Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Year-End List of Lists (2009) - Music and Books

I'm sure, dear faithful reader, that you clicked over here today, thinking this would be a LOST post. (Patience, dear one. That post is arriving next.) Maybe you're wondering where the Musical Interlude Mondays went? Or perhaps you have waited so long for the second-half of my 2009 year-end list, you'd figured I'd lost interest and given up on writing it, or updating the blog itself, for that matter?
Well, let's just say that 2010 did not arrive gently for me. In fact, it hit me square in the face and knocked me down like a sumo wrestler with a bad attitude. I just now feel like I've come around and have been able to catch my breath. My personal life took a big hit with a couple of health scares. (It turns out I'm fine, thank you.) Combine that with some serious family drama and it almost put me in the loony bin. I couldn't concentrate on anything, let alone writing. But never fear! The good news is, I have not given up on my blog. In fact, I'm inspired to write even more now. But more on that later. For now, I want to thank you, gentle readers (all two of you) for hanging in there and being patient with my sporadicness. Secondly, I need to close out my long-overdue discussion on my favorites from 2009. So, without further ado...

In my last post, I discussed my favorite television shows and movies of 2009. Today, I'll review the music and books I enjoyed in 2009, and conclude with what was really important to me.

Favorite Music:
I enjoyed more acoustic goodness from the Once pair of Glen and Marketa under their band name Swell Season (album name - Strict Joy). Depeche Mode put out a new album called Sounds of the Universe and, even if you're not a fan, I suggest you check out the haunting yet catchy song called "Wrong" from that album. After a long wait, 30 Seconds to Mars finally released a new album called This Is War. I was so excited to get it... only to be disappointed. All the things I loved about the band were, for the most part, completely absent from the new album. Elvis Costello's album Secret, Profane and Sugarcane was unusual and interesting, as he always is. Beauty Will Rise by Steven Curtis Chapman made me cry (in a good way) and inspired me. Rock supergroup Chickenfoot rocked it old-school.

However, there were four albums that stood out for me in 2009. I practically wore out The Resistance by Muse. I love the unusual sound they have going for them. The same goes for the album No Line on the Horizon by U2 - I played that album over and over again. You can always count on U2 to deliver consistently good rock/pop music. They are one of the few, in a sea of mediocrity. Another long-awaited album for me was Memento Mori by Flyleaf. They changed their sound up a little, becoming more complex, more lyrical, and I liked it a lot. They still rock! The first two singles are "Beautiful Bride" and "Again" but my favorite song is "Chasm." However...(drum roll please) very favorite album would probably have to be Approaching Normal from Blue October. The song "Jump Rope" might as well have been my theme song for 2009. Each album from Blue October sounds completely different from the last one. You never know what you're going to get (even within one album) - rock, pop, techno, alternative, blues, country. What you do know, is that it will be a powerful journey with Justin Furstenfeld's haunting voice leading you all the way. (As an aside, I just wish they wouldn't drop the F-bomb so much. It's completely unnecessary and detracts from their songs. I recommend purchasing the "clean" version of the album.)

Albums that were released in 2009 that I still haven't checked out yet: Awake by Skillet, Leave This Town by Daughtry, Hello, Hurricane by Switchfoot, Raditude by Weezer, Kris Allen's debut album, Innocence and Instinct by Red, Black Gives Way to Blue by Alice in Chains and Your Songs by Harry Connick Jr. (Now, tell me, where else on the web can you find Alice in Chains and Harry Connick Jr. mentioned in the same sentence? I'm weird. I know.)

Favorite Books:
This year, I read more books than I have in a very long time. Since I'm now a member of two different book clubs, that has consequently ramped up my reading quantities, and I love it. Books that I read and enjoyed this year were: The Soloist by Steve Lopez, Alice In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (of course), and Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster. I sadly waved good-bye to Harry, Hermoine and Ron as I read the satisfying final installment of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling, indulged my inner comic book geek with The Umbrella Academy: Dallas by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba. (I enjoyed The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite more than this series.), discovered a new favorite heroine in The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, (I must seek out and read the rest of the books in this series), educated myself about The Truth Behind Ghosts, Mediums and Psychic Phenomena by Ron Rhodes, which was enlightening. (I highly recommend it.) and was enchanted by The 13 Clocks by James Thurber.

