August 30, 2014

The Daily Show - Race/Off

Jon Stewart is so on point, I might knit him a cape.

The shooting of an unarmed black teenager by the police in Ferguson, Missouri, strikes a racial nerve in the U.S., but Fox News manages to remain colorblind.

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August 28, 2014

Cinemascope: Life (Season 1 & 2)

Cinemascope is a regular blog post where I will share with you movies and TV shows I think are worth watching.

Released in 2007 - 2009.

Plot line: Exonerated after serving 12 years in prison for murders he didn't commit, policeman Charlie Crews is restored to duty as a detective. As an imprisoned policeman, Crews had a very difficult time and was regularly and severely beaten by fellow prisoners. Now out of prison and the beneficiary of a large financial settlement, Crews has a different, some would say odd, outlook on life. His new partner, Det. Dani Reese, doesn't quite get him and feels she has been saddled with a loser.

Why or why it is that shows you like get canceled? This is one that I watched a couple of years ago, but love it so much that I find myself dipping into shows again this summer. The dynamics between   and  are so fun to watch. Both these actors are faves of mine and I'll watch anything they are in. And yes, I am aware that Ms. Shahi got pregnant during Season 2, but is that any reason to cancel a show? Really? If you like smart detective/crime shows check this one out.

You can see the trailer here. If you have yet to see it, this is a TV show worth watching.

August 27, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: 08.27.14

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August 26, 2014

Journal page

Here are a couple of quick sketches of people from the Humans of New York blog that caught my attention for some reason. As always, click on images to view larger.

I am annoyed with my Pitt pens. I've had three die on me recently, and they were all new pens. They are not cheap either, so was not a happy sketcher. Decided to sketch with inexpensive pens that I had lying around, and you know what? They work just as well. I was not planning on adding watercolors, so the fact that the ink is not waterproof was simply not a concern.

Cheapo pens in my large cheapo art journal.

August 25, 2014

Recent Reads

112. Zebrafish
My nephew Jonah (age 9) brought this graphic novel over for a recent sleepover. Targeted at the middle grade reader, this is the story of Vita, who has a used guitar, knows how to play three chords, has a band name, and now needs to find some band mates to complete her dreams of starting a rock band. I liked the art and the premise, but the story is not compelling for an adult reader. I did also like the message that while "you can't always get what you want - but you might get what your friends need."  Rating: 2 stars.

113. Rules of Summer
I'll just come out and say it: I did not get this picture book for kids at all. There are single sentence rules, and each one is illustrated. Do the illustration show the reason why the rules exist? My nephews did not get it either, and we read it a couple of times to try to figure it out. The only reason this gets an extra star is for the art. It is gorgeous and luminous and I almost wish that there were no words at all so I could make up my own story. Which it turns out is exactly what I did anyway. Rating: 2 stars.

114. Pretty Deadly, Vol. 1: The Shrike (Pretty Deadly #1-5)
Although this graphic novel is visually stunning, the story is rather confusing. I love that there are so many women/girl characters, but who are they, and how are they all connected? See what I mean? Not enough back story, so all these characters seem to hang limply off the story arc. Rating: 2 stars.

115. The Goldfinch
I cannot summarize the plot better than Stephen King, so here is what he said: "Theo Decker’s mother is killed in a bombing that rocks the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Theo, unharmed, escapes with a valuable painting called The Goldfinch. He carries this symbol of grief and loss from early adolescence into an adulthood fraught with danger and beset by addiction. The long middle sequence, set in a housing development on the seedy, sand-blown outskirts of Las Vegas, is a standout. Tartt proves that the Dickensian novel — expansive and bursting with incident —is alive and well."

I have lived in this story for almost the entire month: on early morning and late evening walks, while doing dishes, in the car, and have been captivated. The audiobook is superbly narrated by David Pittu, and he gets 5 stars for his work on this one. The reviews on this Pultizer Prize winner are all over the map, and I think I understand why. So here are some tips without spoilers:

1. I would highly recommend you listen to the audiobook, and listen for about an hour at a time. It will take you 32 and a half hours, so this is not a one night stand, but a month long commitment.

