20 May, 2010

Gone a-Visitin'

I have a lot of traveling planned for this summer - Chicago, LA, NYC, and hopefully a move to Portland - so when my mom called last Thursday and asked me to drive with her and my aunt to LA to see my Great Uncle Harold, I was a little balky. Harold is my grandfather's brother, but Grandpa Ralph died when I was 4 so we never spent much time with that part of the family. I know Harold is elderly and not doing well, but dangit, I wanted to play video games and maybe hit the gym a little (a very little).

But I went because it was the right thing to do, and I knew I would hate myself if I didn't take what could be my last opportunity to see my uncle, whom I remember as a tall, cheerful, funny man with a huge miniature train set in his garage; complete with hills and tunnels and flashing train crossings. These are the things that are important and interesting when one is only six, I suppose.

Here he is with his daughter, my second cousin (once removed), Sheryl. She's everything a father could ask for, and more.

I'm so, SO glad I made that trip.

My uncle is 88 and lost his wife of 62 years about 3 weeks ago. Every time Aunt Marge came up in conversation, his lip would tremble and he would gaze with what I can only call Love at her picture on the wall. Then he would shake himself a bit and say, "We had a good time, Marge and me," and go on telling us some silly story about her entertaining people at his Santa Fe Railroad dinners. Both Uncle Harold and Grandpa Ralph worked for the Santa Fe, as did their father before them. And oh man, did Harold have stories to tell about everyone! I've never been around an elderly person who still had all their memories before, and it was an absolute treasure to hear about my grandparents, great-grandparents, and even great-great-grandparents. We found an old photo album in the closet that contained photos from around 1915 to 1927, and Uncle Harold gleefully pointed out Great-Grandmother Dot's friends and identified their surroundings. It was nothing short of amazing.

And the house! It was like walking onto a set for Mad Men. That house hasn't changed since 1965, and I am in love with it. Aunt Marge had an eye for the interesting, and Uncle Harold's work on the railroad meant he got little gifts from all over the place, so the house is full of amazing little things without being overcrowded.

Uncle Harold told us many stories from WWII. He was in the Coast Guard up in Adak, Alaska, and had great stories about the service for which he made his daughter leave the room. He was also, as you can probably guess from the above photo, a very snappy-dressing sort of gentleman. Only snappy dressers have that many cufflinks.

There was a crazy tree out front of the house that attracted all kinds of nectar-gathering birds:

and an absolute welter of morning glories out back:
I took a much more artsy shot of the flowers, but this one shows how far the vine itself has gone. What's not pictured is the part of the vine that has reached to the trees on the right. I don't think I've ever seen morning glories in bloom before!

Because Harold is elderly and ill, we spent as much time with him as possible without wearing him out. That left me lots of time for working on Val's wedding shawl, which is currently in the binding-off stage, hooray!
I actually had to stop working on it while I was in LA and on the trip home because I ran out of yarn. The swift in the background is set up for me to finish binding off straight from the skein so I don't have to estimate.

All in all, I am thrilled that I got to spend time with my uncle. The family is frankly worried that he won't last much longer now that Aunt Marge is gone, and the opportunity to talk with Harold about his life was invaluable. It turns out my family on my grandfather's side is an old San Francisco family, so we'll be looking them up in short order and getting reacquainted. I look forward to it.

10 May, 2010

Bright Star

I read a lot of film and book blogs (don't look so shocked!), and every one that I read regularly was unanimous on one thing: Jane Campion was robbed at the Oscars this year, and so was her costume designer.

And now I agree too.

Bright Star (2009) was beautiful for both eyes and ears. The hats alone made me long to spend a week in England in 1818, which is an extremely rare feat as I am fond of both hot showers and central heating. Campion's use of cinematography to tell stories is unparalleled, and I may end up using clips of this film to explain why weather helps to tell stories. Rain may just be rain in the Real World, but in books and movies, my friends, it means one thing: sorrow. Sorrow so great that the world weeps even if the characters do not. And hang it all if I didn't weep right along with the very earth at the knowledge that John Keats is dead. Never mind that he's been deceased for nearly 200 years, and the only way he'd still be around is if he a) sparkled turned to dust in the sunlight or b) ate braaaains. Given the tenor of Keats's poetry, I'm going to say that if he had a choice, he'd have gone with option A. But back to the subject at hand.

I have to hand it to Campion here - she used many of the extant letters between the lovers as voiceover. Fanny Brawne was a slightly empty-headed girl who liked fashion and flirting until she met John Keats. I'm not sure how it exactly happened, but Campion orchestrated it so carefully that when the announcement of love came, it was like a breath of fresh air instead of a startling revelation. Of course, anyone with any historical knowledge of the Romantics whatsoever or maybe a passing understanding of drama knows what is coming.

As doomed lovers and dead poets go, Keats is a fantastic poster boy. He was penniless and therefore could not marry the woman he loved. His poetry was decried as ridiculous and infantile; he died thinking his poetry was reviled and would fade into nothingness. He died of consumption, far away from the woman he loved. After his death, she wandered the heath of England quoting his poetry, never removing his ring.


