Monday, April 02, 2018

Nostalgic for Jesus Christ Superstar

This is the album cover that was in our cabinet under our record player.
A live performance of "Jesus Christ Superstar" played on NBC last night, and I was the only one in our household interested in watching it. Lindsey watched the first five minutes, declared it "noise" and went upstairs to watch a movie on her kindle in her room.

Not that I'm religious, I just really like a good rock opera. Actually, I think JCS is the only rock opera I know. There is no dialog that is not set to music, and the whole thing is all electric guitars, drums and screaming solos, I'm pretty sure that's the definition of a rock opera.

I first got to know Jesus Christ Superstar as a kid. It came out as a record in 1970, and my parents had the album. It was a two-album set, with sides 1 and 4 on one record, 2 and 3 on the other. Our record player let you stack up to two records and it would play two sides one after another, and then you had to flip the records and re-set them to play sides 3 and 4. I still remember the anticipation of hearing the second record drop, the click of the needle picking up and then the scratch as the needle hit the starting groove and began to play. I would sit with the lyrics, which were written like a script, and study the words as it played.

Original performers in the 1970 Jesus Christ Superstar album.
The original album featured Murray Head as Judas and Ian Gillan as Jesus. Ian Gillan was the lead singer for Deep Purple, and later joined Black Sabbath. You can just imagine the initial recording, right? Literally screaming vocals, funky guitar rifts, slap bass solos.

The live performance last night maintained much of the original rock performance, but updated with today's vocal talents and instrumentation. I've only ever listened to the music, never watched a performance of it, and it was only last night that I realized that "Jesus Christ Superstar" is not about Jesus, it's about Judas. Judas has more solos and attention focused on his very human angst at not wanting but needing to betray Jesus.  

Brandon Victor Dixon as Judas in NBC's "Jesus Christ Superstar." He already killed Alex Hamilton as Aaron Burr in "Hamltion," betraying Jesus was next on his to-do list.
In Judas' final solo, he has ascended to heaven and is accompanied by angels. Dante Alighieri would not have agreed with this idea, as he put Judas in the final circle of hell in his epic poem "Inferno." But in this interpretation, Judas did a necessary deed to make a martyr of Jesus, and his payment is ascension to heaven.

I knew every word and completely enjoyed this interpretation of this classic. I thought Ben Daniels, who played Pontius Pilate, was weak on his final proclamation sentencing Jesus to death, and Alice Cooper was not the energetic King Herod as he should have been, but he did add entertainment value.

Cast and costuming of the 2018 NBC live performance of "Jesus Christ Superstar."
Of course, I smiled thinking that Paul Gilles was a huge fan of Alice Cooper, Deep Purple AND Black Sabbath. I think he would have cringed seeing the great Alice Cooper in this diminished role. But perhaps not, maybe he would be happy to hear that some of the classic rock sound that he loved is being embraced by a new generation. I know I did.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

So...What's Online School Like?

Lindsey and her dad configuring her new laptop for online school (Nov 2017).
When people hear that Lindsey is going to an online high school, their first question is invariably, "What's it like?"

It is really, really cool. And challenging. And not lonely.

From an academic standpoint, because there isn't class time where students are expected to work on practice examples or projects, there is a lot of written work. For all of her classes, Lindsey needs to turn in a portfolio of sample work, showing that she has grasped whatever concept is being taught, be it sample math problems, writing samples, a short essay proving understanding of a historical event.

She has lots of online quizzes, some only as much as 3 questions, to test students' understanding of a concept. She takes great satisfaction in taking those quizzes, clicking "Submit" and then seeing her score instantly. She can see which ones she got wrong and what the right answer would have been, which, of course, bothers her greatly so she always looks it up to see why she got it wrong.

She has live lessons, usually one or two per day, where she needs to be logged in at a specific time for a lesson. It works a lot like a webinar, where the teacher often has a presentation up on the screen, and all the students can respond via a live chat. The teacher will have her audio turned on and all the students muted. This is the most entertaining part of her education.

