Friday, September 27, 2013

Thoughts on Motherhood from a Non-Mom: Raising Smart Girls


Today I encountered this article from Psychology Today called "The Trouble with Bright Girls" and it blew my mind. Not because it was a difficult concept to grasp, but because I felt like I had finally been handed the key to door that I had been clawing at for years. Why, as an intelligent woman, who was once an intelligent girl, do I constantly talk myself out of doing things that don't come easily to me?

In the article, the author exposes to her readers that at a young age, bright girls (who are also generally well behaved) are told "You're so smart!" "Good girl!" and "You got it!" They are, perhaps not wrongfully, praised for their ability to "get" material quickly and easily.

Boys, however, Dr. Heidi Halvornson points out, are "a handful." If you've ever even met a little boy of any intelligence level you know that they're basically either asleep or acting nuts in some capacity*. As a result, in order to get them to do anything we constantly tell them, "Pay attention! If you just do it, it will get done!" "You just have to try harder!" "Keep going! You're almost done!"

As a result, when these smart little girls blossom into smart women, when faced with challenges that don't come easily to them, they immediately think they are stupid and think poorly of themselves. Boys, on the other hand, are trained to see any challenge as something they can overcome.

Light bulb moment? Yeah, me too.

I've talked before about the dangers of only telling little girls "You're so pretty" and praising their looks over the abilities, but this really throws a monkey wrench into my whole plan to encourage my someday daughters** about their abilities so I can at least do my part in helping them to grow up in an environment free from gender-related hang ups that hold them back.

So what is a parent supposed to do about little girls who are smart, well behaved and high functioning?

To me, the answer is simple. Challenge them harder. No, don't go Leopold Mozart on them and lock them in closets demanding they perfect the instrument you have chosen for them (it should be noted, I'm not 100% sure he ever did this, but I wouldn't doubt it). Let your daughter be a kid, but challenge her at something she isn't naturally good at. If she's a nerdy-ballerina type (like I was) she may never be an WNBA Star, but she'll learn a valuable lesson for figuring out how to dribble a basketball even though her lack of hand-eye coordination makes it hard for her!

It appears, as an outsider, that parenthood is often about finding the balance between building up your child's self-esteem and simultaneously building up their skillset, character, and ability to function. (Mad props, moms and dads.) However, hopefully this article caused you, as it did me, to think a little bit more critically about what your kids can handle and how the pre-conceived gender roles that we bring into the mix can affect the development of our children as they move into adolescence and adulthood.

I think because women in our society have been underestimated since birth, we all tend to underestimate not only our peers, but our little girls. I hope that if I'm lucky enough to be blessed with children that I will remember the importance of challenge and supporting my daughters during their most formative years in a way that the rest of the world may not.

How about you, ladies and gents?
What did you think of the Psychology Today article?
Are you a mom (or dad) who is raising a daughter? What are your thoughts?

Do you have a little girl in your life that you think you need to challenge more? What would that look like?
Are you a grown woman who sometimes sinks into self-hatred when something doesn't come easily? Is there something you would have changed about your childhood?


*I babysat two boys several times a week after school for two years of college. This was as close to parenting as I ever got and even though I loved them for all of their precious moments, I now understand why mothers of boys always look so tired.
**I WILL have a daughter, even if I have to adopt one.  

Friday, July 5, 2013

Fiction Friday: (Very) Short Stories

I am so excited to share very short stories today! The first one was written by my very good friend, Laura McClellan and I wrote the second one. 

Father's Day
by Laura McClellan
I don't know what I'm doing here. I know I shouldn't be. But I've already rung the bell and I can hear footsteps inside.

I reach in my purse for my phone instinctively. I always do that when I don't know what to do with my hands. No, she'll come to the door and I'll be staring at my phone like an idiot, like, "Oh, hi, didn't see you there!…At your own house…on your front doorstep."

I clasp my hands instead, trying to look natural and think of something to say. Instead my mind sinks into the same scene I've been replaying in my mind for the last twelve hours. 

The car door slams outside. I'm still awake because I watched too much CSI and I have an overactive imagination. I move to the window, thankful for the distraction. It must be Benji, back from his trip. I had been annoyed that he had to work over Father's Day weekend, but I always feel a childlike excitement when I hear him arrive home.

I peer out the glass and see a man getting out of a blue Mercedes, carrying my husband's briefcase and wearing his tie. He kisses the blonde woman inside before striding up the driveway.

The latch clicks, ripping me from my nightmare, and the door creaks open. Her eyes widen a bit at the sight of me, but she recovers quickly and her look softens.

"Well, hello! Cathy, is it?" her smile looks painted on.

"Yes, Cathy," I respond, trying to sound casual over the rapid thumping of my heart. "How are you, Meredith?"

