27 February 2009

One from the Vault - originally posted February 12, 2008 on MySpace

en espanol, por favor

First, someone needs to clue me in to how to insert Spanish characters here.


I've been watching a lot of movies lately. I used to have a Blockbuster Online membership, but I realized after a while that I was spending 'way too much money per movie. I had the basic $10-a-month plan, which doesn't sound bad - you get a movie, you send it back, they send you the next one in your queue, and if you're watching movies as soon as you get them, it's a real deal. Unfortunately, between school, the new(ish) house, work, other projects, and whatnot, I was frequently keeping a movie two or three months before I watched it, sometimes longer. That adds up when you look at it realistically: $30 to keep a movie three months? I could've bought it for less!

So I cancelled that and signed up at Wild and Wooly Video, a local venture that has all the odd-duck stuff I love. It's on Bardstown Road, in the Highlands -- if you know Louisville, that will tell you what sort of place it is. If you don't - well, the Highlands is a neighborhood not far from downtown, where the houses are old, the population is exceedingly diverse, and the businesses lean well to the left of "funky." It was among the businesses of the Highlands - and the main drag, Bardstown Road, in particular - that the locally popular slogan evolved: Keep Louisville Weird! And trust me, W&WV is about as weird as they come, and darn proud of it!

So here's the thing: I did not exactly excel in foreign languages in school. In fact, at one point, I changed my major from Sociology to Psychology to get out of having to take any more language credits. I can mimic accents flawlessly, but when I get through reading a page of text and I'm asked what it means, my response is usually along the lines of, "Ruh?" However, last summer, a group of us convinced our translation team and a few others to start a lunchtime conversational Spanish class, and I actually started catching on. So I set myself a goal of becoming comfortable, if not fluent, in Spanish, and one of the ways I figured I could do it would be to watch Spanish-language movies.
It's working. Along about movie # 7 or 8 -- Vacas, a fascinating little piece of
Basque historical melodrama - I realized I was only looking at the subtitles about a third as often as when I started, right after Christmas. I was starting to understand the dialogue. And besides the redeeming educational value, I find many of these movies are simply like nothing I've seen before.

I know a lot of people have seen Pan's Labyrinth. It's a fairy tale in the truest sense, dark and violent and frightening, and it almost seems, just before the end, as though evil has won. It's stunning - haunting, powerful, exceedingly well-done in every aspect.

That was one of the first. Since then, I've watched so many movies, mostly from Spain, some very recent and others going back to the early '70s. I've found out what Geraldine Chaplin's been doing since Dr. Zhivago - Spanish cinema! I've learned a good bit about Spanish history and culture in addition to the language, and I've also seen several really good movies from Latin America, running the gamut from romantic to bizarre (that would be Vera, which I watched a couple nights ago and still haven't figured out). I've discovered a favorite actress, Ana Torrant, who couldn't have been more than 5 when she did Secret of the Beehive, and is now probably in her mid-thirties. Vacas is a few years old; she may have been in her late 20s when she made that.
One weekend, I rented both Volver -- very recent, with Penelope Cruz cast pretty much against type -- and Cria Cuervos, the first of Torrant's movies I saw. (Geraldine Chaplin was in it, playing both Torrant's character as an adult and, in the flashbacks that made up most of the story, her character's mother's ghost.) I had to watch that one twice.

They're both ghost stories in a sense. Volver means "to return." And there were many returns: the return of a lost parent, the return of a woman to a place she'd run from, the return of relationships that had been dead. Cria Cuervos is set in Franco-era Madrid. Ana Torrant plays a middle child among three daughters, who blames her father for her mother's death. (Although the cause is never specified, I'm thinking ovarian or cervical cancer, given the scene that takes place just before she dies.)

It took me a while to figure out the title. It means "raising crows," and it comes from a Spanish proverb that says, "If you raise crows, they will scratch your eyes out." I finally ran it past my daughter the other night, completely out of context - she hasn't seen the movie and didn't know what it was about - and she got it immediately. If you raise your children to be demanding and selfish and self-absorbed, they'll make you pay for it.

Little Ana is not a bad child. She's not really homicidal, in spite of the fact that she believes she's killed her father and has no regret for having done so. She's about 8 years old, and she figures he deserved it. In fact, I'd have to disagree with the two or three reviewers I read later, who thought she was depressed and suicidal. I think she was a take-charge kind of kid who basically saw what was wrong and tried in her own odd-duck way to fix it. There's one scene where she fantasizes jumping off a rooftop, but it was pretty clear to me that she isn't imagining killing herself - after she jumps, she flies, dipping and swooping around her neighborhood. She's imagining being free.

She's not a demanding, selfish little "crow," but she does prove out the proverb. She also proves out my favorite definition of a spoiled child, made by one of the umpty-eleven seminal psychologists whose work I studied, and I've forgotten which (Maslow, maybe?): A "spoiled" child is one who' s been taught that she needs something to survive, and then has it taken away. Except for the housekeeper, and her mother, who is dead, Ana is either ignored or treated more harshly than either of her sisters by the other adults in her life. She was her mother's favorite, the most like her and the most loved. And now, her mother is gone, and since she believes she's the only one who knows the truth, she takes it upon herself to correct the situation. With great, dark eyes and a solemn affect, she goes about the work of repairing her world as best she can, and the movie as a whole is alternately darkly hilarious and gently sad, but still hopeful.

After all, she does grow up to look like Geraldine Chaplin! And she doesn't appear to be in prison, so I'm guessing it all comes out in the wash.

So there's your movie review for tonight. Remember this name: Ana Torrant. She can act circles around every Hollywood beauty I can think of. Go rent Cria Cuervos or Vacas or The Devil's Backbone (a whole 'nother cast, and another review for another night) and work on your Spanish!

One from the Vault - originally posted August 2, 2008 on MySpace

How I clean house

Day 1: Invite some people over for dinner.

Seriously. There's nothing like the threat of public humiliation to motivate action. The trick is to allow the exact right amount of time. Less than a week, and you won't get it all done. More than a week, and you'll end up putting off starting until it's too late, and you won't get it all done...

Day 2: Inventory.

Walk around the house - all the rooms where anyone might conceivably go, either on purpose or accidentally-on-purpose - with a notepad and pen. (Assuming you can find them. If you can't, take a break, run to the Kroger, and get pens, notepads, some chicken chests, some Laura's Lean beef patties if they're on sale, some olives, some fresh produce that looks good - as long as it's not something you have in the garden, and if you're not sure, use your cell phone to call home and check - and some milk. Oh, and some ice cream, and maybe a six-pack of Goose Island pale ale.) Okay, where was I? Oh, yeah - walking around the house with a notepad and pen.

So walk through every room and carefully list everything - I mean everything - that needs to be done. I mean details. I mean ALL the details. I mean, imagine it's your mother coming over, and your mother always did think you were Domestically Impaired. List everything from mopping the floors and dusting and cleaning counters to swabbing toilets and doing laundry and cleaning your closet (just in case anyone should peek) to organizing the bookshelves and making sure all the thread in your sewing box is sorted by color.


Get a bowl of ice cream.

Sit yourself down at the dining room table (after you clear a spot by putting all the kids' stuff on their dining chairs) and start sorting your list into three categories:

  • Emergency (i.e., someone will die if this doesn't happen),
  • Important (really needs to be done if you ever want these particular guests to speak to you again), and
  • Would Be Nice (no lives or friendships in the balance, but you'd be happy if you could get to it).

Day 3: Start cleaning.

The objective on Day 3 is to beat into submission as many Emergencies as possible. Tackle each one with as much vigor and focus as you can muster, and whomp on it until it's down to the size of Important. Then move to the next one and whomp some more. With luck, some elbow grease, and as long as it hasn't been too long since the last time you invited people over, you could potentially get all the Emergencies down to size on Day 3.

If not, that's what Day 4 is for.

Day 4: Step back, take a deep breath, and reprioritize.

Sit down with a bowl of Cheerios and your list and re-sort. At this point, you'll need to escalate some of your Importants ahead of the former Emergencies - after all, they've had three days to spiral out of control.

Start whomping. You should have the hang of it by now.

Day 5: Don't panic.

You'll look at your list on Day 5 and realize there is no freakin' way in hell you're going to get everything done in time. Reprioritize again, this time marking the things at the bottom of the list for possible delegation, elimination, or restructuration. (Note: This is my blog. I can make up words if I want to. And if I like them, I may use them again. Get used to it.) For example, you may be able to persuade your spouse or some handy offspring to install one of those toddler-proof cabinet-clippy things inside your closet door to throw off snoopy guests. They'll get nervous about getting caught with their fingers inside the door trying to trip the clip, and they'll leave the closet alone.

Then clean some more, until you either run out of steam or run out of focus or run out of Soft Scrub. Or ice cream.

Or Goose Island.

Day 6: Panic.

Seriously, hon. This is going to be an all-nighter. That's why it's better to extend the invitation for Saturday evening rather than Friday. However, if it's for Friday and today is Thursday, you can still handle it. Just plan on taking a quick nap in one of the ladies' room stalls tomorrow afternoon.

First, start early. Use your lunch break to plan the dinner menu and figure out a schedule so you can multi-task. You know, things like, "While meat is marinating, mix salad." And, "Start meat in oven 1 hour before dinner; set timer for 30 minutes and put beans in when it goes off; reset timer for 30 minutes." (Make sure everything that goes in the oven can cook at the same temperature.) Make a shopping list. Then when you get home, work on your cleaning list as long as you can stand it. When you reach the breaking point, break. Go to the Kroger and get everything on your list, plus more ice cream and some Diet Cokes. (And none of that "unleaded" stuff. You're going to need the caffeine!)

Go home, fix a bowl of ice cream and a Diet Coke, and sit down with your list. Reprioritize. If you've applied enough elbow grease and you've been reasonable in your expectations, you'll find all that's left is a couple of Importants, a handful of Would Be Nices, and half a dozen or so potential Scratches.

Get on it. At this point, you can start moving back and forth from Important to Would Be Nice, just for variety. Just make sure you don't cut yourself short on the higher-priority items.

When you don't think you can clean anything else ever again in your life - stop. Take a shower to wake yourself up, then go get another Diet Coke and start pre-cooking. Anything that can be cut up, marinated, mixed, seasoned, and/or refrigerated in advance should be cut up, marinated, mixed, seasoned, and/or refrigerated in advance before you pass out from exhaustion.

Day 7: If this is a Saturday, you're in good shape. Get up around 10 and go for the gold.

However, this being "my way," there's no way it's a Saturday. You wouldn't make it that easy on yourself. So...

Come up with a really good reason you have to leave work an hour or two early. If you have a really good boss, "I have people coming over for dinner and I'm so nervous I could throw up," will work fine. If you don't, get creative. You're smart. You can think of something.

Go home and start the first items on your cooking list. Then go over whatever's not yet checked off on your cleaning list and reprioritize. It's acceptable at this time to start marking things off from the bottom - you can, without guilt, now say, "That ain't happenin'!"

About midway through the cooking list, take a break to set the table. (By the way, if one of the Importants on your list wasn't "wash the table linens and fold them so you don't have to iron them on Friday," then you'd better have put a new tablecloth and napkins on your grocery list.) Work back and forth between cooking and cleaning until about 40 minutes before your guests are due to arrive. (If you're really smart, you've figured the "working back and forth" thing into your to-do list/timetable.) This gives you time to shower, dry your hair, slap on some mascara and lip gloss, and hide whatever clutter you didn't get to yet before the doorbell rings.

Then take some ibuprofen for the aching in your back, your feet, and your head, pour yourself a glass of wine, and sit down and look around at your apparently clean and really quite pretty house! Enjoy it while you can - there will be a mess to clean up after dinner!

(Next time: How I prepare a holiday meal...)

22 February 2009

The First Blog

I've had a blog for a while - on MySpace - but I figured it was time to grow up and get a real one. For one thing, I want people to be able to read my blog without having to join anything. For another, I'd like a little more... what? range? scope? Hard to define, but I supposed MySpace has a "friends and family" vibe. "Range" is good. I'd like my potential audience to have a broader range.

What's this blog about, then? Well, it depends on what day it is. I don't like limits. Boundaries, yes: I consider good manners an essential part of being human. But limits, no. I have a lot of interests, and what I'll blog about depends on what's closest to the surface at any given moment. I jump around from topic to topic; my daughter calls it the "pogo stick of thought."

Learning to manage the pogo stick has been an interesting proposition. I finally realized, after years of struggling with an overloaded plate, that I had no idea what a "reasonable expectation" looked like. For the past two months, I've been working with a personal coach - Stacey Vicari of IdealLife - to work that out, and it's coming along. Bit by bit, I'm getting a handle on that "girl thing" we all learn, the inclination to spend my days "putting out fires." And my house, my job, and my life are all becoming more predictable. (I mean that in a good way.)

Putting out fires. It's what we're taught to do, you know. In our culture, at least up through my generation, boys are taught early on to be goal-oriented. Get one job done before moving on to the next. Girls are taught to view the big picture, focus on the worst trouble spot, and beat it into submission. When it's no longer the trouble spot, we look for the next trouble spot. Remember that old bit of doggerel, "Man may work from sun to sun, but Woman's work is never done"? Well, that's why! If we focus on one job until it's done, someone will want to know why we're neglecting everything else.

I've had friends who believed they got it all done, actually. I had one friend whose house was always spotless. She did it by locking her kids out at 10 a.m. and not unlocking the doors until 3 p.m. Other friends have had beautiful, well-adjusted children - and housekeepers. For women of my generation, "getting it all done" is actually picking what's most important and hiring the rest out - or locking it out.

I'm learning another way: deciding what's most important and then doing the rest of it 15 minutes at a time. You should try it. It really works! I've stopped calling myself a "clutter magnet." I'm actually a person who loves order, just not to the point that maintaining it takes my whole day. That's not order, it's OCD.

So what's important? Family. The environment. Justice. And food. Books, movies, music. Biking. Friends - old and new. Respect. Good manners. A balanced spirit. Laughing.

No limits. This blog will undoubtedly be a lot like my life - I'll make it up as I go along.

Thanks for stopping by - come back any time!