Tuesday, January 29, 2013

200 Years of Elizabeth Bennet? Splendid

January 28th, 2013 was the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  It’s a truth universally acknowledged that Pride and Prejudice is one of the most ardently admired love stories in all of literature.  (See what I did there?  Mixing two P&P references in the same sentence…) 

I think it’s so incredible that this story written published in 1813 rings true enough with modern people that they continue to retell the story over and over.  In the last twenty years, there have been numerous versions of the story produced for TV and film.  Of course, three of them really stick out for me

The 1995 miniseries adaptation for the BBC starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet contained six episodes and one lake scene that viewers won’t soon forget.  This version really elevated Colin Firth to stardom, especially in the U.S.

Bridget Jones’s Diary, the 2001 film adaptation based on the novel by Helen Fielding.  Elizabeth Bennet, or in this case Bridget Jones, smoked, drank, had a vulgar mother and verbal diarrhea, but Mr. Mark Darcy liked her anyway – just as she was.  Colin Firth playing this newer version of Darcy didn’t hurt his image with the fans either.  I always found it amusing that in the Bridget Jones book sequel, The Edge of Reason, Bridget interviews Colin Firth about the infamous lake scene in the 1995 version.  The interview didn’t make it to the final cut of the second movie, but you can find it on the DVD special features.

For a lot of younger fans, when they imagine Elizabeth Bennet, they picture Keira Knightley.  The 2005 film brought the classic story to a whole new generation of fans.  It does not hurt the film one bit that Dame Judi Dench plays Lady Catherine, because who doesn’t love Judi Dench?  No one.  She’s amazing.

A few months ago I stumbled upon the YouTube series TheLizzie Bennet Diaries.  It’s a modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice that takes place through a series of short vlogs.  The main characters are all there in some form, though the Bennet family is slightly different.  There are only three Bennet daughters: Jane, Lizzie, and Lydia.  Mary Bennet is a cousin while Kitty Bennet is, well, the family cat.  Lizzie is a graduate student making videos as part of her course work, and her best friend, Charlotte, does most of the editing.  The Bennet sisters and Charlotte make guest appearances in a lot of Lizzie’s videos.

Charlotte, Lizzie, Lydia, and Jane

One of the most unique parts to the web series is the “costume theatre” Lizzie uses to reenact conversations. 
Lydia as Bing Lee and Lizzie as Darcy

The viewer has yet to see Lizzie’s parents, but she and her posse tell the viewers everything they need to know through recreations of the scenes that took place off camera. 
Lizzie as Mrs. Bennet and Charlotte as Mr. Bennet

Reenactments are how the viewers initially get to know Darcy, though he appears in later videos.
Darcy portraying himself and Lizzie in episode 80

I really love that the creators of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries have gone beyond Lizzie’s own videos to create a whole universe for the characters.  In addition to Lizzie’s videos, Lydia has her own vlog.  I find this particularly fascinating, because you really see how Lydia’s character develops throughout the story.  The characters also have Tumblrs blogs and Twitter accounts.  You can see the characters interact with one another, so even on days when there are no videos, the story continues.

Despite the fact that many of the viewers and fans of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries already know how the story ends, the writers and actors have us riveted.  They have done an incredible job of updating the story and making it relevant for modern fans 200 years after the original.

Lizzie’s videos are updated on Wednesdays and Fridays and Lydia’s videos are uploaded Tuesdays and Fridays, all at 9am Pacific.  You can subscribe to their updates on Twitter.  For all other information, including actor bios and the story behind the project, visit the Lizzie Bennet Diaries homepage.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Sisters in Music? Splendid

In the fall of 2003, I was a freshman in college.  I was having the time of my life, loving my new town, my new classes, and all the incredible new friends I made in the Marching Illini.  There was a group of about 10 junior and senior girls in my section who really looked out for me.  At the end of rehearsal one day, three of them approached me about joining their women’s music fraternity.  I had no intention of “going Greek” during college, and I initially told them I wasn’t interested.  They asked me to attend an informational meeting for the group before making any decisions.

