Thursday, November 1, 2012

World Series Champions Twice in the Last Three Years

Here is a song parody about the 2012 World Series Champions: (We love this!)

More fun stuff:
Here was Ashkon's song parody for the 2010 Giants:

And here is this year's from Ashkon, filmed at the parade:

Monday, October 29, 2012

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Matt Cain's Perfect Game!

(I have not lost any of my fanaticism for the San Francisco Giants.  I am still watching/following every game on the internet, smart phone, tv, or radio.)

I was sick with "could be bronchitis."  Very unlike me, even while sick, I stayed in bed for a day or so, too ill to stay awake.  I had the Giants game on, but fell asleep early in the evening.  And  MATT CAIN THREW A PERFECT GAME.





Thankfully, we live in a time when you can just call up yesterday's game and watch it, so I did see the game, but I didn't get to experience the (I'm guessing paralyzing) tension of watching it live, which I'm sure I would have done through my fingers.

But it was great.  Cain said he felt the contributions of everyone on the field with him, every fan in the stands.  He gave credit where it was due, to Buster Posey calling the pitches (none of which he shook off)... to outfielders Cabrera and Blanco making a couple of amazing outs...  and to the offense scoring 10 runs!

Let's re-live it. 
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
AT&T Park, San Francisco
San Francisco Giants (10) vs. Houston Astros (0)
Matt Cain throws MLB's 22nd Perfect Game

  • Cain hits a golf ball into the marina before the game.
  • There was a guy in a jet pack hovering over the bay.
  • The Giants keep scoring!
  • We realize there have been no hits and no walks.  But we dare not think about it... not yet...
  • All those strikeouts (14).
  • The MelkMan (Cabrera) makes that catch!  The hitter's bemused face seems to say "clearly something big is happening here tonight."  Cain's face shows he thinks so too!
  • Blanco's catch!  Unbelievable!
  • The wives watching (including my favorite, Nicole Vogelsong, who seems like she's the rock).
  • The ninth inning.  Cain looks around the stadium and takes it all in.
  • The final out, when Arias somehow stays upright and makes the throw!  And Belt puts the ball in his pocket, to give to Cain in a calmer moment. 
  • The hugs.  Cain & Posey, Cain & Everyone!
  • Cain's remarks on field after the game.  What a class act.

All 27 outs (including those two catches!) and the hugs:

Post-game interviews

It was foul

The 9th inning

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Movie Review: Brave

The kids and I went to see Pixar's "Brave" last weekend. 

Of course, we had a great time.  We laughed, we cried...
The animation was gorgeous, and the voice work was great as well.

It had a bit of a darker, more mystical aesthetic than some other princess movies, due to its celtic setting.  The colors used were greens, greys, and browns, with a mop of bright orange curly hair standing out against the scenery.  There were also some blues used as accent colors.  Contrasted with the bright, sparkling pinks and purples of "Tangled," the visual choices conjured a tone and a definite sense of place that was unique to this film.

"Change your fate," states not only the film's propaganda, but also the concluding voiceover.  My strongest reaction to "Brave," however, is that this story doesn't actually convey that theme.  It didn't show Merida changing her fate.  She wanted to change her fate, but her attempts to do so were dangerous, ill-conceived, and rash, and she quickly realized that she needed to undo her actions and return things to they way they once were.

It is true that at the beginning of the film, she was facing arranged marriage, while by the end, she had persuaded those in power to change the tradition and allow the young people to marry for love.  But it was not actually Merida who orchestrated that change.

I wonder, without the concluding voiceover, would the moviegoer think that the movie's theme is "change your fate?"  I hope not, because it would seem to be "change your fate by endangering your mother."


To me, what "Brave" was actually about was the mother-daughter relationship.  It took me by surprise, but as clear as day, that's what it was about!  Pixar really knows how to tug at my tear ducts:  the passing of childhood from one generation to the next in "Toy Story 3" and now the mother-daughter relationship in "Brave!"

Teenage girls and their mothers are often at odds.  They often have trouble really hearing each other's side of the situation.  Conflicts escalate quickly and bubble over.  Teenage girls wish that their mothers were different in some way (or many ways).

"Brave" explores all this, and pushes it further.  What would happen if the teenage girl's wish came true: what if she changed her mother?  Merida does, and quickly learns to regret it!  The rest of the movie is about how they learn to communicate so they can work together and bring the mother "back."

Once they learn to empathize with one another, then the so-called "change your fate" part happens (Merida's mother makes it happen).

This is the biggest example of how "Brave" was quite different from what it seemed in the trailer.  It seemed like the story of a strong girl using her athleticism (horsemanship and archery) to make her own way in the world.  It did not convey the sense that it was the story of a princess. 

Linda Holmes of NPR's Monkey See blog wrote a post three years ago that called for Pixar to make a movie with a female heroine, going on to ask that she be a rough-and-tumble girl with "skinned knees."  It is disappointing that "Brave" did not turn out to be that movie.  In many ways, Pixar instead gave us another Disney Princess.

