May 22, 2008

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

When I was a kid, my dad read the entire Chronicles of Narnia series to me and my brother. Each night, once we were ready for bed, we would sit in our p.j.s and my dad would read a chapter (or so) from the books. It’s one of my favorite childhood memories. I’ve re-read the series a couple times since then, and the stories all have a very special place in my heart. When it was announced a couple of years ago that they were going to make the books into movies, I was really excited, but also kind of wary because I remember the cheesy cartoon version and the really cheesy BBC version from the 80s. But these new movies didn’t disappoint. The first one was amazing. The actors that they chose to play the Pevensie siblings were great and the level of cg animation and special effects now a days is stellar and much more believable than the BBC puppets.
As much as I liked the first movie, I loved this second installment. It was so much fun to already know the land of Narnia. To not have to watch them spend time explaining everything, but just jump back in and start fighting the bad guys. The actors have all grown up a bit and improved a bit too. I’ve read some reviews that have marked it down saying that it is too slow and just bounces from fight to fight with no real substance, but I disagree. I think the movie does a superb job of showing more than just the fighting and plotting of both sides. It really pays attention to the kids, Prince Caspian included, and what they are going through emotionally as they try to defeat the Telmarines. This is a Disney movie so there aren’t any “intense emotional Oscar-worthy scenes”, but they definitely show both the physical and emotional sides to this journey. The Pevensies have been in England for a year (their time, 1300 years Narnian time) and Narnia has changed while they were gone. They have to grapple with what their place is in their beloved land. They were called back into Narnia, but Prince Caspian is the rightful heir to the throne so where does that leave everyone?
I also genuinely appreciate the soundtrack. Both the score and the songs written and sung specifically for the film are amazing. I bought the CD and when I listen to it I can easily imagine the world of Narnia and feel the tense battle scenes or the noble emotional moments. The song sung by Regina Spektor is inspired. It’s a great blend of simple melody, intense lyrics and breathy vocals, that when played over the last scenes of the film give it a satisfying and hope-filled ending.I’m extremely excited to see the next installment, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which is my favorite book in the series. And actually…I may have to go see Prince Caspian again before it leaves the big screen.

From Dead to Worse

By Charlaine Harris
2008 – Penguin Group (USA)

This is the 8th book in the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris. It follows the life of a small town Louisiana cocktail waitress whose life is never as quiet and calm as she hopes. These books are great supernatural stories full of quirky characters and twists and turns. As Sookie has learned more and more about the supernatural community or “supes” as they’re called, her world is expanded in ways she never thought possible, and it’s been really fun to follow along. The books all have a bit of the unexpected, a bit of mystery, a lot of laughs and plenty of suspense.
I have to admit, as the series has progressed they’ve gotten a bit darker and fallen into the same rut as the Stephanie Plum series. The books tend to be weaker individual stories as they link with the overarching stories of the series as a whole. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed it and read it in about a day. This book definitely sets the stage for future adventures and I’m excited to see what will happen.
In related news, HBO is developing a series based on the books with Anna Paquin as Sookie. Might be interesting.

Reality TV

In general, I am not a fan of reality television. I think it’s a scary trend in American TV viewing and I’m constantly amazed/appalled at the new reality shows I see advertised. It’s not that I’m not aware of what’s happening in that part of TV Land, I see the commercials and the news stories on the internet, but I’m rarely intrigued by the types of shows in that genre.
But now I feel I must confess that I have recently become addicted to two reality shows. They aren’t necessarily new shows, but I’ve just recently stumble upon them so they’re new to me. They both fall into the category of “cameras following people around in their everyday lives”, and I think my favorite thing about both these shows is that they are nice, clean, pleasant people that are being filmed. There’s no back-stabbing or plotting or greed or sex or plain craziness. It’s just people living their lives while being filmed.
The first one is Jon and Kate plus 8 on TLC. It’s a show that follows a couple (Jon and Kate) who have a set of twins that are seven and a set of sextuplets that are three. Two seven-year-olds and six three-year-olds. Wow. Their house can get crazy, but there’s lots of love, lots of order and they’re all very entertaining.
The second one I’m addicted to is Ace of Cakes on the Food Network. This show is amazing! It follows Charm City Cakes in Baltimore that has an extremely talented staff that make some extremely cool cakes. They make cakes that are like works of art, and it’s so fun to see them start from scratch and go through the whole process of shaping and decorating to get the finished product. And the staff are funny! They have so much fun together working and figuring out how to best make and decorate the cakes. It’s great fun to watch.
So there…I’ve admitted to liking two shows in a genre I tend to look down on. I’m a hypocrite…Dang.

