Monday, February 28, 2011

Red Cliff

Recently, my husband and I have been watching a lot of Asian cinema through Netflix, and I want to recommend the Chinese epic-war film Red Cliff, International Version -- Parts I and II.

Note: Do not confuse this with Red Cliff Theatrical Version, which is a condensed version about 2.5 hours long. I've heard the theatrical version is stinky caca-poopoo by comparison. You want to watch both parts (about 4-5 hours in total so make sure you've got LOTS of popcorn!)

I admit it took some skillful coaxing (i.e., persistent begging and pushing) on my husband's part to convince me to watch it. Normally, I'm not too keen on John Woo. As a director, I think he's about as subtle as a blow to the head with a poleaxe. Also, I tend to find his visual metaphors kind of cheesy and melodramatic. (Seriously, a white dove? In every movie?) However, I loved this film so much, I may go back and re-evaluate him.

I wish that I had read up on the Battle of Red Cliffs prior to watching the film because I had difficulty understanding what was happening at the start of the movie. I get the feeling that this battle is like our Gettysburg in that every Chinese child probably learns about it in third grade. Therefore, they don't need a whole lot of details to understand what is happening. However, for me, some background information would have been helpful. If you plan on seeing this film, I suggest checking out this Wikipedia article first.

Without giving you too many spoilers, the plot of this movie is based on events that occurred toward the end of China's Han dynasty and the Battle of Red Cliff (208-209 AD). The emperor is an ineffectual figurehead. The megalomaniacal warlord Cao Cao has finished years of campaigning to stamp out any independent warlords in the north, and he has just been given the authority to do the same in the south. It sounds like a super plan, but with such a weak ruler on the throne, the fear is that he will simply stage a coup after he's done. Despite Cao Cao's enormous army (800,000 strong), he meets resistance in the south from the much smaller allied forces of Liu Bei and Sun Quan.

Originally, Red Cliff, Part I was released for Chinese audiences in 2008 and Part II in 2009. Part I is dark and grim with body parts flying everywhere. However, these horrific fights are in stark contrast to some tranquil indoor scenes that are brimming with quiet beauty and tenderness. I generally don't like seeing even fake blood because it makes me feel all woozy and vasovagal, but the contrast is vital in a film like this. The scenes at home underscore the savagery of war. They also remind us that there are things worth fighting for, and there is honor in doing so.

Part II almost seems like a different movie from Part I. I wonder if John Woo was influenced by the release of Lord of the Rings because I see a lot of similarities. (My husband and I even started referring to the characters as Gimli, Legolas, and so on.) Part II is still serious, but it's much lighter, funny even.  I had no idea John Woo could be humorous, but we were actually laughing out loud during a few scenes.

If you like the LOTR trilogy (and I do! I do!), I think you would appreciate this film. It's about little guys fighting to protect their homeland against the big, bad guy that wants to take over. It's action-packed, and it's very similar in the kinds of grand, sweeping visuals it presents. The scenery makes me want to hop on a plane and visit China.

Also, like LOTR, friendship and trust are a central theme in this movie. It's developed in various touching ways through the camaraderie between between Liu Bei, Sun Quan, their generals, and their advisors. The film also speaks to the issue of trust and loyalty between men who fight and the people they defend. By comparison, a lack of friendship and trust are Cao Cao's undoing.

I know I've just finished comparing this movie to LOTR, but I don't want you to get the wrong idea. Red Cliff definitely stands on its own and has a distinctly Chinese sensibility. I also understand that Woo strove to remain faithful to chronicles of the event and historical details such as military tactics, clothing, etc. However, he is John Woo, so there's still a hint of magic.

I'm not a music person, but one piece left me breathless. There is a scene in which Zhuge Liang, Liu Bei's strategic advisor attempts to persuade Zhou Yu, Sun Quan's viceroy that they should unite against Cao Cao's invasion. (These characters are played by the yummy Takeshi Kaneshiro and the incomparable Tony Leung respectively.)  In this scene, the two men play a traditional stringed instrument called the guqin. The music is like crazy ancient Chinese rock. It's so tumultuous, so chaotic and otherworldly it gave me shivers. I wish I could find a clip online for you, but they've all been blocked.

