Star Wars, and other Arts and Culture that moved me in 2015

I don’t get out on the town that much anymore, other than my season’s tickets to the National Ballet (young kids are such a bummer). Even so, there was still lots of arts and culture that moved me in 2015. And since it’s already into February in 2016, without further ado, let’s get to the list!

TV / Webseries

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a webseries on Youtube.

This 2013 production takes Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and updates it to the current modern era and format with aplomb. Lizzie Bennett is a video blogger (aka vlogger) and through her semi-weekly videos (each usually lasting between 3 and 5 minutes), the story unfolds. It’s not necessary to know the plot of Pride and Prejudice to enjoy this series, but it does give an extra layer of enjoyment to be able to anticipate the plot, and compare the adaptations. It even won an Emmy! I love that Charlotte and Bingley/Bing Lee are Chinese! I love the costume theatre! (you’ll see) I missed this web series during the original publishing back in 2012, so I did lose out on the interactive trans-media aspect of it, but it was no matter, I was hooked all the same and binge watched this in two sessions. If you’re a romantic, give it to episode 7, and see if you too aren’t hooked for the count. Continue reading Star Wars, and other Arts and Culture that moved me in 2015

Jeneral finds of the week: 2016-01-30

The anniversary of Target Canada’s demise and my knowing head-nods to data problems behind it, the inspiration for the singular Disney villian Ursula in the Little Mermaid, and how J.K. Rowling’s 2008 Harvard commencement speech is still just as pointedly applicable in today’s culture of fear—it’s this week’s Jeneral finds of the week: 2016-01-30

  • During my days at Accenture Canada, implementing SAP systems was the crux of what my colleagues and I did. Many of these same colleagues were staffed at the Target Canada SAP implementation project. Several of my own project experiences were in the area of data migration and data enhancement for the Loblaw SAP implementation, so it’s with great interest that I read this article from Canadian Business,  “The Last Days of Target Canada“. I found myself nodding my head knowingly as the story unspooled. Again this underlines the extreme importance of the quality of data, as the huge volumes of both master data and transactions combine with errors in said data to take down the retailer. I’m sure the folks at Loblaw are feeling pretty good about their own implementation in comparison after reading this.
  • There was always something thrilling and compelling about Ursula the sea witch in the Little Mermaid animated Disney movie. This was one of my favourite movies growing up, and it’s still enjoyable now but for completely different reasons. Much of it has to do with Ursula and her power to get what she wants by trading it for what others foolishly want. Plus that song “Poor unfortunate souls” is bonkers.  “Unearthing the Sea Witch” by Nicole Pasulka and Brian Ferree tell the story about the inspiration for the character, particularly a real life Baltimore drag queen named Divine.
  • While poking around Youtube looking at David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech, I came across J.K. Rowling’s 2008 Harvard Commencement. It is a remarkable address that again demonstrates she is a great writer in how she deftly uses humour and personal example to provide inspiriation to not fear failure, and the importance of imagination and empathy in our world of uncertainty, complexity and fear. It resonates just as clearly now, nearly 8 years later, and I have no doubt will stand the test of time to resonate truthfully into the future.
    (The transcript of her speech: bit.ly/1zeUPfA)
  • And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.I might be tempted to envy people who can live that way, except that I do not think they have any fewer nightmares than I do. Choosing to live in narrow spaces leads to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that brings its own terrors. I think the wilfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid.

    What is more, those who choose not to empathise enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy.

~Jen

Daddy has the Magic Touch

We were just starting our drive home from our regular Sunday dinner at grandma’s and grandpa’s house.

E1: “Do you think we’ll get stopped at Hood Road again this time?”

Our route home takes us through the intersection of Denison and Hood Road, and it feels like we get faced with a red light 95% of the times we pass through going west-bound. It is particularly frustrating because A)it is approximately 100 meters from another set of traffic lights at Warden; B) it always seems to turn red seconds after the lights at Warden turn green, giving you the initial false hopes that you can pass through; and C)stays red for an inordinate amount of time, especially considering at 9pm on Sundays there is zero traffic driving on Hood Road. I had made enough comments and complaints about it on our drives home that E1 and E2 both knew the location and to look for the light.

Denison_and_Hood_Road

This week was one of those odd occasions where T was driving. I pulled my neck a few days earlier and couldn’t really turn my head well, so we all agreed it was safest to have T drive.

