Sunday, February 28, 2010

Buckeyes and Blackeyes

Magnet # 180: Ohio Facts

Material: Rubber

Purchased By: Dad

Tomorrow marks the anniversary of the day the state of Ohio joined the United States in 1803. It's journey to statehood was not terribly eventful, which I suppose is good. The French were the first Europeans to reach the area, setting up fur trading posts there. But the British weren't far behind, and a large part of the Midwest was caught up in their French and Indian War. The British gained control as a result, even though the Indians still waged war with them. But after the American Revolution was over, the United States finally took control over the area. They then formed the Northwest Territory, which consisted of land that would become Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin, as well as parts of Minnesota. Many veterans of the American Revolutionary War came there to settle the land they were given as payment for their service. Although they were supposed to wait until they had 60,000 residents , Congress allowed them to start when they were 15,000 short, realizing that it should have the prerequisite population by the time of their statehood. When it did become a state, it was the first one from the Northwest Territory. There was one unusual bit of trivia about the state's admission - Congress never passed a resolution that officially admitted it, although President Thomas Jefferson did sign an act of Congress that approved its boundaries and constitution. It wasn't until the next state, Louisiana, was admitted that the tradition officially began. This went unnoticed until 1953, when the state was officially admitted retroactively as of March 1, 1803. As far I as I can tell, this is the only time that's ever happened.

What I've come to realize in my studies about this state is that it's possibly one of the more pugilistic in our nation. Sure, many states have rivalries with one another, often over sports, but Ohio has had some unusual sources of debate with other states. For starters, as far back as 1835, it became one of the very few states that declared war on another, namely Michigan. The Toledo War erupted over a dispute regarding a strip of land that both claimed belong to it. Luckily, it was solved without any actual fighting and the area was given to Ohio by way of President Andrew Jackson's direction. Since then, it's developed two unusual rivalries with other states, but at least neither as come close to ending in violence. First off, Ohio has a rivalry going with Virginia as to which can claim the most Presidents. It's generally accepted that Virginia has the most, with eight Presidents having been there. But Ohio, which most give seven Presidents, often tries to claim eight. They hold that William Henry Harrison, who was born in Virginia, went on to become a citizen of Ohio. Of course, by that same token, they'd also loose Ulysses S. Grant and Benjamin Harrison, who left their birth state of Ohio to reside in other states. But it is kind of funny that two states are so eager to add Harrison, a man who barely lasted a month in office before succumbing to an illness most likely brought on by his own foolishness. He wore neither a hat nor an overcoat when he took his oath of office outside on a cold and rainy day and then proceeded to deliver the longest inaugural address in our country's history before riding through the streets. Sure, he might have been a military hero, but who would really want to claim him after that embarrassment? Second, Ohio and North Carolina have a dispute as to which state can really claim the phrase "first in flight." Sure the Wright Brothers were from Ohio, but they traveled to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for their early test flights, and it was the first place they achieved flight. Yes, they did eventually move all of their work back to their homestate, but it's hard to contest North Carolina's claim to the title. Regardless, I don't think the sentiments behind either of these two points of contention are going away anytime soon.

I've only been to this state once, on the return from a trip my family took took to Toronto in Canada. We visited some friends with daughters my age that live in the Columbus area, but we didn't really take in any tourist sights. It's too bad - there are a number of great attractions in the state, from the world's largest collection of rides and roller coasters at Cedar Point Amusement Park to the natural beauty of Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the mystery of Serpent Mound. Also, of course, Cleveland is home to the pretty popular Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. There are plenty of great sites to be had in this state, so I do hope I'll have another chance to visit it someday. And I'm not really all that nervous about the natives - from what I hear, they're pretty nice, despite a rivalry or two.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Isn't It Grand

Magnet # 179: Grand Canyon Photo Frame

Material: Wood, Acrylic

Purchased By: Mom & Dad

On this day in history, not one, but two National Parks were created. Yesterday, I talked about the Grand Teton, so today I'll discuss the Grand Canyon, which was established in 1919, a full decade before the Grand Teton. It may have been the 17th park, but many consider it to be the crown jewel of the National Park System.  This breathtaking abyss is 277 miles long, more than 10 miles wide, and a mile deep and the Colorado River has been carving it for millions of years.  Nearly every visitor there is awestruck by its majesty.  Many years ago, an attempt was made to turn it into the second national park, but once again, local ranchers, miners, and settlers delayed the process of the creation of a national park.  Both presidents Benjamin Harrison and Teddy Roosevelt did all in their power to protect the land, however, and more visitors poured into the area every year.  Eventually it gained more visitors than any of the national parks except for Yellowstone or Yosemite.  And yet, it was only a national monument and ranchers and miners were still using the area for profit.  And one man in particular - Ralph Henry Cameron - was so determined in his efforts to exploit and control the Grand Canyon that he caused major trouble for the National Park Service.  But finally, thanks in part to the attention Cameron's outrageous behavior brought the situation, the Grand Canyon was made a National Park.  Although Cameron lost his holdings there, he managed to have a short-lived career as a Senator (if that doesn't prove any crook can get elected, I don't know what would).  The Grand Canyon was at last free to become one of the greatest parks in the United States, and the one site every American should see.

Unfortunately, I have never been to the Grand Canyon, but would definitely like to see it someday. One fact I've learned over the years is that if you want to hike down to the rim, you have to be very careful and well-conditioned for the trip.  The Park Service has to rescue so many hikers every year that they have posted images of a fit young man that read most of the hundreds of people they save annually "look like him"  A friend of mine once told me about a disastrous trip she had down to the floor of the canyon. She and her friend were in their early twenties and in good shape, so they grabbed the backpacks and tents to hike down, although they had not conditioned for the trip at all. By the time they had reached the bottom, just about every muscle in their bodies had been pulled and they were in agony. One of them had a blister about the size of a half-dollar on her foot. For two days, they stayed down there, barely able to leave their tent. To make matters worse, there was a fierce rainfall - they could even hear the rocks falling, which was pretty unsettling - and their tents flooded. The food down there for sale was ridiculously expensive - she thinks they spent ten bucks on a lemonade, and they were so hungry that they ate the canned stew they brought without even heating it up first. On the trip back up, they were in terrible pain, but every time other hikers came by them, they pretended they were just fine. And yet, despite all of her ordeals, she said it was a truly beautiful place and that she absolutely wants to go back there again. Although it was miserable and in the twenties on the rim of the canyon, at the bottom it was seventy degrees and idyllic. She even said that she would hike the trail again, and not ride on a donkey, as she thinks it's less safe riding one than walking on her own. But, of course, she would prepare her body for the rigorous exercise this time around.

