Archive for March, 2011

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Some photos before Spring Break

March 31, 2011

So as you can see if you look back at my post from last weekend, I have had a pretty productive week so far.  While there are still a few items left, I am hoping that tonight and tomorrow will finish them all off, because I can’t wait to head out to rainy, 50 degree Seattle (fortunately the main attractions of that lovely city is not the weather :), or I feel I would end up being sadly disappointed).  But before I head out, I wanted to share a few photos that haven’t been brought to your attention.  First off all, a week ago last Tuesday, I made one of my favorite meals in a long time: Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Baked Dijon Tillapia and Roasted Asparagus with Lemon and Sea Salt.
Sweet Potatoes getting a bath

Slicing off the ends of the Asparagus

Honey Dijon Tilapia with Pecan crustAnd to top it off, we all enjoyed some nice crisp Hard Cider.

Finished Tuesday night dinnerThen this past Sunday, I had a wonderful time driving down to Lafayette with my cousin Emily to visit Jonathan and see the musical Spamalot.  The whole day was a lot of fun, but in the end I think my favorite part was spending 6 hours catching up with Emily.  Back at the beginning of 2011, Emily and I decided to make this year, “The Year of Actually Seeing Each Other, Because We Live in the Same City, Dangit!” and so far we are off to a really good start with our fourth time hanging out and it isn’t even April yet.

"See, I am very smart and know lots of physics, that is why I am blindly punching numbers on this calculator!"
There goes the enormous concrete statue
Emily also took a turn
Pretty points against blue sky
The Three Amigos

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Books I have read recently

March 28, 2011

Despite feeling in many ways that I have been in a 2-3 week of non-productivity slump (i.e. I still do things, at least the things that have to be done, but nothing else beyond that), I realized the other day that the plus side to that is that I have been doing a lot more reading.  So what better way to feel like I am actually doing something productive, than by writing a post about good books I have read (while thoroughly procrastinating on things like committee work, church work and job applications).

Blackout (and the sequel All Clear) by Connie Willis

While the middle section of this dragged a bit (in a very similar way to how the first section of its sequel dragged), this was a highly enjoyable look at the lives of British people during World War II. Whether it was piloting tiny, barely functioning boats to rescue soldiers at Dunkirk, enduring over a year of constant bombing on London, flying rocket bombs along the coast or dealing with evacuee children, three time-traveling historians learn the realities faced by average folks dealing with one of the most violent times of the past century. Technically this book is in the science fiction genre, but a better description might be that of historical fiction due to the way 1940s Great Britain is brought to life. My only other warning is that this book ends rather abruptly and if, like me, you were unaware there is a sequel, it can be rather frustrating at first. But have no fear, there is a sequel, All Clear, at it is everything you will hope for after reading Blackout and more!

The Good War by Studs Terkel

Continuing my unintentional theme of World War II, I spotted this book while weeding the 940 section of the library and was reminded that I had been meaning to read it ever since I found out that Max Brooks had based his World War Z on Terkel’s style of oral history vignettes. While quite a lengthy book, it is perfected edited and each person’s story both stands well on its own and contributes to a broader narrative. Lacking any fundamental statement about the nature of war, Terkel instead chooses to let each person’s story speak for itself. Sometimes comic, sometimes sad, but always told with dignity, these stories help bring World War II to light as both a global tragedy and a complex event that took place differently in every person’s life. Highlights include the story of one of the Andrew’s sisters who helped deliver the news of victory in Japan to soldiers in Europe waiting re-deployment, a soldier who ended up marrying the widow of his dead war buddy, a survivor of some of the worst racial violence carried out against African-American soldiers by the U.S. army and many many more. I have to admit I did skim a few of the stories in the middle when they got to be a bit more about the politics of the World War II era, but those were only a few and I overall highly enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone with an interest in World War II or just looking for some great stories about very ordinary people.

