Sunday, January 31, 2010

Is that Opportunity or the Cable Guy Knocking?

When it became clear that our little network problem was neither going to resolve itself or be fixed by me, I gritted my teeth and called my Internet Service Provider. I don't like to ask for help. (Yes. I'm aware that's an issue that I should work on.) After I waited on hold for more than 10 minutes, the agent who answered my call couldn't do anything other than schedule a service appointment. The first available technician can't come out to the house until Friday. Not happy news.

Over at Mad Woman in the Forest, Laurie Halse Anderson is proposing a Blog Free February. Her point is that there is a lot of distraction on the internet, and taking a month away from it may break some bad habits. Maybe. I'll be interested to see how a week without the internet at home plays out for me. At the moment it feels more like a giant nuisance than the opportunity for positive change, but I'll let you know.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Technical Difficulties

Our home network is acting up tonight, and I’m not sure whether I’m going to be able to post my blog. It could be the weather—we’ve had an unexpected amount of snowfall— not enough to be crippling, but enough to catch most people unawares and slow everyone down a bit.

When I first realized that my internet access had been cut, I was irritated. After working unsuccessfully to resolve the problem myself, I paused, cable modem in hand, aware that for some reason, I could choose my next reaction. Would my annoyance escalate to extreme frustration, or would I calmly let go and accept my inability to go online and subsequently write and post my entry? My 335-days-in-a-row streak would end, as it must someday, and I would be free from the blame; in many ways it would be like a snow day from school. Yippee! No writing for me today!

I started writing my blog in a snowstorm last March. Sitting in front of the fire surfing the internet, I read about a month-long slice of life story challenge sponsored by the Two Writing Teachers website. Why not? I asked myself. How hard can 31 days of writing be? Since then, my blog has become so much more for me. There are days when I feel like I’ll never even find a sentence worth posting and others when the words fly from my fingers, but writing every day is something I value, mostly because I never thought I could really do it.

I know myself well enough to understand that if I want to continue, then the routine of daily practice is a must.

Give up? Not today.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Horatio's Revenge

So a big part of the class meeting yesterday was on cyber-bullying: what it is, what to do about it, how to avoid it. This morning a sixth grade student on the other team comes in with her mom, who wants to speak to the counselor and the principal. It seems her daughter got a mean and threatening email from one of our students yesterday afternoon. When confronted, our student said she had the gotten idea from the discussion in class. Wow. Talk about missing the message.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Memo to Horatio

We did a class meeting today on Internet Safety. It's an annual event, the counselors are tasked by the county to design a lesson to engage the students in a conversation about making wise choices in this cyber-era. I don't know why, but teaching the same lesson five times back-to-back is way easier than sitting through one. I'll have to ponder that fact, but it did give me the chance to consider the world that these kids are growing up in.

There are several 2-3 minute videos making the rounds in education these days about that world and how we are getting our students ready for it. Every one that I've seen has highlighted competition between the US and India and China... evidently, both of these countries have more honor students than we have students, and obviously that fact is supposed to scare the hell out of us (whoever we are) as well as motivate us into action. My God! Those Chinese and Indian honor students are going to... please fill in the blank, because really? I can't.

I guess the big question posed by all of these productions is whether or not we're adequately preparing kids for their future given how quickly the world is changing. I suppose it's natural to worry, but thirty-five years ago when I was in middle school, this world we live in now was undreamt of, too, and it seems like most of us have been able to adapt.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Note to Self

We had a modified schedule today for the all-school science fair, and as a result I ended up with a mixed group of students for about 45 minutes at the end of the day. It had been a stressful few weeks for them-- working diligently on their science fair projects, preparing for the presentation piece, and then actually displaying their board and going through the judging process. We had some academic activities planned for the last part of the day, but it was clear that such structure wasn't really appropriate, at least not for my group, and so I abandoned the Challenge-24 practice in favor of vintage cartoons, independent reading, and games.

It's not often that I get a chance to actually play with the kids, but today I could. I always forget what an effective way to build relationships it is to simply sit down at a table and play a couple of hands of Uno or a game of Bananagrams. Kids invariably love it when an adult takes the time to play with them, and it's really fun, too. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Many Hands Make Light Work

Savannah and her mom stopped by while I was cooking dinner tonight. Savannah is three, and verrrry fond of Heidi, so Laura, her mom, asked if she could hang out for 5 minutes or so to get her Heidi-fix, and that was cool with us. The last time she was here I got to show off my mad play-doh skills, and she was hoping for a little more of that, I think, but instead, I gave her the chance to apply what she had learned.

