Thursday, July 31, 2008

You snooze, you lose

Scarlet Lily and Feather Nester have beat me to it, but just in case, please feel free to check out these "informative" [deliberate quotes there] and funny blogs:

Cake Wrecks

The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks

Cake Wrecks had DH and me laughing so hard we almost cried, and I'm using the latter blog as an example to my students about how not to use quotation marks.

Thanks, ladies!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The ins and outs of living next to a high school

I know it's closing down on summer because two days ago I heard our awesome marching band (#1 in NYS last year! They even got to play Main Street, USA in Disney World. Pretty cool.) practicing. If you're going to live next to a school, it's good to listen to a quality marching band as opposed to ones that "try really hard".

On the flip side, I just heard a girl screaming at her apparently very recent ex-boyfriend in the parking lot. If you're going to dump someone, maybe don't do it in a place where there's good echo quality. I didn't get a lot aside from repeated "WHY!?!?!? Right before school?!" and a lot of F-bombs from her, and "I don't want to talk to you!" from him. Ah, young love, so complicated. I don't mean to sound callous; I just didn't expect the literal Young and the Restless soundtrack to come floating through my window.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Canine Indignities

Well, as I write this, Penny lies curled up as a groggy doggie on the chair behind me, as she just came back from the vet: We took Bob Barker's long-touted advice and spayed our pet. Aside from yucky sutures down south, she has the added humiliation of having to wear one of those cones, or lampshades, as some call them, because she kept trying to pick at them:

Doesn't she look out of it? :-( Her little pupils are all dilated and she can barely stand up, poor sweet girlie, but she should get relatively back to form by tomorrow. At least we got her a new bed: She peed in the old one, unbeknownst to us, and we had to throw it out; no amount of cleaning product could get the eau de chien scent out for love or money. Eurgh. Now we can start her on adult food, too...our little girl's growing up! It happens so quickly....

My Take on The Dark Knight

I don't use this blog for movie reviews, but I'll make an exception.

We saw The Dark Knight yesterday. Wow. It rendered me speechless, I have to say. When we came out, we both remained fairly quiet because we both had to process it a bit, which always marks a quality film for me. Without giving anything away, I'll write that Christian Bale did it up right as the Caped Crusader, complete with gravelly voice (I think it's a bit much, but I understand the need for it, I guess) and tortured dual life. I really liked Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes; her feistiness worked a lot better than sanctimonious Katie Holmes' version. Morgan Freeman, well, do I really have to say anything? He's Morgan Freeman.

Aaron Eckhart worked surprisingly well as Harvey Dent, the alternate White Knight of Gotham. Won't say much more than that, but he played his part admirably, as did Michael Caine and Gary Oldman, who I think can do just about any accent or role he chooses and do it well, even his ridiculous Dracula. [Sidebar: F.F. Coppola chose Keanu Reeves for that part solely for box office draw; he didn't seem him as right for the part of Jonathan Harker at all. Neither did anyone who wasn't a teenage girl. But it worked.]

But I have to give the greatest credit to Heath Ledger. His version of the Joker blew me away. It was brilliant: psychotic, diabolical, evil to the core. I don't take anything away from Jack Nicholson's, but Jack's was bright-colors-comic-book, over-the-top in an obvious way. I think what made Ledger's Joker so frightening, at least to me, was that this type of person could almost exist in real life. He played it darker than I'd ever imagined, and it made the entire movie. His family should take pride in the fact that his last role, though not a happy one, was unquestionably triumphant in his portrayal of this demented character.

All in all, good script, solid acting, and a lot of thought about the dual nature we all have, and which side we'll go to in a given situation. Oh, some reviewers complain about the 9/11 vibe in the beginning with mention of terrorism, but I barely noticed it. And there's this whole mob side plot that does fit in, although it's a little garbled. Just focus on the Joker. If you have any interest in the new Batman series (and thank goodness we got away from the stupid Clooney-Schwarzenegger-one-liner version, ECH), you should see it. It's the full 2.5 hours, but you won't care. I say best film of the summer, hands down.

