Japanese Palace, Fort Worth TX

frontThere is a Japanese-style building on Camp Bowie near the house that we pass by almost every day. It’s not open during the day, is dimly lit, and has no windows. I, obviously, thought it was the site of a classy geisha-esque escort service (keep in mind, I don’t think I actually know what a geisha is, but I’ve heard about them on The Office, so…) under the guise of an innocent family restaurant. In my defense, there are a number of strip clubs nearby.

Le Menu

Le Menu

C assured me it was likely a Japanese restaurant, as did all the Fort Worth natives I asked.

I was not convinced.

We determined we had to investigate it ourselves and stopped by for C’s birthday weekend extravaganza. Alas, C was correct. Japanese Palace is nothing more than a hibachi grill style restaurant a la Jinbeh, Benihana, and many others.

Open only for dinner, Japanese Palace was surprisingly empty on a Saturday night and we had an entire hibachi table to ourselves, which was actually a little odd. The chef was new and was doing his best, but our food was absolutely saturated in butter and salt (not in a good way) and my medium filet was all the way past well done.

Soup (chicken broth) and salad (decent dressing)

Soup (chicken broth) and salad (decent dressing)

Let's just admit right now that heaps of meat photographed in a dimly lit restaurant don't look appetizing. You can look at this instead.

Let’s just admit right now that heaps of meat photographed in a dimly lit restaurant don’t look appetizing. You can look at this instead.

I suppose you pay (and you really do pay! Dinners averaged probably near $25.) for the entertainment, but this is one of those places that you go to once for “the experience” and never go back to again.

The best things? We both ate eggplant that was really good (neither of us are lovers of eggplant), the decor in the bar area is cozy, fun and inviting, and I love love love all the bean sprouts. (Something I almost never buy because they seem to go bad so very quickly.)

K’s rating of Japanese Palace: 4/10 mangoes

C’s rating of Japanese Palace: 6/10 mangoes

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, 2014

YYYEEEESSSSSS!!!

Honestly, that’s all I really need to write to review the second installment in the Planet of the Apes prequels.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was the perfect summer blockbuster and C and I loved it! It was beautifully shot, acted, and animated. I was stunned that in an action packed movie, I walked away being absolutely in love with the characters. There is a scene where Malcom’s son, Alexander, is reading to Maurice (the orangutan, and my favorite). Touching and beautiful.

How is it that a movie about the dawn of dystopia, and really, apes taking over the planet, be something that moves me so deeply?

Although a little violent (not graphically, just incessantly during a couple of scenes), this was an outstanding summer movie. Highly recommended.

K and C’s rating of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: 9/10 mangoes

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In the Woods, by Tana French

inthewoodsIn the Woods, by Tana French

2007

In the Woods is a mystery/crime novel set in Ireland. It follows Rob and Cassie, detectives trying to solve the case of a murdered 12 year old girl that may have links to a mysterious disappearance of two children decades earlier. Rob has a personal link to the older case, and he and Cassie become entangled in false leads, lies about the past, and dirty politicians.

I’m a little bit torn in reviewing this book. Typically, I like a protagonist you can root for. Or who is at least sympathetic. Adam “Rob” Ryan starts out that way. But as the novel unfolds, Rob is shown to be neither likable nor sympathetic. Where you might have had sympathy for his background and resulting troubles, the justifications he gives for his actions only serve to convict him. In one scene, where he becomes physically violent towards a suspect, he is aghast at what he almost did. But those feelings are belied by the pretty constant reactions he has throughout the novel of, “I wanted to smash the stunned, uncomprehending look off her face” and “I wanted to smack him in the mouth, anything to make him stop.”

Ryan’s saving grace is that he is interesting. He seems to have no self-awareness of his own psychological problems, or else is being very, very honest when he tells the reader that he is a liar. By the end of the book, you still aren’t sure which one you are seeing. His descent in the story is richly, beautifully told, and French doesn’t waste any time insulting our intelligence by over-explaining what’s happening. It was so interesting to read his moments where he expresses total clarity but we know, as readers, that he is really just neck-deep in denial and about to head into a really horrible place. French got severe, hidden PTSD, depression, and self-destruction spot on here.

