Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Weekend Assignment #315: My Mafia, the Doctor and Other Thieves of Time

Right after I posted Weekend Assignment #315: The Thief of Time over on our new Weekend Assignment blog, I got very busy with work and the Round Robin and the Weekend Assignment and some other things I'm less inclined to talk about, and also the stuff I'll be talking about in this entry. Appropriately, my WA entry about not having enough time to do stuff because other things get in the way was delayed because other things got in the way!

Weekend Assignment #315: It seems that we're all too busy these days to get around to everything we'd like to do, even if we had the money and means to do them. Is there a particular activity that takes up far too much of your time, and thus prevents you from getting around to other things?

Extra Credit: What is the #1 activity you wish you had more time for?

When I wrote the question above, I kind of had it in mind that I would be ranting about how much time I spend playing games on Facebook. It's a bit of a problem, because most of the games are designed to suck up as much of your time as possible. Look, for example, at the Mafia Wars screen that is open at this very moment on another tab of my Firefox browser. "PARIS: START TODAY BEFORE SOMEONE ELSE GETS THERE FIRST," it's screaming. Meanwhile the Weapons Depot wants to make sure I'm aware that it's time to manufacture a weapon. And while I'm doing that, wouldn't I like to like to alert all the Facebook friends in my mafia that I need them to send me more forges, buzzsaws, etc. so I can upgrade to manufacturing the next type of weapon? Of course I would. After all, I only have "PARTS OWNED: 3 of 50." I could also rob or fight other players until my 26 stamina points run out, check the other cities to see if the properties are ready to be collected from, bank my $250 in New York and other amounts in the other cities, send "mystery gift bags" or other gifts, send "respectful" gifts to others via the Safe House page, ask for or receive gifts via wish list, accept any Mafia Wars-related requests on my FB request page, help people with missions and send car parts on the main Facebook wall, exact "revenge" for one of my properties being robbed, as suggested in an email, and eventually do a mission of my own when my energy builds up again.

And that's just one game. Vampire Wars is every bit as demanding, if you allow it to be, and there are lots more games available. I'm far from the worst offender on this: I currently play six games and have stopped playing three others, whereas I sometimes see lists of 15 to 20 or more games for which some other gamer is soliciting allies. Judging from what I see, there must be people who spend all day every day attacking other characters and racking up kill counts, which to me is the least interesting and most annoying part of all of these games. I've almost completely given up the fighting part of each game, because I don't enjoy it and it wastes my time. I just wish a particular woman on School of Magic 2 would stop attacking my character 20 times a day.

But that isn't what I wanted to write about when I started this post.

The other thing that takes up a lot of my time, aside from blog-related stuff, church-related stuff etc., is Doctor Who, particularly when it's in season. Let me explain this. British television is different from American tv in that historically, American tv shows were on network tv more or less year-round, including reruns and minus the occasional preemption or hiatus. In the UK, they don't produce 22 episodes of the average drama or comedy. There might be six or seven this year, and the same number again next year. Doctor Who, which is the flagship family show of BBC One these days, gets 13 episodes and a Christmas special, except for 2009 which was a "gap year" of four specials (well, counting New Year's Day, that is). Doctor Who typically premieres right around Easter, airs weekly with perhaps one preemption for the Eurovision song contest, and after 13 episodes disappears again until Christmas. In the UK you can now watch the first run episode in regular or high definition, catch a rerun during the week and watch it online. Meanwhile, two weeks after each UK premiere of the episode, it airs on BBC America here. The first run of BBCA this year appears to be uncut, but for reruns a week later they squeeze in an extra commercial.

I typically acquire a copy of the new episode the day it airs in the UK, through Means That Must Not Be Mentioned, which I deliberately leave to someone else to accomplish rather than learning just how it's done. Each new episode is precious to me, and full of details that reward repeated viewing. So I watch the episode twice or more on that first day, and then I watch its companion "making of" show, Doctor Who Confidential, and then I watch the two-week-old one on BBC America, and then I go online.

Doctor Who fans are a social, opinionated, over-analytical bunch, so they tend to congregate on Doctor Who-related blogs, on sf tv websites and, most of all, on a forum called Galaxy Base, which replaced the Doctor Who Forum, previously called Outpost Gallifrey. (And now you know the inspiration for the name of this very blog.) The "Poll: Rate / Review "The Time of Angels" thread on Gallifrey Base, in which fans offer their opinions and then argue with each other about the episode that premiered just a few days ago, currently has 1209 replies and has been viewed 37,430 times. I've personally scanned (and in some cases actually read) nearly all of those replies, a few of which I wrote myself. I also frequent a select handful of the thousands of other discussion threads on GB, including the one about favorite quotes from the episode,  one for speculating about how many times to date the Doctor has met a character called River Song, and several photoshopped humor threads, which inspired me to make this:


This won't mean anything to you if you're not a Doctor Who fan, but it's a key scene from the most highly-regarded Doctor Who story ever (The Caves of Androzani, 1984). In this final scene of the story, the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) succumbs to spectrox poisoning after giving the last of the antidote to his new companion Peri, and regenerates to become the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker). Here I've strategically marred the image with a parody of a promo banner that ruined the cliffhanger at the end of this week's episode ("The Time of Angels," April 24, 2010). The incident featured a cartoon of flamboyant comedian Graham Norton, whose reality show about casting Dorothy for a new musical version of The Wizard of Oz appeared immediately after Doctor Who on Saturday. The cartoon Graham and his banner obscured part of Doctor Who star Matt Smith's face and distracted viewers as the Doctor gave an impassioned, angry speech to his enemy:
"There's one thing you never put in a trap if you're smart, if you value your continued existence, if you have any plans of seeing tomorrow, there's one thing you never, ever put in a trap...me."
So many people complained about the Graham Norton Over the Rainbow banner over the Doctor's face that the BBC was forced to issue an apology the next day.

My parody of this outrage is kind of a "what if" in which the next version of the Doctor appears in an inappropriate banner over his predecessor's head, obscuring his companion's, erm, torso. I'm sure it's all completely meaningless, obscure and not at all funny to most of you, and I've just wasted a lot of time over-explaining it. But this is just the sort of thing Doctor Who fans sometimes do for the amusement of themselves and their peers.

