Thursday, December 30, 2010

are you making New Year's resolutions?

I've decided to go for it. I hear list making is a good way to achieve things. :p

(note: actually achieving each of these goals/resolutions will take a bunch of smaller steps, so I'm thinking of this as a list of lists, with a breakdown of a timeline and tactics that I am saving you the trouble of reading. Unless you want to hear it! Then I'll add it in.)

1. This is Northern CA for goodness' sake-- get myself to more wine tastings.
2. And yet also: Lose the last 5-8 baby lbs.
3. Cooking better
  - Keep up the CSA membership (best way to get varied and beautiful veggies, especially without space to grow a ton)
  - Fear not complex recipes! Plan it out a la Naptime Cooking, Debbie Koenig's brilliant strategy for cooking real food well in the bits and pieces of time that you have.
4.Relatedly, see if I can grow something edible. Herb garden is planned for spring- thank you!
5. Keep reading about fun math
6. Um, blog regularly
7. Take more group exercise and dance classes! I miss it. One thing I love is being physical-- so, more activity for more happiness!

What are your resolutions?  Do you ever do pie in the sky resolutions? Big dreams for the long-term, or things that seem completely out of your realm of comfort/normalcy? I'd love to hear those too.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Can you have fun at Disneyland with little kids in torrential rain? A Christmas story

First I should say, we actually were prepared for rain. It's just that it was The Downpour-of-the-Year that day. We had rain jackets and sneakers, not sandals (unlike some other poor/hopeful souls we saw), but we should have had a rowboat and oars. We were not prepared for rain that soaked us so hard our rain jackets were wet on the inside; rain that come so steadily that our fingers actually raisined; rain that was driven by wind and only seemed to get harder as the day wore on.

So we began our day at 8 AM with gray clouds and hope, and ended it at 2 PM fully soaked with two very wet girls. But my big takeaway from all this was, our girls can rock adverse weather. :) Yes, they were definitely crying and cold and upset at the end. But they really did their best, and I have to say their bounceback after leaving early was remarkable. Even most adults would have been upset about losing most of the day's fun to storms (especially after paying so much for tickets). On that front, the great thing is that we got the tickets through a benefit for a friend's nonprofit, California Coalition for Youth, so the money went to a good cause.

I'm happy to report we did get in a lot of fun in the hours we had, and I think it actually was probably just right for a four year old's and a two year old's first trip to Disneyland. And the fireworks were canceled anyway due to rain. Bless their beautiful souls, the girls didn't complain once about leaving early (and we are grateful that they don't have to know about ticket prices), so we are all good.

And for anyone else taking kids to their first trip to Disneyland, here's a list of what we did in 6 hours that might be helpful for you:

  • Admired the windows on Main Street
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Pixie Hollow (30 min in line to take pictures with fairies!)
  • Peter Pan
  • King Arthur's carousel
  • Mr. Toad's Wild Ride
  • Sleeping Beauty's castle walkthrough
  • quick lunch on Main Street
  • went to rent strollers
  • Winnie the Pooh ride
  • walk through New Orleans Square

But then the tiredness from the early morning set in, and the rain began to drive down even harder. Paloma napped in her stroller under a roof while Sabrina and I went on Winnie the Pooh (which, sadly, is all about Winnie and Friends making it through a Very Blustery Day in the Hundred Acre Wood).

The saddest moment was when I peeked at Sabrina in the rented stroller and she blinked back at me as water drip-dripped right through the stroller's roof and onto her poor little head, the hood of her raincoat completely soaked. She wasn't crying, but she looked so balefully sad I couldn't take the Happiest Place on Earth anymore.  So that's when I called the whole thing off.

The Christmas miracle here was watching the girls' resilience (I gotta say it again!). They started off the day excited and enchanted, and even when the rain soaked completely through their clothes, they were still thrilled to walk through Sleeping Beauty's castle. (Though there were lots of sad and loud tears by the time we called it quits.) And after the misery of being cold, tired and wet, they were happy to get back to the hotel for a midday warm bath and then visit a friend's house who happened to be nearby.