I do feel that disappointment, but want to point out something about the "Brave" story that actually is rare in princess movies:  Merida has two parents!  Both her mother and her father are alive, present, and loving.  She also has three (hilarious!) little brothers.  Not only that, but as I posited, the story is entirely about the mother-daughter relationship.  Think about the princesses we've seen in other movies... they all grew up without their mothers!  So in a way, this movie was a bold (dare I say, brave?) departure, a rare gem of a princess story!

A powerful story, one that brought out a deep emotional response in at least this former-teenage-girl-who-wishes-she-had-treated-her-mother-better-during-those-years (because mom definitely deserved better).
Beautiful visuals, terrific voice acting.  Pixar's "Brave."

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Holiday Decor

This post is part of Jen on the Edge's Holiday Homes Tour.  Thanks for hosting, Jen! 
I participated in 2008 and 2009 as well.

I'd like to start by welcoming you to my home in sunny Southern California!

Come on in!

As you step through the front door, you find yourself in the living room/formal dining room.  Make yourself at home!

Our Christmas tree is to your right, positioned in the front corner of our house, by the windows. 

We have a lot of ornaments, and we love our bedecked tree! 
So many ornaments are associated with a particular memory or vacation!  One of our more recent acquisitions is this ornament from Crater Lake.

As you can see, in the living room portion of this big room we have two areas: a sitting area/fireplace and a console table along the wall.
The nativity was a gift from The Hubby's grandma, and the Nutcracker art pieces on each side of the mirror were made by Middle Girl and The Boy at their after-school art class.  I made the stockings years ago, for each child's first Christmas.  I made The Hubby's one of the in-between years.  My stocking was made for me by my Great Aunt when I was a baby.
The end table is holding our toy nativity set.  When the kids were toddlers, they wanted to play with all of the decorations and ornaments.  I got them their own nativity and their own little tree with safe ornaments, so they could decorate and re-decorate to their hearts' content, leaving my things alone.  The kids are old enough to be careful with the "real" decorations, so they don't need the toys anymore (sob!).  I put the toy nativity set out anyway!

The little tree, however, is serving a new purpose on the console table.  I got lights for it this year, and we decorated it with some of our small, special ornaments. 
Also on this table is Big Girl's advent tree (more on this later), our Christmas card holder, and each kid's little "matchbox"-style music box.
In the dining area of the room, the Santa-hat chair covers catch the eye.  They were a gift from The Hubby's grandma many years ago. 

We also have a table runner made by my mom, and some green glass pillar-shaped candle votives given to me by a friend.  The aesthetic I'm going for here is "bright and cheery!"
The kids love to play with the checkers set. 

In the main bathroom, I put a few small touches.  Our little snowman family, which I just love! 

The ornament towel goes well over my new striped hand towel!

This is the kid art wall!  We are enjoying this display of the art they've done at school over the years...

We have lots of decorative items that "Countdown to Christmas."  This is helpful, because all three kids want to be the one to change the day every day!
We've had the snowman countdown for many years.  The kids love to hang the numbers on!
The kids have been asking for chocolate advent calendars for years.
The Santa circle was a party favor last year at Middle Girl's friend's birthday party.
The "hands" one was made by The Boy at school this year.
I gave the tree to Big Girl as a gift last year.  It's a music box as well!  Each day you take an ornament out of the drawer and add it to the tree.  On Christmas Day you add the star on top.  She cherishes it!  It will decorate her own house someday...

This year, Middle Girl and The Boy each made a ceramic gingerbread house in art class.  I love them! 

Thanks for visiting!  It's been lovely sharing holiday decor with everyone!  As we leave, I see that it's gotten dark.

I wanted to put another string of lights on the garland over the window, but I didn't find the time this year.  Maybe next year, it'll look like this:
(photo edited as an homage to Bossy.)
Multicolored or red & green?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Book review: A Band of MiSFits.

Still working on turning my notes about the books I read this summer into blog posts...

I let my inner fangirl choose a book, and she enthusiastically chose A Band of MiSFits by Andrew Baggarly.

Oh my goodness, what a JOY it was to read this book!

This is the story of the 2010 San Francisco Giants' Championship season. Of course, I knew there was a happy ending coming, since I experienced the playoff wins and the World Series wins and the celebrations!!!1! (Well, not live and in person, but on TV and with my family, geographically in Dodger country but proud Giants fans.)

My story as a baseball fan begins when I was six years old or so, when my family began attending California Angels games.  The General Admission seats were inexpensive in those days, so we used to go over there on a regular basis, buy tickets at the stadium, and enjoy the game from the upper deck on the first base side.  My dad taught me how to score games during those years.  I knew all of the players' names, numbers, and positions by heart.  I listened to the radio broadcast every night as I fell asleep.  Girly little me, oh how she loved those Angels!

Fred Lynn, Don Baylor, Reggie Jackson, Rod Carew.
I loved these guys.