So yeah. Between watching Doctor Who, reading and writing stuff about Doctor Who online, reading Doctor Who magazine and making silly photoshopped pictures about Doctor Who, I was pretty busy this weekend, in addition to the Round Robin Photo Challenge (for which I owe comments to most of the Robins still), my EMPS entry, church, Coffee Hour and lunch with friends and a mini-crisis involving the friend whose financial affairs I manage.

I also had a discussion with John about taking on a "housewife" role at home now that my unemployment benefit is about to run out with no possible renewal, in exchange for John working a lot of overtime to make up for the loss of income. So I will need to cut back on the Who obsession, most likely, to get in more housekeeping stuff. After all, it's only fair!

And that's my extra credit, the thing I need more time for. Oh, and sleep. I need more sleep. Nothing new there, except that the sleep schedule is as skewed as it's ever been, and insomnia gets in the way or fixing it. But I'm working on it.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

EMPS: Staring at Rare Stairs

This entry for Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot #86: Stairs is sort of a sequel to my Round Robin: 3 x 3, Part Two: Wonders of Williams Center entry. Try as I might - and I even asked John - I could not think of any interesting staircases in Tucson, except for the one in the "missing-building-blocks" office building in my entry about Williams Center architecture.

An "FX" shot I did back in 2006, of stairs at the First Magnus HQ.

You see, Tucson doesn't have an abundance of stairs. Most of the housing is either single-level ranch homes, or apartments and condos. Occasionally you'll find two story apartment buildings, but I don't know anybody at the moment who lives in one of those, and that would be pretty darn boring anyway.

That leaves commercial buildings, and the vast majority of these are single story as well. One of the largest hospitals in town, Tucson Medical Center, is a sprawling maze of ground floor rooms and corridors and nothing else. Whoever endowed the land for the hospital, so the story goes, did so on the condition that they never build a second story, which might interfere with mountain views in that part of the city. I suspect that this is why Tucson in general tends to consist of one story buildings, with just the occasional exception. And when you do get an office tower, well, that's going to be mostly elevators, right?

But here is an exception. Inside the big gray twin tower Williams Centre office building that fronts on Broadway Blvd is that rather cool white staircase. Basically it runs between the ground floor and, well, the other ground floor. The way the building and parking lot are arranged, there's covered parking that comes out on the lower level, and a parking deck above that which comes out on the upper level. I always park on the upper deck.

I love the curves and angles of the thing, and the contrast between the white railings and the greenery below.

On the other hand, I almost never go up or down these stairs. I have no reason to do so.

The look of the interior staircase has a half-hearted echo outside. What's really cool about this shot isn't the white railing or the accompanying steps, but the reflection of the parking deck on the back wall of the building itself.

Next Time: my Weekend Assignment entry. But not right now!


Round Robin: 3 x 3, Part Three: Impressions of a Cat in Motion

For Part Three of my Round Robin entry, I'm using three failed photos of my friend's cat, Harvey. Having been abandoned and left for dead before his rescue and adoption, he's kind of a wild and crazy cat, and he certainly doesn't trust me yet. He did not stay in one place long enough for me to get even one good photo. So let's have fun with the bad ones!

This is the best of the shots. I didn't do anything here except crop and sharpen lightly.

For this one I turned the background negative and overdarkened Harvey's white fur for a pixillated, almost op art effect.

On this last one I used a solarization effect and a motion blur on the background, increased the saturation on the barely-visible eyes and did a lot of smudging at the edges of the cat's outline.

And that's it from Harvey and me. Be sure to visit the other Robins - here's the third and final batch of links!

Linking List, Part Three
as of 7:15 PM Saturday

Suzanne R - Posted!
SuzyQ421's Photo Blog

Sherrie - Posted!
Sherrie's Stuff

Ruth - Posted!

Dawn **Welcome, new member!*** - Posted!
Dawn Elliott Photography

Kat **Welcome back!** - Posted!
In My Dreams I Can Fly...

Gattina - Posted!
Keyhole Pictures

Manang Kim - Posted!
My Life's Journey in Focus

Janice **Welcome, new member!*** - Posted!


Round Robin: 3 x 3, Part Two: Wonders of Williams Center

Here comes Part Two of my three part response to Round Robin: Anything in Threes (for 4/24/10). This entry is devoted to the theme I actually planned for this Challenge, the Wonders of Williams Center.

Williams Center is a shopping center and financial and tech office park just off Broadway Blvd east of Rosemont in Tucson. What I like about it is the variety of innovative, sometimes wacky architecture of the office buildings, almost as if financial institutions and technology firms had a sense of humor, or at least a sense of style. At one end of the office park is Barnes and Noble, the parking lot of which provides a great view of this triangular office tower. I like the way the reflective north side of the building was almost invisible to the camera on this white and blustery day.

Back before the company collapsed, a large portion of First Magnus's corporate offices were in this building, which is almost two buildings. Before that, it was home to Citibank. Citibank sold its Tucson branches to Norwest which became First Interstate which became Wells Fargo, and that bank branch isn't even there now. But a bank that St. Michael's deals with is upstairs, and so is one of my recruiters, the one that placed me in most of my recent temp jobs. None of which has anything to do with the fact that I love the building's chunky, missing-building-blocks look.

Williams Center Drive starts between the chunky blocks building and the shopping center, and meanders south and east to Craycroft Road. A company that didn't hire me is on that drive, and AOL used to have several buildings full of tech support and "customer retention" people back there. But my favorite building by far is this one, with its giant red roof thingy that looks like a fairground ride. I had the impression that years ago I saw running water flowing over those red curves in an artificial waterfall, but I think now I was wrong. There's another building, The Springs at Williams Center, that absolutely for sure used to have a water feature. Given that Tucson is in the desert, and moreover has been in a drought for over a decade, the fountains at the Springs no longer flow.

And that's Part Two! Part Two of the Linking List is below. Part Three of my entry is coming up!

Linking List, Part Two
as of 7:15 PM MST

Sandy - Posted!
From the Heart of Texas

Nancy - Posted!
Nancy luvs Pics

Carolyn - Posted!
Ford Family Photos

Monica - Posted!
Shutterly Happy

Wammy - Posted!
Beginners Luck Photography (New Blog)


Round Robin: 3 x 3, Part One: Oh, Hail!

