Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Day

It's February 29, 2012 - Leap Year Day. As I drove home from work (yea - payday!), I decided I'd take some random pictures to mark the day. Signs of spring outdoors, and yes a wild stuffed piggie.

Cool light pattern from our french patio doors at approximately 4:30 pm

Nifty shadow perspective

This festive plant is sitting on my kitchen table, but I moved it for the light pattern on the floor. I bought it at Calloways on Sunday, just to brighten our February. Love the colors and I hope to pot it later, but I'm waiting in case of a final freeze. Then again, it's 72 degrees today. No wonder weeds are choosing to sprout.

February Valentine candy is long gone. Here's to jelly beans. These are the Starburst sour style. Yeah, yeah, I know - it's early for Easter candy. Mind your own business. Happy Leap Year Day!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Not So Gray Lady - Jill Abramson

I read about Jill Abramson in More magazine (March 2012 issue. Article by Nina Burleigh) and wanted to feature her today. Her story struck me - hard work, intelligence, tenacity, and a love of words. She's only fifty-eight, a mother of two, and has a book published about her dog. She never plotted to get to the top - intensity, probing questions, and results steered her path.

October 2011, Jill Abramson became executive editor of The New York Times. She's the first female leader of THE paper, and must work hard to keep it relevant in changing times. Her background is Harvard, then investigative reporting, and finally her position as Washington bureau chief during the 9/11 Pentagon attack proved her mettle. She remained calm and directed all aspects of the coverage of that terrible day.

"I have always had a strong desire to get to the bottom of the facts, especially when people say the facts are unknowable," she says of her decision to become a journalist.

"Every word that you write about someone is branded on them, and words are not casual things." I love this quote.

"There are new challenges every hour," she acknowledges. She's working to be more accessible, and looks at innovation and newsroom integration (digital and print) as prime issues for The New York Times. Survival in the publishing industry is key. Sounds to me like they've got the right person for the job.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Oscar Night 2012

Oscar night. This is the Super Bowl for movie fans. I grew up in a household that revered films, Hollywood, and movie stars. I'm not talking celebrities - I'm talking movie STARS. Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Bette Davis. Golden oldies. Today's talent - Meryl Streep, George Clooney, Clint Eastwood (more as a director), Glenn Close, Colin Firth, Kate Winslet, and more. An excellent movie can transport, entertain, and enlighten.

I am the film critic for The Little Paper of San Saba - a town without a cinema. Thanks to Cecil Cherico for creating my press pass.

My Oscar ballot (courtesy of Entertainment Weekly) is filled out and ready for tonight. I think The Artist shall win big. I'm hoping for George Clooney as Best Actor for The Descendants and Viola Davis as Best Actress for The Help. As I reviewed the nominees, I can say it's been a good year at the movies with worthy contenders. Hooray for Hollywood!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Book Review: Unbroken

Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, should be required reading for high school students. It is well written and covers an amazing piece of history. The harrowing tale of Louis Zamperini is timeless, engaging, and heroic. It brings a man's tale to life and makes anyone question their own fortitude.

Could I float in a raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean for weeks? Without water or food? With sharks circling and bumping the raft? And know that if you indeed see land, it's probably occupied by the enemy (in this case Japan) and you're destined for punishment?

My answer is "No Way". I read this book in awe. It truly is a story of resilience, perseverence, and will to live. Mr. Zamperini survived a plane crash and Japanese POW camps. He was tortured beyond belief, ultimately had post traumatic stress syndrome, and lived into his 90s.

Talk about a survivor - this man was optimistic, strong, and had an extra amount of American ingenuity and gumption. That's the only way to describe this book and it's hero. Oh, he had his faults, but he could answer desperation with hope and resolve.

Excellent read, superb research, and kudos to the hero. They don't make 'em like that anymore.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Rainy Day Movie Reviews

Rainy day Saturday - over two inches. Cars never left the garage. We did not overeat junk food (though I really wanted to bake a chocolate cake). Ray and I did our Wii workout in the morning. That gave us permission to be sloths the rest of the day. I perused my Time magazine and EW, plus read. And we downloaded a documentary, Senna. I've included that mini-review, plus some others I've compiled the past month or so for the Little Paper of San Saba (a town without a cinema).

For future rainy days - here you go:
In theaters now, but probably appearing on DVD quickly I recommend two action adventure flicks. Haywire is a small film with a great cast and is surprisingly entertaining. Gina Carano, a female mixed martial arts star, is pretty, agile, and a natural on film as she's running, kicking, breaking guy's necks, and trying to figure out who's double crossed her. It's a double triple cross and by the end I'm still not entirely sure who was bad or good.

Nonetheless, Gina matched wits and fists with Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, and Channing Tatum. There's CIA/FBI/Special Forces craziness. The movie is very violent, and yet it's that over-the-top look at us do these stunts kind of violence. Not appropriate for kids, but wildly fun for adults. Haywire is great on a wintry day of doldrums. The adrenaline kicks in, and your heart will race as you run with Gina. The moral is look over your shoulder, don't trust anyone, and make sure you do your cardio everyday. Whew!

Contraband is another "don't mind the plot, but enjoy the chase" movie. Set in New Orleans, Mark Wahlberg's out of the game,no longer running drugs or stolen goods. But apparently he was the best. Now his wife's (Kate Beckinsale) little brother's been caught, dumped his stash, and owes a ton of money to the bad guys. Ooops. Mark's dragged back onto a huge container ship, with his normal crew and great timing. His goal is to smuggle conterfeit American money from Panama back into the states, make a gob of money, pay the kid's debt, and go back to his honest security system business.

Well, it's not going to be that easy. The kid gets antsy and uses their seed money to buy more drugs. That's not going to fly with the Panama crime kingpin (Diego Luna) and he forces Mark to join them on a heist. It all goes down in a hail of gunfire, but Mark manages to get back to the ship with the funny money covered by a paint spattered tarp (an unbeknowst to them Pollock!). More super double cross goes on as the ship's captain (JK Simmons) tries to pin smuggling on Mark. There have been a lot of calls from ship to shore. Mark's best friend can't be trusted. The New Orleans crime sleaze, Gianni Ribisi, threatens the wife. Everyone is snitching on everyone. Tension rises and you root for Mark as you eat your big tub of popcorn. Contraband is sheer fun, with plenty of tough guy attitude.

On DVD or download now:
Rise of the Planet of the Apes should win some special effects Oscars. Andy Serkis is the ape, Cesar, and he's chillingly cold in his revolt. Scientists conduct genetic research on apes creating evolved primates. Well, be careful what you wish for. Cesar and other advanced intelligence apes unleash a war for dominion over the Earth. Exciting and well done.

Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon - We watch the 1969 moon landing and per director Michael Bay, the Apollo 11 astronauts found a downed Transformers craft. Flash forward to now, and the Decepticons are ready to exact revenge on the Autobots. Shia LaBeouf is Sam, the Autobots human ally. Lots of special effects and things that go boom in this film. Fancy fake science talk, and plenty of ducking behind buildings. Crank up your surround sound and turn down your brain. This is very noisy fluff.

Senna - a moving documentary about Aryton Senna, the hot Brazilian Formula One champion who sadly crashed at the top of his game at age 34. I knew nothing about this sport, but enjoyed watching young Senna grow from Go-Karts to the real deal. His rise to stardom was quick. He could drive faster in rain, on any track, and had the magic touch. But the film shows the danger of driving at high speeds in these fragile race cars. Very scary. He was family oriented and loyal to Brazil. Senna, the documentary is quite complimentary and fascinating.

There you go - movies for any mood. Rainy days are necessary for guilt-free lounging.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Shiny Fast Toys

Boat show earlier in the month. Car show in Houston this past weekend. Not just any cars - Corvettes and Camaros - all gussied up and on display. Climbing into a hot car is like buckling on a pistol. It is the great equalizer - Henry Gregor Felsen.

The Aquarium is gone. Everywhere,

giant finned cars - nose forward like fish:

a savage servility

slides by on grease - Robert Lowell

Everywhere in life is somewhere else, and you get there in a car - E.B. White. So true, and yet somehow life's better in a fast sleek vehicle.

The car has become an article of dress without which we feel uncertain, unclad, and incomplete in the urban compound - Marshall McLuhan

What is the purpose of life? The purpose of life is to produce and consume automobiles - Jane Jacobs (The Death and Life of Great American Cities - 1961)
If I don't put a boat chase in a novel, I shall definitely have a car chase. Squealing tires, gunning engines, revving motors. We DVR episodes of Top Gear (BBC version) - so hot cars and the need for speed thrives in this household. I have lots of research material, and I live with a Corvette driver. No sputter or putter allowed. It's foot to the floorboard and zoom, zoom. I'm collecting speed adjectives for that chapter - adrenaline enhanced and turbo-charged writing. Come along for the ride.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day

It's the stupid stuff I love

he charmed me over the phone
smooth salesman, and I still buy
the patter

ears stick out a bit
boyish cowlick
wicked grin

his email replies
funny or innuendo

his spattered stovetop
sizzling dinner creations

sports aficionado
corvette enthusiast
game for anything

he listens (with an eye roll)
when I say, "I was thinking …"

joins me in crazy adventures
(balloon convention sounds fun)
(and it was)

supports me, my writing
and wields a worthy red pen

our oppositeness on paper
defies forces of nature

and that's what I love about Ray

Happy Valentine's Day!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Stronger: Kelly Clarkson, Songwriter/Singer

She sang the 2012 Super Bowl Star Spangled Banner with grace and aplomb. Beautifully paced and on key, Kelly Clarkson (now 29) is our first American Idol sweetheart, and she has grown into a lovely young lady. The girl can sing!!!!!! Yes, I'm overusing exclamation marks because her husky voice can sing ballads with hushed bravado, and then zoom into pop anthems.

