Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween 2011

I didn't really intend on celebrating Halloween this year. Antonio and I didn't have costumes and neither did our friends. I figured the holiday would come and go unnoticed. As a surprise, Antonio bought us candy and pumpkins to carve. And by surprise, I mean that I dropped lots of hints. We spent Saturday afternoon scooping out pumpkin guts and carving faces. It was harder than I remember it being as a kid. I'm thinking that my parents must have scooped out the insides. It was a lot of fun! It must be mentioned that while carving pumpkins it was snowing all day. He traced his face, which I consider cheating. Oh well, it looked much better than mine did. Mine was a little lop-sideded, but I liked it. We roasted the pumpkins seeds. They turned out much better than I thought they would. With just a little butter and salt, it was a surprisingly tasty treat. We spent the afternoon eating lunch from Better Burger and watching Scream 4. It was dumb! The first movie in the franchise was good, but this was just silly. It was a little scary, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. It was a nice low key weekend.

I spent the latter part of Sunday trying to figure out what I'd wear for the Corcoran Spooktacular. I thought that I could just do what I did last year - sexy soldier. That seemed like a cop-out. It would have been cheap - no inspiration. I had the idea to be a hipster. I joke about Brooklyn in the office a lot so it'd be funny. Finding everything I needed for my costume was a challenge. I found a pair of size 29, gray, straight-leg Levis. It was quite a squeeze and I couldn't zip or button them. But that's hipsters wear. They just don't have as much booty as I do. LOL. I had the white shirt and vest. I just had to go up to Urban Outfitters for the hat. I got the glasses at Ricky's. I was so happy that it all came together and I must admit that I actually kinda like the way it looks. As a hipster, I can't get too excited about it though.

Most people came in dressed up at work. Jackie was an spot-on impersonation of David Bowie from Labrynth, Martha was a hockey player, Mike was a golfer, Connie was the girl from Black Swan and Andy was a blood-thirsty Wall Street banker. It was a lot of fun! We paraded around the two other Corcoran floors in our building. Some of the agents laughed, but most were just confused. We had pizza and cake and most people had candy at their desks. Martha did a great job organizing everything. I love that I work for a company where they understand that these little things make such a big impact. Everyone loves working here because there is such a positive atmosphere.

While I didn't plan on doing much for Halloween this year, I ended up having a great time! Now I've got to head to the gym to make up for the pizza and candy corn. Stomach fat and love handles are the scariest part of Halloween.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Kelly Clarkson - Stronger

Kelly Clarkson consistently releases amazing albums. Her fifth studio album, Stronger, is no exception. Kelly has evolved and changed with every album, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Thankful was her R&B, soulful debut. Breakaway was a powerhouse of pop/dance inspirational anthems and ballads. My December, with its hauntingly beautiful lyrics and pop/rock/punk arrangements, remains my all-time favorite Clarkson album. All I Ever Wanted felt a bit uneven - like a mixture of My December and Breakaway. It felt like she had to redeem herself from the commercial disappointment of My December. She really could go in any direction her latest release.

A few weeks ago, several tracks that were rumored to be from her new album hit the internet. I heard them and fell in love. As the October 24th release date drew closer, I became more and more excited. When I happened to turn my computer on around midnight on the 23rd, I was shocked to the album was automatically downloading in my iTunes queue. It's taken me almost a whole week to get through the album. It's not that I don't like it. It's just the first six songs are so amazing that I have them all on repeat. But I've finally heard them on and ready to deliver my review.

First of all, Kelly does and always does sound absolutely amazing! It is so refreshing to hear a beautiful voice without autotune and all the blips and beeps that usually accompany today's pop music. The arrangements are cross between My December and All I Ever Wanted. Nothing too pretty and poppy, but also not so dark and gloomy. Some tracks are calm and ethereal, while others are fast and fun. The only part of the album that is lacking are the lyrics on certain songs. Some are so beautiful and then some feel like they'd be more appropriate on a Hilary Duff album circa 2002.I also know that Kelly had writing credits on almost all the tracks on My December, but has had a lot more help with this album. I think there is a loss of authenticity when there are so many writers. It feels, at times, like a collection of songs and not a personal expression. The lyrical quality varies - there are some songs that make me want to cry because they are so vulnerable and raw. Others make me shutter and just dance along for the ride.

Let's break it down.