Appropriately, this is going to be a three part response to Round Robin: Anything in Threes (for 4/24/10). This Challenge was suggested by Marie of the blog Photographs and Memories. The idea is to present one theme in three images. And look! I'm going to do this three times!

This first theme takes advantage of an accident of weather. Tucson had a huge temperature drop this week, and on Thursday afternoon I heard hail hitting the roof. Naturally, I had to try to photograph it.

This shot of hail on our painted concrete patio is cropped from a much larger image.

Hail hitting my car doesn't look all that different from rain on the car, but I like the visible "dripping" effect here. Those aren't drips - they're falling hailstones, picked up by my camera flash.

Hailstones hide in the grass in another cropped image.

And that's it for Part One! Here's Part One of the Linking List:

Linking List, Part One
as of 7:15 PM MST

Carly - Posted!

Karen - Posted!
Outpost Mâvarin

Jama - Posted!
Sweet Memories

Linda - Posted!
Mommy's Treasures

Freda - Posted!
Day One.

Part Two will be up in a few minutes.


Friday, April 23, 2010

History in a Closet

from 1987 brochures.

NPR just tweeted a story about an envelope found in the Cochise County courthouse late last month. Inside was a series of handwritten eyewitness accounts from a coroner's inquest into the shootout at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona on October 26, 1881. NPR published one of the badly-yellowed, tape-damaged pages in PDF form, and I couldn't resist doing a dramatic reading for my own amusement of the words found there. Here it is, verbatim:

"...and there was 3 other gentlemen who some one told me was the Earps. Mr. Holliday was standing next to the buildings on the inside he had a gun under his coat he had on a long coat and I The way I noticed the gun is that his coat would blow open, and he would try tried to keep it covered. I stood in the door until these gentlemen passed and until they got to the second door and what frightened me and made me run back I heard this man on outside kind a looked looked at Holliday and I heard him say let them have it and Doc Holliday said Al right before I could get from the door then y I thought that I would run and run towards the back of the shot but before I reached the middle of the shop I heard shots - I don't know how many. an

I don't know who said give it to them I can not describe the party it was one of them that was with Holliday. -- Mr. A King"

Dramatic stuff, and like most Americans my age who grew up with Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger, et al. I find the whole Tombstone legacy fascinating and kind of cool. I've written before about the appealing historic kitsch of The Town Too Tough to Die and its sometimes laughable attempts at tourism, like the tiny figure of an Earp falling down with an audible clack during the Historama show. That was over 20 years ago, so maybe it's all high tech and flashy by now rather than endearingly low-tech. I should go back and see. Back in the days of non-digital cameras I took lots of pictures of the tombstones, drank sarsaparilla in the bar and toured the Bird Cage Theater. I'm clearly overdue for a return visit, especially now that Father Ireland of St. Michael's is now the Vicar of Tombstone. People from St. Michael's sent him down there with a cowboy hat, a tin badge and GPS.

But there's the thing I want to say about this. Much as I love Tombstone, and tales of the Old West recounted at the safe distance of well over a century, I don't consider the ethos of that time a good model for modern Arizona, or anywhere else. Those were the days when Cochise and Geronimo and other native leaders were unable to protect their people from the white folks who had taken over their lands, either through negotiation or through wars and skirmishes that included horrific acts on both sides. They were the days (well, okay, it was 20+ years later) of Pancho Villa, that famous, charismatic and controversial figure in the days of the Mexican Revolution. A century ago, and for a few decades before that, people in Arizona thought nothing of wearing a gun for a walk down the street, and arguably really needed to do so. Those were days of racism and individualism, of local sheriffs in conflict with US Marshalls, of a hundred little mines springing up with a hundred little towns around them, and no particular thought given to safety or sustainability.

Those days are gone, or should be.

Carly's been asking me to say a few words about the stupid, bigoted goings-on in the Arizona legislature recently that have made Arizona both the nation's laughingstock and the object of horrified scorn. All I can tell you is hey, it's not my fault. You've got to remember that Phoenix is largely Republican, as are some of the rural parts of the state. Together they outweigh Tucson Democrats at the state level, and we are unable to prevent the state from doing stupid things, such as passing a "birther bill" requiring Presidential candidates to come to Arizona, birth certificate in hand, before getting on the ballot; a law that allows concealed weapons inside bars as long as you're not drinking, and a newer one that allows a concealed weapon statewide without a permit.

Worse than any of these is a newly-passed bill the new Governor, Jan Brewer, has not yet vetoed, requiring Arizona cops to demand proof of citizenship of anyone "reasonably suspected" to be an illegal alien. You've heard of being pulled over for "driving while black?" Try "breathing while Hispanic." That's where Arizona seems headed, despite pleas from churches, public officials, newspapers and law enforcement organizations. The law was proposed by State Senator Russell Pearce, a right wing xenophobe who has posed for pictures with a notorious neo-Nazi white supremacist, so you just know he's got the Right on his side, one way if not the other. What makes this especially outrageous is that Arizona is 30% Hispanic. Brown-skinned, Spanish-speaking (often bilingual) people have lived here since long before Arizona was a state. We have plenty of Hispanic U.S. citizens whose families have lived here all that time, including, for example, the Ronstadts. We also have legal immigrants, and Mexican residents who legally cross the border to go shopping and then return home. And yes, we have undocumented immigrants too, sneaking across the border for the privilege - if they survive the dangerous desert crossing - of picking lettuce in Yuma or working some other job most Americans would not want.

Back when Janet Napolitano was the Governor of Arizona, she would veto nonsense like this "papers please" bill, but then she accepted the post as head of Homeland Security. All we can do now is hope that all the unflattering attention, demonstrations and phone calls in opposition to the bill will shame current Governor Jan Brewer into vetoing it. If she doesn't, expect the first lawsuit about an hour later.

Somebody needs to bring people like Russell Pearce into the current century. This isn't the Wild West, and this isn't a war of the white people versus the brown people. That kind of thinking should be as outdated as a shootout between Earps and Clantons. The time is long past for societal conflicts within these not-so-United States to be settled at gunpoint. We're better than that.

Aren't we?


