Friday, May 27, 2011

Friday Fun Times

Nothing Whovian this week, either. Youtube still seems like a pretty big Season 6 minefield, and yesterday Anna was laid up with a bad migraine, and I was curled up on the couch reading a biography of Livia.

But listening to Derek Trucks play guitar and Susan Tedeschi sing is almost as good as watching Matt Smith. Almost.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Rainy Thursday [Photo Post]

It's rainy in Michigan, but earlier in the week, during a quintessential bright, clear summer day (we spent part of it in the hammock), Hanna snapped these gorgeous sun-drenched photographs.

lemonjello's (Holland, Mich.),
the coffee shop where my sister worked in college
I'm not frowning, just squinting in the sun. Also, I look like my mom!
Brewery with bicycles (we bought some to take home) (beer, not bicycles)
Detailing from the facade of the building that once housed my bank
Marbles in the sun
Marbles in jars
Hand puppet
Loom in the window

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wednesday in the Woods [Photo Post]

As promised, photos from the Saugatuck Dunes. Photos by Hanna; selection and commentary by Anna.

On Sunday morning we went hiking with my (Anna's) parents
One of the major things I miss in the city is lack of access to the woods
Woodland violets
I also miss Michigan sand dunes
And the lake (I am hot & sweaty in this picture)
Root washed up on the shoreline
I wish there was a way for us to live & work in Boston
and still spend time here every weekend...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tuesday on Twelfth Street [Photo Post]

Welcome to part two of vacation photo posts, brought to you by Anna (text and composition) and Hanna (photographs). Cross-posted at the feminist librarian.

Toby takes a cat nap on the windowseat
Hanna's personal favorite: sunlight through the
French doors
Dinner preparations
Basil tomato pasta = yum!

The (uncharacteristically tidy!) dining room table
Up to the second floor (bedtime!)
Stay tuned for tomorrow's photos from our hike at the Saugatuck Dunes State Park.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Monday in Michigan [Photo Post]

Hey all; Anna here. Hanna and I are in West Michigan (Holland, to be precise) this week, visiting with my parents and various other childhood acquaintances. I haven't been back here since October 2009. Hanna hasn't been here ever. I'm showing her the stuff I remember, discovering with her the new stuff that's happened since I've been away, and we're enjoying not having to go to work for the week. We're watching Season Two of Life on Mars and catching up on the leisure reading.

As I write this, Hanna is sitting next to me at the dining room table reading a history of coffeehouse culture in Europe, 1600-1720. I've been learning all the ways in which the responsible coffee user was supposed to ingest his/her drug of choice at the time (an hour before and after ingesting food, at as hot a temperature as could be tolerated) and all of the wondrous effects it was supposed to bestow.

Anyway. Here are some pictures from our Saturday walkabout. On Tuesday I'll be bringing you photographs of domestic life at the Cook household and on Wednesday photographs from the Saugatuck Dunes State Park, where we went hiking on Sunday.

Later in the week, there may be more photos ... or there might be a Friday Fun video. We'll see what the vacation brings!

All the photos were taken by Hanna.

On Saturday morning we went to the local farmer's market
It was nice, after two days in the car, to be out walking.
Miquel Fuentes, age 11, on his cello.
The turtle in the cello case is named PeeWee.
This was an addition to main street since my last visit.
We purposefully missed Tulip Time but the flowers are still blooming.
Sailboat on Lake Macatawa (latter-day Swallows & Amazons)
Stay tuned for Part Two (Hanna's lovely photographs of the interior of my parents' home) tomorrow.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Friday Fun Times

I first heard this on Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion, so I went for a live cut rather than the "official" music video.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Something Whovian

"Doctor Hoo," by Mallory Dyer.

Because I said there would be something Whovian on Wednesday.

This is not what I had in mind, but I love it and I think you should love it, too.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Photo Monday

Preparations for travelling this week, folks. Check back in on Wednesday for some Whovian fun times and, in the meantime, enjoy some photos.

