Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Winter Reads

I usually wait to closer to the holiday to publish my lists of must watch holiday movies etc. However, since this is a list of books (also short stories) and books are harder to find the time for than a movie. I decided to impart some of my favorite December books to you now.

In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash
by Jean Sheppard

This is not strictly speaking a Christmas book, but it is the birthplace of a universally loved Christmas tradition. The Christmas Story movie about Ralphie Parker's wanton lust for a Red Ryder BB gun are based on the short story found in this book. The classic film is narrated by the author Jean Sheppard who also has a cameo as the guy in line to see Santa who tells Ralph to go the back of the line.

A Christmas Carol
by Charles Dickens

One Christmas while Maggie and I were long distance I read this book to her each night at bed time. I am terrible on the phone and not much of a communicator in general, so as she went to sleep each night I would reach a section from the most classic of all Christmas tales. Of the many adaptations of this story none have ever captured the language Charles Dickens crafted. The section describing "the chain that each of us forge..that began with a single link of gold of silver" is one of my favorite passages in all of literature.

A Newberry Christmas
by Various Authors

This is a collection of 14 short stories that feature authors who have won the Newberry Medal. E.L. Knongsburg's "Eliot Miles Does Not Wish You a Merry Christmas Because..." is one of the funniest stories I have ever read. "A Full House" by Madeline L'Engle is one of those stories that at any other time of year would seem dipped in sugar to the point vomit, but during December we all seem to be immune from Artistic Diabetes.

The Gift of the Magi
by O. Henry

A classic Christmas tale that has been retold in film and television countless times. It seems to be the story that every English teacher uses to explain irony, but don't let that detour you from reading it.

Hershel and Hanukkah Goblins
by Eric A. Kimmel

Maggie gave me this book one year for Hanukkah and it has become one of my favorite holiday traditions. If you're looking for a way to incorporate other cultural and religious beliefs and traditions into your own this book is an excellent way to do so. Also, good story telling knows no cultural boundary.

Hanukkah Haiku
by Harriet Zeifert

An excellent collection of poetry about Hanukkah done in Haiku form. It teaches about the holiday in short powerful verses that both children and adults can enjoy

A Family Tradition
by Caroline Kennedy

This is an anthology compiled by Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of President Kennedy, consisting of stories, poems and songs that her family made part of their Christmas tradition. Caroline's mother Jackie worked for several years as a book editor and Caroline discusses her mother strong belief on reading in the home and making favorite stories a part of holiday tradition. A Family Tradition is filled with anecdotes and wonderful treasures that America's first family have used for years. It also contains some wonderful stories that have become part of my family tradition.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

52 Things I am Thankful For

I think there is some unwritten (or written on someone's blog) rule that you most post a list of stuff you are thankful for at the end of November. Here is mine

