Archive for the ‘reviue’ Category


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.


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


Belated Vacation Recap: The train

August 15, 2010

So I can’t believe it was almost a month ago already that Becca and I headed out on the Empire Builder to go visit friends in Seattle.  I have been to Seattle several times before, in fact it has been a yearly tradition since some of my very dear friends from college decided to move out there in 2006 (thus making this my 4th Seattle trip if you do the math).  Anyways this time, given our more open schedule, Becca and I decided to take the train.  A very different concept than the 3 1/2 hour plane ride, this left Chicago on a Wednesday afternoon around 2pm and took until 10am on Friday to get us to Seattle.  But man, oh man was it worth it.  I will let my pictures do most of the talking here, but I will say 46 hours of TV on DVD watching, reading, SIMS playing, and just staring out the window can actually be pretty good.

We didn't have to wait until we got to Montana to see some gorgeous sceneary, even plan ole Wisconsin can look pretty spectacular.

The lounge car was one of the best parts of the train; seats that faced the window, curved windows above that went down almost to the floor and even occasionally park rangers to tell you all about a particular location.

These South Dakotan hills were our first indication that we were entering The West

How we kept ourselves entertained: Books, episodes of Bones, cards, etc

I absolutely loved this scenery.

We even saw some horses from the train, no moose though.

Thursday evening brought us beautiful sunset sky as we approached the mountains of Glacier National Park

We also ended up seeing two sets of double rainbows that evening.

This leg of the trip was by far my favorite.

Glacier National Park

We saved the pesto for our last meal on the train, super yummy pita, cheese sticks, cherry tomatoes and pesto sauce!

The next morning we were still going through mountains.

Washington is a beautiful state.


Another blog post about my weekend

March 18, 2010

Apparently not a lot happens in my life during those Monday through Friday days, or perhaps slightly more likely my interest/energy to discuss said things is too low.  But however last weekend was another spectacular weekend, full of visits from afar, pregnant friends, hospital visits, brother time, car time, eating in restaurants time, puppy time, nostalgic musical time and of course lots of friend time.  And because I actually managed to successfully record this weekend with my camera (instead of just lugging the bag around with me and not opening it) I will be telling you all about with these photos.  Of course I took way more than I will include here, so feel free to follow that little link in the right column over to my Flickr account for the full onslaught.

The weekend actually started Friday morning, when visiting Katie, Becca, Jess and I all piled into my car to head south towards Indy. Jess was kind enough to take this photo and unlike the other ones she took, we actually look awake in this one.

We stopped by West Lafayette to pick up the Jonathan and then on to Indy where we had a wonderful visit with Crystal. Then in order to continue our day o' car, we headed back north towards Goshen.

Leaving Indy is when the rain finally hit and so I made Jonathan drive, because as demonstrated in this photo, he can do it with his eyes closed.

Then Will and Kari very graciously hosted a nice pack of college buddies at their house for dinner. After eating lots of yummy lasagna and talking our heads off, we retired to the living room to play games and try and feel Kari's baby kick.

In her quest to feel little baby kicks, Jo decided to do some extracurricular reading.

Then a bunch of us girls got together for breakfast at the County Seat. Unfortunately Kari had to leave early to get to her baby shower on time, so she missed being part of the group shot.

And along with the spectacular company, the food was probably the best meal I had all weekend. Half of a Fritz's Special with gravy and a side of homemade whole wheat toast and strawberry jam. Incredible!

After breakfast we went over to Steph's house for more hanging out time and to cuddle up to her cute pets. All named after Joss Whedon characters, Doyle (the above puppy), Oz and Alpha (the Beta fish that I have no photos of) were all pretty awesome.

Don't tell, but Oz was actually my favorite, such a pretty kitty!

Unfortunately my parents were out of town, but that didn't stop me from staying at their house, eating their food, sleeping in their beds and stealing their wireless. Thanks Mom and Dad, at least I left my laundry at home this time 🙂

On Sunday, Jess and I finally packed up our bags and drove back to Chicago. Thanks for capturing this great shot of the city Jess and thanks to all the wonderful friends who made for such a wonderful weekend.


