Thursday, December 25, 2008

Winter Wonderland

Grandma promised snow for Christmas, and Grandma delivered.

Snowball fights, snowman building, sledding and snow angels have filled our Vermont days.

Here are a few of the photos. Molly is also getting into the holiday spirit, enjoying the snow and her Christmas presents.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The First Family - "We are growing up"

As an English teacher, who adores Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou, I was thrilled when Angelou wrote "The Pulse of Morning," the Inaugural poem for Bill Clinton and saddened when Morrison endorsed Obama over Hillary Clinton earlier this year.

However, now as the historic election of Barack Obama begins to sink in, I went back to read Angelou's poem and Morrison's letter again. In today's blog entry, I wanted to highlight a few parts of Morrison's letter and give us all a chance to share Angelou's response to the election of Barack Obama, who truly is, with all due respect to Bill Clinton, America's first black President ...

Dear Senator Obama,

... of one thing I am certain: this opportunity for a national evolution (even revolution) will not come again soon, and I am convinced you are the person to capture it.
... Nor do I care very much for your race[s]. I would not support you if that was all you had to offer or because it might make me "proud."
In thinking carefully about the strengths of the candidates, I stunned myself when I came to the following conclusion: that in addition to keen intelligence, integrity and a rare authenticity, you exhibit something that has nothing to do with age, experience, race or gender and something I don't see in other candidates. That something is a creative imagination which coupled with brilliance equals wisdom. It is too bad if we associate it only with gray hair and old age. Or if we call searing vision naivete. Or if we believe cunning is insight. Or if we settle for finessing cures tailored for each ravaged tree in the forest while ignoring the poisonous landscape that feeds and surrounds it. Wisdom is a gift; you can't train for it, inherit it, learn it in a class, or earn it in the workplace--that access can foster the acquisition of knowledge, but not wisdom.
When, I wondered, was the last time this country was guided by such a leader? Someone whose moral center was un-embargoed? Someone with courage instead of mere ambition? Someone who truly thinks of his country's citizens as "we," not "they"? Someone who understands what it will take to help America realize the virtues it fancies about itself, what it desperately needs to become in the world?
Our future is ripe, outrageously rich in its possibilities. Yet unleashing the glory of that future will require a difficult labor, and some may be so frightened of its birth they will refuse to abandon their nostalgia for the womb.
There have been a few prescient leaders in our past, but you are the man for this time.
Good luck to you and to us.
Toni Morrison

It seems only fitting to bookend Toni Morrison's words at the start of Obama's historic campaign with Maya Angelou's words the day after his election. (The whole video is certainly worth watching, but Maya kicks in at 3:12 in case you're feeling impatient :-)

To echo my dear friend Mark's sentiments - I am more proud to be an American today than I have ever been. And that's saying something.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Modest Hope?

I felt the need to revisit my amberwaves blog this morning, to visit in my memory the many wonderful states where there are disappointed citizens awaking this morning. Maybe it was the fact that we took this amazing trip in the midst of the seemingly never-ending election season that enabled me to experience this election on a different level than those that have come before.
Or maybe it's the fact that, as I have gotten older and live in an increasingly complicated and complex world, I am not able to so easily separate those around me into red and blue, wrong and right. I have had more disagreement with people I love and with whom I hold the same political beliefs during this election than I ever have had before.
And, looking back, I realize this is because I have changed. Perhaps it was the trip through Wyoming, South Dakota, Utah - red states all - and the chance to interact with "those people" who are as skeptical of us as we are of them. Perhaps it is the fact that some of my dearest friends, great people of strong character, voted for McCain this year. Perhaps it is that my students fall evenly into two camps, each articulating its position with grace and clarity.
Regardless, I found myself arguing for Obama when I was among the die-hard McCain supporters, and defending McCain when I was among the die-hard Obama supporters. And I found myself more and more comfortable being able to take either position. Now clearly I have my opinion. I am a registered Democrat, contributed to both Clinton's and Obama's campaigns, wore the pins, donated my status, voted the ticket.
But I am proud today not that Obama won (which is wonderful) but that I talked to people during this election season. And I listened. I tried to be the change I wish to see in the world. It didn't always feel good, but it always felt right.
As I look at the photo above and reflect on all the Main Streets across this great nation, I have hope. I feel certain that Obama will reach out to every American. I just hope that every American is equally willing to reach out to one another.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Audacity of Hope

You can go to the 2:15 mark to hear the song, or you can listen to his intriguing and amusing intro. Despite the fact that there are well over a thousand YouTube videos made to this song, which was written by Randy Newman, this was the only one I could find actually performed by Randy Newman.

