Baldwin Hills Overlook – Homesplorin’ Edition 5

It goes without saying that people in LA love hiking up the various hills surrounding the city. Of course, there are many famous spots in Griffith Park and Hollywood Hills for that Insta-worthy photo overlooking the distant downtown skyline and palm-tree lined streets. One such viewpoint is from the peak of Runyon Canyon, which is undeniably gorgeous especially on a clear day. However, this post is not about Runyon Canyon; it is about Baldwin Hills, which I believe gives any viewpoint hike in LA a run for its money.

Where is the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook? Well, this gem is located on the westside, technically in Culver City. The surrounding neighborhood of Blair Hills is pretty nice, though the Baldwin Hills area itself does not have the best reputation. This, however, does not detract from the experience whatsoever, as the park felt secure and was very family-oriented.

There are a couple of ways to make it up to the viewpoint – you can start at the Culver City Stairs and step your way up the hill (while getting some great exercise!), or there is parking available near the top where the photo op is a only a short walk away. We parked in the residential area of Blair Hills on Wrightcrest Drive; if you do this be sure to abide by posted signs and be considerate of the neighborhood. There is also a lot near the Community Center on Hetzler Road, which costs a few dollars to park in. 

Here are the highlights:

Experience: 

Pros:

  • Want to experience a cool LA spot for absolutely free? Well, this is the place! I hosted a couple of friends during their stay in LA, and this activity was definitely a winner.
  •  As I’ve mentioned before, the view is breathtaking. Really, I might have to say it a few more times so that the point is really driven home. 
  •  Many active LA locals come here to exercise – most people are dressed in athletic attire and it isn’t uncommon to see dudes and gals doing sit-ups or push-ups at the top of the hill. 
  • Of course, if instead you’re looking for a place to capture some headshots or modeling portfolio pics, you’ll fit right in.
  • The Baldwin Hills Overlook is pretty easy to get to from the Westside, Hollywood, or Downtown (if you have a car).
  • Visiting this spot is definitely not an all-day affair – you can see most, if not all of the park/hill in an hour or less!
  • It’s undeniably beautiful. 

Cons:

  • There aren’t many cons, but if crowds aren’t your thing I would avoid coming here during peak times. Late mornings on weekends are quite popular, as are late afternoon hours as dusk approaches. Probably your best bet would be to go in the early morning to avoid the people, and the heat. 

Price: As mentioned, entry into the hill and viewpoint are free. If you plan to park in the lot, bring a few dollars for every hour you plan on wandering around. 

Is it worth it? Yes, yes, and a third yes! For a free activity with gorgeous views of LA, you really can’t go wrong. This is definitely more of a locals spot, but tourists can enjoy it just the same (I’ll probably face some heat for saying that). Do yourself a favor and go check it out!

Pictures:

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Hanging up the Cleats: Life after Sports

As another academic year comes to an end, I find myself thinking about student-athletes and wonder if their inevitable retirement from high school or collegiate sports weighs heavily on their minds. Of course, facing this transition is much more pressing for seniors who are not pursuing professional athletic careers; nevertheless, the emotions surrounding such a major life change are overwhelming, to say the least. How would I know? Well, at one point in my life I had to close the door on my own dreams of competitively playing a sport that I love. I also know so many other young adults who have had to do the same, and it’s not something any of us were completely ready for. 

As cliché as it sounds, being an athlete meant that I ate, lived, and breathed my sport. Not a day went by that I didn’t think about competing out on the softball field; only in the dirt, sweat, and grass did my soul feel pure. Entertaining the idea that my life would eventually go on, and that I would have to find other ways to fill my days with purpose seemed like a fruitless exercise. Softball was my livelihood, identity, and source of self-confidence – can you blame a fifteen-year-old girl for thinking that would last forever?

Of course, I was not immune to the saying that “all good things must come to an end”. My softball career did end, and a lot earlier than expected at that. For years afterward (and conveniently during my excruciating transition into adulthood), I struggled to be something other than a star softball player that my high school, team, and friends could depend on. I gained weight and lost all desire to be physically active since my exercise was no longer for competitive purpose. I felt like life as I knew it was over, and, worst of all, I had become a stranger to myself.

It took me quite a long time to adjust to a life that did not revolve around sports. In moments of self-reflection, as well as in times of vulnerability shared with friends experiencing the same loss, I found a way to move on. It’s comforting to know that so many others transitioning into adulthood also have had to let go of old talents, hobbies, and dreams – I was certainly not alone. With the help of some of my best girlfriends who went on to play collegiate softball and are now themselves retired, I have compiled a few thoughts that have kept me strong and focused on cultivating a fulfilling life after sports.

1. Find Your Identity

As I alluded to before, it’s easy to get wrapped up in thinking that you’re a one-trick pony, and that your value as an athlete (and a person) is tied to your performance in a sport. I’ve learned that identity is a very fluid thing, and it evolves as we age, meet new people, and gain new experiences. I like to think of my identity as a pie whose recipe gets modified every so often. The measurements for certain ingredients increase or decrease, but are never completely eliminated. As I’ve become older, I’ve toned down the amount of influence that softball has on my self-worth in order to make room for other new, fulfilling ways to be myself.

