Small Town Texas, Big Taste

On our Christmas trip to Texas I told my husband (the Artist) that I wanted to see more of Texas.

So we went to Nacogdoches, the oldest town in Texas with a fun name to say (the “g” is silent). We toured the outside of Stephen F. Austin State University, his alma mater.

img_4346

I thought these circular dorm buildings were particularly interesting. I was reminded of the round room we had in the turret of the Empress Hotel in Victoria.

img_4345

We walked through the arboretum along the creek where we took in some swinging benches, lovely bridges, and alarming student public art.

img_4349

img_4352

img_4353

The trail opened out onto a grove of pecan trees, aptly named Pecan Park.

img_4364

The downtown was small but charming with its cobblestone streets and red brick buildings. The 28 degree Celsius weather certainly didn’t make it feel like Christmas, but it was fun to see the decorations regardless.

img_4372

img_4371

They sure know how to do their window displays.

img_4382

img_4378

img_4375

But what I’ll remember most about Nacogdoches are these Texas-sized onion rings my husband accidentally ordered, wanting to make sure the four of us had enough. After living in Canada for so long, he forgets what “Texas-sized” actually means. Oh we had enough alright. The pile was so high a table of eight looked at us incredulously when the waitress placed it in front of us.

img_4341

The other small town we visited was Lockhart. It has a beautiful courthouse but we went for their barbecue at Smitty’s Market.

img_4458

This unassuming place (behind the motorcycle) was named one of the Top Barbecue Restaurants in Texas, and my taste buds would agree. The smell that hits you when you walk into the barbecue pit is enough to get you salivating, and you’ll be salivating for a while as the line-up is long (for good reason, though it goes pretty quickly).

img_4476

You watch the apron-clad employees take the meat from the smoker and cut it on a table right in front of you, the walls black with decades of built-up grease (it opened in 1948). My father-in-law warned me not to lean up against the walls because you’d be taking some of that grease home with you.

image4

image2-1

De-li-cious. We devoured brisket, ribs, and pork chops on the tailgate of his truck. A stranger walking by took in the sight of the three of us and said, “Ain’t that the life?”

img_4460

In that moment I felt like this bumper sticker I got in my stocking was not far off the mark.

img_20170115_213430275

La La Land of Sun and Shadows

I used to not enjoy watching movies that were musicals—the unreality of everyone in town bursting out of doors, grabbing props, knowing all the words and having the same choreographed movements to a song. I felt this way in Mamma Mia. Also, the plots of these musicals seem to be paper thin, inferior to the song and dance numbers. Maybe my tastes have changed, or I’ve gotten better at suspension of disbelief, or this movie integrated plot and song better because I really enjoyed Damien Chazelle’s La La Land starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. It was one of the most whimsical and magical movies I’ve seen. (warning: spoilers ahead)

From the opening scene of traffic gridlock on an LA freeway where drivers come out of their cars singing the same cheerful song (“Another Day of Sun”) and dancing on their hoods and trunks, it sets the tone that yes, this is going to be a musical, there is going to be singing, and there are going to be scenes that would never happen in real life. I went along with it. Thankfully the plot still held up without the songs, of which there actually weren’t that many.

This movie is significantly set in LA where young dreamers go to chase their dream. This might show my ignorance but until looking up “la la land” in the Oxford American Dictionary, I didn’t realize its origin is actually a reduplication of LA and refers to “Los Angeles or Hollywood, especially with regard to the lifestyle and attitudes of those living there or associated with it, i.e. a fanciful state or dreamworld.” True enough.

la-la-land-featured-image-gosling-stone

Gosling plays Sebastien or Seb, a 30-something jazz pianist afraid that classical jazz is going to die and dreams of opening his own jazz club where he can play all the free jazz he wants to and not get fired over deviating from a stilted Christmas set list that happens when we meet him at the beginning of the film.

Stone plays Mia, a barista who goes from audition to audition, trying to catch her big break and become an actress. She is not having much luck though. She reluctantly goes along to parties with her roommates in the hopes of meeting someone who can help her out, since it’s implied that it’s all who you know.

In this La La Land where characters are living in their fantasy more than their reality, Mia and Sebastien keep running into each other, including at one of these parties, and you know how it goes from there. I went into this movie excited to see the extremely talented and likeable pairing of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone after their evident chemistry in Crazy, Stupid Love , and they were fantastic. It didn’t matter that their singing wasn’t flawless, though it was definitely adequate. It had a rawness to it that made it more genuine and endearing.

g8f1ucxy_400x400

Their love story plays out against the backdrop of them pursuing their work dreams and all the ups and downs along the way. One of these “downs” is Sebastien joining a pop-jazz group called The Messengers so he can have a steady gig even though Mia thinks he’s selling out to do so. Tired of vacuous auditions, Mia writes and performs her own play to a very small audience that her own boyfriend failed to make it to due to a commitment with his band. Many other reviewers have picked up on this as well but it struck me immediately after watching the movie that we see all these scenes of Sebastien playing the kind of jazz that makes him come alive, but we never see Mia acting in her play that makes her come alive. Although he reads her script and tells her it’s amazing, Sebastien never once sees Mia act. As this Vox article states, the movie does care more for Sebastien’s character. Ultimately, Mia does get an audition which she nails in what is the most heart-wrenching and gutsiest song  (“Here’s to the hearts that ache, / Here’s to the mess we make”), but it lands her a role in Paris and their long-distance relationship doesn’t work out or was never attempted. Before she leaves, they say to each other, “I’ll always keep loving you.”

la-la-land-633x356

The movie ends five years later where Mia is an A-list actress, happily coming home to a daughter and a husband who is not Sebastien. Her and her husband go out to dinner and step into a jazz club called Seb’s where they see the man himself and he sees her. When he sits down to the keys, he plays his and Mia’s theme song, a melancholic waltz more than jazz. Mia’s mind goes down memory lane in one of the loveliest montages of the film where she imagines every scene—how things were supposed to be, who they were supposed to be with. It’s very bittersweet. Mia and Seb look at each other from across the room before she leaves, and there is a small smile on both their faces, proud of what the other has become, but also pained that they did it apart and that road is closed off to them now.

I read that this ending is divisive and some people really don’t like it. I do, though I will admit that the trailer and sunny opening sequence don’t set you up for this “shadow side.” It defied the predictable ending I was expecting from a movie classified as a musical romantic comedy, and it also seemed a more realistic commentary on La La Land: maybe you can’t have it all.

A Crafty Winter

Happy New Year! I’ve been waiting for Christmas to be over in one aspect: so I can finally share some of my sewing projects I’ve been up to.

img_4280

This year I decided to make gifts for the women in my family. It was a great way to avoid all the malls and crowds and give something a bit more personal, though I probably won’t touch the sewing machine for some time now.

Table Runners

img_4155

I know how to sew garments pretty well, but when it comes to basic things like a table runner that doesn’t even require any seams, I’m out of my element and turning to google. I found my inspiration and directions from Apartment Therapy, where the placement of multiple table runners along the width of the table added a more contemporary look to the dining room. I also like how the table runner doubles as a placemat.

I cut out four rectangles, making sure when I folded over the raw edge 1/2″, the finished width was wide enough to fit a plate and cutlery on either side. Mine were 16″. However, I found that it lacked a certain je ne sais quoi when I tested it on my table, so I added red seam binding to all the edges.

img_4109The seam binding was a bit tricky at the corners. I folded and pinned them like this and then hand-sewed the gap together.

Here is how a finished one looked:

img_4227

Pillows

img_4221

I had also never made pillows. They’re not terribly hard, but they do take a while to get the hang of, especially if you want a full-looking pillow, rather than a saggy one. I discovered a great trick of cutting the fabric the same length and width as the pillow because the pillow form will stuff into it and make it look healthier.

I did two Christmas-themed pillows, using the dark red/maroon colour as a way to tie them together.

