{ Under The Bluegums }

A personal blog with craft tutorials, reviews of books, films, and music, parenting advice, and opinions on society and politics.

August 13, 2017

Book Review || I Met the Walrus by Jerry Levitan

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Jerry Levitan's 'I Met the Walrus' left me in a pool of sad nostalgia. I felt like I was the teenager that Levitan was when he ran into a lucky streak that resulted in him meeting his ultimate hero, John Lennon, and being granted an exclusive interview with him. Full of passion and an eagerness to change the world, Levitan's retelling of his love for The Beatles and John Lennon especially is filled with innocence and hope, things you most certainly lose once you have to start making your own ends-meet.

Divided into three parts, the first will endear you to young Jerry as his love for The Beatles grows and evolves despite the band's ups and downs. Like many teenagers nowadays, he emulated his heroes, rushed to be the first to grab the latest album, and would have given anything to meet them. It also tells how Levitan's quick-thinking and spontaneity resulted in his meeting his idol.

The second part is basically a transcription of what Lennon and Levitan spoke about in his exclusive interview. Lennon sounds just as I would imagine - laid back, relaxed (maybe too relaxed, if you know what I mean), yet focused and determined to make a difference in the world with his very real influence. We also follow Levitan as he spends an evening with the stars and shares the interview with his class - he also has a very real hope of changing the world.

In the third part, we are told about Jerry's life afterwards; basically it's about how he grew up still loving The Beatles, following each individual and still treasuring John Lennon as his favourite. When Lennon was assassinated, Levitan experienced a breakdown for which he was hospitalised, as the event coincided with the death of his mother and the disintegration of his marriage. There is a heartfelt moment when Levitan cradles his young son thinking about Lennon's song 'Beautiful Boy', which was written for Lennon's own child, and tears streaming down his face. Until his interview was animated and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Short, Levitan lived an uneventful life.



Levitan's ascent (and some may say, descent from youthful dreams) into real life as an adult is a reflection of all the lives of the young and innocent of this world who hope to make a difference and inevitably fail at changing the world. It is more difficult today, in a world of Emma Watsons and Malala Yousoufzais, to really make a positive effect on reality because there are so many more people working against those who stand for peace. Just look at what is happening today in the United States' administration, which seems bent on stripping both citizens and visitors of their basic rights and shows no care for the harm a support of fossil fuels continues to make. It is a little sad that such a strong voice calling for peace had nearly no effect, except on the small people who admired the band and the man. I was reminded of a moment when speaking with a colleague after reading about someone's phenomenal success that it is so much more difficult to make an impression, to reach a popular stardom, in a world veritably drowned with a proliferation of people and an obsession with inanity and nihilism.

I was also nostalgic after reading this because my father, who died two years ago at the young age of 57 due to early-onset Alzheimer's Disease, would have been a young boy when The Beatles hit stardom and as a music lover he must have enjoyed their music, at least until Beatles albums were banned by the SABC in 1966. I was left to wonder how he felt about that, how he became interested in bands such as Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, and Santana, and what he thought of Lennon's death just three years before I was born, and how much else I never found out from my dad. These questions swirl around my head and heart knowing that my selfishness must have contributed towards me never finding out and now it is too late.

To return to the autobiography, 'I Met the Walrus' is an excellent reproduction of Levitan's youthful exuberance throughout the meeting and interview and his rediscovery of it when the interview gains new life as a short film. If you're a fan of The Beatles or music in general, this is an informative and enlightening book.

Related Features:
Facts About John Lennon
Beatles Records Banned in South Africa
You Don't Have to 'Imagine' John Lennon Beat Women and Children - It's Just a Fact
John Lennon's Killer Revealed Details of Shooting As Denied Parole for Ninth Time
Jerry Levitan (Wikipedia entry)

August 2, 2017

Book Review || Charnel House by Graham Masterton

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I am a big horror fan but have been particularly disappointed by horror films of late - I honestly don't know why I bother. The last film I enjoyed that was denoted as a 'horror' was 'The Autopsy of Jane Doe', a veritable oasis in a desert of palatable, interesting and focused 'horror' stories. I really think I should stop watching them and instead return to my first love of the horror: the novel. Graham Masterton is one of my favourite horror writers (better than James Herbert and Stephen King, in my opinion), and 'Charnel House' did for me in terms of scares what no horror film has been able to do in years: make me wonder if there is indeed something watching me from the darkest corners.

Not only was the story compelling, the plot sound, and the horror terrifying, I finished this book in only two days - a record for me lately.

The house in the title is inhabited by an elderly man who has coveted such a house his whole life. It is dank and dreary, but the ceiling cornices are made of real plaster and there isn't a spot of plastic anywhere. There are three storeys, an attic, real iron fireplaces - a magnificent place. But Seymour Wallis hasn't had good luck since he found that mysterious sculpture of a bear with a woman's face. Nor since he's started to hear the house's breathing. He visits the Department of Sanitation out of sheer desperation, I think, simply hoping someone will take his word and not think he's an utter nutter.

John believes Wallis is crazy, but investigates anyway with his friend. Their biggest mistake was waking the house up and it all goes downhill - and more entertaining - from there.

