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Movie Wednesday: Midway

Let me take you back to an older time. A simpler time. When smoking was cool and airplanes didn’t have covered-glass cockpits. Before all missiles were laser-guided and computerized. When a ship-mounted anti-air gattling gun took 3 people to operate. When those “damn dirty Japs” sunk our battleships as they idled in sunny Pearl Harbor.

Reminder: I’m not endorsing racist slurs, I’m merely quoting the sentiment of the time, that point in history, so stop taking everything so seriously and read with CONTEXT.

N.

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midway main movie cover art
One of these things is not like the others!

One of the main takeaways from this film, for me, is how ploddingly slow war combat was in the 1940s. Compared to anything from this century, the difference is mind-boggling! The technology feels like another world, another lifetime. Which it IS, in fact. Most of those who were alive at that time, at least those involved with the war, have passed on. And this film is, in many ways, a tribute to them, their bravery and sacrifice, and their heartbreak. Roland Emmerich is certainly qualified to handle this material.

Who dat?

midway main character screenshot
Kill Japs and chew gum at the same time? No problem!

Oh look it’s Ajax from Deadpool! Yes, folks, that’s up-and-comer Ed Skrein, probably most famous for playing the tropefully-British-accented villain in our favorite anti-hero movie of the past decade. It’s interesting hearing him do an American inflection now… it definitely sounds less natural. Obviously, since his native tongue is the Queen’s English. Gotta respect the man’s work, though.

Speaking of actors.. Dennis Quaid really doesn’t pull this off well. Perhaps its the way they wrote the character, but I just don’t believe it. I believe most of the others, including Woody Harrelson’s Nimitz (which was a tough sell). I don’t know, maybe it’s just me. Nick Jonas ain’t winnin no prize either.

Do one thing and do it well

midway bomber-gunner
Open cockpits? Check. Manual aim? Check. Nick Jonas as a fearsome and relentless gunner? Umm…

But overall, Midway accomplishes its goal. It doesn’t focus unnecessarily on Pearl Harbor itself, but presents the tragedy with enough gravitas that we feel the motivation of our fallen brothers to seek righteous vengeance upon those who perpetrated it. It gives adequate treatment to the intelligence side of the equation — the “code breakers” — as well as the combat side. It even presents the Japanese forces and officers in a neutral and respectful light; in fact, it comes off as much less of a “rah rah, ‘Merica!” nationalistic stars-and-stripes-fest than many of its kin. So I respect that. Sure, it’s still an American film, but it doesn’t beat you over the head with patriotism.

The Verdict

One solid thumb-up.

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It’s a Hack! Part Deux

In today’s hack, we take a look at a slightly newer tablet than last time, and find out just how much more difficult it is to crack open an Android 7.1 “Nougat” device than it was just 2 major-OS-versions ago.

Spoiler-alert: I did NOT actually end up successfully removing the FRP lock. Instead, I insisted that the owner try harder to find the appropriate Google account info for the device. Which they did, thank God. I am currently waiting on them to set aside some time to walk through the remaining recovery steps.

N.
samsung tablet frp bypass quote easy-way
Spoiler-alert #2: THERE IS NO “EASY WAY”.

So instead of actually hacking (removing the FRP lock), this is simply a link-dump and giving credit to the sources that helped me get it back to a usable state.

Brief Overview

Now, you may be wondering, how is this useful? Well, dear reader, allow me to explain.

  • Scenario A: You need to factory-reset your tablet, but it’s been borked/bricked by some strange 3rd-party firmware or a bad update.
  • Scenario B: Like me, you’ve managed to use Odin to flash it to “factory binary” firmware (kinda like diagnostic/debug mode), but you forgot to store a backup of the actual firmware first (the one that a normal human can use).

As a reminder, the standard startup-button-combos are as follows:

  1. Recovery mode (standard): hold Home, Volume Up, and Power.
  2. Odin mode (aka firmware download/re-flash): hold Home, Volume Down, and Power.

We’ll talk about #2 first. This has a nice warning screen about how tech-y it is, so you can “abort mission” by pressing Volume Down if you made a mistake coming here. Otherwise, you hit Volume Up, and continue into “Odin mode”. From there, you use the Odin program on your PC to flash the firmware. Obviously, you need to have the tablet connected to the PC with a standard USB cable.

Recovery mode, #1, also looks kinda techy, with the black background and orange & blue text in a sort of old-school Matrix-y way, but it’s really not complicated. You have options like ‘Wipe data/factory reset’, ‘Wipe cache partition’, and ‘Reboot system now’. You navigate up and down with the Volume Up & Down buttons, and make a selection with the Power button.

What do you mean, Theoretically?

Again, I was not successful in actually removing the FRP lock (which was the goal and outcome of the previous post on this topic, albeit with the older tablet). But in theory, if you needed to go that route, this is a decent place to start from. Because if you make a mistake or “brick” the tablet, restoring the stock firmware should get you back to square 1, where you can try ‘hacking’ at it again.

Lesson 1

Always always always. ALWAYS. ALWAYS. Correctly sign out of and wipe your devices when you’re done with them (giving them away, throwing them out, selling them, etc). It never gets any easier trying to recover that stuff or work-around it to “break into” a device that you’ve turned into an expensive paperweight by forgetting your owner-login info.

This means, while your tablet is still on and accessible to you (i.e. you can unlock it, use it, get into Settings, etc.) — use the Settings menu to do the wipe/reset!! It varies slightly between devices, but it’s generally under Security somewhere. Just Google “<your device name> factory reset”.

Lesson 2

Get your account recovery options up-to-date and keep them that way. Same for your loved ones and relatives. Spouse, parents, etc. By setting up and maintaining proper account recovery options (alternate emails, phone numbers, 2-factor authentication), you can be reasonably secure and still able to work on someone else’s behalf in terms of device ownership and recovery.

If you’re not sure what I mean, drop me a line on Facebook, Twitter, or right here in the comments.

That’s all for now folks! Stay safe out there.

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Top 5 Underrated Actors, Part 2

And now the actresses! Oh, I mean, uh.. actors.. who are.. female.. because they identify as such. Right? K. It’s so hard to keep track these days.

Oh, and guess what? If that offended you, you’ll probably want to stop reading now. Because I’m going to comment on their LOOKS as well as their talent. BLASPHEMY!! CRUCIFY HIM!!!!

Rhona Mitra

bill nighy and rhona mitra in rise of the lycans
You KNOW what he’s looking at.

As a long-time fan of the vampire/werewolf universe, I should surprise nobody with this pick. She almost looks as if she could have fangs hiding under those lips, her mouth and cheekbones with that ever-so-slight jut in that one spot. And she’s gorgeous, of course. But more importantly, she plays a really convincing blood-sucker. I may have already mentioned the ill-fated show The Gates, and of course she played the great predecessor of Kate Beckinsale’s infamous Selene. We mustn’t type-cast, however. That’s the trap these kind of actors often fall into — they become “too good at” playing a particular kind of character, so they have trouble finding other roles. I hope that doesn’t happen to her. Looking over her IMDB page, I see mostly TV gigs, which kinda makes sense. I’ll always remember, though, hers were the first bare pair I saw on screen in Hollow Man. Good times.

Olivia Wilde

olivia wilde in the lazarus effect
He’s holding his Jew-fro’d head in his hands, in anguish, because he’ll never be even close to the same league as her.

Thirteen. That’s all I need to say, really. House gave us a lot of good stuff in its 8 year run. But one of the best things had to be skyrocketing this beauty to the big time. I mean sure, she had a few movies beforehand, and some TV gigs, but I feel like this made her A-list. As such, I wasn’t even sure if she belonged on this list, but she kinda hasn’t been doin a lot of acting lately. She’s been producing and other stuff, which, great for her, but I’d like to see more of her back on the other side of the camera. I mean, have you seen The Lazarus Effect? Just.. go watch it. Now. It’s phenomenal.

Kat Graham

kat graham as bonnie bennett
B*tch please.

More vampires. Well, she played a witch, but on a show about vampires. And honestly, she was one of the few original main characters that I could stand. Seriously, give me this firecracker over ANY of the Stephen/Damon/Elena/Catherine bore-fest. At least she wasn’t a codependent puddle. But where I really fell for her was when she did a guest spot on Ridiculousness — you know, the show where a washed-up skater and his buddies watch found-footage of people doing ridiculous things (and usually injuring themselves) and make fun of them? She had such a playful chemistry and a great attitude. Not taking yourself too seriously, remembering that you’re first and foremost an entertainer? Yes, more of that please.

Mila Kunis

mila kunis stares into your soul
I have no words.

Speaking of not taking yourself too seriously. This gem has been doing that since she was a teenager. Again, not really sure if she belongs on this list, but that Jupiter Ascending garbage was just so terrible that I feel like she deserves so much better. I wasn’t a big That 70s Show guy, but I did fall in love with her voice and her banter on the Family Guy DVDs, especially in the commentary tracks. It wasn’t until.. probably Forgetting Sarah Marshall, that I really had a crush. But it was all over with Friends With Benefits. I was hooked. Then, Bad Moms and The Spy Who Dumped Me? Thank you ma’am, may I have another! A lot of it is the attitude, the chemistry and delivery — but those smoky dark eyes and contagious smile certainly don’t hurt.

Kate McKinnon

kate mckinnon
She’s just plain fun.

And finally.. speaking of The Spy Who Dumped Me (hmm, I wonder if I have a review of it somewhere).. Have you met our ex-first-lady-slash-ex-presidential-hopeful? Oh, sure, easily confused, her SNL impersonation was that uncanny. But really, I could watch this lady do just about anything. She made the Ghostbusters reboot worth watching. Same for the sleeper-hit Rough Night with ScarJo — I mean, let’s be honest, I watched that for my favorite buxom blonde with a “seductive husky voice” (not my words; it’s right there on her IMDB profile), but I stayed for the Australian-accented antics of this comedically brilliant woman.

Enjoy! Leave me a comment if you watch any of these movies or recognize these ladies from other works — I’d love to see more.

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Movie Wednesday: The Invisible Man

the invisible man promo image
Reasonable. Perfectly reasonable for a handprint that’s not mine to show up on the shower door. It’s all good.

One of the first films I’ve seen this year that was actually released this year. I think. Well, put it this way. One of the newest films I’ve seen this year after the theaters closed due to the pandemic. God I miss the movies.

Anyway. Let’s chat, shall we?

The Setup

Unlike the H. G. Wells novel that inspired it, the antagonist here is a charismatic and insanely wealthy gentleman, whose fortune and status owed to his brilliance in the field of ‘Optics’, which is to say, vision and sight-related technology, like cameras and image processing and light manipulation. The protagonist is his battered, controlled, and (at first) entirely victimized girlfriend. Of course, she realizes how bad her situation is and makes a daring escape from their compound-like home (which apparently doubles as his optics lab, I guess.. when you have enough money, you just merge your work and living space into one bougie-hipster-fest of a mansion?).

old black and white invisible man character
Someone’s wasting precious toilet-paper…

She holes-up with a good friend of hers, sees her sister, and starts trying to live a normal-ish life. Douche-optic-sci-guy dies and leaves her a ton of money. His brother, a sniveling lawyer with a little too-convenient story of their own strange relationship, serves up the will. She celebrates with some well-placed generosity and seems to be doing well.

Great, I’m with it so far.

The Plot Thickens

But. Always a but. She starts sensing a presence. An unseen entity pulls off her bed-covers while she sleeps, and a pair of foot imprints, seemingly standing on the edge of the blanket as she pulls it back, jump-start the insanity.

So this is not what I’d call “pure horror”, but it’s more of a horror-thriller hybrid. And it’s very well-done. The characters are developed, the story moves at a good pace, and the building sense of fear and psychosis is demonstrated with the right amount of visuals, musical cues, and dialog. Some of the best bits are when Cecelia simply converses with the empty space in front of her, knowing it’s not truly empty, but unable to find even the slightest crack in the facade to prove otherwise.

We could draw some comparisons to Hollow Man here (first R-rated movie I ever watched, no joke!), with similar pacing and action. Although in terms of the targets of affection, I think Kevin Bacon got the better deal by far — Elizabeth Shue AND Rhona Mitra? Yes plz. (I might have mentioned her before.) That’s not fair of me, though — Elizabeth Moss is fine too, but her character here is supposed to look like she’s been through hell, because she has!

kevin bacon hollow man in hoodie
Agent Smith meets Gumby.

Look Ma, No Hands!

As we build toward the climax, a couple things go wrong. First, the injuries that C. inflicts on herself should have been much more life-threatening. Second, once we learn how the invisibility suit actually works, it stands to reason that it being shot with multiple bullets would cause some serious malfunctioning, not this half-baked “self-healing” technology that seems to keep our killer both lead-proof AND eye-proof without a flinch. But hey, maybe I’m behind the times.

Despite me “calling it” before the last “mini-twist” was revealed (I’m trying to emulate K. here, but her gift for foreseeing story elements, plot-twists, and endings was absolutely astounding), I still enjoyed the fact that they went there. It helped bump C. over that last little ledge of neurosis, while giving her the motivation she needed to start actually fighting back.

That Ending, Tho…

But really. For all we’ve learned about Adrian, can we really believe for a second that he wouldn’t suspect her of being wired while they converse awkwardly over a reunion dinner? Or that he’d just LET her wander off alone to “freshen up”? Come on.

I did administer a few self-fives for predicting dialog just before it was said, so that was entertaining.

barney stinson self-five
You know, it’s not easy being this awesome.
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Top 5 Underrated Actors, Part 1

While enjoying some movies lately, and realizing I’ve missed on some epic ones, therefore taking the necessary steps to correct that (downloading it to my Plex library)… I realized that some of actors I truly enjoy seeing on the big screen are NOT your typical A-listers. Also, the fact that both of those movies feature Ewan McGregor is purely coincidence. COINCIDENCE I SAY!

Ahem.

Let’s get on to the list, shall we?

Disclaimer 1 (Feminists take note): Yes, these are all men; in Part 2, I will get to the ladies. K? So don’t flame me just yet. At least wait til you see my picks for the opposite sex. (OMG he used that word! CRUCIFY HIM!!!)

Disclaimer 2, this is heavy on the IMDB links. If you have a problem with that for some strange reason, just.. don’t click? Whatevs.

William Fitchner

william fitchner in prison break
You can’t hide from me, Michael!

The first of a few New Yorkers on this list, you may recognize him from, as mentioned above, Black Hawk Down, or Armageddon, or the TV show Prison Break. All excellent viewing choices. His voice and countenance are pretty unmistakable, once you’re dialed in to it. He brings an authenticity and sincerity to every character he plays, even when they’re ridiculously drawn. One of his lesser known (and highly underrated, and cut far too short of its potential, if you’d asked my wife) projects was a little ill-fated show called Invasion, about, you guessed it, body-snatching aliens invading earth. Which sounds, obviously, quite cliche, but he has a keen eye for suspense and personal drama, and that’s what shines through.

Paul Bettany

paul bettany in legion
*smoldering intensifies*

The token Englishman of the bunch. This guy can bring gravitas to ANYTHING. His role as the self-flagellating priest in The Da Vinci Code? As a fallen angel fighting for humans’ second chance in Legion? As the riotous Chaucer in A Knight’s Tale? Yes please; thank you sir, may I have another! Now, there is only so much one man can do. He couldn’t save the pseudo-dystopian-horror-Blade-knockoff that was Priest, God love him for trying (get it?? God? Priest? #ohbehave). But come on. He’s freakin Vision.

Kyle Chandler

kyle chandler friday night lights
CLEAR EYES, FULL HEARTS, CAN’T LOSE!

Another New Yorker! But you’d never have guessed it if you saw how flawlessly he pulled off that southern twang in Friday Night Lights, would ya? No, honestly, I defy you to watch that show and NOT get inspired and fired-up by Coach Taylor. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Oh, and the fantastic sleeper-hit, Game Night — sure, Bateman and McAdams are the stars, but you are absolutely drawn into Chandler’s rich-big-brother charisma like moth to flame. Funny enough, that movie also featured Landry from FNL as a creepy neighbor who takes things way too literally and way too seriously. Highly recommended.

Frank Grillo

frank grillo
turns out he actually IS a badass..

Our THIRD New Yorker of the bunch… wonder if that’s a pattern? Does it say something about me, or the actors I like? Hell if I know. Grillo is one of those guys that usually plays a similar character, but to a rare degree of perfection. It’s generally a cop or cop-like role, someone in some position of authority or enforcement — an Army guy, perhaps, or an investigator or an ex-somethin-or-other. The Purge movies, for one. That super short-lived series The Gates (Rhona Mitra ME-YOW!). And Prison Break, again.. hmm. COINCIDENCE! Also, End of Watch, amazing police-cam-style movie with a heart-wrenching finale. Amazing piece of work, that.

Michael Peña

michael pena meme from ant-man about 2020 disasters
plus Kobe died… and race riots… really, things can only go up from here, right?

Speaking of End of Watch, here’s our token Mexican. Oh stop. Really, I’m kidding. So sensitive, you people. But yeah, he’s amazing. Whether he’s knee-deep in the trenches of political intrigue in Shooter (moar Rhona Mitra.. hmm, ideas for Part 2 post starting to formulate!), making us laugh our our noses in Ant Man with his overly enthusiastic blitzkrieg-plot-recalls, or — spoiler alert — taking a bullet for his brother-in-arms in the middle of a gang-war-zone alley… He’s got my vote.

Honorable Mention

Not in the top 5, but here because he was the absolute PERFECT fit for this role — Death, in Supernatural: the one and only Julian Richings. Any other characterization of Death on-screen will be forever weighed against his, and I doubt they will measure up.

death in supernatural, snacking on pickle chips
He sure did love his pickle-chips. And, ya know, killing stuff. Cuz he’s DEATH.

Now go watch some movies! ❤

Xbox One S internal storage upgrade

Featuredxbox one hard drive example

This is mostly just a link-dump and credit where credit is due. I won’t bother repeating the whole process ad-nauseum.

The big kahuna:

User ‘XFiX’ is amazing.

XFiX’s (aka Tai1976 on this particular forum) more detailed thread about the PowerShell script bundle: https://gbatemp.net/threads/xbox-one-internal-hard-drive-upgrade-or-repair-build-any-size-drive-that-works-on-any-console.496212/

It’s worth noting that, because I do have so many drives connected to main main PC, I did have to manually edit one of the scripts in the section related to drive letters. Easy enough.

A little supplemental guide in case you run into errors or trouble.

(Note that I, however, simply went back and repeated the entire original clone process and it seemed to work the second time.)

A brief note from Microsoft on the offline-system-update process: https://beta.support.xbox.com/help/hardware-network/console/system-update-solution/offline-system-update

End-result: My Xbox One S is now running a 1TB Samsung Evo 860 SSD. Granted, it’s connected via a Sata 2 interface (3Gbp/s), not Sata 3 (like you have in the Xbox One X), so I’m not really getting that much of a performance benefit, if any. BUT, it sure beats replacing with another mechanical drive, because who the heck would even buy one of those these days anyway? (Yes, for huge capacity, I get it. Not for this use-case.)

Lesson: tinkerers and geeks are awesome!

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Movie Wednesday: The Island (2005)

Reader! It’s been too long. I figured that I should get back to what I’m good at… watching, and subsequently reviewing, MOVIES!

“Good at” is debatable.

Shut up, voice-in-the-head. Nobody asked you.

Anyway, today we’re talking about the 2005 nearly-a-box-office-flop dystopia-action flick The Island. Let’s dive in!

But wait. If you wanna be REALLY entertained, just go read this review. It’s bonkers. In the best possible way. It made me laugh way more than I laughed at myself while writing this.

Wow, you’re really shootin’ for the stars there, huh?

The Who?

On paper, this movie has a lot of good things going for it. The cast, for one — eye-candy ScarJo & EwanMcG, the incomparable Sean Bean, the gravitas-laden Djimon Hounsou. Okay I guess that’s mostly it. No, wait… why does this guy look and sound so familiar? This friend of Ewan’s character, in the lab with the tubes. With the almost-comically-large nose. His mannerisms, his speech… it’s like something out of my teenage years. OHMYGOD it’s frickin’ Neelix! From Star Trek Voyager! I KNEW that guy was familiar. Ha! Neelix…

The problem is, these two incredible (-ly good looking) lead actors are asked to play these very naïve, child-like humans in this artificially homogenized semi-futuristic environment, but they can’t quite make it seem real. And I’m sure it’s not entirely their fault — Michael Bay isn’t known for being a master of eliciting pure emotion, so much as he is for making big stuff go boom. But the dialog often feels stilted and off-beat. I could forgive it if it were consistent, because that would actually suit the narrative and the plasticity of the utopian environment; but there are contrasting moments that sort of take you out of the immersion and make you remember “Oh, right, these are actors. Acting.” I’m not saying that’s wrong, just that it should happen less.

Did you really think you could walk away without it?

The What?

Let’s talk about the plot. I mean, if you’ve heard of a book called “Never Let Me Go”, or been at any point exposed to similar dystopian stories — heck, even if you saw the trailers for this movie — you’d kinda have an idea of where things are going. It’s not that complicated. But you watch because you want to go on that journey — you want to be teased a bit, to experience a touch of mystery and a glimmer of uncertainty.

But you kinda just know, from the moment the camera pans past a classroom of fully grown adults reading “Dick and Jane” aloud as if they’re actually learning it for the first time, that something’s very Soylent-Green here. You get the tease, sure, and you’re supposed to be in shared-suspense with Lincoln as he questions all the delicate order and pristine-ness of his proverbial ivory tower. But by the time he crawls up that ventilation shaft…

It’s always a ventilation shaft, isn’t it?

And by the time he watches in horror as the new mother is injected with death-serum as her baby is carried off to another mother who looks exactly like her, waiting in a neat little room with her handsome husband and some well-appointed paperwork… You already knew. You saw it coming. At least, you did if you were paying any attention. And again, when you watched with disgust along with the computer technician (who IS in-the-know, of course, but doesn’t change the fact that he’s not thrilled with everything his employer does) — and by the way why does he need to be so gross and greasy? I mean really, talk about your stereotyping. Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, watching in disgust, as they cut open the waterbed-sized embryonic sac to reveal a “newborn, fully-grown” human. Even that, you should have seen coming. Oh, did I mention spoiler-alert? Right. Spoiler-alert!

That’s really what makes Buscemi’s character so incredibly unnecessary. I mean sure, he befriended Lincoln (for some strange reason) — probably seems him like a son he never had — but there’s absolutely no need for his over-expository recital of the movie’s key premise to the characters who are sitting on his couch dumb-founded as if they didn’t just experience exactly what he’s telling them. I mean, I get that they’re immature, but are they really THAT dumb? Are WE? I’d like to think not. Yet this scene just kinda felt like an unnecessary condescension to the viewer, as if the filmmakers were saying “Here, we were just SO CLEVER, but we’re gonna get you caught up now so you REALLY know what’s going on.”

You mean we’re not real people? Just actors?!? LIES!!

The Why?

Now, the point of a dystopian story is always to turn the mirror on its audience, to ask “How far will you let science/technology/ideology/etc. go?” To present us with a grim picture of the future where some thing, in this case genetic science and biotech, is taken to the Nth degree for selfish reasons by the world’s wealthy elite, and ask us the proverbial question, “Was it worth it?” So we get that. It may be shoved down our throats just a bit, but we do get it. The film makes a noble effort to enunciate its message without sounding terribly absurd or preachy. Is it effective? Eh.

So we’ve made it this far without actually explicitly stating the plot. Ready? Are you sure?

They’re cloning humans to use as organ donors, so the wealthy original humans (who the clones are made from) can live longer and overcome things like liver cancer, heart disease, etc. Gross, right? But also… kinda neat. In theory.