"Good! Good…" she looks past me for a moment, then meets my eyes. "How rude of me to let you stand out here in the heat. Won't you come in? I've just made a pot of tea."
As I am ushered in, the sunlight catches my eye--glinting off the hood of her freshly-washed blue Mercedes.

The Calm Before the Storm
by Nicole Jeannette Phillips
The warm night air rested lightly and pressed up against her skin as waves of cooler wind blew from time to time. It was a welcome respite from the summer’s typical evenings when she often found herself debating whether she hated the sticky humidity or the oppressive heat more. Tonight, not even the mosquitoes bothered with her and she wondered if they could smell the poison in her veins.

Linda pressed her lips against the rim of her tall, cool glass of iced tea, coated in its own sweat and remembered Mrs. McClure, the woman across the street from her childhood home. It took her four months to die from cancer, or at least Linda’s mother made Mrs. McClure a casserole around Valentine’s Day and she was dead before the Fourth of July. Linda tried not to cry when she thought of her freezer full of casserole dishes made by neighbors and the women from church on some committee. “Are you okay?” they kept asking her, delivery after delivery. “I’m fine,” Linda muttered out loud to herself in her chair. Alone on the patio, she listened to the musical hum of the neighbor’s air conditioner and her own heart beat. A small and sudden wave of nausea overcame her although she struggled to decipher whether it was caused the memory of Mrs. McClure’s children returning from the funeral or if the chemo had finally started its rampage.


Friday, June 28, 2013

Fiction Friday: Want to share your fiction on my blog?

For next Fiction Friday I want to hear from you!

Below I'm going to write a prompt and all you need to do is to write a piece of fiction that is 250 words or less

Email it to me (NO LATER THAN THURSDAY, PLEASE!) along with:
  •  your name
  • the title of your piece
  • a link to your blog/store (optional)
  •  a picture of you! (optional)

I'll share mine as well for this first one, but I can't wait to read what you write!

Here's the prompt:

Story must include the following words:

and any holiday 
(Valentine's Day, All Saints Day, Flag Day, Christmas whatever you want!)

Good luck and I can't wait to read what you write!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Fiction Friday: Hansel and Gretel Retold Part III

It's 3:15 on Friday and I completely spaced posting Part III of Hans and Greta!! I'm not sure I've ever been more ready for the weekend...

Please enjoy and comment below to let me know what you think! I enjoyed this fun project and I hope you did too! Hopefully you've caught some of the the post-modern and Americanized changes I made from the Grimm's version. Let me know if you have any questions!

Thanks for reading!

Here are parts I and II if you need to catch up!

