Miracle

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Last week, a dog hoarder was busted near here. I haven't written about it because I've been too angry to get anything sensical down. The person wasn't just hoarding, I guess, but was breeding intentionally and selling as well, in really despicable conditions. Over 100 dogs (mostly daushunds, with some other small dogs as well) were rescued from her place, and they all went to local rescue, mostly the Humane Society.

It's a sad story, and it's one that happens all the damn time. So I was going to write about it in order to cajole any readers to donate to their local Humane Societies and what have you. And you all should still do that.

BUT, I just went to the website of the Austin Humane Society, and it had this to say: "It was a whirlwind adoption weekend and every Brownwood Dog that was available, got adopted. Even our 'special needs' friends: Prancy, Calvin and Deja! It was so crowded in the adoption center, and many of our longer term dogs like Oreo got adopted too! Congratulations to everyone who took home a new friend this weekend."

Bless you.

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Gilmore Girls, Season One

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Gilmore Girls DVD box setI finished the first season of Gilmore Girls over the weekend. My biggest gripe? The last disc only has one episode on it. What kind of crap is that?

Other than that, though, I really liked it. It's not rocket science, but it's a fun show with really positive portrayals of women, which is something sorely lacking in most media, including TV. And it offered welcome levity when Joan of Arcadia was getting me down.

The best parts? Lorelai, in general. Rory, in general. Sookie. Lane. Luke. Definitely Luke.

Bad parts? I'm not much of a fan of Dean, which puts a damper on being excited about his and Rory's relationship. And the whole thing with the town troubador bugs me. But honestly, I mostly find it to be good fun.

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Joan of Arcadia, Season 2

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So first, let me just agree with everyone else who watched or wrote about season 2 of Joan of Arcadia--it's not as good as the first season. Not near as good. And parts of it are just plain bad.

But it's still worth watching.

That being said, a run-down on what is good and what is not.

Good:

Judith1. Judith. People disagree about Judith, Joan's friend from Crazy Acres summer camp, who comes into the show in the 2nd episode of the season and leaves in the 9th. Some people found their relationship unconvincing, or didn't think they were invested enough in Judith's character for her stabbing death to have meaning (that would be a spoiler). I diagree. I thought Judith, played by Sprague Grayden (who has a really, really cool name, and is also apparently in Over There and Six Feet Under), was a wonderful addition to the show, and when she died I bawled my eyes out. Besides, given the show's emphasis on questioning the nature of God, senseless death of a close friend was sort of necessary, wasn't it?

Lily2. Lily. Helen's confirmation coach, a former nun, played brilliantly by Constance Zimmer (also seen in Entourage, among other places), brings blessed sarcastic levity to a mostly really depressing season. Plus she's super cute.

Grace3. Grace's Bat Mitzvah. First, I love Grace--she's my favorite character (especially since the anti-Adam took over, but I'll get there). I love that she got more to do this season, and I think putting her and Luke together was great, even if it is a littleweird to see Becky Wahlstrom, who was like 29 when the season was filmed, kissing Michael Welch, who was like 17).

And I love that we got to see more of Grace's family and understand her a bit better. But her Bat Mitzvah was the best. It made me all gooey inside. I love other people's religious ceremonies.

4. More Goth God. Jeffrey Licon's super-brilliant Goth God showed up a good bit in this season, and I'm 100% for that. He's my favorite God.

Now, the bad. There was a lot of bad in season. Annie Pott's insipid Lucy. The dumb lawsuit. The appearance by Haley Duff (WTF?). The very worst thing, however, was the disinegration of Adam Rove.

I love Adam Rove. Chris Marquette blew me away in the first season (and in the second as well, actually, given what he had to work with). And what the writers of JoA did to him in the second season was unforgiveable. First, he gets progressively whinier all season, always very busy, never very stoic. When did that happen? Secondly, the pressuring Joan for sex thing? What? Where did that come from? Their explanation, that he basically turned 17 and his hormones overtook his personality, was just plain stupid. The most amazingly terrible thing, though, was the decision to facilitate a break-up between Joan and Adam by having Adam have sex with Bonnie (Alexis Dziena, from Bringing Rain and Broken Flowers).

Yes. Adam cheating on Joan. Right. Personally, I find seeing God a lot more likely. It's mean, out of character, and just flat stupid. And it ruined the whole season for me. Truly. Even if they did have to break up (which I didn't think they did, but whatever), that was SO not the way to do it.

So yeah. I really wish they'd had a third season, because by the finale of this one I was ready to see where they would go with post-break-up Joan and Adam, as well as with the bizarre Ryan plot twist. But there wasn't. So I'm sad. Fear not, though. There are five seasons of Gilmore Girls I haven't seen yet.

Edited to add: Also, the absolute pain I felt in realizing that when I finished the second season finale of this show there would be no more reminded me of why I shouldn't be allowed to watch TV. I get too involved. It was My So-Called Life all over again.

