Archive for October, 2011

October 19, 2011

Jumpers for Penguins

In response to an oil spill off the coast of New Zealand, an NZ yarn store called Skeinz has envisioned and sponsored a donation effort to help the Phillip Island penguins that have been negatively impacted.  When an oil spill of this magnitude happens, rescue workers can’t always get to and wash all the penguins fast enough.  So, penguins are put in little sweaters in the meantime to keep them from preening their feathers (so they don’t ingest the oil) and to keep them warm (oil from spills also destroys the natural oils on the penguin).  It’s a brilliant idea, not to mention freakin’ adorable!  The pattern for the tiny sweater is a difficulty level way beyond my current skill set.  But as I understand, they are stockpiling them for the future (Jesus, how many oil spills are they expecting around Australia?).  I’d better get better fast because I TOTALLY want to do this!  Poor little guys.  Google “sweaters for penguins” to get more adorable images.  Also, below is the Etsy blog that contains the pattern and links to Skeinz where you can get more information and the address to mail your little sweaters to:

New Zealand’s blue penguin population has been affected by a nasty oil spill. Will you donate a sweater to help the rescue efforts?
October 19, 2011

Gifts from Cyprus

Andreas’ father, Dino, just returned from a three-week visit to Cyprus.  He brought many beautiful things back with him, which I had the opportunity to see when we visited last weekend.  So, I thought I’d spend a post showing them to you.  Had I begun this blog a year earlier than I did, I would have had so many things to show you of my travels…Australia, Paris, Maine.  Alas, since I’ve finally got the blog up and running, I’ve done nothing interesting except complain (travails instead of travels).  So, I offer instead…other people’s travels, in case my tales of domesticity and the bemused, tangential streams of thought that occasionally find their way onto my blog have worn a little thin.  First, the gifts for Greek and me:

A set of ceramic serving bowls set in a wooden base.  The design is a lemon, a critically essential ingredient to Greek cuisine.

         

And, a set of hand-embroidered kitchen towels.

For me, a bar of orange and olive oil soap (it’s a pity I can’t somehow infuse this post with the fragrance of it), and a silver bracelet.  Notice the distinctly Greek geometric design of the charms, found along the border of many a piece of ancient Greek pottery or sculpture.  Like so.

I’d also like to note at this time that a Google search of “ancient greek art” from which I got this image produced a picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger as Hercules right alongside a bust of Aphrodite.  These next ones are gifts Dino received from their extended family still living in Cyprus, a small, Greek isle in the Mediterranean.

           

A pair of ceramic relief tiles and a ceramic statuette made by Dino’s aunt from her art shop in Cyprus.  Hand-moulded, hand-painted, and hand-glazed of course.

Lastly, lace from Cyprus, handmade by a community of little old Cypriot ladies beautifully framed in a dark wood frame with tiny brass handles.  A gift from his cousin.

So, as many of you know, my Greek and his family were from the northern district of Famagusta in Cyprus where they owned a small apartment building by the sea.  They were displaced like so many other Cypriots by the Turkish invasion of 1974, which brought them to the States.  The Turkish occupation and schism of Cyprus continues to this day.  And while the world does not recognize the government of the Turkish-occupied portion of Cyprus, it has not managed to relinquish Turkish control of that chunk that would allow people like Andreas’ family to reclaim their long lost property on that part of the island.  So, I’ve also decided to include a petition you can sign in opposition to Turkey’s occupation of Cyprus: http://www.petitiononline.com/wcrime74/.  Andreas’ and my signatures are somewhere in the 9000’s.  So, if you feel passionate enough about it, sign away!

