Sunday, November 28, 2010

Holiday Movie Reviews: Part 1

Hello Everyone!

Since my lap is conveniently occupied by my baby kitty, Twix, (spoiled, she is!) I thought I would take this opportunity to write my thoughts about the latest movies I've seen. I have quite a few coming up as well. If you have any suggestions for me (movies I should check out, dis/agree with my opinions etc)I'm all ears!

The newest tradition in the Decker family is to see a movie on Thanksgiving weekend. Usually a good movie releases that weekend anyways, so why not? This year we chose Tangled!

Tangled
The newest Disney fairytale is a cute movie. There's been a lot of hype around this film with the commercials, toys and clips all over TV and Internet. They portray it as a fun, fast-paced adventure with a little bit for everyone. It's absolutely that, but something seems to be missing...I can't put my finger on it...It's not up there with Beauty and the Beast or anything, but it delivers as a whimsical family film with a touch of Disney magic.

The magic is delivered through shining performances of the cast and creative characters. Mandy Moore blew me away as Rapunzel because she felt genuine and she was able to show off her voice, in speech and song! Zachary Levi was a the perfect choice for Flynn Ryder because of his versatility in humor and drama. He actually sings too! Even though the music is written by Alan Menkin (Disney composer extraordinaire!), the timing of the songs is awkward (forced, even) and the lyrics don't go very deep. There were a few songs which fit, like whenever Mandy Moore sang :), or when the Thugs in the tavern were given their moment to share their dreams! haha

My favorite characters other than the leads were Pascal the chameleon, the Thugs, and Max the Guard Horse! They were fantastic additions! Added a lot of humor and spunk to the film. I also really liked the way the story was modified to include magic, love and the characters still having a life after the 'magic' is over and they can move towards the 'happily ever after' stage :)

Overall, really liked it, but some key ingredients were missing. Easily overlooked because it's a fun story!

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Wow...where to begin? Well, obviously, we've been waiting for this film for a loooong time, but it was worth the wait! The storyline is perfectly matched with the book (excellent!) and the visual elements only enhance the story telling; FINALLY!
My favorite enhancement was the choice to animate the Wizard Fable; very well done! It was wonderful to see Dobey again, for however short a time. *tear*(more of those to come, I'm sure!)

It's nice to see Ron/Rupert Grint having more than just a pout on his face. He's finally moving up to the same level as Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe. Rupert really beefed up for this role! He has SHOULDERS! haha For me, Emma Watson is the most talented of the three. I know no matter where life takes them, they're going to do very well.

I loved seeing more of the Death Eaters and Voldemort. So creepy and scary (could not believe there were kids some kids under 10 in the theater...parents are DUMB!) but that is the reality of that world.

Awkward Scenes: Harry and Hermione dancing (it was a nice break from all the tension), Harry and Ginny kissing (funny because she's obviously taller than him keehee, I'm mean, I know...), the Harry/Hermione make-out session (obviously not how the characters would act since Voldemort is trying to tempt Ron, I saw it as a lustful portrayal, not how the characters would really kiss if they had the chance) and Harry diving into icy water in just his underwear (not entirely unpleasant ;) just kidding!)

Rip-off Moment: When the Trio is running away from the Snatchers in the forest, the lighting and camera style are very similar to the running scenes in Twilight...Too similar....

Overall, enjoyed it thoroughly! Totally didn't feel as long as it was. Can't wait to see Part 2!

But until then, I know I'll have plenty of other films to see...

I've also been able to view some interesting films with the help of Netflix. My mom and I tried our first series. We can't wait to get a Wii so we don't have to wait for the next disc to come in the mail.

The series we watched was a bio/drama about the infamous actress of the Victorian era, Lillie Langtry. Simply titled Lillie, the series was made in 1978 by BBC. Obviously, at that time BBC didn't have the high production value they do today, so it was amusing to see the sets and you could tell the actors were on a sound stage. But the script and the cast bringing this story to life are so realistic and captivating, you really have to pay attention or you'll miss the clever comments and pivotal choices of the characters. My favorite character other than Lillie is Oscar Wilde. He has the best lines (which sound very much like lines from his books and plays) and he has great insight of others. Very interesting, but I would recommend it to those who are looking for a dramatic piece heavily influenced by actual events and people. Lillie led a very eventful life! She's an excellent example of how the life of a celebrity (and all the sacrifices that involves) hasn't changed in the last 100 years.


Movies Coming Up!

The King's Speech
Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader
TRON Legacy (the Father-Daughter/Daughter movie this year since my big bros loved the original)

More to come!

all my love,

~Jess

Monday, November 15, 2010

Keep Moving Forward!

Hello Everyone!

It's snowing in Minnesota! Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner, but that means good family time, good movies coming up and reconnecting with people.

I know it has been awhile so I'll get right down to business!

Jobs: 

I've added to my arsenal! While continuing to work with Brandon and Cat Auction Services, I'm now a PR Intern at Hennepin Theatre Trust in Minneapolis. I help out there once a week putting together press kits, writing press releases and learning about what it takes to promote theater programs. It's exactly where I want to be in the n ear future and this is a great step for me to take. If a job opens up there, I'll be considered for jobs based on my performance here. But if there's nothing there now, I can always put this experience on my resume. I'm also on a temp agency's list! The agency is called Hourglass. They specifically cater to non-profits because they always need short term hires for projects and Hourglass is a place they can go to find qualified people who want to work in non-profits. No jobs have come up yet, but I'm just glad I'm not the only one looking for myself anymore. I'm still searching, but I'm keeping busy!

Church Stuff:

This school year I'm working with Community of Hope's Wednesday night program TREK! I'm a small group leader for 4th grade girls. I love them so much! They share their hearts with each other, help each other look up Bible verses and get easily excited about Jesus! Sometimes they drive me crazy, but they are so sweet.

Actually, I get fed Spiritually a bit more from that program than I do on Sundays! The worship is so genuine, the messages simple but thoughtful, and hearing Truth from kids is priceless. This week since Jeri, the Children's Ministry leader for Weds nights, is on a cruise with her husband (lucky!), I'm taking over some of her duties like announcements, worship and Slam It Questions! Also, cleaning up, the leaders meeting and reminding the kids there's no programing for Thanksgiving week. Hopefully they remember to bring in shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child, too! The goal is 200 boxes to get Jeri and Justin to get slimed! Oh, motivation...haha

Whew! It's going to be a cray night...Especially since I have worship team practice right afterwords! I've been on the worship team a few times lately, and I have a few more weeks to go. This coming week we're incorporating the choir, yay! It's been really fun to be part of a worship team again.

Blast from the Past!

Thanks to Facebook, I've been able to reconnect with people I grew up with in Bellingham, Washington. Many people from high school, middle school and elementary school! It's fun to see what people are up to, where they went to college, what they studied and where they are now.

I also was able to Skype with my friend David, from Washington, who's been in England attending grad school for aerospace engineering. (Yeah, he's too smart for his own good...) He was able to connect with me online thanks to his sister Ruth, who's also in England. Great conversation! I hope he finds a job out there so I can see him when I visit Lesley next year in Scotland! :)



Movie Review Time!

Nowhere Boy
Saw this movie with a Beatles fan (good choice!) and was impressed by the high quality of the film. It's rated R for a few reasons, but the story is so fascinating and the cast is excellent! It's rather dark and dramatic, but if you're a Beatles fan and interested in John Lennon's past, then go for it! 

Little Miss Sunshine
I've wanted to see this movie for awhile and I'm glad I finally did :) I loved the dry family humor and how the characters changed during the course of the film. Very kwirky, but fun. 

Extraordinary Measures
Great story and excellent dramatic role for Brendan Fraiser and Harrison Ford. It's based on an incredible true story. I can see why it didn't do so well in theaters, because it's rather deep content. But it's a good film to watch with families (with older kids/teens/adults).

Temple Grandin
My favorite movie this season! Go HBO! Claire Danes blew me away as Temple Grandin, a cattle expert with autism. She opened the doors for experts to find out what it's like to have autism and how cattle farms could be more humane in their handling processes. She's a genius with a PhD who self soothes with a squeeze box! She's helped so many people and is still active in the cattle and autism communities. Anyone interested in seeing what it's like to have autism need to see this film! Even if it's not something you've been exposed to, I still think you'll like it. Temple is funny, sweet and sooo autistic! but I mean that in the best way possible :) They see the world so differently! It's wonderful!


Ondine
It's a modern-day fairy tale. I don't want to give anything away because the whole story revolves around the question of where a mysterious girl came from, who (and possibly what) she is. A gritty, realistic story with very human characters who mess up, but you still want to see the miracles that happen. 


Coming Up:

Experience at Hennepin Theatre Trust (and tickets to SHOWS!)

TREK Stories!

