Sunday, September 30, 2007

Freedom Comes In A Little Black Book

You know how when you read fashion magazines, it sometimes feels like you wade through miles and miles of adverts and useless profiles on New York socialites - which was fine when you had all the time in the world to hang out in coffee shops and read Vogue, but now that you're a mom you have other shit to do and those ads get old real fast - before finally landing on some precious snippet of fashion advice, something that jumps out from the pages because it is just so clear and true? Maybe it's an actual piece of advice - like, 'don't feel that you must wear skinny jeans just because everyone else is, including all of the models in this magazine' - or maybe it's just a certain take on a book or a film or a piece of art, or maybe it's an Irving Penn photograph of a fifties model looking just so chic in a skirt that covers her knees.

Whatever it is, you save that whole 800-page issue of Vogue Magazine for that one tidbit of inspiration. And then, two months later, you do it again, because there, again, was some precious bit of information, and maybe you tell yourself, oh, I must write that down, or perhaps I should tear out this page and tuck it in a notebook, but you never do because somehow it seems more energy-efficient to carry that 3lb magazine - and stacks and stacks of its sisters - around with you for the rest of your days (during which time you will have forgotten what piece of precious advice jumped out at you and you will thumb through the pages vainly, wondering why did I save this? but refusing to toss it because you know that it must have been something important.)

Until now. Now, you have Nina Garcia's Little Black Book of Style, which has collected and distilled all of those tidbits of fashion genius and all of those precious bits of timeless advice into one slim, pretty volume that you can carry in your bag or keep on the vast expanse of shelf-space that is vacant now that you are able to toss your dust-gathering collection of old Vogue (and Harper's and W) magazines. It's all in there - from discussions of why it is, exactly that Debbie Harry is a fashion icon and Scarface a defining film for fashion to tips on how to purchase a good-fitting bra to the reasons why a good tailor is indispensable to how to dress for a wedding, really. So you don't need to keep your old magazines anymore. You have Nina's book.

There. I have freed you from your dusty paper chains of magazine collection tyranny. Go forward and be free, and stylish.

You can thank me - and Nina, and the Parent Bloggers Network too, I suppose - later.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Stay Tuned

The first-trimester sicky-blues have been keeping me from my all-important mission to provide scintillating product and book reviews, but fear not! More are coming:

* CleanRest mattress covers and pillowcases keep the bed bugs (and dust mites and other sleep-bogies) away! For realz!
* Printakid Personalized Books! Wonderbaby loves the book, but loves the CD even more. Loves the sound of her own name, I guess. Takes after her mother.
* Crayola's new line of toddler-friendly paint-pens and markers: ARE GENIUS. They're also all over my wall, but at least they're washable.

More on these cool things as soon as the nausea subsides. In the meantime, remember that Farzzle giveaway? MomOnTheGo won the draw (ceremoniously performed by Wonderbaby, having created name-stubs with her Crayola 'punts.') (Send me an e-mail, MOTG - I haven't been able to open your website for some reason.)

Stay tuned!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Love Shakespeare? Read This

I'm a sucker for what's used called an 'intellectual mystery.' This genre used to be the domain of writers like Umberto Eco (at the brain-achingly intellectual end of the scale) and Arturo Perez-Reverte (at the mystery end), who wrote thick novels with multiple plotlines involving books and scrolls and letters and more letters and conspiracies involving the Church and occult organizations and the what-not. Then it was hijacked almost entirely by That Guy Who Wrote That Book About That Code and car-chases were thrown into the mix and the genre, to my mind, lost a little bit of its appeal (although I did, for the record, blaze through That Book in one sitting and enjoyed it.)

So I'm always on the lookout for novels that are throwbacks to the genre that was perfected, in my opinion, by writers like Eco and Reverte (and Iain Pears and Katherine Neville) in the late eighties and nineties of the last century - when, that is, I'm not reading the latest releases from those authors. I haven't discovered any contributions to the genre that would rank as 'classic' lately, but my most recent read came close.