Me: “Well, we can only wait and see when we get there. Daddy does seem to have better success at getting through Hood Road without getting a red light though. I always seem to get stopped.”

T: “Probably because you drive way more than I do.” I laughed.

E1: “Well Mommy, I remember on Thanksgiving you got a green light.”

Me: “True, but that’s like the only time I remember.”

E1: “Daddy must have the magic touch.”

T, chuckling: “People have been saying that about me for years.”

E2: “So why does Daddy still get stopped sometimes with the red light there?”

Me: “His magic for Hood Road must be depleted and I guess it takes a while before it gets replenished.”

T: “That’s called mana. My mana must be depleted each time I get through Hood Road without a red light. You guys know what mana is?”

E1: “Yeah! Like the magic in our Magic Quest wands. Before we got them activated again, it kept saying to us ‘Your wand’s mana has been depleted’ when we tried to use the wands at Great Wolf Lodge.”

E2: “What does ‘depleted’ mean?”

Me: “Depleted means used up, drained, finished.”

E1: “Ahh, I don’t talk about it right now, or else Daddy’s magic will go away!”

T: “That’s called, ‘Jinxing’ it.”

We drive along Denison and get stopped at the red light on Warden Ave behind several cars, one light away from the infamous light.

E1 cranes her head to check out the Hood Road light situation. “Oh no! The light is green! That means it’s probably going to turn red by the time we get there again!”

E2: “Oh no oh no oh no!”

The light at Warden turns green and we drive the 100 meters towards Hood Road. Amazingly, the light stays green.

Me: “Oh my gosh guys! We’re going to make it through Hood Road! The light is staying green!”

All in the car: “Yaaayy!”

E2: “Daddy really *does* have the magic touch!”

~Jen

Jury selection duty in Toronto in 2015

I was summoned to attend jury selection duty in the fall of 2015. I was a dutiful citizen, and put my regular weekday schedule on hold to fulfill my duty. But what could I really expect about this whole jury selection duty in Toronto in 2015? I had visions of sitting around a courtroom for days on end, with nothing available to me other than newspapers and magazines. The information sheet provided by the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General was decent in providing some answers about the process, but wasn’t very helpful in some of the more practical questions or information about the process that was specific to the Toronto district court house.

Based on my experience, this is what you might expect during jury selection duty in the Toronto court district (things may be different in other court districts around the province): Continue reading Jury selection duty in Toronto in 2015

Jeneral finds of the week: 2016-01-17

Women and unpaid emotional labour, the Genius of Music breaks down pop music, and the mash up of Star Wars and Calvin and Hobbes you didn’t know you needed. Also, 2016 gets off to a sad start with the loss to cancer of two big forces in arts and culture, David Bowie and Alan Rickman. The Jeneral finds this week: 2016-01-17

  • Leah McLaren asks “Should women be paid for emotional labour?“. It’s the unspoken glue that keeps communities together, isn’t it? And I another realm of unacknowledged tasks that many women perform on top of all they do at work and in their direct families. Examples: making phone calls to circle of friends just to check in, remembering to get birthday cards and/or presents for children’s classmates, organizing baby showers for work colleagues, keeping track of friends and acquaintances’ goings-on so you are aware when things aren’t well and help is needed…and then offering the help, etc. No wonder it seems women often seem to have a harder time to balance life and work, their buckets of work in the “life” column, beyond home maintenance and family duties, are larger than men’s.
  • Why are some pop songs just so catchy and infectious? Chilly Gonzales is a self-proclaimed Genius of Music, but he earns the title honestly. He is a pianist, producer, songwriter,  and more, working with the likes of Feist, Daft Punk, and Drake. He has a done a series of videos deconstructing popular songs that are fascinating. In this video, Gonzales breaks down The Weeknd’s “I can’t feel my face” 
  • Of course, the last month’s entertainment hype has been all about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And as a lovely response to this, Disney Animation Story Artist Brian Kesinger did a series of wonderful mashups of Star Wars and Calvin and Hobbes together. (these are just two of them, peruse some earlier posts in his twitter feed to see them all)

~Jen

Nostalgia for some books of my childhood

I recently finished rereading Anne of Green Gables. It is E1’s copy of the book we gave her for Christmas, and when I read the first few chapters aloud to her, I got hooked again. In the evenings, as she slept, I borrowed the book to read furtively onward. A smile was likely on my face the whole way through to the end, delighted with the character of Anne and the “scrapes” she got herself into.

