Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Vacation reading

I haven't been reading as much lately--a combination of being busier than usual and watching more online TV than I used to, I admit it--so it was nice to devour four books on our two week vacation in November.

Passage by Connie Willis. I've read a couple of other Connie Willis books and they were funny and engaging. This one's a little long and repetitive, but it was perfect for beginning my vacation reading. I pretty much sat around and read for a couple of days straight. Very relaxing.

The Makeover of James Orville Wickenbee by Anya Bateman. LDS fiction with an unusual narrator, but mostly pretty run-of-the-mill LDS fiction. I accidentally stole it from my mom. (Sorry, Mom. I'll keep it for you. Or send it if it's very important.)

The Honk and Holler Opening Soon by Billie Letts. I'd never read anything by Billie Letts, even though Where the Heart Is is an Oprah book and I considered reading it many times. This novel has interesting characters and a good story. I liked it pretty well.

True to Form : A Novel by Elizabeth Berg. I have not yet been disappointed by Elizabeth Berg. This is a sequel to Durable Goods and Joy School, but it's not one of those lame sequels. I really liked it.

Two kid movies

I don't really like to watch kid movies, so I don't usually. But I do take the kids to the movies occasionally, and these are the two we saw most recently:

Up (2009): I had no idea this would be so enjoyable. Maybe it was because my expectations were low, but this movie delighted me. I loved the talking dogs. It was nice to look at, too. (My sister Ivy would disagree. She didn't like it.)

Planet 51 (2009). We saw this in Lake Havasu when we visited Jon's brother and his family. I spent a lot of the movie getting popcorn and drink refills, which was fine because it seemed kind of dumb. And one time when I was out in the lobby, I almost saw Robert Redford! Right after the guy in the line to my right left (presumably Robert Redford), the teenage girl behind the counter asked me who Robert Redford was. Apparently, he'd given her his autograph and she had no idea who he was. I explained who he was and described him, and she just kept nodding her head while her eyes got bigger and bigger. It's kind of a sad story in a way: a screen legend going unrecognized by the girl who's too young to know him. On the other hand, I was glad that she seemed impressed just based on my description. At least she wasn't rolling her eyes and going, "Whatever."

I guess it's not saying much about the movie that my lame story about almost seeing Robert Redford seems more interesting to me. (Of course, there's also the chance that it was a Robert Redford look-alike just trying to mess with that girl. In which case, it's great that she didn't recognize him!)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Mira: grammar (and drama) queen

Lillian and Mira have apparently formed a "club" or something, where their names are Millian and Lira (cute, huh?). There have been some conflicts between them, which makes the "club" a somewhat delicate topic. So today, Jon and I were talking to Mira and suggesting that Millian and Lira was a great idea!

"You can be a rock band!" I said to Mira. (Band names are a big topic of conversation around here.)

"No!" Mira said, refusing to be flattered.

"You could be a dance team!" I said.

"No! I would just dance suckily!"

And then she burst into tears as Jon and I laughed. We tried to explain her superior use of adverb, but she was just in the mood to cry today, so that's what happened. At least she didn't cry suckily.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Still Alice is a novel about a Harvard psychology professor who's diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's. I was reluctant to read it. I mean, how depressing. But one of the book clubs I attend occasionally was reading it, and it came very highly recommended, in that "You HAVE to read this!" kind of way, so I decided to give it a few pages. And that's all it took. It's excellent. The point of view is all Alice, the one with Alzheimer's, and the picture of what it's like to live with Alzheimer's is vivid and brilliant. It's also a great story of how members of a family deal differently with the difficulties their mother and wife face. Parts of the book had me wincing because I could so easily imagine myself saying that exact same thing under those circumstances. It's beautifully written, sometimes painful, finally inspiring and uplifting. In fact, it might be a little too uplifting, but maybe that's a good thing, considering that it might help some people deal more positively with Alzheimer's. I don't have personal experience with Alzheimer's, but this novel is endorsed by the Alzheimer's Association, and I guess they ought to know.

The Goonies (1985)

The Goonies was one of those movies my brother and sisters and I all had memorized when I was a young'un (although I must have been at least 15, so I wasn't that young). But I remembered all the swearing in it, so I waited until now to let my kids watch it. I'm not sure what the benefit of waiting is, since my little ones are still little (youngest is 4). But I guess that's the natural way of large families--the younger ones get privileges at any earlier age than the older ones do. Anyway, it was fun to watch, although cheesier than I remembered and not quite as clever. That seems to be the case generally with movies that I liked back then.

Everyone is Beautiful by Katherine Center

I just read an interesting blog post exploring the idea of marriage literature, i.e., literature with narratives about challenges and growth in marriage, and how Mormons should be creating and contributing to that body of literature, and it reminded me of this novel that I picked up at the library several weeks ago. It fits into this marriage literature category quite nicely. I read it in 24 hours and loved it. It's not super literary or anything. It's more like chick lit for grown up chicks. Anyway, so much of this book was familiar to me. I loved it and raved about it so much that Jon read it right after I did. I think he liked it, too.

