Sunday, November 30, 2014

Redemption Song

My book club chose Redemption Song by Bertice Berry as its November selection. Josephine and Ross both end up at a bookstore looking for a rare manuscript written many years ago by a slave called Children of Grace.  Miss Cozy, who owns the bookstore, senses that this manuscript could change both of their lives and refuses to sell it to them. Instead, she insists that they read it together in the shop. The manuscript tells the love story of Iona and Joe and how they were ultimately separated but continued to love each other all of their lives. Spoiler alert: Ross and Fina (Josephine) are both struggling with identity and with their relationships but as they read the book, they discover that they are descendants of Iona and Joe and that they are meant to carry on their love story. (I figured this out about 20 pages into the story so it is not a very dramatic spoiler). This is a really quick read but it is a sweet story about things happening for a reason. Even though all of the coincidences which bring about this love story seem a bit far-fetched, it is very beguiling to think that there is someone out there who is perfect for you just waiting for you to find them! I did find the love story between the slaves Joe and Iona to be more compelling than the modern one. I am obviously not African American, but the dialogue between Ross and Fina seems very stilted to me. I think Berry tries too hard to make Ross sound like a brother. However, the emotion between both couples is very real and I almost cried when Joe and Iona's son are both sold away from her to punish her and I almost cried again when Ross and Fina figure out their relationship to Joe and Iona.  I loved the message that the only way to move forward in life is to know where you came from and I would definitely recommend this novel to anyone searching for love.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Decking The Halls

I really enjoy putting up my tree and decorating for Christmas.  I've been collecting ornaments for years so each one that goes on the tree has some special memory attached to it.  When I was growing up, my Mom started a Hallmark ornament collection for each of us and added a new one every year.  Mine are all hockey players.  Wayne Gretzky is the first ornament I put on the tree and Eric Lindros always goes in the back because I don't like him.  I also try to find an ornament when I travel every year.  My favorites are the hand carved wooden ornaments from Germany.  My new ornament for this year is a hand painted egg from Russia.  I always put my tree up the day after Thanksgiving because I like to enjoy having my house decorated for Christmas for as long as possible!  I love this time of year!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving yesterday.  I certainly did!  I had Thanksgiving dinner at my parents' house with my immediate family and my cousin Emily and it was delicious!
My sister Marilyn made the cornucopias at each place setting and my nephew Sean made the place cards (he was very proud of them).  We had Honey Baked ham, turkey, cheesy potatoes, stuffing, rolls, pomegranate salad (a tradition). and a relish tray with dip.  Everything tasted so good!  After dinner we played shanghai rummy (it was Emily's first time and I think we traumatized her a little bit).  This game gets really crazy but we love it and usually play it every holiday.  Then we had pie!  It was a lovely day!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Join The Rebellion

I had to wait until yesterday to see The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1.  If you know me well, you know that it just about killed me not to see the first screening at midnight!  For this reason I told my students not to say one word about it on Friday!  But I eventually caved and asked a few who saw it if they liked it.  I got mixed reviews.  Some of them really loved it but most thought it was one long advertisement for the final movie.  Hmmm.  In the trilogy, Mockingjay is my least favorite book and I am not a fan of turning the final book in a series into two movies (gotta keep that gravy train running as long as possible).  So I was musing out loud about whether I would even like the movie when one of my students told me not to think about it so much and just go and enjoy myself.  What?  Even though I can never turn off the inner critic in my head, I actually did really enjoy this movie.  In fact, I think I liked it for the exact reason that many of my students didn't: it is more cerebral and less action packed than the first two movies.  I liked the fact that Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is suffering from PTSD and that we see her struggling to come to terms with everything that has happened to her (the same can be said of Finnick).  I liked the fact that she is reluctant to start a revolution and takes time making a decision about becoming the Mockingjay.  I liked the fact that she spends a lot of time thinking about her relationship with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and lobbying for his return.  I don't think this makes Katniss weak;  I think it makes her human.  The slower pace of this movie allowed for more character development, especially Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and his role as a rebel leader, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his role as a master manipulator, and Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) and her role as a fish-out-of water in District 13.  I liked the casting of Julianne Moore as President Coin and I loved her Eva Peron-like speeches to the citizens of District 13.  I had tears in my eyes when Katniss visited District 8 and the wounded saluted her.  I also loved the propaganda film she made there (Jennifer Lawrence is an amazing actress who gives an incredible performance).  The rescue of Peeta (comparisons to Zero Dark Thirty, notwithstanding) had me on the edge of my seat as did the reunion of Katniss and Peeta.  I will admit that I am now very eager to see Part 2 but I do not feel the least bit slighted by Part 1.  In fact, it was worth the wait!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Dvorak's Symphony No. 7

