Saturday, August 31, 2013

Happiness Happens

This August marks the 14th anniversary of the first Happiness Happens Month. Yes, there is a society of people so bent on spreading happiness, they worked to give it it's own month. It started with just a day, August 8, 1999, and grew to the entire month in 2000. They even categorized "31 Types of Happiness" that one might experience during a month, from "Joyful" to "Content" to "Spiritual" to "Balanced" --I was skeptical at first, but I have to admit happiness does cover a multitude of more specific emotions.

I think I experienced most, if not all 31 this past month. It's hard to believe I was in Colorado at the beginning of August, it seems like such a long time ago. I've done a lot since then, but mostly I've worked -- M is back from camp, school is starting, and while the days are growing shorter, my own days have gotten longer with added hours of Spanish practice, reading, and adjusting to several additional temporary roommates.

In all the chaos, it's funny what I did manage to accomplish on this month's How To Be Happy list--there were some very specific things that I coincidentally did, not because I saw them on the list, but because they were in my plans to do all along. That being said, I missed the mark on many of these, and several I don't see myself doing any time soon.

  1. Start a collection. I've started collecting roommates. I'm up to four.
  2. Form a mastermind group. I have no idea what this means, but I think with five people living here we are close to a mastermind group.
  3. Think about something you wanted and got. This reminds me of that episode of Parks & Recreation when Donna and Tom celebrate "Treat Yo' Self" Day. I want it? I got it.
  4. Read at least two books on the same subject. All day every day.
  5. Write your own obituary. Nope, did not do.
  6. Go fishing. Also a no-go. 
  7. Visit a farmers' market. Technically we went on July 31, but Jesus and I did go to a farmers' market in Boulder.
  8. Kid someone. I kid myself most days.
  9. Make your own ice cream/yogurt. I'm not ready to be that crafty.
  10. Observe a construction site. Check. There was a lot of construction going on in Boulder right by where we were staying, so we passed it every day.
  11. Attend a rehearsal. I want to say I've done this, but I can't think of a time I watched someone rehearse for something this month.
  12. Spend time in a bookstore. This I can say I've done on several occasions, both at chain and independent stores.
  13. Attend a service of a different faith. During my MercyWorks year I remember attending several different services, but I haven't explored recently.
  14. Visit a factory. Yes! I toured a tea factory in Boulder.
  15. Release your frustration physically. Biking is my physical outlet, and I have used frustration to power me up hills and help me make green lights.
  16. Make a tape for a friend or relative. I've never made a tape for anyone. I've made CDs, but not since high school I think. I did recently play DJ during a car ride.
  17. Go on a bike ride. Yep.
  18. Get together with old coworkers. The majority of the times I get together with people, they are old coworkers. That's what happens when all your friends are people you've worked with.
  19. Start a garden. ...Or finish? It's August, ain't nobody starting gardens now. And after last week's heat wave, my garden is definitely finished.
  20. Clean out your computer files. Done! Well, getting done. I'm cleaning out my old computer and getting all my documents, pictures, and music transferred to my new one or to flash drives.
  21. Take a train ride. An L train ride?
  22. Deepen your intuition. I don't know how to begin doing this. Meditation, I guess. Journaling, breathing, cultivating awareness--things I do on occasion.
  23. Get your shoes shined. At the airport? I don't think I even own shoes that would need shining.
  24. Spend a whole day people watching. Check.
  25. Attend an amusement park, fair, or circus. I haven't done this yet, but the plan is to go to the Renaissance Fair on Monday. Technically in September.
  26. Conduct a science experiment. Ummm...I might have done this? Not officially, but I do clean with vinegar and baking soda, and that's classic science.
  27. Cuddle with someone. I have four roommates and a boyfriend; there are always cuddles at my house.
  28. Get your resume together. I did this sort of recently, and nothing new has happened since then, job or education-wise.
  29. Look for signs of fall. Heat indexes over 100 degrees? Thunder, rain, hail? That's what we've had the past few days. No fall yet.
  30. Do a puzzle. I have a sudoku app on my iPod and I like to time myself on the expert level. I've gotten pretty okay at them.
  31. Ask for a raise. I don't know if I have the kind of job where one can ask for raises. Also, I don't necessarily need a raise. What I need is health insurance and a retirement plan.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

La Tarea

Yesterday marked the beginning of the CPS school year. Private schools have another week of summer, but then they'll be back too. M already has homework assigned in three classes, due on his first day back. I'm in my third week of Spanish classes, and deep in homework mode.

