Friday, April 30, 2010

Ten Things I Know About My IPod

My sis got me the greatest gift ever last Christmas -- an adorable, hot pink IPod Nano. I had desperately wanted an IPod practically since the day they hit the market. The problem is that, at heart, I am cheap. Oh, I spend money like crazy, but I have a hard time justifying big ticket expenses, particularly big ticket expenses that benefit only me. Yes, I will gladly spend money on a piece of furniture or car repairs -- stuff that will benefit all the members of my household (yes, all two of us!). But when it comes to spending a lot of money just for myself, I balk. Even plunking down a couple bucks on a book involves some serious debate on my part.

So the gift of the Ipod was beyond awesome. Over the past several months, I have grown to love my little pink friend (named "Elle Woods"). She has made my commute to and from work a true delight. She has gotten me through several very dull teacher meetings (thank you, Solitaire!). She helped get me focused and pumped up backstage during Plaza Suite. She is the bomb.

Like any relationship, I've learned a lot about Elle Woods as we've traveled the highways together. I know her preferences, and she's taught me how well some music can work together.

The following are some things I've learned:

1. Elle Woods really loves the following artists: Pink and Beck. She used to be really into Jack Johnson and Wilco, but that love seems to have faded. She is much more likely to throw Pink and Beck frequently into the shuffle than just about anything else she has.

2. Her favorite American Idol alum is Allison Iraheta. She plays stuff from Allison's solo album A LOT. She has a lot of Adam Lambert but rarely plays him.

3. As weird as it sounds, "You Oughtta Know" followed by "Particle Man" is a killer way to start the day.

4. Despite the fact that she has a lot of They Might Be Giants, the only TMBG song that exists for her is "Particle Man."

5. Like my friend Debbi, she does not so much care for Green Day. I've loaded quite a lot of Green Day on my IPod but it rarely plays via shuffle.

6. She is developing a real love for the Avett Brothers. Recently, she's been throwing an Avett Brothers tune into the mix just about every day.

7. She does not like Madonna, Katy Perry, Cobie Caillait, Michael Franti, or Amy Winehouse even though I've loaded a TON of their music onto the IPod.

8. She does like Glee.

9. She's not afraid of a little blast of old time jazz (Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway) -- or pretend old time jazz in the form of the Asylum Street Spankers.

10. I think a Fishbone obsession is on the horizon for Elle.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Grandmother of Girl Power

Today marks the 80th birthday of a woman many of us grew up admiring -- Nancy Drew.

As a book lover, this is a big deal to me even though I will confess that, growing up, I was not a big Nancy Drew reader. I much preferred the spunky, ginger-headed Trixie Belden. Trixie seemed much sassier than Nancy, a little more tomboyish. Even though my childhood was spent happily devouring books, I admired tales of girls out doing things like riding horses and tromping through the woods. Nancy Drew seemed a bit too dainty for my tastes, and I missed the richer family dynamic at work in the Belden series. (I had such a crush on Trixie's brothers Brian and Mart!) While the Trixie Belden books came out just 18 years after the debut of Nancy Drew, Trixie seemed more modern, more like a girl I could imagine knowing and wanting to be friends with. Trixie was flawed -- prone to sticking her foot in her mouth or bumbling into some sort of catastrophe. Nancy always seemed much more perfect and put together. Nancy was the girl our parents probably wanted us to be; Trixie was the girl we knew we always would be.

Nancy Drew, though, was the legend who lasted. While there is a devoted cult of Trixie fanbase out there, Nancy was the one who permeated pop culture via movies and television shows. While I never loved the Nancy Drew books the way I loved the Trixie Belden books, I did love the Nancy Drew television series. Pamela Sue Martin gave us a Nancy for modern times -- well at least for the 1970s. Her Nancy was a little sassier, a little less prissy, and a lot of fun.

Looking back, I can find more love for Nancy than I did in my youth. Nancy and Trixie both presented girls with incredible role models -- girls who were smart (and not afraid to show it), curious, strong, adventurous. When you consider that Nancy debuted in 1930 (and Trixie in 1948), they were rebels at heart -- telling girls with seemingly no real options in life that they could be strong, independent, and smart no matter what society was telling them. Girls could be protectors; they could be heroes. Nancy opened the door for any number of great pop culture heroines -- Wonder Woman, Harriet the Spy, Lara Croft, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sydney Bristow, Sarah Conner, Hermione Granger, Stephanie Plum -- all women who are curious, brave, and strong, women who aren't afraid to defy conventions and shake things up a little, even if it is just spying on your neighbors. Nancy ushered in a period in our culture where feminine no longer needed to be equated with weakness and strength and intelligence no longer were male-dominated traits.

So on this day, her 80th birthday, let's all take a moment to think of Nancy and thank her for letting us be all that we can be, even if it didn't involve baking a killer cake and vaccuuming in our pearls and heels.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

This Space NOT Reserved for "Twain/Train" Puns

Yes, last night was Shania Twain Night on American Idol. Blerg. I am not really much of a country music fan. There are some isolated country artists that I quite enjoy (Dixie Chicks, Dolly Parton, Carrie Underwood) and I've been known to jam out to some hot bluegrass jams, but as a genre, country really turns me off. Shania Twain has never been one of those country artists that have gotten a "pass" from me. I guess I tend to lump her into that mid-to-late 90's country "explosion" when suddenly everyone was going out line dancing and singing about boots being under other people's beds and talking about how Garth Brooks was better than the Beatles. Admittedly, Shania Twain herself seems like a good person and she gave some insightful coaching. Plus, several of the songs last night were pretty entertaining, but, with one exception, the songs I seemed to like best were the songs that got a de-countrification at the hands of the performer singing them.

Was last night a good night for Idol? I don't know . . .maybe? Several of the kids gave pretty strong performances and maybe rescued themselves from the judges' wrath. I have to admit, though, that I still kind of question choosing the Shania Twain catalog for a theme night. When you have a Beatles or Stones or Elvis night, there is some variety involved since all three had careers that either spanned decades or found them experimenting and branching out. I mean, the Beatles catalog extends from "She Loves You", which is pure pop perfection, to "Helter Skelter," which arguably helped lay the groundwork for hard rock's emergence in the 1970's. Elvis played around with rock and gospel and soul. The Stones lend themselves to a variety of interpretations at the hands of a variety of styles. Shania Twain is a pop country artist with only FIVE studio albums under her belt. She hasn't released a new album in eight years. So not only were the singers last night painted into the country corner but they were painted into a dated country corner. Why not just give the kids a country theme and let them pick from a catalog of country hits past and present with Shania Twain as their mentor? Why force 2/3 of the contestants to sing songs of the opposite gender that are likely out of their vocal range? Because ultimately, American Idol is a vocal torture chamber where thousands enter and only one emerges. It's like the vocal equivalent of The Hunger Games.