The Charles in sunshine. God, this seems like a long time ago.
Yes, our kitty does enjoy reading in her spare time. She just doesn't like it
when we read in our spare time.
Still life with tea and spider plant.
Still life and the History Boys.
This is the kitty hiding.
Candles. And Mitchell, George, and Annie.
Further candle.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday Fun Times

So I don't have anything Whovian for this Friday. I'm dodging Season 6 spoilers like it's going out of style and, honestly, YouTube just seems like a dangerous place these days.

Instead, enjoy one of my all-time favorite Melissa Etheridge songs. And I love the way she flirts with the crowd...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Do You Have Your Towel?

Reminded, albeit too late to do anything really cool, by @StephenFry that today is the anniversary of the death of Douglas Adams, here is something to help you adequately commemorate the man: the original BBC radio broadcast in .mp3 form.

Don't say I never gave you anything. ;)

Kitchen Cupboard Recipes: Lentil & Matzo Ball Soup

Photograph by Anna, May 2011
Last week, when Hanna was recovering from a nasty spring cold and Anna was in the final throes of her thesis presentation preparations, we were looking for bland comfort food that we could make without going to the grocery store. (The "not going to the store" bit was vital). What we came up with was a surprisingly tasty variation of lentil soup spruced up with matzo balls. You could probably make your own, but we just put ours together from a mix picked up at the local kosher grocery.

Beyond Basic Lentil Soup: 

1 cup dried lentils

3 cups of vegetable broth (can substitute water + vegetarian bouillon)

1 can diced tomatoes

1 bay leaf

Salt & pepper to taste

You can obviously use this as a base to improvise upon. Like garlic? Onion? Fancy curry spice and some raisins? Have at it!

1. Heat broth in soup pan and add lentils and bay leaf. Cook until soft (usually 20-30 minutes). You can work on the matzo balls while the lentils cook.

2. While lentils are cooking, prepare matzo ball dough.

3. Set water to boil for matzo balls. This should be in a pan deep enough to boil the matzo balls and it should have a cover, preferably with some sort of vent for steam.

4. Add tomatoes and salt and pepper to the lentil mixture. Leave to simmer, stirring occasionally to make sure the lentils still have enough liquid.

5. When the water for the matzo balls boils, wet your hands and roll the matzo dough into walnut-sized balls. Drop them into the boiling water. They will sink to the bottom and then fairly quickly rise to the top in the boiling water. Turn the heat down to a gentle boil and leave for half an hour to cook.

6. Drain the matzo balls. Dish up the soup and spoon desired number of matzo balls into each bowl (I recommend more rather than less).

7. Top with cheese as desired (yum!). Serve hot.

This also makes excellent leftovers, reheating in the microwave beautifully in about 2 minutes. We recommend storing the cooked matzo balls separately from the soup, so that they don't just turn to mush.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Happy Arbogast Day!

A day with a two-fer, huh? Wow. Must be y'alls lucky week! ;)

Anyway, how could I miss out on Arbogast Day (as started by the good folks at Kindertrauma and condoned by the equally good folk at Arbogast on Film) and the opportunity to talk about the eternal question of all fandoms: who would you save?

And so at some point last year I wrote a pretty uninspired post for this meme about Newt from ALIENS. And that's fine and I still adore Newt and I would still save her given the opportunity.

But over the past few months I've been delving deeper into my adoration for '50s sci-fi and I've rewatched Them! a frighteningly large number of times and you know what? It's Police Sergeant Ben Peterson's turn.

Them! is one of your seminal "effects of radiation making things huge and nasty" films. Released in 1954, its villains are giant irradiated ants who have become bored in their desert home and are wandering further and further abroad in search of food -- food that, increasingly, comes in human shape.

