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May. 21st, 2017


Allergy season has arrived

Whee. Was so hoping to get through an uneventful spring. But Thursday and Friday, my allergies attacked with a vengeance. Today was a bit better, thanks to an allergy pill. Still, really beginning to dread spring. Was in such a fog Friday, and today I just napped all day.
Edit on Sunday: Now I'm beginning to wonder if this is not allergies but the beginnings of a cold >.<. Joy. Right before the holiday weekend, when I actually had some fun things planned.

On a lighter note, I saw Guardians of the Galaxy on Tuesday with my li'l sis. Wow, that was a fun movie! Kudos to the cast and crew. I mean, how can you go from absurdly and side-splitting comical one moment, then bring on the tears the next- and it all flows together?? The second movie was even better than the first- although now I want to watch the first for the hints about the second, especially with Quill and his father. And Baby Groot *melts* Only thing cuter on screen is Baby Moana. Only complaint is now we've probably got at least a year's wait for the third installment. Boo!

The Book Mouse's Book Report

20. The Death and Life of American Journalism, by Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols. This is a must-read for journalists and anyone wanting to save the field and restore it to its Fourth Estate watchdog status. The authors take a thorough look as to what is wrong with newspapers (really, all for-profit generalized mass media but the focus is on the newspaper), where things went wrong and, most importantly, how to bring them back. As to what is wrong, several of the problems McChesney and Nichols point to are issues I've brought up for years. A big problem is that the for-profit, commercial model is falling apart and cannot (and should not) be resurrected. The authors have a greater body of history and research than I do, and show that this model, started about 150 years ago, has been problematic from the start, although only now are the wheels starting to come off. McChesney and Nichols lay out why commercially-run media was a problematic situation, and why technology will not salvage it. But the sections I liked best were the solutions. This is the first book I've read on the subject that actually presents real-world and workable solutions, as opposed to pipe dreams. Essentially the solution is to go back to what our Founders had wanted and spoke for (the authors cite many examples): a heavily subsidized news media. The concept of the L3C corporate status- a fairly new status right now only recognized in a few states- seems especially tailor-made for media. It would allow media to remain for-profit under stringent guidelines. The L3C is for a low-profit entity with a social benefit. The company could could qualify for subsidies and could even apply for grants while still making a profit, as long as its social message is clear. I hope this avenue is explored and takes root. The consequences of remaining at the status quo would be dire, as the authors also illustrate. There are many citations, graphs and charts to back up what the authors say. Now, the big issue of course is will anyone listen. The cynic in me is doubtful. I hope I am proven wrong. McChesney and Nichols provide the tools and ideas- now they just have to be acted upon.

21. A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry. This one fills the Book Riot challenge for reading a classic by a person of color. This one almost felt like a cheat; I've seen this twice, plus I've also not only seen Clybourne Park, a 2010 spinoff of Raisin, I was in charge of props for a second, local production. Still, there's always value in reading a script for a show you've seen, and the forward was worth the read in and of itself. I came to appreciate the humanity of the piece, which stands the test of time because it is such a human story. The play focuses on the Younger family: three generations living in a run-down apartment in Chicago. Their lives change when the matriarch receives a $10,000 check, which brings out the best and worst in all of them. The audience learns of their dreams, hopes and fears, set in a backdrop of discrimination, which shows when Lena decides to take some of the money to purchase a home in a white neighborhood. All in all, it's a great play that deserves the classic title. A pity Hansberry died so young. She was quite prolific in her 34 years; I can't help wonder how much more she could have done if she had longer. Still, grateful to what she was able to do. A Raisin in the Sun is a gem.

May. 11th, 2017


Prom season and graduations...

... are already upon us. Wow. The years, they are flying.

After a warm-up, things got rather cool again for May; it's been mostly 60s, even high 50s, and rain. Tons and tons of rain. There were days I wish I had one of those Aquacars :P Still looks like we will be on a temperature roller coaster. Tomorrow's forecast calls for 59, then 88 for Wednesday, then a slow descent back into the low 70s for the end of the month. One possible nice thing though, and I've probably said this before- May tends to be a good indicator for the tone (and temperatures) of summer. So our cool, wet May means we won't be broiling alive in July and August, if history holds true. Still, it probably means that winter will return to all its normal, icy, snowy "glory." Blech.

Slowly but surely getting through the house cleaning. Yuck. Hate cleaning, and hate even more what will probably have to happen next. Sigh.

