December 26, 2010

Book Review: Immanuel's Veins by Ted Dekker

Ted Dekker has created another thrilling novel that brings God's love for his people to life in vivid colors that will forever stain his readers' hearts.

Toma Nicolescu is a servant of Her Majesty, the empress of Russia, Catherine the Great, living in 18th-century Russia. He is a war hero, acclaimed throughout the land for being able to dispatch of any human foe. He and his servant Alek are sent on a special mission to Moldavia (today modern Romania) to watch guard over the Cantemir twins, beautiful Lucine and Natasha. His mission is to watch them but stay away from them, for they are notorious for seducing young men and spitting them out. The Empress wants her soldiers to remain protective but professional. Toma has taken a vow that he will not love either lady.

Lucine and Natasha are beauties, but Natasha is the passionate seductress type who lives for pleasure. Lucine is the sensible one who carries herself with dignity and hasn't allowed herself to get involved with any man since an affair which ended in a scorned lover and a miscarriage. But love does blossom between Toma and Lucine, although neither will admit it. Although they are highly attracted to one another, Lucine refuses to give her heart to a man that won't woo her and Toma is too proud to disclose his ever growing feelings for her.

Then, the catalyst enters the picture in the form of a Russian noble, Vlad van Valerik. He has his eye on Lucine, of course. Although she despises him, she can't keep herself from feeling drawn to his passionate embrace of life, which Toma refuses due to his station. Out of spite for Toma, she allows herself to be seduced by this dark man, who has his own plan in mind for Lucine.
On the outside, this is a historical romance. Toma is drunk on his love for Lucine but can't admit it, even to himself. The visiting Russian nobles, lead by van Valerik, appear to embrace the hedonistic lifestyle. But they are also supernatural beasts who have been turned into instruments of evil against their will. This is a novel of passion, love, romance, daring, boldness, and seduction. But it’s also a novel about pure, unselfish love.

October 14, 2010

Movie Review: Last King of Scotland

The movie Last King of Scotland addresses things we don't like to hear about. It tells about a man who commits one of the most heinous crimes of all: bringing false hope to a people desperately in need of hope--betraying his own people. They believe that he is different, that he will be the one to finally bring peace to their country. He does as the former rulers, however, and only ends abusing his power and bringing a new form of dictatorship.

The story of Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker), a former dictator of Uganda in the 1970s, is told through the eyes of a fictitious doctor, named Dr. Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy). Last King of Scotland is based loosely on true events. Garrigan has recently graduated from medical school and has no interest in helping his father with the family practice. Instead, he randomly chooses Uganda as his new place to live, work, and play. He ends up working in a small village with tribal people as his patients. Garrigan is the typical idealistic youth. He pictures Uganda as being maybe "the toughest job he'll ever love." His main interest remains scoring with chicks, whether it's a random native he meets on a bus or the wife of his new boss.
Uganda itself is in a time of celebration because Amin has come to power. He is the new President, and the people of Uganda excitedly welcome him to power. "He fights for the people," one national tells Garrigan. On the way home from a political rally, Garrigan gets the chance to meet Amin in person when the President is in need of a doctor. Amin is impressed when Garrigan acts calmly in a crisis, and Amin then offers Garrigan the chance to be his personal doctor.

Garrigan is charmed by the new President. He is charismatic and powerful. And it's nice to be the new pet of a powerful man. The President has three beautiful wives; in particular, Garrigan is charmed by Kay, the third wife. Garrigan leaves his idealistic job as a village doctor for the chance to live the charmed life at Amin's palace. He receives the chance to live in luxury and becomes one of the President's "most trusted advisors." The President also promises that Garrigan can have a great impact on people's lives through political influence. All seems glittery until the President begins to show signs that he is fighting for himself, rather than the people. Garrigan tries to abort his ties with the President, only to be told he can't leave.

August 20, 2010

The Heavy Follow in Dance: Yikes!

I am extremely sensitive to any type of verbal criticism, even if it's the constructive type.  My primary love language is words:  they can heal or hurt my heart instantly.  However, some of the most dramatic positive changes in my life have come out of my taking in constructive criticism and making changes when I saw the benefit.

In dance, I haven't had too much feedback yet as to things I could be doing better, but I knew it would come eventually.  And it did . . . in the form of these dreaded words: heavy follow.  Yikes!  Crippity crap, what does that mean?  It doesn't sound good, whatever it is.  I also have this sinking feeling that I remember reading somewhere that the way we dance reveals the way we live.  And so, I have been reflecting on this issue of being a heavy follow, whether it is in dancing or relationships or life.  Fortunately, if I keep myself from throwing up from the temporary pain of having to listen to something I am not doing perfectly, I can usually learn from and correct said mistakes.