My favorite player was Fred Lynn.  I drew pictures of him, and I think I mailed them to him at the stadium.  (I think??)  One year in the All-Star Game, he hit a grand slam home run!  You should have seen my celebrating in my family room! 

 Fred Lynn, California Angel.

We were at the game when Reggie Jackson hit his 500th home run.  The Royals beat the Angels 10 to 1 that game:  September 17, 1984, which was not long after I spent two solid weeks attending volleyball and gymnastics events at the Olympics here in LA (another hugely formative experience for me - deserving of a post of its own).

My dad slept in line to get us tickets for the playoffs in 1982 and 1986.  My kids could never picture him doing something like that based on how they know him today, but I keep trying to tell them how many great experiences he gave his children when we were their age.

Fred Lynn went to play for the Baltimore Orioles, which was a loss-of-innocence experience for me.  How can you just go play for some other team?  What was a young Angels fan who loved Fred Lynn supposed to do?  To which would I keep my allegiance?  Then, I hit the teenage years.  I was busy with theater and I seemed to shed some of my "childhood" loves.  I stopped watching and listening to baseball games, and my show schedule meant I couldn't attend the games any more. 

I still hate it when players switch teams, and I know that I have never since let myself love a player like I loved Fred Lynn, because I know that that player might leave in a few years to play somewhere else.  Psychological walls.

After several baseball-free years, which I spent rooting for my high school basketball team (I nourished an unrequited crush on one tall, thin red-headed player in particular), I started college in the Bay Area.  That Spring, someone in my freshman dorm arranged an outing to a San Francisco Giants game.  There, I found a new team to root for, and a new favorite player:  Will Clark.  As he was a slugger like Fred Lynn, I kind of couldn't help it. 

Will Clark, San Francisco Giant.

Also breaking down my baseball-related psychological walls was the guy in our group (from New York) who clearly thought that because I was a girl, I must know nothing about baseball.  I found his 'helpful' lessons about baseball on the drive to the stadium both hilarious and insulting.  I was determined to show him what a jackass he was to be making the assumption.  Somebody had a scorecard (or book), so I proceeded to score the game (thanks, Dad!).  The guy was shocked that I knew how - clearly this blew his mind.  To further prove myself, I talked about my Angels - the players I loved, the games I attended and scored, the nights spent listening to the radio broadcast in the dark in my pink room.  Those feelings came back and I wanted to follow a team again.  The Giants and Will Clark were there for me.  (It also helped that I had recently fallen in love, with a cute boy who was a big Giants fan.)

I enjoyed those first two seasons as a Giants fan very much!  Then there was a players' strike, and I also discovered the NHL and focused my attention on the Sharks - my pro team of choice in those years.  (Underneath all of this is my never-ceasing love for my college teams.  Stanford players don't often leave school early for the draft, and don't leave for other teams like pro players do.  I feel safe being a Stanford fan, and I watch every football game, every year.  Those players make my inner fangirl happy.  Go Cardinal!)

Well, friends, I married that Giants fan, and even though I wasn't terribly passionate about the team anymore, he sure was.  And has been.  And ever shall be.  You know the kind of fan who reads everything he can about his team?  Checks the radio (now the internet) as soon as he can, to get a score update?  Reads about them all off-season?  No?  Well, I sure do.

Then the steroid stuff happened.  Times were ugly in baseball, between the missed season and then the steroid scandals.  Who would want to admit to being a baseball fan?  Not me.

Time heals, though.  I got to the point where I was happy for The Hubby when the Giants were doing well.  I was kind of annoyed when the Giants were not doing so well and it was affecting his mood, but he was okay at hiding that from me. 

In the summer of 2010, we were at a friend's wedding, chock full of Giants fans (so much so that one of them is a Giants employee).  They were all talking to the Hubby about the team.  What was going on here?  One of the guys told me that my husband was refusing to say they could make a run at the pennant - was he protecting himself from getting his hopes up?  Hmmm.  I started to pay a little more attention.

The end of the season was a nail-biter.  The Giants managed to steal the pennant from the Padres, but it didn't happen until the very last game of the season.  I convinced my husband, who had been staying at home to watch the games to witness it if they did it, that maybe they would win if he didn't watch.  And I was right!  They were headed to the playoffs!

At this point, I became adamant that he be able to watch every Giants post-season game on TV.  I love him, and he has always loved the Giants, so this was important to me!  I did all of the driving-kids-to-practices-and-picking-them-up.  I kept up to speed on all of the games by either checking my smart phone ESPN app repeatedly or listening to the radio in the car.  Somehow, against the odds, they beat the Braves, and then the Phillies, and were in the World Series!

And I had become a fan.  I knew all of the players' names, and I had lots of favorites.  Buster Posey, Brian Wilson, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Freddy Sanchez, Cody Ross, Aubrey Huff...

As a family, we watched the World Series games against the Texas Rangers.  The kids made "Go Giants" and "SF" decorations for around the TV.  We won Games 1 and 2 in San Francisco.  We lost Game 3 in Texas. 

