A Good Yarn

Monday, January 28, 2008

Movies and Knitting

I finished up my first Monkey sock:

As usual, I made the leg shorter than the pattern called for. The sock really fits well - this is a great pattern. I like how the Wollmeise worked in the pattern. I especially love that stripey heel!

I also saw a couple of films this weekend. On Friday night I saw this one:

I really liked this film a lot. Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman play a brother and sister who aren't close, but have to come together when their father starts showing signs of dementia and his live-in girlfriend dies, leaving him homeless. The siblings take their dad back to the east coast and find a nursing home for him and spend some time getting him settled and sort of living together as a family again. The film takes on some pretty heavy topics, like death and family duty. But it has a lot of humor, too. Hoffman and Linney give really strong performances, really bringing these siblings to life. Since my brother is my best friend, I'm always a sucker for films about brothers and sisters and I'm getting to the age where I'm starting to worry about what I'm going to do with my parents as they age, so this film really spoke to me. But I think it's so well written and so well acted that it would appeal to anyone who is interested in people and their stories.

I also saw a film on Saturday:

This is a German film that isn't going to get a wide U.S. release, so I won't spend a ton of time on it. It is definitely worth checking out if you have access to foreign films when it comes out on DVD though. It's about a young German man who chooses to do his civil service at the Museum in Auschwitz. It's another real character study and I was fascinated with the people and really caught up in their story.

Monday, January 21, 2008

A is for Aran Afghan

I'm a little bit late getting started, but I did sign up for the ABC Along this year. As I said,

A is for Aran Afghan

As you may recognize, this is the Great American Aran Afghan from Knitter's magazine. I chose this for A because Aran knitting is my favorite. Cables are my favorite technique - a little bit of challenge to follow the chart, but not super hard to do. I also just love a nice Aran sweater. I'm half Irish, so I think part of it is just my attraction to all things Irish. I sort of got stuck on this project because I ran out of the yarn I originally bought for it (Berella Muskoka, which is now discontinued). I've tried to buy more on eBay over the last few years, but this color just never comes up. I've picked up a few other skeins of natural colored worsted weights and I'll probably just mix the rest of the squares in those yarns around with these and hope it all blends together well enough. Maybe I'll take this up again one of these days!

I did get some other yarn this weekend - my sock yarn club selection for January from Amazing Threads.

As you can see, it's Lang JaWoll Color Aktion. I haven't knit with this yarn before, but I've heard great things about it.

I also had Talk Cinema this weekend and saw an Israeli film:

This is a really charming film. It's about an Egyptian police band that goes to Israel to play in a cultural center and ends up in the wrong town. They get off the bus and find themselves in a tiny little town in the middle of nowhere, with no more buses for another day. They meet a woman and two men sitting in a cafe and the Israelis sort of take them in for the night. This could be a set up for a really cutesy, corny film, but the first-time director does a really great job of showing these people from very different cultures learning that they have far more in common than they do different. It's really a hopeful film about the future of the middle east, but also rather sad. I just loved it. I would really recommend it - it'll be playing at a Landmark Theater locally next month if you're interested. Quite a bit of the film is in English because that's the language both "sides" know and can communicate in, if you don't care for reading sub-titles. In fact, Israel submitted it to the Academy Awards for best Foreign Language Film, but it was disqualified because too much of it is in English. It did win the equivalent of the Oscar in Israel and has been a big hit on the film festival circuit.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Cold Enough for Ya?

My friends outside of Minnesota and it's neighboring states, count yourself lucky this weekend. It's currently -11 and it's not going to get all that much warmer today. I've been really hankering for a new puppy since the holidays, but I have to admit it's days like today that made me decide to wait until spring to embark on puppy training.

On the knitting front, I joined in on Jeanne and Chell's annual preemie cap effort this year:

I'm kind of embarrassed that it took me two weeks to knit that little thing. It's sitting over an onion, by the way. I've often heard that preemie heads are about the size of an orange or a grapefruit. I ate all my oranges before I managed to finish up this cap and it was a little too small for the grapefruit, so I figure onion is close enough :-) I used their pattern for this one and I encourage everyone to whip up a little hat or two for the cause - it really doesn't take that much time, as long as you sit down and actually knit! I'm going to make at least one more before the end of month, hopefully two more.