Lindsey usually loves these live lessons, because she enjoys the interaction between students and the teacher. After a lesson she'll say something like, "Ben interrupts a lot," or "Alison is really chatty, she is constantly talking." Some of the kids in the class are on Snapchat together, and they'll snap to each other during the class, which is the online equivalent of passing notes. Lindsey only knows this because they'll accidentally comment on the live lesson chat about what the other person sent them (the equivalent of dropping the note between desks).

For Spanish class, she has to record herself speaking Spanish vocabulary and submit that recording to the teacher and it is graded on her fluency. In the live lessons they spend time learning about the culture of various Hispanic countries. For one live lesson, the teacher did a live stream of herself making churros in her kitchen, and during the cooking lesson they talked about the cuisine of various countries. Lindsey was really craving a snack after that one.

During one memorable math lesson, the teacher had asked students what the next step was in solving a quadratic equation. Lindsey started typing, then backspaced, then started typing, backspaced, and so on. In the meantime, on the chat screen everyone can see "Lindsey is typing..." for a pretty long time. Finally the teacher said, "I get the impression Lindsey is trying to say something." Lindsey finally hit "enter" on her answer and posted it. She got a few LOLs from other classmates for that one.

Her school has tons of clubs, of which she's not yet gotten involved. They have debate, Photography Club (which she wants to join eventually), Science Club, Musical Club and many others. They have field trips that are all over the state, and the high schoolers have a prom in a city centrally located in the state. Lindsey is considering going.

How you often find Lindsey working: on the couch with the dog on her lap.
Here's the cool thing about this: I suspect that there are many special education students in her classes and they are no different from anyone else. I am seeing that most of the students in her school live in small towns in outstate Minnesota. I suspect these are students for which their local public high school could not make accommodations for them, and their next best solution was online school.

Students are not judged for their appearance or their fashion. If they have difficulty speaking no one knows it, and students are more than capable of expressing themselves through the typed word. No one needs special accommodations for equipment, wheelchairs, tube feedings, etc. because those things happen off line. I can imagine that for some kids, an online education is ideal.

Lindsey is staying connected to her friends from Minneapolis schools on weekends, meeting for lunches and coffees, going to movies together and hanging out. Through her friends we are learning of more budget cuts at the public school, messy class schedules and overcrowded classrooms. It makes me sad to hear of the state of our local high school. I know we made the right decision to search out another education option for her.

Friday, March 02, 2018

What I've Learned in 2018 (So Far)

It's been nearly two months since I hung up my corporate hat and put my parent hat on full time. What have I learned about life so far?

I've learned that my children are complicated people. I've listened to more stories of lunch time comedy and recess shenanigans in the past 2 months than I've heard in the past 5 years. Our girls have ideas, dreams, imaginations so strong, and random thoughts that are unlike anyone else's. It is truly a gift to be able to spend as much time with them as I am.
Marissa's best 80's ponytail.
Which she found hilarious.

Lindsey's favorite pasttime: reading voraciously with Beauty beside her.
My daughter's requests for a "big breakfast" on Sunday mornings is more-often-than-not met with a "yes" instead of a "no." Our version of a "big breakfast" is bacon, pancakes or waffles, scrambled eggs, all homemade, of course. It takes so little to make her happy, why would I not when I have the time and the energy?

Delicious gluten-free pancakes, after tweaking the recipe for two months.

I've seen that anxiety is a mangy beast that has one of my kids in its maw tightly, more tightly than I realized. After two months I feel like, perhaps, we are starting on a path to lightness. But no, I won't say that yet, maybe it's just another good spell that will be broken by another awful terrible no-good very bad day. And so I will continue to question, to pester, and to be there for her.

I've learned that I need the gratification of actually seeing things get clean when I clean them. This means there is no sweeping of floors once a week "just because," or dusting of mantels before they collect dust. I want to see that dust FLY, man, so it needs to accumulate good before I get after it.

And I've learned that my husband, the ultimate neat-nick, doesn't mind (or at least knows not to say it if he does) if the house isn't quite up to his standards. He is a more relaxed person for not having to do laundry on weekends and wash dishes every night. Not that I wash dishes every night either — we just leave them until the next morning because time together is precious and I'll have time in the morning to do them when everyone's gone off to work and school.

