Posts filed in: Movies and TV

Garden Fever

comments: 92

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The weather turned winter-cold and insistently wet, and I beat the retreat back into the house and dove into my quilt pile to watch every episode of River Cottage and Jamie at Home that I could find on YouTube (we get YouTube on our TVs). I also watched everything I could find of The Little Paris Kitchen and The Delicious Miss Dahl and French Food at Home. Cooking shows (especially when they include pretty kitchen gardens) are my pain reliever of choice. They flood my brain with endorphins. Yahhhhh. It was pretty awesome because every single muscle in my body was seriously aching, and I couldn't move, and I was freezing because we're almost out of oil for the season, but there was nothing else truly pressing for my attention. So I just piled on pets and down comforters and wool-filled quilts and made an Earl Grey latte (steep the tea in steaming hot milk — try it) and watched hours of beautiful potagers and steaming vegetable soups and incredibly gorgeous rustic kitchens flicker across screens, and was happy as a clam. Thank you for all of the sweet comments about our little garden project! I'm really looking forward to working on it. And I really think it will be so much fun to watch it evolve and grow up. (Also, for those that have asked, the willow edging like the stuff I used can be found here.)

The sun has come out a bit this morning. It's playing very hard to get, shining for five minutes, then changing its mind and disappearing into a cold cloud. I've had a lazy couple of days and should do some house chores and get some groceries and pay some bills and do some work and plan something more for dinner than buttered noodles. It's hard to make time for these silly things when you're a gardener, though, y'know?????

*The cup came from this Etsy shop, but it doesn't look like that seller's page is working anymore :-(.

Snowhearts

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For my neighbors and friends, chocolate sugar cookies. I added one teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, and an extra 1/2 teaspoon of salt to this recipe. Baked for only 6 minutes (instead of 10-12, but I have a convection oven, so things go faster). Really good.

Yesterday conversation:

Me: "I'm going to get your Christmas present tomorrow!"
Him: "Oh!!! Are you going to the guitar store?!?"
Me: "Er . . . no . . . "
Him [sad]: "Oh . . . "

Thank you for all the nice words about the quilt these past weeks. I really enjoyed making it, and it's been perfect for snuggling under while watching my new favorite show, Coast Guard Alaska. I was getting grief about  watching Ice Road Truckers so I switched to something more refined.

Stills

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A couple of years ago — or maybe it was even last spring? — I read Howards End for the first time. It blew. my. mind.

I had seen the movie many times and had always loved it. The movie is fantastic. One of the best movies I've ever seen. As great as the movie is, the book is even better. There's a section where Margaret can't figure out why Helen has been so distant, and as she thinks about it she comes to the wrong conclusion. I read that part while eating pad thai alone at Stickers cafe and I cried into my lunch at two o'clock in the afternoon. Unable to see the words on the page, I swiped at my face with my napkin — the brilliance and total fallibility of her conclusion moved me so much. She'd gotten it so right and was still so wrong. I looked up and was alone in the restaurant. I'd been there for a couple of hours. I paid, took the book, and headed down the road to the Reed College campus, needing an emergency tree to sit under to finish the book. I found a great tree but then pretty soon a guy came along on one of those riding lawnmower things and started mowing the enormous lawn right in front of me, slowly going back and forth and back and forth, getting ever closer to my tree and making me all nervous . . . plus it was extremely loud. I picked up and went across the street to Crystal Springs and found another tree at the water's edge. I finished the book there, sitting on a tree root in the dirt, late in the afternoon. I can't remember the last time I read (or made time to read) for that many hours in a single day. That was the best book. For me, at that time in my life, on that day, it was. I didn't want to let that one go.

