Thursday, May 28, 2015

A Quilt Tells a Story: Part 1

For years now I've wanted to put together a t-shirt quilt of all my high school and college t-shirts. I'd seen it done really well, and I'd seen some done poorly. I asked a friend from church, Paula Phelps, if she could help put it together, since she's put together many great quilts in the past.

For my birthday, I opened up the box to my first quilt. Apparently I'd given her so many t-shirts that I could have two quilts!

I love each section of this quilt, and I love that it opens up so many memories. I'd love to give you a little insight to each one.

One of the oldest t-shirts in my collection, this one goes all the way back to grade school in the 1990s. We got these shirts specifically for competing in floor hockey and other school events. Sadly, the school no longer exists, but now this shirt has been well preserved!

Another shirt that is pre-high school, I got this shirt right before I entered MLS. It was a regular t-shirt, and then for a long time it was a workout shirt. I sweated through this shirt innumerable times. Don't worry - I cleaned it before sending it along.

The city of Saline hosts Safety Town every summer for incoming Kindergartners to learn bus and safety procedures, as well as their address and phone number. All of the kids in my family did it, and I helped out with it for a couple of summers. If I worked every day it was offered (I think it was 2 weeks), I got 25 whole bucks! The shirts were green, yellow, and red. I still actually use the yellow one!

Cheerios are my favorite cereal of all time, and I don't think the cereal deserves enough credit. So when I found a t-shirt honoring my favorite cereal, I had to buy it.

This baseball-style shirt was purchased during my first trip to Seattle in 2002.

Another baseball-style shirt that I bought with my Papa when he took me up to Traverse City, Michigan for a class. We had a lot of fun up there!

Papa also bought me this shirt at one of his favorite restaurants, Cracker Barrel. Sure, it was a Youth Large, but it spoke the truth!

Trinity printed these shirts a few years back. I probably shouldn't reveal that mine got cut up.

A few great basketball shirts. We had the top one specially printed when we went to the state quarterfinals my junior year.

We had a pretty fabulous long-sleeved t-shirt my junior year for track. We owned the conference, so this shirt was appropriate.

My senior year I got to go to the conference tournament to compete, and they screen printed this on the spot. I was always nervous when I washed it, thanks to the tie-dye, so I didn't wear it very much. (Fun fact: the TVC West has completely different schools now!)

For a while, the Concert Choir t-shirts didn't change all that much. They were white, they were gray, they were red, they were black. They started changing up the style a few years later, but I loved both my t-shirts. The red was my junior year, and the gray was senior year.

I spent some time in the summer of 2002 doing a VBS in Whiteriver, Arizona on the Apache reservation. It was an eye-opening experience that really showed me how much I enjoyed teaching music and songs. That is the official seal of the Apache Tribe.

My first big production was Annie during my sophomore year. Although I was a "citizen" of Hooverville, I got a big solo in the "NYC" song.

While the part was smaller my senior year for Annie Get Your Gun, I had a lot more fun! I get a kick out of the fact that the musical director picked the three girls that were the least flirty from the cast and made them the flirting girls for Frank Butler's big song. I was also a cowgirl and an Indian. (Fun fact: my students did a Western-themed play this spring, and I played part of "There's No Business Like Showbusiness" on the piano and broke out my AGYG cowboy hat!)

I'll wrap it up with my Court Street Players shirt - the drama group at school. We would go on outings to see plays and musicals and were pretty much in charge of the drama productions at school. I didn't spend as much time in CSP as my siblings, but it was still fun!

I was incredibly pleased with my first quilt, and doubly more excited for my college one to arrive! Hopefully it repeats those amazing music notes and keyboard patterns!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Running: Get Over It

Well that stunk.

Since my school year is now over, my excuse to postpone running has now expired. I had all the equipment I needed, and it was time for me to get out for a run.

In the previous week, I had gathered my remaining items. First of all, I had bought my new phone, an iPhone 6, as well as an Otterbox case and ballistic glass adhesive.

After consulting with a few of my running friends and many websites, I downloaded the Runkeeper app, a free app that tracks mileage and pace. It also has a variety of training schedules that I decided to try.

To hold onto my phone during my run, I purchased a FlipBelt, which stretches out on your waist.

There's no zipper, but the iPhone fits so snugly inside that I don't ever fear it falling out. What I do care about is that on promotional photos, the FlipBelt is always snugly on women's hips. Since my figure is incredibly hourglass, my belt goes right up to my natural waist. It didn't bother me on my run, but I wasn't expecting it. I could have upgraded to a larger size, but I'm worried that it would be too big and fall off! I'd rather go for security.

I've been wearing Bondi Bands for years now, and I love them. I have bangs, and I hate having bangs when I exercise. This pushes them back, but the headband rarely moves out of place, and it's made of a wicking material.

