Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Ahh, relax.

Today is my first day off in... a long time. I can't think back that far. I've been working two jobs -- one full time at the bookstore per usual, and then a part-time at The Trout Museum of Art (shameless plug). Things have been cruisin' at both. I know I don't have anything on folks who work 60+ hours a week regularly or anything, but splitting time between two jobs and doing some work from home and trying to get some social time in there, too... it's just hard work!

All is well, however. Yayyy! My younger sister got engaged a couple weeks ago to a very nice bloke, and there is all sorts of wedding planning going on. It's surreal to think that I'll have a brother-in-law, but in a way it's no surprise that this particular sister is the one who'll tie the knot before myself or my youngest sister (partly because she's youngest, and for me, well, I'm in no state to be tied down yet!). I wish them both the best and of course updates on this sickeningly cute wedding will come eventually. I can already tell it's going to be adorable beyond belief, if her Pinterest board is any indication...

I've been so busy that I haven't had a spare moment to sit down and consider scholarship applications. I know, right? I'm so excited to get going on them and then three weeks or a month disappears and I have not a single word written. I'll get there. Eventually. There is an official (!!!) start date for classes of 9 September 2013, and I'll have to probably be in Glasgow a good week beforehand for orientation, or what they like to call induction. I love the variations in English usage, seriously.

Also, one thing I'm SUPER PUMPED about, in a super-nerd prospective-postgraduate student way, is that the University of Glasgow just opened the doors to its very own Gilchrist Postgraduate Club, which includes a bar, coffee shop, and study space. So I'll get to hang out with postgrads and staff in a postgrad-only atmosphere. Holler! It actually looks really nice and modern; I can't wait to grab an espresso and write a paper there. Like I said, nerd.

Obviously the most important part of any college education.

Via The Gilchrist Club on Facebook (and the one above)
It's the little things I look forward to the most, y'know?

Finally, a couple more musical discoveries. One of my coworkers, who is incidentally a very good friend of mine, recently moved back to the area after a year away. Since he's been back, we've been trading musical suggestions and discoveries left and right (kind of like the old times) and my iTunes library has literally grown in size 1000% over the last couple weeks. Artists and albums to check out that I'm totally digging right now, in no particular order:

1. Lord Huron -- Lonesome Dreams, 2012 (IAMSOUND Records)
2. Passenger -- All the Little Lights, 2012 (Black Crow Records)
3. King Creosote & Jon Hopkins -- Diamond Mine Jubilee Edition, 2012 (Domino)
4. The Tallest Man on Earth -- Shallow Grave, 2008 (Gravitation)
5. Amy MacDonald -- Life in a Beautiful Light, 2012 (Melodramatic Records)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Celtic Tale

I found it! After some digging, a piece of musical nostalgia. And oh, how random and lovely it is too.

Since I got to thinking about what the first music albums were that I ever bought, I remembered a particular Celtic album that I bought when was probably only 12 or 13. I have a vague recollection of finding it at Barnes & Noble when the store had only been in town for a little while. When I was that age, B&N was a quintessentially magical place, and combined with how emotionally invested I could get at that age with any new musical discovery (or book series, or movie, etc.) I have very strong memories and associated feelings with certain music that I listened to then. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Queen's Greatest Hits brings back memories of driving to Minneapolis to see The Phantom of the Opera at the Orpheum. In 1997, I bought Hanson's Middle of Nowhere and became a die-hard fan almost overnight. When I was about 14, I bought Jonny Lang's Wander This World and recall taking a trip to Ann Arbor, MI with my dad for a long art fair.

I love that about music -- the feelings and memories it evokes, every association so different from the rest, yet no less vivid.

But back to the material point of this post, something a little different. I purchased A Celtic Tale: The Legend of Deirdre by Mychael and Jeff Danna sometime in the late 1990s. It came out in 1996, and both guys have gone on to produce numerous soundtracks and other albums for movies such as Girl, Interrupted and Resident Evil: Apocalypse, respectively. So even though I was surprised to find their names on big-budget movie soundtracks, it makes sense that A Celtic Tale sounds like a soundtrack in its own right, simply that of the Legend of Deirde.

Again, back to my impressionable tween self, no other record filled me with such inspiration or promoted my imagination as much as this album. I think I found it around a time that my dad was listening to Loreena McKennitt and Enya quite a bit in his home studio. And I had liked the Celtic sound of Enya and Loreena, so I picked this up, probably very randomly. I sat on the couch in the living room of my parents' house and listened to this on repeat. Pair that with a coffee table book of Ireland and I was a believer. I began to write fictional stories when I listened to this CD. Nothing much, of course, and I don't have anything anymore, but I remember a particular story involving a very mystical, shadowy castle somewhere on the Emerald Isle, tucked away in the mists of time. A sad and tender thing; at 12 or 13, I wonder now how that manifested itself on paper, now that I remember it as an adult. Silly, really. But I listen to it now, and it holds the same fascination. I can draw up the images clear as day.

And it's also clear I'm at risk of falling off my rocker entirely here, so...

