Thursday, July 24, 2008

Talula Does the Hula...

Should parents have the right to name their children whatever they want? Is it the government's business? My gut (well, my libertarianism) says no. So if I ruled the world, well, you could go ahead and name your daughter Talula Does the Hula from Hawaii.

UPDATE: check out this story from in which iReporters talk about their own unusual names. I think Bluzette is pretty cool--and what kid wouldn't want to be Indiana Jones?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Big Stone Gap

Yet another item on my summer reading list was Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani. Trigiani is this year’s Appalachian Writer-in-Residence at Shepherd and I’ll be teaching Big Stone Gap in my English 204 classes. (I’m also on the committee now, so I am especially invested in Trigiani’s visit to campus.)

Big Stone Gap is a fun book—kind of a perfect summer read, especially for women. It tells the story of Ave Maria Mulligan, a small-town pharmacist and, in her mid-thirties, the “town spinster” of Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Early on in the book, Ave, whose mother was an Italian immigrant (a “ferriner”), learns that the man who raised her isn’t her biological father. She finds herself struggling to figure out just who she is, and, of course, there’s a sweet love story working itself out over the course of the novel. I enjoyed it enough to read its first sequel, Big Cherry Holler, which picks up the story about eight years later. There are two more sequels waiting on my nightstand table: Milk Glass Moon (great title, right?) and Return to Big Stone Gap.

One of my favorite things about the Big Stone Gap books so far is Ave Maria and the way Trigiani deftly sketches her character. Consider this passage from the beginning of Big Stone Gap. Let me set the scene a bit: Ave Maria has just observed Pearl Grimes (a rather homely and plain teenage girl) suffer an insult at the hands of Tayloe, the town beauty. Ave fights the urge to comfort Pearl with some trite assurance that beauty is only skin deep or that it’s what is inside that counts. There is a poignant (albeit very cynical) truth to what Ave explains here and it reveals just as much about her as it does about Pearl and Tayloe:

“I let the comment pass. It doesn’t do me any good to try to convince Pearl that beauty comes from within and that age will wither a pretty face. I get a pain in my left temple watching poor Pearl looking up on stage at Tayloe like there is some answer up there. She is hoping that beauty will be truth. But that observation was surely made by the father of a very beautiful daughter, not Pearl’s and surely not mine. Taylor is conceited. But so what? Tayloe, not Pearl, is in the beam of the spotlight. Tayloe, not Pearl, is being examined and appreciated by all sides like a rare ruby. How Pearl wishes she was The One! Of course, I could lie. I could tell Pearl that being the prettiest girl in town is no great shakes, but eventually she would find out the truth. When you’re fifteen, it is everything. And when you’re thirty-five, it’s still something. Beauty is the big fat yellow line down the middle of Powell Valley Road. And it’s best to figure out—and the sooner the better—which side you fall on, because if you don’t do it for yourself, the world will. Why wait for the judgment?”

Trigiani can also be laugh-out-loud funny at times, even as her humor advances her themes and plot. Again, her skill at characterization shows itself in these passages. Characters like Iva Lou, Ave’s good friend—and the town sex-pot, are especially memorable. Here’s a passage in which Iva Lou explains that Ave needs to find her biological father before she can truly love a man. Again, there’s humor in the end, but her observation rings true for this character:

“‘Why do you think I’m trying to help you find him? I know what your problem is and how to fix it. You were told something all your life that was a lie. I happen to think you knew all along that it was a lie. But that is something for you to figure out on your own after all this is over. When people live lies, they stop connecting. When they stop connecting, trust dies. Honey-o, you can’t be with a man because you can’t trust one. You can’t get naked, and I am using that not literally but as a figure of speech. You follow me? To my way of thinking, if you can find your father, it will be a revelation to you. You will be able to place yourself in this world, You will finally know where you belong. You ain’t one of us, Ave Maria. And not because your mama was a feriner. You separated yourself from folks around here. And I don’t mean that to be cruel. You’ve lived here your whole life, but nobody really knows you. The first time I got a glimpse of what makes you tick was that night we read the books over at your house. You were looking at those books like old Kent Vanhook looks at my ass. There was a hunger there, a desire at long last.’”

