Open Books, Open Minds

| Friday, October 1

As Banned Books Week draws to a close, I'd like to share with you some of my favorite banned/challenged books. In my 5+ years as a teacher of young adolescents, I'm glad to say I've not had to fight for the right to have a book available to my students, and I've even shared some of these with them! If you're interested in fighting this good literary fight, check out what the ALA has to say.

Three Beloved Classics:
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Why? Deals very bluntly with racial issues. Rape. Profanity. (Seriously, who hasn't read this book, or at least seen the incredible movie?!)

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Why? Religious issues. Explicit sex, language, and violence.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
The ultimate book about banning books!
Why? Rebellion. Frightening images of totalitarian dystopia.Warnings of censorship.

New Classics for Young Adults
The Giver by Lois Lowry
This is quite possibly one of my all-time favorite books of YA Lit, because it was one of the first sci-fi books I ever read. And it led me to my love of dystopian science fiction. :)
Why? References to euthanasia and suicide. Frightening images for younger children.

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
Yes, I love this series. I've read them over and over again. I don't care if certain connoisseurs of "real fantasy" consider it trite. It's been a very enjoyable read for my students and me for years. Plus I've actually done lit analysis of some of the books, and found some good writing and allusions within.
Why? Witchcraft and wizardry. Need you look any further? It was pretty bad here in the "Bible Belt."

A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
Yes, seriously, the book of silly poems by the beloved children's poet.
Why? Because it encouraged children to ignore their parents and not do their chores. For real!

Olive's Ocean by Kevin Henkes
This book makes me cry every time I read it. It's great for adolescents dealing with loss/death for the first time. I don't get why it's been challenged. It's a very real book. Maybe that's why.
Why? Children dealing with the harsh reality of sudden death and social isolation. Kissing. Complex family issues.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Another one of the books that never fails to pull a strong emotional reaction from me every time I read it! It's so moving, and I think more people need to be aware of books like this that might help teens and even adults deal with serious issues.
Why? The book deals with the aftermath of a rape. Very frankly. It's a sensitive subject.

Go out and read a book. Maybe even one that might make you think. And talk. And open your mind!!

"You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them."
- Ray Bradbury

What do you do with too much squash?

| Sunday, September 26
I thought it was time again for a recipe post. I hadn't talked food in a while, and as the weather gets cooler, I get to cook more of my favorite foods. :)

The past few weeks have brought us many baby butternut squashes from our CSA share. I like the squash, yes, but I didn't know what to do with it other than roast 'em, mash 'em,  put 'em in a soup. (10 points for the reference!) I happened to be at Cost Plus World Market yesterday, and stumbled across a jar of Dave's Gourmet Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce. I thought, "Hey, I could do this!" so I bought some pasta I thought would work well (real Italian fusilli!) and some tomato paste in a tube (<3 that stuff) and went home to plan.

After looking at the few recipes I could find on the Web, I decided to make up my own. And it turned out to be amazing. So, if you're faced with an abundance of squash this winter, or just want to try something new, try it. You'll be pleasantly surprised. It's perfect. People seem to forget how common this veggie is in Italian kitchens this time of year!

Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce 

1 1/2 pounds butternut squash
2 cloves of garlic, cut in half and crushed with side of knife blade
1 medium bell pepper
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
Olive oil
Crushed red pepper flakes
Fresh basil

Preheat oven to 375F. Peel and seed the squash. Cut it into 1-2 inch chunks. Toss with olive oil, salt, black pepper, and nutmeg. (I just used about 1/2 t.of each the first go-round). Put squash and garlic cloves in a flat, rimmed baking pan. Roast in the oven for an hour.

Meanwhile, seed and dice the bell pepper. Saute it in a splash of olive oil. Then stir in the tomato paste. Set aside until squash is done roasting.

Remove squash and garlic mixture from the oven. Puree in food processor with about 1/4 cup of water to get desired consistency. Add in tomato paste and pepper mixture and about 1 T shredded fresh basil. Puree again. (This can leave a bit of the pepper texture if desired.) Add in salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste.

Use a short pasta that will hold sauce well. I used fusilli and it worked awesomely!
Move the sauce to a large serving bowl. Reserve about 2 T of the pasta water. Stir into the sauce, then stir in 1/2 lb of cooked pasta. Top with more shredded fresh basil and Parmesan cheese.

Enjoy!! If you don't like things spicy, leave out the chili flakes. If you like really spicy, add more than just a dash. Or throw in some Sriracha!

Casting Magic

| Sunday, September 19
So, randomly, this weekend, I decided I wanted to try and learn how to play Magic: The Gathering. The hub played quite a bit in the past, so he agreed to teach me. We set out to buy some pre-made decks and a box of cards for deck-building, just in case. (Good thing we did, as I'd soon find out.)

Knowing nothing about the game mechanics going in, I tried to figure out what kind of deck I'd want based on what I read on the boxes and what the hub had told me about the various colors. I ended up getting a Blue/White deck, and he chose a Red/Green deck so that we had cards in a variety of colors. They were very pretty. :)

We played an open game so I could see what was happening, and he could explain things as we played. Early on, we could see he was going to annihilate me because I wasn't drawing any land, so he started playing nice. I wholeheartedly took advantage of this. I know, I'm awful! I ended up beating him because I put his creatures to sleep. I had been hiding my Sleep card so he didn't know it was coming. :)

Then we decided to build a deck. I thought it would be fun to play Red/Black after looking through all the cards we'd bought. How right I was!

First I played against a Blue/White deck, and other than his flying creatures I couldn't block and that he used Pacifism on my Dragon, I beat him fairly easily by pinging away at him with my Blood Seeker and Giant Scorpion. Deathtouch, FTW!