"Get over here!" hissed the old woman.
            "You tried to kill my brother! How do I know you aren't going to hurt me?"
            "Come now little girl, you wouldn't leave an old woman here to die? Now would you?"
            "Yes, she would and she will," answered Hans from behind her. Hans pulled his sister by the arm and led her outside. "Sister! You could have been killed!"
            "No, Hans. If she could have moved she would have hours ago. She's hurt badly and she's stuck there."    
            "Well good," huffed Hans. "We'll spend the night inside her cottage among the animals, but we'll take turns keeping watch. Just to make sure she doesn't try to hurt us again."
            As night set in, the old woman slept on her spot in the kitchen and Hans took the first watch. Many uneventful hours went by and when Hans could no longer keep his eyelids up, he woke Greta to take her turn. Greta did her best to shake her sleep away while guarding her brother, but she couldn’t stay still for long and decided the only way to stay awake was to do a little bit of exploring.
            Carefully and silently she got up from the prickly sofa covered in cat fur to examine the wall of picture frames near the fireplace. On the top left was a picture of the old woman, in her younger years, with two large men. All appeared to be cheering and covered in dirt. In another, was a newspaper clipping that read “Young Animal Activists Arrested for Attacking Stanford Laboratory” and the old woman was in a small picture to the side with handcuffs. In yet another, the old woman had her hands draped over the shoulders of a man and there were two small dogs smiling at the camera, but the man’s face was cut out of the picture. Greta wondered if this could possibly be the old woman’s family.
            Turning slowly and tiptoeing into the kitchen, Greta examined the tile around the stove which had a pattern of alternating little pigs and sheep along the border. Taking a step backwards, Greta let out a mighty scream when a bony hand grabbed her ankle. While exploring Greta hadn’t realized how close she had gotten to the old woman. “Hans!!!” she screamed.
            Only taking a moment to regain his consciousness, Hans lept up, looked around the room, grabbed a broom, and began beating the woman’s arm and hand until she released, cowering in pain. “Stay down you crazy old witch!”
            “I’m not a witch! My name is Ingrid! How dare you leave me here like this for a whole day! You better at least feed my animals!”
            “You were going to kill us!” shrieked Greta. “How dare you be angry that we leave you there! And why should we take care of your animals?”
            “Why did you even come back, you stupid fools? You came stumbling into my cottage, eating MY food, and you expect me to feel sorry for you! This is Mother Nature’s domain! You were like a little mouse wandering into a cat’s den! It’s survival of the fittest out here and my animals can’t live on plants alone!”
            “Why do you even HAVE all of these animals? No one should have a pet lion!” screamed Hans.
            “You idiot, he’s not my pet! I don’t own him! You stupid city dwellers think you can own an animal! I am protecting him! Protecting him from people like you who think you can own him and make him do tricks!”
            Greta grabbed her brother’s hand and gave him a look which begged him to calm down. Ingrid was stuck on the floor and there was no point in arguing with her.  “Your hip. Does it hurt?” she asked the old woman.
            “What do you think?” snapped Ingrid. “And I’m thirsty as hell.”
            “Please don’t swear,” Greta whispered under her breath. Looking at her brother, who still had his eyes fixated on Ingrid, Greta felt a pang of guilt for leaving this woman on the floor for a whole day without food or water. Looking around the room, she saw the deformed rats who had led them there clawing at the grain bin.
            “Look, Ingrid. We will care for you and for your animals until you get better and then you will let us go free and we will leave you to care for your animals,” said Greta resolutely.
            “Excuse me? We will what?” Hans protested. “No!”
            “Yes! These animals depend on her like momma depended on us. They need our help and we can’t stay forever so we must nurse this mean old lady back to health. BUT,” Greta turned to the old woman, “You must swear you will not try to kill us and eat us.”   “Fools, I wasn’t going to eat you. I am a vegetarian. But Edgar, he gets hungry for meat and you stumbled into my trap.”    
            “If we help you, you must promise not to feed us to anyone at all or harm us, not even a hair!”
            Realizing she had no other option, Ingrid agreed.
            Over the next months the children cared for Ingrid, much like they had cared for their own mother. Eventually, bit-by-bit, the woman began to understand that, unlike other humans, these children were good inside. They would not hurt anyone, not even the animals.
            “You know,” said Ingrid one day, rather civilly, “I rescued all of these animals.”
            “Is that why the rats are deformed? Did they live in a laboratory?” asked Hans.
            “Yes, I freed them from their tormentors.”
            “Well, that was very nice of you,” Greta smiled. “Still! You cannot kill any children ever again!”
            Soon the three became very close and grew rather fond of one another. In fact, they grew to love each other as a family. But when Ingrid’s health returned and her hip was repaired, Greta and Hans wanted to return to their real mother.
            “Please. I am old now,” said Ingird, “And I need you to care for me in my old age as I have cared for my animals. We will send carrier pigeons and they will find your mother. She can live with us and we will all live happily every after.”
            The children, realizing they were far from home and would have a difficult time finding their mother, agreed to stay. Months went by with no response from their mother. Years passed and soon Ingrid’s old friends began to visit, envying the way she was cared for in her old age. When a retired gang member and fellow animal rights activist, who went by The Big Bad Wolf, visited Ingrid, he offered to pay the children to rehabilitate and care for him as he found being evil in his old age took too much energy. He paid for them to build an extra room onto the cottage and lived there with them. Soon, other former villains like Rumpelstiltskin, the famous kidnapper, and even the entire Retired Step Mothers of The Woods Association wanted to be rehabilitated and cared for by Hans and Greta. Before long, the twins were running a successful retirement home for elderly former miscreants, requiring only that they had repented from their old ways.
            As their business grew, Hans and Greta became beloved fixtures in the community. However, they found that while they loved their jobs, they longed for friends their own age. So one day a resident, who was a retired tax collector, told Hans of his lovely granddaughter, stuck at the top of a skyscraper, thousands of miles away in a concrete jungle. He convinced him to go and rescue her from an evil dragon, called Nintoofif. While Hans was away, Ingrid convinced Greta that if she were to kiss a frog down by the pond, the frog would turn into a handsome prince. Thinking nothing of it, Greta kissed the frog to appease her old friend. Upon doing so, much to Greta’s surprise, the frog did turn into a handsome young man.
            “I am not a prince, fair maiden, but I would love to get to know you and serve along side you for your noble cause of caring for the elderly.” Greta happily accepted the man’s offer. The next day Hans returned with the retired tax collector’s granddaughter and the four of them ran the nursing home together.
            Everything was perfect in their lives, but both Hans and Greta worried over what had happened to their mother. They had been sending out carrier pigeons every season for several years, but eventually stopped.
            “Can we try one last time?” Greta asked of Ingrid one night.
            “Alright,” Ingrid smiled, petting Edgar who was also gray with age, “One last time.”
            The very next day, Clara showed up on their doorstep. “Children!” She exclaimed with delight. She explained that she had been tricked by the magician into thinking that abandoning them was the right thing to do. She had, in fact, married the prince and became a princess, but he recently dumped her for a younger woman and she now needed a place to live. Although they had been hurt by their mother’s decision to abandon them, they decided to forgive so long as she enrolled in their Value Realignment rehabilitation program. Once she graduated, they welcomed her into the Retirement Home for the Elderly and Formerly Evil and spent the rest of their days together. 

