Friday, September 25, 2009

Mastering the Art of Detective Fiction

I have always been a fan of mysteries. I enjoy suspense, and I love being shocked and surprised by the ending of a book, or movie. Unfortunately, I am pretty good at sniffing out a surprise, so I am rarely shocked. I knew Bruce Willis was dead by the preview. No joke. I still think this is very obvious, but whatever. So, when I find good mystery writers, I am very excited. I also take it as a personal challenge to learn to out-sleuth the sleuth. I realize I am a nerd, but follow me here. As Brian so lovingly pointed out when he started reading this post when I was half-way finished, I have absolutely no point to make. I just like these stories, have read a lot of them, and wanted to share my thoughts on some of my favorite whodunit authors.

Let's start with the most famous of all: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Clearly, he is pretty good and everyone knows Sherlock Holmes, Watson, and 221B Baker Street (one of the few places I did not visit in London, why??). I have now read ALL of the Sherlock stories and novels. That's right. All of them. Not that hard, really. Fifty-six of them are short stories, and the four novels are more like novellas. While I enjoyed reading them all, I found it a bit tiresome once I clued myself into the tells and hints placed into the plots by Conan Doyle. I learned that when Holmes falls into certain character habits, certain pre-determined plot occurances would follow. Watson would always make the same assumptions, Holmes would always use some crazy method (usually involving disguise, chemistry, or cigar ashes), and the crime would always be solved (except on two great occasions, to which I tip my hat - gotta love it when the hero falters). After about half of the short stories, I was able to predict the endings of the mysteries with pretty decent accuracy and detail. While I remain in awe of Holmes and his band of Baker Street Irregulars, I still think there is better stuff out there. Plus, he is a cocaine-addict and that bothers me.

Moving up the list, Ms. Agatha Christie is next. Ole Agatha was a bit harder to crack, if only because she works with more detectives. My favorite, by far, is Miss Marple and her knitting needles, but she was also the easiest to figure out. Once I learned more about how Jane Marple herself worked as a character, it was not hard to deduce which items would stick out to her, and only her, when they were introduced in the books. She is an old lady interested in town gossip and pays strict attention to detail, appearance, and decorum. It only took me one novel (to be fair, it was The Tuesday Night Club, which includes 13 mini-mysteries) to have her number. She was an easy one to unravel, but I strongly recommend her for the humor and I still want to visit St. Mary Mead and have tea at her house one day. Hercule Poirot, the hilariously egotistical Belgian detective, was much more cleverly written from a mystery standpoint. 33 novels and 51 short stories include the little man, so I have only scratched the surface. My favorites are The Mysterious Affair at Styles and Curtains, his first and last appearances in print. By the way, if you want to read Poirot, I recommend these two, they are like mirror image mysteries, very cute when read together. My favorite of Christie's, though, is And Then There Were None, which doesn't actually have any detectives in it and sends chills down my spine every time I read it, regardless of the fact that I know what is coming. That is good stuff. And I defy anyone to solve this one on the first read.

My next favorite is Edgar Allen Poe, who is credited as the inventor of the "detective" as we know him today. C. Auguste Dupin appears in three of Poe's stories and sort of defies convention in that he started the convention. There was no detective when he arrived in fiction (the word had not even been invented yet), so his brand of sleuthing and "ratiocination" are quite unique. All very deduction and observation based, his stories set the stage for Holmes and Poirot to expand upon. My favorite is The Purloined Letter, but Murders in the Rue Morgue is more sensational if that is your thing. I find it fascinating to look back on what started the trend that is now so very commonplace. It seems so simple, but how cool to have invented it.

Speaking of tracing the roots of mystery's past, I highly recommend The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. Written before Poe even, it is the first novel to introduce the whodunit genre, though the lack of super-sleuth detective left room for Poe to take the ultimate prize in the history books. It is a long book and is hard to get into when you start, but believe me, the payoff is worth it. Written from the perspectives of multiple narrators, you get to feel a part of the mystery and confusion. My favorite is the steward, Gabriel Betteredge. I love when you get to see the behind the scenes workings of a manor house from the servants' side. (Ooh, like the movie Gosford Park - love it!) Anyway, Collins does a great job weaving together all the characters and the solution is fun (complete with a reenactment). It is one of those books that when you read it a second time you slap yourself on the forehead multiple times for missing out on major clues that were thrown right in your face by the author.