Singin' in the Rain (1952)

In September, I suddenly found myself the accompanist for our local high school's production of Singin' in the Rain, which was about four weeks away. I'd never seen the movie, so I thought it was about time I did. The kids and I watched it together and enjoyed it quite a bit. I loved Jean Hagen as Lina Lamont (and our local Lina was pretty great, too; both of them! That's a long story). I'm not a huge fan of musicals, but after playing the piano for this, I like it so much better than at first. And since that's one of my measuring sticks for movies and books, I guess that makes Singin' in the Rain a classic. Like anyone was waiting for me to say that.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Martian Child (2007)

I think the general consensus in our family was that this movie was kind of slow but also sweet. And by general consensus, I mean me and Jon, because the kids aren't all that critical yet. Also, by general consensus, I mean Jon thought it was slow, and I thought it was kind of sweet. However, I wish the temptation to place the climactic moment of the movie on the side of a very high building had been resisted.

(500) Days of Summer (2009)

This movie has a non-linear story-telling structure that worked pretty well, I think. Like the poster says, it's not a love story. More a break up story, like The Break-Up. But this one's funny and much easier to watch, partly because it tells the whole story, not just the break up part. I love movies and books where the characters actually learn and grow, and that's what happens in this one.

Julie & Julia (2009)

I was a tiny bit disappointed by the ending of this movie, but then I realized that I'm happy Hollywood didn't impose anything more satisfying or potentially sappy and sentimental. Meryl Streep is incredible as Julia Child. Amy Adams is great, too. It's wonderful to see two healthy and mostly happy marriages portrayed on the big screen. (And I did get to see it on the big screen, which was a nice treat.)

The Band's Visit (2007)

A delightful film about the members of an Egyptian Police Force band who are supposed to perform at the opening of an Arab arts center but end up in the wrong Israeli town. By the "wrong town," I don't mean that they have a showdown with the Israeli Clint Eastwood, just that they get lost. Anyway, it's lovely.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Quick thinking

While I'm doing Mira's hair, Phin comes in and says, "Mom, where's a clipboard?" And without missing a beat, Mira answers, "It's right here!"

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Rudolf Budginas master class in Idaho Falls

On October 2, concert pianist Rudolf Budginas visited Idaho Falls to do a concert. That afternoon he gave a master class to three teenage piano students, one of whom was our son Zed. Our whole family was able to be there, and we all really enjoyed it.

The class was excellent. Rudolf was friendly and funny, but straightforward in noting areas for improvement and fun in guiding the students to better technique. A big part of his focus after hearing the students play was on getting them to relax and try to create the best sound for the piece. To not be boring. To enjoy playing.

He said that a key to improvement is not necessarily long practice sessions, but rather, hard work and focus on improving a particular deficiency during regular practice sessions. Just passing the time playing and replaying a piece won't result in anywhere near the improvement that focused, hard work with a goal will.

Which is advice that applies to most work I can think of.

Thanks for sharing your time & talent, Rudolf! And thanks to Ann Shively and others with Idaho Falls Community Concerts who made it happen.

Salt Lake City Lipo Sucks

Salt Lake City's freeways are liberally adorned with billboards to try to distract eyes from the road at all times. Ok, fair enough. But in recent years the percentage of them devoted to liposuction and other plastic surgery has grown rapidly. Now it seems to be something like a quarter or a third of them.

Maybe they're just the most annoying to me and therefore the ones I most often notice. In any case, this is my least favorite of all:

It's totally unattractive, from the lame verbiage to the ugly photo and hideous "graphic design," it's the supreme loser, all right.

And here I am making more people look at it! Sorry.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

Since I actually became a fan of the Harry Potter books (I was late to that game), I haven't watched the movies as critically as I used to. I enjoyed the sixth movie very much. On reflection, it's missing a lot of the most important stuff from the book (many memories concerning Voldemort, for example). But I still liked it. I love the mix of normal teenage stuff and life-or-death danger.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Adventures of various kinds

Last Friday, we woke up to a hot air balloon coming our way:

We often see them in the sky north of us, but they almost never come south. This one went almost directly over our house and then, to avoid power lines, went west and landed in a small park down the road.

The kids and I drove the half mile or so to watch them take it down, and I learned a little about flying hot air balloons from one of the ground crew. (Now that must be a pretty boring job--following a hot air balloon in a van and trying to figure out where it's going to land.) Did you know there's no steering? Just up and down. Wind currents change direction at different elevations, so they steer by going up or down and seeing where the wind takes them. Interesting. And kind of scary. (Maybe they have a way of knowing which direction the wind is going. I don't know.)

That was our morning adventure. Friday's nighttime adventure was attending a star party at Craters of the Moon National Monument. Viewing conditions were perfect--no moon and no clouds, and it's far enough away from major cities that there's very little light pollution. A bunch of amateur astronomers brought their telescopes and let everyone look through them. We saw Jupiter and her moons (are planets she?), a ring Nebula, Andromeda, a few twin stars, like Polaris and the Cub Scout star, so named because one's yellow and one's blue (I didn't know there were twin stars that orbit around each other), and some other stuff. It was also cool just to sit back and look up. Beautiful.

The next morning, we explored Craters of the Moon for a while. It's a pretty weird place, full of only recently solidified volcanic rock. (Not recent like last week, but recent compared to the rest of the earth. Of course, Hawaii's volcanoes are even younger and some are still erupting, and Craters of the Moon certainly can't beat that. But driving a few hours and seeing volcanic stuff is a pretty good deal.)

Also, there were caves. This one was tiny (the picture was taken from the entrance) and it looked like a stone tent from the outside:

But other caves were pretty huge inside, and we could get far enough away from the entrance that we couldn't see any light from outside. I find caves slightly terrifying, but Jon talked me into going into every one of them, even though I wasn't wearing the best cave-exploring foot apparel:

We had three adults and eight kids, the youngest two of which were four years old, and everyone did great. (I think I was the biggest baby, and I just kept my mouth shut most of the time. No need to frighten the young people by thinking out loud.) Jon would be so much more adventurous without me.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

S'mores in the kitchen

We didn't get around to making s'mores while camping, so Erin made them over the gas burner in the kitchen:

Better late than never!

