Sunday, February 22, 2009

Tea Set

I gave Mom a box of flowering tea for her birthday, so she brewed a pot to share with Grandma and me.

Since it was a special occasion, she decided to use the special tea set, which had possibly not been used since the time of my great-grandparents.

Grandma remembers her father purchasing it as a gift for her mother at the Ptacek Merchandise Store in Bruno, Nebraska, probably at least 80 years ago. The store was owned by her grandfather (hence my great-great-grandfather) and managed by her uncle, and the tea set was memorable because it was so unusual and fancy for that place and time. But it was rarely used because it was too impractical for the farm. It was something only for special occasions.

Prior to having tea with Mom and Grandma yesterday, my memories of this tea set were limited to seeing it always on the top shelf of Mom's china cabinet. It was so pretty and shiny, which made it eye-catching, but I never saw it used. The pieces are light and delicate, like egg shells.

Not that I expect it to be valuable or anything, but because I was curious, I went online trying to find information about the company that made it, James Studio China. However, I only found a few eBay listings for random cups and creamers of other patterns. Nothing like our blue set. So I thought I'd post pictures of it here, in the hopes that someone who might have information about it would stumble across this post and contact me, to satisfy my curiosity.

The set includes a teapot, creamer, sugar bowl, six teacups, six saucers, and six dessert plates. Not all pieces of the set are shown here, but this ought to give you an idea.

The glaze on the outside is iridescent blue with a red and yellow flower pattern, possibly poppy. The inside of each cup, as well as the creamer and sugar bowl, is iridescent gold.

On the bottom of each piece is the artist's palate logo for James Studio China, Japan.

Cardinal Ornament

Here is a cardinal ornament I made for my mother's birthday present. From beak to tail, it's about as long as my thumb.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Crazy Things People Do While Driving

While at a stoplight on my way home from work, I noticed flashes of bright orange falling to the wet, dingy pavement beside the dark green Grand Am in front of me. They were bits of orange peel being thrown from the window. When the light changed and traffic began moving again, the driver did not set aside his snack. For several blocks, bits of orange peel continued to fly out of his window.

Needless to day, he was also having some difficulty staying in his lane. At least twice, I thought I would be witness to an accident, when he crossed the line into an occupied lane.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Three Movie Reviews

I'll say Happy Valentine's Day, although this post has nothing to do with Valentine's Day or romance.

Turns out Khuntami was right after all. We had quite a snow yesterday. I took the day as vacation, which was just as well; the university closed early because of the storm, so I would have only been able to work a half-day even if I had gone in. To occupy me during the snow day, I checked out a pile of movies from the library. (Why yes, I am avoiding working on my novel.)

First, I watched Bonnie and Clyde, the 1967 film with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. This tells the more-or-less true story of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, notorious Depression Era bank robbers. One of my coworkers warned me that it was violent and bloody. And it was, but only when necessary. I never felt the violence was gratuitous or inappropriate. Given the subject matter, it was spot on--not too little, not too much, but just right. The movie was as true to history as any Hollywood film is, which is to say it took a lot of liberties. But that's okay--it was an excellent story. The blurb on the back of the case says the film "balances itself on a knife-edge of laughter and terror," but I found it neither comedic nor horrifying, just realistic. Like real life, it was a peculiar mixture of light and dark. It was suspenseful and thrilling, and at times sweet. Bonnie and Clyde were in love, and in the spaces between the robberies and murders, there was palpable tenderness between them. It was a masterful film.

The second DVD I watched was O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), another tale of Depression Era miscreants, this one minus all the violence. Three prisoners escape from a chain gang and go in search of buried treasure, the loot from a bank robbery. The movie was professed to be based on Homer's The Odyssey, and while many key elements were present, such as the blind prophet, the sirens, and the cyclops (who took the form of a one-eyed Bible salesman), it could really only be said to be based on The Odyssey in the same way that The Lion King was based on Hamlet. The humor ranged from wickedly clever to plain stupid, but overall, it was a very enjoyable comedy. And it had a happy ending, which was a plus after Bonnie and Clyde.

The third DVD I watched was something completely different, a film I'd never heard of before, Billy Elliot (2000). The youngest son of a coal mining family goes to boxing lessons, with gloves that had been his father's and grandfather's before him. Unfortunately, he's absolutely terrible at boxing. He is left alone to practice with the punching bag until he gets it right. When he goes to drop off the building keys with the ballet instructor in the other room, she dares him to try ballet. He does, and he likes it. While pretending to attend boxing lessons, he secretly goes to ballet class instead. Eventually, his father finds out, and is not pleased. Then Billy has to make a hard choice, but his father also has to make a hard choice. This film is both funny and beautiful. And music is used very effectively throughout the film--both classical and rock music, for the different parts of Billy's life. Every song choice was perfectly suited to the scene. I can find nothing negative to say about this movie; it was superb.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Hungry, Hungry Puma, and Others

I took a walk at the zoo after work today. The weather was so beautiful today, I had to wonder if Khuntami was wrong about there being six more weeks of winter (well, five now).

The octopus was hanging out on the glass. Seeing all those suction cups makes me hungry for takoyaki. Mmm.

