Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Verve-Pipe's New Family Album

Monday night the affable duo of Brian Vander Ark and Donny Brown of The Verve Pipe ("The Freshmen," "Photograph") played a charming set from their new release, A Family Album, at the Chicago offices of the music marketing company Vervelife.

Brian and Donny made sweet harmonies like nobody's business while a crowd of toddlers and pre-tweenies in the front row boogied to the beat or stared in fascination. A few kids played a little arrhythmic accompaniment with extra drumsticks while Donny Brown rocked out on the snare and the glockenspiel -- and I was grooving right along with them, thinking These guys are awesome! and Oh, THAT'S a glockenspiel - one of those handheld xylophone thingies from marching band!

Our hosts, Vervelife, brought The Verve Pipe guys to Chicago (the happy name coincidence is no more than that) as part of their launch celebration for RhymbaKid and RhymbaTween, two promotional music stores for brands, with all kid-friendly content.

The girls and I have been grooving to the The Family Album CD this week as we drive to piano lessons, to summer school and the library. This is great music for kids and grownups alike with melodies that go in really interesting and unexpected directions, like the heartfelt and soaring ode to "Cereal." There are plenty of funny lyrical moments that make me laugh out loud, especially "We Had to Go Home," a song about a birthday party that needed kiddie bouncers. My six year old particularly relates to that one. And the eight year old teenager described the joyous track, "Wake Up" as "so good!"

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Few Questions For J.J. Abrams

(And one question for you, Dear Reader: You do understand, don't you, that the following will contain revelations of Super 8 plot points that may cause you disappointment or distress if you have not yet seen the film and if you are the kind of viewer who loves your surprises?)

So, Mr. Abrams, I enjoyed your Super 8 film, very fun and exciting, very good casting of the young kids, but I had a few lingering questions I cannot shake.

Are Joe (Joel Courtney) and Alice (Elle Fanning) half-brother and sister? You know, the main kid and the older girl who grow closer over the course of the film. Was there an earlier version of the script that revealed their mother left the boy's father-sheriff for the girl's blond bad-boy father Louis (Ron Elard)? Why does Louis react so strongly to seeing Joe with Alice? Why did the neighbors say of the sheriff, "He has never had to be a dad before"? Was there an earlier version of the script that explained all this?

No? No? Am I stretching about the sibling thing? Well, then, why was the relationship between Joe and Alice so chaste? No kiss, no passionate hugging, just one grasp of hands and the line, "I feel like I know you" that read more like a Luke Skywalker - Princess Leia kind of affection than an adolescent boy crushing on a pretty fourteen year old from school.

AND did the monster really eat people? There's only one crunching sound late in the film and a shot of a bloodless foot, but we have not felt a great deal of menace from the alien -- he sneaks up and grabs people, but for all we know, it could be so they could communicate with it, and understand it and help it.You may have answered this one for MTV, but if it does eat people, why then did it have a psychic connection with them? Being eaten by a extra-terrestrial and feeling empathy for it don't really go hand in hand.

AND Mr. Abrams, why did you choose to end the climactic scene -- the one when Joe, caught in the monster's claw, communicates with the creature -- by having the monster get distracted by a signal from his spaceship? Could there have been another way to go, perhaps in a more heart-felt, less half-assed direction than "Okay, you can live because my Phone-Home is ringing?"

Could you have built up the human-alien relationship a bit more by making the kids help the alien get home -- I know, I know, I bet you discarded this kind of possibility because you wanted to avoid making a redux of E.T., but really, it would help if you had given the kids something to do besides just rescue the girl -- who we are not really sure is in peril (see bloodless foot above.)

Since Joe and his buddies don't have anything to contribute to the monster's escape, and since there's no relationship there, what did you envision the audience to be feeling when we watch the monster climb aboard the ship and take off? Relief that the danger is over? Regret because an opportunity for education and friendship has been lost? Wonder over the amazing spectacle of the ship itself? Or just, "Oh look at the cool way it crawls into the cool ship"?

Thanks, Mr. Abrams. And again, great casting. That blond kid with the braces who likes to blow up firecrackers is awesome.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Ten Things That Make Me Happy This June

1. Those nice cuties behind the counter at Pita Inn. "Are your daughters driving you crazy?" asked one with a smile when we came in, after the park, on our second long day of summer vacation. He knew, even with our good manners on, he just knew.

2. The gorgeous pie photos in the June issue of Martha Stewart's Living. Raspberries over chocolate ganache in a chocolate crust. Apricot with coconut. Strawberry lemonade with a graham cracker crust and barely-there meringue. Plum and blackberry with black pepper and Chinese five spice! Are you dying yet? I want to make them all!