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The Matriarch

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My grandmother, my mom's mom, had a heart attack Wednesday night.

First, she's fine. It was minor and she's feeling fine and her stress test went well. I don't yet know if they'll be doing angioplasty or anything, but mom is keeping me updated.

Secondly, I have rarely been so frightened.

I come from a very, very tight family, particularly the women. My mom is one of four sisters, all close together in age, and they all live in the same tiny town. As does their mom, my Grandma Lou. Their dad, Papa Gene, died over twenty years go, so the structure has been heavily matriarchal for quite some time now. Though all four sisters are married and have children, and some of the children are married or in pseudo-marital relationships, the backbone of the family is the matriarchal lineage, coming from Grandma Lou, through mom and her sisters, and down to me and my cousins (most of whom, again, are female). And my grandmother is every bit a matriarch, in the very best senses of the term. She's a truly amazing women, and one of my very favorite people on earth. I cannot stand the idea of losing her.

And I can't stand the idea of her getting frail. My family isn't just matriarchal in the sense of having a female line of lineage. The women run the show. From my grandmother down to my youngest cousin, Sadie, who is not yet five, we're in charge. We're large, tough, smart, hard-working. We are proud to be women, and there isn't anything we can't do. My grandmother worked for many, many years at a "tree farm," planting trees, sorting, harvesting, all of that very physical work. She didn't retire until she was into her 60s. And now, in "retirement," she puts in a harder days work than I ever have. She does a ton of volunteer yard care, mowing, weeding, planting, etc. for her church, the community center, her less hearty neighbors, etc. Shes takes care of people, and nothing much slows her down. The older she gets, the more my mom is like her mother, and the older I get, the more I strive to resemble them both.

Edited to add: I just got an email from my grandma. She's back at home, at her keyboard, feeling fine. Looks like, for now, everything is as it should be.

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North Country

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North Country movie posterIt took me a long time to see this movie, which may be surprising, given that it's about sexual harrassment and labor rights. There were two big reasons for that. The first was that I thought it would be depressing (and it was); the second was that I thought Charlize Theron would bug me (and she did).

First thing first: I am sick to death of seeing Charlize Theron "uglied up" to play "white trash" characters. While Josie, Theron's character in this film, isn't a serial killer like Eileen Wuornos, and I don't think they had Charlize gain any weight for this role, she's still a woman of a certain class, and watching Theron play women of this class turns my stomach. It feels like a bad, insulting impression. And the northern Minnesota accent she puts on for this one makes it even worse.

That being said, this movie wasn't as bad as it could have been. Above all else, I guess, I like to see stories like this one told, and depressing as it is, I like to see them told the way they are here, without an ending that conflates happiness with winning a lawsuit (a la Erin Brokovich). It's defeating, though, to watch women so mistreated, and realize that even if the lawsuit is won (which, of course, you know it will be, or they wouldn't have made the movie), things aren't really going to change all that much.

The film is dreary and depressing. It gives you the sense of constantly being cold, except for the scenes inside the mill, which give you the sense of being suffocatingly hot. It's hard to watch. And it should be, so I don't hold that against it. At least not as much as I hold Charlize Theron against it. Who the hell decided she was a good folk hero? Good Lord.

Frances McDormand, however, is amazing here as always. Watching her makes me happy. However, watching her play (SPOILER ALERT) a character who is slowly dying is less than thrilling. It is improved by Sean Bean playing her husband, though. More movies should have Sean Bean in them.

So...this is probably a movie you should see, but don't expect to enjoy it. And, if the film isn't depressing enough, keep in mind that the real story is much, much worse.

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Rollergirls

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roller derby logoI finally finished watching the season of "Rollergirls" last night. And I loved that show all the way through.

Parts of it were really stupid, and obviously dramatized to a point that docu-drama may have been a better genre for it than reality show. But be that as it may, it was fun to watch (and not just because it's set here!) and it made me feel good about womankind.

In the season finale, one of the skaters (Sister Mary Jane, for those playing along at home) says something about roller derby teaching her to love women again. And you could see that, and I think that's a big part of what got me about the show. The women who created and participate in Lonestar Rollergirls really seem to love each other. They fought a lot, all season, and there was way, way more catty bullshit than I wanted there to be, but at the end of the day, they created something together, fought for it, worked for it, and loved each other. And I don't see much of that, in my real life, in my online life, or even on TV. Groups of women creating things that matter and that last and that are fun and benefit them is something I'd really love to see more of, everywhere.

Maybe it's stupid to get that serious about something like roller derby, but I honestly don't think it is. We are trained to take men's organizations and interests, including and especially their sports, seriously, but not women's. And make no mistake, these women are athletes. I can't even fucking stand up on skates, and I know they're athletes. And general badasses, too. What the group of women involved in TXRD have done, in terms of business, in terms of athletics, and in terms of building a truly woman-run organization, impresses the hell out of me.

