December 24, 2008

Favorite Things: Christmas Movies

A Christmas Story: One Christmas, I think Papa Cool and I watched this for a majority of the 24 hours TNT (or is it TBS?) played it. Non-stop classic lines: "A major award!" "Fra-gil-e." "You'll shoot your eye out!" "Drink more ovaltine?"

Borrowed Hearts: Papa Cool and I have watched many Christmas movies. Typically, we watch so many because our gifts are already neatly wrapped beneath the tree, while Mama and Sista Cool frantically try to create and wrap their presents. One of our major coups involved watching the original (and best) Miracle on 34th St. followed by the 90s remake. This movie, however, is our classic. A total 90s cheese-fest starring Eric McCormack (of Will and Grace) and Roma Downey, it involves a highly improbable tale, a Mexican millionaire angel, an annoying kid, and a golf hustler. It doesn't get any better than this. We still call each other every Christmas season when we spot the airtimes for this movie. Papa Cool has since branched out into the wide world of Hallmark movies and Fa-la-la-la-Lifetime, but this is just about the only modern TV Christmas movie I watch.

A Charlie Brown Christmas: The all-time classic. My HS students still enjoy watching it, and I must admit to still tearing up a bit whenever Linus delivers his big "true meaning of Christmas" speech.

A Christmas Carol (the one with George C. Scott: This is the first version I remember watching, as it originally aired on TV. Mama Cool taped it off the TV, and we watched it every year. George C. Scott is absolutely perfect as Scrooge, able to portray both his evil-capitalist-who-hates-holidays side and his giddy-as-a-schoolboy side. Roger Rees, one of my favorite actors, is his nephew Fred, and every portrayal is just right. Fezziwig's is delightful, the poorhouse (sometimes left out of other versions) is absolutely depressing. The goose at the end is pretty large as well.
I don't know if you spend your Christmas Eve watching movies, lighting candles, or reading Luke, but however you do it, have a wonderful evening. (Mr. Cool, aka Scroogey McGrinch, would offer his Christmas movie warning--don't watch It's a Wonderful Life--he never has.)

December 22, 2008

Favorite Things: Christmas Tunes

Sara Groves O Holy Night: The newest addition to my Christmas tuneage, this album is peaceful, relaxing, and great background to a Christmas work day. She mostly reworks classic tunes, creating new melodies and backgrounds. It mostly works. My favorite, though, is the lighthearted "Toy Packaging," in which she echoes the complaints of millions of adults regarding the draconian plastic that encases children's toys.

Brad Paisley Christmas: I grew up listening to country music, and while I stick pretty much to bluegrass any more, I still enjoy listening to Brad, the country guitar god with a sense of humour. Sure, the country Christmas classics like "Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy" are here, but Paisley creates new classics like "Penguin, James Penguin." Probably my favorite song, it details the adventures of Santa's helper penguin, a dashing, tuxedo-wearing spy. I can't wait to play and sing it with my kiddo.

Andrew Peterson Behold the Lamb of God: This is Mr. Cool's favorite Christmas album, and the one that doesn't go into storage after the Christmas season. We listen to it all year. The rare, and beautiful, Christmas concept album, it covers the full story of "the true tall tale of the coming of Christ." In addition, Peterson conquers the most boring of all parts of the Bible: a long list of begats in the song, "Matthew's Begats."

Barenaked Ladies Barenaked for the Holidays: I love all of the previous albums (and the one to come), but this is the album I love to put on the most. They do a version of "Do They Know It's Christmas?:! They sing "Deck the Halls," only the only words they use are Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young! They sing a song about oppressed elves with Michael Buble! Seriously, this album is great, and includes the most beautiful Hanukkah song I've ever heard--"Hanukkah Blessings."

Mindy Smith My Holiday: Mindy Smith is one of the new folk/pop/country chanteuses out there, and I discovered her through her blistering cover of Dolly Parton's "Jolene," one of the best songs ever, in my opinion. Her albums are great, and her Christmas album not only covers the classics well, as in her smokin' take of "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve," but offers great new songs, including "Follow the Shepherd Home," a beautiful and true Christmas song.