The most recent mystery writer I read was William Faulkner. Knight's Gambit is a collection of 6 short stories, all set in his crazy Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi. His "detective" is the town attorney Gavin Stevens, and he is not quite as sharp as our other detectives, but that is probably the point. From a mystery standpoint, I thought these were rather weak, but from a storytelling perspective, they were second to none. "Tomorrow" was my favorite, if you want to try out only one. My main beef is that there is no way for the reader to know what is happening. Life in Yoknapatawpha is so odd that unless you live in Faulkner's weirdo brain you could not possibly understand the motives of these people. It is interesting to see how the genre has been adapted and reinterpreted since its inception in the 1840s. I mean who would have thought that the most recognizable detective after Sherlock Holmes would be a high school gal named Nancy Drew? (who I also love, btw - I carry a penlight in my purse because of lessons learned from her many adventures).
So, those are my thoughts. I love a good mystery, and I have read tons and tons. These are the ones that stick out to me as must reads for a mystery lover, so I thought I would pass along my recommendations. Enjoy. Do you have favorites you would suggest for me? I am always on the lookout for a new book!

Sneak Peek

So, I know Halloween is over a month away, but Jeremy's costume just came in the mail, and it is so cute I cannot wait.
My little Elmo. Watching Elmo. He loved it and burst into laughter when I put him in front of the mirror. I just hope it is a cool night, as that is one warm costume!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Rainy, Whiny Weekend

Constant rain washed all my big plans for the weekend away. Well, that and the fact that Jeremy was a total brat during the little sunshine we did have. Oh well!

So instead of attending the Hola Festival and the Greek Festival (both are featured on Joel's blog and I am mad I missed them), I stayed home, put up pictures and chased Jeremy around the house. But, the weekend did start off right with a fun and unexpected date night with the hubby. A friend of mine had tickets to see A Streetcar Named Desire at our campus theatre, but had to go out of town at the last minute, so he offered them to us for free. Luckily, my new graduate assistant, the lovely Katie, has been wanting to babysit Jeremy, so I also got a free sitter at the last minute. Fun stuff! The play was really good and starred Dale Dickey as Blanche, who had a recurring role on My Name is Earl as the town hooker. We get the big stars here in Knoxville. It was a nice night. Anytime I get to spend time with the husband alone is pretty special. :)

Saturday was the day I planned on attending the festivals, but it was raining in the morning and daddy decided to take the car to get an oil change. He returned four hours and $400 later, but the car runs a lot better, so I guess that's a good thing? By that time, the sun was out, but Jeremy had lost his mind. Seriously. He refused to take a nap and was just so whiny that he drove me bananas. Oh well. Sunday was horribly rainy and the only things we managed to accomplish were going to church and buying diapers.

But, strangely, it was still a really fun weekend. I did nothing I wanted to do, but I had fun with my boys anyway. Even the bad one. Go figure.

Some of our weekend fun:
Jeremy enjoys "cleaning his room" by putting ALL of his belongings into the top drawer of his dresser. I do not understand, but this makes him really happy.
We uncovered Jeremy's funny glasses while "cleaning". He also stole the camera, so now all the pictures are blurry and we can't figure out how to fix it.
Here we are cheering on the Titans, to no avail. It was an intense game, but a losing battle. Good thing the Cardinals beat up on the Cubs (so far) or what would it all be worth??

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Ain't No Party Like a Scranton Party, Cause a Scranton Party Don't Stop

The moment I have been waiting for all summer finally arrived this week. The Office is back! I realize that there are more important things in the world, but we don't have cable, I don't watch much TV, and this is my thing. I love it. If you do not watch this show, please stop what you are doing right now, and go watch it. Free episodes on Hulu or Go. I'll wait.

In order to prepare for this exciting event, our family watched all the previous seasons of the show (again) and the excitement was palpable. I invited several friends over for a viewing party, and we played The Office trivia game that Dani gave me for my birthday. Naturally, I won with ease. It was fun having a big group at the house to watch, but I must admit it did take a bit away from my personal enjoyment. Playing host is too much pressure when all I want to do is laugh with my best pals from the Dunder Mifflin Scranton branch.

The episode was pretty good, focusing on office gossip. Naturally, Michael is completely inappropriate and self-indulgent in spreading gossip around the office. However, when he spreads a true story that could ruin a co-worker, he then decides to make up a ton of fake gossip to confuse everyone. And it works (until he screws it up again later), but only after much hilarity ensues. Jim and Pam were adorable with their baby announcement to help cover for Stanley, but my two favorite moments of the episode were from Kevin and Andy as they reacted to the gossip Michael spread about them.

Kevin: "Who's been saying there is another person inside of me working me with controls?"
Andy: "Michael, AM I GAY??!!"

Gotta love it. As someone who works in an office with tons of people from various age ranges and life experiences, I found this episode scarily accurate. Gossip spreads like wildfire, and we have added an item on all of our departmental expectations that our staff members are not to participate in gossip - like it helps. Who can say they don't get a bit of a thrill when they hear the latest juicy story? I certainly do. But, I do hope that unlike Michael, I know the difference between idle stories and potentially life-changing bomb dropping.

