It's possible I might start purring

Introducing Gunner & Sparrow, a little brother and sister who now live with us. Hoorah! He's the solid gray one, she's the calico--they're fifteen weeks old and roughly the size of, say, my forearm. No, smaller--more like from my elbow to my wrist, and they have matching white feet, which is more than I can handle, really. If I say the word "cute" one more time today, I just might explode.

So long, 2005!

A few things I'm thankful for, in no particular order:

  • my family--seems like I get more and more thankful for them every year

  • afternoons spent in the park, reading House of Leaves and napping

  • daylight (we see precious little of it, this time of year)

  • the fact that nothing on our car has broken in the last few months...

  • Patty Griffin, Living With Ghosts

  • the many quiet rows of shelves at Henderson Books

  • Firefly, Serenity (that's right, I saw Serenity, and I'm thankful for it)

  • the 16 hour, one-day drive from Salt Lake City to Bellingham in 100+ degree heat

  • for that matter, the stretches of country one sees while on a roadtrip--bland, and otherwise

  • The White Stripes, Get Behind Me Satan

  • an apartment on the busline, with pretty wood floors and our own water heater

  • my Thriftshop Junkies hoodie--it's seen me through plenty and will probably be retired soon

  • Arrested Development

  • my brother, who is funny and fun

  • Prismacolor double-ended art markers

  • the pool room at the Nightlight

  • beautiful handmade acoustic guitars

  • reconnecting with old friends and finding that we have more in common now than we ever did in high school

  • Amtrak, and the funny conductor who plays the harmonica when we reach our destination

  • French press coffee

  • people-watching at the Temple Bar

  • oh, I'll say it, no use pretending: my iPod. I'm thankful for my iPod.

  • Coconut Almond Chocolate Chunk ice cream from Mallard's

  • books in general, great books in specific

  • having my own desk at last, for writing and painting and making a mess

  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling

  • midnight at the Husky Stadium

  • the North Fork Brewery

  • my tattoo, and this year being the year that I worked up the nerve (and cash) to finally get it

  • living in the county

  • living in town

  • hand-knitted hats and scarves and wrist-warmers

  • library book sales

  • my husband, who is the coolest ever, and who lets me read things out of context to him, even when he's trying to study

  • Tegan and Sara, So Jealous

  • my job, the wonderful people I work with

  • National Novel Writing Month

  • Fiamma Burgers--the best burgers in the world

  • free time--I tell you, being out of school at last still hasn't lost its charm, no matter that I graduated two years ago

  • kittens! That's right, kittens.
  • 12.29.2005

    The Cute Maneuver

    So, today found me in the Kitten Room at Hohl's Feed & Seed, which is postively trouble. Over dinner last night with some friends, Mitch and I learned that cats are apparently less expensive to maintain than we'd thought, and easier to train. In the Kitten Room, I learned as well that shots and fixin' are included in the purchase price.

    Oh, boy.

    When Mitch got off work I hauled him across the street to the Kitten Room, and there we fell for several kitties, but specifically, we fell for a wee brother and sister--fifteen weeks old, one silver tabby, the other calico, both looking angellic and small and fuzzy, sleeping. The brother woke up groggy and let us pet him, and just as we started oohing and ahhing, he executed what I like to call The Cute Maneuver: he leaned right up against my finger, tucked his chin into his little gray chest and started purring.

    And we were sold.

    We filled out an application, went home and called our landlord (who said, "Oh, of course!"), and now we're waiting.

    Already, we've started picking out names.

    Book Review: THE HOBBIT, by J.R.R. Tolkien

    Considering that THE HOBBIT is the prequel to Tolkien's many-paged masterpiece The Lord of the Rings, it's odd that this book makes a little more sense when read after LOTR. I liked Bilbo better this time through--because I knew what came of him later, it was fun to watch his transformation from a silly, proper little hobbit to a brave, wise, elderly one over the course of the series, and this was an improvement, because I didn't care for Bilbo much at all when I first read THE HOBBIT (I know, I know! Don't shun me, please!).