This classic seventies horror novel is filled with everything that originally defined the horror genre: campy, sarcastic, filled with outdated attitudes, violent and bloody ... but it is truly scary - and not just in a gory way: the backstory makes the evil ancient and unbeatable, just like any true horror would be. And even though I knew that I wasn't living in the house, that I did not have a bear-lady sculpture, my imagination ran away with me a little on that first night after I put out the light.

I'm silly; I know - no need to remind me.

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Source: Giphy
Masterton is an excellent storyteller if you've never read any of his novels before and they are fast-paced and entertaining, despite zero character development. If you haven't read him before and would like a slow introduction, you should try 'The House that Jack Built', one of my favourite ghost stories.

Have you read any of Masterton's novels?

July 15, 2017

It's Not Just Gal, It's All (Pregnant) Gals

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Facebook/wonderwomanfilm
Before and during the publicity trail for DC's latest superhero(ine) movie 'Wonder Woman', controversy was the name of the day. Many believed having a female director (Patty Jenkins, known for Academy Award-winning 'Monster') at the helm of usually male-orientated subject would make it unbankable and cause a Box Office crash. There were protests to all-woman screenings of the film. And try not to mention the so-called flops of Zack Snyder's attempts at reimagining Batman and Superman and the great disappointment that was 'Suicide Squad'. One of the details that popped out during the trail was the fact that Gal Gadot was actually five months pregnant during reshooting, a fact that brought her much praise. You know, because pregnant women are supposed to be barefoot and working in the kitchen, or something.

I can see why this fact is so stupendous to some. Gal Gadot certainly had her fair share of physical activity to undertake, but we must remember that she had an entire team of professionals guiding her every step of every move, and certainly a lot of help in the form of blue screens and such.

Of course, producer Chuck Roven was quoted as saying that she couldn't do a huge amount of physical activity and she was really just 'being aggressive'. Obviously not something pregnant women do, right? And since the reshoots weren't for really crazy scenes, let's be honest and say then that all pregnant women are Wonder Women.


Why do I say this? Certainly pregnant women may not all engage in martial arts activities, but there are some who perform equally taxing tasks while pregnant, including rock climbing at eight months, competing in the Olympics, weight training, ran marathons, or winning a tennis tournament. Physical activity is in fact encouraged during pregnancy, unless it involves heavy lifting or anything very strenuous. Hell, even regular mothers are Wonder Women: carrying around their other toddlers, lugging grocery bags, doing yoga, dealing with dirty dishes and laundry and floors and faces, and still managing to hold a job they're most likely to consider leaving after giving birth to baby because of discrimination.

I struggled to find an explanation for the idea that we still have in society that pregnant women are weak and the only concept I've come up with is that women between the 16th and 18th centuries were taught by doctors that they had to control their thoughts and desires because everything they thought and desired had a direct effect on the wellbeing of the baby: for example, having lustful thoughts would turn your baby into a hermaphrodite, or being scared of an elephant would create a child that looked like an elephant, or eating strawberries would result in birthmarks. Yeah, about as ridiculous as believing a woman's uterus moved around her body! Ha. Oh wait, they believed that once, too. Obviously something went wrong quite often, especially if we're considering birthmarks a defect, and it was all the mother's fault - it was her weakness that caused the defect, and this mental weakness soon translated into a physical weakness.

And of course the media just loves to play on these old fears by sensationalising news stories featuring pregnant women in danger and, of course, famous pregnant women who manage athletic feats during pregnancy (like our Gal). Or inspiring debate about women who appear to put their children at risk (according to many people's educated opinions).

So while Gal's reshoots at five months are impressive, there are amazing things being done by pregnant women every day. They may not make headlines, but they do make big differences to the people they love and themselves.

July 7, 2017

I Shaved My Head!

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In one word: Weird. Shaving my head felt weird. I've had long hair most of my life, bar a shorter cut in the early 2000s and a half-assed attempt at an undercut at the end of last year. So after two haircuts this year that have left me totally unhappy with my hair, I decided - with a lot of persuasion from hubby - to shave it all off.

On The Day: 

This is great! I feel weightless. My hair hasn't been this short since I was a baby. I've always been so attached to my hair, and remember bawling my eyes out when I was about seven because my mom cut my long hair into a bob. But what freedom! I don't have to look in the mirror tomorrow morning and think about how my fine, lifeless hair is completely uncooperative. Best of all, I feel rebellious! I feel invincible! Who cares what my hair looks like or what other people think of it? It's about time I stop worrying about what other people think of me. I feel like I have shorn off years of worrying about my looks, years of stereotypes of beauty and femininity. Best of all, I feel brave!

Day 1: 

Despite Emma saying she likes it, rubbing her hands through the spiky softness, and saying she also wants her head shaved, I hate it. It's too short. I look like a boy. And it's the blasted middle of Winter and my head is freezing. I shack up in the house for the entire day.

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Day 2:

I have bold (bald?) intentions of staying inside all day, too. I am not sulking as hard as I was yesterday, but my head is still cold. If I didn't have to fetch something, I would have stayed in bed watching 'The Handmaid's Tale' all day. But light at the end of the tunnel: the people I meet when fetching the package don't even bat an eyelid at my haircut. Sure, they didn't compliment me, but they also did not smirk, at least to my face. That's confirmation to me that most people don't give a darn.