Now of course we could get into the typical questions like “But do they have a soul?”, “Do they feel love?” etc. It’s all very dramatic and existential. Great. But remember, this is Michael Bay. The Mister Torgue of movies. Which means this movie was about 40 minutes too long, and the second half was largely a mish-mash of gunfire, large explosions, vehicular manslaughter, and bad dialogue screamed over LOUD NOISES. But hey, at least you get to see John Coffey wake up from open-chest surgery and go on a brief rampage.

No, I swear, it’s a surprise. Really.

The End

Length does not work in this movie’s favor. I was actually hoping it would end on a cliffhanger — and I don’t generally enjoy cliffhangers — but it would have felt justified, in this case. Like, the star-crossed clone lovebirds suit-up to go back to the compound and wreak havoc and try to free their soulless brethren, and maybe we get up to their dramatic re-entrance to the surgical facility with the suddenly-turned-sympathetic black merc at their side, and we freeze-frame with guns drawn and cue the music. But no, instead we have to endure another 20 minutes of explosions, running around chasing people, and this incongruous City of Angels conclusion with all the clones in their white track-suits staggering out onto the hilltop with the sun blazing on the horizon.

But obviously, we had to kill Sean Bean. So there’s that.

I thought you said you were done.

Now you might have read all that and thought, “Wow, you really disliked this movie, huh?” Not at all! In fact I quite enjoyed it. I just had lots of thoughts and words. So I had to get them out and share them. Would I recommend the movie? Yeah, if you’re into this sort of thing, absolutely. Would I watch it again and again? No, probably not. It’s not like Gladiator or Forrest Gump. It’s a popcorn flick. The fact that I didn’t actually consume popcorn while watching notwithstanding.

PS: The product placement was SO laughably awful, I almost didn’t even want to go there. I mean seriously, it’s ridiculous. iMacs, Xbox, Michelob, Cadillac, and MSN. Just… wow. And MSN was like, an important thing IN the plot. I mean sure they called it the “Information Directory”, but, good lord. Pathetic. In hindsight, at least. 2005 was a long time ago, maybe Google wasn’t really the colossus it’s become. My memory’s a little hazy, that was college.

Anyway. Cheers! And welcome back to movie-time. =)

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25 Years, Still Going Strong

Descent.

When I say that word, what do you think of? Perhaps the 2005 horror movie based in a cave? Good film. Not quite there.

Descent 1 intro briefing
Descent 1 intro briefing

“Prepare for descent…”

How about now? If you just got goosebumps up your joystick arm and tickly tingles in you trigger fingers, you’re my kind ‘a people. That’s right, my fellow four-eighty-six pilots, I’m talking about THE game. The game of the year; nay, of the decade. The one that changed shooters forever. The ever impressive.. the one-contained.. the often imitated but never duplicated oh shi–.. Descent!

Yes, this game will forever live on in my memory as the pinnacle of 3D gaming from my childhood. The mid-1900s saw some killer game releases. Top shooters included Doom, Quake, Goldeneye, Wolfenstein, Half-Life, Unreal. But NONE of these could hold a candle to the mind-bending stomach-churning six-degrees-of-freedom true 3D shooter that was Descent. Bonus, since it didn’t involve killing humans (and thus, no gore) — evil robots were the enemy here — it was perfectly acceptable to my parents for a young 9-year-old Nate’s innocent eyeballs. The sheer rush of adrenaline as the ‘bots tried to ambush as you barely escaped with evasive maneuvers and turned around to blast them to bits… Pure nostalgic gold.

Descent D1x-Rebirth level 1 Lunar Outpost
Descent D1x-Rebirth level 1 Lunar Outpost

“But what the blazes are you going on about”, you may ask. Excellent question. Please see YouTube. It’s not the absolute greatest representation of the true 6DoF potential, but you’ll get the idea. And if you get a little queasy, a little motion-sick, that’s perfectly normal. Anybody who’s never played one of these before is likely to need some.. perspective.

Open-Source Developers are Awesome

Here’s why I love developers. Gather a few of ’em together around something they’re passionate about, and watch magic happen. Descent is 25 years old this year. It was made for DOS and Windows 95, as well as a few consoles. Heck, I even have the original CDs from the “Definitive Edition” pack (re-released a few years later). But there’s no way in heck they would run on modern computers with modern operating systems.

Enter open source. Thankfully, the Descent 1 & 2 source code was released to the public at some point. That’s like Christmas Day to developers — anybody with any programming skill could now peek and tweak at the code, even rewrite it from scratch. Two separate projects — called “source ports” — spawned from that seed: DXX-Rebirth, and D2X-XL. The former is simpler and more true-to-form, retaining as much of the original gameplay look & feel as possible, while still enabling it to run on modern systems and adding a few nice conveniences for the 21st century player. The latter is more of a “let’s see how far we can take this” philosophy, in that the author has consistently added many changes and enhancements to the core game mechanics and graphics that, while some players find appealing, I personally take it as “noisy”. But due to its popularity, there are even a number of levels (aka ‘missions’) that will only work with this version. And don’t get me wrong, the work is impressive, by any developer’s standards.

D2X-XL gameplay on D1 level 1 revamped
D2X-XL gameplay on D1 level 1 revamped

A Legacy Lives On

As with most legendary hit games, a dedicated “mapping & modding” community sprouted up around it. To this day, DescentBB forums are active, and a few members are even still making levels. I even tried my hand at it a couple times. I remember almost begging my parents to buy the re-packaged game box because it included the “Descent Mission Builder” software that let you make your own levels. Hours upon hours spent manipulating cubes and flying through tunnels to test. But nothing compared to the fun of playing through the true masterpieces of level-design produced by the most prolific builders of the day — they pushed the game so far beyond what the creators originally imagined, yet likely dared dream of.

a waterfall from a custom level in Descent 2
A waterfall in custom level “Alhambra” for Descent 2

OMG I Must Play!

Then have I got a page for you! Includes download links and step-by-step instructions for Windows users. Bonus, it’ll soon include my own hand-picked custom-levels pack (so you don’t have to sort through the piles of crap that accumulated from half-baked “level contests” and “archive servers” over the decades).

A Challenger Appears

Overload, a spiritual successor to the Descent series, and involving the very founders of Parallax, was released in 2018 after a successful Kickstarter campaign. I haven’t played it yet, but from the footage and reviews I’ve seen, it’s right at home in this game-hall-of-fame.

Overload gameplay screenshot
Overload gameplay screenshot

So what are you waiting for? Catch me on Twitch and watch me play, or go download all the goodies and check it out yourself!

See you in the mines!

Favorite tagline of many hot-shot pilots and level-designers.

A Journal Revisited

Featuredearth, green and vibrant on one side, fiery and desolate on the other

The start of the new decade is brought to you by Steven King, Dean Koontz, and that episode of Supernatural where the globe was plagued by a virus starting with ‘C’ and a post-apocalyptic Chuck told past-future-Dean to hoard toilet paper like it was gold.

No, dear reader, I’m not joking. Look it up. Kinda freaky.

But let’s go back a bit. Winter started with more snowboarding. January was a fairly successful season, as was early February. I took the guys to the slopes. Chuck had a hell of a time learning, while Rex picked it up again after many years away. We decided to make the podcast seasonal, so we topped off season 1 and started making preparations for season 2. The new website is live, along with a fledgling YouTube channel.

Making friends with worship and sound crew at church led to something I never would have expected in the past ten years. But somehow, I think because of your exceedingly musical spirit, it makes perfect sense. One morning, as I arrived just a bit late to practice, F. was already at the board, and he just said “hey Nate, grab that mic.” And the rest of the team encouraged me — “egged me on”, if you will. So I did. And I stood up there and looked at the songs and the words. And I just sang along with them as they practiced. They started telling me how good things sounded with a low male voice in the mix — Rex is of course a low-mid tenor and the ladies are, while not particularly high (in fact, P. is quite low), still distinctly feminine. So I believed their encouraging words. And I kept singing. And that’s how I became part of the worship team.

As the winter got warmer and the snow started to melt, it was pretty clear the ski-season was going to be cut short. I used up almost all my prepaid tickets, thankfully, and got a few more middling-average days in. I screwed up my right shoulder though — doc says it’s probably the rotator cuff tendon. Super. At least nothing was broken though. I do have a gnarly new scar from the fall, just above my right eyebrow. If it were at all jagged you could call me Harry Potter.. but it’s basically just a straight 3/4-inch vertical line, with an ever-so-slight arc. You might find it sexy.. or you might have made me treat it with anti-scar ointment and prevented it in the first place. God I miss your doting.

Oh, and then. Get this. Kobe Bryant died. In a freak helicopter crash. With his young daughter. It shocked the world, for sure. And of course you, being the empath, would have no doubt been in sharp mourning as well. I mean sure, he was accused of rape.. Who knows if that woman was telling the truth or just after money and infamy. But he played some of the damned finest basketball in history. And just like that, GONE. Plastered all over magazine covers and newspapers and headlines, but gone. Legends never die, they say. Tell that to his widow and other children.

But all that pales in comparison to March 2020. The world has become engulfed in the throes of the worst viral disease outbreak it has seen in modern memory. It began, as many things do, in China. Not a xenophobic statement, just a fact — they are the most populous and most industrious country in the world, and if something is going to start, it simply, statistically, will likely be there. Coronavirus, COVID-19, took hold and spread like wildfire. At first is was isolated to Asia. But tourism and trade soon brought it across the globe, to our very shores, even to our own neighborhood. And of course our incompetent imp of a president failed so spectacularly to respond, to prepare and arm the public with concrete factual information, that we’re charted along with some of the worst-handled outbreak scenarios of the 1st-world nations — Italy, Mexico, Spain. “Tremendous” is a word he keeps throwing around, as if it means anything other than the magnitude of his own failure as a leader and a public servant.

Obviously most of this belongs in my memoirs, not in this journal to you. Yet I find it helpful to write to you as if I’m telling you stories of the world that you’re missing while you bask in paradise. It’s unthinkable that there could be any other eventuality.

tonight at 11.. DOOOOM
Aha ha ha… Thanks Morbo. In other news… Oh wait. There is no other news. EVER.

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of change and breaking news. Counties issue “lock-down orders” only to rescind them the next day. The state and federal governments change their guidelines for “social distancing” — a new colloquialism that will surely go down in history as a defining moment of this decade and the generations living through it — as well as self isolation, quarantine protocols, and limitations on gatherings, almost every other day. People panic-buy bread and toilet paper en-masse as grocery stores and warehouses struggle to keep shelves stocked. Schools close. Businesses start to follow suit. The economy, having started the year quite strong, stronger than most would give the current administration credit for, is now in utterly unprecedented free-fall.

Finally, on March 20th, today as I write this, California joins New York and a couple others in declaring a state-wide “shelter in place” order. Meaning, citizens are to stay in their homes except for emergent or urgent needs, or beyond that, to stay close to home and forgo all forms of travel, barring critical events and life-or-death situations. Which means, obviously, that most non-critical industry is on some level of partial or non-operation for the next several weeks. My employer, thank God, has a sensible and morally upright CEO, who has kept communications up during this time and has enacted payroll protections and measures to ensure employees do not panic about their immediate future. What things will look like, how things will change, if the governments continue to enforce lock-down policies, is a another matter entirely.

All this means, of course, that many people suddenly find themselves having to work from home. As I and many other tech workers have done for the past several years. Teachers, for example — God love them for their creativity and their get-shit-done attitudes — have had to literally re-architect educational processes overnight. And successfully, by all accounts, which is nothing short of a miracle.

Imagine if we’d had had children. I mean, they’d only be toddlers, right now, but still. What a world to be raising them in. Is it wrong that I almost wouldn’t wish that? That I’m almost relieved that that is not our reality? I can’t discard all of my cynicism, after all. Your optimism and light-full spirit did wedge its way through my cold heart, but a man does not change so irrevocably, completely, utterly, wholly and absolutely, in one lifetime.

Something I did accomplish today, that I’m slightly proud of, is that I did my usual 2 and 2/3rds mile run with an average pace of 8 minutes and 59 seconds per mile! YES, under 9 minutes per mile!! I never thought I’d see that happen, at least not this quickly. This comes after a recent doctor appointment informed me that I weighed in at 155 pounds. Unfortunately, my cholesterol was still a bit high, but only slightly. So, anyway, yay!

I’m writing all this because I realized how long-winded and philosophical I’d been in some recent text or email exchanges, which of course means that my brain needed to get its thoughts out onto the page. I can’t really explain why this happens. Is it still your spark? Is it me, just growing my own spark? Do we nurture this fledgling seed together from opposite sides of some metaphysical veil? Such questions are not productive.

I loved you. Pray for this world. Pray for our families and friends. I’ve said it at your passing, and I say it now in unison with millions of others: Things will never be the same.

a hand holds a globe, green and vibrant on one side, hellish and desolate on the other.
We will not all perish, but we will ALL be transformed.
-1 Corinthians 15:51
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It’s a Hack! (Android tablet edition)

Recently I inherited an older Android tablet from a friend. It’s a Sprint AQT100, to be precise. It runs Android 5.1, aka “Lollipop”. For those of you unfamiliar with Android OS version history, that’s 5 major versions behind current, version 10 (in which they stopped publicly proclaiming them with cute dessert names and just stuck with the major #).

sprint slate 10 tablet
It’s an older tablet, sir, but it checks out.

However, like most old tech, it could still be useful given a little TLC and appropriately leveled expectations. Being that this thing is a bit light in the hardware department (1GB memory, 1.1GHz CPU), it’s not going to be playing the latest games or watching 4K Youtube. But for basic web browsing, ebook reading, note-taking, and email-checking, it should suffice.

The first things I did were a) fully charge it, and b) remove the old SIM card, via a little pop-off panel on the rear top left. Under this same panel is a micro-SD slot, in case I ever want more than the native 16GB* of storage.

*Actually works out to just under 10GB of usable storage, due to the space taken by the Android OS itself. This is universally true on all mobile devices.

The next and most important thing I did, as I do with all inherited/obtained/gifted devices, was factory-reset. On this device, and similar tablets from the past several years, if you don’t know the PIN or password, you can boot into “recovery mode” with a combination of button-holds while powering on.

Aside: I linked to a helpful article that walks you through recovery-mode-boot and factory-reset. It’s quite simple: Fully power off the device. Then, hold the power and volume-up buttons to power it back on and into “recovery mode”. To navigate the old-school-console-style menu (which definitely looks like something a hacker would use), use the volume up & down buttons to scroll up and down, and use the power button as the ‘Enter’ or ‘OK’ button.

Now, the problem was, this device was not fully wiped nor disconnected from the original owner’s Google account. Much like modern iDevices have the “iCloud activation lock”, it seems that Google devices have a similar lock, what they’ve called ‘FRP’ – Factory Reset Protection. The idea here is, if the device is lost or stolen, we want to make it more difficult for the finders-keepers or thieves to wipe it clean and call it their own. So even after using the hardware-button-driven approach to reboot to recovery mode and perform a factory reset, the device still requires the Google credentials of “a previously registered account”.

In this case, the previous owner was not reachable by any means. So I started the requisite Googling. I came across a lot of Youtube videos that involved various tricks like “disconnecting your internet right after it transitions from this screen to the next” (during the setup process), or using a computer with the Android SDK and an ‘OTG’ cable, or downloading mysterious APKs (those are Android app installer packages) from random strangers’ Google drives; and I just thought, wow, there’s gotta be a better way. And of course, there was.

Before I dive way down deep into the rabbit-hole, the brief summary overview goes something like this:

  • Open the camera from the lock screen, take a picture, and Share it to an app like Maps where you can go view a boring legal disclosures doc.
  • Use the built-in “Web Search” functionality that pops up when you select text in a document, to open the device’s native web browser to get to the Settings menus.
  • Use Protected Apps to launch Chrome to download and install two APKs.
  • Use the APKs to fire up a new Google Login screen that bypasses the FRP one.

So it’s really not that complicated, from a broad perspective, but as they say, “the Devil’s in the details”. Which is why I’m writing this!

Ready? Hold your nose and take a deep breath…

Enter this helpful post on the XDA Developers forum. Now, it’s not quite the whole picture, but the thing he calls out importantly is the fact that you need to go to “Protected Apps” to be able to launch Chrome once you’ve gotten past the Settings part and enabled ‘install from unknown sources’. You should definitely read the post, but I’ll bring you my excruciatingly detailed commentary here.

  1. After factory-reset (via the buttons method earlier), walk through the setup process until you get past the “connect to a WiFi network’ stage. Yes, you DO need to connect to WiFi so you can download stuff.
  2. Lock the screen. On most devices, this simply means tapping the power/sleep/wake button. On some devices, you’ll want to wait about 10 seconds before attempting to turn it back on (with the same button) for the next step, because there’s often a setting to “leave it unlocked for X seconds” for your convenience.
  3. Turn the screen back on (using that same button of course), and you should see the lock screen.
  4. This screen should have a camera icon near the lower-right. On my Slate tablet, I had to swipe it from right to left to open the camera. So, open the camera.
  5. Now that the camera is open, take a photo of anything (or nothing). Tap the photo’s thumbnail in the lower right corner after it’s taken.
  6. Hit the ‘Share’ button (it looks like a sideways-V with dots). Tap the ‘Maps’ app to share the photo via Maps (lord knows why you’d ever do this in real life…)
    • Similar steps (7-11) may work in context of another sharing app, but as most tutorials recommended Maps, I stuck with it, and had success.
  7. You’ll be asked for an account, but at this point you can ‘Cancel’ the sharing action and the Maps app should remain open.
  8. In the upper-left corner there should be a “hamburger” menu icon (three horizontal lines); tap that and tap Settings.
  9. Go to Terms & Privacy, then to Terms (possibly called Terms & Conditions).
  10. Hold your finger over a word in the boring legalese until it’s selected/highlighted.
    • Who’d a thunk that silly stuff would actually come in handy someday? =P
  11. You should get a pop-up at the top of the screen with options like ‘Copy’, ‘Share’, and ‘Web Search’. Tap on the latter, ‘Web Search’.
    • The point of all that was to get the device’s default web browser to open up. Because, unlike in, say, Chrome, your device’s native browser should allow you to navigate to its device Settings screen.
  12. So now, in the web browser, tap inside the address bar, delete whatever’s in there, and just type in ‘settings’. You should get at least one option that pops up below it, as a ‘suggestion’ — the ‘Settings’ screen. You will probably also see ‘Google Settings’, but you don’t need that right now.
  13. If you’ve been using Android devices, the Settings screen should be pretty familiar to you. Go to ‘Security’ (which is under the ‘Personal’ grouping), and enable ‘Unknown sources’ under ‘Device administration’.
    • This allows installation of apps from unknown sources, which is what we’re about to do. But DON’T PANIC! These are legitimate, community-vetted, well-known and respected sources. They won’t steal your cookies and mine all your private information. 😉
  14. Now hit the ‘back’ button in the upper left to return to the main Settings screen. (NOT the back button at the bottom navigation-bar of your device — that would be sad, because you’d probably have to repeat some of these steps.)
  15. Go to ‘Apps’ (under the ‘Device’ grouping). It will show you, by default, your ‘Downloaded’ apps. Don’t care. Go to the top right and tap the 3-vertical-dots icon (it’s a context menu).
  16. Tap ‘Protected apps‘. You will have to set a protection PIN or pattern — do so.
  17. Here, you’re presented with a screen that lists your main apps, one of which should be Chrome. Tap it once to check the box (that it will now be a ‘protected app’).
  18. Now, the line for Chrome should have a new icon on the far-right, which looks like a box with a diagonal arrow pointing up & right. THAT’s what we want, because that will launch the Chrome browser (as opposed to the native one), which will allow us to one-click-install our APKs (Android apps).
    • This is where a lot of the other online tutorials failed, because they assumed that you could just launch Chrome from the MAIN apps screens (like the ‘downloaded’ or ‘installed’ lists).
  19. And now we switch tutorials, to this lovely guy, at Step 14 to be precise.
    • More specifically, when you search the web for “Google Account Manager” and “QuickShortcutMaker”, you will want to make sure you download them from a good source. My personal preference is APKMirror.
    • When you search for Google Account Manager, make sure you also include the Android OS version you’re running. Mine was, as mentioned, 5.1. If you aren’t sure how to find this info, go back to the Settings screen and find the ‘About tablet’ (or ‘About phone’) section.
    • QuickShortcutMaker 2.4.0, which I will now abbreviate as ‘QSM’, should work regardless of OS version, but it probably hasn’t been tested on the absolute newest (9 and 10) because it’s not actively maintained by the developer. That’s ok, we won’t use it for very long, and we’ll get rid of it as soon as we’re unlocked.
  20. First, download the Google Account Manager APK. Chrome will prompt you on what to do with the file. Obviously, ‘Open’ it. This will get it installed. You don’t need to open the app itself, so just cancel/back to the Chrome browser screen you were on before.
  21. Then download the QuickShortcutMaker APK and do the same thing – ‘Open’ it and let it install. But this time, after it’s done, Open the App itself too, if prompted! If not, that’s ok. You can back-out to the Settings screens from before (Step 15-18) and go to the Protected Apps screen to enable QSM and then to launch it using that arrow-in-a-square icon.
  22. Here’s the real fun. On QSM’s ‘Activities’ screen, instead of typing in what they tell you, just type in “Type Email and Password”.
    • Pay attention to the fine-print below it — you do NOT want the one that says ‘Edu’, because that’s a slightly different flavor of setup than you standard personal device.
    • The one you want says, in full, com.google.android.gsf.login/com.google.android.gsf.login.LoginActivity
  23. QSM will take you to the next screen where it wants you to ‘Create this shortcut’ with certain properties. Don’t worry about all that; just hit the ‘Preview this action’ button to actually launch the action.
  24. Finally, FINALLY, you should have a screen that prompts you to enter your own Google Account credentials.
  25. Once that’s done, restart the device. It should resume setup from where it left off before, bypassing the “Enter a previously registered account” nonsense.

Phew! That was a lot of steps. But it’s really not as hard as it all sounds. I promise. And it’s less tricky than trying to shut off your whole internet at the exact moment a screen passes by (which I tried to no avail), or buying a cable and downloading a bunch of junk to your PC.

Good luck! Hope this helps someone out there.

Speaking of legal nonsense, it should go without saying that this is NOT ethically responsible unless you are the legitimate owner of the device in question. But you’re a smart reader, and you knew that already, didn’t ya?

N.
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Singles and Widows Awareness Day

I’m not bitter. Let’s just get that straight. I was blessed for 10 years. More than blessed. And now I’m trying to make peace with the fact that I may never be that loved again.

K. was the best Valentine’s Day giver in the world. Creative, adorable, spontaneous, funny, and always incredibly heartfelt. She made a WHOLE WEEK of it, one year. Actually more than once. Every day for seven days in a row, a little love note and a cute gift. And always the best, warmest, sweetest hugs and kisses. I’ll try to find the photo book she made one year and post pictures.

It was incredible. It was so much more than I deserved. She was so much more than I deserved. That is the realization I’ve had to come to. It is, perhaps, a bit of idolizing that many grievers do out of necessity — we put our deceased loved ones upon a pedestal and ignore their shortcomings and faults, focusing exclusively on their positive and endearing qualities, sometimes to the point of magnifying them beyond reality. But that is in our nature. We romanticize our lost loves because it’s far easier to do so, than to dwell on the imperfections and the errs of their humanity.

And yet. Yet. I will hold steadfast to this. That she was the most incredibly kindhearted, loving, creative, caring, romantic soul that I’ve yet had the privilege of being bonded with.

So what’s my point? To brag about what I had only to wallow in the misery that it was taken away, so suddenly and irrevocably? No. To remind you, my fair reader, that life is short, and we are not guaranteed tomorrow. So BASK in your lover’s arms, in your partner’s romantic gestures and demonstrations of devotion. MAKE time to express your love in nauseatingly adorable ways. Because I guarantee you, you will not regret one moment of your life spent in making your soulmate smile.

