Saturday, December 25, 2010

Day 12: 12 Days of "Christmas Around the World"

You know the drill. Happy Holidays from Ms. Q!

Merry Christmas! Joyeaux Noel! Boldog Karacsonyt!



I don't think there's anything more odd than those nativity figurines with Santa kneeling before Baby Jesus. It's one "tradition" I think modern society can do without.

That's all.

Have a good one!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Day 11: 12 Days of "Christmas Around the World"

You know the drill. Happy Holidays from Ms. Q!

Day 11: A Flammable Christmas



Yes those are real candles on that Christmas tree.

We miss something in America by using strings of electric lights, or worse, a pre-lit tree (really, how lazy can you be?) at Christmastime.

Namely, we miss the possibility of our homes burning down.

Not to mention the amount of ice that would be the result of the fire department trying to put out aforementioned house fire.

Nothing but the spring thaw will take care of that is all I'm saying.

This photo was taken in the Old Country one long-ago Christmas, when the light bulb was just a twinkle in Edison's eye.

So that's not true.

Really, this photo was taken in Bratislava in 2005.

The straw ornaments are traditional to many European countries, and the candles are a throwback.

TIP: Never leave the tree unattended.
TIP: Keep a pail of water handy in the same room in case anything catches fire.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Day 10: 12 Days of "Christmas Around the World"

I've been blessed to have traveled extensively throughout Europe while stationed as a missionary in Eastern Europe. To share a bit of that past, I bring to you The 12 Days of "Christmas Around the World." Each day I will chose a country I visited, tell a personal story, and share a Christmas tradition from that country. Please add your own family traditions in the comments section of these posts, or share your own international experiences if you've been blessed enough to travel.

Happy Holidays from Ms. Q!


Christmas in Croatia


Winter getting you down?

Sick of bundling up every time you head outdoors?

Need a bit of warm-weather cheer?

That's what you've got me for - to bring you delightfully sunny cityscapes from Trogir, Croatia.

Granted, this isn't a picture of Christmas in Croatia (it's Easter), but then that wasn't part of the deal was it?

I'm simply bringing you Christmas traditions from places I've visited around the world.

So there.

Here's your dang tradition, get off my back.


Many Croatian families decorate their Christmas trees with Licitar hearts - a special dough (that's edible, yet usually not eaten), shaped into hearts, and painted red. Colorful designs and artwork are added to each heart for a festive ornament.

These hearts have spread across other Central European countries, and larger versions are often given as gifts or tokens of appreciation and gratitude.

Croatians also practice the tradition of a yule log, which also, incidentally, is a Christmas tradition across the former Kingdom of Yugoslavia (read: parts of Slovenia, Serbia, and Croatia).

How do I know that?

Why, because I did a research paper in 4th grade on Christmas traditions in Yugoslavia. Little did I know how irrelevant that work would be so soon after I completed the project.

This was, of course, the early 90's and my word processing software (read: typewriter) did not yet have the "Find and Replace" function. So, unfortunately, the paper still reads "Yugoslavia" when mere months after it's publication it should have read "the former Kingdom of Yugoslavia."

Bygones. Back to the yule log.

The yule log is cut on Christmas Eve morning, left on the hearth all day, and burned at night throughout Christmas day. The burning of the log is accompanied by prayers to welcome in blessings for the new year.

In Serbia, it's customary that the first visitors to the home on Christmas day strike the burning log with a poker to release sparks and then bestow a blessing on the household.

I hope this all takes place in the safe confines of an enclosed fire place.

It seems that several of my 12 Christmas traditions from around the world include some sort of fire hazard. I promise that wasn't intentional.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Day 9: 12 Days of "Christmas Around the World"

I've been blessed to have traveled extensively throughout Europe while stationed as a missionary in Eastern Europe. To share a bit of that past, I bring to you The 12 Days of "Christmas Around the World." Each day I will chose a country I visited, tell a personal story, and share a Christmas tradition from that country. Please add your own family traditions in the comments section of these posts, or share your own international experiences if you've been blessed enough to travel.

Happy Holidays from Ms. Q!


Angels


Or are they...?


These are students from my 12D class, and I won't ruin the nice scene this photo portrays by telling you how they were in class.

Just kidding.

Sort of.

You can't help but think of angels when you think of Christmas for, Hark! You can even hear them singing.

Sh....listen...

Okay, so maybe it's just Rosemary Clooney on your iPod, but you know what I'm saying.

I don't think I need to explain in detail the importance of angels at Christmas - they held Academy Award winning supporting roles in the birth of Jesus, and they now hold prominent places in our households at the tops of our Christmas trees.

My sister played an angel in our church's Nativity play when we were kids.

I was one of the three kings.

While she got to wear a long, flowing, white robe with pretty wings and a halo, I had to wear an ugly smock and fluffy hat and walk down the aisle carrying a glass bottle of "frankincense" while some guy sang "We Three Kings" in an, admittedly, rich baritone.

It was much too masculine for my Barbie-loving ways.

I wanted to be an angel.

Or Mary. Mary was a plum role, too.

I attribute this childhood disappointment to my tomboy ways of '94-'97.

Moving on...

Boldog Karácsonyt

Hungary has two traditions that are a little bit different than what you might be used to at Christmas.

First, Baby Jesus brings the presents, not a fat, jolly elf/Saint who lives at the North Pole.

Second, most homes include an Advent wreath with their usual holiday decorations. The flower shops (an explanation of the importance of flowers in Hungary here) carry a variety of fresh wreaths decorated with all manner of ribbons, trinkets, and colors. Like the pastor does at church, you can light a candle for each week of Advent in the comfort of your own home.

Just make sure you have a fire extinguisher handy and/or don't have anything flammable near the candles. More on this in our Day 12 post...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Day 8: 12 Days of "Christmas Around the World"

I've been blessed to have traveled extensively throughout Europe while stationed as a missionary in Eastern Europe. To share a bit of that past, I bring to you The 12 Days of "Christmas Around the World." Each day I will chose a country I visited, tell a personal story, and share a Christmas tradition from that country. Please add your own family traditions in the comments section of these posts, or share your own international experiences if you've been blessed enough to travel.

Happy Holidays from Ms. Q!


In A Word? Ireland.


A few years ago I had the pleasure (read: misfortune) of visiting Ireland the week between Christmas and New Years.

I say misfortune mostly because I was sick - more sick than I've ever been in my life barring surgery. But it was also an unfortunate time to visit because nothing happens in Ireland during this week (and I don't mean in a Las Vegas kind of way).

Sure, they have Boxing Day and St. Stephen's Day, but what good is that to a tourist? It just means the shops, museums, and tourist-y places are likely closed.

The highlights of this trip were kissing the Blarney stone (after which my friend promptly became ill), drinking Guinness in an Irish pub, and..., um..., yep, that's it.

I suppose the tour of the Jameson whiskey factory wasn't all that bad...

After my Irish "vacation" I spent the next 20 or so hours traveling back to Hungary when I really should have been in a hospital. I pretty much spent the plane ride from Dublin to Vienna in tears as I fully expected my head to explode from the painful pressure in my ears.

The next day I went to the doctor in Sopron (socialized medicine = not bad at all, you heard it here first). He and his otoscope got within in 3 feet of me when he began writing a prescription and scolded me for not seeing a doctor sooner.

Yeah, buddy. I was kind of between countries!

Tradition As Fire Hazard

In Ireland, one little tradition they have at Christmastime is to keep a lighted candle in the window on Christmas Eve.

The purpose of this is so that Mary and Joseph can feel welcomed and know there is shelter to be had at your abode.

One can only wonder what's supposed to be done about the donkey.

Perhaps it's enough to hope the Irish have flame-retardant curtains.

