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Ten Things I’m Digging Right Now (Retroactive Edition)

November 16, 2013 Leave a comment

No apologies for the nearly five months that have passed since my last post. Since then I’ve sold a house, bought a house, traveled to Colorado, published a 100-page annual report, run miles after an energetic toddler and watched more baseball games than I care to even talk about. There are busier people than me. There are more stressed-out people than me. But I’ve been occupied enough that pleasure-writing has taken a back seat.

But right now I have some time, some energy and some idle thoughts to share. Here are some thing that have had me thinking, speaking out and geeking out over the last five months:

Matterhorn1. Karl Marlantes’ Matterhorn

It’s the shame of most freshman history classes: All the most relevant history gets taught at the end. For instance, my freshman history teacher (a basketball coach… I know, shocker) spent the first month and a half of the semester on Reconstruction and never made it past Pearl Harbor. I read about the Cold War and Vietnam myself, on the last day of class. It’s really kind of tragic: My father, my father-in-law, my uncle and many men I love and respect fought in Vietnam or in its immediate aftermath, and yet I knew next to nothing about it.

Not so now.

Marlantes’ unbelievable novel is as close as someone like me will ever get to spending time in the bush. Everything, from the horrific leeches to the insane boredom of waiting to the stark terror of imminent death, was so believably related (primarily through the eyes of a young Lieutenant) that it felt like a work of non-fiction. It isn’t, though Marlantes was a Vietnam vet and I have no doubt he based many of the characters–few if any of them completely likable–on real people. I wasn’t in love with the ending, but how can you be when the subject of the book itself is horrifying and, ultimately, pointless? If you’re into historical or wartime fiction, Matterhorn is a must read.

2. Shortstops

The Cardinals need one. I’m not ready to delve too deeply into that World Series just yet, but I’m excited by the search for someone to replace this: (click on the image for animated gif)

Kozma

#NeverForget

The Cardinals may go expensive and trade for a Troy Tulowitzki. They may go for someone less talented but more reliable (and cheaper), like Jed Lowrie (for what it’s worth, this is the move I currently support, provided they find a big outfield bat). At this point, as long as they don’t trade Michael Wacha, which they won’t, I’m not going to be too upset no matter what they do.

Third base and right field are almost as intriguing as SS, but I’ll save that for a Winter Meetings post. Or just follow me on Twitter; I usually unload my baseball-related mental diarrhea over there.

Hobbit3. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I was at the opening day of all three Lord of the Rings films in the early ’00s. (Yeah, I know.) I can still sit through an 11-hour, 20-minute marathon and not get bored. But I was hesitant to see The Hobbit. First of all, it’s The Hobbit, which is the Tom Sawyer to LOTR‘s Huck Finn–decidedly simple compared to the master work. You know, for the kids. Second of all, I was bummed Peter Jackson and New Line decided to split it into three movies. How can a single, fluffy book fill almost nine hours of film without slowing down? For these reasons, and the fact that I have a two-year-old and therefore never, ever go to movies, I didn’t watch the first installment until a couple of Saturdays ago.

I was fairly blown away, and very much impressed. The LOTR-film-geek in me loved all the callbacks to the original film, from Howard Shore’s score, to the consistency in title fonts, to the re-appearances of Ian Holm, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee and Elijah Wood and, more significantly, Ian McKellen. But really, it’s a fine work in and of itself. It expands on the book by beefing the story up with lore from Tolkien’s lesser-known Middle-Earth works, and even sets the stage for the events of LOTR. Purists are mad because the next two films apparently out-and-out make up new characters and put old ones in the story where they don’t belong. I’ll reserve judgement until I see the rest of the trilogy, but in the first film didn’t really notice and, more importantly, didn’t care.

Here Thorin Oakenshield is a less brooding, if less interesting, Aragorn. Martin Freeman plays Bilbo with twice the spine of Wood’s Frodo. The orcs are nastier, Elrond surlier, the Sackville-Bagginses… Sack-ier? The rest of this trilogy may be a disappointment (though I don’t know how you can say that when I get to see Evangeline Lilly act again), but you can bet I’ll be there next month for The Desolation of Smaug.

