Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Driving beats: Music for summer road tripping



Driving back to Auckland from Wellington recently, I got to thinking about driving music and playlists and what my Top Ten list would be if I actually organised such a thing in advance. Turns out after much (so much!) deliberation, it would have loads of old stuff and be the kind one would belt out joyfully, although most likely not terribly tunefully. Hopefully one would also remember to tone it down before slowing to 50 on the main street of a very quiet town where people look funny at you if you are still at it and the window is right down.

This, then, would be my list:

  1. Elton John's Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding. Eleven minutes of bliss. The “One Night Only” live performance at Madison Square Garden is the best, I reckon.
  2. Life on Mars, David Bowie.  One of my fav Bowie songs out of so many and great for the road because the lyrics are so weird, even for him.
  3. Too much Led Zep to choose from but this is such a fabulous early one. Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You.  Joan Baez sang it first, but this... Robert Plant... Amazing... Sigh.
  4. Puddle of Mudd, Blurry. A bit out of left field and a guilty pleasure now but it’s a terrifically loud, confused and angsty song.
  5. Bad Romance, Lady Gaga. Perfect pop. One for the girls to crank up the volume to.
  6. Calling On, Weta.  Another lyrically odd song, but possibly my all time fav Kiwi song. Great Desert Road stuff.
  7. Alice Cooper's Poison. How good are kitschy lines like this. "I wanna taste you but your lips are venomous poison." Good vocab lesson for impressionable kids in the car, right there.
  8. The Cowsills. The Rain, the Park and Other Things.  Cuteness. There has to be something light and fluffy to counteract all the angst and this is it.  Pure fun and happiness, even if the flower girl in the song might be just a dream.
  9. I like you in Velvet, Malcolm McLaren. A bit obscure, late 80s, and actually a very creepy song with Malcolm singing (is it singing??) but I love this. Perfect for the last stretch of a trip, when you're almost there.
  10. Bohemian Rhapsody. Just… Party on!
Want to listen right now? Here's a Spotify playlist for you:


Saturday, 27 December 2014

The Twelve Posts of Christmas: Christmas Is Over... Now What?


By now you've unwrapped the presents, eaten the food and are completely ready for the next stage: relaxation.

For me this is chipping away at my endless and every increasing To-Be-Read pile.  And trust me it's a pretty big pile.

I've been waiting for Visions by Kelley Armstrong the supernatural/crime sequel to Omens for what seems like ages.  Luckily I have finally got it and it's taking pride of place on top of my holiday reading pile.

Tucked underneath it is another sequel, this time Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop and yes it's a another supernatural/fantasy book.  Because yes I have a little weakest for them.  Okay maybe a big weakest.  Don't judge me.

And just to continue on with the theme also in the pile is Midnight Thief by Livia Blackburne, a teen fantasy book that sounds like a cross between Graceling and Best Served Cold, two of my all-time favourite fantasy books, featuring kick-ass chicks.

Which leads me to Winterkill by Kate Boorman, whose cover reminds me of that movie The Village, which may or may not be a good thing.  It also sounds vaguely apocalyptic and if I have a big thing for supernatural/fantasy I have an even bigger weakest for dystopian/apocalyptic. Because angst and adventure is what it's all about.
 
The Rain by Virginia Bergin fits nicely into this theme and is another book I can't wait to read along with The One Safe Place by Tania Unsworth which has been described as the new Giver and which has already begun appearing on Best 2014 lists.

Of course my To-Be-Read pile is not all supernatural or end of the world goings on, I do have some lighter reads such as The Year I Met You by Cecelia Ahern, a book that I keep putting on the top of the pile then dropping back down because having read all of her previous books it's one I want to save until last... or at least until it's due back date.

There's also I Will Marry George Cloony By Christmas by Tracy Bloom and Unleashed by Rachel Lacey which are light and romantic and utterly perfect to read on sunny day, accompanied by a bowl of cherries to eat your way through as you do so.

And finally for a SyFyGirl like me the absolutely best book to round out a reading feast; one with aliens and the ending of humanity, Firefall by Peter Watts

New Year's resolutions - Do you make and break them?


So we all know that a New Year's resolution is when a person makes a promise to do an act of self-improvement or something slightly nice, such as opening doors for people beginning from New Year's Day.

But how many of us make these resolutions and then end up breaking them? I'm not jumping on that wagon this year. I have spent too many years subjecting myself to failure. Over the years I've promised to myself that I would try a new diet, exercise more, save money, spend more time outdoors, and numerous other efforts. Each and every time I have failed.

A 2007 study by Richard Wiseman from the University of Bristol involving 3,000 people showed that 88% of those who set New Year resolutions fail.


So why do New Year's resolutions fail? While we start out with good intentions and high expectations, it is easy to become discouraged when we inevitably fall short of our goals, and this is the reason most New Year’s resolutions fail. Our high expectations and desire for changes in behavior simply are not matched by our willingness to change our actual habits. The desire is there, but not the self-discipline needed to manifest the changes.