With all of these things in place, I started the app and began to run.

The first half a mile was pretty good, regardless of the hill that I climbed. But then I started on a second hill, and the huffing and puffing started. I started to walk.

When I walk during a run, I find a marker up ahead and tell myself that at that marker, I am going to start running again. I found a weird bush and made that decree, and I started to run again. I did two more walks in the run, and it was kind of frustrating. Four years ago I could do a few miles without walking, and now I have to start at square one and build up my stamina all over again.

My first run was 30 minutes long and I did 2.33 miles in a nice loop I've walked many times before. My average pace was 13:03 and it was pretty hilly!

I am glad for these notes, because it helps me get over how exhausting the run actually was. I want to keep going and keep running. I want to get better! I want to do that loop again and only do walk breaks twice, and then once, and then not have any walk breaks at all!

I was incredibly tired, but I was relieved. The first one is always the hardest. Time to get over it and look to the next run!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Refresh, Recharge, and Reenergize

Another school year ended for me today. We went through our normal afternoon madness: the kids cleaned out their desks and then spent the next hour doing odd jobs for me and then returning and asking over and over, "What do you want me to do now?!" It's controlled chaos.

I still can't believe it's our summer break - probably because the weather out here has been incredibly nasty this month. However, I can tell it's the end because my body is exhausted, my brain is exhausted, and my classroom is no longer the perfectly organized classroom I want it to be.

Some people get all huffy when teachers mention summer break because they think teachers "don't have to work in the summer" or are jealous because they "still have to work during the nice weather." Well, so do we teachers! Looking at my empty classroom today made me realize one thing. It wasn't that the year was over. It wasn't that all that planning was done.

It was "Boy, I have a lot to do."


I try my best to have the classroom set up in August so that the changes that are made throughout the year are minimal. I had a cute poster set that was four windows representing the four months of the year. Once fall came, all I had to do was take down the summer poster and put up the fall! The same thing happened with a set of poster wreaths I inherited from my mom. Each month a new one went up - it wasn't complicated.

The planning for these easy changes, however, come in the summer. I try to plan what my bulletin boards (two of them) will be by trying to keep the background paper the same, and put all the borders near each other so I don't have to dig them out or search for them. My poster sets are all organized according to season or occasion. When did I do all of this organizing? In the summer. The poster organizing alone took two days.

While the kids were taking down all of my posters and boards and add-ons I have in my classroom, I was already setting some stuff aside or mentioning that a certain poster would look good in a new spot next year. When will I set that stuff up? In the summer!

I made mental and physical notes during this month about changes that would have to be made in a few key areas of the classroom and classroom management. I need to flesh these out now. In the summer.

Trying to do all of this stuff during the school year, as you try to manage a classroom of children as well, is incredibly difficult. The summer months allow for planning and organization so that if problems arise or changes need to be made during the year, they can be made quickly because in the summer, I prepared for it.

I have the added bonus of a lot of music content in my teaching position. Last year I planned everything for the church services in advance, and made sure I had the music ready to go before the first day of school - it made things go much, much more smoothly this year. I plan on doing the same thing again. Selecting music for four different singing groups is a long process, especially if you make a big effort to match the music to the Sunday (or festival) of the church year.

This is also time for some bigger projects. My first summer was spent re-cataloging the Senior Choir music. Then I put all my organ music into a database. Then I organized my new music office. This summer is dedicated to composing new music and taking a few courses.

I still have a lot to do in the music department during the school year, but it's not as time consuming as selecting and buying and numbering music. Instead, it's e-mailing the people involved, recording the music, organizing individual church services, and breaking down the music for rehearsals. Thanks to my summer planning, I can focus on that stuff during the year and have more productive rehearsals.


Like I mentioned above, I am tired. The past few weeks I have been so excited to come home and take my contacts out. My cat is wondering why I'm always just sitting on the couch for the few hours I'm home in the evening instead of playing with her. And my place is a mess.

Recharging a teachers' batteries is incredibly important. For me, this means making my own schedule. I wake up, exercise, relax with my cat, then go to work in grubby shorts and a t-shirt. I might not get home till 6 or 7 to eat supper, then I enjoy a few hours before bedtime and I repeat it all again.

Some people are surprised when they realize that I'm at work 5-6 days out of the week in the summer. Just because I'm not teaching doesn't mean I'm not working! I just get to work at my own pace - this is my method of recharging. Imagine me like a phone plugged into the wall. I'm still doing the work, but I'm also building up my power.

