Friday, December 31, 2010

Poem for December: For the young who want to.

For the young who want to
by Marge Piercy

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Reading about Piercy's life, I feel as though she was born one decade early. She went to college in the 1950s, when it was all about getting your MRS, when she would have clearly fit in much better in the 1960s, when it was all about--well, thanks to innumerable books, movies, history channel specials and general fawning over the times--we all know what it was all about.

So there is a thread of bitterness that runs through her poems which I respect because she earned her bitterness the hard way. No one has ever told me I should have a baby and for that I thank the hard work of Piercy and her contemporaries, and all the feminists who come before them.

Books read in December

A lucky 13 books read this month, due mostly to Mock-Printz reading. Though the Ashbury/Brookfield novels (Feeling Sorry for Celia, The Year of Secret Assignments, The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie & The Ghosts of Ashbury Hall) also took up a good bit of my time. Once I got going with that series, I just couldn't stop. Overall, it was a very good month for reading.

The Year of Secret Assignments
Jaclyn Moriarty
Delightful! The pen pal exercise continues another year with a trio of best friends from Ashbury. They happen to end up with boy pen pals from Brookfield and the games begin. This book had me blurting out a chuckle now and then and nicely captures young love.

The main characters also casually drink without consequence. I've not really encountered that before in YA books. I grew up in the "drink and drive once and lose an arm" and "have sex once and get pregnant" era of YA storytelling. I think their drinking, which is supported by their parents, is very true-to-life, but it was still odd for me to encounter.

The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie
Jaclyn Moriarty
I may be over identifying a tad, but I think Bindy Mackenzie is perhaps the most lively character in a book I've read this year and I fell completely in love with her. She is smart as a whip and entirely clueless as to why her actions anger and annoy people. The teacher in me kept thinking, "Oh Bindy! How could you?" while the straight-laced high school me hearkened back to my own slightly alienating teenage choices. She wants to help, but her helping comes from the wrong place, like when she first sends notes to some of her classmates telling them they are certain poison animals. Her intent is to be mean to them and show them what they really are. I'm sure her meanness went right over their head. Later, to make amends, she writes notes recasting those same classmates as more noble animals, which also went right over their heads.

Through her diaries, transcriptions and various reports we see what shaped Bindy and the various forces acting around her for this difficult year. There is a mystery, but it isn't the best part. The best part is watching Bindy navigate through her year. Characters from the previous two books appear, which is quite fun.

As Easy as Falling off the Face of the Earth
Lynne Rae Perkins
Read for Mock Printz.

This author, so the book cover tells me, is also an illustrator, and her prose is very painterly in its descriptions like this one about a car windshield: "The sediment of dirt deposited evenly across the windshield, punctuated by the dried fluff of unfortunate insects, glowed incandescent in the sunlight. It was like trying to see through dandelion fluff."

I found that I spent a lot of time suspending disbelief during the story which was quite distracting. I was on board (hah!) with him getting left behind by the train and walking to town, but after that it all seemed a bit convenient for the narrative. Still, the author introduces a lot of interesting people along the journey, sort of like meeting all those Texans in No Country for Old Men. So I didn't love this book, but after I suspended disbelief, I enjoyed the journey.

Spies of Mississippi
Rick Bowers
Read for Mock Printz.

A very brief history of a dark time in US History. The book traces the creation and activities of a state-sponsored agency created to spy on and defeat any integration or Civil Rights efforts in the state of Mississippi. I was about halfway through when the facts of the book suddenly hit me. Wow! The state of Mississippi set up and recruited spies as well as investigated people who had not committed any crime. They then attempted to discredit these people in any way possible. Holy Crap! The fact that some of the people who worked for the commission are still living makes it even more remarkable.

The book is perfect for young adult readers, hitting on the horrors of the Jim Crow/Civil Rights era without being too graphic. For example, it describes in pretty clear detail the beating that a civil rights worker received, but when discussing the murders of the three civil rights workers it only mentions the burned out car and the fact their bodies were found buried in an earthen dam. It does not go into details of how they were killed.

The Ghosts of Ashbury Hall
Jaclyn Moriarty
Like the three before it, a funny and gripping account of a year at Ashbury. The narrative structure is stretched a little thin with this book, but it is still enjoyable. This time two new students arrive at Ashbury. They are quite mysterious. Also, there also might be a ghost haunting the school. Characters from previous books have returned and it is good to check in with them. I really love the Lydia character and I wouldn't mind reading another book about her college experience.

