Monday, January 31, 2011

Gloriously dorky

A friend on Facebook posted a video from these self-described "kooky teachers making history-based pop music parodies."

SERIOUSLY. GEEKING. OUT. Now, instead of watching Season 2 of "Dollhouse" on Netflix Instant Viewing, I am compelled to watch as many of these videos as possible before I fall asleep.

This one brings me back to my high school freshman history class:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Like jasmine petals, fluttering down

I finally got around to watching Persepolis, which was a minor miracle, considering that Netflix shipped it to me in late November.

The graphic novels, which I read a few years ago, are definitely better. But the film was good too: even onscreen, Marjane Satrapi's memoir about growing up in a changing Iran remains a poignant coming-of-age tale for expatriates everywhere.

The film is also proof that there are many instances where animation can convey quiet but powerful scenes in ways that frames in a comic book can't.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Börk, börk, börk!

Back when I made the same New Year's resolution every year (to re-evaluate my relationship with food), I would spend the first few weeks of January preparing meals and actually learning about flavors and techniques. Then, each year, as legislative session became progressively chaotic, I stopped. Then the resolutions ended altogether.

The behavior and the routine, however, have staying power.

After a building open house party, our office had half a keg of porter leftover. So I made a chocolate stout cake (marking the first time I made a layered cake!) and bland beef porter stew. Then I made a less bland stew, followed by Batch Three of the beef porter stew, which turned out pretty well.

Next up: a vegan lemon cake!

I spent all day at the MLK Day rally and march and post-march rally, though, so I'm too tired to crawl to the grocery store to buy ingredients.

Oh, and I'll be running an 8K in Vancouver in May.

Clearly, I'll have to balance all this rediscovered baking-and-cooking enthusiasm with an aggressive soccer-and-Zumba regimen.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

A cup o' kindness yet

I've done this every year for the past 6 years on this blog: welcome the New Year by reflecting on all the new experiences from the previous one. I do it mainly to remind myself that life isn't stagnant, that it's constantly exciting and rewarding, that happiness and joy can (but don't have to) come from huge life-changing events, that sorrow and tragedy force you to grow and change and adapt, and that small wonders never cease.

Notable "firsts" from 2010:
  • Held a 6-hour-old baby - my newest niece, Sailo! Previously, the youngest baby I'd ever held was about a week old (her sister, my other niece). I'm still secretly afraid I'll break newborns when I hold them, because they're so tiny and fragile. But I doubt I'll get to meet a newer baby anytime soon!

  • Joined a soccer team - a real one, not a dorm-based or ad hoc assembly. The spring season I started, we lost every game; we wrapped up this last fall season as division champions.

  • Had makeup done at a department store for a wedding. I will probably never do it again, but it was part of a group activity for the bridal party. None of us really knew how to put on makeup, so I wasn't alone. And now I have $40 Dior lipstick I need to finish in 2011.

  • Fell under the influence of cannabis. I was bored and antisocial at an isolated weekend cabin, and ate an entire "special" cookie when everyone else knew to eat just a quarter. I amused my roommate by spouting nonsense about being a rainbow in a cloud hammock under a tree, before hugging my pillows to avoid falling off the merry-go-round of Earth. Oy.

  • Heard tornado sirens and spent half a night in a basement. While visiting Mi Hermana in Michigan, two tornadoes touched down a few miles away, in the middle of the night. We had to get the toddlers out of bed, take them to the basement, go back upstairs, then back to the basement, etc. Mi Hermana y Mi Cuñado have a few harrowing tales of tornadoes from their college years in Minnesota, and my admittedly tame twister introduction definitely pales in comparison.

  • Ran in two 5K races! I jogged/walked one in Seattle in May, but jogged the entire route in Ann Arbor in November. It was my third 5K ever (in as many cities).

  • Finally upgraded to a smartphone. My God! How did I function in the Stone Age for 7 years? My prehistoric flip-phone went extinct in a rainstorm in D.C. in June, and now I can't live without my crackberry.

2010 didn't have a lot of the drama or tragedy that past years have had. (It didn't have a lot of free time, either, what with the crazy GOTV hours during both the primary and general elections.) But it was a good year. I'm content.

Here's to 2011...

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Retrospective veg-out

I finally had time to re-order my Netflix queue and discovered I did, in fact, watch a few movies in the past 6 months.

Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary was, perhaps unbelievably because it's just 80+ minutes of one woman talking about her wartime work experience, completely riveting. The woman happens to have been one of Hitler's personal secretaries, and the entire film is her recounting the last days in the bunker as the war. Her own story is captivating and necessarily includes a reflection of apolitical attitudes that enable political atrocities, the cults of personality and power, and wartime psychological survival. The fact that the film isn't a documentary or a biography is especially powerful - for almost an hour and a half, the viewer listens to this one woman's tale about a job she once had, with the horrible burden of knowing about the rest of the war and a continent that burned around her.

Unfortunately, other films I watched to escape election madness were not as disturbingly mesmerizing.

Once bored me, though I love its concept. The music was beautiful and deserved to win the Oscar it did. But the story itself didn't grab my attention: two musicians meet randomly on the street in Dublin, form an awkward friendship, and eventually record an album together. Watching it was slightly uncomfortable at times - perhaps it was the combination of the vague and unconsummated sexual attraction coupled with the undeniable musical compatibility of the two characters that made the storyline more tragic than bittersweet. I appreciate that the fleeting moments of an incomplete relationship in the larger completion of painfully beautiful music are what make the film a true artistic statement. It was just a little tedious to watch...

The Namesake also bored me. I didn't read the book, and I admit I only put the movie in my queue because Kal Penn stars in it. It turned out to be a lot longer than I thought, for a story that is told frequently for a variety of cultures and communities. This incarnation of the struggle-between- immigrant-parents-and-identity-forging-second-generation-American focuses on a Bengali family. I sense that the film doesn't do the book justice, that the book probably has more nuanced descriptions of the characters and their relationships with each other.

Similarly, Kung Fu Hustle quickly tired me. I loved Stephen Chow's Shaolin Soccer, but Kung Fu Hustle had too many dark and violent scenes to justify the enjoyable over-the-top martial arts spectacle. In the story, a wannabe gangster pretends to be part of a huge organized crime syndicate that has taken over Shanghai, and then hides out in the one poverty-stricken section of the city that the gangsters haven't taken over. An urban kung fu war ensues.
As in Shaolin Soccer, martial arts are portrayed as a marker of cultural authenticity: the ghetto where outcasts from all over China live "happens" to harbor so many kung fu masters who are too modest to display their skills until the hour comes when they have to save their community from the Western-styled gangsters clad in suits and top hats. There were also a ton of other plot similarities to Shaolin Soccer (the love interest as "girl from traumatic childhood memory" is the most obvious). I don't really like gangster films in the first place, so maybe I should have expected to not really enjoy this genre-blending parody of one.

Netflix Instant Viewing of 30 Rock, The Dollhouse, and Weeds made up for some of these recent disappointing movie choices.

Goal for 2011: visiting the library more! Since May I haven't had much time to read. And since May, the library clearly needs my overdue fines to stay afloat with all the budget cuts...