Then, he decided to try his Red/Green deck again that he'd played with last night. He could've beat me with that one and all of his giant Wyrms, but I discovered some more lovely things in my black deck. They are cards that took care of his insane attacks. I also had a bunch of little, relatively worthless creatures out blocking for me, so when he attacked with a +20/+20 buffed Wyrm of some sort with Trample, I only tool 13 damage, and I'd buffed back up to a full 20 at that point. And since I blocked with a Deathtouch creature, his poor Wyrm died. (I'm not sarcastic or gloating at all. Such a sore winner - and sore loser.) I then managed to take him out using things like Doom Blade and Hideous End.

I've decided I really like playing with this deck we built. It's very much a strategy deck that plays more defense and slowly whittling away at the opponent's life, but for now, I feel safe with it. And that's what I want for a newbie. We also have some friends who still play, so I'm hoping I can play more, and lose graciously. That'll be my biggest challenge...

Two Years Later...

| Monday, September 13
Due to the significance of today in my life, and the fact that after two years, I can finally talk about this story in its entirety (and I feel like it needs to be told), I'm going to depart from the usual, light-hearted things I blog about to share with you the story of my brother.

Today is the second anniversary of my little brother's death. For a long time, it was very painful to tell his story, but this summer, Adrienne (@NoStylePoints), who is an mother to an eight-year-old boy with many emotional, social, intellectual, and physical developmental delays and bi-polar disorder, started up a feature on her blog where her readers who wanted to blog anonymously about how mental illness had affected them and their families anonymously. It took me about two weeks to write the whole story, but I told it in its entirety, beginning to painful end, twenty-six years in the making. And finally, I feel like I'm ready to share the story without being anonymous to the people in my life.

You all rock, and I'm super grateful to have friends like those of you who I've developed friendships with over blogs and Twitter! Hugs to you all!!

This post was originally found at AnonyBloggers.

A Brother's Torment

My brother was always a bit of a volatile person. He was adopted at three days old, just as I had been. My parents were unable to conceive and as soon as my brother was old enough to understand what being adopted meant, he began to have abandonment issues.

He also had severe learning disabilities and ADHD that the doctor attributed to the fact that his birth-mother smoked (and probably drank) while she was pregnant, and his birth weight was incredibly low. I always felt bad that he had to follow four years behind me in school with teachers that always had the same high academic expectations for him that they had for me. I was an honors student. He could barely scrape by with a passing grade, even with the support of an IEP and tutoring. I’m pretty sure he resented me in some way as he got older.

By the time he was in middle school and adolescence had hit, he was also slipping into a depression. The doctors put him on anti-depressants in addition to his ADHD meds. Then he couldn’t sleep, so he was put on sleeping medication, too. I think this was where his addiction started. By the age of twelve he couldn’t function without at least three or four different medications each day.

He was not exactly a calm person, either. He threatened me with a steak knife when he was nine while I was babysitting him and wouldn’t let him do what he wanted. My dad has a similarly volatile personality and when my brother would get agitated, it would set my dad off. I distinctly remember at one point, when I was in high school, my dad slamming my brother up against the kitchen wall by his throat. I ran upstairs and locked myself in my bedroom, crying hysterically into my pillow. This is the only time I ever remember my dad being physically violent. It was usually just yelling.

When I went away to university at age 18, and my brother was in high school at 15, things started to take a turn for the worse. I hated going home for breaks, because I felt like I had to walk on eggshells around my whole family. My mom and dad were fighting. My mom and brother were fighting. My dad and brother were fighting. I felt like I’d left and my world fell apart.

With some not-so-great friends influencing my brother, he started smoking pot. I have nothing against this, but these friends pushed the boy who was desperate to fit in to much harder things. He started drinking heavily behind my parents’ backs at 16. He was taking illegally-obtained Oxycodone to numb himself before he ever graduated high school. He totaled my dad’s BMW. He already had one underage DUI by 18.

He was only able to graduate thanks to our state having a “Certificate of Completion” instead of a traditional diploma. He couldn’t pass the state-required math exam to graduate with a real diploma. He was incredibly ashamed of this. He wanted to be an architect but knew he couldn’t hack it at any university. Instead, my mom (who was separated from my dad by this time, and that’s a whole other story…) found him an apprenticeship with a local contractor as a carpenter.

At first he loved it. He was making something of himself and cleaned up for a while. But then his coworkers (and previously mentioned bad-influence friends) got him back to the drinking and pills. And I honestly can’t blame him. He was in lots of physical pain due to some kind of bone abnormality in his heels that could only be remedied by extreme surgery. He was on his feet 8-10 hours a day. Then he’d come home and, behind Mom’s back, numb himself with whatever he could find. He refused surgery because it would mean no work for 12 weeks, minimum, and he was in SERIOUS debt, even though he still lived with our mom.

Right before I moved home after grad school, he got arrested for his second underage DUI. My mom didn’t know what to do with him. She tried to convince him to go to counseling. He refused. We had an intervention with friends and family. He ignored us. My mom brought a cop friend over to talk to him. It didn’t matter.

By this time, we all knew he was bipolar, even though he refused to get any help, any diagnosis, or any medication that was actually prescribed to him. When I moved back home, post-grad-school with no job prospects in sight, I saw him really deteriorate.

He’d have incredibly manic weeks during which work was great, he’d party with his friends, want to take me out to lunch, and lavish love and gifts on Mom. Then he’d slide into a very dark place. If he wasn’t at work, he’d be “asleep” in his room. I’d find empty bottles and cans under his bed, under the couch in the basement, in his car. And I’d clean them up and put them in the trash without my mom finding them, because she was suffering enough as it was. She was carrying all of this on her shoulders, as if it were her fault.