Maybe even on opening night.

4. Nearly Famous Deli & Pasta House

Our new house is less than a mile from this place, and it has turned into our casual-Friday-night-with-Harriet spot. It’s super kid-friendly: The meat and cheese tray ($6) includes lean cuts of turkey and a variety of cheeses, plus more fruit than you could every buy at a store for $6. They have other, more common kid selections but this is by far the best meal we’ve found for H at any local restaurant (Nonna’s does it right, as well). For us, the Friday night specials take the cake; Nichole actually had a dream about the chicken picata once. The specials can be on the pricey side for casual fare, but they come with a large cup of soup or a salad and a delicious dinner roll. A nice beer list and underrated wine menu round things out nicely. And we’re still home in time for bath, stories and bed.

We are such south-siders. Ugh.

5. Cleaning a pool

Oh yeah. Our new house has a pool. We weren’t looking for one. We didn’t particularly even want one. But when you’re willing to pay asking price for a certain house, even if it doesn’t have a pool, but it does… why the hell not? The best part was, the previous owner cleaned it all up prior to us taking over and we were fortunate enough to get enjoy it for much of our unseasonably warm September, which gave me a month to get used to cleaning it and using the equipment and chemicals. My goal by next Memorial Day is to be a cleaning machine.

GoF5. Grave of the Fireflies

For the last three-plus years, I’ve been slogging my way through Roger Ebert’s list of 340-some Great Movies. I watch them at random, whichever one comes out of the hat next. I’ve learned a lot about film. For instance, I love Italian films but hate French. I typically like Japanese movies more than German, yet Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo is the best foreign film of the 164 I’ve watched to this point. Until September the “Saddest Film” race was a close one between Forbidden Games, concerning young children (and a dead dog) in occupied WWII France, and the “old-man-with-a-dog-but-no-home” Italian film Umberto D. Until I watched Grave of the Fireflies.

Holy cow. I’m not sure I can go into much detail here, but I’ll try.

First of all, it’s animated and from Japan, though not anime in the conventional sense; there’s nothing fantastical about Grave of the Fireflies other than the story. Don’t shy away from the dubbed version; it’s high-quality, though subtitle traditionalists may argue.

So anyway, this brother and sister, probably 14 and 6, respectively, live in Japan during the ceaseless bombing by American forces toward the end of WWII (not THE bombing, but bad enough). Their mother is killed, and they become transient, forced to the streets by a cruel aunt. In the end, the bombs and burning and exposure cause… nope. Never mind.

But the POWER of this film. My god. It’s quiet and beautiful and sad and perfect and in its own way extremely joyful, and the fact that it’s a cartoon only accentuates these things. Animated children can be made to act and express in ways that real child actors simply cannot, and the effect–when applied correctly–is beyond description unless you’ve seen it. Do yourself a favor and rent this movie. And buy a few boxes of Puffs, just to be on the safe side.

7. The Springfield Art Museum

Something else local! I’ve had some business dealings with this institution over the last six months, and I’m very impressed. It’s a first-rate facility and a hidden gem of an art collection, though I am woefully uneducated in both architecture and art, and furthermore they’ve brought on some really excellent folks to lead it over the last couple of years. If you haven’t been lately, go. It’s free, and your taxes support it.

8. Mary-Louise Parker

I watched the first four episodes of Weeds. I didn’t like it, and I know enough about the latter seasons to know it’s not worth sticking it through. However, MLP’s bit part in The West Wing (I’m currently watching Season 4), as well as her Google Images page, is enough to make me have a forever-crush. She could go Method to play the title role in a Chris Farley biopic and I would still find her fetching.

one-fish-two-fish9. Dr. Seuss

Harriet is going through an animal phase, so the fantasy creatures and lengthy rhymes of Dr. Seuss are not her favorite at the moment. But there was a phase, and I desperately hope there’s another, when she loved Dr. Seuss books more than anything. And I love reading them. Out loud. It’s always my goal to make it through an entire book without screwing up. I practice my inflection from One Fish, Two Fish in the shower. I get passages from The Sleep Book stuck in my head throughout the day. Nichole and I have an entire theory about Mr. Brown and Mr. Black from Hop on Pop. I’ve already decided H is going to get The Lorax and How the Grinch Stole Christmas for Christmas. And if she doesn’t like them I will read them to myself.

