Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Mad Men - The Ladies

Hello Kittens!

Show of hands - who is obsessed with Mad Men?  (My hand is raised)  Now keep your hand up if you have been obsessed with this show for years.  (My hand's still up)  If you've had a love affair with Mad Men from the second you started watching it, we have much in common and my raised hand is wriggling its fingers in your direction!

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I'm surprised that it's taken me until the fourth week of this new season for me to post about Mad Men, but as I mentioned when I posted about Bates Motel, my TV was on the fritz and I was thankfully able to catch up On Demand once it was back up and running.  As of last night, I'm caught up except for the most recent episode.  I was going to wait until I was completely caught up and talk about the season thus far, but I started writing this post as a draft and it simply decided to let it go in whatever direction it wanted.  And that direction was...the ladies of this fabulous show!

This first season of Mad Men was set in 1960 and the story has spanned almost an entire decade.  The Season 6 premiere began at the very end of 1967 and included the 1968 New Year celebrations; I thought it was brilliant to time the new season with a new year!  Another aspect of the show that I find brilliant is the fashion and decor - they've been absolutely fabulous from the get-go!  Janie Bryant, the costume designer is absolutely amazing and I would LOVE for her to live with me and dress me like Joan every day, though I'm positive I'm not alone in that.  Bryant has designed two Mad Men inspired collections for Banana Republic, one in 2011 and one earlier in 2013.  Though we've seen the styles evolve (something that is very apparent when you compare the two collections), the look of the show remains so authentic that there is nothing that even comes close to looking costumey.  That is something which is such a problem when people try to adopt a vintage look.  Aside from the women of Mad Men, only Dita Von Teese can really pull that look off.

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The dapper gentlemen of Mad Men?  Well, they're incredibly handsome, but the women of this show are just phenomenal, both in their styles and their characters.  It's rare to see what the women of this period actually dealt with - and perhaps this show influenced The Vintage Project more than I truly realized.  Joan in particular.  Joan is my favorite!  While Betty appeared to be channelling Grace Kelly when she was married to Don, she didn't have much else to offer.  Here we saw a little girl in a woman's body; she was selfish and self-absorbed which made her a bad wife, a bad mother, and simply a bad person.  I don't, in any way condone Don's infidelity, but I don't think I was alone when I didn't really judge him too harshly for it.

Peggy was the opposite.  While she was very young at the beginning of the series, she was mature and smart, and represented the women that got in and played with the boys, paving the way for other women to be taken seriously and get ahead in, not only a very chauvinistic time, but a very chauvinistic business.  Peggy has definitely made mistakes, but it is a testament to her talent and her work ethic that Don respects her as much as he does.  What I'm loving is that she has very much come into her own and in many ways, has become the Don of her new agency.  I thought it was amazing to hear Don's words come out of Peggy's mouth at the Heinz meeting.  "If you don't like what they're saying, change the conversation."  I loved hearing that!  Though Don did not share my enthusiasm.

Finally, the strongest woman of the bunch.  While Joan is STUNNING, she's also incredibly intelligent and capable.  She knows how women are seen and 'their place', and while she plays the game only as much as she has to, she runs the day-to-day operations of the agency.  This is a woman strong enough to kick her husband out when he's not treating her the way she deserves, and raise a child on her own.  And she does this all while being classy and fabulous!  Of all the women that we've seen on this show, aside from Anna (the REAL Mrs. Draper who Don took care of for years despite not having any responsibility to do so), he does not respect or treat any woman as well as he does Joan.  And while there will always be chemistry and history with Roger, there is a special interaction between her and Don.  She supports him while putting him in his place when he needs it, and I've always loved the 'will-they, won't-they' aspect to their relationship.  As with Peggy, Don is very protective of Joan, which endears Don to me in a very poignant way.

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I should probably cover Megan as well, but I'm really not interested in doing that.  I see her relevance, but personally, I find her rather uninteresting.  Perhaps it's just that I'm not nearly as attached or invested in her as I am the other women (alright, maybe not Betty, but it's kind of fun never knowing the insane things that she's going to do or say...do we remember the conversation with Henry in bed during the season premiere?!?!?).  Though I will say that Megan has been far more interesting in the first few episodes of this season that she's been in previous seasons...

While the ladies are definitely not the focus of Mad Men, they have come to represent a very important part of the show as it has progressed.  Yes, the agency is overflowing with testosterone and machismo and the women are still objectified, but we've witnessed them come a long way in the last eight years.  When you compare how the women of Sterling Cooper were treated in the first season with how the women on the show as a whole are being treated in season six, it's impossible not to see how different things are - not only at the agency, but also outside of it.  The 1960's were a very important time for women's progress and I feel like we can see that in this show.  By 1968, Joan and Peggy kick ass at work and are completely independent, Megan is making a name for herself independently of Don, and Betty....well, Betty's still a train wreck, so nothing has changed there.

For a more in depth look at our Ladies, The Guardian ran a great article before the Season 6 Premiere which you can read here. Using historical points of reference, this article guarantees that we will see these ladies make huge strides in the remaining time we have with this show and I'm definitely looking forward to it!!

What do you think Kittens?  Are you as enamoured with these fabulous ladies, their wardrobes, and what's to come as I am??

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Witness to a Proposal

Hello there Lovelies!

