Movie remakes?

I just saw the trailer for the new Footloose movie. I'm not sure how I feel about a remake of such a classic 80s movie (or any classic movie, really).

This made me think about how the movie industry has changed entertainment. It used to be that people only saw live entertainment. I mean, how many times has Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing been performed live? Countless times. Now we can watch the exact same performance of a movie over and over again and get up in arms about the idea of a remake.

Uh-oh. Did I just compare Footloose to Shakespeare? Is that even a valid comparison?

As Kevin Bacon would say, "Jump back!"


Made in Wisconsin

My casual friendship with wine has blossomed into a serious love affair. I enjoy tasting different varieties and dropping by wineries. One thing I find particularly fascinating is how different people's taste buds vary. According to the Wisconsin Winery Association, there are 36 wineries in our state, so I thought it would be fun to feature Wisconsin-made wines at a wine tasting party. I don't live in Napa Valley, but that surprisingly, that doesn't limit my choices.

Now, I'm no Martha Stewart when it comes to entertaining, but I thought I'd share a few snapshots from the evening.  Here are my invitations. I used my Cricut machine to cut out the shape of the state and then designed the overlay to be printed on vellum. (Cricut, I love thee so!)

In general, when tasting wine, one starts with the sweeter wines and moves towards the dry. Here's the starting point!

Confession: My house is never as clean as when I have a party. I should host a celebratory occasion every month!

Small place cards told attendees the name and location of the winery and also suggested which cheeses may compliment the wine.

I placed half-used taper candles in empty wine bottles for decoration. (After a few minutes, the dripping wax adds a beautiful, imperfect feel to the decor.) 

Can't wait for the next wine tasting occasion! Do you enjoy wine? What can you recommend?


Big Ten Country: Legacy Uniform

The first night game in the history of Michigan Stadium will be played tomorrow versus Notre Dame. To commemorate the occasion, the players will wear special legacy uniforms. What do you think?

photo from mden.com


Big Ten Country: Tattoo Love

One great thing about going to college football games is the tailgating. You never know what you're going to see, case in point below:

Take a closer look at the tattoo on this man's calf. Ahh, the craziness of college football fans!


Big Ten Country: the Ultimate Compromise

My cousin Kristy is an avid Michigan fan. She painted this on the wall of her home office.

Kristy's husband, Chris, is a rabid Ohio State fan. Can you tell from the closet doors, complete with custom knobs?

The ultimate irony of this? They share their home office. :)


Big Ten Country: Schembechler Hall

Last summer, my family and I stopped in Ann Arbor and I got a chance to see the "museum" of Michigan football history in Schembechler Hall. I loved seeing all of the Big Ten trophies, the national championship trophy from the 1997 season and the Little Brown Jug, the rivalry prize between Michigan and Minnesota.

I also appreciated the confidence displayed by this note in the trophy case. Gotta love it!


Big Ten Country

I love college football. To celebrate the 2011 season's kickoff, I'm featuring little snippets of fan pandemonium. Come back each day this week to see more!

michigan fan at the big house


Novel recommendations

I have discovered that I have magical powers. For example, today, I blinked and summer was gone. Ta-da! Good magic trick, huh?

This Book
School starts for me this week and I'm preparing to get back into the regular groove. But if you're lucky to have another week or two of summer vacation, maybe you want to relax with a good summer read. Here are a few of the books I enjoyed over the last few months (in addition to all seven of the Harry Potter books--whew!).

Buried Prey by John Sandford = The latest Lucas Davenport novel uses flashbacks to fill in Davenport's backstory of his law enforcement career beginnings. It's a great police thriller crafted with Sandford's usual crisp dialogue. (I can't wait for the new Virgil Flowers novel on Oct. 4, either.)

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett = Patchett released a book this summer called The State of Wonder. I decided to read her bestseller from 2008 instead. After the first chapter, I was hooked. Patchett took a premise that would generally be associated with a suspense genre--a hostage situation--and crafted it into a beautiful literary masterpiece with strong characters. The words were a pleasure to read and almost made the outcome of the story superfluous. Almost.

