Saturday, August 31, 2013

College Football 2013 is Underway!

And once again we’re breaking in a new, reorganized conference

It’s called the American Athletic Conference (a spin-off or something of the Big East) and last night my husband’s alma mater U of H squared off against a school we’d never heard of: Southern U.
And because the University of Houston is in the throes of building a new stadium, the Cougars have done some hectic horse-trading for places to play. Last night it was huge and intimidating Reliant Stadium, home of the Houston Texans.

SU, arriving from Baton Rouge en force, proved to have a few slick plays – enough to post 13 points on the board. But they lacked the athleticism and physicality to beat the band. Yes, the band. SU won half time hands down. How such a huge group of students carrying unwieldy instruments could dip, swerve, and high-step in perfect unison without missing a note is utterly beyond me. Their performance brought down the house. One of their in-the-stands numbers made YouTube. Surely their field action will be there soon.

And the dancers! The fact that they way out-twerked Miley Cyrus was out-weighed by the precision choreography with which they did it.

Wait – I’m not knocking the U of H band. Let’s just say it’s like comparing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to Glee. Class vs. Crazy.

As for the game, Houston gave two QBs equal time – Piland the first half, O’Korn the second. Neither has the long bomb in their arsenal but obviously both are effective. The Coogs won the night most convincingly: 62-13. I did my part by jumping up and down and screaming.

It was midnight by the time we got home – quite an experience for a couple of homebodies who never venture out after dark. But this year, Husband got season tickets – something we haven’t done since the kids were born. Yep, Grampa and Grandma gonna shake things up…

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

“You spent HOW much on your stupid coffee habit??”

Non-coffee drinkers don’t understand

Actually, I don’t understand how I could bring myself to spend so much on such a basic apparatus. I am by nature an extremely frugal person. In most cases, downright cheap. But I do love coffee.

No, I don’t haunt Starbucks. Again, against my nature. I prefer experimenting with flavors on my own. The shining exception is Fresh Market in Montgomery, AL where my daughter’s family lives. There you can get such exotic combinations as maple vanilla, chocolate cherry, or things I can’t hope to imitate like crème brulée and tiramisu. But their
Birthday loot including packets of
Fresh Market coffee from Alabama
prices are so prohibitive I satisfy myself with just a handful of these primo beans, and only brew them on Sundays.

But back to the coffee maker.  This last replacement (I burn through them every 3 years or so) was the cheapest Mr. Coffee at Walmart. It never was very satisfactory. Chief among the aggravations was having to tape the filter to the edge of the basket to keep it from collapsing and dumping the grounds into the carafe.

And then – since I’m a slow coffee drinker, the sort that sips and savors – the brew sits on the heating plate until mid-afternoon, gaining strength, losing flavor, and generally permeating the premises with a stale, scorched odor.

The answer, my wise BFF kept telling me, was the Keurig. The K-Cup system. One freshly brewed cup at a time. No fuss, no muss, no coffee left standing.

Besides cringing at the cost, there was the matter of operation. My BFF went through Baylor Med. She holds a master’s degree in clinical psychology. She can face a control panel that resembles the cockpit of Boeing 747 unfazed.  

The turning point came when Husband handed me an unconscionable wad of money for my birthday. That,
My Keurig with even more coffee
faves from my son's family
plus another major disagreement with Mr. Coffee, set me to searching. It seems that Keurig doesn’t just make those counter-consuming mega machines. They make minis. In pretty colors, too. And you can get refillable cups for using all the coffee I got for my birthday instead those expensive, prefilled disposables.

So I took the plunge. I got me a little red Keurig that cost more than all my previous coffeemakers combined. And I can operate it. And I love it. So I guess me and my conscience will learn to live with it!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

There just comes a time when ya gotta say it:

“I’m too old for this!”

For some reason the floor of our master bath perennially looks like a herd of elephants just tramped across it. I don’t know why. We rarely even wear shoes in there. It gets washed and waxed at least once a month. Yet the grimy crud that defies normal household cleaners asserts itself within hours of an all-day stripping job. The floors of our hall, kitchen, or other bath and a half aren't nearly so difficult.

