Yesterday my sister and brother-in-law were working at a huge benefit for their work so I had Sean for the whole day (and night). We decided to spend it at the pool which is just about Sean's favorite thing to do because he is, in fact, part fish. For quite a while he found a group of friends to play with (so I could read my book about Bono) but then he decided to go off the diving board. I happened to take a picture of him mid-air and he absolutely loved it. So I spent some quality time taking picture after picture of him jumping. He has absolutely no fear! We basically shut the pool down and it was so much fun! After a little nap (during which Sean did not sleep one wink) we went to the drive-in to see Man of Steel. Sean actually thought that he picked the movie. Ha ha! Sean loved watching the movie from the car and I loved watching Henry Cavill! I remember going to the drive-in all the time when I was a little kid. We would make some popcorn in a large bowl and pack the car with treats, pillows, and blankets. There was usually a double feature with a kid movie first and then a movie that was more appropriate for adults next. I always tried so hard to stay up for the second movie but I rarely did (to this day I still don't know who the murderer is in the movie Murder By Death). I am surprised that Sean actually made it to the end of Man of Steel because it ended at midnight. At the end of the day I was sunburned and exhausted but it was wonderful.
Note: For those of you keeping score at home, I saw Man of Steel twice in a 24 hour period!
I just got home from a midnight screening of Man Of Steel. Going to midnight screenings is so much more fun when you don't have to get up in a few hours to go to work (although that never stops me). This particular movie had quite the crowd flocking to see it at midnight, with many people wearing red capes, and the crowd was especially rowdy. They were even cheering for the previews (to be fair the previews did include Catching Fire and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) so you can imagine what happened when the actual movie began! I will say that the audience (at least the female audience members) collectively sighed when Henry Cavill first appeared on screen! I absolutely loved the movie! The Superman mythology is there but I think this reboot is much more sophisticated and relevant for the turbulent times in which we are living. I love that the story really emphasizes young Clark Kent's difficulty in fitting in with the people of Earth and his struggle to come to terms with who he is. The fact that he is an antisocial misfit roaming from job to job makes his decision to protect humanity from General Zod's desire to repopulate Earth with people from Krypton all the more salient because he gives up the chance to be with people of his own kind. The battle scenes are absolutely incredible, but my favorite scenes in the movie are when Clark practices flying all around the Earth, especially across the savannas of Africa. I really like the cast and I think Henry Cavill does an outstanding job as Clark Kent. While this story does focus on Superman's origins and General Zod, there are several subtle references to Lex Luthor so I predict he will be the next villain. Definitely see this movie (but you don't need to stay through the credits). It is so much fun!
Note: The movie features an awesome song by Chris Cornell called "Seasons." I love that song and I got goose bumps when I heard the first distinctive notes played by an acoustic guitar!
Just one movie wasn't enough for me yesterday! I felt the need for a double feature (I also felt the need for some homemade rolls at Texas Roadhouse) so I went to see After Earth last night. In a dystopian future, humans have been evacuated from Earth for a new home planet called Nova Prime. However, large alien creatures known as Ursas, who hunt humans by smelling their fear, also want to colonize Nova Prime. Will Smith plays a Ranger named General Raige who conquers these creatures by completely controlling his fear. His son Kitai (played by real-life son Jaden Smith) has been rejected by the Ranger Corps and is a disappointment to his father. The General decides to take his son on a training mission into space but their ship crash lands on Earth, which is now extremely hostile to humans. The General has a broken leg so Kitai must travel over 100 km by himself to retrieve a rescue beacon from the tail section of the ship. Not only must Kitai deal with extremely hostile flora and fauna but also an Ursa, which has escaped from the ship's hold, in order to save his father. It is a touching story about the complicated relationship between fathers and sons and the movie is visually spectacular (shot predominantly in the 4K digital format). It is also quite scary. I literally jumped a foot during a particularly intense scene. I was not especially impressed with Jaden Smith. He was such an adorable and charismatic actor in The Pursuit of Happyness but here he seemed very wooden and I couldn't get past his rather odd accent. I'm sure fans of science fiction movies will love it.
Note: There is a really touching scene involving an eagle. I may or may not have shed a tear.
