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Showing posts from 2018

5 For '18: How'd I Do?

Looking back on 2018, I'd say that I did a fairly good job with my goals. It wasn't perfect. (See #3). But I'm overall happy with how I've done for 2018:

1. Getting another tattoo: Yeah, yeah, you all heard this last year, but the crazy part is that I know exactly what I want, I know where I'm going to get it, I just need to stash away some ducats and get some time to go and do it. Didn't get it done in 2017, so onto the list for 2018 it goes! (Goal: new tattoo for my birthday.)

2. Finishing my Year of Books: Well, this is now entering it's second year- but that's not to say that I haven't been reading: I have! I've got reviews scheduled out until February. I'm gonna keep right on reading, but I'll keep trying to work my way through this list.

The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
Gravity's Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon
Catch-22, Joseph Heller
Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel
War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
Ulysses, James Joyce

3. This is my Year of Health. Well,…

This Week In Vexillology #277

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This Week In Vexillology, we're heading back across England for our next two counties on deck in our grand tour of the many flags of England: Worcestershire and Herefordshire.

First up, let's start with the sauciest of England's counties...  Worcestershire! How does one find Worcestershire? Well, it's actually pretty easy because naturally, there's a city called Worcester and it's just southwest of Birmingham. Find it on the map and you're smack dab in the middle of Worcestershire. (The sauce: was created by two chemists- John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins in the first half of the 19th Century and has been generic since 1876 when the High Court of the UK ruled that their company- Lea & Perrins did not own the trademark to 'Worcestershire.')

All right- so let's talk about their flag:
Adopted on April 8, 2013 and registered with the flag institute, it was designed by Elaine Truby who won the contest held by BBC Hereford & Worcester…

Squawk Box: Winter Grab Bag

Latin History For Morons: I can't remember when I first heard about John Leguizamo's new one man show, Latin History For Morons...  I want to say it was on NPR, but I might be wrong- it could have been just a random Netflix ad that I stumbled across. (This is going to bug me now, I just know it.)  ANYWAY: Leguizamo takes the viewer on a trip through Latin History, as he tries to help his son with a school project for his history class- finding a hero. Debates about diversity and representation in America today tend to go absolutely nowhere in a hurry, but if you want to try and understand why it's so important and how much of a difference it can make to people, watch this special. Ultimately, it's an exploration of history that a lot of people may not be familiar with. (The Spanish Conquest, the decimation of the indigenous people as well as the early history of Latinx people in the United States). But the end is beautiful, as his son, having been fed so many potential…

Do We Have To Talk About 2020?

The first polls (in Iowa, anyway) for 2020 dropped last weekend like an unwelcome dog turd onto your carpeted bedroom floor. It's that time again. The 2016 election seems like it was just yesterday and yet here we are, getting the circus prepped and ready to go yet again. There were no real surprises on the Democratic side of the polls: Biden, Bernie and potential flavor of the month/possible real deal Beto O'Rourke were all at the top of the heap followed by a veritable smorgasbord of candidates behind them. The Republican side was a little more interesting: two thirds of Republicans are still #TeamTrump, but about an equal amount would welcome challengers as well- so it seems like they're at least willing to listen to alternative pitches.

At this point, these polls are more of an announcement- a civil defense siren that the circus is coming, so buckle up and get ready.

Here's the thing that I'm wrestling with a little bit: what does conventional political wisdom …

The Best of NPR's Top 100 Songs of 2018, Ranked

It's the end of the year, so naturally the internet is awash with 'Best of 2018' lists and NPR is just one among many outlets joining in the end of the year rush. NPR's music coverage always fascinates me a little bit- from their Tiny Desk Concerts to their album reviews, I'm always a little surprised at who they find because, it always seems like I've never heard of any of the people they bring in for performances.

So, when they put together their list of the 100 Best Songs of 2018, I took a gander through the list and was once again, not surprised to find a list full of songs that I had never heard of. Now, I get it: music is not really my jam. I listen to it, I enjoy it and in general, I like what I like and don't worry too much about anything else. There's a whole ocean of new music out there that people consume and dissect every day that I know absolutely nothing about- so when I say 'songs I've never heard by artists I've never heard o…

Netflix & Chill #55: Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them

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Watched On: Redbox
Released: 2016
Directed By: David Yates
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katerine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Carmen Ejogo, Colin Farrell
Rotten Tomatoes: 74%
Pick: Mine

I had been wanting to watch Fantastic Beasts for a long time and finally, I sat down and watched with the kiddos over the weekend and it was... well, I don't really know how to feel about it.