I was making sweet potato gnocchi, and an extra pair of tiny hands was just what I needed to make the task go a little faster. We got down the pink poodle apron we keep on the hook for the little girls in our lives, and Savannah was stunned by its beauty and novelty. Dinner momentarily took a backseat to the obligatory photo-shoot.

It wasn't too long, however, before she was standing on the kitchen stool rolling the soft orange dough into snakes and using a baker's bench knife to cut it. It was my job to slip the gnocchi into the simmering water before we continued with the next batch. "Why are we doing this?" she asked.

"It's dinner," I told her.

"My dinner?" She was a little concerned.

"Not unless you want some," I said, and, completely uninterested in actually eating the product of her labor, Savannah untied her apron and headed home about 10 minutes later.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Things That Come Back to Us

I read When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead last summer, so didn't I feel ahead of the curve when it won the Newbury this year? I liked it for many reasons-- it was about sixth graders, it took place in the 70s, the main character loved A Wrinkle in Time. It spoke to both who I was and who I am. For those who are not familiar, one of the subplots involves a character who is practicing to go on the 20,000 Dollar Pyramid, and so every chapter is titled like one of those six blocks in the pyramid. I appreciated that, too.

Lately, my sister-in-law and her brothers have been sorting through their parents' house. Since Judy died in October, they've moved Vic to an assisted-living group home for people with Alzheimer's, and the house must be emptied either to sell or to rent. I've written before about the breadth of their possessions, and I know that determining what to sell, what to trash, and what to give away is a huge job. This morning I walked toward my classroom door to find a bag of things propped against it. My sister-in-law works in the same school, and she had left it there for me.

Inside were some cookie tins that I will happily refill and pass along, a snow gauge that we gave to her dad one year for Christmas that will find a new home in Buffalo, and a Twelfth Night cake mold that we bought for Judy. She was always one to embrace a new celebration, and for years we talked about trying to start the tradition of a Twelfth Night party complete with neighborhood bonfire. It turned out that although she and I were loathe to let the holidays go, most others were not, and so the cake pan came back to me in its original box.

Maybe next year?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Secret's in the Sauce

The smell of apples and ruminating on ethnic food reminds me of a story. Could it have been 20 years ago? Ah, indeed it was. A new Thai restaurant opened in our neighborhood. The owner was a friend of a friend and the place quickly became a favorite. One dish we particularly liked was kai yang: a chicken breast on the bone, marinated and grilled, and served with sticky rice,  slices of carrots and cucumbers, and a spicy sauce.

I asked Jimmy, my Thai friend at work, how to make it, and he gave me a recipe for the marinade, but brought a bottle of mang-da sauce the next day. "This is what you serve with it," he said. "Even in Thailand, hardly anybody makes it at home; it's like ketchup." That summer, kai yang with mang-da sauce was a staple of our dinner parties. Our guests would rave about the combination, and many evenings found us lounging at our outdoor table in the moonlight speculating about what was in the secret sauce. The label was no help; written mostly in Thai, the ingredients list in English simply read mang-da, water, hot peppers, and salt. The sauce itself was brownish-red, a puree with flecks of peppers and something else. It was spicy but complex, and here is where we all had our pet theories. What was mang-da? Animal, mineral, or vegetable?  John insisted that it tasted of apples, but I found it a little briny, like dried shrimp.

On and on we debated, until finally it occurred to me to ask Jimmy. He laughed and uncharacteristically referred the question. The ladies who worked in the pantry, doing all the cold prep, were mostly Thai and Vietnamese, and their lead was a woman named Supatra. That is who he told me to ask. Jimmy watched curiously as I approached her and asked my question. She laughed, too, but a little nervously. "This flavor is very good, but very strong," she started. "In my village we like it very much."  Her hesitation was beginning to worry me a little.

"Go on, " I urged her. Finally she came out with it-- mang da was a gigantic, 2 1/2 inch water beetle that people in northern Thailand roasted and ground as a seasoning. I realized that I had seen them in the freezer section of the Asian market, an icy block of frozen cockroaches; in fact I was quite sure that I had pulled them out of there, grimacing in disgust and wondering who would ever eat them.

