Sunday, November 14, 2010

I'm out.

The few followers/readers of this blog may already know this, but for those that do not, I'm done with IPS. I will finish out the year--I determined enough and stubborn enough to not let the frustrations these kids are throwing at me drive me out mid-year. But this year has taught me a few things that deep down, I think I already knew.

1) I am NOT Michelle Pfeiffer nor Robin Williams.

I just don't know how to teach these kids. I don't know how to reach them, how to get to their level to see where the problems truly lie, how to inspire them to have confidence in what they can do... I don't know how to get them to learn.

2) I do not know how to write lesson plans.

At least, not "good" ones that are standards-based and use Vygotsky's Model on a daily basis... I still struggle, too, to get any plans out of my head and onto paper for the principal to evaluate. It just seems so time consuming and frustrating... It is one of my least favorite things to do.

3) I'm still a terrible procrastinator (actually, since I still do it so frequently, would that make me a great procrastinator? Whatever the case, I still have the terrible habit of procrastinating many things).

4) I have little-to-no classroom management skills.

At least, what few skills I may have, they are not effective in these IPS classrooms in which I'm teaching this year.

5) There are not enough hours in the day for all the referrals and phone calls that really need to be made.

With as many discipline issues as I have on a daily basis, there simply isn't enough time to do all the write-ups and make all the phone calls home that really should be made because there are other things that also have to be done. And it's doubly frustrating when nothing seems to happen anyway, when students with referral lists over a page long are still walking around like they own the school with apparently no consequences for their disruptive behavior.

6) I need some form of year-to-year consistency.

In conjunction with #2, I have realized that my struggle with lesson plans comes in part, at least, because I haven't really taught the same thing two years in a row. Every year, I've been asked to teach something different. I hate writing lesson plans because every year, it's like I have to re-invent the wheel. That's why it's so exhausting. I don't really have lesson plans from previous years from which to draw. I can't just tweak activities/projects from the past to improve them. I have to go back to the beginning every time, having to guess what might work and what might not work, having no real experience to guide my guesses. And because I usually don't find out until the last minute what I'll be teaching, it's not like I can even really spend any summer vacation time planning. (Though, as mentioned in #3, I still might not do it, even then...)

I need a school district with a little less transience.

7) I am not a reading teacher.

My license is in Language Arts and Spanish. I taught one semester of reading with my emergency permit (and I didn't do very well with it then, either). I have never been formally trained/taught on how to reach struggling readers. Having always been a good reader, their struggles are ones I don't often understand because I never had that problem. Small wonder, then, that I feel like I am failing at teaching this year.


This isn't really any new revelation. But here's yet another reason why it continues to be a thorn in my side (sorry for the cliche): in a generation of students who are already being raised with an attitude of entitlement--acting like they deserve to have everything handed to them on a silver platter simply because they are alive and breathing--NCLB takes much of their accountability away from them and puts it all on the teachers. In all the effort to hold teachers accountable for student performance, they seem to be neglecting the crucial fact that students need to have a reason to invest in their own education. THEY need to decide they want to learn. THEY need to decide they care. If we are mandating their success by law, but only holding teachers accountable when they fail, why should they bother taking a serious interest? That is why they, like everyone else, blame the teachers instead of themselves when they get failing grades.

As one colleague pointed out, governments can't legislate parenting. I may not entirely agree, but I can accept that it is much more difficult to do, and much more controversial, and when politicians are more concerned with re-election than they are with doing what is right, of course they aren't going to try to tell their constituents how to raise their kids. BUT I still think there has to be a way to hold the students accountable (as well as the teachers insofar as it is applicable) for their own failures. THAT should still be legislatable.

9) I need my sanity.

This year, in particular, has been draining. I'm still trying to hold onto things like the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir and the handbell choir--things that develop talents I enjoy--to keep me sane. But I have little/no time to write, to exercise any of my creativity. I have little time to read. Because this is my job that is paying my bills, far too often it pushes spiritual growth/development to the back burner. I am feeling mentally/emotionally/spiritually drained. I can't live like that anymore. I will not allow myself to wither away inside, no matter what bills need to be paid.

10) IPS is not a good fit for me. It is time to move on.

I feel badly about this because I know students in urban school districts so often get the shaft--they need (and in many ways, deserve) dedicated teachers who are determined to make a difference in their lives. And I feel like I still have good, quality teaching capabilities within me. But I apparently cannot make an effective difference in these kids' lives because, even after four years, I have not been able to learn how. So I leave it to others more capable than I, others who seem to know how to reach these kids. I'm out.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

On Fire...

I have come to realize- just recently, surprisingly enough- that I do NOT like reheated chicken. Leftover chicken is fine, if it can be eaten cold (read: Mom's BBQ Chicken Wings- holy cow, YUM!). But, despite having eaten reheated chicken on many occasions, I have realized that I do not like it, that the very thought really is unappetizing. Before, I'd eat it thus simply because I don't like to waste food or there really wasn't another option. No more. If I can't find a way to eat leftover chicken cold, I'll just toss it.

Now, I move from this completely unrelated topic onto the main topic of this post: The Hunger Games trilogy.

WARNING: Juli, you may not want to read this post as it may contain my opinion of the books that may, in turn, be interpreted by you as a "spoiler." You have been warned.

Wow! In a week, I have read all three books in this mind-blowing trilogy. I originally wanted to try to cram all three into my fall break weekend, but alas, that did not happen. Still, I was able to complete each book in about 2-3 days apiece. Holy cow! Just when you think the stakes can't go higher, they do.

For those unfamiliar with the books, they are written in the dystopian style- it presents a pretty bleak picture of the future to try and save us from allowing ourselves to become that way. What I love, though, is that even the bleakness is tinged with hope, with determination, with a will to make things right.

Even though I don't entirely agree with the paths the journey took (there are elements I would have like to have seen that I don't feel would have corrupted the integrity of the message), I feel satisfied with where we ended up. More importantly, I feel she stayed true to the journey behind the message, which is basically that, whatever the good intentions of war, and however necessary it sometimes is- even when it's for our own survival- it will always have high costs which will forever change, for better and for worse, the people involved, directly or indirectly. Like it or not, war will take us to places we never wanted to go and will impact our relationships with everyone around us, including ourselves.

Suzanne Collins does an amazing job taking us on what I feel to be a very realistic journey through those disturbing places and we are left with characters who feel real because of where they end up. Her storytelling skills are superbly compelling and truly, we are left with nothing wanting, except the rather unrealistic desire that we never have to deal with war.

These books are the kind of books that change us as readers. These books are the kind of books that stay with us. Despite the grim tone throughout (because characters are constantly battling for survival), these books have already become my friends.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Delightful Day!

