Friday, May 30, 2008
random posts of pretty
Although I love the new album, today's a gloomy day and it got me feeling sentimental. Consequently, "Drive":

Happy weekend, all.

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It's true, I do love grammar!

(And for the record - I have indeed taken a stance on the Oxford Comma, and that stance is yes!, yes!, yes!)

Thursday, May 29, 2008
bragging, briefly
My in-laws retired a few years back, and like many retirees they’ve been using their newly opened schedules to catch up on traveling and other recreational pursuits. And while they have definitely been enjoying their new-found freedom, they’ve also dedicated a large portion of their post-retirement lives to service, working primarily with disaster relief efforts via the Red Cross.

Their work with the Red Cross began in 2005 - shortly before their retirement - when they dropped everything to help with the Hurricane Katrina relief effort. The time they spent in Hattiesburg, Mississippi would have been wonderful and selfless enough had it ended there, but they’ve since continued their work with the Red Cross by becoming very active members of the Muskegon Chapter’s Disaster Response Team.

Although retired, they both seem busier than ever, and much of this time is taken up with service. They are frequently on-call for the Red Cross, often having to drop everything to come to the immediate aid of complete strangers who suddenly find themselves in dire need. Of course their family and friends have long been aware of their selflessness dedication to their community, but last night they were publicly honored during the annual American Red Cross Volunteer and Blood Donor Recognition event when they were awarded with the Reese Extraordinary Service and Leadership Award - which, as I understand it, is the top award given to a volunteer in any given year.

The media write-up is here, and I'd be happy to pass on any congratulatory messages should you wish to send them. This is a very big deal, and I am so proud of them both!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008
random posts of pretty
I'm in love with these graphite sculptures by Agelio Batle.  They are intended to be used as pencils, although I'm sure you'd agree that they are far too pretty to actually write with:

I really, really want one, however the website lists no prices - a sure indication I probably can't afford one.  Alas!

(via Boing Boing)

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grandmothers, balloon animals and amazing pants tricks
After reading yesterday's book review, my husband seemed genuinely shocked that I was largely unfamiliar with Steve Martin's early stand-up routines. Partly because he made me feel remiss in some way but also because after reading his autobiography my interest was appropriately piqued, I did some searching to see what old videos might be lying around on my friend Interwebs. Being that it was so long ago, I didn't expect much to be available on YouTube - and there wasn't really - however I did find a few things worth sharing in case you (like me) were too young at the time, or in case you (like me) require occasional silly diversions for the sake of your mental health.

And so, in the spirit of this week's book review, I bring you this:

as well as this:

and although this isn't a video, Martin's reference to "Grandmother's Song" in his book is much better appreciated after having listened to it.

So there you go. Don't say I never get you anything.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008
monday tuesday book review: born standing up: a comic's life, by steve martin
I was born in 1978, a particularly good year for comedian Steve Martin.  That was the year he won a Grammy for Best Comedy Album with Let's Get Small, the year he released "King Tut" on 45, the year he appeared in the movie Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, made so many appearances on SNL that he seemed more like a regular fixture than a guest host, and was basically as successful as any comedian can hope to be.  But since I wasn't exactly cognizant in 1978, all this was lost on me.  By the time I was old enough to appreciate popular culture Martin had long since traded in his stand-up career for one in film, so my early memories of him are more of the Little Shop of Horrors variety rather than the comedic banjo/magic act sort.  And so, I entered into this autobiographic recount of his stand-up career with slight apprehension.  I love Steve Martin but had never seen his stand-up routine, so I wondered if a story about this particular era of his life would be slightly lost on me. 

As I came to learn, Martin's early career made for a pretty interesting read, even for those who were not yet self-aware in 1978.  Before making it big, he more than paid his dues working in a Disneyland magic shop, performed some of his earliest material in a Knott's Berry Farm theater, made endless and often unsuccessful appearances on daytime variety shows, and strove to create a original brand of comedy that relied more on quirky non sequiturs than on punch lines.  He was also a student of philosophy, loved art and poetry, suffered from severe panic attacks, had a complicated and poignant relationship with his father, and very nearly gave up on show business before finally making it big.  On top of learning these interesting facts about Martin, his autobiography also revealed that he's a great writer who comes across as a genuine, wholly likable, and all-around good guy.

You may have noticed this by now, but I clearly prefer fiction to non-fiction, and biographies/autobiographies are generally not my thing at all. It's not that I don't find true stories interesting - I do! - it's just that I'd rather enjoy my stories of celebrity life in episodes of E! True Hollywood Story form rather than in book form. But I needed a book for the plane and had heard good things about Born Standing Up, so when I noticed that it happened to be available at my local library I rolled the dice and picked it up.  

