Sunday, December 27, 2009

Avatar: A Must See

I'm not a big blockbuster movie goer. I tend to gravitate toward independent and foreign films - or at least films with rich dialogue and complex characters. Cars blowing up or giant monsters attacking sky scrapers? Not interested. So, with the grandmothers available to babysit, when we decided to see Avatar (figuring that if we were ever going to see it, we should see it in the theater), I almost expecting to be disappointed.

Avatar serves up some of your typical blockbuster problems. As in Cameron's Titanic, the dialogue is at times laughable. The main "bad guy" is a marine intent on blowing up the planet of Pandora to get to their version of fossil fuels, which are called "unobtanium" here. (Why one of the writers didn't call this word out as a totally ridiculous to the point of distracting is beyond me.) He serves up plenty of "Take this, bitch!" dialogue, which delivered unintended laughs from the audience several times. And, truthfully, none of the characters are very well developed.

And yet, it's worth sitting through some of the ridiculous dialogue because the rest of the movie is incredible. James Cameron, as always, keeps you at the edge of your seat with his action sequences. He also offers a beautiful message about war, American culture and the environment. But the most incredible aspect of the movie is clearly the art and the technology. Mike wrote a great summary here of the human-like appearance of the avatars/aliens in the movie. As I said before, I'm usually not impressed with visual effects, but his movie was truly a splendor of color and creativity. When the movie ended, it took me about half an hour to get used to the dull colors that make up our existing world.

When the credits rolled at the end of Avatar, the theater was silent for a moment. Everyone seemed to be in shock after what they had just seen. Then a man in the audience yelled out, "Refund!" Everyone laughed. Go see Avatar while it is still in the theaters. Whatever your preference for movies is, I guarantee you will feel that you more than got your money's worth.

First Colorado Christmas

It's always a little bit sad when the Christmas season comes to an end, especially when family lives so far away. Our first Christmas in Colorado was wonderful. My memories include taking the girls skiing with my dad, a family hike up the Flat Irons, a evening out with Mollie and Caine (where Toby ordered Caine the infamous "leather belt" scotch that didn't have him feeling too well the next day), a two-hour Michael Jackson dance party with the cousins, a freezing cold Christmas day walk where a bald eagle swooped overhead, high tea at the St. Julien with the girls, and a full day at the Denver Nature and Science Museum. The Christmas spirit all-star award clearly goes to my brother-in-law, Caine, who drove all the way from North Carolina to be with us on Christmas day. Colorado proved to be a great place for family to visit. I only wish it were about 20 hours closer to the east coast.

Happy holidays to everyone!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Where we love is home,
Home that our feet
may leave, but not our hearts.

~Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.,
Homesick in Heaven

Today, a friend asked me how life is in Boulder. I told her that aside from a little bit of vertigo and the stress of a start-up, things are great. We love the skiing, the hiking, the girls' school, our neighborhood, the people we've met so far, the people we've reconnected with by moving here...the list could go on and on. Then she said, "It must be starting to feel like home." Home to me these days is wherever Toby, Evie, Lucy and Noni are, but I don't think we've lived in Boulder long enough for it to truly qualify as our "home". It takes a while to settle in to a place and to me "home" implies that your roots run deep in the ground. By that definition, home to me is still one of two places - either a wooden house at the end of a point in Shelburne, Vermont or a brick house on a tree-lined street in Frederick, Maryland.

I've been thinking of Frederick a lot this week. Maybe it's because the Christmas cards started rolling in and so I am glancing at everyone's smiling faces everytime I walk in or out of the front door; maybe it's the thoughtfulness of the package that arrived for Noni today from a friend; or maybe it's looking through old photographs to find a picture of Adam, since Evie was writing a report on him and his job at the African Wildlife Foundation, and reliving so many memories as I flipped through the photo album. It's probably all three mixed together with the lights that are going up around town, reminding me of downtown Frederick this time of year, the Kris Kringle parade (even though those memories generally consist of trying to prevent freezing ballerinas dressed as snowflakes in cotton sweatshirts try to avoid frostbite), and all of the holiday parties with friends.

