Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Falling - Quick Thank You

I want to thank everyone for their wishes, prayers, thoughts, good vibes and everything else with regards to my Dad. The doctor started weaning him from the morphine yesterday, and when I visited last night, he opened his eyes a few times on his own -- which is a fantastic sign. All his nurses and doctors see this as great improvement, and my family couldn't be more relieved.

Thank you again!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Book Review: Six Records of a Floating Life by Shen Fu

The past few days dragged by in a blur of hospitals and not sleeping well. Last night, I typed an update letter and emailed it top numerous people so I need to write about something else for this post. A little change is okay, right?
Six Records of a Floating Life follows author Shen Fu and his wife Yün through early 19th Century China. A smart woman, Yün asks Shen Fu to teach her to read and write, which he happily does. Their life is both simple and difficult, spending days discussing art and poetry while at the same time trying to earn a decent living as a civil servant and as an art dealer. The book begins as a memoir capturing the love and companionship between Shen Fu and Yün, but also provides a glimpse into the customs and societal views during early 19th Century China. Shen Fu displays the inner workings of their family, how traditions and customs affect everyday life (such as when Yün obtains a courtesan for him because it is expected by society), and also describes the sights and wonders of China from a foot travelers perspective.

For anyone studying China's history, Six Records of a Floating Life offers an intriguing view of society as well as a beautiful love story.


Six Records of a Floating Life
by Shen Fu
Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-0-14-044429-2
Softcover, 171p

Purchased book

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Falling, Pt. 2

I held my Mom's hand, gently rubbing thumb along her fingers. Opposite us sat my Brother and his Wife; he had pulled his cap down over his eyes, crossed arms over his chest and tried to nap while she stretched her legs across his lap and listened to her iPod. My Mom's walking buddy, who rushed to the hospital when she learned what happened, sat with her eyes focused on her book.

"You're Father wanted to get something to eat," she leaned in and told me. "He hadn't been feeling well all week, thanks to the bronchitis, but he insisted on going out for an early dinner. I stalled as much as I could, but you know your Father." Stubborn all the way, something which both my Brother and I managed to inherit to some degree. "He wanted to go to Don José's, but I talked him into Pick-Up Stix. Because I could just pop right in and bring it home. But he insisted on getting in the car with me." She rolled her eyes.

"I pull into the space, and your Father starts griping about how I'm in the spot crooked. I told him 'Okay, I'm gong to back up and pull in again.' I started backing up, and he opened the car door and stepped out on his weak foot. He tried to stand and fell back, rolling under the car a little bit." I noticed her eyes starting to redden. "Thank goodness I stopped the car. I didn't even see him.

"Some people from Starbuck's ran out with napkins. More from the nearby massage place came with pillows and blankets. People were on their cell phones calling 9-1-1." Her voice started shaking. I moved my hand to her back and rubbed her shoulders. "One man stayed on the phone until the ambulance arrived, asking me questions and telling the operator my answers. How old is your Father? Is he coherent? Can he talk? He was fine for a little, but a bit fuzzy when I asked him something.

"When the paramedics arrived, they stabilized his head and tried lifting him. Oh did he scream! Something about his neck. They managed to get him in the ambulance and told me they were taking him to the hospital. I headed hoe, got his insurance cards and headed to our regular hospital."

We heard a frazzled woman in the corridor, almost yelling into a hospital phone that her husband should have been out of surgery and hour ago and that no doctor had been in to contact them yet. Where was he? "I sat in the Emergency Room waiting and waiting," my Mom continued. "Finally, one of the nurses called the paramedics and found out that because his fall had caused a head injury, it was considered a trauma so they took him to a different hospital. That's when I called P- and she met me here."

I hugged my Mom, rocking back and forth a little. "And now we're just waiting."


Just a note: My Dad did suffer a serious fall last week, and the posts about it are my way of processing everything and to keep a record for when he recovers. My apologies for any confusion.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Falling, Pt. I

"Your Father fell down and is at the hospital."

Falling is nothing new for my Dad. Mom says that he only uses the cane when he can't hold onto something like a shopping cart to steady himself. This past Christmas, he asked for -- and received -- a collapsible cane, which I finally saw him use in public last week. And yet he still manages to tumble while shuffling to the bathroom or, as he confided to me (but my Mom already knew about it), in the garage, scraping his arm against the car.

