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I’m participating in Susannah Conway’s April Love challenge on Instagram, and today’s prompt is “five things about me.” So here goes:

  1. I have a sister who is one of my favorite people. She lives in a state of delight, getting excited about every joy. It’s captivating. I did not always want a sister, though. The whole time my mom was pregnant, I kept saying I was having a brother. I talked about it, prayed for it, dreamed about it. When a sister was born, I was flummoxed. It didn’t make sense to me. Our family already had a girl (me) so we needed a boy to make everything balance out. Gender roles were a big deal and part of my raising, so I figured a brother would have the necessary skills and traits to complement my own. So obviously I thought a mistake had been made and I wanted to speak to the manager. Offended at the audacity of God to deny my request and armed with a supreme practicality (even at the age of three), I set out to find ways to remedy this situation. I called her Tommy for the first three weeks of her life, perhaps hoping it would catch on. MeMaw told me that, if she kissed her elbow, she would turn into a boy. Excellent. Finally, an actual solution! I often snuck into her room to talk her into doing it herself. When she did not comply, I tried to help (don’t worry – no little sisters were actually harmed in the making of this story. I didn’t want to hurt her. Also, her crying would have alerted Mom to my subterfuge, so…not prudent.). But at some point, I discovered how rich life can be with a sister, and I’ve been pleased to call her mine (and also by her actual name) ever since.
  2. I grew up in a small town in the panhandle of Texas, and my parents still live on the farm there. When you grow up in an environment with a lot of narrow, rigid rules and expectations where compliance is valued over authenticity, you learn a few key skills, particularly if you do not naturally fit within those rules/expectations. I learned to pretend that I did by only revealing the aspects of my person that were deemed acceptable. As a result, to this day, it’s pretty difficult to get to know me because I walk into every social situation trying to figure out which parts of me are acceptable there. I’m getting better, but I’m still trying to work out how to turn that off. On the upside, I can get along with just about anybody. I can cheat the system.
  3. A better upside to growing up where you don’t belong is that, to make room for all that I couldn’t reveal, I developed a pretty large, pretty spectacular inner world. I have this world to thank for all the characters I’ve created and every story I’ve ever written. When I have a big decision to make, it’s a great place to walk through various potential outcomes. All my best decisions have been made there. It taught me the pleasure of my own company. It’s not a suitable substitute for actual intimacy, but it’s coming in really handy right now in the isolation
  4. Talk to me for even five minutes, and you’ll probably hear about something I’m reading.  I’ll suddenly get really animated and bouncy about it. I love books. I have a large collection, and I read 4-5 books at a time. I like choices, and this allows me to choose the one that most fits my mood or is in an audio format that allows me to knit or doodle at the same time. In addition to the books we’re discussing at my various (four…maybe five if I finish in time to join the discussion for the daytime book club at church) book clubs this month, I’m currently reading my Isabel Allende collection in the order she wrote them. I’ve read some of them before, but I’m excited about re-reading each of them when it’s their turn.
  5. I have so much yarn. On the one hand, I’m glad. I’ve been able to share some of it and also I am in zero danger of running out of things to knit (Keep Denton Warm is gonna be chock full of blankets, scarves, and hats this year. If that’s a thing we get to do. Someone, somewhere will need them. Surely.). But I thought I had it all organized last year and I just found another bag this week. *sigh* I come from a long line of yarn hoarders.

 

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Sweet note on the dry erase board in the office this week

We are finally working from home. The students no longer are answering the telephone. We are having our first Zoom meeting tomorrow morning to check in. Denton’s stay-at-home order kicks in tomorrow night. I have plenty to do here to keep me busy, as my apartment looks like a tornado hit it (yes, ’tis the season, but in this case, just a simile) and thus is in desperate need of some attention.

Also I have books. Hundreds of books.

But I also need a little structure to maintain even a little bit of a sense of well-being. I can’t be alone in my house for weeks (months?) on end with no structure.