The Book Mouse's Book Report

19. Journalism Next, by Mark Briggs. Overall I was impressed with this book, although in all honesty any journalist who isn't doing (or at least tried) two-thirds of these things is way behind the curve. There are a lot of good, sound suggestions for journalists for incorporating the various aspects of online applications such as video, podcast, blogging and social media. There's a lot packed in 300-some pages, but it is well-organized and never feels overwhelming. There are many websites, programs and apps Briggs recommends, ranging from free to more expensive but top-drawer. What impressed me is that while the book was published five years ago, the content still feels fresh and relevant. There were a couple times where I was thinking "eh, that doesn't apply now," but only a couple, and they were minor points. That's impressive for a book on technology, especially in a field that seems to change every month (some would say every week, and I won't argue against that).
Only two complaints. The first is fairly minor- Briggs recommends that before doing a podcast or video, the journalist should warm his or her voice up, which YES, is wonderful advice. But then he goes on to say that the should warm up with a familiar song, such as the Star Spangled Banner. I cringed at this. No, don't use The Star Spangled Banner to warm up- you will hurt yourself. Take it from someone who has eight-plus years of classical vocal training. It's best to either sing on vowel sounds or, better yet, buzz up and down a few sets of scales that are easily in your vocal range.
The bigger issue is the overall tone that following these suggestions will help save the journalism industry. No, no they will not. This book is an excellent guide for journalists wishing to make the most of the online resources out there, yes. And don't get me wrong- shrinking newsholes, covering "fluff" for hitcounts, reporting mistakes and credibility issues are a big problem. But anyone who looks to this guide as a means of salvaging the industry will be disappointed. The biggest problem with the industry has little to do with the editors and reporters covering the news. It's that the profit model is deteriorating. Indeed, it is this implosion that is at least partially responsible for the troubles with news coverage.
This very issue is covered in the book I am reading now. No, didn't plan it that way, just serendipitous timing.

Currently reading: The Death and Life of American Journalism, by Robert W. McChesney

Apr. 29th, 2017


Almost May already (???)

I say this every year, but wow is time flying by.

The weather continues to be decent. It's cooler and overcast today but tomorrow might see temps in the low to mid 80s. Wow!

Put in a sizable dent in cleaning over my extended four-day weekend (took a couple vacation days.) Was a bit of a bum this morning and afternoon but then again it was a busy week. Really needed some time to unwind. Not bad- just busy. Plan to continue the momentum after I finish this. Also need to get started on some various painting projects. Will probably do those tomorrow; if it gets as warm as some weather stations predict, it's going to be hot and humid- a good day to chill with a paintbrush, my canvases and my boxes, in other words.

The Book Mouse's Book Report

17. Glow Kids, by Dr. Nicholas Kardaras. I finished this one for the book on technology category for the Read Harder challenge. This one has actually been on my want-to-read list for a while. I've seen it referenced a couple times in articles concerning education and problematic technology use for children. So I knew what type of message I would be reading. Also, I've seen with my own eyes the effect of people, especially younger people, being glued to their screens. I myself have tried to cut back at least one weekends. It's tough- guess where I am now, ha ha! Still, I was unprepared for the scope and depth of the issues presented here. Now, Kardaras makes clear from the start he is NOT anti-technology, and even indicates where it can be useful. What this book champions against is too much tech and the wrong tech too soon. And his own anecdotes on what he has seen in children and young adults (he's an addiction counselor) who struggle with gaming and technology addictions are unnerving. He not only cites his own observations, but quotes from numerous studies that outline the dangers of too much technology use. Kardaras goes into the history of "glowing screens" starting with television, the Etan Patz kidnapping and how that (plus other societal views) changed how children were brought up, how and why children get addicted and, perhaps best yet, solutions to the situation. There's a lot of ground covered in less than 300 pages. The writing style and organization make it easy to read and understand. Once in a while I wondered if the sarcasm and condemnation came off a bit harshly. For example, he criticized parents who carried their children's backpacks. OK, my thought was how old were the kids and how heavy were those backpacks. Every year before the start of school there are articles from orthopedic surgeons who caution against young children carrying too heavy a bag because it can cause back and neck problems. I once weighed my high school bag once after walking home from school, in ninth grade. It had all my books in it, and it weighed 25 pounds. That was without the folders and binders, which would have added another couple pounds. That was really heavier than I should have been carrying around school, much less carting over two miles from school to home (mind you, I also had back surgery two years before, plus other mild to moderate orthopedic issues.) I can easily imagine a pint-sized gradeschooler's bag weighing 15-20 pounds-far above what they should be carrying. But that's another topic for another day, and I'm really beginning to digress here. This is a small point in an otherwise well-written and researched book. I do hope parents and educators read it and take the messages to heart. There are reasons the American Academy of Pediatrics have set guidelines for technology use for children and teens (http://www.educationviews.org/danger-children-handheld-devices/).

