The November selection for my book club was The Heights by Peter Hedges. Tim and Kate Welch are a young married couple raising their two sons in the trendy Brooklyn Heights neighborhood of New York. Their apartment is tiny and they struggle to pay the bills on Tim's salary as a history teacher at an exclusive prep school while Kate stays home with the boys, but they are happy. Then everything changes. Kate is offered a high profile job for a charitable foundation so Tim decides to stay home with the boys and finish his dissertation. Kate comes into contact with an old boyfriend who has become a successful television actor. Tim and the boys start having playdates with an unhappy woman who has recently moved into the neighborhood and her daughter. It is a foregone conclusion that one or both of them will eventually be unfaithful. They realize, too late of course, that they had the perfect life before they were led astray by the illusion of excitement. Honestly, I found it to be rather dull. I would recommend this book only if you like predictable romantic comedies starring Jennifer Aniston and Bradley Cooper.
Monday, November 28, 2011
"And so, does the destination matter? Or is it the path we take? I declare that no accomplishment has substance nearly as great as the road used to achieve it. We are not creatures of destinations. It is the journey that shapes us. Our callused feet, our backs strong from carrying the weight of our travels, our eyes open with fresh delight of experiences lived."
- Brandon Sanderson
Sunday, November 27, 2011
I always like to put up my tree and get out my Christmas decorations the weekend after Thanksgiving so I can enjoy them for as long as possible. I really love how my house looks all decorated for Christmas.
Why yes I do have three stockings! I've been very good this year!
Wayne Gretzky is always the very first ornament that goes on the tree!
Eric Lindros goes in the back because I hate him (but I have to put him on the tree because my Mom gave me the ornament).
After I finished trimming the tree I made a big pot of chili and then watched It's A Wonderful Life which is what I do every year. The holidays can officially begin!
Saturday, November 26, 2011
Lately my family has been very non-traditional when it comes to Thanksgiving! Last year we were camping in the motor home and ordered Thanksgiving dinner which came in a giant box! This year we decided to go out to dinner at Sizzler! It was pretty funny but we had a fabulous time! They had a Thanksgiving Dinner special complete with turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, sweet potatoes, a choice of vegetables, rolls, and pumpkin pie. I, however, ordered the salad bar! It was awesome! Here are some pictures.
I have the cutest nephew ever! You could argue with me but I believe you would lose! Trent made him this bib out of a napkin but Sean didn't want to wear it because he is NOT a baby!
Sean decided that Trent should wear the bib!
I was trying to get Tashena to pose with Marilyn (she is going through a phase where she doesn't want her picture taken). As I was trying to coax her into the shot Sean jumped in!
Tashena finally relented if she could pose with her Mom (who is also notorious for not wanting to pose). I think it is a great picture!
Here are my parents. The best part about going out to dinner is that we didn't have to spend hours cleaning up in the afternoon! We played a mean game of shanghai rummy (a game which lasts hours). Kristine drew a line in the sand declaring that she would win. Of course she came in last place. Sean told her that she should have tried her best (see cutest nephew comment above). While playing cards we had lots of homemade treats: pumpkin bread, pumpkin cake, and pumpkin cheesecake. Because we are non-traditional we opted against pumpkin pie! It was a really fun day! Sometimes we get so caught up in the trappings of a holiday that we forget the most important thing is spending time with your family!
Monday, November 21, 2011
Friday, November 18, 2011
Wow! For the third weekend in a row I found myself at Abravanel Hall for a concert with the Utah Symphony! Tonight the orchestra was joined by the Utah Symphony Chorus and some amazing soloists to perform The Childhood of Christ by Hector Berlioz. This piece tells the story of King Herod's premonition that a child would be born who could end his reign and his decision to massacre all newborn children in Judea. The Holy Family is warned by angels and sets out for Egypt where they are given refuge by a family of Ishmaelites. The story is very powerful and the music is simply beautiful. I especially liked the trio for flutes and harp in the third section. All of the soloists did a lovely job and I particularly enjoyed the narrator's voice. I had never heard this piece before and I really enjoyed it. I did not, however, enjoy driving home in the snow!
