The Beautiful Game

Here are the reasons why you should watch the World Cup intensively (started today with Brazil beating Croatia 3-1):

1) It’s only a month long. You can do anything for a month, even pretend to like soccer. In January, people manage to eat healthy and exercise for a whole month before giving up in February. Make this your June/July resolution.

2) National pride. “Go, go USA.” And then “Rule Britannia.” And finally, “Deutschland, Deutschland, über alles.” Try to be careful not to slip into nationalism here. I tend to root for the Northern Europeans because they appear to be cleaner and flop less theatrically than their Latin counterparts (looking at you, Neymar Jr.). But be careful. It’s a slippery slope.

3) For a month, the world feels smaller. I love watching on my little laptop knowing that people are watching the same match all over the world. I mean, even Pope Francis is watching. You’re in good company, should you watch.

4) It’s refreshing to see the US struggle to compete. I love being a citizen of the United States, but sometimes I really dislike the whole ‘Merica attitude. We may have football, baseball, and basketball, but in the sport the rest of the world plays we rank #13.

5) British sportscasters. Probably just the accent, but I feel like these men are far more profound and knowledgeable than our commentators. Also, I know less about soccer, so they could be feeding me lies. Still, it feels classier than watching the Heat-Spurs game.

6) Limited commercial breaks. There are two 45 minutes halves that run without stopping. The only time you see commercials is during halftime. Amazing.

7) Mistakes are made. This ain’t Wimbledon, folks. That tournament has one chair umpire and 18 line officials on the court. At the World Cup, it’s just the referee and the 2 linesmen. There are no challenges to calls. No instant replay. We just now have goal-line technology. We could complain about this (I was already feeling frustrated today), or we could embrace the fact that we can always blame a bad or missed call for a loss. After all, life isn’t fair, so why should our sports be?

8) World Cup Bracket. The reason I watch NCAA basketball in March/April is because I make a bracket. I am highly invested in the tournament until Duke gets upset again like they always do and blows my bracket for the year. Not everyone has a Papa Kjergaard who pays the bracket winner a prize (yes, we participate in a pool that we do not pay into), but you too could create a bracket and feel similarly invested in the outcome of the match. In fact, we do two brackets: one for pool play and one for the rest of the tournament.

9) Geography/Current Events. You can learn a lot by listening/watching the ESPN/ABC stories about teams from other parts of the world. I would have known nothing about the civil war in Côte d’Ivoire if not for stories about Didier Drogba and Les Elephants.

10) The USA will win the world cup this year. You heard it here first. We have a German coach (who doesn’t realistically expect them to win). And we’re ranked #13. We just have to somehow come out ahead of Ghana and Portugal. But who is Ghana (just the team that k knocked us out of the past two World Cups)? And Portugal is just Cristiano Ronaldo (best player in the world) plus ten other players. And the fact that we’re in the Group of Death is an honor. Germany, Ghana, and Portugal are just as nervous about playing us as we are of playing them. So yes, it’s going to be a pretty historic tournament for team USA.

*Hope and sarcasm are intertwined in #10.

Enchanted and Terrified

Dr. Lecter and I go way back to the sophomore year of high school. My awesome cross country friends (seriously, they were a great group of kids) were watching The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal on a Saturday night. And I really wanted to go. I was mature; I’d grown up reading Agatha Christies and Nancy Drews. And we all know those are pretty scary. So yeah, I was pretty well prepared for this movie night. False. Although, Clarice Starling does share some similarities with Nancy Drew, Nancy never had a friend/foe quite like Dr. Lecter. So…I made it through the movies, Dad picked me up, and I went home and did not shut my eyes or turn off the lights in my room for weeks. I was scarred, yet fascinated. Or two quote one the good doctor’s patients, “I am enchanted and terrified.”

Truly, I don’t do horror movies. I don’t like gore. I don’t like disposable characters. But I will suffer through a lot for well-drawn, complicated characters. My favorite books, shows, movies all tend to be character driven rather than plot driven. Action scenes in movies make me really sleepy. But two people having a quiet conversation…couldn’t be more riveting to me.

When 30 Rock ended, it left a void in my life. So naturally, I replaced a hilarious comedy with a dark drama (same network, though). So now instead of Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy solving their problems in 23 minute intervals, I get to watch Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham dance on the best friend/mortal enemy line. I can’t say that I “watch” all that much of the show. I don’t have a stomach for violence, so I end up covering the screen with my hand and muting the volume. When it feels like two characters are having a quiet conversation, I’m all in.