Update: Gov. Brewer signed this horrible, terrible bill into law today. Please read Episcopal Bishop Kirk Smith's open letter on the subject: An open letter to our Spanish-speaking Arizona Episcopalians

Sunday, April 18, 2010

EMPS: Drives Me Up a Wall!

I was a little under the weather this afternoon and overslept, and when I woke up my computer crashed, so I missed the deadline on Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot #85: Strange or Unusual Sights. But I'm going to show you what I was working on for it. I never got the ideal shot, which I've been trying for for months, long before this EMPS. But here are a few of the attempts:

The most strange or unusual sight I see on a regular basis is the optical illusion created by this credit union. The entire inverted pyramid (with the tip cut off) is made of glass, which reflects the driveway next to the building. When a customer heads for their drive through window, passers-by are treated to the sight of a car driving up the wall.

The credit union - formerly the confusingly-named Fifth Third Bank - is at the corner of Speedway and Wilmot, just one light away from St. Michael's. I go past it when I make a deposit at yet another bank further north, or head for the mountains. Sometimes I'm stopped at the light, and traffic willing, I pull out my camera and hope for the best. Cars don't make that impossible drive all that frequently, and it's over in a second. But after months of trying, I finally caught an image of a car on the wall. It's not the full-on, glorious shot I've been trying for, or from the right angle, but it is a car, and it is on the wall.

Yes it is. Really. Look closely at the left side of the building.

I had tentatively planned to park at Trader Joe's this weekend and watch for this sight, but I forgot and I suppose the bank would have been closed anyway, and there would have been six lanes of traffic in the way. So this is all you get, 90 minutes late and far from impressive compared to what I was trying for. Drives me up the wall!

Just for the heck of it, here are two other photos from this week. The man in the Statue of Liberty costume (advertising an office of Liberty Tax) is not at all an unusual sight here in Tucson at tax time, but I do find the sight of Liberty with facial hair kind of strange! The other photo is of someone from the city inspecting a traffic enforcement camera he just repaired. I don't see that every day, although it's at an intersection very close to where I live.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Fish Custard

The Doctor: "You're not scared of anything! Box falls out of the sky, man falls out of a box, man eats fish custard, and look at you! Just sitting there. Do you know what I think?"
Amelia Pond, age 7: "What?"
The Doctor: "Must be a hell of a scary crack in your wall."
[Amelia suddenly looks scared.]

It starts out as a long, jokey scene in "The Eleventh Hour," the season premiere of Doctor Who that aired two weeks ago in Britain and tonight on BBC America. Like Tigger finding out what he "likes best," the newly regenerated Doctor (new body, new mouth, new rules) samples a series of foods presented to him by little Amelia Pond in an otherwise deserted house at night. Finally he chooses the winning entry: fish fingers and custard. Amelia takes this in stride, finding it funny, until the Doctor mentions the menacing, otherworldly crack in her bedroom wall.

After this scene first aired, a lot of fans, myself included, became curious whether "fish custard," as the Doctor calls it, is an unlikely taste sensation, or merely disgusting. I did a search, and discovered two actual, preexisting fish custard recipes from Asia, and one from New England. Videos appeared on YouTube of fans eating the Doctor Who-inspired combination, presumably just to prove that they had.  I love custard, and don't have it nearly as often as I'd like. So it wasn't long before I ventured out to two local grocery stores, trying to replicate this culinary treat.

It was surprisingly hard. I didn't want to buy all the ingredients to make it from scratch (we don't keep sugar in the house), and the only item at Safeway with the word "custard" in it was frozen crème brulée. They didn't even have flan, which is Mexican custard. And fish sticks? The smallest package they had contained 30 of them. So I made do with those. Albertson's did no better, but they did have French toast sticks, which I read somewhere substituted for the fish fingers in the shooting of the episode.

So I took these three purchases home, heated the fish and french toast in the oven, thawed the fancy-name custard, and broiled the sugar on top to caramelize it.

And you know what? I really liked it! Not just the french toast dipped in custard, as Matt Smith ate on set, but actual fish sticks dipped in the custard. No, really! It's no weirder, in terms of taste, than getting maple syrup on your sausage. In fact I liked it so much that I had it twice (the crème brulée is sold in two ceramic bowls per package), bought more of the crème brulée and had the combination twice more. Later servings did not include the French toast, because I'd run out, but it didn't matter. Fish custard, even with real fish, is rather good! As long as you don't add tartar sauce.

The new Doctor, meanwhile, is much better than "rather good." I love pretty much everything about "The Eleventh Hour," especially the performances by Matt Smith as the Doctor, Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, and Caitlin Blackwood as Amy's younger self, Amelia. The writing, by celebrated Doctor Who fan and showrunner Steven Moffat, is excellent as well. The following two episodes, "The Beast Below" and "Victory of the Daleks," don't quite reach up to the standard of that first story, but Smith and Gillan are consistently wonderful.

Ultimately, I don't really care whether you believe me about the fish custard, or taste test it yourself. I liked it, but you may not. But if you have access to the new series of Doctor Who, on the BBC, on BBC America or from some dodgier source, I urge you to give it a try.

Meanwhile, I'm seriously considering another custard run to Safeway. After all, I'm not out of fish sticks yet!


Weekend Assignment #314: Summer Reading - My Next Addiction?

Looks like I get to be the first person to write my entry for the new Weekend Assignment - now with its own blog! This one comes from Carly:

Weekend Assignment #314: Summer Reading: Okay, yes, I know, it's still spring, but this is when I begin thinking about what kind of summer reading I might like to have on hand for those too-hot-to-clean days of summer. So, for this week's assignment, I want you to share with us the kind of summer reading you look forward to the most. Sci-fi? Horror? Political Thrillers? Romance? It's all good. Now, tell me more!
Extra Credit: Okay writers, get to work! Write me the opening paragraph, just (1) paragraph of a summer read you would like write yourself. Again, any genre works fine, have fun with it!
My reading - of novels, anyway - tends to happen in fits and spurts. From time to time I pull a book off a shelf, one that I may or may not have read before. Sometimes I read a chapter or three (or more) only to lose interest, and leave it on my bedside table until it's either nice and dusty or makes its way to the floor. Or both. Other times, I get so involved in the thing that one book is not enough. Why read just 700 pages of Harry Potter when I can read several thousand? Yes, it takes a while, but that just means a longer period of enjoyment. Or I discover I have the first, third and fourth volume in the Golden Scales of Rebatia series, and end up scouring the city for that missing second book so I can read them in order. Still other times, I read or reread a Doctor Who novel or two, just to tide me over until the next television episode, or to substitute for an old Doctor Who serial that no longer exists in its entirety on video.

