On their last day in town, the cousins and I awoke at the crack of dawn to grab breakfast and make it to the Shedd by the time they opened at nine o'clock in order to evade the massive lines that have been forming there ever since the museum debuted its new "Fantasea" show in the recently-renovated oceanarium. Business might be booming at the Shedd, but it doesn't exactly improve the average visitor experience: it is hard to get in, and once you're inside, the crowds are formidable.

Upon initial inspection, the millions of dollars spent renovating the oceanarium seemed to have been for naught. The tank and the artificial scenery surrounding it appeared unchanged. It was not until the show began that the changes became apparent -- it was fairly clear that much of the money had gone to installing a professional lighting system in the ceiling to add theatrical lighting to the production, and to install a giant retractable screen around the perimeter of the oceanarium upon which they could project special effects and close-ups of the action going on in the tank. These innovations would have been perfectly acceptable, if it hadn't been for the utter ridiculousness of the "Fantasea" show they were intended to accentuate.

Whereas the Shedd's previous show consisted solely of dolphins performing tricks with trainers clad in wet-suits, the new production felt like a bizarre mash-up of Cirque du Soleil, Sea World, and the Lawrence Welk Show. It was so tacky and corny that I laughed my way through it in disbelief, and at one point, Cecelia leaned over to her father and said, "Daddy, this is silly!" If a six-year-old thinks your production is over-the-top to the point of humor, I think you have a problem.

The show opened with a set of what I can only imagine were supposed to be a trio of sea nymphs of some sort, wearing flowing robes and vocalizing in a nonsensical manner.

The bubble-shaped inset of the close-up on the screen reminded me of the caliber of special effects employed in the Lawrence Welk Show. Cirque du Soleil meets the 1970s.

After entering the oceanarium on a flying boat and selecting a "random" child (obviously a planted actress) from the crowd to participate, a series of trainers dressed in costumes that mimicked their wards moved the animals through their paces. It was really the costumes that wrecked this part of the show for me. I almost felt bad for the trainers for being subjected to such humiliation. I can't believe that at any point when they were dreaming of becoming marine biologists and working with animals that they imagined they'd be forced to wear costumes and participate in such theatrics.

Could someone please explain to me what a hawk was doing in the oceanarium show? They might catch fish occasionally, but these birds are hardly sea creatures...

Perhaps worst of all, by diversifying the show to include not just dolphins but also beluga whales, penguins, sea lions, and hawks, it felt like Fantasea was spreading itself too thin. None of the animals performed very many tricks at all. I can only hope this was done to lighten the burdens on the animals, because I missed the days of copious flips, jumps, and dolphin spins. Overall, I really wish someone would have told the planners of Fantasea that less is more. The old show deftly combined entertainment value with educational content, but the information presented in Fantasea was so overshadowed by its flamboyant production values that the show manages no semblance of balance. I'm not sure I'd ever sit through it again, but if you're going to be at the Shedd and you have very young children, I'd recommend it for their sake. Just try not to laugh too loudly -- they aren't trying to be funny.


We Are Family...

I have never been much for grilling; I live in a high-rise, I hate the taste of char on my food, and most importantly, I don't own a grill. As a result, I commemorated the passing of Memorial Day weekend with house guests instead of the traditional cookout. Several weeks ago I had gotten an email from my second-cousin Julie, who was planning a vacation to Chicago. I offered to let them stay with me, helped them with their vacation planning, and when Saturday rolled around, I found myself entertaining Julie, her husband Brian, and their children Max and Cecelia.

On their first day in town, we headed for the Shedd Aquarium, where we were confronted with a line of epic proportions. The queue snaked out the building, across the plaza in front of the museum, and around the side of the structure. It was daunting to say the least. Instead of wasting our day waiting, we took a detour to the Field Museum, where things were oddly quiet, considering they were debuting "Robo-Sue: The T. Rex Experience" and Waking the T. Rex 3-D: The Story of Sue, and Sue Richardson, the paleontologist who discovered the eponymous dinosaur remains, was making personal appearances and signing autographs at the museum all weekend. We walked right in without having to wait at all, and the kids had a fantastic time, especially Max, who ran excitedly from exhibit to exhibit, barely able to decide where to devote his attention. I can remember when I was his age, and the Field Museum seemingly held unlimited potential for exploration and excitement. It was the Field that kindled my lifelong interest in museums as a career path, and it's always nice to be reminded of the potency of that initial enthusiasm.