Friday, July 25, 2008

O Canada! (I return!)

Bonjour! Ca va? Je ne parlez pas francais!

Hello! What's up? I don't speak any French! (I don't even know if I spelled any of that right)

Oh, we had such a wonderful time. So relaxing, so fun. I think we're already planning for next year. You'll all be pleased to know that Penny also had a wonderful time--I don't think she's run around so much in her young life. Right now she's sacked out on the bathroom floor, recovering.

We were in Tadoussac, Quebec, about two or three hours northeast of Quebec City. Here's a map. Tadoussac is right after the break in the river that crosses the map, on the right-hand side:

To give you sort of a reference, here's a map of the province of Quebec. If you can see where it says either Chicoutimi or where it points to the St. Lawrence (in blue), that's more or less where Tadoussac is. Thank goodness for audio books: It took us thirteen hours to get there!

T's mom C. and stepdad A. have a house there; A. has been coming to Tadoussac his entire life. It's a community of "Anglophones" and French Canadians, so I could speak to about half the people. Basically, it's a small area with lots of little boutiques, a small grocery store, a few good restaurants and cafes, and lots of places around to hike, kayak, and whale watch. It's a tourist destination for quite a few people, and the Hotel Tadoussac was where they filmed the movie The Hotel New Hampshire, also a wonderful book by my favorite author, John Irving.

Basically we spent our days reading, playing games, eating marvelous meals that C. and A. cooked for us (A. loves to cook and boy, can he), taking little day hikes, swimming every night after dinner in one of several surrounding lakes, going to different beaches, and wandering the area. Just very relaxing and good to spend time with T's family, especially his brother and sister, whom we rarely get to see. I'll put up a few of the better pictures here:

View from the porch

C and me, before going whale watching

C, T, and R (C and R are twins)

Those lumps are actually beluga whales--we saw a pod of five but weren't allowed to get too close

Our first hike--walked the rocks and saw a few Minke whales

Penny got so exhausted after one hike that T had to carry her

View of Tadoussac from one of the many outcroppings; the big red roofed building is the Hotel Tadoussac

I just loved the low-lying clouds. The ferry to get to Tad is in the foreground

There's a ton of sea glass to be found!

Sibling love between C and R

I was messing with the "illustration" setting on the camera

Our little family
P.S. I still haven't seen The Black Knight; we're saving it for Sunday. :-)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

More Web 2.0/ Au Revoir for the fair north

So I'm done with the class and I'll try to recap what I've learned and share some helpful sites, some of which you've probably heard of but some you may not have.

Overall, we looked at a lot of sites that have to do with searching and networking, online collaboration, that sort of thing. I honestly will use some of them to enhance my teaching because, as the one article I read put it (and I've thought for a while now), the entire educational system needs a giant overhaul because its methods lag about 20 years behind the rest of the world in terms of getting information to students and processing it. I admit this with a sigh, because I like teaching grammar and vocab in something of a vacuum, and I don't think anything will top reading a chapter of a book (a REAL book, not online and not on a Kindle) and analyzing it in class. However, I think as the educational system continues this lag, students will become more and more disconnected from school because it has so little to do with their lives outside of school.

Think about it: They text, they IM, they spend hours on MySpace, Facebook, and playing RPGs (role-playing games for those who don't know: Going online and playing a game while hundreds of others log in and play the same game at the same time), some of them blog...It's everywhere. Yet we rarely access this way of living in the classroom. It's a sort of changing of the guard. I don't think computers will ever replace talking and writing on real paper, but they do have a place and we as teachers need to respect that when our students go into the working world, it's one dominated by these interactive sorts of sites and ways of communicating, so why not teach using those same methods sometimes?