The top 10 most commonly broken New Year's resolutions are - 
  • Lose Weight and Get Fit
  • Quit Smoking
  • Learn Something New
  • Eat Healthier and Diet
  • Get Out of Debt and Save Money
  • Spend More Time with Family
  • Travel to New Places
  • Be Less Stressed
  • Volunteer
  • Drink Less

However if you are planning on making one, here are some top tips to help you avoid failure - 

Don’t overreach. Make one, not multiple New Year’s resolutions. Channel all your energy into one sensible, achievable goal.

Be specific. Break your overall goal down into smaller sub-goals, or objectives, with time-lines or other specifics. 

Monitor your progress. Keep track of both your goal-related activities and the progress you are making.

Don’t over-react to set-backs. Set-backs should be expected, but not used as an excuse to dial back on self-discipline.

Reward yourself often. We all need positive feedback.

Whether you are a New Year’s resolution-maker or not, the most important thing to consider for the coming year is that you can have a “fresh start” any time you need it.

So, if you have decided that you are going to set a resolution, what is your goal?


Thursday, 25 December 2014

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Festivus Cheer

As much as I try to avoid it, I have to acknowledge Christmas. I’m getting better at it, even admitting I really like things about it – scorched almonds, buttered rum, select Christmas films etc. Anyway, as I was forced to muse upon the year to date, achievements and whatnot, and gift giving, basically all I could think of was that a) I got a job working at the library which I've always wanted and very much love and b) one of my favourite things about it is that I feel like all the books in the library are mine now. I feel very connected to them. I keep tabs on them, I spend a large portion of my time with them. And my favourite sneaky pastime at the desk on quiet days is making the library buy me presents, or “suggesting a purchase” which of course any member of the general public can do, but to me still feels very special. So, here are some of the presents that the library has bought me over the past six months and that I now generously offer to you because they’re actually not mine at all but sitting on the shelves waiting for people to borrow them (actually I'm still reading two of them) xx




Dino Buzzati - Poem Strip

I found a book of Buzzati's short stories shelving in the basement and thought 'that name sounds Italian I wonder if he's like Italo Calvino' and I actually wasn't that wrong - they are apparently in the same vein, and this comic looked really pretty so I made the library buy it. It is as pretty as I expected it to be in the flesh, very psychedelic, a lot about sex and death etc (the picture sums it up quite well). His short stories are on my list of things to read in the near future.

Siri Hustvedt - The Enchantment of Lily Dahl 

I thought that The Blazing World was an incredible novel, and was the first of Hustvedt's that I'd read. Actually I have a sneaking suspicion that I read The Blindfold in early high school but I'm not sure. I moved on to read A Plea for Eros (quite good but also kind of a poor mans Eros the Bittersweet? but not everyone can be Anne Carson) and acquired What I Loved (still waiting to read this but have heard very positive things). As she's so widely praised I thought it was terrible that we didn't have her first novel in the catalogue, so I ordered The Enchantment of Lily Dahl. I'll only say that you can tell it's her first, but when an author piques my interest I like a good survey of their work so it's interesting to see how she's matured as a writer, and anyway - others may love it

Donna Haraway - Crystals, Fields and Fabrics 

Donna Haraway is a figure I encountered in a feminist theory paper a few years ago and always stuck with me. What I remembered is that she is a post-genderist and has some very elucidating views on the relationships between space, sciences, technologies and sociology. I didn't realize that she has a PhD in Biology from Yale, but she certainly does and this is her dissertation. I'm about 40 pages in and unsure if I'm reeaally picking up what she's putting down half the time (I do not have a scientific brain) but nonetheless: it's loosely an analysis of prevailing metaphors in developmental biology during the 19th and 20th centuries and how these metaphors interact with and shape biological theory. Aside from smiling and nodding through a lot of scientific jargon there's a lot about art and philosophy and I really am beginning to see how her scientific work made her a brilliant post structuralist and feminist critic. It is not light holiday reading, but it will make you feel very smart and while it's challenging it's also mind blowing - you can sometimes forget that truly original thinkers exist but Donna Haraway is one. I have another of hers lined up: A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist Feminism in the Twentieth Century, which I am very much looking forward to and which has this amazing artwork gracing its cover: 



So yeah, Merry Christmas and all that!

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Have yourself a geekalicious Christmas!


This year, it seemed the universe was telling me I needed to make our Christmas an extra special geeky one. I kept stumbling across wonderful pins on Pinterest such as this post on how to geek up your Christmas, this rather impressive Darth Vader tree (which was shared to my facebook wall no less than 4 times!) and lastly this rather inspirational Dr Who tree tutorial.

It all took me back to my flatting years in the mid 90s, and the very untraditional awesomeness that was our Spice Girl Christmas tree. Scary, Sporty, Baby, Ginger and Posh made for some fabulous decorations and the tree was very much a sight to behold. I just wish I had some photographic evidence to prove it. Sadly those were not digital days, and I don't, so I'm going to have to leave it to your imaginations ;) (and hey, if I've made you a little nostalgic, you can request their Greatest hits here).

Feeling my own nostalgia, I decided we really needed a geektastic tree, and inspired by those fantastic pins above I settled on a Dr Who theme. My 3 and 5 year old sons fully embraced the idea. Whilst they have never actually seen the show, they are in love with all the STUFF. They think the Tardis, Daleks, Cybermen and Weeping angels (which they have renamed scary fairies) are just the best. I'm hoping they will forgive me when they look back in future years and realise just what they were playing with, ahem! Their Dad just said 'really?' and shook his head (but he is rather impressed with it now it is complete, I know he is).

