Sunday, February 27, 2011

Christopher Hitchens and Martin Amis did it, too???

As a subscriber to Vanity Fair for over 20 years, I've always enjoyed reading Christopher Hitchen's column/articles. Whether I agree with him or not, he writes beautifully and I'm always interested in what he has to say. In the past year, besides writing poignantly (but without a speck of self-pity) about his diagnosis of esophageal cancer, he's also been writing about his long-time friendship with another writer, Martin Amis. I've read a couple of books by Amis (the son of writer Kingsley Amis).

Apparently, Hitchens and Amis liked word games. One of their favorite activities was a word game where they would substitute a word or phrase for another word. An example Hitchens gave was using 'hysterical sex' in place of the word 'love.' As in, Stop in the Name of Hysterical Sex for the movie Stop in the Name of Love. Who knew that my sister Pam and I were playing something very similar at the ages of 9 and 11?

I can't remember if we were living in New Hampshire or Texas at the time but I do remember it was a two-story house which narrows it down to one of those two states. That along with our ages at the time (around 9 and 11) and where we shared a bedroom -- which was most places we lived. Whenever neither of us could sleep and our parents hadn't come upstairs to bed yet, we'd play a game using the titles of our Nancy Drew books. However, our substitute word which we thought was hysterical (please remember our ages) was the word 'titty.'

So one of us would start with The Clue of the Broken Titty (Locket) and the other would counter with The Secret of the Wooden Titty (Lady) and we'd take it from there. We tried to recite the titles from memory and NOT look at our bookcase which was in our bedroom. The Password to Titty (Larkspur) Lane! We had to be careful about laughing too loud or we'd hear about it from one of our parents. The Hidden Titty (Staircase)! The Secret of Titty (Red) Gate Farm!

When one or both of us reached the point where we started having trouble remembering some of the titles, we cheated -- just a little -- by quickly checking the bookcase.

The Titty (Mystery) at Lilac Inn! At some point, after we'd laughed ourselves silly (and, unlike Hitchens and Amis, we were never drunk) we'd both be so exhausted that we finally fell asleep.

Who knew that other people did anything like this? Pam and I certainly didn't know it at the time. And, to think, we thought we were so clever...

Here's one for the road -- the first Nancy Drew book I ever read -- Mystery of the Moss-Covered Titty (Mansion).

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Shame on PBS

I'm so annoyed with PBS after discovering that they cut 35 minutes from the recent premiere of season one of Downton Abbey.  Apparently, some newspapers in the UK were insinuating that the program had to be 'dumbed down' for an American audience. Long-time Masterpiece Executive Producer Rebecca Eaton is quoted in this week's TV Guide  admitting that the 35 minute cut was made in order to fit the series into the PBS format over four weeks because that was all the time they had available for it.
Considering the unending pledge drives that PBS stations hold, I would expect to be given the courtesy of viewing the entire program. The DVD for Downton Abbey advertised on the PBS website even states that the DVD is the 'original U.K. version.'

This is certainly not the first time that cuts have been made to Masterpiece and Mystery programs. Several years ago when I missed an episode of the excellent Foyle's War, I purchased the DVD in order to see it. That's when I discovered that the Foyle's War episode ran 1 hour and 40 minutes. However, the episode had been cut to 90 minutes to 'fit' into the PBS time slot. I've reached the point where I'd rather purchase the DVD for a program or series that I really want to see. At least this way I can view the entire episode(s) uncut and uncensored AND I don't have to worry about a local change in viewing time due to another interminable pledge drive.

Iambik audiobooks is expanding!

Iambik audiobooks are now available on Audible.
Just search for 'Iambik' and you'll find us. We're also available at Barnes & Noble and at Waterstones for those across the pond.  Of course, you can always head to the Iambik website and purchase and download directly from there.

The first books released were literary fiction. We'll probably continue releasing books in groupings by genre. The next release of books, scheduled for early March, will be our first crime collection.