My goal checklist that I’ve been using this year to track the progress of my resolutions has thus far been extremely helpful for helping remain calm(ish). Every day I’m home all day, I make sure I’m:

  • drinking enough water
  • practicing Spanish, either through the Duolingo app or by reading a book in Spanish while keeping the dictionary close
  • dancing, whether for just a 10-minute break or a Zumba video or an online dance class (the tap classes Chloe Arnold is hosting through Instagram? Very cathartic. Highly recommend.)
  • exercising with Pilates on demand or with something that helps me stretch/strengthen
  • playing the keyboard (currently brushing up on some theory)
  • doing at least one thing to rest or pamper myself (e.g., relaxing foot soak, face mask, nap, etc.)
  • working on a crafty/creative project (e.g., knitting, poetry, coloring, etc.)
  • picking a different small area of the apartment to clean each day
  • taking a walk (weather permitting)
  • finishing the daily to-do list (e.g., keeping up with bills, checking in with friends, etc.)

I’m also taking the free Yale course, “The Science of Well-Being”. I’m just in the introduction, but I can already tell I’m going to like it.

I knew this weekend that I needed to go ahead and put these things in place now. I had a whole weekend at home. Normally, this would delight me. A whole free weekend? Paradise. But I spent a lot of the time overwhelmed and anxious and terribly lonely, despite the fact that I had a lot of interaction online. I thought when this started that this experience would be a good test of whether or not I could really work from home, but I may need reminders that this is a whole other animal. It’s not going to give me an accurate picture of what working from home would really be like.

What adjustments are you making to make this phase of life work?

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First page of new planner. A reminder for when I forget.

I love resolutions. Even the ones I abandon halfway through the year (although I would not mind getting to a place where I don’t get all riled up about something just to fizzle out). I like looking forward and fostering hope for making new magic and dreams (and yes, a little madness). I have a lot of small goals for the year, but they all center on a few themes:

  1. Reading – I exceeded my original goal of 100 books last year (by two!), and so I’ve upped the challenge to 120 this year. I have three book clubs, because I love talking about books with people. I think it would be nice if I did that more here, too. Possible posts to look forward to are periodic recaps of what I’ve read and what I’m about to read. I really love what Brenda at Don’t Stop Believing did here, and I really adored some of the things I read in 2019, so you may see something similar around these parts soon. For this year, my focus is going to be on actually finishing the book club choices before we meet (I did this about 60% of the time last year) and reading some of the hundreds of books on my own shelves that I have squirreled away for “someday.” Someday is 2020.
  2. Writing – I finished Fishbowl in 2018…and then I edited it. Now I need to finish it again, because as it turns out, I have no problem killing my darlings. I may enjoy that too much, actually. So this year’s main writing goal is to get it ready to go to beta readers (yes, Maggie – you first)/an editor. I also have a short story project that I am working on, and I want to continue my microfictions on Ello (anyone else on Ello?). I haven’t posted there in a while, but I have a few that I should be ready to upload by the end of the month. I anticipate writing (maybe performing) something in collaboration with Spiderweb Salon this year, too.
  3. Health – I need to be better at keeping up with doctor’s appointments. Just…all of them. I’m terrible at this. That’s a big goal for the year. With my Pilates practice last year, I re-discovered how good I feel when I’m paying attention to strength and flexibility and alignment (hello again, dance!), so I want to continue to build there.
  4. Work – I want to continue to explore the next direction my work life should go. I don’t have a lot of answers here, but I have lots of advice and guidance. Sifting through all of that. We’ll see.
  5. Word of the year – I wasn’t going to have a word of the year, but then I kept seeing quotes about coming alive or being alive and every one of them made me tear up a little bit so now my word of the year is “alive” and I’m pretty enthused about it. My gut reaction for how to pursue this is through music, dance, learning new things, making beautiful things and feeding people, but I’m leaving the possibilities open. I have a short-term bucket list for the year that includes things like “read a book in Spanish with minimal need for a dictionary” and “start learning sign language” and “walk/run more miles each month”  and “brush up on music theory” and it will be fun to see how many of those I stick to. In related news, I may be in the market for a French horn or trumpet soon. You’re welcome, neighbors (but let’s be honest, you kinda have it coming).

Do you make resolutions? If so, I’d love to hear them!

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Lucky in Love

The only thing better than having a French press to myself is having someone to share it with.

What I am about to say, I say with some trepidation. *deep breath*

I want a plus one (casual applicants acceptable, especially at first). I have things on the calendar that would be more fun with someone else. Ultimately, I want to find someone to love. And I suck at finding someone to love who has the good sense to love me back. Apparently.

So I’m asking for help.

