Wednesday, December 28, 2005

King Kong - the movie

Well, I believe it is official that I have seen more movies this year than I have in the last 12 years (at the theater, that is). My parents took the kids for a couple days, so Hubby suggests we catch an afternoon flick. He really wanted to see King Kong. I wasn't too keen on it - it's about a big ape, for goodness sake!

Everyone knows the storyline. A filmmaker (Carl) wants to shoot a film at a previously uncharted and unknown island, Skull Island. In this version, he finds an unsuspecting actress for this role (Ann); travels with her, the screenwriter (Jack), the production crew and the sailing crew to this mysterious, primeval island. The woman is sacrificed by the natives to the giant ape, ape falls in love, is captured and brought back to NYC as a circus act. Yet, he escapes and dies on the Empire State Building, to the tears and heartbreak of Ann.

I went expecting an action movie. However, 15 minutes into the movie (being devoted to character development and background storylines), I thought - this might be more than just an adventure movie. Con artist Carl even lays it out clearly - the movie he is making is not an action movie - it is a movie about traveling to the primeval beginnings. This statement juxtaposed with the young cabin boy who is reading The Heart of Darkness tells the theme clearly. This is a movie about making that journey to the heart of who we are, about the dichotomies within each one of us. Carl is the sleezy film-maker who cannot help but destroy what he loves. He sees the good and the beauty around him, but cannot keep his greed from destroying it. Ann is a Vaudeville comedian, but her heart is filled with sadness and a fear of hope. Jack is the classic hero who only wants to write, but is compelled to be a man of action. Kong is alone, the last of his kind; but is reaching out for another, for community.

Director and producer Peter Jackson shows that the Lord of the Rings trilogy was no fluke. He is a gifted filmaker. His use of CGI technology creates some spectacular action scenes. Yet, it is his gift for story, for creating interesting and engaging characters, for revealing the details - that is what makes a really good movie. I am glad that he has gone beyond the step of LOTR evil/good split. King Kong is a movie where evil and good, laughter and sadness, action and contemplation, isolation and relationship - all reside within each one of our hearts. The actors were solid, the story was good, and the movie remains with you and with your thoughts after leaving the theater.

The movie wasn't perfect - it could have been more subtle at times, fleshed out the relationships a touch more, and deleted 5-7 minutes of the big animal fight scenes. Yet, the journey to the heart of darkness revealed what we should learn - we can rise beyond the most primitive part of ourselves and move to a higher plane. We can be more than we realize we are. Thank goodness it was not just a movie about a big ape. A-

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Gaoming Welfare Agency Annual Fund

Our wonderful daughter was adopted at age nine months from China, more specifically Gaoming Welfare Agency. Gaoming is in Southern China (a climate like southern Florida), and the Welfare Agency was a welcoming and warm place. The staff with whom we interacted obviously loved our daughter and were excited for her to have a new home. In this picture, you can see the baby room - a room our daughter knew well before she came to her new home with us.

The families who have adopted from Gaoming (over 200 of us in the States) are connected together through the internet. We have a great Gaoming Family website. Each year before the Chinese New Year (usually end of January, early February), we have a fundraiser to purchase needed items for the Welfare Agency. This is always done in conjunction with the director, Mr. Li, so we make sure we get what they need most. In the past, we have purchased industrial sized sterilizers, dishwashers, air conditioning units. This year, they need baby formula the most. We are hoping to raise over $2000 to purchase formula for the entire year. Our money is channeled through Love Without Boundaries. Please click here to make a donation for this wonderful cause, and make sure to in the comments section to type Gaoming Nutrition.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Top 2005 Picks

At the request of my friend Margaret, I am going to pretend I am Stephen King, paid by Entertainment Weekly to give my top picks at the end of each year. So here is my top 10 multimedia list! (will contain books, movies, songs, etc.)

1. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling. I still haven't made up my mind, but this may end up being my favorite of the series thus far (supplanting book 3). I just can't get enough of HP and JK.

2. Pride and Prejudice - the movie. I was so skeptical when I heard they were doing another version of my favorite book ever. It is an incredible adaption - the most sensual interpretation of the book ever. True to the book in its essence, but in a new and wonderful way.

3. Skinny Dip by Carl Hiassan - a truly fun read - lots of humor, mystery, romance, stupidity by guys, and memorable characters.

4. Memories of Us by Keith Urban - a beautiful song that helps one appreciate being in the moment with our life partner (especially if it's during a day when he keeps finding new ways to embarrass me!)

5. American Idiot by Green Day - simply the best CD I have heard in a long, long time. A CD that is about issues important to our lives, our country and to the world. The music is rockin', the lyrics couldn't be any better, and I don't have to be ashamed to like the same songs my 11 year old likes.

6. Since U Been Gone by Kelly Clarkson - I have watched American Idol once - when I was at the beach with Walker and she made me suffer through an episode (but hey, I got to stay at her place for free that week, so it was worth the cost!). Yet, this first American Idol has had some rockin' songs this year - with this one being her best by far. Makes a girl feel she is better off by far without a boy who will drag her down instead of building her up.

7. Gilmore Girls - on the WB Channel. A show that has been on for a few years, and one of the very few shows I make a point to watch. This has been its best season yet. If you haven't watched, get on the website, catch up on past episodes (or watch reruns on Family Channel), and come along for a great ride!

8. Chef at Home - Discovery Home channel - a sexy Canadian guy that cooks up great meals for his family right from his home. Wouldn't every woman want to be this lucky?

9. French Women Don't Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano - mistaken as a diet book, but truly a lifestyle book. Those pages that have such wonderful ideas for being more healthy also have great insight into the American as consumer.

10. Real Sex by Lauren Winner - The author of Girl Meets God attempts to deal with sex from her faith perspective. It's not a perfect book by any means, and it is spotty in its theological understanding - but I appreciate the attempt to deal in a serious way with a topic that pervades our society, and often in an unhealthy manner. Very thought-provoking.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

B4B entry - when loving food pays off...

This is a blogging for books entry. Check out Joshilyn Jackson's site for more info!

I readily admit it - I was an egg-head. My childhood and teen years were filled with books, church, Girl Scouts, my family, and a few select friends who didn't care that I was really a prototype for Hermoine Granger. I loved school.

Mrs. Wagner, my 8th grade teacher, was one of my favorites. At the end of class one day, she called me to her desk and showed me a brochure about a summer camp. I had only been to church camp. This new camp lasted three weeks at Mars Hill College and was a "gifted and talented camp" - or nerd camp, as many of us affectionately came to call it.

Nerd camp changed my life. I went for three straight summers. I realized I wasn't really that weird or unusual. There were many other smart girls who liked to sit around and giggle; tall, good-looking boys who liked smart girls; and professors who encouraged us to dream in big ways.

I was an old pro by my third year there. I remember the Sunday afternoon registration. I was chatting with my buddy, Anne, and checking out the new arrivals. One girl arrived with her sister and mom in tow. They were all wearing their church dresses - cute, dropped waisted items I bet her mom had sewn. They carried her clothes and bedding into her room, and then returned to the car to bring in lots of food items - many of them looking homemade. I turned to Anne and said, "We need to get to know this girl!"

LM and I became quick friends - and not just because she shared her food and clothes with me! It turned out she lived about 30 minutes away from me and attended a rival high school (unlike most of the other campers who lived all over the state and Southeast). At camp that summer, she documented with pictures my first big love (a very smart, handsome and tall tennis player). She was my main shoulder on which to cry when camp was over and my love was 7 hours downstate. We met at the mall to shop on the weekends. We met at the Thomas Wolfe Memorial to drool over our favorite author and bemoan how we couldn't wait to leave this town behind. (Yes, I have missed that town so much in recent months, and LM still lives there!) We even talked our English teachers into planning a joint field trip 3 hours downstate! LM's mom and sister made my senior prom dress (a gorgeous dropped waisted, stylish tea-length gown). LM had the same gown that year - just in a different color and fabric.

Our lives have gone in many different directions. I married soon after college (with LM as my honor attendant), had children, and a life that centers around the home and church. LM flies all over the country, doing pr and production work, and dating quite a selection of various men. She is our daughter's godmother. LM treats my children like her own, and they are substitute grandchildren for her parents. When my Mom recently turned 60, LM organized the party and had everything planned (thank heavens - I couldn't have pulled it off without her after my foot surgery!).

The lives we lead vary in many ways. We might even go a couple months without a phone call or email. Yet, just like a sister, when we do talk or see each other - it's like family. Time disappears, and we are just who we are - Rio and LM, two nerdy girls.

LM's mom still makes homemade goodies for me. My eye for good food has certainly paid off these 22 years!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Courageous Spirit

1955 was a momentous year. My mom was 10 years old, growing up with her preacher father and stay-at-home mother. The era was marked by women fulfilling household duties like cleaning, cooking and childrearing - all while wearing a beautiful dress with a full skirt. (At least that's what tv portrayed.) Whereas 10 years earlier, many women had been in the workplace to help with the war effort, now women were expected to care for the family and disregard any other callings in life.

Yet, in this same year, the Methodist Church (which was then the largest Protestant denomination in the US) voted to give women full clergy rights. Women had been preaching since the time of Jesus (and before). A number were very important evangelists and spiritual leaders in the Methodist church since its conception. However, they were not allowed to be ordained. It still amazes me (knowing the opposition I have faced 40-50 years later) that the majority of delegates (most of whom were men) at our General Conference actually voted to give women full clergy rights. The Spirit of God does move in mysterious, and wonderful, ways.