Recharging also means taking time for myself. Like I've mentioned before, I will be running a little more this summer. I want to start now so that once school starts again, I'll be in a good routine and won't (hopefully) want to stop. I'll visit my family and do a road trip - something teachers rarely get to do during the school year because it takes too much time, but can allow for many lessons to be learned by the teacher that can be shown to the kids the following year. (Mount Rushmore? Weekly President bios!) I'll visit my friends and get ideas from them for the year. I'm not even in the classroom, but I'm still working!


Yes, there will be some downtime, too. We all need that time to fill our spiritual cups, no matter what the profession. I might not check my work e-mail for a day and just go for a hike with some friends. I might go into the mountains for some R&R. But do you know what happens when you come back from rest and relaxation? You feel better! You're energized.

One of my favorite ways to get energized and excited for the next year is attending events where I know my students will be. This is easier for me since most of my students attend the church. It's great seeing the kids outside of the classroom, because they are different kids, and they think of you as a different person. They might actually be excited to see you, because it could have been a few days (or weeks) since you've seen them!

I try not to be a teacher in those moments (although sometimes it can't be helped). I try to be that adult that shows interest in a child and their stories and successes. Maybe I'll send them all a postcard from my travels so they can enjoy my trips, and maybe share their own trips with me!

Last year I attended our church's camping weekend, and many of my students were there with their families. On Saturday night I was around the campfire with a bunch of them, sharing favorite books and movies. It was a special time for me, because we weren't having a teacher-student discussion. It was just a discussion! I did notice that it made a big change in the school year, because not only did I see them in a new light, but they saw me differently, too.

These out-of-classroom encounters and moments of relaxation are very helpful in getting a teacher prepared for the coming year. Instead of dread and tiredness, a teacher can approach the next school year with eagerness and energy!

Refresh, Recharge, and Reenergize

I work over the summer. I do the work that is needed so that when the next year begins, I won't start the year exhausted. That just doesn't set the tone for the future school days. Thanks to the work I do over the summer, I can approach the next school year focused, organized, and excited to see my students and teach them even more.

Right now, at this very moment, my battery is on low. It's time to plug in.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Dear MLC,

For 15 years now (give or take a couple of years between my sister and brother) you have housed a member of my family and taught them as they prepared for the public ministry. This morning, the last of my family accepted his diploma.

While the distance between Michigan and Minnesota is quite far, you, Martin Luther College, were a huge part of our lives. 

My brother Matt started out in 2000 after graduating from Michigan Lutheran Seminary in Saginaw, Michigan. I started in the fall of 2003, and my sister Erica joined me two years later. Finally, in 2011 my little brother Jared started on the Hill. Two pastor-track, and two teacher-track. Of the four of us, I was probably the one the most doubtful about starting at your school. It wasn't until I discovered the Parish Music program in my senior year of high school that I made my final decision to attend. 

We were quite a dramatic group of kids. But not in the bad way. (I hope.) We all were members of Forum and participated in no less than 20 productions ranging from Musicals to Children's Theater to Plays to Outdoor Theater and Readers Theatre! Gazing at the posters in the Green Room would bring back more memories than looking at a trophy case, to be honest. 

We all had fantastic teachers while attending your school. From Professor Fredrich to Professor Cherney to Professor Koelpin to Doctor Wendler to Professor Schmidt to Doctor Wagner to Doctor Moldenhauer and Doctor Whaley, we received a very good education on campus that help us in our ministries. Most importantly, these teachers helped us delve deeply into God's Word and gave us the ability to spread that message in varied and wonderful ways. 

On campus we witnessed some great transitions. The cafeteria stayed open for 12 hours, then let the community pay to eat there, then opened up for late-night chicken finger binges hours and trivia contests! The auditorium became the auditorium again, as my sister got to watch the new Chapel of the Christ being built, and my brother got to perform in it many times. The lobby between Concord and Augustana was remodeled. Herman the German came down for a while to be renovated, and it just didn't feel the same without him towering over campus. That old NEW ULM water tower was finally taken down, too. New parking lots and tennis courts were put in place when my older brother was around. 

The opportunities to worship were wonderful. The morning chapel services gave us a chance to sample new liturgies from the Christian Worship: New Service Settings and the Christian Worship: Supplement. The Compline services allowed us to see a beautiful, meditative form of worship for the close of the day. My brothers both got to do chapel services there, solidifying their decisions to become pastors. My sister and I played organ for chapel services, improving our skills and readying us for our future calls. 

We all got opportunities to put our training to work while we were there. My older brother was the director of the largest dramatic production of the year, the fall musical. My sister, while on the Student Senate, was in charge of the whole Winter Carnival. My little brother helped organize blood drives, did some radio commentary for sporting events, and did about a billion other things I can't think of at the moment. I got the chance to direct the College Choir - something I never imagined doing.