-The End-

Monday, June 10, 2013

Trending: Virgin Shaming

Warning: This blog post is about to get personal, so buckle in or exit as fast as you can.

My husband and I waited to have sex until our wedding night.
For the record, not because we were prudes, afraid of going to hell, were ashamed of our bodies, or were afraid of getting pregnant.
Want to know why? This pretty much sums it up.

While this isn't something I normally advertise because a)it's not really anybody's business and b)it's kind of awkward, I've witnessed a trend and I think it's time to talk about virgin shaming.

When I tell people we waited they want to know two things:
1. Was it hard for you to wait?
The answer is yes.
2. Was it worth the wait?
Ultimately, yes.
  • I have zero regrets.
  • I love that neither of us have sexual "baggage."
  • I love that we both feel confident that our relationship was/is strong apart from the physical side of things, but now that we're married we can celebrate our love and, sparing any details, it's wonderful.
  • I love that sexual history and possibly guilt wasn't a part of my decision to marry JL and vice versa.  
  • (Not saying that anyone is "ruined" by sex, but it DOES bond a couple together and can cloud otherwise sound decision making. In other words, we both feel confident that we married each other for our more enduring qualities and sex is a great bonus/a healthy part of our relationship, but not what it is based on.)

I know when I tell people that JL and I waited, I'm 99% sure they suddenly see us like this. Not the case, people.

Before we got married I felt that there was life outside of sex to be explored and celebrated. Now that we are married, I still feel the same way. 
While sex is a beautiful extension and expression of our love, sex has its place. Sex is sex, just like eating is eating. Both can be fulfilling, satisfying, and (let's just say it) lots of fun, but aren't worth the glorification and unhealthy obsession so many in our culture (modern secular AND Christian sub-culture) place on it. 

But here's the deal:

Much like many (usually) Christians shame those who have sex outside of marriage, I'm growing tired of seeing virgins being treated like freaks of nature for making a decision about their own bodies. Granted, I know that many of the jokes are at the expense of those who are seemingly so unattractive no one wants to sleep with them, but even in that case I still don't understand why the level shaming our culture doles out is involved. There are currently major ad campaigns are being rolled out to reduce the stigmas towards HIV/AIDS and unplanned pregnancies (ads which I think are important), but why is it that virginity is becoming more and more stigmatized?

Thanks, TLC for this, by the way. 
I love that THIS is what you feel best represents virginity in all of America:
I think this was supposed to be non-sexual affection...

If I had seen this when I was 15, it may have changed my mind about this sex before marriage business for fear of turning out like this. Again, not the case, people.

As I sit in on conversation after conversation and watch shows like Virgin Diaries and the 40 Year Old Virgin, I'm struck by our culture's evident desire to expose the non-sexually active "freaks," implying that there is something wrong with a person who hasn't had their first sexual experience. This simply isn't the case. Sex no more validates your humanity and worth than speaking multiple languages would--it may enrich your life in some ways, but you aren't any less of a person without it.
Maybe you don't think saving sex for marriage is important/realistic/possible. That's fine. I have no interest in being the morality police and I hope this blog post doesn't leave anyone feeling attacked or judged. By writing about this, I'm merely hoping to offer depth, perspective and my personal experience to the conversation.

All I want to know is, in a world that is pushing us all not to define a person by their sexual actions, why aren't virgins being given the same treatment?

What about you, reader?
What do you think about this?

Friday, June 7, 2013

Fiction Friday: Hans & Greta Part II

If you're keeping up, here's part II of III of my 21st Century, American retelling of Hansel and Gretel.

