Balancing painting, parenting, crafting and book loving one day at a time...

Balancing painting, parenting, crafting and book loving one day at a time...

Monday, February 21, 2011

Surviving the February Blahs

Right about now everyone starts to get really impatient with winter.  Snow just isn't that interesting like it was back in December, when the promise of a white Christmas made everyone smile.  The groundhog here said 6 weeks until spring, but it seems it was just a tease.  We got two days of 50+ degree weather, all the snow melted, then wham!  An ice storm slapped us down again.

Thank goodness for snow days, Valentine's Day, and President's Day.  Between the three of them and the short month, February doesn't drag on.  Here are some things we did to cheer up during the dark days.

Valentine's Day.  We always set up a card making station.  This year my 7 year old really got into it.  I think she used every foam heart she had on this one valentine for her dear friend Andrew who she doesn't get to see too often. 



Knitting with friends and with movies.  Occasionally, my friends will set up a knitting night, where we all bring projects, drink tea (or wine) and eat goodies.  After a particularly stressful week, I sat around and caught up with friends and the sweater I keep meaning to work on for my daughter, from the fabulously colorful and cheery book, Knitting with Color. 


 A special dinner.  My husband and I usually go out on Valentine's but this year our babysitter moved, so we didn't have a date.  I decided to include the kids and with the help of The Family Dinner book I mentioned last month, we set a pretty table in green and pink.  A retro tablecloth of Florida (where we went for Christmas), along with some yummy red foods helped alot.  My daughter chose the table settings, I used my seafoam green new bowls from Anthropologie, and we opened the cards and presents we got for one another and went around the table and said what we like about one another (another idea from the book).  My daughter claimed it was the best Valentine's day ever.  The meal was delicious, healthy and somewhat indulgent, while at the same time safe for my son who is allergic to eggs, peanuts and dairy.  We ate salmon, lemony red Swiss chard, roasted potatoes, and salad with dried cherries, feta (for us) and pine nuts.  Dessert was shortbread hearts dipped in dark chocolate, and lemon and raspberry sorbet in sparkling cider.  YUM!


Movies.  Again.  If you get a chance to see "The Illusionist", an animated French film by the directors of the award winning "Triplets of Belleville," on the big screen, go!  The screenplay is originally by Jacques Tati.  It is a tribute to the old Music Hall days of yore in Europe and England.  It stars an aging magician,who travels from Paris, to London, then up to Edinboro, Scotland to pursue his dying art.  It is a bittersweet homage, and takes place in 1959.  When we first see him, he has to follow a Beatles/Buddy Holly type of band whose screaming fans desert the theater when our character comes onto the stage.  Things kind of go downhill from there.  But the other star of the film is the scenery, drawn so achingly beautiful, you wish you could melt into the scene.  Because of this film, I've decided that I must see Edinboro before I die, I had no idea how breathtaking it is, especially in the sensitively drawn images we see on film.
The Illusionist - Sylvain Chomet creates Edinburgh as never seen before

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

An Education through Film

A few years ago I read a book whose premise looked interesting.  The book was called The Film Club: A Memoir by David Gilmour.  When his teenage son started to lose interest in school and started a downward spiral, he tried an unconventional approach to his schooling.  He told his son that he could drop out of school if he promised to watch 3 movies a week (of the dad's choosing), as a sort of education through film.  The book was not that great, but the idea was interesting and so were the films.

I picked up 1001 Film You Must See Before You Die at the library tonight and thought of that book.  My son turns 12 next month, and he is finally old enough for us to start showing him some of the great movies we grew up with. 

Unlike my generation, where great amounts of time were wasted watching whatever they decided to show on TV, our own children can pick and choose with VCR's, DVD's and TiVO. 

So I went through the book and made a list with my husband (a real film buff).  We were great film goers before we had kids, we went to film festivals, and watched obscure films, art films and regular old popular films.  My husband even wrote movie reviews for a while. 

Here are a couple of "film series" I think any self-respecting tween/teen should have under their belt, to properly understand their parent's era of the 70's, 80's and 90's.  Some people feel that the 70's were the "golden age" of film, and unfortunately, most of the most lauded films are rated R.   What follows are PG or PG-13 films, with a few R rated ones whose only fault is bad language (no sex or graphic violence).

Political Films that can help a kid understand the pulse of the era:

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington- 1939- Jimmy Stewart - swell honest guy fights the corrupt government.  A Frank Capra classic.  Classic Jimmy Stewart.

The Manchurian Candidate- 1962 - political thriller from the Cold War era worthy of McCarthy-Angela Lansbury as the evil mother and Frank Sinatra and Janet Leigh are all oddly cast.  A little surreal, but unforgettable.

All the President's Men- 1976- Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, reporters from the Washington Post breaking the Watergate Story.  Oscar winning acting and a great cast captures the Nixon era perfectly.  Rated R for language only. 

JFK- 1991- Oliver Stone's docudrama tells the story from the point of view of a reporter telling the story.  Documentary footage helps tell the story for those who weren't around to remember it.  Kevin Costner stars.  Rated R for graphic violence of the actual shooting.

Coming of Age Films:

1950's-early 60's- American Grafitti- made in the 70's but perfectly captures the sense of the time.  Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas produced and directed.  It became the inspiration for the popular sitcom, Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley.  It tells the story of a group of high school graduates one summer's day in 1962.  Cast members included Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Cindy Williams, Wolfman Jack (the famous DJ), Suzanne Somers, and Harrison Ford in his first role.  Nostalgic but not sappy.

1970's- Breaking Away-A coming of age story about a cyclist from small town Indiana.  A sweet, memorable movie about a rag tag group of young men with not much to look forward to breaking away for a brief moment of glory.  Daniel Stern (of Diner and Home Alone fame) stars.

1980's - Ferris Bueller's Day Off- This movie just screams high school in the 1980's.  Ferris (Matthew Broderick) fakes being sick, skips school and drives to Chicago with his pals because "life moves pretty fast.  If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."  A classic John Hughes movie, the director who defined the teenage film of the 1980s.

Another 1980's coming of age film not to miss:  Say Anything- 1989 with John Cusack.

1990's- Rushmore- 1998 by Wes Anderson.  Typifies the indie comedy of the 1990's.  Jason Schwartzman plays a intellectual geek at Rushmore Academy who is very unpopular.  He falls for his teacher and finds an unusual mentor (Bill Murray).  Soundtrack is mostly 1960's rock music, but the style is very 1990s.

Another good high school film of the 90's:  Election with Matthew Broderick (as the teacher) and Reese Witherspoon (as the student running for class president) is bitingly satirical.

Films that so much a part of the culture, your kid has to see them:

Besides Star Wars and Indiana Jones, the top ones that come to mind are:

Rocky (1976)- Boxing movie, Sylvester Stallone, Philly.  Underdog beats champion boxer.
Kramer Vs. Kramer (1980)- classic movie about divorced family
Blade Runner (1982)- classic futuristic dystopian society.  Harrison Ford.
Big (1988)- Tom Hanks as the boy who grows up too soon. 
Forrest Gump (1994)- Tom Hanks again.  This covers the 1950's through the 1990s and all the trends over the years.
Dances With Wolves (1990)-Kevin Costner's Oscar winning movie about a frontier man who becomes captivated by the Native Americans in South Dakota.

So, go to the library or Netflix or the video store (if they are still around) and check out some of these movies to watch with your tween or teen.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Speech, Fear and the Movies

I took my 7th grade son to see "The Kings Speech" yesterday.  Even though it has a "R" rating, it is no worse than Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings.  In fact, it is much more mild.  The only reason for the R rating is a couple bad words, that are used to help the King get over his fear of those words.

Something I've realized after watching this movie is that really, everything comes down to self-confidence.  You can have money, power and fame, but without confidence, none of it matters.  That's the essence of the movie. 

It got me thinking about public speaking.  I'm lucky that my son is taking a public speaking elective at his school, taught by another mom who volunteers.  This mom happens to be a national debate champion, which is why I forced him to take the class.  He enjoys it, because she is so funny and so interesting.  I figure middle school is the time to do this, before all of the self-confidence dries up or is stifled out of kids.  In middle school kids are still willing to try new things. 

Plus, these days young adults are so lacking in social graces because they've been glued to their screens and phones and texts, never looking up to see how their words affect others.  In "The King's Speech," the King and his crew were befuddled by the "new" technology of the radio.  Talk about fear!  And they weren't even being filmed!  The King could get away with having a personal coach on the radio, but in today's multi-media society it just wouldn't fly. 

Our children grew up with TV, grew up ON TV (if their parents videotaped them), even put themselves on TV (Youtube).  They don't fear the screen, but they DO fear the real life public speaking.  Hiding behind a screen allows them to be separate from the real experience, where your heart races, you see people staring at you and you get an actual physical, audible response to what you are saying.  That's a lot more responsibility than dashing off a few words on a screen and clicking SEND. 

On another topic, I've started a fabulously fancy pair of gloves from Kristin Nicholas' Color by Kristin.  She really is the queen of color.  I'm also working on a sweater for my 7 year old daughter from this book and using my own colors. 

Color like this is very cheering on the drab, winter days in Cleveland.  Like the bright colors the Canadians paint their barns to ward off the endless white, I choose knitting projects that bring cheery color back into my life.