Sunday, August 31, 2008

Thank God I'm a Hippie Chick

So tonight, Harriet and her sister dropped by for a visit. They had tried twice already today to drop in -- the first time during dinner and the second as my sis and I were getting ready to drive my visiting mom back to her apartment complex. (Mom no longer drives) The third time they rang the doorbell, I felt I had to let them in since they had been so persistent despite the fact that I was tired from entertaining my mom and making a big meal for dinner (beef enchiladas and Spanish rice). Harriet and her sister took in the changes we'd made to the house since their last visit, including the addition of a lovely blue wingback chair we found at a garage sale. They ended up in my den in search of the chair that had once occupied the wingback's spot in the living room and their eyes were drawn to something they'd never noticed before, something which sits high on a shelf to indicate the high esteem in which I hold it -- my drums. Back when I was more of a hippie chick than I am now (for it's really something you never lose), I loved my drums more than just about anything. Many nights were spent sitting lotus style on the floor as I pounded out some rhythms in meditative contemplation. I've not really touched my drums in quite some time -- mostly because until this summer I'd been living in apartments and wasn't sure my neighbors were up to my solo drum circles. Harriet and her sis, of course, immediately were fascinated by the drums and asked if they could play them. Thinking to the glee I would have felt at their age to get the chance to play drums like those, I handed them over with the stipulation that they play gently. Within seconds, Harriet had a great tribal rhythm going while her sister fell into a noodle dance. Despite the noise, it gave me several seconds of peace not having to answer their endless questions -- until Harriet remembered that she'd once had Rice Krispie Treats here and stopped to ask if I might still have some. After going through a list of their desired treats that I did not have in the house (Rice Krispie Treats, ice cream, cookies), we settled on some popsicles and they were content to be on their merry way home.

After they were gone, I carefully and lovingly replaced my drums to their spot on top of my bookcase, but this time with the promise that we'd spend a little quality time together in the near future. Maybe THAT'S the cure to get out all my Sarah Palin frustrations!

Why I Love Sundays

Earlier this summer, I waxed rhapsodic about my love of Sundays -- a day of seemingly endless possibilities which glows like this last-stop oasis in a busy week. This Sunday morning, as I sit in bed waiting for Meet the Press to start with my laptop on my lap, I am reminded of another reason why I love Sunday. Sunday is the day when the New York Times prints Maureen Dowd's column. Maureen Dowd is one of my idols. Her combination of wit, intelligence, and femininity is an inspiration to an amateur blogger like me. Today's column is particularly good as she casts the Sarah Palin story as a Lifetime chick flick. Maureen Dowd is what I want to be when I grow up! When you add to it that Frank Rich also runs on Sunday, it's a great day for a political junkie like me.

And yes, we're talking the same Frank Rich who once made Broadway divas shake in their shoes for fear of a bad review from his pen. He's left his theatre criticism behind for really intelligent political commentary. I never fail to learn something from Rich's column each Sunday. Maybe I want to be Frank Rich when I grow up. Hmmmmmm . . . .

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Set Your DVR's

Barack Obama and Joe Biden are going to be interviewed tomorrow (Sunday) night on 60 Minutes. There's a brief clip available for viewing at The Huffington Post.

The Surefire Cure to the Post-Convention Blues

Whenever you're feeling stressed out or bummed or whatever the case may be, here's my suggestion. Spend some time with a kitten. I had a pretty stressful Friday, so last night as I was sharing the details of my stressful Friday with my friend George, he invited me to come over tonight to meet his new kitten Sam.

So tonight, I spent the evening curled up on George's couch, watching Katherine Hepburn movies on TCM (Woman of the Year and The African Queen), eating popcorn, drinking a 7&7, and playing with Sam. Who cares about Sarah Palin when there are kittens in this world?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Where Do I Begin?

Several of you have e-mailed me today to guage my reaction to both Obama's electrifying speech last night and McCain's sucker-punch selection of Sarah "No, Really, I'm NOT Tina Fey" Palin. I've spent pretty much all day processing that and trying to figure out a way to put all of what I'm thinking and feeling into words.

Let's start with the good stuff, shall we?

I thought the DNC extravaganza last night was truly amazing. I felt electrified all evening, even before Barack Obama took the stage. Throughout the past years, my love and admiration and respect for Al Gore has grown immensely. I was not a huge Al Gore fan in early 2000, and I really don't know why, particularly as I'm such a fan of the cerebral candidate. (I mean, hell, I cried myself to sleep over Michael Dukakis. MICHAEL DUKAKIS!!!) I supported Bill Bradley in the 2000 primary partly because I liked the guy's ideas and partly out of some sort of resentment that everyone just assumed Gore would be the candidate and I really hate feeling like my vote means nothing. (I have a history of voting for the "other guy" in primaries -- Bob Kerrey in 1992, Bill Bradley, Dennis Kucinich. I finally got it right this year!) Anyway, by the time the 2000 DNC came along, I had come to terms with Gore being the candidate, got on board the party train, was charmed by "the kiss", and voted for him like a good Democrat. I didn't become "passionate" about Gore's candidacy until Florida. Over the years, Gore's transformation from "automatronic joke" to a Nobel Prize winning statesman has been truly inspiring. Sometimes, I think I love him more than Bill Clinton -- and I love Bill Clinton. Gore's self-depricating wit and intelligence charm me. I want to have dinner with Al Gore. I think it would be a fascinating conversation. With that said, I obviously was quite moved by his speech last night. Al Gore has handled the theft of his victory in 2000 with such grace, but last night was the first time in a long time when I cried over it -- on behalf of him and on behalf of this country. I think that sometimes we really feel like the president is far removed from our daily lives, that who we elect, in the end, really doesn't matter because they're all the same and their power sometimes seems almost non-existent when it comes to our lives. If you still believe that, watch this and tell me that a Gore presidency wouldn't have made a difference in your life today and a difference in the life of America. This should have been his victorious farewell speech, and instead, it was a sad reminder of a lost America.

That makes it even more crucial to elect Barack Obama. His speech last night was one of the finest things I've ever seen -- and I've seen a lot of great speeches. (Ugh! Listen to me! Pretentious much??) He hit every note he needed to hit. It was a speech filled with vision and compassion and courage and determination. For the first time in a long time, I felt valued and cared for as an American citizen and that someone out there was going to fight for me and protect me. I admire Barack Obama for a lot of things, but last night, I admired him for not backing down, for taking this fight and smashing it like a grapefruit right in John McCain's face. I don't know that I've ever felt this proud to be a Democrat before, and I am a pretty proud nearly lifelong Democrat -- going back to Election Night 1976 when I danced around our living room in my Bullwinkle pajamas singing a song I made up about how much I loved Jimmy Carter. I was 5, and outside of those "parroting my parents" years when I thought Ronald Reagan was the bomb-diggity (cut me some slack -- I was 9!), I've been a Democrat ever since. One thing that often frustrates me about my party is our insistence to play nice. Not that I'm advocating mudslinging and swift boating, but it was so disheartening four years ago to see John Kerry continually get kicked in the groin and never once even put on a cup to try to protect himself. I firmly believe that one of the biggest reasons why Gore lost in 2000 was that the party tried to play it too safe in Florida. Rather than demanding that the votes be recounted, they hemmed and hawed and ended up getting the rug pulled right out from underneath them because the Republicans do NOT play nice. They are the party of Lee Atwater and James Baker, a party that will push up their sleeves and fight until there's no one left standing. I'm Irish; I believe in a good fight. Last night, Obama showed me that he believes in a good fight, too. A good, fair fight that's based on issues and ideals rather than trumped up b.s. like who's more patriotic. This is going to be the most exciting election in my lifetime, but we need to fasten our seat belts, folks, because it's going to be a bumpy, bloody ride.

