Friday, May 29, 2009
grace, too
The thing about growing up listening to Detroit radio is that you manage to grow up listening to Canadian radio as well. They're pretty much interchangeable. And since my favorite local station beamed out from both Detroit and Windsor, at sixteen I counted The Tragically Hip - a Canadian band 75% of America has never even heard of - as one of my favorites. Like many rock bands I enjoyed in my youth, I sort of forgot about them once I discovered Radiohead, but I had cause to dust off my copy of Day for Night when my husband came home with a free pair of tickets to see The Hip tonight.

Unfortunately, we can't go - Nate's heading out of town and I fear I'm not self-actualized enough to go to a rock concert by myself - so in lieu of seeing them live in 2009, I started digging through some old videos of them live in 1995. John's got a good one of them performing "A Nautical Disaster," and here's them performing another one of my favorites, "Grace, Too." Honestly, I didn't expect these songs to hold up so well fifteen years later, but they do. Damn it.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009
secret garden

Taking a guided tour of any city is definitely a mixed bag, but it's usually worth schlepping off an on a bus and exposing yourself as a obvious tourist in order to see places one would never know to seek out on one's own. Case in point, one of my favorite NYC stops is a little garden adjacent to a unfinished cathedral in Harlem, a place I would have never seen had it not been for a tour company's itinerary. Even if you don't dig much on architecture, The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine is still pretty awe-inspiring, but I could spend hours taking pictures in the Biblical Garden on the cathedral's south grounds. (Of course, tour guides run a tight ship so I've never been able to spend enough time there to snap off more than a few pictures. Again, it's a mixed bag.)

This sculpture, The Peace Fountain, is the garden's impressive centerpiece......but it's the little sculptures surrounding it that are my favorite part of the garden. Each is cast in bronze using sculptures made by children, and they're full of whimsy, sweetness and light.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009
jungle fever
My Memorial Day weekend involved a trip to the Detroit Zoo, an excursion that's never anything but a good time. On the way there, I remarked on how great the Columbus Zoo is, and how lucky I was to grow up in such close proximity to one of the country's best zoos. I haven't been there since I was a kid, but from what I understand it's still a great zoo and one of the best things about it is its gorilla exhibit.

Coincidentally, today my mother forwarded me this slideshow of the gorillas of The Columbus Zoo. In 1956, The Columbus Zoo made history by being the first zoo in which a gorilla gave birth in captivity. The baby's name was Colo (a combination of Columbus and Ohio), and her and her offspring have all since become local celebrities. The link will take you to some great pictures of Colo and her clan, but these three pictures are my favorites:

Young Colo has her first playdate with Bongo, her future mate:

Colo's granddaughter, Jumoke:

Colo in 2006, "Queen of the Zoo":

And now I think I may have just developed an itch that only a trip to C-bus can scratch. This summer, perhaps.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009
weekly book review: telex from cuba, by rachel kushner
From 1940 until Castro’s 1959 revolution, Cuba’s economy was almost completely dominated by the United States. Americans controlled the country’s nickel, fruit and sugar industry, and enjoyed a friendly relationship with Fulgencio Batista, its president. American enclaves were established in the most desirable areas of the country, and massive amounts of wealth were amassed by a few on the backs of many. For a slice of time, Cuba was an idyllic second home for many Americans, although this would all soon come to rot with Castro’s successful overthrowing of President Batista, spelling the end of friendly relations between the two countries.

This is the Cuba where Rachel Kushner's mother was raised, her childhood spent in an enclave established by The American Fruit Company where her daughter's novel is set. Telex From Cuba, Kushner’s first novel, is a multi-layered exploration of this unique part of Cuban/American history. Kushner focuses mainly on the American expatriates, however, local prostitutes, revolutionaries, and wealthy local men of industry all make appearances. But although reasonably well-developed, none of Kushner’s characters held my interest. If it taught me anything, Telex From Cuba showed me that bored, wealthy suburbanites are as boring in 1950s Cuba as they are in 2000s America.