Perfect weather. Perfect company. Perfect food. The only mishap was stupid construction on State Highway 38 which delayed Juli by quite a bit.

This is how I would describe my day yesterday. Since I'm still on my Cracker Barrel hiatus and Juli didn't have to work at the temple, we decided to get together for some fall fun!

Thanks to the aforementioned stupid construction, we didn't get to do quite as much as we had originally planned, but we had fun at the two places we did go. We spent the afternoon at the Russell Farms Pumpkin Patch, just north of Noblesville, IN (for those of you who are not up to snuff on your IN geography, Noblesville is about 25 miles north of downtown Indianapolis- look it up on a map if you're still confused!).

It's just a simple family farm that, over the last several years, has established several family-friendly activities to entertain folks of all ages. Juli and I enjoyed not one, but TWO corn mazes (one of which was considerably smaller for the benefit of littler kids, and if you found all three seed buckets hidden within the maze and picked a seed from each, you could get a prize! I got a Chinese finger trap :).

We also enjoyed a hayride to the pumpkin patch where we "picked" our own pumpkins for purchase. While, for the most part, the pumpkins looked as though they had been placed there just for this purpose (there was little evidence of the vines on which they had grown- most of the vines had died and were decomposing into the dirt), it was still fun to try to find the perfect pumpkin amidst the scattered spheres of orange.

After buying a pumpkin roll (like a jelly roll, but with pumpkin bread and filled with cream cheese), Juli and I headed to downtown Carmel, IN where we had dinner at this most charming French-style cafe/patisserie called La Mie Emilie.

The food was absolutely delicious, and we got such personal service! Seriously, our server was only too happy to offer us a sample of anything we thought we might want to try and was so friendly and helpful, it helped make our dining experience truly delightful!

It is days like these that help buffer me against the frustrations I frequently encounter during the week, so thank you, Juli, for such a wonderful afternoon!

(I just wish I had remembered to bring my own camera to provide more personalized photos of the day- alas!)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Perfect Scrambled Eggs

As a Cracker Barrel server on the side, I often get complaints that our scrambled eggs are often flat and/or just folded. These (annoying) complainers do not seem to understand that, by definition, scrambled eggs are simply eggs in which the whites and yolks have been beaten together before the cooking process. Thus, even if folded and/or flat, those eggs are still scrambled eggs, contrary to their negative opinions.

Now, yes, as a sit-down restaurant, we are supposed to cook food to order as much as we are able to. What they don't seem to realize is that, as business, we also have to keep all our guests happy, which means getting them their food in a timely manner, which means not everyone should have to wait for their food while our grill cooks take the time to pamper a set of scrambled eggs for one guest. It simply is not realistic, people! If you want the fluffy, soft, scrambled eggs you think you ordered, you're just gonna have to make them yourself at home!

That being said, here are a few tips I have learned over the years that, in my opinion, help make the perfect scrambled eggs:

1. Beat the eggs a LOT, as in beat them until they look a little (or a lot) frothy. A whisk will greatly aid you in this, but you can also get the job done with a fork.

2. Add a little milk. I do not know of any restaurants that do this, most likely for possible allergy reasons (and it probably makes the grill messier, which means they'd have to stop everything and clean it...) However, this is one of the key things to make the eggs fluffy, if fluffy is your desire (and for me, it is!) It is harder (though possible) to get fluffy eggs without it.

3. Do NOT add the eggs to an already hot pan. If they are cooking right away, especially if the pan is on a higher temperature, they will cook fast and, usually, hard. Keep the temperature a little below medium, and either add the eggs before turning the stove on or just as the pan is getting WARM. This slow-cooking method really does work better!

4. Add the salt WHILE the eggs are cooking. Most people know to add the cheese and whatever other ingredients to the eggs while they're cooking (after all, how else will all those things get into the eggs?), but they taste so much better when the salt also has a chance to cook through, instead of being sprinkled on top at the end. (Just the salt, though- if you add the pepper at this stage, the pepper flavor might become too intense due to the heat.)

Once the eggs are done cooking, put them on a plate, garnish/season as desired (I like a little freshly cracked peppercorn, especially the mixed-color variety!), and enjoy!

So, with these tips (and a little patience, another thing restaurant grill cooks don't usually have time for), you can also cook yourself the perfect scrambled eggs!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Slowing down

My life has been frantic since school started. I found out a week before the first day that I had an official assignment, that I would be back in my own classroom with all the good and ill that it implies... (If only I had known that there would be more ill than good...)

I have been stressed. It has not been a very good start to the school year. I'm doing middle school this year, teaching 8th grade reading. While we are technically a step above the alternative schools (schools to where we send students who are too problematic to function properly in the traditional school setting), they might as well just call us an alternative school for all the discipline issues we have to deal with daily. Classroom management has always been one of my weakest areas, and I definitely feel like I am floundering. So much so that in order to try and keep up with my professional obligations, I have been neglecting my personal needs. (No, that doesn't include hygiene- I still shower and brush my teeth and put on deodorant and wash my clothes and such... but my apartment is a chaotic mess, even more than usual.)

I realized I can't keep doing this and survive the year.

I need to slow down before I get an ulcer or an aneurism or a stroke or any other major medical condition.

I loved getting to hear all four sessions of General Conference. Through the words of those who spoke, I felt the inspired wisdom of the Lord reminding me of what is essential. I felt re-anchored in fundamental, eternal truths that had been fading away into background noise as the noise of my classes made demands on my time and effort.

Yes, I still have those professional obligations that cannot be ignored. But I cannot let them take over my spirituality. And I had been doing just that. No more.

So. As my favorite season comes in full swing, I will remember that my time is just that- MY time. To enjoy walks where I crunch my way through fallen leaves, to enjoy the brightness of an autumn blue sky, to curl up with a mug of sugar-free hot chocolate and a book for half an hour without feeling guilty, to get back to writing, to find serenity in the things that give my soul joy.

I will catch up on all the grading I need to do. I will catch up on all the planning I need to do. I will catch up on all the organizing I need to do. But I will do it at MY pace. I will not let the frustrations of the year get the better of me. I hope that as I find peace, I can better handle all the curveballs and wild pitches the students are throwing at me. But even if I do not find tranquility in the classroom, I will renew my efforts to find it in my soul.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Avaunt and Avast, me hearties!

Arrrrrrr and Huzzah! And a Happy Talk Like A Pirate Day t' ye all, too, ye scallawags! Now, go swab that poop deck!

Monday, August 23, 2010

This is Me

My second youngest sister has been evolving. She has been growing emotionally, spiritually, experientially (but not literally... I don't think...). She has been on a road of self-discovery, the same road we all travel at different points in our life, sometimes more than once, sometimes without any clue as to where we are going. But then, while the destination is ultimately important, equally important is the journey. After all, that is a large part of what self-discovery is all about, right?

