Monday, November 30, 2015

Hallelujah!

On Saturday night Marilyn and I continued the tradition we started last year by going to the Messiah Sing-In at Abravanel Hall.  This performance featured the Utah Symphony, the Utah Symphony Chorus, and some amazing soloists including Jessica Jones, Sarah Coit, Christian Sanders, and Markel Reed.  The audience is invited to sing along during the choruses and you can even purchase a copy of the score for $9.00.  Last year Marilyn and I had no idea about this tradition and we were basically just spectators.  This year we were prepared (we bought our copies before the performance) and I will tell you that it is a lot more fun to be a part of the action.  It actually brought back many wonderful memories of singing in the choir when I was in college.  Handel's Messiah is such a beautiful and stirring piece of music and it is so appropriate for the upcoming Christmas holiday.  It definitely gave me a big injection of Christmas spirit!  All of the soloists were amazing but I absolutely loved Markel Reed's rendition of  "The trumpet shall sound" and so did the crowd because he got thunderous applause!  Of course I also loved the "Hallelujah" chorus because it sounded so incredible with the acoustics in Abravanel Hall.  It was a lovely evening and I hope it will be a tradition for many years to come.

Note:  I may have been a bit boisterous with my hallelujahs because Marilyn gave me a look!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas!

I usually get pretty excited to pull out the Christmas decorations but this year I was even more excited because I got to decorate my new house!
I like to put up my decorations the day after Thanksgiving because I like to enjoy them for as long as possible.  This year I started decorating at 11:30 pm!
It took me a while to decide where to put the tree because I had a few options in this house.  I decided that I liked it best in front of the window near the fireplace.
My sister found these poinsettias for me at the Home Depot for only $12.99.  I absolutely love them!
My sister Marilyn has started making the cutest quilted table runners.  This is the Christmas one she made for me.  I love it!
The tree skirt that I made last year!
A few more views.
It makes me so happy to sit in this room and look at the tree!  I love the holiday season so much and I am looking forward to many fun activities in December!

Note:  If you are interested in one of these cute table runners (she makes them for all holidays), you can contact my sister at thequiltingbeellc@gmail.com.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015

This year, for the first time ever, I hosted Thanksgiving in my new house!  Of course, my sister Marilyn practically walked me through making everything while Kristine brought the rolls (they were from Kneader's bakery and they were delicious) and my parents brought the pies (from Village Inn).
What I was most excited about was using my dining room table!  I have wanted a table like this for a really long time and I loved seeing my whole family sitting around it!  Everything was so delicious and we had such a great day!

Note:  Sean and Tashena were especially happy to be celebrating at my house!

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Good Dinosaur

It has become a tradition to see a movie the day before Thanksgiving and I continued that tradition Wednesday by taking Sean to see The Good Dinosaur.  It is a wonderful movie and both Sean and I loved it.  In fact, Sean was absolutely riveted to the screen the whole time.  The movie presupposes that the meteor which wiped out the dinosaurs missed Earth and now they are farmers and ranchers while humans are wild cave dwellers.  The story centers on a young Apatosaurus named Arlo who is the runt of the litter and afraid of everything.  After Arlo gets trapped in a violent storm (more on this later), he is washed down the river away from his home and family.  He befriends a wild human, whom he names Spot, and together they encounter other dinosaurs (a trio of Pterodactyls, T-Rexes and their herd of buffalo, and rustling Velociraptors) and must overcome more natural disasters on their journey back to Arlo's family.  Arlo learns the meaning of friendship (in some really tender scenes) and how to overcome his fear (in some really violent and scary scenes).  There are also some really funny moments such as when Arlo and Spot find some fermented fruit and begin hallucinating (Sean turned to me and said, "I think the fruit is poisonous and that is why they are going crazy." Ha ha!) and when the T-Rexes are sitting around the campfire comparing scars (one of the T-rexes is voiced by Sam Elliott).   The story is very formulaic and derivative but I still found it to be compelling.  The animation is absolutely incredible!  It has the most realistic CGI landscapes I have ever seen, particularly the scenes with running water, featuring the beautiful American West.  One of the most stunning moments is when raindrops drip off some tree branches.  My only problem with this movie is that, for a film heavily marketed to young children, it is quite violent and scary (I literally jumped in a scene involving a snake) with the death Arlo's father in a storm, several near drownings, attacks by Pterodactyls and Velociraptors, and a violent landslide.  Sean, who is ten, was quite upset during the storms and mentioned them several times after the movie.  Sean ultimetely loved the movie and so did I!  I would recommend it as a fun family activity over the holidays with the proviso that younger children might be a bit scared.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Room