So, welcome back to my friends from Scranton, I look forward to many awkward, uncomfortable, funny, and poignant moments ahead this season.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Diversity Day

"Abraham Lincoln once said: If you are a racist, I will attack you with the North." - Michael Scott, The Office

More about The Office later this week. For now, I would like to share my thoughts on Diversity. I have been working in student affairs for almost a decade now, so cheesy and ultimately ridiculous diversity activities are considered commonplace to me. I have facilitated many and participated in hundreds. Just this past August, I led the 50 RAs in my area through the ever-popular "Crossing the Lines" activity (if you have not done this one, consider yourself lucky). It resulted in the normal awkward shuffling of feet, furtive glances to see if someone else would make a move first, and eventual tears when something was said that shamelessly forced someone to share an intimate part of his life with 50 people he just met 24 hours ago. Gotta love it.

Today this is on my mind because in the freshman class that I teach, we are required to do a diversity assignment. That's it, "a diversity assignment". No instructions, examples, or direction. Mandated, but not explained. I refused to do a Michael Scott-esque game with note cards taped to foreheads (which by the way, I have also played multiple times literally exactly the way Michael does it in the show). Instead, I told the class they had to attend a Knoxville event or attraction that made them step out of their normal comfort zone and learn something new. They had to write a one-page paper and give a 3-5 minute presentation to the class about what they learned. Maybe not diversity in the sense that the department meant, but I don't care.

What I got was this: a girl attended her first baseball game, a football player went to a historic mansion downtown, a boy went to his first rock concert, a girl went to a Buddhist temple and got confused, a boy went to an art museum and spent his entire presentation talking about how mad he was at the prices in the gift shop, and a girl went to church for the first time since she was 5 years-old. My favorite, by far, was the young lady who went to her first frat party. I wish you could have heard her presentation about the drunk guys, raunchy DJ, nasty house, and classy sorority women. It was quite inappropriate and totally hilarious.

For some reason that I can't really explain, I find it amusing that when I gave them a "Knoxville Diversity" assignment, I received so many completely different interpretations - though I guess that is the point. I am thoroughly glad I gave them the freedom to choose their own activity, because it showed me the scope of experience these students have and are looking for. Hearing them talk about what they chose to do, why they chose to do it, and how they liked it (or not) gave me a better understanding of the diversity of my class than any of the "diversity" activities in my huge binder on my student activity resource shelf (yes, I have a shelf in my office dedicated fully to that topic).

I am pleased with their effort, disappointed by their writing skills, and amazed by their care-free public speaking. Mostly, though, I am just glad their assignment was successful, enabling me to ditch the binder for good. Hopefully. Diversity is a term that is over-used and over-emphasized on a college campus, and I guess the world in general, though my world pretty much just exists on a college campus, so who knows? We push it so hard and work tirelessly to force it out of our students. Usually we get lackluster results and jaded students. Turns out, left to their own devices they can produce the desired results naturally and without pomp. Who knew?

Monday, September 14, 2009

I Carried a Watermelon

Rest in peace Orry Main. And Sam Wheat. And Johnny Castle. Many celebrities have passed away recently, but this one hit home more than others. Farrah Fawcett was before my time, and Michael Jackson lost my love long ago. But Johnny Castle was forever.

I am watching Dirty Dancing as a I write this.

I don't actually know much about Patrick Swayze, but I think that makes me respect him more as a celebrity. I do know that he played a lead role in my childhood, thanks mostly to my crazy mother. I knew the choreography to the mambo from watching Johnny and Penny long before I ever understood the seedy plotline of that movie. Mom and I would watch it, then immediately rewind it to watch the final dance scene again. This is why I need a daughter one day. I have a feeling Jeremy will not be game for that particular little tradition. And seriously, will Jeremy ever really understand the heartbreaking nature of the penny scene in Ghost? Ditto, Sam, ditto.Let's not even pretend Orry Main was not a household name my entire life. North and South was the perfect miniseries drama to grab my mom and it had enough pretty dresses to keep me hooked as a 2nd grader. We used to watch the videos every summer when school was out and one of my very first purchases in college was the DVD version of the series. Gotta love the old South, abolitionist Kirstie Alley, and the war-torn friendship between Orry and George. Good stuff. Why Brian does not recognize it as a solid historical Civil War reference I have no idea.

I know Joey and Dani are probably itching to remind me of Jonathan Brandis's untimely death right now, but to be honest, pretty-boy Brandis had nothing on sexy-man Swayze. My fourteen year-old heart melted when Jennifer Grey's Baby sheepishly uttered that line. I would carry any fruit for that man. Swoon.

So, rest in peace. Thanks for dancing, fighting, and haunting your way through my teen years.

Gotta go - the lift scene in the lake is coming up!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Happy Grandparent's Day!

