Monday, February 29, 2016

Professional Art Critic

Today, I'll review our field trip to the Walker Art Center yesterday.  Let's start with the company.  Half of the company was pleasant and curious.  The other half was petulant and eye-rolly.  I'll let you guess which person fit each description.  You can use the photos above to help you.

In any case, I forced both companions to view two exhibitions.  First, we saw Ordinary Pictures, which considers the photograph via stock images, advertisements, and other photos for profit.  One piece is a large-scale photograph of a green screen.  I think it could actually function as a green screen - the artist (I didn't get her name) likes to make things that function as the things they depict.  "Why is this art?" asked my skeptical eye-roller.  Another striking installation in this collection is the same photograph - a widely circulated postcard, the placard told me - fancily framed maybe 16 times.  "They're all the same," the tween commented, gesturing unappreciatively at the wall where they hang.

Onto Hippie Modernism, which is what I really wanted to see.  Here, pieces from the mid-1960s are loosely categorized according to Timothy Leary's well-known directive: "Turn on, tune in, and drop out."  There are lots of "Whoa" moments in the exhibition.  Psychedelic films, event posters, funky furniture, large-format photographs, and remarkably, something called the "Knowledge Box," which you stand inside as iconic images from the 1950s and 60s via 20 or so old-school slide carousels flash all around you.  It's really something.

Overall, I'm very glad I forced the children to view this art.  I'm sure they both liked it, deep down inside. 

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Better Living Through Criticism Blog Challenge

Here's what's happening: During March, I'm going to write reviews.  I've been into this lately, as I am - it turns out - a professional film critic.  I'm expanding that capacity now. I'm going to be a professional critic of everything.

Here's my review of last evening:

The company and conversation over dinner at Crave was sublime.  Dan and I sipped our martinis.  I ordered mine "extra dirty," and savored the briny flavor, especially as I bit into the chilled olives, the taut exteriors giving way to tangy shots of blue cheese. Our usual sushi order satisfied immensely.  Chili sauce enlivened the shrimp tempura roll, although I have to say that the tempura flakes on the outside did obscure the flavor of the filling just a little bit.  The best bite was the seabass sashimi, sliced just thinly enough.

Next we walked down to the West End movie theater.  Turned out Dan accidentally bought tickets for a movie theater in Chicago, but the workers were forgiving and honored them.  We then upgraded our seats to VIP. "This is the only way I'm ever going to see a movie for the rest of my life," Dan proclaimed.  It's posh, what with the wide recliners and on-site bar.  I sipped prosecco as Deadpool, a superhero and X-man appeared on screen.  Earlier in the day, I'd listened on the Q & A with Jeff Goldsmith podcast to the screenwriters of Deadpool talk about the six-year process of bringing this irreverent, silly character to screen.  Yes, Deadpool has ridiculous, self-important, and often crass humor, but I didn't care.  I liked that guy and his Sinead O'Connor jokes.  I'm going to go ahead and give Deadpool my stamp of approval.  It's violent and stupid, but it means to be that way.  3.5 stars.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Half-Time Report

Conferences: I've got five more in a row this morning on the half-hour.  Celebrating the awesomeness and looking toward a brighter future.  I've got this!

Exhaustion: It's setting in. I feel it on the edges of my eyeballs.  I'm hoping I remember how to speak coherently until the conclusion of the final meeting.  At these moments, I flash back to my very first set on conferences in 1999.  I had 150 students and we did them "arena style," where families would line up to speak to you for five minutes each. We did it for 8 hours straight. One set of parents kept asking me if their daughter's writing was too verbose.  At 9pm after doing a hundred conferences (literally), I couldn't remember what verbose meant.  It was hideous.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Hustle for My Muscle

It's time for spring conferences, and I'm gearing up for a full day of thinking about my advisees and how to maximize their spectacularness.  This won't be hard because I have the most quirky, kinetic advisory of them all.

Despite the delight, it's going to be a long day, and I have to pace myself.  I'm starting in jeans, and I've got my dress and blazer on a hanger ready for a late afternoon change.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016


It's a colorful liquid and a domino!  Lee's got the twin.

