May 23, 2008

A Miracle Book

It's always a pleasure to come across a book that is utterly satisfying, but also has the potential to change your life. The last time I had that happen was Yes Man. This time around it's Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

The book was actually a gift from Em to ScottE this past October. He has in turn shared it with a number of friends, and I finally got around to reading it myself. If the greatest gift in a book I have given to Scott and our friends was The Pillars of the Earth, then this has been my reward - a true gift in return.

The thrust of the book is that Barbara and her family decided to pick up and move their lives to a farm in southwestern Virginia. For one year they would try to (with but a few minor exceptions) eat only food that was grown within about 100 miles of their home, and only from reputable farmers that could be relied upon for organic and sustainable methods. This meant really embracing the annual cycle of food growth in the area - leafy greens and asparagus in spring, endless apples and pumpkins in the fall. And it wasn't just the fruits and vegetables - that meant meat, dairy and bread as well. Could they do it? Could they survive? And would they hate it?

It turns out they did do it, and it became a way of life. The family developed a deep connection to their food because they made it. And along the way they learned a lot about how the government of this country is stacked against the small local farmer, and how changes can be made.

For me, it was an eye-opening, potentially life-altering book. Having grown up my whole life as a city boy, my only real experience with locally-grown food were the berries and tomatoes my parents grew in the back yard, or stopping by a roadside stand on the way to my grandmother's cottage in summer. Now I really get it - I understand why an apple on the east coast is rather absurd in April, and why there are so many varieties of gourds (they're to get you through the cold winter). But mostly I have this craving, this need to seek out opportunities to buy from small local farms (which I'll be doing tomorrow at the Cheverly Community Market), and to think more about eating what's in season.

I really encourage everyone to read this book, but to realize it's not there as a condemnation of how we eat, or how so many farmers are trapped into large industrial systems for corn and soybeans. I truly believe that Kingsolver wrote this to make us open our eyes, be aware and think. The simple awareness of your food choices can slowly shift simply by having all this in your subconscious. The tides of change in this country have almost always been slow and subtle.

Today I was walking through our back yard, checking on the progress of all our little growing things and stopping to smell the gentle sweetness of a yellow iris. I looked on admiringly as birds from cardinals to blue jays stopped by for a visit (a purple finch is our latest find). I was reminded looking around that this was what makes that hour-long commute every day worth it. And as I hunched over the "Early Girl" tomato plant that Scott had planted in our modest little plot, I cooed over six little budding fruits that will provide us with a delicious bounty by mid-summer. We did that. We grew that. And it didn't ride on a truck cross-country to get here.

Read. Eat. Start a revolution.

May 20, 2008

Battlestar Galactica - Jump!

It's been awhile since I've done a post on BSG's new season, but last night's episode most definitely deserves a mention! And for those of you that are like, "Ugh, not another Battlestar post. What is it with that show?" Consider this another friendly reminder that you are MISSING AN INCREDIBLE SHOW.


Anywho, this week we were faced with all sorts of intriguing dilemmas:

1. Tigh knows not to fire on the basestar, but how can he explain this gut (i.e. CYLON) instinct?

2. Roslin must decide whom to trust - her conflicted military advisers? Her whore of a chief of staff? Her former friend and confidant, Lee? Or a group of rebel Cylons?

3. Kara can't get the fateful words of the Hybrid out of her head - for whom is she the harbinger of death?

4. Athena is having those dreams again, and now it's coming all to real. Why is Hera having her own visions of Six? And is blowing Natalie to shreds really the best way to solve the problem?

Best line of the episode was totally from Roslin - "I don't really care if you have to spend the night on your knees praying or just on your knees...I WANT A NAME." Awesome. When she talks like that I would soooooo vote for her.

In other news, Gaeta must be gay, because only gay men would sing sad ballads (probably from female singer/songwriters) to overcome the loss of a limb.

At the end, it was both thrilling and terrifying to hear the Hybrid utter that one fateful word...


Prince Caspian Rules

Prince Caspian

It's already been well-established in this blog that I'm a big fan of C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia. The books are a joy to read at any age, allowing one to escape into a world where badgers speak and centaurs are more than fantasy.

The first film was good, and gave a sense of nostalgia for fans who read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. But it never quite reached a point of sheer exhiliration. It instead inspired a gentle sense of wonder, which is beautiful nonetheless.