Interred With Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell ("A long-lost work of Shakespeare, newly found. A killer who stages the Bard’s extravagant murders as flesh-and-blood realities. A desperate race to find literary gold, and just to stay alive. . . . ") came very close to ranking with the classics. It has all the right ingredients: interesting historical mystery involving real history (Shakespeare), lots of esoteric interpretation of real and fictional texts, and excitement and adventure and all the things that make a classic. It also, however, has car chases, and more than a few implausibly narrow escapes from death, and the de rigeur plucky heroine who is determined to see the mystery through on her own, dammit, but who nonetheless needs to be rescued, time and again, by a hunky male help-mate (with a mysterious background, no less) when her pluckiness gets her into trouble. These aren't bad things, per se, but they do ring a tinny formulaic note in a book that is otherwise rich in plot and ideas. It's almost as if the author had the movie pitch running through her mind as she was writing - it's Shakespeare In Love meets The Da Vinci Code! It's Indiana Jones for girls who love theatre! - and shaped her characters and directed their actions accordingly.

I can forgive all of that - there are worse literary sins than evoking movie templates. And the author goes a long way to making up for it by weaving a fascinating story around the mystery of Shakespeare's real identity. Her real accomplishment with this novel is, I would say, her success in making the mysterious Shakespeare jump off the page as a character in his own right - even as she preserves the sense of mystery around the question of who he really was. This can't have been an easy task, given that the thrust of the mystery relies entirely upon that uncertainty concerning his identity. This is what kept me turning the page, wanting to discover more - not the fate of the characters pursuing the mystery (I had little invested in these characters, and guessed the identity of the real villian early on), but the fate of the mystery itself. What would the story reveal? What would be Shakespeare's fate?

This is no small accomplishment, not least, as I've already said, because the narrative tension depends upon the reader not knwoing who or what Shakespeare really is. That Shakespeare lives and breathes as a full-fledged character in this novel under those circumstances is tribute to the author's investment in that character and to the story and to her skill in telling it. It was what kept me glued to the book, even as I rolled my eyes a little bit at some of the characters. It was what elevated this book, for me, above some of the more popular contributions to the genre (coughDaVincicough).

It's no Foucault's Pendulum or The Name of the Rose, and so it's not an immediate classic for me, but it's good enough to compare the classics of the genre. And that's saying a lot.

This review is part of the MotherTalk tour for Interred With Their Bones. You can follow more reviews here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Greatest Blogging Tool EVER. After Computers. Oh, And The Internet.

I brought a little friend with me to BlogHer this summer. No, I'm not referring to any vertically challenged Toronto mom-bloggers, nor am I being coy about anything, you know, dirty.

I brought this:

It's a FlyFusion computer pen. And it rocks.

I did this with it:

And this:
You can check out the original posts in which they appeared here and here, but the upshot is this: I was tired and overwhelmed for most of the conference and couldn't be bothered to lug my computer around with me wherever I went, and the FlyFusion allowed me to write and scribble and compose all manner of blog post while sitting through panels in hot rooms, all without ever touching a laptop case or fiddling with a single computer cord or struggling to get a wireless connection.

Which is exactly what I did. Scribbled, that is. I could have written lengthy, descriptive posts in longhand, and then uploaded them from the pen and converted them to word documents that could then be copied directly into my Blogger template (because it does that, people!!!), but I didn't. I doodled, a lot. It's fun to doodle. All the more so when you know that you can save your doodles and put them on your computer and fiddle with them in Photoshop. (Somebody commented on one of those doodle posts that I must be an art professor. Ha! Behold the magic of technology, that it can make me - all-thumbs me - come off as artistic.)

I was introduced to the FlyFusion at a little press event for LeapFrog products. Yeah, that LeapFrog - the folks who make all the edumacational toys for tots. Motherbumper and I had been checking out all the merch, when a man who had been lurking in the corner of the room near a desk of what looked like homework supplies asked if we wanted to see the FlyFusion. We shrugged at each other and sat down and the man began to speak about pens and computers and pen computers and blah blah blah and we were this close to saying something to the effect of yeah, and? when he pulled out one to demonstrate.

And blew our minds.

The FlyFusion Pen writes in a digitized notebook (which doesn't cost all that much more than some higher-end regular notebooks, but which comes with extra features like, um, built-in calculator and built-in translator and built-in music mixing program. NO LIE.) You can use the programming in the notebook to help with translations and calculations and other tricky stuff, and then upload whatever you've written to your laptop or desktop as a Word document or as a JPEG or both and then do with it what you will. It's what you've dreamed of, all those times you've sat in a cafe or on a train or in a super-boring lecture writing your deepest thoughts or silliest jokes or most heartfelt letters in longhand and wished that there were some way of getting the ink onto your computer so that you wouldn't have to type it all up. It's what I dreamed of, back when I was an undergraduate and taking all my notes longhand and drafting outlines for papers in longhand, etc, etc. And now it's here. It's like, totally, Jetsons, without the flying cars.