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson = A futuristic thriller that I literally could not put down, this book's premise is chilling, when we realize how much we rely on technology and robots. Can machines revolt and destroy humankind? Fine sci-fi escapism.

Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy = This is a thought-provoking book for young adults, telling the story of Zulaikha, a young girl in Afghanistan born with a cleft palate. Reedy deals with several complex themes, including women's rights, cultural differences and the presence of American military in the Middle East. The best part? The questions that the novel raises in the reader's mind could make an excellent springboard for an engaging discussion about world affairs.


Katie's mission

Today is my niece Katherine's 12th birthday. She's the beauty on the left in the picture below. The other two cuties are my nieces Emma (who turns 12 in two days) and Abigail (who turned 12 last month).

Kate has blossomed from a smiling, willful toddler into a thoughtful and caring young lady. Even if she weren't my niece, I would be impressed by her initiative and willingness to help others. Her recent project, For The Orphans, is nothing short of a labor of love. She is hand-crocheting dishcloths and dolls and donating all of the proceeds to an orphanage in Africa. I don't know too many 12 year olds who would have the resourcefulness and dedication to undertake such an ambitious enterprise. (When I was 12, I think I was trying to hide from my mother so she wouldn't make me weed the garden or snip the ends off green beans!) Visit her blog to learn more about her mission or to place an order.

Happy birthday, dear girl! I'm so proud of you!



There's no denying that I am a child of the 80s.
Leg warmers and rolling my jeans? Check.
Cabbage Patch Kid? Check.
Bad perms and hair crimping? Check.

It would logically follow that I'd watch classic 80s movies: E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, and of course, Star Wars. Yup, seen 'em. However, during a recent movie discussion with a friend, I said that I'd never seen Gremlins. It seems this admission revealed a serious weakness in my cultural education. We decided to remedy the situation and as the DVD was pushed into the player, I was cautiously optimistic.

But holy bad movie, It. Was. Awful. I couldn't wait for it to be over. I didn't think Gizmo was cute. It couldn't have been more predictable. The acting was incredibly cheesy. In fact, I think I offended my friend with how vehemently I hated it.

I have two questions. First, is there a "tipping point" for a movie like Gremlins? Maybe I would have liked it when I was 12 and now I have irrevocably passed that point when it could be enjoyable. Secondly, have you seen Gremlins? Am I the only person who couldn't stand it?

P.S. Here's hoping the new Muppets movie lives up to my expectations!


Best job title I've ever had: Aunt

I've held many different jobs throughout my life, but none I enjoy so much as being an aunt. I don't get paid a monetary salary, but I don't care, because the benefits are fantastic: sweet hugs, cherubic smiles and a ton of laughs. We follow the age-old contract: My siblings generously share their offspring with me and in return, I unabashedly adore their kids. It's a good deal for me. Currently, I have nine nephews and nine nieces, ranging in age from 13 to six months.

An aunt doesn't have to be the enforcer or the disciplinarian (at least most of the time). I can just bask in the glow of sweet baby smiles and gap-toothed grins. I don't have to make sure vegetables get eaten or beds get made. I share ice-cream cones and sleep on couches and sleeping bags.

When the kids spend time with me, we make crafts and watch movies. If they spend the night, I don't make them brush their teeth. I have an area in my house devoted to the nieces and nephews and toy boxes filled with old telephones, outdated purses and plastic play food.

Oh, I've had my share of mishaps. One nephew fed a long string of green mardi-gras beads down my tub drain. I've gotten peed on more times than I can count and I recall a particularly odious prune juice burp on my favorite cashmere sweater. Once, one niece took it upon herself to color the window trim. But in the grand scheme of things, it's a small price to pay.

