Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Faces of Mental Illness: A Wonderful Description of Bipolar Syndrome

Stephen Fry is not only a brilliant artist and an outspoken advocate for mental illness. He himself has bipolar II disorder. In this video, he explains what bipolar disorder is like.  The saddest and truest line is from an acquaintance of his who in the throes of depression let himself get hit by a truck; the man said that the pain of having his legs rebroken over and over so he could walk again was nothing like the pain that drove him to stand in front of a truck in the first place.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Faces of Mental Illness: Schizophenia

We all know what schizophrenia is, right? We've seen schizophrenics in movies and on TV.  We normal folks know how scary they are. So here's a little frightening entertainment for you today, showing a real live schizophrenic:

Yup. Scary, huh? It's amazing what meds and therapy can do.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Feel the Wuv and Let your Loved One Keep Your Heart Warm (with a Cup of Tea)

Courtesy of Michele at Inspired Crochet

I needed to make a quick and inexpensive gift for my honey in time for Valentine's Day, since we won't be together (he lives too far away for me to visit with him this weekend). We have a tradition of inexpensive gifts for the holiday, as we think it's gotten a bit too commercial.

Very often I make gifts for my sweetheart. He loves getting little somethings in the mail that were made by my own hand. So, after counting my pennies and realizing money was tight this year, I looked through a bag of some scrap worsted weight yarn and found a relatively long piece of red acrylic yarn that was left over from earlier projects. I don't remember the brand name; I don't even think it had one. If I remember properly, it was some yarn I picked up one night in the Garment District when I was going to a lecture and was bored out of my mind. The shop had tons of anonymous Chinese-made yarn in the back and I bought a giant bag of it. I think I still have a few skeins left somewhere.

At any rate, I also had a ball of thin red yarn that had paillettes woven into it, and I'd been wanting to use it for a while. It's some of the first yarn I ever bought, back when I had no idea of what I was doing. I wanted to mix it with some other yarn but I never got around to it, and it proved too difficult for me to work with it well at the time. Looking at the two yarns made me think of hearts and a desire for a quick crochet project was born.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Victorian Taxidermy of Walter Potter: Weird, Wrong and Wonderful

Yes, those are squirrels playing cards. I found them on the Victorian Era Fan Guide, a website full of amazing things. Walter Potter, who made this display, was famous for his anthropomorphized taxidermy scenes.

Widdershins Crochet: or, How Handedness (and Difference) Affects Everything

Fig. 1.

I was recently at work and had a free moment, during which I pulled out crochet project I was working on. As I worked, one of my co-workers watched me and commented on my being left-handed. Then she asked me a question. She said her grandson, who was 4, was also left-handed and she was worried about him because he didn't write properly, as she put it. She said he did things like writing a 3 and then a 1 when writing '13'; he would put the numbers in the right order, but she found it upsetting. He would also write the round part of the letter 'b' before drawing the line connecting it, and so on. His handwriting slanted the wrong way too, according to her; it leaned rightward and downward. There were no left-handed people in her family so she wasn't sure what to do about it. She was thinking of forcing him to write with his right hand so that when he went to school he would sen normal to the other students.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Janet Mock, a Woman Among Women

I happen to have a severe crush on Janet Mock, who is in this month's Essence Magazine (for those of you who don't know, Essence is pretty much Cosmo for black women, only more stately and 'uplift the race-y.' I first came across Ms. Mock on Twitter, where she has been absolutely brilliant in her advocacy for trans people and women of all kinds. Since then I've read her blog, and I find myself swooning over her.

Janet is a trans woman and an activist, but most importantly, she is a pretty cool human being. Here's a fantastic interview with her in Colorlines.

Faces of Mental Illness: Homeless Man is Transformed

Mental illness is a subject close to my heart. Numerous people in my family suffer from the complications that come from leaving it unchecked. Most of the men in my mother's family were indirectly killed by it, as they tried to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs. All too often, mental illness leads to a life on the streets, because when it's unchecked or unresponsive to medication it can lead to a disconnect with society.

I don't know much about Dégagé Ministries and I'm not going to vouch for them. But I do know this. Often, when we see a mentally ill person on the street, all we see is some ill smelling, dirty person talking to him or herself, instead of a son, a daughter, a sister or a brother. We don't see someone who once  and still might have a caring family, a person who was once able to hold a job, a former soldier or teacher or factory worker. We forget that in front of us is a human being, and that all humans are born with dignity and have worth.

Maybe this video will help remind you, as it reminded me, that what we often see when we are around the mentally ill and homeless, is only half the story.

Winter Yumminess: Making Zeppole

Have you ever had a fresh donut? Not the ones from the store (and by 'store', I also mean Krispy Kreme and Dunkin Donuts), but honest-to-goodness, made at home donuts? Well, since it's cold and snowy in the much of the US right now, it's a perfect time to make some.