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The trailer for the new Sherlock Holmes movie first reminded me of that movie from the '80s, Young Sherlock Holmes, which my family loved and watched many times. (I should mention that sometimes the movies we loved were loved just because my grandpa happened to tape them off the Disney Channel, so it was a matter of access rather than quality of the movie. From what I can remember, Young Sherlock Holmes was pretty good, but I haven't seen it since I was a teenager.) And then it reminded me that I'd never read a Sherlock Holmes story or book, although I've tried to make my son read them. This seemed like something I ought to remedy.

I decided to start with the first novel in which Sherlock Holmes appeared, published in 1897. For the most part, I thought it was delightful, but I was surprised and amused (and a little taken aback) that the background story of the crime was a highly imaginative tale about the crazy Utah Mormons, complete with harems, strict doctrine enforced by a violent and secretive death squad, and a "quote" borrowed from Heber C. Kimball (if I remember correctly), wherein he refers to his wives as heifers. I can see how the odd practices of 19th century Mormons could inspire such a colorful account. And I can also see how I should read Sherlock Holmes stories in the future, maybe kinda like I've read Dan Brown's novels--don't take it too seriously!

G-Force (2009)

Certainly my expectations were not high, so maybe this means nothing, but I liked G-Force. Will Arnett and Tracy Morgan are among those actors who can say just about anything and it will sound funny to me. But besides that, it was a fun movie. (Again, though, my expectations were pretty low, because the last kid movie I saw was excruciating.)

Henry Poole is Here (2008)

In spite of a wishy-washy ending, this is a delightful little movie. I generally like Luke Wilson, who plays a guy depressed for unknown (until later) reasons. He's the new guy in the neighborhood and just wants to be left alone, but curious and well-meaning neighbors invade his life when someone notices an image of Jesus in the new stucco on his house. I liked it a lot and just wish the end had stuck to the movie's guns a little more clearly.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall is a fantastic book. I think it might be my favorite book this year, even though I'm not a runner. It's right up there with The Omnivore's Dilemma and Mountains Beyond Mountains. It has inspired Jon to start running barefoot, and the kids have run with him a few to several times (depending on which kid). Unfortunately, it has only inspired me to want to go barefoot all the time, which is not practical in these parts (it's about 20 degrees outside right now). I do have plans to become a runner, though. Check back with me in a year.

My non-running aside, though, I think everyone should read this book. It's full of riveting information and also funny and easy to read. I loved it!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Born to Run

Thursday night I heard Christopher McDougall speak and read from his book Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen at Dreamchasers in Driggs. Thanks to Jeanne of Dark Horse Books for getting the word out on short notice!

Before the reading started, I milled around and learned about Dreamchasers owner Lisa Smith-Batchen's ultramarathon runs such as the 135-mile run through Death Valley. I think the extreme distance runs are intriguing and it's great that she has done that and lives here.

Chris McDougall's reading was very entertaining, as he discussed similar ultramarathons and a wondrous cast of characters, the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico, and the physiology of barefoot running.

Hearing about ultramarathons is really intriguing but in a way that's awe-inspiring and distant. Since I'm still working my way up to my first 10 km run, hearing about 50- and 100-mile runs up and down remote mountains is tough to comprehend. For me the most motivational part was Chris's story of dealing with constant injuries on even relatively short runs, yet after age 40 finally figuring out what he needed to do and running 50 miles without pain. And that involved taking his shoes off. He related some studies that found the more money runners spend on shoes, the more injuries they have. And there are a few college track coaches who have their runners train barefoot (including one sponsored by Nike).

The talk was subtly motivational. I don't think I quite wanted to admit to myself that I had to try running barefoot for some (for me) nontrivial distance. A couple of years ago I read about people running barefoot and it just sounded like more "extreme" craziness. But the way Chris described it made so much sense I had to find out if it would work for me. He specifically likes running on pavement, which I avoid even with shoes on! How could that work?

The next day I had a chance to do it, so without overthinking it, I just went and did it. I knew I needed to go at least a mile just to get in the swing of things. It was about 4 in the afternoon, and the paved county road was hot, but not so hot as to be squishy. I figured if I never did it again, at least I would have tried it.

The run was fun! I had to pay more attention to the ground and deal with poky rocks and so on, but I loved it. It was a breeze, maybe the easiest running I've done, and it just felt great. At around one mile, I started to feel a blister forming on one foot, and considered calling it good but wanted to do more like my usual 5 km distance so it'd be an easy comparison. I ended up going about 3 miles, and toward the end ran on some fairly big blisters that made for an interesting experience as the road kept feeling hotter and hotter. But despite that it was a great experience that had me laughing several times and I knew I'd be (1) needing to take it easy for a few days and (2) doing it again.

I'm sure it would've been smarter to start slower, especially since I don't walk outside barefoot much at all. But it was great to impulsively try it and just find out for myself that it felt great on my feet-as-equipment and the only problem was the blisters. A "mere flesh wound" which I've had wearing regular shoes or hiking boots on occasion as well, so not any big disincentive.