The writers/director/producers have been very clever thus far. In the first season, you know in the abstract that Hannibal is horrible, but for the most part you never see him doing any killing. In fact, you see him saving lives rather than ending them. He does a lot of cooking and dinner party prepping. He dresses impeccably and achieves a perfect balance between traditional architecture and mid-century modern pieces in his office/library. He supports the arts. He sketches quietly in his library. It’s easy to find him sympathetic.

The second season has amped up its philosophical and theological discussions of the nature of good and evil. There’s always a few lines that make me pause and analyze. And then I’m back to muting the volume and covering the screen, waiting desperately for another therapy session or dinner party. And then somehow, in the last few minutes of the finale, with the kitchen looking like the stage of a Shakespearean tragedy before the curtain falls (a.k.a. lots of death and blood), Hannibal walks away into the rain. And darned if you don’t feel like he’s the one who’s lost his last friend and deserves all the pity.

The show was renewed for a 3rd season. It may be the last. It’s not all that popular, despite the blood and gore. Probably because the despite the blood and gore it is, at its heart, a quiet, slow show about the nature of evil, of friendship, seeing blindly etc. At least, that’s what I’ve gleaned from the non-violent minutes I can watch.

On Niceness and Running Shoes

It’s too bad that we’ve over-used the word nice. At this point, it’s really just a way of saying something when you can’t think of anything specific. Right now in the post, I was going to take you back to the beautiful Latin origin of the word. Alas, while nice is from the Latin nescius, it literally translates into “not knowing” or “foolish.” So that’s that. You’re a weird language, English.

But I know that I personally don’t spend enough time trying to be nice and appreciating niceness in others. Yesterday was the perfect example of being virtually smacked upside the head with niceness. I was meeting a friend to run the weekly 5k (there’s a “running club” associated with one of the downtown pubs, so every week downtown is flooded with runners of all calibers). By going a little early (Kjergaard early means you get places with an hour to spare), I thought I would have time to go to the  downtown running store and get the latest pair of Mizunos (I have always worn Mizunos except for one awful year wearing Nikes).

As I was scoping out the cute shoe selection, one of the sales associates asked what I wanted. I explained the absurd brand loyalty situation, and he hesitated and asked if I’d been fitted for my shoes. Nope. I ordered them on Amazon Prime. The floodgates had opened. I confessed to knee pain in my left knee and hip pain in my right hip. Then I started on trying on the shoes. Each pair felt heavenly and light. But then they would march me outside (at this point the British manager was involved) and watch as I trotted up half a block and back down. I did this a lot. Each time they would shake their heads sorrowfully. Turns out I overpronate in my left foot and supinate in my right (my left foot collapses in and my right collapses out). Feel free to assess the truly horrendous running form thanks to my dad’s sweet new camera.

Yeah, I was beat that guy to the finish line even though I look like I'm about to keel over. Such bad form!

Yeah, I beat those guys to the finish line even though I look like I’m about to keel over. Bend your legs, girl!

One hour later, we had tried on and run in (I’m using “we” because it was a team effort) 8 pairs of shoes. Words were used that I did not understand. Finally, we settled on the Brooks Defyance (I hate with every fiber of my being that they’ve replace the ‘i’ with a ‘y’) because they offered the most support for my left foot but not too much for my right foot. And then the British manager (I think I liked her so much because she was British) told me to take the shoes to a rubberized track (at first she came up with an elaborate plan for sneaking onto the local college’s fancy track) and run 4-5 miles and see how they felt. If there was any pain, I was to bring them back right away, and we’d start from scratch.

As I was putting my old shoes on, I cracked a joke about how I wasn’t going to be barefoot running anytime soon. And their eyes lit up.  She (I wish I knew her name) outlined a careful plan to switch over to minimal shoes should this not work out. I was and am intrigued by the idea of barefoot running. We’ll see.

Anways, the point of this whole long, rambling account was that the people in the store went out of their way to be nice. They weren’t upselling at all (my shoe ended up being cheaper than most of the others I tried on), and they lavished time on me. I walked out feeling utterly cared for by two complete strangers. Isn’t that nice?

They bear a close resemblance to the bright, white shoe favored my many fashionless mothers, but they could be just what I need!

They bear a close resemblance to the bright, white shoe favored my many fashionless mothers, but they could be just what I need!

*I have not tried the shoes out yet. Heading out tomorrow morning! Fingers crossed that they work. Otherwise…it’s back to the drawing board!

