Sunday, September 30, 2007


Tonight FavoriteBoy and I somehow got onto the topic of bad qualities that some women stereotypically possess - being manipulative, being moody, etc.

SarahMarie: Well, I have a bad quality.
FavoriteBoy: What?
SarahMarie: Obesity.
FavoriteBoy: That's more of a quantity than a quality, ha-ha!
FavoriteBoy: I mean, you're not obese.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Classical Music in Film

A question for my readers: In your opinion, what is the best use of a well-known classical piece in a film? Here are a few I think are notable:

1) The Letter Duet (Che soave zeffiretto) from The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart in The Shawshank Redemption.
In his quest to procure books for the prison library, Andy also acquires a box of records. He sorts through them and comes across Le Nozze di Figaro. He plays the Letter Duet over the loudspeaker for all the inmates to hear. Red says,
"I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singin' about. Truth is, I don't want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I like to think they were singing about something so beautiful it can't be expressed in words, and it makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared... and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free."

(Watch the excerpt from the film here.)

2) Beethoven's 9th Symphony, 1st Movement in Equilibrium.
As I recall I wasn't crazy about this movie, but I loved the use of the Beethoven 1st movement as opposed to the ever-popular final movement. Equilibrium is a futuristic film about a man named John Preston living under a regime in which all human emotions are suppressed through drugs and strict laws eliminating books, music, and art. In this scene, Preston finds a hidden room containing, among other things, an old Victrola. He proceeds to listen to Beethoven for the first time. The choice of music is really perfect because the piece develops from almost nothing (faint sounds that could be no more than an orchestra tuning if you didn't know the piece) into something powerfully moving in a matter of seconds. That said, the scene isn't as effective as it could have been; I read that the director of the film wanted to use Karajan's recording with the Berlin Philharmonic but found that it would cost $75,000 to use the 90 seconds he needed for the film. They couldn't afford it, so they had to use a cheap recording, which I think lessens the impact of the scene.

3) Pizzicati from Sylvia by Delibes in Babe.
"This is a tale about an unprejudiced heart, and how it changed our valley forever..." I've loved the movie Babe since its release in 1995. The music in the film is well-chosen, appropriately ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. Pizzicati is the piece playing when Babe and Ferdinand sneak into the house to steal the alarm clock. I believe on the back of the CD the track is humorously titled "Anorexic Duck Pizzicato."

(Of course, the Delibes piece may not actually compare in scope or grandeur to the mice singing "If I Had Words," which you can listen to here.)

4) Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3 "Organ," 4th mvt. in Babe.
Okay, so I like Babe! Cut me some slack; I grew up in the boonies and could identify with hicks from an early age. The Saint-Saëns is sublime and a fitting piece to bring the film to a close. I love it.

5) The Gran Partita Adagio by Mozart in Amadeus.
As movie-watchers hear the faint strains of the oboe from the adjoining room, Salieri's vivid description of the adagio sends a shiver down my spine:

"On the page it looked - nothing. The beginning simple, almost comic. Just a pulse - bassoons, basset horns - like a rusty squeezebox. And then, suddenly, high above it, an oboe. A single note, hanging there, unwavering. Until - a clarinet took over - sweetened it into a phrase of such delight! This was no composition by a performing monkey. This was a music I'd never heard. Filled with such longing, such unfulfillable longing. It seemed to me that I was hearing the voice of God."

6) The Confutatis from Mozart's Requiem in Amadeus.
Regardless of the historical accuracy of this scene, I think it's wonderful the way the parts are introduced individually as Mozart dictates to Salieri, and then we hear the work in its completion - as Mozart was hearing it in his head. Watch the scene here. Hearing the Lacrimosa as Mozart's body is thrown into a mass grave is another very moving scene from the film.

7) Nessun Dorma by Puccini in The Sum of All Fears.
The Sum of All Fears isn't a favorite movie of mine, although I often enjoy CIA-type action movies along similar lines. I'm mentioning this one even though I don't necessarily think it's a great moment in film... just a unique one. Watching a discrete depiction of a throat being slit followed by a shooting and a car explosion to the sounds of one of the most famous tenor arias of all time is one of those things that just stays with you. If you're in the mood to watch a few executions and hear a little opera, you can watch the scene here.

