Sunday, April 1, 2018

Making Easter Bread

I made Paska, Slovak Easter bread, yesterday. It’s a slightly sweet bread, formed in a ring, with a cheese dough wrapped in a white dough. I first had it as a kid when my grandmother made it. We often spent Easters with Granny. I got the idea to make it this year from my dad and Joyce, who were likely talking about their Easter traditions. I bet Dad, like me, thinks first and foremost of all the delicious food associated with holidays, and when he described Paska, the plan to bake their own was born. This resulted in a flurry of emails and texts to folks who might have the recipe, me included. I’m certain there’s a copy of it somewhere in my father’s house, but I like that he reached out to his sister, his daughter, and his son for the recipe.

My aunt and cousin came through first, having just made some the day before, and Dad forwarded me their recipe. Learning that everyone else was making it made me want to make it too.

It’s a confusing recipe, due to its age and the dramatic if vague flair with which my relations have recorded recipes over the years.

First, the recipe calls for dry cottage cheese. A little Googling reveals lots of information about “dry curd cottage cheese,” including that your local grocery store is unlikely to have it. I’ve made this bread before, but it has been years, so all I had was a fuzzy memory of regular cottage cheese, cheesecloth, and a metal sieve. I fiddled around with those items for a while and aside from making a mess, I also managed to come up with a pile of dry cheese curds—for the win.

This ingredients list also involves boiled milk, melted butter, and, per my aunt’s version of the recipe, some pretty stern commentary on the subject of yeast. There are two types of dough involved (basic and cheese), and one calls for “1 small package fresh yeast or 1/2 household” and the other for “1 cake of yeast (not household).” I’m not an expert bread maker, but I can assure you that these days at the grocery store you will only find yeast called “active dry” or “fast-rising instant,” or even “rapid-rise.” No “household” yeast or “cake yeast,” which is not yeast for cakes, but yeast formed into cakes, or blocks, because it isn’t so dry as the yeast in those funny little packages of three we can so easily procure. Yeah, you can order yeast cakes on the internet, but when you decide today that you want Paska tomorrow, you have to punt. My aunt said to use “active dry” for both and it’s fine. I didn’t have enough on hand so improvised with “instant” for both. Stern warnings, be damned.

The “directions” part of the recipe felt a little like the pared down tasks Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood give to the contestants on The Great British Baking Show for the technical challenges: bits left out, vague commentary, and ominous warnings: “4 Cups flour (DO NOT add all four, make sticky).” I’ve made enough bread to know what this is getting at, but the pushiness of it reminded me of my grandmother. I imagined Granny up on her toes (she was 4 foot and a little in height), hand on hip, peering around my shoulder as I added flour, her voice rising as she said, “no no no! Not all of it! Not all of it!” And then laughing, laughing, laughing.

These curiosities in the directions on my aunt’s recipe led me to pull out my own copy (from my mother), which was more or less the same but not quite. Both copies were word-processed, and my mother’s was in ALL CAPS. My aunt’s bears the title “Easter Paska,” but Mom’s reads “EASTER BREAD.” I liked thinking of my mother typing this into her recipe files, making edits to suit her approach to preparing food. My mother definitely cooked in ALL CAPS.

One conspicuous difference is that my mother listed the cheese dough first, while my aunt’s listed the basic dough first. With no indication of which would be better to start with, I opted for my aunt’s, largely because my cheese curds were still draining. My mom had the same puzzling yeast details and the same injunction about the flour, though worded slightly differently: “DON’T USE ALL FLOUR MAKE DOUGH STICKIE.” And to complicate matters further, my copy of my mother’s version had edits written in pen by me, and they were pretty substantive changes—like 1/4 cup of milk and 1/4 cup of water instead of 1/2 cup of milk. Why? Who knows?!

So preparing the two doughs took some mental gymnastics about quantities and the order-of-operations, especially in an effort to avoid using every bowl in my house. My questions about both versions of the recipe caused me to wonder what my brother’s version looked like, so I had Dad send it along. Frank had recorded the recipe in his meticulous handwriting on an index card (basic dough first). Interestingly, both doughs on his version of the recipe called for “1 cake yeast,” further complicating (or maybe simplifying?) the confounding yeast situation. His directions were more or less the same (his amounts matched both typed-up versions, not my handwritten changes), and I foged head-long through them all (was I cooking in ALL CAPS too?). When left to proof, my basic dough rose like mad, while the cheese dough took its sweet time, making me think my mother was onto something making the cheese dough first.