And the verdict?  Born Standing Up is a very enjoyable read that can easily be digested in a few hours, making it the perfect airplane read.  If you are a Martin fan, it's definitely worth your time.

Steve Martin
224 pages, 2007

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Monday, May 26, 2008
random posts of pretty
The interior arches of St. Patrick's Cathedral:

Photo Credit: Me

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And it's no longer my birthday.  I know.  I checked.

But it was a wonderful one.  Perhaps the best one ever. (Although my 4th birthday was pretty awesome too.  I got a swingset, so you can see how the competition is pretty fierce.)  

So far, being thirty feels nearly identical to being twentynine except five pounds heavier, although I'm reasonably optimistic that this is just a temporary condition caused by nearly two weeks of irresponsible travel dining rather than some horrible rite of passage.  (But if it's the latter - if everyone who turns thirty instantly gains five pounds to mark the occasion - and you knew this and didn't tell me, then I'm mad at you.  These are things friends warn friends about.)

Anyway, I'm back.  As you have probably already noticed, I don't really have much to say, but I am back.  So there's that.

More later.  Hopefully by then I'll have actual points to make and everything!

Thursday, May 22, 2008
i grow old, i grow old, i shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Well, maybe not the last bit, but the first part - yes. If fact...



Did you know this? Because it's true. And it's a big one too.

To celebrate, I'm planning to boom boom boom 'till the break of boom. (Meaning, I'm heading off to NYC. Again.) If interesting things happen while I'm away then I very well may Twitter them. If not, then I won't. But since things will be rather quiet 'round these parts for the next handful of days, I'm putting this mix tape in charge of providing the entertainment. It's a unapologetically "Mrs White" mix - meaning the songs are pretty, mostly folksy, and things probably went on far longer than necessary.

But I like it.  'Cause I made it.  And it's my birthday. (Or didn't I say that already?)

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008
a short rant on racism
Whenever we study the Civil Rights Era in my classroom, I tend to open by asking the kids how they perceive race relations today in relation to how they perceived them to be forty years ago. Inevitably, the overwhelming opinion is that things are much, much better than they used to be. Many even go so far as to insist that racial tension is a total non-issue. (Although a brief listen for the language used in the hallways tells a very different story.)

Although I'd like to think that my students are correct in their assertions, one need not look further than Kentucky's exit polls to see how much further our country still needs to go on the issue of race. When 20% of white Kentucky voters report that race was a determining factor in their decision to choose the white candidate over the black one (and that number is probably quite higher, since those were the folks who weren't too ashamed to admit their racism to a stranger in a public poll), then it's clear we should all be both troubled and outraged over the state of racism in our country.

It's true we've come pretty far, but it also true that it's hardly far enough.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008
monday tuesday book review: winterwood, by patrick mccabe
Winner of the 2007 Irish Book Award of the Year, Winterwood is the chilling story of Redmond Hatch, a man who appears to have defied his troubled childhood by making a happy life for himself with his beautiful wife and the daughter he adores. The novel opens with Hatch, a journalist, interviewing Ned Strange, a local folk musician, for an article on the folklore and dying traditions of his native mountain village of Slievenageeha, Ireland. Despite the muddled perspective of an unreliable narrator, it doesn't take a reader very long to realize that Strange is very...well...strange, life in the Hatch family is hardly the little slice of heaven Red first makes it out to be, and little else is what it seems.

I read Winterwood in one sitting while trapped on a New York-bound chartered bus. It was a beautiful sunshiny day, the gorgeous Pennsylvanian mountains were rolling past my window, and the giggles of my very excitable students provided me a cheery soundtrack for my reading. But no matter. The supreme creepiness of McCabe's story was so intense that it easily managed to break past all these warm, fuzzy distractions and freak me right out.

This novel is the perfect example of how a glimpse inside a troubled mind is far more terrifying than any fictional beastie a writer can dream up. Furthermore, it's a great argument for how the horror/suspense genre can be accomplished in an intelligent and artful manner. With Winterwood, McCabe trusts the intelligence of his reader enough to make him work a bit; he's purposefully cryptic and vague for a wonderfully unsettling effect. I don't think I've read anything that has disturbed me this much since The Shining - book that easily belongs in the top five on the "Creepiest Books of all Time" list, assuming such a list exists. (And it should.) This was my first experience with McCabe (The Butcher Boy), but if his other works are anything like this then sign me up. He's a truly phenomenal writer.

