Here are my top recommendations for TV:
And now for my book recommendations...
That's all I've got to share right now. I hope you enjoy some of my recs! Let me know if you do, and please share some of your own, in the comments!
My fibromyalgia symptoms have been pretty extreme lately but I've managed to distract myself with some pretty good TV shows and books.
Here are my top recommendations for TV:
The Deuce on HBO is not exactly uplifting but it's fascinating and superbly written, directed, and acted. (Maggie Gyllenhall is particularly good.) It's a period piece set around 1970 in the Times Square area of New York -- that's right, prostitute/peep show central. It explores the lives of the prostitutes, pimps, barmen, cops, and other local characters with great sensitivity and empathy and very little judgment. Although highly sexually explicit, it is not exploitative (unlike many of the business arrangements it depicts).
And for a totally different period piece: Charles Dickens' Bleak House on Amazon Prime is nothing new (it was broadcast on PBS in 2005) but it was new to me. Mark & I binge watched it a couple of weekends ago when the kids were with their grandparents and we absolutely loved it! Which means it's wonderful whether you've read the book or not. Gillian Anderson shines in the relatively minor role of Lady Dedlock, the cold and miserable aristocrat with a mysterious connection to Esther, the main character. It's all just deliciously entertaining.
Bleak House got us hooked on Dickens adaptations so now we're watching Little Dorrit -- also on Amazon but unfortunately not Prime. Totally worth paying for though! Claire Foy plays the title character. I haven't seen her in The Crown but I did see her in Wolf Hall, and nothing could be more of a contrast than her meek and angelic Little Dorritt and her vicious, ambitious Ann Boleyn! What an actress. All the performances are inimitable and the series is quite engaging.
From the sublime to the ridiculous: if you are a fan (as I am) of ridiculously stupid humor a la Dumb & Dumber, check out Vice Principals on HBO. Oddly enough, Georgia King, who played one of the prim English characters in Little Dorrit, is also in this... as a sexy American teacher one of the Vice Principals idolizes! It's super silly but if you enjoy a certain kind of lowbrow comedy you will laugh out loud.
And now for my book recommendations...
I loved Big Little Lies as a TV miniseries so I checked it out as a book and it was great too! An engaging read even if you've already seen the miniseries because the writing is so good. Also it's set it Australia which makes for enough cultural differences that you feel you're broadening yourself reading it.
I liked the book so much that I went ahead and read a bunch of other books by the author, Liane Moriarty. She's amazing! Each book deals sensitively and insightfully with at least one pretty painful issue (different in each book), and in all her books the point of view shifts from character to character and there's a big mystery that doesn't get revealed until close to the end. Juicy and gripping!
That's all I've got to share right now. I hope you enjoy some of my recs! Let me know if you do, and please share some of your own, in the comments!
I recently re-watched Gone with the Wind, and then re-read the book. The movie is still considered the greatest in Hollywood history, and the book is second only to the Bible as a best-seller in this country.
The movie is an incredible piece of cinema. Visually, for its acting, and for its incredibly engaging and entertaining manner of storytelling, it hits the ball out of the park, IMHO. The book tells an even more sweeping and intricate version of the familiar saga, and therefore legitimately qualifies (again, IMHO) as a truly great read.
And yet... what racist screeds are both movie and book! Every line of dialogue spoken by or in reference to the African-American characters reflects and promotes the belief that they are at best loyal sub-humans who know their place (which is unquestioningly supporting their white masters without expectation of pay), and at worst "uppity," "insolent" fools who threaten the foundation of all that is wholesome and good in this country by crazily imagining themselves to be equal to whites in intellect, ability, or entitlement to rights such as voting or holding office.
Most of us go through life, understandably, without questioning the beliefs we are taught by our parents and the society we are part of. It is easy to see how children of the Old (pre-Civil War) South and the Confederacy grew up to share the pernicious belief described above without being particularly evil-minded or ill-intentioned; it was just part of the ether in their world. They were taught that violence in the form of lynchings and KKK terrorism was necessary to pre-empt the societal destruction sure to result from allowing the African-American population, emboldened by their new rights and freedom and stoked by interfering Northerners, to act unfettered on their natural (sub-human) tendencies.
