Monday, January 31, 2011

Re-thinking My Routine

When I sit down to write I always check my email first (all three accounts) and then facebook and my iGoogle page. Who knows what inspiration lies in those places? Well, to be honest, I actually have a fair idea, and it's usually not much. Still, I persist in my habits, despite my limited time and the other demands on it.

This morning on the radio I heard that it was Norman Mailer's birthday; he would have been 88. I think the only thing I ever read by him was The Executioner's Song back when I was in college. I don't remember what drew me to the story of Gary Gilmore, but I do remember that it was his girlfriend, Nicole, who was the most compelling character in the book, that and the whole "Let's do it!" thing.

But I wasn't thinking of any of that this morning when I heard Garrison Keillor read this quotation of Mailer's:

I used to have a little studio in Brooklyn, a couple of blocks from my house — no telephone, not much else. The only thing I ever did there was work. It was perfect. I was like a draft horse with a conditioned reflex. I came in ready to sit at my desk. No television, no way to call out. Didn't want to be tempted.

No, hearing those particular words, I was simply struck by the wisdom of the writer. Happy Birthday, Mr. Mailer.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Exceptional

To regular readers of WtD it is not news that I see a lot of movies. I like going to the movies, and I'm really not that picky about the films themselves. It takes a lot to make me dislike a movie.

Having said that, it also takes a lot to make me love a movie. It seems the older I get, the harder I am to impress; movies don't seem as thrilling and as moving and as completely involving as they did when I was younger. I'm not sure what that is about, but most of the time, I leave the theater with a half smile and a that-was-okay shrug, ready to get on with my business. I confess that it is always a little disappointing when the unspoken promise of the darkened house lights is undelivered and a movie does no more than simply entertain me for a couple of hours, but I manage.

Today was an exception. We saw Biutiful with Javier Bardem, and it was completely gratifying to me-- I loved it. In an interview with NPR, the director, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, explains that the film is a tragedy and defends its darkness:

...tragedy has some rules and those rules is about somebody who will be hit by destiny in every angle.
And while he is falling down, free-fall, how this character, with dignity, will find a way to redeem himself, to find light, to find a verticality in his existence and put everything together. That's what tragedy's about. And this film is that. It's an exercise. From "Medea" to "King Lear," to "Macbeth," it's just that this guy is not a king.

Don't be put off by the bleak premise. Biutiful is a smart, empathetic movie that addresses desperation and morality in the world today, and Javier Bardem's performance is stunning.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Ten Out of Ten

We saw the last of the best picture nominees this afternoon. Our viewing quest actually started last June, when we went to Toy Story 3, and  I blubbered my way through the entire film. Then in early July, we saw Winter's Bone, and you can bet I'm still patting myself on the back for calling that one. Like many people, we saw Inception last summer, too, and we also saw The Kids Are All Right, which I did not enjoy.

We went to The Social Network right after Thanksgiving and True Grit and The Fighter over Christmas. I can't believe I didn't blog about the girl-on-girl stuff in Black Swan when we saw it on New Years, but The King's Speech was on my mind on January 2.

So, when the nominations were announced last Tuesday, it turned out that we only had one movie to see of the ten nominated for Best Picture. It was 127 Hours, and I confess that I had been avoiding it. I got a little graveyard chill and my arm tingled anytime I even considered spending 93 minutes watching that gruesome story unwind.

But with 100% completion so close to my grasp, I laid my eight dollars down and braced for the worst. It was excruciating in places, but not at all what I expected. The director, Danny Boyle's last film was Slum Dog Millionaire, and his depiction on life-or-death adversity in this movie was a compliment to his earlier work. He uses montage, music, and intense sensory images to convey the harshness, but also the beauty, of the situations his characters must rise above.

Don't get me wrong-- I didn't really enjoy 127 Hours, but I guess I do appreciate being pushed out of my comfort zone-- it gives me stuff to think about, for sure-- so maybe you could say I did like it.