Ha Ha. Mommy wasn't looking, so I stole her typing thing with the tv screen! It is my turn to write on this board key and make the funny sounds while I hit these letter pieces.

The parents are sleeping (a little concoction I made myself, thankyouverymuch), so I can share my feelings. I am told that today is Grandparent's Day. This sounds like a pretty good day, as I have pretty amazing grandparents. I don't get to see them all the time, but that means that I don't get annoyed with them and no matter what I do, they are always happy to see me. I have tried a few experiments (screaming, biting - usually in the church place), but they still love me. Fun! I think the grandparents come in twos (like Elmo and Grover or Deigo and Alicia). Nana is with Granddaddy and Nona is with Pop (hee hee). I can't think of Pop without laughing. He is funny.

Here are the top ten reasons why I love my grandparents more than anyone else in the world:

10. They always let me stay up late! (something about the twilight zone difference)
9. They always let me eat sugar food!
8. They have kitty cats to play with at their houses!
7. Nana gives me the best hugs and smells like chocolate cake!
6. Granddaddy lets me throw a fit when that other baby is around, but still hugs me and smiles. Mommy and daddy frown when I do that. Granddaddy loves it. I will keep doing that for him since he loves it so much!
5. Nona watches all the fun movies with me! (yay Mama Mia!)
4. Pop makes those funny sounds and always has a crazy red face for me! (a-le-da-le-da-le)
3. There is a secret toy cabinet in Nana's house - just for me!
2. Mommy and daddy took my mobile away at home - but Nona keeps one on my bed for me! It has a monkey. I like monkeys.
1. They clap every time I do anything! I love attention and this is my favorite kind!

Also, Nana and Granddaddy always bring Uncle Dave, Uncle Graham, Aunt Kat, Uncle Rob, and Aunt Jennie to play! (and that other baby, but we know how I feel about that attention-hog).
Nona and Pop bring Aunt Cheri, Uncle Joey, Aunt Dani, and new Aunt Meg to play! (and plus Sam and Darla - I like doggies!). I don't get to see all my family people at home. I don't like sitting in the car thing with all the belts that strap me in, but I know it means good things at the end of the trip, so it is worth it. I only cry and whine for a few hours so that mommy and daddy don't get too jealous about how much I love going on visits.

So that is why I love grandparents. They are pretty cool. They also give presents and hold me a lot. Mommy and Daddy are making me walk all the time and I miss the holding thing. Maybe my grandparents will come visit soon and show mommy and daddy how it is done.

Here are some pictures I took while mommy and daddy were sleeping:

Setting up my signs and having a drink:
My finished product (I am getting pretty good with my crayons!):
Mommy and Daddy sleeping (aren't they cute?):

Gotta go, Mommy is waking up! Don't tell her I stole the typing thing - she may get mad. She says only grown-ups can use it. She is not very smart, is she? My post is way better than hers.

Love you,
Jeremy "Bud" Hopper (with Mr. Moo to help with spelling)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Home Decorating

Spending more time than usual sitting around my house has made me want to decorate. We have lived in this townhouse for over a year, but I never really decorated it at all. A few pictures on the wall, but that is it, and even those aren't straight and don't match. I get a bit embarrassed when people come over. We love our townhouse and aren't planning on moving any time soon, so why not make it a place where I feel happy and homey?

I spent some time at the dollar store a few days ago with Jeremy (during my steroid bouts of energy), and we bought some frames and random junk. I think I need to paint, though, to make the biggest difference. I already know what I am doing with Jeremy's room in December - complete makeover with big-boy bed! I have collected many things for it and they are waiting in the attic. (Thanks Nona for looking for a toy box). I am going to paint it two shades of blue, so since I am definitely going to buy the brushes, tarps, and tape anyway, I should paint the whole place, right?

I am going with brown (cup of cocoa) for the downstairs. The whole downstairs has one shared wall, so that makes it difficult to use different colors. The kitchen will be green (like a soft green, not bright) and the downstairs bathroom will be dark green (Brian's choice). I need a color for the upstairs bath and our bedroom. Any thoughts? I also need curtains, tablecloths, and rugs. I am excited! Anyone know where I can get all these things for free??

I will post pics as I complete projects in the house. Wish me luck - I am not very good with follow-through on things like this.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Simple Joys in Life

After missing yet another day of work due to intense pain in my neck and shoulder (and the fun return of all my swelling), I had some decisions to make. Is my glass half empty or half full? I have always considered myself an optimist, but I can admit that when I am not feeling well, I want everyone to feel my pain. The world must stop until I am healed. However, this being my first real ailment since having a baby, I have learned (shockingly), that the world does not actually revolve around me. I may feel like crap, but Jeremy still needs to be changed, fed, and bathed. I can skip work, but really, there is more work for me at home than in the office. And Jeremy does not care that I don't feel like swinging him around the living room. Gone are the days where mom and dad would bring me soup, prop me on the couch, and let me watch Pretty Woman all day long (ooh, and once even Joey sat and rubbed my back for me when I was sick, so sweet!). I can't moan all day and expect to be waited on hand and foot. I now have responsibilities and must decide - will I do them with a smile on my face or a scowl?

