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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tuesday's Top Ten - My Favorite Movies

"And I always dreamed of classic cars and movie screens." - "Old White Lincoln" by The Gaslight Anthem

When I was trying to decide what list to write today, it occurred to me that I have never done a list of my favorite non-holiday movies. How could this be? So here it is, my top ten favorite movies. Since I have separate lists of Halloween and Christmas movies, I won't include any of those this time around.

1. "Almost Famous" - This movie has been my favorite since it came out in 2000. It has everything I love in a movie - a fantastic storyline, terrific characters, a great setting, and the best soundtrack ever. The story of young journalist William Miller (the enemy!) travelling around the country with one of his favorite rock bands, Stillwater, and a group of girls known as Band Aids, is as good as it gets in my opinion. My favorite scene is when they are all on the bus (Doris) after Russell's acid trip and everyone starts singing "Tiny Dancer". I can't hear that song without thinking of "Alomst Famous".

2. "Across the Universe" - Told through a wonderful collection of Beatles songs, "Across the Universe" is not just a movie, a musical, or even an artsy film, it is a masterpiece. The songs are interpreted so creatively through excellent acting and the brilliant direction of Julie Taymor. The 1960s have always been my favorite decade for a number of reasons, and this movie does a great job of showing the trials that made the 60s what they were - The Vietnam War, protest rallies, race riots - and how the music reflected the time. The best part is when Max (Joe Anderson) is drafted, and the Uncle Sam "I Want You" poster comes to life, and Max and the other men reporting for physicals sing the Beatles' "I Want You", carrying the Statue of Liberty as they sing the line "she's so heavy". Genius.

3. "The Help" - Like "Across the Universe", this movie also takes place during the 60s, but in the Deep South as opposed to Liverpool, Detroit, and New York City. I have written about my love for this book before, and the movie is just as good. The acting by Emma Stone, Viola Davis, and Octavia Spencer is outstanding, and I absolutely love the storyline which revolves around black maids and the women they work for. It's so honest, so heartbreaking, and so touching that I could watch this one every day and never get tired of it. And in addition to the drama that makes up most of the movie are a few hilarious parts, including my favorite "Two Slice Hilly" scene. If you have read the book or watched the movie, I'm sure you are laughing right now, and if you haven't, then you are missing out!

4. "Footloose" - I haven't seen the remake yet, but the original version has been one of my favorites since I was a little kid. There is so much great 80s music in this movie that reminds me of my childhood, and I have always loved how Ren (Kevin Bacon) brought life, dancing, and rock and roll back to the depressing little town that seemed to have forgotten the meaning of the word fun. Whenever I hear John Mellencamp's "Hurts So Good" I think of the scene where Ren, Ariel (Lori Singer), Willard (Chris Penn), and Rusty (Sarah Jessica Parker) go over the state line to the bar, but my favorite part is when Ren teaches Willard how to dance. Classic!

5. "The Trouble With Angels" - When I was a kid, I used to watch the old Hayley Mills movies as often as possible, and this is still one of my favorites. She plays Mary Clancy, a mischievous teenager who is sent to a boarding school run by some very interesting nuns. She meets another girl on the bus, Rachel Devery (June Harding), and together they get into all sorts of trouble over the next fews years. It's such a fun movie and has so many terrific scenes, but the best is when Mary and Rachel make a plaster cast of Marvel-Ann's (Barbara Hunter) face. Hilarious!

6. "Juno" - "Juno" is so quirky, so different, and so perfect, that it has become one of my all time favorites. Ellen Page is great in the role of the pregnant teenager, and I love Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman as Vanessa and Mark Loring, the prospective adoptive parents. "Juno" sends out such a positive message about adoption, and the ending couldn't be better. This movie doesn't sugarcoat any of the emotions or rough patches, but it's definitely not a downer either. I have two favorite parts in "Juno". The first is when Juno's dad finds out that Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera) is the father of the baby and he says, "I'm gonna punch that Bleeker kid in the weiner next time I see him." I almost died laughing the first time I heard that line. My other favorite part is when Juno writes the note to Vanessa and we find out what it says at the end. It makes me get choked up every time.