Leave a comment and tell me your favorite instance of classical music in film! Or better yet, if you have a blog, post it there, link back here, and let me know!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Random Thought

I fully support providing wine to wedding guests (if you can afford it, which FavoriteBoy and I couldn't) because it is Biblical.

Also because last Saturday at Andrew and Sarah's wedding I had the most amazing Riesling and went home feeling the most content I had been all week!

Seventeen Children

I just stumbled across the website of a family with 17 children - all born since 1988! And to make family matters even more chaotic, all 17 children have names beginning with "J":

Joshua, John David, Janna, Jill, Jessa, Jinger, Joseph, Josiah, Joy-Anna, Jedidiah, Jeremiah, Jason, James, Justin, Jackson, Johannah, and Jennifer.

(My Mom had a hard enough time keeping Emily, Sarah, Jonathan, and Christopher straight when she wanted to call one of us!)

Every child in the family plays the violin and the piano, and some of them play the harp as well.

Oh, and the Duggars plan to have more kids. Lots more.

Mr. and Mrs. Duggar are both real estate agents, and they make enough money for the family to have an absolutely amazing house - check out the family photo album. And when they're not selling real estate or changing diapers, I have a pretty good guess as to what they're doing...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Achieving Perfection

Check out the iWANEX professional photo retouching website. Select "Portfolio" at the top and then click each small image to see a larger one. By moving your mouse across the picture and then away from it, you can see the "before" and "after" of each shot.

Here's a little preview for you...

Some of the differences are really dramatic, particularly on the full-body shots where you can see waists nipped in and anatomy re-arranged in addition to the changes in complexion. Fascinating! Even movie stars and models don't look like they're "supposed to."

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

1 lb. 3 oz. of Pure Chocolate Decadence

Last week FavoriteBoy started his new (part-time) job as a member of the coaching staff at Gordon College. He has been a busy accompanist for years now, but while he was a student he was content to be paid in chocolate chip cookies and gratitude - oh, and over the past few years when we've needed more singers in our church choir, Nathan was able to use his 'free accompanist' leverage to twist a few arms in return for all the coaching he has done! All those years of playing, and this is the first time he's officially getting paid. I am ecstatic about this opportunity because it lets him do something he loves and adds some variety into his work schedule. To celebrate his first day last week, I baked him this cake from Epicurious. FavoriteBoy deemed it "the best chocolate cake I've ever eaten," and the tiny slice I had (but shouldn't have) was confirmation enough for me - this was amazing cake!

As you can see, I didn't have time to do a 'crumb-catching' layer of frosting and then a second layer, so the finish isn't perfectly smooth. However, FavoriteBoy has already requested this cake for his upcoming birthday, so I guess I'll get a second chance!

Monday, September 24, 2007


The world is a bleary place these days if you're a semicolon; the majority of Americans would rather use a comma splice and form a run-on sentence. And how do you think It feels when its possessive form is so often given an unneeded apostrophe? It isn't alone, either; the local gas station is selling hot dog's. And need I mention the thousands of American families who think it's appropriate to add a possessive apostrophe to the plural form of their family surname? Oh, and don't even get me started on everyday offenses concerning your and you're.

And so my friends, I call your attention to the fact that today is National Punctuation Day. Celebrate with me!

Sunday, September 23, 2007


This evening FavoriteBoy and I went to Target to pick up a few things. After we parked and climbed out of the car, FavoriteBoy noticed that he hadn't pulled into the parking space quite far enough. As he slipped back into the driver's seat he said to me, "Get behind my car and push." "Why?" "Because I'm too lazy to start the car. I'll just put it in neutral; you push."

One Rainy Day in Maine

"I almost didn't happen," said my Grandaddy with a twinkle in his eye. "You almost didn't happen!"

We were standing in the rain by the gravestone of my great-great-grandmother Phoebe Wing as Grandaddy explained that she didn't marry until she was already an 'old maid;' she married a widower whose first wife and daughter died of TB.

Last weekend Nathan and I drove up to Sidney, Maine to get a full tour of my Grandaddy's old 'stomping grounds' while he was visiting the area. We saw the cemetaries where many of my ancestors are buried, and we walked through the house Grandaddy lived in when he was just six or seven years old.

