Archive for October 2007

Mama at the Movies: Manny and Lo

Manny & Lo is an old favorite of mine, a film I used to teach in my Women’s Studies classes and the occasional film class, too. I listed it in my original column pitch to Literary Mama, and it took me a year and a half to get around to it. And then of course, by the time I sat down to write about it, all the stuff I used to focus on when I taught the film — in my prior life, before I had kids — flew out of my head and I saw it a completely new way. So here’s what it makes me think about now:

When I was first pregnant, I dreamt my baby was a girl. She was beautiful in my dreams, with my husband’s blonde hair and blue eyes. But, nightmarishly, she was also a teenager, one of the popular ones. I woke in a cold sweat at the thought of producing a “mean girl,” like those that had so intimidated me in high school. I ended up having a boy, but I still think sometimes about what a daughter of mine might be like, about how I’d mother her. And I think about that particularly when I watch a movie like Manny & Lo (Lisa Krueger, 1996), about two tough girls who could use some mothering.

Click on over to Literary Mama to read the rest.

Happy Birthday, Irma!

My sister reminded me that today is Irma Rombauer’s birthday. For those of you who don’t refer to your Joy of Cooking by her name, she is the author of Joy of Cooking, my kitchen dictionary. Irma is also my kitchen diary; following in my mother’s footsteps, I use the back, blank pages to record my annual Christmas baking. It’s not such an impressive list as my mom’s, yet; she used to host enormous open houses throughout the holiday season, and her cookie baking would extend into dozens of batches. But I’m getting there, and we’ll be home for Christmas this year (with my parents visiting!) so there’ll be ample opportunity to add to the list.

Here’s what I’ve baked in the past:

Christmas ’98 (dissertation-writing)
bourbon balls
chocolate/almond biscotti
lemon butter stars
coconut palm trees
gingerbread men
almond crescents
chocolate crinkle cookies
chocolate/chocolate mint chip cookies
raspberry thumbprints

no record of 1999 (job market) or 2000 (my first married Christmas)

Christmas 2001 (pregnant)
bourbon balls
lemon cornmeal stars
coconut palm trees
chocolate crinkle cookies
chocolate glazed toffee bars
raspberry thumbprints

no record of 2002, because we were hospitalized with a very sick baby

Christmas 2003 (21-month old baby)
pneumonia, strep throat, bronchitis and truffles

no record of 2004, as we were packing up the house to renovate

Christmas 2005 (7-month old baby; our house under renovations)
gingerbread men
lemon polenta stars

Christmas 2006 (Ben helping with the baking!)
gingerbread men
chocolate crinkle cookies
pistachio-cranberry cookies
chocolate-dipped candied orange peel

Tomorrow, I’ll post the batter-stained recipe to which my Joy of Cooking falls open when I pull the book off the shelf.

Movie Minutes

Violeta’s comment on my Gone Baby Gone post reminds me that it’s time for a movie round-up:

Into the Wild: This movie is haunting me. The actors are wonderful and the script is first-rate. The cinematography is gorgeous (Sean Penn’s taken some heat for loving the scenery too much, but for me, the depiction of the landscape served as another way to understand the main character and also, frankly, as a bit of an antidote to the narrative). But this is not an easy movie for a mother to watch; it’s harder, even, than Gone Baby Gone. I sat in the theater wondering how I could guarantee that one of my children won’t someday break my heart, and coming up with no good answer.

Michael Clayton: This is a totally compelling mystery thriller. The details of the plot escape me now–a big bad pharmaceutical company and the law firm in its pocket–but they hardly matter. It’s a character-driven film about various forms of addiction (to drugs, to gambling, to power); bad choices; and fatherhood.

Across the Universe: Director Julie Taymor created this musical based on the Beatles songbook. She’s a genius. This is the most visually inventive film I’ve seen all year; it’s gorgeous and surprising. The actors are terrific, the song choices make you think, the story is timely, and yes, that is Bono making an appearance as a school bus evangelist.

Mad Hot Ballroom: A documentary about a dance program in the New York City public schools. I love that the school district has set aside time and money to teach their middle schoolers ballroom dancing; it seems like a brilliant way to address the terrible awkwardness of early adolescence and help kids through it. There’s a huge cast of characters here, from the various teachers to the kids, and I didn’t feel like we really got to know many of them very well until the end, when we’re told (but not shown well enough) how dancing helped the kids. But my biggest gripe about this very sweet, very inspiring movie is that while we see a lot of dancing, we see it from the waist up, without nearly enough long shots or views of these dancers’ feet!

Becoming Jane: A costume drama about Jane Austen — what’s not to like? It’s all very pretty and way too modern and mostly implausible, but set all that aside: it’s a pleasant place to spend a couple hours.

The Daring Book for Girls

I’ve been dying to see my copy ever since Elrena posted about hers (sometimes living on the west coast really tries my patience!) and it has finally arrived, and it is gorgeous. But I didn’t get much time to flip through it before Ben grabbed it out of my hands. “Hey!” he said, delighted. “Now we have the boy version and the girl version! I wonder what there is in here for me?”

“Take a look,” I said, “and see what interests you.”

He found the basketball section, right up front, and studied that a while, then flipped ahead to softball, and looked at how that differs from what he knows about baseball.

Flip, flip… Double Dutch Jump Rope: “Wow, look at that! that’s a cool long rope; I want to try that…”

Flip, flip, flip… Every Girl’s Toolbox, with a pause to look at which of those tools he and Eli have toy versions of, and which Tony has downstairs in his workshop (I do not currently have a toolbox, having deferred household improvement tasks to my more skilled husband. But, I should note that it was my mom who wired my dollhouse with electric lights and continues to wield a screwdriver as easily as a rolling pin, so I was raised properly…)

And finally, flip flip flip… pause, and then in a voice of quiet reverence, “Oh, Mama, look: Volcano Project.” Ben started to read it on his own, then we read it together. We talked about vinegar and baking soda a bit (a combination he’s watched work its magic in the kitchen, when we make soda bread), and then Ben said, “Hey, they should write that this is an activity for outside only.” Indeed, people, let’s keep those volcanoes outside!