100 days of happy and a miscellany

My team at school decided to do “100 days of happy” together. Basically, once a day we take a picture of something that makes us happy and we text it to everyone else. We’re 8 days in, and it has lead me to the conclusion that we are very happy people! Choosing one thing in a day has made me more cognizant of feeling happy, and then seeing 5 other “happies” in the day makes me even happier. It’s a win-win situation. Although, we’re only 8 days in to a 100 day challenge.

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I was looking for Dorothea Lange pictures for literature next year, and I stumbled across this image. Isn’t it lovely? It capture the essence of a summer afternoon (Henry James’s two loveliest words in the English language).

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I’m rereading Agatha Christie’s autobiography, and her mother chastised a little girl who had spoken rudely to the servants. It’s a bit old-fashioned, but anyone who’s been a sales clerk, cashier, waitress, barista, teacher, etc. can identify:

You must always be polite to people whose position forbids them to be rude to you. If you are impolite, they will despise you, and rightly, because you have not acted like a lady.

And lastly, creativity. I’ve always accepted that I am a creative person. My family could tell you stories of my intense defense of this fact. I’m not an artist, but I like to draw and sketch and paint things. The urge to cross-stitch or knit something seizes at least once a year. I decorate and put together outfits. I write here.

A few weeks ago we were walking through the halls of our school and we noticed that the 2nd grade students had painted flowers. These paintings were careful and observant. They were also beautiful. Then we walked upstairs. 5th grade also had art hanging in the hallways, but it was sloppy and juvenile. Their landscape renderings with colored pencils were so much worse than what 7-year-olds had done with watercolors that it was astonishing. My hunch is that somewhere along the line students start over-thinking and decide that they’re not the “creative type.” I think we’re all the creative type. Creating may be what makes us human.

So imagine my delight when I spent yesterday afternoon carefully painting and drawing. The swell of pride when I look at my little columbine borders on the ridiculous. And yet, I made it, and so I feel an inordinate amount of affection for it. Of course it’s not perfect, but I feel that I’ve seen the flower and understand and appreciate its beauty and complexity much more than before. One of my goals for this summer is to sketch and paint at least once a week. This act of observing and creating gives me a peace that I don’t find in any other activity. So I say to you all: “Buy a sketch book! And some paints! Muck around a bit! Look closely at a leaf, petal, squirrel, pine cone! Whatever! It’s so freeing to concentrate intensely for a half hour. Enjoy your summer!”

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Not with a bang but with a whimper – Training for Colfax

Tonight I ran my final training run before Sunday. I’ll run for 15 minutes or so on Saturday, but other than that, it’s done. Other than that pesky 13.1 mile race.

This is the second time I’ve trained to run a half marathon, and I’m more or less a seasoned runner now (I am being sarcastic, but I also recognize that I have actually made huge strides to improve my lifestyle). Here are a few discoveries I’ve made this time around:

1) When your all-wise runkeeper training plan tells you to run a certain pace you should probably stick with that even though you can go faster. I’m not sure what I was trying to prove or who I was trying to impress, but I kind of wish I would’ve peaked right around now rather than March.

2) No need to be a hero when you’re sick. Once again, I am running this race in honor of no one, without anything riding on it, and I have absolutely nothing to prove. I should’ve taken some time off when I got sick instead of running through the coughing. Although, I’m still kind of proud of running while I was sick and making myself sicker. Weirdo.

3) Expensive socks are worth it. I actually got my pairs as a gift from my room mom, and I really struggle to wear anything else. They prevent blisters and rubbing and somehow my feet are always the perfect temperature when I wear my feetures socks. I may love them too well…as my father realized when he pulled my crusty socks out of my shoes to toss down for me to wash. “You don’t wash your socks after every run?” he asked, with a note of horror and disgust in his voice. “Nope.”

4) No one’s actually watching/judging you. I was so self-conscious when I started running a year and a half ago that I would run only in the early morning. I didn’t want to run with other people, and I didn’t want to run with family members. But after doing it enough, I started to realize that most people aren’t watching from their porches or cars with speedometers pointed at my plodding feet. Although, truly, I’ve found most people to be kind and supportive. There’s a sweet, older couple on the first mile of my route that I often cross paths with in the late afternoon. They always cheer me on and tell me to stay fit. I love the obligatory wave you give other runners as you trot along. Turns out that once again, I am my harshest critic.