The opening scene of the movie, where Vanessa Redgrave is walking around in the fields outside her house (the house is named Howards End) at dusk, dragging her long skirts through the long grass, and the rest of the family are seen through lighted windows playing a game inside the lovely house. That scene isn't in the book, I don't think — at least not that literally? But those first two minutes or so — the purple-gray evening light, the glowing Queen Anne's lace, the paned windows, her walking alone — they have always stuck with me. It's almost like certain visual moments make such an impression on you that you somehow internalize them, or memorize them, and then you might find, without your totally realizing it, that you're looking for a place like that, or trying to make a place like that. You're conjuring something. I remember another time, way back in River Forest, when I was sitting at the drive-through at the River Forest Bank, waiting for the money tube to come back. It was late summer, early evening, the light was golden, I was just waiting, and a bunch of seed pods and dandelion puffs floated past, and for a moment they were silhouetted black and silver against the sun. And I thought suddenly, "There. That. Like that." As if I'd somehow been waiting to see dandelion puffs and seed pods sail by. Like I recognized them, somehow.

A Spring Mantel

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A few weekends ago, I spent not a small amount of time watching various movie versions of Thomas Hardy's novel Tess of the D'Urbervilles: the 1979 version with Natassia Kinski, the 1998 version with Justine Waddell (who is one of my favorite actors, and who you might know from the brilliant Wives and Daughters), and the 2008 version with Gemma Arterton.

I first read Tess of the D'Urbervilles in high school and have re-read it a few times since. It is a maddening and ambitious and tragic and symbolic novel on so many levels; I won't get into a textual analysis or even summarization here because that is way beyond my skill-level today (or any day, I'm sure) but, without giving any spoilers or details, be warned that this is a heavy movie. As difficult as it is, almost every spring I have the urge to revisit this story, especially in movie form. Several weeks ago, on a blustery Friday afternoon, I rented all three of the above versions (from our stellar local indie video store), stopped and got a latte, and settled in for a viewing. I started with the most recent 2008 BBC version featuring Gemma Arterton. I had seen it before, when it first came out a couple of years ago and was on cable, but for some reason, watching it this time, I was moved like I have rarely been moved by a movie. I finished it the next day, then put in the 1998 version. I watched about forty-five minutes of it (I had seen it before, as well) and popped it back out; I put in the 1979 version. Again, I watched only until about halfway through her time at the dairy and took it out, too. Then I put the 2008 version back in and watched the whole thing again.

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From the 2008 BBC version of Tess of the D'Urbervilles

It's true that it was really cold, really rainy, and I had nothing else to do. But honestly, I don't think the earlier versions hold a candle to this one. I was just so mesmerized by Gemma Arterton, who, in my opinion, turned in one of the most moving performances I've ever seen in my life, that I just couldn't stop watching. I have to admit that I sobbed both times, and possibly even more the second time.

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From the 2008 BBC version of Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Part of what choked me up, aside from the breathtaking and soulful Miss Arterton (as well as the other performances, which I think are brilliant) and the brutal, sad plot, is the stunning beauty — and implied fragility — of the scenery. If you watch the extras on the DVD, they talk about the filming locations (according to the BBC web site [unfortunately, none of the trailers there work for me], the movie was filmed in several places around western England in the spring of 2008). They discuss how the director made a conscious decision to include these big, long shots where you frequently see just one character walking alone across miles of open countryside, and there is something very vulnerable and profound about those images in particular to me. So many of the other scenes of the woods in springtime (especially the scene where she and Angel are talking under the tree) also really stuck in my mind and are still floating around there.

This past Friday I put together a Tess-inspired spring mantel for our living room.

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The flowers are all fake (even we here in Oregon don't have such blossoms yet), except for the pot of clover all the way to the left that Andy bought at the nursery when we went. But the arrangement and the colors made me feel peaceful. I thought of ikebana and of gentle things.

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I added a little sprig of blooming pink daphne to that little blue creamer, and found a tiny, real bird's nest (at an antique booth) to put under the cloche that Amy gave me for my birthday.

These Purples of Which I Speak

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From The Young Victoria

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From Bright Star

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From Bright Star

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From Emma

Sometimes I wish I was one of those people who was organized enough to keep a bulletin board full of inspirational images. I always think those look so pretty whenever I see them. I do have a bulletin board but it seems to get covered with awesome things like inches-to-centimeter conversion charts, cards reminding me of when my next dentist appointment is, and claims forms for packages that got destroyed at the post office. NOT ROMANTIC.

The weather people continue to insist that we are getting snow tonight. I was rather over that whole thing and ready to start seeking out bluebell woods and Johnny-jump-ups, but what can you do. I'll sew. It would be nice if I cooked some actual food instead of going out for either breakfast, lunch, or dinner, pretty much one or the other every day. I have been Mrs. Social lately.

Coldy Rainy

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All last week, coldy rainy. Forecast this week, coldy rainy. Hail, thunder, pelting rain, pouring rain, drizzling rain, sun for a moment, wind, an occasionally glorious sky, then more rain. Mud on my floors from cat paws constantly going in and out. It's warm enough for them to want to go out, not warm enough to leave the door open. I let them in my casement window since I am frequently sitting right next to it and I'm lazy. They stand on the outdoor chair right outside the window — at eye level with me on the sofa — and pummel the window pane with their paws (which, try as I might, I find too maddening to ignore) until I let them in again. If I hesitate in opening it (because, let's just say, I might be in the middle of doing Something Else), the puppers runs over and stares at me in a panic on the kitters's behalf: "She wants to come in! She wants to come in!!!" until I sigh and let whichever one it is in again (oh they've trained us well!). Then a kitters comes bouncing in through the window, leaving tiny sopping wet footprints on the sofa. This replays itself probably fifteen times a day, for each cat. The minute one comes in and I get myself resituated, the other one wants out (indicated by plaintive bleating by the front door). So I let her out. For about seven minutes. And then it starts all over again. All rain-day long. I feel like Beatrix Potter caught in a revolving door. It would be funny in fast motion. At least the sofa is ultrasuede, and the color of mud. The only piece of furniture I've ever picked out that actually turned out to be exactly what we needed here — totally unstainable, and the color of mud. But I think the poor pets really hate this weather more than any of us.

More days, coldy rainy. Last weekend I felt like we barely sat down, this weekend it seemed that we hardly got up (except to admit or discharge a pet, as noted). We wound up plowing our way through the first one and a half seasons of Chuck, which several of you recommended, and it was absolutely perfect. Just exactly what I wanted to watch — thank you thank you. Kind of 40-Year-Old Virgin meets Alias (but very sweet). Thank you also for the other similar recommendations, too. We will probably watch La Femme Nikita next, and then hopefully the nice weather will be here and we can go outside again.

Mornings coldy rainy, I'm getting a slow start. My grandma's crocheted blanket up there? Must be forty years old. Something to be said for acrylic yarns, I guess — they'll last forever. I pulled some beautiful pale pink Cashmerino Chunky out of my stash the other day and the skein just totally shredded into dandelion fluff in my hands. Moths. And I have lavender and cedar and what-all in there with it, too. Not that we need another crocheted blanket around here, but Grandma's is so dang cool. I've been looking at it to try to figure out how she did it. Hers is quite small — more lappy than beddy. I'd go bigger, but keep the colors. The navy/cream combo looks so pretty with all of my pinky flowery stuff, I think. Maybe a hammock blankie? With optimism for warmer days ahead? I don't have much on my needles/hook right now, after last week's blowout. Thank you so much for ALL of the such nice comments on the clothes last week! So nice of you. That made me feel really good. Thank you for that.

Some weirdness: We got several (like, ten) new terra cotta planters last weekend. We planted them and set them out all together in their own little corner. This past week they, and pretty much only they, have been absolutely covered with aphids. Is that bizarre? We know I'm no gardener, but I've never seen that happen before. The aphids now seem to be moving over to the older plantings, but this is definitely a spreading thing — they are mostly and heavily concentrated on the new planters (though not the plants themselves). This morning there were about two dozen lady bugs out there, doing their best. Any advice?

*Update: Thanks! I just blew them all off with the hose, and will spray with soap solution, and maybe get more ladybugs. Boy do I feel dumb! I have been looking at them for about six days and not doing anything. Except focusing on the Mystery Part: "Huh — they're only on the new pots — weird!" (Repeated four times a day.) Doi. I've got my hands full with the Animal Kingdom today I guess :-) !

Alice Dress

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We saw the movie Alice in Wonderland a few months ago. I thought Alice's dresses in this were so wonderful. She changes clothes several times throughout the movie, but this version of the classic blue-and-white was my favorite:

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That blue is such a great color. The fabric looks like silk organza, or organdy — that crispy-yet-light sort of texture that has something in common with phyllo pastry. You imagine layers, and layers, and layers — each one rather transparent, together adding up to that wonderful matte opaqueness that translates into a feeling of a particular weight, somehow: I love the feeling of wearing layers like that. I've only done it a very few times (my wedding dress was a froth of layers), but for some weird reason, that sensation of wearing all of those layers stands in my memory as one of my favorite sensory experiences, along with holding my hands under just the right temperature of water, or the smell of lilacs, or kissing a corgi puppy on her cheek. I guess it sounds weird, but frequently I think about clothes purely in terms of their weight.

I started thinking about the Alice dress. It's reputation preceeds it. Is there a more recognizable dress — or interpreted — dress?

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Alice in Wonderland, Peter Newell, 1890

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Alice in Wonderland, Marjorie Torrey, 1955 

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Alice and the Pack of Cards, Arthur Rackham, 1907. (I did my college senior thesis on Arthur Rackham and have always loved his work, and his calico Alice.)

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Alice in Wonderland, George Dunlop Leslie, 1879. (This is just so gorgeous in so many different ways I couldn't even think of anything to say or think about it.)

So I just got to work. Here is my Alice Dress.

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PATTERN: Overdress: Open Crescent Set from Christening Sets to Crochet by Kay Meadors. Underdress: McCalls 6552 (vintage), view B (without collar or buttons)
SIZE: 4
YARN: Blue Moon Fiber Arts Socks that Rock Mediumweight in Quilla
FABRIC: Cotton lawn from Mill End Store; buttons and ribbon from The Button Emporium

It's made from a crocheted dress pattern that was written for bedspread weight cotton thread and a 1.65mm hook to fit a newborn. I did it in sock-weight yarn with a 2.5mm needle, leaving the sleeves off, but otherwise doing the pattern exactly as written. When I finished, I measured it out to be a standard size 4, chest-circumference- and armhole-depth-wise. Just goes to show how important gauge is, I guess! 

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I rummaged through my collection of vintage children's sewing patterns (someday must do a post just about these — they are all so beautiful) to see what I had in a size 4, and found this little dress to use for the underdress. I wanted something very simple in a very lightweight fabric to go underneath. This cotton lawn was like sewing a butterfly wing. It was so fine and floppy, like the perfect summer nightgown weight. Even lighter than that. A bit hard to sew. But, oh does it feel wonderful. The gores in the skirt give the whole thing this wonderful fullness, too (though you really can't see them in the photo). I really adore the shape of this little dress.

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It has oyster shell buttons going all the way down the back, but I guess I forgot to take a photo just of all of those. Here is the back of the ensemble together, though:

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It also has a murky-dark greenish-gray silk embroidery ribbon woven through the eyelet rows. With black tights and shoes, of course.

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I tucked the sleeves in so you could see how full the sides really are. I ran out of yarn at the very end, and didn't make the picot edging I planned to make. In fact, I ran out of yarn once in the middle and had to order another skein, which stalled me out for a while, and I wasn't sure I was going to finish. (There are 760 yards of yarn in this dress!!!) But once I got going again, I kept at it. This is possibly one of the fanciest things I have ever crocheted. And oh, so fun to do an interpretation of something so classic like this. In the end, the whole thing just made me happy. Especially since we share our name, I hope Miss Alice herself would be pleased with this (but knowing her, she probably wouldn't :-). I do love that girl.

*On an unrelated note, does anyone have any recommendations for a TV series (that has several seasons already) that would be kind of like Alias? I am really in the mood for a DVD marathon like that but can't think of something similar. . . .

Blustery, and Bubbling Bolognese

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The weather all weekend was so blustery and cold. This morning rain pelting the bedroom windows (and rattling them constantly — they are very old) woke me (that and a cat snoring on my neck and a dog walking on my hair). Yesterday (Sunday) I didn't leave the house at all, and only opened the back door eight or nine times to let various pets out and in (five minutes later — nobody wanted to be outside). Andy had the iPod at work so I couldn't play Words with Friends (my new vocation), but that was probably good because it meant that I actually made some progress on my WIPs. I watched the 2005 Little House on the Prairie movies on the Hallmark channel, which was really fun since I just finished re-reading Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie recently (I've finished all the books on my sidebar list, and have to do a book post, I know, since I'm actually reading new ones now). It felt so good to have a weekend where we didn't really go anywhere or do anything. 

Claire inspired me to make some bolognese sauce — isn't her illustration of the Sunday Night Spag Bol so adorable? I had a recipe from Mario that I'd been wanting to try for a while, and it seemed like the perfect blustery weekend for several hours of viscous simmering (be sure to keep the heat low, cast a watchful eye on the bottom of that pot, and stir frequently). I used ground beef and finely diced the pancetta (I keep it frozen so it's easier to slice). I like my spaghetti served very specifically: sauce only on top, not mixed up, and with a blob of ricotta. Andy likes his all mixed up, no ricotta (not into it). Either way you like it, this was delicious, and seemed just right for a lazy day that felt much more like fall than spring. (And, like Claire suggests, you can freeze a bunch of it, too, for when you don't have a whole lazy afternoon to cook.)

Blueberry Muffins and a Movie Marathon

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What a nice weekend we had. On Saturday morning, I had time to bake the blueberry muffins from the new Grand Central Baking Book (our local bakery's wonderful new cookbook). I followed the recipe exactly, but instead of making twelve regular-sized muffins, I used my giant muffin pan and made six (and the amount of batter fit the tin perfectly). I topped them with a little cinnamon-sugar before baking, and I have to say these are some of the best muffins I've ever had. They are so eggy. And I personally love eggy things, so I love these. And thank goodness for frozen blueberries. Next weekend I'm going to try the cinnamon buns. Melissa originally told me about this book and I think she said that the cinny buns she made were exactly like the bakery's, so I'll give them a shot. You have to start those the day before.

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For the rest of Saturday I worked in the yard a bit, then knit and watched the first several movies of the Love Comes Softly saga on the Hallmark Channel. I am obsessed with these movies. They've played the marathon — all eight movies — at least three times now in the past couple of years, and I've watched them every time (though you'll be relieved to know that I've never made it through the entire thing in one sitting). Last time was during the heat wave and the Ollalieberry Ice Cream quilt. This time I was in serious need of a day with my feet up on the couch and some knitting in my hands. Perfect timing. I love the clothes in these movies so much. Tons of smocking, prairie calico, pinafores, and gathers. I asked Andy if he was bummed that I didn't have any prairie dresses. Sadly, he was not bummed. 

Chicken Saltimbocca

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Thank you so much for all of the movie recommendations over the weekend!!!!! A fantastic list I will be working my way through this winter. I did watch one several people suggested, Run Fatboy Run, on Friday night and I loved it. There are so many hilarious one-liners in that movie. Great movie. I'm going to take the list to the video store today and get a few of the ones I've never heard of before, like Jam & Jerusalem (which I think is a series, not a movie, but that's cool — more to love).

Butternut squash with brown sugar and butter; chicken with mushrooms, sage, and prosciutto. I used Ina's recipe for the squash and Mario's for the chicken. (Note: Be careful when you fry the sage, because it will really snap and crackle, and also I only used about 1/3 c. of olive oil instead of the called-for 2 cups.) Good grief, this was a good autumn Sunday dinner. We've made it twice this fall and it is a definite keeper.

About Alicia Paulson

About

My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at aliciapaulson.com

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Since August of 2011 I've been using a Canon EOS 60D with an EF 18-200mm kit lens and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.