    But the most interesting thing to me is the difference in tone between THE HOBBIT and The Lord of the Rings. LOTR is long-winded and elegant, reading like a passage out of some ancient text ("And so it was that he, Aragorn, son of Arathorn, first beheld Éowyn, daughter of Rohan, in full daylight and as he looked, he thought her cold" and so on), while THE HOBBIT is playful, reminiscent of The Chronicles of Narnia or of George MacDonald*, and I love that--Gandalf is not a stern forteller of doom in THE HOBBIT, but a mischievious wizard who eats the most, drinks the most and laughs the loudest out of all twelve dwarves (and a hobbit). This is an aspect of Gandalf that is hinted at in LOTR, and in a few wonderful scenes, realized, but mostly the tension and drama of the story require Gandalf to be close and focused, with little time for laughter and mischief.

    Ultimately, I appreciated THE HOBBIT much more the second time through, with all the lovely tales of The Lord of the Rings as a backdrop, and it impressed me as one piece of Tolkien's incredible work--a merrier adventure, though still dangerous and tense, full of drama and intrigue and fascinating characters.

    *Which brings me to an interesting point. If you love C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, I advise you--strongly, and urgently--to go out right now and borrow, purchase or steal a copy of George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin. MacDonald influenced Lewis to the point of being granted an appearance in The Great Divorce, as the ghost who comes to fetch the unnamed narrator at the gates of heaven, and his wonderful storytelling voice is present in both Lewis and Tolkien's writing--mostly in The Chronicles of Narnia and THE HOBBIT, but also in Tolkien's Roverandom. Ready set go!

    (This is also interesting.)

    RATING: 5


    Book Review: FEAR & LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, by Hunter S. Thompson

    I have started this book maybe three separate times, and not finished it. I've never gotten past the first twenty pages without losing interest, actually, because I can't figure out what the crap's going on, but I won't give up (not yet)--I hear it's a great book, and I also hear, from several figures of literary authority in my life, that I'll like it.

    And it's short. That helps.

    RATING: 2


    Stitch 'N' Bitch: The Frat Boy Edition

    My brother has taken up knitting. Several girls and the mothers of his frat buddies think this is adorable; some of his frat buddies have asked him for lessons. My friend Sarah thinks it very progressive of him to throw off the stereotype of knitting as a predominently feminine endeavor, and to knit proudly, secure in his own manhood and the knowledge that he has broken right through the gender barrier.

    As for me, the sight of my brother, cross-legged in an armchair, watching back-to-back episodes of Rome while knitting a full length, Husky-colored scarf struck me as hilarious. We passed an afternoon like that: my brother, knitting; I, with my notebook in my lap, doodling as I watched TV; my dad, in his impressive black leather armchair, making a comment every ten minutes or so about my brother's new (cheap, Ross is quick to point out) hobby.

    Of course, I'll give you some context. My brother, Ross, is well over six-feet tall. He's blonde, and dashingly handsome--twinkling blue eyes, strong jaw-line, straight white teeth, the works. He's athletic, but also he's artistic, and he learns quickly, so if he put his mind to knitting, well, he'll make a damn good knitter, just like he paints great murals and plays a mean sax and draws these incredible colored pencil drawings. Basically, he puts the rest of us to shame.

    So I put my order in right away for a scarf in Gryffindor colors (and I got one! It's lovely), on the condition that he do mine last, so it's the best. Not that I'm competitve. Really.

    He swore that knitting was a way to make heartfelt Christmas gifts on a budget, and that he'd drop it as soon as the holiday passed, but now he's trying to get my friend Sarah, champion knitter that she is, to teach him how to make a hat, but when her involvement in our little Stitch 'N' Bitch (they could stitch, and I could do the bitching) fell through, Ross figured he'd teach me how to knit instead.

    And so we passed an afternoon like this: watching back-to-back episodes of Arrested Developement while Ross knitted a lovely cream-colored scarf and I tried my hand at a navy blue mess. Ah, quality time.

    Book Review: THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER, by Barbara Robinson

    As a kid, this was my most favoritist of all favorite Christmas books--right up there with the Scratch-N-Sniff Cookie Book. THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER is to holiday literature what A Christmas Story is to film, and I have to admit I was a bit nervous to reread it this year, after so many long years away: what if it was only a silly kid's book--the kind that, when returned to in adulthood, is dull and overly simple, that leaves the now-grown reader wondering what, exactly, was the original appeal?