Here's today's news: Mac has strep throat, so I'm staying home with him.  While I'm here, I'm catching up on all of my committee and team teaching duties.  So, the day will not be wasted.  I'm also dying Mac's hair purple because why not?  It's a time consuming job, and today we've got time!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Out of the Sky

I'm not a film reviewer; however I'm feeling emboldened by an interview I heard with Tony Scott on the Book Review podcast.  Turns out that guy's first gig as a film critic was at the New York Times. So, I'm feeling okay about becoming a reviewer of films right here on my niché, self-published, unsponsored website.

Kevin and Mac and I watched 4 of the 5 nominated pieces for Best Short Film - Animation.  We didn't watch the fifth film because there was a big warning on the screen about it not being suitable for children.  Turns out it's about a brutal battle in the ancient world.  I'm sure it was great. I felt like staying, but in the end, we went.

Sanjay's Super Team by Sanjay Patel and Nicole Grindle: This is a Pixar film in which a kid has a cultural conflict with his dad.  Each feels pulled to his own box - Sanjay to the television where he watches a superhero cartoon; Dad to a prayer shrine that he desperately wants to share with Sanjay.  In the end, Sanjay finds a way to bridge the gap.  The story is sweet and optimistic. Millions of people would enjoy this film as a prologue to the latest Pixar megahit.  Maybe they already have, and I just don't know it.

World of Tomorrow by Don Hertzfeldt: This is a weird, existential trip hundreds of years into the future.  It starts with a little girl answering the phone and it takes you through the galaxy and into the consciousness. The three of us were captivated by the stick figures and the fantastical and funny script.  This is Mac's winner.  I also loved it, but in my professional opinion as a film critic, I don't think it's going to win.

A Bear Story by Gabriel Osorio and Pato Escala: This is a heartbreaking story of a family torn apart.  The main character is a lumbering brown bear who is stolen into the circus.  When he escapes, nothing is as it was before.  He builds the animatronic story of his life and shows it to citizens on the street.  It's sad and lovely, and both Kevin and I think it's going to win.  It's got everything - story, atmosphere, emotion, beauty.

We Can't Live without Cosmos by Konstantin Broznit: A sweet, wordless story of the friendship between two astronauts.  These guys have risen to the top of their aspiring astronaut class while maintaining their friendship and senses of adventure.  One is chosen for a mission; the other is the reserve.  Their relationship spans the cosmos.  Quirky, heartfelt, and also sad.

There you have it!  4 of the 5 Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts reviewed by yours truly, a self-published film critic.  I can't say much about the quality of the animation because I don't know anything about animation. Happy Monday!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

See You on the Street

Everyone knows I'm an extrovert.  I recently took a quiz to verify this truth of my personality, and sure enough, the results once again confirmed that I "relish social life" and am "energized by interacting by with friends and strangers alike."

Okay, but I still couldn't handle the social obligations of Friday evening.  Here's what I was supposed to do: watch Shef's star turn as Immigration Inspector Washington from 7:30 to 9:30, supervise him while he helped to strike the set from 9:30 to 10:15, drive him to the cast party where I could chat with other thespian parents and drink a civilized glass of chardonnay from 10:30 until 11:45, at which time I would be allowed to return home and collapse into my bed.

I did all of things, except that I couldn't go into the cast party with the parents.  After socializing with their children all day in the classroom and chatting with them as I waited to reserve seats in the auditorium and smiling and complimenting at intermission and again at conclusion and having conversations while the set was struck... I had to stay in my car for the party.

So, I drove to a parking lot to listen to my audiobook - Outline by Rachel Cusk, which I might not be smart enough for.  I got too tired to concentrate and I had to pee, so I went to the Super America.  I looked for a snack that I might want, but nothing seemed as good as a caramel sundae from McDonald's.  As luck would have it, I saw a McDonald's shining like a beacon down the street.

But, by the time I had gotten back into the car and arrived at the menu, it was 11:03 and the drive through was dark.  The workers waved to me unhelpfully from the window as I exited, defeated.  I sat again in my first parking lot until 11:30.  Then, I couldn't stand it anymore. I drove to party and texted Shef from the driveway.

"Come out," I said.  Thank god he did.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Media Report

In theater... It's the middle school play today.  Shef takes the stage as Inspector Washington at Ellis Island in 1907.  I've seen some of the dance moves here at home, and it appears the kid is a natural.  I'll watch it twice - once with the middle schoolers and once in the evening - and then I have to take my star to the cast party at 10:30. PM. And wait for him there until 11:45. PM!  Will it be rude to retire to my car and listen to an audio book rather than socialize with the other play parents? I mean, probably.

In books... one of my advisees told me she'd spent weekend reading a book that is "a cross between The Hunger Games and The Bachelor."  I stared at her.  "Bring that book to me," I commanded.  She did. It's exactly what she says, and it's called The Selection by Kiera Cass.  I'm also reading Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend, which I'm sure I'm going to fall in love with, and The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney.  I've never read a book about Darfur. This one has me attached to the characters from the first moments.  The line drawings are by Shane W. Evans, and I love them.

In movies...  I found a new podcast to listen to for treadmill use last night.  It's called Q & A with Jeff Goldsmith.  In the episode I listened to, Drew Goddard talked about writing the screenplay for The Martian by Andy Weir.  Super interesting, plus I loved The Martian and continue to love Matt Damon, who stars in the movie and is discussed in the podcast.  Finally, my brother Kevin stopped by, and I convinced him to see to the Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts with me this weekend.  #winning.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Double Dip

Mac lost his second tooth yesterday.  His teeth are really slow to fall out. The kid is seven and a half, and only two have come unmoored.  When these two have come loose, he's resisted any pulling or wiggling.  Instead, he let them dangle by disgusting little gum threads.

Anyway, finally, he let me get in there and lightly tug this beauty out.

He stuck it under his pillow and the tooth fairy promptly arrived, leaving a couple of bucks and a congratulatory note.  She also left the tooth because sometimes people want to keep the teeth.

"She left the tooth!" Mac said, confused.

"Yeah," I said. "Maybe she thought you would want it."

Mac shrugged and smiled.  "I'm putting it back under my pillow tonight."

Not a bad idea.  The fairy responded - left a quarter and a note that said "A for Effort."  She also took the tooth.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Fitness Report

It's that time again where I pledge to get back into shape.  Let's start with the good news: I never became horribly out of shape.  I maintained a reasonable, although low level of fitness throughout the winter.  I did this by walking Teddy and doing some (not a lot) of online workouts at

That's all well and good, but I went to real barre class on Monday at a studio and had to modify nearly every move. I watched the other long and lean participants, and they did not have to do this. "I'm really out of shape," I whispered conspiratorily to the instructor, who has seen me on better days.

"It's really good to see you," she said at the end of the class.  I bet it is, Heather!  I saw you laughing at me as I rolled my eyes at myself and rested in child's pose.

Then yesterday, I forced myself onto the treadmill with low expectations.  2 and half miles, I pledged.  That's it.  I kept busy with a Modern Love podcast and broke the 10 min per mile barrier.  It's a start.

After the workout, I realized enough is enough.  I marched upstairs and registered for a 10 mile trail race to take place on May 22nd.  I'll have to be in much better shape to get to the finish line on my feet.  Because (as I mentioned yesterday) I'm a real runner, I know I can get this done.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


It's Twin Tuesday, and we have a decorative dish and a lime.  Check out the twin on Lee's blog, as usual.  It's a Tuesday ritual.

My twinned objects are resting atop two books on my reading list.  As you might know, I'm seeking legitimacy as a reader. I learn about a lot of books, and I choose 50 or 60 to read each year.  I feel like I'm definitely a reader, if you look at the data.

I'm also seeking legitimacy as a writer.  I learn about writing and practice it.  I've got a couple of fiction projects on the go, and I started an essay.  Writers write, I tell myself.  Being a "real writer" isn't really a thing.  I know this rationally, but I still feel like a fake writer.  Will I be a real writer if I publish an essay in an obscure online literary magazine?  I might.

I seem to be the kind of person who needs a concrete landmark or accomplishment to feel "real" about something.  I haven't felt the need to defend my legitimacy as a runner, for example, ever since I ran the Boston Marathon.  The Boston Marathon is for "real runners."  But would I ever tell someone who hadn't run Boston or a marathon or a 10k that they aren't a real runner?  I would never say that or even think that about someone else.

