Archive for Eclectic Miscellany

An Exercise in Delicate Beauty and Video Games

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This past year, two guys named Dan Pearce and Jack de Quidt, who have formed The Tall Trees, released a game called Castles in the Sky. It’s so simple that I hardly want to describe it, because I would hate for you to think it is plain. It’s really the opposite; simple, but lovely and special. It’s like an 8-bit haiku.

The play is simple, with the game lasting about fifteen minutes from start to finish. In between the leaping and steering tasks are the lines of a poem about finding the uncomplicated joys in life and lost balloons and going to sleep at night. I considered reproducing the poem here for you to read, but it might diminish some of the enjoyment of the game.

fireflies

I don’t get paid to write posts for people or endorse products, but I really like this one. For roughly the cost of a cup of coffee (or less, depending on how you drink it), you can download it here. For me, it was definitely worth fifteen minutes and a buck and a half.

castle cloud

Things that are just plain horrible

I’m so grossed out by this. Disney, you’ve done it again.

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Playbill announced yesterday that a 10-year-old bundle of youtubey stardom has been slated for Little Red Riding hood in the upcoming movie adaptation of Into the Woods.

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This happens to be one of my favorite Broadway plays. Literate Libran introduced it to me as one of her favorites too- the dual parts of Cinderella and the Witch have always resonated so powerfully with her. For me the strongest message is the underlying indictment on group dynamics in troubled times. Click either of those to read our thoughts about it. Much has been said about this, and I could easily go on about it much more, so naturally I wasn’t too excited when I heard it was headed for movie theaters, but whatever. They snagged Meryl Streep for the lead, and that’s usually a good sign, right? But this?

A kid sings on Youtube, gets asked to show up on a TV show, subsequently makes miscellaneous talk show appearances… and… those are her acting credentials. This child is 10. The role of Little Red Riding Hood is a coming of age story, with a very overt message about carelessly sacrificing her innocence when a predatorial “wolf” crosses her path. This child is 10. A ten year old who still shows up at every public appearance in a princess costume is supposed to portray a layered, complex balance of fairy tale playfulness and the sadder but wiser embarrassed confidence of a young woman newly smarting from the regrets of a bad relationship.

Check out Danielle Ferland below from the OBC:

“Nice is different than good.” Pretty clever, no?

I thought about also including a clip of Sophia’s breakthrough appearance on Ellen, but she’s singing a song with illicit lyrics about having sex, and in case you’ve forgotten, this child is 10 (actually, she was 8 when that was done) and I think the world will be a better place with fewer blogs posting videos of little children belting out smutty rap lyrics.

Folks, really, how is this not the epitome of exploitation? The pink dresses, ever present to remind us how tiny she is? Have I mentioned she’s 10? Never mind that normal 10 year old girls don’t go trooping around in sparkly plastic crowns, she’s got the cutie-pie image to foster. Never mind how completely unfit she may be amongst her peers; as long as it’s garnering TV spots, why not keep it up? On the same token, I’ve never overheard a fifth grade girl mournfully lament her adolescent choices (because, of course, fifth graders haven’t experienced adolescence yet). A friend of mine commented that it’s a bit discouraging to see how this type of thing is pushed on children at younger and younger ages, but really, however informed a kid may be about the facts of life, ten means she’s still got her teen years ahead of her. Adolescence hasn’t even started yet, and therefore she has not yet earned the right to reminisce about it.

I could ask what kind of lousy parent would pretend like this is good for their child, but the subject of the fame-obsessed parent pimp has been discussed to death, and we all know it’s vile. Can we maybe just start having stagemom of the year awards?

toilet trophy

We could call it the “Don’t go in there” Award (little Office joke there). That’s actually pretty apropos.

I could also ask why the movie itself was necessary at all, but that’s something we all know too, right?

mickey the vandal

Although their original ideas are often fun and watchable enough, those are just the revolving door prime-time stuff. Disney feature films are most often hijacked pieces that the public has already grown to appreciate. I’ve learned by now to just avoid the ones about stories I like unless I want to have the original tainted (I’ll never forgive them for the butchering they gave the Hunchback of Notre Dame), and this will certainly be one to avoid.

