The good kind of dizzy

I just submitted my last four assignments for my first semester of PhD level coursework and I am so unbelievably relieved to have it all behind me that I am literally just sitting here breathing in and out and feeling the tension drain from my body. I'm so overwhelmed to be done with it that I am actually dizzy.

In August I started these classes that have been really enjoyable in many ways, but demanding nonetheless. Starting your first semester as a doctoral student is, I'm told, kind of a big deal and you should probably take it easy in other areas of your life to make the transition to this level of academic rigor as smooth as possible.

That would have been peachy.

Instead, I started a new (and fabulous) job that's kind of a big freaking deal for my family. This is the fourth "new school" I've transferred to in my 15 years as an educator, and I know how the process goes with orienting to a new school. It has gone well, as it always has in my previous "lives" but it also requires an awful lot of intentional effort to build relationships with kids and colleagues. None of that has been hard, but it has been busy.

Also, we moved, and that was kind of a big huge freaking deal for my people, too. This was the third time we had listed our old home in the past few years, and we did get an offer pretty quickly but the closing process got extended a few times and that caused quite a bit of stress for us as well as the sweet folks we were buying from. By the time closing came around, The Captain was in Kenya and we decided that as his girls, we could not only handle signing papers, we could also handle moving our whole house to surprise him when he got home. That was a fun kind of stress, but still not easy. 

The new job and new house meant new schools for all three of my sweet honeybuns. We were so overwhelmingly sad to move them from their old schools because everyone loved our girls so well in our former schools. Sassafras struggled a bit at first but is now settled in nicely to her new school. Pearl took to her new place pretty quickly, and for that we are abundantly thankful. Even Sweet Love has done pretty well, though a frequent complaint is that she won't eat the food at her new school. "Eh, she'll eat when she's hungry," I say...and then whisper a silent prayer of thanks that she isn't trying to moon her class.

So, so much new. There have been a few points, at my most desperate and exhausted places, when I looked at my calendar and list of things to do, projects to complete, places we had to travel...and I thought Fall of 2016 is actually trying to murder me.

So many things that we should have taken one at a time, but that just isn't how life has rolled for us - this semester...or, who am I kidding, any semester!

We're already looking forward into the second term and making plans for more classes, more activities, more goals to achieve. For now, though, we'll just be right here breathing and feeling the good kind of dizzy and realizing that Fall of 2016 didn't kill us after all. It only made us stronger.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Queen of Katwe

One of the ways we celebrated Pearl's Adoption Day this year was to go see Disney's new Queen of Katwe. I'm just skeptic enough to be concerned when Disney gets hold of history, and we had worried just a smidge that the film might not be true to the Ugandan people and culture. It was still a Disney movie about Uganda, however, and that was enough to draw us all to the theatre.

By the way, we are more than a little irritated that there is only ONE movie theatre in all of Birmingham that is currently featuring Queen of Katwe, and even in that one theatre the viewings were rather limited. 

So after we found the one place showing the movie and got fleeced at the ticket counter/concession stand, we moseyed on to the theatre and settled in for the previews. Approximately 30 seconds later we were all looking at each other like Oh, crap. We've gone into the wrong theatre. For that trailer was a rather highly tense and scary preview for some new Halle Berry movie that is all about human trafficking and a little boy getting kidnapped from an amusement park. I mean, what in the actual what?! I was flanked by a very freaked out Sassafras and Pearl, and spent most of that 30 seconds murmuring back and forth to them to close their eyes and just ignore it, it would end soon...almost over...please God let it be over.

After it finally, mercifully ended, Sweet Love stated loudly what everybody in the theatre was thinking: Hey, 'dat was skewwy. The next few were less intense but still not exactly on par with the ratings and target audience for Queen of Katwe so we still wonder if there wasn't some mistake. 

Previews aside, Queen of Katwe is a beautiful film. It tells the story of Phiona Mutesi, a very poor girl from the slums of Katwe (outside Kampala, the capital city of Uganda), who becomes a chess champion despite tremendously difficult circumstances. That story of triumph over adversity is a common theme in both modern and classic screenplays, but there are two specific and unique points found within Katwe: one is the painstaking precision in capturing so many of the nuances of the Ugandan culture and the other is the focus on the quiet strength of women in Uganda. 

