally Hawkins…And she had to work with Mr. Woody Allen—that’s another reason I’m going to check the box for Sally.” Seriously? She gets your vote because of who she had to work with?

Or this from an anonymous screenwriter who is voting for 12 Years a Slave:

“It was by far not my favorite picture, but choosing 12 Years validates the idea that the film should exist.” High praise indeed.

Movies are many things beyond entertainment. There are political, social, and cultural messages strewn about, reflections on the human condition, and advances in technology to kick movie viewing into another dimension. Ultimately, though, the Oscars should celebrate the moments where all of the above, plus great acting and a great story swirl together to create something that is so magical it takes your breath away.

Here is to the BEST on Oscar night, regardless of who ultimately takes home the Oscar!

RECOVERING FROM OLYMPIC FEVER

February 24, 2014 in Reflections on Pop Culture

I have been watching the Olympics for as long as I can remember. Why wouldn’t I? My earliest Olympic memory is of 14-year-old Nadia Comaneci earning her historic perfect score of 10.0 on the uneven bars. With drama like that, of course I’d be hooked for life.

This year, I did worry that my Olympic fever would fail to kick in. After all, our city was still riding our “The Seahawks won the Super Bowl!” high. It was hard to switch gears from football to winter sports, from a team of players we all knew well to a conglomeration of athletes we had never heard of before. I struggled with the time change between Sochi and Seattle: why bother watching the Olympics when I already know who won? And even more problematic, why bother when the events I want to watch don’t air until after 10:00pm?

Thankfully, along came Snowboard Slopestyle to draw me in and Snowboard Cross to keep me hooked. This, despite the fact that my Olympic viewing came in bits and pieces, in between fixing dinner, carpooling, homework, and other pesky household chores that needed to be done. One day I caught a glimpse of Bob Costas seated at the anchor desk and wondered “What’s wrong with his eye?” A week later, I saw him again, and his eye still didn’t look right. “Double pink eye,” my son informed me. Apparently, it was a huge media event and I missed the whole thing!

I loved watching the snowboarding events: big air, huge tricks, one colorful guy wearing pants so big they hung around his knees during every one of his runs, and lots of smiles and high fives from these guys and gals in such a technically demanding yet laid back sport. It’s a different feel than the intensity of some of the other events, like figure skating, which is also technically demanding but fraught with pressure placed on the athletes by themselves, their coaches, and their entire countries. I know there was a huge controversy concerning the Ladies Figure Skating judging, but much like Bob Costas’ pink eye, I missed it entirely.

Photo from nbcolympics.com

Snowboard Cross was my favorite event of the Winter Olympics. Imagine six snowboarders racing downhill together, jockeying for position along the inside line, managing an undulating course peppered with jumps, and doing whatever they can to be in the Top 3 in order to advance. There were wipeouts galore, with the snowboarders going for speed over control. I saw one competitor take the final jump with the biggest air I’ve ever seen, his arms flapping wildly in the air for balance, soaring above the ground hoping desperately to make up time. It was bold and exciting, this all-out push for a Top 3 finish. It was also one heck of a wipe out. Oh, the agony of defeat.

Even though I enjoyed the Olympics immensely, I am glad they are done. I have watched entirely too much TV these past two weeks. After I catch up on Downton Abbey and True Detective and watch the Oscars and more of the NFL Combine, I am taking a TV hiatus.

Seriously. It’s going to happen, even if I need to use the National Unplugging Day March 7-8 as a motivator.

LONGBOURN BY JO BAKER: A BOOK REVIEW

February 20, 2014 in Book Reviews

Jo Baker’s Longbourn is Downton Abbey meets Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Baker has taken the story of Pride and Prejudice and flipped it upside down so the Bennett girls and their forays into love are the backdrop of the novel while the servants’ lives are front and center.