7. "Baby Boom" - Diane Keaton is one of my favorite actresses, and this is my favorite of her movies. She stars as J.C. Wiatt, a high-powered Manhattan businesswoman who inherits a baby from her deceased cousin who she hasn't seen since childhood. The learning process that J.C. goes through, with diapers, feeding, nannies, etc. is very funny, because she doesn't have a clue what to do. Since I have been taking care of kids since I was a kid, I always found this so hilarious. Eventually J.C. and baby Elizabeth say adios to New York and move to the beautiful countryside of Vermont and buy a huge old farmhouse complete with apple orchards, but that brings on a whole new set of problems. This movie is just so fantastic, and it never gets old, even though it was made 25 years ago. One of my favorite parts is when J.C. passes out and wakes up in the doctor's office, only to find out that she's being treated by a veterinarian.

8. "Now and Then" - My mom, my sister, and I saw this movie in the theater five times because it was so good. "Now and Then" centers around four 12-year-old girls in the summer of 1970, and how they all reunite 25 years later when one of them is having a baby. The performaces by Christina Ricci and Gaby Hoffman in particular are very heartfelt and the characters are so real, that I think most girls would be able to see themselves and their friends represented on the screen. It's so hard to pick just one favorite scene, so I'll go with the funniest, when the four girls spot the Wormers - four brothers from their neighborhood that love to torment them - skinny dipping and they steal their clothes and run off. There are lines from "Now and Then" that my family still quotes on a regular basis to this day because the movie is that good.

9. "Bandits" - Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton play Joe and Terry respectively, an interesting pair of bank robbers who escape from prison together and end up getting involved with Kate (Cate Blanchett), an unhappy and unstable housewife who just left her husband, only to be mistaken for a hostage. Joe is the tough but charming guy, and Terry is the neurotic, smart, but somehow loveable part of the duo, and they are just perfect. Well, Cate thinks so anyway. If you haven't seen this movie, I highly recommend it. It has something for everyone - comedy, action, drama, and a little bit of a love story too. Plus it has a great soundtrack as well. One of my favorite parts is when Joe convinces Terry that he has a brain tumor, and poor neurotic Terry starts developing imaginary symptoms, like having the right side of his body go numb. You have to watch the movie to understand how hilarious this scene is.

10. "How to Beat the High Cost of Living" - I got this movie for Christmas several years ago, and it instantly became one of my favorites. I have always been a big fan of the 80s sitcom "Kate and Allie", so I was really excited when I saw that "How to Beat the High Cost of Living" starred both Susan Saint James and Jane Curtain! They, along with Jessica Lange, play three friends dealing with different financial hardships in 1980, and come up with a plan to steal the cash out of a giant money ball that is part of a contest at their local mall. It's a really fun movie, and with the current state of the economy, it might give people a few ideas on how they can beat the high cost of living. Just kidding, just kidding! This entire movie is so great, I can't even pick a favorite scene. One of the best conversations though, is between Elaine (Jane Curtain) and her friend, Patty (Susan Tolsky): Elaine - "I want you to get this lousy bank to lend me some money, or at least extend my MasterCharge limit. Oh, Patty, You've got to help me! I'm broke, flat busted broke. The house and car payments are due on Monday, I need money." Patty - "You know how banks operate. They only lend money to people who don't need it." So very true.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Idiot Wind is Blowing Strong

"Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your mouth/ Blowing down the backroads headin’ south/ Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth/
You’re an idiot, babe/ It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe." - "Idiot Wind" by Bob Dylan

I am outraged! Seriously, I have seen two things in the past few days that make me want to scream, call social services, and punch idiot parents in their stupid faces. What has gotten me so irate? Allow me to explain.

