Thursday, June 30, 2011

Tyler says

Photo on 2011-06-30 at 11.03 #2


Ty: Auntie, what Mow-Mow doing?

Me: She's resting.

Ty: No, she biting her feets. She bite her legs off!

Me: She's cleaning her feet.

Ty: I like cleaning my feet too, only not biting dem.



Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Should you go into teaching?

As I said yesterday in my linky post, I was stricken by the firestorm of comments in response to these two posts from Running off the Reeses, which suggested that people not go into teaching. When I've written about teaching before, I've said that it's not what I thought it was going to be. Does this mean you should go into teaching?

Honestly I'm not sure you should. I don't say that to hurt anyone or as a personal dig. I know that's how I heard it when people said it to me as I was entering the profession. I just think you might not want to experience some of the heartache.

That's probably not what most people want to hear, and I know (given the response to the ROTR post) that it isn't a PC opinion. We (society, teachers, those in the education field and parents) are supposed to sell the idea that we need good people to keep coming into the field. We're supposed to espouse the dogma of the selfless, giving teacher who can make a difference. We're supposed to pass along the message that if one teacher cares enough, he or she can change the system/ poverty/ deficiency/ the aftereffects of abuse. Can we?

I came in with a sparkle in my step and I knew the hymn of the hard-working. But what happens when you do care enough--more than enough--and it doesn't matter? You can't change the immovable. You can't fix damage that is beyond repair or teach a kid who just doesn't give two craps. The biggest failures for new teachers--or heartbreaks, maybe--are for those who come in to the job with Bambi eyes expecting to touch the souls of every being in the room. They remember the one (or the many) deities who reached across the clouds of a classroom to touch their minds and imbue them with the gift of knowledge. The reality of a classroom these days is stark and the pressure to be inspiring can be paralyzing.

When it comes to the deficiencies of public education, I've moved past shock to acceptance. However, I honestly think most people don't know what a day is like. In my world, most classes are close to 40 kids to one teacher, 55 in PE. Most teachers have five classes, so they see close to 200 kids a day, each who will be hurt if you don't remember his/her current personal drama. Facilities are old and outdated with no hopes of new money coming for renovation anytime soon. The per-student budget has been slashed to the point that most teachers buy their own paper for copies, pens, pencils, markers--you name it. We are no longer allowed to require that a student bring anything to class, even a pencil or a binder. If we don't buy supplies, we have to go begging to parents who are feeling the effects of the economy themselves. My classroom is equipped with a computer, but beyond that my equipment is this: one overhead projector. My ability to take my students to the computer lab and library is so limited by facilities and budget cuts that it's not really a viable option for lesson-planning. Our textbooks were due to be updated a year ago with no possibility for a refresh in sight. Student programs, sports, counseling and electives have been all been slashed to barebones so that only a fraction of the student population is reached. Students are coming to school hungry, tired, and stressed because their parents are losing their jobs. In my experience, parent support is spotty. Often I call home to address a student behavior issue and end up being berated by the parent for "accusing" the kid.

Even if you wanted to care about every single kid, it wouldn't be possible. For a well-intentioned do-gooder like I was when I came in, that's a recipe for stress and guilt.

I remember reaching my breaking point once in a dance class because they were pissed that I wasn't concerned enough for their personal drama. At the time I was going through what I thought was a divorce, I had almost 40 bodies in a room designed for about 12 dancers, I had three voicemails from angry parents waiting for a response, I was told that the arts grant I was counting on was not going to cover all of the expenses I was promised it would, I was planning a dance show alone and running two fund-raisers and I had about three class sets of AP essays in my drawer waiting to be graded. In my frustration I told them there are too many of you. I'm doing well if I can take care of your arm placement; forget about your souls. Teaching is not easy, even if you know what you want to talk about and you know you want to do a good job.

That's not to say that teachers can't overcome all of the challenges and teach what they need to teach. But the expectation for modern teachers is that they not only teach, but that they sprinkle inspiration dust over the heads of each student, crank out automatons who can drill and kill standardized tests, and ensure that all kids will go to college (regardless of whether or not that is best for said kid). We're expected to parent. We're expected to fill in every gap a student has and to re-teach until. It might even sound reasonable. But let's consider that we have 40 students in a 55 minute class. Less than two minutes per student? It's overwhelming sometimes. Recently the media has been less than kind to teachers. It's hard to imagine how little we're given and how much we're being asked to do--and then our reward is a thorough tongue-lashing from the public. It stings.

There are some fallacies about teaching, too. The biggest ones are the "you only work part time" or "you get paid summers off" critiques. Let me clarify those. I am required to be at school from 7:45 to 3:30. I stay after. I go early. I bring my work home with me. There would be no way for me to teach 200 kids if I only worked from 7:45 to 3:30. I might not be in an office, but you can bet your sweet bippy I'm doing my fair share. Often it means time away from my family on nights and weekends, but I do it because that's the job and it is what I signed up to do. I don't go to work during the summer. That's accurate. But I am not paid for that time. Our contracts are for 9 1/2 months of teaching. They take that pay and spread it out over 12 months. Teachers used to be paid over 10 months, but then they had to get summer jobs to make ends meet. This just allows us to maintain a consistent level of income. We're not getting anything for free--we're paid for our contract days. And not to beat the dead horse, but I'm working all summer revising my curriculum, reading books to prepare, cleaning and prepping my classroom… etc.

But what about those magical after-school-special moments when a student comes to you and says "you made a difference in my life"? Yes, kind words are nice. I've had some. But I had no idea how sparse they'd be when I began. Apparently I'm no Jaime Escalante. The "f--- you"s are the most shocking, but the hurt of the frequent under-breath "bitch" or the ubiquitous eye-roll and "what-ever" are harder to take. Being accused of favoritism or criticized for your every error when you're trying to do your best and be fair? That's rough. Being watched and made fun of for any slight abnormality in your dress, hair, personality or speech? That can get annoying. Having your personal things destroyed or defiled in your classroom? Not awesome. Living outside of school with the constant worry you might run into someone who finds your behavior unbecoming of a teacher? Not my favorite. Not until I was a teacher did I realize how oft-critiqued the teacher is in a high-schooler's day and how little respect most families show to teachers and education. I'm comfortable in my own skin, but there are days when enough is enough and it gets to me that to them I am a caricature. Before I taught, I didn't know that most of the growth happens after they leave. It's unfortunate, because nobody ever comes back to say hey, I'm sorry I was such a jackhole in 3rd period and I want to replace that poster that I drew a penis on with a sharpie because it was so wrong of me. Look at me, I'm a successful accountant and I read books.