His legs aren't as stable as they once were. He complains of movement in his legs while standing still, a feeling like standing on the deck of a ship on the ocean. Since the hip replacement a few years ago, he struggles lifting his right leg to step up or to merely walk, most of the time preferring a hobble-shuffle-step.

I asked if she needed me to come down. "Not right now. They're taking him in for a CT scan." She sounded angry so I wisely didn't ask for details. "I thought they were taking him to our hospital and sat in the waiting room over there for half an hour. But we're here now because it was trauma. We'll wait and see what the doctor says." I decided to head down anyway after work.

An hour later....

"They're wheeling him in for emergency brain surgery." After she hung up, I closed the office in a daze, forwarding the phones to another office, shutting down computers. My voice almost broke when I called my Manager to tell her I was leaving for the hospital. I pictured my Dad -- 76 years old, laying on an operating table with scalpels cutting into his head. Too dangerous. Too risky. What would my Mom do if he didn't make it through? What would my Brother and I do?

I locked the office door and made it to my car. I decided to stay away from the freeway and stick to the surface streets. The drive to the hospital would take longer, but I doubted I could handle being stuck in heavy southbound traffic on the 405. And to keep my thoughts from drifting back to visions of my Dad, I paid attention to the flowers along the road: seas of green-yellow mustard plants covering the hillsides and crashing into the streets in a spray of bright orange California poppies and the soft purple lupine. The sharp, crisp greens of the trees against the clearest sky I'd seen in days.

By the time I reached the hospital, I'd calmed enough to speak calmly to the volunteer at the desk. She said that she'd just walked my Brother and his Wife to the surgical waiting room. She would take me there, too, as soon as the Security Guard created my visitor's badge. The Guard asked for my license, scanned it into the hospital system and in a few moments, handed me both the license and a badge with my name and photo on it.

I followed the volunteer through a maze of hallways, past nurses and other medical techs, listening to some soft instrumental music playing from hidden speakers. As we approached the waiting room, the song abruptly changed to Brahm's Lullaby. "Sounds like another baby was just delivered. That song always played when baby's born." A nice touch, I thought. "Here we are." I spotted my Mom from the hallway and ran over to hug her.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Book Review: Tooth and Nail by Craig DiLouie
PFC John Mooney and his fellow troops of Charlie Company are recalled from Afghanistan to confront a new challenge on its home ground: a new disease known as Hong Kong Lyssa which gives the victims flu-like symptoms but in some cases turns them violent, almost rabid. The problem is that Lyssa spreads faster than the government thought possible. PFC Mooney and the other soldiers find themselves in New York, guarding hospitals and medical facilities for the ill and those ready to go "Mad Dog" -- what the extremely violent are called. The Mad Dogs are an odd lot - their throats swell, they drip saliva, they grunt and growl rather than talk, and they produce a sickly, sour odor.

What the soldiers learn is that their bite is far worse than their smell. PFC Mooney and the rest follow new orders to find a specific hospital somewhere in the city where scientists have created a possible cure and secure the scientists. The problem is the soldiers need to fight their way across the city to find it, through an ever-growing army of Mad Dogs, who live only to infect others.

Tooth and Nail takes the struggle of man vs. zombie-like creatures down to the battle field, showing the fight from the soldiers on the front line. Already tired from the war overseas and being thrown headfirst against a possibly unstoppable foe, author Craig DiLouie manages to describe the toll that the strain and fatigue places on the soldiers and throws the reader right into the thick of things. I liked that about this book, the feeling that I was with them as they cautiously moved along the darkened streets wearing night-vision goggles or running along a hospital hallway chased by hundreds of salivating Mad Dogs. What a great rush, and using the present tense added to the immediacy of events. Sometimes, the military lingo became a bit frustrating and having to flip to the front of the book for the glossary of abbreviations dragged the pacing a bit.

The Mad Dogs themselves, while reminiscent of the infected in 28 Days Later, were still unique in their looks and actions: swollen throats, sometimes with body parts missing or torn to shreds, sniffing and threatening like rabid dogs, "hunting" in packs.