Best of 2009*: Swell Season Concert

December 8, 2009

While I have never been a huge concert attender, so saying something was one of the best concerts of my life is not a huge statement.  I could probably count on one hand (or possibly even two fingers) the number of live music shows I have seen this year, however last Thursday night’s performance by the Swell Season was flat out incredible.  The Swell Season (the name for the performers from the movie Once and the band the Frames) came through Chicago last year, but due to my tardiness in snapping of tickets I missed out on the show.  So when I heard they were performing in Chicago last Thursday night I snapped up tickets right away (despite the evil hidden fees of Ticketmaster and its malicious little corporate takeover of the ticket buying world) and rounded up a group to come with me including Jess, Tim and Charletta.

Anyways after dinner we headed over to the Auditorium Theatre and climbed up 5 flights of stairs to our nose-bleed top-most 4th level (or 3rd, it was kind of hard to count from that high up) balcony seats.  Before the music even started a great part of the concert is the theatre itself.

Isn't it a stunner, I saw it for the first time when I went with the girls to the Joffrey Ballet in October. It is an incredible space.

If you aren’t familiar with the movie Once or the earlier Swell Season cd, Glen Hansard describes the goal of his music like this:

“There’s a difference between melancholy music and despairing music,” Hansard says. “If you’re completely lost, there is no hope, and when there’s no hope, your music will appeal to a very small number of people. But if there’s sadness with redemption, the alchemy of sadness meeting joy — I would hope that’s where our music takes people.” (from an interview in the Chicago Tribune

And the concert was just that, beautiful, aching, full of touches of rock and roll with a underlying folk sensibility.  Also Glen Hansard makes a very genial host, full of stories, song-introducing tangents all of course conveyed in his endlessly charming Irish lilt.  It was also really neat to see both the band the Frames and Marketa Irglova all join together to create such a complex sound.  Although my favorite moment of the evening was when Hansard played two songs solo, and the second one unaccompnied by any amplification.  It demonstrated both the amazing design of the theatre (which was designed before amps and such and therefore carries sound incredibly well) and Hansard’s roots as a street busker in Ireland.

Overall it was a completely lovely evening, if slightly long (I was gobsmaked to realize it was 11:30pm by the time we left the theatre, and the concert opener started at 8), but I wouldn’t have shortened it by a second.  So overall if you have a chance to see a Swell Season show, I can’t recomend it highly enough and if that proves impossible at least buy their most recent album Strict Joy, you won’t regret it!

*this post isn’t a direct prompt from Gwen Bell’s idea, but still inspired by it.


reason Abby is a dork #187

July 20, 2008

The one upside to packing is that it does give one an excuse to look through all the random things that I have deemed worthy of saving over the years. As much as I hate “stuff” I have a strong streak of packrat and therefore every move ends up being a battle between the two. This afternoon, Jess sat down with me and we sorted through several boxes that hadn’t been unpacked since my move a year ago (which says a lot for the usefulness of their contents). Along with pictures from high school banquets, family vacations and the blurry results of my first roll of film taken on the pink vivatar I got for christmas one year I discovered my box of special treasures.

Started at a wee age, this box was supposed to be full of special treasures that I would save until I became an adult. Each item would have a special significance and bring back memories, I would probably treasure it for years and maybe even eventually pass it on to my children. However upon examining its contents, I must say I was indeed a very strange child.

Contents of Abby’s box of treasures:
one canoe like structure made out of gold foil
one plastic medalion from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics
one mini multi-colored slinky
one swimmer registration card from 1995 stating my membership in the Concord Clippers Swim Team
one gummy ball man who at one point may have had the ability to stick to walls
one gold heart pendant missing chain
one plastic medal of unknown origins possibly discovered along the road
one bead bracelet
two beaded necklaces
one plastic necklace which I am pretty sure I chewed on as a child
one plastic prism
one heart shaped rock
one small oval box filled with little stick figures
two balls of wax (one plain and one rolled in broken crayons)

See more normal children collected pretty cards, pins, shells, animals, etc. For example, Jess let me see the box that she has kept since childhood, note the difference.