And I haven't made a difference in the way I'd hoped. I have so much material to cover and so many expectations about teaching to standardized tests that there's very little room in my year for teaching the kind of things that make kids like school. It's hard to get someone excited to read 18th century literature if you don't have time enough to play around with it. It's hard to make reading a joy if you only have time to cover the basics. It's hard to foster a love of creative writing if you can't ever fit it in. We don't. Must keep moving at all times, must tie everything to a standard. In the early grades there's such a sense of urgency to teach writing, vocabulary, organization… there's just not a lot of time for joy. The best I can hope for most years is for my class to be a class they don't hate the most.

So who should go into teaching? To get back to my first point--we do need good people. We really do. But I almost hesitate to recommend it to anyone because right now it's hard to secure a job, and even if you do, you're going to be under fire constantly. I don't anticipate this going away anytime soon. If you have a thick skin, you'll be fine. If you're okay with not hearing that you've done a good job, you'll be fine. But please don't come in thinking you can save them all. You're going to kill yourself trying. Don't come in thinking that all you're going to do is teach. You're going to have a whole other job dealing with all of the bureaucratic nonsense that comes with the territory.

And not to end this on a completely negative note, I should be honest about my whole opinion. I love my job. It is what I am meant to do. I can say that with the breathing room of a month of summer behind me. What do I love? I love that I get to be a part of the lives of many, many smart kids. I love that kids are funny. I love seeing them actually implement a change in their writing or their dancing, and the look that comes across their faces when something clicks. I love when I see them trying to do something I've suggested and I know they thought I might know what I was talking about. I love when they discover something that really lights them up inside (even if it's not my subject) and they want to share that with me. I love when they go on to be good people and they want to keep in touch and let me be a part of their lives. I love when kids take risks--it inspires me. I love that I can be silly with them. I love that I can plan what I do and try to make it better each year. All the things I love are the things that are about people. Those are the things that feed my soul and help me to keep going. It is less a steady diet of the good though, and more like an animal storing up for hibernation. I get just enough to get me through. Sometimes I don't quite make it and all the bad gets to be too much.

I will continue to teach. I'm in the right profession. But the longer I do this, the more it feels like I'm being asked to run a marathon while cutting my calories. I feel hungry and tired. Underfed and overwrought. I hope my opinion is taken as just that--an opinion. I speak for nobody but me, but I thought it was worth bringing up.

And you know what? Do what you want. Work hard. Be a good person. That's really the best you can do in any job. What do I know, anyway.



Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Elsewhere around the 'webs and in my Reader

I flove Google Reader. Every morning I wake up to an inbox (essentially) of blog articles from every corner of the internet that interests me. I never have to open a blog page to see if there's a new post.  Seriously, who would've dreamed that we'd each be able to cull information from any source we'd like into one convenient place?

It's like getting my very own tailor-made magazine in the mail every day.  LURVE.

Some things I've starred this week:

Simple Mom didn't disappoint with this post about applying the HALT Method to parenting.  I'll admit to not being familiar with the acronym (Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired) and how when one is feeling deficient in one of those areas, s/he needs to practice careful decision-making.  This article was thought-provoking enough to me that I can see applications in marriage, too.  It's amazing how we act when we're feeling a need in one of those four areas.  Great post.  I'm going to be pondering it in light of teaching and marriage for quite some time.

Marta, daughter of Marty (are you following?  I adore them both...) posted her mom's red velvet cake recipe and a cute 4th of July-themed inspiration post.  I've never made a red velvet cake but suddenly I'm thinking I might try?

Cely of Running off the Reeses wrote a great post about college... and inadvertently sparked a huge debate about whether or not people should go into teaching as a career.  Go read the post but check out the comments too.  I think it's an important dialogue and I'm happy she brought it up, honestly.  ROTR is also a new favorite of mine.  Hilarious blog.

As Heidi settles into motherhood I'm moved by what she's writing.  I'm so happy for her and Joe.

On Sometimes Sweet there's a new regular feature, Journal Day.  It sparked some thought about my own classroom this coming school year and since I read it I've been allowing my imagination to run a bit wild with plans.  I think this means summer vacation is working--I'm moving into the phase where I get a little bit giddy about the opportunity of a new school year.

I thought I liked Annemarie, but her love of office supplies just about sealed it.

As I try to simplify and clarify my life (as I type that, I'm picturing butter), posts like this one from Zen Habits are important for me to read.  I have a hard time letting go, but in letting go I often find release.  The post was a good reminder to me.



Random deets from Mr. Interweb

Yesterday was such a Debbie Downer. Time for some good-ol'-fashioned Google-inspired random questioning. Today's oddball questions (and post-inspiration) are taken directly from this site which I stumbled upon as I was looking for journal topics to use with my 9th graders.  Voila.

Ran-dom.

1.  Who controls the TV remote control in your family?

Me if I'm alone in the room.  E if we're together.  Apparently my skills in the commercial-skipping department are sub-par and require that a more experienced remote-wielder take charge.  I don't mind, really.  I'm a happy passenger in cars and I'm happy to let someone else control my TV destiny.  Or else that's what I say until I get up and go watch TV in our bedroom.

Witness my mad Photoshop SKILLZ.
2.  Name your favorite animated movie and tell why you like it.

I have a lot of unabashed love for animated (cough, cough-Disney) movies, but I would say it's a tie between The Sword in the Stone and Robin Hood for hand-drawn.  I think Toy Story 3 wins for computer-animated.  That darn movie really got me.  Ask me again tomorrow and it will be a different set, but certainly Disney.

3.  Which person would you like to see more often than you do now?

There are too many to list.  It's unfortunate that life takes you away from people even if they live geographically close to you.

4.  If you were an animal, what would you be?

A cat of some sort.  It would be pretty rockin', too, except for the butt-lickin'.

5.  What superpower would you like to have? What would you do with it?

I'd like to have the power to make it through my day without getting tired.  I swear I always feel run down during the school year.  I'd like to have the energy to run five or six miles in the morning, stand up in cute heels all day, and then cook dinner for my family at night.  That's all.  But all of that without one drop of fatigue.  Wouldn't that be the bee's knees?