John McCain proved THAT this morning when he announced his selection for VP. First of all, let me applaud the McCain camp for something -- they shocked the hell out of just about everyone. This morning, CNN had all but crowned Minnesota governer Tim Pawlenty. NPR seemed convinced that Mitt Romney had received the call. Both mentioned allusions to a "dark horse" but both even had that "dark horse" identified as Meg Whitman. So you can imagine my shock when I opened an email from Danielle (Danielle, did you know that you technically broke the news to me? This teaching thing is really cutting into my amatuer political pundit time spent pouring over the pages of the Huffington Post and with the subject line that said, "A woman?" and I hurriedly went to to find out it was Sarah Palin. I seriously said "That son of a bitch!" out loud. (Thank goodness it was between classes and no students were around!)

There's a part of me that's devastated because I share in Jen's fear that this could be the thing that ruins this election for Obama and consign us to four more years of Republican shenanigans. There's a part of me that's angry for that reason and because this is such a manipulative move on the part of McCain. He did not pick Sarah Palin for her beliefs. He picked her because she has a vagina. What she brings to the table idealogically is irrelevant. She is, to put it more bluntly, a token, and that offends me on so many different levels. On top of it, she's a flippin' beauty queen?!?!?!? What a great message to send to girls already struggling with self-esteem issues and body isues. "Hey girls, you can be anything you want to be. You can even be one heart beat away from the presidency -- as long as you're pretty!" First the ugly kid can't sing the Chinese National Anthem, and now this!

Let me close this lengthy post with this impassioned plea to those wavering Hillary supporters out there: I know you're upset that Hillary did not win. I've been there. I know that frustration. I know that you believe there was a lot of gender bias at play. I know that it will be tempting for you to vote for McCain now that there is this attractive, charming woman who seems so much like you -- a "hockey mom" who's risen to power in a disproportionately male state. Just promise me one thing before you vote -- promise me you'll vote with your head and not with your vagina. Investigate this woman, look at what she stands for. She may share your gender but she may not share your ideals. This woman will be one heartbeat away from the presidency, and just because she's a woman, it doesn't mean she's going to fight for the things you believe in. As angry as you may be that Obama did not pick Hillary to be his vice president, at least he picked someone who shares the values and ideals of Hillary's party -- your party. Joe Biden is a good man who has fought for us for 35 years in the Senate. Vote with knowledge, vote with your head, vote the way you know will help heal this fractured nation of ours.

Thank you.

Quick Question

I'm away from a tv and only able to check my usual news sources sporadically since I'm teaching, but did John McCain seriously pick Tina Fey to be his running mate?? What will that mean for this season of 30 Rock?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

One Thing Before I Go to Bed

Now THAT speech was presidential, thank you very much.
(More tomorrow but right now I need sleep more than political commentary. I'm watching the speech 2 more times tomorrow with my speech classes, so I should have a LOT to say!!!)

Well, He Fits Right in with the Democratic News Cycle

Oh, David, this still isn't going to get people to go see The X-Files movie, but nice try. I hereby volunteer myself to help you work through this addiction -- anytime, just call.

Wednesday Night Thoughts

I'm keeping this relatively brief today since I have a ton of work waiting for me in my bag and I suspect people are growing weary of my political ramblings since no one is commenting. (Don't worry -- feelings aren't hurt!)
So here we go:

1. Bill Clinton still has it. And by it I mean charisma . . .and my heart.

2. Doesn't Joe Biden kick ass, y'all? I told you!

3. Beau Biden is DREAMY!

4. This is my plea to the Democratic party: I want to be delegate! Seriously, I'll do whatever it takes. I'll dance in the aisles to Kool and the Gang. I'll wave whatever poster you put in my hands. I'll cover myself in flair. I'll even wear the goofy hats! Please, please, please! (Unfortunately, as my sis points out, we live in a saturated blue county with a lot of very influencial Dems who get that gig. As she said, "If you wanna go to the convention, it's time you moved someplace red and just take over the Democratic party there.")

5. That shade of blue was very lovely on Hillary.

6. Michelle Obama might want to develop a better poker face. Her fear/dislike of Bill Clinton during his speech was truly palpable.

7. Nancy Pelosi was stylin' last night in that fancy blue suit she was rocking. That's the bonus of having a woman chairperson -- she knows how to dress for the occasion! I also quite loved it when she "demanded" a hug from Obama rather than the handshake/cheek kiss combo the other women on the stage were getting.
8. Thanks, CNN, for ruining the surprise that Obama was in the house AND was going to appear onstage with Biden. You stole Jill's moment!
9. Jill Biden reminds me of someone I know, but I'm not sure who. Help me!
10. If I can't be a delegate, I want to be the dj at the convention. I could pick some seriously rockin' tunes and get that joint jumping. I would also get rid of the live band playing the muzak versions of songs. Give me the real thing, people!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Was It Enough?

I've already posted a little of my reaction to the Clinton delegate issues that the Democratic party is facing right now, but I wanted to take a more in-depth look at last night.

First off, poor Mark Warner. In case you didn't realize it, he was the official keynote speaker of the convention. That's a pretty lofty spot -- a spot held by the likes of Mario Cuomo, Ann Richards, Zell Miller, and an unknown Illinois State Senator by the name of Barack Obama. It can be a starmaking, watercooler type of moment in a political career. The people listed above (and others who've been keynote speakers) became national political figures almost instantly -- or at least became brief celebrities before fading away (or going crazy in the case of Zell Miller). Mark Warner admitted he had some pretty tough shoes to fill. His speech was a good speech, and it did what Crypt Keeper Carville said that the party needed to do -- it went after Bush and McCain. His refrain of "Four More Months" seriously sent shivers of joy down my spine. The problem is that poor Mark was overshadowed by what was to come. Even before he took the podium, he was pretty much screwed. (Did the networks even cover his speech? I watched it online at CNN's Live Feed, so I'm sort of curious about that.) He was the opening act for the real superstar of the night -- the Cobie Callait to the Madonna. All anyone in that convention center really cared about was Hillary.

What was Hillary going to say? Would she seem genuine in her endorsement of Obama? Would it be enough to sway her stubborn delegates and supporters?

I have never had anything against Hillary Clinton. After Joe Biden dropped out of the primary in Iowa, I spent the next several weeks before the Illinois primary going back and forth between Hillary and Obama. I felt pressure as a woman to vote for Hillary even though I've always maintained that I would never vote for someone based solely on gender. I felt pressure as an Illinoisian to vote for Obama. I valued Hillary's experience. I craved Obama's promise of change. Ugly Betty told me to support Hillary. Oprah told me to vote for Obama. I honestly did not definitively make my decision until I stepped into that voting booth on Super Tuesday. Had Hillary won the nomination, I would have supported her with the same intensity and dedication I am supporting Obama now. I wouldn't have threatened to take my ball and go home because I didn't get my way. And that's what it feels like Clinton supporters are doing. Have these people never been a part of the electoral process before? Sometimes your candidate loses. Sometimes your candidate doesn't even survive to your state's primary! I didn't hold it against Al Gore because Bill Bradley didn't get the nomination (and wasn't even asked to be vp). I didn't hold it against John Kerry that Dennis Kucinich didn't get the nomination. (Admission: I voted for Kucinich for two reasons: Howard Dean's run had already been ended before the Illinois primary and I saw Kucinich speak at a rally here and was really impressed with what he had to say. Since Kerry was the presumptive nominee at that point, I voted for Kucinich as an "issues statement.") The party wants you and values you and you can be the real agent of change in this election by making sure that John McCain isn't elected! So bring back your ball and get back in the game!