So when you ask what I look forward to reading this summer, I have to say that I can't plan my book consumption that far ahead. Will I have a full time job by then, and be too distracted to settle down with any novels at all? Or will I discover some new (to me) writer, and end up buying half a dozen books to read my way through in a week? I have no idea! The one thing I can tell you is that if one of my favorite writers gets something new published and I get well and truly sucked in, I'm likely to reread the whole series to which it belongs. This happens to me less and less often, however. Many of my favorite writers are dead now, and their posthumous output tends not to be that compelling, if it exists at all. I have had an early, previously unpublished novel by Madeleine L'Engle next to my bed for about a year now. I think I'm on chapter two. Maybe chapter one. There's a reason it went unpublished for 50 years. Maybe if I could get to chapter five it would become more of a pleasure than a burden to read it, but somehow it never yet has seemed worth the effort.

A scene from The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

But what genre will I read, if any? Well, that part is fairly straightforward. The vast majority of the fiction I like is some flavor of fantasy. It could be science fantasy (e.g. Doctor Who), with smart, interesting, likable characters, preferably in a plot that involves time travel. It could be High Fantasy or some variation thereon, with magical young women (or men) fighting overwhelming oddities on a journey of self-discovery with the object of saving the world (or something). It could be some kind of oddball fantasy set in the time of Jane Austen or the present day. It could be a collection of strange and funny short stories. It probably won't be dark fantasy, meaning horror, unless it's at the funny, light-hearted edge or dark fantasy (think Buffy). In a pinch, it could also be fables (Thurber) or even something with no fantasy content in the magical sense (e.g. Meg Cabot).

Overall, though, I'm between reading obsessions at the moment. I've read all my L'Engle novels except the one next to the alarm clock. I've read through all my Patricia Wrede novels this past year, some of them twice. I picked up a Narnia book some months ago and got bored with it around Chapter Two, despite having read and loved the series several times over the years. There is no new Thurber to be had, no more Harry Potter. I have one more book to read by a well-known science fiction writer before I'm forced to buy or again ignore the one with lots of alien flatulence in the first chapters.

The unicorn ate it gravely.Sooner or later I'll get sucked back in, though, stick my nose in a book and emerge three nearly-sleepless days later. Place your bets now: will my next reading obsession be triggered by a new book by a favorite writer who isn't dead yet, or the discovery of some writer I had not previously considered? Will Keith Olbermann's Friday night Thurber reading on MSNBC send me on a week-long Thurber binge, or will some random Sherlock Holmes adaptation inspire me to reread all sixty stores in the original canon?

Myself, I have no idea. When I find out, I'll let you know.

Meanwhile, let me tackle the Extra Credit:

Rebatia carefully turned her back to Sophie, knocking over just three chairs this time as her wings fidgeted themselves into the new position. She tilted her head up and down and from side to side, twisted her shining turquoise neck like an acrobatic, miscolored swan, and stared anxiously at the princess. "Do they look more golden today, do you think?" she asked. "Just a little bit, maybe?"*

I leave it to you to imagine Princess Sophie's answer.

*I probably wouldn't actually write this - it's more a Patricia Wrede Enchanted Forest pastiche than anything else.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

EMPS: Foreground, Background

For Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot #84: In The Forefront, I considered photographing traffic close up and mountains in the background, but decided that was a bit boring, and occasionally dangerous. So I took a stroll around the grounds of St. Michael's instead.

From Life at St. Michael and All Angels

A young tree casts shadows on a wall by the side entrance to the church offices. A wall of the church proper, including the stained glass cross, is seen in the background.

Vines frame the edge of the labyrinth.

Friday is when the janitor guy comes around.

Olive trees line the front walk...

...and the memorial garden where people's ashes are interred.

I hope you liked my little stroll around the exterior of St. Michael's, and found something of interest in the foreground and background of each shot!


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Round Robin: "Almost Photos" - Missed It By That Much!

This week's Round Robin Challenge: An Almost Photo, was suggested by Steven of (sometimes)photoblog back in 2007. The idea is to show off photos that are interesting but flawed in some way, and "didn't quite work out." Hey, I must have lots of those! Here are some of the ones I found going through my archives tonight:

From Round Robin Photo Challenges

This is the St. Augustine Cathedral on South Stone Avenue at the south end of downtown Tucson. Based on the Cathedral in Queretaro, Mexico (supposedly), this Spanish Colonial style church was built starting in the late 19th century. Somehow I've never found a good vantage point to photograph it properly, in part because I usually pass by it as I'm hurrying home from someplace else. I've probably taken about three photos like this one over the years, rather than take the time to do it right. Someday I will make the necessary detour to photograph it without traffic lights and signs in the way.

One of the biggest problems I have photographing my dogs, Cayenne and Pepper, is catching them when they aren't in motion, so I keep them in frame and don't end up with dog-shaped blurs. Here they are at Molino Basin in March. I like the curve of the safety rail and the bright colors of Cayenne's two bandannas and recently-added lei. But nope, sorry, Cayenne's head did not wait for me to press the shutter button!

The dogs are often at their very cutest when they hang out on the bed with us. But if I grab the camera, they suddenly remember a prior engagement and take off.

This one was my fault, an experimental shot that doesn't quite work. I was trying to photograph Cayenne  from beneath her on the floor as she lay on the couch. Here you see another problem with photographing dogs at night: the flashed-out eye color.

This is a fan at a Doctor Who convention, dressed as a monster called a Weeping Angel - a statue that covers its eyes, but then comes to life and attacks when you aren't looking at it, such as when you blink. Without flash, the photo came out very grainy, but that almost works for someone who is supposed to look like she's made of stone.

This ragged flag flies in my neighborhood. I'm guessing it's a situation of keeping a particular flag flying until some loved one returns home for good from Iraq or Afghanistan. But photographing the rapidly moving flag at sunset turned out rather strange-looking. Click on this photo and arrow over to the one after it to see a slightly better attempt.