Until tomorrow, Nollaig Shona Daoibh.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Day 7: 12 Days of "Christmas Around the World"

I've been blessed to have traveled extensively throughout Europe while stationed as a missionary in Eastern Europe. To share a bit of that past, I bring to you The 12 Days of "Christmas Around the World." Each day I will chose a country I visited, tell a personal story, and share a Christmas tradition from that country. Please add your own family traditions in the comments section of these posts, or share your own international experiences if you've been blessed enough to travel.

Happy Holidays from Ms. Q!


Karacsonyi Vasar


Consider this Christmas Markets Take 2, Hungarian style.

What makes Christmas markets different in Hungary than they are in Austria, you ask?

Go ahead. I'll wait.

Well, I'm glad you asked, because you'll be delighted to know there is no difference beyond geography.

This photo was snapped at Sopron's little version in Fő Tér.

Folk music is played live by local bands, attendees can enjoy some lángos or forralt bor, and local artisans sell their handmade wares.

It's delightful, and all the more so for being close enough for a midday stroll in between class periods at BDEG.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Day 6: 12 Days of "Christmas Around the World"

I've been blessed to have traveled extensively throughout Europe while stationed as a missionary in Eastern Europe. To share a bit of that past, I bring to you The 12 Days of "Christmas Around the World." Each day I will chose a country I visited, tell a personal story, and share a Christmas tradition from that country. Please add your own family traditions in the comments section of these posts, or share your own international experiences if you've been blessed enough to travel.

Happy Holidays from Ms. Q!


Day 6: Csendes Éj


I was living in Hungary when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.

All I could tell from the news reports (in Hungarian or German) was that New Orleans suffered a tremendous storm and, from the video, it looked like the entire city was destroyed.

Sidenote: This year marked the 5th year anniversary of Katrina and I finally was able to see a lot of the original reporting thanks to CNN, NatGeo, Discovery, and The History Channel.

To bring awareness of, and raise funds for, the plight of stranded and now homeless citizens, a gospel choir from NOLA made a world tour. Sopron was one of their stops.

Pictured is the crowd in the Lutheran church.

The show took place in December, and the best part of the evening (in my estimation) was when the band encouraged everyone to join in and sing along with Silent Night.

All were welcomed to sing in their language of choice.

In a show of musical solidarity, I heard many versions of this hymn as all sang out as one. The most prominent languages I heard were Hungarian (of course), German (Sopron is 3 km from the Austrian border), and English (yours truly).

Hungarian:
CSENDES ÉJ

Csendes éj! Szentséges éj!
Mindenek nyugta mély;
Nincs fenn más, csak a Szent szülepár,
Drága kisdedük álmainál,
Szent Fiú, aludjál, szent Fiú aludjál!

Csendes éj! Szentséges éj!
Angyalok hangja kél;
Halld a mennyei halleluját,
Szerte zengi e drága szavát,
Krisztus megszabadit, Krisztus megszabadit!

Csendes éj! Szentséges éj!
Sziv örülj, higyj, remélj!
Isten Szent Fia hinti reád,
Ajka vigyszt adó mosolyát,
Krisztus megszületett, Krisztus megszületett!

German:
Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Hirten erst kundgemacht
Durch der Engel Halleluja,
Tönt es laut von fern und nah:
Christ, der Retter ist da!
Christ, der Retter ist da!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht
Lieb' aus deinem göttlichen Mund,
Da uns schlägt die rettende Stund'.
Christ, in deiner Geburt!
Christ, in deiner Geburt!

English:
Silent night, holy night
All is calm all is bright
'Round yon virgin Mother and Child
Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight.
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heav'nly hosts sing Alleluia;
Christ the Savior is born
Christ the Savior is born

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love's pure light.
Radiant beams from Thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Day 5: 12 Days of "Christmas Around the World"

I've been blessed to have traveled extensively throughout Europe while stationed as a missionary in Eastern Europe. To share a bit of that past, I bring to you The 12 Days of "Christmas Around the World." Each day I will chose a country I visited, tell a personal story, and share a Christmas tradition from that country. Please add your own family traditions in the comments section of these posts, or share your own international experiences if you've been blessed enough to travel.

Happy Holidays from Ms. Q!


Day 5: Stary Smokovec Gets in Your Eyes


Okay, so that was a poor excuse for a reference to The Platters' "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." Deal with it.

What does get in your eyes, however, when you're in Stary Smokovec, Slovakia, is this magical view every morning you wake up and look out your hotel room window.

FACT: In 2004, the Tatras Mountains (where Stary Smokovec is located) experienced a devastating windstorm that decimated the landscape and hardwood forests.

Evidence of the storm could still be seen when I visited in 2006, because, quite simply, the Slovaks couldn't clean up and process the lumber from the fallen trees fast enough.

The local ecology is still recovering.

But enough of this downer. Let's move on to one of my favorite Christmas traditions...Slovak Style.

Booze: A Slovak Tradition
Hriatuo is a hot brandy drink devised from honey, butter, and slivovice. A curiously strong spin on a hot-buttered rum.

Hriatuo is drunk at weddings, christenings, and on Christmas Eve. It's also considered good medicine for your common cold or cough. Y'right...

I like this particular boozy tradition because it reminds me of my own family gatherings of Christmas Eve's past.

Every year my mom's side of the family gathers at my aunt and uncle's house (a picturesque log cabin) located near the family homestead.

My aunt bakes cookies, my uncle makes meatballs, and we all descend on Christmas Eve to drink hot-buttered rums, Tom & Jerry's, mulled wine, and any other wonderfully seasonal, hot, boozy beverage.

Predictably we all get kind of sloshed.

Another of my aunts plays the piano, two of my cousins play their flutes, and we all join in singing ridiculously bad versions of Christmas carols.

I refuse to bring my violin for fear of drunken injury.

The best part is when yet another aunt (yes, I have several) takes to eating all of the raisins off the gingerbread men and women the aforementioned hostess spent hours baking.

She leaves the cookies intact, but for the little raisin eyes, you see.

Poor, blind, gingerbread folk left to fend for themselves...

Friday, December 17, 2010

Day 4: 12 Days of "Christmas Around the World"

I've been blessed to have traveled extensively throughout Europe while stationed as a missionary in Eastern Europe. To share a bit of that past, I bring to you The 12 Days of "Christmas Around the World." Each day I will chose a country I visited, tell a personal story, and share a Christmas tradition from that country. Please add your own family traditions in the comments section of these posts, or share your own international experiences if you've been blessed enough to travel.

Happy Holidays from Ms. Q!


Day 4: The Christmas Market


Boy, don't you just love a good Christmas Market?

This shot was snapped at the Rathausplatz Christkindlmarkt in Wien, Austria (Vienna to you American folk).

Each window in the townhall is dressed in blue and acts as one day on the Advent calendar. Each day another window is opened to depict a lovely Christmas scene.

Sadly, no giant pieces of chocolate are hidden in this Advent calendar...

Truly the best thing about a European Christmas Market is the rum punch.

It comes in a variety of flavors - favorites include raspberry and strawberry - and it costs approximately 5 Euros.

You get at least 2 Euros back if you return the mug.

If you don't return the mug, you retain a lovely keepsake as each Christmas market has it's own mug design.

Nothing beats the frigid cold of winter than bundling up, visiting several Christmas markets in one day (there are hundreds in Vienna), and acquiring a small collection of mugs along with a rather sizable buzz.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Day 3: 12 Days of "Christmas Around the World"

I've been blessed to have traveled extensively throughout Europe while stationed as a missionary in Eastern Europe. To share a bit of that past, I bring to you The 12 Days of "Christmas Around the World." Each day I will chose a country I visited, tell a personal story, and share a Christmas tradition from that country. Please add your own family traditions in the comments section of these posts, or share your own international experiences if you've been blessed enough to travel.

Happy Holidays from Ms. Q!