The New York Times recently published the article Wiggling Their Toes at the Shoe Giants that talks about the seemingly fake controversy around barefoot running, drummed up by athletic shoe makers. The satirical post Barefoot Running: An Opposing View is a fun response to the naysayers. Because anyone who doesn't want to run barefoot doesn't have to anyway! Who cares?

Since I usually run on sharp gravel roads right by our house, barefoot isn't an option unless I go somewhere else or get a whole lot tougher feet than I have now. Plenty of people say it's not really about naked barefoot vs. cushioned running shoes as a binary decision. There's a lot more discussion about this on the web than I would've guessed. I'm already prodding Erin to get me a pair of Vibram Five Fingers for Christmas which should be a good concession to the terrain here.

When Lisa heard I didn't have the money on me to buy the book, she borrowed the money from someone else to lend me, even though she'd never met me before, so I was able to buy the book and get it autographed! Thanks, Lisa. Chris was a nice guy to talk to and I've already finished the book and thoroughly enjoyed it. I don't think readers need to be runners to enjoy it since it was a very engaging story in any case.

There's tons more in the book: food, mountains, narcotraficantes, biology, history, prehistory, competition, cooperation, and sex differences in running endurance that I didn't know about. Apparently the fastest women never beat even middling men in short races, or even marathons. But in races over 50 miles, women routinely win over men by large margins.

The biggest lesson seems to be: relax and have fun. Which is hard to argue with.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Moloka'i by Alan Brennert

I gave this a fighting chance--I read almost half of it. But it reminded me of Water for Elephants, and since finishing that book brought me no satisfaction, I decided to quit. I have pretty much the same complaints: boring writing, boring characters, boring plot. I did learn some interesting facts about the leper colony on Moloka'i, but I could spend ten minutes on Wikipedia and learn that stuff and be way more interested. I'm getting kind of angry that these boringly written books exist. I don't get it. (I was reading this for a book club, and even though I didn't finish the book, I think I'll go, just to lend some spice to the discussion. It won't be the first time. But I think I'll look at it more closely before I go, so I can complain more concretely.)

I have to take one thing back. The plot is not boring. If I were to read this as an outline, it would sound great. But somehow, the book was boring. I didn't care what was going to happen. Just thought I'd better add that.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Composer is Dead by Lemony Snicket

The Composer Is Dead is hilarious and educational. What can be better than that? It introduces the instruments in an orchestra through an investigator's attempts to solve the murder of a composer. There's a picture book and CD, whereon Lemony Snicket reads the story accompanied by original orchestral music. Seriously, it's hilarious. I love it.

It's entirely possible that if you don't appreciate the humor in A Series of Unfortunate Events, you won't like this much. Here's a video with Lemony Snicket and Nathaniel Stookey, the composer, which is making me laugh right now.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

I started writing one of my typical quick reviews of this book, and then abruptly quit because while I was writing it, I read a blog post by the author about how to be a reader in which she questions the value of the question: "Did you like it?" As well as the answers thereto, of course.

So I suddenly felt like I needed to write a really great review of this. And then nothing happened for a long time.

I've decided a quick review is better than nothing, so here we go. It's based on a fairy tale I'm not familiar with called Maid Maleen (and if you follow that link, there are other links that are highly entertaining; Shannon Hale's website is funny and fun!). I loved it! And here's why: the narrator is the most reasonable character in the book, and yet she changes and grows, maybe more than anyone else. The writing is lovely but believable as a journal. So there: highly recommended!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Wings by Aprilynne Pike

This is surprisingly good for a first novel, especially considering that I thought for sure it was only published because of the author's connection to Stephenie Meyers, author of the Twilight books. (I have no idea what that connection is, but I am always suspicious of books that sport a giant, adoring quotation by a crazily popular author, and this is the case with Wings.)

Wings has some similarities to the first Twilight book, in that it's about a not-quite-human character (vampire ... fairy ... whatever). But in this case, the narrator is the non-human, so it's about how she discovers her strangeness and learns to deal with it rather than how the narrator learns about it in someone else. Wings is much, much shorter, though, which is a good thing. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

Aprilynne Pike grew up around here, too, which is kind of cool.

Her Good Name by Josi Kilpack

Another novel by Josi Kilpack that alerts her Mormon readership about worldly danger, this time identity theft. Kilpack's books are different from most LDS fiction I've read: they have realistic, sympathetic characters; aren't full of cliches; aren't full of grammar mistakes; have interesting and not necessarily predictable plots with plenty of tension. I wouldn't want to read them full time, but I enjoy them. And I think she's doing a good thing portraying normal LDS people who come up against stuff like identity theft and internet predators. She includes facts about her topic at the end, too. Sometimes Mormons can be a tad naive and gullible (I'm pretty sure there are facts to back up that assertion), so I think it's good that she's focusing on subjects like these.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009)

I liked this sequel just as much as the original. It's funny and clever. And this time they go into paintings, too, which was a delightful twist. My kids loved it, too. (Okay, so they're not very hard to please. But I'm impressed with any movie that is entertaining for both kids and parents.)

Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland

Every novel I've read by Douglas Coupland has been wonderful, and Eleanor Rigby is no exception. I love how current and modern Coupland's novels are, and at the same time, there's always some kind of spiritual thing going on. Also, he captures so many things I've thought or felt but couldn't put into words like he does. He's one of my favorite authors, but I ration his works, so there's always something I can go read when I feel like it.