If you've never seen this incredible attraction, you should at least consider adding it to your bucket list.  From what I understand, unless you see it in person, you cannot truly appreciate it.  And even those who visit the Grand Canyon can never really describe it to those who haven't.  But if you do choose to see this majestic locale in person, be careful about what you do there.  It can be as perilous as it is beautiful.  Regardless, see it from the rim, from the floor, from a raft traveling down the Colorado River, or even from an airplane or helicopter flying high above - whatever you're comfortable with.  You should be greatly rewarded for your efforts - I truly doubt the Grand Canyon will disappoint.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Peak of Perfection

Magnet #178:  Grand Teton Sign

Material:  Wood, Laminated Paper

Purchased By:  Mom & Dad

Tomorrow marks the anniversary of the day in 1929 when Grand Teton National Park was established.  These days, the Grand Teton has become so popular that you'd never guess that the National Park Service had a really tough time adding them.  Initially, some were interested in adding it to nearby Yellowstone, but soon, the leaders of the National Park Service were determined to have it stand alone as a park.  But the locals had other ideas.  They didn't want this preservation getting in the way of their ranching and grazing businesses, and nearly ran representatives from the organization out of town.  The Park Service needed help for their cause and they got it from one of the richest men on the planet - John D. Rockefeller, Jr.  When he and his wife visited the area, they realized the urgency with which it needed to be saved, and Rockefeller took it up as a personal cause.  Soon, working with the leaders of the organization, he was buying up the land piece by piece, and thanks to the creation of a business known as the Snake River Land Company, nobody realized he was.  For more than 15 years, he gathered 35,000 acres despite resistance from the locals, only to have the Federal Government stall when it came time for it to take the area.  Although Congress was able to make other parts of the land into the Grand Teton National Park, for over a decade, the Park Service would not take Rockefeller's land.  It was only through a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt that he got his point across - either they would take the land or he'd sell or give it to some other party.  Roosevelt used his power to create the Jackson Hole National Monument, but even that didn't truly include the Snake River Land Company land.  It would take another six years for it to be added and, soon after, the monument combined with Grand Teton National Park to set its present day boundaries.  Before then, ranchers and other residents were opposed to the monument, and they broke laws to let their anger be known and lashed out at anyone who was its favor.  But when World War II had come to an end and tourists started bringing more money into the area, finally residents began to realize the benefits of preserving the land for future generations.  And the Grand Teton has gone on to become a beloved addition to the National Park System.

Many tourists are attracted to the park nowadays because it's adjacent to Yellowstone, one of the most visited of all of the national parks.  And the contribution of the Rockefellers hasn't been forgotten - the scenic highway that connects the two parks is named the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway and the family recently donated nearby lands they had kept as the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve.  As for the Teton Range that's at the center of attention in the park, it's actually named for the French word for breasts.  A trapper from that country who must have been pretty lonely actually gave the name to another mountain range, and it was later mistakenly given to this one.  Many consider them to be the most majestic peaks in all of North America, and it's tough not to include them in nearly every photo that's taken there.  Most of the trees there are evergreens, so the park is stunning, even in winter.  And there is an impressive collection of wildlife that makes the park its home - bears, moose, elk, swans, coyotes, and wolves can all be seen there. I've never been there, but I hope I have the chance to someday.  A great deal of struggle has gone into ensuring that the Grand Teton will be here for generations, and we can all show our appreciation by visiting this incredible landmark.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Tales As Old As Time

Magnet # 177: Carmen Key's Beast and Beauty

Material:  Plastic

Purchased By:  Me

Tell a Fairy Tale Day is coming up on February 26, so this might be a good time to start picking out the right story if you'd like to join in. And given how long these stories have been told and how many civilizations they span, there are so many to choose from, the possibilities are almost endless.

Fairy tales are an ancient tradition dating all the way back to at least Ancient Egypt. As these stories were all told orally and passed down through generations before being recorded, it's hard to tell just how old they are. It's almost amazing that nobody thought to write them down and sell them until the 1800's, when the Brothers Grimm began to do so. The pair focused mainly on German fairy tales, but once news of their success spread, others began to follow in their footsteps, collecting tales from varying countries such as Ireland, Russia, and England. One of their most noteworthy followers was the Danish writer Hans Christian Anderson, who was renowned in his native country for his beloved tales, although quite often they didn't have happy endings.

For centuries, fairy tales had been intended for both adults and children, and considering their unusual details and sometimes shocking endings, I think that they might have better been left entirely to adults. Twists and turns like these definitely made for grimm fairy tales - you might want to skip this part if you're easily disturbed. For example, Cinderella was originally said to have possibly killed her first stepmother to have her father marry another woman. And when the time came for her stepsisters to try on the slipper, prompted by their horrible mother, one cut off her heel to fit it, the other her big toe - then pigeons peck out their eyes, leaving them blind beggars. As for Show White, the wicked Queen originally wanted to eat her liver and lungs for dinner, and instead of simply falling off a cliff at the story's end, she was forced to dance in red hot iron shoes until she fell down, dead. And the poor Little Mermaid gives up everything to suffer walking on feet that hurt like knives for a prince that marries another woman, and then she turns into seafoam at the end of her story. I guess at least she goes to heaven in a later version. Finally, Sleeping Beauty was not, in fact, awakened by true love's kiss in her original tale. Instead, the one of the twins the prince had impregnated her with while she was sleeping managed to wake her up. He later takes them to his castle where his mother, an ogre, tries to eat them before being cooked alive herself. And then they live happily ever after. Yes, some may criticize Disney for altering these age-old fairy tales, but I think in some cases, it was a good idea. Kids certainly don't need to see this stuff onscreen, and speaking as an adult (more or less), I'll pass on these gruesome details in my animated fairy tales.

Be careful which version of a fairy tale you pick if you choose to tell a fairy tale this Friday. As far as I can find, Beauty and the Beast, which is featured on this magnet, is a fairly safe choice (well, he may have become a beast because he seduced an orphan girl).  This lovely watercolor image was done by the talented Carmen Keys, a talented artist who lives in California.  She's painted some lovely pictures of fairies, angels, mermaids, and illustrations like this one.  I love her whimsical, innocent style and I think it's perfectly suited to her images.  If you'd like to see more of her art, you can stop by her website at http://www.carmenkeys.com/galleries.html.  And don't forget to select a favorite fairy tale to tell this Friday - if you don't have a little one to read to in person, you can always call one, or perhaps an older relative.  And if you're feeling really ambitious, there are plenty of people in hospitals or retirement communities who'd probably enjoy hearing your tale.  So pick one out, share it with someone special, and brighten their day.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tales From the Fatherland

Magnet # 176: The Church of the Savior on Blood, Saint Petersburg

Material: Resin

Purchased By: Mom & Dad

Today in Russia, they're observing Defender of the Fatherland Day. This dates back to February 23 in 1918, when, during the Russian Civil War, the Red Army held its first mass civil draft in Moscow and Petrograd. Back then, it was known as Red Army Day, but it later changed to Soviet Army and Navy Day in 1949. It wasn't until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 that the holiday was given its current name. I doubt there are many other national holidays that can claim that many name changes in that short an amount of time!

Originally, this day was intended to celebrate those serving the the Russian armed forces - both men and women, as the name implies. And parades are still held annually to honor those who serve in the military. But over time, it's evolved into a day to celebrate Russian men, and women give small gifts to their husbands, fathers, and sons. In fact, many Russians now call this "Men's Day." But don't get upset, ladies - on March 8, the Russian women are honored on International Women's Day. Today also has a special meaning for other countries in Asia and Eastern Europe. Belarus and Ukraine both celebrate Defender of the Fatherland Day, and in Tajikistan, it's known as Tajik National Army Day, in a holiday that mirrors that of Russia's. But in Chechnya and Ingushetia, February 23 is the dubious anniversary of the day in 1944 when the Soviets forced them out of their homes and into Central Asia. Many of them died as a result, and it's a sober reminder that not everyone is grateful for the Red Army, and hopefully the anniversary of that day will serve to challenge Russia's current military to do much better than its predecessor.