May 18, 2008

It’s true: Life’s not fair

In church this morning the pastor was talking about Matthew 20: 1-16 which is the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. It’s the story that Jesus told about the master of a house who goes out to hire laborers to work in his vineyard. He finds workers early in the morning and promises them a certain sum if they work for the day. Then he goes back out and finds more workers 3 hours later and 6 hours later and 9 hours later. When it’s time for all these workers to be paid, they all get paid the same, no matter how long they worked, and the workers who had been in the field all day were upset. They expected to be paid more since they worked longer. The master says “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for one denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?”
I think I’ve always had a hard time with the teaching of this parable because it so goes against today’s culture. The world tells us that we have a right to “fair” treatment and we should speak up and take what is ours. But God never promised us a fair life. He said there will be trials and tribulations and our life on this earth will be hard, but His Grace, His gift to us of eternal life, is good and He is allowed to give this gift to anyone He chooses whenever they accept it. Max Lucado said “Deathbed converts and lifelong saints enter heaven through the same gate.” It’s not about when you started the work it’s about where you are at the end of the day when the Master is handing out the payment.
So when I start to get down and I start to think things like “I wish my friends and family were closer” or “I wish I wasn’t ga-ga over a guy I can’t be with” or “I wish I had someone at work to talk with about how to do my job better” or “I wish I wasn’t so lonely all the time”, I can remind myself that God didn’t promise me a perfect life, but He did promise to always be with me, in the ups and the downs and the inbetweens. And there’s definitely comfort in that, but best of all, there’s hope. The future is bright if we chose to live according to God’s rules and not those of the world.
I have no idea if that makes sense to anyone else, but it's what I've been thinking about all day so I thought I'd share.

May 11, 2008

Amsterdam in Bloom

My Aunt Karen sent me these great pictures from her trip to Amsterdam. They're gorgeous! It makes me really excited for spring.

The Plight of the Tall

Last weekend I went to a graduation open house for my former roommate (congrats Joanna, MSW). She got a new digital camera as a gift and it made it's way around the party taking pictures here and there. This is my favorite picture of the night:Poor Grant, he posed with three girls who are almost a foot and 1/2 shorter than him and look what happened. It's a perfect example of what tall people go through every day...ignored and abused. But freakin' hilarious!
Here's the second take:

May 7, 2008

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

by E. L. Konigsburg
This is one of those books that has won awards and been raved about for years and years by teachers and librarians and parents all over the world. I read it when I was a kid, but I didn't remember much about the story so I decided to read it again. It's a good story, but I'm not sure it's quite as good as everyone has been telling me it is.

It's the story of two kids, Claudia and her younger brother Jamie, who run away from home and decide to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It's very, very dated, which I had a hard time getting past. Jamie is in charge of their money and keeps harping about how much everything costs when the amounts given are so low. 10 cents to take the bus, and crazy stuff like that.

I also had a hard time reading about how they adapted to living in the museum. They slept on a bed that was on display and stashed their bags in open vases and a sarcophagus. I kept cringing each time they touched something like that. My job as an archivist is to protect documents and items for the next generation. Reading about some kids using priceless artifacts for storage made it really hard to enjoy the adventure of living in the museum. I'm much more aware of the damage that can occur when things are stepped on, sat on, slept on and even just innocently touched. It all adds up and can lead to irreversible damage.

So, I guess if you aren't an archivist or a museum curator, this would be an innocent adventure story about a young girl trying to find her place in the world and her helpful brother who tags along, but I don't think I'd recommend it to anyone in my field.

Iron Man

I saw Iron Man last night and it was a night well spent. It was one of the best comic book movie adaptations that I've seen (and come to think of it, I think I've seen them all). Robert Downey, Jr. was such a fun surprise. He was quick and witty and really natural and funny. I loved watching the scenes when he was working in his lab, or in the cave, tinkering and creating. I actually believed that he was that smart, and his "lab assistants" were great comedy relief.

I did wish that there were more scenes of him "saving the day", but hopefully there will be a sequel with more of that.
The only part that was hard to take was the whole "glowing piece of metal in the chest" part. I was really squeamish during those scenes and actually still shiver a little when I think about them. But it was easy to know when to look away.

It was also great to see a cast of one of these movies that was older and more mature. There were no teeny-bopper types which I think gave the story more gravitas.

Two thumbs up!

May 6, 2008

Books Live On

"The world of books
Is the most remarkable creation of man
Nothing else that he builds ever lasts
Monuments fall
Nations perish
Civilizations grow old and die out
And after an era of darkness
New races build others
But in the world of books are volumes
That have seen this happen again and again
And yet live on
Still young
Still as fresh as the day they were written
Still telling men's hearts
Of the hearts of men centuries dead"
-Clarence Day

Movin' on Down

I went to the store last night to buy new jeans and I've gone down a size. I swear I think I heard the Hallelujah Chorus in the dressing room.

