Thursday, December 22, 2011

v2, d429: File Under: Christmas, General

Man, I've almost written a ton of blog posts lately.  See, back when I forced myself to blog daily (or later, near-daily), I would sit down at my computer and think, Gee, what should I blog about today?  And then I'd just ramble on about whatever was on my mind, unless that thought was too complicated for me to articulate at one in the morning (which happened frequently). Were I not already determined that I would be blogging something, many of those thoughts would have stayed in my head.  I know this because it is exactly what has been happening lately.  Now, instead of starting with the decision "I am going to blog today" and fitting a thought to it, I start with a thought, "I wonder why so much Christmas pop culture is so terrible?" and eventually the train of thought turns to, "Hey, I ought to blog about this," but when one a.m. roles around, the train of thought has pretty much run its course in my head, so I feel no need to put it out on the screen any longer.  Thus, without the predetermined outcome that I will share my thoughts, I usually don't. 

What have I almost blogged about this month?

--the "culture" of Christmas
--my favorite Christmas songs
--my least favorite Christmas songs
--a poem I was working on
--a short story I was thinking about
--Robbie's school Christmas pageant (you can see the pic on my flickr site, tho)
--my own church's Christmas special (my script, and all the nerves that came with it)
--why I don't participate in religious, political, or philosophical discussions on FB or Twitter
--the Texans winning the division (and subsequently becoming the Texans of...every year before this one)
--Robbie's first hockey game, and the possibly-divinely-won free tickets that made it all possible
--keeping faith in the face of financial struggles
--our upcoming Christmas road trip
--taking the kids from my church to the Players' to see Christmas Pageant
--why Gremlins is such a wonderfully absurd and grotesque Christmas classic
--Feliz Navidadgehangen
--A new RNGOTM
And a few other, "deeper" subjects I don't remember any more. 

That would have made for some interesting reading, huh???

However, I have been spending this month working on some other, smaller writing projects, and they've been eating my time and creative juices, even if they've been very slow in coming. 

Anyway, heading home for Christmas tomorrow morning.  I have to stay up late until the bread in the breadmaker is finished.  We have an 11-day 3-state whirlwind of family and festivity ahead of us.  I estimate at least 40 hours of driving time.  That will probably not be fun.  Plus, I've finally got the head cold that the rest of my family has been fighting through.  Just like at Thanksgiving!  I think it will be good, though.  I'm stoked to see my sister and brother-in-law for the first time since their wedding.  And to see the in-laws' new house for the first time.  And to (hopefully) revive the New Year's Eve hockey tradition (albeit in OKC).  And to just get a chance to relax and maybe focus on some reading or writing.  (I think I read almost 600 pages over Thanksgiving break)  I'll also need to update my reading blog.  Operation: Christmas Reading has been pretty funny.  And fairly disastrous.  So I've wanted to wait until I've got enough time and focus to sit down and write a good review for each of the lumps of literary coal I've labored my way through so far this month.  Oh, and it looks like I'm actually going to end up with an average of just over one book per week this year.  Which is not a lot to some of you, but it's a great step forward for me. 

In case I don't log back on before Sunday, Merry Christmas, everyone.  And have a happy new year.  I won't have Internet access on the 31st, so I won't get to write an absurdly long year-in-review post this year, but if I could I promise it'd be a lot happier review than last year's. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

v2, d428: A Carol for Baboushka

Are you familiar with Baboushka?  I wasn't until I checked out a Caldecott-winning children's storybook from the library.  Now, I can't claim this source is 100% accurate, but here's the cliff-notes version:

Baboushka was an old woman who lived alone in Russia.  One blizzardy night, the three kings stop by her place on the way to find the newborn King. They say they've been following the star, but the snowstorm has made them lose track of it and they want a place to stop until the storm blows over.  Baboushka opens up her home to them, and the three kings tell her the wonders of the Baby they're seeking.  They even offer her the chance to go along, and Baboushka is thrilled.  However, she asks if they're willing to wait until morning, and they insist they have to leave out that night.  Thus, Baboushka gets left behind.

Later in the evening, she changes her mind and decides she wants to go with the wise men after all.  She gathers up (or makes, I don't remember which) some simple toys for the baby and sets out after the wise men.  Unfortunately, the snow has completely covered their tracks and she can't find any trace of them, so she wanders the countryside looking for them.  She goes door to door, but nobody can tell her for certain where the kings are.  And, to this day, every Christmas Eve she goes from house to house, seeking the Christ-child, and leaving toys for the children of the house in His honor. 

Interesting that our symbol of gift-giving is a jolly fat man who lives in extravagance at the North Pole with magic and legions of workers who mass-produce toys for him, while Russian children have a kind-hearted beggar woman leaving gifts she made herself in honor of Christ. 

Anyway, I worked up a little Christmas carol in honor of Baboushka and her neverending quest to find the wise men.  I hope you like it.

(the song opens with a lovely strings section)
 Where did they go?
I was searching (searching) for three men, quite wise
I was hoping (hoping) I might find those guys
I was looking for some camel footprints in the snow
(They're gone so long)
What can I do? 
(Where did they go?)
Nyet, nyet, nyet
Don't know what I'm going to do
I've got to catch up with you.

You better slow down (slow down) sweet talkin' wise men (slow down)
That wind is blowing (blow, blow) My toes are freezing
Hold on (hold on) sweet talkin' wise men (hold on) 
Feels like I'll search for you forever.

I was (making) little dolls and toys
To be giving (giving) to God's favorite Boy
I forgot to ask which star to chase 
(They're gone so long)
What do I do?
(Where could they be?)
Nyet, nyet, nyet
Don't know what I'm going to do
I gotta catch up to you.

You better slow down (slow down) sweet talkin' wise men (slow down)
That wind is blowing (blow, blow) My toes are freezing
Hold on (hold on) sweet talkin' wise men (hold on) 
Feels like I'll search for you forever.

I've been knocking (knocking) on my neighbor's door
I've been sleeping (sleeping) on a stranger's floor
People say you're prob'ly dead by now
(They're gone so long)
It's 2011.
(Folks have a point)
Nyet, nyet, nyet,
Don't know what I'm going to do.
I gotta catch up to you.

You better slow down (slow down) sweet talkin' wise men (slow down)
That wind is blowing (blow, blow) My toes are freezing
Hold on (hold on) sweet talkin' wise men (hold on) 
Feels like I'll search for you forever.


(As always, a little help if you need a reference point)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

v2, d427: This Blog Still Flies

The Great Thanksgiving Road Trip went pretty well, overall.  Unfortunately, I was pretty sick for just about the whole thing.  And Kim was sick for part of it, too.  As was Isaac, who had RSV and needed to breathe medication through a mask three times a day.  So I won't say it was a perfect holiday, but it was good times with good food.  And we got to see my folks in OKC for a day at Chuck E. Cheese.  Robbie had never been to a CEC.  I hadn't been since (I think) we moved from California, which was 1988.  (August 8th, for the record.  The day before Wayne Gretzky was traded to the L.A. Kings)  I seem to remember loving Chuck E Cheese and especially the large animatronic characters who would sing for guests' entertainment.  Apparently, however, this is not the case, as my mom, dad, and sister all went on and on about how I was terrified of these characters as a child.  Funny the different ways we remember things twenty years later.

At any rate, I remember thinking that Showtime was a pretty big deal at CEC.   At this CEC...not so much. While my childhood's memories had Chuck E. flanked by an entire animatronic backup band, this iteration of the franchise featured a robot Chuck E. and a TV screen where he interacted with puppet versions of his friends from my memory.  It wasn't the same, and I couldn't really blame all the kids in the restaurant for completely ignoring the musical numbers.  Also, they ought to allow Chuck E. to have a degree of manual control rather than being completely pre-programmed.  During the few moments when a couple of kids gathered by his stage to watch the show, Chuck E. was usually looking in a completely different direction than the kids were standing.  "Are you guys enjoying the show?" he'd ask an entire row of empty tables while four cute little ones stood off to the side, hoping Chuck E. would talk to them.