1. Soup-There are few things more comforting than soup.
2. Skiing-It makes the dreary winter months not only bearable, but rad.
3. The Bayou's Gumbo- This could fall under soup, but its also a nice way to say I love The Bayou.
4. Brooks Brothers- The epitome of men's fashion. I never feel better than when I don my Brooks Brothers camel hair top coat and smart BB suit. Thanks for making me feel timeless.
5. The Beatles- I have waxed poetically about them before, nuff said.
6. Hats-There is a rarer feeling in the world than the one of sophistication that accompanies a well worn hat.
7. Perfect Shaves-When you press the sharp steel of a straight razor to your neck and with the up most skill remove the offending whiskers, that have have been softened by soap applied by a 100% pure badger hair brush, apply Witch Hazel, Pinaud Clubman Bay Rum and talcum powder you have started your morning in the best fashion possible.
8. Bicycles-They get me from point A to point B and let me enjoy the commute to work.
9. Naps-Be they 20 minute "power naps" or a long Sunday afternoon nap in front of a baseball game life would suck with out them.
10. Salt Lake City After a Storm- Salt Lake has an eerie silence fall upon it after a snowstorm that is accompanied by an strange glow from the light caught in limb between the fresh snow and the castover sky. After a rainstorm the city smells fresh and renewed.
11. Sturdy Children- Maggie likes to force me to play with children. I am gripped with fear that I will break them, so when then they are built tough and stout with plenty of baby chub to protect them from my clumsiness it is comforting.
12. Snow Days- Getting sent home from work, eating soup, and watching Netflix Instant Cue is wonderful.
13. Fiber- Picture a world with out. Its not pretty.
14. Yoga- Specifically, that Maggie does it, and that she has given up on getting me to practice it.
15. Hot Dogs- Really, all link sausages could fit here(that's what she said), and do not get Freudian on me.
16. Este Pizza- My ritual of going to Este grabbing a slice and a cold beverage of my choice on Friday's afternoon gives the end of the week a higher purpose.
17. Martin Scorsese- I could watch his films with out dialogue, and be entranced.
18. AMC's Sunday Night- Breaking Bad, Mad Men and The Walking Dead make Work Week Eve a little be easier to swallow.
19. Mad Men- It gets it's own because it is just that DAMN good.
20. Cartoons that are Funnier to Adults-This includes Family Guy, South Park and The Simpsons which are cartoons geared towards specifically for adults, but it also includes Phineas and Ferb, Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, Rocky and Bullwinkle and Underdog cartoons built for kids yet funnier for adults.
20. The Ducks in Fairmont Park- I like walking over and feeding them the heels from my bread loaves.
21. National Parks- One of the greatest acts of our socialist government. The stealing of land from private sector development and redistributing it so everyone could enjoy it; thanks comrad Roosevelt.
22. John Stewart-He gives me hope for humanity.
23. Well Made Boots- I like my boots to be comfortable, warm and sturdy. Rockport you do the job nicely.
24. People Who Make me Glad I am Not Them- Shadenfreude. People who seem vapid and dumb enough that no matter how depressed I get I can read their blog, look at their favorite TV show, or anything else my pretentious self looks down upon and mutter "There, but for the grace of God go I."*
25. Smart Phones- They have changed the way I stand in line, go to the bathroom and stand in line for the bathroom.
26. English Isles-My Anglophile is a source of great joy.
27. St. Patrick's Day- It is my favorite holiday and the accompanying feast is my favorite meal of the entire year. Sorry Thanksgiving.
28. The Oscars- I like award shows and being the movie buff that I am this is my favorite. Also, throwing a party with food to match the Best Picture Nominees is both a feat and a challenge.
29. Cheese- I hated picnics till I found out you were the perfect picnic food.
30. Twilight Concert Series- This has nothing to do with the abominable books. It is a free concert series Salt Lake City puts on every year. It is one of the highlights of my summer.
31. That the 10 Year Reunion is Over- That was a lot of work.
32. BBQs- This needs no explanation.
33. Sports Talk- Talking about sports is one of the best conversations you can have.
34. Cooking- It is not just survival, it is art you eat.
35. My Camera- Other than cooking this is the only art form that does not require me to draw. I like that.
36. The Internet- Wow, my job would be dull with out it.
37. Government- Yeah, what of it? Why don't you go teabag about it?
38. Taxes- Now I'm just provoking.
39. Liberal Mormons- It is not an oxymoron, it is just rare.
40. Ernest Hemingway- Having read him and being able to list him as my favorite author gives me a +1 Pretension Factor.
41. Nalgene Bottles- Good for Earth and good for you (unless you got the ones that cause cancer).
42. Our Apartment- Excellent landlords, nice use of space and plenty of personality.
43. Dogs- I just like 'em.
44. Chuck Klosterman- As a wise Keller once said "Reading him separates us from the animals."
45. Thank You Notes- I am glad I was brought up knowing how to write and when to write an appropriate note.
46. Toys R Us- I still like Legos.
47. Cuff links- They give me a touch of class.
48. Interesting Friends- I can think of nothing worse in life than being surrounded by boring people. Thankfully, I am not.
49. People Who Call Me for Advice- It doesn't matter what it is about. I just like being considered an authority on stuff.
50. NPR- Yeah, I'm as nerdy as it gets.
51. Smells- I love when I find something that maintains it's smell years later and can instantly send me back to where that smell is from. My dad's knife sheath, a coat from my Grandmother's house or butterscotch and Old Spice that can all tie me back to someone I no longer see, but can't forget.
52. Movies I Have to Watch While Maggie is Gone- The Big Lebowski, Superbad and Citizen Kane she is just not a fan.

*I often refer to these people as the "There But For Grace of God Go I Society".

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

T.V. Role Models

My father died when I was young so I sought out father figures in many places. I had uncles, family friends and other acquaintances that became father figures me. This allowed me to pick the best attributes from each to emulate. I am also the child of a generation raised on television and had to some extent was a latchkey kid who was babysat by television. In TV Land I found many men whom I wanted to develop their attributes. Upon reading this list I think you will understand why I was not a normal child and am still not a normal adult.*

*This list is about shows that I watched in my more formative years so Don Draper is except from the list.