A book has just been published celebrating this event and the last 50 years - Courageous Spirit: Voices from Women in Ministry. It is a collection of essays, prayers, reflections and stories by women who have lived in ministry in the United Methodist Church. I am honored to say that they chose to include an essay I wrote, "I always wanted to be Julia Sugarbaker." You'll have to pick up the book to read it!

I am looking forward to the next 50 years!

Monday, November 28, 2005

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - the movie

Well, a miracle occurred last week. I made it to two movies at the theatre. For a person who goes about once every 3 or 4 months, it was some kind of week.

Most of you know I am an avid HP fan. I have anxiously been awaiting the movie, and have perused each and every Entertainment Weekly in recent months in hopes of a tidbit about the movie. So, family and I went to a full house showing Friday afternoon. I was hesitant to take 8 year old Princess due to the PG-13 rating and the fact that I knew exactly what would happen. But - like most other parents, I figured, "Oh, well." It did scare her a little, but she seems fairly unscathed.
As for the movie, I was not disappointed. They took a well over 700 page book and turned it into a 120 page script. I assumed Hermione's fight on behalf of house-elf rights would be left out, as well as a number of little special touches that JK always adds. I was correct. I also expected the compression of some parts of the story. I must say that they did a great job turning such a sprawling and full story into this very enjoyable movie. The only part I wish they had left in - Mrs. Weasley. Molly was not to be found in the movie. In the book, she truly becomes a surrogate mother for Harry - supporting him in his challenges, letting him know that he is not alone, and comforting him upon the awful death at the end of the Tri-Wizards Challenge. It reminded us that Harry was still a 14 year old boy, and how much he needed a family - something Molly and her brood were always more than willing to provide for him.

However, with that one exception, I found no fault in the movie. They represented the characters and the magical events quite close to my own imagination. Even Voldemort was close to the description in the novel (not an easy task, but of course Ralph Feinnes was up to the job). The casting was great - from Cedric the Golden Boy (what girl wouldn't swoon?) to flamboyant, devious Rita Skeeter.

For those of us who have read the novel, we know that it begins and ends with tragic killings by Voldemort, particularly the end of the novel. I remember reading the book the day after Thanksgiving a few years ago, reaching the death scene at the end of the Challenge, and sobbing for quite some time. The world is up against great evil, and JK does not shy away from that in the story-telling. I was afraid I would come away from the movie depressed after dealing with such subject matter. Yes, I did tear up once again towards the end of the movie - but the screenplay was done in such a wonderful way - the movie was very balanced. The majority of the middle part of the movie was filled with great humor, adventure, action, and even romance. I laughed for much of the movie. For some great laughs, I particularly loved Harry's bathtub scene with Moaning Myrtle (poor kid!), the study session with Snape (no - I do not call him Professor either), and Mad-Eye Moody's various antics (especially his "teaching" of Draco Malfoy).

The part I most anxiously awaited was the night of the Yule Ball. Who wouldn't love the night when the brainy egg-head, ignored by boys, is instead beautiful and envied by all? The movie perfectly captured the euphoria, angst, and complete despair that a teen dance always brings. I felt like I had gone back in time 20 years (and was yet thankful those days are over for me!).

And being the parent of a beautiful girl of Chinese descent, I anxiously awaited the first appearance of Cho Chang. One look at Cho and everyone knew why Harry was so smitten and barely articulate in her presence. I look forward to seeing more of that wonderful delight.

The movie has driven me back to the book once again - I am currently on the fifth chapter. That's what a really great movie will do. My grade - A-

Sunday, November 27, 2005


Guess what I read in Parade today? It is a fact that chocolate chip cookie dough actually does have less calories than dough that has been baked into a cookie. Who knew that baking added calories? There is a God!!

Friday, November 25, 2005

Pride and Prejudice - the movie

I first read Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice when I was in junior high. I have since read all of her works numerous times - P & P probably around 15 times. Austen is my favorite author. Each word, each line, is turned so perfectly and conveys so much - it is simply genius. She understands human nature, and can convey her sharp observations like no one else.

About 10 years ago, the BBC and A & E first aired their 5 hour miniseries of P & P, staring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. Yes, this was when my great love for CF first began. I was so excited to see the miniseries and hoped it would live up to the book. Amazingly, it did. 5 hours gave it the time to cover the subject matter and the scope of the story as it should. I was thrilled. And I have lost count of how many times I have watched that miniseries.

So when I first heard last spring that a new movie version (only 2 hours no less!) was coming to the big screen, I was doubtful. I had no doubts about Keira Knightly - she and Scarlett Johannson are without a doubt the two best young actresses to have come along in many years. Yet, could a 2 hour movie accurately convey the heart of the story; could it portray much beloved characters? And would any man ever supplant Colin Firth as the ultimate Mr. Darcy?

So on Wednesday I dragged my husband and two kids to see Pride and Prejudice. (The kids had already seen Harry Potter with my parents last weekend, so this was the first order of business at a movie theatre for me.) The theatre was filled was estrogen. I did see a couple other men and made sure to point them out to Hubby.

I expected some fairly large changes in the plot - characters and scenes which must necessarily be written out or compressed due to the time frame. This was true. Even though the story was compressed, it remained true to the spirit and the essence of Austen's Pride and Prejudice. The main characters were portrayed faithfully. I especially appreciated that Knightly was able to play Elizabeth Bennett as the 20/21 year old girl she was. We tend to think of her as a more refined woman, who would occasionally go walking through the mud or laugh a lot. Knightly brought out the youthfulness and impulsivity (which can lead to prejudicial judgments) of Elizabeth.

One thing I particularly appreciated about the movie was its portrayal of the Bennett household and the society. Many of us have idealized this time period in a very sanitized, orderly manner. (And yes, I will keep that vision in my heart and brain as well.) Yet, I truly enjoyed the messiness and chaos the movie represents. In the midst of such chaos, one could see how a reserved Mr. Darcy is seen as proud and arrogant.

And Matthew McFayden as Mr. Darcy? McFayden is a hottie British actor who portrayed the central character in the BBC spy drama, MI-5. He was great in that role. He combined steel with gentleness, much as he combined reserve with supressed passion as Mr. Darcy. I still hold my love for Colin Firth, but McFayden gave an arresting portrayal of a very difficult man to play. Kudos.

My one casting difficulty - Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennett. He did fine - but why on earth could they not have found a stalwart British actor who would have added a bit more pizzaz, mischief and resignation to the role? (not to mention a British accent)

The movie also made an important shift in one other area. It is without a doubt the most sensual portayal of an Austen work I have seen. The sensuality begins with the fecundity of the surroundings, from feeding the pigs and ducks to giggling in bed with one's beloved sister. The great houses which are shown boast of incredible paintings filled with nudes. When Elizabeth arrives at Pemberly, she is shown a room with life-sized marble nudes, and then the bust of Mr. Darcy - proper but still sensual. The movie ends at Pemberly with Elizabeth and Darcy, not quite properly dressed to receive others - another nod to the passion bursting throughout the movie.

I know some Austen purists will scoff at the sensuality of the film - but I believe Austen herself would have understood and appreciated such an interpretation. If one reads Claire Tomalin's definitive biography on Austen, one realizes Austen was no stranger to meeting a young man and falling head over heels. She also remembered such a feeling so strongly that she could not bear to marry someone with less feeling, even if she would sink further into poverty. All her works are filled with supressed passion - the proper English restraint being the accepted mode of moving in society. One entire book was dedicated to it - Sense and Sensibility. I applaud this movie's interpretation.

I really liked the movie. It was not perfect (but pretty close). I will love to own it one day - and there will be times when I will pull out my BBC production, and other times I will pull out this one. Different, but both faithful to the heart of Austen's great masterpiece. My grade - A.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

continuing humiliation

Well, I already recounted how embarrassing it was to ride around Sam's Club in my motorized buggy. The saga continues...

For the first time in my life, I will not share Thanksgiving with my Mom and Granny (a fact I am trying to ignore). Since we were just in Asheville this past weekend, I can't really get back up there again - and my brother and his wife invited Mom, Dad and Granny over for TDay - so my nuclear family and I will be in Gboro. Normally, I only fix pumpkin pies and cranberry relish for TDay - but I'll do the whole shebang (is that how you spell that?) this time. It's not real easy standing on my foot and cooking, but Princess and Hubby will help.

I couldn't really depend on Hubby to get everything I needed at the grocery store. He would try - but there were a number of things I needed to see and compare before deciding what I would buy. So, Hubby and I decided we would go together and I could ride in some kind of cart.

We arrived at the TajMa Teeter (real fancy Harris Teeter grocery store that I knew had a variety of carts). They only had one motorized buggy and I hated to take that if someone else came along who needed it (read: really old person who needed it). They also had a variety of carts for people with kids. One had the regular grocery cart with a bench in front of it, where two kids or one adult could sit. Hubby thought it would be really fun to push me around in that, and I thought, "Well, okay - it's probably the best we could do."