(Now that I think about it, the only concrete memory I have of CEC as a kid was the entire cast singing Neil Diamond's "America," which was my absolute favorite song as a four-year-old)

Robbie loved Chuck E. Cheese, and I don't think he even realized there was a show element.  He was happy playing games even before he knew he could get prizes with the tickets he won.  Whack-A-Mole has become pretty high tech.  Instead of physically whacking tangible objects that pop out of holes in front of you, you now use a toy mallet to whap a TV screen that has mice scurrying across it.  You hit them and actually get to see them smush before little mouse angels leave their lifeless mousey bodies.  Now, I'm trying not to be one of those "Back in my day..." old guys, but...that's just not quite right.   There was also a game where you had to use a water gun to shoot monsters, and the game was rigged with plexiglass all around it so you couldn't spray everyone with water.  Except that Robbie found the one corner of the game that, when hit directly, would send water splashing back far enough to get himself wet.  And so he just aimed for that one spot over and over and over.  The kid was actually pretty wet by the time he was done playing games.

The car trips were actually not that bad.  Isaac slept for half of the drive and he sat happily looking out the window/ playing with his duck/ sticking his tongue out at Robbie the rest of the time.  I can't recall a single instance he started crying much the whole way to Oklahoma or back.  Robbie didn't fare quite so well--sitting still is not so easy for him, even in short intervals of time.  But we all made it.  Gives me hope for Christmas, because we'll be traveling a lot for Christmas.

I'm enjoying our Christmas season so far. We got the tree up the day we returned from OK, we've been listening to the music, Robbie's in a play at his school (he's playing one of the wise men), and I recently checked five Christmas-themed books out of the library since I don't have our TV working and we're missing the annual Cheesy Christmas TV Special-palooza.  Isaac is crawling now, so he's becoming a lot more fun (and challenging) to play with.  I recently had another play accepted for publication, and that's exciting.  My sleep difficulties are coming back, which is unfortunate, but so far I'm not staying up till 5 like I was before we moved.  Five Iron Frenzy is officially coming back, and I almost wrote a long blog about that but I was too tired at the time.  Still, seems like a good idea to wrap up this post with a video for their new song.  Enjoy, and talk to you again soon!

Monday, November 21, 2011

v2, d426: I tried to work a sea lion video into this post, but it just didn't fit anywhere

You know what this blog needs?  MORE VIDEO CLIPS!!

No.  No it does not.

Some have suggested that my Flickr project is stealing some of my blogger thunder.  Well folks, a picture may or may not be worth 1,000 words.  But it's a heck of a lot easier. 

Plus, Isaac is having trouble sleeping these days because he has RSV.  The medication procedure for this particular virus involves putting  mask up to the baby's mouth and forcing him to breathe a smoke-like substance for about ten minutes.  As you can guess, Isaac is quite uncooperative with this treatment.  We're doing the best we can, though, and of course we appreciate prayers as this virus does occasionally turn into something very serious in babies

Today's doctor visit was actually pretty pleasant.  Isaac and I walked around Hermann park for about fifty minutes ahead of time because there was a bit of a gap between when we dropped Kim off at work and when Isaac's appointment was scheduled to start.  I've decided that, on days when I have the car, I'm going to start looking for opportunities to get out and walk.  Now that it's not horridly hot and hellaciously humid every day.  While I miss running for exercise, walking while pushing the baby is a nice way to stretch the legs. 

Headed up to Oklahoma for Thanksgiving Wednesday morning.  I will be off-line until we get home late Sunday night. Maybe I'll show up on Monday to tell you how it went. 

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, by the way.  Partially because it kicks off Christmas season (in my world, anyway), and partly because, well, it's just nice.  You get all the family and feasting of Christmas, but without Christmas' unique hassles.  Or, as Kim put it today, "It's all the family time of Christmas but without the stress of presents."  Now, I love gift-giving like a banshee, but I know it can be stressful for a lot of folks, and that stress kind of gets passed on to others in various ways.  Plus, anymore Christmas has become such a frenzy of sales and ads and community events that it can get a little overwhelming.  Again, not necessarily to me; I can pretty much take all the Christmas you can throw at me.  (Commentary: STOP HANDING THE BABY THE GLASS ORNAMENT!!!)  Thanksgiving, however, does seem to have most of the positives of Christmas, just quieter.  And sometimes, quiet is nice. 

Hey!  It's raining outside! Hard!!, no, it stopped.  Dang, that was fast.

All right, happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

v2, d425: Skinnamarink a linky-dink

Trying to take on as much housework as I can this weekend, so I'll keep this brief. I was up until 4 working last night, so I'm pretty tired anyway.  And you know what happens when I write while overtired! 

1.  A good interview with Joss Whedon re: the upcoming Avengers movie.  The trailer was nice, but I get more excited when I read things like this.  I mean, I've seen enough awesome trailers turn into bad movies, and a project like this always has the potential to be a really bad movie.

2. Speaking of, they're making a movie based on the old Rampage arcade game.  No joke

3. Man, I feel bad for this kid.

Rookie mistake.  It's an empty net.  Just dump it in.  An empty-net goal is embarrassing enough as is.  No need to showboat it.

Thing is, everybody's already comparing this kid's play to Patrik Stefan's.  Nuh-uh, folks.  No contest.

No.  Contest.

4. Ugh. Now, a pretty goal.  To clean the palette.

That's...that's just nice, Dutchy.  Thank you.

5. Went to the Players' opening of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever starring my talented friends Jason, Kat, and Abby.  BUY TICKETS!  SUPPORT THE ARTS!Everybody involved ought to be proud; their hard work was evident, and it's a really charming show. 

6. Look, it's Brentalfloss's G-Rated album on BandCamp.  Cool.

7. Have I mentioned the baby's sick?  Well, he is, and now he's coughing, so I guess that means he's going to wake himself up.  Better go.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

v2, d424: Top 7 (times 2) Disney Songs

Thanks to Twitter, I learned that it was 22 years ago today that The Little Mermaid first came out in theaters.  Crazy, huh?  I kind of wished I'd known about this date a year ago.  Then we could have made all sorts of "Ariel's old enough to go drinking" jokes.  (Hand me another of those...what's the word again?  Oh, margaritas!)  In honor of this momentous occasion, I've decided to dedicate today's Top 7 to my favorite Disney songs.

Only, the Disney canon is huge!  (Incidentally, I'll bet the Disney Cannon is pretty big as well)  So in order to better capture the scope of the Disney company's impact upon my formative years, I've decided to double the size of this top 7.  Introducing my Top 14 Disney Songs!  (And getting it down to 14 is actually pretty hard, too!)

Oh, a couple notes before we start.  First, I'm only including pieces that are (as far as I know) original to their respective Disney property.  That means nothing from either Fantasia.  Though those are brilliant and perfect.  Except for the celebrity cameos in the second one; those were just weird.  Second, I am a man. That means, when I was exposed to most of this stuff originally, I was a boy. Therefore, my tastes tended to gravitate toward the boy-centric pieces.  For example: I never liked "Part Of Your World."  Even as a kid, I was annoyed when she'd stop to remember the correct word for "feet."  The songs that always won Academy Awards were usually love songs, which means they were probably my least favorite parts of the movies.  That doesn't mean no Disney love ballads are on this list, but it does at least imply that the majority of my choices won't be seen on a lot of well-respected "Best of Disney" lists.  I loved the villain songs, I loved the big ensemble numbers, I loved the chase scenes, I loved stuff that was bizarre and creative, but I wasn't really into what I would have considered "the girly stuff" with very few exceptions.  Sorry, A Whole New World.  Also, I never even bothered with Pocahontas or Mulan.  (And after playing both films in video game form, I don't imagine I ever will)  You can have Cinderella, and I'll take The Lion King or Newsies.  That's just the way I grew up, and this list will reflect that.

Disclaimers out of the way, enjoy my top 7 14 Disney songs. 

It was between this and Chim Chim Cheree for the #14 slot, and I went with this one because it's just so dang happy.  This is Disney whimsy at its finest.  Uncle Reemus, I wish you were my uncle!  I mean, you just want to sit down and have a picnic with that guy.  He's having so much fun with those cartoon animals.  He's very high on life, but not in an obnoxious way.  It's always been hard for me to listen to this song and not whistle along.  What else can I say?  It always puts me in at least a slightly better mood.  

Villains almost always get the best songs.  It's true in Disney, it's true on Broadway (though really the two are the same these days), it's true in real life.  It's just the way it is.  This is a prototypical villain song in that the whole thing is the bad guy singing about what a jerk he is.  And loving it.  It's so fun, because he's such a jerk.  Please note Gaston isn't really "evil," he's just ridiculously self-serving.  Obsessed, even.  And through that obsession, he's eventually transformed from the guy in this number to the mob-leader in Kill The Beast.  This number, though, is just fun.  You love to hate the character, and that's exactly what this perfect movie is going for.  Because up to this point, the hero is still kind of dark and scary, so you need the bad guy to lighten things up.  