Yesterday, I was more inclined to scowl. Today, however, one simple action changed my mood for good. I had set aside my reading in my pain, as it made my neck ache to look at the book properly. Today, I read anyway. What did I read? Why, Mary Poppins of course! What else? I have always wanted to read it, and I must say it is a delightful book. Very different from the movie (there are four kids, not two, and Mary Poppins is kinda scary and vain), but very fun and magical. It transported me to that time when I was a child and strange things occurred that I just took for granted as true, without worrying about the whys or hows. Of course the Tooth Fairy is real, and no, it does not matter that we don't have a chimney for Santa to get through. Why would you even ask such questions?!

Reading about Mary Poppins and her randomly lovely adventures with Bert, Uncle Albert, and the kids (Jane, Michael, John, and Barbara), made me sublimely happy. No, it did not make my pain go away with a simple spoon full of sugar (that was all Disney, by the way), but it did make me focus on something nice instead of how mad I am at my doctor.

Opening up the window for happy thoughts was like letting in a flood of joy! I spent most of my day thinking happy thoughts for my loved ones who are all having great news and happenings right now. My baby brother just got engaged to his wonderful girlfriend, Megan. I am so happy for them! I am ready to be your matron of honor, best man, and mother of your ringbearer and flower boy. Just say the word. My best friend from childhood, Wendy, and her husband just found out they are expecting their first baby in May! One of my friends at work, Anna, just left town to be with her sister who is having a baby, a blessing for their family after a loss last year.

Daddy is happy because football season began again, and Jeremy is happy as long as we give him a bit of attention. He even gave me my first kiss the other day (about time, right?). So, my moral today is simply this: yes, I am in pain. I don't particularly care for it. But, that is not all that is going on. Jeremy is silly, Joey is in love, Wendy is a mommy, and Mary Poppins is like my happiness fairy godmother. Oh, happy day!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

My Life on Steroids

I am writing from home right now. It is Thursday, and I should be at work. Instead, I am home feeling completely useless. I can't move my neck or raise my left arm higher than chest level. This poses a problem when you have an adorable little boy who wants to be held by his mommy. I hate neck pain!

Why can't I move my neck? I have no idea. Two weeks ago, I experienced a lot of joint pain and swelling. In all of my joints. At once. It was not fun, even my individual toe joints were hurting, in addition to my fingers, wrists, elbows, knees, and ankles. I was so swollen that you couldn't see my ankles at all (a horrific glimpse of the cankles I have not seen since I was 190 pounds overweight and 9 months pregnant). Naturally, my first thought was to diagnose myself on WebMD. For the record, I do not recommend this to anyone. According to WebMD, I have rheumatoid arthritis, gout, bone cancer, lupus, and pregnancy. All at once. So, it was nice knowing you all, I will be dead in days. I hate WebMD!

My doctor did 4 blood samples, which I am still waiting to hear the results of 6 days later. Is that normal? I think not. She is pretty sure it is a rheumatoid problem since it runs in my family, so not really that big of a deal. But, in the meantime, she gave me a six-day dose of steroids and some really potent pain medication. Let the fun begin. I love medication!

I started the steroids last Friday, exactly 6 days ago. Immediately, I felt amazing. The swelling was all gone in less than 24 hours and all pain was gone in even less time. And I had tons of energy. I took Jeremy on like 40 walks and errand trips over the weekend, I worked the football game and literally did calisthenics at the gate, and I cleaned my house like a maniac. It wasn't until I was on my hands and knees scrubbing the kitchen floor (the mop just couldn't get those corners to my satisfaction), that I felt possibly the medication was making me a bit hyper. Somehow, I had managed to convince myself that I saw no change in my behavior prior to that point. Oh, the powers of delusion. I am a squeaky clean person who has never even held a cigarette, much less smoked one or taken any drugs of any kind. And here I am. I love steroids!

They are like a dream, right? I was beginning to have a newfound understanding of Barry Bonds and the joys of a quick fix. Then, the other shoe dropped. I began not sleeping and having weird body aches. My back felt like it was on fire for days, and my head felt too heavy for my neck to support. Every morning a different random ailment occurred. This morning, my first official day of no more steroids, my neck hurt so bad that I could not stand up straight. I was screaming in the bedroom with Jeremy crying because I couldn't pick him up. It was a fun sight. So, I ended up sitting on the couch with a heating pad on my neck, a pain pill in my belly, and Elmo on the TV. I am now feeling better, but I still can't rotate my head completely or raise my arm all the way without intense pain. Steroids may be fun for a few days, but I do not consider my three days of manic energy a fair trade for three more of intense pain that isn't even related to my original ailment. Boo. I hate steroids!

