BEST OF 2013: a limited perspective

         My view of 2013 was fairly limited as, in all honesty, I really don’t get out much and when I do get out, it usually revolves around the interest of the kids instead of my own.  That said, however, I still had some pretty good experiences in 2013 so I thought it’s only proper that I compile a list and throw it into the pit of countless other mediocre “best of” lists.   Here we go, get ready to have your mind BLOWN.

Movie of the Year:  DESPICABLE ME 2 
minionThis seems to be a popular category, so lets start with that.  I didn’t make it out to the theater much this year and much of what I watched on TV was a mix of fairly unbearable children’s programing courtesy of Netflix.  I did, however really love this movie.  Very enjoyable for absolutely all ages without pandering to any.
Qualifier: I believe I only saw one movie released in 2013 that had actual “real” people, therefore Sharknado scores an honorable mention.

Game of the Year:  TOMB RAIDER
tombI actually played quite a few games in 2013, though very few that were actually released in 2013. Had I played everything, though, I’m quite confident Tomb Raider would still be in my top 5 at least, as it was a fantastic game.  It had everything I love in a game, story, adventure, collecting, and, of course, brutal cut scenes.
Qualifier: I have yet to play what apparently the rest of the world has determined as the 2013 game of the year, so until I play The Last of Us, feel free to add an asterix by my pick.

Book of the Year:  MOON DUST CASTLES
mdcSeriously, what did you expect me to put here? But what isn’t to love about this book? Not one but four…FOUR stories, fantastic writing, unrivaled cover art, great illustrations (aw shucks), you’ll laugh, you’ll cry…you’ll buy it hopefully.
Qualifier: I may or may not have had a hand in the creation of this book and the aforementioned illustrations and cover art…plus, I may or may not have seen the author sans clothing.

Now the lightning round…
Album of the year –  SUPERCHUNK: I Hate Music
Song of the Year – COME ON EILEEN
(31st straight year)
Phrase of the Year – MY BRAIN IS GREEN -Noah
Drink of the Year – COFFEE
Website of the Year – MINE
Meal of the Year – STEAK GORGONZOLA ALFREDO
Natural Disaster of the Year – MILEY CYRUS
(I’ll spare you an image)
Best Gift of the Year – THIS THING…

IMG_4338Yeah, it’s a light up Thomas Kinkade wall tapestry.

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Give Me Back My Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday.  OK, maybe not always, but for a long time anyway.  It was the only time of year when the majority of my family made a coordinated effort to actually all get together at the same time.  Not everyone makes it, but it’s usually a pretty good crowd.  We eat, watch football, pie, football, turkey sandwiches, pie, more pie, football.  Nothing dramatic usually happens, it’s just good to spend a day with family without any pressures.  Friday is a bit of a different tradition, and it has changed quite a bit over the years.  Some do some shopping, work occasionally interrupts, but in the end the majority of us will spend a good chunk of time together eating leftovers.

tv dinner

The last few years, however, there’s been this looming cloud known as Black Friday trying to disrupt this holiday.  It started off really simply, offer good deals the day after Thanksgiving to get people to kick off their Christmas shopping.  Competition grew, the deals became more attractive, more people joined in, and the next thing you know it’s come closer to resembling Pamplona than a fun family festivity.  Waking up at 4am, fights, people getting crushed waiting for the doors to open and for what?  A $99 off-brand 19 inch LCD TV and a $5 blu-ray of X-Men 2.

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Yes, I’ll admit, I’ve gone to stores on Black Friday before, but never as an “active participant”.  It’s just not my thing.  Some people enjoy it, that’s fine.  I don’t.  I’d rather just scan the web and find slightly better deals and far less elbows to the face, but that’s just me.  I have no real problem with people who want to do this.  I find it enjoyable sometimes to watch the news coverage of the carnage and the long lines of people waiting for doors to open.  The worse the weather, the better.  The problem I have, is how it’s slowly been moving to earlier and earlier times.

It’s started benign enough.  A person here or there decides to call the Thanksgiving day festivities short so they can get to sleep in time to wake up rested for the 8am door busters…then 7am…then 6am…  The new trend is a bit more intrusive.  “Maybe if we open at midnight, we can rope in a few more shoppers”, “If people would come out at midnight, certainly they’d come out at 10pm on Thanksgiving Day”, and now “people are bored with their families by 6pm anyway, so let’s just open then!”  How early will people be willing to line up on Thanksgiving day for a 6pm doorbuster?