Patrick McCabe
2007, 242 pages

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random posts of pretty
From Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms:

If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.

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Monday, May 19, 2008
perhaps not so pretty, but definitely pretty cool
And, I'm back!  At least, for the next few days.  

If you've been following along with my Twitter updates, then you probably noticed how busy they kept us.  (If not, then I suppose you wouldn't have noticed.  But trust, busy is what we were.) What I didn't mention was how much it rained, especially the first day we were there.  Unfortunately, the pace, weather, and less than optimal sleeping situation all combined forces to hit me upside the head with a wicked cold. I tell you all of this not because I'm looking for your sympathy (although I wouldn't exactly send it back if  you decided to send it), but because I want to assure you that I have loads to tell you - some pretty things, a Monday book review, thoughts on city life, a new perspective on the ninja vs pirate debate, my personal feelings re: the oxford comma, and much! much! more!  - but that I lack the cognitive ability and general alertness to do so at this moment.  

But it's all coming.  



Until then, here's a pretty mindblowing video that my husband sent me while I was off gallivanting.  It's a pretty amazing piece of stop-motion animation created with constantly changing city graffiti (and if you haven't yet figured it out, I really sort of dig graffiti).  I can only imagine the amount of time, energy and creativity that went into this.  Makes me tired just thinking about it.  

I hope you like it, and I'll be back in as long as it takes for me to consume a double dose of cold medicine, tackle all my laundry, bathe, and attend to the long line of Scrabbulous games my absence sent into a screeching halt. It might be a little bit yet, but at least when I return I'll be in a more fun, drugged-up state, yes?

MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo


Wednesday, May 14, 2008
while in nyc,

    follow me on Twitter

    off to nyc. then back. then off again. but, eventually, back.
    I realize I've been a bit lame at blogging recently, but things are about to get really crazy for me, which means blogging has nowhere to go but downhill.

    (And for that I'm sorry.  You know I'll make it up to you, baby.  Eventually.)

    You see, I'm currently in a last minute shopping/laundering/packing frenzy so I can be prepared to rise super early tomorrow, jump on a chartered bus with a slew of 16-year-olds, and (twelve hours later) arrive New York City - this year's "thank goodness the Advanced Placement History test is finally over and I managed to make it out with my sanity and most of my dignity intact" trip.  

    (And if you've never taken a trip with 30+ teenagers, then you absolutely must.  It's really the only way to travel, daaahling.)

    So, a long weekend with the kiddies in The Big Apple, and then I come back home for a few days only to head back to New York to ring in my birthday. 

    (And the goal here is to surround myself with enough family, food, shopping, hustle and bustle so that I'm too distracted to get depressed over the fact that I'm turning thirty.  Eke.)

    Anyway, I'm boring you with all of this simply because I'm trying to explain why my "traditional" blogging will be pretty spotty for the next few weeks.  I am planning to experiment with "microblogging," however, so there will be something to look at if you get to missing me and feel like paying me a visit.  Assuming everything works properly, it should be up and running here fairly soon.  

    (And I promise to try and make it more interesting than "I'm sitting on a bus right now with a numb bum."  Given my situation and destination I'm fairly certain that relatively interesting things should, at least occasionally, happen.  But if they don't, I'll make stuff up.  Promise.)

    So, yes.  Talk to you soon, but in a shorter, more "micro" manner.  


    Tuesday, May 13, 2008
    random posts of pretty
    Peter Callesen's mindblowing paper art:

    Inexplicably, each piece is created with only a single sheet of paper. (It's magic, methinks.)

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    Monday, May 12, 2008
    monday book review: mcsweeney's joke book of book jokes
    A quick look back at my past few reviews made me realize I've been reading some pretty heavy stuff as of late, so it might be time to lighten up. That realization, coupled with the fact that life has recently provided me with all sorts of ways to test my sense of humor, led me to McSweeney's newest release: The McSweeney's Joke Book of Book Jokes by the editors of McSweeney's - a collection of spoofs, lists and letters inspired by famous writers and works.

    (Yes, I would be the nerd whose pulse goes all fluttery at the prospect of a book filled with jokes about books. Shut up.)

    As John Hodgman writes in the book's introduction,
    (T)hese are all original pieces of humorous writing that are joined together merely by their appreciation of the intrinsic and unique hilariousness of books...We all know that books are funny. First, they are made of paste and cloth, which is funny, as is the fact that people still read and buy them. Also, books connote a sort of intellectual stuffiness, which is always easy and appealing to make fun of. It's humanizing.
    He's being silly, but it's also the truth. Making fun of Jean-Paul Sartre's morose intellect, Ernest Hemingway's bloated male ego and Emily Dickinson's poetic melancholy is fun - especially if you're someone like me whose education has forced her to read No Exit more times than she cares to recall.

    Fortunately, not all the jokes revolve around James Joyce (although several do), so an English major is not necessarily a prerequisite. In fact, my favorite pieces are ones like Thirteen Writing Prompts and A Serial Killer Explains the Distinctions Between Literary Terms, where the joke comes more from literary devices rather than specific books or authors.

    Of course, the actual book jokes are fun too, with Jean-Paul Sartre, 911 Operator; Rough Drafts Of Jenna Bush's Young-Adult Novel; Bedtime Stories By Thom Yorke; and Phrases On The Marquee At The Local Strip Club To Cater To A More Literate Crowd being among my favorites.

    In short, if you're a fan of McSweeney's and at all literary-minded, it's very much worth your time. And now I'll close with my favorite piece from the book, written by Andrew Tan:
    Holden Caulfield Gives the Commencement Speech To His High School

    You're all a bunch of goddamn phonies.

    The McSweeney's Joke Book of Book Jokes
    By the Editors of McSweeney's, with an Introduction by John Hodgman
    2008, 217 pages

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    things younger than mccain:
    Keith Richards, Superman, The Hindenburg Disaster, Ball Point Pens, Israel, Alaska and Helevtica Font, to name a few.

    On the one hand, this blog is totally (and self-admittedly) ageist.

    On the other hand it's pretty funny, and perhaps people really should second guess voting for a guy who's older than DNA (or, at least older than its discovery).

    Freaking DNA, dude.

    (Via Very Short List)

    Sunday, May 11, 2008
    ask again later. maybe in twenty years when you understand what you put me through
    Happy Mother's Day if you're a mother. If not, well, then Happy Mother's Day to your mother.

    To honor the day, I bring you The Magic 8 Ball Amended By My Mother For My Middle School Years. Enjoy.

    (via McSweeney's)

    Thursday, May 08, 2008
    random posts of pretty
    She & Him performing "Change Is Hard" live on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson:

    Did you know that Zooey Deschanel was named after the character from J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey, my most favorite book in the whole wide world?

    Did you know how much I love that fact?

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    Wednesday, May 07, 2008
    to the girls of the firm: body sculpting system 2, a few things i've been meaning to say:

    First, let me say thank you for a very solid product. I was turned on to you by my 9th grade gym teacher way back when, and since then I've been an ardent - even if a sporadic - fan. I'm sure if I used your product regularly I'd have a much nicer bum, but I admit that the fault there is all my own. But while we're being critical, here's a few things for you in the spirit of constructive criticism:

    1. Emily (aka: Green Tape), when we're only working on one arm, it's one tricep muscle. Singular. Please, get it right. You sound like a stupid person.

    2. While we're at it Emily, you're drunk, right? Kudos! It's really pretty amazing how you can accomplish all that choreography while thoroughly tanked. Color me impressed.

    3. Jen (aka: Blue Tape), your boob job is totally distracting. Totally. Wowzers.

    4. Tracie, look like a toothpick with a head. Perhaps if you insisted on not always being the person in the back doing the watered-down version of the workout you could, you know, improve on that.

    5. All of you, I think you and I both know that I'm not doing a single damned push-up you tell me to do, so let's just both stop pretending. I'll watch you do them 'till the cows come home, but be aware that I'll be sitting on the sofa 'till you're done. Please, really, take your time.

    6. Also, let's both stop pretending that I'm doing the cool down. Save your stretching for someone who believes in that crap.

    7. Finally, no. That did not feel good. What the eff is wrong with you?

    reason #57 why florida is a great state to visit, but i wouldn't want to live there
    Magic Trick Costs Teacher Job

    Apparently making a toothpick disappear and reappear is deemed wizardry in Land 'O Lakes, Florida, and apparently wizardry can get you canned. Amazing.

    Good thing I can teach Shakespeare in Michigan. I just spent my morning explaining to three freshmen classes what Sampson meant when he said he wanted to thrust the Montague maids to the wall and take their maidenheads with his "naked weapon." Quite titillating, no?


