Friday, February 27, 2009

Thus ended my prejudice against that warm, brownish thing they call tea

This yummy cup of awesome was my salvation last week when I wasn't feeling well.  Chest congestion is the only thing that can ever induce me to drink hot tea.  Until now.  Now I will drink it for soul congestion as well.  For Mondays and Wednesdays and the cold, dark days of January.  Any time the bills outweigh the booty or I hear too much about the economy - bring on the tea.  Now that I've discovered its powers.  

You know I wasn't feeling well last week, and my mother one day recommended hot tea, as any proper mother should.  I remembered a sense of cozy warmth the last time my chest had hurt like this, so I was for it.  I boiled water in a plain old soup pot.  I had a variety of tea bags around - a gift from Mom at Christmas I think? - and chose spicy chai.  Then I dipped the water from the plain old pot using a plain old ladle, but I poured it over the tea bag into this beautiful pink-budded cup on its matching saucer.  And that, I'm pretty sure, created the magic.

My Australian friend sent me this tea set, because we always said we wished we could have tea together.  It came up because of our mutual love for Anne of Green Gables and the fact that in Australia, they actually have tea.  (Jake and I call it snack).  She sent it, I'm pretty sure, during the cancer year so it holds the added intention of, "If there was anything I could do to ease your pain, I'd do it - and here is a wonderfully sweet tea set for starters."  

The combination of that wonderfully spicy-chaied warmth and the feeling that Bec was actually reaching across the ocean to pat my weary soul (plus the added aspect of having obeyed my mother, which rarely fails me) - all worked together to soothe every corner of my being.  I had no idea a cup of tea could pack so much miracle power in it, but I'll never forget it again.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

if you've ever had a Monday

Michael's cousin posted this video on her Facebook today, and I think it should be broadcast for the entire country.  THIS is a State of the Union address right here.  It will make you laugh, it will make you cringe, and when you're done watching it you'll probably microwave leftovers without complaining and actually thank someone for bagging your groceries.  Everything is so amazing, and nobody's happy.  Preach it, Funny Guy.

(For more from this guy, his name is Louis C.K., and you can find him on his website).

Monday, February 23, 2009

I hope Dad comments, so I'll know where he's at in the room

If I were in charge, I'd get Hugh Jackman to sign a contract right now for the next few years.  The Oscars are better I think for a little familiarity, and I miss the days of the tried-and-true host who's both a funny man, a classy man, and a music man - and Hugh won on all counts I think.  On the other hand, here's to changing things up - like the prettiest set design ever, the return of the big musical numbers, and the five previous winners honoring personally each nominee in the acting categories.  One of my favorite parts of the Oscars:  Watching them react to each other, and those categories were stuffed full of moving.

Here are some nominees for my favorite moments:  First up, the musical numbers.  I told you I think even life should "periodically burst into song, and dance about the stage," so I was all for the very cool opening number, the heart-stopping "Musical is Back" routine, and the performances of the three nominated songs.  (What happened to five?  For a year in which the musical is back, there was a shocking lack of big movie songs apparently).  I even liked it when Hugh cracked up during the unique song about not yet having seen The Reader.  And, while I'm signing contracts, I think Beyonce should be considered the official Oscar singer.  Remember the year she sang three of the five songs, and they were all in such a unique style?  She's just really, really good.  Plain and simple.

Next I wrote down, "Heath's family."  It was a very gracious acceptance speech from the people who surely knew Heath Ledger the best.  But what moved me most were the tears in the audience.  I wondered which of them had been his dear friends, which of them cried simply because of a young life lost too soon, and which of them - perhaps - were parents too and empathized with the painfully beautiful thought of accepting such a high honor for a child who shouldn't have, but did, go before you.

I like it when people seem to notice us out there on our couches with popcorn soaking in every minute.  I like it when they say, "I used to give this speech with a shampoo bottle," (a la Kate Winslet last night), or when they remind us that, "Anything's possible".  Last night my favorite moment like that was when the director for Slumdog Millionaire complimented the beautiful set design, saying, "I don't know what it looks like at home, but here it's bloody wonderful."  I believe you, Mr. Boyle, yes I do.  And it's so nice of you to tell me that like you're the friend of a friend who lucked out enough to know somebody who knows somebody who got you into the show and then took a picture of it on your blackberry and texted it my way.  I now feel even more like I was there.

I mentioned the musical numbers, right? (Here's a You Tube video of The Musical is Back).