Now that I've lectured (sorry if I went on; I feel strongly about this), let me cue you in on a few cool sites:
In case you haven't heard of this, Delicious (or is an on-line bookmarking site. You know how annoying it is when your bookmarks are all on your work computer and you go home and rats, what was that site? Now you can just save them all on Delicious and access them from anywhere. You can add tags to remind you what they're about (like the ones I use for my posts: "puppy", "work-related", "fun stuff", etc.) and you can share them with others if you want--and you can see others' related to yours. Like if I have a site I like about composting but I want to know more, I can find others' bookmarked sites about it. Cool stuff.

- and are similar

The Education Podcast Network

This network has all sorts of podcasts that you can learn from on tons of different subjects. I like the idea of podcasts because you only have to listen; you don't have to sit in front of the computer.
Like YouTube but for teachers. Pretty self-explanatory. It's more informational and cuts through the ridiculous videos.
Very similar to GoogleDocs--It's a free online word processing program that lets you share documents and edit and save and all that without having to save it all to Microsoft Word...or pay for it. They've got spreadsheets and things, too. Nifty. I always worry about someone hacking in, but that's always a concern and a risk, yes?

It's a search engine that searches specific sites and then categorizes everything for you into specific headings, kind of like putting it into folders so you don't have to.

This one's another search engine but it searches blogs, posts, videos, and the like. It's more opinion than fact, but it has its place. and are others but I didn't like them as much as search engines. I did like that the latter allows you to search under specific categories, like "research" or "news". Check them out as you like.

So that's my technical update for you. This evening around 3am we're beginning our journey to beautiful Tadoussac, Quebec for a week in my teeny car with us and the puppy. Wish us luck, because it's about 12 hours. We're doing it like this so we can avoid major traffic, cross over the border nice and early (no lines), and arrive in daytime so we don't have to find the place in the dark. We have books on CD and tape and a multi-charger unit for the car (three jacks and a USB cord--niiiiice. Got it at Target for ~$25.), a full tank of gas, it will be dark out, but we will not be wearing sunglasses. Hit it. (like the Blues Brothers reference there?)

I will have computer access but may or may not post--I'm on vacation, man. I plan to read, play games, chill with my in-laws (T's brother and sister will be there, and it's his mom/stepdad's place), go whale watching, hike, and have lots of fun. Sounds good to me!

So enjoy your week and don't tell me anything about The Dark Knight because I probably won't see it until my return, at least not in English, and since I don't speak Quebecois, I doubt I'll see it up there. No Batman, Le Chevalier noir pour moi.

Be good, my dears!

Monday, July 14, 2008

More Penny

Well, Scarlet asked for more Penny pictures, and since she just got back from the groomer's, I thought I'd post these since she won't look any better than this for quite a while. You can finally see her eyes--T didn't even realize they were that high up on her face!

Before, when she looked like a little mop ragamuffin:

We really do brush her; you just can't tell.
After--you can see her sweet face!

Although I'm not used to her looking like this yet, I already think she looks more like herself. I can't explain it. Now all we have to do is change the kitchen floor so it matches the gorgeousness of The Pen, as we call her.

Various Crew-related Tragedies

Yesterday, Sunday, DH volunteered the two of us to help at a local regatta. We ended up as a safety boat to make sure nobody did anything, well, unsafe. No problem. I knew it would rain, so I brought a raincoat. No problem. We had a battery-operated megaphone and one of the newer motorboats, so, again, no problem.


After trying one clunker of a boat, we got the newer one mentioned above and drove out to a huge green buoy near the docks to anchor there and direct as needed. Keep in mind that this is the Erie Canal, so these buoys are, as mentioned huge. And green. However, this did not stop one of the more novice eights (an 8-person boat with one coxswain, the tiny screamer in the boat who NEVER yells "stroke, stroke" contrary to popular belief) from zooming full-tilt at said buoy and us in our normal-sized motorboat. Here's how it played out:

Me: Honey, I don't like the course that boat's on.
DH: Yeah, it's really coming this way....
Me: How do they not see us? Or the buoy?
DH: I have no idea, but they obviously don't. [expletive]
Me: I think we better say something, pronto. [expletive]
DH: [using megaphone] Number 27! Change your course! You are headed toward the buoy!
[throws down megaphone in disgust when we realize the batteries, fine on shore, are now dead.]
DH/Me: 27! WEIGH ENOUGH! (crewspeak for "stop rowing") WEIGH ENOUGH! HOLD WATER! (crew speak for "dig your oars into the water and come to a dead stop RIGHT NOW) STOP! STOP! STOOOOOOP!!!!!!!!!!!