LeapFrog is marketing FlyFusion to parents of high-school kids, and to the kids themselves, as a homework tool, which I think actually misses the biggest potential market for this thing. The undergraduates that I teach take of all their notes on their laptops - they do everything on their laptops. They're not a generation that cleaves to pens and paper. I'm the generation that cleaves to pen and paper. I (and my peers, and my husband and his peers) carry Moleskine notebooks with me wherever I go, jotting ideas and keeping notes and drafting blog posts in longhand, not just because it's easier than lugging the laptop, but because it's habit, and, moreover, because I love the feel of paper, and the feel of pen rolling on paper. My husband, who works in the film industry, also carries notebooks with him wherever he goes, to keep track of job details and accounting and random bits of information about whatever it is that goes on on the sets of TV commercials. We're not giving up our notebooks anytime soon - we're children of an ink-and-paper era - and so the prospect of some technology that allows us to keep our notebooks and integrate those notebooks with our computers is like the promise of chocolate that makes you skinny, or vodka that doesn't give you hangovers.

And for bloggers? This is the ultimate blogging tool. Write blog posts anywhere, anytime. Make doodle-art. Mix music. Invent, create, scribble - and then upload it all to your blog, at your convenience. I get giddy just thinking about it.

Most of the readers of this blog, and my home blog, are parents, and I'm guessing that those of you who are parents of older children might want to buy this for them. But you'd be happier if you bought it for yourself. Or for your spouse, and then appropriated it for yourself. Because it's the single most awesome piece of technology that I've seen in a long time, and you'll appreciate it more than your kids will.

You heard it here first.

Check out FlyFusion here. Now available in Canada.

Monday, September 10, 2007

What's On YOUR Tube?

I have no problem with allowing children to watch television. I had never intended to let my daughter sit in front of the screen as a baby, but that lasted all of about four months - the need to make solo, uninterrupted trips to the washroom overcame my desire to shield her from the cathode rays before she was a toddler. In any case, I was none too fussed about breaking that particular rule because, as I said, I don't have a problem with television (or, as was/is more usually the case, DVDs). Television is part of our culture - a big part - and part of becoming culturally literate in our society involves become literate in and critical of the narratives of television (and, of course, film.)

Good television, that is. What I do have a problem with is bad television, and with mindless channel-surfing and TVs just being left on as background-filler. Becoming literate in media like television and film requires engage with their content, and I'm simply not interested in a) having my children be unengaged, and b) having them be engaged with bad content. So I've been picky about what goes in our DVD player, or what channel gets flicked on, when Wonderbaby is in the room.

We're lucky, in Canada, to have a cable channel - Treehouse - that is devoted entirely to programming for younger children and that is almost entirely commercial-free (I say almost, because although they air no commercials, they occasionally flash an brief and unobtrusive message stating that a certain company has sponsored a certain show.) I luuuurve Treehouse. LUUURVE. While it does air some shows (*cough*Wonderpets*cough*) that make me want to tear out my own eyeballs and/or eardrums, it has a fairly good roster of shows, many of which are Canadian, that more or less insures that if I need ten minutes in the bathroom, sola, I can turn it on and be secure in the knowledge that Wonderbaby will be distracted and will not be exposed to any Bratz commercials.

Among the very good shows - among the very Canadian shows - featured on Treehouse: Farzzle's World. Farzzle's World tells, in very short animated segments, the story of baby Farzzle and his adventures as he explores his world, all from his imagined point-of-view. So it is that toys become real (a stuffed dinosaur growls ferociously but affectionately), pots and pans become an orchestra, and the world, literally and figuratively, becomes a playground. It's a brilliant little show, remarkable in its simplicity and touching in its sweetness.

