Monday, July 29, 2013

a ridiculous movie.

I love movies. I love watching them from the cozy cocoon of my own couch with the ability to pause, rewind and fast forward at will, to laugh and talk without fear of disturbing the people around me.  I love to watch them in the cool, dark cave of a theater surrounded by strangers all sharing the same visual/emotional experience. I love movies that make me think and movies that require no thinking whatsoever. I'm not very discriminating.

This past week I've had the pleasure of watching two uber redonkulous movies and I haven't laughed so hard in I don't know how long. The first has been making waves via Twitter and word of mouth for the last couple of weeks. Sharknado is a disaster movie...on so many levels! Unexplained waterspouts and west coast hurricanes suck thousands of sharks from the ocean and send them raining down on the unsuspecting residents of LA. But never you fear, Ian Ziering is here to save the day with propane bombs, chainsaws and brute force. If you can get past the beyond unbelievable premise the acting is horrendous, the plot is so riddled with holes it could pass for a net, and the effects are far from high quality.  And yet, I enjoyed every minute of it! The ending though was by far my favorite moment. I confess I may have watched it a few times and each time I said brilliant things along the lines "oh, no he did NOT just do that!" (but he did, every time!)  I'd love to tell you all about it but you really should see it for yourselves to fully appreciate it. *

The second wasn't quite as ridiculous but mostly because it had a bigger budget. If Transformers, Godzilla, and Armageddon had a baby it would be Pacific Rim. I watched this one after I'd seen Sharknado but with some of the same company and we found ourselves leaning over in the middle of the movie theater comparing the two. Several scenes were nearly identical! Over-the-top acting, a crazy premise, super cheesy moments; it was great fun! And if you're planning to watch it stick around until after the credits. Trust me. Those last 15 seconds will make you laugh hysterically, especially if you've seen Sharknado.

If you like to stage your own home versions of Mystery Science Theater 3000 I highly recommend a viewing of either/both of these fine cinematic features. You can thank me later.

*Ok, ok. If you want some sneak peaks you can go here and here. But I'm telling you, you'll probably want to just watch the whole thing! :)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

a good book.

Knit Your Bit: A World War I Story
Author: Deborah Hopkinson
Illustrator: Stephen Guarnaccia
Pages: 32
Age Range: 6-12
Published: 2013
Genre: Historical Fiction
Cover Score: ***
Overall Score: ****
Rating: PG

When the nation calls for knitters to send goods to the troops fighting in WWI a young boy can't see the importance of it all. But when a knitting bee is proposed and the girls taunt the boys saying they're chicken to even try the boys decide to learn and not only participate in the bee but learn some valuable lessons on the way. Great large illustrations and simple text make it a perfect introduction to war for young readers. An author's note at the back explains about the actual events the story was based on and there are photos in the end pages. Another lovely historical fiction picture book on a slightly obscure event.


Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin
Author: Liesl Shurtliff
Pages: 264
Age Range: 9-12
Published: 2013
Genre: Fantasy
Cover Score: ***
Overall Score: ****
Rating: PG

Rump is born in a land where your name foretells your destiny, and with a name like Rump things won't ever be good. His mother died just after giving birth and he's convinced she only spoke part of his name before she passed, adding to his troubles. So he sets out to figure out the rest of his name and escape his fate. He ends up finding the truth about both and it's more than he'd bargained for. This is a great re-imagining/re-telling of the fairy tale filled with magic, humor, heart and self-discovery sure to appeal to both boys and girls.


The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen
Author: Susan Nilsen
Pages: 243
Age Range: 13+
Published: 2012
Genre: Realistic Fiction/YA
Cover Score: ****
Overall Score: ****
Rating: PG-13