And so the decoration making commenced. It became a bit of an addiction, and this blog post was going to be shared much earlier in the month, but I kept needing to make just one more thing (needs another felt Dalek, just how hard can cross-stitching a Tardis be?) and so it all took a bit longer than expected. Lesson learned - start your geek tree decoration making as early as possible - I'm thinking I'll start on next year's tree in January ;) There were admittedly some fails along the way. I was going to make my very own Weeping angel topper, but it proved too hard for my crafting skills, so an actual Christmas angel was sacrificed for the cause, I think it was worth it :)

Where to from here? Must be time to borrow some Dr Who DVDs from the library (here are series Six and Seven in case you want to join me) and marathon some Christmas specials , as I wait for this years to come on TV *rubs hands*
And maybe while I'm waiting, I'll start researching next year's tree - the boys have put in a suggestion for a Minecraft theme, we'll see ;)

The Twelve Posts of Christmas: Christmas But Not As You Know It


Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without watching a least one Christmas movie.  Of course it helps that that Christmas movie is Die Hard.  Because Die Hard is THE only Christmas movie.

Just ask anyone.

After all it has everything that a person could want in a Christmas movie; witty one-liners, awesome villains in the form of the wickedly wonderful Alan Rickman and explosions.

How awesome is that.

There are of course a few other movies that are worth watching at Christmas time such as Die Hard 2 which manages to be almost as good as the first Die Hard movie.

Though I wouldn't recommend watching it if you're planning on flying anytime soon.

And since we're on a Christmas action kick you might want to follow these movies with The Long Kiss Goodnight which, once again, has explosions.

Then again you might feel like something a little more restful and maybe even romantic like While You Were Sleeping which is probably my second favourite Christmas movie.  And of course you can always follow it up with Serendipity starring John Cusack, who like Johnny Depp, never seems to age and maybe a screening of Bridget Jones's Diary.

And all I need to say about that movie is Colin Firth.

You could also combine romance with a little bit of history and Englishness and watch The Christmas Candle

Of course if action or romance isn't your thing then Home For The Holidays may be what you are looking.

And yes I know isn't exactly a Christmas movie.  Because yes it is set during Thanksgiving.  But watching this or The Family Stone might just make you appreciate how wonderfully normal your family is.

Friday, 19 December 2014

The Twelve Posts of Christmas: Entertaining The Kids... Small and Big

Kids movies are the best.

And Christmas kids movies are even better.

There's laughter and adventure and cute little animals that make you go oo and ah.  There's old favourites and new favourites and movies just to wile away the hours.

So let your little and not so little kids loose with just a few of these.

The Naughty List

When Snowflake's mis­chief-loving brother Winter goes too far with a prank, they both get stuck on the Naughty List, doing a seemingly never-ending list of chores for Santa. Along with a spunky young reindeer named Sparkle, they try to make up for Winter's misde­ed.,Winter's i­nability to follow the rules put the North Pole in a serious jam. Suddenly Christmas needs to be saved and there's nobody else who's up to the task. It's up to the trio of mischief makers to save the holiday and make Santa proud.


The Christmas Bunny

The Christmas Bunny tells the story of a lonely foster child who finds a lost, injured rabbit in the woods on Christmas Eve. The rabbit is nursed back to health by the Bunny Lady, who runs a rabbit rescue in an old barn behind her farmhouse. The girl begins to help the Bunny Lady around the farm, and through her love for the rabbits, slowly begins to grasp the feeling of being loved.

Arthur Christmas

How CAN Santa deliver billions of presents to the whole world in just one night? With an army of one million combat-style Field Elves and a vast, state-of-the-art control center under the ice of the North Pole! So how could this incredible operation have MISSED one child?! To Santa's young son, Arthur, it threatens to end the magic of Christmas. With retired Grandsanta, a rebellious young elf, an old sleigh and some untrained reindeer, Arthur sets out in a crazy mission to deliver the last present!

Mandie and the Forgotten Christmas
  
When Mandie is thrust into Miss Heathwood's School for Girls at Christmastime, she struggles to grasp the boarding school's new rules and the finer points of high society. As Mandie tries to stay out of hot water with Miss Heathwood, she stumbles upon a mystery in the school's forbidden attic. Will Mandie ignore the warning to flee or try to get to the bottom of the strange noises beyond the boarded-up doors? Uncovering the truth might unlock the memories of of a long-forgotten Christmas .

The Polar Express

Santa Claus does not exist. Or does he? For one doubting boy, an astonishing event occurs. Late on Christmas Eve night, he lies in bed hoping to hear the sound of reindeer bells from Santa's sleigh. When to his surprise, a steam engine's roar and whistle can be heard outside his window. The conductor (voice of Tom Hanks) invites him on board to take an extraordinary journey to the North Pole with many other pajama-clad children. There, he receives an extraordinary gift only those who still believe in Santa can experience.

And some not so Christmasy movies.  Just because.