Although small on the outside, the inside of the cottage was quite large. In the main room there was a rabbit resting by the fire and three little mice playing tiny cards by the refrigerator. On top of the immobile ceiling fan rested a birds nest on each blade and two puppies were wrestling on the rug by the couch. Hans and Greta had never seen so many animals in one place, not even in the zoo. 
            "Look, everyone, guests!" called out the old woman to the animals. They all turned toward the children and acknowledged them with a squeak, chirp, or whatever voice they could muster. "Please children, sit down," the old woman motioned to the couch where three squirrels were snuggled on the belly of a snoozing pink pig. The children did their best to share the space on the couch since the pig was quite large.
            The children told the old woman where they had come from and told her that they had gotten separated from their mother. She seemed to take pity on them and offered them a place to stay for the night. As the sun rose, Greta awoke to the sound of the birds singing in the rafters. How lovely, she thought to herself. Just then, however, a lion poked its head in the open kitchen window and she screamed.  
            "What is it?!"
            "A lion!!" Greta shrieked.
            "I knew I heard a lion last night!” cried Hans.
"Yes," said the old woman calmly, "That is Edgar. He lives out back, he keeps me safe and I keep him safe from… anyone who might want to hurt him." The old woman pulled a large tray of vegetables out of the fridge and fed them to Edgar until he left.
            Greta and Hans felt concerned, but were calmed upon hearing the lion had such an unassuming name. "How strange," Greta whispered to her brother, "that this woman lives all alone and has so many pets."
            "Yes, strange indeed," Hans agreed. 
            The old woman fed them until they were full. 
            "Children, before you are on your way, let me ask one favor of you!"
            "Yes, anything," Hans cheerfully offered.
            "I am old and I need you to help me clean my oven."
            "Of course! We would be happy to!" Hans replied for both of them. Greta noticed, however, that the old woman sounded nervous when she asked this and upon her question several of the animals jumped up and ran away as if they were suddenly afraid of what was about to happen. Why could this be? Greta wondered. As Hans leaned into the oven with a rag, Greta watched the old woman prepare to push him into it. Acting quickly, she shoved the old woman aside onto the floor and grabbed her brother's arm. "Run!" she screamed.
            "My hip!!" cried the old woman.
            With that, Hans and Greta ran as far away and as fast as they could. But, day turned into night before the pair realized that they had been running in circles. Greta began to cry, "I'm hungry and I'm cold! What will we do!?"
            Just then, through the trees, Hans saw the old woman's cottage. "We are right back where we started! Look! There's the old woman's house! Hide before she sees us!"
            However, after hiding behind some trees for nearly an hour, the children decided they needed to eat something before they starved, so they cautiously snuck into the garden to get more vegetables. While gathering their dinner, Greta peered in window and saw that the old woman still lying in agony on the ground. 
            "Hans, she's still down there."
            "Good, let her die there. She tried to kill me."
            But despite her brother's chilly response, Greta's good-natured heart took pity on the old woman. She carefully cracked open the door. "Hello?"

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Modcloth Swimsuits: Things that make you go "SAY WHAT?"

I love 

They have super cute clothing, a nice price range, and an AWESOME return policy. (I mean free: no questions asked, 100% reimbursement, free shipping.) HOWEVER, in, what I can only assume is an effort to be less mainstream, they sometimes sell things that make me wonder if someone there has a cruel sense of humor. 

I. mean. honestly.
I am shocked this fine specimen didn't make an appearance in Napoleon Dynamite.

Has this designer ever been to the pool? It gets hot!  To be fair, though, this one is actually kind of cute for people who are allergic to the sun. (It's a thing. Look it up.)

I have so many questions! First and foremost: How long does it take to take this off and put it on when you go the the bathroom?

I have a theory. If an outfit doesn't flatter the model, the girl who they paid to look good in the clothes, don't buy it. Ever.

The cut is cute, but I just don't get it. It looks like Olive penguins:

Nooooot for pale people

They really are a great company with TONS of super cute clothes, but these were just so... interesting, they deserved a blog of their own.

Would you wear any of these?

Friday, May 31, 2013

Fiction Friday: Hans & Greta Part I

Last semester I got to do a very fun creative final for my Folklore class and, since I had so many people ask to read it, I thought I'd share it!

Unless anyone is truly interested, I'll spare you the academic side of my final and share my twenty-first century version of Hansel and Gretel. Check back next Friday for part two of three!


