Monday, October 20, 2014

The Scooter Story

Scooter is a horse.

He's a beautiful, sweet, gentle brown who LOVES his food.  Bermuda, alfalfa, grain, grain supplements, you name it; he loves the stuff.  He greets me every feeding with an enthusiastic nicker, and sometimes comes trotting from the back of his pen so quickly I worry he'll knock me over.  He never does, though.

I've been a feeder at M2 Sporthorses for about three weeks.  My next-door neighbor owns a horse and stables him at M2, so when an email went out from the owner that she needed a feeder during the week for an hour morning and evening, my neighbor texted me and asked if I would be interested.

While I don't think I quite classify as a "horse person" the way I classify as a "cat person," I still love being around them (so long as they don't step on my toes).  Naturally, I texted back a resounding YES.

While we waited for the barn owner to email back, my neighbor, having worked in the industry for several years, gave me the skinny on the little-known duties of a barn feeder.  " A feeder doesn't just feed the horses their hay and grain," she said.  "They keep an eye on them, watch their behavior, check for obvious discomfort or deviations from normal patterns.  A feeder watches whether a horse is losing or gaining weight, and makes sure this is supposed to happen.  A feeder is the one person that sees a horse most frequently during the day - up to three times, depending on the barn.  You will see the horses even more than their owners, sometimes.  If something bad happens, you will be the one to notice it first."

She gave me the abbreviated lesson on two of the most common and critical situations and how to identify symptoms, and informed me that "simply walking a horse while you call the emergency contact could save the horse's life."

Having this information floating around my brain, I began my duties at M2 with a sense of great responsibility.  Heaven forbid a horse get injured or die on my watch.  I'd be mortified.  No, I'd be devastated.

In my brief time as a feeder, I've noticed that each horse has its unique personality, but they're all INCREDIBLY excited when it comes to food.

So last Friday, when I drove up to Scooter's stall in my Gator and poured his grain and supplements in his pan, and he DIDN'T MOVE, an alarm went off in my head.  Even when I offered the grain to him in my palm, he didn't take it.  Up close, I could see his sides heaving and his nostrils flexing rapidly, and when I tried to get him to move, he stumbled.


As in he couldn't keep his balance and nearly fell over.

Witnessing a horse fall over when it doesn't want to is a horrible sight.  My riding teacher often said that a horse is a very proud animal, and it doesn't want to embarrass itself.  This is why you give it its head when going downhill.  It can find its way better than you can.

Seeing poor Scooter panting, barely standing, his head drooped, and pawing incessantly at the ground with one hoof, of course I knew something was wrong.  I grabbed my cell and called the guy who trained me (he's a retired equestrian professor).  "Bill, there's something wrong with Scooter..."

Two minutes later, Bill and I were checking Scooter head to hoof, and we found one hind leg swollen three times its normal size.  Unfortunately, we couldn't seen an obvious cause.  Bill sent me off to finish my feeding rounds while he called the owner, and I promised I'd come back and check on Scooter after I was done.

Come time I finished, Bill walked to meet me where I parked the Gator and informed me that it was a possible snake bite, but we wouldn't know until the blood tests came back.  "You're a hero today," he said with a teasing grin.  "And the owner is thankful it happened before you came to feed rather than after." His grin slipped.  "Who knows what you might have found tomorrow morning."  He frowned and crossed his arms.  "That's not something you need to see."

I didn't ask.  I could tell he was thinking of all the times he'd found a horse beyond help laying in its stall.  The helplessness.  The suffering.

He's right.  That's something I don't want to see.

Thank God this time it turned out okay for the horse.  The vet reported the blood work indicates something called cellulitis - basically inflammation of cellulite tissue, an infection; excruciating, and in many cases, life-threatening.  Not for Scooter, though.  "His is mild," the owner told me today.  "His recovery time should be comparatively short.  It's still quite painful for him."

So while I don't exactly have the distinction of saving a horse's life, I do have the satisfaction that I'm taking good care of the creatures in my charge.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Compassion International Release3 - October 2014

Come make a difference for a child in need.