I just got home from a midnight screening of Breaking Dawn Part One. Even though I have to get up in less than three hours it was totally worth it. There were so many aspects of the story that filmmakers could have gotten wrong (turning the movie into a complete farce) but, in my opinion, they did absolutely everything right! The wedding, honeymoon, pregnancy, and birth were all very tastefully done. I particularly liked the performance of Kristen Stewart is this installment. I thought she very effectively portrayed the range of Bella's emotions from the anxiety of the wedding, to the trepidation of the the wedding night, to the determination to keep her child alive no matter the cost. I loved the special effects, particularly the scene where Jacob confronts the other wolves and the scene where Bella is transformed into a vampire. I also really loved the music! I definitely recommend this movie to fans of the franchise.
Note: Forget Team Edward and Team Jacob! I am now a member of Team Caius! Ever since I saw the movie Anonymous I have been a bit infatuated with Jamie Campbell Bower who plays Caius (one of the Volturi). Be sure to stay through the credits to see a great scene with the Volturi setting up next year's conclusion to the saga.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Today I took some of my AVID students on a campus visit to Southern Utah University in Cedar City. Yes, that does in fact mean that I was on a bus with high school students for the better part of eight hours. Surprisingly, it was a lot of fun. When we got to the campus we were taken to lunch and the students definitely availed themselves of this opportunity to eat as much as they possibly could for free! Then they were given a workshop on the admissions process by the director of admissions. He was incredibly entertaining! Next, student ambassadors took small groups on a tour of the campus. My cousin Amie is an ambassador but she wasn't one of the ones who lead our tours so I didn't get to see her. After the tours they had some workshops on financial aid, activities on campus, and support services for incoming freshmen. Each student received an SUU shirt and a goodie bag full of treats for the bus ride home (although we still had to make a pit stop for food). I was extremely impressed by the entire admissions team at SUU! They did a great job! The students were really quiet on the drive down but they woke up on the way home and it got pretty raucous! Even though it was a long time on the bus, I think it was worth it for the great presentation and the chance for the students to bond with each other!
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
I love hockey! I think I spent most of my adolescence in the basement watching hockey with my Dad. When I was in junior high and high school I cheered for Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers. They won the Stanley Cup in 1984, 1985, and 1987 which were the glory years for the team. I absolutely loved cheering for Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey, Mark Messier, Kevin Lowe, and Grant Fuhr. In 1990 Wayne Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings. I was devastated but I tried to be a Kings fan. I really did. But my heart just wasn't in it and for a while I didn't really have a team that I cheered for. In 1992 I was watching the NHL All-Star game with my Dad and he mentioned a kid that he really liked named Joe Sakic. He said Sakic had the best wrist shot he had ever seen and that we needed to pay attention to him. I liked Sakic but he didn't get much press because he played for the Quebec Nordiques and none of their games were ever televised in SLC. Then in 1995 the Quebec Nordiques moved to Denver and became the Colorado Avalanche. I became a huge fan of the Avalanche that inaugural year cheering for Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Claude Lemieux, and Patrick Roy. That season the Avalanche went to the Stanley Cup Finals and swept the Florida Panthers in an epic Game Four that went into triple overtime. My Dad was watching the game with me at my apartment and decided to leave at the beginning of the third overtime. Just a few minutes into the OT Uwe Krupp scored to win the Cup. That is a huge joke between my Dad and me! He probably wasn't even out of my parking lot when the Avalanche won and I like to tease him about it! In 1998 I started going to Denver with my friend Tony to see Broncos games and he eventually took me to my first Avalanche game against the Dallas Stars. Since a flight from SLC to Denver is 50 minutes Tony and I went to quite a few games together! We saw the Avalanche play the Detroit Red Wings, the Ottawa Senators, and the Carolina Hurricanes (sadly no pictures).
Over President's Day weekend in 2003 some friends of mine were going to Denver for a conference and they let me stay with them in their hotel room so I could go to a game. They dropped me off at the Pepsi Center and I watched the Avalanche play the Minnesota Wild. A complete stranger took this picture of me!