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Day 3: 

Today was my first official outing with a buzzcut. Only one older man looked in my direction with a bit of speculation, but that's just one out of many. It appears that a girl with a buzzcut is nothing strange, nothing to stare and giggle at. If that's the case, how many times have I gone out scared to distraction that I look silly and IT WAS ALL IN MY MIND?

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Day 4: 

Gym was amazing today! I didn't feel tired and definitely felt lighter during my workout. I certainly didn't miss the strands of hair sticking to my face or dangling in front of my eyes. Plus, I was asked what I did with my hair and upon replying that I just took it off, I got support in the way of an unsaid, 'Yeah!' And when someone else said it suited me, I didn't bashfully look away and assume they were being sarcastic. In my imagination? Perhaps, but where has this confidence that people are seeing me in a positive way coming from?

Day 5 - 7: 

I feel great about my hair. Maybe it's because it's grown about 3mm since I cut it. Maybe it's because I've had overwhelmingly positive feedback about it. No laughing, no snickering. Just a few prolonged stares... But this situation is unusual for me because I have created such situations in my mind before, coming face to face with criticism and judgment, and this has simply not happened.

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Maybe if I were in more social situations I would be exposed to more uninvited questions or meaner comments?

My thoughts:

Okay, so basically this entire experience has taught me a lot about myself: I am way too concerned about my appearance and fitting in with my own preconceived ideas of what suits me. If I can feel confident with nearly no hair on my head - something I have allowed to define me - then whatever else I decide to do with my appearance should be a non-issue.

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Women believed to have collaborated with the Germans in WWII, who had their heads shorn as punishment paraded through the streets.
This subconscious need of mine to fit into what society largely regards as feminine is something that I've not believed has really applied to me: I don't often wear makeup, I rarely wear a dress, and I'd pick baggy denims over a lacy, flowy, cleavage-baring outfit any day of the week. However, my fear of not having any hair is connected to my latent performance of femininity, because, as we all know, long hair is a signal of fertility. And of sanity. And of health. And short hair is a punishment, a disease.

And of course on some level I understand that to be appreciated by the male of our species, I need to have long hair (This in spite the fact that I've been married for eight years). So by having long hair, it was the one feminine thing I was subconsciously hanging on to - the single indicator of femininity. Was I afraid then of shedding this feminine prop? Definitely!

But doing it made me question why I dress the way I do, why I judge myself the way I do, why I almost cried when I realised it had all been shaved off. I loved my long hair. But I feel more confident now knowing that it is not me, it does not define me or how womanly I am - no matter how long I grow it or short I cut it or what colour I dye it or how limp and unstyled it is - and I won't allow it, or people's perceptions of it and other choices I make, to rule me any more.

{Image credits: Shaving as Punishment: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1971-041-10 / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de], via Wikimedia Commons}

Further Reading:

9 Things Girls With Shaved Heads Are Tired of Hearing About Our Perfect Buzzcuts
Laurie Penny on hair: Why patriarchy fears the scissors - for women, short hair is a political statement
Women Speak Out on Why Shaving Their Heads Was One of Their Most Inspired Moments
The stigma of baldness for women
Female Beauty and the Sociology of Stigma
That One Time I Shaved My Head (as a woman)
What I Learned By Shaving My Head
An Ugly Carnival

June 2, 2017

Movies || On Inappropriate Moments in Kids' Films

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As a movie lover, watching animated or meant-for-kids movies was always a joy for me. I didn't even mind it when I rewatched films from my childhood and gasped at the realisation that something was more than it seemed. But lately puns and innuendos in children's films are becoming vastly inappropriate. Or is it just me?

My pet peeve at the moment are the live-action reboots of 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles'. In the first film, in the first second the turtles meet April O' Neal, Michaelangelo makes a wildly tasteless - and nonsensical - comment about his shell tightening, then tells her that even though they're teenagers they can still have 'adult conversations', adding they should be friends with her because her friends may be hot. Ugh. Throughout both films, his constant pestering, hitting on, under-the-breath commentary is simply too much. Michaelangelo's sexual objectification of April is just slimy and uncomfortable and it ruins the entire movie (Not that it needed that much to ruin it, though). And don't even get me started on the fact that the screenwriters took a strong-minded and independent character like April O'Neal and practically turned her into nothing other than eye candy.

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Facebook/TeenageMutantNinjaTurtles.ZA
It is true that many, if not all, children's films contain some kind of innuendo - the parents need something to entertain them, too - but I really feel like these jokes are no longer about clever puns and hidden meanings: they're about shock value. I'm not saying that a little sexual innuendo is a bad thing; all I'm saying is that it's no longer cleverly done to avoid young people from making the connection. Take 'Who Framed Roger Rabbitt' for example: Jessica Rabbit and Marvin Acme play 'patty-cake' together and we know from Roger's reaction that this was quite a betrayal. But even the photographs Eddie takes are of them literally playing patty-cake. This is clever. Not clever, for example? In 'Shrek', Lord Farquaad is sitting naked in bed reviewing Fiona's image in the mirror. It's obvious what he's doing, and some say there's even movement under the covers.

Rude adult jokes are the order of the day, as many YouTube videos can attest to. Many obvious moments abound: from Buzz Lightyear's wingpop in 'Toy Story 2' and Mr Potatohead's quip that 'no one takes his wife's mouth but him' in 'Toy Story 3' to Miguel and Chel's alone time in 'The Road to El Dorado', Humpty Dumpty referring to prison rape in 'Puss in Boots' and Alex the lion charging at Melman's bottom with a long tree trunk in 'Madagascar' to Anna and Kristoff talking about Hans' foot size in 'Frozen', some innuendo is harmless, but the references have become more blatant. Or is it just me?