Now, of course, I still love the classics, like Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Mannheim Steamroller, and Russell Newport, but in addition to these newbies, my all-time favorite Christmas Album is:

Handel The Messiah: When I was growing up, my mom had a two-record version of The Messiah, and I loved to put on those records and listen. The soaring "Every Valley Shall Be Exalted," the classic and stirring "For Unto Us a Child is Born,"and, of course, everyone's favorite "Hallelujah! For the Lord God Omnipotent Reigneth." When I was in college, I went down to Arizona before Christmas with my grandparents, and I was able to see a performance of The Messiah with my grandma. It was amazing to see and hear it sung live. I probably listen to this more than any other Christmas album.

What do you like to listen to this most wonderful time of the year?

December 20, 2008

A Weekend Meme

Memes, or memorandums, are a blogger way of sharing bits of your life and challenging yourself to do, or be, more in your life. I liked this one, although it made me feel a bit sad about the lack of things I've done in my life. I am only 29. I have a lot more time to go!

Things I've Done (In Bold)
1. Started my own blog
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band Clarinet counts, right?
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than I can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland/world And I loved it!
8. Climbed a mountain
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sung a solo As Mrs. Claus in the school Christmas pageant
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched lightning at sea
14. Taught myself an art from scratch I do believe knitting counts.
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown my own vegetables Only once though, and deer ate most of 'em
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France

20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitchhiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort

25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset I see pretty much every sunrise.
31. Hit a home run

32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of my ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught myself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied

38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had my portrait painted My sister is an artist, after all.
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China

57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching In Alaska--and we saw orcas!
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma And then I fainted. Seriously.
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp

67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades

75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London Sort've--there was a crowd!
77. Broken a bone My wrist, in 6th grade basketball.
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle Well, I thought it was speeding.
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had my picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House West Wing, baby!
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox

89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby Well, I'm working on this one!
95. Seen the Alamo in person

96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a lawsuit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee
100. Rode an elephant

December 18, 2008

Abigail Adams

As I wrote yesterday about John, I thought I would write a little about Abigail. I studied her in a freshman history class, and took her as a hero. Intelligent, sharp-witted--a true partner to her husband. There are books about her, and you can read her correspondence, which sparkles (a cliche, but oh-s0-true) with life and vitality. Throughout her letters you can read of her passion for her husband, her thoughts on his duty to America, her duty as a wife and mother, and her real, true opinions of other political figures.

Abigail to John, as he became president (and after 33 years of marriage):
The cold has been more severe than I can ever before recollect. It has frozen the ink in my pen, and chilled the blood in my veins, but not the warmth of my affection for him for whom my heart beats with unabated ardor through all the changes and vicissitudes of life, in the still calm of Peacefield, and the
turbulent scenes in which he is about to engage.

Abigail to Thomas Jefferson, responding heatedly to his claim that he had not supported a libelous newspaperman:

The serpent you cherished and warmed, bit the hand that nourished him, and gave you sufficient specimens of his talents, his gratitude, his justice, and his truth. When such vipers are let loose upon society, all distinction between virtue and vice are leveled, all respect for character is lost.

Abigail to her only daughter, on the subject of grandparenting:

I begin to think grandparents not so well qualified to educate grandchildren as parents. They are apt to relax in their spirit of government, and be too indulgent.

I could go on.
This painting of Abigail was painted by Gilbert Stuart while she was still first lady. While painting it, Stuart remarked that as a young woman she must have been a "perfect Venus," to which Adams replied, "She was! Oh, sir, she was."

December 17, 2008

John Adams

I have just finished John Adams by David McCullough. Whew. I had definitely not read any hardcore nonfiction in a while, but I was fascinated and sucked in by the story. It helps that Abigail Adams is one of my heroes, and she figures prominently in the story.

The vast amount of correspondence sent by John Adams, his wife, his children, his friends--it makes me lament the lack of real letter writing we do today. Perhaps I should think of this blog as a letter--and based on his proclivity to write letters and articles for newspapers, I can definitely see John keeping a blog.

If you have any interest in the Revolution, the early years of the U.S., or John Adams, I would recommend this book. It is fascinating to read his own words.

