Tuesday, January 15, 2008


I've started walking to work again, and I love it! I bought some cheap but comfy walking shoes so I don't have to factor in footwear every morning. I love the fresh air and additional exercise. If I walk home for lunch, which I usually do, my walking totals 32 minutes. And I'm saving on gas. My savings will add up if the price of gas keeps climbing.

One of my favorite things about living in Europe was walking everywhere, and I'm glad to have it back in my life. If you live close enough to work to walk or ride your bike, I suggest you give it a try.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Best of 2007: Books

I'm at home watching football - the Seahawks vs. the Packers (so much snow!) - and I decided it was a good time to write about my favorite books of 2007. Nothing fits with football quite like literature.

This list is the hardest one for me to make. I keep a list of the books I read, otherwise I wouldn't be able to tell you what I read last week. I also use Amazon.com to compliment my memory when summarizing books. If only Amazon could remind me what I thought about the book right after I finished reading it. I might need to add notes to supplement my list.

Here is my list of the best books I read in 2007 in chronological order.
  • City of Falling Angels by John Berendt. This is a nonfiction book about Venice with the mysterious fire of the Fenice Opera House the main character, besides Venice. If you've been to Venice, you'll probably enjoy reading this book about life in this unique city.

  • Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. I read this book in elementary school and decided to read it again when I found out Disney was making a movie out of it. The relationship between Jesse and Leslie is written so well that you can't help but be heartbroken by the way the story plays out.

  • Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes. Almost nothing like the movie, this book is about an American couple that lives in Italy during the summer and holidays and their experience. Being someone that has lived in a different country and adapted to a different culture, I enjoyed reading about someone else's experience.

  • Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. I remember liking this book. I remember feeling engaged with the characters and enjoying the story and writing. But I had to read the synopsis on Amazon to remember what it was about. I still can't remember any details. I still feel like it should be on my list.

  • The Reader by Bernhard Schlink. Anytime I read a book that has been translated to English from another language, I wonder if I'm missing something in the translation because other languages have expressions we don't have and words can be translated different ways. How do translators make their choices? That won't stop me from reading translations, but it's always on my mind. This is one such book. You've got sex, war crimes, literacy and guilt in this book. What more can you ask for? Oh, a movie version with Ralph Fiennes and Kate Winslet! Excellent casting choices by the way.

  • His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, the Amber Spyglass. Just like the Harry Potter series, each book in this series was better than the its predecessor. All the talk about these books and the movie being anti-religion are missing the point. The story is about children fighting an oppressive, corrupted authority and making huge sacrifices to do what is right for the world. It just happens that the authority in the book is organized religion, but it could be any authority with corrupted values and leaders . The heroine Lyra is a great character, and it's nice to read a children's fantasy book with a female heroine. If you saw the movie, the actress did a great job of personifying Lyra's attitude and strength.

  • A Thousand Splendid Sons by Khaled Hosseini. The author of the Kite Runner has created another great book about living in Afghanistan, this time following the lives of two women through several decades and leadership changes in the country.

  • Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer. Here is what I wrote about the book after I read it around Thanksgiving. Under the Banner of Heaven is an intriguing study of Mormon Fundamentalism. The author dissects the case of the two Lafferty brothers who murdered their brother's wife and child because God told them to do it and places it in the context of Mormon Fundamentalism. To understand Mormon Fundamentalism, you have to understand the history of Mormonism and why the Fundamentalists have broken off from the official Mormon church. It all seems to boil down to polygamy. The book was fascinating. Occasionally he made statements that I wish were followed by a source ID, but he provided a lengthy reference list at the end of the, so I guess that counts.

  • Atonement by Ian McEwan. It look me a while to get into this book because I don't generally like long, narrative passages, but once the exposition and initial character development were out of the way, I didn't want to put the book down. McEwan is a great descriptive author because I read all his words and can clearly form pictures in my head. (Literature snobs, don't hate me, but I have a tendency to skip long, descriptive passages.)
What great books did you read this year?

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Best of 2007: Movies

I had a hard time picking my favorite movies of the year. I saw a lot of movies, courtesy of Netflix of course, but few wowed me enough to put them on this list or recommend them to other people. I saw several movies over the Christmas break, including potential Oscar-nominated movies, but I had a hard time putting those on my list (I'll get to that in a minute.)

Here is my list, in no particular order.
  1. Waitress staring Keri Russell. I missed seeing this in the theatre due to it's limited theatrical run in my market. I finally watched it on DVD. I've already blogged about, so I won't say much more. It's a movie with heart, which I always like.

  2. Once. Another movie I've already blogged about. A non-traditional musical with plenty of heart and a realistic resolution, even if it's not one we "want." I love the song "Falling Slowly" the two characters play together that starts their relationship.

  3. Jesus Camp. As a person that helps plan and run a Christian camp, this movie might be more interesting to me than you. The film focuses on a summer Bible camp for children as young as five. I don't want to live in a Christian church state (church states don't work anywhere else in the world, so why would we want one here?) and the goal of this group alarms me a little. Regardless of where you stand of the role of religion in politics and government, you should find this doc intriguing.