Tooth and Nail is a very effective story of humanity toppling over the edge and falling toward an uncertain future. Gritty and violent, it molds itself to the zombie apocalypse well and makes for a great read.

Tooth and Nail
by Craig DiLouie
Schmidt Haus Books/Salvo Press
ISBN: 1-930486-98-7
Softcover, 247p

Book received from Publisher

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Theater2

Cross my heart: none of this was planned. Last weekend's theater experience was to consist only of Hairspray with the family. Yet potential boredom reared its vacant head during the drive home, and we sidetracked to see Oedipus the King, Mama!. I should have been satisfied with that, but while tinkering on Twitter, two theaters I follow held different contests. I took a chance, not expecting to win anything, retweeted one tweet and answered a trivia question from another.

So yesterday found us reaping the benefits of taking chances.

Dr. Cerberus

In Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's new play, 13-year-old Franklin Robertson, bookish and not very athletic, struggles with growing up near Washington, DC in the early '80s. His brother Rodney, a high school jock, constantly teases him. His parents try but just don't seem to understand him and his fascination with horror films. The only thing Franklin can cling to while riding out the storm of his family are his imaginative short stories, those classic horror films and the late night TV host who introduces them: Dr. Cerberus. Franklin deeply and wholeheartedly believes that Dr. Cerberus will make things better, if only he can find some way to become his co-host.

A visit from Franklin's favorite Uncle Jack, supposedly to recover from the removal of a brain tumor, sets in motion a chain of events that will affect Franklin and the ties that bind his family together.

Dr. Cerberus was a fantastic and funny coming-of-age tale, thanks to both Aguirre-Sacasa's words and to the performances by the cast. Franklin's father Lawrence (played by Steven Culp) believed that what he's doing was for the best. And yet, my mouth dropped open with shock as he tried to squelch his son's dreams because he didn't want to see him get hurt. Lydia (played by Candy Buckley) straddled the line between monster and mother, also wanting what was best for her son as long as he didn't wind up hurt or like his Uncle Jack. But she did it with a comedic flair. In fact, she had the best one-liners throughout the play. (And Buckley's delivery is spot-on hysterical.) Jarrett Sleeper's performance as older brother Rodney showed that even through all the teasing, he really does care for his brother. When he noticed his parents doing to Franklin what they did to him, his protective side popped up, and he spoke out against their wishes. Through it all, Franklin (admirably played by Brett Ryback and aging from 13 to 24 while on stage) struggled to reach his dream of going to NYU and becoming a writer while also dealing with the added issue of his budding sexuality. And not to forget Jamison Jones who performed many other roles: Dr. Cerberus, Uncle Jack and Franklin's high school English teacher -- all the men who had positive influences on Franklin's life..

Another great show from South Coast Repertory.

---

The Marvelous Wonderettes
It's 1958 at the Springfield High Senior Prom, and the girl group the Marvelous Wonderettes fills in as a last-minute replacement when the Crooning Crabcakes are unable to perform. Beginning with Mr. Sandman, the girls sing their way through the good and bad times at school. Missy Miller has a secret crush on her teacher Mr. Lee. Suzy Simpson is so in love with her boyfriend Richie who runs the lights. Betty-Jean "B.J." Reynolds and Cindy Lou Huffington are best friends until Betty-Jean discovers a hidden infidelity with Lucky Lips. By the end of the prom, the girls take their leave, with dreams and hearts intact.

But flash forward to 1968 at the Springfield High Class Reunion. Suzy married her Richie, but now she just wants a little Respect. Missy finally got her teacher, but wonders if he's ever going to marry her with Wedding Bell Blues. Betty-Jean married her high school sweetheart but thinks he's still cheating because of some Lipstick on Your Collar. And Cindy Lou, she fell in love with the Son of a Preacher Man.

The Marvelous Wonderettes was a fun-filled trip through the late '50s and '60s, showcasing many of the classic songs from those times. I liked that this wasn't simply a revue of songs; creator Roger Bean wove them into a great story about friendship and love. And thanks to the wonderful performances of the four actresses -- Bets Malone and Beth Malone from the original New York production, Darcie Roberts and Lowe Taylor -- I laughed and even sang (under my breath) through the entire show. It was nice to enjoy something that was, to me, pure entertainment. Everyone had a great time. Every laughed. Even a group of young girls were dancing around the stage to the music during intermission.