So enough of my rant and on to the rankings (which may shock you):

1. Lee Dewyze ("You're Still the One") It finally hit me last night what I like about Lee's voice. It reminds me of Adam Duritz of Counting Crows. Seriously, close your eyes sometime when he's singing and tell me that doesn't sound like Adam Duritz. Once I realized that, of course, I started dreaming about Lee covering two of my favorite Counting Crows songs -- "Round Here" and "Anna Begins." Lee was probably helped last night, too, by the fact that this is the one Shania Twain song that I like, I really like. I am a sucker for a good love song, and I've always thought this was a beautifully written song. I loved it even more when Lee put that rock spin on it. I thought he brought so much passion and heart to the song, and I loved how the rasp of his voice gave the song a really raw, emotional feel. Hands down, this was my favorite of the night and probably the first Lee Dewyze song that I intend to go download.

2. Casey James ("Don't") Casey rebounded really nicely from last week's abomination. There's really not more to say than that. I've always sensed a country tinge to Casey's voice, and it seems like maybe this is a road that may garner him more success than the bluesy rock vibe he's been rocking up until now. I think Casey does best when he slows down a little and lays a little more of his heart out there than when he comes out and jams. He really showed some top three potential last night -- even if my sister thinks he needs to clean that shit under his lip up a little bit.

3. Crystal Bowersox ("No One Needs to Know")
Crystal was sort of raked over the coals last night, and I think the judges really kind of missed what Crystal was trying to do. I appreciated that Crystal took a sort of rootsy country approach and played this light, playful song really cleanly and simply. It was a fun song, and it was nice to see Crystal so relaxed. I think she needed a performance like this after last week's "People Get Ready" to show that less strident, emotional side of her. Ultimately, I ranked Casey and Lee a little higher because I felt like they had more significant moments in terms of their artistic development while Crystal was just coasting -- not that that's a bad thing but I wanted to recognize their growth on a night when growth could have been a really difficult thing for them to achieve.

4. Siobhan Magnus ("Any Man of Mine")
For me last night, there was the top three and then bottom three. I've kind of lumped the bottom three down here, and I give Siobhan the higher ranking of the three only because, despite her continued disappointments, I still like her, dammit. I have to admit, I am a little stunned that the judges were as effusive with their praise. I kind of found Siobhan's performance to be a hot mess. She seemed completely out of her element and that last scream was just jank to the millionth degree. My sis pointed out that Siobhan grins like an idiot through every performance and yeah, that's getting a little old too. Add to that the fact that this is probably one of the Shania Twain songs I loathe the most (after that song about boots being under people's beds), and it was just a miserable performance. So maybe I should knock her down a couple slots . . . nah!

5. Michael Lynche ("It Only Hurts When I'm Breathing")
I am really over Big Mike. Over the past couple weeks, his personality has really started to grate on my nerves. I just always kind of feel like he's trying too hard. I thought he did a nice job of making the country theme work for him by putting a Luther Vandross spin on the song, but I agree with Simon that it was just a little much. Mike's gone from moving to melodramatic. That move, too, makes Mike seem less and less genuine.

6. Aaron Kelly ("You've Got a Way")
Last night should have been Aaron's night, but his performance just did not work for me. Again, I am surprised that he received as much praise as he did. I thought last night's performance really exposed how weak his voice is. When you stand Aaron next to the other five performers left in the competition, he is clearly the weakest. He needs some time and some training to make his voice able to do the things that the songs he picks need it to do. He would have been wise to go with a smaller song. Plus, I am really tired of the Aaron ballads. He needs to show us something different because the ballads are getting stale and Star Search-y. Unfortunately, his time to show us that may be up.

Half of the contestants left have flirted with elimination by being in the bottom three. Half of the contestants left have been safe every week. I worry that those performers who have never been in danger may find themselves dancing on the cliff tonight -- I especially worry for Siobhan (who is now the choice of Vote for the Worst) and Crystal (one night of tepid judge response could be more damaging than they realize). Here's hoping our girls pull through and that it's one of the two genuinely weaker performers headed home.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

What Would Mr. Kotter Do?

Most of the time when I talk about my students, I tend to talk about my "babies" -- my speech and drama kids who work their butts off and bring such creativity and charm to the classroom. What I often don't talk about are some of my other students, the students who represent the opposite end of the student spectrum. Besides teaching speech and drama and debate and freshman-level English, I also teach a class called "English Fundamentals." (Or is it Fundamentals of English . . . I just call it Fundamentals.) It is a junior/senior level class designed for those students who need four years of English to graduate, are most likely not college bound, and who probably did not do particularly well in their English I and II classes. It is, quite honestly, a class often filled with the kinds of students who often drive me crazy in a classroom -- the apathetic, the lazy, the disruptive, the disrespectful. These kids aren't in my class because they are particularly passionate about what I have to teach. They're in my class because they have to be -- there's nowhere else for them to go. They are my Sweathogs though not nearly as funny and lovable as John Travolta and the crew.

When I took the class over from a retiring colleague a few years ago, I made the decision to do some major renovating to the curriculum. I cut the film units. I got rid of some of the kind of dated novels. I amped up the literature aspect of the class. I added some challenging literature like Fahrenheit 451 (to sneakily get kids to realize that MAYBE reading isn't such a bad thing and that books MAYBE have a value). Last year, we read Tom Sawyer. This year, we tried The Old Man and the Sea. I've already decided next year to try The Catcher in the Rye with them.

Oftentimes, I am mostly teaching to a sea of disdain. Some kids can barely conceal the contempt they feel for education and, by proxy, me. It can be a little depressing. It was with great pessimism that I recently launched my most recent unit with the kids -- a drama unit. There was an opportunity through a local theatre company to take students to a free matinee showing of The Crucible at a local, beautifully restored theatre. I intended to take my Drama Club students for our annual field trip. (I try every year to take them to at least one theatre production.) I decided to add the Fundamentals kids to the list for a couple reasons. On a purely crass level, by having a curricular tie to an actual class, I knew it would be easier to get approval for the transportation. On a more benevolent level, I thought to myself that this could be a once in a lifetime opportunity for these kids -- to see live theatre in a gorgeous venue. I wanted them to have this experience.