From Bat Night 2009

I found "Bat Night" in the Rillito riverbed last September quite challenging to photograph. Thousands of bats. photographed as they take off from the underside of a bridge at dusk, are tiny, fast-moving and kind of hard to see. In this shot they look more like dead leaves than flying mammals.

That's it from me for tonight/this morning. Be sure to check out everyone else's "almost" photos:

Linking List (As of 8:48 PM MST, Saturday, 04/10/10)

Carly - Posted!

Karen - Posted!
Outpost Mâvarin

Mary - Posted!
Mary Tomaselli's Photos

Jama - Posted!
Sweet Memories

Freda - Posted!
Day One

Sandy - Posted!
From the Heart of Texas

Monica - Posted!
Shutterly Happy

Sherrie's Stuff

Gattina - Posted!
Keyhole Pictures

Ruth - Posted!

Duane - Posted!

Peggy - Posted!
Holmespunfun Memes and Themes

And don't forget to check back on the Round Robin blog Sunday for the next topic, plus a special announcement!


Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Weekend Assignment: A Pre-Announcement Pronouncement

Tonight was the deadline for Weekend Assignment #313: Meet a Fictional Character. This was one of my WA entries, so normally one would expect the new Weekend Assignment to be posted tonight over on Carly's blog, Ellipsis.

But when you go over there, you will see something a little different:

Where'd That Thing Go? A Weekend Assignment Mystery

It's a pre-announcement announcement - a bit like this one, in fact!

Don't worry; we're not quitting on the Weekend Assignment. We are, however, taking a week off in preparation for a few exciting changes in the six year old meme. Look for a "special announcement" on the The Round Robin Photo Challenges blog this Sunday, April 11th. On that day we'll unveil new of just when and where Weekend Assignment #314 can be found!

Meanwhile, because I want to, here is a roundup of responses to Weekend Assignment #313: Meet a Fictional Character.

Karen wrote:
I'd love to meet the Doctor. He is, in the opinion of many, the best character in the history of television. The man from Gallifrey with two hearts, a time traveling blue box, a sonic screwdriver and a genius for getting in trouble, is a potent combination of fictional archetypes and originality. He's the cleverest man in the room (some would say the Universe), the trickster, the wise old man, the fool and the nutty professor. He's not the Hero with a Thousand Faces, but he has had eleven of them, even more than James Bond. We've learned a lot about the Doctor in the 47 years since he first appeared on tv, but we still don't know his real name, and probably never will.

Julie wrote:
It was the 1930's and I was in the front seat of Mrs. Murdle, Lord Peter Wimsey's Daimler. The titled sleuth himself was driving. I briefly wondered why I was in the right-hand seat, but then remembered the Daimler was of German manufacture, and therefore most likely left-hand drive. (The things you think about in dreams.) Wimsey's valet Mervyn Bunter was in the back seat, one hand on his derby, playing tour guide. Wimsey was content to stick to his driving, for we were going utterly fast - as was usual for him - through the twisty mountain roads.

Sherrie wrote:
The fictional character I would love to meet is Stephanie Plum from the books by Janet Evanovich. Stephanie is a bounty hunter, well kind of, she has lots of help and she has lots of interesting people to hunt down. There has been 15 books about Stephanie and number 16, Sizzling 16 comes out for release June 22, 2010.

Florinda wrote:
I'd like to meet Lorelai Gilmore for a chat over a big cup of coffee...but somewhere other than at Luke's Diner, so we won't be interrupted by Stars Hollow's more colorful townfolk. I'm not sure what I'd ask her, but I suspect her answer would be fast, wordy, and loaded with pop-culture references. Sigh - I still miss Gilmore Girls.

Florinda also posted the Twittered responses of a bunch of other folks. Check them out!

Mike wrote:
So, I'm going to go even farther back (Jenn can probably see where I'm going) and say I'd like to meet Lt. Columbo. Wasn't he the best. He was great at playing dumb and allowing the bag guy (or girl) to think he had know idea what was going on then let them hang themselves, so to speak. It's still on of my favorite shows. I wanted to go as him one year for Halloween, but Jenn thought nobody would get it. Maybe she was right. I need to find an old Peugeot to drive to complete the outfit. 

That's it for now! Be sure to check in on the blogs listed above, and remember to check the Round Robin blog this weekend. Saturday is the day for Round Robin Challenge: An Almost Photo, and you're all invited to play along. See the Round Robin blog (preferably before Saturday) for details. Then on Sunday, we'll unveil our Big Announcement. Be there! Aloha!


Sunday, April 04, 2010

Life and Death and Eva

I've wanted to write this post all week, but didn't know what to say, or how the story would end.

Eva at St. Michael's coffee hour, three days after her 100th birthday.

We met her on May 18th, 2003, a little old lady in a silly, battered straw hat with the brim turned up at an improbable angle. It was Coffee Hour, the social aftermath of the 10 AM mass at St. Michael's. My friend Kevin and I found ourselves at the same table with her in the Parish Center. She sparked everyone's attention with her friendly manner and lively conversation. She happily explained that it was her birthday, and that she had decided to take the bus to church. She would be meeting with her family later for her birthday celebration. I asked her whether there was a big party planned.

"At my age," she told me, "there's always a fuss. I'm 98 years old today."

We were amazed. 98!  And she still had a lot more on the ball than my mom, who died the previous December, had retained at age 75.

Eva Osburn
Eva Osburn in church, age 99.

For the next several years, most weeks, I swung by an apartment building on Alvernon Way to pick up Eva for church. Often she ordered her fellow passenger, Kevin, to sing to her in his rich baritone voice. His most frequent selection was If Ever I Should Leave You.

Eva, granddaughter Irene and daughter Harriett.

I've written before about Eva, her long life and interesting history. Her father worked on the Panama Canal before she was born. Her mother wore a whalebone corset. She lived in Michigan, in Seattle and, most notably, in Alaska before moving to Tucson. She once traveled hundreds of miles across Alaska by dogsled - while pregnant! She outlived two husbands and all but one of her children. She worked as a nurse until she was in her seventies. I tried a couple of times to talk her into making a "living history" recording about her experiences, but she was adamant in her refusal. She was sure nobody would be interested!

