Note:

This blog is now retired. My new site is at: Predictably Irrational.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

I have just finished this amazing piece of non-fiction. I loved it. It wasn't a fast read but by golly, it's worth your time if you are interested in the history of Chicago's 1893 World's Fair and H.H. Holmes.

As I mentioned, it's not a fast read, nor is it easy. It's deep although well-written. I think I was in the right mood for something like this. And I learned so much, not just by facts of the novel, but those "aha!" moments that hit me when I realized all that happened.

Chicago beat out New York and D.C. to host the World's Fair for 1893. This was a huge win as Chicago was a slaughter-town - hogs and cattle. The city reeked of blood, manure, as well as the sounds of squealing death reverberated throughout. There was nothing refined about Chicago then and to snag this amazing expo was a shock to everyone, even faithful Chicagoans.

And in comes Daniel Burnham, a man denied entrance to Yale and Harvard, who would be the head architect/designer of the White City - the Roman Classical buildings of magnitude that would become the World's Fair. Larson builds up the drama of putting this fair together in so little time...it's long but it gives the reader a lot of information of what developed out of this time, like incandescent light bulbs. It was just a few years earlier that the cow kicked over the lantern to bring on the Great Chicago Fire.

Another great influence is Frederick Olmstead, the pioneer of Landscape Architecture, whose vision for the Fair was to get away from linear plans and produce something breathtaking and artistic.

I love this quote from Olmstead, that brings me back to my work, where most folks want to do so much to an interface rather than actually simplify the flow for the intended user:
Let us be thought over-much plain and simple, even bare, rather than gaudy, flashy, cheap and meretricious. Let us manifest the taste of gentlemen.

The way they spoke back then, if it resembles any of their letters and writings, blows us away. I don't know if it is just the well-educated or the well-earned, but we still hold no candle to the elegance and eloquence of this time. And we think of ourselves smarter now than then?

Here are some examples.

Olmstead wrote often to his son, about leaving some of his work with Fair to a "trusted" employee, during the last hurried days before opening day:
I am afraid that we were wrong in leaving the business so much to Ulrich & Phil. Ulrich is not I hope intentionally dishonest but he is perverse to the point of deceiving & misleading us & cannot be depended on. His energy is largely exhausted on matters that he sh'd not be concerned with...I cannot trust him from day to day.

From Dora Root, the widow of Burnham's partner, John Root -who helped initiate the designs for the Fair - upon given a tour of it:
I find it all infinitely sad but at the same time so entrancing, that I often feel as if it would be the part of wisdom to fly at once to the woods or mountains where one can always find peace. There is much I long to say to you about your work of the past two years -- which has brought about this superb realization of John's vision of beauty -- but I cannot trust myself. It means too much to me and I think, I hope, you understand. For years his hopesa and ambitions were mine, and in spite of my efforts the old interests still go on. It is a relief to me to write this. I trust you will not mind.

Over time, we have just bastardized the English language. YMMV.

Along the story of the building of this magnificent fair is the story of H.H. Holmes.

H.H. Holmes would become the first documented serial killer. It is unknown how many he may have truly killed but at least nine are attributed to him.

He is what we now know as a psychopath but in 1893, this term was not even formed to describe a person. He was an anomaly of sorts...at least in their "modern" time of newspapers. No one was as evil as this man, who was handsome and endearing to nearly everyone he met. Even the prison wards who were to execute him were not looking forward to it, as they had been put under his spell.

It's a compelling read and I wanted to know nothing about the Chicago Fair, no Holmes until I finished the book. It is true: I knew nothing about the history of this fair. I didn't even know about the Ferris Wheel, until Tim said "Oh yeah, that's the fair with the Ferris Wheel". Oh yeah, I remember seeing pictures of the Ferris Wheel. But I didn't realize that George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. actually submitted his design for the Wheel *for* the Chicago Fair. Burnham had wanted something magnificent, more magnificent than the Eiffel Tower, which was built for the 1889 Paris World's Fair.

I was sad to realize, after reading most of the novel and cheating, by looking up info on wikipedia, that very little was left of this monumental city after the fair ended. It was open for six months - after a grueling two year process - to royalty, dignitaries and the common man...who many were documented as stating that it was one of the most amazing places they had ever seen and then once the fair closed? Nothing. Workers of the fair were no longer employed. The magnificent buildings were left to fall into disrepair. Over 200 buildings were built for the fair and today, only two of those buildings remain. It's amazing and heartbreaking.

I found it fascinating. I was attracted to the book because of the serial killer but once I got into the history of this fair, I couldn't wait to learn more about it. But then the serial killer portions were engrossing too.

A great great read that I recommend highly to anyone who would find this type of history fascinating, as I did (unbeknownst to myself :)).

