Friday, March 31, 2017

Book Review - The Animators

From the cover blurb – In Kayla Rae Whitaker’s bold and vibrant debut, a life-changing friendship collides with all-consuming creative ambition to explosive can’t look away effect.

Indeed, the Animators,  is edgy and different. Two twenty something girls meet in college and instantly connect. Mel Vaught from Florida and Sharon Kisses from Kentucky are escaping their families, their lives, and themselves as they create animated short films and ultimately a feature film. In a unique world, they create and also work out their respective family issues with blazing creativity.  They have an underworld following and ultimately win a very high award.  With that money, they work harder and dig deeper.

They identify Mel’s mother’s body in prison. That’s a harsh awakening. Sharon has a stroke at a young age. They deal with that. They visit Kentucky and Sharon’s past which includes a neighbor who was a child molester. So many issues and harsh upbringings – all fodder for animation – their life blood, their way of expressing themselves.  But alcohol and drugs play heavily and this reality could bring this successful duo down.  So many excess, so much strong personality, and of course there’s a competitive undertone. Who’s the genius, the powerhouse, and who’s the workhorse?

How will this friendship survive and thrive with various love interests – male and female, younger admirers, and creative boundaries? The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker is a strong debut book with very quirky interesting characters. Her writing is bold, daring, and vibrant. I enjoyed this book, was challenged by this book, and can recommend this book if you want to step outside your comfort zone. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Book Review - Hungry Heart by Jennifer Weiner

Hungry Heart – Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing by Jennifer Weiner is heartwarming and endearing.  It’s like hanging out with a good friend who “gets” you.  She’s now a bestselling author (Good in Bed, In Her Shoes, et al), but she’s also a mom, daughter, sister, wife, and is a mix of Nora Ephron and Tina Fey. (That’s a good thing!)  From the cover – hilarious and moving, Hungry Heart is about yearning and fulfillment, loss and love, and a woman who searched for her place in the world and found it as a storyteller.

She always felt like an outsider, even in her own family. She was a “big” girl – healthy and athletic (competed in rowing), but loved to eat, loved to read, and just followed a different path.  She was smart and knew it and didn’t let it hold her back. She found her voice in a newsroom, then as a novelist, and now as an activist and New York Times columnist.  She worked hard at her craft. In a class with John McPhee she learned about revising and revising again.  P. 110 Every piece of prose had to be whittled and buffed, fine-tuned and reworked and rubbed down and polished again, until it was as close to perfect as you could get it.

I enjoyed this book – whether it was her describing living in Philly and dealing with her kids. Or it was divorcing and rebounding. I liked the chapter about her grandmother in the retirement home and the “mean girls” there. Nothing in life really changes. You have to learn to be part of a group whether you are a kid or a senior. Jennifer Weiner has learned to adapt and embrace her differences to be part of a group. She’s found her writing niche and keeps honing her craft. She embraces social media and tries her best to help for positive change.

P. 402  Keep swimming. Keep talking. If something’s wrong, speak up. I will always love you, and I will always see you, all of you, inside and out. And every single part of you is perfect.
Wise words from Jennifer Weiner.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Monday Moment - aah, spring

 Sunday March 19th Ray and I went to the Dallas Arboretum - one of my favorite places on this planet.  We are having a very early spring with a week ahead of 80 degree weather. The tulips are almost past their prime. Glad we could visit and see them

Absolute bliss.  And I know this is rotten, when my Dad and family are all chipping away at ice and dirty snow piles in PA.  Hey, it will come back to bite us in August with over 100 degree temps.

Meanwhile, we smile and use sunscreen.  Spring.......sings

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Chug into Saturday and out of Alaska

All Aboard - Tuesday September 13 - Denali to Anchorage via train

We boarded the McKinley Explorer  at 9:30 am. I love trains and this one did not disappoint. We had comfortable seats in a glass open  bubble. The views were breathtaking. Misty clouds, golden leaves, reflecting lakes, burbling  rivers.

"Termination Dust" is a light snow dusting signaling the end of summer.
Look up the Dr. Seuss House in Alaska. You could see it's unique design from the train.
So smooth, we zoomed over look out after look  out. How many vista pictures could I take? Oh, yes, I can bore you to tears.  Go do it yourself.

And an eagle soared by the train as we pulled into Anchorage. So fitting...............

We arrived in Anchorage at 5:45 pm.  A bus took us to our hotel. Back to reality. Not fancy, just a way station.  We did get a reservation at 7:30 at Simon & Beauforts - a worthy last meal complete with sunset vistas. Salmon!!!

Wednesday September 14th was our farewell to Alaska. We enjoyed the Anchorage Museum - a mix of art and native culture. Arctic themes and native Eskimo installations.  We learned a lot and  glad  we went.

Onward to to the airport for an 8:40 pm flight that will last six hours and go through  three time zones.  We land at 6 am in Dallas on Thursday September 15th.
Tired troopers. Our  bags arrived with us. Time for reality, laundry, and sort through our pictures.
So many memories.   Farewell Alaska - what an awesome state
Excellent Ray 60th Birthday Treat

Go book your land/sea adventure now........................

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Alaska - Denali Grand Finale

Land Ho.  Monday September 12.  Okay, I admit I do take some dramamine because we are going  to be on a bus all day. You never know - better safe thank sorry.  Ray did check around midnight for the Northern Lights. Alas, too much cloud cover. We never did see them.

2 pm tour bus for the Tundra Wilderness Tour.  Book this, what a splendid day.
Justin, our tour guide, was studying for his masters in biology. He's been studying wolves. His gig as a Denali bus driver is a bonus for us - the man knows his park, the animals, and he sought to give us the best experience possible.

The National Park system of the USA is a treasure and funds should not be cut. That's my political statement of the day. In Denali they maintain a natural eco-system.  No interference. What lives. What dies. That's how it goes. No hunting or thinning of herds. It's maintained naturally.  Regulated buses run during the day. The park shuts at night. Only a certain amount of certified photographers are allowed in per day. It is controlled  for a good reason - try to NOT interfere with  mother nature. I was very impressed.

Denali is the size  of Massachusetts. Again the scale  is mammoth  and it's reassuring to know there is so much wild still not developed. Trust me - go see and you'll be glad.

Caribou had migrated already. We could see the tracks. One lumbering grizzly  sought berries. His huge  paws  dug furiously and found a yield. Justin stopped the bus and we watched him. He dug, strolled, walked in front  of our bus, and proceeded to continue his  search for food. The whole bus stayed quiet as we snapped pictures.  He was SO big and just freaking amazing.

Altogether, in  our seven hour day (which flew by), we saw  eight grizzly, eight moose (they are humongous), grouse,squirrels, bear cubs, an  eagle,and a rainbow. 

Book this trip now

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Alaska Cruise - of course it's sunny the next day

Of course, Saturday September 10th dawns glorious. It's our day at sea, not the Glacier Bay day. Oh well.  There's a lot of motion on the ship and we both have a slight sore throat and cough. Probably best to stay on the down low. Ray does his one gambling foray in the casino. That's a bust. We hang on our verandah in the sun and read. We do get in our one mile walk on the Lido deck, but even that's getting tiresome. We are ready to get off the boat for good. I can highly recommend Holland America.  The staff has been fantastic, the shows awesome, food is delicious, etc etc.  But we are not "cruise" people. We want to be on land and into the adventure.

Sunday September 11th - we say farewell to the Noordam. We have cruised. Bus trip through Seward and we learn about the great quake of 1964. It obliterated the city. Zoom on through Anchorage, Wasilla (I can see Russia from here - ha!), Willow, and finally outskirts of Denali by 5:30 - the McKinley Chalet.  Nifty resort with a room overlooking  mountains and a river. The yellow aspens pop - gorgeous fall colors.  We are now on  our LAND adventure. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Movie Review Madness - Beauty and the Beast

A tale as old as time….Beauty and the Beast gets a live action Disney remake that is absolutely gorgeous and worthy. Go see it on a monster big screen. Spring for the good theater with XD fancy screen and sound. Get the big tub of popcorn and bask in an old fashioned musical.  Not much new to the story. Belle (Emma Watson) is the odd girl in an old French town. She reads books, for goodness sake, and dreams of more to life. No, she does not want to marry Gaston (Luke Evans) – the hot male in town who’s an egomaniac.  Her father (the always good to see Kevin Kline) is eccentric and when he goes off to market loses his way and ends up a prisoner in an odd creepy castle. His faithful horse shows up and takes Belle to find him. There she says, “Step into the light” and meets the Beast.

This formerly vain prince had a curse placed upon him and his castle.  Now, until a final rose petal falls, he must remain a hideous creature and his servants are stuck as candelabras (Ewan McGregor), clocks (Ian McKellan), teapots (Emma Thompson), and the fancy wardrobe (Audra MacDonald- fabulous voice),  etc.   Belle swaps places with her father and shows her strong will. She’s not going to put up with crap from the Beast. But slowly she realizes he is her match – he’s well read, has a fabulous library, and she slowly makes him less selfish. Meanwhile, she charms the characters and they love her.

Emma Watson is perfect in this role. She projects intelligence. Her interplay with the Beast (a charming and worthy Dan Stevens) works. And he slowly wins her favor and ours. Deep down he is human, he does care, and does need and seek love. Can she fall for him in time to save them all?  Oh, you must enjoy the film to the end – bask in the lavish numbers (Be Our Guest). Love is unpredictable, and sometimes you do have to look into the soul, into the core of a creature to find what’s worthy.  So, yes, a bit of a lesson in this day and age. But the supreme goal of Beauty and the Beast is to entertain, to tell a tale as old as time…and golly gee, it will win your heart. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Monday Moment - Fareed Zakaria

The finale of the UTA Maverick Speaker series featured Fareed Zakaria. His general talk on the issues of the global economy was enlightening. A key aspect he touched on was technology - money can change hands and cross borders at lightning speed. Communication has exploded exponentially. The speed of progress and automation affects perceptions and has heightened fears.

However Zakaria is optimistic. I liked his view that America has been great, is great, and if it can maintain the OLD American spirit we know - the generosity, openness, and ingenuity - progress can be made.

 This is a man (an immigrant!!) who was born in India, educated at Yale and Harvard, has traveled widely, and is well regarded for his political and economic coverage of the world. His speech offered humor and was thought provoking.

Plenty of moments to contemplate.

Let's have a thoughtful week, everyone

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sunday Cruising - Glacier Bay, Alaska Brrrr

Friday  September 9 - It was a dark and stormy morning". Alas, the big boat event day - our tour into Glacier Bay was ominous. This would be our worst weather day. Oh  well. You never know in  Alaska what you will get late September.

We listen to a prep talk about where we are headed and what to expect. Then we go to the Crow's Nest - 10th floor of the ship. Alas, it's misty glare and way too crowded. Rumor has it they might open the bow. We hurry to our room to bundle up. First we go to deck 3. Brrrr. Reid Glacier, Lansplugh Glacier, and Johns Hopkins Inlet. Lots of wow moments despite the brutal weather.
Bow opens and we are layered with boots, hats, and multi-coats. We bustle out and gasp. Rain, wind, and a massive glacier in view. Quite dramatic. We snap pics with freezing fingers.  Okay - that's enough. We  give. Nature wins.

Scurry indoors to change clothes. We are soaked through.  Since we have a veranda we stand at the glass with our noses pressed against the glass. Lovely.  We break for lunch, then return to our room for the grand finale - the Marjorie Glacier.    The weather has broken a bit so we even venture outside - bundled up of course.  Oh, the caves and blue ice.  The Captain spins the ship slowly a full 360 degrees. Hey - we can even hear an ice calving - a dull roar and we can see the splash as ice breaks off. Tremendous.

One can only imagine a sunny day - beyond spectacular.
We finish up our day killing time. Announcements are made about expected boat rocking challenges. Ray even partakes of  dramamine. Any place you go on the boat, you weave and weeble wobble. It's a disconcering feeling.  However we are able to sleep after seeing the Noordam actors present a lovely show.

Glaciers are an amazing wonder to see. And the only way to see this National Park treasure is via cruise ship. It's well monitored and  very conscious of the environment. We want to preserve this purity!!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Fabulous Friday - Skagway, Alaska

Skagway - Thursday September 8.  This is one of my favorite days. I highly recommend the Glacier Point Wilderness Adventure. These excursions do cost extra but are worth the bucks spent. How else to truly experience Alaska? You have to get out there...into the rugged wild...albeit with guides. Prior to coming on a big trip like this I do recommend walking. Get into some semblance of shape - you'll want  to keep up and be worthy.

7:30 am  and off the boat. We board a harbor boat with Elise, our young perky guide, and twenty other intrepid explorers. Captain Dan pushes back and we zoom for 1-1/2 hours through fjords, inlets, passing waterfalls, mountains, misty clouds, and harbor seals lounging on shore. It's not too choppy. Yes, I took my dramamine.

On land we meet our dudes - the wilderness guides. These are twenty something guys who are college grads and not ready to settle down. They work hard in Alaska from May through end of September. They enjoy hiking, nature, and sharing  this wilderness with tourists. They've obviously done their research and their enthusiasm is contagious.

So, first stop is to put on waterproof boots. Then we hike on a narrow tree rooted path downhill to a river. Canoes await and we board. Matt is our guide - a dreadlocked white dude from the Midwest. He's very laid back and cool.  We paddle a bit and then he kicks on the motor. We zoom to the glacier.
The scale of this area is monumental. You think you are close to a glacier but you are a mile or so away. Chunks of ice float by. Matt stops briefly and hauls in a big chunk - it is crystal clear. The purity here is reassuring. Mankind has  not ruined everything.

Canoe lands and we slog ashore to walk about a mile on river walk. It's not easy - hence, you should have trained a bit for this. Blue ice gleamed.  Stunning  turquoise blue shades. Lapis hues take your breath away.  Rocks are the size of buildings. This glacier is HUGE. I'm out of adjectives to describe this.   Any pictures you see - they are true and more. Breathtakingly fabulous.

It was all exhiliarating.  We lingered  - hating to return to the canoe, paddling back, boarding our harbor boat and returning  to Skagway. Refreshed and tired for a good reason, we stumbled back to the ship by 3:30 for a nap.

I can't emphasize enough - book excursions. Get out there. Chat with your guides - it's an engaging group of young folks  seeing  the world and learning  a lot.
So, nighttime on the ship. Dinner - brie appetizer, trout with spaghetti, and a strawberry mousse. This is not buffet. The sit-down dinners are really nice.

7 pm  - Pub Trivia.  Victory!
8 pm - Mike Bliss - comedy, juggling, and magic. We are amused
9 pm - Group Trivia. Alas a tie...that's okay

10 pm - Goodnight

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Wordy Wednesday - Juneau, Alaska

Juneau - Wednesday September 7 - cute, colorful views from the ship.  We exit the ship at 10 for our excursion. it's a rainy intro to Alaska's capital. Not a big city at all. We board a bus and head to the Macaulay Hatchery. The life of a salmon is fraught with danger - the odds of living are ridiculously low. And yet, millions of fish manage to survive and make their trek to spawning  grounds and return to this same place. Amazing nature story and miles of swimming involved.

Next stop - Mendenhall Glacier. Lovely park. We do a two mile roundtrip hike that involves stunning views. With a loud rush of water, we hear Nugget Falls. Clear air, gleaming blue ice glimmers in the distance. We are not close enough to touch the glacier. The path has us standing across the body of water. Refreshing stop.

Now on to my favorite - a real gem. Glacier Gardens.  This guy had a vision - he converted a part of rainforest into a private garden and developed it into a wondrous place. The most creative aspect was the Flower Towers - upside down trees with the stumps filled with blooms. It's glorious
The tram ride is a two mile journey through the rain  forest and up 580 feet. There's a towering canopy with ferns, lichen, huckleberries, blueberries and flowers below. This is Tongass National Park.  One native saying - "When the grass turns to cotton, fall is forgotten. Winter comes."  We could see that transition in September.

Back to Juneau by 3 with some time to walk around. I recommend a fish and chip snack break at the Alaskan Brew Company. Yummy and fresh cod.

Time to go board the ship. And conquer with another Name That Tune  Victory. Yes, I'm bragging. I'm giving you something to achieve if you decide to cruise on Holland.

Each day gets better and better. What's in store in Skagway?

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Alaska Cruise - Ketchikan

Ketchikan - Tuesday September 6 - I'm excited about getting off the ship and walking on land. The dramamine has been doing the job, but I'm ready to "run free".  We sign up for a small tour and Bob the guide is quite a character. We soon find out that folks that live in Alaska are unique with a quirky flavor.  Bob was no exception - very folksy manner. I'm guessing a former hippie of sorts. 

We are on a bus for a short jaunt and then exit to wander to a stream where salmon are swimming like crazy. There's a deer in the distance. No bear. You can see paths where the bear crash through, but at 10 in the morning they are not seeking civilization. But we all look around eagerly  -hoping for a spotting.

Onward to Potlatch Park filled with native totems and carvings. Very interesting tour and art.
Back to town and we walk along historic Creek Street, the former red light district. Ketchikan is small and cutesy. One townie said it's " a drinking town with a fishing problem."  Ha!

2 pm - back on the boat for pushoff. Gorgeous scenery and everyone was eager to chat and share their day. Sea planes soared overhead. Fish leaped as we looked down. And amidst the drizzle it was sunny and misty at the same time.

I'm feeling the Alaska spirit. We move onward ready for our next stop on Wednesday

Monday, March 13, 2017

Monday Moment - Ice Cream Swirl

My moment occurred on Tuesday.  Ray and I headed to a show but we stopped at Jason's Deli for dinner. I enjoyed a yummy chicken wrap and then went to partake of "free" ice cream. Like a DQ, the machine dispensed soft serve vanilla, chocolate, or a combo swirl.  Ray had already come back with a lovely perfectly shaped cone. (This picture is from Dreamstock and it's not a swirl but you folks know what DQ cones look like)

Anyway, I manage to create the biggest mess you've ever seen. I pull down on the handle and a dribble appears in my cone. I push up and nothing happens. I pull down and an ice cream swirl is flowing but it won't stop or cut off.  I have a glob and more glob coming into my cone. It's rather obscene. I look for a spoon or something to try to cut off the machine. There's nothing around.

What shall I do?  Should I just go ahead and put my mouth under the spigot and just eat directly? Well, no... that would be rude and unsanitary.  I stop pulling the handle, then I admit I used my finger to just swipe my mess into my cone. I trust the next person would let the leftover go into the trough, and then begin again.

Have you had any machinery fails?  Are you inept at dispensing ice cream?

I came back to the table with the saddest looking cone. Ray was laughing...."What the heck did you do?"

I gave a rueful grin and ate my mess. Sigh - what can I say?

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Cruising in Alaska - this is the boring day

Monday September 5 - our first full day at sea and it's gray and dreary. Now what - find breakfast - the buffet on the Lido deck is  zoo (that's my recurrent comment. I prefer sit down meals, not roaming about. I do not need volume . I seek quality of food). After breakfast, we walk the circuit - three laps equals a mile. Now I feel the ship movement and begin my dramamine and ear drop regimen. That works for my motion issues, and I'm good to go.

There are a lot of activities on board ship and we take advantage  of as much as possible - 10 am  - hello, winners of Name That Tune in the Crow's Nest.  11 am cooking show in the Culinary Center - crab cakes, shrimp pasta, and creme brulee.  High noon - lunch.  1 pm - a Lumberjack Show - sounds corny but was quite interesting. This man, Rob Sheer, won championships and still competes with his son. He wore the ubiquitous red checked shirt, carried a big axe, and was extremely fit for late 50s.

2 pm  - time for a snooze. Hey, we're on vacation. Don't judge.

4 pm - another deck walk and a whale watch alert. Sure enough, we saw whales blow holes and breech. Very cool. It was funny as we all ran from side to side of the ship - everyone not wanting to miss a thing. Lots of misty clouds - tendrils encircled the hills ashore.

Night fun included a comedian's show. Jeff  Burghart was amusing and did some clever impressions.  Then the piano bar was so-so - the  man could play, but not sing.  Yawn - time for bed around 10 pm. We have to turn our clocks back for Tuesday and be ready for a shore adventure.

Stay tuned

Friday, March 10, 2017

Flashback Friday to Alaska in September

 What the heck - I gave teasers last year.  Now it's time to give the tour. So we'll call this Flashback Friday and we shall embark on our Alaskan cruise from September 2016.  Enjoy

Alaska Day 1 - prep and go
It took seven months to arrive, but Ray and I were off on his 60th birthday adventure - Alaska!  Let's back up to January 2016. The new year arrived and also a big birthday in August. What did he want to do?  Scuba, beach, baseball? After some deliberation he chose an Alaskan cruise. Now, which cruise, what excursions, gone for how long?  A big trip takes time to plan with many choices. We solicited advice and came up with a satisfactory choice. Holland America's next to last cruise in September. Two week land and sea combo - cruise from Vancouver to Seward, then Anchorage to Denali for some tundra wilderness, and return by train to Anchorage. This would certainly give us a nice overview of Alaska and a worthy adventure.  So, let's get started.

Saturday September 3rd - fly to Vancouver, Canada. Never been  there, but had the day to explore. We checked into the Four Seasons - fancy- and then walked to the Cactus Cafe. Awesome cool, modern dining experience. It was a sunny Saturday, but everyone walking by had umbrellas. Guess the weather is as fickle there as in Texas.  Full, we strolled along the harbor enjoying glorious scenic views. Our destination was Stanley Park - a 1000 square mile variety of statues, trees, gardens, totems, and history. The trolley ride is worth the money. Splendid day and introduction to Vancouver. We would like to come back and explore more of the city.

However, on to Alaska. Let's cruise.  Sunday, September 4th at high noon we join the cattle call to board. It's actually very well organized - Holland America has done this a few times. The Noordam holds 2500 guests and 700 crew. It is a "small" ship. I am impressed. Our stateroom 4040 is big enough for two people and it does have a small verandah with two chairs. Ray sprang for the outer scenic room. What the heck - you only turn sixty once. We got our bearings by finding the Lido deck and the lunch buffet (along with seemingly everyone else on the ship). It was zooey but tasty food.
Time for the 2 pm tour with Showguy Andy. This was informative. After our tour we went back to the bow of the ship for the 5 pm farewell to Vancouver. We waved farewell to not only Canada but sunshine and blue skies.

So, dinner time at the Vista Lounge. Time to indulge in grilled salmon and a superb dessert. The portions are just right, and the quality is stupendous.  Now what? We are a tad tired but we find the BB King band show - excellent musicians and plenty of soul singing.  It's been a full day. Time for bed. The room is dark, it's darn quiet, and there's no movement.

Sleep well. Each day brings a new adventure

This is just the start. I shall regale you with more adventures as we cruise to Alaska. 

Meanwhile, have a super good March weekend - it's blustery here in TX with rain expected. You never know what's in store. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Movie Review Madness - Get Out

Get Out is a funny/scary/horror/sharp intense film with a twist to the plot. I should stop there and just say, “Go see it.”  Okay, I’ll share a teensy bit more. Jordan Peele (of Key and Peele – think comedy/ MAD TV,etc) is the writer/director. Apparently, he’s always loved horror films and wanted to create one. This has been a long time in the making and it shows. The plot is sharp, the writing has a bite, and the production is slick. Go see it.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is seen packing a bag. Rose (Allison Williams) shows up at his apartment and asks if he’s ready to go. That’s when he asks a pivotal question, “Do your parents know I’m black?” Hmmm. She shrugs it off as no big deal. It’s going to be a nice weekend out of the city in upstate New York. Oh yeah, the parents are cool. Well, on the surface Missy (Catherine Keener) and Dean (Bradley Whitford) do seem like the dorky parents, trying to be cool and welcoming. But…there’s some weird vibes. Something is just a tad off with the long time groundskeeper and the house servant. Things progress. Chris has a weird dream, or does he? What’s going on?

There’s a big party that weekend and folks arrive from all over. Awkward chats ensue, and again …what the heck is going on?  Chris chats with his buddy Rod who’s back home doing the dog sitting. Rod, who works for the TSA, says “Get out of there, fool.”  Chris might want to heed that advice.

I absolutely must stop there. Yes, there is some violence but this is not a mad slasher, over the top crazy horror flick. Get Out keeps you interested and saying to yourself, “Oh Chris, listen to your instincts, man.”  Go see this movie. Get in, watch, and then Get Out