But, there were some minor disappointments. The older mystery is not solved in this book and that was highly unsatisfying (although it may serve as a story arc for the series of novels, which I would be okay with). And I pegged the culprit pretty early on in the novel. There were enough red herrings to keep me interested and I didn’t know the “how” until it was revealed, but I felt like the who was fairly obvious. And honestly it was a little disconcerting that it was not that obvious to the detectives. And, there is one other disappointment below the rating (due to it being a massive Spoiler).

Otherwise, this is a very beautifully told story with too much depth to be “just a crime novel.”. Excited to read the next in the series! 7 mangoes

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My other pet peeve – I really appreciated reading a depiction of a true mixed gender friendship and was disappointed, but not particularly surprised, when Cassie and Rob slept together. But Rob’s crash and burn afterwards was such a stereotypical “male response” to having sex with a friend, I found it a little bit jarring. It didn’t seem to fit his character up to that point in the novel, so much so that I was beginning to think he was the psychopath and was behind both the disappearance of his friends and the murder of Katy, and was simply manipulating the situation to further his goals.

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Documentaries!

One of our favorite things about Netflix streaming service is the access to hundreds of documentaries that would not have been on our radar without the “suggestions for you” section.

Two that we’ve recently watched:

sons of perditionSons of Perdition, 2010

A difficult film following a handful of young men that have left the FLDS family and lifestyle. Although not sympathetic to FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, this documentary is less concerned about making statements about polygamy and religious cults, and much more interested on the dual impact of extreme insulation and isolation on the young people that are raised in such environments, and what happens when they try to leave. Although never explicitly discussed, the most interesting part of this documentary is the juxtaposition of the young men the documentary follows with their difficulties in adjusting to “life outside” and the interviews with adults 15, 30, and 50 years after leaving and finding peace and success. 6 mangoes.

Tiny, 2012

Tiny explores the tiny house movement, homes that are less than 300 or 400 square feet. It follows Christopher and Merete as they build their tiny home, and interview others that are living in tiny houses. The documentary itself is not particularly compelling, especially if this is not a topic that interests you (it’s a little slow and one sided). But as big fans of tiny houses, sustainability, and unconsumption, this was a very interesting watch for us. C and I toy with the idea of living in a tiny house (honestly, sometimes even just for the cool design aspects!) and love the idea of the freedom that is afforded to such a low cost lifestyle. 7 mangoes.

tinyhouse

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Feel good movies

After our spat of murderous movies, and my recent Stephen King read, it is time for some happy thoughts!

movies-regarding-henryRegarding Henry, 1991

I’d never seen this one, but C loves it and added it to our Netflix queue for me to watch. It was the perfect anecdote to all the scares. A high powered attorney that has lost sight of his family has to recover from a violent attack that leaves him nearly helpless. As he relearns to speak, to read, to walk, he reconnects with his wife and daughter and the life he missed out on. Although I enjoy Harrison Ford, I’m not sure I ever would’ve called him a Great Actor. But during the scenes in which he can’t speak, his eyes and face are emotive in a way that stunned me. Beautiful, beautiful movie. 9 mangoes.

philomena-banner_largePhilomena, 2013

First of all, can you go wrong with a movie that stars Judi Dench? The answer to that is no. Philomena is a lovely story about a woman that was forced to give up her child as a teenager and now wants to reconnect with him. Steve Coogan plays the jaded journalist that finances her search in return for being able to write a human interest piece on their journey. Touching and heart breaking, my only complaint was the feeling of playing “elderly” was for laughs rather than for empathy in a couple of spots. Also, we were reminded of an episode of Call the Midwife. You are watching Call the Midwife, yes??? 8 mangoes.

dance-with-me-34094Dance With Me, 1998

I recently re-watched this movie with C (bless his heart) for nostalgia – a movie my freshman roommates and I watched again and again. A love story about a ballroom dancer and the Cuban handyman that comes into her studio, her dancing, and her life, Dance With Me a fun story, with maybe a little bit of cliche and cheese. But the dancing and the music is what really stands out here. Even after 15 years, I was completely entertained (and so was C!). 8 mangoes.