Thanks for reading - I just needed to release my pent up roid rage.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day Weekend and Boldreghini Cousins!

The Hopper clan had a nice, relaxing Labor Day weekend. Jeremy and I did some shopping. We bought a few items to store away until December, so that will be helpful later. Here is Jeremy shopping:

He enjoys interacting with other kids in stores. He hugged two girls and played with a baby's foot. He is odd, but I love him! Here he is playing with our lampshade. Again, I don't know why, but there it is.

And here is cool guy Bud. With chocolate on his face, as always:
Jeremy took a cue from mom and dad and relaxed watching some TV. This reminds me of my own lazy childhood. Just lying around while my parents fruitlessly tried to get me motivated to clean my room. Oh, the good ole days!
We had a fun surprise over the holiday weekend when our cousin Jessica called to say she was in town! Jessica and William were in town visiting our other cousin, Michelle. We don't get the chance to see Jessica and William much (they live in the D.C. area) , so it was a great treat! We don't see Michelle much either, but that is mommy's fault because she works too much and is a hermit. (I love you, Michelle!)

So, Jessica and Michelle came over on Sunday with their boys. William quickly became Jeremy's best friend by swinging him around. Jeremy loves nothing more than a nice guy who will indulge his love of flying through the air with the greatest of ease:

It was also fun to finally meet Michelle's beau, Andrew. He is also a nice one (good job, ladies!), and took a liking to Jeremy's videos. Baby Shakespeare intrigued him, but I saw a true reluctance to leave once Potty Time with Elmo came on. Andrew, you are free to borrow our dvds at any time. Here are some pictures of our visit with the cousins Emens.

Jeremy playing outside and riding his scooter while waiting for his pretty cousins to arrive:
Jeremy with Jessica and Michelle:

Me with Jessica and Michelle. It always kills me to see the family resemblance. It is quite strong. Those Boldreghini genes are strong!

We greatly enjoyed the visit (Jeremy a bit too much - I feel like I focus on pee a lot in this blog, but seriously, this kid is out of control. He peed through his diaper while they were visiting. Cue embarrassed mommy.)

We love our cousins and hope to see them again soon!!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Nathanael Greene, aka Jeannie's new crush

I read 1776 as one of my books this year. I love history (you know, like in North and South, hard-hitting history with petticoats), so I was happy to oblige. I really liked the book a lot and found it very interesting and educational.

I have always enjoyed learning about our founding fathers, and I harbor a deep crush on Thomas Jefferson, though I cannot explain why. 1776 helped me to understand more about Washington and what a huge feat it really was to win the war. The book only covers one year, but that only left me wanting more. I had no idea the Revolutionary War went on for so long ( apparently I missed that day in US History class). I had heard of the crossing of the Delaware, but never really understood the significance or the dealio. It was pretty cool. Wars were fought so differently back then. Obviously there were no tanks, bomber planes, or missiles, but I mean more about the military itself. When I think of the US military, I invoke images of orderly lines, crisp uniforms, impeccable behavior, and strict commanders. It was interesting to read about how this most powerful army in the world got its start in such a rag-tag fashion. I was filled with patriotism and incredulousness (I made up that word I think).

But, the thing that has stayed with me most about this book is the discovery of two men who had such a huge role in saving our country before it even was a country. Two men: one of whom I had heard only by name, not by deed, and one of whom I had never heard and now want to marry. Henry Knox and Nathanael Greene, respectively.

Henry Knox is best known as the first US Secretary of War, and both the county and city in which I live are named for him. He was a gutsy fellow and the type of "I-can-do-anything-I-put-my-mind-to-no-matter-how-impossible-you-tell-me-it-is" man's man that I really admire. In his role as Chief Artillery Officer in the continental army, he managed to get cannons and weapons to places that other people would never have dreamed of managing. He repeatedly accomplished things that I am sure Macguyver would scratch his head over. All this from a soft-spoken bookseller from Boston.

Knox's best friend was none other than Nathanael Greene. Greene had no military training at all, other than what he read in books. He was highly educated and volunteered to join the army because of his love for country. He quickly rose up the ranks and became head of the Rhode Island regiment, which became the best disciplined and effective branch of the federal army, albeit one of the smallest. Washington was impressed with Greene's skill and promoted him as the youngest Major General in the army. It was well-known that Greene was Washington's right hand man throughout the war and he depended on Greene's opinion many times before making important decisions. I love that about the US. This guy had never even seen a battle before, only read about them in books, and gave up his job, life, and everything for the continental army - not as a private, no siree, he became a Major General and helped make major decisions that won us the war. Gotta love it.