As I have read through some of her musings, I've reflected on some of my own journeys of self-discovery, of figuring out the essence of what is me. I'd been meaning to do this post for a while, ever since having a related conversation with my two older sisters about the what makes up the core of our identity. What are the things- ideas, beliefs, feelings, passions, etc.- that define our soul? As I've struggled to deal with the stresses of a new, haphazard school year and trying to figure these eighth-graders out, Sarah's own exploration of self have inspired me to step back and recapture some of those thoughts I had back in February, reflections on what contributes to my own essence. This is far beyond simply being a list of things I love (the list would be much longer if such were the case). Simply put, "This Is Me."

Baking: Baking is just something I have to do. It satisfies that part of me that loves to create and to share. I love not just the pleasure of seeing/smelling/tasting a recipe well-executed, I love the pleasure it gives others as they partake of the spoils. Again, I think that if I could not bake, a part of me would wither with wistful regret.

Beauty: I like to surround myself with beauty. Lest you think me vain or terribly snobby in some way, I just mean that if something is beautiful- music, objects, nature, words, ideas- I like to connect it with my life somehow. I love beautiful things. Some may call my life cluttered- I have so many decorative objects I sometimes don't know what to do with them all- but contrary to what some may believe, I do not fill my life with such things because I am so materialistic. I have these things because their beauty brings pleasure to my spirit. That is not to say that I consider these beautiful objects to be of greater importance than less tangible valuables (e.g. my relationships with my family, friends, my testimony, etc.). But while I have them, my heart smiles with delight.

Twilight Blue: I have many colors that I like, depending on their context. But there is something about this deep, celestial blue- the color of the evening sky after the sun has set, before it deepens to blackness- that reaches further into my eternal awareness, satisfying some deep, divine need that can never fully be expressed in words.

Music: This may seem obvious since I come from such a musical family, but there are certain types of music that resonate with my soul on a deeper level. Secret Garden comes to mind in particular. I have often said that if my life (or any of my writings) were ever made into a movie, I would want them to do the soundtrack. So much of their music provokes images to create themselves in my mind. So many stories have been inspired by their melodic and harmonic art. I also think Kurt Bestor and Enya and Tchaikovsky would be at the top of the list. Specific pieces of music would be Chopin's Nocturne, Op. 72 No. 1, Mannheim Steamroller's Stille Nacht and Nepenthe, and Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overature, which never fails to stir my blood and invigorate the fire within.

Nature/The Country: For all the convenience and opportunity a city provides, it can never affect me the way the sound of crickets chirping can. I love the way the woods look like they're draped in mists of green as the leaves begin to burst out of their winter hibernations, the way a June field glitters like a galaxy of stars as the fireflies flit about in the early evening twilight, the way the flames of autumn leaves subside into more subtle embers of somber hues, the way a light snow etches out the complexities of the beautifully naked trees in their midwinter glory. I feel so much more keenly in the midst of God's creations than I ever truly do in the midst of mankind's.

Writing: Like Mr. Holland, sometimes I think that teaching is the temporary job while I try to get all the ideas I have for novels- epic and otherwise- out on paper in some publishable format. I still feel like I have some good ideas, if only I had the time (or capabilities) of turning them into the good stories I know they can be. I have realized, though, that whether or not I ever get published, I have to write. Like Emily in L.M. Montgomery's books, it is in my blood. I don't just write because I love it; I write because I have to. I write because it is one of the ways my soul connects with itself. I love to try the taste of words in different combinations, like so many savory spices, where just the right blend creates a delightful feast for the literary palate. And for me, it is not just the end result but the process as well. The medium by which I write often makes a difference, completely affecting my mood: a pen has a totally different feel than a pencil; a quill pen that requires dipping ink inspires in me all the romance of those ages gone by; a typewriter creates in me a different awareness of life than a computer ever truly could (though I am obviously not averse to the modern conveniences a computer provides). Whatever comes out, however it comes out, writing is such a part of me that I would suffocate if I could not write.

Books: For years, books have been the balm to heal just about every soul-wound I have ever felt. Whatever spiritual or emotional aches I felt, whatever griefs I passed through, books were what calmed my troubled heart. I almost never get rid of books because I rarely buy books that aren't already friends of mine. The books that I read and love become so quickly woven into the fabric of my existence. Once a book has affected me that way, I can never read it just once. While there are still plenty of people to whom I will turn when I need help with one thing or another, books are equally my advisors, counsellors, confidantes, and friends. "Isn't it odd how much fatter a book gets when you've read it several times?...As if something were left between the pages every time you read it. Feelings, thoughts, sounds, smells... and then, when you look at the book again many years later, you find yourself there, too...." (~Mo, from Inkspell, by Cornelia Funke)
Stars: Every time I look up at the stars- especially when a cold, winter night enhances their stark splendor and brilliance- my soul stirs with love and longing. My eternal essence connects with the same eternal essence that burns within these guardians of the infinite. Even more than when I am surrounded by the cathedral-like spires of oaks, maples, and evergreens, it is in moments like these that I truly feel the boundless love of our Heavenly Father; I feel my spirit commune with His as the eyes of heaven twinkle tenderly from the eternities above. Above all, I begin to feel the glorious weight and responsibility of my divine potential as the endless possibilities of existence open themselves to my mind's view. Perhaps that is in large part why I love almost any sun/moon/stars motif or decor, because they remind me of "God, who is our home."

And so, for good or for ill, for better or for worse, this IS who I am.

For now, I bid you adieu.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


At Juli's request, since she does not have a blog of her own, I am posting an In Memoriam for Butler. Since she had been his caretaker over the last several years, I am deferring to her words so that she can say what she felt needed to be said:


I'm not sure what really possessed mom and dad to take on a puppy when there were already 7 of us running around a duplex, (and the youngest only 2 and a half). I know he was free, and offered by friends of ours, but really, it was a little crazy. His mother was a pure bred, but his litter was a surprise, so no telling what else he had in him. I don't really remember picking him out from the litter (maybe he was all that was left), but I'm pretty sure he was the runt of the litter, and he had the adorable black-and-white coloring that earned him his name (he looked a little like a "tuxedo cat", plus then when he made a mess, we could always say "(the) Butler did it..." That's the Lambson family sense of humor.

I also don't remember a lot of his puppyhood. I imagine he drove Frisky-the-cat a little nuts. And I know his penchant for taking on bigger dogs got him in serious trouble at least once with a neighborhood dog (I think he required stitches...)