Harry Potter, Harry Potter (spaz!), Harry Potter, Harry Potter!
Can't hardly wait to see it! I hope it has more energy than the Half-Blood Prince.

Tangled (Disney's version of Rapunzel) 

Thanksgiving and Christmas!


Blessings to you all!

~Jess

Monday, October 4, 2010

A New Season

Isn't it fascinating how the cool rush of fall seems to change everything so quickly? As the summer came to an end, I went into panic mode as my job situation had not changed...But there were great experiences to soften the blow and rejuvenate me. I wouldn't trade the time I spent with family and friends for anything!

Here are the highlights: things I've done, places I've seen and movies/shows I've seen!

Renaissance Fair with Hannah and Crew! 

Loved experiencing the Fair with newbies!!! It makes everything about this unique place come alive! Pointing out the best shops, best food and best costumes is a pleasure to share with those who have never seen it. That was the longest I had ever been at the Fair, but it was worth it. I found a bodice dagger as a souvenir laughed till my side ached at the Tortuga Twins, and ate my first turkey leg! (Outside of Thanksgiving, of course) I felt fully engulfed in the Medieval Life. Of course, giggling and hugging my dearest Hannah Gaydos was a pleasure in and of itself. The only time she was torn from my side was for a Pickle Boy...Oh, Hannah haha! Spending time with her school friends was also a treat!

Twins Games with Dad!

Dad and I attended two Twins Games in a week. They played two different teams because one game was Monday and the next was Friday. We lost one and won the other, but the crowd seemed pleased no matter the outcome, at least once we were on the light rail train heading home...The new field is excellent! I enjoyed to outdoor atmosphere, hearing the voices, watching every play from grand seats! and, of course, spending the time with my Dad. He and I took turns filling out the scorecards, cheering, clapping and calling pitches. The strangest feeling was of watching a country game in the middle of the city. Dad and I planned our evenings well with dinner on the road, warm coats and left plenty of time for the train to get us there well before the game started. We even ran into Justin and Jeri Austed! For all the work they have put into the Children's Ministry at CoH, they deserved this break!

CoH Preschool and My 4th Grade Girls

For the first week of preschool, Mom asked me to come in simply to be another set of eyes as the teachers get to know their students. They are all so precious! Now that there are three classes and new teachers, it was fun to show them how preschool is done. Mom has learned so much over the years, I haven't really questioned her methods. But the gift she has been given is already 'fixing' many children and preparing them to succeed in everything they do. Now that I have a former preschooler in my 4th grade small group on Wednesday night CoH Children's Ministry programing, I can see the positive affect this program has had on kids and families. The girls are energetic, thoughtful and honest. They are so talkative that I incorporated a flower to be passed around to give girls the chance to talk and be heard. That's so important for them to respect and love each other. Sometimes I get more out of our time together than they might. Worshiping with these pure of heart children has also lifted my spirits!

MY 23rd BIRTHDAY!!!

I decided to keep the tradition alive of Sam, Ruth and I celebrating our birthdays together, since they are all in the same week. Only Sam and I were close enough to connect, so I drove down to Ames to stay with her, see her new campus, apartment and kitten! We went out for supper, saw the movie Easy A  with Emma Stone and went on a WalMart run to get face masques and ice cream :) We drew two pictures of 'Ruth' (one regular and one with a chocolate masque) so that she would know that we were thinking of her! We mailed her the pictures we drew then put the 'group' pics online when we knew she had them! It was such a pleasant weekend. It was short, but totally worth it to get that quality girl time in. That weekend I also had dinner and Pardon My French cake with my family, and a Chevy's dinner before Lesley and her friend Moira went back to school. It was the perfect weekend because I spent it with people I love :) But Lesley still owes me a shopping trip! haha I don't feel 23, but I may never feel very old! haha

NC/DC Visit!

I found an excuse to visit my Northwestern and Dordt College friends this fall with NWC Homecoming Weekend! Since the beginning of summer Nick Rohlf pestered me to the point that I decided to visit. But I thought, since I'd be in the area, I could stop by Dordt to visit Meredith, Emily and Matt! Especially since Matt had visited me twice this summer...It had to happen :) He told me about so many people who I 'had to meet,' so what else could I do? So I spent Friday night and Saturday morning/afternoon at Dort, and then the rest of the weekend at Northwestern. That was the plan, but you know how plans tend to change...well, this change was good, and not too drastic. I ended up not having Sunday lunch plans so Matt invited me to meet his parents. Only fair since he had met mine twice! haha But the best part of the Dordt weekend was seeing Meredith and Emily again, meeting anyone and everyone I could and seeing Dordt campus/community through their eyes. They also shared a treasured hot spot with me, The Fruited Plain. I WISH I had known about that place when I was in the area. It would have been perfect for my 21+ crowd of friends who wished to have a cup of tea, coffee or a glass of wine without paying through the nose or feeling judged by anyone. Also, the company was fantastic, so my exposure to this place may have been too perfect. Which leads to my lesson learned on this journey: it's not the buildings that make a place wonderful, it's the people you enjoy the space with. So going back to NWC and not having many close friends around me like I was accustomed to was a little sad, but the company I did have was excellent! Nick was a great host! He reserved tickets for the Children's Show of Asian Folk Tales (FANTASTIC Production!), dinner, then a romp through Pumpkin Land with Cha, Abby, and Aleah, and other awesome theater gals. Then Nick shared a powerful Japanese film about a family torn apart by WWII titled Song of the Canefields. It made us cry...Find it if you can! It was hard enough for Nick to find! To see him so happily adjusted to West Hall was an answer to prayer. However, seeing my campus changed was a little strange, but it would be more disappointing if it never changed. Gotta Keep Moving Forward.

Entertainment Reviews! 

Well, I can't call it "movie" reviews since I've been watching some TV based shows as well, so this may be a more accurate phrase for the media I consume so often. *Thanks, Meredith, for encouraging me to write more reviews :)

Easy A ****

What a treat to enjoy a film for the cast, script and heart! Although it could be seen as an homage to John Hughes, the director/writer who defined teen drama/comedies, it is also a snapshot of what our teen culture is like. Messed up! To see a heroine with a servant heart, but with guts was memorable. I loved seeing some familiar faces like Amanda Bynes, Thomas Haden Church, Lisa Kudrow and handsome Penn Badgley and Cam Gigandet, and fabulous Stanley Tucci! But Emma Stone carried the film very, very well. You rooted for her the entire time because she never changed who she was and never did something just because everyone else seemed to be doing it. However, the whole point of the movie is that she accepts, no, embraces and embodies the kind of girl everyone thinks she is, but at a price. Excellent movie for teens and parents. I'm sure PluggedIn hated it (yeah, the Christians are evil in this story) but I think it's a great conversation starter, or to continue having those conversations. Great for group dates, too! It'll be popular on DVD, for sure!

Widow's Peak ****

Joan Plowright, Mia Farrow and Natasha Richardson are the powerhouse women who lead this cast of eccentric Irish widows whose gossiping gets in the way of seeing the truth. It was so brilliant and funny, I was hooked through the end of the story! I can't say much more or I'll give it away. Just enjoy!

Parenthood **

I give the show props for the excellent cast and fun family dynamics, but I tend to get more stressed after watching it! The pace of the script and the volume at which the characters interact with each other is overwhelming sometimes. The arguments are most often the characters yelling and talking over each other. There's very little listening or respect. The family situations are easy to relate to, and much more realistic than 7th Heaven. However, I just want to rattle each moronic parent on that show! But I guess if they were smart, like most people, there wouldn't be a show. The only family dynamics they portray that I haven't seen before are of a child with autism and a stay at home dad. Those are the stories that fascinate me most. How accurate they are is debatable. Pretty well done, but too much drama for me to handle!

More to come!

Now what...?

Still on the job hunt, but very pleased that to be so fortunate as to have two jobs and interviews coming up for 'big kid' jobs. God has used this time well for me to reconnect with people and help Brandon's family. I hope the new season gives me confidence and motivation to keep moving forward. Thanks to everyone who has been praying for me and giving me bits of encouragement along the way. I love and appreciate every one of you.


all my love,

~Jess

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Irish Fair in Saint Paul!

Hello Everyone!

This past Sunday, I went to the Minnesota Irish Fair on Harriet Island in Saint Paul!
The venue was beautiful! All the tents on the lawn, the fried food smell in the air and the Celtic tunes keeping everyone in good cheer...It was fun!

My parents and I saw the Irish Step Dancers with their sparkly outfits and bouncy, larger-than-life hair. Mom and I kept pointing and saying, "I'd wear that one, Ooo, or that one!" Those girls are so talented and it looks like a lot of fun. Something not too many people know: I did Scottish Dancing when I was in Elementary School. I wore a white dress with a plaid sash. It's more like country line dancing. I didn't get very far, because I didn't want to compete. It was all for fun.