3. The sweet scent of just-cut peonies filling the kitchen.

4. Needing nothing, no jacket, no wool socks, no clunky snowboots, nothing but optional flip-flops and a pair of sunglasses to step outside. Or skipping the flip-flops for a soft walk in the new grass.

5. Seventy-four degrees.

6. The delicious organic lunch menu at Sweet Dreams Cafe in Glenview. Vegetarian friendly! In the mild suburbs!

7. The way Ryan Reynolds roars "Green Lantern's LIGHT!!" in the trailer of what looks otherwise like a pretty lame movie.

8. Anticipating Ryan Gosling in Crazy Stupid Love. The Steve Carell storyline looks like a downer -- please, somebody, give my beloved Julianne Moore something more to do than mope -- but ooooo, that Ryan Gosling. I watched The Notebook -- the entire godawful thing -- for him. I did. I did!

9. Lisa Kudrow (playing awkward-funny mode, like her Valerie Cherish in The Comeback, rather than cutsie-funny as she did in Friends) in the online series Web Therapy. Quick, improvised and hilarious, with great partners like Bob Balaban and Meryl Streep.

10. And this, from Mia:

I'm the boss of my mind!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Slime Envy: The Sound of A Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

Elisabeth Tova Bailey's The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is the first June book for the From Left to Write book club.

Bailey contracted a mysterious and debilitating virus on a trip to Europe and spent several years in difficult recovery. Her book is not a memoir of her own illness, however, but the story of a tiny woodland creature, found by a caretaker, moved to a violet plant at Bailey's bedside and observed by the author who had nothing but time to study her temporary pet.

To a bed-ridden young woman for whom simply turning over was agony, the slow gentle movements of the snail were a perfect object for her entertainment, diversion and observation. Deathly ill and enervated, the author found the naturally slow snail offered lessons on its fascinating and unique physiology and habits. The book grows into a meditation on how the tiniest of creatures can alter one's perception of time itself and one's purpose within it.

The small book moved at, well, you can guess its pace, and yet every detail of the snail's behaviors, as told by Bailey, fascinated me. Thanks to her lovely prose (and perhaps my contrarian nature,) it was her loving and detailed description of slime that intrigued me the most. Yes, snail slime.

Did you know that snails secrete various types of mucus for different purposes? Did you know that when injured, they will produce a medicinal mucus full of antioxidants for healing? And a different kind to help them float over the irregular woodland floor? And yet another that allows them to adhere to vertical surfaces? Did you know slime protects a snail's eggs, keeps its skin moist, reveals its sex to potential mates and repels predators with its awful taste?

As I read these amazing abilities, all made possible by a secretion of water, salt and protein-sugar, I started to get a little envious of this molluscular super-power.

If only I had a thick gelatinous covering on which I could glide over the travails of my path! I could resist the tiny tickling fingers of my little Nora who still, in a last vestige of breastfeeding, sucks her thumb while massaging my belly. It's kind of sweet, but can set my teeth on edge too.

Oh for leaving a trail behind me of glistening grossness, instead of being the one who cleans the trails left by my little ones, their rooms of constructed toy cities, their bobble head metropolises and stuffed animal islands, the stair railings bound up with masking tape bridges for the tiny Squinkies to cross, the bathroom littered with dollops of toothpaste and webs of dental floss.

Oh for a thick protective coat that made me unappealing to menacing creatures. Not that I have predators trying to eat me up, but I do wish I could have left that young suit at the bank with a mouthful of bitter slime after he subjected me to his clunky attempts at small talk today.

"So... Do you have a job or are you just a stay at home mom?"

(This is the same bank where another Frat Boy In A Suit invited me and my daughter into his office with, "Come on in, girls!" Slime to you, Buddy. I've got twenty years and a degree or two on you. The name is Ms. Fey.)

Today I sighed and answered slowly, "I am a mom but there is no 'just' about it."

"Yeah!" he giggled. "I heard on the news that if you added up all the work that women do at home, they should be getting a hundred thousand a year!"

Yes, Blithe Young Man with your first job and and your no dependents and your probably equally unencumbered roommate, that's about right. Personal chefs can earn $50K/year. Event planners about the same. Cleaning crews charge $100/hour. Tutors are $50/hour. Caregivers get $200-300/day. Sedan driver rates start around $50/hour. Cipher it all up, add and multiply times two little extra-challenging sweethearts, carry the seven and you're got...a labor of love and an institution of inequality.

Instead of multipurpose slime, I may be better served by the lessons of patience offered by Bailey as her book's last words:

"Lots to do at whatever pace I can go. I must remember the snail. Always remember the snail."

You can read more posts about The Sound of A Wild Snail Eating here. I received a copy of the book from the publisher with no obligation.