My Picks: Holiday Season Movies

You might have gathered by now that I watch a lot of movies. Generally I just rewatch my favorites (you don’t want to be in the same room as me when I watch quote Elf in it’s entirety-including the music!). I’m trying to get better about seeing new things though so here are the 7 movies I’m most looking forward to seeing this holiday season.

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1. The Theory of Everything chronicles the lives of Stephen Hawking and his wife as they cope with the progression of his disease. Not entirely factual but it’s getting a lot of Oscar buzz already.

Most excited for: Eddie Redmayne. Be still my heart! I’ve been a fan since Les Mis.

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2. Listen Up Philip is a black comedy staring Jason Schwartzman. He plays a self centered writer forced to interact with his girl friend and friends and most of all himself.

Most excited for: A little bit of cynical indie flair in an otherwise very mainstream list. Could go either way.

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3. Horrible Bosses 2  The same group of nuts from HB1 decides to embrace their criminal nature and kidnap the son of a rich guy they don’t like to ransom him. Team up with the son, hilarity ensues?

Most excited for: Chris Pine and Kevin Spacey. Game over. Good movie to take my brothers to for family bonding time.

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4. The Imitation Game is another biographical film. This time the subject is Alan Turing the closeted mathematician turned code-breaker who was crucial to the Allies success in World War 2 and was then criminally prosecuted for homosexuality.

Most excited for: Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) stars and did I mention it’s Oscar season?

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5. A Merry Friggin Christmas something about a son and a father who don’t get along having to go on a trip at Christmas and bonding.

Most excited for: honestly, this doesn’t look outstanding but it’s one of Robin Williams’s last films and in my mind anything he touched was gold regardless of commercial success.

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6. Inherent Vice is a private eye story when private eye stories are becoming obsolete. There’s a mystery involved but most of the story seems to be commentary on shifting heroes from renegade to officer.

Most excited for: Joaquin Phoenix evokes the most emotion I have ever seen without doing anything. I am convinced that you could literally watch this with no sound and still understand the entire plot thanks to JP.

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7. Big Eyes last biographical film, I promise. This is the story of the painter Margaret Keane and her husband who claimed credit for her work.

Most excited for: Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams are perfectly cast against each other and Keane’s haunting paintings throughout the film should prove lasting.

 

Images via (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

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Packing Guide: Vegas

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At what point can you officially declare yourself an over-packer? For a LONG time I reigned over that party. But what if it rains? I should clearly bring 2 pairs of rain boots, a few rain jackets, a hat, an umbrella, a change of clothes, a waterproof bag….or it might snow! Bring on the snow suit and skis. But then again there may be a hot tub…bathing suit in the bag and maybe a spare for good measure. It’s not a pretty picture but you get it. I was an over-packer.

Since 2014 has been my year o’travel I’ve been working hard to get the art of packing down to a science. For 3 weeks in Peru, I made do with an Adidas workout bag and a backpack. For 7 weeks in Europe, all I had was one (filled to the brim) carry-on. This weekend I’m going to Las Vegas for the first time and as I was planning out my packing list I found myself loading up my bag like I was never going to see another store. Bad habits are hard to break! But I’m trying.

Here’s how I’m packing for this trip:

1. Listing activities. I need clothes for 2 flights, 1 visit to the Hoover Dam, 1 brunch, 3 dinners, 2 shows, 1 shopping trip, and 1 night of exploring.

2. Figure out generally what I need for each. 

For flights I like jeans and comfortable shirts with slip-ons and a sweater. I always bring a scarf big enough to double as a blanket and a pair of socks so I can take my shoes off. Classy, I know.

The Hoover Dam gets an outfit similar to the flights since it involves an few hours in the car and that demands comfort.

Shows and dinner get dressier outfits: dresses, slacks, blouses, heels. Maybe a little jewelry but (most of mine is still in the mess of a storage unit somewhere so…) probably not.

Brunch, shopping, and walking around should be somewhere between the two: dress with flats, jeans and a blouse.

3. Get the specifics. 

Tshirts-2 (I have a black shirt and a white one. One for each plane ride and I’ll wear one to the Hoover Dam)

Jeans-1 (One is plenty. I only brought one pair to Europe for 7 weeks and I was fine-the people next to me on public transport may not have agreed.)

Blouses-3 (I have two long-sleeved button downs and one knit peplum top)

Jackets-2 (It’s supposed to rain when we go to the Dam so I have a rain slicker and then a blazer for the rest of the time)

Sweater-1 (I’m always cold and I normally sleep in this one so it comes everywhere with me)

Dress-1 (It’s pretty and fancy and has a shiny buckle. I like it a lot)

Jumpsuit-1 (This is the best thing in the entire world. I use it as a jumpsuit and as pants, the button downs are great for this)

Shoes-2 (I’m bringing purple Toms flats because I wear them all of the time and a pair of Sam Edelman wedges that I would walk anywhere in)

Jewelry-3 (In keeping with the gold theme from the accent on my dress, I’m bringing some shell earrings, a black pleather and gold bracelet, and a dangly vintage necklace handed down from my grandmother. Not to be worn all together).

 

So with just those items, I have 8 separate outfits that can be reworked quite a few ways, dressed up or down, and now I don’t have to spend any more time worrying about what I’m going to wear and I can go have some fun in Vegas!

How just is justice?

Has anybody else been listening to the podcast Serial? It’s the recounting of a journalist looking into the closed case of a homicide from 1999. A man named Adnan Syed was found guilty of the murder in 2 hours after a 6 week trial almost 15 years ago. Since then, his best friend’s sister has been working tirelessly to study the case and prove his innocence. She introduced the journalist Sarah Koenig, author of the program, to the case and asked her to help research. Serial is the result.

While listening I keep finding myself coming back to the presumption of innocence that seems to be lacking. Half of the show time is spent with Sarah flipping back and forth or complaining about flipping back and forth on her opinion of Adnan and his guilt. I know that it’s just a show but I think that her attitude is representative of the general population’s. And I find that problematic.

Our legal system is based on a presumption of innocence. Or at least it does in theory. But when you look around you, at tabloids, the news, social media-any place where people are capable of giving an opinion- you’ll see that opinions are formed regardless of evidence or the necessity for every person to have an opinion on every topic.

Presumption of innocence means that when someone is on trial for a crime, it is the jury’s responsibility to view them as innocent and to hear all of the facts of a case and THEN to deliberate and decide if they felt that the prosecution (the State) provided evidence that proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime. That’s a hefty definition but put simply it basically means wait until you hear the whole story from all sides to decide whose version is accurate.

My legal background is minimal. I was in a law magnet programs for four years and on a Mock Trial team in high school for two years. I had teachers who were former Public Defenders and teachers who were cops but my coaches were all defense attorneys and they had a strong influence on my justice beliefs.

One of these beliefs was highlighted in particular during last week’s episode. A former detective turned consultant reviews the case and shares his opinions. When asked if he thought the detectives in the case had handled it well he responded that they had found a suspect and had built their best case around him.

This is a problem. A detective’s job is not to find someone to blame for a crime. It’s to put THE someone who has committed the crime in a place where they can’t hurt people. They can’t do that adequately if they are exclusively building a case around one suspect and ignoring evidence that doesn’t support that decision. That’s not what justice should be.

To me, it is a problem that we are eager to condemn people. In the show a representative from the Innocence Project talks about how people have immediate judgements about someone on trial simply because “if they hadn’t done something wrong they wouldn’t be here in the first place.” This belief undermines the very basis of our legal system, that an individual is considered innocent until proven guilty.

The way that Sarah flips back and forth on the show highlights this. She’s so eager to label Adnan “guilty” or “innocent” when the fact that she’s so focused on him means that there are potential other suspects who are being ignored entirely. And this is someone who is coming to the table 15 years after the investigation. Imagine how the detectives and the jury felt when they were given the responsibility of finding and punishing the murdered of an 18 year old girl.

It’s hard to see the world as bigger than yourself. I’m failing now as I become frustrated that people don’t see the legal system the way I do. But I do think that as cops, detectives, journalists, and even individuals we have a responsibility to incorporate objectivity into the legal system. It’s not easy but it is important.

We run into the danger of a corrupt system that’s more of a trap than a form of just punishment and legality when the only evidence it takes to condemn someone to a lifetime of incarceration is an exploitation of racist stereotypes, selected pieces of a deal-receiving, known-to-lie witness’s testimony, and some cell tower records that only correspond with ¼ of the story.

This issue is bigger than this case and I don’t see it being solved by my writing about it. I don’t know that there even is a solution. But my hope is that these thoughts inspire reflection and enough cynicism for you to question your own perceptions of guilt and what it takes to prove it. Your opinion matters.

Weekend Picks

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This week has been art heavy for me and I’ve loved every second of it. I saw Matt and Ben, written by Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers at The Venue last weekend, followed that up with Birman on Wednesday and a premiere of Rosewater last night.

I’m looking forward to slowing down a little bit this weekend to try my hand at recreating the Asian-style tacos from Tako Cheena and listen to the new Mimicking Birds album.

Have a great weekend!

To make: I’ll be trying this taco recipe

To watch: I’ve been meaning to make my way through the AFI list for awhile. I think I’ll start this weekend. Any recommendations?

To listen: Love me some Mimicking Birds. Can’t wait to check out Eons.

AirBNB Questions

IMG_5120The view from our balcony in Barcelona

When I first posted about using AirBNB, I mentioned that we had a list of questions that we used when we were looking for places to stay. It happened incidentally but once we had done a bit of traveling we knew what was important to us in a host family and what we were willing to compromise and the list emerged.

IMG_5130Nick using my filtered water bottle to fill his water bottle in Barcelona

1. Location

Are you going to be in town for only a few days-if so you may be willing to pay a little more to stay in the city center. Are you more interested in being by the tourist attractions or would you like to be outside of the hubbub? We made a point of varying our experiences. In Barcelona we stayed in the Las Ramblas area for the first week and spent the last few days in a neighborhood closer to the airport. We wound up spending more time on public transport as a result but it was nice to be able to experience different parts of the city. If you aren’t sure what an area is like, the best person to ask is your host. If you want to try different areas you can absolutely split up your trip between multiple hosts. Most are eager to recommend the things in their area that they love so it’s great to be able to see how multiple people see the city.

IMG_5947_2Us in Florence

2. Transport

We traveled using public transportation almost exclusively (the only exceptions being when I started crying in the Rome train station and when the hotel had a shuttle-but that’s another story). When we messaged hosts we asked them how to get from the airport/train station/etc. to their houses. We found that public transportation use is so prevalent in the cities we visited that every host we asked was able to provide a route. If there wasn’t a convenient route or if there wasn’t a stop close to the house then we generally declined since we relied so heavily on public transport.

IMG_6275Nick in Florence with a guitar

3. Kitchen and Laundry

Some hosts will include additional fees in their summary regarding doing laundry at their home or using their kitchen. If you are planning on doing either of these things and don’t see anything in the summary either written or included in the “Amenities” section, ask your host what their policy is on these things.

We cooked in every place that we stayed and even declined hosts who wanted to charge extra for kitchen use. When we stayed in Florence there was no place for us to hang our clothes so we skipped over doing laundry even though it was included and waited until we got to Milan.

IMG_6283Nick in the elevator in Florence

4. Additional fees

AirBNB gives hosts the option to add cleaning fees and to adjust how soon before a trip you can cancel and still receive a full or partial refund. This isn’t so much a question as a note. Make sure to check for all of the additional fees before you book. If you aren’t 100% committed to your trip or to the host, I would recommend avoiding the hosts who have strict policies of not providing refunds.

IMG_6288Nick in Milan

5. Arrival and departure information

It’s important to let your hosts know when you are planning on arriving and departing as soon as you can since they have to coordinate other guests schedules with yours. On AirBNB a few hosts had designated check in and check out times but in our experiences hosts were always willing to work with us to make sure that we had a place to store our bags for the day or a bathroom to use before we left for the airport regardless of what the official hours were.

IMG_6555Garden rose in Prague

6. Cultural/Historical information

We found that a lot of the people who host on AirBNB are eager to share information about their city. They want to tell you where their favorite restaurants and bars are. My recommendation is to take their recommendation. It shows a level of trust and appreciation that makes it easier to bond with your host since you now have a shared experience thanks to their expertise.

In Prague we stayed with a couple. The husband was a historian and music fanatic and gave us tours and information about the history of Prague and Eastern Europe and the wife was incredibly knowledgable about plants and gardening and taught us all about naturally growing berries. They were eager to show us around and teach us and their parental affections enriched our trip too.

IMG_6562Eating berries in Prague

7. Price

AirBNB allows the hosts to post prices nightly, weekly, and monthly but when you make the reservation for 2 or more the option for a weekly or monthly discount disappears. If you are in a situation where you need to save some money, you can always ask the host if they will still honor the extended stay discount. There’s no harm in asking.

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Leaving Prague

I have no idea if we just had a disproportionate number of great experiences or if everyone on AirBNB is really that wonderful but I honestly cannot recommend it enough.

You can read about the rest of my travel tips here.

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Body Imagining

I started taking ballet classes a few weeks ago. The classes are graceful. Pink tights and black leotards, synchronized movement. It’s a beautiful thing to watch. It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of. Despite this beauty I watch woman after woman grab and pinch various points on their body between exercises every day as they study themselves in the mirror. I’ve tried to explain how beautiful these women are to them but they don’t seem to see it. How have we gotten to a point where even those working to make themselves stronger and healthier are focused on how well they meet an impossible beauty standard?

I don’t think I’ve ever met someone entirely confident in their own body. Friends in college, high school, and middle school all spent hours poking and prodding. Doesn’t matter the gender, the body mass, the health consequences- everyone finds that bit of doubt somewhere. I do it too although not nearly as intensely and not nearly as much as I used to.

It’s hard to stop until you find a reason. I found mine when I realized that every moment I spent critiquing myself and comparing my body to every one I met was causing me to judge other people and to focus on how they looked rather than what they said. Instead of meeting and learning about people, I was in my own head. Now when I see or meet someone, I try to make my first thought, “You are beautiful.” It’s not a physical thing, it doesn’t mean I’m attracted to them; it’s my way of reminding myself that everyone is beautiful and should be recognized as such.

When you go into every interaction thinking that the person you’re talking to is beautiful they can tell. We talk differently, act differently, award our time differently to people based on what we think of them. The easiest way to see the value of another person is to listen to them, a task made much easier once you aren’t worried about what they look like.

This started out selfishly. I wanted to be a “better” person but it wound up helping me become more confident and happier as a side effect of helping others see their own beauty. The connections I make and interactions I have are no longer shaped as a comparison but as a celebration of those things we can learn from each other.

There is beauty in being unique and funny and happy. I think it’s time that we celebrate that in ourselves and in each of those we meet.

DIY Ballet painting

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Christmas is my jam. My favorite favorite thing to do is to give gifts. Thoughtful gifts that show I’ve been paying attention and care. So the gift planning starts now.

The best way, I think, to give perfect gifts is to make them yourself. I found this watercolor tree print and have been trying to find a way to incorporate it into my gift giving.

Inspiration struck in the form of an error so I ran with it.

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Follow the steps from the tree tutorial until the part where you let it dry. I dropped a piece of paper onto my painting while it was drying and it wound up smearing the paint into a blur. Instead of painting branches and a trunk, I used the “leaves” as a background and painted over the water colors with a contrasting bright color. I chose a ballet design to possibly use as a gift for some friends but anything is possible. A letter print, an animal, or an anatomical print over the background would also look great.

I’ll need a few more drafts before it qualifies as gift worthy but I’m excited to see how these come out.

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