We've all learned that we used to spend a ridiculous amount of money on take-out food. I never quite understood before how our family could spend so much on "dining out," yet we never went to a restaurant. Bringing home "dinner in a bag" from Chipotle one night and Noodles & Co the next, and now I get where that money was going. That money is no longer flying out the door, and suddenly we can actually go out as a family to a sit-down restaurant every once in a while, despite my lack of income.

I have time to reflect and write, take photographs and exercise, all of which makes me a better person, more patient and confident at the same time. We are a better family for the change, and for that I am infinitely grateful.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

"Hey Alexa, Stop My Scattering Thoughts"

This past September our family got the Amazon Echo Dot. Two of them, to be exact.

This is the device that you activate by saying "Alexa," and then asking any number of questions. She most often tells us the time or the weather.

In the morning the girls and I will play the song quiz, where Alexa plays a few seconds of songs from various eras and players take turns guessing the artist and title.

Our favorite Alexa skill is the shopping list. The minute I realize I'm out of something, I tell Alexa to put it on my shopping list. By the time I go grocery shopping, the list is already built of everything the family needs.

Which brought me to an interesting thought, among my scattered thoughts.

I was sitting in my kitchen working on a project, when I suddenly remembered that I had opened the last gallon of milk that morning. "Alexa, put milk on my shopping list," I called out, and she dutifully did so.

A song came on in the kitchen and I told Alexa to skip it. The next song was rather loud, so I told Alexa to turn down the volume. A few minutes later, I thought about taking the dog for a walk and asked Alexa what the weather was like.

I found myself calling out to Alexa every few minutes, taking care of the random thoughts that flitted through my brain.

Which brings me to this question: are my thoughts scattered because of Alexa, or is it just more obvious because I interact with a device whenever my thoughts scatter?

Many of us struggle with focus and concentration, especially those of us responsible for family activities, stocking a household, appointments and work obligations. Are these devices helping or hurting?

After my experience working on this project at home, I feel like Alexa helped me. A random thought would come across my brain, I had Alexa take care of it and I could go back to my project. Normally I would be telling myself to remember to put "milk" on a list later on, and that thought would never leave my brain until it was taken care of.

Our family started with just two Alexa devices, we are now up to four. If I'm ever in a place where I can't just take care of something by telling Alexa to do something, I get annoyed. "Great, now I have to remember this until I get home and ask Alexa," I'll grumble in my car.

Are our brains moving forward or backward?

Monday, February 26, 2018

Middlemoon Creek Walk

Just south and west of us is a creek that runs through a neighborhood from Lake Harriet. It's a part of the chain of lakes and is maintained by the city. But for one magical weekend in the winter, the neighbors take over.

Residents in this area began decorating the path along the creek with ice sculptures. It started out small — balloons that are filled with water, frozen and the balloon popped. Ice in a bucket that is turned upside down. Then it got a bit more elaborate.

Now it is a magical walk of all kinds of sculptures, lit with candles from the inside, protected from the snow and wind that would extinguish them. So my camera and I went for a stroll.

There were elaborate altars of ice, decorated with candles and lit from inside. There was an incredible miniature castle, about the height of a four-year-old who stared at it in amazement.  The path was lit with little balls of icy light. Snow was falling steadily, making streetlamps in the area hazy with an otherworldly glow.

The path was busy with many families out to see the sights. People were polite in making way for others along the path. Dogs were petted, children smiled at, and strangers struck up conversations. A group of adults chatted about whose house they were heading back to for a warm toddy after their walk.

Yes, the sculptures were beautiful to see, and the ducks on the open water, huddling together with snow gathering on their backs. But the most beautiful experience of all was that of community in this special little creek.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

My Final Tween

This year Marissa will be turning 13 and we will officially have two teenagers in the house. Sure, it feels like we've got two already, but technically Marissa is still a "tween."

While Marissa was once our messy child, she has somehow come to appreciate order and cleanliness. Every morning she makes her bed before school. Clothes are actually put in a hamper, not strewn around the floor like they were when she was 7, and if you were to open the drawers in her desk you would find cosmetics and toiletries neatly arranged.