An Exclusive Love: A Memoir by Johanna Adorjan

I found out about this book on NPR and found it to be a perfect bookend to my World War II theme. A slim memoir, Adorjan tells the story of how her grandparents, Holocaust survivors, committed suicide together after the grandfather was diagnosed with a terminal illness. In their seventies, but still quite active, the couple had been devoted to each other, but never told open with their children or friends about the horrors they had experienced together. A simple, slow-moving story, Adorjan doesn’t offer conclusive answers or compelling narrative, but just a simple look at a couple, who when faced with the idea of separation, choose to end their lives together. Bittersweet and fascinating, I ended up enjoying this book more than I thought I would.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

After getting over my World War II kick, what better to read than a quick YA book about more ultimate tragedy. Mia is seventeen, when she and her entire immediate family are in a horrendous car accident on a snowy morning in Oregon. With her family gone and her own body trapped in a coma, Mia must decide if life is worth returning to. This book greatly appealed to the 14 year old in me, who used to contemplate the worst tragedies that could happen to my normal little life (like many teens, I often wondered how I would deal with various earthquakes, tornadoes, deaths of loved ones, zombie apocalypses). Told in a straight-forward, but sensitive and well-thought out manner, Mia must face the question of how much life is worth when surrounded by such great pain.

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One week till Spring Break: To-Do List

March 26, 2011

– dig through old file folders and find Illinois Basic Skill Test results and old SAT score (for real, one of my job application wants to know this!)

– finish writing open response questions for CPS application

– have someone read over responses

– submit CPS application

– submit one other job application for random down state Illinois job

– bake/make something for Game Night tonight

– Pack

– contact WW committee about final fundraiser date choosing

– set up WW committee meeting (sort of, still waiting to hear back from folks)

– phone call with WW board member

– write up educational fund policy for church

– make dentist appointment

– clean room to the point that it won’t be painful to return too

– ask around to see if a airport pick-up ride can be arranged for return from Seattle

– finish blog post about recent books I have read and enjoyed

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Photo Monday

March 21, 2011

Before I get into showing you pictures I took this weekend, I just wanted to say thank you for all the lovely comments on my previous post, it is really nice knowing that there are so many folks out there being happy for me (and Alex!).  Also holy cow guys! Apparently you like looking at pictures of my boyfriend and I, because my Flickr stats have been through the roof.  Now all I need are some a few rainbow-vomiting pandas, adorable tree-climbing kittens, and some stormtroopers caught in the rain and I will be ready to take over the Internet!

This past weekend I went on a walk to search out signs of the now technically existent spring.  While the trees are not showing any signs of progress there are plenty of small green shoots and actual flowers the help convince me that sunny, breezy blue sky days, perfect for wearing skirts without tights are just around the corner.  It was also really fun to mess around with aperture and force myself to try out a little ISO tricks that I picked up from this post by Karen at Chookooloonks.  I had familiarized myself to aperture and have some knowledge of shutter speed (although the numbers part still confuses the heck out of me), but ISO was a newer concept and one that I need to learn more about.  Here is my own experiment with aperture, also heavily inspired by Karen’s post (roll your mouse over the photo to learn the aperture I used):

f/1.8, which I found a little too blurry and narrow in depth of fieldf/9.0, which created too wide a depth of field which allowed too much background detailsf/4.0, just the right depth of field to create the look I was going forIf you want to see the rest of the photos from my walk, click on one of my favorites below for the full Flickr set.

And finally just to demonstrate how much I still have to learn about photography, here is my rather pathetic attempt to take pictures of the Supermoon on Saturday night.  Head over to this Flickr blog post, to see how it is really done.

And I even had my tripod with me and all my newly minted ideas about shutter speed, alas this was the best I could do.

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Meet Alex

March 16, 2011

So remember back when I went to Seattle at the end of January and didn’t take many pictures, but had a really wonderful time.  Well a big part of that was – Alex, my boyfriend. Seeing as I tend to not write very much about romantic relationships on this blog and my own tendency to still find the phrase, my boyfriend, a very odd/lovely one to use, I held off on writing anything here for a while.  But this past weekend, Alex visited Chicago for the first time and seeing as we have been dating for just over a month and a half, I figured it would be time to introduce you all.

Question from the invisible audience: So, who the heck is Alex and how did you meet?