Each week we watch another few episodes of our Spanish-language soap opera, Destinos. So far we've learned that Don Fernando vive en Mexico City, tiene quatro hijos, su esposa estรก muerta, and ... he had another wife back in Spain during the Spanish Civil War who may or may not still be alive and was pregnant when he left Spain under the assumption that she had died in the bombing at Guernica.

Things are getting pretty intense on the telenovela front.

I've given myself extra homework for the class as well. Since it's the second level class and we skipped over all the beginner stuff, I'm doing that on my own as review. I remember most things, or parts of most things, which gives me confidence that this isn't a total waste of 8 weeks and a Groupon.

My final personal homework is conversations with mi amiga, Becca, who just got back from Ecuador, where she learned lots of Spanish, and with mi novio, Jesus, who grew up speaking both Spanish and English. Mi hermana, Bailey, also helps with my conversations and teaches me new phrases to try out. I'm lucky to have so many opportunities to practice and a variety of teachers, each with unique experiences.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Namesake

How do you feel about your name? Do you love it, hate it, tolerate it? Have you all but replaced it with a nickname? Jhumpa Lahiri's first novel, The Namesake, follows the life/lives of the Ganguli family. It begins with Ashoke and Ashima, new to America from Calcutta, pregnant with their firstborn, trying to find a balance between assimilation and preserving their Indian rituals and traditions.

Enter their son, Gogol, named after Nikolai Gogol, the Russian author Ashoke is fond of. The story then focuses on him, his childhood as an American-born Indian, and his embarrassment of his name, his parents, and his heritage. We follow Gogol through high school, into college, and as he moves to New York to work. We learn of the girls he loves, the girls he likes, and the girls who in turn love and don't love him back.

This story wasn't particularly fast-paced, but I found myself spending hours immersed in the lives of the Gangulis. Lahiri has a way with words and with creating real characters who I felt invested in. I teared up several times while reading, but I laughed some too. This story was intimate, elegantly written, and on the whole, a beautiful tale of how our names define us and we define our names.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Infinite Reading

Right now I'm reading a book described in the foreword as "Holy shit." It's called Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace, and it's a book I heard about as an English major, but was never required to read. At 1,079 pages (including footnotes), it also serves as a great doorstop. The author of the foreword (Dave Eggers, one of my very favorite authors ever...and I mean I even read this foreword twice because I love his style that much) guesses that the average age of this book's reader is 25, so I feel like I'm in a good place to pick it up and see if I can make it through.

I'll just quote the foreword again to try to explain what this book is and why it's important that I'm trying to read it now:

"...make no mistake that Infinite Jest is something other. That is, it bears little resemblance to anything before it, and comparisons to anything since are desperate and hollow...."

"This book is like a spaceship with no recognizable components, no rivets or bolts, no entry points, no way to take it apart. It is very shiny, and it has no discernible flaws. If you could somehow smash it into smaller pieces, there would certainly be no way to put it back together again. It simply is. Page by page, line by line, it is probably the strangest, most distinctive, and most involved work of fiction by an American in the last twenty years. At no time while reading Infinite Jest are you unaware that this is a work of complete obsession, of a stretching of the mind of a young writer to the point of, we assume, near madness."

"It demands your full attention....yet the time spent in this book, in this world of language, is absolutely rewarded. When you exit these pages after that month of reading, you are a better person. It's insane, but also hard to deny. Your brain is stronger because it's been given a monthlong workout, and more importantly, your heart is sturdier, for there has scarcely been written a more moving account of desperation, depression, addiction, generational stasis and yearning, or the obsession with human expectations, with artistic and athletic and intellectual possibility."

When asked if he thinks it is our duty to read Infinite Jest, Eggers responds, "Maybe. Sort of. Probably, in some way. If we think it's our duty to read this book, it's because we're interested in genius. We're interested in epic writerly ambition. We're fascinated with what can be made by a person with enough time and focus and caffeine..."

So. This book is immense. It's unlike other things I've read. It boggles my mind. But: I'm interested in genius and ambition. I want to read this book for the same reasons I want to read most of the books I've read. I'm fascinated by what we humans are capable of creating. If I'm not blogging as much as normal, it's because I'm still deep in this book, working out my brain.

Friday, August 16, 2013


About a month ago, Netflix dropped an entire season of a new original series called Orange is the New Black. I heard about it from several comedians I follow on Twitter and obsessively watched all 13 episodes in one week. It's shocking, bordering on graphic, endearing, and clever. I bothered my roommates and friends to watch it so I could discuss the story with them. Then I found out the series was inspired by a memoir of the same name.

Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison, by Piper Kerman, details the author's life in a minimum security facility. She is doing time for a decade-old crime: she carried drug money (not drugs), once. As an educated, employed, drug-free, first-time offender, Kerman initially felt she was different than many of her fellow inmates--but "on the inside" she realizes she's not.

Kerman's description of her experience in the federal penitentiary system was, like its TV series counterpart, clever and shocking. It was also heartbreaking, angering, enlightening, and a thrill to read. The women she spent that year of her life with range in age, race, religion, crime, and life outlook, but somehow they all survive and form a makeshift community. Kerman learns the rules, mostly unwritten, and figures out the rituals of prison life, the ways the inmates have of normalizing their break from reality.

I think all of us can agree that our nation's criminal justice system is outdated, broken, and unjust. Kerman's memoir gives faces to the thousands of faceless inmates who shuffle in and out of this system daily, weekly, and yearly. While she can only tell her story, she introduces us to the women (and men) she meets during her time. She shows us real people doing real time for crimes that may or may not be real. Certainly there are "criminals" in prisons across the country, but there are also people only guilty of "wrong place, wrong time" ...or wrong race, living in the wrong neighborhood, and having the wrong childhood.

Kerman is lucky enough to have a support system, a solid lawyer, and even a job, held for when she is released (and she repeats this several times, which I found not braggy, but explicative--I think she wants the reader to know that she knows she could have had it so much worse in prison, but because of her background, she doesn't), but most inmates don't have any of these things. They left one shitty situation for another shitty situation. There are so many issues we could get into, but this is a post about a book, not about the failures of our prison system. Just go read this book, go research criminology, go be appreciative about your luck in life.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Multilingual Connections

Last night I began a new adventure. For the next two months, I'm taking a night class to improve my Spanish. Multilingual Connections offers many language courses at all levels, and Spanish Beginner II seems to be a good fit.

For our first class, we reviewed the basics and things we learned way back in high school. Our teacher is Guatemalan and very friendly, encouraging our small class (6 students, all women between the ages of 25 and 60) to speak out loud with her and to our partners. 

One of our activities last night involved a dialogue (in Spanish) to learn why each of us was taking the class. Reasons ranged from a love of continuing education to wanting to converse better with in-laws to improving confidence in speaking a second language. 

I'm excited to have something other than work going on in my life, especially since all my roommates are in the process of going back to school (for teaching and learning). Our homework is to watch two episodes of a Spanish language soap opera, so that's pretty exciting too. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Korean Festival

On Sunday, Jesus, Bailey, and I went to Chicago's Korean Festival. Much like all the other ethnic/heritage festivals in the city, it featured music, food, and traditional events. I know very little about Korea (both North and South), but after an afternoon of eating kimchi and watching ssireum and breaking, I feel slightly more cultured.

This festival also took us to a neighborhood I would normally never visit/see. North Park is north and west of where I live/work, essentially closer to the airport than to me. I like that even after three years of living here, I'm still discovering entire neighborhoods and adding to my knowledge of the city.



One of the bboys from Milwaukee

Bboy competition

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film

I'm not a film editor, but I learned so much by reading The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film. This is a book for film lovers, definitely, but also for writers, artists, and storytellers in general. Broken down into four separate conversations that the author (Michael Ondaatje, also the author of The English Patient) had with Walter Murch, this book touches on subjects directly relating to film editing (timing, sound effects, music, technology) and on subjects that any creative person will appreciate (the art and science of revision, the sound of an environment).

I've only seen several of the movies that Murch worked on, but his explanations of editing techniques still fascinated me. If he is known at all, it is most likely through his connection to Francis Ford Coppola and his work on The Godfather (and The Godfather, Part II and The Godfather, Part III), Apocalypse Now, and The English Patient (this last one directed by Anthony Minghella). These are now on my list to see.

I should mention that while I'm also not a film student, I did take one class on film and literature in college. It was my English capstone, so it was an important class, and one of my favorites. This book would fit perfect on that course's syllabus. For my capstone paper I wrote a short script, and having Murch's theories and philosophies at my fingertips would have improved my writing. Luckily, Murch and I are all about editing, so I will be taking what I've now learned and going back to play with what I wrote over three years ago.

As a writer, I appreciate Murch's love of the editing process. Many film editing techniques apply to writing as well--storytelling is storytelling. I also liked his discussion of translating a book to film: they are different mediums, so of course they are going to be different stories. Murch says a responsible director/screenwriter will find the essential theme of a novel and figure out how to represent that on screen. He also said that short stories translate to film better because they are more compact. As a lover (and sometimes writer) of short stories, this makes me happy.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

We're In Trouble

Another week, another collection of sad short stories. We're In Trouble by Christopher Coake was somber, moving, and more than once brought tears to my eyes. I don't know why I'm in a sad story phase, but they've been solid reads.