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Facebook/DisneyZootopia
Our society has certainly become more sexual, with very young children becoming sexually active and concerned with their sexual attractiveness. But isn't the insertion of such references contributing to this? Sex sells, I suppose, but I think I take issue with the fact that these films do not know who it is they wish to target. Actually, that statement is incorrect: they wish to target everyone, as many as possible, and for some reason the idea is that adults will only enjoy a film if there are shocking sexual references. And this is not true. Take 'Zootopia' for example: it's appeal to children is obvious, but its appeal to adults is spot-on as it's using the platform to question stereotypes and prejudice while making sophisticated jokes that do not hinge on blatant sex references. Indeed, I think the only sexual reference anywhere is when Judy says 'rabbits are good at multiplying'. The film is, in fact, the top film of 2016 according to Rotten Tomatoes. 'Shrek', replete with sexual innuendo, only makes it to number 24 for the rankings in 2001. It is beaten by Monsters, Inc. at top place, which, as far as I remember, has no blatant sexual jokes.

I feel as though movie makers are really underestimating the adults and children who watch these films. Adults are entertained by much more than sex and 'bewbs'. It may be a large drawcard to television series like 'Game of Thrones', 'Black Sails', and 'Westworld', but when it comes to kids' films we are mainly looking for either some innocent entertainment to give us a breather with clever 'inside' jokes that we don't have to explain to our children or at how the film teaches our children about life. That is why parents mostly allow their children to watch movies: as opportunities for learning.

'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' is certainly still a story about leadership and family and helping others, but while trying to be funny to entertain us poor dumbed-down parents in a film, a mediocre storyline won't be improved by lewd jokes.

{Image credit: By Evert F. Baumgardner [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons}

May 28, 2017

Book Review || The Broken Bridge by Philip Pullman

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Phillip Pullman is the master of coming of age novels. In 'The Broken Bridge', we meet Ginny, the only black girl in a Welsh town, who has been treasuring her roots and becoming an amazing artist just like her mother. But her father is hiding a secret from her, and she comes to find that everything she knows about herself might be a lie.

This young adult novel is filled with the usual teenage concerns of falling in love, discovering who your friends are, and coming to accept yourself. But it has more going for it than simply that.

We see the world through Ginny's eyes - literally, the eyes of an artist. She sees everything as though she's preparing to paint it, and Pullman focuses a lot on describing the world as an artist would see it: in terms of different colours and hues, composition, and highlights and shadows. This contributes to making Ginny a believable artist instead of simply taking her word for it and was possibly my favourite part of the novel - there is true passion for her craft in Ginny's narrative.

The fact that she is an artist is a big part of her identity but she is forced to question it when her father's lies catch up with him and she wonders if anything he told her was true at all. Her art was what defined her, set her apart in a positive way, in a world where she was already sort of an outcast as one of only two black people in the town, and the daughter of a white man and black woman. When mysteries are laid at her feet about the town, her father, and her mother, she questions who she really is and realises that the idealist side of her - the artist - was selfishly looking at things in a certain way. There's a moment where she consoles a crying woman and actually moves herself around so that the artistic composition would be better.

In a way, this selfishness represents that of every teenager so caught up in their new emotions and urges, worries and needs that they forget there are other people in the world suffering in different ways. When Ginny meets her brother, he is also selfishly experiencing the world. However, the two of them begin to have a proper relationship when they open up to one another, in a way that many adults cannot do.

Another theme to consider in the scope of the novel is whether there is a perfect family at all. Ginny and her father are all alone until Robert comes along. Robert and his mother were all alone until tragedy struck. Andy has been exiled from his family, as has her best friend Rhiannon's older sister, who in turn is stuck in a loveless, abusive marriage. We are faced with the truth that there is no such thing as a perfect family, but the members within it can only do their best.

In many ways, this novel - written in 1990 - was written before its time. Touching on issues of broken families as it does, you can also throw in questions about homosexuality, racism, gangsterism, suspicion, selfishness, arrogance, roots and origins, and even a little bit of spirituality as well.

The novels' story of the broken bridge and its metaphorical meaning become clear at the end: no bridges are mended from only one side.

May 20, 2017

Stop Eating Meat, Cape Town!

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The City of Cape Town has tightened water restrictions again after an announcement that usable water levels in dams were only at 11.2%. They pleaded with the public to use only 100 litres a day. Well, this is all well and good, but how about curbing the water usage of the biggest culprits? And I'm not talking about big businesses who leave their sprinklers on all day or households who have swimming pools...

Here's looking at you, factory farms, meat farms, abattoirs! And, yes, I know that curbing their water usage has major economic setbacks, such as being unable to pay workers, meeting consumer demand, and so on. But we can use our lifestyles to change that.