By that reasoning alone, I'm glad I saw each of the 10 movies which have been recognized this year.

Plus that's all of them! Ha!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Idiot Box

A couple of snow days and a new TV have combined to create a situation where I have watched too much television today. A bank robber shot dead, a young actor badgered into removing his shirt, the Kardashians, and Charlie Sheen dominated the day. I know better, but I guess I needed a reminder.

No TV tomorrow.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

One More Science Fair Story

So before the weather refused to cooperate yesterday, our students were busy preparing to defend their science fair projects and answer the questions of the three random adults who were there to judge them. They worked in pairs and quizzed each other, starting with the basics and moving on from there, with varying degrees of success and confidence. As they practiced, I circulated, listening and making suggestions here and there. Eventually I got to one pair of boys. "What's your hypothesis?" asked the first.

"What is a hypothesis again?" asked his partner in return.

"You know-- your idea about what will happen," said the first.

"Oh yeah! My hypothesis is that I am going to rock this science fair!"

Now that's confidence.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go

Six hundred science fair boards filled our cavernous field house. A few finishing touches were being put on a few last minute displays, and everywhere, kids rehearsed answers to the judging questions. Clipboards, badges, guidelines, and refreshments were prepared for the 150 volunteers coming to help judge, when...

Our school was informed we would be closing two hours early for the winter weather on its way. We had 90 minutes to feed everyone lunch and get those display boards back to the correct science teacher. Yes. It. Was. Chaos.

Many of the surrounding school systems were either delayed or closed today, because of sleet this morning and fair warning as to how the storm would develop; if we had been, too, the fair would have been automatically postponed to the snow date, sparing many folks a lot of inconvenience. As it is, we're going to do it all again next Wednesday, which just happens to be... Groundhog's Day!

(Cue I've Got You Babe to play us out.)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Science Fair Madness

Tomorrow is the all-school science fair and since every student is expected to participate, 150 members of the community have volunteered to come in and help our staff judge over 600 science fair projects in just under 2 hours. All the teachers on our team have been working hard to support the science teachers and make sure that every student has a board and is prepared to explain the experiment and answer the questions of three judges.

You can imagine how hectic it's been in every room and the hallways as students spread their 4 x 4 presentation boards on every available surface to cut and glue all the components in their proper places. Scraps of paper, scissors, tape, and glue sticks are everywhere, and kids commute back and forth down the long hallway that runs the length of our school to the color printer.

This afternoon, it was all hands on deck for that final push. The science teacher was in my room helping one student with his data table, and I was helping another make a bar graph from his data, when a third boy burst into the room. "I've lost my purpose!" he cried in panic. We shrugged and shook our heads without much sympathy. "But, but," he stammered, "I don't have a purpose!

"Well," the science teacher told him, "print another one." Problem solved.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Earworms

Lately when I wake up in the middle of the night and find it difficult to get back to sleep, I realize that I have a song stuck in my head, too. It's not always the same one, but it is always nearly impossible to get rid of, and it definitely contributes to my sleeplessness. In researching this phenomena, I've found that it is called an earworm. No one knows why it happens, and there is no definitive cure. The number one piece of advice offered is to tolerate those haunting melodies until they fade off on their own. Um. No.

Years ago I had a friend who swore that singing Sister Christian by Night Ranger would knock any song out of your head, but even motorin' through that little ditty hasn't helped. Focused breathing, meditation, prayer, none of them help to disrupt the phonological loop bludgeoning my brain. Today I read that music on a non-western scale, such as Indonesian Gamelan or even Gregorian chanting, might work, and I intend to put some on my iPod right now and leave it next to my bed tonight.

Can't hurt.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Check Your Local Listings

I like football.

Not to watch, but because it empties the roads and stores and movie theaters for a few hours every Sunday, allowing me to delude myself that this area really isn't way overcrowded. I live the same fantasy during the summer when I'm off, too.

