Sunday, February 28, 2010

The PERFECT blog post


The “Austen Hermeneutic”: Old Mass v New Mass

CATEGORY: Lighter fare, SESSIUNCULA — Fr. John Zuhlsdorf @ 5:08 pm
There is a fun post over at St. Louis Catholic:

If today’s faithful Catholic is represented by Elizabeth Bennet, bright, hopeful and coming of age, then the liturgical forms would have to be represented by Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham.

Mr. Wickham is immediately accessible, loves to talk—especially about how bad ol’ Darcy is—has some initial minor flash but soon proves to be tedious and unreliable.

Mr. Darcy at first glance looks stuffy and condescending, but proves over time to be noble, true, of high quality and charitable.

The ordinary and the extraordinary.

Yes, I actually thought this, and then typed it, and therefore I am a loser.  [No… people who can’t refer to Austen are the losers.]

P.S. Mrs. Bennet would represent Marek Bozek. Just sayin’.  [LOL]

Beach Countdown

Jane's doing this...I might as well join...
See, I've got two big things happening in August: 
--Duck vacay (read: swimsuit)
--Tiff's wedding (read: photos that will be on walls forever)

So, here's the plan:
1. No fast food
2. Exercise at least 3 times a week
3. Post progress

Three times a week is TOTALLY doable. Let's be real here. I have DVDs at home, the gym's not that far. It can be done. 


Up at CPG.

What makes you happy?


Got this great idea from Jane!  I'm going to tag ALL of you! (That blog that is.)
You have to write 10 things that make you happy. (And that picture? That is one of them. Love it.) 

So, here are mine: 
  1. My parish
  2. Time w/ my family. The four of us (Mel is in Chicago) had lunch at Mohawk in German Village after Mass today, and it was so fun. A perfect day so far. 
  3. Hockey! Watching the gold medal game now. 
  4. The snow is melting, and tomorrow is March 1! Spring nears.
  5. beaches
  6. Good books
  7. Jane Austen movies (watched the new BBC Emma and Sense and Sensibility yesterday)
  8. Babies (such a cutie in front of us at Mass!)
  9. Yankee candles
  10. Soft, warm blankets to snuggle under while watching hockey.
What makes you happy? Share in the combox!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Popcorn Oscar Special: Top 10 Best Picture Winners

Spoilers may be ahead--so...tread with caution.
  1. Gone With The Wind: I’ve been watching this since I was about 7 years old (my sister is named Melanie, for pete’s sake.). Like Scarlett or not (and I do like her), the best picture of Hollywood’s Golden Age (1939) is worth seeing just for the history behind it, the 17 screen writers, different directors, and the hype surrounding Vivien Leigh’s casting. Yes, it gets a bit long at the end, but it redeems itself.
  2. The Sound of Music (1965): The hills are alive…in this improved version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical classic. Songs are added and set within the gorgeous setting of Salzburg. Julie Andrews is a wonder.
  3. A Man For All Seasons (1966): The story of Thomas More’s martyrdom. A brilliant ensemble cast makes the story come to life.
  4. Schindler’s List (1993): The Holocaust film. Liam Neeson, Embeth Davidtz, and Ralph Fiennes lead the stellar cast. An artistic and technical marvel.
  5. Braveheart (1995): OK, the history is suspect, but I like seeing Braveheart and Isabelle get together. J Exotic settings and believable characters make it more than another war film.
  6. The English Patient (1996): Kristin Scott Thomas, Ralph Fiennes (again), Colin Firth, Juliette Binoche and Willem Dafoe star in director Anthony Minghella’s World War II desert tale. Loyalty, love, and personal choices define the epic film. 
  7. Shakespeare In Love (1998): Tom Stoppard and the Bard= a winning writing combination. The all-star cast takes on the (supposed) back story behind Romeo and Juliet. The cast alone makes this worth seeing: Gwyneth Paltrow (as Shakespeare’s muse, Viola—she won her Oscar for this role); Joseph Fiennes (yes, brother of Ralph, as Shakespeare); Colin Firth (as Viola’s fiancĂ©) ; Judi Dench (in an Oscar-winning performance as Queen Elizabeth I); Geoffrey Rush (Shakespeare’s manager), and Ben Affleck (as an egotistical actor). Watch and try to catch all the Shakespearian allusions (English Major Drinking Game!)
  8. A Beautiful Mind (2001): Ron Howard’s tour de force direction leads the viewers down the same path of paranoia as John Nash—until all is revealed about an hour in. James Newton Howard’s delicate and haunting score provides a great thematic backdrop for Russell Crowe (Nash), Jennifer Connolly (as his wife, Alicia), Paul Betany (as Charles), Christopher Plummer, and Ed Harris.
  9. LOTR: The Return of the King (2003): My favorite of the three LOTR movies—a fitting end to an epic series.
  10. Million Dollar Baby (2004): A film about finding family. A bunch of loners (Hillary Swank, Clint Eastwood, and Morgan Freeman) come together to make each other whole, and face the devastating choices we must make in the name of love.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

If I Never Knew You

If I never knew you
I'd have lived my whole life through
Empty as the sky
Never knowing why
Lost forever
If I never knew you.
--If I Never Knew You, Stephen Schwartz

How do you convince people that life is better than no life at all?
That all lives are worth living, no matter how painful? 
For some can't.
I've written about this a few times here. But today brought it into a painful and stark perspective. There are people out there who think my life, and that of hundreds of thousands of others, is not worth living. 
Today's Dispatch held this example. I'm posting the whole letter instead of linking to it. 
My emphases in bold:

Pre-birth testing foe needs context
Wednesday,  February 24, 2010 2:51 AM
I respond to the Friday letter "Hitler would approve of pre-birth testing" from Thomas R. Marco. He references the killing of babies and asks "is reducing the statistical percentage of abnormalities worth such horrific acts?"
My answer is: You better believe it's worth it. Before others judge, they should know a little more about the "abnormalities." My daughter was born with Tay Sachs. My wife and I watched her suffer for just under three years.
We watched her slowly die and live a difficult and very uncomfortable life.
We watched and listened to her scream in pain and frustration for hours at a time. We watched her as she lost the ability to sit, to eat, to hear, to see, to do anything but suffer. Then we watched her die while she was in my arms. I carried her out to the hearse.
If any child can be spared that by pre-birth testing, then I am all for it.
Better yet, parents should have genetic testing prior to trying to conceive so that everyone's moral sensibilities can be assuaged.
Until Marco has spent a minute with a child whose short life is filled with suffering, I suggest he be more careful with his Adolf Hitler references.

So--his daughter's life wasn't worth living? 
He would have 'spared her' by not allowing her to be born at all.

This is MY letter to the editor. I sent it this morning, not sure if it will be published. But I want to share it with you anyway.
To the editor:
I was disturbed by Kevin Levine's "Pre-birth testing foe needs context" (Letters, Feb. 24, 2010). He states that "...if any child can be spared [suffering] by pre-birth testing, then I am all for it." I am sorry for the death of his child, and the pain that his family endured. But his logic is simply faulty.

Mr. Levine is essentially saying that I should not have been born, because that's the only way I would've been "spared."  I am twenty-seven years old, and was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF) when I was 11. Since then, I have spent months in the hospital, had a two-week visit to the ICU, undergone countless tests, and, at the age of twenty-three, had a double lung transplant. Before my transplant, most of my days were spent sleeping. I hadn't the energy to do anything else. Even simple tasks such as brushing my teeth took enormous energy. I was in almost constant pain from the lung infections and scar tissue that are part and parcel with CF.

But I have never considered my life not worth living. I love my life.  I am a college graduate, am working on a Master's Degree, and have a good job. I have wonderful family and friends and an 11-year old godson. I have been under the care of brilliant doctors and nurses who have worked tirelessly to save my life. If I had not been born, I would have certainly spared myself and my family much suffering. But the joys of life would not have been mine, either.

My CF has made me who I am today, and I'd like to think that's a good thing. No matter what the challenges my life may have handed--and continue to hand--me, nothing is more precious than the gift of life.

Suffering cannot be avoided in any life. It's part of being human. Just because a person has to suffer doesn't mean that her life is not worth living. As Robert Louis Stevenson said, "Life does not consist in getting a good hand, but in learning to play a bad hand well." 

How can anyone--especially a parent--say that someone's life was so filled with suffering and tragedy that it wasn't worth living? How is that not monstrous?
My parents have watched all those things too, Mr. Levine. And I'm pretty sure I'll die before they will. They've had 26 years of it. 
Would I have saved my family money if I'd not be born? For sure.
Would I have saved them lots of emotional pain? Definitely
Would my brother and sister have gotten more attention? Absolutely.

Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be that, in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man's child. Oh, God! To hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!
--Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Would they be better if I hadn't been born?
I can't answer that. If you never knew someone, how do you know what you're missing? 
But I know--and no matter what price I have to pay, it was worth it. The entirety of it.

I realize then that we never have children, we receive them. And sometimes it's not for quite as long as we would have expected or hoped. But it is still far better than never having had those children at all. 'Kate,' I confess. 'I'm so sorry.'
She pushes back from me, until she can look me in the eye. 'Don't be,' she says fiercely. 'Because I'm not.' She tries to smile, tries so damn hard. 'It was a good one, Mom, wasn't it?'
I bite my lip, feel the heaviness of tears. 'It was the best,' I answer."
--Jodi Picoult, My Sister's Keeper 

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Simple Woman's Daybook--February 23, 2010

Outside My Window::
38 degrees, sort of sunny, the snow is melting! I can see my porch again!

I am wearing ::
jeans, a lavender t-shirt

I am Thankful For::
A fruitful Lent, thus far

I am Reading:
Just finished In This House of Brede (again), and am reading Master and Margarita (it's so good, so far!)

From the Kitchen::
Not sure. Made chicken curry last night, so might be a sandwich night around here.

I am Thinking:
how glad I am that the snow is going away!

I am Creating::
a short story. It's almost finished!

On my iPod::
My gym soundtrack

Towards Rhythm and Beauty:
Still keeping the gym log. The food log is a LOT harder!

To Live the Liturgy:
Lent at St. Pat's is beautiful and solemn. Today is the Feast of St. Polycarp. I went to Mass and heard Fr. Blau give a great sermon on the meaning of the Our Father and meaningful repetition vrs. just repetition. So great.

I am Hoping and Praying:
For some friends who are making big decisions. 

Around the House:
Always--the kitchen table. Vacuuming. (Are you surprised?) a little bathroom cleaning, too.

One of My Favorite Things:
Daily Mass

A Few Plans for the Rest of the Week:
Th: Voice lesson


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Books of 2010 cont.