I've been a sponsor for Compassion International since I was in high school, though it wasn't just me when it started.  As a "project," my class decided to sponsor a child from the Dominican Republic via CI.  Someone who knew someone sponsoring children with them offered the idea.  With about 15 students (give or take per year) in our class, the monthly fee would amount to about a dollar per person, maybe two.  That was a worthy cause for teenagers, yes?  Find a trustworthy organization to which we'd give a measly portion of our allowances, all in an effort to teach us the value of charity.  Alas, even two dollars a month proved too much a commitment for our class, and the support of this little child became the labor of a few.

As time went on, we realized there would be a problem: What do we do with him when we graduate?  Many of us would be running off to college; addresses would change, income would be little to nonexistent, no one would be able to write the boy back (if he chose to write us), and so on.  The obstacles of keeping him as a class project mounted to the point that my close friend and I asked our parents if we could co-sponsor him.  Just the two of us.  "Of course," we reasoned, "we don't want to just throw him back into the sponsor pool.  That's irresponsible, and you're always teaching us about being responsible."  So, our respective folks agreed that any month we couldn't make the donation amount, they'd make up the difference.

Within a year, my friend and I realized that co-sponsoring wasn't working out.  There was too much confusion over getting money to each other, making payments on time (this was before online payments), so I asked my friend if she'd mind if I converted all the information over to me.  She agreed.

Since then, I not only sponsored Aroys de Jesus Martinez from the Dominican Republic until he turned 18, but I continue to work with Compassion International to sponsor Muthu Mari Murugen from India.  She turns 18 next week, which means my sponsorship of her will be over.

I actually hadn't done the math on that until just now.  I think I might cry.

You see, Compassion International doesn't just give kids in impoverished nations food and clothes and means of education.  They work in the entire area to improve living conditions, provide vocation training, even pay for tuition expenses.  They clean the water, they encourage the children's growth as individuals, and aid the child's family.  But most importantly, they teach the Bible to them and help them become all God means them to be.

Of the two sponsor experiences I've had thus far, Muthu has proved to be the more conversational.  Children in the Compassion International program write to their sponsors on a regular basis, and I expect that when they're younger, this task is less than appealing to them.  However, as they get older, some actually WANT to write to their sponsors.  Want to write to you.  To me.

Muthu and I write regularly to each other.  She tells me about her life in India, the festivals she attends, the dances in which she participates, what she's studying in school, what she likes studying versus what is challenging, who her friends are, and her favorite vacation spot.  I tell her about my work and what I read and what I perceive of the world around me.  Muthu speaks and writes English as well as her own native language, so our letters don't have to be translated.  Whenever I get a letter from her, I'm so happy; when she doesn't write for a long time, I get sad.  I miss hearing from her.

And now to my point: Compassion International is doing an initiative for the month of October (RIGHT NOW!).  Sponsors who volunteered to participate (me!) are assigned three children from various parts of the world for whom they are to find sponsors.  Usually, we do this via our churches, maybe our schools, but due to some complications, I'm unable to display my information at church.

So I chose to blog about it. :)

Risda (from Indonesia), Jose (from Guatemala), and Augustin (from Africa) are my assigned children.  They're young and in need of preventative care for illnesses, education, and aid for their families.  For $38 a month, you can provide these things, and more, for Risda, Jose, or Augustin.  It's a significant commitment, I know, but the incredible difference it makes in the life of a child is invaluable.  You'll not only be saving a life, but intersecting that life with yours, praying for them, writing to them, sending them pictures or postcards, developing a bond with that little life as they grow up.

If you want to talk to me about them, feel free to comment or post on my Facebook.  I'd be more than happy to tell you about my experiences as a sponsor.  Or, you can check out their website to learn more about the organization and their ministries, and how you can participate.

Watch a video of one child's reaction when she finds out a sponsor has chosen her.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Movie Review: Sleeping Beauty Diamond Edition

Disney’s Sleeping Beauty is one of the most enduring of the Disney classic animated features.  Not only was its use of multi-pane photography a breakthrough in animation technology, but the artistic style and operatic influences were unlike anything Disney had produced at the time.  And, of course, the story itself resonated with audiences everywhere – fairies and witches, a prince and princess, a climactic battle between good and evil.  Little girls all over the world desperately wished to be given gifts of beauty and song and dreams of a prince that actually came true.  It’s no wonder Disney decided to release a Diamond Edition as a sort of companion set to the forthcoming Maleficent release. (Don’t even get me started on Maleficent.  They ruined one of the best Disney villains in history.)

