Saturday, December 31, 2011

'12 is going to be better.

That's what my uncle said after having a heart attack about a week ago: "'12 is going to be better." And really how could it not be after a heart attack? But I think 2012 is going to be my year too. I start art school on January 17th, I'm going to get my vaccinations so I can become a nurses aide eventually, Chris will get through another year of school ... yes, this coming year ought to be a good year. But it's going to be a tough year--you know why? Because Chris and I are instituting ...

THE GREAT YEAR OF AUSTERITY!

There were so many reasons I had to get off Facebook. One was that I just couldn't stand watching yet another one of my high school friends purchasing a home while I was stuck in perpetually-broke status. Don't ask us about our credit card debt--we won't tell you how bad it is. We're stuck in dead-broke renter mode with no signs of recovery in sight. So screw you, old high school friends who can afford houses. We're paving our own path.

I did my New Years resolutions on the blog last year. This year we're just focusing on the Year of Austerity ("Operation: Hair Shirt" for those of you familiar with the great British comedy "Yes, Minister"). But what is this going to entail, you may be asking? First, most money will go to paying down debts. In addition, we've been terrible about giving money to church since our return from Marfa, so strangely enough our Year of Austerity includes a return to tithing. My experience has always been that the more money you part with for a good reason, the more God seems to give back to you. That's a little "Prosperity Gospel" (which, seeing as how I'm Orthodox, you can guess how I feel about that), but it's been true in my experience. Moving on, all purchases save the usual groceries and gas have to be approved by the Committee, which naturally consists of the two main members of the household. Dogs and cats do not get a vote. That's just how it goes.

We're taking inventory of our massive piles of stuff, and clothes are coming in as the #1 thing that we don't need anymore of. (Should I face the unfortunate reality of a faulty chair tearing a hole in the butt of my jeans, the Committee will undoubtedly approve the purchase of a new, reasonably-priced pair.) The #2 thing we don't anymore of is film, followed closely by cameras. Time has allowed me to sort out which cameras I enjoy using and which ones lie around collecting dust, so to eBay I will go (eventually) in the hopes of making a little money off the massive collection. Lots of excess will be toted off to the local thrift store, which will also be the first stopping point for things we need. Books and CDs can be sold.

My friend Bre once talked about a "pantry challenge," where you can only buy fresh fruits and vegetables and things like milk and otherwise live out of your pantry. We've agreed to give this a shot for Lent to help de-emphasize that the season isn't just about not eating cheese but also about using money and food more wisely. I may blog more about that as the Lenten Spring draws closer.

I should add that we're not in dire straits. Money is just massively mismanaged in our house. So on this the last day of 2011, I've made my final purchase of some books, and that's the last thing I plan to put on my credit card for a long time. Here's to a better '12!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I'm Over Christmas

I'm over Santa Claus.

I'm over movies that talk about the "Christmas spirit" while ignoring that it's a religious holiday.

I'm over people who spend $4000 (on average) shopping for presents.

I'm over Black Friday shootings, pepper-sprayings, and other assorted violence.

I'm over last-minute shoppers making it next-to-impossible to buy two frickin' picture frames (okay, so maybe this whole blog post is personal).

I'm over fighting through impenetrable traffic just to get to Walgreens.

I'm over commercials questioning the masculinity of any man who would dare ask for Christmas presents. (I'm truthfully over questioning masculinity in general.)

I'm over militant "Merry Christmas" people. It's just more Christian to take whatever's said to you without grumbling than to act like a dick because someone said, "Season's greetings."

I'm over people who think I'm not Christian because I said "dick."

On the other end of the spectrum, I'm over so-called "edgy," "in-your-face" people who throw up crap like this:


I'm over the classy folks three blocks away who put up a pentagram in lights on their house. Good use of electricity, kids. You really got God's goat there.

I'm over people thinking I'm not in the right mood because we still haven't put up our Christmas tree.

I'm over people being hungry and homeless on Christmas.

I'm over Christmas being celebrated as a non-Christian holiday.

What I'm not over is the thought in my mind that Christmas: The Secular Holiday and Christmas: The Nativity of Christ are two separate things. I know it's not good (read: not Orthodox) to feel this way, but I can't turn it off that easily. My thinking is as flawed as I am.

Still, I'm over Christmas. Bring on the Feast of the Nativity of Christ.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Undoing the Damage, part 3

Look what was waiting for us on the porch when we got home from Christmas with Chris's family:


We don't know who left it for us, but I think it's sweet. :)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Speaking of Joplin, MO ...

When we stayed in the Holiday Inn off the highway, this is what was waiting for us in our room:


Joplin has become a dear place since the tornado. Think of it and pray for it as often as you can.

'Tis the Season

Now that I've notoriously said that we ought to be ashamed of charity, I'd like to issue a retraction. Because this story brought tears to my eyes:

Anonymous donors pay off Kmart layaway accounts

Kudos to those lovely people who paid off accounts in Joplin, MO. They're in my heart especially.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Undoing the Damage, part 2

Cookies are the answer.

Wait, what was the question?

How do we assuage the pain and isolation of suffering people like Rachelle Grimmer and the woman from Boston?


Besides the unbelievable sadness, two things stood out in the story of the Grimmers:

Oscar Cuerrlar, a carpenter and neighbor in the Laredo trailer park where they moved in the spring, said he brought the family grilled fish and chicken after Grimmer's request for food stamps was denied ... 
Manager Janie Rodriguez's office was next to Grimmer's [RV] lot, and the two became close. 

Considering that more news is coming out suggesting that Rachelle Grimmer was indeed mentally ill, probably nothing could've stopped the shooting. However, not everyone in dire straits is going to do something that drastic. You'll hear many a person complain that we don't know our neighbors anymore, but usually that's an example of how Americans are isolated and make and break friendships more easily than they used to. But Rachelle Grimmer had neighbors who cared for her and helped take care of her. They knew her. They knew her situation. In the end they were powerless to stop it, but their kindness and friendship won't be forgotten in heaven.

I don't even know my neighbors' names.

So, after shaking off a few days of depression, I set to work in the kitchen making gluten-free, vegan molasses cookies for the neighbors.


They didn't have to be gluten-free, but I wasn't about to go buying wheat flour and risk getting sick. Neighbors will never know they're gluten-free anyway. 


Yes, it's an extremely small gesture, but it's our little beginning. One of our neighbors wasn't home, and we still don't know the name of the other one, but Chris says we're now more likely to say hi whenever we see each other. Hopefully we'll all slowly get to know each other better. 


I have my doubts that either of my neighbors are needy, but frankly you never know anymore. In this supposedly improving economy, people of any class can end up penniless because of getting laid off or being unable to find a job. Our neighborhood is predominantly minorities and renters (students), and I can say safely that we've never lived anywhere where our neighbors were guaranteed to be secure and wealthy. 


Yes, it's a very small gesture indeed. But considering what a notorious recluse I am, it's a big step forward for me. 


"Think globally, act locally." Very locally. I feel like I've run out of eloquence (if I ever had any), but I think we could all do tremendous good if we just knew the people who live closest to us.

Friendly Snuggle Dogs



Undoing the Damage, part 1

I got some inexplicable negative comments on "We Ought to be Ashamed" that I can't make heads or tails of, so I've deleted both my Facebook and Twitter accounts. I say that because the Loquat doesn't have a particularly wide gentle-readership, so chances are low that anyone will know that I'm coming to the conclusion of my talk on the subject of the shootings in Laredo. Without the benefit of social networks spreading the word, I may be the only one satisfied by the written end of my thoughts. So be it. (And I'll probably be a better person for not being on Facebook and Twitter all the time.)