As early in as the opening frame, Queen of Katwe felt and sounded exactly like the Uganda within which we have spent so much time. The markets, the red clay, the boda bodas, the wooden and metal shanties, the pop-up stalls, the street vendors, the achingly familiar dialect and vocal inflections of the actors, even the cups and bowls from which the children bathe as well as take their meals. The jackfruit, Lake Victoria, whole fried fish, chapati cooking on a rusty grease table, one government official promising to get back to one of the characters "right away," which actually meant 2-3 years later, the way the women cluck and hum in expression, the way they say "clothes" (clo-thez) and "died" (di-ehd)... It is all just so...Uganda. And I loved how authentic the movie was in that regard. 

I also value how much Queen of Katwe takes the viewer into every part of Ugandan culture for women, including the normality within which a woman loses her husband, home, and even children. That's a tragedy, but in many parts of Uganda (Katwe included), tragedy isn't really anything all that special. Tragedy is just a regular Tuesday for many Ugandans.

This film also refuses to shy away from the escapism that tempts many women into following what often turns out to be a path that perpetuates their situational poverty and continues the cycle for their children. Lupita Nyong'o, who plays the role of Phiona's mother, does so masterfully and with spot-on perfection to communicating the ongoing plight of many mothers in Uganda who work unbelievably hard to feed their children and retain their integrity. Almost every scene with Lupita felt intense in some way, and every scene that brought me to tears was hers. I have met these women - the moms of kids like Phiona. I've met them in a Ugandan prison. I've met them in orphanages. And in guest houses and hotels. I've met them in remote villages and within government houses and church services. I've met them in hospitals. Women like Phiona's mother are many, and I loved that Disney allowed such a refreshingly honest look at strong females - although the fact that the movie was directed by a strong female likely plays the biggest part in that - without sugarcoating the difficulty of their life. 

There are several other details I am eager to cover but for the sake of being concise, I'll end with this: One of the most right things Disney took in Queen of Katwe was to cast so many Ugandan actors. Their natural talent and easy replication of reality for Phiona and her family/friends is the pixie dust that made this movie work.

As for Pearl? She loved Queen of Katwe, though it did dredge up all kinds of Big Feelings for her. She needed some cuddle time after we got home and wanted to talk about the two most intense scenes in the movie as well as how she felt about seeing and hearing some very real parts of this special nation. It's another tool she can use to relate to her story, and if for no other reason, for that we are eternally grateful that Disney did such a thorough job on this film

For more information about Queen of Katwe, check out these resources:


Life in the Wilson Wild

Team Wilson tends to operate somewhere between Busy and Really Busy. We don't intend for it to be that way, but we (generally speaking) are a family who likes to say "yes" to things. We want to make the most of this one life, and we like new experiences and opportunities and adventures. That makes us our life full in so many wonderful ways and it helps our kids feel brave in trying new things as well. 

But y' the past few months we kicked it up a few notches and are now running what could only be classified as Insanely-Threat-Level-Midnight-Busy. It's almost comical, really. Let me see if I can break it down...

Over the summer, I was honored to be offered a position at what has to be the most incredible school in the nation. It is a breathtakingly beautiful new building filled with precious teenagers and led by a team of the most phenomenal teachers and administrators. It is a place well stocked with cutting edge technologies and receives ample support from the community. It is a dream world, and I still can't believe that I get to be a part of it. The first two weeks I teared up every single day I walked in the building, thanking the Lord in Heaven for providing me the opportunity to use my unique skills within this beautiful, peaceful, and positive place. It is an absolute delight to go to work. I miss my former students and teacher buds so much, but I am so thankful for this opportunity and I hope I never lose that feeling of gratitude. 

That wonderfulness led to transferring Sassafras and Pearl into new schools as well. Our "first day" this year was a mighty big one, and everyone was more than a little nervous. True to form, though, this sweet community has already wrapped its arms around my babies and finding ways to make them feel welcomed and loved. 