We loved learning more about our girls' strong good attitudes and their ability to have fun wherever! So I count this family trip as a win.  Also, next year, we're going to Disneyland for their birthdays in October. Sunny, sunny October. :)

And it really does feel like that when you walk through. They've got the horse drawn carriage right in front of you, piping in Disney-happy music all around.

Main Street pre-deluge. Mouse ears everywhere you look.

Ready to take on this place! Sabrina has her doubts though.

We waited in line for *photo ops*?! (but she was a very nice fairy)

Meeting The One!

We wondered how long Tinkerbell practiced her pouty smile. Maybe it's easier on the cheek muscles?

Fun capacity is diminishing...diminishing...

"Hang on, sister! We can make it!"

Brave face, even when wet and cold.

Churros make many things better. At least temporarily.
The warm dry hotel won for happiest place on Earth that day.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

First Impressions, cont.: True Grit

Anita, inspired by not just your thoughtful review, but the mere act of going to the movies (with your SO! not for the "Mommy and Me" film! [I'm still traumatized by having to see Made of Honor at such a showing]), I and Jaspret used the movie tickets we were gifted by our friends Jenn and Jamie and went to see the new Coen brothers film, True Grit.

There are already many glowing and very well-written reviews of the film, but I want to focus on an aspect I think you would find particularly interesting - its promotion of a brand of feminism rarely seen in Hollywood today.
Certain white women advancing at the expense of people of color is not a new feature of Western feminism. During the British colonial period, white British women could escape the confining dictates of Victorian domesticity by traveling to the colonies where racial privilege endowed them with power and authority unavailable at home. British feminists in the late nineteenth century often drew on Orientalist depictions of "Eastern female oppression" to bolster their own cause or argue for their own rights as white women. Some southern white women in post-bellum America reproduced racial stereotypes to argue for their inclusion in the KKK, and suffragists exploited the specter of a minority voting bloc to make a case that white men needed white women to have the vote. Even Margret Sanger, finding herself rebuffed by the Socialist movement, fell in with the American Eugenics movement in her effort to legalize birth control. There are numerous, more contemporary examples as well. Second wave feminism may have been more careful in its language, but nonetheless women of color were often reduced to ciphers of those features feminism wanted to ajbect.

This storied history is why I was dismayed to see a similar equation at work in True Grit. I don't know if anyone is calling the film feminist, but I think one of its most appealing features (and there are many) is that it refigures the masculinist world of the Western, calling into question the reductive simplicity of its most beloved figures (the stoic cowboy, the outlaw/hero) and providing an authentic female protagonist who comes to embody the personality trait celebrated in the film's title. But for all of the filmmakers' attention to detail, and their challenging of traditional generic conventions as well as more general Hollywood gender depictions, their portrayal of people of color seems to belie this self-consciousness.

There are not many characters of color (not necessarily an issue in and of itself). Those that are portrayed fall into two categories: 1) characters that help give "local color," and 2) characters that help establish the female lead, the brave, pious, fourteen year-old Mattie Ross (played by an amazing Hailee Steinfield), as an unique embodiment of true grit. Included in the first group is a Native American criminal who is denied a chance to speak his last words before being hanged, a wizened Chinese grocery store owner who rents a dirty cot to Jeff Bridge's Rooster Cogburn, and a stoic Native American who takes a dead body after Mattie cuts it down, and then later sells the body for a few dental mirrors and snake oil.

Ok, so nothing new here. We've definitely seen these characters before, but in that their function is to provide a sense of period authenticity, fine, whatever (although the fact that the first instance was played for laughs becomes troubling when combined with a later scene that I'll get to in a minute). It's the second set of characters that really led to this post. The first in this group is the black manservant whose indecision and wavering act as a foil to Mattie's determination, and establish her as authoritative in the first moments of the film. She quickly dispatches him back home, and sets out alone to avenge her father's murder and set his business in order. The second is a young black stable boy who looks on in awe as Mattie manages to tame a wild pony, and in response to her request to thank his boss, replies something like, "no ma'am, I'm not even supposed to utter your name" (a line that also elicited light laughter).