Anyway, my answer to the question is very small, but I believe in the cliche, "Think globally, act locally." The answer ...


... is cookies. Vegan, gluten-free, soft, molasses cookies. With navy beans (yes, you did see a can of those in the picture). And a heaping spoonful of my new maple sugar. Cookies. 


Overly simplistic, yes. 


I'll explain more when the baking begins. 

Finally, apparently I need to say something. I never said that if we just stopped sinning everything would be fine. The Theotokos never sinned and was still subject to death. Only Christ can save us and can end all the terrible problems the world faces. Poverty, hunger, starvation will not cease until Jesus returns and makes all things new. This I believe, and I believe in facts, not opinions. But Christ also called us to be a city on a hill, and with the Light of Christ we should take care of those in need regardless of faith: "Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another" (1 John 4:11). Sometimes it's hard to see the icon of Christ of in other people (just ask me right now), but we were all made in the image of God and deserve each other's love regardless. I don't mean to sound preachy--I'm reminding myself as much as anyone else. Lord have mercy on me, a sinner. 

More on cookies later. Jesus is the answer--cookies are His emissary. ;)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

We Ought to be Ashamed, part 2

I think I said some things in my last post that I didn't quite mean to say. You'll have to forgive me--by the time I finished "We Ought to be Ashamed" I was shaking so badly I was having trouble typing. This wasn't out of anger, it was out of dread. I really don't mind having unpopular opinions--it's sharing them that takes the wind out of me. End result: I didn't sleep a wink last night, and now I'm here issuing retractions I spent all night thinking up. Yes, I could just edit the original post, but I don't really like making corrections that cover my own tail. I'd much rather say that I got some stuff wrong with as much humility as I can muster.

First, I sincerely hope I didn't imply that Rachelle Grimmer was not responsible for her actions because of the duress the family was under. No matter how desperate circumstances are, there's no excuse for holding up a welfare office for seven hours, then shooting your two children and yourself. This doesn't mean I don't feel pity for her and her situation. Things got awful and the worst possible choice was made. I believe her children Ramie and Timothy are playing at the feet of the Theotokos, as is the end for all children who die too soon. As for Rachelle, pray God have mercy on her and forgive her just as you pray God has mercy on you and forgives you.

Second, I think I may have come across as blaming Society and The Government for what happened. This was not my intention because blaming society and the government means, essentially, "I blame everyone but myself." Not that they're without fault. What kind of society is so germophobic that restaurant crews have to throw out leftover food rather than giving it to the poor? What kind of government throws its neediest citizens under the bus in favor of more profitable lobbies? The more important question I wanted to ask was this: What kind of people let a member of the group go so woefully without in a land of plenty? Looking back on our time in Marfa, I see this more clearly--a town of 2000 people divided into three groups: the art contingent, the tourism contingent, and the poor. The threat remains that the more affluent (like, oh I don't know, me) will eventually drive out the poor who have lived there for generations just so we can have our own little slice of paradise in the West Texas desert. The fact that I only talked to the rich Anglos and never to the poor Hispanics isn't society's fault or the government's fault--it's my fault.

Finally, I think I caused all the confusion by trying to express my theological beliefs un-theologically. Two things I gleaned from church inspired my thinking. One is the Orthodox belief that only animals do the will of God, and the extent to which they do evil (killing each other, spreading disease, etc.) is not their fault but our's because of the Fall. The other thing is what our priest always says on Forgiveness Sunday (the first Sunday of Lent): We go around the church asking each other's forgiveness because our sins hurt everyone, not just those who seemed to be hurt directly. He often cites the example that Hitler's sins affect everyone, whether directly touched by him or not. So I may have not explained it well, but that's why I believe we're all responsible for the heartbreaking poverty I talked about in the original post. Mankind brought sin into the world, and this is one of the many forms it's taking.

I want to say more, but this post has already gone on longer than I wanted. I'll harp on later.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

We Ought to be Ashamed

Let me quote you something from Frances Moore Lappe's Diet for a Small Planet:

I've had no income and I've paid no rent for many months. My landlord let me stay. He felt sorry for me because I had no money. The Friday before Christmas he gave me ten dollars. For days I had nothing but water. I knew I needed food; I tried to go out but was too weak to walk to the store. I felt as if I was dying. I saw the mailman and told him I thought I was starving. He brought me food and then he made some phone calls and that's when they began delivering these lunches. But I had already lost so much weight that five meals a week are not enough to keep me going.  
I just pray to God I can survive. I keep praying I can have the will to save some of my food so I can divide it up and make it last. It's hard to save because I'm so hungry that I want to eat it right away. On Friday, I held over two peas from lunch. I ate one pea on Saturday morning. Then I got into bed with the taste of food in my mouth and I waited as long as I could. Later on in the day I ate the other pea.  
Today I saved the container that the mashed potatoes were in and tonight, before bed, I'll lick the sides of the container.  
When there are bones I keep them. I know this is going to be hard for you to believe and I am almost ashamed to tell you, but these days I boil the bones till they're soft and then I eat them. Today there were no bones.

Sound like the problems of a third world country? This woman was from Boston. Boston.

When I read this in Diet for a Small Planet years ago, I cried. Then I wrote it down in my journal so I'd never forget. But forget I did, at least until I stumbled across a story about a shooting in Laredo, TX, at a welfare office--a story that contained sentences like these:

Grimmer would walk down the highway after midnight and beg closing crews at restaurants for food they planned to throw away.  
Oscar Cuerrlar, a carpenter and neighbor in the Laredo trailer park where they moved in the spring, said he brought the family grilled fish and chicken after Grimmer's request for food stamps was denied ...
... the family was in clearly dire straits even by the standards of Webb County, where the per capita income of $13,600 is among the lowest in the nation. By most accounts, Grimmer didn't come close to scraping together near that much money.

 No, this is not an excuse for this woman shooting her two children and then herself. That will be between her and God. But will we not also be forced to answer for the abject poverty that goes unnoticed around us?

The Christmas season has always traditionally been the feel-good season, the season where you drop a check in the mail for charity and feel all warm and fuzzy inside. But I realized today that charity is something we ought to be ashamed of, not proud of. I'm very guilty of feeling like a saint after giving a pittance to charity. Then I go and squander the rest of my money on useless items for myself. What a saint I am.

We're awfully quick to blame God for all the terrible problems in this world: "Why did God let that happen?" Have we lost all humility? What shameful pride! The woman from Boston and Rachelle Grimmer are our fault--MY fault. Since when is it God's fault that I live in a warm home with plenty of food and pay no heed to the desperately poor who may be as close to me as next door? Whose fault is it? The government's? The 1%? Adam and Eve's? MINE--MY fault.

You and I allow others to get so desperate that it's easier to shoot themselves and their children than go on living. 

The fact that charities need to exist is a terrible shame a black mark upon our world. The fact that we only care about the poor at Christmastime (often so we can get in those last-minute tax deductions) is nothing to get warm, fuzzy feelings over. I'm afraid I haven't written the hopeful, happy Christmastime message that we so gluttonously devour. What scares me is that I think I've written the truth. And I write it not just for other Christians like me (although I think we shoulder the biggest load in this), but for everyone of any and no faith.