Matt and I believe that this place is where we are supposed to raise our little chitlins, so we set out immediately to work on getting the girls plugged in to extracurriculars in the city as well as listing our house on the market - our third time in the past four years. We endured many showings and the stress of constant high level house maintenance...but after about 6 weeks we had not one but two offers on our house! 

We wanted to avoid a gap in closings, so that led to a fast-and-furious search for a new house in our new community. Thankfully, we were led to a beautiful new home that has almost everything we have ever wanted in a house, and it's there we hope to stay for a good, long while. The kids are beyond excited and we already have boxes everywhere in anticipation of the move. 

The house selling and purchasing process has been relatively smooth, but we have hit a snag with our buyer that has caused some continual delays. The sale will still go through, it has just been hard to pin down the date as of yet...which has caused an unspeakable amount of stress on our daily lives and has led to many 15+ hour days away from home. We started out looking at this as, "Hey, we're Wilsons...we can do hard things!" <insert eye roll> And now we're like "GOD, HAVE MERCY. MAKE IT STOP!" 

So, we wait for closings, and we continue to hike up the steep learning curve of figuring out the cultures and policies of three new schools for our kids (soon to add a fourth with Sweet Love's new school), and in the midst of all that? 

You guys. I got accepted to a doctoral program. 

I know, right? New job, two new schools for kids, new city, moving to a new house...why not start graduate school? I applied to this program MONTHS ago (way back before the amazing new job was even a possibility), so while the timing is interesting, I'm so excited about these classes and the program experience as a whole. It is an entire degree in research on instructional leadership and technology and I'm not sure if we've ever had this conversation but RESEARCH IS MY JAM.  

We're happy. We're thankful. We know that all of these are good, good, happy things. But even for us, the family that is used to cooking on all burners simultaneously, we are at capacity. The Captain's work-related travels have picked up a bit the last few months, and most of those weeks I feel like it's only by the grace of God and the help from Gran, Pop, and Whitney that we are even making it at all. I can't tell you how many times I've dropped the ball lately. I missed one of the girls' pickups by 25 minutes one day. I forgot to make the turn and drop my kids off at school/the bus stop another day. I bought $50 worth of pre-cooked frozen meals from a local caterer last Friday AND I LEFT THEM IN THE VAN FOR TWO DAYS. Two very hot, very stinky days. My swagger wagon may never be the same, y'all, and I've considered punishing myself for wasting the $50 by eating crackers for lunch every day. Even my typically on-top-of-things Sassypants has forgotten to study for two tests, and every one of us is basically laying on the floor right now holding up a sign that says "WE CANNOT EVEN."  

Except Sweet Love. That little rascal is sitting on us eating chocolate ice cream.



Go see the Avatar Cirque du Soleil Show!

The Captain and I had a blast last night at the Avatar Cirque du Soleil show in Birmingham!

The thing about this show is, it’s great from the Cirque du Soleil side as the performers are insanely talented flippers, jumpers, jugglers, and acrobats. So even if you don’t know a thing about the Avatar movie, it’s still a fantastic show. But it’s also super cool from the Avatar perspective because the costumes, makeup, and setting are perfect for the Na’Vi of Pandora, and the storyline involving multiple tribes of the Na’Vi people was compelling. The blend of these two worlds makes the Toruk show really unique.

My Avatar nerdiness reached epic levels. I’ll spare you the bulk of it here (but if you wanna gab about it, I AM YOUR PERSON), but the general gist is that the blue people are the Na’Vi. They live in a moon-world called Pandora. The Na’vi are made up of many tribes or clans, our favorite being the Omaticaya (the tribe from the movie Avatar). What’s unique about this Cirque du Soleil show is that it brings in the Omaticaya but also introduces the audience to several other tribes - the Tawkami, Anurai, Tipani, and Kekunan - all of whom have unique talents highlighted as part of the story.

It’s in Birmingham for this weekend only, so grab some tickets and squeeze it in. You won’t regret it!

I’m including a far better description of the show, cut from the promotional kit (and sharing here with permission).