Late in the summer after I’d moved home, Mom and Brother had a HUGE fight. He ran off and later called from his cell phone, saying he was in his truck parked somewhere with a gun. He was high as a kite, threatening suicide over the phone. My mom and I both panicked. We called my dad. Big mistake. He got seriously pissed at us and at Brother, like that would help. We were all hysterical. Finally we were able to find out where he was, and after my mom called the police, they found him and escorted him home. I later found out that this was not his first suicide threat. He’d done this a few times while I was off at school, but never got as far as getting his hands on a means to do so.

The following summer, I got married and moved out. I didn’t see my brother as frequently. We lived on opposite sides of the city and both had full-time jobs. The only communication would generally be phone calls when he was high on something. It got to the point I couldn’t deal with him at all in that state of mind, so I wouldn’t even answer. I’d delete voicemails without even listening to them.

All during this time, he still lived at home with Mom. She either refused to acknowledge his behavior or was somehow enabling it. She tried to keep her family together by having everyone over for dinners, especially at holidays, but Brother would either hide in his room, claiming to be “tired” from all his construction work, or he’d be completely manic or hopped up on something.

Quite possibly the best example of the latter would be my first Christmas after getting married. My mom invited my husband’s entire family over to her house for Christmas dinner. Not too long after everyone got there, he emerged from his bedroom and proceeded to hump the Christmas tree, laughing hysterically. Keep in mind, my brother was a very shy person *usually*. Then, while we were all in the living room, he disappeared into the kitchen and proceeded to empty the entire fifth of Tuaca (vanilla liqueur) we’d brought to go with dessert.

My husband went to the restroom sometime during this debacle and found white powder residue on the counter of my brother’s bathroom. He’d definitely snorted something so he’d be able to “come out of his shell” and function around a crowd of relatively new people.

These behaviors continued for a few years. He’d have sober moments, and my mom would cling to those. He’d bounce from construction job to construction job as the industry wasn’t doing so well. I think the sober times came when he had no money to supply himself with any drugs. He’d become increasingly depressed.

Then out of nowhere, he’d have a few “good” weeks and decide to try and move in with some friends. That never worked out, and within a week, he’d be back home with Mom. And the cycle would begin again. He attempted to move out three times during these epically roller-coaster years.

I only knew of these because my mom would tell me. I’d pretty much cut my brother out of my life, as he was no longer the baby brother I knew. The person he’d become scared me. I couldn’t deal with him or the unpredictability. He’d essentially become dead to me.

Our contact became spotty, and finally right around his 24th birthday, as he’d seemed clean and stable for a while, we began to heal our relationship. He had a job, was contemplating getting therapy for the first time since he was 13, and was moving to an apartment near Mom’s house with a friend.

Just after that birthday, I was stricken with a heinous stomach virus. Mom and Brother came to visit one day while I was home and my husband was at work. I was in desperate need of more toilet paper and Gatorade. He seemed great! I was so happy for him.

Two weeks later, in the dead of night, there was a pounding at the apartment door. The dog started flipping out. I made my husband answer, as I was terrified. He came back into the bedroom with my mom and two of her friends trailing her. She was hysterical. Wrapping her arms around me, she barely managed to get the words out, “Your brother’s dead. He’s gone.”

I started rocking back and forth curled in a seated fetal position, in shock, repeatedly scream-crying, “No! He can’t be! It’s someone else!” My mom and I sat there, tears streaming down our faces for about an hour. Once I was about ready to pass out from all of the stress, my mom’s friends persuaded her to leave, and my husband managed to get my quivering mess of a self back into bed. He just held me.

What happened, it turned out, was that day, a Saturday, September 13, 2008, my brother’s roommate came home from work to find him sitting in the living room armchair, college football on TV, empty beer can by his side. She hoped he was just unconscious, of course, so she called 911. When the paramedics arrived, he was pronounced dead. They said he’d probably been gone for at least an hour by the time she had found him.

My mom had been out of town on a church retreat, so it took them a while to find her to let her know. The police officer who had to share the news was a neighbor, and she thinks of it every single day when she walks her dogs, as she has to walk by his house. She wasn’t able to tell me until late that night, because by the time she’d gotten the news, gotten back into town, and gone to the hospital morgue, it was that late.

She got a pastor from her church to call my dad to let him know the next day. This news sent my dad into a horrific fit, that I still don’t think he’s dealt with. To compound things, the exact same day, while my dad and stepmom were at the aforementioned football game, my 16-year-old stepbrother, who was also bipolar with anger management issues, set fire to my dad’s bedroom. My dad’s never been able to deal with people with mental illness, so he sent my stepbrother off to a residential behavioral treatment facility, then to live with his biodad.

It turns out that my brother had a drug-induced seizure. All of the damage he’d been doing to his body for about 6 years finally caught up to him, and his body shut down. With all of the pain, physical and mental, that he went through, day in, day out, I like to think that he’s in a better place now, wherever that may be.

I still think of him every day and wish that I’d known him better as an adult, but I have no regrets. I wish my mom would be able to deal with his passing a little bit better. She guilt-trips me for not wanting to celebrate his birthday with her and talks to photos of him every day.

She still hasn’t gotten rid of (or even gone through) the boxes of his belongings, and I’m afraid she still hasn’t come to the acceptance stage of the grieving process after two years. She’s a therapist, herself, and she’s a prime example of therapists not being able to take their own advice. I love her, but I wish she’d go back to her own therapist so that maybe she’d be able to deal better. When we talk about it, she thinks she’s doing okay, and I’m the one who hasn’t grieved properly.