I can be fairly certain that it kicked off my enduring interest in my Irish background, always bolstered by a niggling mystical feeling. Something about this album is just so lovely in that respect -- it's serene and yet epic without being corny like so many Celtic mood collections are. I suggest that anyone who has even a passing interest in Celtic tunes should take a listen. Of course I can't pass on my singular memories, which are probably most of the reason I find this album so lovely. But still, it's worth a mention. I'm so happy to have been able to find it again.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Free Digital Download with Vinyl Purchase

These have to be the best idea ever. I buy vinyl records more recklessly than anything else. I walk into the local independent record store (or my own used bookstore, for that matter, which sometimes gets a hoard of goodies), and leave with an armload of vinyl that feels deliciously wrong, what with the amount of cash I just forked over. But it takes about four seconds to get over that feeling, because what I hold in my arms is real treasure.

My argument for vinyl records is this: not only have they made a comeback in certain circles (indie, jazz), but they have withstood the test of time. It's hard to find a turntable -- you really have to want one in order to find a good one, but they're out there. I already went into my undying love with record stores when I expounded on my recent trip to/discovery of Jerry's Records in Pittsburgh. But actually getting home and playing the records is the real treat.

It's like when I was young and CDs were new (I know, right?) -- and opening the plastic packaging and reading through all the liner notes, and reading the lyrics in the car on the way home. It was the most exciting thing! And then, amped way up by all that, putting in the disc was just heaven. And of course, we're talking Des'ree and Counting Crows, but I should make a point to say that my very first album ever purchased with my own money was Queen's Greatest Hits on cassette. My love for it hasn't died. I now have it on vinyl as well as CD.

But anyway. I love vinyl records. We'll just leave it at that. Purchasing physical media is still something of a love affair for me. As much as I use the internet and have previously downloaded music from iTunes or transfered albums from computer to computer with friends -- or even now listened to just about everything on Spotify without actually purchasing anything... what about the things that I want to take with me in the car? I'd still have to pay for a monthly subscription somewhere, or pirate the music, which usually leaves me with a burnt CD of terrible sound quality anyway.

So back to vinyl. Because the clincher (and not all record labels are onto this yet, but many are, and they all should be, because it's genius) is that new records often come with free digital downloads. They tuck a little slip or a card in the sleeve and when you open it up, voila! You get a code that sends you to a website so that you can download the music legally, as a gift of sorts, for buying the record. And THEN you can burn it to a CD or put it on your iPod and it is all perfectly lovely in the case of quality, and for the conscience.

So this is my official plea to the rest of the record companies/artists who think this is a waste: do it anyway. I will be more likely to purchase a vinyl record in the future from a particular artist or record label if I know there is a digital copy included. Or, could be like the Black Keys in one instance, and a few other bands I've noticed, and just include a copy of the CD with it. Brilliant!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Kind of Blue Morning

I gathered up an A+ stack of music last night to listen to -- some of which I knew already, some of which I had yet to hear. This morning has been a Miles Davis' Kind of Blue sort of morning. 

I've been listening to jazz and classical a lot more during the day -- mostly at work, but also at home when I am writing, because it provides some sort of music background without being distracting. I've never been much of a jazz enthusiast (or classical, for that matter, until I discovered some English composers such as Elgar and Vaughan-Williams), but not for lack of wanting to be. Interestingly, since I work in a bookstore, it has always been bookstores that I associate with jazz. When I was about 14 or so, I was staying north of Milwaukee with my dad, helping him out with an air fair during a summer weekend. In the evening, we stopped into an independent bookstore in some anonymous upper-crust shopping center, and the adjoining coffee shop had a live jazz pianist, whose tunes wafted through the dark-shelved and cozy bookstore and forever impressed upon me the association between bookstores and jazz. Alas.

So now, whenever I have the chance at the bookstore I work at, I put in jazz, because it reminds me where I am. I love it. Yesterday I grabbed a few jazz titles along with some other alternative titles that I knew, but hadn't heard yet, save The Duke Spirit, which I have already and wanted to play in the car on the way home. ;) The 2009 Editors release, In This Light and On This Morning, is really great, and worth a couple listens.
1. Gene Ammons & Sonny Stitt - God Bless Jug and Sonny (Live at the Left Bank), Prestige
2. Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie - Bird & Diz, Verve
3. Editors - In This Light and On This Evening, Faderlabel
4. My Morning Jacket - Chocolate and Ice EP, Badman
5. Miles Davis - Kind of Blue, Columbia
6. Miles Davis - Cool Blues, NewSound
7. The Duke Spirit - The Duke Spirit, Shangri-La
8. The Walkmen - Bows & Arrows, Record Collection
9. Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers - A Night in Tunisia, Bluebird
10. Elgar - Symphony No. 2, EMI

Not Shown: Gene Ammons/Sonny Stitt - Boss Tenors, Verve

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Chazen Museum of Art's Current Exhibitions

The Chazen Museum of Art on the University of Wisconsin-Madison's campus just underwent a major expansion which now houses their permanent collection and temporary exhibitions in state of the art galleries. The new museum provides an opportunity for students and the public to see art -- for FREE -- that seriously rivals other universities. 

Yesterday I popped down to UW-Madison's Chazen Museum to see a couple of exhibitions. One was the large Offerings of the Angels, an exhibition of paintings and tapestries from the Uffizi in Florence, Italy that is currently traveling through the US. The Chazen is the only museum in the midwest to host this collection of Renaissance masterworks.

It was a very nice show. I will admit that Renaissance art has never been a huge source of interest for me, but I still appreciate this work immensely. The age of the work also astounds; some of the paintings were 500 years old, and look as though they could have been done a couple of decades ago. Particularly interesting to me was a wall devoted to a painting titled The Madonna and Child with Saint Catherine of Alexandria by the Workshop of Titian, c. 1550-60 that not only showed the recently restored painting, which had been cleaned and spruced up after centuries of grime accumulated and paint had chipped off, but also showed reproductions of images taken during the conservation and restoration process. The images showed X-rays and other images found beneath and behind the image we can see now on the canvas. It was lovely to get an inside look at what was underneath the topmost layer of paint, and to see what historians used to date this piece and assign it the way they did.

Workshop of Titian, The Madonna with Child and Saint
Catherine of Akexandria,
c. 1550-60

Another one of my favorite pieces was actually a page from an illuminated manuscript that had been mounted to a board to be displayed like a painting. The craftsmanship was amazing; manuscripts always amaze me with their brilliancy and detail for a surface so small in comparison to many paintings or tapestries.

I also stopped in to see a student-curated two-gallery show called the Golden Age of British Watercolors, which contained a range of subject matter by various British artists in the 19th century. The one below, The Devil's Bridge, St. Gotthard Pass by Alfred William Hunt, c. 1859 was one of my favorites. Although watercolor is often given short shrift as a fine art medium, relegated to the status of "sketching" or "pastime" painting on a lower level than say, oil -- this sort of image does much to throw that notion to the wind.

It was a lovely visit, as always. If ever in Madison, WI, visit the Chazen Museum of Art for a fantastic permanent collection of modern and contemporary art, and a wonderful rotation of temporary exhibitions, lectures, and demonstrations by curators and staff.

Offerings of the Angels runs through November 25, 2012, and The Golden Age of British Watercolors runs through December 2, 2012.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Pool Table

Via Contemporist

Yes, a pool table, literally! Check out the mini diving board on the right. Ahh! I just love this. So witty. A coffee table by Freshwest Design at Superbrands London Design Festival. I could totally make room in my living room for this baby.

Gottfried Helnwein

Via Hi-Fructose

This says it all. I love it. This particular image, titled simply Childs Head, by Gottfried Helnwein will appear in a show in Toronto opening November 28 which will also include work by Ray Caesar and Catherine Howe among others.

I'd never heard of Gottfried Helnwein before, so I checked out his website. Dude is serious. Some good images of him at work are available on his page, but it's worth a glance at collections that own his work in the US and abroad to give you an idea of the scale of this artist's influence among the art collectors -- his work belongs to numerous outstanding contemporary art museums as well as the private collections of celebrities ranging from Nicholas cage to Marilyn Manson.

Opening May 1, 2013 he will have a solo show at the Friedman Benda Gallery in Chelsea, NYC. Just in case one finds oneself in New York...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Creative Youth Network Online Art Auction


The Creative Youth Network, located in Kingswood, England, near Bristol, is a center for inspiring youth through the arts, and is hosting an online auction of a number of contemporary artists. The Youth Network is a pretty amazing program, and I'm always excited to come across educational and proactive programs that really encourage young people to pursue the arts, and to take it seriously. They are hosting an online auction, and some names in the catalogue are familiar, such as Shepard Fairey and HUSH, and I discovered the photography of Barry Cawston on the Art Action @ The Station online catalogue. The auction opens October 18 and stays open for two weeks.

Even though The Creative Youth Network is located in England, I urge anyone and everyone with even a passing interest in the arts, to think of and support local endeavors that promote the arts to students and young people. I can't emphasize enough how important it is for the arts (and I mean music, drama, creative writing, you name it -- the arts, plural) to be a part of young people's lives. These initiatives need all the support they can get, and even if it's a matter of a suggested donation at a local museum, consider dropping in a dollar. You'd probably over-tip the bartender with it anyway, so put it to good use and keep the arts in schools and keep the doors open for institutions and programs that keep kids creating.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Sense of an Ending

Photo via Belgrade Bookshop

What a triumph by Julian Barnes. I'm going to read a bunch of his other novels now. He's written at least ten others, but The Sense of an Ending (Knopf in hardcover, Vintage in paperback, 2011) is the first novel in a long while that absorbed me to the point that I was walking and reading simultaneously. It's possible to read the entire thing in one good sitting, or split into a couple. At 176 pages, it packs a punch.

One of my favorite passages:

I spent the next few days trying to think round all the angles and corners of Adrian's death. While I could hardly have expected a farewell letter myself, I was disappointed for Colin and Alex. And how was I to think about Veronica now? Adrian loved her, yet he had killed himself: how was that explicable? For most of us, the first experience of love, even if it doesnt work out--perhaps especially when it doesn't work out--promises that here is the thing that validates, that vindicates life. And though subsequent years might alter this view, until some of us give up on it altogether, when love first strikes, there's nothing like it, is there? Agreed?         
But Adrian didn't agree.

Tony Webster, a middle aged English man confronted with remembrances of times and friends past, and also with the effect and defects of memory, introduces us to his friends from his youth: Colin, Alex, and Adrian. We meet Veronica, with whom he shared a twisted and uncomfortable relationship in college, and Tony remembers -- or tries -- how these friends lost touch and then how, decades later, he was faced with the consequences of actions of his youth.