This isn’t the first Blu Ray release of Sleeping Beauty, however.  Back in 2007, Disney issued the Platinum Edition, the first conversion of the audio and video to high definition and chalk full of special features.  Sleeping Beauty has been one of the most popular Disney princess films to date, and everyone has said practically everything about it; so what was I supposed to spend 800 words on for this new edition?
I’ve seen this movie dozens of times in my life.  Each time, I love the music, the quality of artistry, the Sword of Truth piercing through Maleficent’s dragon chest in a victorious moment for the forces of good.  What I never realized was how perfectly they captured Aurora as a teenager.  I mean, she actually believes that “if you dream a thing more than once, it’s sure to come true.”  Literally believes it.  She sings to woodland animals.  She cries at the drop of a hat.  She gets infatuated with a handsome guy within seconds.  And she follows glowing balls of light JUST BECAUSE.  The only thing that’s missing is the rebellious streak.

And you know who I never really noticed before?  Prince Philip.  Well, I noticed him, but I didn’t notice his character development.  He was just a pretty face that was supposed to rescue the princess.  But look closer at him.  Sure, when we first meet him, he’s a kid not that interested in an infant.  He does that frowny “ew” face.  The next time we meet him, he’s loafing around the forest with his horse following pretty sounds and wooing musical young women.  Then he flies off to daddy and says he’s going to marry a peasant girl and forget about being king.  He’s pretty teenage-like in his own right despite how much older he is than Aurora.  But what happens when he gets captured?  What happens when he finds out Maleficent’s plan?  He puts on his big-boy pants and saves the day, that’s what he does.  Of course, Flora helps with the details, like busting him out of prison, giving him weapons, and saving him from fate-worse-than-death situations, but hey.  He did the legwork in hacking the forest of thorns and in fighting the dragon.

I kinda think Flora is an unsung hero in this movie.  She’s written as bossy and controlling, but when crisis sets in, you don’t see her flying off the handle or cowering in a corner.  She’s got her ducks in a row and she is READY.  She’s probably the strongest feminine figure in the whole movie – Maleficent has power, yes, but Flora has self-possession, intelligence, leadership, and courage.  When I was a kid, I didn’t like her because she was mean to Merriweather, and I related to Merriweather because she was impish, energetic, and frequently acted on impulse.  (She was also right about using wands, ha!  I loved seeing Flora wrong.)  But if Flora hadn’t been there, the three good fairies would never have taken Aurora into hiding, never raised her to be gentle and kind and (let’s face it) quirky; no one would have put two and two together to figure out Aurora was Philip’s “peasant girl,” bought them the time they needed defeat Maleficent, and most definitely not motivated the other two fairies to get their magical butts up to the Forbidden Mountain to rescue anybody.  There would have been no jail break, no Shield of Virtue and no Sword of Truth, no boulders turned bubbles and arrows turned flowers, no boiling oil turned rainbow, and no last-hurrah as Philip delivered the killing blow.  Even Merriweather using her gift to change the curse from death to sleep was Flora’s idea.  So while she’s brusque and rude and annoyingly obsessed with pink, she’s got the guts to do what it takes to make that happily ever after HAPPEN. *insert finger snap

And Maleficent?  She’s been my favorite Disney villain since forever.  None of the others can compare to her style, her commanding presence, and her blatant acknowledgement of her evilness.  I mean, she ruins Flora’s flowers out of spite; she puts curses on babies because she wasn’t invited to the party; she torments a prince with images of being locked in her dungeon for a hundred years; and she calls on the power of hell to transform into a dragon.  (She gives dragons such a bad name.)  I mean, she can indeed be all bad, as Flora puts it, and she LIKES it that way, making her possibly one of the most dangerous villains ever.  You can’t appeal to a better side with Maleficent because there isn’t one!  I had a debate with some friends of mine about whether villains who are evil because they like being evil are more dangerous that villains who are convinced that what they’re doing is actually right (e.g. Frolo from Hunchback of Notre Dame).  I voted that evil for the sake of evil is more dangerous because the misguided ones still have a chance of being redeemed.  (We never finished that debate, btw).

