Monday, November 29, 2010

A Journey of 500 Years

What a great Thanksgiving! After all, there's a lot to love about the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

It's warm(ish) enough for shell hunting and dolphin watching. Of course I hurt my foot on my one and only walk along the beach and spent the weekend hobbling along and downing Ibuprofen. But it was worth every step.

There are beautiful lighthouses and wild horses. I'd never been to a lighthouse before, but I can see why people like them so much. And I still haven't seen a wild horse, but I hope to catch a glimpse of one in the future.

I couldn't wait to visit Kitty Hawk and see where the Wright Brothers first took to the sky. We walked the path were they first flew and ate lunch at the foot of the sand dune (now covered with scraggly grass to prevent erosion) where they launched their hang-gliders that would become the first motorized flying machines.

Thanks to some great historical re-enactors, I learned what life was like for the first English Colony in the New World. I don't blame them for abandoning their settlement to seek friendlier neighbors. They lived in constant fear of the Spanish finding them, they didn't have enough supplies to build proper shelter, and they never found the gold they were looking for. I hope The Lost Colony found safe harbor and didn't just disappear into nothing.

Probably my favorite part of the trip was learning about 16th century English sailing. My little brother got me interested in maritime history, so I loved boarding the Elizabeth II. I've visited a lot of Revolutionary Era and modern ships, but this was the first pre-colonial ship I've ever been on. Did you know the British didn't use hammocks until just before the Napoleonic Wars? And while the steering wheel wouldn't be invented for another 200 years, the whipstaff was only a marginal improvement over manually moving the rudder as had been done before the Middle Ages.

And what's a trip to the Atlantic Coast without clams and salt-water taffy? I've never baked clams before, but Andrew and I managed to figure it out.

I'm so glad I went on this trip. I can't wait to go back next Thanksgiving and see all the things I didn't get a chance to see this past week.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Is Here Again

It's still a few days before the big day, but I probably won't have a change to post again as I'll be having too much fun in the Outer Banks. So here are the things about Thanksgiving I'm most thankful for.
  • I love getting together with friends and hanging out. Because it's difficult to get home to Chicago for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, I often spend Thanksgiving with friends. Over the years I've adopted a lot of families and made some great friends.
  • Food, glorious food. I try making something new for every Thanksgiving dinner, and someone always introduces me to something delicious from their holiday cookbook. I love all the fall flavors with cinnamon, gourds and cranberries. I can't wait to see what I get to try this year.
  • Every year I get a few days off work to enjoy exploring whatever city I'm in. I can't wait to see Kitty Hawk, especially since I've never seen the "birthplace of aviation" before.
  • I love all the family-friendly movies that come out around the holidays, and I also get to return to some of my favorite holiday classics as well. I'm so excited to see HP7.1! And with my roommates nephews along for the ride, I'm sure we'll have a great discussion about the perks of being a Harry Potter fan.
  • Breaking out the Christmas tunes is probably the best part part of Thanksgiving. Although it's a controversial move, I often pull out the holiday music around Halloween, but Thanksgiving is when I can come out of the closet and jam with everyone else.
  • Of course, holidays also mean extra time to delve into a few good books. If only I could decide which ones to take with me and which ones will have to stay at home.
P.S. Today is my dad's birthday, so wish him a happy birthday and give him a big hug for me if you see him before I do. As for all of you who have never met my dad, you don't know what you're missing.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Five: Not Everything's about Harry

1. I wore my Muggle t-shirt under my sweater today to show my supporting HP7.1 even if I had to look business casual. Also, my sweater is maroon and I'm wearing gold accessories, if you know what I mean.

2. I won't be able to see the movie tonight because of an un-birthday party my roommate and I are having as it's the only weekend night we'll both be home between our birthdays. Just a few friends, some good food and fun games. This is the only acceptable reason for me to wait a week to see HP7.1.

3. Thanksgiving is less than a week away. We'll be on the beach, which will be a lot of fun even if it will be too cold to swim. I won't be cooking as much this year as I did last year, but my homemade mac & cheese will be back by popular request. Oh yes, I'm also planning on stealing my roommate's nephews to take them to a certain movie while everyone else is cooking.

4. My reading list is getting shorter rather than longer for the first time in years. It's nice to be able to catch up on some reading even if it was because I was too sick last weekend to do anything else. Apparently meeting the word count for NaNoWriMo and running a fever don't go well together.

5. Our schedules are coordinated for Christmas for once. My brother and I will both be home at the same time for the first time in four years and only the second time in eight years. Think we'll be able to make Mom cry again? All signs point to "Yes."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

An Ode to Harry Potter

Midnight marks the beginning of the end of the Harry Potter dynasty, and it's leaving me rather nostalgic. I read my first HP book back in 1999, which means HP has been a part of my life longer than just about anything else.

A few years ago I designed this layout for a class I was taking and had more fun doing it than with any other assignment I have ever been given.
(It was a layout and design class, so it's just filler text.)