Next we saw all the FOOD! We eventually had some Fish'n'Chips....YUMMMM! Then, in Irish Tradition, we needed some Good Beer. I finally found one I like! I'm a casual drinker, at best, so this is kind of a big deal. I tried Finnegan's Irish Amber and enjoyed it! It has a sweet, smooth taste with a little zing. Those who are of age should try it if you like sweeter drinks and haven't found that beer yet. I'm still a cider fan, but this is a good beer for me.


We also enjoyed all the tents full of different items of Irish culture. My mom and I enjoyed the older sheet music! The titles, illustrations and topics were categorized by name. So all the songs about Dublin were on the same wall etc. And I found a whole section of songs with the name Kathleen* in them! *my middle name, in case you didn't know :) It's a popular name! haha We all enjoyed the LIVE items too...the Irish Dogs! They were so sweet. The Irish Wolf Hounds were huge! Some were taller than the little children...Insane! But I can understand why the Irish tamed them and brought them along on hunting trips. I would want them on MY side, for sure!

But my one weakness is the market place...All the silver knotted jewelry; the rings, earrings and other fine pieces...LOVE IT! The most interesting item we found for my dad would have been the Utili-kilt. It's a kilt that functions as a utility belt and a casual cargo kilt to wear almost anywhere. If they hadn't been so expensive, we might have been more tempted. My dad was more attracted to adding to his instrument collection by adding a bow drumb. He didn't find 'the one' but he has a good idea of what he's looking for. There was a music shop that had these beautiful harps on display. I melted! haha I eventually went home with a sterling silver right-hand ring and dangly earrings. The ring is crafted with the most unique celtic knot I've ever seen, and, believe me, I've been looking for one for years! And the earrings are  celtic classy :) Best market visit ever! Crowded, but eh, there are worse things...haha


The Grand Finale, for us at least, was hearing The High Kings perform! They are legit, from Ireland! The harmonies were heavenly, the guitars perfectly plucked and strummed to create a festive atmosphere of people singing, dancing and swingin' their drinks to the beat. Love that Celtic Sound!



Overall, my parents and I had a ball! Now whenever I head to Saint Paul, I'm going to Harriet Island.

all my love,


~Jess



Comimg Up Next: The Renaissance Festival!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW SPECIAL!!! 2010

Hello One and All!

This is the one you've been waiting for! JESSICA'S MOVIE REVIEW SPECIAL! 

Anyone who knows me is aware that I am the go-to person if you want to know about movies and the cast members. I know far too much about movies (new and old) and love sharing that knowledge. I like having active discussions about movies, so if you agree or disagree with me, let me know!

I go to the movies to be entertained and to share that experience with others. So that's what this blog is all about: starting conversations by sharing some of the films/programs I've seen so far this year. I'll give a number of stars out of 5 (scale seen below) and a snippet what I thought of it.

Enjoy!

*=Poor
**= Okay
***=Good
****=Great
*****=Awesome

In Theaters:

Avatar *****
Best of Everything Film of the Year!
This is one of the films that has it all! I know that everyone loves it, and I have an idea why! The fictitious planet seems real; the people, the vegetation and exotic animals. I wish it were! Gorgeous film. It was an awesome adventure! The only thing I could have lived without was the obvious tree-hugger overtone...But it does show how our society's 'need' for energy sources can destroy everything if we're not careful.

Toy Story 3 *****
Best Family Film of the Year!
From start to finish, this film was a treat! Visually stunning, the story was engaging and the new characters were excellent! They rounded off the story really well. I'll admit, I teared up a few times near the end...I can't wait to see it again! I believe in the magic of animation :)  

How To Train Your Dragon ****
TS3's Only Competition for Best Family Film! So Best NEW Family Film!
 This was the most original family film I've seen in years! I loved the Viking culture, the characters and the dragons! Toothless reminds me of my baby kitty :D The flying was amazing in the theater! The creativity behind this film was impressive!

Alice in Wonderland***
Most Upbeat Tim Burton Movie of the Year!
I was expecting to see everything from the original film in computer animation, but nope! Burton changed up the story quite a bit, but it was fun! Since I've read the book, it was fun to hear Johnny Depp quoting the random poems. He was the strongest character but I also enjoyed the Cheshire Cat, the Red Queen and the Caterpillar. The only character I was turned off by was Anne Hathaway as the White Queen...I sensed she was making fun of her Princess Diaries role or something. I hope I'm wrong, but there was something insincere about her performance. Maybe it's just me :P Overall: Crazy, but that's what Alice in Wonderland is all about.

Iron Man 2***
"I love Robert Downy, Jr!" ~Lesley Decker, biggest fan
This was the perfect movie for Lesley and I to see together! I loved the technology, action and, of course, Robert Downy, Jr! *sigh* Les and I didn't like the new casting of Rhodey, but Don Cheadle tried. But that's what was wrong, he tried to be like the other guy instead of making the character his own. Lame! My favorite character other than Iron Man himself was Mickey Rourke's baddy Vanko! He was fantastic! Overall: Fun ride!

Inception *****
Best Action/Thriller/Mind Bender of the Year!
Chris Nolan is a genius! To be honest, I enjoyed The Prestige more, but the idea for this film must have been extracted from MY dreams! I have vivid dreams all the time so I enjoyed the general idea of not realizing you're dreaming unless something strange happens. The ending is very debatable, but I think that's the point! The only thing I would criticize about the movie is that sometimes the story dragged when I wanted it to speed up. Risky move when the audience is revved up by the desire to see how it ends. Great 'food for thought' type movie.

Twilight: Eclipse ****
Best Twilight Movie!
I wouldn't consider myself a Twihard, but I enjoyed the books and I make sure to see the Twilight films the first day/weekend they are released! Actually, my first experience with the story was with the original movie. I lost my breath! No lie! So for the next month or so the Twilight Saga became part of my bedtime ritual.
This movie sets the standard that the other films should have been at as far as the quality of photography and makeup. The vampire skin finally looks believable! The script is still very weak, but that's why the books are better. Everything happens over a longer time so it doesn't surprise you when Edward wants to marry Bella etc. Speaking of Bella, well, Kristen Stewart, I was relieved to see less spastic shaking from Miss Stewart. For this we need to thank the wonderful director and editors for choosing to do mostly close-ups of her so the shaking was out of the frame. Thank you!
Overall: Enjoyed it! Love the back stories of the other characters (boo on them for setting Rosalie in the wrong time period, grr!) and that the films are getting closer to the epic-ness of the books.

Clash of the Titans **
This is purely an action movie. Not much story (well, at least they started with a good story!), but the action scenes were the focus. Sometimes the fighting was a little overdone, and so were the few 3D elements. From seeing the trailers, this movie seemed to have it all: the cast, the special effects, and a great story! But it fell flat. Fun, but nothing too memorable.



At Home:

The Hurt Locker ****
I had been looking forward to seeing this movie for a long time and it didn't disappoint! Even before it won the Oscar for Best Picture, I wanted to see it. According to the trailers, it seemed like a witty war drama like those made in around WWII era. It turned out to be deeper conceptually because of the character-driven nature of the film. Some of the characters, like  Jeremy Renner's Sgt James, were just crazy but very human. The cameos were impressive too! David Morse, Guy Pierce and Ralph Fiennes! I think it won Best Picture because it takes you by surprise and keeps the tension pulled at just the right moments. Very human story about war and how it changes people and shows their true colors.

The Young Victoria***
Very sweet historical romance. The costumes and sets were fabulous! The story was told tenderly and succinctly. The writers incorporated many of the memorable aspects of the relationship between Victoria and Albert; the stockings, their taste in music, and their genuine care for one another. Rupert Friend was perfectly cast alongside Emily Blunt's vivacious Victoria! This film shows that sometimes romance did grow and blossom once upon a time... 

The Blind Side ****
By the time I saw this film, I was sick of hearing how great Sandra Bullock was...but since witnessing her performance, I totally agree! This was the best move she could have possibly made because she was playing a character, a real person, instead of the same modern women she usually plays. She truly transformed herself into someone else. That is the ultimate compliment for a actor. The overall movie didn't need to be nominated for an Oscar, but her performance did! I think they did it to recognize the impact this movie has on America. It's one of the highest grossing movies of this year because people were touched by it and told their friends to see it as well. Also, Tim McGraw was perfect! He didn't stick out like Taylor Swift did in Valentine's Day (I shiver thinking about her and that movie...not my favorite...) Overall: Heartwarming story and Sandra Bullock was AMAZING! 