Eva and one of her great-greats at her 100th birthday party.

Eva was astonishingly, joyfully independent until very late in the game. She lived alone except for a half-feral cat that she took in, and took the bus to the library and the supermarket, long after her vision and hearing began to be a problem.

Kevin, Eva, Father John Smith, Margaret Harnsberger and 
Father Ed Harnsberger on Eva's birthday in May 2009, age 104.

Eventually, though, her family grew concerned about her living alone in the same apartment complex as the occasional drug dealer, and the fact that she didn't seem to eat nearly enough. She also had a few fainting incidents in the hot, incense-filled church, which greatly embarrassed her. She moved in with her wheelchair-bound daughter for a while, and then into an assisted living and nursing facility called Villa Maria. She no longer let me take her to church except on the occasional major holiday, for fear of being too much trouble, and also for fear of embarrassment if she should faint again. Kevin and I visited her about every other week for a while, and then brought her communion about once a month, and then less and less often. I feel rather badly about that, but Eva held no grudge. She did, however, have her run-ins with the powers that be at Villa Maria, having strong opinions as a retired nurse about how things should be done.There were times when she almost considered herself one of the staff, helping her fellow residents as best she could.

Two weeks ago this coming Tuesday, Eva's great-grandson Dale went to see her, but her apartment in the assisted living section of the complex was empty. And I mean empty, furniture all gone. He asked a nurse who had just come on where Eva was, but even the office the nurse checked with had no answer.

Then the hospital called Dale's mother Irene. Eva had broken her hip. Did the family want them to operate on her? At age 104 and 3/4ths? Of course not. So she went back to the facility, this time in the nursing section.

Knowing none of this, considered stopping by to see Eva on Palm Sunday a week ago, to offer to take Eva to Easter mass. I hadn't seen her since Christmas or possibly early January; I'm not sure which. I ended up putting off my visit, but I fully intended to see her during the week.

The next morning, Monday, she had a stroke and was unconscious. This time the family was called right away, and Eva was taken to the hospice behind Tucson Medical Center.

Irene called the church. Father Smith went over and gave Eva last rights. Then he called me. Kevin and I spent an hour and a half by her bedside that afternoon, chatting with Dale. When Irene and Harriett arrived, I gave Irene all my phone numbers and we left.

And I waited.

In the mid-1990s, I had a friend in the Doctor Who club who was dying of leukemia. I used to visit her in the hospital a lot, and we spent a surprising amount of the time laughing and enjoying each other's company.  Unable to find a suitable donor, she had a transplant of her own irradiated bone marrow, but it didn't work. She died on Good Friday, a little over a year after the diagnosis.

When my mom died on December 16, 2002, nine days before Christmas, it was due to a stroke from which she did not awaken. The night of the 14th, she chatted with her caregiver as her toenails were clipped. The morning of the 15th, Sunday, she didn't wake up. I spent much of Sunday at St. Joe's, made the medical decisions against heroic measures in consultation with doctors and in keeping with her living will, and brought Father Smith over to perform last rights. On Monday morning, perhaps 25 hours after they brought her in, a doctor essentially told me they wanted to send her to hospice and free up a bed unless she hurried up and died. Half an hour later, she obliged.

So with Eva apparently about to go the same way as my mom, during the same holy season as Shiori, I spent the week waiting, listening for my cell phone. I carried a cross or a candle at the Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil (Saturday night) and Easter morning (10:15 AM) services, and Kevin and I waited up with Jesus at the Altar of Repose on Thursday night at 1 AM. All week long, in stages, the Bible narrative of betrayal, death and resurrection washed over me, but did not quite penetrate. I thought of Eva, who has been saying for a few years that she was ready to go to Heaven, while her healthy heart kept up its steady beat. I did not pray for Eva's death or survival. I prayed that her death, whenever it came, would be painless for Eva and as bearable as possible for her family.

On tv on Saturday a new Doctor, still regenerating after a fatal dose of radiation, had his first adventure on the new season of Doctor Who. But such an outcome is fiction, not available to humans in this world of ours.

Easter morning came, and the mass was over. I had just sat down with Kevin for coffee hour in the Parish Center when my phone rang. I ran out into the courtyard, where reception is marginally better, and took the expected call. It was Irene. Eva died last night. The service will be at St. Michael's. I told her I would pass on the news.

Despite my involvement at St. Michael's, as employee, parishioner and volunteer, I'm not one for smug certainty about my religious beliefs. My faith is, at best, half the size of a mustard seed, and the mountains don't move. But I mostly believe, most of the time, that Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday morning long ago. I don't really understand why he died as he did, or how it all went down, or how much to take literally and how much is symbolic or even erroneous. (Nor do I care to hear any arguments about it, for or against. Sorry.) But if any of it's true, it's good news for Eva now. She did believe, much more than I do. If an afterlife in Heaven exists at all, she's a shoo-in for entry.

Even if virtually none of it's true, and death is the end, which I mostly never believe even though I find the concept of Heaven highly problematic, I still cannot be sad that Eva is gone. I can regret not spending more time with her in recent years, but I cannot regret her death. She had a full life, with husbands and children and three generations of family beyond that. She had adventures in her youth, and independence long after most of her contemporaries were dead. She made friends wherever she went, people who were inevitably charmed by the chatty, cheerful old lady in the (sometimes) straw hat. In short, she lived a good life, much longer than most, and had finally reached the point at which the body was breaking down and it wasn't fun anymore.

And for the rest of my life, I have a role model, in addition to my dad, of how life should be lived.


EMPS: Fave Thing of the Moment

Ack! As busy as I've been today, I almost forgot to do Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot #83: Your Favorite Things!

This is my favorite thing of the moment, the latest issue of Doctor Who Magazine. What makes it so special, aside from the fact that the Eleventh Doctor's adventures began on the BBC yesterday (aside from a one minute scene on New Year's Day), is that I'm now a subscriber. This just came in the mail on Friday, only a few days after UK subscribers got it. Buying it at Borders or Barnes and Noble, I would have had to wait two months.

