Monday, October 29, 2007

new look

Thank you for the compliments on my new blog look. I'm not completely satisfied with it yet. It's fun to do, but time-consuming and absorbing.

grow out progress


I just got it trimmed and flat ironed. Amity and I are keeping each other apprised of our mutual grow outs. I adore and covet Amity's ashy blonde.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

electrocution

[Edit: I first said two and a half but it was actually one and a half.]

I have to tell one on Marcus.


When I said that now I am free to take a shower without fearing someone will, meanwhile, electrocute himself, I was referring to an actual series of events. When Marcus was one and a half, he was enthralled by the Christmas tree. Although, it wasn't actually the tree that interested him so much as the lights. He loved to plug and unplug the lights from the outlet. But that wasn't nearly as thrilling as what he soon discovered: his little fingers, wet with saliva, came into contact with the prongs resulting in one powerful shock. He let out a big wail. Because I'm a country mom, I ascertained that he was fine and then thought, "Ha, no biggie. Guess he won't do that again."


Not so. We had to take the lights off the tree a few days later because he kept going back for more. And more. And more.

the mad scientist




I had a bad attitude leading up to our ward Halloween activity, very much undeserved as it turned out. It was a ton of fun, thanks to creative and hilarious people like this mad scientist. I didn't get a great photo of her candy-making contraption because Lidia's witch's hat was in the way. (Lidia was entranced by the scientist and hung around there. When we were leaving she said she loved the scientist's weird accent.) There were a few others who really went all out decorating their rooms. One room had several games and activities like fishing. There was a very popular treasure hunt created by a family of pirates.

I stand corrected!

cutie patooties





G is not in the pictures because she couldn't find part of her costume. I'll see if I can get some of her on Wednesday.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

then and now


For some reason I've been remembering my twenties lately and comparing me then to me now. I got married at nineteen and ten months later had my first child. For the next eight years I was either pregnant or nursing. Or so it seemed. I did not work outside the home. I tried to finish college in fits and starts.




I enjoyed my babies very much. They were all beautiful. Really, I challenge anyone to show me four better looking babies than the ones I had. They were even pretty when they cried. Their eyes snapped with intelligence and high spirits. And funny! J and I have often asked each other, "What did we laugh about before we had kids?" I loved watching them grow and mature. It was an exciting adventure discovering the world again through their explorer's eyes.




But. I remember my twenties as a dark time. To be honest. I was often overcome with feelings of inadequacy. I struggled with insomnia. My children were up a lot at night and once I was awake, I was awake. Now that I look back I see that I sometimes came very close to the edge. I never had enough hands, but much more troubling was that I often ran low on heart. I felt terrible guilt about the occasional apathy I felt toward my children. Whenever I had a new baby I loved being needed so desperately by that tiny, helpless being. However, caring for that baby seemed to use me up physically and emotionally and my other children had to fend for themselves to a large extent. My babies were high maintenance, but a lot of it was just me. I have never been good at multi-tasking. I've always been easily distracted and over-sensitive. I could not tolerate the sound of a baby crying and I would do anything to stop it. I'm not saying I was a perfect mother.




There were other weird ideas I had about what I "should" be doing. The whole perfectionist thing, but in addition to that, thinking I had to accomplish things that I had no real interest in. I was always craning my neck around to see what other mothers of young children were doing and thinking "Oh, I should do that. I will do that." Occasionally I would wake up enough to realize that I was harming myself and shout, "No!" For example, it was the vogue thing in my ward to make up these involved Family Home Evening packets. You would make enough for 8 or 10 families and then exchange. I did it once and then realized that the hours I spent making up those ridiculous packets would be better spent doing... just about any other thing. Like staring at my navel. (I don't mean to deride FHE packets. I'm just saying they weren't my thing.) Scrapbooking definitely wasn't for me either, but it took me longer to come to that conclusion. I don't know why I didn't realize earlier what Mama Ava commented on my last post: "Knowing what you stand for and what your family is about and doing things you truly love that furthers those aims is what it's about!" I don't know why I didn't realize that I don't have to do what everyone else is doing to be a good mother or a good person, for that matter. I often felt that my life was not fulfilling, but I didn't understand why.




Lately I've been looking back and wondering, for example, why I didn't get a part-time job. I think being at home with babies all the time was a little too intense for me. Now that they are older I really like to be at home and I have no desire to get a job.




I do wish I'd been wiser before I had children, but maybe I would not have learned as much as I did in my twenties if I hadn't had them then. Maybe it would not have been that beneficial to wait.




