15 March 2018

Cozy British Television Dramedies

My favorite genre of television is the dramedy, and I have a particular fondness for those set in quaint locations throughout the British Isles. With their beautiful scenery, lovably eccentric characters, and slightly zany plots, they're just the right thing to watch when you want to spend a cozy evening in pure relaxation. Here are three of my all-time favorites, set in Ireland, England, and Scotland:

The Irish R. M. (1983-1985)

Based on the books by authors Somerville and Ross, this series follows Englishman Major Yeates after he moves to Ireland to become a resident magistrate (essentially a county judge) at the turn of the twentieth century. The move is a bit of a culture shock for the amiable but somewhat stuffy Major, as he deals with his dramatic cook Mrs. Cadogan, the wild horse dealing schemes of his friend and neighbor Flurry Knox, and the colorful characters who appear before him in court. The plots lean more towards comedy than drama, and often have an almost Wodehousian sensibility. I can vouch for the fact that the first series is very faithful to the first book, Some Experiences of an Irish R. M. 

The Darling Buds of May (1991-1993)

This series focuses on the lives of the Larkin family, who live in on a farm in Kent in the late 1950's. There's Pop and Ma, who head the family with love and humor, their attractive grown daughter Mariette, romantic teenage daughter Primrose, moody teenage son Monty, mischievous twin daughters Petunia and Zinnia, and fun-loving youngest daughter Victoria. The plots focus on Pop's unconventional business endeavors, the romantic entanglements of Mariette and Primrose, and the Larkins' role in the social life of their rural village, with each episode telling half of a two-part story. While the first season is almost entirely comedic, the first Christmas special takes more of a dramatic turn, and subsequent episodes balance both comedy and drama. However, the drama is never dark, and all the stories have happy endings. While I haven't read the novels by H. E. Bates on which the series was based, the author's son was the executive producer. 

Monarch of the Glen (2000-2005)

Up and coming restaurateur Archie MacDonald is called back to his ancestral home of Glenbogle in the Scottish Highlands to save the estate from foreclosure. However, his attempts to make the estate more profitable are hindered at seemingly every turn: his eccentric and traditional father doesn't want anything to change, his mother is supportive in theory but not particularly helpful in practice, and the tiny staff of three people feels put-upon. He also runs into opposition from the locals, who feel that Archie is putting the MacDonald family fortune above the needs of the community. Add an abundance of traditional events, harebrained schemes, and complicated love affairs into the mix, and you have enough to drive anyone mad. Worth noting: the series starts with a light tone that takes a more dramatic turn at the end of season three, and struggles to regain its footing through major cast changes in seasons four and five. However, more humor returns to the series in series six, particularly with the introductions of the characters of Donald and Ewan. 

01 March 2018

Makeup Review: Almay Shadow Squad

Note: I purchased the item in this review myself. I was not contacted by the manufacturer in any way.

Eyeshadow quads abound at the drugstore, and they typically follow a set formula: a dark shade for liner, a medium shade for the lid, a slightly deeper shade for the crease, and a light shade for the browbone. Each color will be in a separately divided pan, and often the pans are different sizes to account for how much of each color the manufacturer thinks you'll use. In principle, having it all laid out like this should make things simpler for the consumer, but in reality I've found that isn't always the case--I always wind up with one or two shades that I hardly ever use, and go through the ones I like too quickly.

But Almay's new Shadow Squad line takes a very different approach to an eyeshadow quad. Each pan contains just one color of shadow in four different finishes: matte, satin, metallic, and glitter. You get an equal amount of each, and they're not divided into separate pans but run right into each other in just the one.

The color I tried is called "Here Goes Nothing," a light champagne pink that goes on very subtly on my pale skin. Since I prefer light colors and natural looks, I really like the fact that this quad doesn't contain any of the dark shades that I never wind up wearing. The variety of finishes gives dimension even if you don't use any additional colors--I used the matte color on my lid with the satin blending from the crease to the browbone for a light and fresh daytime look, while I think the metallic and glitter finishes would make a pretty, shimmery look for nighttime.

The line comes in a lot of neutrals ranging from pale to dark, so I think most people could find a color that matches their skin tone for an easy, everyday monochromatic look that would go with anything. There are also a few more colorful shades that could be combined with the neutrals for pops of color or used on their own for a bold statement. It's a streamlined product that still manages to be multipurpose, and that really does make things simpler for me as the user!

19 February 2018

Project: DIY Mini Notebooks

This Valentine's Day I wanted to make little gifts for my family members instead of giving cards or candy, so I turned to my stash of craft supplies for inspiration. Since I make paper pennant banners for my Etsy shop, I have a lot of scrapbook paper on hand, and that's what gave me the idea to make homemade miniature notebooks. While they're not totally perfect, I think they turned out pretty cute!

My notebooks are 3 1/2 inches tall by 2 1/2 inches wide, so I started by cutting plain white copy paper into 3 1/2 by 5 inch strips. I used a paper trimmer with a small sliding blade, but you could easily use a ruler to mark straight lines and cut with a pair of scissors. I cut six strips of paper for each notebook, which when folded will create 12 leaves or 24 pages total.

For the covers, I chose patterned scrapbook paper in a slightly heavier weight--these happened to be double-sided, which created a neat endpaper effect! I cut the covers 3 1/2 by 5 1/8 inches long, since the cover has to be a bit bigger to go around the layers of folded paper. This was actually a little too short still, so I might try making the cover strip 5 1/4 inches next time.

Once the page and cover strips were cut, I scored them down the middle using a scoring board, but folding them in half works just as well if you're careful to line the edges up and make a crisp fold.