You don't actually see the ants for quite some time: the opening of the film is pure atmosphere as two New Mexico policemen, Peterson (James Whitmore) and his sidekick, Blackburn (Chris Drake), investigate a string of strange events, starting with the destruction of a family trailer and the disappearance of the family. The trailer is torn apart and, weirdly, sugar is strewn on the floor.

Peterson is the first to find a survivor of the ants: a little girl (Sandy Descher) wandering in the desert. He picks her up, carries her carefully back to the police car, and is sure to look after until the medics take her away. When a strange sound echoes across the desert, neither Peterson, nor anyone else, notice that the girl reacts -- but silently.

As the weather begins worsen -- turning into a sandstorm -- Peterson and Blackburn turn to the local gas station -- only to find it, too, destroyed. The owner's nowhere to be found; his shotgun is torn in half. Sugar is, again, on the floor. Peterson goes for help; Blackburn will not be there when he gets back.

The opening of Them! is really slow in comparison to things like Space Children (which comes to mind because the Descher is in both films) or The Monster That Challenged The World or even something like The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms or It Came from Beneath the Sea! -- Them!'s opening gives the audience time to settle in, feel comfortable, and then get disturbed -- and then feel comfortable -- and then get disturbed all over again. Perfect horror timing, really. Plus the filming is beautiful: lovely clean black-and-white with no camera tricks to distract from the essential fascination of the landscape itself -- and whatever is lurking in it.

But the point of this post is Sergeant Peterson. As I said before, he's the first to find a survivor and his care of the little girl and his evident sympathy for her situation and the deaths of her family make him stand out. The other policemen are interested in the crime -- not the little girl who survived it. Watch his face as he fits together the broken pieces of her doll and realises this poor kid is on her own. Peterson is interested in the people -- something that he evidences throughout the movie and eventually gets him killed.

As the story progresses and the eventual call is made for "expert scientific assistance," Dr. Harold Medford (Ed Gwynn) and Dr. Pat Medford (Joan Weldon) arrive. By now we also have Robert Graham (James Arness) as our local scientific expert overwhelmed by what's happening around him. Graham and P. Medford are clearly going to be our couple for the film and, since no-one tries to exclude Peterson, he tags along, learning as best he can and contributing as best he can. By now, the Army in full regalia is involved and Peterson is outgunned and (could have been) outclassed. But he's quiet, assertive, and calm -- in a room full of dramatic duelling egos, he's a valuable team member. He has a solid sense of humor -- as in his interactions with H. Medford during a helicopter search for the ants-nest. He knows these people are probably smarter than he is -- but there are also things that he does well -- like diving into said ants-nest with a flamethrower -- which he can do that they can't. He's willing for there to be give-and-take and to be a team-member without being a glory-hunter.

Some ants make an escape from the doomed New Mexico nest -- one queen is caught with her new brood on board ship. As the ship goes down, so do the ants: problem solved. But others are uncaught as yet -- until Peterson and the team start getting funny news stories out of Los Angeles. (The storm drains must have been a powerful pull for film crews even then!)

The team goes down to investigate and finds that a local man and his two sons have disappeared -- while flying a toy plane near a drainmouth. And an inmate in the hospital drunk ward across the way has seen strange things moving in and out of the drains -- huge ants, he says. But who's going to believe a homeless drunk? Peterson and Graham will, since they know he's right. Peterson and Graham have both honed their listening skills by this point in the story!

And here's where you start to feel that the storywriters either didn't know what to do with Peterson or thought they could give him a blaze of glory ending that the character really doesn't quite warrant. Graham and P. Medford are, as I said, clearly going to be the couple; H. Medford is the aging scientist who gets the glory of the new discovery in his old age; the Army dudes are....well, the Army dudes. They get to shoot things. What does Peterson get?

As far as we've seen in the story -- there's nothing he wants. There's no girl for him to get; no guy for him to get, certainly! He's happy with his job (we assume.) We don't see a home or a family or get any sense that there's someone worried about whether or not he comes back. He seems to leave New Mexico readily enough when the story moves away from its original setting. While the other characters either have roots that come with them -- the Medfords -- or are busily occupied in the creation of new roots -- Medford/Graham -- Peterson has neither and thus has no future at the end of this movie.

