Monday, September 29, 2014

A Review of 'Skim' by Mariko Tamaki

"Heartbreakingly funny, moving and vibrantly drawn, Skim is an extraordinary book-- a smart and sensitive graphic novel of the highest literary and artistic quality, by and about young women.

'Skim' is Kimberly Keiko Cameron, a not-slim, would-be Wiccan goth who goes to a private girls' school.  When her classmate Katie Matthews is dumped by her boyfriend, who then kills himself, the entire school goes into mourning overdrive.  As concerned guidance counselors provide lectures on the 'cycle of grief,' and the popular clique starts a new club (Girls Celebrate Life!) to bolster school spirit, Skim sinks into an ever-deepening depression.

And falling in love only makes things worse...

Suicide, depression, love, being gay or not, crushes, cliques, and finding a way to be your own fully human self-- are all explored in this brilliant collaboration by cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki.  An edgy, keenly observed and poignant glimpse into the heartache of being young."
It's my favorite graphic in this book
I read this during finals week last semester when I was supposed to be writing papers and reading other things.  But instead, I decided that it was time to read some graphic novels.

I have been increasingly surprised by graphic novels this year.  I like not being limited to graphic novels about superheroes-- the graphic novel world is a bigger  and more diverse place than I thought it was.  And it's awesome.  One of the books that I stumbled upon while perusing YouTube while I should have been doing important school things was this one, 'Skim,' reviewed by Sanne of BooksandQuills (check her out, if you haven't already).

I wasn't terribly impressed with this graphic novel (I know, I built you up by saying these great things about graphic novels and now I'm slamming a graphic novel).  Skim could have gone in a number of different directions, but instead of fulfilling any of those directions fully, it kind of touched on all of the directions a little bit, making the story feel incomplete.  Yes, life, especially at the age of these characters, is really confusing and includes exploration and thoughts about the things detailed in the description above, but it didn't transfer very well into the book.  Life can be like this, but books ought to be a little more focused, I guess.  At least, this book should be.

This fact was really distracting for me and I couldn't get a lot out of this book, to be honest.  Maybe I read it at the wrong time in my life, but as a 20-year-old reading this book, it didn't really resonate with me.

I give 'Skim':
Thanks for Reading!


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Netherlands Adventures!: The One Month Mark and The State of My Brain

This past Wednesday marks one month that I've lived in the Netherlands.  I know, crazy, right?  Time has really flown for me.  If you've been following this blog, you have an idea of what I've been exploring and seeing, but I haven't really talked about the state of my brain through all of this.

So I'm going to switch gears and get a little personal.  Normal Netherlands posts full of pictures will resume after this.

My Arrival and How It Got Better

When I first arrived in the Netherlands, I had an incredibly hard time.  I was frustrated that I couldn't find where anything was, I was frustrated because I didn't know anyone here, I was angry and sad that my friends and family were now thousands of miles away, I was devastated that my dorm room looked like a hospital room.  Negative emotions engulfed me frequently for somewhere between a week and a week and a half.  Gradually, I started doing things about these bad feelings I was having.  Right away, I went and bought food.  Eventually, I got a couple of towels.  I picked up toiletries.  I walked around Leiden and eventually let myself get lost and find my way back to familiarity.  I decorated my room as much as I could.  I started developing a routine.  Even if I'm seeing and experiencing new things every day, almost constantly, the skeleton of my day is the same.  I wake up and have breakfast with Netflix (just for a little bit), I make sure that I have time to myself.  I make sure that I take my night shower and then I make sure that I type my nightly email to Jack (boyfriend).  Unless I'm somewhere else for the weekend (actually, that's what I'm doing right now-- this is a scheduled post.  I'm currently spending the weekend in Texel, which I'll post about later), my day will always have these things.