1) Mr. Know It All - This was probably not the best lead single. It's good but never quite revs up. It's like a big anthem that never hits that climactic note. It's definitely a good song, but just not what I'd expect her to pick to kick off the era.

2) What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger) - This is, by far, one of the best tracks on the album. It's got that feel-good, take on the world, post-breakup anthem feel. Her voice is so powerful that you know she means business. She's over some guy and ready to strut down the street.

3) Dark Side - This was one of the songs that I'd heard when it leaked online. I love it! It's poppy, but still poignant. It starts out like a lullaby and then quickly kicks the roaring chorus. I love the message - I have a demons. Can you love me, the real me?

4) Honestly - This track reminds me of Sober from My December. It's quiet and painful. It has an achingly beautiful quality. This is definitely one of the best ballads on the album. "All I see are stepford-like lives / Needles and knives / Beautiful lies" - that line is sheer, introspective perfection.

5) You Love Me - If you think this song is about romance then you don't know Kelly. It's a powerful breakup anthem. I love the line "You didn't let me down. You didn't tear me apart. You just opened my eye while breaking my heart." It makes me think of a dysfunctional relationship where the guy twists everything around to make it seem like the other guy's fault.

6) Einstein - When I say that some of the songs lack lyrical maturity, I'm talking about this song. "Simple math, our love divided by the square root of pride / multiply your lies plus time I'm going out of my mind". Whew, that's rough. I feel like I'm back in math class in middle school. Lyrics aside, the song is actually really good. It's a little cheesy but it's fun and sassy. "I may not be Einstein, but I know dumb + dumb = you".

7) Standing in Front of You - This is a departure from the previous track. It's a quiet, almost whisper and it's soft like a cool pillow. I've heard others describe it as having an Imogene Heap feel. It took me some getting used to, but now I really appreciate it.

8) I Forgive You - Wow! First Oprah talks about forgiveness and now Kelly has a song about it. There's a line that really resonates, "I forgive you. We were just a couple of kids / Trying to figure out how to live / Doing it our way". It makes me think of Brian and all the times that I blamed him and he blamed. We both made mistakes and handled things poorly. Forgiving him is for both of us. It was a time in my life. I'm happy to have had it, but am also so incredibly happy where I am now.

9) Hello - There are times when I feel insignificant and as if no one is listening. This is why I love this track. "My heart concern is bleeding /Is there anybody, anybody? / Hello, hello/ Is anybody listening?" It's a great upbeat song that is just tinged with angst.

10) The War Is Over - Another great forgiveness track. It's about letting go and knowing when it's not worth it anymore. I remember that feeling of just thinking, "Wow. Yeah, this is over". It's a great song and has a strong, dignified tone. She's not laughing in the guy's face; she's just standing tall and walking away.

11) Let Me Down - If you don't want to take the calm approach to ending to a relationship, you could do it the way she does on this track. This is rocky, angry breakup song. I love this song.

12) You Can't Win - This is one of the most lyrically personal and sassy tracks on the album. It's a fun song but does have a good message. "If you're thin - Poor little walking disease / If you're not - They're all screaming obese / If you're straight - why aren't you married yet? / If you're gay why aren't you waving a flag?". She's really putting herself out there and I like that. The arrangement of the song isn't my favorite, but like the message.

13) Breaking Your Own Heart - A good closer to an amazing album. It's about blocking the things you want because you won't allow yourself to have them. You don't let people in, you're just breaking your own heart. I bet Oprah has a quote from Maya Angelou that would fit perfectly with this song.

Bonus Tracks

14) Don't You Wanna Stay - Country music isn't much a reach for Kelly. This duet with Jason Aldean is lovely. This is a love song and just doesn't quiet fit. The rest of the album is very post-breakup. It's weird to hear her sound so lovey-dovey.

15) Alone - She's back to her usual strong, angry self on this track. It's clever and fun! I picture her driving down the road in a convertible with the wind blowing her hair. This song is freedom personified.

16) Don't Be A Girl About It - Hmmm....this song seems borderline offensive to me. It's fun, but also makes it seem like girls are weak and emotional. I'm still on the fence about this song even though she does some smooth vocalizations that I've never heard do before. It's fun

17) The Sun Will Rise - This is another country-esque song. It's an inspirational duet with Kara DioGuardi. I'll need to give it a few more listens, but I could see it making me feel better on a rough day.

18) Why Don't You Try - With this song, we're right back where we started - Thankful. This is a soulful, slow jam! It also sounds a lot like Where Is Your Heart from Breakaway.