Sunday, I caught some extra sleep while my guests headed to Millennium Park to play in the Crown Fountain, and then to Wrigley Field to catch the Cubs playing the Cardinals. Given that their family hails from St. Louis, catching a game between their home team and such bitter rivals was a particular treat. Afterwards, Dad swung by on his way home from Springfield, where he had been attending the graduation of my cousin Matt with Mom, to grab dinner with his relatives at the Park Grill.

We spent a pleasant evening dining al fresco on the plaza, catching up about various happenings within the extended family before heading on a walk through the park. Dad regaled his cousins with stories about the construction of Cloud Gate, the Pritzker Pavilion, and Millennium Park at large, and the kids enjoyed playing with their reflections in the Bean.

Living in the city, there are times when I start to take all of Chicago's attractions for granted. After visiting the Field Museum back in March, I was feeling a little blasé about going again so soon, and some of the novelty of taking self-portraits with Cloud Gate has worn off over the years, but part of the joy of having guests is that you get to re-experience Chicago through someone else's eyes. Things seem exciting and fresh again, and the visit becomes more than the opportunity to re-connect with family, but a chance to re-connect with the city as well.



Don't forget to cast a vote on your favorite look from my "Seven Dresses" project! You'll find the poll directly to the right of this post.


Summer In Genoa...

Sigh... I wish I were spending my summer wandering through Italy. Sure, my staycation was nice, but I feel like I need to go somewhere, have some new experiences, and see something I haven't seen before. For now, it's simply not in the cards, but I can have the next best thing -- a new Colin Firth movie, in which I get to live vicariously through one of my favorite actors as he spends the summer abroad, recovering from the death of his wife. I don't envy him the loss of a loved one in the slightest, but the idea of a European escape is particularly tempting at the moment. As a result, I eagerly made plans with Lauren to catch a screening of Summer in Genoa this evening at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

As predicted, the film acutely activated my sense of wanderlust. Genoa looked by turns sun-baked and mysterious as Firth's cinematic offspring explored the city's back alleys, and the family spent idyllic afternoons at the beach. I am not a beach-person in the slightest, but this film even had me longing for some sand and surf.

I was, however, vexed by the scenes shot in my hometown of Chicago, from which the characters hail prior to taking their European sabbatical. For reasons of cinematography, no doubt, the film shows the family taking a taxi to O'Hare via Lake Shore Drive. Sure, you get an expansive and breathtaking view of the city that way, but no one in their right mind would take LSD to the airport -- the road doesn't go anywhere near it! These sort of inaccuracies always drive me crazy; the scene in Risky Business in which Tom Cruise and Rebecca De Mornay have sex on what is ostensibly the El while downtown Highland Park is clearly visible through the window is another classic Chicago blooper that bugs the crap out of me. The El only runs as far north as Evanston; they clearly shot the scene on the Metra tracks! It may seem petty, but these exercises in cinematic license are so distracting that they seriously impede my enjoyment of movies shot in Chicago, even though it generally pleases me to see my beloved city captured on film.

My distraction aside, I thought the film did an excellent job of exploring its subject matter, namely how people deal with grief. Firth's youngest child retreats into her own imagination, conjuring visions of her deceased mother to keep her company and give her comfort. Her teenage sister acts out, sleeping with a handful of older Italian suitors, dabbling in drugs, and engaging in a number of other risky behaviors. I actually felt that Firth was somewhat under-utilized in the film, especially following his heart-rending portrayal of grief in A Single Man. Firth's genius may be in his subtlety and ability to convey emotions without the use of words, but in this film, I found myself constantly wondering about his feelings towards his dead wife, and where he was headed in his attempts to heal. I'm inclined to think that his lackluster performance has more to do with poor writing and character development than bad acting, although it is also conceivable that the lack of access to his character's emotions could just be another form of grief that the filmmaker is exploring.