The perfect end to a perfect day of theater.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Second Guessing

I'm supposed to see my dentist again near the end of the month for a check up. I say "supposed to" because after the little incident with the potential root canal, I'm not sure that I want a return visit. With the bizarre pain I was feeling after the extraction of my very last wisdom tooth, she wanted to perform a root canal though the x-rays and physical tests didn't suggest it was necessary. I went along with it because the pain was too intolerable, and I just wanted it to go away. The dentist who filled in on the scheduled day was more hesitant. She also didn't see anything wrong with the tooth in question, and though her subsequent tests with cold and heat showed that something might be going on, she didn't want to proceed without a second opinion. This was provided by an endodontist, someone who specializes in root canals. More x-rays, more tests with heat and cold. He couldn't find a thing wrong with the tooth. In fact, he called them "very healthy".

And now, I'm second guessing everything that my regular dentist has done. Did my wisdom teeth really need to be pulled? After all, they'd grown in straight and un-impacted. Looking back, the wisdom teeth were the first thing she ever mentioned about my mouth. That, and how she wanted me to get braces or Invisalign to straighten my oh-so-crooked teeth.

She actually mentions Invisalign at every single visit. Even though I've told her I can't afford it. Even though I've asked her repeatedly not to bring it up.

I me wonder if she only sees dollar signs since I agreed to the extractions....


Image from

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Walking (Before and) After Midnight
It's been a few years since I participated in one of the AIDS Walks, and since I no longer live in the OC, what better way to back into the swing of things that with this year's AIDS Walk in Long Beach?! The venue's changing to what's know as Rainbow Harbor, the area around the Pike, the Queen Mary, the Aquarium of the Pacific, Shoreline Village and the Long Beach Convention Center and should be fun -- though I remember my legs hurting after the last few walks. 5K still covers a pretty good distance when you're only a casual walker.

If any readers would like to contribute to my $250 goal (or higher....who knows?) then please click the link below. Thank you!

Greg's AIDS Walk Donation Page

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Book Review: Blood Pressure: A Vampire Testament by Terence Taylor
>Christopher Jude Miller returns to New York City after 20 years of growing up with an adoptive family. Back in 1987, something happened that destroyed his family, and now he’s determined to find out just what that was. The only people standing in his way: Perenelle de Marivaux, a vampire whose attempts to maintain the peace between humans and vampires shattered on that fateful night; Stephen Johnson and Lori Martin – the two who found Christopher and know much more than they are willing to tell him; their daughter Joie, who seems to have a strange connection to Christopher that neither can explain.

On the opposite side, thanks to those same events, a new government agency, known as Clean Slate Global, arises from the aftermath of those events in 1987 with one goal: eradicate all vampires. In order to infiltrate the vampire hub, they make a deal with Claire St. Claire, a vampire who had been imprisoned for 50 years. She, however, has plans of her own, using Clean Slate to wreak vengeance of the Vampire who imprisoned her, Perenelle de Marivaux.

In Blood Pressure, author Terence Taylor creates a sequel that can stand on its own. He strikes a balance between giving too much information and not giving enough, whetting the appetite with just enough information to keep the story moving along while making the reader want to find a copy of Bite Marks (the first novel) and read it just to see what happened. But it isn’t necessary in order to enjoy the second story.

Having read the first book, I enjoyed seeing how the characters familiar to me deal with the changing times: Stephen and Lori’s relationship issues, Perenelle having to once again go through the process of making her older self die so her human neighbors don’t become suspicious, and Adam Caine – Perenelle’s vampiric “offspring” – re-inventing himself as a doctor to gain access to fresh victims. But more focus is paid on the new characters, including Christopher and Joie, whose mysterious connection plays a major role in the storyline; the back story of Claire St. Claire and her “father” Tom O’Bedlam; Richmond and Lopez from clean Slate Global; and my favorite, the inclusion of zora Neale Hurston into the mix.