And yet, there were bright points. The lovers were adorable, the banter was clever, and the whole film was carefully created to show the time in which it was set. You may know by now that I like period pieces. This one was lovely, and I'd recommend it as a bittersweet picture of the love between Fanny and John. I liked very much that Campion kept the story about Fanny instead of leaving her as a side character. She came alive as an advocate for her love and as a multifaceted woman. She also had an aDORable little sister whom I wanted to cuddle.

One of my favorite things about this movie, though, was the cat, Topper. He has the loudest, most cheerful purr ever caught on film, and it made me happy that it wasn't edited out.

Should you be wondering if you know Keats's work, let me soothe your worries. You have only to finish the following phrase:

"A thing of beauty is _________."

As Fanny herself said, the beginning of Endymion is perfection itself.

9.5 yellows.

06 May, 2010

Progress... of a Sort

We loves the summer sunshine, Precioussssss.....

Knitting progress! It's been slow, but relatively steady. I tore through THB's first Last Chance Sock while I was in Portland at the end of April, and I'm a bit into the second one, although it's going to take longer because I am b-o-r-e-d with the pattern:
Pattern: Charade

I've also made it to row 145 of 180 on my cousin's wedding shawl. It looks much like before, just bigger, so here are some frothy lace close-ups instead!
Gaze into the void...

So close, and yet so far!

So just in case you are thinking that I'm nearly done with this project, allow me to disillusion you so that we may be disillusioned together. Circular lace shawls like this one are knitted from the center out to the edge. This one in particular has 8 sections, and at last count (about 10 rows ago) each had roughly 111 stitches. That's almost 900 stitches per round, which is why each pair of rounds (pattern round and plain round) takes me over an hour. So even though there are only 35 rounds plus bind-off to go, that's a MINIMUM of 35 hours worth of work left on the shawl - and that assumes no additional stitches are added, which simply isn't going to happen. If there's one thing a knitter can count on when knitting a circular shawl, it's that there WILL be more stitches.

Let's look at it another way. The pattern calls for 1969 yards of yarn, which weighs out to roughly 222 grams of yarn. I have so far knitted 126g, so I'm only slightly more than halfway done with the yardage of knitting required.

Are you feeling for me yet? Oy!

But there are good books to listen to and I'm enjoying myself - there's just a mind-boggling amount of knitting - and washing, and blocking! - to do before I leave for the wedding on May 26!!

Part of the reason I didn't get much shawl knitting done in Portland is this:

THIS is BabyBean #2, and his uncle Pohaku. BabyBean is ten months old in this picture. Po is still significantly bigger than the 'Bean. Observe:
That is one big cat, and he's SUCH a love. One of my favorite kitties of all time, if I may be honest. But back to the "new" arrival, who you may recall as the recipient of this little thing I whipped up.

How can you resist that face? Many cuddles were required, and it is not recommended to cuddle bebehs when knitting complicated lace. And thus, I am behind. /dramatic sigh!

The Ramen Girl

Apparently I need more light-hearted comedies in my Instant Watch queue. I think this is due to several aspects of my Type A personality:
1. I like to watch one TV show at a time, straight through.
2. Currently, that TV show is Bones.
3. I thoroughly enjoy it so far, but canNOT watch it while I eat.
4. To avoid looking for a new TV show to start watching, I look for something light in my queue.
5. There is hardly anything light in said queue. It's all Bleak House and Born into Brothels, kiddos.

So I ended up watching The Ramen Girl, starring the sadly deceased Brittany Murphy. And it was a charming movie, totally predictable, and I enjoyed it. I have to admit that I probably wouldn't have watched it had this not been one of her last movies; I'm not a big fan of hers (Clueless aside, of course), but I am amused by the husky voice that comes out of such a wee slip of a girl.

From what I could tell, most of this movie was actually shot in Japan and used Japanese actors, which I find a refreshing change. The story was okay - girl moves to new country to be with boy, boy leaves girl high and dry, girl tries to pick up and move on, girl learns Something About Herself along the way. But what I found really charming was the background. It's impossible for Hollywood to capture the essence of a culture in a studio the way that they can by simply shooting in that culture. The Japanese are a fascinating group of people, and this movie included a lot of the little quirks that make them so interesting, like walls of vending machines (infamous "used panty" vending machines were left out of the script entirely, for which I was grateful) and the excessive drinking that goes on. It also touched on the familial expectations embedded in Japanese culture that aren't familiar to a Western audience.

And above all, it made me want soup. I'm not a huge fan of true ramen, actually - I don't care much for pork, and ramen is usually pork-based and oily - but I do looove soup, and especially Korean pho, which is very similar but usually with a beef or chicken broth and rice noodles instead of egg. Pho used to be a staple food in my diet because it's cheap, filling, minimal on the veggies, and works wonders on a hangover; since moving here from the Silicon Valley, it's been distinctly missing from my diet.

Movies that make me crave food are few and far between. Even Julie & Julia didn't make me want to eat the way this one did, maybe because I'm not familiar with French cuisine?