  4. Bourne Ultimatum. I love Jason Bourne. I've read all the books, which are more of a jumping off point for the movies instead of an adaption. A lot of people don't like Greengrass' quick-cut editing, but I think it illuminates Bourne's role as the weapon against anyone he faces. One of the best action flicks I've seen since, I don't know, the Bourne Supremacy. :-)

  5. Zodiac. If I expected this to be an adrenaline rush like the Bourne Ultimatum, I might have been disappointed. I'd read enough to realize this was more of a slow-boiling, psychological thriller. I thought it worked. Seeing the emotional and psychological toll trying to find a killer took on difference people involved in the investigation was fascinating.

  6. Atonement. I was not expecting the artful direction of this film. Gorgeous film! I read the book and the film took advantage of it's medium well to tell the story. I loved how we would see part of scene as witnessed by one character and then see the full scene without losing the scene's impact or significance. This method also helped the audience understand why Briony did the things she did because we saw what she saw. Atonement is a good story with good actors beautifully filmed.

  7. Hairspray! This was the best experience I had at the movies all year. I didn't know much about the play or the music. The movie starts with the in-your-face "Good Morning Baltimore" sung by Tracy. At first I was unsure of what to think, but by end of the song, I was sold. It took me to the "Elephant Love Medley" to feel that way about Moulin Rouge the first time I saw it, but Hairspray accomplished that with the first song. I left this moving smiling and humming the songs. I saw it again in the theatre and bought it on DVD the first day it came out.
Over the Christmas holidays I saw Juno, Sweeney Todd and No Country for Old Men. None of them made my final list. Why? It was a mix of high expectations and bleak, dark subjects. Juno is not dark. Juno is uplifting and funny. However, the reviews I read for this film were so glowing that I expected something magical. What I saw instead was your basic, feel-good comedy/drama that is being touted as the most original work to ever come along. Obviously the critics have never watched an episode of Gilmore Girls. However pop-culture happy, witty and snappy the dialogue on Gilmore Girls was, it still seemed natural. With Juno, especially in the beginning, it didn't seem real. The movie couldn't recognize it's own limitations and tried too hard.

I couldn't put the book No Country for Old Men down when I started reading because I had to know what happened. And despite the fact that I knew who lived and who died, the Coen brothers set up scenes and chases so well, I was tense and anxious during the movie. But something about the conclusion, when the Sheriff is processing everything that has happened and his role in it, rubbed me the wrong way. I thought the same thing as times during the book, but because there was so much inner-monologue throughout the the book, it didn't take away from my overall experience. With the movie it did. And the movie was too long; near the end I was waiting for it to be over. Well made but hard to like, like Sweeney Todd.

The dreary art direction fit the tone and spirit of the movie; Tim Burton was the perfect person to make this movie. I wasn't bothered by the lack of singing talent of Depp and Bonham-Carter. It's the character of Sweeney Todd that I don't like. He has a valid reason for wanting revenge, but that is all that matters to him. Does he care about the welfare of his daughter? Only if it helps him get revenge against the person that ruined his life. I didn't like him any more than I liked the villian, which is problematic. Maybe I'm not supposed to, but I doubt it. It's hard to not like a movie that is as well made as this, but I don't.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

New Year's Resolution

I don't usually make these, but last year I got out of the habit of writing in my happy list, and I want to be more consistent this year. Keeping a happy list serves multiple purposes. The most obvious is that the list helps me focus on the joy in my life and not the negativity. I've always been a glass-half-full person, and a great way to express that is by keeping a list of things that make me happy. The list is the closest thing I have to a journal, and the happy list is probably better because it focuses on anything and everything that I take joy in. So an entry like "kettle corn" is followed by something like "family that will love and support you, no matter what." Anyone interested can read my happy list; it's meant to be shared. It's also a good snapshot of my life. I've given personalized happy lists as gifts to my friends, and I'm in the process of entering everything into the computer. Even though the idea came from Janie, it's been part of me since I was a junior in high school.

Anyway, all that to say, I didn't write in my happy list as much as I would have liked in 2007. Sometimes it was a matter of not having my list with me when something came up. More often than not I just didn't think about it. Part of keeping it up is habit, and I lost that. I tried carrying the list in my purse so I usually had it with me, but that plan backfired. It is my goal to write consistently in my happy list. I started a new book for a new year, so I'm heading the right direction.

Whether we live in the same city, only exchange emails or you read my blog anonymously, feel free to ask me what I've written in my happy list lately. Hopefully the answer will be "Plenty!"

And I encourage you to keep your own list. It can start with anything. Next time you laugh, write down what made you laugh. Mine started because I opened the songbook right to the page I wanted. (Remember when we had songbooks in church?) I went home that day and started writing in a spiral notebook. More than 10 years later I'm still writing.