On average, a single poultry abattoir deals with around 18,000 chickens a day to meet consumer demand. Processing a single bird uses around 17 litres, so that's already 306,000 litres used per day. Over 2 million litres a week. There are several poultry abattoirs in Cape Town and the Western Cape. Let's say there are 10: That's at least 20 million litres being used a week to process chickens. Just chickens. And you're being asked to use only 100 litres a day? Update 24 May 2017: It was pointed out to me by a commentator below (whom I only know as 'Anonymous' - thank you for fact-checking!) that I incorrectly stated 18,000 chickens per day as per the article I linked to, which actually stated 8,000 chickens. I apologise for this link error. Using this abattoir as an example, it would still mean, however, that 136,000 litres would be used per day - 952,000 litres per week - 9,520 million litres for an assumed amount of 10 poultry abattoirs. To me, this is still a lot of water being used when you're asked to use only 100 litres per day. Regardless of this, Selectra claims that a medium-sized poultry abattoir would process 20,000 birds per day. This is more than my original calculation anyway.

Add to this that, in essence, this water is sometimes returned to natural streams, within certain healthy and acceptable 'parameters', which are probably not met all the time, as many abattoirs struggle to maintain proper bacterial balance in their sludge dams - this is why they are sometimes red: it's not blood but algal bloom, and if this is released into natural streams... ruination of ecological system. Mostly, however, wastewater is dealt with in municipal sewer systems. And don't even get me started on the physical waste products, such as intestines, bones, and blood - where does all that go?

Perhaps it is time we took a more responsible outlook on drought over and above showering for only five minutes, making use of grey water, or only flushing once our toilets are good and dirty. What if we changed our lifestyles and stopped eating meat?

"Oh, but what about my protein needs?!" you ask.

"Okay, fine", you say, "but what about my calcium requirements?!"

Then you'll say, "Okay, smarty pants. What about my Omega oils intake?" To which I will say that it's likely you're deficient in them anyway and ...

"Erm, well I also need iron. Can't possibly get iron from anywhere else but meat!" Really?

"And Vitamin B12!?"

I detect a certain panic in your voice as you squeak, "...and zinc?!"

Do you really still want to tell me there is no other place to get everything you need to survive but meat?

"Oh, but I do take part in Meat Free Mondays! That's something, right?" Sure, it's something. But you have to ask yourself if it's enough.


Thank you so much to everyone who commented! I have also added some more related links below about water usage comparisons, since we are talking specifically about water.

Related Reading:

10 Vegan Cheat Sheets
From Lettuce to Beef: What's the Water Footprint of Your Food
The Water Footprint of Food
Waterwise: Your Water Footprint
And if there's one film you watch this weekend, please let it be this one!!!! Earthlings

{Lead image credit: By AerialcamSA - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link}

May 19, 2017

Welcome to the world, Caitlyn (and privilege and beauty conventions)!

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Twitter/HairbyStewart
Update: Okay, so I wrote the below essay just after Caitlyn Jenner publicly revealed her new look on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine last year, and I didn't publish it because I thought my criticisms were .... uncalled for at the time. I regret not publishing it then, because barely a year later people are realising that her privilege, which is my main criticism below, is not changing anything. Now the media is complaining that she is in fact taking up too much space in the trans conversation. Her public visibility as a white, rich woman is doing nothing for those on the ground suffering very real and often violent discrimination on the ground. Of course, we could go into the arguments about women being told in general that they take up too much space, but that is a conversation for another day...

Original piece written in June 2016: Following Caitlyn Jenner's very public reveal on the cover of Vanity Fair with a photograph by Annie Lebowitz, many have lauded her bravery at taking the world with her on her journey from a man to a woman. Of course she should be lauded - her face gracing the cover of the upstanding Vanity Fair is a major step in normalising transgender sexualities and is so necessary in our world fraught with prejudice and judgement.

I do not wish to detract from Caitlyn's achievements and all her very real experiences. But what is striking about her successful coming out is the very real fact of her privilege as a national hero and former male and how that narrative has largely been left out of mainstream media coverage of her coming out.

Caitlyn's history as a successful athlete cannot be overlooked. Her athleticism is an important part of her success. She made a name for herself as the 'All American Hero' after beating a Russian during the Cold War - a masculine trope that men still aspire to. This fame has contributed to her popularity. As a male athlete, she also received all the privilege that came with it: She was one of 4,824 men to compete in the Olympic Games in 1976, where the number of women was less than half that, and with women's sports not being so popular, one can imagine the sponsorship deals for women were not as lucrative as the deal he received from Wheaties for appearing on their box. Hell, pay equality is still an issue even today.

And then she's been successful outside of her athletics career in television and also in auto-racing - a notoriously male sport.

She recently accepted the Espy Arthur Ashe Courage Award in July for coming out because of the 'adversity' and 'peril' she faced by doing so. The very fact that she received the award at all raised its own controversy, as many believed others were worthier of the title. What's more is that she is not the first athlete to come out as transgender, but she is the first to be awarded for doing so.

I can perhaps see why she was chosen because the breadth of her influence has that much more potential as a result of her popularity on reality television. She thus had a lot more to win or lose by coming out publicly and also greater influence on the public's view on transgender people, which is not to say that is a bad thing.

In her acceptance speech for the above award, she practically accepted it on behalf of those transgender people who are struggling to come to terms with their status as the world struggles to come to terms with them. But that is my point: the transition for him was, not to say easier, because making that decision and going through with it could never be easy, but he had very public support over his move in a way that many young transgender youths today do not. Plus, his prolific career gave him the financial support many youths could only dream of.