Game 4 was Halloween, and the series was 2-1 SF.  My son insisted that he wanted Daddy to take him trick-or-treating, and in the best display of fatherhood I have ever witnessed, Daddy did.   

Mommy stayed home to hand out candy, and watched the heck out of that game.  What a game!  Madison Bumgarner, age 21, gave an amazing pitching performance.  Daddy made it home in time to see the Giants win, making the series 3-1. 

On Monday, November 1, 2010, in Game 4 of the World Series, in Arlington, Texas, was a pitching showdown between Cy Young winners Tim Lincecum and Cliff Lee.  The Giants batters managed to get some guys on base, and Edgar Renteria homered to bring in three runs.  Closer Brian Wilson finished off the Rangers, and it had actually happened!  The first Giants championship since 1954.  The first since moving to San Francisco.  Beautiful!  Glorious! 

The Giants fans called this season "Torture."  This is because the Giants didn't win easily.  They won messily, but they never gave up.  The team consisted of rookies, freaks, has-beens, and waiver acquisitions.  Nobody thought he was better than his teammates, not even Rookie of the Year Buster Posey, or two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, or media-attracting weirdo Brian Wilson and his magical beard.  The clubhouse chemistry was remarkable.  They were good guys, there for each other and for love of the game.  The perfect bunch of guys for that crazy city of San Francisco, and they knew it, and they loved it, too.

I found that the more I watched those guys play, and celebrate, and share it with their fans, the more I felt my psychological walls weakening.  I had to admit that I was a fan, and I had to admit that I wanted it that way.

Just look at the way they support each other!

The 2011 baseball season started, and found that I wanted to watch every game.  No one was more surprised than my husband that every night I wanted to watch the game after the kids went to bed, rather than our usual TV.  Every baseball season of our marriage up to that point, I had rolled my eyes at my husband and told him it was stupid to follow so closely during the first months of a 162-game season, and now I was the one putting the game on.  He just silently enjoyed it, not wanting to jeopardize whatever was going on with his wife by pointing it out.

We knew things weren't going to be easy.  Giants baseball = Torture, after all, and we fans love it.  But we couldn't have foreseen what this season would have in store.  On May 25, catcher and reigning Rookie of the Year Buster Posey's leg was severely fractured during a collision at the plate.  His season was over.  We were watching (of course), and we felt sick.  The Hubby and I were planning to spend the majority of 2011 watching Buster's second season in the bigs, and in one moment that was no longer an option.  Yeah, first world problems, but we were sad, okay?

The Giants soldiered on without Buster, guys were called up and rose to the occasion, but there were more setbacks to come.  Freddy Sanchez's season soon came to an end.  Guys were on the DL left and right.  But the pitchers continued to dominate while the offense was struggling.  Added to my list of favorite players was Ryan Vogelsong, back pitching for the Giants after years playing in Japan and showing that a guy in his mid-thirties can reinvent himself.  Game after game, these guys continued to support one another and were focused on improving.  They played well enough to occupy the top spot in the NL West for most of the season, but injuries and a hitting slump proved to be too much. 

For me, it has been a pleasure and a privilege to call myself a Giants fan this year.  The grit, the integrity, the love for the game, the team mentality, the unwillingness to start placing blame in the face of setbacks:  I am so proud of my team.  They didn't let their difficulties get them down, but came out there every night and enjoyed supporting each other.  This team mindset paid off for them in 2010, and I was sorry I didn't watch that whole season unfold in 2010.  I made up for it in 2011, watching nearly every game (via the internet).  I was quite the spectacle to behold for everyone who knows me!  What also helped was reading A Band of MiSFits - I was able to experience the entire 2010 season through the book!  It was written in such a way that   1) I felt like I lived through the season, and   2) I was able to get to know the players' personalities and back stories.  I had warily noticed that I was starting to feel about them the way I had felt about Fred Lynn, but the book made me want to feel that way!  I let my fangirl love continue to grow.

So thank you, Giants players.  Thank you for allowing me to feel like a kid again, and for helping me to strip away years of cynicism toward pro baseball players and psychological walls, and to remember what baseball used to mean to me.  I am so glad that the Showtime series allowed others to get to know you, and it's no surprise to me that so many of them became new fans.  You already had a huge, proud SF fan base that packs AT&T Park, and you guys have always acknowledged its role in your successes.  What a great example of the right attitude to have as a true team of pro athletes.

I never stopped watching your games, even as you struggled through some difficult losing streaks, and I'm watching game 159 right now.  You've got three more, and I'll be there.  It's not just my way of thanking you.  It's also for me - I just like watching you play!

Buster Posey:  love you.  Miss you.  So sorry you've been away from baseball so long due to this injury (probably the longest time you've ever gone without playing baseball).  Glad you got to spend it with your newborn twins.  Can't wait to watch you again next year!

