Thursday, May 31, 2012

Catholic Philosopher Chick Makes Her Debut

"So there's a chick and she's Catholic and she's a... Philosopher? Who's actually a philosopher nowadays? And why would I want to read a book about one? I mean, 'chick' makes it sound kind of hip, but..."

I'm not saying these are the words that went through my mind. However They're pretty close to what I think a lot of you thought when you saw the title. Unless you saw the "Regina Doman" part first in which case you probably bought the book before reading the synopsis. (Because that is just what die-hard Regina fans do!)

Actually it's a fairly accurate title. Imagine if that girl from "The Devil Wears Prada" turned Catholic. And then fell in love with Thomas Aquinas. And then quit her job at -insert your fashion mag of choice here- and went off to become the Next Great Catholic Philosopher. Or to attempt to.

Catelyn Frank is full of lofty ambitions and deep quotes when she disembarks her New York flight in the Houston airport. And then she's hit by culture shock, taking in the cowboy hats, friendliness, and a college that really looks nothing like the medieval university she's been envisioning. Then she's saddled with a valley girl roommate who seems to speak another language (can English really vary so much?) and a class full of guys who are both cute and utterly chauvinistic.

Will Cate succeed as a philosopher? Will she manage to find any like-minded friends? Is finding true love even a possibility?

And what did I, as a Protestant young woman who falls into the "artist" category and never took a philosophy class think of it?

It works. It's a strange sort of mix-match but that's exactly what real life is. Real life isn't tidied up into neat catagories, it's a crazy mix and it takes guts to write about it because no one's life is the same. So when you get a mix-match this specific, you risk poor profits because it's such a narrow audience. Well, a narrow audience that is going to pick up the book. And that audience should and will pick it up eagerly.

But what about the rest of us? Well, if you're not into philosophy, the philosophy heavy chapters might go over your head. Or  you might learn some really interesting stuff (both happened to me). However it's definitely the best way to test out the philosophic waters, as it's chock full of plenty of other elements that make it a really fun read. Witty dialogue (often of the high sarcasm vein), three dimensional characters, and solidly rooted in American collegiate and southern life, make this a hilarious read (I was laughing at the second page and rarely stopped - which meant a lot of laughing since I read the whole book in less than 24 hours).

Need another reason? How about the fact that chick lit is a regularly scorned genre by the academically elite and "Catholic Philosopher Chick" takes that trope and stands it on its head. It takes the conventions of the chick lit genre (hot guys, clothes, bungling romance, group of girlfriends) and uses them to frame a story about an academic woman making a largely masculine discipline respect her. And how often do you get that in a story?

Since the book is about a 22-year-old grad student, it really wouldn't be very interesting to anyone who isn't at least an undergrad. However, apart from there being quite a lot of drinking (in moderation of course) there's really nothing 'objectionable' that would make this inappropriate for the 16+ crowd.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Legacy of Art, Music, Love and Faith

My great-grandfather passed away last Tuesday and this weekend was filled with remembering him. It was quite amazing to attend the reviewal and see such a large crowd show up to honor his life. All of his six children, 15 grandchildren, and most of his 26 great-grandchildren (of whom I'm the eldest) were there. Many spoke and shared memories and testimonies to his faith in God. I was really moved by how clearly Great-Grandpa's life was a reflection of Christ. He was not a perfect man, but he was a man of great love and great desire to serve others.

He was a master woodworker, and one of his last big projects was creating fifty wooden crosses, one to encourage the faith of a youth in each of the fifty states. Although he could have sold his pieces for quite a bit of money, he chose instead to use this talent purely to bless others. Each of his descendants have received a handcrafted, unique piece from him - and several of us have received multiple works. He did not limit himself to just blood relations, but also blessed the spouses of his children and grandchildren, sometimes surprising us with his gifts.

What is amazing about my family is the legacy of music my great-grandparents left us. Great-Grandpa had a dance band back in the 30's and 40's and played the accordion until he could no longer lift it in his 90's. Great-Grandma was not a performer, but she was very dedicated to supporting music in the family, and my grandfather remembers being allowed out of his supper chores if he would practice his piano music instead.  Every Tuesday, right up until the end of his life, Great-Grandpa would lead our family and other volunteers in a sing-along at the local nursing home. When Great-Grandma and later Great-Grandpa went to live in the nursing home, it was already a familiar place with many friends and much love for them.

