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!