Category Archives: TV

Travel Thursday: Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh castle.jpgAlthough I think London is the foreign city that has my heart, Edinburgh is a close second. I don’t know if it is the stunning architecture, the incredible history, the friendliness of the people or the fact that it is just big enough to feel like it would take months to really see it all, but still small enough to feel homey, but I adore it. In fact, despite my sheer adoration for everything London has to offer, if I was really going to pack my family up and move them to a city in the UK, I’d probably pick Edinburgh. London would be the place for me if I was single, but Edinburgh definitely seems more like my speed with a husband and two kids.

Not that I’m moving over seas any time soon (or ever).

I’ve only been to Edinburgh twice, but both time I’ve visited Edinburgh Castle. I guess that’s not really a surprise since both times I was leading a student trip and if there’s a castle or cathedral in the area, it seems student trips will stop there. We actually visited three castles/palaces and three cathedrals during our nine day trip (and one of those days was spent entirely in flight).

Edinburgh viewEven by castle standards, Edinburgh is pretty spectacular, if for no other reason than it has the best view of any castle in the UK that I’ve visited. I love the fact that it is set up on top of the hill. The view is breathtaking. Since I’d already visited the castle three years ago, I didn’t do nearly as many touristy things on this visit. I’d already seen the crown jewels and watched the one o’clock gun fired. So this time I spent a lot more time just walking around and taking everything in. I got to casually stroll through the castle, which was lovely. I spent time looking out over the entire beautiful city. It was such a nice break from neurotically counting my students to make sure they were all accounted for.

It was also nice to have just a bit of time to myself. On these trips, I rarely let students out of my sight, however, since there is only one way in or out of the castle and I knew my students would have no way to get into any trouble or get lost inside the castle, I was able to give them all an hour to just explore and enjoy. Sure, I made them promise to stay in pairs (and most stayed in groups of 4 or 5), but I let them feel a bit more grown up and explore without one of the adults looking over their shoulders. This also meant I got some quiet time to myself. Sure, I could have hung out with the other chaperones, but we’d also been together pretty much nonstop and it was nice to just walk around and take it all in.

The history at this castle is pretty amazing. Even by the old standards of the UK, this castle is old. St. Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest building within the castle walls dates back between 1130-1140. It is so amazing to not only see this building still standing, but to be able to step inside and touch this piece of history. I also have to admit to being more than a little obsessed with the TV show Reign for awhile, and even though I know that about 90% of the “historical” element to the show is bunk, I still loved following the story of Mary Queen of Scots. To me it is so cool to visit the castle where she actually gave birth to her son, James VI.

Although I’m not big on military history, one of my chaperones is a former Marine and he thought it was pretty cool that the Scottish National War Museum and memorial are located inside the castle. He did have a slightly funny moment when he saw what was labelled as a soldier’s privy and thought it might a bathroom set up for military members (as part of a thank you for their service). Since he had to go to the bathroom, he was disappointed to find out it was just a exhibit of what bathrooms were like at the time prisoners of war were kept in the castle.

castle far offSpeaking of bathrooms, the only downside to visiting the castle this time was that I really had to go to the bathroom! I got a little turned around and could only find the bathroom in the cafe. Unfortunately there were only two stalls and the line actually extended out the door, around the corner, up the first set of stairs, onto the first landing and partially up the second set of stairs. I think I spent 20 minutes of my free time in the queue waiting for relief. I was really glad I had not followed the lead of my students and gotten coffees to help warm up on the slightly blustery day.

Long wait for the bathroom aside, it was a great day.

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Wild card Wednesday: Wicked

WickedFor as long as I can remember, I have been a Broadway baby. Musicals are, without a doubt, one of my favorite forms of entertainment. I think it started with the Muppet Movie, which came out when I was an itty bitty child and it has grown from there. I don’t care if it started on the stage or as a movie, if it’s a musical, there is a good chance I love it.

My true love of musicals really hit when I was getting ready to enter 2nd grade and the movie Annie came out. I was enthralled. I had everything Annie–the soundtrack, the sticker books, the dolls…I even had an Annie outfit (which we scrapped together at Goodwill) because when I was in second grade, I was in an elementary musical pageant where we mostly did group numbers, but I was chosen as one of four girls to play orphans in a bit which consisted of four songs from Annie. We all sang and did a choreographed number to “It’s the Hard Knock Life.” One of the Tiffany’s (yes, there were two chosen) sang “Tomorrow,” Melissa got to sing “Maybe” and I got to sing “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile.” The fourth girl (and second Tiffany) did not get a solo. It was during this moment that my true passion for musicals was developed and I’ve never looked back.