  • On Being Catholic
  • Inside the Passion
  • He Leadeth Me
  • Evangelical Is Not Enough
  • Secrets of Eden
  • Lead, Kindly Light
  • The Blood of the Lamb (SOOOO good)
  • As I Lay Dying
  • These Happy Golden Years
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightening Thief
  • The Winter's Tale
  • Failure is Not An Option


So besides awesome Olympic watching last week, I got to spend two days at Riverside Hospital on the northwest side for an iodine scan.
As we recall--in October I had a thyroid biospy after a CT scan revealed a nodule on my thyroid. Prior to this, I wasn't even sure where my thyroid gland was. The biopsy was benign, so no thyroid cancer (which is fairly common for women my age, apparently), but I was sent to an endocrinologist at Riverside to investigate other thyroid issues that may be occuring. Part of that was the scheduling of an iodine scan, to see how my thryoid reacted to it. Apparently this will tell if I have an underactive or overactive thyroid, each with its own set of problems.
So, on Wednesday I went to Riverside's Nuclear Medicine Department at 7:30. Riverside is a very nice hospital, very clean and quite pretty. There are lounges scattered about with couches and tables and such, so you can read or work. There's also WiFi, but I didn't bring my laptop to take advantage.
After doing the registration paperwork at the desk (and forking over a $100 fee, wasn't expecting that), I sat down to wait. I didn't have to wait long. The tech, Lisa, came back for me and took me to the exam room. We went over my meds, and then she explained the procedure. I had to swallow two capsules, which contained a tracer so that when we took the pictures later, we'd be able to see certain things more clearly. I took those. 90 minutes later, I could eat, and 4 hours later (around 11:30), I was to come back to the exam room so we could take three sets of pictures and take some measurements.
After I swallowed the pills, I went to one of the lounges to read, write in my journal, things like that. This one had a fireplace, which was super nice.
At 9:30 (I was STARVING), I headed to the cafeteria to get a snack. It was Ash Wednesday, so fasting was involved--no meat, no snacks--but I hadn't eaten yet so I needed some sort of food. I bought a snack pack of cheese and crackers, and a USA Today. I did the crossword puzzle in an half hour and watched some of the Olympics on the television. The cafeteria was a  nice departure from the usual sterile, institutional atmosphere most places have (yes, Children's, your cafeteria counts. Sorry.).
After that, I returned to my lounge to read Signs of Life, the Scott Hahn book I'd be wanting for finish for months, and to write some more in my journal (I was so behind). I also bought a Better Homes and Gardens from the gift shop.
At 11:30 I headed back to the exam room and hopped up on the table. Lisa inserted the table into the scanner. It was sort of like a VQ scan, where the plate comes very close to the part it's scanning, so that the radiation doesn't just fly all over the room. Since it was my neck, and not my chest, I wasn't as claustrophobic as usual. I actually fell asleep during the second and third sets.
Then the tech took some measurements of my leg (no idea why, I guess some sort of baseline thing) and then my thyroid. These took two minutes each. After that, I was free to go, but not free to hang out with people. Gotta love being radioactive.
The next day I headed back around 9:30, did the two-minutes-each measurements again, and was gone. The instructions said to take two days off of work, so I did, but I wish they would've told me WHY for the second day. I guess timing had something to do with it. Oh well.
I should get the results sometime next week. We'll see what craziness my thyroid is up to (if any) then.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Evan wins gold!!!!!!!!

He beat Plushenko by a point. GOLD MEDAL USA!
And Frank Carroll finally has a n Olympic gold medalist.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


The "My transplant story" tab has been updated with video! So you can get the quick gist of the blog by reading that (if you're new), or, if you're an old hand, you can see the videos. One is the longer (5 minute) spot for the Children's Miracle Network show. The other (1 minute) is a TV spot that aired on our local CBS affiliate.

(oh, and just for the record: I do not have bangs anymore. Bad look for me. And I do not normally wear gym pants in non-gym settings. It's just that no pants fit me. I weighed 83 pounds. My jeans were about "2 sizes too small." ) 

Ash Wednesday


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Figure Skating

I am in love with Evan Lysacek. That is all.
Did you see that Program? Did you see it? If you didn't, go to or YouTube and WATCH IT. It was perfection. True, beautiful, glorious perfection, to the "Firebird Suite."
Right now he's in second place, right behind Plushenko. Great position going into the long.
I would marry him right now. As would probably every woman in America.
Here's the NBC wrap-up. 

Lenten media

My suggestions are up at CPG.
(Just a note: Most, if not all, of my Lenten reflections will be up on CPG. I will cross-link them here, for ease of reading, but I move them over there so that the people who ONLY read CPG have something to read, and so that the readers over here who aren't Catholic/Christian can have the option of not reading my Lenten pondering, if they so choose.)

Monday, February 15, 2010

What I'm Giving Up For Lent...

Over here.

Winter Cooking

Most days when I cook, it's in the middle of a rush--the TV is on, I've just gotten home, and I'm hungry. Baking is another story; that's more meditative. I do it when I have time (or a chocolate craving). But cooking has a sense of urgency to it in my kitchen. 
Today, with the snow falling, I took my time. I scrubbed the potatoes and cut them into dice. I peeled the onion, and sliced it carefully, thinly. I slid them into the oil-slick pan, and cooked them slowly, for 30 minutes, letting them caramelize. 
There is no TV. There is no music. There's just the quiet sizzling of the vegetables in the pan. 