For the abstract lace Christmas trees, I followed directions from Make It & Love It. I was thrilled when I saw almost the exact same green zigzag fabric at Fabricland! Instead of doing 2 layers of lace trim, I had a lot of maroon ribbon to use up so I sewed a strand of that on each lace piece (9 in total), and then added the silver buttons for stars. Make sure you sew all these pieces to one piece of fabric before you sew the two rectangles together!

img_4193

The Canadian-themed pillow was my own pattern. I cut out the maple leaf from the leftover squares of this patchwork quilt fabric, sewed it together, turned it inside out, and handstitched the gap. I’m particularly pleased with how the envelope back turned out so that you can actually take the pillow case off and wash it if needed. Instructions on how to do that also from Make It & Love It.

img_4245

img_4248

Fox Apron

IMG_20161203_155101696.jpg

The last project I’ll mention because it’s so darn cute and was probably my favourite to make was this fox apron from Simple as That that I discovered on Pinterest. The main adjustment I did was instead of using white glue to fasten the paw pockets, ears, eyes, nose, and cheeks, I cut out backs for everything (including the face) so there would be no raw edges and fraying seams. This also meant I didn’t make mine reversible, but I didn’t think that was a great loss because if you have the option to wear a fox or a floral print as a little girl, chances are you’re going to go for the fox. So I altered the free pattern you can download from the site to allow room for seam allowances. I’m really happy with how it turned out, and my niece loves it too!

img_4228

foxaprononnaomi

Mary Poppins

This year, instead of giving each other presents for Christmas, my husband and I decided to do a date night seeing the ArtsClub Theatre‘s production of Mary Poppins at the Stanley Theatre.

img_4277

We loved it. Although I was familiar with some of the songs, I had never seen the movie before, only bits and pieces. So now all the songs had context—there were many “ah ha” moments for me.

Given that this was the Broadway Musical and it came with a steep price ($90 each), I had high expectations for it. It did not disappoint. [spoilers ahead]

Mary Poppins had three flying scenes, including one over the crowd which was pretty awesome. Bert, the Chimney Sweep, did an impressive sequence in a harness where he walked sideways, and then upside down (while singing a line), around the stage during “Step in Time.”

img_4253

The sets were fabulous—different painted backdrops that lifted up and down for the park, Cherry Tree Lane, the bank, and St. Paul’s Cathedral. The main set was the inside of the Banks’s house on Cherry Tree Lane, with the children’s room upstairs and the entryway and parlour below. Lots of doors, stairs, entrances and exits. To the left side of the stage was a chimney which Bert popped in and out of regularly to sing the “Chim Chim Cher-ee” rooftop refrain. Mary Poppins magically pulled out a hatstand, mirror, plant, and other large items from her carpetbag, reminding me of Hermonie’s magic purse in Harry Potter.

There’s something really fun about watching a big cast do elaborate song and dance sequences. My favourites were the chimney sweeps all tap dancing in “Step in Time” and the fast spelling of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

The acting was fabulous too. Mary Poppins and Bert had great chemistry. I had no idea Mary Poppins was so haughty though. I mean, Practically Perfect? The two kids who played Michael and Jane did an impressive job with their lines. Sometimes their singing lines were harder to hear but overall they projected well. I think the most laugh out loud moment for me was when the butler sang “the medicine go dooooooown” in the kitchen with a dramatic full-bodied gesture that came out of nowhere. And then when Mary Poppins responds to Mr. Banks with “I don’t give explanations” and then tap dances a line from “Step in Time” for emphasis. I heard a little kid squeal with glee at that part too. It was fun seeing people of all ages enjoying the show.

We had such a fun date night and loved celebrating Christmas with this experience instead! Would definitely recommend it. Also, if you’re wanting to catch dinner in the area before the show, we found this list helpful in getting a deal!

img_4251

Poems for Dark December

This Advent season, my husband and I are reading through poet-priest Malcolm Guite‘s book Waiting on the Word, which offers a poem a day from classic or contemporary poets accompanied by Guite’s reflections.

img_4229

We started yesterday for December 1 and it is exactly what we need right now. I don’t really know how to explain it other than I think art/poetry offers a balm for our aching hearts.

The Glance by George Herbert

When first thy sweet and gracious eye
Vouchsaf’d ev’n in the midst of youth and night
To look upon me, who before did lie
Weltring in sinne;
I felt a sugred strange delight,
Passing all cordials made by any art,
Bedew, embalme, and overrunne my heart
And take it in.