The image on this magnet is of the Church of the Savior on Blood, one of Russia's most popular tourist destinations.  It might not tie in with Defender of the Fatherland Day directly, but it was created as a memorial from a son to his fallen father.  It was built on the very place where Tsar Alexander II of Russia was assassinated in 1881, almost exactly a century before the day that created this Defender of the Fatherland Day occurred.  Although he had freed the serfs and was planning to have an elected parliament, revolutionaries hated him and made several attempts on his life.  A group of them finally succeeded by exploding a bomb under Alexander II's carriage.  When he emerged, unharmed, another assassin threw a bomb at his feet.  A third had a bomb that he never needed to use.  Horribly wounded, Alexander II soon died of his injuries.  His son Alexander III and his son Nicholas II, watched as he died.  After Alexander III ascended to the throne, he was determined to honor his father's memory on the very spot where he was attacked, and within two years, construction on the church had begun.  Using funds from the Imperial family and a great number of private donors, Alexander II had one of the most impressive structures in the entire country built.  It features more mosaics than nearly any other church, and many of Russia's premiere artists contributed to its design.  The precise spot where Alexander II died is marked by an altar covered with semi-precious stones.  But the cobblestone where he fell is still on display to the visitors.  Alexander III truly helped the memory of his father live on in this incredible structure, which is an enduring symbol of Russia and draws in droves of tourists.  And I think, that on this occasion of Defender of the Fatherland Day, it's nice to remember how one of the sons of Russia celebrated his father, a man who was known as czar liberator for the efforts he took to make life better for the people of his country.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Never Stop Trying

Magnet # 175: Moroccan Tagine

Material: Plastic

Purchased By: Mom & Dad

This weekend, I tried a couple new activities I'd never done before, and I definitely had fun. I decided to post this magnet from Morocco because both experiences are something you might undergo in with that particular country.

For starters, I prepared a traditional Middle Eastern dish for the first time, although it's not one you'd use a tagine cooker, like the one depicted on this magnet, to make. I tried making hummus, and I was pleased with the results. If you've never heard of it before, hummus is a dish made with mashed up chickpeas and sesame seeds that is usually seasoned with herbs and spices. It might not sound tasty, but it really is and it's been popular for thousands of years. It's often used as a dip and is served with items like pita bread and vegetables. It's much healthier than many other dips and has plenty of vitamin C, iron, protein and fiber. For awhile, I had been buying a particular brand of pine nut hummus from a local grocery store, but they stopped carrying it and I couldn't find any other brands I liked as much. So my parents bought a mini food chopper on their last visit and I gave it a try. I found a recipe for pine nut hummus on the Internet, bought the necessary ingredients, and started processing. I was pleased with the taste, but I think I'll need to work on the texture. I think I may make quite a few batches of hummus before I get my own personal recipe right, but I'm ok with that - as far as I'm concerned, I can never try too much hummus.

I made the hummus to take to the other event I had never tried before - a henna tattoo party. The tradition of decorating the body with henna dye dates all the way back to the end of the Bronze Age, and it's experienced a resurgence in recent years. As opposed to ink tattoos, these are not at all painful and are only temporary - at most, they'll last a couple of weeks.  I had an experienced henna artist paint my tattoo, and she used a bottle that's like the fabric paint bottles they sell in craft stores.  The paint dried on my skin, then flaked off, leaving a trail of dye behind.  I got a phoenix firebird on my inner arm that extends from about my wrist all the way to nearly my elbow, and it's pretty cool.  The color is a kind of goldenrod, and I'm looking forward to having it for a little while.  And everyone at the party really liked my first attempt a making hummus - one person even asked for the recipe!

If you've never tried hummus or a henna tattoo, you might want to give either - or both - a try.  You can sample hummus at quite a few restaurants that have Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine, or even buy some at the grocery store.  And if you find you like it, you can always try making your own by looking online for recipes.  It might be a little tougher to find someone who could give you a henna tattoo, but you might be able to find a henna artist on the Internet.  In any event, if there's something you've been thinking about trying for the first time, make plans to do so.  There are so many neat experiences out there to try, and no good excuses for never doing so.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

On the Oregon Trail

Magnet # 174:  Multnomah Falls, Oregon Photo

Material:  Acrylic

Purchased By:  Mom & Dad

Oregon was also made a state on February 14 back in 1859.  Given that it was on the other side of the continent, the first Europeans to reach the area did so by boat.  Spanish sailors returning to Mexico from the Philippines were the first to sail the coastline along Oregon, and the British were next to the area.  Sir Francis Drake may have seen the southern coast of the region during an expedition, but James Cook definitely traveled the area in search of a Northwest Passage.  Soon, America was sending its own explorers there, and Lewis and Clark also tried to find a Northwest Passage in the area.  Both Americans and the British were sailing on the Columbia River at around the same time, but an American was the first to establish a settlement there at Astoria, where a fur-trading business sprang up.  The British managed to seize control of it during the War of 1812, and by 1818 both the British and the Americans had a joint occupancy of the area.  The United States had managed to gain all of Spain and Russia's claims to the region through treaties, but it wasn't until 1846 that they set a boundary at the 49th parallel, finally bringing all British claims in the Oregon territory to an end and avoiding a war.  This allowed more Americans to travel West on the Oregon Trail and settle the land.  The Donation Land Claim Act of 1850 brought in droves of settlers, and in less than a decade, the territory was able to achieve statehood.

I've never been to Oregon, but there are certainly some places I'd like to see there.  Of course, there's Multnomah Falls, which is featured on this magnet.  It's the second-tallest waterfall in the United States that pours all year.  There are also scenic hiking trails in the area.  And Crater Lake National Park is one of Oregon's most incredible scenic wonders.  It's the deepest lake in the country, and has some of the most intensely blue of any freshwater lake, and it's also unusually still and pure because no water source flows in or out of it.  Annual winter snowfalls bring more water into the lake.  Truly, this scenic area is one of a kind.  Mount Hood is another natural wonder of the state - it's a stunning snow-capped mountain that is actually an active volcano.  It's near Portland, the largest city in Oregon, which is truly a unique place to visit.  The culture there is shaped by young, unusual individuals who have created a charming, diverse environment.  Both art and food there is often produced by driven, passionate creators who raise standards above most cities.  There are over two dozen microbreweries crafting their own beers, enough coffee houses to give Seattle a run for its money, and the superior restaurants there have earned the city many awards and distinctions.  A city this unique is definitely worth checking out.  And I'd also be curious to see the Heceta Head Light on the coast, a charming lighthouse that stands near the cliffs and is now located beside a bed-and-breakfast inn.  It's listed among the most haunted lighthouses in the country and a ghost named Rue is said to frequent the area.  Scenic and spooky - what a potent combination!  Maybe someday I'll make it out to the Pacific Northwest and be able to see all of its great sights in Oregon for myself.  With all of its diverse and exciting locales, I doubt I'll be disappointed.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Venice Proud and Pretty

Magnet # 173:  Venetian Illustration in Book

Material:  Wood, Plastic

Purchased By:  Dad

Whenever I see this magnet, I can't help but think of my all-time favorite film, Dangerous Beauty, which was released on this day in 1998.  If you've never heard of it, you're not alone.  Warner Bros. didn't do a very large ad campaign for it, and it was released in a limited amount of theaters.  It did well at first, but then faltered, only earning 4.5 million in the United States.  I wasn't even able to see it then - it wasn't showing anywhere nearby.  But I watched when Siskel & Ebert (boy, I miss those two) reviewed it, giving it Two Thumbs Up and I was intrigued.  I made a point to see it as soon as it came out on VCR, and boy, am I glad I did.

Dangerous Beauty tells the story of Veronica Franco, who lived in 16th century Venice.  Unbeknownst to her, she comes from a long line of courtesans, highly educated women who are paid lovers to some of the richest and most powerful men in society.  Veronica has dreamt about Marco Venier for years, and is elated when he falls in love with her.  But, as he comes from a rich and powerful family, he is forced to tell her he can never marry her.  The heartbroken Veronica soon takes after her mother's example and becomes a courtesan.  With her beauty and quick wit, she becomes Venice's most sought-after courtesan as well as a published poetess.  There's even a point where she reads her poems from a book that resembles this magnet.  However, she cannot stop loving Marco, nor he her.  And when her life is eventually threatened, he puts his own on the line to try to save her.  Yes, it is a very romantic story, and it's based on the real-life Veronica Franco, but it's also the presentation of this film that I fell in love with.  Both the sights and sounds of this film make it the most beautiful I have ever experienced.  It's set in Venice, so it has the stunning architecture of that gorgeous city in backgrounds throughout the film.  The shots are so so well-lit and composed that they only add to the inherent beauty of the city.  And the costumes are sumptuous and stunning - there are bodices and long, flowing skirts complemented by impressive jewelry, elaborate hairstyles, and flawless makeup.  The film has an original score by George Fenton which greatly adds to its emotional impact.  I have the soundtrack and I listen to it pretty often - it's just beautiful.  Plus, there are a number of talented actors featured in the film - Catherine McCormack and Rufus Sewell star and they're supported by Oliver Platt, Fred Ward, Moira Kelly, Naomi Watts, and Jacqueline Bisset.  All of them turn in fantastic performances.  The story is interesting, particularly from a female perspective, even though it does have a bit of a Hollywood ending.  But it is justifiably rated R, so you might want to skip it if you're not fond of nudity and sensuality.

Ever since I first saw this film, it has been my favorite.  I rented it countless times, and even had my Mom get it for me once.  She went into the rental store and couldn't remember the name, so an employee tried to help her.  She told him it was for her daughter and he suggested the newest Disney release, and she said "no, it's the one with the prostitute."  Apparently, he reacted as if she'd slapped him.  This was back when new VCR releases cost ninety bucks and you had to wait for it to come out priced for consumers to buy.  I had my name on the wait list at Suncoast for months and was there on the day it was released - and that's the only time I've ever done that for a film.  When I saw Lindsay Archer had listed it among her favorites on her Myspace page, it was the moment I knew I had to meet her.  I even made friends with someone else when she was trying to describe her favorite film to me and I realized it was Dangerous Beauty.  Apparently, it's not only had a big impact on my life.  It inspired a pair of women to start their own performing troupe of courtesans, Bella Donna.  There's plenty of information about them at http://www.belladonnacourtesans.com/index.html.  If you've never given this incredible film a try, you might want to consider it, especially if you're a fan of period films.  As for me, this is a good reminder to pop it in once again - perhaps in the DVD player this time.  But I'll always keep that old VCR copy - it's just too special to me to ever throw out.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Heart of the Matter

Magnet # 172:  Lindsay Archer's Shy Drat

Material:  Plastic

Purchased By:  N/A - given to me, free

Valentine's Day may be over, but the entire month of February is still American Heart Month.  Ever since 1963, at Congress' requirement, the President has declared this monthlong event to increase cardiovascular health awareness.  This is critical, as cardiovascular disease kills more Americans than anything else.  Yep, automobile accidents, cancer, diabetes, AIDS, murder, goldfish swallowing - none of them comes close to taking the number of lives this disease does.  It kills a person every minute.  And, yes, I might crack a joke about it, but this really is no laughing matter - especially if you have a family member or loved one who has been diagnosed with heart disease.

So what sort of activities can one engage in to properly observe this event?  For starters, the American Heart Association recommends learning CPR and how to operate an automate external defibrillator, both of which can save those experiencing cardiac arrest.  Even if you've learned and have forgotten, as I have, this might be a good time to brush up.  This is also a good time to consider adopting a healthier lifestyle.  Smoking cigarettes greatly increases the likelihood of having cardiovascular disease and if you're able to quit, in only a few years you'll have the same likelihood as non-smokers of developing heart disease.  There are certain foods that can also help you achieve a healthier heart, like colorful fruits and vegetables, fishes such as salmon and trout, and nuts, when eaten in moderation.  Any food items which feature the American Heart Association's heart-check mark have been approved by the organization and have low amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol.  And when you prepare food at home, try steaming, grilling, or baking instead of frying, which may taste great, but will add fat and calories to your meal.  Maintaining a healthy weight and getting plenty of exercise can also help lower your chances of developing heart disease - I must admit, on both of these counts, I could improve my lifestyle.  You can even consider joining in a physical event sponsored by the American Heart Association, such as Start! Heart Walk of Jump Rope For Heart.  It's a little odd, but studies have shown that flossing might even help prevent heart problems, as those with gum disease may have a greater chance of getting heart disease.  Some think that the organisms that cause disease in the gums can also travel to the heart, likewise infesting it, or possibly resulting in fatty build-up there.  There is also a belief that the agents the body constantly produces to fight inflammation will damage the heart over time.  So take care of your mouth, and you take care of your heart!  And if you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol level, this is definitely the time to consider taking steps to lower them.  And if you do have a healthy heart, you can consider signing up as an organ donor.  Hopefully, we'll all live long, healthy lives.  But if we go early, it might be nice to help save a few of those who are on life support.

I did manage to miss the most important day of this monthlong event on the 5th, National Wear Red Day - it can be tough keeping track of all of these days.  But when I passed a group of women at work all decked out in red, I had to comment and they explained what was going on.  And though that day is over, there is still some time left in February to get in the spirit.  So, get out there and start working on a healthier heart.  And don't forget to bring up the importance of heart health with your loved ones - after all, their chance of being killed by this disease is greater than the likelihood of being killed by anything else - a sobering thought indeed.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Master of Glass

Magnet # 171: Maymont Stained-Glass Window

Material: Plastic

Purchased By: Me

The incredibly talented artist and designer Louis Comfort Tiffany was born on this day in 1848. He was the son of Charles Lewis Tiffany, the founder of Tiffany & Co. As such, during his youth he was exposed to the brilliant works of decorative arts his family sold and he gained an appreciation for art. By the time he was grown, he'd become a painter. He studied with masters and his oil and watercolor paintings were well-received within the art community. It seemed Tiffany would have a great deal of success as a traditional painter. However, in 1875, Tiffany changed the path of his career completely. He had become enthralled with the stained glass images he'd seen in his travels to England and would pursue it for the rest of his life. At first, it was difficult for him to obtain the glass he wanted for his works - until then, many artists had painted on clear glass to achieve the colors they wanted, but Tiffany wanted his glass to shine from the inside. He also realized that flawed glass produced better results, and resorted to using glass from jars and bottles because he couldn't find glass artisans that would leave impurities in their work. Finally, however, thanks in part to his father's considerable financial backing, Tiffany was able to start producing his own glass. This had color embedded in the glass, and he patented it under the name Favrile, and it was the first art glass to be Incorporated into stained-glass windows. It met with great success and Tiffany won prestigious awards and commissions. Some of the noteworthy places Tiffany created stained glass windows for during his career included Yale University, the Lightner Museum in Florida, countless churches around the country, the Maryland state capitol, and even the White House. Eventually, he began to produce other works of art with his stained-glass, like vases and lamps. With his head designer, Clara Driscoll, Tiffany was able to create some of the most beautiful lamps that had ever been seen. With his work, Tiffany became an important figure in the Art Nouveau style, which consisted of organic motifs and elegant, elaborate, flowing linework. When Tiffany finally passed away in 1933, he left behind almost 60 years of gorgeous stained-glass work.