The last two characters in this group are two young Native American children who are sitting outside a general store. When Mattie and Cogburn ride up to the store, they find the children taking turns swatting a horse who has been tied up outside. The camera focuses on their blank faces, bringing to mind centuries-old stereotypes of "dirty, lazy, no-good Injuns." Roused by the cruel treatment of the animal, the gruff Cogburn jumps off his horse and strides over to the children. He unties the horse, and forcefully throws the boy onto the ground. Walking into the store, he then pushes the complacent sister off the fence she had been sitting on as well. The audience laughed both times! It was the laughter that really made me uncomfortable (incidentally, a similar scene of child abuse against Mattie had not caused laughter). It seemed to indicate that the scene had been interpreted as evidence for Cogburn's inner humanity (a facet that is relevant to his eventual relationship with Mattie), and that the use of racist stereotypes had been accepted in the service of providing a foil for Mattie's integrity (a reading that seemed to be seconded by the final shot in which the children's faces are contrasted with Mattie's, as they stare at each other in uneasy silence).

In college, I became notorious for ruining perfectly entertaining films by pointing out their inherent racist/sexist assumptions. You know, something like "Are you kidding me? The Mummy is completely Orientalist, and not in an ironic, self-mocking way." Not surprisingly, I wasn't the most popular movie date! But, I don't know. I think it's important to call out popular, Oscar-buzz producing films for this kind of thing. Especially when they are really good films that are doing something meaningful (providing a complicated, rich, beautifully textured female protagonist), but at the same time reproducing other kinds of problematics.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Black Swan and the revenge of the good girl

First impressions 
When I first saw the Black Swan trailer and heard Natalie Portman breathy, mumbly little girl voice, I have to admit: there was eye rolling and eyebrow raising. Ballet movies are mostly just bad. (I make exceptions for Anaheim Ballet's fun short YouTube movies though.) So cheesy! So stilted! So artistically disappointing.

Then I read this SF Chronicle article where Portman talks specifically about that little girl voice she used in the role. In the interview, she brings such an awareness and intelligence to the work she does that I decided to look into it more, maybe give it a chance in the theater (no small decision when it means we have to arrange babysitting).  This was the quote in particular from Portman that made me give this movie a second look:

"I noticed a lot of the dancers I was meeting had these really high voices. It was part of how they were kept as little girls in these companies. It's an art that stars women and is usually run by men," she says. "They're kept really skinny. If you see certain companies where they don't emphasize thinness, the girls who do the same, exact physical (moves) have breasts and hips.
"Look, there are different bodies; there are very healthy thin dancers. But a lot of them are depriving themselves. That's very much keeping women as children, not allowing them to have womanly figures and not allowing them to have their own pleasure.
"Part of Nina's transformation is her finding her own pleasure, someone who gets in her own body and sees the world through her own eyes, and that's what makes her an artist. She's killing the little girl in the end and becoming a woman, with the bleeding and everything that womanhood brings."
Now that's something a little heftier (storytelling-wise) that I could get into. There's going to be something beyond pretty for pretty's sake, horror for horror's sake. I realized I love the idea of throwing off the chains of other's expectations (especially, especially about what it means to be good) and I love the idea of "seeing the world through [one's] own eyes" and that that's where your life becomes art as you live it.

If this story is about liberation like that, well, get me a ticket right now. I never bought the argument that bad girls have more fun, and I still don't, but I do like the idea that maybe all the women who are having fun aren't bad after all. (They're just drawn that way?) They're just confident in what they want and what they believe in and what they'll fight for, and they're having a damn good time doing it. Is this what the Black Swan is really about? Then maybe it's not a horror film.  Well, maybe it's like childbirth was for me-- an intensely painful halluncinatory bloody transcendent terrifying experience, and two years after the second birth, totally something I'm amazed by (now that I've gotten over the shock of transformation into a swan- I mean mom). Also, the wings are so cool, aren't they!