Sometime in the next week, another trumpet playing music major friend of mine and I attended an information night about the group.  I like to say that the girl who ran the event started with the line, “You should join Sigma Alpha Iota because we like music and we like food… a lot.”  That may or may not have been a direct quote, but it’s the sentiment that counts.  It’s the same sentiment that worked to get me to another meeting.

In all seriousness, I didn’t really understand the scope of Sigma Alpha Iota when I rushed and was a pledge.  (Yes, we still called them that in those days!  Now it’s recruitment and members-in-training.)  What I did understand was that it was an organization of women who came together because of their interest in music.  I saw that the members of my chapter were leaders in ensembles and other organizations.  They were women I really admired.  As a member of a male-dominated trumpet section, it was great to have those role models.  Going through my education period allowed me to grow closer to the other members of my pledge class which was important.  Not only was my trumpet section male-dominated, it was also huge, so had it not been for SAI I probably never would have made friends outside my section!

Every SAI remembers her Initiation.

I loved my collegiate SAI experience.  I served on quite a few committees, held a position on the executive board, helped organize fundraisers benefitting VH1 Save the Music, and formed genuine connections with my sisters in music.

Sigma Delta Chapter 2006
Executive Board

It was a tradition in my collegiate chapter to share favorite memories and write letters to graduating seniors as a way to say goodbye.   I didn’t grow up with sisters, and I honestly didn’t expect to gain any through a Greek organization in college.  So imagine my surprise the first time I realized the stifled sobs during one of these events was coming from ME!  I was saying goodbye to my Pledge Mom (it was still okay to call them that back then!) and another of my very good friends in the trumpet section.  That was the moment I realized that they were my sisters.
My Pledge Daughter and I say goodbye to my Pledge Mom

I had no idea my journey in membership of Sigma Alpha Iota was just beginning.  Little did I know that I would continue to be an active member of the local alumnae chapter, an advisor to two collegiate chapters, and a Province Officer in the national organization.  But those are stories for another time.

Vita Brevis, Ars Longa

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Orange kitchen accessories? Splendid!

I say I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I became obsessed with the color orange, but if I really think about it, I bet I know when it happened.  In 2003, I was waiting very impatiently for my acceptance to the University of Illinois.  I had wanted to go there for at least 3 years, and since I was applying for the Music Education program, it not only took a great application, but also an audition and an interview to be accepted.  I played in the combo for the high school show choir, and we were gone for the weekend at a competition in Iowa in early March.  When we got back to the school, my brother and I started to load our belongings into my truck to drive home.  As I came around the driver’s side of the cab, I noticed something pulled over my seat.  When I approached, I realized it was an orange Illinois sweatshirt – my first.  After calling my parents to ask them if it meant what I thought it meant, they assured me that my acceptance letter had come in the mail while I was gone.  I put on my sweatshirt, celebrated with my friends, and headed home.  Little did I know it was just the beginning.

Over the course of the next few years, I began acquiring more orange things.
  It started with Illinois paraphernalia, and it grew from there.  I’m the girl with multiple orange purses, orange phone cases, and no less than three orange dresses, among other things.  I also really enjoy cooking and baking, so that means I am often the very lucky recipient of orange kitchen utensils!  My stellar roommate gave me quite a few orange goodies for Christmas this year to add to the already ridiculous collection, and I find them all splendid.  Clearly that meant I needed to write a post about orange kitchen accessories.  Clearly.

I should say that none of this is sponsored.
  I own all of these items, many of them gifts from loved ones, and no one is paying me to talk about them.  (If someone would like to pay me to talk about orange things, I would be ecstatic to do so.)

For Christmas 2011, I was given an orange Cuisinart 5-quart enamel cast iron covered casserole.  I have searched the internets high and low for an image of it, but I couldn’t find one.  It looks exactly like the Le Creuset 5.5-quart round French oven in flame, except it’s not.