I just feel sick and sorry for the child who is so obviously being herded into the child-star-who-does-scandalous-things act, especially considering that she’s got that along with the preschool-dress-up-princess image to maintain. This is one seriously messed up situation.

Update:
YAAAAY! But I still don’t want to watch the movie.

A Dichotomy of Mermaids

Hans Christian Anderson told this story about a young maiden in love with a hansome prince. She determines to have him at all costs, forsaking family and all that is familiar to her, propelled by infatuation into the all-too-common assumption that if she has the right physical appearance she will win him over. Conspicuously enough, she has never spoken with him, and therefore thinks nothing of bargaining away her voice for a pair of feet so she can go after him, which in the classic story, cause her terrible pain whenever she walks. That’s where the modern Disney interpretation starts to make its departure- HCA makes it a point that she suffers pain for her new look, which turns out to be a wasted sacrifice. She’s no different to lover boy than all the other girls around him, except for her hopeless inability to contribute to the conversation and he flutters off after some other girl. After his wedding, her sisters bring her a knife. They inform her that if she kills him and his new wife, she can return to the sea and become a mermaid again. Get it? Kill off the fantasy, and go back to your roots. But she can’t; she approaches him with the knife, and runs off to fall into the sea, dissipating into foam. Thus ends the little mermaid princess. She lost the man she wanted, because she never understood him and hoped that she could get by on looks. After she failed, she wouldn’t give him up and her life dissolved into nothingness.

It’s a horrific cautionary tale to young girls everywhere. Looking good isn’t enough to keep a relationship alive, living a fantasy will never allow you to be fulfilled as an individual… the morals are numerous and obvious.

Contrast that unfortunate creature with her modern counterpart:

ariel shopping

When the Disney movie hit theaters, I adored it. I filled countless notebooks and homework papers with mermaid drawings, and practiced swimming like a mermaid (hair tossing upon breaking the surface was a must). I was aware that the story glorified selfish behavior, but it was pretty enough that pretty beat out irresponsible (and it was JUST a MOVIE). As an adult, I find myself kinda sorta battling with that in my classroom. I love the toys and books and my kids like them too, but I see much nastier messages in the story that I didn’t pick up as a child. This character puts everyone around her at risk so that she can have what she wants. She decides she loves someone although she knows nothing about him. As it happens, he is a mindless hunk-o-matic who, like any good prince, exists only to be dashing and to fall in love, but after she creates the entire relationship without any effort from him, and after she sacrifices the well-being and emotional peace of her family, and after she has gotten herself into such enormous trouble that an entire kingdom is now in danger, he suddenly becomes a participant in the story and whoops up the villain before going back to mindlessly adoring her. In the end, her father sadly admits that she was right all along, and she gets an awesome fantasy wedding complete with paternal blessing and rainbow. Yaaay! Seriously, is that anything like reality?

Am I being ridiculous?

I find it ironic that the message is the polar opposite of the original story, but is it really that bad? I’m a little bit serious about that- Ariel is super bratty and she never has to pay for her outrageous treatment of everyone around her, so should we be warning our little girls against her, or can we just be okay with a person getting away with brattiness?

Suni and My Kitchen Cabinets

So I had Suni (one of my little herd of sugar gliders) out on my shoulder today as I worked on something in the kitchen. I was looking down when I felt her leap up, off of my shoulder. When I looked up, this is what I saw.

suni peaking over the cabinet 1

So cute. Oh my, so so cute. Heaven help me, this animal is so cute.

suni peaking over the cabinet

Happy Mother’s Day

For all of you ladies out there who have stayed up late at night with a sick child, or wondered how to help a kid overcome a stubborn bad habit, or poured over an academic assignment and fretted about finding the balance between pushing too hard and insisting your son or daughter put forth their best effort, thanks for modeling patience, gentleness and character for us

mother and baby ducks

Happy Mothers’ Day!
I know I could never really pay my mom back or list all of the ways that she sacrificed for me in my upbringing, but thank you anyway, Mom.