Invictus *****
I have wanted to see this film for along time so I was pumped to see this film and it didn't let me down! I enjoy movies based on true stories. Definitely the most uplifitng Clint Eastwood film I've seen. I almost wish it had won for Best Picture, but, of course, the Academy can't pic something with such a positive, clear message. haha Morgan Freeman was fantastic and Matt Damon wasn't annoying! Bravo! Their accents were exceptionally believable. I would put this film in the same category as Chariots of Fire because of the way sports, politics and human nature are revealed through outstanding circumstances. I am also pretty confident that I understand Rugby! Witnessing the man power needed to play that game was impressive! Overall: Loved the Eastwood style of this engaging story.

Little Big Man ***
Dustin Hoffman became my hero after seeing his performance in this film! He plays the same character from the time he's a teenager until he's an extremely old man. Hoffman still holds the record for longest lifespan of a character, even more than Brand Pit did as Benjamin Button! The film follows the unpredictable life of a boy growing up in pre-Civil War era America. Raised by Native Americans, he understands their culture, and becomes a man of two worlds as he learns from the whites he encounters, including the idiotic Col. Custard as he fights the Sioux. There's some slow parts in the film as he 'discovers' himself, but it's an epic movie that I hope my friends are willing to give a chance.

On TV:

Phineas and Ferb*****
Honestly, I'm addicted to this show! Every time I watch an episode I genuinely enjoy every character, joke and musical number. It's the best show Disney has produced in many many years. I hope that they will keep this show on the air! I can't get enough of the brilliance that comes from every episode. 

Larkrise to Candleford ****
This is the best family show from PBS/BBC because it brings my family together every week with quality characters, universal life lessons and a genuine charm that can't be beat! The series revolves around the happenings in two early 19th century Oxford-shire villages; rural Larkrise and the more prosperous market town of Candleford. A young woman, Laura, from Larkrise works at the Candleford post office run by her mother's cousin, Dorcas. Laura witnesses these happenings as they apply to her life and to those around her. Simple plots, but great human characters. I can hardly wait for the new season to begin! They left it at a cliff-hanger as Laura is pursued by two very eligible young men :) swoon! Check it out when you can find it on your local PBS station!

Poirot: Murder on the Orient Express *****
From Masterpiece Mystery on PBS comes Agatha Christie's Poirot!!! The production value for this series has soared! The latest in the series, Murder on the Orient Express, was exceptionally mysterious and explored what justice really means. Dun dun DUUUN! Before the episode aired, they produced a special program where David Suchet, the actor who IS Poirot, traveled on the real Orient Express as Poirot would have! Definitely a possible honeymoon idea ;) haha There is something terribly romantic about trains...and exploring Europe in general. What an adventure it would be! Anyone who loves mysteries and hasn't checked out Agatha Christie's Poirot needs to NOW! 

John Adams: HBO Series *****
Ok American History buffs, you need to check out Paul Giamatti and Laura Liney as John and Abigail Adams! This HBO series is available on DVD and is a must see for anyone who wants a more accurate depiction of how our country was born. All your preconceptions of figures like Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington will change! Some for the better (Washington was the sweetest man!) and some for the worse (Franklin was crazy!). Giamatti and Liney are perfectly cast and they carry the story, making these figures fully human. Watching it made me think: What would I do if I were in their place? Every step they took was a big risk, but looking back over 200 years, I'm thankful they did.


~FIN~

If you've gotten this far it means one of a few possibilities:
A: You looked at the star ratings and probably didn't read the blurbs.
B: You actually read the blurbs!
C: You skimmed through the blurbs and read the ones you were interested in.

However you got to this point, thank you for reading and I hope you found something new to discover for yourself. Please let me know if you agree, disagree or have questions about any of the films listed. If you think of something I should check out, let me know! I'm always on the look out for good entertainment.

Thanks again and Blessings to you!

all my love,

~Jess

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Kroll Komes to the Twin Cities

My friend Matt Kroll came to visit from Sioux Center, Iowa! We met in Chicago through the Chicago Semester program. Out of all the crazy fun things we did, we missed out on swing dancing. After the great experience at Tapestry Folkdance Center, I knew that was the place that Matt and I could make that idea come to life.

So here's the low-down of our fun-filled weekend!

Thursday

SWING TIME!! @ Tapestry Folkdance Center! Social dancing is such a blast! Everyone's so friendly and willing to dance. An extra treat was running into a few people I knew including Jen Jorgensen from Rosemount High and Katie Gard who I went with last time (she was there with another group). The world gets smaller all the time, especially when dancing brings us together :)  

Friday

We went on a Trader Joe's run to get snacks for the Game Night at my place. We got fun cheeses and meat to put on crackers. For supper we went to Pardon My French (my favorite new restaurant) Before company came, Matt had the idea to make peach smoothies! Joining us were David Allen, Ali Wulf and Jen Mike. We enjoyed getting to know each other while playing games and chatting.
We played:
LadderBall aka Lawn Nuts (oh boys... haha)
Farkle (new favorite game!)
Apples to Apples
Catch Phrase (Davids face was too funny for words! He's so intense!)

Best Quote from the night!
Game: Catch Phrase
Players: Matt to David.
The phrase: "nail clippers."
Matt's description: "Use these to shorten the protein on the end of your toes."
There was a pregnant pause to digest what he said and we all keeled over laughing! LOL

Saturday

We enjoyed a leisurely stroll around the Lebanon Hills lake. No, we did not get lost like the poor mother and child who did earlier that week. But I can understand how easily that could happen. We saw plenty of wildlife including a half a dozen little turtles all chilling on a fallen tree. They know how to enjoy a beautiful day!

Next, we trekked up to Minneapolis/St. Paul to the Sculpture Garden, Summit Avenue and Grand Avenue. The Traffic was not helpful between the Cities, but we survived! The best part of the Garden was, for sure, the Spoon and Cherry fountain (with a family of ducks! So CUTE!). But what was also amusing were the different wedding parties taking pictures there. One bride had, basically, a prom dress on with tiara! haha On Grand Ave, Matt especially liked the Cooking store. He drooled over almost everything in there! There were many items that we just laughed at because they were items that you would only buy if you had too much money. haha I hit the jackpot with that stop :)

For supper we went to Noodles & Company! LOVE! Then had a bon fire in the back yard roasting marshmallows and playing ladder ball/lawn nuts in the moon light.

Sunday

Tagging along with my parents, we attended Community of Hope Church. We got some lunch and then went on a bike ride around Rosemount, the high school and some of the neighborhoods. I finally met Matt's aunt right before he left. It was very sweet of her to house him since my place is packed!

Overall: The time with Matt was awesome, tiring but completely worth it. Now I have a sun burn, bug bites and my body is sore all over...that means it's summer! haha Again, definitely worth it to be with a good friend :)

Next Time: MOVIE REVIEW!!! (Yes, I saw INCEPTION!!!)

Take care everyone!

all my love,

~Jess

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Special Times with Lesley and Cirque de Soleil!!

One of the adventures I forgot to highlight was the extraordinary opportunity to see Cirque de Soleil: Alegria with Lesley! She got tickets to see them through her internship. Her supervisor approached her and a few others and said, "You may not be getting paid, but there are some perks" and slapped down the $70/person tickets! THANK YOU LESLEY FOR CHOOSING ME TO COME WITH! It was a night of entertainment and wonder that I will never forget! :)


The seats were in just the right spot: above the main floor, but not in the upper balcony. We sat next to one of her fellow interns and her mom. As it turns out, all the people in the floor seats were able to interact with the clowns. Yes, clowns! *I'll go into that later* I had never been to the Target Center before, so it was fun to explore. To get there, we chose to park at the Mall of America and take the Lightrail to the station which let us off a few blocks away from the Target Center. With plenty of time to spare, we were able to get some snacks (popcorn and nachos yumm!) and settle in to our seats. The stage was interesting to look at with all the ropes hanging from the ceiling and the patterns on the floor. It was a forest like theme with cool greens, blues and some yellow for highlights. You can check out the photo! We were a lot closer than the picture makes it seem.

Overall, I would describe Cirque de Soleil as a modern circus complete with live music, singers, clowns and acrobats. The costumes were mostly fairy-like to go with the forest theme. But they varied depending on the type of talent they had. The show started out with the clowns and the band came in playing instruments like the sax and accordion. The role of the clowns were to be the comic relief (by mocking the acrobats) and fill in the gaps between acts so the other performers had time get ready for the next act. They were quite amusing! Sometimes they interacted with the audience in the floor seats. Once, they brought a guy up on stage and he did everything they asked! Including tumbling, jumping and speaking in their weird little non-language. It was really funny!