The House of Magic

When housecat Thunder is abandoned by his owners he fights to stay safe on the strange and lonely streets. Just in time Thunder comes across a big, scary house occupied by an old magician. Making friends with the old man and most of his inventions, Thunder finally feels safe. When the magician is taken ill his nephew sees an opportunity to sell the house and cash in on the fortune. Hearing the news, Thunder and his new friends put their heads together to think of a way to save the old man and his magical house.

Frozen

When a prophecy traps a kingdom in eternal winter, Anna, a fearless optimist, teams up with extreme mountain man Kristoff and his sidekick reindeer Sven on an epic journey to find Anna's sister Elsa, the Snow Queen, and put an end to her icy spell. Encountering mystical trolls, a funny snowman named Olaf, Everest-like extremes and magic at every turn, Anna and Kristoff battle the elements in a race to save the kingdom from destruction.

How To Train Your Dragon 2

It's been five years since Hiccup and Toothless successfully united dragons and vikings on the island of Berk. While Astrid, Snotlout and the rest of the gang are challenging each other to dragon races (the island's new favorite contact sport), the now inseparable pair journey through the skies, charting unmapped territories and exploring new worlds. When one of their adventures leads to the discovery of a secret ice cave that is home to hundreds of new wild dragons and the mysterious Dragon Rider, the two friends find themselves at the center of a battle to protect the peace. 

Postman Pat: The Movie

Like always, Postman Pat is happily going about his duty delivering letters and parcels around the fictional town of Greendale. One day, auditions for the TV talent show, “You’re the One”, are held in Greendale, which Pat manages to pass. With Pat required to be away from Greendale whilst participating in the contest, various Patbot 3000 robots are deployed to take Pat’s postal duties. This soon turns out to be an evil plot to take over the world, which Pat must now stop.

 
Rio 2

It's a jungle out there for Blu, Jewel and their three kids after they're hurtled from Rio de Janeiro to the wilds of the Amazon. As Blu tries to fit in, he goes beak-to-beak with the vengeful Nigel, and meets his father-in-law.

Tinker Bell and The Pirate Fairy

Zarina, a smart and ambitious dust-keeper fairy, flees Pixie Hollow and joins forces with the scheming pirates of Skull Rock, who make her captain of their ship. Tinker Bell and her friends must embark on an epic adventure to find Zarina, and together they go sword-to-sword with the band of pirates led by a cabin boy named James who’ll soon be known as Captain Hook, himself.

I like Popular Music (ssshh!)

Cast your mind back to a time long, long ago. An analogue time. A time when indie was still short for independent, and alternative music was actually an alternative to something. That was me, in my youth, rebelling in that particular way that only white girls from middle class suburbs can: listening to alternative music, wearing weird clothes and generally trying to be different to everyone else.

Which is why this former indie kid is now coming out of the closet to share a dark secret: I like popular music. I like listening to number one hits! (But old ones). I’m not alternative, I’m actually (spoiler!!) just like everyone else.

Now, I’m not talking about the kind of popular music that is the demon spawn of reality TV shows, I’m just talking about good old-fashioned bands, writing their own songs and playing their own instruments. And then selling a billion records.

There are some records that were, and still are, insanely popular and I am a-ok with being part of a large and homogenous population who loves these records:

Fleetwood Mac ‘Rumours’

Released in 1977, it was number one in New Zealand, it won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 1978 and it sold over 45 million copies worldwide. It was made while the band members were breaking up with each other, having affairs with each other, partying like rock stars, and writing songs about it all. It’s so hard to choose just one song from ‘Rumours’ because I love the whole album, so here’s a live version of ‘Rhiannon’ from a different album with the gorgeous Stevie Nicks and her amazing voice, looking both intoxicating and intoxicated.

Paul Simon ‘Graceland’

Released in 1986, it was number one in New Zealand, it won the Grammy for Album of the year in 1987, and sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. Paul Simon collaborated with South African musicians during the apartheid regime to make this incredible record. It was critically acclaimed and hugely popular and I can’t get enough of it.

The Rolling Stones – pretty much everything they’ve ever done

The Rolling Stones are a band from England, you may have heard of them. They have been doing rock and roll for a while now, for oh, just about FIFTY YEARS, PEOPLE! They have sold an estimated 200 million records worldwide. I couldn’t find an exact number for record sales because the number is simply so big that it will break the internet. There is no situation where a little bit (or a lot) of Rolling Stones won’t improve things. They have so many great albums and so many great songs. Here’s one of my fave songs from their five decades of awesomeness, from 1966, with Brian Jones rocking the marimba.

Bruce Springsteen ‘Born in the USA’

Released in 1984, Born in the USA is an album full of hits, selling 30 million copies worldwide. I saw Bruce this year in concert in Auckland and he played the WHOLE ALBUM FROM TOP TO BOTTOM and it was amazing. Here’s the Boss, a regular working-class millionaire, Dancing in the Dark with Monica from Friends.

Patea Maori Club ‘Poi-e'

A one-hit wonder, released in 1984, Poi-e was sung in Maori and celebrated Maori culture. Number one in New Zealand for four weeks, and revived in Taika Waititi’s movie ‘Boy’ in 2010. This song represents everything that is good with the world. It gives me chills, it's so good. Here is the original music video (check out the break dancing and roller skating at 2:15!)

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Shirley Jackson, I *heart* you!


