Thursday, December 31, 2015

12.31.15


Love, Joy, Family = what I made my 2015 all about. It was also all about growth and movement, transition and adjustment. And humility - finding love, joy, and family in the small things. In weekend dinners and movies (and conversations held over movies), in grocery trips and routines of living with my forever roommate, in free museum dates and finding new restaurants and trips to visit family.

I don't want 2016 to be that different from 2015.

I want to settle into my (our) apartment and make it home. I want to buy less and experience more. I want to keep establishing routines, celebrating traditions, and making memories.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

ZooLights 2015, Round 2

It seems fitting that visits to ZooLights are the bookends to 2015 for Jesus and me. When we went on New Year's Day, I was hopeful and eager for some changes. After going again last night, I'm still hopeful, plus grateful for the changes of this past year. Through it all, Jesus was my constant and ZooLights continues to be one of our constants.

Sure, it's just Christmas lights, a free to the public zoo, and crowds of people, but it's also the place where we dream about our future, learn more about our pasts, and commit to being present.

video

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Nutcracker 2015

What started as a way to extend the festive feeling garnered by attending Zoolights in 2012 and became a yearly Christmas tradition for Jesus and me has turned into something even better this Christmas season. Instead of merely listening to The Nutcracker's various waltzes and marches, or finding a less-than-stellar YouTube version of it to watch, we attended Ballet Chicago's version of the Russian classic.

The Venue: gave the entire night a storybook feel. The Athenaeum Theatre is over 100 years old, and it shows - gracefully. The wooden seat frames are worn smooth and the adornments on the walls and ceilings recall a time when the theatre was people's main form of entertainment and escape.

The Music: never disappoints. While not live, it was still the perfect accompaniment to the dancers on stage. And with fresh visuals, we can better guess which waltz is playing on our Nutcracker Pandora without checking!

The Story: was slightly different that what we were used to - Clara was called Marie in this version, for one. Having American Girl as their main sponsor also added in a few elements probably not seen anywhere else (ie, each little girl on stage received her own American Girl doll for the opening Christmas party scene and accompanying dance). The important (read: familiar and popular) aspects remained largely untouched.

The Dancers: were young, but not so fresh that they couldn't give the ballet the gravitas it deserves. We enjoyed picking out our favorites in the group dances, marveling at the solos and duets, and recognizing dancers who portrayed several characters. Bonus: several of the ballerinos ended up at the same place we went for dinner afterwards. They were nearly unrecognizable in their street clothes, and it felt like a brush with celebrities, albeit local ones.

The Choreography: felt both familiar and new. Not that I have any expertise to draw on here, but I've seen several of the steps in our viewings of the BBC and New York City Ballet versions - and those now feel like canon. Still, I know each version makes it their own, in the cast and the musical choices, but especially in the choreography. Ballet (and dance in general) is a visual medium, so it makes sense that what you see on stage changes the feel of the whole thing.

The Crowd: was mostly couples, families of all ages, or groups of women young and old. The theater wasn't full, but there was a sizable audience. [Rant & Parental Cautionary Tale: My least favorite attendees were the spoiled kids (ages approx. 5-8) who sat behind us narrating the entire thing and kicking the back of my seat until Jesus gave them his "You Better Knock That the Hell Off" look. I'm not a fan of their parents either for allowing this nonsense to happen, but as both Jesus and I remarked as the entire clan rudely left during the curtain calls, having to live with those kids is probably punishment enough.]

The Overall Effect: magical. This modest telling of one of the most popular Christmas stories was, as my first ballet, amazing. It appealed to my childhood dream of becoming a ballerina and my adult dream of attending live shows, supporting local art, and making memories from experiences.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time IndianThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sum it up in a sentence (or two): Arnold Spirit Jr, known to his friends and family as Junior, is a lot of things. Native American Indian, yes, but also a best friend, little brother, cartoonist, basketball player, and teenager who wants more than the unfair shakes he's been given. The Absolutely True Diary... is the story of how Junior fights for what he wants, and teaches all of us a lesson, in his own words.

