Thursday, July 28, 2011

Wild Turkey Update

Just reporting in on the Cambridge news: the wild turkey that lives in my neighborhood had babies! I just saw her walking along with a little line of babies behind her. At the time, I had two sleeping (human) babies with me as well, and had to keep moving, so I wasn't able to count the turkey babies, but I'm happy to report that Cambridge's population of wild turkeys has as least quadrupled. Funnily enough, just this morning, the girls, codename: Cordelia, and I visited the Make Way for Ducklings sculpture in the Boston Public Garden. I hope the girls will get a chance to see the baby turkeys before they leave. :o)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Twins in the House

Lack of blogging is due to the presence of toddler twins in the house.

This morning, I wasn't wearing my glasses, so everything was a little fuzzy at the edges. I thought I saw codename: Isis, two years old, down the hall. Someone I was pretty sure was codename: Phoenix, also two years old, came marching up to me. (These girls are identical, but the more time you spend with them, the more they just look like themselves. Which isn't to say I don't make mistakes all the time.)

"Hi Phoenix!" I said.

"That's Phoenix!" she said, pointing down the hall to Isis. For a minute, I was EXTREMELY confused. Then she started giggling. It was just a game; she really was Phoenix; I was right all along.

On the day these girls realize fully the power they possess, we're all in trouble. :o)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Some Music and Dance Stuff for a Thursday

It's hot in Massachusetts! Perfect for staying inside and writing a blog post. Especially a lazy one where instead of doing my own work, I point you to the work of others. :o)

So, not having HBO, I don't watch Game of Thrones, but a friend who does shared the spectacular opening credits with me:

(Oh, BTW, this reminds me. If you get my posts as emails, sometimes the videos are attached to the emails and sometimes they aren't. If you ever get an email and I seem to be referring to something that doesn't seem to be there, try going to my Blog Actual, where videos are embedded where they're meant to be and everything is nice and organized.)

Spectacular opening credits for Game of Thrones:

And, if you like that theme music (composed by Ramin Djawadi), here's a beautiful acoustic and electric violin cover of it, arranged and performed by Jason Yang. I love it! (Thanks, JD, for both videos.)

AND, completely unrelated but also recommended to me by a friend (thanks Aimee!), here's a youtube video I've been watching/listening to a lot lately: The Raconteurs performing their song "Old Enough," with special guests Ricky Skaggs and Ashley Monroe. (When you click the link, an annoying ad will start up that you can skip pretty quickly. Thanks, The Raconteurs, for making this video available!) Love this song and love watching them perform it. Is it just me, or is Jack White looking a bit Clockwork Orange?

Finally, there's something about this season of So You Think You Can Dance that I've been trying to get a handle on. It has to do with girls beating up boys, or otherwise being in charge and in control... there have been a LOT of dances with that sort of storyline or theme this season. At first, I enjoyed it, because it was a much-needed tip of the balance (and a blessed relief) after a couple seasons with hardly any dances like this at all and WAY too many dances where the girl played the role of either weak partner, victim, or the boy's personal sex object. Add to that the constant woman-hating comments from choreographer and judge Mia Michaels in the past few seasons (and please note that many of the "Women Are Weak" dances were choreographed by her, too) and my head was just about to explode. It has been SO NICE this season to see that the show is open to moving away from that a bit! But? Too many dances about women kicking the asses of all the men isn't exactly the ticket either! Could we have some balance? Or could we maybe stop killing each other through dance quite so regularly?

Please note that I'm not complaining about any particular dance. In fact, some of these dances have been my absolute favorites (which I'll get to in a moment). I'm only complaining about the impression that starts to build in one's mind when it happens over and over. Just like all those dances of "women are pathetic and men are destructive and evil" started to send a message, "men are pathetic and women are destructive and evil" is starting to send a message. Find the balance, SYTYCD! (Although, to be fair, it didn't happen on last night's (fabulous) show (with refreshingly honest guest judge Neil Patrick Harris), so maybe I can back off.)