But this time, as I trudge sweating and aching back to the kitchen lugging rag mop, bucket, industrial-strength stripping solution, scouring brush, broom, wax, sponge mop, and rubber gloves, I’m ready to admit it. I’m too old for this. I’m totally ready to throw in the towel. And all the other afore-mentioned items. It’s got me. I surrender.

Happily, the day did have its rewards. Husband cooked up the most incredible batch of fajitas I’ve ever tasted – and topped it off with a tall drink. I’m actually still a bit buzzed.

Even so, mellowed and rested though I may be, I declare unequivocally that I will never strip another floor. For whatever reason the bathroom floor looks like the path to a watering hole, I’ll move before I tackle it again.

I’m just going to admit it. I’m too old for this.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Time out for a memorial

Even if you’re not a Rizzoli & Isles regular, the death of actor Lee Thompson Young is a terrible loss

His publicist confirmed the death at 11:40 AM, 8/19/2013. According to TMZ, Rizzoli & Isles staffers called Young’s landlord when he failed to show up for work. Young was then discovered with what appears to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The quote from the Rizzoli&Isles fan site:

"Everyone at Rizzoli & Isles is devastated by the news of the passing of Lee Thompson Young. We are beyond heartbroken at the loss of this sweet, gentle, good-hearted, intelligent man. He was truly a member of our family. Lee will be cherished and remembered by all who knew and loved him, both on- and off-screen, for his positive energy, infectious smile and soulful grace. We send our deepest condolences and thoughts to his family, to his friends and, most especially, to his beloved mother."

Lee Thompson Young’s star started to rise as Disney’s Jett Jackson. He went on to play running back Chris Comer in the movie “Friday Night Lights,” and was currently appearing as Boston police detective Barry Frost on “Rizzoli & Isles.”

He was born in Columbia, SC and attended USC. He later enrolled in the School of Cinematic Arts on full scholarship, graduating magna cum laude in 2005.

Lee Thompson Young was 29 years old.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

August 18, 1983 – a date which will live in memory

The only thing between our family and Hurricane Alicia was Kenn and the shuddering patio door.
It was a Category 3 hurricane. Not the biggest, but given its slow movement and the number of tornadoes it spawned, it felt much worse.

As the winds went from a roaring 90 mph to high-pitched howling gusts of 112, my husband Kenn and I drew the kids, aged 6 and 4, to the stairs against an inside wall of our Texas City townhouse. Because of the darkness and the noise, we couldn't know that a tornado was ripping through the apartments across the street, or that the roof had briefly separated from the kids’ room upstairs. We did hear debris crashing through their window. After that, the wind screamed under the closed door at razor-sharp speed.

But the worst sound was the rattling, violently vibrating patio door. That door was pretty much the entire back wall of our tiny unit. If it went, so would we.

Kenn told us to hang on where we were and made his way across the room. Placing his formidable body against the quaking plate glass and grasping the frame and handle with all his might, he stood fast as our shield against the storm. I don’t know how long he stayed there wrestling the wind. Hours. All through the night. And it wasn’t just wind. Fences, patio planters, tree branches, roofing, and much more were thudding against the glass.

During the brief calm when the eye of the storm passed over, we managed to fetch the plywood we’d been unable to secure to the brick wall surrounding the patio door. Hauling it inside, we braced it against the glass with the easy chair, adding the coffee table for good measure. Moments later the wind came screaming back; this time from the opposite direction.

Day finally dawned. Kenn lay exhausted on the couch while the rest of us tentatively explored the wreckage.  Out front the willows that ran the length of the townhomes had gone down like dominoes. It was the same out back with the fencing that separated each unit’s patio. Across the street, the second floor of the 2-story apartment building had been sheared off. In some places it was leveled to the foundation.

The weeks that followed went by in a daze of candles, flashlights, camp stoves and forays for ice, water, and laundromats. We tore out the wet carpet, patched holes in the roof, and gingerly tried to salvage a few things from the shattered kids’ room.

But my most vivid memory is the image of my hero husband placing himself between his family and the storm.

Friday, August 16, 2013

So you really want to be famous?