That is all. ❤

a woman on a swingset reaches her hand toward an empty swing
I reach to the skies, and call out your name.
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A New Decade, Without You

It is now 2020. The start of the first decade which you were meant to see, which we were meant to live through together, yet you did not, and we will not. Is this as momentous as it seems? Time is still so strange. I wake from a dream of you, feeling like you were just here with me yesterday. Yet I feel a thousand days pass by each night I don’t come home to you waiting in bed for me. There are people and moments that find you but a distant memory, while other people and more moments carry the raw, searing loss of immediate heartbreak. I suppose the truth is somewhere in between.

Life does go on. Our nieces keep growing, our dog keeps acting goofy. My job is steady, my friends are supportive. Our families are healthy, mostly. There will always be a missing piece, though, won’t there? Always a void, a space or a word or a thought or a smell, where YOU were supposed to be. Should be. Can’t be. Will never be again.

Sometimes we try to fill that void with something else, or someone else. Other times we weep. We scream at the universe and ask why. We stare blankly into the bleak long dark, hoping that somewhere along the way you found the light. Knowing that you did. That you now sparkle with the burning brightness of a million suns in the glory of Heaven. That you ask us not to weep, or to scream, or to stare. But you ask us to live, to love, to give of ourselves. To put forth into THIS world that little sliver of luminescence, that bit of spark, that flake of glitter, which your soul left behind in ours.

And that is difficult, to say the least. It’s hard to find the time, the energy, the motivation, the inspiration, to do that which you truly would ask of us. But we try.

Oh God, I try.

I loved you.

You are forever in our hearts. To the final dying beat.

bioluminescent waves at dusk

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And Then it Happened

The holiday season is generally difficult for ALL who are grieving the loss of a loved one. It is doubly so for those who grieve one who specifically genuinely loved and enjoyed Christmas. I didn’t even bother putting up decorations, neither last year nor this (being now the 2nd holiday without her). I was admittedly quite lazy and last-minute (or even late) with the gift-giving, and probably will be so again — though hopefully at least a little less lazy. So I was quite sure that this season, I would be just as Grinch-y.

Now, to fully appreciate this story, you need to understand how in LOVE my wife was with the music of Pentatonix, in particular their Christmas albums. The bowel-rumbling bass tones of Avi, specifically, would give her goose bumps. So just keep that in mind.

This week, as I walked into my grief counseling appointment — the last one, I had decided, at least for a long while — they had, as everyone does this time of year, some Christmas music mix playing in the background at the front desk. I pay my co-pay and sit. And then I hear it. The bouncing quasi-African-tribal-ish beats of PTX’s rendition of O Come All Ye Faithful. I can’t help but tap my feet to the rhythm. It stays with me as I work through the therapy session, confiding and venting and questioning, and all the things one normally does to their counselor. As we wrap up and say goodbye (for now), I wish her a Merry Christmas. The first time I’ve said it this year. I walk out the door and immediately pull up the Youtube video so I can listen to the whole song.

Hot on its heels comes Go Tell It On the Mountain, another unconventional rendition of a classic that hits all the right beats and all the good feels. And even the more traditional Little Drummer Boy makes an appearance. I defy you to listen to these songs and NOT feel a little warmer inside, a little spark of cheer.

And then it happened. I was “in the Christmas spirit”, as it were.

I was filled with the memories of our holidays together. They swept over me like a warm tide upon the cold stony shoreline. The happiness and excitement you exuded from every pore as we decorated our various apartments and trimmed our various trees. The warmth and aroma of your baking holiday treats for family and friends. The pure unbridled joy at seeing your loved ones happy as they opened your carefully selected and meaningful gifts. The cozy heart-healing cuddles in bed as we watched our traditional lineup of holiday movies. And always, always your extra special, extra mushy, romantic, heartfelt, soul-stirring handwritten card to me. (Often penguin-themed.)

I was no longer weighed down by the grudges I held against all who were happier than I was because they had not lost a spouse so close to the season. Nor did I require the constant re-validation that my feelings of guilt, sadness, anger, and confusion, were all perfectly valid and reasonable. Because they were. And are. But so are happiness, joy, generosity, charity, peace, and love. And so much more important are these. So much more healing to the soul. So much more warming to the heart.

Because that is what you, of all people, would have impressed upon me, upon us, during the holidays. Peace. Joy. Love. Your smile, your laughter, your happiness, your sparkle, your very essence, is what lives on in us — if only we let it.

Merry Christmas, my angel. ❤

joy peace love
And the greatest of these, is love.
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Sometimes, there just aren’t enough rocks…

I cracked the laptop screen on vacation. The one that we got for you special, the Macbook Pro with all the upgrades. I was so disappointed with myself. It happened near the end, too. It’s a hairline fracture. Noticeable, but not productivity-hampering. Just enough to really irk me that I let it happen.

We finally gave away the rest of your clothes. I mean, all of the stuff that was worth saving but not brand-new/like-new-that-might-be-sellable-LuLaRoe stuff. Most of it went to J & M up in Oregon. They absolutely loved it, it was like early Christmas for them. There were some things that didn’t fit their style or size, so I returned home with a small bag of clothes to donate to wherever. I left it sitting in the closet, not on the floor but near floor-level.

Keira, while I was gone recording the podcast (@RARCpodcast | iTunes | Google), got into this bag of your clothes and pulled out a shirt. She didn’t chew or bit or otherwise maim it, she just pulled it out of the bag and left it there on the floor nearby. As if she’d smelled your scent, faint though it must have been, for a brief moment, investigated, and found that you were not there.

If only I could tell her how many times I’ve done that. Not literally, of course, but figuratively, metaphorically. Spiritually even.

She misses you. I miss you.

keira curled up on bed
the floof curled up on the bed ❤

Last Night I Saw You

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I saw you last night in my dreams. More clear and close than I have in over a year. I felt your hand squeeze mine, for the very briefest of moments. I tried to capture that moment, to hold on longer, to curl up into a ball of warm memories, a puddle of desperate longing. It almost worked.

I saw your eyes. Your big, beautiful, blue-green eyes. They were closed for a blink, but they opened up and looked back at me. For the very briefest of moments. I knew that moment was fleeting. Light and time were already beckoning me to wake. Just a little longer, I beg. But no.

I heard your voice. Your sweet, strong, comforting voice. We had an argument that passed just as quickly as the dream itself. Even in that, the pangs of familiarity pulled at my heart. And we reconciled, and became as one. And it was gone.

You were sitting across from me, listening to me talk about something that was about to happen, as if it already had. You had no words, only your loving and knowing eyes. Are you still with me? Do you keep vigil on these lonesome roads and dark nights? Do you still love me?

I love you. I loved you.

K.
Shine on, my sparkler, shine on.

Movie-time: Starship Troopers

Featuredcropped movie cover of starship troopers

I’m doing my part!

Federal Propaganda

I’m back baby! And I finally understand those memes. Yes indeed, I’m talking about the one, the only, 1997 socio-political commentary disguised as big-budget sci-fi xeno-war Starship Troopers! And it did not disappoint.

i'm doing my part!
Yes you are, you little super-vaguely-ethic and kinda-androgynous thing you!

Do you want to know more?

Let me just start by saying the interjected propaganda bits are pure gold. It’s part of what elevates the film from your standard, near-B-grade sci-fi, to a legitimate topical satire. It doesn’t hurt that Barney Stinson is one of the scientists bandying about bug brutalization and badassery.

Look closely at how frenzied the mother is as she watchers her kids stomping on cockroaches. Or how the mobile infantry recruitment tactics bear a striking resemblance to decades-past American armed forces ads. This isn’t a movie about noble humans fighting evil bugs. This is a movie about runaway big-militarized-government and ruthless imperialism, with a dash of blind nationalism for good measure.

And it’s surprisingly relevant, even today.

rico with orange bug guts on him
I killed it. ‘Merica.

Welcome to the Roughnecks!

If you start paying too much attention to the visual FX, you’ll probably say it looks a bit dated. Now, this was 1997, 1 year later than Independence Day, for example, so you may be onto something. But remember, too, that this was only the late 90s. So I would say, actually, go back and watch other sci-fi from around the same time, and you’ll find that it actually fits right in.

The war-time scenes, both in training camp and actual combat, are average at best. There is a decent amount of guts and gore, mixed with some tongue-in-cheek humor and interpersonal drama, and sprinkled with the standard lead-character heroics. However, you get frustrated with lack of tactical sense and storm-trooper-level firearm competency (that is to say, very little, for those of you who’ve never seen Star Wars). But again, this actually screams ‘parody’ to me, as though they did it this way on purpose to show how laughable most sci-fi action really is.

The characters are, generally, a bit one-dimensional. But some of the actors play it so well that you’ll forgive them for it. Like the drill sergeant and the stump-arm commander. Make no mistake, a lot of the acting IS quite bad. But is it bad.. on purpose? Think about it.

The enemy cannot push a button, if you disable his hand!

And can we just take a moment to acknowledge how incredibly forward-thinking this society was in one very small yet very significant way? Gender equality! The football team, the infantry, the co-ed showers. I mean, there was literally NO friction caused by the fact that men and women were completely equal in these environments. Hats off to that, my friends, hats off to that.

the cast agreed to do the shower scene only if the directory would film it naked too
[citation needed]

MEDIC!

Here’s the main problem I had with the character arcs and story. Right from the jump, Dizzy is framed as a strong, kickass woman who knows what she wants, and doesn’t put up with your crap. She proves it in bootcamp, and again in the field. And yet, spoiler-alert, her death scene is just so terribly weak. I mean sure, she also played up the silly schoolgirl crush on Rico, but she definitely wasn’t the lovelorn doe-eyed damsel. Maybe I’m reading the character wrong. But COME ON. “It’s OK, because I got to have you”?? PLEASE. And your competition is literally in the front seat, maybe even within ear-shot.

If I were to see this movie remade, and I had any input, this scene would be my rewrite. Oh don’t get me wrong, she’d still die horribly. But ol’ Carmen would be close enough to hear Diz’s very last words, which would be something to the effect of, “But hey, Rico, I rocked your goddamn world!”, sending that metaphoric knife-to-the-heart for Ibanez. And she would NOT beg that candy-ass of a man to “hold me” or anything as she drew her last breath.

diz gets spiked by a bug
I was also disappointed by the lack of Wilhelm Screams.

Come on you apes! You wanna live forever?

Two thumbs up, but beware the dated CGI and bad acting.

PS: OMG is that freakin Father Gabriel from The Walking Dead!?! IT IS!! Hah. Oh I can not see him as a soldier. But he tried, God bless him, he tried. =)

First Anniversary Without You

Featuredangel of grief statue at Stanford

Today is.. would have been.. our 9th wedding anniversary. That day was a whirlwind! We didn’t spend the night apart like many couples do; we didn’t feel the need to. We forgot to bring our wedding favors — our customized M&M’s. But we distributed them later at a family gathering. Your mom burned her hand on a curling iron. You got so anxious you couldn’t eat. We trekked all over the University of Redlands for pictures. And you in your 5-inch zebra heels. We almost forgot to pay the photographer! I had to borrow a check from your aunt and pay them back later.

Nine years ago, you said ‘I do’ and made me the happiest man in the world. We planned, prepared, and set everything in place as best we could. We celebrated the beginning of a new life, together with our family and friends.

And almost one year ago, minus a week or so, you suddenly and inexplicably left this world. There was no warning, no preparation, no setting, and no goodbye. And we mourned the loss of your life, alone and apart.

i feel so alone without you...

Til death do us part.

When a bride and groom say those words, they don’t actually think that they’ll truly become reality. At least not before they grow old and frail. That’s way far off in the future, not something anybody should worry about anytime soon. Living will? Death folder? Life insurance? PAH! Nonsense. A problem for future selves.

Let alone the emotional, physical, and mental implications. When you do this right, your spouse becomes your WORLD. And don’t get me wrong, you can and should retain some of your independent interests and person-hood; but by and large, you become intertwined together as one new entity, as ‘US’. So then to suddenly lose that half (or at least, large part) of your life, your “new self” that was/is ‘US’, is quite literally devastating. It’s like violently tearing apart a zipper that’s been stuck together for years and years, happily rusted together at nearly every turn — it’s gonna hurt like hell, and you’re gonna lose some pieces.

broken heart with cracks and bandage
Our hearts are strong, but not invincible.

Hold every memory.

We made so many memories in our relatively short time as US. Disneyland, beach days, Halloween parties, Christmas light tours, snow days, County fairs, occasional vacation trips, surprise Valentine scrapbooks, lazy stay-in-bed-all-days, steamy and wonderfully passionate nights… I will never forget any of them. Yet even as I say that, I know some of those memories are fading. Thank god, despite my protests and eye-rolls, you always insisted on taking plenty of pictures. I will always cherish them. And, as you know from my occasional zealous need to organize things, I will probably continue to find some excuse to sort and sift through them every so often.

Those scrapbooks, in particular, will continue to be some of my most beloved possessions. The time and thoughtfulness you dedicated to them was unparalleled. Your creativity was a marvel to me, unmatched in my eyes by anything but your love and devotion. I cannot thank you enough for these treasures, even as I mourn the loss of never seeing any more of them in my future.

I tried to do them justice when I constructed your memorial video and music playlist. I’m sure that I fell far short of potential. Yet who even thinks they’ll ever need to undertake such a task? Surely, again, not until you’re 80. And then it should have been our children’s job. Not mine, nor yours.

a heart in the sand is being washed away by the ocean

Here’s to Us.

As the song goes, from P!nk’s Beautiful Trauma album:

What about us? What about all the times you said you had the answer?
What about us? What about all the broken happy-ever-afters?
What about us? What about all the plans that ended in disaster?
What about love? What about trust? What about us?

We thought we had the answers. We thought we had our happy-ever-after. We had plans. And indeed, it ended in disaster. You were taken from this world, from us, from your family, from me. And we don’t get to be ‘US’, anymore.

But when we were… Oh, it was beautiful. You gave me purpose, life, beauty, laughter, tears, joy, happiness, heartache, inspiration, passion, ecstasy, agony, purity, drive, desire, wholeness, openness, and most of all, love.

I just want to lay on your chest and listen to your heartbeat.
But I can’t. Not anymore.

The greatest of these is Love.

Today, as I have every year since that first time I saw you in that perfect white dress, with your curled blond hair and your ruby lips and your ocean eyes, I say thank you. For all of it. Everything you did for me, everything you made me, everything you gave me. For richer or poorer. In sickness and in health. Through hard times and happy times. As long as we both shall live lived.

And though you live no longer, in this world, know that you will always live on in my heart. I may or may not find love again; yet even if I do, it will never be the same. You were, are, and always will be, my soulmate. And I will see you again in Paradise.

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OMG PRONOUNS!

This has gotten well and truly ridiculous. I don’t care what side you come down on. It’s absolutely inane, the amount of angst and energy and dogmatism and “hurt feelings” this shit has caused and effected. (Yes, grammar nazis, that is a purposeful rule-bend.)

What am I talking about? Just skim these 4 links:

So for those of you too lazy to read, and/or who don’t understand what this online community IS, I’ll break it down for you.

StackExchange is a vast and popular Q&A site which started back in the 2000’s as a programming-help resource (coined StackOverflow). Think of it like Yahoo Answers or Quora but 100 times better (1000 times better, in relation to Yahoo), because the community actually cares about quality and takes time to curate and research and maintain the wealth of information therein.

One of the biggest and most important parts of this online community is the moderator staff — a group of volunteer users who have risen up in the ranks to have “phenomenal, cosmic powers” to be used for the good of said community. They review questions and answers, they keep other uses behaving nicely, they facilitate the ebb and flow of good quality information and contributions, and they’re generally pretty awesome guys & gals.

Oh noes! I gender-ified them! (Genderized? Engendered?) WHAT EVAR SHALL WE DO!?! Sound the alarms!!

(That’s totally not the right word, but I’m too lazy to look up what it’s supposed to be. And it’s not “gentrified”, that’s completely unrelated.)

So the drama, the uproar, the righteous indignation and press fallout, surrounds one such moderator and her discussions with the actual company staff (the corporation that owns StackExchange, i.e. the website, the software, and now apparently the content), over what was being proposed in a new/revised “Code of Conduct”.

To be clear, “Code of Conduct” is just fancy words for “expected behavior” when you’re using the site / participating in the community. The old-guard believed in the KISS principle, and basically just said “Be nice.” In other words, “don’t be a jerk.” Easy, right? However, as time went on, the size of the community (the # of users and the amount of activity) exploded, and people, being people, weren’t always “nice” to each other.

you don't say?
Shocking!

Now, the mod (short for moderator) in question was a bit concerned with the proposed CoC revision that essentially forces you to acknowledge (ok), respect (fine), and actively affirm (uhh) anybody else’s preferred gender pronoun (wat?). But it’s more nuanced than that. See, this mod, like many of us who call ourselves “writers” (loosely, of course), has developed her habits for coping with this brave-new-world where gender is no longer a binary construct (and I’m not going into that here; that’s a whole other discussion topic, dumpster-fire and flame-bait galore).

Her habits include using collective and neutral pronouns, or even avoiding them altogether with other language mechanisms; and when all else fails, disengage from the conversation with the person(s) who are having issues with it. I, for one, think this is a fantastic philosophy. It allows you to be respectful, civil, and expressive, yet does NOT force you to actively affirm and participate in a mentality or world-view that you don’t agree with. Because look, we can all be civil and respectful of each other, no matter how deeply we disagree on something, as long as you’re not forcing your viewpoint down my throat and I’m not doing the same.

But no. This perfectly reasonable work-around wasn’t good enough for the extreme liberal agenda at StackExchange. You MUST address anybody and everybody with their stated preferred pronouns, full-stop. In fact, remaining neutral, or disengaging, is now deemed hurtful and offensive. WHAT?!? Really? To quote the 2nd resignation post I linked, which I adore simply for his incredibly articulate and well-structured writing style:

The new “tolerance” is tolerant of everything except ideological disagreement. It is forced conformity.

Caleb

So. Stop the presses. Raise the pitchforks. Light the cigars. Grab the popcorn, and watch the flames. Because this is a shit-show. And it’s a sad reflection of our times.

But it’s more than that. There’s a certain elitism there, subtle, but cunning. See, it’s fairly likely that none of you, dear readers, knew about this. StackExchange was a tech-startup. Another silicon valley brainchild. And like many of its ilk, despite attempts to democratize it, the sites themselves are still relatively isolated to folks of a certain demographic — young, tech-savvy, privileged, and financially stable. So despite all of its postured attempts to say “we want to be more inclusive”, it never really succeeded to reach beyond the glass of the tech-elite walled-garden.

i'm sorry i can't hear your, your inferiority is too loud
Borrowed from this guy’s blog

Look at Twitter, for example. The weekly shenanigans of Trump and everything that happens as a result. If your only source of information about Trump was Twitter, there is absolutely no question that you’d want him impeached ASAP. If for no other reason than just being a royal douche. But you know what? Most voting Americans still don’t pay attention to Twitter. They go to work, do their jobs, come home to their families, maybe watch the news, do chores, play with the kids, get them to bed, struggle with bills, and on and on it goes. They don’t give two craps about what the idiots said online this week. As far as they’re concerned, they need more money in their bank accounts, more food on the table, less crushing debt, less smog in their sky, and more time with their kids/spouses/friends.

And that’s the same thing here. The vast majority of regular-Joe hard-working tax-paying folks couldn’t care less about what gender you think you are, much less about how that question is handled in some weird website where people ask and answer questions all day. So to even spend this much time and energy on the subject, to even have such a fallout and such vociferous outcry from all sides of the straw-man… seems downright ludicrous.

Look, I respect the original mod, Monica, for standing by her principles and expressing herself in a definitive, respectful, and humble way. I’m not saying “who cares”. I’m just saying that this is an example of the technical elite enjoying the privilege that they have to openly and freely raise these issues about which they care so deeply, in an environment that is, by comparison to the real world, SUPER soft and squishy and forgiving.

unicorn barfing a rainbow
Blech.

So here’s the point. Next time you get all bent out of shape because someone didn’t respect your fabricated right to self-identify as an androgynous unicorn, take a breath, drink a sip of your pH water, pop a Xanax, and try to put it into perspective. You are privileged. The fact that you can read this proves it. (So am I, by the way.) Channel that energy toward something good, something positive and helpful and humanitarian.

Love & light. ❤

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A Random Assortment of Dreams

Driving. Driving at night. I’m in a crazy souped-up sports car. I literally recognize that I’m in a dream; I even remember that I’m sleeping in a motel (on the way up to visit Oregon, but that’s not part of the in-dream realization!). So I floor the gas and do all kinds of crazy Fast & Furious -esque tricks, even jumping over and through traffic. Nearly flying, I would say. I’m racing against… No one. Myself. Time.

Porsche 919 Hybrid (18), Porsche Team: Romain Dumas, Neel Jani, Marc Lieb
How cool would that be?

Cut scene.

I’m on a reddish desert landscape near an industrial complex of some sort. I’m talking to myself, in the dream. Acknowledging that it’s a dream. So meta. But the other self is a sort of fictionalized, almost Iron-Man-like figure. As if I’d created a robotic clone of myself. I almost said my own name. But it came out Ned. Or at least, it would have, if it had been audible.

mars outpost concept art
Like on Mars. Basically.

Cut scene.

I’m looking at a mirror. It shows my own face, yet quickly warps and distorts in shape and form. I know this is not real. I tell it to “shut up” and turn around, attempting to shatter the mirror in the process. I break through a glass wall, but find myself stuck in a cluster, or maze, of never-ending mirrors. They keep re-materializing, despite me repeatedly breaking them. Like a carnival-funhouse-turned-horrifying-nightmare.

hall of mirrors maze
Because THAT’S not at all creeptastic.

I soon find myself trapped between mirrors and unable to move, as my malformed reflection continues to warp and grotesque-ify. I never looked into the eyes until the last second. They became pitch dark and deep, like black holes. I struggled to breath and wake myself.

A false-start or two, but I finally awoke, gasped in a chest-full of real air, and took a drink of water. And then I wrote my dream notes. So that you could enjoy this post! ❤

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Disneyland is a Waste of Money

Fight me. Change my mind. Go ahead, make my day.

Listen, I get it. Your kids love all things Disney. And why wouldn’t they? Disney, as a megacorp, owns nearly every facet of modern entertainment that you can think of. All of their favorite kid shows, characters, superheroes, and toys are probably based on some form of Disney-ism.

K. loved going to Disneyland for two things: Halloween time, and Christmas time. Mostly the latter. The electric light parade was the highlight of her trip. In the late 2000’s / early 2010’s, we had our annual passes for a few years. We made good use of them. They were a couple hundred bucks back then. We had monthly payment plans and we had a handicap decal to use for parking.

disneyland haunted holiday mansion
I mean, it IS pretty neat, I’ll give you that.

She always had to have three things, and usually in this order: popcorn, a churro, and dole-whip. Sometimes a popcorn refill. These were unique to Disneyland, at the time. I mean the taste of them, not the food item itself. Lord knows they probably added some secret addictive chemicals that nobody could ever trace or prove.

Fast forward a few years to our last trip. Maybe we were growing out of it. Maybe people were getting less friendly. Maybe it was a warmer than usual day. Maybe the treats didn’t quite taste as breathtakingly delicious as we remembered. Maybe it was a combination of all those things. But as we tried to snag a bench seat for the parade — 3 hours before it starts, mind you — and we were assailed by a cranky middle aged woman who insisted that she’d reserved that bench for herself and her rabble… we just kinda looked at each other and realized: We were done.

And we never went back.

disneyland popcorn
Delicous MSG!

Now let’s look at the facts. I’ll use two resources for this break-down: TripSavvy and Costco. A one-day one-park ticket is over $150. So you say to yourself, okay, that’s not what most people are doing, right? Most people make a 2-day event out of it, at least. Fine. A 2-day park-hopper ticket is $280. Wow, not saving much are we? (Sure, you can navigate promo sales and off-days to save a few bucks, but it’s small-potatoes.)

