Friday, November 18, 2011

Music Review: Loreena McKennitt

Wow, I must apologize (to my huge audience, haha) for my complete lack of commitment to this blog. The good news is, because I never post, I always have lots of material backlogged in my brain to use when I do post, so it's never hard for me to think of something to write about.

I have not done a music review on here, yet. I have to say, one of my favorite musicians of all time is Loreena McKennitt. Not only does she have an amazing voice, but for a history/culture geek like me, her music is absolutely fascinating. When you have a hurdy-gurdy, uillean pipes, and an electric guitar all in one song, it can't not be good. She incorporates many world sounds into her music that you can't hear anywhere else, drawing primarily on Celtic and Middle Eastern sound. Her songs are intriguing, too. The lyrics are very poetic and poignant, reflecting a strong affinity to both nature and cultural traditions and celebrations. Some of her albums are primarily her covers of traditional Celtic songs; those usually aren't my favorites, though. I prefer her original songs, or, particularly, the songs she bases on poems. (I love "The Lady of Shalott" and "The Highwayman.") However, my favorites are probably her instrumental pieces. I love the way she uses rhythm and repetition to build the emotion in each piece.

Loreena McKennitt is little-known in the U.S. (she is Canadian), but she has made a few marks on our media. Her song "The Mummer's Dance" was featured on a preview for the Cinderella romance Ever After. Also, fascinatingly, she both narrates and sings the opening and closing songs for the Disney movie Tinkerbell. I generally try to avoid Disney's straight-to-DVD films, but I had to rent this one for my daughter, and I was so glad I did, especially when I recognized Loreena's voice! The score for the movie is wonderful, too, if you like Celtic music, and the animation is gorgeous. It's a cute story, too... typical feel-good Disney, but not the cheesiest I've seen.

Not sure how this became a movie review for Tinkerbell. Sorry about that. Anyway, my favorite Loreena McKennitt album is probably still The Book of Secrets, even though that is now almost 15 years old. I discovered it 8 years ago while working as a page in the bowels of the Grand Rapids Public Library. I took it home just because the art-work on the cover of the CD intrigued me--one of the best decisions I've ever made! The Book of Secrets features "The Mummer's Dance," "The Highwayman," and one of my favorite instrumentals, "Marco Polo." Ever since I discovered that CD, I've listened to any and all Loreena I can find. I really love her latest Christmas album, A Midwinter Night's Dream. If you like world or folk music and haven't listened to Loreena yet, you should probably check her out. Or at least rent Tinkerbell.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Entry 11: Chrestomanci!

Recently I encountered a series of children's fantasy books by Dianna Wynne Jones that I absolutely love: the Chrestomanci series. It includes the following books: Charmed Life, The Lives of Christopher Chant, The Magicians of Caprona, Witch Week, Conrad's Fate, and The Pinhoe Egg. (These are often found in three volumes of two books each.) There is also a volume of Chrestomanci short stories called Mixed Magics, but I have not read it, so from now on I will not mention it in this post. Hopefully I will read it someday and discuss it then.

I use the term "series" loosely here. Each book is a stand-alone story, and, while there is an internal chronological order, it's not really that important. The books could be read in any order, I think (I would make one caveat to that statement: You may enjoy the mystery of Charmed Life most if you read it first, but I did not read it first, and still enjoyed it. I read the books by internal chronology-- see below) . They all feature a character called "Chrestomanci." In a world where using magic is a part of everyday life, Chrestomanci is a government official who must monitor magic users and make sure they do not misuse their magic to harm others.

I have seen the books listed in several orders. The order in which I listed them in the above paragraph is what I would call the "recommended reading order": it is currently the most commonly found order, especially if one reads them in the three volumes as opposed to six separate books. However, there are two other prominent orders:

The order of original publishing:
1. Charmed Life
2. Magicians of Caprona
3. Witch Week
4. The Lives of Christopher Chant
5. Conrad's Fate
6. The Pinhoe Egg

And, the order of internal chronology (the order of time passing in the books):
1. The Lives of Christopher Chant
2. Conrad's Fate
3. Charmed Life
4. Magicians of Caprona*
5. Witch Week*
6. The Pinhoe Egg
Places 4 & 5 are interchangeable: The chronology of these two books is not as clearly defined as the others'.

There are several reasons I like these books:
1.) They are FUNNY. I read these books aloud with my husband, and every single one had us laughing out loud. Whether we were chuckling appreciatively at the sarcastic wit of one of the characters, or laughing uncontrollably at some of the slap-stick scenes and outrageous misunderstandings, these books never failed to tickle our funny-bones.
2.) They are mysteries. It wasn't until after I started reading Harry Potter (some 8 years ago now!), and then went back to other fantasy, that I realized my favorite type of fantasy is (possibly) the magical mystery, of which I think Harry Potter is a great example. I've been searching for more great examples of this sub-genre ever since. Chrestomanci definitely fits the bill. Each book usually consists of not one, but several mysteries, all woven together in an intricate plot. Since these books are written for children/young adults, the mysteries are probably fairly easy for most adult readers to solve (especially once they are familiar with the author's style), but I still love that the books keep me on my toes, constantly on the lookout for important, revelatory details that usually lead to exciting, suspenseful, and sometimes surprising, conclusions.
3.) The principal characters are interesting, sympathetic, and well-developed. This is a must-have for me in almost any book. Enough said.

I will finish by saying that I am very glad I read these books. I will probably continue to re-read them in the future. If you are looking for some good J/YA Fantasy, you could not do better than these. They are exceptionally well-written. I would caution, however, that I do not recommend them for children under twelve or so, for various reasons. If you read this ridiculously long review, then I congratulate you! Happy reading.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Entry 10: In which I share my favorite dubbed-over internet videos

I really hope this post doesn't offend anyone...........

When I was seven and eight years old, my family used to gather every Saturday night in my parent's bedroom, lounge on their big bed, and watch "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" together. (I can't believe I just admitted that to the entire universe.)

Now, my sisters and I loved Dr. Quinn. And we loved Sully even more. But our favorite part of this little family ceremony was the commercials. Because that was when my dad "said the funny things," as my sister put it. My dad always used to press the mute button and dub over the commercials in an outrageous fashion. It wasn't hard. Have you ever noticed the ridiculous acting in commercials? All my dad had to do was make his voice actually fit with what was already going on on the screen, and he had my sisters and me laughing so hard we couldn't breathe.

It was hilarious to me then, and the concept is still hilarious to me now. Any comedy routine that utilizes dubbing always makes me laugh. And that is why the youtube videos I'm about to link to are still (seven years after I first saw them-- gasp!) some of my favorite internet video clips of all time.

The hilarious dubbing isn't the only reason I still laugh at them, though. The other reason is that they are a pointed satire about common misconceptions of Jesus. (They are also funny because they make fun of the acting, costuming, and sets of the ancient Jesus film they dubbed over.) If you've seen these videos (and since they've been around 8 years, you probably have), you are now either laughing or groaning, because you know what I'm talking about. They were made by a church called Vintage 21 as part of a sermon series.

Remember what I said in the beginning now about offending people? If you've been living under a rock and are about to watch these videos for the first time, or if you've seen them before and been offended, please remember: these videos are not mocking Jesus, they are mocking a wrong perception of Him. They are funny because they are SO WRONG. As the church that made them put it in their description: "This is a satirical look at what some people think Jesus is like. Thank goodness He's not." (Emphasis mine. Amen!)

So here they are, with a quick summary of the idea they're satirizing. They're only about 2-3 minutes each, so if you haven't watched them, please do. Laughter is the best medicine, right? If you've watched them before and liked them, watch them again. I promise they're still just as funny. If you've seen them and didn't like them, or you haven't but know you won't because it's not your style of humor, well, I guess I can't please everyone. I'll try to have something for you next time.
Video Clip 1 : Jesus is too busy for us.
Video Clip 2 : Christianity is just a bunch of rules.
Video Clip 3 : Jesus just wants to condemn us.
Video Clip 4 : We can earn our way into heaven.

If you watched these, now or earlier, here are my questions: Which is your favorite? Why? (Mine is 3. Because it makes me laugh the hardest. Every time.) Also, can you tell what real Jesus story these scenes were originally meant to be (before they were dubbed)? I think I know all of them... A special question to any first-timers: Where have you been? Haha, just kidding.
P.S. I know this was extra long. If you read the whole thing, good job! I figured since the videos were so short I'd compensate with a long post. Next time I'll be asking you to watch a whole movie or read a whole book so, you know, the post will be shorter to give you more time to do that... or maybe not.

Entry 9: In which I discuss the direction this blog will (hopefully) take

I've finally decided the direction I'd like to go in with this blog: I will probably mostly share my reviews and thoughts on books, movies, music and other media. I will also share some of my philosophical and theological ponderings (occasionally).

Right now I'm pondering why Firefox says "ponderings" is not a word. Dumb Firefox.

I do this not because I think I have anything all that special to say, but because I have some friends who do something similar with their blogs, and I find I always learn about exciting new books and movies, and other random things that feed my soul, from them. I'm hoping to maybe, just maybe, pass on the favor.

Hopefully now that I know what I'm doing I'll post more regularly. But probably not.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Entry 8: In which I have a conversation with myself.

Me: Ugh, it's April 19th and it's snowing again!

Myself: Wow! Look at that snow falling. The flakes are so white and soft, and they drift down so gracefully and quietly. Theirs is the dance of peace and purity. I don't care if it is the middle of April. This snow is BEAUTIFUL!

Me: GAH! You.... you TRAITOR!

Myself: Well, it is beautiful... and, did you just call yourself a traitor?

Me: I don't know why I put up with you... I must have some kind of mental disorder...

Myself: See how the pure white contrasts with the vibrant green of the grass? Gorgeous...

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Entry 7: In which I extol my husband's amazing decorating abilities.

You know how in older books and movies, when a place is bare and spartan, a character will say it needs "a woman's touch"? (You don't hear that as much anymore... it's probably considered sexist, haha.)
Generally, our culture acknowledges that women care more about making things pretty, while men care more about making them practical.
For some reason, in my marriage, this particular gender stereotype is almost completely reversed.
Example: My family and I moved into a new house about a month ago. While unpacking everything, my chief concern was getting everything put away, but my husband's was making it all look nice. I figured we could probably put our box of home decor in the basement; we'd be so busy organizing we wouldn't need it for a while. My husband had different plans; only two or three days after we moved in, all of our wall plaques, figurines, picture frames, and scented candles were artistically placed all over the house (even though our clothes were still in garbage bags piled all over our bedroom and we were still sleeping on mattresses on the floor because our beds hadn't been put together yet). This seemed a little weird to me, but then, I'm glad my husband got the decorating done while he had the time to do it. If he had left it for me to do, I wouldn't have had a clue where to put anything. Thanks to him, the house looks great.
This is just another way in which we are perfect for each other.
Those of you who have been following this blog for a while may have noticed that it is no longer plain and boring-looking. As of yesterday, it is not only beautiful, but decorated in a style which suits me perfectly. I just wanted everyone to know they have my husband to thank for that.
Thank you, honey.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Entry 6: In Which I Acknowledge That Some Lessons Must Be Consistently Re-learned...

"See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is." Eph. 5:15-17 (NKJV)

"So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times! Don't live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants." Eph. 5:15-17 (Message)

"To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven." Eccl. 3:1

"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us." Gandalf the Grey in The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R Tolkien

After my last post, which I admit was a bit melodramatic, even for me, Ephesians 5:16 (quoted above) kept coming to my mind: "Redeeming the time, for the days are evil." My dad used to quote that to me all the time when I was a kid. I got the impression that it meant I shouldn't be wasting time, but doing something good with it.
Since I seemed to be having trouble lately "redeeming" my time (or, in fact, doing anything at all with it), I decided to look the verse up and find the context. What does it mean to redeem time? And how do you do that?
I found it in the NKJV, but it still didn't make much sense to me. It wasn't until I looked it up in the Message that it really hit home. Was the reason I was losing time because I was living "carelessly, unthinkingly," not understanding "what the Master wants"? I felt like I did try to find out what God wanted. After all, part of the reason I was feeling so low was that, somehow, despite all my determination, I was not being able to read the Bible as much as I felt I should. But I suddenly became very aware that I was doing it all on my own. Instead of saying, "God, show me what you want me to do," I was saying, "I know what God wants me to do, so I need to do it." Big difference. So, after reading those verses, I prayed, "God, please help me redeem my time. Please show me what you want me to do."
Less than a week later, my tiny baby daughter, only 2 months old, was in the hospital with RSV/bronchiolitis. She was having trouble breathing. For a couple of days, I was very, very afraid she was going to die. Those were the longest couple of days of my life. Suddenly, time wasn't so short anymore...
I had forgotten that in order for something to be redeemed, it first must be completely submitted to God. That whole passage in Ephesians is talking about how to submit to God and to each other. I have a tendency to take a lot of responsibility on myself. Some would probably say it's an oldest child thing. Whatever the case, I was sure somehow I needed to do something to change my own life, instead of trusting God to do it. And when my daughter got sick, and there was nothing I could do to help her, I broke down completely.
There was one point in which I was almost sure she was dying. I locked myself in our hospital room's bathroom and cried out to God. "Please, please let me keep her. I know she's yours. We gave her to you before she was even born and right now I'm giving her to you again. If you want to take her, then I'll accept that. But, please, please, please let me keep her. I don't want to give her up yet."
Not long after that, my daughter finally started to take a turn for the better, though we ended up staying another four days in the hospital, all of which gave me plenty of time to think.
Some lessons, like the lesson of submission and surrender to God of everything in our lives, whether our time or our children, need to be relearned again, and again, and again.
God had to shout really loud that time to get my attention. But he did.
I'm not saying everything's perfect now. There are still times when, instead of remembering that there's a time for everything and we just need to ask what God wants us to do with the time he gives us, I'll start beating myself up about what I did or did not do with my time on a given day. But I'm remembering a little more often now that it's not my time, it's his time. If he wants to give me a little, or a lot, that's up to him. I'll just try to use whatever he gives me in a way that pleases him.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Entry 5: In which I marvel at the rapid passage of time.

Recently a friend of mine started a new blog.
Which reminded me of the existence of my own blog.
And, I can't believe it's been over half a year since my last post. Where did the time go?

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to start writing in my diary again. It is the same diary someone gave my for my high-school graduation. That was almost eight years ago. I haven't even used up half the pages, because so much time slips by between my random entries. Where did the time go?

Just yesterday I was on my honey-moon. No, forget that... Just yesterday I was seventeen, just figuring out how to flirt (yeah, I was kind of a late bloomer), and wouldn't meet my husband for another two years. Now I have three children, am approaching my 5-year anniversary, and my husband and I are looking for a 3-bedroom house we can rent for cheap because we keep needing more room as our family grows. (We also would like a cheap mini-van. If anyone knows of where we could find either of these things in the Traverse City area, please let me know!) That innocent and flighty seventeen-year-old disappeared nine years ago. Where, oh where, did the time go?

It seems like every time I make a resolution to make more time, I get less. I think, I'm going to make an effort to call my sister/best friend/mom every week just to say "hi." Two months later I realize... it's two months later. Or, I'm going to read the Bible every day. I think I'm doing great, but when I look at my reading schedule I realize it's been three weeks. Sometimes, I feel like I'm in that Adam Sandler movie, "Click," except I did not buy the stupid remote and did not choose to skip portions of my life... It just happens anyway! What on earth is going on here? Am I the only one who seems to lose chunks of my life like this?

I'm guessing I'm probably not the only one, but I'm also guessing someone has figured out a solution to this problem. So I want to ask you today, how do you keep from losing track of time? What do you do that keeps you from taking time for granted? How do you keep doing the "important things" on a regular basis, instead of sporadically? Because for me, sporadically is about as good as it gets. And the worst part is, unless I write down the last time I did something, I don't even realize it's been a long time.

I hope this post isn't too depressing. Rest assured, there are some really important things that I usually don't neglect (spending time with my children and husband, for one). But it just seems like I should be able to do more, more often. So, any suggestions?