Then I convinced my Dad to go to a game. He absolutely loves the Pepsi Center and now we try to go on Avalanche road trips whenever we can! Here we are at a game between the Avalanche and the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2006. My great-grandfather would turn over in his grave if he knew we were cheering against his beloved Leafs!
My aunt and uncle live in Denver and we would sometimes stay with them on our Avalanche road trips. Pretty soon we started taking Karen with us! Here I am with Karen at an Avalanche game against the Edmonton Oilers in 2004. It is always a little weird for me to cheer against the Oilers!
David, a huge Pittsburgh Penguins fan who used to work with my Dad, came along with us on a road trip to see the Penguins play the Avalanche in 2007. We immediately became friends on the trip and we bet dinner on the outcome of the game. The Avalanche won and, since we were driving home right after the game, we stopped at Wendy's. David bought food for me and my Dad and then proceeded to buy one of just about everything on the menu for himself. We couldn't believe he could eat that much food and about a half an hour later he was mad because he forgot to get something. It is a huge joke between us still!
We had so much fun on that trip that the three of us decided to go to the Avalanche-Penguins game the next time they played in Denver which was in 2009.
This was probably the most fun I have ever had at an Avalanche game. David and I bet on the outcome once again and once again he had to buy my Dad and me dinner!
This season I decided to order Center Ice which is the NHL cable sports package. I get every single NHL game every night! It is awesome! I have been watching my Avalanche (and a lot of other teams) just about every game and they have had some great road wins! Now they need to start winning in the Pepsi Center! Tonight the Avalanche play the Penguins and, once again, David and I bet dinner. He started the trash talking yesterday so, needless to say, I really hope my team emerges victorious! Go Avs Go!
Note: I secretly like the Penguins because of Sidney Crosby (he scored the game-winning goal to give Canada the gold medal in the 2010 Olympics and he's pretty easy on the eyes) and I usually cheer for them when they are not playing the Avalanche! Just don't tell David!
Monday, November 14, 2011
Sunday, November 13, 2011
I found these cute turkey cupcakes here and decided that they would be really fun to make.
Frost some chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting. Press three shortbread cookies (I used Keebler Sandies Right Bites) into the frosting for the head and two wings. Press nine candy corns into the frosting to form the feathers. Cut the white tip of a candy corn and place it next to the head to form the beak. Take a 1/2 inch square piece of strawberry fruit leather (I used Fruit By The Foot) and roll it to form the wattle and place under the beak. Use some black gel icing to make an eye. Aren't they cute? I love that each one seems to have its own personality!
Give them a try!
Saturday, November 12, 2011
This afternoon I went to see J. Edgar, a bio-pic about J. Edgar Hoover directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The film begins with Hoover as an old man dictating his memoirs to an FBI agent and then it recounts, through flashbacks, memorable moments in his life beginning with the Palmer Raids and then his appointment as Director of the Bureau of Investigation, the capture of John Dillinger and other bank robbers, the investigation of the Lindbergh kidnapping, the formation of the FBI, and his dealings with eight U.S. Presidents. Hoover would stop at nothing to protect the country from real, and perceived, threats and often distorted the truth, used questionable and often illegal means to get information, and used that information to blackmail those in power. It is an intense psychological portrait of a tortured man who craved the adulation of the world, but I feel that it stops just short of exploring his personal demons and merely hints at what the world has speculated about for years: his cross-dressing and his closeted homosexuality. I wish screenwriter Dustin Lance Black had been a bit braver. While I was disappointed in the script, I would recommend this movie because of Leonardo DiCaprio. He is brilliant in this role! I feel that he is one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood and, at the very least, he deserves a Academy Award nomination for this tour-de-force performance!