On Friday, I spent a couple of hours at the park with the girls. This is a nice park in one of the more upscale areas of my town. It's not the kind of place where one would expect to see graffiti on the bathroom walls, cigarette butts on the sidewalks, or evidence of teenage liasons left behind that almost certainly would provoke children to ask some very uncomfortable questions. And most of the people who visit this park fit right in with its wholesome feel. Most people. Then there is the family I saw last week. It was a young couple, late teens maybe, and their little boy who looked like he was about three years old. This sweet child that was running around happily, blissfully unaware that he is the offspring of morons, was wearing a t-shirt that had "Future Pimp" scrawled right across the front. Really? Seriously? Why would a parent do that?!

And please don't think that I feel the bad judgement shown by these parents has anything to do with their age. I think that even though most teenagers/young adults are not ready to be parents, there are always exceptions. That's one reason why I wanted to write the Willow Ryan series, with the main character being a teenage mother having and raising a baby on her own. There are some teenagers out there who are mature, responsible, and selfless enough to successfully raise children, and I find them incredibly inspiring. But these people at the playground, they are just idiots. It doesn't matter if you're 15, 30, or 45, dressing your child in a shirt that proclaims to the world that they will grow up to be a man who sells women for sex is a crime. Or at least it should be. And I am appalled that this shirt even exists.

Then today I saw something else that made smoke and fire shoot out of my ears and nostils like some crazed cartoon character. I had just dropped the kids off at school and was driving through a nice part of downtown Norfolk, VA, when I saw a woman walking with a little girl who was probably about four or five. The woman was dressed in a business suit, she was holding the child's hand, and everything seemed so normal they almost didn't even register in my brain. Until I stopped at a red light and looked at the child. On the back of her shirt was the word "Bootylicious", with an arrow pointing down toward her rear end. I was hoping that maybe I was losing my mind, I had forgotten how to read, or maybe I was going blind and didn't see the words clearly, but no, I was right upon taking a second look.

HOW IS THIS ACCEPTABLE?! Who does these things to their children? Part of a parent's job is to protect their kids, and dressing them in clothes that call negative attention to them, sexualize them, and disrepect them and those of us around them who have an ounce of class and decency, does the exact opposite. Why do things like this even happen? Apparently the idiot wind is blowing really strong in my part of the world.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Children Get Older

"But time makes you bolder/ Even children get older/ And I'm getting older too." - "Landslide" by Stevie Nicks

In just a few days I will be celebrating my six year anniversary with the girls. Six years. For six years, I have been teaching them, taking care of them, loving them, raising them. I have been with their family longer than the little one has been alive, and for more than a fifth of my life. And today it really hit me that they are growing up...way too fast.

When I take them to school, the first thing I do is drop the older one off on the big kids' playground. I have always gotten out of the car and opened the gate for her, because she was too short to reach the lock. A couple of weeks ago I had her try it on her own though, and sure enough, she was just tall enough to do it herself. So today she hopped out of the minivan and went over to the gate, opened it with no problem, turned and waved, and walked off. A lump instantly formed in my throat as I watched this child walk away, this child who I first met when she was 12 months old, barely able to take two steps without falling over, and now she's growing up, independent, and walking away. And it happened so fast.

I know this is a good thing, but it tears me up a little inside too. I'm not her mom; I don't get to stay with her until she's 18 and goes off to college. I will be gone before then, and the realization of the temporary nature of my job hit me like a ton of bricks this morning. If I'm lucky, I'll have another couple of years with them, and it's not enough. It's just not enough.

Then as I walked the little one to her playground, this child who was born fiesty, independent, and with more confidence in her little finger than most people will ever have in their lives, grabbed my hand and said, "Thanks for walking with me. I'm glad I don't have to walk alone like Sissy." All I could do was try to hold back the tears, smile, and say, "Me too, sweetheart, me too."