I’m now starting to worry about the mental status of my mother. I guess we can just take it a day at a time, and hope that eventually, we all come to accept his passing and live. He always wanted to live a happy, pain-free life but wasn’t able to with the horrors that went on in his head. I’d like to think that going forward in a content life would honor my brother’s memory more than anything else.

If you have family members (or you, yourself) who you suspect are bipolar or have substance abuse problems, I hope you are able to convince them to seek professional help before it’s too late.
Thank you to Adrienne for allowing me to share my story, as rambling and stream-of-consciousness as it is. It’s not over yet, I know. The healing for my family will continue for years to come, or at least I sure hope so.


Geek and Gamer Girls Anthem and Me

| Saturday, September 11
So, I'm pretty sure you've all seen this video by now, but I absolutely LOVE it! The Team Unicorn girls are my new g33k heroes along with Bonnie Burton, Ashley Eckstein, Felicia Day, and Marian Call! I'm seriously proud to be a geek!!

And now my personal commentary into how I fit with the lyrics of this song:
“G33k & G4M3R Girls”
Greetings friends….
Don’t you want to meet a nice girl? I'm a nice girl! Sometimes.
(First verse)
I, know a place
Where the gamer scores are so extreme (bloop boop boop!)
Dune Watched the movie, found it amusing, D & D, Played once, SO want to play again!
Where Rand al’Thor still reigns supreme
Questin’, in Hyrule LOVE me some Zelda!
Dominating Final Fantasy (Seven) and VIII and IX and X, X-2, XI... (yeah yeah, siete)
Those boys
Losin’ sleep
Tryin’ ta keep up with our l33t sp34k Yeah, I can read l337 (what up, n00bs?) (n00b sauce)
Be a part of our world
In latex and bows
Cuz’ these girls play cos’
Set our phasers to stun Star Trek, FTW!
You’ll be falling in love
Ooooooh oh ooooooh
Geek and Gamer girls
We’re unbelievable
Comic books Currently reading: Fables vol 1 and Batman: Hush
And Manga in stock
Hasbro toys
So rare No, but I've got 381/1000 Little Frakkin' Colonials Starbuck Maquette
We got the mail-away
Ooooooh oh ooooooh
Geek and Gamer girls
We’re undefeatable
Achievement unlocked
Jedi represent Wars over Trek, anyday!
Now put your sabers up
Oooooooh oh ooooooh
(Verse 2)
We, love Stan Lee (Excelsior!)
And Joss created all our favorite shows There could be no truer statement!
We Frag
In our sleep (Killjoy!)
We will pwn your ass in Halo (uh oh) Gotta say, I hate Halo, but it's a personal attachment (detachment?) reason, mostly...
Be a part of our world (Be a part of our world…)
In latex and bows
Cuz’ these girls play ‘cos
Set our phasers to stun (Set our phasers to stun…)
You’ll be falling in love
Ooooooh oh ooooooh
Geek and Gamer girls
We’re unbelievable (Tri-force!)
We all know
That Han shot first (It’s a trap!) I use "It's a trap!" way too often in conversation.
No dubs
We want originals Subtitles, please!
Ooooooh oh ooooooh
Geek and Gamer girls (Level up!) Ding! w00t! gratz!
We’re undefeatable
Achievement Unlocked
Browncoats represent (Shiny!) So shiny, you'll never know!
We aim to misbehave Gotta be Big Damn Heroes!
Oooooooh oh ooooooh
Sailor Moon
Hogwarts boys all make them swoon Such a HP geek, I've got a quill tattoo!
Aragorn, Legolas These boys are hott!
These are the boys they love the best
I mean they’re good to go
Love Scifi, yo’
Marvel X-Men!
DC Batman! Green Lantern!
Vertigo Fables!  But where's Dark Horse?! (My fave!)
The girls are sweet
They can’t be beat
Super fine like Peach Why's she always getting captured? Again...
Darth Maul
Standing tall
He’s so bad A mad smexy Zabrak! Those horns... I was a Zabrak in SW:G!
So say we all
Epic Lootz
For the Win
Hyjal’s what we’re raiding in
Konami Code up up down down left right left right B A
Doctor Who Want to be a companion and travel across time and space!
Expert Mode
Game genies, WoW fiendies, Sith meanies The Dark Side has cookies!
No weenies
Don’t forget
They the queen-ies
Gamer ladies? (Yeah?)
Raidin’ tonight babies? (Uh huh!)
I’m all up on y’as
Cuz you representin’ geek and gamer girls
(Ohhh yeahh)
Geek and Gamer girls
We’re unbelievable
Comic books
And Manga in stock (Hey!)
Hasbro toys
So rare
We got the mail-away
Ooooooh oh ooooooh
Geek and Gamer girls (Finish him!)
We’re undefeatable
Achievements unlocked
Trekkers represent (Red shirts, red shirts!) I'm getting there! Educating myself on Trek.
(trekkers, trekkers)
Now put your phasers up
Oooooooh oh ooooooh
(Geek and gaaaaameeerrr, Geek and gaaaaamerrr, giiirrrlll)
Geek and gamer girls man
I really wish they all could be
geek and gamer girls
(Geek and gamer)
(Geek and gamer girls)
Game over.
 How do you g33k out?! 

Dragon*Con Day 2

| Friday, September 10
So, I've been slow on the reporting back, and I've gotta get all of this typed out before I start forgetting the insane stuff!

Saturday was officially Day 2 of Dragon*Con, and it didn't start out so well...

I didn't sleep well on Friday night, and kept waking up feeling crappy. I thought I was dehydrated, so I kept a bottle of water by the bed and kept drinking out of it. When I finally woke up (for good) around 9:00, I was seriously shaky, and it was scary. My blood sugar had crashed REALLY badly. I laid in bed for over an hour before my stomach had settled enough that I could even eat something. By the time I had finally eaten enough to move around, it was, like, 11! So, of course, we missed the costume parade! :( I got dressed in my awesome Triana Orpheus costume (Venture Brothers, for the uninitiated) and trekked to the Hyatt to get in line for the Eureka/Warehouse 13 crossover panel.