Mr. and Mrs. Hill, a longtime married couple (for love or convenience?), run the house with the assistance of two orphan girls: Polly, no more than a child, and Sarah, who has grown into a beautiful young woman. But what does that matter when there is washing to be done, or water to be lugged to the house, or chamber pots to be emptied? Their lives are not glamorous. They work hard, eat sparingly, and have precious few moments to indulge in leisure.

The arrival of a stranger in need of a job causes a ripple of unease in Sarah. James Smith becomes the new footman and lessens the workload for them all, but why should Mrs. Hill be so accepting of someone she doesn’t even know? He doesn’t give Sarah the time of day, which is another reason to be distrustful. Fortunately, the handsome footman of the Bingley’s does, but that, too, is fraught with complications.

As for James, he works hard, says little, and has a way with horses. He also has an eye for Sarah, but he hardly dare show it for he has secrets of his own.

As a fan of Pride and Prejudice, the sprinkled references to Elizabeth, Jane, and Mr. Darcy drew me in, but the stories of the servants made me stay. The novel is a lovely glimpse into the hard lives, the limited freedom, and the slim possibility of change in the circumstances of the servants. I enjoyed every word, especially Volume 3, where the secrets of James’ mysterious past are unfurled. Baker explores the horrors of the war through James, and it is gripping.

I love that Baker maintained the structure of the novel Pride and Prejudice and built a completely new and riveting story out of its scaffolding. It is a clever concept well executed and I now count it among one of my favorites. In my pledge to utilize the library more, I did not buy this book, but I may have to, for I can’t imagine not having it on my bookshelf nestled with my Jane Austen collection. It is that good.

Library Tip: This book is a relatively new release, so the wait list was quite long at my local library. If you’re not averse to reading Large Print, it’s a great way to get a hold of a popular novel a lot sooner.  I placed a hold on the Large Print edition and got it in less than two weeks!

 

 

 

FLAT STANLEY DOES THE WINTER OLYMPICS

February 17, 2014 in Adventures in Parenting

If you’ve never had the pleasure of participating in the classic elementary school Flat Stanley project, you are missing out. Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown is the story of a young boy named Stanley who is flattened by a bulletin board. He’s ok, just…flat.

He wants to visit a friend in California, but because his parents don’t have enough money for a train or plane ticket, they fold him up and mail him in an envelope. That’s the beauty of Flat Stanley: he can go anywhere. And for this school project, he does!

We had the pleasure of spending our mid-winter break with Flat Stanley. He’s an adventurous soul who was not content to sit on the couch playing Wii Mario Brothers all weekend (although he did do that for one day), nor was he content to simply watch the Winter Olympics on TV. No, Flat Stanley wanted to be in the Winter Olympics!

OUR FIRST EVENT: ICE SKATING (FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER)

After being mesmerized by the figure skating events, my boys were ready to do jumps and spins and triple salchows on the ice. “Ice skating is hard,” I warned them, remembering the one time I tried ice skating and had to clutch the edge of the wall with a death grip just to get around the rink one time. As it turned out, ice skating is hard…literally. My middle son wound up with three bruises on one knee and my youngest son learned the hard way that the best way to catch yourself when you fall is with your hands, not your upper lip. All visions of triple salchows vanished and the goal became to make it around the rink alive.

My middle son skated for approximately six minutes before bowing out for the warmth of the lobby, but my other two sons battled through and ended the day with the ability to make it around the rink without holding on to the side and with a desire to try it again: success!

OUR SECOND EVENT: CURLING (FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER)

There is a curling center not far from us that was hosting an open house over mid-winter break, meaning people who were curious about curling could come in for a lesson. Flat Stanley couldn’t wait to go, but my boys were considerably less enthused. There was a lot of talking in the beginning (“Don’t touch the ice! Ever! It will melt!”), and I think we all got a bit bored, but then it came time to climb into the hack and throw a rock.

