Sunday, February 28, 2010

Degrees of Separation... the movie version

I like to watch movies on the weekend. Especially on Sunday, while I'm doing statistics homework, or relaxing after church. Its hard for me to pick out which movie to watch, though, because I don't want to be the person who watches the same movies all the time (those movies, btw, would be: Stranger than Fiction, Love Actually, Notting Hill, and the Italian Job). It seems wasteful to own a lot of movies and then only watch a few of them.

The problem is that sometimes I'm not sure what movie I'm "in the mood of" (as we say in my family), and other times, I'm ambivalent about all of them.

And so it goes that I invented this whole "degrees of separation: the movie version" game. The goal is to put in a movie that I like and then match something about that movie to the next one - it can be a time of year (i.e. summer or chistmas), a topic (i.e. caper), or - and this is my favorite and the real reason its a degree of separation game - an actor or actress that stars in the film. I'll be honest, if I start with the four movies listed above, I have a pretty wide berth to pick a LOT of movies as my second choice. Love Actually is chock-a-block full of celebrities who get a lot of work, and StF has some ubiquitous actors like Emma Thompson and Will Ferrell. But here's how it works (using only movies i actually have in my house):

Start with Stranger than Fiction - starring Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhal, Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman and Queen Latifah. (I actually just watched this today and so that is why we're starting with it)
can lead to.....
2nd Movie: Much Ado about Nothing - starring Emma Thompson, Kenneth Branagh, Keanu Reeves, and Denzel.
which can lead to...... Love Actually (if I stick with an Emma thee-parter) or Harry Potter (3-6)
OR, StF can lead to...
Beauty Shop (with the Queen and Alicia Silverstone) which leads to Clueless (starring Alicia)
OR StF can lead to Wedding Crashers (in which Will F. has a small role) which can lead to The Notebook or Mean Girls (both starring Rachel McAdams).

You get what I'm talking about, right?

Now I will agree that when it comes to old movies - like Say Anything, it gets a little harder. I love John Cusack, but don't own all of his movies, and sometimes you have to really work to get from one movie to another. The key is to start with one of the older movies instead of trying to work your way back to it.

But its fun. I love the idea that I can create my own fairly obscure triple-feature of movies that I already know I like.

Your assignment: Create a triple feature for yourself and your household and then post it here! I want to see how creative you can be in variety of movie types. For example, you could go from The Italian Job (starring, among others, Jason Statham) which leads to The Pink Panther (starring Steve Martin and Beyonce, in which Jason has a small role alongside Kevin Kline) to Dave.  See - you have an action/adventure, slapstick comedy and a romantic comedy in one sitting!

Off to your assignment, my friends. And then let's here your triple features!

Friday, February 19, 2010

When a problem comes along.... you must "Whip It"

Bliss Cavender is clearly a misfit. The movie begins with a beauty pageant appearance, where she walks out with accidental blue hair. She is sullen and unhappy and does not appear to want to live the life her parents want for her. Sound familiar?

"Whip It" is a classic coming of age story - a high school misfit trying to find her "place", a young girl on the verge of adulthood, and a town that is too backward to be believed. Bliss (Ellen Page in Juno-esque form) has been in the beauty pageant circuit at her mother's urging, even though in reality she's an alt-ingenue. She wears black tights and boots and oversized clothes and works at the local diner, The Oink Joint. Her best friend is focused on getting into a college a long way from Bodeen, Texas, but Bliss is sort of aimless. While on a trip to Austin with her mom, three girls skate into the store where Bliss and her mom are shopping (which turns out to be a headshop in a funny awkward moment). In slow motion we see them laughing and having fun, tatted up and with colored hair. Something about them appeals to Bliss and she picks up one of their roller derby flyers.

Even if you don't know anything about this movie, you are probably guessing what happens next. Well, I won't tell you the details, but it involves lying, skating, laughing, crying, and a bunch of people learning how to be humble.

Though the story is pretty formulaic, there is so much to like about it. I don't know much about direction, but Drew Barrymore (in her directorial debut) managed to catch the excitement and fun of roller derby while using interesting camera angles that really made me look differently at some of the scenes. The cast of the "Hurl Scouts" is terrific and includes Eve, Juliette Lewis, and Kristen Wiig in addition to the other marquee stars, Barrymore and Page. Bliss's interactions with the team, and the team members love for each other is really terrific without going into any side melodrama. And Bliss's parents are played really well by Daniel Stern and Marcia Gay Harden.