Ah yes-- according to Vogue, this theme of growing up and becoming a woman is the heart of the move. This is the storyline I'll be watching for:

It’s no accident that Nina means “little girl” in Spanish[...].  Black Swan is a lurid but effective parable about growing up, a stylized horror tale full of mirrors and blood that owes large debts to Brian De Palma’s Carrie, Michael Powell’s The Red Shoes, and Roman Polanski’s Repulsion. But its premise allows Portman to give a superb, extreme performance that replaces the child with an awe-inspiring woman.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Why does every coffee shop have that one ANNOYING guy?

Firstly, yay! not writing this at some obscene hour at night (Niku's weaned, so it's just getting up two or three times to shift his legs off my head and his head back to his pillow). Secondly, boo! writing this even though I have the rare chance to work three hours in one sitting and should be writing a book review whose deadline already passed. But it's precisely that kind of time-management induced guilt that fuels this post.

Jaspret is home this week, so yesterday I decided to take the book (The Goddess and the Nation: Mapping Mother India by Sumathi Ramaswamy - really good for anyone interested in Indian nationalism, bazaar art, and the conflicting gender demands of divine and domestic goddess-ness by the way) to a local coffee shop - a luxury I definitely took for granted in my Irvine days. I was happily settled on a comfy couch, peppermint mocha at my side, reading and underlining and writing, when I was interrupted by THAT GUY. We all know who I'm talking about. In Irvine (Jamie Ortize can vouch for me!) it was "The Professor." In LA, it was "The Industry Know-it-all." The man who has made a particular coffee house his own private kingdom, over which he rules his (usually female/minoritarian, younger, and hapless) subjects with a constant stream of stories, advice, and general insight into the ways of the world.

Yesterday, the local YL version asked me about the book I was reading. "I can see that you're one of those people who write in books - shame on you," he admonished, reaching over to pick up TIME (the one with Boner's orange face filling the cover). I should have seen it coming right then and there. Shame on me for responding. But respond I did - the gist being that I owned the book (!) and that I was reading it for work. Of course he asked what I do. Of course I said that I teach at UC Irvine. That answer is usually more than satisfactory to the casual interlocutor, any further curiosity stemmed by my adding "in Women's Studies." But not particular fellow.

He continued, "Are you a professor?" I'm always stumped by this one. I don't want to claim a title that is not officially mine, but for most people, the professional differences between a lecturer and a professor are vague and uninteresting at best, so in this case, I answered, "umm... yes... kind of."

"Are you tenure-track?" came back the volley.

"No, I'm a lecturer."

"But you're trying to become tenure-track."

Now this was where things got really interesting and timely since I had just been dealt the blow of a tenure-track job rejection and had been grappling with some really difficult questions about career, motherhood, regional limitations, ambition, and obligations. In a moment I was forced to consolidate all those hours of thinking, and crying, and wavering, and talking, and planning, and replanning, into one short unequivocal answer, since I had zero desire to dive into this miasma again, especially not with this dude.

"Actually, no." He gave me a "I totally don't believe you" look.

"I am committed to teaching, which I believe I can do very productively in this position, while still continuing my research. And I have two small children who I want to care for."

It didn't really come out as clear as that, but you get the idea. At the two small children bit, he gave me a knowing look. You know, "oh, so you're one of those. Those unserious scholars who gives up your intellectual pursuits for... (gasp!) children."

