Slice of Life #14- Happy Pi Day!

Happy Pi Day! As an alum of a STEM school Pi Day is a pretty big deal.  And this was an epic pi day!

My day began with bagels that Chris picked up on the way home from the gym.  That’s when he informed me that he would only be eating round food today, in honor of pi day.  Always up for good food, I agreed.

We enjoyed our bagels and then ran a whole lot of errands.  We missed 3/14/15 9:26:59 so decided we would celebrate when it came back around twelve hours later.  For lunch we settled on sandwiches from a local farm, on kaiser rolls in order to ensure their roundness.

Then the big decision came up- what kind of pie did we want to eat for dessert?  See, I like apple pie and French silk pie, while Chris loves berry pies and banana cream.  I abhor bananas so there was no chance of us sharing a pie.  Not only that, but we ended up going to three local orchards in search of pies.  Apparently it was a popular dessert choice today!

In the end, we decided on a pie for each of us.  I chose apple pie and Chris chose banana cream.  Of course, they were both delicious!  Oh, and we kept up the round food idea for dinner by having a chicken pot pie.

Turns out, round food includes a lot of carbs!

Slice of Life #13- A Walk in the Park

 

How can you have a bad day after hanging out with these smiles?

I have lots of little things I do to destress, but my go-to is walking the dogs.  We walk in rain, snow, heat, and wind.  As I tell anyone who asked me about Australian Shepherds, “They are our own personal trainers!”

Thanks to daylight savings time and the warmer weather today we were able to go out to the park with our dog friends.  A huge group of nine dogs (4 Aussies, 4 Huskies, and a Mastiff) and a lot of long line leashes enjoyed exploring the muddy trails and freshly melted snow.

The dogs love these romps but truthfully, I might enjoy them more.  Sunlight, fresh air, and lots of puppies- what more could a girl ask for?

The picture above is from the end of the walk.  We were only out for about forty-five minutes but I felt like a new person by the end.  And judging by the smiles in the photo above the dogs were pretty content, too. I’m so happy that spring is almost here and that it does not get dark out before 7pm anymore.  The dogs are definitely happy about that, too!

(And they have been sleeping ever since we got home.  They woke up for dinner and a quick trip outside, but it’s been sleepytime since then.  That’s the other great part of our group walks.  At the end, we have a lot of very tired dogs!)

 

Slice of Life #12- Live and Laugh

This has been a week.  And it looks like next week will be very similar. You know how it goes- work all day, getting home late, lots of grading, issues outside of school to deal with.  You wake up at 5:45am and go to bed at midnight.  The to-do list keeps getting longer and longer.

Sometimes you just need to laugh.   I’m conscious of this and I try very hard to set aside time for silly TV each night because I can watch a comedy and work on my t0-do list at the same time.

My go-to for laughs is usually Friends (now available on Netflix!).  But for the last few days I have been watching The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt instead.  Written by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, it’s a quirky, over-the-top comedy that never fails to leave me laughing out loud. Seriously, it’s quirky.  It’s weird.  It’s crazy. But it’s also sweet, innocent, and adorable.

Kimmy was the victim of a post-apocalyptic cult until being rescued.  She spent fifteen years in an underground bunker.  Now she’s thrown herself into life in New York City and comedy ensues.  All of the supporting characters are fantastic, Kimmy is perfection, and the writing is amazing.

And the best part?  The Babysitter’s Club plays a pivotal role in one of the first episodes.  And not just any book; nope, the super special mystery!  I devoured all of BSC books and owned most of the specials and super specials, so as a rabid BSC fan in middle school this made me very happy.

If you also need something to get your mind off of the rest of the world I highly recommend The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix.  Sometimes you just need to laugh!

Slice of Life #11- Criticism is Key

After school today I came home to discover that Andrew Smith, a writer I admire a great deal, had deleted his Twitter and Facebook accounts.  A little digging led me to a controversy surrounding a recent interview he did and I was disappointed, to say the least.

Most of the controversy on social media seemed to be centered around this portion of the article:

On the flip side, it sometimes seems like there isn’t much of a way into your books for female readers. Where are all the women in your work?
I was raised in a family with four boys, and I absolutely did not know anything about girls at all. I have a daughter now; she’s 17. When she was born, that was the first girl I ever had in my life. I consider myself completely ignorant to all things woman and female. I’m trying to be better though.

A lot of The Alex Crow is really about the failure of male societies. In all of the story threads, there are examples of male-dominated societies that make critical errors, whether it’s the army that Ariel falls in with at the beginning, or the refugee camp, or Camp Merrie-Seymour for boys, or the doomed arctic expedition, they’re all examples of male societies that think that they’re doing some kind of noble mission, and they’re failing miserably.

Personally, this card-carrying, women’s college graduate, loud mouth feminist didn’t take umbrage with Smith’s answer (The question, on the other hand, is offensive because it assumes that girls don’t want/have any reason to read Smith’s books ).