Last night I went to see the film adaptation of Emma Donoghue's best-selling novel, Room (which my book club read several years ago).  It is extraordinary!  Joy (Brie Larson), a young woman who was abducted at age 17, has been held captive in a tiny garden shed for seven years with her five-year-old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay), who was fathered by her captor.  Despite the horror of her situation, she teaches Jack that the shed, which she calls Room, is the entire world and that everything in it is a friend.  When her captor reveals that he has lost his job and that he might lose his house, Joy realizes that she must take action to save Jack and tries to teach him about the outside world.  When they are rescued, Jack is completely overwhelmed by the world and everyone and everything in it and struggles with things as simple as climbing stairs.  However, as Jack becomes more and more confident in the world, Joy finds it difficult to reconcile the past seven years with her new life.   This movie is sometimes very unsettling to watch but it is also a beautiful story about a mother's love for her child (It reminded me a lot of the film Life is Beautiful where a father turns life in a concentration camp into an adventure for his son).  Both Larson and Tremblay give unbelievable performances, which are certain to be remembered during awards season, and I also really enjoyed Joan Allen's performance as Joy's mother, especially in her scenes with Jack.   The cinematography is very striking, particularly the dingy close-up shots which emphasize the claustrophobia of the shed juxtaposed with the wide and empty shots of the outside world.  While the novel is completely from the perspective of five-year-old Jack, this adaptation does a good job capturing his shifts in understanding (Donoghue also wrote the screenplay).  I would highly recommend this tense and psychological drama.

Note:  At this screening I saw the first preview for The Danish Girl.  I think I'm more excited to see it than the new Star Wars movie!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Mahler's "Tragic" Symphony

Last night the Utah Symphony performed an epic concert at Abravanel Hall (stop reading right now and go here for tickets to tonight's performance).  The evening began with Symphony No. 6 "Morning" by Joseph Haydn and it was absolutely beautiful.  I always like pieces which feature the woodwind section (I played the clarinet in school) and I loved the themes played by the solo flute and oboe in the first movement and repeated in the fourth.  The theme played by a solo bassoon and a solo double bass in the third movement was also quite lovely as was a theme played by a solo horn accompanied by the harp.  I really enjoyed hearing so many different instruments featured.  All of the musicians of the Utah Symphony are so talented!  After the intermission, the orchestra played the spectacular Symphony No. 6 "Tragic" by Gustav Mahler (The Utah Symphony is performing the entire Mahler symphony cycle to commemorate its 75th Anniversary this year).  With the nickname "Tragic," I thought this piece would be moody, atmospheric, and mournful.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  It is bold, lively, and energetic with rousing themes played by the brass and timpani, almost as if Mahler is raging against the fickle hand of fate.  The first movement conjured up images of battle while the second movement denoted a beautiful and romantic interlude until the hammer of fate (literally) falls on the protagonist in the finale.  The percussion section featured a giant wooden box which was struck twice by an equally giant mallet (I read that each strike represents a tragedy in Mahler's life and that a third strike is sometimes included which represents his struggle with certain music institutions).  It was incredibly dramatic, to say the least!  I loved it but I was exhausted after listening to such an emotional piece and I can't imagine how the musicians felt at the end!  Again, it was an epic evening of music and you certainly don't want to miss it!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Philanthropy

Yesterday I took all of the officers back to the Make-A-Wish Utah headquarters.  We presented the check for the money HHS raised for Carson's wish (which ended up being $4,561.40) to the CEO.  He specifically requested that all of the students come so he could meet them and thank them personally. This has been such an amazing experience and I am so proud of my students!  Philanthropy is an important part of my life and I have always emphasized it with all of the student groups I've worked with over the years.  Sometimes it seems like the world is a terrible place but I want my students to know that they can be a force for good and that, no matter how small they think their contribution is, they can make a big difference!  I hope they remember this moment for the rest of their lives!

