Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Post-Christmas Post

Currently Reading: The Devil's Whisper by Miyuki Miyabe

Well, we've all pretty much managed to survive the holidays, or at least the one that causes all the stress anyway. I don't recall ever hearing anyone lament about surviving New Year's. Heard a lot of complaints about not having a date or not getting invited to parties but that's about it.

Work was a major pain in the butt, as expected. This was one of those weird years where everyone waits until the last minute to do all their shopping. That seems to happen every now and then, probably tied to the economy and how much spending money people can budget for their presents. That makes the last few days before Christmas even worse and it impacts us at the salon just as much as any other retail store.

We had a really slow week ending the 15th then things picked up a LITTLE on the 16th, Sunday. Then slow more or less through the week until Maybe Thursday. Then we added a little more Friday. More Saturday. Then Sunday. OH MY GOD! Sunday!

Sunday started out slow. In fact, it looked like it was going to be SO slow that my boss started calling people on the waiting list. Well, most of them weren't home because they were in church so she left messages and so forth. Around 10 or so, still no one showing up so she decides to go home thinking it's going to be a slow day. So far pretty normal. At around 11, about the time church starts letting out, business took a rather dramatic turn. I ended up with 10 dogs that day, only a handful of which were in for a bath. Most of them were in for haircuts. Complicating things even more, the cold I had picked up on Friday or so was REALLY hammering me hard. How I managed to get through the day I have NO idea.

Oh alright it wasn't really as dramatic as it sounds. Dogs showed up, I clipped them. Went through a lot of tissue in the process and there was some stress but that's really about it. Oh, we did have one REALLY funny thing happen though. I was asked to put a mohawk on a maltese. A maltese is a small dog with long white hair. A mohawk, well you know what those are. I must say, he turned out rather well. I cut the hair just short enough along the fin that it stood up on its own. The whole time I was doing it, people would walk by the windows of the salon, look in, then grab their cell phones and take a quick shot. You'd think no one had ever seen anything like that before! :-)

Had a fairly quiet Christmas Day with the family. We spent the afternoon at my parents' house along with my sister and her family. Presents were exchanged, everyone was happy. That's about it. No drama there, which is nice when you think about it. Who really wants drama on Christmas, especially after all the rushing to get ready for it?

So now we're heading into 2008. I guess this is when we're supposed to make lists of resolutions and do some "looking back" items for 2007. Ok, here we go:

  1. First, I resolve not to make resolutions other than this one! :-)
  2. Secondly, I managed to read a few more books this year than last year. 33 in 2007 to 26 in 2006
  3. Third, we got an unexpected surprise gift from the INS. CC's green card was extended 10 years. She's legal until 2018
  4. Forth, I got an unexpected surprise gift from the Wall Street Journal. My subscription started up on the 24th
  5. Fifth, while I am looking forward to another Olympics in 2008, I'm not really looking forward to another presidential election. I sense a really messy one coming up
  6. Sixth, even though a lot of things changed just a little during 2007, nothing is really all that dramatically different from 2006 and that's probably a good thing

Ok so there you go, my observations for now. Maybe I'll add to them but probably not. I'll most likely forget what I posted by the time I get to post again. Things are in a slight state of flux until we clear New Year's. The work schedule is a little freaky you see, because of the holidays, and I have to work a few extra days to cover for it.

So, let's all hope that 2008 is as boring as 2007 and the only drama comes from trampy, young, Hollywood-types who just can't seem to get their shit together :-)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Death By A Thousand Paper Cuts

Currently Reading: The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

This is the season when we're probably most pulled in about a billion different directions. Lots of little things to tend to; parties to prepare for, presents to buy and ship and wrap, cards to mail. I also increases the chances you'll have a death by 1000 paper cuts. That's the feeling you get when a lot of little things start stressing you out. By themselves, these little things are never enough to bother you but when they start piling on, one on top of the other, they can really give you the blues or drive you stark raving mad.

Such is the case with me right now. Lots of little things. What gets me the most are the little things around the house that don't quite work out right or fit right or whatever. Normally it's not a big deal but SHEESH it can be overwhelming when you're trying to get everything done and the list of things that need doing keeps going on and on and on.

Yesterday, for example, I was home all day because someone was supposed to come and fix my dishwasher at 2. Did that happen? No. So I called down to the leasing office and had what can only be described as a Seinfeld moment. "I set an appointment. That means you're supposed to be here at a certain time." "Yes sir, I KNOW what an appointment is." And I SO wanted to chime in with, "I don't think you do." So they tell me they'll send someone over that afternoon but did anyone show up? Of course not. Still no dishwasher.

That wouldn't be enough to stress me out normally but I was also trying to finish up the Christmas shopping as best I could online to make the shipping deadlines. Plus, CC's still in Manila so that means her chores are my chores which means if I want to wear clean clothes I had best get them washed on my days off. This all on top of the usual stuff I do when I'm off plus the change in the weather which was giving me a SERIOUS headache, sinuses all stuffed up and everything. One by one, little paper cut by little paper cut.

Tomorrow it's back to work and I REALLY hope this little trend will stop there. Unfortunately work presents WAY too many opportunities for more paper cuts but at the same time, there are also plenty of opportunities for band aids as well. You can really make someone's day by making their dog look just how they wanted it. And they'll usually say so, especially if they had it cut somewhere else the last time and it really came out all funky and messed up. So let's all keep our fingers crossed that we get more band aids and less paper cuts :-)

Speaking of Christmas shopping, do you know I've done almost all of it online this year! It's true. CC and I still have to get some presents for office people, you know, office presents, little things you can give out to people you know from work but maybe don't know quite well enough to get them a full holiday present. But the bulk of the shopping, that's already done and they're on the way now. The poor UPS guys will be walking up and down our stairs quite a bit next week, but then I suppose they knew that when they signed up for the job. Christmas is tough on them too.

We're also hoping, speaking of next week, that things at the salon will pick up. We had a disastrously slow Monday and right now my commissions are just barely sitting ahead of my hourly wages. Worse, it happened on the longest day of my work week leaving me with a whole lot of time in the salon and very little to do. Sunday was just fine though so it will balance out a little but on the whole things were very slow and that's unusual. Normally by now things have picked up. People are having parties, they're getting ready for trips and that sort of thing. It makes me wonder if this is going to be one of those years where Christmas sneaks up on everyone and everything goes freaky nuts the week of the 25th. That's happened before. Sales across the board are down the first two or three weeks of December then it's like everyone suddenly remembers there's a holiday and BAM they go wild trying to do everything at the last minute. I really hope that isn't the case this year but I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The slow, the fast and the cookies

Currently Reading: Nothing at the moment.

Well we're coming out of the dead zone at work but things are still not exactly running at the brisk pace we had before Thanksgiving. Mostly that was due to the repeated rains we had over the two weekends. Rain kills the walk-in traffic. Who wants to have their dog washed when the back yard is turning into one big mud puddle? Things are clearing up outside now though so we should do pretty good business.

This is also the time when people start throwing Christmas parties. And with the dogs already grown out a week or two from their Thanksgiving haircut, they'll be looking a little rough around the edges, maybe a tad shaggy. They'll need to come in for a shape up or a trim. It's happening already. Sunday and Monday, while not particularly SUPER busy, were a little better than usual. Add to that Saturday's big "pictures with Santa" and you've got a recipe for work.

Speaking of recipes, CC send me one on Tuesday. She'd gotten it from a friend of hers. It's for a cookie called a chocolate crinkle. Here's a picture . . .
I know, they don't really LOOK like anything special but they taste AWESOME! They're pretty much brownies covered in powdered sugar. I had 5 from the first batch when they came out of the oven. Yes, they're that good and surprisingly not difficult to make at all. They're a tad messy because you have to roll the dough into little balls, but otherwise, nothing worse than usual. Here's the recipe, in case you're feeling adventurous:

Chocolate Crinkles

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar

In a medium bowl, mix together cocoa, white sugar, and vegetable oil. Beat in eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt; stir into the cocoa mixture. Cover dough, and chill for at least 4 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Roll dough into one inch balls. Coat each ball in confectioners' sugar before placing onto prepared cookie sheets.