I spy with my little eye...
Yet there is still one throwback in her room taking her back to her childhood. Tucked away between some of her fluffy pillows is "Sheepy," the stuffed animal she slept with from babyhood on. I know she still sleeps with it, because sometimes in the middle of the night I hear the tinkle of little bells as she turns over with Sheepy in her hands.

So sweet.

Viva City Revisited

The emcee, AJ Friday, was fantastic at
keeping the crowd entertained while groups set up.
Marissa was given the opportunity to perform at Viva City, a celebration of music and dance put on by Minneapolis Public Schools. Lindsey had the same opportunity in 7th grade, and truly loved the experience of seeing and hearing from so many different schools across the city.

This year they were able to perform at the Guthrie Theater — the Guthrie! Marissa did not even know what it meant to be performing there.

The night began with a rocking drum line, made of boys and girls, thank you very much. Bands and orchestras, then choirs. Unfortunately we had to leave at the 2nd intermission, so we did not get to see the theater and dance performance troupes, which I remember as being impressive.

I loved how supportive the crowd was. If there was a beat, there were people clapping along. The acoustics were challenging as they were in a large theater and the accompanying instruments came through the sound system, but they had not put microphones over the singing groups, so most groups were drowned out by the instruments. Students were unaccustomed to singing to such a large audience; I could see each of the directors encouraging their students to be louder, louder, LOUDER!

I'm so glad that both of our daughters had this opportunity to see music from other groups, and to showcase their talents as well.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

The Grateful Child

In December Marissa was awarded a "HERO" award at her school. This is given to students who embody kindness, respect, encourage learning, all those traits that don't show up on standardized tests or in a report card. You know, the important stuff.

Marissa made out like it was no big deal — some teachers choose a student at random in their classroom, while others thoughtfully ask students to nominate classmates who have displayed rare kindness, then make their selection from that pool.

I could probably get a bumper sticker that says, "My child is a HERO in middle school," but instead, I'll tell a story that shows why Marissa is deserving of this award.

One day, Marissa and I were walking to a store together when she said the following to me out of the blue. As soon as we got home I wrote it down, so this is verbatim:

"You know, Mom, I was just thinking about how much Lindsey's been sick, and how much time you've taken off of work to care for her and stuff. And then I was thinking about when I was a little kid, and if I was sick and couldn't go to school and you or dad would stay home with me. I never even thought about the fact that you couldn't go to work, or that you gave up that day just to be with me. I don't know if anyone's ever thanked you for that, so I just wanted to say 'thank you.'"

And then a little snow got into my eye.

The Four-Legged Child

You have never met a pitbull so scared of the smallest things, yet unafraid of the biggest.

She will play with dogs twice her size with no hesitation. Yet today, when I popped bubble wrap near her, she practically crawled into Lindsey's lap, ears down and tail tucked, looking for protection.

Protect me, Lindsey, from the scary bubble wrap!
Beauty is so eager to please, she wants to do whatever you tell her. If she doesn't know what you're asking for, she will gaze at you until you give her a signal as to what it is, or she'll run through her usual tricks until she does one you'll reward with a treat.

She is not allowed to eat until we tell her she can. I'll put her food down, and she'll sit there and look at me for permission. If I wait long enough, two lines of drool will begin at the corners of her mouth, but she still won't eat until I say, "OK."

So instead I'll say, "Oh my," or "Oh...klahoma," or anything else, but until she hears, "okay," it remains untouched.

If we drop food on the floor, she'll look at us for permission to eat it, she won't just leap for it. A few times she started to gobble it, then Lindsey said, "Drop it!" and she actually spit it back out. She Spit. It. Out.

Is that popcorn? Are you going to drop some?
She recently completed a four-week recreational agility class with Lindsey. She was always too excited to see the other dogs (a no-no while training), but once she hit the course she was ready to run and eager to do exactly what Lindsey told her to do.

She is a running buddy for Wayne, a source of cuddles for Marissa and I, and has become Lindsey's constant companion. As what happens when you rescue a dog, she rescues you back.