So what is a heavy follow?  A heavy follow is difficult to navigate.  This could be for several reasons: too much tension in the arms or in the body.

June 26, 2010

Movie Review: Damned United

The film Damned United (2009) did not make a big stir in the United States. That's because the events it covers were not big events in American culture. Rather, these events were important to our Brit neighbors. They love their football (soccer to us) like we love basketball and American football.
The movie is about Brian Clough (Michael Sheen), a coach that took his original team, Derby United, from the bottom of the 2nd division to the top of the 1st division. He took Derby United from a team with no game to a team with game to spare. In fact, after a time, his team beat THE team to beat, Leeds United. 

But back up, because we don't know how important that is until we know that before Clough raised his team from the ashes, Clough idolized Leeds United and their coach, Don Revie, until Revie snubs him by not shaking his hand at a game on the home turf of Derby. We see Clough, ecstatic that Revie is coming. He carefully scrubs every inch of the away team's showers, places an orange on top of each towel as a gesture. He carefully places two wine glasses and a bottle of wine on his desk, envisioning the perfect toast between two coaches. And then, to have Revie walk right past him without even a howdy do was the ultimate diss, which Clough carried around with him like a cross he had to bear.

After Revie retires, Clough is offered the position of Leeds United coach. Just think--he could coach his arch rival team and mentally castrate the players he used to love to curse on the field. Well he takes the job and is employed for only 44 days. Because the situation spirals completely out of control. And the story and Clough's legend is unfurled in a lovely lazy way.

May 25, 2010

Rethinking the Purpose of Dating

I have been on this odyssey of self-discovery and, at the same time, trying to understand how to navigate this tricky road of male-female relationships. Obviously what I have been doing isn't working. I have had several long-term relationships that lasted 2-3 years. Most of them lasted way too long, but by the time I figured out it wasn't going to work, I was too invested to just call it quits. It seemed easier to stay and try and work things out rather than start over with someone new. Of course, every time you are in a 2-3 year relationship that isn't going anywhere, that is 2-3 years you have put off meeting someone else that could be right for you.

So I started looking at how I had been dating. I was dating to marry. If I met a guy online or wherever, I would line him up with what I was looking for in a husband. He had to be stunningly handsome, a strong Christian, and financially secure. And if he had tattoos, a motorcycle, or played the guitar, it would be a bonus. If the guy wasn't any of those things, he was out of luck. If the man did make it through my gauntlet of requirements, I would meet him once and probably never hear from him again, as I treated each date like a job interview. I was going to screen out those unsuitables before I wasted any time on them.
The problem is, I wasn't getting very many dates. I also was missing out on the chance to just enjoy meeting someone for the pure joy of getting to know them. I have been reading this book called How to Get a Date Worth Keeping by Dr. Henry Cloud. He encourages singles to date just to date and not to marry. The reasons are:
1. Most of us may know what we want in a person, but not what we need 
2. Most of us only date someone who is our "type," and you miss out on the opportunity to meet a different type, which may fit you better 
3. In order to find a mate, you need to date a lot, and you can't do that if you are so picky that you never go on dates 
4. Dating itself is useful because it will help you identify things you like in a person and also what things you need to work on to become the best husband or wife possible (For instance, if you find you are talking to someone and you are afraid they will think you are boring, you need to work on your self-esteem issues)

May 05, 2010

Enabling: What's the Problem?

I remember when Dr. Phil first came out, one of his "hot words" was enabling. This is a word I know all too well. I am a recovering enabler, and I know many, as well. I am here to speak out against enabling, explain what it is, what's the problem, and what you can do about it.

What is it?
At the very basic level, enabling means that you don't allow someone to deal with the natural consequences of their behavior. Every time we make choices, there are consequences or effects of making those choices, whether positive or negative. Based on the consequences, we can then decide if we want to continue to make the same choices or choose something different. If you stick your finger in a light socket, you get a shock. More than likely, you won't choose to stick your finger in there again, unless you like pain. Enablers take the consequences of a loved one's choices upon themselves. Here are some examples:Your son tells you that he has homework, and he has to go to the library tonight to get some books. In talking with him, you discover he has known about this assignment for three weeks and is just now telling you. You had other plans for tonight, but instead, you cancel your plans and take your son to the library. Of course, you yell a lot and grumble all the way back and forth to the library, but you still do it. This is not the first time this has happened.
Your friend is always late when you have plans. You have asked her to arrive at 6 pm so that you can drive to the movie theater. You don't want to miss the previews. At 6 pm, your friend still hasn't arrived yet, so you wait, stewing the whole time about what a lousy friend she is. You can't wait to give her a piece of your mind.
Your husband had some of his buddies over last night for some beers. You made sure to ask him to please clean up the kitchen before he goes to bed, but you know he won't. The next morning, you get up half an hour early to clean up the dirty dishes and get rid of the bottles so that you can make him breakfast.
So what's the problem?