Now, Hubby is an extreme extrovert. He has to talk to everyone he sees, no matter if he knows them or not. Being so friendly is one of the things that originally attracted me to him (but as I always tell couples in marriage counseling - it's what attracts you that makes you want to kill them later on). So we stroll into HT and he starts nodding and saying hello to people, and also explaining, "She's had foot surgery. Worn this boot since July...Not easy getting around, etc., etc." I'm just trying to keep my head down, looking at the grocery list and coupons, while ignoring people staring at me and asking questions.

I don't really like to draw attention to myself. I like to think I have some sort of dignity or sophistication. Hubby doesn't really think about these things. The icing on the cake was when we saw a Mom with two kiddies in a kiddie cart, and Hubby says, "Bet my cart weighs more than yours!" He apparently had not caught the evil eye I had kept giving him, so I turned around and whispered, "Shut the h#@! up!" Poor confused man had no idea why I didn't just think the whole thing was very funny.

Then the Mom asked Hubby if he wanted a balloon for the person riding in his cart.

Please, please - I want to get this boot off my foot!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

a breath of snow and ashes by diana gabaldon

I am a sucker for a good series when it comes to fiction. And even if the series starts to falter in its quality, once I become attached to characters or enthralled by a storyline - I just can't seem to let go.

Thus, when I was at Costco last month and saw Diana Gabaldon's latest installment in the Outlander series, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, I had to pick it up. If you haven't read this book, and intend to do so, don't worry - I won't give anything important away.

Outlander had been recommended to me by a number of people a couple years ago. Yet, the description kept sounding different - was it a romance, was it fantasy, sci-fi, historical fiction, a mystery? Part of Gabaldon's genius is that it was all those things. It centered on the time traveling Claire and the 18th century Scottish Highlander, Jamie Fraser. I can honestly say that Jamie Fraser is the most incredible man I have seen in fiction (and yes, I am including Mr. Darcy - whom I love very dearly, just about as much as Elizabeth Bennett - but Jamie would still be #1). Outlander was an incredible book - one of the best I have ever read.

I enjoyed the next two installments, but by the fourth the story was dragging. By the time the fifth came around - I was wishing she would just get on with it and get the story told.

This sixth book is worth the read if you are a lover of the series, yet I kept hearing Edgy Mama's voice - being the writer that she is - saying, "She is just such a popular writer that she doesn't really get edited anymore." How true. Diana - I love you and think you are beyond talented - but the book needs a good editor! I give the book a B-, but it could easily move to a B+ or maybe higher if we shaved off about 250-300 pages. Now, I like long books. Reading hundreds of pages is not a problem for me. But - this was extraneous material. No, I did not need a detailed play-by-play of an 18th century hemorrhoid operation. The book was also heavier in tone than the earlier ones - more depressing, and less mix of the levity Gabaldon can display.

That being said, overall the story was interesting. I realize part of my interest is being a North Carolinian, where the story is placed. Gabaldon proposes an interesting interpretation of what happened to the Lost Colony - I liked that. She continues to craft interesting characters, who interact well with each other. Yet, the story itself would drag - due to the lack of being edited! It needed to move at a faster pace. Even if some of the more minor characters were minimimalized - that would be for the better. In the next one, please don't give me one more young woman with a sordid sex story. I had enough in this book.

Another interesting part of the book is a character who deals with a calling from God to the ministry. God and faith have always been part of Gabaldon's writing, but this was a new take that I felt she explored in a respectful, truthful way. I didn't expect it, and due to my own profession and pulls in my own life, I found this struggle quite interesting.

I think it will have to be a B-, but it could be more. Gabaldon is still an excellent story teller who combines various genres (did I even mention mystery?) in wonderful ways. Next time - let's cut down on the extraneous storylines, characters, and descriptions - and get things rolling and moving to where I am up all night reading and in tears (like I was once with Outlander).

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

a true hippie town

Today I am missing Asheville more than I have in recent months. I wish I were there to celebrate and glory in the results of the election. Not only was my buddy Holly Jones the lead vote getter for city council (to enter her second term), but the town has elected its first black mayor, Terry Bellamy. Not only is Terry the first black mayor, she is also the first black woman mayor. The progressive vote is definitely out to make good changes in the Paris of the South.

I am still in disbelief over the characterization of Gboro as a granola town (please see my entry below)! For those who hold this greatly misinformed view, they need to look no further than Asheville - a true hippie town.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Greensboro - Hippie Town?

As a responsible citizen, I have spent today frantically trying to prepare myself for the Greensboro elections tomorrow. If I were still in Asheville, I would easily be able to vote on matters of conscience, integrity, and for the betterment of all my neighbors in town. Yet, I am in a new town - and thus I have little history of this city council and who are the best candidates.

I have been homebound, due to my foot surgery, so I have been reliant on the internet and some newsrags that Hubby brought home. He left one on the couch for me today, saying, "I heard some people call this an informed newspaper - kinda like Mountain Express (in Asheville)." Well, I would like to know who on earth thought Rhinoceros Times was a paper with any left-leaning sensibilities. I have been so disturbed by the racial and class disconnect and divide in this town - even trying to find a diverse neighborhood in which to live was a real challenge. I have been so pleased with the Truth and Racial Reconciliation Committee and their work - it has been great to see a town grapple with its history and the repurcussions and try to find a way to better life for all people in its environs. Yet, the RT completely negated this work - essentially calling it trivial and a waste of time. Those were certainly not the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu when he was in Greensboro last week and commented on this committee (and I happen to think he knows more about those kinds of issues that the average North Carolinian). If the RT had offered any real substantial reasons and viewpoints for its "picks" in the election, I might be willing to read it again - but that is not to be.

And so I turn to the Yes! Weekly. I have read this on occasion since living in Gboro. I need to reiterate that I left what is commonly known as Hippie City USA (aka Asheville) just this past summer. I know what a hippie, granola town looks like. Moving to a much more "white-bread" area was an issue with which I had to grapple. So thus imagine my surprise when I read these words from Y!W, while endorsing a candidate - (Joel Landau)" nothing if not a hippie and Greensboro is a granola town if ever there was one."

What?! Who on earth are they kidding? Yes, I will probably go out now and vote for the "hippie candidate," but Gboro a hippie town? Is that why I have still yet to find a really good locally owned bookstore? Is that why the one food co-op in town is so small it could fit inside my house? (and don't get me wrong - I am really glad it's here) Is that why I live in what is commonly known as the most diverse neighborhood, but my daughter is one of the few people of color I see? Is that why I only see a handful of people who even look like hippies, who have one block in the city in which they hang out - as opposed to miles in Asheville?

I'm going out and buying the new Bob Marley compilation tomorrow, put some One Love bumper stickers on my car, and some more peace stickers, blast my music and start wearing dreads. (okay - I will probably forgo the dreads - I embarrass my son enough and he will be a teenager soon)

I do believe Greensboro has come a long way in recent years in regards to being more inclusive, diverse, and less white-bread. But, baby, we've come a long way, and there are still many miles to go before we sleep. Let's get real.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

all saints day

November 1 - All Saints Day. In the Christian tradition, today is the day where we specifically remember the saints who have gone before us. They may be people we have known and loved personally, figures from the Bible, or people throughout history. As the great lady Rosa Parks was laid to rest yesterday, I thought it would be fitting to remember her on this special day.

It's hard to imagine a time living under Jim Crow in 1955. I was born in 1967, and even though I have heard from my Mom and Granny how segregated things were (and even though I still see so many other symptoms of segregation and racism in today's world) - it's so hard to imagine a woman being forced to give up a seat on the bus to a man. Especially a woman who has worked hard at the service of others throughout the day. I have wondered what kind of man that man was who insisted that Rosa Parks give up her seat on the bus, simply because she was black.

I also have a hard time imagining the courage it must have taken for Rosa Parks to refuse that white man. She full well knew the consequences. She had seen how black people were treated. She knew what she was about. And her faith gave her the courage to refuse to abide by unjust laws.

She arose as one of the leaders of the Civil Rights movement. Her courage, her peaceful and engaging presence, her vision are all things that I admire in this wonderful saint. I know there is still a long way to go towards racial reconciliation and equality. I pray that Rosa Park's spirit will live on in all of us as we seek to live in a more just world.

Monday, October 31, 2005

all hallow's eve

My early years were primarily spent in a Methodist parsonage. My mom, brother and I lived with my grandparents for most of the time until I was about 10 years old. It was like I had three parents in a number of ways. Mom was definitely the mom, but Papa and Granny would care for us when Mom was at work, and would even punish us if the need arose (or at least Papa would!). Some of my earliest memories of Granny are eating frozen peaches with sugar sprinkled on top and watching soap operas (one must remember that soaps in the early '70s were not quite what they are now). During time when Mom was at work and I was not in school, I spent most of my time with Papa. He was a Methodist minister, and I would go off and do "minister stuff" with him. This was usually visiting one of the many church members who needed or wanted to see their preacher. I remember hanging out at old country gas stations, watching Papa play checkers, and eating lots of candy with Sammy Davis, Jr's The Candy Man playing on the radio. I remember visiting old farmhouses way back in the mountains, and using the outhouse when "I had to go!". I remember one older lady that Papa and I would routinely find her glasses for her (I was pretty good at getting down on the floor and looking under chairs).