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In a way it could be good.  People will now be forced to prioritize their family time vs. their consumerism.  Hopefully some people will realize that it just isn’t worth it and perhaps the trend will fail as Americans jointly choose family over extended debt limits.  Unfortunately, though, I know better.  There will be some, if not many, that choose to fall prey to the calling of the deal gods.  Next year, expect earlier times and bigger deals.  Unless people actively commit to staying home, it will only continue to spiral downward until Thanksgiving becomes nothing more than a nationwide shopping day.  The truth is, it’s not about the deals anyway.  There isn’t a single deal that can’t be matched or beaten online.  Football, bite of pie, and an Amazon search sounds much more family friendly to me.

Now, on your mark…get set…prioritize!

New Direction (not to be confused with One Direction)

Have you ever seen the movie One Crazy Summer?  I used to love that movie when I was a kid. That’s kind of been the story of my summer this year, only with less John Cusack, Demi Moore, bunny drawings, Ferraris, Bobcat Goldthwait, ok…that was a terrible example.

What I should say is, a lot has happened over the summer.  The most significant being the launch of Common Oddities LLC, a creative services business that includes Provision Books and Odd Mr T.  As a result, Odd Mr T (that’s me) has increased in scope to now include not only furniture, but also graphic art geared toward books and publishing.  Don’t worry, the art degree has me covered in both 3-D and 2-D media.  Did I ever tell you about the time I majored in Graphic Design?  Probably not.  Good bet if I stuck with it, I wouldn’t be writing this right now.  Regardless, our first project out the door is Moon Dust Castles.  It’s a book featuring four short stories written by Jessica E Thomas and featuring cover art and a few illustrations from…wait for it…Odd Mr T.  (you can buy it here, by the way: BUY NOW)moon dust cover

There is plenty more in the pipeline for us and I’ll hopefully get around to updating the next time something noteworthy happens.  Next week, perhaps?  We shall see.

On a completely unrelated, yet absolutely relevant side note, I’ve been contemplating writing and illustrating a children’s book.  Before I do, though, I’d like to know, would you buy one?  See the poll below.

Watermelon Oreos: tasty treat or artificial abomination?

Why has no one thought of combining a shortbread cookie with artificial watermelon flavoring before now?  Because it sounds awful, that’s why.  With such a large variety of Oreo flavors, the only people I can imagine actually choosing these would be a hyperactive 8 year old or someone who is way too high to be grocery shopping responsibly.  Regardless, I made the purchase.

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I was expecting to be hit with an overpowering scent of artificial watermelon when I tore open the bag, but to my surprise, the smell was hardly noticeable.  They were lined up in neat little rows like all good little Oreos are, just waiting for someone to ham-fist their way through their numbers.  IMG_2559Now we come to the moment of truth, the tasting.  I take a gentle smell of the individual cookie  to take in the subtle scent of shortbread with a hint of watermelon.  An odd mix, but we knew that already.  First bite nets me a punch in the mouth from that overly sweet chemical watermelon flavor familiar to anyone who’s ever had a sugar binge of Laffy Taffy or Jolly Ranchers.  The shortbread cookie flavor is barely recognizable, serving merely as a vehicle for that sickeningly sweet green and pink cream.   It’s edible, but it is in no way subtle.  IMG_2561I polish off the first cookie, then proceed to eat another to see if it’s any better when knowing what to expect, much like allowing your eyes to adjust to a bright light.  The punch in the mouth is less severe the second time allowing me to experience the nuances of the concentrated artificial flavor…of which there are none.  This cookie is basically Oogh the caveman beating me over the head with tree stump chanting “WA-TER-MEL-LON”. I want to stop, but know I must forge ahead in order to give a full review, therefore I proceed to the milk-dunking test.  IMG_2562

I give the little flavor demon a 5 second dip into a glass of cold skim milk and take a bite.  The milk does help to disperse the spastic flavor trauma of the watermelon and gives a bit more help to the overwhelmed shortbread cookie.  This helps to nudge it up the edibility ladder a bit more, but not enough to garner a recommendation . IMG_2565

As I mentioned before, there are many options when it comes to Oreos, or cookies in general.  I would suggest giving it a bit more consideration before dropping your $3 on a package of these artificial disaster snacks.  Yes, there are far worse things you could eat, but the question is, why would you?

Sequester? I hardly knew her!