All of the stories in this collection have to do with loss and love and what people will do when faced with the death of a loved one. While this theme unites them all, the individual stories are worlds apart. From a married couple's actions and reactions to the husband's terminal cancer, to a father and son taking a road trip, as told by both of them plus an outside observer, to a small town sheriff dealing with the consequences of his friend's murder-suicide, all the stories in this collection tug deep down and play with a myriad of emotions.

I related to some of the stories, and the relationships therein, while others left me wondering how the characters did what they did--what they had to do--to be true to themselves and their loved ones. For a book that will transport you to other places and times, to mountain peaks and abandoned cabins in the woods, to love lost and love strengthened, look no further than We're In Trouble.

Monday, August 5, 2013


I did a lot of things on my birthday this year that I didn't even realize I wanted to do. For starters, I watched Shark Week. On a plane. As we flew through a storm. If you think thunderstorms are exciting and beautiful, catch one from above--the lightning in the clouds is both scary and majestic.

On the down side, because we were flying east, I only had a 23-hour birthday this year. I plan on making it up to myself by celebrating for the rest of the week. If sharks get the whole week, so do I.

I just checked my bucket list from last year, and I actually managed to do almost everything on it:

Replace watch battery and try out life as a watch-wearer : Did not complete. I still have my watch. The battery is still dead. Instead of becoming more aware of time I frequently separate myself from all clocks. I've nearly stopped using alarms in the morning. These things are okay with me.
Put loose pictures in frames or albums : Check. Now for my 25 bucket list, print out all (or most) of the pictures I have saved on my computer and on flash drives, then put those in albums.
Hang picture frames : Check.
Install curtains (Check! Did it today.) : Alright, so that was a freebie last year--I did it before making the list. This year we want to change the color scheme of our common areas, so we are looking for blue curtains.
Read about writing : Check. I even bought several books about writing, so I can read whenever I want.
Write : Check. I've reinvested in this blog, letting it shape itself. I have several pet projects I work on for fun. I wrote nearly every day last week while on vacation.
Turn the volume down on my inner critic : Possibly check. I've realized I may have more than one inner critic, and their tactics are different. I've come a long way in learning the cycles of criticism my body goes through, so we're getting there.
Arts and Crafts: Check.
Travel out of the country : Check. Also checked: travel to a new state.
Find my signature shade of lipstick : Did not complete. I'm an eye girl. I play up my intense blues; who cares about my lips?
Get a new laptop : Check.
Host a murder mystery party : Check times two. Next on the list, create our own murder mystery party from scratch.

What do I want to accomplish in the next year? I want to keep doing what I'm doing--traveling, reading, writing, exploring--along with several other things:

  • Get bangs. It's time.
  • Trick out my bike. Like with a chain that isn't nearly rusted through, maybe a milk crate and some bungee cords.
  • Find health insurance. I'm almost 26, time to figure these things out.
  • Be charitable. I want to support things that I support.
  • Go camping or road tripping or just go big and jump trains.
  • Think about going back to school ( steps).
  • Learn/improve my Spanish. I'm already enrolled in a beginner's class, here's hoping I retain something.
  • Surround myself with love.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Colorado Parkour National Jam/Apex Movement Invitational

How many people go on vacation with their significant other, then spend their days alone, having two separate vacations? Jesus and I certainly do. The whole reason we came out here was for the national parkour jam happening here this weekend, and so Jesus could take a coaching certification class. The fact that the event began on his birthday and ends on mine seemed to signify to us that we needed to come.

I've enjoyed my personal time during the day while Jesus has class. We meet up for lunch and have the evenings to ourselves. Usually this means searching out new places to eat or walking to the Y for a drop-in shower. Last night, though, we stayed at the gym to watch the Apex Movement Invitational--a parkour competition that included several obstacle courses and physical challenges. The gym--a huge warehouse filled with wooden structures, rails, tumbling mats, ledges, and more--was just built, so many of the competitors aren't yet familiar with all the obstacles.

About 20 traceurs competed, each running the initial obstacle course twice. Their fastest time was scored and the bottom seven were eliminated. Because there are so many aspects of parkour, no course run was the same. Each competitor put their own unique spin on it, making sure to hit the required marks. We spectators sat back in awe at the speed, grace, and heights the competitors reached.

After the primary obstacle course came the challenges. Competitors had 20 minutes to complete 5 challenges ranging from jumping from rail to rail, swinging from rail to rail and landing on another rail, and jumping from one platform to another. In these challenges, the floor was "lava" and touching down meant points were taken away.

