Saturday, August 31, 2013

August Favorites

1) Hello Kitty Fragrance - It seems that Sephora is clearing out the Hello Kitty line, so everything has been at reduced prices. I chose the tiny perfume bottle just for cuteness, then found that I also enjoyed the scent. Hence the addition of the full-sized bottle. To me, it smells a little sweet and a little floral, with a hint of spice. They're sitting on Deeanne Gist's newest book, which I just picked up yesterday.

2) Hitty: Her First Hundred Years - I read this book in middle school. I remember because I was the first person to check it out of the school library. It's one of those stories that has stayed in my mind years later. It's narrated by a doll sitting in an antique store; she tells the story of her life so far and the owners she has had. This book was one of the first things that got me thinking about the stories all the pieces in antique stores have. This copy in particular is from Goodwill, which means that it comes in this nifty fifties cover.

3) Silver Ring - Sort of an early birthday present, I chose this ring for its vintage style. The pattern gives it a 1930's edge. It's something I can wear all the time.

4) Chai Tea - I was craving chai, so I picked out this tin of tea. It's more minty than most chai teas, but it's still pleasant.

5)  Vintage Hat - Usually the hats I see at antique stores that I like are the pricier ones, except for this one, which was marked down fairly low. It has a felt top, velvet brim and ribbon, and small grouping of feathers. I may occasionally wear it, when I'm feeling silly.

6) A Series of Unfortunate Events - Years ago, I borrowed the first ten books in this series from a friend. Finally I have purchased the set myself so that I can finish off the last three books. As you can see, I'm on the second to last one. I may or may not post some further thoughts later.

7) Crocodile Case - I think I just buy everything on sale. Anyway. The glittery white crocodile box came from Z Gallery. It sort of jumped into my arms. After I brought her home, she quickly began making friends with my stone dinosaur.

8) Notebooks - The lion set of notecards is from World Market, the colorful notebook set is from Anthropologie, and the peacock notebook set is from Tuesday Morning. I have an addiction to little notebooks that is almost as great as my addiction to physical books.

9) Red Necklace - Red coral, displayed on Robyn Schneider's new book, The Beginning of Everything.

10) Antique Books - These books were meant to be mine: I first saw them at an antique store at least a year ago. But whenever I went back to that store, there was always something else I got instead or I didn't have the money for them. Then finally, I was able to bring them home. They're tiny little leatherbound copies, about the size of the palm of your hand.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Weird Ones

I was thinking about the kinds of movies I generally enjoy.

It never seems to fit to say I like a certain genre: each movie within a genre is unique. What, then, I wondered, made up my category of movies? I happened then on the word. Weird. That is, weird in reference either to setting or the characters; and I mean weird in the loosest sense. It can refer to a fantasy setting, like in The Lord of the Rings, or to a character's artistic quality, like in Miss Potter.

However the weird element occurs, it must be there or I have little interest. That's why I don't generally like Film Noir or Old Hollywood glamor: something is still too commonplace for me. Of course, I might have to allow "weird" to also reference artistic elements like cinematography. And then there are movies like Sarah, Plain and Tall. That movie is wonderful--but it takes place on a farm. While the characters are good and Sarah is a strong person, that isn't enough to lift them into the realm of weird. Is this, then, an exception to my rule?

Well, not exactly. The thing about this prairie trilogy is that it has powerful emotions at its center, even if they are portrayed in all simplicity. And that I am allowing to be one definition of weird, which would here mean above the normal level. I need to see something or feel something that takes me out of myself--and back into myself--and maybe out again.

I need to enter the realm of weird. I don't want fine edges, glamor, and pristine qualities. I want openness. I want a setting or approach or character that is different, one that not everyone can understand. I want a movie with elements weird enough that I can imagine they were made to speak hidden messages only to me.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Reclaiming a Fantastical Past

You can almost group fantasy into two categories: the kind that frightens you (or some such similar emotion) and the kind that enthralls you (or some such similar emotion). Sometimes the two are mixed, and the lines are also further blurred when dealing with genre-crossing stories. What I wonder about, though, is the evolution of symbols. The same symbol can, over time, mean very different things. While many figures in fantasy used to stand for awful (in the sense of "causing awe") and powerful beings or concepts, they are reversing now. Much of recent fantasy stories has more to do with adventure and acceptance. 

The question people ask is whether or not this change is harmful to past symbolic meanings. It was probably Twilight that set me on this idea. Some people complained that the story "ruined vampires" and what they used to stand for. But it didn't change the past meanings, only the present ones. And I don't think Twilight has been the only story to start changing meanings. Just look to the sixties, the time of I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, and The Munsters. These were comedy shows, essentially sit-coms with a fantasy element. In using concepts like magic, these shows took the fear and awe away from magic and made it cool and also simply a way of life. The Munsters consider themselves a normal family, although they are not usually received as such. This is not unlike the themes developed in Harry Potter, where the good characters advocate acceptance for all people, whether or not they were born being able to practice magic. 

So it's as if fantasy used to express our fears about the world, but now we are trying to reclaim our fears and our prejudices and accept the world for what it is. We don't want to be afraid anymore: we want to know everything about everything and fear malice, not difference. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

I Like Eating Chalk

Don't be silly. I've never eaten blackboard chalk. When I say I like eating chalk, I just mean that I like chalky candies.

Truth be told, I've always thought blackboard chalk looks delicious. Rather than chalking that up to a nutrient deficiency, I blame it on Fun Dip. You remember those white sticks that came in the packet for dipping in? I loved those. I would always eat the dip off of the stick carefully, not biting in, so that the stick would last until the end; then I could munch away at its chalky, sugary goodness.

Since then, I've discovered many more chalky candies. The Wonka Bottle Caps, for instance, are alright--except for the Root Beer flavor.

Smarties are included in the "cheaper" bags of candy, but they're one candy I really like. Eating the little pieces, trying to keep them in their shape, or gnawing on a big disc from one of the larger Smarties varieties. Although I never cared much for Sweethearts (maybe because I always tried chewing on them?), I do like the classic Necco wafers. Necco, if you weren't aware, also makes Sweethearts. But while Sweethearts are too easy to find every Valentine's Day, Necco wafers can be harder to track down. They're more of an old-fashioned candy, so you have to be on the lookout and just know who carries them. They're thin, wide circles that I like to let slowly dissolve in my mouth. The thinner they get, the harder it gets to resist the temptation of breaking them. The only flavor I don't like is, I believe, licorice. And if you're feeling silly, you can also buy a sleeve with just chocolate wafers.

And that's why, although they are not chalky, I have included Choclettos. I picked up a few of them with the Necco wafers, some sour candy, and one or two other things at a candy store in Prescott. While Jelly Belly and some of these other brands may be fun, too, it's the vintage candy that tends to get me more excited. This store has both. The Choclettos are sort of like Tootsie Rolls in a square, only they taste more like brownies. They may also be slightly chewier. In a way, they're better. But one of the nice things about Tootsie Rolls can be their simple, barely-there flavor. With the Choclettos, you're eating something denser. It's more of a chocolate candy than Tootsie Rolls, so as similar as they are, they still answer to different candy wants. 

Now the question is, if I eat chalky candy instead of chalk, would it also be alright to use chalky candy to write on my chalkboard? 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Adventures of Connor & Abby: Part 16

Usually Primeval showed the ARC team moving around in their government SUV's, except when Connor and Abby had the Mini Cooper. Occasionally, though, they drove something speedier, something picked up from the highway or the test track. Something like a red convertible. 

Here, Connor, Abby, and Jenny take advantage of the quicker speeds.

Judging by the amount of flowers, I think their destination must have been some sort of botanical garden. Perhaps there's a Triceratops there, eating away at the plants?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Looking to PNW's End & Future

Now that Primeval: New World has finished its U.S. run, here is what I think worked about the later episodes and what could work well for a second season. Although the show has been cancelled, there's always still hope, right?

As the show moved into its second season, there was less randomness and more about character relationships and development. The "hidden military agenda" was nothing new, but it added a sense of urgency and importance to the usual happenings. What I do like about it is that it gave a new angle to Canada's discovery of the anomalies; as I've mentioned before, the scientists/etc. and the government started working together very conveniently in the original series, but that may not be the most realistic approach.

You have to have a sense of why all the characters are where they are and how they get along. That starts to develop more as the series ends. And the crossover with the U.K. in the finale, well, that was long-awaited for me. I think we all missed Connor: all his lines in the finale, whatever they were, seemed great. His scenes seemed the best and we clung to every hint he gave of what was going on with the ARC team.

So while I didn't like everything about this spinoff, just imagine what a second season could be. They've said that they would want to do more crossover with the ARC team. Whether that would be with the characters physically interacting or just keeping in touch or with the show portraying what is happening in both countries, that would present a wider, more global scale. It would also let us have our original characters back even without a sixth season of the original series.

But one question. What is the timeline? Connor said that he was from a different date than Canada in the finale. So was he traveling back or forward in time? And by how much? A day? A year? I keep going in circles trying to answer this question; maybe the answer is there and I just can't find it. Or maybe I need a second season to figure it out.

Either way, the DVD/Blu-Ray comes out October 22. Let's all get it as our demand for a second season, alright?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Nougat d'Or: Maple Almond Nougat

I am perfectly aware that I photographed a maple chocolate alongside a white pine notepad. But I was looking for Canadian things--if I had my copy of Anne of Green Gables with me, that would've been great--and was coming up short. So I just went for the general tree theme.

The thing is, I'm not feeling too excited about reacting to this chocolate bar: I'm not sure what to make of it. I did find it in the sale shelves at World Market (where else do I buy chocolate these days other than World Market?), so I perhaps should give it some leeway for not being as fresh as it once was. You can see that there is even a little scratch on the maple leaf on front of the package.

The chocolate is an unspecified milk chocolate. It's pretty light and pretty insignificant. I'd say that it at least tastes nutty, except that there are toasted almonds in the nougat, so that must be where the nutty flavor comes from. The chocolate is slightly crumbly, which I'm willing to write off as an effect of shopping the sale shelf. I still don't think it was terribly great to begin with, but I do like the maple nougat.

The chocolate bar's label says it's Canadian, so if anyone is going to handle a maple product, they'd better be the ones. The nougat contains toasted almonds, honey, corn syrup, egg whites, maple syrup, and natural maple flavor. Neither the best nor the worst list I've seen. Both the maple and almond come through strongly in the flavor. The almond gives the chocolate dimension and the maple gives it focus and originality. I still haven't come across many maple chocolates, but the flavor is pleasant. It's sweet and warm and can conjure up images of Christmas or old-fashioned candy or simply pancakes, depending on what it reminds you of.

Just for the successful maple nougat, this bar is worth it. If the chocolate were better, I might even call it a favorite. If it came in decorative packaging or holiday shapes, I might even give it as little presents when December comes along. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Once Upon a Long Time Ago

They're the opening phrases that isolate you into fantasy, into the realm of a story. They're the words of "let there be light" that allow words to have the power of creation. They're the words that let you know that there are no rules besides the bounds of imagination.

"Once upon a time" . . . and "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away." Fairy tales and Star Wars.

Barnes & Noble Leatherbound (Front)

I've heard about how Star Wars (the original) is technically a Western, and since it takes place in space, you could call it sci-fi. But I like to think of it as fantasy. It takes place in a galaxy so far removed that it might as well be a different universe. Humans aren't the only people, but the non-humans aren't exactly treated like aliens since they all come into so much contact--so they're more like centaurs or fauns or fairies or whatever in fantasy stories. And the Force, of course, has its similarities to magic.


But let's return to diction. Although "A long time ago" is still mostly just a Star Wars phrase, it's taken on a similar weight as "Once upon a time." You ignore both phrases, in a sense: they're just the precursor, like "the" or "said," or to what comes after. They signal what the story will be like. Because it starts with "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away," nothing can seem too odd in Star Wars. Technology can be both more advanced and less than ours. Food can be normal or strange. Speech patterns can be whatever they want to be. You don't need to question anything that isn't consistent within the created universe because it is fantasy, protected by a framework of words. The storyteller has not made himself invisible, but has spoken to you directly. He has said, "Once upon a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away . . . "

Saturday, August 10, 2013

PNW Marathon Today

So after taking a couple of weeks off, SyFy is now finishing off the second half of Primeval: New World today--all in one long draw, rather than one episode at a time. At first I saw disappointed that they're just getting the show over with instead of giving it time. But then, I suppose if most people these days have DVR's, it's easier to record all the episodes in one day than to watch them one by one week after week. They were also playing the first half of the season this morning, which means it's around episode six right now, right? The new episodes start at two o'clock my time.

I did find it odd that SyFy put the season break one episode early when it is the next episode (the one that'll be playing at two) that starts quickening the pace. I would have preferred, right now, to talk about  how much the show improves right around mid-season. But since only the first few episodes have aired, I will stick to those and what I think could be better about them.

As many people have pointed out, the original British series didn't start off flawless. I think it started off good enough to get your attention and the start is very endearing to look back on, but it had rough edges. Most shows do when they're starting out. So if PNW has been a little odd at times, I don't think that that means it has no potential. What is it that I find odd? Two episodes in particular, "Angry Birds" (Ep. 4) and "Babes in the Woods" (Ep. 7), included plot threads I found unnecessary. It has to do with the darker, edgier tone PNW was supposed to have, which is also what results in a tad more blood than the original series had. I can sort of care less about the blood, but random drug and sex references, well, if they're random, what's the point? (Though I could do without them in the first place.) They're often barely related to characterization or main plot elements. And, no matter what it is, anything that feels fabricated doesn't win an audience over.

And while the original series introduced a mix of creatures, from traditional dinosaurs to much older animals to simple ones, this one has been falling into the vicious dinosaur side a little much. Albertosaurus, raptors, critters that look like raptors. Most of the cooler animals they use, even, are too reminiscent of the original series, like the beetles in "Fear of Flying" (although I did like that episode) and the terror birds (although I do really like the terror birds).

But these are only my complaints, not what I like. Character-wise, I start to like Ange mid-season but maybe not so much later; I also like Dylan and Lieutenant Leeds. She is straightforward and he is more complex. I'll leave further comments for later, once I've gone back through the second half of the season.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Chocolate in Harry Potter

Once upon a time, when I had my chocolate club in college, one of the topics was Books & Chocolate. Out of all the books that reference chocolate, Harry Potter was, naturally, the story everyone in the room was familiar with. But what I realize, months later, after further thought is that the series covers two very different aspects of chocolate. It does not go into what I like to call couture chocolate, but it does address nostalgic chocolate and healing chocolate.

Nostalgic chocolate centers around the Chocolate Frogs. They're one of the treats to buy on the Hogwarts Express and something to give as a gift to a friend. That hits at the comfort of childhood, when a chocolate candy was enough to brighten your day and connect you to other people. Chocolate confections have enough impact that even years later, when you might not enjoy their taste in the same way anymore, still they remain special because of the memories they evoke.

Healing chocolate is what Lupin gives to Harry after his encounter with the dementors. The idea here seems to be based on the fact that the dementors force you into unhappy feelings and chocolate is something positive, therefore chocolate can help bring you out of that negative mood. Chocolate doesn't have such a direct healing aspect in our world, but you can still consider it to have healing properties. Emotionally, once again, it is positive. But depending on the type of chocolate, it can in fact be a natural and even healthy food. Chocolate made with good quality cocoa beans and pure ingredients instead of fillers, well, that helps make for a rounded diet, I say.

Nostalgic chocolate is the more common view of chocolate, unsurprising to find in a YA series. Healing chocolate is less common to find expressed, especially without the mention of cacao beans (like in the movie version of Chocolat). Both of these sides coming together in this book, then, sets up a rather uncommon dichotomy.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Tolkien's Arthurian Poetry

You know what one of the great things is for Tolkien fans? Despite it only being forty years since the Professor's departed this world, we already have a great deal of his writings in publication. This past year, I was reveling in all the Charlotte Brontë writings that had been published only in fairly recent years, even though she died over a century before Tolkien did.

So while things like The Legend of Sigurd and GudrĂșn may not always appeal to the casual reader, for a hardcore fan or semi-scholar, they're treasures. This is apparent simply in the way that The Fall of Arthur, published earlier this year, is put together. Although the unfinished poem is only forty slim pages, the book is a hardcover filled with commentary on the poem's writing, context, and meaning. In these writings, Christopher Tolkien not only describes when Tolkien was working on this poem and such, but also how it relates to his Middle-earth writings. Note that I did not read all of this commentary, only glanced through it. I'll save a more thorough reading for later.

For myself, the value I gained was in connecting imagery and language to Middle-earth. Although this poem concerns the world of King Arthur, that subject material is not wholly unlike Tolkien's own legends. There is still much imagery of Nature and its power and beauty. The flow of poetry, rich but not heavy with alliteration, is reminiscent of the poetry that fills the pages of The Lord of the Rings. What scholarly treasures the Tolkienians continue receiving.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Atwood Alley

Often it's the stories that include imagination that I enjoy most--however imagination manifests itself. And given my multitudinous piles of neatly stacked books and ever widening Netflix queue, stories have incredible value in my life.

It took a few extra days for me to learn about the newest video from Keychain Productions because, being an entry in the Virgin Media Shorts contest, it debuted on the contest website instead of on Keychain's YouTube page. While I would have preferred a video with less voiceover/exposition, I do like the subject material. The character is a nine year old girl who values imagination even when others do not understand it--and that is important.

Once again, there is pretty use of color contrasts. Does anyone else think the shot of the umbrella against the snow is reminiscent of Narnia and Mr. Tumnus's umbrella?

To watch the short film, Atwood Alley, click here.