Aside from my Doctor Who addiction, what's the big deal?  First off, it's just a really well done magazine. It covers the entire 47-year history of the show with depth, humor and real scholarship. Every month there are interviews with people involved in the making of the show, some recently, some not. There are substantive articles on stories last aired twenty, thirty or forty years ago, and overview articles about one aspect or character in the show. There is even geeky satire for long-time fans like me, who know why it's funny to mention the Rani or the the phrase "five rounds rapid." It's the Guinness-certified longest running magazine about a tv show, and the top selling sf media magazine in the world. And it deserves to be.

DWM (as it's called) publishes 13 issues a year plus four specials. Each issue costs about $8 or $9 in the bookstore, having been imported from across the Pond. The specials cost more than that. When you multiply it out, the approximately $140 U.S. subscription cost doesn't look too bad, especially if there's a birthday check from Dad to pay for most of it. Add in the joy of reading about an episode just before it airs and a poll that's still open for input rather than finding out two months later, and it turns out that for a serious Doctor Who fan like me, it's totally worth it.

As you can see, Cayenne is excited about it too. Well, maybe not!


Thursday, April 01, 2010

Weekend Assignment #313: Meet a Fictional Character

Let's get right to it:

Weekend Assignment #313: Through some miracle of colliding realities, you have the opportunity to meet a fictional character, face to face. Which character would you most like to meet, and why?

Extra Credit: What question would you most like to ask that character? Extra extra credit for posting the character's likely reply!

The Eleventh Doctor comes to BBC America April 17th.

I have to confess up front that there's only one fictional character on my mind this week. On Saturday, April 3rd, Doctor Who returns to British television with the first full story to feature the eleventh incarnation of the title character, the Doctor. For the past week or two there has been a steady drip of trailers, teasers, weird radio promos, clips from the first episode (and oddly, the sixth episode, featuring vampires), interviews, photos and magazine cover stories in the British media. The Internet and Doctor Who fandom being what they are, nearly all of this has made its way onto YouTube, Blogtor Who and other websites, to be eagerly discovered by fans like me.

For those who have more patience than I, BBC America is the main source for Doctor Who in the US these days. Their website has lots of photos and videos now, all in preparation for the U.S. premiere of the new season of Doctor Who on BBC America on April 17th. But I won't be waiting that long to watch it.

So yeah. Heck yeah! I'd love to meet the Doctor. He is, in the opinion of many, the best character in the history of television. The man from Gallifrey with two hearts, a time traveling blue box, a sonic screwdriver and a genius for getting in trouble, is a potent combination of fictional archetypes and originality. He's the cleverest man in the room (some would say the Universe), the trickster, the wise old man, the fool and the nutty professor. He's not the Hero with a Thousand Faces, but he has had eleven of them, even more than James Bond. We've learned a lot about the Doctor in the 47 years since he first appeared on tv, but we still don't know his real name, and probably never will. ("Doctor Who" is not a name, but a question.)  It would be fascinating to talk to a character like that - or, more likely, to listen, because he would probably do most of the talking. As archeologist (and the Doctor's future wife?) River Song says in "Silence in the Library," he's "the only story you'll ever tell - if you survive him."

With every new face the Doctor changes slightly in personality, so there's still the question of which Doctor I would want to meet. I think I would go with the Tenth Doctor, my favorite. He's friendlier, and at the same time lonelier and more complex, than most of his predecessors. I suppose I would ask him about Gallifrey before the Time War, and whether there was a specific event that led him and Susan to leave home all those centuries ago. To be honest, though, I doubt I would get a straight answer. I suspect I would instead end up tagging along on some adventure or other - dangerous, but fun!

How about you? Would you take tea with Sherlock Holmes, or share a taxi with Tarzan? Would you meet Maid Marian, or Murphy Brown? Pick any character from any medium, and tell us why you'd want to meet him or her. Then come back here and leave a link to your blog entry about it. Here are the links to last week's Weekend Assignment participants:

For Weekend Assignment #312: Write A Culinary Review, Carly asked us to review a restaurant, a menu item, or even a recipe or packaged food. Here are excerpts from the responses:

Florinda said...
The entree selections at Spark are primarily seafood and beef, with burgers, barbecue options, and jambalaya also offered. I've tried a few different things - and would love to try the jambalaya, but it contains clams and clams and I don't get along - but since this was my birthday dinner, I went for my favorite: the filet medallions. I don't eat red meat very often, and when I do, it's usually at a restaurant, so I tend to splurge. I splurged on my side item, too - the baked potato with bacon and Cheddar cheese. Again, it was my birthday dinner - and it was delicious!

Carly said...
I had made Low-Cal Biscuits and Gravy for breakfast, about 300 calories per serving. I made some biscuits which were generic "buttery tastin" and after breakfast I had about 5 left over, so I decided to make Berry Shortcakes. I had purchased some frozen mixed berries a couple days ago, with the intention of making some vinaigrette or possibly a topping for some ice cream. I decided to thaw them out but wasn't expecting them to hold up well, so I planned to make a hot compote. I was very pleasantly surprised to learn that not only did they hold their shape after thawing but they tasted as if they had just been picked! And there was very little liquid upon thawing. Nice!
Karen said...
This is the "Especial de la Casa," Arroz con gandules, Pernil y Pastel. This translates as "Rice and pigeon peas, roasted pork and pastel." The roasted pork is easy to identify, and rather good it was, too. The other two items on the plate were almost a treasure hunt. The rice had chick peas as well as the "pigeon peas," and I think some kind of bean, and I think more pork. I liked it. The really weird item was the third thing, the pastel I guess. It was sort of the Purerto Rican equivalent of a tamale, but made from a plantain instead of corn, and stuffed with meat and chick peas and I'm not sure what else.
If you'd like to do this week's Weekend Assignment, we'll be delighted to have you! Here are the guidelines:

1. Write your thoughts on the subject in you own blog, or in the comments to this entry. If you write a blog entry, please remember to come back here afterward and leave a link to your entry, so everyone can find it.

2. Your entry should include a link back here, so your readers know where they can go to play along themselves.

3. The deadline is Wednesday, April 7th at 6 PM PDT (9 PM Eastern). That night Carly and I will compile a list of participants so we can all read about the characters everyone wanted to meet.

Simple, huh? I realize this is going to be a very busy weekend for many people, what with Holy Week and Easter and Passover, but on the other hand you have almost a week to get around to your entry. I look forward to seeing what you come up with!