Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tuesday's Top Five: Books of 2011

In honor of the Oscars, I've decided to do a little review of the books I read in 2011. Beginning in 2010, I started writing down on my wall calendar each time I finish reading a book. My goal was reading one book a week for the year. I only read 46 books, so I didn't quite make the goal, but I'm still pleased with the result.

In no particular order, these are my five favorite books that I read during 2011:
1. The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker


This was one of the first books I read in 2011. I happened upon it while browsing at Borders one afternoon (with a 40% off coupon in my hot little hand). I picked up a paperback copy for just a few dollars, not knowing anything about it. I think this book is an important read, especially for women. The book is about relying on our intuition to help us know when to be scared: if we feel uncomfortable, there's probably a good reason for that. He also talks about how our bodies can take over when things go crazy. I definitely related to this perspective: I've only had to call 911 once in my life. I was eating breakfast with my dad at my parents' house while I was in college when he passed out. Before that had even occurred, my brain was saying to me "If something happens, you just get up, walk around the table, pick up the phone, and dial 911." Sure enough, it did, and I followed those exact steps. Thankfully, my dad's condition wasn't very serious, but I'm very glad my body took over and told me just what to do. This book was filled with stories like that and I found it fascinating.

2. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
My book club decided to read this book in the summer of 2011. I was initially a little unsure about it, but I fell in love! I often enjoy books about history, and this was no exception, even though fiction is rarely my taste. I thought the story had good twists and turns, keeping the reader engaged. For me, while I enjoyed the story, it really came together for me as a favorite when I read the author's brief essay at the end. In the essay, she describes how the different stories that are woven together as all occurring at the same time are actually a depiction of the different stages in the cycle of  relationship between domestic workers and the children they raise. I don't always enjoy fiction, but this book was truly excellent.

3. The Wal-Mart Effect by Charles Fishman

This book was a random find on a clearance shelf at Half Price Books (which is my very favorite place to shop for books). My favorite aspect of this book is that it pointed out to me the importance of the relationship between Wal-Mart and its suppliers. It had never occurred to me to think about what it might be like for a company that makes products (toothpaste, canned soup, hand towels, whatever) that are subsequently sold by Wal-Mart. It turns out, one of the reasons Wal-Mart has such an effect on our economy and our lives is because of its extraordinary purchasing power among its vendors. The author relates the anecdote about how, many years ago, people always purchased deodorant in boxes. The deodorant itself was still in the plastic tube we know today, but the tube was enclosed by a box when you brought it home from the store. Wal-Mart didn't like that - the boxes didn't really affect the consumers use and appreciation of the product, they cost money to produce and added transportation costs, as well as taking up more space on Wal-Mart's store shelves. So, Wal-Mart encouraged its vendors to ditch the boxes and now they're gone. And they're not just gone at Wal-Mart - I can't think of any place in the world where you would find deodorant sold in a box. In my mind, that's an example of Wal-Mart using its power for good and not evil. Though the author (and I) recognizes some important differences even between Wal-Mart and its next closest competitors, I thought this book was a fascinating look at how retail exists in the early 21st century.

4.  Reflections on the Revolution in Europe by Christopher Caldwell
I was actually surprised by how interesting this book was. I knew that, coming in to it, the author and I had somewhat different ideological viewpoints and I didn't know whether I would agree with his perspectives. Ultimately, I didn't. But, there was one point that was truly brought home for me when I read this book: it is different for Europeans to accept "other" people into their society than it is for us here in the U.S. Our society is, and has been for 200 years, a melting pot of lots of different immigrant and indigenous groups. That is not necessarily true of the countries that make up the European Union. "American" doesn't mean that we look alike, have the same religious views, dress the same way, learn the same things at school, observe the same customs and traditions, eat the same food, or have the same aspirations for our children. For some of the countries now struggling to understand how Muslims fit into their societies, there had long been much more uniformity in those categories. Until I read this book, it had not occurred to me just how much more of a challenge it is for those more homogeneous European countries to figure out how to proceed.

