Friday, October 31, 2014

The Vacationers

The October selection for my book club was The Vacationers by Emma Straub.  I was not impressed. This is a very vacuous novel about an American family's two week vacation to Mallorca.  Franny and Jim Post are ostensibly celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary but we soon discover that Jim has been unfaithful with a much younger intern at his office and has, consequently, lost his job. Franny wants to use this vacation to think about the future of their marriage.  Their daughter Sylvia, who is about to leave for college, has decided that this vacation is the perfect opportunity to lose her virginity. Their ne'er-do-well son Bobby is having financial difficulties and is trying to find a way to ask them for a rather sizable loan. Bobby's girlfriend Carmen, whom everyone dislikes because she is older than Bobby, wants a commitment from him. Franny's best friend Charles and his husband Lawrence are on a short-list to adopt a baby but Charles is having second thoughts. Obviously, the perfect vacation envisioned by Franny does not go according to plan.  Through much of this novel, I kept waiting for something, anything, to happen.  The plot was so predictable and riddled with cliches that I almost abandoned it several times. I kept thinking it would get better because it received such glowing reviews. It didn't.  The characters whine and complain (while lying around the pool) and never really deal with the underlying problems in their lives.  Furthermore, all of the characters are completely unlikable people who do some really despicable things to each other! They are so unsympathetic that I was a bit disappointed when none of them got any sort of comeuppance!  The resolution was just a little bit too perfect for me and it definitely wasn't satisfying.  This is another one of those times when I wonder if I've read the same book that everyone else did...

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Halloween Hi-Jinks

I have been attending the Utah Symphony's annual Halloween concert for the past few years and it has become another favorite holiday tradition.  I attended this year's concert on Tuesday night and, as always, it was a lot of fun!  The orchestra played some great spooky music such as the Overture from The Phantom of the Opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber, "Danse Macabre" by Camille Saint-Saens, "Ritual Fire Dance" from El Amor Brujo by Manuel de Falla, "Thunder & Lightning Polka" by Johann Strauss, Jr., "Harry's Wondrous World" from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by John Williams, "The Bride of Frankenstein" by Franz Waxman, "Devil's Dance" from The Witches of Eastwick by John Williams, and "Funeral March of a Marionette" by Charles Gounod.  All were suitably atmospheric and accessible for even the youngest in attendance.  A young girl sitting near me told her friend that she thought she would be bored but ended up really liking the concert.  One of my favorite pieces was Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky (Have I mentioned that I really like Russian composers?).  Many in the audience recognized this from Fantasia but I imagined a coven of witches cavorting around a bonfire and casting spells!  I also really loved Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach.  I think of this piece as the quintessence of horror (It has been used in many horror films) and I wonder if Bach intended it thus?  The concert concluded with "Ride of the Valkyries" from Die Walkure by Richard Wagner.  It was another favorite because it was very dramatic!  I was quite impressed with the horn section in this piece.  There was a costume competition in the lobby with the audience picking the winners after the intermission.  I thought there were some really clever ones, including a group dressed as Star Wars characters with one person as an amazing AT-AT Walker!  Orchestra members were also in costume which was hilarious to watch.  The percussion section dressed as green army men and won the orchestra competition (as they did last year dressed as the Blue Man Group).  However, my favorite was the bass section.  One bass player was dressed as a bee keeper and the rest were bees!  I think they should have won!  Put this concert on your calendar for next year and start planning your costumes!  I'm sure it will become a great Halloween tradition.

Note:  The Utah Symphony performs several concerts like this one, which are suitable for families, throughout the season.  I am planning on taking my niece and nephew to the Here Comes Santa Claus concert in December.  Go here to get tickets for your family.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Dinner at La Caille

Every year I am invited to a dinner at La Caille, a beautiful French restaurant at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon.  It is quite extravagant, but every once in a while it is nice to get all dressed up for a lovely evening!
As you drive through the gates and up the tree-lined brick road, it is like you are entering another world.  The grounds are incredibly beautiful and I always like to get there early so I can stroll through the gardens and the vineyard.
You might meet one of the many peacocks who roam freely!  Be careful, though, because they are kind of mean.
The restaurant is located inside a French-style chateau.
Once inside the chateau, you are escorted to one of several intimate dining rooms on three levels.  In each dining room there are alcoves and nooks which give you the feeling of separation from other diners.
My dinner had a fixed menu (on fancy menu cards) which included Escargot with Roasted Garlic and Herb Butter, Raspberry Sorbet, Fresh Romaine Salad with Champagne Dressing, Vegetable Ravioli, and Crepe Maison with Vanilla Ice Cream and Chocolate Sauce.  I do feel that the food is a little bit pricey (most entrees are between $28 and $56) but the atmosphere and ambiance are definitely worth it!  La Caille is the perfect spot for a special occasion dinner, such as an anniversary.  Go here for more information.