5) There’s no contemplative state quite like that of running. I am so easily distracted at home or at school. I start a task and then check my email, or add yet another 1930s chick lit book to my amazon cart, or go eat more teacher breakfast (we’ve had breakfast everyday this week, and it’s amazing!). But when I’m running I’m kind of stuck with my self and my audiobook. I sort through problems as I run (what matching outfits can we wear for the last week of school and how can I fix the problems in the American educational system), or I have to focus so hard on putting one foot in front of the other. Either way, it’s an escape from my usual distractedness.

6) I think I can run a marathon now. I’m not one hundred percent sure that I will, but I think I have the tools to make it happen. Although, mostly I just want to suddenly wake up faster so that if I do decide to run a marathon it won’t take me a thousand years.

7) I try no to take this for granted. “Reason not excuses” has become my mantra. I also try to tell myself that I get to run. I don’t have to do this at all, but it’s my privilege. I have the leisure time to run. I live in a safe country in a safe neighborhood. While I never want to be reckless about my safety, it’s not lost on me that in many places and cities in the world I wouldn’t be able to head out my front door for a run. And maybe it’s the Prussian/Scandinavian bones, but my body holds up pretty well to running. I mean, there are the usual aches and pains but just when I was convinced I had a stress fracture in my left foot,  I loosened my laces a little bit. Problem solved. And once again, injury free. Seriously though, I have never had stitches, broken a bone, or pulled a muscle. Good genes.

I really really want to run well on Sunday. I’ve put in a lot of work and time into training, but I guess at the end of the day “the prize goes to the man in the arena.”  Malcolm Gladwell writes about the risk of working hard. If you never work hard at anything, you always have an excuse for failure. It’s so much more daring to work hard for something. If you fail, what do you fall back on? There are no lies/excuses with which to comfort yourself. You’ve been tried and found wanting. I know this is just a race that I’ve paid to run (slightly ridiculous), but I’ve struggled with this my entire life. I’ve always been afraid of working really hard and failing because then I would know for sure that I wasn’t good enough. Perhaps this is too gloomy, but I am trying to accept the risk of working hard and the humility of recognizing that even with all my hard work things may be out of my reach. Wish me luck.

In Defense of Frozen

That’s a stupid title, because I’m pretty sure this movie doesn’t need any defending. Everyone loved it, and I’m sure a generation of little girls will grow up playing Elsa and Anna. But since I generally don’t like kid movies (I’ll watch Pixar films, but otherwise I’m all about R-rated slasher flicks. I jest. I mostly stick to incredibly dull costume dramas), a little further analysis seemed in order. Also, I have heard a few nay-sayers offer some criticism. And there shall be no criticism of Frozen.

1) There is nothing wrong with romantic love, but not only was it refreshing to see a story in which the central conflict was not romantic but familial/internal, I think it’s necessary. I will always love the Disney princess movies, and I don’t think they did me any harm, but love is so much bigger than romance. I feel that I should add the disclaimer that I am single, so there is the slight possibility that romantic love really is what it’s all about, and I’m just deluding myself, but I’ll take my chances.

2) Spoiler alert. True love is active, not passive. Up until the very end, I expected someone to swoop in and save Anna. I was shocked when Anna stepped in between her sister and Hans. What?!? The “act of love to thaw a broken heart” had a double meaning!!! One act of self-sacrifice thaws two frozen hearts. Wounded as she was, it was Anna who possessed the strength and courage to love and save her sister (and her self). Well done, Disney.

3) Sisters are a lovely thing. I fell into the wikipedia Frozen wormhole yesterday, and came out having sacrificed an hour of a nap, but I gained so much knowledge. Originally, Elsa was going to be a villain through and through. But then Jennifer Lee (co-director) stepped in and changed all that. There’s nothing wrong with a good villain, but there’s a poignancy in an estranged relationship between sisters that I’m betting many woman can relate to. There’s a coldness and a loneliness in Elsa that I think we all experience at some level when we shut others out, even if we think we’re doing it for their own good. Am I a Norwegian princess with magical powers to freeze things? Maybe. Am I an oldest sister that has given the younger two the cold shoulder from time to time? Absolutely. I don’t think you have to have a sister to appreciate this conflict, but if you do have a sister, I think it really rings true.