And let’s not forget, if you don’t live locally (because let’s face it, the locals rarely go here anymore, because they realized long ago how much of a colossal rip-off it is), you’re getting a hotel. Good luck finding anything for less than $150/night close enough to make any sense. Or that doesn’t smell like cheap hookers and cheaper booze.

Oh, children are cheaper you say? Not really. For a kid — over 3, of course, because if you’re taking a baby or toddler to DLand, you’ve got bigger problems and god help you — you save maybe $6-7 on a ticket. Wow, and this is supposed to be a theme park built FOR kids and families. And they’re the ones driving the sales of all those crappy plastic souvenirs, at a 90% margin I might add, because they’re all produced by similarly aged child-slave-labor overseas.

disneyland churro
Authentically hand-rolled by Mexicans dressed uncomfortably in hot stuffy uniforms. Instead of your Mexican neighbors, who are actually really friendly and super cool, and you’d be much happier eating with them than the scum of the earth standing behind you in this line.

So let’s talk food again. If you actually plan on having a meal there, you’re already paying at least 25% above standard dining prices of comparable quality. It’s not as bad as freakin sporting events (I’m looking at you, $15 Bud Light at Dodger Stadium), but it’s not nothin. Oh, what about going outside the park to eat? Yeah no, forget about it. By the time you’ve trudged X miles back to your car, navigated the parking maze, and dealt with the always-crappy OC traffic, you’ve spent at least that much in gas and frustration. No, you’re better off just swallowing the in-park mark-up.

Alright, where does that leave us? Let’s say you’re a family of four, with two kids of appropriate age. 4 2-day hopper tickets puts you at about $1100. Hotel, $200. Food, let’s say about $20 per meal per person.. so about $350. Right, we’re up to $1650 before transportation.

Oh wait, PARKING. Duh. Oh this is rich — yet another thing that’s changed since I’ve been there. You now pay by the hour. (ish. I mean it’s a base-price and it’s limited to $65, so it’s not grotesque, but it’s still pretty horrible. You’re literally paying for the privilege of having your car close enough to the park to not die of heat exhaustion or dehydration — or criminal activity, for that matter — on your way to and from it.) So $65 for 2 days is another $130.

Let’s just round that sucker up to $1800 because we can (incidentals, snacks, whatever). Ah! Lest we forget, those crappy plastic souvenirs! How much do you love your kids? Well if you’re already doing this trip, it’s probably pretty significant. So what’s another $200 in treats and toys? Right?

For years they convinced you that this was THE ONLY PLACE IN THE WORLD you could get this crap. That and Hawaii. NOPE again!

We now have a grand total of about $2000. And that’s not including any travel from your home to the park itself! If you’re already here in SoCal, you probably make that kind of drive on a regular basis, no biggie. If you’re a tourist, flying in from somewhere.. well first off, add another hotel night or two, depending on how exhausted and degenerate you want to appear in front of your fellow passengers.. and then the airfare itself of course. So all told that could put you at $3k or more; if you’re coming in from overseas, $5k easily.

And all this for what. Really, what? What is so goddamn special about this place? You go stand in lines for hours to see people in costumes acting like these cartoon characters from a bygone era, or if you’re lucky, a semi-contemporary hero or heroine of modern lore, just so they can take a picture with your brat and send them on their way. And more lines, more hours, to ride all these beat-up broken-down rides that used to be a marvel of modern engineering.

Sure, yeah they’re building and rebuilding and opening lots of cool new attractions. Fine. They’re still nothing special. Hell, Vegas rebuilds entire casinos more often than Disney revamps a ride or pushes out a novel new attraction.

Look, I realize I’m a 35-year-old man. My opinions about these things have changed. I’m obviously no longer a kid, I no longer have that childlike wonder and fascination and excitement for these stories and characters that once defined my formative years. Not arguing that. I’m saying that your kids, the current generation, would simply be better served by something more tangible, more fascinating, and more goddamn reasonably priced.

Think about it. You’re really going to spend what amounts to most people’s monthly paycheck, on a 2 day amusement park trip? Really?!? I guaran-damn-tee you that your kids won’t appreciate it as much as you want them to. And you’ll be freakin miserable, nearly the entire time. Don’t believe me? Ask someone who’s done it. Ask someone who’s seen the dregs of humanity among those not-quite-shining-streets of colorful caricatures and playful pretend-lands. They’ll tell you the same.

sleeping toddler in a stroller at disneyland
Let’s be honest, we’d all prefer to be this guy, not the struggling parents who are running on 3 hours sleep and 3 too many cups of caffeine just to “get through this day”.

If you value your sanity, and your hard-earned money.. Take it elsewhere. Take it to the Discovery Cube in Santa Ana (or similar science museums that exist in most places), where your kids can actually LEARN stuff. Take it to the local fair, where real local people are trying to earn a little cash by selling unique, handmade jewelry or craft-wares or art. Take it and save it for college or trade-school. Take the kids camping, fishing, hiking, rafting, climbing, horseback riding, dirt-biking (when they’re old enough obviously), etc.

Yeah, all that stuff costs money too. But not nearly as much as Disneycrap. And it’ll make a helluva lot better memories.

Maybe I’m biased. Maybe I’m privileged. I mean, we went to Disneyland when I was kid, probably just once. It was probably pretty expensive, for the time. Could I tell you much about it? Nope. I have exponentially better memories from the many years we spent camping together in the woods and mountains of our great state’s national parks.

in every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks
Just Google “John Muir quotes”. ❤

Is that my point? Just get outside more? Kinda. I mean it’s certainly better for you. But no, my point is much more pragmatic than that. Economical, even.

My point is that Disney, with the billions and billions of dollars they make from all of their combined corporate conglomerations of capitalism at its worst–

(and don’t start with me on capitalism; I’m not against it fundamentally, but the abuse of it has led to some pretty epically horrific stuff in our time, but again, NOT in the scope of this post.)

–anyway, with what some people have taken to phrasing as that “they have more money than God” (hyperbole for the sake of emphasis) — Disney could literally afford to cut all those prices that we’ve talked about down by tenfold, and still not lose a cent. (Let’s face it, they could afford to make it all FREE, but that’s asking for a logistical nightmare.) Would such extreme price-cuts pose an organizational problem? Sure; obviously, the cheaper it is, the more people would line up to shove their grubby little minions in the gates. That’s perfectly solvable.

But again, why bother? I mean if people were reasonable, rational, mentally stable, level-headed, common-sensed, logically-minded, practical, pragmatic, responsible, financially intelligent, productive members of society… well good lord, we’d be living in a goddamn paradise wouldn’t we? But also, said people would take one look at the economics of a typical DLand vacation and scoff derisively, chortle and eye-roll to the Nth degree, at the sheer absurdity of it all.

Anyway. That’s all I have to say for now. Apologies this went long-winded. It just makes me angry, sometimes, how much stupidity we put up with in our society. And how much abuse of power, privilege, and money, that we just stand idly by and watch, even approve of and participate in.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a Marvel movie to watch.

Hey, at least I didn’t pay for it. =P

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Dreamwalker 1

It begins, as most dreams do, in the middle of it. Meaning, you’re not really sure how you got there. It just.. IS.

gothic house interior living room
Looks… cozy?

The place starts to feel familiar as the walls and rooms start to solidify. You’re in a hotel; no, a bed-and-breakfast. A mansion that’s run like a bed-and-breakfast. The feeling of familiarity is fleeting and vague, yet you know it’s there. Like a word on the tip of your tongue that just won’t quite come out. 

You’re a ghost-like presence, a translucent being wandering the vaguely defined rooms and halls. This room has a secret passageway, which leads to… the pool! Oh what a glorious pool, with ornate marble statues and granite trim. Yet it is not for you. No, you slide back through the room and wonder how to keep yourself busy. You read notes in the guestbook, written to the innkeeper, with words of praise or suggestions. None of it is memorable. You find some dishes out of place and bring them to the kitchen to wash. Apparently you can hold objects, despite your less-than-corporeal state of being. 

But perhaps you aren’t so ghostly. You feel that you’re meant to tell somebody something. To pass on a message. Your gut tells you that you will be able to touch and be seen and heard by those you’re meant to see. A voice – is it your own internal monologue, or something else – waxes philosophic: “We are sometimes asked to put into words what no human should have to; and so, in the end, we decide it’s best not to.” Still, you must get a message to someone. 

You begin to talk with a man sitting by the pool – he must be the one you’re meant to speak with! He sees you and hears you. Your touch is cold but your voice is warm. The man is having lunch with his family near the pool. He attempts to introduce you to others, but not all of them can see. Not all are meant to see. One woman does feel your presence and hear your voice, albeit quite softly, if you rest your hand on her shoulder. But you are not here to tell her anything of importance. It was merely nice to be heard by more than one person.

Before you have a chance to convey your message to the first gentleman – nay, before you even understand what said message is supposed to be – you become aware of another dreamwalker. His presence feels unnatural. He resembles Joshua Jackson, the actor, for some strange reason. Your instincts tell you that his name is Danny. 

Suddenly.. “Danny’s bad. Danny’s BAD!” A young boy’s voice cries out. 

man running down a dark alley

Danny’s eyes darken to pure cold black spheres, and he lays chase to the boy. You now feel it is your duty to save the boy from whatever fate this Danny has in store for him. He only has one arm, you realize, in an abrupt and macabre revelation. 

You toss and turn through material and immaterial barriers as you try to catch up. You phase-shift through doors but have trouble keeping pace.

Alas, you awake too soon. You hope and pray that the young boy is safe, and Danny is merely a figment of someone’s imagination.

Please note: I have no qualms with anyone named Danny. Dream-interpreters would likely have you believe that there’s some trauma in my past related to a person with this name, but I can assure you there’s not. It is funny that, in most of my dreams, names are rarely, if ever, a thing that gets remembered. But I don’t usually write down notes immediately after waking up, either — in this case I did, by which I constructed this story. So take it how you will. Even if your name is Danny — I still like you, and I don’t think you’re a child-mutilating psychopath. =P

N.

Positive? Not Really?

FeaturedPhoto by Bekka Mongeau from Pexels

Today we have another wonderful guest-post from Arlene! Make sure to show her some support.

Scrolling through Twitter the other day, I had just responded to the announcement of someone’s positive news (may as well amplify it, correct?) and noticed a new notification. Most of the time, I will stop and read notifications — the habit has saved me from chasing more than a few messages down later. It was Mark Thompson responding to someone who was looking for a positive person on Twitter.

Being my usual self, I listed a group of people that I look up to, and that almost always have something good to say to those they choose to interact with. And thought nothing more about it.

It turns out, I was the one he was suggesting! ME! I’ve never looked at myself in this manner, and it was a shock. I almost responded “Not positive / not sure if this applies to me” with all seriousness.

My brain has been all over the place; job hunting will do that to you. Your emotional state varies depending directly on what other people say about you, because they are in control of your future. Also, I’d been getting ready to speak, recovering from that event, and making plans to do so again when circumstances shifted in the household and made me grumpy. But, I know I will enjoy these activities/engagements once I start them.

Is that it? Is it my awareness that I will enjoy something difficult, once I am going on it? And can and will express this openly, because I know sometimes it encourages people to hear that — after the anticipation of something, and the worry of all of what might happen — once it is time, the nerves vanish, and you (and I) can proceed with confidence.

Or is it a celebration of the accomplishments of those I don’t really know? If you’ve just gotten a new job, made a major life change, or even (and these are most important) figured out how to accomplish a task — these deserve to be shared! And I’m more than willing to do so.

Maybe I live by this Robin Williams quote a bit too much:

Putting a positive spin on things is a skill I’ve had to develop — and I’m glad it makes people feel better.

I heartily agree! Amplify the successes and triumphs of people in your life. Spread positivity and joy, even when you can’t seem to find it yourself. Sometimes that’s the hardest part, but it can also be the most rewarding.

N.

A Glimpse of Happiness

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Sometimes what you really need is to simply be among friends; to talk, laugh, and enjoy each other’s company. For in these small moments — where your troubles and worries and woes fade away, even for the briefest of breaths, the most minuscule of milliseconds — life feels worth living again.

N.

Yes, I just quoted myself. I made it up right here on the spot. You’re welcome. =P

I treat most of my journal as an open-ended letter to my dearly beloved K. I think of it as though I will someday reminisce with her in paradise over all the things that we’ve experienced while apart.

In other news, my new friends and I finally (it’d been months) had another game night! Well, we played Shanghai instead of DnD, but it was really what we all needed; and C. wasn’t finished with the DM setup anyway. The only one who’d played (Shanghai, that is) before was K., but everybody else knew general rummy rules and compared it, much like you did, to Phase 10. I brought Rubio’s fish tacos for everybody, which, since it was a Tuesday, was one helluva deal. Except W. who had to have a veggie burrito because he’s watching his weight and going to wrestler-training. Yeah, don’t ask. (Love ya buddy!) Also the huskies got along as usual, playing and exploring the new house. 

It was a wonderful night. We drank beer and played cards and laughed hysterically at all kinds of nonsense and randomness – from metal band antics to spur-of-the-moment-made-up-songs. It was just as fun as the game-nights we had with cousin J. and her gang, for those few years while she was close by. For the first time in a long time, I felt genuinely happy again.

Am I allowed to?

You’re not with us. You would have brought perfect balance to the group, with your eclectic sense of humor, your way of saying or quoting off-the-wall things, and your proclivity for fumbling words in a way that was utterly and uniquely you. God how I miss that.

I say you would balance the group out perfectly, because: A. is the accountant, math and numbers expert; C. is the creative type, musician and storyteller; K. is the former-bad-girl-turned-super-sweet-pastor’s-wife and infant nurse; W. is the semi-boisterous intellectual and history buff; I of course, the tech geek and peacemaker; and finally, there would be, should be, you: the psychologist and the empath, the one who knows best how our minds work and how our emotions ebb and flow.

The fact that we all had to get up for work the next day didn’t matter, because we realized that this kind of quality time with friends is too valuable and too infrequent to waste. I mean yes, we still dispersed by 11, but that’s not the point! =) . Also, you would have insisted we get a freakin picture, because we don’t have a single solitary one to post anywhere. But you know, sometimes, that’s the way it should be.

And now, of course, I’m alone again. Sitting to write this journal entry and wondering when or what I might have to regale you with next. Are you even listening anymore? I wish I could tell. I wish I could see you, hold you, kiss you, cry to you, wash this all away in torrents of tears and a tidal wave of lost time. Perhaps you would forgive me. Perhaps I would forgive myself. Perhaps I should try.

I love you. I loved you.

hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness -Desmond Tutu
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Movie Monday: Men In Black 4

Sure, it’s called ‘International’, whatever. It’s still the 4th one.

frank the pug from men in black
No dogs were harmed in the making of this review. Except this one. But he did it to himself. He smoked too much, drank too much, stayed out too late, partied too hard.. you know how these Hollywood types are. I can’t be held responsible. No blood on my hands. Still, I’ll miss the little mutt.

Make no mistake, I’m a fan of the series. The original was, like many Will Smith blockbusters of the late 90s, a force to be reckoned with. The elegance was in the simplicity — Smith at his standard boyishly charming cocky rookie game, Jones as the weathered old wise master, taking on a big bad with the unexpected help of an innocent-victim-turned-almost-femme-fatale. Overseen by Rip Torn at his finest. And Vincent D’whateveryoucallit amped up the ick to 11.

Men in Black Mr Jones and Mr Smith
The original. Accept no substitute.

5 years later, we get a surprisingly decent sequel. Nearly a full cadre of the original actors, and some fresh blood like Rosario Dawson added a healthy ‘oomph’ to the second step in the series. Plus it’s always fun to see Puddy do something ridiculous. Now don’t get me wrong, it was far from perfect, but overall there’s more to like than dislike.

men in black 2 agent J and K in mailman uniform
Spoiler-alert: amnesia (duh)

Another decade, another sequel. The third installment was.. passable. Again, lots of positives. Josh Brolin, Emma Thompson; the touching story of how K first discovered J as a child [spoiler alert!]. A bit more negatives, though — the villain, for one thing. I just couldn’t get past his.. everything. I mean, ‘ick’ is one thing; ‘just plain gross for gross’ sake’ is another. But the “I can see all future possibilities at once and it’s made my brain a little frappuccino-y” dude was really cute, and as I said, the timeline intersection subplot was worthwhile. So would I watch it again? For sure. Would I watch it more than a couple times? Ehhh… maybe, but I wouldn’t be ecstatic about it.

men in black 3 young J with dad's pocket watch
Probably the best scene of the whole film.

Now, we come to 2019. First of all, good luck getting ANY of those people to come back for round 4. I mean, at least one of them is dead. RIP, Rip. (And yes, that was literally on Twitter.) Fair enough; I didn’t really expect to see them anyway. No, this is a departure from the trilogy. This is… well, it’s like a remodeled apartment. The same foundations, the same basic framework, but with a lot of upgrades and a fresh coat of shiny new paint.

For starters, our new headliners — Hemsworth and Thompson (Tessa, not Emma; no relation) — are pretty. But the great thing is, she (particularly) doesn’t need to flaunt it. As the thematic undercurrent alludes to, this is no longer a ‘boys club’. This is the “Men and Women in Black”. A bit unfortunately, she still goes a little schoolgirl ga-ga over him — at first. She doesn’t let it stop her from being a badass, so it all evens out. Props.

men in black 3 chris hemsworth tessa thompson
the beautiful people, the beautiful people…

Now, the villains are immensely superior to anything we’ve yet seen, which is both refreshing and expected. On one hand, we know it’s going to take a lot more to stop them from bringing about our doom; but we kinda had to know that going in, otherwise what’s the point of another sequel? The side-story and featured NPC aliens (that’s RPG-talk for “neutral party characters” i.e. ones that aren’t the main bad-guys but aren’t necessarily at the beckon-call of our heroes either), are pretty decent.

Finally, we have this whole ‘internal intrigue’ / ‘mole in our midst’ plot. To me, it almost seemed like they wanted to make H out to be the mole, but then they wanted us to think it was C, then finally ol’ crusty boss-man. Now, this may seem like responsible mystery storytelling, right? And yes, I get it; you DO want the audience misdirected before you get to the big reveal. Obviously. But that traitor-y vibe, for me, lingered a bit too long on H’s character. I’m not sure if that’s the filmmaker’s fault or mine. Regardless, the storyline definitely does its job in taking us on the journey to a happy ending. It just felt a little too forced.

The thing I’m missing, I think, is the heart — that spirit of wonder and mystery that propelled the first film forward in a way that only truly good sci-fi does. This was more flash than function; more spark than fire. BUT! Still enjoyable. Good times.

And damn if that scene where he picks up the hammer ain’t a perfectly executed self-trolling-cameo.. I mean COME ON! You can’t not love it for at least a few seconds.

Spoiler alert: it’s not quite over…

One thumb up. Have fun out there friends! ❤

Disclaimer: None of these images are mine and I never claimed any rights over/about/related to them whatsoever. 😉

Decisions Made

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Today we have another post from A. Show her some love & support. =)

Now look what happens.

I have been out of work for nearly three years, so I need to look at moving. I really don’t want to move too far, so I started shopping around in a nearby large city for positions. There have been a few that have shown interest, but nothing really has come of it.

So, I shall have to move on. But where?

I have a couple of offers of “a couch and a ride” into the nearest city, but that isn’t always the best idea. One, I know, has a lot of issues on their hands, and I’m uncomfortable adding to the burden, even for a short time. Guess I’m a softy.

There are jobs out there, and lots of them. Right now, the fact that I can’t get hired on at a fast-food place that was seriously understaffed has me doubting a bunch if it’s worth the risk. Then again, I’m a bit older than some of the folks there. The more-local place is just out of range of an easy trip for interviews, and that makes it difficult, even with video, to make sure I’m a good fit without some in-person feedback. This is what comes of both companies and candidates not being accurate with their descriptions and abilities.

I have gotten a listing of jobs, both remote/contract, and in the local area. I need to do something with them, other than stare at the link blankly. But there has been so much on my mind that coming up with a focus is near impossible. This is what it’s like — it is nearly a grief moving this far from home; I never have moved outside of the area I grew up in.

And having support for the time I would need to get established, and in a situation not worse than the one I’m in, is a help.

I guess I’m going for it. But still applying for closer positions, just for my mental comfort. And one of those positions is a possibility. So back onto the merry-go-round we go.

Wish me luck! ❤

red and yellow merry-go-round
Apparently these things cost thousands of dollars! Who knew? ;o)
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Under Fire, Once Again

Have I written on this subject yet? I feel like I have, but it may have been via Facebook or something. Apologies in advance for the language. You’re an adult, you can deal with it. =)

So here we are, in the aftermath of yet another series of deadly, tragic, terrorist shootings. Oh, they were white you say? THEY’RE TERRORISTS. Full stop.

There is no excuse, no rationalization, no equivocating. Just like the radical Islamic terrorists that suicide-bomb the gathering places of those they hate, so too did these white racist extremists assault and slaughter those who they hate, just as vehemently and just as irrationally.

Oh, the 2nd Amendment you say? Well guess what, you ignorant asshole. Assault, automatic, and semiautomatic weapons WEREN’T FREAKING INVENTED when they wrote that. So shove it up your NRA-loving ass. To be clear, I fully support your right to own a handgun and a hunting rifle, after passing a thorough background check, psych eval, and safety training. Heck, I want good people to be able to protect themselves. Concealed carry? Sure! If you’ve proven you’re mentally capable and fully invested in the greater good of society, awesome.

But you look me straight in the eye-holes and tell me that we should sell AK-47s and their ilk on the shelves of Walmart in Texas, or at Bass Pro Shops, with a straight face. Go ahead. Be sure to explain why, too; I’d love to hear it.

Oh, the shooters obtained them illegally you say? NOT THE POINT. Not even CLOSE to the point. Obviously, that whole issue is complex, and we’re not going to solve it by arguing about it on the Internet. But you know how else we won’t solve it? You know how else we’ll make literally zero, even negative, progress toward the goal of reducing this kind of violence and carnage? By doing NOTHING. Absolutely nothing. Just as we’ve continued to do for decades. Because our government is too damn lazy, and too damn full of themselves, and too deep in the pockets of super-PAC lobbyists, to be bothered to get off their old fat asses and do something real about it.

Oh, mental illness you say? Nope. Sure, you’ve gotta be pretty fucked up in the head to do this kind of thing. But there are plenty of mental patients who wouldn’t dream of it. No, this kind of behavior comes from one thing and one thing only: HATE. Pure, unadulterated, fear-based media fueled, fiery political and social rhetoric induced, intolerant, ignorant, bigoted, uneducated, unchecked and unbridled hate.

fear is the path to the dark side. fear leads to anger. anger leads to hate. hate leads to suffering.
No comment necessary.

Now I’m not a psychologist. K had that degree. I’m just a tech geek. But even I can understand that this is a complex and multi-faceted problem that requires critical thinking and hard choices. Mental illness, as a societal ill, is certainly a large problem that we need to wrap our heads around. But again, it’s not the point, and it’s not what we’re talking about right now. We’re talking about reinforced mentalities and behaviors of intolerance, bigotry, and hatred of fellow humans. And I’m too damn tired of this crap being swept under the rug as if it’s “not news” or “not something we can do anything about.”

You know what the families of these victims are really tired of? INACTION. They’re sick to death (literally) of their government representatives’ plain and simple lack of motivation to DO something about this shit. They don’t want your “thoughts and prayers”. They don’t need your tweets and your Facebook sympathies and your hashtags. They need vindication. They need to know that their loved ones’ deaths will not become yet another sad statistic in an ever-growing black stain on the American dream.