One final thought on this movie -- I want the clothes. All of them. Well, maybe not the hats, but everything else.

Sorry to be skimpy with the details, but I don't want to ruin this film for anyone who hasn't seen it. You can check out the trailer below, though. If you have seen it, I'd love to hear what you thought about it! What's your favorite scene?

Overall Rating: Despite the white birds, two thumbs up! (one from me, one from my husband)

Monday, February 21, 2011

No Pain, No Gain

Sometime during the middle of last month, I had a stupid accident. Judging from the lingering pain, I suspect I broke a finger. I accomplished this in a manner so incomprehensibly ridiculous that I am too ashamed to provide details of the incident. You must simply take my word for it that I feel like a grade-A nincompoop.

Even more stupid has been my resistance to going to the hospital. Instead, for 4 weeks, I've been sucking up the pain and inconvenience of a potentially broken bone. Why? Because I thought it preferable to the pain and inconvenience of sitting who knows how long in a waiting room with two very active boys and a screechy infant.

Initially, I doctored my finger with the help of some popsicle sticks and duct tape. I did this for a few days before I decided that looked just too silly. So I removed my DIY bandage and simply started walking around with my left index finger held straight up at all times. If you have ever played the videogame Halo 2 from the Arbiter's perspective, that's what I looked like -- only without the kick-butt energy sword. If you have not played Halo 2, the Arbiter is a space alien. He belongs to a group called The Covenant, which is attempting to activate an ancient artifact that will allow them to take over the universe. However, the Arbiter has gone rogue and allied himself with humans. The Arbiter sounds cool, but looking like him (or rather like his left hand) is not so much.

Last night was a turning point for me. Even though my finger doesn't hurt terribly anymore, I nearly burned it off in the toaster oven because I've lost 50% of all sensation in that digit. This is not a complete catastrophe since I still have nine other fingers. However, I'd hate to see my typing speed diminished in any way, so I've finally made a doctor's appointment.

Now I'm a bit apprehensive because I know Doc will send me for an x-ray (which means lots and lots of waiting-room time). Also, my gut is 100% certain he's going to have my finger re-broken and set. This second thought particularly bothers me because "I don't like pain -- it hurts me."1 On the other hand, I know that choosing some temporary suffering will result in numerous benefits later on. Off-hand, I can think of a couple. A fully functioning finger would be nice. If it's not totally deformed by my earlier stupidity and stubborness, so much the better.

I've decided this whole experience need not go to waste, though. I've learned that I am periodically just plain dumb (there's no other word for it) regarding my body and its needs. In the future, I hope to demonstrate better judgment.

More importantly, I hope to show more sense when it comes to my inner life. Although I want to have a sensitive, teachable spirit, I have no illusions. I'm pretty positive I'll make some soul-crippling choices out of selfishness and pride. However, I also hope to have the grace to recognize when I need to be re-broken and fixed. In these cases, I hope I'll choose to do the right thing.

"[E]very time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other."
— C.S. Lewis

1Daffy Duck


I drafted this post a little over a week ago. Since then, I've learned that my finger is not broken. (Hooray!!!) However, the doctor suspects that I may have damaged a ligament due to the fact that I still can't bend my finger, and the only way to be certain is an MRI. As I sit here self-treating by squeezing a squishy ball, I'll let you guys take bets on whether I'll actually go and have that done. Ahhh... History will teach us nothing.

Monday, February 14, 2011

I Know Today is Valentine's Day, But Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

Most people I know would shudder in horror at the thought of an arranged marriage. The pragmatic streak in me, though , can see the benefits of employing a gaggle of busy aunties to make matches. They usually have extensive knowledge of all parties involved, including factors such as age, reputation, interests, occupation -- even native language. With all this information at hand, tapping into The Auntie Network is almost like insider trading.