Indeed, it is the film's realism that is perhaps it's most frustrating quality. It ends abruptly, without closure. The youngest child could still use some serious therapy for her guilt regarding her mother's death and the accompanying delusional state she has constructed for herself. The older child experiences no repercussions for her reckless behavior, and receives no comeuppance for her selfishness. Firth is left to keep muddling on, trying to hold his family together. This may be how people cope with trauma in real life, but as a movie, it is not particularly satisfying. It's easy to see why
Summer in Genoa is going to remain an independent film, running in limited release. It is not something the average film-goer would care to take the time to appreciate, and it certainly isn't your standard summer-movie fare. I enjoyed it, but I would be judicious about recommending it, even to fellow Colin Firth fans.


Seven Dresses - Day Seven

Of all the seven days of this project, today proved the most difficult in terms of outfit selection. Not that I was even close to exhausting my supply of dresses (in fact, I discovered earlier in the week that I could carry on with this project for almost another full week without repeating myself), but because I was torn between two dresses. There was an adorable, very casual dress that had been sitting in my closet over a year without ever having been worn, and which would have been appropriate for the only activity on my agenda for the day, meeting Lauren for ice cream at the Turkish Festival. Then there was also a new dress, which I had already worn the weekend before to meet Lauren for brunch, and Zac for a date afterwards. It was a little much for so casual an occasion, but it was overwhelmingly cute, and still had that "new dress" aura that made it hard to resist sharing with all of you. Can you guess which one won out?

Nobody ever said fashion was practical -- of course I had to wear the new dress! At the store, I had tried this on on somewhat of a whim; usually I can never pull off wrap dresses. Every fashion authority that has ever written has extolled the figure-flattering virtues of wrap dresses and surplice necklines, but I have never been able to find one that worked for me, not without a lot of pins at least. My girls, it seems, don't like to be contained, and without a fully-stitched neckline, they are apt to make a break for it. Something about the material and the fit of this particular dress helps the neckline stay put and work its bust-enhancing, figure-flattering magic. I honestly can't get over how great my girls look in this dress, so much so that after trying it on, I went home, grabbed a coupon, and went back the next day to snatch it up before it sold out in my size. I simply had to have it.

Then again, that's how I felt about all the dresses that I wore this week. I just had to have them, and then I let them languish in my closet. But, if there is one thing I've learned this week, it is that I should bring them out more often and show them some love. I wouldn't want to wear a dress every day indefinitely (and goodness knows, I can't fathom how women did it for all those centuries), but doing it for a week wasn't as bad as I expected. The worst consequence of the Seven Dresses project was all the sleep I lost from having to get up early in the morning to shave my legs before work. Even so, I could definitely boost the dress-wearing to a couple days a week, instead of once every one to two weeks.

With all seven dresses under my belt, and the project successfully completed, I still lack an answer to the question that I raised on Day 3: why do I get so much more positive attention in a dress? Do I genuinely look better than usual? Is it because it's unexpected? Or do I just exude more confidence in clothes that I love? Perhaps I shouldn't over-analyze it. Maybe I should just accept the compliments, put forth the extra effort, and get more mileage out of my wardrobe. It might not be a very exciting finding for my experiment, but I suppose the answer truly is as simple as, just wear more dresses and you'll look good doing it.


Seven Dresses - Day Six

Okay, so today I'm technically cheating. This is not a dress, it is a skirt and sweater combination, but I have so many skirts languishing unworn in my closet that I felt it was still in keeping with the nature of this experiment. Besides, I had purchased this skirt with a certain event in mind, and that event occurred today, so I sort of had to wear it. Actually, it's somewhat fitting that today would be the day I would cheat on the Seven Dresses project, because there's something else I haven't been entirely honest about either -- I started seeing Zac again. In fact, we were really only broken up for about a week; I just wasn't ready to go public with it. I'm still not ready for a full-blown committed relationship again, but we're dating and enjoying each others' company, and for now, that is just what I need. It's also why I felt the need to bring redemption to the Day 4 dress...

I bought this outfit when we were dating the first time, after Zac invited me to attend his graduation, which was today. I wanted something dressy enough for such a special occasion, casual enough for the accompanying celebration afterward, and modest enough to be appropriate for meeting his family. I think this ensemble does all those things, and it has the benefit of being purple. The purple carries a special significance in regard to Zac, as I once bet him early on in our relationship that I could wear purple in some capacity every time I saw him, and not repeat myself for a very long time. This skirt keeps my streak going, and does it in style.