Nigella's Onion and Potato Hash
from Feast

1 small onion
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 cups all purpose potatoes (one regular sized spud) cut into 1/2" dice with skin on
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (I didn't have any, so used red pepper flakes very generously)
1 egg

Peel and halve the onion and slice finely into half moons. Heat the oil in a rying pan, add the sliced onion and cook over medium heat with a sprinkle of salt to stop it catching. Scrub but do not peel the potato, cut into 1/2" dice and add to the onion in the pan, sprinkling over the cayenne pepper.
Turn the heat down to low and keeping moving the onions and potatoes about every now and then as you want them to caramelize rather than darken in color. Cook them slowly like this for about 30 minutes or until the potato is tender. Turn the heat up and push the potato and onion hash to one side of the pan. Crack in the egg in the other half, and when it is cooked spoon the onions and potatoes on to a plate and top with the fried egg.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Culture Cat: BalletMet's "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

Tonight I saw BalletMet's Valentine-themed program at the Riffe's Center's Capitol Theater. The double bill featured former Artistic Director David Nixon's one act adaptation of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream", as well as a premiere by choreographer Ma Cong, entitled "Temporal." As usual, the program was technically brilliant and artistically superb, which is what I have come to expect from BalletMet. 

"Temporal" featured 10 dancers--five pairs of men and women. Choreographer Cong, named one of Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch", notes that the piece was inspired by Mediterranean life and culture, and is a "study of love and spirituality and speaks sensually about he human condition." Set to vocals and electric jazz, the piece showcases the both the athletic and sensitive sides of dance.

Adrienne Benz (also one of Dance's "25 to watch") and David Tlaiye were the number's featured couple--their elegant pas de deux formed the center of the piece, which was made up of five segments. Since Benz's beautiful performance as Juliet two seasons ago, I have greatly enjoyed watching her dance. She brings a rare combination of strength, athleticism and sensitivity to her dancing, which was showcased to great effect here. Benz seems to have a spotlight on her whenever she's onstage. Tlaiye partnered her perfectly, showing her off to her best advantage. As a partner and a soloist, he shines. (In fact, all of BalletMet's male dancers are uncommonly good. We're spoiled.) The two of them seemed very comfortable dancing together, which made their duets a pleasure to watch. 

Other notable dancers in "Temporal" were Jackson Sarver and Adam Hundt, who partnered Annie Mallonee and Courtney Muscroft, respectively.

Bottom and Titania in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" 

The second act was Nixon's "A Midsummer Night's Dream", a streamlined version of Shakespeare's play that focuses on Oberon and Titania and the two pairs of crossed human lovers, Demetrius and Helena and Lysander and Hermia. Hermia's father is forcing her to marry Demetrius, but she's in love with Lysander. Helena is in love with Demetrius, who only has eyes for Hermia. When Oberon sends his sprite servant Puck into the woods with the nectar of love, hilarity ensues.  Puck also puts the spell on Titania, Oberon's wife and Queen of the Fairies, so she falls in love with the first person she sees upon awakening--in this case, the actor Bottom, who has been transformed into a donkey. 

Emily Gotschall was a radiant Titania; petulant and teasing in the beginning, when she refuses to share her changeling child with her husband, she falls head over heels in love with Bottom midway through the piece. After Oberon poitns out her mistake, she apologizes, presents the changeling to her husband, and all is well again. I had not seen Gotschall in a major role before, and she danced Titania wonderfully, with grace and spirit.  Her husband was danced by Bryan Jenkins, whose commanding presence and scheming ways are a delight to watch. He doesn't have much to do after the beginning--he mostly watches the antics of the lovers from a suspended swing--but his final pas with Gotschall were technically sound and artistically sensitive. Both of them are fine actors, as well as excellent dancers. 

Dustin James, as Puck, provided a lot of laughs with his athletic and comedic dancing. You could tell he loved getting to play this part. With elf-like ears and glitter in his hair, he was truly spritely as he pranced about the stage wreaking havoc. 

Most of the havoc is felt by poor Helena, danced by Emily Ramirez. A brilliant actress and comedienne, she plays the love lorn Helena to perfection. At first, all she wants is Demetrius to pay attention to her (David Tlaiye, in his second major role of the night), but he continually (and hysterically) rebuffs her. She goes from having no suitors, to having two, when Puck accidentally puts the nectar on Lysander's (Adam Hundt's) and Demetrius' eyes--now she has two suitors, who literally toss and pull her back and forth as if she's a rope in a tug of war. 

Her more refined counterpart, Hermia (Annie Mallonee), wants nothing but Lysander's love, and early on, she seems to have it. In fact, she has to rebuff his too amorous advances during their pas de deux. But after a brief sleep, she awakens to find that both men are in love with her best friend, making her furious. An amusing, hair-puling fight between the two women ensues as the men look for weapons with which to duel. 

In the midst of all this, Titania and her fairies (Peaseblossom [Jessica Brown], Mustarseed [Carrie West], Cobweb  [Emma Misner] and Moth [Olivia Clark]) are doting on Bottom (Andrew Notarile). When Titania announces her new love to her fairies, their expressions range from pure shock (Brown's hysterical Peaseblossom) to shrugs of acceptance (West's Mustarseed). Soon they are bedecking him with flowers, and placing him in Titania's bower. 

Oberon finally straightens out the mismatched lovers, and all is well. With Titania and Oberon reunited, the Royal Couple heads to Titania's bower, as Puck brings down the curtain.

The dancing is not just technically involved (as is usual with Nixon's ballets), but requires superb acting ability from every dancer. This challenge is well met with this cast. The facial expressions and choreography convey the comedy splendidly. 