Set in 1926, the film opens with British Wizard Newt Scamadaner (Eddie Redmayne) arriving in New York on his way to Arizona. While wandering around New York. he stumbles across a rally being held by the New Salem Philanthropic Society, whose leader, Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton) is railing against witches and wizards warning the public that they're real and very dangerous. While watching her speech, a Niffler escapes from Newt's magically expanded suitcase and runs into a bank, where it causes havoc as it attempts to steal as many shiny objects as it can …

This Week In Vexillology #276

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Our tour of the counties of England continues this week in vexillology with the next two counties on deck: Oxfordshire and Berkshire. So let's start with the basics: where the heck are Oxfordshire and Berkshire?
Oxfordshire is kind of easy: find London on a map, head northwest until you find Oxford and believe it or not, there's some logic here, because Oxford is, in fact, smack dab in the center of Oxfordshire. (Crazy! Who knew!). Berkshire, on the other hand gets a little harder to pin down due to it's status. It's one of the historic home counties of England, but it's ceremonial, historic and a 'non-metropolitan county without a county council'. Because Windsor Castle is located within its traditional boundaries, the Queen recognized it as the 'Royal County of Berkshire' back in 1957.
According to the counties wiki-page, it's been governed by six unitary authorities: Bracknell Forest, Reading, Slough, West Berkshire, Windsor and Maidenhead an…

So, We Got A Dog

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So, we got a dog. (Just one dog, this time.) Her name is Tallulah and she's a Great Dane. The decision to get a dog was a long time in coming. We lost both Winston and Sophie very quickly and the fact that it was so quick I think made us not want to rush into getting another dog quickly. There was something relatively nice about being dog free- at least for a while. You don't have to worry about your cats as much if you want to sneak off for a weekend- you can just throw extra food down and they'll leave you little piles of puke and hairballs here and there as thanks.

But, after a while...  you start to miss dogs. Cats can be affectionate. Cats can be loving, even. But only when they want too. You started to miss someone who is always happy to see you, no matter what. But we didn't want to rush into anything- both the Missus and I did research. We looked at breeders. We really thought about how much we both work and how much time we would have for a new dog. We knew w…

Epic Bookshot #3: The Dragonriders of Pern Trilogy

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Another #EpicBookshot has been completed! (I'm tackling Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy next, so post #4 is probably going to be awhile in coming.) I went back to some of my all time favorite books, the touchstones of my childhood- Anne McCaffery's original trilogy for The Dragonriders of Pern: Dragonflight, Dragonquest and The White Dragon.

I can't remember how old I was when I first read these books, but I remember that my parents had an omnibus version of all three books that I think between my sisters and I (mostly me, though) read until it about fell apart- which I think it did at some point. But what I do know is that these books were the first sci-fi/fantasy books that I think I read on my own. My parents read us The Hobbit, The Lord of The Rings* and, weirdly, The Hunt for Red October- but Pern was something I got swept away by all by myself.

That first line of Dragonflight, "Lessa woke cold" was probably the first book that taught me the power o…

Bookshot #114: Artemis

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The Martian was such a good book that when Andy Weir wrote a sequel called Artemis, I knew I was going to have to grab it and read it at some point. Happily, Christmas of last year was good to me and it's been sitting in my queue until about a month ago, when, frustrated with Thomas Pynchon and Gravity's Rainbow, I decided to pick it up and use it as a 'palate cleanser' to keep  my sanity as I trudge on through Gravity's Rainbow.

As palate cleansers go, it was exactly what I needed. However, Weir established himself as an author of fast-paced massively entertaining books with The Martian and suffers no sophomore slump with Artemis- it went fast- probably too fast to be honest, but what can you do with a book that you don't want to put down?