October 15, 2011

My thoughts on knitting, part two

First off, I have a correction to make.  Apparently, Elena’s stitches are not too tight; mine are.  Cindy, our teacher, was kind enough to clarify this at our second and final class.  Well, a correction to my correction: my stitches are too tight now.  As you can see from what I’m calling my “Timeline of Un-sucking”, otherwise known as the scarf I knitted in class, my stitches began rather loose and floppy and tightened over time.  What you may also notice is that, towards the end, I am starting to produce what one might be inclined to call…a knitted garment.  Hooray!  On one hand, Elena’s scarf does not have such a visibly apparent learning curve having pretty much gotten it right off the bat.  On the other hand, Lisa was studious enough to do her homework and produce a nice, long scarf while Elena accomplished little more than a hanky.  That’s what lying immobile on the couch all weekend with nothing else to do due to an injured neck will do for you!  In fact, Lisa has even begun an entirely independent project, a forest green scarf, which will become her first completed, wearable knitting project.  She also took another class to learn the purl stitch and has begun another practice scarf in which she’s tried different combinations of knit and purl stitches, made holes (intentionally this time!), and switched yarn colors!  On the other hand, Elena has since claimed to have taught herself the purl stitch independently, which she did not learn in class.  Bravo, by the way, to anyone currently thinking of Fiddler on the Roof now, speaking of tattered knit garments.  So, we have Lisa- 2, for being the good student, and Elena- 2, for being the gifted student.  Factoring in the fact that Elena also had troubles at home involving a snapped string and a knot in her yarn, and discluding silly points I award myself when I deprive the world of fashion of my ugly garment line, I believe that brings the total to Elena- 3, Lisa- 2.  Alas, I have lost, although it’s been agreed that the real losers here are Rob and Andreas who, so they’ve been told, must now wear everything we make in a show of support for our venture.  And if they do not, it will be construed as an utter lack of faith and a broad unloving of us and all we stand for.

I have also added my first knitting site to my blogroll: Ravelry.com, a site that my last knitting teacher, Jen, dreamily referred to as “Facebook for knitters.  Wait no, it’s better than Facebook!”.  Apparently, she’s a fan.  So, that’s ravelry, as in revelry plus raveling and unraveling yarn.  Not a fan of puns and clever wordplay?  Yeah, then the knitting community is not for you; they are kooky folks.  Anyways, you set up an account and you can link to fellow knitters, join groups, learn about local knitting activities, get free patterns, and post photos of your various projects, tools, yarn, and knitting tribulations.  With the help of more experienced knitters, I’ve also discovered Knitpicks.com, Designeryarnsale.com, and Yarnmarket.com for affordable yarn and tools.  For those of you teaching yourselves (Jenna), Knittinghelp.com offers great how-to videos.  Anyone who claims to have taught themselves knitting only by reading about it is either a bold-faced liar or some sort of spatial orientation virtuoso; for the rest of us, seeing is the only way to learn.  I’m still on the lookout for the perfect knitting blog, an ideal mix of humorous and charming writing, helpful knitting tips and ideas, and top-notch photos.  Throw out any suggestions you may have.  I find that knitting websites tend to be really busy-looking, so try not to suggest something that’s going to induce a fit of seizures when a novice knitter like me is bombarded with too much information and bright colors.  Among actual, physical resources, I have mostly hearsay to present to you as I haven’t looked into it myself too much.  I got a “Knit Simple” magazine which, as the title implies, has a lot of basics for beginners and tons of patterns.  It is also, when folded in half, good for measuring how much yarn I’ll need for fringe!  I found the book Stitchionary (by the editors of “Vogue Knitting” no less) to be full of every combination of knit and purl stitches imaginable, any pattern you could dream of.  They have several volumes and a nascent website that is rudimentary at best but should improve with time and does include the vital glossary for the weird terms you’ll encounter when learning a pattern.  It also has links to the knittinghelp.com videos that will show you how to do each!  There are the books by Nikol Lohr, who runs the prolific Thriftyknitter.com blog, which includes Naughty Needles (if knitted, tassled pasties are your thing!  I kid you not), and the Stitch ‘n’ Bitch books are also popular and well-received by Amazon.com reviewers.  Oh god!  I’m bombarding you with too much information!  And, now fearing that I too am becoming an overzealous busybody knitter who shares too much when she gets swept up in the excitement of what is, at best, a niche hobby, I will conclude this post with my final remark: my verdict.

What you may have astutely picked up on by now is that I’m pretty pumped about knitting now!  The cynical diatribe of bitterness and frustration that was “Part One” has been replaced by a crazed eagerness to learn everything possible and become a truly proficient knitter.  I find it calming and a great exercise for my fidgety hands when winding down for bed or watching TV.  In fact, I’ve so immersed myself in my new skill that it now feels awkward to sit still.  So, I LOVE knitting but remain frightened of the implications for my social life and carpal tunnel.  It is coming perilously close to an obssession.