It’s also delightful seeing E1 also getting taken up in not only the characters and the story of Anne of Green Gables, but of many of the books she’s reading. I look at her and I see myself at her age. I am nostalgic for the books of my childhood and early teens, and for how they made me feel, the childhood memories they invoke, or the lessons I still keep from them. Here are some of them. (Unfortunately, I am terrible at remembering plot details or character names, so please don’t expect a synopsis of these books!) Continue reading Nostalgia for some books of my childhood

Welcome to 2016! Happy New Year!

Yes, it is now more than a week since the new year started, but we do not need to be technical about that. The sentiment of hope and optimism for this year still holds true. So Happy New Year! Welcome to 2016!

And in the spirit of optimism, here are some of my goals for this year to resolutely work towards:

  • less Facebook lurking, more actual face time talking (via coffee dates, Skype, group outings, and what not). Because I want to model the behaviour I want for my girls to follow and expect from their friends.
  • make exercise a standard part of my weekly schedule again. It’s been over 9 months since I started working, so I can’t use the excuse of “waiting until my schedule is stabilized” anymore. I’ve definitely noticed a loss of strength.
  • volunteer more: at my girls’ school and in my community
  • read more offline materials. Reading articles online is fine, but the ease in which I can switch to yet another article of completely different context means i often don’t ponder over what I just read, the ideas don’t simmer and percolate as it should.
  • keep writing: aim for at least a blog post every two weeks
  • preserve the memories: finish our family 2015 photobooks before Victoria Day
  • keep pushing myself to grow my experiences and my team contributions in my job, but still holding onto my reduced hours schedule
  • set up the basement office properly. Poor T has to suffer through boxes of random crap strewn about while he gingerly navigates to his office chair.

Sorry for succumbing to the cliche of publicly announcing my resolutions, but I feel the potential for shame and humiliation from my peers is an extra motivator. It worked for Anne of Green Gables, didn’t it? Let me know if there’s anything you’d like me to hold you to the fire for at the end of this year, we can press forward to our goals with the fear of mutual shame. 😉 Happy New Year folks!

~Jen

E1- a budding Sherlock Holmes in the house

The days of me thinking that I can fool my girls is clearly in the past now. Here’s a story about E1 – a budding Sherlock Holmes in the house.


Me: “Ooh, girls. I got a text from Daddy and I think Daddy is going to come home with a surprise. I bet you’ll never guess what it is.”

E1: “Oh! Is it another bike?”

Me (chuckling): “No, it’s not another bike. But considering the past few weeks, that’s an excellent guess.” (In reference to the one day at the beginning of November where we came home to find that he has bought a new road bike for himself, and then picked up two girls bikes that were sitting on the curb in the neighbourhood with a “Free” sign on them.)

E2: “Is it dinner?”

Me: “Hmm. Another good guess, especially since we are getting hungry. But no, that’s not it.”

E1: “New winter boots for us?”

Me: “Hmm, we do need to get you those. Sorry that’s not it either. I’m telling you, you’ll never guess what it is.”

The girls kept guessing during the walk home. They were unsuccessful in guessing correctly, as I predicted.

We got inside the house and were taking off our shoes when E1 looks up at me with a spark in her eye. “Wait! You said that Daddy texted you. I can go upstairs and look on the tablet to see what Daddy said to you.” She took off up the stairs. A minute later I hear her talking to E2. “Oh! I think Daddy got a new car!”

Me and E2: “Whaaaaaaaat?” We were shocked for different reasons.

E1: “Yeah, Daddy wrote something about a Lexus, and I think that’s a type of car.”

Me: “Yes…uh, you got it, sweetie! How, um, did you figure it all out?”

E1: “Well, I remember sometimes when we’re on the tablet watching Netflix or playing a game, i sometimes  see the messages you and Daddy send to each other on Hangout. So I tried to find it.”


This kid blows my mind. Critical thinking skills = +20. Thinking back, I look all the pieces of information she assembled in that 7-year old brain of hers:

  1. Realized guessing blindly was not getting her anywhere, so she thought of an alternative method to get more clues.
  2. Picked up during our conversation the information that Daddy sent me a text message
  3. Remembered that she has seen our text messages on the tablets at home, in addition to our phones
  4. Remembered the name of the app that holds our messages, and how to find it on the tablet.
  5. Somehow remembered that Lexus is a manufacturer of cars, even though noone in our family, or our extended family, owns one (until now, that is).

