Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Ginger Files Year in Review

2008 is drawing to a close, providing us all with a chance to reflect on the year that has passed. And what a year it has been -- a crazy, history-making election; finally finding out our governor here in Illinois is a total thug; my mother apparently getting engaged to a man whose name I don't even know; and Britney Spears releasing a new album. Crazy! With that in mind, here's my list of my 10 favorite things from 2008:

10. My blog -- I started this blog in June mostly as a way to keep in touch with friends, particularly my best friend who had just moved to Ohio. It was initially a place to tell funny stories, review movies I'd seen, and generally "be Mel." Over the course of the past six months, it's become more as it's given me the opportunity to meet new people, spout off about my political opinions, and find a voice I never knew I had. I've been a slacker posting here lately mostly out of being busy at work and also just not being sure what to post about, but I'll always be here.

9. Show Tunes channel -- My digital cable includes many, many digital music channels which I never really took advantage of when I lived in my old apartment. When I moved, I suddenly "discovered" these channels, particularly the show tune channel which has become my best friend on Sunday mornings as I cook breakfast and my sis and I sip coffee at the kitchen table, discussing politics, our plans for the week, or the brilliance of Patti LuPone.

8. Phish -- My fall was rocked with the news that Phish was coming back. While I didn't get tickets to their spring shows (nor did I try because of work), I am hopeful that a journey back to Phish-land will be a part of my summer. A desperate attempt to reclaim my youth? Perhaps. But it's also a way to reconnect with old friends, including 4 scruffy guys from Vermont who shaped my 20's.

7. Cobie Callait's "Bubbly" -- I seriously love this song. Whenever I hear it, it never fails to put me in a happy mood. Whenever I hear it, I am immediately in my yard, gardening or mowing my lawn with my mp3 player strapped on. It's a great, mellow summer tune.

6. Netflix -- I joined Netflix again this year, and this time, it's stuck. I think what's made Netflix such a winner with me is the ability to watch things instantly on my computer. I've loved being able to go back and watch first and second season episodes of 30 Rock or "discovering" Weeds, which I've never seen because I don't subscribe to Showtime. Plus, it's nice to just come home to that red envelope and know there's something good inside.

5. Hamlet 2 -- Speaking of something good . . . . I haven't seen a ton of movies this year (I really only have time to go to the movies during the summer, so my last trip to the multiplex here in town was to see Tropic Thunder). Thanks to Netflix, though, I've been able to catch up and see movies I didn't get around to, including this great flick. It's hands-down my favorite movie of the year, and perhaps I'll get around to posting a full review later. Suffice it to say, that it's my kind of funny -- absurd, dark, and totally wrong yet totally hilarious.

4. My job -- I've posted a lot here about this. I am really lucky to have found a job that is so rewarding, so challenging, and even, I have to say, so fun. This year brought new challenges as I took over from my mentor in coaching speech and directing drama. (I actually took over in the fall of 2007). 2008 saw me taking my speech team into Regionals and emerging with 5 events qualifying for Sectionals, where one of my kids made it to finals but not to State. 2008 saw me directing my first musical -- Oklahoma! -- without the support of a huge staff to support me. I also fulfilled a dream I'd long had of staging The Matchmaker and hosting my own tournament (which was a huge success). It's a job that takes a lot out of me, but it's a job that gives a lot, too. And not just money.

3. My house -- I moved this year. It was one of the best decisions I've ever made. Yeah, I'm spending a lot more in rent which has hit my checkbook rather hard at times, but the happiness the house provides is worth the decreased cash flow. I'd lived in my previous apartment for almost 6 years and had grown used to my complaints about it -- it was drafty, it needed a lot of work that my landlord wasn't willing to put in or pay to have done, the kitchen was tiny, there was no yard, the neighbors were icky. I put up with it for a long time, and then . . . I just couldn't anymore. (And yes, a lot of it had to do with the appearance of a snake in my living room -- again.) Who knew that this house was out here waiting to provide me with space (I have a den -- and a garage -- and closets like crazy!) and a yard and a home that really feels like mine.

2. 30 Rock -- Nothing, NOTHING, makes me laugh like this show does. When I'm at my most stressed, Liz Lemon and the gang make it all go away, if only for 30 minutes.