Last night I asked J, "Why is it that I'm so much happier now than when I was in my twenties?" We decided it must be a combination of things. I sleep more. I don't feel trapped. My children are old enough to leave at home while I get a hair cut or pick up some milk. I can take a shower without fearing someone will electrocute himself. My kids can do so many things now for themselves. They can entertain themselves for quite a while. More importantly, I've figured out what I like. I don't waste time on things I don't like. I pursue my passions. And I care less and less what people think of me.




One thing I love about having older kids is that we can do more things all together as a family. We've started studying history together every day. We read from Wise Bauer's The Story of the World. We pour over our new Kingfisher History Encyclopedia and books we get from the library. We all look forward to this as a highpoint of the day. This is the first time we have an opportunity like this. In the past not everyone has been old enough to participate and I've learned the hard way that if I do something with just the older ones, the unattentive little ones run off to see what mischief can be made. Even little Bernie loves our history study. She was excited to take books about mummies out of the library. (Although it seems she had a nightmare about Anubis, god of the underworld.)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

all hallows'


Do you ever look at your bookshelves and realize you own many books that you don't especially like? And yet you don't own many of your favorites? Today I went to B&B and bought The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury. I have loved this book ever since 7th grade and have frequently checked it out of the library. For me, this book is Halloween. As the Boston Globe says, "At last someone has written a book about Halloween that is tricky and scary, ghostly and windy, deathly and clammy. ... If you want to know what Halloween is, or if you simply want an eerie adventure, take this mystery-history trip." One reason I love this book is that Day of the Dead figures prominently. I also love the evocative language and thrilling original illustrations by Joseph Mugnaini.


I really dislike Halloween at the Mall of America. Of course I've never been, but the idea of it is like nails on the chalkboard. I don't even like the lame trunk or treats put on by our church. For me, Halloween is about the thrill you get when you're walking down a dark street with a pack of friends and you feel like anything could happen. You're all wearing masks. You could liven up the neighborhood a little. You could suspend belief.


Maybe we can't have that anymore in our safety-obsessed society, but at least I can read about it and dream.


Two scary films:


"The Innocents." Just watched this the other night for the first time. It's based on the short story "The Turn of the Screw" by Henry James. I'll give it a 7 out of 10. Deborah Kerr is very good in it as are the child actors. Very, very suspenseful. It's about innocence and corruption, good and evil, love and selfishness. (Oh, that reminds me. The other night G was trying to determine the theme of a book she'd read for English. J's advice: "If you can't figure out the theme, just put 'good v. evil' or 'overcoming adversity' and you're safe.")


"The Night of the Hunter." 9/10. I have never watched a scarier, more suspenseful movie. It might tie with another Robert Mitchum, the 1962 "Cape Fear," which is about 100 times scarier than the remake. Just thinking about "The Night of the Hunter" gives me the willies. It's been awhile since I saw it but I think there is a Halloween part if I remember right.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

fort





They finished it Saturday and are very pleased. We had another beautiful day and they played in it after school.

the writer's life

I am enjoying very much Raising Lifelong Learners by Lucy Calkins. I just finished chapter 3, "Growing Young Authors." I love the many smart suggestions for getting children to love writing and feel comfortable with it. But my favorite part of this chapter was the second half entitled "The Lifework of Writing." Calkins quotes Katherine Paterson, who was called to the backyard one day by son to watch a cicada shed his skin. After observing this awe-inspiring event with her son, Paterson says, "As I let that wonder wash over me, I realized that this was the gift I really wanted to give my children, for what good are straight teeth and trumpet lessons to a person who cannot see the grandeur that the world is charged with?"

I quickly reserved a copy of Paterson's book, partly because she refers to one of my favorite poems.

I have always believed that a sense of reverence for the natural world is one of the greatest gifts I could give my child. The other day Lidia, Bernie, and I went for an autumn walk. Every so often Lidia stopped and exclaimed, "Look at that, Mom! Isn't that beautiful?" This close observance of detail and wonder at nature comes naturally to younger children like Bernie, who named one tree the "pig tree" and another the "bear tree." But Lidia is a big old girl now. I felt so tremendously pleased that in spite of that she hangs on to wonder.

What does this have to do with writing?

More quotes from the book:

"Pulitzer-prize-winning writer Donald Murray describes the writing life by saying that by writing, we see more, hear more, think more, feel more ... I let my children know that when they lag behind to peer closely at a little flower growing between the cracks in the sidewalk, they are living like poets. 'You are such observers!' I tell my boys 'It's what gives you your writing talent!' How proud I was when Evan's teacher told met that as the class walked across a school lawn together, Evan looked up at the willow tree and said, 'I could write about that tree. It looks like a girl with long hair falling all over her face.'"