With that said, I was very moved by Clinton's speech last night. As Danielle said, it may have been the most heartfelt speech I've seen her give. It seemed genuine and not filled with the resentment that has become so common amongst her supporters. If you love this woman as much as you claim, do you really have any choice but to honor her request that you support the party's nominee?

She put it best: were you in this for her or were you in this for America? I certainly hope that you were in this for America and you'll remember that when the power lies in your hands to make this country stronger and healthier in November.

To the Hillary Supporters . . .

After Hillary's rousing speech last night, which I will comment on at length later today, I saw this reaction from a Clinton delegate that honestly made me more frustrated than anything I've faced this week -- including the missing textbooks! Yes, ma'am, that was a presidential CALIBER speech. I've seen a lot of them in my life given by a lot of people who did not become president. Hillary isn't the candidate not because of her gender but because of her last name. It's why this die-hard feminist didn't vote for her. My students have never lived in a country where the president's last name wasn't Clinton or Bush. That borders on a monarchy, and last time I checked, we decided not to have that almost 232 years ago. I don't have a problem with Clinton delegates casting their vote for Hillary tonight. That's what they were elected to do, and I believe in democracy. And if you can't get behind Obama for whatever reason, fine, don't vote.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

We're Gonna Need a Bigger Boat

Dedicated to my students returning to the grind tomorrow morning.

Opening Night Thoughts

Once again, I want to shake a frustrated fist at the geniuses who scheduled the Democratic Convention the same week as the first week of school for me. It's really cutting into my time. I can't watch all the afternoon festivities -- like the countless state reps who speak or Sasha Obama calling the convention to order. (Man, does that kid send my biological clock ticking -- although I suspect that she would drive me crazy with her cuteness after a while!) Last night, I came home with a pile of work that necessitated being in the tv-less den working on the computer. Thank God for CNN's live feed where I could watch (or rather listen to) the speakers without the endless commentary from Wolf and the gang. On the other hand, it did mean actually listening to ALL the speakers, like the incredibly dull Jim Leach from Iowa. (Hey, Republicans, we gave you guys Zell Miller four years ago. Couldn't you have shot us someone with a little bit more charisma -- or does such a thing exist in the GOP?) I don't know that I would go so far as James Carville (who looks more and more like the Crypt Keeper every day) and call last night a failure on the part of the Democrats, but I think the night was most definitely saved by two families -- the Kennedys and the Obamas.

First off, I should say that Ted Kennedy has long been one of my political idols. It goes back to one of those childhood stories that truly illuminate who I am today. When I was a kid, I had a set of World Book Encyclopedias in my bedroom. They were a little dated (Nixon was still listed as the current president), but I would sit and read them voraciously, reading primarily about movie stars and politics (see -- what did I tell you? ILLUMINATION!). I was particularly fond of reading the section about John and Bobby Kennedy. I was fascinated by the story, which seemed like something out of a book or movie. I can remember crying the first time I read that they were assassinated and even then, at the age of 8 or 9, wondering what the world would be like if they had lived. In 1980, when Ted Kennedy ran for president, I was enthralled. ANOTHER KENNEDY!?!!?!?? I BEGGED my parents to vote for him, not understanding fully the whole idea of party identification and the fact that I was being raised in a Republican home. (My mom says she knew from that moment they were in trouble with me politically, although it would be a good decade or more later before I found out that my mom had been a closet Democrat all those years -- something that would have been nice to know when I cried myself to sleep in high school because my parents didn't vote for Dukakis. Had I known that HALF OF MY FAMILY did, maybe I would have not been so despondent!)

Anyway, I was very moved by Kennedy's appearance and honestly surprised to see that he still looked like Ted Kennedy. I was expecting him to be frail and bald, and he looked pretty robust -- until he started walking (which is when I started crying). It was a classic Ted speech, made all the more powerful by the realization that this could very well be his last appearance before his party like this. This is the die-hard liberal Democrat in me talking here, but this country really does owe a great debt of gratitude to this man who has worked tirelessly year after year to try to make this country a better place. He's not perfect, he's made mistakes, but he's also made a difference.

I did sit through the rather dull speeches that fell between Kennedy and Michelle Obama. The highlight for me was probably seeing the Chicago city clerk speak. Not that it was a rousing speech, but I was seriously laughing my butt off that the Chicago city clerk was invited to speak and NOT the Democratic governor of Illinois. Let me say that again: the DEMOCRATIC governor of the home state of the DEMOCRATIC presidential nominee was not invited to speak at the DEMOCRATIC convention. For those of you not familiar with the state of party politics here in Illinois, let me just say that this is incredibly telling. We have a state government in crisis with bickering within the Democratic party, a party that controls both the governor's mansion, the Senate, and the House. There's a constant feud between Governor Rod Blagojevich, Speaker Mike Madigan, and Majority Leader Emil Jones. People in this blue state are pretty fed up with Blago -- and here's your proof that the frustration extends beyond the borders of our state.

I have to confess I wasn't sure how I would feel about Michelle Obama speaking. It's not that I don't like her, but there's always this part of me that finds it a little condescending that the wives of candidates are given their own little speech time -- like, "Here you go, honey. Now go make me a sandwich!" I also knew, though, the real purpose of that speech -- to try to address that "elitist" label that the GOP is trying to saddle Barack Obama with. The film that preceeded her speech began that task. The story of his persistence in getting her to go out with him was charming and relatable -- and what woman wouldn't finally cave in when offered ice cream? (I know, that was sexist . . . okay, what MAN wouldn't cave in either? Who doesn't like ice cream?) I also really liked the speech by her brother and thought it did a great job of exposing the "human" side of Michelle, too, who has fought a lot of conservative smear tactics this year, undeservedly so. Heaven forbid a smart, talented man marry a smart, talented woman! Thank God Michelle loves The Brady Bunch. Now maybe people will get over it and vote with their heads and not whatever part of them compels people to vote for the dream beer drinking buddy.

As for her speech . . . wow! I liked Michelle Obama before, but now I freakin' love her. Not only did she complete her assigned task of "humanizing" herself and her husband, but she did it without pandering. She launched the defense she needed to while still urging people to be strong and do the right thing in November. The text was available online almost immediately, and you'd better believe I printed that thing off to hand to one of my speech team kids this season! As if that wasn't enough, the two little girls coming out and visiting with their dad via satellite was adorable. (I heard someone on NPR this afternoon saying that was a powerful show of courage on Michelle Obama's part -- to hand a live mic to a 7 year old. And how telling was it that she did so without batting an eye, without that look of fear at what Sasha might say?) You know what, it's time we had a family like that in the White House. What a powerful message to send to the world, to show this intelligent couple raising a young family. How inspiring to see just what is possible here, just what this country can be. The Obama family gives hope. To borrow a line from an old friend of ours, I STILL believe in a place called Hope, and I saw the family who can lead us there last night.

Tonight is Hillary. I'll react tomorrow.