Her back story involving the fictitious Turner Creed, as love interest and inspiration for Their Eyes Were Watching God added a nice touch and tied the novel to history. Taylor used this story to introduce the Harlem Renaissance and it's influence on many of the characters within Blood Pressure. And for me, it reminded me of her story collection Mules and Men, when she traveled the Southern States, recording the folk tales and stories of African-Americans and dabbling in their mysticism and mythologies.

Of course, what would any horror story be without monster -- this time in the form of Tom O'Bedlam, a vampire not quite right in the head, but with a devious plan to use Christopher to take over the world. Talk about evil incarnate....

From beginning to end, Blood Pressure does a fine job of building tension, leaving you on the edge of your seat, your mouth watering in anticipation of what happens next. So hurry with that next book, Mr. Taylor!!!


Blood Pressure: A Vampire Testament
by Terence Taylor
St. Martin's Press
ISBN: 978-0-312-38526-2
Softcover, 407p

Book received from publisher

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Two Much Theater for One Day

Instead of our usual family dinner in celebration of my parents' anniversary, I suggested something different to my Brother: seeing a show, like we did when we were kids. I'd check the local theaters and found a touring production of Hairspray at the OC Performing Arts Center. My Brother liked the idea, though perhaps a bit reluctantly, but I'm sure his wife convinced him. I imagine when he told her my idea, she shouted "Of Course!" before he could finish talking.

We all gathered yesterday afternoon for the matinée performance, and after checking out some hearing assistance for my Dad, we found our seats in the first tier, centered almost perfectly with the stage, and settled in for the next 2h30m of singing, dancing, drag queens and high hair.

I need to assure myself that I picked the right show, everyone's having a good time, no one feels bored, etc., so I ask over and over if my Dad's having any problems with his headphones, or if the seats are okay because they're a bit higher than I would have liked. If my Dad's smiles as we headed for dinner afterward were any indication, I think he enjoyed the show. I know my Mom did; she and my Sister-in-Law talked about the music and the fashions, how they reminded her of what she used to wear in college around that time. Even my Brother seemed to have a good time. When Caesar asked how he was during the intermission, he kept saying that the music was good, the music was good. I worry about these things....

With our FiOS still out and not really feeling the urge to hurry home, Caesar mentioned the latest show from our favorite comedy troupe -- The Troubies -- at the Carpenter Center. "Do you still want to see it?" Heck yeah! "Well, since we have nothing else to do, we could always stop by the theater to see if they still have tickets for tonight's show...." Two shows in one day? Really?? "Why not?"

I veered the car toward the theater rather than home, and sure enough, they still had some tickets. So we caught their production of Oedipus the King, Mama!. We laughed until we cried as they attacked Socrates's play, infusing the tale of murder, incest and lies with the familiar sounds of Elvis. They threw in quite a bit of improvisation, gauging jokes by audience reaction and commenting on it, jumping (and one time falling) off stage to involve the audience. James Snyder, who played Cry-Baby Walker on the Broadway stage, even reprised his role as the Young Oedipus. But the best part was their tribute to Michael Jackson as the encore. Because Elvis' daughter married the King of Pop so they had to perform some kind of tribute. When they all began singing and dancing to Beat It -- complete with sparkly white gloves -- the audience erupted into thunderous laughter and applause.

Tired and spent from a hard day of sitting in theaters and laughing too hard, I would say it was a very successful day. I think our theater craving has been filled. For the time being, anyway.

Friday, April 09, 2010

It's All About Me

At least, it should be. I've noticed that much of my posting lately has consisted of reviews of this book or that movie while what happens in my regular daily life sits quietly on the sidelines. Granted, I do enjoy writing about the books I read (though my reviews don't go as in-depth as those of a professional reviewer), and two books are in line for reviewing, but I think this post should break from that rut for a moment or two.

+ Last night, I made a Shepherd's Pie for the first time. Not too bad, if I do say so myself. Caesar seemed to enjoy it, and I'm glad he helped with the mashed potatoes. That would have driven me crazy, trying to cook too many things at once.