Nicole Jeannette

 Hans &Greta:
A Modern Fairytale

Not so long ago in a peaceful valley far, far away, surrounded by rolling hills rife with lush trees of holly, stood a hustling and bustling village. It was filled with creatures from across the galaxy like lived winged monkeys, shape shifters, artists, heroic cowboys and even a few humans. This land was so beautiful that many of the stars made their homes there so that they could sleep during the day and head out to party at night in their flashiest outfits.  It just so happened that a woman named Carla and her twin children, Hans and Greta also lived in this magical land. Although Hans and Greta were very good children who looked after her, Carla didn't much care for her children. Instead, she wanted nothing more than to live in a castle among the royalty and stars. One day, as she as she walked down the street, a decree was published in the town paper announcing that a new prince in town was looking for a beautiful young woman to make his princess. 
            Immediately, Carla ran to her local magician and asked, "Magician, what must I do to catch the eye of the prince so that I can live in a castle and be celebrated by all of the people in the world?"
            "It is very simple," replied the magician, "You are very beautiful, but you are a little too old for him. We can however trick him into believing you are younger if you use this magic potion." The magician pulled a small jar out of his long sleeve and opened the lid. The serum inside sparkled like a million diamonds.
            "Give it to me! Give it to me quickly!" shrieked Carla.
            "Not so fast! First, you must give me ten thousand gold coins."
            "Ten thousand?" cried Carla. She turned away to leave, totally dejected. 
            "Momma! We could go to the bank! The trolls there will give you all the money you need!" suggested Hans. He had seen it work for countless others. Carla thanked the heavens for her intelligent child and hightailed it to the bank. However, before going inside she tore the children's clothes and rubbed dirt on their faces. 
            "Good afternoon, Sir," Carla dragged her pitiful looking children in behind her.
            "I need gold coins, as many as you can give me. My children are hungry."
            Looking down his long nose, through his tiny glasses the troll examined the lot of them. The children did not look like they were hungry, but the mother was so skinny, he took pity on the family. "I can lend you ten thousand gold coins if you give me the deed to your house as collateral."
            Elated, Carla handed over the deed and took the coins to the magician. Although the serum did make her look younger, the magician pulled her aside before she left his high-rise office, "Carla, one last thing. This prince. He does not like children. Get rid of your children and I can promise you he will want to marry you."
            Carla tossed and turned all night that night trying to figure out what to do. Finally, at the crack of dawn, she had hatched a plan.
            "Come along children, we are going to hike out past the hills today.” As the children got ready, Carla took some sleeping powder out of her nightstand drawer and hid it in her purse. The small family hiked for hours, Carla in front, Hans and Greta playing together behind her as they made the trek. When they had reached a shady glen on the other side of the hills, the children were tired and asked for a break.  Carla used this opportunity to sprinkle her sleeping powder into the children's water bottles and before long they were passed out in the grass. Carla made sure to take their cell phones before she ran as fast as she could back to her home.
            When the children awoke they were frightened to find their mother gone and even more frightened to be without their cell phones. "How will we ever get home without our maps?" asked Greta. 
            "Don't worry," announced Hans bravely, "I know how to get home! I learned this trick from a story I heard once!" As they had been traveling, Hans had been crumbling his Power Bar into little pieces on the ground, partially in case they got lost and partially because it was a flavor he didn't like. He knew that by following the crumbs they could easily return to safety and find their mother. However, although Hans did not like the flavor of his Power Bar, the forest animals did and they ate up all of the crumbs before the children had even woken up from their nap.  
            The twins wandered for hours until Hans finally admitted he was lost. Greta started to cry, "I'm hungry," she cried out. "Me too," Hans tried not to cry, rather unsuccessfully. Just then they heard singing. 
            "Do you hear that?" Greta stood up and followed the sound. It was a trio of deformed rats singing show tunes. The twins stopped and listened to the rats, clapping when they had finished their songs.
“Bravo friends!” exclaimed Greta, “We are hungry, do you know where we can get some food?” The rats motioned for the children to follow and scattered away. Before long, the small group came to a tiny clearing where they found a quaint little cottage. The children’s eyes widened when they saw a beautiful garden on the side. Famished, the children feasted on carrots, tomatoes, and berries until their bellies were about to burst.
            "Brother, do you think we will get into trouble for eating from this garden?"
            "I'm sure we won't! Look, here comes the gardener now! We will explain it to her!"
            Sure enough, a small woman with a blue bandana and clogs made her way into the clearing. She startled upon seeing the children, "Who are you?" she called out.
            "I am Greta and this is my brother Hans! We were lost in the woods and had nothing to eat!" The old woman surveyed her turned up garden, but hid her dismay.
            "Well, that I can see. Come inside," the old woman smiled and ushered in Hans and Greta. Hans thought he heard a lion roaring in the distance. 

Tune in next week for Part II!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Chattanooga Vacation

JL and I took a MUCH needed mini-vacation last week and had a blast in Chattanooga, Tennessee a few weeks ago.

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We loved the car trip 

We went to celebrate with our friends Matt and Hannah Lee as they tied the knot in beautiful Flintstone, Georgia. Apart from getting stuck behind an overturned tractor trailer for two hours and realizing, half way there that WE FORGOT OUR CLOTHES; thus, making us late for the wedding, we had so much fun! 
(All I have to say is THANK GOD we budgeted for clothes this month and THANK GOD for Target.)

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After the short, sweet ceremony (during which baby goats were fighting with each other on the other side of the fence!)We partied at this beautiful farm with the newlyweds!

The aforementioned goats
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Blurry, but the barn was gorgeous 

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Me with the lovely bride, Hannah Lee

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Then we had the rest of the weekend to spend in beautiful and delightfully-artsy Chattanooga!
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Husband and wife on the walking bridge

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Lovely public art

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There are dance steps all around town and of COURSE we had to try them all out!

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The Chattanooga Choo Choo. <3 font="">

But as much fun as we did have, the highlight of the weekend was actually finding and rescuing this beautiful little girl.
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We went to Ruby Falls and did the zipline (they don't allow cameras... waaahh) and when we were walking back to our car we saw this beautiful husky running around, alone and clearly scared. J. L., my husband/dog whisperer, got her to come to him and we did our best to find her owners. When we couldn't find them, we found a guy who works at Ruby Falls to take her. He promised to see if she had a chip and take her to her original owners if she did and to be her forever family if not. We were heartbroken to leave her with him, but felt he would be a good pet parent.