I’ve been finding it a bit hard to read fiction for the past year or so – I find comfort in non-fiction and academic writing because it is polemic and ushers you to a necessary point of view. Thus, when approaching fiction, I have been reading a lot of short stories – the length is enticing, obviously, when you’re out of shape and tire easily when tackling a novel. And because they’re short they must be sharp, which takes the stress out of it all. However, in my short story endeavors, the work of Shirley Jackson has enticed me and demanded revisiting for a lot of the reason that fiction has sort of scared me for a while. She can be obtuse and confusing and often leaves me just wanting to ask the internet what the rest of the world thought so I have something to say other than “It was really cool and moody, I liked it”.  But yes, her work is very, very moody and very, very cool and I really, really like it. The more I read her the more I’m convinced that everybody could and should enjoy her. 

Though I’d never come across it before I discovered Jackson’s other works, ‘The Lottery’ is a story everyone else around me seemed to know. It is chilling and dark and involves ritual slaughter, and seems an obvious precursor to Battle Royale/The Hunger Games etc. My personal favourites’ of her short stories are ‘The Renegade” and “The Tooth”, both great examples of that women-in-the-50s-ish-era-going-mad kind of oeuvre, which is something Jackson does exceedingly well. The Tooth is lush and surreal and shows you one woman going a bit crazy, and The Renegade is claustrophobic and intensely creepy and shows you absolutely everyone in the life of one unfortunate lonely woman going crazy, which of course happens after they relocate from the city to a sleepy small town. The Renegade is one that really terrified me and stuck with me for days – and will probably do the same to anyone alarmed by the idea of your loved ones becoming alien and threatening overnight, or anyone who owns a beloved pet. 

Other than mastering Twin-Peaksy restlessness and vaguely paranormal undertones in her short stories, Jackson also does so in a more perplexing and modernist fashion in her novel “Hangsaman”. Hangsaman is really what I’m talking about when I say that after reading her I feel helpless and want to ask the internet for an opinion to spout. It’s a confusing and unique work of fiction that I can’t stop picking over in my head. At face value it’s about a young girl who goes away to university and gets driven mad by all the things that can drive you mad at university – cliques and gossip, academic stress, displacement, identity crises, etc. It’s also about the mysterious internal world of the adolescent female (which generally is literary crack to me) and odd female friendships based on Heavenly Creatures-esque fantasy worlds (also like crack to me). But it’s so much less straightforward than that for many reasons, including its ability to conjure very real dread out of not a whole lot (indeed less than in Jackson’s short stories) and its slightly frustrating but mostly disorienting nonlinear structure and abrupt ending. As an added bonus, it ceaselessly but subtly mocks academia so there’s opportunity to smirk amongst all the brow furrowing.

Anyway, my point is: if you like Hunger Games, read the short story ‘The Lottery’. Further than that if you like chic Twin-Peaksy creepiness, read the rest of the short stories in the collection titled “The Lottery”. And if you like all of the above as well as lush interior modernist fiction, read “Hangsaman” and become obsessed with Shirley Jackson like I now am.

      Shirley Jackson: December 14, 1916 - August 8, 1965.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

The Twelve Posts of Christmas:Snow, Tinsel & Angst, In Other Words TV Christmas Specials

As you can probably tell by now Christmas is my thing.  And as with all things I have a special weakest for Christmas television.

Forgot about watching The Sound of Music for the 100th time or The Queen's Message.  Sappy, sentimental, angst filled is what it's all about.  The angstier the better, though I do enjoy some humour as well.

It will also come as no surprise that some of my favourite Christmas episodes come from some of my favourite TV shows.  How's that for perfection.

Supernatural: A Very Supernatural Christmas

My absolute all time favourite Christmas episode.

EVER.

There's angst and humour and things that go bump in the night and brothers being brothers.

I adore times 1000


Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Amends

Well if Supernatural has angst then this Buffy episode is even angstier.

If that's even possible.

There is also snow.  And that is reason enough to watch it.

It is also completely and utterly beautiful and romantic.


Gilmore Girls: Santa's Secret Stuff

I sense a marathon coming on because it's been ages since I've watched this show.

I love this because there's tinsel and peppermint chocolate and Christmas sweaters.

And of course Lorelai and Rory.  Being... well Lorelai and Rory.


The Mindy Project: Josh and Mindy's Christmas Party

1. It features my favourite Christmas song Christmas Wrapping by the Waitresses.   2. It's funny,  And 3.  It's so relatable. Because yeah there's Christmas heartache.

Did I mention I liked angst.

Frasier: Miracle on Third or Fourth Street

Sometimes Christmas is just depressing.

Or at least it is in Frasier's world.

Especially when he works on Christmas Day.

I like the fact that he can turn up to work in his sloppiness clothes.

I wonder if I could do that at my work...

The Big Bang Theory: The Maternal Congruence

I'm a fan of The Big Bang Theory... or at least of the earlier seasons which are so funny..

And their Christmas episodes are even better. 

Because Christmas and Sheldon.

Monday, 15 December 2014

The Twelve Posts of Christmas: Just For Kids... And Maybe Adults Too

I almost wish I had kids just so I could buy all the lovely children's Christmas books that are around.  Because that way I would have an excuse to read them too.