2. Nowhere in all the reviews I read was it mentioned that this is a coming of age story. That is an important consideration. If you are not interested in teenage angst and obsessions, skip it.

3. Like life, this story unfolds slowly and one is not clear where you are headed, or if you'll even be interested in the outcome. And like life, there are moments that take your breath away, and moments that feel like rather tedious treadmill workouts. The payoff is not immediate, and you gotta hang in there to see the results.

4. The author is an amazing observer of scenes, and she layers details upon details in almost every scene. This skill results in the weird sense that I did not read a story, but that I was actually there, like these are my memories.

5. Donna Tartt has been compared to Dickens, but I think a more apt comparison might be to the Old Masters. There is the thing you see from afar, and then when you get a close up view, you see something completely different. Some parts are so detailed, while others are lightly touched upon and the reader is left to fill in the spaces. 

There were parts of reading this that I had a love/hate relationship with. All that boy stuff! Honestly, I could have done with less of that. Would I have felt differently if the central character had been a young girl? I don't know. Theo was not as interesting to me as the characters he was surrounded with: Boris, Hobie, the Barbours, Xandra, etc. and some of what happened seemed a little unbelievable to me. I also think that there are about 200 or so pages I would have edited out - they did little to add to the story in my opinion (I can provide the scissors and page numbers if you are interested).

I love how the author linked the painting and the boy. Both survive the unimaginable. When the painting is hidden, the true nature of the boy also gets buried, and when the painting is uncovered, the young man discovers his own light. The last chapter or two where the author summarizes the main points of the story: the relationship between life and art, people and objects, creator and viewer is some of the very best writing I have ever read. So yes, even though the editing could be tighter, and I often felt like hitting Theo over the head with a saucepan, I find myself thinking about the story, particular scenes, and googling images of The Goldfinch. Rating: 4 stars.

August 21, 2014

Boston Harborwalk

My parents are in town for a month long visit, and they have lucked out with our fantastic summer weather this year. Today we took a long walk along the wonderful Harborwalk, and I introduced them to the selfie concept.

Below are some additional pics from our day. 

My Dad loves boats, so this walk was especially fun for him.

Those of you who follow this blog know that I'm on a Fitbit kick, so I was delighted that my parents and I got in a 6.5 mile walk today. Pretty better dang good for my old folks [smile]. 

Love this one of my Dad at a local firehouse.

August 19, 2014

Journal page

I have not been sketching regularly, and it shows. My hand/eye co-ordination has gotten flabby. The great news is that to firm it up, all I have to do it pick up a pen and draw something.

(Click on image to view larger)

Pen and Sharpie flip marker in my large cheapo art journal.

August 18, 2014

Recent Reads

108. Euphoria
There is so much I loved about the premise of this story of three anthropologists working in Papua, New Guinea: Nell Stone, her husband Fen, and Andrew Bankson. The title comes from something Nell says: "It’s that moment about two months in, when you think you’ve finally got a handle on the place. Everything clicks and it all feels within your grasp …at that moment the place feels entirely yours. It’s the briefest, purest euphoria.”

The character of Nell Stone is based on Margaret Mead, and explores the tension between her and her not as famous husband as they embed themselves in with native tribes. The couple runs into Bankson, and he both helps ease and compound the tension between them. I quite enjoyed the setting, the description of cultures, and the exploration of the line between anthropology and zoology. However, while the prose is quite lovely in parts, I did not find myself lost in the story and the drama of the characters and their lives. I did like the writing enough to explore the author's backlist, and will certainly be reading some books on Margaret Mead in the not too distant future. Rating: 3 stars.

109. In the Shadow of No Towers
I loved Spiegelman's Maus graphic novels, so thought I'd give this one a try.

Book blurb: In the Shadow of No Towers is a highly personalized, political, and confessional diary of his experience of September 11 and its aftermath. In 10 large-scale pages of original, hard hitting material (composed from September 11, 2001 to August 31, 2003), two essays, and 10 old comic strip reproductions from the early 20th century, Spiegelman expresses his feelings of dislocation, grief, anxiety, and outrage over the horror of the attacks---and the subsequent "hijacking" of the event by the Bush administration to serve what he believes is a misguided and immoral political agenda. 