And it helps that some of the women featured on the show resonated with me so much. Some (Catalac...) didn't, but that was more a function of reality TV always needing a bad guy than anything else, I think. Others, like Punky Bruiser, Lux, and SMJ, I really wish I knew in real life.

Which is another thing I loved about the show. For the first time since I watched Angela Chase in MSCL in 10th grade, I finally saw some women on TV who reminded me of me and my friends. Only more than Angela, because these are real (or at least mostly real) women, not the figment of a TV writer's imagination. Helps too, I guess, that they are women in my town, women near my age, etc. But it's more than that. These are women who wear the same clothes in multiple episodes, have jobs they really don't like, settle for only barely suitable men, and often throw up their hands at the whole damn thing and just have another drink. Just like the ones I know.

So yeah. "Rollergirls" was good fun to watch, and it gave me a lot of food for thought about women's organizations and the bullshit that they face both from without and from within (I think I blogged about the "Clownsnack" episode a bit back--that was a really good example). I recommend it.

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Food blog round up

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I have been meaning for some time to post some of the food blogs I've started obsessively reading. Maybe one day I'll cook something...but in the meantime, I just read.

A new one is If not meat, what do you eat?. Annea's descriptions are fairly brief, but her photographs are lovely, and she's not afraid of simple food, which is good in a food blog.

On a much less vegetarian note, I like A Year's Worth of Eating. Again, it's all about the pictures. And the fact that the author keeps a running total of how many cookbooks she has. And it's more than Mark.

Another good one, if only for the graphic design and admissions of failure, is Kitchen Wench. I like it that she doesn't think she's a pro.

Finally, my very favorite food blog. A blog I will likely never make a recipe from, but I lurrrve the pictures. And the tiny compartment lunch box: Vegan Lunch Box. I don't care if he's missing cheese and pepperoni, that's one lucky kid.

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Joan of Arcadia, Season 1

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Joan of Arcadia box set coverAs promised, I am moving my reviews over to this blog, and I'm really going to write some. I swear. Due to my current lazy mindset, however, they are likely to all be for television shows. Oh well, we do what we can.

After watching "Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants" on a plane in October, I got interested in Amber Tamblyn (whom I remembered from "General Hospital") and thus in seeing "Joan of Arcadia." It had been recommended to me before, but I'd never bothered to check it out. So I Netflixed the first DVD, sat on it for several months, then finally watched it.

Wow. It's so good.

The story centers around (duh) Joan (Amber Tamblyn), a sixteen year-old girl who recently moved with her family to a new city, Arcadia (I don't think it specifies where Arcadia is, but something makes me think it's in Michigan).

Joan of Arcadia family pictureJoan's family is comprised of her cop dad and teacher mom (brilliantly played by Joe Mantegna and Mary Steenburgen), dorky younger brother (Michael Welch) and newly paralyzed older brother (Jason Ritter, who is just fantastic). Not long after Joan starts school in Arcadia, God starts talking to her. God appears in the form of any of various humans, and s/he gives Joan tasks to do, most of which end up helping her family or other people around her. It's difficult to give a better explanation for the premise than that, but that really doesn't do it justice.

In the meantime, Joan makes friends with a couple of "social misfits" at her high school, Grace (Becky Wahlstrom, who is hilarious) and Adam (Christopher Marquette, who I now want to marry), whom she eventually dates.

Joan and Adam pictureThe show moves fairly seemlessly between Joan's relationships with the people in her life and her relationship with God. The God thing isn't really all that strange. Rarely is the viewer compelled to question Joan's sanity, or wonder if she is really seeing God. She is, and it's just part of her life.

Which isn't to say that the show isn't tackling big issues, religion and faith being the biggest. It's rare that you see religion come up even peripherally on prime time network television, and I am really impressed that CBS had the backbone to play "Joan of Arcadia" for that reason. There had to have been backlash. And the issues taken up by the show that are not directly religious are no less serious--particularly Kevin's learning to deal with his paralysis.

The only thing that really disappointed me about the first season of the show was the season finale. In this episode, Joan is diagnosed with Lyme's Disease, and the doctor says that she may have been hallucinating for months. Handy way to explain God. There is, however, a second season (which I haven't been able to procure yet, but I will), so hopefully they'll make up for the lousy season finale with a good Season 2 opener.

Getting into this show reminded me that there are occaisonally good things on TV. I haven't really watched any network TV for several years, so this was heartening. I have Netflixed or requested from the library the first season of "The Gilmore Girls" (watched four episodes already, loving it), the first and only season of "My So-Called Life" (nostalgia...), "Wonderfalls," and "Freaks and Geeks." Maybe I should pay more attention to the stuff people recommend.