I enjoyed her Stronger tour Friday 2/10/12 at the Verizon Theater in Grand Prairie, Texas. It was an adoring home town crowd, and Kelly did not disappoint. From the opening number to the finale of My Life Would Suck Without You, she hit note after note. Her songwriting skills have grown and she speaks to countless young girls about heartache and rebounding, about bad reviews and recovery.

She seemed genuinely happy to be performing, and her stage patter was disarmingly charming. Fun lyrics, poppy infectious tunes - the show was a winner. Kudos to her mad vocal skills. Winning Idol was no fluke. Kelly Clarkson is a young star with a bright future. I hope she maintains her winning ways, continues writing from her heart, and continues to sing like an angel. What Will Kill You Makes You (Stronger) - amen sister.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Charles Dickens: 200 Years Later

Charles Dickens, born February 7, 1812, lives in the pantheon of great literature. Memorable characters such as Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Tiny Tim, and Pip guided readers into worlds that needed fixing. Dickens' attention to woes and conditions in his day, led to improvements. His writing entertains, enlightens, and endures.

The wisdom of Love ...the highest wisdom ever known upon this earth - The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Trifles make the sum of life - David Copperfield

Time, consoler of affliction and softener of anger - Doombey and Son

My life is one demd horrid grind - The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby

Old Marley was as dead as a doornail - A Christmas Carol

Marley might be dead, but Charles Dickens lives on. His "career rode a wave of social, political, and scientific process" (Time 1/31/12), and the writing is relevant today. He fought for strong copyright laws and was a publicity genius. Dickens, a writer for the people, reflected the culture and transformed it.

It is a far far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far far better rest that I go to than I have ever known - Sidney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities

Happy 200th Birthday celebration, Charles Dickens

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Book Review: The Submission

The envelope is opened. Who shall be the winning architect to memorialize a devastating terrorist attack? What if it is an American Muslim?

The Submission by Amy Waldman explores the shocking result of an anonymous fair process, the ultimate debate, art, Islam, and conflict. Well paced and full of fleshed out characters, this book, as per the inner jacket, is a striking portrait of a fractured city striving to make itself whole.

I liked the architect, Khan, who just wanted to win. His story, as the son of immigrants from India, is the American dream. His vision for the memorial sounded perfect to me (p.4): The concept was simple: a walled rectangular garden guided by rigorous geometry. At the center would be a raised pavilion meant for contemplation. Two broad perpendicular canals quartered the six-acre space. It goes on to describe the victims' names on a white wall and steel trees made from salvaged scraps. Their forms would look organic, but they would resist a garden's seasonal ebb and flow.

Lots of perspectives, politics, and angst fill The Submission. This is a timely well written portrait of a sensitive subject. Kudos to Ms.Waldman.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Dream Boat

Shiny yachts, tempting boats, and fake palm trees transformed Dallas Market Hall into a water oasis. We strolled the aisles, hopped aboard for quick tours, and dreamed.

Nothing could be madder, more irresponsible, more dangerous than this guidance of men by dreams - George Santayana

Faster, I say. Oh this jet ski calls my name. However, the price tag keeps me earthbound. Nonetheless, I'm thinking that if I ever write a thriller, I shall have a chase scene. It shall be on water, involve jet skis, and I'm going to have to do a LOT of research to get it just right.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Groundhog's Day

Last year at this time, Bedford was in blizzard conditions. Our Super Bowl party was postponed. Getting to work was precarious.

This year, 2012, winter is a yawn. Over seventy degrees today. The weekend might plummet to the fifties thanks to a "cold" spell. You just never know. Here's a Groundhog's Day celebratory poem I wrote last year:

Six-Week Countdown

heater groans
wallow in winter remnants
pilled sweatshirts
sinus sniffles

mythic groundhog

Growing up in PA, Groundhog's Day was a mythic turning point for the winter. It's ingrained in my soul and I shall read the prognostication. Then I'll sit on our patio in TX and read a book.