Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Erica's #15 - See Elton John in Concert (11/30/2013)

Like most children of the '80's (and probably children of the 70's too), I've been listening to Elton John since birth.  My parents liked him, his songs were all over the radio, and even in The Lion King in the 90's - you couldn't escape hearing his music if you'd have tried.  Elton John and his music are about as big a part of pop culture as you can get.

A couple of years ago, we went out and bought an old console turntable at an antique store.  We snatched up a few Elton albums (Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Honky Chateau, among others).  Elton's music has that timeless quality that ensures that you can listen to it for four or forty years and never tire of it.

Elton's latest tour brought him through Rosemont, IL at the Allstate Arena - only about a 4 hour drive from our house - on the weekend after Thanksgiving, so I pulled up Stubhub and, after much deliberation, picked out a couple of tickets on the side of the stage.  They were on the side that Elton faces, rather than the side behind him.  No offense to Elton, but I'd much rather look at his face any day.  I was worried that the tickets would be limited view, but they really were fantastic seats, other than the fact that we couldn't get a full view of the stage production.

Traffic was a nightmare, and we got there just as the opener, 2CELLOS, was finishing up their set.  We were bummed to miss them - they are amazing!  Lucky for us, they also sat in with Elton's band on quite a few songs.

It couldn't have been more than a few minutes after that when the lights dimmed, and Elton took the stage.  He was, in true Elton John style, wearing a sequined jacket with the word "Fantastic" on the back in offset red sequins.  This was, of course, accompanied by a shimmering pair of red shoes.  Elton doesn't hesitate to let his sparkling personality shine through!

We hadn't yet had a chance to listen to his latest album, The Diving Board, and we were worried that we wouldn't know many of the songs he performed, but (lucky for us) this show turned out to be Elton's Greatest Hits (which, I'd imagine, most of his shows are).  I knew all but a couple of the songs, and nearly everyone was singing along with every tune.  It was great to hear some of the Elton classics like "Rocket Man", "Your Song", "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues", "Candle in the Wind", "Levon" and "Crocodile Rock" in person.

And, all these years later, Elton still is a kick-ass piano player.  He makes it look easy, fingers flying over the ivories.  It was amusing to note that he has a teleprompter sitting at the edge of the stage - you'd think that after all these years, those songs would be such a part of him that he could play and sing them in his sleep!

All in all a great night - and since we got into the parking lot so late, we got right out without having to wait in traffic - score!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Erica's #70 - Participate in NaNoWriMo (11/28/2013)

So, for anyone who hasn't heard of NaNoWriMo - it stands for National Novel Writing Month. It happens every year in November, and the challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel in the 30 days in November.  That breaks down to about 1,667 words per day.  If you're writing in paragraphs, that's about two pages in word (12 point font, single spacing, normal margins).  Doesn't sound too bad, right?

Well it is tough.  And there are about 309,000 other "wrimos" who know that feeling now too.  I had a rough concept in my head from a short story I wrote when I was probably 11 or 12 years old - typed it out on our very first computer that my dad bought when he went back to college, and printed that bad boy out on that dot-matrix printer.  I can just hear that beautiful noise now...

I actually think I have a copy of that story somewhere printed out.  Someday, I'll find it.  So I had a concept, but I am not much of a planner.  I hated having to create outlines for anything in school, because it seems like such a waste of time to me.  If I'm going to do something, doing it once is enough.  That theme also translates to checking my work.  I rarely do it.

So the moral of that story is that I just jumped right in and started writing.  The story is set in Montana, and is about 6 friends in their senior year of high school - four boys and two girls.  The title of the novel is Rush - it's loosely themed around Montana's gold rush, and the fact that the kids are exploring an abandoned gold mine.  The six kids have been inseparable for almost a decade, and they are contemplating what they want from life after high school.  They're an adventurous bunch, and in this story, they end up finding an entrance to an old mine and exploring it.  There's adventure, danger, and a love story - what more could you expect from a novel?

I have no doubt that it isn't the next great American novel, but hey, it turned into an actual novel.  I finished it late on Thanksgiving Day, at just over 50,000 words.  The first six chapters are devoted to one character each, and there are, I believe 25 other chapters in the book.  I'm so glad its finished!  It felt good to validate it one last time in the word count checker on the website (, and get the notification that I was a winner!  Anyone who writes 50,000 words or more is a winner though, and you don't get much except a fancy little certificate to print out saying that you won.  And that all-important feeling of accomplishment!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Mel's #16 - Write Down Every Dream I Have For A Week

 I’ve been trying for years to write down my dreams. I’m sure many people experience the same thing that I do when I dream; dreams feeling so real that sometimes they deeply effect the way I act the following day, pretty clear déjà vu type dreams, and dreams that are so ridiculous that all I can do is laugh when I try to verbalize them.
So, one of my goals was to at least record my dreams for one week, and I finally succeeded in making this happen. It was not always easy…when I wake up at 6 a.m.every morning, I lay in bed for a few minutes to try to remember what was just going through my subconscious…and by the time I hit the shower I usually forget again. But I figured out that if I just stop what I’m doing and retrace my thoughts, I could remember my dreams again. I would learn to repeat this process throughout the morning, until finally I arrived at work and immediately typed out my dreams and emailed them to myself. It was kind of a nice routine to have this in the mornings and I began to look forward to taking the time each day to write my dreams down. It felt relieving, in a way. I’m sure if I keep at it, I would begin to see patterns in my subconscious and could probably lose myself in trying to interpret my dreams.
My dreams have changed quite a bit over the years. For as long as I can remember, my dreams hardly ever involved me. It was as if I was watching a movie or observing something going on in someone else’s life. Sometimes I knew the people, sometimes not. When I was involved in my own dream, it was pretty much your run of the mill stuff…trying to run and being unable to, sometimes I would get into a fight in my dreams and would go to punch the bad guy and my arm would feel like a wet noodle by the time it hit the person. For years, as a child and as an adult, I would have a reoccurring dream about giant faces that would appear in the walls of my childhood home and try to suck people into the walls. I hardly have that dream anymore, and over the past week, I’ve found that I am now a central character in my dreams. Somehow this makes me feel better, but I’m not sure why.
Erica and I were talking the other day about the challenge of recording dreams and we thought about a theory used in paranormal investigations. Often, when folks believe they are witnessing something paranormal, such as seeing shadows in the corner of a dark room or seeing ghostly figures in old pictures, there is a phenomenon going on in the brain. When the eyes see something, a signal goes to the brain where the brain scans its catalog of known items, objects, human characteristics, faces, places, etc. to try to help you figure out what you are seeing. It’s an interesting theory and we thought of it because we wondered if maybe something similar is going on when we try to remember our dreams and maybe this is why it can be difficult to verbalize them or try to make sense of what is going on. I found that sometimes I had difficulty finding words to describe what was happening in my dreams, but I also couldn’t really explain what was going on, so I figured my conscious brain was just trying to put together it’s best description of what was going on in my subconscious. Perhaps this warrants more research someday, but for now, I’m glad that I found a way to achieve this small goal of recording my dreams. I hope to continue this discipline and learn something more from it.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Erica's #72 - Carve Halloween pumpkins (10/29/2013)

This goal wasn't a stretch, as we've carved pumpkins together every year since we met.  We take a trip out to a local pumpkin patch, sometimes take the hayride out to select our own pumpkin from the field (we skipped that this year since we waited until the Sunday before Halloween to even get our pumpkins!), then come home and carve away as the dogs enjoy a delicious snack of pumpkin innards!

Yes, most years we are the only awesome people without kids riding the hayride out to pick out our own pumpkins in the fields.  We are also the mean people on the street that turn out the porch light and don't hand out candy - mostly because we have two dogs who go nuts every time there is a knock on the door or the doorbell rings.

We have tried the old leaving a bowl of candy on the porch, but that lasts 10 minutes until the greedy kid dumps it all in his bag.  So, instead we just save our money, and go pick up some of the half off candy for ourselves the next day.  Not greedy at all...

This year, trick-or-treating was postponed by one night, so all the half off candy was gone before we got to the store on November 1st.  People aren't dumb...they waited to buy their candy for trick-or-treaters until it was on sale.  My typical plan backfired, and we only scored some weird Halloween cotton candy, the last package of Halloween Oreos, Halloween Peeps, and Starburst Candy Corn.  Most of that was extremely underwhelming, with the exception of the Oreos.  We overdosed on sugar for a weekend, and I'm sure my waistline will pay for that.

Here are this year's carving photos...note the eager looks on the boys' faces!  Can I have some, please?!?

They're trying to be patient, but they failed miserably.  Surprisingly, Louie enjoyed the pumpkin treats more than Rudy this year - usually that Puggle will almost take your hand off to get a bite of pumpkin!

Here's the finished product:

A good time was had by all!  Hope you all had a Happy Halloween!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Erica's #73 - See a film at a film festival (10/26/2013)

Who doesn't enjoy a good movie, right?  I'll readily admit that Mel and I are those weirdos who enjoy watching documentaries on Netflix just as much as we enjoy a Saturday marathon of How I Met Your Mother.  We spent one of our evenings during our recent cross-country cycling adventure watching an episode of Ken Burns' documentary about the Dust Bowl.  Geeks, right?

Probably.  So, when we decided we would go see a film playing at the Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis, we had 149 films to choose from, ranging from movies about Christmas starring Willie Nelson (yes, THE Willie Nelson) to a robot love story.  How can you not love the variety presented to you at a film festival?  We chose to see a film called "Forbidden Voices", about three female bloggers living under totalitarian regimes in Cuba, China, and Iran, and doing nothing more radical than sharing the truth about life in these countries with those of us in the rest of the world.

Yoani Sanchez seems to be the central figure of the story.  She's the Cuban blogger who began her blog in 2007, sharing stories about how life is in Castro's Cuba.  She lives in Havana, and through her eyes, you see how the government attempts to control every aspect of Cuban's lives - from what they can buy at the market, to how and when they are allowed to travel internationally, to what they see on the state-run television stations, and how, where, and what they can access on the Internet.  One of the things Yoani talked about really stuck with me...she said that basically, the thing that kept her relatively safe, and as free as a Cuban can be under Communism, was that her blog got over 14 million hits a month.  It's difficult to make someone "disappear" who has been mentioned by world leaders like President Obama, and made Time Magazine's list of the Top 100 Most Influential People.

Farnaz Seifi is the Iranian blogger, though she ended up fleeing Iran to Germany to avoid persecution for the truths told in her blog.  Many fellow Iranians had done the same, though the government didn't give up on harassing their families trying to find out where they were after they had fled.  She cannot even go back to Iran to visit her family, and talked about how difficult it is to miss sharing their lives.

Zeng Jinyan of China, where free speech is technically a right guaranteed in the Chinese Constitution, was on house arrest for the majority of the time she was filmed for the movie.  It started out with police following her everywhere she went, to them trying to stop her from leaving by standing in her way, to finally posting a round the clock police presence outside of their apartment building.  Her husband was also an activist, and was sent to prison for 3 years for his part in telling the truth.  The couple's daughter spent the first years of her life without a father, and confined to a small apartment while the government kept her mother on house arrest.

While we are tangentially aware of stories like those told by these women, they don't make headlines every day in the US.  We know that these regimes do not tolerate dissent, but we don't hear much of the lengths they will go to to keep their people from speaking out and learning the truth.  Yoani mentioned that most people in Cuba didn't learn about the fall of the Berlin Wall until 10 years after it had happened - the same with the events that occurred in China's Tienanmen Square.  Those of us lucky enough to have been born in free countries can't even fathom not having news at our fingertips.

What can we do to change things?  It's a tough question.  In the case of Cuba, our government still doesn't want people traveling there without a good purpose, though President Obama has relaxed the regulations in recent years.  And the Cuban government isn't too keen on letting it's people share stories of the way life really is there.  There was a great organization that helped these women out in the movie though - Reporters Without Borders - who advocate for press freedom all over the world and work to keep journalists safe.  You can donate to their cause, or just further inform yourself about what lengths journalists in other countries have to go to in order to speak the truth, whereas we American's can happily spout about whatever we want, whenever we want, on a million different social media sites on a daily basis.  Sure makes you think...

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Mel's #18 - Make an iTunes playlist of 101 of my favorite songs (10/31/2013)

I used Spotify to build a playlist of my 101 favorite songs. I was amazed at what I felt compelled to put on the list and what I felt was ok to leave off the list. I know that somewhere in my house is one of those giant CD binders, full of music that I’m sure I was obsessed with during college and my early 20’s. Hardly any of that music made it into my playlist. Actually, hardly any of it made it to my iTunes library on my computer. It made me think of how my musical taste has changed over the past decade of my life and what kind of music used to move me and what kind of music moves me now…the music that evokes specific memories, the music that I used to relate to, the music that I can relate to now. It’s really an interesting way to chart personal growth, in a sense.

 This item on my list also made me think of how much the music industry has changed, just in the last decade. Growing up, I remember buying cassette singles and occasionally a 45 if I liked a specific song. In a weird retro kind of way, if you wanted just one song from an album, it was pretty easy to buy just that one song, plus you ended up getting a B side. When the format changed to CD’s, I don’t recall a way to buy just one song. You ended up with an entire CD of music you may or may not like, but at least you could skip to your favorite song easily enough and eventually realize that some of those more obscure songs on some of those albums were pretty good, too. Fast forward to the invention of programs such as iTunes, Napster, Rhapsody, and Spotify and we arrive back in a place where, as a consumer, you have limitless possibilities to access any song you can think of, plus millions of other songs you may have never heard of…it’s your choice if you are going to be insulated to just the songs you are familiar with or if you are going to listen to that new album by that band your friend likes. I’m sure the perspective becomes even more complicated if you approach this from an artist standpoint and how musicians approach making albums now.

 But for now…here is a playlist of 101 of my favorite songs right now, at this point in my life. I hope to keep building on to this playlist as I keep thinking of songs I like and new music I hear. Enjoy!
1. Static Waves - featuring Katie Herzig, Andrew Belle
2. Parachute, Ingrid Michaelson
3. Perth - Bon Iver
4. Stare Into the Sun, Graffiti6
5. The Whip, Locksley
6. The Stable Song, Gregory Alan Isakov
7. Late Morning Lullaby, Brandi Carlile
8. Lonely Boy, The Black Keys
9. Paris (Ooh La La), Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
10. Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise, The Avett Brothers
11. Pumped Up Kicks, Foster the People
12. Paradise, Coldplay
13. The Walls Are Coming Down, Fanfarlo
14. Everlasting Light, The Black Keys
15. Flying Upside Down, Griffin House
16. Take Everything, Greg Laswell
17. Anybody Out There, Civil Twilight
18. No Diggity, Blackstreet
19. The Chain, Fleetwood Mac
20. Come As You Are, Civil Twilight (Nirvana Cover)
21. Dying Day, Brandi Carlile
22. Nothing Compares 2 U, Sinead O'Connor
23. Charmer, Kings of Leon
24. Lovestoned, Justin Timberlake
25. In Bloom, Nirvana
26. D.O.A., Jay-Z
27. Cough Syrup, Young the Giant
28. The Scientist, Coldplay
29. Closer To Fine, Indigo Girls
30. Ghost, Ingrid Michaelson
31. Big Black Car, Gregory Alan Isakov
32. Dead Sea, The Lumineers
33. Bitter Sweet Symphony, The Verve
34. Seven Nation Army, The White Stripes
35. You Don't Love Me Like You Used To, The Lone Bellow
36. Hide and Seek, Imogen Heap
37. Invincible, Pat Benatar
38. Creep, Radiohead
39. Even Flow, Pearl Jam
40. Hail Hail, Shovels and Rope
41. Hands Down, Dashboard Confessional
42. Single Ladies, Beyonce
43. Gone, N Sync
44. Suit and Tie, Justin Timberlake
45. Why Baby Why, The Secret Sisters
46. What Can I Say, Brandi Carlile
47. Didn't Leave Nobody But the Baby, Emmylou Harris
48. Love Somebody, Maroon 5
49. Love Interruption, Jack White
50. Henry Nearly Killed Me, Ray LaMontagne
51. Cry Me A River, Justin Timberlake
52. I Don't Trust Myself (With Loving You), John Mayer
53. Fire, Ingrid Michaelson
54. Stars, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
55. Kick Drum Heart, The Avett Brothers
56. My Party, Kings of Leon
57. White Liar, Miranda Lambert
58. Lithium, Nirvana
59. Galileo, Indigo Girls
60. Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen
61. Submarines, The Lumineers
62. You Never Need Nobody, The Lone Bellow
63. Stolen, Dashboard Confessional
64. Crazy In Love, Beyonce, Jay-Z
65. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Miranda Lambert
66. Leave The Pieces, The Wreckers
67. Undo It, Carrie Underwood
68. Hard Way Home, Brandi Carlile
69. Same Old You, Miranda Lambert
70. Brave, Sara Bareilles
71. Saint Valentine, Gregory Alan Isakov
72. Empty, Ray LaMontagne
73. Crazy, Gnarls Barkley
74. Forever Young, Alphaville
75. Cannonball, Damien Rice
76. Gunpowder and Lead, Miranda Lambert
77. My Love, Justin Timberlake
78. Jumper, Third Eye Blind
79. Thank You, Alanis Morissette
80. Pride and Joy, Brandi Carlile
81. '39, Queen
82. The Only Exception, Paramore
83. Harder To Breathe, Maroon 5
84. Teach Me To Know, The Lone Bellow
85. Reason Why, Rachael Yamagata
86. Downpour, Brandi Carlile
87. When You Were Young, The Killers
88. Warning Sign, Coldplay
89. City of Angels, Thirty Seconds To Mars
90. My Favorite Mistake, Sheryl Crow
91. The Sound of Silence, Hanseroth Twins
92. Cry, Faith Hill
93. When The Stars Go Blue, Tim McGraw
94. Tennessee Flat Top Box, Rosanne Cash
95. Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good, Don Williams
96. In Repair, John Mayer
97. Have You Ever, Brandi Carlile
98. Smells Like Teen Spirit, Nirvana
99. All These Things That I've Done, The Killers
100. The Way I Am, Ingrid Michaelson
101. Radioactive, Kings of Leon

Erica's #41 - Write a letter to myself to be opened when the 1001 days are over (10/21/2013)

I've never been one of those five- or ten-year plan people, looking ahead to what I expect life should look like over the next decade, and, inevitably, setting myself up to feel like a major failure when I'm not an accomplished musician and published author traveling the world with 2.5 perfect children, only coming home to our house with a white picket fence (and a full-time housekeeper) when we get bored exploring the wonders our planet has to offer.

 I *despised* any exercise in high school,college, or job interviews that asked me to ponder what I wanted my life to be like in ten years, and coming up with concrete steps I needed to take to achieve those goals.

I still recall in vivid detail a conversation once had with a former boss about how I wanted my career to advance over the next five years.  Feeling like a caged animal, and after contemplating my answer to that question over an agonizing minute of silence while wiping my sweaty palms on my khaki pants, I responded with the truth - "I'd honestly like to be self-employed".  Silence...

I'm still not one of those big picture plan people.  I tried once to put together a five year plan with time constraints in a lovely Excel Spreadsheet (I have spreadsheets for everything - nerd alert!).  After wracking my brain for an hour, I came up with one measly goal and couldn't pin down a time-frame for this thing to save my life.  Finally realizing I was stressing myself out for nothing, I deleted the whole thing and crossed "Come up with five-year plan" off of my to-do list.

So, as you now see, it's a big deal for me to put in writing a bunch of things that I want to accomplish in the next 2.75 years.  My saving grace on this challenge is the fact that there isn't much more in this life (other than Excel Spreadsheets) that I love more than crossing something off of a list.

Not to mention the fact I am not forced to think big picture.  Some of these things will take no more than a few minutes to accomplish.  You'll notice that there are no major career expectations on my list.  Call that a lack of ambition if you will - I call it not letting work define me.

So how does this relate to writing a simple letter to myself to be opened when these 1001 days are over?  Here's how - I didn't want to word it so that it deflates me when I read it in 2016.  I've also never written a letter to my future (or past, or present for that matter) self, so this was a slightly weird concept for me.  But I got through it.

Here's a blurred photo of my letter.  See, I couldn't even write an entire page to myself.  And I blurred it because it's likely embarrassing drivel in there.  But hey, it's done, and crossed off the list!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Erica's #4 - Jump in a bounce house (10/12/2013)

We've talked for years about renting a bounce house for our backyard for the weekend. Not for a party, just for the two of us immature adults to spend 48 hours in, acting like the children we really are! We never got around to it though, so this ended up on my list of things to accomplish in the next 2.75 years. And when Mel's dad had his annual cookout on October 12th, I got to fulfill one of my goals! He rented a bounce house for the kids - it was designed to look like a dog. I spent a good part of the evening in there with the kids - in particular, my favorite little dude, Cooper! He (and I) had a great time bouncing around. I was quickly reminded why people over 30 don't generally participate in this kind of entertainment as the aches and pains set in :) It was worth it though, and it became the first thing checked off of my list!
Me and Cooper
Cooper bouncing with Brett who is twice his size - kid has no fear!