For a time, Tiffany's work fell out of favor due to changing opinions in art criticism and the rise of modern art. But by the 1960's, retrospective shows were reminding collectors and museums of how truly remarkable Tiffany's works are. Soon, they were being restored, drawing in crowds, and getting considerable sums of money at auction.  In fact, some of his lamps have sold for around 2 million dollars!  If you'd like to see Tiffany's work in person and pay far less than that, there are many examples, but nearly all of them are here in North America. Florida's Charles Hosmer Morris Museum of American Art boasts the largest collection of his work, but there are many other options. I saw one of his beautiful stained-glass windows last year when I visited the Maymont House in Richmond, Virginia. A stylized version of it is featured on this magnet. When it was placed above their grand staircase, Richmond society was abuzz with curiosity over this masterpiece. After all, Tiffany had produced very few stained-glass windows for private homes, and everyone wanted to see what he had created for the Dooleys, who owned Maymont. Nowadays, every visitor to the home can see this work of art, along with a vase also designed by Tiffany and other products of his company.  Viewing his astonishing work in person, you can truly understand the genius of Tiffany and appreciate the lasting influences he left on the art world that enrich our everyday lives.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Let the Good Times Roll

Magnet # 170: Louisiana Accordion-Playing Alligator

Material: Resin, Pipe Cleaners

Purchased By: Mom & Dad

Well, Mardi Gras is now underway in New Orleans and the rest of the world. It's the last chance for many folks to have a good time before the fasting of Lent begins, and they're ready to enjoy every last minute of it. Given that the Saints have just won the Superbowl, this year's celebration should be particularly lively, especially considering the trouble New Orleans has had to deal with since Hurricane Katrina.  Good times have returned to the Big Easy, and it's time for them to celebrate.

Sure, the tradition of Mardi Gras dates all the way back to the Middle Ages in Europe, but most of the traditions we associate with this celebration originated in New Orleans, who has truly made Mardi Gras its own.  The French were responsible for importing the tradition to their lands in the Americas.  In the early days, Mardi Gras was celebrated with elegant balls and eventually masked carriage processions in the streets were added to the tradition.  Soon, trinkets and medallions were being thrown into the gathering crowds.  Finally, other features like floats featured in a daytime parade, a King of the Carnival, a color scheme featuring gold, green and purple, and an official song and flag were all added to create the Mardi Gras that is celebrated in the Big Easy and known worldwide.  Nowadays, organizations known as Krewes, many of which have been around for decades, are responsible for financing and putting on the parade and all other Mardi Gras events.  Because these individuals give their time and their money, everyone else is able to enjoy these festivities for free.

If you're unable to make it to Bourbon Street for the main event, or hate big, rowdy crowds like I do, there is another way to get the Mardi Gras experience all year long. Tourists in New Orleans can take a free ferry ride across the Mississippi River and check out Mardi Gras World, where nearly all of the parade's floats are designed and built during the year. Guided tours are given through their enormous warehouses and visitors can watch as their artists create next year's amazing floats, costumes, props, and figures. They can also hear about the various traditions of Mardi Gras music and balls in New Orleans.  At the tour's end, King Cake, perhaps the most beloved of all Mardi Gras dishes, is served, and someone will end up with the plastic baby inside, which some say represents Baby Jesus.  He or she will be King or Queen for a day, but must bring the next cake or host the next party, although I guess that wouldn't apply to the tour.  Anyway, if you're curious to see this truly unique tourist destination, you can visit their site at http://www.mardigrasworld.com/.  Whether or not you're able to make it to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, it's definitely worth taking in some part of the festivities, and this destination offers an excellent opportunity to do so.  As for those citizens of the Big Easy who are celebrating today, I wish them the best.  After all they've gone through, it's nice to see good times being had again in this historic city.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Warmer Is Better

Magnet # 169: Arizona Thermometer

Material: Acrylic

Purchased By: Mom & Dad

Arizona was the 48th state added to the Union on February 14 back in 1912. The Spanish were the first Europeans to enter the area that would later become Arizona when a Fransican visited there in 1539. Other Spaniards down in Mexico, including the explorer Coronado, heard rumors that there was gold to be found there, and hurried over, but found little. Regardless, Spain continued to develop the land, building missions there until they were forced to hand it over to Mexico when it gained its independence. However, they didn't have it very long before the United States defeated it in the Mexican-American War and was ceded parts of the state. Later, the Gadsden Purchase added all other areas of the state to the Union. For a time, all of the land that was to become Arizona existed as the New Mexico Territory until it was split into two sections and the Arizona Territory was born. When gold, silver, and copper were discovered there, settlers came in droves, the majority of them Germans. Ranches were established, farmers began irrigating fields, and eventually, the territory was ready to apply for statehood. Despite a little difficulty from Congress and President Taft, it passed and the final contiguous state was added. At last, the United States had finished developing all of its adjoining lands. Since achieving statehood, Arizona has weathered the Great Depression and managed to become the 15th most populated state in the country. During World War II, air bases were built there because the sunny weather provided optimum flying conditions. And when air conditioning made living in the desert bearable, families flooded in to take advantage of the dry, warm climate and beautiful scenery. A good deal of retirement communities and winter residents have also taken advantage of what the state has to offer. What was once written off as nearly worthless desert has become a beloved home to millions and a popular tourist destination.

I have only been to Arizona once, and it was for almost no time at all. On our cross-country trip to California when I was growing up, we switched planes in Arizona. We were waiting in the airport and I wanted to say I had been there, so my Mom helped me find a door so I could walk outside for a minute. It was very hot that day - over 100 degrees and I was shocked by just how hot and dry it was. I couldn't see much, and that was about it. But at least it was somewhat memorable, even after all these years. I guess a thermometer magnet is pretty appropriate for this state, considering just how hot it can get. It would be nice to do a proper visit to this Southwestern state someday. Obviously, I could visit the Grand Canyon, the one place every American should see. But there is plenty more to be found in Arizona - there's Sedona, a small town filled with gorgeous scenery and vibrant culture that's rumored to have an almost supernatural vibe. And the Petrified Forest National Park is another amazing locale, filled with the logs of trees that have pretty much turned into quartz and shine brilliantly in the sunlight. There's also Sabino Canyon, that's unusually green given its desert locale, and Window Rock, an incredible arch-like hole weathered away in solid rock. Although I haven't seen these and other popular tourist stops my parents fortunately have, and have gotten plenty of magnets on my behalf. But I hope to truly take in this incredible state someday - perhaps in the winter, when it's warmer than most everywhere else in the nation, including what has become an unusually chilly East Coast. In fact, if I had my way, I'd be in Arizona right now!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Enter the Tiger

Magnet # 168:  Chinatown Dragon

Material:  Rubber

Purchased By:  Mom & Dad

 Today kicks off the most important traditional holiday in the Chinese calendar, a festival which will last for 15 days.  In China and much of Asia, they're celebrating the Lunar New Year, more commonly known as Chinese New Year.   According to the Chinese Zodiac, this is the Year of the Tiger.  If you were born in 1998, 1986, 1974, 1962 and so on in 12 year increments, you're considered to be a tiger, and are said to have such traits as courage, unpredictability, and competitiveness.

The legend surrounding Chinese New Year holds that a great beast known as the Nian that emerged around the New Year and devoured crops, livestock, and villagers - even children.  Eventually, they began setting out food to appease the monster.  And when it cowered away from a child clad in red, they began wearing the color red, and decorating with red lanterns and scrolls.  They also began setting off firecrackers to frighten the Nian, and performing the Chinese Lion Dance.  All of these traditions are still continued in modern festivities, and the Nian is said to have run away forever.  Newer traditions have also been added to Chinese New Year's celebrations.  People travel from all over the world to be reunited with their families in China at this time and stay up late after their arrival, discussing previous gatherings.  Red envelopes and packages are exchanged, and they often include money in even numbers, often eight dollars, and sometimes gold chocolate coins.  These are usually given by older family members to their juniors.  Households may exchange gifts of food with one another, and fish is served in many a home.  This may be an ancient tradition, but it has evolved over the years and is of great importance in modern day China and all over the world.

If you can't make it to Asia to celebrate this holiday, then San Francisco's Chinatown is the best option in the Americas.  It dates back all the way to the 1840s and is both the biggest and oldest Chinatown in North America. It's a major tourist destination and I actually went there with my folks on our trip to California years ago.  I don't remember much about it, just wandering around, but I think we had a meal there.  My parents have both been back there since and have gotten me souvenirs such as chopsticks, chopstick rests, and, of course, this magnet.  Every year, they hold their annual Chinese New Year Parade, which has been held for over a century.  It's the largest illuminated nighttime parade on the continent.  There are other Chinatowns all around the United States that are also perfect areas to celebrate Chinese New Year.  As for me, I've enjoyed some traditional Chinese foods here in Savannah to celebrate.  We went by Wang's II, a Chinese restaurant that I had never tried before, and had a few tasty dishes like Sesame Chicken, Ginger Duck, and Crispy Fish, which everyone liked best.  I think the dish was a speciality of that particular restaurant, and it was truly crunchy flounder in a delicious sauce.  I asked our sever, who was from Asia, if Wang's II was doing anything special to celebrate and she said they had a big party for their employees last night.  Apparently, the eve of Chinese New Year is a pretty big deal.  That means this particular festival really lasts for 16 days, which is over two weeks.  That must make it one of the longest running major holidays of any nation.  So if you've missed out on the festivities today, there's still plenty of time left to make up for it.  Over the next couple weeks, try some Chinese food, or perhaps stop by a local Chinatown if you're lucky enough to have one close by.  This festival has been going on for thousands of years and if you haven't joined in yet, this is your chance!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Aloha Nui Loa To All

Magnet # 167: Polynesian Dancer and Canoer

Material: Resin

Purchased By: Dad

Heads up, folks! Valentine's Day is tomorrow, so if you've got a sweetheart and haven't planned anything yet, there's not much time left. When I was out today, Savannah was pretty packed - moreso than usual. I'm not sure if it was all for the impending holiday, but it certainly was at Fresh Market. I don't know if I've ever seen so many people there. They even had tables set up at the front of the store to wrap up all of the flowers that were being purchased. I guess this is yet another holiday where most people wait until the last minute to prepare.

Valentine's Day is one odd holiday whose origins are truly tough to figure out. As many know, it's named after the martyr St. Valentine. But there are actually three martyred St. Valentine's recognized by the Catholic Church - so just which one does this day honor? Some think it might be all three, but just one was buried under the Via Flaminia, one of Rome's most important roads, on February 14. Legends surrounding this historical figure hold that he was a priest that defied Emperor Claudius II's decree that young men not marry, as they might become soldiers, for whom wives and children were perceived to be a detriment. Valentine continued to marry lovers in secret, and when his actions were found out, he was given a death sentence. Some say that while he was in prison, he sent the first Valentine greeting, for he had fallen in love with a young girl who came to see him there, perhaps the warden's daughter. He is said to have signed it "from your Valentine." Another claim is that Claudius himself even became friends with Valentine but had him put to death when he tried to convert the ruler to Christianity. He may have even helped his fellow Christians escape Roman persecution, and even escape prison. We may not have much concrete information of just who Valentine was, but he became a very popular saint in the Middle Ages. By then, he had been given his own day of feast on February 14. Some claim the Catholic Church did this to assimilate the pagan festival of Lupercalia, which was held on the thirteenth to the fifteenth of the month, into one of their celebrations, as they did with other holidays such as Christmas and Yule. But it wasn't until the 1800s that Valentine's Day truly became one of the most important holidays in the calendar. In England, the tradition of exchanging fancy hearts trimmed with lace and ribbons began, and it was soon imported into the United States and other parts of the world. Nowadays, homemade cards have given way to mass produced ones and flowers, candy, and many other gifts can be given on this day. Some say this celebration has gotten over-commercialized and that there are a few greedy women who simply expect too many goodies be given them, and I think they may have a point. But when celebrated in a fun, simple fashion, I think St. Valentine's Day can be a nice tradition - perhaps it's just been taken too far in modern times.

I got this adorable little Polynesian magnet just in time for Valentine's day and I thought it was pretty appropriate to post, along with a title that means "very much love" in Hawaiian. I had seen magnets with these cute little kewpie-like couples in my online magnet searches and really wanted one for myself. So when my Dad took another business trip there recently, I sent him a picture so he'd know just what to look for and he brought me back not one, but two. Yay - they are just so darn cute! And, yes, Valentine's Day does tend to be mostly about couples, but don't let that stop you if you're single. Get in touch with someone you love, and maybe go out with them for dinner or lunch. Some people celebrate Singles Awareness Day at this time of year to poke fun at what has become such a couple's tradition, gathering with their fellow single friends and wearing green, which is the opposite of red on the color spectrum. So whether you're single or in a relationship, have fun on this day. Go out - eat, drink, and be merry - then wait until Monday to buy Valentine's candy when it's all at least half off...

Friday, February 12, 2010

Fire on Ice

Magnet # 166: The Olympic Flame Photo

Material: Laminated Cardboard

Purchased By: Mom & Dad

Tonight, after months of hype, the Winter Olympics in Vancouver will finally kick off. Yes, I realize that this magnet that harkens back to the original Greek Olympics is more appropriate for the Summer Olympics, but I'm just not sure if I'll still be doing this blog in two-and-a-half years when the time would be right. If so, I'll figure out another magnet to post then. This image is also on a postcard my folks sent me during their trip to Greece, although it includes an entire scene that has been cropped out here. I like the photographic restaging - it's interesting to see what people would have looked like during those first Olympic Games.

The winter version of the Olympics doesn't date all the way back to ancient Greece, but to Sweden's Nordic Games, which were first held in 1901.  They were organized by General Viktor Gustaf Balck, a Swedish officer and founding member of the International Olympic Committee.  What he truly wanted was to have winter sports - ice skating in particular - added to the Olympic Games.  Finally, in 1908, Balck got his way when the Summer Olympic games included four skating tournaments.  When it was time to plan the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, some wanted to add an entire week of winter sports to the games, but they were overruled by those who wanted to keep the Nordic Games separate and those who didn't feel they had the right facilities in which to hold winter sports.  It seemed when the 1916 Berlin Games were being planned that there would finally be a week of "Skiing Olympia" held in the Black Forest, but when World War I broke out, the Olympics were forced to cancel all events.  When the games resumed in 1920, figure skating events were held once again and ice hockey was added to the games, but it wouldn't be until the 1924 that the first Winter Olympic Games would finally debut.  It was then that the "International Winter Sports Week" was held in Chamonix, France.  It lasted 11 days, 16 events were held, and over 200 athletes participated, representing 16 countries.  It was such a huge success that it was retroactively named the first Winter Olympic Games.  They have been held every four years since then, with the exception of 1940 and 1944, when World War II was underway.  In 1994, however, they separated from the Summer Olympics once and for all and were held only two years after the previous games.  Nowadays, the Winter Olympics have their own identity and are truly distinct from the Summer Games.