Day 3: Surly Babushka Greetings



I picked up this card at the Museum of Communism in Prague, and it's relevant to our Christmas countdown because I found the cutest Babushka Doll (Matroyshka) cards at World Market this year, and sent them to my family as their holiday greeting.

Like traditional nesting dolls, the card looks like a large Russian doll, and opens up to a paper pullout of four dolls in descending size.

It's a fun one.

Czech, Czech, Czech out this Christmas Tradition...
One Christmas tradition I'm particularly interested in relates to the foretelling of marriage.

Apparently, an unmarried lady is supposed to throw a shoe over her shoulder toward the front door of her family home. If the shoe lands with the toe pointing toward the door, she's "booted" out into the cold with no money or prospects to fend for herself until the first thaw of spring.

Harsh, right?

Well, it's not true. Did I have you going there?

The true tradition is that if the toe points toward the door, the lucky lady will be married within a year.

I say, that if her shoe hits a smug married entering the house for the family Christmas party, the unmarried girl will have 7 years of good luck.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Day 2: 12 Days of "Christmas Around the World"

I've been blessed to have traveled extensively throughout Europe while stationed as a missionary in Eastern Europe. To share a bit of that past, I bring to you The 12 Days of "Christmas Around the World." Each day I will chose a country I visited, tell a personal story, and share a Christmas tradition from that country. Please add your own family traditions in the comments section of these posts, or share your own international experiences if you've been blessed enough to travel.

Happy Holidays from Ms. Q!


Day 2: Christmas Greetings from Poland


Sending Christmas cards isn't just an American tradition. It began in 1843 in England by a man named Sir Henry Cole.

Every year I look forward to choosing either the most ridiculous or most creative card to send to my family and friends - sometimes the ridiculous and creative go hand in hand.

I also enjoy receiving cards for two reasons. One, Christmas cards aren't bills. Two, Christmas cards make for great decoration (hang a piece of garland or pretty ribbon on the wall and use paper clips, clothespins, or small alligator clips to attach them to the ribbon).

This card has greetings written in Hungarian, English, and German, respectively, but was sent by a friend in Poland.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Day 1: 12 Days of "Christmas Around the World"

I've been blessed to have traveled extensively throughout Europe while stationed as a missionary in Eastern Europe. To share a bit of that past, I bring to you The 12 Days of "Christmas Around the World." Each day I will chose a country I visited, tell a personal story, and share a Christmas tradition from that country. Please add your own family traditions in the comments section of these posts, or share your own international experiences if you've been blessed enough to travel.

Happy Holidays from Ms. Q!


Day 1: Bérzsenyi Daniel Evangélikus Gimnázium (BDEG)


In Hungary, each grade level of secondary school students is broken up into a number of "classes" (consortiums, if you will). Each consortium attends the same schedule of classes under the direction of a form teacher.

During their senior year, each consortium performs a variety of tasks throughout the year, one of which being leading the school in a candle lighting ceremony during one week of the Advent season.

The consortium usually plans a skit, a song or poetry performance, or a Bible reading (BDEG is a parochial school). They then light the candle, lead attendees through a prayer, and dismiss students to their next class...all taking place during the 15-minute morning (read: snack) break.

Snowpocalypse

This is why I couldn't make it back to Milwaukee:

Monday, December 6, 2010

5 Best Christmas Movies

Last week, I started A Quarter Century's Christmas Countdown with list of the 5 Best Christmas Albums (in my estimation, anyway, which is the only one that counts in this corner of the interwebs).

Part promotion of my favorite Christmas music, part well-intentioned ploy to increase my playlist with your comments, it was a fun rundown of good tunes.

In this week's installment of our newly-created Yuletide countdown, I offer you films instead.

Without further ado...

5 Best Christmas Films

5. Love Actually

Some wouldn't consider this a Christmas film so much as a film about relationships, love, etc, but as it takes place at Christmas time, includes a killer Christmas soundtrack, and offers lovely set design, we're going to count it.

What I love best about this film is that the underlying message in all of the storylines is that, simply because it's Christmas, there's no more perfect time to take a chance on love.

In a day and age when the suicide rate increases during the holiday season, it's a message that's worth repeating.

Bill Nighy as Billy Mack may also have something to do with my love of the film.

"If you believe in Christmas, children, like your Uncle Billy does, then buy my festering turd of a record."

The only thing I really don't like about the movie is the storyline and scenes between the two adult film actors. In general, I'm not one to appreciate such things - call me old school, but I really also have a simple intolerance for anything that's so obviously gratuitious in films...whether it be sex, nudity, vomit, violence, or bloodshed.

Just because the ratings commission says you can show it doesn't mean you have to, or that you should. Oftentimes, I find that less is more, and my overactive imagination is much better at eliciting the proper emotions than anything they can put on screen.

4. Miracle on 34th Street

You can take your 2000 version of this film and throw it out the window.

There's nothing better than Edmund Gwenn's rendition of Kris Kringle, nor Maureen O'Hara's or Natalie Wood's performances.

FACT: The parade sequence in this 1947 film was the actual parade...no one knew that Fox was filming it for the movie.

FACT: Edmund Gwenn won an Oscar for his perfomance as Santa in this film

FACT: The 2000 version isn't awful; it's just not in the same ballpark as the original.

3. Elf

There's something that's just so hilarious about this film.

Probably Will Ferrell's performance.

I really love the scene where James Caan takes him to the doctor's for a DNA test, and not only does Buddy delightfully eat cotton balls, but he acts like such an ADD toddler that we cannot help but fall out of our chairs laughing.

And who can't appreciate the nod to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in the way the North Pole is styled once Buddy begins his journey to New York City?

While I'm not sure it should get "classic" status just yet, I love the way this film reminds us of the kid we all have inside us.

2. Home Alone

I know a boy who loves this film.

Last year he got a long, toboggen-shaped sled for Christmas.

One day, his mother was working upstairs in her office, and small boy asks if he can sit on his sled (to dream of powdery snow, giggle-inducing sled runs, and face plant landings, I'm sure we can all assume).

Mom said yes.

A few minutes later she heard the tell-tale, rapid-succession "thump, thump, wump, thump" of a sled being driven down her carpeted staircase by aforementioned small boy.

This ill-fated run was followed up by a quick smack into the wall at the bottom of the stairs, tears, and a small boy scared crapless.

Lesson learned? I'm pretty sure that's a yes. (Note: no small children were harmed in the making of this blogging episode)

Needless to say, sometimes those warnings of "Don't try this at home" are quite helpful.

Personally, I love this John Hughes film for its set decoration. The entire house is outfitted in green and red down to the very wallpaper.

Additionally, the soundtrack is quite tremendous.

And you won't find a better rendition of this franchise without the lovable polka playing John Candy or the hopelessly klutzy Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern.

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York is a good one, but I don't think any of the sequels live up to the original.

1. White Christmas

I can't help it.

I love this film so much that I don't consider my Christmas season started until I watch it.

The musical number, Mandy (pictured at right), that is my namesake (if you say something often enough it becomes true, right?) may have something to do with it.

Strictly speaking, there's not much Christmas in the film - the themes mainly run toward giving, romance, and Irving Berlin's genious. However, the end scene where the entire audience joins the four leads in singing White Christmas and the shed doors open to show a beautiful pastoral scene of winter always...ALWAYS...bring a tear to my eye.

Honourable Mentions: I'm keeping this list to 5 for reasons even unknown to me, but there are a few other films I love during the holiday season. In no particular order:

It's a Wonderful Life
Not expected to be a hit, this film was released in July. Most were surprised at the reaction it received, and it stayed in theaters for over 5 months. As I've said before, Jimmy Stewart is my favorite Hollywood actor of all time, and I love his George Bailey.

A Charlie Brown Christmas
I mainly didn't include this one on the list, because it debuted as a television special and I already had a limited number of spots for "Best Films." Best part about this little gem? The soundtrack.

What are your favorites? Leave a comment and help me increase my DVD collection!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I Actually Love The Walking Dead

I really like:



In part because of this guy:



Though, to be fair, in a zombie apocalypse, poster board decorated with emotionally compromising messages wouldn't be a very effective weapon.




Sidenote: Did anyone else catch that the Walking Dead's Director effectively fired the entire writing crew yesterday? The writing crew happens to include the man who penned the comic book on which the series is based. Egads.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Welcome, December.

Glad to have you back; we've missed you so.

Personally speaking, I've missed your Yuletide charms and wintry, snow-covered vistas.

I haven't missed the shoveling though. Can you put in a good word to Santa for me? I could use a snow blower...

Anyway, I just wanted to say, "Hi," and welcome you back via my own little corner of The Internets.

I'm so happy to see you brought your best friend, Snow, with you. And for that, I present you with one of our most cherished songs of snow:

Monday, November 29, 2010

5 Best Christmas Albums

The time has come.

The time for non-stop Christmas music and movies.

I've been trying - successfully - to hold myself back from dabbling in the Christmas spirit until Thanksgiving had it's rightful day to shine, and now that day is over, my friends. O.V.E.R.

Onward to the snow-covered, jingle-belled climes of Yuletide, I say.

And so I celebrate the official beginning of Christmas season (by my own pronouncement, which is official enough for me), with a countdown of my favorite holiday albums of all time...er, well, in my short life anyway.

5. A Charlie Brown Christmas
The classic TV special has a great soundtrack that offers, not so much sing-along entertainment, but rather nice background music to your decorating, cookie baking, or gift wrapping lazy December Saturdays. I sometimes put this on when I'm making those stupid cut-out cookies...you know the ones I mean...the delicious sugary, buttery, frosted confections that are great to eat but a real pain in the behind to make. The time goes a bit more quickly and cheerfully once I find myself dancing to Linus's piano jams whilst rolling out yet another round of dough.

4. Dave Barnes - Very Merry Christmas
In real life I'm a big fan of Dave Barnes, and was oh, so pleasantly surprised to see he had a new Christmas album out when I was shopping in the CD store for my favorite sister's St. Nick present (hint, hint).

File this under, "How did I not know this?!?!" and "Tart-y to the Party"

Regardless of how long it took me to discover the wonders of this album, I appreciate its perfect blend of traditional favorites like the Bing Crosby classic (you know how I love Bing) "I'll Be Home for Christmas" with new favorites like "Very Merry Christmas," "I Pray on Christmas," and "Family Tree." Barnes does it up right with just the right amount of soul, pop, and jazzy pep.

3. Amy Grant - A Christmas Album
You may disagree with me on this one, but A Christmas Album is my favorite Amy Grant Christmas album. It's my favorite, not only because I fondly remember my mom playing it nonstop during holiday baking and decorating, but also because of the classic early 90's styling of the cover art. I'm sorry Amy, but I always thought you were so much older than you really were because of this picture alone. The 80's holdover hair? The mom jeans? The overdone dark eye makeup? It's one of my favorite memories of Christmas.

Again, I'm sorry Amy. I really do love your music!

2. Barlow Girl - Home for Christmas
I. Flippin. Love. This. Album.

I can't say it enough. I dig Barlow Girl on any given day, but when Christmas rolls around, this album is usually on my nonstop driving playlist - at least since it debuted in 2008. I have to be careful to only play it when I'm driving after dusk because I'm so busy singing along that I can hide how stupid I look under the cover of winter's early sunset darkness.

I also have to be careful to not listen to it when I'm running because sometimes I forget that I'm running...in public...and that I shouldn't sing along out loud.


1. Ultimate White Christmas
No list of Christmas albums would be complete without Bing. Oh, Bing.

I think I was born in the wrong decade, because add in Jimmy Stewart and you've got my two favorite Hollywood actors.

Personally, my Christmas season does not officially start until I watch White Christmas.

God help the studio that tries to remake this classic, because I will not be held responsible for my actions.

The movie's soundtrack can be found in a variety of releases, but this one is my favorite for two reasons.

1. It includes my namesake musical number (or so I tell myself), Mandy, and
2. It's the closest you'll come to a soundtrack for the movie (Clooney and Crosby were contracted to two different labels, and so an official soundtrack was never, contractually, possible).

The songs by Rosemary Clooney were recorded separately under her label, and so this is more of a compilation...thus making the tracks sound a bit muffled at times due to differences in mastering and production.

Blame the studios.

I do.

Until some sort of digital remastering magic happens, this is the best album to give you your White Christmas favorites.

Of course, you can always set your tape player up close to your TV and hit "record" while you watch the movie. Anyone remember doing that when making mix tapes from the radio's Top 40?

Are your favorites missing from the list? Continue the list of Best Christmas albums by leaving a comment!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Holiday Giving Cause (& Event)

Do you buy holiday cards in packs of 12, 14, 16, or 18 and continually have a number of odd an odd number of friends and family?

Do you like to give back during the holiday season?

Would you like to spend some quality time with yours truly?

Then let me introduce my latest Holiday Giving Cause (& Event):

The Red Cross 2010 Holiday Mail for Heroes.


The Holiday Mail for Heroes is a program, which, for the small price of postage you can send as many cards as your generous heart desires to American service members and their families. You can send them individually or a bunch in a large box or envelope.

Take a look at how this simple act of sending cheeful snail mail can bring joy and motivation to veterans during their convalescence:


This is where your odd (number of) friends and family come in.

I'm going to assume that you have a smattering of holiday cards left over from years of sending well wishes to your friends and family.

I'm also going to assume those cards have been burning a hole in your stationery box/drawer (I assume you have a stationery box/drawer).

Next, I'm going to assume that you'd love to have a way to make those unused holiday cards bring joy to those in need of cheer this holiday season.

Lastly, I'm going to assume you'd love the opportunity to spend some quality time with me writing lovely notes on those holiday cards over a glass of wine and/or beer.

If all these assumptions are correct, then please join me for a happy hour and holiday card writing extravaganza (more people get excited and want to come if you call it an extravaganza, yes?).

DETAILS:

When: Monday, December 6, 5:00 - 7:00 PM

Where: Maxie's Southern Comfort

Maxie's isn't officially hosting us; I'm just treating this event like an informal happy hour of friends coming together to hang out and accomplish something awesome. If I get a large response I'll let them know to expect us. RSVP here.

Bring a stack of holiday cards and a pen, or heck, bring some construction paper and stickers and make your own. I'll take care of the postage.

If you can't make the event, but would like to take part in the cause, you can send your own holiday cards. They must be postmarked by December 10, 2010.

Send them here:

Holiday Mail for Heroes
PO Box 5456
Capitol Heights, MD
20791-5456

Pitney Bowles collects and sorts them, while Red Cross workers will deliver them all over the world and in our communities.

Know that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you finally get a piece of mail in the mailbox that's handwritten, personal, and clearly not junk or bills? While it seems like a small thing, it's really an easy, inexpensive way to make someone's day this holiday season...someone who has sacrificed so much on our behalf.

Hope to see you there!

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Play-by-Play of Lunch at @EateryonFarwell


As you know from my previous post, I enjoyed a free lunch at Eatery on Farwell yesterday. I had never been there before, shame on me, and, of course, I don’t have a Smartphone so was unable to provide a Tweetathon during the momentous event.

Here’s the play by play as I remember it:


For your typical written in long-form write-up, see my review on Yelp! - 1st to review, baby!

1:04 PM Pull up to Eatery on Farwell and demonstrate a perfectly turned out parallel park. You’re welcome, traffic behind me on Farwell, for the excellent driver’s ed demo.