Somehow I don't think my 6ft tall body building step son would appreciate a book called Bear Stays Up For Christmas.  Unless of course he's a secret children's book reader which I somehow doubt.

Luckily for me I work at a Library where I can freely get all the children's books I want.  All in the name of writing blog posts. 

The Angel Tree / Daphne Benedis-Grab.

Every Christmas in the small town of Pine River, a tree appears in the town square and people tie wishes to it, but nobody knows where the tree comes from--but this year four children are determined to solve the mystery of the Angel Tree.





The 12 screams of Christmas / R.L. Stine.

When "frenemies" Kate and Courtney need a quiet place to rehearse for their school's Christmas play, their teacher suggests an old house that might just be haunted.

The big fat Christmas book / Terry Deary

The Big Fat Christ Book is full of festive things that go bump in the night - the perfect read on a cold winter's night when you're waiting for Santa to bring a sleigh full of goodies.

Christmas will never be the same again.

   


The sheep that saved Christmas : a eweltide tale / written by Jason Page.

Cynthia LOVES Christmas. So much so that her flockmates send her off to the North Pole to help Father Christmas. But it turns out that there isn't much an enthusiastic sheep can do to help with Christmas - until one crucial moment.

Bear stays up for Christmas / Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman.

Bear's friends are determined that he's awake for Christmas and they get him up from his hibernation on Christmas Eve. Bear is excited to experience the holiday with his friends and tries very hard to stay awake, helping to find the right Christmas tree, making mint tea and singing carols. Finally, though, it's his friends who have fallen asleep - and Bear Stays Up! 

Rudey's windy Christmas / Helen Baugh & Ben Mantle.

Oh, dearie me! said Rudolph. Now I've done a windy pop! This is a bit embarrassing. I'll do my best to stop. Rudolph has eaten too many sprouts and the explosive effect is smelt all around the world as he and Santa delivers presents on Christmas Eve...The other reindeer have laughed so much, they're out of puff. How ever will they get the sleigh back home?





Friday, 12 December 2014

The Twelve Posts of Christmas: Excuse Me While I Curl Up On The Sofa...

I'm a sucker for a good romance story and I have a special weakest for Christmas romance stories.  There's just something about these holiday themed books that makes me feel all warm and glowy and probably explains, at least in part, my addiction to all things Christmasy.

Luckily here at Auckland Libraries we have heap to choose from so I have no trouble in adding to my growing to-be-read pile which at this time of year can get rather... big.  It's a good thing I have a very large book bag to take them all home with.

Still it's worthwhile because I can then curl up on the sofa with a bowl of cherries, a mince pie... or two and a pile of books to work my way through.

The only problem is deciding which one to start with first...

Mistletoe on Main Street / Olivia Miles.

Briar Creek's quaint shop windows, cozy homes nestled in snow, and neighborly residents are what Christmas dreams are made of--for everyone except Grace Madison. She left her hometown years ago to pursue a writing career. But when her father's death leaves his bookstore empty, Grace must return to face why she fled Vermont in the first place: Luke Hastings, who still heats her up like a shot of smoky whiskey on a cold winter's night.

Where the heart is / Darcy Blake.

The simple life is all Chloe English hoped it would be until her house burns down, leaving her homeless. When a handsome firefighter swoops in to save the day, she can't believe her luck. He's laid-back and unassuming, everything she's looking for in a man - or so he seems. It turns out he's as ambitious as her ex, comes with a family who could be more stifling than hers, and harbors dark secrets he may never be able to share. Can she help him face his bleak past so they can forge a happy future?

The heart of Christmas / Brenda Novak.

Eve Harmon has always enjoyed Christmas, but this year it reminds her of everything she doesn't have.  A husband and kids of her own. But the B and B she manages, and even Whiskey Creek, the small Gold Country town where she was born and raised, suddenly seem confining. There's no one in the area she could even imagine as a husband until a handsome stranger comes to town. Eve's definitely attracted to him, and he seems to have the same reaction to her. But his darkly mysterious past could ruin Eve's happily ever after just when it finally seems within reach. 

All he wants for Christmas / Lisa Plumley.

Jason Hamilton is on thin ice with the board of his toy company. The young CEO may be a kid at heart, but his party boy reputation requires damage control. So, Jason's off to Kismet to inspect a model store and stick to business--no goofing around. Which is too bad, because the store manager, Danielle Sharpe, is the definition of what makes Naughty fun. Danielle is thrilled to show off her thriving little toy store. But if she'd known Jason was this hot, she wouldn't have offered to host him.

A Christmas to remember / Jenny Hale.

Carrie Blake loves her job as a nanny but, while her friends are settling down, all of Carrie’s spare time is spent with other people’s families. Though it breaks her heart, her New Year’s resolution is to embark on a new career and fix her love life.  As Carrie starts her last job, she’s sure she’ll be going out on a high - the only problem could be her boss… single-dad Adam Fletcher might be both handsome and successful, but he’s always working. 

Doesn’t he realise he’s missing out on precious moments with his son and daughter?

It must have been the mistletoe / Judy Astley.