On TV, it looks like the easiest thing in the world, but there is a lot that goes into throwing a rock, like coordination, strength of the push off, and balance. Aiming wasn’t even on our radar. But it was fun! We gradually got the hang of it and then graduated to sweeping, which is a serious workout. The key is to sweep vigorously directly in front of the path of the rock without touching it in order to melt the ice so the rock keeps gliding forward. (My youngest was a valiant sweeper, but always seemed to be sweeping behind the rock, which really doesn’t help.)

By the end of the lesson, our instructors (who were fabulous) had us trying to hit other rocks (in a modified bocce ball contest) and try our best to throw a rock all the way to the other end like the Olympic curlers do, which is nearly impossible. We all have a new found respect for curlers.

If you happened to catch King 5 news on Saturday evening, they did a bit on curling. If you look very closely, you can see my middle son throwing a rock in the background!

OUR THIRD AND FINAL EVENT (FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER): SNOWBOARDING

Before you gasp in shock that I, as a bonafide Seattleite, had yet to take my boys skiing or snowboarding ever, please know that I was born and raised in southern California. I did not learn to ski until after I could vote, and by then it was too late. I am not good on the slopes, nor am I confidant. The idea of carting three young boys with their hats, mittens, snow pants, jackets, skiis, and poles into the bitter cold to do a dangerous sport that I could barely do myself seemed ridiculous.

But the boys are older now, and we’re in the full throes of Olympic fever, and Flat Stanley was clamoring for something to do, so we finally hit the slopes. They wanted to try snowboarding, so I (wisely) put them in a lesson and took off on my own to see if I could remember how to ski on a pair of skiis that are older than…well, they’re really old.

It could not have been a more perfect day to ski: it was sunny at times, lightly snowing at others, and not too cold. The snow was fresh and easy to ski on, and I had an enjoyable time on the green circle runs before I challenged myself on the blue squares: so much fun!

At the end of my boys’ lesson, the instructor suggested they not go on the chair lift yet. Another instructor said that beginning snowboarders usually attend 3-4 lessons before they attempt the chair lift. Hmm…

After a delicious lunch and some more practice, I made an executive decision: after coming all this way and with my boys doing as well as they were, we were going on that chair lift. I am so glad we did. The kids did great! They had much more fun snowboarding on a bit of elevation and really put their new skills to use.

Of all our Winter Olympic events, snowboarding is the one they are dying to do again. My youngest has already penciled it in our calendar. Thank you, Flat Stanley, for introducing us to a sport that is here to stay!

VALENTINE’S DAY: ONE YEAR

February 14, 2014 in Random Thoughts

Valentine’s Day means different things to different people: a celebration of love and romance for some, a torture device for the broken-hearted, or a reason to chow down on heart-shaped chocolates and those Sweetheart candies with the little messages imprinted on them.

For me, Valentine’s Day has become an anniversary. It has been one year since my dad passed away.

I still have moments where I think of calling my dad, only to remember I can’t anymore. There have been many moments over the course of the past year, big and small, that I wish I could have shared with him and that I know he would have enjoyed. The memories of him during his last month of illness still play out in vivid Technicolor in my dreams and I wake up startled before relief flows over me as I realize that it was just a dream…only to remember a split second later that everything I dreamed actually happened.

I continue to struggle with the choices he made, like keeping his illness a secret for one, but I know without a doubt that he died on his own terms. My father was the most stubborn person I have ever met, and even if he had told me he was sick, I don’t know that I could have persuaded him to do anything different…although I would have relished the opportunity.

He’s been gone a year, and yet he’s still here. His name crops up in conversations about the past, or when recounting funny memories, or in those “I got that personality trait from my dad—God help me,” moments of self-awareness. There is (or will be shortly) a park bench in Central Park with his name on it and a trip is in the works to go visit it and the city he held so dear. And on Valentine’s Day, when we remember him with cinnamon rolls and mint chocolate chip ice cream and recall the times we used to go to Swenson’s for ice cream and he’d always order the Swiss Orange Chocolate Chip ice cream and yet call it something different every time, he will be there in spirit.