First thoughts: For me, The Absolutely True Diary... lives up to its hype. It was funny and sad and hopeful and realistic. I cared about Junior and the people in his life. I sat on my couch for several hours, forgetting to eat and not caring about TV, to finish this book.

Favorite quotes:

"If you speak and write in English, or Spanish, or Chinese, or any other language, then only a certain percentage of human beings will get your meaning.
"But when you draw a picture, everybody can understand it." - p5

"If you're good at it, and you love it, and it helps you navigate the river of the world, then it can't be wrong." -p95 (both insightful and debatable!)

Takeaway: We are all part of a tribe, or several tribes. That's what keeps us grounded. That's what makes us human.

Teacher thoughts: I can see why so many teachers either want to or are using this book in the classroom - I would have loved reading this in middle or high school just as much as I enjoyed it now. I wouldn't share it with my 7th graders just yet, though. A few of them would be mature enough to handle the more serious themes of alcoholism, racism, and depression in a small group setting, but as a whole class, high school is better equipped to discuss those issues.

Final thoughts: This book was refreshing and powerful; I'm exited to read more of Sherman Alexie's works.


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Friday, December 18, 2015

State Street Shopping

Neither Jesus and I consider ourselves "shopppers," but we do love a day outside of the house and plenty of people to watch. If we can cross a few items off our Christmas lists, even better. This year we walked through Christkindlemarket on our way to State Street, picking out what we would have eaten, were we hungry and the lines not so long. Then we popped in to a few stores to get out of the rain and to browse the sales before getting sucked into Macy's for several hours.

We spent the rest of the afternoon testing out recliners and sectional sofas, riding escalators, gawking at diners in the Walnut Room from the viewing level above, finding a portrait of Seth Meyers, eating a late lunch in the food court, and walking through Holiday Lane. For being such a capitalism-centered activity, a day at Macy's is a thrifty date for us.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Making Christmas Traditions

My two (TWO!) week break is roughly 2.5 days away and while I'm not ready for Christmas (no snow, plus a few more gifts to buy) I'm so ready to not have to ask pre-teens to stop throwing paper airplanes while I'm talking. I'm also ready to spend some quality time in Wisconsin. Even though I was just there a few weeks ago, the holiday season doesn't feel complete until I'm a little further north.

I realize, though, that someday I may be spending Christmas in Chicago (or traveling to/from one location to another), so Jesus and I have started a few traditions here to help with that transition:

  1. Decorating: Even if I'm not physically in my apartment on Christmas, decorating helps to get me in the spirit. Plus, when it gets dark at 4:30 a few twinkling lights help the mood. Since this is our first Christmas in a shared apartment, it's a little early to call our paper snowflakes, green and red lights, and pine scented candles "tradition," but I think we can call it one in the making
  2. Christkindlmarket: I sometimes wish I was a better German-American so I could tell you how much I love the pretzels, potato pancakes, streudel, and beer at Christkindl Market. I'm not, though, so all I can say is I love watching the crowds, smelling the food, window shopping the different craft stalls, and saying to myself, "Someday I'll spend more than 15 minutes here." It's a weird tradition, but the act of seeing and walking through this pop-up market is enough to make me joyous.
  3. Macy's/State Street: I don't ride the train downtown just to watch people line up in a beer tent and weave their way through aisles of glass ornaments; State Street shopping and Macy's especially are just down the block and they're the meat of my trips to the Loop in December. In one committed afternoon, Jesus and I can cross of most of our Christmas list, see the Macy's windows (planets and Peanuts this year), check out the Walnut Room tree, share some popcorn, pretend we have thousands of dollars to spend on sectional furniture, fantasy redecorate our room, walk through the Hall of Trees, discuss home improvement projects for next year, and play Theater of Life while getting two more stamps on our food court punch card. Thanks, Capitalism!
  4. ZooLights: This holiday season will mark either the third or fourth year Jesus and I bundle up and walk around Lincoln Park Zoo in awe of all the lights (and the sleeping gorillas!). It's probably our favorite Christmas in Chicago tradition, and just a favorite date night overall. Last year we went on New Year's Day and it felt like the perfect way to start 2015.
  5. Watching (or listening to music from) The Nutcracker: Usually how we end our ZooLights nights, finding a performance of The Nutcracker online or YouTube-ing our favorite songs individually turns Jesus and I into little kids for a few hours. There's something about the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy that turns a regular evening into something special.
We can already check #s 1-3 off this list for 2015, and 4 & 5 are being planned out. Traditions, consider yourselves made.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Stepford Wives

The Stepford WivesThe Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sum it up in a sentence (or two): Both a suspenseful thriller and a commentary on gender roles, The Stepford Wives is a cautionary tale for those who dream of a perfect life.