I come to you slightly worse for the wear as I consumed more Bubbly yesterday than anything else.  It happens...

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I started with a Housewarming Brunch with some great friends (which accidentally lasted all day) and then hurried home so that I could jump into the shower and get ready for the 30th birthday party for Aaron, my friend Brianne's boyfriend.  I was tired and late and didn't have time to eat anything, so I was entertaining the idea of not going, but I knew it was going to be a great time and my friend Sakura, who I love dearly, had flown into town for the event.  Since this was a Black and White Ball, I got myself together, selected one of my many black and white dresses, and called a cab.

Aaron rented out Falcon on Sunset and I had heard that there were over 250 RSVPs, which is madness.  This was a fabulous spot for his birthday and performances from the band that he manages, Badflower and a friend of his who spun late into the evening.  If you know Aaron, it's no surprise that he wanted something big and over the top, that's just the way he is - and since 30 is a significant birthday that people want to be memorable, I didn't question him pulling out all the stops and having his entire family and all his friends there.  But when someone like Sakura who does not come home very often, flew in for the event, I SHOULD have questioned whether she knew something that the rest of us didn't.  Should have, but didn't.

Around midnight, Aaron took the stage and a few hundred people joined the band in singing him Happy Birthday.  True to form, he grabbed the mic and started a rather lengthy speech.  It was at this point that Sakura grabbed me and the other girls and started pulling us closer to the stage with tears in her eyes and started whispering "This is it!  This is it!"  And as Aaron spoke about how much Brianne, in the last eight years, had helped make him the man that he is today, it all came together and I KNEW what was coming.  The words sort of blur together now, but I do remember him saying that even Mother Teresa wouldn't have been able to put up with him for this long.

And then he pulled a small box out of his coat pocket and got down on one knee.  Brianne was completely shocked and everyone had tears in their eyes and I had goosebumps.  I don't think she meant to be funny or a little mean, but I think her delayed response to Aaron's question was due to the shock of it all.  He was right when he said that that night was the last night that she would have ever expected it to happen.  And then she said yes and everyone cheered and bottles of Bubbly were popped and it was fabulous!

It took quite a long time to be able to cut through all the people to actually congratulate them and get a good look at the ring.  It's perfect for Brianne, it was Aaron's mother's engagement ring that his father had made from stones from his grandmother's ring.  I probably butchered that story, but I do know that it's a family heirloom, completely unique, and completely perfect.

I had never witnessed a proposal  before last night and I was completely blown away by how much I was affected.  Usually a quiet, private moment, this was exactly how I had pictured that it would happen for them, though, to be honest, after eight years, I had started to think that they would just pull a Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell and never actually get married.  While Brianne is more low-key, judging from this party, the wedding will be one spectacular event!

I wish them all the happiness in the world and I could not be more thrilled for this fantastic couple!!

Have you ever witnessed a proposal?  I feel like most people only ever witness theirs, so it's pretty fabulous to be a part of that for someone else.  


Saturday, April 27, 2013

Let's Bring Back

Good Morning Kittens!

'When was the last time you wore a cape to the opera? Or white gloves to lunch? Why did we ever do away with bed curtains or cuckoo clocks? Whatever happened to parlor games, calling cards, double features, duels, monocles, riddles, turbans and parasols? Well, let's bring them back!'

Since starting The Vintage Project, I have been on a book-buying frenzy!  In addition to finding books for the monthly book club selections, I'm finding so much supplemental reading material that looks fantastic!  I learned about this particular book from a friend of mine and Let's Bring Back looks PERFECT for The Vintage Project!  Lesley M. M. Blume is an author, journalist, and cultural observer based in New York City.  She has written many things, but her Huffington Post column of the same name inspired this little encyclopedia of fabulosity!  Blume has also penned a Let's Bring Back cocktail edition and a language edition which should also be fun to read...but let's just start with this one, shall we?

Pick up your copy here

As soon as I received this little treasure, I quickly flipped through it and I'm very much looking forward to sitting down with it and a nice cup of coffee on Saturday mornings!  I have no doubt this will inspire some truly fabulous blog material!  Until then, here is a little teaser of things that we should bring back...

Hats on men and manners!

Until I report back Kittens!

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Cinematic Experience - There Will Be Blood

There Will Be Blood, 2007

Hello there Lovelies!

When I decided to read Oil!, I made peace with the fact that I was going to have to watch the movie adaptation, There Will Be Blood which was directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.  I believe I saw this shortly after it was released on DVD - and HATED it!  While I was reading Oil! I must admit that Dad was my favorite character and I was looking forward to rewatching this movie even less since I could not remember being able to find any redeeming qualities in Daniel Day Lewis' portrayal of him.  To my utter amazement, in it's second viewing, I truly enjoyed this movie!  How the hell did that happen??

Watch the trailer here
May I present to you, for your listening pleasure while you read this post, Brahms' Violin Concerto in D Major which plays during the end credits of the film - it is truly a gorgeous piece.