I’d read the book Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire in early 2000. I actually read Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister first. My best friend had gotten a copy from the Half Price Books where she worked and I’d liked it, so I checked out Wicked shortly after. While I wouldn’t call it great literature by any stretch, I thought the retelling to make with witch a sympathetic character was quite entertaining.

When Wicked premiered on Broadway, I heard about it, but the closest the first national tour got to me was Chicago and at that point I’d just moved back to Indiana and didn’t have the time or money to go. I did, however, get a copy of the original Broadway recording and by the time I actually saw my first production of the show in 2009, I knew every song by heart.

Wicked 2I saw the second national tour of the show in Indianapolis at the Murat. Although I’d purchased tickets up in the nose bleed section with two of my co-workers, my best friend heard about the Wicked Lottery and  we’d figure we’d give it a try. At worst, it meant we’d get to hang out downtown for a few hours and have a fun lunch together. At best, not only would we get to hang out and have lunch, but we’d have really close seats for only $25 each. It must have been my lucky day, because mine was the second name drawn and within the hour my best friend and I were sitting in the second row, so close we could actually see the actors spitting as they sang. I’ll admit this was a bit gross, but it also gave me a rather spectacular view of Fiyero, who was played by Colin Donnell. I had no idea who he was at that point, but I knew he was super handsome.

When my co-workers and I saw the play the next week from the far balcony, at first I couldn’t convince them just how cute Donnell was. However, on our way back to our car after getting a late lunch/early dinner after the show, we ran into Donnell and Tom McGowan (of Frasier fame) who played the Wizard enjoying some food at an outdoor table at a local pizza joint. I had a total fan girl moment, but luckily one of my friends kept her cool and asked if she could get a picture with us. They kindly obliged (and signed my program). It was awesome!

Imagine my surprise when a few years later I saw Donnell turn up not only on the briefly lived Pan Am but also as Tommy Merlin on Arrow. Interestingly enough, I met John Barrowman at Comic Con one year and so I have pictures of myself with both Tommy and Malcolm Merlin…but that’s another story.

I went to see Wicked a few years later when it returned to Indy. This time I saw it with a former student who was also obsessed with the show. My son, who was 5 at the time really wanted to go see it with us. Due to my obsession with the soundtrack, when he was three, he too fell in love with it. It was so adorable to sing a duet of “Defying Gravity” with my young son. At one point, he said to me, “Momma, this song is about gravity.” When I confirmed it was, he replied, “I like gravity songs!” I chuckled and asked him if he knew what gravity was. “It’s what holds us on the earth.” I was amazed at my brilliant boy and we sang even louder. Even though my son wanted to see the show, I thought he was a bit young, so I told him I’d take him when he was 8.

Unfortunately, it was not until this year that the show made another stop in Indianapolis. But, it meant that since both my kids were a bit older, I got to take them both. We actually got to see the very last show of the run, on Mother’s Day. It was absolutely glorious. Not only were my kids very well-behaved despite the late hour (they are usually in bed by 8:30 and we didn’t get home until an hour later), they both loved it. My son actually said it was better than two full weeks at Disney World (not that he’d know). They both loved seeing all the bits of plot that connect the songs. They knew all the words by heart, but they hadn’t understood why those songs existed and how the characters were really connected.

They left the theater with a renewed love for the show and for about three weeks, all we listened to in the car was the Wicked soundtrack. Each time my kids would recount details from the show to me, which I loved. I love seeing them as excited about live theater as I am. I’d taken them to a few of the shows my high school put on (Beauty and the Beast, Seussical the Musical and Cinderella), but this was their first real exposure to Broadway theater and they were enthralled.

When I asked my daughter, who is already adores Annie after only seeing the movie if she wanted to see the stage show at a local dinner theater, I got a very enthusiastic (and loud) YES! Even my son, who I was worried might be too old for it, also nodded his head frantically.

I love that I have a set of Broadway babies!

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Free Reading Friday: Hell’s Angel: The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club

Hell's AngelsHell’s Angel is yet another book I grabbed in the discount section of Half Price Books while looking for nonfiction books my AP Lang students might enjoy. Aside from the famous stabbing at Atlamont and the fact that I was pretty sure the MC Sons of Anarchy were modeled after were the Hell’s Angels, I knew next to nothing about the club before reading this book. Growing up in California, I’d heard of the Hell’s Angels. I’d even seen some riding in the highways from time to time. But since I was born almost 40 years after Sonny Barger, I’d never even heard his name until I saw it on the cover.