The stage version of this song is incredible, by the way, with all the refrains and the dancing and the beer mug clinking.  Look it up if you haven't seen it before.  

Is this one of the best Disney songs ever?  No, of course not.  And it sounds really early-90s as I listen to it now.  But it was a great theme song for a great show.  It sets the mystery-and-adventure mood perfectly and it made you want to sing along every single afternoon.  Admittedly, most of the Disney Afternoon shows had great songs.  (In some cases, the song was even better than the show)  Rescue Rangers hit that perfect balance between awesome song and awesome show (and awesome NES game, for the record), so that's why I chose it here as a representative of the entire DA crew.  But like I said, these were all solid tunes.  

Oh, man.  This song...this movie...

Okay, The Brave Little Toaster is a terrifying film.  At some point in the movie, you are led to believe that every single main character is dead or dying.  Blanket gets lost in a storm, vacuum runs over his own cord, radio is torn apart by the freaky guy, lampy overload and blows his bulb, it's awful.  They go through so much just to get to the boy's new home, and then when they get there, all his new stuff throw them into the dumpster and they get sent to the junk yard.  That's where we have this sad, awesome scene.  It's got to be the most fatalist song Disney has ever done in a kids' movie as car after car sings about its past life just before its compacted into a small metal cube.  It's crazy.  It's sad.  The doomed cars are basically telling the appliances that they're in the junk heap, they're worthless, and all that's left is to wait to be crushed.  It is so intense, and when there was a window of seven or eight years where I couldn't really remember anything about this movie, I always remembered this scene.  Can't say why I've always loved it so much other than it's just intense and exciting.  Even if it borders on the depressing.  (Good thing none of these cars were actual characters in the movie, or this film would have been responsible for an entire generation of counseling--as if the Bambi thing hadn't been bad enough!)

As with #12, this is kind of on this list as a representative of all the Silly Symphonies, but The Old Mill has always been my favorite.  Walt Disney took short form animation so seriously.  This clip is a work of art.  It won an Academy Award.  It's over seventy years old.  And it still looks so much better than even some of the computer generated animation we're showing our kids these days.  Old Mill was actually sort of a screen test for a new style of animation Walt wanted to use in Snow White.  I think he was pretty happy with it in the end.  Phenomenal piece.  

Two words.  King Louie.  Two more words: Villain song.  Sorta.  This film has a fantastic cast of character, and this is easily the most memorable scene in the film.  (I also love the vultures and almost put That's What Friends Are For on this list)  It's cool and jazzy and full of great "little moments," like Bagheera hiding by posing as a statue or the white-haired monkey doing whatever it is he does.  Everything about this scene is just fun.  (Though I can't help but wonder how Mowgli bounces back so quickly after being dropped on his head on stone.  Yeouch!)

Pirates of the Caribbean figured out that, if you're going to make me listen to the same song on loop for ten minutes while I ride a slow-moving boat through a cavern of robots, it had better be a pretty dang awesome song.  (Unfortunately, not all Disneyland attractions got that memo)  If you've heard this song once, chances are you've sung it or had it run through your head at multiple points in your life.  Even if most people don't know any words beyond "Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me.  We mumble mumble mumble mumble Drink up, my hearties, yo ho!"  It's like trying to write music for an old NES game.  It has to be simple and catchy and people have to be willing to listen to it repeat itself many, many times.  Well, twenty years later I'm still humming this tune, so they musta done something right.  

Incidentally, I absolutely loved all the ways they tied the first PotC movie to this ride, and that includes the use of the song.  Very well done.  Now, when will that Enchanted Tiki Room movie become a reality?  

Any guy my age who participated in musical theatre growing up kept hoping and praying that Disney would do the obviously awesome thing and make this film into a stage show.  Well, they finally have.  And now we're all too old and/or out of shape to be in it anymore.  Go figure.  

Every song in this movie rocks.  The harmonies are always tight, and I'm a sucker for a good harmony.  Mostly, though, they do a phenomenal job of capturing the mood of the scene, the period, and the characters. Which is obviously what is supposed to happen in a good musical.  I would always get so pumped up watching this scene.  It's basically an army of boys all out declaring war through song and dance. know, it works a LOT better than it sounds like it should.  And that's true of most of the songs in this film.  I would say it could be one of the strongest shows of composer Alan Menken's career if not for...

Okay, here's girly romance's addition to the list ;-)  I've actually never minded Disney's princesses or their love songs, but they're not usually my favorites.  (To be fair, Kiss the Girl and Once Upon a Dream almost made the list) Then there's this one.  Everything is just beautiful. Music, lyrics, and animation!  The video I've embedded is poor quality.  The scene is just magical.  I think this romance "works" for me so much more than most others because the Disney formula often relies heavily on love at first sight, and that is most definitely not the case with this one.  Instead you've got two people having to work through their own issues and prejudices to learn to love one, it's kind of like an actual relationship!  The biggest obstacle to their happiness is not an evil witch, it's their own faults and opinions.  (And then once they get those out of the way, there's the jerk who wants to kill the beast.  Small detail)  This song is lovely, it's placed perfectly in the film (from a dramatic structure standpoint, I mean), and the movie is probably the strongest overall fairy tale adaptation Disney ever attempted.  While not my favorite Disney movie (again, I am a man), it's definitely up there, and this song is nothing short of purely charming. 
I really didn't like this movie when I was a kid.  Then I got back into it through the music (and through Kingdom Hearts), and now I love it. It's so bizarre, but there's a lot of heart there.  And the songs are fantastic in a grim, quirky, yet charming sorta way.  There's a ton of atmosphere to these songs, and this one probably captures it the best.  Plus, remember I love big ensemble numbers, I love character songs, I love spectacle, and this song is all of those things.  I mean, I can see how you wouldn't like this song, but I love it.  The mayhem and suspense continue to build until Jack's grand entrance at the end, and it's just fun.  

Incidentally, now that Disney has finally got Newsies Broadway-bound, is it too much to hope for that Nightmare might be coming one day?  Imagine if they spent the money on this production that they spent on that one show with the Heelies!

This scene is perfect.  I love the transformation Ursula goes through from the saintly philanthropic octo-woman of the beginning to the mad cackling witch at the end.  This whole thing just goes berserk as Ariel gets swept away by the sea witch's crafty plan.  And it's clear that nobody has more fun than Ursula when she's being evil.  You can just feel her relishing every moment of this scene. This whole sequence is probably one of the greatest performances by an animated character of all time.  (Not counting motion capture here)  It's also a well-directed scene.  The lights, the color, the angles, everything goes from glum to chaotically revelrous, and I can't help but get caught up in the giddy insanity. 

This song is everything a showstopper should be.  It starts simply enough and gradually adds more performers, more tricks, more effects, more harmonies, until it's finally this epic celebration of hospitality.  I don't know how the Beast doesn't hear this. It's awesome in the movie.  It's awesome on stage.  It's just awesome.  Nearly the entire supporting cast is featured in this number, and this film has an awesome supporting cast.  A musical about an enchanted castle really should be magical, and this number definitely fits that description.

Ultimate villain song.  I still get chills when I watch this scene.  I love the pairing of Scar with the hyenas--who are excellent henchmen characters.  This is my favorite Disney movie, and this is my favorite scene from the movie.  This is where Scar turns the story on its head.  This is where the earth itself vents steam as Scar struts among the jagged rocks. It's where the hyena army is revealed, and they're not as hapless as Whoopi Goldberg and her pals.  Again, the sense of build and theatricality in this scene is spot on. I can watch this song several times in a row and not get tired of it.  And the final shot is eerie and imposing.  And it could just be that Nazi imagery that the animation brings to mind (wow, that's not pulling any punches), but everything about this number is sinister.  You don't see Scar getting the same scandalous joy out of his evil that Ursula gets.  He's just full of hate, and that's so scary the ground itself vaults him into the sky on a Mountain of Death.  Forget it, this song is just awesome.  It's everything I love about villains, musicals, theatricality, and rhythm rolled into one freaking amazing sequence.  

So, what tops it (in my book)?

Though my actual #1 will probably surprise you almost as much.