There Will Be Blood is VERY different from Oil!.  Anderson has stated that he only incorporated the first 150 pages of the novel, using Sinclair's settings and a few of the major characters as inspiration and then made his own movie.  I like that he focused on the oil and the greed and left the political climate of the time out of his film, but the compassion and likability of Dad is absent in the last half of this version.  In Upton Sinclair's novel, our protagonist was Bunny (who in the film is named H.W. Plainview), but the film focuses on Daniel Plainview instead.  H.W. in this adaptation is an orphan who Plainview raises as his own son after the man who found him is killed in an accident in one of his early oil wells.  The film opens with him prospecting in the late 1800's, but the story really gets going with a meeting for a prospective lease - during the same trip that opens the novel.  Plainview sells himself as a family man, and you can see the close relationship that he has with the child, but in a tragic accident while drilling in Little Boston (the film's version of Paradise), H.W. loses his hearing.  This event effectively ends this relationship and Plainview sends the boy away to a special school in San Francisco.  The relationship is over, and it is clear that it is the event that forever hardens this man.  What I thought was a brilliant choice by Anderson, who both wrote and directed the film, is that the first 14 minutes and 30 seconds has no dialogue, which is a nice foreshadowing to H.W. losing his hearing.

The first words we hear are at the meeting in Signal Hill where Plainview introduces himself to both his audience at the meeting and the audience of the film.  "Ladies and Gentlemen, I've traveled over half our state to be here tonight...I'm a family man - I run a family business. This is my son and my partner, H.W. Plainview. We offer you the bond of family that very few oilmen can understand." While he ultimately walks away from this prospective lease, just like in the novel, it is here that we see Paul for the first, and only, time.  Instead of being a major character like in Oil!, here he seeks out Plainview to let him know (for a price) of oil on the land where he grew up - where is family still lives.  This takes the film to Little Boston where the father and son visit under the pretense of quail hunting, find oil, and purchase all the land they can lay their hands on.  The introductory speech to the people of this community is amazing - and as I have learned, was completely improvised by Daniel Day Lewis.  It is very easy to see how these people believed the promises that he made to them.

Little Boston is where the bulk of this very long film takes place...where Sinclair's novel is 540 pages long, Anderson's film is over 2 1/2 hours long!  Here is where the relationship between father and son disintegrates after H.W. loses his hearing, where Plainview amasses more oil than he could ever dream of, and where he ultimately loses any vestiges of his humanity.  "I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people...there are times when I look at people and I see nothing worth liking. I want to earn enough money that I can get away from everyone...I've built up my hatred little by little."  It is at an oil meeting that we see him completely lose it for the first, but definitely not the last, time.  "Did you just tell me how to run my family? One night I'm going to come to you inside your house, or wherever you're sleeping, and I'm going to cut your throat... You don't tell me about my son!"

After sending his son away, Plainview is in a vulnerable place and easily accepts a man who shows up, claiming to be his brother, Henry, into his life.  He grows very close to Henry very quickly and wants him to become his business partner, but that all changes when it is revealed he is an impostor and Daniel puts a gun up to 'Henry's' head and kills him.  Plainview is once more alone with his oil - the way he will remain throughout his life.

A peripheral story line in the novel that I skimmed over in my book review was that of Eli and the issue of religious fanaticism.  While the film did not include any of the politics, it focused in on the religious fervor of the time.  Eli Sunday (Paul's brother) is a preacher and 'healer' that the community follows and embraces.  In the novel however, he is portrayed as a Jim Bakker type, a man who sought celebrity with religion.  In the novel, Eli was financed/created by those with deep pockets.  'One of these disciples was an eminent judge, and another was a proprietor of a chain of grocery stores: their wives had taken Eli in hand and rubbed off the rough spots and improved his grammar...also they had taught him where to get his clothes and how to hold a knife and fork, so that Eli was becoming a social success...One evening they all went to see Eli; in a great tent such as would hold a three ring circus, with thousands of cars parked in the fields about.'  While this character in the novel creates his own religion and becomes a national celebrity, the film version of Eli operates on a much smaller scale.  Unfortunately, in the film, Eli does not fare nearly as well as he does in the novel and materializes in the last scene of the film, visiting Plainview in his opulent mansion, begging for money.

The ending of the film is spectacular!  We see the man that Daniel Plainview has become - wealthy, lonely, angry, and vindictive.  The entire film is stunning - the look is gritty and real and very well researched.  Anderson was very concerned with the accuracy of the end result and if you watch the special features on the double disc version of this movie, it is remarkable how he was able to take old photographs and recreate them on film.  Little Boston was filmed in rural Texas, but the last few scenes were filmed inside Greystone Mansion which was the residence that Edward Doheny, Sr. built for Edward Doheny, Jr.  This is one of my favorite places in the world and I plan on a future tie-in post on this property in the future.  The choice of this setting reiterates the fact that Doheny was a major influence of both the Dad character in the novel and the Plainview character in the film.  This is my dream house, so pay close attention when you watch this film.  The very last scene takes place in the underground bowling alley.  In all the filming that has been done in and around the mansion for films, television, and music videos (here is a partial list of the films), this was the first time that the bowling alley had ever utilized; and we can thank Anderson for its full restoration.  It is in this bowling alley that the most iconic scene of the film takes place - it is here that Eli asks Plainview for money and Daniel Day Lewis' performance is pure brilliance.  I won't show you the VERY end of the film, but after Plainview humiliates Eli and forces him to profess that he is a false prophet, he gloats that he's been able to siphon the oil from land adjacent to his...and then the iconic milkshake line is delivered.