Weekend getaways are the best!

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Great Gatsby: The Movie

Exactly one year ago today I posted the trailer for the new Great Gatsby movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, and the girl from An Education (aka Carey Mulligan.) I was REALLY excited for this movie and now after seeing it a few days ago, I'm still sorting how I felt. Was it good? Yes. Was the book better? Yes.

I think my hesitation in saying I LOVED the movie lies in the fact that so much was changed. In some ways the script writers manipulated changes that completely altered the way in which the viewer perceived the characters. On the one hand, I realize that it is a movie and cannot capture the brilliance of the novel as this medium only allows for so much content, but while I do think I like most of the choices/focuses, a lot was lost in the movie.

However, I didn't hate the movie because even though it greatly rearranged the book and left significant content out, it did get some very key elements totally spot on.

What the movie got right:

If this movie got one thing right, it was Gatsby. While the film dominated the way we saw Gatsby (see below), everything it wanted us to believe about Gatsby can be found in the book, either in print or through interpretation.
Leonardo DiCaprio was the absolute right choice for this role. He is handsome yet believable. He perfectly embodied the juxtapositons of Gastby's insecurities, madness, desperation, savvy, and shady behavior with his sweet, gentle, careful, and hopeful sadness.

I am always bothered that when people read The Great Gatsby they talk about how romantic(ally tragic) it is as though it were a golden standard of ill-fated relationships. Perhaps it is romantically tragic in a way, but I think the whole point of the book is to show a)the corrupting powers of money and b)the corrupting powers of love when turned into an obsession. Luhrmann got this totally right. It's easy to miss Gatsby's madness and romanticize his actions when carelessly reading the book, but when you think about the fact that Gatsby collected thousands of pictures/clipping of Daisy, compromised his integrity and became a bootlegger so she might be willing to marry him, found her house, moved in across the bay from her, stared at her green light every night and thought of her endlessly, knew all about Daisy and all of her friends/relatives without actually knowing them, threw parties hoping she would come, demanded she erased her past and pledge not only her undying love to him, but her entire lifetime of love to him, it is clear that Gatsby holds ever-slipping grip on reality as his love turned into an extremely unhealthy obsession.

My only criticism of Luhrmann's Gatsby is that I wish he would have included was Gatsby's relationship with his parents. In the book he cares for them financially even though he doesn't include them in his larger-than-life lifestyle, but as they are simpler people than he, it seems fitting. Also, I can't get over the line in the book where Gatsby's father tells Nick that as a child Jay/James made a list of ways to improve himself and included "Be nice to parents." I think that speaks volumes about his innate kindness and heart for others that is left out in the movie. 

The Visuals

 I mean wow. 

I was in awe of the fantastical and intricate detail in almost every scene. From the stunningly ornate dresses and jewelry and gallant three-piece suits to the old-world/new-world architecture, it is clear that this film was intended to be a visual masterpiece from its inception. Clearly Baz Luhrmann used wild color throughout the film to further drive home the over-the-top nature of Gatsby's world. Furthermore, I loved, loved, loved the way he incorporated actual writing onto the screen, making them colorful and out of control when drugs and alcohol were part of the story and clean and beautiful when expressing some of Fitzgerald's finer, more poignantly put points.

The Spirit of the Story... kind of...
While there is no singular point to any novel, for me, as metnioned above, this novel is all about reality that abused love, power, and money corrupts and distracts all. Of his own novel, Fitzgerald wrote, "The loss of those illusions that give such color to the world so that you don’t care whether things are true or false as long as they partake of the magical glory."

While there were a lot of ways in which this movie rearranged and (in parts) destroyed, the overall message of the human mistake of confusing comfort and beautify for goodness does still prevail.

What the movie got wrong:
The subtlety
While the spirit of Gatsby and Fitzgerald's message is kept in tact in the movie, viewers completely miss out on the deeper layers/motivations of virtually every other character in the film. This is due in part to the fact that it's a movie and at 142 minutes it is already pretty long, but the loss is no less tragic. 

As in the speeding car scene pictured above, the story zooms along with very little time to reflect. Even worse, everything that is implied or nuanced in the book is literally and boldly spelled out in a way that leaves zero room for intreptation, thus using a dominating format to dominate the message received by viewers. As a result, the movie requires zero critical thinking skills. This might not be so bad if not for the fact that the genius, the real beauty, of Fitzgerald's masterpiece is the way in the story slowly, subtly reveals the gravity and depth of the story. Gatsby's every motivation, plan, dream, hope, and even his stalker-esque obsession is quite literally spelled out to the point that there is no room for the literary "other" in the text. Rather, Luhrmann makes sure the message is seemingly idiot proof.