Meeting Challenges Head-On

I have had a lot of pent up nervous energy since arriving.  Yes, even now, when I've been here for a while and have started getting used to Leiden and Netherlands-isms.  My natural reaction is to shut myself away.  But I can't do that here.  I wanted to go abroad and really, four months (give or take) isn't that long at all.  I need to get out and take in as much as I possibly can.  So I've taken it upon myself to go and see at least one new thing a week.  Maybe that's in Leiden or maybe that's in a different town/city altogether.  But explore I will.  I've also been trying to use Dutch as often as possible.  I have to go shopping at least once a week for food, so when I buy my groceries, I try to practice there.  I know that I have English to fall back on if I really don't understand something, but in order to be respectful, I want to start out with Dutch.

For a while, I was scared to take the train.  I didn't leave Leiden until our program director took us to Amsterdam for the first time.  He gave us a brief crash course on the train system and we were off.  The second time I rode a train was to The Hague to see the King and Queen.  That ride was by myself due to the fact that everyone else in my program was either sick, injured, or sleep-deprived.  I almost didn't attend Prinsjedag because no one else in my program was going.  But I did it any way.  I sucked it up and hopped on a train to Den Haag and made it back to Leiden in one piece.

Parties and pub crawling are kind of big here.  I went to a pre-drink session the first weekend I was here.  I didn't go out afterwards, but I went and bought alcohol for the first time and went to a party.  Last weekend people on my floor were going pub-hopping.  Since my friend, Marie, wanted to go, we went.  I discovered that pubs aren't awful and scary like I thought.


The first few weeks that I was here, I didn't let myself engage with the internet until night time when I knew that I wouldn't be losing out on opportunities.  My boyfriend and I have been sending one email to each other every night just talking about our day and about whatever thoughts we might have.  Throughout the week, I'll email my mom.  On Facebook, I'll interact the way I did at home.  Now that I've been here a while, I engage with the internet a little more, but I always make sure that I did some exploring for the week.  That justifies it for me.

I also skype/video chat with my family and with Jack.  Video chatting I try to limit to evenings on the weekends only.  I know that when I'm video chatting I can talk with someone from anywhere between fifteen minutes to 3 hours.  I don't want that to happen during the week when I could be out doing something.

I don't know how good this is for me to do as a study abroad student, but I don't feel particularly deprived at this point.  I guess that I will keep up this habit until it becomes too damaging for me to keep it up.  Right now, I don't see this practice becoming a problem for me.

At Present

Leiden is feeling more like home to me.  It's "my" city.  I still need my routines (who doesn't, I guess), but I'm definitely feeling more comfortable here.  Currently, I'm trying to branch out more and meet new people.  There are student groups through Leiden University that I can go to.  There's always pub crawling on the weekend, although I'm not interested in doing that all the time.

I'm starting to get the hang of what the rest of my semester during the week will be like.  Since finishing Intensive Dutch, we've started our regular classes through Central College.  It's only been the first week though.  I'll talk about classes once I've gotten the hang of them.  I'll give it a few weeks.

At this point, I'm feeling ready to travel around Europe more.  My first big trip is to London, England for my fall break.  I'll be there for days.  I've already started to book things that need to be booked in advance.  I'm really excited to be attending a matinee performance of Les Miserables that Wednesday that I'm there.  One of my favorite YouTubers, ItsWayPastMyBedtime (Carrie Hope Fletcher), plays Eponine and I'm really excited to see her sing in person!

So, there's my personal update.  If you have any questions about this, feel free to leave a comment below or leave me a message on Facebook, if we're connected there.

Until then, Thanks for Reading and Tot Ziens!


Friday, September 26, 2014

Netherlands Adventures!: A Weekend With Marie!

Last weekend, I had the honor of hosting my French sister, Marie, in the Netherlands!  She arrived Friday afternoon and we wasted no time looking around.  We walked to the Rembrandtpark and while we were in that area, we ran into the museum of ethnology.  This was a super cool place to visit. It's a museum that covers a number of cultures from each continent (although not Europe, since the museum is in Europe, and not Antarctica, since there are few people living there).  I don't have a lot of picture proof, but I have these two:

We went into the exhibit on Oceania and there was a photo-booth of sorts where you could insert your face into a picture of someone dressed in the traditional clothing of one of the islands there.  It was good fun for a while!

Saturday was a much busier day for us.  We woke up at 7:30 in order to get ready and catch an early intercity train to Amsterdam!  There we rented bikes to move about the city-- it was really a good idea.  There truly is no better way to experience the Netherlands.  We met a nice guy there who happens to be a fan of Minnesota.  I think he's Dutch, too.

Our first stop was the Sexmuseum.  It's kind of a ridiculous museum, but one that you have to see once in your life if you happen to be close by.  This museum is filled with examples of how people in ancient Rome and Greece practiced sex all the way to how people do it today.  The picture I have below is quite tame, compared to what else you can see in this museum.  I'll just say that.

After we finished with the Sexmuseum, we biked over to the Tulip Museum.  This was neat, since we can't go and see Keukenhof (the very well-known fields of tulips).  At this time, the tulips have been uncovered and are probably in the process of being cleaned and split to make more bulbs.  I don't think that they'll have been placed back in the ground yet.  Tulip bulbs are supposed to be planted right before the first frost, I believe.


Fun Fact: Tulips aren't actually Dutch!  They come from practically everywhere BUT the Netherlands.  They're so famous in the Netherlands though because of how obsessed people were with them.  Tulip bulbs were more valuable than gold, more valuable that property... that is, until the tulip market crashed.  Now tulips are just a sort of a beautiful reminder of a crazy time in the history of the Netherlands.

I tried to buy my own tulip bulbs while we were there, but I learned two things: 1) as someone who lives in the U.S., I have to get specially certified tulip bulbs.  Otherwise the bulbs will be taken away from me.  2) I couldn't get my tulip bulbs that Saturday because the certification only lasts 6 weeks.  So I'll have to come back to the tulip museum and get my bulbs in December before I go home.  But I don't want to think about that now.  I have too much I want to see and do before December comes.  

After the tulip museum, we went to go find lunch.  I wanted to visit the Vondelpark and we knew that there was at least one place to eat there, so we biked over to the park.  It was a beautiful day, despite the forecast of rain (which turned out to be incorrect).  We found a cafeteria, got sandwiches, and ate lunch next to the river/canal thing that ran just outside of the cafeteria/restaurant.  After that, we found a fountain/swimming pool and decided to step in.  It felt incredible, since we'd been biking all day and our feet were hot and gross (TMI, sorry).

After lunch, we were in the general area of the Museum Quarter, so went to a small museum called the Diamond Museum!  You know, why now?

How diamonds are polished and ground-down to be the pretty and sparkly things we know and love.
Van Gogh's 'Starry Night' enhanced with diamonds.

World-famous diamonds.
Diamond encrusted gorilla skull.
They made the room with the gorilla skull make it feel like you were standing inside a diamond.
Needless to say, Amsterdam is the city of Diamonds.  I didn't know that before visiting this museum though.

These photo booth places are so much fun!  Every museum needs them, seriously!
Our final step was the palace situated in Dam Square.  This palace used to be the town hall, but was later a palace.  

I think I will need to visit the palace again one day.  Having been to so many museums before this one, I was impatient with the audio tour.  The audio tour was long though... there was a lot of talk about the art on the walls and I just wasn't that interested at the time.  But it's an incredibly beautiful building, inside and out.  I can appreciate beauty no matter how tired I am, I think.

We caught the train back to Leiden after this.  I thought we'd be in for the rest of the night, but after dinner, people on our floor were going pub-hopping and Marie thought that sounded fun, so we went along.  I discovered that pubs are not so bad.  It's the clubs that I'm just too nervous to try.  I do not mind pubs.  I went to two that night.  That was my limit (and Marie's too, it seems like) after going through such a busy day.

Sunday we passed a quiet morning.  We both slept in (Marie had woken up early two days in a row) and then we hung out until Marie had to catch a train to Rotterdam (where she would catch her train to Paris).  It was a busy and incredible weekend with my French sister.  I can't wait to see her again in November, this time in France and this time with my family!  It'll be the first time we'll all be together since Marie last visited the U.S., about two years ago, I think.

That's it for now!  Tot Ziens!


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Netherlands Adventures!: The Saturday Market and Intensive Dutch Class

Every Saturday, there is a market on the Nieuwe Rijn, which isn't a long walk from where I live.  Here's a really short video of when I went a couple weeks ago!

We've also finished our 2 1/2 week Intensive Dutch course!  This is what it was like to take it and my impressions afterwards.

Note: I'm blogging on behalf of the Central College in Leiden program.  These videos are for that purpose and are therefore mostly aimed at people looking to study abroad through Central College.  But they may be interesting for you too!  I'm posting them here simply because it's a thing I made.

Thanks for Watching!


Monday, September 22, 2014

A Review of 'Flora and Ulysses' by Kate DiCamillo

"It begins, as the best superhero stories do, with a tragic accident that has unexpected consequences.  The squirrel never saw the vacuum cleaner coming, but self-described cynic Flora Belle Buckman, who has read every issue of the comic book Terrible Things Can Happen to You!, is just the right person to step in and save him.  What neither can predict is that Ulysses (the squirrel) has been born anew, with powers of strength, flight, and misspelled poetry-- and that Flora will be changed too, as she discovers the possibility of hope and the promise of a capacious heart.  From #1 New York Times best-selling author Kate DiCamillo comes a laugh-out-loud story filled with eccentric, endearing characters and featuring an exciting new format-- a novel interspersed with comic-style graphic sequences and full-page illustrations, all rendered in black-and-white by up-and-coming artist K.G. Campbell."

This is another book that the teacher I volunteer for let me borrow.  She'd gotten tons of new books for her class and she loved this one.

I love the combination of comic pages mixed with prose pages.  Ulysses is depicted as a superhero (I mean, how else would you depict a squirrel who can fly and who has super strength?) and the graphic novel-like illustrations was an adorable and classic way to tell a superhero story.  Even parts of it.

Flora was a kick and Ulysses was amazing, but her parents perplexed me, particularly the mother and her relationship with Flora.  The way Flora talks about it, her mother cares more about things and less about her daughter and other living things.  So naturally, she's the villain of the story, trying to get rid of Ulysses.  But then at the end it seems like she changed her mind about Ulysses really quickly... it felt odd.  Either the mother doesn't know how she feels about anything until she's had some time with it or Flora is a really unreliable narrator (she wouldn't be the first).

This is a cute book and if you're just starting to break into the world of graphic novels, this is a good book for that too.

I give 'Flora and Ulysses':
Thanks for Reading!


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Netherlands Adventures!: Prinsjedag/Little Prince's Day

This past Tuesday was Prinsejedag.  Literally, it means "Little Prince's Day."  It marks the beginning of the parliamentary year.  The King and Queen of the Netherlands come to Den Haag (The Hague) because it's the center of government, and the King talks about the government's plans for the year.  So I ventured down to Den Haag to go and see the King and Queen!  There's also a parade of sorts.  I'll get to that though.

Away from where the procession and recession takes place, there are these guys (and other cannons) shooting off ammunition into the air every minute.  I'm not sure why they're shooting off cannons every minute, but that's what they were doing!
Prinsjedag is a much bigger deal than I thought.  Right next to where they were shooting off cannons, there was this giant carnival!  This day is a big deal for adults and for children (there were SO many children).
See the number of people?  Some of these people had been here since 8am.  I took this picture around 1:30 or 2pm.  It was quite an adventure finding a spot where I could actually see.
During this time, there was a parade of sorts.  People were riding on horses carrying swords and wearing interesting hats (groups of people riding on horses wore the same hat, but the type of hat differed from group to group).  There were also musicians.  It was the coolest marching band I've ever seen.  Can you get cooler than playing in the King and Queen's honor?  I submit that they cannot.

I stood behind some old people who were about my height, so my vision was limited.  but I did manage to see the King and Queen in their golden carriage :)  This picture is from the recession ceremony.  I didn't get to Den Haag in time to see then process to make a speech.
On my way back to the train station, I got behind this school group where the boys and the girls were dressed in traditional Dutch clothing.  I was really happy to find my first sets of wooden clogs!
I'm sad that the other girls in my program didn't come with me (the floor that I live on has turned into an infirmary of sorts), but I'm really happy that I decided to go without them.  It was the first time I took the train round-trip by myself.  Something to be proud of, I think!

I feel a little special because this is an experience that the others in my program won't have.  At least not this year.

Thanks for Reading!  Tot Ziens!


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Netherlands Adventures!: Museum Lakenhal

Last week, I went at visited the Museum Lakenhal.  It's not too far from Central College in Leiden, so after class, I left and walked maybe five minutes until I was there.  This is an art museum filled with Dutch artists, which was awesome!  It definitely wasn't like going to the Minneapolis Institute of Art.
Not only was this building an art museum, but it was sort of about history too.  There was some history about the building itself and some about the Eighty Years War.  I'll talk about these two later though.  I'll start general and get more specific.

Leiden's claim to fame is the painter Rembrandt.  He was supposedly born here.  There is a small park with sculptures devoted to him and there is a plaque put into the building where he was born (although it's since been modernized).  So there was quite a bit of his work in the Museum Lakenhal.

Personal Opinion: The young girls in this painting freak me out a little.  They're so pale they look like ghosts with flaming
red hair.
GIANT stained glass window.  This used to be in someone's mansion, but now it's here, sitting
in a spot where it stands floor to ceiling.  Holy cow.
The Dutch are famous for their tile paintings, so I was really excited to find some examples of it.  It's not always like this though.  Most of the time it was individually painted tiles that would be in the kitchen or in the fireplace, covering a wall.
Okay, these next two made me giggle a little bit in a room full of religious-themed triptychs.  I just had to share them.  I'm definitely going to hell for this.

On my computer, I named this picture "Bro Jesus" because in my mind, Jesus is saying "Hey bro, I'm risen!  I'm gonna go chill in heaven!"  Just the way his hand is formed, it looked like in the movies when the tough guys try to pick up chicks.  Also, what is he doing on top of that ball?  It's like he's in the circus.

Like I said, I'm definitely going to hell for this.  But this part of the painting just makes me smile :)  It wasn't what I expected to see when I walked into a room filled with paintings of biblical scenes!
This one was a little startling to find.  Just some angel grabbing a guy's butt, no big deal.
This is only part of a painting, but I thought it was adorable how excited she is to receive this fish and bread.  This painting was actually part of the Relief of Leiden exhibit, so... segue!
 The Relief of Leiden Exhibit

The Relief of Leiden was part of the Eighty Years War with the Spanish.  Now from 2-3 October, there is a giant festival celebrating the fact that in 1574 the withdrawal of the Spanish, resulting in Leiden's relief.  Maybe around October or when I start my history class, I'll be able to say more on the subject.

This is a modern representation of this time.  This was, I think, commissioned by Leiden University.  People were asked to pose in what was worn during this time and what they might have looked like during this time.  I think these pictures were (essentially) photoshopped together to form this devastating scene.

The Cloth Industry

The Museum Lakenhal used to be where cloth was shipped to via the canals and where cloth was inspected and shipped out again and made.  That's what I gathered as I was walking around and reading what English things were available to read.

Some of the cloth that was made.  Beautiful, isn't it?
A painting of the people in charge of the building when it was still part of the cloth industry.

An example of tile art that was on the wall!
A loom.
This museum definitely sits in a special place in my heart.  I'll definitely have to come back!  Maybe when I learn more Dutch.  I think I'd get a little more out of the museum that way, given this is Dutch history and, more importantly, Leiden history.