I have not actually seen most of this movie.  I don't think I've even heard any of the music from the rest of the movie (except for Hellfire).  In fact, I hadn't even seen this actual sequence of film until I just now looked it up on YouTube.  Before now, my whole experience with this song was my sophomore year of high school, when this was my solo for our high school spring choir concert, which was Disney themed.  (Side note: this is a tough song for a sophomore to sing!) (Another side note: after nothing but the piano/vocal arrangement from my memory, the cinematic version is actually a tad disappointing ;-)   

It's funny, because usually you have the Disney princess singing about how she wants more.  This time, it's the male lead--progress!  And while the facial animation for both Frolo and Quasimodo is a song itself is still gorgeous.  I love those intervals, and the melody is both haunting and hopeful.  Now, I never hear anybody talk about this song.  Actually, I never hear anybody talk about this movie.  So it may not be very good.  I don't know.  But I'll always smile when I hear this song, and I'll always hope Quasi gets his one day out there among the millers and the weavers and their wives (probably my favorite moment in the piece, apart from the creepy-ish opening).  

And I'll hope it turns out better for him than it did in the book.  


So there's my list.  This is a tough one to do, and if I were to do it again next week there's a good chance it would look a little bit different.  Over the years, Disney music has really run the gamut, from Silly Symphonies to theme park rides to Broadway musicals, and I've tried to capture some of that variety here.  I'm already second-guessing some of my own choices, because there are just that many great songs to choose from.  But this took SO FREAKING LONG TO WRITE that there's no way I'm going back to redo any of it.  Besides, I'm sure I'd still want to switch things around no matter how many times I revamp the list.  So consider this a top fourteen with an asterisk, if you will.  :-)

And of course, I'd love to hear your faves in the comments section, if you're bold enough to share. 

Honorable mentions go to Once Upon a Dream, I Just Can't Wait To Be King, Chim Chim Cheree, Making Christmas, The Winnie-the-Pooh Theme Song, Oogie Boogie's Song, Kiss The Girl, Pink Elephants on Parade, That's What Friends are For, Everybody Wants to Be A Cat, and the Darkwing Duck Theme Song.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

v2, d423: Kokomo

At some point in my life, I visited my sister in California when she was a band teacher and made a mix CD of songs she had on the computer in her office while she taught some private lessons.  I busted that CD out today while dragging Robbie and Isaac along to Wal-Mart to get the car battery fiasco (don't ask) taken care of.  Things I learned today:

1) Robbie loves the Beatles' Yellow Submarine.  (He didn't know this before today, either)  I'm pretty sure this is true of all children under the age of eight. 

2) In ELO's song Sweet Talkin' Woman, the weird distortion sound at the end of every chorus is actually speaking the words "sweet talkin' woman."  I seriously never realized this!

3) The Kinks' Come Dancing is actually a song about the singer remembering watching his sister go out on dates when he was younger.  For some reason, that's kinda odd to me.

4) I have no desire to ever hear Cats in the Cradle again.  Ever.

5) I know I've mentioned this before, but the underscoring to Disney's Main Street Electrical Parade is really a brilliant piece of music. 

6) Robbie recognizes Louis Armstrong's What a Wonderful World from the first half second of the intro.  Apparently it's a song they play occasionally at his school.  That's kind of amazing.  

7) While listening to the song Kokomo, I came to the realization that, yes, I that is where I want to go.  The song makes it sound so amazing!  Everything sounds so peaceful and laid back!  You just want to lay out on a beach and close your eyes and breathe in sea air and listen to sea gulls and children playing.  I mean, "We'll get there fast and then we'll take it slow."  That doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but it sounds amazing!  I want to take my family, get on a cruise ship, and spend three weeks on Kokomo drinking snow cones (since I don't do cocktails).  Screw bills, car payments, near-unemployment, dead batteries, insomnia, and loneliness.  I want sand castles and drinks from half-coconuts.  When I'm listening to that song, I really start to think that heading to Kokomo would actually solve all of my problems. Except for the one where I don't have much money.  In fact, Kokomo would probably make that one worse.  So Dave suggested I go Occupy something until somebody gives me money.  And that made a lot of sense to me.

Folks, I hereby propose a FOMW Occupy Kokomo operation.  Who's with me??

*****EDIT: And no I don't CARE if Kokomo isn't real!!****

Monday, November 7, 2011

v2, d422: Bringin' Flickr Back

A couple of years ago, I had like four friends doing the 365 photo thing.  You know, you take one picture of yourself (or your kids, or you and your spouse, or your shoes, whatever) every day for a year and post it.  It was great.  They were great.  They were so creative.  I would check Flickr three times a day to see if anybody had updated.  It even inspired this blog, if you'll remember correctly.

Then, everybody's 365 days were up.  And now these talented, creative amateur photographers only pick up their cameras once every few months to put up picture of their latest family gathering.  Which is great, don't get me wrong.  Using a free photo-sharing web service to share photos with your family is kind of a no-brainer. Still, there's been a 365-picture-sized hole in my heart ever since.  And I've patiently waited for these talented and artistic friends of mine to finally succumb to the fire that has no doubt been raging in their creative consciousnesses ever since they finished their first project.  Surely the need to post  picture every single day must be torturing them, keeping them awake at nights, leaving them unfufilled not only as photographers, but as human beings.  Surely they yearn for that particular outlet to share that corner of their souls with the entire world, to rack their brains day after day for something other than another "Here we are outdoors.  It's a pretty day" photo.  Surely the dam of their photographic inactivity is trembling against the pressure of the building waves of 365-feuled passion, about to burst forth into new and exciting ways the rest of us can live vicariously through their day-to-day existences! 


*sigh* All right, fine, I'll do it

Friday, November 4, 2011

v2, d421: Death Does Wear Blue

I finished something! 

You have no idea how good it feels to be able to say that.  One of my favorite experiences in theatre was always closing a show.  Even if it was a show I was going to miss, it always felt as good to close it as it did to open it.  It meant we'd done the job and (usually) had done it well, and it was time to move on to the next project.  I like that feeling.  (Probably why I was always addicted to boss battles in video games.  Enough mindless level patrolling, the music ramps up, you fight something huge and scary, and then you have the sense that you've accomplished something afterward)  I think that's part of why it's been such a tough transition for me from working at the theater year-round to, well, not.  Every day is kind of the same, though with some occasional exciting variation.  Get up, feed the baby, put the baby to bed, eat, feed the baby again, put the baby to bed again,do a chore, feed the baby again, take care of the kids while Kim makes dinner, put the kids to bed, shower, read, go to bed.  Oh, and there are meals in there, too.  It's good to have regularity, but the only Big Project I've had to deal with at home has been this move.  And I'm still not all the way unpacked, either, so that's been kind of a drain. 

Now, however, I've finally reached two finish lines in the last week.  You have no idea how much that simple fact has rejuvenated me. 

First, there's the fall carnival at church.  It's a lot of planning and a TON of work the week before, and it's one of my favorite events at the church.  The day of carnival, I was at the church working for twelve hours straight, much of it with Isaac in tow.  For dinner, I popped into my office to take a couple bites of food between refilling candy stations around the sanctuary.  I was SO TIRED by the end of it.  But it went very smoothly, and it was satisfying to pack away the last bounce house in the closet Wednesday night. 

Now, I've got bags full of leftover candy in my office.  I spent the entire month of October not eating a single piece of carnival candy while it sat on my desk in its brightly colored wrappings.  I like to think of the leftovers as a reward for my steadfastness over the past four weeks. 

Second, I finally finished a new script.  Did you know it had been over a year since I finished writing anything?  Play, novel, short story, anything aside from a blog post.  I think it's even been more than a year since I attempted a poem.  This particular script I agreed to write for a friend back in August.  At the time, I figured I'd get it done pretty quickly, mostly because I read, conceptualized, and wrote Pinocchio within 8 days, and before that I wrote both Teammates and The Girl Who Wore Golden Clothes in the same week.  I wasn't taking into account the move, my trip to Chicago, the fall carnival, or the fact that October isn't as far from August as it seems.  I set deadlines for myself on three separate occasions to have this script done, and in reality it really should not have taken me as long as it did.  The friend in question was far more gracious to me than I deserved.  Finally, it was  her graciousness (and the impending deadline of auditions for the show next freaking week) that motivated me to get r dun.  I stayed up late just about every night the past week and a half (except the weekend of carnival) working on the script.  It felt good to be writing.  It felt better to be done. 