This film was nominated for eight Oscars including Best Picture, which it did not win, but Daniel Day Lewis won for Best Actor and Robert Elswit won for Best Cinematography.  It truly is a phenomenal film and if you did not enjoy it the first time around, I would definitely suggest you give it another try!

What did you think, Lovelies?  Did you enjoy the film as a whole or perhaps just the phenomenal performance that Daniel Day Lewis gave?  I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Happy Viewing!!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Bates Motel - Episode 6 Reveal

Good Evening Lovelies!

Have you been watching Bates Motel on A&E?  I watched the first two episodes and then my TV went on the fritz, so I watched the next three episodes online.  My downstairs neighbor (my new best friend) fixed the TV on Sunday night, so I was able to watch the sixth episode last night on the big screen...and I'm so grateful that I was able to, since Episode 6 was fantastic!!

One of my best ladies had a huge issue at the beginning of the series with the fact that this story was being told in a contemporary setting, but I was rather excited about it myself.  She has come around since it has a vintage feel despite not being a period drama.  It may not be period, but the show is definitely dramatic!  For those of you who watched it - HOLY MOLY that was probably the most exciting premiere I've ever seen!!!  The fact that it quickly became about so much more than just the creepy relationship between a boy and his mother is also exciting.

If you haven't been watching, you can catch up with full episodes on the A&E Website.  And I suggest you do so, stat!  I also suggest you stop reading now!


The last few episodes have let the Officer Shelby story line take precedence over the Norman/Norma story line.  I was not thrilled about that.  Episode 6 brought some closure to that whole fiasco and shifted the focus back to Norman which is really why we all started watching in the first place.  When I watched the series premiere, I couldn't decide whether Norman hallucinated finding his father in the basement or if he was the one who had actually killed him.  Norma was simply too obvious a choice.  While she clearly has MANY issues, I didn't think she was responsible for that situation.  When Norman blacked out and ended up in the hospital in Episode 3, I think it was clear to everyone from Norma's conversation with the doctor that this was not the first time that had happened.  We then got another hint in Episode 5 when Norman did not seem to remember attacking Dylan.  So when Norman attacked Officer Shelby and then become catatonic and it was revealed that he was responsible for his father's death, I felt vindicated - I KNEW IT!!

Our poor little smothered Norman - we may not be able to blame his mother for all his problems after all... this reveal allows us to cut Norma a little slack.  After that revelation, she shifted very quickly from a completely crazy, incredibly creepy, evil woman who smothers her son, to a slightly less crazy woman whose motivation is protecting her son at all costs.  This was a turning point in our story and I'm VERY excited to see where this season will go!

There have been so many versions of the Norman Bates character throughout the years (in books, movies, and television) but if we want to stick with the most iconic version - Anthony Perkins' portrayal in the Hitchcock classic, we really know very little about him and his situation and we only know for sure that Norman goes on to kill once in adulthood.  There are many incarnations of Norman Bates, so Bates Motel has a lot of room to play with the mythology of this fascinating character.

So Lovelies, are you watching?  What do you think?  Do you think it's as brilliant as I do??

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Oil! - Book Club Meeting - FINALLY!


Upton Sinclair, 1927

Hello there Ladies and Gents!  Welcome to the third meeting of The Vintage Project Book Club.  I'm not sure if anyone else started reading this novel - or if anyone finished it because, honestly, I suffered through this one.  And it's times like these that I wish I could blame someone else for the book selection, but alas, I only have myself to blame.  Oil! is dense - incredibly dense - and I did NOT love it.

I understand what Sinclair wanted to do with this work - he wanted to write a novel which functioned as social commentary on greed and a shifting of values and ideas.  Unfortunately, the descriptor of "A classic tale of greed and corruption." on the back cover is rather misleading.  Greed and corruption, I felt were merely peripheral.  It felt like Sinclair's focus was on how generations and classes were pitted against one another as global ideals began to shift in the 1920's...yes mostly because of capitalism, but the focus is more on the struggle itself.

This clashing of the ideals of capitalism, socialism, and communism is further complicated by the relationship between James Arnold Ross, Sr. (Dad) and James Arnold Ross, Jr. (Bunny) and also between Bunny and his friends.  While the novel is written in the third person, it is Bunny's narrative - we see him grow up, see the incredibly close relationship with his father, his attempts to make peace with the oil business that Dad had built, and trying to reconcile that with the plight of the working class and the new ideas that The Bolshevik Revolution and WWI had brought to the social consciousness.  This is an interesting concept, but the novel is far too dense and far too long (548 pages), and I felt like Sinclair was daring me to give up towards the end.  It is far more interesting to talk about this work than to actually read it.  So, let's talk about it.