    I am happy to report that that was not the case. PAGEANT was as cute and funny and touching as ever, and I mean that in a good way: any book or movie with the word "touching" on the cover is usually right out, as far as I'm concerned, but in this case "touching" is somehow not bad, or cheesy, or revolting. Let me explain.

    The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world. They lied and stole and smoked cigars (even the girls) and talked dirty and hit little kids and cussed their teachers and took the Lord's name in vain and so the book begins. But when the Herdmans, through a series of events involving arson, doughnuts and a mad cat, get involved in the annual Christmas pageant, the stubborn little congregation, the narrator and her family and all the terrible Herdman kids get a new look at Christmas, because the Herdmans have never heard the Christmas story, and their questions and interpretations of the birth of Jesus shake up the church's predictable pageant and give everybody a peek at how things really might have happened.

    Downright heart-warming, actually. I have to admit I got a little teary-eyed, which made my husband laugh, because I was trying to read the story out loud to him. Seriously, though--it's only eighty pages long. You could read it in an hour.

    RATING: 4


    Oh my, aren't we festive?

    Ladies and Gentlemen, I do hope you're all having a lovely Christmas Eve morning, and that the lovliness continues on into this evening and tomorrow, and for the whole rest of the year--and then that you have a lovely year after that.

    Merry Christmas, my dears! And a happy New Year.

    Book Review: AN IDIOT GIRL'S CHRISTMAS, by Laurie Notaro

    You may or may not have read Notaro's first book, The Idiot Girl's Action Adventure Club--I have not. However, I have read her third (?) book, I Love Everybody (And Other Atrocious Lies), and so I was familiar with her writing, a bit.

    IDIOT GIRL'S CHRISTMAS is a collection of funny essays about various Christmases Past in the Notaro family, including the Christmas that Laurie ruined, and the Christmas where Laurie was labelled (twice! On two separate occasions) The Most Unfun Party Guest Ever. The book features six-foot high handmade lawn decorations, nightmarish shopping trips with Nana, and all the check-out line hysteria one could ever ask for. Personally, I loved the Great Christmas Tree showdown, in which Laurie left her tree up until March, just to irritate her already aggravated mother.

    Notaro's writing reads, to me, like stand-up comedy. Incredibly conversational, slipping into italics and ALL CAPS, as she, or her family, gets more and more and MORE fiesty, the essays flow off the page as though they're being spoken, and that's impressive, but a whole book of it--wait, two whole books of it--gets old, and quick. It's like an overly long coffee date with a friend who recaps, though animatedly and interestingly, every mundane, mildly funny event that has happened to her over the past week (I know, I'm usually this friend--this is why I have a blog)--after about three-quarters of the book, I was feeling all "talked out", which was funny, because I was reading.

    But if you're feeling all Christmassed-out, and you need your holiday spirits lightened, this is a good one--though I'd have to recommend The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson, first.

    RATING: 3


    The Birth of Santa

    I thought it might be appropriate to write about this: Christmas.

    I've read plenty of greeting cards, I've seen plenty of ads on church reader boards crying, He's the Reason for the Season, but that doesn't mean I'm all that great at recognizing the Christian aspect of Christmas--I'd like to be, but I'm not. Like Easter, Christmas has become more a holiday about family, and good food, and traditions like baking cookies and picking out trees and so on, for me--I grew up with Nativity scenes, sure, and we read the Christmas Story, and went to church sometimes on Christmas Eve, but somehow all of that was eclipsed by the more tangible, less boring, facets of the holiday.

    Like presents. No getting around that one.

    And I don't feel all that guilty about this. Christmas has become so commercialized anymore that it's not really a religious holiday, or at least it doesn't feel like one to me, no matter how many pictures of the Baby Jesus show up in ads for Christmas sales, or how many times I get "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" stuck in my head by January 1, and if I wanted to celebrate it as a religious holiday, well, I'd have to go pretty far out of my way to make it not about food and toys and money.