I just love reading about the behind-the-scenes people who are really just ordinary folks but end up making a huge impact in the history of our country. I am sure Greene is very famous in Rhode Island, but I have never heard of him before (at least not with enough emphasis to remember who he was). I developed a crush on him while reading the book. Hee.

Another thing that I liked about these two guys in particular (note: the book is about Washington, but I am focusing on Knox and Greene as they are the ones that took me by surprise), was their devotion to their wives. Much of the book consists of exerpts from letters and journals. Both Knox and Greene wrote extensively to their wives, detailing their actions, motivations, and love. Needless to say, I was impressed.

I promise Jeremy pics and stories in my next few blogs! Thanks for sticking with me through my lit reviews!

Jane Eyrewolf

Don't you think werewolves would be a good fit for Jane Eyre? Bertha is the mad wolf in the attic. Perfect. I am a millionaire.

So, I read Jane Eyre for the first time my freshman year of high school. I enjoyed it very much, but thought it was a bit disjointed. I remember thinking it should have been three separate books about three different people: Jane at Lowood and her time with the sickeningly sweet and devout Helen Burns, Jane at Thornfield with Mr. Rochester and their doomed romance, and Jane at Marsh End with the Rivers' family. I also did not think much of Jane at this first reading. I did not like that she was so mousy and I was angry that Mr. Rochester is ugly. At 14, my heroes needed to be dashingly handsome.

Then I read it again my sophomore year at UT. It was my first class with Dr. Melton-Sumner, who would later co-advise the writing of my honor's thesis on Jane Austen. I was intrigued by the new way she made me look at the book. She flat out said that Helen Burns was a weirdo (yes!), and emphasized the depressing nature of the end of the book: why is it that for Jane and Rochester to finally be "equals" in Bronte's world, she has to become rich and he has to be blind and mutilated? That is awful. Is that even a happy ending?

It was Melton-Sumner who really opened this book up for me. She is also the first person I ever heard mention The Madwoman in the Attic, a book of literary criticism on 19th century female authors. How it took me 9 years to read this book even though I was intrigued way back then is odd, but there it is. I finally read it last month and then read Jane Eyre again.

I still have mixed feelings about the book and its heroine. Is it supposed to be romantic? Am I supposed to admire Jane? Is it a gothic tale? I have no idea. But, I do know that it is a fun read - mostly because I see now that though I appreciate this book as a classic very much, I really find it to be totally ridiculous. I am even more disgusted by the ideal angelic child represented by Helen Burns reading it now as a mother. I really do get creeped out by that little girl. I hope she was not supposed to be taken seriously. The Bertha Mason craziness is more fun to me now, too. I see the hilarity of it and the completely unbelievable idea that this man would actually lock his wife away for years without anyone knowing about it. And, I was more disturbed by St. John Rivers than ever. He is also quite ridiculous in his level of devotion, yet lack of emotion. And why do you pronounce his name like that? Stoic "Sinjun"and Creepy Helen Burns would have made an excellent match.

I think what gets my biggest emotional response, though, is the scene between Jane and Rochester the day after their wedding was supposed to take place. He comes clean about Bertha and asks Jane to stay with him regardless of the whole crazy wife in the attic thing. Yet she leaves in the middle of the night, without clothes, money, or food. What is wrong with this woman? She is just dumb? She almost starves to death except that her long-lost cousins we never knew existed magically appear out of thin air to rescue her. This is supposedly a famous love story, but while I see love from Rochester (in an illegal and immorally violent way), I see no love from Jane other than for herself. She is quite selfish and repeatedly make rash decisions that reflect her wants without concern for the ramifications she makes on others. And I know it was the 19th century, but couldn't there be a bit more of a physical attraction between these two lovers? They constantly tell each other how ugly they are...very romantic.

As for Bertha, I find her funny at best, but do not feel for her plight as a woman. Is it bad that I was simply hoping they would concoct a plan to kill her off so that they could live happily ever after?

In the end, Jane miraculously inherits money from her long-lost uncle and turns out to be cousins with the people who rescued her from starvation. If this coincidence was written nowadays, it would have been blasted as completely unbelievable and cheap. Mr. Rochester is crippled and blinded when Bertha tries to burn down Thornfield and kills herself, so now he and Jane can finally be together. Yay! She can spend the rest of her life playing nurse to a grumpy old man who lied to her, tells her she is ugly, and tried to turn her into his mistress. Woot.

I do appreciate the language of the book, and I do find the few passionate scenes quite touching. I liked the phrenology aspects, if only for their randomness. But, overall, I remain confused about Jane Eyre. It pains me to say it, but werewolves may not be that bad an idea, nor would they be that far-fetched in this already unbelievable plotline. Hmm, actually, I take that back.