Of course, I was incredibly nervous about actually reading The Crucible with these kids. They've pretty much hated everything we've done all year long. I wasn't sure I could handle them hating The Crucible. I spent a couple days introducing them to Arthur Miller. They were vaguely interested to learn he had been married to Marilyn Monroe. I spent some time talking to them about Joe McCarthy. A couple of them thought hunting down Communists seemed like a good idea -- and didn't understand why people would ruin their careers by not turning people in. The first day or so of actually reading the play was kind of tough. Miller's language is challenging and the kids struggled with the structure. The first part of the play can be a bit dry, and these are not kids who do dry well.

But then, like storm clouds parting, something changed. The kids started becoming engaged in the text. Okay, I will admit that I played up the adultery angle a bit more, but as discussion went on, the kids started getting into the issues at the heart of the play. They could not believe people could treat their neighbors this way. They struggled with the notion of confessing to something you did not do in order to save your life. They were stunned as we finished the play and they witnessed John Proctor, the play's complicated protagonist, choose death over saving his own life because saving his own life would cast a shameful shadow on his friends.

As the final moments of the text sunk in, I asked a simple question: "What do you think of Proctor's decision?"

One student sat back, tossed his book down, and said, "That was bullshit!"

It was one of those moments as a teacher that you both relish and dread. This kid had a really strong emotional reaction to the text. Brian was furious with what had happened to a character that had all grown to care about. He verbalized his frustration with the only words he had available. Unfortunately, those words were what may be considered "profane." Just about any other teacher in the building would have given Brian a detention. Some would have probably sent him to the office. As soon as Brian said it, the eyes of his fifteen classmates were on me, waiting to see how I would react to it. Would I yell? Would I kick him out? What would I do??

Now anyone who knows me well and has spent much of any time with me in a "casual" setting will know that I am not above a good profanity-laced monologue. To me, a word is a word is a word. To me, no word should be off limits if it's the word in your heart. "Bullshit" was the word in Brian had in his heart at that moment. If I punished Brian for his word choice, what incentive would he ever have to be engaged in literature again? The message I would be sending him would be that his opinions were acceptable only if couched in acceptable language. To me, his reaction was more important than his language.

So what did I do? After that moment of pause, I joined the others in the class with a small chuckle and said, "You know what, you guys? Brian is right. What happened to Proctor and the others WAS bullshit!" And the discussion moved on from there. Brian had found the perfect word to capture his emotions. He just had the balls to actually say what the others were feeling.

Brian was mostly right. What happened to John Proctor (and Rebecca Nurse and Martha Corey) was not just bullshit . . . it was fucking bullshit.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Thank the Lord

For the first 50 minutes or so of last night's "Inspirational Songs" themed American Idol, I was, admittedly, feeling anything but inspired. Performer after performer came out and gave boring, karaoke takes on songs of pure treacle. I was bored. I was frustrated. I was annoyed. At 7:50, the best of the night was probably Lee Dewyze's performance of "The Boxer" -- and even that wasn't particularly mindblowing. (I really thought he hit some wonky notes and was stunned that "pitchy" never once escaped the lips of the Fab Four.) With the probably exception of Lee Dewyze, at 7:50, just about anyone who took the stage last night looked vulnerable for elimination.

And then came Crystal.

I'm not sure there are words to really describe what Crystal did last night. It was beautiful. It was moving. It was powerful. It was, to me, the very definition of a starmaking performance, a perfect example of how you can completely immerse yourself in the emotions of your music in a completely genuine way. It was the performance of a real American Idol. Whether she wins or not (and let's not open that can of worms), Crystal has proven herself time and again as the kind of artist we should be embracing. And for that, I do indeed thank the Lord.

1. Crystal Bowersox ("People Get Ready") I've said pretty much everything I need to say about Crystal above. Seriously, guys, she's the shizz. I'm not going to threaten to leave Idol if she doesn't win (our trial separation following the ridiculous ouster of Melinda Doolittle proved to me that I just can't quit this show no matter how hard I try), but I will be severely disappointed because she is the most deserving of that title if we buy into the notion that this show is a singing competition. I suspect a lot of the talk about Crystal's performance will be about the crying at the end. That moment when her voice cracked and her tears became evident was so moving and so genuine. How is her crying at that moment any different from Kelly Clarkson breaking down during her triumphant "A Moment Like This"? This was a moment where the words of the song hit home for Crystal as she looked out at the family that she has been missing and singing "Thank the Lord" became a pure and honest moment. How refreshing is it to see an artist become completely engaged in the art and not in the package? She is the real deal, and I couldn't love her more.

2. Lee Dewyze ("The Boxer") For me, this song will always be linked with that first episode of Saturday Night Live after 9/11 when Paul Simon sang it to open the show. That performance was perfect -- stripped down, bare, powerful. Lee's performance last night was decent enough, but it felt over-orchestrated. How much more inspiring would Lee have been if he had just taken the stage with his guitar and that raw, gravelly voice of his? I was sort of stunned when Simon called it a contemporary performance because I thought the orchestration made it seem a bit dated. What made it contemporary was Lee's voice. That rasp of his is a very contemporary sound so it makes just about anything he sings seem current even if the stuff going on around him mires him in decades gone by.

3. Casey James ("Don't Stop") Yeah, Casey continued his backwards slide following that "Jealous Guy" from a couple weeks ago. Seriously, Casey, THIS is the song you chose? It was more a chance for Casey to show off his mean guitar skills than his vocal prowess, and at some point, that is bound to misfire on the guy. I do have to say I'm looking forward to a post-Idol world for Casey when he can do some original stuff and really let us hear what he's working with rather than trying to apply his blues rock vibe to moldy oldies like Fleetwood Mac.

4. Michael Lynche ("Hero") First off, I really dislike this song. I am so not a fan of that late-90s, early-00's rock. Nickleback gives me hives. I guess Michael did an okay job with this song, but it just didn't seem to pack much of an emotional wallop for me. I may be just about over Big Mike. I'll get back to you on that. His charm is gone.

5. Siobhan Magnus ("When You Believe") Oh, Siobhan! Every week, you have been breaking my heart for you. You seem so sweet, so earnest, and so lost. I love that you picked a song you like, but Jesus, that song is not a good song, honey. There was a whole list of songs from which you could pick, and you picked this? I mean, I guess it could have been worse. You could have been up there singing "This Is My Now," but wow . . . this isn't far off from that. Week by week, your power and individuality seems to be fading, and that concerns me. I've seen the list you had available -- a list that included "Hands", "I Turn to You", "Holding Out for a Hero" -- any of which would have been a stronger choice for you. I appreciate that you don't want to pigeonhole yourself as an artist, but there's also no denying that your lack of identity is really a lack of understanding of what will and will not work for your instrument. My hope is that your quirkiness keeps you in this because I really like you. I just hope that when you are eventually sent home that you immediately call a vocal coach and start learning about this amazing instrument you're packing there.