The two other great finds of the afternoon was this picture of me from elementary school (sometime after second grade, due to my glasses):

Pardon the crappy picture, but seeing as my nice camera is currently on loan and I have no scanner, this is the best I can do. It should be noted the elastic waist jeans sitting well above my belly button, the large glasses, striped shirt, and braided hair. I think what really adds to this picture is the random boy jumping into the picture and my steadfast refusal to acknowledge him. I think this picture really demonstrates the nature of my school years.

The other find I can’t really demonstrate seeing as it an audio experience. We found a cassette tape labeled “Abby’s Everything Tape”, so of course I immediately played it. Turns out in typical 90s manner I had attempted to tape some songs off the radio, however instead of actually taping individual songs I managed to tape 40 sold minutes of the best of U93 pop music. So Jess and I got the pleasure of hearing Backstreet Boys, Cher and Shania Twain and even some authentic radio commercials. All in all it was a very productive afternoon, although I have to admit my room looks way worse now then it did before, but I do have a few boxes packed up!


one for your brain, one for your ears, one for your eyes

May 13, 2008

The Good Master by Kate Seredy
I first read this book in junior high and it fit right into my obsession with stories from “the simpler times”. Along with Little House on the Prairie, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, Eight Cousins, and All of a Kind Family, this book tells a simple story of a young boy growing up on in the last days of the large farming pre-industrial Hungarian plains. Jancsi and his city-girl cousin Kate experience the joys and difficulties of a year on the farm, interspersed with tales of gypsies and Hungarian folk tales. Set in the early 20th century, the story carries a bittersweet tone due to the knowledge that in only a few years World War I would sweep over this area of the world (the Singing Tree actually tells the story of the first world war as experienced by Jancsi, Kate and their family).
So in continuing my current re-reading books from my youth kick (Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, Eight Cousins, Etc), I recently bought The Good Master and The Singing Tree. And I found myself just as enthralled with them this time around as when I first read them. Also it should be noted that Kate Seredy also provides the illustrations for both of the books, which are so beautiful and add great mental images to go along with life on the Hungarian plains.

Antarctica by The Weepies
I first discovered the Weepies when they showed up on my Paste Sampler CD and I was quickly hooked. Luckily enough for me they ended up appearing in two issues back to back, which was easily enough to win me over. Consisting of the husband/wife duo of Deb Talen and Steve Tannen, they produce lovely melodies that just worm their way into one’s brain. In fact I am pretty sure I was singing along to the chorus of Antarctica the very first time I listened to it. On top of their simple melodies and harmonies they add in lyrics that both fit the songs and show depth, for example (from the song Hideaway):

I see the bare moon
Raise it’s big bald head
I see my friends play the fool
I’ll make my own way
In the wide world
Just know I don’t want to wander too far

Even the stars
Sometimes fade to gray
Even the stars

Composites, my new favorite photo thing
Camp Lake pier early morning
I first noticed composites when I noticed one in Heather’s photostream on flickr. Put together in photoshop, composites combine lots of different photos taken from one perspective to make a panoramic layered photo. I was on retreat this weekend (my first of back to back weekend retreats) up in Wisconsin and Saturday morning I walked down to the pier and sat on the dock. In order to get the raw photos I needed I basically took around 30 pictures just pointing and shooting at various angles, although I stayed at the same zoom level for all of them. After arriving home on Sunday night I was so eager to put the composite together that I stayed up an extra hour (I think that sentence adds nicely to the huge dorkiness of this website) just to finish it. The process reminds me a lot of scrap booking and carries much of the same addictiveness. I definitely think I will be making more of these in the future.



October 23, 2007

I had a good weekend, if a little short, and I hope you all enjoyed your required 48 hours of R&R. In the spirit of many much cooler people than me, here is a list of some things I think are awesome:

Planet Earth – Yes this documentary was making news a good 6 months ago, but if you haven’t hopped on the bandwagon yet, you need to. Taking over 5 years to film and covering a broad spectrum of life, watching this documentary has caused me to wish for a flat screen plasma TV with surround sound for the first time in my life. Some of the shots completely astound me, for example birds diving into the ocean up to 60 ft to catch bait fish out of a school herded towards the surface by dolphins or a golden eagle wrestling a crane out of the sky over the Himalayan mountains.