But they will. They already are. Do you know how long it takes for us as a society to “move on” from this kind of shocking tragedy? A day or two. Sometimes less. Isn’t that horrifying? We will have already forgotten about it by the time the next viral trend hits our feeds.

UPDATE: it’s already happening. Everybody’s moved on to this ridiculous “30-50 feral hogs” meme. Shameful. Disgustingly shameful.

Society is broken. Morals are broken. Justice is broken. Do we sit idly by and let it disintegrate further? Or do we stand up and cry out, “Enough!” and take action?

Write, call, and email your representatives. Tell them enough is enough. Action is the only acceptable answer.

And may the victims rest in peace. May their families and friends and loved ones find comfort in each other’s arms, and in their faith, of whatever sect or religion or creed they hold, in this time of unconscionable tragedy. And if you do know any of them personally, reach out and offer your love and support, in a concrete, compassionate, caring manner.

compassion is the wish to see others free from suffering -Dalai Lama
Foreign concept to most people, sadly. Especially politicians.
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A Grief Renewed

It’s been far too long since I journaled. Reading or listening to other authors always seems to help, and lately I’ve been absolutely wrapt by The Phoenix Project (listening via Audible, since I’m not a great reader, and nowhere near as prolific a reader as K. was!) If you work in tech, or with/for/adjacent-to I.T. management, you really should check it out.

This is an incomplete segment of journaling, because there are parts that are only for me. But I share what I can, and I hope that it helps in whatever way it might.

N.

Nearly 3 months have passed since I actually sat down to journal anything. I suppose you could count the couple blog posts, including the one about the dream, and another about how shopping for medicine reminded me of you. So much has happened. And yet, as I’ve come to realize, so little actual progress along this woeful and treacherous journey they call grief.

The simpler things. I helped your brother move into their new house. It’s huge, and new; you would love it and probably be jealous. The downside is that it’s in Yucaipa. It’s one of those “up and coming” areas that seems like they’re doing a lot of new development, but it’s still a far cry from metro-suburbia. I also helped C&A move. They’re my new friends from church, who I feel have become fairly close over the past several months. They have a precocious 2 year old daughter who I’m quite sure you’d adore, just as you did all children of those you loved and cared for. While I’m helping him reorganize his garage, I take a few furniture items off his hands for use here. Not sure what I’ll do with them yet, but it’s fun to imagine working with the solid wood end-tables and turning them into something unique.

I make an appointment with a therapist to start formally and officially dealing with my grief. With the loss of you. Your death. I haven’t said that word much, if at all, since it happened. It felt ugly to me. Yet it is, clinically and factually, the truth. Obviously the spiritual side of things is still very real to me, and I do know that in some ways you watch over me, and in other ways you are far beyond, infinitely blissful in the expanse of Heaven and the cosmos. But at the same time, you are very much absent from my physical life and my worldly happenings. Memories and triggers are all that remain, and pictures, and possessions with which we struggle to know what to do.

Feeling motivated, I make a vet appointment for the dogs to get them updated with their shots and to get them licensed, so that they’re “official” and can visit the amazing doggie-water-park I discovered in Murrieta. I can’t believe how close it was to where we used to live! We could have gone there, if we’d known. Riding the wave of productivity, I get some more debt consolidation work done and adjust some payment schedules. Work even feels more rewarding this week. As I’m writing this on Friday evening, I look back and am happy, for once, at what I accomplished.

And yet…

And yet.

There is an elephant in the room. An ugly one, at that. And it must be dealt with.

One bite at a time.

I hope you can forgive me and help me heal. Send me good thoughts and prayers for the therapy sessions, and try to make sure I stay as open as I claim to be. I love you.

But it was so cute as a baby!! o_@
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Today I Thought of You

Holy good gawd, has it really been 2 weeks? My apologies, dear reader. As the millennials say, “the struggle is real”. Thanks for bearing with me. 😉

N.

Every day I think of you. Today was no different. I was shopping at Target, refilling some of the now empty OTC medicines that we used to go through by the pound — Tylenol, Advil, Benadryl, Zantac, Melatonin, Gas-X. Obviously after October I still had quite a stock-full, but slowly & surely, as I realized that I still need to take care of myself the way you would have wanted me to, I did use them. Aches and pains, upset stomach, insomnia. Most of them help in the way they’re supposed to.

Anyway, this immediately flooded my head with memories. Whether it was with you on one of these hundreds of shopping trips, or bringing them home to you for some much needed relief, or just knowing that you were still looking over my shoulder, gently reminding me that “It’s okay to not be okay.”

I try to stay active, but it’s been hard. The heat wave is killer. Oh we’d be paying heavenly bills right now for A/C, there’s no doubt about that. I’d do it in a heartbeat for you. I’d move the polar ice caps to have you back home with me.

Motivation for work has been a struggle. It’s not that they’re treating me unfair or taking advantage of me, like the old job sometimes did. No, things are great here, still, after over 3 and a half years. Just like you and your mom said they would be. I just can’t seem to find the chutzpa to get up-and-at-it like I used to. Even as recently as a few months ago. Can you help me find it again?

Carry on…
Give me all the strength I need, to carry on.

So let the light guide your way.
Hold every memory as you go.
And every road you take,
Will always lead you home.

It’s been a long day, without you my friend.
And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again.

Charlie Puth, “See You Again”
its been a long day without you my friend, and i'll tell you all about it when i see you again
❤ always

Privacy: An Abuse of Trust

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Recently, the news has been full of stories showing us that the information we have shared is no longer secure. Everything from user names, to full financial details of purchases, has become open to public scrutiny. We have lost trust in established social platforms, and are asked to confront the idea that, every day, whatever we do, wherever we are, our information, movements, and activities may be available to whomever wished to find them.

There are a few areas where a bit more oversight — in a world where nearly anything can be found — that would serve the citizens of the US better. There are still avenues that, due to regulations, can be used to harass, annoy, and cause future legal problems for those that the original intention was to help.

And I’m not talking the person in your HOA that thinks your grass is the wrong color. Those are an issue, to be sure. Having a regulated set of standards, in a time when it is quite possible that, say, newcomers to an area might lose their jobs (due to a shifting economy), without a way to appeal or range of options to remedy, is a sure way to not only cause resentment, but actually damage a person’s options for the future. I’ve seen some vindictive people that will gossip without foundation just because someone doesn’t ‘fit in’ with what they think the group should be like.

But that is a discussion for another time.

The example I’m thinking of is the reporting of suspected abuse of either children or the elderly. Those that are the subject of these reports, and the consequences of the action — or inaction — have affected multiple generations. Some of the reports have been actual issues, some are out of a sense of vengeance, and a few are based on legal or medical requirements. But all are treated with the same care, and are still dependent on the personal outlook of the investigator, and the ‘accepted’ but unstated standards of care that exist.

The departments receiving said reports, under whatever name, are not transparent in the least, nor do they seem to do verification. I know of a case where there were upwards of 20 reports within 24 hours — all done by three people. This lasted until legal action was proposed, because after multiple months of this, it had become harassment. I know that stopped it for this specific targeted person, but I know for a fact that the calls continued, and then the focus was shifted to another target.

One would think that after having the calls from a specific person — since the name of the reporting party had to be collected for potential future litigation, in this quantity — said agency would flag them as a possible vengeance caller. I know for a fact that that person continues to report to this day; so apparently multiple years of calls from this person is still not enough to set a filter/flag for possible bias. And we wonder why our courts and agencies are overloaded!

you are being watched warning-sign
Won’t you be my neighbor?
Um, no, not if you’re a dick.

The consequences of a proven abuse, even a minor one, are far-reaching. A lot of the complaints could be cured by access to a better job; which would give them the money to avoid working more than one job, and not having the energy to spend on fixing the problems. However, once that report is verified — even for something as minor as “the kids have dirty clothes’ — the parent is thereafter forbidden to work with any children, or elderly, and the parent(s) could be fired from their job instantly. Look at the options left — they are ones that require training, or are minimum wage. Which does not help.

Nor, at least here, can this ever be removed from someone’s record — so it has consequences even decades into the future. Even if the agency is satisfied, there is no provision to remove it, other than a short paragraph that can be added to explain extenuating circumstances. As far as I can tell, this is not provided routinely; it has to be specially requested.

This is not to say all such reports are false — far from it. But the theory that a 10 minute visit is enough to determine “this is safe” or not, on the level of care that is being offered, is a fallacy. In contrast to the above issue, there was one one young person being abused, by multiple people, and none of those sent to verify the situation saw anything wrong — and it was only when the child was old enough to not be of interest (to the abusers) did this cease. The parents have their actions vindicated, the child is damaged, and the future grandchildren, if any, will be not allowed to visit grandparents on that side — with good reason. I have little if any idea of what the parenting style would be for them.

These unspoken expectations are one of the areas that need to be spelled out, and provided, to those who have had reports made against them. For example, here where I live, I know it is ‘expected’ that you attend church regularly. There is no provision for those who work Sundays, or don’t have one of their faith available. Nor is this an ‘official’ requirement of the report-taking agencies. But I have seen that — even if all the things they state they want are done — if you don’t attend church, there is no chance that a (reportedly abused) child will be returned (from state custody), or the focus will be removed from your home, even if/when those reports were completely unfounded and false.

What’s the solution? I don’t have all the answers. But some sort of filter/flagging system on those that file reports needs to be made — especially if it is a person who is constantly doing so. Also, more training, and an awareness that your standards and biases may affect how you see things. Perhaps a note to all who call in that they will be summoned to court to account for their report, or charged with false reporting, might save many person-hours of both the agencies and the court system.

Honestly, the flat-out refusal to reveal who is doing the reporting, after many false reports, strips away one’s trust in both friends and neighbors, as well as the agencies themselves. At which point, they (the purveyors of constant false reports) have won. They can now directly influence how you act, like an invisible hand-of-God, an ever-present threat to your social standing should you fail to live up to their unspoken standards.

Not to mention the possible removal of children, who then find themselves expected to fit into a different family — and may not get to see their own for months — which, again, adds stress to all parties, and decreases the trust and bonds that may have been hard work to establish.

Now, if you see yourself in this story, and think “But I’m trying to help!”, please consider what your reaction would be if, out of the blue, you had someone show up on your doorstep, wanting to look around your house, asking invasive questions — and refusing to explain, other than “someone reported you”, why they are there.

man with clipboard at front door of woman's house
Hi, I’m here because someone reported you.. for BEING AWESOME!
-Said nobody ever. But wouldn’t that be nice?
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Rant: Google Photos

I don’t mean to go on a rant here.. Oh wait, yes I do.

But first, context!

Some of what I’ve been doing for the past several months is taking inventory and selling the somewhat sizable collections of collectible items that K had amassed over the past several years. I call it “spreading her sparkle out into the world.” To be clear, I don’t sell them because I feel the need to, nor because I don’t want things around that are hers / remind me of her. On the contrary, I LOVE being surrounded by her favorite things and the things that brought her joy and happiness. And we, as her family, always keep the treasures that we want the most, the things that speak to our souls and warm our hearts. But in some instances K had indeed went just a tad bit overboard with the collecting. To be sure, she did plan on re-selling most of them eventually, so it’s well within her expectations that I’d be doing the same, as long as I (and we) keep the most meaningful pieces at ‘home’.

Anyway, the point of all that was just to give you the background on why I’m about to moan & groan, whine & complain, and raise my angry fist and pitchfork at Google for their horrendously bad implementation of what should be — and IS, in another (or more unified) tech-ecosystem — a simple workflow (ordered set of related tasks).

The Workflow

Here’s what I want to do.

  1. Take pictures with my iPhone.
  2. Upload/copy them into {cloud account of choice}.
  3. Create a new {cloud account} photo album from my recently uploaded photos.
  4. Share that {cloud} photo album with family/friends/etc.

Sounds stupidly simple, no? WELL! This is a story all about how my life got flip-turned upside-down Google screwed this up, and how Microsoft actually did it much better.

Well OF COURSE you had trouble, you luddite! Everyone knows that you just need to stay within the Apple ecosystem and everything will be happiness sunshine kittens and rainbows!

Sheeple

Yeah.. no. That’s not the point. Apple exposes the same APIs to both of these other vendors, and as limited as they may be, Microsoft still did better in its cross-platform-usability-ness. Plus, this is 2019. No single vendor gets to mandate that tired old ‘walled garden’ approach anymore and hope to survive. So don’t gimme that nonsense.

First, the “good” implementation.

Now, when I go into the iOS Photos app, I can select many photos at once and hit a ‘Share’ button at the bottom-left of the screen. The list of apps to ‘Share’ with, or more accurately through, is dynamic based on how many photos you’ve selected. Microsoft OneDrive’s limit is 30. Wow, that’s cool! Some apps, like Mail and Notes, seem to have no limit (or at least a very high one). Sadly, Google Drive’s limit is 10.

But this is where I’d normally start Task 2. In iOS Photos, select pics, hit ‘Share’, and upload to {cloud service of your choice}. So as I said, with OneDrive, I pick 30 at a time and upload away. Great! And they get there FAST, too.

Now I go open up the OneDrive app. My photos are present, exactly where I put them. At the bottom right of the app, there’s the ‘Photos’ section (tab, screen, whatever you wanna call it). I go there, I select the photos, I hit the three-vertical-dots (‘Options’ is probably what they’d call it) at the top-right, I say “Create Photo Album” and give it a name. BOOM! I hit the Albums button, I select my new album, & I hit the ‘Share’ button (top-right again, just not quite as far to the right as the 3-dots). BAM! I can send it via text message, email, share it to Facebook, whatever. Life is good!

Now the terrible one.

Right, so as I said, the limit on how may pics from iOS Photos can be Shared to Google Drive is 10. Oh and guess what else? Google Photos isn’t even an option here. They literally didn’t integrate it. LAME.

But fine, I can do 10 at a time; I only have about 40 for the current project. So I select, hit Share, hit Google Drive, pick my folder to deposit them in, and go. And… sad trombone. Some of them failed! “Please try again.”

Not trusting that uploading the same pics again won’t result in duplicates, I pull out the trusty laptop, fire up the web browser, and head to Google Drive to check what succeeded and what didn’t. And I re-do just the ones that were missed. And then I wait. Because for whatever unholy reason, Google’s tubes are slower than Microsoft’s; the OneDrive wait was about 2 seconds; the Google wait is about 10, for all of the pics to show up online.

Cool, now for the album. So I have a folder in Drive with all these pics that I want to put into an album, but, uh… where’s the option to do that? Yeah, IT’S NOT THERE. Sad trombone #2. Oh go ahead, you can try to find it yourself. I’ll wait. While you’re there, check out this absolute garbage help-article that includes a pointer to the now-obsolete option that this article tells us is going away.

(Said pointer being, from drive.google.com, go to the gear (upper right), hit Settings, and enable “Create a Google Photos folder”. Don’t do it now; it’s obsolete, like I said!)

Confused yet? Great, we’re on the same page! To the Interwebs for answers! Oh god. OH GOD. They’re even more confused than we are! Somebody call Google. Wait… you can’t. You literally can’t.

Let’s back up and take a deep breath. There’s gotta be a better way, right? So instead, I go now to photos.google.com, hit the ‘hamburger menu’ (top left; yep, gotta love that lack of consistency!), hit Settings (the gear). AHA! There it is, the option to “Sync photos & videos from Google Drive”. Do we have liftoff? Eehh…

Okay yes, the photos are starting to show up at the top of my main screen (photos.google.com) — again, now I’m in laptop-land, not fiddling with the phone at this point. So I select the pics, starting with the little semi-transparent checkbox in the upper left of the first photo — then and ONLY THEN am I allowed to use my Shift key to select many at once. Then I hit the ‘Plus’ button in the upper right and say “Add to Album”. Give it a name, presto.

Ooh, I can actually “Add to new Shared Album” and immediately be prompted for who to share it with… but OH WAIT, this is on the laptop, I can’t send it in a text message. (At least, not without getting the link first and then somehow sending it to my phone, which is another process that’s way more complicated than it should be at this point in our tech revolution, but I digress.)

Let’s check things out from the iPhone again. So I open up the Google Photos app, and… WTF? Why do I see duplicates? Aaaahh.. Some have the ‘crossed-out cloud’ symbol, aka the ‘not in cloud’ or ‘offline’ symbol. Those are the ones on my device (my iPhone) ONLY, whereas the others (with no symbol on them) are in Google Photos cloud already.

Riiiiight.. cuz THAT’S not confusing for someone who wouldn’t know any better. So now if I wanted to create my new album to share, straight from here (the app), I’d have to be very careful about selecting the correct pics — the ones without the ‘offline’ symbol.

Fortunately, I’d already created the album using my web-browser on the laptop, so all I had to do was go to Albums, select it, hit the 3-dots menu in the upper right (horizontal, not vertical like Microsoft.. surprise!), hit Share, and do the usual (text message, email, Facebook, copy link, etc).

Don’t be confused by the list of Contacts that show up here either — those are your Google account contacts, not your phone’s. (Well, at least, not your iPhone’s, aka your iCloud contacts — people with real phone numbers that you can text. Your Google contacts are, most likely, just emails, unless you’re a super-nerd and keep everything in-sync between the two, which is just plain bananas!) (Apologies for the ear-worm.)

Hmm, now wait a minute, I have these photos both in Google Drive and in Google Photos. I’m pretty sure, if I read the help articles right (which is a big ‘IF’ because they’re, again, surprisingly baffling), they ALL (both) count against my storage quota. (Well, if I don’t go off and enable the ‘high quality’ storage option where Google claims to offer free unlimited photo storage if you let their robots compress your pics a little bit.) But anyway, storage. O noes! I better go to delete them from Drive. So I do that, just before half-heartedly checking Google Photos again to make sure they didn’t disappear as a result. Thankfully they did not. Phew.

Wow, is it beer time yet?

Seriously, does it need to be this complicated? Google, you got some smart-ass people working for you. I mean, some of the best and brightest. Can you maybe make some of this experience less terrible? Plz? K thx.

Haters Gonna Hate

Because I couldn’t resist just one more ear-worm. And because someone will inevitably say “Well you know Nate, you could have just done it all with iOS Photos and iCloud Photo Sharing and iCloud Shared Albums” and lah-tee-dah and tea & crumpets and matching space-grey turtlenecks and BLECCHHH. Not the point. Also, wake me up when Apple starts offering more than 5GB of cloud storage for free like EVERYBODY ELSE IN THE ENTIRE FREAKING INDUSTRY.

OK I’m done. Have a pleasant week everyone! ❤

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In Less Than An Hour…

We all have our traditions. If you’re American like me, one of them probably involves doing a barbecue, and seeing some fireworks (or launching some of your own, if they’re legal in your county/city), tomorrow on July 4th. My wife and I usually did that too.

I’d like to share with you another tradition, which I think was a little more unique to us, or to her rather. It was also super adorable and always made me giggle.

Many of you know the 1996 sci-fi classic Independence Day. Will Smith, Bill Pullman (underrated actor, btw), Jeff Goldblum, Randy Quaid, Judd Hirsch, and that poor actress that nobody remembers. And Data, being charmingly creepy as usual. It’s a wonderful, highly quotable (“Yes yes, yes, without the ‘oops’!”) summer blockbuster alien-flick with just the right amount of cheese.

For reference, this is entirely too much cheese. For anything. Ever.

Our tradition was that we’d watch this movie together, on or around the 4th. She’d actually been doing this before she met me, regaling her family with quoted lines and re-enactments of key moments.

But the best part, the very most endearing, silly, and charming thing she did, was this: She would recite, word-for-word, that ridiculous fervent patriotic hype-up-the-troops speech which the president gives to his combat pilots just before the climactic aerial battle that defines the film’s final act. And of course we’d all applaud her like we were just as amped as those soldiers about to fly to their collective doom. (Spoiler alert!)

I mean, they don’t ALL die, but if you expected more than a few key characters.. and the token rando.. to walk out alive, you obviously don’t know how these scenarios play out. =P

And so, without further ado, I present to you, that speech. Because it’s awesome. And she was awesome for doing it, for making us laugh, and for brining us together with joy and love.

President Whitmore: Good morning.

[PA doesn’t work; it wasn’t on. He turns it on.]

President Whitmore: Good morning.

In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world; And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind.

“Mankind…” That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests.

Perhaps it’s fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom… Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution… but from annihilation. We are fighting for our right to live. To exist.

And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: “We will not go quietly into the night!” We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive!

Today, we celebrate, our Independence Day!

Sometimes, you just wanna blow crap up…

If you’ve never seen the movie, do yourself a favor and watch it (on Hulu!). It’s just good old fashioned 90s sci-fi fun. And it actually holds up pretty well for its age.

Now go have an enjoyable, safe holiday weekend! Or, as Harry Connick Jr’s character would say…

Let’s kick the tires and light the fires, big daddy!

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Movie Monday: The Hustle

Hey kids, it’s that time again!

What time is it?

Time for a movie review! Try to contain your excitement.

the hustle movie poster
Promises, promises…

High Expectations

Both of these actresses are fabulous. I mean, neither one is everybody’s cup o’ tea, but they have terrific screen presence and charisma. Just look at Ocean’s 8 or Pitch Perfect. There’s a lot of potential here, given the vast difference in their appearance and demeanor (as characters, specifically, but also in general). Although, let’s face it, Wilson is very much a character-actor and doesn’t have nearly the range that Hathaway does.

The trailers gave us some really good lines about women being underestimated and using that to their advantage, with some hilarious “Rebel blunders” to guffaw at. And while the premise of the master grifter teaching the amateur the art of the con is not new, it does generally make for compelling cinema, when done right. However, when you take that formula too far off the rails, you can end up in cheese-land.

Sub-par Results

The problem here is that we get too deep too fast.

That’s what SHE said!

Right, anyway. What I mean is, there doesn’t seem to be a truly compelling reason for Jo (Hathaway) to take Penny (Wilson) under her wing. We’re just kind of shoehorned into it, like “Yep, that’s the way it is now, keep that train a’rollin’!”. Similarly, the main motivator (turf war, really?) for their ultimate “gentleman’s wager” really doesn’t seem that crucial to the story. Nor does the target, the silicon valley whiz-kid. Again, taking a page from the Ocean’s trilogy, why not just compete for the sake of competition?

And then there’s the whole she-Gollum shtick, which just didn’t work for me. It’s nothing against the actors or the writing… They’re leaning too far into the whole “Rebel Wilson isn’t really attractive” angle. Right? But I get it, that’s the characterization — Jo is sophisticated high-class elegance and Penny is the opposite. I’m completely on-board with that; I merely wanted to see more variety in the cons, not the same few tropes replayed.

Happy Endings

Spoiler alert! No, just kidding. I won’t actually tell you what happened. I will say that it wasn’t that bad. It was a little unnecessary, a little forced, sure. But overall, fairly satisfactory.

The Verdict

Meh. The ~48% audience-score on Rotten Tomatoes feels about right. It’s not a terrible movie! It’s just not that fantastic either. Worth a theater visit or a $4.99 rental? No, definitely not. Worth a spot on your watch-list when it comes to streaming-ville? Sure.

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Just a Quick Note

Hi all, hope you enjoyed the guest post last week. I just returned from a week’s vacation, so at the moment I have no new posts to push out. I hope to resume my normal schedule by Friday. Twice per week is actually quite a difficult pace to maintain, so I think I’ll drop to just weekly, either Mondays or Fridays depending… (on what, no clue!)

Thanks again for hangin in there with me and for reading. It means a lot. Leave a comment if you have any ideas on what I should write about, or any questions or rants you’d like me to read. Love & light ❤

if my husky doesn't like you, i probably won't either
Someone should buy me this shirt.

Reaching Life Goals – One at a Time

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Recently, I found the list of goals I had made in high school, and despaired at the time. I took a look at some continuing education classes offered, both locally, and nationally. With overlapping requirements, as well as those things I didn’t have to have a degree in (like some of the gardening and basic education areas), I came to the conclusion that I would finish school sometime in my 80’s. And for one that is looking forward to a life full of excitement and learning, that was a bit much. So I tossed the list aside, and started studying only a few of the things there.