Jesus said the poor would always be among us, but He left it up to me to realize that it's my fault.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Art of Bread and Why My Life Sucks

So I'm on the King Arthur Flour website because I hear it has gluten-free stuff. And it does--I ordered me some ancient grains flour that looks mighty fine. It's just annoying that on the same page as the gluten-free flour, they're trying to entice you to buy a fine complement to it: 16oz of vital wheat gluten. Thanks, KAF, for being sensitive to my major and still very new dietary sensitivities.

But that's hardly what brings me to the Loquat to gripe this early in the morning. Just being at the King Arthur Flour website is enough to make one sick at heart. They've so perfected bread-making that I can't help but feel a little left in the dust. I used to enjoy bread-making heartily: I'd make whole grain breads and pick up weird flours to add to them (I still use mesquite meal, which adds a wonderful caramel-y flavor--I recommend it to all you gentle readers). While I may be a gluten-free baked-good goddess (though I certainly don't let it go to my head), I still haven't dabbled in bread. I know what I'm up for, though: disappointment.

But maybe not. Truth be told, I wasn't very good at making wheat bread. If your idea of good bread was a 3-inch thick, infinitely dense loaf, then I was your man. If you wanted something you could use for a sandwich, or say you wanted to make toast that wasn't brick-like, you'd best look elsewhere. It was gluten that did the rising, and I wasn't very good at harnessing it. So perhaps a gluten-free bread will prove to be my ... uh, what's the opposite of a downfall? I don't want to say uprising--that sounds too revolutionary (though very bread-appropriate).

Still, it's the accoutrements of bread-making that makes one jealous, envious, and slightly depressed. Look at this, and this, and this!! Oh, how I long just to need them! But what I really need is just another non-stick bread pan. I still need to do the de-glutenizing kitchen re-do, so I need less time at artisan bread websites at more time at Target.

Did I ever mention I bought a $300 stand mixer with a bread hook that I haven't used once? Did you know you can get a bread machine for $5 at a garage sale, put it on the dough setting, and have it do all the work for you? Craig's List, here I come.

I know I'm an expert griper. I actually don't think my life's that hard. It's just that I used to imagine myself as an expert bread maker, and now seeing all the awesome things available to expert bread makers and knowing that I can't eat that bread is a little disheartening. But griping is more amusing than coming onto the Loquat and saying, "There's lots of nice things in the world, but my life is great." That would definitely keep you coming back to this piece-of-garbage blog. My life isn't great: It's very frustrating, annoying, and different right now. But I feel like I could find joy in gluten-free bread baking if I'd just shut my big ol' complainy yap and give it a try. No, it won't rise like wheat bread, but perhaps it'll rise more than the housebuilding material I passed off for bread so often. There's always hope that I'll work better with xanthan gum than I did with gluten (both externally and internally).

Here's to Hope, gentle readers.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all!

As my Thanksgiving present to you, stand in awe of what can be made with leftover pumpkin! STAND IN AWE, I SAID!!

Pumpkin Socca

Monday, November 21, 2011

Un-Theological Talk About the Nativity Fast

I don't follow Orthodox blogs because everyone seems so much Orthodox-smarter than I am. I'm definitely a beginner, even after being in the Church nearly five years. I think I'm a bit unique in that my path to the Church was much more emotional than intellectual. It made no difference to me that the way we worship in the Orthodox Church is the same way Christians worshipped after Pentecost--what mattered was that when I told Chris, "I don't know how much longer I can pretend that I'm not going to convert," I was washed over with the feeling of, "YES! You've made the right decision!" It still doesn't matter to me that it's the same way of worshipping--it's a comfort, and I don't make an idol out of it.

Anyway, I wanted to talk about my favorite fast, the Nativity Fast--the 40 days leading up to the Nativity of Christ (Christmas). When I was growing up as an Episcopalian, Advent had to be my favorite season. There was such wonderful anticipation of something great about to happen, and really there was: We were going to celebrate the fact that God became man for our sake. It's a magnificent miracle, one worthy of lighting the Advent wreath, of hanging fresh greens from the rafters until the smell made the church positively bucolic (you'd think we were out in a forest instead of the middle of town), of such beautiful hymns as "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel". In children's choir, we asked our director why we didn't sing Christmas songs leading up to Christmas. The answer was simple: It wasn't time yet.

Fast forward to high school, when our Sunday school teacher Elaine presented us with the idea that Advent was a time like Lent, and asked us to give up something for the season. I gave up "Dragon Ball Z" (I've always been an anime nerd--an otaku, if you will), and that lasted about a week. (Saying it was a week may be quite generous.) I just didn't associate the depravation of giving something up (no matter how minute) with the spiritual gluttony of the time. This was a wonderful season of the Church--how could I rearrange my life around that?

Fast forward again to the days of Orthodoxy. What used to be depravation is now discipline: Take your mind off of food, off television commercials, off the daily distractions that keep us from a good spiritual life, and instead focus on THE ONE THING NEEDFUL. (I highlight that because it's a phrase that runs through my mind a lot.) Starting November 15th, Orthodox Christians begin a fast from meat, dairy, eggs, oil, and alcohol in order to prepare for the coming miracle of Christ's birth. Ah ha, astute readers of the blog already notice a problem! Most vegans get asked the question, "Where do you get your protein?" The question Chris and I get the most is, "How do you fast?" Yes, we're meatless, eggless, and dairyless all the time, but fasting is about more than what you eat. Chris and I strive to pray more, to cut out things like television and valuable time with the Wii, and like everyone else we cut out oil and alcohol. When we were out west in Marfa, our priest Father John was diagnosed with diabetes and had to eat meat during Lent. He said that it's hard to remember that there are other parts to the fast like praying more, and that's stuck with me as I converted from omnivore to herbivore. In the omnivore days, I was stuck with the common problem of focusing on diet only and forgetting the rest. Now I can focus on other things.

But enough of this blather--how does this relate to Advent?! My love for Advent as a child and young adult has translated into my love for the Nativity Fast. Christmas is like a warm fire in a cold season, and the fast is us making that journey towards it. It's strange: When you become Orthodox, every act you do is part of the church. There is no personal life versus church life--it's all life. Everything you put in your mouth, every time you pray, every room in your house that does or doesn't have an icon--all that is Church. To me, even letting the dogs out for their late-morning romp is a spiritual act. I am a part of something huge at all times, no matter what I'm doing. Had I known this when I was Episcopalian, then giving up a TV show during Advent would have made perfect sense. How much more would the hanging of the greens meant to me if my whole life had been focused on it? Would the pine boughs have smelled sweeter?

Like I said, this is un-theological and highly emotional drivel. That's just how I am. And frankly, there needs to be more in the Orthodox conversation than patristics or graphs tracing all of Christianity back to Orthodoxy. As Orthodox Christians we must look to our beautiful heritage, but can we not also ask, "How am I now?" How am I now? I'm suffering the consequences of having no prayer life, I'm weakened by a frustrating diet that's taken away everything I loved, I'm struggling to impress other people who don't matter, but I've got enough in me to say during prayer, "God is the one thing needful." And suddenly nothing else matters.

Have a blessed Nativity Fast, and may it be fruitful for you.

Friday, November 4, 2011

I hope at least one person enjoys the randomness of this post.

Last night, two songs were duking it out for supremacy in my head (read: which song would be in my head for all of eternity). The first was shamelessly embarrassing.