Utah Food Bank
Festival of Trees
St. Vincent de Paul Soup Kitchen
American Red Cross Blood Drive

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Mockingjay Double Feature

Last night's screenings of Mockingjay Part 1 and Part 2 brought to an end what amounts to an enormous commitment to a franchise; Hunger Games premiered in 2012 so I have been waiting four long years to see the conclusion (also, spending five hours to watch both films seemed like an enormous commitment as well.)  In the final analysis, it seemed pretty anticlimactic.  When I saw Part 1 last year, I was really surprised by how much I liked it considering that the book upon which it is based is my least favorite in the trilogy.  Apparently, what I disliked about the book was reserved for Part 2.  The second movie begins almost exactly where the first one ended (It was almost as if there was a short intermission in one long movie!) with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) reeling from Peeta's (Josh Hutcherson) attack.  She finally decides that she, alone, must stop Snow (Donald Sutherland) once and for all by assassinating him.  She joins the rebels, including Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Finnick (Sam Claflin) for a final assault on the Capitol with some fantastic action scenes, such as outrunning a tidal wave of oil and battling a series of mutants in the sewers, and a showdown with President Snow.  As exciting and intense as the battle scenes are, they are also somewhat underwhelming because the Capitol is already in ruins.  We don't get the satisfaction of watching the rebels destroy the city.  We also don't get the satisfaction of seeing the final battle because Katniss is knocked out by the explosion and, when she wakes up, it is all over.  Furthermore, without giving anything away, the final confrontation between Katniss and Snow is hardly satisfying, considering what she has been through.  Finally, the happy ending in a bucolic setting bathed in sunshine feels contrived to me.  These were all of my criticisms of the book so I'm not sure what I was expecting from a movie adaptation...Again, as I mentioned, I did enjoy all of the action scenes and I think the principal actors (most of the supporting actors have been reduced to cameos) give great performances as they grapple with themes of power and the abuse therof, but I am not sure that is enough after this much investment of time.  It was an awesome spectacle but I was a bit disappointed.

Note:  This was an advance screening with an energetic crowd yet there was no applause at the end.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Suffragette

Every year I teach the memoir Night by Elie Wiesel to my sophomores.  I am always amazed at their intense reaction to this book.  I sometimes think that my students know, intellectually, that the Holocaust happened but they don't really have an understanding of how it actually affected real people until they read about Elie's first-hand experiences in a concentration camp.  Last night I went to see the movie Suffragette and, like my students, I feel like I had an intellectual understanding of the fight for women's suffrage but I didn't really know the horror of what these women went through until I saw events depicted on the big screen.  This movie was a visceral experience for me.  The story revolves around Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan), a young woman who works in deplorable conditions at a laundry earning much less than her male counterparts.  She learns of the women's suffrage movement from her co-workers and eventually becomes caught up in the cause.  As she becomes more involved, she endures social ostracism, the loss of her job, and the loss of her family.  It is heartbreaking to see, especially when her husband takes away her son, and I was horrified at the treatment many women received in prison, particularly when they are force-fed during a hunger strike.  These events were so upsetting to me that I actually had tears in my eyes for much of the movie.  Mulligan gives an incredible performance as Maud and Helena Bonham Carter is perfect as a fellow suffragette.  Bonham Carter plays so many eccentric characters that it is easy to forget that she is an exceptionally talented actress.  Ben Whishaw was very effective as Sonny, Maud's husband, because I hated him by the end of the movie (I like him better as Q).  I found it a bit odd that Meryl Streep had less than five minutes of screen time as Emmeline Pankhurst, a noted real-life leader of the movement, because she was featured so heavily in the marketing of the movie.  Many critics feel that the narrative is, at times, very heavy-handed.   However, I feel that the honest depiction of the struggle was necessary to show someone like me that I shouldn't take my very privileged life for granted.  I highly recommend this movie, especially to young women.

Note:  I have never enjoyed being told what to do so I feel sure that, had I lived during this time period, I would have been a suffragette!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Bolero

When I was young, my Dad had a recording of various pieces of classical music programmed on the Moog synthesizer.  I enjoyed the entire recording but my favorite piece was Bolero by Maurice Ravel.  I absolutely loved it and I listened to it over and over again.  My favorite part was at the end when the synthesizer simulated applause.  I had no idea that I was listening to classical music; I just thought it was the coolest thing ever!  Now I know better so I always try to hear Bolero performed live whenever I get the chance and I had the chance to hear the Utah Symphony perform it last night.  The concert featured several works by Maurice Ravel including La Valse, which was lovely (especially the harps), Une barque sur l'ocean, which was very dynamic, and an incredible staging of the opera The Child and the Enchantments (featuring many wonderful soloists from the Utah Opera and the Choristers of The Madeleine Choir School).  I really enjoyed these pieces but, for me, the main event was Bolero.  I literally had goosebumps when I heard bits of the distinctive theme played while the orchestra was warming up before the concert!  It begins almost imperceptibly with a snare drum (playing the same rhythm throughout the entire piece) and then a melody is played by a solo flute.  This melody is repeated over and over by the various instruments in the orchestra (my favorite is the solo trombone), building in intensity and volume for 17 minutes until a dramatic crescendo at the end.  It is simply amazing and I am not exaggerating when I say that I could barely contain myself during the performance (I apologize to anyone sitting near me!).  If you have never heard Bolero performed live, do yourself a favor and go here for tickets to tonight's performance!  I am seriously thinking of going so I can hear it again!