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Magic Bus

"Every day you'll see the dust (Too much, magic bus)/ As I drive my baby in my magic bus (Too much, magic bus)." - "Magic Bus" by The Who

On the way to school yesterday the kids were kind of quiet, but instead of enjoying the peace for a change (what can I say, I'm a little insane), I suggested that we play the amusement park game. This is a little game the three of us made up a while ago to pass the time in the car (where we spend a good part of our day sometimes!). I am the owner of the park and take the kids on all kinds of wild rides, describing each turn, flip, and splash with over-the-top enthusiasm. They love it! It's simple and silly, but it makes them happy.

So yesterday, the five-year-old asked me to make up a roller coaster that was also a water ride. After taking them on an imaginary trip aboard the "Atlantic Splash Coaster" as they named it, they were laughing wildly and shaking pretend salt water droplets out of their hair, when the seven-year-old stopped and told me that I was just like Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus.

Now, I look nothing like the cartoon character, who bears a striking resemblence to Bette Midler, so I asked her how I was like The Frizz. She said it was because I am crazy like her and make everything an adventure, and they always have fun learning with me, just like the kids in Ms. Frizzle's class. I was touched. And aparently if I had to identify with a cartoon character, it would be The Frizz, haha!

I have to say though, the bus itself does nothing for me. In the end, it always transforms back into just a plain yellow school bus. If I were to drive a magic bus, I think Further, the groovy psychadelic bus driven by Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters in the 60s is more my taste. But I think I'd bring along my own Kool-Aid. ;)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tuesday's Top Ten - Best Things About Working With Children

"May you build a ladder to the stars/ And climb on every rung/ May you stay, forever young." - "Forever Young" by Bob Dylan

I love my job. Yes, I complain about it and there are things about it that could be a lot better (*cough cough* I need a raise *cough cough*), but overall, nothing other than a career in writing could beat working with kids everyday. And these are the reasons why:

1. Boredom is nonexistent. Even with my overactive imagination, I get bored easily if I don't have something to do or some kind of entertainment to occupy my time. There is no way I could ever be bored with kids around! They are constantly running around, coming up with some wacky game to play, or chatting about anything and everything under the sun. I am way more likely to suffer from sensory overload than boredom when I'm at work.

2. The hugs. Not many people go to work in the morning and are greeted with hugs, and then ambushed with more hugs when they leave like I am every day. Although for most people, getting attacked by the people they work with would be a bad thing...haha!

3. Making an impact on the kids' lives. Knowing that every little thing I do with the girls has the possibility to make a difference in their lives is an amazing thing. I take my roles as their nanny and teacher very seriously, and my influence on them is not something I take lightly. It's a huge responsibility, but an enormous honor too.

4. Passing on my knowledge. This goes for academics as well as knowledge of the world around us. Sometimes I wonder if they would ever learn anything if I wasn't there to teach them. My goal is to educate them as much as I can so they can be successful in life. I want to do my part to give them the world, and in little ways, through our school lessons and countless conversations, I hope I'm doing that.

5. Seeing them grow. I have been there for first smiles, first words, first steps, first temper tantrums, first days of school, and so many other important moments. I have raised these kids since they were babies, and it is so cool to see them grow and change, sometimes on a daily basis. I love that they are such incredible little people and I can't wait to see how they will continue to grow in the coming years.

6. The way they look up to me. There's an old saying, "The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world." This usually applies to mothers, but I think it applies to people like me as well. In their little world, the kids think I'm an important person, and I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy that. Everyone wants to feel valued in their job, and I know that I am. Even if sometimes I am reminded of my "value" to them because they treat me like a parent and may talk back, throw a tantrum, or ask me, "Why" a hundred times until I say, "Because I said so!" They are that comfortable with me, and I think that they look up to me just like a child looks up his/her mom and dad. Wow...

7. Playing with toys. Ah, one of the perks of my job! If you don't work with kids, chances are you have never gone to work and spent at least part of your day building a town out of Legos, painting a masterpiece (as described by a five-year-old, but still!), reading Dr. Seuss, and putting on a Barbie fashion show. Toys today are so much cooler than they were when I was growing up (although we 80s kids had some totally radical stuff too, as described in my last Tuesday's Top Ten), and I will admit that I still like Play-Doh, American Girl Dolls, and Etch-a-Sketches, so a house full of toys makes the days go by faster!