Monday, August 25, 2008

First Day Report

Well, after a nearly sleepless night (I could NOT fall asleep last night. It was well after 1:00 by the time I finally drifted off, so I'm operating on 4 hours of sleep right now), I reported for work this morning. I spent maybe 20 minutes actually in my classroom working to get ready for students. The rest of the day was spent in meetings or running around the building to turn paperwork in, confer on a couple things, etc.
"What," you may ask, "was the highlight of your day, Mel?" Was it the seemingly endless faculty meeting going over various bits of bureaucratic minutiae? Perhaps it was using the brand new copier in the office. Or realizing that I have 2 more students than I have desks in one of my freshmen English classes? Or finding out staff pictures were today -- thank God I did put on a tiny bit of makeup to cover the dark circles under my eyes? No, I think it was finding out that the speech textbooks that were supposed to be ordered over the summer were never ordered -- meaning that I start 2 sections of speech class on Wednesday with no textbook. Not panicking . . . . not panicking!!!
Tomorrow should be better. We have a meeting in the morning but then the afternoon was promised to us as work time, so I should be able to get some things done.
And a bonus about these days -- hourlong lunches which allows us to go out and sample the fine dining available in Monmouth. A group of teachers and I went to this little Mexican restaurant downtown today that offers a variety of lunch combos for $5.35 (and that includes drink!). I had two very delicious beef enchiladas with green mole sauce and the best Spanish rice around! Perhaps tomorrow we'll opt for Chinese.
Of course, I still won't have speech textbooks, but I'll have dim sum in my belly!

In Honor of the First Day of School . . .

. . . an article in The Onion's AV Club recognizing my heroes .

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Party's Over

Well, folks, today is, for me, the last day of summer. Tomorrow morning, my alarm will go off at 5:30, and I'll amble out of bed and step back into a routine I know so well nine months out of the year. I'll be in the car by about 6:45 listening to NPR and sitting behind my desk by 7:15 wondering what happened to my summer. Yes, I officially report back to work tomorrow, and, while I won't see students for two more days, I'll be up to my eyeballs in lesson planning and photocopies and all the stuff that goes with this teaching gig of mine. I'll be pouring over my class lists, wondering which freshmen I'll be able to recruit onto the speech team or into drama club, groaning as I recognize names on the lists of my upperclass courses, and filling my calendar with rehearsals and meetings and speech tournaments.

With that said, I want to take a few minutes to reflect on this summer. What better way to do that than with a top ten list? So here it is, Mel's Top Ten Highlights of the Summer of 2008:

10. New episodes of Project Runway! I'm still working through my feelings for the new designers (it takes time to get to know these people, and so many of them are gone before they've had a chance to define their characters!), but right now, I'm pulling hard for Terri. That chick kicks ass, and the judges need to get on board and finally let her win a freakin' challenge! Oh, and I do know that I hate Blayne.

9. New episodes of Monk, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, and The Closer. If there's one thing I love more than reality tv (and actually, there's a LOT more that I love more than reality tv), it's crime procedurals. The fact that Monk and The Closer add a good hint of humor to the mix helps. (Because really what I love most is a good comedy. 30 Rock and The Office can't come back soon enough!!)

8. The Dark Knight. I'm not a comic book geek, but I love me some Batman. And Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker is something I'll never forget and will serve as a perfect example of gleefully surrendering to your art .

7. Netflix for helping me see the movies I never have time to see during the school year. I see shockingly few movies from September through May because I have so little time. I teach during the week, I'm away at speech tournaments every Saturday during the winter or giving my Saturdays to set building for the fall play or spring musical. Thanks to Netflix, I've finally been able to see a lot of the fall and winter movies that I wanted to see but missed (like National Treasure 2) OR movies that I was too embarrassed to be seen seeing in public (like Alvin and the Chipmunks) OR movies that never came to my local multiplex (like Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day which is currently a "Long Wait" to get).

6. Michael Phelps, Shawn Johnson, Nastia Luikin, Kerri Walsh, Misty May-Treanor and the other Olympic athletes who actually made watching sports appointment television for me this summer.

5. Finding my inner gardener. For the first time ever, I spent quite a bit of time outdoors tending to plant life. The petunias and impatiens I planted in front of my house at the beginning of the summer have thrived under my watch. Even better, the seed blanket I put down in the infamous crop circle in my back yard has begun to sprout, filling that dusty circle with baby's breath and ageratum and evening scented stock and zinnias. Watching those flowers grow and bloom has been absolutely breathtaking and has filled me with an embarrassing amount of joy.

4. Appearing onstage again in this summer's show of Christopher Durang one acts. Even though I wasn't overly thrilled with my performance, I did get a nice amount of positive feedback and had a lot of fun exploring some wacked out characters lurking in my subconscious. (Threatening to kill my sis onstage with a teaspoon was like a dream come true!)

3. Starting this blog. Not only has this blog allowed me to pontificate at length about my opinions both political and cultural, but it has also allowed me to keep in touch with distant friends and make new ones at the same time. Here's hoping I can keep it up when I'm waist deep in five-paragraph essays.

2. The Obama-Biden ticket. And not just because I was right but because I think it might be the ticket that could really change America. Yes, I am a political optimist, but I haven't felt this jazzed about a ticket since 1992. I'm not stocking up on champagne yet, but I am keeping the U2 CD on stand-by ready to crank on the evening of November 4. (Any candidate who plays U2 as his intro music earns my vote by the end of the first verse!)

1. My new house! I moved into my house the day after giving my last final exam a school and walked out of my classroom with a house still full of boxes and unpacking to do. Over the course of the past months, I've unpacked all but a few strategically stashed away boxes (thank God for the millions of closets this house boasts!) and turned this cute little ranch house into a home full of sunshine and plants and happiness. There's still work to do to finalize that transition, but it's going to be hard to leave home tomorrow -- but great to know about the home I have to return to at the end of the day.

And so I bid a sad good-bye to the summer of 2008 as I head off to start this last day a freedom -- a day that will be spent fixing a typical Sunday breakfast (I'm thinking pancakes), reading the Sunday paper, mowing my lawn, and settling down tonight to watch the season finale of Law and Order: Criminal Intent (and the possible return of Nicole Wallace?!?!?!?). Hey, summer of 2008, it's been great! See ya' next year!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Could This Man Be One Heartbeat Away?

Okay, I lost interest in the Olympics at about 10:35 last Saturday night when Michael Phelps won his historic 8th gold medal. Part of it was the fact that that sports that remained (outside of volleyball which I do enjoy watching) are not sports of which I am particularly fond, and part of it was the fact that the media (and NBC) seemed to stop caring enough to shield me from finding out results before they were aired. (Somehow knowing Shawn Johnson was going to win the gold made watching her win the gold not all that exciting. I mean, it's like knowing who Keyser Soze is before the movie even starts!)

So this week, outside of getting myself mentally prepared to go back to work and fighting the demon grapevines, my focus has shifted to my spectator sport of choice -- politics. I'm not even going to begin to discuss how upset I am that the start of the Democratic convention coincides with my return to work (and lack of 24/7 access to convention coverage). We've all had a nice little break here this summer, recovering from the Fight Club that was the primaries, and the time has come to complete the family for November. According to all reports, tomorrow, Barack Obama will be speaking in Springfield (a mere 2 hours and 10 minutes from my house!) to kick off his journey to the Democratic Convention in Denver AND announce his running mate. All week, I've been pouring through various articles online dissecting the believed-to-be major contenders for the spot. Mostly, though, I've been on pins and needles waiting to see if the vice presidential choice *I* targeted months ago will actually be the one chosen. The choice I have long said would be the perfect choice is intelligent, has a tremendous amount of experience in foreign relations, and endured a disappointing campaign during the primary. This candidate was my top choice until dropping out. And that person is . . . . Joe Biden.