10. Pope Francis

Nuff. Said. Almost enough to make me want to be Catholic. Okay, not almost. But almost-almost.

Until next time.

ML

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Categories: General

Bits and Pieces: 5 Things I’m Digging Right Now

January 24, 2012 Leave a comment

The year of writing is getting off to an inauspicious start, but I’m not as worried about it as I was. Starting something cold turkey is as difficult as stopping it, but I will get there. First, a couple of programming notes:

First of all, I’ll be welcoming my brother-in-law, Matt Campbell, as a co-writer on the Lost Re-Rewatch Project, though for him it’s merely a Rewatch Project. He’ll be sharing thoughts on certain episodes, which may or may not be supplemented by yours truly. He’s an insightful guy and has a view of the show that is distinct and, frankly, a little less rose-colored than my own. I hope you enjoy the extra voice.

Second, I am teaching a course for the Drury University English Department this semester, Editing and Publishing, which will focus on the (fine?) art of critique and reviewing. I may post class content–or more accurately, content for class–here from time to time, as well as share some of the good stuff that comes across my desk.

And now, because I’m feeling it, a few things I’m hyped up about these days:

1. Hell On Wheels. I got behind this show early on (it premiered after The Walking Dead) and am catching up on DVR. It pretty much kicks ass. Anson Mount is an ex-Confederate with a score to settle, Common is a badass freed slave, Colm Meany is a complicated railroad magnate, and Dominique McElligot is… well, scorching hot. The plot is a little murky so far, but the acting is very strong. Plus, it’s AMC, so I have faith it will rule eventually. It’s set in a railroad-building camp, and everything from the opening credits to the whore-with-a-heart-of-gold storyline indicates it wants to be nothing less than Deadwood, minus the HBO-ified vocabulary. I’m not sure it’s going to quite get to that level, but it’s still my third-favorite show currently on TV–second if Game of Thrones takes an inevitable Season 2 swoon.

2. AppleTV. I asked for this for Christmas at the suggestion of a couple of friends, and my loving wife obliged. Holy cow, what an invention. For $100, you can have access to hundreds of movies, your personal iTunes account, and your Netflix account, all on your TV. For me the biggest benefit was no more watching Netflix streaming films on a laptop, radiating my lap in the process. Any episode of The Office on my TV at the touch of a button (without buying $250 in DVDs)? Yes please.

3. Risk iPhone app. Yeah, I know. Thoroughly addicting, though, and a great time-killer.

4. Trolling the Internet for cheap vacations (or at least affordable ones). Thanks to the big H, for the first time ever I’m actually looking forward to doing our taxes this year, and despite the usual misgivings about “savings” and “debt” I have a few fantasies about how any return could potentially be spent–it is a round-number anniversary for Nichole and I, after all. I realize I’m setting myself up for grave disappointment when my modest pay raise equates to a higher bracket, but it’s really just fun to look. Kayak and Lonely Planet are couple of current favorites.

5. The @Philanthropy Twitter feed. From the Chronicle of Philanthropy, if you work in non-profit-land, it’s a must-follow. Lots of topical information and free professional-development options. If you don’t work in non-profit-land, and don’t care about your fellow man, I recommend @Zodiac_MF. He’s profane. He types in all caps. He live-Tweets game shows. He loves pop culture that OWNS.

Hope this helps you enjoy killing some time. Peace out.

Categories: General

Writer’s Block, Sleeping on Planes, Sleeting on Panes and Sour Straws

January 12, 2012 Leave a comment

This daily writing thing isn’t going as well as I’d hoped it would. A combination of the lack of a computer, a busy schedule and the simple fact that I do not sit down until 8 p.m. at night have combined to keep me from getting this ball rolling, other than a couple of Lost reviews (with a couple more in the cannon, don’t you worry).

