If We Had a Christmas Card*

This is what it would say:

Melissa's version: "Dear Family and Friends,
Greetings from South Bend, Indiana!  2011 has come and gone, and with it another year of school, work, vacation, projects, laughter, and the usual plots for world domination.  Mike is currently taking his second-to-last final of his second-to-last semester, so it is up to me, Melissa, to write the annual review.
2011 was a very meat-and-potatoes kind of year, all things considered.  Mike keeps busy finishing up Law School at University of Notre Dame, working at South Bend's Legal Aid Clinic, working with the youth at our church, watching football, listening to NPR, and trying to beat Melissa at MarioKart.  Melissa keeps even busier working full time at Notre Dame's Office of Graduate Studies, earning her MA in English from Indiana University at South Bend, also working with the youth at our church, writing, and convincing Mike that we need even more books in our apartment.  They are both very much looking forward to their respective graduations this coming May, that is, if Melissa finds time to finish her thesis.  (Side note: we are now accepting suggestions for ways to survive without sleep.)
Believe it or not, we also did stuff besides working on our scholarly and professional goals.  (Yes, MarioKart qualifies as a professional goal.)  2011 saw us in Washington DC, Southern California, Salt Lake City, Portland, Pittsburgh, and even in a protest rally in nearby Chicago, though we only lasted a few minutes at that one.  Summer brought on a unique challenge when Mike's clerkship took him out-of-state for a few months, leaving Melissa to plot for world domination on her own in South Bend.  We are both now exceptional Skypers, and have vowed to never repeat the lonely experience.  Still, Melissa made sure that 2011 was filled with Thai food, poetry, and card games, while Mike made sure we didn't forget to eat our vegetables or miss a re-run of Seinfeld.  We are happily looking forward to another year of laughter, fulfillment, and arguing over the correct usage of the word 'renown.'  We wish you a wonderful holiday season, and cordially invite you to our home any time you wish to play Bang!"   

Mike's version: "We're still here, suckers!"

Wishing You a Very Merry Christmas,
Mike and Melissa Wilde

*Which we don't (in either version), so don't feel badly if you didn't get one because no one else got one either.


Movie Trailers Done Well

I love movie trailers.  It follows, then, that I would appreciate movie trailers that are well made.  My definition of a well made movie trailer is:

-One that does not give away the ending of the movie. 

-One that does not assassinate the plot or any key story lines before I've even seen the film.

-One that does not set up unrealistic or misleading expectations. (To this day I am convinced this is why M. Night Shyamalan's The Village did poorly at the box office.  The movie is brilliant, but poor advertising made audiences expect a horror/thriller flick, and were therefore confused and annoyed when they got a love story.  Never mind that it's the greatest love story since Romeo and Juliet.) 

-One that does all the above and still manages to show why this movie is different from every other movie ever made (read: why I should see this rom com instead of the 83460879074 other rom coms being released this year.  Without revealing the ending.)

I think this is actually harder than it sounds.  Movie trailer creators have to cram an entire movie's themes, energy, mood, and conflict into a couple of minutes, maximum.  And yet, some really pull it off.  Great movie trailers are their own stand-alone versions of entertainment, not just advertisements.  Which is why I like them.   

So what movie trailers rock?  Well, the brand new Hunger Games trailer sure does:

And, just for fun, here are some of my other favorite movie trailers.  Enjoy.

(What?  you thought I'd get through an entire post without referencing Harry Potter?  Pssshhh.)


Picture Book Recommendations

November 2011 has officially been declared picture book month.  I think this is great.  Picture books are often overlooked in favor of their more "mature" counterparts, but they shouldn't be forgotten.  None of us literary omnivores would be who we are today without picture books.  They definitely hold a place on any bookshelf.  To commemorate this oft-overlooked category, I bring you my top ten favorite picture books of all time.  Enjoy.

10. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst.  Because what kid doesn't need to know that they're loved even when they're grumpy?
9. The Legend of Lightning Larry by Aaron Shepard.  Read it with a glass of lemonade.
8. The Mask of the Dancing Princess by Judith Gwyn Brown.  Gypsies, dancing, royalty... what more could a little girl ask for?  (Plus, the illustrations are pretty incredible, especially since kids books usually have more cartoony-type images.)
7. The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base.  If you have not read this book, DROP EVERYTHING AND READ IT RIGHT NOW.  Interactive reading at its finest.
6. Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry Allard.  Funny and thoughtful for kids and adults.
5. Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson.  This book actually doesn't have a single word in it.  Still, it's one of my favorites.
4. Where's Waldo? by Martin Handford.  Again, no words.  Again, fabulous fun.
3. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.  Because of the incredible imagination this kind of book endorses.
2. The Monster at the End of This Book by Grover Jon Stone.  I'm pretty sure our childhood copy had pages falling out by the time we were through with this book, we read it so many times. 
1. It's a Tie! The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs and The Frog Prince Continued by Jon Scieszka.  These are my all time favorites from growing up.  I plan on owning everything ever written by Jon Scieszka and/or illustrated by Lane Smith, they're that good.  Don't believe me?  Read it yourself.  I dare you to not fall in love with these books. 