Cain, Vogelsong, Wilson, Sandoval, and Lincecum:  2011 All-Star Game
Giants pitchers:  You guys were awesome this year.  You know it, the hitters know it, and we fans sure know it.  Because of you, I vastly prefer a game with a good pitching performance over a high-scoring game. 
Panda:  the way you play shows that you are in this sport for the joy of playing the game.  It does my cynical heart good to watch you.

Timmy:  I love the way you pitch.

Brian Wilson:  people think you're crazy.  I say yes: crazy like a fox. 

You want to have a long baseball career, and you believe that having a star personality will help you achieve that goal.

You want to have a long baseball career, and you believe that will take hard work.  You are some kind of goofball (we're not sure what kind), but you take your career seriously.  You put in the discipline and the effort, and you have an intellectual approach to working on your baseball skills.

 (He's smart.  You can tell.)
 (See what I mean?)
And I just like lookin' at ya.

Definitely better with the beard.

But the big question this year is, why did I become such a big Nate Schierholtz fan?  He's not one of the big stars, but I always looked for his name on the starting lineup.

He got a lot more playing time than usual this season, since a lot of guys were on the DL.  And what did he do with his at-bats?  Pretty consistently, he got himself on base.  Plus, he's great defensively - a strong (muscle-y...  :-) ) outfielder.  He gets to the ball quickly and has a great arm. 

And...  I'm a little sheepish to admit it, but...

Look at those shoulders.  The long name highlights them nicely, doesn't it?

And... hmmm... maybe there's something else as well...

Nate batting

Fred Lynn batting

Nate fielding

Fred Lynn fielding

Full circle. BOOM.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Movie review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

I saw Harry Potter 7.2 back when it came out, and jotted down lots of notes. It's taken me a while to get this post together.

I saw the movie by myself, just as I did with Harry Potter 6. I did find myself in tears at times, which surprised me, because even though I love the Harry Potter series of books, I haven't felt sad about the series coming to an end. I'm not sure why I was moved to tears, but I will say that there are times when this film is truly masterful. The poignancy was inescapable, I guess!

The film is magnificent.
There were times when I was blown away by the gorgeous filmmaking:
  • The Battle for Hogwarts
  • Snape's memories
  • Harry's acceptance of his own death and conversation with his dead family members
  • The dream sequence with Dumbledore and Harry
Those last two are masterfully written, as well, and I recognized exact lines from the book. I just can't get over what Jo Rowling has created here. This is certainly hyperbole, but at one point I was thinking about what it must have been like to see Shakespeare's plays when they debuted. Did the people of his time really know how enduring those works would be?

It was interesting that they didn't even attempt to make the movie for non-fans... even I couldn't always remember what was going on and I just watched 7.1!

This film began right where 7.1 left off, with no 'beginning' of its own. As I said recently, I didn't care for the tone of 7.1 (too slow), so I was glad that the tone of 7.2 changed quickly - from the Gringotts bank scene, the pace quickened considerably, and the film remained quick and captivating to the end.

There were so many things I loved about this movie, but there were a few things that didn't work so well for me. My biggest complaint is about the scene after Harry killed Voldemort. He walked back into Hogwarts, where everyone was sitting around tending to the wounded and slain, but everyone just sort of glanced at Harry and had no reaction. That didn't make sense to me - they would have known that if Harry was walking through, something must be going on!

I also have never quite felt the Harry and Ginny relationship. I can't picture what their life together would be like, even after seeing them in the epilogue.

Speaking of the epilogue, I just felt that it needed a bit more. They were kind of just standing there - and there was not much dialogue. It made me wonder about their lives, their jobs, and their friendships. Do the two couples spend most of their time with each other?

As far as relationships go, the Harry/Hermione relationship seemed to trump all others. I could really feel the love of true friends. Perhaps it was that combination of (such fine) actors, although the written material was superb in this area as well. And as I said yesterday, relationships between characters are very important to me!

Ralph Fiennes was superb as Voldemort (although I'd like to see him in something where he looks like Quiz Show Ralph Fiennes once again).

I also loved Neville in this film. That character arc is a really interesting one in the books, and wasn't explored quite as fully in the films due to time constraints, but his growth was a bright spot in this one.

All in all, as I said, this was a masterful piece of moviemaking. Every time I think back on the acting, the cinematography, the production design, and of course the writing, I am in awe.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Movie review: The Adjustment Bureau

I just finished watching The Adjustment Bureau, a new release we rented.

It is a very complicated, convoluted story, but fascinating. The men in hats (no women in the Bureau, I noticed) -- who are they and who do they work for? The answers to those two questions are made clear during the first half of the story, although it is fun trying to figure it out first. Once we know that, the rest of the story centers around whether the hero (David) will choose to work with them or rebel against them. Working against them seems impossible - will he even try? And if he does, can he possibly succeed? How would he even begin?

I like seeing how talented writer/storytellers tackle the big questions, and this film, based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, definitely riffs on some big questions. Satisfyingly. How cool.

There are some big plot holes that must be overlooked. (Huge: If the men in hats can freeze people and change their minds for them, why don't they just do that to David and Elise?) Sometimes, one is willing to overlook the holes, as I was for this film. I asked myself why I was willing to do so? In other films, I can't forgive the holes and they pull me right out of the story.