"Writers do not live more significantly than nonwriters; writers just know how to find the significance in the backyards of their lives."

from children's author Cythia Rylant: "We are talking about being an artist every single day of one's life. It's about going fishing as an artist and having relatives over for supper as an artist and walking the aisles of Woolworth's like an artist."

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

popless revisited and free agency

I enjoyed the comments on the popless post. I started to respond but my comment got so long I thought it deserved its own post.

Carla said: G. sounds like she's doing fine and is comfortable with herself. At some point, I suppose she'll have to decide how much she wants to go with the pop culture flow. As kids get older they have to make some of those decisions for themselves and figure out their place in life. She's blessed to have such a strong faith community and family that will reinforce a certain set of values, and accept her and love her if she decides she wants to learn more about pop culture stuff.

It's true that I would let my children make their own choices about pop culture. Obviously I'm not going to allow profanity or vulgarity or internet porn into my home but I definitely wouldn't prohibit them from watching some harmless yet vacuous show if that's what they choose to do. I want them to know why I make certain media choices and I hope to be an example of someone who chooses what is "virtuous, lovely, of good report, and praiseworthy." But I agree that by the time a child is in 7th grade they should be allowed to choose for themselves to a large extent. I want them to feel that we trust them to make such choices.

Last Sunday my husband and G. went to a standards night for the youth of our stake (about ten congregations). Our stake president talked about something that seemed to confuse other parents. He said that children should be allowed to make their own choices. For example, if a child doesn't want to go to church, they should not be forced to do so. If a child wants to play a sport that includes Sunday participation (Sunday sports are avoided by most Mormons) then the child should be allowed to make that choice and parents should even attend games to show their love for the child. He was talking to parents of children ages 12-18, children who definitely know right from wrong as taught in our religion. He said that children need to make mistakes and learn and grow from both good and bad choices.

This makes perfect sense to me. What do you all think?

Monday, October 22, 2007

popeyes




We only allow the highest culture and most edifying activities in our home.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

popless

Georgie told us the other day that people at her school are amazed at her inability to recognize pop cultural references. "What is Abercrombie?" she asked one girl, whose jaw dropped. "Georgie, you really don't know what Abercrombie is? I must teach you," said the girl. Another time she drew laughs by having a vague notion that Michael Jackson was a basketball player.

It seems that no one has made her feel bad about it. The teasing has been good natured so far. I asked G if she wished she did know all of those things. If she wished she had t.v. and hip parents who frequented the mall. She made a face. "No way," she said. "I like it. I think it's kind of funny."

The other day I was chatting with another mom while we waiting during dance class and she said, "I look around me and I think, 'My job is to raise nerds.'" I think so too, but I admit that sometimes I have qualms. Am I keeping my children from fitting in? Lidia sometimes became frustrated with her classmates last year because they would start talking about My High School Musical and wouldn't shut up about it. It was either that, she says, or Hanna Montana.

"Both shows are so idiotic," Lidia grumbled.

"Have you seen them?" I asked.

"No, but I can tell just from what the other kids say that the shows are so dumb."

I had to smile when she said that because she sounded just like me. But then I frowned. That's not necessarily a good thing.

Another mom I know gets a subscription to Teen for her daughter so, the mom says, her daughter will know who is who and be able to hold conversations with the other kids at school. Conversations? We must have a different idea about what constitutes conversation. Or, I should better say, what constitutes worthwhile conversation. I picked up a copy of Teen a few months ago at a doctor's office. From what she picked up from that issue, a young girl could converse about whether or not it was a good idea to "do it" with her boyfriend of three months, and if so, what options she had for protection. No thank you.

Where am I going with this? Well, I have no problem raising nerds. I'm a nerd and so is my husband. But sometimes I worry that I've gone too far. I worry that at some point G will get teased about it in a way that makes her feel bad. I tell myself that of course that will happen. Everyone gets teased about something. But I worry that I have gone too far in my rejection of pop culture and as a result my kids will always feel like aliens.

basque country sea




On our second morning in Basque Country before breakfast we drove down from the mountain where we were staying and parked somewhere behind the hills in the first picture. We walked this path down to the beach. Maine girl though I am (and having seen a little of Ireland), I think I have to say that this was one of the most spectacular beaches I've seen. The rock formations were so strange and dramatic. This was also one of my favorite memories of Basque Country. J and I felt alone and secluded on this beach. No one in sight but the horses.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

reading




A while back Fauna recommended to me A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken. It is a memoir Vanauken writes about his idyllic courtship and marriage, his conversion to Christianity, and his grief after the death of his young wife. Washington Post says, "No brief review can do justice to the human depth of this book. It invites us to explore a beautiful dollhouse of love and to witness the destruction of a relation too exquisite to last." I agree with the first sentence--a brief review could never do justice to this book, nor could anything I post about it. It is one of the most thought-provoking books I've ever read. However, I don't know what the Post means by "destruction of a relation to exquisite to last." I didn't see that.