Fraiser and Niles Crane

For Christmas in fifth grade I really wanted a wool top coat this alone should signify my connection to Frasier and Niles. I mean who didn't want to take their gym clothes to school in a valise?

From the Brothers Crane I learned to have an appreciation for the finer things in life. I learned to listen to classical music and that the awkward teenage years could give way to being an awkward yet successful adult.

Miles Silverberg and Jim Dial
Murphy Brown

Miles was the neurotic produce of FYI who seemed like the ultimate preppy grown up. My love of Brooks Brothers may be traced in part to an episode where Murphy talks Miles out of his office with the promise of a trip to Brooks Brothers.

Jim Dial was the anchor of the fictional television news magazine show. Jim had worked in TV news with Erick Sevareid and Edward R Murrow. He would speak with dedication to journalistic integrity and the role of journalists in a democracy. Jim imparted to me good posture and the reverence and respect someone should have for what they do and the respect for elders who came before you. In large part I think that my beliefs about what the Fourth Estate should be come from this television sit-com.

I never cared for Frank Fontana as a role model and I hate banded collars.

Bryant Gumbel
The Today Show

This one was largely because of my mother. She made me watch The Today every morning for two reasons 1) So that I could get an introduction to current events 2) So that I could watch what Bryant Gumbel was wearing and learn how to dress. This lead to my teenage years where I was always able to dress well when the occasion called for a tie or sports jacket, but I struggled with casual wear. If Today had had casual Fridays my polo shirt tucked into tapered jeans might have been avoided.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Thanksgiving Films

I was recently reading one of my favorite blogs and the writer lamented the lack of good Thanksgiving movies. She then wrote about how The Road has filled her Thanksgiving film void I have had this same dilemma and over the years found a few films that I enjoy at Thanksgiving.*

*Please note I adhere to a strict Christmas movie watching policy. This is to ensure that Thanksgiving is not totally overrun by Christmas. "No Christmas film may be watched until the night of Thanksgiving when the desserts have been eaten. Christmas films may be watched up to and through New Year's Day, but not beyond. There is an exception for Christmas films to watched on a single day during the month of July if it is in conjunction with a Christmas in July themed celebration.

An American Tale

This is one of my favorite childhood films. It tells the story of an immigrant family coming to America in search of a better life. I have always thought of Thanksgiving as the day we celebrate our own pilgrimage to America. An American Tale captures this spirit, plus leaves you singing about the lack of felines in America for days.

Pieces of April

Pieces of April is a little known indie film about a family's black sheep hosting Thanksgiving dinner. Katie Holms gives such a superb performance you forgive her for what ever she was thinking marrying Tom Cruise. Oliver Platt (who is one of those actors that should be in everything) and Patricia Clarkson both fulfill their life calling of being among THE FINEST SUPPORTING ACTORS IN THE WORLD. If you have not watched it I highly recommend adding it your November festivities.

Trains, Planes and Automobiles

A great road movie with Steve Martin and John Candy. If you have ever endured a terrible Thanksgiving travel mishap (usually involving flying US Airways. I once spent a night in Phoenix for no earthly reason) this movie will resonate. It is not cerebral, but it is a classic.

Nobody's Fool

This is the perfect melding of legendary actor given an excellent story, sharp dialogue and genuine human emotion. Resulting in Newman's final Oscar nomination. In Nobody's Fool Paul Newman's son and grandson will be visiting for Thanksgiving allowing Newman a shot at redemption. If you have not seen this before I highly recommend it.

Hannah and Her Sisters

I am a big Woody Allen fan, so it should be no surprise to see Hannah and Her Sisters listed here. Hannah and Her Sisters is a film bookended with Thanksgiving dinners and spans the entire year between. The film is about family dysfunction, neuroses (Aren't all Woody Allen films?), and the never ending search for happiness. It is one of Allen's stronger movies and would be required watching for anyone wanting to better understand Allen's films.

Alice's Restaurant

The movie is not that great. It is based on an amazing Arlo Guthrie song about people going to Alice's for Thanksgiving dinner, throwing out garbage, getting arrested for littering and thus avoiding Viet Nam. The movie could have been amazing, but it is not. I include it because you should listen to the song on Turkey Day, and maybe watch the film if you have nothing better to do.