1:07 PM Enter Eatery on Farwell and speak to pleasurable host, slipping it in that I’m their version of the Miss America First Runner Up

1:10 PM Seated near window for maximum people watching entertainment

1:11 PM Sadly, and with great regret, decline the Bloody Mary. Must save drinking for off hours. Diet coke it is.

1:15 PM Why does fountain soda taste so much better than canned soda?

1:16 PM *sip* Ahhhhh…..

1:20 PM Peruse menu. Salads, brunch, should I do brinner? Sandwic…..huh? Avocado aioli?!??!

1:23 PM Order “The Farwell” (BLT with jalapeno bacon, smoked turkey, tomato, lettuce, and, yep, avocado aioli)

1:27 PM Side? I get a side? Veggie chips, yes please

1:29 PM Get out “Single Diner Props,” and write article for work as I wait for food

1:36 PM Geez, that was fast! I only got to third paragraph, and now must eat whilst I’m on a literary roll.

1:38 PM Take first bite

1:38 PM (and 2 seconds) Holy crap….

1:39 PM Mmm….spice….

Back to writing…
1:40 PM Nope, that second quote should go after (grabs chip) the first para….

1:40 PM (and 15 seconds) Woah, don’t you just love extra crunchy chips?

1:48 PM Choices, choices, choices…lick the avocado off my fingers or go for the second half of my sandwich?

1:48 PM (and 20 seconds) How the heck am I gonna eat the second half of my sandwich?

1:48 PM
(and 25 seconds) I’m no quitter

1:55 PM Uncle!

Needless to say I highly recommend The Farwell and, by extension, the Eatery on Farwell. They offer unique twists and flavor combinations on your tried and true pub fare – surely a crowd pleaser for even the most “meat and potatoes” Wisconsinite. Try ‘em yourselves…


Eatery on Farwell
2014 N. Farwell Avenue
Milwaukee, WI 53212

I hear their Bloodies are tremendous, and absolutely must get back there in the next week or so to try ‘em (think they’ll splash a little Rehorst Gin on top for me?). Hit me up if you wanna join me for a taste test of their Happy Hour…

Monday – Friday, 3:00 PM – 6:00 PM
$5 Rehorst Mixers
$3 Lakefront
$2 Miller, Schlitz, PBR

Yes, I memorized their Happy Hour menu. Bite me.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What Has Social Media Done for You Lately? #FTW

You might've asked yourself this question in the past few weeks, but I sure haven't.

As the holiday season approaches it's easy for us to swing one of two ways - either we give, give, give in an epic display of good karma, or we anxiously await the orgy of greed that is Christmas gift opening (or, the eight crazy nights you get for Hanukkah, my Jewish readers).

Both ends of the spectrum are greatly enhanced by social media, and a quick rundown of what social media has done for me lately will show that it truly is a place for giving as well as receiving.

Twitter:
Repeal of Prohibition = free Bison Blonde - so it's not "lately" in the true sense of the word, but approximately 18 months ago, for the celebration of the Repeal of Prohibition, Buffalo Water paraded a keg of Bison Blonde to Just Arts and tapped it for all eager celebration participants. My friends and I became those celebration participants when we heard about the free beer via Twitter. Oh, the lovely Twitter with it's free beer promoting ways.

Free lunch at Eatery on Farwell - Last week I entered a retweet contest to win free lunch at Eatery on Farwell. I didn't win, but I sure did appreciate their booze porn. This week they DM-ed me that their winner was unable to accept the prize. I now do so in his or her stead. See, Miss America's First Runner Up? Sometiems it does happen.


Facebook:

Free lunch at Transfer Pizzeria - I'm pretty great at winning any contest that requires a "first person to respond" challenge (as opposed to a "we'll pick a name out of a hat"...I never win those). That's how I got free lunch at Transfer Pizzeria yesterday. To be fair, I first heard about the contest at the Spreenkler meetup, which I heard about through Twitter, but the contest took place on Facebook so it's a Facebook win.

Free tickets to Waiting for Superman via OnMilwaukee - I was sad to have missed this film at the Milwaukee Film Festival, and so I jumped at the chance to win two free passes to a screening via a "be the first to comment" Facebook challenge. Challenge accepted. Tickets won.

Email...?
Free tickets to Burlesque via Wisconsin Gazette - Again, this should be prefaced that I clicked a link to the Wisconsin Gazette via Twitter and that's how I originally landed upon this contest. However, it took place via, yes really, email. So I won free tickets to see Burlesque (and I really want to see it, it's Cher and Christina Aguilera for goodness' sake), but I was emailed the free pass yesterday afternoon. At 3:59 PM. The show was at 7 PM. I didn't have email access after 3:30 PM. Social media giveaway #Fail.

Check back for a recap of "What Has Social Media Done for You Lately?" Causes and Benefits style, to learn more about the "Giving" side of the social media spectrum.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thank you, Veterans.

Happy #VeteransDay to all of those who have served our country. The following video snippet says it so poignantly:










I'll be tweeting special shoutouts to each and every veteran I know, so follow me @MsQuarter for your tribute in 140 characters or less.

For those of you who want to take a more active role in thanking our veterans, The Red Cross just announced their 2010 Holiday Mail for Heroes kickoff.

For the small price of postage you can send as many cards as your generous heart desires to American service members and their families. You can send them individually or a bunch in a large box or envelope.

They must be postmarked by December 10, 2010.

Send them here:

Holiday Mail for Heroes
PO Box 5456
Capitol Heights, MD
20791-5456


Pitney Bowles collects and sorts them, while Red Cross workers will deliver them all over the world and in our communities.

Know that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you finally get a piece of mail in the mailbox that's handwritten, personal, and clearly not junk or bills? While it seems like a small thing, it's really an easy, inexpensive way to make someone's day this holiday season...someone who has sacrificed so much on our behalf.

Thank you, Veterans (and current service members and families!) for putting your life on hold while I live mine in freedom.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

I'm Sorry, @RussFeingold...

Dear Former Senator Feingold,

I'm sorry about what happened on Tuesday, though my condolences are not just for you, but also for Wisconsin. We lost a great public servant this week, and I can only hope more people come to realize this.

I'm sorry that Ron Johnson called you a career politician. That must've been the worst sort of insult to you. I think Senator-elect Johnson was referring to the "good ol' boys" club-like atmosphere in Washington that the rest of this country despises. I presume he was referring to politicians who use their power to get things like $50 million for an indoor rainforest (Note: this happens on both sides of the aisle, and, yes, needs to be reigned in). I can't believe he was referring to a politician who happens to be a 3-term incumbent, yet who's record, time and again, shows in favor of citizen rights.

Most of all I'm sorry that so many people judged you solely on how many years you've been in Washington served Wisconsin, and not the actual record of what you've done for this state and this country - often against your own party, or, at the very least, against those good ol' boys.

I'm not sorry that you have that oh-so-horrible "D" behind your name, but I am sorry that it was used against you. If there's one thing you've done in your time in D.C. it's to work on behalf of your constituents, and NOT to just always be blindly in favor with your party.

I thank you for your service. I didn't know a lot about you before this election, but as I learned more and dug deeper than those 30-second TV ads, I was more than pleasantly surprised.

It speaks volumes that every major newspaper in this state endorsed you, even if they also endorsed Scott Walker.

It speaks volumes that you were the only politician to vote against The Patriot Act - going against a dangerous political trend to be the only Senator to have our backs.

It speaks volumes that you often proposed ammendments to legislation even though you knew they wouldn't have a chance - merely because you understood how important it is to at least have the argument on record.

It speaks volumes that you went against your own party to vote against TARP - the bank bailouts, which is only one example of how you were the original "Maverick," never kowtowing to your party line.

And it speaks volumes that not just you, but your entire staff (led by your inspiration, I presume), where diligent in upholding Nancy Pelosi's Ethics Pledge, even when some of your peers - on both sides of aisle - were not.