The awesome @CapSteveRogers saved us a spot in the line that hadn't "officially started yet" because line timing is so controlled. We chilled in line with our awesome Twitter friends and some annoying girl who kept butting into our conversation. We also got to people-watch all of the awesome Venture Brothers costumes (that weren't mine) since the VB panel was right before the E/WH13 one.

I felt like I was going to pass out again so Hub went to get me some Chick-fil-A. He's awesome! After I managed to feel mostly human, we filed into the ballroom to see another hilarious panel. Well, ok, the few times Eddie McClintock, Neil Grayston, and Colin Ferguson got to talk, it was hilarious. It ended up, being another Q&A panel, and all, that everything was directed at Saul Rubinek, Erica Cerra, and Rene Auberjoinois.  And most of the questions were all serious and stuff.
I'm the tiny purple head right above the microphone (next to a bright yellow shirt)
pic stolen from @EddieMcClintock!

Except when Tia Carrere mentioned that on a future crossover episode that Eddie and Colin should mud wrestle. Then Colin started to take off his shirt, and Eddie stood up and shook his butt at the whole room. I wish I had that on film. Because it was really funny.

Oh, and they REALLY embarrassed Neil with talk about the Fargo-Claudia relationship and how he apparently quite enjoyed kissing Allison Scagliotti. Just like Sean Maher, super cute when embarrassed!

It was fun getting to see the stars of some of my newest fave shows live and to see how much fun the obviously have on set together. We were able to see why the shows are so great - that the casts have incredible chemistry.

And I'm pretty darn sure there's gonna be more crossover episodes in the future. Or at least I got the feeling from the way the panel had such great plot ideas already in mind for future episodes. I sure hope so. When Claudia went to Eureka was one of my faves this season, and it's on as I'm writing this!

After we managed to survive the insanity in that panel, we wandered back to the exhibition halls and checked out the Quantum Mechanix booth, which we couldn't get near the previous day. The coolest thing ever was that we got to play with the (not really working) replica Farnsworth and talk to the guy who designed and built every single one by hand. If they weren't $300, we probably would've bought one. I bought a "Wash is My Copilot" license plate frame and also drooled over a model BSG Viper Mark II which was estimated to start at $1500 when they hit production.

Jake also got a great compliment from a guy who designed much of their Firefly gear, as well. He was told it was nice to finally see a Jayne of the right size and build. See, there were a lot of Jaynes at the con, but not many were tall and muscley like Jake is. He's actually the same height as Adam Baldwin and has similar-sized arms. So he was the best Jayne I saw all weekend. (But I'm biased!)

We ended up eating dinner in line for the Battlestar Galactica panel and doing some awesome people-watching in the Marriott at the same time. See, it should be called Line*Con. Lots of lines. Oh, yeah, and the camera battery died right before we got to see Edward James Olmos, Aaron Douglas, Mark Sheppard, Rekha Sharma, and Richard Hatch (not the Survivor guy)!

This was another panel that was monopolized by the old guys. It was great to hear Olmos speak about some of the technical side of things and the impact that BSG has had on our society like the UN visit and all, but that's pretty much all the panel was. That and Sheppard and Douglas having some kind of hysterical inside joke going on that they couldn't share with us. :P

A few other awesome stories were told by Sharma and Douglas, but I am not going to say anything since they are TOTAL spoilers, and I know some of you haven't seen all of the series yet. <3

The one thing missing from BOTH panels on the day that would have made them even better was James Callis! Baltar/Grant is awesome! 

Before we let the Marriott, I stood *thisclose* to Aaron Douglas, and was going to try to talk to him, but then I realized he was with a bunch of friends and was bitching about his friend who he sent to get drinks and wasn't pack yet. Since he was being social with his own group, I took Wil Wheaton's advice, and decided not to be a dick. But seriously, I wanted to run up to him and give him a giant hug!

From one show about awesome spaceships to another, we left BSG and went to the Browncoat Shindig. It was a big party/dance/concert open to all *Con-goers, but geared towards the fans of the Whedonverse, specifically Firefly. Almost everyone there was in Firefly-themed costumes or tees. Jake was still Jayne, and I was pseudo-cross-play Jayne (cunning Jayne hat and Blue Sun tee).
AWESOME Kaylee dress and the only Badger I saw! (There were at least 4 of these!)

We got to see two awesomely geektastic performances with all Firefly/sci-fi-themed music! I honestly can't remember the names of the two guys who performed first, but they were Filkers with Celtic-y/bluegrass-y fun stuff. The second part was what I'd been anticipating BIG TIME, though. That was a performance by the ultra-cute, super-geeky Marian Call. If you don't know her music, you need to check her out! If you like my blog, you will like her music.

Plus I got to talk to her after the show, and she got all squee-ish when I told her I was @teacher_geek from Twitter. We're online friends and all. :) I also learned she gives great hugs!

Because it had been a "Kara isn't feeling 100%" kind of day, we went back to the hotel after her show and went to sleep. Needless to say, I slept much better, because I really needed it!

Cross-play Hatred and I at the Venture Compound booth. I perfected the Triana-looking-bored pose during the day.

Hump Day Hotties: Dragon*Con Style

| Wednesday, September 8

Here are the hotties I got to see at panels at D*C! I also actually stood about a foot away from Aaron Douglas (swoon) and met Sean Maher later, but there are no pics of those. I took Wil Wheaton's advice and decided to not be a dick.