Fever Crumb
Philip Reeve
Read for Mock Printz.

Set in a steampunk-inspired future London this follows the journey of Fever Crumb, an orphan found and raised by the order of Engineers. They have raised her in their rational ways, so she is not your ordinary fourteen year old.

The writing was great in that I could see future London quite clearly and follow along as Fever makes her way from the orderly world of the Engineers into the household of an "archeologist." Her rational responses to the children in the household were amusing and I was quite delighted to see that in this future the word "blog" has emerged as a swear word.

Overall, a well done "finding ones identity" sort of novel with a lot of fun details thrown in.

Marcus Sedgwick
Read for Mock-Printz

Solid tale set during gold rush times in the Arctic Circle. I didn't love it, but would recommend it to an outdoorsy, possibly reluctant, fourteen year old reader.

True Grit
Charles Portis
Fabulous narration and dialogue that qualifies as "a hoot." One of the better teenaged female characters I've read in ages.

Finnikin of the Rock
Marlena Marchetta
I really loved the journey these characters went on and got wrapped up in their world. Excellent strong female character.

100 Essential Modern Poems by Women
Parisi & Weston
I thought I wanted more information about the authors of the poems I read, but this book has a few pages of information and only two or three poems. It would be great to have a summary paragraph or two and then more poems, or even the current amount of biographical information and then many more poems. Overall, a nice list.

The Prince of Thieves
Chuck Hogan
I prefer to read the book and then watch the movie, but sometimes when watching a movie my favorite title credit will flash onto the screen: Based on a the book ABC by 123. "There's a book?" I always silently exclaim. If I like the movie--and sometimes if I don't like the movie, (ahem Sideways)--I'll seek out the book.

I expected to like the movie the Town in a "wow, this is a really bad movie but I like it" sort of way. However, it turned out to be quite gripping and I really did like it. The book was even better. As the main character in the movie, Ben Affleck seems to have it all together: robbing the banks, romancing the kidnapped teller, keeping his bank robber friends in line, attending the AA meetings. However, the book's main character is much more doubtful and flawed. It's much more of an examination of character flaws through the recovering alcoholic lens than I expected. There were also some great descriptive passages, one of which I meant to excerpt here but forgot and returned the book. Like the movie, my expectations for the book were low and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.

They Called Themselves the KKK
Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Looking for a short, concise history of Reconstruction Era and the birth of the KKK? This is your book. It's well written and chock full of great primary source material. If there could be a book like this on every historical subject I would read a lot more non-fiction history.

The Resilient Gardener
Carol Deppe
Clear instructions of how to grow and preserve staple crops such as beans, corn, squash, potatoes and eggs. Deppe spends almost as much time explaining how to keep and cook what is grown as she does explaining how to grow it. She lives in Corvallis, so Oregon readers have an advantage here. Overall, a great book which I will probably purchase.

Started but did not finish

I finished everything I started this month.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Three sentence movie reviews: Youth in Revolt

Should I ever need a nom de plum, Francois Dillinger will be it. Overall, this movie was a bit slow, but with some delightful scenes that are worth sitting through the whole thing. The "dark" Michael Cera, not surprisingly, is much like the "light" Michael Cera, but with an amusing edge.

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Three sentence movie reviews: Brokeback Mountain

I wasn't hugely in love with this movie while watching it, but over the next few days, scenes kept coming back to me and I think they will for a very long time. Heath Ledger's performance was so convincing I forgot he was Australian. Aside from the excellent acting in all corners, I also thought the set design and cinematography was fabulous.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Three sentence movie reviews: The Wedding Crashers

My favorite part of this movie is the wedding crasher montage at the beginning. My second favorite part of this movie is when Vince Vaughn goes on one of his babbling soliloquies. My third favorite part of this movie was the reveal of who was the original wedding crasher.

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Three sentence movie reviews: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The length of this movie kept me from seeing it when it was in the theaters, as well as the massive amounts of CGI used on the actors. However, when I actually watched the film, I was not at all distracted by either of those things. It's been out long enough that I completely missed--until the last scene--that the hurricane was Katrina.