+ Tomorrow, my Brother and I are treating our folks to Hairspray at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. It will be their 45th Anniversary (our folks, not the Arts Center), and we wanted to do something other than our usual family dinner. The last time we saw a show as a family was way back in the early 1980s, when we sat through Paint Your Wagon at some dinner theater in Santa Ana. I think the theater now shows nothing but girls! girls! girls! on stage.

+ We finally severed ties with our local cable company. Too many issues with tiling on the HD channels, the On Demand freezing during a program, the sound being off-synch with the image on our standard TV, and a decent but slowmoving internet. We now have Verizon FiOS, thanks to our landlords' having the entire building wired for it. Dozens of HD channels including Logo (Finally!!) and my new favorite Chiller (nothing but horror 24/7). The picture quality seems so much clearer. And my home computer -- web pages open faster than I thought possible. I. Love. It. (And Caesar managed a good deal. I dubbed him "The Haggling Ninja".)

+ I wrote another blog post for my work, this time about those pesky Homophones.

Update: spoke too soon about the FiOS. Somehow, the box doesn't appear to be working and can't be reset. Yea! I hope we'll get someone in tech support at this time of night (8:46PM on Friday), but we may have to without the HD and TV in the front room until Monday.

A brief glimpse, I know, but I need fodder for future blog posts. As I mentioned before, I have at least two books needing reviews, and a few more should arrive soon that have requests for reviews. Though I know how much everyone loves the reviews, variety is the spice of blogs.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Book Review: Aunt Dimity's Death
Lori Shepherd's life has been going through a series of rough patches lately: trying to survive on temp job after temp job, moving from one low cost apartment in a seedy neighborhood to another, and coping with the recent death of her Mother and the guilt she feels for not being there before she passed away. The one thing she clings to are the stories her Mother told her about Aunt Dimity, a fictitious British woman, very ordinary in every way, but who could make an adventure out of anything, like going to Harrod's to buy a flashlight. They always seem to lighten her mood when she thinks of them.

When she arrives at her empty apartment one night, she finds an envelope from the Boston law firm of Willis & Willis stating that Aunt Dimity passed away and mentioned her in her will. The letter also requests that she drop by their office as soon as possible to discuss the next steps. Still trying to comprehend that Aunt Dimity was a real person rather than a figment of her Mother's imaginative stories, Lori gives in to her curiosity and sets off on an adventure to a tiny cottage in England where Dimity's ghost can't find eternal rest until Lori uncovers the story of what happened to Dimity's great love during WWII.

Aunt Dimity's Death was a very charming little mystery. No dead bodies piling up, no poisonings or stabbings or murders of any kind -- which is more in line with my tastes in reading, but I found myself so caught up in the tale that I couldn't put it down. Aunt Dimity proves a wonderful spirit guide to keep Lori on track, nudging her in the right direction when she needs it and reminding her of what's important in her life. She also shows Lori that the past isn't always quite as we remember it. Lori remembered the Dimity stories, but only what she wanted to remember. When she reads the actual stories, penned in Dimity's own hand, she realizes how much she pushed aside -- the same way she'd pushed aside aspects of her own life: family, love, work.

I loved the mixture of love story and mystery with a bit of humor and the supernatural thrown in to keep the tale fun and interesting. Definitely a great intro to the Aunt Dimity series, and I intend to read every single one.

Monday, April 05, 2010

5 on the 5th

This month's 5 on the 5th theme from Stephen at The State of the Nation UK is Spring. I thought it would be fun to take 5 pictures on Easter morning because what says Spring better than Easter? (Plus, trying to take pictures on a workday, especially when payroll's due, isn't as easy as it seems.) So during my early morning newspaper-and-doughnut run, I snapped the following pictures:

Random Sheep Statue


Walkway


Tikis


Callistemon (a.k.a. Bottlebrush tree)


Lemons as big as my hand

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Photographs and Memories

Earlier this year, I told my Mom about a project I wanted to work on involving the photos taken during a family trip in the Summer of 1978. For three and a half months, my family drove around the country in a motorhome, stopping to descend into the Carlsbad Caverns or wander among the memorials of the battlefield at Gettysburg or climb the spiral staircase to walk through the crown of the Statue of Liberty. My idea was to find all those photos hidden somewhere in my parent's house, scan them into my computer and arrange them chronologically as best I could. From that set, I would create a photo book for my folks, my brother and for me -- a nice memento of my favorite family vacation.