Bake in preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Let stand on the cookie sheet for a minute before transferring to wire racks to cool.

You can adjust the sugar depending on how sweet you would like them to be. Or you can also add extra melted chocolate chips to make it more fudgy. But the fudgier it is, the harder it will be to roll them into balls :p

* * *

About the only other thing worth mentioning since last week is Wednesday's rather long bit of shopping. I spent the first few hours of the day out at the mall with my mother. She wanted to get started on her shopping and wanted me to come along. No problem there. In fact, we were done by 1.

After she and I got back to my apartment, we met up with CC because CC and I had an appointment with INS. Actually SHE had the appointment. I was just along for the ride. Nothing dramatic this visit. They just wanted another set of fingerprints and pictures and so forth. We were in and out in 10 minutes or so.

But after that, well, CC had a list of places we needed to stop. We ended up running all over the place and by the time I got home, I was pretty tired. Needless to say I didn't do much the rest of the evening except goof off. I did have a rather long list of things to do over my days off but I pretty much just put them off until Thursday. And now that I'm finishing up my blog entry, I've also finished up my list.

Oh yeah, just a quick note. CC is heading back to Manila for her last trip to the Philippines for the year. She's leaving Saturday and she'll be back the 19th. While she's over there she'll be going to two company Christmas parties, one of which is a sort of costume party. Her department is supposed to dress 80's style. I really hope she gets pictures from that one. I'm curious to see how folks over there dress for it :-)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Welcome To The Dead Zone; I'm Goin To Graceland

Currently Reading: Lamb by Christopher Moore

And so holiday number one is done. One down, two more to go. Welcome to the dead zone between them. That's pretty much what work is like right now, a dead zone. It's a temporary lull though. Think of it as the eye of the hurricane.

Last week, leading into Thanksgiving, we were doing easily more than double our normal volume on the weekend and during the week, well it was like every day was Saturday. In fact, I actually had to give up one of my days off because we knew we'd need more people in the salon. Not that I minded. Makes for a better paycheck and Christmas shopping is right around the corner.

We hit Thanksgiving and BAM, nothing after that. Dead. Even on Saturday it was dead. Sunday was worse because it rained. Same with Monday. Rain really kills our walk-in traffic. Seriously would you want to pay someone to wash your dog knowing your yard is going to be one big mud puddle to play in? No, of course not. That's just silly.

And even though we had our staff dressed up as Christmassy as possible, people were more interested in hitting the mall and big box stores instead. I can't really blame them of course. There were some pretty decent deals out there if you could afford to pay for bundles. That's my boss by the way. I think she had a little too much holiday cheer for Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving went well for CC and I. We ate over at my parents' house along with the rest of the family. CC and I were in charge of veggies.

The kids brought over an Xbox and we spent a decent amount of time playing Guitar Hero. We really like that game. Unfortunately the older versions didn't have much music that we actually recognized. I think, in the one they brought with them, we only knew maybe 2 or 3 songs out of the whole thing. Not good. However, when we were out on Friday, we DID come across the latest version of Guitar Hero, Legends of Rock. Now on THAT one we know just about every song and even better, they make it for PC. Guess what we've been doing SINCE Thanksgiving? You got it, GUITAR HERO!

Speaking of guitar heroes, CC's company got a whole bunch of VIP tickets to Graceland (that's where Elvis lived in case you forgot). There was a party for one of the companies they do business with and we got to tour Graceland at night (without having to deal with all the crowds and stuff) plus we got to tour the automobile museum (Elvis' cars) and there were drinks and finger foods and so forth. We had a good time and unlike during the usual tour, we were allowed to take pictures (I used my cell phone so they're not the BEST pictures but still pretty good).

When you first go in through the front door, off to the side you have this REALLY white living room. And I mean WHITE. Everything in there pretty much is white. Must have been hell to clean that's for sure. I mean, Memphis is a pretty dusty city so just walking through the room would have been enough to get the place dirty. Then again, if you're Elvis, you can afford good cleaning staff.

Of course the whole place was decorated for Christmas. There were trees in just about every room and outside there were plenty of lights. Mostly they followed a musical theme. Plenty of large music notes and guitars and that sort of thing, and even a piano out in front of the main building across the street from the mansion where they arrange tours and such. Very holiday, very festive, very gaudy too for that matter. But I guess that's part of the Elvis experience.

Anyway, back to the tour. In the living room area, right by the ropes is a really nice portrait of Elvis. I grabbed a shot of that.

This was actually our second trip to Graceland. Yeah, seriously, twice for us and we're not even big Elvis fans. Just goes to show you how little there is to do here in Memphis :-) Actually the first time we went was back in 1999 during CC's first trip here. She'd come to see me in San Antonio, but '99 was her first trip to Memphis. She figured we should go see Graceland since that's what everyone talks about. And after that first visit we both agreed it was a lot more interesting than we were expecting. The whole thing still sometimes feels like a very creepy shrine though, especially when you get out to the gravesite.

Across from the white living room there's a billiard room. You should see this place, the walls are covered in pleated fabric. It's a rather small room actually, kinda crowded if you're going to be playing pool but I guess it was big enough. They don't really let you rack things up and play a game there while on the tour. They do point out that there's a rip in the fabric covering the pool table where someone once tried to do a trick shot and stuck the cue through the felt. Gees, all that money, you'd think he'd have someone come in and redo the felt right? But then again, that would make the tour kinda boring and hey, maybe he WAS going to get it fixed and just never got around to it.

One thing that strikes you as a bit odd while you're on this tour is how normal sized everything seems. Given how stars flaunt their wealth these days you go into the thing expecting a MUCH larger house. This is Elvis for crying out loud right? You're thinking the guy MUST have had a HUGE mansion with lots and lots of land and the whole thing but actually, no, it's really just a big house. You don't have the high ceilings and stuff that the modern mansions have and the rooms are often small and cozy. Take this kitchen for example. Now, as far as kitchens go, this is a pretty good sized one right? Sure, if you're talking about any suburban house, this is great but for a star as big as Elvis? You'd think he'd have something more impressive. And just look at that fridge! Could have come right off the showroom floor at Sears. That's probably part of why he was so popular. Even when he was rich he was still pretty normal.

And then there's the jungle room. Ok now this is one of those places where you can see money. Granted, it's a pretty tacky use of money, but money all the same. Hell you even have a fountain over there in one corner of the room. The whole place looks like the lounge area of some sort of tiki restaurant or something like that. Yes, I know it was the 70's and this is the sort of thing people thought looked really cool back then but still, I'm pretty sure I would have gone in an entirely different direction if I were doing the decorations. I thought the monkeys were a nice touch though :-)

Now, at this point of the tour, you start to move away from the house as it used to be and more into little Elvis shrines set up in the remaining rooms. Yes, you do go down into the basement area where he's got another lounge area and one room where there are three or four TVs all set up so Elvis could watch them at the same time. He'd heard that LBJ used to do it that way so he decided to copy that. It all has that no-funny sort of 60's futuristic look.