This book is huge in size though slim in terms of number of pages, some of the art is wonderful, but overall it felt disjointed and lack a cohesive narrative. Rating: 2 stars.

110. Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey
This is a fun, if somewhat choppy, non-fiction graphic novel and if you are interested in Shackleton or Antarctic exploration it is worth a read. I loved the black and white illustrations, but it was hard to tell some of the characters apart. Reading this while sipping an ice cold drink in the summertime is a perfect way to appreciate the fortitude of these explorers. By the way, was I the only one disappointed that Mrs. Chippy the cat gets no air time? Rating: 3 stars.

111. Gregor the Overlander (Underland Chronicles #1)
This book was highly recommended by my 9 year old nephew Jonah, who has read and loved the series. 

Book blurb: When Gregor falls through a grate in the laundry room of his apartment building, he hurtles into the dark Underland, where spiders, rats, cockroaches coexist uneasily with humans. 

Written by the author of the Hunger Games, this earlier work targeted for the middle grade reader is a fun and fast paced story of adventure, friendship, loyalty, bravery and teamwork. Rating: 3 stars.

August 15, 2014

Birthday Haiku

New England Summer
One more lap around the sun
Like fine wine I age

August 14, 2014

Cinemascope: Phil Specter

Cinemascope is a regular blog post where I will share with you movies and TV shows I think are worth watching.

Released in 2013.

Plot line: The client-attorney relationship between legendary music producer Phil Spector and defense lawyer Linda Kenney Baden--who represented Spector during his first murder trial--is explored in this drama starring Oscar(R) winners Al Pacino and Helen Mirren.

I did not know much about Phil Spector - not about his successes as a music producer, or about his murder trials, but I found this a fascinating production by director David Mamet. Watching this is like watching a really good play, and the acting by Pacino and Mirren is superb.

You can see the trailer here. If you have yet to see it, this is a movie worth watching.

August 13, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: 08.13.14

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August 12, 2014

Journal page

Playing with a DIY stencil and patterns while listening to a podcast.

(Click on image to view larger)

Sharpie flip chart markers (see if you have some in your stash - so juicy to play with) in my large cheapo art journal.

August 11, 2014

Recent Reads

104. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ
The audiobook is wonderfully narrated by the author, and while I quite enjoyed the first half, the second half did not seem as interesting a read.

Stories are powerful, and this book explores how stories become stories. This is an alternate version of what is often touted as the greatest story ever told. I love the idea of Jesus having an identical twin, and reading about well known stories told with a slightly different twist, which changes everything is quite fun. Pullman wonderfully challenges the reader on similar themes in His Dark Materials Trilogy, but this work felt a little weak to me. For a much more enjoyable ride I'd recommend His Dark Materials, or Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal. Rating: 2 stars.

105. I Am Pilgrim (Pilgrim #1)
I like big books and I cannot lie. This first book in the Pilgrim series is a little over 600 pages, and the hardcover version hurt my wrists while reading in bed, but I digress. 

This book could not quite decide what it wants to be when it grows up. Will it be a mystery, a detective story, a crime novel, a spy/espionage thriller, or a terrorist doomsday saga? So many choices, and so many pages to try them all out. I get that this is a debut novel, and the author clearly enjoyed writing it, but it could have used tighter editing, and needs to shed about 200 pages.

Pilgrim is the code name for this super-duper-top-secret guy who has been deep, deep uncover. So covert in fact that the organization he worked for has a code name, as do all the people he works with, and no-one has ever heard of them. After he makes a name for himself, 9/11 happens, and he quits his job and tries to have a normal life, but not before writing and publishing a book detailing all the clever ways to kill someone and get away with it. That book has fans - not all of whom are law abiding citizens. While helping in a murder investigation, he gets the call: America is in danger Batman. Add to this mix a disgruntled and traumatized Saudi and a biological terror threat that could very well end America as we know it. Pilgrim is our only hope. Can he save us?