All of the children were singers and musicians and family prayer at reunions was regularly followed by group singing "Amen." Many of them used their talents professional or in a volunteer capacity at their churches, or in community theater. Just this weekend I listened to three of my cousins and my sister stun me with their talent on the piano, violin, guitar and accordion. And this is all a legacy from Great-Grandpa.

But I think perhaps the strongest legacy, after his faith in Christ, is his devotion and love for Great-Grandma. They were married for 75 years and lived together for all of them, except the very last, when Great-Grandma went to the nursing home. And even then Great-Grandpa visited her nearly every day. In a world where nearly half of the population ends up with a divorce at some point, I find this commitment nearly breathtaking.

Great-Grandpa, I love you. 23 years on earth was too short, but we'll have eternity in Heaven.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Move over "Mad Men" - it's Lord Peter Wimsey!

Those who love British mysteries, or are familiar with the circles that Inklings C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien moved in, will likely be familiar with the name of mystery author and Christian scholar, Dorothy Sayers. Her detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, is an eccentric member of the nobility with a sharp eye, a keen sense of humor, and a very decided fashion sense.

In "Murder Must Advertise" he throws aside his privileges to investigate a murder in an advertising firm - by masquerading as an employee.

Although set some twenty-five years prior to the popular "Mad Men," fans of the show will recognize and appreciate the very similar environment of the advertising firm - and the intrigue of murder and a drug ring. Although slower moving than typical detective fiction, it gives a very complete picture into a section of long-gone British life. And though it might seem that the mystery lurks more in the shadows than at the forefront of the plot, the ending had my completely admiration in its ingenuity.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Sweet and the Sour

You know those times when life starts to feel strangely surreal? When you run into a bunch of weird situations and you're not sure what emotions you are supposed to have?

I'm having one of those weeks.

Friday was supposed to be a wedding day in our family, but for various reasons the wedding didn't happen. Even though we'd had a lot of time to prepare, Friday was still a pretty hard day for me. God was good though, and gave me a really wonderful evening with a friend I hadn't seen in awhile. Rarely do I have a day when I wake up feeling that sad and go to bed feeling so joyful.

Then I had a beautiful stretch of 8 days now when I've felt very, very well. As in, the best I've felt in nearly 12 months. More tired today so I don't know if the streak is ending, or if it's just allergies or something, but it's been amazing. To have energy - to be able to do more than three tasks in a single day - to be awake before noon - it's miraculous. Truly.

Also this week, through the marvels of technology, I got to video chat with the kids I used to nanny out in Virginia. I haven't seen them for two years, so the changes in the little ones were pretty huge! But they were all laughing and glad to see me and I smiled so hard it hurt.

Sunday we had a reunion of the theater troupe I did "Beauty and the Beast" and "Fiddler" with and that was really fun. I was well enough to not only go, but to enjoy it and have people compliment me on how good I was looking! It's always a bit odd in that group because I'm older than the younger people, but younger than the older people, but we all kind of mingle and it's really great.

And then in the midst of all this, my great-grandfather is passing away. We lost my great-grandmother almost exactly two years ago, and they both lived long and full lives, so there is every reason to be rejoice in his heavenly homecoming. But it's still hard. He's a remarkable man, who has lived an amazing life, and I have always really enjoyed talking to him. And so I'm trying to balance the thankfulness and the sadness. When Great-Grandma died, it was pretty sudden (although she'd been in the nursing home for years) so all of the grieving happened afterwards. With Great-Grandpa, we're having the time to let him go and it's a very different thing.

So, like I said, surreal. Good and bad mixed up all together, and somehow they make each other more poignant, but not unbearable. In a very flippant analogy, it's a lot like sweet and sour candy.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

"SMASH" finale lets her be their star... or does it?

(spoilers galore, you have been warned!)