By contrast, the "love match" involves relying on a certain set of physical symptoms to determine if two people are well-suited to one another. These include:

  • Racing heart
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Flushed cheeks
  • Changes in appetite
  • Loss of sleep
  • Jumping on couches
Taken together, these symptoms normally signal a need for the emergency room (or at least medication). However, during courtship, we consider these to be positive indicators for potential happiness.

Seeing as it's Valentine's Day, far be it from me to humbug any method that brings two hearts together. I had a love match, and here I am nearly 11 years, 3 kids, 4 dogs, and 19 goldfish later with the same excellent man. On the other hand, one of my cousins had an arranged marriage. He was instructed one day to meet his family for lunch at one of the swankier hotels in Seoul. When he arrived, he received the surprise of his life as he was handed a suit and told that a woman was waiting for him at the altar in the next room. He's been married longer than I.

[Editorial note: The author has omitted a lesser known but widely accepted marriage practice. It is an amalgam of the aforementioned methods, commonly referred to as the "shotgun wedding." This is a type of arranged marriage that results from a love match. This strategy chiefly benefits the bride's father, who for a small investment in bullets, realizes either a son-in-law or a new wall trophy. End note]
No, this is the point I have been driving toward. I think even people in the best of relationships experience annoying or even hurtful moments. These moments usually occur after one's heart has stopped beating erratically (or the blue pills have run out) and all the aunties have gone home. In these instances, one makes the conscious decision to love or not to love.

Being somewhat thick, it's taken me nearly a decade of marriage to understand that love is not an emotion. It is an activity. Fortunately, just like any activity such as running, painting, or extreme ironing, it can be practiced. Also, the more we do it, the more proficient we become.

***Big-time Cheese Alert***
Today, in honor of V-Day, I would like to commit to practicing -- no, to being love.
I will be longsuffering, patient, and kind (even when my children are not).
I will not be envious or boil over with jealousy because my needs are met. I am content with what I have, and I can be happy for others.
I will not be boastful or vainglorious or display myself haughtily (even though everyone knows that I'm perfect!!! HA!)
I will not be conceited, rude, or act unbecomingly, especially toward waiters and cashiers.
I will not insist on my own rights or my own way (or mutter nasty names when someone flies through the 4-way intersection when I got there first) because I am not self-seeking.
I am not touchy or fretful or resentful, all qualities my husband will appreciate.
I will pay no attention to a suffered wrong. I won't even hold my breath and smile while secretly hoping the universe crashes in on that person.
I will not rejoice at injustice or unrighteousness, but I will rejoice when right and truth prevail. So long, schadenfreude!
I will bear up under anything and everything that comes. I have the grace to do this.
I will be ever ready to believe the best of every person, including that driver on the cell phone who just cut me off. My hopes are fadeless under all circumstances.
I will endure everything without weakening because Love never fails. Amen.
My third-grader made today's art for me.
He calls it Heart of Hearts.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

She Tells Her Love While Half Asleep

I love snow. Specifically, I love snowfalls. I love the way snowflakes frost my eyelashes. I love how everything seems cleaner, quieter, fresher, softer, more inviting. Even the air seems tastier during a snowfall.

This winter, though, has been... I don't want to use the word tedious, but it has been a little. With a new baby, it's more difficult to enjoy snowball fights and sledding and making snow angels. As much as I love the baby, I just want to go outside!!! To quote my oldest child, "I really like winter, but even I've reached that point."

This longing for spring has brought to mind a poem by Robert Graves. It's not really about spring; it's simply where the random jumps in my brain stopped. However, I thought the imagery was great, and it would be a good read near Valentine's Day.

She Tells Her Love While Half Asleep
She tells her love while half asleep,
In the dark hours,
With half words whispered low;
As earth stirs in her winter sleep
And puts forth grass and flowers
Despite the snow,
Despite the falling snow.
-- Robert Graves

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Vive Le Sciurus Carolinensis!

