Saturday, February 25, 2017

2017 Academy Awards Predictions

My friend Karen LOVES the Oscars.  She always makes it a point to see all of the films nominated for Best Picture, as well as few others. Most years, the Academy Awards rolls around and I've seen maybe one or two of the nominated films.  This year, however, I made a point to see at least a decent amount.  Even though the Oscars won't start until 2am our time, I'm still following all of the predictions and reading about all of the fanfare. And who knows? I've been waking up at 4am every night and unable to fall back asleep for at least two hours, so maybe I'll get up and try and stream it online.  Mayyyyybe. 

Here are my predictions for what will win vs. what should win when it comes to the big awards.  I've also seen a few of the films nominated in other categories.  Let me know what you think!

Best Picture

Nominees: Arrival/ Fences/ Hackshaw Ridge/ Hell or High Water/ La La Land/ Lion/ Manchester by the Sea/ Moonlight/ Hidden Figures

Seen La La Land, Hackshaw Ridge, Arrival and Hidden Figures

 I really enjoyed Arrival, but thought it was the weakest of all of the Best Picture nominations. I think Hidden Figures was "the best" of the other three, if you can even judge that, but honestly, I walked out of all three with huge admiration for each film.   Hackshaw Ridge wasn't an enjoyable movie by any means (I cried through about a third of it), but it was phenomenal nonetheless. La La Land didn't have the history or "message" behind it like the others did, but was a lot of fun and the cinematography was fantastic.  And finally, I left Hidden Figures feeling empowered and proud of my fellow women, but also really enjoyed the story about NASA and trying to get men into space before the Russians. 

Will Win: La La Land seems to be getting all of the buzz, so I'm guessing that. 

Should Win: I'm really pushing for Hidden Figures!

Best Actress

Nominees: Isabelle Huppert, “Elle” / Ruth Negga, “Loving” / Natalie Portman, “Jackie” / Emma Stone, “La La Land” / Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins”

Seen:  Jackie and La La Land

I went into 'Jackie' thinking it would be lighthearted and portray Jackie Kennedy as this classy woman.  Instead, it focuses on the week after the assassination of her husband, which left Jackie Kennedy in a much different state than how she normally portrayed herself. Not quite what I expected, but definitely an interesting look at Jackie Kennedy. 

Will Win: Everything is saying Isabelle Huppert for Elle.  I haven't seen it, but I've heard great things!

Should Win:  I'm voting for Jackie! Natalie Portman was incredible!!  Although I'm pretty upset that Taraji Henson wasn't nominated for Hidden Figures.  I'd probably still vote for Natalie Portman, but Henson was so good in Hidden Figures.

Best Actor

Nominees: Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea” / Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge” / Ryan Gosling, “La La Land” / Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic” / Denzel Washington, “Fences

Seen: Hackshaw Ridge and La La Land

I thought Andrew Garfield in Hacksaw Ridge was good, but not deserving of Best Actor. The more I learn about Ryan Gosling and his role in La La Land, the more I'm a fan.  He learned to play the piano just for that part!

Will Win: I think Casey Affleck is the favorite, but I'm in the group of people rooting against him for his sexual harassment allegations.  

Should Win:  Based on the two that I've seen, I'm voting for Ryan Gosling, but I love Denzel Washington, so I'd get on board with that too, even though I haven't seen Fences.

Best Supporting Actress

Nominees: Viola Davis, “Fences” / Naomie Harris, “Moonlight” / Nicole Kidman, “Lion” / Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures” / Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea”

Seen: Hidden Figures

Most people are saying that everyone in this category has done bigger and better things, which I can agree with for Octavia Spencer (she was great in Hidden Figures, but she's had more dynamic and deeper roles).  I'm a big Viola Davis fan from How to Get Away With Murder, and Nicole Kidman is always fantastic. 

Will Win: Viola Davis is getting all of the support in this category.

Should Win: Octavia Spencer was great in Hidden Figures, but I'm guessing from all of the talk that Viola Davis probably should win. 

Best Supporting Actor

Nominees: Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight” / Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water” / Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea” / Dev Patel, “Lion” / Michael Shannon, “Nocturnal Animals”

I haven't seen any of the movies from this category!! Tragedy! I really want to see Lion and I've heard Moonlight is incredible.  We're also planning on renting Manchester by the Sea at some point, but haven't gotten around to it.   