"Midsummer" also featured the company's trainees as Titania's Fairies. Monica Giragosian, Kerri Riccardi and Emily Loscocco were in tonight's cast (they were joined by Company member Courtney Muscroft), and all performed admirably. You couldn't tell the seasoned members from the trainees in this case. The Academy was also represented, with student Connie Yuan playing Titania's Changeling Child. Bottom's theatrical comrades were well danced by Austin Finley and Emilio Lugo (also a trainee). It's great to see so much comedic talent in the company. Technically sound dancers are great to have, and provide the strong foundation. But artistry, timing, interpretation and comedy are skills that cannot be taught. These intangibles BalletMet has in abundance. Passion, laughter and love make this a Valentine's Day program to remember. 

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" runs through Sunday at the Capitol Theater in the Riffe Center. The next two programs for BalletMet are "Carmina Burana", opening March 5, and "American Legends", which opens in late April. Go to for ticket information. 

All photos: Will Shively 

And a random neat note: This program didn't require all the Company dancers to be involved. But I still saw dancer Andres Estevez and his wife, dancer Zoica Tovar, in attendance. Unfortunately I forgot to ask them to sign my program!

Seven Quick Takes Friday Vol. XXIII

(I'm going to try to be like Margaret and see if I can do this in 20 minutes!)

I am not a Saints fan--I am a Steelers fan. 
That said, the Saints might just have become my favorite NFC. I love Drew Brees and his adorable child. That picture post-game? Priceless. 

Snow, snow and more snow--and now icicles. At least now I am beginning to see more pavement in my parking lot, and even a few parking spot lines! So this is progress. Slush is better than snow, which is better than ice. There is hierarchy here.

Weekend plans (for the long weekend--Monday off!): BalletMet's A Midsummer Night's Dream Tonight, at the Riffe Center; tomorrow, dentist in the AM and stuff with Tiffany; Sunday, Lay Dominicans after Noon Mass, and Monday? Just hanging out. Whew. 

I'm back to blogging at CPG. I sort of neglected it while I tried to do 30 posts in 30 days over here, during  the month of January (check the archives--totally achieved that goal!).  With Lent starting next week (can you BELIEVE it?), that will be the place for all things Lent. 

Books of 2010 update: Death On a Friday Afternoon, Brava, Valentine, Lucia, Lucia. 

Blog housekeeping: Noticed those tabs up above? I really love them. They will be evolving, so keep an eye out. If you have any comments/suggestions/questions, click the contact me tab and shoot me an email, or just leave one in the com box. I do read (and respond to!) every email and comment from the blog. 

I do not have a Valentine this year; I did, however, send my godson an e-card. And Nigella Lawson's Feast has a recipe for a single Valentine's Day meal. I'll be making that tomorrow (or Sunday) and posting the results here. Probably making it Sunday--on actual Valentine's Day.
(And my godson? He lives in Pittsburgh, and hasn't had school all week. I bet my Aunt is going stir crazy with two teenage (well, almost teenage, in Ryan's case) boys around all week. 
(7 minutes! I rule!) 

Check out more quick takes over at Jen's!

Popcorn: Oscar Special--Top 20 Best Picture Nominees

From the ones that didn’t win, my favorites:
    1. The Wizard of Oz: This doesn’t need explanation, does it?
    2. Roman Holiday(1953): Audrey Hepburn’s first starring role as a foreign princess. Beautiful.
    3. The 10 Commandments (1956): Perhaps Charlton Heston’s most iconic role. “Behold His mighty hand!” Yul Brynner also makes a great pharaoh.
    4. The Diary of Anne Frank (1959): Love the play, love the movie.
    5. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962): Pitch perfect, from the opening credits onward. Robert Duvall’s first film role.
    6. Children of a Lesser God (1986): Love the sign language, the Maine setting, and the tension between the lovers.
    7. Beauty and the Beast (1991): My favorite Disney movie. The animation is brilliant. Early use of CGI, as well.
    8. A Few Good Men (1992): Some of the best dialogue ever in a film.
    9. Sense and Sensibility (1995): It’s Jane with Kate Winslet! Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant and Greg Wise play the tempest-tossed suitors.
    10. As Good As It Gets (1997): James L. Brooks at his comedic best.
    11. Life Is Beautiful (1998): Pathos, baby. Pathos.
    12. The Green Mile (1999): Disturbing and touching.
    13. Chocolat (2000): Beautiful food, beautiful clothes, great characters. And a fantastic score by Rachel Portman.
    14. The Hours (2002): My second favorite movie of all time. There is no such thing as an ordinary day. Nicole Kidman is brilliant.
    15. Master and Commander (2003): high seas adventure with great actors.
    16. Mystic River (2003): A punch to the gut. Sean Penn in the performance of his career.
    17. Finding Neverland (2004): A gentle film about friendship and writing.
    18. Juno (2006): laugh out loud funny. Ellen Page and Jennifer Garner play off each other so well.
    19. Michael Clayton (2006): A legal thriller with razor-sharp acting.
    20. The Reader (2008): Kate Winslet finally wins an Oscar, and Ralph Fiennes isn’t a psychopath! Two reasons to see it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Popcorn Oscar Edition: The Hurt Locker

The Best Picture Nominees for 2010 are: Up, Up in the Air, Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Precious, Inglorious Basterds, District 9, A Serious Man, An Education and The Blind Side. I'm trying to see as many of the nominees as I can before the awards are announced on March 7th. 

The Hurt Locker is the second Best Picture nominee I've seen since the list was a nnounced a few weeks ago. At that time, I had no clear Best Picture winner in mind, although I was thinking Up In The Air might beat out Avatar.

I was wrong. The clear winner in this race is The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow's stunning film about a three-man IED detonating team in Iraq.