The second was infinitely catchier, yet somehow seemed to be losing the battle.



So ... what won?



I hate my life. :)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

On Mental Illness, Web Comics, and Gory Anime

It's been about half a year since I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder. Right now that's just like, "Whatevs." I've only dealt with mild spells of depression for a while now, which is wonderful. I owe a lot to my psychiatrist and my psychologist-in-training (a doctoral student at UNT), and I realize now that both are and have been instrumental in my recovery. Thanks, Dr. Hamilton and Greg.


Anyway, when I was depressed actively, I would often find "explanations" of depression that hit home. Usually I'd share them on Facebook or something to help explain what was going on in my little brain and perhaps help someone who didn't realize they were going through the same thing. One such example (which I naturally can't find) is from Seaneen Molloy's blog  Mentally Interesting: It was a comic about the little depression man who lives in your head and reinterprets everything people say negatively. Case in point, "Hi, how are you?" is reinterpreted as, "Why are you still alive?" It sounds extreme, but you have no idea how much truth there is in this. Seaneen Molloy is important to me. Shortly after I realized something was wrong with me, she was on the Ouch! podcast talking about her battle with bipolar I disorder. I clearly remember her saying that it takes time to get the right meds and treatment plan in order, and I remember crying when she said that. It was just the thing I needed to hear when I began this long journey ... and she was right. I've been on a good mix of meds for a year or more, but things were dicey until then. Again, thanks Dr. Hamilton.


Onward. I don't feel the same acute familiarity I felt when reading something when I was depressed, but I still know a good example when I see it. Enter Hyperbole and a Half. I got back from tending to my mother, and Allie Brosh published an entry in her web comic that took me by surprise: "Adventures in Depression." (I will now allow you time off from the Loquat to read this comic. It's essential for understanding the rest of my own blog.) I'd gone through some minor though annoying depression while I was helping my mother, so my own adventures in depression were fresh in my mind. Her words hit on an essential truth of depression: "Essentially, I was being robbed of my right to feel self pity, which is the only redeeming part of sadness." I shared it on Facebook, but what I said was that I didn't ever reach the point she reached in the video store. 


Turns out I was wrong. Enter Claymore:





Seriously, I could listen to this song all day. In fact, I have been. I listened to it while I ordered the Claymore manga, which is something I've never done before nor ever wanted to do before. Yes, I'm a loser. 


I decided for Halloween that my husband and I should hide in the dark and watch Claymore for some good gory fun. Then I thought about how I came to watch Claymore in the first place. I'm prone to bouts of insomnia, so one sleepless night during spring I curled up on the couch and watched Claymore until Chris got up at 6:00. The series is 26 episodes long--I got through 13 in one night. What was so intriguing about it? It was rated TV-MA. It was labelled "Anime Horror." And only on Halloween did it click. 




I, like Allie Brosh, vegged out in front of the TV watching some scary (and occasionally gut-wrenching) stuff. I felt the immunity of depression. Nothing was too scary. Nothing was too gory. I was impenetrable. 


Nowadays, I'm just obsessed with Claymore. This is strange because, frankly, it isn't very good. But it's engrossing. And now I know it's part of the story of being mentally ill. So now this anime horror series has meaning to me. 


Mental illness is a long journey. Take whatever comes your way as a gift. Even mediocre anime. 

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Continuation of a Long Term Bit: Alabama

As we continue our quest to see something unique or essential about all fifty states we make our way to the lovely state of Alabama. What are the first things you think of when you think Alabama? Football and Civil Rights? Yep, me too.

Football:

This trip was a lark more than anything else. Our beloved University of North Texas Mean Green play a "money game" (or opportunity game, or bodybag game, depending on your preference) every year, and while many schools in the non-BCS conferences will do this we somehow manage to get a top 5 team in this game just about every single year. This year, our beloved alma mater was going to take on the number 2 ranked University of Alabama Crimson Tide. The game itself went about how everyone expected, the final score was 41-0 if I remember correctly.
I'm not really sure what I expected from the whole Bama gameday experience and I'm really not sure what to say about it. Bryant-Denny stadium is certainly an imposing edifice, fortunately they aren't shy about giving visiting fans decent seats, as you can see. I was certain they were going to put us in those seats hanging over the top of the entrance.

The statues of old coaches and the things in the ground commemorating their various conference and national championship teams were pretty cool to look at, and a program as successful as theirs certainly deserves ample memorializing.

The people of Tuscaloosa were all very friendly, especially the drunk ones who kept running into us and wanted to know all sorts of stuff about North Texas. My only real criticism is with the pre-game pageantry. That "Million Dollar Band" was overpriced by about $999,997.50. I know I'm spoiled, UNT's Green Brigade may be the best college marching band going, but I was sitting about a dozen rows up and could barely hear them. Also, that guy running around on the field extolling one side to say "Ala" and the other to say "bama" gave the feel of either a minor league baseball game or vamping for time because something wasn't ready when the game was supposed to start.
A friend who went to an SEC school that shall remain nameless who, after I told him I had never been to the home stadium of any school except for UNT and Rice, told me that I was going to see what a real college game day was like. I kept thinking about that during the pre-game mess and the only conclusion I could come up with was you SEC people really overrate yourselves. Perhaps the Rice MOB was right when they said that Texas A&M joining the SEC would raise the collective IQ of both conferences. :)

On to happier things!

Civil Rights:
We stayed in Birmingham, about 60 miles from Tuscaloosa, because we didn't want to spend $1000 a night for a hotel room in Tuscaloosa. Turns out that Birmingham is a lovely small city, and the things we did there were quite enjoyable. St. Symeon Orthodox Church has an absolutely jaw dropping choir, there's a neat little natural food store where we got some road snacks (vegan chocolate chip peanut butter cookies, yum!), and very good Greek restaurant downtown. I told Chandler a time or two that if UNT ever plays Alabama-Birmingham I'd be interested in that just to visit the city again.

The highlight of the entire trip, however, was the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. This museum is fantastic. Gives you a really good idea of the history of Birmingham and how it relates to segregation and the civil rights movement. I think it may belong in the category of places every American should visit.



The museum is right across from this church, which you may or may not recognize as the church that was bombed by the KKK in 1963 killing four girls inside.


What's next?

On our way we went through Mississippi and were taken with how pretty it is. We may head out that way to see some of the Civil War and Civil Rights stuff there when I next have a break from school. We also spent the night in Memphis on the way to see Chandler's mother who's been sick and have discussed spending a weekend there for our anniversary. Stay tuned!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Icon Corners: Leah

This is our friend Leah's icon corner. Ain't it a beaut? It's also the only picture of an icon corner I've gotten, so if you'd like yours featured, email a pic to me at loquat22@gmail.com ... please!

While I'm here, I think I'll put out a call for any experienced monastery visitors to let me tag along on their next trip so I can learn proper etiquette. There's lots of stuff that would be beneficial to me that I don't do because I fear committing a faux-pas, so someone take me!!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11/01

I was a freshman in college when the terrorist attacks on 9/11 took place. I can't believe it's been 10 years. I was most likely at breakfast when the first plane hit and in calculus (yeah, I took an 8:00 AM calculus class) when the second plane hit. Truth be told, I was clueless as to what was happening until about 10:30 AM.

