31 March 2012

First quarter 2012 - Reading and watching

i think every three months im going to do this entry on things ive recently read or watched (and enjoyed). consider yourself warned. also, please feel free to give suggestions for future reads/watches and let me know if youve read/watched any of these things and what your thoughts were.

- "mayflower". 4/5. started this a week or so before thanksgiving, to get in the spirit. it took me so long to finish because it was a frustrating history to read. it appears the same prejudice, disrespectful, mind-boggling behavior still active in america today was evident in the very first batch of white people who successfully settled the country. happily, the actual first "thanksgiving" meal was almost as it is portrayed in the rose-colored-glasses story we are told in school as kids. what the white man did with this initial friendship among two very different peoples, is our historical burden to bear. also, why have they never made a movie about benjamin church? the dude was brave and smart, appeared to really love his wife and was (at least compared to the men of his time) able to get past race and make decisions based on peoples character. and, an interesting fact from the book: in 2002, it was estimated that 35 million descendants of the mayflower were in the u.s. (roughly 10% of the total population!).

- "mr darcys bite". 3.5/5. a diverting p&p fan fiction with mr darcy as a werewolf (2 days out of each month). the story picks up before he gives the final marriage proposal and continues on a fairly well-thread story. there were some added superfluous things and a few unnecessary changes to the original p&p that bugged me a bit, but it was a fun read overall.

- "bonk: the curious coupling of science and sex". 4/5. have you ever bought a cosmo (magazine)? do you have (even a mild) interest in science? do you like to laugh about off-beat and/or mildly taboo things? if you answer yes to even 2 of those 3 questions, you will enjoy this book. they should really put it on suggested reading lists for high school seniors/college kids, so that early sexual encounters could get off to an informed start (i know, parents would have an aneurysm though).

- "eiger dreams". 4/5. i really really enjoy jon krakauer books. his ability to put you in the action and keep you tense throughout the whole adventure is really amazing. i also love the way he researches his stories and lets the facts unfold so that you feel like no angle was left out, no fact-finding stone unturned. i have enjoyed all of his books thus far, and now have only to read his most recent two. highly recommend him as an author.

- "diary of frida kahlo: an intimate self-portrait". any fan of fridas would find this book fascinating. its her own diary with her expressions of life noted in prose, poetry, pictures. i was struck by her lifelong motto: "protect oneself from the bastards" and a free-flow entry in her journal: "bitter precocious - beautiful infamies", and her last written words (in her diary): "i hope the leaving is joyful - and i hope never to return." this helped lend yet another level of understanding to fridas long suffered yet beautiful life. she painted things that some people may not have wanted to look at, but she painted the pain and moments of her life, and many of those sentiments resonant with people around the world.

- "jane austen made me do it". 3/5. a collection of short stories inspired by jane austen. some were total crap, others were fun and lovely such as: "jane austens nightmare", "jane austen and the mistletoe kiss", "what would austen do?", "the love letter", and "intolerable stupidity".

- "ariel: the restored edition". sylvia plaths last poems. while reading, and enjoying (im sure thats not the right word to use when one reads suicidally-maddened-by-adultery poetry), i was struck by my apparent draw to seriously damaged women and their artful expression of their lives (sylvia and frida kahlo). i have always been terrible with poetry, and so my strategy for this was to read each poem once, not spending tons of time dwelling, and then go back to only those that really sat with me, to read again and contemplate. this is the only way i can do poetry, at present. the poems that impressed me (aka that i felt i understood and experienced strong emotion/imagery from the words) were: "morning song", "the applicant", "tulips", "the courage of shutting up", "a birthday present", "amnesiac", "the rival", and "daddy".

- "tom jones". 3.5/5. didnt realize this was 700+ pages of small font text! often billed as the first English novel, written in 1749, the book is witty, smart, and extremely observant. just loaded with truisms about human nature. the differing flow of language and (now) obscure words from centuries ago was what took me so long to get through this one. it was quite a commitment, and quite the interwoven and drawn out story. the first 100 pages were slow but sarcastic. the next 150 were just fun. the next 100 were a bit dense but were the groundwork for the rest of the storys movement. and the last 450 pages hurtled onwards toward the finish, going up and down in terms of excitement, humor, and intrigue. i really loved the intro "essay" chapter of each "book" in the history. fieldings observations of human nature were impressive. i love to see how alike people seem to have been over the centuries. im a fan of the book but i must say i dont think ive had to work so hard at a book since ive been out of school. i need a book break. movies...! (however, under NO circumstances should you attempt to watch "tom jones" the movie if you wish to glean any knowledge of the book. blah.)

