Monday, December 27, 2010

Year End Review - Books, top 12 because I could not quite narrow it to 10

Best Books I read in 2010 (and in no particular order, though I think The Help was my favorite):

The Help by Kathyrn Sockett: Touching on themes of racism and southern gentry, told with the perfect combination of serious and humor with delightful characters, every once in a while a book comes a long and makes that rare list of "most favorite books", books like To Kill a Mockingbird, or Catcher in the Rye or Life of Pi. This book makes the list. Loved it. Probably one of my favorites in the past 2 years or so.

The Alchemist by Paul Coelho: In every way I thought this book was beautiful and amazing. And unless you read it for the fable that it is - for it's allegorical insights, I'm not sure you can love it. I found myself underlining so many things that had such personal and truthful bite sized pieces of wisdom, like a discovery of delicious little bits of chocolate a long the way. In fact, the whole book is really about wisdom. But it also about the wonder of life, and the eternal nature of truth and the nature of the universe and man's place in that universe. It doesn't matter what "religion" you feel that you belong to - or even, whether or not you belong to an organized religion, that is part of the beauty of the book, whatever religious background you have or do not have, the wisdom of the book speaks to all. I personally felt the book dovetailed very nicely with my own religion, but I'm sure many Catholics, and Muslims, and Lutherans and those belonging to Judaism would feel the same. And for those who feel they don't need an organized religion, this book will speak to them too - because it is the nature of the book that gets deep inside you and makes the world seem a better place than the day before you found this book, and what better recommendation can you make for a book than that?

The Road by Cormac McCarthy: I found the story and the writing so compelling, I couldn't put this down. I was deeply touched upon finishing the book, and proceeded to cry. The writing is gorgeous, even though the themes are disturbing and bleak. A post apocalyptic nightmare, which offers us some hope in the human spirit, while it makes us doubt all at the same time. I highly recommend.

The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami: I understand why Murakami maybe isn't to everyone's taste. I really loved this. I felt like in the end, I understood most of this and there's still enough to explore that I would actually like to read portions of it over again. Not only do I find the symbolism so interesting, but the style of writing and the dream-like way the story unfolds is lovely. I felt like the book was about so much, and some of it is about personal issues I am facing right now, so I really related. Particularly there is one letter May writes to Mr. Wind Up Bird that I felt I could have written myself. The book took on a really personal meaning for me. Symbolism that I noted particularly, or themes explored - water as life, misplaced destinies (or alternate destinies) - doors, the labyrinth & the bull as in greek mythology - (which could really become a long analysis as the minotaur and exploring the themes with Creta and her sister, etc.). See what I am saying? This thing is just layer on layer, but a straight through reading is also just mesmerizing, even if you weren't noticing any of this. The book is divided into 3 sections which explores 3 different ways of viewing the world and fate. Sex is explored also a metaphor for life and death here as well, and birth as a part of that same exploration. There is even more than this...what a great book this would be to have assigned as a project for analysis in school. Anyway, for me, there's a lot to love here.

Columbine by Dave Cullen: Well written and concise and offered as much perspective as can be gained. I read it as part of an adolescent psych class I am taking, but I almost couldn't put it down. Such a compelling and thorough accounting of everything, from the communities reaction, the media mistakes, the sherrif department cover-up, gun control, profile of a adolescent psychopath, profile of an adolescent depressive, as much information as we've ever had on the parents of Eric and Dylan, the triumphs of some who have lived, the ways in which grief can change the course of a persons life forever and what happens when you can't let go of hate. Even after all of that both Dylan and Eric are ciphers to me. It is still so hard to wrap around.

The Other Bolyen Girl by Phillipa Gregory: Maybe it's partly because I was just at the Tower of London and Windsor Castle, where much of the action of this book takes place, but I was very taken with the story. I had read a scholarly book on the wives of Henry the 8th, quite a while ago and I have always been interested in this era of history. Introducing the character of Mary Boleyn, makes this otherwise interesting story even more interesting. I had to keep going back to history to figure out how much of the author's plot line was made up and how much was actual history, and usually, I was pleasantly surprised to find that these were all real characters, and for the most part, real history. I would like to read more of these novels, particularly the Tudor series. The writing is good and moves at a good pace, she gives you a great sense of the period, while not making you feel bogged down in wordy or difficult language

Goldengrove by Francine Prose: I really loved this. Quite unexpectedly. It's really a story about grief and loss but it's written in this really lovely way. There are some really lyrical moments in the writing and I found myself entranced by the story. I found myself carrying it with me everywhere I went and reading it whenever I had a chance. I love it when books like this just sort of fall in your lap

House of Sand and Fog by Andres Dubus III: I really enjoyed this. I saw the movie years ago but I really couldn't remember what happened so it did not affect my enjoyment of the book. I think his writing is lovely. The ability to present 3, really almost 4 separate viewpoints in one story - writing in 1st person sometimes and switching to 3rd for other portions/characters was really genius. This is not a 'cheery' book. But I was totally okay with that. I thought it was aI perfect example of how people misunderstand each other, and miscommunicate needs and wants and misread each other all the time. It also showed the inner lives and thoughts of all these people, it was easy at any given time to sympathize with almost any character. In the end I found Mr. Behrani the most sympathetic, which I think was intended. It also shows how quickly good intentions can go awry. And how quickly a life can change. A few bad choices can have very long term consequences. We know this, and yet, humans make this mistake repeatedly.

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert: At times I found the author self-indulgent and selfish and frustrating. But at other times I found myself amazed at her journey. Best of all I think, is that I found my own mind - my own ways of looking at life, opening up in new ways that I had never before thought of - and that was a nice surprise. A memoir rarely has the ability to do that - so while I did find it interesting, for me, it was more than that - I was able to take my own personal inventory and journey along with her and in many ways, I came out a better person for it. You can't say that about a book very often. I'm still not in love with Elizabeth Gilbert as a person - I find her a bit flighty and she reminds me a little too much of people who have been in my life - people who are a little too self-involved in ways that harm other people around them. But the experience itself was mind expanding, and I loved every bit of that.

Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison: I enjoyed this a great deal. It's semi-autobiographical, and a very raw story. The writing is good, though straight forward, the characterizations and tone are really well done. I did feel less than satisfied by the ending and I wished the book were a little longer. I felt like there was more to explore and the author just didn't want to go farther than she allows us. That was somewhat disappointing. I know life is often messy and doesn't always end with everything tied up in bow - but I still felt she could have explored further her relationship with her mother and her mother's relationship to her husband - and her little sisters relationship to each of them as well - that just felt like it didn't really get full closure for me. I do recommend it, though not for people who are put off by stories which involve abuse of children. I know some people just cannot even read fiction which involves that sort of thing and the book is full of it. I really felt for the little girl "Bone" - and all the characters in the book really, I wanted them to have better than they had. I wanted Bone to have hope, but in the end, I wasn't sure if she really had that at all, or would ever be able to have it.

Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes: A beautiful little book which has nothing much to offer in the way of plot but makes up for it in wonderful imagery and enchanting details. Chronicle of Mayes adventures in purchasing and renovating a house in Italy with her boyfriend, this book was a nice respite from reading books where the subject matter was serious, challenging or dark. A perfect little fantasy for each of us who would love to tackle the romantic notion of buying a house in Tuscany and spending our spare time there soaking up the culture (not to mention the food!). Frances Mayes makes us feel that this is not an impossible dream

Clockers by Richard Price: I loved this. I could hardly put it down for a few days. I adored the tv series "The Wire" and when I found out Richard Price was one of the main writers for the show I was intrigued to read his books. His ability to transport you to the streets and get you wrapped up in the stories from both the cops and the people of the neighborhood's perspective is genius.

Year End Reviews - Top 10 Movies


y favorite movies of the year might be very different from yours. My taste in movies tends towards the diverse, sometimes the bizarre, often documentaries or foreign films, but I also love to laugh. Basically I love a movie that either 1. makes me think, 2. makes me laugh, 3. makes me feel, 4. is beautiful, 5. introduces something completely new and interesting to the art form or 6. entertains the heck out of me. If I movie manages to do more than one of these things, it's likely to make it onto this list or if it does anyone of them really really well, then that might be enough to make it on the list all by itself.

Before I get to my list, a short note about ratings: I don't pay much attention to them. Why? Well, it's a personal thing. For some people that gives them an idea of whether or not they want to go to a movie in the first place. For me, I find, that a rating very very often gives you absolutely no idea whether or not something is going to be worth my time or not. In fact, to be honest with you, there were several PG13 movies I saw this year which I found absolutely full of things which made me squirm or uncomfortable to watch with my children, whereas I saw several R rated movies that I would have no problem with them attending. For reals. The rating system is seriously messed up and I hate how they are determined, and for that reason, I pay almost zero attention to any of them. There are much better ways to determine the value of content in my opinion. (see my list above as to what I am looking for in a movie...) So having said that I honestly haven't got much idea what any of these movies are rated and so if you care about that aspect of it, you'll have to go digging for that information. This is just my impressions and my top 10. Starting with 10 and working towards my most favorite at 1:

10 - Shutter Island: Coming in at number 10 is this Leonardo Di Caprio film which I thought was an intelligent little thriller. A quite decent twist ending that you might not quite see coming, though you may be guessing at something happening and see the clues, you probably won't have it all figured out prior to the end. Plus I don't know, sometimes I think Leonardo is a little dreamy.

9 - Inception: Another Leonardo film, and he's pretty dreamy in this one too. This film is one that you need to be paying attention to or you really aren't quite sure what is going on. I had no problem following it and most people I know didn't either (nor did my two kids ages 13 and 15) but having said that there were some people in the theatre who seemed to walk out confused. Individual mileage may vary. But I think it was quite a thinking man (or woman's) sci-fi, which doesn't happen all that often and which I don't normally like all that much (sci-fi in general not being my usual choice in moving going genres). Interesting take on concepts of consciousness, dreams, etc, which I always find interesting.

8 - I'm Still Here: I know, the movie almost everyone loved to hate this year, so what am I doing endorsing it? The film blew me away on a number of levels. First of all - even if you sorta thought maybe it might be a hoax, seeing it before the word was out that it actually was a hoax of sorts, was an entirely different thing than seeing it after you knew for sure. There was no way to really know if Phoenix was snowing us or not. Not for abosolute certain. And even when you do know - there some really crazy good acting going on here. So you either think you're watching amazing acting (after you find out) or you think you're watching this really raw performance peice (before you find out) and either way it's very mesmerizing. I always really like Joaquin, I always felt he had this quiet intensity that was just really great and you see it in spades in this movie. Is it disturbing? YES! Very much so. And I will say the subject matter is definitely MATURE AUDIENCE ONLY. But as a student of psychology, it's endlessly fascinating. It's also endlessly fascinating in a whole other sense - in the way that it explores celebrity and media and cultural obsessions and a score of other societal ills. I know I'm one of like 2 people in America who genuinely admired it, so I'm on my own here, but I really think it's a great little peice of art.

7 - Greenberg: A quirky film to be sure, but mining some serious emotional depths. I loved Stiller's performance here and I loved the subject matter explored. What happens when you don't live up to your expectations? What happens when you wake up and find yourself a grown-up except you aren't sure how you got there? There are some moments of intense emotional honesty here that you just don't see in a film all that often. Really great.

6- The American: Don't let the title fool you, this film is anything but a typical american film. Really it's more of a foreign film with the main character being american and in english (mostly) - set in Italy (and a tiny bit in Sweden) this film moves and feels like a foreign film. It's largely quiet for huge swaths of time. But I loved that about it. The tension gets so ramped up at times that I found myself almost getting a pain in my neck from sitting with my muscles so taut. When I left the theatre I felt slightly transformed by it. The ultimate mark of a good movie for me.

5 - The Ghost Writer: Also basically of a foreign film (directed by Polanski), I loved this beautiful moody little piece. The story is intriguing and the acting is great (I usually adore Ewan McGregor), but in addition the gorgeous setting of the thing is amazing. From the austere modern home where most of the action takes place to the gray weather and wonderful shots, I could feel the chill in the room emanating off the screen. More or less a thriller, it's a really well done movie.

4- Inside Job: If there's one movie I think everyone should have to see this year it would be this one. Such a well done and thoroughly researched and presented documentary outlining in detail the financial collapse and why we should all be pretty mad about it. Pointing blame exactly where the largest portion of blame lies - which is basically outside of all political lines but shares blame all the way around between anyone with true power in this country - this movie will make you madder than you've ever been and still entertained and intrigued while it's happening. Please go rent this.

3 - Exit Through the Gift Shop: a seriously hilarious little documentary of sorts (well...kind of...there's some question about some aspects of the movie and how much of it is documentary and how much of it is Bansky having us on again). If you don't know all that much about Banksy maybe this won't be as enjoyable as it is for those who have followed his work, but I tend to think even if this was your introduction to Banksy and street art in general, you'd enjoy it. I saw it twice and thoroughly enjoyed it both times and would love to see it again.

2 - It's Complicated: Okay for so many reasons I loved this. And I almost didn't go because I thought it looked sort of stupid in the previews. It's funny, but also it's really well acted. Meryl is amazing as usual. I love Alex Baldwin and Steve Martin does a good job too. It touches on some themes that you don't see touched on all that often in a movie which were not only funny, but serious as well - actually making light of something that in real life, often isn't that funny at all. Which is part of what you have to love about it. And men going through a mid-life crisis definitely should see it, as a cautionary tale. I can't imagine why every woman over the age of about 35 wouldn't love it.

1 - A Single Man: This film stuck with me all year. I think I saw it around March? And I think about it still very frequently. It was gorgeous. Gorgeous. Did I mention it was absolutely gorgeous? Well it was. Besides that, it gave me so much to think about. There was so much substance to it that I find myself still ruminating on it's message - and how often does a film do that? This is one that I would definitely like to own and watch again on occasion. Films don't slip onto my all time favorite list all that often, but this one defintely did. And not very many people saw it, which is such a shame. Tom Ford blew my socks off. The man knows a visual image that seers. And the acting is superb. Definitely my favorite of the year.

There's my year end list. What would you add? What did you see that you really loved this year?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Why Andie Probably Should Have Chosen Duckie Instead...


o...last night I watched Pretty in Pink for the 199th time? I have no idea how many times I've actually watched it. All I know is that if it's on TV, it's still an irresistible pull for me to watch it once again.

Although I don't remember every time I've watched it, I do remember the first time. I was young, just out of high school, and very much identified with Andie - probably to a degree which was somewhat unhealthy in retrospect - the film made me cry in the end, so wrapped up was I in the character of Andie. I remember what I was wearing. Cropped white pants with tiny pink, green, purple and yellow pastel pinstripes, a yellow long sleeve shirt - button front with a collar, which was buttoned all the way to the neck, fastened with a large pastel brooch made of glistening jewels looking very vintage, one small pearl earring in my left ear, one long dangling white earring in my right ear, 2 additional earrings in my left ear one diamond stud and one pink diamond stud with pink patent leather kitten heels on my feet. Oh yes. The 80s. Don't forget the large white belt askew at my hips, fastened wrong on purpose to complete the ensemble. I saw it in Salt Lake City on a date. We were at the movie theater in the bottom of Crossroads Mall and I remember very clearly walking back to my hotel room at the Hotel Utah a few blocks away.

At the time, and for most of the years since then, I felt the movie had a perfect ending. Andie gets Blaine, Blaine gets Andie and although you feel sorry for Duckie for a minute - even he kind of gets a cute girl in the end too. All loose ends wrapped up in pretty pink bows.

But last night as I was watching it on TV again I saw something I never quite recognized before. Andie made the totally wrong choice in choosing Blaine. Because I realized the happy ending isn't really an ending at all - it's only the beginning.

Duckie stuck with Andie through thick and thin. Not only was he in love with her - he was her friend. He was happy for her and he wanted the best for her. Blaine didn't care so much about Andie as he cared about himself. And although he promises in the end that he always believed in her, he only didn't believe in himself, the sad fact I had to face as an adult watching it last night, is that nothing has really changed. Blaine still doesn't believe in himself. And I'm not all that convinced he believes in Andie either. He admires her. He wishes he could be more like her. He thinks she is pretty and cool and this makes him drawn to her. But at the end of the day the relationship is doomed.

The relationship in my favorite romantic film is doomed.

Duckie is clearly the better choice!

Why do you suppose as women we do this? We romanticize the wrong things? We do it all the time. Women choose Blaine over Duckie in their real lives with a terrible frequency.

The good news of this story is that Andie will survive it just fine. She's strong and she's sure of herself - I'm not really that worried about her. She's young and she'll learn from her mistake and probably become successful in a way where she won't measure her worth by her relationship to a guy anyway.When I was young I really admired the character of Andie. I still do. Even after all these years, I think there is something so great about her self-assurance and easy cool that's worth trying to emulate. I may not wear cropped pants with kitten heels any more, and I may not have understood anything more about relationships than Andie did, but I think a woman with an inner belief in herself will turn out just fine no matter what comes her way.

So what do you think? Who do you think Andie should have chosen?

You know John Hughes wrote the story so that Andie ends up with Duckie. But test audiences really wanted her to end up with Blaine. So they re-shot the ending and tacked on the bit where the girl asks Duckie to dance after Andie goes off with Blaine. John Hughes wasn't particularly happy about the ending and he re-made another version of this story the next year, with "Some Kind of Wonderful". Watts being the Duckie of that film, and Samantha Jones being Blaine to the male protagonist played by Eric Stolz as Keith. I love that film too, and in the end Keith and Watts end up together.

Maybe happy endings where the two people who are more suited for each other is really the more hopelessly romantic idea. Because how often does that actually happen in real life?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Inspirational Green


inda wondering where I disappeared to? When you bah humbug Christmas but nonetheless plan on celebrating it, you have a lot of running around to do towards the end. I'm not even remotely ready. But in honor of the season here are some gorgeous green rooms that I adore. Green is still, after all is said and done and due honors being given to all the other great colors, my favorite. Enjoy some green inspiration, and I'll get back to you when I finally get all the shopping finished.