The story opens in Artemis, the first city on the moon, where porter and part-time smuggler Jazz Bashara delivers some contraband to wealthy businessman Trond Landvik- Jazz knows both Landvik and his daughter Lene quite well…

Netflix & Chill #54: Outlaw King

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Watched On: Netflix
Released: 2018
Directed By: David Mackenzie
Starring: Chris Pine, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Florence Pugh, Billy Howle, Tony Curran, Callan Mulvey, Stephen Dillane
Rotten Tomatoes: 63%
Pick: Mine

I've been seeing previews and pop-up ads for this for weeks now, so I finally broke down and gave it a watch, curious to see what it would be like. My perception of Robert The Bruce (at least on film) is largely colored by the way he's treated in Braveheart- which was...  odd, if I remember correctly. He was sort of the leader everyone wanted but weak enough to make compromises with the English and betray Wallace- but eventually he turns out okay and wins the day at Bannockburn.

A film that focuses solely on Robert the Bruce? It feels interesting to me. Braveheart was free to tell the story of Wallace with it's embellishments and dubious history, but Robert The Bruce feels more embedded in history than the story Braveheart told. Outlaw King brings his story to life.

Fir…

This Week In Vexillology #275

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This Week In Vexillology is finally back! I sort of put everything on the back burner to focus on my third novel for NANOWRIMO, so blogging has been light for a month now- but I'm back and I'm ready to get after it again and what better way to do that than to continue our Tour of the Counties of England with the next two counties up: Kent and Essex.

Here's Kent:
Here's the thing: I've been to Kent... I tagged along with an Aunt and Uncle for a trip down there one summer and it's beautiful. The houses have all these weird, white little chimneys- the views south east toward Dover are beautiful. There's tons of history there-- we saw Cantebury, we saw Dover Castle... It was amazing and I'd love to show y'all a photo or two of the place, but here's the thing: I can seem to find any at the moment. (I'm going to work on that some.)

Oh, the directions are even simple: find Dover and you're in Kent. (Easy enough, right?)

Their flag is beautiful.…

NANOWRIMO: The Last Day

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The actual total is: 70,684 words- but 50,000 words was never my goal with this. I wanted to use NANOWRIMO to kick start my third book. It was in desperate need of a kick in the ass. I had a few chapters here and there and I knew how it was going to end, but I felt like I was writing myself into corners and circles and I was tired of it. So, I sat down and made an outline- two to three days of frantic outlining and then November 1st, I started writing and I didn't stop until I got it all done.

I have what I wanted: a working draft of my third book. Is it perfect? Not in the slightest. Is it anywhere close to being ready to publish and let out into the world? Not at all. But I have a starting point to work with and that's amazing. My first two books had to be carved out of a pile of words and made, forged into the books they became. I'm going to have fun beating this one into shape, but for now I'm going to take a well-deserved break and let it flavor up a bit before I…

Brexit: An Uninformed Opinion

I'm continually astonished at the internal politics of the British Conservative Party. We here on this side of the Pond only think we've got rough and tumble politics. There are headlines for days when Cocaine Mitch McConnell raises his voice above a creaky growl or when Ted Cruz gets shouted at by some unemployed baristas while he's trying to eat human meat at the secret Lizard Person Restaurant in D.C. that everyone knows about but no wants to mention out loud in public.

Kids, I'm telling you, it ain't nothing on the internal politics of the British Conservative Party. Game of Thrones? Pshaw. Who needs it! Get yourself some popcorn and a live blog from The Guardian or the Beeb and you'll have entertainment for days... it is, I imagine, somewhat like being trapped in a burlap sack with three hundred and thirty feral cats, most of whom are in heat. Someone might have a good time in a situation like that, but it probably won't be the Head Cat in Charge.

Look…

Worth Putting Into Words

I think it was Monday when I noticed that #SurvivorDay was trending on Twitter. I figured out quickly what it was and read through Tweet after Tweet, recognizing the familiarity of the pain of those left behind by suicide. Then, I really thought about doing what I usually do- which is keep it to myself. Never share, except with those very closest to me. It's not something that I've ever thought I could put into words, but for whatever reason, between those Tweets yesterday and one strange, beautiful moment over the weekend, I thought that now might be a good time to try.

(Maybe it's the weather or something in the air, but we're on our second welfare check of the day already. It's entirely possible that I'll write this post, read it, delete it and decide once more that it's not something that I can put into words. If you're reading this paragraph, then you'll know I decided to post it anyway. Because maybe some things are worth putting into words.)