All things considered, I think skirts might be the worst piece of women's clothing. Sure, you get the added versatility of being able to wear them with any top you desire, unlike a dress, skirts otherwise combine all the worst elements of pants and dresses. As with dresses, you have to either wear tights or shave your legs, and worry about sitting in a ladylike manner the entire day. Like pants, skirts have a waistband, and therefore the potential for muffin-tops and general discomfort. Even though I don't particularly enjoy wearing skirts, just like dresses, I still seem to find them irresistible at the store. Perhaps I need some sort of shopping intervention...


Seven Dresses - Day Five

To round out my work week, I returned to another dress that is a favorite of mine to wear to the office. Although the dress itself does not have pockets, like the dress from Day 2, the sweater that I wear with it does, so it makes an ideal outfit for interview days. It's more special than my typical blouse and trouser combination, but practical enough for transporting and setting up video equipment. All in all, a good balance of form and function.

Generally speaking, I try to avoid pattern in my wardrobe. Loud, busy, all-over patterns make me feel like I'm wearing a sofa. I tend to stick to clothing with solid colors, but interesting shapes or special details. This dress was instrumental in opening my mind to experimenting with pattern. It predates the addition of the Day 1 and Day 3 dresses to my wardrobe by a couple months, and I believe that if I hadn't proven that I could pull off this much pattern in this dress, I might have steered clear of the other two dresses, which I have come to enjoy more than this one. It might not be my favorite piece, but it was significant in the development of my personal style, so I decided to include it in this project. Besides, I think the solid cardigan helps neutralize some of the visual impact of the pattern anyway...

Of course, this look had its moment in the sun as well -- I wore it to the Arlington Race Track to celebrate Dad's birthday last year. It might have been a touch too fancy for the occasion, but it was new at the time, and the allure of a new dress is hard to deny. When you have new clothes, it's difficult to resist the urge to show them off, and honestly, any excuse will do.


Seven Dresses - Day Four

Today's dress comes with somewhat of a sad pedigree. While most of my dresses are associated with a special occasion or happy memory, this one has no such good fortune. It has only been worn once, which isn't unreasonable, considering I just purchased it last month, but that one day just so happened to be the day that Zac and I broke up. Things had been tense between us for a couple days, and I could feel a confrontation brewing. I was feeling stressed and in low spirits, so I decided to throw on my new dress to remind myself that I am sexy and desirable. As I feared, things escalated out of control that day, leading to the breakup, but at least I looked fierce when I headed out with Lauren to lick my wounds later that evening.

This dress has several things going for it that I enjoy. It has sleeves (seriously, why is it so hard to find a dress that has sleeves? I don't like showing off my arms, and it's nice to not have to find a cardigan sweater to match every dress in my closet), the defined waistband gives me that much coveted hourglass shape, and, of course, it's partially purple. I really am a sucker for purple clothes, so much so that I even pulled out my purple flats to match (and they really do match, I'm not sure why the lighting makes this dress look so blue-violet -- it's really more of a red-violet in person.) Although the flats have less to do with complementing my outfit and more to do with the fact that after three days of heels, my feet were getting ready to stage a mutiny.

I was glad to wear this dress again. I like this dress, and it was time to reclaim it from its negative associations. Instead of "the breakup dress," now it is "the purple dress that got me compliments from five separate coworkers." It might not be a meeting with an important dignitary or a joyous family gathering, but if people want to tell me I look nice all day, who am I to turn them down?

As a result of all the compliments, I experienced an interesting phenomenon today -- for the first time during this project, I got a little depressed about getting all dressed up with no place to go. After all, I had on a cute dress and I'd spent extra time fixing my hair this morning; for me, this is about as good as it gets, appearance-wise, and yet I was headed home to eat leftovers and watch the season finale of Grey's Anatomy. I suppose it was bound to happen. Even if I wear a dress every day for a week, it's still enough of an anomaly in my behavior that it feels special, and it naturally follows that I should want to do something special too. It might make perfect sense, but that doesn't make it any less disheartening...


