Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Who would've thought.....

...that this little bundle would eventually have bigger feet than his mother? Happy 14th Birthday to my son, K!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Book Review: Devil in the White City

I picked up this book after hearing my dad describe it, hoping that it would not become part of the pile of half-read books in my nightstand drawer. Luckily, it didn't - it now has a permanent place on my bookshelf with the other books I've read cover to cover.

"Devil in the White City" is a historical novel about the first American World's Fair (dubbed "The White City") in Chicago and the madness that happened to coincide with it. The "devil" refers to the charming man who used his skills and the excitement of the fair to befriend and murder up to 200 people - mostly young women looking for adventure in the big city. I say "up to" because authorities apparently never did determine how many murders "H.H. Holmes" or Henry Mudgett committed.

The books is very readable, even for me. I can't handle a book with a lot of details without having some story to go along with it. I liked how the author alternated chapters about the development of the World's Fair with intriguing tidbits of the beginnings of Holmes' schemes. The history of the fair itself was quite interesting, and it was surprising to me how many of our current day started with the fair. For instance, Shredded Wheat was introduced at the Chicago World's Fair and still remains a breakfast staple today. Also, the Ferris Wheel, which is one of my favorite rides at carnivals, was one of the reasons the fair did so well and brought in so much revenue. In order to prepare for the fair, though, Chicago had to ready itself and make plans that would best the World's Fair recently held in Paris, for which the Eiffel Tower had been constructed.
I was amazed by the sheer expense of the fair. It had to be elaborate to not only best the Paris exhibition, but to bring pride to the people of Chicago. Still, even by today's standards, I'm amazed the fair happened at all, not just because of the expense, but because of the short timelines with which to complete the buildings and the fact that labor unions were just beginning to start up and the fact that the world was really in an economic crisis. Not to mention that the planners were not all on the same page as to which type of architecture was best, which only pushed back the beginning of the construction.

This book made me wish I had been around to see the fair, but also makes me want to visit Chicago just to see Jackson Park and see if I could imagine what it might have looked like, since most of the buildings are not there today. The Chicago World's Fair was quite an inspiration and an amazing event to have happened at the time. Others inspired by the World's Fair went on to create wonderful things, which is why we have Disneyland and the movie Wizard of Oz and Coney Island.

If you're looking for a very entertaining read about the events surrounding the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, you won't be disappointed. I give this book 9 out of 10 dancing feet.

Monday, January 15, 2007

My Adventure Window Is Closing (and no one told me until now)

Let me just first say that I love my iPod. I recently upgraded to the 30G Video and have been pretty impressed with the things I can do with it. However, like most of my other tech gadgets, I don't use it to it's fullest capacity. So, because of this awareness and also wanting to get the most bang for my buck, I've recently discovered Podcasts. H has gotten me hooked on NPR casts, which I can download and listen to at my leisure. Today's cast was titled "NPR's Most Memorable Moments of 2006" and dealt with the almost inevitable loss of adventure in our lives that happens as we approach 40. One professor at Stanford noticed this and did a little bit of "research" after being extremely irritated by his TA, who was never stuck in a rut as evidenced by his enjoyment of different genres of music on a daily basis. He decided to call around to about 50 radio stations nationwide and found that there was a concept of "breakthrough minus 20", in which you take an artist's "breakthrough" year and subtract 20 from it, and that's the year of birth for that particular artist's fan base. So, artists we identify with and listen to in our high school and early college years tend to stick with us. We then keep listening to this artist well past their prime because of the happenings and associations we make to the music of our time. Professor Zupolsky (sp) also inquired about food trends and body piercing trends and found similar veins - that once an "adventure window" closes, that a person is less likely to try something new if they haven't been exposed to it yet. In the case of new types of foods, if you've not experienced a new type of food by your mid to late 20's, you're not very likely to try it after that point. The window closes sooner for body piercings - especially tongue piercings. Apparently, according to one body piercer who was interviewed, if you don't have a tongue piercing by age 23, it most likely will not happen.

This got me to thinking about my own adventure window, especially since I'll be turning 35 soon. I'd like to believe that I'm not stuck in a rut, but admittedly, I'm not as likely to try new things now compared to when I was in my 20's. Some of it is good and actually is protective in nature - the fact that I no longer skydive means that I'll most likely have significantly less broken bones or sprained ankles, and gee, I might live longer. Some of it is bad and makes me feel old and crotchety, like when I hear some songs on the radio and gripe about the crap they try to pass off as music. Now, I'm not about to go out and get my tongue pierced, but I'd like to think I'm open minded enough to try a new food, visit a new place, or listen to music I've not heard before. Maybe my adventure window doesn't have to close all the way - maybe I can put up a screen to let little wafts of adventure into my life so that I don't get stuck in a rut and miss out on something fun.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Christmas Tag

TSHS tagged me to do a Christmas me-me, which at least gets me writing (I've been in a slump lately).

Three things I got for Christmas: a very nice soft cotton bath towel set, a sushi and soup serving set with some funky and cool-looking chopsticks, and a personalized scrapbooked picture frame.

Three things I never want to get for Christmas: a subscription to the "x" of the month club (where "x" equals any kind of weird shit that people come up with), anything domestic like a vacuum or dish towels, and weird things like the clapper or a Chia pet.

Three people to tag: I think most people have done this, so anyone who'd like to can complete this.

The most fun gifts I received were actually from my students. One of my severely autistic students, I'll call him Tommy, got me a candy dish and home-made peppermint bark. When he saw me coming to get him for therapy, he insisted that I "OPEN IT, JEN, OPEN IT!!!", and helped me to unwrap his gift because I was taking too long. Another girl was so excited to get me something, she kept dropping hints and rubbing her hands together and saying "ooo-la-la". Another boy made me his own Christmas card, which is still hanging on my cork-board at work. So, I think my best gift was getting to see how excited my students get around Christmas-time, not just because they are getting gifts, but to give them also.