Saturday, May 31, 2014

Blame

My book club chose Blame by Michelle Huneven for its May selection.  It is an intense character study of a woman who must deal with the consequences of an unimaginable act. History professor Patsy MacLemoore wakes up in jail, again, after a long night of drinking with no memory of what has happened. Police officers inform her that she hit and killed a mother and daughter in her own driveway while driving with a revoked license. She is consumed by guilt and eventually pleads guilty to the charges and goes to prison for several years. While there, she joins AA and gets sober to show the victim's husband how remorseful she feels. Once released, she is determined to be "good" in an attempt to assuage her guilt.  She gives much of her salary to the victim's son to pay for college and law school, volunteers at an AIDS hospice, and marries a much older man, whom she meets at an AA meeting, because he is "safe." Twenty years later she is a caretaker to an elderly husband, with whom she has nothing in common, and is forced to share her home with a rotating group of AA members being "saved" by her husband and his grown children and grandchildren, who are always in crisis.  She is obviously unhappy but feels she deserves to be so, even rejecting a chance at happiness with a colleague who sweeps her off her feet.  Out of the blue, Patsy receives new information about the accident which calls into question her culpability. This changes everything she believes about herself and sends her reeling. The story builds very slowly (I was especially struck by the minutiae of daily life in prison) but Huneven takes us deep within Patsy's psyche and we come to understand her pain intimately.  In fact, the whole strength of the book comes from all of the memorable and well-developed characters rather than from the story itself.  The plot twist requires the suspension of disbelief and the ending is a bit too ambiguous for me. However, I recommend this book because I really love the theme of redemption. Sometimes the hardest person to forgive is yourself.

Note:  Huneven does not use quotation marks for dialogue. I really hate this trend in contemporary literature because, in my opinion, it makes reading unnecessarily difficult. There were many times when I found myself re-reading passages because they didn't make sense, only to discover that they contained direct quotes.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Memphis Lives In Me

Last night I saw the Broadway touring production of Memphis.  I didn't know much about it except that it won the Tony for Best Musical in 2010.  Of course, it was absolutely amazing and deserving of the Tony, as well as every other accolade heaped upon it.  Really, how could a musical co-written by a member of Bon Jovi be anything but amazing?  Huey Calhoun wanders into a "colored" club when he hears Felicia singing and promises to make her famous in Memphis.  He cons his way on to the radio, and eventually television, by promoting Felicia and the music he hears at the club.  When Huey and Felicia fall in love, which is frowned upon in 1950s Memphis, the couple is physically assaulted.  Felicia, tired of hiding the relationship, wants them to move north and auditions for a record company in New York.  Can Huey leave Memphis behind?  Can he relinquish control over the star he "discovered?"  Joey Elrose is hilarious as the irrepressible Huey and I especially loved his stirring performances in "The Music of My Soul" and the heart-felt "Memphis Lives in Me."  Jasmin Richardson has an incredibly powerful voice as Felicia and just about blew the roof off the Capitol Theatre in "Colored Woman."  The ensemble cast is extremely talented and the big song-and-dance numbers are a lot of fun to watch.  I still have "Someday," the song Felicia sings live on the radio complete with a band and backup singers, stuck in my head.  This story has a very powerful message about prejudice but it was sometimes difficult to hear the many racial epithets throughout the show and the ending was not what I was expecting.  However, I was practically dancing in my seat and I definitely enjoyed it.  I highly recommend seeing Memphis if you have the opportunity.  It continues through June 1 at the Capitol Theatre.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

X-Men

I have been a big fan of the X-Men movies, to varying degrees, for years so I was really excited to see the latest installment last night.  My favorite in the franchise is definitely X-Men: First Class because it completely embodies the mod style of the sixties (it reminded me of an early James Bond movie) and I loved the chemistry between Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender).  Most of X-Men: Days of Future Past takes place in the past so everything I loved about X-Men: First Class is continued.  It begins in a dystopian future where robots, called Sentinels, have virtually exterminated all mutants.  Professor X and Magneto send Wolverine's consciousness back to his younger self to convince the younger Xavier and Lensherr to cooperate in the hopes of preventing the war.  Instead of the Bay of Pigs invasion of the sixties, this movie revolves around the Paris peace talks ending the Vietnam War in the seventies.  Once again, the style of this film is spot on for the iconic seventies.  Bell bottom jeans, leather jackets with wide lapels, corduroy pants, three-piece suits, crop tops, wide ties, shaggy hair, and over-sized Aviator sunglasses all make an appearance.  McAvoy and Fassbender reprise their roles brilliantly as friends who have had a falling out and don't quite trust each other any more (I loved the chess scene).  The special effects are amazing, especially when the mutants battle the Sentinels simultaneously in the seventies and in the future, but I enjoyed the storytelling as well.  In my opinion, X-Men: Days of Future Past is the most entertaining film in the franchise.  I highly recommend it, particularly if you enjoyed X-Men: First Class.