Sean Maher and Jewel Staite

Colin Ferguson and Neil Grayston

Eddie McClintock - Warehouse 13
Erica Cerra - Eureka

Also, we got a fake-out of a strip tease by Colin Ferguson and a nice booty-shake from Eddie McClintock at that panel. Sadly, the boy took no pictures of that.

Dragon*Con Part 1

| Tuesday, September 7
I just got home from my first-ever convention. It was an absolutely insane experience. I'm exhausted. And I can't wait to go back again next year!!

So, here are the first adventures of @teacher_geek and @JayneHatJake at Dragon*Con!!

Day 0: Quest for Badges

We hiked the mile and a half from our hotel, the Renaissance Downtown (con hotels were booked by the time we decided to go), down to the Sheraton where registration was. The line stretched around the entire block of the hotel before it ever even got inside. So we stood. For two hours. In the Atlanta summer. Honestly, though, it wasn't horrible, because we got in line at about 7:00, and the sun went behind the buildings pretty soon thereafter.

There was a family from Nebraska with a little 7-year-old boy in front of us who we got to talk to for a few hours. The boy was super cute and decided I was his new best friend when he learned I was a teacher. The wait was also made a bit better by the added soundtrack of Star Trek music. 

We had to wait outside two hours before getting inside to deal with this mess:

Then it was chaos in the room to pick up badges. We were in there almost an hour, then they started calling out random last name letters to go get in the short lines up front. We got called, but our friends with us didn't. After we got our badges, we still had to wait for another 30 minutes for them.

After that, it was crash time. Getting ready for a few LONG days ahead.

Day 1: Initiation by Fire

Costume of the day: Battlestar Galactica off-duty duds (no dogtags - still need to get some! want Starbuck or Boomer, couldn't find them at D*C!) As seen with my friend Briana, dressed as Aviendha from The Wheel of Time.

I only went to three panels the first day, but they were all great. The first one was "What's New in Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature." That panel gave bits and pieces about some new and upcoming YA books. The ones I heard about that I'm super excited to get my hands on are:
White Cat by Holly Black
This is the first  in Black's new series "The Curse Workers" about a society where some people have the ability to work curses, good and bad, by simple skin to skin contact. The protagonist is a boy who is born into a curse-working family but doesn't have the same abilities his relatives have.

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
Along a post-apocalyptic Gulf Coast, many people scavenge wrecked ships in order to survive. I was told it would be great for fans of Uglies, so I'm up for it. 

For the Win by Cory Doctorow 
I LOVED Doctorow's first YA book, Little Brother, so I'm really wanting to read this one. It's apparently about sweat-shop MMORPG gold-farmers across the globe and their struggle to defeat evil AFK bosses to make their real lives better by working together. More stuff about electronic freedom from one of the masterminds at BoingBoing. 

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
Something about a living prison, evil princes who deposed rightful heirs, arranged marriages, star-crossed lovers, etc. Sounds interesting enough for me!

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld
The follow-up to Leviathan, Westerfeld's re-imagining of  World War I if the Brits were into genetic engineering of animal and machine together and the Germans were totally steampunk. Can't wait!

There were many more on the list that I'd like to read, but these are the ones that really stuck out in my mind as getting on my "Must-Read" list. 

- - - - - - - - - - 

We spent the afternoon fighting our way through the Peachtree Center Food Court, visiting the Her Universe and Southeastern Browncoats booths, and then finding our way over to the Westin for a Whedon-y good time. While shopping, I scored a killer Chibi Ahsoka Tano tee, met Ashley Eckstein (*squee!!* I mean, how cute is she!?), and got some great Browncoat gear for the boy!

Since we had a long time to wait before the "Simon and Kaylee Reunited" panel, we sat in on "Epitaph Three," a discussion panel about Dollhouse. It was interesting to hear people's takes on the show. I feel like it's one I need to go back and rewatch to get more out of it at this point. Until the end of season two, I didn't REALLY get into it, nor did I put much thought in there. The panel really has convinced me to give it another go. Netflix, anyone? 

- - - - - - - - - - 

After the Dollhouse panel, we went and sat in line for the first Firefly panel of the weekend. It was Sean Maher's first EVER Dragon*Con panel! We ended up with great seats, about five rows back, just off-center, for the Q&A with Jewel Staite and Sean. I honestly can't remember much except for a few things. The first of those is why I can't remember anything else. 

I was starstruck. Yes, I'll admit it. Since it was a Q&A panel, they had two mics set up in the ballroom open to the attendees. No one was lining up on our side. I thought of a question quickly and sneaked out the row to the mic. Then I got to have a brief conversation with the incredible Jewel!! 

When I got to the mic, Jewel asked me to try to embarrass Sean. I said I'd do my best. I asked them how they felt about the Simon and Kaylee relationship left unresolved when the show was first canceled. I then got a story about how Sean was with his mom when the show was canceled and how they all went to Nathan Fillion's house to eat his incredible bean dip. Sean was dodging the question, big time. Jewel antagonized him by trying to get him to answer. He clammed up and turned red. Her response was, "Sean said he felt, 'frustrated'." I succeeded in embarrassing Sean Maher. (It seemed like something easy to do, though, to be honest. He seemed very shy.)

Also, they got Nathan Fillion to call both of their phones and goof off for a good five minutes of the panel. It involved Jewel telling him to make a decision based on "WWMRD?" or "What Would Malcom Reynolds Do?"  Then he and Sean made fun of Jewel for said advice. It all ended with 1200 people flipping Nathan off over the phone. 