Will Win: The talk is saying Mahershala Ali because, even though his role in Moonlight was small, he did a lot with it. 

Should Win: Mahershala Ali sounds like he should get it, although Jeff Bridges apparently was great and very "Jeff Bridges."

Other random Oscar thoughts....

  • La La Land should win all of the technical and soundtrack awards because it was amazing to watch on screen.  Arrival might give it a run for it's money in the cinematography categories, but La La Land just blew me away. 
  • The costumes in Jackie were mind blowing. I don't usually notice those types of things, but it was one of my first thoughts when I walked out of the theater.

Who are you rooting for?  What will be the big film this year? 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

What AmeriCorps Means to Me

In a few weeks, Congress will meet to approve the 2018 budget. They'll see the millions of dollars that many different federal programs that cost our government and, ultimately, the American people.  Currently, that budget does not include funding for Americorps AT ALL!  

There are multiple statistics that can be rattled off in support of the impact Americorps (service members have volunteered of 1 billion hours of service since it's founding for one!) has on different communities, but I think more important than statistics are the first hand accounts.  I saw the impact that AmeriCorps can have on a community during my two years as a City Year Corps Member. During that time, a few different moments stood out and reminded me why I chose to serve. 

  • During my first year, I was assigned to a first grade classroom.  There were 20 students all of varying academic levels and strengths and weaknesses. My role was to work with the students who were slightly below grade level in literacy and math and provide support so that, by the end of the year, they would meet grade level standards.  One student was having trouble reading and began to just make up stories instead of attempting to read the words on the page. By working with him one-on-one and using different literacy strategies, I was able to bring him up to a first grade reading level by the end of the year. 
  • I also worked with three middle schoolers after school, helping them with their homework.  There were many afternoons where one of my middle schoolers and I did not get along. She didn't want to do her homework, didn't understand why she couldn't go home, and didn't like that I enforced the school rules. Most afternoons were a struggle. On top of that, her mom decided to go back to the Dominican Republic for Christmas and, although she said she would be back shortly after New Years, kept pushing her flight back until she finally returned in March.  During this time, my student's behavior significantly declined as her feelings of neglect deepened. After nine months of tense afternoon meetings, it came time to talk about the following year and how they wouldn't have me to help after school.  This particular student stared down at her homework until I saw a tear drop fall onto the paper.  I realized then that she didn't really need anyone to help her with her homework.  She just really needed someone who was there. 
  • My second year was spent helping set up a City Year site in Jacksonville, Florida.  I served in a ninth grade history classroom, while also providing leadership to a team of 10 first year corps members. I met with four girls for literacy interventions throughout the year.  One student also struggled with attendance.  She played on the soccer team in the fall, so her attendance was great throughout the season, but once soccer was over, her attendance plummeted. After many phone calls home and MANY conversations about how important school is, I began to see a slight increase in the number of days a month she was in school and a decline in the number of days she spent at home.
Image may contain: 9 people
My wonderful and inspiring City Year team from Boston!
Two of the ninth graders I worked with who are now ADULTS!
I'm not telling these stories to brag, because there are so many other service members out there who have more impactful stories than these.  My brother Andrew is one of them.  There are also many other Americorps programs besides City Year that are doing incredible and meaningful work throughout our country.  I'm telling them because Americorps is more than just a government funded program.  It is the service members and the partnership they form with the communities in which they serve. 
  • They are the corps members serving disabled veterans, the homeless, and senior populations.
  • They are the corps members providing disaster relief through FEMA. 
  • They are the corps members restoring trails and our national parks.
  • They are the corps members helping to rehabilitate low-income housing. 

The fact that Americorps is at risk to lose it's funding baffles me because Americorps is such a great investment.  For every dollar that the government invests in Americorps, a dollar is matched by both private donations and local governments. That doesn't include the amount of money that is saved by using volunteer hours instead of having to hire employees OR the amount of money saved because of the impact.  For example, the schools I worked at would have hired teaching assistants, after school tutors and recess and cafeteria monitors instead of using City Year Corps Members. On top of that, statistics show that a student who drops out is 6x more likely to end up in prison, costing our nation far more than what Americorps does.  A Columbia University study found that every dollar invested in national service returns nearly $4 in societal benefits in terms of higher earnings, more output and community wide gains. Why would you cut a program that can do all of that?

So, what can you do?  Contact your congressperson and let them know how valuable you think Americorps is. Remind them that, instead of focusing on the amount of money that each program needs to operate efficiently, they look at the impact each program will have if fully funded. I am sure there are places that we can decrease the budget, but I am also sure that Americorps is not one of them!

Here is the link that will show you how to contact your congressperson!

And, just in case you're on the fence about why you should support Americorps programs like City Year, here's a little video to help persuade you!

"I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I served and saw that service was joy." -Mother Teresa

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Protests at Humboldt

Mike is enjoying the start of his winter break in Kyrgystan right now, but it's been a tumultuous end to the semester at Humboldt. Shortly after the new year, Mike noticed protests taking place and his classes began to get cancelled.  Students were upset because a former professor, Andrej Hohm was forced to resign from his position as State Housing Secretary after it was revealed that the information about his time in the Stasi was not true. Hahm had stated previously that he was only associated with the Stasi part-time when he was a teenager, but officially he was employed full-time.  It does sound like it was more of a misunderstanding, but there is still a lot of resentment towards the Stasi (rightfully so).

The protests started mid-January and seemed focused on getting Hahm a position at the university or to be rehired as State Housing Secretary. Soon, though, the protests became focused less on Hahm and spiralized out of control. The university was hesitant to step in out of fear of bad press.  Homeless people joined in and soon the building was a messy campground instead of a protest site. The university refused to pay for cleaning, but the protesters couldn't afford to do that either.

The protesters soon added other requests to their agenda and somehow were able to dictate what classes were able to be held in classrooms.  If the topic of discussion for the day didn't meet their approval, class would be cancelled.  When Mike was really sick with mono, we were worried he would miss multiple sessions of the same class, but that was during the height of the protest, so he actually only missed a few classes total.  

We weren't sure how things would end, especially as the end of the semester neared. Last week, right before the semester ended, we got word that the protest had ended and some sort of resolution had been agreed upon.  I haven't heard what agreement the two sides came to, but the protesters were gone when Mike went to his last class.

I'm not sure what is being done to clean up the building or repair the damages that came from the month long protest and now is Mike's winter break, so it will be a month until we find out, but it definitely made for an exciting end to the semester!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

This Week I'm....

Mike is back country skiing in Kyrgystan with one of the Olmsted scholars based in China.  As disappointed as I am that he'll be getting a pin on our world map, spending my days hanging out in the yurt while they back country ski didn't sound as appealing as hanging out in the comfort of my own home. Luckily, I'm pretty okay with just hanging out by myself (although it's times like these where I really miss having friends in the same city) and have a long list of things I need and want to do.

So, without further ado, this week I'm...

reading The Color Purple.  I'm having a hard time getting into it, but really want to persevere.  It's also given me weird dreams at night, so I've had to make sure I'm not reading it before bed.

listening to the Popcast with Knox and Jamie! I love it and have recommended it to so many people! If you like pop culture, this is the podcast for you. I just listened to their 2017 predictions and they already got one right (Beyonce being pregnant, although I don't think anyone would have predicted twins). I've also been listening to Pod Save America, which is one of the many political podcasts out there.  The hosts are definitely liberal, but they have guests from both sides of the aisle.

doing all the yoga.  Anything that stretches out my lower back because it is tight.  I could sit in child's pose all day because it feels so good.

eating/drinking smoothies.  I had a craving for one the other day and have started making them for breakfast almost every day.

watching so many things!

  • the pro bowl's kiss cam  this brought me to tears! The Orlando nightclub survivor! The two men! The friends! So much love!
  • New Girl.  I watched the first two seasons on Netflix a while ago, but now they've added seasons 3 and 4 and I forgot how good the show is.  It's so easy and lighthearted, it's easy to watch a few episodes.
  • All the Oscars movies! Mike and I saw Arrival this past week for Valentine's Day and it was better than expected.  I also went to see Jackie yesterday and really think Natalie Portman should get Best Actress.  I'm trying to figure out a time to go see Hidden Figures this week as well. Here is where you can access a lot of the different nominations. 
researching cars! We're going to need a second car when we get back to the United States.  So, the thought is that we'll drive the Golf until it's end (hopefully a few more years) and our other car will be an SUV/Mom car.  Since we'll be in Connecticut for at least one winter, we'd like something that's good to drive in the snow, but can also accommodate a baby and all of the gear that comes with him.   Suggestions?


No automatic alt text available.
In honor of National Drink Wine Day yesterday, I posted this picture on Instagram! Nine weeks (give or take) and counting....

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Day at the Alhambra

Well, I'm finally sitting down to write the final blogpost about Spain a week and a half later.  Better late than never, right?  

When we were planning our trip to Spain, we knew we wanted to focus on the Muslim history in the country to tie it back to our Turkish Olmsted roots.  One of the main ways of doing this was by visiting the Alhambra in Granada.  Everything we read said to book our tickets a month in advance to ensure we could get a tour space, so we did that like the good tourists we are.  I don't think we needed to do it quite that far in advance since it was the off season, but I am glad we reserved them ahead of time because all we had to do was show up the day of the tour and not worry about lines or tickets or availability. 

Our tour started at 9:30 and was full of Americans (God bless the English speaking tour!) with a great tour guide.  It was originally a small fortress that was taken over by the Moors who turned it into a huge palace before it was turned over to the Christians. Eventually, Ferdinand and Isabella would live there and have visitors such as Washington Irving.

I loved the Alhambra! I thought it was beautiful both on the outside (thanks to the Christians who focus primarily on exterior architecture) and the inside (thanks to the Muslims who's tiles and Arabic script are on the inside).

Views of Granada

Mike and I were saying we could do a whole photo book of cats we've seen out and about while travelling

Our tour guide! She spoke almost perfect English, knew a ton about the Alhambra and was just an overall pleasure to spend a morning with. She was saying that squatters used to live in the Alhambra during transition times.  I guess if you have to squat somewhere, the Alhambra isn't a bad place to do so!

Excuse the crazy hair, but we had a great morning at the Alhambra!

After the tour, it was lunch time and we were EXHAUSTED.  A three hour tour will really knock you off your feet if you're recovering from mono or are pregnant.  We got lunch and went back to our hotel and napped for the entire afternoon.  I woke up feeling like a whole new woman!

It was a good thing we did nap, though, because we really wanted to stay up and watch at least part of the Superbowl.  We found an Irish pub that was showing it, so around midnight, we, along with every American college student studying abroad in Granada, rolled into the pub.  Luckily, the owner saw I was pregnant and brought out a stool for me to sit on. We stayed until halftime and had just as much fun people watching all of the college students as we did watching the game.  Unfortunately, we made the poor decision (well, poor in that we missed a great half of the game/smart in that we got to go to sleep) to go to bed at halftime.  

The next morning, we had to drive back to Malaga to fly back to Berlin, so we took the scenic route along the coast line.  It was beautiful!! It looked so much like the Amalfi Coast and we were catching our breath at every turn.  We stopped in one of the small towns to have lunch and sat outside soaking up the sun for one last time before heading back to wintery Berlin. 

We loved our week in southern Spain.  It was a great mix of warm weather, Muslim culture, and beautiful scenery.  We got a taste of the warm weather this week and we spent the days dreaming we were back along the Spanish coast! Until next time....

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Cordoba, Spain

We had been told that Cordoba was worth spending a decent amount of time in, but had also read that it could be a day trip from Seville.  Since we had a week, we decided to spend two nights in Cordoba, which gave us an afternoon when we arrived, as well as a full day the next day. 

Upon arrival, we quickly learned that Cordoba embraces the siesta culture heavily. We were able to get a lunch at a craft beer bar before heading back to our hotel for a little siesta. That evening, we walked around and got dinner, but Mike was pretty exhausted so we called it an early night.

The next day, our number one priority was to see the Mezquita.  Cordoba is a port city and became the capital of the Moorish kingdom.  The Moors built the Mezquita, or "Great Mosque," which became one of the largest mosques in Islam.  When the Christians conquered the Moors, they thought the Mezquita was too beautiful to destroy, so they converted it to a church. We saw a lot of churches converted to mosques in Turkey, but it's rare that we get to see a mosque converted to a church. Pretty cool! 

Not only was the Mezquita beautiful, but it was HUGE!

That altar!

More oranges!

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the old town and embracing the Spanish ambiance (and warm weather!).  We had tapas for lunch, Mike had some Spanish beer and we both got a lot of Vitamin D.

All the meat and cheese!

I love all of the little side streets and alley ways!

We both loved Cordoba! The Old Town had a lot of the same feel as Seville, but the newer parts of the city were more developed and the city as a whole seemed more alive and vibrant, even though it's technically smaller.  I'm glad that we spent a whole day plus an afternoon because it gave us plenty of time to really delve into the ambiance of the city.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Seville, Spain

After singing endless rounds of "Help me Ronda," it was time to move on to our next city in southern Spain, Seville.  We arrived just in time for tapas for lunch and decided to hit up the Museum of Fine Arts (Bellas Artes) afterwards.  This was small enough to not be overwhelming or too time consuming, but had a ton of artwork that we both enjoyed. 

That ceiling!

After our time at the museum, we wandered the streets a bit and found what I like to call the wooden mushroom. It's official name is the Metropol Parisol and it's claim to fame is that it's the largest wooden structure in the world.  Mike and I both questioned whether it was actually made of wood, but I guess we'll never know.  It was worth going up to the top, though, because the views were great and the cafe was the perfect resting place.  Plus, you get a free beverage with your entrance ticket!

We heard that the Flamenco Museum had a flamenco show every evening at 7:00 and that you could get a combo ticket for the museum and the show.  What we didn't realize was that people start grabbing seats almost an hour beforehand! We arrived around six and were advised not to go to the museum because we needed to grab seats, so we didn't end up getting to do the museum, but the show was still fun. It lasted about an hour and, by the end, both dancers were covered in sweat.  It was a lot of fun and a great way to spend an evening!  We are always looking for fun things to do in the evening since I can't drink right now and most sights close around six, so this was the perfect fit!

 Our night ended with dinner at a tapas bar, where there was pork literally hanging from the ceiling.  As we went along on our Spanish trip, I began to realize this was quite the norm.  It took me for surprise though!

Our first stop on our day two tour was at the Alcazar, which is a palace developed by the Moorish Muslim kings.  We really wanted to incorporate the Muslim history of Spain into our trip since Mike is technically still considered a Turkish scholar, so getting to see the Alcazar was high on our priority list.  It's amazing how many similarities there are between all of the Mediterranean countries, as well as between all of the Muslim territories and architecture.

Tiles! I love them all!


Mike really wants a courtyard in our dream home.  I'm more of a backyard with a deck kind of girl, but I wouldn't complain if this makes it in to our future home.  One can dream, right?

One of my favorite parts of southern Spain was all of the orange trees everywhere! They are sour oranges, so not really what we like to eat, but they were in every city we went to and all over the Alcazar!

Our last stop for the day was the Plaza de Espana, where we watched tourists row in the water and rested our tired legs.  It's tough being pregnant and recovering from mono!

I feel like you could spend a whole day just wandering around the city and down the streets of Seville, occasionally stopping for a glass of sangria.  We didn't spend a whole day doing this, but we had a few hours to kill before our second flamenco show, so we definitely did a little wandering!

 Our second flamenco show was even more entertaining than the first! The dancers were better, the music more upbeat (the first night seemed a little angry!), and our seats were in the front row!  We had a blast and were impressed once again with the skill and the passion of each of the performers.

Spanish Mark Ruffalo! This guy was definitely his twin!

This guy made the funniest faces when he was singing, but I can't judge because his voice was magical!

We ended our night and our time in Seville tapas hopping.  It's like bar hopping, except with tapas. We heard this was a thing, so we wanted to try.  Our mistake was going to actual sit down restaurants instead of just going to bars.  At restaurants, you usually have to pay a service fee for the wait staff, whereas a bar waives that.  Plus, the portions were larger at the restaurants, so we were both full after the second restaurant.  That being said, it was fun to get to compare menus and try a couple of different dishes at three different restaurants.  It was a fun way to end the night and our time in Seville!

We had a great time in Seville and loved embracing the Spanish culture and history.  The food was delicious, the flamenco dancing was entertaining and the history and art was beautiful.  It was a great escape from the cold and dreary Berlin winter!