In fact, Bliss's parents alone are a reason to watch this movie. Their love for her despite her misfit-ness is authentic and real, and later in the movie there is a moment in the kitchen where Bliss's mom sits down with her on the floor and they have a real heart to heart in a way that makes your heart wish more parents "got it". I appreciate that her parents aren't pushovers, they are strong parents negotiating life with an almost-adult and all three are trying to figure out what that means for the future and for their relationships.

Ellen Page may be the only downside to this movie. Though she is fantastic when she is skating, and she is fun to watch with the team, for so much of this movie she is really a lot like she was in "Juno". Once you've seen both movies, feel free to correct me, and maybe I need to see Juno again, but I feel like she was a little typecast as the girl who mumbles, makes witty/dry remarks, is too cool for school, but deep down is looking for inspiration. Don't get me wrong, she plays that role well, but I think she has a lot of promise as an actress and I'd have liked to see it in the whole movie, not just in few brief flashes. All of that being said, I'm not sure there is another young actress working right now who could have played the role of Bliss Cavendar with the subtlety and grace that Ellen Page did, so in that respect, there is no downside at all.

People: Rent this movie. After watching, you will be thinking "that is a delightful little film" and "I wonder if I can go watch any roller derby around here?!" Whip It warrants 4 pink pigs out of 5 in my book.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Book Review: Beautiful Mess: The Story of Diamond Rio (by Diamond Rio with Tom Roland)

I'm a country music fan, and in fact, I'm a Diamond Rio fan. Ever since the early 90's, when my H.S. boyfriend, Brad, played country all the time in his toyota truck. I lived in Seattle, and Brad is Korean, so even though country in a truck are stereotypical, neither of us were stereotypical country fans.

However, despite my enjoyment of country music, I don't really know much about bands in general and less about band members. So were it not for my work in reviewing books for Thomas Nelson, I would not probably have heard of, let alone read, this book.

"Beautiful Mess" is a memior about how Diamond Rio got started as a group, how each individual member came to be a part of the band, and how the group rallied after lead singer and frontman Marty Roe began to have trouble carrying a tune.

Right up front, I'll tell you that I'm giving this book about a 2 1/2 mandolins out of 5. If I were a huge Diamond Rio fan and knew the band members and had gone to all their concerts, then I'm sure this book is a 4. I am not that person. So as an average reader who likes their music, but isn't really sure why they're putting out a book, its just average. High points: learning about the various paths that people take to become a band, reading funny stories about Opryland, and gaining insight into how the group communicated and rallied to regain their old form. Low points: after reading the book, I still can't really tell you who is who and who is married to/divorced from whom - and I'm not that worried about figuring it out.

Ultimately, if you are a big Diamond Rio fan, you will be encouraged and entertained by this story. And if you attended their shows in the late 90's and wondered why they sounded bad, this book will answer those questions for you and make you buy tickets for any upcoming show to see them redeem themselves. However, if you are not any of the above type of people, I'd say avoid it and read the biographies/memiors that have inspired me including: "Blue Like Jazz" by Donald Miller and/or "Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur" by Frank Houghton.

When life is serving up lemons....

why can't I make lemon pie?  (or subtitled: why losing weight slowly is apparently better than the alternative)

I weighed in today for week 2 of my journey to better fitness and I had lost 1 pound. Add that to the one pound I lost last week and it is a total of 2 pounds. To be fair, my goal is to lose 35 pounds in 2010, and there are more than 35 weeks left in 2010, so if I keep this pace, I can reach my goal.

Nonetheless, it would be false to say that I am excited about my 1-lb a week trend. Having tried other ways of losing weight before (low-carb being the most successful "diety" type way) and in the beginning you lose a lot of weight fast, this pace seems discouraging to me. I want to be one of those people who loses 3 lbs a week for a few weeks and then slows to 1 lb a week (though I know that would be discouraging too).

Weight Watchers gave me an inspirational message today about why losing weight slowly is best and it was good for me to be reminded of the following:
1) my goal is long term fitness and health - I am not currently crash dieting to fit into a bridesmaid dress or to look good for a wedding (as I have had to do before), nor am I trying to trick my body into doing something that I am not planning to keep up. Right now, I'm adding back into my life different types of exercise and activity and finding ways to make that work with a grad student lifestyle.
2) there are enough weeks in the year for me to make my goal.
3) even after only 2 weeks, I am really learning a lot about myself, my eating habits, my activity habits, and my mental habits. I cannot wait to see what those habits are going to look like in week 10.

So for now, I'm taking the small win - I lost 1 pound this week and I'm proud of it, even though I wish it were more. I've lost 2 pounds in two weeks, which is now a trend of weight loss and healthy living and I'm excited about it! I may have to readjust my rewards slightly ( I was getting a reward for every 5 pounds, but maybe now I need to do something weekly instead) so that I can keep a positive attitude. 

And thanks to all y'all for keeping me accountable and helping me along this journey!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Rom-Com Cliches - Weigh In

Love Actually | 24 Rom-Com Cliches We'd Retire | Photo 2 of 25 |

Hey Friends,
Above you'll see a link to 1 of 24 Cliches that Entertainment Weekly says should be retired. If you get a chance to look through all 24 and weigh in here, then please do. In the meantime, I'll just address the one linked above - "The Last Minute Sprint"...

In general, I'd say that I probably agree with about 1/2 of what they suggested and the other half are either things I either like for a few reasons or think are close to (but not actually) reality.

However, I want to stand up in defense of the "Last Minute Sprint" - because I think this is what people want. I think both men and women want to think that someone would come running after them or running out to them to confess their love. I think that this world tells us we aren't that desirable (unless we fit certain stereotypes) and as such, we go through life feeling unpursued and unlovable. But the truth is that God chases after us with his love, and so I applaud the last minute sprint. The reason why so many movies have this plot device is that we think this is part of what love is about - because deep in our hearts we know that this is what Love is about.

What do you think about the list of 24 plot devices, friends? And what do you think about the sprint in particular?

Let's chat it up, below!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Happy Friday!

LOVE THIS! Enjoy friends.

Latest Projects

As I've mentioned before, a lot of people I know are having babies. It happens when you reach a certain age - and for me, its actually happened in two separate waves (just like the weddings did!). This post is about two friends, one who I've known since the Greenville days and one from my Seattle Bible Study Fellowship class. 

Alexis and I met when I became a Discussion Leader for one of the groups in the Seattle Young Adult's BSF class. Our groups were about the same age, and so were we, and we hit it off. Alexis is one of those women who will love you fully, make you laugh with her witty and sarcastic comments, and who will deal with you straight. I love how she enjoys life and trying new things and I also love her authenticity. She and her husband, Greg moved to New York a year (I think) before I moved to Illinois, so it has been a LONG time since we've seen each other in person. But I still count her among my good friends, she's one of the favorites, and just keeping up with each other on our blogs and facebook will have to do for now.

Alexis and Greg are due to welcome their first baby, a little girl, any moment now. In fact, maybe RIGHT now as I post this (I think today is her due date). I wanted to share a little gift I made for her and Greg. I love making these baby burp rags for my friends!

I only got one picture of these as I was sending them out so I'll describe the picture above. Each of the burp rags is made of a cloth diaper, about a 12x12 piece of fabric and a coordinating ribbon. When I chose these fabrics/ribbons, I hadn't see the decorations of the baby's room yet, so I just thought of what I know about Greg and Alexis and decided they would like these batik prints that have a lot of colors in them, with purple, pink, and orange ribbons.

My friends Laura and Andy are the recipients of another baby prayer quilt. I made the first one of these for Baby Brookie, my friends' baby daughter. At the time, Brooklin was not eating well, was sleeping poorly and kept losing weight. I prayed while I made a little blanket for her and by the time it was finished and mailed, she was well. I feel like the discipline of prayer was really valuable in this time. Flash forward to September of last year. My friend Laura came to visit around Labor Day weekend and she was just barely pregnant. It was a time of great rejoicing and a time of trepidation. I had already been praying for Laura a long time but after she left, I found myself praying even more. And I knew that I had to make a quilt for this baby, too. I've been working on it secretly for months, all the time so excited and wanting to tell Laura about it when we check in on the phone, or when we're praying together, but I also wanted it to be a surprise.

Well, I finally sent it to the Petersons and so I can also show it to you. When Laura was here in September she said, "I don't know if its a boy or a girl yet, and I don't care which it is, but if its a girl her name will be Hope." The baby is indeed a girl, due in a couple months, and her name is Hope. So I stitched her name into the top orange square. I think if you click the second photo you can see the name stitched into it.

So I learned a lot from this particular project. I had been working on it literally for six months. The construction only took a day, but the stitching was just slowly coming along as I had time to sit and sew and pray. It traveled with me on my winter trips to St. Louis, Greenville, San Antonio, and Phoenix and in all those places I took it out and sewed a little and prayed. Sometimes I would just put it on my lap and pray.

When I went to send it to Laura, I almost couldn't do it. Instead of becoming a tool to focus my prayer, it had become a talisman of sorts. The pregnancy was going well and Laura was healthy as was the baby - and suddenly I got nervous that I would send the quilt and something would happen. Aren't our human hearts foolish? So I wrote the note to Andy and Laura and prayed and remembered that while the Lord hears and answers our prayer, he is in control of all things and that includes this little baby girl. It was a great reminder for me of God's sovereignty and grace. Laura recieved it and I was so excited to hear from her that she loved it and that it was bringing her as much joy as it brought me to make.

So those are the latest projects. I have a few new things in the works, but with too little time to really work on them. The one I'm the most excited about is a dress that I'm hoping to make sometime in the next couple weeks. Pics will come soon!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Waco State of Mind

Yes friends, check it out. It is FANTASTIC!!

New Year..... Resolutions?

This year I decided not to make any resolutions persay but I did make a few decisions. The chief decision I made for 2010 is: GET OVER IT. Or, in Tiffani words: Choose to be happy where God has placed you.

Don't get me wrong, there are things I hope to accomplish for this year, goals we'll call them - lose 35 pounds, get healthy enough that I can run if my knee lets me, find a fella, pass my quals and finish my coursework (hallelujah!), move to an apartment with 500 square feet, etc. But all of these pale in comparison to my one decision: CHOOSE to be happy.

When I moved to LA in 2008, I was still reeling over the loss of my grampa - as you faithful readers will remember. The pain of that loss, coupled with a move to an unfamiliar city where I knew no one really fostered my ire at the Lord. I "didn't want to be in grad school anymore", I "didn't want to be in LA with no friends or family", and I "didn't want to live in a tiny studio apartment with no room to host friends should I ever make any." Oh man, was I harboring resentment.

Despite knowing that the Lord had called me to this endeavor, I was seduced by my feelings and the whispers of the enemy to be discontent. I was like Eve in the garden with everything at my disposal (the Lord had given me such favor here: a three-year fellowship, grace from my faculty advisor and a great working relationship besides, other Christians in my program) but wanting the one thing the Lord had withheld (in Eve's case, the Tree of Life, in my case I saw it as "my plan" - a husband, children, an income....).

I tried hard to give an aura of happiness and contentedness, but ultimately it was not true. In the first year, I can give myself some grace. Grief can easily become complicated and entangled with other losses and I know that my sadness was just as often the brokenheartedness I felt at the loss of my grampa as it was my life situation. But then the summer came. It started out great with visits to friends in TX and friends coming to visit me, yet soon I was mired in the self-pity and sadness that I had experienced in late 2008 and early 2009. As the fall quarter began and it was not getting better, I got to a breaking point. I knew I needed to talk to someone, so I sought out a counselor at UCLA.

My times with her were good. But even better was that through our few meetings, I realized that I was hindering myself in a lot of ways. I was fighting the Lord on every front. Where the Lord had given me grace upon grace here in LA, I was screwing up my face as though He was feeding me medicine - like a little child. So I made the decision to be proactive with my life instead of reactive. To receive what the Lord had to offer with open and willing hands and to see what happened.

Since January, my circumstances have not changed much outwardly - though my community of friends in LA is getting stronger and my relationships are deepening which is an answer to prayer - but my inner circumstances are improving. I still get discouraged when the road blocks pile up, and because I've been struggling with headaches since December I have to be vigilant to keep looking up even when I feel sick (it is much harder for me to have a good attitude when my head hurts). And there have DEFINITELY been times when I am a total jerk still. 

But the Lord is working in me.

I used to say, "I never wanted to get a PhD! What am I doing?" but now I say, "The Lord has called me here, and I will do my best and see where he is leading me." I used to say, "How in the world does this pit stop in my life facilitate the other goals I have? (i.e. to be a wife and mother, to live in a house with a dog, etc)" but now I say, "The Lord prunes us to help us grow in a certain way and his plan for me involves this place and time."

Sometimes happiness is not a choice. If you are trying to choose happiness and you continue to be in a dark place, then I encourage you to seek out a trained counselor who can help you talk out why it is that you might be experiencing those feelings. But if you examine yourself and realize that your discontentedness is a result of fighting the Lord, as mine was, then I urge you to join in with me in my New Year's Decision and choose happiness.

I'll keep you posted...... 

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Deliciousness... and weight loss.