    Bugorama wrote a letter to the editor of the Bellingham Herald (read it here) suggesting that Christians who get all worked up about the word "Christmas" being replaced by "Holiday" in the Wal-mart winter sales might be better off spending the weeks preceding Christmas in church, celebrating Advent, rather than at the mall, and I think she's got a great point.

    In the Holiday vs. Christmas battle, I think both sides are being a bit silly (and by this battle, I mean the purging of religious Christmas carols from schools, the renaming of Christmas Break to Winter Break, the Happy Holidays override of Merry Christmas and so on). While I agree that names are important, and that it does matter how we label things, I also think it quite sad that all this energy is wasted on such a silly point. If you celebrate Christmas, fine--go celebrate it. If you're into the Holidays, fine. Go celebrate them.

    Try not to worry quite so much what your neighbor's up to, that's all I'm sayin'.

    As for me, I celebrate Christmas, even though sometimes the meaning gets a little washed out in my travels from family to family and in my last minute dash to buy presents. This is something I would like to change. I think Bug's suggestion of Advent is a good one--it would definately do me some good to spend the weeks before Christmas reflecting on the story of Christmas and preparing myself, really, to celebrate the holiday with a joyful (not stressed-out) spirit.

    Of course, as my dad and step-mom say, my family also celebrates the birth of Santa.

    Book Review: THE LORD OF THE RINGS, by J.R.R. Tolkien

    I know I am not the first to say so--and of course, I will not be the last--but I think that Tolkien was a genius, and THE LORD OF THE RINGS a masterpiece, a work not bound merely to the Fantasy genre, but one that crosses over into the ranks of great literature--a story so rich and complete in its history, that explores such grand and timeless themes as honor and loyalty and bravery, that THE LORD OF THE RINGS will not be forgotten, I think, for some time.

    Reading the trilogy for the third time (and for the first time since all three movies have been released), I was struck by what a wonderful job the movies did of capturing the scenery and characters, and translating them into film--I was also struck by how many aspects there are to LOTR that could not be carried over to film without being cheapened, or robbed of certain intricacies, so I am grateful to the filmmakers for leaving these things intact, and out of the movies completely. As much as I complained that Tom Bombadil was cut, I find now that I'm glad to have him still whole in my imagination, with all his oddities and ambiguity. He is a three-hour film unto himself.

    Another thing I noticed, in re-reading the books, was that I was able to concentrate more on the history of Middle Earth, to read the songs and stories and folklore more closely, because I am now so familiar with the story that I was not as bogged down in the description and scenery (of which there is plenty) as I read.

    Part of what makes these books so great is the feeling that this immense trilogy, full of end-times forboding and huge, fate-of-the-world actions, is but part of a much longer, more complicated history--I've not read The Silmarillion, but I hear that it is a "brief" history of Middle Earth, complete with the back-stories of characters barely touched on in LOTR [note: I have now read The Silmarillion. My review is linked below], and it is definately on my list of books to read. (I also need to re-read The Hobbit, so you may have a few more Tolkien reviews coming your way.)

    Tolkien's trilogy is incredibly textured, rich with various cultures and languages and history, but through it all runs a sorrow, the sadness of an era ending, as the Elves leave for the Havens and all the free people are threatened by a Second Darkness--and Tolkien upholds this sense of decay, but he also sustains a sense of hope, through all three books so that they are consistent and do not lag or lose steam, ever. Although there is a lot of walking through various landscapes.

    It is my opinion that The Return of the King (Book 3) is one of the best books ever written, and so I would recommend that, if at all possible, you find a few uninterrupted days in which to read it--the first time I read it, I was recovering from surgery, which was perfect, but this time, I stole a few pages between buses and on my lunch breaks, which was not good at all. If you cannot manage enough time for the whole book, then at least set aside an evening for the Battle of Pelennor Fields, because that is, I think, the best part of the whole trilogy--though my love for Eowyn and Theoden makes me a bit biased, I suppose.

    If you've put off reading THE LORD OF THE RINGS because it looks too big or daunting, well, stop that right now and go read it.

    Best book ever. I will say no more.

    RATING: 5


    An excellent point

    Three years ago today, I was gettin' hitched to Mitch! Yee ha!


    Movie Review: Narnia: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe

    For the last month or so, I've been radiating enthusiasm for this film--I mean, enthusiasm has been rolling off me in giant waves, like an aura, or bad body odor--and this is the sort of situation that sets one up, sorely, for disappointment.

    So, was I disappointed?

    I was. A bit.

    But there's context involved here: part way through the movie, I was stricken down by a headache of such tremendous strength that I actually threw up later that night, and if that was too much information, I apologize, but I have to set up for you what a very bad headache I had, and how my first viewing of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe came to be so badly tainted. I found myself actually hoping the movie would end so I could go home and lie very still in a very dark room.

    I did say that I was only "a bit" disappointed, after all, and I'm sure it's nothing a second viewing can't fix, because the first half of the movie was perfect--so much so that I, overexcited as I was, actually started crying when Lucy opened the door to the wardrobe room and there was the wardrobe, draped all mysteriously in a drop cloth, every bit like I'd pictured the room, and Lucy, and the wardrobe. I didn't calm down all through that scene, as she stepped through the coats and into Narnia for the first time, in a scene so simple but so powerful, because it drew me back into childhood, and my first encounter with Narnia.

    However, I know now that I went into the theater with mercilessly high expectations. I could forgive the makers of the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter films their cutting and rearranging, but I think I honestly expected that, because the book is so short, that Narnia needed nothing--that the film could follow the book scene for scene, word for word.

    I didn't realize that I thought this until Edmund took off for the White Witch's castle, and the movie, which had kept til then so close to the book, broke off onto its own track, and scenes began to overlap and characters appeared that, try as I might, I could not remember from the book, and suddenly, things were just different, and I--startled and disoriented and well into The Headache--could not keep up.

    They actually invented an action sequence, and I couldn't get past that.

    By the time the movie reconnected with the book (only a few scenes later--I don't mean to exaggerate), I had a hard time getting back into the swing of things, and so I missed out on all the fun of the battle, and Aslan, and so on--though I did not miss out on the fact that the White Witch kicked ass. Literally. She was so stinkin' cool.

    I've read a couple of reviews of the movie that docked points for the director's heavy hand with the special effects--one even complained that the Narnian snow was too "film studio frosty"--but that didn't both me, so long as the effects didn't get so out of hand that they flattened the characters or the story, for that was my primary concern: the characters, and the story.

    And I thought the characters fared incredibly well: the kids were cast pretty much as I pictured them, the White Witch was better than I'd imagined, the Beavers and Mr. Tumnus and Aslan were beautiful, and the sets were near perfect.

    My complaint, really, is a small one, and what it comes down to is that I need to see the movie again, sans headache and high expectations--I think I will enjoy Narnia much more the second time.


    I've heard two rumors:
    a. that a Narnia movie will be released every Christmas for the next 7 years, and
    b. that Disney is waiting to gauge the response to Lion, Witch and so on before they begin filming Prince Caspian.
    Anybody know which it is? Please, please tell me it's (a).


    The Cookie Strikes Back

    Last night, Mitch and I found ourselves at a Holiday Festival, where a Gingerbread-House-Building contest was underway. I don't think I'd ever fully appreciated the art of gingerbread houses until I beheld the intricacies of building rooftops out of everything from Frosted Mini-Wheats to wee, teeny, undoubtedly hand-cut squares of chocolate. Little stone walls, made of thick white frosting and rock candy. Trees built from green star-shaped cookies, stacked one atop the next in dimishing sizes!

    We're not talking about gingerbread houses made from a kit, oh no. These are people who do this every year, who somehow manage to construct Whatcom County landmarks like the county museum, Mt. Baker theater or Mt. Baker itself out of all things candy-coated and edible, who probably draft out their houses before they begin and stock up on stale candy months in advance.

    These are hardcore gingerbread-house-builders.

    And none more so than the participant who submitted...a skyscraper. A four-foot-high, gingerbread skyscraper, with lights in the windows, a full city block as its base (complete with taxi cabs and police cars made of artfully rearranged Peeps), and, as a finishing touch, a foot-high recreation of the giant gingerbread man from Shrek 2. Hanging from the side of the skyscraper, angry and clutching a miniature Santa in his cookie hand.

    Utterly amazing. Breathtaking to behold. And entered, of course, by an engineering company.