In the mean time, you can friend us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

You snooze -- you lose

Really fun day yesterday with my friends Duane and Linda.  We celebrated Linda's birthday with lunch, estate sales and shopping.  Linda was the big winner with a really nice large picture for her office from the estate sale along with an incredible stone Buddha (with a beautiful patina) for her backyard.  She and her husband own over 3 acres which includes a beautiful forest behind their house.  She plans to place the Buddha where the back lawn meets the forest so it's easily seen from her back porch.  Duane was trying to decide if her kitchen was big enough for this fab old kitchen table that we came across at a yard sale an antique shop was having.  The table is a nice size and features a drawer on one side.  She may go back and buy it today.  A steal at $20 plus $5 for delivery!

I bought a couple of items -- a piece of vintage matte white pottery for my collection (I plan to post on my 'white pottery obsession' with pictures later) and a fab 1950's Shawnee ashtray in a gorgeous aqua blue with gold metallic running through it.  However, I lost out on what I really wanted and it's my own fault.  When you see something in a shop with one-of-a-kind items, as everyone knows, you'd better buy it then.  I was in this new shop called Kaleidoscope a few weeks ago with Duane and saw a piece of hanging art that I fell in love with.  I wasn't sure about the size for where I wanted to put it so I waited until our trip yesterday.  Naturally, it had been sold.  Bummer -- but I have no one to blame but myself.  As soon as I realized it would fit where I planned to hang it, I should have called Duane to nab it for me.  (This shop is in her neighborhood.)  I did pick up the vintage Shawnee ashtray as a consolation prize, though.  

The shop, Kaleidoscope is fantastic.  Beautifully curated and laid out furniture, wall hangings and decor.
Mostly vintage decor with much of the art coming from local artists.  They concentrate on mid-century furniture and the owner does the refinishing, specializing in Heywood Wakefield furniture.
This picture has several Heywood Wakefield pieces that he has restored to their natural beauty.

Later, we met friends at The Independent for drinks to celebrate a graduation. (Congrats, Lana, on finishing your master's degree!) A nice finish to a great day.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Art -- My foot

It's amazing the number of free things available via the Internet. When I first started using it in the '90's, I came across a number of 'free stuff' sites. A lot of companies gave out promotional tee shirts, hats, keyboards, clocks, gift certificates, etc. There seems to be less of that now but some of the things offered were more interesting than others.

An artist named Scott Blake, who makes art using barcodes, offered a free barcode art post card if you emailed him your address. You could select from several different subjects and I chose one of Andy Warhol. (I framed it in a white frame and it hangs in my home office.) Scott also included a removable barcode 'tattoo' and asked that, in return for the post card, you place the barcode somewhere on your person, photograph it and then send him a copy of the photo. Sounded fair to me.

The barcode I received had the word 'Human' on it. After looking at pics of what other people had sent in, I decided to place the barcode on the top of my foot. I also thought it would look cool, since the barcode was black and white, to wear black leggings and black shoes (which I wore anyway) for the photo.
Scott posted the photo on his site and it's still there. Just scroll down -- you'll see lots of interesting ways other people chose to wear their barcodes. Barcode Tattoos.

I used my picture as an avatar on a site I used to belong to and someone told me it reminded them of a borg. I loved that since that's what I was going for. I also framed a copy of it for my office. That made for interesting conversation with visitors.

Scott sells his art from his site along with just about every item imaginable relating to barcodes. He's a graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) and his work has been exhibited around the world. Check out his site.  It's definitely worth a visit. He has items you can download along with videos, etc. (Anyone for a barcode clock on their PC?)  Oh, and he's still offering to send a free barcode art postcard to people who email their address to him. Lots more postcards than when I chose mine.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day and recording woes...

Happy Valentine's Day to George. This is the only version of this song I've ever liked.
Now if that guy pressure washing my neighbor's house and driveway doesn't finish very soon... grrr... I'm testing out my new microphone, the Blue Yeti, and it picks up everything.

Obviously someone must have considered the size of this big boy when they named it. I've been playing around with it since last night and the sound is great but I have to get used to a different set-up. I've been using an Altec Lansing headset for almost 4 years so using this is pretty cool.

I'm going to record this week's Weekly Poem for LibriVox as my first project. I would love to have had this when I started the solo I'm working on now -- In the Cage -- by Henry James but I don't want to switch over halfway through a project.

Here's to golden silence...

Friday, February 11, 2011

Carpet -- Could it be any more disgusting???

I'm pretty sure that the first place I read Andy Warhol's opinion on wall-to-wall carpet was The Andy Warhol Diaries. He likened it (I'm paraphrasing here) to being sewn into one outfit of clothing and being stuck with it. You could only wash or treat it on the outside but you'd never feel like you got the dirt, dust, etc., out of it.

That pretty much sums up my feeling about carpet. And I do mean wall-to-wall, of course, not a really large rug that can be taken up and cleaned professionally. The carpet on our stairs and in the upstairs hall and bedrooms is looking worse for wear after 22 years in our house. I'm sure that the only reason the carpet upstairs has held out for this long is due to not having children and only having very small dogs (and never more than two at any given time). Our downstairs has absolutely no carpet although we do have rugs in certain areas for shoe wiping and decoration.

I would love to have bamboo flooring put in upstairs but after listening to my husband, George, during his weight-lifting routine in his man-cave (located upstairs directly above the kitchen), I'm afraid nothing but MORE carpet will have to be installed due to the likelihood of what a barbell would do to bamboo (no matter how hard it's supposed to be). Besides I already know that we'd have to have carpet on the 'bridge' -- that's what the architect called it on the floor plan -- that begins at the top of the stairs and leads you into the upstairs hall. You can actually look over each side of the bridge and see the formal living areas on one side and the family room on the other. I've already experienced the chest-clutching horror of watching my young nephews and nieces attempting to peer over the bridge, so the thought of having any type of slippery floor there is not an option. Same problem with the actual stairs.

Some type of Berber would probably be the best option but why does it have to be so ugly and industrial looking? Not that it's not an improvement over past styles like the high 'shag' of the '70's. Ugh. Seriously ugly stuff. When harvest gold and avocado green were in, my mother was right there to jump feet first into the fad that so many people embraced. My parents went with harvest gold shag on most of the floors in the house. To anyone unfamiliar with REAL shag carpeting, there was also a plastic tool called a 'rake' -- yes, similar to what you use outside to gather leaves, etc. One of my chores as a teenager (and the oldest) was to 'rake' the shag at least once or twice a week. Talk about a thankless task. I'd rake over it after it was vacuumed and as soon as someone walked on it... well, I'm sure you get the idea.

I've never understood why wall-to-wall carpet took off the way it did in the '60's. You're living in a house with nice wood floors or terrazzo and you cover them up with carpet nailed into them? In the late '60's, we lived in a two-story house in New Hampshire. It was a row house on an Air Force base but it had very nice wood floors including... drumroll... on the stairs! And these stairs, unlike the ones where I live now which have a break with a landing, went straight down.

My sister Pam and I figured out pretty quickly that if we sat on them in our cotton pajamas, we could push off from the top step and thump on our bums down to the next step and the next one. We'd gather momentum as we went down and were going pretty fast by the time we hit the bottom one on the first floor. Then, as icing on the cake, we discovered that if we rubbed the wood steps with wax paper, the steps got REALLY slippery. Ah, nirvana! At least until the day we came home from school and discovered our parents had had the stairs carpeted. (Boo! Hiss!)  My loathing of carpet began early.

George really hates the idea of having to have everything moved out of the upstairs bedrooms and living through the mess involved with replacing the carpet. I'm with him on that score. Our current carpet has a low nap and the color is a good one - a medium beige -- and we could probably have another professional cleaning done and, really, not that many people go upstairs. Putting of the inevitable sounds better and better.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Caught Black Swan

George and I saw Black Swan with Natalie Portman and we both felt a bit disappointed afterward. There were some wonderful performances. Natalie Portman, of course, as the timid and repressed Nina, Barbara Hershey in a great turn as Nina's creepily overprotective mother and Mila Kunis as Portman's rival/friend Lily.

Portman trained for a year for this role and lost around 10 pounds. She's small, anyway, so she looked convincing as a ballet dancer. The French actor Vincent Cassel, looking a little more gaunt than usual (did they make him lose weight, too?), was fine as the Director of the company. Somehow, though, I found myself wondering more about how ill, mentally and physically, Portman's character was than I was about her ability to dance as the Black Swan. Director Darren Aronofsky doesn't shy away from illustrating a character's mental state, particularly when it's precarious. (See the wonderful Requiem for a Dream.)

I would recommend the movie despite feeling a bit let-down. I found some things too predictable -- Nina is emotionally fragile and is still treated like a small child by her mother with whom she lives. You know it's only a matter of time before all of the stuffed animals in her bedroom (which still looks like it probably did when she was 5 years old) get the old heave-ho. For someone who has been dancing in the corps of an important ballet company and is in her 20's, I wouldn't have expected her to be so timid that she barely speaks above a whisper. Of course, because she is this kind of person, it makes her transformation at the expense of her already delicate psyche more dramatic and frightening.

I found myself comparing my impression of Black Swan with two other movies I'd seen recently, The King's Speech and Social Network. I'm sure some of this is due to all of the attention and awards all three of these movies are currently receiving. I just didn't feel that Black Swan was on the same level over-all as a film.

Natalie Portman is the favorite to win the Academy Award for Best Actress. She deserves it as much as anyone else nominated -- I've always liked her -- but I find myself thinking of the wonderful performance by Jennifer Lawrence in the lesser-known Winter's Bone. Lawrence is also nominated and, like Portman's character in Black Swan, they both go through a type of hell, although their experiences and lives are as different as night and day. I admit to liking Winter's Bone very much and hope that having an actress nominated in the same category as Natalie Portman for many of the awards will bring the movie more exposure.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Calling all Jane Austen-ites and Jane Eyre lovers, too!

Check out my beautiful Jane Austen bracelet custom-made by Kim's Gems. Kim makes lovely and unique jewelry and had been making this style of bracelet using Broadway poster images, old French poster designs, etc. I asked if she could make a Jane Austen bracelet for me since Kim usually makes her elastic bracelets with 7 different pictures decoupaged on painted wood. Jane wrote 6 novels so I chose different covers that I liked by cruising bookstores on the Internet. For the 7th piece, I asked Kim to include a portrait of Jane. I LOVE this bracelet! It's lightweight and fits nicely -- doesn't move around all over your wrist and there isn't one anywhere else just like this one!

Kim can paint the wood pieces in just about any color and also lets you select the color of beads you would like to separate the pieces -- I chose clear. Kim also makes darling metal bookmarks with charms -- I have a fab one with a tiny high heel shoe hanging from the top. If you like my bracelet and have ideas of your own (or, if you don't, Kim can help you), email her at Tell her you saw Jane on my blog!

Speaking of 'Jane' there's a new version of Jane Eyre coming to the theaters soon! I loved the last one I saw on Masterpiece with Toby Stephens (Maggie Smith's son) and Ruth Wilson but I'm always up for a new version. The new one stars Mia Wasikowska as Jane and Michael Fassbender as Rochester. Oh, and Judi Dench plays Mrs. Fairfax. It's always great to see her. This new version is due to be released March 11 in the U.S.

Monday, February 7, 2011

'Deceased' Estate Sale???

It was the title that first caught my eye on this one. A 'deceased' estate sale? That seemed an odd way to phrase it but it was near my friend Duane's house so I quickly emailed her to see if she was interested. She was and we had plenty of time to get there because, unlike most sales, this one didn't start until 10 a.m. We love to hit the ones that start on Friday because you don't get the weekend people.

We hit a snag due to a weird address. I had never heard of the street but I don't know the city like Duane does so we headed off in my trusty Mini, Mrs. Peel, with Duane at the wheel and me (sort of) navigating. When we reached the street (according to the map from the Internet) we quickly realized that the street numbers were completely off. There was no other contact info on the ad so we headed back to a sale even closer to Duane's house that we had noticed on the way. Bingo! This was the 'deceased' sale we were looking for.

The lady giving the sale had flown in from Australia two days before after her 85-year old aunt, the 'deceased' owner of the house in question, had suddenly died. (Maybe that's what they call these sales in Australia.) This lady was in the habit of calling her aunt 'every fortnight' and when she couldn't reach her, she searched the Internet for the local police number and asked them to do a 'wellness' check on her aunt. Apparently, the aunt still drove, etc., and had been in good health. The police were unable to get anyone to come to the door and since her car was there, the Aussie lady asked them to break in. They did and found that the aunt had simply gone to bed one night and died in her sleep. Her niece in Australia, along with a nephew there, were the lady's only living relatives so they hopped the next flight to the U.S.

The first thing the Aussie lady, who was a very friendly person, did was ask us how we found the sale. She apologized for mangling the name of the street but if I had been traveling for two days to another country after that kind of news, the ad would probably have been much worse. The second thing she did was to tell us to be very careful walking on the floor. It was wood parquet that was an unbelievable mess. Apparently, her aunt had carpeting over it and when it was pulled up as the house was being cleaned out, they discovered that termites had been very busy. According to Duane, the street this house is on has a bad habit of flooding every time we have torrential (is there any other kind in Florida?) rains so it had probably been flooded, too.

Stepping over the huge chunks of wood sticking up everywhere, we gingerly made our way around the furniture and tables with items placed on them. Both of us noticed the condition of the door leading in from the garage where the police had broken in. The Aussie lady told us how nice everyone in the neighborhood had been to her and her brother when they arrived. One man was still there working and carrying stuff to a dumpster that had been placed in the front yard. She said he had worked like that ever since he first offered to help. The other man helping was 'handling' the estate sale. Uh oh. He talked his head off and followed us from room to room. That would explain the mark-up on items that made some of them way too high for an estate sale in a modest neighborhood. He said that he checked the prices on eBay, etc. Well, people don't go to estate sales to pay eBay prices. We know this because both Duane and I have sold items on eBay that we've found at estate sales. His pricing probably explained why his estate sale 'business' (according to him) hadn't been doing that well. Odd, because most of the sales we've been to seemed to be selling stuff pretty easily even with a 'handler' pricing the items.

I still managed to find a few items. The aunt had led a colorful life. She had been a barmaid for years -- her name tag with 'Shelia' on it -- was among the liquor items and home bar with stools. Her niece said that she was always trying to 'shock' her aunt during their phone conversations but never could. I guess being a barmaid meant she had pretty much seen it all. She had a lot of great costume jewelry -- I found the cutest little pin of two terriers, a white one and a black one, that had an old 'c' type clasp on the back along with 'Made in Great Britain' carved into it. Also, an old Sheaffer's pen and pencil set and a really retro looking orange ceramic bowl, probably dating from the '60's.

Duane found one of those styrofoam heads used for wigs. The Aussie niece was telling her how great it would be for any hair pieces she had. Duane told her that she planned to decoupage it. The niece looked surprised but interested.

After our purchases, Duane and I immediately compared notes in the car. We were both bummed about the prices and Duane hoped that this 'estate sale' guy wasn't going to take advantage of this lady. She wasn't getting the bang for her buck from that sale and we hoped he wouldn't just offer her a lump sum for everything since he knew she and her brother would have to get back to Oz soon. We also both agreed that we'd prefer to 'go out' the way the 85 year old aunt had. No illness, still able to drive and dying in your sleep in your own bed. Not a bad way to go.

P.S. Oh, and 'virtual' points to anyone who might know what this is. I bought it at a different estate sale and I've decided to consider it an 'artifact' since the sellers and my friends and I can't figure out what it was part of. I say 'part of' because of the screw on the top. Seems to be solid metal -- maybe cast iron.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Fantastic trilogy on DVD

You've probably heard of the Swedish writer Stieg Larsson's Millenium trilogy by now. All three (translated) books made the bestseller lists in the U.S. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo followed by The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest have been available in soft cover for some time now.

I first read about Larsson in The New Yorker a couple of years ago. He wrote this trilogy of mysteries, found a publisher who agreed to publish them and then died of a heart attack (he was only 50) before he saw any of his books in print.

I haven't read the books -- mostly due to a backlog of unread books for the past year -- but hear from people who have how much they enjoyed them. I HAVE now seen the three Swedish films made from the books and I can't recommend them highly enough.

Noomi Rapace is amazing in the role of Lisbeth. Particularly after seeing the movies and then watching an interview with her. The movies were filmed back to back so she inhabited the character of Lisbeth for 18 months. Rapace had to lose weight (Lisbeth is tiny and muscular) and submit to a number of nose and facial piercings, although at least the tattoos were fake. Then there was the grueling physical training necessary to play this character.

These films have subtitles, which I never mind -- I forget about them a few minutes into a movie -- but I know that some people can't stand them. Luckily the DVDs also come with the films dubbed in English so I hope no one lets the subtitles put them off.

I groaned when I first heard that English language versions of the movies were being made. However, after looking into who is involved, they may be worth a look. The director (at least of the first movie) is David Fincher who did a tremendous job bringing The Social Network to the screen. English actor (and most recent James Bond) Daniel Craig has been cast in the role of the journalist and the actress Rooney Mara has been cast as Lisbeth. If you've seen The Social Network, she's the girl who dumps Mark Zuckerberg at the beginning of the movie.

So, some high hopes for the English remake but, in the mean time, if you have the chance, the Swedish version of the trilogy is time well spent.

Today, it begins...

I've been promising myself to begin keeping a blog for some time now. I may not post everyday but, then again, I may post more than once on some days.

When I edited and wrote for a newsletter at work, I had wanted to write 'whenever' under 'how many times published a year' but that was vetoed by the powers-that-be. Now that I'm commissar of this blog, I can do that. Heh, heh, heh...

Ever since I was introduced to LibriVox (thanks to a co-worker), I've discovered books I never knew existed. Since we can only record books that are in the Public Domain in the U.S. (which is pre-1923 except for items like government documents) there are, of course, plenty of the classics. But it's been fun reading books that were on the best-seller list in the early 1900's (yes, they had best-seller lists then) and finding some great stories.

If you haven't checked us out, please do. We are all volunteers so you will find a variety of levels of experience -- from novice like me to actual professionals who like to volunteer, too. Readers, proof-listeners and listeners are from all over the world and I've met some terrific people. If you're shy about reading (we have an entire thread devoted to 'what if I suck?') you can always volunteer as a proof-listener. If you don't like the way a particular book was read by another volunteer, you can always volunteer to read it yourself. As an example, we have at least 5 versions of Pride and Prejudice in our catalog. One is a group version and the others are solos. We call this offering our readers 'choice of voice.'

I've also become involved in a small company called Iambik Audiobooks founded by the same man, Hugh McGuire, who founded LibriVox. This site is devoted to recording books from smaller independent publishers that may otherwise not offer their books as audio. The finished products are offered for $5 to $6 -- unabridged. A bargain for audiobooks. All audiobooks are sold as online downloads (instructions are on the site) so they can be downloaded to your computer and then played as MP3 or M4b files from your computer or loaded onto your iPod or MP3 player for listening on the go.

Right now we have more narrators than books and, in most cases, the authors themselves choose the narrator from audition recordings that are sent to them via their publisher. It's competitive (we have lots of professionals on board) and exciting to be involved with this company. My current project is proof-listening a children's book loaded with illustrations. The illustrations will be made available as a download with the book when it's completed.

Gotta run now. Henry James is waiting for me... my next LibriVox solo.