I also had the pleasure of a really fine dining experience this week. A friend and I tried out Il Vesco Vino in St. Paul and I would heartily recommend this place. The restaurant is on Selby Avenue, in the space where The Vintage used to be, if you're familiar with that. It's a gorgeous, romantic space - if you're looking for somewhere special to dine on Valentine's Day, this would be an ideal spot. The food was really delicious too. I had the fixed price three course dinner - you choose a soup or salad, a pasta and an entree. I had a romaine salad, gnocchi with tomatoes and cheese and a beef tenderloin with tomatoes and capers and roasted potatoes. The salad was good, but nothing special. The gnocchi and beef tenderloin were outstanding, however. Sometimes gnocchi gets a bit chewy, but it was a perfect consistency and the "sauce" (not really a sauce, more of a topping) was delicious. The beef tenderloin was done perfectly, moist and tender. I tried my friend's beef shortribs with a potato puree and loved those just as much. Even though I was completely stuffed because I had to eat every bite of my dinner, I wanted to try dessert, so I ordered the tiramisu. It was very good, but still not as good as the one I had in Italy, which is always the measuring stick for me. There is a nice wine list here too, though not as extensive as in The Vintage days. They sell wine by the quarter and third carafe too, which I always appreciate, since one glass of wine is usually not enough for me. Dinner wasn't cheap, but it wasn't horrendous, either. I would highly recommend this spot for your next fine dining event.

I also managed to scoot out of work and to a late matinee yesterday. I saw this film:

I thoroughly enjoyed it. The film is set in 1980 and it stars Tom Hanks as Charlie Wilson, a Congressman from Texas who hasn't had much to show of his 6 terms in office when the film starts, but certainly enjoys the perks of being in Congress, namely it's cache with the ladies. Julia Roberts plays a very wealthy Texas woman who sometimes dallies with Congressman Wilson and clearly contributes quite a bit of money to his campaigns. She's a right wing religious anti-Communist true believer of the type that were taking over the GOP at that time and she lobbies Wilson (who is one the defense and intelligence committees and thus has great sway over the purse strings for any sort of covert operation)to begin funding the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan to defeat the Russian army who has invaded the country. After Wilson visits Afghani refugees in Pakistan and sees the conditions, he believes strongly in the cause and starts cashing in some of the good will he's stored up over the years of doing nothing much in Congress. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the CIA operative who is running the show in Afghanistan. The whole thing is just fascinating. Even though it's a pretty complicated story about funding and weapons and political factions, it moves really quickly and you don't get bogged down in details. It's written by Aaron Sorkin, whose tv shows I greatly admire, and I thought he did a great job with this film, too. Philip Seymour Hoffman is just brilliant in his role. He's hilarious and smart and just completely real. I'm sure you'll hear his name when the Academy Award supporting actor nominees are announced. If you enjoy politics and a good story, I'd really recommend this film.

I still have a couple more films to see before I do my final Top Ten of the Year (I'm sure you're waiting with baited breath!). Talk Cinema is today, but it's a foreign film, so I guess I'll have to get to a couple more films soon. Look for a bonus post next week since I have Monday off! Stay warm!!

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

A Lifelong Dream Fulfilled

When I was a pre-pubescent, I spent hours listening to Barry Manilow Live on my record player. I loved that man and I loved his songs and after 30 years, I finally got a chance to see him live for real. And I LOVED it! Yes, call me a Fanilow.

The show was pretty much exactly what you would think it would be. He played almost every song off of Barry Manilow Greatest Hits (another album I played over and over again in my room). Remember that meme that went around a few years ago where you were supposed to list five songs you know every word to? Turns out there's about 20 Barry Manilow songs I know all the words to, even though I haven't heard them in a while - the wonder of the young brain. The stuff you put in there at that age really sticks! Barry has been releasing albums that are standards from the 50s, 60s and 70s, so he did a few of those songs, as well.

The spectacle wasn't quite as big as I was expecting, but I think that's because this isn't a full on tour. Everyone got a Manilow green glow stick to wave around all night (well, almost everyone. Due to my Irish luck, I didn't get one). It looked very cool. Barry wore a dark suit, as you can see above. He changed the jacket about a half dozen times, though and his background singers had a bunch of costume changes. There was a few neat video presentations during the show, including Barry on the Midnight Special singing Mandy - which eventually became a duet between live Barry and video Barry. At the end there was a big streamer cannon. Fantastic.