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Kelly and I do a Portland City Walk

It was cold and rainy the morning Kelly and I planned to do a Portland City Walk. By the time our walk time came around it had stopped raining and the sun was even shining. So out we set. We did the Buckman/Kerns walk which was fun until it started raining and blowing again. Once the pages of the book were soaked, we cut the walk short and headed for home, dry clothes, grilled cheese and a bad movie. But before that?

An odd combo, but one that might come in handy.
This tree has bent toward the east.
A nicely preserved gingerbread house.
Detail of the detail.

Three sentence movie reviews: The Ice Harvest

Despite the presence of John Cusack, this was not a very fun movie. I didn't ever attach to any of the characters, so I didn't much care what happened to any of them. This is one of those movies that I watched so you don't have to.

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Three sentence movie reviews: It's a Wonderful Life

Matt had never seen this and while he started the movie heckling, the charms of the holiday staple won him over quickly. By the end, he was a convert. What's the holiday without this movie?

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Three sentence movie reviews: Idiocracy

Funny. The story was funny, the actors were funny and the set design was fantastic. This movie was overlooked but you should get into your time machine and head back to 2006 so you can watch this movie.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What should Be capitalized?

I'm quite guilty of this myself, so yes, call me the pot.* However, I would assume that a casino paying a good chunk of money to advertise would employ the services of a copy editor. Why is "Live" capitalized but "bands" is not? Why is nearly every thing in the second half capitalized except "favors?"

*note that all of my pots are blue enamel and my kettle is some sort of silver colored metal. I do have a dutch oven that is black, but for this saying to match my own pots and pans it would have to be "the dutch oven calling the cast iron skillet black."

Three sentence movie reviews: Role Models

This movie was full of things I don't usually like: foul-mouthed children, infantile adults, and an over-sharing recovering junkie. However, despite all the above elements present and various levels of inappropriateness, I quite enjoyed this. I'm pretty sure this has to do with the fact that it is the-always-fun-to-watch Paul Rudd and Jane Lynch carrying out the inappropriate behavior.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Three sentence movie reviews: 127 Hours

This, despite the solo forearm amputation that you know is coming,* was one of the most uplifting movies I've seen this year. James Franco is mesmerizing and the soundtrack is an integral part of the movie. Be sure to watch the credits all the way to the end to read the important statement about legal mountain biking.

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*If you can't hack that scene--and believe me, if I could make it through it, you most likely can--just Google to find out how long it is and then leave the theater for that amount of time.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Three sentence movie reviews: Sex and the City II

After the Liza Minnelli cameo is over*, this is an endlessly long and boring move that is incredibly gauche in its excesses. I had plenty of time to think about and feel sorry for Carrie, Charlotte and Miranda all who seem to be desperately clinging to their youth in a way that makes them highly unattractive. Samantha seems to have made some deal with the devil in that she is much older than the others, but yet manages to look much less plastic and also younger.

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*seriously, watch until she does her dance number and then turn the movie off. There is nothing here for you.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Requiem: Green bag

I bought this green bag back in 1997 with part of my college graduation money. I wanted to buy a leather satchel, but did not have quite enough to fund that purchase. So I settled for this L.L. Bean bag which I carried to my very first full-time job: receptionist at the Somerville office of Motion Industries.

I pressed it back into service this year when my new bag (which I knew I shouldn't have bought) broke rather quickly, cheap thing.

Though the bag is still good, it is very, very heavy, even without anything in it. There is a metal bar across the top layer that must weigh five pounds. And that is before I pack it with my lunch and newspaper and other accouterments. I've just found a new one and I am letting this one go. Farewell, faithful servant.

Three sentence movie reviews: Extract

Overall, this was a so-so movie but it did two things well. It had a very accurate depiction of factory worker life (at least it was similar to the factory I once worked in) and the various character actors were fun to watch. There were a few funny moments, but it wasn't really a laugh riot.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Three sentence movie reviews: Pride and Prejudice

After watching the long miniseries, this went by in a flash. I did not take to this Mr. Darcy, but did enjoy the acting of everyone else. If you don't have time to invest in the miniseries (but you do, trust me, you do) this will do in a pinch.