We won't be going back east for Christmas this year. The next time we plan to visit Frederick is next summer. I'm so excited for my family to come visit and am frankly happy not to be packing bags of presents and loading all the girls onto a plane or in a car, but I do miss our friends.

At school, Lucy made a paper kite with a string tail. She was supposed to write on it where the kite would like to go. Hers reads, "Lucy's kite would go to Maryland" and she drew a picture of our family in our old house on it. If only it were that easy. It would be nice to grab onto the kite and fly back for a day, to enjoy some mulled wine and home-brewed beer with friends, to exchange holiday wishes and hugs, and to walk through Baker Park and then downtown to see the lights.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Princess Power

When Evie was about three-years-old, her obsession with Teletubbies and The Wiggles began to wane and she found a new interest: Disney Princesses. Weird looking creatures with televisions on their bellies hadn't concerned me, but thick-haired, thin-waisted young women with the single dream of meeting a handsome, wealthy prince creeped me out a little. I was sure that by playing with a Cinderella doll she was quickly heading down the path of ending up as the next Paris Hilton. Such is the way of thinking with the first child.

Six years later, Evie is a happy third grader who recently joined the school math team and refuses to wear anything but Circo sweatpants from Target. So with her two-year-old younger sister Noni, who has recently transitioned from Sesame Street ("Sunny Days") to the Princess set, I am embracing this stage. I realize now that it is just a stop on the path of self-discovery for her. And, I should add that if she grows up to love dresses and dancing and handsome men, that's all good too. (A certain third grader is very excited about the formal "third grade ball" on Thursday and a little bit nervous about asking a certain boy to dance.) Playing with her Cinderalla doll right now is not going to define Noni's personality one way or another. And so, I happily ordered her a Disney Princess shirt for Christmas (which is somewhere in California as we speak, but that's a different story) and today I took all three girls to see Noni's first movie in a theater: The Princess and The Frog.

I'd like to give Disney a few props for their princess evolution over the past few years. When I was little, we had Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. Since then, six more princesses have been introduced, four of them are ethnic minorities in America (though only two of them actually live in America) - Mulan, Pocahontas, Jasmine and now Tiana. Mulan and Pocahontas both have their own things going on beyond princes. But to me, Tiana is the best heroine of the bunch. (Actually, the idea of a princess being a heroine wasn't even introduced when I was younger unless perhaps you count maintaining a good atitude about constantly having to clean up after three other messy people as an admirable trait. Hmmm. Come to think of it, maybe I could learn a bit from Cinderella...) A young African-American woman living in New Orleans during the jazz age, Tiana has a dream of opening a restaurant and works practically non-stop against great odds to realize that dream. Her lesson in the movie is to let more love and fun into her life, but the movie continues after the fateful smooch with the prince and her career dreams are actualized as well. (I guess that's a bit of a spoiler, but it's Disney after all. You expected the happy ending, right?) It was nice to watch a Disney movie with such a strong female character. The lack of an evil stepmother was a nice change too.

Noni and I will continue to play with her Polly Pocket-sized Jasmine, Belle, Cinderella and Snow White. We'll add Tiana to the bunch too, once some of the dolls of her are actually in stock. It's nice to know that instead of simply having them all go to a ball, Noni can also imitate a princess running a restaurant. Of course, I think she has her own ideas about what they like to do. Last week, the four princesses went for a hike up the boulders on Pearl Street.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Spins

When I was younger, I had a recurring nightmare about being trapped underwater. I wasn't exactly trapped, I just found myself deep in the water, unable to tell which way was up. It always concluded in panic and then I'd wake up. I spent my childhood diving off the raft at the beach, water skiing, jumping off the cliffs at red rocks... in any number of situations where I'd end up in the lake so the underwater part made sense. As far as the panic, I've always been somewhat claustrophobic, which is probably where the fear of entrapment came from in the dream.