This week, I actually let myself be a little bit proud of me.  Honestly, it's been awhile since that's been the case.  Oh, and not the sinful, unhealthy sort of pride, because that actually comes very easily to me. (I was reflecting earlier today on how I can tend to be both proud and lazy, and how that's just dumb) 

I also finished in time to get cracking on my NaNoWriMo project.  Unfortunately, now that I've finished that script, I'm really hungry to get cooking on another playwriting project, not prose.  Since I'm still a little on the rusty side, I may just have to go wherever the motivation takes me for the time being.  On the other hand, it's time to get cracking on the "self-discipline" stuff, too.  So we'll see. 


Other tidbits:

*Today's blog title is a lyric from this album.  This is Isaac's latest sleepytime CD.  I'm very glad you can stream the whole thing online, and when I've got some cash I'd like to actually buy it to support the band.  It's probably the best rock and roll/metal album based entirely on Mega Man 2 that I've ever heard. Not that I've heard any other.  Still, it's a cool concept and well-executed.  And it's got a surprising amount of emotional pull for a video game album. 

*It looks like Tarvis and I will be having a Most Excellent Road Trip Adventure up to Plano next weekend to see a middle school perform my play.  Robbie will be going with us, too.  This is the stuff bad family road trip movies are made of, folks!

*Hey, remember last year when I was talking about former Aeros and official FOMW-favorite Josh Harding and his year-and-a-half of terrible luck with injuries?  How about a comeback story where he returns from torn ACL/MCL surgery after missing an entire season and beats the Red Wings twice in a row before holding the defending Conference Champ Canucks to one goal in another big win?  A fourth straight start for Hards?  Yes, I think so.  This just makes me smile.  So happy for the guy. 

*Speaking of Aeros, went to Dollar Hot Dog night with Dave and Tarvis.  That shoulda been its own blog post.  Dollar hot dogs = both excellent and evil at the same time.  Kids playing hockey at intermission = always awesome, especially the one really tiny girl with the pink stick who barely moved her legs and seemed to skate by merely shifting her weight and willing herself to go in a certain direction.  Five kids choirs in one night = a lot of off-key singing.  Also, during the second intermission, we saw a group of about fourteen kids in tae kwon do uniforms taking the ice with hockey helmets on.  I commented to the guys, "I can't imagine any way this will not be awesome."  Then, they proceeded to do a choreographed routine to a pop song.  Suddenly, I could imagine a way that kids in tae kwon do uniforms wearing hockey helmets would not be awesome.  Then they almost got run over by the Zamboni.  Finally, Dave and I discovered that you can put the lyrics to any rap/ hip hop song with this track and it works.  Tag Team, Carman, whatever.  (I imagine the same can be said of just about any dance mix track) 

All right, that's enough outta me.  Adios, kiddos.  Enjoy the weekend.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

v2, d420: How To Salutate

 I kinda wish we still started letters like Paul did it in the New Testament.


Will, a fellow disciple of Christ, dabbling writer, and family man,

To Dave, the saint who lives in the apartment with the funky water, foundation issues, and quirky admittance gate up on the north side of town:



Then I'd go on about how I wish I could have written him sooner, and how I always hear good things about him from a mutual friend, and eventually I finally get around to asking if he's got the tickets for Dollar Hot Dog Night at the Aeros game or not.  Then I wrap it up with a bunch of terse moral instructions before saying hi from everybody at my house, one at a time, and finally comment on what font I'm using and that I'm typing this on my own laptop. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

v2, d419: Blueprint

Geez, folks.  It's been a long time.  And I don't mean a long time in the sense that it's been something like three weeks since I blogged. I mean a long time in the sense that a lot of stuff has happened, I'm occasionally feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, and life is continuing to change substantially.

I had a metaphor I was going to put here, but I couldn't get it just the way I wanted it, so I'll spare you.  This time ;-)

Basically, I kind of feel like I'm letting people down, and that if I don't make some choices soon I'm going to let everybody else down as well.


You're not here because you care about me.  You're here because you want to read a blog!  (Kidding.  That's actually kind of a funny idea; I may use it for a short-story or something someday)  So here's what we gon' do:

First, I will not be finishing up the Week of Features.  An evil  ninja threatened to do bad things to all of you if I finished it*, and I'd hate to have the on my conscience.  Besides, it sorta lost momentum over the two months of silence anyway, didn't it?  Besides, I've got some other topics I probably ought to talk about if I get the time and/or energy: The hellish move, the slow-going "settling in" process, the weekend in Chicago, the lengthy Internet drought.  (I'm sorry, for instance, you got no hockey preview this year.  I'm sure you'll all recover)  And maybe I'll post some pictures from when I went to Knott's Berry Farm back during the Californy vacation.  Because that was actually a really fun day, and we got a couple of cute shots of Robbie.

And who knows.  I may even disappear for awhile.  Because I have things I have to take care of.  But if I do disappear, I'll come back.  I always come back.  But I won't really even keep up the pretense of making this a "daily blog." It'll just be a regular blog.

I know, I know, that's always the beginning of the end.  Just check out the last-updated numbers on the blogroll to my left.  Eight of them updated in the last week, and of those eight only five of them had posted anything within the previous month.  We bloggers always start out really enthusiastic, blogging every day, and then we cool off for a little bit, and then we start spouting off a paragraph here and there a couple times a month, and then we make a grand attempt at a comeback, but sooner or later most blogs eventually peter out.

And you know what?  That's actually okay, too.

So we'll see what happens as FOMW becomes just another update-when-the-guy-feels-like-it blog.  Shoot, I started my first 365 blog (the successful one) as an exercise.  It's always been about being a creative outlet, connecting with others, and helping me become a better writer.  When those functions are served, then it's probably time to shut it down anyway.

Besides, I've got some other blog-related ideas I'd like to get started on.  Again, exercises. Some of which you may like anyway.

So, for the first time in a while, I feel like I can't really tell you what to expect from this space.  Or any space.  More changes, I guess.  A different format.  More thoughts that I actually take time to sit down and work out before posting, perhaps?  Who knows?

 Good days are ahead.

*This may or may not be a true statement

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Friday, September 23, 2011

v2, d417: Not a feature

This is not a feature, but I thought I'd pop in to say that, one week before our move-out date, Kim and I have finally secured a place to move in to.  Also, I'll probably have to refrain from blogging until after the move.

Much, much to do. 

See you all on the flip side!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

v2, d416: WOF2, #5: Explaining Why I Havne't Blogged Lately

That's become a regular feature, right?

Dave recently called me out for not blogging since Tuesday.  And, of course, he had a point: I promise a Week of Features, and after four days I disappear FOR A WHOLE WEEK!!!  It's a good thing most of my readers keep in touch with me via other methods, because otherwise the Internet would think I was dead.  On that: let's face it, time has moved on in the WBW universe (literary reference only two of you will ever get!).  Yes, this week has a seven-day break in the middle of it.  And it may be an eight-or-nine day week.  Are you surprised?  I mean, how often does Random Nintendo Game of the Month happen?  Yeah.  We'll just say units of time are relative.  Don't worry, you'll get your full week in soon.

Next up: I don't think y'all realize how tired you can get when 5 hours of sleep is a good night.  The other night, I fell asleep at 4:45 a.m.  Heck, in the past couple of years there've been times when I've had to wake up at that point in order to get to work on time.  My efforts to fall asleep at a more manageable hour have thus far been thwarted, but I am not defeated!  Still, I am pretty tired, and after awhile "try to sleep" starts to win out of "Week of Features."

Third: I have done some potentially-for-profit writing lately.  I've had friends abandon blogging for a time because they are writing a book and say they  just can't write a book and keep up a blog.  Well, I think that in the past I've proven that I can do that.  However, I cannot always write a book, keep up a blog, and take care of kids at home.  As much as I want to still be that hoss blogger who comes up with something for every single day, it's probably not important enough for me to neglect other responsibilities.  (That doesn't mean that you lovely people aren't important.  It means that Shuffleblog probably oughtn't take precedence over putting food on the table)

Fourth: Have I mentioned that I'm moving in twelve days?  And it's still not confirmed where exactly I'm moving to?  (We've applied to a place, it should go through okay, but still.  Prayers are appreciated)  That takes some time/energy.

So that's why I haven't blogged for the past week.  Even now, I'm writing this while eating my lunch at 10:45 (because I'm not sure when Isaac will give me another chance to eat) when I'd rather be working on a new play script. I imagine that in the near future, I'll do less "regular blogging" and more of the standard "I'll blog when I have time/something to say" blogging.  Which is sad, because invariably that's when every blog I've ever followed eventually gets neglected, and readers become disinterested, so the blogger becomes disinterested, and then the blog dies.  Now, I have no plans on that happening, but history teaches that it probably will sooner or later anyway.