April 28, 2010

Book Review: Crazy Beautiful by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

In this dual perspective book, we have Lucius and Aurora telling an updated version of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale.  Lucius, known by his classmates as "Hooks," is an amputee.  He lost both of his hands in a chemistry accident which forced his family to leave home and start a new life in a new town.  Aurora is a beauty, a dark angel, that has a kind and loving heart.  She and her father have recently lost her mother to cancer.  They start a new life in this new town, as well.

Aurora is instantly welcomed by her classmates; Lucius is instantly rejected.  Yet they form a connection from the moment they lay eyes upon each other on the school bus.  They just know each other.  Still, they end up running in different circles at school.  Lucius becomes a loner.  His only friend is the school security guard who used to be a football hero before he blew out his knee.  Aurora runs with the popular crowd, but sees the shallowness of her companions and watches Lucius from afar.

Their paths end up crossing when both work on the school production of Grease.  Can the beauty see past his hooks and tainted past to the true person underneath?

April 10, 2010

Dopamine vs. Serotonin: The Secret to a Happy Love Life

Ladies and gentleman, I think I've discovered the secret to a happy love life. I will have to warn you, this may sound a little crazy, but the more I think about it, the more this makes sense. If you are in a committed relationship, but that spark you had for each other seems to have died, this could be just the thing to help kickstart it again. If you are not in a relationship, take it in and store it in your memory bank for later. The brain is a powerful thing, and it is governed by chemicals. Understanding how these chemicals work can help you gain understanding and come up with solutions.

April 06, 2010

Movie Review: Ghost Writer

Ghost Writer is a suspense movie that Hitchcock fans will enjoy.  There is political espionage, a femme fatale, suspicious looks, and signs swinging on a dark stormy night.  Ewan McGregor has been hired as a ghost writer for fictional British Prime Minister, Adam Lang, played by Pierce Brosnan.  Lang is facing criticism for his interrogation techniques used on alleged terrorists, and so his image consultants decide he should write a memoir.  The memoir is partway finished, but the original ghost writer was found dead on the beach, and the book needs to be finished.  Ewan, known only as "The Ghost" in this movie, is hired to complete the task.  He is a loner with a cynical streak, which makes him the perfect ghost writer.  He has no family, and no real social ties, except for a previous relationships he calls "complicated."

The Ghost is brought to Lang's beach house where he alternates between interviewing Lang and writing in isolation.  Also staying at the house are Lang's cool, collected wife, Ruth (channeling Grace Kelly) and Lang's assistant and mistress, Amelia (Kim Cattrall).  Lang needs both women, one to be his trusted advisor, and the the other to adore him.

The Ghost is well on his way to getting the job done when he discovers a strange envelope in his bedroom (the room that belonged to the previous ghost writer) that contains photos and items that contradict the stories Lang has been telling him.  Even though the Ghost says "I'm not an investigative journalist," of course he has to get down to the bottom of things.  And he begins to suspect that the previous ghost writer's death was no accident.

The film encourages the audience to follow the trail of the truth along with its protagonist.  The suspense builds beautifully from beginning to end.  Our Ghost is an every man.  He has no connections, and, therefore, can't trust anyone.  In the same regard, no one can fool him.  He has no moral compass but only a desire to know the truth.  And the truth, elusive as it is, isn't fully known or appreciated until the end.  This is a great movie to watch for all of those Hitchcock fans out there.  It does lean on the liberal side, but what movie doesn't these days?

March 28, 2010

Movie Review: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

This is one of my favorite movies, and I watched it last week with some friends that had never seen it before.  I truly love this movie.  It is quirky and touching, funny and heartbreaking.  I always sob at the end, it makes me so happy.  Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) meet on a random day (we think) on a train.  They strike up a conversation and spend the day and night together.  They have just met, and yet they can't seem to live without one another.

Flash back and we realize that Joel and Clementine have met before, although neither of them remembers this fact.  They are a couple that has broken up.  After an argument, Clementine, who is impulsive, decides to get brain surgery and forget ever meeting Joel.  The doctor goes into her brain and removes all traces of Joel.  Joel finds out she has done this through a mutual friend and decide he wants the procedure done as well.