They also shared about their experiences working on Warehouse 13. Apparently Eddie McClintock is just as big of a prankster and goof-off on-set as Fillion is. Also, his sense of humor is really dry, and he's got great delivery/timing. And Sean called him Eddie McFuckface. I'm guessing the guest stars got to be the butts of some of his jokes during there time at the Warehouse. 

- - - - - - - - - - 

We met up with @PhysicistLisa and @abrogdon for dinner. It was fun. The boy was impressed because Lisa introduced herself just the way he had hoped. She said, "Hi, I'm Lisa from the Internet!" I thought the boy might have had a tiny squee moment.  It was so much fun to hang out with the first of my Twitter friends. We actually ran into @GameCouch and wife earlier in the day, but we were on our way to panels, so we didn't get to hang out at that point. 

We played our first round of Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game for the weekend and hung out people-watching until our late-arriving friends from Indianapolis got to the hotel. Then we booked it back to help them check in. I squealed and ran through the lobby when I saw @geeksoap, my #WonderTwin, at almost 2:00 am! (I also met @fubbleskag and @CapSteveRogers at that time, who are both frakking awesome in their own right!) 

Then, after getting them settled and talking for a while, I finally fell into a fitful sleep at about 2:45. See? There really *is* no sleep at Dragon*Con!

Return of the Hump Day Hotties

| Wednesday, August 25
It's been a while, but I'm back with two hotties I could probably never tire of looking at. It's been a long few weeks with the back-to-school stuff and life, but I'm getting into a routine, so I hope I can get back to regular posting here very very soon.

Thanks to those of you who've stuck around with me! You're the best!

And now, these two are two of the hottest con men on television today. Well, one is a definitely con, the other is the "hitter" on a con team. What can I say? Without further delay, I give you Matt Bomer of White Collar and Christian Kane of Leverage, two shows that have kept me entertained all summer long.

Enjoy! And for those of you back to school (for work or personal study) I wish you a great year!! Mine sure is off to a busy but good start!

When being a teacher hurts...

| Thursday, August 12
Today I've been dealing with one of the saddest situations of my teaching career. You always hear, going into a career in education, not to bring your students' baggage home with you. You need to keep school life and home life separate. But when you're dealing with the livelihoods of children, it's pretty much impossible not to get emotionally involved. There are students you stress about whether their basic needs are being met, the ones who keep you up at night worrying, the ones who you wish you could bring home with you because you just *know* you'd give them a better home environment than they currently have.

These are the students who break my heart. It's impossible not to build relationships with students, because even the Harvard Principals Center found in one study that the one single thing that has the biggest impact on student achievement is whether or not their teachers care enough to form a relationship with them.

Four years ago, during my second year teaching, I had two such boys in my class. Today focuses on one of them. He was from a rough family whose step-father was a large, scary, verbally abusive, drug-dealing (rumoured), "hood rich" man. He scared the living daylights out of me, and I never had to deal with his mouth directed at me personally. I just witnessed it directed at others. And I was terrified.

Needless to say, DCS was involved in this boy's life. During his sixth grade year, he was pulled out of his home and sent to live with an aunt for about a month. Then, after a home visit that was obviously all an act by the kid's parents, he was returned to his parents. Another month or so, he was pulled out and sent back to the aunt, and a formal DCS hearing was held. This time, he was taken away from the abusive, drug-ridden situation for good. But sadly, when he was sent to a group home in the spring of that year, he was taken out of our school, as well. I no longer had any interaction with him, but I still wondered about him every once in a while.

Fast-forward three years. Last year, a former teacher from our school, who is now an instructional coach, ran into him at his high school, where he was a freshman, and an outstanding varsity football player. He told this woman to tell his 6th grade teachers he was, "doing really well." He also said that he really appreciated all we had done for him. He was in foster care at the time, but apparently it was a pretty good situation, so it seemed.

Then last night, I heard briefly, via Twitter (since I don't watch or listen or read the local news ever), that there had been a shooting in the west part of our city - which is the suburban side where we live. Other than the thought of, "Oh, wow. That doesn't happen out here very often," I didn't give it much brain power.

This morning, while I was sitting in a meeting with my fellow 5th grade teachers, I got a text message from a 6th grade teacher I used to work with. It turned out that the victim of the shooting had been this former student of mine, a 15-year-old boy who was a promising football player and was attempting to get his life back on the right track after having been raised in such unfortunate circumstances.

Today was the first time I had ever gotten news about a former student of mine that shattered my world. I had been holding out hope for this boy for 4 years. And now, it's all gone. And I don't even know who to grieve for. He had no real family to speak of that was involved anymore, because he wasn't even with that same foster family from a year ago. It hurts. Not quite as badly as losing a person who was very close in my life, but still, a child, taken out of this world way too early. And I like to think that I had been instrumental in trying to start that turn to the right direction and rehabilitation.

It's made me realize what an impact these kids have on my own life, and how I hope I've done the same for them. I mourn the fact that the world has lost someone who could possibly have been the next great NFL star running back or a great dad, brother, or friend. And I just don't know what else to say. I just hope that I did help him out in the 4 years since our paths crossed.

I Don't Have to Prove Myself

| Tuesday, August 10
 ^not me^

So, I've officially started my new job as 5th grade teacher as of today. The teachers are back on contract, but we don't have students until NEXT Tuesday. Which is also my 29th birthday. Anyway, back to my point I was trying to get to before I start rambling off into space.

I've now met all of my colleagues except one who's not been at the school yet due to family issues, and from what I've heard keeps to herself all the time anyway. There are a total of 8 5th grade teachers in our school. 5 of them have made me feel super welcome and comfortable ever since I thought I might be getting the job. I met 4 of them at professional development curriculum workshops the week between getting the call from the principal and the "official" call from Human Resources. They were super nice, come to check on me, joke with me like I'm already a part of the crew, and one has even come to *me* for teaching advice.