- short david sedaris piece (comedy) about france and its socialized medicine, particularly focusing on dental care. hilarious and a bit scary. im still glad i didnt see a dentist in france.

- "countdown to zero". 4.5/5. ever since i read "hiroshima" in high school ive been curious and terrified about bombs. this is a documentary about the worlds nuclear weapons arsenal and its threat to humanity. if you dont like doing ab exercises, then watch this one. your gut will be tensed the whole time you are watching. the director gathered an astoundingly large pool of heavy-hitting interviewees (former u.s. president jimmy carter, cold war russian leader gorbachev, u.s. securities advisors, ivy league trained physicists, and other nuclear experts from around the world). the archive footage is also impressive and the message is VERY clear: we need to take the number of nuclear weapons in the world down to zero. it also put the whole "weapons of mass destruction" farce in iraq in a whole new light for me. there are dozens of countries that have nukes, and many are not friendly with the u.s., its really intense but very thought-provoking.

- "l'amour fou". 4/5. a french language (subtitled obviously) documentary about fashion designer yves saint laurent, only it was much more than that. sort of. this documentary had a bit of an unusual organizational style: yves partner, pierre berge, put their entire collection of art (2 or 3 houses worth) up for sale and so the film partly showcased the art and their several homes where said art was exquisitely displayed. exquisite is not the right word though, the whole ambiance from doorstep to backyard was so richly decorated, it was almost overwhelming. interwoven throughout images of their collection and it being boxed up to go to auction, pierre berge told the timeline of yves life. an interesting, shy man...he reminded me a lot of my youngest brother, especially his shy smile.

- "devils double". 4/5. a true story about saddam husseins oldest son and the man forced to live as his body double. i cannot understand how this was not up for some awards, the lead actor did a phenomenal job, and the cinematography was gorgeous. amazing that the "double" actually survived that situation and the satanic son actually got what was coming to him, not without leaving piles of dead women in his wake.

- "the kings speech". 4/5. yes, i am a wee late on this, but i think colin would forgive me. i could watch the man read the phone book, but i heartily approve of his oscar for this one. such a quiet character movie and he really gave us a whole, suffering person to experience. the stuttering plus the unusual accent must have been a challenge to do, but he also had to convey the royal world with his body language, facial expressions, etc. while still showing us what a kind and gentle man he was. and when colin shared a brief scene with jennifer ehle (she was the elizabeth to his darcy in the greatest p&p adaptation, ever!) i thought i would pee myself. bravo colin!

- "its kind of a funny story". 4/5. genuine, sweet, fun. a slice-of-life story about a kid who spends 5 days on a mental ward in the hospital. they dont take the "crazy" patients too far, and the story is easy to swallow. that zach galifianakis guy finally charmed me, and i liked seeing the lead kid again (he plays toni colettes son on "united states of tara"). nothing life changing here, but it was really well done. i was definitely pleasantly surprised. also enjoyed the david bowie song the characters performed, and the movies music in general.

- "arrested development reunion at the new yorker festival". 4/5. for any fan of the show, this is a wonderful appetizer. they have such real chemistry as a family, even off-screen. the genuine love and respect of fellow castmates was very apparent and the humor wasnt in short supply either.

- "buck". 4/5. documentary about the inspiration for the "horse whisperer". impressive man with an abused past with the best attitude about life and horses i could imagine. his compassion for the horses is amazing, and it actually speaks directly to parenting children too. i had a small lump in my throat the whole time i watched the movie, it was pretty moving. beautiful cinematography and horses.

- "midnight in paris". 4/5. paris is melt in your mouth yum here. owen wilson didnt even bug me. i loved the premise of nostalgia. the plot was light and fun and the french actors and actresses (love you marion cotillard) in the film transported me back to france. thank you. and woody allens portrait of the foul, conservative, wealthy american family "making the most of it" in paris while on a business trip made my skin crawl, which was actually an impressive feat since they werent on-screen for much of the film.

- "the last mountain". 4/5. about mountain-top coal mining (in appalachia). really well done documentary. all aspects were well woven together and the shots of the mountains and the current destruction were powerful enough, but the striking thing for me were the local people. amidst real poverty and vividly being the underdogs, they are still bound and determined to save their homes, their natural history, and their lives. i may not agree with them on issues of gun control or abortion, but these people are inspiring and respectable.

30 March 2012

Skypes the limit

really, there is no limit to how often i am surprised about the various ways there are to meet new people. 

so, once i knew dave and i were headed to finland for the interview, i posted a vague message on facebook. something like "finland. anyone been? thoughts." my boss (i really like this woman, and have found that facebook has been perfect for keeping these kinds of improbable relationships alive) from my public health internship in cheyenne, wyoming in the summer of 2004 told me she knew someone who was finnish. she emailed us both and left it up to us. then, i emailed this finnish woman, hannah, and wondered what (or if) i would end up talking to her about.

a couple days later, hannah responded with the most encouraging, enthusiastic pledge to aid me in the ways of finland i could ever have expected to get. it turns out her husband was a childhood friend of my ex-boss. hannah moved from sweden (though, she is finnish, born and raised) to minneapolis to start a life with him. and now they have a 1.5 year old daughter. are you following this so far? i can barely keep up. i couldnt believe my dumb luck to have (virtually) met a woman in a similar life situation to me and to be able to chat with her about the moderately obscure country of finland.

we set up a skype date, which elapsed due to both our children teething and not going to sleep at the proper time, and we finally connected today. we chatted for something like 1.5 hours! she was extremely helpful and enthusiastic (though she cautions me that she is no typical finn) and interested and engaging. she asked useful questions, gave helpful, thoughtful answers and we shared things about living as transplants. its too, too damn bad we cant live in the same city. although im sure we would likely never have met or realized what we have in common. leave it to something as random as a job interview and facebook to lead me to her. i love finding endearing people, and i am thankful to live in the age of computers and its (even pseudo)social connectedness that allows such meetings to occur. i'll take my human connection however and wherever i can get it these days.

now im wondering what will happen if we dont move to finland, we wont have a pressing reason to chat. but, perhaps we could figure something out... :)

24 March 2012

Helsinki job interview invite

alrighty, dave got a job interview this "season". woot!

as i mentioned back in october, dave began applying for jobs that piqued his (and our) interest based on job description, impressiveness of the school, location, and prospects of an interesting life. he heard back today from university of helsinki. they extended an interview, and have invited me (and X) to accompany him. as with the sweden job application, the finland folks had their applicants externally reviewed and dave came back as the top rated applicant. two impressive-in-their field guys reviewed daves application and spoke very highly of him. im always pleased as punch (though not surprised) to hear that highly respected geologists have such positive opinions of dave. he seems to even impress the most arrogant and opinionated of scientists. he has a way about him. hes open-minded, honest, and he doesnt try to sell you anything. he can mix well with anyone, just like his mom, and he has a strong work ethic, just like his dad. you gotta respect that.

anyway, in case you are wondering "why finland?", i will tell you, sort of. they have the best education system in the western world and they hover near the "top in the world" list among the overworked students of south korea, singapore, and china. finland has been written about a lot lately for their education system (article #1, #2, #3) and i was enchanted every time i read about it. call it a parental sacrifice, but thats not really accurate. it was the driving motivation to allow dave to apply for the job, but there are other reasons, which i will mention further down the line, should the opportunity present itself.

so, we are flying to finland in mid-april for a mere 4 days with an impressively nightmarish 2 layover flight plan, both ways. im mentally gearing myself up for our most gruelling travel itinerary to-date (pre or post X) and we shall see how things unfold from there. i really want to arrive and give helsinki my best shot so i can soak up my best possible impression of it. i now realize that this may be what all my previous training in "all things challenging" has been leading up to. its daunting, as always, but im trying, above all else, to stay positive and open-minded. wish me luck!

also, as a non-side note, im very proud of dave, no matter the outcome. he is the leader of this gypsy pack and i would trust no one else to such a task.

and, as a side note, the university of helsinki is rated #89 in the ranking of "top universities in the world". fun fact: University of Michigan is #14 (beaming with pride and hugging my expensive degrees tighter after reading that). other factoids: dalhousie university is #234 and université de rennes 1 is #450+.

11 March 2012

Bread, beer, and bbq for the birthday boy

dave actually expressed interest in getting some work people together as a birthday gathering. i said "great idea", since it went well with the birthday gift (DeuS beer) i had gotten him.

to back up, X and i had gathered, over the week, daves favorite candy (dark chocolate bounty) and a new-to-him (due to its high price of $30) bottle of beer (DeuS, a champagne beer), as well as the ingredients for his birthday bread. on thursday, we made his birthday bread in the afternoon (X was a great "help", she mixes and measures and pours now...though her measuring skills need work...lol) and opened windows and employed a fan to blow out the scent of baked goods from the house. then, friday morning, X and i were able to fully surprise him with candles on his birthday bread, a song, and his gifts. success!

anyway, on to saturday, party day...we were super motivated to have people over because of the beer and the fact that we had just gotten a slow cooker and wanted to try a new recipe out. dave did a pork shoulder drenched in propeller root beer in the slow cooker that we then turned in to pulled pork sandwiches. we added corn and salt-n-pepper chips to the spread while guests brought more fancy beer, a rice pilaf, and an apple pastry.

our party consisted of janice (daves co-worker), mike and little molly as well as carl (daves co-worker), and visiting french scientist pauline (she made the apple pastry). it was a nice crowd. the food was all great and the beers (DeuS, Dominus Vobiscum Lupulus, St Ambroise Russian Imperial Stout) were all drunk by people who really appreciated them. it was also nice to hear that most of the crowd hadnt really experienced pulled pork, so they were enjoying something new to them. it sparked a discussion about future meals that might occur where people host and/or become involved in meals that are somewhat unique to their family, hometown, culture, country, or just a cuisine that they enjoy cooking that is a little more offbeat than your average meal. this sounded like a great idea to me.

as this was our first major hosting at our place since...X was born...i learned a take-home-message that its hard to play hostess and make X happy at the same time. she isnt used to lots of people invading her space, talking to her when she isnt expecting, and generally being noisy. she was fine sharing her toys and food with little molly; most of her discomfort came from people trying to engage her and basically just taking up all the "safe" and "comfortable" spots in her house. it was hard to balance chatting with making sure X felt safe and respected. i ended up being kinda isolated with her at my own party, at my own house. ah....such is life. im glad dave and the other people enjoyed themselves.

03 March 2012

Birthday brunch

got to celebrate daves birthday with a brunch date.

our babysitter was able to watch X this saturday, so we went out for brunch to celebrate daves 32nd. the weather was crummy (a rain/snow mix) but we were able to enjoy a nice, quiet, slow brunch at nectar social house. i had a huge plate of eggs, bacon, toast (with butter, eeps! and YUM), potato wedges, and fruit. i also splurged and got a cranberry mimosa. really unnecessary, but why not? dave had french toast with fruit and vanilla cream. he mowed it down fast so i have to assume it was good.

after brunch, we went next door to two if by sea for a giant cookie (for dave). and then we realized we still had an hour! what to do? we decided to drive up the road a short way to the fiddleheads toy store. we got lucky and were able to score Xs birthday present (a balance bike) for 15% off. in the process, we had a long chat with the store owner about the bike and parenting. it was weird to be talking about kids without our kid being actually with us. and thus, we kinda failed on this date to talk about something other than X or to not run errands, but the weather wasnt nice enough to allow us to go for a walk or anything, and this actually worked out well; we both picked out her gift in-person and we are able to surprise her with it.

im glad we were able to get out for some private time to celebrate daves birthday. his birthday means many things to me (his birth, our dating anniversary [12 years btw], memories of fun trips, etc), but these past few years ive realized that i most look forward to daves birthday each year because its my marker for spring being around the corner. usually right around his birthday we start to get those random no-jacket, sunny days and the flowers start thinking about poking out of the barren ground. daves birthday is when my new year truly starts, so, cheers to you dave. lets get the 2012 show on the road!