I also know he was pretty much a one-family dog nearly from the get-go and that he especially did not get along with little kids. This led to his near banishment by Dad and my promise to take him as soon as I got to a place where I could have dogs. Little did any of us know Butler would be 10 years old (already a senior citizen) before I could make good on that promise. In the meantime, he did spend some time away from the main homestead in the keeping of Elise and Beckie, but mostly just hung in there at the Parker Street home while almost the first thing any visitor heard upon entering the house was "Don't touch the little black dog!" With family members, though, he could be a good snuggler.

I also remember that when I would come home from college, Butler would be my "study buddy", giving my hand something to do as I read assignments (and thereby helping me stay awake).

I remember making fun of his tongue, calling him a "snake" because he was nearly constantly sticking it out to lick his nose or something. He was a big time licker, though not necessarily of people. More like carpet, pillows, blankets, sleeves, pant legs, whatever he was lying on. Also, his own fur/skin, which could (and usually did) cause problems in the form of hotspots, till I started keeping him cut pretty short so I could keep an eye on his skin more easily and nip problems in the bud.

I remember that mom tried to save money by grooming him herself several times, and I remember he put up with it pretty well in general, but his hair just NEVER SEEMED TO END. It was way to big a job for one person (or at least for this one person) so when he came live with me, he got professionally groomed about every other month - I had them go pretty short so it would still be do-able in 8 weeks. He had a couple of really good groomers, even as he got older, blind-er and grumpier. I swear he always strutted when he came back from the groomer and *knew* he looked good (probably felt better, too). He kept the bandana/bowtie on for a good while, too.

Butler and I moved to Indiana on Labor Day weekend of 2003. I finally had a place that would take dogs and Mom and Dad finally got to let him go/get rid of him.

I remember my first apartment in Valpo was on a second floor, so that was kind of a pain. I also remember that we had a pond there, which means we had Canada geese - that Butler wanted to take on (cause they were bigger than him, naturally!). I remember that at first, I didn't let him on my bed - he had a towel to lay on in my bedroom. But as soon as I let him once onto the bed, that was the end of the towel - he was my bedhog buddy from that point on.

Valpo was also where we started to establish a lot of those routines that I've had to unravel over the past couple of weeks. Things like "Sunday dinner" (when he got canned/pouch food instead of the regular dry). And "afternoon snack" (a treat when I got home from work). And of course, "potty time". He didn't have his own bed (cause he shared mine) and he didn't have to share space with a cat yet. He did have to deal with "strangers" coming over for FHE and all three of them, I think, got bitten (but after I had warned them to leave him alone). He would sometimes "help" me in my "garden" (and by that, I mean, lay in the shade), mostly because he'd bark if I didn't have him where he could see me. Or maybe that was Cville... Oh well, that leads me to the next (and longest) stage of our time together.

We moved to Crawfordsville in October, 2005. I remember telling the helpers unloading the truck to ignore the barking box, but in general I don't remember him being a real big barker (except with the aforementioned gardening). He had a couple of weeks to settle in and then, Halloween evening, I came home to a little black kitten on my doorstep, looking at me like "where have you been and what took you so long..." I brought her in so that no one could hurt her (a black cat on Halloween has to be careful, don't you know) and after trying to find who may have lost her, finally resigned myself and let her stay. She liked to swat at Butler, but ran away pretty quick when he barked at her, so it never got more serious. I like to think it kept him lively.

Gradually, he got slower and slower. I started keeping a stiff cushion under my bed that I could pull out as a booster step for him to use to jump on the bed. My parents brought me a big ol' chair, though, and that he could get up on just fine - the "couch", too - so those became some of his favorite "beds". I'm pretty sure I didn't ever get a picture of Butler curled up on the seat while the cat perched on the back of that big ol' chair, but I wish I had.

Our walks were generally shorter - but maybe that was just me being more lazy. One advantage of his growing more blind and deaf is that he didn't tend to notice other dogs/geese/critters and so didn't challenge them (though not always - on one of our longer ones, he noticed I had stopped to chat with a horse and decided he needed to tell it who was the boss - good grief!).

Valentine's Day 2007 brought a blizzard to Crawfordsville (an honest to goodness blizzard - I felt a little like Little House on the Prairie, only thankful I didn't have to feed/milk any cows). NWS archive says Lafayette got 17 inches - I don't remember exactly how much Cville got, but it was probably in that neighborhood - in any case, it was well over Butler's head and it freaked him out a little - no lingering outside on those days! But by the time we had company in June, he was back to strutting his stuff.

Also, over time, Butler's "Bladder of steel" (he used to be able to hold it for 12 hours, or maybe a little more!) lost it's "steel" - his "hold it" window it just got shorter and shorter. I adjusted my schedule to shorten my window, but eventually he just couldn't make it a whole work day, and he refused to use a pad. Not just couldn't find it, not just missed it, he REFUSED. One day in my early attempts, I had placed him on a pad (held him there by the collar) and waited for him to go so I could praise and treat him extravagently, like they say you're supposed to do. Not only did he not go, as *soon* as I took my hand/eyes off him (I don't remember, but I'm guessing the cat was doing something) he was OFF that pad and peeing on the carpet. That's when I knew it wasn't just "doggy dementia" - he had a thing against the pads. So I started barricading him in the kitchen/utility area so at least he'd pee on tile instead of carpet.

Then there was the morning he didn't get off of the bed before his bladder let go, and that was the *last* morning he was in bed with me.

The first time that the question of "time to let him go" really came up was in March, 2009, when he experienced a more catastrophic loss of vision than he'd been experiencing with his cataracts. But the vet helped me when she said that “[I'd] know when it was time”, and I knew it wasn't time yet.

When I was looking for an apartment in Lafayette, Butler's needs were a significant consideration and one of the big appeals of the apartment I'm in now was how much tiled floor (versus carpet) was available and the easy setup to keep him off the carpet.

He had a little trouble adjusting to the new apartment (he'd been in Cville for a little over 3.5 years, after all) - some random barking at nothing, etc... but ultimately he settled in. A few accessories were added - a baby gate, a cushiony bed, diapers...

Over the past year or so, he'd been gradually losing weight (I don't think he liked his specialty kidney food much - kind of blah, I'd guess), so I went against my own policy of "no people food" to try to entice his appetite and build him up a bit (it only worked slightly) and lo and behold, the little guy had a sweet tooth (donuts, cupcakes, pie crust crispies... who knew!) and he loved raw carrots. Seriously! I could hardly believe it!

At times over the last several months, I did acknowledge that it was a little ridiculous - all the medications, the diapers, the cleanup when the diaper was off or it failed, the special food(s), the carrying him up and down the stairs...