1. Sasha and Malia Obama -- Barack and Michelle are hitting number one on most year-end lists, so I'm giving props to Sasha and Malia. Those kids freakin' rock. They seem to have the right balance of precocious and polite. My father always used to say that my sister and I were a reflection on him (and therefore that is why we were expected to behave ourselves and why he wasn't overly keen when I went through my ripped jeans phase), and so if I hold to that philosophy, Sasha and Malia are a reflection on the man we've chosen to be president. I think we're going to be okay. If he can turn out these charming little girls, imagine what he can do for us!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Season's Greetings

There's something about this time of year -- a magic, a feeling of specialness that manages to make even the darkest times seem not so grim. As people face tough economic times, today gives us all a chance to stop and look around and see what's important. Christmas isn't about the presents or the feast. It's about love and hope and joy.

Or something like that.

As I hinted earlier, my Christmas isn't panning out quite the way I'd planned. My mother decided about a week ago that she would rather spend Christmas elsewhere -- specifically with her new boyfriend who happens to be the father-in-law of our icky white trash cousin (daughter of my mother's sister). Yes, we were invited to said celebration, but my sis and I both agreed that we would rather have needles shoved into our eyeballs than spend Christmas with these people whom we've never held in very high esteem. This is the side of the family we've never really been all that proud to claim -- the cousin who has 4 children with 4 different fathers (and I think she was only married to two of them), who showed up at my grandmother's funeral in jeans and a sweatshirt, who more than once referred to me as a "snot" because I brought a book to a family picnic. (I should note that I was in this sort of odd place in the family where everyone was either significantly older than I or significantly younger than I and so I had no one with whom I could comfortably socialize at the age of 10.) Needless to say, this is just not the way I wanted to spend Christmas -- driving two hours away to spend Christmas with people I don't like or know outside of my mother, who becomes really fake and icky when she gets around those people.

And so my sis and I are spending a very low key Christmas just the two of us. We had a nice quiet breakfast this morning, opened presents, and are getting ready to prepare a delicious feast. Yeah, there's a part of me that's still a little depressed that my mother would rather spend a Christmas with these people than with her own children, but at least it takes a tremendous amount of stress off my shoulders and not have to worry about making everything perfect. I'll still TRY to make a perfect meal, but if it doesn't turn out that way, oh, well. It's just me and the sis.

So with that, the sis and I are going to settle in and watch our favorite Christmas movie (Christmas in Connecticut -- a little more obscure, but watch it and tell you the main character doesn't remind you a little of me!) before enjoying a delicious meal of roast beef, mashed potatoes, and cornbread casserole (an item so delicious that my mother called to get my recipe so she could make it for her "new family" as my sis has started calling them). Oh, and lots and lots of wine. :)

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

As those of you who live in the Midwest know (and those of you who don't have perhaps seen on the news), this part of the country has been pretty much ravaged by Jack Frost over the course of the past week. My last week of work for 2008 involved one late start (a two-hour delay following a night where we were slammed with freezing rain), two early dismissals (due to incoming nasty weather), and a snow day (starting our winter break a day early -- woo hoo!). Right now, my town is covered in a glistening layer of sparkling white, which is beautiful until you step outside and realize that a) it's FREAKING FREEZING and b) that glistening layer of sparkling white is created by a 1/2 inch thick layer of ice. It's all perfectly lovely until you have to go outside, which I have had to do a couple times over the past couple days.