Friday, November 11, 2011
It was another spectacular evening in Abravanel Hall with the Utah Symphony! It began with Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 which is better known as Pastorale. I think Thierry Fischer really likes Beethoven because all his symphonies are featured this season. I don't really blame him because I find Beethoven's music to be incredibly beautiful. Symphony No. 6 is an homage to nature and the rural life and, as I listened, I could definitely envision the beautiful countryside around Vienna where Beethoven composed this piece. I loved the fourth movement because it depicted a thunderstorm. It began softly imitating drops of rain and built to a crescendo with timpani imitating thunder and lightening. It was wonderful! After the intermission the orchestra performed two epic pieces by Richard Wagner. The first was the prelude to Lohengrin. I was really eager to hear this piece because I am fascinated with King Ludwig II of Bavaria and Wagner was his favorite composer and Lohengrin was his favorite opera. The libretto for the opera tells the story of Elsa who is accused of murdering her brother. She must find a champion to proclaim her innocence and dreams of a knight in shining armor in a boat drawn by a swan. King Ludwig loved this opera so much that he decorated much of his castle with a swan motif and named it Neuschwanstein (Swan Castle). I find King Ludwig to be terribly romantic and I enjoyed listening to the prologue. I would love to see the opera some day. The concert ended with Wagner's The Ride of the Valkyries. This piece is instantly recognizable and memorable. I love the whole idea of flying Valkyries transporting fallen heroes to Valhalla! The entire concert was very impressive and I certainly enjoyed myself!
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
I was recently introduced to the brilliant Hermann Hesse. I, like almost everybody I know, read Siddhartha when I was in college and it had a profound impact on me but that was really my only exposure to Hesse. He writes primarily about the individual's search for authenticity, self-knowledge, and spirituality.
Narcissus is a gifted young teacher at a monastery in Germany. Goldmund is an exceptional student at the school whom Narcissus befriends and mentors. Eventually Goldmund meets a beautiful gypsy in the woods and realizes that he is not meant to be a monk and leaves the school. He wanders aimlessly throughout the country and has numerous love affairs. After viewing a carved statue of the Madonna, he seeks out the artist and becomes his apprentice. Meanwhile, Narcissus lives a life of contemplation and rises to the position of abbot. When the Black Plague decimates much of Europe, Goldmund returns to the monastery and to Narcissus where they reflect upon the different paths their lives have taken. Goldmund represents a passionate and artistic life, whereas Narcissus represents a scholarly and spiritual life. I found the polarization of these characters to be fascinating and I wondered which character had the better life because I see aspects of both of them in my own personality!
Harry Haller is an isolated bachelor who is at odds with his aggressive and animalistic nature (the wolf from the steppes) and his more civilized and humanistic nature. He contemplates suicide and wanders the city aimlessly. He eventually stops at a dance hall where he meets a young woman named Hermine who represents the bourgeois society Haller disdains. Hermine teaches him to dance, introduces him to drugs and alcohol, introduces him to her friends, including a saxophone player named Pablo, and finds him a lover. In return she asks Haller to kill her. The story culminates with Pablo taking Haller to a "Magic Theatre" where he experiences the fantasies within his mind. He enters five different doors which represent different aspects of his life. While in the "Magic Theatre" he kills Hermine. It is brilliant because the reader is not really sure if Hermine even exists or if she is just a manifestation of Haller's animal nature. Does he really kill her or does he just exorcise the elements of his personality that torment him?
Emil Sinclair is raised in a home of wealth and privilege but eventually rebels against his bourgeois life of ease. He struggles between two words: appearances and, what he considers to be the real world, spirituality. While in school he meets the mysterious Max Demian who becomes his mentor. Demian, and eventually his mother Eva, helps him to detach himself from the superficial ideals of the world and leads him to a spiritual awakening. There is an incredible passage about blindly following the rules of religion and society instead of determining your own system of beliefs and acting in accordance with those beliefs. I found this novel to be incredibly powerful and, once again, the reader is not really sure if Demian exists or if he is just a tool of Sinclair's psychoanalysis.
Siddhartha begins a journey of enlightenment during the time of the historical Buddha. He leaves his Brahmin family to join a group of ascetics in a life of thoughtful meditation. He then pursues a life of worldly pleasure by becoming a merchant and taking a lover. He becomes disillusioned with this empty life and, once again, joins the ascetics. Siddhartha's enlightenment comes from the totality of his experiences. Hesse asserts that you cannot achieve nirvana merely through the mind, nor can you do so by immersing yourself in the world; every experience, both in participation and in contemplation, leads Siddhartha to understanding. I loved this book in college and I loved it even more when I recently read it again.