18. Fishing Tips and Takes, by C. William King. I read this for work; I'm not using for the book challenge but those in my neck of the woods who need a book for the book set 100 miles from your location could consider this one, especially if they are into fishing, fly fishing and local lore. King's book was fun to read; he relates his various fishing adventures in someone fictitious fashion, and his stories are amusing. I laughed out loud at his story regarding one of his trips when he saw a colony of bats. I liked it, too, because it brought back memories of me fishing with my dad when I was younger. Never went fly fishing. Admittedly, if you don't like the great outdoors and can't stand fishing, you might not enjoy this book. As well as his personal anecdotes, King sprinkles his short stories with many fishing tips and fly fishing pointers. But for those who do, this is a quick and fun read. King has a warm, personable tone to his writing. It put me in mind of listening to stories on a sprawling back porch on a summer evening.

Currently reading: Journalism Next, by Mark Briggs.

Apr. 15th, 2017


Weather observations

Forgot to add this.

Looks like *knocks on wood* winter is gone. Temperatures are going to remain in the 60s and 70s through the end of April. I actually felt warm air in my face today- not mild and temperate, warm. Felt like summer. Trees have been flowering and either putting out tiny green leaves or have the first blushes of leaf buds. I expect by next weekend most of the trees will be green.

Had a good birthday

The snow aside, I had a nice birthday. Did more of the celebrating the following day rather than the actual day, which I spent finishing laundry and cleaning. Whee.

Met my lil sis for lunch, then spent the afternoon at my parents' house. Dad continues to do well, he was up and moving, albeit very slowly. We watched Kubo and the Two Strings, and Kelly lent me Moana, which I wound up watching later that evening from home.

Kubo and the Two Strings- this was a strange little movie, but I liked it. Kelly is probably right when she calls it a mashup of Japanese lore given a Hollywood spin. Some of the dialogue got a bit cheezy but the story was good and, wow, the stop animation was incredible. The details and color were amazing, a visual treat. I adored all the origami effects. In the story, Kubo and his mother have been hiding from his grandfather. When he is found, Kubo must find his father's armor to save himself from his grandfather and aunts. I figured out the twist with the monkey and beetle, two of his guardians, long before the reveal. Still, there were other surprises and as I said, I really liked this one. I wonder if there will be more?

Moana- FINALLY got to see this one and it did not disappoint. I might have my new favorite Disney movie. Kind of sad- this one seems popular enough but nowhere near as popular as Frozen was. Don't get me wrong, I loved Frozen. But this was superior in every way. Where do I start? The music and animation were just fantastic. Listening to the music now. The story was great, a true coming of age story where both main characters grow and learn. The characters were amazing, especially the two main characters. Gotta love Moana- baby Moana is just too cute for words, and the older teen is wonderfully done. She is spunky and headstrong but has a good heart. She makes many mistakes but learns from them, and her compassion moves her forward as much as her courage. And Maui- how can you not like Maui? He's not a nice guy, especially at first. The demigod is egotistical and a bit selfish. But he has a human side as well, and develops as much as his younger traveling companion. They learn from each other, and their developing camaraderie makes up the bulk of the story.

The Book Mouse's Book Report

15. Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter. This was for the category of a book that has been banned or challenged. It was ranked by Time magazine as one of the top 10 challenged books in 2015. I can- and can't- understand why. Dr. Suess and Mo Willems this is not. Most children's books have a sweet, sunny and upbeat feel. This is somber reading for a young child, and I would recommend an adult read this with children in grade 2 or younger, depending on the maturity level of the child. The book is based on a true story. Nasreen's parents both disappear, and the little girl falls silent, worrying her grandmother. Grandmother sneaks Nasreen to a secret school for girls, defying the Taliban. There, slowly Nasreen finds her voice and her hope.

16. Beautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia (Author), Margaret Stohl (Author), and Cassandra Jean (Visual Art). I read this for the fantasy category in the Read Harder challenge. Actually, I think I read the novel already because by Chapter 4 I began to remember how the ending went. Weird I didn't record it but ah well, it was worth the reread in the manga version. This is a good story, and the illustrations are wonderful. My one complaint is sometimes the order of the dialogue is hard to follow. Other than that, I enjoyed it. In the story, Ethan, who has grown up in a small town, has his world changed with the appearance of Lena, the niece of the town eccentric (I love how the dog is named Boo). Ethan finds himself finding out about a world of magic and history he never knew existed as he helps Lena, who is approaching her 16th birthday. On her birthday, she will be bound to either the black magic or white. This is a good read for preteens and older.