For that reason alone, I'm a little sad that the season is almost over, even though I don't care at all about the sport. I was, however,  really looking forward to getting a lot done with two high profile games scheduled for today. Unfortunately, I didn't check the game times before I went about my business, and I paid a high price for that oversight. The gym and every store was packed, packed! with people trying to fit their own errands in before the 3 PM kickoff of the first playoff game. In fact it was even more crowded than usual because of the big games.

I hate football.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Working Hard for a Restful Saturday

It's a lot of work to enter the 21st century. We decided to get a large-ish flat screen TV for Christmas, and the 46-incher was delivered last Monday setting off a cascading chain of events. It would not fit in the TV cabinet we have, and so we needed something else, BUT that was a nice piece of furniture, albeit obsolete now. We decided to move upstairs to our landing to provide a little extra storage in our space-challenged condo. It's much too heavy for us to carry alone, and the TV in there? A monster. We asked our handy man if he would mind doing the heavy lifting, and he agreed to come over this morning. The next question was to do with a perfectly good television that no one really wants. Best Buy would dispose of it for a hundred bucks; various other enterprises would recycle it for anywhere between 25 and 50 dollars; Goodwill would take it for free. We asked the handy man to drop it at Goodwill on his way home. Our DVR boxes are dinosaurs at the age of six, as is our cable box. The cable guy is coming on Monday to install some cards into the new HD DVR I ordered. It's optimal to have the DVR on our home network, but that requires a new wireless adapter, which I ordered, too, but then there was the requisite set-up wizard, this before we could activate the DVR. Then there's the hardwired set up: DVR, DVD player, cable box, and Wii, a total of 12 cables and cords. Ay yi yi-- like so many things, there's just so much to do before relaxing.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Six-Word Memoirs

This year I'm again using a studio approach to memoir, giving my students lots of opportunities to collect material through writing exercises and other short assignments. For example, yesterday we had a guest poet who did "I Remember" list poems with the kids, and today they composed six six-word memoirs each and posted them to our class's online discussion board. Here are some of my favorites:

The teacher never saw it coming.
That baseball bat was my favorite.
Never let Mom cut your hair.
Who stays frozen in freeze tag?
Bad things happen on slippery floors.
Geese hate sharing with each other.
Your parents are not good dancers.
Stay away from my pet monkey.
The foam cubes smelled like feet.
Bike + speed bump = crash.
Long car rides are worth it.
Jellyfish are like sneaky little spies.
My first yellow card was stupid.
The medal gleamed in the sun.
The diving board was my nemesis.
I will avenge my squished rabbit!
My name means victory in Arabic.
Ignore the question, "How many fingers?"
We got away from the police.

The final product will be a Tom Romano inspired multi-genre piece that incorporates the best of what each student has. They will take vignettes, maps, comics, poetry, and even a six-worder or two, and weave them into and around a more traditional narrative memoir. Constructing a multigenre piece requires the higher order thinking skills of analysis and synthesis, and also provides kids ways to organize and express their ideas using multiple intelligences.

That's the concept, anyway. This part is new to me, so I'll be interested to see how it all turns out.

So, here is my own half-dozen six-word memoirs:

Those tadpoles never had a chance.
Every beach house needs a kite.
Round one goes to the dog.
Watch out! Bigwheels don't have brakes.
Broken thermometers taste like sharp mercury.
He can't cross the street alone.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Good Call

A student walked up to me today and said, "You're going to give me a lolly pop." I raised my eyebrows, and she continued, "I have a joke I know will make you laugh."

"Let's hear it," I said.

Three guys were driving through the desert when their car broke down. They decided to walk for help. The first guy said he would carry the water in case they got thirsty. The second guy volunteered to carry the food in case they got hungry. The third guy started unbolting the door from the side of the car. "What's that for?" one of the other guys asked. 

"In case we get hot, we can roll down the window," he answered.