In previous attempts, I would be discouraged. Not this time. This time is different. That’s because, if I don’t have anything overwhelmingly amazing to say… I’m going to say something uninteresting. That’s why I started a blog and not, say, a half hour television broadcast. Well, that and the fact that I tend to make fun of all local TV personalities and I am not, if anything, a hypocrite.

• The fan Nichole and I keep in our room to drown out the noise from Division Street threw craps a couple of weeks ago, and since then we’ve been sleeping with a white noise app on the iPhone. Does anyone else use this? I wake up in the middle of the night and I truly think I’m on a plane. The only difference is it’s easier to get to the bathroom and the stewardess who comes by the bet with peanuts every half hour is way nicer than your average Delta hag.

• It snowed today in Springfield, which means that nothing else happened. The official policy at the Community Foundation is that we don’t close the office unless Missouri State University cancels classes, which means I might get a snow day once every two or three years. And that’s fine. By the time you’re 32 years old, you really should be beyond pining for days off work anyway… unless you work in education. Then the only thing worse than a treacherous drive to work is a day at work with a bunch of kids complaining that school wasn’t canceled. It’s the Circle of Annoying Life.

• If the entire world were made up of dark chocolate and Sour Straws (preferably the strawberry kind, but sour apple are okay, too), I would be a very happy diabetic man.

• I forgot to mail my aunt’s birthday card (her birthday was Jan. 2) and I just found the envelope in my car after swearing up and down I had mailed it. If you’re reading this, Aunt Amy (and you’re not), I apologize. Cards are big, big deal in my family, a tradition that my wife doesn’t understand and I haven’t done a very good job to carry on. I’m particularly useless when it comes to mailing them. Just be warned, in case you ever join my family.

• Nichole and I finished Season 3 of Mad Men today. Holy crap. Aside from a couple runs of Lost and perhaps mid-Season 5 of 24, it’s the best three-episode arc of a television series I’ve ever seen.

• I get to go to Reeds Spring and Bradleyville tomorrow, then come home for a long weekend. Who needs snow days?

 

Categories: General, Navel Gazing

Not Looking Back

January 2, 2012 1 comment

The first (and last) time I posted here it was August 2. I wish I could say this was a world-altering post five months in the making. It is not. But the time for regrets is over. There’s no time like the present.

So, refer to the previous post for my reasons for wanting to begin this project, and please keep a few things in mind:

1. My friend Jeff (who is still blogging daily) has since moved back. I will let him tell you why and how here, but suffice it to say, from a selfish perspective, I am okay with it.

2. The design of this blog sucketh mightily, and I’ll slowly add features (featurettes?). It’s a work in progress. I don’t even have an avatar, which is distressing. But the writing’s the thing.

3. The Beer and a Jog project lasted two months, at which point the time strains of Nichole returning to work (seriously… our evenings feel like they last a whole 20 minutes) and the burden of paying for the beer conspired to sink the ship. Unfortunately, the running ended shortly thereafter.

3. This blog will serve, for the next few months, as a landing page of sorts for the English 251 class at Drury University, so if anything seems odd, that’s why. I’ve taught the class on two other occasions, though this will be my first go-round without having the benefit of 417 Magazine as an employer (and thus an online publication/internship carrot dangling to keep students buying in). But it has also inspired me to switch up the curriculum a bit, which could be a very good thing. We shall see.

I’ll try to keep this page interesting and relevant and as focused as humanly possible. Expect observations, pop-culture critique (a Lost re-re-re-watch is slated to begin tonight) and sports commentary. Anyone with a fondness for Mad Men, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Cardinals baseball or classic movies may be particularly interested.

After the cut: 10 quick resolutions. Read more…

Categories: General, Navel Gazing

One more time for old time’s sake

After careful self-examination over the last month, I have come to a few conclusions:

1. I miss writing. Not necessarily for a living, but the act of putting thoughts to keyboard and publishing… yeah, I miss that.