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Under the Dome, by Stephen King

(A million trigger warnings for rape and violence)

Well, I guess I’m not a Stephen King fan.christine-on-fire

Carrie-movie-08My first foray into King’s cannon was through movies (Carrie, Christine) and the movie The Green Mile was what got me to read my first King novel. I read The Green Mile at least 10 years ago, if not longer (probably longer), and I don’t honestly remember it that well, but I remember liking it. Then athe green mile friend suggested The Girl that Loved Tom Gordon, which I also enjoyed. And then I promptly forgot about him for the next 10 years.

tomgordonI came across King’s novels again when a friend of a friend reviewed 11/23/63 on her blog. It didn’t sound too scary for my preferences, and she loved it, so I gave it a try. And I LOVED it. It was a beautiful, fun novel. I thought, Oh! Maybe I’m, like, a fan! Bring on the Stephen King.the-dark-tower

So I picked up the first couple of volumes of the Dark Tower Series. And gave up a quarter of a way through the third one. (Was it just me, or were those books insanely boring?)

Not to be deterred I decided I needed to read something a little more recent, like 11/22/63 was. So I tried Under the Dome next.

Under_the_dome_logoAnd within the first 30 pages realized I had somehow stumbled upon the most misogynistic, ugliest book I’ve ever read. There is not a woman in the cast of characters that doesn’t exist to be oogled at, raped, killed, or pined for by a man. Not one. The incessant use of female gendered slurs is frightening. The violence that happens before the novel even gets going is explicit and gratuitous and nauseating. And that violence pops up over and over again in the book. Women in this book seem to exist simply to show the reader just how evil the evil people are, and worse than that, it’s written in such a matter-of-fact, incessant way that you are only vaguely sure that the book isn’t actually condoning the behavior. And the women that aren’t raped, murdered, assaulted, or abused (there are a few), are either one of the “good guys” love interests, or are introduced first to the readers through descriptions of their breasts (probably both).

Slightly less nauseating but even more ubiquitous, there is this underlying and never-ending river of fat shaming. I don’t even normally notice this in media, but there were so many comments on the size, shape, and weight of people and their body parts, you couldn’t miss it.

I can not recommend this book.

Why then, you may ask, did I finish reading it?

Honestly, for the most part, I think I really just wanted there to be some redemption. I needed there to be some redemption, in order to get the bad taste out of my mouth. So I kept going, and kept hoping.

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(Mild spoilers here on out)

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I know a lot of people like this novel. It’s premise is pretty interesting, after all. A great big dome suddenly encapsulates a small town. How will the people respond? Who will take charge? Some of the reactions seem fairly obvious – family members of those that were killed when the dome came down are distraught, some commit suicide. People are scared and conspiracy theories about government experiments and terrorists abound. Local politicians try to exploit those fears to retain (and maintain) control.

But instead of going with just that, King goes full on into tiny dictator mode. His politician doesn’t just exploit fear, he is an international drug kingpin, he murders, he stages riots and puts guns into the hands of 17 year old boys to serve as “interim police”. Are you kidding me?

His “police” are raping women and trying to cover it up, his son has a massive brain tumor that is making him violent and crazy, and the bodies are piling up and it’s only been a few days.

And despite all the violence and misogyny and fat-shaming, here’s where we come to the even bigger problem with this novel. It’s just not good. His villains are so villainous that they are monsters rather than humans. His heroes are one dimensional and caricatures of stereotypes. And my biggest issue? His themes are convoluted. I have no idea what I was supposed to take away from this novel (other than feeling slightly gross).

As the group of heroes discover what is causing the dome, they reflect on the moments in their own lives that they are ashamed of. When they were bullies or bullied. These moments have potential, it’s the only time these characters begin to round out. But when you look at the novel as a whole, the theme doesn’t hold. Is King telling us that everyone has flaws but deserves their humanity and dignity? I think so, in those moments. Perversely, he even gives Junior Rennie, the most murderous of our villains, an excuse for his behavior – a brain tumor.

But how does that square with the main villain, Big Jim Rennie? He has no excuse for his behavior but greed. Does he deserve humanity?