And that brings me to the part of this school that I think made the biggest impact on our lives at the time, and still continues to make an impact now: the music. Between the four of us we participated in three of the four choirs on campus, as well as the Bell Choir and the Wind Symphony. We went on tons of tours, read hundreds of different songs, and learned countless techniques that helped improve our sound. We were able to spread the gospel message through our songs to thousands of people all over North America. This musical imprint still resonates with us today. My older brother sings solos at his church. My sister plays organ for services. I direct choirs. And my little brother plays several instruments. 

So, MLC, I would like to thank you for helping shape the lives of the people in my family. I'm sure my mother and father thank you as well. On behalf of my siblings, we are so thankful for these last 15 years at Martin Luther College. May God's blessings continue to shower down on MLC for the years to come as you train more men and women for the public ministry. 

Claire Natsis - Class of 2008
Matt Natsis - Class of 2004
Erica (Natsis) Griepentrog - Class of 2009
Jared Natsis - Class of 2015

"Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending; 
by paths as yet untrod, through perils unknown. 
Give us faith to go out with courage, not knowing where we go, 
but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. 
- Lutheran Book of Worship

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Good to be a Geek

Being a nerd used to mean that you lived in the secret corners of society, far away from "normal people." You were looked down on for your obsessions and people felt like you needed to put away childish things and live in the real world.

Sometime between 1999 and 2005, something amazing happened. Whatever you call them - nerds, geeks, etc. - became mainstream. And because large corporations realized that nerds buy stuff, they started making more stuff for nerds. And when that happened, then suddenly these things were available to everyone. And suddenly, being a geek wasn't looked down on - it was embraced!

I enjoy this immensely, because I remember liking some geeky stuff back in my grade school and high school days but not making it very well-known. Back in grade school my little brother loved the Pokemon TV show and had the first set of U.S. trading cards. I watched the show, too, and got into it a lot ("Prepare for trouble..." "...and make it double!") - though even then I knew that Pikachu was way overrated.

In high school I read a lot of comic books. My older brother and I would do comic shop runs on Wednesdays and buy pretty much every Batman comic, plus our favorite title of them all, Young Justice. There was a guy at our church, Tom, who had a bunch of trade paperbacks that he'd let us borrow, and we'd pour over '80s and '90s classics like "Contagion," "Year One," "Knightfall," and "The Long Halloween."

When Batman Begins was released in 2005, I was thrilled to bits. It was the kind of Batman I had grown up reading about in high school - not the ridiculous character he'd become in Batman movies of the mid- to late-1990s. By this time, however, Batman wasn't the only superhero in the theater. I saw several of the Tobey Maguire Spiderman movies in the theater, and enjoyed the first two X-Men movies. But once Iron Man came out in 2008, I knew things were going to be different.

I really enjoy the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), even if there are so many characters now it's hard to keep track of them all. (Welcome to Comic Book World!) It's fun to share that enjoyment with my students, as well, who wear Avengers clothing to school. Just today I remarked to a kindergartner how amazing his Avengers shoes were! Great Marvel content is also leaking into streaming services. I just finished Daredevil, which was incredible, and I'm looking forward to future Marvel titles on Netflix!

Marvel dominates the big screen, but for me, DC rules the television. With shows like Arrow and The Flash entertaining me on a regular basis with their season-arching storylines (less rushed than a Marvel movie), the audience gets a chance to know and love the characters. I am also looking forward to next season's DC offerings, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow.

I love each of my fandoms, and it's funny to see when an actor actually crosses over fandoms! Such is the case for Arthur Darvill, who will be in Legends of Tomorrow, but I know him from Doctor Who. The sme thing applies to Marvel: David Tennant, the Tenth Doctor on Doctor Who, will play a villain in Marvel's Netflix series A.K.A Jessica Jones.

While Doctor Who is a recent discovery of mine, it has grown into a great source of joy. I love hearing about stories from the past 50 years and how people debate the show to no end. It's always interesting hearing another person's opinion, especially if it differs from your own. No matter what people say, though, I'll always be the biggest fan of the series while Russel T. Davies was in charge (series 1-4, in case you're curious) and featured the 9th and 10th Doctors.

Of course, I haven't mentioned my biggest fandom to date, Star Wars. The Star Wars fandom was in hyper sleep for a few years after Episode III was released, but ever since Episode VII was announced, the anticipation grew. Finally last month at Star Wars Celebration, the release of the new teaser brought the Star Wars fans out in the open and no one could ignore it! It's only going to get worse, and I'm going to love every minute of it.

All these things being said (and I haven't even mentioned things like video games, online games, and board games!), there are people out there that figure that they can skewer other people's loves just to please themselves. There are others who want to deflate the hype balloon because they feel it's too much. And still others who love one or more of these fandoms, but it sure doesn't feel like it because all they do is complain about everything!