Thus it is with great pleasure that I report to you that Prince Caspian is truly thrilling. If you can sit through extended periods of chatter and plot exposition, you will be richly rewarded with tales of heroism, exciting battle sequences, and CGI graphics that are (mostly) believable.

In this second film, the actors portraying the Pevensie children have grown up a bit and it shows. Anna Popplewell in particular shows sharp focus as Susan, and Georgie Henley is comfortably settling into the role of Lucy as she matures.

One thing I really liked this time around was how the screenwriters injected a little dry humor here and there to lighten the mood. You'll especially enjoy Peter Dinklage as Trumpkin, doing what he does best (the gruff dwarf with the soft heart that he doesn't want you to know about). And who can't love Eddie Izzard's vocals for the noble mouse knight, Reepicheep?

And again, I can't say enough for the thrilling visions put forth by the artists and animators in this film. Swirling flower petals, warring trees, and especially a powerful river creature are Lewis' creations come alive.

For Narnia!!!

(Now my hope is that a third film is on its way. The logical next step is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, featuring the final appearances of Edmund and Lucy.)

May 15, 2008

Top Model Has A Winner!

OK, if you haven't seen the finale of America's Next Top Model Cycle 10 and don't want to be spoiled, stop reading.

You have? Well good for you. So let's say it out loud.

We have a winner, and the winner is Whitney! Big girls don't cry, they rule the runway!!!

I admit I predicted that Anya would go first, but was surprised to see her get the edge. She botched her commercial as I expected, but I think Fatima's lack of a compelling personality spelled her doom. Her glamour shot showed promise, but she has nothing to fear. She's certain to be either adopted by Iman or hired as Iman's minature stunt double.

As we approached the runway show, I was quite surprised to hear that Tyra scored some Versace. I'm not sure if Donatella was just offering a preview for a select audience or what, but it certainly is a coup for the show.

Anywho, the runway show wasn't that thrilling, but damn if Whitney didn't stomp it out! Girl was FIERCE and I was so proud. She looked very mature - I had thoughts of Heidi Klum going through my head. It helps that Versace is a style that works quite nicely on a curvaceous body.

Anya? She has nothing to worry about. As Tyra said, she has a high-fashion European look that someone will certainly scoop up for some print work. Which leaves Whitney to (hopefully) pave the way for real women in fashion everywhere!

So what about the future of the show? Rumors abound that Tyra is on her way out, and I have to say I can see it coming. She seems so disconnected with the show now and doesn't really do much above and beyond being a judge. Remember back when she did one-on-one chats with the girls? Or visited them at the house to talk about some big modeling issue? The next question becomes - who would replace her? It takes a force of personality, and I'm not sure Paulina quite has it yet.

Wouldn't it be lovely if Tricia Helfer defected from Canada's Next Top Model to host here? Talk about kickin' ass on the runway...

Also you may have wondered why I stopped recapping the show this season. Quite frankly, it got pretty dull. I was able to predict the series of events for several weeks in a row (Kat will be eliminated for not showing enough personality...check). Some of the photo shoots got dull, and that first Cover Girl commercial was L-A-M-E.

Here's hoping the next time around the casting is strong, the shoots are interesting, and the hostess gets into it as well!


Check out these great photo shoot pictures of Whitney and Tyra. Hott!

May 11, 2008

Top 10 Madonna Singles - Ever

I can never resist a challenge, and of course after ranking all of Madge's albums, Stef was quick to ask - but what are the best songs? It took some real difficult decision-making, but I've made my list. In honor of our favorite pop mom, it seems appropriate to unveil this list on Mother's Day.

First, my methodology. I began by eliminating any song that was not actually released as a single at some point. Although several albums have some hidden gems that never made it to the radio, I thought it best to stick to the true pop hits. From there I compiled a list of a quick top 20. And then from there I slowly whittled the list down to 10. It was hard, believe me! After the list, I'll give you a few honorable mentions that just missed the cut. (Who knows, maybe they can make a list in the future. If Jaslene can make a comeback...)

And now, without further adieu, the list, in reverse order.

10. Human Nature

Madonna's mid-career was very focused on being one hot n' sexy woman. Of all those sex-positive hits, I think this is the best. It's got a good beat, and is just tongue-in-cheek enough to prove she's not taking it all too seriously.