But until that last few days, there was no question that he was still interested in life and hanging in there. He didn't eat enough to keep his weight up, but he was definitely interested in his treats. He would sometimes (when I allowed the time) just stand and sniff the air by the pond. Other times he investigated the ground pretty thoroughly (and seemed to head for the pond a few times). He still liked to snuggle on the big chair (I had to remember to bring him to it, though - something I wish I'd done a bit more of). And he still snapped at Soot when she took it in her head to tease him (it didn't happen often, but once in a great while). It just wasn't time yet.

And then it was.

The beginning of June saw me on a road trip with Mom & Dad, Elise, Beckie and Kirsti to see Sarah, and Butler and Soot in the care of Brittany, the pet-sitter who's watched over them whenever I've gone out of town since being in Lafayette.

I got back to Lafayette on Wed, 6/9/10 in the afternoon and when Brittany brought back the key, she commented that Butler has eaten very little. But he hasn't eaten very much for a long time, so it wasn't clear if it was the "normal" little bit, or even less than usual. He did seem to strain to have a bowel movement, even though they were still soft, and he seemed to stagger a bit. He just seemed a bit off. I snuggled with him while I caught up on "Glee" online and that was pretty much that for Wed...

Friday, I think he only ate the "pill pocket" that his Benedryl was in - not even the applesauce or a sweet (like his "cookies" or a cupcake). When I got home (early) from a visiting teaching attempt and took him outside, he started dry heaving. That was alarming. He dry heaved several times, and my plans to work on something productive while I watched TV online went out the window as I snuggled him on my lap instead. He dry heaved a few more times, and when he finally took a drink, he threw that up, too. Poor guy.

Saturday morning, I had an awful feeling in my gut and was literally scared to go out into the hall because I thought I might find Butler dead on the floor. Seriously, I actually prayed for strength to leave my room and deal with whatever I found. When I finally came out, he was *not* dead, but he was pretty lethargic and having trouble staying on his feet.

I couldn't get him interested in even the "no fail" treats, and I tried to smear a food supplement I'd just gotten at Pet Smart on his nose and he didn't even muster the interest/irritation to lick it off. Even though he was alive, I couldn't shake that feeling in my gut. I took some pictures of him and even a short video (yay for digital cameras), sort of to have evidence (for myself?) that he was still alive (especially the video, where I captured him moving his head from one side to another - that's all he was doing, but it was voluntary movement – it was something).

Originally, I thought I'd call his regular vet at 9 (that's when I thought they opened on Sat) to see if I could get him in or if I should take him to the Animal Emergency Clinic in Lafayette. But with that feeling in my gut, I was calling by 8. There *was* a real person there, and she gave me the Emergency Clinic number. I called them, they said go ahead and bring him in, I said I would as soon as I finished my breakfast. But I didn't finish it. I couldn't. I covered and put it in the fridge and loaded my little guy up in the car to find the clinic. A couple of false turns and we were there.

They were really nice. The Dr. ran a blood test while I waited - what I remember is that his liver enzymes and white blood cell count were both crazy. I left him there to get IV fluids and to be observed and headed to see a coupla First Steps kids that I'd scheduled as make up for missing them while on vacation. After the First Steps kids, I stopped in my apt office to check on renewing my lease, including the pet addendum. While I was talking to Robin, I got a call from the Emergency Clinic (it was an unknown number, and I was with Robin, so I sent it to voicemail).

When I checked the VM as I walked out to the car, it was the Dr asking me to call back. When I left Butler, she had said that "no news is good news" from their end and that she would only call if there was a new concern. So right away, my heart starts going again, as does my gut. I call back and she tells me Butler has had a seizure and isn't looking good. I ask what the options are, she says basically euthanasia or Purdue research hospital (they would be able to tell if it was a tumor or just liver failure). I tell her I'll get back to her and call home. Dad answers, I give him the scoop and he asks what my heart is telling me. The tears come. It's time to let him go. His regular vet told me I'd know when it was time, and I knew. But I couldn't bring myself to make the call (and I had to get to a PRN shift at Regency Place). I ask dad to spread the word and go to work.

I manage to maintain my composure in public, even as I tell Regina about it, and the shift (just a short one) goes fairly well. When I get back to my car, though, there’s voicemails and texts and phone calls from family members. So I'm a ball of tears again by the time I get - home, I think it was - that part's a bit of a blur. I know I called the vet on the way to Wal-Mart to give the OK to let him go (she reports he's had more seizures and vomiting and endorses the decision though she never likes to recommend euthanasia if there's another option). I also opt for private cremation (versus receiving the remains sans cremation or group-cremation-and-scattering), figuring it allows the most options to remain available, in case some of the family decides they want to do something in MO. At some point, more family calls. I also know I manage to keep my composure in Wal-Mart (even when a crazy thunderstorm traps me at the Subway for a bit), but again, a bit of a blur.

Since then, this week has been a week of small and less-small adjustments (from not saving baggies for picking up Butler doo, to taking the gate to Goodwill, to staying out till 10 pm on a Wed without a quick dash home to check on my little dog). I emailed several friends to let them know what had happened, and heard back from a few of them. I picked up Butler's ashes on Tues. I've eaten the donuts and cupcakes I had bought for him, as well as several of his carrots and finished off the applesauce. I've recycled the cottage cheese dishes that were serving as supplemental food/medicine dishes. And I turned the rice and beef I'd put in the fridge to thaw on Fri into a Mexican-ish cheesy-beefy-tomato casserole for my lunches.

He would have been 17 next month - a long time for any dog. We would have been "together" in IN for 7 years in September. It feels weird to look back as recently as 3 weeks ago to buying those cupcakes and getting food ready for while I would be gone and having no inkling that this was coming. It's the way such things always are, but it doesn't make it less weird when you're in the middle of it.

So anyway, that's how it happened.

And now he's gone. I wish I'd snuggled with him more. I wish I'd taken more pictures. I wish I'd been more patient sometimes. I wish I'd caught on to the diaper idea sooner. I wish the weather wasn't so extreme (the cold and heat both seemed to get to him).

I'm thankful I had almost 17 years with him (almost 7 with him as "my" dog). I'm thankful my friends put up with him. I'm thankful I snuggled with him that last night. I'm thankful that his leftovers will benefit some other dog/owner (I donated his meds to the vet and his other supplies - shampoo, diapers, etc. - to a "Home for Friendless Animals"). I'm thankful for the sympathy and support I've gotten from friends and family as I let him go. I'm thankful that I didn't have to see his seizures. I'm thankful that I didn't have to find his dead body on my floor. I'm thankful that I got some pictures on that last morning (and that Emily got some good pictures during that visit in 2007). And I'm thankful that he's no longer in pain (or blind, or deaf, or confused, or incontinent, or underweight...). I'm thankful for my crazy cat.

But I miss my little black snuggle buddy.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The long silence at last is broken...

They say a picture is worth a thousand words...Thus, instead of explaining why it has been so long since my last post, I will simply attempt to show you what I have been up to. Enjoy!

Utah (i.e. My Best Friend's Wedding)

Columbia, Missouri

Bear Brook State Park (New Hampshire)

Portland, Maine

Boston, Massachusetts

Cooperstown, New York

Various Church History Sites around New England
(Sharon, Vermont; Fayette, New York; Palmyra, New York; Kirtland, Ohio)

Maryville, Missouri

(See? Aren't you glad I saved you from having to read thousands upon thousands of words?)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


The onset of spring has renewed in me a desire to write, to find words that feel right as they slide across the tongue like the M&M that melts in your mouth (not in your hand...), and that sound right, like whispers that never leave your brain. And I don't mean journal writing, either. I mean real, true, personal creation, taking a part of yourself- a part of your soul- and turning it into something meaningful for others to experience. I have been sifting through sheaves of papers, the ever-growing pile of things I have written over the years- so many ideas, so many dreams, so many thoughts that I have attempted to turn into something others might someday want to actually read with interest... some of the words are weak, cliche, but I still feel that a lot of the ideas are solid, if I can only get past the fear of sharing such an intimate part of my deepest dreams with a world that might only see it for the mediocrity it probably is. Someday.

However, I did find a little nugget that I felt confident enough to share, and so I leave it with anyone who cares to take the time to read:

The air has grown cold-
it seeps into every heart
and makes its love old.

The heart aches with pain-
sorrow, hurt and fear pervade-
will hope come again?

To open is hard;
rejection is ever there
to stab like a shard.

Yet all is not lost.
Hope through one Being will come.
In Christ, there is joy.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

To be concluded... (finally!)

Before I get on with the countdown from two weeks ago, it occurs to me that I have a few honorable mentions/runners up that didn't really fit in with any of the other movie-type categories, so I wanted to take a moment to mention them here:

Cast Away: Fine acting from Tom Hanks- especially considering that there is little dialogue throughout the movie. Not an easy task, I am sure. You know he's done an impressive job when you find even yourself caring about Wilson and mourning his loss almost as much as Hanks' character does. I also like the ambiguity of the ending- surprisingly satisfying.

This film is just so goofy, one cannot help but laugh. Hard. Will Ferrell is brilliantly hilarious, but the supporting cast is also witty and engaging (I especially love Peter Dinklage as the "angry elf.")

Finding Neverland: Absolutely charming! Johnny Depp was brilliant, and for one of the first times ever, Kate Winslet didn't bug me. I really enjoyed her performance, as well. But the most incredible performance goes to Freddie Highmore- he just breaks your heart! (In a good way.)

Return to Me: In my opinion, this is one that finds a perfect balance between the romance and comedy in romantic comedies. It's an atypical story that still feels real. It is fun; it is sweet; it just makes me smile again and again! (Great scene: four old men dancing together to Frank Sinatra.)

The Lake House: Another romantic comedy that throws a not-unheard-of twist by playing with time... but it still makes my heart ache (in a good way) as the story unfolds and I anticipate the sweetly satisfying ending. Plus, I, for one, love the tie-in to Persuasion (I loved that book!).

The Mummy Returns: I would have included The Mummy in my top 20, but since it was one of those 1999 flicks, it didn't quite fit the required criteria. The Mummy Returns isn't quite as good, but it is still so thoroughly fun and entertaining that I had to give it an honorable mention slot!

: The kids in this movie are great, but for me, it is really Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight and Tim Blake Nelson that do it. Simply hilarious!

Missed Runner Up to "modern musical": Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog (I love Joss and Nathan!) Yeah, I know it maybe shouldn't count since it was an internet release, but I'm sorry- it's too good NOT to mention. (If you haven't yet seen it, you'd better rectify that situation immediately!)

I also feel I should add a brief disclaimer here: The ranking of these films is based on my thoughts/feelings at the time of writing this post and could be subject to variation within any given conversation (With the exceptions of LOTR, which will always remain #1, and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, which will most likely remain at #2).

Now, on to what you really came here for- the rest of the best of the decade!

Picking up where I left off...

10. Spider-man 2: Having never been one for comic books, I give kudos to those who not only bring them to life, but do so with such creative energy that one cannot help but enjoy the ride (and what a wild ride the web-slinging wonder creates!). That being said, I chose Spider-man 2 over the first Spider-man simply because I like it better. Overall, I feel that the issues are more complex- dealing with who we are expected to be and who we choose to be, how those choices affect our relationships with the ones we love, etc. I also love Doc Ock as a tragically flawed hero-villain who ultimately finds redemption.

Runners Up to the Comic Book films: Spider-man (The original one was still pretty amazing!), X-Men (A fascinating look at the potential power of mutant evolution and how it can be used for good or evil), X-2 (Another of the rare sequels that was as good as the first, possibly better), Unbreakable (Yes, I know it wasn't technically a comic book-based movie, but I love the intriguing way it centers around comic book themes for it's plot... and it is a very interesting look at what makes a "superhero" and how they are invariably connected to the "supervillain.")

The Bourne Trilogy: The action in these movies is simply fantastic- it really is almost impossible to choose a favorite among the three. I love mysterious atmosphere of The Bourne Identity, the way the questions about his past continue to pile up. I love the simple revenge factor of The Bourne Supremacy and the way he tries to make amends (also, Karl Urban is very nice to look at in this one!). And I like that we finally get some answers in the third. Matt Damon is extraordinary in the role of Jason Bourne- as Steven is always quick to point out, he can make the most mundane item a deadly weapon, from a pen to a magazine! Of course, the best part is the way he is always one step ahead of his pursuers!

Runners Up to Awesome Action Flicks: Serenity (Come on, River taking on a whole flock of Reavers- almost completely unarmed?! Yeah, it's pretty much awesome.)

8. Casino Royale: Like Beckie, I was never a really big fan of the Bond franchise. I wasn't necessarily anti-Bond- I just never made time for them; I felt like I could take them or leave them (and, for the most part, I left them- I could probably count on one hand the number of Bond films I'd seen up to this point). This new Bond flick completely turned my opinion around. For the first time, I actually cared about James Bond. Daniel Craig's portrayal created an interesting combination of a gritty yet polished character (tough as nails yet smooth as satin...), not easily broken. Clearly, he is a man not to be messed with. I loved it!

Runners Up to the Action Flicks: Quantum of Solace (I really loved the explosive ending on this one!)

WALL-E/Finding Nemo: I'm sorry- I know this seems like cheating, putting two movies in the same slot/rank- I really just could not choose between the two. WALL-E was brilliantly creative considering the significant lack of dialogue. The characters are absolutely charming (and I really enjoyed the inclusion of Hello, Dolly! bits- though there must be a major scratch on the video tape since it cuts from the beginning to the end of the movie...) I also appreciated the rather disturbing satire on the future we may be looking at if current consumer trends do not change (e.g. severe obesity due to sheer laziness, expecting everything else to do the work for us, even thinking... And note how the world left behind is basically covered in garbage- WALL-E is able to build entire cities out of the garbage he has been compressing for who knows how long...)

Finding Nemo was equally delightful, though. The whole movie was hilariously funny, yet poignant as it takes a look at parents learning to let go and children learning how to grow up.

And let's be honest- Ellen as Dory- simply classic!

*Great Lines: "Just keep swimming! Just keep swimming..."; "I wish I could speak whale!"

Runners Up to Animated Films: I agree with Beckie- basically ANY Pixar film made during this time period! (I especially liked The Incredibles)

The Bridge to Terebithia: When I first read this book as a kid, I was instantly entranced by by the imaginative world I was led to. I felt connected because these were kids like me- not entirely accepted by their peers, finding escape through their day dreams... The movie renewed that sense of wonder and loss and coping. Once, as I watched, I found myself weeping, not just because of the tragic turn of events, but because I longed to have my students experience the magic of imagination, to feel the wonder as creativity unfolds, and feared that they may never feel such things. Still, I continue to hope that all children will, at some point, discover the power and beauty of the visionary mind.

The Dark Knight: I'll be honest- I found some of the earlier Batman flicks to be entertaining, and Batman Begins definitely gets credit for breathing new life and new dimensions into the franchise, bringing greater insight and depth to the character (Also, though I like Maggie Gyllenhall okay as Rachel Dawes, I actually preferred Katie Holmes in the role). But while it was an amazing movie, The Dark Knight was even more phenomenal. Jack Nicholson had made a wonderfully twisted and demented Joker, playing a man pissed off at the world that had screwed him over in so many ways. However, Heath Ledger completely one-upped him by creating a frighteningly unmotivated character who "just wants to watch the world burn." Again, I love how it deals with various complex issues, the very kinds of twisted issues we only hope we never have to face in reality. It's like taking the game, "What would be worse?" and turning it into real-life situations... Yet, despite the dark themes, I love how there are still threads of hope woven throughout the film.

*Best line of the movie: "Let me get this straight: you think that your client, one of the wealthiest, most powerful men in the world, is secretly a vigilante who spends his nights beating criminals to a pulp with his bare hands, and your plan is to blackmail this person?! Good luck!" -(Lucius Fox, after Coleman Reese reveals what he knows about Bruce Wayne)

4. Star Trek: Holy cow, such a good film! I love the unconventional use of time (i.e. the changed timeline is not "fixed" by the end of the movie); I love the attention to detail (despite all the violent fights found in film, you rarely see someone with wadded tissues stuck up their nose to stop the bleeding); I love how the first scene, with its simple heroism in the face of frightening situations, still makes me cry (the music certainly does its part well). Most of all, I love the actors and the way they own their roles. I love that they are not overshadowed by the overwhelming icons of their predecessors, especially those of Shatner and Nimoy. I love the way the writers/director add layers of complexity to Spock, dealing with both sides of his heritage. But as much as Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto dominate, the rest of the cast still creates a powerful- and entertaining- supporting crew (I love Karl Urban and Simon Pegg!). The film was simply amazing!

3. The Prestige: This mind-bending film packs in some brilliant suspense as one magician is always trying to outdo the other. As entertaining as it is, it is also a thinker film with a fantastic twist that still blows my mind every time I watch it. David Bowie was an unexpectedly delightful surprise (I didn't recognize him the first time I watched it- he does a nice job with this more serious role- a complete change from the hypnotically over-the-top Jareth in Labyrinth.) This movie takes an interesting look at what drives us, to what lengths we are willing to go to "beat" our opponents/enemies. Even knowing the end, I still find it to be a fascinating journey every time.

2. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe: More often than not, my experience with literature-based films is that I watch the movie before reading the book. That way, I find that I can enjoy both (instead of experiencing the common feeling of let-down when the movie doesn't live up to one's expectations based on the book). Having read The Chronicles of Narnia back in college, I was both excited and worried when I saw they were turning it into a movie. The previews looked promising, but I know well how misleading previews can be. When I found myself moved to tears within the first five minutes of the movie, I knew I was in for an unbelievable experience, and was thrilled when the movie more than delivered! I felt it stayed true to the plot, and more importantly, the essence of the book, yet it added levels of complexity that only emphasized the meaning behind the story. Most especially, I fell in love with Skandar Keynes (well, not really- I mean, he is a little young...)- while Edmund is definitely a beastly brat for most of the book, this kid turned him into a far more dynamic and complex character. His portrayal- especially his redemption in the end, made me love Edmund when I really hadn't before. Considering the inexperience of most of the actors involved, this film was truly a triumph in so many ways!

Runners Up to Fantasy Adventure films: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (Despite some changes from the book, I felt those changes didn't disrupt the essence of the story. There is some fantastic fighting (especially the duel between Peter and Miraz), and I still love Edmund and Trumpkin and their great one-liners!)

1. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy: The Best! Ever! Really, I don't know what more I can add to what the family has already said numerous times (Both Steven's and Beckie's reviews say it all better, anyway). These movies have truly changed my life. They profound. They are moving (I still cry at Boromir's death, at Sam's speech about the stories that matter, at most of the end of The Return of the King... and several scenes in between). They have raised the bar and set a standard for films that may never be beaten. And I'm perfectly okay with that. (And for those who may disagree with this choice, I simply weep for your loss.)

So. Done. Take it for whatever it is worth.

At the very least, I hope you enjoyed the journey as much as I did.

(And please forgive the weirdly tiny font in places- Blogger was really doing a bizarre, stupid number on my font-age...)

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Countdown Begins...

A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, Beckie issued the challenge for us to come up with our top 20 movies of the decade. I liked the challenge, but felt at somewhat of a disadvantage because, while I have seen plenty of movies over the past 10 years, even good movies, I didn't feel that a majority of them would be considered the kind of life-changing, mind-changing, or mind-blowing movies that typically make these sorts of lists. This feeling was further exacerbated as I read through the lists she and my brother came up with, lists that many movie critics might agree with overall, but that felt out of my reach because I had seen relatively few of those movies.

Still, I did not want to give up on the idea of creating my own top 20 list (I just couldn't seem to pare it down to just 10), so I picked up the proverbial gauntlet and began my cinematic analysis of the best films made since 2000. I began to feel that it should have, perhaps, been a top 20 movies of the year 1999, since a lot of the movies that first came to mind were put out that year. Still, undaunted, I kept at it. It has been a long process over the last few weeks, (and I'd hoped to get this done BEFORE the Oscars- alas, too many other demands on my time...) but I feel that, at long last, I have compiled a list of movies that I, at least, feel have been the most meaningful and/or entertaining to me, movies that either changed the way I looked at the world or changed the way I looked at movies (or simply created a thoroughly entertaining experience).

So, without further ado, I give you:

The Top 20 Movies of the Decade (according to Elise Lambson)

20. Enchanted: Okay, so I know a lot of you would think this a fluffy enough film to wonder why it would make the top 20. However, I am always one who appreciates the non-conventional. (I loved Ever After so much for that reason- it twists the traditional story and makes it even stronger and more meaningful as a result, not to mention fun to watch.) What I loved about Enchanted was that a) it showed that the classic-style musical is not totally obsolete where film is concerned (come on, how can you NOT want to get up and dance with "How Will She Know?") b) it pokes fun at the traditional fairy tale genre (gross as it is, the Snow White-esque scene where she gets all the vermin to help her clean while she sings is cleverly sardonic.) c) it twists the genre by not only switching the "princes," but by having the princess save her true love. And let’s be honest, Susan Sarandon is a pretty fantastically evil queen!

19. Runaway Jury: I'll be the first to admit that typically, I'm not one who exerts a lot of effort to predict an ending- I just like to sit back and enjoy the journey. Thus, when a bit of a twist comes my way, it is usually extra delightful. Such was the case with this one. But even more than the twist, even more than the superb acting by John Cusack, Rachel Weisz, Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman, what I loved about it was the integrity of Dustin Hoffman’s character. As much as he wanted to win the case, and he wanted it very badly, he decided that the price of the jury was worth neither his soul nor his integrity. An amazing movie with fantastic suspense and tension!

18. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World: I have said it often enough- Peter Weir is one of the most underappreciated directors ever. Yet I always find him insightful and profound in so many ways. Master and Commander was no exception. Aside from being just a good, old-fashioned adventure on the high seas, there are so many moments filled with poignant realization—the relationship between the captain and the doctor, the heartbreaking innocence of Blakeney that quickly dissipates in the midst of such experiences, the tragic misfortune of Hollam… I love Peter Weir!

17. Pirates of the Caribbean: Speaking of adventures on the high seas, this movie was just so much fun! It was a bit of a tough choice between this one and Stardust- both are truly entertaining, and Stardust is so delightfully unconventional (DiNiro dancing in a tutu never fails to make me giggle!). Ultimately, though, it was Johnny Depp’s Capt. Jack Sparrow that won out- such a “defining without defining” role for Depp.

Runners Up for Swashbuckling entertainment (yeah, I stole Beckie’s idea- so sue me…): Stardust, The Count of Monte Cristo (I love poetic justice, and this is a fantastic revenge film that successfully rises above the cliché.)

16. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas: I was introduced to this little known jewel by my roommate, Rachel. I had never heard of it. She brought it home one day and asked if I wanted to watch it with her. I didn’t have anything else pressing on my time, so I did. Once again, the tragic innocence of the two boys of the film, one the son of a high-up Nazi officer, the other a Jewish boy in a nearby concentration camp, is absolutely heart-rending. It is an interesting look at the Holocaust from the eyes of children, how these two boys’ lives are forever changed by the friendship they dared to create… I highly recommend it (though I warn you, it is a definite tear-jerker).

Runners Up for Historical Fiction: Gladiator (I love how it makes history interesting, yet is not so at odds with historical facts that it couldn’t have happened that way.)

15. The Others: This movie proved that a director can still create an effectively spooky atmosphere without overdone, over-hyped special effects. The chills from this movie come from superb usage of light, shadow, scripting, and acting. From beginning to end, it is eerie and unsettling, with quite a thrilling twist.

Runners Up for Scary/Spooky films: The Mothman Prophecies (Bizarre, I’ll grant you, but also nicely disquieting and provocative), The Village (I love the relationship between Lucius and Ivy, made more profound because it is so restrained and subtle, and I find the twist at the end intriguing.)

14. Minority Report: Like Beckie, I am a fan of the dystopian story, and this one is fantastically done. What I love most about it, though, is the emphasis on the power of choice. Despite the impressive “technology” behind Pre-Crime, it is proved repeatedly that we can still choose to be the masters of our own fate.

*Profound line: “Sometimes, in order to see the light, you have to risk the dark.” (Dr. Iris Hineman)

Runners Up to Sci-Fi Action films: Paycheck (Yes, it perhaps unrealistic, and yes, it has Ben Affleck, but I just really like the mind-bending use of time, puzzles, etc.)

13. Invictus: Contrary to popular belief, this is not really a sports film, and that is where it is significant. While the plot seems to center around rugby, the team and the game are simply used to reflect the strong and harsh political issues and realities surrounding these people. We still care about the underdog team fighting against all odds, but the story manages to transcend the sport, and the rousing victory at the end becomes not just an athletic one, but a political one as well. Morgan and Matt are rock solid as the men fighting against the deeply ingrained prejudices of their beloved homeland who lead their people to greater heights as a result.

Runners Up to Underdog Films: Cinderella Man (Another one that successfully avoids being a “sports film” – wonderfully acted by all involved!), Remember the Titans (Yes, this falls under the more traditional “sports film” category, but stands apart because the sports story becomes more allegorical and meaningful as these kids also fight strong racism and prejudice.)

12. Avatar:
Whatever else one may say or feel about James Cameron, this movie is incredible. The visionary technology is amazing, and honestly, I think he manages to create characters that become real to us, characters that we find ourselves interested in, that we end up caring about (I didn’t cry when Michelle Rodriguez’ character died, but I was deeply saddened by the event). The story is, perhaps, a bit predictable, but that doesn’t equal meaningless. There is still a lot of meaningful relevance about the film, whether about conservation, spirituality, or simply peacefully co-existing with those that seem different from us. And quite honestly, it is worth the three-hour watch time just to see the exotic creativity and the amazingly breathtaking scenery.

11. Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince: I get completely enthralled by these books, and I feel that the last two movies were especially well-done—the music is extraordinary and original and fits the story perfectly, the acting is finally as solid as it should be (with very few exceptions), and they do a nice job of paring down the epic novels into reasonable movies without losing out on the essentials (and even some of the bonuses). While Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix gets kudos because it made me enjoy it when I hadn’t really enjoyed the book much, Half-blood Prince wins out because a) it is one of my favorites of the series (tied for first place alongside Prisoner of Azkaban) and b) the whole episode with Harry and the Felix Felicis is just too funny!

Runners up to Children’s/Young Adult Fantasy films: All the other Harry Potter films because they helped bring us to this point, Coraline (I just think it’s clever, creative, and I enjoy Neil Gaiman.)

Stay Tuned: Coming up soon, my Top 10 picks...