Other Coupland novels I've read and loved: Microserfs (the first one I read); Shampoo Planet (Jon read an advanced release copy I got as part of a gag gift when I worked at the BYU Bookstore, and I teased him for a long time about it, because the title and cover were so ridiculous, and then I had to apologize to him about all the teasing after I read it many years later); Miss Wyoming (probably my least favorite, but I still liked it a lot); Hey Nostradamus; Generation X; Girlfriend in a Coma (which has lyrics from various Smiths songs incorporated throughout the text); and All Families are Psychotic (my favorite).

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sheep's Clothing by Josi Kilpack

This novel kept me up until 3:00 am. Once I got about a third of the way through, I couldn't put it down. Josi Kilpack is a pretty decent writer of LDS fiction. Sheep's Clothing is about an internet predator and how he ensnares a good LDS girl. I admit that right now, as we're entering into our kids' teen years, I'm especially susceptible to books, movies, TV shows, etc., that portray the inner workings of teenagers. It's all kind of terrifying to me. So that was part of the appeal of the book. But also, I wanted to print out the emails from the Evil Internet Predator (in his guise as the nice girl on the East Coast) and give them to my kids as a test or something: "Find the sentence or sentences that expose this nice girl on the East Coast as an Evil Internet Predator!" Maybe I will.

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

I really liked My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult, but I felt manipulated by Nineteen Minutes. Which makes me wonder if My Sister's Keeper was manipulative in the same way. I'm guessing yes. Someday I'll read something else by her, and then maybe I can solidify my theory that she has figured out how to write riveting but manipulative stories. Right now my theory is based on the two books I've read and the fact that she is a prolific and popular author (a novel almost every year for the last 17 years!). A pretty lame basis for a theory, but there you go.

Star Trek (2009)

I'm not a Trekkie. I've seen only bits and pieces of the TV show(s), and I saw one Star Trek movie back whenever, and that's about it. So I don't know how accurately the new Star Trek fits into the overall story, but I thought it was pretty good on its own. It was fun that Leonard Nimoy's appearance was significant and not just a cameo role. I liked it.

On Beauty by Zadie Smith

I loved White Teeth by Zadie Smith. On Beauty isn't as good, but I liked it quite a bit. There were times when I had the distinct impression that I was missing something, and if I took some time to read more carefully, I'd find something really great. I know, that's kind of lame on my part. But I enjoyed the book. (I'm not necessarily recommending it; it's pretty racy at times.)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I go places, too!

I realize that it's starting to look like Jon is out traveling the world! and hiking! and living life! While I just sit at home and read and watch online TV. But really, I get out, too.

Behold one of the practice organs at BYU in Provo. Yes, it's a whole pipe organ inside a tiny room, just for practicing. There are many of these in the bowels of the HFAC (Harris Fine Arts Center), each sequestered in its own room, along with other practice rooms that merely contain pianos. (Bor-ing!) I used to practice on these organs when I took private organ instruction as a freshman and sophomore at BYU. My teacher was Douglas Bush, who is a world-renowned organist. I did not appreciate this at the time. Isn't there a saying about something wasted on youth? (It's late and my brain is shutting down. Also, I'm old and can't remember what is wasted on those ungrateful youth.)

(By the way, the HFAC is named after Jon's great-grandfather, Franklin S. Harris, who was a president of BYU. In fact, there's a picture of Franklin S. Harris hanging in one of the halls of the Super 8 in which I'm staying, a Super 8 where the decor is dedicated to BYU memorabilia. Otherwise it would be pretty weird to find a framed photo of Jon's great-grandfather adorning the halls of a Super 8.)

This week I'm attending BYU's Organ Workshop, where a bunch of organists get together and pretend like playing the organ is normal and that other people care as much about the organ as we do. It's wonderful, and I love it. It makes me want to go back to school and try again. Maybe twenty years later, I'd be more dedicated and studious. Anyway, it's a fantastic four-day workshop with classes and concerts and an inspiring hymn sing. Tomorrow we're going up to Salt Lake for a demonstration of the huge pipe organ at the LDS Conference Center, a recital on temple square, and a Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearsal. Last year at this same workshop, participants were allowed to play for a few minutes on one of the temple square organs (Conference Center, Assembly Hall and Tabernacle). I got to play the organ in the tabernacle, an unforgettable experience.

Packsaddle Lake

Today I hiked to Packsaddle Lake with girls from Darby Girls Camp, something like 30 girls and 7 leaders including myself. It's not a long or difficult hike, and it's pretty. (See note below, however!)

Apparently the lake is an old volcano. The rope swing at the lake was really cool. Many of the girls gave it a go and had a great time:

This was one of the suspected causes of the "except for ..." note above:

I believe I was more eaten by mosquitoes than on any other hike I've been on. I don't like using bug repellent so I put up with a lot of annoyance before using it, but I finally gave in and still the mosquitoes were busy with me. It wasn't so bad at the lake itself or most of the hike back, I think because it was later in the day and the wind had picked up a bit. Just something to remember that you can't see in photos of beautiful scenery. :)

Anyway, it was a nice hike.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Table Mountain hike

Yesterday I hiked Table Mountain, in front of the Grand Teton, with Scoutmaster George Bates, our sons Jacob, Phin, and other boys from their Boy Scout troop. Here we are at the top:

Here Jacob took a picture of me while I was getting a little rest but trying not to fall off:

Today was Battle of the Tetons back at Treasure Mountain Scout Camp, where boys tried to sink each other's canoes:

Our troop didn't win, but made it to the finals.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Better Off Ted (ABC)

I forgot this show when I wrote that novel-length post about TV. Better Off Ted has hilarious fake commercials for the company depicted in the show. The rest of it is funny, too. I like it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Procrastination II

Movies:

Amazing Grace (2006). I didn't have very high expectations for this film (I don't know why), but I liked it pretty well. It's a good, family-friendly treatment of a serious subject. My kids liked it, too.