I love spy-espionage-terrorism stories, but this ones tries to do too much. There are too many threads that do not add to the main story line, and too many flashbacks to far flung locations around the globe to help fill out some of the background story for the main characters. Still, for a debut novel this is an enjoyable summer read. Rating: 3 stars.

106. Congratulations, by the way: Some Thoughts on Kindness
This slim little volume is a reprint in book form of the graduation address that the author gave at Syracuse University in 2013. You can also read it for free online, or listen to his 12 minute address on YouTube. His message? Try to be kinder. As graduation speeches go, it is not horrible, but it is also far from inspirational. I agree with the message, but am glad this is a book I decided to borrow from my library. Rating: 2 stars.

107. Genius
This is a graphic novel about Ted. Ted is a physicist who was labeled a genius as a kid (he skipped two grades), but he is not living up to his potential. He stumbles upon the fact that his father-in-law, Francis, knew Einstein, and that Einstein entrusted Francis with a secret idea, one that would blow our minds and change physics as we know it. Can Ted pry this secret out of his father-in-law?

It must be hard to labor under the assumption one is a genius. I wouldn't know, but it must be tough to have Einstein as the bar set for you. I liked the sketchy monochromatic art, but found myself not caring about Ted at all. I did however love the crotchety old father-in-law. Rating: 2 stars.

August 8, 2014

We should all be feminists: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at TEDxEuston

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie a renowned Nigerian novelist was born in Nigeria in 1977. She was named one of the twenty most important fiction writers today under 40 years old by The New Yorker .

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August 7, 2014

Journaling on the water

Pop up thunderstorms are never a problem on the boat. The trick is to be securely and safely tied up, then surround yourself with books and art supplies. Let it rain.

Cinemascope: The Last Enemy

Cinemascope is a regular blog post where I will share with you movies and TV shows I think are worth watching.

Released in 2008.

Plot line: Set in the very near future, this riveting thriller explores how technology and terror could transform civilization into a dystopian society of constant surveillance. Reclusive, brilliant mathematician Stephen Ezard returns home to England to attend his brother Michael's funeral, an aid worker killed by a landmine in Afghanistan. After years of working in near-isolation in China, Stephen struggles to reconcile his carefully controlled world with a brother he did not know, in a police-state London he does not recognize. Soon he finds himself falling in love with his brother's widow, Yasim; lured into becoming the public face of the government super-database, a program with the ability to watch and record the actions and movements of every individual; and caught up in an international conspiracy that forces him to question who, if anyone, he can trust. Benedict Cumberbatch (Atonement) stars as Stephen, with Max Beesley (Hotel Babylon) as Michael, and Anamaria Marinca (Sex Traffic) as the beautiful and mysterious Yasim.

This British mini-series explores issues that are gripping and timely. What happens when the very notion of privacy is lost? Can you trust companies and governments? I am in the midst of watching it and am loving it. So much to think and talk about it. 

You can see the trailer here. If you have yet to see it, this is TV worth watching.

August 6, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: 08.06.14

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August 5, 2014

Journal page

Some days I do not feel like writing lots of prose. On those days simple lists suffice as a way to capture a place, time or event.

(Click on image to enlarge)

Sharpie flip chart markers (see if you have some in your stash - so juicy to play with) in my large cheapo art journal.

August 4, 2014

Recent Reads

100. Sex Criminals, Vol. 1: One Weird Trick (Sex Criminals #1-5)
This ain't your Mama's comics of old people!

Book blurb: Suzie’s just a regular gal with an irregular gift: when she has sex, she stops time. One day she meets Jon and it turns out he has the same ability. And sooner or later they get around to using their gifts to do what we’d ALL do: rob a couple banks. A bawdy and brazen sex comedy for comics begins here!

They rob banks for a literary reason though, so don't be judgy. I could not begin to describe this one. It has sex criminals and sex police. It is a Girl-Meets-Boy story like none you have ever read. Or even imagined! In case you did in fact imagine it, do PM me. I'll buy the drinks. A fun romp for mature readers. Rating: 3 stars.