Despite the fact that Barry is 64, he's still a pretty amazing performer. Yeah, he's had a little bit too much work done, but he didn't look as weird as he has in some photographs I've seen. And he had an amazing amount of energy - he sang and danced around and was totally upbeat. He's not the stringbean he was in the 70s, but he's definitely still lean and fit. And his voice is still strong and amazing. The man has perfect pitch and he can still belt out a tune. Yes, it was really cheesy, but I loved every minute of it.

My own personal favorite was Weekend in New England. He sounded just amazing on the song and it brought me right back to being 10 years old and dreaming of the Prince Chearming who was going to be pining for me. I'll admit to feeling some sadness too that 30 years later I'm still waiting for that Prince Charming. My life certainly isn't what I thought it was going to be when I was that 10 year old girl living in South Dakota. But I guess, whose life is? In any case, if you've ever thought that maybe you might like to see Barry Manilow and you have a chance, I strongly recommend you go for it. I'd like to see him in Vegas next time I'm there.

Here's the setlist, if you're interested:

1. It’s a Miracle
2. Daybreak
3. Somewhere in the Night/This One’s for You
4. The Old Songs
5. Jump Shout Boogie
6. Chattanooga Choo Choo
7. Moonlight Serenade
8. Weekend in New England
9. Bandstand Boogie
10. I Made it Through the Rain
11. Can’t Smile w/o You
12. Looks Like We Made it
13. Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed
14. Even Now
15. NYC Rhythm
16. Could It Be Magic
17. Yesterday
18. Cant Take My Eyes Off of You
19. Where Did Our Love Go
20. What the World Needs Now Is Love
21. Mandy
22. I Write the Songs
23. Copacabana
24. Old Friends
25. Forever and a Day

Before the show, we had dinner at a Chinese restaurant I'd never been to before, The Tea House. It's on the east side of St. Paul, just off of 94, almost on the border with Woodbury. It's a really lovely restaurant. Once you step inside, you can't believe you're in a stripmall Chinese place. The food was really delicious, too. We started with the juicy buns and Shanghai pancakes, as recommended by Dara Moskowitz in the City Pages - they were both really good. I'd love to go to the restaurant for dim sum some weekend. For entries we ordered the Sweet and Sour Chicken and the Gui Chou Chicken. They both were really good and they were a good compliment to each other. The Sweet and Sour Chicken had nice, meaty chicken chunks and was pretty light on the sauce. The Gui Chou Chicken was chicken strips with roasted chilis and bamboo shoots and it was nice and spicy - I was happy to have the sweet and sour to cool off my mouth, though I liked the Gui Chou Chicken better. One caution if you decide to try this place - it got a great review in the Pioneer Press, so they've been really busy. They ran out of food last weekend and we had quite a wait for a table on Friday night. I'm sure in a few weeks it'll calm down again. I'd definitely recommend trying this place out if you're in the east side of town.

I have also been knitting a bit, too. I've made good progress on the hoodie for Jessica:

I've finished the back, the pockets and have started one of the fronts. Maybe I can get this finished up before the weather stays warm for good.

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Back to Regular Programming

So, it was a great holiday. I had great fun visiting with family and friends from Christmas through New Year's. All of the gifts I made and purchased were well-received and I received some really lovely gifts in return. Given that there was so much going on, I cut out some of my holiday routines - no baking, no cards. I'm thinking about doing New Year cards, but if I do that, I've gotta move soon, the year won't be that new for long.

I spent New Year's Eve at one of my favorite places, in the movie theater. I saw this fantastic film:

For me, something magical happens when Tim Burton and Johnny Depp collaborate and this film is no exception. I loved the film description in Tony Scott's New York Times review, so I'll quote it here:

A barber, wronged by a powerful judge, returns to London and sets up shop, cutting throats as well as hair. The bodies of his victims are turned into savory meat pies by Mrs. Lovett, his energetic partner in business and crime.

Simple and to the point, but lovely language. Anyway, Johnny plays the barber and he's simply amazing. He captures both the sadness, loneliness and isolation of the character as well as the rage and mental illness. It's a heartbreaking performance. I fell in love with him even more, watching this film. It's not just the hormones talking - he really is one of the best actors of our generation, with an amazing range and ability to tackle such wide-ranging material. Helena Bonham Carter plays Mrs. Lovett and she and Johnny look great together on screen. They both are just ghostly pale with dark, dark hair and clothing and circles under their eyes. The look of the film is wonderful, with one scene of Mrs. Lovett's secret wishes for a better life that is in stark sunny contrast, making it even more touching and hilarious. Loved them both so much. Alan Rickman plays the evil judge and with this role and Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films, he truly embodies the essence of ill will. I need to see him in another romantic hero role to remind myself that he isn't really evil, just an amazing actor. As you can probably guess from the title and the description, this film is quite violent and really bloody. There's quite a lot of blood on the screen. It's bright, bright red, and really stands out against the grays and blacks of the rest of the screen. It gives it an unreal look, but you still feel every bit of the shock and horror of the deaths shown. Sweeney Todd also has a litle shoot from beneath his barber chair to the basement where Mrs. Lovett grinds up the bodies to make the meat for her pies, and that whole process is quite realistic, so if you have tender sensibilities, keep that in mind. The audience I saw the film with was largely senior citizens (apparently, going to an early movie on New Year's Eve is quite popular with the older set - I'm trying not to let it reflect on me that that's what I was doing too) and some of them made it quite clear this film wasn't what they were expecting and they didn't like it one bit. Every death elicited comments and sounds and at the end, I heard quite a few disgusted comments as people left the theater. In fact, the couple right behind me were quite vocal and so I feel like I'd really like to see it again without having to listen to the continuous commentary. Ah, the theater going experience, right?

As I've mentioned on this blog before, every year for New Year's I make one very specific, hopefully achievable resolution, in the hope of making one small change in my life to improve it or myself. Last year's was to stick to my budget. I had mixed results. I did fairly well in keeping track of my spending and being more aware of where my money was going, though some months I just gave up. I'm continuing on with that, though, so I do feel like I made a real change. And now that I have a "real job" and know exactly how much money I'm going to make and it isn't going to wildly fluctuate from month to month, it's more important than ever to stick to the budget, because I won't be able to count on just making more money later to compensate for spending sprees.

My resolution for this year is to start every week with a relatively clean home. I started the year with a sort of clean house, though there is still plenty of stuff I can get rid of and organize better. But I want to make sure that every Monday morning when I leave for work, the dishes are all clean, the clothes are all clean and put away, the floors are washed or vacuumed, the tables aren't cluttered, etc. We'll see how this one goes.

In knitting news, I'm rewarding myself for slogging through all that gray ribbing and getting most of the Christmas knitting done. I decided to join the rest of the knitting world and knit myself a pair of Monkey socks:

As you've read on a million other blogs, this pattern is great. It's interesting to knit, but not difficult at all. And it goes pretty quickly. I'm treating myself by using one of my skeins of Wollmeise - this color is called "Maria's Deepest Purple" and I love it because it's my favorite colors - red and purple. It's just gorgeous! And the perfect antidote to the overload of gray in my knitting and in the melting snow outside.

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Friday, January 04, 2008

Happy New Year!!

I hope everyone had a great New Year celebration, whatever you did. I went to my boyfriend Johnny Depp's new movie on New Year's Eve and enjoyed it quite much. I'll do a review next time.

For today, I want to participate in the recipe box "meme" that was started over at Mason-Dixon Knitting. Here's one of my recipe boxes:

Ugly, isn't it? If they give a prize for ugliest recipe box, I think I'd have a good shot at winning. But it's very precious to me, because it was my maternal grandfather's recipe box. Before she died, my maternal grandmother gave it to me, and it's just a treasure. When she gave it to me, I was hoping it would be filled with recipes for the food I remember eating at their house. It's full, but I don't remember most of the recipes that are in there:

You may have noticed the magnet on top of the box in the first picture. I'm not sure if that was something they kept with the box or it just happened to be stuck to it when Nana gave it to me. I'm guessing maybe they kept it with the box and then used it to stick the recipe they wanted to use to the fridge. Even though some of the recipes I was hoping would be in there aren't, I love looking at what is in there, because some of the recipes are handwritten:

Most of the cards are in Nana's handwriting. Nana didn't really cook much, Grandpa Pat did most of the cooking. But I guess he didn't like his writing and so Nana wrote up the recipes for him. I love seeing that familiar handwriting, now that she's gone.

There is one recipe in there that was very familiar. Nana did make this one and she taught it to me as a teenager. I have a handwritten copy she gave me in my own recipe box (which truth be told, is equally ugly - a brown plastic monstrosity). I didn't know she got the recipe from a newspaper, but obviously she did. It's not fancy or anything - it's sort of one of those simple, midwestern sturdy foods, I guess. But I make them fairly regularly. Back in the days when Bill and I were dating, he loved it when I made these ribs.