It's a Resolution, Baby!

52 Weeks. 52 New Year's Resolutions.

Week 50. Resolution 50. See The Nutcracker. December 24, 2010

Considering my level of coordination rivals that of a gangly, new-born deer attempting to walk upon a sheet of ice, you may find it surprising that I was once a ballet dancer.  For eight years I pirouetted, arabesqued, chasséd, demi pliéd and generally spoke much more French than I do now before the trials of life stripped my first passion away from me.  While I wasn’t a talented dancer by any means, I was certainly a committed one, studying six different types of dance that meant I spent more time in ballet shoes than any other form of footwear.  I was once even chosen to dance with the New Zealand Ballet as part of an ensemble but was swiftly kicked out for talking too much and subsequently received a much better character part.  I think there’s a lesson in there somewhere.


But, like the ugly duckling in reverse, I grew less graceful and more self conscious (and less talkative) as adolescence peeled me from my youthful abandon and my life as a dancer was over.


However, back then, such was my passion for music and dance that I consumed as much Grease, Annie, Can’t Stop the Music and Xanadu than was probably healthy for a young girl but somehow never managed to see the world’s most famous ballet, The Nutcracker.  Ironically I’ve probably actually danced IN The Nutcracker but was too busy backstage being caked in hairspray, make-up and tulle to have ever experienced the full shebang.  I always believed it was the tale of a bunch of Christmas toys getting up to mischief while their human playmates slept—Like ‘Toy Story: The Ballet’.  But it’s not like that at all as I found out when I finally attended the Queensland Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’ at QPAC this Christmas.


The Nutcracker is based on a story adapted by Alexandre Dumas of ‘The Three Musketeers’ fame and is (unbelievably I know) about a nutcracker.  But like most good ballets, and operas too I imagine, the plot is tenuous at best and simply provides a hook to hang the dancing upon.  The ballet was originally performed in 1892 but proving unsuccessful was abandoned on the scrapheap.  This was evidenced in the film Fantasia (as mentioned in an earlier post) when the narrator introduces Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite by explaining that The Nutcracker ballet “wasn’t much of a success and nobody performs it nowadays.”  However merely four years after this infamous statement the San Francisco Ballet introduced The Nutcracker into the hearts of the public, forever cementing the ballet as a crucial component of the Christmas tradition the world over.


The Nutracker begins at a lavish Christmas party in the mansion of the Stahlbaum family.  Much to the delight of the children, their godfather, the dastardly toy-maker Herr Drosselmeyer, arrives to distribute presents, one of which is the infamous nutcracker.  After the party the youngest child, Clara, sneaks down to the parlour to check on the nutcracker but as the clock strikes midnight everything in the room grows and she is beset by a plague of mice.  The now alive nutcracker and his army of gingerbread men do battle with the Mouse King but quickly fall to his micey minions until Clara throws a slipper at them triumphantly winning the battle.  Who knew slippers could be such an effective weapon eh?


Up until this point the ballet makes a strange kind of sense but then the nutcracker inexplicably transforms into a prince and takes Clara to the Land of Snow for a dance.  Afterwards they visit the Land of Sweets where the Sugar Plum Fairy celebrates their victory with a selection of dances including the Spanish Dance, the Arabian Dance, the Russian Dance, the Chinese Dance, the Mirliton Dance (?) and the Waltz of the Flowers.  Then they all dance some more until Clara awakens back in the parlour of her mansion, the nutcracker cradled in her arms.  This nonsensical second act could be blamed upon that old chestnut, “it was all just a dream”.


While this is the official story, in the Queensland Ballet version of events, following Clara’s dance with the prince, it was her omnipresent godfather Drosselmeyer who accompanied her to the Land of the Sweets and their rapport was such that I couldn’t help continually questioning their bizarre relationship.


Perhaps we simply mixed up the dancers because our $55 nosebleed seats meant we were so far away and so high up that my fear of heights was distracting enough to make the experience an uncomfortable one.  I spent a lot of time thinking about how dance is the only activity humans participate in where a complex set of movements are repeated over and over, night after night.


(If your mind just wandered to the gutter, come back now please because we’re discussing ballet for chrissakes.)


