Friday, February 27, 2009

Adventures In Building

As my muse, Francesca, shrewdly spotted in my last entry, yes, I did recently go to Build-A-Bear Workshop and build a bear for myself.

I should say before continuing that I had a perfectly legitimate reason for going to Build-A-Bear by myself, without my children.  When I take my children to Build-A-Bear, they selfishly insist on getting animals for themselves.  Furthermore, they claim they need "help."  So, I have never done a bear for me.

Not that this was a bear for me, per se.  I mean, technically, I own it, but it isn't for me.  It's for my students.  I teach music at an elementary school.  Our mascot is the Wildcats.  Build-A-Bear has a special High School Musical bear.  The school in High School Musical also has the Wildcats as a mascot.  So, you see, there was no way around it: I had to purchase a Build-A-Bear High School Musical Special Edition Bear for my young Wildcats.  And I had to do it in person, not online, because that would have been cheating.

I've taken the kids to Build-A-Bear dozens of times.  We usually don't deal with the staff, because Sven and I want to Share The Experience with our kids.  We have generally gone on a weekend or holiday, when the store is completely stuffed and we're lucky to escape with our lives, let alone our custom blow-up bear furniture.  However, as an adult woman, alone, on a workday during a non-holiday week, I had a totally different Build-A-Bear experience.

Firstly, the staff was not "on."  The perkiness I normally associate only with Build-A-Bear employees and meth addicts was conspicuously absent.  I chose my bear, got my sound module, and approached the giant stuffing apparatus with no acknowledgement.  That was fine; I was a little embarrassed to be there, with only a tourist family for company.   My discomfort was only slightly increased by the tourist family's apparent lack of interest in buying a bear; however, they photographed every step of my journey, which will, I'm sure, make an interesting slide show when they get back home.

When I finally approached the Stuffing Machine of the Gods, the young woman working there managed to put a smile on her face and motioned me forward.

"Hi," she said uncertainly.

"This is for my students," I said, wanting us all to be at ease.  The tourist family nodded.

"Whew!" she said.  "Do you want to do the whole spiel?"

"No, that's okay," I laughed.  I handed her the bear to stuff.  The tourist family got their cameras ready.

"Did you kiss your heart?" the Stuffer asked.

"I thought we were skipping-"

"KISS THE HEART!" she commanded, choosing one from the bin of bear organs they keep next to the stuffing turbine.  The tourist family grinned, pleased to capture the moment.  I kissed the heart.  She stuffed the bear until it was acceptable to me (which I had to prove by hugging) and then moved immediately to the cash register.

You heard right.  She didn't try to get me to "bathe" the bear under the air showers, register the bear's birth certificate, or dress the bear.  Furthermore, she didn't attempt to upsell the bear condominium, furniture, or time share on Fire Island.  She allowed me to pick out some miniature animals for my children, then sent me on my way.

As I staggered out of the store, I saw the tourist family headed for the animal bins.  I left them there, intent on saving myself.  I hope they made it out.

Book Review X 2

Recently, I was trapped in the Houston Galleria for several hours.  As far as being trapped goes, it was a good place to be trapped, assuming one has unlimited access to money and a size 2 figure.  For me, once I had purchased clothing for my children and a Build-A-Bear for myself, I found myself facing several empty hours.  Fortunately, a large Border's Books was very near, and I was able to purchase some new books, and I would like to pass them on to you.

1. The Reader by Bernhard Schlink (Now a Major Motion Picture!)
I haven't seen the movie, but like most people, I heard of it when Kate Winslet began winning awards for it.  It looked fairly short, so I decided to give it a try.  The plot is basically this: a teenaged boy has an affair with an older woman.  When he gets older, after it has ended, he sees her on trial for her role as a concentration camp guard.
This isn't what I would call an "uplifting" book.  The narrator, the teenaged boy, is a sort of wishy-washy, I-want-what-I-can't-have-but-now-that-I-can-have-it-I-don't-want-it kind of guy that bothered me.  I like strong characters, not in the sense that they are strong people, but in the sense that they are strongly written enough to get a sense of them as people, and these characters weren't "strong" in that way.  For me, this book read like a "message" book, but I wasn't ever sure what the message was, and the story wasn't strong enough to really impress me.
Maybe I'll like the movie, I don't know.  My rating: three stars (out of seven)

2. The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir (would make a great movie)
I'm a fan of Alison Weir; she has written non-fiction history for years, and her works always manage to be engaging and lively instead of dry and dusty.  A few years ago she wrote Innocent Traitor, a fictionalized biography of Lady Jane Grey, which was amazing.  Now, she has attempted what I firmly believe no historical fiction writer should: the life of Queen Elizabeth I.
Weir is no fool; she sticks to the early years.  The book opens with Anne Boleyn's execution and Elizabeth's documented response to her change in title, and goes from there.  Weir makes some assumptions about Elizabeth's personality and early life, but they are well-founded assumptions and, for me, they rang true.  Weir deviates from her own historical assertions at one crucial point, and it was at that point that the book rang false to me, but it recovered afterwards.
If you are a fan of historical fiction, or a Tudor buff, give this one a try.  I give it 18 stars out of 19.

Happy reading!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Living Up to the Hype

Does anything in life ever live up to the hype? Anticipation, though delicious in and of itself, often ruins the exact thing we anticipate. Expectation, anticipation's spinster aunt, is even worse: it is anticipation without the joy.

I recently wrote a blog entry about how I can find anything. I have now failed to live up to my own hype for almost a week. I came home Saturday afternoon to find that Sven had lost the remote control to the downstairs TV. (Sven claims one of the children took it, which is possible, but if Sven had only taken the common-sense precaution of tying the remote control to his left wrist, none of this would have happened.) I have looked all over the house, but my fabled psychic find-all is broken. I think the problem is that I wasn't there when it was lost, hence I cannot be there when it is found. It is but the way of the world. I have now taken the step that will guarantee that the remote will be found: I have ordered a replacement, which means that ten minutes after we open the replacement, the new one will emerge, chuckling heartily, from its hiding place.

Another lackluster hype-fest was last night's finale of Top Chef. I don't watch a lot of reality TV, understand; I fully recognize that reality TV is the total downfall of our civilization, so I only watch the really socially redeeming ones, like:
  • Top Chef
  • Project Runway
  • America's Next Top Model
  • Hell's Kitchen
  • Flavor of Love
  • Keeping Up With The Kardashians (which I watch ironically)
  • The Girls Next Door (which I only watch so I can pass righteous judgment)
  • The Real Housewives of Atlanta (which I view as straight comedy)

So, I have come to expect a certain level of professionalism and quality from the reality shows I watch so selectively. This season of Top Chef disappointed me on many levels by stooping to the "romance among contestants" ploy so often employed by less me-worthy shows, thus keeping two lackluster contestants around longer than they deserved so the romance angle could be played up. And, worst of all (spoiler, so highlight to see): one of them won.

Fortunately, some things do live up to the hype. Lost is having a great fifth season. I enjoyed all of the Twilight books. My stuffed Evil Monkey came yesterday, and it looks almost exactly like the one on Family Guy.

I'm on the lookout, though, for things that aren't pre-hyped for my entertainment pleasure; things I can discover on my own and nurture until they become so popular that I give them up in disgust for selling out to all of those fans who only liked them after they became "popular."

As it is supposed to be.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

On Top Of Everything Else

I was reading an interesting article today about the Octo-Mom, Nadya Suleman. This article was marvelling over the fall from miracle to punchline in such a short time.

It seems like ages ago when it was announced that *someone* had given birth to octuplets, and all looked to survive. Remember the initial coverage? The doctors talking about the "surprise" eighth baby, because they were sure there were only seven? It was quite a heart-warming story.

Of course we all assumed that fertility treatments were involved. But as the story unfolded, a sense of unease about the whole situation seemed to pervade, quickly turning to hostility.