I love this poem. You can read the full text here.
“And here is your lanyard,” I replied.

Hidden Picture Paper

When I was a kid, I loved getting a new issue of Highlights and finding the hidden pictures puzzles. The joys of scanning the intricate images for a toothbrush tucked away in the grain of tree bark or a tea cup sneakily incorporated into the stones of a walkway… Some of my first grade computer students have trouble with certain vocabulary words (they keep referring to the monitor as the “computer,” etc), and I thought this would make a fun way to review.

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I chose twelve words in all and sketched up an underwater coral reef scene. All those plants and fishy shapes made it really hard to hide the boxy shapes and straight lines in the vocab words I’d chosen, but the end result was pretty fun. You can download and print out your own by clicking here. I tested it on a pair of kids this morning- a brother and sister who are eight and nine, and they handed them back to me with their approval and assurance that they didn’t think it was too easy or too hard as well as a few notes scribbled on the backs about who finished first. I’m going to use it in class in another week, and will see then how the first graders handle it. I’m hoping it takes them a little under ten minutes to complete, while working in groups. If you try it, let me know how your kids fare.

Reblogging Some Thoughts on Homeschooling

I heard about this family through a homeschooling friend and wrote about it for Literate Little One. Being a teacher myself, it is a constant occupational concern that my work remain current, new, enthusiastic, and all the other stuff that work generally isn’t once you’ve spent enough time doing it that you know what you’re doing. We can try so hard to keep the lesson materials all shiny and fresh, but the fact is that my twenty kids are sitting in one room for most of the time they are with me, and I have to use multiple different teaching methods to reach as many different learning styles as possible.

I wouldn't go so far as to say classroom education is as bad as this, but it's very easy for it to become so.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say classroom education is as bad as this, but it’s very easy for it to become so.

This means that, necessarily, the kids aren’t going to have their own personal optimal learning style catered to for the majority of the day (and that’s fine- they can certainly learn a lot from having to adjust to learning someone else’s way for a while). The reason this story struck a chord with me, though, is that this family seems to have removed that element from their kids’ education entirely. The kids stay motivated all day with learning as a way of life because their parents can afford to concentrate all their energy on them. There aren’t twenty other kids among whom they must divide their time and attention, and just look at the results:

From Literate Little One:

The Today Show featured an eye-catching story about the incredible success one family has had as homeschoolers. If you haven’t already seen this, you should really check out Bob Dotson’s coverage of it on NBC, but then come right back because we have things to discuss.

Kip and Mona Lisa Harding pose with their children

Kip and Mona Lisa Harding pose with their children

Parents Kip and Mona Lisa have really showcased the benefits of one-on-one attention, haven’t they? The kids are starting college before they hit their teen years! The first one doing university level schoolwork, daughter Hannah, now holds a master’s in both mechanical engineering and math and has a job designing spacecraft. The others listed in this piece are doing equally auspicious things even though the last third of the article builds the case that, not only do the parents consider their children to have average intelligence levels, but their days are spent having fun. Somewhere along the way, work has to come into the mix- it just has to, but it certainly is an easier pill to swallow when your priorities are to find what a student is inclined to learn, what they enjoy, and encourage them to explore that, non? Quoting the father in the article,

“The expectation is that you’re going to have a fun day,” Kip says, watching his children play. “Not that you’re going to come home with A’s.”

Seth Harding in the middle of a "lesson" about the Middle Ages

Seth Harding in the middle of a “lesson” about the Middle Ages

No mention of test anxiety here, no drudging through required typing courses, just find what you love and spend the day on that.