Note:  I honestly do not know who I like better: McAvoy with his long hair and scruffy beard (I've been a fan since I saw him in The Last King of Scotland) or Fassbender in an ascot.  An ascot, I tell you!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Memorial Day Weekend 2014

Memorial Day weekend is the official start to summer so, of course, my family went on a camping trip.  This year we took the motor home to the KOA campground in Fillmore and it was absolutely wonderful!  The weather was simply gorgeous (sunny with a little bit of a breeze) and I especially loved the smell of the Russian olive trees (Marilyn, who suffers from allergies, did not) and the sound of birds chirping.  So relaxing!  We spent most of our time sitting in our camp chairs reading and talking in front of the fire.  We spent the rest of our time eating!  We had quite a few dutch oven meals and we also made tin foil dinners.  Everything was delicious.  I always think food tastes so much better outside.  I have really come to enjoy the RV lifestyle because the people that we meet are always so friendly and laid back.  It is always nice to get away from the stress of daily life to relax and appreciate nature.  I am definitely looking forward to more camping trips this summer.  I hope everyone had a enjoyable long weekend with friends and family!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Alpine Europe

I love mountains so a trip through the Alpine region of Switzerland, France, Italy, Austria, and Germany in 2009 was a must.  The scenery was absolutely spectacular!  Here are some highlights.
Kapellbrucke, Lucerne, Switzerland
View from Mt. Pilatus, Lucerne, Switzerland
Bern, Switzerland
Chateau de Chillon, Montreux, Swizerland
Annecy, France
Lake Annecy, France
Mt. Blanc, Chamonix, France
Lake Como, Italy (Alas, no George Clooney sightings)
Lake Como, Italy
The Bernina Express from Zermatt to St. Moritz, Switzerland
Innsbruck, Austria
Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria, Germany
Marienplatz, Munich, Germany
The famous Glockenspiel, Munich, Germany
One final picture:  my favorite view from St. Moritz.  I hiked a really long way to get this shot but I love the trees, the lake, and the mountains.  It was a beautiful trip full of lots of trees, lakes, and mountains and I certainly enjoyed it!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances

When I first started listening to classical music, my favorite composer was Mozart.  I think much of his music is light, airy, and beautiful; easily accessible for a beginner.  When I became a bit more knowledgeable about classical music my taste grew more sophisticated.  I became a fan of the Russian composers because, to me, their music is so passionate.  Luckily last night's Utah Symphony concert featured two of my favorites:  Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff!  Let me tell you, I was definitely ready for a relaxing evening listening to beautiful music!  The orchestra began with Carl Nielsen's Symphony No. 6, which concluded the Nielsen Symphony Cycle.  I have enjoyed getting to know a composer I was unfamiliar with this season and I particularly enjoyed this piece because it prominently featured the woodwind section (I played the clarinet in school).  Next the orchestra played Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations, featuring Matthew Zalkind on solo cello (Zalkind is the son of two current Utah Symphony members).  I thought he was amazing.  Towards the end of the piece, the solo cello played a theme (echoed by the clarinet) that was so hauntingly beautiful I held my breath!  I think Tchaikovsky's music is so emotional.  The concert concluded with Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances and I absolutely loved this piece.  In my opinion it is very evocative of Russia and, once again, it heightened my anticipation for a trip to Russia this summer.  I also really enjoyed all of the percussion in this piece.  This concert was a wonderful conclusion to a very enjoyable 2013-2014 season and a lovely start to the long Memorial Day weekend.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Lunch at Little America

Yesterday the principal of HHS took the student body officers and me to lunch at Little America, a gorgeous hotel in downtown Salt Lake City.  It was so much fun to be able to leave school in the middle of the day and have lunch in such a beautiful place.  It was also really great for me to hear them reminisce about how much fun they had this year.  Our principal had each of them share one of their favorite memories.  I think my favorite memory is when we made a giant black and yellow pinata in the shape of a "C" (we played Cottonwood High School for Homecoming). It was enormous and it took us several days after school to make it out of papier-mache.  Then it took an epic feat of engineering to hang it in the gym for the football players to smash during the assembly.  We all prayed that it would stay up long enough and it actually did!  We are all still very proud of it!  Our principal told the students that they could order anything they wanted from the menu without worrying about the price.  They all ordered steak!  He also told them they could order dessert and I had the most delicious cheesecake ever!  I am so proud of these students and I am really glad I had the opportunity to work with them.  It has been a lot of work but it has also been so much fun.  I will miss them!

Note:  When I got back to school that afternoon, the new student body officers designed and ordered their sweaters for next year.  Everything starts all over again...

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Hey, Big Spender!