If it is Friday night, you can usually find me at Abravanel Hall listening to the Utah Symphony and last night's performance was wonderful!  The concert began with Mein Heim by Antonin Dvorak.  This piece is based on two different Bohemian folk songs and I thought it sounded rather nostalgic, like someone who is longing for home, and I really enjoyed it.  Next, the orchestra played my favorite piece of the evening, Concerto No. 3 for Violin by Camille Saint-Saens, with the incredibly talented Fumiaki Miura on violin.  Saint-Saens is a composer that I have recently discovered and this particular piece is lovely.  The opening notes played by the solo violin are so plaintive that I had tears in my eyes almost immediately.  Then, in the second movement, the solo violin played a beautiful theme which was echoed by the woodwinds and then echoed by the entire orchestra at the end of the movement.  It was most affecting and I really loved it!  The third movement was quite dramatic and I especially loved the fanfare by the trumpets and trombones.  Miura was simply amazing and the audience agreed with me, giving him a rousing standing ovation.  I really enjoyed watching him because he made it look so effortless.  After the intermission the orchestra concluded the concert by performing Dvorak's Symphony No. 7.  I particularly loved the theme played by the woodwinds (the woodwinds were featured prominently last night) in the first movement.  I found the second movement to be very somber and atmospheric and I had goosebumps through much of it.  In contrast, the third movement seemed almost ebullient.  I imagined young girls waltzing in an opulent palace with ribbons flying.  The piece ended very dramatically, almost triumphantly.  In my opinion, it is a fitting metaphor for the turbulent history of Dvorak's native land.  This beautiful music will be featured once again this evening and I highly recommend getting a ticket.  If you have never attended a Utah Symphony performance before, you can get half-price tickets for this concert, as well as the popular Messiah Sing-In concerts next weekend, by using the code everyone at check-out.  Go here for more information and to purchase tickets.

Friday, November 21, 2014

You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch

Last night I went to see the musical How The Grinch Stole Christmas at the Capitol Theatre.  I didn't know if I would like this show because I am not a fan of Seussical (in fact, I hated Seussical so much that I would have left at intermission if I hadn't been with friends).  Since this show was a part of the Broadway in Utah season ticket I decided to go.  I'm really glad that I did!  Unlike Seussical, this musical actually has a plot and it is incredibly sweet and heartwarming!  It definitely got me into the Christmas spirit.  The story is narrated by Max the Dog (Bob Lauder) as he reminisces about his time in Whoville when the Grinch tried to stop Christmas from coming.  It reminded me a bit of the movie with Jim Carrey, although the actor playing The Grinch (Stefan Karl) definitely made the iconic role his own to the delight of the many children in attendance.  Actually, much of my enjoyment of this show came from listening to the laughter of the children.  My favorite moment was when The Grinch performed "One of a Kind" complete with high stepping kicks in front of a shimmering green curtain and then returned again and again for curtains calls milking the audience for applause.  Max begged the crowd not to encourage him!  I loved it!  I'm not sure how much of The Grinch's role was improvised but he was absolutely hilarious!  I loved the adorable young actress who played Cindy-Lou Who (Raleigh Shuck).  She had the sweetest voice and it was easy to see why The Grinch was so affected by her song "Santa for a Day."  Of course the crowd loved when Max sang the ever popular "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch!"  He even had the audience sing along during the reprise.  The scenery looked like the illustrations from the original Dr. Seuss book and the Who costumes were like a big pink confectionery dream.  The choreography was a lot of fun, especially when the Who children performed "Wha Cha Ma Who."  I had such a great time, which was just about the exact opposite of what I was expecting!  It runs at the Capitol Theatre until Sunday, November 23 and I recommend getting a ticket (especially if you have children).

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How 'Bout Those Jazz!