9. Papa Don't Preach

There have been a few Madonna songs dealing with her tumultuous relationship with her father, and I think this song balances her desire to be loyal to her father but also be her own woman. She's keepin' her baby, and don't you forget it.

8. Like A Virgin

This song arguably is what made Madonna a star. It's known around the world and is a part of our cultural lexicon, even showing up in films like Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. Each time I listen, I feel touched (for the very first time).

7. La Isla Bonita

Now begins the real dance masterpieces. Madonna's affection for all things Latin is best showcased in this song, which transports me to a tropical locale. If you want to hear the best version, check out her live concert in Australia for The Girlie Show tour. "La Isla!"

6. Like A Prayer

Madonna's most controversial video ever (and for her, that's saying a lot) seems tame by today's standards. But behind the controversy was a gospel pop anthem that really makes you want to get up on your feet.

5. Holiday

If you're having a party and things are getting dull, just pop in this song, and things will turn out fine. It was one of Madonna's first hits, and has stood the test of time.

4. Ray Of Light

This is the newest song on my list. It represents a whole new sound for our pop earth mother. Perfect for getting up in the morning, driving on the freeway, or working out at the gym.

3. Open Your Heart

I know this song wouldn't rank high on most critics' lists, but there's just something about the beat that gets a hold of my heart. Put thoughts of the video out of your mind, as I know it's a bit weird.

2. Vogue

As I looked back on my life and thought of hours spent dancing in clubs, I realized that even when this song wasn't playing, I sure spent a lot of timing vogueing. Madonna took a style of dance unique to a gay subculture and started a dance revolution. I think even Bette Davis would agree.

1. Express Yourself

Looking at the Madonna oeuvre for this list, I quickly came the realization that for the top of the list there was really only one choice. This song rocks, it's got self-affirming lyrics, the beat is infectious and it's easy to sing along. "C'mon girls! Do you believe in love?"

So there it is. Let me know what you think, and feel free to disagree.

As for the also-rans, there were quite a few ballads. I think that speaks to Madonna's style - she's a pop star first, songstress second. Live To Tell, Love Don't Live Here Anymore...very good stuff, but not the absolute best. Also some of her more recent hits are definitely good, but I think I still need a few years to see if they stand the test of time - Music and Hung Up are up there for sure.

Let's hear it - what do you think?

May 10, 2008

Over 10,000 Served!

Not only is my beloved husband celebrating a blog milestone of his own, I've just hit one too.

Since I added that lovely little SiteMeter widget almost 2 years ago today (May 11, 2006), over 10,000 people have visited my little blog.

I know that many were hunting for footnotes to their favorite book, or were doing the same odd image searches (Who knew I ranked so high for "girls on hands and knees?"). But there are some great friends that have laughed and bickered over my posts all this time.

When I started this blog, I certainly didn't anticipate that people from six beautiful continents ("Antarctica, oh please") would pop by to read what I had to say. I just love entertainment and the arts, and I love to talk about it all.

So thank you all for tuning in, and keep on reading!

(On a side note, is this the most boring season of Top Model ever? Discuss.)

May 06, 2008

Ranking Madonna's Albums

In a previous post, I had been asked how I would rate one of Madonna's albums versus another. This gave me the thought that perhaps it was time for a...list. Yes, I know. Lists have become so common on the internet, you'd think they were the start of Wikipedia. But for you, my dear readers, I feel it is my duty.

Thus I present to you my list of all of Madonna's 13 major albums in order. I have decided for the purpose of this list to exclude any greatest hits collections, as it's just patently unfair. Let's be honest - no album would stand a chance against The Immaculate Collection. Granted those collection albums usually had a little new material. Maybe some other day I'll rank all the top 10 hits. Also I'm excluding albums of remixes, and any album so obscure that you won't recognize it when I mention it. (Yes, there are a few - check out this discography.) And while I'm throwing out caveats, I'll mention that although it's awesome, I have to leave out Evita, as that wasn't exactly new material.

So here they are, folks! Release the hounds, and begin the debate.

1. Ray of Light

For me, this is it - the pinnacle of a career. Madonna blew the music industry out of the water with something very fresh, new and innovative. I defy you to listen to the title track in your car without accelerating. Frozen gives me chills, Shanti/Ashtangi centers me, and Nothing Really Matters is so very danceable! I came close to demoting this to the #2 spot because of the hopelessly annoying Little Star, but I'm sure even the Mona Lisa has a smudge in there somewhere.