I was talking with a pal about our reading goals.  He wants to read 24 books this year.  I'd say he's a real reader with that kind of goal.  It's not enough for me, of course.  I've got to read 52BooksPlus, but I celebrate his 24.  My boss happened upon us and listened a little. Then she said,  "You two are so funny. Why can't you just say, 'I'm going to read more,'?"

"I can't," I say.  "It's got to be quantifiable.  It's got to be 52 books."

She shook her head.  I'm shaking my head.  I'd like to abandon the quest for arbitrary legitimacy, but I don't think it's in my nature.  I think I need to accept it instead.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Bonus

This is one of those magical Mondays off.  There's no school. I'm planning to spend the morning reading and writing and maybe visiting the photo booth for my hideous skin condition.  I'll work out, clean a little bit, take the kids to some hockey lessons, and watch the Bachelor.

Could things get any better?  Probably not today.

The weekend proper was pretty good, too.  For instance, Mac has noticed that he's getting taller.

"Let's measure," he said, standing in front of me with his little chin pointed slightly up.

I gave a rough estimate, holding my hand at chest-level as he stepped back to check out his progress.

"I'm up to your breasts!" he announced.

He is, in fact, up to my breasts.  Good work, kid.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Status Report

Left Nostril: It keeps bleeding at inopportune times.  I'm blaming the arctic tundra in which I live.  First, it started bleeding while I was walking the dog, and I had to staunch the drip with my white, cable-knit mittens.  Then, as I was listening to an update on the Capital Campaign at my school in the middle of a row, I felt a metallic flow in the back of my throat. I had to tilt my head back and race out of the auditorium.  Before you even ask, NO, I haven't even been picking it.  I just can't wait for spring.

Meetings: Let's be honest, I generally despise meetings. But yesterday, I was in the most creative, collaborative, energizing meeting I've had in years.  It was teachers of social studies in grades six through nine.  Generally, I'm assigned to be with English teachers because of my extensive training and experience in that discipline.  But, I do actually teach social studies to sixth graders now, as I have for the last two and half years. I've been mentored by the best, so I was invited.  The people were brilliant and the vibe was electric.  Probably the kids will benefit.

Valentine's: Is this a real thing?  It's not that I don't love my hilarious and fabulous husband, but we can't get it together to go out.  Instead, we're accommodating other people's going-out plans.  That's love, too.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

New Voices

Guess what?  I successfully suggested that my sister Rachel start writing a blog.  She had the pressure coming from two sources, as her mom keeps telling her to write stuff down, as well.  In any case, we're all winners now because 30inPA exists. Woot!

Because we have a media sharing partnership, Rachel influenced me to start listening to the Modern Love podcast.  It's like a best-of the Modern Love column from the New York Times, read by famous actors and followed by a conversation between the authors of the pieces, the editor of the column, and the podcast host.

I mean, really.

There's one episode in particular in which a birth mother talks about the relationship she has with family she chose to raise her child.  This writer, Amy Seek, really makes you feel the balance of adoption.  On the one hand it's joy, and on the other hand it's grief.  I think that's often true for people on all sides of the adoptive triad.  Probably, you should listen to the podcast if you're curious about it.  Here's the LINK.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Grog

I've been sleepy all day. Just a little foggy.  If it weren't frowned upon at my place of employment, I might just put my head down and close my eyes right now.  Instead I'm practicing my craft.  Right here.  This is my craft.

Later, I'm pretty sure I'm going to be invigorated because my friend Paula's going to make me run outside with her in the 12-degree weather.  Although I've tried to become enamored with winter running, I just am not.  It's unpleasant, frankly; and when you're done, you're cold for a long time until you shower.  What if you don't want to shower right away?  If that's the case, or if you aren't near a shower, you're going to just have to live with the cold.

I'm only going running because I want to chat with Paula.  And because I remembered a face coverer.  I hate it when my face is over cold.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


Gold coins?!  Who would have thought Lee and I would have these?  To be fair, Mac's the one that had them.

"Hey," I asked him when he woke up this morning, "is there any Chuck E Cheese money in your room?"

"No," he said scornfully, like why would there ever be Chuck E Cheese money in his room.

"Oh," I said.

