Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Winter Fairyland

Winter has hit the Midwest. I'd say 'finally' except I really do not like winter... although the view outside my window is so magical I can't help but be thrilled by it.  It's also just warm enough that my sister and I are hoping to venture out for a photoshoot - our first ever in winter!

What about you? Do you have any adventures planned now that snow has arrived? Or if you weren't in the blizzard path, how are you coping with this winter's surprising lack of snow?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Oscars 2012

Photo from Just Jared
As the Superbowl is to football, so the Oscars are to movie lovers. You may not always be happy with the final contenders, but it's still a fun time to party and celebrate something that has added a lot of joy to your life.

The 2012 Academy Awards bore the theme "Back to the Movies." A good business move on the Academy's part to remind people of why it's worth seeing films in the theaters and not illegally downloading them on your smartphone. There's an elegance and, well, experience to traditional theater that most of us can appreciate even if our wallets can't, and it was fun to the red velvet, theater marquees, and popcorn on display.

Billy Crystal was a late but welcome addition to the show, replacing original host Eddie Murphy. An experience host, he smoothly handled the transitions and jokes, never going too far (well, except perhaps for kissing George Clooney? But seriously, who wouldn't want to kiss George Clooney?) and generally presiding excellently over the festivities. My only complaint is that the live captioning was so poor for the ceremony that I was unable to get the jokes at the same time as everyone else, which does tend to make things slightly less funny. Hopefully a captioned version of Crystal's opening song will end up on youtube at some point so I can properly appreciate that lovely bit of music.

Anyhow, overall it was quite a lovely show. Nothing over the top remarkable, but neither were there any parts that we felt we needed to switch the channel. Enjoyable, fun and elegant, it's what the Oscars should be. And let's not start about the gorgeous dresses on display... I already wrote a whole ode to the beauty over at Confessions of a Seamstress!

The presenters were overall quite good (although I felt Sandra Bullock fell a little flat), with the highlights being Robert Downey Junior and Gwyneth Paltrow bringing in their Ironman banter, and Emma Stone absolutely hamming it up (can't wait to see more of that girl in future shows!). Also fun was the brief appearance from Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy.

The awards were also fairly well appropriated this year. Especially perfect were all of the actor awards. Octavia Spencer was a must for supporting actress, as was Christopher Plummer for supporting actor who now sets the record as the all time oldest Oscar winner. Jean Dujardin was so lovely that even though I haven't seen "The Artist" yet I was absolutely delighted to see him win.

Perhaps the most difficult category was Best Actress. Every single woman nominated had played a difficult and unique role and I honestly could not have picked one. Apparently the Academy couldn't either, so they went with the most logical choice. Meryl Streep, who keeps getting nominated (a record 17!) but never winning. Apparently they always thought "Oh, Meryl will be back in another fantastic role next year, we'll let her win later."

Also fantastic was the fact that each of this four winners had unique and great acceptance speeches. Spontaneously joyous and surprised reactions from Octavia and Jean, and lovely bits of humor and wit from Christopher and Meryl.

Well folks, those are the highlights! If you didn't catch the show last night, hopefully this will direct you towards which youtube vids are worth looking up. And if you did -- what were your favorite moments?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Painting of a TARDIS

I got crafty and creative this Christmas when it came to figuring out gifts for all of my friends and family. I really love giving the perfect gift, but this year I had next to no budget which made matters pretty difficult! Of course it helps when a recipient has a strong love for something so artistically inspiring as Doctor Who... 

I used two reference pictures in creating this piece. One was an actual space photo, which I used for the background. The other was a picture of the Tardis whizzing through space. I had to change the coloring a bit to get it to work with my background, but otherwise it was very helpful with proportions and lighting issues. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Downton Abbey - Season 2 Verdict

Well. We have now had 5 days for America to properly welcome the season two finale of what is fast becoming everyone's favorite new TV show: Downton Abbey. Hopefully that includes all of you, but if not, go watch all of the episodes legally and freely on the PBS Masterpiece website. And hurry, they're only up until March 6th!

Spoilers from here on out.

Last Sunday, prior to the episode airing, I sat down and wrote down a list of my hopes and expectations for the finale. For the most part it did fairly well, as you'll see below!

Hope #1
That we would see a solid Mary/Matthew conclusion.

Yes...ish. That proposal was about as beautiful, neat and tied up as we could possibly wish for. But as we know, anything can happen on TV until they actually tie the knot. 

Hope #2
That Sybil and Branson would be married.