6. Aaron Kelly ("I Believe I Can Fly") This performance felt more Star Search than American Idol . . . no, it felt more American Juniors than American Idol. (Anybody else remember American Juniors? Anyone???) Hey, Aaron's a nice kid. He's a talented kid. He is not, however, all that interesting. I thought the moderate praise lavished on him last night was ill-founded. The song had pitch issues, energy issues, and come on. It was "I Believe I Can Fly." What happened to that country-tinged wanna be teen idol that Aaron seemed poised to become? Why not tackle Tim McGraw's "Live Like You're Dying" and show off that twang? I know from working with teenage girls that there is a HUGE country market out there among that dream demographic. All those girls who drool over Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban would surely love to have someone their own age to tack up on the walls. Aaron could be that guy. Be the male Taylor Swift and cross over to those girls who drool over Justin Bieber. But please, please, please leave R. Kelly out of this.

7. Tim Urban ("Better Days")
I have a sneaking suspicion that Tim's Idol journey is just about over. I'm glad that we got to see him improve tremendously over the past couple weeks, but last night, I think he just tackled a song a bit too big for his rather small voice. The vulnerability of his voice is perfectly suited for a "Can't Help Falling in Love." It was a bit outmatched last night, though. I wish Tim had dialed back and given this song that same gentle quality he gave "Can't Help Falling in Love" and "All My Loving". Or that he had tackled a song better suited to that fragility he exudes vocally -- maybe Kris Allen's "Live Like We're Dying" (although I'm generally not a fan of wannabe Idols singing Idol songs) or a folk-y take on "Don't Dream It's Over" could have been really cool. Instead, we got this. On a night when only two singers showed real Idol potential, perhaps Tim will skate through on that smile and perfect, perfect hair. But I am not sure many were inspired to vote for Teflon Tim last night.

With Great Power . . . .

I know I tend to talk about my job a lot here. In fact, next to my blathering about American Idol every week (sorry, folks, it's an obsession!), I would guess I talk more about my job than anything else. What can I say? When it comes right down to it, I suppose you could say I'm married to my job, and I've come to the realization over the course of the past couple years that I'm okay with that. I chose a job that does consume a lot of my time and energy, but it also offers a lot of rewards that don't involve just a paycheck every two weeks. I have a tremendous creative platform on which I get to play every single day, I get to guide students toward skills that will serve them the rest of their lives, and I have the opportunity to mentor young people through a particularly challenging time in their lives -- adolescence.

This school year has not been kind to many of the students in my school. We've had the usual array of teen dramas -- crushed romances, broken friendships, tense relationships at home. We've also had several kids dealing with things they shouldn't have to deal with at this young age. Two senior girls within the past six months have lost parents very suddenly. One girl had a mother die the day after Christmas. Another girl had a father die in a motorcycle accident over the weekend. Last week, two of my Drama/Speech kids had grandparents pass away. We've had two recent graduates killed this year. The students of my school have had a lot put on their shoulders emotionally, and while it's a tough thing to witness, it's also been pretty inspiring to see the strength they've demonstrated, strength I suspect even they didn't realize they possess.

Sometimes, though, that strength wavers. Saturday night, I found myself suddenly playing counselor to two girls who were clearly struggling with emotional demons. One was still in the midst of mourning a grandparent who died very suddenly compounded with a relationship with her parents that can be described as rocky at best. Another was in the middle of an argument with a friend, an argument that resulted in the friend hurling some rather hurtful (and untrue) accusations. Throughout the evening, I found myself offering advice, comfort, et cetera, and more than once I found myself thinking, "Who the heck am I to be doling out this advice??" The sudden sense of overwhelming responsibility I felt was staggering, compounded even more so the next evening when the other side of the friend argument texted me to apologize for what he had said to his friend and to seek some advice on how to proceed with her. He said to me, "For a lot of us, you're the first adult we go to when we need help."

For once, I was speechless. There's a part of me that still feels like a kid myself. I struggle with the fact that I'm pushing 40 if only because it feels like I JUST turned 21 a few weeks ago. I don't feel all that different from that kid. Oh, sure, there are some physical things I notice -- like the fact that I need reading glasses to read at night (stupid Dan Brown's book has small print . . . right??) or that I get a little achey after hours spent out in the garden. But there's something a bit daunting about being an adult in the eyes of these kids. I think back to those teachers I had in high school to whom I would turn when it felt like the world was crashing in on me. Looking back on it, those teachers I trusted and respected and idolized the most were probably just about the same age I am now -- probably younger. I wonder if they were as overwhelmed with the responsibility of being them as I sometimes feel. And it also makes me want to get in touch with some of them and thank them because surely I would never have been able to be that person for my students if they had not been that person for me.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Slave to the Traffic Light

It was a frustrating weekend Chez Mel. It all started on Thursday. I pulled out of my driveway and suddenly, my steering was quite . . . I believe the technical term is wonky. Kind of loose yet stubborn and making an odd "thunk thunk" noise along with a horrific scraping sound. Stupidly, I drove it the 20 miles to work and then nervously drove it the 20 miles back home on Thursday night. Stupid. Friday, I wisely bummed a ride to work. My sis was going to hobble the car to her job (which is just a mile or two away) so that she could avoid the bus and so that she could hear/feel/see what was going on. About 2:30, I got a text from her informing me that the car was undriveable. Panic set in. That's our only car and neither my sis nor I are particularly rolling in money. We're one of those households that basically moves from paycheck to paycheck. Neither of us have credit cards or anything in the way of savings. We live comfortably, but we're not well equipped to handle a sudden emergency like a car suddenly becoming undriveable.

I chatted Friday afternoon with a mechanic who diagnosed our problem, quoted me a price that we could actually live with (it'll make for a couple "tight" weeks financially, but still within our budget -- so we go a couple weeks without ordering out for pizza 2 or 3 times or driving through Taco Bell because we're too lazy to cook and too impatient to wait for the pizza), and said he would be there Saturday morning.