Henry and his father have just moved to Vancouver, BC in an effort to start over after a murky event Henry calls 'It'. His mother is in another city with his grandparents, his older brother is dead and Henry has anger and coping issues and is forced to talk to his school counselor who encourages him to write his feelings in a journal. Each entry exposes a bit more of the past (which I won't disclose here because it's a huge plot point), his day-to-day life trying to cope with it all, his weight gain, lack of friends, trust issues, new life with his dad etc. An unlikely set of friends prove to be the support system he needs and when a similar incident rears its head with his new friends Henry is able to take a bit of ownership in dealing with it which leads him to being able to deal with the other event and begin to forgive his brother. This is a harsh and disturbing story with dark elements and a heavy tone but it's also one of those stories that needs to be told and the details aren't overly graphic or as grim as they could be. Bullying and school violence will continue to be timely topics and this book does a fabulous job of showing one of the lesser highlighted points of view.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

a busy week

The past week has been a blur of doctor's visits, the aftermath of immunizations (it's amazing how crappy you can feel when you've got the spawn of 6 various diseases coursing through your body), a day spent in DC, mid-week matinees, a trip to the beach (and its aftermath--fly bites and a killer sunburn), last minute changes at work, a visit to this fabulous club, and preparations for a whirlwind trip to NYC this weekend. My list of final goodbyes has increased but I still have dozens more to go and my list of things to do continues to increase despite all the time I spend doing things on said list.  I've narrowed my stack of books at work down to 3, I ate the last of the Holland cheese and Belgian chocolate, and I've made the reservations for the hotel stay on the first leg of the journey across the country. This is real folks. It's actually happening and it's starting to freak me out a bit. This time next week I'll be staring down the barrel of the last day of work.
Also on tap for next week? I need to finish re-packing, work on my TESOLS class, and create an amazing cross-country road trip playlist (suggestions welcome!!) in between final goodbye dinners, wrapping up things at work, Frank Turner in concert, and one last performance at Wolf Trap just to name a few. Deep breaths, I can do this!  What are you up to?

The Natural History Museum

The National Archives Building

The Holocaust Museum with the gussied up Washington Monument in the background

Inside the American History Museum
Ponies frolicking in the waves at Assateague National Seashore

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

some mid-week music.

In an effort to stave off the soggy emotions I alluded to yesterday I have been filling the rare empty silences with what I like to call 'angry' music.  Melodies with thumping basses and screamed lyrics that keep me pumped up and ready to tackle everything.  Frank Turner's been on constant rotation (that's also to get me prepped for his concert in a couple of weeks) and these guys have gotten a lot of airtime as well.  But I think the winners of the week are the Dropkick Murphys.  They've been around for years and this is one of their signature songs. Hope it gives you the gumption to power through the rest of your Wednesday!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

a good friend.

I have been blessed with some of the greatest friends on the planet. I know most people think they can argue the same but I doubt that anyone has better friends than I do. As my time here begins to wind down (18 days and counting) I am struggling to find enough time to spend with the people I have met here who have become my support system, my source of entertainment, my surrogate family. In some ways the move still doesn't feel very real. Every moment of every day is so crammed with last minute to-dos (both the fun kind and the necessary kind) that I haven't had a lot of down time to process the emotions that are swirling in my heart. I still have nearly 3 weeks left, after all.  Plenty of time to see everyone and fill my mind with memories to hold me through those months I'll spend in my parent's basement (it's only temporary!) and then the months I'll be all alone in a foreign country. Right?!

Well, everything sort of came to a head this weekend as I found myself saying my first real good bye. One of the best friends I've made out here is leaving town this week and won't be back until after I'm gone and, thinking I had more time left than I did, there was a mad scramble to find a few minutes in the chaos for one last heart to heart before we go our separate ways. Our late night tete a tete Sunday was more than worth the groggy day at work on Monday.

It was just the first of many but I'm already feeling the loss. So far I've kept the tears at bay (though I've found they leak out at other, non-emotionally justifiable times like when I'm reading a very not-sad book at lunch at work!) but I imagine that my drive out of town is going to be a soggy one.

A host of cheesy greeting card phrases run through my mind. Things like "god can't be everywhere that's why he gave us friends" and "friendship is a single soul living in two bodies." Things that sound ridiculous until you know them to be true (though that doesn't make them any less cheesy!) I'll never have enough time to get my fill of some of the people who have touched my life and there's no way to fill the holes that will surface in my heart when they are no longer near, but my heart and life are immeasurably improved by their influence and a little part of each of them will go with me when I go.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

a good book.