Turns out, it was me. Later, when I asked the guy who owned the restaurant about it, though, he was offended that we would think that he would serve such a peasant sauce in his establishment. He was from Bangkok, he informed me, where they had much higher standards.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

IMBY

We live right next door to the county mulch pile. Well, I say pile, but another noun would probably be more correct; that mound of lawn clippings, leaves, etc. over there must be over 30 feet high, 20 feet wide, and 40 feet long. When we first moved into this place 11 years ago, I wasn't even aware that it was there. A narrow swath of woods and a chain link fence beyond separates our community from the county property. I'll never forget the winter day a few months later when I stepped out on my balcony. All the leaves were gone, and I did a classic cartoon double take, and although I can't confirm it, I think my eyes popped out of their sockets with that boi-yoi-yoinggg noise, too. How in the hell had that hulking heap of humus happened?

Over the years I've made my peace with it. Such an eco-friendly enterprise has to be located somewhere, doesn't it? That it's hidden from view most months, that I'm not allergic to leaf mold, and that neither do I mind the fragrance of rotting lawn clippings on a hot summer day helps. In fact I think it kind of smells like apples. Well, apples most of the time, except now, which is why I write about the mulch pile at all. In January and early February, it's everyone's discarded Christmas trees that are making their way through the chipper, and so the scent of pine permeates the cold air on these winter days, and I like that.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Yo Quiero...

I heard today on the radio that the founder of Taco Bell died. Glen Bell (so that's where the name came from... hm, I did not know that) was heralded as making Mexican food the mainstream staple of the American diet that it is today. I can't argue, in fact I had enchilladas for dinner last night and lunch today. (And they were delicious, Leah!)

I haven't thought about it in a long time, but as great a cook as my mom was, when we were growing up in New Jersey in the 60s and 70s, we didn't eat much ethnic food beyond spaghetti and chili. (And they were delicious, Mom!) Pizza was a treat, chips and salsa were unheard of, and it was a 25 minute drive to the nearest Chinese restaurant.

We did have some friends who moved to California in 1970, and as an airline family, we had the advantage of being able to visit them in Orange County a couple times a year. It was at their house that I tasted my first "taco". Soft corn tortillas were laid flat on a baking sheet with a slice of American cheese on each. While those warmed in the oven, plain ground beef was sauteed with nothing but salt and maybe black pepper.  We folded the tortillas over the beef with some iceberg lettuce, diced tomato, and onion to complete the dish, and it was so good, that we packed tortillas in our suitcases and kept them in the freezer so that we could enjoy tacos at home.

Our friends thought we were sooo weird.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

What a Relief

At my school, in an effort to raise money  for earthquake relief, we're doing Hats for Haiti, Hoops for Haiti, Hearts for Haiti, and Houses for Haiti. As I listened the other morning to the details of these activities, it somehow seemed wrong to me that we should be having so much fun when the people we were trying to assist were living in such misery.

It's hardly surprising though. So often in this country we combine fun and fundraisers. From galas and silent auctions to walks and telethons, it's what we do to raise money and awareness in support of most causes. But why? When did it become necessary and expected for us to receive some extrinsic reward for supporting a good cause?

When I asked the kids in my homeroom what they thought,  they said that they didn't believe most people would help without some incentive. They're wrong of course; millions of dollars have already been donated to aid the victims of the quake, but who can blame them for thinking as they do? It's what they know of supporting a cause.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Cutting Our Losses

It's getting to that time of year that many people think should be a big indicator of a teacher's effectiveness... testing season. Around here the curriculum specialists are gearing up for "targeted remediation." What does that mean, you wonder? Well, classroom teachers are asked to select students who we think may have trouble on the state assessments, but we are cautioned not to choose students who are too far behind to pass. Those kids would be "taking a seat" from a student who might pass with a little extra push. But what about the students we fear are most to likely fail? They are targeted all right, targeted to fail, and they are left in their regular classes, some special education, some remedial general education, others taught on grade level, regardless of the students' levels, because of a district pacing chart that must be adhered to. This is what high stakes testing looks like in an era of limited resources.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

So Little Time

The teacher workday starts out full of promise and lengthy to-do lists. It seems like so much can be accomplished on a day when we do not have to rush out the door to get to school to greet our students, on a day when there aren't any students, just a quiet classroom and that long, long list.