Finally, Trigiani often does a superb job creating scenes for her readers. Here’s one of my favorites—a description of a fall evening in Big Stone Gap:

“There is excitement in the air anyway, as it is fall, our most luscious season. The mountains around us turn from dark velvet to iridescent taffeta. The leaves of late September are bright green; by the first week in October they change to shimmering gemstone, garnet and topaz and all the purples in between. The mountains seem to be lit from the ground by theatrical footlights. Autumn is our grand opera. It even smells rich this time of year, a fresh mix of balsam and hickory and vanilla smoke. Friday nights are football-game nights, and Saturday nights find everyone in town over at the Carter Family Fold.”

In Big Cherry Holler, she gives us equally impressive descriptions of Italy. Consider this picture of Milan:

“Milan is city of crisp vertical stripes, navy blue, gray, and black. Everything here is angular, from the architecture to the bone structure on the serious faces that brush past us.”

Or this one of her father’s village:

“As we drive into Schilpario, for the first time in a hundred miles, Papa slows down. He has been the mayor of this village for nearly forty years. The houses with their dark beams set off by white stucco, others painted shades of pale blue and taupe and soft green, look like candy tiles glued into the rocky mountainside. Window boxes spill over with small purple blossoms and spike of green plants I have never seen before. ‘Herbs,’ Giacomina tells me.

Etta [Ave's daughter] is thrilled by the waterwheel chugging slowly around in a circle, scooping the crystal water from the stream and sending it flowing over the slats of the old wood, polished smooth from wear. I point to the stream that rushes down the mountain over clean gray stones, then widens and makes a pond next to the cabin by the waterwheel. I show her how everything is connected. I think she understands.”

One last (admittedly quite girly) passage worth sharing, this one from Ave Maria after she spends the night with her lover for the first time:

“When I was little and playing the yard, I found a tiny blue egg in the grass. I looked up in the tree; there, out of my reach, was a nest in the branches. I ran for my mother. She carefully placed the egg in my hands and lifted high off the ground and up into the tree, so that I was eye level with the nest. There were two more tiny blue eggs in the nest. Very gently, I placed the fallen egg at home with the others. This is how I feel in my lover’s bed tonight. I feel that I am safe and at home.”

If you are looking for some fun summer reading (especially if you are a fan of literature that flirts with that hard-to-define label of chick-lit), you could do a lot worse than the Big Stone Gap books.

Dr. Horrible Controversy

Spoiler Alert: Don't read any further if you don't want the ending to Dr. Horrible ruined.

As a blogger at another site put it, "there's been some pushback on Dr. Horrible over the fact that he's [Whedon] once again killed over a female love interest in order to provide character development for male characters."Check out this post about some criticism of Penny's death in Act III--and Joss's response.

You can also read this post on feminism in Dr. Horrible. The writer makes some smart points, --although I must say that the lack of a female heroine isn't necessarily antifeminist. And, although I know people have argued about this for years, it doesn't make much sense to me to give Whedon a hard time about feminism since he is, after all, the man who gave us Buffy.

I have to admit that I never saw the twist coming and therefore appreciated the turn that the musical took. In fact, I think it's very important to the musical that neither man appreciated or really knew Penny--that that is something both Dr. Horrible and Captain Hammer get wrong. However, I have an almost irrational soft-spot for all things Whedon and am not the fairest critic.

Edward Hopper

An article over at explains that yesterday was Edward Hopper's 126th birthday. I've grown incredibly fond of Hopper's work lately--probably through conversations about it with my father, who says Hopper is his favorite painter. In fact, right now I am having four prints of his paintings framed to hang in my office on campus (which could use some decorating). Anyway, the brief article has some cool info about Hopper including this quotation: "Hopper once said of his fascination with light, 'Maybe I am slightly inhuman all I ever wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house.'"

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

So long, Sophia...

Sad news from the TV world: Estelle Getty has died. I knew that she had been quite ill for some time, so maybe it's a blessing to her family.

What a hoot it was to watch her play Sophia Petrillo and interact with the other Golden Girls! I know countless girls (and some guys) who grew up on The Golden Girls--and the reruns.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Our New Poet Laureate... Kay Ryan. Read all about her here, and then check out some of her poetry here. I didn't really know anything about her before, but the connections some have made to Dickinson seem quite apt to me. A few that have caught my attention: "Great Thoughts," "All Shall Be Restored," and "Paired Things."

Saturday, July 19, 2008

"I've got a Ph.D. in horribleness.”