Currently reading: Glow Kids, by Dr. Nicholas Kardaras and Journalism Next, by Mark Briggs.

Apr. 7th, 2017


Winter to spring...

Of course it snowed today. Saw about 3-4 inches on my trash bins when I left for work. Tomorrow is my birthday, so I guess Mother Nature decided to send a little gift. She got me the same gift last year as well :P How nice.

Mother Nature. We need to have a little *chat*.

Ah well, most of the snow is gone and it's not too bad out now, temperature-wise. It was actually colder last night, although that was probably because the wind was so intense. Brrrr! Went swimming last night; meant to go tonight as well but got caught up in a book, which I finished. More later.

As I said, tomorrow is my birthday. I made 37 new experiences, with the last being last Sunday. Mom and I went to a charming winery in the Medina area for Theresa's bridal shower. It's a cute little place, and not too far off. Tried another kind of wine (so perhaps 38?) and enjoyed a good time with a laid-back group of good friends. I think the funniest moment- there was a game where we all selected an envelope, each which has a cut out picture of a man. All but one had a celebrity; the one had a picture of the groomsman to be, Joel. Everyone, including Joel, was given an envelope. Soooo... guess who got the picture of the groom? Yeah- that was the hardest I'd laughed all week.

I am so fortunate to have such a good family and so many good friends. That makes what I may have to do -- what I will probably have to do -- so much harder.

As I said, don't plan to count experiences this year. Too much in flux and too overwhelmed. If things don't change this year could actually be WORSE than last year.

On a brighter note, dad came through his surgery OK. Better than OK, even. He called me the next day, and he sounded great. He even went home a day early. Kelly and I plan to visit Sunday afternoon, keep him company.

Tomorrow and Monday- lots of cleaning and lots and lots of phone calls. Sigh.

The Book Mouse's Book Report:
14 A House in the Sky, by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett. This meets the reading a travel memoir category in the Book Riot Challenge. Wow. This was tough to read emotionally, but it is incredibly well-written. Amanda, as a young adult, squirreled away money from working in restaurants and bars to raise funds to travel. Half of this story covers her growing up in a rather dysfunctional household to taking the plunge and start traveling to the places she had seen in travel magazines and National Geographic, her escapes when things became difficult. She saved up money and would travel for months, going to Europe, South America, Australia and finally Africa. Later, she would become a freelance photographer and writer. The second half of the book goes into her capture by Somali jihadists, along with her once-boyfriend Nigel. Amanda and Nigel were held prisoner for about a year and a half. What she and Nigel had to go through sent shivers down my spine. The descriptions of her being starved, of her torture and her rapes are not gratuitous but what is there chills the blood. Their eventual release and their reactions made me tear up. I can't imagine going through what they did. The story and background were well-told. However, as well as an engaging and insightful memoir, I do hope it also is studied by would-be world travelers as to what *not* to do when thinking of embarking on a journey to another country.

Mar. 29th, 2017



What else can I say after another big bombshell dropped at work today? Not looking forward to tomorrow. I sincerely hope not but I wonder if more will be dropped. Shit shit shit.

It had been such a good week, too. Another acrylic therapy day Monday, tried a new restaurant, yeah.

Dad's surgery also is coming up. It's supposed to be routine and fairly minor, but... you never know.

Well, as I mentioned, I did try a new restaurant I was eyeing. It was OK- basically a generic Chipotles. Still, the food was decent, not as spicy, and my meal included chips. Might go back. So that's 36 new experiences. Not sure I'll make it to 42. Considering the dumpster fire that was last year and how things are shaping up to be at least as bad this year, it's the least of my worries. I will, of course, continue to look for new experiences and learn new things but I think I'm going to take this next year off from actually counting them. Methinks I'm going to be really busy trying to just stay afloat and ahead. Sigh.

I finished two more books, both for the Read Harder challenge.

12. Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel. This meets the challenge for reading a novel set in central or South America. Really mixed views on this one. The positives are many. The writing is gorgeous, I love the style. Each chapter incorporates a recipe that is germane to the rest of the chapter. It reads like a folk tale or local legend, and you can see the colors and smell the cooking. The central character is Tita, who turns out to be the aunt of the person telling the story. Tita was born the youngest daughter to a controlling mother (and controlling is an understatement). She finds pleasure in cooking, but her talents in the kitchen go well beyond the tactile ingredients put in each dish. Her mother thwarts her desire to marry her sweetheart, and in between dishes and life events, the story follows the not-always-so-secret romance of Tita and Pedro. And here is where I have issues. Pedro shows himself to be a rash fool by accepting the mother's offer to marry Tita's older sister. Tita not only still pines for him, but even jeopardizes the new relationship that blossoms between her and a local doctor, who saves her life and treats her like a queen. I feel sorry for Tita, it's hard not to. Her domineering mother really screwed up her life. But, after finding a wonderful, generous man, Tita still carries on with the married Pedro. I guess this can be seen as something that probably happens in real life but all the same, I wanted to shake some sense into Tita. She is definitely human. Still, I do like how she finds her independence and her voice, and not just through her dishes.

13. Cannery Row, by John Steinbeck. This fits into the category of reading a book that was published between 1900 and 1950. Really glad I could squeeze this in because it's been on my to-read list ever since I read the sequel, Sweet Thursday. Steinbeck is one of my favorite authors. Some of my favorite books of all time include The Pearl, The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men. Steinbeck has a gritty, spare realism, and his themes remain topical even decades later. What I loved about Cannery Row (and Sweet Thursday), though, is the gentle humor. There were times and scenarios where I was laughing out loud. Much of the story is character-driven; the reader is introduced to the canning district in Monterey, California, and its motley collection of residents. There isn't much of a plot, and the story elements don't kick in until a good third of the way through the book. But the characters are so charming and so eclectic, it's still a fascinating (and fun) read. The biggest story is the efforts of Mack, a n'er do well with a good heart and (usually) good intentions and his other assorted friends attempting to do something nice for the gentle and altruistic Doc. The reader knows disaster is coming, but what happens and the events leading to the ill-fated event are still hilarious. The book is not a comic one - there are some more serious moments (including a couple that made me wince, particularly the implied fate of Frankie). But all in all, this was an enjoyable and quick read. Steinbeck turns these characters - most of them types who would be portrayed in a negative way in other stories- and shows their warmth and humanity, and I couldn't help liking them.

Currently reading: A House in the Sky, by Amanda Lindhout.

Edit- aaaand just found out a dear, sweet friend of many years passed away about an hour ago. FML.

Mar. 19th, 2017


Spring is coming(?)

At least, I hope so!

Well, the predicted snowstorms last week weren't quite as bad as forecast, at least where I live (I know other areas, especially north and east, got nailed). But we still had the heaviest snowfalls of the winter season. When all was said and done, there was probably 4-5 inches of snow on the ground. Most of it is gone now. As I mentioned before, Monday we hardly got anything; Tuesday wasn't too bad until the evening, when we had a LOT of blowing snow. So glad I didn't have to go out in it, visibility was terrible; there were times I could barely make out the buildings just across the street. By Wednesday morning, though, it had pretty much wrapped up; the warning was supposed to go to 8 p.m., but there was sun and blue sky by 2, and we came out of the winter storm warning much earlier than anticipated. What was weird was late that evening (after 11 or so?) it started snowing again, and hard. Thankfully I was able to get out of my driveway and by the time I got back home most of the white stuff was gone. That was a pleasant surprise! Wasn't supposed to get all that warm, but high temps must have been in the 40s; when I got home around 8, my car temperature readout said 35 degrees. Snowed a good clip Friday, too, which was completely unexpected, but the roads remained pretty clear. From here on out, it's supposed to stay in the 40s and up for the next couple weeks, with only a couple chillier days in the forecast, and no snow anticipated. Still, I've lived here long enough to know that an April snowstorm is not out of a question (indeed, I wouldn't be that surprised). I can't complain, though- last week's snows were by far the worst we've had all winter, and even then it wasn't that bad. Especially since I could work from home Tuesday and Wednesday- bonus!

Had a really busy but fun day yesterday. Started the morning meeting a friend of mine for brunch, with several other cool people, followed by watching the new Beauty and the Beast movie. For the most part, I liked it. I think there were more things done right than wrong. Does it hold a candle (excuse me, candelabra) to the animated Disney feature? That's hard to decide- some things were done better (mostly the filling of irritating plot holes), some things were not as good. Now the good- as I said, the best parts were the correcting of some time inconsistencies and some much-needed explanations.

