Author Archives: charlesprogers
Bedtime Stories: The Last Dragonslayer
Post by Mark T. Locker.
The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde.
If you are a fan of cheeky British mysteries and/or metaliterature, you may be familiar with Jasper Fforde, whose Thursday Next novels and Nursery Crime series are quite well-known. His deft handling of the role of corporate culture, media, and government in a dryly ironic manner that only an Englishman could do keeps him always funny and always interesting.
This theme carries over into his first foray into his first series aimed at young adults and he pulls off the transition seamlessly.
Jennifer Strange is a foundling, brought up by the Sisterhood of the Lobster and given to the Great Zambini (can you guess his profession?) to be trained as an apprentice manager of magicians. But when Zambini disappears and she is left, at age fifteen, to manage a building full of magicians (who are notoriously scatterbrained and disorganized) she thinks her new fate has been drawn.
Little does she know that real fate is still awaiting: Jennifer Strange is the last in a long line of Dragonslayers, sworn to protect humans from dragons and dragons from humans. When it is foreseen that she will kill the last dragon, she embarks in her spike studded Rolls Royce Slayermobile to figure out what is fate, what is choice, and what is the matter with people.
I usually avoid books involving dragons, but here I have made an exception and I’m glad I have. Although the whole series is out in the UK, we stateside folks have to wait for the next two books sometime next year.
Movies in Bed: Blue Velvet
Post by Josh Zinn.
A code of conduct listed in the Disneyland new employee manual states, “All cast members must appear calm, content, and capable while working. At Disneyland a pleasant smile is a personality trademark that we use all the time in greeting, directing, and making our guests feel comfortable. You don’t have to laugh, just smile. Don’t be a Gloomy Gus or a Grouchy Gertrude.”
During the opening minutes of David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet,” the town of Lumberton appears to be an idyllic place, the kind of community where even Grouchy Gertrude’s cannot resist a grin or two. As hyper-saturated flowers sprout through the ground, children excitedly scurry to school, and fire trucks cut through the dewy morning haze, all seems right with the world. Like a neighborhood that has emerged from some promise of sanctity made by “Ozzie and Harriet” and “The Donna Reed Show,” the artifice of its mise-en-scene is intoxicating and familiar not because it resembles the world we live in—or even necessarily desire to—but because it is a portrait of what we’ve been told our lives should aspire to be.
Underneath its façade, however, not everything is so squeaky-clean. As the opening sequence continues, Lynch introduces elements of the grotesque amidst this artificial environment. A gun appears briefly on a television; a man collapses while watering his lawn; and, as the camera moves past his still body, cutting through the grass, an underworld of insects is discovered writhing beneath the blades. Presumably they have always been there, but like so many things eventually uncovered in this town, their existence has been buried under the layers of innocence, tranquility, and self-imposed naiveté Lumberton’s reputation is built upon.
This duality in reality, of experiencing and acknowledging the darkness that thrives beneath the manufactured gloss of our clichéd suburban ideals, is the heart of “Blue Velvet’s” story. Because Lynch’s introduction of Lumberton in this sequence is so steeped in the kind of Americana nostalgia where every shot is bathed in filtered light and moves in slow motion, the impression given is that it exists outside of reality, in a realm where Dalmatians really do ride in fire trucks. Neither dream nor truth, the perfection Lumberton appears to exhibit may be seen, then, as the culmination of good intentions and sheer will triumphing over desire and emotion. Like a rehabilitated drug addict, the town is “good” so long as it is able to maintain its behavior. Beneath its fragile exterior, however, its demons continue to look for ways to claw themselves free.
Because “Blue Velvet’s” story descends into what may be construed as the underbelly of Lumberton, it becomes apparent that Lynch is both examining and satirizing peoples’ need to keep up appearances. Quickly exposing both the audience and his characters to the cracks that have begun to riddle the artificial, too-good-to-be-true foundations of the town, Lynch injects the film with a freedom to be unreliable in its depiction of truth. Here, regardless of what may appear to be a meticulously created reality, other forces are always at work shaping the landscape. One simply needs to keep their ear (sliced off or not) to the ground to listen for them.
Like Disneyland, a smile may go a long way in Lumberton, but that doesn’t necessarily mean everything is okay.
Things We Like: Smart Lighting
Post by Kyle St. Romain.
If you recall, a while back I wrote about the basics of bedroom lighting. In that article, I went over some of the ways you can use lighting to change the look and feel of your bedroom. Basically, changes in the brightness, color, and height of your lighting all influence the way we experience a room.
In my quest to help you make the most out of your bedroom lighting (and lighting in other rooms) I’m going to share a new type of light bulb that recently came across. Meet the Philips Hue, which is more of a light system than it is a light bulb. Let me explain.
The Philips Hue is an LED light bulb and lighting control system that gives you the ability to adjust almost every aspect of your lighting (save physically moving the fixture). The bulbs screw into your existing light fixtures and connect to your home’s Wi-Fi through a bridge. The system allows you to control your lights remotely from your iPhone; and I’m not just talking simple on/off control. These bulbs also allow you to change the color of your light.