Saturday morning came ... and so did a call from the mechanic. They were swamped and would not be able to come deal with my car until Monday. Not a huge problem until I realized that meant we would have to go all weekend with no vehicle. We live in a nice, quiet neighborhood that's tucked away . . . and pretty far from anything resembling, say, a grocery store. And we were out of cat food. Walking to any grocery store would have taken likely hours. We have public transportation where we live, but the way the routes are set up, it would have again been hours to get to a store. We lucked out and had a friend offer to give me a lift to the store and another friend offer to give me a ride to the meeting we had Sunday afternoon. The only real casualty of the weekend, other than my "money pocket" (that little pocket of money that is my "discretionary" fund on each paycheck), was our plan to go see Sweeney Todd at a local college. It's one thing to bum a ride to Wal-Mart. It's entirely another thing to bum a ride 20 miles away. Plus, the tickets were going to be covered by the money pocket, which now had other, more pressing requests pending.

The weekend really proved to me how incredibly dependent we are on our vehicles. A slight panic set in as I thought about what I would do without my car. Fortunately, my car is relatively young and probably has quite a few years left in it once this issue is taken care of. (I still have two years left before it is paid off, so it better have a few years left in it!) I know that once my car is fixed, I will be nicer to it, kinder to it, speak more loving words to it, because now I know that my life would totally suck without it.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Idolhouse Rock

Last night marked the return of the Glambert. While many complained about bringing the former Idol back as a mentor (pointing out that Lambert didn't even win his season), I think the idea was quite brilliant. I've long said that, if the show is going to insist on this "mentoring" thing (Kelly Clarkson never needed a stinking mentor!), who better to help these kids navigate the shark-infested waters of a Tuesday night performance and judging than someone who has been through it. As "talented" as Usher or Miley Cyrus may be, the fact is that they have no idea what it's like to have a week to put together a "fresh" performance and then stand there on that stage and face the wrath of Simon Cowell (not to mention the inanity of Randy Jackson). Adam Lambert has been there and can help these kids with an understanding shared by very few others. Add to that the fact that, while Adam may not have won and may not have had the most successful post-Idol career (yet), he was one of the most adept contestants when it came to making the week's ridiculous theme work for him. He made a song his own and them some on more than one occasion and lit the stage on fire with sheer performance adrenalin. It also seemed clear, watching him last season, that he may be one of the most musically educated Idols, meaning that he has the training and knowledge to help kids in terms of performance and technique. One of the things we loved about Kelly, Ruben, Fantasia, Carrie, et cetera was the notion of them being diamonds in the rough, kids running on pure talent. Adam was always a diamond in the lap of luxury -- talent that had been nurtured and trained and prepared for his moment in the spotlight.

Overall, I thought Adam was a pretty decent judge -- tough in many cases (telling Andrew he was boring), insightful in others, and gave a lot of constructive, useful advice to these kids. His mentoring gave us a relatively entertaining night, although once again I found myself shaking my head in frustration as the kids were asked to sing songs that are a HALF-CENTURY OLD (in some cases), songs that are iconic parts of the American culture, and make them fresh and relevant. How do you IMPROVE upon Elvis? You can't and thus you end up being accused of performing mediocre karaoke because none of these kids has what Elvis had (talk about a diamond in the rough!!). I thought the smartest move many of them made was to pick more "obscure" Elvis tunes, songs that don't have such a permanent spot in our cultural consciousness. It made the songs seem fresh if only because we hadn't heard them millions of times already.

On to the rankings:
1. Crystal Bowersox ("Saved") Crystal opened the show with a rip-roaring tear through this hot, gospel-tinged tune. Every week, I get more and more excited for the inevitable Crystal album and how awesome it will be. My sis and I got into a bit of a discussion last night about whether or not it would be in Crystal's best interest to win. Her argument is that the weight of the victory may bury her uniqueness and stifle her creativity. The thing is that an Idol victory can go one of two ways -- you can be the next Kelly Clarkson or the next Taylor Hicks. The track record of non-winners, though, is even worse. For every Chris Daughtry, there are dozens of Justin Guarinis. Look at Melinda Doolittle. She struggled to sign any sort of record deal after her third-place finish even though few would argue that she wasn't the most talented contestant in her season. Melinda, though, is a niche kind of performer with her cool, jazz vibe. That's not something that's burning up the charts right now. You could argue the same thing for Crystal. Fifteen years ago, she would have been a seeming sure thing at a time when Blues Traveler, Joan Osborne, and other "crunchy" types of artists were all over the place. Right now, the chart is dominated by R&B and countrified pop which may make it difficult for her to land a deal without the benefit of an American Idol victory on her resume. The victory guarantees her a certain amount of comfort as she pursues her career. She's guaranteed, most likely, a number one single and a high debut on the charts with her album because she'll have the whole of the Idol machinery behind her. In terms of her credibility, yes, a loss might be better for her. In terms of record sales, though, she may need the win more than anyone else. I suppose only time will tell, but I don't know that I can handle another Melinda Doolittle debacle.

2. Tim Urban ("Can't Help Falling In Love") Yes, you are reading this correctly. Tim was my second favorite last night. It helped that he was performing one of my favorite Elvis songs. But his performance itself was so lovely. My sis pointed out that it had a sort of cool lullabye quality. It was the first time I could really imagine Tim having a successful career. And as my sis pointed out, how awesome for him to have his best performance of the season with the entire cast of Glee right there in the front row. (Seriously, how adorable would he be on Glee??) Finally, that sort of Jack Johnson vibe he's working worked for him and made him seem current and relevant and present. Rock on, Tim!

3. Lee Dewyze ("A Little Less Conversation") Now, Lee may be one of those guys who could thrive without the Idol victory. I enjoyed his romp through another one of my favorite Elvis songs last night. I found him cool and funky and thought Adam worked well with him in getting him to become more engaged in his performances. He had a good energy and made the song seem pretty cool again.

4. Michael Lynche ("In the Ghetto") Michael was the recipient of the Judges' Save last week. While I would agree with those who were disgusted by Mike's behavior last week (the chest thumping, the pompous "Check me out on i-tunes," the sulking), I still think the judges made the right choice, especially after witnessing last night's performance. This is the Mike I like, the guy who can sit down with a lovely song and give a moving, honest performance free of the showboating and cheesiness. He's a talented guy, but the personality gets in the way of that and often makes him grating. He just needs to keep letting Tuesday nights be a showcase for his voice and not for his ridiculous dance moves.

5. Casey James ("Lawdy Miss Clawdy")
Casey kind of took a few steps back from last week's beautiful "Jealous Guy," a few steps right back to the bar band stage he often seems to rock. Yes, his "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" was fun and spirited, but it also lacked the soul of his "Jealous Guy." Casey's probably a shoe-in for a top five finish, but I would rather see him work for that finish rather than coast into it the way he did with this performance.