As the months went on and I got into the downloading illegal music scene (now I just go to YouTube), I got my hands on a song called "911" by D12 and Gorillaz. It became my anthem for the uncharted times. The anger in the song was palpable. I'm certainly not as angry now--I don't even think of revenge when I think of 9/11 but rather sadness--but in order to relive the pain and shock of the time, I knew I should share the song that was such a big part of my life. (Be advised of naughty language--it is a rap song, after all.)

The words that stuck with me the most: "Whoever that did this, we gonna get y'all."

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Icon Corner: Orthodoxy's Awesomest Awesomeness

I love icon corners. Above you see my own. I like it formal, although I'm formulating plans for a little icon "nook" in our bedroom that would be much more ... hmm, what's a good word? ... haphazard.

 I got to thinking about icon corners today when I was looking at photos from Greece and saw this icon "room":
I like how it encompasses the whole room. That's a very peaceful-looking bedroom. Some icon corners are more ... well, more than others ...
(I think I have a headache.)

 ... but my favorite icon corner of all is this one:
Anyone want to send me pictures of their icon corners? I'd love to blog about them! Just send an email to loquat22@gmail.com

 I love the diversity of icon corners. Everyone's are so different. This has to be a highlight of being Orthodox.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

More news

Wee Babekins (as Chris and I call Cami) has had her status updated. Please continue to pray.
From Christy: She is stable for the moment. They are going back & forth on whether to put her in a medical coma again. They believe the reason she quit breathing is due to a neurological issue. Her trach was clear, so there was not a "physical" reason for her to stop breathing. As of right this minute she is breathing on her own & satting in the 90's.
Pray for her parents Christy and Kevin as well. Goodness knows they need it too.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Sad news

My favorite baby in the world that's not mine (not that I have any that are mine) is mighty sick again. Here's the post from Facebook:
This is a text I received from christy: Cami has been admitted to the PICU she is having a hard time keeping her oxygen levels up. When she breathes she is retracting. She has a horrible dry cough that is not productive. So she is unable to cough up the mucus and it's settling in her lungs. She isn't keeping her formula down either. She starts coughing turns purple and throws up......
Please say prayers for little Cami. :(

 UPDATE:
Newest news from christy They believe she has a viral infection. Her breathing sounds horrible & her sats are in the 70's & 80's w/o oxygen. She is satting low, she is dehydrated (from her vomiting), coughing horribly & having seizures

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I am a little loopy. Thanks for asking.

Sunday morning, I stumbled out of bed, zombie-walked into the office (or the girl-cats' room), and discovered that the Greek Archdiocese had failed to email me the daily readings. (They would later show up in my inbox at 7:15PM.) Miffed, I went to the Orthodox Church in America's website to find the day's readings. What I found instead took me by surprise: Our beloved Archbishop Dmitri had died that same morning at 2:00. Even though I'm terminally shy, I admired Archbishop Dmitri greatly, and I must say that I've learned being Orthodox that you have to be pretty dense not to know a holy man when you see one. I can't imagine how those who knew him well must be feeling now, but I know that from the moment I found out about his death I began to call all aspects of my life into question.

Three bullet points about me:
I'm Orthodox Christian
I completely cover my hair when I'm in public
I'm vegan
All of this you probably knew already. I'm weird. I'm an atypical human being. I seem to add weird upon weird relentlessly. Well, add another one to the list:
I dress frum
I hope I don't sound like I'm showing off, and part of me feels like I need to keep this one undercover; however, the internet is not only a great way of keeping me accountable but a good way to share my experience and perhaps inspire others. Not like anything I do is worthy of emulation. But I bring it up because I know that when it's 110 degrees outside and I look like a frickin' eskimo, I'm going to have some 'splaining to do anyway. Might as well blog about it, right?

So what is frum? Frum originally meant "pious"--now it refers to the way Orthodox Jews dress, particularly women. Frum means no collar bones, no elbows, and no knees, which translates to high necklines, 3/4-sleeves or longer, and skirts that end at least below my knees. Frum means feminity, which in turn means no pants (and that's fine by me--of the three pairs of pants I have, two I hate and the one I like has a small hole on the rump that may or may not be showing off the day's choice in grunders). And frum does not mean the end of fashion, just its modification.

Why frum? Because it's a good set of guidelines and I wouldn't be making up the rules as I go. Because of the common heritage between Jews and Christians. Because it's still easier than hijab, the Muslim code for modesty, which says that only a woman's hands and face may show (and I'm not sure that dressing like a Muslim would win me many friends in this post-9/11 world). Because I'm tired of feeling lax about the way I dress and feeling like I'm showing off too much (even when it pales in comparison to what you see nowadays). Because frum women say that dressing in this modest fashion frees them up to think about more important things.

Is this the least feminist thing I could do? It probably looks that way, but I'd say no. I know that when I go back to school in January I'll hardly be impressing the salivating boys (face it, they're not really men) by wearing a turtleneck and a long skirt. Back in my original college days, one impressed the boys by wearing a tank top and shorts that could pass for underwear to class, and whenever I'm on the UNT campus I see that things haven't changed a bit. Frankly I don't think it's liberating to dress that way, and I'm pretty sure that more than one of the original women in the women's lib movement would agree with me. I read where one feminist (who eventually converted to Orthodox Judaism) took a frum woman to task for dressing in such an ultra-conservative manner only to get the ultra-feminist reply, "I show what I want to whom I want when I want to."

This is a very external move that I hope will have spiritual benefits, but I know the interior needs a little ... okay, a lot of work as well. I need to pray more, I need to visit monasteries, and I need to stop swearing. Curse words are my ultimate vice. Hopefully without revealing too much of what goes on in my confessions, I confess to vulgar language every time I go in, and I'm sorry for it, but I'm never intent on changing. That ends here. I've spent the past two days yelling at myself anytime foul language escapes my lips, and I actually think that's going to help.

Okay, this post is already too long, but I wanted to close with one thing: I was on a monastery's website, and along with its service schedule it had guidelines for dress while on monastery property. The last guideline brought a little smile to my face and may serve as my motto from here on out. It asked all visitors to refrain from wearing "Anything you would not wear on Judgement Day."

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I'm not a terrorist, but I am dead sexy

I continue life with a headscarf on my head, which had two polar opposite results on my recent trip to Missouri. I was going up to see my sick mother (more on that later), and to Dallas-Love Field I sported the classy Dutch crown (except with a square scarf folded into a triangle). I was shocked and eventually offended when the TSA person had to pat down my headscarf. I more keenly understand the stereotyping against Muslim women all the time. Nothin' in there but hair, hun.

Contrast this with my trip from KCI back to Dallas, where I was tapped on the shoulder and asked about my classic bun. The woman in question couldn't believe that I'd tied it myself! I've gotten better with time, but I'm glad to say that tying these headscarves isn't rocket science. My current method of trying the bun looks much more fluid than what I've done in the past, so I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised that she thought it came that way.

One black headscarf with white polka dots, two very different reactions. Interesting indeed.

Friday, July 22, 2011

It's Feline Friday!

The Humane Society always celebrates Feline Friday on Twitter, which is when you can post pictures of your kitties. They were kind enough to retweet my pictures of our senior citizen felines, Owl and Estelle. I could tell you to go to Twitter and see the pictures, but it's easier to just post the pictures here on the Loquat. The first picture is of Estelle, who was most put out that I would put a large camera so close to her face; the second picture is of Owl, who looks like he just woke up ... in large part because I had in fact woken him up. It was cool to have their silly faces plastered all over the interwebs so so many people could see them. I love my old kitties!