“By the time you get down to number five, number six, they just think learning seems normal. We find out what their passions are, what they really like to study, and we accelerate them gradually,”

so says their mother. If, like me, your first thoughts were that “going to college” is not for twelve year olds, however grand it may sound, consider that the kids are living at home, and certainly not in dorms, and they aren’t launching into it with full courseloads in their first semester. Learning just seems normal for them. Considering the strain of attending a full class day, and the relief of finally stepping back out of the classroom, this is a refreshing perspective. It’s no wonder they’re seeing such brilliant results: learning isn’t the odious task of filling out papers and completing projects in a classroom, it’s just the way of life.

What do you think about this? If you were reared in a traditional classroom setting, do you think you would have gone farther, faster too if you had been able to study this way? If you were homeschooled, did you feel like you had an advantage in the flexibility of a more taylored educational program? How do you feel about starting kids in college work at such an early age? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Deciphering the Current “Intuitive”

Gripe with me for a moment here, please.

My email provider did some updates to the user interface. It’s now more “intuitive” than before, which is a good thing, because I’ve finally figured out where all the buttons got moved to after the last upgrade, so I’m glad they’re freshening it up a bit. SIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGH. Don’t you ever feel like Kevin Bacon at a frat party?

thank you sir may i have another

As soon as your brain gets totally used to the new location of the different features you use, you log in and get a perky little message that things have been streamlined for your convenience. Every time it happens I tell myself that I will be a good sport and just deal with it. Then two seconds later, after I’ve torn out several fistfuls of hair, I swear that I am GETTING A DIVORCE FROM THIS COMPANY, and there it ends. Of course I never leave. Who has the energy to restructure their email routine? But they’re so in-your-face about how little they respect their users. I have a great idea for Google’s next slap in the face product: Google Cycles!

google cycles

Google can filter all female users’ email and chat messages by keyword to pick out time slots of the most emotionally charged
conversation and block off week-long segments to barrage us with targeted ads for Tampax! Boyfriends and male coworkers could sign up for a monthly reminder service and get little warning emails on the day before, and local chocolatiers can buy timed ad space! Isn’t this a great idea? I mean, I can’t imagine how they could get more intrusive than they are now, so why not?

I know, I know. They all do this. Remember this little bit of awesomeness? It’s just the way it is. The bottom line is, I’d rather have the infrastructure of a large company and tolerate the disrespect, but sometimes I wanna just pull a Ron Swanson:

The corporate rudeness is really exhausting. Am I overreacting? Do you get like this? Does it bug you too? And if so, have you ever actually left a big service provider over corporate disrespect?

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Duckling Waterslide

This is what the world has been needing, folks. Here it is.

duckling waterslide

Baby duckies with their own waterslide!

*I used to have this embedded as a Youtube Clip, but apparently the user made it no longer embeddable or something, so I’m just gonna link, but it’s still worth seeing.

SPOILERS! NO NO NO NO NONONONONO!!!!!!

damian wayne

AAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH! So wrong. So. So, so wrong. Spoilers drive me so crazy like nothing else can. It’s probably some kind of illness, but I don’t care. Keep it to yourself, people! I wanted to be surprised. People who give away spoilers should be held legally accountable. Personally, I have the policy that if you tell me the end of a movie I wanna watch, I will spray paint your car and cut holes in all your umbrellas. But HOW can this be maintained with the internet (aside from staying off the internet, I mean- that’s obviously not an option)? My husband tells me I’m alone in my feelings here, but I don’t know about that. I’ve started a petition to the President, asking him to stamp out this antisocial behavior, or at least raise public awareness of it.

Please help my cause by clicking below:

https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/take-definitive-action-against-spoilers/LbrWNbCM

Seriously, people. This is a social ill that has long been ignored and must be stopped. It must, and I’m not the only person who thinks so, I’m sure.

commentary on how i feel

I’m not crazy. I just think it’s a crime against humanity and possibly the cause of all human suffering to spoil a surprise ending and I’ll attack you with a dull axe if you ruin a movie for me. It’s as simple as that.

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