This doesn’t mean that I’ve turned my back on softball, never to pick up a glove or a bat again. However, I did have to distance myself from the sport for a while in order to reconnect with it in a healthier, more balanced way. My friends claim that volunteering, coaching, and playing recreationally have been excellent ways to revisit their old passion through a new lens, and that giving back to the community can be just as purposeful as competition. 

Most importantly, in the words of my friend, give yourself grace. What does she mean by this? Well, understand that you’re going to feel lost, you’re going to gain a few pounds, and life may feel a little emptier than normal. And that’s okay. Being patient with the process of leaving a life of sports behind and working with your evolving identity will ease the transition into a new stage of adulthood. 

2. Update Your Lifestyle

Going from a virtually involuntary exercise schedule to being solely accountable for maintaining an active lifestyle has been a seemingly impossible task, one that I am still struggling with today. It seems to be a general consensus among my friends that we have all found it difficult to incorporate exercise into our daily routines. Though there is no one solution for overcoming this lifestyle disruption, these are the most important things to keep in mind: 

  1. You can no longer eat as if you were exercising for four hours a day, five days a week. That plate of seconds may be yummy and comforting, but your body will be in for a rude awakening if it can no longer burn off the calories that it has grown accustomed to getting. 
  2. Moving on from a life of athleticism means that your days won’t revolve around constant activity anymore. For many, hours of daily exercise with similar levels of intensity is simply not sustainable. Still, some activity is better than no activity, and as little as ten minutes of exercise a day can be enough to keep your body from becoming stagnant.
  3. Accept that you’re not the sprightly young chicken that you used to be. There is no denying that being an athlete takes a toll on your body. It’s not necessary to prove to yourself and the world that you still have hops or that you can still bench your body weight; give your body a break and modify your exercises accordingly!
  4. Even without a team or a coach, you’re not alone. Finding an accountability partner (or partners) can help you feel like you still have supporters behind you, even if you’re not competing in anything. 

3. Cherish the Memories

There’s no denying that I loved softball, and still do. Sometimes I look back on my experience as an athlete with a melancholic sigh, still mourning the unfulfilled potential in a life that was. However, these thoughts are overcome with the gratitude I feel for the friendships, memories, and lessons that playing a competitive sport has given me. I’ve learned that I don’t have to bury my past in order to start a new future, and have instead focused on incorporating my passion for softball in a personal identity that is balanced, curious, and flexible.

This idea goes hand-in-hand with many of the other topics I cover in this blog; remember that the journey through young adulthood is not a straight path – it twists, turns, and deceives. Your ability to move on from past experiences, disappointments, and triumphs is often tested, but with some optimism, gratitude, and a little help from others, anything is possible.

 

Thirty Day Trial Challenge – May

I may be a little late to the party, but Happy Spring! This month, I wanted to choose a themed challenge that revolves around this beautiful season. Of course, the idea of spring cleaning popped into my head and naturally I came up with multiple excuses to avoid spending the month scrubbing the deep, dark crevices of my apartment. Still, the allure of decluttering stayed present in my mind, and I was inspired to look for outside-the-box ways to achieve physical and mental cleansing.

I came across a pretty interesting list called the Spring Cleaning Minimalism Challenge. Initially, I wondered what sort of cruel tasks this list would propose – would it suggest that I unceremoniously dump all of my expensive, but untouched, makeup products that I’ve convinced myself that I’ll eventually use? Or would I need to discreetly get rid of my boyfriend’s collection of Magic: the Gathering cards that have been accumulating dust in a shoebox on the bookshelf? 

Upon further inspection, this list provides extremely practical and (mostly) non-emotionally draining ways to declutter. Particularly, it suggests many ideas for technological cleansing along with a few non-traditional home cleaning tasks sprinkled in. I found that this list provides brilliant ideas to clear out electronic junk that I’ve forgotten about simply because it does not occupy a physical presence in my living space. I’m interested in seeing how much (mentally) lighter I feel after checking off each item on this list, and will report back with my final thoughts. In the meantime, check out the Spring Cleaning Minimalism Challenge below!

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Thirty Day Trial Challenge – April

The inspiration for this month’s challenge is yet again derived from Jack Kerouac, and I’m not ashamed of it. I spent the majority of this month re-reading Kerouac’s Big Sur, partly in conjunction with the project I began working on in January. It goes without saying that the beatnik poetry and philosophy spark my creative imagination. For those that are unfamiliar with his work, all you need to know is that Kerouac and his buddies founded what they called the Beat Generation, the post-war literary movement in the 1950s that sought to reject traditional values and replace them with spiritual exploration and other modes of uninhibited human expression.

Though often criticized for being a pseudo-intellectual and drug-induced endeavor (something which I don’t necessarily dispute), the Beat Generation did leave behind some poetic treasures that I find particularly raw, human, and beautiful. My favorite passage from Big Sur is as follows:

“But I remember seeing a mess of leaves suddenly go skittering in the wind and into the creek, then floating rapidly down the creek towards the sea, making me feel a nameless horror even then of ‘Oh my God, we’re all being swept away to sea no matter what we know or say or do’ – And a bird who was on a crooked branch is suddenly gone without my even hearing him.”