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Pushing the Reset Button

So over the past few months, I have let my running regiment go. While I didn't do it on purpose, I did choose to do other things: wallyball, Leanest Loser, Enviro-Training, as well as other things.

And it was great. I met new folks, I was introduced to a new way to work myself to death, and I lost seven pounds. SEVEN POUNDS! I've been trying to lose 10 pounds for over five years and I got SEVEN in four months.

But I love running. It's what keeps me sane. What gets me to listen to music, podcasts, or my own brain. And so I am back to building up my miles this month. I have my first race in September - my one miler. I'd like to do as good, if not better, than I did last year. Might be a long shot as I was in much, much better running shape last year. But I am also leaner, slimmer and my endurance is still pretty good...at least for now for the one miler. If anything, these other workouts have really sparked my brain into dealing with pain longer...so endurance for my brain vs. physicality has improved.

But I plan to go through the Second Empire series again, as I did last year. I was getting burned out last year but I ran races nearly the entire year, so perhaps I will be more gung-ho about it. And CJ wants to do it, so I have more incentive to help her vs. myself.

I also have a half marathon in October that I am looking forward to. Except for the magnificent mile, I am trying to curtail my competitiveness (with myself) and focus on endurance vs. speed. My heart rate tends to spike into the 200s and when I slowed down my runs (not speed workouts) earlier this year, I could keep my heart rate in the 180s. Not sure if it's such a big deal since my doctor doesn't seem to be concerned about it but 200 seems a bit high and it concerns *me*...

My speed workout on Monday surprised me though. I picked up my program from the first weeks with Coach B and, after having a slow three mile run last Saturday, I did not expect anything amazing from myself on Monday. I had a mile warm-up then a two mile tempo at sub 10 mn/mile. From a Runner's World plan, I had two miles at 11:30 so I figured anything between the two would be sufficient for now.

After the first tempo mile, I looked at my watch and saw 8:41. Then here is a summary of how my brain worked:

Uh-oh. Woops. Didn't mean to do that. Wished I hadn't looked at my watch because I feel a bit panicked. I don't really want to run that fast. It's hot. It's humid. I'm out of practice. This is ridiculous. Why do I think too much while I run? Why don't I just run? Feel the pain. But, I don't really feel pain. Yes. It's hard, but not THAT hard. Not any harder than the fricking Interval Training class. Or Beckie's workout. Now those are hard. And this is just two miles. And I got one down. And I'm running the outer perimeter of the track, so technically, I don't have four laps. I have about three. And actually less since I reached one mile earlier. Oh "Hello". She seems like a nice person (note: I just passed a runner on the track). She's running in the heat too. I got this. I'm almost done. Please god, let me be done!

So when I finished my second tempo mile, I looked at my time: 8:12.

Say what?

Needless to say, I was ecstatic. A great start to my back-to-run program. And I got a 'kudos' from the lone runner on the track with me, a fellow gal who duked out the heat and humidity for herself too.

I'm changing up my routine a bit this round. I decided to consult with my kick-ass workout champ Brittany for a program to include all the things I am currently enjoying doing (that sentence doesn't sound right): IT, Beckie's workouts, wallyball, weights, and training for my mile, then my half. I forgot to tell her I wanted to swim too. Watching Mi-Mi swim every day has inspired me to get my ass in the pool too.

Wish me luck.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Dreamland

I do tend to be like many others in assessing my dreams. What do they mean? What does it signify towards my life?

Here's one of last night's dream:

I am in a boutique and a couch set is on display, on a platform. I touch the couch and feel how comfy it is then I decide to sit in the chair. It's like a big, overstuffed chair and I sort of lie in it, thinking: Tim would LOVE this chair. He can sit in it, like his recliner, and work on the laptop. But it's not leather... Hmmmm... So I push up on the chair (somehow) and the chair tips backwards, off the platform and onto the floor. It is lying on the back of the chair, with me in it...stuck. I can't get out. I just look like I'm sitting in it, except tipped over. I try to keep swinging it back right-side and...nothing. I finally, awkwardly, tip the chair from the back to the right arm side and extricate myself from the chair.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

SYTYCD 2010: My Favorite Week 4 Performance

This past week, the most amazing routine was one I rarely enjoy: Hip-Hop.

Yeah, it's fun to watch for a few seconds and then it gets old. I prefer the routines that emote emotion and not necessarily a dance that one would see in a dance club, or with Brittany Spears.

But this past week, Alex Wong and Twitch showed me the light. Alex, an amazing technical ballet dancer, was paired up with Twitch, an amazing hip-hop dancer who blossomed into an exceptional well-rounded dancer.

Here it is on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Un_-EtIa6i8. For some odd reason, any of the videos with Alex and Twitch's routines were not 'embeddable'.

Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella

I am glad I waited to read this after reading a book in between Twenties Girl (also by Kinsella) and this one.