Honorable mention: the power to run without ever experiencing an injury again.

6.  If you had to move to another state, which one would you choose?

I don't have a particular state in mind, but I'd like to go east coast, preferably mid to southern states.  I have no interest in being anywhere with a ridiculous annual snowfall, but I'd like all the history.  Plus it's different over there.  So anti-California.  Something... you know, Colonial.  What would that be, one of the Carolinas?  Maryland?

7.  What special talent do you have?

My elbows both hyper-extend.  Don't worry, it's not cute.  I won't take a picture.

8.  What can you do that makes people laugh?

See #7.  Also I do all kinds of funny dances and songs and accents when I'm cooking and the kids are sitting in the barstools as my audience.  I can make them laugh, easy.

9.  Can you pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time?

Duh.

10.  Name four items that can always be found in your refrigerator.

Claussen Kosher Dill Pickles, cheddar cheese, Annie's Asian Sesame Dressing, eggs

11.  Who is the best laundry folder in the family?

Effort and consistency? E.  Precision (when trying)? Me.

12.  If somebody makes a mess, who cleans it up?

ME.

13.  When was the last time you sent or received a card from someone?

Sent: Father's Day (hand-delivered, does that count?) Received: I think it was for my birthday, from an aunt and uncle.  This question reminds me that I could be better about writing cards.  It is one of the great joys of my life to sit down and write out a good card.  I should do it more often.

14.  Which do you prefer, a shower or a bath? Why?

Bath, duh.  That way I don't have to expend any energy standing up (see #5).  The only thing in the minus column for baths is that it's way too hard to shave.  So since I have that crazy obsession, showers win out most often.  Given my druthers, though, I'd choose bath every time.

15.  If you were in danger, who would protect you?

E.

16.  Which do you prefer, inside or outside? Why?

I'm so predictable.  If it's sunny, then I'd say outside.  If it's cold, definitely inside.  Sunny days mean running in the warmth or taking a long walk.  Cold means wrapping up in one or twenty of my quilts and wearing a beanie and thick socks while I shake my fist and curse the world.

Duh end.



Monday, June 27, 2011

Pity Party

Disclaimer: This post was written under the influence of a) girl hormones, b) 2 McDonald's cheeseburgers, and c) post-Dentist-office-visit-anxiety letdown.

I'm having a pity party and you're invited!

There are two things I hate.  Well don't nail me down on that one--I'm sure I'll come up with more than two.  But today there are two.

The first is the dentist.  There's just no escaping it.  It doesn't matter what eager dedication and well-intentioned spirit I bring to my dental hygiene.  I'm doomed to hear "uh, we found another cracked filling" or "this crown needs to be replaced" every. single. time.  GOD DAMNED DENTIST, I hate you.  Ugh.  And I'm sorry, I can act all kinds of Big Girl when I'm staring down a class of ninth graders, but when that drill starts to whine away in my mouth I want to cry that ugly cry where things come out of your nose and your face swells up like monkey bread.  This morning I was squeezing the corners of my eyes so tight I'm surprised a pearl didn't pop out.  Dammit.  I don't want the dentist to turn me into a simpering pile of suck, but there I lay in fear like I'm driving a one-lane highway and I might die at any moment.

So, yeah.  That.

...than a trip to the dentist.
Also for whatever reason I'm in a stretch where my attempts at planning are all falling heavy to the floor like a giant, dumb rock.  I keep trying to get things together, to make plans ahead of time and arrange for them properly, to do the right thing, and then it keeps not working.  I swear sometimes I'm better off when I sit around home and just don't try to do anything productive because there's no disappointment.

{pity party, pity party, pity party}

And that, my friends, is why I lean heavily in the direction of recluse.

Exhibit A in the case against good luck: at the cabin work weekend, I wanted to really get the ball rolling so we could use the cabin soon.  It's been a weird year with the late spring and early summer snow and we also had some pipe breakages up there in the freeze.  Until everything was fixed and the fire break is cleared around the cabin, we couldn't really use it.  So Friday I dove in headfirst and raked my little heart out.  But what else did I do?  Turn on the water, then turn on the electricity.  Oh, and I forgot to check to see if the water heater filled when I flipped the power to the water heater (because why would the valve into the water heater get closed??).  It didn't have any water in it for about an hour.  Empty water heater + electricity = bad.  And I know that!  Water heater? BROKEN.

Sigh.

And yeah I know E told me that he didn't think by the looks of the obliterated heating element that I could have done that in one day... but I don't believe him.  And then I had to go and leave my entire bathroom bag up there with my glasses in it.  Faily Failerson.

So for all of my wanting to make things right, I had to go and mess something up.  It's just been a string of the same.  A cornucopia of frustrations.  Good intentions, then things going awry, then spoonfuls of anxiety.

Exhibit B: I ran 'til I could run no more last week.  I ate well.  I spent two days straight doing hard manual labor.  This morning when I stepped on the scale I had gained three pounds.

Sigh.

I can tell it's still that kind of day today--I want nothing more than to go crawl into my bed and avoid talking for the rest of the day.  My therapist would call that "feeding my anxiety"... I'm not sure what to do.

Aaaand, I just got doorbell ditched.  By a kid from my school, who I could see clearly because I was sitting right by my front window.

Tie a bib on, Crazies.  You're going to the buffet.



Sunday, June 26, 2011

Back from the Cabin

Cabin TitleWorn out from our work weekend, missing the kiddos.cabin collage1cabin collage 2Last summer the kids were wading right here.Me in my happy place. <3


We're back just now from my family cabin work weekend.
It's old but it's charming.  It needs a ton of TLC just to stay operational.

I was overwhelmed by the power of the river, flooded with late-spring snow.


No kids this time; I missed them so badly.
It was nice to spend time with my aunts, uncles, cousins and Gram, though.

I believe I raked, scooped and hauled pine needles for more than six hours. 
My whole deal is sore today.
But we've got our fire break, and the cabin's open for business.

I can't wait to go back--and it might need to be soon since I left my glasses and my entire bathroom bag.

Whoops.