In addition to controlling the on/off function and color of your lights, Philips Hue also lets you adjust the brightness of your lighting, so you’ll no longer need to install a hard-wired dimmer switch. The system also has a number of pre-set selections (called light recipes) that adjust the color and brightness of your lighting for task specific purposes, such as: reading, relaxing, or working (concentrating). Philips even claims these light recipes are scientifically proven to improve your ability to focus and relax.
In the bedroom, the Philips Hue really shines. The bulbs can set on a timer that gradually brightens and adjusts the color of the light to simulate the sun coming up to help you wake up more peacefully. No more squinting (and dreading) when the lights suddenly come on!
Since the bulbs LED they consume about 80 percent less energy than traditional bulbs and last about 15 years. While they are a bit more expensive than regular bulbs (even energy efficient bulbs), it’s hard to put a price on the cool factor. The starter kit includes a wireless bridge that handles up to 50 bulbs and three bulbs. It sells for $199. Additional bulbs can be purchased for $59 each. A bit pricey, but much cheaper than other color changing LED systems I’ve shopped for before.
For more information, check out the official Philips Hue Website. The only question left is: How will you incorporate these new lighting possibilities into your bedroom? Share your ideas in the comments below.
Breakfast in Bed: Baked Apples
Post by Alison Hein.
Please forgive me for starting this post with a national service message. The entire Northeast was recently ravaged by Hurricane Sandy. Many people who live in the area are still suffering from the aftermath, in need of shelter, clothing, and food. Please help by donating whatever you can at www.redcross.org. Every little bit helps!
Now, here’s an easy autumn breakfast recipe highlighting seasonal apples – just right for all those extras you got at the you-pick. Baked with granola for crunch, and topped with flavored yogurt for protein, these little fruit make a warm, comforting, nutritious breakfast. Use tart apples, like Granny Smith or McIntosh, for pie-like flavors. If you like, add some apple pie spices (cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, mace or cardamom) for a deeper aromatic undertone.
Changing the type of granola you use can greatly alter the flavor profile of your baked apples. Experiment with different nuts, coconut, or dried fruit varieties. Or, refer to a prior Breakfast in Bed post for Lusciously Light Granola.
If you like, swap out the apple juice for brandy, and the yogurt for whipped cream, for an old-time, boozy dessert. Or, simply stick with the program for a warm, comforting breakfast in bed.
2 small, tart apples (about 4 ounces each)
¼ cup to ½ cup granola
¼ cup apple juice
1 to 2 teaspoons honey
4 tablespoons vanilla yogurt
Mint sprigs, for garnish (optional)
Preheat oven to 325°. Core apples, leaving skin intact, and place in small baking dish. Fill cored center of apples with granola. Pour honey in bottom of baking dish and drizzle with honey. Bake 30 to 40 minutes until apples are cooked through and soft, and granola is lightly toasted.
Spoon yogurt over apples, garnish with mint, and serve while still warm.
Makes 2 servings.
Bedroom Design: Oh, America!
Post by Erin Sears.
Well, it’s finally here- Election Day. Regardless of whom you voted for, I think that there’s one thing that we can all agree on- we’ll be glad when the election is over. Until then, this special day has me feeling patriotic and what could be more patriotic than red, white and blue, stars and stripes, and the American flag!
Maybe it’s my Midwestern roots, but I’d don’t mind a little Americana in the home. It just needs to be very well curated and have visual interest. Stars and stripes, whether on a flag or not, have strong graphic appeal and that’s why they show up so often in home décor and fashion. Here are some great examples of star spangled decorating:
There’s nothing understated about the bold use of this oversized flag. What draws me to this room is that it is done so well. The flag is framed in white and provides the color theme for the rest of the space. It’s happy and exciting, which is just what a child’s room should be.
The literal use of the flag at the top of the bed aside, I’m really drawn to this bedding. It’s a reversal of the stars and stripes theme. The quilt is a sophisticated use of red and white and it looks great with the striped pillow. It’s just enough of a nod to the flag without being overpowering.
This simple room feels clean and classic. From the presumably vintage quilt on the bed to the light blue striped throw pillow to the boat painting, the room represents understated Americana at its best. The flag-as-curtain ties the whole room together. It should be noted that there are official rules for using the flag indoors and technically, this room is breaking those rules. I would assert that decorating is all about breaking rules and that America was founded with independent sensibilities in mind. If using the flag in this manner isn’t for you, you have the freedom to go a different direction.
Books! The New York Times wrote that doing this type of home styling might be over the top. However, I think that if you’ve got the downtime and creative drive to turn your books into a showpiece, go for it!
I hope that you’ve been inspired by Old Glory this week and I hope that you vote today. Regarding Hurricane Sandy, please know that all of us on the West Coast are thinking of all of you on the East Coast. Take care.