The film is real, immediate, and vivid. I had to check the case several times to make sure this wasn't a documentary. Screenwriter Mark Boal was an embed with an IED unit in Iraq; that's why the dialogue and the situations are so realistic. Shot in Jordan, the film follows Army  Sergeant William James (a brilliant Jeremy Renner)and his team as they move through the final days of thier deployment with Bravo Company at Camp Victory in Baghdad. Their mission--to find IEDs and disarm them before they disarm and kill anyone else.

The premise is simple, the acting crystal-clear. It may be one of the most perfect movies I have ever seen, except that you keep forgetting it's a movie. There's no Hollywood touches--no glam costumes, no artful battle scenes. During one particularly long stand-off sequence, sand accumulates on the men and flies settle on their bodies. The camera zooms in on the eyes, the lashes coated in sand, but still intent on their target across the desert.

This is a movie you experience. You live every second with these men. Jeremy Renner is a shoe-in for Best Actor. No one can touch his performance in this film (sorry George. Maybe next year.). He's pitch perfect as the Staff Sergeant who's a bit unconventional, but the best at what he does. Ralph Fiennes makes a brief appearance as a British force leader.

After seeing this movie, I can't believe that something like Avatar, which exists primarily on special effects, is even in the same contest. While it tells the story of fantasy world of the future, The Hurt Locker is a gripping look at the here and now, yet it also transcends the time and place of its setting. There is no slant, and no agenda--there are just three men, doing their jobs, knowing that any second, their lives could be over. When it's over, you can almost feel the sand on your face and the sun on your back.

Yes, this is only the second Best Picture nominee I've seen, and I've got at least one (Inglorious Basterds) lined up for the weekend. But I can't imagine how any other movie can touch the brilliance and deep-seated reality of The Hurt Locker. 

Sunday, February 07, 2010

What I learned from the Super Bowl

Ben R. > Peyton M.
Even if the Steelers were down 14 points, Ben would've gotten a TD with that last drive. Heck, he would've run it in himself.
So I do not want to hear anymore "Peyton is better than Ben" crap.
That is all.

Nature Kicks My Butt

So, I was going to Mass today. The snow didn't look that bad, and the plows had even cleared the main thruway of the apartment complex. So I was going out.
I should've known it would be hard when I could walk on the snow. My car's front was pretty buried, as was the back wheel on the right side. And this was hard, packed snow. It wasn't going anywhere without a shovel. Kicking so did not work.
I tried brushing/scraping off the car. For the windows I had to chip it off in large chunks. The end result is the sides of my car, and the hood, are somewhat visible. The windshield, back window, and top are not. The snow was like salt crust on a fish. It was not going anywhere.
And, about 5 minutes in, my herart was racing. So I came back in, checked my sats with my little monitor. My sats were fine--97--but my heart rate was 150. So, yeah. I'm not going anywhere today. My dad and brother will attempt to free my car (they have shovels, I do not--need to fix that) later today.
So Mass will be here, with my LOH, and Magnificat. Sigh.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Second Day of Great Snow

The tally:

  • Music: Brahms for Book Lovers, Beethoven for your Beloved, Bach for Breakfast. (I'm just about done with the "B" section...)
  • Books: Little Town on the Prairie, The Amish Cook's Baking Book, Sailing the Wine Dark Sea (FINALLY done!), began The Winter's Tale (which I think is very appropriate)
  • Movies: Oliver Twist, the beginning of Sleeping Beauty
  • Food: Cowgirl Cornbread, pasta, and PIE! I am so excited about the pie. I will post pics tomorrow. 

Snow Day Pie

I have made my first pie--successfully!
The filing I wasn't too worried about. It was the crust. I used a pat-a-pan crust recipe, where you actually mix the dough in the pie plate, then pour in the appropriate filing. It can't be used for double-crust pies (like peach or apple), but I'm not there yet anyway.
The pie was fantastic. It's like a warm, gooey chocolate chip cookie--so rich I only had one piece. With cold milk, it's divine.

So, here's the recipe, from The Amish Cook's Baking Book

Snow Day Pie
For the crust: 
Pat-A-Pan pie crust
makes one single 9-inch crust (no overhang)

  • 1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 c. vegetable oil
  • 3 tbsp. cold milk
Place the flour, sugar and salt in a 9" pie pan and mix with your fingertips until evenly blended. In a measuring cup, combine the oil and milk and beat until creamy. Pour all over the flour mixture. Mix with a fork until the flour mixture is completed moistened. Pat the dough with your fingers, first at the sides of the plate then across the bottom. Flute the edges.

The shell is now ready to be filled. (If you are preparing a shell to fill later, or your recipe requires a pre-baked crust, preheat over to 425 degrees. Prick the surface of the pastry with a fork and bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Check often and prick more if needed.)

Chocolate Chip Pie
  • Pat-a-pan pie crust (above)
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 c. melted butter
  • 1 1/2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
In a large bowl, combine the sugar and flour; stir in eggs and butter until the batter is well-blended and smooth. Add the chocolate chips and vanilla extract; mix until smooth and the chips are evenly distributed. Pour into the unbaked pie shell. Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown, 40-45 minutes. Cool on wire rack or windowsill until pie is firm, about 45 minutes. Store any leftovers in a sealed cake safe. The pie will keep for about five days. 
Enjoy with a glass of cold milk. 

Susie's Cowgirl Cornbread

(From Bon Appetit, January 2008)
As we know, today is Susie's first birthday. As we also know, it is a snowy mess in Ohio (although a plow has come through my complex several times, yay!). So I thought that I would make a "birthday dinner" for Susie, and a nice dinner for myself, since I'm snowbound.
The first dish is what I'm calling "Susie's Cowgirl Cornbread." It's actual title is "Texas Buttermilk Cornbread", which is what made me think of making it. But I like my title better.
Rounding out the meal will be pasta in marinara, and...chocolate chip pie. Yes. I am going to attempt pie making. That recipe will be posted once I try the pie!