This walk down memory lane has got me feeling suddenly nostalgic.  I sense a re-reading of Mrs. Piggle Wiggle's Magic or Sideways Stories From Wayside School coming on.

What were your favorite picture books when you were a kid?


Happy Halloween!

This year for Halloween we are muggles... or are we? 


Mike and I Made A Pact To Never Say Anything Gushy and Gross to Each Other On Facebook

...But there was nothing in that deal about blogger.  Mwahahahahahahaha.

Many thanks to the Pittsburgh Wildes for making this gross and gushy photo possible.


Judging Books By Their Covers

To me, when it comes to book covers, less is more. I think book covers often detract from the book itself, rather than adding to it, or adequately reflecting it. I've been known to throw book jackets away (Divergent, most recently) preferring the simple hard back to the flashy outside. (I often have a similar feeling when it comes to people, but that's another discussion.)  If it were up to me, most book covers would look something like this:

No loud colors, no distracting images of angsty teenagers gazing into the distance, nothing to give you false impressions of what's inside.

It's rare that I like any pictures or images at all on books, but if one must be present, something simple and alluring like this would be awesome:
And something like this would be horrendous. Had this been the cover of my first Huck Funn book, I never would have read it, as I would have immediately assumed that Twain's target audience was 6-year-old boys.

Some book covers are awesome, even with an image. This one I think perfectly captures the mystery, terror, and grotesque intrigue of Dracula:And this one is disturbing and fabulous, just like the book:
And this is another one that I really like. Dominoes are an unexpected, yet somehow perfect fit for both the story of The Book Thief and WWII in general. Plus, it reflects a key scene in the novel. Well done.
Sometimes I think one image doesn't quite do the novel justice, but a slew of images might. Here are a bunch of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone covers from around the world. I'm not sure any single image is perfect, but altogether it kind of works...

So what got me thinking about book covers? Well, to be honest, this did:That, my friends, is the newly released cover to Penguin's Deluxe edition of the classic Wuthering Heights. I am torn. I really like Heathcliffe, but I can't get past the nightmare-before-christmas feeling I get when I look at the whole jacket. The gothic thing is cool, I guess... I'm just not sure it's capturing the novel very well. Maybe they're just trying to attract a new young crowd of readers? What do you think?

This got me wondering about what other covers have been attached to Wuthering Heights. Here are a few a quick Google search found, sorted from worst to best:

Worst. Too Nancy Drew for my taste.

Too Twilight.Too boring.Getting better, but this still feels too boring.Okay, getting better...Me likey...Lovely. Strange and hypnotizing and dangerous and irresistible all at the same time.

So anyway, those are my thoughts this Thursday afternoon. What kind of book covers do you like/dislike? Do you like the cover of your favorite book as much as you like what's inside? Why(not)?

(Here are other covers of the newly released Penguin Deluxe editions of classics. I kind of love the Scarlet Letter one, but am not sure Jane Austen would have liked the new Pride and Prejudice cover...)


It's Late and I'm Punchy...

...so you get a post.

I belong to a super exclusive club. It's the kind of club that is so hard to get into, few even attempt it. The kind of club that takes months and months (18 of them) of disciplined training and blood and sweat and tears to enter. The kind of club that completely reinvents your soul before they let you enter. But it is also the kind of club where, once you're in, you're in for life, Sopranos style. And once you're in, every other member of that club will always have your back.

Though this may sound like Hell's Angels, this is actually the club of returned sister missionaries.

Now I know all about the assumptions people have about sister missionaries.

1. We are all extremely conservative (religiously, politically, grammatically, etc.)
2. We do not have a sense of humor. At all. No laughing. Ever. (Though smiling is critical - it's all a part of the 'sweet sister' thing.)
3. We're a few Marlboros short of a pack, if you know what I mean. (Am I allowed to use that analogy when talking about missionaries?)
4. We're probably ugly.
5. We like rules, and we follow rules religiously. (Ha.)
6. We generally have an unusual helping of self-righteousness. (By the way, did you read your scriptures this morning for at least 800 hours like I did? No? REPENT!)
7. We really need a date. BADLY.

The list goes on, but you get the idea. Don't deny it, you know people who have these kinds of assumptions. I can't tell you how many conversations I've had with people who, when it comes out that I served a mission, start twisting uncomfortably in their seats and avert their eyes, as if they're just not sure what to do with me anymore and are silently planning their escape, lest I try and commit them to read the Standard Works by Friday. (Okay, I'm probably just inventing that last part in my paranoid head, but I am definitely not inventing the awkward silence.)