“TORUK – The First Flight is a live immersive multimedia spectacle that brings to the stage the breathtaking world of James Cameron’s AVATAR like you have never seen it before. Through a riveting fusion of cutting-edge visuals, puppetry and stagecraft buoyed by a soaring cinematic score, Cirque du Soleil applies its unique signature style to James Cameron’s imaginary world and 'makes the bond' between two kindred artistic visions that capture the imagination.

This live immersive experience also bears the distinct signature of directors and multimedia innovators Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon. It is a living ode to the Na’vi’s symbiotic coexistence with nature and their belief in the basic interconnectedness of all living things.Narrated by a “Na’vi Storyteller” and populated by unforgettable characters, TORUK –The First Flight is a mythical tale set thousands of years before the events depicted in the film AVATAR, and before any humans ever set foot on Pandora.

When a natural catastrophe threatens to destroy the sacred Tree of Souls, Ralu and Entu, two Omaticaya boys on the brink of adulthood, fearlessly decide to take matters into their own hands. Upon learning that Toruk can help them save the Tree of Souls, they set out, together with their newfound friend Tsyal, on a quest high up in the Floating Mountains to find the mighty red and orange predator that rules the Pandoran sky. Prophecy is fulfilled when a pure soul rises among the clans to ride Toruk for the first time and save the Na’vi from a terrible fate.”

The tech-side of it was also highly fascinating to me! It’s truly a visually dynamic combination of technology, light, and color, and the inclusion of audience members’ smartphones as part of the show is a pretty cool idea as well.

“Total projection surface, excluding projections that reach out into the audience, is approximately 20,000 square feet, more than five times the size of a standard IMAX screen: 12,750 for the stage, 3,600 for the two lateral screens, and another 3,600 for the two columns of Hometree. There are 40 video projectors in all: half are 30,000-lumen each, the other half, 20,000-lumen. 22 video projectors are used for projections on the ground; 6 projectors send video images on Hometree; 2 projectors are dedicated to the two lateral screens; and 8 projectors are used for immersive projections into the audience.”

Every detail is carefully crafted to ensure an immersive and exciting experience. We absolutely loved every second of it, and I hope you’ll make plans to go see Cirque du Soleil Avatar Toruk today or tomorrow!

Cirque du Soleil, Avatar-style, is coming to Birmingham!

One of the very few movies we actually own that doesn't have "Disney" plastered on the cover, Avatar is one of my all-time favorite films. The setting is surprising and visually rich, and the plot is heavily mixed with the full range of man vs. man, self, and nature conflicts. There is a unique blend of science fiction with that all-too-familiar historical scenario of a native group's homeland being targeted by invaders...and oh, there's also some romance, too. Avatar is an underestimated and intricate movie that I count as a favorite, and I will go to my grave believing that Stephen Lang was robbed of an MTV Movie Award for Best Villain in it. Seriously, that last fight scene?! James Cameron is a genius.

Recently while scooting through downtown Birmingham, I noticed an Avatar billboard. Those blue Na'Vi people will just jump right out at you. As it turns out, Cirque du Soleil has this whole big Avatar-themed show! Called TORUK - The First Flight, audience members are immersed in the land of Pandora in a performance based on the first flight of the toruk, which is the gigantic dragon-like creatures with whom the native Na'Vi people must bond before taking flight throughout the floating mountains.

 My brain can't even sort out how they're gonna pull this off at the BJCC, but these three things I know for sure:

1. It is going to be fabulous.
2. I am so going to be there.
3. I want you to see it, too!

I've been given 4 free tickets to give away to the opening night of Cirque du Soleil's TORUK! They're good for Friday, August 19th (show time is at 7:30pm and it is considered family-friendly).

To enter, comment below for an entry in the random drawing. Just tell me why you want these tickets and who you'll take if you win.

This is a value of over $130, folks! The giveaway will end at 5:00pm on Wednesday, August 17th, and I'll post the winner shortly thereafter. Check back next Wednesday to see if you're the winner!

And if you're just not patient enough to wait til Wednesday, go here to buy your tickets now.