Those of you familiar with me, of course, know that this ask comes with a few asterisks.

Asterisk #1: I’m not fishing for compliments. I don’t need you to tell me how much I deserve to have someone who loves me. I have several faults, but low self-esteem is not one of them. I believe that I am a catch. I would even go so far as to say I’m a delight. But knowing I deserve love and being good at finding that love? Clearly not the same thing. I need help with the second one, not the first.

Asterisk #2: Please make sure the advice you’re giving actually worked for you before you offer it as something useful. A history of people corralling me into seemingly endless conversations like this is the exact cause of the aforementioned trepidation. I am not interested in monologues of useless platitudes that you can’t back up with your own experience. Looking for well-earned wisdom, not generic guesses.

For example, don’t give me this “You just need to get out more” nonsense.

First, I am out plenty. For as much of an introvert as I am, I am especially out plenty. Second, I can almost guarantee that I get out more than you did when you met your significant other. If you met your spouse while doing something you were going to do anyway, like school, work, church, or hanging out with friends, you don’t know how to tell me to meet my SO by going out more often. You just lucked out. All you had to do is open your eyes and say, “Hi,” to get that started.

Don’t tell me to do something I know you didn’t have to do. I can (and do…when I go out…which is plenty) find random experiments on my own, thanks.

Asterisk #3: Everyone has something to bring to the table. If you are in a happy relationship, you know something that can help me. Share, please.

If you did meet your SO by just going about your life, a way you can help is to throw some of that luck my way. Introduce me to your delightful single friends. I’m certain they’d love to meet me, too. For the record, we like being invited over (or out) for dinner. I also like dancing. And if I do start dating a fella I might want to consider making a long-term partner, I’ll be talking to you happy couples and taking notes.

Now, if you met your spouse on the internet or in a bar and you’re still happy together years later, you might be able to offer sound advice on how to meet people in casual social settings (i.e., by getting out more) and make it stick. To be clear, I’m not asking how to hook up. That’s not at all difficult, and it’s not what I’m ultimately looking for. If you managed to turn a casual meeting into a real relationship, tell me those stories. Or better yet – invite me out and be my wingman/woman.

[Asterisk #3.1: If you want to know where to start, I mostly prefer men between the ages of 35-45. Dating me may be easier if one believes in God (or maybe not – I often veer too mystical for church folk) and leans toward liberalism. Top candidates’ interests/professions may include coffee, food, wine, books, music, and dancing, but not particularly in that order.]

[Asterisk #3.2: Most of these terms are negotiable. If your adorable friend doesn’t quite fit them, inquire within. Or just invite us over and see what happens. That should be entertaining.]

Asterisk #4: Despite the impression that the existence of these multiple asterisks probably gives, I don’t want you to overthink it. Let’s all relax and have a little bit of fun with this.

[Asterisk #4.1: I recognize that you may have to remind me that this is supposed to be fun and relaxing. These are not my standard modes of operation (see behavior re: multiple asterisks).]

I’m not expecting you to fully vet the people to whom you introduce me. Correction: I fully expect that some of you will do this because you are protective and loyal and lovely friends and thus just can’t help yourselves. But do try to keep that to a minimum (the choosy part, not the friend part). The people you think I should click with and the people I actually click with may be very different people. Let me be the picky one in the scenario.

Yes, I may ultimately want to marry someone. But I’m not going into a coffee date thinking, “I wonder if they’re the one,” and I really hope they’re not thinking that, either. All I’m thinking is “Hey, someone is sitting next to me while I drink coffee! Cool.” and “I wonder if I’ll get the pour-over, the cortado, or the macchiato?” We can all just calm down and not try to rush into forever.

[Asterisk #4.2: While I can promise not to rush into relationship-y things, we all know I will not be able to stop myself from judging them based on their coffee choices. In the interest of being a good friend to them, too, maybe warn them in advance.]

Asterisk #5: The best counsel I’ve ever gotten on this subject was real advice people didn’t try to sugarcoat. I give a lot of disclaimers, but I don’t need them. Relationships get messy. Hell, even coffee can get messy. Talk about that.

[Asterisk #5.1: I recognize I have a lot of angst regarding this subject. OBVIOUSLY. Please don’t let that spook you. Even if I don’t find your advice helpful, I find your desire to help utterly terrific. And hearing me out while I vent is also terrific. So thanks for reading this far. See? You’re helping already.]