I absolutely love going to movies in the summer. More specifically, I love going to movies during the day when most everybody else is at work! Summer vacation is the greatest thing ever! I luxuriate in the fact that there is nothing that I have to do (I really should practice my guitar, though). I get to do things like go to the movies whenever I want and today I really wanted to see Now You See Me. Just about everybody I know really loved it so I was hoping that I would too! I did! It is smart, sexy, and suspenseful! Four ordinary street magicians are brought together by a mysterious benefactor to perform astounding tricks, such as robbing a bank in Paris while in Las Vegas. Eventually the FBI, Interpol, and an ex-magician who reveals secrets used by magicians for a living try to figure out how these capers were committed. Is it really magic? There is a great twist in the plot that I thought I had figured out but actually didn't! I was quite shocked when the mysterious benefactor was revealed! The ensemble cast is fabulous and I especially enjoyed Woody Harrelson's character! I sometimes get weary of Jesse Eisenberg's talk-as-fast-as-you-can-in-a-monotone-voice method of acting because it seems to me that he is always playing the same smug character but he has great hair in this movie! The scenes involving magic tricks are visually stunning and there is a fabulous car chase! I highly recommend this movie!
As I previously mentioned, I received a Magic Bullet smoothie maker for my birthday and I really wanted to see what all the fuss over green smoothies was about. So I invaded the produce section and attempted to make my very first smoothie yesterday. Seriously delicious! I used a handful of spinach and half of a carrot in my Magic Bullet for a few seconds. Then I added half a banana and a few strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. I filled the rest of the pitcher with water and blended for about 20 more seconds. I couldn't believe how fast it went! It really is magic! I was a little bit skeptical about how the spinach would taste but the dominant flavor was strawberry. I just love all of the vibrant colors of the fruit and vegetables because I know that means they are very good for me. I feel healthier already! I plan to continue making smoothies for the rest of the summer and experimenting with different fruit and vegetable combinations.
Marilyn wanted to see Hale Theatre's production of Ragtime so I got her a ticket for her birthday and we saw the show this afternoon. This is one of my very favorite musicals and I quite enjoyed Hale's staging of it. This is a big show with many characters and multiple storylines about the tumultuous period in American history before the First World War. There is a wealthy family living a perfect life in New Rochelle, an immigrant father who wants a better life for his daughter, a ragtime piano player trying to get justice, a young man yearning for something to believe in, and a vaudeville dancer involved in the Crime of the Century. There are numerous sets and a huge ensemble cast but, as ever, Hale manages to use the small stage very effectively and the choreography is very innovative, especially in "Henry Ford." All of the principle actors have extraordinary voices and are well-suited to their roles, but I especially loved Conlon Bonner as Coalhouse Walker and the song "Sarah Brown Eyes" gave me goose bumps. I also enjoyed Christopher Higbee's performance as Tateh and the song "Buffalo Nickel Photoplay, Inc" is very entertaining. Ragtime, which is based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow, is such a wonderful story and HCT tells it beautifully. I highly recommend getting a ticket.
Last spring when Broadway in Utah announced the 2012-2013 season, I actually squealed when I found out Jersey Boys would be coming to Salt Lake! I have wanted to see this show for so long (I even tried to get a ticket to see it when I was in Chicago for a wedding several years ago but it was sold out) and I have had my ticket in hand for over a year. I finally got to see it tonight and it was definitely worth the wait! Jersey Boys tells the story of The Four Seasons from the time Tommy DeVito, Nick Massi, Nick DeVito, and Frankie Castelluccio were singing under a streetlight in Newark, New Jersey to their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Of course the show featured the amazing music of The Four Seasons and I loved every single song including "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like a Man," "Oh, What a Night" (which was absolutely hilarious), "Stay," "Let's Hang On (To What We've Got)," "Bye Bye Baby," "C'mon Marianne," "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," "Working My Way Back To You," and "Who Loves You?" I really loved when they simulated the images of The Four Season singing "Sherry" on American Bandstand and "Dawn (Go Away)" on The Ed Sullivan Show. So amazing! However, my favorite part of the entire show was when The Four Seasons sang "Rag Doll" during the Hall of Fame induction. My Dad is a huge fan of the Four Seasons (I may or may not have gotten him tickets to this show for Father's Day) and he played their music all of the time on our road trips. I loved "Rag Doll" and I always asked my Dad to repeat it. Goosebumps! The entire cast was incredible in all of the high-energy song and dance numbers but I was beyond impressed with Nick Cosgrove as Frankie Valli. Gotta love those high notes! What a night!