Seven Dresses - Day Three

Today's ensemble comes with a side of sacrifice: I woke up a whole extra hour early to shower in the morning instead of the evening before, as per usual, so I could shave and go bare-legged today. I willingly deprived myself of an entire hour of sleep just for this project, so I hope you appreciate my dedication.

I am kind of obsessed with this dress. I love the art-nouveau-inspired pattern, the autumnal color palette, the ease of its drape, and the fact that it fits like a dream. I used to have a pair of plum-colored tights that I wore with this outfit, but I've long since destroyed them after wearing this dress all fall and winter. Since the temperature spiked overnight, and it's warm enough to go bare today, I can wear it again, this time with a fun pair of new sandals that I picked up on a shopping trip Monday.

This dress has received a lot of hype since I purchased it in August of last year. I announced my joy over its acquisition on Facebook, quickly pronouncing it my favorite over all the other dresses in my wardrobe, and my friends clamored to catch a glimpse of my new love. However, I saved it for over a month, waiting for just the right occasion to debut it, until the opportunity finally presented itself in the form of a
photo-op with Mayor Daley at a charity fundraiser.

Since then, I've mostly worn this dress to the office, on days when I needed a special boost. There's something about wearing an outfit you love that can lift you out of the doldrums, and put an extra bounce in your step. Each time I wear this dress I get compliments on it -- which brings me to an interesting observation I have made since starting the "Seven Dresses" project: I have been receiving far more compliments on my appearance than usual, generally speaking. Do I genuinely look better in dresses than pants? Is it that I wear dresses so seldomly that people assume I must be making an extra effort in an attempt to fish for compliments? Does the extra lift I get from wearing clothes that I love give me an aura of extra confidence that people pick up on? It's hard to say at this point, but it will be interesting to see if the rate of compliments continues as the week continues, and people become more accustomed to seeing me in a dress.


Seven Dresses - Day Two

Today's dress comes courtesy of Chicago's notoriously unpredictable weather. Truly, this dress ought to be out of season by now, but with a daytime high of 56 degrees today, I thought I could sneak it in for one last wearing. This was probably my most-worn dress of the past fall/winter.

Since this dress is all one color, and a little on the boring side, I like to spice it up with purple tights. I find myself drawn to purple in my wardrobe, even though it isn't necessarily my favorite color, and I occasionally pair this dress and tights combination with my favorite pair of flats, which are also purple. Today, however, I decided to go with these boots, which I've had in my shoe collection since 2006. I bought them because they were so darned cute, but 99% of the time, they sit idly in my closet, where I admire them from time to time, but seldom take them out to wear. Since this week is all about dusting off beloved pieces from my closet and showing them off, I decided to give them their due as well.

I adore a good sweater dress; I find myself buying a new one almost every year, but out of my collection this one is a little extra special because it has pockets. Comfort aside, pockets are one of the greatest things that pants have going for them over dresses in my estimation. Working at a museum, and setting up video shoots for a living, it is far more inconvenient to do my job without a pocket to toss my keys or an extra tape in. As a result, this dress was worn on numerous interview days. It's also extremely comfortable -- the sweater construction makes it warm, but the short sleeves prevent overheating. In fact, it is so comfortable that I wore it on the one day of the year when pants are a hindrance: Thanksgiving. No need to undo a button after you've inevitably eaten too much food when you're wearing a dress...


Seven Dresses - Day One

Every time I wear a dress, one of two things happens: inevitably, somebody asks me why I am so dressed up, as if I go around looking crappy every other day, and somebody says to me, "Aw, you look nice today; you should wear more dresses." I do have quite a collection of dresses in my closet, in fact, I have difficulty resisting them when I'm shopping, because I think I look good in dresses. Frankly, I have nice legs (they're my second-favorite physical feature), but I rarely seem to be able to work up the energy to showcase them by actually wearing the dresses I own. Wearing a dress takes effort -- you have to shave your legs or else wear tights and other uncomfortable foundational garments, and, to complete the look, schlep around in high heels all day. It's much easier to throw on a pair of trousers and forget about it.