Tui and were watching SYTYCD together last week and actually talked a little bit about the weird "girls beating up on boys" theme this season. The dance that got us talking was my absolute favorite dance of the July 13 episode and one I'll link to below. It was funny, because the dance started, and we were like, "OMG, girl kills boy again!?" And then the dance went in a different direction, and Tui was like, "But I'm not sure that's okay, either!" Watch the (gorgeous and disturbing) dance yourself and see what we mean. It's Jordan Casanova and Tadd Gadduang performing a dance choreographed by Travis Wall, about a man being stalked by a vulture. My apologies for the annoying ad, and also to those of you outside the USA (and Canada? Can Canada see it?) who can't watch the video. Fox, wouldn't you consider putting these vids up on youtube? It'd be good for business, and then fewer people would need to go to youtube and type in "SYTYCD Tadd Jordan Travis contemporary HD" (for example) to see an upload of the dance!


Anyway. Loved this dance, partly because it's the first time I've really watched Jordan closely (no fault of Jordan's that her partner, Tadd, has "it"; Tadd is distracting; whenever Tadd is dancing, my eyes tend to go to him) and I think she's GREAT as the vulture. Also partly because the choreographer worked some fun breakdancing into a contemporary routine for Tadd (who is a b-boy). Partly just because the conflict between the two dancers is so palpable and real. I just love it! If it were last season or the season before, I would hate that I loved it, because it would be Another Dance About the Woman Losing. But it's not, it's this season, and this season can bear a dance like that. It also helps that the choreographer (Travis Wall) has no longstanding record of woman-hating- (or man-hating-) choreography -- his dances are about a refreshing range of things -- so I feel safe with a dance of his.

I'm not trying to say anything profound here; really, I'm just blathering out some words about the things SYTYCD gets me thinking about and talking about. While also sharing a dance with y'all that encapsulates some of the stuff I'm trying to work out. Enjoy.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Notes from a Few Days Off

If you've never seen a movie by Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life (out in theaters now) might not be the best one to start with; I worry that this tale of family relationships in the 1950s and today, starring Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Hunter McCracken, and Sean Penn, might lose you 'round about the time it flashes back to the era of the dinosaurs. :o) Then again, maybe not; my first Malick movie was Days of Heaven (1978), which is also pretty abstract and plot-free, and I loved it from the first frame. Malick's movies are abstract, poetic, musical, beautiful, and always deep character studies. I love them and I loved The Tree of Life, including the dinosaur part; do try watching one at some point, if you never have. It might not be your thing (a guy stormed out of the theater in a huff partway through), but it also might be your favorite thing ever (there was one woman who stayed to watch all the credits, just like me). The other three Malick movies I haven't already mentioned are Badlands (1973), The Thin Red Line (1998), and The New World (2005). It's impossible to rank them. They are all the best.

Season 1 of Community is AMAZING. I love these (HILARIOUS) characters so much, especially Abed, Troy, Annie, Shirley, and Britta. And the nice thing about sitcoms is that there isn't a huge time commitment. If you don't have a lot of time to catch up on all the TV dramas everyone keeps telling you you need to catch up on, maybe catch up on a hilarious sitcom instead.

(This is a picture of Abed, in the episode Physical Education, trying a different version of himself to see if it appeals to girls more than his usual standoffish manner. Abed often tries on different versions of himself, usually with less alarming results. Troy, in the bottom of the frame, is about to pick him up and carry him away, before Abed hurts himself or others. ^_^)

Last week, I read a book for no reason other than that I felt like it. I don't get to do this very often -- like most people in the book industry, I'm usually reading for some specific purpose. The book I chose: The Attenbury Emeralds, by Jill Paton Walsh. Do the Lord Peter Wimsey fans among you know that Dorothy Sayers left an unfinished manuscript when she died? Jill Paton Walsh was commissioned to complete it a few years back; the result was the fabulous Thrones, Dominations. Walsh followed this up with the (IMO) even more fabulous A Presumption of Death, which takes place during World War II. And now she's written The Attenbury Emeralds, a post-WWII Lord Peter/Harriet Vane mystery!