4) Maybe kids need more stories where there isn’t a clear villain. I always see that C.S. Lewis quote floating around pinterest about children being likely to face great evil and needing to have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. I would like to respectfully disagree with him on this. While not denying the existence of good and evil and right and wrong, I submit that our children are far more likely to encounter good and evil equally muddled in most people. We are capable of great and glorious acts and the reverse as well. In my life, I have never come across someone purely evil. In general, conflicts with family, friends, and co-workers are much more common. It would be so easy to fight against pure evil, but it’s so hard to love thy neighbor. But of course, that seems to be exactly what Jesus was telling us to do. Love one another. Even when we drive each other crazy, even when we sin against each other, we are called to love rather than to root out evil. I mean, we should of course, root out evil, but that’s a lot easier to do than refraining from despising our nearest and dearest when they hurt us. So kudos to Frozen for tackling that issue.

5) “Let It Go.” If there’s a better song to listen to on repeat while white-knuckling it down to the Springs in a freak May snowstorm, I’d like to know what it is. Because really, there’s something very therapeutic about belting out “Let It Go” while driving through the snow.

6) Sven and Olaf. Bouncy reindeer and summer-loving snowman. Enough said.

Books again

This is what I’ve been reading/rereading this week. They are ranked in order of preference. I haven’t shut-up about Creativity, Inc. since I started reading it which is a sure sign that it’s pretty good (by my standards, at least).

1) Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull. Does anyone actually dislike Pixar films? Nope. I thought not. I routinely cry during those movies (the beginning of Up and at the end of Toy Story 3 and Monsters, Inc., and even in Ratatouille “little paws”), so when this book came out, I downloaded it to good ol’ audible.com right away. I have not been disappointed. I want to work at Pixar now (not going to happen), be the world’s best boss and create a professional environment that is respectful, joyful, and honest (not going to happen), or give this book to my bosses (I have so many though, and also not going to happen). Ed Catmull, one of the founders of Pixar, narrates the story of their founding, early mistakes they made, their relationship with Steve Jobs (that guy sounds like a real pain in the butt), and lessons they’ve learned that have allowed them to create the atmosphere in which art and technology marry so beautifully. In the last chapter I was listening to, he dissects their failures as a company. The approach at Pixar is that failure is necessary. Not in the sense that “everyone fails, and the key is to get up and move past it” but more of a “failure plays a pivotal role in the learning process.” As a teacher, this just clicked. I can help a kid so much more if they try something and fail. I can look at their work and see what went wrong. But if they don’t do anything? If they’re too afraid to fail…chances are they won’t learn. I think next year I’ll adopt the “fail early and fail fast” as my motto for 6th graders.

2) North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. North and South is the story of a young heroine’s removal (with her mother and father and loyal servant, Dixon) to Milton (thinly disguised Manchester, England). Of course there’s a Elizabeth/Darcy-esque romance at the center of the book, but it’s more than that. Gaskell also raises interesting ideas about education (importance of liberal education even in a world driven by technology), and she avoids vilifying the factory owners and over-sentimentalizing the lives of the factory workers. But really, what is wrong with feeling a little sentiment? The lives of factory workers in Manchester were horrible, so it seems all right if we allow ourselves to feel sad and outraged at their fates. I always feel this way when I read Dickens too. Sure he gets a little heavy-handed (as does Gaskell), but my gosh aren’t we a hard-hearted lot most of time? I digress again. What I’m trying to say is that this novel is much bigger than a romance, but if you like a good romance that is there too. I feel like I should also add the disclaimer that I wouldn’t know anything about Elizabeth Gaskell if it wasn’t for the excellent BBC miniseries based on her books. I have no shame in admitting that I frequently will see a movie or a series before I read the book. If the book is better (and it almost always is, then there are just good things in store for me).

3) The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. This is the final book we read in 6th grade, and we’re only a few pages from the end. I hated HATED this book when my father tried to read it aloud to us as a child. What was a hobbit? Yeah…that Bilbo sounded weird. There were no girls in pretty dresses? Yeah…I’m out. But I’ve rediscovered it as an adult. It’s not a very complicated book, and sometimes it feels like Tolkien could do something a bit more complex with his characters, but there are some truly lovely moments to be drawn out. I had a student point out that when Thorin is in the cave, holed up with his gold, he has become the “new” Smaug. The dragon is merely replaced by another angry hoarder of treasure. And knowing a bit about Tolkien’s experience in WWI makes Bilbo’s observation about defeat not being glorious at all and even how victory felt a “gloomy affair” ring true. All in all, not a bad way to end the year, and I’ve gotten three boys started on the LotR (carefully coaching them that when boredom strikes, they should skip chapters rather than stop. I can’t say that I’ve ever actually read the Tom Bombadil chapter in The Fellowship without wanting to poke my eyes out and then skipping to more action. Same goes for the Ents).