It’s been a year, Pops, and I still miss you just as much as ever.

INDULGING IN MY DARK SIDE

February 10, 2014 in Book Reviews, Reflections on Pop Culture

 

I have a bit of a dark side. It’s why I like books by Stephen King and Gillian Flynn and why, even though they give me nightmares, I watch movies like We Need To Talk About Kevin. So while I was feeling miserable (understatement) following my extensive gum surgery (read about that here), I wallowed right into my dark side and stayed there for a week and a half, proving the maxim that misery does indeed love company.

But you don’t need to be suffering to enjoy these two standouts from my foray into the dark side!

How to be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman

I was hooked by the first line on the back of the book jacket: “…the book is a highly competent, creepy little chiller…” Creepy little chiller? I’m in! But then the cashier made a comment when I was purchasing it, something along the lines of “I wonder how many women would actually admit to buying this book?” I was confused at first because I was so enthralled with the promise of secrets and eerie events that I never considered the ramifications of the title. Rest assured, this is not a how-to manual.

Rather, it is the story of Marta’s descent into madness after she refuses to take her medication. Marta starts to lose her grip on reality, seeing things that aren’t there and feeling a small hand on her back when she is alone. The imagery Chapman uses to portray Marta’s crossover into insanity is beautifully chilling. Her husband Hector and grown son are worried, and rightly so. Clearly, someone needs to convince her to go back on her meds because she is going crazy.

Or is she? What if these visions have a basis in reality? And is Hector concerned about her as he proclaims, or is he concerned about something else?

This is a taut telling of a woman going insane…with a twist. I highly recommend it.

 

from CNN.com

True Detective starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson on HBO

This HBO series is laden with darkness, from the creepy crime the detectives McConaughey and Harrelson are assigned to cover to the darkness that lives inside them both.

Seventeen years ago in Louisiana, Detectives Rustin Cohle (McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Harrelson) investigated the ritualistic killing of a young girl by a possible serial killer. So why, after all these years, are Rustin and Marty being interrogated separately about the events of this particular crime? These guys are smart; it doesn’t take them long to realize that they are being questioned because the killer has struck again…but how can he when they put him in jail years ago? Did they collar the wrong man? Or is it a copycat? Or does one of these detectives know something he isn’t telling?

McConaughey’s acting is a revelation. I predict an Emmy nomination in his future. His character is flawed and broken, dabbling in narcotics and alcohol since the death of his young daughter. He wears his darkness on his sleeve, while Harrelson’s Marty hides it behind a “family man” persona: a beautiful wife, two cute daughters, and no way to explain his infatuation with his mistress.

This series is great, and getting creepier by the minute. I cannot wait to see what happens, and clocking in at only eight episodes, I won’t have to wait for long. The series will continue on, but with a different cast and a different crime, but after McConaughey’s and Harrelson’s performances, theirs will be big shoes to fill.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A LESSON IN CIVIC PRIDE: THE SEAHAWKS VICTORY PARADE

February 7, 2014 in Adventures in Parenting, Tales of Inspiration

Having our hometown Seattle Seahawks go to the Super Bowl was a huge event for our city. My kids’ and other neighborhood schools held Seahawks events prior to the big game: Blue Fridays, contests for which class could show the most Seahawks spirit with the winners earning an extra recess, and taking time out from class to line up the students in the formation of a giant #12 to show their support for our home team. But all that changed when the victory parade was set during a school day. Kids couldn’t miss school for the Seahawks parade…could they?

Die-hard fans had their own arguments for pulling their kids out of school:

“I’ve waited my whole life for this and I want to share it with my kids.”

“It’s a once in a lifetime event.”

“The Seahawks have never won a Super Bowl before. This is history in the making.”

Even Pete Carroll was calling for the schools to close.