LeCreuset 5.5-quart round French oven

Cuisinart 5-quart round casserole

equals my pot

I love this pot.  It’s big and tough, and obviously a gorgeous color.  It has the strength and versatility of cast iron while the enamel makes it easier to clean.  No seasoning necessary!  I’ve used it on a number of occasions, and it is my go-to pot for making the contents of chicken pot pie.  I will also be using it to make Smoky Pork Pappardelle from Food & Wine for Valentine’s Day. 
The only con I have about it is that the handle on the lid is plastic, so even though the pot can go from stove to oven, the lid is not oven-safe.

Speaking of orange pots, the aforementioned stellar roommate gave me the Biale 5-quart Pasta Pot for Christmas 2012.
  We eat a lot of pasta at my house, so the pot will probably not spend much time in the cabinet because it will constantly be in use.  This is one of those things I didn’t know I needed until I had it.
Biale 5-quart Pasta Pot available at Target

The aspect of design that makes this pot special is the lid.
  The lid has a series of holes on one half of the lid, along with ridges on the edge.  The ovular shape allows the lid to be “locked” and “unlocked” on the pot by rotating it until it fits.  Once the lid is locked on, you can dump all the water without fear of losing your noodles.  (Losing your noodles… I might start saying that more often.)  The pot itself has two features I appreciate.  First, the lip of the pot is indented to create a slight spout for pouring.  I found this helpful when using the pot to make hard boiled eggs the other day.  Sure, it’s technically a vessel designed to boil pasta, but a pot’s a pot.  Am I right?  Anyway, the other feature I appreciate is that the handles stick out further than on a typical pot.  They have a nice shape, too, so it’s very comfortable to drain the water without fear of accidentally burning your hands.  Not that I do that often…

So I already mentioned we eat a lot of pasta, but we eat other things, too.
  It’s just that a lot of them involve draining a pot in order to eat.  I also really hate using a colander because it takes up so much space, and to be honest, there’s usually already a dish that needs to be washed in the skink, and it just stresses me out.  Before I got the pasta pot, I was thinking about how much I wanted a flat drainer that’s held up to the top of the pot.  Apparently my fairy godmother/roommate picked up on this and also gave me the Trudeau Pot Drainer for Christmas.
Trudeau Pot Drainer available on Amazon.com
So flat, so simple, so little space needed!   It’s a dream come true.  And it’s ORANGE!  Seriously, opening this on Christmas morning, I was almost as excited about this little piece of dishwasher safe plastic as I was the iPad Mini I received.  It’s just what I always wanted!  Much like my Microplane zester, it was something I wanted and not very expensive, but for some reason I just hadn’t gotten around to buying one.

At this point I could wax poetic about my orange kitchen accessories for many more hours, but perhaps I’ll just have to turn this into a series!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Regifting without Guilt? Splendid!

We've all done it.  You get a gift from someone that's very thoughtful but just not your style.  Maybe it's a scented lotion or candle that makes you sneeze or a scarf that washes out your skin tone.  So what do you do with it?  Either it sits in your house taking up space or collecting dust, or you re-gift it and hope the original giver doesn't find out.  Thanks to my fabulous Aunt Jennifer, there's a better idea.

Ten years ago, Jennifer started a nonprofit organization called Leave It For Love.  The premise is pretty simple: you donate new or gently used gifts (scarves, holiday decorations, etc.) to Leave It For Love, and they distribute the gifts to elderly people who may not have much family.  Though most of the donations are collected around the winter holidays, gifts are distributed throughout the year to recipients.

Here's what Jennifer has to say about Leave It For Love:

K: What inspired you to start Leave It For Love?

J: Ten years ago I was living in a very small studio apartment in the city and was overloaded with gifts and other assorted nice things that I wasn't able to make good use of.  Things like trinkets, tchotchkes, gift baskets, and so on.  I knew that there had to be a way to put these items to good use.  I recalled the older adults I used to work with when I was a social worker and decided to direct the gifts to them. 

K: Who receives the gifts that are donated?
J: We give the gifts to Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly in Chicago.  The serve approximately 1,200 elderly, low income and oftentimes isolated residents in Chicago each year.  