So much of this book resonated with me personally. I think that's why it was so absorbing -- I was like a sponge while I read it, as if this fictional Tony Webster was a voice from my future telling me to stop and listen, and to learn from this lesson he was in the process of learning himself. By the end, I was certain that I was right: I had learned a lesson, and loved this novel all the more for it. Barnes' prose is beautiful, and he remembers Tony Webster's youthful and pretentious pedantry without coming across as pedantic. It's a feat, and it's magical.

I can't say enough about this book, so I'll stop here to be on the safe side. I don't generally collect fiction, and it's rare that I follow an author's work, but I feel that Julian Barnes, with this one title, may have won me. The Sense of an Ending took the 2011 Man Booker Prize.

Monday, October 15, 2012


I knew I'd get around to sharing this eventually! Part two of my recent road trip out east: a little slice of heaven, Frank Lloyd Wright style.

Fallingwater, in Mill Run, PA, is a little off the beaten path, and you need a car, or at least an organized bus (orrr a really good idea of bus routes) to get there. Mill Run is kind of a funky, claptrap kind of town. There are some cute buildings downtown, but many of the shopfronts are shut and a number of enormous and once very ornate houses on the main street are now boarded over and abandoned. The typical American downtown in the 21st century?

My sister and I had our own car, as it was a road trip, so the challenge was not so much getting there, but finding it. I managed to veer down an alley at one point, thinking myself the totally-on-top-of-it road warrior, but Mill Run has some funny intersections and a number of one-ways, so beware, tentative driver, if you happen to find yourself there.

When we made it through Mill Run proper and out into the country, we followed a hilly road to the entrance of the park, which is demarcated by a lovely FLW-esque sign that and a beautiful little drive into the parking area through shady trees which hadn't quite started to turn color yet.

After purchasing our tickets, we parked and made for the visitor center, which is kind of wonderful in itself. The central desk is the nucleus of this little amoeba of a visitor pavilion, with little arms that stretched out to encompass the restrooms, a cafe, and the gift shop. It was all quite nice. After a cursory look around the museum shop, our tour was called -- you have to book a tour to see the house -- and we wandered down gravel trails through the woods until we came upon this:

We met our tour guide on a bridge that used to be the driveway around the back of the house and up to the car ports. The water was low that day, as the summer had been so dry, but there was a trickle. The platform at the bottom of the stairwell was several inches above the water, but often hovers at water level when the stream is more active.

Not the best photo, admittedly, but I loved the way the house seemed so float in the forest as we walked in front of it. And from this angle you get a good idea of the number and significance of the windows in the place.

We weren't allowed to take photographs inside the house, which was unsurprising. True to Wright, there was a tendency for small bedrooms and small walkways that opened up into expansive common areas and out onto the numerous terraces. Standing on the various levels and seeing the house and the grounds from different perspectives was really amazing in itself. It seemed never to end.

My favorite thing about Wright was his inclination, especially with this house, to preserve, work with, and emphasize nature. All of the rooms had windows and/or terraces that brought the outside in. And not only that, but he made sure there was very little that obstructed that view. The way the corner windows hinged open on the outsides and left openness in the middle as opposed to a window frame to block the view was genius. But it was also the little things. The original owner wanted a large desk in his bedroom, but there were swinging windows that would be in the way, so Wright simply cut out a quarter-circle shape in the surface of the desk so that the window could still swing open. Outside, the photo below sort of illustrates how no detail was overlooked:

All of Wright's furniture was integrated perfectly with the house; the craftsmanship was unbelievable.

Even if Wright it's my all-time favorite architect, there is still some serious respect to be had for someone who could design something of such beauty -- and something so livable. It was an awesome opportunity to see one of the most iconic houses in the world, and I'm glad we made it there.

25th Anniversary of Phantom of the Opera

While most of my regional viewing area was watching the Packers pummel the Texans last night, I opted to watch the 25th anniversary performance of Andrew Lloyd Weber's The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall, which is streaming currently on Netflix.

I've seen the performance live three times--in Minneapolis once, and then twice more when it came to the performing arts centers in Green Bay and Appleton. I grew up listening to it; when my grandmother took us on outings when we were young, we always dug out the cassette tape (yup.) from her stash and played it. It was that or our other favorite, Neil Diamond's "Coming to America." Don't get me started.

I've been slow to appreciate the theatre, and I'm very picky about what I go see. Thus far I've been limited to the biggies: The Who's Tommy, Miss Saigon, Phantom, et. al. But I can't stand Rent, or Wicked, or many others, so perhaps I'm a rock opera girl, not a musical girl. Alas. The ones that I have a connection to are typically those that my parents went to see when I was young and I listened to the soundtracks, or eventually the ones I saw myself when I got a little bit older. It's a small pool, but Phantom is, hands down, the biggest fish.

Anyone even remotely interested in The Phantom of the Opera, or even more significantly, nostalgically connected to it, should see the Royal Albert Hall performance. It beats the 2004 movie by leaps and bounds. The camera work is quite good, and it's easy to forget you're watching a filmed live performance until the camera scales back at intermission for a moment to reveal that, oh yeah, there is a huge audience in there. And the performances are just super. It's interesting to see a stage performance so up close and personal, as opposed to being seated in a balcony at the back of the hall where minute facial expressions are impossible to see. That is not the case here.

The only disappointing thing is that the chandelier doesn't actually rise or fall. What's with that? That was the best part. ;)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Abstraktes Bild = $34.3 million

Abstraktes Bild, Gehrard Richter, 1994
This painting sums up why I am both in love with and entirely mystified by the art world. Or, shall I say, the art market. Art history and the art market are necessarily related, but also completely separate. I appreciate Gehrard Richter, 80, as an artist, for example. I think this painting is an exemplary piece of contemporary art. His name is practically synonymous with contemporary art.

And this painting just sold at Sotheby's for £21,321,250 ($34,297,363). The sale broke the record for largest sale of a piece of work by a living artist. Which at those figures I imagine is pretty easy to believe. Sure, it's a big painting at 102 3/8 x 133 7/8in. The Guardian has a good image for scale. And like I said, it's exemplary. But $34.5 million????

Oh wait, I forgot to mention that it was sold from Eric Clapton's private collection. Right.

So that seems to be where the difference comes in. An extremely large part of why this painting sold for so much is because of that lovely little word that museums love (to hate?): provenance. For collectors and connoisseurs, where the painting has been before is almost as important as the painting itself. 

I love this painting (I'll just throw that out there, it's true), but the value of work is something that kind of boggles the mind. And this isn't the highest auction figure -- not by a long shot. Gustav Klimt is a notoriously high raker-in -- figures have exceeded $40 million. And back in May of this year, Edvard Munch's The Scream set the record at nearly $120 million.



It's interesting that my job at the bookstore is largely based on placing values on books and other printed and recorded material so that they can be resold. All day long I compare current prices from in-print as well as out-of-print and occasionally collectible material. It's interesting then, in a way, that I don't see art this way at all. I can't even begin to start placing a monetary value on The Scream, or on a Monet, or a Vermeer or whatever. How can one-of-a-kind artistic and even cultural icons have price tags? It seems so weird. But then again, I'm not a collector or an appraiser. I thought about becoming one -- yes, I started an application to Christie's in London, but alas, I just couldn't wrap my head around it. The cash that people/companies are willing to shell out to purchase -- actually, invest in these works is just amazement itself.

But the numbers keep rising to baffling heights, and I just have to sit back and take it all in. Because I just don't get it at all. I do, but again, I don't. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

15 pounds

I've been trying to figure out how to write The Weight Entry. Yes, that's right. Weight.

Here's the scoop. I have been overweight since... forever. Basically, since adolescence. I've been what the BMI scale determines to be "obese," however, I dare to say that's wrong. I'm healthy. I haven't had a medical issue/condition pretty much ever, and other than a yearly-or-so cold, I don't really get sick. Knock on wood, of course, but there you have it. I enjoy riding my bike for 25-50 miles at a time in mild weather and I'm on my feet all day at work. So let's just get that overweight-but-weirdly-healthy part out of the way.

But that still leaves the overweight part. My "ideal" or "healthy" weight is somewhere a good thirty pounds less than what I am. So says those impersonal BMI scales again, so let's just take this with a grain of salt, shall we?

Back in June, two things happened, or should I say, culminated. One, I learned that I didn't win a scholarship to go to grad school this fall, so I had to wait an extra year. I had been stressed about this for months, and was depressed afresh when I learned that my plans would have to be put off. I got lazy. I ate terribly. And that leads me to the second thing, which is that I weighed myself one day and realized that I was the heaviest I had ever been in my entire life, none of my clothes were fitting, and I felt like shit.

I learned a very interesting tip from Neil Gaiman right around that time: focus on the mountain that is your goal. It may be in the distance, far off, and you haven't even reached it yet. But whatever you do, work toward your goal. If you do this one thing, will it help you get to your mountain? Will it send you back down it? His commencement speech from earlier this year rings loud and clear.

So I decided to just change the way I ate. I actually forbade myself to do exercise because I knew it would spark my appetite. So I cut my calories to somewhere between 1200-1600 per day, made sure to drink lots of water, and ate monounsaturated fat in just about every meal as a rule. I still go to restaurants and eat enriched pasta, but not every day. I still drink countless beers on nights when I go out, but not every time. I drink so much more water than I ever did before. It's been seriously challenging, but also quite fun. I've been able to experience a lot of interesting cuisine because of it -- and hardly ever feel as though I was dieting. I think the key to that is simply this: it's not a diet so much as a permanent change in how I eat. I don't intend to stop eating this way. It's awesome. I love it. I feel 100x better being healthy than working toward some goal called "skinny." Of course, it's impossible to completely rule that out. As a woman, I'm programmed to think that's the goal of all goals, right? Oh yeah, and to marry a multi-millionaire. With a yacht. Naturally.


Well, you know. But what I really want is to look awesome in a pair of jeans, to wear a size medium instead of a large, and maybe most interestingly... see what I look like at a healthy weight that I have never, ever been before. How will I feel? How will my face shape change? What kind of new, fun clothes will I be able to try -- and feel confident in?

Today is a day for small rejoicing, because I just reached a milestone of 15lbs lost since June. This of course leaves me with quite a way to go, but fifteen pounds, in the scheme of things, is great news for me. It's the most I've ever lost on a diet, to begin, and also well past the point in any such diet that the excuse of "water weight" or "just a fluke of the scale" can be applied. It's real, healthy weight loss, and I'm happy to say that I feel great and I fit into most of my old jeans already.

One trick has worked exceptionally well for me when it comes to achieving small goals. I shop at Goodwill and other thrift shops, or the Target clearance racks, constantly. Let's throw TJMaxx in there for good measure. I think I have a fun, if a little eccentric style, and I like to try new skirts and jeans and whatnot whenever I can find them on the cheap. Over the last couple of months, I've had great success motivating myself to shed a couple more pounds by purchasing a skirt or a pair of jeans that I'm in love with, but are still just slightly too small. One size too small, let's say. Or just small enough that once they stretch out a bit, they'll be fine. But today, they don't fit. And I buy them anyway. Because I love them immensely, and I want to wear them so badly that I try them on week after week until they finally fit. Et voila! Next up is a skirt by Fei I found the other day that will fit before fall is out! I'm determined.

Hopefully I'll get up the courage to share some o' my style here. Right now, the annoyance is that none of my previously favorite clothes are fitting correctly anymore. A good problem, but a problem nonetheless, and one I'll address soon. ;)


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Eagle Mill = Kaukauna Library

I'm a history nerd. And incidentally, a bibliophile. I'm an aspiring art historian currently working as a bookseller. Put those things together, and the thought of historic building renovation and a new library kind of has me on the tips of my toes. A while back, I wrote a mini love note to our library, but times are changing.

Why is this news to me? My mom, who has been following this for some time, indeed informs me that it has been discussed for some time, and only now seems to be on the road to reality.

Kaukauna, WI is a small city on the Fox River in Northeast Wisconsin that has thrived for the past century-plus as a mill town, producing, most notably, paper. A large paper mill still works in the city, but this historic part, much closer to downtown, is no longer a part of their functioning millopolis. The building was originally constructed in 1872 and called the Eagle Flour Mill, and then later became a paper mill. It's abutted by a bunch of later and less attractive warehouses that the city intends to tear down to make room for public space and much-needed parking space. All told, the proposed project racks up $7.6 million to renovate, but hey. THIS IS AWESOME.

The building sits on an oblong island in Kaukauna, between the Fox River and one of the city's canals. As of now, pedestrian access is super limited and even driving is kind of pain. Not that there's much for non-mill employees to care about back there, but it is kind of scenic along the water.

The Kaukauna Public Library, as it stands, is a historic building in its own right, and has been standing and in use since 1905. It's what's considered a Carnegie library, built with funds supplied by arts grant-giver extraordinaire Andrew Carnegie. But it was added onto in the 1970s and it's beginning to suffer a little from settling. They don't have proper meeting space for community gatherings, and they want to expand their space for computer users. They need to renovate the current building regardless. There is mysteriously little mention of what they intend to do with the current library building, so I'll have to keep tabs on that. 

But overall, I think all all of this is fantastic, and I also think that using a preexisting building is wonderful. Kaukauna is in dire need of a little revitalization, and this is definitely a move in the right direction. I'm excited for them to get started and to have a new, interesting, and historic space that the community can really use. Now, if someone could only do something with that ridiculously enormous and hideous vacant lot in the very middle of the north side...

Husky - Forever So

Via Sub Pop

Surprise, another music post. This isn't a music blog, at least totally (eep!), but for whatever reason, I've found a few super stellar acts recently, and they have been the background music enough the past few days that I need to share.

Currently hooked on: Husky. They're an Australian outfit signed to Sub Pop (which should tip any indie buffs off right there) in the US. Their first album Forever So was released this past July.

Of course, I didn't know any of this until I was driving through Pittsburgh a couple weeks ago and listening to their top notch alternative station 91.3 WYEP and they had Husky live in the studio (you can listen at that link). They caught my attention right away.

I have a natural tendency to cringe pre-emptively when I hear in-studio performances on the radio. Perhaps it is because the studio performances here in Northeast Wisconsin are a little short of... good. Ahem. The sound quality is usually terrible and if the artist - whoever they are, bless their little hearts - misses a note, I just can't handle it. Because it's live. Gah. Alas, Husky not only allowed me to relax, they had me a little in awe. And so.

Forever So is an excellent debut! Mellow and melodic with a tinkling keyboard and gentle guitars... it's wonderful fall music. It's only too bad that they're touring only in Australia right now!

Give it a listen; you will be happy you did.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Dear Scotland,

Excuse me for a moment while I visualize my future.


Okay, now that that's over (hold on a second, I need to look at it just one more time) -- Alright. For real. That lovely photograph, which of course is not mine and is courtesy of the Scottish expat blog Dear Scotland, is of the main building of the University of Glasgow. Obviously looking a tad more like a scene from Braveheart than the place I will be attending school, but it's the sort of silly thing that keeps me totally amped. How could it not? Seriously. Just look at it. I'm going to give myself a panic attack any second.

Reality has started to set in, however. Of the good, constructive kind, though. I've got about eight scholarship applications (and counting, hopefully) that cover a slew of university-specific and national scholarships and bursaries. I'm trying to get whatever I can to help alleviate the ridiculousness that constitutes grad school tuition in general, plus that whole "international rate" bugalloo, and the annoying-but-understandable British immigration rule that requires every single penny that I'll need for the following 12 months already in my bank account the moment I hit the tarmac. And then there's that pesky conversion rate from the dollar to the pound, which has marginally improved since I studied abroad, but that's mostly due to economies in the rubbish bin all over the place, and not just ours anymore. Boooooo!!!

But more to the point, a couple of the national scholarship applications have opened (with deadlines extending into May, so I've got plenty of time to work on these), and I'm doing my best to get whatever I can out of the way early. This is my second time round the scholarship application carousel, and I intend to do it right (or better) this time around. Let the self-aggrandizement commence! Ha.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Hudson Taylor - New EP

I've found it! My once-in-a-blue-moon new favorite band! In fact, a couple of brothers, Harry and Alfie, from Ireland. The only sad thing about this whole scenario is that they only have four released songs. Their spectacular, melodic, folk-pop EP Battles is out now on iTunes: http://bzz.is/8eq The first track "Battles" particularly won me. It was half over and I was already hankering to listen to it again. Think Mumford & Sons without the huskiness of Marcus Mumford, tucked in with a little of The Kooks and a Hudson Taylor energetic cheeriness that's all their own.

I think they're going places. I have a feeling a live set is just energetic as hell. I can't wait for an album! Keep up with them on Facebook.

Via the band's Facebook

Monday, October 8, 2012

Destination Pittsburgh

I've had a hankering to write about my recent road trip eastward, but wanted to give it a few days to settle in (and also for my road weariness to go wear itself somewhere else). For a week and a half at the end of September and into the beginning of this month, I drove my getting-on-100k-miles Hyundai out east on a whirlwind drive from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania, down to Virginia, and back up through West Virginia, Ohio and home again. It was a lot lot lot of driving.

I've had just about a week to let it all filter through. Out of any place we (my sister Ali and I) went -- and we're talking Chesapeake Bay, Jamestown and Williamsburg, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Charlottesville (VA), and so on, it turns out that Pittsburgh and its environs take the cake.

When I decided to go to Pittsburgh, I had one destination in mind: The Andy Warhol Museum. I consider myself a pretty big fan. Not as maniacal as some I've met, but in the art history world, it's practically a sin to not at least respect the man. So I decided to book a hotel downtown within walking distance from the museum, and that was about all I knew about Pittsburgh until I got there.

And whoa.

From Grandview, down the street from the Duquesne Incline on Mt Washington

One, it's beautiful. It was rainy a little bit of the time we were there, but we didn't let that stop us. The Duquesne Incline, a historic so-called "funicular" (I love that!) or inclined rail, that goes up and down Mt. Washington, offers a brilliant panoramic view of the city and the surrounds. We went up at dusk and saw the city lights starting to twinkle.

Get me in a picture! 

The Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers meet to form the Ohio River around the business district, giving downtown a triangular shape that kind of makes navigation interesting (compounded by the whole numbered street-numbered avenue thing, but we figured it out). I loved the numerous bridges over the rivers, various murals on old brick buildings, the occasional art installation in a vacant store front or corner public space, and the reproduction wooden ships, the Nina and Pinta docked right outside the Del Monte Center.

Pittsburgh is chock full of museums. There are four Carnegie museums (one of which is the one devoted to Andy Warhol), the Fort Pitt Museum, and the Frick Art & Historical Center -- a big one for art buffs, and alas, I did not get there. And of course, plenty of great older churches and funky shops.

One such shop that I just have to highlight is the wonderful and dream-like Jerry's Records on Murray Ave in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood, just east of Carnegie Mellon University. 

Via Jerry's -- You get the idea.

Walking into Jerry's is at first like walking into someone's attic. You're greeted by mountainous crates and stashes of unpriced vinyl records that make you wonder, for a moment, if you've walked in the wrong way and perhaps accidentally stepped into the back room. But to the left you enter the largest room of the store, which contains literally floor-to-ceiling rock/pop on vinyl. 45s in boxes stacked on ceiling-high shelving units, 12" singles in boxes and crates on the floor, overstock in overhead units, and so on. Other genres take you on a maze-like tour through the upstairs of this one-of-a-kind place -- vocalists and gospel give way to a room of jazz, which thankfully has a turntable with headphones hooked up so you can test everything.

I plugged the meter for an hour, and stayed longer than that -- until Jerry's closed that night. At least I didn't get a parking ticket, and left with a couple jazz records -- an Erroll Garner and Andre Previn UK import. I didn't see a single thing over eight bucks. Can't beat it.

And as for the Andy Warhol Museum -- I'm just going to hazard a guess that 20 bucks entry fee is a little steep for the average curious museum-goer. I think so, anyway. I really love Warhol, and would have paid an entry fee just to use the old-fashioned photo booth in the basement, but I still cringed a little bit when Ali and I forked over $40. But we had fun laying on the floor in the silver cloud room and meandering through rooms full of nothing but gold Elvises and skulls. The skull gallery was by far my favorite.

The Andy Warhol Bridge and the business district further yonder.

So, where the Warhol Museum is concerned -- if you like his stuff, and you want to invest some time to really absorb it, then you should absolutely go. It's superb. On the other hand, if you have a passing fancy for it, but would rather go get Starbucks, then... well. I admit I probably shouldn't tell you, in good faith, as an aspiring art historian, that going to get Starbucks will make you feel marginally less overcharged. Marginally.

Our afternoon foray to Fallingwater soon to come. ;)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The 2nd Law - Muse (does it again).