And then it came time to assemble the bread. I knew it had to be baked in a tube pan, but my aunt’s directions and my mother’s directions for getting the two doughs commingled and into the pan were vastly different. My aunt’s had me pulling the basic dough into a rectangle upon which I would place the cheese dough, but my mother’s said, “ROLL BREAD DOUGH LIKE YOU WOULD FOR A PIE (1/4 OF AN INCH THICK). PLACE CHEESE DOUGH ON BREAD DOUGH LEAVING OUTER EDGE AND MIDDLE CLEAR. MAKE A HOLE WITH YOUR HAND IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BREAD DOUGH. PULL BREAD DOUGH FROM CENTER AND OUTER EDGE UP OER CHEESE DOUGH.” This seemed way more fun than the rectangle method, so I opted for it. My brother’s directions were closer to my mother’s, with a little more clarity about the size of the circle of dough (“a 10” circle”) and the instruction to “punch a small hole in the center.” His also explained making the cheese dough into a ring, which confirmed my interpretation of “PLACE CHEESE DOUGH ON BREAD DOUGH LEAVING OUTER EDGE AND MIDDLE CLEAR.”

After one more rise it was time to bake. All instructions said 45 minutes, but they also all said that this recipe would yield 2 loaves. Well, no. My brother’s said “makes 2 loaves” at the end of his notecard. The other two just said to use half the dough for assembling the ring, leaving me to infer that I would repeat the steps with the other half of the dough. Regardless, I only have one tube pan, and I have zero memories of making two loaves. I checked in with my dad and Joyce for the umpteenth time during this process, and they relayed my brother’s take that you could make two short loaves or one taller loaf. Bingo. One loaf for me. But this would increase the baking time, and unlike all the recipes on the King Arthur Flour website, there was no indication of what “done” would look like. I’ve never been good at the knock-on-it-to-to-see-if-it-sounds-hollow method, so I went with the 200-degrees-for-bread-made-with-milk-or-butter rule (thanks, K.A.) and called it good.

And good it was. We sliced into it on this Easter morning. Though I haven’t eaten Paska in years, I knew my loaf—a little dense, with the pale yellow cheese dough framed by the white basic dough, the firm crust, the slightly sweet taste—fit comfortably within family tradition.

As I thought more about the three versions of this recipe I consulted, I realized that when they were recorded—by my aunt, my mother, my brother—each of them was most likely talking with my grandmother. I was probably talking to her, too, when I made the changes in pen on my copy. That would explain all the fiddly differences. I imagined my mother on the phone with Granny, typing in the sentences as Granny rattled off the directions from her recipe, no doubt adding lots of do’s and don’ts (“Don’t add all the flour! Make the dough sticky!”). My aunt’s copy was perhaps typed up from her own hand-written version (no email back in those days for file sharing), likely penned at my grandmother’s kitchen table. And I’m almost certain my brother sat with Granny and wrote his version down. I can hear him asking her for a little more precision: “How big a circle should I roll the basic dough?” And she probably said, “oh, about yea-big,” making a ring with her hands. That looks about 10 inches, he decided. Or maybe he wasn’t at her table. Maybe they were on the phone, too, and Granny said, “about the size of a dinner plate.” Hers were Corelle, the “butterfly gold” pattern. I have some Corelle plates too, and I just measured one: exactly 10 inches.

Through the process of making my Easter Paska, I heard in one way or another from my dad and Joyce, my aunt, my brother, and even my mother and my grandmother. None of us lives in the same place—my Dad’s in Indiana, my aunt’s in Pennsylvania, my brother’s in Chicago, and Granny and Mom are in the great beyond. But I distinctly heard all their voices as I worked. And sampling the sweet bread, spread with butter and accompanied by a cup of tea, makes me think of us all together, a pleasant sensation on this Easter morning. Thanks for the help, everyone. I think it’s time for me to write down my own version of this recipe, so I can add my voice, too.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

What's Antifa? And Other Musings.

As I've been sifting through and processing the events from Charlottesville this past weekend, I've found myself wondering about the violent counter-protesters, the ones who gave Trump the opening to spew his "both sides are bad" bull$#!%.  Scanning through right-wing viewpoints (difficult, but important for me), I kept reading about Antifa, the "violent militant far left group" who "threw punches" and caused problems. 