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Chick lit

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Chick Lit signTo your left, you see a sign I spotted in a bookstore the first night I was in Minneapolis. It caught my eye, and I have since been thinking about chick lit.

From what I can tell, chick lit covers any book by a woman or about a woman. And it is-surprise!-a derogatory term for these works. They aren't real literature. They're literature lite. Literature for girls. Diet literature. Chick lit.

On one of the message boards I read, someone posted a link to an L.A. Times article about men's vs. women's favorite fiction. The men's top five were:

1. "The Outsider," Albert Camus
2. "Catcher in the Rye," J.D. Salinger
3. "Slaughterhouse Five," Kurt Vonnegut
4. (tie)
"One Hundred Years of Solitude," Gabriel Garcia Marquez
"The Hobbit," J.R.R. Tolkien
5. "Catch-22"," Joseph Heller

The women's top five were:
1. "Jane Eyre," Charlotte Bronte
2. "Wuthering Heights," Emily Bronte
3. "The Handmaid's Tale," Margaret Atwood
4. "Middlemarch," George Eliot
5. (tie)
"Pride and Prejudice," Jane Austen
"Beloved," Toni Morrison

You will notice, of course that all 6 of the women's list are by female authors, while all 6 of the men's are by male authors. The article goes on to say that only one book by a woman ("To Kill a Mockingbird") appeared on the men's Top 20 list, while six male authors appeared on the women's Top 20.

What's more interesting to me than the gender of the authors, however, is what the books on these lists are about. In the men's list, you have one book about a self-involved alientated guy accused of murder, one coming of age book about another self-involved college guy, two books centered on soldiers or veterans, one patriarchal family history, and one fantasy book about a bunch of short guys on an adventure. The women's list, however, features a much more broad-reaching woman's coming of age story, one dystopian feminist novel, one novel about a slave woman, and three books that are basically about getting married. Yup, I'm not a literary purist. At the end of the day, to my eye, "Wuthering Heights," "Middlemarch," and "Pride and Prejudice" are all basically about getting married.

And maybe that's the problem.

The books that are written by women that get the most press, the biggest readership, the most Oprah-time, whatever, are, speaking very generally, about things like catching a man. While there may be some biting social commentary underneath, the top level of the story is about man-catching. And it's hard to take that as seriously as war, or coming of age, or even destroying the ring.

The thing is that's it's not that women don't write books about other things, or even that we don't read books about other things, it's that when women are asked on surveys like this one what their five favorite novels are, they don't list books about other things. And classes that focus on "women's literature" (academicese for chick lit) always start in the same place: Bronte, Eliot, Austen. Marriage, marriage, marriage.

Which isn't to say that there is anything wrong with books about relationships, even romantic ones. But why in the world should books that focus on this one topic define women's literature? We can do better than that, and have done better than that. Women write, and write well, about their other relationships, about their place in society, about adaptation and maladapation, about coming of age, about drugs, about sex, about major ethical dilemmas, even about war. It's no accident, to my mind, that Harper Lee is the only female author who showed up on the male Top 20 list--Harper Lee wrote about something.

There are people, I'm sure, who will argue that books about romantic relationships (always heterosexual, always ending in marriage) are just what woman want to read. I don't buy it. I think that's what we're taught to want to read, from Jane Austen through Jennifer Werner. And it's not enough. We're selling ourselves short, both as readers and as writers. Relegating ourselves to chit lit. Which is downstairs, by romance.

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Thoughts on Hedwig

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A dream
Or a song
That hits you so hard
Filling you up
And suddenly gone

- "Midnight Radio", from Hedwig and the Angry Inch

I've seen several versions of Hedwig and the Angry Inch (one when it was originally off-Broadway, but sadly with Ally Sheedy rather than John Cameron Mitchell, two on stage in Portland, and the film in various venues). Every time, I've felt this amazing rush of emotions--sadness, grief, complete joy, and awe at the true brilliance of the work. Last night was no different. S. and I went to a "Hedwig Sing-Along" at our local cool-ass indie theater, and it was a great time. But it's more than a great time. It's more than, as the host said, "the greatest rock movie of all time." It's this trascendent, spiritual experience. I know that sounds weird, but there it is.

So if you haven't seen it (gah!) or haven't seen it lately, check it out again. If you are anything like me, it's a mind-blow, and ultimately and uplifting experience, every time.

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May giving

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I'm a little bit behind, but my choices for May giving are on the right. I choose Covered the Uninsured Week as something to highlight, even if there isn't necessarily anywhere specific to donate, because it's this week, and getting health care to people who don't have it in this country is one of my top priorities. I chose Amnesty International because they sent me some frighteningly dire mail a few weeks back and I put them on the top of my pile of future choices. Timely, I guess. Anyway, those are my picks for this month.

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