Papa and I also had a lot of fun together. We would go out and eat Butter Pecan ice cream. We would play checkers for hours on end (I will never forget the one and only time I beat him). He would also drive me around downtown Asheville, encouraging my dreams of one day being mayor - then governor of NC - and then the first female president of the USA. Papa found the current mayor one day and ensured that he and I had a good long talk.

Papa died from leukemia on Halloween, 1977. I was devastated. I will always miss him. Yet, the faith tradition he and Granny passed on to the family has given me a wonderful way always to remember him. Tomorrow is All Saints' Day. In the Christian tradition, each year on Nov 1 we remember the saints who have gone before us, particularly the ones who died in the past year.

I always remember Papa, and give great thanks for him.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

a history of violence

During my teen years, I read John Steinbeck's East of Eden. Steinbeck used themes from the book of Genesis in the Bible to flesh out this uniquely American story. It tells the story of a young woman, Cathy, who was a "monster." She killed and harmed with no compunction. Her twin sons, Aaron and Caleb (nicknamed Cal) dealt with the legacy of such a mother. Cal could feel the violence, the monstrosity, inside him and had to choose which way he would live his life. This choice is understood as Timshel - the Jewish word for you may choose or you may choose not.

The new movie, A History of Violence, starring Viggo Mortenson, deals with this same theme. Are there truly monsters in our world? The movie does not deal with how one becomes a "monster," but deals with Timshel - the choice. The main character is Tom Stall, a small-town family man whose family is almost too perfect, too loving. The family's small, cozy home is a haven which is their foundation in navigating the world around them. It's hard to imagine the parents ever raising their voice. I found myself wishing I could be as calm a presence as the mother (or look that good in a cheerleading outfit, for that matter!).

The idyllic family's life is shattered when two monsters step into Tom's diner. Tom becomes a hero by revealing a violent side that no one can quite believe. This attention brings Philadelphia mobsters to small town Indiana, by the belief that Tom is a former killer named Johnny.

The story unravels as we discover more of who Tom truly is, and how this coming to terms with oneself impacts the family around him. As Tom accepts more of the violence inside him, his family is disrupted. His family life mirrors the violence within each person.

The movie is very simply done. It is also quite violent and graphic - more than I would normally want to see. Yet, it deals with such important topics for us today. Are there truly monsters in our world, ones incapable of reform? Can one truly choose life over death, peace over violence? Does the end mean of violence justify it (as in committing a violent act to save an innocent)? Can any act be forgiven? How do we live as a people of forgiveness, forgiving others and ourselves?

The end of the movie reminds me of the conclusion of Places in the Heart. It ends with a eucharistic table - there is always room at the table. No matter who we are, what choices we have made, the table is set for us. We have a place. There is redemption.

The movie does not provide all the answers. I don't think it is meant to do so - yet, it gives us a good place for asking those important questions and struggling with the answers and meaning in our violent society today.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Zorro by Isabel Allende

I must say I am glad to have a place I can share my thoughts and impressions on whatever book I have recently read. I have been rereading much of the Owen Archer series by Candace Robb (well worth the read), but in the midst of my rereads - I finally found Zorro at the library. It is a fairly new book written by the Isabel Allende, a woman who was born in Chile and now lives in California. I believe I will be looking for her other books in the near future.

Zorro is the story of the famed righter of injustice, from the days of his birth until he lived into the beginning of his legend in California. I have always been fascinated by swashbucklers and those who fight injustice. I was hoping this book would not disappoint, and it did not. Allende writes very simply. I am so glad to read someone who does not try to impress me with all their metaphors, similes, and detailed descriptions. She writes simply, yet she evokes rich imagery and full characters. It is a wonderful balance. The book is a good size, but does not need to be edited down (see The Historian).

I enjoyed the story. It had action, adventure, true love, loyalty, intrigue, and full characters (yes, Diego de la Vega himself is not perfect - I wanted to smack him a few times for his unending infatuation over a silly and insipid girl). All the classical elements of the Zorro story are to be found, but Allende adds enough invention that the story does not feel worn out. She has breathed fresh life into it. I also appreciate her interpretation of the historical elements of Diego's life. He lived in a time of great upheaval - how could he not be a product of it?

Overall, this was a very enjoyable read. It certainly does contain serious elements - some of the story can be quite heartbreaking. Yet, it's a story that moves and is alive, and is also fun in a number of ways. A-

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

women in the workplace

With our big move this summer, things have changed a lot in my household. For the first time since the birth of my older child, I have been working full-time outside the home. I like to say I'm getting paid full-time now, instead of just working full-time. After Sonny Boy was born, I spent a year at home with him (boy, was that hard - glad I could do it, but I spent way too much time wondering how moms actually got cleaned up and out of the house before 11am). I then spent the next 9 and 1/2 years employed half-time. I occasionally picked up some other part-time work, and then in ministry - there were definitely times I was working more than half-time (even though I was still primarily responsible for the kids and the house).

So - we moved. My husband has been taking care of the kids and the home since then, and doing some occasional substitute teaching. As thankless a job as that sounds for a woman so often, I know it's even more so for a man - everyone assumes he will go back to work "full-time" very soon. That's what men do, isn't it?

Hubby and I have definitely completely reversed jobs - and that is really fine (if I can just let go of the fact that my house will not be as clean as I would like - the man really does do his best). Since graduate school, I have maintained that women should have the choice to follow where they should go - into the workforce, staying at home, or any combo of those things. I know that during my years of working "part-time" I was not always taken as seriously or my work as valued as my full-time colleagues. It always felt disrespectful to me. I didn't value my work any less because I was not paid full-time or worked 40-50 hours a week (most weeks).

And so the NY Times entered the discussion of women in the workplace recently. They used anecdotal evidence (not hard, serious research) to state that overachieving moms (would I include myself - having a master's degree?) are choosing homemaking more than ever and are rejecting the workplace. In fact, actual research does not reveal this. I think about my friends (all of whom I would call over-achieving), and we are all living our lives in many different forms (and some of our husbands are as well). But my personal info is only anecdotal.

If you look at this week's Newsweek (which I did while waiting for my hairstylist this morning), the mag picked up on the NY Times article as a given fact.

Well, for all you over-acheivers out there - if you really want some hard facts, check out this rebuttal from the National Council for Research on Women. Women are making a variety of choices, and most of us from financial or family structure reasons - not because we can choose to follow wherever our heart desires. That's part of the American myth - that we can follow any dream - the circumstances of our lives more often than not dictate how we can pursue those dreams. (and I always hope we can follow our dreams - but the fact is that most women just simply cannot afford that or don't have the support network to do so)

I am heartened that women continue to break new ground. It does please me not to be in such an extreme minority as a woman in ministry as I was 15 years ago. But I think our real strides need to come in different areas. We need to work on issues concerning women and children in poverty. We need to make the workplace more flexible and supportive of a healthy lifestyle (Europeans have it - "full-time" people work on average 30 hours a week, as opposed to 40-50 here.) Finally, we need to provide more support for men and boys who choose not to follow the traditional male model. I feel blessed to have all the options I have had in various forms of work -but I know society does not support that for my husband and for many husbands. I have met a number of husbands staying at home either full or part time and doing it well - but we need to affirm that choice in every way possible. It may mean that I desecrate every church sign that reads "Mothers' Morning Out!" (okay, maybe I can just make a polite suggestion to be more inclusive).

Anyone out there dealing with some of these same issues?

Sunday, October 16, 2005


Like most 11 year old boys, Sonny Boy has a fascination with vulgarity. After much deliberation in recent weeks, I broke over and bought him American Idiot by Green Day. I had listened to most the songs on the CD, and really liked them. They are very talented, and it's so refreshing to hear a successful CD that's not about some guy trying to have sex with as many women as possible. The F bomb is only used a handful of times, and I felt I could talk to Sonny Boy about it and also let him know I'd better not hear it out of his mouth. It's so hard trying to make decisions when they reach the "tween years." I'm not going to abdicate all responsibilities, but we are definitely past my trying to shelter him.

We've been past sheltering actually. I can think back over the last several years and the ongoing fascination with "cuss words." He came home in 2nd grade one day and told me about a playground conversation. Apparently, all the boys (instead of running and playing) were standing around trying to figure out the cuss words. One little boy said he knew what the worst of all cuss words was. I asked Sonny Boy to tell me ( I've always told him that if he didn't understand a word or phrase to ask me or his daddy). Sonny Boy leaned over and said, "It's mother father." I was so proud of myself for not laughing hysterically as I explained that wasn't quite right.

Then there was the time last year when I took him to see Van Helsing. I debated with the PG-13 rating, but I figured it was monster violence - so we went. I overheard his conversation with my mom after the movie. "It was a pretty good movie...No, they didn't really say any bad words. Just the H word a couple times and then the D word a couple times. You know, the d-i-c-k word, not the other D word." Until that time, I'd had no idea there were 2 different D words.

And then back to yesterday, with the conversation around Green Day. He thought they didn't really know how to cuss right. I kept letting him talk as I would walk around the house, hoping to get away from him and that ridiculous topic of discussion. And he kept following me and continuing his diatribe on how one should cuss.

I thought back to a conversation just last week with some of my friends. Some of my friends admitted to dropping the F bomb on occasion because their husbands didn't like it. As I was walking in and out of the house, with Sonny Boy following - waxing eloquent on vulgarity, I wondered if I tried my friends' trick if that would get rid of Sonny Boy. Better not, I thought - he'd probably just call my mom and boy, would I be in trouble then!

