Thursday, January 28, 2010

MLK in Chicago

If you have never been to Chicago before let me offer this piece of unsolicited advice: don't go in January. Prior to a couple of weeks ago, the one and only time I had ever visited the Windy City was mid-way through an epic cross-country family vacation circa 1998. Yup, two parents, four adult children and one van. I don't think we have ever managed to hit that same degree of family togetherness since then. And we're all thankful for it. Except that Chicago was our first real destination on the epic journey that is now an integral part of my family's lore (just ask my brother and me to each tell our side of the Ben & Jerry's feud that started in Montreal, continued with a standoff at the B&J factory in Vermont and had a residual effect that exploded in Newport, Rhode Island).

[Except I should note for my mother's sake that our actual first stop was Nauvoo for some pioneer history lessons and an initially awkward trip to the hotel pool that made us all wonder why we used to love hotel pools when we were kids . . . then we remembered the stupid games we used to play and got over the fact that we were too old for them.]

But all of that is beside the point. The point being, previously, my one and only exposure to Chicago was a family vacation in that beloved decade (now twice removed!) - the '90s! I was weeks away from starting law school, had two siblings in college and one still in high school. No one was married. No one had kids. We each fell in love with Chicago in our own way. We loved the architecture - Nick brought along a text book leftover from some college course he had just completed and sent us on a wild goose chase hunting down some Frank Lloyd Wright works that I don't recall ever finding, we loved the Art Institute and, of course, we sampled the famous deep dish pizza.

This one brief visit made a much deeper impression on one of us more than any other - my youngest brother Jason. After spending two summers there during law school, he and his wife moved there for good last November. I don't think any of us ever foresaw the day when he would be living in the suburbs of Chicago with a wife and two kids but that is where he has landed. And bitter cold temperatures or not, I was willing to head to Chicago for a visit to meet my one and only nephew. Meet Michael:

One of the happiest babies I have ever met. He is just shy of the four month mark and already threatening to hit the 20 pound mark (when I was there he was only a pound shy!). Despite the raspy, gurgly, phlegmy remnants of a cold, this little chunk always had a smile at the ready. I could barely refrain from kissing those cheeks non-stop. I have to say, it was love at first sight.

Of course, my first sight of this little guy was not without a bit of drama. Drama provided by his ever charming older sister.

Michael was sleeping when I arrived and Regina happily took my hand and gave me a tour of her new digs. But for a little shyness to vocalize her tour information, she warmed up to me immediately and we were buddies again. This kids seriously melts my heart every time I see her. By the time her brother woke up from his nap, she was babbling excitedly about her various toys and books. But when I scooped up Michael for the first time her little face fell and her lower lip stuck out and she ran to hide her disappointment behind a chair. The poor thing thought I had come just for her and there I was cooing over the baby like everyone else. It took a couple of tries but eventually we coaxed her out from behind the chair and she let me give her a hug too. And just like that she was over any jealousy she may have felt.

She did not as readily recover from her curiosity of what other prizes might be hiding in my giant purse that produced a few new books for her and some bibs and socks for Michael.

The weekend was made even more enjoyable a couple of hours later when my sister's flight landed and Regina had two friends to boss around play with.

Although the Chicago weather did us a favor and warmed up to the 20s (which was the same thing I had been enduring in New York for most of January), we weren't too interested in doing much more than crawling around on the floor with Regina, reading to Regina, drawing with Regina, hiding the robotic gorilla from Regina and sneaking in some rest by sitting on actual chairs instead of the floor and taking turns holding Michael.

We also managed to eat lots of tasty food - most of it cooked by our gracious hostess Nadia, including some chocolate chip cookies that satisfied everyone's cravings! - including authentic Chicago deep dish pizza (which was delicious) and some of Chicago's famous Greek food (also delicious!).

With early bedtimes and naps, we also squeezed in several hours of conversation - the best of which centered around books: what we've read, what we want to read, what we're currently reading. But also a little bit of sisterly advice from a more experienced attorney to one buried in the early days of his career.