So to sum up:

  • Introduce your single friends to each other (specifically, to me). Yes, it will be awkward. But so is going to a music festival/wine walk/party/wedding where I have to impose, attaching myself like a social barnacle to others who brought their social lives with them in the form of a plus one. Unless I enjoy hanging out in the midst of a flock of people with no one to talk to (spoiler: I almost never enjoy that. At all. It’s the worst. If I wanted to be alone, I would save myself the trouble and just stay home. I already know I love the food and music there, and I can enjoy them in my pajamas.).
  • Don’t worry on my behalf about whether it’s going to work out. I already know how to overanalyze. Don’t need any assistance there.
  • Talk is great. Action is better. Do with that what you will.
  • I hear advice better over a margarita or glass of wine. Or a steak. Maybe there are appetizers involving goat cheese…but I digress…

Thanks for reading to the end. You’re good people. I like you.

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Happy

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Coffee with friends = ❤

It seems like cheating to list happiness as a core value, so I’m not going to do that. While I’m sure that there are some people who don’t value happiness, I think most people probably list “happy” as something they’d like to be or as something they enjoy being. It also seems to be what a large corner of the self-help market tries to help us achieve. I don’t know how good most of us are at getting there without work.

I just finished Gabrielle Union’s audio version of We’re Going to Need More Wine, and a line stood out to me. “When you’re in a place where you don’t know what makes you happy, it’s really easy to be an asshole.” That makes a lot of sense to me. The times it’s easiest to be mean are the times when I’m in a fog or a funk and can’t find a way to get myself out of it. So for those times, I’m just going to leave this list of things that make me happy.

  1. Having dinner with people I love. Whether I’m having friends over or being invited over as a guest or eating with family, I love sharing meals with people. I like cooking for people and seeing them enjoy it. I also like not having to cook. Feeding people and being fed may be one of my love languages.
  2. Reading. That is, most reading. Occasionally, I will trudge my way through a book that tries to eat my soul, but most of the reading I do is relaxing. Even if it’s challenging or outside my typical comfort zone, those challenges energize me.
  3. Fresh, ripe peaches. They save the day during my least favorite season. All the oppressive heat of summer is worth it when I see peaches at the farmers’ market.
  4. Doing laundry. I know it’s weird. But I find it so soothing. I think it’s the sound of the dryer. Sometimes I wait to pop the last load in the dryer until I go to bed, just so I can go to sleep to the sound. I also enjoy that the ratio of effect to effort is larger with laundry than with other chores.
  5. Seeing something beautiful when I walk into my apartment. Whether it is a vase of flowers on the table, the Christmas tree lit up, or just an uncharacteristically neat living room, it immediately puts me at peace.
  6. A wide, open sky. Wine and sunset, coffee and sunrise, country drive or road trip, rain or shine. The sky is my favorite part of nature.
  7. My dad telling stories about his dogs. It’s Dad at his most animated. I think it makes him happy, too.

What would be on your list?

 

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THE BEST DAY!!!

New Year’s Day is easily one of my top ten favorite days of the year. Maybe even top five. I love setting new goals or revising old ones. I love – if even for just a day – looking forward and being intentionally cheerful about what the year might bring. I looooove breaking in my new planner – saying my official goodbye and thank you to last year’s calendar with its scuffs and battle scars and breaking out the shiny new one.

My word for the year is “core.” I have a pretty strong sense of what is important to me and what traits I want to cultivate the most, but this year is devoted to saying those things out loud (or at least on the internet). I am going to talk more about this later this week, but by the end of the year, I want to see a marked improvement in how my core values shape my goals, commitments, and strength.