One of my nieces had a conversation with my sister about what she was going to do when she grew up.
"I'm going to be like Aunt Jill," she said. 
"Where are you going to live?" her mother asked her.
"Oh, with you and Dad," she said.
"You do realize that Aunt Jill doesn't live with Papa and Grandma Leener, right?" was my sister's sardonic response. When my sister relayed this information to me, I laughed.

In all seriousness, it's one of the best compliments I've ever received.


Last day of school

Ahhhhh. That sound you hear is me, releasing a deep breath. Yesterday was the school picnic.

Temperature-wise, it was a cool day for May, but the sun was out in full force. I stayed on the sidelines as an observer for most of the day, watching kids of all ages revel in their anticipation of a summer free from homework. However, I did get in a game of sand volleyball. Plus, I couldn't resist the epic water balloon fight despite the crisp air. (Literature adverse students took their best shot at me, seeking revenge because Johnny Tremain was required reading for the fourth quarter!)

I discovered that it's tough to pick up balloon pieces dressed in soaking wet Levis, but the plastic confetti scraps do make a pretty picture.


Shell Answer Aunt

When I was a kid and I peppered my mother with questions, she would sometimes say, "What do I look like? The Shell Answer Man?"  I've never seen any of those old commercials from the 60s and 70s, but still, I find myself saying the phrase occasionally when I'm exasperated with a barrage of questions from a pint-sized person.

There are times when I don't mind being considered an authority on a subject. Take yesterday, for example. I received a phone call from my eight-year-old nephew Daniel.

"Aunt Jill, I have a Star Wars question. How did Padme Amidala die?"

I thought for a moment and finally arrived at this answer: "She died of a broken heart." (I know, kinda complex for a kid, but how do you say she gave up all desire of living because her husband turned to the dark side and tried choking the life out of her when she was almost nine months pregnant with twins?)

Daniel's response? "Ohhhhh. Luke (his older brother) told me she was hit by a space ice cream truck."


Block party!

Inspired by a story by Jewell Parker Rhodes, I had a block party for my seventh and eighth grade literature class. Rhodes wrote about her childhood experiences in Pittsburgh in the 1950s-60s, notably that her neighbors were "family" and how it felt to be able to call for a summer block party. The students jump roped, played jacks and hopscotch, shot baskets, hula hooped and ate vanilla ice cream drenched in punch, all to a soundtrack of 60s music like Diana Ross and the Supremes and The Temptations.

It was a great celebration of spring and a reminder of the fun of old-fashioned games.


Easter treats

For Christmas, my friend Sarah gave me a little something called a "bath candy." When I used it, I became hooked. Made by a little company called Blissful Bath in Woodbury, Minn., it was a wonderful indulgence, a fizzy, fragrant and fabulously moisturizing bit of relaxation. I decided to give Blissful Bath's fizzy cupcakes to my mom and sisters for Easter. They were so pretty, I had to take a picture. Don't they look springy?


My philanthropic week

It's easy to take some things for granted, like good health, family, friends and even my faith in God. I've noticed that when I focus on someone else, my heart is more full and life's little annoyances somehow get a little smaller. To that end, I'm helping raise money this spring for two worthy causes.

The first is the MS Walk 2011 on May 1. Multiple sclerosis affects the brain and spinal cord. People who suffer from this disease must deal with the unexpected because episodes can cause symptoms in almost any part of the body. Currently, there is no cure for MS. 

The second event is Bowl For Kids for Big Brothers Big Sisters on May 5. I can't imagine what growing up would have been like without caring adults and mentors. Every child needs that kind of support.

So, I'm asking for your help. Would you be interested in supporting one or both of these causes? I appreciate any donation (tax-deductible) to either organization. To donate by credit card, simply click on the links to be directed to the secure site. Or, you can send me a check if you're more comfortable with that.

A special thank you from me
I've created a special thank you gift for helping the cause. I designed this colorful handmade set of bottle cap magnets based on I Cor. 13 to celebrate springtime.