Thanks to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's, with its speeches by eloquent leaders such as MLK Jr., its participation by millions in peaceful protests in the face of ugly brutality, and its other acts of undeniable courage and eloquence, it became impossible for any well-informed person who was not evil-minded or ill-intentioned to NOT question the belief in white supremacy on which they may or may not have been raised. Or so I used to think. I am white and have always lived in the North; I am no historian of the South; and, yes, I based this optimistic opinion mostly on what I saw on TV and what I heard from the white Southerners with whom I went to school and camp (in the North). I knew I was probably being somewhat naive. But it always seemed to me that in the post-Civil Rights era in which I grew up, openly and publicly expressing white supremacist beliefs had become less acceptable to more of the mainstream population than it used to be.
What Donald Trump is now saying in his speeches addressing the Charlottesville incidents makes me realize just how naive I was being. Clearly, he is speaking to a large population that agrees with him; he wouldn't make these remarks if he didn't believe they would strengthen support for him. He is, after all, a superlative salesman who knows what the people whose support he most needs want to hear.
Yes, we live in a nation that elected an African-American President. (I can never say that without feeling proud of us, and hopeful.) But fear shifts people's priorities. Perhaps, given the spiraling of the economy under a Republican administration at the time, voters in 2008 simply felt more fearful of "more of the same" than of "angry" and "entitled" African-Americans getting "uppity" and "insolent."
In other words, perhaps the pernicious beliefs expressed in Gone with the Wind and openly held in the pre-Civil Rights era never really evolved. Perhaps they remain entrenched in the South and in towns and counties all over this country that have never experienced true integration (and the exposure it brings to the reality that we are all equally and similarly human).
So what do we do about it?
Condemning others as racist is not a solution. It may make us feel superior, but when we choose to be contemptuous of others rather than to look for ways to win their hearts and minds, we are choosing to be utterly ineffective.
I think true integration is a great engine for evolution of beliefs. As I said, IMHO it brings exposure to the reality that we are all equally and similarly human. But, unfortunately, that is really at the essence of what white supremacists and many other racists resist most. (In GWTW, the most outrageous aspiration attributed to African-Americans is the desire to mix with whites as equals... which, the whites fear, can only lead to mixed marriages, God forbid!)
So how to bring about more integration? More busing? More scholarships to better integrate universities in homogeneous regions?
I'm not sure. I'm not even sure those with greater knowledge and experience than I have would agree it is a good solution.
But I know one thing. I want to be part of a discussion that spitballs initiatives for a more enlightened and less violent world and then works to develop those with potential, rather than one that stays stuck in outraged contempt.
I recently launched both an instagram account and a newsletter (click here for latest edition, which Tucker wrote) for sharing my latest creations & etsy items. And I've recently taken to facebook for directly sharing my random thoughts and recommendations. So what do I still need a blog for?
I guess it's for when I want to share a more lengthy ramble (with photos) with the world beyond just my friends and acquaintances, in the hope that it will add some value to others' lives. Or just their day. Or just their hour. That's actually worth a lot, IMHO. With the butterfly effect and all, putting a useful or validating thought in someone's head or a smile on someone's face can have a positive effect with ripples that go well beyond one person's momentary experience.
That's the loose theme of this blog post: things that have lately put a useful or validating thought in my head or smile on my face. Hopefully at least one will do the same for you.
1. Brooklyn 99
If you're not streaming this show yet, you're missing out. It's actually quite family friendly, if you're the kind of parent who considers finding something you and your children can laugh uproariously at together worth the price of exposing them to sexual references and bad language. Needless to say, I am that parent. I am also the kind of parent who likes being there when they are exposed to those things so I can be the one to answer their questions and explain why certain things are inappropriate. But I digress. Andre Braugher's hilariously deadpan performance is reason enough to watch this show, but every cast member is great and the writing is smart enough to make "stupid-funny" actually funny. This moment had me and my 6-year-old equally ROFL.