My other concern is with the very public, very beautified way in which she came out. Her cover for Vanity Fair was indeed stunning ....
...but it concerns me that she chose a medium known for edited and touched-up images exemplifying conventional feminine beauty standards. Her image on the cover is flawless in a way that live footage of her is not. I have previously expressed my ire for how leaked 'real' photos mean nothing because they are not plastered on magazine covers and are not considered official publicity releases for celebrities, and the situation is similar here. Not only can Caitlyn enter the world and very publicly be accepted as a woman, she enters it as one of the most 'conventionally' beautiful women. As a man making the transition to a woman, how should she see Caitlyn's transition - which felt as though it happened overnight - in the face of her battles with hormones, fashion, beauty treatments and loved ones? How should those feel who are completely cut off from making any such transition and are forced to live in the wrong body? Furthermore, how do those who identify as women feel when who was once a man can be so beautifully flawless while they struggle at home with their masks and creams and lotions? How should they feel after a former man wins Glamour Magazine's Woman of the Year award? What else can we think but that even men can perform femininity better than women? It's like that STEM competition for girls, which was opened for entries from boys and what do you know? The boy won!?

How can anyone compete with that?

May 5, 2017

Birthday Party || Top 10 Car Theme Ideas on Pinterest

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We recently celebrated Emma's fourth birthday (I can't even believe it!) and this year she wanted a car theme. I didn't have a lot of time to work on the themed decor for her party because I spent the first three days of the week repainting and redecorating her room (which included fresh paint on the wall and ceiling, an appliqued sea theme curtain; and waves painted with blackboard paint). I technically only had two days to do everything else, since one day was spent doing the shopping.

What also made it more difficult this year was that I had to find and make vegan eats - last year we were still vegetarian so I could still make most of the goodies with egg when required. This year's baking went terribly - I must have been tired and everything kept flopping. Sigh. It was also difficult to come up with ideas for the theme in such a short time, so thank goodness for Pinterest! And if you're thinking, 'This looks exactly like last year's party, just with cars!' you and my hubby are in agreement there.

Emma wanted a strawberry cake, so the race track in the shape of a 'four' is a vegan sponge cake with strawberry flavouring. It's quite old-fashioned but Emma wanted it to look like this:
I made streetlight brownies like these:
And then everything else was pretty standard: popcorn, jelly beans, and crisps. Easy. I would have liked to be more creative and if you are planning a car-themed birthday, too, here are my top ten favourites from Pinterest:

1. Pot Holes or Wheels from Oreos

2. Vegetable Cars

(Though I don't think any child would grab these!)

3. Apple Cars

4. Checkered Flag Biscuits

5. Dip Sticks

6. A Car Photo Booth. 

I really wanted to do this one - I had even bought the card. :(

7. Car-Shaped Biscuits

8. Checkered Drinks

I wanted to put the checkerboard pattern around our disposable cups.

9. Dip Sticks and Traffic Light Condiments

10. 'I Wheelie Like You' Gift Bags


I hope these help you out and I would love to see your own ideas!

April 5, 2017

Book Review || Eat Your Heart Out by Felicity Lawrence

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I've been focusing very much lately on becoming healthier for myself and for the planet and while I thought turning to a plant-based diet was enough, Felicity Lawrence's frank book about the food industry, 'Eat Your Heart Out' was a wake-up call to commercial food and corporate interests.

I always knew that only a few companies owned most of the means of food production, thanks to widespread reports about them. But this meme is only the tip of the iceberg, because there are a few companies that control all the ingredients the companies in the reports use. I never suspected it was this bad - that everything came from these few suppliers. Nor did I expect the history behind our food system to be littered with human rights abuses, a disregard for animal and natural life, and political connections that should be making us shake in our boots from fear and anger.

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The chapters of Lawrence's book focus on the basic foodstuffs we require to have a so-called 'healthy' lifestyle: cereals, meat and vegetables, milk, pigs, sugar, fish and tomatoes, fats, and soya. Every single chapter reveals the systematic takeover of a product by massive corporations who care nothing for the livelihood of local farmers and residents, the ecosystem, the treatment of livestock, the sustainability of the product, nor the manner in which it is produced. The products are relentlessly marketed to consumers, sometimes with no evidence that the product or its additives are really healthy.

Corporate interests focus on making the most profit by producing the cheapest items, and this means farmers, workers, and consumers suffer at the end of the day: farmers suffer as their cost of production can never match that of major corporations, they sell their land, and their own earning ability and living is taken away from them; workers (particularly migrants, and very often illegal migrants) suffer from poor wages, poor working conditions, and sometimes even slavery; consumers suffer because they are forced to pay for and consume foods that are made from food sources stripped of all their healthy aspects (because that is the cheapest way), filled with bulking agents such as water and the by-products of agriculture for the meat industry, and jammed with 'healthy' additives that replace what was stripped in the first place that have really left us unhealthier than ever.

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The environment also suffers along the way, usually the environment where products are produced such as the Amazon for soya and Indonesia for palm oil, while the major corporations ship products to tax havens so that they pay minimal tax and taxpayers actually subsidise production and the way in which they work.