Vanauken and his wife were "pagans," as he describes them, when they met, fell in love, and decided to create a "shining barrier" to protect their love, "making it invulnerable, we believed, to the destroyers of love." They marry and eventually end up at Oxford for three years. There they meet intellectuals like themselves, but these intellectuals are Christians. Contrary to what the Vanaukens have always thought, they are forced to accept the fact, as evidenced by these friends, that being Christian does not preclude intelligent thought. They think they would like to "investigate" Christianity. They meet C.S. Lewis and begin to correspond with him through letters about their investigation.



There is a lot to this book. As the Los Angeles Times says, it raises "questions that can't easily be ignored." It's one of those books you'd better not read before bed because you'll never get to sleep. Another blurb on the back flap calls it "A gem of a book ... a study in conversion, in human love, in grief, that delivers an extraordinary impact on the reader." I can attest to that. As soon as I finished this book I went right back to page one and started reading it again. J wanted to read it but I'm not ready to give it up. I hope I get the chance to post more about it later.



I also finished the second in Joan Aiken's adventure series that takes place in northwestern Spain. The first was Go Saddle the Sea, about 12-yr-old boy and his adventures in 19th century Spain. I really liked the characters in the book, the unexpected plot twists, and more than anything, the setting. I liked the second, Bridle the Wind, even more. I liked the characters better. I enjoyed the setting more because this time it was in Basque Country. Even the plot twists were more exciting! These books should be more popular. I look forward to the third and last of the series, Teeth of the Gale.





I am not yet half way through Dorothy Dunnett's Niccolo Rising. Has anyone read these? Supposedly Dunnett is (was, she died in 2003) one of the foremost historical fiction writers of our time. Some say she's the best. The Christian Science Monitor says, "Mrs. Dunnett's gift lies in her ability to take history's bare bones and invest them with life. She does this by creating ... characters whose humor and pathos reach across centuries." About Niccolo Rising: "The time is the 15th century , when intrepid merchants become the new knighthood of Europe. Among them, none is bolder or more cunning than Nicholas vander Poele of Bruges, the good-natured dyer's apprentice who schemes and swashbuckles his way to the helm of a mercantile empire." The principal characters are fictional, but real people from history, like the Medici, figure prominently. I have liked the book so far, though I am still adapting to Dunnett's style. Sometimes I don't know what's going on and I think I've been stupid and missed something. But then everything is explained a few pages (in some cases, chapters) later.



Also reading Raising a Reader: Make Your Child a Reader for Life by Paul Kropp. I've read a little of it and don't like it much so I may not continue. The book lists are uninspired and it's not telling me anything new. I liked The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease better.


Also reading Raising Lifelong Learners, A Parent's Guide by Lucy Calkins. I've only read the first chapter. So far so good.


Another one I picked up at the library: The Illustrated History of Scotland by Chris Tabraham. Looks like a good kitchen read (as long as I don't spatter or spill on it).

Friday, October 19, 2007

history at the science museum



The kids had school off yesterday and today for MEA, so we went yesterday to see the Pompeii exhibit. It was fascinating and I especially liked the audioguide's kid tracks. Bernie listened to every one! It really made the exhibit come to life for the kids. There were wall-sized frescoes, gold coins, jewelry, and marble and bronze statuary. There was an animated video that showed aspects of daily life in Pompeii. There was a room with religious artifacts. There was another with information on Pompeian cuisine and artifacts from kitchens and bakeries. Did you know that most people who cooked in their homes had slaves who did it all for them? Those who couldn't afford slaves didn't have kitchens. They ate out at one of the 300 fast food joints in Pompeii.


As I observed my children and their great interest in the exhibit, I found myself inwardly steaming about the lousy lack of history in their schools. In the Spanish immersion program they study different Spanish-speaking countries in grades K-4. I think other kids in regular public school here study various countries. In 5th and 6th Georgie had U.S. History. That was good. She learned a lot. But now, in 7th grade, it is incredibly lame geography. It's all memorization of maps. Grr! In 7th grade I studied the Ancients. Granted, I had an extremely weird teacher, but I still remember things I learned about Greece and Rome from that class.