I had never heard of Antifa (which doesn't mean much. I haven't heard of a lot of things), so I had to look it up. (The link is to Wikipedia, but after reading several varied sources, I felt like the wikipedia page did a pretty good job of summing it up.)  Perhaps one of the most helpful tidbits was learning that Antifa is short for Anti-facists. That seems important.  Shouldn't that be a good way to describe all of us?

I admire another aspect of the mission of Antifa--constantly confronting neo-nazis and white supremacists everywhere, with one underlying belief being that a small group of neo-nazis has the power to grow into a large one (see: history), and so every appearance or action ought to be met head on.

I believe in the power of protest, too, and not just the stand-behind-the-barricade-and-hold-your-signs kind. Sometimes protest has to inconvenience people. The sit-ins of the 60s were a huge inconvenience for lunch-counter owners and their patrons.  Blocking a street may be super aggravating to the person who wants to get through so he can get to the movies on time, but it's nothing compared to the inconvenience faced by those who are systemically mistreated and oppressed.  Of course, lots of folks are far too selfish and unaware of their own privilege to realize that, but that doesn't make it any less true.

Still, I'm not ready to throw over the whole governmental system just yet. Anarchy stresses me out. I prefer to believe in justice and liberty for all as values we should continue to work towards.

MLK preached non-violence, but when you think about the reason, it's chilling.  He believed that a peaceful protester being humiliated, harassed, and even beaten, was going to make the racist look like the bad guy. When that action was directed at children, the racist looked even worse. Let the racists condemn themselves with their own actions! Great! But don't the process, those peaceful protesters--including children--were humiliated, harassed, beaten, and sometimes killed. 

Being a peaceful protester is dangerous work.  Ask Heather Heyer. Oh wait. We can't.

So maybe Antifa has a point. Maybe sometimes you have to throw a punch. Or a rock. Or light a fire.  Or maybe not.  But it's a lot easier to condemn the use of violence from a comfortable couch in a comfortable livingroom in a position of safety and privilege.

Even before doing any research, of course, it was clear that Trump's "both sides are bad" rhetoric is bullbull$#!%.  It diminishes the importance and danger of the entire situation, and it gives credibility to the white supremacists. We can't do that.  That's not an option.

As a teacher, I'm discouraged from bringing my political beliefs into the classroom. In a course that uses world events as a textbook, that can be challenging, but I work very hard to present multiple viewpoints from conservative to liberal. I understand that I should not be telling my students what to think.  My job is to help them learn how to think. So I don't tell my students whom I vote for. I don't generally share my position on most local or national issues, like bear-baiting or the legalization of marijuana.

But as I look at the current state of things in the United States, I can't look at white supremacists and neo-nazis and say, "well, they're entitled to their own opinions."  I mean, yes I can.  Free country, and all that. But though they are entitled to their own opinion, I can't keep quiet about mine in this case--my opinion that there is no superior race, that whites are not targets of discrimination just like blacks, Jews, Muslims, women, transgendered folks, etc.  That systemic racism doesn't exist. 

Sometimes I just have to call bull$#!%. 

Supporting equal rights for all is not taking a side. Speaking out against those who hate is not taking a side. Reflecting on my own implicit biases and the rewards of privilege I didn't even realize I had and asking students to do the same is not wrong. It's doing what is right.

This essay, What Trump Gets Wrong About Antifa, helped me clear my head about the issue of violence from both sides. And it also sums up my initial thoughts about Antifa. 

So now that I, like roughly a zillion other people, have written my thoughts about the state of things, where does that leave me? What are my next steps?

Well, this will surely impact my teaching this fall.

And here are just a few resources for taking more action (thank you to my Facebook friends for sharing these and other resources).

Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide (from the Southern Poverty Law Center)

Curriculum for White Americans to Educate Themselves on Race and Racism–from Ferguson to Charleston

Charlottesville organizers ask you to take these 8 actions

Sunday, July 23, 2017

On the Subject of Hyperbole in Public Discourse...or...I'm So Angry I Could Punch You in the Nose

Recently, Representative Hamann, a legislator from Maine, said some pretty egregious things about the president.  In response, lots o' folks (Republicans) have called for Rep. Hamann's resignation. Here are a couple of snippets from the article:
Maine Republicans were furious over the post by Rep. Scott M. Hamann and called on House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, to take action against him. Some, including Maine Republican Party Executive Director Jason Savage, said Hamann should resign.