But not anytime soon.  Trust me, I'm still committed to blogging.  It's still fun, and I know I've still got the loyal few who enjoy that I do it.  So when I disappear for a day or two (or seven), know that I'm still here.  I promise I'll tell y'all when I'm losing interest.  Because by that point, most of you probably will have already lost it, too.

More regular features, starting "tomorrow" ;-)

(Edit: Another unofficial feature: hockey-related links you won't read!

"Our Dates Chose Hockey Over Prom"

Former Aero and Official FOMW Favorite Josh Harding's return from a year and a half of suck is tonight.  Here's the story.

Finally, greatest trailer of the year: Dark Knight Rises?  Harry Potter 7.2?  The Avengers spot at the end of Captain America?  Or this trailer made for some German hockey team?

(Though personally, I like last year's better)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

v2, d415: WOF2, #4: Top 7

Well, the time is finally at hand when all Borders stores everywhere are closing their doors forever.  (I can't tell you exactly when, but I know it's some time in the next few days)  As a hopeful writer and a fairly new reader, I'm really saddened by this.  Unfortunately, I have to admit that there is a portion of my life where books and reading were really quite low on the priority scale. A few years ago, however, I started reading again, and I regret those years that I put it down for the sake of...whatever it was I did with my spare time in college. (See, I had so much required reading that I never wanted to do any recreational reading...but that's another blog for another day)  That to say, I'm probably not the best person to express exactly why the end of Borders is such a sad thing, so I'll pass that responsibility off into the very capable hands of the Librarian's Daughter

Regardless of my recent history, literature is now a very big part of who I am and what I'm passionate about, so it's after great reflection and many revisions that I'm finally confident enough in my selections to present my Top 7 Favorite Books (not including the Bible).  Most of these books I've already read more than once.  The ones that I haven't, I've severely wanted to and likely will in within the year.  These are all books I either own or plan to own.  They are books I can see myself reading several times over the course of my life.  They are books I am always ready to discuss.  Usually, the act of thinking about one of these books is enough to make me want to reread it.  Because there's no concrete, scientific evaluation process for this sort of thing, I can't guarantee that these seven are may seven favorites every single day or that they don't shuffle around in order from time to time.  I'm pretty sure, however, that this is at least a pretty dang close approximation of my Top 7 Favorite Books.


Blood Feud: Detroit Red Wings v. Colorado Avalanche.  The Inside Story of Pro Sports' Nastiest and Best Rivalry of its Era by Adrian Dater

I know, I know.  I'm starting this list off with some high literature, aren't I?  But this is one of the most fun books that I've ever read.  Yes, I have the bias that I am an Avalanche fan and that I still remember many of the more memorable clashes between the Avs and Wings in the late 1990s/early 2000s, but the fact is this book is written well enough that you can't help get into the story.  While the Avs and Wings never got the publicity of the Yankees/Red Sox or the Lakers/Celtics, the aggressive, emotional nature of hockey escalated this rivalry into something so consistently nasty that I've never seen anything like it in any sport in the twenty years that I've been a sports fan. Most sports rivalries are perpetuated primarily by the fans.  Somehow, the epic clash of the Wings and Avs was a personal affair for everybody involved.  Players, coaches, reporters, beat writers, trainers.  It was flat-out insane.  What made it even better, however, is that these were two of the best teams in the league from 1996 through 2002, so in addition to the passionate insanity of rivalry, fans were also treated to some of the best hockey games any of us will ever see.

The reason this book works so well is not that the rivalry itself was so great, it's that Dater does a fantastic job of taking eight years of incidents and people and weaving them into a cohesive story that starts with Claude Lemieux ramming Kris Draper from behind in a playoff game in 1996 and ends with the Wings clobbering the hobbling Avs in game seven of the conference final in 2002.  He brings out the stories of the men who made this madhouse so dang entertaining.  He evenly portrays every perspective into each anarchic playoff series, every behind-the-scenes shouting match, every ejected coach and goalie fight, and the reader really gets a sense of what a roller coaster ride this rivalry was.  It was as if the players knew at the time that what they were involved in was something that doesn't come along every day, and Dater's thrilling account makes a fairly exclusive rivalry in a niche sport into a story about people, pride, and passion.  If you can manage the hockey player's vernacular, I'd recommend this to anybody with a mild interest in sports or real-life character studies.  It's sort of the literary equivalent to a summer blockbuster.  But there ain't nothing wrong with that.


 Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie
There's a reason that there are dozens of film, stage, television, picture book, comic book, ballet, and just about anything else adaptations of this story. Not to mention all the spinoffs, unofficial sequels, unofficial prequels, and the one official sequel. Peter Pan rocks.  It is absolutely off the wall.  It is the essence of a boyhood adventure tale.  The story is wildly imaginative, the prose is delightful, the tone alternates between dark, innocent, whimsical, mischievous, sentimental, and playful, the characters are unforgettable...this is just an amazing book all around.  It's child's play at its most serious, consistent within its own realm but unhindered by adult rationality.  There are several moments that are laugh-out-loud funny (such as the Darlings' sitting on the bed with their pocketbook to determine whether or not they can afford to keep their own baby, or Mr. Smee's attempts at fierce piracy which only end up making him look lovable) and some parts of the story that are actually pretty scary as well.  While every adaptation I've seen tends to make Neverland a physical place (albeit a magical one that doesn't show up on the map), Barrie's Neverland is more the place where fantasy becomes reality, another realm where every child's imagination becomes real.

This book is pure joy from beginning to end, and it has been entirely too long since I read it last.


 Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling
The seven-book Harry Potter saga is amazing.  It's just an incredibly story that is almost perfectly crafted.  Its themes are positive and universally true.  J. K. Rowling has created some of the most memorable characters in modern fiction and there's a reason so many people all over the English-speaking world just can't let go of this story.

As for myself, I didn't really start getting into the series until this book.  I liked bits and pieces of the first two novels, but they really didn't hook me.  Now, by the time I'd started reading, I'd already seen this movie and Goblet of Fire, so I knew things were going to pick up and get a lot better.  Otherwise I may have dropped the series after the second installment.  But Prisoner of Azkaban was the story that got me hooked, and even now that the rest of the series is over it remains my favorite.  Because I find the whole of the series to be far greater than the sum of its parts, I turn to this book as the volume in which THE story really starts to pick up.  The first two books are pretty similar.  Harry goes to school, Harry and his friends have adventures, something really creepy involving Harry's ultimate enemy happens, Harry goes home for the summer.  Azkaban is the story where you start getting some answers about Harry's mysterious past and Voldemort starts to show his hand.  From this point on, every story thrusts these two closer toward their penultimate confrontation and the battle between the armies of good and evil.

I don't just love this book because it's the one that really gets the story moving, however.  The novel, even as a stand-alone, is fantastic!  Almost everything that happens in this book is cool.  The dementors are cool.  The patronuses are cool.  The werewolf element is cool.  The Marauder's Map is cool.  The plot twists are amazing!  The Whomping Willow!  Azkaban!  Sirius!  Lupin!  Even the hippogriff is cool!  I'm not kidding, virtually everything that is in this book is fun, engaging, intriguing, exciting, or otherwise dynamic.  I enjoyed all of the books after this one quite a bit, but I will always love Prisoner of Azkaban above all the others.


 The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne
I promise, I do read grown-up books, too.  I first read Winnie-the-Pooh last year when I played the silly old bear in our children's theatre production of, well, Winnie-the-Pooh.  I'd never really gotten into the Pooh cartoons as a kid, though I could recall some of them pretty well and I wasn't altogether unfamiliar with the characters. (Does anybody else remember the live-action Winnie-the-Pooh show on Disney Channel?)  When I read the book, which includes both Pooh collections, I was blown away.

The first thing that surprised me was how funny the book was.  I expected a fairly gentle and bland little series of friendship tales, because that was what I remembered of Pooh.  Instead, I remember several times I had to chase down my wife to read aloud to her the passage I'd just read.  Fortunately, it was even funnier when read aloud.  The second characteristic I came to associate with Pooh was "feel-good."  This book really just leaves you feeling good.  Like Peter Pan, it harkens back to a more innocent time in all our lives, but whereas Pan is a love song to high adventure, Pooh is a surprisingly profound examination of the simple and good things in our lives.  Home, friendship, music and poetry, exercise, pleasant weather, adventures, accomplishment.  Just about the only times Pooh is ever discontent is when he notices one of his friends is upset.  And, good-natured guy that he is, Pooh always refuses to rest until he has made things right for whoever happens to be feeling down.  Even if it's Eeyore, who seems to rather prefer being gloomy.

Man, how much better would life be if we were all a little more like Winnie-the-Pooh?

In addition to Pooh, the supporting cast is memorable and lovable, but it's the story's central character that really holds this world together and gives it such a lasting place in my heart.


 The Stand: Complete And Uncut by Stephen King
Here's yet another book I didn't expect to enjoy nearly as much as I did.  This extended version of one of Stephen King's best-known works clocks in at around 1200 pages.  I remembered seeing commercials for the TV miniseries when it came out back when I was a kid, and all I took from those commercials was that a Superflu wiped out most of the people on earth, so I assumed that this was a book about an unstoppable disease killing everybody.

Au contraire!  

What I got instead was a massive tale of good versus evil, a story using ordinary men and women as champions fighting literally on the sides of God and Satan.  Turns out, the Superflu was just the setup for the story.  The Stand is really about the survivors of Captain Tripps disease as they are almost mystically drawn to two settlements--one in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and the other in Sin City itself, Las Vegas.  The settlement in Colorado is headed up by an old black woman named Abigail, a devout Christian who speaks often of prayer and visions.  The Las Vegas community is headed up by a character who goes by the name of Flagg.  He usually appears to be pretty human, but throughout the book there are instances that show that there's something supernatural, even demonic, about this character.

What makes this book scary, however, is not its demonic antagonist.  The real terror comes from the realistic portrayal of evil in the hearts of the human characters.  There's actually quite a bit of sound theology in the pages of this book.  (In fact, I think King has a better understanding of some of these biblical principles than some Christian writers I've read)  Each of Flagg's people are tempted by their own desires into sin, and that's how they eventually find their way into his camp.  This story has some realistic depictions of hideously evil acts--and in most cases you can understand why the person committing the evil made the choices they did.  King's villains are never excused for their choices, but it is made very clear that they are regular men and women, and that the possibility for that sort of evil exists in each of us.  Of course, there are equally heroic acts, and that's why I think this book is so great.  It's a story that's biblical in proportion of both God and Satan using flawed people to impact the world around them.  It's scary.  It's heartwarming.  It's surprising.  And it's amazing.

Granted, I did feel like there was some unnecessary moralizing about the evils of civilization at times, and there were two particular sections that I thought dragged on a bit longer than necessary, and there was one small side-story that I wish hadn't existed at all.  Nevertheless, there are few books that impacted me as powerfully at Stephen King's The Stand: Complete and Uncut Edition.


 Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
No, this book isn't on the list solely because I love the musical.  It's here because this is one of the most beautiful stories of redemption I have ever read.  Admittedly, it has been a long time since I've read this book, and a thorough re-read is my tentative November reading project (though it may get pushed back to January, depending on NaNoWriMo), but I remember the story and the characters fairly vividly.  I can't imagine creating a work of this much depth and breadth with so many powerful moments.  This story touches every corner of your soul.  There are almost no pitiless characters.  I feel for each in his or her struggle.  For a story called The Miserable, I'm amazed at how much hope shines through the pages.  Of course, I'm usually looking for light in dark places, and that's probably why I found this book so appealing.  Yes, Victor Hugo is wordy.  Yes, he gets majorly sidetracked at times.  Yes, he likes to talk about Napolean in stories that have nothing to do with Napolean.  But I can let it slide, because this book is just beautiful.  I can't choose a favorite character, I can't pick a favorite storyline, I can't point to a handful of favorite scenes.  It was the first book I ever read that I felt completely satisfied upon finishing it. And whether it comes in November or January, I have been anticipating this re-read for several years now.  Welcome back, old friend.


 Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
I can't say enough good things about this book.  I first read it five years ago while Kim was pregnant with Robbie.  I read it again this past January, a father of three and a half years.  Each reading gave me a different story.  The book is a journal written by an aging preacher in the 1950s to his five-year-old son.  Because the preacher married his second wife so late in life, he will likely be dead before his boy's sixth birthday, so he's writing these memoirs as a way of giving his son something to know him by.  Most of the book is written in short, loosely-related passages.  This book is heartbreaking.  This book is hysterical.  It's melancholy and wistful, it's hopeful and jubilant.  I was surprised it so recently won a Pulitzer, because it's ultimately an uplifting tale that uses a lot of Christian scripture.  There are so many great passages in this book, you could flip it open to just about anywhere and read for a few pages and you'd probably find something you want to circle, copy down, or memorize.  I recently let my friend Sherri borrow this book, and since she brought it back a couple of weeks ago I've come close to picking it up for another read at least three times.  I will probably never get enough of Gilead, and it's one of very, very few books that I would recommend to absolutely anybody.

So there you have it.  My top seven books.  A heartwarming father-son memoir; a wordy, epic work of historical fiction; a dark fantasy set in a post-apocalyptic reality; a lovable bear with very little brain, a riveting adventure for young adults; the original riveting adventure for children; and a nonfiction account of my favorite hockey team.  If you're wondering what some of the titles that just missed out are, I thought long and hard about including The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan, Identity Crisis by Brad Meltzer, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, The Silver Chair, The Magician's Nephew, The Silver Chair, and That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Don Miller, 1984 by George Orwell, Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, and The Game by Ken Dryden. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

v2, d414: WOF2, #3: Guest Blogger

All right, it's been an awful long time since I've tried a guest blog, so I'm going to give a quick run-down on the concept once again: My first time through this blog, I would occasionally let other people blog for a day in my place. Those were my guest bloggers. However, very few of my guests felt comfortable blogging for some reason, so this time through I made GB more of a writing exercise/gimmick. Instead of having other real people blog for me, I am inviting a character from one of my plays, books, or story ideas to share their thoughts with the world. In other words, it's a chance for me to explore these characters by writing in their voice about things that are important to them. Or, as is often the case with blogging, things that aren't terribly important but happen to be passing through their minds anyway. (I have yet to decide if this is a cool idea or a lame idea)

As such, please keep in mind that any opinions expressed by a Guest Blogger do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the FOMW writing or editorial staff. Also, if you're planning to point out the fallacy of how some of these people have access to a computer or the Internet in their time or place in history, well, calm down and quit thinking so hard.

Today's guest blogger is a young lady named Brindolynn Englehart. Brindolynn lives in a small village on the edge of the Tirrabar Valley. She lives with her father, the town's bladesmith, and her twelve-year-old cousin Gab. And I can't think of anything more to say by way of introduction, so I'll just turn it over to Brin now.

Here's a phrase I've never really understood: "her knight in shining armor."

I understand the phrase in the sense that I know what a knight in shining armor is, despite the fact that no such man has passed through our village in my lifetime.  It's an image that has survived adventure stories and similar tales that have existed long before there were any villages in Tirrabar.  I also understand that the phrase is often used in a romantic context, when a young lady (around my age, perhaps a bit older) finds her own personal hero, the man who will ride into her life and save her from...something or other (it's never quite clear in most instances) before taking her off into a lifetime of wedded bliss. 

On second thought, perhaps it's not accurate to say I've never understood the phrase.  Perhaps I ought rather to say I'm not sure why the knight with his lovely, polished, unscathed armor has ever been an attractive image to young women through the ages.  Please don't misunderstand me.  I've a friend at school who often tries to convince me that I ought to remain unmarried my entire adult life, that I need no man to make my life complete, that I would be happier without one at any rate.  I know there are girls who share this opinion.  Believe me, I am not one of these girls.  In fact, my friend's father is not the greatest of men, and I suspect that's where her bias against all things romantic stems from.  My father is a wonderful man, and I know I shall be lucky to marry anyone who is half the man that he is.  (Sorry, gentlemen, but my father has set the standard fairly high) 

I also have no resistance to the "knight" idea.  Who doesn't want to be married to a hero?  Besides, in a town that is in a constant state of conflict with our nearest neighbors and is located next to a forest filled with Dark Creatures, it's a bit impractical to ally yourself with a coward for life.  Poets use such lovely language, but I'd find their company to be woefully inadequate should a goblin wander its way into the village.  (Not that that happens often, but still)  I like to think that I can take care of myself--one of the perks of being the bladesmith's daughter is that most of the time I have spent with my father through the years has involved weaponry to some degree--but I admit it's also nice to imagine a match in which I don't have to.  When I love, I want to feel safe with the man, as I'm fairly certain all women do. 