Sunday, October 02, 2005

my left foot

For the past few years, I have had some real fun with my left foot. I believe it all began 5 years ago, when I was up in the wee hours getting ready to head to the airport for a trip to Vancouver. It was a warm July night, about 4:30am. I had gone to bed early the night before, and the last thing I said to my husband was - "Please make sure to turn the window fan off in Caleb's room - it will have cooled down in there and we don't need to use that electricity all night." I then packed my suitcase, except for the items I would need the next morning. We had a rather large hallway - with the main bathroom, and both the kids' rooms off this large square hallway (our bedroom was in the finished attic). I left the suitcase to the side of the large hallway, knowing that I would walk straight to the bathroom in the morning and avoid the suitcase.

So, I walk down the stairs so early in the morning - not turning on any lights so that the kids will still keep sleeping. I immediately notice that Caleb's window fan is still going. What? That fan has been going all night? How much electricity is that going to use? So before heading to the bathroom, I walk straight to Caleb's room to turn off the fan - and promptly trip over the suitcase (which I never would have done if the fan had been off - I would have headed straight to the bathroom). My first thought then was, I've broken my leg!! But then I scrambled to the bathroom, checked out the quickly swelling lump and cut on my left leg, got an ice pack and thought, There is no way in Hades I am missing this trip to Vancouver! It must just be a really bad bruise.

I got ready for the day, made it to the airport and promptly limped my entire trip. After 5 wonderful days, I headed back home, limped a couple more days and then finally saw a doctor. The xray showed a clean break in the middle of the bone on my lower left leg. He told me it was already healing and a cast probably would not help. He did warn me about walking on uneven ground - a jar could get the bones out of alignment. I had flashbacks of all the walking on rocky paths I had done in Vancouver - including a long, bumpy path down to the nude beach I followed on several occasions (I kept my clothes on by the way, but I could tell stories...)

Due to the break, I started to use my foot differently and plantar fasciatis ensued. It would come and go - always the worst in the summer (when I was playing tennis and walking on pavement the most). It basically meant that the bottom of my left foot was in a LOT of pain. About a year and a half ago, my primary doctor told me to do the stretches and ice my foot after using it for tennis and the like. It didn't help. The ultimate cortisone shots and shoe inserts from the podiatrist last fall and winter didn't help more than a little while either. This summer was the worst - with the move and everything going on, I was in constant and awful pain; shooting pains up my left leg, almost unable to walk in the mornings. I quickly found a new podiatrist in Gboro. Since the end of July, I have been wearing a "boot." So much fun! I knew in recent weeks that it wasn't working - the pain was returning. I have been a complete slug with this boot - can't really walk much or exercise except for the exercise bike.

So when I saw the podiatrist last Friday, I knew we would be scheduling surgery. It will be in early November - sure hope this takes care of the problem. Meanwhile, I'll have the boot till near Christmas. Everyone sure has a comment about the boot - "Hate to see what the other guy looks like!" is the most common. Getting rather tiresome. It's like I'm pregnant again, and everyone has advice for me or some story to share.

At the grocery store today, and a couple were giving each other a hard time (just joking and having fun). She noticed my boot and said, "You're the third person I've seen with one of those today!" She asked what was wrong. I told her. She asked if I had to wear it all the time, or if it came off. I explained that it was kinda like an aircast and I took it off at night. She said it would be hard to sleep with that, and I responded that my husband probably couldn't sleep well with it either. She laughed and said, "But you sure could get him back if you wanted to!" I had a flashback to the window fan left on and the ensuing years of pain :) I laughed and her male partner said, "Women sure are evil!" She laughed and said, "It's because men make us that way!" So true...

Thursday, September 29, 2005

my new action figure

As a kid, I never really cared for playing with dolls. Yes, I did have Donny and Marie dolls and insisted on having my room painted purple (and wore purple socks way too often). Yet, playing dolls just seemed boring to me. My younger brother, Jerry, didn't really have dolls either. He did have action figures - I remember He-Man specifically.

I thought I was very long past these things - until I was out shopping with my friend KK the other day (while she was visiting up in the area). I found a Jane Austen action figure. My favorite author! I have read each one of her novels - Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, Emma, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion. I have read P & P more than any of the others - it must be close to 20 times. And each time I have read it, I have discovered something else new and delightful. Each phrase and sentence is just perfect. Austen packs a whollop with every line! I have read Emma about 10 times. I have read the others at least twice each. The woman was just a writing genius. She could convey so much, so compactly, and with such clarity - it is amazing.

I recall one of my college classmates in our Victorian Lit class. Carita was really down on Austen. She blamed her for not dealing with problems in the larger world - for just sticking with domestic issues for genteel women. Yet, do not all the world's problems come down to human nature? And what writer has displayed a greater understanding of human nature and human interaction?

Some interesting facts on Austen (from my Jane Austen action figure!)
* born Dec 16, 1775; died July 18, 1817
* lived in England her whole life
* never married
* has had over 40 sequels to P & P written by other authors

I think I'll place my new action figure near the Cretan snake goddess in my office. Attired a little differently, yes, but both strong female images.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

lipstick - the ultimate savior

A couple days ago, one of my students wanted to interview me. He is in a class (don't remember which one) where they are supposed to interview some women who have gone through childbirth - and then they will compare notes in a group discussion. As one of those women who did not enjoy being pregnant (perhaps I would have if I could have looked like Jennifer Gardner does right now), I always have plenty to share about those nine months!

Here is my favorite story from that time. I went into labor the Saturday of ACC Men's BBall tournament weekend (you North Carolinians know how serious that is). When Duke lost that afternoon, I was hoping, "Maybe this will send me into labor and we'll get this over with!" My wish was granted later that day.

Hubby and I arrived at the hospital about 4am. I had been in heavy labor for a number of hours and the doctor thought if things kept progressing, Sonny Boy would arrive by about 7-8am. (The other part of this story is that Sonny Boy, with his perfectly shaped, big head and shoulders - did not arrive until after 7pm - thus causing my husband to miss the ACC final - and no, I will never let Hubby forget that comment.)

My parents arrived at the hospital early Sunday morning, anxiously awaiting their first grandchild. My Granny and brother Jerry lived with them (Granny still does, but thankfully a woman came along to take Jerry off our hands :). I spent most of Sunday morning walking up and down the halls, through the waiting area, and just pausing for a contraction. Mom was in the waiting room and was very supportive. At some point Sunday morning, Granny and Jerry arrived. "I thought they were going to church," I told Mom. She shrugged, saying she thought the same. So - I continue walking around in pain, doing my own prayers ("Please God! Get this over with !!!")

Granny didn't speak to me - she just looked and then went to Mom (standing beside me) and said, "Jackie, give Amy some lipstick - she looks sick!" I gave my best outraged, evil eye, while Mom tried to get Granny to sit down and not say anything else that would make me bananas.

Seems like most good Southern women know that lipstick does cure most things.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Chinese Mid-Autumn Moon Festival

Here's our little Princess - couple years ago at her bday party. We were fortunate enough to adopt her from China when she was about 9 months old. Even before we invited her into our home and family, we began to invite the Chinese people, and their wonderful history and culture, into our home. Thus, we observe and celebrate the Chinese holidays as best a Caucasian family from North Carolina can do!

Today, we are observing the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. We attended the Triad Area Families with Children from China meeting this evening(after attending the Asheville one for 8 years). We shared food, had crafts for all the children who were there, and then heard the story of the Moon Festival.

So for those of you interested - the story basically starts with a marriage in turmoil. An imperial guard with a magic bow and arrows, Hou Yi, married the beautiful daughter of the River God, a young woman named Chang E. Now these two were a pair - they both craved immortality. (Voldemort, anyone?) At this time in China, there were 10 suns. They would take turns giving light to the Earth - but one day, all 10 came out at once. The heat was unbearable, rivers drying up, people dying, etc. (global-warming, anyone?) So - Hou Yi was told to take his enchanted bow and shoot the extra 9 suns out. He was of course successful, and as a reward the Queen Mother of the Western Heavens gave him a pill for immortality - but told him he could only take it after 12 months of praying and fasting.

Hou Yi arrived home, hid the pill, and dealt with a ticked off and jealous wife. The next time he left to do an errand for the emperor, Chang E searched the hut, found the pill, and immediately popped it in her mouth. She started floating into the sky just as Hou Yi arrived home. Apparently, he could fly too - was pretty angry that she did what she did - and a chase throughout the heavens ensued.

Long and short of it - Chang E ended up at the moon and lives in a jade palace there. She eventually became the Moon Goddess. Hou Yi was able to become the Sun God at some point - they made up, and they visit once a month (when the moon is at its brightest). Tonight - Hou Yi and Chang E are having a visit, the moon is bright, and people are offering up prayers and thoughts to the beautiful Moon Goddess.

In China, they traditionally eat Moon Cakes on this day. We had some of those at FCC tonight - but being North Carolinians - we also celebrate with Moon Pies! (Moon Pies having originated in NC.) Nothing like cultural meshing!

Happy Moon Festival to all.