8. They remind me of the magic. Childhood should be magical. There is something so beautiful and precious about children who still believe in the wonders of fairies, the joy of Santa Claus, and have the belief that the world is a kind and safe place. I wish we didn't lose some of that magic as we grow up, but it seems inevitable.

9. Writing lesson plans. I love this part of my job! During the summer when I homeschool the kids full-time, I come up with extensive lesson plans in about seven different subjects that we cover daily, and I love every second of it. The planning, the research, the shopping for supplies, and of course, the teaching! I try to make learning as fun as possible, and judging by the fact that the girls start asking about our summer lessons for the next year as soon as school starts in the fall, I think I'm doing a pretty good job.

10. Nap time! After all of the busyness I have just described, this one needs no explanation! :)

Friday, March 2, 2012

I Was Blowing Kerosene (Gym Moms Revisited)

"And the breath from my chest I was blowing kerosene/ My lips and fingertips were stone/ I wore my heart on my jeans." - "Wherefore Art Thou, Elvis?" by The Gaslight Anthem

Okay everybody, are you ready for a rant? If you said yes, boy do I have a story for you. After reading this you will understand why this amazing Gaslight tune is my song of the day.

If you read my post from a few days ago, you already know how I feel about the Gym Moms, the parents that annoy the heck out of me while I watch the girls I take care of do gymnastics twice a week. For the most part I ignore it, just thinking snarcastic (snarky + sarcastic) thoughts in my head and subtly rolling my eyes as needed. Today I spoke my mind.

Sitting behind me on the bleachers was a woman whose picture belongs in the dictionary next to the term trailer trash. Harsh, I know, but today I'm calling them like I see them. I sat for nearly an hour listening to her belittle almost every child in the gym, commenting in her irritating, loud voice, on their weight, body shape, strength, skill level, etc. She described the five-year-old I nanny for was the wild girl with skinny legs. I said nothing, allowing my emotions to reach a boil, until two minutes later when I gave "my kid" a thumb's up for doing a flip. The evil Gym Mom tapped me on the shoulder and asked in a sickingly sweet Southern drawl if that was my child. I turned around, recoiling at the sound of her voice, and asked in a sarcastic tone, "The one with the skinny legs?"

Ms. Trailer Trash said nothing, she just stared like a deer caught in the headlights. I said that yes, she's my kid, but I wouldn't expect her to know that since she had been spending the whole hour criticizing every child in the building, except for her own of course. I went on to tell her that I pray none of those kids heard her comments, because no child should go home thinking that there is something wrong with how they look or what they do. She got this snooty, offended look on her face and said, "Oh, I didn't realize anyone could hear me. Why didn't you say she's your daughter sooner?"

Remaining calm like I had been the whole time, I responded in an even voice, "Because I am her nanny. She isn't my daughter but yes, she is my kid, and judging by your many remarks about all of these children, I figured you were too ignorant to understand anything rational I could have said." Take that Gym Mom!

She ended up moving to a different section of the bleachers (where she sat quietly for the rest of the class, thank you very much!), and as she walked past, I smiled and told her to have a nice day, polite as always. I don't think I'll be having any more problems with her, and hopefully I spared a child or two from hearing insults that could cause them a lifetime of trouble. Gymnastics is a competitive enough sport without having parents like that adding to the pressure. She was lucky I have enough self-control not to talk with my fists like I wanted to. She would have deserved it too, because there is never a reason to talk about an innocent, defenseless child like that. Never.

So that, my friends, is my rant of the day. And you know what? I'm proud of what I said and how I conducted myself. I didn't (totally) lose my temper, I didn't punch her, I didn't yell and make a scene. But I did stand up for all of those children who couldn't defend themselves. I will never regret that.