I wonder how long it will be until that hits bookshelves. Just remember you heard it here first, folks.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Big Orange Country...Go Vols!

UT football is upon us again. I enjoy it, I really do. However, after ten years and countless drunk students and containers of "Rapid-absorb" (the best product at turning vomit into a solid that can be swept - I am an expert at all things vomit) later, I am not as huge a fan of football season as I once was. I now work the games to earn a little extra money for December (when a certain someone's birthday and Christmas could otherwise send us to the poor house). I do not usually stay for the actual game once my student ID checking duites are over, as I am sick of all that orange by that point. Plus, the students smell and I am just not that into our team.

However, this year I am experiencing a resurgence. I have met Coach Kiffin and he, along with Bruce and Pat (though basketball is a whole other ballgame - pun intended), have really brought the Vol spirit back to UT.

Also, I am touched by the excitement of my students. I teach a First Year Studies Class in addition to my Housing work (more bonus money for the dreaded December!), and it consists of 20 bright-eyed and eager freshmen. They are beyond excited about their first UT game this weekend. I even have a football player in my class, Arthur Jeffery #95 - he is a really great guy!

I let them skip class today so that we could all go and paint The Rock for the game. They were giddy with excitement about this - so cute. So, there we were, painting The Rock. Then, a cameraman from ESPN shows up and asks my class if he can film them and put it on TV before the game. I am thinking, "Why on earth is ESPN covering the not-at-all-important UT/Western Kentucky game?", but whatever, the kids are excited. They start screaming and cheering and look like they just won the lottery. They began calling and texting their parents and friends after the cameraman left and were beaming to me. They think I planned it and called the ESPN people. Like I would even think to do that - but that's cool, let them think I am the best teacher in the world.

Moral of the story, I still will root for Memphis and Notre Dame over UT (my father trained me well), but it was kinda nice to get excited about UT football again. I will cheer for the Vols tomorrow and I hope to see Arthur get to play as a freshman. He deserves it, naturally, as he is in my class and calls me ma'am. So sweet!

Here they are painting The Rock, well, painting over what was there before.

Here is the finished product. Yes, they wrote "Volz" with a 'z'. I was appalled and told them so.

Here is the behind the scenes with the cameraman shooting:

Here is my class as a group (I am taking the pic). Aren't they cute?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Little Engine that Couldn't

Oh my poor little boy and his favorite book. Both of Jeremy's granddaddies are right - he loves books. He loves to be read to and to simply "read" on his own. As parents, we take the responsibility of reading with distinct voices for each separate character very seriously - I think we have more fun with this than Jeremy. He often looks at us like we have three heads. But he does love his books! He even likes to take books to bed with him (foreshadowing) so that he can read them as he falls asleep.

Jeremy's very first favorite book was Goodnight Moon. He liked it so much that it ended up in three pieces. He had to sleep with it every night and have it read to him at least three times a day. His second favorite book was Barnyard Dance, a gift from Nana and Granddaddy. This one he enjoys if read like a square-dance song. I am quite adept at this. Dr. Seuss's ABC is next on the list. He is still very partial to this one. We often amuse ourselves (Jeremy need not even be present) by alternating the letters in the alphabet and reciting the Dr. Seuss rhymes from memory. I suppose this is how married couples with children are supposed to behave? Maybe? Please tell me I am normal... I mean, really, what is more fun than to randomly throw out a line like "Jeremy Jordan's jelly jar and jam begin that way"?

Anyway, so the most recent book of choice was The Little Engine that Could, a lovely gift from Bill and Marie Pettit. This one took prominence over the last few weeks. He would throw other books out of our hands, pick up Engine, and crawl into our laps for a good read. I read it every night for three weeks.

The past three days, however, have brought a change in the routine. At storytime Jeremy looks frantically around the room for Engine. It is no where to be found, and though upset at first, we can usually get him to settle down with ABC instead.

Just where is Engine, you ask? Well, currently it's wrinkled little pages are residing at the bottom of the dumpster outside our house. You see, Jeremy loved that book so much that at a particularly fussy nap time, his very smart mother let him take it to bed. Bad move. When little Jeremy awoke from his nap, Mommy entered his room excited to see his little blonde head jumping up and down in the crib. She did indeed see this sight. However, she did NOT see something else. No shorts or (you guessed it) diaper was in sight! What?!

This is what I saw:

Jeremy apparently removed his below the waist garments and peed everywhere, including all over his favorite book. I am not talking about a little bit of pee, it was like a bucket of pee was poured on this poor book. Every page was soaked through. The sheets, two blankets, Big Bunny, and Mr. Moo were all similarly afflicted.

But, there was my boy, jumping away in his crib with no pants and a huge grin. I think he just loves being naked. Oh well!

My little exibitionist: