Sunday, June 14, 2009

the date is just about to change.

night windows.
Originally uploaded by slothmuffin

My DVD player randomly broke back in April, and I haven't felt like buying a new one yet, so I've been reading more. (Eventually I'll cave and buy a new DVD player. But not just yet.) Last night/this afternoon's reading material was Haruki Murakami's After Dark, which is his most recent novel. I've read a few of Murakami's novels, and I'm always a bit ambivalent about them. While I find his writing (and Jay Rubin's translating, which is beautiful) pretty amazing, there are always these---I don't even know what word to use. Mystical? Magical? Paranormal? Supernatural?---elements in his novels that make me feel like I'm sort of...not exactly getting what he's doing.

I also wish that his books had notes about Japanese culture. I was reading this manga, xxxHolic, for a while, and that had wonderful footnotes explaining about the weather in Japan and what that means re: house design and Japanese food and holidays and mythical creatures. I was never a huge Japan enthusiast (a lot of my friends in high school were, since they were super-into anime), so my knowledge is negligible and I know I'm missing out on some of the nuances of Murakami's stories.

None of this stopped me from reading After Dark in a couple sittings and adoring it, though. I could have spent a lot longer reading about some of the characters in the book. The whole thing takes place from nearly-midnight to dawn on one day, and there's something that Murakami really captured about the way everything feels at these odd hours of the night/morning/whatever you want to call it. I miss that time of day. In college, I was always up crazy late, generally because I was procrastinating and making myself miserable over papers I should have been writing and wasn't. Despite that, I have a lot of fond memories from the time between midnight and like, six AM. I miss the way those hours feel, the weird (but not usually unpleasant) isolation of them, the way things look or sound different. So this novel was like a portal back to that, for me, except more interesting.

Also, the opening of the book is set in Denny's---who knew they had Denny's in Japan?

Monday, May 11, 2009

cookies, 2.0

a slightly-strange mother's day tableau.
Originally uploaded by slothmuffin

My second batch in two weeks! I'm starting to warm up to this baking thing. A little. Mostly, I think, because of the advent of the hand mixer. Whenever I tried to make cookies in high school and college, I was trying to mix everything by hand with a whisk, which made that "cream butter and sugar" direction that starts so many cookie recipes seem impossible. So it's nice to have mastered the art of plugging something in and letting it do the mixin'.

It's kind of pleasantly weird, really. Being used to mixing stuff by hand, it almost seems magical to just sort of...hold the mixer and pivot it around in the bowl and watch some flour and eggs and butter and sugar turn into dough. And then later on, the dough bakes and turns into cookies! My mom has been extolling the semi-magical virtues of cooking to me forever, so maybe I'm catching on.

I actually haven't eaten any of this batch of cookies, since they were a Mother's Day present and made with cranberries, of which I am not a fan. I also baked them for longer than I would have liked them baked, since my mom likes everything super-crispy. (Which is the reason I thought I didn't like toast for years and years. I don't think I knew toasters had a "light" setting until I was in college. But they do, and it is delicious.)

I don't know what's up with all the food talk recently, but I'm not even done with it. This Thursday is the season finale of Supernatural, which always requires some kind of faintly thematic dessert. Last year, we did I Sold My Soul For You pudding-and-cherries parfait. (The cherries represented love. And blood.) This year, I want to create something that will possibly be called "Narratively Ineffective Apocalypse Cake [or possibly pie]." I think it's going to involve meringue.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

may, with flowers.

Originally uploaded by slothmuffin

...but also more showers. I think it's been raining for all of May, actually. Or maybe it wasn't really raining on Saturday? I can't even remember, which is a sure sign it's been raining too long.

One thing I do like about the rain, though, is how electric green everything new---grass, leaves---looks in the grey rainy-day light. I went out to refill bird feeders today and I was how shocked at how green everything looked, all of a sudden. The grass and weird clover-y ground cover is sprouting up, and the trees are just starting to leaf out. (Especially the maple trees.) Oddly enough, while the lilac trees in my yard only have leaves so far, the ones in the yard of my grandparents' house (which is only about forty-five minutes away) are in full, pretty-purple bloom. It tends to be warmer as you get further west on this island (toward New York City), though, so I guess that explains that.