This one was a bit jarring in places, partly because the cultural references were to movies, paintings, and books I myself grew up with (Hitchcock, for example), whereas I'm used to not getting Lord Peter's and Harriet's references. But also because this was possibly the most self-conscious mystery I've ever read. Any mystery with Harriet Vane as a character lends itself to metafictive stuff, because Harriet is herself a mystery writer -- hence, there tends to be some dialogue or reflection about the difference between mysteries in books, like the novels Harriet writes, and mysteries "in real life," like the ones Lord Peter and Harriet solve. But dialogue like the following is particularly common in this book (spoken by Harriet to Lord Peter and Bunter, who are telling her the story of a mystery that happened decades ago): "I observe that you have a problem familiar to novelists. A large cast list to be introduced to the audience, and no reason why they should wish to know or remember any of it until the story starts." (16) The dialogue draws attention not just to Lord Peter and Bunter's problem as they tell Harriet their story, but to Jill Paton Walsh's problem as she tells us hers.

That sort of thing can start to get distracting if it happens too much and doesn't build on itself in some sort of new way. Please note, I'm not making a judgment about whether it happens too much in this book. I've read, and LOVED, a fair amount of Jill Paton Walsh, and have gotten to the point where I trust whatever she does; I trust and respect her reasons and decisions; I leave myself in her hands. Here's one moment where her hands threw me right out of the book -- this is Harriet Vane talking about her own prowess as a mystery writer: "'I don't compare with Conan Doyle, or Agatha Christie, or Dorothy Sayers,' she said reproachfully."

What! Harriet Vane saying the words "Dorothy Sayers"!? And saying them to LORD PETER WIMSEY?!? No worries; I got up, brushed myself off, and climbed back into the book again. It was a fun read. Not my favorite of the JPW Lord Peter/Harriet Vane books, but just what I needed last week.

This sunny Sunday afternoon is passing me by and that's not okay, so I guess I'll have to save my latest SYTYCD exegesis for next time. :o)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Bleary Photo Essay

Let's start with a new cover that I LOVE. Here's Graceling in Japanese, published by Hayakawa:

Can I have that outfit? At least the boots? Next, here's one of my favorite things.

Let me help you parse that picture: an orchid sits in a leather chair. (No, that's not where I normally keep it. The sunlight was streaming through the window where it normally sits, plus, it was being encroached upon by an aloe plant on one side and a zebra plant on the other, so I moved it to someplace dignified for the sake of the picture.) A stake protrudes from the soil and a small red monster sits atop the stake. A stem with a few buds is growing its way up the stake. BUT! BUT! Guess what? A few weeks ago, that stem didn't exist. It was an orchid with a pot, big green leaves, a stake, a monster, and NO STEM. Then I went to Australia and left my orchids in the sunny window of a hot apartment for two weeks. A friend watered them for me. When I got back, they ALL made it very clear to me how much they'd loved my absence, but this orchid in particular had been busy, growing a whole new stem. This is the first time I've ever gotten a stemless orchid to start all over with a new stem. I feel very proud. And it's been so long since it bloomed that I can't remember what color it is, so that will be an exciting discovery.

In case you're curious, here is the monster close up. The monster was given to me by a lovely friend at my publisher in Germany, who will remain nameless for the sake of her anonymity :o):

One of the cutest things about the monster is that his back is yellowish orange.

As long as I'm showing you things in my house, here's the portion of my world map that is no longer accurate because it doesn't show the new nation of South Sudan.

Congratulations, South Sudan! Thanks to my friend D for this link to a Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres article about the humanitarian emergency in South Sudan. This brand new country needs a lot of help, and DWB/MSF is an awesome organization. Please consider donating, if you're able!

Finally, here's one more thing lying around my house these days.

Some of you can probably guess what that is. Here's the view from the other side.

There should be more news about this big fella soon. :o)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Nancy Drew Retraction

Everyone, I've now gotten a bit further into The Hidden Staircase and need to retract my claim that it's awesome. Turns out that what it is is appallingly racist. Wow. No wonder they rewrote these books. My apologies for expressing ecstasies on my blog before I'd actually read the entire book.