I have listed a lot of goals and dreams for the year in my 52 Lists journal, and I won’t bog you down with all of them. But here are the key ones:

  1. Read 100 books. That’s just two a week with a couple of weeks off. That’s how much I read when I am reading consistently. Reading grounds and calms me. I fall out of the habit when I over-commit to other things that leave me drained and stressed, so ideally this goal will help me do more reading and less stressing this year.
  2. Make some of these books really long ones. Specifically, I want to read Don Quixote, Infinite Jest, and Anna Karenina.
  3. Finish the first draft of Fishbowl. My hard deadline for this is June 15, so the year’s end may even find me in revision mode. But the first step is just to finish.
  4. Finish Epic Meal Planning edits. Possibly even publish?
  5. Continue learning Spanish and read at least one book in Spanish (with minimal dictionary usage) by the end of the year.
  6. Take a solitary writing retreat. Criteria: 1) outside Denton, 2) two days minimum, and 3) no Internet.
  7. Go to a coffee shop or wine bar at least once a month. Write more about coffee shops.
  8. Build up my emergency fund and get back in the habit of paying off credit cards fully every month. I’ve lapsed a little, and I don’t like it.
  9. Financial/health combo goal – actually use my gym membership regularly or cancel it. Paying for something I don’t use is ridiculous. So is being sedentary.
  10. Try at least one new recipe a month. My meal planning is in a rut. I need new ideas. Feel free to post your favorites in the comments section.

What do you want your 2018 to look like?

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A Big To-Do

Andi prompted our writing group this week to talk about lists. I am a list fiend. I love making lists. As someone who is not naturally grand at organization, lists (and extensive training from my mother, who is the list queen) have been my salvation in that area. My genes are missing that one little nugget of an otherwise pristine INTJ personality. I love anything that makes me look good at something for which I have almost no natural talent.

Many of my lists are kept on my phone. I keep a running grocery/home list of things I need so that I can grab them if I’m out and happen upon them so that I don’t have to make an extra trip later. I also keep a list of books I want to read and gift ideas for friends (also something that doesn’t come naturally to me, so I grab all the help I can get). I keep lists of story ideas and blog posts ideas. These lists have saved me from a lot of wasted time, frustration, and writer’s block, and unlike paper lists, which I will surely misplace or leave at home/work or douse with coffee, I always have them.

A few of my lists are old-school, written lists. At the beginning of every season (you can take the girl off the farm…), I make a master list of meals before I put them on my food calendar in my kitchen. Then I file it away with recipes (or notes on where I stashed the recipe online). It makes meal-planning super easy.

If I am making a special trip to the store for a specific event, I sometimes write the list out by hand. I’m not sure why. It could be nostalgia, or it could just be because I’m using my Pinterest app for ingredients and don’t want to keep flipping back over to the notes. These lists sometimes show up in my art journal, because they tell their own story. For instance, this list is for the first testing of Feast recipes.  It’s a notable moment for me. It also might be my most favorite grocery list I’ve ever made.

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Happy.

I also write out goal lists. I have yearly goals, which I divide into quarterly goals, which I divide into weekly task lists. There is something about seeing a goal written in my own writing that makes it mean more to me. It’s weightier. I can’t blame anyone else for pushing it on me. It’s mine. I can tell, because it’s written in my own scrawl. It’s more satisfying to cross them off when they’re finished, too. I used to separate writing goals and work goals and personal goals, but now I put them all in one place, which has helped me be more realistic.

Do you make lists? Are they a help or a hindrance to you?

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Every year during holiday break, I get the urge to organize. Normally, when I’m at home, it’s the house that gets the pampering. But since I’m dog sitting this week, I took the opportunity to clean up some of my email and do some paperwork and budget – things that get missed when I am at home and there are dishes to be done.

I found a great email thread of messages to myself that I forgot I had started in early summer (back when I was still teetering between Renaissance and forty as my theme for the year) of ideas about what I might want to spend my 2015 doing. Here are a few of them:

  • Finally learn Spanish
  • Run a race (5K? Half marathon?)
  • Go on ___ dates
  • Write letters
  • Send photo Christmas cards of Uncle Wallace (amazing, creepy Santa mouse) and the “kids” (ceramic mice)

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  • Embrace traditions of the women who came before me – Mom’s pies, MeMaw Sharp’s garden (herbs, since I’m currently apartment-living), MeMaw Catherall’s crochet/knitting blankets
  • Embrace my own traditions (4th of July party? Friendsgiving? Cookie party?)
  • Buy a keyboard
  • Take an art class
  • Take a cooking class
  • Buy a piece of art that moves me
  • Learn Italian or French
  • Get something pierced
  • Dance in a flash mob (or as part of some type of performance)
  • Keep flowers on the table and wine in the wine rack
  • Lose a pound for every year I’ve been alive

This series of emails also includes a pretty extensive travel list (well, extensive for me, considering that the farthest I have traveled in the last couple of years was Houston):

  • Trip by train
  • Atlanta
  • Drive up the west coast
  • Road trip – bookshop tour? Coffee shop tour? Connect-the-friends tour?
  • Writing retreats
  • Solitary retreat – perhaps somewhere beach-y?