Demi Kouzounas, chairwoman of the Maine Republican Party, issued a statement calling Hamann “unhinged and dangerous.”

I'm so tired of hyperbole.

The trouble started with hyperbole. The lawmaker said in his ill-mannered Facebook post,
“Trump is a half term president, at most, especially if I ever get within 10 feet of that [vulgar term].” 
This, of course, is not true.  Rep. Scott Hamman is not going to kill the president if he finds himself within ten feet of him.  He's just not.

It is also hyperbole when Chairwoman Kouzounas calls the legislator "unhinged and dangerous."

Please. That is ridiculous.

Everyone is being ridiculous. (Uh oh.  Now I'm using hyperbole. Apparently it's catchy, like a disease.)

During the recent Maine budget crisis, when we descended into an actual government shut-down, both sides of the aisle used the exact same hyperbolic language to point out the flaws of the other side. Representative Stacy Guerin, a Republican, posted on Facebook
"The Democrats are holding the state hostage over an increase in the lodging tax that they do not even need to balance the budget."  
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, a Democrat, blamed the Republicans, calling them, 
hostage-takers that have shut the state down because they don’t know what it’s like to be a working-class person who needs these paychecks.” 
I certainly understand the metaphor here, but the word "hostage" is so...loaded. It's a crime to take someone hostage. So each side is calling the other side criminal.  This is not what we mean when we say we must find common ground.

Should anyone read this post, he or she might be tempted to explain why his or her side was right in this case—why the opposition really were being bullies or hypocrites, that it rather was like a hostage situation.  But that is not my point.  I'm trying to get my head around the concept of public discourse, and how the hyperbolic language being used creates even vaster (more vast?) divides between those with opposing viewpoints.

Hyperbole is also a pretty standard form of click-bate when we are scrolling through our favorite social media outlets. Consider these headlines:
If only all of these hyperbolic statements were true! We'd be done with that pesky Trump staffer, done with Islamophobia, and done with body shamers. Wouldn't that be swell?  But of course Mark Hamill, the woman at the Ariana Grande concert, and Russell Crowe can really only do so much, especially with a measly 140 characters.  

Unfortunately, our country's Chief Hyperbolite (I don't think that's a word, but it should be) is also our Commander in Chief. And while it's pretty clear to see that Mark Hamill, Russell Crowe, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Anne Coulter, Sean Hannity, and even that gal at the Arianna Grande concert have done zero actual shutting down with their tweets, it seems that Trump's are somehow more effective.

It's true that to some degree, reporters pick and choose what to report. Many a person has felt misrepresented by the media. Quotes are provided out of context, certain language creates a spin, details are arranged in just such a it's not surprising that the president might feel...disappointed...with his portrayal in the news.

Still, the president labeling every news story or agency that presents him unfavorably as "fake" is taking a toll on our country. My brother, while awaiting his ride at a hotel in western Illinois, found himself in the presence of a quantity of Trump supporters.  They were bemoaning the terrible treatment of Donald Trump by the news media (rather than the terrible treatment of this country by the president), which prompted my brother to write:
The idea that the BBC, the NY Times, the Washington Post, NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS, The New Yorker, Le Monde, Le Figaro, The LA Times, Deutsche Presse-Agentur, the Boston Globe, the CBC, Opera News, NPR, Mother Jones, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Highlights for Children, Animal Planet, Teen Vogue, Vogue, British Vogue, Vogue Knitting, HuffPo, Reuters, the Associated Press, Cat Fancy, and Cooking Light are all having meetings at which they coordinate their efforts to make up mean things about DJT and his merry band of flesh-eating wraiths makes me want to knock their heads together until they shatter and release a flock of cuckoos.
Perhaps my brother, too, has a flair for the hyperbolic. He isn't really likely to bash peoples' heads together. I feel reasonably certain.

But maybe when Trump calls the news media "fake," that isn't so much hyperbole as it is lying.

After all, hyperbole is defined as, "exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally."   Hyperbole is supposed to be obviously untrue.  Yet Trump wants us to believe what he is saying about the media. And many people do believe him [See cuckoos for brains, above].  But as my brother pointed out (in an admittedly hyperbolic fashion), it is impossible that all of the media are colluding (!) to make up stories about Trump.