And how can the author expect us to believe that when he doesn’t give the victims any humanity himself? His writing denigrates the women who are raped as much as the characters do. He kills off all of his villains in a way that feels as though he thinks he deserves their fiery ends.

Sigh.

This felt like reading Twilight. It wasn’t good. I didn’t like it. In fact, there was a lot I actively hated about it. But I kept reading until when I finally finished the book, I liked myself a little bit less for reading it.

K’s rating of Under the Dome, by Stephen King: 2 mangoes

 

 

 

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I stand with Kate and John

john and kate(Warning, feelingsdump ahead)

I haven’t really brought up religion on the blog, but today I want to get my feelings out, and publicly support John Dehlin and Kate Kelly, even though they will probably never see this.

I was raised in the LDS church. I was baptized when I was 8 years old. I painstakingly wrote down my favorite quotes from the Book of Mormon and from the prophets and tacked them all over my room, my bathroom mirror, and my journals. Singing the primary (children’s) songs and grown-up hymns about love and faith and truth and being like Jesus spoke to my soul and made my heart overflow.

But as I got older I noticed that boys were treated differently than girls at church (and at home). I didn’t get to go to boy scout camp, participate in the pinewood derby, help pass out the sacrament (communion), or stand by the font when someone got baptized. I got lessons about how important it was to get married and have lots of Mormon babies. And I wanted that. I wanted that so very deeply, because I wanted to be good. I wanted my parents to love me and be proud of me (both the parents at home and the parents I was taught were in Heaven).

I threw myself into my callings, teaching and preparing music time lessons for the little kids, working in the women’s organization, visiting other members of my congregation, preparing and giving talks about how important faith is. I ignored those feelings of things being unfair, because God isn’t unfair. I must be wrong, and I just needed to try harder.

And then I started thinking about the lessons I got about how having sex before you’re married is like being a cupcake that’s been licked already. No one wants that cupcake. In college I met a lovely young woman that had had a baby at 15 that she gave up for adoption. She wasn’t a licked cupcake, she was smart and funny and talented and beautiful. But she felt like one. That wasn’t right.

And I started thinking about how I wanted to stand for truth and righteousness, but all of my examples from the scriptures seemed to be men. All of my church leaders were men. God and Jesus, both men. I didn’t know how I should do that as a woman (a still single, childless woman). And I came across a website that had rewritten portions of the bible and Book of Mormon replacing all the he’s and him’s with she’s and her’s and the boys names with girls names and God with Heavenly Mother. And I cried for days, because I never even realized how much it had hurt me not to be able to see myself there. That wasn’t right, either.

And then I got this job working in an incredibly diverse field. I had grown up in Texas, not Utah, but I was still pretty sheltered, pretty insulated in my Mormon world. Other people were part of “the world,” people to be a little bit wary of, and only friendly with if you thought they might convert. But as I got to know these men and women that I was working with, they weren’t bad at all. They were not interested in the Mormon church, but they were still really amazing people. Some of them didn’t believe in God at all and they still cared about their neighbors and donated to charity and joined the Big Brother program. Some of them believed in a different sort of God and they had as much faith and as much conviction as all the Mormons I knew. I had a hard time seeing how those people fit into the narrative that I belonged to the only true church on earth. The religious ones believed that about themselves, too. They had a witness of the spirit, too. It didn’t make sense. Why would God choose me and not them? How could my experience be valid but there’s be wrong? It was the same experience.

And then I decided I should go to the Mormon temple – the pinnacle of our worship. You have to be an adult (I was), and you have to be faithful and believing (oh, how I was), and I had been taught that I could go there to learn amazing, beautiful things about our religion and about the history of the world. Things too sacred to even talk about at church. Things that would deepen my relationship with God and with Jesus. I thought, maybe things that would help me rid myself of doubts. But I went and saw an Eve who was silenced. And very little about Jesus, who was the main thing I wanted to believe in. And the really important parts seemed to be promises I had to make to a husband I didn’t have, instead of to God. And promises to keep it all a secret. I felt betrayed that day, and not a little unclean.