But, as I was surveying the contents of my wardrobe last week, longingly looking at the beloved dresses languishing in the back of my closet, I decided it was time to bring them out to play. So this week, I will be chronicling my experiment in wearing a dress every day for seven days. At the very least, my wallet will feel better about getting better usage out of my clothing investments. In the best-case scenario, I will learn something about myself, and my self-image. With that, I give you the first dress in my line-up:

I really love this dress, so much so that it is the only item of clothing I have voluntarily acquired that is even partially orange. I had spotted it at the store when it first came in last year, and I loved it so much I was even willing to fork over the $90 listed on the price tag, but alas, it was already sold out in my size at that store, and online. I assumed it simply wasn't meant to be. Flash forward to a couple months later, when I was at a different location of the same store, perusing the clearance rack, when I found the dress, marked down to $15, and in my size! It was a minor shopping miracle!

Since I usually reserve my dresses for special occasions, most of them have some sort of story or memory attached to them. In the case of this dress, the occasion was seeing the President of the United States. Although I failed to get a photo of it because my camera battery died, this was the dress I wore to last summer's Obama fundraiser. I skipped the heels on that occasion though, knowing that I would be standing for long periods of time. Today, however, I pulled out the fancy shoes because I had to coordinate an oral history with former Congressman William O. Lipinski at work. There's something about the officious clickety-clack of heels on the museum's terrazzo floors that makes me feel like a mature, responsible adult, and that is precisely the kind of confidence I need to do my job. My feet might have been killing me by the end of the day, but nobody ever said fashion was practical.


Rainbow Bright...

Last summer, I spent a couple of posts talking about my burgeoning obsession with one Vincent P. Falk, Chicago's own Riverace. His eccentricity appeals both to my love of kitsch, and my profound appreciation for all thing unique to this fair city. Although I had yet to spot him in 2010, I still found myself thinking of him whenever I crossed one of the bridges over the Chicago River, and I would find myself looking, even when I knew it was too cold to be tour boat season. Therefore, when I was conducting my monthly perusal of the Gene Siskel Film Center's screenings and saw that they would be hosting a showing of Vincent: A Life In Color, the locally-produced documentary about the life of Vincent Falk, it quickly became a must-see.

Although I went into
Vincent hoping to learn more about the life of Mr. Falk and garner some insight into why he feels compelled to put on his "fashion shows" for the city and its visitors, I must confess, I came away from the film feeling less certain of Mr. Falk and his motivations than ever before. In the portrait painted of him in the film, Mr. Falk comes across as the kind of man who is largely unknowable, even to his closest associates. He deflects attempts at interpersonal intimacy with jokes, and despite all of the attention he purposefully draws to himself, he seems deeply uncomfortable with one-on-one contact.

I couldn't shake the impression that he might be suffering from a highly functional form of autism. He holds a job with Cook County, working as a computer programmer with the Department of Management Information Systems (a job which he came to, interestingly, after the decline of disco ended his career as a DJ in a series of gay bars and go-go clubs) in which he demonstrates a high aptitude for incredibly detail-oriented work. He has cultivated a number of hobbies (including audio equipment and, of course, suit collecting), which he pursues with near obsessive zeal. And yet, he seems unable to truly connect to other people.

The film provides no simple answers to the mystery of Mr. Falk, but it does raise a somewhat upsetting question -- what if Mr. Falk is simply a master of self-promotion, in the vein of such reality television stars as Kate Gosselin, who seeks to extend his 15 minutes of fame in whatever way he can? In the documentary, Mr. Falk is seen staking out local news studios, where he stands behind the glass, jostling past young children to get his face on camera. He makes appearances on other television and radio programs, and stalks the WGN announcers who perform in the public studio in the Tribune Building. Is his self-display truly an altruistic act, designed to brighten the days of its beholders, or is it a means to an end for a man for whom fame has become another one of his obsessions?

I'm not sure that the filmmaker intended to portray Mr. Falk in anything but a positive light -- indeed, the tone of the film is generally celebratory. I suppose, however, that the mark of any good documentary is not merely to explore a subject, but to raise questions and propose new interpretive frameworks for understanding that subject. Much as I would have preferred to maintain my simplistic admiration of Mr. Falk, I now think of him in more complex, and thereby more human terms. If for no other reason than that, Vincent: A Life in Color should be counted as a success.