However, I’ve found a reason to start on one of those goals: I need to understand multiple languages. I had German, French, Italian and Spanish listed, because that was what was referenced in a book I was reading.

And yes, at that point, Esperanto would be simple. 🙂

Deciding on this, plus the potential of shifting location to near the Canadian border — and the probability that there would be those around me that spoke French — I started looking around for resources to learn. Having tried both Spanish and German in school, I knew that was no the way for me to learn language.

I found several resources, and a delightful assistant (not specifically in this area — he was trying to get me to express opinions, even if incorrect, so I could be taught) in Roman Podolyan, who was generous enough to share a video that encouraged me to start back on this list. And, I’m slowly applying it to other areas in my life.

There have been many other helps along the way — likely present all along, but since I wasn’t paying attention to them, they slipped by without making an impression. Now that I am looking for them, they are common. And welcomed!

So, I am working on getting at least one of those goals finished — and well before I’m 80! Also, there are many other areas that I have been able to say “Yes, I can do this” with the explosion of internet resources.

What have you always wanted to do, that you now notice that you are doing or working toward?

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Layers, Masks, and Shades

Nope, this isn’t a Photoshop / photo-editing post. Catchy title though, right? No, it’s about what we all do in our online social profiles and presence and content. Including me. Yes, dear reader, even this is but one of many layers; a mask, perhaps at times; a shade of one of many colors that comprise the entirety of this person that is me.

Layers

You all know the quote from the original Shrek. He’s got layers, like an onion. Not like a parfait. Or a cake. An onion. Because he’s smelly and slightly bitter. Turns out, this analogy works quite well for a human, too. I mean sure, some of us are less bitter than others — you’ve got your sweet Vidalia onions too. But the point is that you don’t get to see the inner layers until you’ve peeled away or broken through the other layers.

onions have layers, ogres have layers.
And you can tell your parfait to kiss my big green arse!
(Pretty sure Shrek never said that, but I’d like to think he thought it, at least.)

Trauma, such as the loss of a loved one, cuts us deep, often piercing right through nearly all of those layers at once. Which is why it brings out the worst and the best in people, sometimes even both simultaneously. Yet, as any living organism will do, we try to heal ourselves as rapidly as possible. Often that means masking some of the more ugly scars or unsightly layers with something that’s not quite pure, not quite “genuine grade-A self”. Over time, eventually, hopefully, those impostor layers get replaced by what truly belongs there, within and about us as a person, and we, in colloquial terms, “become whole”.

Of course, the analogy doesn’t hold up completely at that point. When you lose a spouse, a child, or someone who meant the world to you in some similar way, you’re never really “whole” again, because that person had become a part of you. Their layers had intermingled with yours; you had become this sort of freakish hybrid double-onion that doesn’t really exist in nature. (Or maybe it does; I’m not National Geographic.) So it’s not a perfect metaphor, but it’s alright.

Masks

All the world’s indeed a stage
And we are merely players
Performers and portrayers
Each another’s audience
Outside the gilded cage

Rush, Limelight

We all put on a mask sometimes, intentionally or otherwise. To get us through the day, the week; to hide the fact that we can’t stand one more tantrum or meltdown from a cranky 2 year old; to pretend that we’re “doing fine” when our heart wants to scream out in pain. This is especially true in grief, where the world’s expectation is that you “must live on” and “honor the memory” of your lost loved one.

But what if the mask’s purpose were reversed? What if the mask was a facade of grief, and the face behind it was secretly, surprisingly, despite the odds and expectations, actually thriving? No, surely this does not happen. Does it?

all of wear masks, full quote by Sarah Connor
From the show “The Sarah Connor Chronicles”, according to Reddit.

Shades

As a literary device, a ‘shade’ is often a ghost or spectre. It represents a lost remnant of a person, a soul that has not found rest, or that has been called back from the grave against its will. Apt, I should say, for a griever to consider. We often try to “bring back” our loved one in some form, be it a memorial service, a shrine, a re-living of their favorite activity or adventure. But these are not “the real” him/her, not even close.

Luminous beings are we! Not this.. crude matter.

Yoda, Empire Strikes Back

We are, indeed, an amalgamation of so many colors and hues, of light and dark. You see the bright spots, most often, on social media; the “highlight reel”, the colors that we want others to see the most. Not the darker, more mysterious, less appealing colors of our personal rainbow. Those, we hold close to the vest, only willing to let them show under the utmost trust and confidence.

Occasionally, they slip out, unintentionally. They fly off with a spark and we’re left to contrive some socially acceptable explanation, some attempt to quell the tide of contempt that it brought upon us, as if everyone else has never had those same dark inscrutable colors escape from their own personal paint palette. Oh trust me, they have.

What’s your point?

Touché. I suppose I needed to fill some space, and had thoughts swirling around my head. Nobody’s perfect. We all make mistakes and we try to do better. Often we fail. But sometimes — oh rare but glorious sometimes — we succeed. ❤

it's okay to not be okay sometimes
TinyBuddha is kinda neat for this sort of thing. 🙂
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Little Moments

Since I forgot to prepare something for Friday, these are few random tidbits from my grief journal about little things that remind me of her, sometimes catching me off-guard. I hope that you may find some solace in knowing that they happen to every griever, in a million unexpected ways.

N.

I found myself talking back to a movie like we used to do. It was Shooter, with your boyfriend Marky-Mark (Wahlberg). Such a fantastic movie. But as I was talking to it, I caught myself in a moment as if you were with me. Then it faded just as quickly. We won’t ever do that together again.

This sunburn spot below my neck is driving me insane. You would have reminded me to put on sunscreen for the snow. I miss your reminders. I love you.

After they leave, I gather my strength for one last clean sweep of the old apartment. I purge a little more, I stow the rest in the pickup, sweep and sweep, and finally say goodbye. There is no emotion nor attachment left to this place. You are gone from it; you are with me, but above me, like the subtle hint of rainbows spilling across the sky yet touching the ground somewhere undefined. I know that no matter how close I come to the source, I will not find it again.

As I’m sifting through our old gadgets, I reminisce about our early days. There was that infamous call from the peak of Mount Lassen when I went camping the summer of 2008, just after we’d started talking – the “smile ten-miles wide”. I can still recall that first ten-mile-wide smile on your warm inviting face, those deep steel-blue eyes, that sunny blond hair and sun-kissed California skin. Life began that day. And ended the day you passed away. Nothing in this world will ever be as beautiful as you.

rare fire rainbow in cloud formaion
Called a “fire rainbow“, rare and beautiful.
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A Letter to an Absentee Father

Let me be perfectly clear. This is NOT about my own father nor about my immediate family. Anybody who knows me knows that I damn-near idolize my father (most of the time, heh!). This is a collection of observations and thoughts regarding a general problem that I’ve been in close proximity to with some notable frequency and duration.

This shouldn’t be all depressing, though. June is, after all, the month of Father’s Day. So if you’re reading this and you think, “Hmm, I haven’t talked to my Dad in a while. Maybe I should try to talk it out, try to forgive him a little, and see if we can still make things work.” — DO IT. Life’s too short.

Or, if you’re like me and you love your dad, TELL HIM. Tell him why; why you admire him and respect him, why you wanted to be like him when you grew up. He loves to hear that sort of thing; it makes his heart swell with pride and joy.

Love and peace, friends.

N.

I can’t do this anymore. I can’t continue to be the peace-maker, the bridge-repairer, the message-passer. You need to make an effort. A true, unabashed effort. Make it personal. You say you’ve called? Call more. You say you’ve left messages? Leave more. Leave them until their voice-mail is full. And then text. EVERY. SINGLE. WEEK. Hell, maybe more. Don’t just say “Hey it’s Dad, call me.” You’re gonna need to apologize. You’re gonna need to grovel, even. You’re not going to like it. It’s going to be hard work, difficult and painful. And I can’t say the words for you. But try starting with something like this.

“I love you, son/daughter. I’m so sorry for everything. I want to try to be a part of your life again. And your kids’ lives — my grandkids. It hurts me to know that they’re growing up without knowing who I am. I know that I messed up. I know that you don’t want to give me another chance. I know that it’s not my right to ask you to. But I’m begging you. Please let me try to repair things. Let us try. Please.”

Do you understand why it’s come to this? Do you really get it? You weren’t there. You ignored them in their times of greatest need, and would not celebrate with them in their achievements. You abandoned your family because you could not work out your relationship with your wife. You refused to believe that she had their best interests at heart, or that you still could try, despite your newfound contempt for their mother. Which, by the way, was largely baseless. Sure, nobody’s perfect, but you made no effort to be the bigger person, to apologize with grace and to carry on with dignity. To remain the best father you could be to your kids, even when you were no longer a husband.

And now you want to make amends. NOW you want to set things right. Most of them have written you off. Most of them call you a lost cause. I’ve seen both sides. I’ve heard your hurt, and I’ve seen their struggles. But I’m not them. I’m merely an outside observer, a desperately-attempting-to-be-neutral party. I’m not the one who needs to hear your side. THEY are. HE is. SHE is.

That’s why this is going to be so difficult. That’s why this is going to be so painful. They’re not going to build you half a bridge as you build yours. You need to build THE ENTIRE THING. The whole bridge, down to the very last stone if you must. Maybe you’ll get lucky. Maybe once they see how far you’re willing to go, how much toil and sweat and tears you’re willing to expend, they’ll be ready to lay down a few bricks too. MAYBE.

But if they don’t? You better keep going. You better not give up. You better wipe that sweat off your crackled brow, dry those tears from your tired eyes, hoist that depressingly heavy hammer, and keep on layin’ that brick. Because if they see you give up now, they truly WILL be done with you. You WILL be that lost cause. And you won’t see those grandkids. And you won’t have anywhere to go, or anyone to come and see you, when you’re old and gray, and needing that little sparkle of joy once in a while just to keep you from collapsing in your retirement-home rocking chair and never getting up again.

And I’m sorry it’s come to this. I really am. I wish that I could help you more. I wish that I could build that bridge for you, even just a little. I wish that I could be that peace-maker, that man who stands in the middle of the great divide and says “Come, let us sit and take fellowship together, and let our past transgressions be forgiven, as difficult as that may be. Let us break bread and drink, and become family once more as we were, while we — while you, specifically — have what little time may yet be given us.”

But I can’t. I’m not. And I won’t. This is on you. As awful and terrifying and cosmic as that may sound. It’s ALL on you.

The choice is yours. Make it right.

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Another Dream

My subconscious must be in denial. I saw you come back to me. As though you had simply gone missing for months, but returned alive and well. I told you of many things that happened while you were away. Including, of all the strangely random things, the results of your .. not colonoscopy, but that similar thing where they make you swallow a camera and then take a bunch of pictures of your digestive tract and stuff. Which you really did have done not that long ago.

We embraced, but it was fleeting. We spoke with words of silence and in quickly forgotten whispers. Then we settled back into some oddly normal routine. You asked me to make you a fruit smoothie. Also with a tiny camera in it. Apparently you weren’t satisfied with the results the first time?

And then, as most dreams do, it got strange..er. We were in bed; a night had passed. I was trying to get up. I did, and you had rolled over into my spot and lay there sleeping so peacefully, comfortably. I stroked your arm and whispered a word of comfort as it looked like you had a bad dream for a second. Scene re-set. I’m trying to get up from the same position again, barely able to move. You’re no longer there. I stumble and turn back to see myself still sleeping on the bed. Not you. No more you.

Scene re-set. I’m stuck in a position but trying to get up again; the dog is next to the bed, but when I finally wrest myself from the pillow and stand, the dog is on the bed too — a replica? Scene re-set. This time I’m truly struggling to get up and awake. One more time. Some kind of strange background noise, almost like elevator music, seems to have been playing on repeat this whole time; I get a flash of an announcer-style voice saying “thank you for trying such-and-such wake-up tunes; this has been a free trial, but if you’d like more, please call and subscribe.” The hell? I literally drag myself out of the bed one last time, barely moving, almost purposefully trying to fall over to cause some kind of jolting motion in hopes that, like Inception, it will trigger a “real” wake-up.

It does. And I’m alone. Well, except for the dog. And she’s not replicating, thank God.

six husky puppies
THEY’RE SOOO FLUFFY I COULD DIIIEE!!
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A Duel of Wit, part 2

Here is the rest of last week’s poem from K. It’s fantastically clever, in my opinion. Moving too. However, I seem to be missing a page. There is mention of three riddles but this only covers the last two. And “the gentleman retorted” to something but we’ll never know exactly what. Still, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Love and light. ❤

N.

And the gentleman retorted “I have come to wage a duel,
To confirm that my intelligence is far above a fool.”

“Now I’m sure I heard you wrongly – thou has voyaged here in vain,
To engage thy wits in combat just to classify your brain?”

“Thou may mock my motivation, but I’m known throughout the land
For the genius that I govern and the quickness I command.

Does thou fancy thee deserving of the challenge I propose?”
“Very well, my bold opponent – I accept it, I suppose.”

“Oh how wonderful!” he rallied through the rapture in his voice,
“Thou has granted me a purpose by the nature of thy choice.”

“I’m contented to oblige you, but I’m sure that you will see,
I am truly not the intellect you hold me here to be…”

“Let us start!”, he said, “But start at what? – You’ve yet to choose a game
That will prove the greater aptitude upon the victor’s name.”

“Very well,” the man responded, “as it follows we shall play:
I will ask of you these riddles to embark us on our way.”

“Please commence with thy enigmas – I will truly try to win.”
“Listen carefully, my rival – let the duel of wit begin.

‘Three informants, clad in black – running forward, never back;
All unknowing where they’re going – simply following the track.

One is thinner than the others, he is young and fast of pace –
Clearly swifter than his brothers in this never-ending race.

Then the runner in the middle, standing tallest of the three,
Is the second of the triplet that we always seem to see.

For the one of most attention is the shortest and the last –
Tells most slowly in the mention of the moments that have passed.

Always going, always there – they, the victims of our stare;
These familiar friends of time and space that keep us in their care.'”

With that rhythmical advancement of the colored man’s design,
He asked of his opponent, “Give your answer or resign!”

“Thou art truly apt and skillful in the puzzles you invent!
But I fancy me familiar with the riddle you present.

Yes, I guess of thee the mystery you read to me in rhyme,
That the answer can and only be the triple hands of Time!”

Now, enraged by his continual decipher of the maze,
Twas forced of him his last of strength to camouflage his rage.

“Does thou think of thee so clever that can scoff at what I ask?!
Well, I challenge thy discernment with this third and final task! –

‘Tis a thing of great importance when its features are not known,
Yet a thing of little interest when the face of it is shown!'”

His breath was short and labored as he spoke the final line,
Then he leaned a little forward and awaited a decline.

But a moment past the brief and blunt recital he had made,
The opponent now responded with a logic he relayed:

“Such a transient accretion to the two achieved before.
Though no lesser of confusion that the prior pair had wore!

The solution, I imagine, is unlike the common lot –
‘Tis a thing of great importance when you know its features not…’

Not an answer of the riddles in the books upon my shelf –
Why the answer to your riddle is a Riddle in itself!”

Bloomed a sudden realization that occurred upon the two:
One aware of his achievement, while the other sank in rue.

The aggressor fell in failure, on the ground upon his knees –
“Dear sir, from whence thy wisdom comes, I’m forced to question, please…”

And the winner, only humbled by the victory achieved,
Looked upon his fallen partner whose disdain had taken leave.

“Through the toils of our endeavors hide the wonders of the land.
These astonishments reveal themselves to those who understand

That the greatest revelations will be shown to an elite:
Those who welcome comprehension and dispose of their conceit.

Walk in modesty of knowledge and the wisdom will appear;
Go ye softly through the clamor and the music you shall hear.”

Movie Review: Hellboy (2019)

Featuredhellboy 2019 panoramic movie poster

It’s been 15 years since the original Guillermo Del Toro adaptation of the comic-book anti-hero Hellboy, a demon-prince-turned-good-guy who fights the forces of darkness for us here on Earth because he was raised to be SUCH A GOOD BOY! by his adopted father. And if that premise sounds cheesy to you, these movies are probably not your cup of tea. However, Del Toro is a master of his craft, and can turn just about anything into a decent movie, if not a visually striking and emotionally compelling film proper.

Have you SEEN Mama, Splice, or Crimson Peak? Go watch them. Srsly. Especially Crimson Peak.

So quite obviously, the remake/reboot/whatever-you-want-to-call-it drew heavy comparison and criticism for not “living up to” or “being as good as” its predecessor. Most remakes do. But this review isn’t about that (mostly). I’m also NOT a comic book reader; thus, I have absolutely no basis to relate either movie to their comic counterparts, nor to judge them based on how closely they resemble them. And frankly I don’t care. A movie is a movie, nothing less, nothing more.

Cool? Great, let’s get down to it.

The Good

There are a lot of things to like here in this 2019 reboot. The actors are charismatic and well-cast, and their chemistry is good. The creature design is stunning and otherworldly, in some ways harkening back to the Fae world of Maleficent, albeit with a much darker evil bent. With an R rating, we get a hefty helping of satisfyingly gory action and blood violence — the giant fights are super crunchy — all set against a thumping soundtrack that reminds us not to take it all too seriously. It is, after all, fantasy.

As most reboots do, it attempts to pay tribute to and acknowledge its origins. We get the infamous “horn-breaker” scene, the flashback to Rasputin’s occult-fueled demon-portal-opening (despite the horrible interjection of a completely unnecessary character; more on that in a minute), and even a direct re-quote with “Hey! I’m on your side!”

Then of course we have the inner turmoil of the Hellboy character himself — If he’s a monster himself, why does he fight monsters; does he really belong in this world? SO EMO. The dialogue and sub-story there is fairly satisfactory, if a little overplayed. I mean, he’s gonna have a tantrum at some point — that’s a given — but did it have to be so angsty? But ultimately he does, as we expect, lean on the teachings of his father and make the right choice.

so emo youtuber
Can you FEEL my feels??

The Bad

Unfortunately, there are plenty of things to dislike, too. Pacing and consistency of ambiance being one (or two?). Half the time I felt like I was watching a blood-pumping action flick, another third of the time felt like a grimdark horror-fantasy, and the other.. whatever fraction is left.. of the time, I wasn’t sure how to feel. It wasn’t necessarily jarring, but it was definitely noticeable. My favorite scene, though, by far, was the very end, where our three protagonists just rampage through a baddie hideout to the tune of Kickstart My Heart.

Secondly. Ugh.. CGI. When will Hollywood re-learn that “less is more”? Have we just lost the magic of practical effects and the kind of backbreaking work that went into VFX masterpieces like Lord of the Rings and The Walking Dead? I guess it’s just cheaper these days to throw everything at the supercomputers. And to be fair, it’s usually just fine. But there IS such a thing as over-use. The Star Wars prequels (1-3) did it, probably even before it was a trope; and here, it’s a bit over-the-top. And the problem, when that happens, is that it takes you out of the fantasy that you’re supposed to be engrossed in and enjoying.

A small nit. Plot-holes don’t generally bother me too much. But the amount of blood sweat & tears that went into finding out this key piece of information — that the Blood Queen would return to the exact same spot in which she was slain, to be reborn, was pretty ludicrous. I mean, was that not obvious to anyone, EVER?

well like duh
Ya think?!?

The Ugly

Speaking of ugly, Baba Yaga? Gawd, I needed to shower after her main scenes. Shudder. If they were going for gross, they really nailed it. Anyway.

I have two major problems with this movie. One of them is likely dismissed as “but they were being faithful to the comics” — again, don’t care, but that’s fine if it helps you. The other is such a teeny part of the movie that it’s not a deal-breaker; I just need to point it out because of how god-awful it was before I took a minute to purge it from my brain so I could enjoy the rest of the show.

Firstly, the likely-dismissed problem. Mixing too many mythologies. Good lord, am I watching a King Arthur retcon, a Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland, if you’re completely unaware) spin-off, or freakin’ Hellboy?!? Pick something and stick with it! The sword in the stone is now a key to the demon apocalypse? Really? And don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the character of Alice, but did we need the explicitly emphasized call-out to the rest of the Carroll-verse? I think I could have lived without it.

Secondly, the teeny part that drove me bonkers for half a minute. In the flashback to Rasputin’s demon-portal-summoning-ritual, the Nazis are ambushed by an Allied hero named “The Lobster”. He’s supposedly this super-elite soldier-hero commando. But… OH. MY. GOD. The cheese on this character.. you could cut it with a damn Pampered Chef knife. “Beware my claws!”?? No. Just no.

Also, the body-count during this little scuffle (same scene) was unsatisfactorily low. Especially at the hands of the legendary evil assassin Karl Kroenen, who, while shown on screen, is not named nor hardly acknowledged; which again, is fine, since it doesn’t fit this narrative, but still! You know, he has blade-arms, wears a menacing black faceless mask, and is really half-machine and runs on some weird combination of pocket-sand and black-magic…

I’m not bitter, I swear!

The Verdict

One thumb up. Despite my criticisms above, it’s still a decent movie — if you go into it without lofty expectations and don’t try to compare it to Del Toro’s work. It’s a fun little supernatural action romp through vaguely familiar territory, mixed with some brand-new characters and blended mythos that feel mostly complete, if a little rushed. Reminds me a bit of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which had the good fortune of NOT trying to “live up to” any precedent or source material.

Plans for a sequel? The ending scene points to “maybe” — they discover an aqua tank with a nameplate that keen viewers will recognize as a reference to Abe Sapien, the half-man-half-fish character from the original film. However, due the abysmal box-office performance, it’s not likely to materialize. And that’s not a bad thing. =)

New vs. old. They each had their merits. And you can definitely see the maturation of costume-makeup.
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A Duel of Wit

I’d like to share another one of K’s works. Sadly, it is also incomplete. As was her life here with us. She and I had so much left to do, to experience together, to share. But these little pieces of her that she left behind for me to find, do, for a brief moment, by a small fraction of measure, help heal my soul. And I hope they do so for yours.

N.

The paths of two equal and opposite men
Had crossed on an evening so fair.
The wind was aloft in her heavenly den, 
And soft was the breath of her hair. 

Each equally clever and gifted in thought,
The men had agreed to a duel – 
A match to determine the answer they sought: 
Which one of the two was the fool? 

A gentleman clad in exacting extremes, 
Consisting of darkness and light: 
A monochromatic portrayal of schemes, 
From black to the starkest of white. 

A colorful figure of yellows and blues, 
With bold interruptions of red: 
Symbolic of all in the spectrum of hues, 
From down on his shoes to his head. 

And so they contended to reap the reward 
Of bearing a title so grand, 
But only the sharpest of wit would accord 
The rank that the both would demand. 

The paths of this equal and opposite pair 
Had crossed on a unit in time. 
And during this moment the couple would share 
A daring discussion of rhyme.

It is here that we see a gap, a break in the verse and the tempo. There must have been a missing page, which I of course regret not being able to find. The poem does continue, albeit with a different meter and rhyming scheme. Thus, I will share that with you next time. Until then, love and light. ❤

battle of wits from princess bride
Inconceivable!
(Sorry my love, I had to.) 😉
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A Letter to My Favorite Band

And now for something completely different.

This is something of a love-letter, to the band that defined my teenage years and still, even into adulthood, continues to be on regular rotation in my playlist. A band that almost none of you have likely heard of, let alone have heard their music. They never received much radio play. Nor did they garner much media attention. Until they reunited and launched a Kickstarter campaign to tour and ultimately self-produce a brand new album, which at the time and in their particular market was nearly unheard-of.