As a general rule I try to be kind when reviewing authors’ first novels, but when a literary debut is so well-received that it's short listed for both The National Book Award as well as the Pulitzer Prize for fiction….well, I figure enough praise has already been lavished that it’s safe for me to give my brutally honest opinion. And honestly, I did not like Telex From Cuba. It was well-written, however frightfully boring, especially in the second half when it seemed downright interminable. I didn’t care about any of the characters, the ending was anti-climactic, and although she did pique my interest enough in this period of Cuba’s history to keep me reading, Kushner's plot wasn’t enough to satisfy.

In sum, I found Telex From Cuba to be an ambitious piece of historical fiction, but massively dull. ¡Muy decepcionante!

Rachel Kushner
322 pages, 2008

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to my dear and faithful readers:
Hiya! You still there?

I ask because for the last month or so I feel as if I've been, at best, intermittent and downright distant at worst, but May is now almost over which means both my New York trip and birthday hoopla are in the past. Furthermore, with my seniors gone I now have an extra planning hour, thus more time to chip away at the enormous pile of crap that's been gathering dust on my desk. More planning time means I can actually get most of my work done AT WORK (novel concept, eh?), and so I can now spend my evenings doing fun stuff, i.e.: reading, baking, watching movies, learning to play my new mandolin and blogging.

So, yes, consider all my cylinders fired and my engine engaged. I've got a book review on deck, photographs in the hole, and this to whet your appetite in the meantime:

Be back soon...

Friday, May 22, 2009
do you like american music?

(Why? Because it's my birthday and this song makes me hap-hap- happy. That's why.)

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009
old trip, new finds
I tell you what - I may still get carded for booze and the occasional "R" rated movie, however, it's trips like this last one that remind me of how old I'm getting on to be. I'm sure a lot of it has to do with the brutal return voyage - spending twelve hours traveling through the night on a chartered bus, the seats of which are designed in such a way that it's physically impossible to sleep without being wrenched awake every twenty minutes - but I fear it's going to be several more days until I'm back to some semblance of normal. Fie, but my ancient bones ache!

Ah, well. It was a good trip nonetheless. No one got lost or kidnapped, everyone had fun, and even if our tour guide kind of sucked ("Look kids - H&M! You don't see that at home, I bet! Now go on and shop for a bit while I sit on this here bench for the next hour or so."), my students didn't know enough to know any better. Everything was just wonderful, and they had the time of their lives.

As for me, it's getting to a point where I'm starting to feel like I've seen pretty much all there is to see of the tourists' NYC, so no new wide-eyed revelations for me, alas. There were, however, a few new wonderfully strange sights I was able to add my traveler's collection. Firstly, this albino peacock:

Strange, because 1) we found it in the middle of Harlem, 2) I swear it was posing for my camera, and 3) whoever knew there was such a thing as an albino peacock?

But here it is just the same - stately, snow-white, and sorta pissed off at me for getting too close:

Next, I caught a piece of graffiti that I'm 95% certain is a real Banksy:

And even if it's not a Banksy after all, I'd like to think that a spray-painted image of Hitchcock declaring that "Life is Brutal" is a pretty rad find all the same.

And finally, I caught this on the B train to Brooklyn after abandoning my young charges in Chinatown so I could go play hookie for a bit:

Isn't that wonderful? I suppose it's fortunate I don't have to deal with the subways on my morning commute, however, I'd like to imagine that this makes the daily lives of the folks riding the B train a bit happier. It made me a bit happier, anyway.

And that's all for now. More pictures to come, but for now back to bed I go de go...

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Thursday, May 14, 2009
ny, ny
Wow, this year has flown by! Somehow it's already mid-May, which means I'm off to attend my annual end-of-the-year, in-country field trip with my Honors sophomores. We're going to New York again this year, which (hopefully) means another weekend full of watching my students' sheltered, suburban, incredibly conservative minds being blown by modern art, skyscrapers, and chance run-ins with gay pride parades in the West Village. It's an experience that's almost worth spending twenty hours on a bus with a couple dozen fifteen-year-olds. (And by "almost" I mean "not at all.")