I think it's great to learn about other countries. But why can't they learn world history, too? Is it just not important to us anymore? On NPR several times now I've heard experts on the current situation in the Middle East say that Americans have a woeful lack of understanding of the history of that region. When are we going to realize that our children should be learning world history? K12, the curriculum that Lidia is using through the virtual academy this year, starts world history in first grade. They study world history for four years and then do U.S. history for 5th and 6th. For 7th and 8th it's world history again. Not only that but they study art history as a separate subject and it corresponds with the period in history they are studying.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

basque country, zagarramurdi caves





After stopping in Elizondo we went to Zagarramurdi, near the French border, to see the caves. In the early 17th century 300 men and women in this area were accused of witchcraft, though only thirty-one were incarcerated. Eleven survived, several died in jail under torture, and six women and 2 men were condemned to be burned at the stake.
The first photo shows the area outside the cave mouth where the witches and wizards supposedly met and held their akelarres.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

the contest



When I was six we had a Halloween art contest for the entire first grade. One lucky student would have his/her Halloween-themed poster chosen as the best.


I knew I wouldn't win. Try as I might, I could not color as uniformly as a certain tall, brunette girl (I won't name any names but I think she occasionally visits this blog) who sat near by. It was a marvel, the way that girl could color. Supernatural. And there was this boy who sat across from me who drew these incredible jack-o-lanterns. Every time I glanced up to see that he'd done yet another, I told him most earnestly, "Ben, that looks just like a growned-up did it."


Secure in the thought that one of them would win and thus completely unburdened by pressure, I created my best Halloween picture. On the left side was part of a haunted house with a door and steps. I had seen an illustration like that with only part of the house showing and I quickly realized the comparative ease of only drawing part of a haunted house instead of the whole darn thing. A black cat sat on a step, and there may have been a jack-o-lantern on the step. Bats flew out of the chimney. I did my best bats with their pointy ears and carefully scalloped wings. There was a winding path leading to the doorway with jack-o-lantern lighting the way on either side. There was a picket fence with an owl sitting on it, if I remember right. I actually created a horizon, which surprises me a little for a six-year old. It may have been, in part, another lazy strategy because I knew I wanted to color the entire sky black. So as not to use my entire black crayon and wear myself out coloring around all of those yellow stars, I made the horizon fairly high. I made the full moon enormous, again so that I wouldn't have to color around so many stars. (I resisted valiantly the urge to just scribble black over the stars. Nope. I colored around every one. And they were multitudinous even in the limited night sky space.) There were several trick-or-treaters. One I am sure was wearing a ghost costume, and one may have been a witch. There was a bare, leafless tree off to the right. Or was the owl peering down from one of its bare branches rather than the fence?
But you get the idea. I created the perfect, in my mind, Halloween scene. I worked on it painstakingly. It was my magnum opus of first grade. A week or so later (I imagine, though it seemed like months passed) Mrs. Foss gathered us around shortly before it was time to line up for the bus. She announced the winner of the Halloween poster contest. When my name was announced a shock went through me. Mrs. Foss held up my poster and everyone oohed and ahhed. An enormous grin spread across my face and stayed there so long my face hurt.

Monday, October 15, 2007

B--------

Today I had cause to enter the only gated community (to my knowledge) in our suburb. Around here one equates the name of this community with the very wealthy. I had never been in this neighborhood before (someone has to put you on The List for you to make it past the guard at the gate). I must admit I took my time on my way out so I could get a good look at these spreads. Lots of sharply-pitched roofs. Lots of roof, for that matter. These people like a good-sized roof on their house. I saw a Saturn which I assume belonged to a nanny or cleaning lady. There were little signs every several yards proclaiming "We at B------- love our children. 20 mph strictly enforced." How fortunate that they put up these signs, lest someone be under the assumption that the children of B-------- are not loved and thus clip along at the perilous speed of 25 mph.

If I had scads of money there is no way I would waste it on a place in B--------. Sure, there are some nice big trees and attractive little paths, but some of the houses are very unattractive. Garish. The neighborhood is not situated near any conveniences. It is apart. If I had the dough, you would find me near 50th and France, either on the Edina side or maybe in the Linden Hills neighborhood of Minneapolis. Those neighborhoods are charming. They have lovely neighborhood stores near by. At Christmas time the streets are decorated and it looks like something from the movies. I was at a party a few weeks ago in that area and I thought to myself, if I had bucks, this is where I'd settle.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

aug 6 elizondo






We had to visit this little town in Basque Country in the Valley of Baztan because Elizondo is a family name. It was a very pretty little place and the Valley of Baztan is known for its spectacular views. Too bad it was cloudy! We were interested in the history of the town of Elizondo, but strangely enough the people at the visitor's center told us the history is unknown. They don't seem to know who founded it.
We spent most of the day driving and trying to pack in as much sight-seeing as possible. We were sad we only had two complete days in Basque Country. Anyway, on this morning we were up early and I had one of those thick, rich, hot chocolates for breakfast with churros! It was good but made me a little sick. I don't know how people can eat that all the time. It's supposed to be a typical breakfast. But then later I got even worse because we were in Elizondo but didn't want to stop at a restaurant. So we bought pastries! I had a pastry-cream loaded thing for lunch! It was past four when we finally had a decent meal but that's a story for another post...

superman

Heard this today at church from a woman whose daughter lives with a family who knows the Hinckleys. (So it's a little second hand.) President Hinckley's family members take turns taking meals to him since his wife passed away. His daughter-in-law said that President Hinckley gets home from his office late, sometimes past 7 pm. He whips off his dress shirt and tie and pulls on a t-shirt. Leaving his dress pants on, he puts on tennis shoes, grabs some weights, and hits the treadmill. He's ninety-seven years old.