I learned that Regina and I share a very basic want - "I want a puppy" was a frequent statement of hers which I responded to with "I want a puppy too." Sadly, neither of us got a puppy that weekend. But we did spend a great deal of time with two hand puppet puppies that I almost regretted ever putting on. And which I definitely regretting giving irritating voices. While they may have been a good distraction at lunch at the Greek restaurant before the food arrived, I didn't realize I wouldn't be allowed to ever take them off (okay, so we eventually convinced her they needed to rest and eat on the other side of the table so my hands could be freed but she was pretty insistent and most of the time she wanted me to have both of them on at all times)!

Another highlight of the trip, when Regina took Erin and I downstairs to play with her easel. She instructed each of us to draw a mommy puppy, a daddy puppy and a baby puppy. And a dinosaur. Erin took the whiteboard side of the easel and proceeded to draw the cutest little dinosaur family you have ever seen. On the chalkboard side I managed to scrawl out a cartoonish version of a dog - the only thing I've ever really learned how to draw beyond a stick figure that actually resembles the intended object. Regina went back and forth inspecting our work and proclaimed my dog "funny!" Just two years old and she can spot the true artist from the fake. She also quickly noticed that I was missing a dinosaur and I did my best to draw a long knecked brontosaurus (although the Museum of Natural History has taught me they are now going by some new-fangled name) which mostly resembled . . . well, nothing. This made Regina laugh even harder as she called it a "silly dinosaur." Wow. Erin then erased my feeble offering and sketched out an adorable bull dog that delighted our audience.

All in all you can't beat a weekend with two siblings, a talented in the kitchen sister-in-law, a jolly 3-month old nephew and a charismatic 2-year old niece for a long holiday weekend getaway, even if it is bitterly cold outside. I enjoyed all of their company so much that I pushed my flight home back by a couple of hours and I'm looking forward to another Chicago trip - next time with warmer weather and maybe an actual trip into the city!

Friday, January 15, 2010

odds and ends

  • woke up this morning wondering why I neglected to open two emails from my brother last night.
  • After I showered I checked my blackberry and realized I must have dreamed about the ignored emails. Dullest dream ever.
  • my sister called this morning and I was convinced she said "I like chicken"
  • turns out she was telling me "I'm checking in"
  • we're both flying to Chicago tomorrow to meet our cutest ever nephew for the first time
  • I'm excited about the trip because these are the family members I didn't get to see over Christmas
  • not terribly excited about Chicago weather which is slated to "warm up" to the bitter 30/feels like teens weather NY just shoved aside for 40s (which feels spring-like!)
  • just heard someone snapping open a can of something and my mouth watered for a Diet Dr Pepper
  • I think that means I'm an addict
  • I finally broke down and ordered a giant pilates ball for my office
  • sitting in my stupid office chair for 8-12 hours in a day is not comfortable
  • sometimes I am convinced my chair gives me bruises - like bed sores, only from a chair
  • I haven't inflated the ball yet, it is sitting in the Amazon box it came in
  • I went to Delaware twice this week
  • the train is convenient but there are always weird things going on
  • for example, Wednesday night a mostly normal looking mid 20-something guy across the aisle and a row in front of me was reading a hard bound comic book but that isn't the weird thing. He leaned over and removed his argyle socks, put his shoes back on, then rustled around in the overhead compartment, sat down and put on a different pair of wool socks.
  • the train was not cold or drafty and his original socks looked perfectly fine.
  • last night the man next to me did not even attempt to hide the fact that he was staring at my laptop screen.
  • did I mention I'm going to Chicago tomorrow? I'm pretty excited about it.
  • I haven't been to Chicago since 1998
  • someone else just cracked open a can! Now I really, really want a beverage other than this water next to me.
  • On the train ride home Wednesday I read The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
  • it is so beautifully written and I hope it isn't too trite to say inspirational - it is the memoir of a man who suffered a stroke that left him completely paralyzed but for his left eye. His brain remained completely functional so he suffered from something called "locked-in syndrome." He blinked dictation to write the memoir. Fascinating process and his writing is incredible.
  • I just booked a trip to Panama in February!
  • I'm going with someone I met on my rafting trip in September
  • we'll be learning how to surf and doing yoga for part of the time and then sea kayaking
  • and that is everything I know about the trip, I'm ceding all control and basically showing up in Panama City on February 20th to be led around by others
  • I've also agreed to go snowboarding in Vermont in February
  • I'm afraid of the ice.
  • I think my break time is about done and I need to get back to work, I just wanted to let you know I'm still around.
  • Oh, and I may not be private much longer.
  • Rumor is that thing I was trying to do with my career, well, it probably won't be working out in my favor.
  • At this point, I'm kind of happy about that because I don't think I'm ready to leave NYC
  • Also, I don't like private blogging for some reason
  • But thanks for sticking with me!
  • ARGH! Someone else just opened a can!
  • I'm off for the vending machine for a Coke Zero.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Happy New Year!