The other nice thing about cool, rainy weather is that sometimes, I get prodded by my own brain into baking something. I always feel like I should like baking more, like it goes with being crafty, somehow, but it's not really my thing. But I do it ever so often, just to remind myself that I am capable of following a recipe (and because I love eating baked goods). Last night I made a batch of ginger puff cookies, which came out pretty well. They're the kind of cookie that get rolled in sugar before baking, and I rolled them in sugar while wailing along with "Benny and the Jets" and "Sweet Child O' Mine," on the radio, so it was clearly an all-around success. I even wore an apron.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

ice cream and musical sleuthing.

Just as a PSA, if there's a Baskin-Robbins near you, tonight is 31-cent scoop night! Baskin-Robbins chocolate-peanut butter has been one of my favourite ice cream flavours since I was like, seven years old. So I'm drooling in advance about getting a scoop of that and a scoop of Jamoca Almond Fudge. And then coming home to watch America's Next Top Model. (I watch it to observe the photoshoot process, I swear! ...Actually, I really do. I'm so fascinated to see the photoshoot itself and then the final-product photos they show at the judging panel.)

I'm already having a pretty awesome day today, between the promise of 62-cent ice cream and the fact that I just found some music I was looking for! I was channel surfing last night and came upon an episode of Fringe (a show I don't watch), and they were playing a song I liked the sound of. So today, I counted on the show's fans to be awesome and detail-oriented and fired up google! I wasn't disappointed! I found this helpful index of music used on the show, and poked around on youtube until I found the right song from the list.

The song turned out to be Tear You Apart by She Wants Revenge. (That link will take you to its music video on youtube. This video was apparently directed by Joaquin Phoenix, and I kind of like it---it utilizes these weird, mostly unpunctuated subtitles instead of audible dialogue, and I found myself being really interested in the effect.) The best part, though, is that as soon as I heard the song in full, out of the TV-episode context, I realized that it was a song I'd heard on the radio, at least a year ago, and hadn't been able to find at that point because my memory of the lyrics wasn't specific enough to use google to dig it up, so now having found it is doubly sweet. (And a little disturbing, now that I'm hearing the lyrics more clearly. Luckily, I think sweet and slightly-disturbing are a pretty good mix.)

Monday, April 20, 2009

note to self: stop doing anything.

I was poking around the US Postal Service website trying to confirm when postage is going up again (May 11th, blah), and right on the front page was an announcement about these soon-to-be-released Simpsons stamps! I think I'd heard that they were being released, but then promptly forgot about it. Because I am an avid Simpsons fan who sends a good bit of mail, this makes me really happy, and I'll definitely be buying some. (In addition to the Forever stamps I'm hoping to load up on before the postage goes up, which I have to remember to see if the post office has tomorrow. I love how I'm writing this here, like it's a post-it note stuck to my mirror.) I think the artwork on the stamps is weird, a little sketchy (meaning "as though it was quickly sketched," not "dubious"), but I like them, especially prim-Lisa.

My senior year of high school, I was taking an informal poll, for a while, about what people's favourite Simpsons episodes were. I probably still have the results in a notebook somewhere. My favourite episode is probably Trilogy of Error, which I remember watching when it aired and just being so, so thrilled about the clever narrative structure---the episode shows the same day from Homer, Lisa, and Bart's points of view, and then at the end everyone's stories converge, and it's all really neatly done. (And it has some awesome jokes, like the death scene of Lisa's grammar-correcting robot, Linguo.)

I feel like I should probably be making a grand statement about how The Simpsons is one of the American cultural phenomena closest to my heart, but I'm sort of distracted right now. It's really just pouring rain outside. It sounds wonderful, especially since I'm safely warm and dry in here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

marginalia, etc.

I took this book---The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant, which I can't issue a recommendation or non-recommendation for, since I never got around to reading it---out of the library mostly because when I flipped it open to see if it looked readable or not, I noticed someone had highlighted words in the prologue. (And seemingly only in the prologue, since I flipped through the book and there weren't any more blue blobs jumping out at me.)