But if you do the math, here, that means there's one more teacher who doesn't fit into either of the above categories. And of course, she's the one who I share an office with and have to team-teach with. Right now, she's making me feel like I've got to prove myself to her for me to be accepted. I feel like she resents me because I took the position her best friend vacated. It really was bothering me, when I first started dwelling on it, because I'm honestly not used to people automatically not liking me without ever getting to know me.

Then I started thinking (along with encouragement from the Hub) that I don't need her approval for multiple reasons. First, I know I'm a good teacher. Parents are whining that I'm not at the middle school anymore because I taught their older kids and now they have more that are going into 6th grade, and they were hoping I'd be one of their teachers. Apparently, now there are parents making requests for me at the elementary school already. So, see, I know I must be good. The kids and parents like me for the most part. (And I'm not always the nicest teacher. I have high expectations of work quality and behavior.) Second, it dawned on me that this teacher that's making me feel this way is younger and has less experience than me! I definitely don't need to prove myself to a teacher who's been doing this less time than I have, no matter how great she thinks she is.

Plus she talks down to me and words things in a way that makes it sound like she's doing me a favor, like by "saving" me from having to plan both science and social studies, when she's just doing that because she doesn't want to teach social studies (because she's always taught science - always being the previous two school years). Or that she graciously "took over" the low-level math class that the teacher I replaced had taught the year before so I wouldn't have to "get dumped on". Seriously? Do yourself a favor, and stop being a martyr. You should be doing this to help the kids in the best way possible, not to make yourself look like a saint!

So, I've decided I'm going to tolerate her "living" next door to me until Thanksgiving, then pray when she goes out on maternity leave, that she does decide to stay out for the rest of the year. I just don't want to deal with such condescension on a daily basis.  It's not worth it. I'm better than that. I'm just going to go out there, do my thing even if it is different than the way she's "always" done it, and do what's best for my students. And continue to shake off the feeling that I need to demonstrate that I am, indeed, a good teacher and a fun human being. (Plus I like talking with the teacher across the hall better, anyway. She'll be my friend and let me vent. I can tell already!)

6 more days to get my room (and lessons) ready before the students walk through my door for the first time!!

Hump Day Hotties #14

| Wednesday, August 4
After taking a few weeks off for summer-y things, I'm back in action with a new hottie for ya! This time, as I've been LOVING the new season of Eureka and the fact that I saw the terrible Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason on TV the other day, I decided to dedicate today's post to James Callis. The first role I ever remember seeing him in was as Bridget's gay bff Tom in Bridget Jones's Diary way back in 2001. Then of course, we all know and love him/hate him as Gaius Frakking Baltar on BSG. He's been made a recurring guest star this season on Eureka, as well, and I'm seriously loving him on there. Again, a bit of a character who's very ambiguous. You're not quite sure if you should like him or despise him. I'm not gonna give anything else away for those of you who aren't at season 4 yet. He's even one of the people mentioned with a hashtag a few of us thought up a while ago: #guysinglassesaresexy!

See? Bridget's friends!


Almost Back to School

| Monday, August 2
I'm officially back to school in a week, but for those of you who haven't heard (via my eight million tweets about it), I will not be returning to the middle school or 6th grade next week. Instead, I got a last minute transfer to the elementary school next door. I'm gonna be a

This week I'm gonna be packing up and moving all of my stuff to my new classroom across the parking lot.

One of the reasons I didn't post anything last week was because I was an anxious wreck and didn't want to give anything away until it was official. I had gotten a call from the principal of the elementary school on Friday, July 23 asking me if I'd be interested. I told her of course I would be. But then I had to play the waiting game of waiting for our school district's Human Resources department to call and officially offer me the job. I had to wait a WHOLE WEEK! Talk about nerve-wracking! But they did call last Friday while I was at a 5th grade Social Studies workshop.

Yeah, I spent a lot of last week going to curriculum workshops for 5th grade stuff as well, since I wanted to be prepared if (when) I got the call with the official transfer offer. Well, I'm off to see my new classroom today. I'm super excited because I am going into a 2-year-old building from a 45-year-old building! Better lighting, better space, cleaner, and I'm expecting a healthier environment for me. No more moldy, musty old school!

I'll keep you all updated on what's going on in the Great Classroom Move of 2010!

Time Off

| Tuesday, July 20
Hope you all have a great, fun week! I'm taking some time off from the blog this week, as my husband is on vacation and we've got tons of friends in town this week and a lot going on.

Those of you going to Comic-Con, have a blast for me, too!!

Commenting Thoughts

| Friday, July 16
If you know me in real life or in any kind of social media, you should probably know by now I like to talk. But I don't just like to hear myself talk. I like to have conversations. I like to respond to people. Yesterday's post is a prime example of that. Plus multi-sided conversations can lead to great and interesting discoveries.

To that end, I've decided I do not like Blogger's commenting system. Eventually, I'd like to go self-hosted and switch to Wordpress, but for now, I'm gonna be cheap and stick with what's free. That means I'm thinking about changing my commenting system on this site to either IntenseDebate or Disqus. I've used both of these services on other people's blogs and like them a lot. What I'm looking for, specifically, is the ability for people to reply directly to others' comments, instead of posting a new comment at the end and using an @ to address the specific person.

From what I've been told, I might lose my old comments on old posts, but I guess that's a price I'll have to pay if I want a better commenting system.

Any thoughts, suggestions, and/or advice on this?

**Edit: After a very short time and lots of feedback, I think I'm going to remain as is for the time being and just to a little research. If it seems to be a good idea in a month or so, I may go to WP. We'll see. I may give up on this silly little idea and do absolutely nothing. But thanks for the input!**