I think this is Herman Hesse's greatest novel. It depicts a world centuries into the future in a province in Central Europe known as Castalia made up of an order of austere intellectuals. The story follows Joseph Knecht from the time he is selected to become a student in Castalia to his rise as the Glass Bead Game Master. The Glass Bead Game is an abstract synthesis of music, mathematics, and culture. It is played by making deep connections between seemingly unrelated facts and takes years and years of study before one can become proficient. Knecht has an existential crisis when he realizes that he has acquired all of his knowledge merely for the sake of a game and has not used his knowledge to accomplish anything of value in the real world. He ultimately resigns from the order to become a tutor to the son of a childhood friend. Once again Hesse juxtaposes the idea of living a life of contemplation with living a life of action. I found it fascinating.
Monday, November 7, 2011
Sunday, November 6, 2011
I have been waiting until after Halloween to make these cute little treats. I originally found the idea here but I have seen them everywhere!
Get some donut holes from your bakery and dip them a third of the way in some chocolate frosting. You could also use nutella or peanut butter. Then dip the donut holes into some chopped nuts or sprinkles. Break a pretzel stick in half and insert into the top of the donut. So easy and so cute!
Saturday, November 5, 2011
This afternoon I went to see Anonymous which purports that Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, is the true author of the poems and plays ascribed to William Shakespeare. It is a tale of political intrigue surrounding the succession of Elizabeth I. Her advisers, William Cecil and his son Robert, are in favor of James VI of Scotland whereas de Vere is in favor of the Earl of Essex, the illegitimate son of Elizabeth. De Vere witnesses the power of the theatre and decides to secretly use plays he has written as propaganda to support a rebellion by Essex. He asks Ben Jonson to claim authorship but Jonson decides against it because de Vere is merely an amateur and he is worried about his reputation. Jonson confides in actor William Shakespeare who then spontaneously claims authorship after one of the plays is performed. Robert Cecil learns of the rebellion and thwarts it causing Essex and the Earl of Southampton, the illegitimate son of Elizabeth and de Vere, to be arrested and condemned. De Vere visits Elizabeth to plead for Southampton and she agrees to pardon him on the condition that he never take credit for his plays and poems. This movie is visually stunning! Elizabethan England is sumptuously and lavishly recreated and the staging of the plays is absolutely incredible! Henry's St. Crispin's Day speech from Henry V, Hamlet's Soliloquy from Hamlet, and Richard's Soliloquy from Richard III literally gave me goose bumps! The acting is superb, especially Vanessa Redgrave as Elizabeth and Rhys Ifans as de Vere. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. I didn't believe a word of it but I loved watching the spectacle.
Note: The young Oxford is played by Jamie Campbell Bower. He is very easy on the eyes! The scene where he seduces a young Elizabeth by reciting a poem is pretty dreamy!
Friday, November 4, 2011
Tonight I went to a Utah Symphony concert featuring the incredible Symphony No. 7 by Beethoven. This concert was not part of my season package but I just had to add it because I absolutely love this piece! I think I love it so much because it was written during the same time Beethoven wrote the famous series of "Immortal Beloved" letters so, to me, this symphony is spontaneous, exuberant, joyful, and celebratory. But in between the uplifting themes of this piece there is the second movement. Although it is beautiful, almost unbearably beautiful, it is also evocative, mournful, and nostalgic. It is almost as if Beethoven knew his happiness would be fleeting and he was mourning his eventual loss before it happened. Oh how I love the second movement! The orchestra played it magnificently and I felt so many different emotions as I listened. I really enjoyed watching Thierry Fischer on the podium because he has such a light touch and, apparently, the rest of the audience felt the same way because he received a rousing standing ovation! The same concert will be performed tomorrow night at Abravanel Hall and I highly recommend getting a ticket!