However, the highlight of this trip will be the fact that my mom is coming with, and we'll be able to meet up with my brother and his girlfriend while we're there. Mom's looking forward to spending some quality time with her children, while I'm looking forward to watching her endure my students. And considering the fact that we haven't even left and I'm somehow already privy to two different sets of recent "best friend/worst enemy" meltdowns amongst our young, female attendees, I'm fairly confident there will be no shortage of drama to keep us all on our toes. Ah, youth. I do not miss ye hardly at all.

And, with that, I'm off. I'll be back Wednesday, but until then please feel free to come on over and watch Kermit the Frog lip-synching along to LCD Soundsystem's "New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down" as often as you please. (Because you know you love it. Don't even try pretendin'...)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009
zen and the art of physical fitness
So, this is one of those things that was too long to Tweet but would probably make for a crap blog post. I suppose I could have just kept it to myself, but...well...we both know that I don't always do that so well...

When you live in a relatively large, middle class, suburban town with a healthy elderly population, you tend to see some fairly awful attire at the town's community fitness center. Trust that I've seen my fair share of chandelier earrings, bedazzled tracksuits, curious piercings, and men walking the treadmill in Wrangler jeans, so it really does takes something truly special to faze me.

However, last week I saw:

A rail-thin, teenage boy running the treadmill while wearing Dockers, the waist of which he had hiked up to his armpits and the cuffs of which he had tucked into a pair of white tube socks he had pulled up to his knees. His glasses were unironically large, his Simples were outdated and lacking in both arch support and traction, and his polo shirt was tucked tightly into his pants. (In other words, he was a Caucasian Steve Urkel, but in 2009 and in real life.)


A woman doing what appeared to be a combination of high-impact aerobics, Tai-Chi, and interpretive dance on the stair climber machine for, like, an hour. With weights.

And call me catty, but I like collecting sights like these. Seeing people like Tube Sock Kid and Aerobic Tai-Chi Lady usually serve to help me feel better about my own ability to blend into a crowd, which is usually how I prefer to rock it at the gym – unnoticed, unremarkable, and utterly usual. So, while separately these sights would have each been impressive, together they were downright distracting, which was probably the reason I had failed to notice that my right shoe had come untied while I was running.

That is, until I tripped. And nearly fell. And made a bit of a scene. And, while kneeling to tie my shoe, noticed that I had quite the collection of cracker crumbs all over my bosom and in the corners of my mouth from my apparently very messy pre-gym snack. It was loud, embarrassing, and even weird Tai-Chi lady turned to stare at the clumsy, slovenly cow who was making all the ruckus on the treadmill (i.e, ME).

And that, my friends, is what you call KARMA.

(However, at least I wasn't wearing Wrangler jeans at the gym right? Because everyone knows that THAT GUY's the worst! Right?!


Good night.)


Monday, May 11, 2009
david lynch meets dirty dancing
This spot-on mash-up sort of made my Monday. Now off to dig out my Twin Peaks Season 1 DVDs and spend the remainder of my evening talking backwards...

(via, once again, Andrew Sullivan)

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So, I just spotted this on a pair of boxer shorts while shopping:

Clearly, they were designed by a very stupid person.

Friday, May 08, 2009
movie recommendation: let the right one in
Although I'm probably the last English teacher left in America who has not yet read any of the Twilight books, I feel like I've overheard enough fourteen-year-old conversations about them to be able to safely make this statement: If you are looking for a vampire flick that is the very antithesis of Twilight, then Tomas Alfredson's Let the Right One In is your film.

Like Twilight, Let the Right One In is the story of a cautious and delicate love between a human child and a vampire who will forever remain an adolescent; however, unlike Twilight, this is a subtle, artful, and markedly mature affair. Set in a frozen suburb of Stockholm, in a town that has been plagued with a rash of puzzling murders, lives Oskar - a shy and delicate 12-year-old boy who is being ruthlessly bullied at school. Oskar's a painfully lonely boy, which is probably what endears him to Eli - a sallow-faced girl who only comes out at night, seems impervious to the winter's cold, and who has recently moved in next door. Oskar and Eli soon forge a hesitant friendship that later turns into a fragile love, a love which - taking a page from classic vampire mythology - can only exist once Oskar invites Eli in.