Just so you know, Dr. Horrible will only be available for free until Sunday. Don't miss it!

Neil Patrick Harris is so awesome...

Some of my favorite lines (although I know I'm leaving some off):

Dr. Horrible: “The world is a mess and I just... need to rule it.”

Dr. Horrible: “See you at the aftermath. Peace. ...Well, not literally....”

Moist: “I'm moist. At my most badass I make people feel like they want to take a shower.”

Dr. Horrible: “... when I give her the keys to a shiny, new... Australia!”

Penny: “Sometimes there's something underneath that's totally different from the person's surface.”
Billy/Dr. Horrible: “And sometimes there’s a third, deeper level that's the same as the first level. Like pie.”

Captain Hammer: “It’s not enough
to bash in heads; you’ve got to bash in minds.”

Thursday, July 17, 2008

"The other victims of foreclosure"

A depressing story from CBS's early show--people turning their pets over to shelters after they lose their homes. I remember hearing Ben Stein talk about this a couple of months ago on Sunday Morning, except unlike this story's headline, he referred to the pets as the truly innocent victims of this whole mess (with the exception, I am sure, of the kids whose parents took out these mortgages they couldn't afford). Here's the video of that comment. I really love his ideas about tax breaks and federal aid for shelters and people who adopt shelter pets--that's something I can stomach a lot more than government (translation: taxpayer) bail-outs for irresponsibility.

Want to help? You can always donate to two of my favorite charities: the ASPCA or the Humane Society. In fact, here's another little plug: if you are stuck for an idea for a birthday gift (or any gift) for an animal lover, consider making a donation in honor of that person at the ASPCA. You can also do it in memory of a loved one (human or animal). It's a lovely gesture that I've made a few times for friends and family, and they always appreciate it, certainly more than any old something you can find at a store and throw in the mail.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Jersey Girls

On my way back from the Truck Party, I stopped in New Jersey to see my friend Beth and her daughter, Caitlyn. I didn't stay for long--a brief visit and lunch, but it was great to see them both. (And Ian, Beth's husband, too, although he couldn't join us for lunch.)

Caitlyn was quite the charmer at lunch. Everyone--waitresses, other customers--loved her. She entertained herself by staring at people and saying hello to them--and by playing with this cup of water. By the end of lunch, she was soaked.

Eating some of her mom's sandwich.

Caitlyn and Beth.

Truck Party!

The first weekend in July found me back in NY for the social event of the summer: my nephew Colin's 4th birthday party, known to those on the invite list as "The Truck Party." I managed to snap a few good pictures worth sharing.

The birthday boy himself, playing with one of his new trucks.

Colin and Aidan in a picture so sweet, it might make your teeth hurt a bit.

One of the grown-ups had the great idea to give the kids water guns to play with--and then tried to convince them that they should only shoot kids. Notice how effectively that is working here with Aidan and his dad.

Kelsie generally loves being the oldest of the cousins, but every once in a while, it backfires a bit, as seen here.

I am including this picture of Aidan just so that you can see how kids learn facial expressions from their parents.

Point proven.

Pop Sensation and Indexed

I've been meaning to link to these two blogs for a long time: Pop Sensation and Indexed. They are both so funny and clever that they've earned places on the list of links on the right of the page.

Vogel's Defense

On June 27, a wonderful event took place in Greensboro. Vogel successfully defended her dissertation. To help celebrate the occasion, I drove down to GSO to surprise her and help celebrate. First stop, a lunch at Liberty Oak, this great restaurant downtown. Later, it was drinks at Cafe Europa--and then, was a long night/morning and a great weekend overall.

A couple of pictures worth sharing...

Vogel and David at lunch.

Wilkie at lunch. She's also also recently defended (thus the happy look!).

Vogel and I at Cafe Europa.

On Saturday evening, Vogel and I stopped by David's new apartment to watch him unpack. Check out the label on one of his boxes.

Finally, a funny sign from a restaurant downtown. I wonder what a Vietnames sandwich tastes like.


Back in June when I was forced to empty my old room of all my old stuff* (including that note I posted about earlier), I also found a stash of old toys that I had been saving. Once I got back to WV, I went through them and found some real gems (at least, according to me).

First up, a little squirrel named Milkweed from the Woodsey's, one of my favorite toy sets. I remember getting this on Christmas Eve when I was about five or so.