This brings me to my last apology. I'm sorry, mostly for this state, that all of the above, quite frankly, didn't get spoken in such volume during your campaign. Please run again in the future. But next time, please make sure the people of Wisconsin know all that you've done for us.

Monday, November 1, 2010

November 1 = #NaNoWriMo

Oh Crap. I completely forgot that today begins National Novel Writing Month.

"What is #NaNoWriMo," you ask?

Go ahead; I'll wait.

Well, I'm glad you asked. #NaNoWriMo is for anyone who's wanted to write a novel, those who have a juicy tell-all they need to get down on paper, and those who may one day decide they might want to think about writing a book.

Learn more here.

I'm doing it. A few of my friends are doing it. And a ton of local Milwaukee peeps are doing it.

Basically, you commit to writing every day in November - this is to get you in the habit of writing.

Your task is to write. Not edit. Leave that for December...or January...or 2015.

Your goal is to write a 50,000 word novel by midnight November 30. Read more about the rules here (i.e. don't just write one word over and over and over, but try to write a complete novel).

I encourage you to try it out. It might be a fun way to finally get a start on that autobiography/tell-all you've been meaning to write about your childhood as a middle-class white kid with semi-imagined angst and the drove of like-minded teens you went to high school with.

If you need more encouragement, Milwaukee Writer's Workshop is hosting an event TONIGHT at the Wauwatosa Public Library. The workshop will cover the publishing world, and steps you'll need to take if you want to turn this 50,000 word "work of art" into an actual, marketable piece of literary something or other.

Mayhap I'll see you there?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Put the "Giving" in Thanksgiving

Within the past week the Internet grapevine told me of a few worthy causes in need of Thanksgiving treats. The holiday is 4 weeks away, and now is the perfect time to start putting the "Giving" into Thanksgiving (then you'll have so much more to be thankful for, you see...rhyme unintentional).

I ask you to consider spending a few extra bucks when you do your weekly grocery shopping this week, and send a few provisions to those in need.

1. Hunger Task Force - Operation Marshmallow Man
I found this opportunity through a Twitter "pal" @BtotheD. Each year the Hunger Task Force in Milwaukee puts together 800 T-Day bins for families in need. Each bin holds all the fixings for a proper Thanksgiving meal, and they are in desperate need for bags of mini-marshmallows.

800 bags of mini-marshmallows to be exact.

(for the sweet potatoes...you can't have sweet potatoes without marshmallows, ask Oprah)

Last night at the grocery store I added a measly $8 to my bill for 4, 16oz bags. It may seem like a pittance, but those four bags now bring the total need down to 796. If only 200 people donate 4 bags each, we've got this challenge, well, in the bag.

Learn more about how to donate, where to drop off donations, and BtotheD here.

Yes, those delightful miniature puffs of sugar are needed, not for your marshmallow gun, nor for equally miniature s'mores, but for families in need so that they, too, can have a nice Thanksgiving dinner.

2. Agape - Operation Merci
I had a little trouble coming up with a catchy title for this mission, so lemme explain.

I know a guy.

He's a missionary in France.

He and his team are bringing a "taste" of the U.S. Thanksgiving tradition to the students they work with in Toulouse, France. Not only is this a Turkey Day celebration, but really it's more of a fellowship opportunity for everyone to spend some quality time together, cook together, be a family for a day, and learn a bit more about the United States.

Sounds cool, right?

The problem is that France doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving.

"You're kidding!" you say.

Go ahead.

No! I'm not kidding! And the next problem is then, of course, Aaron and his team cannot find all of the necessary T-Day accoutrement required for a successful celebration (like how I threw in that French word?).

If you like sending large packages across the oceans (and subsequently looking like a spy to postal workers), you can send any of the following items that they desperately need...for 75 people:


Thanksgiving-themed napkins and paper plates
Thanksgiving and/or Fall-themed decorations
Cranberry sauce
Cream of mushroom soup
French fried onions
- Methinks they're making green bean casserole. Please don't let the French go without a delicious green bean casserole! I assume they have French cut green beans available there. Get it?
Stuffing Mix
Cans of pumpkin


I'm putting a package together, and if you want to donate any of these items let me know and I can mail them out together. This could get quite expensive for me, so if you're super generous (you know you are!), you can mail them yourself and have the fun of sending a super secret international package. Leave a comment and I'll get you Aaron's mailing address.

Thanks for listening and have fun putting the "Giving" in Thanksgiving!

Vegetarian Chili

Last night, in honor of the last day of the beloved Westtown Farmer's Market, which, incidentally, was cancelled due to #MilwaukeeBlows2010, Staub Child and I enjoyed a Mommy 'N Me session making chili.

Chili makes a delightful meal for any frightfully cold day, and while Milwaukee isn't so frightfully cold, it is rather gusty, which, in this author's estimation, fulfills the necessary requirements for cooking up a pot and putting that new Staub Child to good use.


Yes, you just got a nice centerfold-esque pic of where the magic happens in my kitchen. Don't mind the prehistoric oven - it's my landlord's.

On the outside it just looks like Lil Stauby is taking a breather in his new home.

In actuality, that chili's been cooking for a good 45 minutes on low heat, getting more and more delicious the longer it's juices keep recycling - condensing on the inside of the lid, dripping down the picots, thus preserving all the delicious juices and flavors.

Savory doesn't even begin to cut it, kids.

I'm happy to report that Staub Child did Momma proud. Totally the best chili I've made to date.

Note: Head over to Cream City Cuisine for the recipe of this delicious Farmer's Market Chili!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mon Petit Chou

It was a productive weekend in Quarter Century land. Carving pumpkins with the nephews always proves to be a fun time. Ironically, two little boys really dislike getting their hands dirty by digging out the pumpkin guts (or "Brraaaaainsssss" as their favorite aunt calls them), while a twenty-something favorite aunt enjoys the gore immensely.

This twenty-something favorite aunt celebrated the death and dismemberment of the four pumpkin soldiers with a trip to Cook's Corner in Green Bay.

Really, the two activities are unrelated, but I have to have an entree to introduce you to the newest member of my family. Drumroll please...

I give you, Mon Petit Chou, or, Staub Child as I've come to lovingly refer to this ridiculously expensive, yet never overated, cast iron enameled cookware.



Isn't she pretty?

In the words of those in the know, "Le Creuset is for the masses; Staub is for those in the know."

"What's the difference?" you ask.

Go ahead. I'll wait.

Well, I'm glad you asked. You see, Staub browns better than Le Creuset. Not necessary for some recipes, sure, but definitely better for some.

Also, see those black bumps on the inside of the lid? Those little babies take all the juicy condensation that happens during cooking and drops it back down into your stew, chili, Coq au Vin, whathaveyou.

That's called Self-Basting, kids.

The interior of the Staub pot, unlike Le Creuset, also allows for seasoning over time like any great cast iron cookware. Ms. Q's gonna make some darn fine fried chicken in this little baby, let me tell you.

If you'd like to add a little Staub to your family, I'd suggest heading over to Cook's Corner in Green Bay. This $400 pot was half off and included the Baby 1/2 qt. Staubs you see in the picture.

Those little guys are gonna make a mean queso dip.

Have I peaked your envy yet? Are you ready to bring your taste buds over for dinner? Better yet, would you like a Staub Child of your own?

Lemme just say that, unlike a real kid, your Staub Child will not cost you a quarter of a million dollars by the time it turns 18. Also, if Staub Child is 18, or 20, or even 30 and is still living at home with its parents, I guarantee you'll view that as a success.

Note: The enameled cast iron pan in the back of the shot is not Staub, but still another great 50% Off find at Cook's Corner. Seriously, you should check 'em out.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Ch-Ch-Changes

David Bowie said it best, "Time to face the strange."

Indeed.

But I suppose that doesn't really apply here. I'm just blindly trying to find an intro to talk about the updated look you see here at Quarter Century and, whaddya know, Ziggy Stardust came into my head.

Deal with it.

You may have noticed the updated look. I've been trying to find something I like for, oh, about a year now but I just haven't been that dedicated. I came across this theme over at www.ezwpthemes.com, and really enjoyed the design but hated some of the specifics.

Specifically, it's titled the Happy Shopping theme and has some strangely exuberant, overly trendy gal on the front page and a strangely small space at the top for a blog title (where my profile is now pictured).

Not to worry, folks. I'm a bit handy at design.

I took a crack at personalizing some of the theme's finer points and am quite in love with the results.

Enjoy.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

1st Annual Native American Film Festival by Native Punx

You may remember a post last month when I explored the Indian mascot debate.

Not only is the point relevant because of the Mukwonago situation, but also because today begins the 1st Annual Native American Film Festival in Wisconsin.

Native Punx, the organization behind the film festival, has a website detailing all of the information, but let me give you the short and sweet of it.

Where:
Marquette University
When: October 14 - 17, 2010
Why: Because it increases your knowledge through everyone's favorite medium: movies.

Okay, seriously though, if you can attend any of the events you should. See the Facebook page for exact films, times, and locations.

Tonight there are a series of shorts followed by a discussion on the Indian mascot issue. Saturday evening boasts a Q&A with Ada Deer, who will discuss her experiences in an Indian boarding school during the U.S. assimilation policy, after the screening of The Only Good Indian (is a dead one as the white settler lexicon of the 1800's goes).

It's a little known fact that Native Americans make good films, and it's an even lesser-known fact that they still aren't always treated with respect and equality in mainstream films - either in their representation or on set.

I could go on an on, but I won't bore you. If you have any questions feel free to contact me or leave a comment.

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Review: Waiting for Superman

I was lucky enough to catch a free screening of Waiting for Superman last night at the Oriental. The controversial documentary, which takes a closer look at the American public school system and its failures, opens on Friday at a theater near you.


This film also screened at the Milwaukee Film Festival to a sold out theater, which is why I missed it then. I heard from viewers that it takes an unfair stance against the public school system, highlights charter schools as the end all be all, and paints the teacher's unions as the main, evil obstacle to reform.

I found out that these were not only overly simplistic criticisms, but also not entirely true when taken in the context of the entire film.

Guggenheim does show the major pitfalls to reform, showcases some of the worst public schools in the country, and highlights some of the best charter schools. Sure, it's a little biased. But I think the main point of the film is that the system is broken. What it was designed to do in the 1950's is no longer relevant to the reality of today's job market or what our country needs in educated workers in order to be globally competitive.

As my friend, an educator, stated after the film, if all this documentary does is raise awareness of the problem and all of the underlying, systemic issues that reform faces, then it was successful. (J - I paraphrased)

One of the most surprising things I learned was that American schools do employ - to some extent - the track system similar to that of European schools, and of which I'm not sure many of us were aware.

In Europe, students are tested throughout their time in school - much like the U.S. - and based upon the results of those tests are put on certain career tracks. For example, when I taught in Hungary, my students prepared for their Matura examinations. Their choice of university - and subsequent career - was based upon the marks they received. This was mainly because university is free in Hungary for any student who gets the marks to attend.

In the U.S. we would know this as Gifted & Talented programs - students who perform best on the tests are put into these higher-learning programs with a lower student-to-teacher ratio and higher expectations.

If it's one thing I know, kids will fulfill your expectations. This film proved that. Whether those expectations are high or low, and what they achieve according to those expectations, is up to us.

Students who do not perform well on the tests remain in their class, likely with a higher student-to-teacher ratio, or if they perform abysmally, are sent for remedial learning. What winds up happening is that students are broken into three groups: those who will become leaders (doctors, lawyers, CEOs), those who will become skilled professionals (accountants, managers, etc), and those who will become workers.

Sure, it doesn't apply to everyone and there is room to move beyond your track if you're an exceptional student, but as one mother in the film said, it's the difference between having a career and having a job.

I also found it interesting that the filmmakers suggest that it's not poor neighborhoods that develop poor schools, but vice versa. I think there's proof in this theory. Just look at some of the wonderful things happening in the neighborhoods of good schools in Milwaukee. Bruce Guadalupe Community School (and the United Community Center, by extension), for one.

Yes, our system is broken, but it's not the fault of just any one factor. Reform needs to happen, proven success from model programs needs to be adapted and scaled to make a larger impact, and adults need to be able to keep it about the kids. As Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools - and controversial reformer - said, "it becomes about the adults," and that's when we hit the hardest roadblock to achievement.

Bonus:
What's interesting is that the Washington Post just reported that Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools will announce her resignation later today, effective at the end of the month. I can't help but feel that with this film poised to make a major impact on the nation, possibly upcoming elections, and our overall thought process and awareness, that this is crappy timing.

Monday, October 11, 2010

@Muse in Milwaukee, A Short Review

This update is a few days overdue, but it's taken me that long to come down from the ocular and auditory high I received at Muse's Bradley Center show.

First, the opening act, Passion Pit, about which I only have the following to say (in the form of a conversation had during their set):

J: Wait, is their band name Passion Pit or Passion Fruit?
MsQ: Wait, I thought we were listening to MGMT...

Let's just hope Passion Pit doesn't pull a Stephenie Meyer and claim they've never heard of MGMT and, therefore, wouldn't count them as an influence.

Now, to Muse.

The show was, in a word, Epic. Yes, with a capital E.

Though the UK alternative rock band boasts 3 multi-talented members (seriously, no one should be allowed to be as talented as Matthew Bellamy), it is this author's opinion that the video for this arena tour should count as the fourth (not to mention the man-in-black/on-stage-roadie spotted adding to the mix).

Seriously, though, whatever they paid the concert stage designer and video director was not enough. Exhibit A:



I especially appreciated the effects for the show's opener of Uprising.

Ti molodyets, Comrade!

Not to mention the social commentary during United States of Eurasia. It was especially moving in light of the recent rash of news reports linking bullying - especially toward the LGBT community - to student suicides.

All in all, Muse put on a fantastic show, further proving my theory that the number of semi trucks (at least 2 dozen for this show) required to haul the set from venue to venue is in direct proportion to the awesomeness of said show.

Monday, October 4, 2010

#mff2 Part 3: Eastern Europe

It's no secret that I have a general interest in all things Eastern Europe.

I'd be lying if I didn't admit to an ardent love of halusky, langos, and Soproni.

This is likely why I was drawn to the following two films during the Milwaukee Film Festival. The first deals with cooking, and I love me some of that, and the second is set in the midst of the Carpathian mountains and is presented partly in Hungarian. You know I especially appreciate that.

Cooking History
This film spans almost a century of war, and investigates what is was like for those soldiers who were commissioned to cook for their thousands of brethren on the battlefield. Through stalwart interviews sometimes presented tongue-in-cheek by the filmmakers, we get to hear war stories from those who fought a different sort of battle - feeding thousands of soldiers utilizing a cooking space sometimes the size of a postage stamp.

Each set of interviews is accompanied by a recipe that will feed the soldiers in question. A little known fact is that a pinch of salt makes most everything palatable.

Overall this film was at times funny, other times poignant, and always entertaining. A true storyteller's documentary.

My only comment is to remind the audience that even though you may buy your meat in cellophane-wrapped styrofoam trays, yes, the animals still had to be killed in the process. Even though you, as a consumer in America, are far removed from any food growing/harvesting/butchering process, it's far past the time you remember where it comes from. So stop harrumphing, covering your eyes, and gasping with outrage when you see that chicken's neck broke or that cow's vein cut open in the film. After all - a dirty secret you likely don't want to hear - animals are kept and killed far less humanely in our U.S. mass-produced food system than what you saw here.