Yes! I was afraid they might delay the wedding in order to prolong the drama, but nope! Sybil and Branson are married and off in Ireland. Unfortunately neither characters made an appearance in the episode, a loss which was much mourned by this blogger.

Hope #3
 That Sybil would announce she was expecting.

YES! This one actually surprised me as babies rarely pop up so quickly on TV shows, but considering the lack of birth control available in 1919, it makes perfect historical sense. It also served a good plot purpose which I'll get to in a moment.

Hope #4
That we would see Edith get some hopes and dreams for the future. 

Poor. Yes, Sir Anthony Stallan was reintroduced as a potential love interest, but considering all of the growing up Edith has done this season, it seems they could do something more for her. Times are a changing and it seems that one of the Crawley girls should end up in the flapper crowd and perhaps even considering a career. Right now, who is more likely than Edith? Wouldn't she make a fabulous writer?

Hope #5
That there would be some good Lord and Lady Grantham scenes to redeem Lord Grantham's behavior last week. 

Absolutely. Cora and Robert had some lovely moments discussing Mary's future and Sybil's child. Also, Lord Grantham obviously recalled his own transgression when he dealt with the truth of Mary's sordid history with one Mr. Pamuk. He was in consequence far gentler with his daughter then I believe he would have been had he learned the truth at the time it happened.

Hope #7
That we would be treated with some really solid good Anna/Bates scenes.

While not quite as good as their scenes from season one, Anna and Bates are nonetheless stronger in this episode than they have been all season. They're allowed to shine both together and alone. Although I first though the prison and trial plotline was too melodramatic, it allowed for some really good character bits in this episode. So hurrah for that! Here's hoping for happiness and little baby Bates in the next season.

Hope #8
New costumes! 

Yes! I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the straight sillouette of the 1920's, however, which we see begin to seriously come into play in this episode. Although Mary and Lavinia sported the look in earlier episodes, this is the first time we see it on Cora and it looks rather odd and too youthful on her. 

Hope #9
That we get funny lines from Dowager Countess Violet.

Absolutely! Perhaps the best was when Mary broke off her engagement with Carlisle who said he was going away for good and elicited Violet's "Do you promise?"

Hope #10
That we are privy to some motherly wisdom from Isobel to Matthew

Yes! It was necessary to the story at this point, and after Isobel's shoddy treatment all season it would have been really horrible if she hadn't had at least one good moment with Matthew in the Christmas episode. Here's hoping we see some of the awesome Isobel and less of the whiny bossy Isobel in season three.

Hope #11
That there is at last some mental relief for poor conscience-stricken Daisy.

Perfectly executed! I couldn't ask for better for our poor little Daisy -- who finally is recognized not to be so little anymore! Also, although I was disturbed to see an Ouiji board used in the show, I thought Mrs. Patmore's little ruse to get Daisy to visit the farm was rather hilarious. Mrs. Patmore is such a brilliant comedian!

All in all, this is probably the strongest episode we've had since the beginning of the season - and thank goodness for that! 

And now as the cream to finish off our dissection of this lovely confection, check out this intriguing, informative and tasty-looking blog devoted to the food of Downton Abbey and Victorian/Edwardian culture! 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Best Birthday Card Ever

Yes folks, yesterday was my birthday. I woke up to this beautiful card created by my very artistic younger sister. :)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Ready for the final installment of Downton Abbey Season 2?

The Christmas Special airs on PBS Masterpiece Classic tonight, and will wrap up the second season of our beloved Downton Abbey. I've heard from those who viewed it 'ahem' through shady channels that it is extremely satisfying and lovely, so I am looking forwards to it! Especially after last week, which though it has some really good bits (SYBIL AND BRANSON!!!!) also had some really annoying pieces (LORD GRANTHAM! BATES!).

So what are you hoping for?

I'm hoping we finally get some solid Mary/Matthew conclusion. I'm looking forwards to most likely seeing Sybil and Branson married, if they follow the timeline they proposed in the last episode. Honestly I'd be thrilled if Sybil announced that she'd be expecting... but who knows. I also really want to see Edith get some hope and dreams for the future. She's matured so sweetly this season and I finally really do love her.

What else? I hope we get some good Lord Grantham/Cora scenes to redeem Lord Grantham's behavior last week. We definitely need some really solid good Anna/Bates stuff. Their storyline has gotten the worst hand this entire season and it's high time we had a decent and happy time for them. (Okay, yeah, they had 'happy times' last week. That's not what I mean.)

New costumes! Now that the war is over, there should be time and materials (though still rationed) for new gorgeous dresses! Speaking of which, a couple of weeks ago I did an intensive write up on the costumes of Downton Abbey for my sewing blog. Check it out!

Finally I hope we get some funny lines from DC Violet, some motherly wisdom from Isobel to Matthew, and some mental relief for poor conscience-stricken Daisy.

What are YOU hoping to see?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Home, O Home!

I find it's always slightly traumatic coming home from vacation. I mean it's lovely to have my sewing machine and my family and good internet access, but it's also stressful, not to mention recuperating from airplane travel. My head is still fighting off the worse migraine I've had in years. 

Ah well.

I am home. For all of it's issues, it's still a wonderful home and I am very blessed that my parents allow me to live here while we work on dealing with my health. I'm glad to see my sister again, snuggle with my kitty, and talk to mom and dad. I look forwards to seeing my friends again, hopefully tomorrow providing that my headache doesn't interfere with plans. 

And I am grateful for all of you for being so patient with a very quiet February on this blog. I've tried to make the quality exceptional, even if the quantity was low. Looking forwards to sharing much more with you in the rest of the month! 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Royal Infertility - A What If

An interesting side effect of writing a novel about time travel is that you start to think quite a bit about a juxtaposition of the past and present. How would the past be different with modern technology?

For instance, I recently read an article about a woman who was told by her doctor that she would never be able to carry a child. When her sisters heard the news, they instantly offered to be her surrogates. Both women are now currently carrying their own niece and nephew in a beautiful act of sibling love. The nephew was a surprise, as previously only girls had been born into this family. However a commenter pointed out that the sex of the child is determined by the father, who carries the Y chromosome, and therefore this lack of boys has nothing to do with the mothers involved.

This led me to think about the English royal family. Having a male heir used to be a huge issue, of course. Let us not forget Henry VIII's six marital adventures in an attempt to produce the required heir and spare! Nowadays, thanks to IVF (In Vitero Fertilization) and surrogacy, this is no longer an issue. If for some reason Princess Kate has trouble getting pregnant, she and William will have plenty of options for dealing with the issue.

I think it'll be quite interesting, actually, to see if this ever becomes an issue with any royal family, and if so, how the country decides to deal with it. Would they have any problem with IVF or surrogate pregnancy? Would there be legal issues involved? In IVF, there are usually several fertilized eggs that are frozen and kept for future use. How would this affect the line of succession? If all of the children were conceived at the same time, but grown at different dates, would a law have to be passed clarifying how age is determined?

All in all, I think it would be a good thing. No longer do royal brides have to agonize over any failure to produce an heir. Since they have the money to fund fertility treatments, science has assured them of minimal stress in the matter.

How different would English history have been if such methods have been available to King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon? There would have been no Great Matter. No Anne Boleyn. No English Reformation.

Or would there? My understanding is that currently the Catholic Church is opposed to IVF and strongly promotes adoption instead as a solution to infertility. Would there have been a waiver for the matter of royal succession? Or would this provoked a controversy ushering in the Protestant Reformation in England after all?  

(Note, this totally isn't meant as an attack on Catholic IVF beliefs, it's just part of this historical 'what if' I'm throwing out here. I adore Tudor history and unfortunately it does bring up a lot of Catholic vs. Protestant stuff. But this piece is intended just for fun. :) )

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Did You Hear About The Morgans?

I honestly was starting to wonder if they still made charming sweet romantic comedies. You know, funny, well written ones with honest real love stories without peppering every other scene with sex and innuendo.

Turns out, they do. “Did You Hear About The Morgans” is everything a good rom-com should be – and just barely worth a PG-13 rating (I've actually seen PG movies that were worse).

Meryl and Paul are separated. He slept with another woman, she can't trust him, and now he is doing everything in his power to win her back to no avail. Then one night they become the sole witnesses to a high profile murder and the FBI ships them off to Ray, Wyoming in the Witness Protection Program.

There in the strange wild world of bears, guns and $5 sweaters at the Bargain Bin, Meryl and Paul have no choice but to spend a great deal of time together. Paul does everything in his power to be agreeable, charming, funny and understanding... and Meryl begins to listen. They even get some subtle (and not so subtle) counseling from their hosts, an older couple who are both in law enforcement. But will they manage to work out their differences before they're moved to their permanent – and separate – new homes? Or worse, before the murder suspect tracks them down and kills them as well?

I'll be honest, Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant are not on my list of favorite actors. In fact I've found them both kind of annoying in the past. However as Meryl and Paul they are absolutely delightful and truly fun to watch. These are exactly the roles they were always meant to play, and they execute a performance worthy of the romantic comedy legacy of stars like Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn.

As a movie that deals heavily around the meeting of two cultures, city and country, I felt the film did a very good job of milking the comedy out of the situation without being too stereotypical or offensive about it. It also delivered a strong message for the fact that marriage is hard, but worth fighting for. Finally it seriously pursued an understated but poignant adoption subplot that I found very encouraging.

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by what a lovely movie “Did You Hear About The Morgans?” ended up being. While not necessarily appropriate for younger audiences (they wouldn't find it terribly interesting anyhow), it's perfect for a couples night, or for family viewing with older teens.  

Monday, February 13, 2012

Sunshine Blessings

After being so sick for so long, it is truly a blessing to be able to spend two weeks in Florida, recuperating and enjoying time with my grandparents. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Help

I just finished watching “The Help” and not only has it earned an instant place among the ranks of racial prejudice stories, but it also shines as one of the best films I've ever seen about women.

For those who are unfamiliar with the plot, “The Help” is the story of an upcoming writer, Skeeter, who decides to write a 'tell all' about the lives of black maids in the south. After a lifetime of watching the white treatment of their black help, Skeeter finally decides to take a stand when one of her friends drafts a proposal to forbid any black servant from using a white toilet. Skeeter has a publisher on the line with the caveat that she must get actual hired help to share their stories. That's a task that is easier said and done.

In early 1960 it was, of course, the height of the civil rights movement. Times were starting to change, but that change happened far from peacefully. Any maid that spoke up knew she would be lucky if she got off with just loosing her job. A violent death was a very real possibility. So Skeeter is hard pressed to find any women who are willing to speak up, no matter how anonymously.

Then two maids, Abiline and Minny, face God's calling and reach the end of their ability to silently endure injustice. Timidly at first, but with growing determination, they tell Skeeter their stories.

“The Help” is a beautiful and heart-wrenching portrayal of a time in history that most of us would prefer to forget. Not only is it the story of horrible mistreatment of thousands of people, but it is also the story of real relationships. Every character is given a solid characterization, with strong motivations. There is hurt and hate, but also love and kindness. While some of the white ladies are often cruel, others go out of their way to show real kindness. And the servants, too, while battling their resentment, do not stint the love they give to their charges.

In fact, while the most touching storyline was Abiline's relationship with the baby girl she cared for, I was also deeply moved by Minny's two relationships with two of her employers. One, an older woman in the beginning stages of dementia, is treated with real grace, respect and affection by Minny, even though the woman is often trying and her daughter is downright horrible. The other, a young bride, scored by the other town ladies as 'white trash' struggles to learn how to live in a world foreign to her upbringing. Minny patiently teaches her how to cook and is the only one there to help her through personal tragedy.

We also see a poignant story of mothers and daughters in Skeeter's relationship with her mother. Although fraught with the frustration that most twenty-somethings have with their mothers, they both truly love each other and respect each other enough to grow in understanding.

Finally, this is a story about the inner strength of woman in every form. Not just feminism – although that was a growing issue at the time and is tastefully handled. These are women who must stand up against every social expectation to do what is morally right. And not all of them manage it.

It is rare to find a film that handles so difficult a subject not only so sympathetically, but also realistically. With an excellent script and fantastic acting, it's easy to forget that the story is a movie, and not a window into history. Emma Stone (Skeeter), Viola Davis (Abiline), Octavia Spencer (Minny) and Bryce Dallas Howard (Hilly Holbrook, the main antagonist) all deserve kudos. I never thought it would be possible to so thoroughly detest Bryce Dallas Howard in any role!

“The Help” is rated PG-13 for thematic material, but nothing that I would classify as truly objectionable. A wee bit of language, discussion of some of the violence of the period, references to a pregnancy out of wedlock and a character discovered in the midst of a miscarriage (we only see a bit of blood). Perhaps the only truly controversial element is when one character is revealed to have baked human excrement into a pie (hence most of the language – the s-word). It's a key point in the story, but it might be a good idea to forswear eating chocolate while watching the film!

Overall I would heartily recommend this as one of the best films of the year and encourage you to go out and watch it at first opportunity!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

When is 'old enough' for adult books?

Lately I've been keeping a reading journal. I picked up a little notebook for something less than a dollar at Michael's end of the year sales. I mulled over several different ideas for what purpose I could put it to, but the book journal was the most insistent.

So every time I finish a book I record the date, the title, the author, whether I've read it before, and then assign it 1-5 stars based on personal preference.

It's been interesting to note trends and habits. I tend to read the average book in less than 48 hours. Last month I read 20 different titles of an extremely varying range. On the one hand there was the adorable children's book "Palace Beautiful" and the amusing "Kat Incorrigable." Then there were the intriguing YA novels "Divergent," "White Cat," and "The Knife of Never Letting Go." There were three different Jane Austen titles in the mix. I finally decided not to count comic books because that got much too confusing.

There were also several adult titles. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." "The Time Traveler's Wife." "Atonement." These are all books that were masterfully written and powerfully moving. They are also books that I do not intend to review in depth on this blog in the foreseeable future.

Why? Because they are adult novels. Each of them has a true and moving story conveyed in an intriguing way with an excellent command of the English language (although one was of course translated from Swedish). Each one also contains language, sexual situations and violence far beyond the PG-13 rating (although 'The Time Traveler's Wife' was toned down into a PG-13 for the film adaptation). They are books with shock value but the shock is there for a reason.

"Dragon" is a heartbreaking look into domestic abuse and sexual violence against women in Sweden. It's not a book you read for entertainment, and it's a very real issue that demands greater awareness.

"Traveler" is a book on love, real love that truly transcends time. How do you marry someone who lives on a different timeline than you? When you meet him for the first time when you are just a little girl and he is already 40? Yet he doesn't meet you until he is 28 and you are 22 (forgive me if I have the years slightly mixed up, it's been a few weeks). How do you deal with knowing the future and being helpless to change it?

"Atonement" is a literary novel and at times is a bit too pretensions in its language and description. Yet for all that it is a moving story, delving into how the perception of an event changes based on the eyes you see it through, and how a false perception can wreak havoc on lives for generations.

They're good novels. They're adult novels. Some teens may read them, but I would not recommend them freely, without knowing personally who I recommended them to. How can I say "Only adults should read this?" How can I say "it's inappropriate for anyone under 20?" Those may be my opinions, but they're based on my experience. I would have been far too shocked and disturbed to appreciate any of these books when I was 20. I don't even want to imagine reading them at the age of 16.

And yet now these three novels were worthwhile novels to read. I grew from them. I was at times entertained, at other times introduced to extraordinary characters, often brokenhearted for the wrongs perpetuated, and challenged with new ideas and perspectives.

So when is 'old enough' for adult books? There's no clear cut answer and ultimately something that each reader must decide for themselves - hopefully taking input and wisdom from the trusted elders in their lives.

I am me. You are you. Your younger sister is her own person, your mother is yours. A good reader is a responsible, discerning one, who is aware of boundaries and balances growth with wisdom. Just because one can read something, does not mean that one is old enough to understand it. However just because something is 'adult' doesn't mean that it will never be worthwhile for you to read.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


This week I did something I haven't done in half a dozen years. I stayed offline and off my computer for over three days.

I'm vacationing in Florida for these two weeks, but that normally doesn't keep me off the internet. Being deaf so much of my communication happens online, and being chronically ill means that the community I'm a part of must necessarily be one I can interact with regularly without leaving my bed, thus again, online.

This means, however, that I always take my social life and many other responsibilities with me when I go on 'vacation.' The night before I was leaving I got an email bomb (one of the most horrid ways of communication) and being on top of a lot of online drama over the past four months, I was far more than ready for an internet fast. Plus technical difficulities make it tricky to get online at will, and so it's quite easy to instead pick up a book or go to the pool or do a bit of drawing instead.

I expected to miss it, but for the first time in years I found myself completely content to live completely offline. I didn't miss facebook, or e-mail (although I did feel a bit guilty about not getting up new posts for you). I could trust my mods to let me know if something truly big needed my attention on the forum, and my business partner and RP group were aware that I was going through hard stuff.

And you know what? It was really restful. I've been able to zone out and think and live in the moment and think... (wait, I already said that...)...

I couldn't live this way forever. It would be irresponsible, and I frankly wouldn't want to. The internet has been overall one of the great blessings of the electronic age and my biggest asset in managing being both deaf and chronically ill.

However, it is good to vacation from all worldly things, to change one's pace, to get a new perspective, and to rest.

So even if the cause was a bad one, the result is good.