I have a love/hate relationship with the Utah Jazz.  I had the weekend ticket package with a friend of mine for years and years.  I hardly paid attention to the game.  For me, it was a fun evening out and an excuse to go to Red Rock Brewery for dinner before the game (I love the Red Rock Burger).  Then a certain Mr. Kyle Korver was traded to the team and I became obsessed (actually obsessed might be too much of an understatement but let's leave it at that).  I went to every single home game remaining in the season.  I bought a jersey.  I started watching away games on television.  I learned what a pick and roll was.  For the next few years I had season tickets with my aunt and cousin and I loved going to games!  I even started going to Jazz events (the less said about the unfortunate hyperventilating incident when I met Kyle Korver the first time the better).  Then Korver became a free agent and signed with the Chicago Bulls.  Despite my devastation, I renewed my season tickets anyway but it just wasn't the same.  After Coach Sloan quit and Deron Williams was traded, things went downhill for me.  During a game against the Dallas Mavericks, Al Jefferson had an epic temper tantrum and got ejected.  The rest of the team literally shut down after that.  I was so disgusted that I decided to sell my tickets to the remaining games and I vowed never to return.  In fact, the next year I only went to one game and the Jazz lost.  Last year I decided to get a ten game package because I like having things to do.  Their first win of the season was the first game I attended.  Even though the Jazz were a terrible team last year, they always won when I was there (even a bonus game between the Jazz and Nuggets that I saw in Denver).  I thought of myself as their good luck charm and it was fun going to games.  However, in the last few games I went to the Jazz blew a lead in the fourth quarter.  Many people said they were losing intentionally to get a higher draft pick and that was really disappointing to me.  During the off-season a new coach was hired and the team was reconfigured with a lot of young players.  I didn't know what to think!  I went to my first game this season last night and I saw a spark that just might make me a Jazz fan again!  The first half of the game was a bit underwhelming.  The Jazz looked sluggish and trailed the Oklahoma City Thunder by as many as 17 points.  Then Coach Snyder ran on the court to protest a foul and had an epic meltdown which resulted in a technical.  It was awesome!  Then he started yelling at the Jazz and they responded by going on a 10-0 run to cut the Thunder lead to two points.  That got the ESA cheering.  They played much better during the second half and eventually took the lead, which they held for the rest of the game to win 98-81.  The game was so much fun for me and I especially loved seeing our rookie, Dante Exum, hitting those threes!   I think these young players are only going to get better and I may need to go to a few more games this season!

Note:  Before the game, the guys sitting next to me said that the Jazz really needed a big win.  I told them not to worry because I was there and I was their good luck charm.  After the game, they told me that they had decided to pool their money to get me season tickets!  So much fun!

Saturday, November 15, 2014


Last night I saw the classic ballet Giselle beautifully re-staged by Ballet West Artistic Director Adam Sklute.  I absolutely loved it! Giselle is a young peasant girl who meets a handsome man named Loy (who is really Albrecht, the Duke of Silesia, in disguise).  She falls in love with him much to the dismay of Hilarion, a peasant boy who loves her.  Loy leaves when he hears the horns of a hunting party but Hilarion discovers his true identity when he finds his sword.  The hunting party is comprised of the Duke of Courland and his daughter, Bathilde, who becomes fond of Giselle. They speak of love and confess that they are both engaged (it turns out that they are engaged to the same man).  Later, Loy returns and Hilarion confronts him with his sword. Giselle, upon learning the truth, goes mad and takes her own life.  When Albrecht visits Giselle's grave, he is confronted by the Wilis, the spirits of young maidens who were betrayed before their wedding day and seek revenge against those who deceived them. The Wilis force Albrecht to dance until he dies but Giselle forgives him which frees him from the spell.  I was thrilled when I learned that Christopher Ruud, my favorite Ballet West dancer, was dancing the role of Albrecht and Christiana Bennett, another favorite, was dancing the role of Myrthe, the Queen of the Wilis.  Giselle was danced by Arolyn Williams and she was amazing!  I loved the scene where Loy (Albrecht) woos Giselle.  The business with the flower to determine if Loy loves her is really sweet.  The Pas de Deux between Albrecht and Giselle's ghost is incredibly tender and beautiful (as is all the music for this ballet).  I loved the woodland scenery and costumes.  Most of the corps is costumed in rustic browns and greens while Giselle and Albrecht are in light blue.  It is a striking contrast.  The Wilis are all in white with a touch of green, making them seem otherworldly. The whole effect is quite beautiful.  The new staging is lovely and I highly recommend this production. Unfortunately, there are only two performances left:  an evening performance tonight (Sat) and a matinee tomorrow (Sun).  Go here for tickets and information.

Note:  I overheard a girl sitting near me say that her dream was to go to Russia and see a ballet.  I think that is a pretty good dream to have.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Holiday Fun for the Locals

If you live near SLC, here are two of my favorite activities to do with the kiddos during the holidays (we usually rotate them every other year).  Normally I like to wait until after Thanksgiving before I start to get too excited about Christmas but I've noticed that tickets are selling quickly so it might be a good idea to get prepared!

Breakfast with Santa
Breakfast with Santa happens in the Show Barn at Thanksgiving Point every Saturday in December.  First you have a delicious breakfast with bacon, eggs, sausage, French toast (with cinnamon-swirled bread), hash browns, orange juice, and hot chocolate.  So good!  Then Santa meets with each child (he sometimes brings visitors like the Grinch and Buddy the Elf).  Then there is a fun winter carnival with games and crafts.  Sean and Tashena always have a lot of fun (but Tashena says she is too old now).  Tickets are $22 for adults and $18 for children.  Go here for more information and to purchase tickets.