This year the 21st Winter Olympics will be held.  They have grown so much since those first days - now, there are over 86 different events and more than 80 nations participate.  There are over ten times more participating athletes than those of the first games.  This marks the second time Canada has hosted the Winter Olympics.  The United States has hosted these games four times, which is more than any other country.  To date, Norway has won the most gold medals, with a whopping 98 to their credit.  They are trailed by the United States and Russia, who both have 78.  The U.S. may have a good shot at gold again this year - in the past two games, they've gotten 25 and 36, their most to date.  However, there are two events they have never won.  First, there's the Nordic Combined, an all-male event where a team of five skiers must jump and participate in cross-country skiing (funny, Norway's won that the most times).  And second is the Biathlon, a combination of rifle shooting and cross-country skiing, also done by teams.  Germany tends to dominate this one, followed by Norway.  Maybe they'll have better luck this time.  As for the next Winter Olympic Games, Russia will host them for the first time ever in Sochi.

Some people prefer these games to the Summer Olympics, although they certainly have fewer events and less countries participating.  And with their critical need for snow, there are also far less venues where they can be held - most parts of the continents of South America, Africa, and Australia are pretty much out of the question, for example.  But tonight in America, with snow covering areas that almost never sees it, like Dallas, Texas and shutting down other places like Washington D.C. for days on end, perhaps people in front of their televisions will feel like they're with the athletes in Vancouver.  And, oddly enough, there's been a lack of snow there - trust me, those of us on the East Coast will be happy to send some their way.  But they've been forced to import it so the games can go on, as there is no snowfall in the forecast for them.  So tune in tonight for the Opening Ceremonies if you're so inclined - maybe this will be the year we give Norway a real run for its money!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I've Got My Fare

Magnet # 165: Chattanooga Choo-Choo

Material: Porcelain

Purchased By: Me

The first gold record ever awarded for a song selling a million copies was given on this day in 1942 to Glenn Miller for his song "Chattanooga Choo-Choo." It was a sign that, after years of trying, the musician and swing band leader had finally succeeded. Miller would go on to help define the music of his era and make a lasting impact on the industry before mysteriously disappearing.

Miller was born in on an Iowa farm in 1904 and took to music at an early age. Although his father once gave him a mandolin, he always held up the brass instruments as his personal favorites. And when he heard a new style called "dance band music," he soon realized he wanted to become a professional musician playing that particular style. Miller never finished college and instead left to tour with several orchestras. For more than a decade he would toil away, writing arrangements for some groups, performing with others, and recording a record of his own and another with a signer. He even appeared as a band member in the film The Big Broadcast of 1936. Finally, in 1937 Miller tried forming his own band, but they were unable to distinguish themselves from their many competitors and soon failed. The depressed Miller began to understand that he would have to develop a sound all his own. He created a new reed section sound by having a clarinet and tenor sax play the same melodic line as three other saxophones harmonized in a complementary line. It worked and no one was ever able to completely imitate the Miller style. By 1938, the band had a record deal and was booking venues at prominent locations on the East Coast that greatly increased their prominence. Soon, they had hit songs appearing in jukeboxes all over the country, were broadcasting regularly, and appeared in two motion pictures. Many times when they performed live, the band broke attendance records. Miller had gained the love of the masses, but critics always nagged him for being too commercial and not spontaneous as they thought jazz musicians should be. But fellow musicians like Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra were fans of Miller's music. Then, in 1942, he stunned the world by breaking up his band at the height of its popularity. World War II had broken out and Miller wanted to join the armed forces, but because of his age, could only do so by promising to lead a military band. He was placed in the Army Air Force and trained at my hometown in Montgomery, Alabama before heading overseas. With his 50 piece Army Air Force Band, he gave over 800 performances in England, and was one of the greatest morale boosters the military could have hoped for. On December 15, 1944 Miller boarded a military plane headed from London to Paris and vanished. No trace of his plane was ever found, and explanations for the disappearance have ranged from weather trouble to friendly fire all the way to a cover-up regarding Miller's supposed death in a Paris brothel. Miller's disappearance has only added to his legend.  Less than a decade later, Jimmy Stewart portrayed the musician in The Glenn Miller Story and his music has sold considerably well regardless of what format it's played on.  Miller even has several songs in the Grammy Hall of Fame and his own postage stamp - although he may have been lost, but he will never be forgotten.

As for the subject of the song, the Chattanooga Choo-Choo never referred to an actual train traveling in that city, it was an invention of the song.  But the Terminal Station in the city, which opened in 1909, has taken on the name.  When it was built, it was one of Chattanooga's largest and most impressive buildings, and after its final train departed in 1970, it was bought by local businessmen.  They officially renamed it after the song, and the building has transformed into truly impressive complex with a convention center, shops, and restaurants.  There is even a hotel whose guests can spend the night in part of a restored passenger car.  Visitors can enjoy even more train themed experiences by eating in a restored diner car and visiting the depot's Model Railroad Museum.  And, yes, they have old steam locomotives on display that looks like the one on this magnet.  If you're curious, check them out at http://www.choochoo.com/.  This historic locale is just one more sign of the impact Glenn Miller had on American society, and it's great to see how his legend lives on more than half a century after he left us.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

One For the Crabs

Magnet # 164:  Maryland Little Crab

Material:  Acrylic

Purchased By:  Me

Feeling a bit unsatisfied with yesterday's super-syrupy post?  Tired of films where the two leads always have to end up together?  Well, today's post is for you!  It's filled with what I've dubbed anti-Valentine's flicks - films where the heroines opt-out of love and finish the movie alone and okay with it.  Sorry - there are definite spoilers here, but I think these great flicks are absolutely worth a watch if you're dreading February 14.  They, too, have great leading actors and equally talented supporting ones like Andy Griffith, Morgan Freeman, Imelda Staunton, and Geoffrey Rush. Of course, Hollywood doesn't give us many options in this category, so I've had to cut the list in half.  Some of these films are dramas, some comedies, but they're all great choices to keep Cupid at bay and, curiously, not a one is set in New York City - just remember, there are spoilers ahead!

1.  Elizabeth - Yep, I couldn't resist kicking off the list with a name twin.  Cate Blanchett takes on the lead as one of the most famous rulers ever in this historical drama, while Joseph Fiennes portrays a lord whom she loves, but cannot commit to.  Many historical buffs may dry foul at this film's inaccuracies but it's still worth a watch (and hey, it fits in with my theme).  Faced with assassinations and countless other threats to her throne, the monarch comes to the realization that what her heart wants is not necessarily what is best for her kingdom.  If you enjoy this one, follow it up with a viewing of Elizabeth: The Golden Age, in which the ruler's continued chastity is put to the test, courtesy of Clive Owen's charming rogue explorer.

2.  Crush - Another film shot in England, this one is both a comedy and drama set in the modern-day countryside.  Andie McDowell stars as an American educator who's become headmistress at the local school.  She's formed a tight friendship with two other women who, like her, are both single and in their forties.  But when a former student of hers who is now an organist played by Kenny Doughty shows up very interested and very much younger than she, much to her friend's dismay, she decides to give him a try.  Finally, they conspire to destroy her new relationship, with disastrous results.  She is then faced with two tough decisions: whether or not she wants to remain single, and whether or not she wants to reconcile with her two closest friends.

3.  Waitress - Keri Russell plays a waitress and talented baker who lives in the rural South and has some serious problems in this combination comedy and drama.  She can't stand her overbearing, horrible husband and yet she's pregnant with his child.  While she's miserable with the situation, she decides to go ahead and have the baby and leave her husband.  But when she falls for Nathan Fillion's compassionate, yet married neonatal doctor, her life gets that much more complicated.  Will she be able to break free and realize her dream of opening her own pie shop, or is she permanently stuck in her dead end life?