2. My new friend Becky
I hadn't realized how isolated I felt, and how seriously I considered the possibility that I was crazy and inventing the whole thing, until I met someone else -- a real person, not just the voice of a book author or online commentator -- who has been dealing with overwhelming fatigue and all-over pain that makes it impossible to participate in life in the way most people take for granted. Like me, she masks how she feels around other people most of the time, feels sad that she can't be more physically active particularly as a parent, and has tried just about everything to help herself heal yet often feels inadequate when receiving well-meaning but incessant advice to just do that one other thing that will definitely help (even while knowing she has already tried it). So thank you, Becky, for coming into my life through our sons' friendship! Here she is alongside my favorite of her many wry instagram posts:
3. Discovering Coffee Break Italian
4. Watching The Late Show with Stephen Colbert
That is, streaming it the next day. For me, Colbert is always just what the doctor ordered: a very smart, articulate, and funny person calmly calling out as crazy (in a totally rational, albeit humorous, way) what our president and his team have just tried to pass off as sane. I also love his respectful and charming demeanor with his guests.
5. The editors of etsy
People who browse etsy may have seen its "editor's picks" -- items it selects to showcase from among the offerings of its thousands of sellers. One day in January the theme was "Your Tidy Home," and way down the page right www.etsy.com/featured/home-storage-containers-and-organizersunder the subcategory "Bedroom Storage and Organization" was my set of 3 standing laundry bags!!! (See down there in the middle, with the caption "hampers"!) It was a fantastic thrill, and the increase in shop traffic ever since is a constant source of gratification. Thanks etsy editors, feel free to feature another of my items anytime!
I'll stop there. Please share, preferably in the comments section of this blog (because not everyone who reads it sees my facebook page), who or what made a seemingly small but actually significant difference in your day lately!
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Here's what I think needs to happen. Someone needs to write a beautiful song affirming the values we want a president to represent... and want to stand up for if and when a president doesn't. Not a negative or hateful song; the opposite of that. A rallying cry that any good and patriotic person would be moved and inspired by. Then, Beyonce needs to give a concert and sing it... on Inauguration Day. To give Americans something positive to watch on TV that day, and to give someone else (or someone with a different message) a platform to divert attention from someone who could stand to get a little less.
OK, I've come up with the idea. Now you just need to make it happen. "You" meaning you. Reading this. If you know someone, or are someone, who can get this ball rolling. Fast. Don't even read the rest of this; time is of the essence.
If you don't and aren't that someone, feel free to keep reading.
Here's some stuff I made since the last post.
several pairs of PJs
So cozy in winter. Hard to sew but worth the work because it's so fun to imagine the kids wearing them... especially with their initial on the pocket, a touch I love to add! Also love the soft flannels, and the reminiscences brought back by some of the plaids. (Red Royal Stewart plaid makes me think of freshman year in college, when we all seemed to have the same L.L. Bean pajamas in that fabric... and sometimes wore them to breakfast!)
some new double glasses cases
I had myself a little online fabric shopping spree a while back and chose some new prints with which to make this case. People kept ordering the old ones, which was fine, but I was super excited when a couple of orders rolled in for ones made with some of my lovely new fabrics!
a watercolor of a bird
Another poem-and-painting, this one for Emily Dickinson's "'Hope' is the thing with feathers."
a new journal
Call me a relic, dinosaur, anachronism, what have you -- I like to write things down on paper. And I love upcycling old cereal boxes into journals. And I adore what Tucker, my 6-year-old, wrote on the first page when I wasn't looking.
Not just any tunic: the perfect tunic. At least for me. I've seen and sewn so many, and none quite does it for me, so I've been trying to design the goldilocks of tunics: not too boxy, not too shapeless, just right! I went through a bunch of fails and saved this pretty fabric I bought a while ago for when I had it nailed down. I think I did! Notwithstanding the none-too-flattering photos. Blame it on bad perspective and my lacking the patience to wait for someone besides myself or my 6-year-old to take a picture of it.
That's about it. Happy New Year & thanks for reading! Here's hoping we'll all be listening to Beyonce's inspiring live performance next week!
Several times a day, I suddenly remember what happened last Tuesday, and am flooded with fear. It has much to do with the reality of events, but is also colored by my own family and personal history.
The family aspect has to do with my father, who at the age of 10 (my older son’s current age) was rounded up along with all the Dutch Jews and millions of others and sent to be murdered or (if they were lucky) merely tortured for years in a German concentration camp… because the disgruntled masses of a seemingly civilized nation chose to support a leader who promised to restore their lost sense of greatness and power. I am not saying Trump is Hitler; I am just telling you what parallels come to my mind and fill me with horror.
As for the personal: as I have shared before in this blog, I have struggled for 6+ years with fibromyalgia, a syndrome whose symptoms include chronic fatigue, pain, and depression. Depression did not begin for me with the fibromyalgia, but it is exacerbated by it. So when recent societal events actually resembled a nightmarish problem with no apparent solution, I naturally zoomed right into a state of hopelessness.
But, also thanks to my personal and family history (as well as to external realities), I have not stayed in a pit of despair.
On the external reality front: we do still live in a democracy with a system of checks and balances. The Bill of Rights has not been repealed. There has not been a junta.
On the family history front: my father did survive, and the optimism and sense of gratitude with which he lives his life to this day cannot help but influence me (though not nearly as much as they awe me).
On the personal front: in order to cope with the aforementioned symptoms so I can enjoy my life and do right by my children, I have worked extremely hard to find and practice effective tools for easing physical and mental discomfort. I haven’t discovered any one-size-fits-all solution, or a single tool that always works. But I have definitely had a lot of success. More and more frequently overall, I am able to turn around a state of discomfort and experience ease and joy. And I find I can use this skill in dealing with everything that bothers me, not just symptoms of my illness.
With regard to current events, here’s what this means. Fear still comes up. But I know that actions prompted by fear (which I believe to include expressions of rage, the easy way out of fear) are not effective for me. So instead of immersing myself in the alarmist and contemptuous conversations all around me, I am listening for hope, for calm, and for love. And as soon as I listen for it, I hear it.
Sorry, dear reader, if that sounds hippy dippy and doesn’t offer much. It’s simply what helps me move towards a sense of well-being, without which (for me) not much else is possible: not activism, not even rational thought.
On a lighter note, here are photos of things I am proud to have created since last post. (Click on photo to buy in my shop, where available.)
for what a summer it was! On a personal note, I spent hardly a day feeling depressed. What a gift to be able to enjoy all there is to enjoy in life! Such as the beauty of nature...
Seeing one's children discover new interests...
Falling more in love than ever with the little people with whom one is sharing a house (and managing to get through the summer without murdering or being murdered by the big ones)...
Time and tools to create to my heart's content...
.And the fulfillment of creating by commission, i.e. making custom art for remuneration.
Hope summer held some restoration, relaxation, and rewards for you too. Let's hold onto that as we face the other seasons!
Relaxing, connecting, creating... some of my very favorite things to do, and I've had the good fortune of getting to do them all in spades over the last few weeks! While living with extended family has its challenges, the benefits of freeloading at my parents' beach house are well worth it. Especially because it's a place with so much built-in entertainment for the kids... great for them and me!
These pix speak for themselves, but I've added captions anyway.
So much for relaxing and connecting; on to creating. It's hard NOT to be inspired to paint watercolors in these surroundings, and I've completed quite a few already this summer.
As for sewing: I think I'm most proud of this sunhat I made for Scarlett (finally got the sizing right) from an adorable Tula Pink fabric...
...and the portrait pillows I made for my parents' anniversary! (What they lack in verisimilitude, they make up for in cuteness, I think.)
And then there's the embroidery I did on some plain T-shirts, just to spice up my summer wardrobe a bit.
Don't know what category to put this in, but I also upcycled a cereal box to make a journal for myself. I used this tutorial and added an elastic pen holder. Pattern is from a fabric I found online that I love (but can't bring myself to order as it only sells in Europe and with shipping is crazy expensive), just printed on regular paper.