Friday, as we dealt with the aftershocks of freezing rain and snow, I played the role of a curmudgeonly hermit. After receiving my 5:15am call cancelling school for the day, I slept until 10:00am and spent the rest of the day puttering around the house and watching television. Saturday, though, I had to go out. The house needed groceries, Christmas shopping needed to be done. I gloried in the fact that my new status as a garaged-house-dweller allowed me to get right into my car without needing to scrape or brush or deal with any of that. I just got in, started the car, and pulled right out. Woo hoo. I've perhaps mentioned before how much I love my neighborhood. It's a nice, quiet little street, tucked away, very little traffic. As great as that is most of the time, I realized this weekend that it's NOT so great in that snow plows typically don't find their way down quiet, tucked away little streets with very little traffic. I pulled out of my garage onto the street and found myself on a solid sheet of ice with next-to-no traction. I skidded and sputtered my way down the block before my tires finally decided to catch and let me drive.
I faced the roads which weren't overly bad once I got away from my street. I made my way to Target which was fairly busy and quickly found the exact presents I was looking for. I went across the street to the mall where I found more of what I was looking for. I finally braved Wal-Mart which was the madhouse you would assume it to be the Saturday before Christmas. The parking lot was packed -- the closest space was about as far away from the entrance as you could get. The store was packed full of the stupid people who tend to populate Wal-Mart -- the kind of people who stop to "visit" right in front of the wall of cheese and right in front of the particular kind of cheese you need, the particular kind of cheese that is the last item on your list before you can get the heck out of Dodge. And then you get out to the parking lot and realize you have NO IDEA where your car is, so you go up and down several rows of cars with a cart loaded with groceries over parking lots that seem to be filled with ice speed bumps that make steering said loaded cart virtually impossible. Once I actualy did find my car, I made for home as quickly as I could, deciding that I was done with the outside world for the day.
Today, temperatures hovered at or below zero -- and that's before the wind chill was factored into things. And there I was out and about once more. I had to go pay my water bill (Merry Christmas!) and pick up a new recycling tub to replace the tub that disappeared with the winds that ravaged the town Friday. I had to go to the post office to mail the Christmas cards I finally got around to writing this weekend. Of course on the Monday before Christmas they only had two clerks working. The line wasn't bad when I joined it to buy my stamps, but it was clear out the door by the time I left. I then had to make a return trip to Wal-Mart to buy a couple things I needed to do some baking this week.
And now -- done. I'm not going out into the world again this week if I can help it. There's more snow and ickiness on the way, and so I am going to hole up in my comfy little house, curl up with a book or some TCM movies, and ignore what's going on outside. Christmas is just me and the sis this year (my mother has decided spending Christmas with her new, um, boyfriend is preferable to spending it with her children), so it's going to be a nice, mellow week.
Ahhhhhh . . . hermits really know what they're doing!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Is There Rehab for Facebook?

It took me a long time, but I finally broke down and did it. I joined Facebook. I'd put it off, thinking I was too old to join since it was something all my students talked about. But I had a lot of people my age encouraging me to join, telling me how fun it was, how great it was to reconnect with long, lost friends, and so one chilly winter afternoon, I hopped online.

And I'm freakin' hooked!
At first, I admit I was a little spooked by how quickly I was "found." Within an hour or so of joining, I was inundated with "friend requests" from students past and present, former classmates, and colleagues. I made the decision to open my facebook up to my students since I also decided that I wouldn't be posting anything particularly incriminating (and those of you out there who DO have incriminating evidence, please don't post -- thanks!). I also realized it would be a good way to be get messages to my speech kids -- whether it's a "congratulations on kicking ass last weekend" or a "don't forget practice tomorrow." It's nice, too, to see what former students are up to, whether it's the high school sweethearts who are engaged to be married next June or the sports editor who now works for the Big 10 Network.
And of course there are all the "blasts from the past" who have popped up -- friends from high school long lost but often thought of. (I did a lousy job of keeping in touch with high school friends. It's kind of shameful, actually, considering what a "great friend" I supposedly am.) It's interesting to see who ended up where. In some cases, it's quite shocking (the girl who's working for the National Geographic Channel in DC -- who would have though it!?); in some, it's no surprise at all (the music junkie who works as a club dj).
And then there are all the little extras Facebook offers -- like bumperstickers and my current addiction, flair! I could spend HOURS (hell, I HAVE spent hours) scouring the site for cool flair to add to my corkboard. It's like back in junior high when I would cover my denim coat and backpack with buttons, only now I can seem to get whatever I want. I even found a "Sugarbaker Woman" button courtesy of 30 Rock.
So now, dear friends, I am off to check my status, prowl for some flair, and generally continue this shameful Facebook addiction. Wish me luck!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Speech This!

