Monday, June 30, 2008

For the Love of Figure Skating

Today yours truly stepped on to the ice for the first time since I quit my childhood skating career, nearly twenty years ago. I always loved skating and I took lessons when I was a kid. But, as the demands became greater, and it was becoming clear that I was NOT the next Kristi Yamaguchi, I quit, and focused more on school. (Just look where that got me! Too many years of education and too much debt). Anyhoo, today was my first time back on the ice and it was absolutely, postively, exhilirating. I love figure skating, it's one of my favorite things. All that said, when I first stepped on to the ice I could barely stand up. It started to come back a bit during the hour or so in which I skated, and it was absolutely, tremendously fun. I'm headed back out tomorrow.

So, in honor of my return to the rink, we'll focus on something tangentially related to my figure skating "career."

Today's Book:

Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

One of my favorite routines in the recent history of US figure skating is Nicole Bobek's free program to the Dr. Zhivago theme. The music, the costuming, and of course, the skating, were absolutely beautiful. So, two years ago, I took it upon myself to read the book. There's a bit more to it than just figure skating. I love Russian history, took several Russian history classes in college, and all of them used a significant amount of literature. So, I already knew that I liked to read the Russians. But reviewing a classic is always difficult business. Most people are likely familiar with the storyline, if only from the Omar Sharif film. Pasternak tells the story of an elite doctor and his family whose lives are thrown into turmoil by the Russian Revolution. During the revolution Zhivago loses his connections to his family and his wealth. But weaving throughout this undeniably tragic tale is the real focus, Zhivago's blossoming relationship with a young woman, Lara. The two come in and out of contact during the war, due more to the vagaries of circumstance than to careful planning, knowledge, or ability to execute travel plans. What results is a deeply tender and moving relationship formed in the crucible of wartime. Pasternak had a clear political agenda in Zhivago, to show the cruelty and violence of the Bolshevik regime, and to highlight the dangers of a corrupted regime. The suffering and misery of the Russian people are clearly acute, and Pasternak presents a vibrant portrait of life in Russia at war. In many ways this reads like so many Russian classics-- deep moral themes, dense plot structure, and a brilliant recreation of environment. It's difficult to review a work of great literature, but I much enjoyed Zhivago. I got the message, I felt the pathos, and I soaked up the Russian environment.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Summer came to northwest Washington this year much as one might expect- with a cold, gray day. But today we were treated to one of those glorious summer days when you wake up thrilled by the sunshine, light dances off the waters of the bay, and you finally start to understand why it is that people live here. Today, June 24, was actually the first day this year that I was able to wear a short-sleeved shirt without a jacket. The weather report suggested that it might even reach 90 at the end of this week, which would THRILL me. So, in honor of the glorious day we're having, I'll be focusing on some stuff that reminds me of summer.

Today's Book:

Frommer's London from $85 a Day by Harriot Lane Fox

I've chosen a London travel guide for today's book because London is just about my favorite place to be in the summer. During graduate school I was lucky enough to spend a number of summers there on research trips. I've celebrated more of my adults birthdays in London than in any other place. I adore London. London love may have to become a future feature of this blog. And London in the summer is especially fine. London has a fantastic series of parks that are wonderful to explore on a summer evening.

But enough musing, and without further adieu, on to the review:

This was my first London travel guide, the one I bought when I had never before been to the UK, when I knew very little of London, and when I was on a student budget. It's been an exceedingly valuable resource ever since I purchased it in 2000. London is notoriously expensive, but this guide manages to seek out restaurants and hotels that don't break the bank. I especially appreciated the specific section on restaurants which are open until the wee hours- essential when arriving late and fighting jet lag. London being a large city of distinct neighborhoods, this guide is organized by neighborhood, and discusses specific hotels and restaurants within each neighborhood.

This book has many virtues, but by far its best section, in my opinion, is the section on sightseeing and entertainment bargains. London has many fine museums which charge no admission. Its churches offer a wealth of affordable, sometimes free, concerts. This guide doesn't just explain which well-known sights can be enjoyed at a low cost, it also introduced me to a whole range of sights and events I didn't know existed.

I've been to London a number of times since my first trip, but I still reach for this guide. A very valuable resource. London has always been an expensive city, and with the poor exchange rate it has become even more so. This is not the most recent edition of the Frommer's guide. In 2003 they published a new edition where the price had gone up to $90 a day. In 2005 the newer still edition was at $95/day. I'm trying to ride out the current poor exchange rate in hopes that the dollar will rise in value sometime in the future, and it will be more economical for me to plan a trip back. Part of me desperately wants to try and go back in September, but I just don't think I can swing it.

Today's Smelly Thing

Yankee Candle Tarts in Mango Peach Salsa

I bought this tart during my last trip to a Yankee Candle store. As there aren't any here in Bellingham, I'm pretty much restricted to when I'm back east. I love Yankee Candles. I generally prefer the large glass jar candles, the housewarmers, to the tarts and votives, as they're so much more potent, but given that everything now gets carted back across the country in a suitcase, the housewarmers are pretty much restricted to what I can find at Ross and TJ Maxx. But the tarts are nice enough, so for the summer theme tonight I chose Mango Peach Salsa. Yankee describes the scent as follows:

Sweet and zesty ... juicy mangoes and peaches livened with citrus, ginger
flowers and pink pepper

What I'm smelling is a smooth peach and mango scent, but I'm really not getting the salsa. I don't smell any spicy notes: nothing cilantro-y or anything like that. It worked nicely with my summer theme, as there's nothing that screams summer to me like ripe peaches. I looooove peaches. I love summer fruits generally so much better than winter ones. When I was poor in graduate school applesauce was one of my winter fruits. Ick. But to get back to the point, I think this scent is really more mango-peach than mango peach salsa, but I suspect salsa sells better. I've become rather disenchanted with Yankee's pricing lately. The tarts are now nearly $2 each, and some of the car air fresheners have gone up to $4 (from $2). That's crazy. Needless to say, I buy far fewer of these things than I used to.

I've been having a heck of a time sleeping this week, and given that it is now 2:20 am, I should just post this and get on with it.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Hey, This is Fun!

After a typical mixed Washington summer weekend- one day cold and rainy, one day cold-ish and sunny) I'm discovering that this blogging thing is fun. So, moving on to today's fun:

Today's Book:

Drowning Ruth by Christina Schwarz

This novel tells the haunting story of two generations of a Wisconsin family brought together and torn apart by the lake adjacent to the family home. Focused on four women, sisters of two generations, the novel develops around the sisters' relationship with the lake, and the tragedy that ensues when it claims one of their lives. Much of the book is spent untangling the secrets which led to the drowning, and working out the complicated problems which arise from the family's attempts to keep these secrets. Scwartz's story jumps back and forth across time, from past to present and back again. This means that the story develops piece by piece, and this is what makes it something of a mystery. I found the plot development to be one of the more satisfying parts of this book, seeing the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. I enjoyed the developments leading up to Scwartz's telling of what actually happened the night of the tragedy. After that point, however, I found the plot to be something of a let-down. The conclusion seemed a bit too neat, and a bit forced. The most enjoyable part of this book to me was the way in which Scwartz set the scene- the way in which she managed to capture the sense of a time and place. The novel is set in the Wisconsin countryside in the first half of the twentieth century, with most of the action focusing on the last years of WWI, and the 1920s. Scwartz offers a convincing portrait of Wisconsin farm country in the late-1910s and early 1920s. Her descriptions are vivid, without being overstated, and her story intersects with several significant historical events, including WWI and the influenza epidemic. Scwartz gives her readers a strong sense of connection to the seasons, the land, the lake. I really did feel like I was part of the world about which she wrote. Overall, I enjoyed reading this novel. The development of the plot engaged me, and the scenery captivated me. I was a bit disappointed by the ending, but my reading was by and large time well spent.

Today's Smelly Thing:

Frolic by Origins

Origins released Frolic as their spring scent in 2003, and sadly its time on their shelves was not long. I'm pretty sure Frolic was gone by the end of that year. And that, gentle readers, is a shame, because Frolic, in my humble opinion, was one of the best scents Origins ever produced. Frolic is an intensely springy, mixed-floral fragrance. They described the scent as:

folkloric Linden Blossom, radiant Rose, mystical Muguet de Mai and a
hint of Honeysuckle all in one joyous scent

Joyous indeed, this is a very happy scent. The spring of 2003 was an incrediably lousy one in Virginia. It was cold, it rained almost every day. It was kind of like living in Washington. Little did I know... But I digress. It was a rough spring for me dissertation-wise and life-wise, and Frolic made me happy. Frolic came in a beautiful frosted purple bottle, same shape as the Ginger Essence bottle. I swear, I must be the only person who likes this stuff because it's impossible to find anywhere. No half-used bottles on ebay. Nada. Zip. Zero. Zilch. I am hoarding my bottle like mad, though I did put some on to write this review. In the next year or so Origins released Spring Fever, and I have to wonder if that's similar. If I'm lucky, maybe it's just Frolic repackaged. (Note to self, make sure to test Spring Fever at some point). If you are so lucky as to get your hands on a bottle of this stuff love it. If you don't love it, stick it up on Ebay; I bet you'll make a killing.

Today's Pretty Thing:

The Lucy Bag in Blue Peony by The Funky Bag Lady

Now that it is summer(ish), I have the pleasure of pulling out my favorite summer purse, one I purchased last year after discovering Etsy in a biiiiiig way. My love of Etsy is going to have to be a whole other post, but now, I want to talk all about my purse. It's a fabric bag, made out of lovely blue and green print fabrics. It holds quite a bit, including a small paperback book, and a bottle of water, if I want, and it's perfectly sewn. I've been lusting after some more bags from The Funky Bag Lady. I'd love to get one with brown tones and one with red and/or black tones. I'll be watching. I stalked Ms. Bag Lady's website for about three weeks until she posted one in this particular fabric combo. LOVE the purse.

Blast from My Past: (an occasional look into things that have amused me in the past)

Subway from Sesame Street

I am a huge fan of Sesame Street. Sesame Street captured my attention from a very young age. My mom reports that at 18 months I would sit rapt in front of the Street. Note: To all those concerned about children's television watching- I watched Sesame Street religiously during my youth and turned into a book-loving, reads all the time academic, who still has 20/20 vision. It's not all terrible! Sesame Street taught me a good amount of Spanish vocabulary, a fair bit of English vocabulary too. It introduced me to life in New York City, which was quite different from the rural area where I lived. It also taught me how peanut butter and crayons were made. Sesame Street was officially the bomb. I recently caught up on an episode of Sesame Street when I was home sick, and I have to say, it has changed, and not for the better. Sesame Street appears to now be at least 1/2 Elmo's World, which is a sorry excuse for the real intellectual content they used to offer. It appears that most of the classic skits, and many of the classic characters, no longer get any viewing. That's a shame. Thankfully, for nostalgic adults like me, many of them are now on Youtube, which allows me to bring you, here, a few of my favorites. Today's is one of my all-time favorites: Subway.

See it here: (I think there's a way to embed videos, but I'm a technological imbecile, and new at this).

This skit involved a large group of muppets and monsters taking the NYC subway. They crowded on and sang about all the trials and travails of public transit. They mention that it's hot, it's crowded, but it will take you where you want to go, yeah! My very, very favorite line, which I can't believe more people don't fixate on, is when the old lady sings:

You could lose your purse or you could lose something worse on the subway,
She might actually be saying 'you could lose your purse or you could be doing something worse'; it's hard to tell. Either way, it's kind of sketchy, even a little racy. But it's such a great sketch! I worry that if I have kids all the good stuff that used to be on public tv will be totally gone. I wouldn't want my kids to grow up without the experience of public tv. The old Sesame, Square One, 321 Contact- that was quality stuff, and it was no Barney, that's for sure.

The First Go-Round...

Starting a blog was a spontaneous decision for me. I'm not one to share my life with the world, but I do enjoy sharing the little things in life that make me happy. What's going to follow, I hope, is a chronicle and/or collection of the little things I love, complete with opinions and commentary.

So, without further adieu:

Today's book: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

I absolutely adored Tartt's other novel, The Little Friend, and I had high hopes for this one too. I was not disappointed. The novel tells the story of five students at an elite New England liberal arts college. All of the students are tremendously, unusually devoted to their studies, and this devotion leads them to tragedy as they murder first, an outsider, and then one of their own. The fact of the murders is not the suspenseful part of the plot. Indeed, the murder of one of the group's own is revealed on the first page. Rather, the interest, intrigue, and suspense comes in how the students cope with the knowledge of what they've done. Their suspicion, fear, and even some remorse wreak havoc and lead the group to an even more tragic climax. The main characters in this book are Classics students, and indeed, the book itself reads much like a Greek tragedy, with precipitous decline, and knowledge thereof. Donna Tartt is a phenomenal storyteller. She creates plots that are deep, rich, and complex. Much like The Little Friend, The Secret History is a highly psychological book. I was absolutely gripped by this book from beginning to end. kkkkk (that's 5 stars with a bizarre symbol)

Today's smelly thing:

Glasgow, a perfume oil by Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab

Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab is without question my very favorite perfume company ever. I love lots of perfume, but for sheer number, originality, and consistent hits, I'd be hard pressed to find anything else that lives up to BPAL. The perfumier, Beth, is a genius. Her renditions of so many smells, from daisies to dandelions, dirt to October leaves, are nothing short of astonishing. BPALs catalog numbers somewhere around 400-500 scents, and there are constant limited editions, meaning that Beth has created literally thousands of scents in just a few years. She, and her company are amazing (did I mention that I love them?) Anyhoo, on to the smelly thing. One of the scents I got in my very first order of six imps (sample vials to the uninitiated) became one of my all-time top five favorites. That would be Glasgow from the Wanderlust collection: scents developed in honor of places, some real, some imaginary or mythical. The Lab describes Glasgow as follows:

The rich scent of wild blackberry breezing over gentle rosy heather.

And that's how it really smells- rich, juicy blackberries complemented by light floral notes. I can also smell a hint of the cool, Scottish wind. Love it. May I never run out.

Today's pretty thing:

Northwest Rain (Seattle), a pendant by Wyrding Studios

Northwest Rain is perhaps my favorite of the many pieces of jewelry I own from Wyrding Studios, the showpiece of master-wirewrapper Kythryne Aisling. Kythryne makes amazing jewelry with wire, various stones and objects. Her creations are sparkly, unique and get TONS of compliments. I got hooked on Kythryne's work approximately two years ago, and in those two years I've managed to build up quite a collection. Northwest Rain came from Kythryne's American Nomad collection- a collection of jewelry inspired by all the wonderful places she visited on a cross-country trip. I was thrilled to score the Seattle piece because it's beautiful, but also because I'd just moved to Washington State, and this pendant is part of making Washington my home. Indeed, the copious flowers are one of my favorite things about living here. Some good has to come of all that rain!