This threesome of horseshoe crabs walked from one end of their tank to the other, then back again, without disengaging from one another.

The swan was not shy about getting into the mob of koi for a chance at the food I was throwing off the bridge.

This mountain lion was hungry. A small child ran in front of the cage, and the puma chased him--back and forth, back and forth. This went on for a while. When the family finally moved on to look at the tigers, the puma stood stock still in the corner of his cage, gaze locked on the child until the kid passed from view. He wanted that kid. Oh, how he wanted that kid.

I believe this is the same cougar who was captured here in Omaha a few years ago. (Not out at the edge of town either, but in the vicinity of 114th and Dodge Streets.) He's a lot smaller than the other mountain lions at the zoo, because he was born and raised in the wild. It was certainly a game to the child and his laughing parents, but not to this imprisoned hunter. The frustration on his face was evident. (Not so much in this picture, which was taken after the kid left and reflects a more "well, easy come, easy go" attitude.)

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Sword of the Stranger

I saw the anime movie Sword of the Stranger this week. I had never heard of it before. I went with a friend, because we always like to support any anime that comes to theaters in our area, even if it's something we've never heard of. And for whatever reason, not only had we never heard of this film, we also couldn't remember its title to save our lives. Even when we got to the theater, we were asking for tickets to "Sword of the . . . Samurai? Uh, Sword of the Something, anyway." The fact that the theater abbreviated it to Sword of S on the signage and ticket stubs didn't help much.

Despite the unmemorable title, Sword of the Stranger turned out to be a very good movie. The animation was superb, an absolute masterwork of hand-drawn animation in an era when almost everyone is making their movies with cheaper, faster computer animation. A fishing net hanging in the wind was animated so beautifully it looked real, and the blowing snow effects were amazing. And, of course, being a samurai film, there was no shortage of incredible fight scenes with few survivors.

Set in feudal Japan, the story featured a young boy and his dog, fleeing from a group of Chinese warriors and one giant, blond-haired, blue-eyed barbarian. The boy was chosen by prophecy, and his blood would grant immortality if he were sacrificed at exactly the right time in exactly the right way. The rather obnoxious kid and his very clever dog escape, and they end up sheltering in the same abandoned house as a quiet ronin with no name and a dark past. The villains attack; the ronin saves the kid's life, and the dog saves the ronin's life. It's really the dog that holds the man and boy together, and when the enemies manage to capture the boy, the ronin and the dog go to heroic lengths to save him. Meanwhile, the political pressure builds between the Japanese lord, his ambitious shogun, and their Chinese guests, culminating in an epic, bloody battle.

The plot seemed like kind of standard samurai genre fare, but even if the story wasn't groundbreaking and the characters were rather stereotypical, it was nice to see a standalone anime movie that wasn't connected to a TV series or manga. It was thoroughly enjoyable.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


I was discussing food with two of my coworkers today. One of them, who is normally the type who is willing to try any food, has never had sushi. The other coworker, like me, loves sushi. We explained that sushi does not necessarily involve raw fish. Slices of raw fish are sashimi. The requirement for sushi is actually the style and preparation of the rice. There are many types of sushi that contain cooked fish, or no fish at all. My favorite of the latter type is tamago, that wonderful slice of egg custard bound to the rice with a thin strip of nori. Mmm. But I digress.

We talked about several of the American types of rolled sushi. The California roll is probably the best known, but I'm partial to the Philadelphia roll, which contains smoked salmon and cream cheese. I've also experienced the strange glory that is the Nebraska roll, which features beef and asparagus. We talked about how you can put nearly anything in a sushi roll. And I thought about what I happened to have in the fridge right now, which is not much--just sandwich fixins. But when I half jokingly said I could make turkey and spinach sushi, they both said it sounded good. And so I decided to try it for supper. That thought sustained me through the rest of the workday, and now here I am.

It came out pretty well. I used shaved deli turkey, fresh salad-grade spinach, and a shred of mozzarella string cheese. I call it turkey-maki. The combination of sweet vinegary rice and salty nori is more pleasant in both flavor and texture than bread, so it turns out that I like this much better than a sandwich filled with the same ingredients. Well, okay, in a sandwich, I'd use a slice of provolone instead of mozzarella, but it's the same idea. Although, I think the cheese ended up being superfluous. I may leave it out next time.

Here are the ingredients laid bare. I've been taught two different ways of making rolls, by two different Japanese people (so I consider both "authoritative"). One method is to wet the bare edge of nori with water to seal the roll like an envelope, the other is to make a thin dotted line of rice grains to glue the roll together. Tonight I opted for the latter. Your mileage may vary.

And here are the uncut rolls. If I did this more often, I'm sure they'd be neater. But I haven't made sushi in at least a year, so I'm terribly out of practice.

And here is the final product. Again, if I did this more often, I'm sure they'd be cut more evenly, and the insides would be swirled nicer instead of merely squished as they are. But even if they're not beautiful, they are delicious.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Groundtiger Day

Well, the four-footed, furry meteorologists are in agreement. Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, and Khuntami the tiger chose the white box. We're in for six more weeks of winter.

It may be small consolation, but at least Khuntami deliberated his decision long and hard. Must have been a tough call.