All this talk about the sequester is really starting to wear on me.  The opinions on the matter range everywhere from “bring it on” to “let’s burn down the gub’ment!”, and, like always, some of those opinions included actual thought behind them while others were formed simply by the first blip to penetrate their brain static.   As for myself, I can’t help to look at it from a more “real world” point of view.

Have you ever tried to establish a home budget?  You know, a reasonable budget that you could feasibly live within that didn’t also include the maximum credit limit of 3 different credit cards.  It’s one of those responsible adult (using the ad-uhlt pronunciation) things to do that most homeowners have to do once in a while, if not constantly.    Now, have you ever had to tighten up your budget due to a cut in pay, loss of job, or increase in bills?  I’ll assume you said “yes” since if you are still reading this, you are most likely human.  Allow me to also interject that you are now overqualified to work in both the executive and legislative branches of our federal government.

This is where the sequester ties in.  The government is overextended, I don’t believe there is an argument here, it’s just simple numbers.  The sequester, which the president put into place 18 months ago, was designed to be radical across-the-board cuts to federal spending.  Congress fails to come up with a plan to avert it and TA-DA!  Sequestration is here.   What’s the problem then, you said the government was over extended?   Yes I did, and thank you for asking.  The problem is the “across-the-board” part.  let’s look at that from the home budgeting point of view.

You are faced with a drastic pay cut which inhibits your ability to maintain your current lifestyle, what do you do?  WHAT DO YOU DO?!? 31770821-31770824-large If you take the across-the-board approach, you would simply reduce all of your spending by the percentage of your cut.  Makes since, right?  Explain that to your mortgage company.  Actually, the across the board in the sequestration are done by category, so you could say that you now must cut your grocery budget, travel budget, entertainment budget, bill budget, etc, based on percentage.  Are you starting to see the flaws yet?

Lets say we have to cut 10% of our spending, so we look at our bills budget and 10% would equal our electric bill…CUT.  Now we look at our entertainment budget and 10% equals dinner and a movie…CUT.   Wait, what if our entertainment budget is about the same as our electric bill?  Wouldn’t we rather have a month of electricity than entertainment spending?  Won’t cutting our electricity effect our ability for entertainment also?  Doesn’t matter…so says the rules of sequestration.   Wouldn’t it make more sense to begin by cutting out your spending on the things that aren’t actually necessary first?

Of course, we could probably accommodate the entire cut in pay by just simply not eating…ever.  This bring me to my next irritation.  Chance are, if you knew you were facing a paycut, you would probably be proactive and try to figure out how you would adjust your spending to live within the new parameters before they actually take effect.  I doubt very seriously, in the days leading up to it, that you would take the opportunity to travel around the country by jet to it to tell everyone you ever met face-to-face about how you were no longer going to be able to afford to eat.

The truth is, any logical person could look at what is and isn’t being cut in the government spending plan and come up with a far more reasonable outcome.  Unfortunately, logic and reason has no place in the Washington Bubble of Delusion.   Bubble

SPOILERS! Downton Abbey Season 4 revealed…sort of.

After the dramatic conclusion of season 3, I, like many of you, asked myself “where do we go from here?”  This led me to conduct an in-depth analysis of what we know about the situations and characters and, I believe, have come up with the only logical outcomes for the various story lines. I don’t claim to have any inside knowledge from the writers, but I think you will see upon reading, that season 4 will be the final season of Downton Abbey.

DowntonAbbey1

Here is what I “know” in no particular order.  If you don’t want to know, turn away now, you have been warned!

  • Branson and Mary run off together.
  • Edith gets dumped yet again and throws herself off the top of the abbey.
  • With no one to manage things, Lord Grantham runs Downton in to the ground and loses it then flees into the countryside in shame.
  • Cora must be put in an asylum.
  • Cousin Violet then takes Rose but is robbed blind by the little hussy who then takes off for New York where she is mugged, beaten, and left for dead in an alley.
  • Thomas stabs O’Brien to death after discovering she put a lethal dose of arsenic in his tea.
  • Carson and Mrs. Hughes, having nothing left to stay for, loot the kitchen and shack up in the village after selling off the wares.
  • Bates and Anna then hatch a scheme to burn Downton down and collect the insurance money, however Mrs. Patmore, being blind, can’t find her way out and burns to death along with Molesley who, after taking to a fondness of the drink, didn’t feel a thing.

This is all I know so far.  As for the fate of the others…let’s just assume the worst.