Those who know me well know the penchant I once had to play a favorite song over and over until anyone in earshot was ready to kill me. I haven't had that urge in years, but I've rediscovered it with this song. Something about Randy Newman's rendition of "Feels Like Home," a song I've loved for years, first when I heard it recorded by Bonnie Raitt and later by Chantal Kreviazuk, has utterly captivated me. I never felt this level of devotion for the song until Dana started playing Newman's new album and Randy's voice washed over me, making completely new the so familiar lyrics. Now I can't stop listening to it.

At various points during my obsessive multiple listens, I've decided I'm so entranced by it because it demonstrates what a near perfect songwriter Randy Newman is. How else could one song work so beautifully for so many different singers? My latest impression, however, is the one that has inspired this blog entry. I think in this season of bitter political debating, his interpretation of his own song is striking me as incredibly, achingly, simply hopeful. Each few minutes I listen to it offer a respite from all the white noise around me.

I'll likely have a new theory after a few dozen more listens, but I figured I'd share his rendition of the song with you now, as it is my very favorite thing of the moment. Enjoy.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Why, Yes, it is, in Part, about the Parts

Because this is not some black or white, left or right, right or wrong duality. It is about both policy and history. And anyone who can't see that, has either never been on the short end of the history stick, or simply doesn't want to open his white, christian eyes. I just turned 41, and the closest I have ever come to seeing a woman anywhere near the Oval Office was when Geraldine Ferraro was chosen as Walter Mondale's running mate. We all know how that went. We were thisclose to changing that this election year, but my party chose to go in a different direction. A direction I am certain that has Black Republicans wrestling with the decision they will make this November. Now McCain has brought gender back into this campaign, and by doing so, ensured that history will be made, regardless of which candidate wins, this election year. Is that a political move? Of course it is. But it is also a move that taps into the powerful yearning my generation has to see that glass ceiling shattered.

And the thing that will drive me to help my fellow Republicans shatter it is if one more male Democrat tells me I'm being played. Let's just add being condescending to the list of mistakes the democratic spin doctors are making since McCain's announcement. Unlike some of my fellow Democrats, I am able to consider the whole picture and make a decision that is informed by both my philosophical leanings on policy AND my respect for what it means to finally have a woman in the White House, in a role other than that of First Lady. If I believe that McCain/Palin will lead this country in a manner that will do damage to the institutions I hold dear, then, of course, I will not vote for that ticket. So stop insulting me by suggesting they're insulting me by choosing Palin as a running mate. HOWEVER, if I'm not convinced that McCain/Palin will undo the very fabric of democracy in America. If, instead, I am intrigued that the first veto Palin exercised as Governer was to insure that gay couples had same-sex benefits and if I believe that her pro-life position is a hell of a lot less political than that of the men in her party, and that McCain is fundamentally a good man and far from George Bush's twin, then you better believe I am going to be influenced by the fact that voting for McCain/Palin on November 4th will be making a long overdue entry into the history books. The fact that the 2012 election would likely be Palin vs. Clinton doesn't hurt this narrative a bit. Will I make that choice come election day? I honestly haven't yet decided. But the Democrats in my party (save Hillary Clinton, who made the one relatively intelligent comment I've yet to hear) are so far playing their part to push me in that direction.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

That's Right (You're Not from Texas)

We've been having a spirited conversation over at Meet me in Montauk's site about new music vs. old music, why we love the songs we love, CD vs. digital, and other such things. All of that "chatting," along with my increased opportunity to listen to MY music this week (driving back and forth to work sans kids -- which ends this coming Monday), has given birth to a new thought/theory: the musical litmus test.