In fact, quite a few of the things along the tour have that look. You get to see what folks back then thought was going to be the way of the future as well as a slice of what things were like in the past. Take this bed for example. He had this in his dressing room so I guess they took it with them when they were on tour. Notice how the bed is covered in this sort of shag fur stuff. Yeah that was living large back then. You knew you were somebody if you could afford all that faux fur :-) But to show off even MORE, it's ROUND. There was this sort of odd fascination back then with round beds. Y0u see it pop up over and over again in old movies and movies that pick on old movies. But what really sets this bed apart is what's in the canopy. He's got a STEREO hooked up in there. Yeah, I know, by today's standards that's really no big deal but back in the day, MAN that was AWESOME! And it's all chunky too with big knobs and push buttons and stuff. Must have felt like something out of NASA :-)

And check out this TV! Yeah this was down in the basement with a lot of other Elvis stuff like his old Army uniforms. This here was what you'd call a large screen TV in the way-back. This thing is quite a piece of furniture. It's about 4 feet wide and you've got maybe a 24 inch screen in the middle. Speakers on each side but you know that wasn't playing anything in stereo. TV wasn't broadcast in stereo so what you have there is more of a double-mono output. They didn't have it turned on though so I have no idea if this one was color or black and white. It's really hard to tell because TV tech went pretty fast back then and folks were still using black and white TV's for a long time. Keep in mind also that a lot of TV stations didn't broadcast in color either so having a color TV wasn't necessarily a big deal if your city didn't have a TV station that sent out a color signal.

Now this, this was cool, this was what had to be one of the first cell phones. Didn't work like a cell phone I'm sure. It was probably a radio phone. But DAMN that must have been pretty cool back in the 50's. You're Elvis right? So if you need to make a phone call, who has time to go track down a land line. You wanna make that call from the back yard or from the golf course or whatever. That's when you reach for this baby. Over on the right side, you've got your handset and, well I guess the whole rest of the box is taken up with whatever sends out the signal. I didn't see any antenna on it so I'm guessing that it collapsed. And in case you were wondering, yes, it's exactly as big as you think it is. That handset would fit just about any standard phone these days though it must have been considered small back then. Still, pretty cool that you could get stuff like that if you REALLY wanted them.

Now, now Elvis museum would be complete without showing off some of these. In the later years of his career, he went with the jumpsuit as his main performing wardrobe and he had a LOT of jumpsuits. These ones here are the more famous ones you've seen on TV and in pictures. Yes, that's the cape with the eagle on it. And that's the jumpsuit he wore it with. They even have video in the background showing him performing while in these costumes. Sort of makes you wonder how we survived the 70's doesn't it? I mean, people thought this stuff was COOL! Look at those belt buckles!

This particular room also houses a whole mess of his gold and platinum records. It's a racquetball court behind the house that they've turned into a little mini-museum. Two hole walls, floor to ceiling are covered in records. One wall has all of his North American gold and platinum singles, the other has all of the international ones. It's pretty impressive when you think about it, especially considering, as the tour points out, he never did a concert outside North America. Today that would be unheard of. Hell having that many gold records is unheard of today, but not touring international?

So there you go, Graceland. It's not a bad tour. Better if you're an Elvis fan of course. I mean, if you're not an Elvis fan the place is pretty pointless. It'd be like touring the Football Hall of Fame if you weren't a football fan. But if you're in the Memphis area and you were a fan of his music or movies or both, you should probably head over there and check it out. Probably hold a lot of memories for you.

One especially good thing about the tour, Elvis died on the toilet and thankfully, that's NOT on display :-)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Reality Check

Currently Reading: Lamb by Christopher Moore

I've been watching a lot more reality TV shows on cable lately. For that, I have to blame a show called The Soup over on E!

Each week, the host, Joel McHale, takes you through a really funny wrap-up of everything that's been going on in the world of reality and talk shows. You'll see all the latest outrageous moments from The View, the court shows, even the most obscure reality and dating shows. The jokes are great, as are the recurring gag characters and after it's over, you really wish they'd give the guy a full hour instead of just 30 minutes. Then again, if it ran TOO long it'd lose its impact and wouldn't be as good. I guess this is just a case of "leave them wanting more."

Anyway, I'm blaming this guy for my recent dive in television taste. Just a few months ago when I would channel surf, I'd buzz right by MTV or VH1 or even E! if I saw they were running one of those dating shows. Now, I slow down, pause a bit to see what's going on, maybe even stop and watch for a while. Watch for what? Why for the train wreck scene which will inevitably make it's way into The Soup.

There are three shows in particular that I've been pausing to view because they feature a rather high ratio of train wrecks. Hell last night I was actually bouncing between TWO of them because they were both on at the same time. Over on MTV you have a show called A Shot At Love With Tila Tequila. This little dating game is pure soap. You've got your usual cast of assorted misfits, representing all that is wrong with the dating gene pool but with one little twist. Tila (pictured above) is bisexual so it's not the usual man vs man, it's man vs man vs woman which REALLY increases the chances of some messy arguments.

Over on VH1 was the other show I've been checking out from time to time, I Love New York 2 talk about egos and players and macho men and, well you get the idea. We're talking some serious mimbos here (those are male bimbos in case you didn't know). Watching them strut. That's New York over there. As you can tell from the rather CLASSY set design there, this show is REALLY all about . . . ok I can't keep going with a straight face. LOOK at that woman? I mean, when you see someone like that, where do you begin? Yes, I know, looks can be deceiving and all and to be honest, she strikes me as a generally nice person. A little self-absorbed but then who isn't when it comes to these TV shows. Now, the premise of her show, well, same as all the others. No tricks here. The only twist is that everyone on the show seems to have been scraped off the bottom of the collective shoe of America and I mean that in the nicest way possible. The way these guys strut around like peacocks and get into fights with each other is just too damn funny and yes, lots of train wreck potential here. Last night I just couldn't stop laughing at the "contest" they had. They were all supposed to cool something for New York using her FAVORITE food: RANCH DRESSING! Yes, that's right, this classy dame has a thing for ranch dressing and so the boys were set up in a kitchen to try cook. They were all required to use at least ONE CUP of ranch dressing in their recipes. Some of them were pretty smart. One guy marinated chicken in ranch dressing, grilled it up, done. Others weren't quite as brilliant. The funniest was the guy who did a burger and fries, putting some dressing on the burger and using the rest as a dipping sauce for the fries. She was pretty sympathetic to him at first, thinking he'd actually gone through the trouble to slice up the potatoes to make the fries from scratch. Of course, he later admitted the fries came from a bag. Yup, frozen fries with ranch dressing. Boy how did he manage to stay single all this time?

There are a few other shows I've been checking out. One of the better shows is something called America's Most Smartest Model. What you've got here is a group models who have to go through a series of smart people tests in order to win their "edge" over the others in the second half of the show where they do more model-type stuff. One episode had them working on science fair projects. The winner had the edge in the second contest which involved incorporating real, live geeks in an ad for suntan lotion. I can tell you this, if these people had to work for a living, I mean REALLY work, not just stand around and be pretty, they'd all starve to death.

Oh yes, must not forget Keeping Up With The Kardashians. This show revolves around the Kardashian family, with mom now married to Bruce Jenner. You remember Bruce I'm sure. He was in the decathlon in the Olympics WAY back. But the Kardashian name, you know that from one of two places. Either you remember it from the OJ trial. Robert Kardashian was a lawyer and friend of OJ. Or you may have heard about his daughter Kim who's famous for, to quote the host of The Soup, "having a big butt and a sex tape." Every time he introduces a clip from their show, that's how he refers to Kim, being famous for having a big butt and a sex tape. What's really funny is that I now can't read articles about her without injecting that little aside. Just today there was a blurb about her on Fox News and, of course, I'm sitting there mentally plugging in the guy from the Soup.

Oh, and don't think this has anything to do with CC being out of town again. Oh no, in fact, SHE was the one who got me turned on to the Soup in the first place and she ALSO sometimes pauses at these reality shows.

So why do we watch them? Why do so many people tune in night after night, week after week to sit through this stuff? To watch for the train wreck? Probably but also because, well lets face it, most of these people are REALLY pathetic. It's hard not to feel at least a LITTLE better about yourself after seeing the kind of things they're willing to do just for their 15 minutes of fame :-)

Thursday, November 08, 2007

This is NOT Beowulf

I was at the bookstore today, just browsing the shelves, when I came across the graphic novel (comic book) adaptation of the new film Beowulf. According to the cover it was based on the screenplay for the new movie. This sort of thing is pretty common these days, especially when it concerns a film with high geek potential and Beowulf certainly fits the bill. Having read Beowulf in high school, college and twice just for fun, I was curious to see how they were going to handle certain parts of the story. What I found was damn near enough to make me vow never to see this film at ALL.