And so, again, I'm left with the slightly bitter (dis)taste of the false promise of "having it all" in my mouth. I really have no answers, but I know a couple of things, made all the more clear for me after this exchange: I have an ethical obligation to the children my partner and I chose to have and who are two of the most amazing individuals I have had the opportunity to get to know; I am completely passionate about my work, particularly teaching; and I have absolutely not enough energy to do all that I want to do for both my family and my work. Short of taking a continuous does of Rockstar (as one of my students famously did before his final exam), what is a woman to do?

the lady's not afraid: How Dolly rocks it

From ColorLines:
The clip above (h/t Joe.My.God) begins with her answering a question about why and how she embraces her gay fans, but Parton migrates into a broader comment on the joy she finds in coming together with all sorts of people she might otherwise fear. “We should be a little more tolerant and a little more accepting and understanding of not just the gays, but other people, minorities. We just don’t have enough love to really live in this world, and we really need to.” 

All our base (boobs?) are belong to Dolly! Dolly FTW! I love this woman. She is such a role model of freedom. I love how her comments reflect this reality of needing to cross lines and rearrange labels and generally let down our guards a little, let ourselves be open to all the ways that life can be good and that friends can be found.  I love that she can say this and that her words travel as far and wide as her fandom. That's the power of having a good ally. :)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Movie pick: Burlesque!! Yes, really. Go have some fun with family values

I went into this movie with no expectations except glitter, and I was not one tiny bit disappointed. (A couple spoilers below.)

In fact, in contrast to all the critical reviews I saw, there were moments I was impressed. The acting's not Oscar worthy or anything, although it is a TON of fun to watch Cher and Stanley Tucci together-- they clearly enjoy and respect each other (or act really well as if they do). Who doesn't love watching a fabulously flamboyant woman whose comedic straight man is her gay best friend?  Cher had a wonderfully confidence in  her character Tess. She was like a cat who knows that every stretch, swat and swing of the tail is watched and admired. So I forgave her character the moments of stubbornness and self-pity-- I like watching a woman who's confident in the story she has to tell.

Christina isn't as convincing as an actress, but I didn't care. I was waiting for her to cause a rumble with those pipes. She has such an incredible voice, I didn't care about the acting. But when she was acting onstage in the movie's burlesque show, she was terrific. So much fun!!  She looked totally free, even as her voice and her moves stayed disciplined. And THAT is a performance worth watching.

Some themes I noted:
  • Yer mom! Family values?! I swear, it was in there.  Moms and family might seem to have nothing to do with feather boas and pasties.  But messages and talk of family persisted throughout the movie. This might be one of the most interesting artistic messages/themes of the movie. I'm serious! Just a handful of examples that I can remember- there are probably more:
    • Christina Aguilera's character Ali has pennies to her name, but demonstrates that she thinks the mom-child relationship is important when she hands over some money and says to her co-worker: "Buy this toy for your kid. I know you've been wanting to get it for him." She could have kept the money or given it to her co-worker for drinks after work, but nope. There's a reason for it, I think...
    • ... Ali lost her mom at age 7
    • And Ali having no family comes up a couple times in key emotional moments with Jack and Tess
    • Jack's engaged- but his relationship isn't a model of family warmth
    • Theme of "I'm not your mom" and "You're not my mom" come up over and over
    • Tess' general motherliness to the performers and staff at her club
    • A dancer gets pregnant and then married
    • Notably, when the dancer gets pregnant, Tess knows which dancer it is even though she can only see the bottom of her shoes from under the bathroom stall when she's got morning sickness
    • And Tess tells that dancer that "we're family, we take care of each other"
    • Jack's mom gave him adorable pj's (but used to highly sexy and comedic effect)
    • Jack breaks off the engagement when he realizes what he really wants in a relationship
    • Themes of "we're a family/forgiveness/come back to us" thread throughout
    • Still not convinced? Think it's kind of unexpected to have something to say about moms in a movie that's about shaking your moneymaker? But maybe that's a message-- you can still work it even after you birth it.  Christina's got it, Cher's got it, and one of the dancers gets pregnant. But if you could have or BE a mom with moves as hot as Cher and X-Tina, why *wouldn't* you be rocking it? Now that is a life lesson for us all.
    • Diversity is fun!  Ok, my first reaction to the diversity of the cast was 'WOOT!' It was great to see a range of beauty up there in race (and sort of somewhat, though not much, in size). They obviously put some thought into diversity, which I appreciated. On the other hand, I realized that *some* thought doesn't mean *good* thought or deep thought (not that I'm begging Burlesque to provide deep thoughts, but still). None of the main roles went to actors of color: Cher, Christina, Cam Gigandet (Jack), Stanley Tucci, Kristen Bell (the main female rival), Eric Dane (the main male rival). Diversity is fun -- to give lip service to? Sigh. Blonde wins here, but at least we all have fun watching.
    • Last big theme: Know when to hold 'em, when to fold 'em.  Tess holds onto the club far past the point of financial reason, but she knows she's got something good. Ali helps her figure out how to turn that intuition into cold hard cash. (That's another part of the daydream, folks! Don't go thinking you can do what they did to save your home!)  It's part of the fable, the theme of letting go and holding on. Jack has to decide in his relationship with his fiancee whether he's going to hold on or take a chance, let her go and possibly find his best friend and soulmate.  Ali, too, has to decide whether she's going to hold on to the seemingly safe relationship where her material desires could be met (hello Christian Louboutin!) or let it go and go for one where she's got an emotional connection.  (I know, the suspense! Which could it be?!)
    With all this, bear in mind: This is just a fun movie, especially if you like fantasy and feathers and glitter and romance. Yes, I still have a bit of my sixteen year old self in me. If you're into chair dancing at the movies and think it's fun to imagine yourself in feathers too, I say go for it guilt-free. Have fun!!