They didn’t close, but many school districts recognized that this was something more than an ordinary parade: it was a lesson in civic pride. Education is important, and not everything is best learned in a classroom. Sometimes you have to live it to learn it.

For me, it was a no brainer. I had already set a precedent by flying to Williamsport, PA for a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to support our home town Little League team. I could hardly say no to a simple drive downtown! So I pulled two of my kids out of school, bundled them up, and headed downtown with our friends to witness this historic moment and celebrate with the Seahawks players. (My oldest, in middle school, claimed his workload was too high to miss a day, making for an interesting parenting moment: “You can’t go to school! Wait…what am I saying?”)

Approximately 700,000 other people joined us: old, young, male, female, from nearby and from far away, with every color of skin you could imagine, including blue and green. It was cold—really, really cold—and it was packed, but not much could compare to the moment when Marshawn Lynch, the first Seahawks player in the parade, came into view.

The players were in awe of the outpouring of support from the sheer number and volume of their devoted fans.

The fans were beside themselves, jumping up and down, waving frantically, screaming at the top of their lungs as their favorite players passed by. (This particular fan wished the players wore their jerseys because it was hard to tell who was who after watching them all season with their faces hidden behind football helmets.)

And when Steven Hauschka held up the coveted Vince Lombardi trophy, the roar that went up from the crowd was deafening.

Yes, it was freezing cold, and yes, we’re now drowning in makeup work from a missed day of school, but it was worth every second to give back to the Seahawks what they have delivered to our city, and it’s much more than a Super Bowl Championship. The Seahawks have united our city, and our state, like nothing has before.

CONGRATULATIONS SEAHAWKS!

 

 

 

WHY NOT ME? MY NEW MANTRA

February 3, 2014 in Tales of Inspiration

Photo from nfl.com

There were a lot of amazing moments in yesterday’s historical Super Bowl game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos:

The odd snap by the Bronco’s center resulting in the Seahawks scoring a safety in the first 12 seconds of the game, the quickest score ever in Super Bowl history…

Percy Harvin’s 87-yard kick return to score a touchdown in the opening play of the second half…

Jermaine Kearse’s spectacular run to the end zone, breaking through five tackles on the way…

Malcolm Smith beating the odds to earn the Super Bowl MVP, only the third linebacker and eighth defensive player in Super Bowl history to do so…

Russell Wilson leading his team to becoming the Super Bowl Champions during only his second year in the NFL…

Every single player on the Seahawks team winning their first Super Bowl Championship together…

And the Seattle Seahawks winning their first Super Bowl ever in franchise history!

I reveled in every one of those moments. It was a huge night for both the Seahawks and the city of Seattle. But there was one other moment, a quiet one off the field, that struck a chord in me. It was Russell Wilson talking to the media about something his dad said to him.

Becoming a professional football player isn’t easy. There are millions of kids that dream of becoming a football player in the NFL. According to businessinsider.com in 2012, 1,108,441 kids make it onto their high school teams but only 255 are drafted to the NFL. That gives a high school football player a 0.08% chance of playing professional football. The odds aren’t good.

But here’s the greatness in Russell Wilson’s dad’s message to him: why can’t it be you? What can’t you be one of those 255 draftees to the NFL? Yes, it’s going to take talent, perseverance, practice, and probably a bit of luck, but hey, it’s going to happen to someone. Why not you?

What a fantastic message to give to a kid. It opens the door for a child to follow his dream and to believe in himself. The Seahawks won the Super Bowl yesterday because every single player on that team believed they could do it. Amazing things can happen when you believe.

I’m borrowing Russell Wilson’s dad’s message and not only am I going to say it to my kids, I’m going to say it to myself. Why can’t I fill-in-the-blank? Why can’t my kids follow their dreams, whatever they may be? So the odds are slim. Someone’s going to get there…why not my kids? Or me? Or you?

If you want it, go out and get it. The Seahawks certainly did.

Congratulations Super Bowl Champions Seattle Seahawks!