I would argue that the subtlety of the storytelling is mimetic of the way in which the decline from morality that these characters experience. As I said above, I realize it's a movie and not a book. Perhaps because of the medium I need to realize we can't have our cake and eat it too, but regardless of the things this movie does right (and regardless of the fact that I really liked it) this element is what truly separates the book from the movie when the rubber hits the road.

I will be the first to say that I hated the choice to put Nick into a Sanatarium. He was disturbed by the whole summer of Gatsby experience, but I don't believe he couldn't recover, I like to read the story believing he witnessed the depths to which humanity can fall and chose to be better for it in writing his story. I guess that is what the whole sanatarium arc acheived and I realize it was probably just a means to an end, but still. I felt it added an unnecessarily dramatic tone to the movie.

The first time I read The Great Gastby I liked Nick. I thought he was a sweet, tender, homegrown kind of guy who happened to be from old money. Then to me he was some poor young man who got mixed up in this crazy world and saw these vile people for what they were worth. That is generally what the movie portrays.

However, upon a closer second reading, I found that Nick is not a bad person, but he also thinks very highly of himself to the extent that he isn't exactly truthful throughout the book. In fact, he reveals that he himself has made some heartless decisions to pursue the Buchanan-Gatsby stratosphere on his own after leaving Yale and then his family in California. (I'll let you find them the next time you read the book.) While I realize that to some extent even Nick is a means to an end within the telling of this tale and therefore has to remain somewhat passive in order to maintain his narrator/observer role, he is quite passive and has a multitude of opportunities to make a bad situation better but chooses not to.

In the book Daisy is, in a few words, dumb, shallow, and self-obsessed. Like most people, I read Daisy's character as shallow, manipulative, and passive. While not an all around terrible person, at the end of the day Daisy throws her tortured hopes and dreams to the wind when a diamond is dangled in front of her without care or consideration for the consequences of her actions. While not completely missing the mark, this is not the Daisy in the movie.  Mulligan was just too lovable as her Daisy is just a little TOO tortured and a little too sweet. In the end of the movie, Daisy is portrayed as a lovesick child, unsure of who will really love her and provide for her best, stuck in the middle of a power struggle which she has ultimately lost, hoping to atone for the sin of her affair by pledging herself to Tom once again. However, we never see what a terrible mother she is as she constantly blows off Pammy and allows her servants to raise her. We learn that Daisy, a child herself still, simply wants to be with whomever can make her most comfortable, excited, and feel most wanted. Furthermore, she lets Gatsby take the fall for Myrtle's death even though she was driving. Instead of telling the truth she "retreats into her money" and the reader has no indication that she feels any remorse.

 In the book, Tom is, also in a word, dumb. His parents paid for his Yale education so that he could play polo and live a life of grandeur. His old-money, racist, sexist behavior/comments could be found in the movie, but the way the movie was edited and the way Joel Edgerton plays him, the film is so focused on his power struggle over Daisy that his less-appealing traits were overshadowed. In fact, even I walked away wondering, "Does Tom love Daisy? Is he just a misguided, over-sexed dog who thinks he can have it all too?" But no. Tom is really a lummox who wants to own Daisy and have his fun on the side and not the seemingly brilliant evil mind he plays in the movie. Also, I was very sad to see the details of his affair with Myrtle Wilson and his relationship with George Wilson were glossed over. Again, contributing to the general lack of subtlety in the movie.

The Jordan/Nick fling

While the "girl back West" is mentioned, again, it happens to quickly that the line is easily drowned out by the speed of the movie. In the book, Jordan and Nick seem to fall for each other and yet even Nick starts things and breaks things off with Jordan feeling fairly unconcerned for her feelings. To me, the fling is an extension of Nick's corruption--using Jordan because he can, because it's convenient, but he does snap out of it in the end and the book makes mention of the possibility of either returning to or making amends with the girl back West.

George and Myrtle Wilson

First things first: Myrtle is much older and, ahem, thicker, in the book than Isla Fisher just so happens to be. Not that it should matter, but the way Myrtle looks makes the reader/viewer perceive Tom's affair differently, and thus perceive Tom differently. The book goes into great detail about the ways in which Myrtle felt she was tricked into marrying George because she thought he was rich, but turned out not to be. Much like he does Daisy, Tom uses his wealth to justify this ill-fated version of Daisy's need for him.
George is, in keeping with the theme, too good looking in this movie adaptation. Furthermore, the lack of dimension the viewer gains into his character makes his character almost completely irrelevant to the story. Whereas he seems like a pitiful/crazy/possessive guy in the film, the book explains why in a way that makes him oh-so-much-more pitiful and far less crazy.


How about you? Do you agree? Disagree?

Enjoyability: 10
Story in the movie apart from the book: 8
Visual Elements: 10
Music: 8
Overall movie considering the book and knowing the sacrifices made: 7

How would you rate The Great Gastby?