I will send a set to every person who donates to one of these causes by the end of April. If you're a friend I haven't met yet, please e-mail your address to me: jilltiefel-at-yahoo.com.

Plus, if you share this post via Facebook or Twitter, or on your own blog, you will be entered into a drawing to win a bulletin board made from recycled wine corks. Just add a comment and let me know you helped spread the word! Thank you!


Book sale!

Library book sales shatter my self-discipline. I have to go into the sale with a set amount of cash, sans ATM card or checkbook, otherwise the consequences would be disastrous. I can't rush through the sale either. I have to have enough time to properly look through the stacks of books or I will feel as if I missed something critical.

I am pretty excited about one of my finds at the recent library book sale: The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy. I began to peruse it and couldn't put it down. The book answered questions that I never knew I had. For example, where did the expression "the real McCoy" come from? When can one properly use the phrase "comme il faut?"

This experience reminded me of one of my favorite television shows. Unfortunately, Sports Night only ran for two seasons. The dialogue was sharp, the characters were complex and the humor was pitch perfect. In one episode, Natalie consults the dictionary to confirm the proper usage of "momentarily" and gets hooked.

Natalie: Aha!
Jeremy: What?
Natalie: According to the dictionary, "momentarily" means "both for a moment" and "in a moment."
Jeremy: Well done.
Natalie: "Monad," by the way, is "an elementary individual substance which reflects the order of the world and from which material properties are derived."
Jeremy: Thank you.
And later...
Natalie: "Monestrous" means "experiencing estrous once a year or breeding season."
Will: What's "estrous?"
Natalie: Let's find out.
Jeremy: Give me the dictionary.

Yes, I do have a dictionary-reading obsession. No, please do not schedule an intervention. At least not yet. 


Pet peeves

A student of mine wrote an article about teachers' pet peeves for the school newspaper. I shared the article idea with my family at a gathering and was surprised at the active conversation it sparked. Everyone has some pet peeves. I've noticed that we tend to think that others' pet peeves are ridiculous, yet our own seem to have merit. Would you like to poke fun at some of the lame things that aggravate me? (I've already mentioned my dislike for John Tesh's radio show.) Read on for your chance.

Tina Fey. I know, I know. How can you hate Tina Fey? I don't. I just am tired of seeing publicity shots of her with her eyes rolled. You're going to hate me for mentioning this, because now you're going to see it everywhere. It's just strange. Can't you look into the lens? How hard is that?

I love Liz Lemon

The degeneration of the English language due to texting. Ugh. When did it become so hard to actually type "how are you?" Are you really saving that much time typing "How R U" instead? I've heard it said that "LOL" is the ultimate communication filler. Don't know what to say? LOL! Want to be sarcastic? LOL! What happened to the good ol' smiley emoticon? IDK.

Cards and posters with anthropomorphic puppies and kittens. I can't help wondering what the photographer did to this kitty to get this face. There's no way this poor cat is wishing obesity on his feline friends.

Kitty Kiss

The Reply to All button. Here's the deal: this button is never properly used. According to my (non-)scientific observations, approximately 15% of people do not understand the true purpose of this button. For example, if an e-mail is sent to 50 people, eight of them will hit this button and send increasingly meaningless e-mail to the others. No one cares. Abuse. Abuse. Abuse.

What are your pet peeves?



That's the sound of the month of March, flying right by. Here I am, writing about looking forward and suddenly...boom! I'm looking back.

My March madness included:
  • A fabulous, girls-only weekend in Minneapolis/St. Paul with my mom and sisters. We relaxed, shopped, snacked and laughed. I recommend the cocktail hour and breakfast omelets at the Embassy Suites Bloomington.
  • Nathan Fillion. In my mailbox. My inner geek was ecstatic. I couldn't even compose complete sentences.
  • Spring break and a snow day in the same month! Both felt as liberating as I remembered them (and as short!). 
  • Exploring a new relationship. It's official. I'm in love with the Kindle 3G. The design is sleek and the user-experience is unparalleled. Right now I'm reading this book about the Civil War and I'm enthralled.
  • Catching up with an old friend. I have been a huge Harlan Coben fan for ages and his character Myron Bolitar is one of my all time favorites. I devoured the new novel in a day and a half.  
  • Indulging a sweet tooth. Check out the birthday cake that two of my students (Laura and Sarah) made for me.
I laughed when I saw it, but I can't argue with the philosophy on the cake. Words to live by! I hope your March madness included a little whimsy too.


Looking ahead to March

My 2011 calendar lists holidays. Of course, Easter and Christmas appear on the calendar, but I was tickled to discover some lesser known observances. I'm psyched for the coming month, where...

March 1 is Share A Smile Day
March 16 is Everything You Do Is Right Day
March 26 is Make Your Own Holiday Day

I can't wait to celebrate International Waffle Day on March 25.


I had a laugh out loud moment when I discovered that my birthday is National Panic Day.

So what are you going to do for Make Your Own Holiday Day?


Look it up!

My students are masters at finding ways to save time. (They would much rather do something other than homework. Big surprise!) For my part, I'm trying to teach them how to find answers on their own, so they frequently hear me say, "Look it up!"

This past week, I gave my fifth and sixth grade reading class an assignment to design a "wanted" poster based on a character in Elizabeth George Speare's Sign of the Beaver, the novel we're reading in class. Because I'm a stickler for detail, I checked the students' work before allowing the project to be handed in.

One student handed his poster to me. After a quick scan, I handed it back. "Sit down and proofread the poster," I said, as he sighed laboriously and hung his head. He parked himself at his desk and his eyes glazed over as he reviewed the paper. "I know I spelled bankruptcy right," he said confidently. "Are you sure?" I asked. "Maybe you should look it up." He dismissed the idea. It's too much work to get the dictionary.

After a bit, he's back up at the podium.  "Can you give me a hint? Can you, like, point at it?" I couldn't resist pointing at the paper from 18 inches away--a completely useless gesture. "Come on, you have ten minutes of class left," I said with a smile. "You can find it." My student slumped back to his desk and sat there for a few more minutes. Desperate, he tried to enlist some of his classmates to find the mistake. "There's no error!" he claimed on another trip to the podium. Finally, my student realized it might be wise to consult Noah Webster. He retrieved the dictionary and realized that "bankruptcy" does indeed have a "T" in it.

I gave him a thumbs up as I turned to the next student, an energetic girl with a ponytail. She's gesticulating wildly, complaining about the extra work I'm causing her."You are so melodramatic," I told her.  She paused long enough to ask, "What does that mean?"

"Look it up."

P.S. She did. :)


I'm not a pet person

My dear sister and her family just picked out a dog at a shelter. I suspect she didn't tell me because she knew what I would say. I'd like to think I'm open-minded, but after some reflection, I realized that, of course she would be looking for someone to reinforce her decision. She was right. That wasn't me.

Confession: I am not a "pet person." I've learned that one must be very careful about admitting this. Many people look at you like you just kicked a kitten. See, it's not that I don't like animals. I cried when I saw a large bird swoop down and carry a baby rabbit away in its mouth. I sobbed for a week when our family's cat was hit by a car when I was a child. I don't go to zoos because of the feelings of ambivalence they inspire. (I can't decide if I feel sorry for them because they are in captivity or if I feel envious because their every need is effortlessly met.)

But I can't pretend that I truly love animals or that I understand those who do. I don't like slobbery dog kisses or rambunctious canines that jump all over my dress pants and sniff wildly at me. I hate picking pet hair off my clothes and finding it covering the bottom of my socks. I dislike the smell of pet food and dog breath. And don't get me started on the amount of money that people spend on pet care. The idea that Rover needs a chiropractic adjustment or a therapeutic massage seems absurd. (I know I'm not the only one, either. Author Robert Fulghum had an essay about his feelings about dogs in It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It.)