Growing up, my exposure to music was, let’s say, sheltered.  Quite.  My parents pretty much listened to Country and Churchy music with little exception.  You’d think, having grown up in the 60s – 70s, they’d have at least a bit of disco or classic rock in their repertoire, but nope.  Randy Travis, Clint Black, Alan Jackson, Reba McIntire, Shania Twain, etc.  Now, as most children of the 90s did, us kids had a boom box — a combination CD player, tape player, and AM/FM radio.  And what did we do with this?  Mix tapes, obviously!  But it was never much of a “mix”.  I’d try to ask for the “jazziest” songs from the various western albums.  My dad even branched out to Steven Curtis Chapman and some no-name Christian soft-rap-rock-worship hybrid mess.

Then some of the other kids in the youth group introduced us to DC Talk, the Newsboys, Audio Adrenaline, Skillet, and other acts of the late 90s contemporary Christian alt-rock spinoff movement.  This was where Switchfoot and P.O.D. got their start, you know; before they sold out to corporate or got caught with their pants around their ankles.  These were okay, but ultimately forgettable, like so many waves on the sand.

My friend Michael, from across the street, had an older brother, Brian.  One day when I was over, waiting for Michael to do something, Brian let me come check out his CD collection and his computer games.  I asked if he had any music recommendations, and he pulled out a few albums by this band I’d obviously never heard of called Five Iron Frenzy.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

I was in eighth grade; appropriate, since the first line of a verse in one of these songs was exactly that.  Brian loaned me their first three CDs.  I knew the parents would approve because they were a Christian band, but I’d never heard of this “ska” genre before.  Five Iron Frenzy’s album art was wonderfully done: deceptively simple hand drawings that held such deeper weight behind them.  I got them home to the boombox, and popped in the first disc.  From the blast of that distorted guitar chord, the blare of those horns, and that absolutely biting sarcasm of the intro track, ‘Old West’, I was hooked.  Between the boombox and a couple disc-mans (disc-men?), those CDs played dozens of times throughout my teens and early 20s.

In sophomore year, their next album came out, and boy was I excited.  All the Hype That Money Can Buy was the first CD I bought with my very own dough, hard-earned at the Burger King down the street.  Being a Colorado based band, they were heavily influenced by the Columbine school shooting, which shined through in the track ‘A New Hope’.  Once, in college, thinking I was being profound, I would sneak into one of those larger lecture halls and write the lyrics to its refrain on the big chalk board for the next attendees to find and ponder.  “Peace floods us, by hope we steer; our dark hearts salvaged, we live without fear.”  That line can still give me goosebumps.  Although, it’s not quite as impactful as the conclusion to The End is Near‘s ‘On Distant Shores’, which cleverly calls back to their second album’s final track, and builds to such breathtaking catharsis that I can still feel the lump in my throat every time I sing along with it. But more on that in a minute.

Later, in 2001 or early 2002, I was lucky enough to attend their concert at the Glass House in Riverside, CA.  I even made an iron-on tee with their name on it to wear to the show.  They were horribly late to start; I think we stood there almost an hour and half past the scheduled time.  But it was worth it.  Super high energy, loud, slightly mosh-y, and all my new favorite songs.  I would later come to realize that they weren’t all that spectacular as a live act — they tended to rush tempo during shows to get more songs out in a limited time, and the quality suffered a bit — but still, that was a memorable evening.

Let me take you on a little journey through the ‘FIF’ (as their fans affectionately abbreviated) albums themselves, in a small tribute to the journey of musical discovery that they sparked for me.

five iron frenzy upbeats and beatdowns album cover
The O.G.

The first album, Upbeats and Beatdowns, seethed with sardonic wit like nothing I’d ever heard before, in tracks such as ‘Old West’ and ‘Beautiful America’.  It juxtaposed nicely with the humble sincerity of ‘Where Zero Meets Fifteen’ and ‘Milestone’.  And heck if I don’t belt out those la-la-la’s from ‘Cool Enough for You’ every single time.  Sure, there were some throwaways, like ‘Combat Chuck’, and they suffered a bit from the lack of lyrical enunciation, like most third wave ska did at some point in their career, but it was pretty solid.

five iron frenzy
This one really sticks out to me.

That first album was good, but the second, Our Newest Album Ever, blew me away.  More cutting sarcasm in ‘Handbook for the Sellout’ and ‘Fist Full of Sand’, more silly antics like ‘Where is Micah?’ and ‘Oh Canada’, and more heartfelt sincerity in ‘Suckerpunch’ and ‘Second Season’.  This is where their own little inside-meme began with ‘Blue Comb 78’.  You could also see a developing theme in ‘Banner Year’, where for the second time in as many albums, they denounced the historically covered-up atrocities committed against Native Americans.  But the crown jewel has to be ‘Every New Day’, the final track, which takes upon itself the pressure of striving to be a good example of God’s love yet trying to just fit in with your peers, and builds it up only to release it again with the realization that it’s perfectly okay to not be perfect.

Most listeners, outside the die-hard fans, could be forgiven for forgetting about Quantity is Job 1.  It wasn’t really an album, technically; it was an ‘EP’, old-timey record-store lingo for ‘Extended Play’, meaning somewhere between an ‘Single’ and an full ‘LP’ album.  It mostly consisted of seven-ish tracks parodying all different musical styles with a ridiculous ‘Whose pants are these?’ mini-song.  The two shining stars here have to be ‘One Girl Army’, a sharp anti-chauvinism tune that gave their lone female member a well-deserved spotlight, and ‘All That is Good’, an encouragement to be more open-minded and think critically in the face of blind dogma.  Also, I used the innocently hopeful theme of ‘Dandelions’ as an inspiration for an English paper.

five iron frenzy all the hype album cover
So much ridiculosity ❤

Now, as I said, when their next album released, my anticipation was high.  When I brought home that maddeningly shrink-wrapped disc and its bright orange themed cover with a funny little picture of a white guy in a fro trying to dunk a basketball, I knew this was going to be good.  But I had no idea what I was in for.  It starts with some truly upbeat positivity in ‘The Greatest Story’ and ‘Solidarity’, and you can sense the Latin influence in some salsa-esque beats as their producer yips and yelps ‘Oi!’, culminating in the decidedly Hispanic-flavored ‘Hurricanes’.  We get some expected silliness, and a bit of hair-metal, in ‘Phantom Mullet’, and a self-deprecating banjo-twanged song about their home state.  Plus a batch of freshly crisp criticism of the church’s bigotry and inbuilt phobias in ‘Fahrenheit’ and ‘Four-Fifty-One’.

It wasn’t until ‘Giants’, the bleak outcry against mega-corporations’ takeover of society, that the subtly subversive hook truly sunk in for good.  I knew that I needed more.  And the title track ‘All The Hype’ surely delivered.  Followed by a seemingly random cover of ‘It’s Not Unusual’, which ends hilariously with Reese saying ‘more reverb!’ as his ears get pummeled by bad guitar outros.  Finally, we have the concluding tracks, ‘A New Hope’ and ‘World Without End’.  There is a palpable pain there from the school shooting that, in manifesting our worst fears, seems to have become an American trend.  Yet, it ultimately gives way to a heartfelt peace and love, expressed as a choral refrain with bells, for a reassuring sense that everything will eventually be alright.

The mature thing to do, I suppose… group portrait.

By this time, the band was maturing, knowing that the ska wave of the 90s was ending, so they made a small shift towards pop-punk (with horns).  If the previous album was a whimsical mish-mash of musical experimentation, this was a truly polished experience with a consistent theme and sound.  Vol. 2: Electric Boogaloo, as the name would suggest, signaled a reinvention, a sequel that would be different enough yet still true to its roots; and unlike the movie, not widely regarded as terrible.  This is the album that embossed their talents well, and established that they were not just some passing fad.  The self-deprecating humor returned in ‘Pre-Ex Girlfriend’ and ‘You Can’t Handle This’, the struggle of attempting to live a Godly life in ‘Spartan’ and ‘Eulogy’, and the inveigh upon immoral practices in the name of religion through ‘Blue Mix’ and ‘The Day We Killed’.  Much like ‘Giants’ in the previous album, ‘Vultures’, another blighting critique of excessive capitalism, tipped my fandom from a ten to an eleven.

Three years went by.  College, other musical discoveries, my palette shifting to classic rock.  Yet their special place in my heart never grew cold.  Unfortunately, through some bad combination of ignorance, busyness with college, and obsession with Warcraft 3, I completely missed the fact that they quit touring in 2003.  They released the double-disc set The End Is Here in 2004, a culmination of their last studio album and their final concert from their hometown of Denver.  I learned about it a few years later from a coworker, and while I was a little heartbroken that they were gone, I was absolutely enamored with the work itself.

Right from the start, the blast of ‘Cannonball’ kicks up your eardrums with aplomb.  ‘New Years Eve’ feels so incredibly true-to-life that I literally thought it was about me.  Of course there’s the usual fun antics with ‘At Least I’m Not Like All Those Other Old Guys’ and ‘Wizard Needs Food Badly’.  The searing criticisms, first of religious dogmatism/legalism with ‘Farewell to Arms’, then of fear-based news media in ‘Anchors Away’, still hit home more than a decade later.  And ‘Something Like Laughter’ serves up another faithful reminder that Feminism is not anti-Christian, and visa-versa.

Finally, we come to ‘On Distant Shores’.  At first, it sounds a little too upbeat to be goodbye.  But as it builds, the permeating theme of divine forgiveness in the face of failure, which ultimately defines much of their catalog, rings truer than ever before.  With such beautiful poetry, the pulsing acknowledgement that what we do with our lives is so often marred with selfish intent and shortcomings, cathartically transforms into that quintessential refrain from ‘Every New Day’, as both the listener and the band itself are invited to rest their weary heads in the solace of God’s infinite love and mercy.  In this understanding that every day we live is another gift — another opportunity to build up our fellow man and woman instead of tear them down, and to be that light, however dim or scratched or scarred, to a world that so desperately needs it.

Beautifully simple

Since then, I will admit that I originally missed out on their Kickstarter-fueled 2013 reunion and album Engine of a Million Plots.  Yet, thanks to that same coworker and fellow fan, I knew of it, and I gave it a solid listen.  So far, ‘Battle Dancing Unicorns with Glitter’ is my favorite song title of recent history, and it’s the one that’s stuck in my head at the moment.  ‘Zen and the Art of Xenophobia’ is perhaps their most biting critique of American cultural pitfalls to date, which feels hauntingly prophetic when you realize that it was written before the Trump White House.  And ‘Into Your Veins’ turns the self-parody up to eleven, as they proclaim to feed your addiction to their very words, knowing full-well that it’s a completely ludicrous notion.

Truly, Five Iron has always been ahead of their time.  And as they go about their mid-lives, hold down actual careers while balancing the occasional weekend concert or two, and reflect back on their glory days, I hope they will remember them as fondly as I do.  Because their music had soul, in a market where, ironically, that was lacking; and silliness, in a market that often took itself way too seriously.  It had an encouraging undercurrent of questioning the status-quo, which, however aged and comfortable we become with our tired traditions, is essential to an active mind and a productive person.  Above all, may they never lose sight of what made them great in the first place: love.  For each other, for God, for the youth, for people in general.  And for the sometimes thankless, seemingly futile task of trying to bring some spark of peace and hope to those around them.  Indeed, ‘It Was Beautiful.’

sunset at beach with palm trees
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Stumbles I’ve Learned From

Today we have another guest post from Arlene! Show her lots of love. =)

I belong to several professional groups just for members with a certain outlook, either contained within a larger group, or a separate one. These allow a bit of social interaction where certain words, terms and expectations are common to the group. I still belong to some wider ones – and sometimes I forget that not everyone knows how software works; other than what they hear on the news or have read about.

In looking over the groups recently, there seems to be an emerging awareness of identity and what we do with it – outside of creating, in some spaces, a personal brand around some aspects of that identity.

One of the people shared a link to Identity Stories, and I thought I might share a couple of my related experiences, in hopes that my awkward blunders would bring awareness to others. Or in some situations, at least a smile of empathy. And I’ve made many blunders over the years – along with a few things I did correctly.

One of the ones I handled badly enough to make me blush years later was at a local shop that I frequented. I had brought someone in there, and saw the new hire, with lovely long hair that I instantly envied (both thicker and longer than mine, which was only mid-back at the time) and made the assumption that this was a female. I admit it was bolstered by the fact that the owner had mentioned that he had received only two applicants, both female. I guess I missed this one – the greeting of “Hello, ma’am – It’s good to have you here!” shocked the young man, and it showed on his face when he turned around.

Recovery was slow – looking back, very much too slow. I spent a good five minutes mentally kicking myself for my presumption. Okay, to anyone else, it looked like I was hiding in a corner – and that would have a ring of truth, too. The truth that I had likely hurt his feelings finally came to the forefront of my mind, and I made my way to the front, trying desperately to rehearse what I could say to apologize. What actually came out was parts of three potential things: “I’m an idiot. I’m glad you’re here, and I hope you can forgive me.” None of which was put together, mentally, so I figured I’d failed.

And looking back, the only thing that would have been better was to have said something – anything – then, rather than wander off with my mouth open like an out-of-water fish.

I’ve done this since. I’m looking at a reflection of vested, hard-hatted, and dressed nearly the same construction workers – and one has a full beard – I still sometimes hold the door for “the gentlemen”, even if one is female. The last one that this happened with giggled at me – I had noticed this wasn’t a gentleman, looked horrified, and blushed. Which helped. I need to watch this: the season where workers are out and mud-covered has started, and I am trying to improve.

The one that still baffles me was a blind person with a cane. We were on a narrow temporary walkway while the sidewalk was being refurbished, and I scrunched up on the railing to avoid the cane. (That thing looked like it would hurt! And I didn’t want them to need to apologize for tapping me with it.) I still haven’t figured out a better response – if you know, teach me!

Located where I am, there are not always a lot of different people, nor languages, nor cultures that are obvious (which saddens me). Unlike some here, that try and force a conformity on everyone they meet, I do make an attempt to listen, and empathize as much as possible with people that are unlike me – which, if you think about it, is everyone. If you hear someone making a statement, presume that they do know what they are talking about – context is everything. And empathize. And don’t try and solve the issue, unless asked; they may trust you to simply listen, and let them work it out in their own mind. And now the hard part: be aware of this for a while – you may see it unspoken in other people.

I guess what I’ve learned over the many years is “Mistakes happen. Own up to them quickly, and try and do better. And don’t kick yourself for mistakes, once you’ve acknowledged them.” This applies to so many areas of life; I still have a hard time with this.

Recognizing differences can be a tough thing. Even something as obvious-to-me as the examples I’ve given here, might get overlooked by another, and be deeply effecting for someone else. This is a good place to apply the golden rule of “treat others as you want to be treated,” and take the time to learn from your stumbles.

Excellent and poignant reminders. Always treat others with respect and dignity, and if you aren’t sure how to handle a situation, or you stumble, don’t be afraid to admit it and ask for help! Love & light.

N.
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To The Mom Who Didn’t Have to Wait

Another piece from K. This is a letter to all her fellow women, but specifically to those who are either ignorant or insensitive to the issue of infertility. It’s often not purposeful, but it still hurts, and this is one voice willing to stand up and make known something that is difficult to talk about and difficult to hear.

N.

I don’t understand what it’s like. I never will. It’s a foreign concept to me. I don’t understand having a conversation with your husband or significant other regarding the timeline of when you want to have kids, and having it actually go according to plan. I once thought that is how my story would be, but nearly 5 years later and I can tell you, it’s not that way for everyone. 

5 years. Can you imagine waiting that long? The truth is, I don’t want you to imagine. It’s painful and it’s hard. I’m writing because I want you to know how many women all over the world would do anything to be in your shoes, including me. Anything? Yes, anything. Spend tens of thousands of dollars. Inject medications in their bodies daily. Fly across country to see a better doctor. It’s not uncommon for their marriage to be on the line because of the turmoil that infertility brings. 

Or maybe they are like me, and are trying to follow God’s direction, to be still and trust Him for a miracle. Yet it’s been almost 60 months and there is still no miracle. Finances, dreams, hopes and desires are surrendered. And after all that? Still waiting. So many women are still waiting. The reality is that 1 in 8 experience infertility. And even after enduring the emotional, physical, spiritual and mental pain, many women still don’t see that positive test; or if they do, they miscarry, which leads to more pain, and more waiting. 

We are heartbroken. We are crushed. Our bodies are tired. Our minds are tired. Tired of it all. 

To have this dream, that you’ve had since childhood, take so long to fulfill, as you wonder if it ever will be, is really very hard. Especially knowing that same dream comes so easy to so many. Add not being able to leave the house without seeing that one thing desired, dreamed of, and hoped for — seemingly everywhere — that is even harder. 

I am writing you to remind you to consider it a gift and a blessing that your story is not like mine. I am writing you to remind you that, even on the hard days, there are millions of women who would trade places with you in a second. I am writing you to remind you to please be thoughtful of your words. And maybe, instead of complaining that it took you 3 months to conceive, consider it a blessing. Or instead of grumbling that you have 3 children of the same gender, consider it a joy. 

Maybe, instead of complaining of how sick/nauseous/big/uncomfortable/miserable you are, think of those women, myself included, who would gladly feel all that and more, if it meant that, at the end of the journey, we could hold our precious child in our arms.  

Just like I will never understand what it’s like to get pregnant when I want, much less “on accident”, you will never understand what it’s like to wait, painfully and longingly. Our stories are very different, and I find peace in that. But whatever stage of motherhood you are in, please remember the ones who are waiting — the moms in-the-making. 

There are women are all over the world who, month after month, even year after year, are told “not yet”. And just like every month before, we have to pick up the pieces, and hope that next month will be different. Hope against hope, for a month that will end with joy, instead of heartache. A month that will end with celebration, instead of tears. A month that will end with a positive pregnancy test, instead of another period. 

Finally, please remember, this is not directed ‘at‘ anybody, so don’t take it that way. This subject is supremely hard to talk about. It’s not that I want to talk about it; it’s a very private matter, for the most part. I don’t ask for your sympathy or condolences or anything like that. I merely ask that you take a moment, before you post yet again, to consider those women, like me, who silently hurt, as they read and hear the constant pregnancy/baby-centric buzz around them, from their friends and loved ones. And who cry out against the unyielding night, “Why, God? Why not me?”

infertility awareness stock photo
Frustration often leads to depression and resentment.

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Help! Outlook Keeps Asking for Password!

Yes, my friends, occasionally the world of tech will spill into this blog as well. But this is not related to my career at all; this is something I experienced while helping out a family member. And I thought I would share the frustration — and the solution.

The Problem

He has a Microsoft account, based on a Hotmail address. There are 3 devices: his phone, an old laptop running Office 2013, and a new laptop running Office 365. He has some work email accounts, which all remained working fine, plus the personal email — that being the Hotmail account in question.

One day, he does.. something. Let’s say he forgot the password, or perhaps typed it incorrectly too many times. This leads to a slight spiral of confusing actions, involving a password reset and a recovery code, which he faithfully, per instruction, prints on a physical piece of paper (not that we ever needed it). However, something is still amiss.

downward spiral staircase
down, down, down we go!

Outlook 2013 is now continually prompting him for his password, for the Hotmail account. Strangely, also, this old machine still lets him log on to Windows with the old password, even though it’s running Windows 10 under the MS account (not a local user account).

His phone still receives and sends emails just fine — he didn’t even have to re-enter the password there, as far as I know. Also strange. Or perhaps he did re-enter it at some point shortly after he re-set it, but forgot to mention it. Who knows. The point is, he can’t get his personal emails in Outlook anymore, on the old laptop.

Nor the new one, as it turns out. He just hadn’t tried it until I got there. So during my troubleshooting efforts, we turned on the Surface and discovered it, too, in Outlook 365, continually begged for his password, which we of course entered correctly, to no avail.

I tried a lot of troubleshooting, including repairing the account in Outlook’s account properties, removing it and re-registering it, and even removing it from Windows entirely, followed by setting it up again. None of that worked of course.

The Solution

The actual solution is rather boring, as it turns out. It just took us forever to arrive at it, because MS in no way made it at all obvious, nor provided any direction toward it, until I actually asked for help with Outlook’s support-chat snap-in. The agent replied next-day, which meant I had to tell my uncle to literally let his Surface sit out, open, on, logged-in, all night. Thank God for TeamViewer, is all I can say.

What we found out, thanks to the agent, is that he (the user, not the agent) had somehow enabled Two-Step Verification. This was NOT OBVIOUS anywhere. What it means, apparently, is that after you enter your password, you’ll need a security code that either gets texted to you or uses the MS Authenticator apon your smartphone. This is very similar to Two-Factor Auth, but not exactly the same.

red apple and green apple
Apple-to-apple…ish

So where do you go to check on this? Again, not obvious. Go to your MS account page in a browser — https://account.microsoft.com/. Then click on ‘Security’, of course. Then.. uhh.. wait, there are only 3 big buttons here. “Change password”, “Update your security Info”, and “Review recent activity”. Well those don’t sound like what I want. Maybe the 2nd one, kinda? Nope.

Read the fine-print. I mean it’s not “fine print” like super-dinky legal jargon, but small enough compared to those big 3 buttons that most people would overlook it. Right underneath it says this:

Done with the basics? Explore more security options to help keep your account secure.

MS Clippy

Yep, there you go. Once you click that link, ‘Two-step verification’ is the 2nd option on the list. So, once we disabled that, he was back in business — his current (recently changed) password was now the only thing needed to configure/re-connect all Outlook apps to his Hotmail account.

But Why?

More specifically, why is this a thing? Well, 2-factor authentication is actually a very good practice, security-wise. For example, when you log in to your bank’s website from a computer that you don’t normally use to do so, they generally want to text/call/email you with a “security code” to make sure it’s really you. Awesome! That means if someone guessed your password, they still couldn’t get in, because if you got that text/call/email while you yourself weren’t logging in to do some banking, you’d say “Not today, Satan!” and deny that sucker.

Now, let’s take the Microsoft account. Sure, it probably has some pretty important stuff — billing info, for one thing, if you’ve ever bought anything from them, like Office 365, or a game on the Xbox. But even if not, there’s still a lot of your personal info there. Plus, your email itself can be used for nefarious purposes, such as.. oh right, that banking example! If you hadn’t set up your phone as a “2-factor auth” contact-point, they might be using your email to send you those security-codes. And if you’re no longer the only pair of eyeballs on your inbox.. Ruh-roh.

scooby-doo ruh-roh
Jinkies!

So is this “Two-step verification” thing with your MS account all bad? No, of course not. Like anything, consider it holistically with the rest of your online presence and identity management. If you’re particularly worried about hackers, and you understand the trade-offs, go ahead and use it. If you’re fairly confident in your password strength, and you don’t have a ton of ‘risky’ information/connections involved in the account, maybe it’s overkill.

I personally use the MS Authenticator app, because I work in IT and it’s something I’m accustomed to. I have a lot of devices, and I know that the risk of me losing one is higher than most. But this family member’s situation is much more limited and much simpler. Therefore, we decided, he can live just fine without it; all he needs to remember is his password.

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A Prologue to Faeries

This is something that K began to write after she had started discovering her inner talents and her spiritual connections. Sadly, it remains incomplete — a prologue to a story that will never exist, at least not in this world. Perhaps some day when I see her again, I will be able to sit beside her feet, and listen to the wondrous story that her beautiful mind had only just begun dreaming up, before she was abruptly taken from us. I know that she has long since finished this tale, and looks forward to telling it in full, to those who have ears willing to truly listen.

N.

“Once upon a time”, they say… As if there was only that one time.  As if it has long passed into the fields of long-ago.  But what if that Once Upon a Time is now, eternal; and what if your time to be in that Faerytale place has returned… because in that once-upon-a-time world, that place of enchantment, you and I could move between the worlds with ease and trust.  And when we grow tired and older, and we are heavy of heart, we would take ourselves to a tree and lie down upon our mother the earth. 