First thoughts: The story of the Eberharts' move to Stepford creeped me out and surprised me with its relevancy. It's a quick read (I found it at home over Thanksgiving break and finished it in time to leave it there), but I still had questions at the end. The final chapters plus the epilogue rushed things and the "reveal" felt like a cop out - there was a steady build up the entire way through and not enough of a "woah" factor at the end.

Final thoughts: The slightly disappointing conclusion doesn't take away from the suspense that was somehow fast-paced and incremental at the same time. I felt myself putting the pieces together along with Joanna, our protagonist, and I was drawn into the world of clean lines and even-keeled emotions. I'll definitely be watching the movie remake.


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Friday, December 11, 2015

Field Museum & a "Winter" Walk

Last weekend Jesus and I wanted to get out of the house. We didn't want to spend a lot, and we certainly weren't ready to start Christmas shopping, so a free day at the Field Museum was the trick.

We both forgot that the Bears were playing at Soldier Field, so we joined football fans (both of Chicago and San Francisco) on the train and during the walk to Museum Campus. Then we spent approximately the amount of time a football game lasts at the museum, visiting our favorite exhibits and checking out a new one, leaving just in time to see everyone again on their way out of the stadium (Bears fans were in surprisingly good moods, though that's probably because they were drunk and it was 50 degrees on a late afternoon in December.)

Due to that relatively gorgeous weather, we decided against joining the crowds and instead walked along Lake Shore Drive and through Grant Park, taking the long way back to the Blue Line. It was quiet near Buckinham Fountain, turned off for the season. The sky varied from shades of blue to white while the sunset turned the buildings of the skyline a warm red.

We'll join in on the hustle and bustle of the season eventually, but until then, we're okay with doing our own thing away from the noise.

 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing

Nonsense: The Power of Not KnowingNonsense: The Power of Not Knowing by Jamie Holmes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sum it up in a sentence (or two): Jamie Holmes takes us on a tour of our own minds and shows us how we act when things are ambiguous, the ways we strive for closure, and the reasons why confusion might be beneficial to us.

First thoughts: I really enjoyed reading this book, especially right now in my life, when so many things are in transition and my own future is one giant question mark. I'm hoping I absorbed what I needed from it in this moment, thought I had to skim over a few jargon-heavy parts.

Favorite quotes (that will describe the book better than me talking about it will):

"Today's puzzle is to figure out what to do - in our jobs, relationships, and everyday lives - when we have no idea what to do." -p11

"Urgently fixating on certainty is our defense mechanism against the unknown and unstable. However, what we need in turbulent times is adaptability and calculated reevaluation." -p78

"...sometimes, the illusion of knowing is more dangerous than not knowing at all." -p128

"Under the right conditions...embracing uncertainty can in fact provide opportunities to innovate. It can inspire creative solutions, and might even help make us better people." -p154

"Ideally students should treat the feeling of uncertainty as an indication to keep thinking." -p170

Teacher thoughts: That last quote (and the section of the book it's from) really got me thinking about my kids and how uncomfortable they are with not knowing, or with vague answers. One of their math lessons was on estimation (ie, About how much is 578 + 912? Ans: 1500, more or less.) and I had the hardest time getting them to not use calculators - "The exact answer isn't what we are looking for! In fact, if you write the exact number down, that will be marked incorrect!" The skill the teacher was trying to build was estimation and educated guessing; we already know our students know how to put numbers into a calculator to get the right answer. English class is another area where ambiguity is sometimes the name of the game. Students are always asking me if their opinions are "right" and they hate it when I respond by asking if what they wrote is true for them, or if they can use words from the text to support what they want to say. They just want a yes or no. Sitting with confusion or with contradictory thoughts/feelings doesn't come easily to them (or to adults), and it's definitely a skill to learn and develop.