The screenplay was done by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary. Avary is an academy award winning writer and Gaiman has been writing science fiction and fantasy books for quite a long time. They're both VERY good at what they do and I've read almost everything Gaiman has put into print. All of this combined to add to my disappointment when I had a look at the MAN liberties they took with the original source material.

The basic story of Beowulf is pretty simple. You've got the Danes being tormented by a monster called Grendel. He's really a nasty piece of work and tends to rip his victims limb from limb leaving a really nasty, bloody mess. Beowulf is a sort of friend of the family and general seeker of adventure (hero) so he sails over with his men and tells the king he's going to settle this thing for him.

They set up at the great hall, which is where Grendel makes his attacks and during the night, sure enough, here comes Grendel. So far the stories match up pretty well but it's right here at this MAJOR event that the two plotlines start to divert and the heroic aspects of Beowulf start to be watered down.

Beowulf has a nasty honor streak and, well he's pretty damn strong. How strong? Well we're talking Heracles league here. Grendel comes into the hall, starts killing people like he always does and he finds Beowulf there ready to take him on. But unlike all of the OTHER guys in the fight, Beowulf is pretty close to naked. He's in his underwear. Why? Well because Grendel doesn't use any weapons so why should he?

As you can imagine, they get into a BIG nasty fight. There's lots of thrashing around and as Beowulf later recounts to the king, he was trying to pounce on him, pin him and grapple him to death (line 961) but it didn't quite work out that way. Instead, Beowulf just got one HUGE grip on Grendel and refused to let go. Grendel eventually pulled away so hard, and Beowulf held on so tight, that Grendel's arm came off at the shoulder.

Here, we've got two differences from the movie version. In the movie, Beowulf uses chains, wraps them around Grendel's arm (or Grendel gets tangled in them) and he just holds onto the chains while Grendel is fleeing out the door. They then sort of slam the door on Grendel's arm giving him even more leverage until the arm comes off. I was looking at that thinking, "what the hell? Beowulf isn't supposed to need chains for this job. He's just super strong.

Ok, so maybe they don't want him to be quite THAT strong. Maybe they want to make him appear more vulnerable. Add to the dramatic tension. Fine, I'll let that one go. But what happens next REALLY does some damage to our hero's character.

After all the celebrations over Grendel's death, Grendel's mom pays them a visit and she is in a MEAN mood. She sneaks in at night while everyone is asleep and pretty much goes to town, leaving yet another bloody mess. The Danes tell Beowulf what's going on and so he decides that yes, she's gonna have to die too otherwise they're pretty much gonna run out of Danes.

Off he goes to the swamp where Grendel's mother lives. They find her pond and it's teeming with lizards and assorted nasty serpents (she has the power to control them you see). He dons his good armor to protect him from the weight of the water (yes, he intends to fight her underwater at the bottom of the pond) , someone gives him what's supposed to be a super-kick-ass sword and Beowulf dives in looking for Grendel's mom. He finds her, they fight. He uses his super sword on her but it breaks. Guess it wasn't that super. She tackles him, pulls a knife and is going to kill him but he manages to escape. That's when he sees this sword leftover from the time of giants. It's an ancient weapon so big and heavy that only HE can lift it these days. Naturally he grabs it and THWACK! Lops off her head. Now, being a rather nasty piece of work, her blood pretty much destroys the weapon so unfortunately he can't take it with him. He leaves taking the hilt of the sword (which is all that's left) and Grendel's head, just for fun.

Switch over to the movie version. First sign that things are not quite right is that Grendel's mom is played by Angelina Jolie. Why is this the first sign? Well, here's how she's described in the original:
  • in line 1259 she's called a monstrous hell-bride.
  • Line 1292 she's a hell-dam.
  • At line 1330 it talks of how she took one of the dead guys with her and is now eating him in her lair.
  • Line 1391, troll-dam.
  • Line 1518, swamp thing from hell.
  • Line 1520, tarn-hag.
Now, I ask you, does that sound line the woman you've seen in the previews for this movie? Most you can say is that she's got a sort of lizard tail on the back of her head. Not exactly very hag-like.

And here's where we take the BIG leap, the one that totally changes Beowulf's character completely. They start having a conversation about Grendel. She offers him a deal. She tells him that since he took her son, he should give her BACK a son. In other words, she wants to sleep with him. Ok, so he does that, sure, why not, he's a single, successful Geat working as an adventurer. She then also takes a golden horn from him and tell him that as long as she gets to keep that horn, she'll make him the greatest king ever. What can he say? He's human, he accepts.

Now, in the original, Beowulf does become a great king but it has NOTHING to do with anything Grendel's mom did. In fact, as you'll recall, he lopped her head off. No, Beowulf became a great king by saving pretty much everyone so many times that the old kings decided that yeah, when they die he'd be a good replacement.

What next follows in the original is a rather long account of the wars that Beowulf has to deal with. It's the slowest part of the story really. I figured they'd cut that from the movie and as far as I can tell, I was right. So we skip ahead to the end. Grendel fights the dragon.

Original version: someone accidentally steals a cup from the dragon's treasure hoard. Dragons are notoriously greedy critters and do NOT like it when anyone takes ANYTHING from their hoard. So what happens? Dragon goes nuts, starts torching the city and generally being nasty. Beowulf and company go out to slay it. Beowulf being rather old now, isn't quite as great as he used to be but he still manages to kill the dragon. Unfortunately, the dragon is somewhat poisonous, manages to get a bit on him and they both die. Everyone else finishes up with the wars they were in and later give Beowulf a great Viking-style funeral and that's pretty much it.

Needless to say the movie takes things in a bit of a different direction. Years after fighting Grendel's mom, someone brings him that horn she was keeping. Beowulf goes to give it back, at which point she introduces him to his "son," the big ass dragon. Say what? Yeah, I know, I was wondering why that was necessary too. Dragon goes around torching things, much wailing and gnashing of teeth until finally Beowulf delivers the fatal wound and pushes him off a cliff where he does, body broken among the rocks. There's the usual "sorry father" kinda stuff at the end and then he dies and gets washed away by the surf.

Of course, at this point Beowulf is ALSO near death. They take him to the water, he floats away as well. Angelina Jolie appears again, gives him a smooch and off they go to the land of the dead or something like that. I'm a little confused on that part because it wasn't very well done in the comic.

So, there you go. Just a SLIGHT difference between the two right? What I don't really understand is why they did it that way. The original story has more than enough action and intrigue in it. Why mess up the hero by belittling his accomplishments, saying he gained greatness because he nailed Grendel's mom? What's really wrong with making him a self-made hero king?

I CAN understand why they pretty much erased all the Christianity in the movie. Hollywood never wants to be religious unless they have to or unless they can make religion look bad. You see, in the original, Beowulf is pretty damn Christian and there's one section that goes to great lengths to explain that Grendel and his mother were descendants of Cain who was cursed because he killed his brother. Line 1265 sums it up that from Cain sprang all the misbegotten spirits.

Now, having said all that, and yes, I've said a LOT, I can't say that the movie will be bad. You've got two great screenwriters. You've got an accomplished director. You've got some pretty wild CGI and 3D effects working there plus a whole bunch of great voice actors all working together on this. So yeah, maybe they did a great job and the movie will be pretty good and it'll be a huge hit. After I see some of the reviews I may even go see it myself. Just remember though, if you see the film, this is NOT Beowulf. It's really more of a . . . I dunno, a What If? Some of the pre-release material calls it a re-imaging or a re-telling of the story but come on, they've made WAY too many changes for that. They're really pushing it when they use the "based on" label.