Contrary to the rumors, we did not get to see the full show (which wouldn't have fit into a 50 minute episode anyhow). We did get to see an amazing new song, as well as plenty of crucial character development. But did we get our Marilyn? That's the big question.

Tom and Julia are working together again, and have reconciled. Hurrah! Their working partnership has been such a source of fun and a really interesting look at developing characters of opposite sexes through a completely platonic relationship.

Julia and Frank are going strong, despite the reemergence of Michael. Ugh ugh ugh, I love Michael's singing voice, but otherwise his character is a terrible threat to Julia's marriage (although he did behave much more like a gentleman this episode). But oh boy, if Julia really is pregnant with his child, this is going to be a whole host of problems for Season 2 that I almost don't know if I want to get into. Kudos to Julia for continuing to fight for her marriage though.

We didn't really get to see much of Tom and Sam, but what we did see remained sweet. SMASH does a good job of being respectful of homosexual relationships, but not turning them into a soapbox and allowing the characters to be three-dimensional.

Ellis admitted he poisoned Rebecca and gave Eileen the excuse she needed to fire him. HURRAH! Not, however, before he caused more problems between Karen and Ivy. Ugh.

Speaking of our leading ladies...

Karen and Dev... oh Dev, you were so adorable, when did you become such an idiot? I hate to say this, but you need to let Karen go. You're not ready to get married.

I'm tired of Derek hitting on all of the Marilyn actresses, but really, I did think there was a sort of sweetness to how he treated Karen and coached her through a nightmare of a day. I think they'll get together at some point, but if so, I really want him to come to respect Karen as her own person and not Marilyn before that happens.

I'm glad Karen got to go on as Marilyn. She's worked really hard for the role and as the understudy it was really her part. She might be new to Broadway, but Katherine McPhee is clearly working her pants off to fit into these musical numbers. The only weakness I saw in this episode was that everyone kept saying "Karen can't do it!" but we never saw her messing up a number of flubbing something. So a little lame writing there, but I'm guessing they just didn't have the time.

Now Ivy... could she have gone into the show and pulled it of stronger from the start? Yes, probably. However she is so mentally unstable - I would really, really not want to give the role of leading lady to someone with Ivy's demonstrated issues. I think she's a fantastic performer and I definitely think we'll see her as Marilyn again - if, however, she doesn't swallow those pills!

Seriously, who ends a season with a will she/won't she commit suicide???

Of course we'll know the answer as soon as she does (or doesn't?) appear in the promos for season 2, but it'll be an interesting character arc anyhow.

Overall I think SMASH had a really strong first season. Was it perfect? No. But it brought something new to the screen, and managed to be extremely entertaining and at times even thought provoking. It also presented some fantastic original works (although they could do less with their cover songs). I'm very excited that it has been renewed for a second season and can't wait to see where they go next!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

What's in a Name?

"Do you pronounce it 'Elaynatintil' or 'Elenahtintil'?"

I've gotten several inquires about my online title over the years, mostly "what does it mean" and "how do you pronounce it?" Most people shorten it to "Elena" (El - lay - nah), so that I'm called Elena by fully half the people I know.

This is ironic, because when I was younger I wanted a nickname, but no one ever gave me one that really worked. In high school the Keira Knightly Pride and Prejudice came out, and my friends called me Lizzy which I allowed because it associated me with Lizzy Bennet who everyone thought was completely awesome. But once I went off to college, I really wanted to go back to being called Elizabeth again (although I haven't broken everyone of the habit yet...)

The name "Elenatintil" is an adaptation of two words from Tolkien's Elvish. A language purist would raise their eyes at me, but I translate it roughly as "She who Shines like the Stars." In addition to just being pretty, it also connects with the biblical injunction for Christians to shine their light for the world to see.

I first used the name in a Lord of the Rings fanfiction, then later utilized it as my username on I quickly learned that it was a pretty unique name, and although people sometimes had trouble spelling it, they were quick to give me the nickname "Elena."

I really liked being called "Elena."

Fast forwards a few years and I started up the Fairy Tale Novels forum, and suddenly a lot more people were calling me Elena. I gave the same name to this blog which most of those people also read, and then when I started meeting them in person, it was like the name "Elizabeth" didn't even exist. I was "Elena" and that was that.