Check out this link for more information on this really charming toy. Right now, I am not sure what happened to Mama and Papa Woodsey, their house, the book, or their furniture, but at least I still have this little guy.

Next, a big old assortment of Star Wars stuff--little vehicles and accessories, including this big old guy...

A big collection of Star Wars figures--these are just a few that I picked out for the picture. Especially impressive is the Emperor. I remember this being a limited edition figure that my brother Ryan sent away for. (Lots of these toys were originally my brothers'--that kind of stuff happens when you are one of five kids.)

A Gremlin! Scary! I remember my 7th birthday was a Gremlins birthday, with lots of Gremlin-themed gifts. I got an adorable stuffed Gizmo, who, sadly, my mother threw out (!!!) when she purged some things from the attic that she had previously told me was safe. This scary dude, though, has managed to endure.

When I was five or six, my parents and I were in a store and I found $5 on the floor. My parents told me that I could keep it after we turned it in at customer service and waited to see if anyone claimed it. (Incidentally, that was some good parenting, right? I can remember them telling me, "This could be some old lady's last $5 and she needs it for food." How many parents would just let their kid keep the money? And I never had cash when I was a kid, so $5 was a ton of money to me.) After three days, the store called and said no one had claimed it, so I got to spend it on whatever I wanted. One of the things I got was this action figure. (Yes, I was tomboy.)

Recognize him? It's Toht, from Raiders of the Lost Ark. He's the Nazi guy who burned his hand on the amulet.

Close up of the burned hand.

I also found this little horse. I remember always liking him. If you look closely, you can see a button under his saddle-bag. Pressing that button makes him gallop!

Sadly, GI Joes don't seem to age well. The little elastics that hold them together break over time. Check out these casualties.

Poor Doc broke right in my hands!

Ahhh--to be a kid again.

While we are on the subject of toys, check out this awesome post on the LEGO vault. (Yes, I love LEGOS!)

*For the record, there is a collection of more of my old toys in the basement of my parents' house--I need to go through that soon, before it all gets tossed.

Can a night owl become a morning person?

That's the question a reporter at Slate asked. (This article is a bit old. These past couple of weeks have been very busy with traveling and such, so I've fallen behind on my blogging. I've been meaning to link to this for awhile now--it's going to be a blogging catch-up evening!).

As a professed "night owl," and someone who actually doesn't need that much sleep, I often wish I could make myself more of a morning person...

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


One of the books I've managed to get through so far this summer is Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, a graphic memoir that tells of the author's coming-of-age in Iran after the 1979 revolution. The book had been on my radar for sometime, but I finally made myself get around to reading it because it is the Common Reading selection at Shepherd this fall and I am including it in my English 102 class.

Persepolis is a great choice for students--it's interesting, informative, and different (because of its setting, its genre, and even its point-of-view). It also helps that there's a recent movie adaptation that received good reviews.

As an English teacher, I love the idea of teaching a "comic book"*, especially in a general eduaction literature class. For me, one of the central goals in these courses is to simply get the students reading and get them excited about doing so. Another goal is to get them to see that they are surrounded by all different kinds of texts and that developing good reading skills will translate across genres, across disciplines, and ultimately, across career choices. Thus a book like Persepolis, which invites students to read images as well as words, helps them on so many levels.

Beyond all of that, though, it's just a great read. I can't quote from it so much, like I usually do in these kinds of entries, because the words alone don't convey the full power of the pages. Take a look at these images from the publisher's site, though, if you are interested. One scene that stands out in my mind is of a young Marji in her room, singing Kim Wilde's "Kids in America" at the top of her lungs after being accosted and threatened by fundamentalists on the street. Marji's parents--once so hopeful about the revolution--are also fascinating characters. The final chapter is heart-breaking, especially the very last frame.

*Seems like too dismissive a label for the book, but "graphic novel" doesn't work either since it's not a novel...even "graphic memoir," the term I used in the first paragraph seems strange.

Hitchens on Waterboarding

Really an extraordinary piece and video from one of my favorite political writers, Christopher Hitchens. No commentary from me, other than that it should be required viewing and reading for anyone who wants to have a reasoned discussion on this very important issue.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

"The Douchiest Phone Message in History"

Check it out. This guy is a complete tool--and also kind of scary. A part of me wonders if this is fake, but sadly, we all know there are guys like this out there.