Last came the final obstacle course, filled with heights and army crawls, leaps and feats of balance. The competitors got two runs again, but by the end of the night their exhaustion showed. Still, they broke personal records, the quickest run clocking in at just over 22 seconds.

What I enjoyed was the camaraderie and good sportsmanship--every completed course got loud cheers and any special stunts the competitors pulled off were met with loud shouts and whistles. The competitors themselves were each others biggest cheerleaders, giving hugs as they finished. When anyone had difficulties on the course, the entire gym started clapping and encouraging them. At one point, a competitor scratched, meaning she wouldn't place. She still wanted to finish the course, especially its huge jump to the final platform, one that required a crash mat on the ground below because of its height and difficulty. She paused to catch her breath and the crowd started cheering her on. She went for it--and made it. The whole gym erupted in cheers. Even I wanted to run up and hug her.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Celestial Seasonings

Yes, it's true: I've had two free cups of coffee so far in Colorado. Also true: one free cup of tea, along with a tour of the factory that makes it. Celestial Seasonings is a tea company from Boulder--and Boulder only. There is only one Celestial Seasonings tea factory in the world, and there they make enough tea to brew over 1.6 million cups of tea per year.

After several samplings, our eager tour guides showed us the entire production line--from cutting and mixing the herbs to packaging to storage. I learned a lot about tea, like the differences between white, green, and black (part of the plant, how the leaf is processed/not processed), and the fact that "decaffeinated tea" isn't really tea, it's an herbal blend. The storage area smelled of hibiscus, lemongrass, and camomile--it was amazing.

All of their teas/herbal mixtures are taste tested by "Charlie," apparently a real person who has been working their for Celestial Seasonings since the early 70s. He can take one sip of tea and tell you what's in it, where the ingredients are from, and if the tea tastes the same as always. He's the guy who makes sure every batch of tea you buy tastes how it's supposed to and I have no idea what they will do when he dies/retires, although if he is drinking cups and cups of tea every day, maybe they don't have to worry about that for a while.

Next came the mint room. Though my eyes didn't water, the mint was powerful enough to give me fresh breath after a few minutes of breathing it in. They have to store the mint in a separate room, completely sealed off from everything else, or all their teas would taste like toothpaste. I found it therapeutic to breathe deeply and let the tour guides teach me about the tea-making process.

The production line wasn't huge--they only have three lines, and in the slower summer season they weren't even all operating. We weren't allowed to take pictures, in case we were spies from Lipton or Bigelow, but imagine a conveyor belt with tea boxes lined on it. Machines fill the boxes with tea bags, seal them, box them and wrap them in plastic until they are ready for delivery to your local grocery store. If all three lines are running 24-hours (which they do in the high season), Celestial Seasonings can put out 10 million tea bags per day.

We exited through the gift shop, mostly filled with their teas and some kitschy tea accessories. After learning about their process and several of their lesser known varieties, I want to try a few when I get back home. They are most well known for their Sleepytime teas, but they also have a Sleepytime Extra with valerian root, which isn't recommended for kids or pregnant women. We also got a sample of tea to take with us--True Blueberry--which our guide said is good hot or cold...or as a flavoring when making blueberry pancakes. Sounds like I have a new recipe.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Boulder Public Library/Farmer's Market

Today I'm seeking shelter from the rain in the public library. It's been hot all week, so the rain is welcome--and gorgeous. Boulder gets a lot of sun, over 300 days a year on average, since the mountains usually block most of the precipitation. I'm guessing when it rains, it pours, if the current weather is anything to go by. It's been falling solid for half an hour with no sign of letting up.

Boulder Creek
No matter, Boulder Public Library is large and beautiful. They have free wifi, plenty of tables and electric outlets, and my view is awesome. The building is split into two parts: library and art museum. A walkway between the two runs over Boulder Creek, where people were fishing and inner tubing before the rain started.

Last night, Jesus and I walked around the Boulder Farmer's Market. It's a lot smaller than Madison's (though we heard the Saturday market is bigger than the Wednesday market), but still filled with fruit vendors, people selling granola, organic baked goods, homemade wares, and even shakes and smoothies that you blend by pedaling a specially refurbished bike.

We had bike-blended dessert first, then went to the local Whole Foods, a crazy popular hangout, for sushi and sandwiches. More people are starting to show up for the parkour event and we got to play around a bunch on the new gym structures (trampoline, foam pit, ledges, rails, walls, and anything else you can imagine to climb around on). We are sunburned and sore, but appreciating the change of scenery!