So she’s on a good track to becoming a world-renowned  consulting detective, right? Or a super spy? I just hope she uses her powers for good, and not evil.

~Jen

National Ballet of Canada Review: The Winter’s Tale

How does someone get into a state of mind where the seed of jealousy can take root even if it is completely unwarranted? Once the seed is planted, is there anyway to stop it growing, or will it inevitably destroy the very thing you love? Then if you are the wronged one and had your love destroyed by the one you loved, would you forgive him/her if (s)he repented painfully over the years? And would you so easily accept strangers into your heart as family if all you knew was a family of a different home? These were some of the questions I’m still pondering after watching this terrific ballet adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. (Here is the synopsis of the story, as structured for this ballet. )

If you like theatre and dance, even if you’re not particularly fond of ballet, you really must to go see the National Ballet of Canada’s co-production with The Royal Ballet of The Winter’s Tale as choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon. The current run by the National Ballet of Canada is over today, but it surely will make a comeback in the seasons to come. It would be crazy for NBOC to not immediately remount a production as successful as this one, after such a short one-week run. There are many things to commend about this production, but the one thing that is apparent is how conscious Wheeldon is to what would attract new audiences to story ballets. Just as in Alice in Wonderland, the theatricality, production design, and music are really designed to entice the audience to pay attention to the truly wonderful dancing on stage.

Choreography

There are many outstanding choreographic moments in this show that I’ll remember. A few off the top of my head:

  • The Act 1 duets between Leontes and Hermione, where the same motif is repeated, but getting progressively more sinister and violent from his part as the act progresses.
  • The solo of Leontes as the jealousy takes hold. The movement is twisted, tortured
  • Hermione’s solo during her trial is beautiful, lyrical, and so lonely as she pleads her innocence.
  • The amazing group peasant dances in Act 2.  There is so much joy and exuberance in these sequences that it made me smile the whole while through it. There are so many different shapes and lines made, with very interesting body shapes and movements, that it’s just visually stunning. It’s really a shame that music continues moving so much that there isn’t any slight pauses in the music or the dancing to allow invite the audience to applaud. (I know, we can applaud at any time, but our Toronto matinee audience is generally shy and overly polite…and I don’t feel brave enough to start the applause myself)
  • The really unique positioning in the pas de deux with Perdita and Florizel. In a weird way, I would make the analogy that her body was positioned as if he was holding her like a french horn, with her torso curled up, her head being mouthpiece, and her semi-split legs being the bell of the horn, if the bell was longer and reached up to go across his shoulders. It’s a visual I’ll not forget.

Dance Performances

November 21, 2pm cast:

  • Leontes – Evan McKie
  • Hermione – Jurgita Dronina
  • Perdita – Rui Huang
  • Paulina – Svetlana Lunkina
  • Polixenes – Brendan Saye
  • Florizel – Skylar Campbell

I believe this was my first real chance to see Evan McKie dancing in a lead role since he joined NBOC. Each production typically has multiple casts, so the luck of which cast performed on Saturday afternoons (our season tickets), combined with his injuries in the last couple of years, made this an exciting performance for me. He definitely did not disappoint. Leontes is not a showy technical role, but it’s a showy dramatic acting role. Physically embodying the jealousy eating at him bit by bit until his outlook and his physical bearing is twisted. In his performance there was palatable tension and emotion on stage, especially in the separate duets he has with Hermione and Paulina.

I was also really curious and excited to see newly joined principle dancer Jurgita Dronina as Hermione. She played Hermione with assurance and yet lightness. Her solo at her trial was one obvious highlight; she executed that difficult choreography flawlessly so you didn’t even realize how difficult it was. The other big highlight for me was her duets with McKie as her desperation of the situation grows. The emotion and drama between them were very realistic.

Svetlana Lunkina as Paulina just made me even more of a fan of hers. There’s something about her arms that’s just mesmerizing. And she then has the serious acting chops to portray a woman with all these conflicting feelings: anger and despair toward the man who caused the death of beloved Hermione and her children, and indirectly her husband, but also the sense of duty to continue to serve her master of the kingdom she belongs to.