Self, the answer is:

The acting.

Specifically, the acting by Matt Damon as well as Emily Blunt.

These two talented actors created characters we love from their first moments on screen. Not only that, they created a relationship we care about. In this movie, it is particularly important that the audience care about the relationship itself. Without that investment, the whole thing falls apart. Matt Damon and Emily Blunt did an amazing job of this. Now that I think about it, Matt Damon always has great chemistry with his female counterparts. What a great actor. (I may as well admit it: he is a favorite of mine, and has been for forever.)

It made me realize: relationships between characters are really important to me. That's why I can't forgive Mockingjay (The Hunger Games), and I see that in most of my other reviews, too (including some that are forthcoming).

So if that is the case, why do I love (500) Days of Summer so? Its depiction of a relationship is arresting, but (SPOILER) the relationship doesn't work out. Yet I love love love that movie. The key here is that we end up seeing that we were experiencing the relationship from the point of view of one member. Once we are given the outside perspective, we see that it was not what it appeared. It's a really unique, layered film.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Some thoughts about summer 2011

I may not be in a good frame of mind right now, and who knows, might respond differently in a week's time, but today I have been asking myself, "so how would you rate summer 2011?" and I might as well go ahead and come up with an answer.

Summer should be a balance of scheduled activities (with experiences that you don't get at school), unstructured time, visits with friends and family, travel, and special treats (staying up late watching a movie with the kids, walking down the street for frozen yogurt after dinner, etc.). And I have to say, I don't think I got the balance right this year.

I think we haven't had enough scheduled activities and have erred on the side of too much unstructured time. I would say that that is due to not enough pre-planning on my part. It's hard to go do some fun activity when you don't start trying to think of an idea until 10:30 am.

At the start of summer, I had some interesting ideas - plan theme days (such as "microscope day" or "Archimedes day") and invite friends to join in if they just bring the lunch; assign a week to each child and have them plan the adventures - but there wasn't time for that before Oregon. (As is our tradition, we headed up to Portland just after the fourth of July to spend a month with family.) However, there was time for that in Oregon, at least during the second half when the girls were done with acting camp. And then we came home from Oregon, such that there would be almost two weeks left of my summer. I thought it would be best not to put the kids in camps, so we could have a few outings and a lot of friends-over-to-swim days. This would have been a good time to do some pre-planning. Instead, what's been happening is a) the aforementioned trying-to-figure-out-each-day-after-it-has-already-started; and b) it turns out that all of our friends are out of town this week. Add to that the conundrum that I have some work I need to get done for the start of school and some house-organization projects that I'd like to do before the chaotic school schedule starts, yet want to spend my last week of summer actually celebrating summer, and I feel like I just can't win this week.

Maybe we should have divided up our summer differently. Maybe we should have shifted Oregon to later in the summer since all of our friends are away now that we are back. But it doesn't seem like coming back with no time before I have to be at work would be a good idea... although it's not going well as it is, so maybe...

I think I'm also feeling like we don't get to do enough travel. I'd love to give my kids a childhood in which they get to go see and experience lots of different places. Since we live far away from our family, we spend all of our vacation time with them, and it's definitely still not enough time. We never have the time, then, to go anywhere else (nor the funds - another issue entirely). This year, I'm starting to feel the "kids are getting older"/"running out of time"/"gotta start traveling" really start to set in. Maybe it's time to re-think the month-in-Oregon summer plan... but spending less time with their relatives would not be good for my kids either. Obviously, the old question of "should we move to Portland" is weighing heavily on my mind. It's not an easy question. We love our town, and our school, and neither my husband nor I should leave our jobs anytime soon.

It has been a nice summer, though. We started off with soccer camp for Middle Girl and The Boy, and followed that up with Girl Scout camp for both girls and basketball camp for The Boy. Then we had our big Fourth of July party, and my brother- and sister-in-law brought their three boys down from Oregon for a week to join in the fun. We went to Legoland with them and spent a few days swimming, going to the movies, etc. and then we all caravanned up to Portland.

In Portland, the girls went to acting camp for two weeks, and we also enjoyed cousin-time, had fun with Grandma and Granddad, welcomed my new niece to the world, and visited favorite local landmarks such as Multnomah Falls, Pioneer Square, Voodoo Doughnuts, Oaks Park, and OMSI (the science museum). We went to the Oregon History Museum and the Classical Chinese Garden for the first time. We visited old friends from college and high school, drove down to Eugene to see my Grandma, and spent two days in Seattle visiting friends and the music museum. Meanwhile, we fit in books, movies, crafts, baking, jazz concerts, baseball games, and learning how to wash a car.

Once again, I didn't make it to the mountain & alpine slide or to the beach & aquarium.

Since we got home, we have had some friends over and have met some other friends at the California Science Center. So we have done the kind of thing we were hoping to do, just not as much as we hoped. Also bumming me out: we are going to have to miss the big multi-family camping trip this year due to work-related scheduling yadda yadda.