The performers were all incredibly talented! While the band played/sang original (beautiful!) music, we enjoyed:
1. A trapeze artist on a high swing (very lovely, but a little nerve racking cuz she was swinging above us!)
2. A group called the Power Track who bounded through the air with help from trampolines built into the stage floor!
3. An incredibly buff hand balancer who rotated himself on little pedestals(Jacob Black has nothing on this guy's abs! haha),
4. Male fire dancers with leather outfits (keehee)
5. A ribbon dancer who could hoola hoop on every part of her body (including her knee! still can't figure that one out...)
6. A "flying man" who swung himself from a centralized rope. Kinda like they did in Billy Elliot.
7. Russian Bars: basically, human spring boards! There were two guys holding each board and a guy in the middle flipping again and again, higher and higher!
8. Two contortionists (twins, I think) who formed shapes together on a rotating platform. They creeped us out a bit...
9. The grand finale: Aerial High Bar routine (most of the second act, mostly because the nets below them took up the entire stage). These guys were so graceful and fearless! It was incredible!

Ultimately, I can die happy after seeing this! I would recommend it to anyone who can get decent priced tickets. The quality is so high, the feats so unbelievable, that it's a must see!

Thanks again, Lesley, for choosing me to share this special performance with. Love you!

Next Time:

Matt Kroll comes to Visit!

The Movie Review Special! *maybe I'll see Inception! :)

Take care everyone! 

All my love,

~Jess

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Dancing Through Life

Here are some of the highlights from my first summer out of school. While not looking for jobs I have been dancing, camping, attending weddings and seeing great movies. More is yet to come, I'm sure so I'll try and write a bunch of shorter posts instead of long ones every once in awhile. We'll see how that goes! Thanks for reading and enjoy the stories...

Adventures with Katie Gard

Lately I've been getting invitations from my dear friend Katie Gard to hang out with her during her spuratic trips to the Twin Cities. Usually her reason for being down here has something to do with her sisters, Jennifer and Susie, but sometimes she gets these grad ideas of an adventure we can embark on. These adventures have revolved around food and dancing! We went to Whole Foods, specialty bakeries in the Cities and Noodles & Company. (One of my favorite fast-ish food places!) The dancing was fantastic! More-so the second time than the first. The first time, Katie had an inch to go salsa dancing since she had recently learned the steps. Katie has a lot of style when she dances so it was fun to watch her! 

We decided to go to a Latino dance/bar near the U of M. We thought there would be more authentic dancers, but most of the people there did it for more...social reasons...and we witnessed this firsthand. There were two guys who occupied us for most of the night. They wanted to dance close as they practiced their English. We  tried to be kind but as it came closer to the time for us to leave, we had to give them an ultimatum; only one more dance! haha They kept begging us to stay but we left. It was a learning experience, indeed.

Our second time around was absolutely magical! We went to Tapestry Folkdance Center in Minneapolis for swing dance lessons and a free dance afterwords. Katie's sister Jennifer joined us, which was a treat! We learned the lindy style of swing. It's more fluid than East coast style. The guys basically do everything and we follow. I finally learned to follow! It's a big step for me not to calculate in my head where the lead may be taking me. I thought that was my duty, but I've found that it's more trouble for the lead when followers do that. And it's more fun as a follow just to be swung around and around till you get dizzy! This happened quite a lot, actually. Many times we found that some partners were all about the spins and almost completely forgot the basic steps. There were a variety of people. Many of them our age! Everyone was asking everyone to dance! It was a friendly, welcoming atmosphere. Most of the guys would dance with you once and then move on, but they were very kind gentlemen. 

One in particular, an older Asian gentleman, shared his philosophy of dancing with me...He asked me: "How many feet do you have? How many hands? Two, right? Well, there's only so many ways you can move them, so you don't need lessons to know how to dance. Just move!" He was such a gentle lead. I felt like I was gliding across the floor by Fred Astaire himself! Not surprisingly, Astaire is one of the people this gentleman 'learned' from. :)

I can see how in previous societies, like Jane Austen's, that dancing was an acceptable way to find someone to marry. While dancing, you find out pretty quickly how compatible you are physically and conversationally. And swing is fun enough that it won't get too serious if you don't want to. This was the perfect environment to meet some quality people. Thanks Katie for the fabulous adventure! Hope to have more soon :) 

I can't wait to go back to Tapestry. Hopefully I can bring my swing-dancing friend, Matt Kroll with me ;)


Rachael Wittern (now Green)'s Wedding 

On June 26th, my friend Rachael Wittern was married in a lovely ceremony to Aaron Green. I had never met the groom, but since he had survived Rach for a few years, I guess he could handle her ;) No, no, in all seriousness, when I observed them together I could tell that they enjoyed each others' silliness, but, more importantly, she seems to genuinely respect and care for him. They seem perfect for each other in that they want to take the journey God has planned for them together. The ceremony was beautiful because it was personal and family oriented. The ring was bared in a locked case by a secret agent wearing shades! Hilarious! The reception hall was decorated with Rachael's favorite animal, the frog :) I was so thankful to be there to celebrate with her and her family. 

After we saw the bride and groom off, I spent some quality time at a cabin with Jen Marks, Meg Griwac and Katie Gard. Monica Filman needed to head home, otherwise she might have stayed with us. We were able to just hang out and catch up on each others' lives. We asked silly and hard questions while the rain pounded down outside. We were cozy, and very tired. It had been a long week for them preparing for the wedding, so they had earned a good rest. The time we had together was such a blessing. 

Camping with Ruth and Sam

Ruth, Sam and I planned a little get together for the 4th of July weekend. We camped in Guthrie Center, Iowa at Springbrook. Our campsite was by the creek, among trees and had plenty of room for all of us to park our cars. We successfully set up our own tent and built a few fires! I brought my new little brill to grill some hot dogs and buns. We also had a fire pit where we roasted marshmallows and threw in little smoke bombs to celebrate our country's birth. Sparklers were our favorite way to celebrate! We put them in our empty bottles to make them look like lamps haha! I had my first experience catching lightning bugs/ fireflies! I had never seen so many in my life. They were enchantingly beautiful bobbing around the creek...On our little hike we picked up some snails whom we named and created soap opera-type scenarios as to how they all were related :) That was our perfect first day...

We awoke to rain, rain and more rain...so we took the hour drive to Des Moines and the Jordan Creek Mall. It was more fun to be dry in there than to be soaked outside. We explored creative shops like Teavanna, toy stores and the huge Sheills with two-story tree inside. So you could argue that we got some outdoors experience there :) 

Since the rain had not stopped by the time we returned and there was a strong chance of a storm coming, we packed up our campsite and checked into a nearby motel. The woman at the desk was, at first, very suspicious of us. She grilled us with some questions about how old we were and such, but when I told her that we had come from the campsite and didn't want to get caught in the storm, her attitude lightened considerably! She gave us the room closest to where we had parked. We felt bad about bringing all our muddy things into the room but we found something that no one expected...a pair of socks that had been kicked off in the night by the previous sleeper...EWWWWW! So that was the bed we set up the tent on. Didn't feel guilty at all for doing that. We just hope the owners would change the sheets then! We slept in our sleeping bags on the other bed. We played Nertz till we passed out. The next morning we had breakfast outside on my picnic blanket. Since Ruth had announced her move to Colorado, it was a sad parting for us...but not without the hope of a visits in the future. 

Those are my adventures so far, but more are sure to come! I'm still actively looking for a job. Just need to figure out where the Lord is leading me.

Coming Up: My Movie Review Special!    

Blessings to you all, 

~Jess 

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Graduate is Still Learning

Hi All!

Even though I've been a graduate for almost a month, I'm still learning things about interviews, job search and other life subjects including love, family and friendship.


Interviews: I haven't had many yet, but my first one was not what I expected...

Lesson Learned: Don't get emotionally tied to a job, no matter how assured it may seem. I learned the hard way that sometimes you have to give up what you think you want for what is right for you. I wanted to take over a job for a friend, but her boss and I couldn't communicate very well. But the Lord turned it into a blessing because I was able to contact a program for disabled adults that I could work for. I'm keeping my options open, but that's part of my next lesson.

Job Search: I have so many interests and things I could do, I feel rather lost when searching online or on company listings...

Lesson Learned: Find what you want do to and focus on jobs around that industry or job description. I'm finding that I'm not as attracted to pure PR jobs, I like the communications-type jobs. I also am trying to stay in companies that focus around subjects I'm interested in like people with disabilites, the arts, books, music.

Networking: I've been using every connection my family and I can muster so that I know what's out there for me.

Lesson Learned: People are very willing to help! A few of my mom's church friends got together with me and gave me a huge list of companies I should check out for in-house communications and publishers in the area. I've also found connections through friends and extended family. The people I've contacted have been kind and helpful in letting me know their wisdom, where they work and what they do. It's been fun getting to know new people and places I could work.

Place to work: I thought I wanted to work at a small agency but since I was told about the flexibility and security experienced with larger companies, my perspective has changed a bit.

I've been working with my mom's preschool class the past few weeks so I'm sad to not see their beautiful faces every day, but I'm glad they are getting a summer break. They've earned it! I love those little ones. I'll miss Paige, Logan, Austin and Clara the most. They are so precious!