North Pole Express
The Heber Valley Railroad takes a magical journey to Santa's workshop in the North Pole.  Children ride in their pajamas while drinking hot chocolate and eating Mrs. Claus's delicious homemade cookies.  Santa comes aboard at the North Pole and gives everyone the gift of Christmas (but only if you believe).  There are two different prices for coach tickets and first-class tickets (more swag) and there are several discounted days so go here for more information and to purchase tickets.  They are going quickly!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Tips for Enjoying a Classical Music Performance

I am not an expert on classical music.  In fact, I was actually quite intimidated when I went to my first symphony concert as a college student.  What should I wear?  Will I be the only one my age?  How should I behave?  Will I like it?  Fortunately, I had a wonderful experience and now I love attending Utah Symphony performances!  If you are thinking about attending a concert (you should!) here are some tips to make your experience more enjoyable.

1.  Forget any preconceived notions you have about classical music.

Classical music is not boring!  Forget about the bland and soporific Muzak you hear in elevators and department stores.  In my opinion, classical music is incredibly beautiful and dynamic.  It can be so powerful that your heart pounds, so exquisite that your spine tingles, or so achingly mournful that tears come to your eyes.  Classical music is not just for old or rich people.  I see people of all ages at symphony performances (including some HHS students who enjoyed it more than they thought they would) and, honestly, Utah Symphony concerts are quite reasonable with tickets starting as low as $18.  I spend much more for theatre productions or Utah Jazz tickets!  Finally, most fans of classical music are not pretentious snobs.  Okay, okay I use the occasional big word but, really, I am very down to earth.  My other passion in life is hockey and I am awfully fond of superhero movies and trashy Danielle Steele novels.  Most people who like classical music are just like you!

2.  Find a favorite composer.

I became a fan of Mozart after watching the movie Amadeus when I was in high school.  I like his music because it is light, airy, and beautifully uncomplicated making it easily accessible for people with little or no background knowledge about classical music.  I bought the soundtrack to the movie and listened to it over and over.  My first symphony concert was a performance of Mozart's Requiem Mass and I absolutely loved it.  Hearing a piece of music I really loved played by a live orchestra was an experience I will never forget!  Listen to some classical music on stations like Pandora and see what pieces you are drawn to.  Who is the composer?  Why do you like it?  Do you like anything else by that composer?  The Utah Symphony programs the work of a variety of different composers during the season so there is bound to be a concert featuring your favorite.  Initially, I only attended concerts featuring Mozart but, as I gradually became exposed to other composers (most concerts feature several composers), I realized that I also like many Russian composers, such as Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Shostakovitch, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Prokofiev, because their music is so emotional.  I am always adding new favorites to my list.

3.  Know what to expect.

Plan to arrive at the venue a little bit early to find your seat.  Concerts start on time and, if you are late, you will not be seated until an appropriate pause so as not to disturb other concertgoers.  Turn off your phone and refrain from talking during the performance.  It is distracting to audience members and the orchestra.  There really is no dress code.  I have seen people dressed in everything from jeans to full length black velvet capes and tiaras.  Wear whatever makes you comfortable but, because most concert halls are incredibly beautiful (Abravanel Hall is gorgeous), you might feel more comfortable wearing something a little bit dressy to fit in with the surroundings.  I tend to wear black!  Symphonies are divided into sections called movements and there are generally pauses between them.  You typically do not clap during these pauses (unless a soloist has been particularly spectacular).  I learned this the hard way and now generally follow the cues from the conductor who will lower his baton at the end of a piece!  However, you should clap when the concertmaster and conductor (and occasionally a soloist) come on stage at the beginning of the concert as a sign of respect.  Knowing these little bits of etiquette might make you feel less conspicuous at your first concert.

4.  Just enjoy the music!

There are notes about the featured composers and pieces that will be performed in the program and the Utah Symphony hosts pre-concert lectures one hour before each performance but, really, you don't need to do anything to prepare for a concert.  Just listen to the music!  I like to listen for a melody and variations which are repeated throughout a piece.  I also like to listen for specific instruments.  I played the clarinet in school so I particularly like it when the woodwind section is featured.  I also have a thing for chimes (I don't know why).  My sister plays the cello and likes to watch that section during a performance.  Sometimes I concentrate on an emotion that I feel while listening to a piece and other times I close my eyes and visualize a scene called to mind by the music.  All you have to do is sit back and enjoy a lovely evening.

Even if you are intimidated by classical music, step out of your comfort zone and attend a concert.  You just might find a life long passion like I did!

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