The story begins with a road trip to visit one of Dad's wells when Bunny is only thirteen and we quickly learn a lot about Dad's character and Bunny's adoration of him.  'For the most part you sat silent and dignified - because that was Dad's way, and Dad's way constituted the ethics of motoring...There was no hat on Dad's head, because he believed that wind and sunshine kept your hair from falling out...Fifty miles, said the speedometer; that was Dad's rule for open country, and he never varied it, except in wet weather...Fifty miles was enough said Dad; he was a man of order...'  Dad begins the novel as a very stern character, a trait that was largely responsible for his rise from mule-driver to self-made oil baron.  'Clothing was a part of a man's dignity, a symbol of his rise in life, and never to be soiled or crumpled...he liked to talk with the plain sort of folks he met along the road, folks of his own sort, who did not notice his extremely crude English; folks who weren't trying to get any money out of him - at least not enough to matter...he went about with a supply of silver dollars and half dollars jingling in his pocket, so that all whom he had dealings with might share that spiritual wealth. "Poor devils," he would say, "they don't get much." He knew because he had been one of them, and he never lost an opportunity to explain it to the boy. To him it was real, and to the boy it was romantic.'  And this is the fundamental difference between these two characters.  Bunny is a compassionate romantic who never had to struggle for anything and Dad is a realist who struggled for everything.  It was this struggle that made him incredibly compassionate towards his workers.  '[the workers] respected this "old man," because he knew his business, and nobody could fool him. Also, they liked him because he combined a proper amount of kindliness with his sternness; he was simple and unpretentious...he was a "real guy"; and with this he combined the glamour of a million dollars.'

We quickly realize the fact that he loves Bunny with everything he has and is willing to do whatever he can to make him happy.  Originally, he thought that to provide a life with financial stability and a thriving business to inherit would be enough, but as Bunny gets older, Dad has to make peace with the fact that Bunny was definitely not an oil man.  On the trip which opens the novel, Bunny meets a boy named Paul who, over time, supercedes Dad in his influence of Bunny.  Bunny has a strong sense of right and wrong, but Paul opens his eyes to things he'd never seen or even had to think about with his privileged upbringing - instilling a sense of fairness and truth that go way beyond the code that most people live by.  It is under Paul's influence and the influence of the university that he later attends that Bunny really starts to see the way that Dad does business.  While Dad had established himself and done incredibly well, he was still new in the oil game and definitely considered one of the little guys.  To work his way up, Dad had to play by the same rules as the big boys.  'It was the difference between a theoretical and a practical view of the question. The lady teacher had never had to drill an oil well, her business didn't depend on moving heavy materials over a sheep trail; all she did was jist to sit in a room and use high-soundin' words, like "ideals" and "democracy" and "public service". That was the trouble with this education business,  the people that taught was people that never done things, and had no real knowledge of the world...if you wanted things done, you had to pay for them.'  It is only after Bunny sees Dad bribe a city official for the first time that we really start to see a shift.  'The father kept two compartments in his mind, one for the things that were right, and the other for things that existed, and which you had to allow to exist, and to defend, in a queer, half-hearted, but stubborn way. But here was this new phenomenon, a boy's mind which was all one compartment; things ought to be right, and if they were not right, you ought to make them right, or else what was the use of having any right - you were only fooling yourself about it.'

Along with this shift of consciousness, the first Oil Worker's Strike took place which would have caused a much greater rift between Dad and Bunny if Dad wasn't so good to his workers - allowing them to stay in the cabins he'd built for them and their families to live in while drilling and treating them FAR better than the other oil companies treated their men.  'He was losing a fortune everyday, and at the same time losing caste with his associates, who thought he was either crack-brained or a traitor, they could not make out which...'  This was the first time Bunny had seen anyone challenge the status-quo and Bunny's support of the men in the strike instead of his father is simply foreshadowing his views on the war and how things should be.  'It was springtime all over the country, and yet everybody was preparing to go to war, and form vast armies, and kill other people, also groping for happiness! Everybody said that it had to be; and yet something in Bunny would not cease to dream of a world in which people didn't maim and kill one another, and destroy, not merely the happiness of others, but their own...Bunny was an "idealist," and such people are seldom satisfied in this harsh world.'  Paul, having great influence over Bunny, explained the side of the oil workers during the strike and also explained how things really were once he returned from war.  Paul had seen things and been forced to do things while stationed in Siberia that Bunny could hardly fathom.  '"...I tell you, Bunny, if the private soldiers could have talked it over, there wouldn't have been any war. But that is what is known as treason, and if you try it, you're shot."'  Through Paul, Bunny adopts socialist views and begins attending meetings only to realize that, due to his social standing, he does not truly belong.  'Bunny felt the thrill of a great mass experience, and yearned to be part of it, and then shrunk back, like the young man in the Bible story that has too many possessions.'

While Bunny was not the usual sort of Socialist, he threw himself into it wholeheartedly.  Between Paul and one of his professors, Mr. Irving, he was absorbing as much information as he could.  'Thereupon Mr. Irving gave him the names of two weekly magazines which as it happened, had just been excluded from the library of the university, and from all the high schools of Angel City, for "dangerous thoughts". You can imagine what happened then. When you tell a high-spirited lad that he must not read certain publications, he becomes immediately filled with curiosity to know what they contain. Bunny went home and sent in his subscription to those papers, quite openly in his own name. So there was another entry in the card-indexes of the Military Intelligence Department and the Naval Intelligence Department and the Secret Service Department; to say nothing of many organizations which were using these card-indexes as their own - several patriotic societies, and several militant newspapers, and several big private detective agencies, including of course, the information service of the once-upon-a-time ambassador from a no-longer existing Russian government.'  While early on, Bunny saw his privileged upbringing somewhat of an embarrassment in the company of other Socialists, it later brought him his fair share of fame.  '"The millionaire red" became his future designation...Bunny was made into a centre of Solviet propaganda...Rachel insisted that Bunny was one person in a million capable of believing what was contrary to his economic interests.'  As the situation became more heated and more of his Socialist and Communist friends started to get arrested for crimes against capitalism or as they are referred to in the novel, criminal syndicalism, he begins to use Dad's money to bail them all out of jail time and time again.  This shows the level of compassion that Dad is capable of - while these new views also went against his personal interests, he was always willing to listen to his son, the views of his friends, and even went to a few Socialist meetings with Bunny.  Because it was what made Bunny happy, Dad also continually gave him as much money as he needed to bail out his friends, to create propaganda publications, and even starting colleges for the working class.  '"...it's going to be kind of tough on me if I'm to spend my life earning money, and then you spend it teaching young people that I haven't got any right to it!"'

While Bunny was funding this new movement, Dad was trying to get ahead in the oil game by donating an obscene amount of money with his business partner to help get Senator Harding elected to the White House.  This happens late in the novel and by this time, we've already come to know Dad very well...up until this point, we'd only seen him bribe local officials in order to expedite roads and the construction of wells, never anything that could come close to this type of corruption, so with the fact that his business partner, Verne, came to him to solicit this money, I don't think Dad would have started 'buying' politicians on his own.  Verne is a shrewd and pompous businessman and knew what he was doing - obviously, since Harding won the presidency, and in greasing this palm in particular, they were getting a President interested in oil, a cooperative Secretary of the Interior, and the contracts on government oil land that they could drill and then sell the oil back to the government.  Everything was going very well for Dad and Verne until President Harding died and a new Congress was elected.  It was then that the news of these dealings broke and flooded the newspapers.  '...the thing was too sensational to be held down any longer. It didn't read like politics, but like some blood and thunder movie.'

This novel is (supposedly loosely) based on the life of Edward L. Doheny, Sr., his oil company Pan American, and his involvement in the Teapot Dome Scandal.  While Sinclair went on the record to state that James Arnold Ross, Sr. is not based on any one person, the similarities in character, life, and business are too many to ignore.  This is the thinly masked story of Doheny who drilled the first successful oil well in a field just north of Downtown Los Angeles and set off the oil boom of Southern California in the late 1800's.  I admit that, while I am more knowledgeable about the Doheny family than most, I am by no means an expert, but I will be doing my research and create another post about Doheny and the specific parallels between this novel and the Doheny family, which should be quite a read - the story of that family is more sordid and scandalous, glamorous and tragic than most people could create in their imaginations!

As dense as this post is, it is nothing compared to the novel, I have neglected whole story lines and a myriad of characters in the interest of focusing on what I felt constituted the main message that Sinclair wanted to convey.  He was very passionate about his hatred of capitalism and this is his manifesto.

For those of you who have read this, what did you think?  Am I being unfairly harsh?  Are you proud of me for not defenestrating this book?

I hope I can make up for this novel with my April Book Club Selection!
Happy Reading!!


Monday, April 15, 2013

Eating Clean - Mexican Style Quinoa with Black Beans

Good Evening Lovelies!

Let's talk Quinoa.  Quinoa is getting a lot of press these days since some give it 'Superfood' status.  While quinoa is most often treated like a grain as it is similar to rice in its preparation, it is not a grain, but a pseudocereal like buckwheat and chia and is also closely related to beets, spinach, and tumbleweeds.  You read that right - tumbleweeds.  After giving it a quick Google, I'm even more confused at to what quinoa is exactly, but I am not confused in the least when it comes to whether I love it or not - I totally DO!

photo credit

Quinoa can attribute its rising popularity to its nutritional value.  It is a complete protein which means it contains an adequate proportion of all nine essential amino acids.  Fantastic!  But what does that mean exactly?  It means that quinoa is on par with animal protein sources and is a great option for vegetarians and vegans.  In addition to the high protein aspect, it is also high in fiber, magnesium, iron, and calcium.  Since quinoa is not a grain, it is gluten-free and at one point was being considered as a potential crop in NASA's Controlled Ecological Life Support System.  This little plant is SO awesome that the United Nations General Assembly declared 2013 as the International Year of Quinoa!!

So, to celebrate, let's eat some quinoa!  I came across this recipe a while back on allrecipes.com and have made a slightly modified version a quite a few times now.  With these ingredients, I've been unknowingly creating a dish that was a nod to quinoa's South American roots.  Enjoy!

-1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
-1 large onion, chopped
-3 cloves garlic, minced
-3/4 cup uncooked quinoa
-1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
-1 teaspoon ground cumin
-1 (15 ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained
-2 (15 ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
-1/2  cup chopped fresh cilantro
-salt and pepper to taste

1.  Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat,  Stir in the onion and garlic, and saute until lightly browned.

2.  Mix quinoa into the onions and garlic.

3.  Add vegetable broth, cumin, salt, and pepper.

4.  Bring the mixture to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until quinoa has absorbed most of the broth - approximately 20 minutes.

5.  Add beans and corn.  Warm through, stirring often - about 5 minutes.

6.  Stir in cilantro.

7.  Enjoy as a vegan-friendly main course or a side dish (keep in mind, this is very filling).

This recipe makes a LARGE amount of quinoa, so you will have leftovers.  I enjoyed this a few days later with some asparagus and an egg sunny side up!  Breaking the yolk over the quinoa is so creamy and decadent - I highly recommend it!

Just a few things to keep in mind...

-RINSE YOUR BEANS AND RINSE THEM WELL!!!  The first time I made this, I did not read the recipe very carefully and only drained them.  I had bean-flavored quinoa.  You have been warned.

-The original recipe calls for 1 cup frozen corn kernels, but it's just more convenient for me to use a can of corn.

-The original recipe also calls for 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, but I'm a big baby when it comes to spice, so I just skip that.  If you want to give this a little kick, add the cayenne when you add the cumin.

-The cilantro is best fresh, so you may only want to mix some into the portion you will be eating right away, but keep in mind, it does not last very long in the fridge.

-Lastly, make sure to season this well.  Personally, I like to add some seasoning salt right before serving...but that's not very culinary, or appropriate for an ethnic dish.  It's your call.

¡Buen Apetito!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Friday Night Spontaneity

Good Evening Kittens!

Last night I had just settled onto my couch to put a serious dent into Oil! as I'm determined to finally finish this book over the weekend.  I LOVE a good relaxing Friday night at home - many times I find that it's exactly what I need after a long, stressful week at work.  Yesterday was a particularly terrible day which started off with an 8 AM meeting (WHO plans a meeting this early?  ESPECIALLY on a Friday!) and ended with a  fight rather unpleasant discussion with a co-worker.  So, I came home, threw on a pair of lounge pants, had some dinner, and popped open a bottle of wine.  I was just curling up with the book and the cat, when a friend of mine, Suzanne, texted me saying that she was at one of our favorite spots with her boyfriend and had just run into another friend of ours, Jason.  There is a small group of about 6 of us that have spent many great nights at The Alibi Room, so Suzanne contacted another member of our super-exclusive group, Hugo, and convinced him to head on over (for the record, I'm positive this was not difficult) and then randomly ran into another co-worker of ours.  The Alibi was the place to be last night!!  And when the stars align like this, you have no choice but to put the book down, gently move the cat off your lap, throw a skirt and a head scarf on, touch up your makeup, and head out the door!  Them's the rules!

Group shot courtesy of Suzanne's IPhone
Russian Elderflower, Spiced Daisy, and Kentucky Mule

It was as fantastic night with good people and good drinks, one which I am very happy to have participated in, but that type of spontaneity will not be happening again tonight.  Tonight, I finish the wine and the book!

Whatever you end up doing tonight Kittens, be sure to make it fabulous!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Let's Get Literary - The Velveteen Rabbit

The Velveteen Rabbit

Margery Williams, 1922

Hello Bunnies!

I feel like I've strayed a little bit from blogging responsibilities, and while I'm STILL working on Oil! for March's Book Club Meeting, I'm going to share a few other things with you before that post is completed.

From my last post, you now know that the eternally fabulous Stephanie is going to bring another Little Lady into the mix.  While I proceeded to go out of my mind in shopping for clothes, because, really, how could I not?  I also found myself at Barnes and Noble.  I LOVE books and I think that growing up with a big library is essential for children.  So, I have taken it upon myself to build one for this Little Lady.

Enter The Velveteen Rabbit.

I'm not exactly sure how it happened, but I never read this children's classic before purchasing it for the baby shower.  One of my best friends got married a few years back and her brother read an excerpt from this book during the ceremony and, without knowing the exact context, I cried.  Hard.  So, once I brought this home, I decided to read it before signing and wrapping it.  This little book is only 40 pages, but the emotion and intensity that is packed into those 40 pages of this children's book is really quite spectacular!

If you've never read it before, keep in mind that you will absolutely need to sit down with a box of tissue to get through it.  I bawled like a baby...it was to the point that I had to set the book down, sob for a minute, attempt to pull myself together, scold myself for being affected THIS deeply, read a few more pages, and repeat the process.  It's not that the story is tragic, but it's told so beautifully and really drills down to the core of what life is all about - loving and being loved in return.

'For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand it all.
"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day...
"Real isn't how you are made, " said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
'Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up, " he asked, "or bit by bit?"
"It doesn't happen at all once," said the Skin Horse, "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily...Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him.'

One of the most profound lessons for a little girl to learn is that, no matter what she looks like, she is beautiful and that those who truly love her, do not do so because of her physical appearance.  It's such a powerful thing to have instilled within you growing up in this image-obsessed culture!  '...the little Rabbit grew very old and shabby, but the Boy loved him just as much. He loved him so hard that he loved all his whiskers off, and the pink lining to his ears turned grey, and his brown spots faded. He even began to lose his shape, and he scarcely looked like a rabbit any more, except to the Boy. To him he was always beautiful, and that was all that that little Rabbit cared about. He didn't mind how he looked to other people, because the nursery magic had made him Real, and when you are Real shabbiness doesn't matter.'

Not only does the Rabbit become Real because of how deeply the Boy loves him, but the Rabbit loves the Boy in return.  He loves him enough to sacrifice of himself for what the Boy needs.  'And then, one day, the Boy was ill. His face grew very flushed, and he talked in his sleep, and his little body was so hot that it burned the Rabbit when he held him close. Strange people came and went in the nursery, and a light burned all night and through it all the little Velveteen Rabbit lay there, hidden from sight under the bedclothes, and he never stirred, for he was afraid that if they found him some one might take him away, and he knew that the Boy needed him.'