I interpreted Smith’s answer as “I didn’t have a lot of experience with women until I got married and had a daughter.  My wife and daughter have opened my eyes to what life is like for women and girls.  I’m trying to learn more”.  I respect Smith for admitting something like this.  I’m pretty sure he isn’t saying he never interacted with females until he got married, despite what some people on Tumblr seem to think.  But he recently shared that his parents were abusive and his childhood was not typical.  This, coupled with the adolescent tendency towards selfish focus on oneself, means it isn’t hard to believe he managed to avoid any deep and meaningful interactions with the female sex until meeting his wife.

You know what?  I teach teenagers all day long and I can only begin to scratch the surface when it comes to writing from a teen male perspective.  You know why?  Because even though I am human and they are human I am not in the brain of an adolescent male.  Our lives and experiences, while both human, are very different.  That doesn’t mean I leave adolescent males out of my stories.  No, of course not!  I am just aware of my lack of experience and I work to do a better job.  It seems to me that Smith is saying the same thing.

I often say that ____________ are aliens to me.  Feel free to fill in the blank with teenagers, men, people who own hairless cats, people who don’t eat chocolate.  There are experiences out there that I can not go through because I am not fourteen in 2015, a man, an admirer of hairless cats, a hater of chocolate.  I can understand that others might have a different experience and I acknowledge that this might be one of my shortcomings.  But it’s also not my job to become a teenager, a man, a hairless cat owner, or a chocolate disliker.  I can understand someone else’s perspective without making it my own.

However, I do recognize that others have a right to be offended by the message they take away from this snippet of conversation.  And we need to have conversations about gender and sex in literature.  We need diverse books.  I do think some of Smith’s female characters are flat and I admire him for acknowledging this as a personal shortcoming.  I’m even more impressed that he admits to trying to do better.  But when we attack people for admitting things like this all we do is shut down the conversation. And that benefits no one at all.

The people on social media who personally attacked Andrew Smith, those who made comments about his minor daughter, those who made this about his wife and his children, are doing us all a disservice.  You can’t have a conversation when you don’t ask questions and listen and instead you attack and demean.

Now Andrew Smith has deactivated his social media accounts.  That’s his prerogative and I respect his decision to protect his family from further verbal attacks.  But it’s a huge loss for his teen readers, who are often dormant readers.  Right now all of my Andrew Smith books are circulating through my freshman class.  And yes, both boys and girls are reading the books (the percentage is split about 50/50).  Those readers reach out to Smith on social media and he always, always responds.  That’s a priceless interaction for kids who don’t usually read many books.

So yes, please share your criticisms.  But when you start the conversation you have a responsibility to help guide the conversation and that means calling people out for taking it too far or becoming threatening.  And we need to acknowledge media creators who are doing good, even if it’s not perfect.  Andrew Smith writes books that take an honest look at sexuality, adolescence, class, and much more.  His books are diverse in a plethora of ways.  So if you are unhappy with his portrayal of female characters you should share your criticism.  But personal attacks only undermine the message.

And finally, Andrew Smith is in the trenches.  This man is in a classroom every.single.day.  He doesn’t just write teens- he knows them. He knows them a lot better and a lot deeper than most gatekeepers.   His portrayal of teen boys is so spot-on that it’s actually scary.  Does he write every adolescent male experience?  Of course not.  But the perspective he does write is frighteningly accurate according to my teens.   We need to embrace authors like this and provide constructive criticism, not cruel comments and personal attacks.  There can never be enough good books and we need all the allies we can get.  Andrew Smith was one of those allies and it’s my hope that he continues to write and create for the readers who need him.

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Andrew Smith and I at NCTE 2014

Slice of Life #10- After us the dragons

“Life is never fixed and stable.  It is always mercurial, rolling and splitting, disappearing and re-emerging in a most unpredictable fashion.  I never make a journey to a wood or a mountain without experiencing the temptation to explode a puffball in a new clearing or stopping to encourage some sleepy monster that is just cracking out of the earth mold. This is, of course, an irresponsible attitude, since I cannot tell what will come of it, but if the world hangs on such matters it may be well to act boldly and realize all immanent possibilities at once.  

Shake the seeds out of their pods, I say, launch the milkweed down, and set the lizards scuttling.  We are in a creative universe. Let us then create.  After all, man himself is the unlikely consequence of such forces.  In the spring when a breath of wind sets the propellers of the maple seeds to whirring, I always say to myself hopefully:  After us the dragons.”- Loren C. Eisely

I walk the dogs almost every afternoon, through rain and snow and heat and fog.  But no matter what the weather, I love to go off the beaten path.  As the seasons change from winter to spring those paths are starting to fill with pops of green as plants burst out of the dark soil.  Soon the dandelions will dot the fields and I will be tempted to reach down, pick one, and blow the seeds into the wind.

Loren Eisely challenges us to create.  To smell the flowers, spread the seeds, and turn over the rocks.  Create something.  Be a part of creation.

On today’s rainy walk I was delighted to see plants reaching out of the ground towards the sun.  Soon they will be flowering and spreading across the forest floor.  While winter is beautiful, spring is even more special and beautiful.  So keep reaching, little plant.  Be bold and we will follow.

Slice of Life #9- A Lifer!

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hAs I mentioned in a previous post, I have recently become a birder.  I love watching the birds at my birdfeeders, learning how to identify the different species, and tracking them for Ebird (a citizen science effort).  One of the byproducts of this new hobby is that I have become much more aware of the birds that are around all the time.  I find myself scanning the trees and skies for birds when I am walking the dogs and sometimes when I am driving.

It amazes me how many gorgeous birds fill the trees around us all the time without most people even noticing.  We tend to think that the sparrows and crows are the only birds around but that is far from true!  There are red, yellow, blue, and rainbow-hued birds right here in New Jersey.  It’s not just the tropics that have those colorful birds!

And as a new birder I am also picking up on the language of the specialty, including the word “lifer”.  A lifer is when a bird is first seen and positively identified by a birder.  I’m only starting out but I have identified 28 individual species just in my own backyard thanks to some bird-friendly landscaping and a lot of bird feeders.  But today I added a very exciting lifer to the list!

Thanks to daylight savings time it was still light out when I came home between work and work this afternoon.  That, coupled with the 50 degree weather, led me to take the dogs on a hike.  I live minutes from a county park so off we went to walk around the lake.  As I soaked up the much-needed vitamin D I noticed a strange bird silhouette in the trees above me.  The sun was shining behind the birds so I could not clearly make out their color but I could see the outline of their bodies and I could hear them calling.  I tried to take a photo but I only had my phone with me and it came out very fuzzy.  But that call!  And the tuft of mohawk-like hair on the head…..could it be a cedar waxwing?

A few birding groups I follow on Facebook had recently mentioned a few sightings of these awesome birds in the area but I was sure it could not be them.  Could I be that lucky?  So while watching them dart around the in the tree limbs above my head I also pulled out the Merlin app on my phone and began to run through a checklist.

  • brownish hue? √
  • usually in flocks in open woods or the edge of a forest? √
  • often perches near the top of leafless trees? √
  • eats berries? √
  • distinct high-pitched call? √

Yes!  They had to be cedar waxwings!  I enjoyed listening to them for a few more minutes while the dogs sat quietly beside me.  Well, quietly until they got bored.  Bailey decided to loudly eat snow and then crash along the boardwalk at that point so the flock lifted into the air and headed towards the island in the center of the lake. I could still hear them chirping as we continued our walk and I enjoyed looking for more of them.  I can’t wait to go back tomorrow with my camera to try and get a worthwhile picture!

Keep your eyes and your ears open, because sometimes the most beautiful things are right in front of you if you’ll only take the time to notice them.  It’s a beautiful world, so slow down and really look at it sometimes!  Especially on these warm days that usher in spring and all that comes with it!

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My very blurry iPhone photo of one of the Cedar Waxwings today

A much better photo from wikimedia.

Slice of Life #8- Always Look on the Bright Side of Life!

IMG_2322Last night Chris and I drove down to Moorestown, NJ to see his cousin perform as King Arthur in Spamalot! They are one of the first high schools to perform this show since it left Broadway and they did an awesome job.  This part was made for him; Chris and I spent the entire time laughing hysterically!  The snow meant that our first attempt at seeing the show was aborted but we were thrilled to make it down last night for the closing show.

During intermission you could take pictures with King Arthur and his can of Spam, which of course we did.  I can’t believe he did this at every show and then got back on stage a few minutes later.  But he did! At the end of intermission Chris leaned over to me and said, “Something is going to happen to my dad.  My uncle told me to keep an eye on him”.

Once the second act started I think we promptly forgot about this face. Well, at the very end of of the play Chris’ dad was pulled up on stage!  When King Arthur asked his name he responded, without hesitation, “Uncle Carl!”.  Needless to say, the entire place burst out laughing!  He won his very own “Arthur” award and even got a trophy to take home.  While this was all occurring I was watching Chris, who I had never seen laugh so hard.  It was awesome!

And then, during the wedding at the end of the show, I caught the bouquet.  So now I have a beautiful vase full of peach roses which are bringing a little bit of spring into our house.  That’s a pretty good night all around!

I do love Spamalot because it brings back some great memories.  I’ve always been a big nerd and as a result I’ve always hung out with a lot of nerds, too.  As you can probably imagine, I always had friends who were going through a Monty Python stage.  At any given time in my life someone was quoting from the various movies and sketches so when the musical would call upon some of these same lines I was a very happy camper.

Congratulations to Moorestown High School for an awesome performance!

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*Also exciting?  One of the Philadelphia news anchors was at the show.  We were very starstruck.  :)

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