Sunday, April 21, 2013

Coursera + Couch = Why Did I Drop So Much Money On College?

All modern day children initially resist watching The Wizard of Oz.  Its true.  Don’t believe me?  Try it out.   Pop a copy of the movie on whatever platform you view media through these days and sit a young’un down for a first time viewing.  Three….Two…One….watch as the kids face crumples into confusion then rapidly slackens into disinterest when the music swells and the title credits come on.  In black and white. 
The Wizard of Oz was my first experience with B&W movies.  I remember always wanting to skip the “boring” parts and get to the good stuff, so for years I was a little unclear on what exactly was going on with that kook eating hot dogs in the wooden wagon and why that ugly lady wanted to take furry little Toto.  Other than Oz, my exposure to “old” movies was limited to my giddy delight in discovering there was not one but THREE Back to the Future movies at age 11, or stumbling upon a rerun of The Breakfast Club on TV at age 13 and then proceeding to devour the films of John Hughes in all their angst addled glory. 

Little did I know there was a whole world of cinema out there that I had not yet tapped.  Well I knew but I didn’t think any “old” movies held anything of interest for me.  Of course, I was wrong. 

Enter Coursera.  What is Coursera you ask?  If you would allow me one moment for a brief PSA that may change your life for the better….ahem…..Coursera. Is. Wonderful.  In short, it’s a place online where you can take an unlimited amount of online courses on a bevy of subject matter for FREE.  I could go on and on about how this website may, and in ways already is changing the world, but for now I am just going to leave you with a link to a Ted talk addressing the merits of the site, and my effusive praise.  Oh, also, you can take courses from your couch. Which is exactly what I did. 

After a false start first signing up for a neuroscience course over the summer….and then never even watching one lecture (what was I thinking?) then muddling through approximately half of a World Music course last Spring, I ended up enrolling in a course called The Language of Hollywood.  I strongly felt that my love of movies would help ensure my completion of the course. 

I was a bit nervous that my old knee jerk reaction of disliking black and white movies would come into play, but as I screened the first required viewing for the class all of my preconceived notions about B&W films quickly fell away.  A silent film called Street Angel from 1928 altered my perceptions on what I knew “old” film to be.   First off, it introduces the idea that the main character tries to make money hookin’ it on the streets because her mother is dying and they can’t afford her medicine.  Whaaaa?  Can a theme be considered anachronistic?  I had experienced unsettling feelings that themes "did not belong" in certain eras of film before, such as the surprising slap of brutal violence in Hitchcock’s Psycho, or the shock of racy themes such as suicide and extra-marital affairs addressed in Billy Wilder’s The Apartment.  Of course I knew that not everything was sunshine and lollipops when movies were still solely in B&W.  But I wasn’t aware that these issues were being expressed so early on in the history of cinema.  Of course, the Wizard of Oz being my only B&W experience didn’t prepare me to expect themes of prostitution.  It doesn’t even have a pseudo-sexual stabby shower scene.  

I became completely absorbed by the movie assignments every week.  From the emotional intro to Janet Gaynor’s character in Street Angel to the snappy physical and verbal comedy in the Marx Brother’s Monkey Business, I found myself not even missing the element of color.  During the unit that focused on creative uses of sound utilized by directors to help stretch a buck, the professor dropped a fun fact that the obscure film Ghost Ship was the first movie to juxtapose happy, upbeat music with an overtly violent scene.   This is certainly something that I think of as a modern convention, as Quentin Tarantino frequently employs the juxtaposition of sound and action in his films to great effect.  So as I watched grainy black and white footage of a mute grizzled sailor in a knife fight as a jaunty whistling tune played in the background….**poof** went another one of my preconceived notions.   

The course was organized chronologically, and as we segued into the color unit I was pleasantly surprised to learn how sexy movie stars were back in the 30s by watching the dashing Errol Flynn winningly grin and bop through The Adventures of Robin Hood.  I also learned volumes about the slow addition of color into cinema, and the particulars of when Technicolor came to light.

In the end, this course has irrevocably changed how I view movies, in addition to bringing my understanding of the history of film into focus.  Kudos to the professor, Scott Higgins from Wesleyan, who appeared to be truly passionate about the subject matter and encouraged students to look at things differently.  I was motivated to keep learning on my own.  I purchased books on the topic and immersed myself in them as the course progressed.  I stopped watching reruns of Friends for the 87th time and started watching the assigned films.  Now that the course has ended, I find myself craving new viewing experiences instead of getting mired in the old and familiar.  I have been working my way through movies that I placed in my Netflix queue months and years ago, and adding B&W films such as Touch of Evil and Fellini’s 8 ½ so I can continue to build an understanding of classic cinema. 

I know a film course isn’t rocket science, but I feel invigorated by anything that gets me to ask questions and actively seek out the new and unfamiliar.  I’ve challenged myself to complete a second course over the summer, and the list of options offered by Coursera just keeps growing and growing.   

Did I mention that you can access all of these options from your couch?  For free?!?  So no excuses.  Why aren’t you on Coursera yet?  

Monday, April 1, 2013

Storybook Shower Bonanza

One of my favorite people in the world is about to give birth to who I am sure will quickly become my absolute favorite human in the world.  So it was time for a party! 