But then, after all this, came my favorite part of all.  I know for sure it was my favorite, because I found the clip HERE, and I've watched it over and over today.  It was Kate Winslet's father whistling to her across that huge room of somebodys.  Her reaction was like end-of-the-movie, thank-God-they-found-each-other, dreams-come-true sublime.  

Of course, the soundtrack to this year's Oscars was apparently Jai Ho from Slumdog Millionaire (some of the cast pictured here by KaushiK on Flickr) - a movie I am SO GLAD I saw before Oscar night.  And what a great movie to win so many Oscars.  It's about rising above, finding your destiny, fighting for love - all the good stuff.  Where I watched the show, we wore bright yellow scarves in honor of the movie and that happy theme.  Jai Ho means, "May the victory be yours."  I am loving that.

Friday, February 20, 2009

most exciting thing that ever exited a furniture truck outside my door

Important update to to the category of what I'm looking forward to most:  He's going to SING AND DANCE.  Hugh Jackman, I mean.  (pictured here by edison0618 on Flickr).  I heard it from his own mouth.  (Although not technically in person of course).  I stand firmly in the camp that believes almost any program - or, you know, moment in LIFE - is improved by a song and dance number.  I'd rather watch a really cheesy Nick-and-Jessica type variety show than song-less, monotonous reality t.v. any day.  So I have officially put this as number one - okay, maybe second to the montages - on my list. The Oscars are going to rock this year; I can feel it.

In other what-I-watched-while-recuperating-from-a-cold news, I saw The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants sequel the other day.  There was a great moment where America Ferrera's character talked about the delicious language used in the play she was rehearsing for.  She complained at how lazy we are now - how much prettier phrases were then and how much richer it felt to speak that way.  "Why don't people talk like that anymore?" she wailed.  I loved that part.  I love the idea that if we would just stop and savor the little things in life a little more, our lives would be so much richer.  We tend to live through life rather than in it sometimes. And I love it when a book or a movie suggests that we stop and take it in a bit. The  National Treasure movies have some great lines like that too, which brings me to my little Hollywood gem for the day.

Do you ever find yourself vaguely remembering a movie line?  You know it moved you, but you can't quite remember what it was.  Let me introduce you to (as if you didn't already know) a little thing called IMDB - the Internet Movie Database.  You know you can find out who was in what film there, but you can also find a wealth of great movie quotes.  The page is called "Memorable Quotes" for each movie, so I usually get there by typing that phrase and the movie title into a search engine.  You'll be spouting poetic in no time.  

In honor of living life richly, allow me to cyber-celebrate a little gift I received yesterday from The Man himself:  This dark wooden rectangle of wonderful, our new table.

We have never in our married life bought ourselves a table.  Hand-me-downs work just as well for eating on.  Only I so don't believe that now.  This glorious piece of furniture has officially become the centerpiece for my lucky life.  I touch it every time I walk by.  We christened it last night with company and everything - company I would have the previous night seated in the living room with a t.v. tray rather than sit at our chipped wooden table with the hard, flat decades-old benches.

I'm working on the song and dance routine as we speak.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Life is richer when you organize it into categories for Academy Awards

I still have Oscar fever around here.  Along with the actual fever, as in, "Leave the bread by the wagon, Pa, I've got the fever and we're quarantined."  But it's just that nasty cold sort of plague that doesn't keep me from pretty much carrying on as normal.  Instead, it just makes me feel zero guilt when I choose the couch and a movie over yoga, or pouring over enjoyable books on my lunch hour and evening stretches instead of more productive things like laundry and novel writing.  I look forward to feeling better, but in the meantime I'm sucking the marrow out of the sniffly, achy, wheezing permission to take more in from life this week than I'm giving out.  

Besides the sickness, there is another reason I'm either reading a book or watching a movie in all my spare time.  It's hard to do anything else when I literally have myself tied down with sheets lest I bug my agent this week with a daily "What's happening now?".  There was a little movement with the manuscript last week, though nothing concrete.  The last I talked to my agent she sounded very positive and hopeful and was off to see what she could make out of the positivity.  So I'm sitting tight.  Michael, as you may remember from previous posts, has a horror of being uncool and has told me to refrain from anxious phone calls or silly emails in which I say things like, "Hey Hol, how's the weather on Fifth Avenue?" when what I really mean is, "What's happening already?!"  And for God's sake, don't actually write anything like the latter.  Just BE cool.  And I'm thoroughly obeying him, meanwhile devouring distracting entertainment like a tonic.

So here's some of the tonic I've been devouring, organized into completely subjective and ridiculously pretend Oscar categories.