The meeting story (from my perspective, you will have to track down Alex yourself to get his) is as follows. Abby visits good friends from college in Seattle, she very briefly meets their new housemate and thinks he is pretty cool.*  Those same good friends encourage Abby’s interest by telling her all about how awesome Alex is (speaks French, very smart, funny, responsible, moral, geeky, helps with household chores, good cook, etc).  Abby returns home from visit but can’t seem to forget about Alex, but Abby does nothing.  Eventually Abby tires of previous plan and writes Alex a letter (who during those past 6 months had moved to Minneapolis to do service for a year).  He writes back and sends Abby really yummy baked goods.  Abby writes another letter and so forth for around 6 months.  Abby and Alex discover email.  Abby goes a bit crazy with not knowing for sure what their pen pal relationship truly is.  Almost exactly a year after the first letter, Abby tells Alex that she thinks he is pretty awesome and that if they weren’t living quite so far apart, she would ask him out on a date.  Alex replies (on Christmas morning – best present ever!) and says that he also thinks Abby is pretty awesome and that he too would like to go on a date with Abby.  Abby and Alex start to chat online and skype regularly.  Abby visits Seattle and they spend 4 really wonderful days together.  Alex and Abby decide to be girlfriend and boyfriend.

So, long distance dating between Chicago and Seattle, how is that going?

Well, yes long distance is hard, but thanks to modern technology we write emails, chat online, skype and more importantly thanks to the wonders of Spring Break, we get to see each other in just over 2 weeks!

Okay, Okay, enough of that, we want to see what he looks like!

If you want more pictures, click on over to the flickr sidebar for the full set.

Alex and me, hanging out in an old L car at the Chicago History Museum.

*I have no idea why I felt the need to write this in the third person, but it just seemed to make sense that way

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5 Love Lessons learned from watching the opera Carmen

March 10, 2011

1. Remember, ask questions first, THEN seduce (possible questions to ponder include – Do you prefer ordered army life or rag-tag gypsy clans?  Does your potential lover perhaps have anger management issues?)

2. The best way to demonstrate love for someone is not to encourage and support them, but instead destroy one’s own life and follow them into the mountains.

2. Nothing is more boring to one’s lover than neediness – especially if they have the unmitigated gall to meet your sacrificial demands.

4. In the end, bull fighters in tight pants always get the girl.

5. Don’t meet up with your stalker ex-lover in private, this will most likely end in awkward confrontations or possibly stabby time.

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why I came to the fellowship

March 9, 2011

In an attempt to clean out my very scattered/crowded draft folder, I am  publishing/deleting some of these posts. This was written in January 2008 and is most likely based on the paper I wrote for the fellowship on the event of becoming a practicing member.  I think this paper does a pretty decent job of capturing why I made that decision and the two years I spent as a practicing member were very good ones for me.  While I no longer have any official connection to the fellowship, I continue to live in household and attend the small group that I joined back when I first wrote this post.

I grew up in a strong Mennonite faith community.  Everyone I knew was a Christian and believed in God.  I grew up attending the same church my grandparents had attended and memorized Bible verses every week in Sunday School.  Both of my parents grew up Mennonite and continued to hold their faith in high importance.  All around me were good people doing their best to serve God in their lives.  However this faith community didn’t do a lot of talking about how they believed in God or how they heard God’s voice or why faith mattered.

For much of high school I struggled a lot with doubts, mainly about the existence of God and the role of the church.  I read a lot from the Old Testament and was confused by the ideas of a God who sent bears to punish naughty children or who forcefully advocated for total destruction of enemies.  I couldn’t understand how the church who claimed to be the physical embodiment of God’s will and agency on earth could commit such atrocities and inspire such vilification and hatred among different people.  I didn’t understand why each religion seemed to want to limit God to only their understanding of him or insist that only their religion was true.  While I knew that God was a large part of the community around me that I loved, I didn’t seem to share the same ability to just have faith in God.

Towards the end of high school I participated in a baptism class through my church in Indiana.  We met regularly over a period of several months and talked a lot about issues of pluralism, the history of the church, the meaning of baptism and what it meant to choose Christianity.  I learned that my doubts were not barriers to being a Christian, but ways of keeping my faith alive and that I didn’t have to have a perfect all the time faith in God in order to choose to be a follower of Jesus.  Later that year, I along with several other of my friends got baptized during the Advent season right after 9/11.  That season and baptism was a huge influence on me and remains a powerful reminder to me about the ability of faith to help one live in a very broken world.

As I finished up my degree at GC, my friends and I began to try to figure out what we were going to do next.  A good friend Jess began to talk about moving back to her home town of Evanston and how it would be fun for a group of us to join her.  The idea took root and soon four of us decided to move up to Evanston.  We ended up going through R— Apartments in order to find a low cost place to live and quickly realized we were living in the middle of close-knit community.  However we also realized that it wasn’t the easiest thing to get to know people within that community.  Our first year here was difficult, especially as we could see the community around us, but yet couldn’t connect directly to it.  Things did improve as we started going to Monday night potlucks and got connected to small groups.  Both my roommate Becca and I got invited into Barb’s small group and that really helped us feel more connected.  Therefore last September when the option of becoming a practicing member was given to me, I jumped at the chance.  Here was the opportunity for me to connect with this community of faith that I had been observing and so far this has proven to be a wonderful step.