Yes, I was one of the ten people in America who actually intended to vote for Joe Biden last winter. I was devastated when he ended his campaign the night of the Iowa primary and spent the next several weeks between Iowa and Illinois agonizing in trying to choose a candidate to replace him. (Anyone who knows me well will know that decision making is not one of my strengths.) I was a Biden supporter for a lot of the same reasons why he seems to be one of the top candidates for Obama's veep -- he's experienced, he knows his stuff when it comes to foreign policy, and he is a bulldog in a debate. Last September, I attended a candidate's forum in Davenport, Iowa, where all of the Democratic candidates (minus Obama and Kucinich) debated and I was impressed by Biden's intelligence, passion, and fearlessness. He was charming but with substance and wasn't afraid to take on Hillary Clinton who was, at that time, pretty much assumed to be the nominee. As my sis and I left the forum that evening, we both remarked how charmed we had been by Biden and that Hillary would be wise to consider him to be her veep.

My admiration for Biden was furthered throughout the winter and spring as I would catch his appearances on Meet the Press and listen to him talk about foreign policy, the one area which concerned me the most where Obama was concerned. When Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in Pakistan, Biden was a terrific voice of reason and seemed to be the one "talking head" I saw who seemed to understand the complexity of the situation over there and who seemed to offer the best ideas for how the U.S. should respond.

According to what I've just read this evening on, Biden appears to be emerging as the likely choice. Sources in the camps of Virginia Governor Tim Kaine (whose appearance on Meet the Press last Sunday was not particularly impressive) and Indiana Senator Evan Bayh have apparently revealed that neither Kaine nor Bayh will be the choice. Another source reports that Hillary Clinton was never seriously vetted. That leaves, according to the list I've been able to cobble together via CNN, The NY Times, and the Huffington Post, Biden and longshot Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas with most pundits leaning towards Biden. Unless Obama has a surprise to pull out of his hat tomorrow morning in Springfield (like Congressman Chet Edwards of Texas), it looks like my man Joe is the one.

Now . . . who is McCain going to choose . . . .?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Neverending Battle

As longtime readers may recall, this summer has been nearly consumed by my adventures in the great outdoors otherwise known as my newly acquired backyard. I've battled weeds and crabgrass and nurtured plants to life. Tonight, I'm hosting a production meeting for a show I'm working on next summer (a very organized director -- not me -- wants to get started asap), so I wanted to make sure my yard looked super good since I was having "strangers" over. My intention initially was to just go out and trim the bushes that line the south side of my property. Trimming these things is a constant chore. It seems like I barely get them clipped and there's more for me to go out and attack. And my neighbors who "share" these bushes with me never trim their side, so I either become the presumptuous neighbor who does THEIR lawn work in addition to my own or I have half-trimmed bushes. I opted for presumptuous neighbor.

Once I'd finished with the bushes, I decided to tackle the crap growing along the wire fence that lines the back half of the southern edge of my property -- also shared with the slacker neighbors next door. (Actually, they're very nice people. I just wish the people they hire to mow their lawn would pick up a set of freakin' hedge clippers every now and then!) There were some dead vines intertwined amongst the fencing that I wanted to get rid of since it looks so unsightly and also tackle the tremendous amount of growth in the back corner behind my shed.

As a result of this adventure, I've added a new enemy to my enemies list (I feel like Richard Nixon!) -- grapevine ivy. That stuff is insidious! It is mighty and really takes hold of whatever it can. I spent a good hour today battling this stuff -- both dead and alive. I made tremendous headway, although I did give up and left 2 clumps of it growing on the fence, conceding to the voices in my head that the ivy was more on the neighbors' side of the fence than mine and at some point it had to become their problem.

I never thought I'd say this, but I'm almost looking forward to winter!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Little Tuesday Happiness

No further comment necessary.

It's That Time

Yes, it's that time of year. I've spent the past week trying to get my life at home organized so that I can go back to work. Today, I bit the bullet and went in to school. I spent the afternoon unpacking things I had to pack up at the end of the year, trying to find where things had been moved to (for some reason, a bunch of my books were stashed in a closet), and generally getting things ready for students to arrive next week. As much as I've enjoyed this summer and spending the time getting settled into my new house, I am definitely ready to get back to work. It looks like it'll be a busy year. My classes all look pretty large, I'm teaching a new class in the spring, and then I have my extracurricular duties on top of that. After a summer of gardening and couch riding, though, I'm ready for the challenge. As Billy Madison would say, "Yahoo for school!"

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Headline of the Day

This headline brings out the Michael Scott in me. Yes, sir, that is indeed what she said.

You know what? This news isn't so "fake"

The New York Times featured this article about The Daily Show's Jon Stewart. It's an interesting read whether you're a fan of the show or not.

Personally, I am a huge fan of The Daily Show, which is probably not shocking to anyone who read this post earlier this week. I have to confess I am one of those people who gets a large portion of my news from The Daily Show, and a lot of it has to do with what is mentioned in the article, that so much of the "real" news is dominated by ridiculous news like Paris Hilton's prison stay or missing white kids. (I am in no way making light of the heartbreak that the families of missing children go through, but 24/7 news coverage is not the way to find those kids.) The fact is that you do get real information from The Daily Show. Yes, it is information delivered with a side of satire, but it is still information. There have been many times when I've seen something on The Daily Show and waited and waited to see it on CNN the next morning only to turn the tv off having learned nothing more other than Britney got to visit with her kids or french fries might make you fat. (Thanks for that nugget of info, Dr. Sanjay Gupta!)

The Daily Show is proof that intelligence doesn't mean dull. It also proves that we need to have a sense of humor about what is going on in this world but still be vigilant and active when we disagree with what is going on. Jon Stewart and the gang are often the only voices of reason in the American media, a fact that I think even Jon Stewart would find depressing. We trust him because he tells us the truth and has figured out a way to break that truth to us with humor and integrity. Can Wolf Blitzer say that?

Friday, August 15, 2008

MIA for a Reason

I know I haven't posted much this week. Between spending hours glued to the Olympics, getting ready to go back to work and the meetings attached to that, and making sure I'm leaving my house in order to go back to work, I just haven't had as much time to sit in front of the computer thinking of witty things to write.

I am working on something about the Olympics, an obsession I've developed this week that has shocked even me. As I've said many times before, I'm not really much of a sports person. Yeah, I'll watch the occasional Cubs game or go support my students at the occasional volleyball or basketball game (heck, I've even been known to go to the occasional high school football game!), but it's not something I will spend hours watching obsessively. Until this week and this man right here. I will be glad when his gold medal run is over because the stress of worrying about whether he's going to make it or not is becoming unbearable for me! Between him and the tension of the Nastia Luikin-Shawn Johnson showdown last night, I'm a wreck!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Ridin' that Train . . .

I'm so glad I saw Pineapple Express on "Free Popcorn" day at my local multiplex. This movie gave me the most serious case of the munchies in recent memory, which the possible exception of the desperate need I developed for chocolate during a viewing of Chocolat.

With that said, Pineapple Express is the Toyota Prius of movies right now, a hybrid film combining the typical stoner comedy with an action buddy flick. It tells the story of schlubby Dale Denton (played by schlubby Seth Rogen), a process server who spends 99% of his days smoking weed that he buys from Saul, played by James Franco. While he is enjoying a doob rolled from the very rare and very potent strain of weed called Pineapple Express (thus the title) that he just bought from Saul, Dale witnesses a murder -- a murder committed, coincidentally enough, by Saul's supplier Ted. Dale panics and takes off, throwing out his roach in the process. Ted, of course, recognizes the weed in the roach and sends his goons out to kill Dale. The rest of the movie is pretty much Dale and Saul fleeing from the assassins.

It's a thin plot to be sure, but the comedy that is mined from this situation hits its mark a good portion of the time. Rogen and Franco have a laid back comic timing, and a lot of the humor can be found in their rather awkward interaction with each other. To Dale, Saul is just his dealer and the time they spend together is only the result of Dale's need for weed. To Saul, their relationship is a friendship, and Franco plays Saul's vulnerability with heart and humor. When Danny McBride's Red (the middle man between Ted and Saul) enters the mix, the awkward humor intensifies to the point where it's almost painful. McBride is not in the movie nearly as much as the poster for the film would imply, but the scenes that he is in belong solely to him and he manages to nearly steal the film and establish himself as a rising comic star.