We saw the cabin on the shore of Lake Messalonskee where he spent summers into his teen years. We had lunch at a charming place called "The Early Bird," and we enjoyed a drive-through tour of Sidney and Augusta. I found my great-great-great-great grandparents' gravestones in a quiet plot behind a house on a dead-end road in the middle of nowhere.

As the day drew to a close the rain finally let up and Nathan and I sat in rocking chairs with Grandmommy and Grandaddy on the little dock by the cabin on the lake. It was the most beautiful, peaceful place I've been in a long time.

Now here's a strange fact: years ago my Mom visited her grandfather in Maine, had a tour of the area, and.... the next day her grandfather died. So after hearing this story, naturally my parting words to Grandaddy were words of caution lest he meet a similar fate after we left! Fortunately, he survived the trip and is back in California now.

We had a wonderful time learning more about my maternal family heritage and seeing beautiful scenic, secluded spots in Maine. I just hope I can remember all the wonderful stories Grandaddy told us!

Sleepless in...Beverly

Whoah. Like, whoah. Check out the time on this post. Yeah, it's 5 am and I can't sleep. This is crazy.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Thank God for Role Models

At the recent Miss Teen USA 2007 competition, Miss South Carolina spoke out:

Q: Recent Polls indicate a 5th of Americans can’t locate the US on a world map. Why do you think this is?

A: I personally believe that US Americans are unable to do so because uh some people out there in our nation don’t have maps and I uh believe that our education like such as in South Africa and uh the Iraq everywhere like such as and I believe that they should our education over here in the US should help the US or or should help South Africa it should help the Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future for.

I love it! Nothing even resembling a rational thought!

You can watch the whole embarassing thing on YouTube here. After the initial incident she was invited on the Today Show to defend herself; you can watch that here. Unfortunately, she didn't do much better the second time around than she did the first time. She sure does know how to smile at the camera, though.

Oh, she placed third runner-up in the competition.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Really Terrible Orchestra

The title to this post means exactly what it says, and oh, aren't you intrigued? You should be! Because oddly enough the Really Terrible Orchestra, an Edinburgh-based ensemble that, well, plays terribly, is in fact remarkably successful. They have their own website (where you can listen to them play "Yellow Submarine"), and they were recently featured in the New York Times:

“We are indeed quite bad,” the principal bassoonist admitted. The standard varies from player to player, he added, noting that he himself had passed Grade IV, the British examination level normally taken by schoolchildren around age 12.

“But I have trouble with C sharps — a design fault of the instrument, I think — which means I don’t play them,” he said. “And some of our members are really very challenged. We have one dire cellist who has the names of the strings written on his bridge. Otherwise he can’t remember what they are.”

The principal bassoonist who avoids C-sharps happens to be a figure rather familiar to me: he is the best-selling author Alexander McCall Smith whose No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books have recently become favorites of mine. When he isn't writing brilliant novels or playing C-naturals in the RTO, he is a polymath law professor. And he was a founding member of the RTO, which was established, according to the article, "to give hopeless amateurs a chance."

The strangest part is this: the Really Terrible Orchestra sells out their concerts in advance. Oddly reminiscent of Florence, isn't it? Aside from the small difference that Florence thought she was good, of course.

Is the Really Terrible Orchestra playing terribly intentionally? Apparently not. Says one orchestra member, "we are actually doing our best. And that’s the tension in which we operate. On the one hand, we’d like to get better. On the other, we know we won’t."

Read the whole article... it's worth it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Humble musings from one who never claimed to be politically-minded...

9/11. The "tragedy" that has most directly affected my generation.

I don't consider 9/11 a "tragedy," and I think that defining the events of that day six years ago in such terms serves to weaken the nation's resolve against terrorism and radical Islam. Oedipus Rex is a tragedy. Hurricane Katrina's catastrophic effects on New Orleans were a tragedy. But the killing of Jews in WWII, the gunning down of innocent students at Virginia Tech, the collapse of buildings and the resulting deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans six years ago - these things I don't think of as tragedies. While they may fall into the category based on a modern definition of the word, for many the classical definition of the word "tragedy" conveys something brought about by one's own tragic flaw or by circumstances beyond human control. To call 9/11 a tragedy is to consider it unavoidable, driven by fate. It lessens the responsibility we as a nation can place on those who have perpetrated these crimes against humanity.