I haven't had that dream in a while, but when I moved to Boulder, I started experiencing a similar feeling. It started when I was taking a shower and suddenly up and down weren't as clear as they usually are. The room felt like it was rocking like a boat and my feet didn't feel securely grounded. At first, I attributed it to the altitude change of moving to over 5,000 feet above sea level. It seemed a little strange since I lived at nearly 10,000 feet for a year in Ecuador with no problems, but most people I talked to confirmed that made sense. But then it continued. For the next two and a half months, I experienced a similar feeling of dizziness or unbalance almost regularly.

I cut out swimming, wondering if the water in my ears was contributing to the effect. I cut out alcohol and dark chocolate. A friend told me that cutting out dairy had helped her a bit and at that point I decided I needed to see a doctor. It would take a confident professional opinion telling me to cut dairy out of my diet before I could give up cheese and yogurt.

After I explained my symptoms to a general practitioner, she insisted on a pregnancy test then and there, which added panic to my dizziness. When it came back negative, she diagnosed me with benign paroxysmal positional vertigo or BPPV. She felt that basically the little rocks in my inner ear (otoconia) had been thrown out of whack, possibly by our move to a higher altitude, possibly from some unknown cause. She gave me some exercises to do and then told me that it should go away sometime. Maybe in a week, maybe in a few months.

I am not entirely confident about her opinion. Maybe it is because I went to see her with three kids in tow on a snow day and both she and I seemed to want to get me out of there as quickly as possible. Or maybe it's because it seemed like more of a guess than a confident diagnosis.

I started doing Google searches on dizziness. This is a bad, bad idea. I'm pretty sure that if you do a Google search for a runny nose you will end up feeling like you are simultaneously suffering from cancer, a heart attack, and some dread disease that you got from eating ground beef. Also a bad idea? Talking to people you don't know well about your medical issues. I have heard about moms who can no longer take care of their kids because they are so dizzy and an aunt who has been taking valium for years now. Awesome.

I have an appointment with an ENT next week, which I will go to without any kids. The ENT also happens to be a neighbor and friend so I'm confident she will give me the time and attention to hear out my symptoms. She will do a hearing test and some other tests to check out my inner ear. She will hopefully either confirm the other doctor's diagnosis, see it as something else, or at least rule out some possibilities.

The good thing though is that I haven't been feeling dizzy for almost two weeks now. (I am almost scared to write that, as if it might somehow make it come back.) But I can say that I have never had such appreciation for waking up and just seeing the world the same way I've seen it for 35 years. The ground is the ground and the sky is the sky and it's all good, even if it is negative a billion degrees outside.

So I'm hoping that this is the end of the story. I'd like to imagine that it is and that I can provide one story against a thousand on a Google search for dizziness that has a happy ending.

Oh, and if you have a friend whose life was ruined by being dizzy? Kindly keep that story out of the comments on this blog :)

Thursday, December 10, 2009


It's been a while since I've been truly hooked on a show. I watch The Office and 30 Rock most weeks and The Daily Show helped me through the Bush years, but the last time I watched a show where I didn't want to miss a single episode was about seven years ago when I watched Ally McBeal face her problems with theme songs and fantasize about a dancing baby.

And then this year Fox introduced Glee. Maybe it's something about the music. After all, my favorite movie is Moulin Rouge. They sang Imagine and True Colors in one Glee episode and, yes, I'll admit, I cried both times. But the show is also funny, sweet and offers enough drama to keep you guessing until the next episode.

I'm not alone in my obsession. On Facebook last Thursday morning, the first four status updates in my newsfeed were written by women swooning over the previous night's episode. Not to mention that 8.6 viewers tune in every week. A friend of Toby's recently attended a Kennedy Center event chock-full of Hollywood superstars and Matthew Morrison (Will Schuester in the show) drew the biggest crowd of fans.

If you haven't seen Glee yet, now might be a good time to order it on Netflix (or watch full episodes online at Unfortunately, Fox didn't realize that Glee would be such a hit, so the next new episode won't air until April. Until then, you can still embrace your inner Gleekiness and sing and dance along to the two CDs.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Date Day

This morning, Toby and I dropped the girls off at the Shearers' house (who take our kids once a month so we can have a date day or night - love you guys!) and headed up to Eldora for some skate skiing.