None of this seemed to get through until about a second before they ran into the buoy and us, with T catching the bow of the boat and shoving it between them. Miraculously, the bow sustained little damage and the crew simply rowed out the race. Ludicrously, the coxswain didn't seem fazed (I wondered if she was in shock, frankly) and didn't really realize what she had done. So that broke up the morning a bit. After that we got an old-fashioned cone megaphone that required no batteries.

Now, it also rained. A lot. I had a raincoat and regular shorts. I own rain pants but for some crazy reason didn't think I'd need them. In the rain. For hours. Fortunately the sun came out and dried out my soaked lower half by about 5pm. Fabulous. I also had had a purple pen in my bag that Penny had eaten a few months ago, so ink had pooled on the bottom pocket. We brought this bag with us, ironically to keep our dry clothes in. The ink, when wet, spread throughout the bag. My gray t-shirt now has a large splotch on it that reminds me of oil puddles at the gas station: A large purple spot with a sort of blue ring around it. Either it'll wash out or the shirt will become a rag, so it will still find use. Plus it stopped raining in the early afternoon, so we had that going for us, which was nice.

Keep in mind that we drove out to the buoy at about 9:00. By 11, we had to take a bathroom break, but when we got back to our green friend, for some reason the motor decided it had had enough of idling and petered out, never to start again. Thus we floated dead in the water, with DH paddling like mad every time a race came down to make sure we didn't blow onto the course, and me grabbing onto the buoy to ensure this as well. We did get towed in because, as a fellow volunteer said, "Rule of the sea: Never leave a man behind." Well put, sir.

Fortunately it all ended with pizza, beer, and blue skies, so I have to say that all in all, I really did have fun. Plus I got to spend hours of quality time with T. ;-)

Friday, July 11, 2008

Blogging Potpourri

I've just taken the first of five on-line classes on Web 2.0. How many people really know what it is? As I understood it, Web 2.0 is the next evolutionary step in the Internet where people wanted to make it more accessible to everyone. For example, instead of shelling out hundreds for Microsoft Office, people can go to and download a comparable set of office tools for free. Or they can use GoogleDocs, which also has spreadsheet capabilities. Basically, it turns the Internet from a commodity controlled by the few into a "platform", as they kept calling it, that has programs that everyone can access, use, and even change, like Wikipedia. It's kind of interesting: The reason Google knocked the tar out of Netscape as a browser is because Google isn't technically just a browser; it's more. It's a connection between the user and other browsers, other sites, etc. It also keeps up on the technology in that they update the site every day instead of every few years, as sites used to do. This opening up of the Internet obviously has a lot of pros and cons, the most obvious one being that it requires a lot of trust that people won't abuse what's now available. For example, in teaching research, we teachers frown upon Wikipedia as a legitimate site because anyone can add to it. We tell them to click on the sources at the bottom and see if they're legitimate in and of themselves, or we tell them just not to use it at all. Web 2.0 also includes blogging (hah!) because it's so interactive and anyone can comment if you let them or add RSS feeds to see exactly when it changes, and sites like Facebook. Interesting stuff, I think. I'll let you know what future classes yield (if I think you'd like it--I won't bore you!).

On a totally different note, I'm taking a break because it's pretty beastly hot--a "blinger", as you call it, Grammie!--and anyone who's seen me knows I'm fairly vampiric when it comes to sun exposure. In a few minutes I'll slather on my 30SPF and go back outside to help DH.