In the fish chapter (6) for example, Lawrence looks at Senegal, once a major exporter of fish. After independence, debt and the recession in the '70s forced it to open its agricultural system to importers (these major agricultural companies) resulting in farmers losing their livelihood and moving to the coast to make money from fishing. But the fishing waters are taken over by international entities who overfish the waters, destroy fish habitats while doing so, and fill their nets and trawlers with illegal, wasted by-catch while locals who bring in fish that do not meet the size or species requirements are penalised. Since the locals are not able to make a living fishing, they migrate to the European Union, usually crammed into ships in ways that resemble the slave ships their ancestors once travelled in, where they suffer from the new slavery of the minimum wage, the illegal migrant, and 'recruitment agencies' that continually negotiate lower and lower wages to match the needs of retailers and large corporations.

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And every chapter has a similar story of agricultural systems in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and South America being forced open and filled with Western imports while the Western countries' agriculture is protected, loss of livelihoods, environmental destruction, and a decline in general health. Even retailers do not go unscathed: their power over the market is nearly unparalleled, forcing factory workers and local farmers to continually lower their prices and increase their production or face being disregarded as a supplier entirely.

If there is one book that you read this year, please let it be this one. It is truly an eye-opening treatise on the state of our world, our environment, and our health. 

{Image credit: Senegal Fish [By PIerre.Lescanne (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons]; Migrant worker [By Sharon Ben-Arie - Photo by Sharon Ben-Arie, Attribution, Link]; Battery cages for chickens [By MyName (Ethelred) - Own work, Public Domain, Link]}

March 30, 2017

Movies || New Trailer has My Hopes Up for 'IT'

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I've never been much of a Stephen King fan - the only novel I could manage to get through from cover to cover was 'The Shining', and only because I hadn't seen the movie first. His novel 'It' I have not read but I have seen the film and while it had its scary moments, it's not on the top of my list of scary films. It just felt too long for me, the slow parts drawing attention from the jump scares and tension. I've never been afraid of clowns either (although I was freaked out my mealworms until very recently).

But... the new trailer for the remake of the miniseries was released and it looks amazing! I have high hopes that the film will change my perception of the story. I was concerned at first that 'It' would be a duology, but splitting the series into two different moments in time is a good idea for reasons of tension. Producer Roy Lee also mentioned that the second film may be done from the characters' point of view when they are adults, depending on the first film's reception, so maybe it will add something new to the story most people know.

I also think that the new take on the clown form as being entirely in control of his evil, with perfect makeup, instead of making do at the bottom of the sewers, all dirty and greasy, will make it more frightening. He is busy with his routine and knows exactly what he's doing. Bill Skarsgård looks excellent as Pennywise, too.

The trailer is below. What do you think of it?


Did you know?

Hundreds of clown sightings took place from August 2016 and they have still not been fully explained. Some believe the clowns were marketing stunts for Rob Zombie's '31' or the remake of 'It', but no one has claimed responsibility. Some believe it may simply be mass hysteria or mischievous elements in society.

Will Poulter, most recently seen in 'The Revenant' with Leonardo DiCaprio, was originally cast as Pennywise.

'Coulrophobia' is not recognised as the official term for a fear of clowns.

John Wayne Gacy invented the character 'Pogo the Clown' when performing at charitable services. He also murdered 33 boys and men in six years before he was convicted in 1980. He was on death row until 1994.

March 29, 2017

Book Review || Bend-The-Rules Sewing by Amy Karol

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Amy Karol's 'Bend-the-Rules Sewing' is a real treat. Marketed as a book for beginner sewists (she calls them sewers - but for me it's too easy to get 'so'-wers and 'sue'-wers confused), it is the ideal partner for anyone embarking on their sewing journey. Not only that, but it offers some really special tips and tricks for advanced sewists as well.

Indeed, she introduces the book saying,
Beginning sewers have a real advantage over those who have been doing it a long time.
I call it the "why-not?" factor. New sewers tend to think differently than seasoned seamstresses. They don't know when they are breaking the rules, so they try crazy, adventurous things that can turn out fabulously... The goal of this book is to help experienced sewers loosen up and teach new sewers some basic skills.
And this is certainly what Amy achieves. Chock full of information about the basics of sewing, such as sewing machines and the tools of the trade, Amy demystifies much of what can seem daunting as a beginner: seam rippers, the correct scissors, bodkins, beeswax, the correct fabric, freezer paper - what on earth will everything be used for? Even for the advanced sewist, she makes much-hated tasks, such as seam ripping and bias tape-making seem a breeze.

What's more, she offers advice on how to really personalise your sewing projects, with tips on hand embroidery, applique, stamping, painting and marking that will make items unique and artsy.

I have been sewing for years and certainly did find some of her tips inspired, particularly the short tutorials on how to make a thread shank for buttons [39], easily inserting a zipper perfectly the first time [38], applying bias trim without that annoying edge stitching that never catches both sides of the tape [40], and making your own continuous strip bias binding [41]. Even her instructions on appliqueing make the technique seem as easy as staining a new white shirt.

The projects are also all simple and well-described, and it will be easy for anyone paging through the book to think about how they'll personalise the gorgeous items inside. My favourite projects include the 'Charming Handbag' with its handles that gather the bag when it's picked up [64] - amazing! - the 'Scalloped Baby Blanket' with some simple quilting [114], and the 'Puppet Theatre with a Matching Case' [118]. Every project comes with detailed instructions and additional tips specific to each, sometimes suggesting ways to personalise it.