Friday, June 24, 2011

About school

I'm getting impatient for my grad school program to start.  Like, I better not go into a Staples or an Office Depot any time soon or my love of school supplies and my over eager new student tendencies will merge into one giant T-Rex of awkward anticipation.  I don't start at UCR until the end of September (I think... can you believe I don't really know? But I keep emailing the office just to make sure I'm not missing anything and they keep sending me what I believe are varying but really polite versions of "listen, Monica Geller, you're going to have to calm down now, mmkay?  Because school ain't starting for a while, so cool it sister."


Anyway, all this waiting is great because it gives me plenty of time to worry about things... and to invent some new things to worry about that I never considered before.  It's an anxiety-ridden teacher's dream.


These are the things I wonder:

1) Will they expect us to come in and know what we want to write about?
2) Will they want to break us down and make us think a new way, or are we expected to bring our own ideas about writing, process, etc to the table?  (This question is obviously born out of seeing law school break E down into a shuddering, simpering, twitchy--mess before he could begin to think like a lawyer.)
3) Will everyone in the program be cooler than me?
4) Will everyone in the program be a giant nerd? (This could be awesome or terrible.  Depends on the nerds.)
5) Will I fall back into my rut of introversion or will I be able to meet people?
6) What if I am terrible at this?
7) What if my professor is a douchebag?
8) What if my professor thinks I am a douchebag?
9) What if I REALLY AM a douchebag and everyone knows it but me?  What if I find this out in school?
10) What if using words like douchebag on my blog makes me a terrible horrible no good very bad writer?
11) What if school makes me hate writing? (Variations: writing, talking, learning, my job)
12) What if school takes over my life?
13) What if nothing comes of this degree?
14) What if I hate it?
15) Will I be able to do this?

To be continued...

Thursday, June 23, 2011

And Iran... Iran so far away...



I can't think I ran without hearing Lonely Island in my head. Anyway.

I ran fifteen this morning. Fifteen miles for the first time in my life. Not Fifteen Miles on the Eerie Canal or anything, but fifteen miles just the same.

Not gonna lie, I'm pretty trashed right now. I got home, iced once, took a shower, iced again... lounged around, ate a boatload of food, swam a little, and now I'm laying in my bed like it's my job. I wish I could say I ran fifteen and I came home smiling to a busy, productive day but instead I have been kind of whiny and lame. It's a good think I cleaned yesterday because at least I didn't have to feel too guilty about being such a sloth.

It was a good run. I remembered to update my iPhone so I had plenty of Tolstoy to occupy my mind. Today was probably the day to do my long run this week. When I left the house it was actually kind of cool outside, and though it warmed a bit it never got hot. I averaged something like an 11:45 pace even though I walked on and off for the last 2.5 miles. My hip/knee/IT band wasn't hurting, but unfortunately I was getting some really strong zings of pain through what felt like my sciatic nerve.

Google, M.D. seems to think I have a piriformis issue. I'm not surprised. When I saw my physical therapist and sports medicine doc for the IT band, I was having some minor pain there too. I think (in my incredibly under-qualified medical opinion) that the strengthening I've been doing to my outer hip muscles is good, but I wasn't balancing it with stretching of my inner thigh--and now I've developed a different problem. NBD, I'll just add a few more stretches to the ones I'm already doing. But, ugh. I was kind of annoyed to have a new issue--such a literal pain in the butt--today when I was on the road. The last five miles were hard because I was having this zinging kind of nervy pain. That's the best way I can describe it.

No biggie, though. Some motrin and some rest later I'm feeling tired but the pain down the leg disappeared by this afternoon. I'm just exhausted. I set out to run fourteen this morning, but I forgot to write down the street names so I ended up adding a half mile to my "out" of the out and back... hence fifteen once I made it home.

And about Anna Karenina... I am liking it but I'm also at a point where I just wish I could finish it already. I feel like it's taking over my reading life and since I decided not to start anything else (because I need all my brain cells to keep those crazy Russians straight from each other) it's all Russia all the time. I don't really have much with which to compare it--my only other foray into Russian Lit was Ivan Denisovich in AP in high school, which I found wickedly, hideously boring. This is definitely more interesting, but the style (translation, maybe?) is still kind of dry. It's all tell and no show. The best part about it is that it's like something by Jane Austen--you know, everyone is all in everyone else's business--but instead of being all English and stuffy, everyone is having affairs and nobody is covering them up. So that's something. I'm sure I'll have more to say about it when I'm finished... in about ten more years. (Seriously, Kindle tells me I'm 47% through it, or page 544 of 1216... and I'm pretty sure I've been reading it since I was a toddler. HYPERBOLE.)

Anyway (yeah I said that twice, cut me some slack because my legs might fall off tonight), that's about it Internets. Two things are good about having this run done: 1) I don't have to run long again this week, and 2) I got to replace a whole lotta calories I burned this morning. Okay, wait. Three things. 3) I didn't die. I'm gonna call this one a win.



Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Henry makes summer plans

Last night.

Me: So what are you guys going to do with yourselves now that it's summer?  What are you going to do tomorrow?

Ad: I know one thing... I am sleeping in!

Henry: I'm not.  I have a conference in the morning.

Ad: A what?

Me: A conference?

Henry: Yeah, a conference.  I set it up already.

Me: (Laughing.) With who?

Henry: With Mario, Luigi, Peach and all the toads.  Right when I wake up.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Henry's Week of Celebration

Father's Day Olympics in Kindergarten yesterday with Daddy, Aloha celebration in first grade today. Homeboy went out with a bang.

HenryK1end


Monday, June 20, 2011

Ribbin' it up

Rib collage


It's a funny thing about family. Tradition gives events momentum. There's a natural comparison that I like when something gets done year after year. I'm all about repeating things in order to see how differently they play out. Our little rib cook-off that could started six years ago and it has grown to such a goofy, delicious, highly-anticipated good time that it doesn't ever seem to disappoint. I love coming from a family of creative and brave cooks, both male and female. I love that we can trash talk and compete but when it comes down to it we all get to enjoy the fruits of our labor. I love the flavors--both in personality and food.

I love that in the midst of all that smoky meat goodness, I am reminded of how lucky I am to have a grandfather, dad and husband in my life who are three different but equally wonderful models of what it means to father.