A Great Anecdote: The 1800 election, a contest largely between Jefferson and Adams (as the incumbent), was bitter. Adams was mad, a monarchist, old, and toothless. Jefferson cohabited with a slave woman. All of this rancor led to this story:

"If Jefferson carried on with slave women, Adams, according to one story in circulation, had ordered Charles Cotesworth Pinckney to London to procure four pretty mistresses to divide between them. When the story reached Adams, he
was highly amused. 'I do declare upon my honor,' he wrote
William Tudor, 'if this is true General Pinckney has kept them all for himself and cheated me out of my two.'"

The painting I chose was painted by Gilbert Stuart when Adams was nearly 89. His son, John Quincy, asked him to pose for it. Adams enjoyed posing for Stuart, saying, "He lets me do as I please and keeps me constantly amused with conversation." This is the last painting of Adams.

December 16, 2008

Does Pregnancy Affect Hearing?

Misheard today:

Student A: What's for lunch?
Student B: Speedo or ham sandwich.
Teacher: What?! (Hysterical Laughter)
Student B: Crispito (a taquito hybrid)--what's funny about that, Miss?
Teacher: Nothing--I thought you said speedo.

Followed by an explanation of what speedos are to clueless student.

December 15, 2008


I was doing a bit of geography research and found this great site/picture. If you've ever wondered about the size of Alaska, take a gander at this:

Just so you're clear, Alaska is also not down by Hawaii. Just making sure you know. (Not all of the kids are that clueless, not all of the kids are that clueless . . .)

-18 Below

Actual Conversation Recorded in My Car Pool This Morning:

Me: What's the temperature reading now?
Driver: It's reading -18.
Me: Seriously?
Shotgun Passenger: It has warmed up. It was reading -22.
Me: This is ridiculous. I should be sitting by a fire.
Shotgun Passenger: Heck, we should be IN a fire!

Group Laughter and Shivering

Edited to Add: Happy Birthday, Mama Cool! I hope you can stay nice and warm and cozy today! Much love!

December 11, 2008

You Can Lead a Horse to Water

We currently have a week and one day until the end of our semester. In HS, semesters count. If you fail the semester you will be taking my class again. I have a class with five sophomores/juniors trying to pass English I for the second time.

Currently, four of them are failing again. Two have a chance--their Fs are very high, and they are turning in all their work. When all the grades are in, they should pass. Two have very, very low grades. I have given them multiple copies of every assignment. I check in with them constantly. I push and push to try to get them to do work. I give them extra help, extra time, every little advantage I can think of.

This is the most frustrating part of my job. They could pass. They should pass. They would pass, if they would just do some work.

I just can't make them drink.

December 09, 2008

Favorite Things: Christmas Goodies

The goodies list came out today--each department has a day when each teacher must bring goodies to load up the teachers' lounge. I imagine that one of things most people can agree on about Christmas is the number of delicious goodies that seem to appear only at this time of year.

I love so many Christmas traditional yummies Mama Cool has whipped up over the years--English toffee, peppermint bark, gingerbread cookies, drommar, Honey Twists, snowballs . . .the list could go on for miles. What are your favorite treats this time of year?

In the spirit of the season, though, I thought I'd share my favorite goodie to make and share. If only the internet was magical enough that you could reach into the computer and grab some.

This recipe is from the back of a bag of Jolly Time popcorn. I think it makes the best caramel corn ever. It makes a bunch too, so feel free to share!

Baked Caramel Corn

Nonstick cooking Spray
6 quarts popped Jolly Time Pop Corn (air popped is the absolute best)
1 cup butter or margarine
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup light or dark corn syrup (I prefer dark for a more caramelly color)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 250 F. Coat bottom and sides of large roasting pan with nonstick cooking spray. Place popped pop corn in roasting pan.

In heavy saucepan, slowly melt butter. Stir in brown sugar, corn syrup and salt. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil without stirring 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in baking soda and vanilla.

Gradually pour over popped pop corn, mixing well. Bake 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Remove from oven. Cool completely. Break apart and store in tightly covered container.

Makes about 6 quarts

December 08, 2008

The Christmas Debacle of 2008

I have never been very good at buying Mr. Cool presents. He tends to really want items that are way out of the prescribed Christmas budget, so the value items I get tend to not get used that often. Books, DVDs, food dehydrators (but he loves jerky!), are covered with dust.