Love: I recently watched the movie "The Young Victoria" and the love story was impactful for me. I had heard exerpts from Victoria's diaries and some of the details stuck with me. She didn't say much about her wedding night except that he helped put on her stockings in the morning. So sweet! The movie depicted their relationship and life situation very, very well! Their love seemed so pure, genuine and suprising considering it was, ultimately, an arranged marriage. He did seem to give her an inner strength that she lost when he died 20 years later. And that the glorious Victorian era was made possible through his hard work by her side.
I've been praying, subconsciously, that my marriage be something like theirs in the sense of their near perfect compatibility and their similar dreams. I just need to find my dreams and come along side the one God has in mind for me. That gives me peace, finally, after all these years of fretting about who I'm going to be with. The past few years I've haven't thought about it, but now that I'm on my own I think a lot more about it.

Family: Since my grandma moved in with us this weekend, I've seen a transformation in the way my family supports each other. It's been a little overwhelming but we're all helping out as we can. Lesley and I both tend ask what we can do before we head out to do our thing. I've moved downstairs with Lesley since Grandpa needs to be in my room. It's worth it knowing that Grandma can stay on the same level of the house most of the day.

Dad Update: Dad is done with his treatments as of a month ago. We haven't had time to tell everyone because we had Chicago, Graduation and transition into summer. But a month out, he's doing great. Almost too great! haha Sometimes I wish he would rest a little bit, but I guess he's just used to using all the energy he has he just keeps on using it up. But now he has more to burn! Go, Daddy, go! He's tearing up the yard, literally, and getting it beautified so that we can enjoy being outside in thie lovely weather.

Friendship: To be honest, I'm in a social desert right now. I'm reaching our when I can, but hopefully now I can be more purposeful since I'm not so busy. So if  you are inspired to drop me a note, a phone call, a text, please feel free to do that. I would welcome it!

That's all for now! Keep my job search in your prayers and let me know how I can pray for you.

Blessings,

~Jess

Sunday, May 16, 2010

An Insane Week!

Much has happened so here's a low-down of the BIG EVENTS in my life; Leaving Chicago and Graduation! 

Wednesday, May 5th

Last Day in Chicago, Last Day of Classes: Dad arrived to pack me up after a crazy day at classes. Everyone saying goodbye, turning everything in and relieved that it's all over (at least for the graduates!) 

Dad and I walked along Lake Shore just far enough to get all the way down to where we wanted to eat supper; Heaven on Seven. The atmosphere was a little squished, but that's because we were crowded with walls full of different kids of Tabasco sauce. Oh glorious! The food was excellent because it was true to the Creole food we had in New Orleans a few years ago.

That evening we packed up all my stuff with welcome interruptions from friends saying good bye. I miss you all!

Thursday, May 6th

Dad and I drove back to Minnesota with a stop at Wrigley Field on our way out of Chicago. We also made a pit stop for lunch at a German restaurant in Wisconsin. Good Choice!

Friday, May 7th

Headed down to Orange City with my parents and sister in time for the beautiful Baccalaureate service. That was worth the trip down to worship with my classmates. I'm going to miss the Chapel, the fellowship and all the hugs! Later that night, Sam and I were able to catch up with others from our class at a grad party hosted by a few mutual friends. We ran into many friends who we wouldn't have seen otherwise. One rather memorable encounter involved Jill Swanson, Sam and Susan. We created and practiced a language where every word started with "V" For example you would say "Vello, Vow Vare Vu?" We became quite good at it! But sometimes we would get confused about what a person was saying and they would have to act it out. Jill and I found out that we both had the same sinus surgery! We were relieved to know that someone else had gone through it too. Although, I must say, that my experience was more pleasant than Jill's...poor girl had a horror story of a time of recovery! Praise the Lord that didn't happen to me, but I'm glad I took the time to recover well. Anyways, the night was great for connecting with people again.

Saturday, May 8th

GRADUATION DAY! That was the morning I got all dressed up in my lovely new dress, conveniently covered with my robe (haha) and topped off with the cap precariously perched on top of my head. We walked together, listened and laughed while Vonder Bruegge described the excitement of what we were going through. He tailored it to most majors, showing how brilliant and witty he is. Ironically, he was the first prof I met four years ago. Very fitting for him to send me out into the world!

TODAY

After all the traveling, I took some time to recuperate.  Now I'm working with Brandon, helping out with Mom's preschool, and actively looking for a job!

Prayers would be most welcome! I'll keep you all posted!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Experiencing Culture: Sports, Dance and Art!

GO CUBS! 

On Sunday, April 18th we went to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field! It was a fun game because we were ahead most of the time, but then we had to let two runs by us and we LOST in the 10th inning...so sad...and it didn't help that we were in the shade and the wind, but we survived! Popcorn, hot dogs and a little bit of coffee helped too. The stadium was different from Safeco Field where I grew up watching the Mariners, but it was fun to be a part of something that tens of thousands of people we watching together. It was a blast!

On Thursday, April 22nd, for our LAST Art Event we saw Billy Elliot the Musical! The dancing, music and acting was fantastic! I love the movie, so it wasn't hard to like this production. It was very 42nd street many times with all the fun dances the kids did. However, I forgot how sad the story can be at times with the struggle between Billy, his brother and their dad. The way the miner's strike was dramatized through song and dance illustrated well how that was affecting their family. The kids in the show were so talented! The Billy we saw was fun to watch because he was so cute and danced so well. The only thing that didn't transfer from the movie to the stage show was in the movie it was a harder to believe that he could be such a good dancer, but going into the show you know already that he's a dancer. So that sense of surprise and wonderment was lost a little bit. But the kids in the show were talented beyond believe so that's where that element is slightly regained. Overall, a wonderful evening of entertainment!

Ruth came to visit from Omaha this past weekend! (April 23-25) I was so excited to show her where I live and what a weekend in Chicago can be like. Of course the rain didn't help, but that seems to be my curse: when friends come, Chicago pours it's love with essence of wetness from the skies....Boo....But we had a blast! She wants to live in Chicago now. I knew she would! When she got in Friday night we hit the town and had a drink with Matt and Meredith at Pippins! It's a fun place because it's homey and spacious. The service was quick and friendly and we were able to hear each other speak, most of the time, anyways. 
 

Saturday we used the free family pass to go the Chicago Institute of Art! It was incredible! I didn't get to see the classical  side of the Museum when we went to the Modern Wing, so this was a treat. There were so many rooms full of masterpieces that I had only dreamed of seeing for myself. The most exciting one for me was seeing George Seurat's "La Grande Jette!" And boy was it GRANDE! It took up almost an entire wall! There were so many colors in it that you never see in the print copies, such as the blue and red border or dots. It looks like he might have been testing paint colors there and decided to turn it into a border. Weird, but cool. I have been wanting to see this painting since fourth grade when we made our own mini versions of it. It captured my imagination so it was fulfilling to see it for myself.

After we had seen almost every piece in the Art Institute, Rachel joined us to see The Bean and go shopping! I found my graduation dress at Ann Taylor Loft downtown. It's just what I wanted: something summery, but not floral, a classic color and a style that fits my body well, but mostly, I needed to feel pretty, and I DO! So it's perfect! 
 

The rest of the weekend was spent recovering from our big day, watched a movie at the apartment, went to church, got soaked trying to find a place to eat for lunch, but we recovered in a tea shop just down the street from my place. We wanted to go to the beach, but the weather was not cooperating...as usual...So we got lunch, packed her up and sent her back home. Sadness! Ever since, she's been telling me she wants to come back! Not surprising at all, to me. 

More to come as I wrap up my time in Chicago!



Friday, April 16, 2010

Spring has Sprung!

Here I am at my favorite lunch spot: Outside on the River :)

Spring is coming out all over the City! The trees are sprouting and the flowers blooming. Lately I've been taking the bus home so I can walk through the neighborhoods between my place and the lake. Sometimes the wind picks up and I actually want to breathe in the air because it's full of fragrance! Ironically, the tulips followed me here from Orange City because they are everywhere; in many beds downtown and in the neighborhoods. They must be tough plants to live in the city, I think. I've been going up to Lincoln Park a lot lately with friends and along the beach. The walks are so refreshing! Now I need to update you on some of the people I've been walking with and what we've seen. 