And as I've said, the shame of it all is that it just wasn't necessary, all the changes I mean. They had a chance to FINALLY make a really great version of this wonderful epic poem and they chose not to.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Sliding Into Winter

Currently Reading: Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

Yeah it's getting a bit chilly out there. Woke up yesterday and I was FREEZING to death. Ok, not LITERALLY freezing but you know what I mean. See, when CC woke up, she found it a little but stuffy in the apartment so she opened up the window in the bedroom, one in the living room and the door to the balcony. Great, fine, yeah, so long as she's quiet and I can keep sleeping, no problem.

Woke up and imagined the headline: Wife Attempts To Kill Husband By Freezing! or perhaps Man Saved From Frosty Demise By Loyal Canines. Either way would have been accurate I think. I woke up to find myself covered in dogs (all mine thank you) and snuggly warm so long as I didn't get out of bed. Decided right then that was the way to go and stayed right where I was. Hell I even turned on the TV and watched a movie for a change. Just did things a little different.

Naturally I couldn't stay in bed ALL day and the dogs were getting a bit antsy. They'd been patient long enough and wanted OUT so I got up, quick-stepped over to the dresser and put on some warmer clothes then went about closing up the apartment again. I looked at the thermometer on the wall in the hallway, it was all the way down, down as far as it goes which means somewhere below 50 degrees.

Here's what happened. After CC left, the wind started to pick up. It was already a bit chilly out there but when the winds came in it got downright COLD. The worst place was in the hallway which was acting more like a wind tunnel than anything else. Warmer in the bedroom and living room, yes, but still pretty cool.

So . . . Hello Winter!

And what better way to greet winter than with Shaolin monks? Ok, Silly question. There are LOTS of better ways to greet winter but I needed to pull this all together and I'm not in any mood to come up with something more creative :-)

Sunday night we went to see the Shaolin Warriors show. It's a group of performers (monks?) who put on a live display of the Shaolin style kung fu type stuff you see in movies all the time. Fabulous show. Had a GREAT time. There were just too many individually cool things for me to list them all but here are a few that come to mind:

  • The guys breaking bands of steel on their heads
  • The two little kid monks
  • When they invited kids to come up on stage for a little bit of training and at the first demonstration one kid got so scared he ran off the stage
  • The guy who used suction and REALLY good abdominal control to stick a metal bowl to his belly that no one could pull off
  • The weapons display that was like something out of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon

If you get a chance to see these guys, if they stop through your city on their tour, get tickets and go because it's a really great show.

Oh yes, almost forgot. I finished up Beowulf again. Don't look impressed, it's not really that long and when you read it in translation, it's actually a quick read. Anyway, Grendel's mom is NOT hot. Ok? Little bit of a diversion from the source material there in the new Beowulf movie. Just keep that in mind if you go see the film and wonder how she produced something as hideous as Grendel :-) Hmm, then again, now that I think about it, she was dating (married?) Billy Bob Thornton right? That was pretty nasty there so I suppose it's POSSIBLE in reality but in the poem, she's a hag ok?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Music Box Dancer, Beowulf

Currently Reading: Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney

Well it's been a pretty dull week so I didn't really have anything worth blogging about until today. I woke up this morning with a tune in my head I couldn't identify. Oh I knew I'd heard it and heard it a LOT at one point. I was even able to lock it down to the 1970's. I just couldn't remember what it was called or who performed it.

Now, in the old days about all you could really do is hum a few bars for people and see if anyone remembered it. I tried that with CC and she suggested it was something called Ballad for Adeline. So, using that wonderful tool the Internet, I did a search for it. Came up with a BUNCH of clips of people performing it but no, that wasn't it. I knew right away. So I did some more searching for 70's pop and piano solos and still came up empty. Then I remembered something CC had said. She said the song sounded like something you heard in a music box.

A HA! Music box! That's it! SO, I did a search for music box and came up with . . .

The song is called Music Box Dancer by Frank Mills and it was REALLY popular back in the 70's. They used to play this on the radio all the time and I REALLY loved it. Apparently so did a LOT of other people my age.

And from there to the 21st century, they've done a cgi movie of Beowulf. You may remember having to read this in high school. It's the story about the viking guy who ripped off the monster's arm and nailed it over the door of the great viking hall. Ok, that's the short version and not very accurate but that's probably what you remember.

After seeing the previews I've decided that this is something I want to check out. It also made me go back to the text to check out something else. You see, Angelina Jolie is playing Grendel's (the monster) mom. First Beowulf rips off Grendel's arm, then later he has to go deal with Grendel's mom, who I remember to be a serpent or dragon or something like that. I do NOT remember anything in there about Grendel's mom being hot. So I'm reading it again.

If you're interested in it yourself, I suggest the version by Seamus Heaney. His translation is EXCELLENT and a WHOLE lot easier to read than you probably remember from high school. Definitely worth checking out if you're into vikings or Old English literature or epic poems.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Falling Fast

Currently Reading: So Sad To Fall In Battle by Kumiko Kakehashi

Well now, it certainly didn't take long for fall to fall did it? I don't know what it's like where you are but here, for the past 2 days it's been nothing but overcast, rain, fog and cold. Now, we're not talking frigid, ice-cold, break out the sky jackets cold, but cold enough. This is more of a November cold and that ugly rainy cold that just sinks down into you deep and leaves you cold long after you've gone back inside.

Still, it's a welcome change from the sweltering heat and it's some much needed water for these parts. We had a dry summer and lost a lot of evergreen trees because of it. Around the apartment complex you can see the big, bare patches where one of the trees failed to make it through the summer and had to be dug out. Maybe they should have run the sprinklers a little more often.

As I mentioned before, CC is out of town until Thursday. Be glad to get her back, that's for sure. Apart from the obvious reasons, there's all the little reasons too, like all the little things she does that I now have to do. No, the apartment isn't falling apart and there aren't any huge piles of garbage hidden anywhere. And for that matter, the bugs haven't taken over the place either. I can manage to keep things going on my own, it just takes a whole lot more work, that's all.

CC and I are on a big Hot Fuzz kick at the moment. Hot Fuzz is a British movie about a cop from London who gets sent out to the country because, well because he's too good and he's making the other cops look bad. It's a comedy by the guys who did Sean of the Dead a few years back. Great stuff. If you get a chance, check them both out. They're on DVD.

Anyway, while I was out wandering yesterday I came across some t-shirts. They didn't have our size so I ordered them online. Then CC found some BETTER t-shirts so I canceled my order and got the ones that she found. We also bid on a few things at eBay including a movie poster and some books.

Mostly this happened because I suggested, last week, that she show the movie to her brother. We figured given his sense of humor he'd really love it and we were right. So while our Hot Fuzz fixation was probably leveling off and sliding back down when CC left for Manila, it got kicked right back up again when she showed it to her brother.

We start the World Series tonight! The Sox and the Rockies. Should be a good series. Or not. Never can tell with the World Series. These guys only played each other a few times during the regular season, not nearly enough to predict how THIS series is going to go. Yes, sports writers will try to convince you that one team will win over the other but they're just guessing. Fortunately for them they've got a 50/50 chance of being right and even if it's CLOSE at the end, they'll look reasonably smart. I'm cheering for the Sox.

Can you believe basketball and hockey are starting up already? The newspaper here is filled with stories about the Memphis Grizzlies and how they're not going to suck NEARLY as much as they sucked last year. Yeah right. I look over the roster and all I can see is one massive amount of suckiness. Looks like they tried to build a team on the cheap and you know how that always turns out. If you're not going to pay for decent talent, you're going to get your butt whipped, which will probably happen again for them this year. Normally I wouldn't mind this sort of thing but in Memphis, if a local sports team sucks, that's all they talk about in the newspaper and on TV. When will the team not suck so much?