This movie is full of scene stealers, though, including Gary Cole who plays Ted with a gleeful villainy that masks its own awkwardness and Craig Robinsonof The Office fame as a super sensitive assassin. Ultimately, though, this movie belongs to James Franco who breaks from the pretty boy stereotype to give a goofy, charming performance that dominates the movie. You feel for Saul, whose perpetually stoned grin mask a good guy whose heart is in the right place and who dreams of more than just selling drugs. He is loyal and principled, reacting with hurt when people don't act with those same principles.

This is not to take anything away from Seth Rogen. Rogen is a reliable, engaging comic presence who finds humor in words. I guess I just couldn't help but thinking that Rogen's Dale was pretty much the same character we've seen from Rogen over and over again, going all the way back to his debut performance as Ken on Freaks and Geeks. It's a great character, but it's not really anything new. Rogen is giving us something we know (and know well) whereas Franco is shedding our preconceived notions about him and breaking new ground for us. Franco is a surprise; Rogen is routine.

Pineapple Express does grow a little long (which can be said for just about any movie with Judd Apatow's name attached to it) and credibility becomes stretched in the final act showdown between Saul, Dale, Ted, and a group of scary Asians. Overall, though, it's probably the funniest movie of the summer (although I'm waiting to see Tropic Thunder this weekend before I make any definitive statements like that) and worth the trip to the multiplex -- even if it's NOT "Free Popcorn" Day!

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Confederacy of Dunces

Those of you who come to this site looking for funny little stories about my adventures in middle America or movie reviews or pop culture quips might want to skip this one.

It's time to get serious.

As some of you might know, besides my love of pop culture, I also have a pretty serious love of politics. So serious, in fact, that it was my major in college. (That's a fact that always shocks people who didn't know me before I started teaching.) Many of my earliest childhood memories are related to politics -- watching Richard Nixon make his exit from the White House, Gerald Ford's subsequent swearing in, the election of Jimmy Carter, organizing a lunch table election in 4th grade, etc. I've always been fascinated by the political process, and if it weren't for some incredibly incriminating photos that I'm sure are still circulating out there, I'd probably consider a career in politics at some point.

There's a problem with that, though. I've come to the startling conclusion that, even considering my youthful indiscretions, I'm too smart to be in politics.

That's not ego or delusional thinking speaking. It's, sadly enough, fact. The truth of the matter is that Americans seem to have an aversion to intelligent candidates. Take a look at the past two elections and you'll see the proof. Al Gore and John Kerry were both clearly intelligent men prone to giving thoughtful, lengthy responses to questions. The problem is that this intellect came off as stiff or condescending. "We" wanted someone like us and not someone who was better than us. And so we've had to endure eight years of George W. Bush and his gaffes and syntax errors and his hambone routine. More than once I've seen footage of Bush on television and have felt humiliated that this is the face we've given America on the international stage.

Here's the thing: I DO want a president that not only thinks he's better than I am but who IS better than I am. To quote Will Farrell's impersonation of W. (you knew I'd slip a pop culture reference in here somewhere): "Presidenting is hard!" I could never handle the rigors of being president -- making those literally life and death decisions on a daily basis, trying to sort through the complexities of economic policy or Israeli-Arab relations. I don't want my president to be someone I could "have a beer with" because I want a president who's too busy to tie one on with someone like me. I want someone who will be thoughtful and detail-oriented and who will have the courage and conviction to make those life and death decisions. And I want someone who will be able to explain to me why those decisions were made with a reason better than we're "fighting evil".

Do I think George W. Bush is a bad person? No, I honestly don't. I think he's allowed some really bad things to happen on his watch, and I think that a good chunk of the reason for that is because he lacks the analytical skills to take control. He's allowed himself to become a puppet of his advisors who seem to have their own personal agendas at play. The problem with the Bush Administration is that they seem to see everything in black and white. The world is not black and white -- it's multi-colored and full of depth and complexity and that's something that seems to be lacking in Bush's policies, whether the policies we're talking are foreign, domestic, or social. I want my leaders to recognize that complexity and respond accordingly rather than dividing the world into "with us" or "against us" camps. That takes intelligence that has been lacking in our government for quite some time (as Steven Weber points out in this post from the Huffington Post).

It's time for us to stop wallowing in this mediocrity and start seeking out leaders who will help us rise above this. If we want to stay a superpower (is that term even valid anymore?), we need to realize that it takes more than super muscle power to lead -- it takes super brain power, too.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Two Down . . .

There's the legend that deaths come in threes. Yesterday, we lost Bernie Mac. Today, Isaac Hayes. That leaves one more to complete the cycle.

For many of us, Isaac Hayes makes us think of two things -- "Shaft" and South Park. "Shaft" is probably one of the coolest freakin' songs ever -- it's sexy and cool. Hayes was pretty revolutionary for his time, mixing a dance beat with cool grooves and adding his spoken word intros that predated rap by nearly a decade.

Of course, as rap grew, Isaac Hayes sort of disappeared -- until he was brought back as Chef on South Park. For years, he played the sage who served as the boys' guide to life , the one they went to when they needed advice or information. And then Hayes got pissed at Matt Stone and Trey Parker for bashing scientology and quit . . . and Chef was dead. I couldn't bear to show his grisly death here, so I went with the more "hopeful" resurrection offered at the end of the episode. Let someone else be gruesome.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

RIP Bernie

I was stunned this morning to read of Bernie Mac's death from pneumonia at age 50. I didn't really know who he was until his vastly underrated sitcom hit the airwaves. I was such a fan of his show, though. His mix of disdain and affection for the kids (who else would compare kids to cockroaches?) was my kind of humor. He will be missed.

Let the Games Begin!

Okay, normally, I'm not really all that into sports. They just don't hold my interest. So as the hype has been growing all summer about the Beijing Olympics, my reaction was pretty much, "So?" I "outgrew" the Olympics long ago -- about the same time McDonalds stopped doing their Olympics promotion where you could win free stuff for every medal the US got in a certain sport. Last night, I was looking forward to curling up and watching new episodes of Monk and Psych, maybe doing a little reading, and that was about it. Then I noticed that the opening ceremony of the Olympics was about to start. My sis and I were both like, "What the heck? It'll be pretty to watch."

Pretty doesn't even begin to cover it. What the Chinese did was put on an extravaganza like I've never seen before with 2008 drums that lit when struck, 2008 tai chi masters doing their thing, dancers, amazing animation, flying people, and more. It was breathtaking, awe-inspiring. More than once my sis and I were both in tears at the majesty of what we were witnessing. Even the parade of nations was full of beauty -- from the various uniforms (LOVED the Finland dresses!) to the inspirational stories, especially the one about the little boy accompanying Chinese flag-bearer Yao Ming. Nine-year-old Lin Hao is a survivor of China's recent devastating earthquake. He was in school when the quake hit. He managed to pull himself from the rubble and then went back to pull two of his classmates to safety. Of the 30 children in his class, only 10 survived the quake. When asked why he had gone back after saving himself, Lin Hao told reporters that he was a class safety monitor and it was his job to make sure the people in his class were safe. Watching him march beside Yao Ming (and then being held up by Ming during the torch lighting so he could see what was going on) was one of those moments that may stick with me forever. Just when you think this world is going to hell, you hear a story like that and remember what courage really is.