Check back next month for my official MotherTalk review; in the meantime, Ben and I will be flip-flip-flipping through the book and embarking on daring projects.

Gone Baby Gone

It’s not been the easiest couple days, so tonight Tony offered to take the boys/kicked me out of the house, and after a happy hour browsing some downtown stores, I found myself buying a ticket for Gone Baby Gone, the new film directed by Ben Affleck.

Now, I was frankly too scared to see Mystic River, the last movie based on a Dennis Lehane novel, so it’s not like I thought this latest, about a child’s abduction, would make for a fun evening. But the reviews had intrigued me, and I thought it might be column fodder.

Well, the problem is, I can’t really write about it until every last one of you goes to see the movie. So go, now, watch the movie. It’s dark (of course), and subtle, and thought-provoking, and offers two of the best performances, by Casey Affleck, as an investigator, and Amy Ryan, as the child’s mother, I’ve seen in a while. It’s not going to give me nightmares, like I’d feared, but it is keeping me thinking.

So go, see the movie, and then let me know so that we can talk.

Currently Reading Meme

I am still behind on the memes I’ve been tagged for, but this one was easy, ie, requiring little of me in terms of reflection or writing ability. (My apologies, but if you’d seen my email inbox this weekend, you’d understand. Elrena, who tagged me for this one, certainly understands, as she sent me half that email as we were copyediting our book!) Anyway, all that work’s starting to ease up, my brain is starting to re-engage, and I’m reading the most fabulous book. I don’t think I’ll be able to part with it anytime soon, so don’t hold your breath that it’ll turn up in a Pay It Forward Book Exchange; I’m only half-way through, and I know this is one I’m going to start re-reading as soon as I finish.

Here are the rules:
“Open the book you’re currently reading to page 161, and post the fifth sentence on the page, then think of 5 bloggers to tag.”

And here is the sentence, a bit of dialogue between two of the novel’s main characters, Prue Winship, a gin distiller, and her younger sister, Tem; the setting is Brooklyn, late 18th century, just after their father’s death:

“The fires have been cold almost three weeks,” she told Tem, before her sister went off for her evening’s drinking, “Will you help?”

But that’s not the kind of sentence, fine as it is, that makes you run off and buy a book, so here’s another. It would probably be useful to know that Prue Winship, gin distiller, is hoping to build a bridge between Brooklyn and Manhattan:

“Prue thought if she could bridge the distance between here and the Other Side; if she could build a monument to expiate her sin and her folly, and to embody the love she had borne her parents, who’d crossed over too soon, before she was ripe to understand them; if she might take this wealth of money and skill her father had bequeathed her, and do something with it, for the public good and perhaps to the general wonderment–if all, if any, of these circumstances might come to pass, Will Severn could keep to himself, and Ben could remain in the wilderness, and she could never move a hair’s breadth closer to knowing where the dead resided, yet she would be happy the rest of her days.”

That’s a good sentence.

And now I tag Feed Your Loves, Midlife Mama, Marmee’s Musings, Fertile Ground, and LoveBug and RolleyPolley.

The View From My Shower This Morning

We spent the weekend with old friends up in Stinson Beach, an October tradition for the past three years, so that we can take the kids to the Bolinas pumpkin patch. I was distracted all weekend by various kinds of work, but it didn’t stop me from indulging in one of my favorite beach activities: the outdoor shower. Our friends’ house has a very simple one, just a shower head behind a wooden half-wall, but with a view like this–see where the sky meets the sea?–you sure don’t need more.

Another winner

This month’s Pay It Forward Book Exchange winner is Stacey! Thanks to those who entered, and tune in next month for another book.

And now for a break from our regular programming…

I’ve been all about reading and editing lately, no new writing at all. But Tony’s been productive, launching a new website, James Grant. So go check that out, enjoy the gorgeous artwork, and have a great weekend!

Pay It Forward Book Exchange

It’s time again for the Pay It Forward Book Exchange, as started by Overwhelmed with Joy. Here’s how it goes:

Once a month I’ll pick a book to give away to one lucky reader (you don’t have to have a blog to enter). It may be a book that I’ve purchased new or used, or it may be a book that someone has shared with me that I really like. It’ll probably be a paperback, just to make things easier, but no guarantees.

2) Details on how you can enter to win will be listed below.

3) If you’re the lucky winner of the book giveaway I ask that you, in turn, host a drawing to give that book away for free to one of your readers, after you’ve had a chance to read it (let’s say, within a month after you’ve received the book). If you mail the book out using the media/book rate that the post office offers it’s pretty inexpensive.

4) If you’re really motivated and want to host your own “Pay It Forward” giveaway at any time, feel free to grab the button above to use on your own blog. Just let her know so she can publish a post plugging your giveaway and directing readers your way!

So there you have it, the Pay It Forward Book Exchange, designed to encourage people to read, to share good books, to possibly get you out of your reading comfort zone, and to get fun stuff in the mail instead of just bills!”

So here’s how to enter: leave a comment saying, “I want to enter.” That’s it. No muss, no fuss. I’ll randomly choose one lucky commenter on October 20th and mail the book out; you agree to give the book away when you’re done with it, via your own Pay It Forward Book Exchange or, if you don’t blog, by donating it to a local library or shelter.

This month’s book: Elizabeth Costello by J. M. Coetzee.