Monday, December 31, 2012

To Love Another Person

is to see the face of God. 

Or in other words, I just got home from Les Miserables. The full review is too big for facebook, so here we are. 

Let's get this one out of the way first: why Russell Crowe??? Why???? Why was he cast, and why, once he took the part, did he just phone it in like that? The part has real potential; Russell Crowe has real potential. I know this because I've seen Russell Crowe in other things and he's made a believer out of me. But this...this was just sad. 

I fault casting foremost, because even if he pulled off a stellar performance, like his past performances would lead one to believe he is capable of, the guy really and truly can't sing. Okay, he could hold his own in the shower or at a local karaoke bar, but he was completely outclassed in this show. It was a distraction and it was just a wee bit embarrassing. 

That gets my only real complaint out of the way. Bye-bye, Russell Crowe. 

The winner of the I-was-so-unbelievably-wrong-and-holy-heck-give-this-woman-an-oscar-already award goes to Anne Hathaway, who did not just nail the performance; she blew it out of the water and into orbit somewhere near Jupiter. Yes, I raised my eyebrows when I heard she'd been cast, and yes, I opined that the casting choice had likely been based more on star power than talent. I am shoveling the words down my throat as fast as I can swallow. If I ever doubted whether that woman could act (not that I did doubt it, but  Ella Enchanted isn't the best showcase of acting talent, kwim?), this performance has me on my knees, bowing down before the glory of Princess Mia. Not only act, but folks, this lady can sing. She is the real deal, and yes, I will preach on. 

Am I the only one who teared up with Colm Wilkinson stepped onto the screen? I'm sorry, but if that casting choice didn't warm your heart you are a hopeless bastard who probably kills puppies for fun. The satisfying symmetry of having him assume the role of Jean Valjean's benefactor would have been enough; I would have forgiven him making an ass of it. As it was, he brought a compassion, grace, and strength to the character that moved the entire story from the realm of morality tale into something more transcendent and fittingly, nearly divine. 

Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen...oh my. They did not disappoint. I expected nothing less than brilliant comedic work from Ms. Bonham-Carter, and that is what I got. I had some trepidation about whether Borat/Bruno could inject the humanity required to keep the character from being written off, and a little to my surprise, he did it. As a couple, they were delightful--if that word can be used for pathetic, amoral, shiftless, worthless characters. 

Watching Amanada Seyfriend is pretty much like scooping out frosting with your fingers and eating the entire can. So sweet, so yummy, that you know you should feel guilty because it's not humanly possibly to have so much sweetness all in one spot, yet there you are. I knew she had the musical ability to pull this off (thank you, Mamma Mia); what pleasantly surprised me was the youthful innocence and charm she projected. At some point she's got to be over the hill and past the point of playing cute teenagers...but apparently that day is not yet. 

Eddie Redmayne and Samantha Barks did a lot with a little in creating full-fledged, sympathetic characters out of a few lines and a couple songs. While I hope this is the first of many, many artistic successes for both of them, I'm also crossing my fingers that neither one will go all Hollywood on us, but stick with the raw talent and natural good looks they brought to this movie. I love seeing actors who aren't afraid to be real--and who don't need their teeth capped to do it. That's probably why I watch a lot more BBC than anything on American commercial television, but I digress. 

And Hugh. If you follow my blog at all, you know I've got a bit of a sweet spot for Mr. Jackman. To be perfectly honest, I was biting my lip as the movie began, digging fingernails into my hands, hoping that expectations weren't set too high for this "role of a lifetime," as he called it. 

What can I say? While I've been a fan of Les Mis for more years than I can even remember, I've never really understood the larger-than-life character of Jean Valjean. He seemed more symbolic and archetypal than flesh and blood, and whenever I attended performances, I felt vaguely sorry for the actor cast in the role because it just seemed like one of those parts that is impossible to play. Kind of like being cast as Christ, except, in some ways, even worse, because any audience watching someone portray Christ knows it's a pale imitation, but Jean Valjean is a kind of super-hero Everyman. Appropriate that it should be Wolverine, eh? 

So, the best praise I can offer is that, for the first time, I felt like I really DID understand Valjean, The character became real to me, and every event, every choice, every move, made sense. In terms of the story, of course, this changed the entire experience for me, which in turn changed me, because that is what great art does. All the redemptive power in Victor Hugo's soaring story is played out in the character of Jean Valjean, in the body of Hugh Jackman, and all I can feel is immense gratitude that he paid the price to get it right, so that I could have a transformative experience in row E, seat 16. This type of grueling, demanding performance is why I've been known to fly off the handle when people crack jokes about how easy acting is,  or mock the study of theatre as a much-lesser path of the lazy. Throughout all ages of this world we celebrate and learn from story, and we venerate those who offer up their own bodies--their own selves--to bring us those stories and enact them in themselves. Even as I was fully immersed in the music, design, and magic of the film, the little voice in my head was marveling at the level of preparation Hugh Jackman obviously brought to the role. The little voice also made snide comments about the obvious lack of preparation brought by Mr. Crowe, but I shushed those because I only wanted to focus on happy thoughts. 

Other notes--the production design was impressive. I wondered how the grandeur of the musical would be carried out, without falling prey to a big-movie temptation to go grandiose, and it worked for me. I was very curious about how they'd pull off the big finale, and it was satisfying. Solid and triumphant without being over-blown. I'm thrilled that the hollywood version kept the religious symbolism of the original musical. It made for lush design, but also brought a deeper undercurrent to the themes of mercy, justice, and redemption that Les Mis is all about. 

My highest compliment: I'm not the same person I was when I walked into the theater tonight, and for that I am deeply grateful. 

Well done, cast & production team. In my humble opinion, the awards and accolades are deserved. Thank you for this gift. 





Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Good, the Bad, and the Just Plain Weird


Overheard outside the olders’ bedroom:

Grace: Let’s practice our cheerleading.

Mia: Okay. Do you want to do a school cheer or make up our own? 

Grace: Let’s make up our own. Ready? S-I-S-T-E-R-H-O-O-D!!! S-I-S-T-E-R-H-O-O-D!!! We love to be together, ra-ra-rah! Sisterhood, Sisterhood, I-LOVE-YOU!!!!!!!

They just might be the cutest thing ever.

* * * * * *

It’s tough being the only boy in an estrogen-filled household, especially when no one respects your mad weaponry skills.

Eric: Mom, here’s all my guns.

Me: Um, okay. Why do I need all your guns?

Eric: Because I think I’m not old enough to handle them and I just get in trouble with them, so I need you to keep them for me until I can handle this gun thing better.

Did I say “boy”? I’m thinking this kid is earning the “man” title. I know some forty-year old boys who could learn a thing or two from Eric’s self-awareness.

* * * * * * *

Mom gets in the shower, after first leaving the kids with a list of tasks to do so that they won’t kill each other or burn the house down while she’s in a compromised position. The kids, responding to the universal law of kid-dom, that if Mom is indisposed you must immediately cause all hell to break loose, begin a screaming, screeching rampage through the house. The overall object of the game appears to be who can open the bathroom door and tattle on the others the highest number of times.

Mia actually makes it past the bathroom door and opens the shower curtain to plead her case.

Me: (frantically yanking the shower curtain back) Mia! Get out of here!

Mia: Eric is trying to headbutt me AGAIN, and by the way, you look really pretty when you’re naked.

Nice try, kiddo.

* * * * * * *

Mercie: Guess what? I know that repentance stuff you told us about really works.

Me: Oh really? How do you know?

Mercie: Well, I tried it.

Me: Really? What did you repent of?

Mercie: Well, I sneaked on your iPad and I watched part of a grown up movie. Then I went in my room and I prayed and told Heavenly Father I was sorry about watching a grown up movie, and then I couldn’t remember the grown up movie anymore. It totally worked!

Note to self: change netflix password. Again.

* * * * * * *

Mom runs into her bedroom to see if she can change into jammies before any of the children realize she’s gone and burn the house down. Mia follows.

Mia: You know what? If there was a contest, and all the third graders had to watch you get undressed, and the prize went to whoever was not distracted, I would totally win because I’ve seen you get undressed and I wouldn’t be distracted, but all the other kids would be SOOOOO distracted if they saw you changing clothes. I would definitely win that contest.

Me: Where do you come up with this stuff???

I worry about that kid sometimes.

* * * * * * *

Mia: Aiden has a crush on me. He pretended to smooch me on the teeter-totters.

Me: What did you do?

Mia: I laughed because it was funny. Then the teacher came over to ask me a question. That’s why she’s probably going to call you.

Me: Why is she going to call me about a question?

Mia: Well, it’s not a question. It’s because I kind of got in trouble.

Me: What did you kind of do to kind of get in trouble?

Mia: She said she needed to talk to me and I said, “Not now lady, I’m talking to Mr. Handsome here.” She didn’t think it was funny. Aiden did, though. He thought it was hilarious.

Me: Uh….

Sometimes kids just leave you speechless.

* * * * * * *

Grace: Jonathan loves me.

Me: Oh really? How do you know?

Grace: Jocelyn told me.

Me: How did Jocelyn know? 

Grace: Jonathan told her. We were standing in line for recess.

Me: And Jonathan just told her?

Grace: No, he told her last year, but he still does love me. He was standing right there.

Me: So he heard Jocelyn tell you?

Grace: No, she used sign language! Duh, mom, nobody talks about love with WORDS!

She has a point there.

* * * * * * *

Mercie: Here’s some money, Mom.

Me: Um, why?

Mercie: So you can adopt a baby.

Me: That’s the entire allowance I just gave you.
Mercie: yeah, I know.

Me: Why do you want another baby so bad?

Mercie: ‘Cause this family is like the best thing that ever happened to me, so I want another baby to have our family, too.

Aw man, I’m tearing up just writing that one.

Kids. They might be the most expensive, time-consuming, exasperating, exhausting endeavor I’ll ever take on, but at the end of the day, I’m with Mercie—this family is the best thing that ever happened to me. 

That, and the entertainment value is priceless. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Life Lessons on ebay

About a week ago I did a very routine thing and ordered something small on ebay for my girls. When I say "routine," I mean that I've got over ten years on ebay and several hundred rated transactions. When I say "small," I mean a whopping $3.77, including shipping. Easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy.

The whole episode should have lasted ten seconds, start to finish.

As sometimes happens, it quickly mushroomed into so much more.

Apparently when I set up my paypal account to accept donations for my current election campaign, I inadvertently removed my other bank account--you know, the one that pays for things I buy on ebay. Assuming it would be a quick and easy fix (HA!) I filled out the online form and waited.

Long story short, I'm still waiting. Paypal is being spectacularly unhelpful, which is leading me to rethink our relationship.

On the other hand, the poor ebay seller who landed in the middle of my messed-up account, is quickly moving up my shortlist for sainthood.

So many emails between us that I've lost track. Two trips to my bank. Emails from me to ebay. Emails from her to ebay. Treks to the post office--one for me; one for her.

Yesterday I sent what I expect will be my last email, ending with my profuse thanks for her patience and good nature through this, all for a sale that won't even get her a combo meal at her local burger joint.

Her response: "The nice thing about complications like this is the chance to get to know each other. That's a good thing."

And here's what is just rocking my world right now: how many times do I look at the complications of life, the messiness of relationships, the little daily agonies of family life, the ups and downs of friendship, and think "this is a chance to draw closer together, this is a good thing."

I believe the answer to that is never.

I roll my eyes, I huff and puff, I drag my feet, I whine, I complain, I throw up my hands, I walk away. I think my solution to annoying problems is more along the lines of "grit your teeth, hang on tight, and ride it out."

Yet aren't relationships built out of complications? Isn't it in the messiness, loudness, and craziness that we truly connect with each other? My kids and I love each other because of fun swim trips and happy snuggle times and awesome giggle sessions, but we love each other even more because of cleaning up puke in the middle of the night and footrubs for sore feet and saying "I'm sorry" and freely forgiving.

Ms. Ebay Seller Joni could have rolled her eyes, gritted her teeth, and been a total jerk about my problems. After all, there were MY problems. She didn't ask for me to stumble into her ebay shop and spend (or attempt spending) a whopping $3.77. She could have made things much more difficult. She could have basically ignored me, because really, $3.77 is hardly worth it.

She chose to be nice. Don't we all kinda pretty much love people who show kindness even when they don't have to, even when we don't deserve it, even when it wasn't their problem? Yeah.

I saw a sale. She saw a relationship, even if it was just a teensy-tiny one over the internet.

I'm thinking that what I got out of this is worth far more than $3.77.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Family Time

Eric spent last night on a father-son campout with his dad. When he woke up the morning before he seemed a little nervous.

"You okay, bud?" I asked.

"Yeah," he sighed, doing that sucking on two fingers thing that has always been his favorite coping mechanism, and which has slowly been disappearing as he becomes more of a MAN.

"It's just, I'm nervous because I've never been away from my sisters before."

I didn't bother reminding him that he has actually been apart from them a couple of times before, when he's had sleepovers at mom's house or dad's house, in order to get some quality one-on-one time. I understand that going off to the scary outdoors and sleeping outside, and doing it all without the loud, obnoxious sisters who run his life, could be a little overwhelming.

Still, he was excited. He barely threw us a backward glance as he ran to help pack the car when I dropped him off.