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Saturday, December 11, 2010


I prefer a cold bedroom and many covers rather than a warm bedroom and few covers. I prefer either of the above rather than a cold bedroom and few covers. Washing my sheets today, I liked how the different colors of my many covers lay together on the bed.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Three sentence movie reviews: The Town

The movie that asks the question: If you are dating a charming townie who wants you to go away with him and then it turns out he's part of the band of bank robbers who kidnapped you, should you go away with him?* I found this to be a very fun action/romance which was well acted in all corners. It helps that Ben Affleck (a good director, who I would like to see more of behind the camera instead of in front of it) was playing the classic Ben Affleck character, which he does well.

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*In fact when I asked the question to Matt the following conversation ensued:

PCC: What if you were dating a nice guy and it turned out that he was a bank robber who kidnapped you?

MAJ: I would say that's not a good sign and you probably should break up.

PCC: But what if HE wasn't the one who kidnapped you, but one of the other guys did and he was didn't want to do it?

MAJ: I think that he still has some problems.

PCC: But what if he was really nice and wanted to change his ways?

MAJ (sighing): I'm so glad I'm not a woman.

PCC: Why?

MAJ: Because we just sleep with the bad girls. We don't try and make a life with them.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Three sentence movie reviews: Bruno

I think Sacha Baron Cohen is a genius, but I personally find his comedic humor cruel and thus, unfunny. Still, the variety of settings "Bruno" visited and made fun of people was impressive. Due to the amount of nakedness, I spent a lot of time contemplating how hard it must have been for Cohen to remove the copious amounts of very dark hair he naturally possesses.

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Monday, December 6, 2010

Three sentence movie reviews: Pride and Prejudice (2005)

Inexplicably set in the 1860s, I spent a lot of the movie contemplating just how big the women's sleeves were. Aldous Huxley, (of Brave New World fame) co-wrote the script and I found Lawrence Oliver to be a delightful Mr. Darcy. Not surprisingly, considering we're talking Hollywood here, the story was changed a bit, the most egregious example being the shifting of the role of Lady Catherine de Bourgh's confrontation with Elizabeth Bennett near the end of the film.

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Saturday, December 4, 2010

Santa Con

A great part of living in Portland.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Three sentence movie reviews: Easy A

Hilarious movie full of smart dialogue with actors that are always fun to see: Emma Stone, Amanda Byrns, Patricia Clarkson, Stanly Tucci. I'm feeling conflicted about the ultimate message, but enjoyed myself so much during viewing I don't really care. And the fact that the ending sends up three classic 80s films can only mean I am no longer young.*

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*The 24 year old Educational Aid at my work has never seen Say Anything. She has never heard of Lloyd Dobler. I get that she doesn't have to get every aspect of my youth, but come on! Lloyd Dobler!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

How is that resolution going?

Readers with long memories will recall that my 2010 resolution is to spend 15 minutes per day working at my desk. The order of operations is: banking, inbox, blogs. I printed each month out and I get a star each day I met my goal. You can see how well January went.
A funny thing happened as the year progressed. I started using the calendar to keep track of other things I had accomplished too. This came about because of an excellent connection of the dots. Often times, self-improvement suggestions make the point that if you have done what you want to do to improve, you should reward yourself. I tend to struggle with the "reward" part. Every single reward I can think of either costs money or takes up time I would rather spend doing other things. So the reward concept, though I'm behind it, is something I never really do for myself. I enjoy my life and at the same time have to complete a number of tasks to ensure my life runs smoothly. Then, I read the advice that marking a star on a calendar could be the reward.

Holy cannoli! I think making stars on calendars is the most excellent reward ever. So the stars for the 15 minutes of desk time were next joined by a circle when I practiced my guitar. Then by a triangle if I swept the house for five minutes. Then a square if I spent time looking for a teaching job. And on and on. Now my calendar is full of rewards and I am one happy camper.
Here's a key for everything that can appear on my day:
5 = Get up at 5:00
M = Meditate
G = Garden
Circle = Guitar practice
Square = Teaching job search
Triangle = Sweep the house for five minutes
b = blog
V = cook a vegetable
e = exercise for 30 minutes
E = exercise for 60 minutes or more.
I don't hit my desk time every day, and I think I've only been able to put everything down for the day once, but this is a great way for me to track what I'm doing and seeing how well I'm staying on track.