So, Sleeping Beauty Diamond Edition.  I love this story just as much now as I did when I first saw it as a kid, and it’s definitely worth having in your collection because it’s visually stunning, musically captivating, and emotionally resonating.  What little girl in us doesn’t want to be able to sing like Aurora?  What little boy doesn’t want to slay an evil dragon?  You want this one.  You want it.  Got get it.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Movie Review: Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart

It’s taken several years for me to acclimate to watching foreign films.  I could never quite adjust to the seeming off-timing of words to lip movements.  It’s not just animated foreign films that have this problem; plenty of live-action films have it, too.  My first foray into the genre was with a friend back in high school; alas, I don’t remember which film.  Regardless, when I presented my objections, the friend watching the movie with me declared “That’s just how it is,” and so I decided I hated them all and would stick to American movies.

Then, during college, I got into Anime and the game changed.  I discovered there were two different camps when it came to watching Anime: the Subs camp and the Dubs camp.  Subbers (I call them) are folks who watch only the original foreign language track with English subtitles at the bottom (ergo, “subs”).  They say that the translation is more accurate, and that the story is preserved.  Dubbers, however, watch the same movie or show with the English dubbing track (ergo, “dubs”), meaning someone in America recorded an English version of the dialogue and then overlaid that atop the video.  Proponents of this camp say that paying attention to the action AND subtitles is too much, that the story is just as good as the original, and that a lot of times, they feel the American voice actor is more fitting for the character than the original language actor.

Upon discovering this difference, I immediately gave foreign films another go, this time subscribing to the Subs camp methodology.  My goodness, did it make a difference for me.  I’ll admit, with some surrealist films, keeping track of the visual symbolism and metaphors AND the words at the bottom can be challenging, but in all others, I don’t feel like the dialogue is rushed or ill-timed.  I don’t feel like I lose a piece of the story because the exact translation into English wasn’t enough syllables, or was too many syllables, and therefore the writer changed them so the voice-to-lip synchronization wasn’t so “off.”  And the more I watch films from a particular country, the more I learn bits of the language.

When I first started watching Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart, I could tell right off, from the first few seconds of the film, that this was not an originally English movie.  It showed the classic miss-timing of voice and animation, and it rushed through most lines as though the actors couldn’t quite catch up.  The songs were the most telling, since in the original language most stuff would rhyme, but in the English translation it doesn’t.  I looked for the original French track, but the Setup menu only had English audio and English subtitles.  I was severely disappointed that this would be a strictly American language release.  It was originally a French book, adapted into a French animated feature with French voice actors and French songs, then dubbed in English and released to us.  That doesn’t bother me, so long as the original language is present; since it wasn’t, I felt like the release was incomplete.  I had the same experience with Kiki’s Delivery Service when it first got released on DVD: no Japanese track.  I had to suffer through the movie listening to Kirsten Dunst.  Remembering that, I got to the end of Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart all riled up and ready to give a piece of my mind on the subject… and then I realized I was watching the DVD, not the Blu Ray! *shameface.  Sufficiently mortified, I popped in the CORRECT disc and happily discovered the French track with English subtitles.

Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart is exquisitely animated, beautifully surreal, and probably chalk full of symbolism I didn’t detect because I didn’t grow up in the French culture (I have that sense a lot while watching Anime, too).  The story starts in Edinburgh, England, during the coldest day of the year, as a young mother trudges through the snow to reach a sequestered house on a cliff, wherein a “witch” resides.  She’s definitely different than the rest of Edinburgh: rather scientific, with a touch of the supernatural, and quite adept at mechanical reparations.  She’s like a magical Steampunk mid-wife healer, really.  This “witch,” Madeleine (Marie Vincent and Emily Loizeau, French version; Barbara Scaff, English version), delivers a baby boy whose heart is frozen solid.  She quickly removes the frozen heart and inserts a cuckoo-clock in its place, saving the infant’s life.  “However,” Madeleine, tells the new mother, “there are three rules he must never break: he must never touch the hands of the clock; he must master his anger; he must never, ever fall in love.” Whether these rules seem impossible to enforce, or the thought of having a son with a mechanical heart proves too much, the new mother leaves in the middle of the night, saying that the mid-wife would make a better mother than she.  All seems well for ten years, until Madeleine takes Jack (Mathias Malzieu, French version; Orlando Seale, English version) out to explore the town, and he meets Miss Acacia (Olivia Ruiz, French version; Samantha Barks, English version), a young street performer with a bewitching voice but horrible vision.  Jack nearly dies after this encounter, and Madeleine once again warns him of the three rules he must always observe.  “Your heart cannot handle the burden of such emotions,” she lectures him.  Undeterred, Jack discovers that Miss Acacia went to school in town, and follows in her footsteps, only to come face-to-face with another Acacia admirer – Joe (Grand Corps Malade, French version; Harry Sadeghi, English version), the school bully.  Jack endures four years of torture from Joe, until he finds that Miss Acacia is actually living in a country called Andalusia, somewhere near Spain.  After an accident that renders Joe blind in one eye, Jack flees Edinburgh and happens to meet a French would-be film-maker named Méliès (Jean Rochefort, French version; Stephane Cornicard, English version), also adept at repairing clocks.  The two head to Andalusia together to find Acacia and to win her heart for Jack.