This movie was written by John Hughes (Breakfast Club, 16 Candles) and stars Ed O'Neil (Married with Children, Modern Family). It, like many Thanksgiving films, is a road story about Ed O'Neil trying to impress his girlfriend's son by picking him up from boarding school and driving him home for Thanksgiving. As you might have guessed they don't get along making up the bulk of the weak story. I liked it as a kid, Ed O'Neil is genuinely fun to watch in most anything and if you are involved with step parents or parents dating this film may resonate more with you than it does with me, but I liked it as a kid so it made the list.

Remember the Titans**

Because Thanksgiving is also about football. Remember the Titans also could be seen as two groups of different people coming together much the same way the Pilgrims and the Native Americans did, but that may be a stretch.

**I had originally written about Rudy, but the the Irish beat the living hell out of my Utes so they get no love on my blog for at least a week.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mid-Week Mosh or I Gave up Being a Kid, Not Being Rad

Tuesday nights I usually stay home, watch a little TV, make dinner and go to bed early; it is a work day tomorrow after all. However, when you have the chance to see The Aquabats, Suburban Legends, Koo Koo Kangaroo and Reel Big Fish you alter your plans and suffer the pains of a terrible Wednesday.

Here are the high points broken down by section.

At Work/Pre-Show
-I dress up for work, but needed to dress down for the show. With an hour left at work I ditched my button down and my #$%&en khakis (which I am not) and put on an Underdog T-Shirt, jeans, and red Chuck Taylor All-Stars.
-With one of my fedoras on I started letting my ska Pandora station play.
-Playing ska almost always leads to skanking.
-Having your boss walk by and catch you skanking, alone, in an Underdog t-shirt is not easy to explain, and probably harder to live down.
-Don't tell your boss you're skanking if she doesn't know what that is.
-My dinner consisted of a Monster Energy Drink, Watchamacallit Candy Bar and Oreo Cakesters. I guess I always associate ska with high school I felt like I could eat like I was High School.
-The line to get into show didn't move and it is hot inside The Venue, thus I didn't want a sweater. This resulted in me standing in line for about an hour in 34 degree temperature in a t-shirt.

Koo Koo Kangaroo
-Koo Koo Kangaroo is a duo of white men who rap about dinosaurs and other nostalgic topics.
-They brought one of those large multi-colored parachutes you had in elementary for us to play with, rad.
-They spent a lot of time jumping around in the audience, and teaching us sweet dance moves.
-You should check them out if you have kids, if you don't I am not sure they will be as much fun for you recorded as they were for me live. But, their lyrics and ironic facial hair is something we can all enjoy.

Suburban Legends
-One of my favorite ska bands ever.
-They are what a "boy band" would be like if said "boy band" was not lame. Ergo synchronized dancing while playing instruments.
-They did a ska cover of the "hide yer wives, hide yer kids" guy, was it the greatest thing ever? It is possible.
-Unless you hate fun you should be listening to this band.

-This might be the most tame show I have ever seen the Bats do, but still sweet.
-We learned backfat is an essential element of hand to hand combat with mad scientists whom you wronged in pre-school.
-The Commander can still do back flips off of speaker stacks he is the man that age can not stop.
-The Aquabats are pure fun, there is nothing serious about them at all. They totally reject the post Bob Dylan world and write songs that just make you want to move. The world could use more of this.
-They played The Story of Nothing for the first time in years. It was at this point you could find the true Aquabats fans versus the Yo-Gabba-Gabba late comers.
-Co-Headlining with Reel Big Fish was fun, but they really need the extra time to get all of the stuff out of their back catalog I want to hear.

Reel Big Fish
-I was really worried that anyone following the Aquabats would struggle because of the elaborate stage show the Bats put on, but RBF did an excellent job. They had a lot of funny banter and put on an amazing live show.
-Opening with Sellout was good because it satisfied the posers early.
-They covered Van Morison's Brown Eyed Girl and Metallica's Enter the Sandman, I don't think I need to expand why this awesome.
-Their more well known cover of Take on Me is excellent live, but I blame it for my sounding like a Delta Blues Musician this morning (the EEEEEEEEEEEEE part in the chorus).

The Aftermath
-I am honestly a zombie today.
-I have large mosh related bruises all over my body.
-I have trace amounts of blood in my caffeine stream.
-Sprite is still the perfect post concert beverage.