And I really like it. I brought the name over to my DeviantArt, and then Skype, and now all of my friends in my role-playing circle call me Elena as well. The nice thing is that it does work as a nickname for Elizabeth as well, so I don't feel that I'm giving up that name by accepting this new nickname. I'll answer to either name equally - most of the time. (If, for instance, my mother called me "Elena" I'd go "uh who?")

In fact the name got around so much, that one of my great aunts learned about it, loved it, and asked if she could give the name to one of her prize-winning horses. (I think they called the horse "Lennie" or something because Elenatintil is much too long for everyday use!)

So that's that. Legally and in general practice my name is Elizabeth. A lot of my friends call me Elena. I answer to either - you're welcome to use both!

(And if you say "Lizzy" I'm going to ask you Bible Quiz questions, because the only people who have the right to that name were on quiz team with me. Be warned!)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

"Once Upon a Time" ends season 1 with a bang!

Or should I say...


... a cloud of smoke?

After a slow middle, ABC's new hit amped up the plot and suddenly each new episode was better than the last - and they started breaking expectations and surprising us too. While I had some good ideas about the finale, it actually managed to surprise me - so much so that by the time it ended, my sister and I stared at the screen with dropped jaws for two full minutes before trying to say anything. (And I do mean 'try' because I was completely incoherent in my attempt to verbalize my emotions).

Sending Henry to the hospital was intensely important to developing this episode. It gave Emma the catalyst she needed, but also allowed a chance for some supremely powerful acting on the part of Regina, as we saw the anguish on her face as she watched her son dying.

Then we learned there's a dragon under Storybrooke. A dragon? Really? What? In a sequence that looked an awful lot like a video game, we got the cool effect of watching Emma's fight cut in with her father's fight with the same beast 29 years previously. Talk about kick ass!

And then Emma breaks the curse by kissing Henry on the forehead and it's a beautiful parallel - and also a nice twist to the conventional romantic kiss typically employed in such situations.

But by far my favorite moments in the episode were when Gold first sees Belle - and when she remembers him. This is why the Rumbelle ship has been the most popular, most beloved, and most gutwrenching of all the OuaT ships.

And then Gold had to spoil it all by bringing magic back.

What. Gold. Why. You have Belle. You're in the land where your son... still missing.

Is this why he wanted magic back? To find Bae? Or can he just not stand not being the most powerful being around? Has he still not learned his lesson?

Guess we'll have to wait until season 2 to find out. Also on hold until September is the revelation of whether August survived, who Dr. Whale actually is, what happened to Bae, and whether the fairies will start flying again.

(Personally I'm starting to wonder if Dr. Whale is Bae. Thoughts?)

Should be a stellar season, as there are plenty of new possibilities for plot direction, and rumors of a certain Little Mermaid making an appearance.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Jane Austen Education

Jane Austen is often regulated to the 'chick lit' corner, with people classifying them as fluffy romances for women who don't want to venture into the 'more important' classics. And at first glance, some of her novels might seem to fit this formula. Men and women falling in love in the idyllic English countryside? How boring, how trivial!

So thought William Dereseiwicz, a young man at work on his doctorate degree when he was forced to pick up Jane Austen's "Emma" And his life was never the same.

Far from being 'chick lit', Dereseiwicz found that Austen defied the conventions of romantic literature, especially the romances of her date, to teach important truths that are surprisingly relevant to today's society. Moving away from his love affair with the Postmodern writers, Dereseiwicz chronicles how each of Austen's novels ushered him along the path to true maturity. Each novel touched a pivot point for him - and the growth was about more than romance - about understanding himself as a person and growing into what it means to be a real adult.

Part memoir, part biography of Jane Austen, part literary analysis, and all love letter to our favorite heroines, this is a book that no Austen fan will want to miss. At less than 300 pages it is not a daunting read (I read it in less than two days) but is profound and you will find yourself looking at Jane Austen an entirely new way (even if you've read all of her books half a dozen times already).