Thea's parents have split up but still seem to be together. Both her younger sister and her brother are Smug Marrieds. But Thea is single and very much wishes she wasn't. When her mother and father plan a great family Christmas in a big house by the sea, the idea is to make it all great fun and tremendously civilised - not remotely complicated despite the fact that what they will really be celebrating is the final break-up of their marriage and the Moving On to new partners. And the new partners will also be there - and why not? It's what they do in Sweden, apparently, and it all works out fine. But will they move on? And will Thea manage to navigate her way through the forced jollities and family disasters to find some happiness for herself?

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Site Tweaks

The Auckland Libraries Blog is undergoing a little refurbishment - nothing major, so you may notice the layout and style shifting a little over the next day or so. Sorry for any interim glitches this may create - we hope it will result in a better reading experience!


Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The Twelve Posts of Christmas: Eat Until You Can't Or O I Feel Sick

Trying to stick to a diet or at the very least eat healthy is just about impossible at this time of year. Everywhere you go there is food.  It's almost like  everything yummy and bad for you has leapt off the shelves and is following you around, tempting you with seductive words.

Or maybe that's just me.

Still Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without at least having one it-taste-so-good-even-though-it's-bad-for-you morsel or two

In the meantime I'm avoiding all supermarket aisles, shops, cinemas... mmm maybe I should just stay at home.

Christmas on a plate

Edible gifts.

Who ever invented this should be shot.

Because seriously it's hard enough to avoid temptation without someone giving you a gift of food.

Then again...

Creative cookie swap cookbook: recipes and holiday inspiration

I've been looking for Christmas cookies.

Not for myself you understand.

No my search as been a purely gift giving idea.

The only problem is now I want to try each one.  All in the name of research of course

Primrose Bakery Christmas

I have no idea where Primrose Bakery is but if I did you would probably find me there...

... a lot.

I might even move in...

...if they let me

Gluten-free Christmas: delicious cookies, cakes, pies, stuffings and sauces for the perfect festive table
Of course if you're trying to be good this festive season then going gluten-free may just be the answer.

So it's certainly nice to know that there are heaps of recipes to choose from if you do decide to go that way.

Summer food: new summer classics

I just love this time of year.  And not just because of all the Christmas type food.  But because of all the even yummier summer food... like cherries.

Mmm cherries

They are my absolute favourite.  But I also love strawberries and blackberries and water melon and plums and...

Chocolate, chocolate & more chocolate!

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a choc-alcoholic.

So as much as I'm going to try to be good and live on all the wonderful summer fruits and vegetables I will, more than likely - okay make that definitely - be having some chocolate at some stage.

Because chocolate is the answer to everything.

Cocktails for the holidays: festive drinks to celebrate the season

If you've had enough of the Christmas season and all the food and the shopping and all the other things that you just have to do at this time of year then you might just be tempted to have a drink or two.

Cocktails are the answer.

Bright and pretty and they'll make you feel happy too.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Christmas songs that get me into the festive mood


Do you love listening to Christmas songs? Or are you a Christmas Grinch?

As I come from a cold country (Wales) I find it hard to get into the Christmas spirit with the hot weather New Zealand gets at Christmas time. So to help bring on those Christmas jiggles and smiles I listen to Christmas songs. Below I have compiled a list of my "go-to" festive songs. Hope you get some enjoyment out of them too. Do you have a favourite Christmas song?


Crofts Family - The First Noel




Michael Buble - Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas 



Mariah Carey - All I Want For Christmas


Norah Jones - It Came Upon A Midnight Clear


Anya Marina - I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas


Kelly Clarkson - Underneath The Tree




Monday, 8 December 2014

The Twelve Posts of Christmas: A Little Bit Something Different

Christmas music,

Love it or loath it, it's kind of unavoidable at this time of year so it's always nice to discover something new.

Personally I'm always on the look out for something just a little bit different for my Christmas listening and luckily there is heaps to choose from, whether it's a new version of an old favourite or a new-new song that you end up playing on constant replay,

Though if you do you may just drive those around you to throw the stereo across the room or take to it with a sledgehammer,

Christmas Was Better In The 80's / The Futureheads

No surprise really that I would like something like this.


I Saw Three Ships / Sting

I adore this version so much. It's one of those songs that makes you feel all warm and happy.

Mary, Did You Know? / Pentatonix

I very new discovery for me, this is another old song given a new twist and is just beautiful.


Have Yourself  A Merry Little Christmas / Jensen Ackles

You just knew that I had to include this.  After all it's  not every day that one of the actors from one of my favourite shows releases a song.  Even better it's actually really good. Totally swoony worthy...


Text Me Merry Christmas / Straight No Chaser & Kristen Bell

You've got to have a least one slightly goofy Christmas song and this one seems to be it for this year. That its gone viral on YouTube probably comes as no surprise.


Also check out some of Christmas CD's that we have got such as Now That's What I Call Christmas which features a realm of  favourite Christmas rock, pop and ballad songs as well as Christmas at Downton Abbey  and Holiday Wishes by Idina Menzel

Also see last year's post Not Your Average Christmas Music

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Movie stars who sing for their supper

It's so reassuring to know someone as talented and beautiful as Jennifer Lawrence, who has her choice of Hollywood roles and Hollywood men and picks up award nominations like I pick up milk, suffers self doubt like the rest of us mere mortals.