Monday, July 18, 2011

Life Begins Anew

I'm 28 years old, working as a professional housewife who really enjoys taking photos, and I have no kids. What to do? Go back to school to learn to take better pictures! And I just found out today that I've been admitted to the University of North Texas as a pre-art major! Ain't life grand?

Why a pre-art major? UNT has a fantabulous art school, so you have to pass a certain number of classes in order to be truly admitted to the art program. I, in addition, will have to submit a portfolio at a certain point to be admitted into the photography program. Seems photographers are a dime-a-dozen, but I'm confident in my mad photo skillz.

I'm also keen on sculpture and the jewelry-making/metalsmithing program. Remember way back when when Chris and I were trying to adopt a blind child (you know, the reason we started this blog)? After getting keen on art, I began to feel that certain disabilities were excluded from the joy of art, blindness in particular. Thus the interest in sculpture: Touchable art.

Anyway, I'm thrilled. I have no clue what my next step is at this point ... other than jumping up and down, of course. For now, exult in my latest photo in my "Art for Your Kitchen" series.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Long-Promised, Long-Awaited Hair Covering Post

I have a love/hate relationship with my hair. Okay, check that--I have a hate relationship with my hair. It's very thin. It's very flat. It's very stringy. It's a lovely color, but the other factors quickly reduce that to rubble. Oh, did I mention that PCOS gives me male-pattern baldness and renders the hair on the crown of my head verrrry thin? Very, verrrrrrry thin? (It's at this point that my entire nuclear family would chime in and remind me that I have the thickest hair in the family.) I should threaten to shave it all off, but I need my ponytail to anchor my headscarf in place.

I was reluctant to embrace the headscarf when I started attending the Orthodox Church, but not out of ideological disagreement. I briefly had worn a little white scarf with red rickrack to church when I was Episcopalian (bold, I know), but insecurity about this visible expression of piety won out. Finally, on Christmas, months after I'd started going to the Orthodox Church, I wore that same little white scarf. Shortly after that came crossing myself, venerating icons, and all the other trappings of being Orthodox. The headscarf was the key that opened the door: It was time to stop standing around like a dolt and do "the Orthodox business."

Fast forward a few years. I've reached the point that being in church without a headscarf makes me feel naked. I have one gray bandana and the little white scarf (which isn't looking so hot anymore). So I went online searching for headscarves and found the other Orthodox--the Orthodox Jews. Turned out that Orthodox Jewish women cover their hair basically all the time after they got married. They consider the hair of a married woman to be holy and something for just her and her husband. Needless to say, Orthodox Jews are doing a brisk business in various headcoverings: scarves (tichels ... pronounced tickle), pre-tied bandanas, snoods, you name it. And don't forget the Shabbat hat (hoowee--fancy pantsy!).

I began to embrace the Jewish notion of modesty, seeing its common heritage with the Orthodox Church, and took to wearing hats and tichels while we were in Marfa. But Marfa had anonymity. Marfa embraced quirkiness. I could wear a piece of cloth tied up in a funny way because I could blend in with the other random nuts who lived in Marfa. The beginning of the return to Denton and to civilization marked the end of covering my hair, at least for a little while.

I began seeing a therapist for reasons completely unrelated to the subject of this blog post, and after each session we'd go to a little Italian restaurant for a late lunch and a deflating period (therapy's harder than it looks). Since we were there at an off-period, we were usually served by the manager, a Muslim woman who practiced hijab (if you don't know what it is, look it up--it's good to learn about other cultures). I realized that I admired her modesty. I realized that it was wrong and silly that devout Jewish and Muslim women covered their hair while Christians got increasingly less modest in church. And then I realized my fate was sealed.

Back on went the headscarf.

Now I only wear a tichel or hat when I'm around other people. When it's just Chris and me, he gets to see my hair in all its limp yet dreamy-brown glory. I haven't gone completely frum ... yet. (Once again, if you don't know what it is, look it up. Google is amazing.) And I'd also be lying if I created the impression that I did this for entirely religious reasons. There's a wonderful, unique element of fashion to headcovering that gives me a little more self-esteem than my sorry excuse for hair would. I also don't want to come across as judging those women who don't cover their hair ... although I would like to see more women do it. :)

But now the important part: where to get good tichels and how to tie them.

Where to Get Tichels and Other Goodies!
The Style Underground - This is my favorite place. More expensive than most, but that's because she makes substantially better tichels. And her new stuff is kee-yoot!
Sowers of Hope - Admittedly a little creepy (let's just say it's abundantly clear that they're not Orthodox of any kind), but they make cute and good-quality tichels among other things.
Tznius - So many consonants right in a row, so little time. (What?) I've gotten some great tichels here, especially the Luminescence Scarf--get it before it sells out! Oh, and if you can figure out how to get the Classic 'Forget-me-not' Beret into the cart, please tell me. I really want that beret.
My Tichels - I admit to never having shopped here, but their stuff does look cute. One thing you'll figure out if you do a search for tichels on your own is that everyone seems to have the same stuff--these guys have different tichels, which makes me a happy camper.
Aliza's Boutique - I have shopped at Aliza's Boutique, and I love it. Tichel selection is spotty, but their collection of pre-tied bandanas and hats are not to be missed. The berets are so cute that one could theoretically die of cute overload just looking at them ... theoretically. Proceed with caution.
Coveryourhair.com - My interest in this website has waned as I look for more interesting finds, but it's great for basics. They have a stock of solid cotton tichels that periodically dwindles down to nothing and again is periodically replenished, so it's nice to have that source for a "nothing fancy" headcovering. They also have some videos that are handy for basic tying methods. :)

How to Tie
Tznius has a good guide and a good variety, but they kind of overcomplicate things a little. It may be better to check the videos on Coveryourhair.com to learn.
If you're feeling more adventurous, the Style Underground has truly thrilling options. Make sure and check out this video to learn how I discovered one of my favorite songs (and I think my hair is finally long enough to do this one--woohoo!).

So there. That's the post on headcovering I've been planning to do for like a year. Hope you enjoyed it ... or at least weren't utterly scandalized by it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

When it rains it pours

After my former abode in West Texas was hit by fires, my other former abode of Missouri has been struck by disaster as well. I know Joplin, MO, because that's the last town we go through in MO on the road from MO to TX. (Conversely, it's the first Missouri town we enter on the way to Columbia.) An opportunity for giving has arisen that I wanted to pass along:

A MO family has pledged to match up to $50,000 in donations made to this fund, beginning this morning, and 100% of proceeds go straight to Joplin with ZERO overhead.

Extra phone operators are standing by at Heart of Missouri United Way for Joplin Tornado Relief Fund!

Call 573-443-4523, go online to http://uwheartmo.org/, or text JOPLIN to 864833 to make a $10 donation.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Blessed Child Musa


Today is the feast day of one of my favorite little-known saints, Blessed Child Musa. Her description comes from the OCA website.

Saint Musa lived during the fifth century. She was distinguished for her pure life. St Gregory Dialogus included her story in his DIALOGUES, saying that he had heard these things from Musa's brother Probus.

The Most Holy Theotokos once appeared to Musa in a dream, surrounded by girls dressed in white. She asked her, "Do you wish to live together with these maidens in my court?"

"Yes, I do," the girl replied.