Granted, I love stories of childhood misfits and underdogs, so Let the Right One In is exactly my cup of tea; however, there's no small number of things to admire about this movie. It's a superbly crafted, beautifully directed, elegant film, and a very welcome "grown-up" addition to the vampire canon. Rent it before some hack goes and makes a needlessly gory, sped-up, Americanized version.


Wednesday, May 06, 2009
random posts of pretty
These pictures come via Very Short List, and are full of pulp and awesome. Thomas Allen creates dioramas out of classic pieces of pulp fiction and then photographs them. The results are so campy and droll I can't even stand it. Love!








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Tuesday, May 05, 2009
weekly book review: the shack, by william p. young
Sometimes it's really just too easy to tear a thing apart, so rather than explain why The Shack is a terrible, terrible book (which it is), I am instead attempting to focus on its positive attributes. To list:

1. It was given to me by one of my school's secretaries - a woman who is really quite lovely and who, for whatever reason, thought I might enjoy reading this book as much as she did, and sometimes it's just nice to be thought of nicely.

2. It's about building a personal relationship with God, healing, and forgiveness, which are all very nice things.

3. It is short and easy to read.

4. I suppose there could have been more unnecessary exclamation marks.

5. I didn't see so much as one spelling error in the entire novel.

6. There's a handy dandy table of contents in the front of the book. (You know, in case you want to re-read Chapter Eleven, titled "Here Come Da Judge" but can't be bothered to flip through 200+ pages of big fonted text to find it.)

7. According to her quoted testimonial on the back cover, this book blew "the door wide open" to Wynonna Judd's soul.

8. In it, Jesus calls the institutions of religion, politics and economics the "man-created trinity of terrors," which is awesome in that I can imagine a mass of Evangelical Christian readers' heads collectively exploding at the perceived sacrilege.

9. It was only slightly anti-Semitic.

10. It almost certainly means well.

And that's about the best I can do, folks. In all honesty, The Shack contains some lovely ideas but is far too heavy-handed for me to take any of them seriously. Furthermore, it's horribly written with clunky dialogue, absurd imagery and awkward attempts at humor. Nonetheless, it's attracted a fiercely loyal following (I've heard of some people buying up ten copies at a time to pass out to strangers on airplanes and subways and such), either despite the poor literary elements or rather because not everyone cares about those things as much as I do.

But in all honesty, there's definitely something quite comforting in Young's version of God; however, could I, in good faith, recommend this book to you?

.....No. No I could not.

William Paul Young
2007, 248 pages (Paperback)

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Monday, May 04, 2009
favorite songs of '09: my brightest diamond covering "feeling good"
I don't know about you, but all this beautiful weather puts me in a mood for singing, and this song is my perfect storm: one of my all-time favorite songs sung by one of my all-time favorite voices. As far as I'm concerned, "Feeling Good" is one of those sacred things only a precious few people should ever even consider attempting, and Shara Worden does more than do it justice. She annihilates it.

Word is that Worden likes to end her shows with this song but had never recorded it, so when Aaron and Bruce Dessner of The National were collecting songs for their Dark Was the Night compilation - the proceeds of which are going towards AIDS awareness - this song was one of the ones they knew they had to get. Thankfully, she agreed to donate it, which means that I can now listen to it whenever I want and often on a loop. (Sorry, husband.)

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Sunday, May 03, 2009
spring fever
Today, I discovered that I prefer taking pictures of my garden from the bugs' point of view. Doing so required blindly shooting my camera up these flowers' skirts, earning me some veeery curious looks from the home improvement crew working on the house across the street; however, I'd like to think the results were worth it. Happy accidents all around...


Friday, May 01, 2009
paradise lost
This came via Andrew Sullivan and made me giggle:

(I'm dedicating this post to my father. He knows why.)