K: How often are gifts distributed?
J: Throughout the year volunteers at Little Brothers make home visits to the elderly persons they serve.  They also host celebrations at Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas along with smaller events including bingo and field trips.  Gifts are given out at all of these occasions.  

K: What kind of gifts are most appreciated?
J: Everything is appreciated including jewelry, socks, scarves, gloves, pajamas, slippers, holiday decorations, bath sets, perfume, household items and non-perishable food items.  Anything that would bring a smile.  We ask that the items be new or very gently used.  The only items we cannot accept at this time are are used clothing and books. 

K: Why should people donate?
J: Older adults are an oftentimes overlooked segment of our population.  Our program offers a simple way to bring a little joy to their lives!  Leave it for Love is easy on the pocketbook, good for the environment and great for the human spirit!  It involves very little time and no financial contribution.  By recycling gifts we are putting good energy out into the world and in a small way reducing over consumption.

Examples of appropriate donations

Leave It For Love is coming to Champaign-Urbana!  I will be collecting donations throughout the year starting immediately!  If you would like to make a donation, please contact me either via email at leaveitforlovecu at gmail dot com or by leaving a comment on this post.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Hello, Harto! Tour? Splendid!

Do you know about Hannah Hart and My Drunk Kitchen?  If not, you should totes pay attention to her, because she is great.  My Drunk Kitchen is a series of web videos wherein our host, Hannah, drinks while cooking.  So simple but oh, so funny.  The series started in 2011 when Hannah (or Harto as she's often called) made a video for a friend that consisted of her drinking whilst making grilled cheese.  Spoiler alert: there is no cheese.

The videos quickly gained followers, myself included.  MDK videos are hilarious and full of puns, so of course I'm a huge fan.  Not only is she super funny, but it's obvious that Hannah really appreciates her viewers.  This morning she launched an Indiegogo campaign to take My Drunk Kitchen on the road.  That's right a My Drunk Kitchen Tour!  She plans to travel across the US in an RV and do My Drunk Kitchen episodes in the kitchens of viewers across America!  In less than 6 hours, she's already reached 100% of her goal.  She's offering perks based on the amount of each donation.  Am I getting a postcard from Hannah Hart on her journey in response to my donation?  Hell yes, I am!  Since she's achieving this initial goal so quickly, she's already talking about extending the tour to Canada and Europe.

I stole this image from her Tumblr.
  One of the other really cool things about Hannah is that she used her "internet celebrity" to give back in December.  She organized Have a "Hart" Day to involve her viewers in community service.  She spent a morning with 200 of her viewers sorting food at a Los Angeles Food Bank.  One of her hopes during the MDK Tour is to organize similar events across the country, and that's just plain awesome.

So this Hannah Hart girl?  I think she's pretty splendid. My favorite MDK episode is probably the one where she makes ice cream.  Check it out here.  She's such a doll.

How do you end a blog post that is essentially comprised entirely of fangirling over a YouTube star?  Probably with a picture of a t-shirt available in her online store: 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Reading and Changing the World? Splendid!

I've loved reading for as long as I can remember.  I visited my hometown library so often that the librarians would start to worry about me if they hadn't seen me in two weeks.  Unfortunately I wasn't able to read as much as I would have liked in college because I was doing the whole, you know, college thing.  As I've started to make my way in the world as an adult, I've been able to rediscover my love of reading.

In 2012 I made a conscious decision to read more for enjoyment, and I can definitely say this happened.  In the last 52 weeks, I have read 50 books.  Some books were fiction, some non-fiction.  I definitely took advantage of my local library, but I also have a habit of buying books.  My friend, Elizabeth, introduced me to the website Better World Books awhile back.  It's a great place to buy books, not only because the prices are incredible, but also because the company gives back to the community.  Every book purchased results in a book donated through the Book for Book project.

I know I'm not the only one who spends too much money on books, so next time you're looking for something in particular, or even just browsing, consider buying from Better World Books.