October 15, 2011

My Top Romantic Movies Of All Time

So, I was having a conversation the other day about the oversexualization [insert “of women” here] in TV shows nowadays.  And it’s true; I have made a real effort lately to try and watch some of the new TV shows coming out, and they rely heavily on shock value and sleek and shiny yet hollow people prancing in and out of frame.  Case in point: a mention of the new show “The Playboy Club” on NPR remarked on its relative tameness compared to today’s fare.  Um, it’s a show called “The Playboy Club”!  But then I realized the term “oversexualization” is really a misnomer: beneath all that fleshy exposure and seemingly overt sexuality lies an undeniable falseness that makes it anything but sexy and not actually portraying sex at all.  If the relationships don’t seem real, then they cannot be sexual.  Without a realistic concept of sex, is something sexy?  Even fantasy has some foothold in reality because one wants to convince oneself that it could actually happen.  Perhaps the characters try to speak more to men than they do to women; after all, you all are the ones they’re actually speaking to.  So many of guys’ fantasies are inherently mysogynistic because they involve women that are so unreal, they aren’t even human.  Therefore, they are objects.  A lot of the women in those shows suffer from what I like to call  Weird Science Syndrome (or Quentin Tarantino Syndrome) in that they are the product of a hopeful, misguided, male dork.  To say you identify with these women or envision them as humans that could actually exist is to admit that you draw from no actual relationship experience, and you are a lonely nerd.  Most of the portrayals of relationships in movies or in television do not actually happen in real life, and the fantasy that they supposedly embody should bring no one comfort as it is so detached from reality as to be unrecognizable to anyone with a shred of life experience.  And then there are the romance shows and movies aimed at women: the warm, reassuring pat on the shoulder that no matter who you are or what you do, your dream man, your prince, the unquestionably wealthy, beautiful, and talented yet somehow kind and humble with just the approriate ratios of strength, sensitivity, and sense of humor, will find you enthralling, disarming, enrapturing, etc., etc.  Now, while a man’s fantasy of woman as shiny perfection is unrealistic, believe me, it is as equally unrealistic to think that you can shriek, act out, be unreasonably suspicious, have unreasonable expectations, be an emotional basketcase, blow things way out of proportion, make a scene, and basically be critically flawed in character and the guy will still love you unconditionally and rescue you from the horror of dying alone.  Yes, a woman’s flaws should make her more attractive.  Yes, a man should want a woman who challenges and excites him.  But darlings, there’s a limit.

I know I just said a mouthful there and probably illicted more than a few protestations.  But it does bring me to what I really wanted to talk about: my top romantic movies of all time.  My frustrations with today’s offerings is evident.  So, these are some of my favorite movies, past and present, that, to me, depict real-life relationships and utterly human lives.  Yes, I began talking about sex and ended with romance.  Call me old-fashioned, but these two things are inextricably linked.  It makes more sense once you realize that my definition of romance has an “anything goes” policy: it’s whatever one considers a romantic gesture, and I am not a candlelight and roses type of gal.

So, without further ado (and there’s been plenty) and in no particular order…

1.)   “An Affair to Remember”, the 1957 remake with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr.  Listen to Cary Grant have an innuendo-laden conversation with any of his leading ladies.  It’s steamier than most sex scenes.  Andreas positively blushed when he heard Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint talk dirty on the train in “North By Northwest”.  Cary Grant even managed to get Doris Day to act a little naughty.  But this one is my favorite of his movies: no distracting espionage or high-stakes jewel theft, just an immediate attraction, a well-developed love affair, a complication, and a touch of tragedy.

2.)   “Atonement”.  Maybe it’s the fact that I think the best love stories are tragedies (I am with a Greek).  Maybe it’s the fact that I read the Ian McEwan novel on which it was based when I was in Paris while I listened to apiano play and footsteps dance across the wood floor of the apartment above me.  Maybe it’s the incredible love scene: one of the sexiest I’ve seen, and you don’t see a thing.  Or, maybe it’s the fact that a romance, torn apart by circumstances in only its fledgling stages, was still so damned convincing you knew they’d be together forever if fate (which you don’t even believe in because you’re sensible) hadn’t intervened.  But I…Love…This…Movie.  For fleeting romances and lovers separated by war, see also “Casablanca”.

3.)   “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”.  Ok, so Jerry Lewis’ bit in here is, in retrospect, really, really rascist.  But this movie harkens back to my lamentation earlier about critically flawed women and the men who love them (but who any reasonable man in the real world would flee from).  Audrey Hepburn is most certainly a flawed individual.  But she’s also still the most enchanting thing on screen.  I think the key here is flawed but not irreparable and more good qualities than bad.  And any movie that can involve a cat (named Cat) effectively in the final climactic scene and still make me cry every time is a keeper.  For more love between damaged people, see also “Cabaret”.  Man, Nazis ruin everything!  And “Walk the Line”; this is starting to turn into the “love stories with their own narrative soundtrack” category.

4.)   “Love Actually”.  Maybe I view love in a deathly cynical, characteristically British way, but this movie moves me.  I also believe your favorite story in this movie gives people a glimpse into the way you view love.  I like the one where he’s in love with her, but she’s married to his best friend so it can only end badly, naturally.  Most people I ask like the Hugh Grant one, the American-like one that would never happen: he’s the most powerful man in England, and she doesn’t have a smidgen of self-esteem and yet it works out!  And the bloody thing ends in an airport, which is a giant romance movie cliché no-no!  Yet it still made the list.  It’s a testament to the fact that good acting and clever dialogue can actually float the otherwise shaky premise upon which most romantic movies are based.

5.)   This is my teen category.  There is an especial dearth of quality movies when you compound “romantic movies” with “aimed at teens”.  You just remember them fondly because you were a teen at the time; they’re actually awful…trust me.  But there are still a few: “Titanic”.  Shut up!  I was fifteen once too.  I saw that movie half a dozen times in the theatre and cried like a baby, and Leonardo DiCaprio is still twelve different kinds of adorable.  It’s the hands; I’m a sucker for handsome hands.  And the Prius.  “Dirty Dancing”- for me, the quintessential teen movie, the perfect combination of dance, men who aren’t afraid to dance, music, rebellion, and objecting adults.  “Grease”- see “Dirty Dancing”.  “West Side Story”- for the best retelling of a Shakespeare play, which, inexplicably, came to be a hallmark of teen movies.  And, “16 Candles”- is it weird that some of my favorites have parts that are offensive to Asians?

6.)   “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”.  What could be more romantic than a pair of people realizing that they have experimentally proven their love will end tragically and painfully but they still decide to have a go at it?  That’s not a rhetorical question.  I challenge you to answer it.  What for?  For the ride.  For the good parts.  Because they are so drawn to one another that they’ve convinced themselves it could be different this time.  The irresistable pull of one another was so strong, they couldn’t lobotomize it out of themselves, and the story is so strangely and beautifully told.  For more on relationships with uncertain futures…

7.)   “Garden State”.  Not really on anyone’s romantic movie radar.  But the ending was so touching and uncertain, it caused the Greek to exclaim, “That was the most romantic thing I’ve ever seen!”.  It just demonstrates that the conclusion of a love story, genuinely and realistically depicted, can be the most moving even without the passionate kiss, the dramatic fluorish, the couple riding off together to endless, undeniable happiness.  Perhaps you are one of those people who are so certain that your love will end happily that you would confidently conclude your love story on that note.  But, to me, the uncertainty, the danger, the risk that one takes to be in love are truly the most interesting stories.

Alright, I’m sure there are more, but I don’t feel like thinking about it anymore.  And there are many I haven’t seen yet.  This isn’t actually my bag.  I like to wait at least five years after release during which time there should be nothing but universal critical acclaim before I’ll consider watching it.  That way, I don’t end up in another “Bridget Jones’ Diary 2” contemplating whether a Thai prison would be preferable to having to watch the movie anymore.  Feel free to make your own suggestions, and I’ll take them under consideration.  So help me, no one better suggest “Pretty Woman”…  Or anything with Kate Hudson in it.

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