This year, I was determined to finally get him something big, exciting, and off his list. On Saturday, when I sneakily consulted the list, I saw that a reasonably affordable tool had made it on the list: hand router. Excellent, I thought. I can totally find one of those. So, off I merrily tripped to Harbor Freight, Home Depot, and Lowe's, finally finding the perfect Dremel with a plunge router attachment. I scurried home, wrapped them up, and placed them under the tree.

Upon returning, home, Mr. Cool spotted the presents. "See if you can guess!" I chirped merrily, dripping with Christmas spirit.
"I don't know," he said, carefully eying the wrapped presents. "Maybe a couple books? Unless, it's a hand router."
I began to try to brazen it out, but my unstable emotional state led to me start tearing up. "It is," I said.
"I bought myself one last week," he replied, "I was meaning to tell you."
"A hand router? You bought yourself one?!" I was incredulous and began to cry. And cry.

To Mr. Cool's credit, he felt pretty terrible. I then made him unwrap the gifts, to make sure they were exactly like what he had bought, and that he couldn't use them. He admitted that they were nicer, but that he wouldn't really need or use them. He started to get a little teary.

I took the tools back to the store yesterday. I was really disappointed that the clerk didn't ask me why I was returning them. I wanted to regale her with the story of my lame husband, who buys items less than a month before Christmas that are on his list. "It was a preliminary list!" he said, trying to justify himself. Hmmm. Yeah, right. But what do I get him now? Perhaps I should just give him a duster, so he can keep his old gifts clean.

December 06, 2008

The Defarge Scarf

Way back on Halloween (when they were just starting to put up Christmas decorations), I started knitting random codes into a roughly scarf-shaped piece of cloth. Dressed as Madame Defarge, I alternated knits, purls, k2togs, and yos as I told the students I was carefully putting their names on the list for death. Well, I ran out of yarn, and so had a bit of a scarflet, here modeled on my way to Thanksgiving dinner.

Yarn: Manos del Uruguay 100% Wool, in a beautiful colorway.
I have "pinned" my scarflet with a Scrabble bobby pin that works perfectly.

Giving the camera my best "You can tell the wind and fire to stop, but don't tell me," look.

Underneath a coat, this is just perfect for keeping my neck warm, and looks like an ascot. Only, it's in wilder colors. Yay, finished knitting!

December 05, 2008

Keeping My Head Warm Since 2008

Remember the bee hat? Well, in today's 1 degree (Fahrenheit) morning chill, it kept me quite cozy. Not as cozy, perhaps, as the snow day I so longed for this week, but my head remained warm and my brain is ready to quiz students on regular and irregular verbs, so it works!

Sorry to report, I have no photo of the knitwear in action. Perhaps next time!

December 02, 2008

Favorite Things: Christmas Stories

I LOVE this time of year. LOVE it--I love everything about the Christmas season, even (to a lesser extent) the commercialism. I love decorating (the tree gets decorated tonight!), listening to the music, and most of all, reading the stories. Throughout this season, I'm going to share a few of my favorite things, and I'd like you to share right back. A person always needs new traditions!
This has been my favorite Christmas story since I was a little girl--I loved the illustrations, the story--it is a romantic and heartwarming story, and I know this year I am going to just sob. (I'm already a bit on edge whenever I see a new mother story.) I believe it is still out of print--I found my copy for $3 at an antique store that did not know what they had.

The classic, and still champion, Dickens' immortal A Christmas Carol. Mr. Cool becomes Scroogey McGrinch this time of year, but even he consented to letting me read this aloud one year. It sparkles, it moralizes, and (best of all), it is short! If you prefer one of the gazillion movie versions, I love the George C. Scott version, and Scroogey McGrinch likes the Mickey Mouse version. To each his own.

One of my favorite, beloved authors is Connie Willis. If you've never read Connie Willis, start! She is a fabulous science fiction author from Greeley, CO, and she has written one of the best Christmas short stories ever. It's probably in a compilation, but I read it and print it out every year online (ah, the wonderful interwebs). Called "Just Like the Ones We Used to Know," it involves blizzards and overplayed Christmas songs, to which we can all relate.
So what traditional readings do you have this season?