As some of you may know, today was D-Day in Ginger Land. Or I guess S-Day since today was the day of the speech meet I have been organizing for the past several weeks. My team and I played host to 12 different schools from all over West Central Illinois. Over the course of the past several days, my kids have really shown me again and again what great people they are. There were the girls who gave up every lunch period for two weeks to spend in my room designing and coloring posters for the event finals. (And I should probably mention that one of them isn't even ON the team) Our theme was "Just Off Broadway" (since our school is located just one block off Broadway), and so they turned every event into a Broadway show logo. Extemporaneous Speaking (known in the speech world as "extemp") became "Little Shop of Extemp" complete with a completely faithful rendition of Audrey II in the corner. Impromptu Speaking became "Phantom of the Impromptu." Some events just had their names done in the lettering of famous Broadway shows -- like "humorous interp" spelled out like Hairspray or "Prose" in the Rent lettering. I had a classroom full of kids last night after school setting up rooms, assembling schedules, stuffing envelopes. I had kids tonight doing dishes and picking up trash. They are just awesome, awesome kids, and their passion and devotion is a driving force in my own passion and devotion to my job. They make my job rock!

Running a speech meet is pretty tough work. I was prepared for some but not all of it. I didn't anticipate the constant questions (people cannot problem solve on their own!) or little issues to deal with. I felt bad neglecting my kids all day while I tabulated results from the rounds. I learned a lot and know what needs to be tweaked for next year.

Of course, I'm sure you're all dying to know how my kids did. Well, pretty darn well. We had a representative from our team in every single event finals (there are 13 total). Not every kid broke into finals, but some that hadn't yet this year did and were over the moon. (I had two girls come bursting into the tab room to tell me they'd both broken in Poetry Reading -- and I had to patiently remind them that I already knew since I was the one who tabbed the results and made the poster telling them they had broken.) Some of the "friends" you know from this blog had great days. Unfortunately, our buddy Emily was not one of them, but she did the best she'd ever done before, so we take our victories where we can.

Rachel (my Super AD) broke into finals in both of her events. While she did not win, she was very happy and received some 1st's and 2nd's in prelims to get her into finals, which thrilled her.

Jodi, my homeless student, also broke into finals -- a huge triumph for her. Her nerves seemed to get the best of her, and she placed 6th out of 6 in finals, but she is making progress and we'll whip those nerves into shape!

Katrina, my very sweet and humble superstar, placed first in her event -- and was shocked. She legitimately has no idea how talented she is.

Harper, my fiery co-captain senior feminist, struggled all week to get her DDA (Dramatic Duet Acting) partner Ethan to come to practice. She was close to "firing" him. I asked her to give him one more chance. They were tournament champions in their event today.

And then there's Marcel, my Belgian exchange student. He is very bright, speaks very good English that's heavily accented but understandable, struggles a little with comprehension, and has theatre experience from Belgium. He came to me earlier this fall and said he really wanted to join the team. When he looked over the events, he decided he really wanted to do Original Comedy (where participants write and perform their own comic monologue/performance). For our first tournament, he was not ready to perform and so I had him come with to watch the event and get a feel for what he was getting himself into. For the past couple weeks, he's been practicing his piece with me -- a very funny "outsider's look" at America. (His segment on his first encounter with Jello makes me nearly pee my pants with laughter every time!) He made his debut in the event today. He went in already guaranteed a medal since the low numbers made the event go straight to finals. Not only did Marcel medal, but he WON FIRST PLACE! One judge even complimented him on "keeping his accent." HA!

In the end, the kids chose not to make the team eligible for the "team sweeps" award because they thought it was ingracious as hosts to win our own tournament. They sort of changed their minds after the awards ceremony when I revealed to them that we WOULD have won first place -- beating two of the schools that we've always considered "untouchable." But they reasoned that they can still say they won; they just didn't get a trophy to gather dust in a trophy cabinet somewhere in the school.

So now my life returns back to normal -- although as I sit here in my living room I realize that I have done no Christmas shopping, no grocery shopping, no laundry in a week (and last week's clean laundry is still in the hamper), and no cleaning. Le sigh!!!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Just When We Think We've Escaped, They Pull Us Back In!