Needless to say, I ate this passage up and have been fantasizing about writing my own poetry. This is something that I have dabbled in before, but it will be nice to dedicate time this month to write my own excerpts about life, nature, and whatever else happens to come to mind. I plan on sharing four original short poems – check back in at the end of the month to see how I did!

1. Nonsense (a Limerick)

There once was a man full of nonsense                                                                                    Blah blah blah was his correspondence                                                                                  There then came a day                                                                                                                       He had nothing to say                                                                                                                            The world waited in silent suspense

Thirty Day Trial Challenge – March

Alright, here we go. It’s the end of March and you have no idea what I have been challenging myself to do this month. I’m not going to lie – I did get started a little late on this one, but that doesn’t mean I have abandoned this project before a third of the year is over. That would just be sad.

In case any of you were wondering how my February challenge turned out, follow this link or see below this post. As a reminder, every week I watched a different documentary film from the last four decades and wrote down my thoughts, impressions, and probably overly-invested feelings about each one. I’m done being a critic (for now), so for March I decided to develop a skill rather than continue being the world’s loneliest peanut gallery from my living room couch.

I feel that it is necessary to provide some context for the skill I selected to develop this month. My boyfriend has been learning the Japanese language for 1.5 years, and can speak and write at a 3rd grade level (yay, him!). For everyone that has tried to learn a language, you know it’s not something that happens overnight. He’s worked long and hard to achieve that level of proficiency, so I’m definitely not suggesting that I’m going to spend this month learning Japanese so that I can be his conversational partner. That would be nice, but who am I kidding – I’d be lucky if in a year I could  write “I love you” or “can you stop yelling at your video game, I’m trying to read” in Japanese’s THREE types of scripts.

Domestic annoyances aside, being able to participate in even a portion of my boyfriend’s Japanese language journey would be special. Over the course of his study, he has introduced me to various scripts, grammar rules, and verb conjugations, all of which I have found to be very logical. One of the Japanese scripts – hiragana – caught my eye. It is essentially the Japanese alphabet, composed of various consonants and vowels. The combinations of these sounds are limited, and would actually be a realistic thing to learn in a about a months’ time. Actually, as I write this, I’m almost through learning all of the sounds and strokes – stay tuned for how this month’s challenge ends!

How Did I Do?

I was successful in learning the Hiragana “alphabet”! I am a visual learner, and found the grid below to be very helpful during my study. I also learn well when I have to explain concepts, rules, and techniques out loud, so I recorded a video of myself walking through the sounds and scripts of Hiragana. Even though I made a couple of minor mistakes, I think this tutorial could be useful to anyone who wants to learn the basics of Hiragana. Enjoy!

 

The Original LA Farmer’s Market – Homesplorin’ Edition 4

Any place featuring the word “Original” in its title is worth checking out. Although this wording may inadvertently lead you to a tourist trap, it doesn’t diminish the fact that these places are usually a historical treasure.

I decided to visit Los Angeles’ Original Farmer’s Market one Friday afternoon during my commute home from work. It was quite the spontaneous decision actually – I was working offsite most of that week and drove past it on the new route I was taking. At the end of that week I decided to pull over and walk around; what I saw there was nothing short of magical.

The Farmer’s Market, located in the LA’s Fairfax district right next to the CBS Television studio lot, first opened in July of 1934. Unlike other farmer’s markets, it is a permanent installation open every day of the week. Unbeknownst to myself, it is connected to the Grove outdoor shopping mall by an electric streetcar. I’ve been to the Grove countless times, but never ventured far enough down the mall to see the Farmer’s Market.

Here are the highlights:

Experience: 

Pros:

  • It is a beautiful space hidden away in a type of alleyway courtyard. It may be difficult to find it you aren’t paying attention, but the Market’s isolation within a pretty poppin’ area of LA adds to its allure.
  • The décor and layout gives off an antique vibe, though nothing looks old, run-down, or dirty.
  • There are tons of stands with ethnic cuisines, including a couple of Brazilian BBQ joints. Some stalls also offer fresh produce and seafood; others sell specialty goods and treats.
  • Visiting the Farmer’s Market can be a quick, limited engagement, or an extended event for socializing with friends. I went there to walk around, but there were a lot of friends and families gathered for a Friday evening meal.
  • Parking is free for 90 minutes with validation from virtually every stand in the Market. I bought a baguette from one of the French bakeries and had my validation covered, all for about $3.

Cons:

  • There aren’t many cons, but as a pescatarian the dining options seemed to be limited.
  • It wasn’t very crowded on a Friday early evening, but I can imagine that it would be busy on weekends or during lunchtime. The Farmer’s Market is contained to a relatively small space and the walkways are very narrow. Avoid going during the rush times if you don’t want to brush shoulders with strangers.

Price: Entry to the Farmer’s Market is free. As stated above, 90 minute parking is free with validation. Otherwise, parking will cost $3 for the first 15 minutes and $1 for each additional 15 minutes thereafter, with a maximum fee of $24. It is also accessible through public transportation – take bus 14 or 16 from Downtown LA.

Vendor prices are a little higher than, say, a normal grocery store or fast food eatery. They aren’t outrageous, but keep in mind that these stands are small businesses AND are in a premium location. People sometimes equate Farmer’s Markets with Flea Markets – note that nothing here is a knock-off or offered at a discount. The experience is different than going to a restaurant or shopping at Trader Joe’s; seating is community-style and the selection will be limited. However, I think it’s a worthwhile way to support local businesses and experience a rich part of LA history and culture.

Is it worth it? Absolutely! If I lived closer I would visit the Farmer’s Market at least once a week. It’s clean, it’s safe, and it’s fun. There is no other place in LA like it and it’s worth a visit whether you’re a tourist or a local. Tucked away in a ritzy part of town, the Original Farmer’s Market is a relic of old Los Angeles not to be overshadowed by the Grove and Hollywood glamour. Meet Me at Third & Fairfax!

Pictures:

Wicked at the Pantages Theater – Homesplorin’ Edition 3

Despite how cool we think we are here in LA, there’s really no competing with the ultra-hip eastern folk in New York. Sure, we have Hollywood and the movie studios, but they have Broadway.  Having seen The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway myself, it’s hard to dispute the quality and excitement of a live-stage performance. 

Lucky for us little people in LA, we have the Pantages Theater which hosts all of the most popular touring musicals from Broadway. Situated right on Hollywood Blvd. and Vine, the theater is accessible from the Red Line metro (shocking, I know) if you’re not down to sit in traffic moving at a crawling pace. You’ll be dumped off right by the Walk of Fame and other kitschy shops and eateries, though the main attraction really is the Pantages Theater.

We took my mom to see Wicked for her birthday at the Pantages. It was the same crowd (sup, fam) with whom I saw The Phantom of the Opera in New York, so the standards were high. Here are the highlights:

 

Experience: 

Pros:

  • Disregarding some of my sarcastic comments above, the Pantages is actually in a great location. You could easily spend a few hours walking around Hollywood drinking, eating, and shopping before a show. Think of it as a mini Times Square, but with weirder people.
  • The theater, although appearing small at first glance, is spacious and beautifully decorated.
  • Even though I personally enjoyed the music and storyline of Phantom better, Wicked‘s touring group was extremely talented and very entertaining to watch. The caliber of performance is comparable to what you’d see on Broadway. Generally, you can always expect to see a quality show at the Pantages.
  • With the ticket lottery system you can score some great seats at a cheap price — more details below.

Cons:

  • Buying tickets outright ain’t cheap. But there are ways to get around this – see below. 
  • It is crowded – as Hollywood Blvd. typically is. I point this out simply because some people hate crowds.
  • The parking situation is out of control – be prepared to circle around for a while to find a reasonably affordable lot if you absolutely have to drive there (i.e. take the metro). 

Price: Pricing for tickets varies the most by seat or section, though prices sometimes are higher on weekend evenings. The Pantages’ ticket vendor is Ticketmaster, which also doubles as a resale market. Usually resale tickets are more expensive for a worse value, so try to buy direct from the vendor. Unfortunately, Ticketmaster slaps on an additional $20 or so of fees, which they don’t include in the price you’re initially seeing. For Wicked, the cheapest tickets were about $85 plus taxes and fees. If you want to go on a specific day and want guaranteed seating with your party, this will undoubtedly be a “splurge” experience. 

For those who have a flexible schedule and are flying solo or don’t care about sitting next to your significant other, there is an option to “win” tickets at a heavily discounted price. The terms of this lottery may vary slightly by show, so be sure to check the Pantages website for the most accurate information. My aunt and cousin were successful at getting these lottery tickets for Wicked – so their experience was as follows: 

To be eligible for the lottery, you have to arrive at the Pantages box office 2.5 hours prior to a scheduled performance, where your name will be placed in the lottery. Thirty minutes later, the winners are announced. Those whose names get called have the option to purchase two orchestra seats at $25-30 each (which are typically side-by-side). If you’re not one of the lucky ones to win the lottery, sometimes the theater will offer single seat tickets for $40 each. You won’t get to sit with your friend, mom, dog, etc., but it’s still a great deal.  

For those of us who would rather not leave our couch only to come back empty-handed, digital lotteries are also sometimes offered. Entries for the digital lottery can be submitted online with Broadway Direct beginning two days prior to the performance at 11am until 9am one day prior to the performance. Winners will be notified via email and will have an hour to pay for the tickets online – same pricing as the in-person lottery.

Is it worth it? Definitely yes, regardless of whether you purchase tickets outright or get them through the lottery. Of course, buying full-price tickets would probably be a special occasion for most people; if you have a lot of free time, then trying to score tickets from the lottery could be a way to enjoy this experience more often. Furthermore, the theater is a gorgeous attraction and Hollywood always provides hours of entertainment. A Broadway musical event does offer a different kind of magic than a movie at the cinema – go see for yourself!

Pictures:

Thirty Day Trial Challenge – February

It’s time for my February Thirty Day Challenge! If you want to know how my challenge for January turned out – follow this link!

This month, I have decided to watch one documentary film per week. I am a big fan of true crime and thoroughly enjoyed watching Making a Murderer, Evil Genius, and Brother’s Keeper. I’ve also seen a few health documentaries such as Supersize Me and Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.

Documentaries and programs on the History channel usually got a bad rap from most people in my generation who would prefer to watch the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie (don’t worry, I was one of them). As I’ve aged – gracefully I may add – my taste for nonfiction and real life storytelling has improved. With Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon collectively hosting the archive of practically every documentary ever made (don’t quote me on that), I decided to make up for my adolescent close-mindedness by watching one documentary from every decade since the 80s.

Using Flickchart‘s lists of the highest ranked documentaries of each decade, I have selected 4 documentary films, each of a different genre, to watch this month. I will periodically update this post to share my impression of each film, and to show off the random tidbits of knowledge I have gained from this challenge. 

First up is the highest ranked documentary of the 2010s – Exit Through The Gift Shop!

Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)

I don’t really know exactly what I was expecting from this documentary, but I certainly did not predict that I’d be watching the story of Thierry Guetta, an awkward French street-graffiti artist’s rise to fame in the street-art world. The film was created by another renown graffiti artist – the notorious and elusive Banksy – who with a disguised face and distorted voice chronicles the events that brought life to Guetta’s alter-ego Mr. Brainwash.

At this point, it is necessary for me to add a *spoiler alert* disclaimer. If you haven’t seen this film and are interested in reaching your own conclusions about the meaning of the title, and, quite frankly, Guetta’s artistic talent, then I recommend seeing it for yourself. Although Exit Through the Gift Shop ultimately leaves the audience with more questions than answers,  it provides context for my (and many others’) conclusions about Mr. Brainwash and the purpose of the documentary itself.

We are introduced to Thierry Guetta – who can’t seem to sit still – a Los Angeles thrift store owner moonlighting as an amateur filmmaker. Guetta, during a visit with his family in France, becomes fascinated with capturing his graffiti-artist cousin’s nighttime acts of vandalism. Under the pretense of using all of his video footage for a street-art documentary, Guetta then slowly gains favor with the most prominent urban artists in the world, including LA’s Shepard Fairey and the Britain-based Banksy. 

Banksy, whose entire gimmick is about being anonymous, claimed that Guetta was the first person he trusted enough to film his artistic process and illegal escapades. When it came time for Guetta to showcase the so-called documentary that featured years of street-art video, it became apparent that he was not a skilled filmmaker and never intended to follow through with the project. You’d think that would be the end of the story. It isn’t.

Annoyed at being deceived, Banksy convinced Guetta to hand over the footage and go back to Los Angeles. In order to keep Guetta away from him while he reworked the film, Banksy tasked Guetta with putting together a small art show in LA. What started as an innocent distraction became a full-blown production – Guetta, now operating under the persona “Mr. Brainwash”, booked a giant studio space and was clearly in over his head. Banksy and Fairey, after hearing Guetta’s pleas for help, provided staff and publicity for the event. Guetta’s show quickly became the talk of the town, and the hype around Mr. Brainwash grew exponentially in the days preceding the show. 

The audience never really knows where or how Guetta acquired the art for the show, but we do know that it essentially was a repackaging of Andy Warhol-like concepts. He somehow pulled it off, and tickets for the show sold like hotcakes. Even though Mr. Brainwash’s artistic style is derivative, to this day his pieces still sell for thousands of dollars. Banksy wraps up the documentary with feigned disbelief at and disapproval of Guetta’s overnight success. After all, he unintentionally enabled this wannabe artist and compromised the integrity of street art. 

My impression of Exit Through the Gift Shop is essentially based on how believable I consider it to be. A mainstream opinion is that this documentary is itself a ruse, lead and orchestrated by Banksy. The theory is that Banksy used Guetta to create Mr. Brainwash in order to manufacture the public’s excitement about a talentless artist who lacked any kind of individual creativity. If the film was indeed about a “prank” that Banksy pulled on all of us, I’m more inclined to take it with a grain of salt.

To be clear, I do feel that Banksy’s contribution to the rise of Mr. Brainwash was definitely deliberate. I don’t know exactly how much Banksy actively and financially assisted Guetta, but I’m convinced that he was well aware of the magnitude of the show and its inevitable success. Therefore, if Banksy is trying to demonstrate that our society has been brainwashed into accepting all forms of art regardless of originality, then I don’t think his “set-up” actually drives this point home. Alternatively, I believe that Exit Through the Gift Shop does reinforce the idea that recognizable brand names and images (and plenty of money!) can ignite the public’s interest in otherwise forgettable art. But for Banksy to claim that he inadvertently created a monster in Guetta that makes all of us look like artistically-devoid fools, well, I simply don’t buy it.  

Check out my mini-review and synopsis of the top documentary in the 2000s decade, Dear Zachary, coming real soon. 

Dear Zachary (2008)

Something about the name and premise of this documentary seemed eerily familiar, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. However, within the first five minutes of the film, I recognized the faces of David and Kathleen Bagby and had the sinking realization that I have seen this story before. 

Ever since my teenage years, I have been fascinated with true crime; I preferred watching Dateline and 48 Hours over reruns of Friends. The real-life stories featured on these true crime programs were of course horrifying and tragic, despite being narrated by a host with an unnecessarily theatrical voice. I could have very easily heard about the devastating murder of the Bagbys’ son Andrew on one of these shows, but my memories of the case and the victims were far too vivid to have originated from a streamlined episode of 20/20. It turns out that I had watched Dear Zachary a number of years ago, and there is a reason why the story stuck with me as it has with so many others. Beware of spoilers below. 

I decided to re-watch Dear Zachary instead of choosing another documentary because I couldn’t bring myself to turn off the television while Andrew’s parents vulnerably recounted the harrowing circumstances of their son’s death. I didn’t want to deny them a voice, especially since I know how this story ends. To say that the resilience and determination of the Bagbys are remarkable would be an understatement. 

I’m not going to delve into every detail of this story – it is something better left to the loved ones of the victims in this case, of which there are many. In summary, Andrew Bagby was the charismatic, outgoing only child of David and Kate Bagby who, despite having many friends, struggled with his own loneliness and transition into adulthood. While completing his medical residency at a family practice, Andrew began dating Shirley Turner, an abusive and unstable woman many years his elder. When Andrew attempted to end the relationship, Shirley allegedly shot, killed, and dumped his body in a parking lot. After local police issued a warrant for her arrest, Shirley fled to her hometown in Canada.

The Bagbys were devastated, and justice for their son seemed as elusive as ever. Then, unexpected, yet purposeful, news came – Shirley was pregnant with Andrew’s child. When Zachary Andrew Turner was born, David and Kate were determined to gain custody of their grandson and moved to Canada to begin the arduous legal battle against their son’s alleged murderer. Meanwhile, Andrew’s friend and filmmaker Kurt Kuenne was creating a video diary filled with loved ones’ memories of Andrew for the purpose of someday introducing Zachary to his late father. 

For years, the Bagbys patiently waited for the Canadian justice system to incarcerate and extradite Shirley for the murder of Andrew. Meanwhile, Shirley continued to have legal custody of Zachary, and the Bagbys tried to spend as much time with their grandson as possible by remaining on good terms with her. Ultimately, Shirley was released from jail on bail while awaiting trial for Andrew’s murder, and shortly thereafter drowned herself and Zachary in the ocean.

After losing their son and grandson at the hands of the same vicious woman, the Bagbys had lost everything, including their faith in the government. They began advocating for a change in Canadian law, and were successful in passing legislation permitting the courts to deny bail to offenders who pose a risk to a child’s life. Despite the fact that these noble efforts wouldn’t bring back their son or grandson, the Bagbys channeled their grief into positive social change. Kurt Kuenne’s emotional account of David and Kate’s heartbreaking journey is raw, tear-jerking, and infuriating, all elements that make Dear Zachary a standout documentary. 

Hoop Dreams (1994)

It seems appropriate that the third documentary for this project would be Hoop Dreams, since March Madness is quickly approaching. And, as a former athlete myself, I of course was excited to hear the story of two young men trying to be the next big names in basketball. Considering that this documentary was made 25 years ago, I already inadvertently knew the ending – these boys did not become the next Michael Jordan. This is also not a film about the adolescent journeys of Lebron James or Kobe Bryant; in fact, the subjects of this documentary are likely unknown to even the most diehard basketball fan. 

So, why is this documentary relevant 20 years later? Shouldn’t it just stay back in the 90s where it belongs? Well, even though the fashion and music are clearly outdated, the social issues that permeate the lives of youth in underprivileged communities all across America are still very, very real.

Hoop Dreams follows the high school years of William Gates and Arthur Agee, two African-American teens living in metropolitan Chicago.  The audience first sees their talent for basketball while playing in their neighborhood park court. At first glance, they appear energetic, quick, and skilled. In fact, they draw the attention of a scout from the prestigious and predominantly white St. Joseph High School in Westchester, Illinois. St. Joseph has a strong basketball program, with alumni such as NBA player Isaiah Thomas bearing testament to its excellence. 

Arthur and William struggle to adjust to the 90 minute daily commute from Chicago to St. Joseph, as well as the rigid and competitive culture of the private school. William impresses the head coach of the basketball team and lands a spot on the Varsity squad as a freshman. Arthur, on the other hand, lacks the refinement and maturity of a top player and is placed on the freshman team to develop his skills. 

Within the first year at St. Joseph, Arthur’s family could no longer afford the tuition and he returned to his local high school in Chicago. Meanwhile, William drew from the support of the St. Joseph community and had his tuition and schooling costs covered by a generous donor. At this point in the story, I was expecting to see Arthur’s decline as a student and basketball player contrasted with William’s skyrocketing success in an affluent community. This, however, was not the case. Both young men struggled – Arthur with his parents’ tumultuous relationship and his brother’s death,  and William with an injury and unplanned fatherhood. For both, maintaining academic eligibility for competing was an ongoing concern. Regardless of their undeniable talent and access to educational opportunities, William and Arthur still encountered barriers that stood in the way of their dreams. 

Even though they were ultimately recruited to play basketball in college – William at Marquette and Arthur at Arkansas State -, neither of them made it to the NBA. In fact, they weren’t even that close. William’s interest and passion for the sport deteriorated over the years, which also meant a decline in his performance. Arthur, despite his energy and obsession for the game, didn’t quite have the talent to gain notoriety as player bound for the NBA. What I found most poignant about this documentary was the realization that this story is not an isolated instance of disappointment, hardship, and unfulfilled dreams; becoming the very best in the world at a sport takes more than simply talent and hard work. It takes the perfect combination of money, a stable home environment, confidence, and perhaps most of all, luck. 

Stop Making Sense (1984)

I love music regardless of the era it came from. One of my all-time favorite bands is Pink Floyd which, without totally aging myself, was way before my time. That being said, I am extremely grateful for the technology of the 60s and 70s that made it possible for me to enjoy such relics of the past.

Although I’m mostly poking fun at my millennial-ness, I have finally reached a decade in my documentary challenge that I was not alive in. The top documentary of the 80s was Stop Making Sense, a film about the band Talking Heads. I’m not very familiar with Talking Heads’ music, but I was hoping this documentary would offer some of the same excitement and drama as the recent Queen/Freddie Mercury biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody. It turns out that Stop Making Sense was purely a concert documentary, so I simply watched and listened to a Talking Heads live performance for an hour and a half.

Despite being slightly let down that I didn’t learn anything about Talking Heads, their band history, or their societal impact, I still enjoyed bopping my head to some of their recognizable hits such as Burning Down the House. Otherwise, there isn’t much else for me to say about the last documentary of February’s challenge.

Final Thoughts (2019)

All in all, I really enjoyed watching these documentaries this month. I ended up with an Amazon Prime Documentary membership for $2.99/month, which is a pretty good deal for access to virtually every documentary ever made. If anything, this project has incentivized me to seek out more documentaries. Particularly, Exit Through the Gift Shop  and Hoop Dreams reminded me that I could venture into genres outside of true crime and actually enjoy other content. I won’t be reviewing any more documentaries for the moment, but if I happen to watch one that I find particularly intriguing I’ll be sure to share my thoughts. See you in March for my next challenge!

Why You Should Try Wine and Paint Night

As if any of us ever needed an excuse to drink wine.

All jokes aside (wait…wine is never a joke), paint and sip parties have become a popular nighttime activity for any occasion. It is probably pretty difficult to find someone who hasn’t attended a wine and paint event at least once; however, if that someone is you, then keep reading! If you’re among the majority of us who have attended a wine and paint gathering and are interested in hosting one of your own, I’ll also tell you how to pull it off!

What is Wine and Paint Night Anyway?

I’m sure you’re wondering what is so appealing about painting with a group of strangers aside from the drinking wine part. Well, most people have testified that this experience can be enjoyed regardless of your skill level, making it an accessible way to nurture your artistic spirit! To summarize the itinerary for the evening, you’ll start off by meeting your group and instructor at a restaurant (I’d be willing to bet that it’s at your local Mimi’s Café) or possibly an art studio – if you’re fancy like that. The art leader will have selected a painting to help the group recreate step-by-step. It is pretty easy to follow along, as the instructor gives you plenty of time to complete each portion and sip your wine in between strokes. After all, let’s not forget the real reason why we’re here.

In my opinion, even those who are otherwise artistically inept are able to create something resembling the model painting. The environment is all about fun, and it really is a no-judgement zone. All supplies are included in the cost of admission, so all-in-all it should be a stress-free experience. However, the only downside is that wine or cocktails are usually a separate charge, although many places allow you to BYOB.

Sounds Fun, But What is This Going to Cost Me?

Generally a seat at most established and organized wine and paint nights will cost between $35-50. Remember, this includes supplies but usually NOT ALCOHOL.

Again, as is true for most popular activities in large metropolitan areas, I recommend searching for deals on Groupon. At the time of this post, admission to a wine and paint night in Los Angeles is being offered at $25.

Can I Do This at Home?

Absolutely! To host a Paint Night in the comfort of your own home requires some planning, but there are tools out there to help! For the simplest and most straightforward way to acquire all of the necessary supplies I recommend Social Artworking  as a one-stop-shop. They offer individually sold canvases, brushes, and paint, but you can also purchase a party package which includes all of these. They even provide various paint templates to choose from along with the instructions.

Of course, you can stop by your local Michaels or art supply store to get all of the necessary materials. There are various free YouTube tutorials which provide instructions for paintings of various difficulties; simply search “Paint Night at Home” and you’ll have so many options to choose from.

Whether you use Social Artworking or an art store to prepare for your at home paint night, here are additional things to keep in mind:

  • Make sure you have a large workspace, such as a floor or table, where you and your guests can comfortably spread out and paint.
  • Cover the work stations with a disposable tablecloth or sheet to avoid unwanted spills or damage to your home.
  • Provide everyone with a water cup, small paper plate for paint mixing, and paper towels.
  • Don’t forget the wine!

I’ve Tried Wine and Paint, What Else is Out There?

I get it, there are only so many times you’ll enjoy social painting before getting bored with it (or accumulating too many canvases). Here are a couple of other experiences that play off of Wine and Paint Night, but offer a little bit of a twist!

  1. Plant Nite – Um, what? Yes, plant nite is actually a thing. With the increase in people’s fascination with succulents and other desert plants, it’s no surprise that you can assemble and create your own arrangement to take home.
  2. Taste of Mosaics and Wine – Learn how to create colorful tile mosaics by hand! This is the most hands-on social art experience I’ve had – you select your own tile and focal point stone, which you break apart yourself with some fancy tools! I’m actually surprised our instructor allowed us to drink wine AND break things!
  3. There are so many other social art options out there – I’ve read about woodworking, calligraphy, candle making, and flower arranging workshops in Los Angeles alone! Look around your city for all of the options, pick one, and voila – you have an outing for a date, girl’s night, or any other occasion worth celebrating.

How Professional Certifications May Help (or Hinder) Your Career

If you thought that obtaining a bachelor’s degree would be enough to make you competitive out in that cut-throat job market, then *loud, annoying buzzer* you’re in for a bit of a rude awakening. Bachelor’s degrees are practically required for entry-level professional positions, making them the new high school diplomas. Graduate school, albeit costly and time consuming, now seems to be the marker of a truly qualified job applicant. I’m certainly not arguing that working professionals shouldn’t be educated; however, I do think that a person’s experience and/or demonstrated commitment to the industry could provide equal, if not more, employer and societal value than a degree.

While researching, volunteering, and keeping up with current events in your industry are great ways to obtain experience and knowledge without enrolling in an extensive educational program, the disappointing truth is that these methods probably aren’t enough to entice a recruiter to keep your resume separate from the ‘trash’ pile. Professional certifications, on the other hand, are viable options for career advancement; my intent with this post is to create a dialogue about the process of obtaining one, and to discuss benefits as well as cautionary warnings that I believe everyone should know.

How Do I Explore My Certification Options?

When beginning your certification journey, here are a few things to consider:

  1. Find out which are the most prominent professional societies and regulatory boards in your industry. These typically are the organizations that are managing the issuance of the top certifications available for your field. Reach out to a contact person at the organization to obtain more information.
  2. Use LinkedIn to search which certifications are most common among professionals in your industry. LinkedIn is a great resource to find information about the qualifications of people in positions that you may be considering. Try searching for employees of the top competitors in your field.
  3. Talk to multiple people in the field. Take your questions to someone with the certification you are interested in getting. Speak with a hiring manager to get a sense for how they view applicants with certifications.

Is a Professional Certification Right for Me?

Once you’ve done preliminary research around which certifications are potentially worth pursuing, it is important to answer the following: 

  1. What are the experience, education, and application requirements for my certification? More than likely, obtaining a certification will require an exam. However, even before taking the exam, you may have to complete a minimum number of experience hours, apply for membership with the certifying agency, and/or obtain professional references.
  2. Knowing the requirements, do you have the time, lifestyle, and/or study habits to pursue this certification? Preparing for and taking a certification exam can be time consuming and exhausting. For instance the Certified Public Accounting and Chartered Financial Analyst certification exams are grueling. I’ve heard from many people who have taken one (or both!) of these exams that their mental and physical health suffered in the process. Even if you pass the exam, becoming certified may require hundreds of additional hours working in the field.
  3. How does the certification align with your career aspirations and future goals? There is no denying that having letters after your name is cool – but is it necessary?  I’ve known people that have obtained certifications not because it was the best career decision for them, but because all their peers were doing it. Some certifications are the next logical step for an advanced position, but what if you don’t want that position to begin with? I cannot emphasize enough the importance of finding out what a certification would do for YOU, otherwise you could end up with unnecessary stress and a certification you’ll never use. This is time that could have been spent pursuing a different career or position.

Final Thoughts

Professional certifications can be useful for many reasons. Here is my list:

  • A certification, if the right one, can serve as a differentiating factor when applying for jobs, promotions, and raises.
  • If it is actually useful in your career and/or workplace, having a certification increases your value as an employee.
  • Whether it’s true or not (although I hope it’s true), having a certification communicates to clients and employers alike that you are qualified and credible.
  • Having a certification typically is contingent upon fulfilling continuing education requirements – these usually aren’t too demanding, but can help you stay sharp in your field.
  • Being a certified professional under a reputable industry organization can expose you to valuable network opportunities and events.
  • Certifications are usually a more affordable alternative to graduate school or an extensive educational program.
  • Employers may sponsor your professional association dues and certification exam expenses – it doesn’t hurt to ask!

Still, I advise you to keep the following in the back of your mind:

  • Certifications do not guarantee a job. That is an important point to be aware of, regardless of how obvious it may seem.
  • Figuring out which certification is right for you, if any, takes research. The more, the better.
  • Preparing for the certification exams and completing experience and application requirements can be time consuming and difficult. You should really know what you are getting yourself into.
  • Some certifications are more valuable than others – make sure that the certifying board is reputable within the profession and that they don’t just hand out certifications willy-nilly.

Thanks for reading – I hope that this post has been helpful. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts!