Monday, June 06, 2011

Musical Interlude - Stateless

So, I was listening to Pandora (internet radio) recently. Specifically, I was listening to my own radio station "Victoria's Vault" that I started almost exactly four years ago. I've been finessing my station for so long now, with those "like" and "dislike" buttons, that I've gotten it down to a nice blend of progressive rock, alternative rock, and some moody acoustic/indie artists and instrumental offerings. I know that sounds like a weird mix, but it really does work.

For those of you who haven't used Pandora before, their music genome project will analyze the types of sounds you like and, based on its formulas, will offer up songs it thinks will match what you like. (If you're interested in the parameters Pandora has identified for my musical tastes, just click here.  Not sure what "extensive vamping" is musically, but apparently I like it.)

When it suggests a song or band I haven't heard of before, or that I didn't "seed" my station with, I will usually think it's just okay or passible, but every now and then, Pandora will strike gold. A few weeks ago Pandora played the song "Bloodstream" by the British band Stateless and I was over-the-moon and completely hooked. I downloaded the album and I simply can't. stop. listening. to. it. Stateless is, for want of a better description,an electronic alternative rock band with hip hop, classical guitar and electronica dance influences. That makes it sound like a hot mess (and definitely not something that I would instantly be drawn to), but it really is something to be heard.

Today, gentle readers, I'm giving you a three-for-one on this Musical Interlude, because I couldn't decide which video to link to. "Down Here" is my favorite song and video, but "Bloodstream" seems to be their big hit now (thanks to being featured on the show True Blood). And, if you only watch one video, be sure to click on "Ariel" to see the trippy motion-capture special effects they used. 

Do you use Pandora? What band/artist have you discovered as a result of Pandora or another internet radio service?  Be sure to leave me a comment and let me know. I'm always on the hunt for new ear candy.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Teatime Tuesday - Alice's Garden

Still image taken from Disney's Alice in Wonderland.
A couple weeks ago, I wrote about my brief dream to have an Alice in Wonderland themed garden, with giant teacups serving as flower planters.  The reality of living in an area where nothing grows but cactus pretty much stomped out that dream.  What hasn't changed is the fact that I still have a terrible case of Spring Fever.  The weather outside is beautiful, everyone is talking about spring break vacations and plans for Easter. So, I'll continue to feed my need for a pretty flower garden by virtually creating one.

I didn't know who Jim Shore was, prior to writing this post.  He is a folk artist that has gone mainstream, applying his unique style to known brands, such as Disney characters.  In searching for the perfect items for my imaginary garden, I stumbled across his line of Disney Wonderland themed garden accessories. My type-A personality loves matching things, so they'll do perfectly for my pretend garden. (Click on the linked text to be taken to the item for sale on Amazon.)

First, we'll have a little stone path, leading along the side of the house and up to the wooden gate, where you see this little "Welcome" sign sticking up in the grass, letting you know that you're entering Wonderland.  You might have to push aside some overgrown bright pink bouganvilla to reveal a strange and wonderful little garden oasis. 

There, lining a lush and manicured grassy lawn, you'll see beds of purple and yellow pansies turning their faces up to the sun, bushes of ruffly peonies, rows of pure white tulips, peach Jacob's Ladder roses climbing along the brick wall, proud irises of every color holding their heads high above the smaller flowers. Oh and we simply must have fragrant lilac bushes, with their pretty little lavender flowers perfuming the air.

There will be a little clearing amongst the flowers, surrounded along the edges by Queen Anne's lace, as if someone had made a place for a picnic or afternoon tea.  Sure enough, there will be a teapot there, with white and yellow daises spilling out of it. (Daisies, to represent sweet Alice and her innocent youth). Right next to it will be the teacup, but instead of tea, it will have snapdragons of every shade shooting up from the cup. (Snapdragons, a funny-looking flower with a funny name, to represent the very funny Mad Hatter.)

There will be a small reflecting pool (the Pool of Tears, of course) with lily pads and lush green vegetation surrounding it.  Maybe we need some trees too, like a big weeping willow with its branches arching over the pool, providing some shade.  In the dark recesses of the bushes and in amongst the exposed roots of the tree, there will be white and orange mushrooms pushing up through the dirt. 

As you keep walking along the path, you'll come to some beautifully manicured rows of deep burgundy roses.  There will be iridescent blue butterflies alighting here and there on the flowers and, if you look closely, you'll see the White Rabbit running in between the bushes on his way to his appointment. He's very late, for a very important date, you see.

Speaking of the White Rabbit, maybe we should have a vegetable garden too, in addition to our flower garden?  We would definitely have carrots for the White Rabbit, as well as lettuce, strawberries and cucumbers. We could also have tall stalks of smiling yellow sunflowers. 

The sunflowers would bring birds to our lovely garden, and we'd want to be hospitable, so we should provide a birdhouse of some kind.  Although I don't think the belly of the Cheshire Cat is what you would call being "hospitable".  Still, I have a feeling this particular cat is harmless and would give them a good home, as he swings by his tail from the limb of a tree.

And that, dear readers and fellow adventurers in Wonderland, is what I would put in my imaginary garden. What's in your (real or imaginary) garden?  What are you going to plant for Spring?  Desert flowers and plants can be pretty too; so if you live in the Valley of the Sun like me, let me know what your favorite one is.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Musical Interlude - Florence + The Machine

Have you ever had one of those moments where you stumble across a musical act or piece of art or literature, and wonder to yourself, "Where have I been this whole time, that I'm just now finding out about this?"  Well, that's the reaction I had when I first heard Florence + The Machine.  Although, to my defense, she's a new artist, having only released one album (Lungs) in 2009. And now, you too, will be in the dark no more, as I introduce you to her fabulousness.

The "band" consists of English singer Florence Welch and various studio session musicians and guests artists providing support. It's hard to describe her musical style, but I suppose I would call it eccentric pop/rock with a little soul thrown in too.  All I know is, from the moment I heard her first song, and promptly downloaded the album, I've been unable to stop listening to it.

Two songs in particular are my favorites: "The Drumming Song" and "Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)", however, I'm going to feature "Rabbit Heart" here, because of the Alice in Wonderland and fairy tale references, both in the song's lyrics and in the music video.  So far, I've identified references to: Alice in Wonderland, Greek mythology (i.e. the Three Graces, King Midas), the Bible, the Lady of Shallot, Ophelia, fairy tales, and Pre-Raphelite paintings. It reads like a list of all my favorite things!

They've disabled the video embedding feature, so just click on the image below and it will take you directly to the video on You Tube.  Be sure to watch/listen to "The Drumming Song" too.  What new music have you discovered recently?  Leave me a comment and let me know.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Teatime Tuesday - Alice Goes to Broadway

Alice has been through the looking glass, visited wonderland on the silver screen, traveled through American McGee's video game adventure and went back down the rabbit hole with Tim Burton, but I don't think she's ever been to Broadway... until now.  There's not much at the official website for the musical, but here's an Associated Press article that describes the role reversals, costumes, and alternate interpretations. Looks like it will be set in a Wonderland underneath New York City and the costuming and setting will be modern, and Alice will be an adult.  I love "re-imaginings" of Wonderland and variations or new takes on the theme, but I'm not sure how I feel about all this, since I'm not really a fan of musicals. However, I love it that, all these many years later, Lewis Carroll's imagination and the world and characters he created continue to inspire artists and spur more creativity.  If this production ends up touring and coming to my town, I just might have to see it.  What do you think? Do you like Broadway musicals? Do you like "re-imaginings" of classic stories, or does it bug you when they don't stay true to the original?

Monday, March 07, 2011

Musical Interlude - Steamy Music

So, I went to my first fan convention this past weekend. (I know, big surprise to you that I'm a geek and a nerd. Shocking.) I attended the Wild Wild West steampunk convention in Tucson, AZ. I will probably write more about this later, but for now, I thought I'd share some of the music from the event, since it's Musical Interlude Monday.

First, there is Abney Park, a relatively famous steampunk band (well, famous within the steampunk community). I was impressed that the organizers were able to bring them to this con to perform, since this was the first year for this particular con. We weren't able to see them in concert but here's a little taste of what they sound like (video was not filmed at the Tucson con):

Then there were the Dusty Buskers. (Clever name, huh?)  They are a local Tucson group that plays old-time folk and bluegrass music.  They aren't strictly a steampunk group, but they fit in just fine.  This isn't the best quality video but I used it because it was actually filmed at the Tucson con.  You can listen and see more by going here.

And last but not least, there was another popular steampunk group - the all-steam powered robot band called the Steam Powered Giraffe.  Again, the video quality isn't the best, but I chose to use this because it was filmed at the Tucson con.  Be sure to check out their other videos, because these guys really are quite funny and extremely talented.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Teatime Tuesday - A Flower In Your Teacup

When I was in Walmart recently I turned down an aisle and suddenly thought I'd dropped into Wonderland. Or if nothing else, that I had taken a sip from a "Drink Me" bottle and shrunk in size, because the shelves were filled with giant tea cups with saucers and giant tea pots. 
Giant teacup planters from Baum, found on
The scope is lost on these pictures, since there's no frame of reference, but they are huge. They were the size of a large mixing bowl or punch bowl and were built with drainage holes in them so they could be used as garden planters. They gave an entirely new meaning to the term "flower pot".
When I was standing there in the aisle, I was struck with visions in my head of a beautiful Alice-themed garden with Japanese paper lanterns strung across my porch and roses of every color and snapdragons springing forth from these teacups, and maybe even a little statue of a white rabbit tucked in the bushes somewhere.

Then I remembered I live in Arizona, where the summers are like living on the surface of the sun, and anything that isn't a cactus is burned to a brittle brown husk, and the dream died. But it was a fun dream for the brief moment I had it.
When I was searching online for a photo of the giant teapot (which I couldn't find) I came across this ingenious garden decoration you see to the left. It's called a Rain Chain.  The idea is, when it rains, the water will pour through the opening in the top of the teapot, weave in and out down through the chains and into each teacup, like a decorative water fountain, only powered by a rainstorm. I immediately fell in love with it, (which should be no surprise, given the name of my blog,) however, I don't have a spare hundred dollars lying around. And it doesn't hardly ever rain here, so the poor thing would go unused.

So, my dreams of a flower garden will remain in my head and I will be content with my cactus.  What about you, Gentle Readers? What's your favorite thing about your yard or garden?  Leave me a comment and let me know.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Once Upon A Time...

A Tale from the Decameron by John William Waterhouse
Today (February 26th) is National Tell a Fairy Tale Day! I couldn't let this day go by without giving it a mention, considering my absolute love for fairy tales and storytelling.

According to Wikipedia, a fairy tale is a type of short narrative that typically features such folkloric characters as fairies, goblins, elves, trolls, dwarves, giants or gnomes, and usually magic or enchantments. However, only a small number of the stories thus designated explicitly refer to fairies. The stories may nonetheless be distinguished from other folk narratives such as legends (which generally involve belief in the veracity of the events described) and explicitly moral tales, including beast fables, although a moral lesson is usually conveyed.

Back in the day, when I used to babysit, I would make up fairy tales and tell them to the kids. It was the only way I could get them to go to bed. Of course, I firmly believe that fairy tales aren't just for children. So, here are a few suggestions on ways you can celebrate today, whether you're around little ones today or not.
  • Read a fairy tale out loud to your kids or your favorite friend. This is a no-brainer and the whole point of the holiday.
  • Read one of the original Grimm's fairy tales. You'll be surprised at how different they are from the Disney versions.
  • Go to a book store or library and check out some of the current fairy tales. Thankfully there is a small group of modern authors who enjoy writing in the genre and even re-telling or finding new twists on the old themes.
  • Make up a story with your kids. You don't have to be an author. It doesn't have to be perfect. I just saw the film The King's Speech last night and there was a wonderful scene with the king making up a story on the spot to tell his two daughters before bedtime. Such a sweet moment.
  • Play dress up with your kids. Part of fairy tales is imagination, so dress up in some fun costumes and let your kids help you make up the story collaboratively or they can act out the story as you read it.
So, what's your favorite fairy tale? Leave me a comment and let me know. May you find a fun way to celebrate imagination and storytelling today and may you live happily ever after!

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Very Merry Un-Anniversary to Alice!

Today I'd like to wish a very merry un-anniversary to Disney's Alice! To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the release of Alice in Wonderland, Disney has released the film on Blu-Ray this month. Disney's Alice was orignally released on July 28, 1951, so that's why I called this post an un-anniversary, because the actual date is in July.

Lewis Carroll's stories don't easily lend themselves to the cinematic treatment, but I think Disney took the best of both stories and combined them in a way that was faithful to the original works and celebrated the wit and silliness of the characters and wonderland, as well as Alice's plucky personality, yet made it more approachable for a wider audience. Not only that, it was some of the most stunning animation that Disney has ever produced, under the art direction of Mary Blair. What's odd is that Alice was probably one of the most negatively reviewed and criticized films in the Disney cannon, especially during its original release. Most of the criticism came from Lewis Caroll devotees, literary purists, and British critics who accused Disney of "Americanizing" the story.

To celebrate this un-anniversary, I thought I'd provide some fun diversions for you, on this lazy Friday afternoon. Below is a list of links, with more information about the film, as well as a list of the Blu-Ray special features, and even a link to some crafts and coloring pages for your kids (or for you, if you're a big kid). Cheers!

An overview and fun facts about the film can be found at the Disney Archives site here.

Click here to watch a "making of" video discussing the creation of the Alice soundtrack.

You can find games, downloadable coloring pages and crafts on Disney's site here. (Disney's site really is massive and has a ton of free stuff, if you're ever looking for a new desktop wallpaper, or something for you and your kids to do on a rainy afternoon.)

Click here to see preview clips of the Blu-Ray version of the film. Below is a list of the special features included on the Blu-Ray.
• Blu-Ray Features:

o Through the Keyhole: A Companion's Guide to Wonderland - View the movie in this special mode and discover references to the original Lewis Carroll classic - introduced by the voice of Alice, Kathryn Beaumont.
o Disney View - Watch the movie in this expanded viewing experience with new Disney art in the wings of the screen
o Painting the Roses Red game - Help paint the roses red in the Queen's garden. Careful, or someone could lose their head
o Walt Disney color TV introduction (1959) - A never-before-seen color TV intro by Walt
o Reference Footage: Alice and the Doorknob - Kathryn Beaumont provides an introduction to this newly discovered reference footage of Alice talking to the doorknob
o Pencil Test: Alice Shrinks - Kathryn Beaumont introduces a newly discovered pencil test of Alice shrinking
• PLUS, Classic DVD Features:
o Reflections on Alice
o Operation Wonderland (now in hi-def)
o "I'm Odd" newly discovered Cheshire Cat song and intro
o Thru the Mirror - Mickey Mouse animated short (now in hi-def)
o One-hour in Wonderland
o An Alice Comedy: Alice's Wonderland
o Original theatrical trailers (1951 and 1974)

Monday, January 31, 2011

Musical Interlude - Elliot Smith

So, we're getting ready to head into February, otherwise known as the month of luuurve, otherwise known as the greeting card and jewelry industries' heyday.  I had a crazy thought, that I would work with a theme and choose love songs for this month's worth of musical interludes. The idea quickly passed once I realized that what I consider a romantic love song is not only something that most people wouldn't classify as such, but my choices would probably spark a general concern for my mental well-being.

Let's just say that I've never really been into Valentine's Day and leave it at that.

So let's talk about Elliot Smith instead.  He was a singer-songwriter who made some wonderful acoustic guitar type music with lots of harmonies and layering. Beautiful stuff. If you know of him at all, or if his music sounds familiar to you, it's probably because you've seen the film Good Will Hunting, in which most of his music is used for the soundtrack. He was even nominated for an Oscar for his song "Miss Misery".  I re-discovered him recently in our vast music collection. (Do you ever do that, when you go so long without listening to an album that when you go back to it, it's like discovering it all over again, brand-new?)

Sadly, Elliot died at the age of 34, from an apparent suicide attempt, although the investigation was inconclusive.  After he died, fans started leaving flowers and writing notes on the wall of Solutions Audio in Hollywood, CA. The wall was painted with decorative swirls, and a picture of Elliot standing in front of the wall was used for the cover of his album Figure 8, so it became a natural unofficial gathering place for fans.  The creator of this video filmed the notes on the wall, and set it to one of my all-time favorite songs by Elliot Smith - "Between the Bars".  Watch for the triple-pun on the word "bars".  Enjoy!

Between the Bars
by Elliot Smith
drink up, baby, stay up all night
the things you could do, you won't but you might
the potential you'll be, that you'll never see
the promises you'll only make
drink up with me now and forget all about the pressure of days
do what I say and I'll make you okay and drive them away
the images stuck in your head
people you've been before that you don't want around anymore
that push and shove and won't bend to your will
I'll keep them still
drink up, baby, look at the stars
I'll kiss you again between the bars where I'm seeing you
there with your hands in the air, waiting to finally be caught
drink up one more time and I'll make you mine
keep you apart deep in my heart separate from the rest
where I like you the best and keep the things you forgot
the people you've been before that you don't want around anymore
that push and shove and won't bend to your will
I'll keep them still

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Year-End List of Lists (2010)

It seems like just yesterday I was writing my "best of 2009" year-end list and now here we are - 2010 is over and we're already half-way through January 2011. So without further ado, and before my list starts growing mold, here are a few of my favorite and not-so-favorite things from 2010.

As I think back to the movies I watched over this past year, my favorites readily jump to mind. Inception haunted my dreams, Book of Eli gave me hope and Shutter Island gave me chills. Inception was the type of movie that challenges the way narratives are presented in film. What a treat to be the first audience to see an innovation like that. I've been a big fan of director, Christopher Nolan, ever since Memento and it's been fun to see the films he's chosen to do since then. I love how he played around with narrative in that film as well (a film about memory, instead of dreams). He's quite a creative genius and his films are always a solid bet.

Book of Eli had an interesting visual style and an awesome story with an ending I didn't see coming. (Pun intended.) Shutter Island was a terrific homage to Alfred Hitchcock's style of visual storytelling and subject matter. I think he would have liked the film. Who knew I'd ever have two Leonardo DiCaprio films in my top three favorite films? I've never been a big fan of him as an actor, but these movies bring out the best of his talent.

I feel like I should also mention Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. The more I think about that movie, the more I like it. Not everyone will enjoy it, especially if you didn't grow up playing video games and hanging out at the mall arcade, but like Inception, it introduced a whole new innovative way of telling a story and use of special effects that really was amazing. It was a fun rollercoaster ride. And I'm partial to director, Edgar Wright's, style too. (Funny, I didn't realize I was such a fan or follower of certain directors until I wrote this post.)

Other movies worth mentioning for one reason or another... The Town was one of the best gang/mafia/bank robber movies I've ever seen. Iron Man 2 was a fun sequel. Toy Story 3 was a great end to the trilogy and made me cry. Winter's Bone made me thankful I don't live in the Ozarks. Wolfman's tribute to the classic horror monster made me smile. Robin Hood presented an interesting side to the hero. Date Night was funnier than most of the comedies that are released nowadays. The Secret of Kells brought back the magic of hand-drawn animation and storytelling. Under Great White Northern Lights was a rocking documentary. Get Low was a quiet surprise and True Grit was a fun cowboy/western adventure. Two movies that I missed in 2010 that are still on my want-to-see list are the Social Network and Never Let Me Go.

On a negative note, the award for biggest disappointment goes to Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland. I still can't talk about it. And a final note of caution, a film to AVOID AT ALL COSTS: Splice. Just trust me on that one. I'm still trying to scrub the images out of my brain. The same might go for Black Swan, but I haven't quite made up my mind about that movie yet.

Now let's talk about some tune-rific treats. My favorite album of the year was Prepare the Preparations by Ludo. I laughed. I cried. I was scared. I rocked out. It is, quite possibly, the most perfect album. Attending their concert with my good friends and seeing Ludo perform live was simply the icing on the cake. Or should I say the whipped cream on top? Either way, it was one of my favorite moments of the year, and one of the best concert experiences I've ever had. (You can read a fun recap of the event here.)

I also enjoyed Toby Mac's Tonight and wasn't disappointed by Red's new album, Innocence and Instinct. After seeing Cavo open for Daughtry in concert, we were so impressed we downloaded their Bright Nights, Dark Days album onto our iPod as we sat in the parking lot after the show. My progressive rock cravings were sated by the album Tear the World Down by (We Are) The Fallen. The one album that I hit the repeat button on constantly was the soundtrack to Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Just ask my husband; I'm pretty sure he's sick to death of hearing it. Great movie, great soundtrack. For pop/coffee shop acoustic type music, I really liked Christina Perri's The Ocean Way Sessions and discovered Damien Rice's O this year.

Even though they greatly disappointed me with their sudden decision to get political and not perform a concert in Arizona, I must admit I still fell in love with Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys by My Chemical Romance. They may have broken my heart but they are still one of my first loves. The award for biggest disappointment was Of the Blue Colour of the Sky by OK Go. The band is awesome. This album is not.

As I may have mentioned here before, I belong to two book clubs. Last year, I didn't do so well at keeping up with the reading for both clubs. Part of the reason was I was distracted by things I wanted to read, and the other factor was that, for part of the year, I was busy helping a friend re-work his yet-to-be-published novel. (Exciting!) That doesn't mean I didn't get any reading done though. I was captivated by Orson Scott Card's Treasure Box. (You can read my full review of it here.) I was challenged and haunted by The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, and enjoyed a classic gothic story in Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier.

I traveled back in time twice: to the South in the 1960s through The Help by Kathryn Stockett and back into the time of the early western settlers in Arizona in These Is My Words by Nancy Turner. I followed a runaway through a modern day fairy tale in Rat by Fernanda Eberstadt and lived through a frightening abduction in Still Missing by Chevy Stevens. I was infuriated by the parents in The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls and devoured the short stories in By Blood We Live. I'm happy to report that Edward was no where to be found in that volume.

I only made it halfway through The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen, a historical fiction that consisted of poorly written fiction and dryly-recounted history with no purpose or overarching theme. However, the worst book I read this year, and perhaps ever in my entire reading life, was Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo. Oh, the horror, the horror! Put this book on your "avoid at all costs" list right next to the film Splice.

I hope you enjoyed my review of the artistic media that I encountered in 2010. I feel passionately about the arts, thus my discussion of them on this blog. However, they are not the most important things from the past year. They merely reflect truths about the things that really matter: love, friendship, faith, triumph over adversity, the sovereignty of God, etc. These are the things that life is made of and that truly matter.

Many thanks to you, my Loyal Readers, for following my blog and leaving comments. What were your favorite things of 2010? Leave me a comment and let me know. Or, if you have some time to kill, you can check out my other lists of favorite things by clicking on this link.

To close, I'll leave you with a new year's wish, courtesy of one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman. I've used it before, but I don't mind repeating myself, because I so very much love this quote.

"May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't forget to make some art - write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself." ~ Neil Gaiman