Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Kicking 2014 to the Curb

Let's review the decade so far, shall we?

In 2011 we lost Mom to heart and breathing problems. It is horrifying that almost 4 years have passed so quickly without her.

Meanwhile, our slacker son decided to blow off everything so he didn't finish earning his final rank in boy scouts nor did he bother doing well in his first semester at the junior college. )Side note: he went back to college for Fall 2014 and is doing much better, majoring in chemistry and getting A's and B's.)

We went to Colorado in 2012, taking Pop to visit my brother K2. When we got back Pop had appendicitis and had emergency surgery. Most of that year is a blur otherwise. I think that means it was a fairly uneventful year for CPA Boy and me. The Boy gave up on college and got a job at our local movie theater (where he still works now) after I bombarded him with constant nagging: "Got a job yet?" "How many jobs have you applied for today?" "Got a job yet?" (It worked! He had a job within a couple of weeks!)

The year 2013 just sucked. CPA Boy became mysteriously ill, starting with leg pain in January and leading to ever more serious heart problems and procedures. By the time December rolled around we finally had a diagnosis that explained all: muscular dystrophy. It was like living in a "House" episode except that it lasted for an entire year and there was no miracle cure by the end. (He's fine and stable for now so that's something good.)

In 2014 things were a bit more sedate at first. But then we found out that The Boy has the same muscular dystrophy gene as his dad so that was disheartening to say the least. But forewarned is forearmed so The Boy will be able to get regular checkups and will hopefully minimize issues as they arise, so that's something good.

Then CPA Boy's grandma had all sorts of health issues to contend with starting in September: a pacemaker implanted, a melanoma removed and a couple of bad falls at home. She seems on the road to recovery but I am planning to visit once a week to help with anything she needs. I already go shopping with Pop every Tuesday morning so I will head to Grandma's on Tuesday afternoons.

And CPA Boy's dad needed some surgery too which necessitated a few trips into San Francisco, where the major medical-surgical centers are located. He came home on Christmas Day and is healing up nicely at home right now though I believe he needs one more surgical procedure in 2015 before he will be fully on the track to wellness.

Because of the trip into San Francisco on Christmas Day we postponed our present opening to December 26 instead.

And because The Boy works at the theater tonight for New Year's Eve we celebrated last night instead, eating our Trader Joe's and Target-brand snacks while playing games of Monopoly and Fluxx. So tonight we can ignore the hoopla and go to bed early!

I'd say I am looking forward to 2015 but it seems as if the teens decade has not been over-kind to us so far! All I want is a relatively boring life again!

[And a special shout-out to Lady Chardonnay whose 2014 was way worse than mine: losing her beloved dad in May and then trying to help her mom through a bad fall on Christmas Day, including a hospital stay, from all the way across the country. Stay strong, Lady C! We send love and strength to you from California.]

Friday, November 28, 2014

Is This My Life Now?!

I spent last Monday visiting a 90-year-old.

Then on Wednesday I took an almost-80-year-old to a doctor's appointment.

On Friday, Monday and Tuesday I babysat an 85-year-old.

CLEARLY, I need some new (younger) friends!

The 90-year-old is my sweet, sweet aunt (Pops' sister) who lives in a residential care home and no longer remembers any of us.

It is heartbreaking that she is gone from us yet not gone from us at the same time. She is truly the sweetest, kindest person I have ever known.

The almost-80-year-old is Pops. He is always fun to hang out with! He normally handles his own doctor appointments but we have been planning on lunching at a place in Penngrove run by a Greek guy named Yanni. It was convenient for me to drive us to the appointment and then to lunch. Yanni's specializes in sausages. I had the Thanksgiving Sausage sandwich and it was SO good! And I don't even really like sausage! When Yanni heard that we are Greek he threw in some Greek fries for free! We think my brothers, Everest and K2, might like it too, next time they visit.

The 85-year-old is CPA Boy's grandmother. She was recuperating from her pacemaker surgery and I was finally able to have a day home of "free time" (catching up on everything I have been putting off in November). Then Grandma fell getting out of bed and scraped her arm.

To recap: she had pacemaker surgery; she fell down some stairs on September 3rd scraping her legs and arm; she fell getting out of bed; and she still has a melanoma on her forehead. I am almost afraid to suggest taking a walk around her mobile home park because someone might think we beat her up given all her wounds!

Anyway, we got her a walker and that has helped her get around with more stability. So for now I am off duty there.

Then it was Thanksgiving. Pops helped me make the stuffing Wednesday and then came over to have dinner with me, CPA Boy and The Boy for the big day. We had a 17-pound turkey which cooked up beautifully. The sides were mashed potatoes, glazed carrots, gravy, stuffing and rolls. Simple but delicious!

People have been making a to-do over people needing to work because stores are starting to open more on Thanksgiving but our son always works on that day along with Christmas and New Year's Day. No one ever says movie theaters should be closed on the holidays too!

Next week are more doctor appointments. I am the chauffeur for everyone these days!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ten Books, Volume 9

I had no time to read anything more strenuous than a magazine for the last month. Library books have started coming in at a furious pace --- 6 this last trip! --- so maybe I'll be able to get to an even hundred books read by December 31st.

Here are books 81 to 90:

NON-FICTION
  • Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned" by Lena Dunham
    • I watch Lena Dunham's TV show "Girls". I have seen her film "Tiny Furniture". I enjoy "Girls" and her film was interesting (I didn't hate it but I didn't love it either). Thus you could say I am a fan of hers.
    • If you are a fan, you will probably also enjoy her book. If you are not a fan or have never heard of her then you probably will not enjoy her book.
    • Dunham-related criticism can be found all over the Internet. Much of it centers on the nudity/sex scenes on "Girls" and on Dunham's personal look (the one fashion-related website I follow often complains that she dresses like "a toddler") in which it is pointed out with some regularity that she is not "conventionally attractive" enough to be in nude scenes (she is small-breasted and big hipped, your standard pear-shaped figure).
    • First of all, if you are offended by how she (or anyone else, for that matter) looks, then don't watch her show! Ignore her completely if you prefer.
      • To be honest I hate watching any nude/sex scenes anymore, no matter what the actors look like. It takes me right out of the scene because I start thinking things like: "I wonder how long it took to get the makeup all over their bodies. How long did they stand naked in front of the makeup people?" "Eeew, that's famous actor [insert name here] pretending to have sex with famous actress [insert name here]. Boring! Get back to the story!"
      • I have caught parts of the soft-core porn movies they used to show on HBO (maybe they still do?). They NEVER show wieners or vaginas and actresses' hair hides any naughty bits. (These movies are TERRIBLE. Hilariously terrible!) There are many, many breasts though and all I can pay attention to are the surgical scars on the women who have had basketball-sized implants. NOT sexy. (I don't think I am the target audience for these films.)
    • As a pear-shaped gal myself, I find it refreshing to see a similarly shaped woman who has no body issues on (pay cable) TV. There are a zillion skinny actresses out there and we all know that the size 00 standard flaunted on TV and in movies and magazines is ridiculous. 
      • I just looked up what my clothing size would be based on my college era measurements (about 34-27-39, a total pear). Apparently those measurements made my college self a current size 2-4 which is odd because in those days I hovered around a size 10-12. Obviously sizing has changed immensely.
      • An actress who wears a size 0 is somewhat a matter of genetic lottery combined with lifelong dieting and exercise (and constant smoking for many of them) to stay thin. Even at my college weight (approx 130 pounds) and measurements I was too "fat" to be an actress on any screen!
    • Lena Dunham is a young woman in her 20s in a creative field of employment. She may dress however she likes!
    • Her character Hannah Horvath on "Girls" famously said she wanted to be "the voice of her generation". Lena Dunham may not be the voice of her generation but she definitely has her own voice. Her book is filled with amusing anecdotes and tales of her life.
    • To reiterate: Fan? Yes, worth a read. Not a fan? Don't bother.
  • On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss
    • I love reading books about disease and vaccinations. I am a firm believer in vaccination so I avidly follow the current debate over whether it does more harm than good.
    • I had high hopes for this book but I was disappointed. It is more of a book-length essay by the author on her decision-making process when she had her own child. I can see how this approach might be helpful to others in the same situation but it was not the format for me. 
  • How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson
    • This was a six-episode series on PBS last month and I was lucky enough to get the library book while I was watching it.
    • The six topics are Light, Cold, Sound, Glass, Clean and Time. 
    • One succinct example: The printing press led to more literacy and the need for spectacles. This specialized glass-making lead to microscopes and telescopes.
    • The author wrote another book I read years ago about the man who figured out that cholera was spread by contaminated water supplies rather than random bad air (called miasmas).
    • Steven Johnson is adorable and I totally have a crush on him now! :)
FICTION
  • Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer
    • I loved this book until the end when ALL IS REVEALED. Ugh.
    • The heroine is named Jam (double ugh) and she is sent to a boarding school in a last-ditch attempt to help her over the death of her beloved boyfriend Reeve. She and a handful of other students are assigned to an exclusive class called Special Topics in English. They study Sylvia Plath (who wrote The Bell Jar, hence "Belzhar") and there are magic notebooks. You know, everything you'd want from a book about an unusual boarding school!
    • And because I hated this ending so much I am GOING TO SPOIL THE PLOT IN THE NEXT BULLET POINTS! Consider yourself warned!
    • The notebooks magically take each student to the lives they had before the moment of the event that led them to the boarding school. The notebooks have only have a limited number of pages so the final visit to "Belzhar" reveals the big secret of each student.
      • Jam's boyfriend didn't die at all. He wasn't even her boyfriend but that of her best friend. Based on a few incidents (Reeve really isn't a very nice guy) that take place over a month, she only IMAGINES he was her boyfriend. She apparently has what must be a psychotic break because she kills him in her mind!
      • The other students in the special class had real problems. Jam is a loon. Her "bereavement" leads her to isolate herself from everything for over a year! I think her parents must be crazy too.
    • Hated!
  • The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
    • I have not yet read Cloud Atlas (it's on my Kindle) but I loved the film (unlike most). I enjoyed most of this book but I remember very little of it plot-wise. I'm thinking that means I ultimately didn't like it that much. I do remember that the character I liked the most was one of the bad guys!
    • Mitchell's book is written around several characters, time changes and mystical wars between good and evil. If that's your cup of tea you may very well enjoy this book. Or wait for the movie? (Since "Cloud Atlas" did not do well at the box office, a film may never happen.) 
  • The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
    • It is very difficult to describe anything about this book without spoiling the experience of reading it. A girl named Melanie is a student. But she is kept in a cell and is strapped into a wheelchair for transport from cell to classroom. Then a horror thriller ensues.
    • SPOILER: Zombies! (Use your computer mouse to highlight the box to read it.)
  • Rooms by Lauren Oliver
    • As I write this I remember NOTHING about this book. Hmm. Not a good one then.
    • Okay, I looked it up. A man dies and his ex-wife and estranged kids show up to pack it up. But ghosts live there too. You learn about the ghosts and the estranged family. I guess I did enjoy it as I read it but it had no staying power for me. Sorry, Ms Oliver.
  • Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
    • This book came via my best friend Lady Chardonnay. She very kindly lists the books she's reading on her blog from time to time. If something looks good to me I request it from the library. Lady C is one of the few people I know who reads more than I do! And I read a LOT!
    • This is a very cute book about a teenager who goes to boarding school in Paris for her senior year. (There are two follow up novels which I will try to get to eventually but I think they center on different characters.)
    • I went to a different high school for my senior year. It was no boarding school in Paris, however! Times are different. Now the characters are shown keeping in touch with old school friends via e-mail and other newfangled ways while getting to know the new friends. In my day, now 35 years past (egad), all we had was snail mail. And that died out quickly!
  • Lock In by John Scalzi
    • Based in the near future, some people have become "locked in" from a flu virus. This means they are completely paralyzed except for their eyes but retain their intelligence and awareness. Because one of the original victims was the wife of the United States president the government worked hard to create technology to allow the sufferers of "Haden's Syndrome" to interact with the world. There are robotic shells that the locked in can project their minds into to get around. There is a virtual reality world and there are integrators, people who can allow "Hadens" to use their bodies.
    • The novel itself is about a rookie FBI agent who has Hadens. He and his partner investigate a murder. This leads to a conspiracy.
    • Great book. It would make a great TV show or movie!
  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
    • This is a re-read of a book I first read aver 15 years ago. The Starz series has aired the first 8 episodes based on this novel with a further 8 coming next spring. The TV series is amazingly good and I wanted to refresh my memory with the book, especially since the TV show ended on a cliffhanger.
    • I really love the first 4 books of the Outlander series. I hope the TV show progresses at least that far!
    • The gist of the story: in 1945 Scotland a British woman is swept back in time over 200 years. While trying to return to her own time and the husband she left behind she becomes involved with the events of the past and a new man. There's much more to it than that, of course. Highly recommended if you like historical fiction with a time traveling twist!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Missing Weeks

My life has been crazy for the last few weeks!

October was a really bad month for my breathing. I have developed allergies, mainly hay fever,  over the last 5 or so years. Apparently Sonoma County is a bad place to live with allergies as our skies are constantly filled with some allergen. My allergy symptoms come and go all year round but are particularly bad in March through October.

Mine had gotten so bad that I could barely breathe in the shower (too much moisture in the air, I guess) and when I laid down to sleep I could barely take in enough air. I also coughed constantly. I didn't get a good night's rest because it was so difficult to fall asleep.

I kept waiting for the end of the season but it was clear things weren't getting better. I made an appointment for October 29. The doctor prescribed me an inhaler and some nasal spray. I picked them up at the pharmacy and came home to try them out. They gave me instant relief! I was really tired from several sleepless nights so I went to take a nap at 5:30 pm. And didn't wake up until the next morning at 9 am!

Meanwhile some of my fingernails were growing with a weird curve to them so my doctor had me tested for vitamin D levels. Normal levels range from 25 to 100. My score was 11. So I also got a giant vitamin D supplement for the next 8 weeks.

The Boy wanted to dress up for work for Halloween. He didn't wait until the last minute but he didn't leave a lot of leeway either! We went shopping for supplies the Monday before Halloween and then because of my exhaustion I didn't really get started until October 30.

He went as the character Emmet from "The Lego Movie". This basically involves making a construction worker costume. That part was easy enough, using duct tape and an orange t-shirt to make a vest and turning an orange convict costume into just pants. The problem came with the yellow face paint to make The Boy Lego-colored.

He had to be at work at 10:30 in the morning so I suggested we test it a bit the night before. It turns out that the tubes of yellow facepaint we bought came out in something resembling curds. They were basically some yellow suspended in a clear liquid. Naturally they were "Made in China" and I really didn't want to smear any of this on my son's face!

Since we didn't have any other options we went the do-it-yourself route. It took several tries, following a few recipes from the Internet. Using flour, vaseline, food coloring, cornstarch and other things we came up with a yellow paste. It was okay but not great. It just wouldn't go on smoothly and The Boy ended up washing it off after a couple of hours anyway!

Isn't he cute?!
"Emmet" with the Piece of Resistance

It turned out cute and people who had seen "The Lego Movie" knew who he was supposed to be. Everyone else assumed he was a construction worker.

CPA Boy's grandmother was supposed to have a melanoma removed from her forehead on October 29 but the surgeon needed to use general anesthesia rather than a local. The cardiologist didn't want her to have general anesthesia unless she had a pacemaker first. This happened on November 3. She's 85 so they kept her in the hospital for a couple of days during which she was champing at the bit to go home.

I drove her home from the hospital and then proceeded to spend the better part of the last two weeks with her during the day (excluding weekends). She really couldn't be left alone as it was hard for her to get up from her recliner and someone needed to be with her to help with getting to the bathroom, get her lunch and just keep a general eye on things. My mother-in-law came in the mornings and evenings (she works during the day) and I was there by day.

I won't be able to do much this coming week as I have things scheduled to do with my Pop instead. I think this might be a good time to sign Grandma up for Meals on Wheels. She's eligible (over 60 and housebound) and then someone would be able to stop by during the day making sure she gets something to eat. She's moving around on her own but her hands tremble a bit and that makes it dangerous for her to heat up some soup, say, and then need to carry it to her chair.

The problem is that I live about 40 minutes away so it's not easy just to pop in every day at lunchtime. But then I am the only family member who doesn't have work or school right now.

And in the midst of all this CPA Boy got food poisoning which meant a joyful evening cleaning up his barf from the bathroom floor.

I believe the comment I made that best sums up my life is this: I want to run away but I don't know where to go!

So that's where my weeks have gone. And Thanksgiving is coming. And Christmas. Ugh.

Friday, October 17, 2014

UPDATED Twenty-Five Years Ago Today

CPA Boy's ticket from Game 4, played at Candlestick

If you live in the Bay Area chances are the Loma Prieta Earthquake comes up in conversation from time to time. All of us have a story to tell about it.

On October 17, 1989, I had been dating CPA Boy for just over two months. We both still worked at the same credit union but in different locations. He was working as a teller at the Petaluma branch while I was in the accounting department at the Administrative branch in Santa Rosa.

CPA Boy is a die hard Oakland Athletics fan. In 1989 he had season tickets with his brother and they had already attended the first two games of the World Series in Oakland, where the games were against the San Francisco Giants in the first (and so far only) Bay Bridge Series.

Games 3, 4 and 5 would take place in San Francisco at Candlestick Park. Games 6 and 7 would return to the Oakland Coliseum.

On that Tuesday at the credit union we had a "Casual Day" so we could wear baseball shirts and jeans. This was a big deal because casual days were rare for us in financial institutions in those days. Normal dress was business suits, dresses, skirts, heels and nylons. If it was appropriate for church it was appropriate for work!

But I have no memory of what shirt I wore! I assume it was something related to the Oakland A's because I was newly dating a huge fan of the team. (He might have broken up with me if I wore a Giants shirt. Plus I look terrible in orange, San Francisco's color!) I don't remember if I borrowed a shirt or bought one! The A's colors are green, gold and white and I look good in green!

The quake hit at 5:04 p.m. (The credit union was open until 6 every night.) I was close to going home because I worked in administration so my hours were closer to 8:30 to 5:30. I was chatting with my co-worker Di and our boss Sheff. I was sitting at my desk which was right next to the window. We just sat there and waited for the shaking to stop but it wasn't strong enough for us to RUN AWAY FROM THE WINDOWS! (Which is what you are supposed to do!)

Then the electricity went out. You can't do any banking without electricity: no computers work and the cash is more vulnerable. Step one is to escort all customers out of the building and lock the doors.

And you aren't sure where the epicenter is when an earthquake strikes. It turns out that this one was in the mountains of Santa Cruz, located about 120 miles from Santa Rosa. We felt a good jolt in Santa Rosa but not strong enough to do anything but cut the electricity.

Today you can turn on the TV, radio, or Internet and find out the location and magnitude within a few minutes as long as you have electricity. Or a smart phone will do as they rely on satellites instead of electricity, at least until you need to charge them! In 1989 we only had the radio and it took longer to get that information out to the public. We heard that the Bay Bridge had collapsed (it hadn't but a section of the upper deck collapsed on to the lower deck; it was the Cypress Freeway structure that had collapsed).

Anyway, I went home to my apartment which was on the other side of the freeway from where I worked. My apartment still had electricity so I turned on the TV and watched the coverage. I think I called my parents briefly to check in but we were supposed to stay off the phone lines to keep them open for emergencies.

So my Loma Prieta Earthquake experience was minor in the scheme of things but you never forget where you were during the Big Ones.

The World Series was delayed for ten days and still played at Candlestick Park. The Oakland A's won games 3 and 4 and took the World Series title. CPA Boy and his brother got tickets to Game 4 from an acquaintance so they got to see the A's win the World Series!

The San Francisco Giants are in the World Series again this year. I wonder if other people get a little nervous expecting another earthquake when the game plays in San Francisco (at AT&T Park though, not Candlestick). The odds against that must be astronomical, right?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Ten Books, Volume 8

I asked CPA Boy what one of my favorite things to do is. Criticize books!

Here's the latest crop:

NON-FICTION
  • What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe
    • The author of this book has a webcomic named xkcd. I had never heard of it before I picked up this book, which is an expanded version of some of the comics and also has brand new questions.
    • Each one features his cartoons drawn in a minimalistic stick figure style. The specific math and physics is also included. I am so far past my calculus days (I remember NOTHING!) that I tended to skip over the math stuff and stuck to the pictures and explanations instead.
    • Sample question: How fast can you hit a speed bump while driving and live?
  • Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent
    • I started reading this book about 3 years ago and then it got waylaid by all the library books I check out. Last week I was between library visits so I polished this off in a couple of hours.
    • I watched Ken Burns' documentary series "Prohibition" (aired on PBS in October 2011) and I have been watching the show "Boardwalk Empire" all along too. The combination of these three things has given me a better understanding of 1920s history.
    • Anyway, some Prohibitionists thought that a lot of suffering by women and children would be eradicated if they could keep men from getting drunk. Men would drink away their paltry earnings and some would beat their families while in a drunken state. (Unfortunately it turns out you don't need to be drunk to be a wife beater.)
    • Other Prohibitionists were xenophobic. Many of the newest immigrants were from Southern and Eastern Europe, not the mainly Northern Europeans who had already immigrated and assimilated earlier. (Notable exception to this: the Irish.)
    • Because the Sixteenth Amendment (Income Tax) had passed it was felt that the revenue generated by alcohol taxes was no longer needed (it was a HUGE portion of Federal revenue, something like 40%!).
      • This would help doom Prohibition by the 1930s because the Depression meant there was little income tax revenue by that point. The government needed the alcohol tax revenue and the creation of jobs that would occur if alcohol could be legally produced again.
    • Many people ignored the law. And once that happened it becomes easier for people to break other laws they don't like.
    • This book was fascinating. The people involved on both sides of the issue were fascinating. Highly recommended!
  • Dr. Mutter's Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz
    • Thomas Mutter lived from1811-1859, dying at 48 of a fatal lung condition. He was a Philadelphia surgeon who had a special fascination with "monsters", people who were so deformed that they were willing to be operated on without anesthesia.
      • Well, all surgeries were performed without anesthesia in those days but usually as last resorts.
    • Mutter was among the first practitioners of plastic surgery. He was also open-minded about advances in medicine and immediately began using anesthesia when it came available. He really cared about his patients and their sufferings.
    • His method of care contrasted sharply with other doctors of his time. It used to be that not only would you have surgery while awake and without the benefit of anesthesia, they also sent you home immediately afterwards. Mutter created a section in the hospital for aftercare where patients could recover for a few days first.
    • The book also covers other doctors, contemporaries of Mutter. One, Dr. Meigs, a renowned obstetrician, would not and could not believe that doctors were responsible for the transmission of puerperal fever (also known as childbed fever) which was an infection of the reproductive organs that killed many women. 
      • Despite scientific evidence that proved hand-washing by doctors and midwives to be effective in preventing its spread, Meigs said "Doctors are gentlemen, and gentlemen's hands are clean" and refused to wash his before each delivery. He also thought anesthesia was the work of the devil and that women (thanks to the Bible) were meant to suffer pain. Ass. He went to his grave thinking he was right.
    • Dr. Mutter collected medical oddities and other specimens which he donated to create a museum. The Mutter Museum still exists in Philadelphia today.
    • Mutter added an umlaut over the "u" in his name but I don't know how to render it in Blogger. Sorry.
FICTION
  • The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero
    • This was a good story, complete in itself but with the possibility of future adventures should the author desire to write any.
    • A young man inherits a home from a distant relative. He arrives in Virginia with his companion Niamh who is a mute teenager.
    • A ghost story ensues and lots of mysterious happenings occur before the final chapter.
    • The story is told using journal entries, security camera footage, letters, Niamh's handwritten notes and more. A fun read.
  • The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan
    •  The story was interesting, about a half-Chinese, half-American girl who grows up in her mother's courtesan house and then becomes a courtesan herself.
    • Amy Tan is a great writer but I feel like I have read this book before. Every novel I have ever read that takes place in China always seems to have the same basic structure. Granted, I have probably only read about a half dozen of them (Lisa See is another popular author in this genre) but they are always the same!
      • A woman or women living in a the cosmopolitan Chinese city (almost always Shanghai) sometime in the last 100 or so years faces hardship and is left with nothing. Then she somehow ends up in the country where the other women are all horrible and catty to her, if not worse, (the men are all patriarchal and cruel) but the main character perseveres and triumphs.
      • That said, I do enjoy learning details about life in China. But perhaps a history book might be better than reading a different version of the same old story.
  • The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
    • Not to repeat myself but I have probably read about half a dozen novels that take place in Amsterdam (or another town in the Netherlands) sometime in the 16th or 17th centuries. A young girl gets married to a man she barely knows. People are all strict Calvinists so everyone wears drab colors and conforms. Things happen to the new bride, she triumphs by the end, blah, blah, blah.
    • So this book's extra little hook is that the new bride receives a dollhouse exactly like her new home. She begins to order items to furnish the dollhouse but the miniaturist not only sends her what she ordered but also things that seem to predict the future. There are a bunch of mysterious circumstances. There is a man who is revealed to be a homosexual, another very popular trope in novels taking place any time before current times.
      • It seems that there are so many plots (not just in books about the Netherlands) where the naive girl marries a man who doesn't want to sleep with her. Then she walks in on her husband and some teen boy.
        • Obviously homosexuality was something to be hidden in times when you could be sentenced to death for it but do these characters always need to be so careless about not locking doors?! (I guess there wouldn't be a SHOCKING SCENE if the doors were locked.)
    • Here is a line direct from the novel: "The air is hot, the atmosphere a bruise."
      • WTF does that even mean?!?! Yesterday CPA Boy and I were waiting at a red light and I said, "The atmosphere is a bruise!" And he laughed because I shared this line with him already. 
      • This is one of those things that takes me right out of a book because all I can hear is the author's voice saying, "Look! I'm WRITING!"
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
    • Another novel that takes place in a post-apocalyptic world (some deadly disease kills most of the world's people). This was a complete story, not part of a new trilogy, which helps immensely. I was disappointed by part of the ending in that a couple of characters should have had a more meaningful interaction before one died and there was a lot of coincidence considering people are roving around the desolate countryside. But it was pretty good overall.
  • Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
    • Three moms of new kindergarteners become friends and secrets come out. You know right at the start of the book, in the middle of the school year, that a character dies (but not which one) and then the book flashes back to the kindergarten orientation day.
    • I liked What Alice Forgot by this author (I remember little of it, however) but disliked The Husband's Secret. I loved this book though. It had a very satisfying ending and the characters were interesting.
  • The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith
    • I was between library books again and picked up my copy of this book because I knew I could polish it off in an hour or so. It's one of my childhood favorites. I saw the cartoon movie years ago and didn't love it. In the book the two main characters are Pongo and his wife Missis. Then another dalmatian comes to live with them named Perdita. In the movie they omit Perdita completely but use her name for Missis instead. Guh.
    • I hadn't read this for quite a while and I was horrified to see how sexist it is! Context is everything and this book was written in the mid-1950s so I guess that's to be expected.
      • But Missis and Perdita are such stupid dogs compared to Pongo. There are places in the book where Pongo exchanges looks with other (male) dogs indicating something like, "Awww, look how cute my stupid wife is!" Pongo can count and add numbers while Missis gets confused with more than 4. Pongo understands human speech completely but Missis and Perdita only know a few words.
      • You can't look to this book for lessons in feminism (which is advocacy for political, social and economic equality to men, by the way). Oh well. I still love the story though.
  • California by Edan Lepucki
    • This book gained fame because Stephen Colbert promoted it on his show as part of his segment on Hachette (a publisher) and Amazon.
    • First, I have no idea why this book is named California. One of the main characters is named Cal, short for Calvin. Another character nicknames him California. There is another main character named Frida. Their points of view trade off in each chapter so it doesn't make sense that the title refer to just Cal. The story is never clear where the action takes place. The Sierras? They are in California to be sure but since the author goes out of her way to never specifically place the action there it's odd.
    • The characters live in the mountain forests because they are refugees from a post-apocalyptic world. I am getting bored with these books. Maybe it's time to reread The Stand, which is the best of the post-apocalyptic books!
    • This book also commits the crime of taking forever to get questions answered. Cal and Frida live alone in the woods and eventually visit a nearby enclave of people. They ask questions...well, Cal asks questions. Frida takes her lead from Missis in The One Hundred and One Dalmatians. She's a WOMAN; it's not her place to question things, you silly reader!
    • So Cal asks questions and this is what happens:
      • "Oh, we'll talk about all that later!"
      • A character smirks and looks away.
      • A character pretends they didn't hear the question.
      • Etc....
      • Bah!
    • I am pretty sure this book is going to have a sequel. Screw it, I'm giving out spoilers here!
      • Another main character plans to infiltrate a nearby Community (with a capital C, dontcha know?) and plant bombs. He apparently wishes to create anarchy. This is revealed towards the end of the book. At the very end of the book, Cal and Frida have moved to the Community. They know about the bomb plot but seem unconcerned. Whuh? The end.
    • Another weird thing is that every single woman kowtows to the men and they don't question anything, even when the main leader takes all their children away and resettles them in the Community (As inside spies maybe? Who knows?). Does apocalypse make women stupid?
      • Apparently so.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Yesterday, during Tuesday's errand run with Pops, we were in a slight car accident. I started tp make a right turn onto a four-lane boulevard. The right lane was clear at first and I stated to go but then a truck in the left lane moved to the right line so I had to stop again. Unfortunately the large white truck behind me didn't see that I had stopped and hit my car. It wasn't hard enough to set off the airbags and was a fairly minor accident.

Or rather, the trucked kind of pushed my car forward a bit. We pulled over and checked out the cars. Mine had miniscule damage but the guy's truck's front bumper and license plate were pushed in an inch or two. Who knew Priuses were so tough?

Anyway, we were fine but I certainly have the kind of personality to create whiplash out of a tiny twinge in my neck or shoulder! But then I also watched 2 movies yesterday so sitting on the sofa for 5 total hours could cause the same shoulder ache!

  • One of the movies I watched was Bridge on the River Kwai. Along with Marty and All Quiet on the Western Front I am up to 50 total Oscar Best Picture winners. And later this week I will be recording The Apartment and 12 Years a Slave.
    • I figure if 12 Years is too intense I can always stop watching it, right?


I have made some good progress on reading a bunch of the books on my own shelves while still getting through quite a few library books. It seems a lot of books I am interested in reading are being released in the next couple of months. My library queue, which is limited to 20 books at a time, is completely full, mostly with books that are "on order" or are "in process".

Our library has self-checkout which I love. I am in and out so quickly. Since I request my books on-line, the library has a set of shelves right at the front so you can grab them, self-checkout and go.

CPA Boy has a bunch of upcoming Oakland A's games so I am getting through a bunch of movies and books.

Tonight's dinner will be Stuffed Pork Chops, using my mom's recipe. I will share the recipe soon. Maybe with pictures!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Ten Books, Volume 7

CPA Boy made fun of me. All because I said that I needed to finish my book because it was "number 70".

Him: Why does it matter?

Me: Because I can't blog about books again until I finish one more!

Him: [Hysterical laughter]

Pffff. It seems obvious to me that I can't blog about 9 books when I have already been writing in blocks of 10 this year.

Yeah, yeah, obsessive-compulsive, blah blah blah.

Anyway, I finished book 70 so now here I am to blog about them.

NON-FICTION
  • Joan Blondell: A Life Between Takes by Matthew Kennedy
    • Joan Blondell was one of those actresses who was never a superstar but she was a constant presence in films and television.
    • She was in: Public Enemy, Gold Diggers of 1933, Footlight Parade, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Desk Set, and Grease to name a very few.
    • She was married to Dick Powell and then Mike Todd.
    • Miss Blondell had a pretty interesting life so this was a good read.
  • Roadshow!: The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s by Matthew Kennedy
    • I liked this book a lot but it could have used a stronger fact checker/proofreader. The song "If Ever I Would LEAVE You" is referred to as "If Ever I Would LOVE You". Peter Sellers' name is spelled "Sellars". 
    • Every movie studio in the 1960s wanted to have a success like The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins or My Fair Lady. Many films were produced and, for the most part, quality and interest in them plummeted.
    • Here are some examples of unsuccessful films: Camelot, Finian's Rainbow, Hello Dolly!, Sweet Charity, Doctor Dolittle, Star!, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Man of La Mancha, Paint Your Wagon, Darling Lili and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.
      • How many have YOU seen? I am a huge movie watcher and I have seen none of these except for the first 1/2 hour of Finian's Rainbow and that was only because of Fred Astaire. 
    • One thing this book covers is the terrible behavior of the male actors. Rex Harrison would decide to do a film and then change his mind. Everyone basically kissed his derriere and he would change his mind again. He decided he didn't want to work with Sammy Davis Jr because he was not an actor, just a dancer and singer. (Never mind that the movie was a MUSICAL.) They hired Sydney Poitier at Rex Harrison's insistence and then cut the part out completely. Anyway, his poor behavior goes on and on.
      • Peter O'Toole and Richard Harris were both heavy drinkers in those days (though O'Toole didn't drink on the job). Their "bad boy" behavior was legendary but boys will be boys, ya know.
      • Then comes Barbra Streisand who, while completely professional in all ways, disagrees strongly with the director and is a perfectionist so she's considered a raging bitch who's completely out of control. SUCH a double standard.
        • Granted, she could have played Rex Harrison-like mind games with the producers or come to work hungover and she still would have been considered a bitch. But I bet if Rex Harrison or the other "boys" wanted a camera angle changed everyone would have jumped up to placate them.
        • It reminds me of something I read recently by Sheryl Sandberg: Girls aren't "bossy". They are exhibiting "executive leadership skills"! 
          • Hear, hear!
  • Of Time and Chase by Edison B. Allen
    • This book, from 1969, is a compilation of editorial cartoons by John Churchill Chase. He was the cartoonist for New Orleans newspapers from 1925 to about 1964. Then he started drawing his cartoons on the air during the nightly local news show. He was the first cartoonist to do this.
    • There was a copy of this book at my grandparents' house. My brother Everest and I loved it because it had a personal inscription inside the front cover to my grandparents. It was really cute because it was a written dedication to my grandfather, Bill, along with a cartoon drawing. And then at the bottom as a postscript it said: "And Ida too!" Unfortunately the book disappeared so maybe someone out there has it and wonders who Bill and Ida were.
    • John Chase was born in New Orleans in 1906 the same year as my grandfather. I wish I knew how they knew each other. From high school maybe? 
    • The editorial cartoons themselves are interesting, covering local, national and international news from the late 1920s to the 1960s. The editor of the book includes commentary for each year of cartoons.
      • I think Pop will enjoy this book because he will understand a lot more of the local stuff. I remember hearing the names on the news but that's about it.
  • The Middle Sea: A History of the Mediterranean by John Julius Norwich
    • This book took me a couple of months to get through as I read a few chapters a week. 
    • When you read history like this you are struck by how little things have changed over time. This book only continues until the years just after World War I but the same old things are still causing trouble even now. 
    • The Carthaginians hate the Romans. The Romans hate the Christians. The Christians hate the Muslims. The Muslims hate the non-Muslims. The Venetians hate the Sicilians. The Ottomans hate the Christians. The Spanish hate the Moors. The Pope hates anybody who threatens the Papal States. The Cypriots hate each other (it's half Greek and half Turk). And as Tom Lehrer sings in one of his brilliant satirical songs, "And everybody hates the Jews."
      • NOTHING EVER CHANGES. The groups may change names or location but every child is still taught to hate.
      • This is one of those fraught questions but why do these hatreds need to keep going generation after generation? 
    • I love history so I really enjoyed this book. The biggest issue is trying to keep everyone straight. Lots of dynastic names repeat several times so it's easy to get confused.
    • I am more a student of English history so this was a different angle to learn about general history. 
    • War and conflict are a constant in human history. No leader is ever satisfied. Most people just want to live their lives: grow/buy their food and raise their families. So many of the tales of war lead to the same basic conclusion: the people are massacred or sold into slavery. The brutality is horrific. You read of sieges, deaths by disease, beheadings, slavery and then you think: Hey! This is all still happening today! Groups like ISIS have always existed in history and will always exist most likely.
    • Man, I should really stop reading history. It's depressing.
FICTION
  • No Dawn Without Darkness by Dayna Lorentz
    • The concluding third book to a Young Adult series. This book was not as good as the first two. A main character in the first two books is absent from this one for almost the entire book. And like I mentioned in the last book installment one of the characters who murdered people gets no punishment but to go on with his life. Weird.
  • Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
    • This is a sequel to The Shining. In this book Danny Torrance is all grown up and a mess. He gets his life together just in time to fight a supernatural group who feed off the energy of children like Danny who have the "shining" power.
    • This was a pretty quick read and I really liked it. It takes a while for adult Danny to straighten out but once he does the story just zips along.
  • Frog Music by Emma Donoghue
    • By the author of Room, this is a complete departure from that book. That book was about a kidnapped woman who's kept locked up in a storage shed for years along with the son she bears in captivity to the kidnapper. It's told from the point of view of the 5-year-old son.
    • This book takes place in 1876 San Francisco and is based on real people. A woman known for wearing men's clothes is murdered. Her friend Blanche thinks she knows who did it and sets out to get justice.
    • I read the first few pages and wasn't gripped but I persevered and in the end I really liked it. At the end of the book you find out about the real people in the story. The author read about the circumstances of an unsolved murder and created a story around it.
  • The String Diaries by Stephen Lloyd Jones
    • A horror novel of sorts although it's not very scary really. A supernatural creature falls in love with a woman. He, however, had raped another woman and was under sentence of death by his people. His true love is killed while he is being tracked by his executioners and from then on he stalks her descendants who, naturally, are her spitting image. One of his powers is to shapeshift so he keeps trying to turn himself into their husbands and friends.
    • This was okay but could have been even better if you just understood the motivation more. Why would her descendants fill the bill just because they look the same? Is the creature insane? Plus it's always nice to read the details about a fictional group of supernaturals. They were given short shrift and the story focuses on the line of human descendants instead. 
  • That Night by Chevy Stevens
    • A mystery about a woman whose younger sister is murdered and the woman goes to jail for the crime. When she gets out she tries to make a new life for herself and reconcile with her parents. Then her old boyfriend, also convicted for the crime and newly released from prison, convinces her to help find the real killer.
    • I really liked this including the narrative skipping where there are three timelines: one present day, one leading up to the murder and one from the murder to her release form prison.
    • The only thing I thought was odd was that the woman insisted on returning to her small hometown where everyone thinks she's a murderer. Really? Go to some big city where no one knows you! But there wouldn't be a story if she doesn't go back so there you are.
  • The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell
    • This is a novel about a family whose mother ends up hoarding, which is exacerbated by a tragedy that happened years ago.
    • This was really enthralling; I read it in one evening because I couldn't put it down. There's a mystery to the tragedy and I am not sure it lived up to its full potential but overall the story was satisfying. 
    • I kept waiting for all the "egg foils" (the story took place in Great Britain) to make a dramatic reappearance. They did not. (The mother kept every foil wrapper from the children's' Easter Candy.) It seemed a clue but I guess it was just an interesting way to show the mom's hoarding tendencies always existed.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

This is What Happens When Your Potassium Levels Go Up

So I am doing a bit of research on potassium levels. CPA Boy has recently started a new drug that elevates his potassium so I wanted to see what could be done to manage it. Off to WebMD I go!

Basically it's this: take in LESS potassium and pee out more of it (sometimes with the help of a diuretic --- oh goody, another possible medication). But that's not the fun part. Off to the side I see the list of the top 12 videos on WebMD:


In case you can't see the picture clearly, #8 says "Sperm Washing". Uh, WHAT?!?

I did NOT click the link so I am still mystified as to what this might be. (Nor am I going to do any sort of Web search on this. That way leads to porn sites. I assume.)

Is it a technique related to fertility treatments? (Probably the most likely answer.) Are men jealous of women because the vagina is self-cleansing? The title of an old Monty Python skit? Is it part of a an environmental responsibility article about cleaning whales? How does sperm get dirty? (Never mind! I do NOT want to know the answer to THAT question!)

I got questions but no answers.

[And now some poor person will search this term and end up at my (not even remotely pornographic) blog. Welcome, "Sperm Washing" searchers!]

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

More Movies!

I have really been trying to watch the movies recorded on the DVR. I am getting very close to getting them finished and then I keep adding more record! Anyway, here is the latest crop:
  • Stalag 17
    • William Holden, Otto Preminger, Peter Graves, Harvey Lembeck, directed by Billy Wilder
    • This was pretty good. The men are prisoners of war in a German camp and one of them is an informant. Everyone believes it's William Holden's character. But is it?
    • There are elements of comedy and drama. There was a lawsuit against the creators of "Hogan's Heroes" which is very similar and you can see why.
  • All Quiet on the Western Front
    • Lew Ayres, directed by Lewis Milestone
    • Another Best Picture Oscar winner for me to add to the list!
    • This movie, based on the book by Erich Marie Remarque, is told from the side of the German soldiers in World War I. It's interesting: you come to know the characters (there are several besides Lew Ayres but nobody you would have heard of) and when they fling themselves into battle you root for them and then you realize, they are the "bad guys". But as they point out in the film, the leaders decide to make wars and the soldiers are just cogs. Once they get over the excitement of going away to war they learn about the hunger, filth and death.
    • And it's almost especially sad because war will come again in just a few short years while the filmmakers and actors don't know that. But we do.
  • Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
  • Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
    • I had watched the first film a few months ago and I really wanted to finish up the story. I've seen these films about a half a dozen times by now.
  • Vertigo
    • James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, directed by Alfred Hitchcock
    • This movie was interesting to watch for the views of 1958 San Francisco (and Pops would have loved all the old cars!) but that's about it. 
    • I understand that this movie has taken over "Citizen Kane" as the the best movie ever. I am assuming it's because of the film-making techniques because the story is not great. Some of it doesn't even make any sense. Barbara Bel Geddes totally disappears in the last 1/4 of the film.
    • But James Stewart is great as always and Kim Novak is beautiful (Barbara B is totally cute too).
  • The Letter
    • Jeanne Eagels, Herbert Marshall
    • This is a 1929 film based on the same Somerset Maugham play as the 1940 Bette Davis version.
    • Jeanne Eagels was the first person ever nominated posthumously for an Oscar for this role. She died shortly after making this movie of a probable heroin overdose. (Sigh. Some things never change.)
    • She was apparently a great dramatic actress on Broadway. It's really difficult to judge her performance in this film because it's only a couple of years into talkies and the acting style is still so broad compared to later. It seems to me that Jeanne Eagels did more "emoting" than acting (very typical of many actresses of the era). It's too bad she died so young because she might have had a chance to gauge her screen performances better (less stage-y). But she is most interesting to watch.
    • What's also interesting about this film is that there was no music score at all. There are a couple of times when characters sing but that's it for music. At the beginning during the credits and early scenes panning the crowded streets there is only silence. I guess Paramount had not yet figured out how to synchronize a movie score to the film. I need to pay attention to other really early talking films to see if this was usually the case.
    • For the record, I really like the Bette Davis version better even though it was changed to appease the production code of the time. Both films have what is pretty much the best line in almost any movie: "With all my heart, I still love the man I killed!" Classic!
  • Enough Said
    • Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandolfini
    • Cute little movie. The two leads made a cute couple in a romantic comedy for the middle-age set. Hey! That means me!
  • Bombshell
    • Jean Harlow, Lee Tracy
    • A noisy Jean Harlow movie, somewhat based on the life of both Clara Bow and Jean Harlow's. It basically shows how the people around her take terrible advantage of her financial support and how she almost has no choice but to let them. It was nice to see Jean Harlow but it's not one of my favorites of hers. Lots of scenes with everyone yelling and making noise.
  • The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
    • Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Celia Imrie, Dev Patel
    • I liked this movie quite a bit. A bunch of retiree-age folk travel to India to the title retirement hotel and discover it's more of a dump than a hotel. But all ends well.
    • I especially loved Judi Dench. She is a most natural actress.
    • There will be a sequel next year.
  • 84 Charing Cross Road
    • Anne Bancroft, Anthony Hopkins, Judi Dench
    • I read the book this is based on a few years back. It is the true story of a New York woman who wrote to a London bookstore for out-of-print books she couldn't find in America.
    • I think it was well done. And more Judi Dench! (Her part is pretty small though.)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
    • I took advantage of The Boy's job at the movie theater and went to see this for free. It's a cute superhero film from the Marvel people.
Except for Guardians of the Galaxy all the rest were recorded from TCM, HBO or Starz. I will really try to get to the theater to see more movies for free. But there's nothing else playing right now I want to see. Figures!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Scary Earthquake This Morning

Last night we didn't get to bed until about 1 a.m. because CPA Boy was streaming video on his iPad and I was finishing a movie on the DVR.

So I had been asleep for just over 2 hours and enjoying a good dream when CPA Boy started screaming in his sleep. He does this fairly often as he is susceptible to terrible nightmares. I guess the earthquake had impinged on his sleeping mind and he reacted as if he was having a nightmare.

I sleep with earplugs so it mutes the screaming but doesn't keep me from hearing it. I woke up and thought he was thrashing around because he was still in the throes of the nightmare. But no, the bed was moving because of the earthquake! I reached over to wake him and said, "It's an earthquake." (Thanks, Captain Obvious.)

It was 3:20 a.m. and very dark. I stumbled to the bedroom door as it was difficult to walk while the house was shaking. This particular quake lasted about 20 seconds for us. A couple of things fell down but that was it.  One of my shampoo bottles fell over and CPA Boy's bottom desk drawer rolled open. When I checked the pantry a package of cookie mix fell on the floor.

I talked to Pop this morning --- he lives a few blocks from us --- and he also had a couple of things fall. Something in the medicine cabinet fell over and a plastic Coke bottle fell off the refrigerator. Coke has a thing now where the bottles have names on them saying "Share a Coke with Kelly" (although I haven't actually found my name yet). I found both my brother's names and brought them to Pops so they could get them when they visit. One of them decided to take a dive from Pop's fridge!

The only other weird thing was that the light fixtures were all swinging but the one over the dining room table was really wild. It wasn't quite a 180-degree swing but close. I climbed up and grabbed it to make it stop.

We were up for about an hour checking TV, radio and the Internet but it was a long time before any information came out. So we headed back to bed but it took forever to get back to sleep.

As of this time we personally have felt no aftershocks. Here's a map of the area:


We live in Petaluma, just a little bit northeast from the final "a" in Petaluma. The quake was centered on the reddish circle just south of Napa, about 21 miles away as the crow flies. The quake was closer to the small town of American Canyon but both it and Napa bore the brunt of the damage. (San Francisco is about 50 miles south of Petaluma, not shown on the map, and Sacramento is to the northeast of Fairfield and Vacaville, also not shown.)

The thing with earthquakes is this: when one starts you react immediately because you never know if it's just a little one or the Big One. My instinct is to run and get to my son, even though he is now a grown man. (Notice this means I just abandoned CPA Boy, leaving him alone in our bed. Sorry, CPA Boy!)

I have felt several earthquakes in my life but I only remember a small handful of them:
  • I certainly recall the Loma Prieta quake of 1989. I was at work in Santa Rosa, really far away from the epicenter north of Santa Cruz. It felt pretty strong in Santa Rosa but I don't recall if there was structural damage. We did lose electricity at work though. 
    • CPA Boy was at work in Petaluma (we had just started dating a couple of months before and both worked for the same company in different cities) and felt it more strongly than I did.
    • My mother hated earthquakes and Pops, who was still at work, immediately picked up the phone to call her. All he said was, "I'm on my way."
  • There was a small quake when we lived at our last house, so maybe 14 or 15 years ago. The quake was not significant in any way but my reaction was to jump off the sofa and start to run upstairs to get The Boy. By the time I reached the first couple of steps it was over. (Need I add, I left CPA Boy by himself on the couch?)
  • During the summer of 1982 I was living at Kresge College at UC Santa Cruz. I was lying on my bed reading. Again, the quake itself was not significant but I remember it because I HEARD it before I FELT it. There was a rumbling sound that caught my attention and then a jolt. That was it.
And are we prepared for an earthquake? Um, no, not really. I really need to get on that!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Best Pictures Oscar Winners

In the past week by happenstance I have watched a couple of Best Picture Oscar winners: Wings and Gentleman's Agreement. Then I took a look at the whole list to make a count of how many I've seen.

My best friend Lady Chardonnay has made a point of watching every Oscar-winning Best Picture. She will need to correct me if I'm wrong but I'll bet she has seen every one of them by now with the exception of Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. (The flaw is that she probably should watch the first two movies in the series first, and friends? She just doesn't wanna!)

Some facts:
  • There have been 86 Best Pictures.
    • I have seen 47 of them for a total of 54.7%. Pitiful.
    • I have one more recorded on my DVR (All Quiet on the Western Front).
  • CPA Boy's totals were 23 out of 86 but he has a 24th on his DVR ready to watch soon.
  • Going by decades, here are the totals watched:
    • 1920s/30s:6
    • 1940s: 7
    • 1950s: 8
    • 1960s: 5
    • 1970s: 4
    • 1980s: 6
    • 1990s: 5
    • 2000s: 3
    • 2010s: 3 (out of a possible 4)
    • I obviously prefer the earlier films!
I have seen all of these, listed in chronological order:
  • Wings
  • Cavalcade
  • Grand Hotel
  • It Happened One Night
  • You Can't Take it With You
  • Gone with the Wind
  • Rebecca
  • How Green Was My Valley
  • Mrs. Miniver
  • Casablanca
  • Going My Way
  • The Best Years of Our Lives
  • Gentleman's Agreement
  • All About Eve
  • An American in Paris
  • The Greatest Show on Earth
    • Not a great movie (except for James Stewart's performance and clown Emmett Kelly) but I love it anyway.
  • From Here to Eternity
  • On the Waterfront
  • Around the World in 80 Days
    • I saw this a s a kid so I probably didn't recognize any of the celebrity cameos. All I remember is Cantinflas. I will try to rewatch this one at some point.
  • Gigi
  • Ben-Hur
    • I read today that they are thinking about remaking this with Tom Hiddleston (whether this happens remain speculative for now). I'd like that. Ben-Hur from 1959 was a remake of an earlier 1925 silent version so it's not surprising that it's on the remake list yet again.
  • West Side Story
  • Lawrence of Arabia
  • My Fair Lady
  • The Sound of Music
    • I saw this for the first time on a field trip in 5th or 6th grade in 1973. I don't know the name of the theater but it was one of the old-fashioned movie palaces in downtown New Orleans. I even remember the preview for "Camelot"!
  • Midnight Cowboy
  • The Sting
  • Rocky
  • Annie Hall
  • Kramer vs. Kramer
    • I read the book first. My brother Everest had already read it and told me not to skip ahead and read the last line, which explicitly told you how the story ended. (Maybe Ev had only read the last line, not the whole book?)
  • Ordinary People
  • Chariots of Fire
  • Terms of Endearment
  • Amadeus
  • Rain Man
  • Driving Miss Daisy
  • Dances with Wolves
    • I didn't like this movie. I found it dull.The only scene that stuck with me is the one where Kevin Costner's character comes upon the slaughtered buffalo.
  • Silence of the Lambs
  • Forrest Gump
  • Titanic
  • Shakespeare in Love
  • Gladiator
  • Chicago
  • Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
    • I love this movie and try to rewatch the whole series every year or two.
  • The King's Speech
  • The Artist
  • Argo
Here are ones I haven't watched, also in chronological order. The ones with the asterisk in front means I hope to watch them someday:
  • *The Broadway Melody
  • *All Quiet on the Western Front
    • This is on the DVR to watch soon.
  • *Cimarron
    • I've seen the last 10 minutes of it.
  • *Mutiny on the Bounty
  • *The Great Ziegfeld
  • *The Life of Emile Zola
    • Not excited about this one. Does anyone know who Emile Zola was anymore? I sure don't.
  • *The Lost Weekend
    • A good double feature with The Days of Wine & Roses?
  • Hamlet
    • I watched the first half hour a couple of years ago. So, so boring.
  • *All the King's Men
  • *Marty
  • *The Bridge on the River Kwai
    • I wonder things like, What if it were called The Bridge on the Kwai River? Because I never say things like "I was born a few blocks from the River Mississippi."
  • *The Apartment
  • *Tom Jones
  • *A Man for All Seasons
  • In the Heat of the Night
  • Oliver!
  • Patton
  • The French Connection
  • *The Godfather
  • *The Godfather Part II
  • *One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
  • The Deer Hunter
  • Gandhi
  • Out of Africa
  • Platoon
  • The Last Emperor
  • Unforgiven
  • *Schindler's List
  • Braveheart
  • The English Patient
    • Gotta say, that episode of "Seinfeld" where the characters diss this movie has made an impact. Not a shred of interest in watching it except for maybe Colin Firth.
  • American Beauty
  • A Beautiful Mind
  • Million Dollar Baby
  • Crash
  • The Departed
  • No Country for Old Men
  • *Slumdog Millionaire
  • The Hurt Locker
  • 12 Years a Slave
There are some egregious omissions in my general film-watching history. I really need to watch both of The Godfather movies.

Unlike Lady Chardonnay I don't plan to see them all. And in some cases I have no DESIRE to watch some of them. I will just say no to these:
  • In the Heat of the Night
  • Oliver!
    • No!
    • I saw the last 20 minutes a few months back. That was enough.
  • The French Connection
    • I've seen the car chase scene a bunch of times. That's enough for me.
  • The Deer Hunter
  • Hamlet
    • Will never be not boring. I'm not a big Olivier fan but I do love Jean Simmons. I watched enough to see some of her Ophelia. My job is done here.
  • Patton
  • Platoon
    • Bleah. I've seen a part of it.
  • Gandhi
  • Out of Africa
    • I'm ambivalent. It IS Meryl Streep and Robert Reford after all!
  • The Last Emperor
  • Unforgiven
  • Braveheart
    • I used to love Mel Gibson. Times and tastes change.
  • The English Patient
    • All I can see is Elaine Benes in "Seinfeld" writhing with boredom and saying "Die, already" to the English Patient on the screen. Didn't she really want to see "Sack Lunch" instead?!
  • American Beauty
    • Definitely ambivalent about this. Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening? Hard to ignore and yet it seems depressing. 
    • This is the one CPA Boy has recorded.
  • A Beautiful Mind
    • Love Geoffrey Rush so maybe? Ambivalent here too.
  • Million Dollar Baby
    • Hilary Swank and boxing? Double no.
  • Crash
    • My interest is expressed as follows: Meh.
  • The Departed
    • I could not tell you a single thing about this movie! Who's in it? I got nothing.
  • No Country for Old Men
    • Cormac McCarthy, writer of depressing fiction. Ugh.
  • The Hurt Locker
    • Jeremy Renner is a fine, fine specimen of mankind but no.
  • 12 Years a Slave
    • Would much rather read the source material, which I have on my Kindle, than watch the movie.
That leaves a bunch to catch, mostly films before the 1970s. I will start with the one on the DVR: All Quiet on the Western Front.Thank goodness for Turner Classic Movies!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Oh, My Aching Feet!

So I seem to have developed Plantar Fasciitis in my left foot in the last couple of weeks. This means I have intense pain in my left heel when I get out of bed or stand up after sitting for a while.

Some of the risk factors?
  • Overweight? Check!
  • Ages 40-60? Check!
  • Go barefoot often? Check!
  • Wear shoes with inadequate support? Check!
Besides stretching and other exercises one way to help the pain is by wearing supportive shoes all the time (except sleeping, of course). Or at least use an orthotic in your shoes to add support for your arches.

I HATE wearing shoes in the house!! I go barefoot all the time. I will wear slippers (with inadequate support) when it's cold but that's it.

I bought some Dr Scholl's orthotic inserts and they help. These are basically cushy little pads you put into each shoe. But at home, where I am most of the time, I have been putting off wearing my shoes.

But the pain started ramping up again and so I put my shoes on. Voila! It helps. (Darn it.) So I need to follow through and wear them all the time. Since I generally sit on the sofa with my feet all curled up on the cushions I have decided that taking them off when I sit down is okay. I just put my shoes on every time I get up.

There are places to go to buy custom orthotics but so far the cheapies seem to be doing the job. There are also several shoe makers who make shoes with orthotics such as Vionic. I ordered a cute pair of shoes to try out. The shoes with orthotics are so expensive though! Vionic has a pair of slippers that cost $60!

Too many years of buying cheap, comfortable shoes is a hard habit to break.

But the big decision is this: cheap, unsupportive shoes and pain OR expensive, supportive shoes and pain-free?

Say, speaking of Dr. Scholl's, does anyone remember the exercise sandals? They were made of WOOD and were NOT very comfortable to wear. I had a red pair at some point during my college years but I don't think I wore them often. I walked a LOT during my college years and wearing shoes that made your shins ache constantly were not the way to go!

I just checked the Dr. Scholl's website and they still make them! A mere $78! (No thanks!)

Friday, August 15, 2014

If I'm Not Reading Books I Must Be Watching Movies

Sure beats housecleaning!

Reading books and watching movies are probably my two biggest hobbies. This would explain my tendency to write about these things so often!

  • Iron Man 3
    • I had seen the first movie but not the second one but I figured it probably didn't matter and I was right. By not watching Iron Man 2 you miss a little bit of the Tony Stark/Pepper Potts relationship but whoever the villain was in that movie has no bearing on this one.
    • Ben Kingsley is a hoot as the Mandarin, especially when he uses the Ringo Starr-type voice. I always think of him in relation to his Oscar-winning role as Gandhi (which I never saw) and assumed he was pretty old. Ha! He was in his late 30s when he played Gandhi.
      • I had the same issue with Bernie Kopell when I was a kid. He played Siegfried on "Get Smart" and he definitely looked older than Maxwell Smart. I was surprised that he looked so young when he was on "The Love Boat" 10 years later. Turns out he was only about 30 when he played Siegfried!
    • Anyway, this is your standard Marvel superhero movie. Not my favorite of the bunch but it's pretty good for a popcorn movie.
  • The Avengers
    • So since I was on a popcorn movie kick I continued with a rewatch of this one. Mostly because Tom Hiddleston as Loki is in it. ::swoon::
    • I really wish they would feature The Black Widow character in her own movie. It's hard to take your eyes off Scarlett Johansson when she's onscreen so I think she would have no problem carrying her own superhero movie.
  • Thor: The Dark World
    • More popcorn and more Tom Hiddleston.
    • Chris Hemsworth isn't too hard on the eyes either. And Chris Evans makes a really adorable cameo as Captain America.
    • Did I mention Tom Hiddleston is in it?
  • Wreck-It Ralph
    •  I LOVED this movie and watched it twice. The voice actors are great and it's really cute that the 4 main characters actually look like their voice artists too (John C. Reilly, Jane Lynch, Sarah Silverman and Jack McBrayer). 
    • It takes place in the world of video arcades. Kind of like how the toys came alive in "Toy Story" only when no one was looking? Same thing here. The characters travel between games. 
    • I had CPA Boy watch this with me because he spent a chunk of his youth in video arcades. It's the reason he owns a Ms Pac-Man machine; he bought it from the mall arcade he hung out in in the early 80s.
  • Gravity
    • Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
    • Astronauts in distress! I knew how the story ended and thank goodness. It's one space crisis after another so you are constantly tense to see how each new disaster works out.
    • There's a scene in the movie when Sandra Bullock's character takes off her spacesuit and is just wearing an undershirt and underpants. It made me think: would George Clooney have been willing to film a scene where he strips down to his undies so he could float in zero-g? I cannot presume to speak for Mr. Clooney but I'll bet he wouldn't. 
      • Don't get me wrong. The shot of her floating weightlessly in the fetal position in her undies is beautifully shot and (I guess) symbolic. But I think that shot exists because she's a woman.
  • Frozen
    • I watch the TV show "Once Upon a Time" which features various fairy tale characters. The coming season will include several from this movie.
    • It is a cute movie with a few nice twists and good lord, that "Let It Go" song is catchy. No wonder kids love it. It got stuck in my head for days!
  • Random Harvest
    • Greer Garson and Ronald Colman. I adore this movie and have seen it a number of times. 
    • Ronald Colman plays a World War I soldier who loses his memory and falls in love with Greer Garson. Then his memory returns.
    • Colman is too old, really, to play the soldier. He was about 51 during filming and looks it. But check your disbelief at the door: This is a very romantic movie and well worth watching.
  • Kismet
    • Ronald Colman, Marlene Dietrich, Edward Arnold
    • I had high hopes for this one but I didn't like it. It takes place in Baghdad (or the MGM art director's idea of Baghdad). Cute but a trifle.
  • Pandora's Box
    • Louise Brooks and her famous flapper bobbed hair.
    • A silent movie that's interesting solely due to Louise Brooks.You may never have heard of her (she didn't make very many movies) but you will recognize her "look".
  • Emma
    • The great Marie Dressler!
    • By today's standards people would probably call Marie Dressler ugly.  Here she is with her "Min and Bill" Best Actress Oscar in 1931 (along with Best Actor winner Lionel Barrymore).
    • I don't think she is ugly at all but she had no actor's vanity so her characters could be frumpy or even ugly if the role called for it. (She's glamorous playing a retired stage actress in Dinner at Eight.)
    • This movie has nothing to do with Jane Austen's novel. Instead Marie Dressler plays a family's housekeeper and nanny. Then there's a death and a court case.
    • The role resulted in her second Oscar nomination. She was the biggest box office star in the early 1930s! She died in 1934 just as little Shirley Temple came along to wear the box office crown.
  • The Barefoot Contessa
    • Ava Gardner, Humphrey Bogart, Edmond O'Brien, Rossano Brazzi
    • Ava at her most gorgeous and she has a claim to being one of the most beautiful woman ever. Her costumes are stunning too.
    • Bogie is great as usual but you can tell he is not well. The Technicolor that enhances the beautiful Ava also enhances his grayish pallor. He would die of esophageal cancer just over 2 years later.
    • The best part of this movie was that Bogie was not Ava's love interest; he was her friend. That's kind of unusual in movies.
    • I didn't understand just what earned Edmond O'Brien the Supporting Actor Oscar for this film until I looked it up. Three of his competitors were in "On the Waterfront" which won almost every other major award on Oscar night. The 3 guys must have cancelled each other out.
    • But overall I don't think it was great. Too much voice-over describing things instead of showing them. Worth a look though, just for Ava and Bogie.
  • Laura
    • Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Judith Anderson, Vincent Price
    • I was curious as to how Gene Tierney would be in the movie because her character is murdered before the film even starts. Flashbacks!
    • This one had a bunch of twists and turns and concluded satisfyingly. Too bad it wasn't in color. Gene Tierney was another beauty who should be seen in color!
    • Vincent Price has the BEST voice. Just gorgeous.
  • Wings
    • Charles "Buddy" Rogers, Richard Arlen, Clara Bow, Gary Cooper
    • The first Best Picture Oscar winner, this was pretty entertaining. Not enough Clara Bow though. She was gorgeous as well as a marvelously expressive actress but because the focus of the film is often the airplane duels and trench warfare she disappears for long stretches.
  • Gentleman's Agreement
    • Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire, John Garfield, Celeste Holm, Anne Revere, Dean Stockwell and directed by Elia Kazan
    • Gregory Peck plays a journalist writing a series on anti-Semitism. He poses as a Jew and experiences all sorts of prejudice, overt and subtle.
    • Another Oscar-winning Best Picture. It's pretty good although the romantic plot is kind of ridiculous. They get engaged after knowing each other for about 3 days!
    • Celeste Holm is great in her part but just as her character gets the best scene she disappears for the rest of the movie.
    • The other acting standouts are John Garfield and Dean Stockwell.
    • It's hard to imagine that this level of institutionalized anti-Semitism existed. Clubs, summer camps, hotels, towns, neighborhoods, jobs, universities and many other things had restrictions against Jews. (It's hard to imagine the level of institutional bias against African-Americans or Asians but this is all part of our nation's history too.)
      • In Rona Jaffe's novel "Class Reunion" one of the characters attending Harvard-Radcliffe is a Jewish girl who gains admittance through a quota system.
    • I don't know if this film ever made a difference in reducing anti-Semitism. It opened just as the whole Communist witch hunts were beginning and apparently Jewishness was somehow conflated with Communism. I'm guessing it took until the 1960s for change to come. (Too detailed to go into here and not my area of expertise anyway.)
      • "Fun" fact: There were places known as "sunset towns" until the 1960s. Depending on the part of the country, if you were part of the proscribed minority you needed to get out of town by sunset or face the consequences.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Ten Books, Volume 6

Here are the books I've read, numbers 51 through 60...

NON-FICTION
  • Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell Jr.
    • Huguette Clark's father was W.A. Clark, a man who made his fortune in copper mines. She was his youngest daughter from his second marriage (he was 62, she was 23). He was one of the 50 richest Americans ever but somehow his fame has waned in comparison to the others like Carnegie, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt and so on.
    • Clark County, Nevada is named for him because he built a railroad through the area using Las Vegas as a stop.
    • When he died at 86 his will divided his fortune into 5 parts among his surviving children. Huguette, born in 1906, lived in a Park Avenue apartment in New York City with her mother. She lived a reclusive life, keeping away from her family because she assumed they only were interested in her money. She eschewed any publicity so nobody really knew anything about her, including her family.
    • She developed skin cancer and was finally convinced to go to the hospital where she was treated and then lived for the rest of her life, 20 more years, dying at the age of 104. She never returned to her Fifth Avenue home, nor her other mansions although everything was kept as if she'd arrive at any moment.
    • The hospital didn't make her leave once she recovered from her skin cancer surgeries because they thought they could get considerable donations from her if she was on location for them to influence. While she was afraid family members were after her money (for the most part they all had their own inheritances) it turned out that everyone else was instead and she was a soft touch for any sob story. Her lawyer and accountant took enormous fees and gifts (and would also benefit as her executors). Her main nurse received over $30 million dollars over the 20 years in gifts and was a main beneficiary of the will.
    • Long story short, when Huguette died the will was contested and everything about Huguette's life came out to the public (she would've HATED that). The will was settled and her family got some money ($34 million for about 21 people), the nurse returned $5 million and gave up her claim to the estate and most of the money went to arts foundations.
    • It was fascinating story. The only flaw with the book is that it was published just before the outcome of the case of the contested will so I needed to look up the resolution online.
FICTION
  • No Safety in Numbers by Dayna Lorentz
  • No Easy Way Out by Dayna Lorentz
    • A young adult book series, of which these are the first two, about the release of a dirty bomb in a suburban mall.
    • The bomb releases a deadly flu virus. As many of the mall occupants are teenagers the story is told from their points of view.
    • At first things are fine. Supplies are sent into the quarantined mall and a sort of system is set up. Then the "Lord of the Flies" mentality of the teens kicks in and the whole story becomes apocalyptic. The flu is so deadly that there is talk of the government just bombing the mall into dust. This does not go over well.
    • Some of the characters are very likeable and some that you hope get the fate they richly deserve based on their anarchic, barbarian antics. (Spoiler alert: One main character actually murders people and comes out of the story with no repercussions.)
    • Having read the final book (it will be included in my next book entry) I didn't ultimately like the series but I think it would be a good movie concept.
  • The 100 by Kass Morgan
    • Due to a nuclear war in the past, Earth's remaining population live in spaceships overhead. To test if the Earth is ready to be recolonized they send 100 teens to the surface. Because spaceship supplies are dwindling people are being executed for even minor infractions. If the 100 don't go to Earth they would be executed too.
    • It's an intriguing premise. The next books aren't out yet so it will be at least a couple of years before the story finishes. I'm not sure if I will remember to pick up the sequels.
    • I wonder if the next books will be titled "The 82" or however many are left at the start of each book!
  • Echoes by Maeve Binchy
    • Rich boy David and working class Clare are your standard Maeve Binchy couple. Her books are usually fun to read because you learn about everyone in whatever small Irish town they are set. I think this one suffers in that the 2 main characters just aren't ultimately very sympathetic. Angela, the teacher who helps Clare in her studies to get ahead, was the best character.
    • Not one I will want to read again like some of Maeve Binchy's other books.
  • Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
  • The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness
    • These two books conclude the story begun in A Discovery of Witches. These three books basically tell one long story. 
    • In Shadow of Night the main characters, witch Diana and vampire Matthew, go back in time to 1590 where they live for a while trying to find the mysterious manuscript that supposedly tells the secret of immortal life. Or something.
    • Oh but geez, this book was repetitive! LOTS of scenes with Diana and Matthew where he asks her not to interfere in a conversation. She interferes. He broods and gets angry at her. She apologizes. He apologizes. Then the cycle starts again until finally at the end of book 2 they share their hidden secrets with each other (using occult witch/vampire methods of course) and somehow this fixes THAT issue.
    • The character of Matthew has anger issues --- The Book of Life uses the phrase "blood rage" ad nauseum --- and cannot stand it when ANYBODY touches Diana, not even in a friendly way. WTF? Get over it, Jealous Vampire Guy.
    • Anyhoo, it turns out the volume they search for doesn't even really matter much and you never really learn about its formation other than it's made from the skin, blood and hair of witches, vampires and demons. Yeah, gross.
    • And in the last book a villain comes out of nowhere (he has blood rage too!), there is a quick final showdown and...the end.
    • There are parts of these books that are very, very good and parts that were not. The characters were mostly pretty good (loved Gallowglass especially) but I'm not a fan of the overbearing vampire male which is a trope writers use too frequently.
  • The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau
  • Independent Study by Joelle Charbonneau
  • Graduation Day by Joelle Charbonneau
    •  In another future dystopian series, Cia is a character in a very small outpost of the new country The United Commonwealth. To go to the (apparently only) university, characters are tested.
    • This book series is compared to The Hunger Games in that Cia's test is against fellow teens in an apocalyptic landscape. Naturally they resort to killing each other off except for Our Heroine whose moral code learned from her sainted parents is too ingrained for such things (because all the other parents raised THEIR kids to become bloodthirsty murderers).
    • Obviously she passes the testing or there wouldn't have been a book 2 or 3.
    • But then there are MORE tests to determine the students field of study. As the candidates fall it turns out that they are just killed off. Some people don't like this. So anarchy and rebellion naturally follow. Will Our Heroine succeed in bringing down the corrupt government officials? Duuuuhhh.
    • It always cracks me up how the main characters in these types of books manage to figure things out. Cia ALWAYS figures out the angle. For example, when you are given a task, do only that task and NO MORE. (Otherwise your testing device will explode and kill you!) Or the task is so laughably impossible we may as well give up because THAT is the solution. (Giving up is the sign of leadership brilliance apparently.)
    • I keep reading these types of books and I keep criticizing them. Perhaps I need to keep away from them for a while. I didn't love The Hunger Games books either for a lot of these same reasons. Katniss, Tris (from Divergent) and Cia are just too perfect to be true.
    • All that said though, I think the author of these books is pretty good. I would definitely check out her future books even if they are more heroines in dystopias.
    • So far my favorite of the dystopian book series has been those of Marie Lu. Her Legend series is very good and avoids a lot of the dystopian tropes.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Extreme Makeover Edition

This is a picture of me with my brother Everest. It was taken in late 1969 in those halcyon days before K2 arrived in 1970. (Just kidding, K2! The REAL halcyon days were before 1964! Heh!)

I am 7, Ev is 5. I like that it looks like I am leaning away from him! Ewww, brother hug! And, of course, my SHORT-sleeved turtleneck.

But the best part is that this is only the "Before" picture! This was a photo shoot for the annual Christmas card photo. It's probably November, hence the turtleneck. It's also Louisiana, hence the sleeveless top. I guess?

Are you ready for the "After"?!

Here it is!

Our hair has been tamed into submission with a combination of Brylcreem (Ev) and pincurls (me). Ev's outfit has apparently been borrowed from the "Bing Crosby Collection for Young Men". And I am not sure where Ev's glasses went. I'm wearing a standard lacy party dress. I am pretty sure I remember those elastic sleeves digging into my arms.

I thought that perhaps the second photo's coloring was off but I do remember a large photographer's light that Pop used when taking our Christmas pictures. I think it is in use for the fancy picture but not the test shot. Or it IS used in both pictures and the second picture has yellowed a bit. Oh well.

Happy Thursday!