It's not, I should say, a show that Wonderbaby asks for (she rarely asks, and when she does, it's for Teletubbies or the crazy Your Baby Can Read dvd). But it is a show that she'll slow down for, and one that holds her attention for at least a few minutes. The real appeal of the show is that I like it. There's no dialogue, just lovely animation and the occasional Farzzle giggle. On days when I have a headache or am tired or over-stimulated, it's something that is a pleasure to have playing on the television. I can sit on the floor and narrate the story - which is, after all, just visual - in whispers to Wonderbaby ('look -Farzzle's dino is real!') while we snuggle, with no danger of high-pitched singing ('The phone! The phone is ringing!') breaking our revery and making my ears bleed. It's almost zen.

(Another piece of children's Canadiana that has the same effect on me - Co Hoedeman's Ludovic series. Seriously zen.)

The lovely people behind Farzzle sent me some DVDs - obviously, in the hopes that I'd write about it and recommend it to you. Which I am - because I love Farzzle. I selfishly love Farzzle. There is no end of DVDs that are effective in distracting children (Barney, after all, will do the trick for many kids, as will the execrable Wonderpets) - but there aren't so many DVDs/shows that are really a pleasure for parents to watch, too (if only for the sweet, simple animation that harkens to a time when animation was just drawings come to life.)

You can find an excellent example of Farzzle animation here, or you can check him out at the Farzzle website or at Treehouse. Or, you could write a post about what children's shows or DVDs you like (not your kids - YOU) and link to Her Bad Mother and this site and I'll randomly draw two names and send those folks Farzzle DVDs. And, I'll make a list of the posts for the sidebar, as a running list of kid's stuff that has some aesthetic or intellectual appeal to grown-ups, or that simply doesn't make us want to poke ourselves with sticks.

I'm telling you: you'll like Farzzle. Now tell me about something you like.

(This is, FYI, my very first give-away. I get lots of offers to give stuff away, but because I won't give anything away that I wouldn't actually buy, myself, to give as gifts, it hasn't happened. 'Til now. Woo hoo.)

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Everybody Say Wii

I love my Nintendo Wii. Love. With a passion. But to date, the only games that we've gotten into here in the Bad household have been golf, boxing and baseball (all of which come with the Wii package) and the Mario Bros. Wario Smooth Moves game (which is just retroliciously anarchic that the husband and I played it for days after we first brought it home and still giggle when we look at the package). There's just not a lot of games out there for Wii - or, at least, not a lot of games that make use of the Wii interface in an interesting way. So you'd think that the prospect of a Wii dancing game - Wii Boogie - would have grabbed my attention immediately.

It didn't - but only because it involves karaoke. I hate karaoke, with a passion. I have to be good and drunk to get into karaoke, and even then I only get into it by laughing at people. So the prospect of getting down to some karaoke in my living room didn't, initially, appeal. Still, Wii gaming opportunities, because of their relative rarity, are not to be sniffed at. One can't play virtual golf forever, you know.

So it was that we bust open the Wii Boogie, hubs and I, and gave it a whirl. And, as I expected, it made me cringe and recoil. But it also made me laugh out loud in the process. Laugh hard. Really hard. Despite myself, I had fun (granted, I had been drinking, but this game invites that. Unless you're playing with your kids, in which cut back on the liquor and just laugh at your offspring.)

And that's the thing about the Wii - it invites and embraces the ridiculous. The more absurd or mundane the game, the better suited it is to Wii. This is the platform for Mario ping-pong, or Donkey Kong, or virtual boxing. Or karaoke. Or disco boogie. This is the game system that you want if what you're looking for is a little exercise, and a lot of giggling. Wii Boogie delivers on both of those counts. Sure, the playlist leaves much (much) to be desired, and as a competitive game it's lacking (although if you add a liquor component - Boogie Shots? - to up the ante, that helps), but good music and robust competition miss the point of the Wii entirely. These are games of the ridiculous, meant to provoke the absurd and leave participants gasping from laughter. If you take karaoke, or disco dancing, seriously (and god help you if you do), you probably won't appreciate Wii Boogie. Hell, if you take gaming seriously, you probably won't appreciate Wii Boogie.

But if you like to laugh at yourself, and at your spouse, and at your children (and who doesn't like these things?), then I can pretty much guarantee you that you'll have yourself a good time with this thing. Break it out at your next party, and if it doesn't cause at least one guest to wet their pants, you don't have fun friends.

Check out the deets on the game HERE, and check in at PBN here for more reviews.