Today's theme is authors who create their own illustrations (or if you prefer, illustrators who write their own stories!) The author/illustrator is a curious beast. It is rare to find someone with one particular talent, but to find a person with two, well that's just cause for extreme jealousy (on my part at least.)

One perk is that they know exactly what they want from the story they are trying to tell but on the flip side they have full responsibility for the whole shebang, no partner to bounce ideas off of or collaborate with.
Here are a few recent editions of solo undertakings that shine.

Flora and the Flamingo
Author/Illustrator: Molly Idle
Pages: 32
Age Range: 2-7
Published: 2013
Genre: picture book
Cover Score: ****
Overall Score: ****
Rating: G

Chubby little Flora dons flippers and mimics the graceful flamingo's every move but the flamingo is having none of it. Doing her best to discourage Flora, the flamingo squaks at her and sends her splashing into the water. But seeing her dripping and sad then she has a change of heart, helps her up and the two dance beautifully togteher. Beautiful, wordless with lifting flaps creating movement and action on each page. soft pink palette will appeal to the ballerinas in the crowd proof that anyone can do anything they set their minds to (though they may need a bit of help along the way!)

The Great Lollipop Caper
Author/Illustrator: Dan Krall
Pages: 32
Age Range: 5-8
Published: 2013
Genre: Picture Book
Cover Score: ****
Overall Score: ***
Rating: PG

All kids love Lollipop but no kids love the earthy, acidic little Caper (well, except adults but he doesn't count them, he wants the kids!) But he has a plan to flavor all the lollipops to taste like capers and thus win them all over! Donning a trenchcoat and hat (looking a bit villainous but apparently passing as a harmless pea) he sneaks into the lollipop factory to carry out his evil deed. But it backfires and only Lollipop can save the day and conseqently teaches Caper a thing or two about being yourself. Cute, sillly and ...capers, seriously! The endpages are adorned with (doctored) photos of the two main characters. Running text tells the story punctuated by speech bubbles from the characters and bystanders. The book has an almost cariactured vaudeville feel but with bright, unlikely color combinations (vivid red background spreads, neon greens,) rather than black and white and the comically grotesque facial features will be sure to make kids giggle. Perfect for fans of the slightly dark and twisted like Lemony Snickett and Jon Klassen.

Author/Illustrator: Edouard Manceau
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-6
Published: 2013
Genre: Picture Book
Cover Score: ***
Overall Score: ****
Rating: G

In the vein of Press Here and so many other interactive types of books to come out of late this also invites the reader to participate, but not until the end. Some colorful scraps of paper are blowing in the wind but with each page turn they rearrange into a different animal who had a part in making them what they are now (cutting them up, making the paper, shaping the wood etc.) The text builds in 'the house that jack built' fashion inviting vocal participation from the reader/listener. The illustrations are simple, the colored pieces taking center stage and being accented by basic pen drawings to turn them into something new. It could easily be used in a classroom with students being given some matching scraps and encouraged to add their own embellishments (or big pieces of paper to make scraps of their own.) By the end the wind blows them all the way to you…what will you do with them?

Ben Rides On
Author/Illustrator: Matt Davies
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8
Published: 2013
Genre: Picture Book
Cover Score: ****
Overall Score: ****
Rating: PG

Ben gets a new bike and it's perfect! He rides it all the way to school, the really, really long (and adventurous) way. But when he gets there it's stolen by the big bully Adrien Overbite and all day Ben thinks only of his poor bike and how he can exact revenge. He's crushed, particularly when he sees the bike smashed against a tree on his long walk home. But then he realizes that Adrien has been launched over the nearby cliff. At first he thinks he's gotten his comeuppance and plans to leave him there but his concscience gets the better of him. He helps Adrien only to have him ride off again on Ben's bike. But Adrien has a surprise up his sleeve.
This is a great little story of doing the right thing (and a conversation starter about bullying and making good choices). Davies scribblyish illustrations (reminiscent of David Catrow though the pallette is subdued) are fabulous. I particularly love the facial expressions. Former Pulitzer prize winning political cartoonist, this is Davies' first political cartoonist, this is his first foray into picture books.