I think all of that sounds pretty fun. It still seems to fit the year’s theme nicely.

It also sounds expensive.

I go back to work on Monday, so I’m getting my mind wrapped back around that this weekend. I don’t think I want to switch jobs just yet, so I’ve worked out a pretty intense budget that allows me to live within my current means – even during months when I don’t have my teaching paycheck – and save up some money to do some of the things on my wish list above.

Now, I don’t want to boss my word around and tell it what to do (you can’t always force these things). But you know what would be really fun, as a professional with a master’s degree and 15+ years experience in my field? To earn an income befitting a grown woman with those credentials.

I feel caught in haphazard youth. I am basically still living with the same financial restrictions I had in college. I love a good challenge, so it has been its own kind of fun, but I am beyond ready to move on.

I want an income that allows for the extravagant lifestyle to which I intend to become accustomed. And by “extravagant,” I do mean a lifestyle characterized by the ability to:

  • Pay off debts and live debt-free
  • Buy wholesome, mostly local food
  • Drink good coffee and wine
  • Donate consistently to causes close to my heart
  • Have a nice, modest home that is small enough that I don’t need outside help to keep it clean but big enough to entertain comfortably
  • Make ethical purchases (i.e., fair trade, waste-free, sweatshop-free, cruelty-free, etc.) without having to buy almost everything secondhand
  • Pamper myself with regular hair appointments and toiletries that I don’t have to make myself and that won’t give me an allergic reaction/cancer
  • Go out to eat/drink with friends once or twice a week
  • Travel.  Just ever.  Anywhere.

I – competent, educated, professional, adult woman – want to earn an income conducive to doing all these things as a matter of habit, not having to decide each payday which 2-3 get their turn that month.

That would be a lot of fun for me.

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Dwarves are very upsetting…

Yesterday, I went to see the new Into the Woods with my sister and Mel and Hope.  It was really the only way we could have seen it, since Mel and Hope were the people who introduced us to it to begin with. We giggled all the way through it, sometimes before the line was even finished. It was a great outing.

Amendment: Tammy and I totally saw the filmed version of this play in high school. We have loved it even longer than I remembered.

On the movie itself, I have some thoughts.

1. I know what was missing from my life.  Chris Pine singing Agony. It made me so happy.

2. How dare they cut out the reprise of Agony from the second act! I know the whole play is too long to do as a film.  But come on!  “There’s a dwarf standing guard?” That’s just good comedy. Imagine Chris Pine singing this:

Excellent, no?

3. I really liked Anna Kendrick as Cinderella.  She did a great job.

4. Okay.  I know I’m going to lose some people here.  Meryl Streep. She’s awesome. She’s amazing. She’s fantastic. She did a fine job – a job she should be proud of. Worth every penny.

But.

She’s no Bernadette Peters.  There.  I said it.

Let’s move on.

5. This movie really should be a sing-along.  I know at least four people who would really enjoy that.

6. Just because it’s Disney and involves fairy tales does not automatically make it a movie for children. At least, not a public movie for children. Sure, it was funny when a certain character said, “May I kiss you?” and a kid in the theatre shouted out “NO!” But there were some moments when it was really uncomfortable that the children were there. Maybe they could watch it when it comes out on video at home, where they are free to ask questions or be redirected or distracted by puppets or something when scenes come up that raise questions that parents aren’t prepared to answer yet. That’s what a parental guidance rating means – that some parental guidance might be necessary, and that’s hard to do (and terribly annoying to others who are old enough to understand the movie without it being explained to them) while whispering in a theater.

7. Speaking of moments (or whole, complete scenes) that are not necessarily child-friendly, Johnny Depp as the wolf was everything I imagined he would be.

8. I didn’t enjoy Lilla Crawford as Red Riding Hood.  She wasn’t bad, and she has a nice voice.  But…the timing or something was off.  There were some great lines that she just didn’t hit right.

All in all, I liked it, and I really love that Hope drove in for the afternoon just to see it with us. That made it spectacular. Good friends.  Good times.

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