Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Another Week in Paradise

Saturday afternoon I returned from a week at Girl Scout camp where I volunteered to be a counselor to a group of 11-13 y.o. girls. I really enjoy this age--especially when I'm not related to them! They're in the process of discovering who they are, so they are "trying on" different personalities and interests. As "not-the-mom," I enjoy it. I'm not invested in their grades or how well they're doing in soccer or swimming or dance. I can appreciate them for who they are and who they are becoming.

Of course, there's drama. Of course, they are irresponsible and I often feel that I must repeat each instruction individually to each girl. On the other hand, most of these girls have been away from home before and most of them have been to this particular camp. So they are familiar with the lack of amenities and the idea that they have camp wide chores to do--like "hopping." ("Hoppers" set the tables, get the food and drinks for the table, get seconds when needed, bus the tables after the meal, wipe off the table, and sweep the dining hall floor. And they also chose which Grace the camp will sing.) They also have to clean the shared bathroom and at least once during the week, clean up their tents.

They were surprised when I announced tent clean-up and sleeping bag airing, especially when I said, "I know that your duffel bags have exploded everywhere. I want you to find all your underwear and all your socks now." One camper asked me, "How did you know?"

Because I'm a mom of four and an experienced counselor.

This year I was really fortunate to work with five amazing women. We complemented each other well and we all had a rather wicked sense of humor. This was especially amazing since three of us, including me, caught the "camp crud" that was going around and were laid low for several days. (I still have a pretty nasty cough.) I was looking forward to kayaking in the slough, but decided to conserve my strength for the drive back to camp.

But I did get my "dirt" fix. And my beach fix. And my campfire and s'more fix. I didn't get to sing much because of the crud, but I enjoyed the music and the skits and the dancing and the general craziness that goes on at camp. My biggest triumph: I made one very solemn girl smile. It took me all week to do it and it was a small smile, but I'm counting it!

DD#2 opted not to come to camp with me but work at our local GS Day Camp instead. She's a "junior counselor" this year, assigned to work with an adult counselor with whom both DD#1 and I have worked. Tomorrow is the Family Dinner & Campfire--I can't wait to get the report on how she did! It was kind of nice going to camp on my own, although I did have some worries about how the family would manage to get everyone where they needed to be while I was gone. They managed. DS#2 has even been cleaning the living room/family room/craft area slowly but surely. He wants to have a party--great motivation!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Book Review: The Time Traveler's Wife

Six-year-old Clare Anne Abshire is in The Meadow, an isolated area behind her family home, when a naked man suddenly appears. He asks for the beach towel she is using and she gives it to him. He introduces himself: he is Henry DeTamble. Clare does not know him but Henry knows her because he is her husband in the future.

Henry has a problem: he is a Time Traveler. In times of stress, he returns to important scenes or places in his life. He can't control his comings and goings and he can't bring anything backward with him (which means he always arrives at his location naked--a problem in the winter). Clare is normal, living her life one day at a time in sequence. This causes some unusual problems in their relationship. In the beginning, Henry knows about her future; later, she knows what will happen to him before he does. For example, when Clare finally meets Henry in her present, she is 20 and he is 28. She recognizes him from her past. He hasn't met her yet and doesn't realize that she will become his wife.

And there are paradoxes. Older Henry often visits his younger self, acting as a mentor, teaching him how to survive in the time he's in until he jumps back to his current present. And when he visits events that are personally traumatic, like the death of his mother, there is nothing Henry can do to prevent it.

Audrey Niffenegger does an excellent job keeping all this straight. She tells the story both from the point of view of Clare and of Henry, noting the relative ages of each (or of each Henry if the scene is one where Henry meets himself) at the top of the each section. Henry's problem causes peculiar difficulties not only for him but also for his relationship with Clare and with others in his life: his friends, his co-workers. Henry and Clare search for a cure or a way to control his jumping. And Clare desperately wants a child. Theirs is not a fairy tale life, although perhaps their jobs are (Clare is an artist, Henry works at a rare book library).

The Time Traveler's Wife is a romance and a science fiction novel, albeit "soft" science fiction (Henry's ability to time travel is given only a cursory explanation). Still, they are a team and they remain faithful to each other through it all.

As a side note: Clare is Catholic, or has been raised Catholic and I believe Henry is Jewish. However, except for a scene at Midnight Mass and their wedding, religion is not discussed. Henry is agnostic or atheist; Clare does not seem to practice her religion at all. I think Ms. Niffenegger missed an interesting opportunity here.

DD#1 (who is 21) also enjoyed the story. We both liked it better than The Secret Life of Bees. An excellent vacation book.

On the March Hare scale: 4 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks

crossposted at Catholic Media Review

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Movie Review: WALL*E

The folks at Pixar have done it again. WALL*E is a work of art, both technically and as a story.

But first, the short!

Like the short in Ratatouille, this short has no dialogue. It does, however, involve a rabbit, a carrot, a magician, and two magic hats. The rabbit is a cute, white bunny who is definitely not shy or retiring. He knows what he wants and he's going to get it.

The magician, on the other hand, has an act to perform.

Whomever wrote this short was definitely a Warner Brothers fan. There's more than a little Bugs Bunny here! In fact, at one point the orchestra breaks into a song I know was used in a Bugs and Elmer episode.

I like Pixar's tradition of opening the movie with a short (shades of my childhood when every Disney film was a double feature-plus-short) and I hope they consider releasing the shorts on a DVD at some point.

Okay, on to the main feature.

Much has been written about the storyline of WALL*E in other reviews. And strong stories are a Pixar trademark. So I'm going to spend a little more time on the ambiance of the movie.

It opens with a song from Hello, Dolly! Cornelius is telling Barnaby there's a whole world out there beyond Yonkers and breaks into the song, Put on Your Sunday Clothes. That song and one other, Dancing, serve as touchpoints, appearing at significant moments in the film.

With eyes shaped like binoculars and a body that's basically a metal box, WALL*E is no mere machine. Although his job is to compact trash into blocks and then stack it into tall, imposing structures, he also collects odd objects: a garbage can lid, rubber duckies, a Rubik's cube. And he has a pet. ten minutes in (or less), I forgot I was watching an animated feature. WALL*E is a character, with personality and feelings.

The humans don't appear until more than halfway through the film, and--with one interesting exception--they definitely look animated. But it looks like a deliberate choice and isn't jarring. (John Ratzenberger keeps up his string of voicing characters, by the way.)

The other major character is another robot: EVE. For much of the movie, she's an egg, but as the action unfolds, she develops a full-fledged persona.

There are a lot of references to pop culture as well: the Blue Danube Waltz plays at an appropriate time and there is a steward robot named "Gofer." I probably missed as much as I caught--which means we're going to have to buy the DVD and watch it again. :)

Hubs and I saw this at a Sunday afternoon matinee and there were plenty of kids in the audience. However, during the climax, the theater was dead quiet. Not easy to do, but Pixar did it, just like the best Disney movies do. The technical quality of the film is amazing, combining some "live action" with animation seamlessly. It all fit. The character voices didn't overwhelm the animated characters (a pet peeve of mine with Dreamworks animations), but complemented them.

Yes, there is a social message. But I thought the message didn't overwhelm the story and the ending was hopeful and uplifting.

For the ending credits, Pixar used several different styles of art, from cave dwellings to Egyptian hieroglyphics to Impressionism to Van Gogh--kind of a mini art history. I wouldn't have caught it unless the woman behind me mentioned it to her son. I thought it was rather clever.

On the March Hare scale: 5 out of 5 Golden Tickets

crossposted at Catholic Media Review