My chief complaint with the phrase in question is the condition of the man's armor.  Why is it shining?  I understand that the picture may be more pleasing to the eye if the hero returns gleaming in the sunlight.  Ever since I've been a little girl, however, I've always been bothered by the idea of a knight in pristine condition.  Hasn't the man found anything better to do with his time than polish his armor? 

There is very little metal armor in Desderan.  We have no true knights and we have no visitors.  Even the merchants have stopped coming through for some reason.  Most likely alarmed by the reputation of the Dark Forest, I suppose.  And admittedly, "Dark Forest" doesn't sound all that inviting, does it?  Our village is protected by the Defense Corps, and the men in the corps wear heavy leather clothing for protection.  While actual violent conflict, either with Ivallian troublemakers or creatures of the forest, is rare, these men are constantly training to become more able defenders and protectors for when they are needed.  I've seen them return from training sessions, I've watched them spar in swordplay tournaments put on for the amusement of the village.  The mere practice of battle often leaves these men--many of them boys my age--scuffed and bruised, and their leather armor takes quite the beating.  They do their best to mend and clean it, of course, but one look at a Corpsman and you can tell immediately that he has had at least a taste of battle. 

What, then, is to be said of our gallant knight in neat, clean, new outerwear.  Why isn't he at least a little bit dirty?  Has he found no reason to use the sword at his side?  Has he found no monsters to fight?  No homeland to defend?  I know enough of the world to know that fighting men are always in need virtually everywhere.  Has he simply found no cause that he has deemed worthy of his attention?  How then do I know that he will fight for my cause should the situation arise?  Does the knight wish me to be impressed with the state of his protective wear? How do I know he will be able to handle anything that threatens me if he has never found an opportunity to tangle with a dragon capable of denting his ornamented breastplate? 

When my "knight" arrives, I expect to find him a bit battered and bruised.  I expect his armor to be tarnished and his weapon well-used.  I will hear of the victories he has won, and he will not be afraid to tell of the times he has been the vanquished, for they will have all served to make him a stronger warrior.  I will know that he will fight for me--no, rather he will fight with me--not because he says he will but because his actions have shown that he will.  I will not fall for any man because he looks impressive but because he is impressive. 

After all, if I must be cast as the princess in this metaphor, I see no reason why I should expect anything less.  And if ever I find do myself locked in a castle and guarded by a beast like the heroines in the stories of our youth, and if a knight should come riding to my rescue in his gleaming, flawless armor, I would probably tell him to turn around and send someone else.  I'll wait around a bit longer for my own knight.  The one who comes with dents, chips, and bruises that I can be proud of.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

v2, d413: WO2, #2: Random Nintendo Game of the Month!

Remember the Domino's Noid?  That mean claymation guy in the red spandex with some sort of bunny-type ears in Domino's Pizza commercials in the 1980's?  He basically spent every commercial just trying to wreck pizzas.  He didn't steal them, didn't eat them, he just wanted to destroy them.  Jerk.  Did you ever watch those commercials and think, "Man, I really want to play through a side-scrolling adventure Nintendo game with that guy as my protagonist!"

Yeah, probably not.  But since several different companies were going through these phases where they made Nintendo games based on their mascots in order to sell more products (I'm looking at you, 7-Up Spot), the Noid somehow became an action hero anyway in 1990's Yo! Noid.

The story of this game is as follows (this taken from the game manual):

Somebody's wrecking New York City! Or maybe it's a whole gang!
Wherever you go, hooligans jump out and knock you down. Can you imagine
the noive!
For instance, try strolling on the wharf, and get flapped by a fish.
Or go skateboarding Central Park -- you'll get shredded by dive bombers.
And with loonies everywhere, what a time for a brownout in the Bronx!
This is what the NOID is up against, and more! In fact, it looks
like his duplicate Mr. Green is causing all the antics. That's double
But the NOID's got plenty of ammo -- supernatural powers, incredible
inventions, and a whiz-bang yo-yo. He just needs a pizza every now and
then to keep him going!"

So, what exactly is going on in this game?  Basically, the Evil Noid is trying to make your life difficult by sending bizarre henchmen after you.  WHAT NOIVE!  Also, according to the story screen, the mayor knows that the only one who can save the city from the carnage is none other than the Noid.  Okay.  So you take up your trusty (stringless) yo-yo and fight your way through New York to finish this once and for all.  (I never realized the Noid had a green arch-nemesis from the commercials.  In fact, since the Noid was always a villain in the commercials, wouldn't that make Mr. Green a hero?)

Level one of this game in on the wharf, and the tide is coming in and going out the whole time.  The water animation makes the whole screen look really busy and it's hard to focus on...whatever it is you're doing.  Unfortunately, this is one of those "one hit and you DIE!" games as well as one of those "you die and you have to START ALL OVER" games.  Which is fine, because the levels aren't really that long, but it's still obnoxious.  You walk along, avoiding the rising tide and knocking seagulls and guys with harpoons to their deaths with your whiz-bang yo-yo.  It's not really a hard level, but it's rare for a rising-water-level to kick off your game.  Usually you get a pretty standard 2-D left-to-right no-tricks level to let your players get used to the physics without any gimmicks.  The only time I got really frustrated with a death was when I stepped onto a platform that was 1/4 covered in receding water and immediately died.  That's right, I drowned by standing on a plank that was only very slightly submerged.  

Come to think of it, the whole water-rising level idea rarely makes sense.  See, in SMB3, if you got caught in rising water it just meant you had to swim for it.  And there were enemies in the water.  And sometimes they could swallow you whole.  But in a lot of games, your ankles get wet and you're a goner. 

I finished the level and got to what appeared to be one of those in-between-stage games where you flip cards or play roulette or whatever to get powerups.  In this game, I was facing off against a purple Noid in a pizza-eating contest that ran pretty much like a card-based magic RPG.  We each had a deck of cards, each card had a number value that represented a number of pizzas.  He would play a card, then I would play a card, and whoever had the higher card got however many points made up the difference.  The goal was to fill up your gauge or make your opponent run out of cards.  This introduced an element of strategy into the game.  Unfortunately, it was NOT FUN.  AT ALL.  This mini-game was SO not fun, I decided to get up and get a snack and just let the time run out.  After about thirty seconds, my opponent said, "You snooze, you lose!"  And the game was over.  

And there I was, back at the beginning of Stage 1.  

That's right, the pizza-eating contest was my boss battle.  Would have been nice to know in advance.

Play through stage I again, play through the ABNORMALLY LONG, ABNORMALLY BORING BOSS BATTLE, and finally move on to stage 2.  

Dear Yo! Noid, 

While it is perfectly acceptable, yea, even expected for a side-scrolling NES game to have IceWorld level where it's impossible for the player to come to a complete stop on surfaces because they're frozen, YOU MAY NOT MAKE LEVEL 2 THE ICEWORLD LEVEL!  I mean, that's not fair!  Your players are still figuring out how this obnoxious little guy jumps, how he runs, and you COMPLETELY jack with the physics at the first opportunity!  No, don't think you can make it up to me by putting hockey-playing polar bears in the level.  And may NOT include moving platforms in your Level 2 IceWorld stage! And no, you may NOT make the moving platforms ice-coated as well!  Nor may you make the players stand on collapsable blocks while waiting for the moving ice-coated platforms to get close enough to jump on!!!  

That's just NOT RIGHT!

So that's Yo! Noid.  I don't know what stage three is like.  I don't really care.  I died a lot in this game.  The combination of being a true one-hit wonder, never having a straight level to get the physics worked out, and jumping from frozen moving platform to frozen moving platform pretty much sapped my fighting spirit.  Let Mr. Green have New York City.  If the Noid was your only hope of salvation in the first place, you're probably not a city worth saving. 

I have, of course, gone on to do a bit more reading about this game. Apparently it's just hard throughout.  You have pizza-eating boss battles throughout the game.  It's just kind of sad all the way around.

Here's a video of the epic conclusion to the game.  And the final boss battle is paced MUCH faster than the one I played after level one.  (I guess that's the game's way of upping the difficulty?)  

Post script:according to Wikipedia, there was a guy whose last name was Noid who apparently thought the entire Noid advertising thing was a personal attack, so he held two Domino's employees hostage and demanded they make him a pizza while he waited for the police to bring $100,000.00 and a getaway car.  He was eventually declared insane and thus not sentenced criminally for the incident.  Now, this is Wikipedia, so I don't know if it's true or not, but wow.