I've listened a few times, and I think I can safely say that Muse's newest album, The 2nd Law, which dropped in the US on October 2 on Warner, is, well, okay, BOSS. Lots of info here.

A long-time Muse fan, I remember discovering their third album, Absolution, while searching for music on LiveJournal (anyone?) and subsequently played. it. to. death. The lead vocalist/guitarist/maverick, Matthew Bellamy's almost operatic voice just reels me in every single time. I can't ever just cut a song off halfway through. There's always a climax to get to. The songs, much like the albums, require, and in fact, compel you to listen through to the end. Absolution was probably the album that skyrocketed them to their current status as rock heroes here in the U.S. And their followups, Black Holes and Revelations (2006), The Resistance (2009), and now The 2nd Law, have never, ever, even remotely disappointed. Each one seems to pick up where the last one left off, each one seemingly grander than the last.

"Take a Bow," the first track off their 2006 release, was featured in the movie and trailer for Watchmen (2009), and I don't think a featured song in a film trailer has ever made me as excited for something I would otherwise probably have been very non-excited about. 

I love the intense symphonic sound that Muse unfailingly brings to the table. The themes are epic, melodic even when they can be heavy. It's glam, theatrical, but most of all, fun! And great, of course, for wailing along to in the car on high volume (guilty). 

The 2nd Law opens with an exhilarating track, "Supremacy," the intro to which harkens back to Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir." And the second track, and incidentally the second single off the album, "Madness" is extreeeeeemely hard to listen to only once or twice. Or ten or twenty times. (The first single release was "Survival," which was the 2012 Summer Olympics official song.) Another lovely example of a great build is "Follow Me," which throws down some pretty danceable beats that are still thick enough with guitar and arching vocals that at least I'm spared feeling like I've just landed in an alt rock night club, but still kind of want to get out of my seat and move. Track 9, "The Big Freeze," sounds like U2 (I'm not big on U2) as much as they have been compared to Radiohead. I still hear that influence, but the beauty of Muse is that they continually experiment and expand their sound, so they never sound like one thing for long. It keeps me seriously hooked.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Elementary, dear Watson. -- AWESOME SONG ALERT!

There is simply no such thing as too much Sherlock!

I've been merrily lusting--I mean! watching--Did I say lusting? after Benedict Cumberbatch via his wonderful, sparkly, digital-age Sherlock on PBS. Now that Jonny Lee Miller has taken up the moniker on CBS's Elementary (starring Lucy Liu as Watson), I'm hooked afresh.

Last spring, London's National Theatre was showing Frankenstein, Danny Boyle's freakishly dazzling production of Shelley's classic, and both Cumberbatch and Miller played the main roles. They alternated, even, which made it more exciting -- some nights Cumberbatch was the monster, sometimes Miller. And the night I went, Miller played Dr. Frankenstein. Now, I mention this because a) it founded, or perhaps cemented, a deep and enduring love for both actors, and b) made it much easier to see them as a Victorian police consultant hero -- just now both plopped down in the 21st century.

Where the BBC/PBS's Sherlock sticks to its London roots, CBS's Elementary moves Sherlock to New York in a very modern post-rehab stint. Sherlock, previously a consultant at London's Scotland Yard, took a turn for the worse with substance abuse and ended up on New York City to make a fresh start with the NYPD. Watson is, in fact, a woman, Dr. Joan Watson, who enters Sherlock's life as a compulsory sober companion, care of Sherlock's as-yet absent and wealthy father.

I'm never convinced by pilot episodes, this series' of which premiered September 27. But after a viewing of the second episode from this past Thursday, I'm going to hazard that I'm hooked. It doesn't take much with a cleverly written crime drama and a main character named Sherlock Holmes. Duh.

Also, I have to share the most lovely, entrancing song that appeared at the end of the episode. Props to those trendy folks picking the soundtrack, seriously. Below is a YouTube video of London artist James Mathé/Barbarossa playing the ethereal "Bloodlines." You can also hear it on his MySpace page here.

Pass it along! And I've simply got to find this guy's record.

I'm baaaaack...

Cue maniacal laughter? Err..

Well, wasn't that nearly-two-year hiatus fun. (!? Where does time go?) In the meantime, I attempted another blog somewhat similar to this one that essentially shared recipes and crafts, but I go in phases with that. Hence, its sudden demise. And yet here, silently floating on, is little red fish. I think it's time to get back into this thing.

Previously, it was a free-for-all "this is what I like" blog. Everything from recipes to movies to what I was wearing, trips I took, tea I drank. You get the picture. It's still going to be pretty much that. Additionally, events have taken a turn since November 2010... I'm going back to college! That's right, I've been accepted into the technical art history masters program at the University of Glasgow (Scotland! I know, right?) !!! I don't know, can you tell I'm pumped?

Things are going to start getting exciting around here. So look for lots of news about that, and all sorts of crazy, fun things I find and want to share before and after I get there.

Notes on a Small Island by Bill Bryson (William Morrow, 1997).

Partly in honor of my reaffirmed obsession interest in the UK, I picked up Bill Bryson's travel lit for the first time and have to say it's a) hilarious, and b) well worth a read, whether you've been to the UK or not. Particularly since he is an American who lived there for 20 years, his perspective is pretty much squared up with mine. Loving it so far. Humor and adventure and mishaps along the way. Real travel! And of course, a great read.