What I found inside the book was a rather interesting account of the most notorious motorcycle gang, er, I mean club, in American history. The book is a sort of modern outlaw story, no doubt comparable to anything the Wild West had to offer. Barger is quite candid about a host of illegal activities both he and members of the MC were involved in.

This book chronicles Barger’s early life, make no it very clear that he was a man searching for a second family after his mom abandoned him and his dad took up heavy drinking. From the earliest moments in his life he had issues with authority and living life on anyone’s terms but his own. He recalls pre-club encounters with the law, the hardships of his childhood and his military service, which is really what lead him to start the Oakland chapter of the Hell’s Angels. Like many vets, he came back from war a little lost, a little lonely and a little damaged. So he took to the open road almost as quickly as he did to bucking the rules.

The book examines the founding of the MC itself, gives brief biographical information on many founding members of the club and lays out a lot of their criminal activities. Barger spends quite a bit of time talking about the love/hate relationships the Hell’s Angels has with other clubs, cops, the press and the public. He details the events that lead to the infamous stabbing at Altamont. He lays out various charges and arrests he faced. He goes into lots of detail about the RICO case against the Hell’s Angels in the 80’s.

He also has chapters dedicated to “old ladies”-wives and girlfriends, rats-police informants, and lots of talk about the best motorcycles. There is also a chapter on his fight with cancer.

I started reading this book not long after I decided to watch Sons of Anarchy again. I was amazed by how many things Barger wrote about in the book which coincided with events on the show. Heck, the actor who plays Happy is actually a Hell’s Angel and Barger even appears in a couple of episodes as Lenny the Pimp, something I did not realize until I read about his cancer battle and saw a picture of him from the very late 90’s. As soon as I saw that picture, I jumped on IMDB to double check.

Overall, this was a really interesting read. There is a lot of talk of drug use/sales, violence and quite a bit of cursing, so it’s not a book for the faint of heart. Then again, how could any book about the Hell’s Angels not have these?

So far one of my students, who is also obsessed with Sons of Anarchy has read it and really enjoyed it as well.

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Throwback Thursday: Firefly and Serenity

I have loved Joss Whedon for about two decades now. Ever since I saw my first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer twenty years ago, I was hooked. Now, I’ll admit it, I didn’t see the first episode on it’s premiere night. I actually saw it when the WB reran it over the weekend. The show caught me a bit off guard as I’d seen the movie at the theater during its original run. This was due in large part to the fact that I actually worked at a movie theater at the time. If I hadn’t, I might not have seen it. The TV show was nothing like the campy, but fun, movie I remembered from high school. I was a bit confused about the different school and characters, but when her new principal mentioned the burning down of the gym at her old school, I realized it was still some version of the movie I knew.

I faithfully watched (and rewatched and rerewatched) every episode of Buffy. When Angel split off with his own series, I watched that too. I was especially enthralled when Spike managed to survive the seventh season of Buffy and moved on over to Angel.

Somehow I managed to miss news about Whedon’s show Firefly, at least until right after it was cancelled. Not that it was hard to miss considering how little publicity Fox gave it. Or the fact they aired the episodes out of order which confused people. Or that they only had it on the air for 12 of the 13 episodes. It was almost like Fox did everything in its power to tank the show.

Thankfully a friend of mine told me about it and lent me his DVD’s. From the moment I watched the first episode, I was hooked. And then I was devastated that I only got 13 near perfect episodes to love.

So when Serenity was made, I was in line on opening day. And I loved it. To this day it is still one of my favorite movies. In fact, I love it so much that each year I introduce my Film Lit students to it as part of their final. A surprising number of them end up really liking it as well and then go on to watch Firefly. Some even go on to watch Buffy and Angel. Of course, that might have something to do with the Buffy clips I show too.

Recently I learned that there are Serenity comic books. I knew that Whedon decided to add to the Buffy legacy by creating what would have been the 8th season of Buffy in comic book form. Right after they came out, my husband bought me the first few for my birthday. Then a friend lent me the rest of them. They were fun, but not quite the way I saw the show going (look, if it doesn’t somehow end with Buffy and Spike back together my interest level wanes).

I knew he’s also created Angel comic books, but I didn’t look into those. I liked the show, but it’s my third favorite of his shows (Dollhouse is my least favorite).