Guess that's just another sign of fall. Have to take the bad with the good :-)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Serial Killers

Currently Reading: Dexter In The Dark by Jeff Lindsay

It's Halloween season. Two weeks from now (minus a day) kids will be going door to door asking for candy, all dressed up in their costumes. Some will be really cute, some will be more macho and some (there's always some) will be thrown together and half-assed, just something they did so they could go out with the little kids and try for some candy. Some teenagers these days don't know when to let it go.

Anyway, it's also the night when we watch horror movies and read horror comics and books, all sorts of scary things. It's just what we do this season right? Well, it's what *I* do this season anyway.

With CC out of town until next week, I decided I'd catch up a little on my horror movies. When I went out shopping I hit the cheaper section of the videos and picked up Saw 2 and 3 and American Psycho. I'm really starting to be impressed by Christian Bale. He plays the title character, a psychopath lost in the halcyon days of 80's Wall Street.

Anyway, when you combine that with the books I've been reading lately you start to notice a pretty distinct pattern. I've been reading a lot about psychos and serial killers. Those three movies, not slasher flicks, not monster movies, serial killer movies. And the book I'm reading? The latest in Jeff Lindsay's Dexter series, also about a serial killer. Before that, Fight Club. Not serial killers and maybe not quite psychos but those boys certainly weren't right. Before that, How to Survive a Horror Movie and before THAT was I Am Legend. Must just be something about the Halloween season that does this to me. Something about the change in the weather maybe, some sort of unintended side effect of the rest of the great things that happen in fall. Who knows what comes after this. Slipping into winter, maybe I'll drift to crime fiction. It's not much of a leap from serial killers to just normal crime stuff right? Or maybe back to Sci Fi again. Too early to tell. I'll just go with whatever strikes me as interesting.

Speaking of interesting, nah, actually it's just more boring stuff. Today I spent a decent amount of time working on the truck. Nothing serious is wrong with it mind you, just some routine stuff that hasn't been done in a LONG time. I've got two points to make on this one.

First off, whoever designed the engine for the 1995 Ford Ranger, the 4 cylinder model, was a REAL sadist. Yeah, he'd make the Marquis de Sade proud. It's a 4 cylinder engine which would suggest 4 to 5 plugs right? At least, my last two cars before this worked that way. But the ranger? 8. Yes you read that right, this particular engine has EIGHT plugs. Four of them are easy to get to. Pretty standard stuff though the 4th one is a tight fit, it's doable. The other four, well now you're getting into some pretty weird stuff. I was able to replace the wires on two of them after considerable effort but there was no way in hell I could get the plugs out without taking apart the engine and my general rule on that sort of thing is that I don't take off parts I can't identify. SO, 4 new plugs, 6 wires and a new air filter. The truck is running much better now.

Second, when I pulled the plugs out and saw the condition they were in, I must admit, I was pretty damn surprised the truck was running at ALL. They were the most hideously fouled plugs I have EVER seen. How on earth the engine managed to turn over, how the cylinders fired with those plugs I'll never know.

I've got to admit it, the engine designer may have been a sadist but you know, the engine still works after all this time, even with the crappy plugs so maybe he knew what he was doing after all :-)

Back to work tomorrow I'm afraid. I'll have to do a little ironing too before then. Hate it when CC's out of town. I have to do her chores as well as mine and it doesn't leave me much free time on the weekends. Add to that the fact that I had to fix the truck and you can imagine I didn't have much time for ANYTHING restful. No matter. There's always next week. Besides, CC comes home on the 25th so I won't have to wait much longer :-)

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Vacation Part 4: The Slide Shows

And finally, the pictures. First up are the general pictures . . .

Then we have the trip to the Disney parks . . .

And finally, Hollywood baby!

The Vacation Part 3: All The Rest

The bulk of our interesting adventures at Disneyland happened on Wednesday. On Thursday we went to the other park, California Adventure, which is right next door. Over there, they've taken little bits and pieces of things from various parts of California and worked them into a nice theme park. They've also incorporated a lot of the Disney characters so you definitely get the Disney experience.

Thursday was the day for CC to ride all the BIG rides (and for me to watch her do it). Right from the start we headed over to the big roller coaster. Unfortunately it was closed for maintenance at the time so we went over to this other ride where you sit, strapped into your seat, and it just sort of shoots you straight up. You'll get to see video of all this on CC's site. I filmed it all.

Then we wandered over to Grizzly River Run, which is your usual river rapids type ride. Those are SO much fun. The whole area is done up like Norther California, up in the mountains. Sort of gold rush period. They have a band called the Miner 49'ers and CC (along with several other park patrons) got to join in and play washboard for a bit. We have video of that too, you betcha :-)

Naturally we there were more stops to take pictures with Disney characters. This time though, they weren't ALL good guys.

Our next stop was the Aladdin show. Over in the Hollywood part of the park, they have a theater that runs a live-action, Broadway-style show based on Aladdin. I was expecting something a bit corny, a short version of the cartoon maybe, nothing major. DAMN was I wrong. They seriously went all out on this thing with LOTS of special effects and a WHOLE lot of jokes thrown in for the parents. The guy playing the genie was GREAT! I wasn't overly fond of the Robin Williams one in the cartoon because he has a habit of over-doing everything. This guy was more like a toned down Jim Carrey instead. DAMN funny and he had GREAT timing.

From there, it was over to the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. This one is sort of the opposite of the ride CC went on first. Instead of shooting you up, this one DROPS you. There's an elaborate set-up about with some videos as you walk through it and get into a HUGE elevator. That elevator then takes you up to the drop point and WHOOSH! What's cool about it is that the drops are random. It drops you several times, down, then back up again, then down some more. Those are generated by the computer. It randomly determines how far down, how far back up, so the ride is different every time.

By this time, the roller coaster was running again so CC got on that. Great video there of her being launched, by the way. That's one advantage of me not being able to ride these things. I can camp out along the way and get some good shots :-)

Back to Disneyland for some shopping. We'd pretty much saved our shopping for day 2 so we wouldn't have to carry everything around. It also gave us time to figure out what we'd be buying and it allowed us to check out the California Adventures park to see if they had anything better.

Friday we had more visits with family planned and a trip to Hollywood. Hollywood is a very weird place. It's pretty much exactly as it looks on TV, right down to the very strange characters roaming around dressed like famous people. That's right, you to can have your picture taken with any number of celebrity impersonators. A huge gathering point for them is Grumman's Chinese Theater. MAJOR stop on any LA tour.

Of course the place was packed with people taking pictures of the handprints of famous actors. We took quite a few ourselves in fact. It's great fun to look at. Some of them had such small hands and feet! Bette Davis, for example, her feet are so TINY!

That's pretty much how we ended our vacation. After spending some time in Hollywood, we went out to dinner with CC's aunt then drove back to their house (we spent the night there).

If this last entry seems a bit rushed, well I guess it was a bit. I've still got some things left to do before I head back to work tomorrow and who knows when I'll be able to get back to the blog entry. I wanted to put in as much as I could while the memories are still fresh.

Speaking of which, I hope you enjoyed our little trip because I'm sure you'll be hearing about it for quite a while. We had so much fun and there are so many little stories to tell that there's no way to fit them all in just a few blog entries. I'm sure something will happen along the way and we'll suddenly remember something that happened on our trip. Hope we don't bore you too much :-)

Just one more blog entry to follow I think. I'm putting together a few slide shows so you can see the shots that DIDN'T make it into the blog entries. Enjoy!

The Vacation Part 2: Disneyland

According to my wife, a visit to Disneyland is every American's birthright. Now, I don't recall anything about Disneyland being in the Constitution, so I'm not so sure it's actually a RIGHT. I can say that it's one place everyone should go to at least once, no matter how old you are. Unless, of course, you can't check your adulthood at the door. That's the one big rule for Disneyland, you check your coolness at the door. In fact there's a sign right past the gate that says pretty much that exact same thing. And you know what? Most people follow that simple rule. I can't tell you how many people I saw wandering the park, big guys with tattoos and NASCAR t-shirts, goth girls with multiple piercings, people from all over the planet, all wearing Mickey ears or Jack Sparrow hair. Disneyland SO rocks!