Minor spoilers ahead:

My biggest peeve about the animated classic and the Broadway stage adaptation was how quickly the villagers and Gaston dismissed Maurice's fears about Belle's safety. Not only did they just write him off as a loon, but didn't even check on Belle, or her whereabouts. That always bothered me; I always thought Gaston, at least, would have soon after gone calling on Belle just to confirm that what Maurice was saying really was just the rantings of an insane mind or something like that. In the live action adaptation, this is handled brilliantly. Also, issues about the timeline (was the prince really only 11 when the enchantress came?) also were handled well.

Unlike the animated film and stage musical, the Beast actually knows how to read and is quite well-read. Belle and the Beast still bond over books but more as equals. I think this makes more sense, and I prefer it to having an illiterate Beast (although the later did lead to some sweet and comic moments, especially in the stage musical). I loved how both Belle and her father were both inventors and builders, although her father was more the artistic type and Belle the more technological. And the ballroom dance was just magical, both the famous dance with Belle and the Beast, and the ending. Also, I liked some of the twists at the end involving the villagers (won't say any more on this count ;) ).

Wasn't sure about some of the animated character designs going in, but most won me over (still not a fan of the redesign for Mrs. Potts). LOVED the feather duster, but I admit I'm a sucker for peacocks anyway. Nice attention to period detail, especially in the castle's Rococo decor. Great opening scene, with all the over-the-top makeup and finery. The scene with the enchantress was fantastic, and the explanation as to why the villagers never seemed to remember the castle appreciated (in fact, there's a scene towards the beginning in the village where this is hinted at). Loved the village design as well and how the villagers were portrayed.

For the most part, I loved how the characters were done. Loved the Beast, the cgi was amazing, and I liked his sardonic humor once he started to warm up to Belle. Loved Maurice, Kevin Kline was spot on. You couldn't go wrong with Sir Ian McKellen as Cogsworth. LeFou was phenomenal, both acting and vocally. I'm trying not to give away too many spoilers here, but in the movie, he's not the bumbling, brainless "le fool" in this adaptation. He actually tries to serve as Gaston's conscious at times. By the way- the whole gay issue is really not an issue. You blink, you miss it. Much Ado About Nothing comes to mind.

Now for the not-so-good. There's a couple flashbacks regarding the mothers for both Belle and the Beast/Prince. This inclusion wasn't bad, but one reveal especially felt like deus-ex-machina (it involves a magic book, which is seen and used once then never mentioned again despite the fact that it could have been VERY useful *cough*rescuing Maurice*cough* later on). I'm not sure these bits of information added anything overall. I'm on the fence about this one.

Emma Watson as Belle- all in all, I liked her in this role. I know a lot has been made of the fact that she isn't a trained singer. OK, she's no Paige O'Hara vocally but I thought she did a decent job. My bigger issue was her acting at times was too understated and reserved, even a bit stiff. This was more of a problem in the beginning; she got better as the movie went on. Still, the biggest missed opportunity (and this might have been a direction or camera issue) was during Be Our Guest. Belle is trying to eat the food put before her, but her plate keeps inching out of reach, or the plates keep appearing before her in Through the Looking Glass style, and she barely gets a morsel. This could have been comic gold, and we should have seen her growing exasperation as the meal -- so obviously a means for the animated objects to show off and party rather than actually feeding their guest. That could have had the audiences rolling in the aisles if done right, especially with the Lumiere's punchline at the end, which fell a bit short because the setup just wasn't realized. Playing this humor for everything it was worth could have helped alleviate another problem with that scene...

The Be Our Guest scene - this was my favorite scene in both the animated movie and in the Broadway show. It's so joyous and energetic and fun. Here, it comes across as dark, even creepy. I found it disconcerting and bizarre. It felt more like the Dark parade in Something Wicked This Way Comes than a fete. Also, while I liked Ewan McGregor's acting and speaking voice for Lumiere, but Be Our Guest just felt off vocally. I think it's because half the time in the song he a. sounded more Texan than Parisian, and b. he needed to enunciate more cleanly. Too many notes just trailed off or ended weakly. This song needs to be sung crisp, just short of staccato.

My biggest problem was how Gaston came off. The actor had an OK voice, it was sufficient. But my problem was the portrayal. I'm not sure if this was an acting issue or a directing/writing issue. Now, I do like how they made him a captain and a war hero (from some unnamed war), and I do like how it's implied that Gaston and LeFou served together in said war (I wonder if LeFou was Gaston's aide-de-camp?)