2. True Blue

If I was stranded on a desert island and could only have 1 album on this list on my cleverly hidden iPod, I'd go with this one. I think Ray of Light is great as an overall album, but it's True Blue that has the songs I can't live without. A lot of people probably wouldn't be able to name this album off the tops of their heads, but there's no way they wouldn't know the songs on it. The title track is fun, and four of the greatest Madonna songs of all time are here - Papa Don't Preach, Live To Tell, La Isla Bonita, and my all-time favorite - Open Your Heart!!! LOVE!

3. Madonna

A long time ago in a galaxy very nearby, Madonna launched a career with bubblegum pop that you could really dance to. Although this album is 25 years old, it still is the source of some of her most hummable tunes - Lucky Star, Borderline, Burning Up, and one of the best party songs of all time - Holiday!

4. Confessions On A Dance Floor

After a few missteps, Madonna came screaming back onto the scene with a very, very good album. Hung Up is a dance anthem wrapped in a pink leotard. And there are a lot of other great offerings - Sorry, Let It Will Be, How High. Personally I can't get enough of Jump and Like It Or Not.

5. Bedtime Stories

Go ahead and argue with me, but I think this is the most underappreciated Madonna album of all time. It was laying the groundwork for the electronica dance style she would pioneer in the coming years. Bedtime Story is an amazing song and a delightfully trippy video (love those whirling dervishes!). And what's more, it features some of Madonna's strongest ballads - Secret and Take A Bow. In other news, Human Nature is way sexy, baby!

6. Erotica

Not every song on this album is amazing, but it marks a huge change for Madonna. This is when she became very, very grown up (read: overtly sexual) and at times very serious. There are some good songs here, but it's really all about Rain!

7. Like A Prayer

This is an odd album - it features a couple of the greatest Madonna songs ever (the title track and Express Yourself) and a couple solid hits (Cherish and Oh Father) mixed in with a lot of forgettable work (Dear Jessie, anyone?). I think this is the main reason we needed The Immaculate Collection.

8. I'm Breathless

What I like about this album is that it's got a great theme going. As the companion soundtrack to the movie Dick Tracy, Madonna presented a collection of songs in a swinging 40s style. Even if every track isn't successful, it's still a pleasure to listen to, in my opinion. And considering it's topped off with Vogue (a signature gay dance anthem), how can you go wrong?

9. Like A Virgin

Madonna was really hitting the big-time with this album (i.e. she ruled MTV), but when you look at the album itself, it doesn't have that much to offer. Sure, there are a few vital hits - Material Girl, the title track, and Dress You Up. But I think overall it's not very strong.

10. Hard Candy

As you may have read by now, I like parts of this album - the beginning (Candy Shop, 4 Minutes) and the end (Devil Wouldn't Recognize You and Voices) with one good song in the middle (Miles Away). Just stay away from some of that annoying pop with trite lyrics in the middle (I'm taking Incredible off my iPod)!

11. Music

Maybe someone can argue in favor of this album, but I found it to be very disappointing. The title track and Don't Tell Me are definitely keepers, but can you name another song off the top of your head?

12. American Life

Yeah, yeah, I know it's pretty bad. I still own it. I kind of like the title track, and even the James Bond theme, Die Another Day. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

13. Who's That Girl

Putting this album on the list is debatable, as only half the songs are even from Madonna. Sadly, even those few aren't very good. The title track is about all that's worth listening to.

That's it - what do you think? I'm dying to hear some opinions from you other folks that remember when Madonna writhing around in a wedding dress was a real scandal!

May 02, 2008

Lost and Jack and OMG!

OK, I admit it. I normally don't like the Jack-centric episodes on Lost. He comes across as whiny, he grates, and just...ugh.

But this week - it just seemed different. I believed his love for Kate. I believed that he was conflicted in his feelings for Juliet. And I believed that his one desire on the island was to get everyone to safety.

I mean, how wonderful was it to see him reference the premiere episode where Kate was his "nurse?" But Juliet - damn, that woman is hardcore.

This is just further proof that Lost is having an amazing fourth season. Just when I think that BSG is the better show, the writers on Lost answer in-kind.

In other news, slouch! And I continue to love Bernard and Rose more than I can say.

Also..Claire? Dad? OMG!!! WTF happened to her?!?!?

This episode was so well done. Nice!