And that's all for now! Hope you, my small band of regular readers from among my family & friends & acquaintances along with you who randomly happen upon my blog, are getting some sun and perhaps some fun in as well!
WARNING: this post is sentimental and probably of interest to actual relatives only. There are a few creative projects thrown in but it's mostly just, well, photos I think are adorable of my kids & other people I'm fond of. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
OK, here we go.
Tucker's moving-up ceremony was adorable...
...but his end-of-the-year classroom celebration, a.k.a. Family Fun Day, was truly awesome! Highlight: hair styling for moms!
Oliver's elementary school graduation was so much fun but super emotional for me, as it meant formally leaving the community which we were so incredibly fortunate to be a part of for the last six years. It was more than a school: it was a family. With incredibly caring and talented teachers. And amazingly warm and involved families. And... I could go on and on. I'll just say that, even knowing that the friends both Oliver and I have made there will remain in our lives, and that the future will hold wonderful new things, I am having trouble facing the fact that our years there have come to a close. Sniff!
Tucker's final playdate of the school year with a bosom buddy was also bittersweet, as they'll spend the summer apart...
But heading out to Fire Island with the parental units (mine) to kick off the summer we plan to spend there was pretty exciting...
...especially for a certain cross-generational duo!
I finished upcycling a couple dresses, such as this one, for my irresistible niece Scarlett (using old shirts of her mom's/my sister's, which actually used to be our mom's!). Doesn't she wear it well?
Other major creative task completed: pop-art-style family portrait to round out our home's new "gallery wall"!
Oh, and one more: bag I made out of an oversized T-shirt to take to the beach. I wanted something much more lightweight than the traditional tote, with a pocket for the little stuff and plenty of room for the big stuff: towels, book for me, sand toys for the kids... you know. The usual, well, crap.
For our final sewing class, my students shared a sundae... and made me a sweet heart pin embroidered with my name!
I'll end with a blast from the past my dad e-mailed me: 2 photos, 40 years apart. On the left: my sister and I, who just look like boys. On the right: our sons, i.e. actual boys (and cousins). Quite the resemblance, eh?
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See, here I am again! This time with a whole backlog of recommendations. For shows tostream, books to read, & theater to see. I have gotten lifts, thrills, and even life lessons from things I turned to simply for distraction. Hope they prove as valuable to you. And please, share your own entertainment discoveries in the comments section!
1. Lark Rise to Candleford (available on Amazon Prime)
Alfie. Queenie. Minnie. Twister. Such memorable, adorable characters. Oh, and Bates from Downton Abbey. (Though I'm not such a fan of that actor really, or the character he plays here.) It's amazing what resonance this story of poor villagers rubbing up against middle class townsfolk in early 19th century Oxfordshire, England could have for a modern gal such as myself. The main storyline in each episode is usually such a minor incident in old-fashioned country life -- a post-office package gone missing and then recovered, a lost dog adopted -- that it's a true accomplishment how engaging and important it seems while you're watching it. I really can't recommend this enough, especially for fans of Victorian literature and series/movies based thereon such as myself. And there are 4 seasons!!! So satisfying. Here's a little clip to give you the flavor.
2. The Last Man on Earth (broadcast on Fox, available on Hulu Plus)
I really don't know who's funnier, Will Forte or Kristen Schaal. Kristen's a lot more loveable, that's for sure. This show is hilarious. Hilarious. Hilarious. The first episode is slow, but by the end it gets funny, and the show just gets more and more hilarious with each episode. Did I mention I find it hilarious? By the way even though it is kind of inappropriate I do let my 10-year-old watch it with me, and he loves it as much as I do. Which is fun.
3. Poldark (available on Amazon Prime)
Swoon! That's my response to Poldark (the character, as played by the smoldering Aidan Turner). You can catch up on Season 1 while waiting for Season 2 to begin sometime this year on PBS. I can't wait. I've even gotten my mom into it. The story is replete with passion, resentment, family & class tensions, powerfully conflicted men riding their horses across the starkly beautiful coastal landscape of 1790's Cornwall, England... if that sounds like your kind of thing, get on it!