What's your excuse?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

smarterful

[Edit: I forgot to report on my hugging the kids and telling them I love them every day goal! I did pretty well, though that eldest daughter still escapes me sometimes. :-)]

This week was so much better than last.
I loved reading with my children this week. I used to read to them a lot but stopped for some reason. The past year or two our reading together has been less frequent. I need to do this because it is one way we can connect. I'm not always great at connecting with my children. I struggle to start meaningful conversations with them. I'm not good at getting them to work with me like J does. I don't like to play with them. But reading? That I can do. We've even done a lot of reading in Spanish, which they usually object to. Now that we're reading more in English they are more accepting of Spanish reading time.
Other habits:
Make dinner: Did it! I even tried some new recipes like taco soup and English muffin pizzas, both big hits with my family.
Daily writing: I didn't do well on this, actually. Also, this will be the last time I post on SMART Saturday about this habit. I'm going to be doing something new with it.
Violin practice: Didn't do it every day, but almost.
Clean speech: Doing well.
No new habits this week.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

lear

Last night we saw the Royal Shakespeare Company production of King Lear with Ian McKellen. There has been a lot of buzz about it in the Twin Cities. Actually, the buzz has been about Ian McKellen. Would the tickets have sold out so quickly if it hadn't been Gandalf playing Lear? Of course not.

The hype has been huge. I have tried not to let that warp my expectations for this play or the fact that I've been looking forward to this for six months.

I was not disappointed. The play was completely absorbing. It was breathtaking. I think the Guthrie consistently turns out a high quality theater experience and I do have high standards. I loved the early 20th century Russian setting. On MPR, McKellen was asked why they chose that time and place and he said they wanted to pick the most contemporary setting that would still work with the play. The costumes were gorgeous. It was done on the thrust stage, a stage that protrudes out into the audience. It is surrounded by audience on three sides. I liked the staging, but many times there was a guard or someone standing right in front of us so our view of the action was obscured. We were in the second row. But when there was no one standing there, boy did we have a great view! We saw the details of the actors' expressions. That's one reason it was so absorbing. I almost felt like I was part of it. I felt like I was so close to it I was intruding.

What can I tell you about Ian McKellen's performance? I liked it. It was good. O.k., I can do better than that. It was convincing. He was a passionate and convincing Lear. At no point was he merely going through the motions after having already done it so many times. He did the role justice. He raged and despaired and went mad. I did sometimes become mesmerized by his voice. But here's the thing: I think the part of Lear transcends Ian McKellen. I studied the play in depth a couple years ago for an upper-level Shakespeare class. I read it many times over. There was so much else I was looking for, so many things I was waiting to see how they would handle, what spin they would give this phrase or that, I really didn't just sit back and watch Gandalf as Lear.

The rest of the cast more than held their own with McKellen. He's the famous one who has been in movies, but I think several of the other actors are of his caliber. He would probably say the same himself. It's not like when he came on stage everything suddenly got better. And that would have been distracting from the play anyway. The woman who played Goneril had the face of the evil queen in Snow White. I couldn't take my eyes off her. The Earl of Kent was excellent in his part--I liked that actor a lot too as Dr. Dorn in The Seagull Tuesday night.

I'm so glad I went to both plays. According to what the actors said Tuesday night, they really like touring with two plays for several reasons. One is that Lear would have been too draining to do many times in a row. With Seagull thrown in they can keep working but in a lighter tone. They also said the doing the two plays at the same time has changed the plays. Lear has carried over into The Seagull to add weight, intensity, and drama. The Seagull has informed some of the lighter scenes in Lear. As a viewer I appreciated seeing these two very different plays that had similar themes.