State of Play (2009). I'm betting this will be one of the last newspaper films, and it's a good one. Russell Crowe and Helen Mirren are wonderful actors, and everybody else does a great job, too. I liked it a lot.

The Soloist (2009). I just claimed State of Play would be one of the last newspaper films, but The Soloist is another, sort of. It's excellent, not trite or sappy, based on a true story. I recommend it.

Expiration Date (2006). I think our local library must have purchased a bunch of little-known independent films in some kind of package deal, and this was one of them. (Our library is really small, and it's always immediately apparent when they've gotten new DVDs.) I thought it was surprisingly good. Maybe slightly cheesy sometimes, but pleasant and worth watching.

Bedtime Stories (2008). My expectations for this were fairly low, but it's actually pretty good. Of course, it gets increasingly unbelievable and corny towards the end, but there are lots of funny moments. One my favorite parts features environmentalist children's books, with titles like Organic Squirrel Gets a Bike Helmet and Rainbow Alligator Saves the Wetlands.

Cranford (2007). Another delightful BBC adaptation of an Elizabeth Gaskell novel. Or rather three novels, in this case. I've read Cranford, and now I have to get my hands on the other two on which this mini-series is based. Did I mention it's delightful? It is.

North and South (2004). I loved the novel and, although the mini-series is a bit different, I loved this BBC version, too. I thought it portrayed the class differences and disputes very well. It's a little more serious than Cranford but still wonderful.

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009). Sometimes dull and boring, sometimes excruciatingly dull and boring. I just stuck this on the end here for some balance, because I really didn't like it.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Everyone watch this!

Here's my brother, Colter, with his band Coconut. He plays drums and sings. I'm so proud! And not just because he's my brother. I really love the song.

Music Video for Techno by Coconut from The Heap on Vimeo.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Procrastination I

One purpose of this blog is to record every book I've read and every movie I've seen since its beginning. And right now I'm behind by a lot. So this is part one of a couple of catch-up posts. Or possibly more than a couple.

Reading:

"The Depressed Person" and "Good People" and "Wiggle Room" by David Foster Wallace. Jon and I have wanted to read DFW's famous novel Infinite Jest for a long time, but it is really long. (What an excellent title, though, don't you think?) Then a friend of mine suggested "The Depressed Person", complete with link, so I felt compelled to read it. It was (surprise!) depressing, but worth reading. It was nicely balanced by the transcript of a commencement address by DFW, also recommended by my friend. It's a great speech with insights that are potentially life-altering. (And since it has apparently been recently published in some book somewhere, it's possible that link won't work forever, so here's one that is an adaption of the speech.) Then I read "Good People" and "Wiggle Room" and really liked them. DFW was a dang good writer. Still haven't tackled the big novel, but someday. If you're interested in just one, I'd suggest the commencement address or "Good People," unless you're particularly interested in self-centered depressed people.

"A Report for an Academy" by Franz Kafka. I read this in German when I was in college and thought I'd revisit it in English these many years later. Still good.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. This novel was published years after the suicide of the author, and it won a Pulitzer Prize. It's very funny and has great characterization of both people and the city of New Orleans. Jon and I both liked it a lot.

The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz. I enjoyed this funny and engaging novel. It's definitely light reading, but not the kind where I had to ignore bad writing or shallow characterization.

Slumming by Kristen D. Randle. I was surprised by this young adult novel. The subject turned out to be pretty heavy, though not at all graphic. The author and the main characters are LDS (part of the surprise for me), but that's a minor detail in a compelling story.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Anne Frank House

On my last post, I forgot to tell you guys about me and Dad going to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, where she was in hiding for a long time. It was really cool! The Secret Annex, their hiding place, was bigger than I thought; I'm surprised that they could actually all fit in there and not be noticed. The stairs were so steep, they were more like ladders! The museum actually had the original diary, too! It was amazing to see all the old rooms and stuff. I actually just finished reading our copy of the diary myself, and it's really interesting. I can't post any pictures of the museum, though, because they didn't let us take any pictures. I did get a picture of Greenland, though, as we were flying over it on our way back to Minneapolis. Here it is:

It's really cool, isn't it? This is my last post, I think, so see you later!

No shortage

Two things we don't seem to have a shortage of in our area at the moment.

Orange juice (at Winco in Idaho Falls):

I was really taken aback by the wall of orange juice options. And grateful!

The other thing we're not currently lacking is baby chickens (15 baby hens about a week or two old, in our front yard):

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I love online TV

On Hulu:

Lie to Me: Based on the research of Paul Ekman, this show is about a deception expert whose consulting firm helps solve crimes by looking at microexpressions and other facial indications that people are lying. The main character is cranky and otherwise entertaining. The show just finished its first season.

Burn Notice: Nice cinematography and some MacGyver elements that are especially entertaining. This is about a spy who's been "burned" and takes odd jobs while trying to figure out how to get his real job back. His odd jobs are the kind that require spy skillz, so there's a lot of action and fun. Also, good music. The third season started a few weeks ago.

