Live Theatrical Broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera — I’m Hooked

I just got home from my first live HD broadcast from the Met–La Cenerentola (Cinderella) and wow, I’m all in. The experience was amazing from start to finish. The principle cast (including the wonderful Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Florez) was top-notch, the staging creative and the live broadcast riveting, with fluid camerawork that puts you right on stage where the action is, both in front of and behind the curtain. I’m hooked and will definitely make a point of seeing more of these theatrical broadcasts. (I’ve already penciled-in the next season’s performances of The Merry Widow (with Renee Fleming) and Rossini’s La Donna del Lago (with my new fave, Joyce DiDonato.)

There’s an encore showing of La Cenerentola (which was DiDonato’s final performance of this signature role) on 5/14. Catch it if you can.

A World’s Fair with Biomechanics on the Side: Lots to See Right Now at the Field Museum

Giant Octopus, Then and Now

A giant octopus is on display next to a photo of itself hanging at the Fair.

As a huge fan of the 1893 World’s Fair (also known as the Columbian Exposition), I made a special point of getting down to the Field Museum to see the exhibit Opening the Vaults: Wonders of the 1893 World’s Fair. The Field owes its creation to the Exposition, absorbing a great number of exhibits, artifacts, and stuffed animals (many of which continue to be scientifically relevant) from the fair. Items from the museum’s “hidden collection” are now on display. They provide a glimpse of this important chapter in Chicago history, as well as the changing way specimens and non-Western cultures have been studied and presented to the public.

Giants: Squid and Tea Storage Pot

A giant squid hangs above a giant Japanese pot used for storing tea.

It’s quite something to walk among displays that amazed visitors to the Fair 120 years ago. So much about our knowledge of the world has changed, it’s hard to imagine how mind -blowing it must have been to see electric lights, meteorites, exotic animals and Eskimos for the first time. (Not to mention Cracker Jack and the Ferris Wheel.) With nearly all the physical reminders of the fair long gone (the Museum of Science and Industry is the only surviving building), it’s also quite something to walk among tangible reminders of the 1893 extravaganza.

Mystery Item: How Does It Work and What Did It Do?

 

 

 

This electrical contraptions (right) is thought to have been the switch that turned on the fair, but even today, scholars and scientists are unsure of how exactly it worked and what its function was.

Not to be missed in the gallery next door, is another new exhibit at the Field that’s sure to be popular with families this summer. The Machine Inside: Biomechanics is a fun and fascinating explanation of some of the most amazing tricks of nature. How does a toucan use his large bill for heating and cooling? Why doesn’t a woodpecker rattle its brain? How does a giraffe’s heart pump blood all the way up that neck? And what about the cheetah’s body allows it to fun so fast? Displays are clever and concise, breaking down information into easy-to-understand pieces, often with entertaining and educational interactive components.

Today, It Really Feels Like Spring

 

20140417-130416.jpgWhile today isn’t our first day of sunny, warm temperatures or even the first appearance of spring color, something about the quality of the light, the chipper bird activity (robins are really going at it–watch out earthworms!) and a slight chill to the breeze, makes this feel like an honest-to-goodness, midwestern spring day.

I especially like this time of year; very “early days” spring, when Scilla carpets the just-turned green grass with a lovely complimentary blue and the faintest hint of yellow dots the forsythia bushes, but most trees and shrubs still cling to the brown tinges of winter. Something big is coming.

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It’s hard to believe just two days ago the backyard looked like this, and I was scraping ice off the fountain.

My 3000th Blog Post = My 21st Annual Recommended Reading List!

Every year since 1993, I’ve compiled a list of favorite books read during the year. What started as an insert to my holiday cards evolved into this blog, and over two decades later, the tradition continues.

In putting together this year’s list, I’ve noticed that it’s very heavy in very recent releases (five titles from 2012 alone) and marks the first time I’ve had husband and wife writers make the list (Geraldine Brooks and one of my favorite authors, Tony Horwitz.)

So here, in no particular order, I am pleased to present my twenty-first annual recommended reading list. Happy reading!

Continue reading

Review: Life After Life | My Favorite Book of 2013

Easily my favorite book of the year. Author Kate Atkinson applies her masterful command of the written word to a twisting and turning narrative that’s riveting right from the start, captivating in concept, devastating at points, and thoroughly enjoyable from beginning to end. In 1910, on a treacherous night during a snowstorm in England, Ursula Todd is born, her life quickly snuffed out before it begins. Throughout the rest of the nearly 500 pages, Ursula’s story goes back to that night and begins again, and with each do-over, her life takes a slightly different path, extending to a new turning point, before once again, “darkness falls.”

With this clever conceit, Atkinson constructs a narrative puzzle that’s as entertaining as it is intriguing. The setting, the period, the memorable characters, the humor, the anguish, and the complex, intertwining stories of the lives of Ursula–I loved it all and couldn’t put the book down until the end. Or, should I say, another beginning. Thought provoking and demanding of a good discussion.

Review: The Yiddish Policemen’s Union | A Disappointing Trek to Alaska


The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (2007) by Michael Chabon

My rating: 2 out of 5

Reading this book was a struggle and I nearly gave up on it twice. Both times, I was pulled back in with a brisk bit of plotting or crackling dialog characteristic of a snappy noir mystery. Unfortunately, this roller coaster ride of a read–I love it, I hate it, I’m board–came to a very unsatisfactory ending.

Author Michael Chabon (author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, which I loved) imagines a world where the nation-state of Isreal has failed shortly after its founding; since then, Jews have taken refuge in Sitka, Alaska. Now, after 60 years, the Federal District of Sitka is set to revert back to Alaskan control and “the frozen chosen” refugees and their descendants, some of whom have never known any other life, are on the precipice of a great unknown.

Set against this backdrop is a murder mystery, presided over by Meyer Landsman, a washed-up homicide detective whose personal and professional life is a wreck. His new superior is his ex-wife Bina Gelbfish and in just a few months time, come the Reversion, his tremendous case load of unsolved murders will be closed for good.

Landsman lives in a rundown apartment building and it’s there that his neighbor, a heroin-addicted former chess prodigy, is found murdered in his bed. As Landsman and his half-Tlingit partner investigate, they come to the attention of a powerful Jewish mob boss. Defying orders to drop the case, things take an unexpected personal turn.

I loved the writing, but as good as it was, the story failed to engage me for any stretch at a time. The plot was unnecessarily complicated and drawn out. Frequently, I was lost and increasingly found that I didn’t much care. Plot developments were slow to materialize and some characters fell flat. Scenes between Landsman and Bina were the exception, they really hummed, and there was a clever thread of humor running throughout, but the action was just too plodding and the conclusion a real letdown.

Review: Caleb’s Crossing | Giving Thanks for Good Books

Caleb’s Crossing (2011) by Geraldine Brooks

My rating: 5 out of 5

I picked this up on a whim over the Thanksgiving holiday and could not put it down. I was transported to Martha’s Vineyard in 1655, the island home of a young man who became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard. Caleb’s story (rooted in fact) is narrated from the point of view of Bethia, a Puritan minister’s daughter. Though of quick mind and ability, as a girl, Bethia is prevented from attaining the education she so desperately craves. Instead, she must stand by as her father tutors Caleb and her brother. When the boys are sent to a private school in Boston, the final step in their preparation for Harvard, Bethia finds herself indentured to the school as a means to pay for their room and board.

Geraldine Brooks has crafted a wonderful story, rich with beautiful prose, a vivid setting, and a captivating narrator. The lives she imagines for Bethia and Caleb make for a rewarding tale about the triumphs and misfortunes of following your destiny. Anyone who enjoys a good island tale, like me, should add this to their reading list. (I would similarly recommend San Miguel by T.C. Boyle.)

Review: American Boy | Be Careful What You Wish For

American Boy (2011) by Larry Watson

My rating: 4 out of 5

Yet another time capsule, coming-of-age story by the masterful Larry Watson. (See my reviews of Montana 1948 and Justice.) Seventeen-year-old Matt Garth has found security and aspiration with the family of his best friend. By all appearances, the Dunbars are the happiest and most successful in Matt’s small town. Dr. Dunbar cultivates in Matt a passion for medicine and an appreciation for the respect and affluence that it garners.

A Thanksgiving Day shooting calls the doctor away and when the patient, a young woman named Louisa, is brought to the Dunbar home to recuperate, the lives of all involved are forever changed. The story centers on Matt, whose obsession with Louisa delivers him to an unexpected conflict that peels back the facade of his comfortable existence with the Dunbars, shattering his world.

Author Larry Watson transports the reader to another time and place with his usual graceful style and economy of pages, populating Willow Falls, Minnesota, circa 1962, with characters that are heartbreaking, complex, and genuine.

There’s a Pie Shop in My Neighborhood!

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There are two types of people, cake lovers and pie lovers and I am firmly in the pie camp. Have been since I was a kid and tasted my first lemon meringue pie. For me, all cake pales in comparison to a fine pie. Sweet or savory, I love pie.

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Apple rose raspberry pie.
As pretty to look at as it is tasty to eat.

So, when I learned that my favorite pie maker in Chicago (Hoosier Mama Pies) was opening a shop just blocks away from me, and that it would be in conjunction with one of my favorite coffee roasters (Dollop Cafe serving Metropolis coffee), I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. The shop opened today and it’s confirmed: there’s a little slice of heaven in my neighborhood.

The space is big, filled with light from all the windows in the corner location. There’s plenty of seating, including a long counter where you can sit and watch the pie makers at work. There were a lot of people bustling around in the kitchen, and one look at the big menu board will tell you why. This morning there were a dozen different sweet and five savory pies to try. On top of that are scones, muffins, biscuits, and come lunch time, sandwiches, quiche, and more. The coffee menu is extensive as well, with interesting twists like a honey cinnamon latte added to the standard cafe offerings.

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Watch the bakers at work while you sample their wares.

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Long lines in front of the big, big menu board.

For my inaugural slice of pie, I tried something I hadn’t had before, apple rose raspberry pie. It was deliciously tart with a hint of rose that gave the pie a lovely flavor without being too much. It tasted like a sentimental favorite.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner with a couple of slabs of pie in between, this place has got it all covered. As if having my favorite shop so close to where I live wasn’t dangerous enough, they’re open seven days a week, and open early in the morning and stay open late at night. Oh no.

Hoosier Mama Pie Company / Dollop Coffee is at 749 Chicago Avenue, in Evanston. It’s at the corner of Kedzie and Chicago, or as they like to say, “the corner of pie and coffee.”