Looking back

I consider myself to be quite fortunate that I was able to teach art at the high school level for three and a half years. I’m fact, I’d still be doing it today of it weren’t for…well, let’s just leave it as “politics” for now. When I think about my former students, and I do quite often, my one hope is that they remember me as being someone who genuinely cared about each and every one of them. I’m not saying I was always good at showing it or that I was always oh so happy to see each and every one of them, because, let’s face it, some of them could be headaches (and you probably know who you are, too). What I’m saying is that I always looked at them as being more than just a student in my class, they were people.

High school is a tough time for everyone, in some way or another, and the success of one student doesn’t always look the same as the success of another. Every student that passed through my door brought with them a unique set of experience, problems, desires, and self identity. Sure, you can break them down into groups, rich kids, goth kids, kids who play on rocks, but that doesn’t mean one goth is the same as the next. Being an art teacher, I had a distinct advantage to get to know the kids as individuals a bit more than, say, a by-the-book math teacher. Getting to know the students, in fact, was the best part of my job, it’s also the hardest thing to part with at the end of the school year or, in my case, the premature end of a career.

I often started out the school year giving my classes what I referred to as “the Ferrari speech”. This is where I told them how I gave up my ambition of ever owning a Ferrari in order to be an underpaid teacher. It was mostly true, with the exception of me never having a plan in place to afford a Ferrari otherwise. My first experience teaching was the most personally rewarding experience I had ever had up to that point in my life. I took far greater satisfaction in the success of my students than in any personal accomplishments I had ever had. I was just subbing at the time, but it led me to becoming a fully licensed high school teacher. I didn’t do it for the money, benefits, title, retirement package, power, or the glamour. I was in need of a steady paycheck, sure, but I wasn’t concerned with the amount. It was about the kids. It was always about the kids.

I think back to how many times I made my ceramics students wait in the hall because someone in 6th period had some problem or issue they just needed to talk to an adult about. I’m not a trained counselor, far from it, but it didn’t matter. You don’t need training to know how to listen, to know how to care. This brings me back to the success issue. For some of these kids, just overcoming their home lives and personal baggage enough to come to school is a success in itself. Some kids come to school for the academic achievements, others come because it’s they only way they will get a meal that day. Regardless, life changes dramatically when their time in high school is over, and there is no test that can prepare them for that.

Do I miss teaching? Absolutely. Will I ever go back? I don’t know. It seems there is less and less of a place for teachers like me. Art? Bah, who needs it, it won’t help ISTEP scores. If that’s what I thought was important, I never would have made it for as long as I did. Yes, I did have to give my students tests, but did it really matter to me if they knew how to spell Oldenburg’s first name? No, not really. Would I consider myself a success if everyone of my students could adequately describe cubism? No, absolutely not. Teaching art, to me, was an opportunity for students to look for ways to do things they didn’t know they could, whether it be discovering new abilities or a finding a new way to think creatively. I can’t count how many times a student surprised me with what they were able to accomplished based on where they began, even more so how many times they surprised themselves.

Many teenagers are their own worst enemy. They are so convinced they can’t do anything, that they just try to bide their time until they are old enough to drop out. Why shouldn’t they feel this way when they have a trail of test scores to back this up? Sometimes they just need to have an opportunity for a little bit of success to realize they aren’t worthless. “Hey look, I made that with my own hands!” That little bit of success can then lead to a little bit more effort, which can lead to more success. Once they realize they can succeed in one thing, they decide to try putting a little effort into something else, like math, science, English, etc. Don’t believe me? I’ve see it in my students and I’ve experience it in my own life, just compare my high schools grades with my college transcripts (I’m not afraid, I’ll release them).

Do kids need art in school? Will art help them become better people? Will art boost ISTEP scores or help the graduation rate? I’m not going to answer that. I have a moment, however, that is burned in my mind. Graduation day after my first year teaching at New Castle. After the ceremony, a graduating senior walked up to me and handed me an invitation to his open house. This was not my best student, by any means, not my worse, either…but remember those “headaches” I mentioned earlier? I asked him, “Are you sure you want me hanging around your open house”
To which he replied “sure, you’re the only reason I graduated”. I then remembered talking to him when he was having a bad day and was thinking about dropping out. I don’t remember everything I said to him on that day, but he did. It made a difference to him. He has a diploma thanks to a few words by his little bald underpaid art teacher. I’m not sure if that’s enough for me, maybe it should be, but I know their are other kids out their like him and there always will be.