This year Aunt Anne made blueberry mojitos (do I have a new favorite drink? Survey says YES) and we ixnayed the appetizers to save room for meat. Sides did not include the usual coleslaw (one thing I did miss) but the old standbys--macaroni salad and a huge plate of fruit--didn't disappoint. We rounded out the evening (post-vote) with my mom's insanely delicious homemade strawberry ice cream and Lis' lemon meringue pie that looked like Guy Fieri's hair. In a good way.

My grandparents' backyard is a shady oasis in the middle of our small town. Watching the sun descend behind the oak trees as our bocce game clacked away, I was so thankful. What a good day, the kind I know I will want to hang on to for the rest of my life as a remember when...



Ribs 2011: Our recipe

Not a winner this year, but still definitely a great recipe. We'll be making these again soon!


ribs2011
Too bad we didn't have any PBR.  We used Pacifico, though, and it worked fine.


Recipe is for one rack of babyback pork ribs.

Marinade:

1/2 cup of Jim Beam
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 can of beer
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
3 cloves chopped garlic
2 teaspoons black pepper

1.  Heat the marinade ingredients in a large pot; dissolve sugar.  Allow the marinade to cool.
2.  Marinate ribs overnight in the refrigerator.  Remove from marinade, pat dry.
3.  Smoke the ribs at 225 degrees until the meat pulls away from the bone about a quarter of an inch.
4.  Make the sauce: put the marinade in a pan, bring to a boil.  Reduce it by half (this will take a while).  Add 1 cup tomato sauce, 1/4 cup cider vinegar and 2 tablespoons of molasses to the reduced marinade.
5.  Cut ribs and serve with sauce.

Recipe adapted from smoker-cooking.com

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Doin' Stretches... LIKE A BOSS

Remember how I said the other day that I hate stretching? How I wish it didn't work for me so I could quit? Yeah.  Dammit for working so well.  I am not having any pain in my knee or hip today, and I am 134% sure it's because I sat on an icepack, used an ice cup on my hip/thigh, and stretched a crapload yesterday after my (not so) long run.  Running is supposed to be about running, right?  Well poop if it doesn't also turn out to be about stretching and strength building in order to keep running.

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Also, you know how I'm a huge nerd for charts?  Like, I wish I would have known in college that there was a job that was about making tables and putting crap in them because I would so have worked my way right up that ladder.  Anyhoo, I made myself a visual reminder of the stretches that seem to be helping me out.  It's amazing what you can do with Google images and a table in Word.  (Yes, I'm being facetious.  There is no serious representation of skills in this post.)

Where I've been experiencing tightness: my hip flexors, hamstrings, glutes/piriformis, and IT bands.  So here's what I came up with.  Rudimentary, but functional.
STRETCHES

I made one other decision about stretching this week. When I was in regular PT for my hip, my doc and I talked about flexibility.  She told me then that to make any real progress, one needs to stretch about four times a day.  I was so much smarter than she was so I knew she was lying to me.  Oh wait, that's just what I hoped.  She was RIGHT.  What a turd!  Back then I had my Google calendar on my phone set to beep at me 5 times a day to remind me to stretch.  Annoying?  Yes.  But I was actually pretty successful at stretching at least 4 out of the 5 times each day when I had a reminder.

I set up the reminders on my phone again.  I stretched 4 times yesterday and my legs feel the best today they've felt all week.  I know I need to do some serious work on my flexibility to help out with the pain issues I've been having, so I'm making a commitment to focus on it again.  I'll keep icing, foam rolling, and working on my PT too.  (Those things are actually happening quite regularly now.)

When I tell people that I used to be a dancer they assume that I have some natural flexibility.  LIES.  Any flexibility I had when I was dancing was hard-fought and barely won.  I have zero natural flexibility.  It was a battle even then to keep myself stretching and if I wouldn't have had peer pressure (e.g. fifteen or so girls all around me with lithe legs extended constantly to the ceiling) I'm sure I wouldn't have even bothered.  Just like my body wants to be 150 pounds, no matter what I do (good or bad), it also wants to be rigidly stiff and inflexible.  I have to work SO HARD to make it change.

So, yeah.  Three cheers for flexibility.  Here's hoping I can get some (even a little) if I stop, drop and stretch four times a day.



Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Broken Garmin Blues

or, I Put The Lame in Lamenting



Just icing my booty and lamenting the brokenness that is my Garmin friend.  Even though I adjusted the settings so there isn't anything in the Bermuda Triangle (pictured above) that I actually, you know, need to see, the edges of the unreadable zone are starting to creep up into the field at the top.  Boo.

I'm trying to figure out if it's going to be more prudent to pay the fee to have it fixed, or to look for a deal on a refurb.  Boo.  I'm worried about going Garmin-less, even for a few weeks.  I'm so dependent on a piece of technology!

This morning's long run was a step back to only 6 and I was happy for the break... or so I thought.  Honestly I would have rather gone out with friends and had a good long run; it would have probably been more interesting.  My goal today was not a pace but instead to really run some long slow miles.  I didn't watch my pace at all and instead I tried to keep my heart rate at or around 80% of my max.  I forgot to update my iPhone so I didn't have a book for listening... I ended up playing iPod Roulette which was good for about half the run and then I was bored out of my gourd.  Oh well.  Win some, lose some.  I didn't really have a route planned, either, which meant I ran all over my town like I was in my own personal Benny Hill chase scene.  Again, pretty lame.

Whatevs.  My attention turns now to ribs.  Tomorrow is the annual family rib cookoff and I need to get to work on all things rib for Team P.  I stretched, I ran, I stretched, I foam rolled, I iced and now I need to shower before I get any more complaints from the fam about my current state of funk.



Friday, June 17, 2011

These Boys

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Yesterday we had Luke over for some big kid cousin time. Made me remember how teeny he and Henry used to be and how nice it was that my sister was sitting through the boring hours of nursing at the same time I was. I have such happy memories of sitting on the phone with her for hours as we were both chained to our chairs like dairy cows.  Every mom should have a sister who has a newborn at the same time.  It was awesomesauce.

Doesn't seem like that long ago that these guys were so small.  Now they're little people. Awesome people.



Thursday, June 16, 2011

Roodle Gets Some Awards' Season Buzz

It's that time of year... Third graders are trotted into the cafeteria Multi-purpose Room to get some accolades for all of this year's accomplishments.