Hyperbole is a favorite tool of satirists, employed often by the likes of those who work for The Onion and by Andy Borowitz in The New Yorker* and by my brother.

Regarding his inappropriate comments towards the president, Rep. Scott Hamman  stated in his public apology,
“My intent, when I wrote [the post], was in fact to critique and criticize the increasing presence of this language over the last couple of years. The words were grotesque and inexcusably vulgar, terms that are too prevalent in the rhetorical lexicon of contemporary American politics.”
Hamman was going for satire. He was intentionally using parody and hyperbole to snipe at an old friend on Facebook, and now he has been removed from his legislative committees for words that were not intended to be taken literally, words used in intended exaggeration for effect, a.k.a. hyperbole.

It is interesting to note here that Governor Paul LePage of Maine has not been removed from anything, though it wasn't all that long ago that he expressed his desire to shoot Representative Drew Gattine from the Maine legislature between the eyes.  In the governor's own words,
“When a snot-nosed little guy from Westbrook calls me a racist, now I’d like him to come up here because, tell you right now, I wish it were 1825. And we would have a duel, that’s how angry I am, and I would not put my gun in the air, I guarantee you, I would not be [Alexander] Hamilton. I would point it right between his eyes, because he is a snot-nosed little runt and he has not done a damn thing since he’s been in this Legislature to help move the state forward.”
And this was after leaving an expletive-laden voice message on Rep.  Gattine's voicemail, in which he also said, "I'm after you."

But...LePage is being hyperbolic, right? No one really thinks he is truly after Rep. Gattine. (Wait—lets ask Rep. Gattine and his family.)  If he were, he would have faced some consequences, right?

So was it hyperbole or not? He never said it was. But it seems we've brushed it off as idle talk, as exaggerated statements not meant to be taken literally.

Was Gattine's charge that LePage is racist also hyperbole?

I believe it was a charge leveled seriously, and and we ought to discuss it seriously, but we can't, because the opposing sides have already walked their ten paces and are prepared to turn and fire.

(Or am I being hyperbolic?)

Perhaps my problem is not with hyperbole, per say. I'm a fan of satire, after all. The problem is with hyperbolic statements intended to be perceived as truths. Or taken as such by unwise readers or listeners.

Or when the utterer cries Hyperbole! after the fact, after he or she is already in hot water, hyperbole becomes a scapegoat, which does not suit it one bit.

And I believe the governor (and the president, for that matter) gets away with this because hyperbolic statements are everywhere now. We think in excesses and extremes, which makes communication among people with different viewpoints literally** impossible.

*If you click on the Borowitz link, you'll see the title "Satire from the Borowitz Report" at the top of the page. I'm pretty sure this used to just read "From the Borowitz Report." And in case readers don't know what satire means, they've added the sub-title "Not the news." I guess The New Yorker didn't want anyone to think Borowitz was writing real news, which is probably wise of them, considering the state of our nation.

**And I do mean literally in a literal way, not a figurative way, as it is so frequently used. But that's a lament for another day.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A Social Media Time Out

Facebook for me is usually a happy place.

I've managed to surround my digital self with lots and lots of like-minded individuals, and so my Facebook world tends to run towards liberal ideas, cat videos, and teacher-loving puns.

When people post about all the negativity they see on social media, I think, Ha! Not me! Will you just look at this adorable puppy going sledding?

I also have friends who don't do Facebook.  They avoid it for entirely reasonable reasons:
"I just know I'd get sucked in and never get anything done."
"I'm not comfortable with putting myself out there on the internet so much."
And I think, I hear you, but I'm pretty good about not getting lost in Facebook land, and I understand the privacy stuff so I'm pretty well protected.  Plus I never publish anything too personal.

And so, periodically throughout my day, I take a spin through the latest info on my Facebook wall.  (Do we still call it a wall on Facebook?  Or is it a feed like Twitter?)

Speaking of Twitter, I've got one of those accounts, too, though I use it a lot less.

But since the election....oh the election.

The election broke my heart.  I, like many, many others, walked around in a fog for days and days, and often, when I wasn't staring blankly off into the distance, I was staring at my phone.  My Facebook World was mourning too, and I was glad to have the company.

And then the article sharing started.  "The President Elect did What?"

And before I knew it, I'd spent too many minutes to count chasing stories down rabbit holes, only to emerge more miserable and foggy than ever.  I wasn't finding solace.  I was finding heartache, anger, and dismay.