To quote the text on the back of the Blu-ray case, “Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart is a fantastical, wildly inventive tale of love and heartbreak – by turns poignant and funny – in which Jack finally learns the great joys, and ultimately the greater costs, of owning a fully formed heart.”  This is absolutely true, but also misleading.  The story is primarily one of what Jack suffers to find and be with his love, Miss Acacia, but it also deals with themes like courage, sacrifice, abuse, standing up for oneself, and what people endure when they’re perceived as different.  I also found it interesting that the author includes a brief but telling scene from Joe’s point of view.  If you pause for a moment and think about it, everyone views themselves as the protagonists of their life story.  In Joe’s case, he’s the king of the schoolyard, ensuring order and security by exercising fear-motivated control, protecting his Acacia from a strange, unpredictable, and violent mechanical-operated boy.  Of course, conversely, Jack sees Joe’s fate as one he deserves for tormenting those weaker than himself.   
The film is visually stimulating, from the unique animation style to the surrealistically influence narrative, moving from reality to dream with seamless transition.  Songs are an especially good example of how Jack’s inner life switches between the two with startling continuity.  Moons swallow flying trains, a soul greets someone with a kiss, people float on air when speaking of love; there’s even a bizarre and seemingly pointless encounter with Jack the Ripper.  (Given Jack’s active imagination, Jack the Ripper could be Jack’s perception of the world outside his home, or it could be his perception of an alternate self, given what happened to make him leave Edinburgh.)  Perhaps one of the most emotional scenes for me in this movie is at the end, when death is portrayed as simply the freedom from time – all the world stops, and the dead can climb snowflakes to heaven.

While Jack and Joe seem pretty straightforward characters, Miss Acacia was not.  I admired her for her frankness in telling Jack she was in love with someone else and that “embarking on an adventure” with him would be “dishonest.”  Too often we have female characters that are easily swayed by the immediate feelings of someone close by.  Acacia remains steadfast in this until Jack reveals who he is, at which point we see that they could potentially be very happy.  Of course, Joe then rolls back into the picture and tells his version of the same story (which we all know is skewed to steal Acacia from Jack).  Here’s my dilemma: how often have we, in reality, been madly infatuated with someone, only to have our assumptions about that person brought to a grinding halt as soon as there’s even a smidgeon of violent element?  Joe uses this hesitation to his advantage, showing Acacia the “vicious” side of Jack when Jack is simply defending himself.  Unfortunately, Acacia buys right into it.  I’m not saying it isn’t wise to rethink one’s attachment to a person if that person starts showing abusive tendencies.  But I am saying it would behoove us to observe and conclude for ourselves if such an accusation is true.  I’ve been on both the giving and the receiving end of false accusations.  Many a life can be ruined by careless words.

There’s so many different layers to Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart.  It would probably take several watches to pick up on all the nuances.  As end credits rolled, I sat there listening to the music, contemplative of the themes the author chose to grapple.  It makes me want to read the book.  As with most adaptations, many things are left out or changed for the sake of cinematic story-telling; but in this case, we ALSO have a difference in language.  I feel there is so much more to this story than the English can portray, which is why I’m so glad I was mistaken about the lack of French audio track.  This film is certainly worth a watch, given the beauty of the world Mathias Malzieu created in the novel and the screenplay.  Surrealism and symbolism aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, so if you like it after first view, definitely add it to your collection.