In the animated film and stage musical, Gaston is such an over the top bully and so full of himself, it's not hard to see why Belle would quickly reject his marriage proposal. Here, those aspects of his character are present but downplayed. A lot. Belle's quick rejection of him comes across as more forced. If the writers were going to make Gaston more complex (he actually tries, albeit in a half-assed way, to relate to Belle and "defend" her) and seemingly less like a boar, there needed to be more interaction between him and Belle. Yes, I know they probably already knew each other for years since everyone knows everyone in that little town. Some previous history needed to come up or something. Those familiar with the animated movie and stage musical know Gaston is bad news, but if someone were just watching this movie by itself, Belle's cutting rejection for even dinner comes off as rather harsh. Still, the transition from Gaston as town hero to monster was effective, especially with how he handles Maurice (which I mentioned earlier).

The new songs- I loved "How Does a Moment Last Forever." The other new songs were completely forgettable, though. What I don't get is why why why did they not use the gorgeous If I Can't Love Her for the Beast after Belle leaves the castle to rescue her father?? Why? Whatever number was used just doesn't compare.

I must say, the mob scene, the fight in the castle and the finale were fantastic. There's a bit of a twist at the end that kind of surprised me, but all in all the movie ended well. And I am looking forward to seeing this again with my summer Beauty and the Beast crew on Tuesday! Woohoo!

Also, I participated in a stage manager workshop yesterday. Now, I have no delusions on becoming a stage manager. I'm too scatterbrained, and I don't have that time to commit due to the nature of my job. Still, I find such cross training handy, and I learned several things about the theater that I didn't realize before. Plus I got to see the lighting booth! In all my years I'd never seen that room.

I followed this up with seeing The Skull of Connemara, the third play in a trilogy. Really enjoyed it, and highly recommended for those who don't mind rather twisted humor.

OK, so with seeing Beauty and the Beast, the stage manager workshop and helping with strike, that gives me 35 new experiences so far. Seven more to go...

Also finished another book:

11. A Shoot in Cleveland, by Les Roberts. I thought I had read all of the Milan Jakovich novels to date, but I recently discovered I missed a couple. Finishing this one starts my remedy of that. The fact that I can include it for my Book Riot challenge- for a novel set within 100 miles of where I live- is icing on the cake.This book follows The Cleveland Local, which has an ending that was life-altering for Milan. Milan is still trying to find his bearings when he is asked to take on what looks to be a fairly easy job: make sure a young star doesn't get into too much trouble when the movie he is headlining in works at various locations in the Cleveland area. Naturally this winds up being harder than Milan bargains for, and the young star, Darren Anderson, winds up dead. The dialogue, as always, is fantastic. It's comical watching Milan, who does not suffer fools and is not easily intimidated, try to put up with the Hollywood glitterati. Another thing about this novel (this series has a lot of continuity; I strongly suggest reading them in order) is that the reader really sees Milan's typically black and white view of things get shaken, particularly where Victor Gaimari, the nephew and heir apparent of the local mob, is concerned. I see in this installment a lot of the beginnings of Milan's subtle changes later on.

Currently reading: Cannery Row, by John Steinbeck.

Mar. 13th, 2017


Snug as a bug

Well, we are supposed to get anywhere from 3 or 4 inches to a foot of snow, depending. We've been under a winter weather advisory since 5 this evening, but so far nada. On one hand I don't feel bad about skivving off on the meeting for paper coverage tonight; I think I related in my last post how things can be clear down here and a whiteout 30 minutes north. Still, kinda bummed because Pathfinders was meeting tonight, but between not knowing what was going on with the meeting and the weather, I decided to just head home. Ah well, looking forward to working from home tomorrow - something I'd planned to do regardless of the weather, and I finished a graphic novel this evening, plus I put a good dent in another book. So, it's all good.

Ah yes, went to help with strike yesterday. Wasn't able to do much (most of the props were already put away and the rest of the work involved using power tools- yeah that's a big NOPE) but it was interesting to watch. The set, which took more than a week to create, was down in less than three hours. Wow, that is efficiency. Had a nice pizza party afterwards.

Slight update- we have a dusting of snow on the ground, and I now have Girl Scout cookies. Now everything really is good! Yum!

OK, back to business....