Monday, September 12, 2005

the maestro

Well, the US Open finished yesterday. I think it may have been one of the best Opens I remember. So many good matches, unexpected wins, well deserved runs (way to go Kim Clijsters!)... And the men's final yesterday was just wonderful to behold. I wasn't an Andre Agassi fan 15 or 20 years ago. He was just far too flashy for me - guess the rebel image will never leave him. Yet, in the 20 years he has played professional tennis, he has matured into a thoughtful, articulate man who is a great ambassador for my favorite sport and also a great ambassador for those in need in the world. And yesterday, Agassi played my favorite man to watch - Roger Federer, the Maestro (as he is called).

I have never seen anyone play like Federer. It is an actual thing of beauty. I could just watch him play all day, every day. I was on retreat with my students at the beach this weekend and didn't know if I would be able to watch any tennis. Thankfully, we had cable and the time was available to see Federer in the semi-final on Saturday. My students graciously let me sit there, monopolizing the tv. One of the young women in my group, C, plopped down and announced she didn't know anything about tennis. I tried to explain some of the scoring, but it is a complicated system. It was at the time Federer and Hewitt were taking the court. Federer comes out, and C exclaimed, "He's hot!" I believe over the next hour or so of tennis, she became as much a Federer fan as I (although for different reasons). I am so glad that I can help young people discover the joys of tennis :)

I felt bad for Agassi yesterday - it would have been a great story if he had won. But to see Federer playing - I just have a hard time ever wanting to see him not play his best or not make his mark in the history books. It is truly a thing of beauty.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Historian

Well, I finally made it through The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. With the intensity of this new job during these current weeks, I didn't have much time or energy for reading. It took me about 3 weeks to plow through the book. I've always had an interest in fantasy literature, and especially after reading Edgy Mama's review of the book - thought I should go ahead and escape from all the work with a good read.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book. I appreciated the fresh approach to the Dracula story, felt like I gained some insight into Cold War Eastern Europe, and gained some more theological insights into evil in the world (as in, why does someone want to live forever - could have some interesting connections with the debate surrounding Terri Schiavo.)

And for the most part, I enjoyed all the history in the book. I agree with a number of reviewers, in that towards the middle of the book - I wanted a little less history and some more action. Could it be that Hollywood movies have forever ruined me? As to my enjoyment of all the history (or most of it, at least), it's probably just that I have always been a history buff. I even spent a period seriously considering getting a Ph.d. in Church History (still have to wonder if that would have really accomplished anything good in the world... or if I'm accomplishing any good right now).

My one big issue with the book - I felt the character development was a little thin. There were certainly some very interesting characters, but I would like for them to have been a little more three-dimensional. I would like for them to have grappled a little more with the issues of good and evil (does not each one of us have some good and bad aspects to our personalities and desires?). And one more thought while reading the book - "If this woman puts one more "pure" love story in this book, I think I'll puke!" The first (in a timeline) love story would have been far more interesting without the cop-out of "ambrosia" (puh-leese). And I have worked with far too many teenagers and college students over the years to believe that any relationship is pure in its love (it certainly can be in part, but there are always a number of motives in pursuing or acting upon a relationship).

That said, I enjoyed the book overall and would recommend it. My grade - B.

Too bad I don't have book group around anymore to listen to my rants and raves!

Friday, August 19, 2005

Viva la book group!

I have been so fortunate in this move that my two buddies, Katherine and Margaret, are down here in the Triad with me now as well. Wild how all three of us ended up moving down here this summer... We were all parts of the renowned Book Group back in Asheville. (I actually was a founding member about 8 years ago.) We didn't always all read books - our best attended monthly meetings were usually when we met somewhere for dinner! But - these were some of my wonderful friends - and something I really enjoyed in life.

So Margaret and Katherine and I decided to have "book group." We have been joking about calling it the Eastern Division of Book Group, but E.D. for a name is probably nothing with which we would want to associate (unless I get paid like Bob Dole, of course!). We met last night at Margaret's new home - with no book to discuss - but since a couple of us have been reading French Women Don't Get Fat, we decided to bring food to eat like Frenchwomen. (and did we ever! - Margaret even made homemade apple and pear tarts from her newly inherited fruit trees in her yard!)

We did end up discussing this best-selling book. I had never bought a "diet" book before, but after hearing the author give an interview - this book sounded different - and I thought, "What the heck?"

Mireille, the author, is a keen observer of society, and quite a theologian as well. We all know the problems associated with food in our society - mass obesity, rampant eating disorders (even growing among young men these days), supersize eating, sedentary lifestyles - the list goes on and on. Mireille connects part of the problem with food in America as dealing with sin and guilt (something foreign to the French). She is so right. We spend so much time desiring something we think is "bad for us" - then give over and binge on it, and then feel guilty and sinful. And if we enjoy something delicious (like a really good piece of chocolate), we either feel bad afterwards or have to do penance by starving ourselves or killing ourselves at the gym.

Until reading her book (which is really a lifestyle book, not a diet book) - I thought most of the food problems had arisen with the advent of fast food in the 50's and Twiggy type models in the 60's. Yet, I now think it might go back to our Puritanical roots. If we can't see food as a gift in life, as something to be savored and appreciated - if it's just a sinful indulgence - we are going to abuse food in some way or another. Another insightful take on this line of thought is from the now deceased Caroline Knapp in her memoir, Appetites.

I try each day to be thankful for the things in my life. I normally say Grace before a meal (and have taught my children to do this as well) - but I think Mireille is teaching me to go beyond the basics of thanksgiving and truly to appreciate good food for the divine gift it is. I can deal with sin and guilt in plenty of other areas in my life :)

So - we have decided to revise our "book group." We have decided to form a "Knitting group." (no catchy name yet) We'll meet every two weeks - they will teach me how to knit (since I'm the novice among the three of us!), and we will keep eating like Frenchwomen (especially drinking champagne!) and might even discuss some of the books we read in our lives.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

why i like angelina jolie

One of the difficulties of moving to a new town is finding a good radio station (not that I was crazy about any particular station in Asheville). I like an eclectic assortment of music which only my friends Beth and Tracey seem to understand. Thus far, one station in Greensboro seems to fit me the most - 98.7 Simon. It's not perfect, but it suits my purposes.

So today I am in my car and they give a celebrity update. They tell how Jennifer Aniston is hanging out with Brad Pitt's mom and sister, and Brad's family likes her SO much better than Angelina. I don't really care about this state of affairs - there are far more important things to report about in the world today - so I just shake my head. The celebrity update is followed by an annoying commercial that has been on way too much of late. It is from the North Carolina Center for Reproductive Medicine. It is a heart-wrenching commercial meant to play on the emotions of women who have struggled with infertility. Having personally heard the stories of women, and lived through it with some, who have struggled with this - I could only become angry at such a tactic employed to make women become customers and give money (and lots of it) to the NCCRM. It made it sound as if there was nothing else on earth compared to having biological children - anything else would be less.

And then I thought of Angelina - an adoptive mom (like myself).

Yes, yes, Angelina's certainly not perfect. Billy Bob - ?!? EEEWWW! And I could probably list other things as well - but I don't know her, so it's not really my place to talk about any lack of judgment she may have had in the past. (would hate for someone to comment on my lack of judgment that I've shown at times)

Angelina is an adoptive mom - two beautiful children who would have spent lives in poverty, perhaps not even surviving to adulthood, if not for being adopted. They come from two economically struggling countries - Cambodia and Ethiopia. She has repeatedly said that she feels no need to have birth children when there are so many children who need homes. On top of this committment in her life, she has also given a ton of money to help these countries (and others) and given countless hours as a UN Goodwill Ambassador.

I'm sure Jennifer Aniston has given money and time to help others as well - but I can't help but like Angelina for giving herself - her life as a mother - to make the world a better place. I wish I could be like her - not just in how I look! - but in being able to adopt a number of children who need a home, and in giving money and time and setting up programs to help others.

I also wish that businesses out to make a buck would stop playing on the heart-strings of women, some of whom will not be able to have birth children - no matter how much reproductive technology or money there is. While honoring the gift of biological childbirth - let's have respect for all women and the children of the world - honoring that adoption is just as miraculous and wonderful and life-giving as biological childbirth.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

house blessing

Today was an important day in the Rio-Anderson household. We had a house blessing this afternoon. It was actually my Mom's idea in June. She knows our dear friend and my colleague, Tim, and one day as we were preparing for our big move, she said - "You should really get Tim to bless your house after you move." Seemed like a great idea - and she was right!

So, the house is all unpacked and things are where they should go. My parents and Granny came down from Black Mountain (about a two and a half our drive one way). We invited a couple new neighbors, our wonderful real estate agent and her family, a couple clergy colleague friends and their families, and one new coworker (more clergy!) and his fantastic wife. And then my two wonderful buddies who moved to the area - Katherine and Margaret - and their significant others. Some of Hubby's family also dropped by today.