Anyway, I liked the movie okay. Did it make me want to move to Japan? No. But was I able to pick out some Japanese characters and understand a few words? Yes, thanks to a year of Japanese class that's still embedded somewhere in my memory.

7 yellows.

01 May, 2010

I Capture the Castle

Well, mes amis, it's apparently Movie Week at Chez House. And by Movie Week, I mean that elusive and multicultural category of "movies based on the book" that I never tire of clicking on at Netflix. What a terrible category! Everything from The Odyssey to A Clockwork Orange and beyond, and never mind that the authors themselves don't have categories. How am I supposed to easily access other movie adaptations of Elizabeth Gaskell's novels without opening another tab? And how am I to know that Dodie Smith, authoress of I Capture the Castle, is also the author of a far more famous - if unjustly so - little story called 101 Dalmatians? I already knew that, but still. It irks me and is yet another reason I should be In Charge of Things.

Have you ever read this book? I recommend it, especially if you are a fan of things like the titular castle, the awkward years of the 30's, and extremely clever young ladies who write. And the film adaptation is excellent and holds true to the end of the story, which is apparently very important to me. It strikes me that this story might be one of the ones that the unsinkable Ms. Friedan was talking about when she discussed the differences between literature of the '30's and of the '50's - even though ICTC was published in 1949. Also, it's a novel beloved by such diverse authors as J.K. Rowling and Christopher Isherwood, so it's worth a read.

In this 2003 film version, we meet Cassandra Mortmain, daughter of a one-hit-wonder of a book and inhabiter of an honest-to-god castle, where she and her family are a bit crackerdog. Lucky for us, Cassandra keeps a journal, otherwise we might never know that a pair of American brothers has come to town for the express purpose of NOT marrying either sister. And you know how that always turns out. Hijinks of the properest kind ensue, and it is delightful even though I do not covet the styles of the 1930's as much as I do those of the 1950's. Flapper dresses and the shapeless waifs who inhabit them do not flatter me in the same way, despite my undying love of Erte and Singin' in the Rain. Anyway.

The sets and costumes were delightful, the acting was charming, and I have never found Rose Byrne to be so lovely as she is with ginger curls. I hope for her sake that they are natural, although that might lead jealous fans to try to snatch them off her pretty head, in which case it might be better if they were a wig.

I do, however, find it difficult to watch the young men in this movie. The more times you've seen E.T., the harder it will be for you to seriously consider Eeeeeeellliiiiooooooot Henry Thomas as a main love interest. Similarly, I continually had to remind myself that Riley "Bad-Ass Vamp Duster" Finn wasn't going to suddenly start staking creeps because Marc Blucas may not, in fact, be Riley Finn. And then there is Henry "Always the Bridesmaid" Cavill, for whom I feel a mixture of sympathy and relief (the wikipedia link is hiLARious here. Since when has being 24 put a stop to playing a "youth of 17"? Way to dodge that bullet!). But aside from the visual distractions of casting familiar - dare I say iconic? - faces, the movie was perfectly corking, old chaps.

9.5 of 11 yellows. Did you know that yellows go to eleven? Now you do.

P.S. - don't be afraid for my focus - there has been knitting on both THB's socks and Val's shawl. I shall take pictures soon.

Julie & Julia: The Movie

I don't know if you recall, dear reader, but I read Julie & Julia: The Book Based On The Blog sometime around the beginning of last year. Since then, you may be surprised to learn, it has been made into a movie. And not just any movie, oh no. A movie starring the inimitable Meryl Streep, the adorable Stanely Tucci, the less-annoying-than-usual Amy Adams, and with a brilliant cameo by the astounding Jane Lynch.

Today is all about adjectives. Plentiful ones.

This evening I was scrolling through my Netflix Instant Watch list and trying to find something to watch that wasn't A) 8 hours long and B) terribly depressing. This one caught my eye, and I had just had an absolute cream of a cheese - the kind of cheese that Tillamook aspires to be when it grows up - so I made a little popcorn and settled in (with just a sliver more cheese).

It was adorable. Everything I hated about the book - mainly Julie's whining about how HARD cooking is and how FAT she was getting and oh my gosh how TIRED she was from cooking all the time - was cutcutcut. Instead, Julie's journey was paralleled by Julia's to get her own book published, based on Julia's autobiography which is currently on my shelf but not yet read.

There's not a lot to say about the story itself, probably because I read the book so I knew what to expect. I am glad that the end of Julie's book didn't get changed for the movie, and equally glad that the "there's a Julia Child in all of us" fluff was mitigated by the publication of Julia's own book. I also covet Meryl's shoes in the whole movie and possibly the return of the 50's-style crinoline and the tea-length dress.

I think it's time to start rating movies, and I need some sort of thing to rate with. A blog I enjoy muchly uses caterpillars, but I am not as hilarious or regular at posting reviews as she. Therefore I will now open my new-to-me copy of Museum ABC to "Y" and use... yellows. Which are obviously not nouns, but one does not question the Random Number Generator, even if one is a card-carrying member of the Secret Grammar Police.

See? I told you it was all about the adjectives.

6.5 Yellows