Yep. She was right.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Another Note to Self

I took the day off to run some errands and take care of some routine medical appointments. As it happened, nothing took as long as I thought it might, and so I arrived early for everything. What a revelation! I'm usually a one-or-two-minutes-late kind of a gal, but I found that when you're early it's a lot less stressful. So what if you can't find a parking space right away? You have time to spare. Who cares if the elevator is slow? No worries. I relaxed guilt-free in every waiting room until my name was called either right on time or even a little early.

I think part of my tardiness trouble may be the start time for school. To get everything I need done in the morning and be on time for work, I have to get up by 5:30. Even though I've been doing that for fifteen years, it still seems way too early for me, and I cling to those few minutes of extra sleep, so when I get up I'm already behind. Then, too, I fall into the trap of trying to cram too much into a day, so that I'm always rushing to finish this so I can run do that.

How can I make every day more like today?

PS-- I named this post before I checked to see if I had used the title Note to Self before, and it turns out that I had, almost exactly a year ago, so I retitled this one. I'm glad I checked, because that other post was good advice, too.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

And in this Corner...

I've always liked the movie Stand By Me, probably because it has so much that appeals to me personally: the boys in it are roughly the age of my students; it takes place in Maine; it's based on a short story by Stephen King. And then consider the cast: River Phoenix, Kiefer Sutherland, Jerry O'Connell, Will Wheaton, and Corey Feldman. Great movie.

One of my favorite scenes is when the boys are sitting around the campfire and they have the following exchange:

Vern: Do you think Mighty Mouse could beat up Superman?
Teddy: What are you, cracked?
Vern: Why not? I saw it the other day. He was carrying five elephants in one hand!
Teddy: Boy, you don't know nothing! Mighty Mouse is a cartoon. Superman's a real guy. There's no way a cartoon could beat up a real guy.
Vern: Yeah, maybe you're right... It'd be a good fight, though!

I thought about that tonight when I heard Michelle "Waiting for Superman" Rhee on Marketplace talking about the value of competition and how it relates to education. After hearing her perspective, I think this would be another really good fight:

Michelle Rhee vs Alfie Kohn

Monday, January 17, 2011

Family Is as Family Does

Over the weekend we drove 900 miles to Buffalo and back to see Heidi's nephew, Kyle. He lives in northern Mississippi, and part of the reason we made the trip was because his mom won't allow him to spend "unsupervised" time with us, since we're a same-sex couple. It's okay if Heidi's folks are around, so off we went to their home for one of our twice-a-year visits.

It turns out that even though Kyle is only ten, he has a facebook account. Evidently, his mom approves of that. So anyway, in between the sledding, and the magic tricks, and the homework, and the alchemy, and the charades this weekend, we friended him.

Tonight when I signed in to fb, I had the following alert: Kyle added you to the group Family.

I clicked Like... but what will the rest of the family think?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

No Lolly Pop For Them

I'm more than a little confused as to why the Hollywood Foreign Press (aka the Golden Globe Awards) insists on treating the movie The Kids Are All Right as a comedy. I can't say I found it the least bit amusing, but maybe it's just me. That reminds me of a joke:

Q: How many lesbians does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: That is NOT funny.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Other Side of the Coin

Sometimes when kids or their parents know they will be absent for one or more days, they ask for the school work in advance, and then we the teachers dutifully write directions, gather assignments and materials, and send them home. More often than not, we never see them again, and that can be kind of frustrating.

As it turns out, Kyle brought a lot of homework with him this weekend. He's missing a couple of days of school in order to visit his grandparents in Buffalo, so his teacher sent along several assignments in all of his subjects. Our first reaction was no problem-- who better to help a fifth grader stay current on his school work than two teachers?

Oh how naive we were. His spelling has taken hours, and we're still not sure that he's doing it right. There is still reading, social studies, and math work to go. He's trying to be responsible, but he loses focus after a certain amount of time, even with a licensed teacher sitting by his side.

No wonder we don't get that work back.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Life Lessons

It seems impossible, but some people need to be told explicitly not to play ring tones with lyrics like I wanna shoot you in the ass with a beebee gun for their grandmothers. True, said person is ten, but still...

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Would I Get a Lolly Pop?

Who knows where some conversations come from?

The other day I heard myself tell the students in my homeroom that I would give a lolly pop to anyone who could make me laugh out loud. To be fair, I'm pretty sure one of the kids started it. I think it went something like this:

Student: We should have a suggestion box.
Me: Okay.
Student: Or, just a comment box.
Me: Okay.
Student: Or a joke box... Yeah that's it!
Me: What would we do with a joke box?
Student: You could just read the jokes at the end of every month.
Me: Why don't we just tell jokes sometimes?
Student: Why would we do that?

And so it went, until six students were crowded around my desk trying to tell me jokes. Maybe it's performance anxiety, maybe I'm a tough audience, but so far only one has made me laugh:

Q: Why don't sea gulls fly over the bay?
A: Because then they would be bay gulls.

Wait for it...

Funny, right?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Don't Spend It All in One Place

Getting an inch of snow is like winning ten cents in the lottery. ~Bill Watterson

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Day One

Okay. It's really hard not to scold kids. Here were the hazardous conversations I had to have today alone: the seven children who did not have their homework, the three who did not bring anything to write with to my class, the two who were tardy unexcused, the one who snapped the pencil I had just lent him in half and left it on the table when class was over, the one who broke one of my rulers and threw it on the floor, and the several who felt it necessary to have side conversations when one of their classmates was reading.

Monday, January 10, 2011

In Trouble

I got a scolding today. I won't say who administered it or what it pertained to, because that's not really relevant. I will say that nobody likes to be chided, and after years of teaching and aunting (and delivering more than a few tongue lashings myself) I have come to understand that such a rebuke is usually more for the benefit of the scolder than the scoldee.

As good as it feels to vent your righteous indignation, being reprimanded makes most people very defensive, and as a corollary, deaf to your message. All they're thinking of are excuses and reasons why you are more wrong than they are. That's exactly the position I was in today-- speechless, but also angry and closed-off to any legitimate concerns that may have been expressed in the admonishment.

So, although it's a little late in the new year, I hereby resolve to scold not, and also to curb my own negative reactions when reproached, because neither is especially productive.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Weather

I use iGoogle to keep track of the weather in places where there's a little piece of my heart. There are five locations stacked up and down in the center of my home page like a blue and white highrise and checking the weather is like looking out the windows of the apartments on different floors. Today, for the first time in my condominium of climate, there's snow behind every curtain-- in Minnesota, Buffalo, and Maine (which is hardly surprising but rarely happens all at once), and also in Washington and Atlanta a perfect palette of white will prevail. Cool.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Timing Was Off

“My name is Helen,” the student read, “I sort of like my name. Helen is unusual, but I just can’t find it on key chains and stuff, which I hate. I also don’t like it, because everyone’s grandma is named Helen.”

“My grandmother’s name was Helen,” I said.

“See what I mean?” she answered.

We laughed, but later when I thought about the conversation, I thought about my grandmother. I never knew her; she died ten years before I was born. When I was growing up, my father rarely spoke about his parents, and as children, we never asked. To us, they were black and white faces in a picture frame, and nothing more.

So here’s everything I know about my grandmother: Her name was Helen and she lived her entire life in Little falls, NY. She married my grandfather, Harold, in 1920, at the age of 20. They had eight children, seven boys and one girl. I have a photograph of the entire family taken in 1942 when my father, the second youngest, was seven, and they are a very handsome family, indeed. In 1928, when the Phoenix Underwear Company mill, of which he was a manager, moved to NC, my grandfather bought a funeral home and became the town’s Catholic undertaker. The sinks and slab were in the basement, the parlors and office were on the ground floor, and the family lived upstairs.

Helen was very permissive with her children—no matter what they were having for dinner, she always made a platter of hamburgers, in case someone didn’t like the meal, and once, when the boys were rough-housing in the dining room, they tipped her china cupboard out the second floor window. When he heard the crash, my grandfather came running from his office downstairs, furious at the destruction, but she stood in front of the children. “Harold,” she told him, “they’re just boys, and boys will be boys.” Then she went and cleaned up the mess, because none of the boys were ever required to lift a finger around the house.

She was diagnosed with cancer at the age of fifty and was bed-ridden for most of a year. Dying, she was determined to make it to my uncle’s wedding in December of 1951, and to everyone’s amazement, she did. My grandmother died in the first days of 1952 and was buried on my father’s 17th birthday, something from which he never completely recovered.

That's it. My dad, my uncles, and my aunt are all gone now, and with them went the chance that I'll ever know much more about her, which is really a shame for me, because now? I'm interested.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Exposure

We're still plugging away at the Tolerance Club. A couple of months ago, someone had the idea to sponsor movies every month or so after school and invite the whole student body. Our first presentation was Bullied, a short documentary about Jamie Nabozny, a gay teen who was so severely harassed in school with so little support from the administration that he sued the school district and won. We advertised, served popcorn and drinks, and offered an hour of community service credit for anyone who came to the library on a Friday afternoon. To our amazement, 75 kids showed up and heard the message that intolerance is wrong. They even applauded when the verdict was read.

Yesterday it was another documentary short, this one on kids with Tourette's Syndrome. In addition to the film, I Have Tourette's, but Tourette's Doesn't Have Me, we also had a guest speaker-- a young woman who was diagnosed with the neurological disorder at the age of four, but who went on to graduate from UVa and is currently in law school. Her presentation and Q&A with the 75 students who also attended this event were compelling and very moving in their honesty. At one point she told the kids that as hard as it was to cope with her condition and the social consequences, she was glad in a way to have had Tourette's, because everyone has to deal with something and her struggle made her much more empathetic.

I know enough about adolescent development to understand that having difficulty accepting differences is actually an appropriate stage for kids to work through. I don't expect miracles, but it feels good to initiate some real conversations the likes of which rarely happen in middle school.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

What is Literacy?

Before I left for my grammar PLC yesterday afternoon, my friend advised me to cheer up. "At least you'll have something to write about," she said.

"Don't worry about me," I told her, because I wasn't worried at all. I was attending as a teacher who had assigned out of context grammar worksheets and given a quiz on pronoun agreement in the last couple of days. Surely I would be embraced by the group.

That's not quite how it went down, though. Just as we were getting started, one of the other members entered the room breathlessly. "I have a question about grammar!" she announced. "How do you teach transitive and intransitive verbs?" she paused dramatically. "You see the text book," and here she opened it with a flourish, "only mentions action and linking verbs. What do we do about that?"

I happen to know the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs (hint: it has something to do with a direct object), but the discussion that followed was about whether it is reasonable to expect the same from sixth grade students, and what our objective might be for such an expectation. Will it make them more fluent writers? Will it make them better communicators? Is it worth not only the instructional time but also the engagement credibility you would be forced to spend on such an endeavor?

"I just think they should know basic grammar," the original teacher declared. "At some point it becomes a matter of cultural literacy."

Others posited that perhaps that was specialized knowledge that might not be a top priority for sixth grade. "Do you know the sixth grade science curriculum?" I asked her. She admitted that she did not. "You're a functional, productive citizen," I told her, "even without a sixth grade science education. It seems like you're doing okay."

She allowed that she was, and the conversation moved on.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

That Which We Call a Rose

As part of the memoir genre study we are working on, I'm giving the students short daily writing exercises from which I hope they will be able to gather material. Last night they were supposed to write a page on their names-- what they mean, where they came from, how they like them, etc.

Today volunteers shared their pieces with the class. There were some touching tales of nicknames and namesakes, but there were some hilarious stories, too. One girl swore that her mother found her name on a keychain in Walmart that was 75% off. "She got my name on clearance!" she gasped.

Another girl told us that she was supposed to be named Dixie after her great grandmother, but when they informed the old woman about the honor, she said, "Why would she want that old name? She's too pretty for it! Call her something else." So they did.

And then there were the two students who were named by their young brothers after the Pink Power Ranger and one of the Rugrats.

This is going to be a good unit.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Wise Woman

it's always heartening to read the words of someone who gets it:

Where can teachers find such collegiality today? Where are the institutions or publications that are built around deep respect for the intelligence and inventiveness of teachers—and kids? Are they there, but I'm missing them? The teachers I run into seem instead overwhelmed with study groups and programs driven by contextually empty data. Garbage in, garbage out. 

Read the whole post here.

Monday, January 3, 2011

I Heart Divergent Thinkers

First day back from break, and I decided to do a little grammar to ease back into our routine. I know. It's out of character, but there you have it, and who can't use a little practice with pronoun agreement? I made it as palatable as possible-- I used a chompchomp.com exercise; the students worked in collaborative groups; there was a smartboard involved-- high interest, I tell you, engaging, even.

The final sentence was a bit of a challenge, referring to some crickets and a frog making such a racket outside a poor kid's window that he couldn't study properly for his pronoun agreement quiz, and one of my students was extremely confused. "But wait," he said with furrowed brow. "Wouldn't the frog eat the crickets?"

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Call it Denial

I whiled away the day in mindless leisure. At 9:40 this morning we caught the first show of The King's Speech at our local cinema, enjoying coffee, cookies, and clementines in the dark of the nearly deserted theater. Back home, it was lucky leftovers from the traditional New Years dinner, and an hour on YouTube watching newsreels and listening to recordings of the real King George VI.

I moved from computer screen to TV screen next, spending a couple of hours on Epic Mickey, the Wii game I asked for and received for Christmas. I am not a natural or experienced gamer, so it was by extreme trial and error that I made it out of Dark Beauty Castle, and although I never tired of the implicit menace in the arrangement of Once Upon a Dream in minor chords, I felt a great sense of accomplishment in doing so.

But then, while trying to update my Wii internet connection, I totally screwed up the settings for my home wifi network, and I was engrossed in configuring and reconfiguring this and that wireless router, without complete success, I'm afraid, which leaves that particular puzzle for another day. And that brings us to now-- me in front of a screen again, thinking of the final preparations for dinner, and the movie we'll watch tonight, but not at all about returning to work tomorrow.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Those Things, Those Fabulous Things

It's another family tradition of ours to have holiday crackers on the table at this time of year. For those who may not be familiar, crackers are an English tradition; they are rolls of cardboard covered in colorful foil that is twisted at both ends. Each has a snap, a paper crown, a toy or novelty, and a joke of some kind inside. You open them a little like you break a wishbone: two people tug on either end until the snap pops and one person has the larger half with all the goodies inside.

By the end of any festive meal, everyone is wearing a crown, and some may have two or three on. My favorite part is the joke or riddle-- usually a terrible pun but occasionally an unfathomable British joke, for example, Q: What do ghosts wear on wet days? A: Khaghouls. Funny right? (Seriously-- comment if you get it and are willing to explain it to a dim witted Yank like myself.) Years ago, the crackers we used to get had the jokes in English, French, Spanish, and Italian, and trying to read and translate them was lots of fun and much hilarity always ensued.

Tonight's New Years Day dinner was the last cracker event of the season, but rather than be done with them entirely, I found this article on The Telegraph website: Top Ten Worst Cracker Jokes Ever. The jokes are only in English, but I think they are corny enough to get me through until next year.