6. Siobhan Magnus ("Suspicious Minds") I'm starting to worry about Siobhan. She came into the top 12 on such a high and kept that high with an amazing "Paint it Black." Since then, it's been a case of diminishing returns as each week has seemed like a pale imitation of the Siobhan we once loved. I liked a lot of what she did with last night's "Suspicious Minds" (another fave of mine), but I didn't necessarily like the sum of the parts put together. Siobhan herself admitted to struggling with figuring out who she is as an artist, and it's really interesting to watch her wrestle with that identity every week. The question is whether the American public will tire of that wrestling match, and I worry that the time is coming sooner rather than later. If Siobhan doesn't pull out another "Paint It Black" soon, I worry that she may not be the one joining Crystal at the Nokia next month.

7. Katie Stevens ("Baby, What You Want Me To Do"
) Yes, watching Siobhan work out her artistic identity is interesting. Watching Katie Stevens do the same thing . . . not so much. The thing is that Siobhan is entertaining, and Katie is not. Yes, we have the ongoing debate over whether Katie should be a country or R&B artist, but the whole debate is really moot because the fact of the matter is that the kid probably doesn't have a real music career after this summer's tour. Who will buy a Katie Stevens album? She could maybe go the way of Diana DeGarmo -- disappear for a year or two and then show up on Broadway. Most likely, though, she'll end up going home, going to college, and spend her life pulling out the scrapbook to show her kids that she was once on one of the most popular shows on television. So watching her get sassy with the judges via song is just precocious and not all that entertaining, and I'm frankly getting a little tired of the whole thing.

8. Aaron Kelly ("Blue Suede Shoes") Notice that the two weakest performances of the night also involved tackling two of the most iconic songs in the Elvis catalog. While Aaron's performance was entertaining, it did feel really karaoke to me ... or like a solid audition for All Shook Up. I applaud Aaron for stepping out of the ballad safety zone, but if the goal in picking a more upbeat song was to make him seem a little younger, the song did him no favors. It was more Star Search than starmaking, and Aaron may find himself in danger once again.

9. Andrew Garcia ("Hound Dog") Sadly, I suspect that last night was Andrew's last night with us. His "Hound Dog" was not necessarily karaoke as it was Holiday Inn lounge. His attempts to put a little swagger and life in the song just reminded me of Nick the Lounge Singer from the early days of SNL. It's unfortunate that Andrew's run on this show has been so unspectacular. The thing is that I LIKE the tone of his voice. With the right production team, he could be something really special. Unfortunately, he himself doesn't have the training to create that special moment on his own, and it doesn't seem as if the Idol production team is all that interested in helping him get there either. Get him in a studio with, say, an Eric Valentine (who has worked with Maroon 5 among others) or T-Bone Burnett, and the guy could be a huge star. Unfortunately, he's more likely to end up a 9th place finisher on a talent show, spend a summer touring the country, and then fading off into the sunset, just another victim of crushed dreams on the Idol stage.

Two go home tonight, and hopefully, America will start picking off some of the guys. I worry for Siobhan, though, so hopefully the Glassblowers Union of America is speed dialing like crazy to keep the quirky little moppet on the show.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Prom Night

Last night was Prom Night at my school. Normally, it's something I tend to steer clear of. It's a long, exhausting night that offers a teacher none of the fun of actually going to Prom. You can't get out there and dance (not without looking like a total fool), you don't get to go through all the fun of dressing up and riding in the limo, and, in my case, you know the night's not going to end up in a hotel room. The only real perk of chaperoning prom is you get to eat the meal.

So why did I agree to do it this year? Well, simple -- the class sponsors who organize prom were savvy enough to send Drama and Speech kids to ask me, knowing I couldn't say no to "my kids." Initially, the deal was much simpler. I was asked if I would serve as the announcer for Promenade. For those of you who attended larger schools, Promenade is a charming, small school type of event that involves each couple walking through the gym in front of their friends and family so everyone can see their pretty dresses and take pictures. The couples are announced one at a time and walk along a manufactured runway while cameras snap away. The gym is decorated with lights and balloons so that Mom and Dad get pictures of their kids in front of pretty decorations rather than just the plain old gym. My job as announcer was merely to announce each couple as they entered the gym. I managed to keep most of my ad libbing tendencies at bay, although I did try to give each couple a fun introduction, even if it was something like, "Ladies and gentlemen, let's welcome John Smith and Susan Johnson!" Coming up with 100 different introductions (and yes, there ended up being about 100 different couples) proved a bit challenging, so there were some repeats and some kids got a simple, "And now . . . ."

I had never been to Promenade before and frankly, always thought the whole thing seemed a little corny. I mean, who wants to sit in a gym and watch a bunch of kids in formal wear stomp around the gym floor. It actually ended up being kind of cool. The Project Runway fan in me had fun seeing the different dresses and noticing how some girls picked exactly the dress you'd imagine -- the sweet, perky girl in the fluffy pink cupcake of a dress, the skank in the sort of dress you'd imagine a higher class call girl might wear-- and then there were the girls who were the total shockers -- the total tomboy who suddenly was a vision in yellow taffeta, the shy girl who looks like a modern day Audrey Hepburn. For some of these kids, they may never again get the opportunity to look and feel like a million bucks, and there's something kind of moving about getting to see them get that moment in the spotlight and sharing it with their families and friends. I kind of hope I get asked to announce Promenade again because it was a really special moment to share in.

So that was what I was originally roped into doing. And then, a couple weeks after they sent Emilie to see if I would announce Promenade, the sneaky class sponsors sent another Drama/Speech kid, Hannah, to see if I would be willing to chaperone the dance -- since I was going to be there anyway. (I should point out that Promenade was held at the school, but the dance itself was being held in Macomb, another 30 or so miles away, a good 45 minutes or so from my house.) Hannah told me how they were having a hard time finding "cool" chaperones and then told me who they had lined up -- fellow "cool" teachers who would be fun to hang out with for the evening. Looking at Hannah's pleading face, how could I say no? So suddenly I went from giving up an hour or two of my Saturday to giving up my entire Saturday evening. A week or so later, I overheard the sponsors mentioning that they needed someone to drive the shuttle van from the school to Prom and I was suddenly doing that, too. (I'm no dummy -- saved myself some gas!) The shuttle bus is a nice idea, letting kids whose parents are reluctant to let them drive the 30 or so miles to Prom have a safe ride. Granted, I only had 4 kids in the shuttle, but they needed that ride, so I was glad to help them out.