But first, here's the cornbread that any cowgirl will appreciate.

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, melted, divided
  • 2 c. yellow cornmeal
  • 6 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/3 c. buttermilk
Preheat oven to 400. Brush an 8X8X2 baking dish with two tablespoons of the melted butter. Place dish in oven for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda in large bowl to blend. Add buttermilk and remaining butter. Stir batter until evenly moistened--do not over blend.
Transfer cornbread batter to hot dish and spread evenly. Bake cornmeal until crusty on top and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Let cornbread cool at least 10 minutes. Serve warm. 

Happy birthday, Susie! (part II)

Dear Suze,
I cannot believe that you are a year old today! You are an adorable little girl, full of fun and cuddliness (if we can catch you!). I wish I could be with you to celebrate, especially since you're walking now!
Have a wonderful birthday, and many, many more.
Your Cousin, Emily

I made that blanket for Susie! The other side has girl and boy rubber duckies. 

Susie's first trip to Galveston--and a beach, period

Susie and her parents. Aren't they a good looking family? 

Me and Suze at the Houston Museum of Natural Science's butterfly exhibit. 

In Pittsburgh over Christmas. 

The First Day of the Great Snow


  • Books: By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Molto Mario, The Olive and the Caper, Jesus, Teach Us to Pray. 
  • Music: Bach for Book Lovers, Beethoven for Book Lovers
  • Exercise: Seated yoga poses (whoa did I need those)
  • Movies: A wee bit of Oliver Twist
  • Food: Made Pampered Chef Fiesta Party dip (yum!)
The snow is over thus far--more is coming. So staying in. 

The Saturday Evening (blog) post--Vol. 2 (for me)

IT's that time again! On the first Saturday of the Month, Elizabeth Esther hosts The Saturday Evening Blog Post over at her blog. Pick your favorite post of the previous month, and join in! Rules and linkage instructions are on her website. 

Happy Birthday, Susie!

The night before her first birthday, Di's daughter Susie took her first steps!

Friday, February 05, 2010

SEven Quick Takes Friday Vol. XXII

OK, going to start w/ the complaints and then move on. PLEASE, in snow, with low visibility, put on your lights, and don't tailgate! Also use your turn signal! 

OK, done with that. Whew. The snow, thus far, is very big (one of my co-workers said the snowflakes were as 'big as potato chips'), and very fluffy and wet. So it isn't really packed down. I hear this will change as it gets colder. The weather guy, at this moment, is saying 5-8", which isn't as bad as a foot, or the THIRTY INCHES DC is predicted to get. Yowzers.

So, from now until Sunday AM, I am not leaving my house. That means--books, food, and movies. Not necessarily in that order.

I exercised THREE days this week so far! And the snow will not deter me--I have a pilates DVD and a Shape workout DVD (which is insanely hard, but...oh well). 

On the movie front, I have a ton to watch. (500) Days of Summer, Oliver Twist, Season 4 of House...I'm well prepared. I also have my biblical studies lectures to keep me busy. The next one is on the books of Chronicles. 

Books of 2010: Into Thin Air and The Olive and the Caper, a Greek cookbook. It is a GREAT cookbook to curl up with and read, and provides lots of great recipes and menus. 
 I also started Jesus, Teach Us to Pray. Lent is upon us soon, so I think it's time to dive into some Lenten reading. I'll have more books on that when we get closer. 

Still nothing on Titanic. But in voice I'm working on some Linda Eder pieces, including her arrangement of the classic "I'll Be Seeing You". It's a lot of fun. 

For more quick takes, head over to Jen's
Stay warm!

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

A Clouded Constellation

The Corner has this to say about the Obama Administration's proposed canceling of the Constellation space shuttle program. This is one of the things in the budget I'm a little disappointed about. 
 For one thing, space is cool. I loved studying space and astronomy as a kid, and really, it's one of the few places where I could see clear (and AWESOME) applications for higher math. I'm an Ohioan, so flight and space are big--we have the Wright Brothers, Neil Armstrong, and NASA Glenn research center in Cleveland. 
Over the summer, I visited the Johnson Space Center in Houston. It was a world-class museum, offering something for everyone at rock-bottom ticket prices. I got to touch a moon rock, visit Historic Mission Control, see the Saturn V rocket, and learn that we've figured out how humans could survive on the Moon. It was so neat. If I was a kid, this might have motivated me to work harder in math and science!

Growing plants on the Moon
Space is part of the national consciousness. Star Wars, Star Trek, Apollo 13, and the Challenger explosion are easy examples of space-themed things in our culture. My Tempurpedic bed is (supposedly) based on NASA science. 
Sure, it's a government agency, so it's bloated and inefficient. But it does need consistent funding if we're going to reach the Moon again, or Mars. I've been reading Man and the Moon, by Andrew Chakin, about the space program. These moon trips were complicated research missions-- a lot of science was involved, as was the taking of samples and other experiments. It wasn't just, "hey, let's beat the Russians to the Moon." 

I don't think exploration can come with set standards. Christopher Columbus wanted to find China; he found Hispanola instead. Alexander the Great wept when he saw there was no more to conquer. Magellean found the way through the treacherous strait that bears his name. Every terrestrial has added to our knowledge about this planet, her people, and her life. (Let's save the arguments about why it wasn't so great for another time.) Why can't extraterrestrial exploration do the same thing? Astronauts are today's Columbuses and Magelleans. They give us license to dream. 