Since that time many a bitter storm
My soul hath felt, ev’n able to destroy,
Had the malicious and ill-meaning harm
His swing and sway:
But still thy sweet originall joy
Sprung from thine eye, did work within my soul,
And surging griefs, when they grew bold, controll
And got the day.

If thy first glance so powerfull be,
A mirth but open’d and seal’d up again;
What wonders shall we feel, when we shall see
Thy full-ey’d love!
When thou shalt look us out of pain,
And one aspect of thine spend in delight
More then a thousand sunnes disburse in light
In heavn’ above.

Guite opens his reflections on this poem for December 1 with the question:

“What might this moving and mysterious little poem have to offer us as we come to dark December and begin our Advent journey together?”

That phrase “as we come to dark December” has stuck with me. Indeed, it feels dark and heavy. For those of us in Vancouver, we haven’t seen the sun for two months. I normally don’t mind the rain but it has definitely affected me this time. And recent world events add a lot of darkness to our lives, leaving us uncertain, afraid, and confused about the future.

I don’t know if this is why I’m feeling less ready and excited for the Christmas season than usual, but I do find myself struggling to embrace it. Reading that someone else called this month “dark December” made me realize that I am not alone in feeling this way. And so I have offered up a found poem in response to George Herbert’s, that is true of how I am feeling and may be true for you too.

Poem for Dark December by Charlene Kwiatkowski

We are tired
The days are dark and long
The sky is a faucet that refuses to shut off
There is no twinkling of stars

Many a bitter storm our souls have felt
but we are in the season where the soul felt its worth
—because he appeared.
His sweet and gracious eye looked upon us
from the wood of a manger to the wood of a cross

Our hearts overrun with surging griefs
A thrill of hope seems farther away
We are waiting on many things
We are a weary world

Open the mirth that has been long sealed
Look us out of pain
We are desperate for your full-eyed love
Desperate to delight again.

Marpole’s Golden Tree

A piece of Stanley Park has uprooted to my neighbourhood of Marpole. With a bit of a colour change.

The newest public art in Vancouver is Golden Tree by Douglas Coupland, installed this past August at the corner of Marine Drive and Cambie Street, in front of Intracorp’s MC2 development.

img_4163

This artwork sure adds colour to a cloudy day. View from Marine Gateway.

It stands out alright, not just for its size (13 metres tall, the exact replica of Stanley Park’s Hollow Tree), but it also stands out for its colour—gold.

In an interview with the CBC, Coupland says, “I think its more a head-turner, a, ‘what the heck was that?’ That’s my favourite reaction.”

Just to clarify, Stanley Park’s famous 700 to 800 year-old Hollow Tree is still standing in Stanley Park. After the heavy windstorm in 2006, the tree was scheduled for removal due to safety concerns, but thanks to the efforts of the Hollow Tree Conservation Society and private donations, it is still standing (albeit with cables and steel).

Coupland’s replica is made out of steel-reinforced resin and fiberglass, encased in a gold finish.

img_4166

The gold looks a little garish to me. I tend to think I would like it better if it looked natural but then it would be like having a real tree there except you know it wouldn’t normally grow there so then it would just be weird. At least the gold makes it distinct. And better than highlighter purple or blue or pink. There’s something regal and magical about gold. Maybe it’s already “growing” on me (see what I did there?).

img_4167

But why replicating this tree in Marpole is significant, I do not know. All the CBC article mentions is that Coupland said there are a lot of memories attached to the tree, which is why he chose to imitate it: “I think it takes us from one century to the next.”

Maybe so, but what is the relationship between Stanley Park, the northernmost point of the city, and Marpole, Vancouver’s southernmost? Obviously the artist is trying to make some sort of connection here with the large image of Stanley Park in the background of the artwork.

img_4174

Does the tree reference something in Marpole’s history that not many know about? Or is it trying to say something about old and new? Nature and city? Nature and art/imitation?

I love that Marpole is getting more and impressive public art but I wish this piece spoke better to its context.

Have you seen Golden Tree yet? What are your thoughts?