That being said: Bilingual students in general have an easier time being comfortable with contradictions and unknowns than monolingual students - it seems that holding two (or more) languages inside oneself helps in navigating between different sides of an argument or in expressing conflicting feelings.

Final thoughts: It seems like every day I am sure about fewer and fewer things, so Nonsense made a lot of sense. While I still want to seek out answers and find closure to events, thoughts, and feelings, I feel better about not knowing and about trusting the process of discovery.

Editor's Note: I received a copy of Nonsense from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.


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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Velvet

There's a reason why my posts have been scarce, and it's the same reason that my Spanish is slowly improving: Velvet.

Velvet (on Netflix) is a Spanish television series set in 1950s Madrid. It follows the ups and downs in the lives of the seamstresses, sales staff, and owners of Velvet, a high class fashion store. It only took the first episode to hook me, and now that I am in season 2 I'm all but dreaming about the characters and their stories.

There's the Marquez family - Alberto, Velvet's owner, and his stepmother Gloria and stepsister Patricia, both of whom would like more control over the store than what they have. Then there's the Otegui family - Gerardo, the wealthy patriarch, and his children: Cristina, who is in love with Alberto (even though he is in love with Ana, a seamstress), and Enrique, who would rather be a shrewd businessman than husband to his wife Barbara. Mateo works as Alberto's right hand man, balancing out Gerardo's demands.

Then we have the sales staff, headed up by Emilio, and the seamstresses under the strict command of Blanca. This is where the real life of the store is - on the sales floor and in the workroom. Between Pedro's antics, Clara's dramatization of anything that happens to her, and the friendship of Ana, Rita, and Luisa, I'm not sure who entertains me most.

In short, I've laughed, I've cried, I've shouted "TELL HER YOU LOVE HER!" at my TV, and I've learned a few choice phrases in Spanish, such as: "El me quiere!" ("He loves me!"), "Confia en mi." ("Trust me."), "En serio?!" ("Really?!"), and "Dime la verdad." ("Tell me the truth."). Who knew learning could be so much fun (and so dramatic!)?

Here is the Season One trailer - a nice set up for the show. No subtitles, but it gives Ana and Alberto's history (they grew up together at Velvet until his parents sent him away to London for school), and shows us Alberto's return to the galleries (and the problems he encounters once there) to take ownership of them.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Silence of the Lambs

The Silence of the Lambs  (Hannibal Lecter, #2)The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sum it up in a sentence (or two): Clarice Starling, FBI agent-in-training, is sent to interview Hannibal Lecter, psychopathic and cannibalistic genius, to help the FBI catch a serial killer.

First thoughts: The book is just as creepy as the movie, and maybe creepier with my imagination. I had a hard time reading this after dark and an even harder time reading on public transportation - every stranger turned into Buffalo Bill or Dr. Lecter.

Favorite quotes:

"We rarely get to prepare ourselves in meadows or on graveled walks; we do it on short notice in places without windows....In rooms like this, with so little time, we prepare our gestures, get them by heart so we can do them when we're frightened in the face of Doom." -p159

"His empty hands hanging palms forward at his sides, he stood at the window looking to the empty east. He did not look for dawn; east was the only way the window faced." -p280

Strong Women, Strong and Weak Men: Knowing that this book was written in the late 80s, I was pleasantly surprised by the strength of several female characters, especially Clarice. She kicks butt, and in the face of institutional misogyny no less. The men fall more on a spectrum, as there are more of them, so we get a few solid ones along with a few not so great one. Either way, our heroes had weaknesses and our villains had backgrounds that gave them motives for their actions. What more can we ask of a criminal psychology thriller?

Final thoughts: In the great book vs movie debate, there is no clear winner here. Both are great. The movie draws straight from the book and gives a sinister visual to the text. The book shows us the inner workings of several characters and stands the test of time. This was a great snuggle in blankets, drink tea, and don't leave the house book.


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