These kind of novels are what my BFF Kerry describes as "fast reads".

I could not put this down and when I did, I couldn't stop thinking about when I could pick it up again to read. If this is fluff, girly stuff, I AM IN! I definitely am a fan of Kinsella.

Remember Me? is about a young woman, Lexi, who has an accident in which she becomes an amnesiac. The last thing she remembers is three years prior...when she was 25 and a new person at her company.

In those three years, Lexi finds that, not only does she work at the same company, but she is an executive at that company...the work-bitch-from-hell.

And?

She's married.

To a wonderfully good-looking, rich man.

And owns a new Mercedes convertible.

And lives in an amazing high-tech loft, with high-end furniture, and the most amazing designer wardrobe a woman could ask for.

So now what?

So Lexi struggles to figure out who this person is - this "person" for the past three years...and what happened to the old Lexi.

And how she rebuilds her relationship with a total stranger.

It is such a wonderful, enjoyable read and I look forward to reading more fluff from Kinsella.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Crazy Cards

This was my favorite card game growing up.

My grandparents (paternal) played this often. I would watch for hours, as my mom and dad played by grandma and grandpa. Or anyone else in the family, teamed up in pairs.

I learned the rules and game play from just observing. And then I'd play the game, alone, as four players. As an only child, I learned to play games solo and I am a very fair player, since I am all of them. :)

So one day, I was able to play in the "big leagues" and was invited to sit at the table and join the fun. And I found I could play for hours, as much as my family could. I never wanted to pull away from the table.

My grandma and grandpa were wonderful players. My grandpa had a mean-streak card playing personality, which seemed appropriate to his personality. But my grandmother? My sweet, baking pies, creaming corn, home-made noodle making grandma was a mean player too. And she'd get so mad at my grandpa if he took any of her cards, which he would even if he didn't need them.

And I loved how she would peek at the card, when someone would buy one, before handing them their 'extra' card.

Playing crazy cards with my grandparents is one of my most cherished memories. I never really got to grow up with them, living overseas. But the last part of my life at home, we spent a lot of time visiting them and I got to know them better then.

They are both deceased now and I almost forgot about this favored card game of mine until recently.

The girls had pulled out a poker set that I had. I don't remember where I got it; I think it came from my dad. But the two decks of cards were out and I recalled the game because, in crazy cards, it requires two decks.

First about crazy cards: it's like contract rummy...in fact, it's a variation - my grandparents' variation - of contract rummy. The game that I played with them has changed now, as my dad plays it now...and I remember being really pissed off that they claimed this was how the game was always played. I don't remember how they play it NOW because to me, that is not crazy cards.

THIS is crazy cards, taught to me by my grandparents:
Three to four people can play. If three, players play individually; if four, then players partner up with the person across from them.

Ten cards are dealt to each player, then one turned over. If you can cut the deck at exactly 41, or 31, depending on the number of players, 100 points are taken off your score (thus, lowest scorer wins).

There are four rounds:
Two Books and a Run
Two Runs and a Book
Three Books
Three Runs

In the first three rounds, each player can buy up to three cards (so each player will always have an even number of cards). Play goes clockwise and the first card up goes to the player to the left of the dealer. That card belongs to the player if they want it, otherwise they draw from the deck and then must discard that one, or another card in their hand.

If the player does not want the card, another player can buy it (and get one extra card for buying it). Seniority is also clockwise and can be part of a strategy: if the player to the right of you wants it, you can buy it to prevent them from having it.

The last hand, three runs, is the hardest and thus, four buys are allowed per person.

A person cannot lay down their cards until they meet the round, which means, until you have two books and a run, you cannot put your hand down (like, you have one book only...that cannot go down).

The person that wins the hand is the first person who uses up all their cards either by laying down all their cards, laying down cards and discarding, or laying down, playing on other cards that are down, and/or discarding.

Everyone else has to count the cards in their hands. If you lay down and haven't won the hand, only the cards in your hand are counted.

Points are as follows:
K, Q, J - 10 points each
Aces - 25 points each
Jokers (which are wild cards) - 50 points each
Everything else is face value

The first team or person to 500 points ends the game and the lowest number player/team wins.

A book is at least three cards of one value (K, Q, 2s, etc.). If using a Joker, there must be two of one kind with a joker (e.g. not 3 jokers, not 2 jokers and a two card; but two jokers with two cards is OK).

A run is at least four consecutive cards in one suit. If playing more than one run (e.g. two runs and a book), then the suit must be different (e.g. NOT 4, 5, 6, 7 in spades *and* A, K, Q, J in spades).

Once a player lays down, then can play on another players downed cards. You cannot play on another person's hand until you put down your cards.