If you could pick one album that would provide insight into your musical compatability (and probably your overall personality compatability, as well; who are we kidding?) with the various people in your life, what would it be? For me, hands down, it would be Lyle Lovett's Road to Ensenada. I've said many times that Lyle would be my desert island artist, for nobody else comes close to capturing all the moods I'd want to tap in my solitude. This album demonstrates his ability to effortlessly go from the most free-wheeling, funny songs (such as "That's Right") to the most enigmatic and haunting ones (such as the title track).

If a potential friend were to listen to this album and think "eh," I would know immediately the chance of our friendship deepening was slim. On the other hand, when somebody listens to a song such as "That's Right" and immediately "gets it," (as Maddie and Daniel did when I first played it for them, and they insisted that I play it again and again), then I know it's all going to work out just fine. I adore Lyle Lovett for his voice, his wry sense of humor, his full musical sound (horns and fiddles and pianos and guitars) and his compelling lyrics. For all these reasons and more, if we're going the musical monogamy route, he's my musical life partner. And this album is my musical litmus test.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Patterns Were Meant to Be Broken

So let's shatter this one! Yes, Jennifer won this season's Design Star contest, making Maddie happy but increasing the level of difficulty for Heather's successful march to the Design Star throne next season. So be it. This will just make Heather's ascent all the sweeter, her story all the more inspirational. Therefore, I congratulate Jennifer and wish her the best of luck. After all, we'll want her to be a welcoming presence to Heather in January 2010, when she has to move over to share some HGTV space with the newest girl on the very stylish block.
Heather's birthday is this Friday, so let's all give her the gift of our time and our brilliance (in the form of audition suggestions -- check out some sample audition tapes to see what works and what doesn't ... http://,,HGTV_22056_69252,00.html)
And with that we close the chapter on season 3 of Design Star and begin the countdown to season 4!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Just Once...

“A little movie called Once gave me enough inspiration to last the rest of the year,” said Steven Spielberg.

Perhaps if Steven Spielberg recognizes your film, mass audience acceptance becomes a bit less important. Clay and I have been debating this very issue over at Meet Me In Montauk (Miami Blues post). Regardless, I encourage anyone who hasn't yet seen Once to do so. And those of you who have seen it, go ahead and see it again :-) The moment captured below comes early in the film, so it won't serve as a spoiler if you haven't gotten around to renting this gem yet (really - what are you waiting for?) It more forcefully and eloquently expresses why I love this film than I ever could, so just go ahead and watch it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sophia Swims

After an evening of Enchanted, popcorn and stories, the cousins had a sleepover (or at least a share the bedroom over, as some slept more than others ;-) Today they hung out, ordered McDonalds for lunch (where Sophia requested, "Can you tell them I'm a boy?" as she correctly resents the superior toys the fast food empire provides boys in their Happy Meals. Happy if you're a boy maybe!)

When afternoon storms threatened, they opted to watch Monsters, Inc. instead of going to the theater to see Space Chimps or choosing Clay's beloved Ratatouille :-) Finally, the skies cleared, and the kids hit the pool. Sophia showed us how she can swim underwater like a pro. With some coaxing, she also worked on swimming above water, by assuming the role of Purdy, the dalmation, while Maddie opted to be a golden retriever and Daniel a bull dog. Lots of dog paddling ensued. Check out the video below and photos above for all the action.

Things are gonna get easier...

After reading Malagueta and Meet Me in Montauk's "song of the day" posts, I've been reflecting on why we gravitate toward the music we love. Yesterday I read a blog entry on the joys of watching films that was posted nearly two years ago ( that caused me to do some further reflecting. Finally, this morning I decided to poke around the web for some song lists and came across this one: , which I vaguely remember reading (or reading about) when it first came out several years ago but which is newly controversial any time you start judging the songs that appear against the ones that don't.

I tell you all of this to provide the genesis of this blog entry (whether you want it or not!) When I got to #392 on the Rolling Stone list, "O-o-h Child" by The Five Stairsteps, I started thinking about Meet Me in Montauk's definition of hip. How would children born in a later era know about many of these "greatest songs of all time"? Either their parents (or other older friends or family members) had introduced them to these gems or, as often has happened to me over the years, they "discovered" them through a film. The above video has already revealed to you where I first heard "O-o-o Child," though I don't know if I ever knew it was performed by a group called The Five Stairsteps before perusing the list this morning. I'll never forget sitting in the theater, hearing that song, and watching the images on the screen. I became an instant (and lifelong) fan of Laurence ("don't call me Larry") Fishburne, Cuba ("I'll never make another good movie") Gooding and John ("I'll never make as good a movie") Singleton. More than those impressions, however, was the impression the song made. I have never been able to hear a bar of it without thinking of Boyz N the Hood.

This is also true for Dusty Springield's "Son of a Preacher Man" (#240 and forever associated with Pulp Fiction and Uma Thurman), "You've Lost that Lovin Feelin" (#34 and forever associated with "Top Gun" Tom Cruise serenading Kelly McGillis), and "You Can't Always Get What You Want" (#100 and forever associated with the opening scene of The Big Chill). Now, I know some of you will be incredulous that I heard these songs for the first time in the context of the films I just mentioned. Sue me. I'm sure some of you were introduced to songs through films. And I'm not talking about songs that were written for films; that's another blog entry entirely (for instance, I didn't know until years later that "Moon River" was written for Breakfast at Tiffany's, though I'll always choose to picture Big and Carrie dancing to it in an empty NY apt.)

If you choose to watch the Sex and the City clip, you can consider it a preview to future postings I may do on "best male tv characters of all time," "best tv couples of all time," and "Funniest supporting characters [Samantha "Why would anyone leave NY" Jones and Miranda "No" Hobbes] of all time."

In the meantime, I'd love to learn about your strongest film/song associations. Please share. :-)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Grooming our own Design Star

Warming to the task at hand, Heather has reimagined the look of this post and sent me an updated photo of herself. What design sense :-) Get voting, folks. We have work to do.

Okay, I know I'm a sap. We all know I'm a sap. Still, Design Star's finale just about did me in. Matt and Jennifer, my two favorite contestants all season long, had to design and execute a kitchen/dining room/living room remodel for two families left in shambles after Hurricane Katrina. The father of the first family is a police officer; the father of the second family is a firefighter. Lots of good design, quick construction, and hugs of appreciation. It was all more than I could take.

Meanwhile, I want to encourage you to go over to hgtv and vote for one of these deserving contestants. As I said, I love them both, so I'm voting for Matt in the hopes that Heather will have a better shot of winning when she competes next year ;-) You know, the whole girl/boy/girl pattern that tends to be established in these kinds of reality shows. A woman won last year. My thinking: If Matt wins this year, voters will be more likely to think it's a "girl's turn" next year.

So here is our mission:
One - vote Matt the Design Star of 2008.

Two - convince Heather to apply to be the Design Star of 2009.

Three - once Heather is a contestant on next season's show, contact everyone you know to VOTE for her :-)

Easy as pie, right? Meanwhile, if you want to have a good cry, watch some of the HGTV highlights from this past season and especially last night's finale (which is the recap of episode 8. You can find it the box to the side of the voting area). It's more effective than Terms of Endearment.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

One of the Unexpected Joys of Teaching


is hearing from former students, even years later, with messages, good wishes, questions, and, sometimes, silly videos. The clip above is courtesy of David, the youngest of three siblings (the older two are Adam and Alyson) I had the pleasure to teach. As you can tell from his Dancing Queen rendition, he is a riot. Smart, talented, and fearless. I hope I am lucky enough to have another couple dozen like him in my career. He certainly made the school day fly and taught me as much as I taught him. He's also a huge fan of The Princess Bride, so what more could you want from a student? :-)

Friday, July 25, 2008

Blog Borrowing

If you spend any leisure time on the computer, eventually you will encounter a blog. What, I've come to wonder, is blog etiquette? If you "lurk" without commenting are you a trespasser? If you comment on a stranger's blog, are you a stalker? If you are inspired by a fellow blogger's idea and decide to incorporate it into your own, are you a thief? Or a plagiarizer?
Malagueta (whose icon is the Tab can above) has provided most of my test cases for these questions, as she commented on my original blog before I knew who she was and I have since come to admire much about her various blogsites (see my virtual library, as well as Clay's "song a day" experiment). In fact, I'm thinking of incorporating Shelfari (the website that hosts the bookshelf widgit) into my English class, so I can thank Malagueta for more than just a fun addition to my blog. It might provide a fun addition to my class. I'll let you know if I do it, and if I do, how it works.