Now different parts of the country make donuts differently. In Louisiana, you can buy beignets. In The Wizard of Oz, Auntie Em made crullers, which are also popular in Germany. A friend of mine grew up on pershings in Pennsylvania, where they also eat fastnachts.  I grew up eating donuts from the local bagel bakery, along with bagels and bialys.  But in the Italian city of Naples, the fried doughnut is called a zeppole. In the US, zeppoles are associated with Italian Catholic church feasts like the feast of San Gennaro in New York City's Little Italy.

The other day I made zeppole using store-bought pizza dough, and it was very beignet-like, but not at light. Today I decided to make zeppoles from scratch, which as it turns out is one of the easiest things in the world. What made it easier was getting help from my new YouTube mentor, Mary Ahearn, whose website is fantastic for home cooks.

Mary's zeppoles are amazing. They are crisp on the outside and airy on the inside. I sprinkled mine with confectioner's sugar this time, but I think that next time I'll mix up some cinnamon sugar.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Tobacco Ringspot Virus, or Why Science is More Compelling than Fantasy

You've never heard of the tobacco ringspot virus? No? Neither had I until today. But this virus, which causes plants like tobacco and tomatoes to become stunted and withered, just did something both terrifying and amazing: it leaped across a genetic barrier of 1.6 million years to infect honeybees. That's right. Cute, adorable, innocent honeybees, the minute creatures who make it possible for all of us to eat tasty plants. Scientists in China have learned that these bees now act as carriers for the virus, which could have a devastating effect on food crops.

If you think this is a boring, no big deal sort of event, consider the beasts in ridiculous movies like Sharktopus. Now imagine creatures like Sharktopus miniaturizing themselves and flying everywhere, taking the chomp to everything from blueberry bushes to your mother's prize azaleas, and turning leaving a virus behind that will turn more honeybees into shark-octopus hybrids too. When put in those terms it doesn't seem so meaningless and boring, now does it?

Science. Because Sharktopus isn't real, but billions of dollars in dying plants and an endangered food supply is, and it's far more frightening than a lone animal that eats women in bikinis.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Best Movie Never Made: Great White Zombie Alien Sharktopus-nado ... with Chainsaws

Last night I was noodling about on Amazon, that great home of bad film. Like Sharktopus. And the beloved classic, Sharknado. Now I know these are horrible movies. Sharknado, for the five people who haven't seen it, is about a storm that lifts sharks into the sky and dumps them all over LA, where they start eating any human they can get hold of. Most (who am I kidding? I mean all) of the people on screen are Too Stupid to Live, as is shown by their horrible acting and willingness to stay in LA during a massive attack of sky-sharks. The last big scene involves a guy - get this - jumping into a shark's mouth with a chainsaw.  Just so you can see it yourself:

Now on Netflix: Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries

Every once in a while I come across a rant that says "There's nothing on Netflix." The complaint is usually how Netflix isn't as good at keeping up with new movies as it used to be, and has a lot of B-material. That's all true. But, what this view ignores is that for many of us, Netflix has opened up an entire world beyond American movie and television making. Case in point: the delightful Australian-made Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries.

I must admit that I came across this show by mistake. I was looking through the programs recommended for me because I'm a fan of British police mysteries such as Inspector Lynley and the usual suspects from PBS/BBC-land. I also happen to be a sucker for shows that have strongly drawn women lead characters. So when this show appeared on my list, I decided to take a look.

As it happens, Miss Phryne (pronounced 'fry-knee') Fisher is the heroine of a series of novels set in 1920s and 30s Australia by Kerry Greenwood (who also writes for the series). Phryne (played by Essie Davis, who is apparently a big name in Australia) came from an impoverished background but through a series of deaths in the family, ended up inheriting her noble family's fortune. It seems that before that happened, she had quite a series of adventures, including being an artist's model and driving ambulances during World War One. During the series we find out that she knows what cocaine tastes like, owns a diaphragm, and is a qualified pilot. She also ends up having quite a string of lovers. Out of a desire to have something to do other than wear fabulous clothes and dance the tango, she becomes a 'lady detective' and solves murders in and around Melbourne while flirting with the local police detective, John 'Jack' Robinson.

Is the show good? Yes. The clothing is proper to the period, the cars are fabulous and the stares are way entertaining. I also enjoyed the acting and the 'modern' situations, which include everything from abortion to interracial marriage to child slavery. Phryne's friends and helpers are wonderful fun, as well as seeing a female lead who is able to save herself and other women without a man coming to her rescue every five minutes.  I would definitely put this on the recommended list. It's a perfect show to binge-watch on a rainy or snowy weekend.

Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives: a Review

I just finished Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives: Stories from the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense, edited by Sarah Weinman. What a good read! This collection of mostly mid-century short stores by mostly (unfortunately) forgotten women writers included some tales that would still be disturbing now. Take for instance the first story, 'The Heroine', by Patricia Highsmith. Essentially it's about every parent's nightmare - the nanny who loves her work a little too much. Suffice it to say no nanny-cam would have stopped this woman from destroying a family. Likewise Celia Fremlin's 'A Case of Maximum Need,' which will make you wonder who you're really talking to on the Internet.