Monday, July 4, 2011

"The connection so crispy, so clean, so beefy"

My title today is how choreographer and wordsmith Lil' C described an adorable lyrical hip-hop number from last week's So You Think You Can Dance, choreographed by Tabitha and Napoleon D'Umo, danced by Melanie Moore and Marko Germar, and linked to here, because you should really go watch it. It's like an entire romantic comedy plot smashed down into two minutes: the groom is stood up on his wedding day; the groom's best friend (and "best man?") tries to cheer him up; the groom gradually comes to a realization about something significant. Except that we've got two minutes, folks, so nothing is gradual, and certain points need to be demonstrated unsubtly in the most time-efficient manner possible. Truth is, I think I might have had a list of complaints if any other couple had danced this. (It's too soon! He's on the rebound! Is this the time to be making big decisions?!) But I've fallen hard for Melanie and Marko (I linked to their statue dance a few weeks ago) and find that they can do no wrong. Plus, cutest wedding-party outfit ever. Thank you, Fox, for making the videos bigger and easier to access. Now could you please make them less grainy?

[ETA: A French friend just informed me that the video "cannot be viewed" in France... which I would have realized, had I thought about it for a few minutes, having tried to stream American TV myself from time to time while abroad. Sorry to those not in the USA!]

So, moving on, I was obsessed with Nancy Drew when I was a kid. She was self-reliant, she went where she pleased, she was smart, she solved mysteries! Did you know that in 1959, the earlier books were condensed and rewritten (I understand to make them less offensive and to make Nancy way less plucky)? The original editions from the 1930s (All of them? Only some of them? I'm not sure) have been rereleased by Applewood Books, and I'm reading The Hidden Staircase (originally published in 1930). It's AWESOME. Allow me to share a few gems:
Graciously, Nancy acknowledged the introduction. Rosemary Turnball was an elderly maiden lady, tall and a trifle too thin, but not at all severe-looking in spite of her clothing. She wore an old-fashioned dress, long and wide of skirt and high in the neck, but she also had a kind face, and Nancy was instantly attracted to her. (34-35)
What's particularly funny about that passage is that I'm picturing a woman in, like, her 80s, right? But I just reached page 81, and here's a line about Rosemary and her sister Floretta: "Although nearly thirty years older than the girl, they seemed to look to her for protection."

...Nancy Drew is a teenager. These "elderly maiden ladies" are in their MID-FORTIES.

Also, the original Nancy was a gun-totin' girl.
"I think Dad was wise to suggest that I take his revolver," she told herself. "And I'll take plenty of ammunition, too! Enough to annihilate an army! Though truth to tell, I don't know whether I could hit the broad side of a barn or not." (65)
Oh, Nancy, always with the modesty. We know that if, while driving your blue roadster "with a skill born of long practice" (51), you happened to pass a roadside sharpshooting contest, you would try your best, and your best would lead you to win the damn thing.

The big mystery of this book so far seems to revolve around a baffling series of thefts, strange noises, strange shadows, et cetera in a mansion where all the windows and doors are locked -- so how, in heaven's name, is the perpetrator getting in?
Rosemary shuddered and turned appealing eyes upon Nancy. "Tell me, do you believe in the supernatural?"
"I am almost certain your house is not haunted," Nancy replied firmly. (67)
Wow, Nancy. That's... really reassuring.

Seriously, though, what could be the explanation for these strange disappearances of family heirlooms?
"Have you noticed any prowlers around the house?" Nancy questioned next.
"No, I've seen no one except an old organ grinder, and you couldn't class him as a prowler."
"Still, his monkey might have climbed in a window and taken the articles," Nancy suggested. (37)
Yes, that seems likely. It certainly is mysterious; I've been reading for nigh on 100 pages and I can't begin to imagine how anyone is getting into this sealed-tight house. It's a stumper. Did I mention that the book is called The Hidden Staircase?

Back to my reading, because I have to know how it ends :o)

ETA #2 (7/5/11): I've now gotten a bit further into the book and need to retract my claim that it's awesome. Turns out what it is is appallingly racist. Wow. No wonder they rewrote these books. My apologies for expressing ecstasies on my blog before I'd actually read the entire book.