So, a verbose summary of the game. More for me than for you...in case I get Alzheimer's or something, I can reflect back and remember how to play...:)

So back to NOW...
the other day, I taught MiMi and CJ how to play. I truly didn't believe it would work out very well. I thought the rules would be too much for them to handle. But they fared very well and we made it through a round.

Last night, I decided to see how much they truly enjoyed playing and asked if anyone was interested in a game of crazy cards.

Tim played with my grandparents and I before, so he remembered a bit about it...so he was up for it. We played one round with me and MiMi as partners, and Tim and CJ as partners.

Me and MiMi lost pretty quickly and badly. We didn't even make it to the fourth round. But MiMi didn't seem to particularly care for it, so the next game was played with three of us for individual points.

And guess what? CJ is a very good player! She managed to 'strategize' her own hand and didn't need any help. A quick learner and darn right good player! I was so proud of her!

And Tim, well, he has some strain of luck because he was whipping our asses. And on top of that, got 100 points off on one of his lucky deals. But we haven't finished and today, CJ asked when we could play cards again.

I'm not going to hope for too much: I'm glad CJ is enjoying the game and I hope it continues...then I can make new memories of passing something along that I have enjoyed and loved so much in my younger years.

And you know, it's kind of hard to keep playing when your mom (or your wife, Tim), kicks your ass all the time because she's the best crazy card player in town.

Eclipse

We made it to the 3rd installment of Bella and Edward's love story.

And while Edward is still dreamy, um, let me clarify, while Robert Pattinson is still dreamy to watch, the movie was not all that great.

I mean, it wasn't _bad_ either. It certainly was better than the book. I didn't have to read hundreds of pages of Bella's incessant whining.

But I'm beginning to see, in the movie, how they are molding Kristen Stewart to be the beauty that she will become in the last movie. She was very beautiful in this one and SO MUCH LESS annoying than her novel counterpart.

Jacob too is less annoying. We only see a glimpse of his cockiness.

But the dialogue is just lame and overdone. It was cheesy. It was typical Hollywood, American-style movie-drama. It's a shame that we can't even adapt a tweenie book to be a decent movie to watch; you know, something that will stand the test of time? That we could look back on and go: wow. They really cared about movie-making then and made the latest fad a great movie!

But noooooo...it's all about the buckaroos. No artistry. No pride. Just more commercialism.

And BTW, talk about commercialism. Why the fuck did they bring on Dakota Fanning. I can't tell you how bad my stomach churned when I saw the bitch come on the screen. It was like hearing Nickleback come on the radio, except I couldn't turn it.

And that's *my* movie review :).

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

After reading Twenties Girl, I was really in the mood for another Sophie Kinsella novel but decided that it might be a good idea to have a gap between a book I thoroughly enjoyed and her next one. Maybe I would try to compare them too much, being back-to-back, and would be sadly disappointed with the second.

So I picked this one, which has been on my reading list for awhile. And I'm glad I did.

Camille Preaker is a small-town girl, who reports for a small newspaper in the big city of Chicago.

Her editor sends her back to her hometown to cover a little known crime that's been occurring: 9 year old girls being murdered.

For Camille, going back to her hometown takes her back to her youth, and showcases the dark edge in her personality. An alcoholic perhaps? And ex-cutter. And a woman that uses sex to make her feel better.

It's a dark, dark novel...and Camille is a dark, dark character. This is *so* up my alley.

It's disturbing and what makes it more cool, is the disturbing character is a woman. Too few novels actually showcase women in a disturbingly flawed state, unless it's based on a true story.

This was a book I could not put down. I couldn't wait to enter the world of Wind Gap, Missouri and Camille's mind.

The novel has Camille speaking to "us", the readers. So we know everything going on in her brain, her memories, her thoughts, her experiences. And although the end wasn't completely amazing to me (I had it all figured out), I continue to think about Camille, Richard, John Keene, and Camille's family and hope for Gillian Flynn to bring back these folks in another novel.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Literally

Yesterday afternoon, I called CJ before leaving from work, which was about 4PM. Swim meet starts at 6PM, but we have to be there at 5:15 for practice.

Hey - can you get MiMi ready for the swim meet? I need to run a few errands before the meet, so I need her to be ready so that when I get home, we can just go.

So the plan is: I get home, pack up my things for the meet, grab MiMi, then off we go while CJ gets picked up by sleepover folks, and off she goes.

As I turn down my street to my house, I see MiMi standing -- all alone! -- on the sidewalk between my house and the neighbor's. She's in her swimsuit, holding a towel and goggles.

WTF?

I smile (because she smiles excitedly when she sees me :)) and motion to her to go to the driveway. I ask her "Why are you standing on the sidewalk?" She says "Because I thought that's what you wanted me to do? Just pick me up and go."

Although I have learned to be very descriptive in what I say to the girls, it appears I still haven't learned well enough...