All trees are sacred, but this one was older and wiser than even the oaks.  A sacred thorn tree under whose branches we would go to sleep, and dream of bright realms.  A place where faeries dwelled, and healed, and charmed us back to health and wholeness; where the heavy weights that were bound about our hearts were unlocked, one by one, with faery keys.  And how we laughed and feasted, and loved, while in this realm. 

And when we were whole, and wild, and healed again, we awoke under that same tree, and knew that we were returned from a realm where time has a different meaning.  Where life has enchantment.  Where flowers speak and animals teach, and where our faery kin had rewoven the energies of the world into shining, beautiful shapes. 

For the truth is that our faery kin have, for aeons, cleansed and brightened the skies, have whispered “grow” to the crops that feed us, and shielded the old forests from the gaze of those who would hunt them for their wood.  And when we had been given the key to the faery realm, we too were strong in body, mind and soul, and we danced under the moonlight and were bathed in the bliss of life.  We weaved the energy between the stones; we knew how to shape time. 

We allowed ourselves to go into the faery realm to be reborn, made whole and clean again.  For there we could rest, and be revived again to our whole self.  And when we were strong in our relationship with our faery-kin, oh how we shone!  For we were bright, and we glowed with our connection to the source of all goodness and light. 

And then, well… and then.  It is time.  It is that Once Upon a Time again.  Time to return to our relationship with the wild places, the bright ones, the faeries, and our wildish scenes.  For as we do, miracles of healing will occur.  Just as faeries cleanse and purify the water, the air, the earth, the fire, and the spirit, when we reweave our sacred alliance with the faery realms, we too begin to heal.  From our sadness, our loneliness.  From our hearts that cry out for the poetry that is the soul of the world.

If you yearn to shine once again, if you wish to reclaim the heart of you, who knows how to be well, to be happy, to be whole… If you wish to clear illness, guilt, and untruths from your life, and truly, deeply heal and transform, then this story is your set of keys to that faery realm.  And there you will be reborn. 

This story is the key to those wildish places where not only can you be restored, but you will find sacred union, connection, true health and wholeness.  Be blessed, enter this enchanted place and be prepared for your heart to fill, your souls to sing, and your body to fill with the energy of the wild green world.  Take the key, and keep it safe.  And know that you are welcome to return to these realms, and come home to us again, beloved, as often and as long as your spirit desires.

forest fairy in white, sleeping

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A Grief Observed, part 7

This will likely be the final ‘official’ entry from my grief journal. The number seven has some special significance, so it seems a good place to put the final post. I will of course continue to journal privately, and to work on other forms of writing, such as stories and anecdotes. For those of you who have read this far, thank you. I hope that it has helped you in some small way. Love and light to you.

The Wake

Family gathers at B’s house afterwards. I eat something, a relatively bland sandwich. I wish someone would have brilliantly thought to bring in La Costa, but I supposed that could be expensive. Still, it would have been nice to have some of their chips and salsa at least. Oh well. Someone from my mom’s side of the family snuck in Fireball whiskey. Yeesh.

The flowers are still so pretty; we all brought them over from the funeral. Your mom is going to make some kind of smaller arrangements and things with them, perhaps even something involving dried petals, so I overheard.

My side of the family decides to head out to a local bar, and makes sure that I know they want me to come along. So I stay with yours for a while at B’s, then head over to State Bar in Redlands. It proves a bit difficult to find, mostly due to the parking situation and the fact that today is Thursday, Farmer’s Market day, which I totally forgot. But I find them anyway with K’s help. They shove food and some alcohol at me when I get there. Which is probably a good thing, considering how little I’ve eaten recently. Although I do get pretty bloated later.

I drive myself & Z home. K decides we need more alcohol. So we run to the store to pick up that plus a few snacky things. Then we play Shanghai. I may have won. Time is so strange now. It seems like it should be hours later than it is, but the days get lost or skipped in my brain.

The remembrance cards are so pretty. I love that your mom did those all herself. With D’s help maybe? You were such a graphic designer, I’m sure you could put ours to shame. I know that you’d be highly disappointed with my slideshows just for the lack of collages and variety (and general picture quality, perhaps). What could we do? You were taken away from us without warning.

a million words would not bring you back

 

 

The Days After the Memorial

Now the days get worse. I ache, I feel unrested. Parents try to make a nice breakfast but I can’t eat too much. Still, I try. 

Sleeping, actually doing better now. The dogs still wake us all up at 6 or 7, but at least I can go back to sleep without a second pill. The house gets warmer than I’d like but I still have to have your Unicorn blanket on me. 

Saturday morning I decide to join the parents in their ritual of Starbucks and Great Harvest, with their dogs. We don’t take Keira because of how nervous and stressed she’s been. She stays at the house and just pines for me while I’m away, apparently. It’s okay, she’ll get used to things. The sandwiches are really good. You probably would have liked them. And this odd thing I tried from Starbucks, an “almond protein infused cold brew”. Which is actually blended like a frapp, just without whipped cream and stuff.

Then I head up to Corona after stopping by on the cats. Your dad seems to be hanging in there. We do have to talk about the whole living and moving situation sometime soon. He starts but he knows I have to get going.

My stomach is horribly bloated today, it seems. I just feel icky. Before I left the parents, I took Keira on a little jog through the maintenance road behind the houses. I think she did okay, but I was terribly out of shape. My lungs were the problem, I think, which is what K said; not my legs or feet. Even though I did just wear those Vans, since I don’t have actual exercise shoes. Do you think I should start exercising more? I guess so. You wanted to, a long time ago, before you just kept getting sicker and more hurt.

I’m so sorry my baby. I wish I could have helped you more.

Corona is all happy to see us. Keira does great today, even better than before, and everybody is pretty chill. I think running her beforehand helped. 

Today is almost over. I still don’t feel good. My stomach is still knotty. Your mom gave me ranitidine and some other tummy pill. Hopefully it helps. But then I got so hungry again before bed that I had to have of their homemade coleslaw and pasta salad. And a tiny sliver of cheesecake. I probably shouldn’t have done the cheesecake. We both had this problem sometimes, didn’t we? Our eyes bigger than our stomachs. In your case almost literally.

I love you my angel. I know you don’t sleep anymore, that you don’t dream because Heaven is beyond even our best and most wonderful dreams. But please help us rest tonight and please help my tummy feel better.

no tomorrows (poem)
There are no tomorrows.

 

The Week After the Service

Trying to spend more time with family. We play lots of cards. J&M come over one more time on Sunday and we play a large game of Spicy Farkle. It’s a bit of a loud dice game but it can be kinda entertaining. Keira is still doing well and I take her for a jog again, with K, and we both have trouble making our lungs work the last leg.

Dad helps arrange some trucks and help for “storage emptying day”, which is Monday. B comes with his truck and his fake leg, which he is more than happy to tell not one but three stories about taking it off and waving it at people for one reason or another. You would have loved that. We empty the storage unit in one trip and head back to the condo to stack it all in the living room. It’s a bit overwhelming but I’ll work on it slowly. 

Finally, tonight, your dad comes over for dinner. I’m proud of him. Dad grills some really delicious ribeye steaks. I make Mom make the powdered instant potatoes the way you did for that extra fluffiness. Of course your dad talks about old times and the usual, but it’s good for him. I drive him home and then come back to hang out with the siblings for the last time, with another game of, obviously, Shanghai. Then I actually drive home for good, to try to sleep..

My first night back in our bed.

It’s difficult, to say the least.

Keira is obviously missing you too; she sleeps on your side of the bed all night. I wake up at least 3 times. But we get through it. Then your mom actually arrives early Tuesday morning to start cleaning the room and taking clothes home. We have a calm morning organizing things, and then I head out to meet Z for lunch before he goes home. I wanted to stay longer but Mom says she is feeling more connected with you by doing this stuff all day, so I leave her to it.

I was going to come back before dinner but the parents already have it planned, so I check with her before staying, and she’s happy. We play some Starcraft before dinner. Then we have one last card game. I drive home again to get an early bedtime, since I am going into work tomorrow.

The past few days, there’s been an almost overwhelming sense of moving on. Not that I ever will, but it feels that there’s this pressure. Not from people, specifically, but just the universe I guess. It’s hard to explain. I am starting to feel less discomfort and pain, and more of a willingness to get back to work and try to get back into some normal routines.

For the second day in a row, your mom’s cleanup work at home is absolutely stunning. Clothes are almost all gone; bedroom, bathroom, kitchen are all organized; even the dining table is clear! It’s so amazing of her to do this all. I don’t know how she’s doing it, honestly, but it’s either helping her cope or it’s pure adrenaline fumes.

Bed time again. I get Keira up on the bed with me, which I want to keep doing. She was finally able to eat something after I mixed in some beef broth and canned food with her kibble. Hopefully she can continue to get better. She misses you so much. I miss you.

I need you here with me. I keep watching our honeymoon videos on repeat. I need you with me on my upcoming road trip for the tech conference. I need you with me as I fall asleep, as I wake up and get ready for work. But mostly I need your laugh, your smile, your kiss, your embrace. I love you. I loved you.

as long as i breathe you'll be remembered

Always and forever.

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A Grief Observed, part 6

Apologies for the lack of posting last week. Busy schedule. Appropriately, this entry in the journal also comes after a longer pause than usual. It’s about the memorial service. Of all the posts so far, this was the most difficult to re-read and edit.

Week of the Memorial

I have not journaled since last Sunday. We have all tried to keep ourselves super busy, especially me. Mom and I looked at tons of pictures and she helped me pick out her favorites. I had the apparently good idea to share everything with Google Drive. Which meant she needed to log in to her account, but she got it.

Monday I spent with your family again. We finalized some plans after meeting with the funeral director. His name is Bob; he’s very nice. He explains the whole process. I treat it very business-like for some reason. I guess I still don’t believe you’re gone. There’s a lot of moving parts to this thing. Not too many to handle, but enough. Why do I have to do all of this? You are my helper, my person to makes sure I don’t say too much or too little. Fortunately your mom takes on that role for now.

We are happy that she thought of this idea to go to Redlands. Your main home was here. You were always excited to come back here for Cuca’s or Baker’s or La Costa. Or ‘ghetto pizza’, which we pass several times as we navigate to and from the mortuary. “Mortuary” is a strange word right now. I never say the word “funeral” either, during this time. It’s not that I don’t know or understand, I just subconsciously can’t get past the word.

But we are trying to make you proud. The flower shop remembers you and mom and everybody from Soroptimists. They’re very sweet, and D makes sure they have zebra ribbon for your arrangements. Mom sheds some more tears. I know you want us to be okay but we can’t yet. It’s too soon.

I try spending the night in Corona with Keira. She does pretty well at night now, sleeping by me the whole time. I still need a fan on me to sleep. This time I open the window too, which helps make it cooler. It’s still hard without you. I can’t reach over and snuggle you.

Now it’s time to head home to actually start working on your memorial music and slides and things. For realsies. Mom and D are making the cards fully custom, and going to Costco to get a large portrait of you printed. It’s the same picture that I’ve had on my phone background ever since that night. I still can’t say it. You’re coming back. No, you’re in a better place. But I can’t say the D-word.

Keira is happy to be back at the parent’s. She still doesn’t eat; she didn’t eat at all in Corona. But at least here she knows where to bathroom and doesn’t get stressed. I’m still going to take her back up to Corona too. She needs to get used to them.

I stay up way too late. Aunt H and the two Texas girls are out for you, so we have dinner and cards. B&L bring over this super delicious Hawaiian food. I think you would have liked it; it was flavorful but not at all spicy. But the reason I stay up so late is to work on your video. Mom and I painstakingly picked out these songs and pictures. We want to honor you in the best way possible. I’ve been fighting with the technology aspect for too long. You would have told me to stick with one thing and make it work, rather than trying to bounce around between systems. You were always making sure to help me even when I didn’t admit that I needed it.

I drive up to Redlands with K and we listen to music and talk. Some about you, also about me and how we’re handling things. It’s been difficult to open up to some people depending on the subject. She loved you so much, and you know how her attitude has always been. It’s refreshing. Then we get to the mortuary to pay and test the audio and video stuff. It seems to work well. I want your pictures to show on the screens, and your music to play, while people are arriving. Even while we’re seeing you for the last time.

That part is upsetting. We knew that they would prepare your body and make you look nice with the clothes that Mom & D picked out. They did. But you’re so cold. So stiff and cold. I know you’re not here, but I have to say goodbye still. And how much I loved you. I still love you. I will always love you.

After coming back home, I finish making DVD and CD copies. Then I promise everybody I will get some sleep. I try. It’s a little easier tonight, after being done with tech-y things. But still not solid. Keira is sleeping very well though. You would be proud of here, being able to adjust so well here. I worry about here being in her crate all day for the service itself.

Thursday morning, I get up a little early. It feels ephemeral, as if I’m about to go somewhere and do something that can’t possibly be real. But it is very real. I actually need to finish writing my own memorial speech. I guess that’s not the right word. None of this is right. But I use a real pen and your real notebook. I know you were telling me to do it this way, not by typing into the computer and printing something. You knew it would help solidify the words and the fact that you’re gone.

I have to meet in Corona first to change. They say I look nice, and I remember how to tie my tie. I don’t know if you wanted me to wear one but I felt that I wanted to. I decide to drive myself to Redlands, to listen to your music again and prepare myself. I may get there before them, but I sit in the car and gather things up before going in. It looks like Mom & D arrived before me, or at least before I go in. They warn me that you’re there. No, that your body is there, at the front, in the casket. The chapel is lovely, the flowers are so beautiful. You would have loved them. Roses and lilies with zebra ribbon. A few are not coordinated because some family didn’t know of the florist or weren’t told in time.

You still look so beautiful. But you’re cold. And a little waxy. It’s so strange. I’ve never done this before. Even with grandparents, I may have stepped up and seen them but I don’t remember touching them. I kiss your head and hold your hand for a while. We’re all so upset and distraught. I think it did help to see that you were clearly gone. Can I say it yet? I can’t.

I have to keep busy now. Setting up your penguin light-ups and your coloring page [[She colored a beautiful fairy portrait]]. And we try to get the chapel’s sound system to play the music CD I made for you. Music was such a huge part of your life and personality. I feel that you speak to me through it sometimes. I hope you do. The CD player doesn’t seem to be working right; it just keeps repeating the same track. I try to help them fix it, then wonder if some cousin would be available to work it manually. That would suck. Thankfully, I hear they fix it a few minutes later.

Your dad is extremely upset, as is your brother. They know that you’re gone and that there’s nothing left to do, but they loved you so much. We all did. More family starts arriving and we try to hold onto each other to make sure we can pull through. People laugh and cry at our pictures. Especially J, when you’re with S [[her daughter, our niece]], which is often. There are some silly ones too, but thank God nobody found your infamous clown outfit one from Halloween.

The actual service is nice. I feel like we prepared for it, but that we did so in your honor. I don’t want people to acknowledge my work, I want them to see your beautiful face and know how happy you were. You still are. I know you’re up there and so much happier, filled with joy and light and love. But we’re stuck down here, and it’s not fair. Is that selfish? We need your sparkle back in our lives. Nobody in this room will ever forget you, you know that. You touched so many people for the better.

Most of all, me. If not for you, I would never have started writing, nor been blessed with an amazing career move, nor have known your wonderful family, nor developed any sense of fashion or pop culture or pragmatism or generosity. You brought so much positive things to my life, even if you didn’t remember it all. You were never a burden. You were always my person, my heart, my soulmate, my love. I don’t understand why you’re gone.

People tell me I spoke well and I “did great”. Whatever that means. I didn’t start sobbing during my memorial reading, I guess, is what they’re talking about. I did that before. When I was writing to you. You know that, you saw. I just wanted them to see how wonderful you were, how touching your life was, and how sad we all are that it was cut short. Truly before your time. It does not make sense.

We do get one last goodbye with you, just me and your mom. She gently reclaims that cute little gold wine bottle necklace. It’s now a family heirloom. Perhaps it may even have a little bit of you inside it, if it’s an actual container. If not, well, Mom or Barb will always wear it to think of you. But it’s even more apparent that you’re not here. You’ve told us to go on, to be with family, to remember you and to ease our hurt together, to try shedding less tears. Yet each day we are without you, a little piece of us dies again.

you will plan the funeral while in a haze
Fairly accurate. “Happy” is not a word that belongs here, but we do feel that we honored her.

 

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Where Does Our Love Now Go?

Today’s post, since I have no guests this week and I’m off-kilter due to being in Portland much longer than anticipated, is again on the topic of the loss of a loved one. However, I hope that this will be uplifting and positive in a way, a sort of homage to the sparkle of life that K always brought to those around her.

This is inspired by a Facebook post in one of the grief groups I joined. I’ve noticed that, like the person posting, I too have adopted a more humble, generous, kind, patient attitude toward many things, especially other people, particularly friends and family. But also life in general. “Life is too short”, I will find myself saying. To not love fiercely, to not experience wonder, to not bring joy to those you care for.

How can I do this with such a broken heart? K was my everything. The very purpose of my being who I am. Who I was. I am now someone else. But I am still me. What has changed? Well obviously. I mean, what has changed within me that could make me this way? I have a theory.

My heart still loves, still outpours daily with compassion and longing and the desire to bring her happiness. But she is not here to receive it. She knows and watches, from above, of course. And she surely receives a small measure of that love from her place in Heaven. Yet I am an earthly being; thus, my feelings, and by consequence the object of said feelings, are earth-bound. I am also a spiritual being; thus, as I said, some part of that energy does make its way into that realm. But I think not the majority.

Instead, I find myself trying to give outwardly toward others. To be kind to a stranger. To be patient and encouraging with a service worker when they’re having a horrible day. To be less hurried in traffic, and drive at a more leisurely pace. To make sure our families are well taken-care-of, when I have the means to do so. And I feel that this honors K’s memory and spirit. More than that, though, I feel it helps my heart to heal.

K’s imagination was truly boundless, as embodied by her consistently vivid and wild dreams. She was such a self-critic, she had trouble putting things into words. But I know her spirit had just barely begun to venture out beyond the man-made walls and trappings of this mortal comfort-zone. She wanted so badly to be a force of light and joy, and an embodiment of love, for her family and friends. Many times her body and pain held her back. Yet in certain small ways she has been able to be so. In her nieces, the little girls she could not have herself while on this earth, yet who continue to amaze us and warm our hearts every day.

And, I would like to think, in me. By allowing me to become more humble, kind, generous, patient, and loving, towards others. Because the focus point of all of that effort, from me, is now at peace, and soaring through the stars, beyond our wildest imagination, beyond even the inkling of what our most wondrous dreams can touch. Thus, I am allowed to NOT focus on just one point, one person, but on many.

Does this betray or dishonor my love, my beautiful angel, my soulmate, my everything? Hardly. I still grieve for her every day. And she tells me, “I hear you. I love you too. I want you to be happy again. I want you to be the sparkle in their lives now that I cannot be. I will always be with you. I will see you again; but until I do, you must live. For I did die, but you did not. Your time is not yet come, and you have much to do.”

Being a widow/widower is gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, soul-crushing, and inconsolable. However, our loved ones do not want us to dwell in those states of mind and of being. They want to see us become an EVEN BETTER version of ourselves than the amazing version that THEY helped MAKE us! I’ve said it, and it’s been echoed by our loved ones — K made me into the man that I am. And I am truly forever grateful for that. I was blessed to have her for 10 years. It was not nearly enough.

Even now, she wants me to try and be better. I will fail at times; I will stumble and fall. That’s what being human means. But I will try. And she will see, and she will clap, laugh, dance, cry, and sing, from her wondrous place among God’s glorious hosts. And when my time comes, she will be waiting to welcome me with open arms, to say, “I saw you try. And you have honored me.”

the journey does not end here

Featured

A Grief Observed, part 5

I didn’t have a post for last Friday, since I was prepping for a trip out of state to visit family. So today’s post will simply be another grief journal entry, as it would have been on Friday. Hopefully we’ll have another guest-post coming soon too. Thank you for reading as always. Love & light ❤

PS: I want to share another blog with you that really resonates with me; I hope you enjoy it too, especially if you are a widow/widower like us. http://widowofwonder.blogspot.com/

Fourth Night

Then we get back to the house and sis-in-law trims the hair by my ears and neckline before I head home. I don’t run into much traffic and I get home to have some good dinner with the parents, which someone from our old church made and brought over. I write more of this journal. I look at pictures and pick out songs for hours, making sure I have enough to get started and to make it just right for you.

The slide-show and tribute arrangement. You always told me how funny I was about getting projects like this, how detail-oriented I would get. I know you loved how geeky I was, even though you laughed at me. I miss your laugh. Why can’t you laugh for me again? I know you’re laughing and singing in Heaven. I know. It doesn’t always help us down here. But I will try to remember.

Earlier on the drive I called or messaged your four closest friends. I’m happy that D and C can make it, being so local. B will try, but she’s not sure. They are all devastated to hear the news. I have a hard time saying it out loud, but it’s also helpful to cope. And it’s nice to hear their voices and their fondness and memories of you. Even if you did not talk as much a you may have wanted to, they understood, and they loved you. We all loved you. We still do.

Sleep is difficult again. I do use the meds, but it has to be in two shifts again. Keira is doing much better though, happily sleeping on the cool floor beside me. I wake up and eat an ice cream bar before going back to bed. I stare at your picture again. I try talking to you. It’s hard, but I hope you hear me. I love you.

Fourth Day

I go to church with the parents in the morning, after getting up early with Dad and the dogs. They’re doing well today. I have breakfast early, the oatmeal from home; it’s something that feels routine. But I get nauseous again, so I take another nausea pill. I’m glad that you made me take them when necessary, even though it makes me sad that they’re yours. You won’t be able to get them anymore. I guess I will still be able to refill them for a while.

Mom and I go thru Starbucks and then have to drop something off at S’s house. She comes out to give me hugs for you. I drink my Salted Caramel Mocha Frapp, double blended of course. You made fun of me for swirling in the whipped-cream as soon as I could. I loved how I would always get your leftover drinks. I will miss that. My mom has the refillable Starbucks gift card from us that you customized and wrote on for her. She will cherish it even more now. We miss you.

Church is helpful for me. We hadn’t been there in a long time, but everybody loved you still, and misses you. C lost her husband at around our age, so she is a really understanding soul and will be a good support. Many people express their sympathy. And J&M of course, are without words. The junior pastor is actually an old friend of ours from childhood. He prays with me afterward and makes sure I know that he’s always available, as is the grief counseling group that they hold on Thursdays. I might do that. You would have liked his impromptu pre-sermon prayer this morning. There were a lot of people and families dealing with loss, with illness and death, and he felt the need to make sure those bad spirits and negative energies were chased away by love and support and grace.

Your dad wanted to come over for lunch, picking up El Pollo Loco. But he is sick and had to throw up and stuff. I think he’s really not doing well. Even though you weren’t that close, you were his little girl too. So we have J&M over instead, which is nice to see them. We play cribbage and I win. M helps me with some info and tips about dealing with arrangement-related things. She loved you. They all did.

Then I have to go back to the house and our room to pick up a few things, including your laptop and some blankets for your family. It’s difficult, but I don’t stop this time. I do still keep expecting you to come back to the bed. My mom keeps K company and makes sure he’s doing okay. We bring back the spare car for our visiting relatives to have a spare care just in case while they’re here. So many of them are coming on such short notice. It’s a wonderful showing of love and support. You know that you were family to them, to all of them, and they loved you.

I finally talk to cousin J. She’s been having a hard time too, especially since they just moved away. She can’t make it for the service but she’ll try to come down for the weekend to be with us. Her babies are just too much to make last-minute arrangements for. She’s happy to be living in their own place now, after only having to spend a week in the very crowded house of her friend. She loved playing cards with us before they left, and we all laughed so hysterically at your ridiculous penis drawings on the score pad. You won’t play shanghai [rummy] with us again. Why can’t you play cards with us anymore?

the empty chair (poem)