5. Slaves in the Family by Edward Ball
This book is also a favorite because it opened my mind. This book focused on the relationships between slaves and the white families they served during slavery and thereafter. Indeed, the author conducted recent interviews with people descended from slaves, masters, and both. One piece, though, that truly fascinated me was the economic ramifications of slavery, and then emancipation. As most other present-day Americans, I believe slavery is, was, and always will be, morally wrong. I am ashamed our country's laws sanctioned it at one time. However, for the people who were purchasing slaves when it was legal, I imagine that they viewed such purchases as an "investment." When the decision was made to correct the past policies, and free the slaves, the people who had purchased them simply lost out on their investment. I do not mean to suggest that the government should have done otherwise. I just had never thought before about what it would have been like to find that my investment wasn't worth what I had put into it - something that many of us are thinking about more today given the drop in housing prices and retirement savings accounts. I had always imagined that Reconstruction in the South was difficult because of actual physical destruction created by the battles that were part of the war. This, no doubt, contributed to the difficulty, but the economic forces associated with the loss of wealth created by emancipation must also have been a part of it. Given the situation facing our country today, I found this economic perspective especially relevant.

Wishing you all great reads in 2012!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Oscar Follow-Up

So yesterday, I revealed my picks for Best Supporting Actress, Best Actress, and Best Picture. As I'm sure you're now aware, I was dead wrong! Oh well. I had hoped to have a chance to see the movie "The Artist" at some point - I have never actually seen a silent film before. I think I'll really need to make the effort! And while I haven't seen the Iron Lady, if Meryl Streep really hasn't won an Oscar since Jonah Hill was born (in 1983), then it's definitely her turn. She has been truly excellent in so many films. I was also thrilled for Octavia Spencer, who was my close second in the Best Supporting Actress category. She was just wonderful in "The Help" and I'm happy that film was recognized in some way. Octavia Spencer is also my winner for best dressed. She looked lovely!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

My Oscar Picks

Well, the day of the Oscars has finally arrived! I'm actually not that devoted to watching the awards ceremony, but I do really enjoy going to the movies, so I'm always curious to find out which movies win big! You can read a list of the nominees here. These are the categories I will be keeping an eye on this evening and my picks for the winners:

1. Best Actress
This is a pretty close call for me between Viola Davis of "The Help" and Rooney Mara of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." I had the chance to see both of these movies and read the books upon which they were based. In fact, these are two of the best books I have read in the last several years. I would recommend both books and both movies to anyone interested. That said, I can't help but compare Rooney Mara's performance as Lisbeth Salander to the performance given by Noomi Rapace in the Swedish version of the movie. While Mara was excellent, she just wasn't quite as believable as Rapace. In contrast, Viola Davis was truly excellent as Aibileen, the narrator and star of the story. She really brought the book's character to life, and for that reason Viola Davis is my pick!


2. Best Supporting Actress
This is another close call, with two actresses from "The Help" (Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer) nominated along with Melissa McCarthy from "Bridesmaids." While both Chastain and Spencer were excellent, and "The Help" was one of the best movies I have seen in a long time, I'll be pulling for Melissa McCarthy this year. Bridesmaids is probably one of my favorite movies of all time - it is SO funny. My very favorite scene in the film is when, after Maya Rudolph's disastrous bridal shower, Kristen Wiig is driving back to Milwaukee when Melissa McCarthy pulls up beside her in her minivan, filled with puppies in berets that were given out as party favors at the shower. I don't remember laughing that hard at the movies ever before or since. Melissa McCarthy is my pick!

Just a quick note: I'm not particularly watching either of the Best Actor categories this year. While many of the nominees are favorites of mine, I actually haven't seen any of the movies for which they were nominated, with the exception of Moneyball. While I enjoyed that one, it was not the best performance I've seen by either Brad Pitt or Jonah Hill.

3. Best Picture
With 9 nominees, this is a particularly tough call. As I have already mentioned, I loved "The Help." The movie was almost as good as the book - though not quite. I think the best movie I saw this year was actually Midnight in Paris. I'm not really a Woody Allen devotee - I'm not especially familiar with his work. I was just so impressed with the story and the way it was told. It was a movie unlike any other I have ever seen. Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams were excellent, and the time-traveling aspect was fascinating, especially in a city with as much history as Paris. Gosh, even the movie poster was cool! It was a true adventure and I hope its excellence is recognized this evening!
I hope those who'll be watching the show have a good time. I look forward to the results!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Girls in White Dresses

Not long ago, I read the book "Girls in White Dresses" by Jennifer Close. I had read a review of it quite some time ago and was inspired to add my name to the waiting list at the library. There were several hundred others who had requested the same book, but slowly I made my way to the top of the request pile, and one day I received a notice that the book had come in! I went down to the library and picked it up. Once it was in my hands, I couldn't put it down!

The book was written about a collection of friends who are struggling through their twenties, with their difficulties compounded by the fact that it seemed that everyone they knew was getting married. I definitely know how it feels when it seems like you're the only one whose life isn't perfect - I've felt that before. I think the tone of the book overall was hopeful because the girls do find happiness, though it might not look like the fairytale they were dreaming of.

My very favorite thing about this book, though, was the nature of the friendship between the main characters. I found these friendships very real. While I love the foursome that fearlessly stars in Sex and the City, I've never been part of one group of friends where the friendship is all-consuming and fairly exclusive. I think that's how you would have to describe the relationship between Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte, especially in the later seasons. (This would also apply to the group on Friends, where we almost never see anyone seeing any friends outside the pack of six). On the other hand, I have been part of groups of friends where we come together and support one another, but everyone also has other friends who sort of orbit in (and out) of the picture. Actually, this occurred from time to time in SATC, if you think of Susan Sharon and Amalita. But, in real life, I think it occurs all the time. Think of all of the circles of friends out there: high school friends, college friends, summer camp friends, grad school friends, study abroad friends, work friends from this job and the one before it. Along with that, there are of course people who are in the closest circle, and people who aren't quite in that circle, though they're connected to it. I really enjoyed this book for portraying modern women as living at the center of multiple circles, with people on the periphery of each one, creating a tapestry of friendship surrounding us. It helps remind me of just how blessed I am to have that in my real life.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Paris je t'aime

Paris je t'aime

Paris je t'aime by marvelousminnie featuring a studded clutch

The Eiffel Tower and two beautiful bags - it doesn't get much better than that! 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tuesday's Top Five: Ice Cream Flavors

I love ice cream! Here, in no particular order, are my favorite five flavors of ice cream. It might seem weird to post about ice cream in the middle of winter, but I think ice cream is a year-round treat!

1. Mint Chocolate Chip
Oooh - love mint chocolate chip! If it warms up a smidgen, the texture lightens up and it's the best cool treat on a hot day.
2. Cookies and Cream
Yesssss! Love cookies and cream. Like a smooth, cool oreo! Yummy!!!
3. Cookie Dough
Regular cookie dough is a bit of a guilty pleasure, since it's a bit dangerous. The stuff they put in ice cream is totally safe! YES! 
4. Moose Tracks and Cow Tracks
I can never really tell the difference between Moose Tracks and Cow Tracks - I suppose it depends on the shape of the little mint-, caramel- or peanut butter-filled animals in the mix. I love all tiny, flavor-filled animals!
5. Peanut Butter Panic
This is definitely my favorite ice cream flavor. It is so peanut butter-y and chocolate-y, it tastes just like a Reese's Peanut Butter cup. LOVE!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Museum of Russian Art

 Recently, I had a couple of days off work and was able to take a little bit of a "stay-cation." In addition to the usual knitting, reading, tv-watching, shopping and projects around the house, I was able to make a visit to the Museum of Russian Art.

The weather was nice, so I was able to walk to the museum which was a nice change of pace. I drive by it all the time, and have been wanting to go since moving 2 years ago. The building was previously a church, so the gallery is stunning:

Currently, the museum is showing two exhibitions. First, the artwork of Oleg Vassiliev, a Soviet artist who did not conform to the government's standards when it came to artistic style. As a result, he did not publicize much of his art and illustrated kids' books to earn a living. Vassiliev now lives in Minnesota and much of the art on display is from his personal collection.

The other exhibition currently in house is a collection of ancient artifacts from the Ukraine. This exhibition attempted to tell the story of different groups of migrants over the centuries, coming from the east, invading the Ukraine. Many of these groups built Kurgans, which were earthen burial mounds, that functioned much like the Egyptian Pyramids. Certain worldly goods were included with the deceased, and many of the artifacts that were part of the exhibition were excavated from these mounds. 
The oldest objects were these Trypillian clay pots. 

There was also lots of beautiful gold jewelry - this is just a tiny sampling. The metal work was fantastic! 
All in all, I enjoyed my afternoon's visit to the Museum of Russian Art. While the exhibition space is quite beautiful, it really is pretty small. These two exhibitions were the only ones on display - the Museum doesn't seem to have a permanent collection. I hope to make another visit once new exhibitions are installed! 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

New Header!

That's right, the header above is new to Marvelous Minnie! I've wanted a new header pretty much since the day I started the blog. I did quite a bit of online research, which turned up lots of ideas for how to make a header for a blog using a picture and free photo-editing software, like Picasa or Picnik. I did make one with Picasa, though the photo wasn't one that I had taken, and I really wasn't that excited about the colors.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized I didn't really want a photo as the background. I'm not that confident in my photography, and I'm reluctant to use photos taken by other people, especially in the header. (I'm still just learning about blogging etiquette). I attempted to make a header with the generic Paint software that's part of Windows XP. It was okay, but it was very difficult to edit the colors and the text.

Then, I had a great idea! I realized I could use all of the features of Picasa or Picnik to create text, and other images, as long as I had a "photo" that was the background. So, I selected the perfect shade of minty green above in my Paint program and saved it, without any adornment, as a JPEG. I then logged into Picnik, which is a fabulous site, and uploaded that as my "photo." From there, I was able to edit the image to my heart's content. I added two text boxes, each of which allowed me to choose the font, size and color. Also, because Picnik is soon-to-be defunct, I had freebie access to the premium features, including the tree "sticker" above. This text-based header is just what I dreamed of!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Hat for Willow

As you may have seen in an earlier post, I recently learned how to knit a hat. This is no small feat, especially since I'm still terrified by double-pointed needles (which is the more straightforward way to knit hats, socks and other round things that are small). I made a hat earlier that was pretty, but when I tried it on it didn't cover my ears. I decided to change the pattern so the hat would be a little longer. And, I bought myself a "pom-pom maker," which is actually a very simple contraption with two pieces of plastic held together while the yarn is wrapped around. You then cut the yarn around the outside of the plastic, try to get all of these newly-short pieces of yarn bound together, and voila, you have a pom-pom. It was quite a challenge! But, I think the finished product is worth it:

Willow recently sent me my Christmas present in the mail. I need to send her a thank you note, and now I'll have this lovely hat with my first-ever pom-pom to send back! I made Willow a scarf for Christmas out of this same yarn. Since I had extra, I decided to turn it into a hat. It'll be a lovely surprise for her!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I'm in love...

... because I just found the right shade of nail polish! When I was growing up, I very rarely painted my nails. When I was in graduate school, I decided I wanted my toenails to be cherry red all year long. So, they were. But, I ultimately gave up on this when I was visiting my cousin in Tucson in the summer of 2009 and she took me to get a pedicure. I had never had one before, and I picked out sort of a pale pink color to try something different. After that, I was hooked and spent about 2 years trotting in for another pedicure every 6 to 8 weeks (with a clip at home in between to remain manageable). The trouble was, it can get expensive, and if you have sensitive spots or other problems with your feet, it can be hard to explain exactly how your feet need to be taken care of each time you see a new nail tech. I suppose I could have decided to become a more loyal customer, but the last thing I need is another appointment in my schedule. So, I decided to go simple and do my own nails at home.
  I've been looking for just the right shade of pink. My skin is very, very fair and I was nervous about something with a "peach" undertone. I love using quick dry nail polish, especially on my feet, and I've recently tried out a few different choices in the New York Color quick dry formula (which costs less than $2 a bottle). The winner? Uptown!

Love it!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Tuesday's Top Five (one day late)

I've decided to do a weekly list of my top five of something. Maybe I'm off to an inauspicious start, since the first one is a day late. Oh well! Maybe next week I can do better. This first installment of Tuesday's Top Five is about my five favorite musicians or musical groups. I love them all so much, they are listed below in no particular order:
1. Keith Urban
I first remember hearing Keith Urban's song, Somebody Like You, while in Norway. Country music is more popular than you'd think over there, and from the first time I heard it, I was hooked. I've loved Keith ever since and have gone with Ginny to see him when he's been through MSP on three different occasions! While he continues to make good music, my very favorite album of his is Be Here. My very favorite song is Days Go By!

2. Jamie Cullum
 I adore Jamie Cullum's music. My good friend, Sunflower, loved Jamie long before I did. Sunflower and I studied together in France, and often listened to Jamie. He has so many excellent tunes, I don't know that I can pick a favorite, but here are a couple:

3. Coldplay

Sunflower also loved Coldplay long before I did. I remember during our first year of college going into her room and hearing Coldplay, but I really wasn't interested in it. In fact, it wasn't until I was listening to Pandora while studying like a fiend during graduate school that I really fell in love. The song was Strawberry Swing! 
And then, there's Rainy Day, which I think might be one of my very, very favorite songs of all time.

4. Harry Connick, Jr.

As I mentioned last week, I love Harry Connick Jr. as a musician. It sometimes seems that he's more interested in acting than music making lately, which is such a shame, because his music is the best. I first really enjoyed listening to his music when I happened upon Oh My Nola at Half Price Books. I'm also crazy about the Star Turtle Album...

5. U2
And last but not least, there's U2.
Their concert at the TCF Bank stadium last summer, in the pouring rain, remains one of my happiest memories of my adult life. I don't know that I could even pick out a favorite song. But, I can say, that when this was the first song at the concert, I started screaming:
And here's another one that always makes me smile!
So lucky to have the music of these Top Five musicians/groups in my life!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Candy

Well, it's Valentine's Day again, and of course that means it's time for candy! I did some shopping this weekend to see what was out there. It was awesome!
Who says candy corn is just for Halloween these days?

I love candy hearts! Their little messages always make me smile. But, some of the flavors aren't exactly my favorite, and as Forrest Gump would point out, you never know what you're going to get. Cue these guys!

Messages plus yummy chocolate. Here's a close up of the messages:

And who doesn't love them in pink and green? Any valentine would be lucky to have these.

But, here is my personal favorite:

What Minnesota girl's heart can't be won by a tacklebox from her valentine! Happy day!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Ginny's Birthday Party

So, once I had the birthday present ready, it was time to get ready for Ginny's party. Yay! I decided to make things I knew Ginny's kiddos would like, partly because I knew all the grown-ups would love it too. So, we had pizza,

and salad with strawberries, cucumbers, goat cheese, croutons and dressing:
Yum! Everyone loved it! Before we ate dinner, Ginny and the kids opened the presents:

And, of course, no birthday party dinner would be complete without birthday cake. Lucky for us, Valentine's Day is right around the corner, so pink cake was abundant at the bakery. Finished with chocolate and caramel Cow Tracks, this was a perfect treat!

After dinner, the adults hung out around the table while the little ones were up to their usual mischief -
Little Miss I watched TV, while her brother, Little Mr. O was apparently worried about hot pans?

It was a great party!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Getting ready for Ginny's Birthday

Last week, my dear friend Ginny had her birthday. She was so kind as to throw me a birthday party last year when I celebrated my golden birthday and it was the best! I decided I should try to reciprocate. (There'll be more about the party soon...) But, of course, before I could prepare the party, I had to make the present!

As I've mentioned, I am new to jewelry making. Ginny LOVES jewelry - in the past, she worked at Claire's and at a very nice jewelry store. She's my companion for those jewelry parties too. Ginny's favorite color is pink, and she wears a lot of it, so I knew I could do beads in shades of pink. I had some beads picked out and had the idea that I was going to make a necklace where the beads were charms dangling from a chain. Then, one evening, I was waiting around the office and was surfing the internet. I made my way to the Stella and Dot website just to browse. Ginny hosted the only Stella and Dot party I've ever been to, and I know she loves their style. I saw this gorgeous Madeline Pearl necklace:

When I saw this, I knew this was the style I wanted to emulate, and I figured that as long as I used eye pins (with a little loop on the end) instead of head pins (with a flat piece of metal on the end), I could do this style rather than what I'd been planning. I also thought that this would be a little less fragile. Since Ginny has three little ones at her house, I figured more secure was better! So, I started putting the beads together:
And then I put even more beads together...
Once I had all of the bead sections done, I just had to add the chain. I decided to make the chain long enough that it was to be doubled. I know Ginny loves to wear statement necklaces!

I also decided to make some earrings to match.

So, here's the set:
And here's a close up on the beads:

I also decided to get Ginny a tube of her very favorite lip gloss, Maybelline Berry Bella lip gloss:

It was so exciting to put this present together for Ginny. I knew she was going to love all of it!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Can't wait for August!

This action is headed to St. Paul in August, 2012! And yours truly already has a ticket. See you there, Coldplay!


Untitled #1 

Well, here it is: my very first attempt at Polyvore!
This is what I imagine Jackie O. wearing if she were
to hit some of the quaint shopping areas around Minneapolis!