"It's in the basement," he continued.  "On top of that TV table."

Of course.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Cartoon Graveyard

Last month, I was a participant in a meeting about how to bring more cultural and racial diversity into my life.  By the end, I knew how to do it: "It comes down to spending less time in my sweatpants," I said.  

Sure, you want to go home at the end of the day or in the middle of the day, put on your sweatpants, drink a glass of wine and close your eyes. If instead, you go places and do things,  you see things and think ideas that you wouldn't have before.

So anyway, this is exactly what happened today.  Dana and Angela and I had planned to go see the Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts.  When the time came to go, I felt like texting them and saying, Nevermind. I'm staying in my sweatpants.

If I had done that, I wouldn't have learned about women on Body Teams fighting Ebola, women who survive honor killing-attempts in Pakistan, the tragic life of a mentally ill war vet whose brother had to turn him in for murdering someone, or kids who've been exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam.  Before we watched the films, we had a motivating conversation about getting out there and trying stuff.  We're going to accept invitations, and we're going to hashtag the events #yearofyes.  

That's the story for today.  A+.

Friday, February 5, 2016

A Few Mistakes Ago

This is Rachel and me on the Gitche Gumee trail at Gooseberry Falls State Park.  Believe it or not, this is a full circle moment because the first photo I ever saw of this particular sister was taken at Gooseberry Falls State Park when she was 11 years old.  Now she's #30, so that was 19 years ago.

It's a lot to think about.

In any case, we've had an epic Duluth day that included a tour of the famed Glensheen mansion.  At this particular mansion, the adopted daughter of one of the residents smothered her in her sleep.  It's always the adopted kids who turn out to be murderous, it seems like.  Rachel and I laughed our heads off when the ticket seller explained that the murderess was, in fact, adopted.  "I'm the adopted daughter in our family," I explained. 

"Oh," said the ticket seller.  I thought about explaining that I'm not actually murderous, but the whole thing was getting too weird.  

In any case, we saw the room where the sociopathic adoptee struck.  And later we're having a cheese plate and some prosecco.  This is the best trip ever.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Ticket for the Long Way 'Round

It's been an intense week of writer's workshop.  We're in there pounding out literary essays.  These are complex little pieces, especially for the sixth graders.  In fact, I've never attempted teaching literary analysis essay to sixth graders before. We're using a new curriculum by one of the stars of the literacy world (Yes, there is a literacy world, and yes, there are stars), and it's scaffolded in a really cool and accessible way.  I think the kids are feeling accomplished, which is a sensation we all enjoy.  I told the Sixers yesterday that I used to teach the same concepts to tenth graders in my previous post, which is true. They were heartened, and their little fingers depressed the keys at a slight uptick.

I'm also feeling accomplished in that this is my Friday, and after school, I'm lighting out for Duluth.  I'm feeling slightly bad that I'm leaving Dan alone for the Hockey Tournament Extravaganza, but he's highly capable.  I know he can handle it. Go get it, Dan and Hockey Team!  You've got this!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016


This is a Buddha-esque statue.  Okay, it's not a Buddha.  It's a warrior.  Maybe that's like an anti-Buddha.  In any case, it's a statue and it's a gift box, in that I got the contents of the box as a gift.  It's harried and rushed, but it's done.  Check out the lucky twin. It's the lucky twin in that it's the superior twin.  But, anyway.

We're deep in a writer's workshop, and I'm cruising along here in 6th grade.  Writing sentences, embedding evidence, cheerfully guiding the students toward success.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Sankalpa Finale

I'm moving forward into 2016 as a creative risk-taker.  At some points during the sankalpa, I felt disappointed that I wasn't taking creative risks in January. But now that I'm reflecting on the experience, I think I was missing the larger point of the exercise. The point is not to be a creative risk-taker from January 1st to 31st - it's to wash your consciousness in the identity, so that it'll stay with you all year and beyond.

Tangential but essential to creative risks, it's my sister Rachel's birthday today.  She's thirty.  I can't even believe this, but she wants to celebrate thirty with me. She's flying in later this week, and we're going to Duluth to do a sister thing for the weekend.  Sometimes what happens is you don't have a certain sister in your life for many years, and then you do.  It's risky, but it's wonderful and so worth it.