Parmesan Cheese – While all cheese is wonderful, real off the block aged Parmesan cheese is so delicious. Especially good if sliced very thinly into strips and laid on your tongue for a second before eating. Heaven.

Brothers – Mine are pretty cool as evidenced from my previous post, but if you don’t have any I suggest you go out and get some. Sorry though I don’t loan my two out, ever. This also segues nicely to my next recommendation

You Don’t Know Jack – Crazy fun computer trivia game that spices together basic trivia knowledge with random pop culture that you can play online at or spend the cash to buy the whole shebang at Amazon.

Okay I think I already forgot the rest of the things I was going to recommend, so this short list will have to do for now.  But feel free to add anything that comes to your minds 🙂


5 days to my birthday

October 1, 2007

I was all set to do this review of birthdays past, but then I looked back and realized that is exactly what I did last year (even down to the part where I pointed out that I had once again missed this blog’s anniversary (3 years on Sept 17)). Or I was thinking I could do that thing where I posted a bunch (21 exact) of pictures leading up to to my 21st birthday. Or I could do that thing where I go live in another country for 3 months like I did for my 22nd birthday.

Maybe as a compromise I will just post one picture and call it a night.

Taking a picture of myself near St. Paul’s Cathedral

Cause when you can’t do profound, you might as well do random 🙂


weekend update with “jimmy fallon”

May 29, 2007

Obviously by “jimmy fallon” I meant nothing of the sorts, but now that I tricked you with my oh so clever title of choice here is a refresher on my weekend.

But first before we get too deeply into it, you all should go check out this post by Defective Yeti, in which he gives into the peer pressure of thousands of internet bots and makes a LOL cat.  This is one of the many things I found amusing this weekend.


A good day, or at least it was the last work day before a 3-day weekend, so there was little whining on my part.  The highlight of this day was watching the movie History Boys based on the same titled playby Alan Bennett.  I heard about the play because it was playing in London when I visited with my family in December of 2005, however we didn’t get a chance to see it then.  I was quite impressed with the film and it came across as very theatrical.  It was easy to make guesses as to how scenes were originally handled on stage.  But at the root of the movie was the question of how do we approach history and how do we approach truth, is knowledge less impressive when it is the generally agreed upon.  Do alternate ideas gain in importance the more radical they become?


Anticipating the arrival of our good friend Luc from GC days, Jess and I attempted a cleaning of the apartment and various other preperations.  After his arrival in the late afternoon we caught the Purple line up to Giordano’s Pizza and stopped by Becca’s place of work to bug her and make faces in the glass (this is only because we are very old and mature).  Then we triumphantly returned to our apartment to watch the tasteful and supremely well made Talladega Nights.  Rarely does one come across a movie that so faithfully blends together the richness of male-bonding, the energy of racing, and the beautiful cinemotography that was this movie.  From the opening birth in a racing car to the pan-out before the credits, I was constantly impressed with the thoughtfulness and skillful craft that went into this gem of a movie.


A beautiful day that started off with a little bit of rain, this day involved some church followed by several hours of packing with Tim.  Attempting to prepare for a Memorial day move, I went over to my brother’s house to help him try to fit all his worldly possessions into boxes.  While there I heard Kent for the first time and was suitably impressed (Tim pointed out how their lyrics sound vaguely like languages from Lord of the Rings because of that whole singing in Swedish thing, I had to agree).  I also packed several of these things.

Moving Boxes


Our apartment attended the annual Reba Place potluck and bbq which was a lot of fun.  Not only was there a rousing game of ultimate frisbee, but good conversations, yummy burgers, amish made pecan pie, and lazy afternoon sun time (which of course registered on my face in a nice shade of pink because I am a) pasty white b) forgetful of the sunscreen.  This was by far the highlight of the day, after which I decided that I was tired and didn’t feel like doing anything else.  Despite this I managed to go with Steph first to pick up her prescription (she is sick right now with Strep!), then to do grocery shopping and also to pick up another movie, because obviously we don’t watch enough of those around here.  The movie we got was Night At the Museum (I can’t be bothered to look up whether the title is actually At or In) in which the only highlights were the little people (played by Owen Wilson and another guy) and Dick Van Dyck playing the villian.