I Am Iron Man...

I think I was perhaps a little hasty last week when I prophesied a seasonal abatement in movie reviews here at "The State I Am In." Although movie theaters do provide a cozy respite from Chicago's arctic winter climes, they also provide an air-conditioned haven during the dog days of summer, and for Hollywood, summer is blockbuster season. Somehow, this fact seemed to have slipped my mind. Over the weekend, Dad and I kick-started the summer movie season by heading out to see Iron Man 2.

You see, superhero movies are somewhat of a father-daughter tradition in our household. Dad grew up reading and collecting comic books, and for whatever reason, I learned to appreciate superhero movies as one of only two types of action movies that I can not only tolerate, but actively enjoy (the other sub-genre being sci-fi movies of the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises). Hence, whenever a new comic book-based film heads to theaters, Dad and I go out to see it. Batman, Spiderman, Superman, Iron Man, The Hulk, The Fantastic Four -- we've seen them all.

After the triumph that was the original Iron Man, with its judicious use of special effects and brilliant casting of Robert Downey Jr., who brought his innate badassery to the role of cocky industrialist, Tony Stark, both Dad and I had high hopes for the sequel. Unfortunately, Iron Man 2 had more in common with Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer than The Dark Knight. Mickey Rourke was an an inspired bit of casting for the main villian, Ivan Vanko, however, his character's back story was insufficiently fleshed out, and he frankly did not recieve enough screen time. Despite his impressive mechanical suit and wicked electrified whips, I think he spent less than five minutes of the two hour long film engaged in battle with Iron Man. For an action film, that's just not enough. Instead, most of the film's action sequences took place between Iron Man and the robotic drones of his business nemesis, Justin Hammer, leading to what I felt was an over-reliance on CGI special effects.

Furthermore, I felt that the subplots focusing on Stark's declining health and the role of S.H.I.E.L.D. and its operatives both muddied the cohesion of the plot. The former caused too many periods of downtime that dragged down the pacing of the story, and the latter caused the film to feel too much like a vehicle for introducing the upcoming Avengers film. They already planted the seeds for the Avengers franchise in the first Iron Man movie -- why detract from this one with so much backstory for a film that is yet to be made? All in all, it seemed like the filmmakers behind Iron Man 2 had too many ideas, and would have benefited from some substantial script editing instead of allowing the story to be pulled in so many disparate directions. I wish I could say it was at least a fun summer action flick, but there were times when the movie was downright boring. Sadly, I suggest you wait for Iron Man 2 to be released on DVD...


Where My Girls At...

Like our founding father, George Washington, I cannot tell a lie: a large part of the reason I went home over the weekend was not because of Mother's Day (although I love my mother dearly, with her current painting project at the condo, I've been seeing her 2-3 days a week lately), but because Lisa was hosting a baking party at her relatively new suburban dwelling. Being the dutiful friend and borderline obsessive baker that I am, my attendance was a given. After all, what could be a better combination than sugary carbohydrates and the opportunity to catch up with old friends?

Lisa provided a lovely spread of fruits and cheeses to nosh on while we sipped mimosas and decorated the cupcakes she had prepared in advance.

Let me just say, I laid down the foundational frosting layers and left the bulk of the decorating to Lisa and Taryn. An artist is only as good as her tools, and like an idiot, I left my indispensable Martha Stewart piping tips and decorating tools at home. Not that these cupcakes weren't beautiful and special...

Lisa and I. The only excuse I have for this hair moment is that it was rainy and humid outside. I got a hair cut the very next day, and if it ever stops raining this week, I'll take a picture and share it with you.

Taryn and I.

Hanging out with Lisa and Taryn was very comforting, and I once again found myself marveling that we still have so much in common despite all the years that have passed since we first met in middle school. We have all changed over time, and our relationships with each other have waxed and waned, but we have remained in each others' lives. Even though we might not see each other often, I feel that in a way, as adults, we are better friends to each other now than we were when we were in school together and hanging out on a daily basis. Perhaps this is because maturity has given us the ability to understand and empathize with one another on a level which we were incapable of when we were younger. Whatever the case may be, I am proud to call these women my friends, and I look forward to seeing how our lives will continue to intersect in the years to come.