We told people 3 o'clock, so people started dropping by then. We had some food out and it was great to see people meeting each other and making connections (it really is way too small a world!) and touring around the house. After a little while, Tim led us through the blessing. I asked Margaret and Katherine to be candle-lighters, since they represent our old home but are also now part of the new. Tim gathered us in the front yard (wonder what the other neighbors were thinking ?!), shared some general blessings for the new home and new community and our family. Throughout the blessing, Tim incorporated readings and prayers from Celtic Spirituality and from the Taize community. Margaret and Katherine lit a candle. We then went to the front porch and the front door was blessed. Tim led us into the living room - it was blessed and another candle lit. Our next blessing was the dining room and kitchen combined, with another candle lit. We then blessed the bedrooms from the hallway, and then proceeded into the backyard. Tim had one of my favorite pottery bowls (from Seagrove, NC) filled with water and with a branch cut from an evergreen in our yard. He gave the final house blessing, sprinkled water from the branch and gave an opportunity for our friends (old and new) to bless our house and family. So many wonderful things were said. I did particularly like Jennie's blessing - "May your first stitches here be your last!" - yes, I have already taken sonny boy to urgent care for stitches.

Tim told me today that this was definitely our home - it was exactly where he could picture our family - in this house, the way we have things arranged, and in this neighborhood and town. It still feels strange to me, and it will for a while, but today really helped me see this house as our new home. I do believe we will have many years of happiness here. Probably also many years of loud chaos as well (with an outgoing husband, two kids, two dogs, and two cats - what else could there be?) But this is our home now, and I do feel blessed to be here.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


Some of you might remember my post in June - to wear a blue jean skirt. It was about a wonderful mentor of mine, Ashley. I have wanted to be Ashley (or be a whole lot like her!) for the past 15 years. I have really missed her over the past month since our move. I found out today that she was in a very serious car accident this past weekend. She is expected to make a full recovery, but only after two surgeries this week and a long recovery and rehab period. I am so thankful she will live, but I really feel for her during these coming months. I also feel for her second child, a beautiful (both on the inside and out) young woman who is starting college next week. I know Ashley will always regret missing that time, and I pray her wonderful daughter will be able to adjust to such a huge transition while her mom is going through such a difficult time.

So on this day when I was thinking about what a role model and hero Ashley has been for me, and feeling so saddened by this news, I was given a recent newspaper article that was about a former student of mine. Jessie is really something else - one of the brightest people I have ever known. So many times I felt like she was teaching me things instead of the other way around! As I read this article, I saw a quote where she credited me for helping in her development as a person and particularly as a person of faith. So good to know that perhaps God can work through me to help someone along the way, just like Ashley has done for me. You can read the article about this incredible young woman in the Chapel Hill News.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

comfort reading

Well - we have been in Greensboro for a full month now. I am trying to get settled in. Things are moving along - but it just takes time. I've been trying to find things to help me get past the stress and be comfortable in this new town. "Comfort food" has been a good option in the past - but as I age, I am trying to find healthier ways to get "comfort." In that light, I just finished my umpteenth reading of Pride and Prejudice. And I have been so in love with the BBC miniseries from a few years ago, I can only imagine Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy when I read it.

And so I share one of my favorite pics with you. Colin, in all his loveliness, commenting on what makes an attractive woman (from an interview about the first Bridget Jones's Diary movie). Hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

abelard and heloise

I've been reading about Abelard and Heloise lately - Heloise in particular. Abelard was one of the best known philosophers/teachers of the 12th century in France. He apparently was really, really smart, charismatic and a hottie to boot. (I'm not quite sure how that kind of information comes down through history, but the idea persists...)

Heloise was a very smart young woman under the guardianship of her uncle. Abelard became her tutor. (He was probably in his 30's, while she was a number of years younger. These two previously celibate, but apparently well-matched people, began a very intense love affair. It resulted in a son, a big-big scandal, and in Abelard's castration at the hands of Heloise's uncle. At Abelard's insistence, Heloise entered a convent (where she eventually became abbess), while Abelard as well entered a religious community. After about 10 years, at Heloise's insistence, they began corresponding - some of the most beautiful letters ever written. They also saw each other on occasion. Heloise clearly maintained that Abelard was the love of her life - above the church even.

Such a tragic story. Abelard was never the same after he was so horribly violated. As a theologian, he countered some of the prevailing dogma of the day - and but for different circumstances, the church might have followed his insights in a way that could have avoided some of the horrible things done in God's name over the years. His teachings have always been marred by being someone "who gave into lust and temptation."

I've been working on a paper that in part tells about Heloise. I keep wondering what things we can learn from her story. Should we not give into temptation? Do we want to continue to separate the flesh and spirit instead of seeing God in all things? Or should we see love as a gift from God and find ways in the world to celebrate that love? How do we do that without harming others? Or eventually harming ourselves?

Heloise and Abelard are often thought of as star-crossed lovers. I think of Romeo and Juliet that way - and who on earth wants to end up like that? Yet, after all the tumult, Abelard and Heloise were able to continue their lives - making important contributions to the world and people around them - and able to forge a lasting relationship with each other, albeit not the one they would have probably chosen.

Lasting love seems always to get past the exciting, heart-throbbing beginnings. May not be exciting at all sometimes, may be mundane and even trying later on - but I do think with some really hard work and committment - people can turn out better than Romeo and Juliet.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

moving to the big city

So a couple weeks ago we moved to the big city of Greensboro - about 3 times the size of my beloved Asheville. I'm in the big city, driving around unable to find things half the time, feeling overwhelmed by the size, hearing reports of rising crime and drug activity in NC (especially along the major highways), etc, etc.

And what are the lead pictures in the local paper the past two days? Yesterday showed a picture of the major highway running the Greensboro with a horrific traffic jam. The cause? Way too many SUVs and tractor-trailer trucks driving 80 mph? A deadly car chase after drug runners? A high-powered exec talking on the cell phone while driving? No - the traffic jam was due to 2 bulls who escaped from a truck (while it was still moving or not, I am unsure) and were chased by officials for a couple hours before rounded up. Where have all the cowboys gone?

Then today's lead photo - the major road that goes from W. Greensboro to East Gboro - an 8 lane monstrosity. Big traffic jam - and the reason? A gaggle of about 30 geese crossing the road.

Good thing a grew up in the country...

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

the best james bond movie?

Well, I spent some time working today (mainly unpacking boxes), and then I came home and unpacked more and kept trying to put the house together. We have a renovated 1923 bungalow, and the upstairs bath is really beautiful - but absolutely no storage - no medicine cabinet, no shelf, nothing. So - on my every other day trips to Target, I have bought an "American Cottage" medicine cabinet, standing cabinet with shelves, and a wall shelf with towel rack. I spent 2 hours today putting together both the medicine cabinet and the standing cabinet. 2 hours !?

So - had to come and do nothing in front of the tv for a while. How can I have 100+ channels and still not find anything I want to watch? (and what on earth does that say about me and our society). So - I did find Dr. No - and I figure a good James Bond movie is always worth watching (and my Dad would agree).

My Mom has always said that if you live long enough, you are bound to look good for your age at some point. And then there is Sean Connery, who has never looked bad a day in his 70+ years. As I was watching him evade destruction on his way to the faux Asian "mountain woman" (as I like to call her), I started thinking about my favorite James Bond movie. I have liked a number of them. I think Dr. No is my favorite. I definitely have to rule out Moonraker (except for the scenes with Jaws), and all the Timothy Dalton ones (not sure if it was him or just the writers - but those movies were awful!). And I have truly loved Pierce Brosnan since Remington Steele, but Dr. No was just the best. It had the original guy, techno stuff advanced for that time, the beautiful women, the great villians, and great action.

Any thoughts out there on your favorite JB movie?

Monday, June 13, 2005

gotta love country music

Growing up in the mountains of NC, about the only music we could get on the radio on a regular basis was our local country music station. I still listen quite a bit (as well as whatever else I can get - boy, do I wish I had sattelite radio!). I heard the best song last night (and immediately thought of my younger brother). It is a new one by Keith Anderson (went to seminary with someone by that name, but I really don't think it's the same guy...)

"Double X L"
the refrain goes -
"I'm a mean, lean, love machine who likes to be held. Ooooo-hoooo baby, I'm a double XL!"

The rest of the song recounts all the skinny Barbie dolls who just can't stay away from him and need his lovin'.

Still really like Green Day, U2, etc, but really need that country music sometimes!

Thursday, June 09, 2005

to wear a blue jean wrap skirt

Sixteen years ago I entered seminary at Duke Divinity School. I was just 22 years old, newly married, and trying to figure out this calling to ministry. During my three years there, I had one instructor who stood out dramatically. Her name was (and still is!) Ashley - and she taught pastoral care (and was great at it, by the way). I remember the first class - the classes were long Tuesday night classes for the semester. Ashley was a young woman in her mid 30s. She told us about her professional experience, and that she was primarily at home with three children (the youngest being just a few months old). She taught classes at the Divinity School and was not serving a church at the time (though quite active in one).

Ashley was just gorgeous. She wore a simple shirt, with a wrap blue jean skirt (I actually currently own one like it and thought of Ashley when I bought it). I couldn't believe she had just had a baby - I thought someone in her shoes (raising kids, teaching seminary classes, etc.) would look rather worn out and tired (much like I look most the time!). But she always looked great. She was so alive and engaged with everyone around her. I knew very quickly that I wanted to be just like Ashley when I grew up - on so many levels and in so many ways.

About 10 years ago, I was fortunate that Ashley moved to my neck of the woods due to her husband's job. After a really tough first church, I was taking some time off, looking after a rather rambunctious little baby boy, and trying to figure out my next step in ministry. I ended up working parttime at a church, and spending most my time being a mom and homemaker. Throughout these years, Ashley has been the best role model I could possibly have - in vocation, motherhood, friendships, and even continuing in fashion statements! I am moving in less than three weeks and won't be around Ashley as much. And I will be "working fulltime in ministry" yet again (something Ashley has been doing, and doing quite well, for a number of years).