I've read Dracula by Bram Stoker too many times to count, but this year, I was able to read and experience it in a completely different way. I read it in real time, through a blog feed that posted segments of the book in real time, corresponding with the dates in the book. It added a whole new level of suspense.

In way or another, I enjoyed everything I read last year, however, there were four books that stood out from the rest as my favorites. I absolutely laughed myself silly over The New Vampire's Handbook: A Guide for the Recently Turned Creature of the Night by the Vampire Miles Proctor. As a horror-aficionado, this book knew exactly where to reach my morbid little funny bone. The Secret History by Donna Tartt was a beautifully-written tragedy that enveloped me in a terrible sense of dread throughout the whole book, gave me nightmares, and proved that ideas have consequences. (It also made me rethink my intense interest in Greek mythology.) I never thought I would sympathize with, let alone root for and find a hero in the lead character in Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin - an unattractive, oafish, crass Mississippi steamboat captain. Nor did I ever think I would cry over the demise of the riverboats as time pressed on and made them obsolete. What a terrific specimen of writing and a brilliant new twist on the vampire myth (it was like Dracula meets Mark Twain). It was a twist that, although new, keeps vampires firmly rooted in the monster category. (Ahem...unlike Twilight... but I digress...)

The most exciting thing I read was Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge. It's a small novella that I bought on a whim from the Halloween table display in the bookstore, because I liked the cover art and thought the synopsis on the back of the book was intriguing. I had no idea what I was in store for. I purposely stalled on finishing this book, because I didn't want it to end. I've never encountered a writing style like this, or a narrative style like this that literally makes you a part of the story - an active participant. Wow. I can still smell cinnamon, gunpowder and burning sugar...

Books that I read which exposed me to other genres (which is always a good thing) and made for interesting reads, but that I really didn't care for: Fieldwork by Mischa Berlinski, Last Light by Terry Blackstock, Night Light by Terry Blackstock, Moloka'i by Alan Brennert, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell, and Into the Wild by John Krakauer.

Favorite Moments:
I hope you enjoyed my quick (albeit a late-in-coming) stroll through the artistic media that I encountered in 2009. I feel passionately about the arts (thus my discussion of them on this blog). However, they are not the most important elements from my year, but rather time spent with friends, time spent worshiping God and studying his word, time with my husband - these are the things that matter.

In 2009 we witnessed a miracle, as my very ill mother-in-law received the precious gift of an organ transplant. In fact, we spent the majority of 2009 sitting bedside in the hospital, both with my mother-in-law and for my brother and a very dear friend. We are still singing praises for healing of all three of them! We survived my husband being laid off from work. I was introduced to a mentor at work and she gave me some hope that what is left of my neglected career might be salvageable. I threw a big milestone birthday party for my husband, embarked on a massive decluttering/organizing project from one end of the house to the other (it's taken over a year and I'm still not done.) and for the first time in my life, I participated in a grassroots movement and wrote my first letter ever to the White House.

My husband and I went on a long-overdue vacation, or more like an adventure, in Las Vegas. I helped start a book club at work, made some new friends, got more involved with the youth group at church (love you guys!), assisted with our church's Sunday morning Bible class for pre-K kids, and continued to work with the Care Ministry. I was challenged and forever changed by the Truth Project. Overall, I was humbled, challenged, given opportunities to learn patience, sacrifice and loving the hard-to-love, and hopefully grew in my Christian walk. These are the things that really matter to me.

Many thanks to you, my Loyal Readers, for following my blog and leaving comments. Even though my 2009 supposedly "year-end" post spilled over into 2010, and I'm kinda lurching out of the starting gate, I have high hopes for the new year. I know it might seem a little bit past the moment to ask this, but what were your favorite things of 2009? Leave me a comment and let me know. :-)

A Year-End List of Lists (2009) - TV and Movies

Since everyone is posting their "Best of 2009" lists, I thought it'd be fun to talk about my favorite things from the past year. In fact, it turns out I had so much to say, I've split this post into two parts. Today, lets discuss TV and movies. (Tomorrow it will be books and music.)