10. Princeless: Raven the Pirate Princess Book 1: Captain Raven and the All-Girl Pirate Crew
by Jeremy Whitley, author, and Rosy Higgins and Ted Brandt, illustrations. I'm going to count this one as my all-ages comic for the Book Riot challenge; in a pinch, it could be used for a superhero story with a female lead (although we'd really be stretching the definition of superhero here). I get the impression from my background reading that this is a followup series to another graphic novel series, but ah well, this first installment stands well on its own. The story centers on Raven, whose father, the Pirate King, has been grooming her to one day take over the family business. However, due to the scheming of her two brothers, Raven gets cut out of the family business. She escapes captivity and sets about finding a pirate crew to staff her ship so she can seek vengeance on her conniving brothers. Raven winds up finding an eager crew of smart, tough and brave young women. I like this first installment. The story and the characters are a lot of fun. What's more, there aren't a lot of stories where all the main characters are female, particularly a story like this which has a more adult, sophisticated tone (there's nothing objectionable for younger readers, though, save for some blood). The dialogue is sharp and often quite funny. It was a bit jarring to have a sort of Pirates of the Caribbean-type world setting, with dashes of modern references (friend-zoned for example), and the bulk of the women are involved in a role-playing type game that feels like something you would see today. Still, since this is purely fantasy, it doesn't bother me too much. What's more important is the story, and how the author and illustrators have crafted the narrative and their characters. I love how each character has such a different background, ethnicity, race and skill set. This series has promise, might have to check out the rest of it.

Currently reading: A Shoot in Cleveland, by Les Roberts
(I thought I'd read all the Milan Jacovich stories but upon review I realized I somehow missed a couple)

Mar. 11th, 2017


The weather roller coaster continues

We had another wind storm on Wednesday. I got very lucky: a few branches about half the length of my arm, blinking digital clocks and my recycle lid blown open was all for me. I know some people who finally got power back today. Yes, today. So I'm counting my blessings.

It's supposed to be pretty cold the rest of the week (30s and low 40s) and it looks like we might get significant snow on Tuesday. Then next week we'll see a warmup. We shall see.

On a lighter note, I'll be celebrating my dad's and step grandmother's birthdays tomorrow. It's also the 105th anniversary for Girl Scouts. Just wish Daylight Savings Time also didn't start tomorrow. Ugh. I hate the time changes, it throws me off for a good week and the whole concept is so stupid.

Spent the day cleaning, doing laundry and going through paperwork. Hope to do taxes tomorrow, or at least this week. Tomorrow is strike for Mockingbird- that will be new. I don't think I've ever done strike for a show before, for whatever reason.

Also finished another book, yay! Good timing, too, because the three books I have out are due Monday, and I have books waiting for me to pick up.

9. Before Night Falls, by Reinaldo Arenas. This book, an autobiography, fulfills the category for reading a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative. Arenas grew up in Cuba, but was (barely) able to immigrate to the United States in 1980 as part of the Mariel Boatlift. Arenas lived in Miami for a short time before moving to New York.
He was an early supporter of Fidel Castro's revolution, but quickly became disenchanted with the Communist movement. It was heartbreaking to read about how he believed that one day Fidel Castro would be overthrown (Arenas died in 1990 at age 47 of an intentional overdose, three years after being diagnosed with AIDS.) Arenas describes, with raw honesty, his joining the Revolution, his growing realizations of how much worse things were becoming, his time in jail and his constant surveillance even after being released. He relates the grinding poverty, the hunger and the constant fear and persecution he and those around him experienced. It's astounding he was able to leave the country at all. He probably would have died in prison had it not been for the friendships he made with people in other countries, and the fact that his books had been published in France. It was fascinating to read how he was able to keep his writings hidden, and how he was able to smuggle a good deal of his work out of the country. It's an eye-opening account of life in Cuba under Castro's regime, and the stories Arenas tells are chilling.
One warning about this book: It's explicit. I mean, really explicit. Even at a young age (we're talking single digits here), Arenas had sexual exploits. To say Arenas was promiscuous would be an understatement. It's what he grew up with; the activities he engaged in at what most would consider an appallingly young age (not to mention just plain appalling) were the norm where he grew up. This realization was the only thing that kept me reading the book, otherwise I would have stopped early on. As it was, this one was a struggle to get through at times; it's borderline pornographic. At one point, Arenas said he probably had more than a thousand lovers, and I have no trouble believing that. I get the impression he didn't know the names of all of them, either. Yikes. I admit I would have trouble recommending this book due to this; it's a good read for those wanting to find out more about Cuba, from someone who saw and experienced the worst of what the Castro regime had to offer. But it's definitely not for the easily offended, and I think even those who consider themselves open-minded are going to struggle with some aspects of the explicit content.

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