Note:  I went to this concert specifically to hear Bolero but I would also recommend it for the incredible performance of The Child of the Enchantments (I absolutely loved Derrick Parker as the Tree), a piece I was entirely unfamiliar with.  One of the things I love most about the Utah Symphony is that I am always introduced to new pieces and composers that become favorites!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Make A Wish

Last week I had an absolutely incredible experience with my officers and the entire student body of Hunter High School!  At our Leadership Conference last summer, one of the workshops was on service.  I sent several of my students to this workshop and they were incredibly inspired by the presentation by Make-A-Wish Utah.  One of my officers, in particular, was really passionate about working with Make-A-Wish so we invited Daniel Dudley, a representative from the organization, to speak to our class.  My officers immediately began to plan for a week of activities to raise money to sponsor a wish.
Over fall break, Daniel arranged for us to visit the Make-A-Wish House.  I was amazed at my students' dedication to this project on a day off from school!  A typical wish costs approximately $5000.00 and my students committed to sponsor a seven-year old boy named Carson.  He has a brain tumor and his wish was to go to the Florida theme parks.  (We learned that Disneyland and Disney World are the most popular wishes).  I was a little bit concerned that we wouldn't be able to raise that much money but Daniel assured me that any money we raised would go to a fund and that Carson would get his wish!  My students, however, were convinced that they could do it!  We started our "Wish Week" last Monday and started collecting donations every day at lunch.  We hung a giant thermometer with various challenges which the officers would complete in our culminating assembly if certain dollar amounts were raised.  When each goal was met, the officers would fill in the thermometer.  By Thursday afternoon, all but two of our milestones had been met.  We also had a Dodge Ball tournament on Thursday with many of the clubs and organizations participating with teams (we also had several teams from our rival, Cyprus High School, participate).  Dodge Ball was a lot of fun and a great success because we raised $250 from registration fees!  On Friday we wore our Wish Week shirts and decorated the gym with blue balloons and streamers (blue is Carson's favorite color).
We introduced Daniel who spoke about what Make-A-Wish Utah is all about and then he introduced Carson, who didn't feel very well, and his family.  The students responded with a standing ovation! His Dad spoke about everything that Carson has been through and what the hope of having Carson's wish granted has meant to him and their family.  I have never heard our student body so quiet before.  I have chills just remembering that moment!  We have been talking about Carson all week but being able to meet him was really inspiring.  The officers took buckets into the crowd and had a "Miracle Minute."  We asked the crowd to donate as much money as possible in one minute.
We had several officers quickly count the money from the "Miracle Minute" and we raised over $1000 which met our next milestone!
Then we had the officers complete the challenges.  For raising $250, the freshmen and sophomore officers had to eat dog food!  (They came up with these challenges!)
For $500, all of the boys on student council had their legs waxed (this was hilarious because their reactions were so dramatic).
For $750, several officers had to eat mystery pies.  She got the mayonnaise one!
For $1000, several officers had to drink raw eggs.  (They were processed eggs because salmonella!)
For $2000, we all had to eat crickets!  This was the challenge that Carson was looking forward to the most!  (Just so you know, they are disgusting!)
For $3000, we had our football coach get dunked by ice!  He was a good sport!
After the challenges, we presented a check for $4500 to Carson and Make-A-Wish Utah!  I was so overcome by this moment because I doubted that we would be able to raise this much money!  My officers and the student body of HHS proved me wrong!
Then, Carson's Wish Team granted his wish with a special present from Mickey Mouse!
I was trying to keep my composure throughout the assembly but I absolutely lost it when Carson, who didn't feel well, took the microphone and told the crowd, "Thank you," in a tiny little voice!  I was not alone because all of my students throughout the rest of the school day told me that they cried during that moment as well.  All of the hard work was worth it!
KTVX was there to film the assembly and interviewed Emily, our Student Body President.  You can watch the segment here. (Emily is getting really good at speaking to the media.  Go here to see her interview on KUTV about our Homecoming Queen).
I am so incredibly proud of my officers and the whole student body of HHS!  It was definitely a magical experience to have our school be so unified in one goal.  We hope you have a great time at Disney World, Carson!

Note:  The Spirit Can made another appearance!  It has become extremely popular with students!
Also, go here to find out more about Make-A-Wish Utah.
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