I remember first finding out that she had six children already. Then I heard that she was single and lived with her parents. Then I heard that the doctor had implanted way more embryos than he was supposed to have. Then I heard that the first six children were also through IVF. All of this made me uneasy.

Then I heard that all of her fertility treatments, medical care, and personal expenses were being paid for with public money. (For the record, I have no idea if this is true or not, since I live in a different state, but this is the commonly-held perception.) This is when my perception of her turned hostile; my health insurance doesn't cover fertility treatments, so the thought of someone being allowed to use public funds for this purpose really, really irritated me.

I'm obviously not the only one. However, how many of our reactions are fueled not by what she has done, necessarily, but by all of the other things that are going on?

The economy has everyone scared. People are losing their jobs; people who are keeping their jobs are facing some pay cuts or decrease in benefits. When we hear about a single mother with fourteen children being supported by taxpayer money, it allows everything else we're scared about to come to a head, and we express all of our anger and fear at that one, final stimulus.

This happens to me all the time. For me, one of my very silly stimuli is the internet. I'll read a blog post, or a discussion forum post, and it will make me so angry that I literally shake. Am I really angry that a college student hates Twilight that much? No, of course not. I'm scared that my son is always sick, I'm scared that we don't have enough money, I'm frustrated about not losing weight, I'm scared about growing older, but I'm angry at Twilight-hating-girl because that's not about me at all. I can be angry at her without hurting myself, examining my life, or facing my fears.

For me, my new goal with my Octo-Mom obsession is to try and focus on something else, something that I feel I can really help with and relate to.

Zac, Justin, Rob: I can help you. Call me.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Random Musings

I was watching Vh-1 recently, and a video came on that has since been in heavy rotation. It's a song called "Let's Dance" by an artist going by the name of Lady Gaga. I never thought I'd use the phrase "poor man's Christina Aguilera," but it fits here. The substance of the song is about that lovely time in every young woman's life, when she's too drunk to realize she's no longer at a club but at someone's house, becoming intimate with a blow-up whale in a wading pool in the backyard. And people say the '80's are dead!

* * * * * * * *

I heard a rumor that Zac Efron, Justin Timberlake, and Rob Pattinson are supposedly teaming up to make a movie together. I am in pretty man heaven. However, the buzz from some of the blogs is that all isn't well on the set:
  1. Justin is upset that he doesn't get as much screen time as the "actors"
  2. Zac is upset that he isn't the lead
  3. Senor Sparklepuss is just trying to get the movie made and is sick of the drama

Yay, Sparklepuss. I have to say, though, seeing these three onscreen would be pretty cool, kind of like Clooney, Pitt, and Damon in "Ocean's 11" but for HOBs. However, I would caution all three about the whole "promising young actor" bit with two words:


Hayden Christensen.  That is all.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I hadn't realized how dependent I am on late-night cable. When we were out of town, our hotel room didn't have the following channels:

  • Bravo
  • Lifetime
  • Vh-1
  • E!
  • Comedy Central

Honestly! How do they expect me to sleep? Fortunately, HBO-14623512 was running Star Trek II: The Man Boobs of Khan, one of my favorite childhood movies. Unfortunately, it began at 1:00 a.m., meaning I was up until 3:00 watching it. Fortunately, no one else was awake, so I could heckle all I wanted. Unfortunately, my moist snorts of laughter awoke Sven and Sven Jr., so Spock's death scene and funeral were heckled only in my mind. I did get to heckle Checkov's earwig, though ("Sorry, Admeeral, I haven't been myself, this blood-soaked worm has been eating my brain...") as well as Kirstie Alley's unforgettable portrayal of Rebecca, the Vulcan bar owner who comes on board to get the Enterprise to turn a profit.

After Kahn had spat his dying declaration ("From hell's heart-ah, I stab-ah ah-thee!" Die........ and die) and Spock had been shot into oblivion, I found an old episode of Law and Order, which, though it predated talking pictures, was still compelling enough to keep me up for another hour. Ah, what I wouldn't have given for Lady Gaga right then, to soothe me to sleep with her music that I'm secretly convinced is a joke...

I love insomnia...