So if you're looking for a new hobby or some inspiration for your old hobby (of sewing, that is), look no further than this book, which you'll be tempted to find a copy of all for yourself (since I lent this one from the local library).

Do you have a favourite sewing book you return to all the time? Let me know in the comments!

March 23, 2017

Movies || Moments to Cry For

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Some say that crying is good for your health: it releases stress, lowers blood pressure, and removes toxins. Others say crying is good for the soul, and there is no better way to tap into your emotions without having to explain your emotional outburst than to indulge in a film that tweaks your heart strings.

Apparently, when a woman falls pregnant and gives birth, the brain restructures itself to make a mother more empathetic to others' perspectives and emotions. If I was a sobbing idiot when watching the most heart-wrenching films before, now I'm the same at mere heartfelt moments. Like at the end of 'The Secret Life of Pets' when all the pets had happy owners arriving home and I couldn't help thinking about all the pets that had no one to care for them...

All this aside, these are the films - in no particular order - that I will always turn to to release some emotional tension. Looking at the list now, most of them are about losing loved ones in some way or suffering animals. Pretty telling about what most bothers me emotionally...

What Dreams May Come

All about loss, this movie throws you from one emotional extreme to the other. The scenes make you feel full of wonder and appreciative of beauty. They are imaginitive and colourful and make you feel euphoric. But you are thrown into depths of sadness as Chris struggles to rescue his wife from a Hell that she has created. We are faced with the loss of a loved one and the impossibility of bringing them back to your reality.



Lady and the Tramp

The part in this film that pulls my heartstrings is when Lady is sent to the pound and treated to the howling of desperate, unadopted stray dogs careening in sadness. When that tear rolls down one of the dogs' snouts, it's over for me.



Dumbo

Another musical number: Dumbo is taken away from his mother and has the chance to visit her. She is locked up in a train carriage, chained to either side of the interior and can only touch him if she reaches through the window with her trunk. She rocks Dumbo with her trunk, tears sliding down Dumbo's face as we are treated to a montage of other animals sleeping peacefully with their own babies. I have to remove myself from the room if I don't want to end up in tears.



The Notebook

In this film, we are treated to an epic West Side Story-type love story with perhaps one of the most passionate kissing-in-the-rain scenes ever. At the end of the film, Rachel McAdams' character suffers from Alzheimer's and cannot even remember the man she loved so much, only having short moments of lucidity. I watched this before my father's death from the disease and blubbered and I believe if I had to watch it now, I would be a mess for days.

The Fault in Our Stars

If you've watched this film, you'll know it's about young, first love, illness, and death. This film makes me cry every time as lives and love are cut short because illnesses that could not be prevented.

If you want a breakdown of them all, visit The Daily Beast. The gas station scene is a killer.

Watership Down

Again the plight of innocent animals haunts my dreams. The Sandleford warren is warned about its impending doom by Fiver, a seer, but the chief rabbit does not believe him. He and his brother, Hazel, leave with a small band of friends. They experience several hardships until finding Watership Down. The parts that send me to tears are when Hazel dies and is collected by El-ahrairah: it's such a perfect ending for all the pain and terror this little bunny faced. Oh, and don't even get me started on Fiver's apocalyptic vision of the bloody and gruesome death of the rabbits of Sandleford. But those are tears of childish terror.



Still Alice

I haven't watched this since my father passed away - I am too afraid to do so - but it's about a highly-respected linguistics professor who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. We follow Alice through her most terrible moments, one of them being her frustration after finding an earlier video of herself giving instructions on how to commit suicide but being unable to remember the steps to complete the task. Then again, this scene is also terrible:



The Bridges of Madison County

The moment Francesca is forced to choose between her life with her husband and a life with an unexpected true love is heartrending.



Always

Pete, a daredevil firefighter, dies in a plane accident, returning six months later to mentor a new pilot. However, the new pilot is falling in love with Pete's girl, Dorinda, and she responds. He tries to sabotage the relationship, inspiring Ted to attempt a dangerous rescue. Dorinda refuses to lose another love and does the job herself. Pete helps her, using the time to tell her everything he should have told her when he was alive. Dorinda lands on the water and seems willing to sink into the lake but Pete appears to her, rescues her, and lets her go.



The Land Before Time

Little Foot's mother dies. Is there anything else you can say?



Honourable Mentions:

The Iron Giant - the robot sacrifices himself for his friends, choosing to be a hero.
The Fox and the Hound - the loss of a friendship simply because of different paths is sad.
Small Apartments - This might be a weird movie, but get through it, because an unexpected death will make you feel like forgiving everyone. You will also question the smallness of your life, want to aspire to be happy (because only you can choose to be so), and really live.
My Girl - The funeral scene. Need I say more.
Life of Pi - when the tiger seemingly abandons Pi on the beach and runs into the forest, I bawl. If you want to believe it's all a metaphor and the tiger wasn't real, fine. But my tears are real.
Meet Joe Black - At the end, when William Parish walks over the hill with Death and only the young man from the coffee shop returns - man, it kills me.



Do you have any movie moments that will make you tear up every time?

{Lead image credits: The Fault in Our Stars poster: Facebook/FaultinOurStarsMovie; The Land Before Time: Facebook/LandBeforeTimeMovies; Still Alice: Facebook/StillAliceMovie; The Lady and the Tramp: Facebook/DisneyLadyandtheTramp}