First thing that happens to us, as we hit the park, I lose my wife to a dog. We stopped at City Hall (which is where guest services is housed) to pick up a little device that would close caption the rides. We're crossing the center of the little plaza at the end of Main Street, looking at our maps trying to figure out where to go first when suddenly I hear, "OH MY GOD!" and VOOM! My wife is gone. I didn't even see where she'd rushed off to at first but after a cursory scan of the area it was pretty obvious. Yes, that's right, Pluto was making the rounds and she dropped everything to go get a picture. I caught up to her just as she was getting to the front of the crowd he had drawn.

What CC REALLY wanted to see, more than anything else, was the Haunted Mansion. We'd seen it on TV on one of the travel shows. They did a special about all the stuff that goes on behind the scenes and the special effects were really cool. Me, I wanted to take things a little slow, work our way up Main Street, look in the shops, that sort of thing, but it got pretty obvious pretty early that CC wanted to do the Haunted Mansion NOW :-) We plotted the fastest way to get there and off we went.

Now, the whole park is done up for Halloween and that means a lot of the rides are also done up for Halloween. The Haunted Mansion, for example, had been redone in a Nightmare Before Christmas theme. This made things kinda funny because instead of being dressed up as a haunted mansion, it's dressed up in a sort of mixed up Christmas-Halloween. All the characters from the movie were there, of course, and they even re-recorded the audio to match (which made the captions pretty useless but also interesting in that I sort of got both versions).

From there, since we were in the general area, we hit the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, which was pretty cool. They've redone that one a little bit as well to match the movie. They've put in several animatronic Johnny Depps and they've got a pretty cool Davey Jones in there projected onto a wall of fog that you pass through. WAY cool ride.

Now, one joke that we kept making, and probably shouldn't was the New Orleans joke. See, they have one area set up like New Orleans. That's where Pirates and the Haunted Mansion are, along with lots of little shops and places to eat. We kept joking that at certain times of the day, the protective dikes that hold the water in the main pool will break to give you that REALLY authentic New Orleans experience. Yes, I know, bad taste but we couldn't help it. Besides, we didn't say it loud enough for anyone to HEAR us :-)

The rest of our first day at Disneyland was a mix of character photo shoots and CC on roller coasters. Me, I don't go on them anymore because after the surgery to correct my hearing, I'm WAY more prone to motion sickness and vertigo from the more extreme rides. But that didn't keep me from filming CC while she went on them. She's got the video on her hard drive and will post it later, I'm sure.

Towards the end of day 1, we made our way over to Tomorrow land just in time to catch something on the schedule called Jedi Training Academy. Now, I was a bit skeptical at first, but I thought it might be kinda fun to see what they do. Little did I know that it would turn out to be a MAJOR highlight of our day.

CC has the video on her site so make sure you go over there and check it out. There's a little stage there and the kids all gather around that. The music comes up and the Jedi come out. They ask for volunteers and you should SEE the kids go nuts, jumping up and down for this one. The kids that get picked come forward and are given a Jedi robe and training light saber to use then they're taught a series of moves as part of their Jedi training. At that point stormtroopers come in! Then Darth Vader! Then Darth Maul! Ok now we've got a problem. Jedi to the rescue!

The kids line up and take turns going through their newly learned Jedi moves, fighting either Darth Vader or Darth Maul depending on where they're lined up. Oh it's a REAL hoot. Imagine, you've got your 3 foot tall kid holding a little plastic light saber standing in front of 6 foot something Darth Vader. All the while the head Jedi is making some REALLY funny remarks. We know these are funny because at one point he uses the Jedi Mind Trick to tell us that we'll find all his jokes funny.

Let me tell you, if I was still a kid, I'd be right down there in front jumping up and down with the rest of them. That looked like SO much fun. And, in the end, you get a little certificate saying you've been to the Jedi Training Academy! How cool is THAT!

At that point, CC and I were both dragging a bit. We went through an exhibit on high tech things that either will be coming out or are already out. They had all sorts of little displays, like one where you stand on a scale and it tells you how much you'd weigh on every planet in the solar system. That was pretty cool. That's where we got the shots of us in the space suits. Everyone in front of us was doing it all BORING so we spiced things up a bit. Here's me playing the role of the guy who makes the really awesome discovery right before he gets ripped apart by aliens or blown up in an explosion or something. You know this guy. In the movie he's usually the guy who fixes everything and has his hat on backwards.

We wandered around the shops for the rest of the day and watched the parade that night. Then we joined the throngs of people heading for the parking garage. There's WAY too much to do at Disney to cover the whole park in just one day, which is why we set aside TWO days for our visit :-)

The Vacation Part 1: The Arrival

It all started with me being out of uniform. What's that you say? You didn't know there was a uniform for vacation travel? Oh yes, especially when you travel during the week, first flight out of the day. You see, that's when most of your business travelers are out and about and there is a specific male uniform that you wear. Starting at the bottom, brown or black shoes to go with khaki pants (gray pants are acceptable if they are light gray). Moving along you should wear a blue shirt, freshly ironed. Color blue is the choice of the wearer. Over the shirt, dark blue sports coat. Yellow tie optional. I forgot to wear my sports coat.

It was a pretty amazing sight there at the airport that morning. There must have been hundreds of them, all walking around with their carry-ons and brief cases. They all matched. Most of them carried a styrofoam cup of coffee and had the Wall Street Journal tucked under one arm. Those in lower management had USA Today under their arm. Salesmen had either Sports Illustrated or a copy of the local paper.

We boarded the plane and crawled into our seats. Coach. Oh yes, how fondly I remember coach from my last flight. You know, the seat on the plane in coach is actually smaller than the seats in the waiting area at the gate. The ones in the waiting area probably recline further too.

Nothing eventful happened to us though. There was a pug in the row behind us. Never heard a peep out of it. We spent the 4 hours just reading and dozing and playing video games. At one point CC borrowed my PDA to listen to some music but that's it.

And so we reached LA. Exiting the gate in LA is quite a bit like walking into a shopping mall. Apparently that's how they've chosen to decorate the airport there, at least at the level where the gates are. Must make people feel more comfortable before they fly. It's just another trip to the mall, no big deal.

Anyway, out of the gate, through the airport to grab our one suitcase and out to wait for the shuttle. Our rental car agency operates out of the Radisson hotel by the airport so we hopped the shuttle to the hotel and picked up our car. That's it right there, a PT Cruiser with the touring package. I have no idea what's included in the touring package but I do know that it was pretty comfortable and got great gas mileage. Over the course of our whole vacation we only used up 3/4 of a tank.

We arrived pretty early in the day so we had quite a bit of time to kill before anyone expected us. Tuesday night we were staying with CC's grand aunt Lola Baby somewhere in the suburbs but we weren't expected until later. So what to do with the free time? First we had lunch. Our flight didn't offer lunch to those of us stuck in cattle class. Best we could do was a snack box for a few bucks. So we drove around the airport area until we came across a Boston Market and had lunch.

We then decided that since I hadn't seen the beach from the ground in YEARS, we'd drive towards the ocean and see if we could find our way to the beach. At the time, our GPS had yet to figure out just where we were so we did all this by map. Not bad when you consider that I've never been to LA before and CC hadn't driven there.

Anyway, we found ourselves at Venice Beach. You've seen it on TV, it's a notoriously weird place that's supposed to be filled with all sorts of colorful characters, assorted beach bunnies, muscle men, etc.

I can say for certain that it was filled with colorful characters. Granted there weren't as many of them as you see on TV but I took that to be because we arrived early and on a Tuesday. And while we did see a few surfers out there, the place was pretty much free of beach bunnies and muscle men. I guess they import them for special occasions or something. Or maybe they're only available on the weekends.