My husband kept saying, "maybe you need to take a break" when I'd look up from my screen all weepy or shell-shocked.

As Inauguration Day and the Women's March on Washington neared, I made a big decision: I needed a Social Media Time Out.

The last straw snapped when I cruised through Trump's Twitter Feed.  When he didn't include an apostrophe where he should have, I nearly sobbed.  It wasn't so much the missing apostrophe, of course, but that's what tipped the balance.

I've been grumbling a lot lately about a lot of things: no time for reading for pleasure or exercising, no time to just relax, and I've been blaming it on work, which has indeed been busy.  I've had more essays to grade than ever this year due to my combination of classes and student numbers.

But I began to wonder just how much time I was wasting with my "quick peeks" at Facebook, etc.

So I decided I had to be part of my online community for the Inauguration, and then I was eager to see the turnout for the Women's Marches all around the world.  I'm glad I made these decisions, as I could cry in the company of my electronic friends on Friday, and then "LIKE" a million posts on Saturday showing the strength of women around the world--and also the awesomeness of their signage.  Take that, you nasty old apostrophe abuser!

Woo. Ok.  So ast night I checked Facebook for the last time, and I'm going to take a break for a while now.  Probably not forever, but until I break some bad habits, at least.

By midday today, on Day 1 of my Social Media Block-Out, I had reached for my phone, thumb extended toward the little blue square, at least six times.  So I removed the shortcut from my home screen.

I'm a bit alarmed at how often I reach for it.

Instead, when the urge strikes me, I think of what else I could be doing: playing music, reading a book (I'm taking a break from my online news outlets too.  I've probably spent countless hours on articles that I could have spent on novels.  I haven't read much fiction at all lately.), doing some stretches.  I even downloaded a meditation app.  My friends who know me well know that that is a crazytown move for me.  I don't meditate.  Like, ever.

So here I go.  We'll see if this break has the effect of freeing up time for healthier pursuits, both mental and physical.

And lest you fear that I'm putting my head in the sand at a time when we should be extra vigilant, please note, I will still listen to the news on my rides to and from work.  That will be enough for now.

Maybe I'll even blog again.  Seems I stopped when school hit.

If we're friends on FB, I'm sure I'll be along again sometime to see you there.  But I can be reached in an abundance of other ways if you need me.  Until later, Friends.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Bustin' Makes Ya Feel Good

(All movie photos in this entry are from the official Ghostbusters Website)
I like the new Ghostbusters movie.  I mean, I really like it.  I laughed.  I jumped.  I squeezed Abby’s arm.  I even got a little misty at the end.  After the exciting opening, Abby leaned over to me and said, "I didn't eat a single junior mint during that whole scene!" She captured my sentiments exactly. And I couldn’t stop thinking about it after the movie was over, on the car ride home, while making dinner, and as I brushed my teeth last night.

Having heard about the controversy surrounding the movie (some people were really upset about this movie before it even got released, and its trailer had over one million dislikes on YouTube), I decided to do a little research on it, thinking there might be some interesting material in the reviews and discussions for my AP Language and Composition class.  I ended up going down a rabbit hole of opinions that varied from love it to hate it.  That’s not unusual for any movie, but there was definitely something ugly going on with this one.  The backlash before it even debuted seemed unprecedented.  Before the release, arguments against the the movie included, but were not limited to:

  • A reboot of the classic Ghostbusters is ridiculous.  The first movie was iconic, and any “redo” is disrespectful.
  • Women can’t be ghostbusters.
  • The CGI in the trailer looks terrible.  In fact, the whole trailer stinks.

Since the release, critics have added the following responses:

  • The movie is sexist and racist.
  • The movie is misogynistic.
  • Despite an awesome cast, the script is terrible.
  • Zach Woods and Chris Hemsworth were the only funny people in this movie.
  • The CGI is terrible and there is too much of it.
  • The movie doesn’t acknowledge the original Ghostbusters enough.
  • The movie spends too much time acknowledging the original Ghostbusters.

On the flip side, there have been some positive reviews, mostly including variations on the following:
  • The film is funny; get over it.

How could these four people be anything but hilarious?