If you're a pet lover, don't hate me. I'm NOT going to kick your dog. But I will push him away if he tries to "kiss" me.


Meeting Micah

At the birth of my most recent nephew, I reflected again on how fast time flies. Let me tell you—meeting number eighteen was just as exciting as meeting the first one. Holding that precious bundle for the first time and gazing into his big blue eyes which fill up his face, I am reminded that life truly is a miracle. I can't help but think of all that lies ahead for Micah. Welcome to the world, little one.

Micah and his two proud parents


School project

After my series on mascots, I was tickled to discover a project that one of my students did for a language assignment on photo editing. I thought it was worth sharing. (I love mascots!)


The halfway point - part 2

The local newspaper had holiday essay contest. I decided this would be a great project for the students. They disagreed, but I reminded them that composition class–like life–is not fair. I tried to provide an incentive by reminding them that the winner would receive a $50 savings bond. "What's a savings bond, Miss Tiefel?" They weren't too thrilled with the explanation, preferring crisp greenbacks in their hands. The requests to watch a movie in class continued, but I persevered with my whimsical idea that education is more important than entertainment. Winter's right around the corner...is there a glorious snow day in my future? Nope.

The finished holiday essays are sent off to the newspaper. Congrats to Joey, who took first place in her age category! The fifth and sixth graders began writing business plans in composition. To my pleased surprise, most of them loved this project so much they lobbied to skip reading class and just work on composition. Some of the seventh and eighth grade students informed me that they have formed a Miss Tiefel fan club. I am suspicious that this is a plot to manipulate me into in-class movie watching. Eau Claire receives 22 inches in a record snowfall, but this icy bounty arrives over a weekend. Foiled again. I was blown away by the amazing number of thoughtful Christmas gifts from students and parents and I enjoyed having a Christmas break for the first time since college.

All of my students began prepping for a second round of research papers for the school's history fair, which takes place in February. I began prepping myself for endless questions about sources, citations and bibliographies. We started a sci-fi unit in literature class and I decided this was the perfect time to watch a movie! They are beyond thrilled. We watch the first half of Tron. The students laugh at the 80s hairstyles and clothes. (What's so funny about that? I thought they looked awesome.) Oh, and in the longest, coldest month of the year, here's the ultimate irony: I still haven't had a snow day.


The halfway point - part 1

I spend a few hours each day sharing my life-long love for reading and writing with fifth through eighth graders. At the beginning, I couldn't imagined how I would even describe the experience, but since Friday marked the end of the second quarter, I thought I'd share an update from the first half of the school year.

The first week, the seventh and eighth grade literature class read Charles by Shirley Jackson. I spent the next two weeks hearing the students use the word "fresh" to describe impudence. I am bombarded by constant requests to watch a movie in class. I begin to wish for a snow day.

I discovered that one of the great secrets of the universe is getting students to turn in their work on time and listened to a chorus of collective groans when I assigned a research paper on a historical figure. While I had a rather loose interpretation of "historical figure" and allowed reports on Evil Knievel and Les Paul, I drew the line at Prince Poppycock. (I didn't recognize the name, but I felt pretty comfortable making that judgment call based on that fact alone.) I continue to be bombarded by constant requests to watch a movie. Is there a chill in the air?

I read some poetry with the students and during the discussion, I heard the thought expressed that "old people" should not go barefoot. When I probed for details about how old is OLD, I am chagrined to hear them say  "40." I promptly tell the students that I hope they are still going barefoot when they're 80. "Eww. Gross, Miss Tiefel." The school had a fall party with a wild west theme. I dressed up as a pioneer woman, but according to some students, I looked like a pilgrim instead. The seventh and eighth graders continue to beg to watch a movie in class. Is that a blizzard in the forecast?

Check back tomorrow for the second half of the post. :)