I was trying to end this on a positive note, but since it got chronological and I'm feeling grumpy today, here we are. I'm ready to finish but it's kind of going (((THUNK))) which only makes me grumpier!

Tomorrow is another day. Perhaps I should go attempt some pre-planning...

Movie review: Buck

Earlier this summer, we saw the documentary film Buck.

It follows a horse training expert (Buck) as he travels the country giving three-day workshops. In his workshops, he teaches the horse owners just as much about themselves as he does about their horses.

It is a terrific film, because it is a portrait of a person: a person with a history, relationships, hopes, a future. It got me thinking - you could make a film about anyone. We all have our stories, past experiences, personality quirks, and choices we've made in life that have contributed to the living, breathing people we have become.

Buck spends the better part of each year traveling alone, although his teenage daughter has begun to accompany him during her summer break. (These scenes are a particularly lovely depiction of a parent-child relationship.) Very introverted in his younger days, he has been somewhat alone even when among other people. All of this time spent alone gives him insights into the inner monologues of horses as well as people. There is an interesting section of the film where he sees straight into one woman in particular, and delivers her the tough-love words she so desperately needs to hear. Buck is so gentle, though, because he practices empathy. Maybe that's the way in which this film is something of a gift: as an exploration of an empathy-driven life.

There certainly are reasons why Buck is the way he is. We learn of his childhood, so full of fear and sadness. He knows how a horse feels when it is trained by whips, chains, and deprivation, and he knows how such a horse learns to think. Those are not his methods. His methods meet each horse where it is in that moment and work with its natural instincts. He was the advisor for the film "The Horse Whisperer," and we get a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film, but this is not a film about a glamorous life. It's more of a peaceful, yet driven, life. A respect-filled life. Buck both gives and receives respect. Is this rare in movies? It shouldn't be, but I think it is. That, in and of itself, is interesting.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Non-fiction Book Review: Mindset

One of the books I read this summer for work-related reasons was Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D.

I had heard a great deal about this book, and had attended a talk by Dr. Dweck, but this was the first time I read the book in its entirety.

It is about two very different ways of thinking: the growth mindset, and the fixed mindset. People with the growth mindset think that intelligent people work hard to learn: the obstacles are fun challenges and the journey has made the brain smarter. People with the fixed mindset think about intelligence as something you either have or don't have, and the journey through school is a series of tests designed to figure out who the smart ones are.

Chapters are primarily divided by topic, one exploring how the two mindsets affect education, while another explores how they affect sports, another business, and another relationships. In each chapter, Dweck gives examples of people with the two mindsets (celebrities, descriptions of patients, etc), explores how they handle successes and setbacks, and gives tips for "growing your mindset."

For that's the overarching message of the book. The growth mindset is shown to be the "right" mindset. It allows people to try new things without fear of failure or the expectation that they have to get it right immediately, appreciate effort and growth in others, and enjoy a higher degree of success in their chosen pursuits as a by-product of doing it for the enjoyment of the learning process rather than as a need to prove themselves. People with the growth mindset are better able to handle bouts of depression and have more successful personal relationships.

A person can, of course, be a mixture of mindsets. Dweck tells us early in the book that she will only discuss the two extremes of the spectrum for purposes of clarity. A person can also be growth-mindset in some areas (for example, in athletics) and fixed-mindset in others (for example, in the arts). For this reason, Dweck discusses examples in all areas to show that effective people in every area have been growth-mindset. There are wonderful sections highlighting business leaders, basketball coaches, violin teachers, and of course, classroom teachers and parents.

For me, it has been truly inspirational. As a teacher, I am growth-mindset.* I view learning as a life-long pursuit, one with no "winners" and "losers," just fellow travelers on this journey. I see my role as a facilitator, teaching my students how to learn and using assessments as tools to figure out what they can work on next. What I didn't realize was how my fixed-mindset students were seeing my assignments and assessments: as judgements of themselves as people. If they do poorly on one test, they might use that to determine "I am not good at science" and keep that self-label with them always. Being aware of this makes it much easier for me to work against it - deliberately teaching them how to interpret the tasks and test scores they receive from me.

As you can imagine, it is vital that a parent uses only growth-mindset language with their children, and it is so easy to do otherwise. We can do a lot of damage with the well-meaning but wrong kind of praise ("You're so smart! You figured that out so fast!" "You are so good at baseball! You learned to catch the ball without even trying!"). We need to praise their efforts, not their innate abilities. The wrong kind of praise teaches them that we value things that come naturally, and if they have to work hard to master something, it means they are not smart, or not good at it. Dweck recommends "You finished that so fast; you must need something more challenging to grow your brain" and "I like how you have been working so hard at learning to catch; you have been getting better all the time!"

As a parent, even one with a growth mindset, I find it easy to fall into the "you're so _____" trap! Reading this book has been a great reminder. I find I'm seeing fixed- vs. growth- mindset everywhere - while reading other books and movies, I'm thinking to myself "he is really growth-mindset." We'll see how long this effect lasts!