First of all, how can you not love that sofa? It's just this perfect little sculpture of a sofa. (BIG SIGH) I so wish I owned that darling. Also how kind of creepy is that photo above it? But striking. I love stuff like that.

Yes, it's a kids room. There's a lot to love here though. First of all I'm really into that green right now, it's almost the color of my new bedroom. Also, I love the styling of the bed and I adore the white floors! I also think the wall art, which I assume is probably a vinyl, could work in many rooms and be very cool. There are some vinyl's out there that look really good.

It's an odd green I admit, and probably not to everyone's taste, but I really like it. I also love the bedframe. I have been thinking about recovering my box on my box frame, I'm seeing a lot of that lately.

LOVE. Love. LOVE this. Gorgeous and I think the floors might be concrete. If it wasn't the hugest pain in the butt ever, I think I would strip my floors down to the concrete and go with a finished concrete floor. Alas, it would be the hugest pain ever. My floors are a faux wood (which by the way, NEVER buy the IKEA wood floors they do not hold up!) and underneath they are a horrible white tile which I despise. Can you imagine removing both the faux wood and the tile? Ugggg....what a huge job.

I'm not super in love with any of the furniture they used here, but I do adore adore adore that green color and I LOVE how they painted the inside of the book shelves in that super great blue. I soooo dig this idea. I think if I ever get bored enough of my book shelves in my family room, maybe I will do something like this. It would be a great way to spice things up which would be cheap and relatively easy to do.

I know some people might say doing these green cabinets is a mistake, but I really love them.

Love the black cabinets, love the green, LOVE the ceiling, love the subway tile and the light fixture. Super great kitchen.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

New Project - Before


new project I am hoping to finish before the end of the month (Q: Why am I doing it in the middle of December!? A: I don't know, because I'm nuts like that). So this is a pretty large bedroom (it was the original master in the house) - it was a shared bedroom for the boys, then it was Brennan's, then it was Holden's, now it's Brennan's again. Anyway in some moment of insanity when it was Holden's bedroom I allowed him to chose the color he wanted for the walls. He chose the most horrible blue ever created. I don't even really know why I allowed it. I should have narrowed it down to blues I liked and THEN let him chose. Instead, stupidly, I just let him look at paint swatches in the store and decide on one. When he showed me, I remember I kept saying "Are you SURE that's the one you want?". He was insistent. It's kind of like an electric blue? Anyway it's pretty awful. So it's been that color for about 6 years I guess. And I also put blue carpet in there because the original carpet was pretty worn out - and what do you do in a very blue room? I figured I sort of had to go with blue carpet (but I more normal blue...but then, really? Should you ever get blue carpet? The answer is no, not really...but I digress)


This room is now my new project. I'm not changing the carpet just yet, so I thought about what color I could do that work in there - and also how the room would work better, etc. Here are the before photos of what I'm working with here:

I know it's kind of awful right now. Anyway at first I thought of changing it to a blue I liked more. I even thought about white or off white just because...well, with blue carpet, there's only so much I can do here. But I've decided to try black. Insane? Maybe. I've also decided to re-plaster one wall and sand it smooth because the texture in that room is very bumpy and I really want to one wall in chalkboard paint. I'm very enamored of that idea and the kids think it would be really cool to have some of those around the house (I'm also entertaining the thought of doing that in another bedroom and in the new office, but thought I would try it here first). I just think they are functional but also make a room look really cool. Here are a few photos of cool chalkboard walls:
I also want to change the bed to a platform I think. Ikea actually has quite a few beds that I really like for in here:
The other problem I have in this room is the closet is not very functional. It's more like a storage closet than a regular closet and it's full of containers of my oldest son's personal belongings. (which I really don't have anywhere to move right now). I also remember it was horrible to paint. And the hanging bar is so high I can't even reach it when I stand on my tip toes and try to hang something up. So I am seriously considering covering the front of it with a fabric from Ikea or Marimekko and buying a rack for the clothes like this:

Or a rolling rack...because the only things he really ever hangs up anyway are his suits and dress shirts, everything else ends up in a drawer. I hoping to make it look urbane and hip. I always feel though that you can't plan every last detail, as you get in there and start working it just starts to come together. Sometimes you can just feel what's working and what isn't. My recent room remodel was like that. And I still love that room by the way. Everytime I am in my room I just feel like it's the perfect bedroom and I tend to stare at that wall color a lot and it really makes me happy, it really is the perfect green - maybe not for someone else, but I adore it.
I'll take photos of the new project and post them when I'm finished, but if you have any thoughts feel free to share them before I start.


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