Note:  A friend of mine teaches French and he takes his classes to La Caille every year.  One year he asked me to come along as a chaperon and I ended up at a table of restless boys.  I started quizzing them on their French vocabulary and, because I was in a silly mood, I taught them the word decolletage (because the waitresses wore very low-cut uniforms).  When our waitress came back to the table to fill our water glasses, one of the boys yelled out, "Miss Johnson, what was the French word for boobs?"  Yeah.  What's the French word for embarrassed?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Pumpkin Carving 2014

Traditions are very important to Sean and Tashena.  Everything Marilyn and I did with Tashena the first year she joined our family automatically became a tradition to be repeated every year.  She immediately informed Sean of these important rituals when he joined the family.  They look forward to each of them with much anticipation and remind us of upcoming ones often.  One such tradition is carving pumpkins and we usually do this the Sunday before Halloween.  The ones they got from the pumpkin patch were deemed much too small so we took them to the grocery store to get more. Of course, Sean and Tashena picked the biggest pumpkins they could find (so did I).
The scale at the grocery store maxes out at 30 pounds.  Every one of our pumpkins maxed out the scale.  It was pretty funny!
As you can see, we had a lot of fun carving our pumpkins.  Sean is fascinated by the "guts" and always wants me to take a picture of him pretending to eat them.  While we carved the pumpkins, Kristine roasted the seeds.  They are delicious!
Sean with his Spooky Bat.
Tashena with The Raven.
All of our pumpkins on the porch.  It was such a fun night.  I think I look forward to all of our traditions as much as Sean and Tashena do!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Time Warp

It's just a jump to the left...and I was transported back in time to my high school theatre days when we were all collectively obsessed with the cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  I remember one late night play rehearsal when we all climbed up to the catwalk and performed "Time Warp."  Good times!  It was a time warp, indeed, last night when I saw the concert version of The Rocky Horror Show at Pioneer Theatre.  PTC has started including limited-engagement concert versions of musicals as add-ons to season tickets and I have been waiting for this show with much ANTICI.....say it.....PATION since the 2014-2015 season was announced!  The production was scaled back with a minimal set and the cast performed the musical numbers as a concert (they even held their scripts) with a bit of  dazzling choreography.   The band on stage was absolutely amazing and the cast was fabulous!  Frank 'N' Furter was played by Tony Vincent (of The Voice) and he was absolutely perfect as the sweet transvestite.  I loved watching his facial expressions!  The narrator was played by Jim Dabakis, a Utah state senator.  He got some of the biggest laughs of the night with the line: "Oh, I see there are a lot of Republicans here tonight!"  (Many people were dressed rather outrageously).  Speaking of outrageous,  I loved the naughty costumes! Frank 'N' Furter's boots were epic.  I remembered the words to all of the songs, when to use each prop (prop bags were available for $5.00), and many of the talk back lines.  It was so much fun...maybe not as rowdy as the screenings at the Blue Mouse back in the day but it was a strange journey, nonetheless!  I loved reliving a bit of my misspent youth!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Prokofiev's Symphony No. 7

It has been a long week!  The end of the term is sometimes hard because there are lots of tests and final projects to grade and lots of students who are suddenly concerned about their grade to deal with.   Luckily, I had a Utah Symphony concert to look forward to.  Every time a student asked me what he or she could do to pass, I imagined sitting in Abravanel Hall listening to amazing music.  I love it when the concertmaster comes on stage and plays a note for the orchestra to tune their instruments.  There is such a sense of expectation followed by a hush in the audience as the conductor takes the podium.  I felt all of the tension leave my body as I sat in anticipation of the lovely concert to follow.  Last night's guest conductor (and soloist) was Ignat Solzhenitsyn.  Yes, that Solzhenitsyn!  His father is the Nobel Prize winning author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn!  Ignat is a very sought-after conductor and I admit to being the tiniest bit star-struck.  The concert began with Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 18 featuring Ignat as the solo pianist and conductor.  It was quite impressive to watch because, at times, he would be conducting the orchestra with one hand while playing some intricate melody with the other.  I love the music of Mozart because I think it is light, airy, and beautiful.  I particularly like the second movement of this piece because it is so romantic.  I closed my eyes and imagined myself in Vienna.  After the intermission, the orchestra played Prokofiev's Symphony No. 7.  I always think that Russian music sounds so much better with a Russian conductor because they are so passionate!  Oh how I loved this piece!  It is melancholy and mournful but so beautiful.  I had goosebumps through all of it!  The concert concluded with Symphonic Metomorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber by  Paul Hindemith.  I was not at all familiar with Hindemith but I really enjoyed this piece.  I thought it was very playful and I particularly liked all of the percussion, especially the chimes.  I have a thing for the chimes.  I really can't say enough about the Utah Symphony!  We are so lucky to have a world-class orchestra in SLC and I think there is something for everyone this season.  I definitely recommend this concert which will be performed again tonight.  Go here for tickets and information.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Alpine Loop

Last week, when I had two days off, all I wanted to do was read and nap.  Now, when I have sophomore essays and Beowulf tests to grade, all I want to do is go to the mountains!  In this particular tug-of-war, the mountains won so yesterday I drove out of the city to American Fork Canyon for one of my very favorite fall drives.  I think it was a good decision!
This lovely drive along the Alpine Loop was just what I needed to recharge my batteries.  The sky was a perfect cerulean blue, the temperature was brisk, and the smell of decomposing leaves was nearly intoxicating.  Much of the foliage was gone but there was just enough to make me happy as I drove the switchbacks with the windows down listening to Eddie Vedder.  Is there anything better?  I love being in the mountains and I love living in Utah, where I can be in any number of mountains in less than 30 minutes whenever I have a bad day!  I need to do this more often!  Essays can wait a few days.
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