So maybe I just might catch a little bit of the Olympics over the next couple weeks. Hearing the stories about some of these athletes reminded me that this is about more than sports. It's about making dreams come true, even if you're the only person on your country's team and have no chance of even touching a medal. I just have to make sure to stock up on Kleenex.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Ramblin' Guy Speaks, er, Writes

Earlier this week, I started reading Steve Martin's memoir Born Standing Up which looks at the development, rise, and eventual demise of his stand-up career. It's a relatively short book and amazingly quick reading and also a really fascinating look at how Martin toiled and fretted and crafted a pretty revolutionary stand up persona.

What I find particularly interesting in reading this book is Martin's philosophy of comedy and what he wanted his persona to be. I don't know that I've ever read such a thoughtful analysis of comedy and what makes something funny.

I can vaguely remember Steve Martin the Stand Up from when I was a kid. I remember the arrow through the head and the catchphrases. I had "King Tut" on 45 that I would listen to frequently, particularly after my parents drug me to see the exhibit when it hit Chicago. (I think I was only excited to go BECAUSE of the Steve Martin record). I can remember my mother hating him and saying how stupid she thought he was -- an opinion which makes sense as I read how Martin crafted a comedy that eschewed any sort of punchline and often mined humor from the lack of any discernible comedy. I remember, too, my older brother finding Martin absoluely hilarious, but he was a teenager and perhaps more in tune with the shifting trends in comedy. Perhaps his constant refrain of "Well, excuuuuuuuuuuuse me" had a little something to do with Mom's hatred. (I will say, though, that Mom DOES like Steve Martin the Actor and seems to have forgiven/forgotten her 70s loathing of him) I've heard Martin's comedy albums years after Martin had retired from stand up and can remember sitting on the floor of a friend's apartment laughing until I thought I would pass out from lack of oxygen. I can only imagine what it would have been like to experience them as "new" rather than cool nostalgia to a bunch of Gen-X slackers.

I also really admire this book because Martin isn't afraid to bare his demons and discuss his insecurities and the anxiety attacks that often left him sure that he was about to die and which led him to swear off drugs completely. Steve Martin is an intelligent, sensitive, tortured man -- so much more than the "character" we have come to associate with him.

If you get the chance to check out this book, take it. Even if you're not a performer or a fan of Steve Martin's, it's still a really entertaining and fascinating read.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

She's Crafty!

Another guilty pleasure of mine is design shows on HGTV. (Congratulations to Jen for winning season 3 of Design Star. She was my pick from the very beginning. I can't wait to see her show!!) I love watching people far more talented and artistic than myself (which isn't saying much -- artistic I am not!) take things and make them spectacular. After watching many hours of Color Splash and Myles of Style and Junky to Funky (which is actually on DIY) and their brethren, I decided this week to tackle my own project.

I have this old wood side table that I inherited from my grandmother. Once upon a time, it was part of a set of three nesting tables. Over the years, one of the tables broke, one of the tables was "donated" to my theatre department, and the third ended up sitting on the front porch of my old apartment for many years being battered by the elements. Structurally, the table is still in decent shape, but exposure to rain and snow and wind has left it looking pretty icky and in need of some TLC (Tender Loving Craftiness!).

I came up with a plan -- I would paint the table and refinish the top of it with more weather-friendly ceramic tile. (Okay, I'm sort of copying a table I saw in the Pottery Barn catalog, so it's not exactly an "original" design.) Today, I sat outside on my patio and began the project by painting the table with some white interior/exterior paint I found in my garage. I've decided to go with blue ceramic tile along with some lovely painted tiles I found at Lowe's this weekend. (I wish I had the artistic ability to buy cheaper, plain tiles and paint them myself, but alas it's not going to happen). All told, the refurbished table will end up costing me just a little over $20 (closer to $30 if it hadn't been for the "free" paint in the garage) -- a slight savings compared to the nearly $200 table in the Pottery Barn catalog. I'll try to post a picture of the finished project when it's all completed.

Design Star Season 4 -- sign me up!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

For Those of You Who Are Fierce, We Salute You

As many of you may know, despite my attempts at culture and pretension, I have many, many guilty pleasures where pop culture is concerned. I personally like to think that I've managed to find a middle ground between high brow and trash. My DVR records both Great Performances and America's Got Talent. That's not to say I don't turn my nose up at things even too trashy for me to find entertainment value in (I'm looking at you, Living Lohan), but I try to not let myself get so mired in high culture that I become, as my sis has accused me of on more than one occasion, snobbier than Frasier and Niles Crane combined. (Oh, what great company, though!)

So it was with great guilty excitement that I stumbled across this first promotional picture for the newest season of America's Next Top Model. I'm sure many of you are thinking to yourself, "Mel watches ANTM? SHOCKING!" Well, I fought Tyra and her Tyra-bots for many, many years until one cold winter afternoon when I was home in bed with a nasty cold and stumbled across a marathon on VH1 and was riveted. This is camp entertainment at its very finest. Drag queens and delusional ex-supermodels and delicious British photographers and girls crying at the drop of a hat AND Janice Dickinson? Who could resist??? I hid my ANTM viewing for quite some time, watching marathons in secret, going to "work" in my bedroom on Wednesday nights to catch the newest episodes. I finally came clean a few cycles ago (the CariDee cycle, for those of you who know ANTM) when my sis caught me in the act of not only watching an episode of ANTM but CRYING while watching an episode of ANTM. She scolded, she mocked, she roared with laughter . . . and then she sat down on the end of the bed and got sucked right in. Bwahahahahahahahahaha!! Both of us are now thoroughly and unabashedly hooked. We watch, we mock, we place bets on winners, and we cry every damn season when the new winner is announced. You shoulda seen the tears when "fattie" Whitney won last season. Our addiction is so serious that when I was at Wal-Mart, I called my sis screaming with tears of joy to tell her that Whitney's CoverGirl ad was on display.

So the new season will be starting shortly. Who will be this season's bitch (ala cycle 9's loathed Bianca who was recently arrested for getting into an airport brawl with Hairspray's Nikki Blonski)? What will the pressure be like on this season's token plus-size girl now that one of them has won the crown? Who will have the sob story that will keep us on the edge of our seat? Who will be the early favorite who will be sent home shockingly early (ala last cycle's Claire)? Only time will tell. But I will most definitely be there watching the debut -- about 30 minutes late so I can fast forward through the commercials courtesy of DVR.

For those of you who share my ANTM love (and you don't have to admit it), be sure to check out fourfour each Monday during the season. Rich writes the hand's down funniest recaps of ANTM EVER. I can only dream of being as clever and witty as Rich.

Monday, August 4, 2008

My New Enemy

Meet my new arch nemesis -- crabgrass.

Today's project du jour was to go out and try to attack the weeds that are sprouting around the perimeter of my crop circle. Some of you may remember that when I moved into my house, I "inherited" a large, empty, circular patch in my backyard where there had clearly once been a swimming pool. (A fact confirmed by my friend Harriet who frequently reminds me that the people who lived here before had a pool -- with the not-so-subtle question being why I don't have a pool. Also, I found an empty pool box in my shed.) Earlier this summer, I pulled all the weeds from the middle of the crop circle and put down a seed blanket which promised a lovely array of wildflowers. Right now, all I have are some sprouts. (I fear I planted too late to get any blossoms.) Around the perimeter of the sprout area, though, I have noticed weeds growing and starting to creep into the sprout area. So today, I went out to get rid of them.

Have you ever tried to get rid of crabgrass? That shit is nearly impossible! It's long and the roots go so deep and get so tangled up in each other. In short, it was a borderline nightmare! I managed to put enough away from the edges to protect my sprouts, but I have a feeling it could be a continuing battle. I've done some research online as to how to get rid of crabgrass, and it's not particularly encouraging.