My mom impressed on me from a very early age that one does not write in books, especially library books, and I've never been much of a book-annotator. I had a professor my freshman year of college who forced us to make notes and underline things in the anthology of short stories we had for class. It always felt really artificial to me to do this, like I was only making notes because I knew he'd walk around at the beginning of class to make sure everyone had made notes, not because I actually felt I had anything to say about the story that needed to be right there in the margin. Also, it meant I couldn't sell the short story anthology back to the bookstore at the end of semester. I still have it on my shelf, in fact.

So while I don't write in books, myself, there's always something intriguing (to me) about getting a book from the library or a used bookstore that someone has written in. When I was about eleven-ish, I remember getting so excited about a copy of Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories that had someone's name and address, along with the date they'd presumably acquired the book in the 1930s, written in the front that I absolutely had to own it.

So while highlighting words isn't quite as interesting, I couldn't resist bringing this book home for a closer look. Some of the highlighted words are: cloisters, vocation, surreptitiously, wimple (the prologue is about nuns), and entrails. For some reason the whole process of highlighting polysyllabic words made me think of SATs, but maybe someone not of high school age just wanted to note words they thought they should look up. This is probably a good habit to get into (the looking up, not the highlighting), really, since I have a terrible habit of just assuming I can get the meaning of words from their context and then using them incorrectly for years.

I totally know what "surreptitiously" means, though. Even if spell check has had to fix it for me both times I tried to type it here.

Friday, March 20, 2009

spring! (technically.)

first crocuses!
Originally uploaded by slothmuffin

This photo was taken a couple days ago, when it actually was springy---today, on the actual first day of spring, the crocuses stayed shut all day because it was mostly cloudy, not to mention damp and chilly.

I haven't done anything particularly springy today. Mostly I was just reading The Various Haunts of Men, which, while engrossing, is written in a multiple-POV style that's quite odd for a mystery novel (or maybe I'm just used to fluffier mysteries which usually have spunky female protagonists and are often told in first-person POV?), and I guessed who the killer was about halfway through, which was both fun (because it's always nice to figure things out and feel smart) and sort of annoying (because I like to be surprised!). (ETA: I finished this book later, and its ending actually made me feel like reading it had been a waste of time. So I hasten to make it clear that I'm not recommending it!)

I also went for a walk, and I think I was seriously expecting to be presented with all kinds of green and wondrous signs of spring, or something. Not so much. But there are some crocuses, and snowdrops, and the daffodils are on their way to blooming eventually. I'm very excited about all of this, this year. I think it's because I've been taking more pictures, so winter's lack of colours has made me sad.

I've never tried the whole "standing an egg on its pointy end" thing that's supposed to work on the vernal equinox. Isn't it only supposed to work at very exact times of said day, too? I could google this, but somehow that feels like cheating.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Thomas the Triceratops.

Originally uploaded by slothmuffin

This is Thomas the Triceratops, who I made for my friend Jamie. I started him...before Christmas even, I think, and for a long time he was a collection of parts---sans head, since I wasn't sure how to make the head the right shape and did it last---in a plastic bag. I didn't use a pattern for him, nor did I bother to write down what I did, so he's the first and last of his breed. (And when I finally got around to making the head, it just kind of...came out that shape. I honestly have no idea how. I played with some increases and decreases and was pleasantly shocked when the thing in my hands was roughly the shape I'd been thinking of, with a sort of little...beaky bit on the end.)

In the interests of full disclosure (the photo hides this bit), his tail is a little lumpy and odd because I increased it too fast and then didn't want to redo it, since it had four colour changes in it. The horns are polymer clay beads, and I had to make them before I made the head (since they had to be sewn in while the head was unfinished), so the fact that they ended up the right size was nice.

It was weird taking so long to make all the pieces (...once I finished the head, it took me forever to get around to making the little frill-crest that went on the head...), it made me feel so disconnected from the finished product. I kept Thomas hanging around the house for a few days before mailing him out (with his horns wrapped in little pieces of bubble wrap) and I kept picking him up and thinking ...wait, I made this? I like how he turned out, and I'm kicking myself for not paying closer attention and taking some notes about how the head got made. But in a way, it's kind of cool that he's unreproducible. (By me, at least. I'm sure that someone who's a more patient and experienced crocheter could figure it out.)

I haven't actually done any amigurumi for a while. I'm waffling about what my next project should be. I'm at this weird stage where I don't really want to use a pattern made by someone else, but I'm not consistently good enough to design my own, either.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

fruit-related titles.

...Why is it that whenever I end up posting about books here, they're YA novels? Possibly because those are the only sort of books I really feel qualified to talk about, hah.

I'm reading A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass (which I'd seen around before, but kept getting confused with The House on Mango Street. Definitely not the same book.) The book deals with synestheisia---I always want to spell this "synaesthesia" with the extra a. Wikipedia tells me that's a valid spelling, though, which is nice.

The book's protagonist is a synesthete, and the descriptions of the way she sees the world (she sees shapes and colours when she hears sounds, and also associates words/letters/numbers with certain colours or shapes) are really nicely written, vivid and strange and interesting without being confusing. I had to wonder about a plot element where the protagonist (who's finally admitting that she perceives things differently than everybody else to her family in the novel, and getting shuttled around to doctors) goes to a psychotherapist, who makes some condescending references to "middle-child syndrome" and refers her to a neurologist (who's the first one in the book to actually use the word synesthesia). I mean, I can see why Ms. Mass wrote it that way, from a plot-making perspective, but wouldn't a psychotherapist know about synesthesia, and be able to inform someone who sees coloured shapes that correspond to sounds that this is probably what's going on with their brain?

Or maybe I just think everyone knows what synesthesia is just because I know what it is. Sometimes that happens. Synesthesia (I'm not even going to think about how many times I've just used that word here...) is one of those things that I don't remember when or where or why I learned about it, but it interests me. I've always thought it would be a really frustrating condition to have, because it would be so difficult to share the way you saw things with other people. It's hard enough for me to try and explain things like the way I perceive the atmosphere on M*A*S*H or how I feel about the guitar chord changes in a song.

I don't know if I can finish reading this book, though. It seems like something bad might happen to the protagonist's beloved cat, and death-or-illness-of-beloved-pet is something with which I cannot deal at all in books, right from when I was under four feet tall and just venturing into books without pictures. (I remember, with embarrassing vividness, crying buckets over a character in this book dropping a goldfish-in-a-bag they just won at a carnival and the fish dying. In a way, it's nice to know that I've always been a little unhinged about this kind of thing.)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Jour de la marmotte! how you say "Groundhog Day" in French, Wikipedia tells me.

As holidays go, I kind of like Groundhog Day---although it drives me nuts when people refer to it as "Groundhog's Day" instead---because it's silly, involves a cuddly rodent, and doesn't mandate the spending of money. (Although if I'd known they existed ahead of time, I'd have been sorely tempted by some groundhog-themed party items.)

I was wondering last year why sometimes you see groundhogs (in conjuction with Groundhog Day, anyway) depicted in top hats, and a cursory google image search today makes it seem like the groundhog ends up with a top hat becuase in Punxsutawney, the nexus of all Groundhog Day activities, the handlers who get the groundhog out of his burrow wear top hats. So then, of course, the question becomes but why do the groundhog handlers wear top hats? So far, no answer about that. I did, however, learn that the people who wear these hats (and tuxedos, apparelty!) take care of Punxsutawney Phil/plan the Groundhog Day proceedings are known as "The Inner Circle," which is hilarious in itself.

The Wiki page on Groundhog Day has a whole table, listed by year, with various groundhogs' predictions about the weather. So far for 2009, only five groundhogs have predicted an early spring and eight groundhogs (including Phil) have predicted six more weeks of winter. However, Staten Island Chuck, who must be my geographically-closest marmotte, thinks we are in for an early spring, so I'm going to trust him! Because I hate winter.