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The metal folding chairs always hurt my backside, but I'm so happy to see my little smartie earn some awards.  Of course I had a quiet but unnecessary freak-out when they didn't call her name for Silver Cougar (all A's and B's) and I thought either a) something happened with her math grade that I wasn't aware of or b) she was forgotten.  All was not lost, though, because she earned the Golden Cougar for all A's, all year about 10 minutes later.  Phew!  (She reminded me after the ceremony that I had this same freak out last year.  Oops.)

I know I'm not supposed to complain about these type of things, but the ceremony was a little on the long side.  I had my Kindle in my bag and I pulled out Anna Karenina to pass the time (only while the other teachers were presenting--swear).  You know something is dry when Russian literature seems more captivating.  On that note, I've all but abandoned Major Pettigrew for now and I'm "reading" Tolstoy both through the audio book and my Kindle.  AK is so challenging to get through that I figure one set of characters is enough for my little brain to handle at a time.  I'm not a two-book-at-a-time girl.

But back to Roo, who is the reason we all gathered here today.

I'm happy that my girl got some well-deserved recognition.  It's been a rough week.  She had a skating party with her class on Tuesday and since she's been skating only one other time in her life, it was a total and complete disaster.  She was falling, she was embarrassed, she was one of the few who couldn't skate.  It was like something out of a Judy Blume novel.  It was like someone bottled the memory of my most painful elementary school experience and made my kid drink it.  As you can imagine this breaks my heart into a million little shards.  All week I've been kicking myself for not knowing that by third grade you're supposed to already know how to skate... you're supposed to be an already-seasoned skater.  Oh, the guilt.  But I'm glad the week took an upswing from there.  She seems to be dealing with it just fine after lots of hugs and crying and swimming in Grandma's pool.

I always leave these awards ceremonies with one important question on my mind.  HOW THE HECK DOES ANY KID GET PERFECT ATTENDANCE?  I mean, seriously?  There's no way those kids didn't get sick.  So my thought process is this:  1) your kid gets sick, 2) you force your kid to go to school, 3) your kid infects my kid and then 4) I make my kid stay home.  WHY ARE WE GIVING THESE PEOPLE AWARDS?

Okay, I'm just jealous.  Perfect attendance is award that neither I nor my children will ever receive.



Still

Summer evenings are so sweet. Opening the house expands our cramped space and makes me feel less confined.  Just now I shut off the air and opened everything so I could type and pretend I'm on a porch, vacationing.  I love the night air even when it's muggy or hot.  I'm anxious to have some time in the great outdoors (or the great close to outdoors) soon.  A room with a view would be nice, but for now we're all very content to settle into our little nightly routine even if there's a fence just a few feet away from the open window.

When E and I were first married I took it as a negative sign that we naturally kept opposite schedules.  I'm awake early in the morning (and with the advent of Thing 1 and Thing 2, early has been much much earlier) and by about 9:00 I'm ready to be in a state of near-sleep.  He's just waking to the world between 9:00 and 10:00 AM, and at night he likes to surround himself with junk food and XBox accoutrements on the couch until the last bit of energy drains from his eyelids.  To me, the idea of falling asleep on the couch is just... icky.  If I fall asleep there then eventually I'll have to wake up and come to bed (or I'll just wake up cranky at 5:00 AM because I accidentally slept on the couch).  That's why God invented the second DVR in the bedroom, and whole-house networking.  Duh.

No, no.  I'm much happier when I can come to bed early, write, peruse a magazine, pet my cats, breathe some summer air, do my physical therapy and stretches, and then read or settle into a few episodes of LOST before I pass out to the solitude of my own thoughts.  I like this time of day and honestly I'm probably better off if I'm not talking to anyone when I'm so tired.  I don't mind that he's out there.  I can (and do) go hug him whenever I want.  He doesn't mind that I pass out just after the sun drops behind the horizon.  I don't begrudge him a weekend sleep-in anymore because it means I have some quiet time to myself without the kids.  Opposite schedules?  Really not as important as I believed around 2001 or so.

Tonight I'm just wrapping up my (third set of) foam rollin' for the ol' hip and I've gone through my series of theraband exercises, lunges, and stretches while I tackle the lesser of all chores: clearing out the TiVo.  The only person who seems to have a problem with the routine this evening is this one:


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She'll forgive me, though, as soon as I rub her belly.  Cat's like a freaking dog.

The crickets just started to chirp.  A train rumbles by.  Everything smells warm and earthy.  The stinging heat I felt this morning on the track has vanished and left a wam glow.  I swear I can smell the green of my vegetable garden.  I could swim in this still air.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

From the "Duh" Department

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1. Okay, I know I am not going to win any Awesome Blogger Photo Collage awards with that monstrocity that is the above photograph, but sometimes you just work with what you've got.  What I've got right now is a heap o' pictures of melted cats and swimming kids.

2.  About those cats.  They're so funny.  The younger two are acting like they're about to die for basically the last three days.  It's hot, cats.  I get it.  But your legs still work.  I think.  You ain't gonna get yo'self more pebbles by acting like a cat moat that encircles my feet.

3.  Heat is no fun when it comes to Hurley dog.  It might seem like it would make him tired a la the cats, but instead he sleeps all day and then at night suddenly he's all HEY GUYS CAN WE PLAY NOW CAN I EAT DO YOU HAVE HOTDOGS BECAUSE I LOVE YOU GUYS AND SO HUNGRY AND OH LOOK A KITTEN.  So, I have had enough of him.  He's so excited all the time he's shaking like a grade A dork.  I keep forgetting to take him on my runs which means this is 100% my own fault.

4.  I have speedwork tomorrow.  I am nervous.  Speedwork is scary.  Running in tiny circles on a track is scary.  I've overcome my fear of running long distances with other people.  Running short distances with other people?  Unreasonably scary.  The end.

5.  I'm still so sad and mad at myself about the Garmin.

6.  Swimming feels so good when it's hot, amIright?

7.  My body feels okay with the increased mileage I've been doing... the only area where I'm noticing a difference is in a frantic and compelling desire to jam as many carbs as possible into my face.  I think I've been dreaming about gluten products.  Little dancing pizza crusts... donut holes... soft pretzels high-fiving baguettes and jumping into a noodley sea of pasta.  I'm not acting on all of those cravings, but holy heck, dudes.  I've told you before, I'm the anti Paleo.  Hunt and gather this.