Here at the fellowship I have really appreciated spending time in a community that values a quiet deep faith, encourages discussion of incorporating God into one’s daily life, allows for brokenness and doubts, and also pushes me to take seriously the idea of being intentional about my relationships with those around me.

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Enchanted versus Salt

March 8, 2011

I recently discovered this post (which contained only this title) sitting in my draft folder and realized I should probably either write some semblance of what I was going to originally or just delete the thing.

One evening in December, through no intentional plan on my part, I ended up watching the movies Salt and Enchanted back to back.  Now I had seen both of these movies previously, but the direct juxtaposition made me realize what a fascinating dichotomy these movies presented in regards to society’s ideas about femininity.

Before I get into my points, here are some brief [Spoiler Alert] plot summaries, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the plot lines of these movies.  Salt is a taunt 100 minute  spy thriller in which Salt (played by Angelina Jolie) is accused of being a brainwashed Russian spy. The movie follows Salt on her quest to either save her husband and clear her name or fulfill her secret anti-US mission*.  Throughout the movie, Salt displays a wide range of spy skills including jumping on moving semi-trucks, barefoot ledge climbing, familiarity with explosives, knowledge of poisons and disguises.  In typical spy movie fashion, the audience is not allowed into Salt’s head, but clearly meant to remain in awe of her abilities.

On the other hand Enchanted is a children’s movie (with appeal to adults) which plays on many of the typical fairy-tale princess tropes including (but not limited too) swash-buckling prince, evil step-mother, talking animals, innocent princess, the all-encompassing power of true-love’s first kiss.  The twist in Enchanted is that the cartoon princess of the opening, quickly segues into a lost princess wondering a cold/cruel New York City where she must find a way to return to “true-love”.  Of course she ends up meeting a much more interesting modern-day single father, discovering the liberating concept of “casual dating” and ends up rescuing her new-found paramour from the evil step-mother turned dragon.

Now to my points about society and femininity:

  • Interestingly enough Salt was originally written for a man and that foundation comes across in the finished product.  Unlike other female superhero movies such as Charlie’s Angels, Salt is not known for her beautiful fighting style, there are no lingering close-ups of her hair swinging as she round-kicks the bad guys.  Nor are there many lingering close-ups at all, her fighting style is rough, to the point and very effective,  in other words more similar to traditional ideas about masculinity (i.e. James Bond, Jason Bourne, etc).  Also it is only at the very end that she attempts to use her femininity to gain the upper hand and that is after she is dressed as a man.   Yet throughout all of this Salt’s redemption and constant priority is to find and rescue her husband.  While he is played mainly as a pawn, her husband is given very nurturing characteristics and the love Salt feels for him is depicted as the primary reason for Salt’s conversion to US-centric loyalty.  However even after dealing with the death of her husband, Salt keeps her focus and maintains her mission to save the President of the United States.
  • On the other hand, Giselle from Enchanted, comes into the modern world with a guileless belief in true love, a truly fantastic ability to excel at the traditional feminine tasks of cleaning (aided this time by roaches, rats and pidgins as opposed to her more traditionally animated woodland rabbits, squirrels and songbirds), sewing fantastically gorgeous clothes out of curtains, and leading random people in parks in full out musical numbers.  For her the struggle is learning that sometimes you need to know a bit more about someone to fall in love (although I don’t know if 2 dates, over approximately 2-3 days is a big step up from first sight) and that there are other emotions other than happy, giddy and excited.

In the end, I think I find it fascinating how both Salt and Giselle are seen as feminine ideals, but are in many ways diametrically opposed to each other.  I think there is a lot of pressure on modern women to also emulate the idea of being fiercely independent and highly capable, while also being the dewey-eyed innocent who main goals revolve around finding love and building a domestic haven for a family.  So those of you who have seen these movies (or those of you who haven’t, but still have an opinion about any of this) what do you think?

*the “or” is an indication of the fairly good job the movie does at making Salt’s true motives unknown to the audience, unless of course you are Katie, blessed with a omniscient eye for plot twists