Tchaikovsky’s stirring and timeless score was performed beautifully by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra and the Queensland Ballet’s sets and lighting were lovely and spectacular respectively.  However as ballet was such a large part of my life for a time I still have a critical eye for dance and, while there were undoubtedly some stunning dances including the Snow Dance and the Arabian Dance, for the most part the performances and choreography were far from faultless.


An oddity of ballet which I’ve always found ridiculous is that you are required to clap so much that it’s a wonder your hands don’t perpetually meld together.  Not only are you expected to clap after every dance but at the end you generally clap for a good ten minutes as you applaud the ensemble, then each group of dancers, then individual dancers, then the ensemble again, then the director, the individual dancers again, the ensemble, and then, if you’re lucky, they might finally drop the curtain giving your blistered hands some peace.


Even though my time as a dancer is over there were certainly plenty of small, perfectly groomed girls in the audience for whom the dream continues or for whom, after seeing The Nutcracker the dream begins.


May your Christmases be merry and your godfathers not so creepy!


Week 49. Resolution 49. See U2. December 16, 2010

Remember when music was tangible?  Before iPods were all the rage you actively had to go to a shop and pay for an album in order to listen to a band or song that you liked.  The excitement you felt holding a freshly minted album in your hands was as much about the cover art and packaging as it was about the music.  A finely crafted album was savoured and played regularly—taking both the good with the bad.  (And AH-MAZING things like THIS were still possible!)


These days you merely have to visit the iTunes store to purchase a song of your choice.  While I love the convenience of paying only for the tracks that I want and having access to artists the local music store would be unlikely to stock, part of me misses the ritual and anticipation of hearing a new album for the very first time, and the second time, and third, and so on until I knew the words to every song.  Now our listening habits are more about variety than consistency and our love affair with our favourite albums has lost its passion.


Subsequently, my life no longer has a soundtrack.  For me, and you too I imagine, there are certain memories I can’t reflect on without remembering the music that accompanied them.  Whole portions of my life cannot be recalled without hearing The Pixies, Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, Radiohead, The Doors, Nick Cave, Death Cab For Cutie and so many, many more.  But now, for the most part, my more recent memories are silent.


One of the most prevalent bands to accompany my memories, at a time when I was first discovering the importance of music in my life, is U2.  Towards the later end of my high school years U2’s Achtung Baby was the soundtrack.  When I graduated high school and first discovered real independence U2’s Zooropa was the soundtrack.  These albums defined moments of my life.  And, even now looking back at U2’s discography I can’t help but feel nostalgic for my teenage years.  So when U2 toured the spectacle that was Popmart in 1998, a concert I couldn’t afford to attend because I was only a poor student, I swore to myself that one day I would see U2 live.


Admittedly, I haven’t thought much about U2 in the intervening years.  Like all bands that blaze too brightly for a time, there is undoubtedly an accompanying full from grace.  Love them or loathe them, they are still unquestionably the biggest band in the world even if, these days, people tend to laugh AT Bono and not with him which is odd considering his philanthropic work has genuinely made the world a better place.


Thirteen years later when U2’s 360 tour was announced I had graduated from a poor student to a poor adult and initially thought that perhaps my dream no longer had worth, but on learning of the $40 seats the part of me that once longed to see U2 began to burn a little brighter.  Although the ticket ended up being $6o with the inclusion of Ticketek’s ludicrous fees, it was still a steal to see the world’s biggest band tour the world’s largest stadium show and my excitement grew as the event edged ever closer.


Catching the free shuttle bus to the concert was an experience in itself.  The driver announced he’d play some music to get us into the mood before assaulting our eardrums with a snippet of the kitschiest version of ‘Wheels on the Bus’ I’ve ever heard.  This was quickly followed by the Chicken Dance, the driver’s cackling and the blaring of U2 at shattering levels.  It was an odd sensation staring out the tinted bus windows, listening to blisteringly loud U2 and watching office minions begin their journey home.


Never before have I seen such a diverse range of people at a gig, ranging from children to the middle aged and all manner of sorts in between, including the charming young lady who couldn’t keep her boobs in her top.  I heard a girl nearby comment that seeing U2 was on her bucket list and I realised I wasn’t alone in this desire.


The expansive set looked as if an alien from War of the Worlds had descended on Suncorp Stadium, laying dormant in wait for its masters to bring it to life.  The massive 360 screen in the belly of the craft counted down from ten minutes to zero before Jay-Z launched onto the stage to attempt to rouse the beast.   Jay-Z was an odd choice for a support, no doubt dividing the audience, but I was personally thrilled to hear favourites Roc Boys, Hard Knock Life and 99 Problems (no Death of Auto-Tune though?).  While our view of Jay-Z was predominantly blocked by the drum risers for his two kits and horn section, the screen provided enough coverage for us to appreciate his lively on-stage presence (he always seems so serious in interviews?)  Jay-Z SOUNDS exactly like I imagine living the glamorous life in New York FEELS and nowhere is that more evident than in Empire State of Mind which worked the crowd into an appreciative frenzy.


After a brief break, a Mexican wave and another countdown U2 entered the arena and sauntered along the walkway surrounding the stage to Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ and the cheers of a manic crowd.  Their trademark jangly guitar sound was crystal clear (Jay-Z’s set had been a little murky) as they broke into the instrumental ‘Return of the Stingray Guitar’ followed by ‘Beautiful Day’.  The set was equally littered with old favourites as well as newer tracks that I hadn’t heard.  (The set list can be found here, although if you’d like to see a more comprehensive list including the dozens of snippets of covers included in the set, go here.)  I’m glad I hesitated about buying tickets as I was more impressed with the set list for the second night of the Brisbane show in comparison to the first.


Naturally the alien spacecraft opened up and revealed all its bells and whistles under U2’s careful touch.  Rotating bridges joined the stage to the circular walkway so the band members, wielding their instruments, could flounce back and forth to interact with the crowd at will, including their ageless drummer Larry Mullen Jr. who either walked about with a djembe or spun his drum kit around to face all angles.  But it was the age old trick of smoke and mirrors that produced the most interesting effects with light reflecting off the two mirror balls, one below the screen and one atop the spacecraft’s tower, spewing so much smoke that the fine night above was shrouded from view.


However the true star of the show was the expansive 360 degree screen that for the majority of the show sat at the top of the stage transmitting in four different directions a mix of vision of the band, pre-recorded video and overlaid effects.  The impeccable camera work and vision mixing continually reflected that of a well crafted video clip and was of the best live standard I’ve personally ever witnessed.  It was a great surprise when the individual hexagonal panels of the screen OPENED UP on hinges to spread the entire height of the stage with each panel displaying a different colour.  Having worked in the event and video industry I could fully appreciate how immensely impressive this was and how brain shattering difficult it would have been to conceive.  The screen then closed up again at the bottom of the stage with vision that travelled around the screen in a circular fashion.


The band itself performed a perfectly manicured set and I couldn’t help but muse on how remarkable it is that they’ve never broken up or had to replace a drummer or bassist.  Bono’s high energy antics wooed his minions as, at one moment, he serenaded a young girl plucked from the crowd, while the next he was swinging around atop the illuminated steering wheel shaped microphone which hung from the roof.


The band expressed their support for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi by inviting members of the Burma Campaign Australia and One, Bono’s own advocacy organisation, onto the stage with Amnesty International lanterns to form a ring of light around the stage  while U2 performed the song originally written for Suu Kyi in 2000, ‘Walk On’.


‘With or Without You’ ended the show while an incredible amount of crew pooled to dismantle the spacecraft the second U2 left the stage.  If only the thing really could fly.  Perhaps that’s the next tour.


While I can only touch on the many highlights of the night, further incredible facts can be found about the tour here, including their carbon emission offsets and the placement of the stage on Google Earth a week before each show.


The show solidified U2 as still being as relevant and important as ever and while they may never return to high rotation on my iPod they’ve successfully managed to give me yet another memory to savour for life.


Week 48. Resolution 48. Have Acupuncture. December 8, 2010

I was going to begin this post by saying ‘I’m scared of needles’ until I realised it’s just as superfluous as saying ‘I hate dentists’.  Show me someone who enjoys having long rods of bloodsucking metal shoved into their body parts and I’ll show you a psychopath. What I should really say is that I’ve never met a needle that didn’t cause me to faint.  Except once—but considering I was already in hospital for fainting, Murphy’s Law dictates that it was unlikely to happen again under the watchful eye of a medical specialist.

As a result ‘have acupuncture’ was never high on my list.  But as absolute necessity will overcome just about any fear, on discovering that acupuncture can be used to cure hay fever, the thought of a hay fever free life completely dulled my needle aversion.  That is, of course, until the day of my appointment when I came to my senses.  (Well, not all of my senses considering my sense of smell usually suffers under hay fever’s iron fist.)

To backtrack a little, I first discovered that acupuncture was used to treat rhinitis through someone’s posting of this link on Twitter.

As I’ve suffered the symptoms of hay fever since birth I’ve grown intolerant to most hay fever medication and so an itchy and sniffily nose has become like an old friend.  An old, incontinent friend who never shuts up.  As regular injections and medication sporting the warning ‘may cause drowsiness’ were my only remaining options I was certainly glad to consider an alternative.

Unfortunately acupuncture is generally one of those professions that has not yet harnessed the power of the webpage and as I’m one of those people who no longer uses telephones, finding an acupuncturist who treats respiratory problems was like trying to find a needle in a haystack (sorry).  It also seems that anyone can do a six month course and call themselves an acupuncturist which certainly doesn’t instil much faith in needlephobics. But a call-out on Twitter and Facebook (useful in so many ways) left me with a couple of recommendations and a quick phone call later (fine, I use the phone SOMETIMES, but begrudgingly) and I had myself an appointment.  Bonus—they also have a website, therapists with over ten years experience and were cheaper than others I’d found.

With my appointment looming I could think of only two things.  One—a story told by a friend who does acupuncture about the time a patient accidentally relieved herself while under treatment, and Two—NEEDLES!! NEEDLES!! NEEDLES!! NEEDLES!! NEEDLES!!

Good times.

But as chickening out is not part of the resolution code I simply had to ignore these incessant thoughts as much as possible and get on with the frightening task.


To kick off the consultation the therapist first talked to me about my symptoms, general health and explained the treatments she was going to use.  An unexpected fact that came out of this discussion is that it’s highly likely I have endometriosis which would affect my fertility should I ever want children.  Other than that, I liked the therapist instantly and found her laidback yet knowledgeable approach sent the last of my fears packing.  She then explained the principles of wind and fire making me realise I have absolutely no concept of how acupuncture works which I’m entirely comfortable with considering I’d likely find weaknesses to poke holes in (pun intended).

I jumped up onto the treatment table and prepared for the needle onslaught.  She used approximately 13 needles starting with feet and moving upwards to legs, hands and face.  Each needle is tapped into the pressure point and feels like a small pinch to the skin.  Nothing to fear at all.  I said as much and she responded that there was a time when people came for acupuncture literally quaking in their boots but these days it’s just so commonplace and the needles so fine that it’s really nothing to worry about.  And it isn’t.

The needles are left in for 20-30 minutes and at first feel like mosquito bites without the itch while they rest in your skin, but eventually the feeling goes away completely.  The only time I felt any pain was when a sudden movement of my foot made the needle bounce around.  The therapist explained that the majority of people tend to fall asleep while under treatment due to acupuncture’s relaxing effects, with most beginning to nod off after the second needle is placed into their skin.  But as someone who finds it difficult to relax and since I was all adrenalined up from the experience I simply stared at the ceiling, smiling to myself for tackling the resolution.  Afterwards her assistant removed the needles which felt like someone plucking a single hair from my skin.

The cost of the appointment was $70, of which my health fund will cover $33 and I was also given $22 worth of Chinese herbs to strengthen my immune system.  The therapist asked to see me in a week after which time I could continue weekly treatments if I so chose.

I’ve spent the time since drinking my wonderful concoction of curry flavoured dirt three times a day and hoping for the best.  I’ve suffered hay fever twice (both times it came on an hour before a shift at work – psychosomatic?) which meant I had to revert to taking my drug of choice, Cetirizine.  However, a week later and I suffered my third attack so badly that I booked my follow up appointment for the same day, despite the cries from my bank account.  This time I didn’t take any antihistamines and my symptoms were so intense that it made me realise exactly how effective my Cetirizine has been.

The therapist asked questions regarding my hay fever since my last appointment and upon discovering I’ve accidentally been taking too much of the Chinese herbs (I was given the wrong instructions) she laughed and said ‘no wonder it’s been working so well!’  Considering I was still getting hay fever this made me question HOW it’s been working so well and whether the acupuncture was just for show.  To my annoyance it meant I had to buy another bottle of herbs.  She reminded me that I should also be using a salt wash (where you pump a bottle of salted water through your nostrils to flush out any toxins) and so I picked up a kit on the way home.

The second application of needles was virtually painless until she put one into my face that must have been so close to a nerve that certain facial movements caused me a great amount of pain.  I spent the 30 minutes desperately wishing for it to be over.

Actually a hedgehog

When the assistant came to remove my needles she laughed hysterically when the one in my forehead refused to come out, commenting that she’d never seen it happen in all her 15 years of working there.  The brief vision of spending my life resembling a porcupine was not pleasant.

That evening my hay fever had become so debilitating that it was beginning to resemble a more serious ailment.  I later realised the likely reason for this particularly severe attack was because I’d managed to flick shampoo into my eye that morning and it had probably gotten into my sinuses.

Whether the treatment will be effective in the long term still remains to be seen but at least I now know the drill. (Oh sorry, that was a dentist joke.)


Week 5. Resolution 5. Make A Record Bowl. February 6, 2010

Let it be known that this was the week that I started to wonder what the hell I’d gotten myself into.  With 40 hours of work to complete and a doubling of chores with the defection of my parentals to Hawaii I really struggled to feel any enthusiasm for the challenge.  This was not helped by my realisation that completing the resolutions was contributing to my rapidly dwindling bank account and consuming the time I felt I should be putting into my studies.

With all this in mind I needed a really easy challenge and for the first part of the week I deliberated over which one to choose, eventually deciding on ‘make a record bowl’ as I had been thinking about it for some time.

I originally discovered record bowls while perusing for some charming homemade wares.  But it wasn’t until months later when I picked up a copy of the brilliant book ‘500 Things You Should Know’ that I discovered how easy it is to make them yourself.  After further internet research I headed out to the local shops to pick up a cheap metal bowl before facing the inevitable task of choosing a record.

I really wanted the perfect record for immortalising in bowl form.  It couldn’t be a little known or embarrassing artist and it had to hold some significance for me.  Plus it had to have a pretty label!  All of this was a fairly big ask, especially as, for some unfathomable reason, I had no idea where to go these days to buy cheap second-hand records!  I even went to some trash and treasure markets a few weeks back and found nothing.  As I’d lost some heart in the whole resolution idea I had to make it easy on myself and keep my search confined to the house.

Rifling through my box of records I gave serious thought to whether I could part with ‘The Beatle Barkers’ (farm animals covering Beatles classics – brilliant!) I finally found the perfect piece of vinyl.  It was Transvision Vamp’s ‘Pop Art’.  It had a name which suited the medium, it contained the song ‘Revolution Baby’ which heavily contributed the naming of this blog and it had a pretty rainbow on the label.  However I did have some reservations about possibly wanting to listen to it again one day on my non-existent record player.

Before committing to the final piece I thought it best to have a ‘trial’ record.  For this I hit my parent’s collection.  Although not knowing how sentimental they were about such classics as ’22 of the Greatest Waltzes’ I eventually chose Mickey’s ‘Rock Around The Mouse’ with a Disneyland label featuring a dancing Mickey and Minnie.

There are many ways to go about melting a record into bowl form but the stock standard method is to put an upside-down metal bowl on a tray and place your record on top.  Then throw it in the oven for about 10 mins at 100 degrees Celsius.  At this point you take it out and with roughly a 10 second time frame you mould the record into the shape you want, or you can put it inside the overturned bowl and hope it settles itself into an attractive form.  The beauty of it is that if you don’t like your first creation you can just reheat and reshape as many times as you like.

Even though this was only supposed to be my trial record, since Mickey had sacrificed his life for the cause, and being the perfectionist I am, it took me about 10 tries to get a look I was I was happy with i.e. something resembling the etsy piece.  This was one of my first tries.  Amongst my experimenting I even gave up on the oven for a time thinking that I could use my hairdryer to heat individual sections.  However this caused my hairdryer to overheat 3 times within 20 seconds of turning it on and wasn’t at all achieving the desired effect.

Eventually I discovered the key.  Shape individual sections how you want, don’t worry about the time constraints, then when the vinyl has hardened just throw it back in the oven until it’s soft again, take it back out, and work on another section, etc. etc. until it’s just right.  This is what I ended up with.  I am pretty happy with it, although in retrospect the Disneyland logo irks me a little since it is such a common symbol and I could probably have another go of moulding so both sides are even, but other than that I am quite pleased for it to hold my trinkets.

One thing to be mindful of is that melting vinyl produces toxic fumes which can cling to both the bowl you use and the insides of your oven if used enough.  Some people attempt to make a living out of the craft and probably have suffered no side effects, however I did notice (probably simply due to my paranoia) that I had unexplained chest pains for the rest of the day even though I made sure the room was well ventilated.  There is heavy discussion on forums about not putting food in them or using them for plants and many people even suggest throwing out the metal bowl once your project is finished.

Alternatively if you are keen to ‘go pro’ in crafting record bowls you could end up with marvellous designs such as these – however, like anything, you need quite specific equipment. 

One day I might even get around to making a Transvision Vamp bowl but for now I am happy to be able to listen to it one more time.


Week 4. Resolution 4. Read 3 books a month. January 29, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — H-Ro @ 11:25 AM
Tags: , , , ,

At the start of the year I counted all the books I had to read and the answer was 42.  And while this may or may not be the answer to the meaning of life, the universe and everything, it is certainly a lot of books.  Especially since this number only includes the books I have recently acquired and not those dusty tomes that take up precious bookshelf space, which I gave up on long ago.

This collection came about because I felt like reading a graphic novel one day, so with the stellar Australian / American exchange rate, I bought a bunch from Amazon.  Then I started working in a bookshop which is a mistake if you like books (and obviously you wouldn’t be working in a bookshop if you didn’t).  Not only do you have access to free books from a limited selection of damaged or pre-release books (called readers), you are also continually faced with practically every book you’ve ever wanted to read.  And this, combined with a 25% discount makes for a packed to overflowing bookshelf.  Or, in my case, a suitcase full of books hidden under the bed because the shoddy Ikea bookshelf won’t sustain the weight.

I felt it was important to have this as a resolution, and probably one of the few which will be ongoing for the whole year, as life often gets in the way if reading isn’t actively prioritised.  Although, I suspect my motivation is more because the other girls at work seem to read every second of their spare time so they’re more likely to read 42 books in a month, unlike me who whiles away most of my spare time watching my favourite TV shows or using Twitter.  This makes them perfectly capable of recommending you the perfect children’s or paranormal romance (ie. vampire) book (which, let’s face it, are the biggest selling categories of books) while I am pretty much incapable of recommending anything since my taste is rather eclectic and most people don’t need help in choosing a ‘classic’ to read.

Really, I should be trying to read about six books per month but three feels like more of a comfortable number, less than one a week, although I will strive to read as many as I can.  Luckily, since graphic novels make up a sizeable portion of my collection, I am going to allow them to count towards the total, even though they usually take less than a couple of hours to get through.  So with that in mind, this month I have managed five and here they are with a little review of each.

  1. Diary of a Wimpy Kid:  Dog Days by Jeff Kinney.  The 4th in a cute series of
  2. books aimed at primary school aged boys which combines ‘handwritten’ text and sketches to detail the misadventures of Greg, the main character.
  3. A Lion Among Men by Gregory Maguire.  This is the third book in the Wicked series.  As always it is a creatively written take on the main players in the Wizard of Oz but is best read closely together with the rest of the series as it is very reliant on details of the previous books.
  4. Hey, Wait… by Jason.  The most touching and heartbreakingly tragic story ever rendered in graphic novel form.
  5. Lucky Man by Michael J. Fox.  I put off reading this for years because I didn’t want to face the realities in it however it is beautifully written and a really interesting tale of celebrity and Parkinson’s.  I am now addicted to bios.
  6. Digital Photography: An Introduction by Tom Ang.  Well I think I’ve harped on about this one quite enough.  Even though I read it for a challenge, I still read it cover to cover so I reckon that counts towards the tally!

Sadly, even with five books down I am still at a total of 42 books to read.  Collecting books is a terrible compulsion!  I shall endeavour to update on this resolution each month.