Why waste time ruining yours and other people's happiness? It's true that the movies or comics or shows aren't going to satisfy every single fan on this earth. So with that said, enjoy what's given! If you're not satisfied, don't hand over your money. That's the biggest problem: geeks and nerds complain about something, but they still pay for the stuff! If you pay and complain, the bigwigs aren't going to care what you think. They have your money, and that's all that matters. If you have a problem with something, don't give them money! They'll make changes then.

While everyone has their own opinions, keep in mind that others have their own opinions. Don't insult! Appreciate this wonderful time that we are experiencing as nerds and geeks. Who knows how long it will last? Eventually the wave may crest and we might be retreating back into the shadows, waiting for the next mainstream hit to bring us out again.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Running: The Goal

Today I'm going to tell you a story about running.

I hate running. The end.

No, that's not the story. But it's kind of true. Ever since I had to run laps around our small gym in grades school for basketball season, I have hated running. I didn't join the track team in high school my freshman year because I heard the coaches made everyone run to the track - about 1 1/2 miles - and I wasn't about to do that to myself. I didn't touch a treadmill in college, even though I was in the fitness center at least 5 days a week.

Somehow after I started my first full-time job in Wisconsin, I began thinking I wanted to give running a try. Three of my friends were doing 5Ks and seemed to have a good time. I was already doing regular walks around my quiet neighborhood to get some exercise - why not pick up the pace a little bit?

And then I did my first mile.


Well, not literally. But it sure felt like it. By the time I made it back to my apartment I was wheezing with a giant stitch in my side. I basically crawled up the stairs, sat on my couch, and vowed never to do that again.

But wouldn't you know it, I tried it again the next day! Same place, same distance. And although I still was wheezing by the end, I felt a little better. And there was hope.

Hope is my motivation. For some people, they need an app or a book or a running partner telling them "Get your shoes on and go running already!" All I needed at that time was the thought that I was improving. And every run got a little better. Because of that, I kept running.

I ran my first 5K in December of 2010 in cold Madison, Wisconsin - a Jingle Bell run to support arthritis. I was not the most well-equipped runner by far, but I still did the run and finished with a time of 37 minutes and 54 seconds. For 3-ish miles, I was very pleased.

My second run was actually a Firecracker 4-miler on July 4 of 2011, fittingly. I stayed with my friend nearby and ran it with her. I started slow and picked up the pace. I was thrilled to finish with a faster pace than the run in December and an overall time of 49 minutes, 25 seconds.

Then, I stopped running. I was dealing with things personally and just stopped. Then I got called to teach at a school in Colorado, and then I was worried about the altitude and how it would affect my running, and then school started, and eventually running was out of my mind.

But you know how some things are. Eventually they'll push you back in. And that hope that I had - the hope that each of my race runs got better, so I should keep it up - allowed me to be inspired to run again.

This time, though, I was going to be a lot more prepared. Because the race I am training for is a half marathon in Disneyland. If you're keeping track, that's three times as long as my previous race. (But it's in Disneyland!) And I might be throwing a 10K on top of that depending on how things go.

To prepare, I am using birthday gift cards to gather solid training gear. I'm not going to put on an old sports bra, any old pair of socks and shorts, and my Nikes and run out the door. In the past three years, I've learned all about wicking sweat away from your body, and that you can buy all your clothes with wicking power!

For example, I have three pairs of running socks that help wick away sweat. The black pair is SmartWool that I got from the Jingle Bell 5K, the white pair are some Nike DriFit socks I got by mistake when I was trying to buy hiking socks, and the blue pair are new Balegas that were recommended to me.

If I can keep my feet in good shape, then a major step to my training is accomplished. To add on to the sock power I now possess, I went all-in and shopped at a specialty shoe store around here called Boulder Running Company. They took sensors of my feet, took video of my feet while I ran on a treadmill, and determined that I have high arches (you can't even see them on the sensors) and my feet roll out when I run. When all that was said and done, they handed me a pair of Brooks shoes that cushioned my feet and corrected my running. Oh, and they felt comfortable, too.

I won't tell you how much I spent on them. It's too depressing. And they say running shoes only last for 500 miles! (But I want to walk 500 more!)

Also working with my sweat-wicking feet were sweat-wicking shirts and capris. I also have amazing headbands called BondiBands, which are snug around your head but also keep the sweat out of your face. I swear by those things.

I still wanted to be able to carry around my phone, though, as well as keys. Right now, when I go for my walks I pack that stuff in a tote and have my iPod on my armband. I wanted to consolidate a little bit. Right now I'm considering an iPhone, which will be my phone, but also an easy way to get to my playlists. I can keep that on a FlipBelt or another waist-wearing belt. These are two major items that I haven't purchased yet, and probably won't purchase for another couple of weeks.