It becomes evident that the storm sewers need to be searched for the missing man and his kids. Peterson volunteers to go in as one of the on-foot searchers and, of course, tracks down the kids in the middle of a huge ants-nest: ants everywhere. As he struggles to get the kids up into a passage where they can climb down to the waiting soldiers, an ant comes up behind him and catches him. The boy safely climbs up into the passage but can do nothing to help Peterson. Despite the best efforts of Graham and the soldiers as they rush into the passage a few seconds too late, Peterson dies.

In the end, a few minutes later, the soldiers pour fire down onto the two queen ants in the nest and destroy them as H. Medford intones the semi-famous closing line of the film: "When Man entered the atomic age, he opened a door into a new world. What will he eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict."

Peterson's death is pointless. It would have been just as easy to have Graham and the soldiers rescue him as not. As it is, it seems like his only point is to save the kids and then die -- as quickly as possible, please, we have a denouement to get to! I think he deserves better. Certainly better than a not-all-that-quick death by ant in an LA storm sewer. He's been a solid team player all along; a valuable member of the Anti-Ant Group; a helpful soother of distressed children; and an intelligent asker of questions. Couldn't we have done better for him than this?

In a way, Peterson is too nice for his own good: he hasn't eyed women (Graham) or been crotchety (H. Medford) or given orders to up the firepower (military). He's been almost self-effacingly quiet -- in a lot of scenes, it's possible to not notice he's there until he asks a question -- and reasonably pleasant. He's established early on as a rescuer and a salvager, a noticer of small things -- by his death, it would seem that the story is arguing these things aren't important or, worse, these things are dangerous. This seems unfortunate. A world left to the Medfords, the Grahams, and the military would be very full of shouting. Perhaps there would be no giant ants, but there would be no-one noticing lost children either.

Perhaps the Doctor and Sergeant Peterson would have gotten along well; neither of them felt able to pass by a distressed child.

The Feverish Critic

In that these are all the movies I watched whilst I was sick! Or snoozed through. Although I have removed from the list anything I actually slept through more than 55% of.

Partly Cloudy with Chance of Meatballs. If you enjoy this sort of thing, you may enjoy this.

It made me dizzy.

And the monkey was annoying.

The Land Before Time. Anna and I watched this before she went to work one day. I have a vague memory that this was one of my favorite movies when I was a kid but I find I had no real recollection of it at all. But, damn, is that T Rex persistent! It must be second cousin to the ones in Jackson's King Kong remake -- goal-oriented behavior in a very serious way.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice. The new one. It was...good? I guess? I think I would have had a lot more fun with it if I watched it with my old roommate.

I don't find Nicolas Cage abhorrent and the kid was ok and Alfred Molina was delightful and there just wasn't enough Alice Krige. I mean, if you're going to cast Alice Krige as the maleficent sorceress -- then, by God, I want tons of evil witchy! Opening and closing scenes only = insufficient! I mean, it was a Disney movie. What are you going to say, really? Oh, I know what to say: was the little blonde goody-two-shoes "heroine" a total waste of time or was it just me? I mean, she was actually quite annoying, wasn't she? She seemed really...I hate to say this, but really stereotypically "dumb blonde." Cute and all Or is this the decongestant talking and I'm being unkind?

Under the Mountain. I was a little more awake by now and less medicated and this is actually quite good. It's a rather slow, pretty quiet little Australian flick about a pair of twins -- a boy and a girl -- who have to reconcile their differences -- largely over their relationship as well as reaction to a death in the family -- in order to use a (good) alien weapon to destroy (bad) aliens under volcanoes.