Sportsyball: Purple With Frustration

Gather round, kids and let me tell you the story of why I hate Northwestern so much. It all begins, some years ago when the Missus, The Quiet Man and I were stuck at one of those random tables you find at weddings. You know the ones: you're not family but you're not in the bridal party, so you sort of get categorized into the 'friends' category and then sit around and stare at each other until someone begins to make random, awkward conversation.

That's pretty much how it went at this wedding. We listened to them talk about how they had gone up to Door County and rented a cabin for the weekend. And how they played badminton on the beach with their friends, all of whom seemed to have obnoxious, upper class names like Mitchell (or Muffy). Eventually, the awkward small talk phase of the evening began with an inquiry on how we all knew the bride. The Quiet Man and I explained that we had gone to high school with her, which lead to the following exchange:

Mitchell (or Mu…

NANOWRIMO: Nine Days In

I decided to actually roll up my sleeves and do NANOWRIMO this year on a whim, really. I always think about doing it and have for several years now, but one thing always seems to lead to another and I never actually get it off the ground. But this year, it seemed tailor made to beat the pile of words I already had for my third book into shape and so far, I couldn't be happier with how it's going.

Right now, nine days in and I'm flying...  I've taken a pile of words that I wasn't getting anywhere with and hopefully (hopefully) by the end of the month it's going to be the working draft of my third novel. Why the success?

First: outlining, outlining, outlining. I've done it before on other projects, but for whatever reason I didn't really sit down and do a full outline for this one. When I finally did, a week or so before the start of November, it was like everything clicked. I wasn't going to just drop the readers into the story as I had originally pl…

Midterms: Let's Get Weird

I'm still scratching my head over this one, gang. Really and truly, there was weirdness all over the map last night and here in Iowa was no exception either.
The Weird:Nebraska, Utah and Idaho voted to expand Medicaid. Arkansas and Missouri voted to raise their minimum wage. Utah and Missouri voted in Medicinal Marijuana (Michigan legalized for recreational use, North Dakota did not). My favorite of the night was probably Florida, who elected a Republican Governor (and probably a Republican Senator) while passing amendments to require a 2/3 legislative majority to raise taxes AND another one to restore voting rights to millions of felons. All kinds of mixed messages all over the place last night. 
Glass Ceilings:Record numbers of women were elected to the House last night- I don't know if they'll  break 100 seats in the House, but they're pretty damn close at 95 seats so far. Iowa, who hadn't elected any women to anything before Senator Joni Ernst won in 2014, now ha…

Bookshot #113: Swallows and Amazons

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Swallows and Amazons is one of those books that I've had kicking around on my shelf for years now, but I had never actually gotten around to reading. After finishing up our Roald Dahl books, I tried it with Austin for a chapter or two to see if maybe he would be interested in reading it next, but he didn't really click with it and we snagged Mossflower instead- but then I figured, if I had read a couple of chapters I might as well just keep reading it to see what it was all about.

The adventures of the children from two families during their summer vacation, Swallows and Amazons related the adventures of the Walker children, (John, Susan, Titty and Roger) who are staying at a farm in the Lake District and borrow a dinghy named Swallow to sail to an island in the lake near their home, which they name Wildcat Island. Their mother allows them to go and camp on the island and once there, they meet the Blackett Children (Nancy and Peggy) who sail in a dinghy named Amazon. They join…

Sportsyball!: Wobbles and Wiggles

The Iowa Hawkeyes: I wish people would remember that football is just a game at the end of the day. Seriously now. We're 6-2. A lot of teams out there would love to be 6-2. Yes, Stanley had a bad game at Penn State- but it's not like we were taken to the woodshed either. We had a wobble. We had a wiggle. These things happen. I think both this and Wisconsin were winnable games for us- but the thing with Iowa that people tend to forget is that blowouts are rare. When we lose, it's usually by a touchdown- maybe two. And in those seasons where the margins are close, it's often down to getting the bounces to fall our way, which happens in some seasons (see: 2009) and not in others. Apparently, this wasn't one of those seasons.

But still large sections of the fanbase melted down on social media over this loss. Hey, remember when we were all just happy to go to a Bowl Game somewhere warm in December? Can we get back to that feeling?

So here's what's left:

Away vs P…