101. The Vacationers
I've listened to a little more than 2 (out of about 6) hours of this book, and have decided to call it quits. People have raved about it as a summer/beach read, and while it is indeed light and fluffy and quite well written in parts, I found the characters one dimensional and I was bored with the story. It is simply too superficial a read for my tastes, though might be exactly what others look for in a beach read. Rating: 1 star.

102. Genesis
I listened to the audiobook, well narrated by Becky Wright, but think this one might actually work better in print/ebook form.

Book blurb: "Genesis" is a provocative novel of ideas that forces us to contemplate the very essence of what it means to be human. 

This novella is targeted for the Young Adult audience and it would have blown my head open if I had read it in my teens. A very different take on the dystopian genre, this one is a philosophical treatise of sorts. The entire story line takes place in about four hours, and that is about the amount of time you'll need to read it as well. Any more information would be a spoiler. Rating: 4 stars

103. The Descendants
This story explores themes of family, love, loss, land and legacy. Matt King has a lot going on: his 10 year old daughter is out of control, his 17 year old daughter is doing who knows what with who knows whom, his family is sitting on the largest piece of Hawaiian real estate not bulldozed into strip malls and luxury hotels and everyone wants a piece of that deal, and his wife was in a boating accident and has been in a coma for almost a month. Oh, and he learns that his wife has been having an affair. What is a guy to do?

Some parts of this story are exquisitely written, and while I liked the book, I never once dropped into the story. It all felt like it was happening at a distance. I saw the movie when it came out, and felt the same way - it was good but not memorable. While there were moments with the characters I really enjoyed, I do not feel like I lived with them, so none of them made much of an impression.

The author has a new book about to be released, and I like her writing enough to give it a try. Rating: 3 stars.

August 1, 2014

One Little Word 2014: July

And just like that another month is over.

As you might recall, my word for this year is Cultivate. I am taking a more laid back approach to my word this year. Am picking a theme for each month, and then seeing where I end up.

My focus this month was to cultivate fitness

the condition of being physically fit and healthy.

There are so many ways one can think about fitness, but this month I wanted to pick a way to measure fitness that was tangible. I decided to go with tracking the number of steps I took in a day. My goal was simple: 10,000 steps or 5 miles. Every day. 

I decided to use a Fitbit to track my progress, and you read my mid-month review here. Based on my goals, my target for July was 310,000 steps and 155 miles. How did I do? 

I took 419,620 steps and covered 185.39 miles, which I know is a personal record for me. As you can see there were 4 days where I did not meet the target, but I was so much over the other days, that it did not matter.

Here is what I've learned about myself this month:
  1. I am a numbers and chart driven person, and I loved the feedback, tracking and charts. This is a perfect fit for my personality.
  2. I am competitive. Umm, I have always known this, but this time around I used data from friends to spur myself on. As an example, there was an evening that I simply did not feel like going out for a walk. I had a good movie on DVD waiting for me, and I was totally into settling in for a couple of fun hours. A quick glance at my Fitbit leaderboard though showed me that one of my friends was ahead of me, and I simply could not let that stand. Laced up my shoes, grabbed my flash light and headed out for a night walk around the neighborhood. Yes, I achieved my goals of exceeding daily targets and put my friend in her place (smile), but more importantly, it was a new moon night and the stars took my breath away. I would have missed that celestial show if I had watched the movie. 
  3. It is important for me to have people (or as I call them: Jack rabbits) that I am chasing. As satisfying as it is to beat people, it is really important that I have people who are out of reach. Not unrealistically, but a long stretch away. In this case a solid 20,000 or steps ahead of me at any given time. I love striving to reach them. It makes my day when on certain days I do.
So I end the month fitter both physically and mentally. I've built a solid foundation onto which I plan to add other activities to in the coming months. And I had fun doing it. To my Fitbit friends and Jack rabbits (you know who you are) thank you for the motivation this month.

These are some of the ways I cultivated fitness this month. How do you do it?