The new Ghostbusters currently has a 73% rating from movie critics on Rotten Tomatoes, and a 57% “liked it” rating from the general audience.  Over at, the critics average is 60 out of 100, while the users (average movie goers who log in to this site?) give it a 2.7 out of 10.  This disparity feels fishy to me.  A quick look at the scores for previous big movies (the new Star Trek, the new Star Wars, the new Jurassic Park (that is, Jurassic World), reveal much closer scores between critics and regular viewers, with the critics tending to be slightly lower than the rest of us movie-goers.

So what on earth has the general public got against the new Ghostbusters?

I’m tired of trying to figure it out.

Instead, I’ll repeat what I said at the start of this post: I like the new Ghostbusters movie.  I mean, I really like it.

To prepare ourselves, we watched the original Ghostbusters last week, showing it to Abby for the first time.  (I usually stick pretty close to Common Sense Media’s recommendations for ages when deciding what Abby can and can’t see, but I was Abby’s age when Ghostbusters came out, and I don’t think it damaged me.  She has also demonstrated that she is not prone to freaking out or having nightmares after watching spooky movies).  

Remember these guys?
Rewatching this classic revealed a number of things:

  • The plot is pretty darn thin.
  • Bill Murry’s character, Peter Venkman, is a jerk.
  • Sigourney Weaver’s character, Dana Barrett, is ridiculous, especially because she falls for Venkman.
  • The special effects are gosh darn funny by today’s standards.
  • The theme song is still fabulous.
  • What’s not to love about Annie Potts’s character, Janine Melnitz?
  • The movie is still fun to watch and I’m glad it was part of my childhood.
  • Abby loved it.  (Probably because we told her that we loved it.  I don’t think she understood half of it.)

So going into the new Ghostbusters, I was cautiously optimistic, but kind of expecting it to be only mediocre.

In fact, one review that really stuck with me from my trip down the rabbit hole said the following:
All this misplaced misogynistic hostility that has been sliming the reputation of director’s Paul Feig’s gender-reassignment redo (co-written with Katie Dippold, his partner on “The Heat”) has stirred the girl-power advocate inside of me. But, the reality is, there is perhaps one, maybe two moments that come anywhere close to being as memorable as that 32-year-old not-quite-family-friendly joke [from the original]. And that reality leaves me in the unhappy position of having to admit that this feminized attempt could have used a makeover itself.
The critic, Susan Wioszczyna, goes on to write,
What really galled me was the attitude that these supposedly brilliant and successful women are forced to assume. While nerdy wise guys Murray, Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd never questioned their belief in afterlife inhabitants or wavered in their confidence to control them despite a raft of skeptics, she-geeks Wiig and McCarthy are cowed into playing misfits who were shunned by others because of their spooky interests when they were young girls, and are now emotionally damaged goods trying to prove themselves right. All I know is I don’t want my funny gals muted. I want them full blast.
I was afraid I was going to feel the same way.

Instead, I like the new Ghostbusters movie.  I mean, I really like it. (Is there an echo in here?)

Ghostbuster Erin Gilbert!
Admittedly, at one point during the movie, I found myself wishing that Kristen Wiig’s character (Erin Gilbert) had more confidence and didn’t make stupid decisions.  “Come on, Erin!  You are woman!  You are powerful!  Why are you so afraid of that big jerk who holds your university tenure in front of you like a carrot on a stick?”  And when Leslie Jones showed up as Patty Tolan, the subway worker, I spared a moment to think, “Why couldn’t there be three African American scientists and a white subway worker?”

Ghostbuster Patty Tolan!
But I checked both of those thoughts.  You know why?  Because I realized that it was supremely ridiculous to think that a movie starring four amazing women should have to DO ALL THE THINGS.  One movie can’t fight all the fights.  And this new Ghostbusters does indeed fight some of the fights while still being fun and engaging.  I mean, this movie passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors.  Woo! When does that happen?

When you look at what the women in this year’s Olympics accomplished (if the US women were their own country, they would have tied Great Britain for number of gold medals) but also observed the flack Gabby Douglas got for not putting her hand on her heart during the National Anthem, you’ll clearly see that women are held to absurd standards.  That’s just crazytown. Women, of all people, need to watch out for that sort of foolishness and put a stop to it.

Look! They put their hair up to fight ghosts!  That was a nice change from other action hero ladies in movies.