This album is a triumph for Kelly. This album is a good fusion of all her styles. It's got a little bit for everyone. With wonderful vocals and real instruments, it's hard to go wrong. While the lyrics on some tracks leave something to be desired, the album is solid. The soul of the album is what makes it so radiant and enjoyable.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Toddlers, Tiaras, and Trauma

On Friday, Anderson Cooper featured the mothers and daughters of Toddlers and Tiaras. I must admit that I had pretty much made up my mind before he even invited the guests on stage, but I give him credit for remaining as objective as possible. The mother's presented their view that their daughter's love to perform and wear costumes. They discounted the arguments that beauty pageants sexualize children or attract pedophiles. They made a somewhat compelling point that parents push their kids in any activity, whether it be pageants, gymnastics, spelling bees, etc. The audience, which included a psychologist, pretty much let the parents have it for a seemingly oblivious view of the negative consequences of the kiddie pageant circuit.

I can see both sides of the argument. I would imagine that lots of little girls like to play dress up. I have no problem with that. I would also bet that the mothers' argument that pageants have very tight security. There are no random creepers in the audience; just authorized friends and family. I have no problem there either. While some parents may be living vicariously through their children, I'm sure it's not the case for all parents. Even for the parents who are pushing their kids, it's not really different from making them study hard in school or practice in sports. It's not necessarily a good thing, but it isn't isolated to only pageants.

My issue is with the potential for damage in the future. Oprah did an episode of Life class recently on aging and that harm caused when people base their self-worth on their self-image. These little girls are so cute! I'll admit it. They're adorable. I can't help but think that the winners and losers of these pageants eventually all wind up losing. The ones who lose the pageants must not be good enough. But they didn't lose a chess match or a volleyball, they lost a beauty pageant. What does that do to their self-esteem?

So the girls without the crowns lose, but the winners can also lose. Some would argue that it's great for their self-esteem. But I'm thinking about what happens later. Puberty and adulthood causes about a whole host of challenges. Acne, crooked teeth, weight gain, wrinkles are just some of the many things that teens and adults deal with. What happens to a child who was raised in an environment where their appearance is so highly valued? How do they cope with the changes? I think this is one of the dangers of pageants. Developing a healthy self-image is hard enough for average people. When you combine the already difficult challenge of being confident in yourself with an upbringing that associated winning with beauty, it has the potential for disaster.

I also wonder about what the children are being taught at the pageants. On Anderson, we saw a video of one of the mothers telling her to smile and pose for the judges. They are learning to seek out the approval of others. If they want to win, they need to look cute and put on an act for others. I'm thinking of when they're 17 and dating a boy who wants to have sex. They have already learned they need to impress people in order to succeed. I could see a dangerous pattern of unhealthy choices in order to please other and attain their approval.

Who knows what is right? Only the parents can make these decisions for what is right with their children. I just hope parents can make objective decisions without getting sucked into the glitz and glamour.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Test Time

I finished my real estate course in what feels like lightning speed. I started it on Sunday, September 18th and finished it yesterday, Thursday, October 20th. Learning 75 hours worth of information in about a month is astonishing. The crazy thing is that I really feel that I understand the concepts and remember most of the information.

I had spent so many hours at home and work learning all the necessary information. I'm actually a little sad that it's over. The course, offered through NYREI, is so well designed. The mini quizzes, video lectures, and detailed outlines made learning the information easy and fun.

Now comes the part that scares me. I have to take the school's exam and get a certain score in order to receive permission to take the actual licensing test through the Department of State. Of course the exams themselves are going to be stressful, but it's what comes after the exam that has really got me nervous.

In what may have been naivety on my part, I didn't realize that I can't be "staff' and an "agent" at the same time. It's one or the other. That was kind of a big monkey wrench in my plan. I love my job and the people with whom I work. I've only been here for seven months. I can't just quit, nor do I want to! The thought of not having a steady paycheck is terrifying, especially since my emergency fund only has $300. I'm going to stay put for quite some time.

But, the nagging thought is there. What is going to happen? Will I be successful? When will I finally make the jump and start doing what I think / hope I will love? What if I don't like it?

There was a certain safety net while I was going through the course. I felt like I could say, "well, I'm still studying so it'll be a while before I become an agent." That roadblock is gone, though I am going to heavily review before I take the exams. I'd like to avoid failing the first time (like I did with my learner's permit). But it's really all up to me now. My future is in my hands.