I only wished the same assuredness of these principle dancers would have rubbed off more on the dancers playing Perdita (the lost princess 16 years later) and Florizel (the prince she falls in love with). The choreography for them in the second act is tremendously difficult, that is for sure, and the audience could tell of the effort involved. You could see that Rui Huang was absolutely concentrating on the steps, but that meant the acting of the part of the young lover was sacrificed. There wasn’t any chemistry between her and Skylar Campbell as Prince Florizel. Things like reacting to each other’s touch, or small body language nuances that demonstrated that she was aware of where he was on stage regardless of whether she was looking at him or not…those were missing. The kisses felt choreographed, instead of a natural thing for these two characters to do. Because I couldn’t believe in the two of them as lovers, it really eroded the magic from the first act.

Production notes

  • The original music by Joby Talbot really helped tell the story, in particular where bits of discordant tones creep into the main melody to signal the change in Leontes’ inner mind. It was definitely clear that this is the same composer as Alice in Wonderland though. There were hints of that score throughout this production—the use of mallet instruments, the kind of wormy sound of the oboe or clarinet paired with the violins. I thought the violin solo in Act 3 as Leontes mourns at Hermione’s grave was absolutely beautiful and I was disappointed that it was so short. I would have loved to have that bit extended. The Act 2 peasant dances were also able to be so joyous because of the great music.
  • The sets and props really helped set the tone between the stark and austere realms of Sicilia, and the warm brightness of Bohemia. The silk effects to convey the rough seas, the sail of the boat, and the bear that attacks Antigonus (as per the famous stage direction of Shakespeare) were brilliant. And the grand tree that is the centerpiece of the second act really is impressive as it spans the entire width of the stage, adorned with hanging jewels and doodads.
  • There were parts of the third act that seemed truncated. For example, when Perdita is revealed to be the lost daughter, how her adoptive father and brother react was kind of skipped over. If there was a reconciliation or apology sought from Polixenes to his son Florizel, then I missed it. And after the wedding scene, it cut really abruptly to the statue gallery. I would have liked another few bars of music for the action on the stage to better transition to that location.
  • The costuming was gorgeous throughout. The detail and the flow of the fabric particularly for the ladies dresses were just outstanding. The only slight distraction was how the purple silk dress worn by Perdita really shows all the sweat. You’d think they would have remembered that from the Alice in Wonderland.

Overall, the story has really been translated amazingly well for the dance stage. The plot line is quite clear, there is lots of drama and action, and really great solo roles for the company dancers. I’m really looking forward to seeing it again the next time they put it on, and keen to see other casts perform the same roles.

What an amazing start to the 2015-16 season!

~Jen

Jeneral finds of the week: 2015-10-25

What a week it’s been. The federal election and Trudeau leading the Liberals to a surprising majority government. The unfortunate focus on his looks afterwards, but at least there is one being clever about it. The Blue Jays. And a duck comic that speaks real truths about the parenting experience—the Jeneral finds this week: 2015-10-25

  • This past Monday night, the Liberals and Justin Trudeau won a majority government in the federal election. It was a better result than I could have hoped for, when my hopes were pinned on merely getting Harper out of government. But just as I took umbrage at the objectifying of Belinda Stronach when she became an elected MP in 2004, I am really irked with the glut of worldwide headlines and social media shares about Justin Trudeau’s looks. How is the world supposed to take the leader of our country seriously if all the ink being written on him comes in the celebrity and lifestyle sections of the news? We need to keep the focus on the policies he’s pledged during the campaign. But still…this piece by Tabatha Southey is hilarious if you want to get all the *wink, wink, nudge, nudge* about his physical appearance out of your system, once and for all. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/note-to-world-please-stop-ogling-our-new-prime-minister/article26951125/  Sample innuendo: “I’ll bet that’s a right honourable member.”
  • The Blue Jays’ playoff run ended, but it was a thrilling, joyous ride while it was happening. Though our hearts were broken by the result, it was better to love this team and lose, than never to love at all, right? We are so proud of how the team worked hard and kept it oh-so-close until the very last out.  A big hurray, high five, and a tip of the hat to the team that truly made the city #comeTOgether.
  • Has the author of this comic strip www.fowllanguagecomics.com  been spying on my household? Because he speaks the hilarious truth, man. This listicle picks 15 great ones to share in one page http://www.upworthy.com/15-hilarious-parenting-comics-that-are-almost-too-real?g=4.

~Jen

<–previous finds of the week

A personal potpourri of thoughts

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