Miscellaneous Observations
-We made friends with a group of guys who ditched their wives to come to show. We ended up hanging with them for the entire concert. Seriously, random group of dudes to hang out with, but concert friends are fantastic.
-There is an age group that totally missed Mosh Etiquette 101. The 12-13 year olds got it, the older people got it, but there was a certain segment in between the two that totally missed out on what is rad and what is non-sweet pit behavior.
-Maggie and I had a lengthy discussion about how she was cooler when we started dating, but I have since passed her in coolness. She maintains I am cooler than she is when it comes to music only, and she is still cooler than I am in overall coolness. I think only math can solve this, but it sufficeth me to say we are both rad*.

*I am making a concerted effort to bring the world rad back into my daily lexicon.

Monday, November 8, 2010

My Mini-Don Draper Experience

Last Thursday was my birthday. I got older and I am now old enough that this bothers me. I work 4 days a week 10 hours a day so Thursday is my Friday. I had a ton to do that, but I had dreams of leaving work early enough to go watch a movie by myself. I spent most of the morning working on an article for an Environmental Journal on carbon sequestration (I was also submitting this as a paper for a class), but at around 2:30 I was done. Not with the work I had to do, but with being in my office, so I made my escape.

For those of you who are not Mad Men fans you will likely not understand this, but I pulled a Don Draper. I sneaked out of the office to see an art house film in the middle of the day. I put on my black fedora and walked around downtown SLC for a while. I stopped in one of my favorite stores Misc. and was dismayed that she had no men's clothing that day. I then went to Jitterbug on 3rd South and may have bought a pair or two of vintage cuff links, may have. I then stepped into The Copper Onion and sat and the bar and had a drink(bitters and soda with an orange slice and a muddled cherry...I felt so inclined plus it resembled an Old Fashioned) before my show began.

I then sat in the back of an empty theater and watched Howl. The James Franco biography of Allen Ginsberg. The film itself was excellent, despite it's clumsy editing and disjointed story line, the animated sequences that illustrate Ginsberg's opus work would be compelling cinema on their own. It also had Jon Hamm in it which if you are pulling a "Draper" makes anything better.

There is something I love about seeing movies alone. It frees you from thinking about anything other than yourself and the celluloid. Seeing a movie like Howl that asks much of it's audience's imagination in total silence takes a movie to an even greater cerebral place. You allow yourself to become immersed in both the words written of a poem that shifted a generation and the artistic license that a filmmaker a generation removed attached to that work. There is a moment of magic that occures when the lights dim in a theater and images begin to flash on screen where the anticipation builds as you are about to enter a place you've never been before and will be able to escape your daily confines for 90 minutes (or 3 hours if its Kevin Costner and you may go back to back at work if its The Postman). Feeling that while you should be at work is even better.

That night was followed by dinner with friends at Moki's in Taylorsville and staying up till the wee small hours of the morning finishing my article (I'll let you know if it gets published, but I got a 97 on the paper).

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Good Thing About Ipods

On Maggie and I's first date one of the most cherished memories I have was her inviting me up to apartment at the end of the first 8 hours of our date (it was a grand total of 12 hours) to look at her CD Collection and talk music. She had a wide range of music from hard core punk to indie and Billie Holiday, this impressed. Sadly, once both of us were removed from the stores that were so formative to our musical taste (Maggie moved away from her Pittsburgh store and mine was shut down by the man...damn the man) our playlists grew stale. I had work harder to find stuff I liked and then introduce it to her. This is a tale of what happened.

I purchased the new Arcade Fire album "The Suburbs" and was enthralled with it. I left it in Maggie's car for her to listen to. When I asked her what she thought she told me "It's kinda boring they all sound the same." I calmly screamed "HOW CAN YOU SAY THAT?" In her car, two weeks later, I put the EELS album Hombre Lobo on. As we moved along I-15 on our way to meet the Schroeders for dinner the first song played twice, the CD player was set to Repeat. Maggie had been listening to the same Arcade Fire song on repeat for two weeks. This explained her apathy.

This story would be funny enough if it ended there, but it didn't. Maggie decided to give more than one song on the Arcade Fire album an ear. At some point during her more in depth listening of "The Suburbs" I borrowed Maggie's car and put in the EELs' album End Times. Maggie had no knowledge of my doing this and could not get over how much Arcade Fire sounded like the EELs. At one point she was convinced they had invited EELs front man Mark "E" Everett in for a compilation song.

This is a strong argument for both Ipods and getting music for yourself, not your husband.