In my first bout of running, I didn't have a smartphone and apps. This time I am hoping to bring those things into play to help me train. While my hope will get me places, apps and web training will get me to run smarter.

Now for some things that concern me...

I've heard a couple of places to follow these steps: "Step 1: start running. Step 2:...there is no Step 2!" As much as I'd like to believe that, there are so many things on the Internet that tell me otherwise.

Whenever I look at running websites, they are so quick to point out things like nutrition or cross-training or other things that just seem like they take a lot of time and energy. I can understand hydrating, but how much does my meal the day before affect my 2-mile run/walk the next day? It seems like these bloggers out there are so picky that whenever I have thought about running before, those kinds of things drive me away.

I now have more resolve (and Pinterest items) that allow me to pick and choose the ways that I train. I'm not going to freak out if I have too many calories or forget my gel. I'm just going to do my run.

So once school ends for another year, I'm going to train. It's going to be slow and short at first, but my hope (which keeps me going) is that I'll get better. I'll run a 7K over Labor Day weekend and then set my sights out for MLK weekend.

And you know I'll be giving it a shot, because I'm posting this. I wouldn't write a whole article about it and not try. I will write more as my training progresses!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Mix Tapes - The First Editions

I remember the first time that I figured out how to make a mix tape. It was one of the highlights of my childhood. Stick a CD in the player, put a blank cassette in the player, push record and I could make a tape of all the music that I loved, and not have any of the songs I didn't like.

What a thrill!

Of course, I made a lot of mix tapes in high school, but by this time people were starting to cross over to burning CDs or just buying mp3s. I really wanted to get into this as well, but it would require having a computer that burned CDs! My computer in college managed to be one of the last that didn't have the burning capabilites built standard, and I couldn't stand that!

Thanks to many of my friends, I still managed to put together quite a good pile of CDs with songs that I enjoyed at that time in my life. When I look back at the song listings, I smile at many of the songs, and others I just shake my head, because I have no idea why I put that song on the CD.

I took a look at all my mixes from college and beyond and I'm going to share with you the top three songs on each CD. The reason for this is usually my favorite songs are right at the top, so I could listen to them right away. But I have developed a deep love for some of the songs that weren't placed in the top three, so I'm going to tell you my current favorite as well. A lot of these songs I still listen to today...but on my iPod.

Alternative 1 (fall 2003) 

What was going on: This was one of my first CDs ever created, thanks to a friend's CDs and computer. I was a freshman in college and liked a lot of her stuff, so she gave me free reign to burn onto CDs of mine. I wasn't too creative with titles at this point.

Top 3 Songs:
"We're In This Together" Nine Inch Nails
"Stand" - R.E.M.
"I'm Just a Kid" - Simple Plan

Imagine my mother's shock when she sees I have a Nine Inch Nails song at the top - she would probably freak out more if it were Smashing Pumpkins. (I remember her specifically telling us that wasn't good music.)

Current Favorite: "Low" - Kelly Clarkson

I don't listen to this song a lot nowadays, but out of all the songs on the CD, this is my favorite. Mainly for the first 30 seconds of the song.

It's All in the Mix (spring 2004)

What was going on: I was finishing up my first year and feeling pretty good about the whole college thing. I was craving new music so I put another group of songs on a CD for the summer back home. 

Top 3 Songs:
Theme from Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Nerf Herder
"Teenage FBI" - Guided by Voices
"Crash Into Me" - Dave Matthews Band

This was the year that Angel - the BTVS spinoff - ended its run, and Buffy had ended the year before that. It's a fantastic song. However, there isn't much pep to this CD - it's largely very sad.

Current Favorite: TIE: "Wonderwall" - Oasis and "Out of My League" - Stephen Speaks

I couldn't limit it to one song, because both these songs are fantastic. If I had to save one of them from being lost forever, I'd choose "Out of My League" because the guys from Oasis are jerks.

New Folder (spring 2005)

What was going on: At this point I wasn't into quirky CD titles and just chose what the computer defaulted my playlist to be called: "New Folder." I had been growing a friendship with a few friends, plus I performed in The Scottish Play and had an absolute blast!

Top 3 Songs:
"Crawling in the Dark" - Hoobastank
"40'" - Franz Ferdinand
"Fair" - Remy Zero

When I burned this CD, somehow "Crawling in the Dark" didn't record its last second of music, so the version I own abruptly ends before the song does! I've gotten used to it.

Current Favorite: "I Just Don't Think I'll Ever Get Over You" - Colin Hay

This is just a gorgeous song. Garden State became one of those movies that transitioned me from my teens to my twenties, and this song is incredible. The guitar has such a full sound, which you don't sometimes hear. That Guy from the band Men At Work wrote a beautiful piece, and it hit me at just the right time in my life.