4.  Nurse Betty -  This very unusual comedy features another waitress, played by Renee Zellweger, who's also married to an awful man.  But her life veers in a very different direction when she undergoes a traumatic experience.  Convinced she's a character on her favorite soap opera, she travels from her hometown in Kansas across the nation to Los Angeles in search of her true love - a doctor on the show, played by Greg Kinnear.  Unfortunately, she's unknowingly pursued by two hit men.  When they finally cross paths, chaos ensues and she comes to terms with her life and sets out on the path that's best for her.  Be warned, though - this film is rated R for a reason - with its occasional violence, it's not intended for the faint of heart.

5.  The Painted Veil - This period drama begins in England, but soon moves to China.  A newlywed played by Naomi Watts is unsatisfied with her husband, a doctor played by Edward Norton, and she begins to stray.  Furious with her infidelity, he volunteers for a position that takes them away from their exciting life in colonial Shanghai to a rural Chinese town where cholera is destroying the population.  There, they both gain a better understanding of one another, and it seems their marriage may be saved.  But his rash decision to move to such a dangerous locale may have dire consequences for them and put their newfound commitment to the ultimate test. 

These films are definitely different from the ones I posted yesterday.  While pretty much nobody died in those ones, there is death in these.  But don't let that stop you from giving them a try - none of these films end in misery, as other films where the leads don't end up together might.  Some are optimistic, and at the very worst, others are bittersweet, as life can be from time to time, but they all have an optimistic outcome.  So consider giving them a try and if you have any suggestions for other films where female leads opt to remain single, please share.  These can be tough to find, and I'd like to try more out - perhaps even in time for Valentine's Day.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Boy Meets Girl

Magnet # 163:  Sleepless in Seattle

Material:  Rubber

Purchased By:  Me

Valentine's Day is rapidly approaching, and this magnet can't help but remind me of one of the best ways to get in the mood for the holiday - watching romantic comedies.  I have to admit, I'm not a big fan of Sleepless in Seattle, but I decided to post a list of ten of my favorite romantic comedies anyway.  Sure, I like this genre, but if I compiled a list of my top ten all-time favorites, none of these would probably be on it.  These are fun flicks and they boast some talented leads, and terrific supporting actors like Jean Reno, Peter Gallagher, Marisa Tomei, Steve Zahn, and Jon Heder, but they're not meant to be taken all that seriously.  Yep, they're cheesy, predictable, and full of fluff, but think of them as Valentine's comfort food - and dig in!

1.  You've Got Mail - The Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan combo that I'm not so crazy about in Sleepless in Seattle manages to work nicely in this cute little film.  Set in New York City, it's a remake of the classic The Shop Around the Corner, as two strangers who have connected online, but never met in person, manage to clash as business rivals - she owns a little shop, he a corporate giant.  And when the pair have figured out one another's identities and the dust has settled from their business competition, will they be able to move past the injuries they've inflicted upon one another toward a future together?

2.  French Kiss - Okay, another Meg Ryan classic.  This time, she catches a flight to Paris, desperate to win back her fiance, who's ditched her for a slinky, sexy Frenchwoman.  She crosses paths with another French native, a charming con man delightfully played by Kevin Kline who's using her for his own benefit.  Sparks fly as we're treated to gorgeous views of the French countryside, and soon our heroine must decide which man and which life is right for her.

3.  How to Loose a Guy in 10 Days - We return to New York City, where a writer played by Kate Hudson is doing research on how girls loose guys for an article.  Through manipulations, she winds up with Matthew McConaughey's ad exec, who must get a woman to fall in love with him to further his career.  She pushes him away, and he manages to get her back through a series of missteps, and when the truth comes out, the pair must figure out if they want to stick it out, or follow the precedent of her article. 

4.  Someone Like You - In another film set in New York City, Ashley Judd's talk show talent scout thinks everything is going perfectly with her great new guy, but when he unexpectedly dumps her, she's devastated.  And then she becomes obsessed with male relationship behavior, even going so far as to create an alter ego who's an expert on the subject.  But is she so jaded that she'll pass up an opportunity to give love a try with her roommate and co-worker, played by Hugh Jackman, that's she's realized is not really the jerk she once thought he was but if, in fact, a pretty nice guy?

5.  Music and Lyrics -  Okay, here's one last jaunt in New York City.  Hugh Grant stars as a has-been star of an eighties pop band who's been offered one last chance writing a song for the current pop idol.  He's great with the musical part, but he needs the right lyricist.  And a chance meeting with a substitute plant waterer, played by Drew Barrymore, who turns out to be a natural lyricist, seems to be his ticket back into the big time.  But when she threatens the song's success, will he sacrifice their developing relationship for one last shot at stardom?

6.  Fever Pitch - Although this romantic comedy is set in Boston, it also features Drew Barrymore as its female lead.  Here, she plays a workaholic, corporate number cruncher who crosses paths with Jimmy Fallon's laid-back math teacher.  They begin dating and all is going well until the baseball season begins and she takes a backseat to his other love - the Red Socks.  Will they be able to reach a compromise regarding his obsession, or has their relationship struck out once and for all?

7.  Bridget Jones' Diary - We hop across the pond to London for a modern-day take on Pride and Prejudice.  Renee Zellweger stars as an accident-prone publishing assistant who's pretty realistic by Hollywood standards.  Early one she's offended by a dowdy lawyer played by Colin Firth, and yet he keeps popping up in her life.  And although she's attracted to her boss that she knows is no good for her, she keeps finding herself drawn to this latter-day Mr. Darcy.  If you like it, be sure to check out the sequel, Bridget Jones:  The Edge of Reason.  And a third part should be in theaters around 2011.  Yep, I'll be there to see what new hijinks the title character manages to get into.

8.  Til There Was You - Usually, the two romantic leads meet early on in a film, but not this time.  Here, Jeanne Tripplehorn's writer and Dylan McDermott's architect nearly meet a dozen times as they live in Los Angeles, but never quite manage to come face to face.  How and when will these two people who are obviously supposed to be together meet is what you'll be wondering when watching it.  Just be patient - as any proper romantic comedy should, this one has its happy ending.

9.  Just Like Heaven - This film is also set in California, it just heads up north to San Francisco, where Reese Witherspoon plays a harried surgical resident who has no time for love.  But the story gets complicated when something mysterious happens to her and Mark Ruffalo's miserable landscape architect moves into her apartment.  Soon, she's visiting him in a ghostly form and the two eventually fall for each other.  But when they figure out what's happened to her, will he be able to save her from impending doom, or is he destined to loose another woman he loves?

10.  While You Were Sleeping - We end our whirlwind tour in Chicago, where Sandra Bullock stars as a lonely transit employee with dreams of traveling around the world.  When she saves the Prince Charming she's been pining over from certain death, her life gets complicated.  Although she's never really met the guy, his family ends up thinking they're engaged and she finds herself falling for his brother, played by Bill Pullman.  When her would-be fiance wakes up from his coma, she's left with the dilemma of who to pick - him or the man she's come to love.

So there you have it - ten romantic comedies all to help set the right mood for Valentine's Day, and each stamped with my personal seal of approval.  Love them, or hate them, feel free to respond and suggest your personal faves.  And for any of you who might have gotten fed up with the abundance of saccharine-filled romantic endings listed here, be sure to make it back for tomorrow's post - I promise it's completely sugar-free...