    Tuesday, May 06, 2008
    random posts of pretty

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    Monday, May 05, 2008
    monday book review: what is the what
    What Is the What, although labeled a novel for reasons I don't fully agree with, is the true story of Valentino Achak Deng, one of the 4,000 Sudanese refugees granted U.S. citizenship after being displaced from their homes due to an unimaginably violent civil war.  Along with 20,000 other children, most ten or younger, Deng was suddenly "orphaned" (fifteen years later Deng makes the unbelievable discovery that his parents did, in fact, survive the attack) when his village was burned down by Arab militants.  Facing no other options, Deng and tens of thousands of children like him walked from the site of their decimated homes to Ethiopia in search of asylum.  Although many children died making the unimaginably cruel journey, Deng was one of the lucky ones who survived, finding relative safety first in Ethiopia, then Kenya, and finally in America.

    Wanting to share his story but recognizing his limits as a writer, Deng elicited the help of Dave Eggers (McSweeney's, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius), who did a truly phenomenal job.  Eggers begins his story in Deng's Atlanta apartment where he has lived for several years, growing more and more disenfranchised with the promise of the American dream.  Eggers writes, 

    When I first came to this country, I would tell silent stories.  I would tell them to people who had wronged me.  If someone cut in front of me in line, ignored me, bumped me, or pushed me, I would glare at them, staring, silently hissing a story to them.  You do not understand, I would tell them.  You would not add to my suffering if you knew what I have seen.
    Eggers reveals the details of Deng's difficult past through these "silent stories" told to strangers: the couple who forcibly entered his Atlanta apartment and robbed him at gunpoint, a disingenuous police officer, disinterested hospital staff, the college admissions officer who has little interest in helping him achieve his dream of a higher education, and the like.  

    It's hard to imagine why God, fate, luck, or whatever you want to call it would let a man like Deng suffer so much, but while it might be easy for the tone to turn angry it never really does.  Understandably, Eggers' novel is both chilling and painful, but it is also inspiring and funny.  I haven't been as impressed with, emotionally engaged in, and educated by a book this much since The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.  Simply put, it was amazing, and I'm a better person for having read it.

    What Is the What
    Dave Eggers
    2006, 475 pages

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    Thursday, May 01, 2008
    almost famous
    So, I was driving to the gym yesterday – barefoot, for reasons I do not intend to discuss, and digging deep into my gym bag for a pair of socks. (Which, alas, I never did find.) With one hand on the steering wheel and both eyes on the road, I groped through the big black bag, feeling through shoes and tanks and Lycra, until my hand landed on what I thought was my quarry. Upon pulling it out however, I discovered that I mistook a sports bra for socks, but since I wanted to keep that out too – again, for reasons you do not need to know – I slipped it up my arm until it hung around my elbow. (Which was obviously the most logical place to put a sports bra given my current situation. Duh!) But still needing my socks, I then went back to the bag. Searching some more, my fingers landed on a small wad of what felt like money. Wanting to keep that too separate, I pulled it out, and - lacking a wallet, pockets or shoes I might tuck it into - temporarily placed the bills between my lips. (Which yes, I realize is terribly unsanitary; however no, I really do not care.) And although finding money is good, finding my socks was a necessity, so back into the bag I went, where I groped and I groped and I groped but, annoyingly, to no avail. The gym now looming on the horizon and my feet still inappropriately bare, I decided it was finally time I take an actual look inside the black hole sitting on my passenger seat. And so look I did. (But not for too long, mind you. If this little story has illustrated nothing else it’s shown what a safe, conscientious driver I am.) But after being unable to find what was never there in the first place, my eyes finally looked up to meet: disaster! While I wasn’t looking, some vague and amorphous thing had apparently decided to come flying at my windshield, and had it not been for my quick thinking and cat-like reflexes leading me to swerve most suddenly and jarringly into the left turn lane, that plastic bag would most definitely have come crashing into me.

    So, you know,…whew.

    Only after I had reached my destination and turned into my chosen parking space did it occur to me the newspaper headline and byline I had just so narrowly escaped:

    Local Woman Dies After Veering into Oncoming Traffic

    Victim’s mental health is called into question upon discovering she had been driving barefoot, her underwear on the outside of her clothing and her mouth stuffed with money.

    And so, again,…whew.

    it's thursday, i've finished grading all my research papers, and grades have been entered. you know what that means?
    It's cupcake night!

    On tonight's agenda: Wasabi White Chocolate Cupcakes with Plum Sake Filling

    I'm approaching it with the attitude which I bring to most of life's great challenges: supreme optimism mixed with nervous anticipation, but with a nagging feeling that it may just end in tears.