2. I am awesome at starting blogs, but terrible at growing them (my wife has the same issue with ferns).

3. I do not have testicular cancer.

Two of these things are pertinent for you, my soon-to-be-faithful-reader-if-I-don’t-leave-you-hanging. I have the writing itch and have decided to start this here WordPress blog to keep it in a decent state of scratched-ness (or at least doused in a layer of calamine lotion). “But Matt,” you might say, “what about the Blogger blog? Or the Tumblr blog?”

To that I say: “The Blogger site was, like, another lifetime ago, and I really didn’t like Tumblr (I may be hip, but I’m not a hipster). Besides, third time’s a charm, amirite? This is a new blog, a new me (more on that in a sec) and a new mission.

What is that mission? To write … something … every day for the next year. Oh yeah.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t inspired, at least in part, by my Brother From Another WordPress Mother (and, not incidentally, good friend), Jeff Houghton. He’s blogging his quest for fortune and glory in Hollywood at TheMysteryYear.wordpress.com. If you like stranger-in-a-strange-land-style chronicles (with more Starbucks and less androgyny), you’ll eat it up.

Not that I’m doing anything so singularly dramatic as Mystery Jeff. Not by a long shot. But I do feel that this is my most recent best chance to become the writer I want to be. You see, I recently changed jobs. For the previous six years (nine, if you want to get really technical) I was something of a creative type for 417 Magazine. First I edited GO Magazine, and when that succumbed to the great economic meltdown of 2009, I served as digital director, which consisted of herding the various non-print cats (tigers, really) for the company and—you guessed it—blogging. You can guess why I didn’t rush home to fire up yet another CMS and further share my thoughts. You have to have SOMETHING left over for Twitter (which, by the way, you can find me there, too).

To make a long story short (too late), I switched jobs on July 1. It was the right move at the right time. I am now the communications specialist for the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, which is essentially a philanthropic bank for non-profits and for donors to do their charitable giving. I do write press releases, but I also work the website and have taken on various other projects. CFO is a fantastic place to work; I’m busy but the pace and workload feel measured. The people are great. It’s in the heart of Springfield. It’s six blocks from my house.

Logically, it seemed like a good time to take a look at a few of the other aspects of my life that I felt needed some work and see about whipping those into shape, too. Admittedly, they were relatively few. I have the best wife in the world, Nichole, and in April we had our Harriet, who is absolutely my sun and stars; I’m sure you can expect thrice-weekly fatherhood posts… or maybe just a big list of fatherhood questions.

That left two pillars: Fitness and writing. So, on July 1, the same day I started my new job, I started a hare-brained endeavor to run at least one mile every day for a year. Sound like a drag? Well, it comes with a reward of drinking at least one beer every day for a year. Thirty-one days later, so far so good. I’m running between 1.5 and 3 miles daily (though it’s mostly on a treadmill since the Midwest decided to turn in to Morocco for the duration of the summer), lifting weights two or three times a week, and drinking at least one delicious, delicious beer. It has kept the pounds from slipping off as quickly as I’d like, but I have my leg muscles back. Most importantly, I haven’t felt this good since I finished the marathon in fall ’07. (Check that: I haven’t felt this good since right before I started the marathon in fall ’07). The jury is still out on whether my knees and/or beer budget can hold up to the strain, but I’m optimistic. Most importantly I’m getting in some good habits so I can be there for my family down the road. That’s one of the odd things about becoming a parent; the timeline for EVERYTHING you do expands exponentially the minute that little diaper-pooper shows up. I’m not working/saving/living for the next two years, I’m working/saving/living for the next 20, and not really even for myself. But still kinda.

This post is already far too long, so I’ll wrap it up. The running thing got me thinking: If I can run and guzzle a brew every day for a year, why not write? But then I thought again: Because writing is WAY harder than loping along on a treadmill or cracking open a beer. But it’s a challenge I’m looking forward to. Not for vanity—though very few people write without looking for some sort of validation in it—but because it’s an itch that needs to be scratched.

Categories: General, Navel Gazing