Until two weeks ago I had no idea he’d also created a comic book series for Serenity. When I found out, I logged on to my library to see if by chance they had them. Amazingly enough, they did. I put what I thought were the first four on hold, however, at this point I’m still not sure the order of the books. I’ve looked online and while I found a post about the correct order, it lists books I can’t find at my library or on Amazon. It also definitely does not list them in the same order my library (and Amazon does). So although I am a bit confused, I’m going to read them in the order I think they go in and if it’s not right, I’ll be ok with that and just enjoy them.

So far I’ve only read the first one (I think), Those Left Behind. It was definitely fun. It probably would have made a great episode of the show. I love seeing the characters drawn just like the actors and I love reading their words, which of course I hear in my head in the voices of the actors. I love getting to “see” Nathan Fillion play out more adventures of my beloved Mal. It’s not quite as good as more episodes would have been, but it’s a nice consolation.

I may have to get copies of them for my classroom for students who fall in love with the movie to read.

 

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Free Reading Friday: You’re Never Weird on the Internet (almost)

Never weird on internetI feel the need to be perfectly candid about something upfront in this review: I love Felicia Day. Although not a “gamer girl” myself, I have been immersed in geek culture my entire life, so I relate to her in so many ways. It probably also doesn’t hurt that she was on one of my all time favorite TV shows, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, AND in my favorite web min-series Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, AND my favorite web series, The Guild. Although I was not overly enamored of her awkward character Vi in Buffy, I simply adored her as Penny and Codex/Syd. I’ve also loved seeing her on Supernatural.

So when I saw her memoir, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (almost) in the display window of my school library, I texted our librarian (school was over at the time) and told her I wanted it first thing the next morning. By the time I’d hit my car though, I was searching the online public library to see if maybe, just maybe, there was an audiobook.

There was. And even better, Day reads the audiobook! I LOVE when author’s read their own works. You get so much more than their stories when they do. You get the emotions that go along with those stories. In a way, it’s like listening to a good friend tell their personal stories. Because the author gets to relive the experience, so does the listener. Not that voice actors can’t do amazing jobs reading audiobooks. I’ve hears some spectacular performances, but an author reading their own work always excites me.

Hearing Day’s stories in her own voice was brilliant. She made me feel just as awkward and quirky and uncomfortable as she felt in so many of her childhood stories. And that was perfect, because I could relate. While I was not home schooled, I grew up in a very strange household myself and I found myself connecting on a very real level with her tales of social anxiety and awkwardness. It probably helps that Day and I are almost the same age, so many of her childhood and teen obsessions were also mine.

I still remember my step-dad bringing home our first computer when I was in 5th grade and the hours and hours and hours I spent playing video games on it. It was so much easier to play those games than it was to deal with real people sometimes. Especially when I was getting ready to start my 5th school in 6 years. Computers were far kinder to new kids than the other students were. Especially when those new kids were a bit chubby, had glasses and were insanely good at school (and serious, serious teacher pleasers to boot).

As an avid attendee of events like Comic Con, I loved Day’s stories of meeting other celebrities because they are so relatable. It’s lovely to see someone I look up to and know I would get a little tongue-tied to meet have the same problems. Her story about going out of her way to buy donuts so she could offer one to Matt Smith (of Dr. Who fame) was hysterical. Considering that until I was in my late 20’s I was the only Dr. Who fan (aside from my dad) I knew, I could see myself doing something similar. Heck, when I met John Barrowman I almost lost my mind. I loved hearing that Day did the same.

I also truly enjoyed reading about Day’s process of staying true to her inner geek by creating her own web series and then her own geek company. I particularly found her message to young, geeky girls inspiring. I wish I’d had someone like her to look up to when I was the only one in my 7th grade homeroom who had seen every episode of Dr. Who and could name all of his companions in order of their appearance on the show. It would have been nice to be able to feel proud of that instead of worried someone would find out just how odd I was. It also would have been lovely to know someone else was writing Fan Fic before there was a word for it. Yep, that’s right, I had notebooks full of Dr. Who Fan Fic back in the 1980’s and early 1990’s!

One of the most interesting and important parts of the book is Day’s account of her experiences during Gamer Gate. After hearing stories like Day’s it is hard to believe anyone could possibly still believe Gamer Gate was not sexism at its ugliest.

I am so glad I read this book and have already recommended it to several of my students, added it to my AP non-fiction list and look forward to talking to students about it.

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Throwback Thursday: Christmas with my mom

For the first time in over 20 years, I celebrated Christmas with my mom. Well, not actual Christmas day. That was reserved for my husband, our children and me. But, I did spend a large portion of December 23rd with my mom and that’s the closest I’ve spent to Christmas with her since I was 14.