8.  E and I are hard at work on our future award-winning rib entry into the annual Kynaston family Father's Day Rib Cookoff.  You might remember that we won last year.  Dominated, you might say.  We've got a great idea for this year complete with an equally laudable name.  Can't wait to post the recipe.

9.  Stretching is so dumb.  I hate that it helps me.  I am so bored when I'm stretching.  I wish it didn't work and then I would quit, quit, quit.  Instead now I'm President of the IT Stretchers Association.  We have embroidered polo shirts.  LAME.

10.  Watching LOST again this summer... even better then it was the first time because I don't have to get the scaredies all the time.  Jack didn't die now.  Sawyer didn't die now.  Nikki and Paulo don't matter.  I just recite these little diddies to myself as I watch and I'm only 70% as freaked out as I was the first time.  WIN.



Things I dropped yesterday:

1) My purse. Shattered a bottle of grey nail polish that was at the bottom. Didn't realize until I smelled it all over everything inside, including the screen of my iPhone.

2) My phone in the driveway on the way to Henry's school. No damage. Phew.

3) The Flip Camera in the driveway on the way home from Henry's school. Luckily I just scratched the plastic on the side.


4) My Garmin on the wood floor in my bedroom immediately after I got home. Cracked the screen/display and now I can't read 1/3 of the data fields.

5) My phone in the kitchen as we left to go to the movies. No damage, I think. Maybe some scratches to the outside.

I'm trying hard not to beat myself up about the Garmin. I love my Garmin. I use it all the time. The idea that I could accidentally break something that I can't afford to replace just breaks my heart. I know it's just a thing, but it's improved my running tremendously. I rely on it. It was such a thoughtful gift from E and I think it has helped me take my running to a more serious level this year. I'm just so mad at myself for being clumsy... and what the heck... was something wrong with me yesterday? E was witness to my lack of coordination and even he couldn't figure it out. I shouldn't be this sad about a THING but I am.

DANG IT.



Monday, June 13, 2011

A big day for Hank-o

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Where soul meets body

I want to live where soul meets body
And let the sun wrap its arms around me
And bathe my skin in water cool and cleansing
And feel, feel what its like to be new


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Of Cherries and Jail-Breaking Felines

Hi friends.

I'm feeling pretty good today after my longest run ever.  The ice bath, lots of stretching and foam rolling... it's all helping.  The side of my right knee is sore, but not like it has been after long runs before.  I will defeat this IT band issue and keep running.  I will.  Dammit.


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Today's goal has been to find a use for the pounds and pounds of delectable Rainier cherries that Lis (picked and) delivered for us yesterday.  Over the past few years I've discovered a love for cherries--but that love is now uncontrollable since my Aunt (and fellow jam enthusiast) gave me a cherry pitter for my birthday.  That's one of those things that I can't imagine ever living without.  It makes cherry-eating and cherry-baking so much easier!  Exclamation point!

I've been planning to make cherry jam for a while but I hadn't gotten around yet to buying the Bings.  I don't think the Rainiers will make as pretty of a jam since they're not dark, so I set about looking for a sweet cherry pie recipe today.  Apparently those are few and far between?  Who knew.

A little Google-sleuthing led me to Smitten Kitchen, so I'm giving her all butter pie crust and sweet cherry pie a shot today.  I figure even if it's gross I have eleventy billion more pounds of cherries.  Plus E is a pie man and I'm pretty sure I've seen him shovel nastier pies into his yap before than anything I could make.  I think at some point one gets distracted enough by the TV and it doesn't matter... at least that's what I'm banking on.  Sunday night is usually a good night for TV so that will help anything sub-par to go down.

You guys, I even made my own pie crust.  I'm sure you think this is because I can tell the difference between homemade and store bought or that I feel like I'd shame my family if I purchased a pre-made one.  Nope.  Too lazy to drive to the store when I was JUST THERE at 10:00 last night.  Plus, the last time I slaved over a flaky pie crust because I thought it was what my Grandma Lila would do, she took a bite and told me how she buys the refrigerated, rolled up kind.  Ha!  Smart lady.  Grandma-emulation FAIL.  So yeah.  I made my own because that was easier than finding a bra, putting on shoes, driving.

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Currently we're macerating.  One of my favorite words.

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And this is probably my favorite thing of the last week.  Or at least, it was until Cookie learned how to push the bottom of the screen out this morning and escape.  I nabbed her but now she can't be left alone with the screen.  Turd.

Giveaway winner


The GF Giveaway winner was commenter #4... "Katie!"

Katie! since you didn't leave an email address or a link I can't contact you. Please email me at pdawg.alisgravenil@yahoo.com ASAP so I can get your information to MyBlogSpark. If Katie! doesn't email by next Wednesday, I will choose another winner.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Lazy Time with Paul




Oh, Paul Newman. Thank you for getting me through an afternoon of sore legs and ravenous hunger. There's nothing quite like a good Paul Newman movie. (I love the tagline about the angry young moderns.) Nothing like young Paul. I'm enjoying The Young Philadelphians.

This morning we ran 14.24 miles and my legs are trashed. I'm so tired! I'm so hungry. 14 is the longest run I've ever done--just a mere .9 miles longer than a half marathon (my longest distance to date) but mentally that was a big milestone. Today's run was even more of a challenge because it included a fair amount of hills, something my body still isn't used to. It's nice running in the early morning light, though, and it wasn't too warm. I'm really happy we went out today.

I feel good, though. I had some IT awareness (I wouldn't call it pain--more like tugging that would have turned into pain if I ignored it) so I had to stretch a lot. But I was able to keep going and I didn't feel like I was doing any damage. When I got home I made myself sit in an ice bath for ten (miserable) minutes to try to cut down on the inflammation, too. I know I'll be sore tomorrow just from using the different muscles to get up and down those hills. I've stretched twice already today and I'm going to keep making myself do that all weekend.

I'm trying not to eat everything in sight, even though my body is trying as hard as it can to refuel the 1600 or so calorie burn from the 2 3/4 hour run. I will let you know that E is working on a rack of smoked ribs (test run for next weekend's big annual contest) and I am eagerly anticipating a sizable dinner with an ice cold beer. I'm going to have to stay away from our pantry for the next couple of hours so I don't tank up before the ribs come off the smoker.