I adore books, and loved the recent trend of building a storybook library at the baby shower.   I immediately immersed myself in researching everything book-décor related in preparation for the event.  

Invitation Inspiration

Of course all parties start with an extension of an invite to the guests.  My sister is an amazing invitation artist, so I needed this one to be extra special.  To introduce the storybook theme, I created a fake “book” about our excitement for our little baby girls arrival.

I drew a simple cartoon of my sister reading a book to the baby, complete with her two curious kitties peeking their furry heads over the chair to get a look at the book….or maybe just staring with jealousy at the new baby. 

For the inside, I wrote a short “Chapter One” outlining the information and details for the day, and put an adorable “Date Due” library book envelope on the opposite side.  Get them here.  I used a rubber date stamp to add the actual due date for the baby. 

Once the invitations were sent out, the responses came rolling in!  It was time to start working on décor and favors!

Fashioning the Favors

I desperately wanted to put the Einstein quote “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales” on something for the guests to take home.  Ideally I wanted to put it on a coffee mug because in my opinion nothing goes better with a good book than a cup of coffee (or tea if that’s more to your preference).  I had all but given up on the idea until my crafty cousin told me about the wonder that is writing on mugs with Sharpies, then baking them to get a permanent design on the mug.

Now, I know what some of you crafty gals are thinking….I’ve tried that!  It wipes right off!  And due to the spotty reports on various crafting sites I ordered up a few extra mugs from Splendids so I could do some home testing. 

After some trial and error I came up with a process that worked so well that I was able to take a plastic scour pad to the outside of the mug, and not a flake came off.  Oh, and for me this process also rendered perfectly dishwasher safe mugs. 

Clean the outside of the mug with window cleaner or rubbing alcohol, etc.  DO NOT touch the face of the mug following this step.  Those damned natural oils from your fingertips will create an infuriating invisible barrier between the surface and your design and will most definitely cause the design to rub off even after baked.
-  Carefully draw on your design using an OIL BASED paint pen.  I used Sharpie brand, but I hear that other brands like Bic work just as well if not better.

I had a creepy claw hand after doing 45 of these in one sitting.   Of course I simply had to chase my dog and boyfriend around the house screaming “the claw hand is gonna eat your face off!”.  I’m the coolest.
- Let the design set into the mugs for 24 hours.
- Place mugs in a cold oven, and crank the heat up to 400 degrees.  Once the temp hits 400, put a timer on for 30 minutes.  Note: Because I had so many, I baked my mugs in small batches of 8 - 10 to make sure the heat was evenly distributed. 
After the 30 minutes, turn off the oven and leave mugs in there to cool to room temperature.
After cooling, I removed them from the oven and let them sit for 24 hours before handling them.  I don’t know if this was necessary, but I don’t think it hurt! 

Once my little labors of love were set and cooled, I got to work with the finishing touches.

I stuffed each mug with a few different kinds of tea (including both caffeinated and decaf!) and a packet or two of hot chocolate.  I finished them off with a wrapping of cellophane, because since I have discovered that anyone can just buy and wrap things with cellophane I wrap almost everything in that shizz.  Well, except scallops.  You should always wrap scallops with bacon. 

Delightful Décor

I highly recommend book page pinwheels if you want an inexpensive and striking way to populate décor for a storybook shower.  I found this amazing tutorial on Pinterest and with the help of my lovely and talented aunt, mom and cousin we cranked out 65 of these babies in a couple of hours one afternoon. 

By adding a simple ring of yellow ribbon we fashioned napkin rings.

And for the leftovers I spray painted wooden BBQ skewers green and glue gunned the pinwheels to the top to add to the flower arrangements. WAH-LAH!  Flowers that last forever! 

 A little folding and a dab of hot glue goes a long way towards the final picture!

Crafting Centerpieces

I saw this link on Pinterest, and the photo of the frame box centerpieces caught my eye.  I had remembered seeing 2 for $3 flat 4x6 frames during one of my lengthy browsing sessions at Ikea.  So I traveled over there and grabbed a few dozen Nyjjta frames.

Now when I started this project I was spray paint amateur.  Let me tell you that I could very probably write a novel about my misfires with these frames.  Suffice to say that my spray paint odyssey is not that entertaining and also included many strings of unrepeatable expletives.  So let's fast forward directly to the end of that journey where a friendly worker bee at Home Depot clued me in to the wonder that is Rustoleum Painters Touch spray paint.  It adhered perfectly to the frames. 

After the frames dried,  I saved high-resolution images of classic book covers from the internet, scaled them to size using Photoshop, then printed them on card stock before adding a different one to each face. 

After carefully centering all the book covers, I superglued the boxes together with LockTite glue.  Hot glue peeled right off, Gorilla Glue dripped and left a opaque film on the sides (also took way too long to dry)….so LockTite was juuuuust right.  Goldilocks would have been proud. That is, if Goldilocks was a crafty lady instead of a picky thieving brat.  

Mouthwatering Menus

We let our guests know about menu options via a fun menu referencing childrens storybooks. 

Final Touches!

I strategically placed pictures that my two younger cousins had drawn for the occasion....

....and put out delicious mocktails for the guests to sample when they arrived. 

We also had a few games for our guests to participate in....  

Success!  I had so much fun putting this shower together and I cannot wait for my little niece to be born so that I can have an excuse to do more crafting projects!