To bind the notebooks, I opened and stacked the pages and used a 1/8-inch hole punch (not a standard 1/4-inch, which is too big) to punch two holes in the middle fold, going through all six sheets at once. Then I lined up the cover on top and punched holes in the same spots, since the cover is thicker and I didn't know if the punch could go through it and the paper together.

After that, I took some clear thread and looped it through the two holes, so the free ends were coming out the cover side. I tied them together, making the loop as flush with the paper as possible, and trimmed the ends short. To hide the thread and knot showing on the outside, I covered the spine with a piece of 1/2 inch washi tape. I also added a decorative miniature label to the cover, but that's totally optional.

I think these miniature notebooks would make really nice DIY favors for parties, showers, and weddings, especially if you label them with each guest's name. You could also use them as a thoughtful alternative to greeting cards, perhaps handwriting favorite quotations or making little sketches on the pages. Or, just make them for yourself to keep in your wallet or purse for handy miniature shopping and to-do lists!

07 February 2018

The Best Adaptations of All of Jane Austen's Novels

Note: I originally published a version of this post on my literature website, Sparrow Tree Square, as a bonus for my English Regency-themed mini-anthology.

The Super Bowl and February sweeps may be the highlight of others' television viewing this month, but my February tradition is to watch adaptations of Jane Austen's novels. It gives me something to pleasant and cozy to look forward to on dreary winter evenings, and the weeks surrounding Valentine's Day are the perfect time to get swept up in the many romantic entanglements of Austen's heroines.

All of Jane Austen's novels have been adapted for film and television multiple times, and I've seen more than one interpretation of most. Over the years I've found my favorite versions of each one, and in this post I'm sharing what I think are the best Austen adaptations and why:

Sense and Sensibility (1995) 
adapted by Emma Thompson, starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet

Although Emma Thompson (who wrote the screenplay for this adaptation and starred in it) is technically too old for the part of Elinor, overall the casting choices in this theatrical film adaptation give it the edge over other versions. Kate Winslet as Marianne, Greg Wise as Willoughby, and Alan Rickman as Colonel Brandon do particularly well in portraying a complicated (and in my opinion, ultimately unsatisfying) love triangle.

Pride and Prejudice (1995)
adapted by Andrew Davies, starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth

This six-hour miniseries adaptation is the adaptation of Pride and Prejudice for legions of fans. The 2005 theatrical movie starring Keira Knightley has its champions, but that version comes nowhere close to capturing the essence of the book or sticking faithfully to its plot. The miniseries does both beautifully, thanks to a thoughtful script and excellent acting.

Mansfield Park (2007) 
adapted by Maggie Wadey, starring Billie Piper and Blake Ritson

Mansfield Park is not one of Austen's best-known novels, but this television movie adaptation does a wonderful job bringing it to life. It sticks faithfully to the novel's story, unlike the 1999 theatrical film adaptation, and manages to streamline the many strands of the plot into a cohesive 90-minute film.

Emma (1996) 
adapted by Douglas McGrath, starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam 

I've seen three adaptations of Emma--the 1996 television film adapted by Andrew Davies and starring Kate Beckinsale, the 2009 miniseries adapted by Sandy Welch and starring Romola Garai, and this one. The 1996 movie is by far my favorite, as in my opinion it best captures the breezy elegance of the book's setting and style. I usually object to Americans playing British roles, but I thought that Gwyneth Paltrow did an excellent job with both her accent and her portrayal of Emma.

Northanger Abbey (2007) 
adapted by Andrew Davies, starring Felicity Jones and J. J. Feild

Northanger Abbey has been adapted only twice for film and television, but luckily the 2007 television film adapted by Andrew Davies is very well done. The story is quite different from Austen's other books, with the plot focusing on the runaway imagination of a heroine who loves Gothic novels, and the television adaptation does a good job showcasing the humor and satire of its source material.


Persuasion (1995)
adapted by Nick Dear, starring Amanda Root and Ciarin Hinds
Persuasion (2007)
adapted by Simon Burke, starring Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones

I admit that Persuasion is my least favorite of Austen's novels, and honestly I'm not a big fan of either of the two adaptations I've seen. The theatrical film has good critical reviews, but I find the storytelling confusing and the casting choices odd, while the television film received mixed reviews and was somewhat unmemorable in my opinion. So, I've given them a tied rating, and perhaps someone who actually enjoys the story of Persuasion would be better able to tell which is the superior version!

30 January 2018

We Are Nearer to Spring Than We Were in September

La Belle Jardiniere--Janvier by Eugène Grasset, 1896
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December
A magical thing,
And sweet to remember.

'We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,'
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.

- Oliver Herford
This January has been a month of confusing weather. The new year came in with some of the coldest days on record for my area, but towards the middle of the month we had a January thaw that brought almost spring-like sunshine and temperatures (well, spring-like for here, as our springs are fairly chilly). Now, as the month goes out, the skies have been grey and we've settled into an average winter middle ground of cold but not bitter temperatures.

During the first part of the month I had extended Christmas celebrations to keep me feeling cheerful, and my upbeat mood continued with the mild weather that followed. But as the gloomy days have come back, my mood has dropped a bit, and I have to keep reminding myself of the poem above--even though it's currently snowing, we're even closer to spring now at the end of January than we were in December.

I've also had a few pieces of music playing through my mind that remind me that the seasons always cycle, and warmth and sunlight will return in due course. I think that more traditional forms tend to capture the cyclic nature of the seasons better than modern, popular music, perhaps because the cycle of the seasons was so important in traditional ways of life. So here are three musical compositions that I've found comfort in, and perhaps someone else battling the winter blues will find comfort in them, too:

"Look to the Day", composed by John Rutter, performed by The Cambridge Singers

"The Flowers That Bloom in the Spring, Tra-la", 
from The Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan

"Summer is icumen in", Medieval English, performed by the Oxford Girls' Choir