28 February 2011

Oscars 2011: Not as bad as it has been

I love watching the Oscars with my friends: good food, gossip, drinks.  However, I cringe every year when the production team comes out ahead of time and tells everyone that they have tried to make the broadcast "shorter" - which is code for "We do crappy things to very grateful people because they are not movie stars." 

The hosts:  I do have a soft spot for Anne Hathaway.  She is a genuinely goofy person and that has to be hard in the Hollywood fish tank.  She's not afraid to be a fan-girl.  I thought she was funny and looked happy to be hosting, she had fun with it.  Plus, nasty black dress aside, she looked beautiful.  James Franco, on the other hand, perpetually looked like he smelled something bad, had an eyebrow stuck in the "raised" position, and mumbled like he was going for a spot in the Dazed and Confused remake.  They should have had Anne host by herself (loved her dig at Hugh Jackman).

The montages:  There were fewer montages, thank goodness.  The "genre tribute" montages of years past seemed odd and never really corresponded to a person or milestone anniversary.  Also, I really liked how the producers did one montage of all the Best Picture nominees with Colin Firth's voice-over from The King's Speech.  Soooo much better than ten montages - boring.

The dancers:  The producers get a "fail" for not having dancers.  That was always one of my favorite parts of the broadcast.  So booooooo on you (also, Florence aside, I wasn't that impressed with the singers for the Best Original Song).

The set: The designers really did a fantastic job with the set.  It was lively and interactive without being overbearing.  Also, sparkly thanks to Swarovski.

The awards:  I really wasn't surprised by any of the winners (although I did think that Biutiful was going to win Best Foreign Language film, which it didn't).  Hooray for The King's Speech because I am a huge fan of Colin Firth (ol' hottie-pants himself) and it's such a wonderful story (the one area of history that always draws my attention is the British Royal family).  I loved Melissa Leo's acceptance speech and Natalie Portman looked absolutely gorgeous.

The Please-wrap-up music:  I really hate that the producers allot like 30 seconds to winners of categories like Best Sound Editing, who have at least 3 people per category who all have to get their people thanked in that time period, but let the actors/director ramble on for several minutes.  The behind-the-scenes people are responsible for the look and sound of that movie we all love so much - like Inception which, cool idea aside, would not have looked half so interesting if the effects and editing guys hadn't worked their butts off.  They're just as important as the actors.  At least the producers scrapped that TERRIBLE idea from several years ago where they brought all the nominees in a category up on stage and pretty much went "Here's the winner, thanks for coming."  That was pretty awful, as well as the idea to have them accept the award in the aisle to save the "time" it takes for them to get up to the stage.  Tacky.  If you're saving time by cutting the montages, at least let people get their thanks out appropriately.

Funniest part of the evening: A three-way tie between Kirk Douglas, the "musicals" segment, and Robert Downey Jr./Jude Law.  Kirk Douglas is such a tough guy and for him to come out on stage at the Academy Awards and essentially do a little stand-up and draw out the suspense when presenting an award, I take my hat off.  He was so funny and sweet.  The "Auto-tune" movies segment was hilarious and so great for the Twilight sequence ("He doesn't own a shirt"...."Why doesn't he own a shirt?"...."She likes it that he doesn't own a shirt").  Downey Jr. and Law were hysterical channeling their Sherlock Holmes characters witty, bickering style when presenting (PS, can't wait until their new SH movie comes out).

Least funny part of the evening: Pretty much any time James Franco told a joke.  Or tried to look "cool."

The clothes:  Strangely, no one wore anything hideous requiring a comment from me.  Everyone was "safe" to stunning and it was a pleasure to see a teen dressed age-appropriately at an awards show - Hailee Steinfeld's pink vintage-looking ball gown was perfect.

One last thing I missed:  There wasn't an end-of-show montage of upcoming releases.  There usually is one during the last commercial break before the credits.  Isn't there?

Well, that's it for me!  My go-to-the-theatre movie watching was woefully poor this year - I blame a combination of Marcus Theatres' selection, Marcus Theatres' exorbitant movie ticket prices, and my work schedule/buying a new house.  Must do better this year.

24 February 2011

The Craft Crawl is done, man!

I finished out my 2011 Craft Crawl with a visit to Common Threads, the quilting shop here in North Liberty.

In a snowstorm, of course, but Common Threads is on my way home and besides, you get to see Hank while you're there (he is literally the shyest dog I've ever met...the only reason he approaches me is because I smell like kittehs).

Although I don't quilt (it's just not very portable as opposed to knitting), there are shelves and shelves of pretty quilting cottons.  So I picked up several yards of two kinds of fabric to make into either a needle roll or book cover (I got enough in case I make a mistake, I'm not as practiced at this whole sewing thing):

I think the tea rose print for the outsides and the blue flower print for the insides, no?