I wasn't expecting their dining room and guest room to be piled with crates and boxes of old photographs, slides, videos and postcards. My Mom spent the past three days finding every possible picture stored on closet shelves and hidden in the drawers of the rolltop desk. Then, she organized them. Vacation photos on the sofa in the guest room. School pictures from my parents' days as teachers spread across the dining room table. Pictures of my brother and myself, separated into a box for each of us to take home and to browse through. My Mom also had a stack of pictures with featuring both of us and gave me first dibs at finding ones that I wanted to keep.

Such as this one. This must have been from 1974 or '75, taken during one of our many trips into the Sierra Nevadas. In this particular photo, my brother and I are posed against one of the rocks of Devils Postpile National Monument. (I'm the towheaded one.) I remember this place as one of my favorites. How could nature make solid rock look like it had been chiseled from the mountain? I climbed the rocks, looking for signs of tools, chips, anything to show that Man played some part in creating this, but I never found anything. I even remembered another trip to the Monument during a snowstorm. We had walked up the long path along with other visitors to see the Postpile covered in snow, but were turned away by the rangers at the halfway point. On the way back, we passed another group of visitors with a jumpy and seemingly angry German Shepherd who took one look at me in my thick, red snow jacket clinging to my Mom and broke from his leash, knocking me over and biting me on the face. We never figured out what happened, why the dog attacked; his owners couldn't understand it, either.

Amazing how one photo can bring all those memories to the surface.

After keeping a few photos from that stack, we pored over the vacation photos and managed to find about half the pictures from that trip of 1978. Tombstone, Arizona; Cody, Wyoming; Silverton, Colorado; the Grand Tetons; Yellowstone; Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Louisiana; Lake Waterton in Alberta, Canada; Dinosaur National Monument in Utah. Almost everything from the Western states visited during that one Summer. But we couldn't find any pictures from the East Coast: nothing from New York City, or visiting family friends in Marietta, Georgia, or all the museums in Washington, D.C., or Gettysburg.

We think they're somewhere hidden in the house still, and I plan on rummaging through another closet on my next visit. But at least I have a starting point for my project. And thank goodness, my Mom had the foresight to write places and dates on the back of each photograph!

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Here, Thar Be Dragons

It seems like ages since I'd last seen Rob. His commute to and from Simi Valley during the week ate up any inkling of free time he had -- having to leave his house at 4 AM to make the 75-mile trip along LA freeways, which dragged the trek to anywhere from 1-1/2 to 3 hours; same excitement on the way home. So Rob, our friend Clark and I celebrated Rob's last working day in Simi Valley by taking in a movie: How To Train Your Dragon.

On the island of Berk, a young Viking named Hiccup just wants to slay dragons like everyone else. One slight problem: he's skinny. And can barely lift a sword. And he's more brain than brawn. His father, Stoick the Vast, chief of the island, refuses to let him anywhere near the dragons when they attack -- which is often. Yet Hiccup still tries by inventing new devices which might just stop the dragons if only someone would listen to him.

When the dragons next attack, Hiccup sneaks out with a new contraption and manages to hit a dragon, and not just any dragon but a Night Fury, which no one had ever seen face to face. No one will listen to him, though, so he sets out to find the fallen dragon for himself. What he finds and what he learns changes what he's always been taught to believe about dragons It's up to Hiccup to change the minds of his fellow Vikings and not only same them, but the dragons as well.

The movie turned out to be a very heartwarming and charming story. And the animation and 3D added to the wonderment. I liked that it wasn't the gimmicky 3D, with sharp swords flying at the audience or such tricks to make the audience jump back in their seats. This 3D added depth to the scenes and to the characters, making them seem more real rather than illustrations on a flat screen. The actors providing the voices also did a fine job. Gerard Butler as Stoick the Vast, Craig Ferguson as Gobber, America Ferrera as Hiccup's love interest Astrid, and Jay Baruchel as Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third.

We enjoyed the film greatly and recommend it to everyone. Just make sure to see it in 3D.


Image from