Prom itself was....interesting. Yes, the meal was tasty. It was fun sitting with some of my teacher pals. I had a couple kids run up and want their picture taken with me. (Thank God it dawned on me that I should probably dress up and put on some makeup) Once the actual dancing started, I was suddenly SO over the Prom experience. First of all, the music was pretty bad. More than once, another teacher had to go and lecture the dj on school appropriate music -- music that doesn't include a "singer" throwing a "motherfucker" in every two words or demanding people to suck dicks. Yeah. Classy. Of course, music like that leads to movement that can't quite be called dancing. The dance floor became this mass of kids just grinding against each other. How those boys didn't all walk off the dance floor with boners escapes me. Mercifully, I was asked if I would sit out in the lobby for awhile to monitor kids leaving. (The policy is once you leave, you can't come back, and if you need to just go to your car, an adult has to accompany you. Makes it a lot harder to go for a quick shot or joint if there's someone with you.) It was significantly cooler out there, the couch there was comfy, and the horrific music was much less loud and harder to hear. A couple kids came out to visit, and that was nice. It felt like the time flew by out in the lobby and suddenly, Prom was over and I was back in the shuttle with kids and heading back home.

All in all, I'd have to say that I would probably have to think twice before agreeing to chaperone the actual dance again if only because my ears like good music and my eyes prefer not to watch my students simulate sex on a dance floor. But, hey, it was an experience!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

We All Live in an Idol Submarine

Ah, yes, friends, last night was Lennon/McCartney night, but alas, no one broke out a little "Yellow Submarine." Nor was there a single tribute paid to Wings. Shocking! While there weren't any huge musical abortions onstage last night, there also weren't a lot of performances that had me particularly jazzed or that seemed particularly revelatory. It was an entertaining night if not a particularly riveting night.

Okay, here's the thing about last night. Many of the singers were accused of being old-fashioned, and it kind of got me thinking. They were being asked to sing songs that are, in some cases, nearly 50 years old. Yeah. Fifty! While the music of the Beatles has aged quite well, the truth still remains that, because of the work of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, pop music has evolved and gone in directions that do make a song like, say, "Can't Buy Me Love" seem a little "moldy" unless it falls into a set of incredibly competent and skilled hands. The singers who seemed to have the most success last night went with later Beatles songs or, in the case of Casey James, a Lennon solo song -- songs that benefited from the groundwork laid by the early Beatles catalog but evolved beyond those early roots.

Over the course of the past couple weeks, we've managed to weed out the more inconsistent performers and don't have a lot of potential train wrecks left. Tim Urban and Katie Stevens aren't particularly inspiring performers, but they're no worse than a lot of other people who've made it this far in past years. I would honestly take either of them over, say, Carmen Rasmussen or Jon Peter Lewis. We have solid performers here, but, with one or two exceptions, they're not all that interesting or groundbreaking. When you add to it the fact that they are given a collection of sacred songs, they're on some pretty rough ground. As Tim Urban pointed out last night, the music of the Beatles is pretty untouchable and "making it your own" borders on sacrilegious if not done with the right combination of reverence and ego. If the judges want contemporary artists, they need to start pushing these kids to tackle contemporary music rather than expecting them (in some cases with next to no formal music training) to take 50 year old songs and make them modern. Otherwise, these kids are never going to be able to compete with the likes of Rihanna and will be forever consigned to the albeit lucrative "adult contemporary" market.

Enough editorializing. On to the rankings!

1. Crystal Bowersox ("Come Together") Didgeridoo. 'Nuff said. Other than it was nice to see Crystal a little looser, having a little more fun, and letting her personality shine through. Seriously, I know that chick, and if I didn't buy a phatty grilled cheese from her, perhaps I sold her a hemp necklace at Big Cypress.

2. Casey James ("Jealous Guy") If you follow the Simon rules of ranking, yes, Casey probably was the best last night in that his performance of "Jealous Guy" displayed the greatest improvement from first performance to last performance. If you just look at sheer performance and don't let consistency be a handicap, Crystal still gets the edge. I do, though, think last night was Casey's finest performance. It was sincere and infused with an emotion that wasn't just "Hey, y'all, let's get drunk and go listen to Casey's band play down at the pub!" I think it was wise of Casey to tackle a solo Lennon tune, one that doesn't quite live in our pop cultural consciousness the way that the Beatles tunes do. It allowed him to be inventive without being self-indulgent. It was a lovely, lovely performance.

3. Siobhan Magnus ("Across the Universe") Last week, I ranked Siobhan in the bottom three, although I did it with a heavy heart. I love this kid. Something about her touches my heart. Maybe it's the nerdy glasses or that awkward way she has about her in interview packages. Whatever the case is, I like this girl. I thought her performance of "Across the Universe" last night was lovely. It showed tremendous range and restraint and allowed Siobhan to showcase her voice in a way that she hasn't been able to since, perhaps, "House of the Rising Sun" during the semi-finals. I know that the judges are looking for an Idol with commercial potential and that's why they come down on someone like Siobhan for her "sleepy" rendition of a lovely, decidedly non-commercial song. In terms of sheer musical artistry, though, Siobhan proved herself a gifted powerhouse. She and Crystal are the only two performers that I get excited to see on Tuesday night, wondering what they're going to bust out. They appeal to the two different sides of my musical personality. Crystal speaks to the hippie chick who spent the majority of her 20's following Phish around the country and going to any other jam band concert she could find. Siobhan speaks to the alterna-chick who loves discovering new and different music that's off the beaten pack. These two women are making this show interesting this season, a season that many describe as "meh" at best.

4. Lee Dewyze ("Hey Jude") Let's address the elephant in the room -- the bag pipes. It was perhaps one of the most surreal moments in Idol history, right up there with Adam Lambert's Indian-styled "Ring of Fire" last season. I would have to say that I agree with Simon that the bagpipes kind of undercut what was an otherwise decent performance from Lee. He started off a tad shaky but then really went out big -- even with the bagpipes. My sis, who still is not a Lee fan, pointed out last night the thing that perhaps bugs her most about Lee -- he's a good vocalist but he's not a good singer. It was nice to see Lee loosen up a bit last night as a performer. For the first time, he really seemed to be enjoying himself up there and finally seemed to have the confidence that perhaps he could be making a trip to the Nokia. I still think he's a definite contender even though I'm rooting a little harder for it to be a Crystal-Siobhan showdown in May.