As I don't want to borrow Meet Me in Montauk's platform of writing about movies, I would like to direct you to check out that blog. There you will find my comments on some of the latest films (Batman: The Dark Knight - yuck, Kung Fu Panda - pretty darn good), as well as some insightful, witty and sometimes correct commentary by the blogger himself.

So... I'm off to troll more blogs to see what else is worth borrowing (would George Carlin be incensed by that word?) for my own.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Joyeux Anniversaire

We've just returned from a delightful week in Vermont and Montreal, where we helped Dad and Mom celebrate their birthdays (7/14 and 7/18 respectively). Their Middlebury home is lovely; the flowers are blooming, the weather is cool, and the pool is warm (enough). What more could you ask for.

The first full day of our vacation, we headed to Fort Ticonderoga. We took the ferry (where we watched our children) from Vermont to New York, which amazed the kids (and impressed their Mom, too). The Fort itself was fun and interesting (despite the bees), as was the little town where we had lunch, bought Ticonderoga pencils and drove to the top of a mountain, from which we could ostensibly see seven states.

Unfortunately, there was no clear delineation as to where one state ended and the other began. Nevertheless, the view was beautiful.

On Friday, we headed to Montreal. Where I proceeded to annoy everyone with my tres mal French accent. Still, it was fun to attempt to order in French, and Maddie, who has a very successful first year of French under her belt, enjoyed hearing it all around her. We hit all of the Montreal highlights - Vieux Montreal (Old Town), the Port, the Biodome (which housed four distinct ecosystems), the Underground city.

Mom and Dad went to the Museum of Contemporary Art, but they should get to share that story themselves. Suffice it to say that they didn't pick up anything in the museum gift store for their Vermont home.

Monday was Dad's big day; we greeted him with a morning celebration of balloons, presents, and a hand painted banner (courtesy of Maddie), then we got an early start back home (which, we figured, was the perfect way to honor Dad).
We stopped at Shelburne Museum on the way back, where the kids got to ride an antique carousel, sit in the desks of a one-room schoolhouse, and run around the Ticonderoga ferry. It was a great way to reacquaint ourselves with American ways ;-)

Our final day was spent enjoying Middlebury - the town, the house, the pool. Maddie and Dad played a Backgammon tournament (Maddie took the series by a hair) and Daniel started to wield a cue stick without instilling quite so much fear in those around him. We had our final creamee (at least I think that's how those wacky Vermonters spell it) and relaxed.

Of course, Daniel didn't want to leave "for another seven weeks."
Can you blame him?

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Fun on the 4th

Fiona relaxes in the pool, Daniel and Sophia have water wars, and we attempt to get a record number of people into the hot tub. After tons of fun, we had an indoor picnic of burgers, hot dogs, watermelon and the like. The rain held off until the evening, but the kids still got to light up sparklers after the storm. All in all, a fine Fourth of July. Except for the fact that I left my camera outside during the storm, a fact I didn't realize until I went to find it this morning to take a photo of the four cousins sleeping peacefully together. The last photo, therefore, is a cautionary tale -- make sure your camera is the first item to be brought inside if you live in Florida in the summer.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Birthday, America

We were on a cruise in Canada on July 4, 2007. We went to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty this past May.

We just completed our America the Beautiful tour a couple of weeks before this year's Independence Day. And this is the last July 4th that George Bush will be President.

So... I'm feeling particularly patriotic.

Happy July 4th!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Another new Gallup smile :-)

Daniel lost his second upper tooth today. The last one came out about 8 days ago. Two visits from the tooth fairy within two weeks - not bad. He's eager to try squirting water through his newly created gap, so if you're lucky enough to be within his squirting radius in the near future, hit the decks.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Maddie Got Braces!!

And she was so brave. I, on the other hand, need to be removed from the corner where I have balled up in a fetal position. Her grace and good humor amaze me. As you may be able to tell from the photo, we went with the clear brackets (?) in the front, so her smile is as lovely as ever. Needless to say, she is getting Cold Stone Creamery for dinner :-)