Clinical Rehab (spring 2006)

What was going on: I was in the middle of my clinical semester in college, where I would sit in on an elementary classroom one day a week. I wasn't too fond of my class - it was over 30 kids and a lot of unsettled bodies in one room - and I felt after many of those Tuesdays that I just needed a nap. Thus the title.

Top 3 Songs:
"Soul Meets Body" - Death Cab for Cutie
"DOA" - Foo Fighters
"Re-Arranged" - Limp Bizkit

Honestly, I'm not too thrilled with the top three here. I hadn't gotten good at selecting good music, so I simply selected music I recognized from the radio. (To be honest, this first CD was created at the Sam Goody in the Mall of America - when they let you put 10-12 songs on a CD for one low price!)

Current Favorite: "Fast Car" - Tracy Chapman

This one still speaks to me for the soul that it brings. There isn't that much to the song, but it's a fascinating story. The guitar is beautiful here.

Ultimate Junior Year Anthems (summer 2006)

What was going on: My junior year was done, and I was doing great. I was excited for the following semester, when I'd be student teaching, I had taken my first road trip with my friends (who really became my friends my junior year) and I was finally getting used to living in Minnesota.

Oh, I'll be the first to say that many of my CD titles are really, really stupid.

Top 3 Songs:
"Futures" - Jimmy Eat World
"American Baby" - Dave Matthews Band
"Sugar, We're Goin' Down Swingin'" - Fall Out Boy

Fall Out Boy, for whatever reason, just keeps popping back into my mixes from this point forward. I didn't realize how early they invaded my favorite songs. But this was their first song that I loved, even if I couldn't understand many of the phrases. ("A loaded gun conquest, cock it and pull it" was just a bunch of garble to me for a long time.)

"Futures" holds a special place in my heart because it just feels like a good song to wrap up the credits of a romantic comedy. I still feel that way.

Current Favorite: "Io" - Helen Stellar

Straight out of the Elizabethtown soundtrack - a movie that most people hated but really spoke to me. This song is so strange - only Cameron Crowe would have found it. I love the reverb and the gradual buildup that finally crests and disappears again. You can hear the last 30 seconds of the song only if you listen reeeeally carefully.

Practicum Therapy (winter 2007)

What was going on: My practicum was four weeks in a kindergarten public school classroom that I rather enjoyed. I just picked the title because it paralleled Clinical Rehab. Many of the songs were discovered while I student taught in Wisconsin. I needed a lot of music because I worked a lot that semester.

Top 3 Songs:
"Half Acre" - Hem
"Lazy Eye" - Silversun Pickups
"Solsbury Hill" - Peter Gabriel

I remember hearing "Hem" on commercials for Liberty Mutual Insurance. Then I heard the whole song and realized she was talking about a half acre from Michigan, and I loved it even more. This is still in my top 20 songs of all time.

I also really enjoy the manic nature of "Lazy Eye," but after listening to the song hundreds of times, I still can't figure out if it's a man or woman singing the words! I guess it entertains me not to know, since I haven't Googled it to find out.

Current Favorite: "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" - Darkness

This song really reminds me of Queen in many ways, and it's just a rockin' out kind of song! I can't help but head-bang to it.

Summer 2007 - the Best Summer EVER (summer 2007)

What was going on: The spring of 2007 kind of sucked - I was going through some personal crises and I was not happy to be back as a student in a classroom. However, the summer after that semester - though I would no longer call it the best summer EVER - was pretty great.

Top 3 Songs:
"Somebody to Love" - Queen
"Ladies and Gentlemen" - Saliva
"Born to Lead" - Hoobastank

I enjoy looking at my song selections a few years removed and figuring out why I chose the songs I did. I managed to find a radio station during student teaching in Appleton that was more of an alternative and metal station. This led to much more of an edge to the songs on this CD.

Current Favorite: "Missed the Boat" - Modest Mouse

However, my current favorite is a much less edgy song, and the band Modest Mouse really was my college band. Some people had Phish, some people had DMB, but I had Modest Mouse. (Imagine my delight when I heard a new Modest Mouse song on the radio this week!) This was a top hit in the summer of 2007, and I not only heard it on the radio, but my little brother had/has the CD. I ended up owning the entire album myself eventually and used it for many study sessions - it's really great for that!

More fantastic music to come in The Second Editions!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Defending Treasure Planet

I was sitting in a movie theater in 2002 - probably watching Star Wars Episode II - Attack of the Clones - when a preview came on the screen. It was all CGI, and the shot of a crescent moon with ships coming in and out of it, and a voice saying "Treasure Planet." And all I could say at the time was "UGH."