And if you ever happen to be searching through the fall 2000 archives of the SVU school newspaper, you might notice that HP is hidden somewhere in every issue.

(I looked through my old portfolio, but all of these clippings have been lost to time.)

One of the best nights of my life was the Midnight Muggle Madness event at the Salt Lake City Public library.

And my friend and I had a blast a few nights later when Harry and the Potters came to perform.

We broke dorm curfew the night HP4 was released in theaters.

And I experienced HP in IMAX for the first time with the release of HP3 while I was in New Orleans.
(Sorry about the poor quality of this one, but it was a printed picture and I don't have a scanner. And in case you're wondering, that is indeed a "SEEKER" t-shirt.)

Here are some great posts about saying good-bye to our favorite boy wizard.

Hank Green signs his love for HP:

The teen librarians over at the Arlington Virginia Public Library have been honoring HP all week:
Fan sites are all going crazy:
And just for kicks and giggles, watch the HP cast speak American:

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How long do first impressions last?

Dash & Lily's Book of DaresDash & Lily's Book of Dares
by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Luckily for Dash and Lily, first impressions are rewritable. In an adventure full of missed opportunities and misunderstandings, Dash and Lily break all the rules about friendship and love and acceptance.

This book is an example of the whole being greater than its parts. When I first met Dash, I was disappointed by his bah-humbugness, and Lily was so lovable, she was, well, quite annoying. Dash was just a little too metrosexual and Lily was just a little too childish for me to ever believe them as real people let alone romantic leads. But I kept reading because a book beginning in The Strand with a Moleskine Notebook has to be a good, right? And somewhere between an ugly Beatles Muppet and a missing majorette boot, I was introduced to this secondary cast of characters I began to love, so I had to love Dash and Lily because Aunt Ida and Mark and Sofia and Boomer love them. Through them, I began to see that Lily's perpetual positivity hides her fear of loneliness and Dash's snarl is only temporary until he can find fanciful.

As it turns out, this novel is the anti-fairy tale. It's an exploration of a slow-burning love that grows by choice instead of lust. The characters have this wholesome innocence (a description I never expected to use about a Cohn/Levithan novel) overshadowed only by their desire to live life. While I still don't like the melodramatic baby-catching scene (it reminded me a little too much of Will Grayson, Will Grayson), and I felt this book digressed from the rawness of Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist and the fullness of characters in Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List (in part because the Dasha and Lily are younger characters), the romance and truthfulness of this novel stole my heart. Unlike most romantic comedies, I found myself wondering if they would ever come together in the end and if this mismatched pair would ever realize that together, they are greater than their parts.

Teen Television Dramas

Call it inspiration from watching nothing but Veronica Mars while I was sick this weekend, but I've been thinking about the shows from my high school must-watch list. I never got into Gilmore Girls or Dawson's Creek, but I sure did love my teenage melodramas. And with that wonderfully little station The CW, formerly known as The WB, formerly known as WGN, gaining popularity, there were some great shows to pick from.

7th Heaven
(1996, Freshman Year)
I think my mom liked this show more than I did, but I loved that even the kids had a major role in what happened in the house and in their lives. And because my family was religiously active, I connected to the moral dilemmas and challenges the family faced.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
(1997, Sophomore Year)
In every way 7th Heaven reflected normal life, Buffy was an escape. It was a show about a bunch of misfits living a secret life as superheros. Who wouldn't love Buffy?

(1998, Junior Year)
During a year full of ACTs and college tours, this show made me want to apply to NYU and get a job as a barista. That is until I found out what kind of debt I'd have to go into to live in NYC and I can't make coffee worth crap. So instead I lived vicariously through Kari Russell.

(1999, Senior Year)
I'm not sure if I should hate the show that first introduced us to Katherine Heigl and killed off Colin Hanks. (Sorry, should I have said ***Spoiler Alert!***?) But ultimately, I loved the sci-fi series about growing up and moving on.

I guess that's why I still read and write books for teens. There's something about writing the things I wish I'd said in high school that makes me reflect more positively on those four years I couldn't wait to end. Now I wish I had taken a little more time to enjoy them. But that still doesn't mean you'll ever get me to watch Gossip Girl or The Vampire Diaries.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Blast from the Past: Faulkner and Ferdinand

So I wasn't thrilled about getting up at 4 a.m. to drive 200 miles to sit in a history class, but the look on my girls' faces as the stepped onto that college campus was totally worth it. They loved attending a history class where they discussed the Treaty of Versailles, but I think I enjoyed the class on Faulkner best.
Of course I also introduced the girls to the fine cuisine of the cafeteria. I'll pass on posting their review of the food, but my older and wiser self stuck to the salad bar.
And what would an introduction to college life be without meeting some cute guys? D was great and spent a lot of time talking to the girls about activities and college life. They hung on to every word.
So thank you to the faculty, staff and students at Southern Virginia University. You made my girls feel incredibly welcome and excited for college life. It was just what they needed, and it was a lot of fun for this former student to see how much the school has grown since my campus days.
Go Knights!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Blast from the Past: The Freshman Fifteen

Tomorrow I head back to my alma mater with some of the girls from my tutoring program. We'll be sitting in on a few classes with some of my old professors to give them a feel for a college classroom setting, and I kind of can't wait.