I've been teaching for a really long time and I've had many students who have been very special to me but I think Sambat is in a completely different category. He is definitely taking a piece of my heart with him as he leaves Hunter High School. Sambat came to the United States from Cambodia when he was twelve years old. He could barely speak English and was placed in ESL classes as a seventh grader. I first met Sambat when he was a sophomore in my AVID class three years ago. He was very quiet and sat in the back but he was very diligent. Towards the end of the year I created a presentation with various movie clips about motivation and Sambat came up to me and asked me if he could have a copy of it on his flash drive because he was so inspired by it (practically the first time he ever spoke to me). After that I began to pay special attention to him and he started spending his free time in my classroom. I eventually started proofreading all of his papers to correct his grammar. At first, his papers were covered with corrections but, a few weeks ago, I handed him a paper without any marks on it! He was so proud! I am always giving my AVID students inspirational quotes but I didn't realize that Sambat was taking them to heart. When I asked him what made him want to run for student body office, he told me it was because of this quote by Wayne Dyer: "Don't die with the music still inside you." One day when I was feeling a little bit down, Sambat said, "Don't fight the river, Ms. Johnson." This is a Carlos Castaneda quote that I say quite often. Sambat worked harder than any other student I have ever known. He went from taking all ESL classes to taking honors and concurrent enrollment classes and he consistently had a 4.0 GPA. He once said that he didn't know why everyone didn't get an A in chemistry because the teacher gave out a sheet of projects and assignments at the beginning of the unit and students could choose their grade by how many and what level assignments they completed. Sambat always did every assignment. He performed over 100 hours of community service, worked every day after school as a janitor, and got up really early to take his Mom to work. At the beginning of his senior year he made the goal to apply for at least 50 scholarships and he far exceeded that goal, receiving over $40,000. He won just about every award Hunter High School gives out and he wore a rainbow of honor cords at graduation. After thinking long and hard about it, he decided to attend Salt Lake Community College for two years (tuition and books paid for). I admire Sambat so much and I could not be prouder of him. My heart actually breaks when I think that he won't be standing by my door when I arrive at school any more (although he might be an AVID tutor for Hunter High next year). Congratulations Sambat!
Yesterday was my birthday! I don't know if I am any wiser but I am definitely a year older! I had a great day because the school year is winding down and I only had a few students in each class. I got a lot of work done and basically goofed off with the students who did show up. I ended the day with a family party. My Dad ordered my favorite pizza from Zepponi's, which is one of the few pizza places in Utah which has green olives, and I had a Baskin Robbins ice cream cake with chocolate cake and mint chocolate chip ice cream. I was really spoiled and my favorite present was a smoothie maker. I am so excited to make smoothies and I plan on buying lots and lots of fruits and vegetables this weekend! My favorite part of the party was when my sweet little nephew was leaving to go home and had to come back to give the "birthday girl" a hug. I know that he was just stalling because he didn't want to go to bed but it still melted my heart!
Last night Marilyn and I took Sean and Tashena to a Salt Lake Bees baseball game. It was a wonderful preview of how awesome the summer is going to be! I can't wait! The weather was absolutely beautiful and it felt great to be outside. The Bees played the Colorado Springs Sky Sox and it was a fun game with some dramatic home runs. The Bees ended up winning 7-4. It was enough to keep Sean's attention and we were actually able to stay until the end of the game (our previous record was the seventh inning). Of course, the real reason Sean likes to go to baseball games (or any other sporting event, for that matter) is because he gets his very own pizza and ice cream in a baseball helmet! You can see that he likes to wear the helmet when he finishes the ice cream! Tashena wasn't even pretending to watch the game. She played games on Marilyn's phone for most of the time. But we had such a good time! We laughed and laughed...and actually stayed out past Sean's bedtime!
Note: I am such a sports junkie that I was at a baseball game and watching a hockey game on my phone. I am actually really happy that I was at the baseball game instead of watching hockey with a certain Penguins fan...