Easter
I went home for Easter Break, Friday though Monday. At first I didn't want to go home because of everything I would miss here; Easter Supper, a party and whatever else would randomly happen, as many things do. But when I was packing Thursday night after the event I was excited to see my family since I hadn't seen them since Dad's diagnosis. It was also nice to think about not constantly going at 100 miles an hour and just take a break! And, luckily, I did get some time at home just to rest, watch movies with my parents, go out to eat for Mom's birthday and see people at church on Sunday who have all been praying for me. 
The weirdest thing about being home was the quiet. I didn't realize how quiet the suburbs were, and how noisy the birds could be! I was overwhelmed but in the opposite way that I am in the City. In the city you try to blot things out, unless there's a street performer or something, but at home I could just let my senses take everything in.
While I was home I had to take care of my car by getting the oil changed and the tires rotated. Dad and I walked back from the Goodyear, got some Caribou Coffee and meandered on home. If I didn't have to walk everywhere here that would have been almost too much for me that early, but it was just fine. It was a little annoying that the sidewalks weren't always there though. haha It seemed tougher to walk around there than in the city, odd.
On Saturday I got to work with Brandon, the boy with CP who I care for whenever I'm home from school. It's the best job I've ever had. It's not easy in the least, but it's fulfilling. Especially on days like we had that Saturday! We chilled watching TV for a bit, got him in his stander, fed him some lunch, walked around the neighborhood with his sister and puppy, then played baseball in the backyard with Molly (the dog) as the catcher (makes playing so much easier! except for the slobbery ball aspect, ew). After a break he got his hair cut and a shower. Whew! What a day! It was good to catch up with Brandon's mom, Barb, and sister Courtney. I didn't see much of Don, his dad, but it was good to see everyone together.
 At church I was bombarded with hugs and questions about the City and the dreaded question: what are you going to do when you're done? Do  you want to stay in Chicago?
Honestly, I don't know. Everything that has made this experience wonderful has been the people I've met and gotten to know and if they aren't here, why should I be? Yes, I could make more friends. I know I could, but I would really have to pray about it, and there would need to be a job!

Back in Chi-town
 
When I got back into the city I was able to talk out some of these questions with a friend from Northwestern, Jesse Nieuwenhuis! He emailed me awhile ago telling me he would be in town interviewing for medical school. We met up Monday afternoon, walked around the lake, went to supper at a cool food court-type thing at Water Tower Place and just talked. I haven't seen him since he graduated last year so it was quite a treat to hear what he's been up to and where he wants to go and how his experiences are leading him in different but exciting directions in his life of serving others. It was amusing having him follow me everywhere and him having almost no idea where we were or where we were going. He would say, "We're going East, right?" "Nope, South." haha Actually, he was a really fast learner! I was totally hopeless the first few weeks here, so I was impressed he caught on so quickly. He said he studied the maps, but you never know a city until you walk in it yourself. It was an absolute pleasure showing him the city :) So glad to have rekindled that friendship in such a cool way!


The next weekend I was able to escape the city, not by plane but by Metra! I went with Matt and Emily to a suburb by Wheaton College where their friend Nick De Jong lives. I was invited by association to come out to his place since I wasn't there when he came for Easter weekend. So taking the Metra was fun; seeing the landscape get greener and shorter as we chugged along. Emily and I admitted later that being on the train made us feel like we were in a classic movie so we half expected Carry Grant to come in to the car and have a chat with us. It was a fun ride. Meeting Nick and his family was a treat. They have a lovely home next to a forest reserve, which we walked through. We went to church that night (which was good because Rachel and I tried to go to church, but failed because we had the wrong information from CS! boo! But we made an outing of it by getting some Starbucks and exploring the Lincoln Park area and the Conservatory at the zoo. It was a beautiful morning, indeed!) and after church we got a  tour of Wheaton College where my beloved seregate grandpa, Roy Wilbee went to school! It was a gorgeous area with brick buildings topped with white steeples. It felt like we were at an East Coast school or something. Very classy! If I had visited there before NWC, I may have changed my mind! haha After our feast of homemade waffles at Nick's house we played a game called 'Sequence' which was fun, but then the time for us to leave came too soon! Back on the train we went, but this time we sat on the upper tier of seats which weren't as exciting at night, but still fun.

The Saturday before, however, I had a surprise visitor: Daniel! He was in Vegas with his family and decided to use some extra time he had off to come see me. We explored North Welles where we went to the Dutch Bike shop and he owner let us ride some of his bikes around area! It was so sweet I don't think I'll be satisfied with another kind. These were so smooth, elegant and easy to ride! Never thought I could go back to foot breaks, but I miss them now. Much easier to control yourself, I think. After reluctantly returning the bikes, we explored Lincoln Park and my favorite neighborhoods. It was a glorious day for weather and for company.

More to come!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

GO BULLS!

On Saturday night the CSers went to a Chicago Bulls Game! Yes, we saw the court where Michael Jackson played (or soared, really!) and where every basketball player in the late 90s wanted to play.
Now the Bulls haven't exactly been playing very well lately, at least according to my RedEye (the Chicago social paper I read every day over my lunch break. It's waaay left of center, but it's fun so I'm addicted! Ok, moving on...) So I wasn't expecting anything outstanding, but we were expecting a decent game because the teams have similar stats. The Bulls seemed to shoot more, but the New Jersey Nets seemed to get the ball in the basket more often. It was a strange site to behold. But however they managed it, the Bulls scored over 100 points so everyone with a coupon book got a FREE BIG MAC!!! The booklets were full of coupons depending on who won in the little animated races between quarters and other entertainments. They really knew how to keep us watching! The LoveaBulls (the dancers) could have been worse, but we just wondered if they had another job besides looking pretty. Just kidding! I heard that they are expected to be in school or something like that, which would be cool. But I haven't verified that info, so don't quote me on it! Haha

Sunday night Matt, Meredith and I went down to the Rock'n'Roll McDonald's off Clark Street to enjoy our Free food! I was able to get a rare Shamrock Shake with my Big Mac. Why not, huh? That McD's is the most swankified McD's I've ever been in with two IKEA-style decorated floors with an escalator in the middle! It was slightly awkward to be eating our fast food in that nice environment, but it was fun! A novelty, even. So it was the perfect place to go for the occasion. Oh Good Times they just keep on coming :)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Marriage of Figaro at Lyric Opera Chicago

This is the paper I wrote for my final Encounter for the Arts and the City Seminar. We were told to think of something we had not encountered before and I chose opera. I interviewed members of the Lyric Opera Chorus and did some research on my own. This is the culmination of all those experiences. It's long, but I could go on and on about this incredible experience. Just ask me, I dare you ;)






On Wednesday, March 24, I attended the 7:30pm performance of Lyric Opera’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” It was a night I will never forget. The atmosphere, the music, the talent of the singers and the beloved characters they portrayed were of excellence that I have never encountered before. I cannot wait until I encounter it again. So writing about it will be close enough for now.

The evening began with meeting Martha outside the stage door to begin a personalized tour of the Lyric Opera backstage. We were able to see the dressing rooms, the prop department and wig making department. All the designers were in the shops and willing to show us around. The wigmaster, Richard Jarvie, showed us each of the stages of wig making and told us most people are trained in one of the steps, but everyone on his staff knows how to do all the steps; fitting, placing the hair and styling the hair. It was incredible to see how they did it! The costume shop was huge! The ladies in the costume shop showed us around the halls of costumes, the lines of mannequins and the wash rooms. They wash all the clothes that touch skin after every performance. That’s a lot of work! Martha also showed us some of the rehearsal space for the dancers and singers. Someone was in the middle of an audition! As we walked around, we could hear people warming up in their rooms. No one was in the dressing room yet, so we wandered a bit and saw all the fun stuff they had on their mirrors. I liked how they had the costumes in hung on bars in the middle of the room. It was an ingenious set up.

Next, Martha also showed us back stage. We walked where everyone in the cast was going to be walking, waiting and performing a few hours later. What an exhilarating feeling! It really made me miss performing. We had to crane our necks as we tried to see through the seven floors of ropes, curtains and backdrops! The set blew my mind at how simple yet effective it was. Usually in our high school productions it was a miracle if we could make a set floor straight, but this stage set was made to tilt up on purpose so that every character could be seen as they walked around. Brilliant! To change the rooms they left the main floor and moved in up to four pieces to make the rest of the room with windows, furniture and other important features like the closet and gazebos. It was mind boggling to see those up close and then see them from the audience a few hours later.

As we left the backstage area we saw Joyce DiDanto, who played the boy Cherubino, coming in to prepare for the show. She is considered one of the best American opera singers today. I was surprised to see her with a boot on her foot! She had previously been in a cast but now she’s on the mend. I have a feeling she jumped out the window (which is what her character does trying to escape the Count’s wrath!) and injured herself. But being that close to her was like being next to a movie star for me. And I hadn’t even seen her on stage yet and I was already stoked!

Before the opera began there was a short lecture held on the main floor. We just had to show our tickets and we could sit on the main floor as the director told us an overview of the story with some sound clips of the music we were going to hear later. This was really helpful! I would recommend that anyone going to an opera for the first time, or any time, should go to a lecture like that so that they know what they are going to see and hear.