Ok, that's the two-cent version and there isn't a whole lot of depth to this movie, to be fair. But there is some beautiful photography of New Zealand and some very nice quiet scares. Weta Workshop did good effects and makeup; octopoidy, slimy, kinda evil -- nice, middle-of-the-road villain. Oh, and someone scouted a great haunted house location on a lake -- full points for that. Sam Neill is fun to watch as always as the helpful alien who's been hanging around for a few hundred years trying to figure out a way to use his weapons against the nasty invading aliens. Real life kicks in every now and then -- check out the family conference after the next-door aliens have melted the front door to get at sister Rachel -- but not so much to derail the story. And the end is very satisfying.

In the Mouth of Madness. This, I really should have seen years ago. And I'm not sure if I'm supposed to be horrified by the general shenanigans and goings-on or by Jurgen Prochnow's hair. What the hell was up with that?

In a more serious vein: John Carpenter. Early 1990s. Cthulhu mythos. Sam Neill. About books. Hell yes.

And it is actually quite good. I'd almost given up on ever watching it after reading some critical reviews that just panned it from one end to the other. I remember when this originally came out and, if my memory serves, a couple of issues of Starlog of which I was a dedicated reader at the time were largely devoted to pictures of Sam Neill running down a slimy hallway.

There isn't, actually, a lot of slimy-hallway-running when you get right down to it, but there are some really interesting conversations about reality and fiction and how and when and where the two might intersect or become each other.

There are also a fair number of monsters and some seriously creepy kids with a red ball. Also a lot of nods to Lovecraft and King (more or less in that order) with the main plotline -- involving John Trent (Neill) as an insurance claims investigator being employed by a publishing house to check out the "disappearance" of their bestselling horror author, Sutter Cane -- taking most of its inspiration from "Call of Cthulhu" and a little bit from It. Cane's editor, Linda Stiles, is practically a walking dissertation on the nebulousness of the horror in Cane's work as she tries to convince Trent to take the case seriously and, as time goes on, to take what Cane writes seriously, too. In order to investigate the author, Neill first has to figure out where he might have gone -- since he turns in all his manuscripts by mail or through his agent and his agent is...unavailable for comment on the question, this involves some serious headscratching.

Sidenote here: it is really satisfying that Carpenter thought to answer the perennial question of all horror films here which is when the heavy brown matter begins to strike the rotating blades, the inevitable question I have is: hasn't anyone in this film/book ever seen a single horror movie in the entirety of their lives? Not even a single late-night viewing of Nightmare on Elm Street? And the answer in this case is: no. Trent is asked this point-blank in reference to Cane's work and he answers quite simply that no, he doesn't like horror or supernatural stuff because he doesn't find it believable. Great! Fine! Awesome. At least there is an answer.

Additional sidenote: Stiles was great. She's half a believer when she takes off with Trent on their doomed road trip and her willingness to deal with what's in front of her as opposed to what she "knows" must be true is heartwarming. It doesn't make her sliding slithering fall any less inevitable, of course, but at least she knows what the hell is really going on.

Once Cane's location is discovered -- after the creep starts to set in -- Trent and Stiles set off to locate an apparently fictitious small town in New Hampshire called Hobb's End. Weird shit happens on the way and weirder shit happens once they hit town. Are Cane's books deforming the town or has the town deformed Cane? Perhaps reality is just straight-up deformed and we've been fighting it all along and now gravity, so to speak, is reasserting itself.

Trent fights the good fight but, as is inevitable with all Lovecraft mythos heroes, loses. Dramatically.

Not to give away the game, but I loved the end. Shades of Danny Boyle all over the place.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Rage Dump

enough yogic herbal hyper-empathy. he slaughtered us. orphaned little kids. who are we, really, to deny him his martyr's heaven? a win win.
We got the last true remaining monster of the 20th century - a gruesome slice of humanity - and bam! It's red vs blue again
To all news reports about Osama unarmed, not resisting, etc. I don't care if he was naked & tied to a chair, shoot the frakker. Thx Seals!

In case you're wondering, the preceeding are three tweets from folks I follow -- big shocker here -- on Twitter for whom I used to have considerably more respect.

I have deleted their names and any retweet information because I hope that one day at some point in the future, I will be able to forgive them for this. Maybe even forget that they did it.

I really didn't think that anything could lower my opinion of the mentality of the American public when acting as a group any lower than it already is but just like a good horror movie, as soon as you think you've killed the boogey-man -- bam! Back in your face.

And this has been an absolutely atrocious week for me -- I'll admit it. I either have the flu or the head cold from hell; I've missed all my hours at one job and all my hours but one day at the other. I have accomplished nothing except the filling of many Trader Joe's paper bags with used tissues, the consumption of a lot of tea or TJ's Yuzu citrus stuff, and a lot of cat-cuddling. I'm tired and achey and depressed and the good weather outside is really just making me want to close all the blinds and hide on the couch.

And there are street parties because a man was executed. I don't care what the mother-fucker did: in the end, we executed him. And what led up to it is a series of unpleasant activities culminating in the violation of another nation's sovereignty that I don't really want to think about right now because the stupidity and the shortsightedness and the viciousness and the lack of either foresight or historical hindsight make me dizzy with anger. I don't believe that can ever have been justified or right or even a reasoned act. This is sheer revenge-laden viciousness and the reaction is nauseating.

I'm not being very yogic or Buddhist about this right now. I did, in my fever-laden snooze this week, sometimes think I could write a post in that spirit.

But mostly I want to grab people who write things like these heaven-forsaken tweets above by the scruff of the neck and shake them until their fucking teeth rattle. This is not how you behave, people. This is behavior that rivals Fred Phelps for sheer disgust and, believe me, it is going to take many years of dedicated metta meditation before I could put Mr. Phelps in the appropriate category.

And that attitude on my part isn't helping.

So I'm going to go and brush my cat and help my girlfriend rearrange her books and drink some green tea and sweep my living room and try to get through my day as calmly and empathetically as I can.

Even if it means feeling compassion for people I would really rather see going down for the third time in the middle of the Charles.

Because I wouldn't. I don't want them to die; I didn't want him to die. I would like them to wake up magically tomorrow morning and think, "Oh, my God. What have I been doing? Did I go crazy? Well, enough of that -- lets go volunteer at an animal shelter." Or words to that effect. It would have been nice if the same thing had happened to bin Laden. It didn't and now it never can.

P.S. If you want more reasoned, thoughtful reactions to this, I suggest you check out thoughts on the death of a man or Ramblings on the death of Osama bin Laden.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Photo Thursday

So for some reason, this seems to have been the week from hell for a lot of folks. Here in our household, Hanna has the flu, which is why I've volunteered to break radio silence with a photo post so you don't think she's been, you know, abducted by Mulder's alien friends. Or something.


Anyway. Here are some pictures by Hanna from our walk last weekend along the Charles River Esplanade. May 1st, through some strange coincidence, happened to be one of the first truly gorgeous spring/summer days here in Boston -- and we took photos to prove it!

Even the sailboats were enjoying the weather
Joggers and walkers were out in spades; and leaves
are finally starting to fill out along bare branches.
About halfway along the walk, we found that someone
had been busy with chalk writing encouragements on the pavement.
Encouragements like this -- charming in their artlessness.
(And to be honest, moving as well -- that someone took the time.)
This was my favorite. The text reads:
"<-- DUCK. Don't be afraid to fail (even at drawing)"
This was Hanna's favorite. The text reads:
"Just keep swimming!" (and a picture of a fish)
All of which reminded me of T.J Thyne's little gem of a film, which really should be broadcast on a weekly (daily? hourly?) basis across all forms of media worldwide. Possibly then there wouldn't be so many people doing stupid things which make us sad. It's 16:24 and I swear it's worth it. Make time in your day. You'll thank us.

We hope to see you again next week for our regularly scheduled programming.