I know, I'm a bit late to the party. And I don't have a lot to add at the moment. No, that isn't true. I have a lot to add in terms of having a wonderful Christmas with my parents in NYC, taking about a week and a half off from work, seeing movie after movie after movie, getting a cold and then getting slammed with work in my first week back and working until 3 am one night (morning?) last week only to turn around and throw a brunch for a group of women lawyers I organized on Saturday and doing six loads of laundry Sunday night in between working at my dining room table and hanging out on conference calls (sunday calls are just plain cruel).

And now you are all caught up. For the most part.

Oh, what movies did I see in my great movie-watching binge and what might I recommend? Well, I saw Nine at my favorite old theater in the City - the Ziegfeld - on the one day I attempted to go to work the week between Christmas and New Year's. It felt like such a splurge to leave the office at 330 or so to see a 4 pm movie on a Tuesday. The Ziegfeld is a huge old time one screen theater but I arrived early enough to get popcorn and a soda (my dinner) and stake out a good seat in the middle. I had the perfect seat in the center with no one sitting directly in from of me and no one directly behind me and the row to myself but for a couple sat near the aisle several seats away to my right but then - THEN! - a couple wandered into my row on the right and scootched closer and closer. The previews had already started and they left the minimum buffer of one seat. With all the empty seats in the theater it seemed weird to me that they would only leave one seat in between us. But then it became even weirder when the man part of the couple remained in his chosen seat and the woman stood up, removed her coat, placed it in the seat she had briefly occupied and plopped herself into the seat next to me! To be clear, this theater is HUGE. According to Wikipedia it seats 1,131 people. There were maybe 80 people scattered around the huge theater. And by scattered I mean it, the other 78 courteous and normal people surrounding us left a good 3-4 seat buffer between them and the next stranger. Sure, this isn't a luxury one can normally expect in a movie-going experience but at a 4 pm show on December 29th in a theater that seats 825 in the orchestra section alone with great views of the screen from pretty much any location, it is a luxury I expect.

What did I do?

I sat there for a minute as the previews rolled getting irritated. Then, I picked my purse and coat up out of the seat to my right (wishing I had thought to pile it all in the seat to my left where the oblivious intruder was seated fidgeting with her boots and coming dangerously close to toppling her soda) and moved everything over one seat in a huff. I won't exaggerate and say the whole experience was ruined, but it was significantly tainted.

But the movie ruined the rest of the experience all on its own. Redeeming points: Kate Hudson's song and dance number was catchy and visually stimulating - everything was light and bright and flashy in a movie that was mostly morose and dark. And she was good! The sparkly sequins and quick tempo was both the literal bright point and figurative bright point of the whole movie. Also, Fergie's number was great. Sure, she plays some sort of depressing singing prostitute but the "Be Italian" number was sultry and impossible to get out of your head once it embeds itself there.

Everything else? Dull. Duller than dull. The whole movie I felt like I was waiting for it to get better, for something to happen, to figure out where the number 9 comes from . . . there are 7 women so that isn't it. Either they were way too subtle for me or I fell asleep during the part where the title came into play. And if they didn't hint at an explanation? Well, then Nine is a dumb name.

Moving on.

On New Year's Eve I saw the much-hyped Avatar. Somehow I had never heard of this movie until the day it was being released when people were freaking out over how excited they were to see it and how they were all waiting in long lines for it. I guess I just wasn't the target audience. My sister saw it on IMAX and warned me that I would probably get a migraine if I saw it. A friend organized a NYE morning outing and lucky for me the IMAX was sold out so we settled for a regular screen with 3D. It was a snowy morning and it was fun to skip another day of work and go to a movie theater instead. Worried about the headache factor I bought a small Coke Zero before entering the theater and used the bathroom just before the movie started. Word to the wise, if you have not seen this movie yet, go to the bathroom at the last possible minute before it starts and do not consume any liquids during. It is LOOOOOOOONG! And the last hour or so I was completely distracted by the fear that my bladder would explode. When one friend crawled out I considered following her but convinced myself the movie couldn't last too much longer. But it did. And even longer than that. I'm too lazy to look up the time on this thing but I think it was at least 3 hours. Probably more with all the getting there early to save seats, watch previews, etc.