Today, six years later, it often seems that the war we are fighting is being won and lost at the same time. Military officials report progress and real results on the fronts where the war is being directly fought. Meanwhile, here in America there is an equally important battle: a battle for the minds of Americans. Our nation is attempting to defeat powerful forces of evil while many of our citizens are in opposition to the cause. There is a battle to convince these Americans that 9/11 was not a deserved response to Western capitalism or imperialism and to remind them that there are moral absolutes, that freedom of religion doesn't apply when the exercise of that religion involves the murder of thousands or the dehumanization of women.

In an odd way, our nation may have possessed more clarity six years ago than it does today. Time generally brings wisdom, but today we are more confused and many are more accepting of the evil that occured, while six year ago we recognized it for what it was. Six years ago our nation was filled with noble sentiments; in the time since 9/11 it has become en vogue for the media and others opposing the war on terror to attack the cause at its roots and shake the confidence of the American people. We are told from many sides that the cause is unjust, and further, our military is accused of war crimes. It is these stories that make the news far more often than our success stories.

Let's all take some time today to think of our military men and women. We should feel profound gratitude for the many sacrifices they make on our nation's behalf. They are doing all in their power to bring freedom and a chance for democracy to the Middle-East. Our men and women are in harm's way and the terrorists operating out of the Middle-East have made it abundantly clear just what they're willing to do for their beliefs. I pray America doesn't give up hers.

Monday, September 10, 2007


Today I received a Pottery Barn Baby catalogue in the mail - completely unsolicited. Does Pottery Barn know something I don't know?

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Two Deaths

Thursday, September 6 saw the loss of two artists: Luciano Pavarotti, tenor, and Madeline L'Engle, author.

I've read most of L'Engle's novels, and many of them more than once. From middle school through college I often revisited the Murrys, the O'Keefes, and the Austins. My family read The 24 Days Before Christmas every year during Advent, and my love for that book led me to read and enjoy many more of L'Engle's works. I loved Vicky and Meg and I believe that most adolescent girls must feel a sense of common ground with these characters. I particularly remember Meg Murry. A member of a quirky scientific family, she felt awkward and unappreciated by her peers. Her parents taught her that her wit and intellect, her care for others and deep-seated feelings of right and wrong - the things that made her unique and sometimes unaccepted - were the very things they valued most about her. What adolescent hasn't felt like Meg? Of course, I was a lucky one, with parents remarkably similar to Meg's. My Dad's frequent response to any mention of insecurity or unacceptance always began the same way: "Nonsense!" My parents were always there to dispel the faintest notions of value for things like popularity or 'coolness' that didn't deserve to be highly valued. A "children's author" who never wrote down to children, L'Engle was among the great Christian writers whose books can grow up with a child. I grew up on L'Engle novels.

The New York Times article quotes L'Engle's beliefs in the power of a story:

But she often said that her real truths were in her fiction.

“Why does anybody tell a story?” she once asked, even though she knew the answer.

“It does indeed have something to do with faith,” she said, “faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose or say or do matters, matters cosmically.”

While I grew up with the writings of Madeline L'Engle, I can't say I was very familiar with Pavarotti until I left home for college. While my parents love instrumental classical music, opera never really made it into their CD collection. When I was a sophomore at Wheaton College I discovered that I actually liked opera! First it was Mozart, then Rossini and Puccini... by the end of the school year I was spending summer evenings in my bedroom listening to opera. My mutinous siblings and parents had to institute a "closed-door policy;" I could listen to those warbling women and golden-throated men only at reasonably low volume behind my closed bedroom door. But while my younger brothers may not have thought much of Nessun Dorma or Una Furtiva Lagrima, I grew to love the great tenor arias, and among many tenors who sang them, Pavarotti.

"Our truest responsibility to the irrationality of the world is to paint or sing or write, for only in such response do we find the truth." ~ Madeleine L'Engle

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Financial Planning

Every few Saturdays FavoriteBoy and I sit down and sort through recent bank statements, bills, receipts, etc. as we catch up on our filing. This morning we discussed our personal sophisticated financial plan while sorting and filing. Here it is:

1) Get rich
2) Pay off college loans
3) Buy a house

What do you think? Good plan, right?