...or listen to on audiobook, as I do (thank you New York Public Library):
1. Shopaholic to the Stars by Sophie Kinsella
Totally vapid. And totally entertaining. I especially recommend the audiobook, which (unlike most of the others in the Shopaholic series, which have a different reader for some reason) is read with deadpan understatement by Clare Corbett. I chortled out loud more than once. You don't have to have read the previous books to enjoy it. It's perfect light reading for when you just want to laugh!
2. The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin
I'm not going to lie to you, this one's trashy too. Despite its trappings of historical fiction -- the story interweaves interesting fictional characters with real aristocrats and royals from 19th century Europe -- it amounts to not much more than a guilty pleasure. But the characters are engaging, and the story is just unpredictable enough to help this novel transcend the bodice-ripping genre to which it arguably belongs. A well-written, light, juicy read!
3. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
3. The good thing about having a memory that gets worse and worse is this: I can read great books I have already read and enjoy them as if for the first time, because I have completely forgotten them! I have done this now with practically everything by my favorite authors. This book, though, I had omitted to re-read because I vaguely remembered not liking it very much when I first read it. I don't know if that memory is faulty or if my tastes have changed (probably both), but boy did this exceed my expectations (no pun intended) when I finally got around to re-reading it recently! So gothic, so epic, so affecting! I can't think of a more purely endearing character in literature than Joe, nor a more oddly sympathetic one than Pip's convict. Dickens' narrative voice is as cleverly droll and inimitably trenchant as ever. The whole thing is just a big, touching treat.
Full disclosure: my husband gets a free pair of tickets to most Broadway shows because of his professional involvement in musical theater (huge perk for me, when I feel well enough to join him!). So I am not really judging the shows I see according to the same standards as most, i.e., "Was this worth the hundreds of dollars these seats cost?" Which is not to detract from the enthusiasm of my recommendations; just to let you know I'm not saying the shows I liked ARE necessarily worth spending a fortune to see.
1. Bright Star (now on Broadway)
Who know Steve Martin was such a talented composer! I loved his (and lyricist Edie Brickell's) folk/bluegrass score as much as I loved his story, the great performances (especially by hugely talented leading lady Carmen Cusack), the wonderful choreography and costumes, and the clever set. With a cast of unknowns, this show may not attract enough of an audience to stay open long on Broadway... so catch it while you can!
2. On Your Feet: The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan (now on Broadway)
We were indeed on our feet by the end of the show, dancing and singing along! Which is saying a lot for both me (endurer of fibromyalgia & chronic fatigue that I am) & Mark (harborer of inhibitions and epitome of propriety that he is). I really can't believe this show wasn't nominated for any of the major Tony awards, with its super-talented cast and appealing, inspiring story. If you do go see it, be forewarned... the rhythm is gonna get you!
Well that's the round-up of my latest recs. Hope it leads to lots of enjoyment!
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...is waaaay too long to go without posting! Instead of being overwhelmed by how much there is to post about and continuing to put it off, I'll just do a slapdash post with photos of highlights. Kay kay?
Tucker's class project for the school auction... doesn't it look like a Jim Dine?
A commission I got last summer and finally completed... a gorgeous old Saltaire house!
"Tea wallet" I made for a friend who always serves me the best teas
My first stitchalong effort, for Craftster's "Mythical Creatures" hoopla-along. I called it "Kawaii Kraken."
I was definitely obsessive about sewing myself the perfect compact iPhone wallet since joining the 21st century and getting a smartphone (or, rather, inheriting it from my sister when she upgraded)... replete with little nooks for keys, earbuds, cash, and cards! I am so inordinately thrilled with it, and with my ability to go out and about with just this tiny clutch & have everything I need! (Instead of my old heavy filofax, my separate music player, my wallet, etc. etc....)
Thanks to my readers for caring to keep up with what I've been making, etc. I'll aim for more frequent, shorter posts going forward! Happy summer, and remember: do whatever makes you feel giddy (in a good way) as often as possible! It sure does help me to do so.
I'll sign off with the aphorism I just thought of:
MAKERS GONNA MAKE.
Yours in connection & creativity,
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