The sisters chose shopping for our girls-night-out, and shop they did. They shopped and shopped until Mommy dropped. The thought of those girlies as teens is truly terrifying. However, even with the lure of commercialism, it took less than an hour before they started moaning about how much they missed Eric.

In and out of every store, to and from the car, they maintained a running litany about how much they missed Eric and how much more fun it would have been if he were here, too.

When we finally collapsed at home, Mia spoke for the group.

"If it's been this hard having Eric gone for just one night, how are we ever going to survive when he goes on a mission???"

I didn't tell her that she might be pushing him out the door by then, or that we've got years of scout camps and school trips and other adventures to prepare us for that separation. I didn't tell her that it will be easier because they'll be grown up by then and maybe not as close as they all are right now.

I didn't say any of that. I just blessed the moment, in between the fights and the sibling rivalry and the tattling and all the messiness that comes with four little people learning together how to be big people; blessed this one precious evening when we could all be reminded that what we love most of all is just being together.

One lucky momma, that's me.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Friday Friends: Rob

This is my brother. Yes, ladies, he is available. Since that's generally the first question I am asked I figured we'll just get that one out of the way. And no, you cannot start swooning over how hot & hunky he is. I'm his sister. That's just gross. Also, you should know that his hair is a lot more gray than this picture shows. Not that it will make a difference to you...

Where our friendship began:
I was 15 months old; he was a newborn who never stopped crying. I tried to help by force feeding him baby asprin. I made it through most of the bottle before our mom walked in and put an end to my early career in medicine.

What we survived:
Numerous--and I mean, numerous--episodes of conning Rob into eating various forms of mud "edibles." It just never got old. "I don't wanna eat that chocolate pudding! It's mud again, just like the last time" "Oh Bobby, it is not. I already pulled that joke on you--why would I think you'd be stupid enough to fall for it again? Trust me--this time it's just plain chocolate pudding." "Okay, fine...MOM!!!!! Wendy made me eat mud again!!!!"
It should be noted, however, that the eating poop thing was all him. I had nothing to do with that.

Highlights:
--setting the irrigation sprinklers on our sisters when they slept out in the fields
--making chocolate covered insects to bring to church youth activities
--digging forts in the front yard
--writing elaborate and detailed notes back and forth during General Conference, summarizing which teens in our circle had crushes on each other. I recently found a stack of those notes...ah, good times, good times.


Why I like this guy:
--he's a great dad (PS--aren't his kids beautiful? They take after their mother, obviously).
--he has a brilliant mind and a wicked sense of humor
--he's a great brother. He's there for me.
--he holds himself to a high standard, yet has the utmost tolerance and acceptance of others.

What I've learned from him:
To be nice. Maybe it's a side effect from being picked on so much when he was younger, but Rob has a very compassionate heart. He doesn't judge others. When he knows someone is in trouble, he just jumps in and helps. When someone needs something, he gives it to them. I've never, ever seen him pass a homeless person by without stopping to chat & pull out his wallet. In the process, he manages somehow to invest the act of charity with dignity and respect that probably means far more to the person than the few dollars he gave away. When I once complained about not trusting that money I gave to charity would be used appropriately, Rob quietly disagreed. "I just give the money," he said. "It's on their heads if they waste it or misuse it. My responsibility is to share what I've been blessed with. So I do."

In that respect, Rob has changed me. Now I write out my donation checks and seal the envelope with a grateful heart for everything I've been given. When I see someone holding a cardboard sign by the side of the road, I try to stop & share whatever I can. Even more, I look them in the eyes. I tell them my name. I try to see the person behind the unwashed clothes and weather-beaten skin. I try to treat them the way Rob would.

I'm the older one, and I'll probably never let him forget it. But when it comes to matters of the heart, there's no question which of us is the bigger one.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Rocking Grace

Some background:

Gracie was born dancing. At two weeks old she scooted from one corner of her crib to the other. At four months she entertained herself--and her teachers--at daycare by spending hours bouncing up and down in her exersaucer. In short, the girl was born to move.

Today my little girl turned nine, and she is beautiful. She's such a tweeny-bopper, coordinating her clothes and practicing cheers and beating all the boys in foot races.

A couple of weeks ago she accompanied me on a shopping trip where she discovered a row of wooden rocking chairs. Miss Always-In-Motion parked her butt on one and instantly settled down into pure bliss. As I did my shopping she kept returning to the rocking chairs. When I finally coaxed her away after I'd checked out and paid, she sighed. "Ah, if I had one of those at home, I'd never be mad again. If I got upset I'd just go in my room and rock."

Last weekend Grace was with her dad. As I ran my errands and did my child-free stuff I couldn't shake the feeling that I should get Grace a rocking chair for her birthday. For the record, I was already done with her birthday shopping. For the record, I'm a birthday minimalist. For the record, rocking chairs are bigger and more expensive than I do for birthdays.

Also for the record--when I have those feelings, I've learned to listen. Plus, I love my kid.

When I brought the rocker home it looked a little lonely sitting there by itself. The thought popped into my head that I should also give Grace my special teddy bear. It's a plain brown bear that I inherited at Christmas time when we spent the holidays with my family and my mom decided that everyone--including me--should have teddy bears. For some reason Grace prefers my teddy bear, and when she is most stressed or upset she'll ask if she can snuggle my bear. So the bear sat on the rocking chair and waited for Grace as well.

That's when it finally sort of clicked in my mind. This more-than-I-would-usually-do-for-a-birthday was exactly what I wanted my daughter to know of God's love. It's how God parents me. He gives me ongoing reminders of just how much He loves me, even when He doesn't have to, even when there isn't a reason, even when it's over the top and far more than I deserve. Grace's life would have been perfectly fine and happy without the rocking chair or the teddy, but I gave them to her because I love her and I want her to be not only happy, but gloriously, profoundly happy.

Even more than I wanted her to have the exciting moment of walking in her room to discover that she had exactly what she wanted, I want her to know the depth of God's love for her.

When she came home there was a card on the teddy bear's lap that read:

Dear Grace, 
I love you so much. I wanted you to have a rocking chair to rock on when you are upset, and I wanted to you to have my teddy bear to hold when you are scared. I want things that make you happy because I love you SOOOOOO much! Heavenly Father loves you even more than I do. I hope you'll always remember that He wants good and happy things for you, even more than I do. I hope you'll know that He loves you, and that when you sit in the chair and you hold your teddy, you'll feel my love and you'll feel God's love for you. I love you, sweetie! 
Love, 
Mom

Isn't it awesome that we get to share the parenting experience with Him?

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Matter of Perspective

Tonight the older girls and I tried a restaurant we'd never tried before. Candlelit and comfortable, it was a pleasant dining experience, and they enjoyed practicing their grown up manners.

Grace made the rather odd--though true--observation that the entire waitstaff was male; not a woman in the bunch. As dinner progressed, judging from the flirting going on, the attractive male waiters were most likely much more interested in each other than any woman. Cindy Crawford could have walked in and I'm not sure they would have noticed.

Near the end of dinner Mia said, "Mom, do you know why every guy in here is being so nice to you and bringing us food all the time?"

"Uh, because we're paying them lots of money?"

"No! Because you are so beautiful. You're like, the prettiest lady here."

Someday her rose-colored mommy-glasses will come off, but until then, I'll just soak it in.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Definitions

This past Sunday my back was out of whack, so the whole family stayed home from church. Not a problem--we held our own Primary meeting on my bed.

Grace was the Primary teacher. She had Eric and Mercie draw pictures of their families and then she asked them questions.

"Mercie, what is a family?"

"Um, it's a mom and a dad and brothers and sisters."

"Very good. Eric, what is a family?"

"Love."

"MOM!!!! Eric doesn't even know what a family is!!!!"

I don't know--from where I sit, I think Eric pretty much nailed it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

These Are A Few of My Favorite Things. Again.

Yes, it is time once again for the list of things that make my life happier.
  • Havarti Cheese. Where, oh where, have you been my entire life? However did I exist without you?
  • Smoked Jack Cheese. I had forgotten about this, but thankfully Dad reminded me by giving me a huge, HUGE block of it at Christmas time. The kids decided they don't like it, which just means more for me. I am slowly savoring a little each day, doling it a bit at a time. My hope is that it will last until October.
  • Kind words. Self-explanatory.
  • New slippers! Thanks to Holly, and Christmas.
  • A luxuriously warm & comfy robe, thanks to Mom & Christmas. Also, it is bright red, which is just awesome.
  • Lay's Garden Tomato and Basil potato chips
  • Maggie's Organics all-cotton socks. Oh yum!!! Comfort food for your feet. I am so in love I don't think my toes will ever accept anything else.
  • Gardein Mandarin Orange Chick'n frozen entrees. Seriously yummy meatless food.
  • Family home evening lessons taught by one of my kids. They are A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. It's sometimes challenging being the mother of such brilliant and talented children. Tough to keep up. But oh, how I love being amazed by them!
That is all for now.