Any suggestions?

Saturday, August 2, 2008

A Saturday at the Market

Here's something I love about Saturday's: the Farmers' Market.

Here in the 'Burg, there's a downtown parking lot that gets closed down each Saturday from 9:00 to Noon and opens up to local farmers vending their goods. You can walk in with $20 in your pocket and walk out with bags full of sweet corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh herbs, potatoes, peaches, and more. Today, I even managed to score some amazing looking portabella mushrooms that I can't wait to grill (using the fresh oregano I purchased from a neighboring vendor). I always bring my own totes and just load up with whatever delicious goodies catch my eye. I love the old-fashioned air of the farmers' market and the idea that I'm purchasing stuff that was maybe in the ground just a day or two ago and will be in my tummy very shortly.
The other thing about the farmer's market is that it is impossible to walk through there and not run into a good half dozen people that you know. Today alone I ran into former professors, a co-worker, an acquaintance from high school, a couple people from church (who of course chastised me for not having stepped foot in church in ages. Hey, church conflicts with Meet the Press, and it is an election year, baby!!). It really enforces the sense of community that is one of the things I like best about living where I do.
As as added bonus, a nearby cooking supply store was having a sidewalk sale today, and I was able to buy three adorable new coffee mugs for $10. I had just been complaining how I needed some new coffee mugs, preferably some smaller ones than the ones I currently have, and these are perfect -- smaller and funky at the same time.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Top 10

My best friend Danielle has started a topic over on her awesome blog Mission Improvisational where she discusses her top ten favorite films and encourages readers to list their favorites. I listed mine there with the promise of discussing each film a little more in depth over here. (Way to get more readers on the old blog, eh? I'm dying to reach 200 hits!)

So . . . without any further ado-whack-ado, here's my top 10 list:

1. Tootsie -- It's only been recently that I've come to realize how much I LOVE this movie. It's such a great cast and absolutely hilarious in that "real" sort of way. Of course, my love for Tootsie has sort of ruined my sis's enjoyment of The Closer when the other night I turned to her and said, "Don't you just feel sometimes like Kyra Sedgewick is just doing her best Dorothy Michaels impersonation?"

2. Some Like It Hot -- Confession time. One of my biggest all-time celebrity crushes is on Jack Lemmon. I absolutely adore him. He can seriously do anything -- comedy, drama, farce. It doesn't matter. I "forced" myself to choose just one Jack Lemmon film for this list (even though I had a hard time choosing between this, The Great Race, and The Apartment). I ultimately chose this if only for the sheer comic genius of Jack in drag. Hmmmm . . . my top two films involve men in drag. I wonder what that says about me. (I think we already know *cough* hag *cough*)

3. When Harry Met Sally -- Confession time part deux. I am a sucker for a good romantic comedy. I laugh in all the right places, cry in all the right places, and I'm sure a lot of you will notice the abundance of rom-coms on my list. As you can also see, I tend to gravitate towards the older ones back when men were men and women were broads. (I kid!) When Harry Met Sally, though, has always been the "one" for me. Perhaps it is because I've always sort of identified with Sally Allbright -- the uptight chick who thinks she's low maintenance but is really high maintenance. I remember when I first saw the movie being shocked to see someone on screen who had some of the same quirks I did -- the ordering thing, the checking the mail slot between each letter thing. It was a little odd. And the final scene where Harry declares his love for Sally makes me cry every single time. This is also the movie that introduced me to the music of Harry Connick, Jr. I loved the music so much when I saw this that I went right to Musicland and bought the soundtrack that same day. It still has a spot in my permanent CD rotation.

4. The Philadelphia Story -- Kate, Cary, and Jimmy. Who could resist? My favorite character, though, has always been precocious little sister Dinah. That kid is a riot!

5. Gone With the Wind -- I'd second everything Danielle says about this film in her blog. It is probably the greatest film ever made (Sorry, Citizen Kane). It's a sweeping, beautiful epic. Whenever I used to feel blue, I used to put this movie in and just sit and cry for a good 3 hours. No matter how bad I thought things were, seeing Scarlett deal with war and broken hearts always made me feel better and inspired to face another day. And when you factor in all the drama that went into even making this movie happen (see the play Moonlight and Magnolias), it makes this masterpiece even more gorgeous and inspiring.

6. Almost Famous -- The most recent film on my list, which is sort of sad, isn't it? I remember when I saw this movie, I was just so moved. It came out at a time when I was heavily into Phish and traveling all over the country to see them live, so this portrayal of how vital music could be in a person's life just touched me deeply. I remember just sobbing during the "Tiny Dancer" scene where Patrick Fugit's character says he has to go home, and Kate Hudson (WHO WAS ROBBED OF HER OSCAR) just turns to him and says, "You are home." Those of us out there who had done even a portion of Phish tour know that feeling, I think.

7. Romancing the Stone -- This was my absolute favorite movie in high school and remains on the list out of loyalty and nostalgia. I think within the course of about a year, I saw this movie over 20 times thanks to HBO and videotape. I could recite the entire movie by heart. Kathleen Turner was my idol (and kinda still is, especially after seeing her amazing performance on stage in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?). I loved then (and still do) how this movie is such a brilliant mash-up of romantic comedy and action adventure film. It is flat out awesome -- even with the presence of the alligator biting the dude's hand off, a scene I've never seen without the filter of my fingers in front of my eyes.

8. Waiting for Guffman -- Spinal Tap is great, but I think this tale of community theatre gone desperately delusional is Christopher Guest's finest hour. As someone who has toiled in community theatre, I've seen these people up close and personal, and Guest really didn't even scratch the surface!

9. His Girl Friday -- This movie is sheer perfection and the perfect example for anyone looking for pitch perfect comic timing. I've made kids on my speech team watch this to help with their pacing.

10. Singin' in the Rain -- I had to have a musical, and I went with this one. Despite the fact that the dream sequence in the third act really kills the momentum of the story, there's no denying Gene Kelly's brilliance as a dancer. When I was in college, my roommate and I would frequently put this movie on when finals stress was getting the best of us, fast forward to Donald O'Connor's "Make 'Em Laugh" number, and just laugh our stress away before returning to our books and outlines and papers. That look on Gene Kelly's face when he looks up and smiles as the rain hits his face gives me goosebumps every single time.

Hail to Alma Mater!

Knox College, my alma mater, was recently named by the Princeton Review as one of the top colleges in the midwest. The Review's ranking also looks at a variety of aspect of student life at a college, and Knox ended up ranked 9th overall for its radio station, WVKC; 16th in the percentage of students happy with their financial aid; and the theatre department was ranked 17th overall (one above Carnegie Mellon -- and NYU and Northwestern aren't even in the top 20 list).


It's one thing to know you went to a good school; it's entirely another to see it in print. I know, I know -- whoop-de-doo. But Knox has always felt like this "secret" -- this great school that no one has ever heard of if you travel much beyond Illinois. I'm sure that people who went to Harvard or Yale or Stanford are all jaded about how great their schools are, but when a little school like Knox gets some recognition, it's a big deal.

My years at Knox were a pretty incredible time. I made a lot of friends who have been with me through thick and thin, who have cheered for my victories and held my hand through defeat and sorrow. I truly cherish the years I spent at Knox, whether it was the hours spent dj'ing my own show on WVKC, working in the theatre until the sun came up, sitting around and talking about whatever came to mind, or even the hours I spent in the library (pictured here).

So thank you, Princeton Review, for recognizing a place that is and always will be an integral piece of my heart.