Most inspiring DVD for pursuing the writing dream 'til I die:  Miss Potter.  Ooh, this is a good one.  Rene Zellweger plays the slightly eccentric, very proper-yet-independent author who convinces me that I will not rest until I'm able to buy a farm in the English country with my book earnings - or some dream equally true to my own life - and it was the first time I wanted two characters to rebel against 19th century propriety and just say I love you already!  Also, I've never seen animation add such a subtle charm to a film.  No girl should marry a man who isn't willing to talk to her imaginary rabbit.  That scene was too sweet.

Favorite song downloaded to my iTunes so I can remember how it made me feel in the movie:  Currently Love You Til the End from P.S. I Love You.  What do you think comes first:  A great song?  Or the movie that makes the song great?  I'm sure it's a combo, but there is just something about those songs that evoke the emotions you felt in a great film.  Also recently added to my iTunes:  Thinking Over from Raising Helen and When You Say Nothing At All from Notting Hill.  Songs from movies are almost always my favorites.

What I'm looking forward to the most:  The nominees are:  Hugh Jackman. I think he's a classy choice for host.  I'm not expecting humor a la Billy Crystal or even Jon Stewart, but I'd so much rather look at him all night than Whoopie.  The speeches.  I like to see who can avoid all cliches - no comment on how heavy Oscar actually is, and no "I should have prepared a speech".  Because, yes, you should have.  I want poetry, tears and/or laughter, and the appropriate balance between humility and celebration. (Good luck with that).  The people.  That's really the best part I suppose - so many of our favorite entertainers in one place, all dressed up prettily.  I like to watch them react to each other.  I love it when they can make each other laugh and cry and cheer.  But the winner is:  The music montages.  I want to hear dramatic soundtracks with clip after clip after clip of the movies I've loved.  I really like that part.  (But not without the rest).

Monday, February 16, 2009

books on film

It's Oscar week.  Meaning, that on Sunday night you should be able to find me on a couch somewhere with popcorn, Reeses Pieces, and a Diet Coke literally glued to a television screen while Hollywood celebrates itself and produces the most glamorous commercial ever for pretentious movies we might not otherwise have seen - as well as a few nods to those we all saw.  

In honor of that, my favorite night in television, I'm talking movies this week.  That may mean this is the only post you get, because it's not like I have it all planned out.

You may notice this is not a picture of a movie but of the book that birthed a movie.  I just read it as I loved the movie, and friends told me the book was so much better.  I assumed I would agree with them but also felt a little trepidation having seen the movie first and loved it so much.  Sure enough, in this case, I prefer the movie.  Now, I'm pretty sure there's a club I'm being kicked out of right now.  It's literary and writer-supportive and thoroughly convinced that the book is always better.  And I just totally shamed them.

I love books.  Love, love, love them.  I write them for goodness' sake.  And I read them, and I adore them.  This one is truly lovely.  The premise is absolutely beautiful, the characters are loveable, it's realistic and uplifting.  It's just very good.  Almost the only major plot difference is that the movie is set in America about an American who fell in love with an Irishman.  In the book, they are all, of course, Irish.  I really enjoyed that aspect of the movie - probably because I saw it that way first.  The relationship between Holly and her husband in the book is kind of plain in comparison.  In the movie, it is rich and poetic and unique.  Also, his letters to her in the movie just have more umph.  He is not just giving her a list of things to get done but a journey for finding herself again.  I think this was the point of the book as well, but it wasn't as poignant.  I missed the soundtrack, the gorgeous clothes, and the tighter humor that comes with the collaborative effort and condensed time frame of film.

Also, I missed the creative aspect.  That was the most relatable part of the film for me - the way she used to want to create things.  In the book, she simply finds a job.  In the movie, she finds a beautiful creative outlet you can't help but think she was destined for.  

I think the reason the book is usually better is because it is more.  It develops the characters more thoroughly.  It tells the story at a slower, richer pace.  It requires more imagination and therefore gets inside you in a way movies sometimes can't.  In this case, I felt the film gave me more.  It's possible that I was just swept up by the dreamy Irish guys, the moving music, and the pretty shoes.  Which are all things the film medium loves to give us.  There's another club that celebrates that.  I'm a member of it too, but you just can't always please them both at once.

Friday, February 13, 2009

but just that place in between

Here is some love to start off your weekend.  It's not a great picture because I was sitting above and behind them on a stool and tried to inconspicuously hold the camera in front of them while they listened to the story.  