God, getting a run like that done early on a Saturday feels so great. Not only am I proud of myself (apologies for the blatant horn-tooting that's going on in this post, but I'm totally feeling the aftereffects of a new distance), but I love knowing that I am DONE for the weekend and I can enjoy myself guilt-free without a workout hanging over my head. I see a big nap in my future tomorrow, maybe some slow walking and a lot of reading.

Life is good.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

06.09.11

Summer started today. Calendars lie.  Everything was as it should have been: the warmish breeze, the sweet-smelling air on my run, the senior denizen dog-walkers in the park.  Kids laughing in the pool, their wavy-wet hair stuck to their foreheads.  Lemonade and oatmeal cookies.  The cut of an orange swimsuit strap on my shoulder.  Sunscreen and flip flops, a deep mom bag of towels.  Today is about that thing when you get in your car and the sweltering heat is nice for a second, then unbearable.  Today was sweat at the back of my knees while I drove around town and kids with reddish eyes that wanted to stay in the water all afternoon.  Today was good and real.

I can't believe I only took one photo:




SNAKE EYES




The Geometry of Sunburns

My geometry teacher died when I was a junior. He wasn't my teacher anymore, but it was very sad. It was one of the first deaths in my life that made me think "wow, if it could happen to _____, it could happen to anyone." Short of seeing the Challenger explosion in elementary school, it didn't much occur to me that a teacher could die. The Challenger was scary, but it was remote, surreal and movie-like, something I was young and happy enough to be shielded from. But suddenly there this was, real as b2. I hadn't seen this teacher since I was an eighth grader taking his high school class. I'm sure he wouldn't have known me three years later, but the whole school--life--came to a halt with his passing.

It is true for me as I am sure is true for students everywhere: once you have a teacher, you have them forever as a memory and a part of high school's imprint. I hate to say you own a piece of them in your mind forever. (It bothers me to dwell on that thought, given my profession. But in a way, yes... at least the idea of them.) You have them for life in what you remember about your own growth. I am sure we mourned the loss of invincibility--that teenage clutch on that won't happen to anyone I know--as much as we mourned him. I hadn't lost a teacher to date. Real life was nipping my heels.

I believe the funeral was on my birthday. If it wasn't my birthday, it was close enough that it still felt like my own bad form. In high school nearly everything I did embarrassed me like a shrunken shirt that lifts when you raise your arms. Even the accident of my birth date. I smoothed and tugged at the edges of myself constantly; I found myself unsure what to say the entire day of the service. The memorial was on the baseball field since the teacher had been the head baseball coach. It was a lengthy service, but hundreds of students sat in uncharacteristic silence to pay respects to both a man and an idea we couldn't quite understand.

Someone had handed me a tube of thick sunscreen as we headed out to the field and I methodically slathered it all over my arms, my face, the back of my neck. I missed my chest, though, and the hours-long memorial faced into the late-spring sun. By the time I got home the negative space around my dress was burned into my sternum: a scoop-neck batik that would blister and peel before it left a dark, rough patch of skin.

Every summer I burn once before the infinitesimal Native American genes reassert themselves and things deepen to a warm brown. That particular sunburn took three years to go away. Long after the redness and blisters faded, a darker ring adorned my chest where the dress hadn't been. It was a collarless, permanent taupe dicky--hardly the accessory to wear with one's gingham-check bikini when trying to look, you know, not weird.

I don't mean to mix funerals and bikinis in a distasteful formula for a blog post, but each year the first sunburn takes me back to that sunny field. It reminds me that our efforts at covering ourselves up are not always successful--pain gets through sometimes, and light. It reminds me of how much the marks linger even if we want them gone.

Yesterday I decided to throw caution to the wind and gamble on Google Earth not capturing the activities in my backyard. The heat of a Mumford-scored weed-pulling exercise was to be too much and I pulled off my T shirt. The sports bra I wore was modest enough, and cooler. The sun on my back was too good to miss. Anyway, the next-door (pastor) neighbor with the two-story house was out of town. No need for solitary modesty. I sunk my knees into the dirt, got a good sweat as I clawed at weeds in the vegetable garden for an hour, then showered in time to get the monkeys from school.

It wasn't until last night I found that I branded myself again with another unusual screen print. The sun felt so good on my skin that thoughts of sunscreen never occurred.

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It's not so bad, but it takes me back. So much of what I am was burned into me by sixteen.



Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Water for Elephants

It didn't hurt that I still saw August (Chistoph Waltz) in his former Nazi role.  I couldn't finish Inglorious Basterds because... well, because I'm a hugely inexcusable wimp.  As much as I love some pretend violence from Quentin Tarantino, I couldn't let go of the realism of a WWII Germany backdrop so I shut it off.  The mind is funny in how it makes connections.  My mind is funny in how it overreacts to things and doesn't let them go.

Anyway, I digress.


August was just as loathsome as he was in the book.  Marlena (Reese Witherspoon) was better, more of a dynamic character than I remembered.  My favorite character from the book, Rosie the elephant, didn't get nearly enough screen time but her scenes were enjoyable.

Tuesday we saw Water for Elephants.  I almost decided to let this one go and wait until it came out on video, but I'm glad I didn't.  (Side note: Video?  Is that even what people say anymore?  Or do we just say DVD now?  Scheez, I'm too young to feel old.)  Sometimes I get anxious about seeing a film of a book I really like because I get upset when a story gets tweaked or shortened.   I get full of unreasonable rage when the feeling of the story changes.  I didn't have to get upset or full of rage.  This was a great movie and I felt like the story was handled with respect.

One of the things that I liked while reading this book was its uniqueness of subject matter.  The same was true of the film.  I liked reading a story and seeing a film about a Depression-era circus. It was just unusual. It's not something I can say I do all the time.

Without spoiling too much I can say that the only part of the story that changed for the film was that the older Jacob's scenes were merged into one conversation.  Though I missed the sweet interaction in his nursing home, I didn't mind the way it was rewritten.  It definitely kept with the spirit of the book.  The grit of the circus was the same.  The contrast of a glittering performer's life with that of the hungry workmen was there.

I enjoyed the movie and it was something completely different. No CGI, no explosions, no "friends with benefits" or poop jokes, just a good story based on a good book.  Hangover 2 and the like be damned--I feel like my faith in this summer's box office is restored.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Kids & Cats

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