I know I will still see Ashley and we'll communicate - and she will continue to be a hero for me. I also hope that when I am working with my college students, wearing my favorite blue jean wrap skirt - that I might can in some small way have such an impact on a young woman.

But I will really miss her a lot...

Monday, June 06, 2005

17 years!

It was 17 years ago today that I was heading to a picnic in Greensboro, NC with the large young single adult sunday school class of the church I had been attending. I had just finished my 3rd year at Greensboro College, and had one semester left before taking off to do a Master of Divinity (and then thinking I would do a Ph.d. and teach religion somewhere - only the M.Div came to fruition, but at least I do get to work on a college campus).

The summer was just beginning, and I was staying in my college town. My romance with one young man in the class had recently fizzled, so I thought I would just be working and hanging out with whatever friends I had in town. But - the picnic. There was one guy who kept flirting with me. He was older (I thought probably 27), but really cute. He had an athletic build and wore "coaching shorts." He also had the ugliest little dog with him - something called a Boston Terrier - but she was pretty sweet.

We were playing games on a field, and this man was obviously the most athletic. During kickball, he kept kicking home runs and no one else was in the ballpark of getting him out. Have I mentioned that I always hated kickball? Don't know if it was because of getting picked towards the end of my class growing up, or because it just seemed like a really stupid thing to play. Well, at one point, I was actually running from 2nd to 3rd base and this guy (Andy) threw the ball to get me out. I ducked, the ball went wild, and I was able to get home. One of the few runs my team scored! Then the very next play - Andy was doing his usual hotdogging, and I nailed him as he was running to 3rd base. (only one to get him out all day)

We talked, found out he was a kindergarten teacher, had worked at lots of camps - and then when we were leaving, he offered me a ride in his beautiful red Mustang convertible (yes, loyal readers, the very same one that I so despererately want to sell now!).

Within a week we were talking about getting married (turned out the guy was really 33, never married, just waiting for ms. right), and then 5 and a half months later - walking down the aisle.

Sometimes it seems like 170 years, sometimes 17 weeks...

Monday, May 30, 2005

the mustang saga

In the ongoing battle of the sexes, I am trying despererately to get my husband to sell his 1983 Mustang Convertible. (I know, doesn't sound too great, huh? especially when you find out it's an automatic!) We are moving in a few weeks (3 hours away) and why take a third car that he only drives a few times a year? And it's not even that special a car anyway! If it were a '67 Mustang - that would be a totally different story. But it's not. I cannot for the life of me figure out why he is so blooming attached to this thing. He had it when we met 17 years ago, and yes, it was a nice looking car back then. But not now. We have two other vehicles we drive. I don't want my kids in Hubby's baby that doesn't even have a roll-bar, but the man does not want to let it go. I'm thinking this must be his version of mid life crisis. He turned 50 about 6 months ago, and seemed to deal with it fairly well (especially when I surprised him with the Boston Terrier puppy he had begged for). He has the puppy (in addition to our 7 year old Golden and 2 cats), he has great kids, and wonderful (!) wife - why hold on to a piece of junk?

The car is actually up for sale, and I do believe we will have it gone before move date - but I can guarantee that I will be hearing about this thing when he is sitting in the old folks' home and hasn't driven in over a year because our son took away his license.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

independent feminist or looking for a sugar daddy?

Some thoughts lately - I have always been a very strong-willed, independent sort of gal. (It seems to be a trait in the females of my family - hope you're reading, Mom.) I seemed to be the only girl making the transition from junior high to high school who didn't fold to the pressure of guys not wanting a "braniac" for a girlfriend. So many of the really smart girls I knew just gave in - they had boyfriends, but they were no longer straight A students. I would look around and wonder where they were. And I gave absolute hell to any boy my senior year who dared suggest I was going to college to get my "m-r-s degree." (I really bristled at the thought of getting married right out of college - but there the man was - what was I supposed to do?)

And my number one pet peeve over the years? Wimps. Particularly male wimps. They make me crazy! If my kids ever want to push my buttons - they just whine and that really does it.

But yet - what is one of my favorite songs from recent years? Who's your daddy? by Toby Keith (no - I by no means agree with his politics - but his fun songs are just really fun and the man is talented and a big, linebacker kind of guy) So many of my strong female friends seem to agree - a strong man who is capable of taking care of us is just so unbelievably attractive. I don't want someone to be patronizing. I enjoy that my husband is proud of my accomplishments and gets a kick out of my tirades over some injustice in the world or any sassy comments. But do I really want to be in charge all the time? Absolutely not! In fact, it gets kind of stressful at times. "Am I the mom of the whole world?!"

So - how is all this balanced out? How do couples mutually relate to each other? And how does a man really be a man - not a wimp and certainly not a bully?

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Jonathan's mom

I am back from my week in DC (really had a great time, and even better once I stopped checking my work email!). I spent the whole week talking about Church History as Family Stories (really far more interesting than you might think). While I was there, my 5th grade son was dealing with a family story of his own. He has been good friends all year with a little boy in his class named Jonathan. Jonathan's mom is about 10 years younger than I am, a single parent, and also has a little 3 year old girl. There is no dad in the picture at all, but I know Jonathan's other relatives help out (the mom works as a third shift waitress at the Waffle House). I first met Jonathan's mom last fall, when she has just completed her third shift, but spent the whole day on a field trip with a bunch of 5th graders. (Those things always exhaust me - but I felt I had no room to complain since I had actually had a full night's sleep the night before.)

Last week, Jonathan's mom was in a very serious car accident. Until a couple days ago, they didn't know if she would make it. It's the end of school - so lots of field trips. Since I was in DC, my mom went with the 5th grade to the Wed morning minor league baseball game (the Tourists - says something about my town!). Jonathan came that day, and was just really having a tough time (understandably). My little boy Caleb and their friend Marquis were trying to talk with him. Jonathan said he wasn't sure if he wanted to live - he thought maybe he might just want to die, too. Caleb told him that things would be fine, and that he would grow up at get married and have kids (this does give me some insight into what my son wants in life). Marquis, apparently very active at one of the black churches in town, asked Jonathan if he had prayed about it. Jonathan said he had never prayed and didn't know how. So - Marquis and Caleb helped him (with Marquis taking the lead). Marquis told Jonathan just to talk to God - so Jonathan said, "Lord! What?!" Marquis told him that was not the level of respect the Lord and Savior deserved, and they were going to do this again.

Now - my mom is the one who has told me all this. She's trying to keep from crying because of this little boy's situation, but she said it was one of the funniest things she'd seen in a while.

So, Marquis gets Jonathan to fold his hands and just tells him what to pray. He tells him to pray for his mom to get better, and that if she doesn't get better, to forgive Jonathan for his sins so that he can be in heaven with her one day. Apparently, all this therapy and coaching as only 5th grade boys can give did help Jonathan feel better.

And I, along with so many others, am so thankful that Jonathan's mom is doing better and will even be able to come home in a few days.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

family stories

Well, I am still in DC for the week for one of my classes with my doctor of ministry program. My dmin is in Spirituality and Story, and the class this week is "Family Stories" - looking at stories of our past as Christians and incorporating those as part of our family history. (And we all know how family stories can be!) Thus - all the Bonhoeffer reading - a very important story teller in our family stories.

Being a bit of a passionate person, I keep wanting to "tell the stories" of the people who have not always had their stories told. Basically - anyone who was not male and not in a power position! I have pretty good classmates who tolerate my passion for these stories quite well.

It does pain me that the church has reflected culture at large in so many ways over the centuries. The stories of the dispossessed, the outsiders, the poor, the unwanted... these stories just get left to the wayside. Part of my mission as a minister is to tell these stories. And the older I get - the louder I want to tell them! There are far too many people in this world without voice. I hope I can in part try to change this.

Well...I have spoken loudly now via the internet for a few minutes. More on stories later!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Funnies from Bonhoeffer...

Still reading through Dietrich Bonhoeffer's letters (and afraid I'm developing something of a crush). Just wanted to share a couple funny things this man wrote while he was in prison. Soon before he was arrested, the never married 36 year old became engaged to 19 year old Maria. (There is even a book with their love letters - heart-wrenching...) Dietrich was writing to his best friend, Eberhard, who was newly married to Dietrich's younger niece. So here are two men in their 30s smitten badly with younger women. Dietrich spent some of his precious letter writing time (and this was one that did not go past the censor) complaining about Maria reading cheezy novels (my words, not his). My first thought was "Sexist older man!" Then I recalled grilling my husband on why he never read any books that weren't written by Coach K...

In another letter to Eberhard, Dietrich is writing about trying to get the most from each day - to enjoy what we can in the present. Remember, this is still a very smitten man who has only seen his fiance for a few hours in a number of months. And he has no idea when he will ever be released. He knows some people only put their thoughts into living in the past, or in the future (as in hoping for heaven one day). He wrote to his newlywed friend, "...for a man in his wife's arms to be hankering after the other world, is, in mild terms, a piece of bad taste..."

Truly hysterical! But also, just so true...