May 5, 2008

Stupid Allergies

Today is the first day since I started this new job that my allergies have been affected (or is it effected) by my workplace environment. I work with old, dusty, dirty books and papers and I'm not usually bothered. But today was bad. We had a nice older gentleman come to the library to do an appraisal of a collection of about 1,500 books. They are all in my office, but they usually just sit on the shelf. Today he was pulling them off the shelf, opening them (shocking!) and doing other things to distribute the dust. We're also doing a project where we are "weeding" the old, unused items in the library collection to make room for newer stuff. My part of the project is to go through each one and change the entry in the catalog so that it doesn't show up anymore. These books are also old and dusty (because of the lack of use) and I'm now surrounded by them. All these dust carriers coupled with the spring weather junk in the air outside means that my allergies were acting up all day.
And it was bad...pathetic bad. I had a runny nose all day, and an intermittent, annoying cough. And my right eye was irritated and watery. Not both eyes, just my right eye, which means, half the day I looked like I was crying because my eye was watering and I was sniffling and the rest of the day I was unintentionally winking/blinking at the book appraiser. I really hope he doesn't get the wrong idea.
It got a little bit better after I went home and took my contacts out, but I'm not looking forward to tomorrow. I'm going to have to schedule breaks every hour to leave my office and stand somewhere with better air quality for a while. The bright side in this situation is that my apartment is awesome and clean so that's not adding to the problem like my old place did.
Ah well...I guess it's the price I pay for an awesome job.

May 1, 2008

Heroics for Beginners

By John Moore
2004 – Ace Books

I have kind of a loud laugh and I really like to laugh and I tend to laugh at just about anything (movies, tv commercials, stupid jokes, people falling down), but when I’m reading and I come across a funny part I am more reserved. I tend to smile and quietly chuckle. Every now and then, I come across a book that makes me laugh out loud quite heartily. It happened when I was reading the first Harry Potter book and it’s happened each time I read a Stephanie Plum novel. It happened again with this new book that I randomly picked up last summer.

It’s called Heroics for Beginners and it follows the story of Prince Kevin who is normally a laid back diplomatic type, but is forced into action when an Ancient Artifact (Model Seven) is stolen from a neighboring kingdom and the king promises his daughter’s hand to the hero who can bring back the artifact and defeat the Evil Overlord and stop him from completing his Diabolical Plan. Kevin’s problem is that he is in love with the Princess (they’ve actually been secretly dating for a year) and has no desire to see her married off to some other candidate.
This book is intensely tongue-in-cheek. It pokes fun at itself like a less raunchy Mel Brooks parody, but at the same time you’re rooting for Kevin and Princess Becky who secretly follows him trying to be his comic sidekick even though she can’t tell a joke to save her life. It’s full of minions, evil assistants, kidnapped scientists, a really menacing Diabolic Device, and an Evil Overlord who started as an Evil Schoolteacher (he gave pop quizzes, and no partial credit for math problems).

I actually liked this book so much that I had an intense desire to read portions of it out loud, and I hate when people do that. Nevertheless, here’s one of the parts that I loved. Kevin and Becky have been captured and they are in the torture chamber of the Fortress of Doom being interrogated by the Evil Overlord, Voltmeter:

“I don’t know anything.”
Voltmeter made a motion with his hand. Stan [the chief minion] brought over a small wooden desk and set it in front of Kevin. He set an inkwell down on it and put a pen in Kevin’s hand.
“You will spare yourself and your friend a lot of pain if you cooperate.”
“If I talk, will you release my companion?”
“Kevin!” said Becky. “Don’t do it!”
“I’ll release you both,” said Voltmeter.
“Yeah, well ok then.”

[Voltmeter] produced a blue examination booklet from under his cloak and laid it down in front of Kevin. “You have ten minutes to write down everything you know.”
Kevin raised his hand. “Does spelling count?”
“Certainly. You may open your booklet…now.”

See what I mean. Hi-LAR-ious!

Matthew 6:25-34 (ESV)

25"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And which on your by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33But seek first the kingdom of God and his righeousness, and all these things will be added to you.
34Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."

Blues Brothers

Since moving to the Joliet area I've been told quite a few times that I need to watch The Blues Brothers movie. Apparently it's set in Chicago, and one of the main character is named Joliet Jake. I haven't gotten around to it yet, but it's on a to do list somewhere. I did run into the brothers (or at least their life size statues) at Midway airport so I feel slightly justified. I also saw a police car that I swear was from the movie, but I haven't gone back to take a picture yet (and it's possible that I was lost when I saw it so I may not know where to go to find it again).