I won’t go into the particulars of our rocky relationship. It would take too long and I doubt anyone would be very interested in it. The short version goes like this: My mom and dad split up when I was 5. My mom remarried when I was 6 and moved us over 2,000 miles away to Southern California. I spent the summers and a few Christmases with my dad, but for the most part, I spent all of my time with my mom.

And that was fine until I hit middle school. Then, we just couldn’t get along. I was not some crazy rebellious child. Unless you count wanting to watch Growing Pains and Just the Ten of Us as some major act of rebellion. TV was not the only thing we could not agree one. She did not let me listen to music or hang out with friends or do much of anything that required me to leave the house out of her supervision.

Again, I was not a bad kid. I was in honors classes. I got good grades. I went to church on Wednesdays and Sundays. I said, “yes ma’am” to most requests. But I was miserably unhappy, so one summer when I went to visit my dad, I didn’t return.

For the most part, my life got much better. My mom and I didn’t talk for nearly 4 years, but eventually we got in contact and slowly we started rebuilding our relationship.

I actually visited my mom one December before I graduated from college. I was actually visiting good friends who had moved to San Diego and since she was only a few hours up the coast and my friends wanted to visit LA anyway, they dropped me off at my mom’s and I spent two days there. It was close to New Year’s Eve and I spent one full day at Disneyland with my sister. No Christmas presents were exchanged and I’m not even sure my mom still had her tree up, so I don’t really count it as a Christmas visit.

This year though, my mom came to visit my grandmother for the holidays. My grandmother is 97 and has a host of medical issues, but she is so stubborn and fiercely independent that she refuses to leave her house. My mom has started coming to visit a few times a year to help out. While it’s up to my kids and I to make the two hour trip to see her and my grandmother, over the last few years, at least my kids have kind of gotten to know their grandmother.

As an added bonus, this year my kids got to give my mom the gifts we got her and they got to open Christmas presents from her with her. It’s the first time they’ve ever done that. The visit actually went better and longer than I expected. Of course, this was due in large part to the fact that my mom asked us to take her to Walmart so she could run some errands for my grandma. If I ever needed proof that I love my grandma it was spending time in Walmart two days before Christmas. Mad house does not even begin to describe the chaos of the place. It was the stuff my nightmares are made of!

Still, we had a little gift exchange, ate some pizza and talked a bit. Not about anything serious or deep, but my kids got to tell my mom a bit about their lives and she got to hug them and tell them a bit about their cousins who live in North Carolina with her. After about four hours, my kids got pretty bored, which is not shocking considering there are no toys to play with and two adults they don’t know very well. It didn’t exactly feel like a Christmas celebration, but considering it’s taken over 20 years to get this far, I’m calling it a win.

The kids and I are going back up to see her and my grandma later this week. This time the visit will be a bit shorter and they’ll get to have a sleepover with their cousins, so all of our hearts might be more in it.

My biggest hope is that it doesn’t take another 20 years for us to come together at the holidays.

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Teaching Tuesday: A rare break

Today is one of those sort of unprecedented days: I have no grading to do. It’s not that I’m putting grading off because I don’t want to do it. I actually don’t have a single item that needs to be graded. I can count the number of days this occurs in a year on one hand.

Since I teach English, and more specifically Advanced Placement English, the moments where I don’t have some sort of writing assignment to grade are like tiny vacations to me.  Heck, I wasn’t even grading free on the first day of school. My AP students all had summer reading assignments, so each showed up to class on the first day with a book they’d annotated which I then had to check and grade.

My AP seniors actually just wrote an essay today in class, but in order to help them understand the AP grading rubrics and scoring, our next class will be devoted to peer editing, so I have at least another few days before I’ll have to grade a more polished copy.

My AP juniors are in the middle of reading The Crucible, and since it is a drama, they’ve chosen parts and we are reading it together as a class. We just finished act 1 and I am all caught up on grading their vocabulary, so I am free of work for them as well.

As for my Film Lit kids, their chapter 3 notes aren’t due until tomorrow and their preliminary thesis statements for their research papers aren’t due until Friday, so I’m off the hook for grading here too.

Before I left school this afternoon, I graded the four newspaper assignments that had been turned in (we have staggered deadlines), so I am completely up to date in there too.

All my planets, so to speak, have aligned and there is nothing to be done. I mean, sure, I could work on lesson planning. Thanks to upcoming testing dates I already know I’m going to have to rework some of my units, but I am just too giddy at the lack of grading. I can’t do it.

Instead, I think I’ll force myself to catch up on Stranger Things! I know I won’t have another “day off” like this during this grading period.

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