"A Jane Austen Education" demonstrates that Austen's works are far more than chick lit, and have a surprisingly enduring legacy.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

And then SMASH went to Church

(For my review of the show, click here)

SMASH surprised us this week. Or at least, it surprised me. In a culture that likes to vilify or at least trivialize Christianity, this show has created a character who is unashamed to be a Christian. (Gay, yes, which will offend some Christians, but I think it's one of the ways they could make the religious element work for their audience). Furthermore, this week saw that character convincing nearly every single member of the SMASH cast to go to church with him and his family.

I was stunned.

Sure you could pick a lot of things apart (the scenario is rather unrealistic), but lets stick with the positive. Here's an example of a lot of people going to church, saying it's a good thing - even a fun thing - and something that one ought to do in the times of toughness. That there's a benefit to singing praise music and praying. There's a benefit to trusting that even in the hardest times, God will see you through. The show doesn't make a big deal out of it, it's not preaching a message, it's showing a part of the lives of it's characters and it's respectful. No one is groaning, or making wise cracks, the sermon is not presented as boring. Church is respected. And that is something I've not seen on a television show in a very long time. (It's a black Methodist church which was actually what my very first church was, so that was kind of fun).

Just another reason why I keep watching SMASH, because it cares about its characters, and it cares about showing characters from all over the place, every walk of life, who are more than stereotypes. It's not a perfect show by any means, but it sure manages to get a lot more right than most of what is on TV these days.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Being Deaf Is...

(Some of my friends have asked me to blog about what it's like being deaf. It's something I'm reluctant to talk about because, as with any disability, it's hard to talk about your limitations without sounding like you're complaining. Below I've listed common scenarios I deal with, and hope that it will prove informative, engaging, and interesting to all of you.)
  • engaging the world through your eyes and your hands, not your ears.
  • running on batteries, and not sure if that makes you the energizer bunny or R2D2.
  • being asked, constantly, what country your accent is from.
  • planning to one day make up a country to answer with.
  • having people sign at you, even though you don't know much sign language, because you're supposed to know it.
  • telling your friends not to send you youtube videos unless they're subtitled, because you can't hear.
  • finding out that you write better with your hearing aids in, rather than out (although you read better with the aids out.)
  • always drying your hair completely when you get out of the shower so you can put your aids back in without ruining them.
  • explaining that you can't play Marco Polo because you can't hear in the pool.
  • inspiring awe when people learn you can lip read.
  • not knowing what to say when people ask if lipreading is hard, because it just comes naturally when you can't hear.
  • getting annoyed when people complain about captions because, c'mon, their function is no different than wheelchair ramps or braille on elevators and everyone knows how selfish it would be to complain about those.
  • being amused because, once friends watch enough movies with you, they automatically start watching everything with captions because they like them.
  • getting frustrated when your hearing aids are out, and accidentally get bumped on and your family members stumble into your room in the middle of the night to shut off the squealing, because you can't hear the squealing and they usually turn them off wrong anyhow.
  • reminding everyone, no matter how long you've known them, that if you can't see their mouth, you can't understand what they're saying.
  • seeing how much people care about you by their willingness to make phone calls for you, because you can't hear very well on the phone.
  • always wanting to play the narrator in "Mafia" not only because you like telling the story, but because you're terrified you'll wake up at the wrong point because you can't hear and spoil the game.
  • surprising people by the things you do hear, because you're not completely deaf.
  • surprising people when you say you are deaf, because after 19 years of practice you are really, really good at fitting in.
  • wondering why people who work at fast food restaurants are always the hardest to understand.
  • becoming an insane bookworm because unlike your peers, listening to music is something to accompany other tasks, not a pastime on its own. 
  • succeeding as a writer because of the details you notice and focus on to compensate for being unable to hear what everyone else does.
  • worrying that someday someone will propose to you and you'll say "can you please repeat that? I didn't hear what you said" (which I actually think would be funny in hindsight). (Update: I did hear what he said, but I made him repeat it three times anyhow so that I could savor it properly.)
  • thinking the internet is the best thing ever because you don't have to hear to communicate with all of your friends on it.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Glass Maker's Daughter

Which of us has not grown up enchanted by stories of Venice? Gondolas, Italian Art, Medieval Architecture... it's like something out of a story. Except that apparently in real life it smells.