Katalin Varga
I really wanted to like this film. During the screening I kept reminding myself how beautiful Hungarian and Romanian countrysides are as I closed my eyes and listened to them speak in those lovely, melodic native languages. I reminded myself that I was supposed to like this film and be its champion. I was transported back to my time in Hungary, convincing myself that I should like this film based on that tie alone.

But it didn't work.

Until the end.

To say I was highly disappointed with the cinematography would be an understatement. I think my 5-year-old Sony handycam could do a better job of capturing what were supposedly breathtaking views of the Carpathian mountains. We'll never know. The scenes ended up flat and sometimes just awkward depending on the camera angle.

The filmmakers also did that stupid shaky camera thing that, I think, filmmakers believe either a) makes things seem scarier, or b) makes things seem more "real," but really just gives the audience a headache and makes me, personally, not want to look at the screen.

But the story was awesome...unsettling...disturbing...heartbreaking...and loving.

And the end...

The end made all the rest of it so worth it.

On a somewhat mff2-related topic: I'm happy to report that I won a screening pass for two from OnMilwaukee.com to see Waiting for Superman next week. I was so disappointed to have missed this film at the festival - the 2010 Allan H. (Bud) & Suzanne L. Selig Audience Award winner. I'll have a little recap next week.

Friday, October 1, 2010

#mff2 Part 2 - A MUST SEE

I spent last night with the Milwaukee Film Festival in a double feature at North Shore. In my #mff2 Part 3 post I'll elaborate on the first film of the evening, Katalin Varga, but first I had to rush home and tell you about a MUST SEE film for Saturday.

Beware. This film is fantastic.

And I don't say that too often. In fact, that's what I'm loving about the film festival - finally not being burned. I can't tell you how many times in the past year I've gone to a mainstream film and been disappointed. So far, I haven't been disappointed by any films I've seen at the festival.

So, I repeat.

This.

Film.

Is.

Extraordinary.



Hipsters

This 2008 Russian musical takes place in 1955 Moscow - the height of Communist power - where a subsect of Russian youth adopt Western pop culture, even under fear of ostracism, beatings, and arrest.

On the surface it's a love story, but at heart it's a tribute to a culture I'm not sure we Americans can fully comprehend.

Can you imagine living your life as you are right now, but with the constant fear that it will land you in jail, or worse? Would you have the courage to dress as you do, or more, say the things you do if it meant social and political ostracism, usually directly tied to the future well-being of you and your family?

But that's not entirely what makes this film so fabulous.

The cinematography is absolutely a feast for the eyes, and it does for 1955 Moscow what Mad Men does for 1960's New York.

Furthermore, the music is divine. You don't have to understand Russian to want to buy this soundtrack, play it ad nauseum, and sing along at the top of your lungs.

Go.

See.

This.

Film!

Saturday, October 2nd - 9:15 PM
Oriental Theater, Milwaukee
(You can see it right after The Milwaukee Show and right before The Best Damn F*#@ing Midnight Program Ever. Sh*t. to round out a truly spectacular Saturday night)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

#mff2 Part 1 - Opening Weekend

Last week I shared my anticipatory Milwaukee Film Festival schedule that included a - for me - quite strenuous run of films.

Well, it's a woman's prerogative to change her mind. More importantly, if you know me, then you know I'm a bit on the spontaneous side and not wont to follow a schedule too closely.

Therefore, I must now present to you my actual Milwaukee Film Festival schedule - as has happened thus far, and broken down into 3 parts for your reading pleasure. Here is Part 1 - Opening Weekend.

Blue Valentine
I'm not sure how I feel about this film. That I'm still trying to work it out should tell you something favorable. Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling gave great performances - genuine, heartfelt, and all those other buzzword accolades you've likely been hearing.

But I'm just not sure how I feel about this film.

For one, I'm not sure that I ended up where I was supposed to. I heard two reactions from my non-random sampling of friends who saw the screening - either they were right there with the film to the very end, or they were like me and left convinced there's more to the story.

If the former is supposed to be the case, then I don't buy it and I think the plot is too simplistic and easy to be the gritty, honest, intimate portrayal of a relationship that it's been billed to be.

If the latter is the case, then I think it truly is a thought-provoking film - as evidenced by my continued musings, 6 days after the screening. If the end - rather than wrapping up the dual-timeline plot - is instead meant to leave us wondering, hoping, and drawing our own conclusions...then I think it truly is an honest view of falling in and out of love. Because that process is never ending, always evolving, and, ultimately, leaves you questioning.

Kids Shortz: Size Medium
They tell you when you sign up to volunteer with the film festival that you won't be able to see any films while you are actually volunteering. This is probably more true than not, but I was fortunate enough to be able to jump in the theater during a slow morning.

Not only is this the first year North Shore Cinema is screening, it is also the first year for the Children's Festival, which includes films, shorts, education, and activities.

My thoughts on the Size Medium (ages 7+) shorts:

Favorites: Story

Cherry on the Cake
This story of the plight of the middle child made me scrunch up my face, hold my breath, and try not to bawl like a baby. I'm no middle child, but the metaphor of poor little Cherry getting smaller and smaller as her family ignores her on her birthday is one that any of us can relate to.





Gerald's Last Day


It's clear why some of these shorts are meant for older children and not the toddler set. Poor, fat (but cuddly) Gerald has one more day to find an owner and doesn't seem to be having much luck. Personally, this short made me want to run to the humane society and adopt every animal on site. Don't worry, though, the end is a happy one.


Sooner or Later
This cute little film is about two formerly solitary animals - one nocturnal, one not - coming together when the world experiences a little hiccup and time gets a bit, er, rescheduled.






Favorites: Humor

KFJG


Don't you just love it when they put 'em on YouTube?

Pigeon: Impossible


Yep, totally awesome.

Favorites: Art & Style

Breaking the Mould
Life through the eyes of an apple. Not what you'd normally think of as an enticing short film, but it is harvest season in Wisconsin, and I do love myself some cider.

View it here.

Life Leaf
This was my absolute favorite of the bunch. As the description says, "a little girl finds the whole world inside of a leaf." It's a great metaphor for our interconnected natural world. You can read environmentalism and conservation into it if you want. The Pacific Northwest aboriginal artwork is absolutely breathtaking.

You can read an interview with the award-winning animator and creator here.

FYI - If I could buy the soundtrack for each of these short films - or if they could be packaged together in one low, Milwaukee film festival price, then I would pay whatever you wanted me to...within reason, if I'm being honest.

Azur & Asmar
I heard this film was beautiful, but that just doesn't do it justice.



If they sold framed prints of the film's screenshots I'd buy them and decorate my house.

Wasteland
This film has won so many audience awards you know something's gotta be right. The documentary balances just the right amount of humanity with education and technical merit. It was filmed over three years, primarily in Gramacho Garden - the ironically named world's largest garbage dump, and even with the lowly setting still manages to be beautiful. It's as much a story of the individuals who work as recyclables pickers as it is of world-reknown artist, Vik Muniz, as he struggles with the documentarian's greatest dilemma - how to share the important stories of others without fundamentally changing their lives.

Ultimately, lives are changed - some for the better, some not. Above all, I think the greatest accomplishment of this film, is showing how much beauty can be found in what we perceive to be garbage.

It's films like this one that make me proud to live in a city with such a fantastic arts and culture community. The Milwaukee Film Festival is just one example of an organization giving us the means to change our perspectives and learn more about global issues through art.

I'll elaborate more on this in #mff2 Part 2, but I encourage you to get out to the cinema while there's still time and see some films you likely won't get the chance to see elsewhere. Challenge yourself - your tastes, your perspectives, what you thought you knew about the world.

Give these films a chance, but most of all, support the rich arts and culture community in Milwaukee.