Our seats we in the uppermost balcony, but this was the perfect spot to be. We could see everything from a bird’s eye view. The way they had the stage set up, we were always looking in from a corner of the room. We could also read the ‘supertitles’ above the stage and watch the action without having to move my head much at all. The only thing that was lost was some of the facial expressions.

The opera itself was a magnificent display of music, singing and acting. The story was a very close second to the music. The storyline is this: It is Figaro and Susanna’s wedding day. They both serve the Count and Countess as their personal servants. However, the Count is trying to prevent the wedding because he wants Susanna for himself. Of course, the Countess knows all about his floundering nature but loves him and wants to please him herself. So Figaro, Susanna and the Countess come up with a plot to trick the Count, but it falls apart because Cherubino is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Figaro denies knowing anything and that leaves the women to plot on their own. Their plan actually works as they switch places to catch the Count in his own trap. Of course it ends happily like a Shakespearean comedy. There are many pranks, misunderstandings and comments on the relationships between men and women which are still true today and very amusing.

The heightened drama as expressed through the music and the performers was almost overwhelming, but in the best way possible. Every performer was able to make their characters very three-dimensional, very human; imperfect and fun to watch. One big surprise for me was the recasting of the Countess. The original Countess fell ill and went home to Germany so Nicole Cabell took over the part. I had seen her in a televised version of La Boheme as Musetta so I was flabbergasted that I would get to see her in person! Joyce DiDanto was the perfect teenage, lovesick boy. She had the swagger down and everything! She and Nicole Cabell sang with such conviction, control and beauty that they both brought me to tears. I could hardly believe that their voices could fill up the entire gilded theatre! I kept thinking, “Am I really here? Am I really experiencing this?” My favorite character turned out to be the Count because he is someone you enjoy seeing him get fooled. He was slightly over the top, but that made his character redeemable. I surprised that the solos were pretty even among the men and women. I also appreciated that the solos were not about the soloist, but about what the character is feeling at that time. Some of my favorite songs included Cherubino’s love song, Figaro’s solo as he “rails against womankind” (direct quote from the program!), and the sextets where up to six people are singing at the same time; perfection! I remember in the Mozart movie Amadeus, when he explains to the original soloists how the song will play out and they can’t believe it will work. It does work! It’s incredible to hear. Joyce DiDanto admitted in an interview that she always has to stand in the wings and hear that part because she always notices something different. Coming from her, that’s an incredible compliment to the music.

Although the opera ended up running almost four hours, it certainly didn’t feel that long. It was a fulfilling evening! That’s what I call entertainment! Seeing opera for myself has answered the question I asked at the beginning of this project; “Why is opera still an essential part of our culture?” It is the epitome of why we go to the theater, why we listen to music and why we love movies. Opera brings all those elements together for an evening of ultimate escape and pleasure. Experiencing this cultural treasure has certainly raised the bar for everything else I will experience. I highly anticipate attending other operas in the future.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Lesley and Moira Visit

My sister Lesley and her friend Moira came to visit for the weekend!

On Friday morning I was awakened at 6am to a little voice, "We're lost" Uggg....but luckily the MegaBus was the only drama of the trip; getting here and getting back for them. It was cheaper, but not ideal. But at least they didn't have a car to worry about...

So while I was at work, they slept, had lunch, explored downtown. I recommended they see The Bean and eat and Potbelly's yumm! (Finally went there today, oh so good!) Near the end of my day, they visited me at work. They got to see my workspace, meet one of my supervisors and see Lesley's face staring back at them from the picture of her I keep in my office. Moira thought it was sweet! haha

That evening we went to Fresh Choice for supper and were entertained at the Second City comedy club! We saw the mini show called "Wait! It gets better." They were little skits set up randomly, kind of like SNL, but on a smaller scale. The actors were very talented and funny. I think our favorite skit was called, "You are the Key" where a girl sang a ballad to the boy she had a crush on. It was funny because of all the crazy things she was comparing her love for him to including, "I love you like paralysis loves Chris Reeves!" and other outrageous parallels. The whole show was definitely a giggle fest :)

On Saturday we slept in, watched some Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, got ready and equipped ourselves for the day with Starbucks and scones (classic!). We explored the Gold Coast shopping venues! They are both fashonistas, what else would please them more!?! We were amazed by Barney's style and prices, laughed at all the crazy books and gadgets at Urban Outfitters, tried to figure out how the tube scarf at American Apparel could be a dress and oo-ed and ahh-ed at the Harry Winston Diamonds. The surprise stop of the journey was at the snowboarding shop Burton! Lesley got a new black fleece, of course, which looked awesome on her! We were gawking over all the cool pants, gloves and coats! They had a really cute zip-up sweater, but it was just a tad bit more than I wanted to spend. We also stopped in the Gimongous Forever 21 where we each got a new outfit! I found a cute sundress, Moira got a Tim Burton-esk skirt and Lesley got a little black eyelet dress. At Urban Outfitters I got her another dress and a sweater for her B-day present :) Although the fleece was the same price, so you could argue that I got her that, or at least made it possible for her to get it keehee We rounded up the trip by exploring Water Tower Place. (Love that fountain!)

After wearing the girls out from running from store to store in the awful weather, we got dressed up and went to Tavern on Rush. It's the nicest restaurant in the district and thanks to Mom and Dad giving us a good sum of money, we were able to go. We chose that place because we thought that I could use a coupon that Lesley gave me, but that was not so...the website and the card say it, but the computers aren't hooked up...lame! But the food was totally worth it!

Les and I both had sirloin steak with horseradish mashed potatoes and Moira had a pork chop with an Idaho-sized potato! For dessert we split a mango sorbet IN a mango skin! It was all excellent! We were giggling so much over the food, and particularly the presentation and the soothing sensation of the sorbet, that the waiter himself was quite amused at our enjoyment too! We were impressed with his memory because while we were looking at the menu he gave a grand presentation of the Meat! Each cut they offer was on a huge platter, wrapped in saran wrap so we could see the cut. He pointed out the fat and bone and told us everything it came with; yes, everything! He was tipped well! I think I'm still full from that meal, oh boy!

I was sad to see them leave because we had such a wonderful time. I really enjoyed the time with Lesley and getting to know her fabulous friend Moira. We've been told that we should meet and I'm very glad we have.

LOVE YOU LESLEY AND MOIRA!!!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

St. Patrick's Day(s)!!!

This has to be the Best St. Patrick's Day celebration I have ever experienced! All the people and buildings were all decked out in GREEN! Including the Sears Tower :) It was also a great excuse to listen to my Celtic music. *melt* 
All the green actually started the Friday before the official day...
Friday during work, out of Bill's window (on the 18th floor) we could see on the bank of the river a Giant McDonald's Shamrock Shake! It was a plastic cup tipped over with the 'shake' substance 'spilling' out of it. They were putting the cherry in the structure when we saw it. Ronald McDonald was there too in all his jolliness as well. There were cameras and people looking at the structure as they passed. I think they were giving out free samples too! 
Saturday morning we went to the River as a group to see them dye the river GREEN! It was an awesome neon green! They make it green with a powder vegetable mix that looks orange-brown. The dyers dumped the powder over the edge of their boats. There was another boat that came in behind them to mix it all up so that the whole section of the river around the Michigan Ave bridge was nice and green :) That was certainly worth the wait in the cold for me! 
Every night following the dying of the river, the bars around us were busy every night! It was sometimes hard to get home through all the people on the sidewalk, but now that they are gone I appreciate the room. haha
On Wednesday for our Arts in the City class, we had a special guest, Patrick Finnegan, who plays Irish flutes and has learned all the traditional songs and how to play them. He helped start the Irish School of Music at the Old Town School of Folk Music. He played some tunes for us and taught us the difference between a jig and a reel. We even learned how to dance a little, we played some of his flutes and learned about the oral history of Irish music and how Chicago has been a big part of that history being saved. Police Chief O'Neil of  Chicago wrote down many of the tunes in the early 1900s. To this day the police force has an Irish band who play at police funerals. He was probably one of my favorite presenters for class. 
Later that night we went to the Old Town School of Folk Music to hear the students. One group of students actually competed in Ireland and came in second place! That means they are one of the best Irish bands in the world! And we got to hear them first hand!
Keeley and I left early from that concert to hear the band she's been promoting for the past few weeks, The Tossers! They were fantastic! We were 'geeking out' because we were able to tell if the songs they played were jogs or reels. They mostly played reels because those are in 4/4. The jogs tended to be slower because they are 3/4 like a waltz. And they even had the same structure of AABBAABB (or something like that) for the pattern of the tunes. They had all the same elements of the traditional band like a violin/fiddle, flutes, and a mandolin (or the Irish version of one that has a longer neck), except The Tossers also had bass and drum set where the traditional bad doesn't have much bass or harmony, but they do have those cool hand drums that you play with two sides of a stick! Love those! Overall, it was really fun to compare and contrast the experience of two seemingly different Irish bands.