All that aside, it was a very nice beach and we enjoyed walking in the surf and feeling the sand between our toes. At one point I wandered out a little TOO far though and the water went a LITTLE deeper than I had planned. Not that it really mattered. By the time we got back to the car I was pretty much dry anyway. We were hoping to make it back later in the week but we just ran out of time. No big deal though. I'm sure Venice Beach will be around a while.

Then we hit the highway. You know how they always show scenes of LA traffic on TV? You know how it's always REALLY bad? You know what? They aren't just doing that for TV. LA traffic is HORRIBLE. We left the beach early, around 2 or so and by 2:30 we were stuck in traffic. On the plus side, I have to hand it to them, traffic was actually MOVING but still, it's been a LONG time since I had to share the road with that many other people.

About an hour or so later we managed to reach the suburbs and get to where we were staying. It was a great house up in the hills. Pool, hot tub, you name it, they had it. Not that we had time for any of that of course. It was very nice of them to let us stay though and it did save us a bit on hotel expenses and food and so forth. And given the prices of everything along the way, trust me, any time you can cut costs on a vacation like this it's good :-)

I noticed something kinda funny though during our stay. You know that show J.A.G.? It used to run on CBS a while back and now they show it on USA in the mornings. Well, apparently that show is in CC's blood because her family out there in LA watches it too. I figure given the different personalities, taste in TV and movies, different locations, it HAS to be something in the blood :-)

After dinner and chatting it was off to bed for us. We'd had a busy day and another busy day was in store for us. Tuesday we arrived in LA but Wednesday we were going to Disneyland!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Fall Decorating

Currently Reading: God Emperor Dune by Frank Herbert

As noted in last week's blog, it's fall and we are BIG fans of fall. One thing that's sort of new to me is fall decorating though. Growing up, we didn't really do much seasonal decorating. Yes, we did decorate for Christmas and maybe a little in the spring but mostly our decorating corresponded to spring cleaning or the purchase of new furniture.

CC, on the other hand, really likes to change the decorations around to match the seasons. In spring, she'll break out all the colorful flowers and moving into summer, she'll change the colors or patterns. Now we're into fall which means everything changes to reds and oranges and yellows and browns. Last year we spent a HUGE amount at the craft store buying decorations (it was our first year of real fall decorating) so this year we didn't need to spend quite as much. This year we really just added to what we already had. One benefit about decorating for fall is that you don't really need a color scheme. The colors have already been picked out for you so unlike Christmas, you can reuse everything year after year with no problems (my wife likes to be color coordinated for Christmas with each year having its own colors).

The 17th was our third anniversary and one of our anniversary gifts was a lovely kimono print, framed and ready for hanging. I wasn't sure where we were going to put it at first but CC pretty much knew right where it should go: the entrance hall. Of course, having it hanging right there looked a little too plain. Too much open space. So we had to buy something else to put in the hall WITH it. While we were out grocery shopping Monday evening, we came across some shelves. CC had already spent a decent amount of time online looking at hall tables and things like that with no luck. These shelves, however, seemed to be a good fit. They're simple, they're open, they don't take up much space, and the colors match. Even better, she can put anything she wants on them, swap things around, change things to fit the season. The only problem I have with this plan as a whole is what to do with our shoes. See, that entrance hall, right where those shelves now are, that's where we used to keep our shoe rack. Ok mostly it held MY shoes. CC has too many pair and they're hanging from a huge rack in the bedroom. Point is, now I gotta find a convenient place to put my shoes :-)

We get asked, quite often, what we did for our anniversary. Did we have plans? Did we go out? Did we do anything special? The answer to all that is, not really. You see, our anniversary fell on a Monday and I had to work that Monday. Worse, my boss has HER anniversary on the 16th so she was taking a 3-day weekend to celebrate. So, not only did I not get Monday off, I had to work Tuesday as well. CC and I don't mind that, of course, because we're doing our REAL celebrating next week when we travel to California for a 5-day vacation :-) Anyway, we DID manage to do a few things, sort of a mini-celebration I guess you'd call it. Sunday we went out and got decorations for fall, as I've been mentioning and as you can see in the pictures. It's been a bit slow in the salon so I was able to leave at 3. I picked up CC and we went out and did the shopping. We also managed to eat out between stops.

Monday, again, more work for me and for CC of course. And grocery shopping after that. And, naturally, more decorating. So, I guess you could say that we sort of celebrated our anniversary and the coming of fall at the same time. We hung decorations (ok it was mostly CC) and we set up the little displays that you see in all these pictures. The apartment looks and smells like fall and it's very relaxing. Just remember, we're doing all of this in addition to that California trip so you could say we're doing WAY more than most people would :-)

Speaking of which, the CA trip next week is going to include a trip to Disneyland! I think I've mentioned that before but it's worth repeating. I'm going to Disneyland! It's the sort of thing that makes people at work a bit jealous, especially my boss. You see, CC and I tend to take really good vacations. We pretty much always have fun and we don't usually spend a lot of money doing it. When we went to Nashville, for example, we had a great time, came back with lots of stories and pictures and it was a whole lot better than what other people did with their vacation. We've been setting the bar a little higher each time I guess you'd say. WELL, now we're going to California, hot on the heels of my boss taking a mini-vacation herself. Right now we have NO idea where that is but hopefully she had a LOT of fun and came back to work thoroughly relaxed and re-energized.

I was reading an editorial by Cal Thomas on Monday and in it he was lamenting the results of the latest quiz on American history and civics. A group called the Intercollegiate Studies Institute has released this year's Civic Literacy Report which is based on a test taken by American college freshmen and seniors (you can take it by clicking here). The teaching of history, government and economics leaves quite a bit to be desired in this country, especially at the college level. Going to a "better" school didn't help. In fact, chances are it actually HURT your score. I guess they're not really teaching much up there in those fancy, Ivy League schools. Even worse, in the case of Cornell University, the seniors scored LOWER than the freshmen which would suggest that not only did students NOT learn much history and government, they actually FORGOT what little they knew in the first place.

Now, I will grant you that I'm not what you'd call a big history buff, at least not American history and I will further grant you that I fell asleep a LOT in my history classes, government classes and economics classes. I will go further still and grant that economics and government not only make my eyes glaze over, but are almost completely incomprehensible to me. Given all of that, I STILL managed to score 80% on the test and that's 15 years out of college. CC, who's never had an American history class EVER scored 55%, placing her smack in the middle of the list.

Head on over to the website and check out the findings as a whole. It's pretty interesting stuff.

Now, for those of you who have been living in a cave for the past month or were otherwise far, far away from a television set, let's review the latest Britney Spears meltdown. This one came as the opening act of the Video Music Awards which themselves are growing pretty irrelevant these days.

Notice the glassy-eyed stare, the sort of stumbling walk and the complete lack of caring in execution of those "dance moves." I'm not sure if she's stoned out of her mind or just scared stupid because she knows she can't dance anymore.

I mention this because of a video I saw on the E! show The Soup. This is a clip posted on You Tube by a guy named Chris Crocker.

Talk about having a meltdown. He's having a MAJOR hissy fit over all of this. It's the sort of thing I could understand and be more sympathetic to if it was about someone with some real talent but come on, this is Britney Spears we're talking about. She's a marginal singer at best and is mostly famous for being well-marketed and being extremely rich white trash. She's not worth it.

Naturally the Internet couldn't just let something like that go unanswered. Let's face it, there are LOTS of guys out there with little better to do than post things on You Tube. The response to Crocker's fit was fast and furious and DAMN funny. One of the best comes from Seth Green. If you don't know the name you know the face and/or voice for certain. He's been in several TV shows and movies and does the voice of Chris Griffin on Family Guy. Here's his video:

And that's just ONE response to the Crocker video. To quote Ghost in the Shell, "The net is vast and endless." And, I might add, filled with smart asses. :-)