"Do not do anything silly, as little girls often do. Avoid frivolity and joking. In thirty days I shall come for you and you will be with us."

From that moment, Musa's character was changed. She began to pray earnestly and lived a strict life. In answer to the questions of her astonished parents, St Musa told them about the vision.

On the twenty-fifth day the maiden developed a fever, and on the thirtieth day she again saw the Mother of God coming to her with the same girls as before. The blessed child reposed with the words, "I am coming, I am coming to you, my Lady!"

St Musa departed this earthly life and was gathered into the heavenly Kingdom, where she glorifies the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit unto ages of ages.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Easy-Peasy-Japanesey

You can now support the victims of the fires out west via Paypal! The Jeff Davis County Relief Fund is set up to take donations online now! http://jeffdaviscountyrelief.org/

Monday, April 11, 2011

Help West Texas

I have a little info on how to help out with the fires in West Texas:

SHIP OR DROP OFF ITEMS: United Methodist Church 200 S. Front Street Fort Davis TX 79734

BLANKETS, HATS, FLIP FLOPS
FOOD AND WATER only non-perishables
ANIMALS: HAY, CATTLE & HORSE FEED, DOG & CAT FOOD:
HAY: call Jeff Davis County Agent Logan Boswell 432 249-0265
Grand Companions in Fort Davis: 432-426-3724

Sunday, April 10, 2011

West Texas on fire

Our lovely former abode is facing down a wild fire that's consumed 60,000 acres and is 0% contained. There are have been no human casualties so far, but lots of cattle and horses have lost their lives. The animal shelter Bors came from evacuated all their animals to Balmorhea. FEMA has stepped in. It's a mess.

Can you imagine several small towns' worth of volunteer fire fighters going after such a fire? Gives me shivers.

I'll give information on relief efforts and how you can help as I get more information. In the meantime, pray.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Dallas International Film Festival Review

We spent this week at the 5th annual Dallas International Film Festival. We missed it last year and made up for it by going to seven screenings this year. There were two promos that ran before every movie that I feel the need mention, I wish I could find them so you could know what I'm talking about, but alas, I cannot. The first was the promo for the Earth Day Dallas 2011 event. It had the happiest, most infectious whistling jingle ever. You may hear me whistling it several months from now. The second was a promo for the festival itself. It features a fake director by the name of Vittorio Vere. It was sort of funny the first one or two times, but by the time I had sat through it for the seventh time I wanted to do a fist pump and yell "Hooray! I don't have to see that again!" Please, please, please DIFF, don't subject us to that again next year.

On to the movies! I will give a short review of each in the same order in which we saw them.

The Disappearance of McKinley Nolan: During the Vietnam War a man from Washington, Texas went AWOL and joined up with the VC. He vanished and hasn't been seen since the Khmer Rouge days in Cambodia. More than likely he was killed by the Khmer Rouge. A journalist who's been following the story for years, a Vietnam Vet who claimed to have met Nolan (which, according to the producer of the movie, might be doubtful), and Nolan's brother go to Vietnam to look for him. They meet Nolan's Vietnamese stepson and various other former VC and Khmer Rouge people who had dealings with him but get pretty well run around by them. I hope that they do find his remains one day. They're pretty sure that he's in a field in Cambodia, but there are a lot of people buried in that field and it could take quite a long time to figure our if any of them is Nolan.
I hate saying that this was probably the worst of the features that we saw because that makes it sound like I didn't like it. I did enjoy it quite a bit, it was a good documentary and I'd recommend it to anyone, but the others were better.

Documentary Shorts: There were six movies and I'll talk about them each individually.
Short 1: Tussilago: Swedish woman falls in love with a German terrorist in the 1970s, gets arrested and very poorly treated. Suffers from mental illness due to her poor treatment back then and doesn't get any treatment for it until a few years ago. Very sad. Visually fascinating.

Short 2: Grandpa's Wet Dream: Terrible story poorly told. Dirty old man in Japan makes some pornography, sells some movie posters for less money than he wants, and jokes with some people about how his family might be embarrassed about what he does. Don't see this. It's really bad.

Short 3: 39-A: A Travel Tale of Interminable: The spaceship old travel trip family Kennedy Cape. This is Amsterdam. Disjointed follow first at hard. Loved it.

Short 4: Just About Famous: A convention of celebrity lookalikes. Set to mariachi music. Lots of fun, very funny. Perfect subject for a short film.

Short 5: Closed for Storm: Six Flags New Orleans: This park closed for Hurricane Katrina and never reopened. This film feels like a series of photographs set to music. No words save for a few text cards at the beginning and end. I believe this is on youtube, and it's worth a look.

Short 6: The High Level Bridge: This bridge is a landmark in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. It's a very popular place for suicide there. Apparently everybody in Edmonton knows somebody who's jumped. At the end they throw the camera off the bridge. This is a little hard to watch, but worth it.



Wild Horse, Wild Ride: Outstanding. Simply fantastic. This got a standing ovation. Wild mustangs are taken off of government land to prevent overpopulation. To encourage adoption of these mustangs competitions are held where trainers take a horse for 100 days to train it for competition and auction. The oldest and biggest of these competitions is in Fort Worth in September. The film follows a handful of these trainers over the course of the 100 days and the subsequent competition. The bonds that develop between these horses and the people who are training them is something to see. We're talking about going to the Extreme Mustang Makeover this year because of this film.

The Prosecutor: This fim follows the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court as the ICC begins to hear its first cases. They do a quite good job of showing not only the importance of the idea of the ICC to its supporters and the futility of the ICC in the minds of its detractors. Regardless of what you think of the court, its role, its legitimacy, etc. this is a film that is certainly worth your time. Like a good documentary should it got us talking and thinking about this issues it raised.

Small Town Murder Songs: Our first fiction film of the festival. The police in a small town in Ontario investigates a murder. The police chief has a serious anger problem and the actor who plays him shows him as a man on edge really well. His dealing with that anger is in a way a reason why the killer gets caught. The music may have been the best part of the whole thing. Shape note music turned up to 11!

Ironclad: Twenty men attempt to defend a castle and hold off an army led by King John as he tries to reclaim the power he lost after signing the Magna Carta. Some good, old fashioned, blood and guts battle scenes are a good way to start a double feature to end a festival. "You are no more a king than the boil on my arse," is quite the memorable line, and the Braveheart-esque scene where the Baron has his hands and feet cut off and then is flung by catapult against the keep of the castle while screaming for his men to hold the keep was impressive. My one big criticism is that I did not like the Hollywood-like forbidden love story. One of the defenders of the castle is a Templar Knight. Now, there's so much garbage out there about the Templars that I really don't trust anything I've heard about them, but it's presented in the movie as an order of warrior monastics. Monastics, as in celibate monks. If that's the historical truth or not, I don't know, but that's how it's presented in the film, so that's what I'm going with for this particular criticism. He is seduced by the Lady of the Castle. After he succumbs to the temptation and they have sex he feels guilty about it and tells her they shouldn't have done it. She tells him that she's not a sin and he doesn't have much to say about that. I couldn't help but think, well, no, you're not a sin, but that's hardly the point. You're a married woman and he's a monk! What you did was wrong. At the end when her husband was dead and he had been released from his order and vows and they go off together I had no problem with, but come on! The movie was about defending your principles, and this sub-plot was about the virtue of giving in to your passions. It made no sense. That aside, very good film.