So in honor of this trip, here are fifteen lessons I learned my freshman year and hope to pass on to the next generation:
  1. Try new things. I had always wanted to work on the school paper, but it never worked out in high school, so I joined the staff my freshman year. This eventually lead to a full scholarship and a career path.
  2. You don't have to do what you're best at, just do your best. Don't think that just because you're good at something means you have to make that your future. I was good at math and science in high school, but I never really loved it. So instead I became an English major. Best. Decision. Ever.
  3. Collect friends. Make it a priority to meet people and then make them your friends. I met some of my best friends my freshman year, and we've stayed more than just Facebook friends.
  4. Dare to be different. It's good to have different opinions, interests and styles. You'll learn more, experience more and discuss more. Just make sure you respect the differences in others.
  5. Reach outside your comfort zone. My first university was smaller than my graduating class, and I still remember that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when tumbleweed went rolling across the road when I drove up to my apartment after transferring. I might not have liked living in such small towns, but at least I now know I'm a city girl through and through.
  6. Stay in the dorms and then get an apartment. People either love the dorms or hate the dorms, but give it at least a semester. While every school housing department if different, the dorms offer a certain security and support system you won't find while living on your own. But for heaven's sake, learn how to live on your own. After all, who wants to spend four years cooking on a hotplate and using a communal shower?
  7. You don't have to chose your roommate to love your roommate. Everyone has good in them, including the roommate who sings in the shower at 5 a.m. or the other one who's now dating your ex-boyfriend or the other one who won't shut up about her daddy's high-powered job. I learned to love each one of those girls--along with a few others--and I'm glad they're my friends.
  8. Surround yourself with people who are better than you. Have friends who are smarter, faster, kinder than you. While competition can be good, be happy for other people's successes because chances are you'll be able to learn something from them. And somewhere down the road, they'll learn just as much from you.
  9. Get involved. Learn about the community you're living in, get to know the the school administration, join as many clubs as you can handle, take advantage of internship offers. This will give you an opportunity to learn how the world works outside academia.
  10. Remember why you picked your school. There was a reason you applied to that school in the first place, and even if you change your major or go through a really bad breakup with a guy down the hall, you can still look for greatness in your college experience. Be proud to be a Viking or a Cougar or a Knight.
  11. Know when to study, and know when to put the books away. Get good grades and learn everything you can by spending time in the library and attending all your classes. Yet there's a lot to be learned outside the books, and after you have your diploma, not many people are going to care whether you had a 3.8 or 2.8 GPA. Be aware of academic requirements for scholarships and student employment, but don't get so stressed about good grades that you miss out on everything else.
  12. Just say "YES!" This is not an excuse to be foolish, but when someone asks for your help, asks you on a date, asks you to join their study group, asks to sit with you at lunch, don't turn them down. The more you say "yes," the better experiences you'll be asked to be a part of in the future.
  13. Stay out of debt. I remember the exact day I wasn't able to pay off my credit card in full for the first time. Even if it means going to your second-choice school or contradicting #12, live within your means so you don't spend the next 20 years wishing you had a better credit score.
  14. Be happy with the choices you make. There will be moments you regret leaving home, taking a class, attending a party. (I still can't believe I wasted two years as a poli-sci minor, and I sometimes wish the internet didn't exist so I wouldn't have to relive some of my more embarrassing moments.) But even our mistakes and the bad things that happen to us lead us to become more today than we were yesterday.
  15. Avoid the cafeteria. The Freshman Fifteen is no urban legend, so don't bother with a meal plan and take the time to make your own food. Better yet, cook with your roommates and take advantage of the free student fitness center. I've spent a lot of time, money and mental health trying to undo the damage done my freshman year.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

I won't talk about elections. I won't. I refus--

Not only do I work in Washington, DC, but I work in health care reform, so there was no avoiding Election Day. Especially when I was politically raised in Illinois. Were I worked for a former governor. And started volunteering for campaigns before I was old enough to vote. I come from a long line of political junkies from both sides of the isle, and no matter how badly I wanted to go to bed Tuesday night, there was no way I could go to sleep knowing the gubernatorial race was down to a fraction of a percent.

Old habits die hard, I guess.

Now I'm more involved in national politics, but I still want to go to the local polls as an informed voter. Unfortunately, this year I felt all the information I had was about what a terrible job the other guy would do and not what kind of policymaker the candidate I was looking at would be. Even days later, I still don't know if I made the right decision. I guess that's one of the risks you have to take as a voter. While it might not be pleasant and you might not be happy with the type of legislator the candidate becomes, you still need to take part in the process so your voice can be heard.

I'm getting off my high horse now...

Yeah, so I've gotten a horrible start to NaNoWriMo. It's a good thing it's only a few days in so I can rededicate myself. (Although I guess I have to dedicate myself before I can rededicate myself.)