We live in a relatively rural area. I say "relatively" because it's not as sparsely populated as Maza, North Dakota (pop. 5), but it's 30% less crowded than Chubbuck, Idaho. (What? You never heard of Chubbuck?!)

Access to the Mother Nature was one of the things that attracted us to our present location. Our current house backs up to some woods and a farm. As a result, we periodically get visitors like bears, deer, and foxes, which is always something of an event. In our house, it is implicitly understood that if someone spies one of these Very Cool Animals, a call is sounded, and we all immediately drop what we're doing to watch at a window.

We also have gray squirrels. Lots of gray squirrels. Short of trapping and relocating these furry roaches, I don't have an efficient way to count them accurately. However, I think that a good estimate would be scores and scores of squirrels.

Now in their naievete and unbridled enthusiasm for all living things, my children have not yet figured out that the squirrels are just squirrels; they're not one of the Very Cool Animals. At least a dozen times a day I receive this urgent breathless summons, "Come!!! Quickly!!! There's a... squirrel!" So I drop the dishes I'm doing, wipe my hands, and run like a madwoman to the window, just in time to see a whole -- what is the word for a group of squirrels? pack? herd? cabal? -- whatever of squirrels dumping out all the bird feeders.

These yard monkeys are ingenious really. One of them climbs a tree and tips a feeder. Then they all descend upon the spill to enjoy a nosh while they plot global domination and how to force me into putting out more peanuts.

Those of you familiar only with scrawny urban squirrels are no doubt scoffing. How could a flibbety-wibbety wisp of fluff possibly accomplish such wholesale destruction and forced servitude? Simple. These are super squirrels. They are fat and sleek and highly muscled from their rigorous PT regimen, which includes leftover waffle-lifting, aerial drops on my roof, and paw-to-beak combat against small birds. I've even witnessed them breaking out their squirrel-jitsu moves on merlins and emerging victorious! Do you know what merlins are? They are small raptors with hooked beaks and razor sharp talons that are designed to eat squirrels, and in my yard, they don't stand a chance!

So forget Planet of the Apes. I'm fairly certain that in the end, Sciurus carolinensis is going to rule the world. In fact, I'm setting out a peace offering of peanuts right now because it's never too early to begin appeasing our future overlords.

This image of a covert meeting of
Sciurus Carolinensis, Winter Squadron,
was taken from a safe distance using a telephoto lens.
Those inexperienced in repelling squirrel attacks
should not try this at home.

Monday, February 7, 2011

What is a one penny jumble packet? (Oh, and welcome to my blog, btw :-)

My father grew up on a farm in the mid-west where I think, at one point in his childhood, all the blood in his body was replaced by soil and seeds. I cannot remember a time in my life when he wasn't gardening or planning a garden. Even when we lived in places that had no yards, he would still find a way to plant things.

In an effort to pass this love of growing things on to me, his impressionable child, my dad would allot me a portion of his precious garden space. The catch was that I had to provide the seeds for it. Fortunately, Gurney's (his favorite seed catalogue) provided a solution to my dilemma. At the end of each season, Gurney's mixed up all its leftover vegetable and flower seeds and packaged them. This resulted in a product tailor-made for young children -- The Jumble Packet -- which was quite reasonably priced at one penny.

Of course, using a Jumble Packet was a risky business. One never quite knew what would result from such a planting. Some seeds were pretty easy to identify -- corn, peas, beans, sunflowers. You knew what they were going in, and you could identify them coming up. However, there were always surprises. These were the plants that you just knew were something special, but you had no clue what they were. So you waited and waited and waited and checked on them every day to see what would happen. This was, in essence, the beauty of the humble jumble packet.

Fast forward 30 years, and you will find me typing this entry. If you're looking thoughts on a specific topic, you'll probably want to clear out now. This blog is my new test garden to collect random thoughts, observations, reviews, recipes, craft ideas... who knows where this will go? You might find some sunflowers and peas in here, but you're just as likely to get kohlrabi and bachelor's buttons. If you're still reading, though, stick around -- let's see what comes up! :-)
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