Inevitably, we over plan, and that's what happened to me today: I made a good dent in my list (and of course I did a few things that weren't on the list, both by choice and by colleague request), but at 5 PM the checks do not outnumber what remains to do. I'm already looking at my calendar and parceling up the leftover tasks to slot into a few free minutes here and there during my planning time and after school in the coming week. I have some big deadlines looming, and those are always the most serious of motivators for me, so I'm confident all will get done (as usual), even if those pesky kids will be back tomorrow.

Blog posted. Check.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Nulla Dies Sine Linea*

Tomorrow is a teacher planning day, and on Wednesday the third quarter will begin. It is hard to believe that half the time we will spend with these students has passed already. Of course that means that we have half a school year to go, too, and in the spirit of that half-full perspective, I've decided that my students will write in class every day from now until June.

*I got The Essential Don Murray for Christmas, and never a day without a line is his number one piece of advice.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Another Way to Look at Things

Some teachers I know have issues with making accommodations for students with disabilities, particularly those with attention deficits. We want them to "try harder" to be more organized, more focused, less impulsive. This year, we have a blind student on our team and it has put every discussion I've ever had about special education into a new perspective. Imagine telling Jason that we know he could see if he would just try harder.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Gateways (or Have Mercy Percy!)

Every year on this weekend we drive to Buffalo, a trip that takes us about 8 hours each way. It's a long way and a quick turn around, but we go to see a little boy with whom we don't get to spend much time otherwise, and the visit means a lot to people we care about.

In the car we pass the time by listening to audiobooks. Last year, it was Twilight, a perfectly awful recording of a not very good book, but I diligently read the other three books in the series afterward. This year, it's the Lightning Thief. Percy Jackson has been a favorite of my students for the last few years, but I personally haven't been able to make it past chapter 3. The kids I have in my class right now are downright fanatical about the series, though, and I figured I owed it to them to give it another try.

Honestly? The audio version is so-so, not too annoying except when the narrator does Annabeth's voice in that falsetto that so many male readers do. The book itself is mediocre. Kind of predictable and not especially well-written or well-paced. Still, once we're finished listening to it, I know it'll be much easier for me to read the rest of the series, and then if I still need to, I can ask the kids why they like it so much.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Step Two

The kids loved the map thing, and we spent the better part of the day swapping stories of adventure, victory, injury, and loss. Now the trick will be to turn all that great raw material into writing.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Synchronicity

For my memoir unit I've been consulting the experts; in addition to the Kirbys and Jack Gantos, I've been using Ralph Fletcher's How to Write About Your Life and Jerry Spinelli's Knots in My Yo-Yo String. What a funny coincidence that they all have something specific in common besides being good resources: it's the Map Activity.

For the past few years I've been doing my best to incorporate more visual-graphic elements into the writing I ask my students to do, so this activity seemed like a good fit. In addition, I felt like it was age-appropriate and clearly it appealed to different learning styles. The premise is that you draw a rough map of your neighborhood, yard, house, or room, and label it with significant places or events. Then you write about them.

I try to do all the assignments I give my students myself in advance if I can, but in this case, time didn't allow it, even though my lesson plan called for me to model a map, so I had to wing it. Using the white board as my scratch pad, I drew a square representing the house where I lived from the ages of 4 to 10.

What happened next was like magic... as I filled in features of my map, anecdote after anecdote spontaneously sprang to mind. I hit the highlights for the class as I sketched: the neighbor's strawberries my brother and I ate, the creek we weren't allowed to play in but did anyway (until we got caught), our clubhouse in the bushes by the house, the way our street curved downhill making it the perfect sledding slope when it snowed, Dr. Messey's house around the corner where I got my chin stitched up, the 10 puppies our dog had. I could have gone on and on, but the bell stopped me in each class.

It was an amazing exercise, and remarkably, the students found my stories pretty interesting. I just hope that they will be half as inspired as I was when they share their maps tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Right Up Until the Alligator Ate his Dog

I've really been enjoying using Jack Gantos's writing in my class this week as a model of memoir, albeit in the fictionalized sense. His website has some great advice for kids and teachers on how to turn their personal experiences into good stories, and he has published some terrific examples, especially in his Jack Henry series. (Here he avoids pulling a James Frey by changing the last names.) I confess to laughing out loud several time while reading Heads and Tails. Gantos is a kind of a kid-friendly (but still edgy) version of David Sedaris or Augusten Burroughs. The kids loved the excerpts, too, and all three copies of the book were checked out of the library the same day we read his work.