Depending on your level of fitness, skate skiing is the opportunity to:

1) sport your CU/Eldora/Olympic Nordic ski team jacket and glide gracefully through the snow at lightening speed.
2) enjoy the beauty of snowy, evergreen-lined trails while getting a good work-out.
3) test your heart's ability to avoid cardiac arrest, even as it pounds so loudly that you can hear nothing else...except maybe the sound of your own desperate attempt to catch your breath.

Toby and I hovered somewhere between a 2 and a 3. Everyone else on the trail fell solidly into category 1. At this point, however, I am used to being humbled while exercising in Boulder. (My friend Marc wrote a great article a couple of years ago that captures this phenomenon, called The Gore-Tex Vortex.)

Lack of grace and speed aside, it was a great morning. I loved being outside and exercising in such a beautiful environment. We ended the morning with pulled barbecue and a "brew-ski" for Toby (a ski bearing beer samples).

All in all, a perfect Colorado date.

Lucy Explaining Christmas to Noni

"You see, first there was this baby born. His name was Jesus and he was really special. He was also really lucky because he was born on the same day that Santa delivers all of the presents..."

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Neighborhood Skiers

Noni and I drove by our neighborhood park this morning and I took this photo. I love going by the park and seeing skiers in the snow. With the snow-covered Flat Irons as a back drop, it makes me feel like we live in some sort of winter fairytale land.

(Though I should note about the fairytale land: the reason we were driving instead of walking by the park is because it is 6 degrees outside.)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

NaNoWriMo: So how did it go?

I should be tired today. If everything had gone according to my National Novel Writing Month plan, I would've been up until Midnight last night, typing away those last words to reach the finish line of 50,000 words. Then I would've typed a nice, satisfactory "The End" at the bottom and called it a night, and a month, and a novel. I did stay up a little bit later than usual, staring at the computer screen. But I have to admit that I was checking on the cyber Monday deals (20% off and free shipping at the Gap!), creeping towards The End of my Christmas list, rather than The End of my novel.

So how did it go? As much as I would love to fly a big old "Mission Accomplished" banner as a headline here, and actually mean it, I am still pretty satisfied with what I accomplished. I wrote 19,000 words. Or 35 pages in Microsoft Word of Times New Roman, single spaced. It's enough that I am committed to finishing it and, while it may not be award-winning writing by any stretch, I'm happy with it so far.

I learned a few things this month too. I learned that I love sitting down at my computer and imagining myself in a completely different world, creating characters and directing what happens to them. I learned that even though I started out with a plan, my novel soon took a path of its own, changing and evolving as I dove further into it. I learned that, on week two when I suddenly didn't know my characters or where they were going, my mom's advice and support can pull me out of a writer's block. I also learned that having a writing group to encourage me to keep going is critical to motivating me to find any time to write.

While I loved the process of writing, I felt more frustrated than usual this month. I tried writing during the day a few times and once counted seventeen interruptions in five minutes. (Full disclosure: While writing this blog post, I have cleaned up pee on the rug, broken up two fights, made lunch, washed dishes and wrestled the phone from Noni.) Trying to find the time to do something on my own showed me how little time I actually have to do just that. I do have time to write after the girls go to bed, but I feel like my creative juices have dried up a bit by that time of day. Eventually I found myself writing pages in my head as I did upward dog in yoga class or rode on the bike at the gym and then simply typing out what I had "written" already at night.

The best thing about this month? I never would have even considered writing a novel at this time in my life if both NaNoWriMo and my friend Tara hadn't both pushed me to give it a try. The "fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants", "write drunk, edit sober" style of writing that NaNoWriMo encourages allowed me to let my guard down and forced me just to sit and write as much as I could whenever I could.

And so, while part of me wishes I could write "The End" on a novel after this month, I'm happy to announce that I have accomplished "The Middle". And since I am looking forward to continuing to work on my novel, The Middle actually feels like a pretty good place to be.