But Cassaforte, which is the Venice of "The Glass Maker's Daughter" not only embodies everything we loved about the real Italian city, but also the lure of magic as well. And not the dark magic that fills YA fiction today, but a practical system of enchantments, much like the work of the Elves in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.

Our heroine is Risa, daughter of one of the seven principle nobles of Cassaforte. Her parents are master artisans of all things made of glass, and Risa is on her way to following in their footsteps.

But then, she alone of all the young nobility is left unchosen by the Gods to join their schools of higher learning. Are the Gods real? Or do they just not care about Risa? What worth is her life now, left to be the only member of her family unable to complete the enchantments that make their work so valuable?

Things get worse when the King dies mysteriously, and Risa's parents are taken hostage by the conniving heir. Furthermore, all the houses of the nobles are under seige, and it is up to Risa and her friends to save them all.

I'm always skeptical when I pick up a YA book without a recommendation, as the medium so often produces poor quality work. "The Glass Maker's Daughter" caught my eye because I've always been entranced by the art of glassblowing. It's one of those crafts, like spinning and weaving, that can hold me enraptured for hours, just staring at the master craftsmen work. So I figured, even if the book wasn't well written, it still might prove interesting for the glassmaking element.

To my surprise, the book was better than I expected. Though not a five star book, it nonetheless is tightly plotted, fairly decently written, features some good characters, has a world-building system that was both easy to understand yet practical, and had laugh-out-loud humor. Also it is one of those books where a man manages to write a teenage girl and actually make her seem like a real teenage girl.

As I read the book, I noticed a few themes that seemed very in harmony with a Christian worldview. However nothing was so blatant that I went "oh, this is Christian fiction." Imagine my look of startlement when I read the acknowledgements and found that the book was inspired by a sermon the author heard! Kudos, Mr. Briceland! You've achieved more subtlety than the majority of Christian writers do today.

Will "The Glass Maker's Daughter" go down as a classic? No. Is it worth a read? Yes. Is it appropriate for all teens? Yes. I'd be quite comfortable passing this title along to any twelve-year-old with an interest in history, fantasy or glassblowing.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Shadow of the Bear Movie News

If you've been following this blog, you'll probably be aware of the fact that I spent a good three years working on a film adaptation of Regina Doman's book "The Shadow of the Bear." Many of you are fans of the book, and will be interested to know that we are finally able to release news about how you can see the film, although it's not how we envisioned it happening.

Read more here:

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Maybe an Igloo would make a good Library?

About ten years ago, we started hearing rumors that we were getting a new library. We were all excited... and then nothing more was said. About six years ago a display appeared with a place for patrons to write in what they wanted to see in the new library. YAY. Then... nothing. Well, we heard there was this plot of land by the government center that had been purchased for it. But besides that... nothing. No construction... no signs... nada.

Then in 2010 I go off to Virginia to nanny and tutor and when I get back three months later...

BAM. Library.

June 2010 it opened and since then I've gone nearly every week when I'm in town and not sick in bed. It's got a great layout inside, is big and bright and open, has beautiful views, and this really cool design to make it 'green' which includes grass growing on the roof. The other month we even got a modern sculpture thing, which also seemed to appear magically overnight.


See whoever designed the library seemed to forget that the winters up here are REALLY REALLY COLD. Just walking from my front door to my car can sometimes be painful. And the library parking lot is laid out in such a way as to ensure that everyone (even the handicapped people) have to walk as far as possible.

I suspect a scheme to encourage people to just plain walk more. Which would be great if, you know, we lived in Florida or something. And in the summer it's not half bad, it's really quite a lovely walk.

But in the winter it's frigid and the design of the library actually acts like a wind tunnel along the sidewalk, so you get absolutely blasted with cold air. On the other hand, the tunnel is nice when it rains, cuz then you don't have to get wet and I can tell you horror stories about getting absolutely soaked at the old library.

Anyhow. Library's beautiful. Apparently designed by someone who grew up in southern California, but still beautiful.