    Monday, December 20, 2010

    Homemade oreos: Even better than the real thing

    It's that time of year-- JoeJoe time. Candy Cane Joe Joe's, to be precise. If you've got a Trader Joe's near you, you won't be able to escape without seeing these puppies prominently displayed. Trader Joe's knows they've got a good thing going.

    If you haven't tasted one, well. Then. Perhaps you live in TJ-free zone and I need to get one in the mail to you. If you have access to TJ's and just haven't picked up the box, I congratulate you and your stable blood sugar levels.

    (For the uninitiated, JoeJoe's are basically TJ-brand Oreos, but much better. They use vanilla bean in the creamy center and Candy Cane JoeJoes have that red and white minty sticky crunch.)

    I had a yen for them, but am also trying to shake off the last 5-8 lbs of baby weight. I totally refuse to give into the notion of spreading out with the years. If anything, I want to get stronger and faster as the years go by. So we've totally been decimating bedtime to go to the gym (something had to give).  But everyone knows, half an hour of butt-busting sweat-dripping heart-pounding burns a solid 200 calories, which, even accounting for afterburn, can be reacquired by merely looking at a slice of pizza or box of cookies. Calories are calories, way easy to put on and tough to take off. Good for our Neanderthal ancestors, bad for us desk dwellers.

    SO! I didn't have them in the house.  I had decided awhile ago that if I wanted white sugar, I'd have to bake it up myself instead of making it all mindlessly accessible. Nope, I'd need to *mindfully* consume my cookies, after mindfully baking and mindfully cleaning up. (Geez, it makes it sound almost worth it to pay $3 for a box of JoeJoes!)

    My ever-heroic group of online mama friends had just been discussing homemade oreos, however, and I was led to this Smitten Kitchen recipe. Besides being a fun blog to read, she also has terrific recipes and beautiful photos of her work.  She also has a delicious Homemade Oreo recipe!

    These are HIGHLY worth it. Quick to make and really delicious. My modification of her recipe is that I used only 1 cup of sugar for the chocolate cookies and clarified butter instead of shortening for the filling. I cannot recommend enough clarified butter for this purpose. This is what separates the store-bought cookies from the homemade to me-- this special ingredient that really makes the vanilla stand up proud against the darkly rich crumbly chocolate background.

    Use parchment or a Silpat. Bring over a couple cookies, I'll bring the milk, and we'll talk about the gym. :)