This is the first year in quite a while that I didn't get a five-play season ticket to Pioneer Theatre.  Ironically, it is the first year that I've gone to all seven plays!  When the 2013-2014 season was announced last year, only one of the plays appealed to me; however, I ended up seeing all of them in spite of myself.  I'm so glad I did!  I saw Something's Afoot because it was just after Homecoming and I desperately needed an outing that wasn't school related!  It was hilarious.  I saw Other Desert Cities because a colleague recommended it to me.  It was incredibly thought-provoking.  I took Sean and Tashena to Elf - The Musical because Sean absolutely loves the movie.  It was magical!  I saw A Few Good Men because a friend who I hadn't seen for a long time wanted to see it.  I thought it was very powerful.  Much Ado About Nothing was the production that originally piqued my interest and I really enjoyed it but, interestingly enough, it was probably my least favorite this season.  I saw Deathtrap because I was intrigued by all of the buzz in the media.  It contained one of the best plot twists I have ever seen!  Finally, I decided to see Sweet Charity last night because the rest of the season had been so good.  I loved it!  I saw this musical several years ago when the Broadway touring production, starring Molly Ringwald, came to Salt Lake City but PTC's version surpassed it.  Nancy Lemenager was absolutely amazing as Charity Hope Valentine, a girl a little tarnished but still hoping to find true love.  I laughed and laughed at her antics while she was stuck in Vittorio Vidal's closet.  The big song and dance numbers were spectacular, especially "Big Spender."  Karen Azenberg, Pioneer Theatre's artistic director, was recently quoted in the Deseret News saying that she wants to offer "something that the audience doesn't think it wants, but guess what, [they] just might have a good time."  I didn't think I would like this season but I certainly had a good time.  I'll trust you next year, Karen!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

I Can't Wait for Summer Vacation!

Sometimes the closing of the school year is hard.  This year is proving to be more difficult than usual so I am concentrating on all of the fun things that I hope to do this summer.

Deer Valley Music Festival
When it gets really hot in the valley, it is nice to head up to the mountains at the Deer Valley Resort and hear the Utah Symphony play under the stars!  You can bring a blanket and a picnic and sit on the hill or there are seats available near the stage.  This is one of my favorite things to do in the summer and we have heard the orchestra play the 1812 Overture (complete with real cannons) several times.  The pictures above are from last year's Bravo Broadway concert, which was fantastic.  I just got my tickets in the mail for the Music of U2 and I am beyond excited!  Go here for a complete schedule and to purchase tickets.

Utah Shakespeare Festival
The Utah Shakespeare Festival is held every summer on the campus of Southern Utah University in Cedar City (a six hour drive south of Salt Lake City).  It is another one of my favorite things to do.  Sometimes Marilyn and I spend several days and see every play and sometimes we go down for one day and see a couple.  Once I drove down to see Hamlet and then drove straight home.  It was worth it.  The pictures above are from the 2010 production of Macbeth, which was awesome.  This year I am really excited to see Into the Woods (they produce non-Shakespeare plays, too) and Twelfth Night. I'm not going to lie, I'm also excited for the raspberry tarts!   Go here for a complete schedule and to purchase tickets.

Tuacahn Amphitheatre
Tuacahn is a natural amphitheatre made out of red rock in St. George (about eight hours south of Salt Lake City).  They perform several musicals in repertory every summer and you can also purchase tickets to a pre-show dinner.  The above pictures are from the 2012 production of Hairspray.  My very favorite production here was Les Miserables because they used the terrain beyond the stage for the epic battle on the barricade.  It was amazing.  This year my student body officers are going to leadership camp at Dixie State University and we get to see The Little Mermaid.  Go here for a complete schedule and to purchase tickets.

Sundance Summer Theatre
Sundance Summer Theatre, in conjunction with the Utah Valley University Theatre Department, has produced a musical at the Sundance Resort for the past several years.  Seeing a musical in the mountains is always a great way to beat the summer heat.  We have seen The Sound of Music (Marilyn sang along with the actors), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and Annie Get Your Gun.  Marilyn and I may or may not have squealed when we found out they are doing Fiddler on the Roof this year.  Go here for tickets.
The Utah Symphony also makes an appearance at the Sundance Resort.  Near the Fourth of July they perform a program featuring patriotic music (think John Philips Sousa).  I took my cousin Merry to this concert last year and we both enjoyed it.  I'm thinking of going again.  Go here for more information.

Red Butte Garden Outdoor Concert Series
Red Butte Garden is an amazing venue for outdoor concerts.  This picture is from the Crosby, Stills, & Nash concert in 2012, which was fabulous (even though I was probably the youngest person there).  This year I am going to see Natalie Cole and I am really excited about it.  Go here to check out this year's lineup and to purchase tickets (many shows are already sold out because members have priority to purchase tickets before the general public).

With all of these amazing events to look forward to, maybe I can make it through these next few weeks until summer vacation.  Maybe.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

London

I told my sister we could travel anywhere she wanted when she graduated from the University of Utah.  After she did that in May of 2010, she informed me that she wanted to go to London.  I was not very enthusiastic about her choice because I had already been to London three times and I wanted to go somewhere new.  But a promise is a promise and Marilyn and I ended up having such a great time!  Here are some highlights.
Big Ben
Houses of Parliament
London Eye
Buckingham Palace
Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace
Tower of London
Day trip to Stonehenge
Windsor Castle
Westminster Abbey
St. Paul's Cathedral
Kensington Palace
Kensington Palace Gardens
The Beatles at Madame Tussauds
We saw quite a few shows in the West End but Wicked was my favorite!
Lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe.  The London HRC was actually the first one I ever went to back in college.  Now I am kind of obsessed with them.  A great trip with wonderful memories with my sister!

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