In the last couple years, I have increasingly been trying to eat healthier. While it hasn't always worked, I have certainly rebooted my love for cooking food from scratch, experimenting with new recipes and trying new foods (Brussel Sprouts being the most notable for 2009). Cooking good, healthy, whole foods just for me is sometimes a trial, because my kitchen is small as is my refrigerator - which means I don't have a ton of space to store ingredients (and thus have to buy smaller quantities, which are more expensive) and my fridge doesn't hold as much as I'd like - so I can really only make one or two things a week that are going to be stored in the fridge/freezer. That part is kind of lame. But despite that, I have tried some really fun recipes in the first month of 2010. I forgot to take photos of most of them, but will tell you about a few here and provide recipes for your review.

Additionally, my mom has a recipe of the week ministry. She sends out a recipe weekly along with a note about her life and what she's learning in church or through other areas of her life. She's been doing it about three years and I have garnered a ton of great recipes from it. If you're interested, let me know in the comments section (leave your email address!) and I'll get you on the list.

So last week I made a really delicious soup (pictured at the top). I found it in the Rachel Ray magazine and it was full of healthy fresh vegetables including yukon gold potatoes, carrots, green beans, roasted tomatoes, and onions. I added celery and some white beans - I just think every soup that starts with onions should also have celery! The chicken gets put in whole and then pulled out and shredded before serving. The recipe: Hearty Vegetable Chicken Soup is available online.

Despite eating more healthy, and walking to and from campus daily, I was not losing any weight. I had gained about 10 pounds since July and was not feeling great about my body shape and weight. I'm the first to tell you that weight is the least important measure, but because my body wasn't in the shape I wanted, I was feeling frustrated. I had considered joining Weight Watchers a few times in the past year or so, but wasn't sure about spending the money or the time. But last week I bit the bullet and just did it. I have a few friends who have lost weight with WW and kept it off as well as adopting more conscientious and healthy lifestyles and decided that if 2010 was going to be the kind of year I wanted it to be, then I was going to get on this train.

I'm diverting from the stories of the awesome food I've been cooking to tell you this story, because the next two recipes I cooked were WW recipes. But before we get there, I'm going to put my goal out here. Because I'm doing WW online, I don't have a weekly meeting of people to cheer me on. So you, faithful readers, have become my cheerleading squad (well, y'all and some of my friends at school). My big picture goal is to lose 35 pounds in 2010. My short term goal is to lose 11 pounds. Each time I lose 5 pounds, I get to buy a $10 gift card at Best Buy, to go toward buying a Wii when I finish my qualifying exams in May. I'm hoping to put up a goal meter here on the blog - so keep an eye out for that.

OK, back to the food....  :)

I made two INCREDIBLE dishes this weekend. And I'm so excited to tell you about them.

The first is a great vegetarian recipe with Butternut Squash and Ricotta Cheese*. While I don't normally love pasta dishes (its just a lot of carbs!), this recipe had a great "macaroni and cheese" feel to it, without being high in fat and calories. The sauce is made of mashed squash and once tossed together is topped with Ricotta and Parmesan. I added some spices to the recipe, including a tsp of Nutmeg (which I just think should always be included with Butternut Squash).

The second recipe is a Slow-cooker recipe for Chicken Paella*. I've never made Paella before - it always sounded too complicated, but the words "slow cooker" lured me in. While I was making the pasta dish, I prepped the vegetables and rice for the Paella and put them in the fridge overnight. The next morning, I layered the chicken, onions and peppers, diced tomatoes, and broth, added a bunch of spices, turned it on low and left for a study date with a friend. When I arrived back home, the smell was divine. I stirred it up, shredding the chicken, added a bag of frozen peas and the rice and let it heat up on high for about 15 minutes. The only downside was that I didn't have any Tumeric, so the Paella wasn't yellow. The nice part about not having the yellow color is that the color of the vegetables really stood out. The flavor was great and I have enough to have lunch all week! (incidentally, I subbed brown rice for the white rice in the recipe)

Well, friends, that is enough for now. My first weigh-in is tomorrow and I'm not sure that I actually lost any weight this week, but I was definitely more aware of what I was eating and of the mental habits that I've been cultivating around food. I've also been more aware of my physical activity levels and how that interacts with what I eat and how I feel. Hopefully I will continue to become more self-aware on this journey. Thanks for walking it with me!

* If the WW recipe links don't work, let me know in the comments section and  I will email them to you if you're interested. Remember to leave your email address.