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Popcorn: Oscar Nominees Edition

I love the Oscars. Since 1998 I’ve watched them eagerly and even participated in a few Oscar pools in college. To me, 1998-2004 were great years for American cinema. The last few? Not so much. Movies like Crash dampened my Oscar love, and even last year’s awards, which gave us the uneven Slumdog Millionaire against Milk, The Reader The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Frost/Nixon.
But hope springs eternal—or so I thought. 
This year was the first year the Academy nominated 10 films for Best Picture. To me, this is about five too many.  Look at the list for 2008, for example (listed above). This list could’ve been about two shorter—Frost/Nixon and Benjamin Button could easily have been eliminated. Over the past ten years, the only years where I think all five slots were deserved were 2003 and 2002. These were fantastic years for cinema. The others usually have one or two head-scratchers. (like 1998’s The Thin Red Line. I only made it through about 15 minutes of that one.)
Here’s this year’s list (an asterisk indicates I’ve seen it):
    • Avatar
    • The Blind Side
    • District 9
    • An Education
    • The Hurt Locker
    • Inglorious Basterds
    • Precious
    • A Serious Man
    • Up *
    • Up In The Air
Now, I want to see: Up In the Air,  An Education, The Blind Side, the Hurt Locker, and Precious. Inglorious Basterds I could care about less. My brother owns it, though, so I’ll probably watch it. District 9 wasn’t even on my radar. My Hurt Locker interest was piqued by how well its been doing at awards shows lately. A Serious Man? Eh. 
I’m glad Up was nominated, but I don’t think it will win. More on that in a minute. 
So, without having seen 9/10 of the movies, I can say that at least one—District 9—is on my “highly specious” list.
Best Actor:
    • J. Bridges, Crazy Heart
    • G. Clooney, Up In the Air
    • C. Firth (whee!), A Single Man
    • M. Freeman, Invictus
    • J. Renner, The Hurt Locker
These all seem legit to me. I am dying to see A Single Man because, as we all know, I love Colin Firth. I would love to see him win. Jeff Bridges won the Golden Globe, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing will happen here. Morgan Freeman, after many “supporting actor” nominations (and one win, for Million Dollar Baby) has moved up to the lead actor category.  George Clooney has been nominated several times over the past few years. He has won an Oscar (best supporting actor for. He has won an Oscar (best supporting actor for Syriana a few years back), so I don’t know how that handicaps him for the race. He was previously nominated in this category for Michael Clayton (which is just a fantastic film).
Best Actress:
    • S. Bullock, The Blind Side
    • H. Mirren, The Last Station
    • C. Mulligan, An Education
    • G. Sidibe, Precious
    • M. Streep, Julie and Julia (*)
I’m not sure Meryl Streep should be in this category. I thought she did good work in Julie and Julia, but I didn’t think it was Oscar worthy. It was a nice turn. I’m deploring this sort of “everything she does we shall nominate her for” thing. Julia Child was no Miranda Priestly or Clarissa Vaughn.
Helen Mirren just won a few years ago for The Queen, so I don’t think she’ll win again. 
The nomination for Sandra Bullock definitely piques my interest in The Blind Side
Of the two younger actresses—Mulligan and Sidibe—I like Mulligan. I just saw her in the BBC’s production of Bleak House (staring Alun Armstrong and Gillian Anderson), where she played Ada Clare. She was exquisite. I haven’t seen Precious, but, like my friend Richelle said earlier, I think it’s sort of presumptuous to give the best actress award to someone in her first role.  Richelle compared this to Jennifer Hudson’s win, and I agree. (And yes, I did see Dreamgirls.) Now maybe I’ll see the movie and be blown away. But…
Best Supporting Actor:
    • M. Damon, Invictus
    • W. Harrelson, The Messenger
    • C. Plummer, The Last Station
    • S. Tucci, The Lovely Bones
    • C. Waltz, Inglorious Basterds
The money on this one appears to be on Waltz. I think the Tucci nomination is sort of odd, since the movie was pretty roundly panned, although critics did make mention of his good performance. I like Tucci as an actor, but I don’t know if this role will win his Oscar.
Best Supporting Actress:
    • P. Cruz, Nine
    • V. Farmiga, Up In The Air
    • M. Gyllenhall, Crazy Heart
    • A. Kendrick, Up In the Air
    • Mo’Nique, Precious
Right now, I would say Mo’Nique is pretty much a slam dunk. 
And—it is nice to see Anna Kendrick in this category. Most people know her as Jessica in the Twilight films. I’m glad to see her stretching her chops and getting some critical notice. Bravo.
Best Director: I don’t follow this award anymore, because ever since 1998, when it stopped being an essentially automatic predictor for Best Picture, it’s just sort of there. So—I’ve got nothing for you here.
Best Animated Film:
    • Coraline
    • The Fantastic Mr. Fox
    • The Princess and the Frog
    • Secret of Kells
    • Up *
(Side note: Wasn’t Coraline out like forever ago?) This could be interesting. Pixar has almost totally dominated this category since its inception, but with Up also being nominated for best picture, I’m not sure how the votes will go. The Fantastic Mr. Fox got great reviews and could give Up a serious run for its money. Coraline was dark and moody, and I’ve never heard of Secret. I think this is probably a two way race between Fox and Up.
I have a lot of viewing cut out for me, and I’ll be revisiting this topic as the awards draw closer.