I was not impressed at the time with a movie taking the iconic Treasure Island story and making it Disney-fied and futuristic. I had no intention of seeing the movie, and neither did many other people who probably had the same feelings about it than I did. The movie bombed, and it was just another nail in Disney's hand-drawn animation "failures" that people point to nowadays.

But then something weird happened. In 2006 I was flipping the channels and Treasure Planet was on The Disney Channel. I decided I had nothing better to do, so I would watch it.

And I loved it!

I began to tell others how fun the movie was, and none of them took me seriously. But lo and behold, a few months back my little brother posts on Facebook that Treasure Planet is actually a pretty great movie. And I talked to ladies today that also said it was a great movie!

If you haven't given yourself the chance to watch Treasure Planet, I suggest you find it in your library's DVD section and give it a watch. You'll only be disappointed if you're seeking out a faithful adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novel. Otherwise, you'll enjoy it as much as I did. Here are some reasons why:

The Father-Figure Angle

Most Disney movies deal with a girl and a guy, and how the girl gets the guy (or vice versa). Those plots pretty much sum up my childhood of movie watching. But occasionally a movie comes along that takes a different route, and this was one of them. It really hit me how well this movie deals with the Father-Figure Angle, probably because it's such a different angle than I was used to.

The story of Jim Hawkins puts him in a bad path at the start of the movie due to the absence of his father (it is explained later in the movie that he left Jim and his mother years earlier). The cops report one more mishap could land him in juvie.

As Jim joins the financier for the trip (named here Doctor Doppler), the captain assigns him as cabin boy so the ornery crew doesn't figure out that he knows about the treasure map. While he meets Long John Silver there, Silver is welcoming but also demanding - something that Jim initially despises thanks to his reckless past. Eventually, though, Jim realizes Silver isn't being mean, but being the father Jim always craved.

During a music-montage (not sung by the main characters), Jim is reminded of his father's abrupt departure when Silver takes a motorized longboat and sails away, leaving Jim on the ship. But then Silver comes back for Jim, and the two of them go off on a sailing excursion through the stars.

While this relationship is greatly tested later, the story is so well-written between these two characters that it's really difficult for the viewer to declare Silver "the bad guy" because you're hoping he and Jim can keep that Father-Figure Angle going on for a long time.

Steampunk at its Disney best

It's hard to imagine the tale of Treasure Island with space ships or galaxies, but it's easier to imagine if you keep the great ships of the past and just throw in a few spacey elements.

There is a ton of futuristic elements here (the guns shoot lasers, the masts absorb solar power and convert it to move the ship), but the core of the story is still the same. The English garb remains for much of the cast, and the decks of the ships still need swabbing. You won't find any 1950s-style steel spacecrafts or astronaut spacesuits - save the very Steampunk version worn by Doctor Dobbler near the beginning.

Enough of that Revolutionary-style is retained to keep it grounded, while the otherworldy aspects are seamlessly woven in so well that it's hard to tell where one starts and the other stops.

The directors

Like The Little Mermaid and Aladdin? The same two men - Ron Clements and John Musker - that put those two films together for Disney Animation, as well as The Princess and the Frog and Hercules (which I love) were the directors for this film as well.

Once you figure out that these films all have the same directors, you can see very similar filmmaking ideas in all the movies. Stopping a scene with some gag featuring tiny versions of the main characters doing obnoxious actions on the shoulders of the actual main characters? I could be talking about the Genie from Aladdin or Morph from Treasure Planet.

I like these men's style, and I like many of their films, too.

The visuals

This was a film that used a lot of 2D animation with 3D CGI backgrounds. Those backgrounds are absolutely stunning. It's hard to look away at points - especially during the scene where a star is collapsing or the aforementioned Treasure Planet is having some issues.

While the 2D suffers at times from lazy animation, the CGI really makes up for it.

The bizzarre characters

A story like Treasure Island is probably going to have little or no women involved at all. So it was pleasing that the Captain was made a woman in Treasure Planet - and a feline with a smart mouth to boot. Though she doesn't do much for the second half of the film, Captain Amelia is treated like a captain, and not like a woman, by the crew. It's a welcome change.

As for the crew, they aren't just a pile of overweight, muscle-strapped dudes. Instead, they're aliens! It's a chance for the characters to reflect their inner selves a bit more. The stranded Ben even gets turned into an android (B.E.N.) who goes crazy because he can't remember a thing! (His memory drive has been removed by Captain Flint.)

It reminds kids of great literature

Kids should not just take this movie as Treasure Island. There are many additional characters and plot points in the book that just wouldn't fit in this movie. But it still is a great reminder that this is classic fiction, and it can be read right in a book - no DVD players required.

Hopefully I've given you more reasons to give this movie a shot. It is criminally underrated thanks to scheduling its release during a Disney Animation Dead Zone, but hopefully it will gain the fans that it so rightly deserves!