Even so (and despite the fact that I knew it was coming), the part where the alligator drags Jack's dog into the canal broke my heart. To me, it was nothing short of tragic. I don't know why it is that some people find the plight of animals equally or more compelling than that of our fellow human beings. Surely it is bound up in our complex connection to nature, a relationship that has only been muddied by our advancements in technology and civilization. Or maybe it's just that pet death is really, really, sad.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tuesday Night Special

My last cooking job was in the flight kitchen of United Airlines at Dulles Airport. That dates me a bit, because this was back in the day when not only did they actually serve food on planes, but the airlines prepared it themselves.

Twenty years ago, our crew was a very international bunch. In addition to the German chef and his three sous chefs (German, French, and Chinese-American), the lead cook was Thai, his second was Korean, there was an Iraqi, a Jamaican, an Austrian, a Frenchman, a Filipino, two Indonesians (one Balinese and the other Javanese), a guy from El Salvador, and me. I was lucky that the guys took me under their wings, and they taught me to cook not only the dishes on the airline menu, but some of their own recipes as well. Jimmy told me his method for making green Thai curry, start by frying the curry paste until the dog sneezes, and Roger showed me how to cook sauerkraut Alsatian-style, which I am making tonight. The trick is to rinse the sauerkraut well before braising it with onions, garlic, bacon, thyme, juniper berries, white wine, and chicken stock.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Dinner Tonight

There is a version of tomato sauce called Putanesca. It is named after the Italian word for prostitute and so called because the ingredients are what she might happen to have in her refrigerator and pantry... bacon, olives, capers, garlic, anchovies, and hot peppers are added to a can of tomatoes and tossed with pasta to create an instant supper. We should all eat so well after a hard day (or night) at work.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Pat Yourself on the Back

What to write about on a day spent on miscellaneous chores? Maybe just that feeling of accomplishment that goes with taking care of your business. I'll leave it at that, with a sigh.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Don't Stop Believin

We spent some time over our winter break catching up on episodes of Glee. My students love this show, and there are a couple of things that I really like about it, too. The first is that it takes place in a school-- I'm a sucker for any story that is set either in a restaurant or a school, since those have been my own workplaces. Until recently, I felt like both were under-represented on TV, and I'm enjoying their current higher profile.

The other thing I like about Glee is the character development. They started the show with a handful of cookie-cutter stereotypes, and the writers and actors have done an impressive job creating complex characters over the course of the season. Each one of them is deeply flawed, but they all have redeeming qualities, too, and the characters have been allowed to surprise and disappoint us in every episode.

Oh yeah, and they sing and dance. What more could you possibly want?

Friday, January 8, 2010

One Little Word

Over at Two Writing Teachers Ruth and Stacey have been choosing One Little Word for the last several years. The idea is to find a single word that expresses something you will work toward in the coming year.

I think it's a neat concept, and this is the second year that I've asked my students to do this, too. The assignment is for them to choose a word and then write a paragraph explaining why they want more of this in their lives.

Here is their list so far for this year:

A+
Appreciate
Believe
Caring
Change
Cookie
Create
Determination
Difference
Excited!
Focus
Free
Friendship
Fun!!!
Green!
Happiness
Join
Organize
Participation
Patience
Peace
Poetry
Practice
Service
Sing
Sleep
Success
Trust
Try
Violinist
Worldly

Oh, and my word for this year? It would definitely have to be Glee.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Founder's Day

Yesterday was my father's birthday. Had he lived until now, he would have been 75, but he died in 1987. He was a complicated man, but the same cannot be said of his taste in food. Content to eat burgers, grilled cheese, or creamed chipped beef for most of his meals (all on wonder-type bread, of course), his idea of a special occasion menu was chicken with white gravy, mashed potatoes, and biscuits, a meal that, to this day, I make every year on January 6.

Happy Birthday, Dad.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Rebuttal

There was an op/ed piece in the NY Times the other day that I found rather irritating. Entitled The Replacements, it was by a woman who just happens to be writing a book about her experience working as a substitute teacher the last couple of years. Her basic argument was that a) teachers always complain that the sub doesn't follow the plans we leave, and b) teachers always complain that our job is soooo hard, so c) why should we be surprised that an inexperienced temp can't follow the plans we leave?

(Um... because, that's not really the hard part?) There was also a laundry list of complaints starting with the fact that almost anyone with a clean background check and a high school diploma can get a sub job, also there's very little training offered to substitute teachers, and teachers either leave too much or too little information for the sub. Her solution? Don't let teachers take time off. Seriously.

I worked as a substitute for six months before I got my full-time teaching job, and it is a hard job, no question about it, but blaming teachers for the fact that the substitute system is less than perfect and implying that we are harming our students anytime we take a day of leave (which we are entitled to by our contracts) is galling.

When I first started teaching, I probably was one of those who left too much info; I was so anxious about my class running smoothly in my absence. I like to think I leave the right amount now; I definitely have a better idea about what kind of activities are easiest done with a sub. Even so, I don't really like to miss any days in my classroom, both because of lost instructional time, and also because making good sub plans is usually harder than teaching whatever it is myself. For that reason alone, the idea that most teachers take advantage of their sick and personal leave is ludicrous. What other profession do you have to do all the work except showing up when you need to take a day?

Public education is always an easy target, though, and in the end, I found it difficult to view this piece as much more than the work of an opportunistic writer taking pot shots at teachers in order to sell books.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Why I Love Teaching English

Because I get e-mails like this one:

Dear Ms. S,

I am writing a novel in my spare time, here is the 1st chapter, do you have any comments or questions? Please write back, I need help revising and writing more.

Monday, January 4, 2010

That's the Plan, Anyway

Today was the first day back at school after over two weeks away, and my students seemed dreamy and out of it. We talked a little about books we'd read and things we'd done over break, and then I gave them a copy of Nancie Atwell's Questions for Memoirists: nineteen questions designed to provoke a list of possible memoir topics. I let them talk about their ideas first, casually sharing anecdotes and details that came to mind as they read over the list. That got them a little more animated, and there was even a bit of a din in the room as they free-associated their way through the list. Then they were to choose memory and do a seven-minute free write on it. No one shared any writing today, but I asked everyone to take it home and spend another ten minutes on it.

This year, I'm trying the "studio workshop approach" to memoir that Kirby and Kirby describe in their book New Directions in Teaching Memoir. I like their construct of writing workshop as a studio classroom where instructors demonstrate techniques and ideas, work on pieces of their own, quietly visit students at work, and offer suggestions. I also like their approach to process, using short exercises to gather material, kind of the way an artist might do studies for a portrait. They call these short writings "explorations" or "spider pieces". They teach their students to examine them for connections, images, and memories that stand out, and then they use some of them as anchors, weaving their memoirs around them.

The Kirbys use models as well, excerpts from published memoirs that illustrate a specific topic or technique, to help students explore them in their own writing and thinking. My plan is to spend the next couple of weeks with the students examining models and working on short little spider pieces, starting with what they wrote today. Once they have a collection of material, we'll work from there to create a finished product.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Cry Baby

I wonder if the people who know me would be surprised at how easily I cry at movies. In fact, I can't remember the last movie I saw where I didn't cry. Yesterday, before Avatar, we saw a preview for the new Toy Story movie opening this summer. The premise is that Andy is going to college, and all of his toys end up at a day care program from which they find it necessary to escape. It looks funny and entertaining, but it was the poignancy of being just a seat away from my nephew who will be off to college himself next year and the memory of seeing the original Toy Story movies with him when he was a little boy that brought a lump to my throat, and that was before the movie even started.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Unobtainium

Every year at this time we begin our quest to see most of the movies which have or will be nominated for Oscars. We know it's silly; we know that a nomination doesn't make a movie better or worse, or even more likely that we'll like it, but it's what we do, and it's kind of fun. Plus, the weather is cold and dreary, and we don't feel guilty about spending time inside. So, so far this week we've seen Up in the Air (loved it), It's Complicated (liked it a lot), and we saw Avatar today. I really liked it, despite the way it was a mash up of every other James Cameron movie and Dances With Wolves, too. Or maybe I liked it because of that; it's hard to say. Either way, it was a cool, totally absorbing way to spend three hours. Ten feet tall blue folk, who woulda thunk it?

Friday, January 1, 2010

A Good Start

Our family always has the same New Year's Day dinner. We have the traditional ham to remind us to look forward, black-eyed peas for luck, and greens for money, but we've added our own touches to the menu over the years, too. We have pan-fried chicken, corn, and rice, and there's always hot sauce to go with everything. We have holiday crackers on the table, champagne with the meal, and clementines and the last of the Christmas cookies for dessert. One year we made up a significance for each thing, but I've forgotten what we decided they all stood for. I know there was health, happiness, laughter, whimsy, and comfort, and fortunately for us, those five were all present at the table tonight, making this meal an excellent first of the year.