I do feel a little let down now because I've been looking forward to this for so long and now it's over. When the play was in its final scene I had a growing feeling of panic. Don't be done yet! I thought. I have been completely theater-spoiled this past month. We went to Jane Eyre last month and then two weeks later, The Home Place.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

basque country




The first and last photos are of the Basque farmhouse we stayed at. When you open the spigot of one of those cider barrels it shoots cider out into the middle of the room. That's the part of the house where they used to keep their animals, I think she said up until three years ago. Most Basque homes are enormous because are centuries old and have been added onto several times. Many keep the farm animals in the lower level of the house.

the seagull

We saw Chekov's The Seagull last night at the Guthrie. Tonight we see Ian McKellen in King Lear. The Royal Shakespeare Company is doing a world tour with these two plays. Go here to see clips from both.

When we bought Lear tickets we didn't get tickets for Seagull. I didn't know much about it and thought, we're going to a lot of other plays this year. Let's skip this one. Then I read a glowing review of it in the WSJ. The critic said if you are going to see one of these plays, see The Seagull. So then I had to get tickets. The Seagull has been preferred to Lear by other critics as well.

It was beautiful and I'm so glad we decided to go. It was stunning. Romola Garai (Nicholas Nickleby, Daniel Deronda, I Capture the Castle, Amazing Grace) played the main character, Nina, a young woman who wants to be an actress. The Star Tribune called her performance "mannered and overwrought" as well as "brittle and annoying." I didn't think so. I thought it was unusual and gutsy.

We stayed for the post-play discussion. There were not many who stayed. We all went down to the first few rows and all of the actors came out on stage to take questions. I would have liked to hear Romola speak more. She was very quiet. It was so interesting to hear more about the play from their point of view. When asked if they preferred theater or film, almost all said theater, though it is harder and pay isn't good compared to film. They love our new theater and prefer it over many places they've been.

We got home past eleven and I couldn't sleep very well. The play was too stimulating. The assistant director talked about two of the themes: dysfunctional families and the young usurping the old. (She mentioned those because they also are strong themes of Lear--this in answer to the question 'Why was The Seagull chosen to do with Lear?') The theme that struck me the most was that of unfullfilled dreams and fulfilled dreams that don't bring satisfaction or happiness.

Monday, October 08, 2007

back to the mundane

I know everyone was loving Carla's and my musings on the eternal, but I must bring you all back to earthly matters. Saturday I shampooed my carpet in the family room. It was a high traffic area that looked awful. Well, because we put a little blanket over part of it and left it there for a while so the kids could play wii and because we've had horribly humid weather, the carpet didn't dry quickly and now, though dry, stinks. It is stinking up my whole house and I'm going bonkers. It looks like my luck of last week carried right over into this week. Either my carpet has to look nasty or smell nasty. I mean... never mind! Count your many blessings name them one by one...

Ok. I'm good now. But I need to know what to do about the reeking carpet. I don't like to use the artificial air fresheners because they make me sneeze and smell so unnatural. Any ideas?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

conference chat

O.k., what's been your favorite conference talk so far? (This is a semiannual General Conference weekend for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We hear 4-5 two hr sessions of speeches given by our church leaders.)

The one I keep thinking about is Jeffrey R. Holland's talk yesterday on our concept of Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. And then President Hinckley mentioned it again in his address this morning. I thought it was important, as Elder Holland noted, for people to understand why some Christians say that we are not Christians. Sometimes people take offense at this. When people call us "not Christian," what they mean is that we do not follow the Nicene creed. We do not believe that the trinity constitutes one being and three separate beings simultaneously, but rather that they are three separate "personages." We do agree with the Nicene creed, however, as Elder Holland noted in the best one-liner so far of the conference, that such a concept of God is "incomprehensible." The view of God outlined in the creed is not supported by scripture and was outrageous to many early Christians. Also, we do not believe in a closed cannon. We believe that God continues to reveal His will for His people through a modern prophet.

Speaking of the prophet, he looks pretty hale and hearty for a ninety-seven year old.

[I just edited this post for clarity. There were a lot of typos and confusing sentences. Maybe I was unduly influenced by the Nicene creed. ;-)]

august 5-7 basque country




I'm so glad our favorite place was the last on our itinerary. Basque country was stunning. It had everything I love: mountains, enormous trees, ocean, and lovely cities. We went the "agriturismo" route and stayed in a basque caserio, a working farmhouse. Ours made cider. The sign at the top showed the way to the caserio we stayed at. The second photo is the little patio where the rooms were located. The third shows the hen house right beside our room. That ended up being my only complaint of this beautiful place. I didn't get much sleep because the people on one side of us went to bed very late and the rooster on the other side crowed at 4am. The last photo is the neighboring farm.