JLaw was in the news recently as director of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 Francis Lawrence (no relation) revealed the actress was so stressed and upset about having to sing, she cried before the recording of Katniss' song, The Hanging Tree - even with training sessions from a vocal coach beforehand.

She needn't have worried: it turns out fans love her husky voice and the bluesy tone of the song and the self proclaimed "Tone-Deaf Amy Winehouse' has a hit single on her hands. This week The Hanging Tree is No. 12 and No. 14 on the Australian (ARIA) and U.K. singles charts respectively, and it looks set to also make its Top 40 debut on the Billboard Hot 100. Sales figures estimate 150,000 downloads in its first week.




All of this got me thinking about other actors who have belted out a tune or two in their roles, with varying levels of success - both audibly and chart-wise. So I strapped on my judgy pants and went scouring the internet.

Kate Winslet secretly recorded the single What If for the animated remake of the Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol back in 2001.  The Titanic actress' voice is plaintive and aching and I reckon perfect for this ballad of longing and regret. Europe thought so too; it made it to #6 on the UK charts and #1 in Ireland, Belguim and Austria.


We're used to Jason Segel making us laugh (and cringe) in films like Knocked Up and The Five Year Engagement and of course the telly show How I Met Your Mother. But the funnyman blew everyone away with his soulful voice and big note belting in The Muppets' movie song Man or Muppet, written by our own Bret McKenzie. It earned a stack of nominations for best original song in the movies' award season but failed to make any impact chart-wise, "peaking" (if you can call it that) at #121 on the UK singles chart.


You could not go anywhere in the summer of 2000 without hearing Gwyneth Paltrow and Huey Lewis' remake of the Smokey Robinson classic Cruisin'. In fact we loved it so much in New Zealand it went to #1 here (as well as Australia) but didn't even crack the Billboard Top 40 in the US. The movie it was from Duets might be completely forgettable but it didn't stop the former Mrs Martin trying the singing thing again in her 2010 movie Country Strong.


So his voice probably isn't going to make you fall down in rapturous abandon, but Ewen McGregor did a not-too-shabby job in his all singing and all dancing role of Christian in Moulin Rouge! While I personally find his duet of Come What May with co-star Nicole Kidman ear-bleedingly painful, his cover of Elton John's beloved Your Song is much better suited to his voice, especially in its quieter moments. However the soundtrack clearly struck the right note (bad pun intended) with fans making it to #1 here and Australia, and #3 in the US.


And last but not least...long before he was IronMan,* Robert Downey Jr broke Ally McBeal's heart (and mine too) in series four of that show.  He showed off his considerable piano skills and beautiful smokey voice throughout the season, perhaps no where better than when he enlisted the help of Sting to woo Ally on her birthday with a duet of Every Step You Take. It's a great version, even if the lyrics are a little on the scary stalker side.


*Also, it's just occurred to me how much the suave, dryly witted Tony Stark resembles RDJ's Ally McBeal character Larry. Anyone else see the similarities?

Honourable mentions: Amy Adams, the face of a thousand internet memes aka Ryan Gosling, the entire Les Miserables crew, Scarlet Johanson, Emma Stone, Nicole Kidman several times over and the cast of Chicago.

                                                                                                   

Aside from giving myself multiple earworms for the rest of the day, the upshot of the  hour or so I spent interwebing for this post was that I realised a) the early 2000s were all about the musical and b) I reckon it's a film genre we totes need to bring back *looks at Baz Luhrmann*


Friday, 5 December 2014

The Twelve Posts of Christmas: Tinsel Here, There And Everywhere

I'm pretty much a low-key sort of person in regards to decorations.

A tiny tree that will fit on a desk, a sprinkle of tinsel, maybe some fairy lights and voila I'm done.

Some people on the other hand can and do go full-on.

From the Christmas tree with everything...

... to a house that glows so much that you've got to wonder about their power bill...

... and if they can sleep at night, what with all the lights and things glaring in their face.

 Pretty to look at but terrible to live with.

I'll think I'll stick to a much simpler and less expensive Christmas.  Like maybe a book tree?

Of course if I was remotely crafty I would also make my own Christmas decorations.

Like maybe these superhero ornaments to hang off your tree

 Then again it just sounds like too much work.

Of course for those of you who are crafty maybe some of these books will give you decorating inspiration.

Martha Stewart eat your heart.

Washi Tape Christmas : Easy Holiday Craft Ideas with Washi Tape

Christmas decorations.  Made out of tape.

Now that is my kind of Christmas craft
 
Trim the Tree : Christmas Ornaments to Stitch

Just as I am not a shopper, I am also not a stitcher. 

Me and sewing go hand in hand like gasoline and a match with pretty much the same effect, in other words a disaster.

Trust me you don't want me anywhere a needle and thread.

Natural Christmas Crafts

I really like the candle decorations on the front cover of this book.

If only I was a crafter...

Have Yourself a Homemade Christmas

A play on that Christmas song, Gooseberry the publishers of this book have been churning out Christmas craft books and cookbooks for years now.

I must admit I'm very tempted to check this out, just for the Christmas cookies alone.

Handcrafted Christmas : Ornaments, Decorations, and Cookie Recipes to Make at Home

And finally another Christmas craft book.

Because you can never have too many.

Feeling inspired yet?