It's gotten to the point where I sort of gloss over that particular part of my personal history and quickly move on to something else when meeting new people. It goes something like:

Person X: "So how come you speak Italian?"
Mel: "IservedamissioninItalydoyouwantsomemorecakeorhowaboutsomeicecreamwehaverockyroad?"

This is not because I am ashamed of being a sister missionary. I'm not. I just don't want the potential friend to write me off because they think I am too righteous/unfunny/dumb/pious/conservative/will-call-them-to-repentance-at-any-moment-ish.

SO. I have decided to debunk these false assumptions ONCE AND FOR ALL. Prepare your minds for explosion.

1. We are all extremely conservative.

Mormons in general are often conservative. However, just as there are a good chunk of LDS folks who are not conservative, there are also a good chunk of sister missionaries who are not conservative. Don't assume that just because a woman served a mission she won't drink Mountain Dew. Or is pro-life. Or whatever. Sometimes it will be true. Sometimes it won't. But assuming all sister missionaries will vote for Mitt Romney, for example, is a mistake.

2. We do not have a sense of humor.

FALSE. Some of my favorite funny friends I found in my mission companions. The kind of people who make my stomach hurt from laughing with their sharp and wicked observations, and who I still adore for their incredible senses of humor, among other things of course. So this assumption just isn't true.

3. We're not very smart.

FALSE AGAIN. This argument (and the next) usually stems from people thinking that women only serve missions because we have "no other options." As if missionary service was somehow less enticing, less self-building, and less educational than anything else the world has to offer. I do not know a single returned sister missionary who is not smarter because they served a mission. (And, they were all pretty dang smart to begin with, so there.)

4. We're probably ugly.

After announcing that I planned on serving a mission, one well-intentioned woman exclaimed, "But you're too pretty to serve a mission!" I've never been so insulted. Serving a mission has nothing to do with your looks. To imply that God only has use for homely girls in His missionary work is to limit God's value for women and our potential for good. Not every girl will serve a mission. In fact most don't. That's okay. There are a lot of great things young women can choose to do besides serving a mission. But it doesn't mean that missions are the lesser choice between serving and not serving. It is not only an option for those "without prospects." (Oh I hate that phrase.) It is a mighty and holy calling given by God. If you want to argue with God about who he chooses to fulfill His work, take it up with Him. But I'm willing to bet that He cares a LOT less about my acne than he does about my willingness to to what He wants me to do. Grumble grumble.
5. We like rules, and we follow rules religiously.

Sometimes. Sometimes not. Personally, I hate everything that feels confining. But again, this will vary, just like it does with other human beings. (What? Sister missionaries are human beings too, you say? GASP!)

6. We generally have an unusual helping of self-righteousness.

Well, I am amazingly awesometastic. It's not my fault you're not as awesome as I am. Just kidding. (Really.) This is false too. If you get this impression from someone, I'm guessing it's coming from other problems besides the mission. (And [hint] this particular character trait probably made all their mission companions want to strangle them too.)

7. We really need a date. BAD.

Please, please, please, please, whatever else you do, PLEASE do not set us up with your neighbor/friend/brother/cousin/roommate/professor/dog washer/etc. Being married I have now escaped this trap. But I didn't like it when I had it, and I don't know anyone else who likes it either. Just because a woman is 20-something and single, her romantic future will actually survive if you just leave it alone. (That cracking sound you hear is your brain exploding.)

So here's the take-away: To stereotype is to be ignorant.

One last nugget that doesn't really have anything to do with the aforementioned seven points: When referring to a group of missionaries that includes both sexes, please do not ever use the phrase "Missionaries and Sisters." It is extremely insulting. Just don't do it.

Here's the thing. Missionary service is incredibly demanding. It's grueling. It's draining. It's thankless. It's rejection. It's challenging. It's tedious. It's lonely. It's relentless. It's getting hit on by drunk men at bus stops. It's waking up before you're ready every single day. It's getting weird looks at the grocery store. It's getting lost in dangerous parts of town. It's being chased by wild dogs. It's a lot of hard things. (No wonder so many returned missionaries suffer from PTSD.) But it's also liberating, defining, insightful, growth, patience, dedication, confidence, charity, and a lot of other good things. A mission is just a lot of things and is kind of a big deal. So can you see why returned sister missionaries get bugged when this mammoth experience gets boiled down to: "Well, you just didn't have anything else to do, did you honey"?

Let's change the perception. Sister missionaries are cool. Next time you meet one, don't assume her spirit is too sweet for you. Give her a shot. You might like her. And if she's anything like the sisters I served with, you are in for a treat.

I am sister missionary. Hear me roar.