It was getting a lot harder to ignore the unfairness, the inequality, the things that didn’t make sense. I was already trying my hardest - reading scriptures, fasting, praying, working in the temple, anything I could do to align my heart with what the church told me was true. And I wasn’t feeling any better, in fact I began to feel much worse about myself.

In 2008 we were asked to support a ballot proposition in California that would only recognize a marriage between a man and a woman. At first I was concerned just that we were being asked to participate in something so political at church. But as I read more about it, and heard from friends that loved their same-sex partners, I became more uncomfortable with a God that would call his children sinful. Sinful for love.

Not long after that I read that the church was buying land to build a luxury mall in Salt Lake City to revitalize the neighborhood. A mall with a dress code that would discourage the teenage and lower-income residents of downtown. Honestly, the black residents. The native American residents. A mall with shops like Tiffany’s and Rolex. And I became more uncomfortable with a God that cared about providing opportunities for the wealthy and for consumerism instead of welcoming the poor and the needy.

The little realizations that led to my disaffection with the Mormon church are too many to list. The lack of transparency, the role of women, the inability to seek redress from abusive priesthood leaders, the dishonesty in publishing the edited spoken words of church leaders, the focus on dress over kindness, the lack of meaningful advocacy. They snowballed. And I didn’t know how I could stay. I didn’t know if I wanted to stay. As friends lost their temple recommends (the ability to attend the temple), and their membership in the church for feeling the way I felt, and believing the things I believed, it became harder to hope that the church wanted me to stay, either.

For the past 4 years I’ve been what is considered “inactive” from the Mormon church. I don’t attend anymore. I don’t believe what they teach, or follow the rules they insist are required to be “righteous,” and I stopped going to the temple. The day I took of my ceremonial clothes for good, it felt as if a huge burden was lifted from my shoulders. It has been one of the most healing moments in my life. But I still get a call a few times a year, and I’m still considered a member of their church.

Yesterday I read the NY Times story announcing that John Dehlin and Kate Kelly, the founder of Ordain Women (a group that asks the leaders of the Mormon church to ask God if it’s time to expand the roles of the priesthood to women), are both having charges brought against them in a church court where the outcome will be disfellowship (the loss of privileges but not membership) or excommunication (the loss of membership and all privileges) if they are found guilty of apostasy.

I don’t personally know John or Kate. I “met” John after he reached out to me on facebook. He said I could talk to him if I ever needed to, when I was having a particularly hard time trying to stay. I started listening to his podcasts and reading his posts – I was amazed with the total lack of judgement he had for people, faithful, non-believers, and everyone in between. Although it wasn’t enough to overcome my own doubts, I credit John Dehlin’s work with my ability to leave with as little bitterness as I have. I’ve only recently begun to follow Kate’s words as I’ve watched videos of her speaking at the temple gatherings and on the Ordain Women blog, with great hope for the future of the church that my family, my mother, my sister, and my niece are still a part of. But I don’t know either of them, not really.

And yet, reading the news of their church discipline hearings is breaking my heart. Probably because I used to believe so very deeply (not so long ago) and I can only imagine how it would feel to have something this important to you taken away, without consent, and for the reason of standing with integrity – something the church itself teaches us to do. And also because it feels all over again that the church I loved as a child and as a young woman, the church I still find it so hard to completely walk away from, has said once again that it doesn’t want someone like me. Because Kate and John express the things I believe and feel, too.

John and Kate, I know you won’t see this, but I’m so very sorry and please know that there are so many of us that are grateful to you, that admire your courage and integrity, and that believe in the work you do. You have made such a difference. You carved out a place for those that felt different, that felt like there had to be more still to come, that doubted but wanted to believe, or that didn’t believe but wanted to stay anyway. You and your families are in my thoughts. I’d love to send you a box of cookies since I probably can’t ship a casserole, and I was raised a Mormon, after all.

Reading that article yesterday was my tipping point. I have decided that this is not a church that I want to be a part of. Today I mailed a letter of resignation to the bishop in my area and asked to be removed from the records of the church. This isn’t the church I believed in when I sang songs about loving everyone or read stories about Jesus reaching out to the poor and the hurt. Not anymore.

This is a sad time in Mormon history.

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