...Annnnnd he asked me to help him: We have these pine trees with the very long, leafy branches:

...but we don't need that much canopy and not all the branches were doing well, so we used this tree cutting tool called a pole saw that looks like a really long scythe with a small branch-cutting attachment. It's hard to explain, but using it was a ton of fun and we cleared a ton of branches out, clearing out an entirely new space of yard. I also spread that dried blood on my plants, which are kind of flourishing, in hopes that the deer will let me get my veggies! Here's what they looked like, post eating session:
See? Nice clean bite. However, they're still growing, so I'm still hopeful for a few peppers and tomatoes. Here's the full effect of the fencing:
As you can see, things are still a-growin'. We also have a wild blackberry patch that I should go harvest in the next few days; there are TONS of them. Delicious!

That's it for now, chickadees. We're off to the wilds of Quebec and the St. Laurence River on Thursday for a week, so we have to get ready. Enjoy the weekend!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Your own personal soundtrack

Quickly, without thinking: What song is in your head right now?

Come on, lurkers! Let me know! Right now for some reason mine is "Everything's Not Lost" by Coldplay.

And did you ever get a random song in your head or a movie that you haven't heard or seen in years and then it suddenly shows up? I consider that the universe checking in, telling me, "I'm here with you, hon!"

Maybe if enough people respond I'll make an iPod mix or something. I've got the time, mercifully.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Continued greening efforts

So I promised I'd blog about my green updates as well as my renewed dislike of plastic bags. If you really need convincing, go here to see what got my blood boiling. I had no idea that it cost so much more to actually recycle plastic bags than it does to create them. Plus they're made from a polymer that comes from oil, a rather hot commodity right now, so if we can use fewer plastic bags (or NONE), use less (foreign) oil, and go a little greener, where does the harm lie? I'll tell you all again that I get my bags from, and sell a variety as well, including small cotton bags that work for getting your produce and bulk items at the grocery store. That was my Waterloo for a while but I use the cotton bags now (they barely weigh anything on the scale) and feel much better. Plus they have organic cotton if you like.

On that note, DH and I finally cut the downspout so we fill our rain barrel with actual rain from the house drainpipe instead of drop by drop and tossing in the water I boiled eggs with. With the rain we've had, the thing's already overflowing. I wouldn't use it for drinking water, but it will water my garden and the lawn nicely. Yay!

And did I mention that my lovely garden became deer food? I came out one morning to check on the progress and found deep hoof prints and chewed off tomato and pepper plants! FYI: Deer do not like lavender, so that has remained untouched, and they didn't seem to like the onions or the basil, either. Thus I put up deer fencing, giving myself a foot of space around the entire garden. This means that 1) I can get in and have a foot of space around the garden to work, and 2) the deer cannot simply crane their heads over the fence and chew away. My sister C, the organic farmer, also suggested dried blood, which you can get at garden supply stores. Gross thought, but she pointed out that the deer, herbivores, dislike the scent so much that they won't go near the garden, so you just sprinkle it all around. I may try it; I'll let you know. I just can't yet get over saying, "Hi, do you sell dried blood?" at the store like I'm some Satanic worshiper looking to supply her bizarre rituals when all I want are some good beefsteak tomatoes.

I think I'll start the compost heap this week as well. I've got the particulars from C. and I can't stand throwing food in the garbage any longer. Any suggestions on a small container in the meantime, since I can't always run immediately out to the far backyard to put scraps in? Williams-Sonoma has a ceramic compost pail for $32, but if I can find something even less pricey, I'll take it. It's all about budgeting, people. Plus we did crazy yard work this past weekend and have plenty of twigs and bark to throw in. Our front shrubs are dead on the bottom, so DH and I (ok, mostly him) hewed them down and made them look a lot better. The end ones do look like ugly green ice cream cones, but it's better than overgrown, brownish-gray, sad branches on the bottom. It's really nice to take care of your own space, yes?

I'm off...DH doesn't feel well and I need to minister to him. Pictures of rain barrel and garden with its sad little chewed plants will follow!