Happy Mother's Day...

I know it might seem a little odd, but I often read the blogs of complete strangers for entertainment. I am particularly fond of reading and learning about people whose lives are completely different from my own -- mothers of large families, women whose religious beliefs or world views vary significantly from mine, people living in different countries -- I consider it somewhat of a sociological experiment. Frankly, I think the world would be a much better place if more people took the time to try to understand life from a stranger's perspective. Although I often can't personally relate to these women's lives, I think it enriches my understanding of the world and its inhabitants to at least read their thoughts.

It is from one of these blogs that I drew my inspiration for my annual Mother's Day post. One woman had discussed a book she had read on our "love languages," that is, how we express our affection to the people we care about, and in turn, how we need to receive affection in order to feel loved. Some people express themselves with words of praise, some give of their free time, some give gifts, others acts of service, while still others express their feelings through touch. The author of the book alleges that divergent "love languages" can cause strife in a relationship; i.e. the woman complains that her mate never makes time for her while the man doesn't understand why his loving words aren't enough for her. The key, unsurprisingly, is to communicate with your partner about how you need to be cherished, and to try to offer affection to them in the form they appreciate best. Naturally, this article got me thinking about myself and the people in my life, and our various "love languages." For myself, I'm not sure I fall into a specific category at all times. I give, and expect, different forms of affection from different sources. However, my mother was easy for me to categorize: her "love language" is acts of service.

I can think of nobody else in my life who is more selfless than my mother. Once a month she drives five hours to Grandma Betsy's house to help her run errands, take her to the doctor or to visit other family members, clean her house, and tend her garden. Currently, Mom is repainting the condo so I'll have a more attractive dwelling, and that's on top of the countless, myriad little favors she does for me like picking up something for me at Target when it's on sale, or listening to me complain about my love life for the thousandth time. She might be judicious with her praise and never flatter idly and she's not the most touchy-feely person I know, but my mother is boundless in her dedication to her loved ones, and supremely generous of her time and energy with them. I wish I could be more like her, but isn't that what motherhood is all about? Serving as a role model for your children, and acting as a living example of how they should conduct their lives? Even though I am now an adult, I still look to my mother as a source of inspiration for the type of woman I would like to become.

Thank you, Mom, not just for everything you do for me, but for teaching me how to give of myself. Someday, I aspire to be able to do for my children what you have done for me. I love you, and Happy Mother's Day!


Happy Anniversary...

Twenty-eight years ago today, a chain of events was set into motion that led to me being here to write this very post. You see, on a sunny, cloudless May day, my parents were wed in the campus chapel at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois. Out of kindness to them, I will not be sharing any photos from that day (suffice it to say, it was the 1980s, and I'm sure that all of you who were alive at the time have your own fashion regrets that you'd rather forget about as well). If it hadn't been for that day, I wouldn't have come along three years later, so, let me just say this:

Thanks Mom and Dad, for not getting cold feet, and taking the plunge all those years ago. You might not have ever guessed you'd still be together after twenty-eight years, but I'm happy to have been born, happy to have you as my parents, and happy that we're still a family. Here's to another year together!


Calm Before The Storm...

Summer, or at the very least, summer-like weather, has descended upon the fair city of Chicago. This, my loyal readers, can only mean one thing: it's about to get a whole lot busier around here. There will be art fairs, street festivals, and farmers' markets to write about once again, after a long winter of movie reviews and cookie recipes. I'm sure many of you are relieved. It'll soon be time to leave the cocoon of my apartment and venture forth into the world again.

However, at the moment, I've been having a bit of what Dad likes to term, "a slow news day." Although I have already planned something for every Saturday and Sunday for the rest of May, and several of the days in between, I spent the past weekend relaxing, tidying up my apartment, and relishing a last weekend of blissful indolence before the frenetic pace of summer sets in. It may not be terribly exciting, but I can see the bottom of my hamper and my kitchen sink for once, and considering how busy I'm about to get, it may be the last time I'll be able to say that for a while. So there you have it folks; not much to report for now, but check back in the weeks to come for the more lively posts I have on the agenda for May...