13 Assassins: We joked going in that we were about to see the same movie that we had just left. We were right, sort of. It does deal with the same idea of standing up to corrupt power, but they are very different. This is a Japanese movie set in the waning days of the Shogunate. The Shogun wants his half-brother to be on the council. The half-brother is a sadistic maniac and doesn't believe that people beneath him in the social order are anything more than property and animals he can do what he wants with. If you had any doubt about his sadism it was dispelled when they showed his former mistress (I think) who, when he got bored with her, had her limbs and tongue cut off, her thrown out in the street and her village massacred. Not easy to watch. The justice minister knows that this madman cannot be put into power and recruits an old samurai to deal with him. He in turn recruits 12 others and they trap the lunatic as he travels from Edo to his home. The madman has a 200 strong armed escort with him. The assassins essentially purchase a town, set it up as a massive booby trap and kill everybody. The final scene has the old samurai and his nephew face the lunatic, the two remaining guards, and the chief guard, who happened to be a fellow student way back when with the old samurai. The nephew takes care of the two guards, no problem. The old samurai has single combat with his old classmate and (ahem) chops his head off. He lectures the lunatic and they stab each other. The lunatic thanks the samurai for the most exciting day of his life and the samurai chops his head off and dies. All I can think to say is, as my friend Ash would say, yowza, wowza, holy cowza!

In order of preference:
1. Wild Horse, Wild Ride
2. Ironclad
3. 13 Assassins
4. Just About Famous
5. 39-A: A Travel Tale of Interminable
6. Prosecutor
7. Small Town Murder Songs
8. Closed for Storm
9. The High Level Bridge
10. The Disappearance of McKinley Nolan
11. Tussilago
12. Grandpa's Wet Dream

See you next year DIFF!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The continuation of A Long Term Bit: Nebraska

We have returned from our adventure in Nebraska. For those who don't know (and how could you not?) we're endeavoring to see something unique to or interesting in each of the 50 states. "What's interesting or unique about Nebraska?" you ask. Well, there are these guys:



That is a sandhill crane. Every year these lovely things leave their snowbird residences in Florida, Texas, Arizona, and Mexico and take off for Canada and Siberia. That's a pretty wide area at start and finish, but they all stop along a 60 mile or so stretch of the Platte River in Nebraska to bulk up for the second leg of the journey.

We stayed at the Oldfather Farm guesthouse near Kearney, NE. If you decide to make this trek yourself, I recommend staying at this place. They have friendly dogs and horses, the house is nice and has some pretty big windows so you can look at the cranes as they feed in the fields around it. Also, FYI, Kearney is home to the Museum of Nebraska Art. It's well worth a look if you're in the vicinity.







The Audubon Society's Rowe Sanctuary near Kearney has a blind along the Platte where you can go spend a couple hours watching the cranes come in to roost for the evening. You can also watch them leave in the morning if you want, but that sounded really early.

It started like this.



Then this happened.




And then it looked like this.



We also went to Missouri to spend a few days with Chandler's parents. While there we went to a Royals game that was won on a walkoff homerun by this guy.



I think he's got the best name in baseball. Anybody dare to disagree?

On Friday nights the Royals have post-game fireworks. It's a lot of fun to be with a happy and energetic crowd right after a win to watch some really good fireworks.






That's six down, 44 to go. Next up will probably be Oklahoma in May.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Nebraska!

On our mission to see every state in the union, spring break is taking us to Kearney, NE, to see the migration of the sandhill crane. (Here's where I add that the picture isn't mine--I stole it from somewhere else.) I've packed up an assortment of cameras and lenses, and I'm prepared to take pictures of these majestic birds in all their ... well, majesticness. (I guess the word is "majesty", but who cares, really? English is a malleable language.)

I'm also meeting up with an old online friend, which is pretty dang cool. :)

In other news, our kitty Tuna totally hates the song "We Shall Overcome." :)

Onward to Nebraska!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The results are in!

Sunday, April 3, we see The Disappearance of McKinley Nolan and the documentary shorts (featuring "The High Level Bridge").

Monday, April 4, we see Wild Horse, Wild Ride.

Tuesday, April 5, we get a day's respite.

Wednesday, April 6, we see Prosecutor.

Thursday, April 7, we see Small Town Murder Songs.

Friday, April 8, we see the double-header of Ironclad and 13 Assassins (same venue, same theater, one right after the other).

And that's our schedule for the Dallas International Film Festival!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The preliminary list is in

We have a rather long list this year since we'll miss three days of the festival and therefore are likely to miss some of the movies we want to see. Plus, there's always the risk of movie times being simultaneous or too close together (we have had to run across the theatre to catch two movies in a row), so it pays to have a big list. Here they are:

Movies We Both Agree On
Small Town Murder Songs - "A modern, gothic tale of crime and redemption about an aging police officer from a small Ontario Mennonite town who hides a violent past until a local murder upsets the calm of his newly reformed life."
Prosecutor - "A fascinating story with extraordinary inside access, PROSECUTOR follows the Chief Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo through the first trials of the newly formed International Criminal Court."
Wild Horse, Wild Ride - "WILD HORSE, WILD RIDE follows a handful of unforgettable characters who set out on a 100-day quest to tame a totally wild mustang for a Texas competition. This stunning documentary highlights the profound bond between people and animals."
13 Assassins - "As the era of the samurai winds to a close, a sadistic young lord uses his powerful political ties to commit heinous atrocities against the common people. A group of noble samurai seeks to slay the tyrannical lord before he seizes control of the entire country." [I was so glad we agreed on this one.]
The Perfect Game - "Based on a true story about a group of boys from Monterrey, Mexico who become the first non-U.S. team to win the Little League World Series." [We're baseball nuts. What can I say?]
The Last Circus - "While in the midst of the brutal Spanish Civil War, a “Happy” circus clown is interrupted mid-performance and forcibly recruited by militia into battle against National soldiers, where he single handedly massacres an entire platoon. THE LAST CIRCUS follows the story of the clown’s son and raises the curtain on a twisted tale of love, revenge, and psychopathic clowns."
Giant - "GIANT is a sprawling epic covering the life of a Texas cattle rancher and his family and associates. The story of their family and its rivalry with cowboy and Jett Rink unfolds across two generations." [Giant was filmed in Marfa and we really ought to have seen it there, but now we can see it on the big screen!]

Movies Chris is Making a Case for:
Ironclad - "In 13th century England, a determined group of Knights Templar defend Rochester Castle against the tyrannical King John. IRONCLAD tells the story of the group’s struggles against the King to defend the freedom of their country."
The Disappearance of McKinley Nolan - "Private McKinley Nolan vanished forty years ago in Vietnam on the Cambodian frontier. In 2006, retired US Army Lt. Dan Smith, revisiting the battlefields of his youth, may have encountered the elusive McKinley, alive. So began a journey into the heart of darkness."

Movies I'm Making a Case for:
The Greater Good - "Pilaro and Nelson’s THE GREATER GOOD looks behind the fear, hype and politics that polarize people into emotionally charged pro-vaccine or anti-vaccine camps."
"The High Level Bridge" - "Trevor drops his camera from Edmonton’s High Level Bridge in memory of those who have jumped." [A short--can't really make a whole feature film out of that anyway.]

We'll know more when the schedule comes out, but I think that's an admirable start. I asked via Twitter (who says Twitter is useless?) when the schedule of films would become available--should be soon since tickets go on sale on the 17th (this Thursday).