The May selection for my book club was The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout. This book has garnered a lot of buzz because it is the long awaited follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize winning Olive Kitteridge (which, incidentally, is highly recommended by Will Schwalbe in The End of Your Life Book Club). I was very eager to read this book but, honestly, it didn't really sustain my interest. I found myself putting it down after only a few pages at a time. However, it is beautifully written with wonderfully descriptive language and it touches on a very powerful theme of sibling rivalry. Jim Burgess is a successful attorney in a powerful New York City law firm and famously defended a celebrity in a high profile murder case. He has a beautiful home, loving wife, and perfect children. Bob Burgess is a divorced alcoholic who works for a legal aid society. Both brothers fled their hometown of Shirley Falls, Maine, now an economically depressed mill town with an influx of Somali refugees, after a traumatic accident from their childhood resulting in the death of their father. They are forced to return to Shirley Falls, and their memories, when their sister Susan informs them that her son is in some serious trouble because of an incident with the Somalis. As the brothers try to deal with their nephew's legal troubles, revelations about the accident come to light which change the dynamic between the brothers (and their sister). As a result, Jim's well-ordered and perfect world begins to crumble while Bob stops drinking and takes charge of his life. None of these characters are particularly sympathetic and I found myself caring more about Adbikarim, the Somali who becomes the unlikely hero. Nevertheless, the idea that childhood memories can have a profound impact on the person you become is very powerful so I would recommend this book. I think I've been too distracted by the end of the school year chaos that has overtaken my life to give this book a fair chance.
This good looking group is my senior AVID class. I have taught this particular group for three years and they will be graduating next week. I can hardly believe it! Three years of tutorials, learning logs, Cornell notes, Socratic Seminars, Philosophical Chairs, and binder checks. Three years of traveling to every college campus in Utah, attending the Sundance Film Festival, and seeing plays at Hale Center Theatre. Three years of volunteering at the Soup Kitchen, the Utah Food Bank, and the Festival of Trees. With all of that, the thing they will remember most from their three years in the AVID program is when I got really mad at them and threw my keys on the floor when they were sophomores! Yeah. They have worked really hard and will be attending Salt Lake Community College, the University of Utah, Utah State University, Weber State University, Southern Utah University, and Utah Valley University next year. I am extremely proud of them and I know they will do great things in the coming years. Good luck to the Class of 2013!
Memorial Day 2013 was amazing! This year we didn't stray much farther than my parents' backyard. We had burgers, every kind of salad imaginable (see the recipe for my cole slaw here), watermelon, and s'mores! The weather was absolutely beautiful and it was so much fun being with Sean and Tashena. I am really looking forward to summer!
Memorial Day is the official start of BBQ season and I, for one, could not be more excited! I love summer BBQs because I think food always tastes so much better outdoors! For my family's Memorial Day BBQ, I made the world's best cole slaw which I found here.
Here is the recipe:
1/2 cup mayonaise
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 tblsp. apple cider vinegar
2 tablsp. lemon juice
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. celery salt
16 oz. bag shredded cole slaw mix
Wisk together all of the ingredients except the shredded cole slaw mix in a large bowl. Add the cole slaw mix and stir until well blended with the dressing. Refrigerate for two or more hours (Overnight is best). Mix well just before serving.
It is, literally, the best cole slaw ever! It tastes exactly like the cole slaw from KFC!
Definitely give this recipe a try for your next BBQ! I plan to make it often this summer!
There's no better way to start the long Memorial Day weekend than by attending the last Utah Symphony concert of the 2012-2013 season. It was an incredibly beautiful performance featuring the music of Dvorak and Brahms. Associate Conductor Vladimir Kulenovic was on the podium and I love watching him because he is so dramatic. The concert began with the Slavonic Dances by Dvorak which are based on Serbian folk dances and are very patriotic and stirring. Then the orchestra played Dvorak's Concerto for Violin with soloist Augustin Hadelich, who played brilliantly. I loved this piece, especially the third movement! It is so romantic and emotional. After the intermission, we heard Symphony No. 2 by Brahms. I found this piece to be very atmospheric and I particularly loved the theme played by the clarinet in the first movement. I also loved the the theme played by the cellos in the second movement. It was a lovely evening! The end of the school year can be a bit stressful with lots of final tests to grade and lots of projects to wrap up so tonight was a wonderful chance to relax and unwind with some marvelous music!
I have the most amazing opportunity for my students next year. Adobe Youth Voices is a program that gives students the chance to use multimedia to tell stories about issues they care about to create positive change in the world. Adobe sponsors teachers by giving them training in using advanced digital media tools and advanced storytelling techniques and by providing schools with lots of great software. One of my colleagues who teaches the media production class applied to and was accepted into the program (which is extremely competetive) and she asked me and another colleague in the English department to join her. She figured that the two of us could help the students with writing and storytelling and she could help out with the technical aspects. I am so excited about this! We had our first training on Tuesday and tonight we were invited to an exhibition of work by students in the program this year held at the City Library. It was so inspiring and I can't wait to be sitting in the audience next year watching my students' work!