During the procedure, the doctor begins to methodically remove the memories, starting from the last ones and working his way up to when the couple first met.  But as Joel experiences the memories, he begins to fall back in love with Clementine and tries to thwart the procedure by hiding Clementine in his childhood and other unlikely places.  When we movie begins, it is actually the ending of the story we see, and we do get a chance to see how Joel and Clementine interact after the surgery has occurred.

March 10, 2010

The L*** Word

Be careful when you say the L* word.  You know the one.  I loooooove this, I love that.  I love him, I love her.  I love cats.  I love french fries.  Oh come on, you know you like to say it.  It feels good to say it.  It comes off the tongue so easily.  What could feel better than saying you love something or someone?

Why do you say it?  That's what I am asking.  What does it cost to say I love you?  It costs nothing.  But does it cost the other person something?  Do you say it to create an outcome?  Do you want them to say they love you?  Do you want them to do something for you?  To make you feel good?  To fulfill your desires?  To know if someone loves you back?  To demand something?

Love is not conditional upon what the other person does.  If that person walks out the door, you will still love them if the love is pure.  It is not pending upon what the other party does.  Love is a gift.  It is given by God and there isn't a thing you can do about it.  Once you love someone the correct way, it is there to stay.  It may change forms, but it is there always.

March 03, 2010

Quote from Ender's Game

"[That wall] might be breached sometime in the future, but for now the only real conversation between them was the roots that had already grown low and deep, under the wall, where they could not be broken.

The most terrible thing, though, was the fear that the wall could never be breached, that in his heart Alai was glad of the separation, and was ready to be Ender's enemy. For now that they could not be together, they must be infinitely apart, and what had been sure and unshakable was now fragile and insubstantial; from the moment we are not together, Alai is a stranger, for he has a life now that will be no part of mine, and that means that when I see him we will not know each other."
Orson Scott Card (Ender's Game)

January 10, 2010

Book Review: Taken by Edward Bloor

Taken is an exciting, original book that fans of Anthony Horowitz or Gail Giles books will love. In a futuristic world, the classes are more divided than ever. Kidnapping has become the norm, a social contract between those that have and those that have not. The kidnappings have rules, and if the rules are followed, everyone gets what they want without violence.

Charity wakes up strapped to a stretcher in a van. She knows she has been kidnapped, but feels calm because if she just remembers the rules, she knows she will be returned to her family safe and sound. In order to keep herself calm, she conjures up memories from happy times, and these memories intersperse with details about what is happening in her present. The memories hold important clues that readers can use to discover the identity of the kidnappers before Charity does.

But this kidnapping doesn't seem to be going to specification. And Charity tries to talk to her guards to see if she can negotiate her own deal.

January 01, 2010

Movie Review: In the Mood for Love

I want all of the dresses that Maggie Cheung wears in In the Mood for Love. In this film, she looks so beautiful I want to cry. She has such elegance, such beauty, that it is shocking that anyone would want to cheat on her. But I get ahead of myself.

Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung ) and Mr. Chow (Tony Leung ) live next door to one another. They discover their spouses are having an affair. We never see the infidelities occur, for what is happening with Chan and Chow is much more compelling stuff. After they both discover that the other knows the secret, they begin to spend time together and pretend that they are the ones having an affair. They do not intend to sleep with one another, but they are trying to understand how it began. They go out to eat and order what each other's spouses would order. They role play walking home so they can imagine who might have made the first move. They practice accusing their spouse of having an affair so they can imagine what they will say when the guilty admission is made.

Movie Review: Teenage Dirtbag

Teenage Dirtbag (2009) attempts to answer the question: what would have happened if Bender and Claire from the movie The Breakfast Club had met during class instead of detention in the library? Thayer (Scott Michael Foster) and Amber (Noa Hegesh) attend the same high school and are always seated near each other since their last names are close alphatically. Amber is a cheerleader and popular at school. Thayer is a troublemaker. After an offhanded remark Amber makes, Thayer seems to try his hardest to make her as miserable as possible. He does, at least, until they begin bonding in creative writing class.

Because of their troublesome homelives--Thayer has an abusive father and older brother and Amber is ignored--they both feel put upon and find a strange solace in being together. But the ol' social caste system says they can't be together. They try to negotiate their friendship, and it works out how it will work out. But the story doesn't end there. Amber and Thayer meet again and again and neither can rest until the truth is spoken about their feelings for one another.