But overall? I liked it. IMAX most definitely would have made me throw up with the 3D and flashing lights but on a regular screen it was tolerable. And kind of cool. And since I was there with friends I didn't care that people were sitting right next to me :) Oh, and because the theater was crowded with geeky fanboys who cheered every once in a while which added to the experience.

The movie followed with lunch with two friends was a great way to end 2009 (sure it didn't end for several hours but who really cares about the symbolism or patheticness or whatever of standing on one's roof at midnight with strangers from one's building watching the ball drop and fireworks from a distance in yoga pants while a movie is paused in the empty apartment down below).

Continuing my movie going gluttony, I saw another movie on New Year's day shortly after having brunch with out of town friends. It was an impulsive choice based on convenience - I ran a couple of errands after brunch, saw the theater and wandered in to see if anything good was playing. Sherlock Holmes was starting in two minutes so I bought a ticket. So fun! I had tried to get my parents to see this the day after Christmas but neither of them had heard anything about it and could not be convinced. They should regret that my persuasive skills failed me because they will love this movie and I suspect you will too. It hit all the right points for an action-adventure movie. Robert Downey, Jr. is fantastic, as is Jude Law. They have a good dynamic together and the dialogue is fun. Things are a bit over the top as one would expect but not in a completely ridiculous way. Fun, fun, fun. Glad I saw it.

And finally, Saturday night I dragged a reluctant friend to see The Blind Side. I say reluctant because although this was the previously agreed upon movie, as we were walking to the theater she started suggesting alternatives that might be "more uplifting". Despite all the movies I had been to recently, this was the one I had been wanting to see the most, it just wasn't playing at the theaters I was dropping by at the last minute. You see, I read the book The Blind Side a couple of years ago. No, I devoured the book and it was passed around my family to such an extent that we pretty much felt like Michael Oher's story belongs to us. Michael Lewis (author of the book) is an excellent writer and has a way of taking complex non-fiction topics (like working at a wall street investment bank in the 80s in Liar's Poker) and making them personal. The story of Michael Oher is far from an impersonal non-fiction one but the lengthy background details about the football position of left tackle could easily lose a large segment of the population - even those who love football. But Lewis boils it down to the point where it is not just easy to read and understand - you want to read and understand whatever it is he is writing (which is why Moneyball is on my to read shelf). After I finished reading The Blind Side, I googled Michael Oher because his story was so heartwarming, I wanted to know where he ended up. He was still in college but was soon drafted in the first round of the 2009 NFL drafted to the Baltimore Ravens. Wow, I haven't even told you what this movie is about so let me back up a few steps. The movie (and the book) is the story of Michael Oher, a black teenager from the projects of Memphis who had been removed from his drug addicted mother's care and was falling through the cracks of foster care (primarily because he kept running back to find his mom). He was huge and for various reasons ended up enrolled in a private Christian school where he floundered until a white family adopted him and he discovered an extremely rare athletic ability.

I told my movie companion I would see another movie with her that night if she wanted and crossed my fingers that nothing else would be available and luckily it wasn't. Twenty minutes into the movie she leaned over and told me "good choice." I think she thought I was dragging her to a football movie. Technically, yes, I was. But The Blind Side is about so much more than football. It is about the willingness of a family to accept a stranger into their home and fight for him as if he had been born to them. It is a story about how it is never too late to help someone who could be written off as too dumb, too undereducated and too late to help. In other words, I loved the movie as much as I had hoped I would. I loved it as much as I loved the book! And that is hard to do. But Sandra Bullock was fantastic and after her performance in "The Proposal" earlier in 2009, she is on my new favorite actresses list.

So that at least catches you up on where I stand on movies since I've been away. I won't make any promises about regular postings quite yet because my schedule is pretty erratic right now, but I promise I have some good ideas and the intention to post some of them soon. Thanks for sticking around to hear what I've got to say. I'm looking forward to good things in 2010.
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