Southland: I've only watched a couple of these; it's pretty graphic, but graphic for broadcast TV, not graphic for cable. It's about a bunch of L.A. cops who are not particularly likable. Kind of painful to watch. In its first season.

Royal Pains: A new USA show about an ER doctor who gets fired from his New York hospital and becomes a concierge doctor in the Hamptons. It's mildly funny and pleasant. Sometimes I think the medical conditions he's spouting are made up. Campbell Scott plays the wealthy, reclusive German guy in whose guest house he lives, and that's entertaining.

The Philanthropist: There's only one episode of this so far, and I'm intrigued. A billionaire starts getting personally involved in philanthropy, personally delivering supplies and such, which makes for adventure and escapades. I can't think of anything quite like this show; it's a curious mix of your typical action/adventure show and realistic people in need.

Kingdom: A British show about a small-town lawyer whose brother has recently disappeared and is presumed dead. Funny, quirky characters and a pleasant and slower than usual pace.

On ABC's website:

Castle: This is about a famous mystery writer who starts hanging out with a homicide detective for research purposes. It's funny and interesting. Second season starts in September.

The Unusuals: Yet another cop show, this one in New York. (Surprise!) But it's kind of the seedy underbelly of New York. I like the cops on this show, although they're pleasantly quirky.

Lost: Jon and I watched the first season of Lost on DVD soon after it came out but then couldn't bring ourselves to get into it again--too much of a commitment! Until now. I discovered that ABC had every single season, every episode available online. So that's been my life the last couple of months, especially while Jon and Zed were gone. I'm pleased that the show continues to be interesting and complex, but I think it was easier to watch it quickly than it would have been to watch it when the episodes were actually airing. I'm looking forward to the last season. (Jon, by the way, chose not to start watching this again with me, but I think I might tell him the whole story and make him watch the last season with me.)

And if you're really bored, here's my run-down on the TV-watching sites I've been using. (And I mean really bored; I think about this way too much.)

I really like Hulu, which has Fox, NBC, USA and a bunch of other stuff, including a pretty varied collection of movies. You can watch all of NBC's shows on nbc.com, too, but I like the clean look of Hulu and the fact that it's silent until you actually start watching something (unlike ABC's site, which starts obnoxious ads as soon as you open it). You have to watch 15-30 second commercials (ABC occasionally slips a 60-second break in) a few times during each show, but the video quality is excellent. For some reason, Hulu's commercials are quieter than the show, while ABC's are louder, just like we're used to from real television. Hulu streams everything without stopping (though you can pause it), while on ABC, you have to click to continue after each commercial, which is sometimes annoying but also sometimes convenient if you have to go do something during the commercial (like pretend to fulfill your role as mother). ABC also requires you to download their own video playing software, but it hasn't given me any trouble yet, except that it doesn't work on my favorite browser Google Chrome. I have to use Firefox.

I guess I've mostly been sticking to NBC and ABC shows, and I'm not sure why. It seems like CBS is all reality TV and CSI variations, and since I watch a lot of these shows by myself, I haven't been brave enough to try any of the interesting-looking Fox shows. They look too freaky.

The best things about online TV are that it's free (no cable or satellite bills!) and you can watch whenever you want to. Most shows appear on the website the day after it airs on television, and that's fine with me. I suppose if I worked in an office where people congregated around the water cooler to talk about last night's episode of whatever, I might be annoyed, but as it is, I'm pretty happy with online TV.

The Dark Knight (2008)

Jon and I watched this on Blu-ray on his parents' giant flat screen TV. I'd been looking forward to it because I loved Batman Begins and I'd read some pretty good reviews of The Dark Knight. But it's not as good as Batman Begins, although it looked awesome on Blu-ray. I like Christian Bale as Batman. But I think my expectations were too high for the movie.

Lemon Tart by Josi S. Kilpack

I started this yellow book while I was visiting my sister Ivy and then had to wrestle it from her as I was leaving, so I could finish it. (It's hers.) At that time, about a third into the book, I told her I thought I knew how it was going to end, and she wisely warned me not to be too sure. Granted, I'm not much of a reader of mysteries and therefore not known for my uncanny ability to guess the endings. (Although sometimes I can call surprise twists in movies and TV shows, I'm not sure that's the same thing.) Anyway, she was right, and the ending had a surprising twist that I only started to suspect just before it happened. (Now I have the phrase "surprising twist" running around in my head.)

Here's an aside: I've always thought the ideal mystery would contain all the clues to solve the crime, so if you were Sherlock Holmes-like, you could figure it out along the way. But some mysteries just withhold information until the end, don't they? When someone blurts out the truth, Perry Mason-like. You can guess what's going to happen, but the clues aren't there to support it. Perhaps someone who actually knows something could comment on this.

Back to Lemon Tart! It's delightful, well-written, clean and not overtly LDS (the author is LDS, and the main character is a church-goer, but only in a generic way). I enjoyed it very much.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Going Home

Hey, everybody! On Thursday Morning in Amsterdam, we went around and saw some stuff. Then we had to go and catch our 8 hour long plane ride back to Minneapolis. On that plane flight, we flew over both Greenland and England. Here are a few photos:

One of a canal in Amsterdam. They were really cool; I wish we had had enough time to go on a boat tour.

Amsterdam also had a lot of houses that were leaning over really bad. Check it out!

That's crazy, isn't it? There was also this really weird clock that went counterclockwise and had the numbers spaced all crazy.

When we got to Jackson from Minneapolis, we drove home. Once we got there, I ate dinner, gave everybody their postcards, and then pretty much went to bed. I was pretty tired! I have pretty much gotten over my jet lag now, though. It was really fun in Europe, but I'm still glad to be home. Thanks for comments and stuff. See you all later!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Jena, Dresden, and Prague

Sorry for not posting for so long. I haven't had access to the Internet for a while.

Yesterday morning we left Berlin to go to Jena. When got to Jena, we found our hotel and then went to church. After that, we went and met Dad’s friend Doreen, that he met on his mission, and her boyfriend Didi, and they took us out to lunch. They were really nice. After that, we walked around Jena and looked at some cool stuff with them. That was really cool, because they have old city walls from the Middle Ages. The way they worked was they had a square city wall, and three gates around it. Most of the walls are mostly missing, but they still have some of the gates and the corners. Here are some pictures:

After that, at about 4:00, we checked into our hotel and Doreen drove us to her brother Henry Gottschald’s house. He is a friend of Dad’s that he knew on his mission, too. We stayed over there and talked for several hours, and then we came back to the hotel. Here is a picture of their family:

Three of their kids were playing, so we don't have a picture with them in it.

It was really cool to go to church and hear everything spoken in German instead of English. Our hotel room is pretty nice. One weird thing, though; you have to put your room key in this scanner thing in the wall for electricity. Here’s a picture:

Weird, huh? Here are a couple of other pictures of our hotel room.

In the morning, we got up and ate breakfast, then went to catch our train to Dresden. It was like 15 minutes late, which was annoying because it made us miss our next train and have to wait for the next one. So, we had about 45 minutes in Leipzig to look around. We went into this really cool church with pink and green decorations in the inside. Here's a picture:

Cool, huh? After we got to Dresden we walked around for the couple of hours we had and saw some cool stuff. There was this really cool palace grounds place called the Zwinger, and that was awesome. We also saw the Frauenkirche, that was burned down in the big bombing of Dresden during World War II, and that was cool too, but we didn't have time to go inside. Here are a couple of pictures of Dresden:

One of just one single part of the Zwinger:

And one of the Frauenkirche. This church was just a pile of rubble when Mom and Dad were her on there missions.

After a couple of hours in Dresden, we got on our train to Prague. On the way to Prague we saw a lot of really cool Czech towns back in the countryside. When we actually got to Prague, we walked around a tiny bit and then went to find our hostel. I got us lost a few times, but we finally got there. We then dumped our bags there and Dad took a nap, 'cause we were both really tired. After that, we walked around a bit and found the Internet for the hostel. Dad wrote some e-mail and talked to some people from Dublin, who recommended doing the free tour of Prague in the morning. So, the next day, we did just that. At 11:00, we went to the Old Town Square and went on the free walking tour they have of Prague. They took us to some pretty cool places. After that, we decided to go on the Castle tour, which was run by the same people but actually cost money. That was really fun too; they took us to some really cool places in the Castle Quarter of the city. Here are a few pictures from those:

This is actually the Old Town Square, where everybody met for the first tour.

This is kinda funny. It's a paper bag dispenser we found in a park for you to pick up your dog's droppings.

One more thing now: We were looking around in some of the little shops around the Old Town Square, and we found a store that had this huge Russian nesting doll that had like 100 separate dolls that all actually fit inside of each other. Here are three pictures of them:

That's crazy, huh? Well, I need to wrap it up, so see you later. Bye!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Cool Church and Checkpoint Charlie

Today me and Dad didn't wake up until after noon, and we didn't go to LinuxTag at all. Instead, we walked around and saw some stuff. First we went to this cool church. It was bombed in the war, and they made a kind of ugly (from the outside) memorial church that is really cool inside. There is a bunch of blue glass in the walls, and when the sun shines through it, it looks really cool. We went inside both of them. Here are some pictures.

The inside of the new church:

Sorry about the blurry picture. I had to turn the flash off. The inside of the old church:

And the outsides of both of them. The tall one is the old one, and the newer one is short and sqaut.

After that we went to Checkpoint Charlie, and that was really cool too. Here is a picture:

After that, we just walked around for a while. We saw a group of break dancers dancing as a kind of tribute to Michael Jackson, who died yesterday. They were really good, too. At about 6:00, we went out to eat with Davor, and now we're home and I'm writing this blog post. It's pretty late, so I should probably go to bed. :-)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Schloss Charlottenburg and Potsdamer Platz

Yesterday me and Andrea went to Schloss Charlottenburg, and it was awesome! We went on a tour through the building, and then walked around in the garden out back. There are a lot of old paintings and stuff in there. Sophie Charlottenburg, who was a queen of Prussia, collected porcelain, so there was a lot of that. After that we went back to the gardens; they were awesome. Here's a link to the Wikipedia page.

Schloss Charlottenburg

There were a bunch of ducks and little birds. Here are a few pictures:

Those ducks were pretty funny-looking. After that, we went home.This morning we went to LinuxTag again, and I got to play Frets on Fire. It’s just like Guitar Hero, but with a lot more songs.

That was pretty fun! Tonight we went to the Linux Nacht (Linux Night), a party. It was pretty fun. They even had a live band there!

After the party we walked around Potsdamer Platz for a while. The buildings over there are all really new. Check it out:

We also saw a memorial thing with info about the Berlin Wall. Sorry for the blurry picture.

We had lots of fun yesterday and today. And Mom, there was a Mindstorms booth, but I didn't see it until right when we were leaving. I'm going to check it out tomorrow and post about it.