The story taught us about St. Valentine, the Christian physician/priest attributed with healing a little girl's blindness.  I didn't even know this man existed really.  I kind of thought Valentine's Day was invented by St. Hallmark.

You know where I learned about this Christian man and how he was killed by Roman execution for his faith?  In public school.  I kept waiting for someone to flinch or throw stones or rush their poor defiled child from the room because they were being inundated with Christian teaching in a public school.  But it didn't happen.  So I just soaked it in.  It was a very nice story about how he tried and tried to heal the girl with a little salve he had made.  Then he was taken to jail and from there wrote her a note that said, "From your Valentine."  And apparently the girl regained her sight at some point after that.

But before we Christians get too cocky about how one of our own is the reason for this awesome celebration of love, you have to read the Afterward.  It's there that we learned that although St. Valentine did send that letter and was executed on February 14th, it was on February 15th that the Romans (those crazy pagans) had a celebration each year in which the young maidens wrote notes that were drawn from a jar by the young men who would then court them.  Put the two together, and wah-lah, the founders of Hallmark rake in their glowing, love-filled profits.

There are a lot of Christian holidays and traditions that come straight from those crazy pagans.  We're always trying to take their stuff and make it holy and call it our own.  But I don't really see it that way.  Almost everything in place today is a combination of several ideas.  "There is nothing new under the sun," the bible says.  Personally, I believe Jesus holds the corner on the market of Love.  What I believe about Him - absolutely believe - makes His love the best, the most wonderful, the only one without reproach or hidden agenda.  So I like the story of St. Valentine, a man who believed that too.  But I like the story of the Roman maidens as well.  And I don't mind if they are really the ones who gave us the idea to slap some love on a note and hand it to someone we care about.  I don't mind that at some point the two traditions came together or even that today it seems more like a celebration of capitalism than of love.  None of that can undermine what real love is and that in so many places all over the globe - real Love is happening every day and spreading like wildfire.  

I love this holiday.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

do you suppose Great Wolf Lodge will pay me for this endorsement?

I remember Dad telling me once that kids like repetition.  After being at a water park with Jake for two days, I've decided that is an understatement equal only to, I'm okay with eating chocolate and we sort of have to breathe to stay alive.  I sort of got a clue the first day when the older kids were rarely in the same part of the park for longer than five minutes, most of the adults varied their activity off and on, and I sat watching Jake go up the stairs and down the red slide so many times that I ceased to discern the difference between the slide and the water.  The next day Michael mentioned that he was feeling kind of ashamed that most parents were 

in the pool with their kids while we sat idly by as Jake made a playmate out of his hand.  I am not even kidding.  He talks to his hand sometimes.  He calls it Jakey, asks if Jakey would like to do this or that, answers, yes okay, and then does it.  He also got really tired by the second leg of the second day and wanted to keep playing but could barely hold his head up.  So, I decided to join him.

He held out his hand.  We walked together up the stairs.  He let go, plopped on the blue slide (the second day's riveting variation) and slid down while I descended the stairs on the other side.  Then he held out his hand again, I grabbed it, and we did the whole thing again until I was literally dizzy.  Somehow walking around and around that little routine felt more engaging than just watching him do it.  And I needed some variety by that point.  Plus, he didn't talk to his hand anymore as long as I was holding it.

We were at an indoor water park in Kansas City celebrating my sister-in-law Mary's birthday.  Which is interesting, because I didn't see that girl go down a single slide.  She even told me she's squeamish - the heights, the plummeting from them - all of it.  She has kids the ages of my older two, and one could assume that she chose the location for the uninterrupted rest and reading time that comes with the children being so happily occupied.  Trust me, though, there are much quieter places to read and relax.  Places where hundreds of children don't run around you screaming, shaking water on you with their oblivion and dumping it on you on purpose if you chase your toddler through the jungle gym area underneath the log in which they have been storing it up.  Places where the smell of chlorine hasn't reached toxic levels.  This, I believe, is the power of motherhood.  To find a place thrilling simply because it is that thrilling to your children.  We're going to sleep right upstairs from three giant water slides and the pools and log-climby things and tree house with the giant bucket on top that dumps 1000 gallons of water every 5 minutes?  AND I CAN GO THERE?!  These are not the words of a twenty-five or so (you're welcome, Mary) year-old woman.  They are the words of her children, and therefore music to her ears.  It is so stinking fun to thrill them.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

it's February fifth - this is only the beginning

"Well," John Michael said yesterday, "My career as student of the month ends today."  I've never known January to fly before now, but it seems like he was accepting that bright orange cup and handful of restaurant certificates just yesterday.  I guess I need to update my pictures in the side bar.  You should probably expect lots of mush this month.  Not mush as in nothing-much but mush as in, if you think I talk about Christmas magic a lot until the end of the December, just wait 'til I unleash my V-Day love on you.  