5. Katie Stevens ("Let It Be") I wasn't as enamored with Katie's performance as the judges were, and I'm getting very tired of the bickering between Simon and Kara over whether Katie should go R&B or country. (Kara wants a new Christina; Simon wants a new Taylor -- WE GET IT!) Regardless of which way she goes, Katie still lacks commercial appeal and letting her go much longer will be a huge, huge mistake, but eliminating her on the night where she gave probably her best performance would also be cruel. Wait until next week so we can see Adam Lambert try to Glambert her up a bit . . . and so I can laugh and laugh my ass off.

6. Andrew Garcia ("Can't Buy Me Love") I really don't have much to say about Andrew's performance. It was fun. It was competent. Ultimately, though, it was also kind of forgettable. Buried sort of in the middle of the show, it could be the first time we see Andrew in danger particularly since the weakest performances of the night belonged to a lovable teddy bear and two heartthrobs, one of whom is seemingly bulletproof.

7. Tim Urban ("All My Loving") Tim gave probably his best performance of the competition, for the first time showing a little spirit. When you look at the rest of the competition, though, he dwells low on the list and the time for his ouster has to be close. Don't you think that's why Simon praised him for his courage and for taking his critiques like a man? Be nice to the kid before he's sent home.

8. Michael Lynche ("Eleanor Rigby") How many of you out there have seen Liza With a Z? It's a fun, campy concert with Liza Minelli. I love it, particularly her cheesy, over the top performance of "Son of a Preacher Man" that strips the song of all its grit and soul. Michael's performance of "Eleanor Rigby" last night reminded me of just that. It was a performance from a variety show. I expected Cher to come out and start singing about someone being a "vamp and a tramp". Please, Mike, go back to the sensitive dude and stop the camp before it's too late!

9. Aaron Kelly ("The Long and Winding Road") Hands down, though, Aaron gave the weakest performance of the night. What a dreary way to start the show. I love this song, but it can be a real drudge in the wrong hands. And there were so many stronger choices that Aaron could have chosen that would have allowed him to continue playing his "Country Bieber Balladeer" role he's so intent on playing. Aaron may very well be safe from elimination if only because he probably benefits from the tween vote, but should he get eliminated, it raises an interesting question. Is Aaron Kelly worthy of the Judges' Save? He may be the first contestant where the save becomes a real issue. Despite some of the issues I've had with Aaron, the fact is that the kid has been largely consistent over the past several weeks and has one of the best shots at commercial success if he's managed properly. To me, though, the Judges' Save needs to be reserved for times when America really gets it wrong so that someone who would be worthy of a trip to the Nokia isn't denied it because of a capricious voting public. So then the question becomes is Aaron a likely contender to sing the "Victory Song of Schlock" in May? The answer to that, sadly, is no. If you look at the competition, there are probably five people likely to make it to the finals -- Crystal, Siobhan, Casey, Lee, and Mike. Aaron could perhaps pose a challenge to make the top five, but is he strong enough to take out four of those five people? Has Aaron given us a moment as moving as Mike's "This Woman's Work", as engaging as Lee's "Treat Her Like a Lady", as sensitive as Casey's "Jealous Guy", as mesmerizing as Siobhan's "Paint It Black", or as kick ass as anything Crystal has done this season? He's had some good performances, but nothing that I've felt compelled to discuss the next day around the proverbial water cooler . . . or download on i-tunes. I would argue in favor of saving Andrew before I would argue for Aaron if only because there's still the hope/potential that Andrew has another "Straight Up" in him -- and last week's "Forever" seems to tell us that maybe that moment is closer than we think. Should Aaron be the lowest vote getter (and despite the fact that he was the weakest of the night, I'm not sure he will be the one sent home), I urge the judges to "let it be" and let him go home.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

OMG! A Non-Idol Post!

It's Spring Break, friends, or in my case Spring Extended Weekend. Rather than getting the full week that many schools get, my school just gets Thursday, Friday, and Monday off. I've grown used to the condensed break, and while I miss the full week of days gone by, I have been determined to make the most of these precious few days I have been given, particularly since I know that it will be a long slog through the rest of April and May to get to the end of the school year.

This year, Mama Nature has smiled on all us Spring Breakers by giving us a gloriously beautiful couple of days -- temps in the 70s and even a day in the 80s, sunshine, light breeze (okay, the light breeze at times bordered on full throttle wind, but whatevs). I couldn't let the beauty go to waste and decided that it was the perfect opportunity for me to do some gardening. Yes, I know it's still a bit early to do much in the way of planting, but this year I have decided to try my hand at vegetable gardening. I'm a little nervous about it, but I've done a lot of research and am feeling pretty psyched. I've spent the past two days out working on the site of my future garden, digging and raking and turning soil. In the next day or so, I'm going to be planting some garlic (it's right smack dab in the middle of optimum planting time for garlic) and over the next month or so plan to follow that up with tomatoes, peppers, squash, and maybe some cucumbers. I also have plans for a small potted herb garden to sit on the back patio. I have dreams of making up, say, a sweet batch of pasta sauce and just popping out the back door and cutting off a little basil to add to the sauce. Seriously, how cool would that be?

Being outside and working in the garden reminded me a lot of being a kid, before I got all caught up in this whole "being clean" and "worms are icky" frame of mind. As I first began, I was icked out by the bugs and the worms and the dirt. Within about ten minutes, though, I was picking worms up and flicking them aside, digging into the dirt with my bare hands to get at some deeply rooted weeds, and generally having a blast. On my first day, I spent over two hours outside clearing a space that's about 6 feet by 3 feet -- small but just right for a starter garden. I was working hard, in the zone... and then I stood up and my body instantly was filled with pain. Pulling weeds for 2+ hours is a workout, friends; don't let anyone ever tell you any differently! The day before, I'd spent a half hour doing a "Disco Abs" workout and that was a walk in the park compared to how I felt after gardening. Add to that the tramp stamp of a sunburn that ended up on my lower back -- the perfect strip of red between where my pants sat and where my shirt rode up a bit. Just a tiny bit painful. And then there are the tiny cuts from pulling weeds (I can't stand working with gloves) and the bruised palms from the shovel . . . I'm a mess!

But I'm a happy mess because I feel like I have accomplished a lot. I love looking out my patio window and seeing this patch of dirt just waiting for some goodies to be planted. I love thinking about the tasty items I can make with the veggies I'll be growing. (SALSA!!) I love the feeling of connectedness I feel with the earth. Yeah, I know how trippy hippie that sounds. I'm a Phish-head; what do you expect?