Once I finished reading, I knew that I also needed to gift a Velveteen Rabbit - so that's also been added to the 'next time' category of shopping for the baby.  It's not that I don't have oodles of time...she hasn't even arrived!  So, with that in mind, my book purchases for the baby shower started small, but I already have quite a long list of books for her library.  The other two that I bought were Grimm's Fairy Tales because everyone should know the classics and The Very Hungry Caterpillar because I remember this from when I was a kid - and also because a very visual book about becoming a butterfly is appealing to every little girl!

So yes, I just reviewed a children's book.  But really, if you've never read this, you must do so immediately.  And if this one doesn't make you feel something, perhaps you, yourself, are not Real.

Happy Reading (and sobbing), Bunnies!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Breakfast at Tiffany's Baby Shower 04.06.2013

Hello Darlings!

When was the last time you went to a truly fabulous baby shower?  I'll give you a minute to think about that...take your time.  Anyone?  Anyone?  Yeah, that's what I thought.  Most baby showers are tedious affairs that are more of an obligation than anything else - no matter who the mother to be is.  Personally, I went to an absolutely fabulous shower just last weekend.  One of my best friends and arguably the most fabulous pregnant woman you will ever meet, Stephanie of Love and Lace, is having a Little Lady of her own and it's a pretty safe bet that I'm just as excited as she and her husband are...alright, one step below their level of excitement, but still more excited than I should probably be since it's not my actual child.  I am not a baby person.  In fact, I find most babies to be pretty awful, but this particular one, I'm SUPER into...even before she's arrived.  I suppose I have to be, with the fact that my ever-present partner in crime will soon be a mommy and our fun will be significantly affected.  If I don't like the little squirt, I'm royally screwed.  But I digress....

Stephanie has wanted a little girl for a long time now, so as soon as she found out she was going to have one, this Mistress of the SoirĂ©e began planning her Breakfast at Tiffany's themed baby shower.  The fabulosity started with the Tiffany Blue onesie invites.  Despite the fact that my kitchen may forever shimmer if you look at just the right angle, how could I NOT love this fabulous invite?!  PS - if you love the invites, you can get them at Stephanie's Etsy shop!

Before we actually get to the shower, let's take a minute to talk about the fact that if anyone knows what's good for them, they will invite me to their baby shower.  I tend to go a bit overboard...but in my defense, there are very few baby things that aren't ridiculously adorable!  Alright, perhaps 'going overboard' is not the appropriate phrase...if I'm being honest with you (and I feel that we're at that point in our relationship that I can be), I totally lose my shit when confronted with baby clothes!  Even with taking many, many things out of my cart, I've already spent a small fortune on this child...and most of the things I didn't purchase have just been put into the 'next time' category.  (I may very well be screwed.)

In German, 'Tante' means Aunt and I've already decided that I will be 'Tante Melinda' and also that I will be this child's favorite person (outside of parents and grandparents).  And in this role, I will be responsible for teaching her many things.  One of those things is that tutus are not just for ballerinas - and I'd like to go on record to say that ballerinas are WAY better than Princesses.  I could write a brief dissertation on the evils of Princess Culture, but I'll leave that for another day.  So, even though I already purchased a black and white dress with a black tutu skirt (couldn't help myself, I HAD to!), I decided that I also needed to be the one to get her her first pink tutu (technically this is a pettiskirt, but it's close enough).  And that kicks off the highlights of my baby clothes purchases (because who doesn't love baby clothes?).

I discovered a FABULOUS site, Rufflebutts.com, where I was able to get the skirt, coordinating shirt, and the BEST thing I found - personalized, embroidered ruffled diaper covers!  And while I was at it, I figured she would need little striped leg warmers, so I picked up a pair of those as well!

I then headed over to Old Navy after seeing Stephanie post this onesie on Pinterest.  I'm pretty sure I have found my Achilles' Heel - and it's anything with a ruffled bottom.

But truthfully, I really liked this little Parisian Kitty onesie better.  Though, no matter which one is your favorite, the little shoes might just trump both!  What's nice is that I stayed with a theme, so the shoes perfectly compliment both these and the set of plain onesies - versatility is always a plus!

I'm seriously obsessed with these shoes!

As ALWAYS happens at Target, I went in to get wrapping paper and walked out with another sizable baby clothes purchase.  Will I never learn??  But when you are faced with black scooter skirts, black and white striped onesies, pink coats, and grey and pink kitten outfits, it is nearly impossible to resist!

And I would have been stripped of my Tante title had I not provided this Little Lady with her first pair of sunglasses...

Now, onto the shower itself.  This was a co-ed brunch - so less of a traditional shower and more of a party.  What was nice was that there were also no traditional shower games - just good people and fantastic food and refreshments.  

In addition to some fabulously themed cupcakes, there was a real focus on learning.  It's really never too early to start.

What WAS traditional was the opening of the gifts.  There were some really cute gifts and Stephanie had a really cute helper!

I was very happy that both our parents-to-be seemed to be as enamoured with the pettiskirt as I am! 

It was such an enjoyable afternoon and I'm getting excited that we are nearing this Little Lady's arrival.  She's not even here yet and she is already very much loved!  Such a wonderful way to come into this world.

Welcome to the world Darling!  Your Tante Melinda can't wait to meet you!