My first date with Michael was on Valentine's Day, so February 14 makes me all giddy inside and February in general makes me pretty nostalgic, and 1996 was the best year EVER.  I have all boys, so we don't make our valentines from red construction paper and white doilies like we used to with my Mom when we were little.  Unfortunately, they usually have light sabers or Spongebob or something.  Of course, there was the year John picked the God ones.  Proud mama moments were gushing all over the place the night he filled those out with commentary about the friend whose dad doesn't like him, "So I think I'll give that friend the one about how God is love."  That's very nice, John, and if you'll excuse me I have to go write in your journal how completely awesome you are.

I keep journals for all the boys.  John's is full of super emotional mama trauma while I navigate not-getting-a-puppy-for-Christmas and starting him in public school and apologizing profusely when we added another sibling as if perhaps he wasn't enough all by himself.  Drew's is the future script for a stand-up comedian.  Jake's is one giant love letter as well as a new round of trauma as I try to figure out how to raise the baby of the family without making him one and how to celebrate the heck out of the miracle that is his existence while letting him be his own person.

I started John's journal before he was born.  I bought it while out of town with my family.  My brother told me it was awesome, "I mean, he won't appreciate it until he's, like, 35, but still - very cool."  Now that I have three boys, I'm actually wondering if they'll ever appreciate them.  Do they really want to read about the first time they said "I love you"?  The way I felt about their kindergarten teacher? The little hand motion he made as a baby that looked like he was revving a motorcycle?  I'm not sure.  Their journals might just be for me.  A way to freeze time a little.  Which, if I do right by them, isn't something they're going to want to do with their childhood.  

Except maybe Drew.  He's so going to want to remember the time I was stressing in the grocery store about all the things I had yet to do that night, and he waved the spaghetti noodles at me and said with ultimate sensitivity, "And you gotta fix me some supper, because I'm hungry." 

Monday, February 2, 2009

cupcakes in manhattan

If you're one of those people who can't understand why people care when celebrities leave their homes and what they wear and which beaches they frequent, then you probably won't understand this.  But I have a tiny obsession with Katie Holmes and Suri Cruise.  It started because Katie was pregnant with Suri the same time I was pregnant with Jake.  And I kept hearing about the expensive layettes Katie bought and the two thousand dollar bassinet she purchased twice for different parts of the house, etc., etc.  Then not long after our babies were born, Tom and Katie got married, and I read of the designer gowns made just for little Suri and saw pictures of the castle they were married in.  Around that time I was holding Jake in my arms and looking out our big, sunshiny window onto the pretty street outside, and I asked him, "Would you be happier if your home were more like Suri's?"

He was way too young to answer me in words.  But I've never been more sure of anything than I was of his response.  

Now I still enjoy the pictures of Katie and Suri taking on Manhattan with Suri's adorable little dresses and Katie's cute mom-crop.  I loved the one recently where they were sharing cupcakes, because I'd read of Katie's love for them long before Suri was born.  I try not to think of their lives as better than mine - but just kind of parallel, with a lot more cameras around.  It's been over a year since the last paparazzi shot of Jake and I - this one above while watching the homecoming parade in our small town.  And I don't think it really counts as paparazzi when the guy gets you to sign a release afterwards.  It's not exactly cupcakes in Manhattan, but it was our life, and we were totally starring in it.

Have you seen The Holiday?  Because this is the perfect time for yet another life-altering movie quote:

Arthur:  Iris, in the movies we have leading ladies and we have the best friend.  You, I can tell, are a leading lady, but for some reason you are behaving like the best friend.

Iris:  You're so right.  You're supposed to be the leading lady of your own life, for God's sake!

I'm thinking all those great movie lines we quoted last week - if we apply them - can help us play the leading roles in our own lives.  It's taken a while, but at this point I don't watch the celebrities because I wish I were them.  I don't watch them for their clothes or their bags or their shoes or their shoe closets.  I watch them because bits and pieces of their lives are just exactly like ours, and it's fun to see that celebrated and photographed and put in a shiny magazine.  Did you see Brad and Angelina navigating the airport with six kids?  The next time you walk out the mundane - imagine a photographer cares.  It could totally elevate the experience for you - and remind you who's playing the lead.