Friday, July 5, 2013

summer reading

Summer is upon us and that means Summer reading at the library. In an effort to keep kids from suffering from the learning gap that accompanies the long school break and to get people in to the library we offer a host of incentives including prizes for the kids who meet their personal reading goals and activities nearly every day of the week. It also means that kids of all ages, sizes and under various forms of supervision (or lack thereof) descend on the library like a swarm of army ants, swarming over every available inch of floor and low laying display space and leaving a swath of chaos behind them. Books are used as flotation devices, stepping stones, building blocks, and weapons of mass destruction by the armfuls but rarely as the vehicles for transporting kids to other times and spaces (oh that this could be done literally and not just figuratively!) I love kids and I love the library but sometimes they just don’t really seem to go together.

I realize getting them into the building, even if they only come for the puppet shows and never crack a book, is half the battle. They’re aware of the library, they feel comfortable here, we make a name for ourselves in the community and hopefully as the years go by they remember us and return often and maybe even use us for our books. In the meantime we have bedlam in the program room and anarchy in the stacks. So, I dose myself with heavy duty, deep dark chocolate, keep the Advil at the ready and mentally prepare for the daily onslaught, counting down the days to my stretch of unemployment (while trying not to think of the lack of paycheck that will mean.) Bring it kiddies, bring it!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

a patriotic song.

I could spend many a paragraph waxing poetic about my love of this country and the emotions that are stirred in me every time I see a man in a military uniform, watch a flag waving in the breeze, or hear the national anthem. Instead, I'll just share a bit of patriotic humor in the hopes of reminding everyone how great a place this country of ours is.

God bless America and Happy 4th!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

a to do list

I've got a really crowded month trying to squeeze in a million and a half things before I leave the DC area for good. Some things I've not had a chance to do before and some things I need to do one more time. Here's a quick highlight of some of the cool things I've had a chance to do in the last couple of weeks.  There will be more to come, never fear!

A last visit to the Shenandoah’s to hike Old Rag which is one of the most popular and difficult hikes on the East Coast. The 2500 ft climb and mile or so of rock scramble is pretty intense and makes you feel as if you've really earned your views from the top.

A last performance at the Kennedy Center. Great music, silly story, fabulous tap dances.

One last hike at Great Falls, Billy Goat Trail.

A first/last visit to the Marine Barracks for their evening parade with the silent drill team and The President's Own marching band. It was quite the spectacular event, typical of the patriotism and spirit of the DC area.

And a visit to the tidal basin at night to view the rising of the super moon (too bad I don't have a camera worthy of capturing it!)

So many things I'm going to miss about this place! Sometimes I have to remind myself of the great things to come to keep from tearing up. *sigh*

Monday, July 1, 2013

finishing a task.

I spent the weekend packing up 7 years’ worth of accumulated stuff, praying that it would all squish into the 5x7 shipping pod lingering in the parking lot out front and trying not to cry. I’m really excited for this new adventure but every now and then it really sinks in just what it’s going to mean.

I’ve struggled with homesickness ever since I got here. I came out anticipating staying just a year (I’d only taken a leave of absence from my job) and then once that year passed, really felt strongly that I needed to stay. I’ve toyed with going back west many times and fought with my love of this place and my dissatisfactions with it over and over and over. Now that I’m actually making the move I’m thinking of all the things and places and people I will miss so much when I’m gone and it breaks my heart just the tiniest bit.

Stage one of the move severed the first of the ties that bind me to this place I never thought I would call home. Thinking I might need extra time to sublease my room and having limited scheduling flexibility I decided to bail from my place a few weeks early. I have some wonderful friends who are letting me crash on their couch til I go. So, the majority of my things are making
their way across the country without me. I’ve said (a temporary) goodbye to old roommates and my corner of the world to begin my months of displacement and upheaval, and am gearing up for the next emotional step of doing so many things here for the last time in preparation for saying a final farewell. The emotions are high on all counts; excitement, nervousness, reluctance, anticipation, sadness, gratefulness. It’s going to be a wild ride for the next few weeks. Here’s hoping I make it through in one piece!