The thoughtful, eminently satisfying harmonies of DavidArkenstone are playing in the background. It’s a CD entitled Valley in the Clouds – very atmospheric New-Agey stuff leading me to ponder a topic that’s come up several times lately. Just casually, of course. It’s one of those what-if deals. Fame.
There’s always the occasional friend or reader asking when my books will be available again. And last week my BFF reported her daughter had remarked that “Mary isn’t as famous as she should be.” Recently when I came to the brink of a break (that could still, at this writing, pan out), my dear husband commented that he’d love to see me get famous.

Most of you know how my writing career came to a crashing halt after I switched publishers. (The first one was no prize, either. They’re still in litigation for fraud.) The changeover meant severing ties with the entity printing my books, so even the momentum developing by word of mouth was halted. When it became clear the new publisher was unable, unwilling, or not interested in reissuing my books, I was pretty much left dead in the water.
But “what if?” What if an agency sees potential in my submission? What if they find a publisher and things start to take off? Am I so eager to be famous?

Actually, no. I’m a background kind of person. An observer, a supporter. What I want is for my books to be famous.
Immersed in Oz, Never-Never Land or Narnia, the names L. Frank Baum, James Matthew Barry, or C. S. Lewis never popped into my head. I just wanted to be in the worlds they created. That’s the way I want it to be with Ammanon. Don’t think: Mary Odle Fagan. Think: great empire of Ammanon, its beautiful capital city of Ephaeleon, the confident but love-challenged warrior-emperor Galan and his beautiful, scholarly captive bride.
I want readers to live in this world the way I did when I created it. Walk the winding, cypress-lined road up to the palace; join the hard-riding imperial guards, find the startling messages in the silence of the temple scriptorium. I want you to share my adventure like a companion on an exciting journey.
So please - don’t break the spell by thinking of me! I’m just a nerdy grandma sitting at a computer!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Fascination of Fish and Dinosaurs

An adventure with the grandsons

They love dinosaurs. They have dinosaur puzzles, books, and herds of plastic figures. They order Jurassic Chicken at the Rainforest Café. Two helpings. What is it about these prehistoric animals no man has ever seen? Perhaps it’s the fact that this isn’t fairy tale or sci-fi stuff. They were real. And they were huge.
And they’re not too young to remember the wonderful Don Bluth animated movie “Land Before Time.”  And no doubt they’re aware of  serious adult dino flicks like “Jurassic Park.” Especially since it just keeps going.
So for an end-of-summer fling I took them to Moody Gardens on Galveston Island to see the animatronic Dino Alive display. It was quite something, but not as much as I expected.  We walked through the exhibit twice and only burned about 20 minutes.
That’s why we ended up at the Aquarium Pyramid.
It was hardly their first trip to an aquarium, but this was by far the biggest one they’d ever seen. I was amazed at the way they stood transfixed, leaving nose and hand prints on every inch of glass they could reach. No TV show ever captivated them like this.
And they missed nothing. “Grandma, look at this one!” “Grandma, look at that little one over there!” “Grandma let me take a picture of the white one on the bottom!” “Hey! Here comes a shark!”
In short, discovery with kids is pure joy. You see through new eyes. You see things you’d never notice otherwise. And you experience an excitement long gone from jaded adult life.
I wanna do it again!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Cargo Pants vs. Purse

For one thing, it saves time at a security gate
My cargoes at Disney

Thanks to Husband’s preliminary research, we knew that getting through the mobs at Universal Studios and Disney World gates would be expedited by NOT bringing along packs or purses. Nevertheless, I did make that mistake at EPCOT and found myself in one of the separate lines where such baggage is inspected. Which eats up even more time. From then on I resorted to the one pair of cargo pants I’d found and purchased for the trip.

Lesson learned, I again employed the cargoes to take my grandsons to Moody Gardens in Galveston last Saturday. It’s cooler, lighter, and less tiring not to have that stupid purse weighing on my shoulder. Also nice to have both hands free.
But here are the problems:
1.      With all 6 pockets loaded, one must keep hitching up one’s pants.

2.      Even with the best organization, it’s difficult under duress to remember which pocket contains what, thereby prompting the unbuttoning and searching of each.
3.      There is no provision for such niceties as Kleenex, Chapstick, etc., and nothing to hold sunglasses upon entering darkened aquariums, restaurants, and the like.

So. Nice, but not foolproof.
I suppose I could learn from repeated uses where driver’s license and credit cards always go. Which button-down contains keys, which one the cash, and where the cell phone and event tickets go. But that assumes always needing the same things for each outing.
Still, cargo pants are a mighty attractive option to the purse. Well, maybe not fashion-wise, but the truth is I’ve always resented being saddled with that ubiquitous female encumbrance.  And anyway, aren’t we being warned about those things on the news?

Yep. Gotta find me some more of them cargoes!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Good grief! Is THAT what I sound like?

Why does your voice sound so weird on recordings?
I remember the first time I heard myself on a tape recorder.  Somewhere back in my adolescence my big sister and I and some friends had the momentary use of their dad’s machine. One of those suitcase-sized reel-to-reel jobs.
All being blessed with a dramatic bent, we decided to produce a radio show. It was a Dragnet-style mystery (entitled “Killnet”) where a major movie star at a big Hollywood party gets murdered. Well, my scream won the audition for the opener, but I also scored a bit of dialog.  When we played back our proud creation I was horrified. That’s what I sound like? I was Ricky Nelson from Ozzie and Harriet, for heaven’s sake. Before his voice changed, that is.
Later, out of college with my voice radio-ready for real, I still sounded like a pre-teen boy in the announce booth. Flashing forward to middle age recording automated attendants for AT&T, it seemed the phenomenon prevailed. But obviously I wouldn’t be getting voice work if that’s the way I really sounded.

So why does your voice sound so weird on recordings? There’s a scientific explanation, but the upshot is – it doesn’t.
Your inner ear plays tricks on you, see. It not only sends you the sound vibrations coming out of your mouth, but the vibrations traveling through your bones as your vocal chords move. According to Amanda Green and Matt Soniak in 25 of Your Most Pressing Questions Answered, “This combination of pathways enhances certain vibrations, lending your voice a fuller, more resonant quality that ‘air only’ recordings don’t replicate.” Not sure I follow, but thank goodness we don’t sound so bad to other people’s inner ears!
(Quoted article from fall issue of mental_floss)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

RED2: an outrageous romp with a class cast

First in the credits, of course, is Bruce Willis. It seems the man we learned to know and love as a suave sleuth in Moonlighting is quite the ruthless action figure these days. The RED movies, however, play to his mushy  side; namely, quirky Mary-Louise Parker.
Then there’s weird John Malkovich, strangely endearing and always in the right place in the nick of time. And I must mention the addition of the urbane Anthony Hopkins to this episode, whose considerable skills were needed for his multi-layered character.

But riding above them all is the inimitable Helen Mirren, the very definition of refined English grace.  Who else can both hoist an AK-47 and arrange flowers with such unflappable elegance?  I would kill to be like her.
I suppose there was a plot somewhere in between the innumerable murders and horrific, cataclysmic, even world-ending explosions.  Near as I could figure, every government on earth was hiring the best assassins available to take out their retired operatives, that is, REDs: (Retired, Extremely Dangerous) including pitting the REDs against each other.  But – assassins basically belonging to the same fraternity, after all – end up uniting against Anthony Hopkins who buried some insidious WMD under the Kremlin a generation ago.

How does it all end? Up in the air, actually – on someone’s plane with a bunch of international cutthroats giving love advice to Bruce Willis.
I can hardly wait for RED3.

Monday, August 5, 2013

It’s a lending library. It’s a book swap.

It’s getting through the Adam Dalgliesh series on the cheap!

We’re very proud of ourselves, Rose Mary and I. We’ve just devised a fiendishly clever way to read all the P. D. James books featuring Scotland Yard Inspector Adam Dalgliesh without smashing our piggy banks. We got hooked via The Murder Room, a deluxe hardcover gift from her uncle. But it was No.12 in the series. So we dropped back 40 yards and hit Amazon’s used book venders.
Here’s the plan: I ordered Book One (hereinafter referred to as “AD #1”) from the penny rack and she sent for AD #2. After our swap on Sunday, I ordered AD #3; she did the same with AD #4. Okay, so we both end up with half a set, but we get to read them all. Of course, we may not find them all for 1 cent (plus 3.99 postage) but it will always be less than new or ebook. And we have this dandy have-to excuse to get together at least every three weeks. Otherwise we may let things slide for months. So it’s win-win with enough coffee and chatter to keep me wired for hours.

AD #1, Cover Her Face, takes place in a Downton Abbey-ish English country house. Sally Jupp, a maid charitably hired from a home for unwed mothers, is a sly and sensuous young woman with a secret. But since she’s discovered early on dead in her bed with dark bruises marring her lily-white throat, we’re the rest of the book ferreting out said secret.
There are marvelous twists and turns and no shortage of suspects. Great drollery and deduction by AD, of course. Brit-lit at its best. But one thing puzzled me. AD #1 seems set in the aftermath of WWII, while AD #12 is well into the WiFi age. And AD hasn’t aged a bit. No matter. A good mystery is always worth the read.
Bio from her B&N page: Phyllis Dorothy James, best known as P.D. James, was born on August 3, 1920, in Oxford, England. She began working as a civil servant at age 16 through marriage and motherhood, and began writing mystery novels in her late 30s. By the time she retired to write full-time, she had become famous as the creator of fictional detective Adam Dalgliesh as well as other works.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Seriously. You CAN get a PhD in Batman

I suppose anything goes if you put the right spin on it

This improbable topic comes from an article by Jeff Rubin in the Fall 2013 issue of my fave mag mental_floss. The interviewee is doctoral candidate Will Brooker. The academic institution is never revealed.
Why Batman? 1. He’s “rich, multifaceted, so many contradictory things, and very, very complex.” 2. It’s more rigorous than doing a paper on the Iliad. There’s only one volume of the Iliad, but “an infinite amount of Batman out there.” 3. “He’s a good model for someone doing a PhD. I think he’s an amazing figure of what humanity can do.”
Okaaaay. But how does Mr. (Dr.?) Brooker hope to get away with this? Well, first he has to find an expert in this area of study to serve as his supervisor. There are, after all, a number of checks and balances here. Does such a master exist in the world of academia? Oh, stop yelling “Dr. Sheldon Cooper!” at me. Unless Cal Tech recognizes Batman as a legitimate field of research, Sheldon can only sponsor candidates in physics. Even then, said candidate would be better off with MacGyver.
Meanwhile, Brooker is selling the idea of Batman as a concept. “It’s about how the meaning of something changes over time. How something adapts and survives and changes but remains relevant to a new generation.”

Say you’re a Dean of Social Sciences. You buying this?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Brits have been prepared for WWIII since 1983 – while the U.S. and USSR were still trying to cause it

At least these secret plans were released officially rather than by WikiLeaks

The speech for Queen Elizabeth to deliver in the event of WWIII was recently made public by the British national archives. It was written by government officials for hypothetical broadcast in the spring of 1983 when Soviet-West relations were at their worst. The queen was to urge Britons to remain united and resolute. Excerpts from the text:
"Now, this madness of war is once more spreading through the world and our brave country must again prepare itself to survive against great odds."

"If families remain united and resolute, giving shelter to those living alone and unprotected, our country's will to survive cannot be broken."
"I have never forgotten the sorrow and the pride I felt as my sister and I huddled around the nursery wireless set listening to my father's (King George VI's) inspiring words on that fateful day in 1939 (at the start of the World War Two).

"Not for a single moment did I imagine that this solemn and awful duty would one day fall to me."

Catching this item on AOL News took me back much further – back to the time in the 1940s when a very young Princess Elizabeth and her little sister Margaret took to the airwaves themselves to encourage the English who were literally under the gun during WWII.
It’s doubtful, of course, that such a speech could be either broadcast or heard in the event of nuclear war, but it’s certainly a noble gesture. As Lord Robert Baden-Powell (founder of the Boy Scouts) admonished: Be Prepared.