This is Rod Blagojevich. He's the governor of Illinois. He is a douchebag.
"Why, Mel!" some of you may exclaim. "What in the world could this man have done to ellicit such a response from you? Isn't he a Democrat?"
Well, let me tell you.
In the years since he's been elected governor, Blago has effectively set about to rip Illinois apart. It started practically from day one when he refused to relocate to Springfield, preferring to stay in Chicago. The problem with that is that Springfield is our capital. That's where our Congress is. Contrary to popular belief, Chicago is NOT our capital. His refusal to move would be akin to Barack Obama saying he would not be moving into the White House but would be running the government from a posh penthouse in New York City.
For the past 6 years, Blago has been at war with the Democratic Congress here in Illinois. The state enjoys a two billion dollar budget deficit. The result of that is that schools are struggling to keep above water financially, state parks have been closed down (including the Carl Sandburg Birthplace in Galesburg and sites at Bishop Hill), and major cuts have been made in spending -- including cuts in road work and snow removal. Illinois highways have been a mess the past couple weeks because the money isn't there to properly plow and salt these roadways.
As of a poll from a month or so ago, Blago is sitting on about a 16% approval rating -- lower than that of George W. Bush here in Illinois. (Have I mentioned Illinois is a blue state?)
And now, to top it all off, comes news that our governor apparently saw nothing wrong with "selling" Barack Obama's soon-to-be vacated Senate seat to the highest bidder. Just when Illinois is in the media and Chicago is being lauded as a great city and home to the future president, this has to happen to remind people just how down and dirty our pols can play it here in the Land of Lincoln.
Thanks a lot, Blags.
I'll say it one more time: DOUCHEBAG!

Friday, December 5, 2008

We Are Women . . . Where's Our Roar?

Regular readers of my little corner of the blogosphere may remember my stories about Emily, my little baby speech kid who is just struggling with the wealth of cultural knowledge she just doesn't possess. Yesterday, Emily prepped a speech with me that left me with a lot of concerns about our future.

Emily was given the following Marilyn Monroe quote from which to prep her speech: "I don't mind living in a man's world as long as I can be a woman in it." I love this quote because, to me, it talks about that dichotomy a lot of women face -- we are expected to be tough and competitive on the job but we want to retain our femininity. At least, that's how *I* interpret this quote.

Emily saw it much differently.

She stood up there and proceeded to give a speech about the dependence that men and women have on each other -- how men NEED women and women NEED men. She pointed out that women need men around to lift heavy things for them, and men need women to cook their meals. The more she spoke, the more I had to struggle to contain my own righteous indignation as well as my sudden need to burst into tears.

First of all, as a single, independent woman who does consider herself a feminist, I was horrified to hear this sexist propaganda escaping this girl's mouth. I don't need anyone to do my heavy lifting (okay, yeah, sometimes I do, but 90% of that time, that person is my SISTER) nor do I feel a great need to cook whenever I see a man. Would I like to have a relationship with a man that's not reminiscent of Will and Grace? Sure. Do I NEED such a relationship to feel happy and fulfilled with my life? Certainly not.

Secondly, it's depressing to think that this sort of thinking still exists in a world where women have made so many gains. In the same year where we saw Hillary Clinton nearly become the Democratic nominee for President and subsequently become Secretary of State, where we see women like Tina Fey making news for proving you can be smart and funny and a woman, we still have girls believing that they are nothing without men. It's this sort of co-dependent thinking that gets them pregnant at 15, that lets their boyfriends slap them around, that encourages them to make the sorts of bad choices that destroy their potential each and every day, the sort of bad choices I have to witness each and every day.

I find (a little) comfort in knowing girls like Emily are not the only girls out there, by reminding myself of the smart and indepdendent girls I work with every day. Girls like Rachel (the Super AD) whose face was bright red with anger by the time Emily was done speaking or Katrina who, despite being one of the most beautiful girls in the school, takes pride in the fact that she's never been kissed or Harper who was furious with me for not voting for Hillary because, as she said, "It's our chance!" For those girls AND the girls like Emily or Susannah (who is never seen without a boyfriend at her side as she walks down the halls), I feel the pressure of being the role model they need, showing them that women can do anything -- with or without a man. I want to encourage these girls to find their power and strength and to stand on that mountaintop or rooftop or just in front of a classroom and roar .

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Let's Save the Economy

See the embedded video below for a great new Funny or Die video about Prop 8.

Once I get through the planning of this speech tournament, I'll be back more frequently. I promise!