Mindset is a quick and easy read, presenting the psychological research findings in a conversational way. I recommend it - and have recommended it - to everyone. It really does apply in every arena, not just teaching and parenting but the workplace, dieting, attacking your to-do list, marriages, friendships, etc.

*Strangely, I tend to be fixed-mindset about myself, but no one else. I expect that everything I try should come easily and tend to give up too quickly. I vow to speak to myself with the same growth-oriented language that I use with my students and my children!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Live concert review: Sara Bareilles. OR, I wish I had earplugs.

I went to hear Sara Bareilles in concert in Portland, Oregon. Lucky me!

When I bought the tickets, I decided to get four, because my daughters love to sing along to her CDs and the show said "All Ages" (they are 11 and 8), so that sounded like something they would love! We thought the fourth ticket could be for their Auntie Sarah (my sister-in-law), so we could make it a Girls' Night. We were all SO very excited!

What I didn't think through was the start time. 8 pm. With two opening acts.* That means that my 8-year-old daughter was having trouble keeping her eyes open before Sara even came out at 9:45 pm. That was my fault. I really should have thought that through. What wasn't my fault was the language. Apparently, Sara thinks it's titillating to use the F word. I myself don't think it's all that exciting. It's not rebellious, it's not edgy, it's cliche. I'm fine with hearing it, I'm just not impressed by it. Regardless, when the ticket clearly states "All Ages," there may be kids in the audience who don't enjoy hearing it. That's right, they don't think it's 'super cool' to hear it, it makes them uncomfortable. And that's all them, that's not my influence. So using it in every between-song-patter, and having the whole theater emphasize it while singing a song together, and talking about people having sex in the back row... these moments were not fun for the girls. They liked the music, but they had to try and wash those other moments from their minds. As a ticket buyer, I interpret "All Ages" to mean "All Ages."

* What is the deal with opening acts these days? The headliner seems to come on later these days than I remember. Two to three hours past the time on the ticket! That seems ludicrous to me! And I have seen some BORING opening acts lately. Can I start coming to the show two hours late? Does anybody do that, because I'd like to know if it's a viable option. As a musician myself, I don't want to show the opener such disrespect, but come on, waiting two hours through music I don't like is just too much. 45 minutes seems right to me.

My main reaction to the concert itself? Loud. PAINFULLY loud. Fingers-in-my-ears loud. I-can't-hear-any-actual-notes-I-can-only-hear-distortion-loud. Weird, because Sara is a musician. Not a 'rock star,' a beautiful musician. I'd like to be able to hear the music she is making, along with her talented band mates.

And now we're at the part where I gush.


She is so funny, and so beautiful, and WOW does she have an impressive vocal command, and HOO BOY the girls and I loved that she plays instruments (mainly a grand piano) as well. (We did already know that, but still it's such fun to watch live!)

I loved her audience rapport and stage presence. She had COMMAND of that big, historic concert hall! She played to every corner!

There were a few moments that were particularly memorable. I loved the different arrangements she did on some of the songs. I loved the creative uses of the band members (they are all so versatile!), for example, starting one song with all of them on various pianos/keyboards while she banged the bass drum and sang.

At one point, she and the band appeared in the first balcony (we were sitting near the front of the orchestra - Row M - so we could turn around and see them) and sang a capella with no microphones. The theater was so quiet, listening to their rendition of "Little Lion Man" by Mumford and Sons (I love that song) (also, though, this was one that has the prominent and repeated use of the F-word). Then we all started to sing along, although we could still hear Sara's killer voice through it all, and the sound was beautiful. (I also enjoyed the break from all the LOUD!)

There was the audience participation - teaching different parts of the audience how to sing the "ooo ooo" parts for "King of Anything" as well as provide the hand clap percussion section.

Not to mention the part when Sara commented that she loved it when the audience sang and then joked "you all can just sing and I'll just listen... actually you can play the piano for me too!" and a guy in the audience yelled, "I'll play the piano for you!" and then she invited him up to play. He was great. He played "Love Song" (even though she pointed out that song was coming later in the show; she said, "let's just do it twice!") and she sang. Then she pulled a few people up on stage to sing. When they all left, she said, "that was amazing. I've never done that before. That was something we'll all remember, so thank you."

I've since read that this has become extremely common - this letting someone from the audience come up and play/sing. I read a piece on NPR that said that celebrities basically can't say no, because they will incur the wrath of the internet if they do. I will point out that later in the show, someone else yelled out "can I come sing with you too?" and Sara said "I'm sorry, no, don't hate me" in her adorable way, and the person yelled, "that's okay, I love you!"

All in all, I'm very glad I went! I've now seen my two favorite female singer/songwriters this year (saw KT Tunstall in May - awesome)! The girls were so very tired, that we left when the encores began, but they were feeling happy. I hope that when they look back on this, the memories they have are of that young female musician, perfectly comfortable on that stage up in front of that crowd.