When we came out of the theater yesterday, and Abby and I looked at each other and simultaneously said, “That was awesome!” the movie won on a million levels in my book.  We discussed which Ghostbuster we would want to be (I’m torn between Patty and Jillian; Abby preferred Abby and Jillian).  We swapped memorable lines (“Get out of my friend, Ghost!”), and effused over the effectiveness of the opening scene (door knobs turning when they shouldn’t be turning ALWAYS makes my heart pound).  There was debate over best moment in the movie.    My favorite scene is when Jillian Holtzmann whips out a couple of fancy ghost-busting-guns during the epic battle at the end and whoops some serious ghost butt.  She is super badass. And funny.  WIN!

My whole family appreciated the cameos by actors from the original film, loved the nods to the 1984 version, and appreciated the variations.  It felt like a good song cover to me: it’s reminiscent enough of the original to pay respect, but definitely provides a new take.

So yeah, I like the new Ghostbusters movie.  I mean, I really like it.  

Which is way more fun than trashing it.

Bonus!  Chris Hemsworth’s character is named Kevin.  So now I have two goofy, golden-haired Kevins to adore.  What is not to love about that?

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Acadia Diaries: Going Home

Day 5: The Last Day of our visit to Acadia

Waiting for a table at breakfast
We decided to have our last breakfast on MDI at a restaurant.  Bar Harbor is So pet friendly.  And Cafe This Way is So delicious.  It was a little warm sitting in the sun, to Kevin's dismay.  But then he found a nice shady spot in the aisle where all the servers had to walk, and he was happy.  Good thing they were indulgent.

After breakfast, it was time to pack up the campsite. (This a 35 second time lapse of a process that took about an hour.)

Then it was time for the car ride home.

And that was that--our latest Acadia camping adventure, in the books.

Some favorite moments:

From Abby's camera:

From Jon's camera:

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Acadia Diaries: Day 4, Good Eats, Great Hikes

After the nighttime adventures of thunderstorm and crashing awnings, we all slept in on Day 4 of our Acadia trip.

After our leisurely morning, we headed to the Jordan Pond House for an early lunch.

Thanks to Abby for these photos!
I don't know how people feel about the Jordan Pond House.  Some may say it's a tourist trap.  Others may say it's a cultural icon.

I just really like eating out on the lawn and looking over Jordan Pond.  I mean, how can that be bad?  And of course, there are always the popovers.

Abby's photo

Jon's photo (Abby's hands)
The place is ripe for photo-snapping:

I love tea. (Photo by Jon)
Kevin liked joining us for lunch, too.  Though he didn't get any popovers. (Photo by Abby)
Kevin, enjoying the view.
Following lunch, we took a stroll by Jordan Pond, and this is probably my favorite photo of the whole Acadia adventure.

We filled up the afternoon on Day 4 with two fabulous hikes, and I highly recommend both of them.  They are not long, but they provide some spectacular opportunities along the way.  Both are on the Quiet Side of Mount Desert Island.

Flying Mountain

The first hike we did was the Flying Mountain trail.  This trail is a 1.5 mile loop.  Part of the loop is along a logging road.  This is not the exciting part.  I think a lot of people hike the trail through the woods/over the summit first, and come back to the parking lot via the logging road, but we did the opposite, which I highly recommend.  

The road itself is boring, but not long, and at the end of it, you find yourself in Valley Cove.  When I think of gems on hiking adventures, Valley Cove is tops on the list.  It is a charming beach with a rocky, pebbly shore, perfect for a quick swim.  Sailboats conveniently moored in the distance added even more delight to the scenery.  

We didn't know about this little beach, and so were not quite prepared for swimming, but Abby and Kevin made the most of it:

The rest of the hike, up and over the Flying Mountain summit, is like walking through a fairyland.  We kept describing the hike as magical.

 We did not overlook the scenic overlook, but made far too many jokes about how some people might overlook the overlook.
At the Overlook (photo by Jon)

The Ship Harbor Nature Trail

Our second hike of the afternoon was one we had found on a previous visit.  The Ship Harbor Nature Trail is also short (1.3 miles) and yet has a little bit of everything (except a lot of climbing up up and up).

There's forest walking, an incredible pebble beach/inlet with calm waters, and then a section of the trail along the rocky coast.  Who doesn't love scrambling over rocky coastline?

Photo by Jon
People like to build little towers with the stones on this beach.  Kevin preferred swimming. 

Kevin swimming! A whole minute of it!  I know!

Photo by Jon

Photo by Jon

 All in all, it was a great day--one of the best of our whole vacation.