aug 5 drive from barcelona to basque country




It was fascinating to watch the dramatic and sudden changes of landscape though when I look at these photos I can't see any dramatic changes. It went from dry Mediterranean to farmland to lush, wet forest. I don't know why I didn't take any photos of Pamplona. We stopped there. It was blazingly hot and I was a little grumpy. Maybe that's why.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

smartorrible


I did terrible this week. On everything. I started swearing again. I practiced violin just twice. I only worked on my novel once. Several times I did not make dinner and we went out. I did not hug my children every single day and tell them I love them.
It was a crummy week in my ways. However, I did enjoy some gorgeous fall weather. What else? Nope, that's pretty much the only virtuous thing I did this week.
But I will not despair and I will not give up. I'm redoubling my efforts this week and I am even adding a new habit. I'm following Montse again (surprise, surprise). My new habit is reading with my son, a second grader, each day. I have been doing this with two of my daughters who are home in the afternoon. We read aloud after lunch. However, I have not been reading with my son. He has a calendar from school he is supposed to be filling in with the minutes he reads or is read to each day. My goal is to read to him at least 20 minutes and have him read on his own 15 minutes.

more, but not merrier

Facebook and MySpace make me feel old. Not the technology, the concept. I am very confused about these personal sites. I do have a MySpace account, but only so I can comment on my brothers' MySpace blogs.

People who I absolutely do not know (at least I don't think I do) were requesting to be my "friend" on MySpace. Why? I would ask myself. They do not know anything about me as I have no personal info on my page. What is in it for them?

Today I read this WSJ piece by Christine Rosen about these sites. All my suspicions were confirmed.

Friendship in the online social-networking world also focuses a great deal on collecting, managing and ranking the people you know. Everything about MySpace, for example, is designed to encourage users to gather as many friends as possible, as if friendship is a form of stamp collecting. ...

There is something Orwellian about the management-speak on social networking sites: Denizens of MySpace make use of functions such as "Change my 'Top Friends,' " "View all of My Friends" and, for those times when our inner Stalins sense the need for a virtual purge, "Edit Friends." With a few mouse clicks one can elevate or downgrade (or entirely eliminate) a relationship. ...

... the use of the word "friend" on social-networking sites is clearly a dilution and a debasement of the term.

Friday, October 05, 2007

leaving barcelona

It was a Sunday morning and we tried, with directions from the hotel's consierge, to find a LDS sacrament service. While the guy was looking up the directions, I turned and looked out the glass doors to the pedestrian street. A nude man rode by on a bicycle. I turned back to the consierge and said, "Um, I just saw a naked..."

"That's Barcelona," he replied without waiting for me to finish or looking up from his computer screen.
We never did find the sacrament meeting location. It seems there are two streets by that name. So we went out for chocolate croissants and hot chocolate. Why don't they have chocolate croissants readily available in the U.S.? And we don't have enough pastry cream here, either. The hot chocolate is as thick as it looks in the photo. More like hot pudding.

As many of you know, Barcelona is in Catalonia. They speak Catalan instead of Spanish if they can get away with it. All of their signage is in Catalan with no Spanish translation. The schools teach in Catalan exclusively in the first six grades. Even private schools must teach Catalan, much to the annoyance of other Spaniards who move there with children. Catalans have wanted, like the Basques, to separate from Spain and create their own country. They already have some degree of autonomy. About six months ago I read in the Wall Street Journal that in Spain there is a serious threat of balkanization.

One of J's distributors picked us up from the airport in Madrid. We really liked him and his wife. He is very similar to J in many ways. We went out to dinner with them. (I wish I'd taken photos!) Anyway, when he picked us up from the airport it was the first time we'd met him in person. Not five minutes into the drive, he began talking about the political situation with Catalonia. He was very passionate about it, as it seems many Spaniards are. He said, "What is their problem? If they were being repressed, I can see their argument for separating from Spain. But they govern themselves already. Why can't we be a united Spain? Why can't we get along like people in the U.S. do?" (I had to smile at his last question.)

I pointed out that in the U.S. there is no region with it own distinct language and culture. I even dared to say that the Catalonians only wanted their own country because they viewed themselves as sufficiently distinct in language and culture from the rest of Spain, and after all, they used to have their own country. I got an earful. "But that's the very thing!" he said. "Most Catalonians do not care at all about separating from Spain. The vast majority want to live their lives quietly. They are just like you and me. What is so frustrating is that it is only a very small minority who agitate for this, and only because it will bring them money and power. They whip up the sentiments of the people with their talk of preserving their culture, but it is just a tool used to manipulate."

A few days later we were in Barcelona. I asked a taxi driver if he was from Barcelona. He laughed. "No, of course not," he said. "No one is from here. I'm from the south of Spain and I came in the 70s. Many of us came in the 60s or 70s." I asked if he spoke Catalan. "Yes, yes," he said. "I learned it after living here a month or two. It's much like Spanish." It made me wonder how many of the 10 million supposed Catalan speakers are originally from different parts of Spain.