And then (because I missed the debut due to work), I picked up some yarn on sale at Common Threads:

 BugSnugger Sparkle Sock in Water - sooooo pretty.

Bug Snugger yarn is made by Diane Pals in Marengo (Ravelry profile).  This yarn caught my eye because it is a) fingering/sock weight, b) blue/blue toned, and c) SPARKLY.  There's a little bit of silver spun into the yarn.  Pretty sure I'll make a lovely lacy scarf/shawlette out of this - it shouldn't be hidden in my shoes as socks!

And that's my Craft Crawl - I turned in my card at Common Threads - it was a lot of fun and I can't wait to see what they do next year.

(For all you non-craft people, I promise there's a book review or two percolating in here.)

19 February 2011

It's Craft Crawl Week 2011!

Seven Iowa City-area craft stores are hosting the second Craft Crawl this week: Beadology, Ben Franklin, Common Threads, Fired Up, Home Ec, The Knitting Shoppe, and Shields Sewing Center.  All you have to do is visit each business during the week, make a purchase of any size (Edyie will sell you a button for 40 cents), and get your Craft Crawl card stamped.  When your card is full, you get entered in a drawing to win a $50 gift card from each business.  I have a time crunch this week, so I managed to hit six of the seven businesses today (Common Threads is only a few blocks from my house so I can visit later in the week).

I started out bright and early by stopping at Shields and Ben Franklin for quick purchases (I bought a seam ripper and a corner punch, respectively).  Then I stopped at The Knitting Shoppe to peruse the yarn and chat with Edyie (ps, Edyie was recently featured in the local paper).  We chatted in-between customers and I found some yarn that would be perfect for the Camellia Shrug from the most recent KnitScene:

Silky Wool from Elsebeth Lavold (45/35 wool/silk) in a pretty blue (color #10).  This should have a really nice drape around the neck when worked up.

And then I found more sock yarn (what else is new).

Mountain Colors Crazyfoot in Thunderstorm.  I luurrve sock yarn.

Especially the variegated kind - so many possibilities.

(Just an aside: Edyie is teaching an angora bootie class February 20, 1-4pm, and a class on linen stitch February 27, 1-4pm, if anyone is interested.)

I snagged some lunch and headed to Fired Up, which is such fun because you get to paint your own pottery (Fired Up provides the blank pieces, you paint/decorate them, and then Fired Up fires the pieces in the kiln).  Last year, I made food and water bowls for my kittehs so this year I decided to make something for me; I painted a giant coffee mug...tee-hee.  It will be ready in a week after it has been fired (picture then).

I stopped by Beadology to grab some seed beads.  I don't work with beads much (jewelry-making is too fiddly for this knitter) but I do like to free-hand designs on projects. 

So I got some white, green, and grab-bag colors.  Kinda pretty.  Not sure what project I'll use them on, but I'm sure I'll think of something.

I stopped at Home Ec on the way to the store (I had to work today at 3pm, boo, otherwise I would have just finished the Crawl today).  I heard a rumor that they had got some new stock of project bags (ok, ok....I read it on their FB page).

 Seriously cute draw-string bags made by JennieGee with the "Keep Calm" logo.  Of course I had to buy a blue one.

And then I bought more sock yarn - this time by Lone Tree Wools (Betty Shreeve in Lone Tree, IA).  It's a pretty, soft blue-grey-brown color. 

Now to get all my new yarns entered into Ravelry (which reminds me, I've acquired some books and mags I need to get logged, too).

I'll visit Common Threads this week then my Crawl will be complete!

17 February 2011

From the desk of the Booklady: Read it!

Booklovers everywhere were saddened yesterday to learn that Borders a) filed for bankruptcy protection and b) was going to close 200 stores (maybe more if they need to get the cash flow under control). Rebecca Schinsky, the Booklady, wrote a great post about shopping in real bookstores: Get Thee to a Bookery! [or Borders Went Belly-Up. Now What?]. Please go read it.

14 February 2011

SAD: "Promises like pie-crust"

For Singles' Awareness Day, I have a little Christina Rossetti:

Promise me no promises,
So will I not promise you:
Keep we both our liberties,
Never false and never true:
Let us hold the die uncast,
Free to come as free to go:
For I cannot know your past,
And of mine what can you know?

You, so warm, may once have been
Warmer towards another one:
I, so cold, may once have seen
Sunlight, once have felt the sun:
Who shall show us if it was
Thus indeed in time of old?
Fades the image from the glass,
And the fortune is not told.

If you promised, you might grieve
For lost liberty again:
If I promised, I believe
I should fret to break the chain.
Let us be the friends we were,
Nothing more but nothing less:
Many thrive on frugal fare
Who would perish of excess.

My "Who needs love?" display has been attracting a little attention.  I'm not sure what I'm going to read today, but there is an interesting discourse on love in Memoirs of Hadrian, the current read for "Literature by Women".

13 February 2011

The Parking Lot Movie

I was hanging out with my friends Kat and Aaron and we were going through Kat's Netflix Instant queue looking for something to watch.  Kat suggested "The Parking Lot Movie", it had good reviews - I had never heard of this but, sure, I'll watch it.

Essentially, The Parking Lot Movie is exactly that: a documentary about a parking lot.  Filmmaker Meghan Eckman chronicles the activities of the parking attendants at The Corner Parking Lot in Charlottesville, Virginia - right across the street from UVa and tucked in behind a row of bars.  I was prepared for this movie to be a little boring....I was wrong.  So wrong.

The Parking Lot Movie is a wonderful, frustrating, hilarious, sobering 70 minutes with very educated people who work what seems like a very menial/dead-end job.  The parking attendants are philosophers, musicians, artists, anthropologists, and historians - some students, some not - who stand outside in a little ramshackle hut in all sorts of weather collecting hourly parking fees.  And they don't always collect fees from very nice people.  There's a great quote from the movie website - "Fortunately in this establishment the normally agreed upon rules of customer service don’t exist. Disrespect the staff and face the consequences."

These guys are routinely abused by luxury vehicle drivers over assessed fees as little as 40 cents.  There are Greek community members who drive off causing the parking attendants to chase after them and demand to be paid. Drunken idiots will routinely break the entrance gate.  Drivers seem to think that they shouldn't have to pay to park their vehicle, that they don't have to be polite to the guy collecting the money.

I've never worked a job like that (the lot owner said that you really couldn't be too type-A and work there, I agree) but I can say I've never been a jerk to people who work like these guys (I did once get into it with a meter maid who was standing there waiting for my meter to expire and wrote a parking ticket after I got into my car - I also called her supervisor; I won).  This movie is a great documentary that illustrates the serious problem we have in this country with showing basic decency to others.  I'm thinking about buying the DVD when it comes out because I think Meghan Eckman has a great eye; she was able to looking beyond the job to see the people behind it. 

So go watch The Parking Lot Movie - it's available on Netflix Instant and will be out on DVD March 15.

10 February 2011

Two loves, one stone: knitting and new books

I love knitting and I love new books so a new knitting book totally hits both happy spots.  Behold what arrived:

This is really fun.  It's organized like an encyclopedia and has an entry for just about everything.  Techniques, equipment, fibers, designers, styles, and even important knitting locations like the Faroe Islands.  ust open it up to find anything you want to know (and it's got a blue dust jacket, pretty).

What I'm really hoping for is a reprint of The Principles of Knitting by June Hemmons Hiatt; it is amazing but used copies (sold by anyone with even half an idea of how in-demand that book is) are selling for $200+.  Do you hear me Simon and Schuster??  There are a lot of knitters who would be willing to buy a $35-$45 hardcover if you reprint it! (It's always been a rumor that the reprint is coming out "next year").

05 February 2011

The Oracle of Stamboul

The advance copy of Michael David Lukas's The Oracle of Stamboul came in a lovely purple envelope with, I think, a hoopoe on the "seal".

See?  It's almost too pretty to open but I'm quite glad I pried it open because there is a wonderful story inside.

In late nineteenth-century Romania (or what will become Romania), Eleonora Cohen is a gifted child born to an average family, her birth heralded by an ancient Tartar prophecy:  "a sea of horses, a conference of birds, the north star in alignment with the moon".  The prophecy seems to be correct.  The village of Constanta is ravaged by the Third Division of Tsar Alexander II's Royal Cavalry.  An odd flock of purple-and-white hoopoes has taken up residence around the Cohen house.  Amid the chaos of the cavalry attack, Leah Cohen dies giving birth to her extraordinary daughter. 

As Eleanora grows, it becomes obvious that she possesses an extraordinary intelligence.  When her father takes a business trip to Stamboul, she stows away in his luggage to escape her aunt/step-mother's repressive ideas about the education of women.  However, her father dies while in Stamboul leaving eight-year-old Eleanora in the care of an old family friend.  In the glittering city on the Bosporus, Eleanora educates herself and crosses paths with the Sultan and history.

While the main action of the novel lies with Eleanora, two other characters are used to flesh out the story: the Reverend James Muehler, the head of Robert's College in Stamboul, and Sultan Abdulhamid II.  The Sultan is portrayed as an entirely sympathetic character, a gentle man, surrounded by tradition and placed in an impossible position by the ruling European powers.  He is patient and intelligent; he makes no decisions without carefully weighing all the information at his disposal.  Although he plays multiple roles, the Reverend, on the other hand, is the one character I felt to be a non-entity.  He is used to convey information between characters or play off other characters, but the massive backstory given to him - then imparted to the reader - seems to be in the way; much of the dimensionality of the character goes unused and it's such a waste.  That is really my only complaint about the novel.

I've been mulling over my review for a while, unsure of what to add.  The Oracle of Stamboul is a quiet book; rather than earthshaking, it is beautiful in its peaceful progression.  There are a few moments of high drama but the denouement of the novel unfolds logically.  The majority of the book is devoted to following Eleanora as she decides which path her life will take, a true bildungsroman

The Oracle of Stamboul is a delightful work of historical fiction with a dash of magical realism.  Eleanora is a savant with a flock of unusual birds that follow her from her hometown to a huge city, there are spies and political plots floating around town.  The Ottoman Empire is beginning a slow disintegration; recently forced to cede the Crimea and part of the Balkans, the Empire is continually harried by the Russians.  I really enjoyed reading this book, set at such a fascinating time in history at the crossroads of the world.

The Oracle of Stamboul goes on-sale February 8, 2011 (hardcover and nook).

Dear FTC: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

03 February 2011


Shirley is the first Charlotte Bronte novel to grace "Literature by Women" at BNBC (we read Emily's Wuthering Heights in 2007 and Anne's Agnes Grey in 2008, but no Charlotte until now).  I'm a huge Jane Eyre fan (it's a "desert island" book) and I am interested in reading some of Charlotte's other novels so Shirley was an excellent choice (although I can't remember who nominated it for the group); I'm halfway through Villette, too.

Shirley is set during the Napoleonic wars, where an embargo on trade with the continent has hurt the textile manufacturers of England.  Mill owners are already unable to pay workers and some, like Robert Moore, have decided to mechanize mill operations bringing them into conflict with poor laborers (and Luddites).  The focus of the novel is on the relationship between Moore, his (unmarried) cousin Caroline Helstone, and Moore's wealthy (unmarried) landlord Shirley Keeldar. 

You can see where this is going.  The narrator/Charlotte does come right out at the beginning of Shirley and states that this book is not a romance novel (understandable, given the runaway success of Jane Eyre). The narration even starts by following three curates as they greedily partake of supper and then are herded out onto the moors to Moore's mill where there is trouble brewing over the delivery of new machinery.  The next day we are introduced to Caroline as she comes for her French lesson with Moore's sister, Hortense.  Then Caroline is forbidden to visit the Moore's when her uncle/guardian disagrees with Moore's politics.  Moore pursues prosecution of those who damaged his equipment and Caroline sinks into a depression.

All that action takes the first ten chapters, so where is Shirley Keeldar?  Well, Shirley appears at that point as the wealthy, young, unmarried, female owner of Fieldhead and Moore's landlord.  Caroline and Shirley become friends and even, at one point, learn of a plot to attack Moore's mill and attempt to warn him (they instead wind up hiding in the bushes because they are too late, but Moore defeats the attackers anyway).  So the love triangle is set - the community assumes Moore and Shirley will marry (he needs an heiress to sustain his business and they seem to get along) but we're not sure if Shirley really loves him while Caroline is pretty much dying because she loves Moore.

So much for the "this is not a romance novel" thing.  The marriage plot is very central to Shirley - without it we would be treated to long descriptions of curates and their bad habits and descriptions of the hardships endured by those in the textile industry, both employers and employees.  However, this novel has a very different feel from Jane Eyre.  The omniscient narrator of Shirley distances us from the characters whereas the first person narration of Jane Eyre gets us up-close to Jane's thoughts and feelings without any sort of filter between her and the reader.  I feel more for Jane than I do for Shirley or Caroline.  I can empathise with Shirley - a rich, independent woman who is tired of all the speculation about her accepting an "appropriate" marriage proposal - and Caroline - rather poor and completely beholden to her uncle for her daily sustenance - but I don't really feel invested in their characters they way I do for Jane.

The narration in Shirley isn't quite as tight as Jane Eyre, either.  The narrator in Shirley wanders off down odd paths that interrupt the main action - I didn't need to know all about young Martin Yorke's thoughts on women, etc. interesting as those were.  Charlotte Bronte does not ascribe to the authors' maxim "Murder your darlings" and the novel does bog down in places because of all the narrator's wanderings.  I was surprised at the wandering narration - I expect it more in a serialized novel because of the need to "fill" pages for each installment.

On the whole, though, Shirley is an excellent novel to read because it captures the unrest felt during the transition into mechanised labor during the nineteenth-century.  Charlotte Bronte also has a very shrewd eye, far more than shown in Jane Eyre, and she applies it ruthlessly to the characters who populate her novel.  Shirley was an interesting book to read and I recommend it for those reading widely in Victorian literature.