Favorite TV Shows:

I still firmly believe that television has so much more to offer than feature films. This year I continued to be addicted to Burn Notice, Fringe, Dexter and LOST. I love the chemistry between Fiona, Michael and Sam on Burn Notice. The show is fast-paced, smart, fun and it consistently delivers. Meanwhile, Dexter had me on the edge of my seat for all 12 episodes. And even though I'm still fuming mad about the ending, it was probably the best season since Season 1. John Lithgow was all kinds of creepy amazing. I might need therapy just to get over everything that show put me through this year!

Next to LOST, I would have to say Fringe is probably one of my very favorite shows. Olivia is an interesting, complex character and a rare, strong female lead (especially rare in that she doesn't have to stereotypically sex it up with short skirts and spiked heels). She's tough without being butch, and has moments of tenderness and vulnerability without being a weak cliche. The layers of character development they've put into Peter and Walter isn't too shabby either. I enjoy the super-weird sci fi craziness on the show, and I'm dying to know more about the Pattern and William Bell, but it's the characters that keep me coming back week after week.

These are all quality shows, but LOST is still at the top of my list. (Beware - minor spoilers to follow - stop reading if you haven't watched Season 5). Last year we got to see all the backstories about the island, including Dharma in it's prime, Danielle and the French shipwreck, the Temple, the Statue, and we got to see Charles Widmore's history with the island. We also got to see Faraday send a distress call across time into Desmond's brain (how cool was that?), saw how and why the Oceanic Six decided to lie about what happened, and how they all made the choice to be on the Ajira plane, we saw a heart-wrenching resolution to the Aaron plotline, saw the reappearance of the mysterious Ms. Hawking, visited The Lamp Post Station and spent a lot of time off-island. We even donned some polyester for the return of the 70s. My favorite episode though, was "He's Our You", when Sayid was faced with the choice of killing childhood Ben, before he grows up to become an evil manipulative villian. Sayid is one of my favorites, so I always like the shows that center around him, plus it had this pivotal point with Ben, and it brought up more issues about whether or not time can be changed, AND it had a flaming Dharma van. What's not to love? I can't wait for the final season to start, yet at the same time it's so bittersweet. It's the beginning of the end...

Other shows that I enjoyed, but might not have obsessively looked forward to like I did the previously mentioned shows were: The Office, Psych, Monk, and In Plain Sight, (and no, I don't work for the USA channel). I cried at the season finale of Monk, which was also the end of the show. It was some good closure. We also added Community, Royal Pains and Parks and Recreation to our viewing list. Parks and Recreation started out a little clumsy, but it has really taken off, and usually provides some pretty good laughs. Like I said, television is better than cinema right now, thus my unusually long TV viewing list.

Favorite Movies:
Have I mentioned that television is better that feature films right now? In my year-end post for 2008, I said, "I honestly don't know if I'll be going to the movies at all next year." and I predicted correctly. I didn't hardly go to the movies at all in 2009. Not only was my viewing experience better at home (with a quality entertainment system and quality TV shows), but there just weren't that many new movies released that I was even mildly interested in seeing: a sad state of affairs for the wonderful art form known as cinema. (Of course, I say that, but then look at the long list below... sometimes I make myself laugh...)

That doesn't mean there weren't a few diamonds in the rough though. The Johnny Depp vehicle, Public Enemy, was an interesting character study, as was The Soloist. While Paul Blart: Mall Cop was cute, funny and clean - a very rare thing in Hollywood. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Taken, with Liam Neeson as the security specialist on the hunt for his kidnapped daughter. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince started the beginning of the end of the Potter series and was quite satisfying. District 9, did a lot of innovative and exciting things for the sci fi genre but I hated the lead character and the whole plot was uneven and just left a bad taste in my mouth. Speaking of bad movies, I still want the two-hours of my life back that Underworld 3: the Rise of the Lycans stole from me. (My apologies, again, to C.O.O. for making him sit through that.) Oh, there was such wasted potential for that whole storyline.

However, four movies stood above the rest for me. J.J. Abrams consistently delivers good entertainment (LOST, Fringe, Cloverfield, MI:4) and he didn't disappoint with the new Star Trek film. I'm not even a Trekkie and I thoughroughly enjoyed it. I feel like I should write J.J. Abrams a personal thank you note for all the happy entertaining hours he's provided me with! I also recently saw The Blind Side and was so touched by this film, and was impressed with its honest, real, positive portrayal of Christian love. Funny enough, my top two favorites are animated children's films (not sure what that says about me). Coraline was a faithful adaptation of the creepy Neil Gaiman novel and it was a beauty of stop-motion animation magic. I loved every 3D minute of it! But hands-down, easily my favorite film last year, was the Pixar film UP. Words cannot describe how much I loved this film. In fact, it has warranted a multi-post article that I'm currently writing. So I will leave my comments for then. Bottom line - if you haven't seen it, go out and rent it right now!

Movies that were released in 2009 that I haven't seen yet, but really want to: Where the Wild Things Are, Drag Me to Hell, Paranormal Activity, Inglorious Basterds, Zombieland, Pirate Radio, Hurt Locker, A Perfect Getaway, Thirst, Sherlock Holmes, and Invictus.

Lest you think that I waste my life away in frivolous pursuits such as television and movies, please come back tomorrow when I wrap up with my favorite things from 2009, and then conclude this discussion with the things that are really important to me.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Musical Interlude - OK GO

As we all recover from the food coma I'm sure we all experienced over the holiday weekend, I thought I'd give you a song to get your blood pumping again from the band OK GO. I'm not sure how to describe this band, to call them rock pop or pop rock. (No, that can't be right... Pop Rocks is not a band, it's a candy.)

Most people know OK GO from the viral videos they did on You Tube for their song "A Million Ways To Be Cruel", where they did a silly dance routine in their backyard, and, even more famous, the video for the song "Here It Goes Again" where they did a crazy routine on treadmills. If you are one of the few people left on the planet who has not seen this video, it's definitely worth a watch. However, my favorite song of theirs is "Do What You Want". Every time I hear it, I have an uncontrollable urge to get up and jam. I love the way the video was filmed too (with multiple stop-motion cameras, timed with the beat of the song).

Just a word of caution, if you have motion sickness, this video might trip you out. Also, You Tube won't let me embed the video, so just click on the picture below and it will launch the You Tube video in a new window.

Do What You Want

So you were born
In an electrical storm,
Took a bite out the sun
And saw your future in a machine built for two.

Now your rays
Make me kind of go crazy,
Shock and awe and amaze me,
Just a ticker tape parade and me,

But something was wrong
Till you tap danced on the air,
In the night.
Screaming at the top of your
Lungs, you said,

"Come on, come on.
Do what you want.
What could go wrong?
Oh come on come on come on,
Come on, do what you want.
Oh come on come on.
What could go wrong?
Do do do do what you want." Come on.

Me, I was raised
Amid the trickle-down days.
I woke up numb in the haze
And saw my future machine built for two,

But the light
Gave me some kind of fright.
How did wrong get so right and lead me stumbling
Through the dark of night?

Oh something was wrong,
But you tap danced on the air,
In the night,
Screaming at the top of your lungs you said,


Monday, December 21, 2009

Musical Interlude - U2

Since it seems, for all intents and purposes, that my blog has now become a radio station, I thought I'd just roll with it and make today's post a dedication. (Do any of you even remember when you could call radio stations and dedicate a song to someone? Does anyone even listen to the radio station anymore? I know I don't. It's Pandora all the way. But I digress...) Without further ado... just imagine a 50's disc jockey's voice...

Welcome back! This is the Storm in a Teacup, station DLW13 out of Peoria, playing all the hits you know and love. We've got stacks of the best tracks in wax! And now, hold onto your holly, because we're sending out a little Christmas cheer to a Mrs. Laura in Phoenix. Here come your boys from Dublin, belting out a holiday jam that'll make you swoon, 'cause Bono want's to know... won't you please come home...? Let's give it a spin!

Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
By U2

The snow's coming down
I'm watching it fall
Watching the people around
Baby please come home

The church bells in town
They're ringing a song
What a happy sound
Baby please come home

They're singing deck the halls
But it's not like Christmas at all
I remember when you were here
And all the fun we had last year

Pretty lights on the tree
I'm watching 'em shine
You should be here with me
Baby please come home

Baby please come home
Baby please come home

They're singing deck the halls
But it's not like Christmas at all
I remember when you were here
And all the fun we had last year

If there was a way
I'd hold back these tears
But it's Christmas day
Baby please come home
Baby please come home

Baby please come home
Baby please come home
Ohh...Baby please come home
Baby please come home

Monday, December 14, 2009

Musical Interlude - Robert Downey Jr.

Yes, you read that title correctly. Robert Downey Jr. sings - and he's actually pretty good. Don't get me wrong, it's not like he's going to give Bono a run for his money or anything, but he has a nice bluesy jazzy voice and knows how to use it without overdoing it or trying to reach beyond his abilities. He released an album called The Futurist in November of 2004, on which he wrote all but two songs himself.

In keeping with Christmas music for the month of December, I thought I'd include Downey's version of "River", a song originally written and performed by Joni Mitchell. I will shamefully admit that I watched Alley McBeal when it was on TV, but only to see the episodes that included Robert Downey Jr. He's a wonderful actor and I may not have liked this show, but his character was very interesting and entertaining. It was on the Christmas episode of the show that he sang this song and I was instantly mystified and a little surprised.

Depending on your holiday sensibilities, this song might not sit well with you. It's a little dark, and a little sad, but I find it to be hauntingly beautiful. And we must admit, the holidays can be a very blue time of year for many people - you're missing your loved ones who are either out of state, or have passed on, or you might have just gone through a bad break-up and are having to spend the holidays alone (as is the narrator of this song). I can relate to that sadness, which is felt even deeper because of the contrast, while everything around you is twinkling lights and cheery faces, all telling you to be merry.

Sorry to bring the room down! I promise we'll be back to happy Christmas music next week. Until then, if you'd like to sample another song from Downey, check out his cover of "Smile", a song originally written, appropriately enough, by Charlie Chaplin.

Lyrics by Joni Mitchell

It's coming on Christmas
They're cutting down trees
They're putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
Oh I wish I had a river
I could skate away on

But it don't snow here
It stays pretty green
I'm going to make a lot of money
Then I'm going to quit this crazy scene

I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
I wish I had a river so long
I would teach my feet to fly
Oh I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
I made my baby cry

He tried hard to help me
You know, he put me at ease
And he loved me so naughty
Made me weak in the knees
Oh I wish I had a river
I could skate away on

I'm so hard to handle
I'm selfish and I'm sad
Now I've gone and lost the best baby
That I ever had

Oh I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
I wish I had a river so long
I would teach my feet to fly
Oh I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
I made my baby say goodbye

It's coming on Christmas
They're cutting down trees
They're putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
I wish I had a river
I could skate away on

Monday, December 07, 2009

Musical Interlude - Jars of Clay

Since we're in the month of December, I figured my Musical Interludes should reflect the music of the season. First up is Jars of Clay's rendition of "Little Drummer Boy". It has an indie rock feel, and I kinda like it.

Typically I don't care for covers of Christmas songs where the artist has changed up the arrangement significantly to match their musical style, to the point where any specialness or essence from the original score has been lost. (The worst are the R&B versions of Christmas songs where they insert a lot of melisma and "ooohh"s and "oh baby"s. Ugh! Gag me with a candy cane...)

However, I think this particular cover works. There's something about a rock band, proclaiming that they are going to worship the Christ child by banging on their drum, that just makes me smile.

If you like this song, check out Jars of Clay's verison of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen". Enjoy!

Little Drummer Boy
Music & Lyrics Originally by Katherine K. Davis

Come, they told me (pa-rum-pa-pum-pum)
A newborn king to see (pa-rum-pa-pum-pum)
Our finest gifts we bring (pa-rum-pa-pum-pum)
To lay before the king (pa-rum-pa-pum-pum) [x 3]
So, to honor Him (pa-rum-pa-pum-pum)
When we come

Little baby (pa-rum-pa-pum-pum)
I am a poor boy too (pa-rum-pa-pum-pum)
I have no gifts to bring (pa-rum-pa-pum-pum)
That's fit to give a king (pa-rum-pa-pum-pum) [x 3]
Shall I play for you (pa-rum-pa-pum-pum)
On my drum?

Mary nodded (pa-rum-pa-pum-pum)
The ox and lamb kept time (pa-rum-pa-pum-pum)
I played my drum for Him (pa-rum-pa-pum-pum)
I played my best for Him (pa-rum-pa-pum-pum) [x 3]
Then, He smiled at me (pa-rum-pa-pum-pum)
Me and my drum

Friday, December 04, 2009

Sorry About the Spam

To my Loyal Readers who have left comments on the last several blog posts, then received some bizarre follow-up comment notifications, my apologies. Apparently, my blog has attracted spammers. Just the kind of "loyal readers" that I DON'T need. I'm not sure what topics I've posted have made these spammers think you would be interested in illegal knock-offs of high-end athletic shoes (because my blog just screams sports and athleticism...right?) Anyway, I've enabled comment moderation, so please be patient when you post a comment. It will show up as soon as I can get to it and approve it.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Musical Interlude - The White Stripes

Mondays are always rough, but it's even more difficult to crawl out of bed and face a dreary Monday at work, after enjoying a four-day holiday weekend full of rest, relaxation and lots and lots of food. So what song will work best, to get us started on a day like today? I was thinking we'd sample from the stripped down rock of The White Stripes. A guy with a guitar, a girl with a kick drum; it's simple, pure, fun rock and roll. But what song? My favorite is "Seven Nation Army", while "Hardest Button to Button" has a nice little kick, but I think "My Doorbell" is the right fit for this morning. This song is an usual choice for me, because I am in love with Jack White's guitar, but this song doesn't showcase his guitar playing skills and is mostly piano driven. However, it never fails to make me smile. Not only is it a fun song, but the video showcases a whole audience full of adorable Rascal-esque kids. On an interesting side note, this song garnered The White Stripes a 2006 Grammy nomination for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. Enjoy!

My Doorbell
by The White Stripes

I'm thinkin' about my doorbell
When ya gonna ring it, when ya gonna ring it
I'm thinkin' about my doorbell
When ya gonna ring it, when ya gonna ring it
I'm thinkin' about my doorbell
When ya gonna ring it, when ya gonna ring it
Yeah, I been thinkin' about my doorbell

Oh, well

Well women and children need kisses
Not the man in my life I know
And I been going to mystery misses
I respect the art of the show
Take back what you said little girl
And while you're at it take yourself back too
I'm tired of sittin' and waitin'
Woman, whatcha gonna do now, whatcha gonna do about it

I'm thinkin' about my doorbell
When ya gonna ring it, when ya gonna ring it
Yeah, I'm thinkin' about my doorbell
When ya gonna ring it, when ya gonna ring it oh
I'm thinkin' about my doorbell
When ya gonna ring it, when ya gonna ring it
Yeah, I been thinkin' about my doorbell

Oh, well

You don't seem to come around
Point your finger and make a sound
You don't seem to come around
Knock knock since you knocked it down

Oh, well

Make a sound and I'll make you feel right
Right at home
Right at home

You know you got me waiting in vain,
How come it's so easy to you?
You don't strike me as the type to be callous
But your words seem so obtuse
But then again I know you feel guilty
And you tell me you want me again
But I don't need any of your pity
I got plenty of my own friends
They're all above me

And I've been thinkin' about my doorbell
When they gonna ring it, when they gonna ring it
Yeah, I've been thinkin' about my doorbell
When they gonna ring it, when they gonna ring it, oh
I've been thinkin' about my doorbell
When they gonna ring it, when they gonna ring it
Yeah, I been thinkin' about my doorbell

Oh, well

They don't seem to come around
Point your finger and make a sound
They don't seem to come around
Maybe they they'll knock 'em down

Oh, well

Make a sound and I'll make you feel right
Right at home
Right at home

I'm thinkin' about my doorbell
When ya gonna ring it, when ya gonna ring it
I'm thinkin' about my doorbell
When ya gonna ring it, when ya gonna ring it
I'm thinkin' about my doorbell
When ya gonna ring it, when ya gonna ring it
Yeah, I been thinkin' about my doorbell
When you're gonna ring it, when you're gonna ring it

I'm thinkin' about my doorbell
When ya gonna ring it, when ya gonna ring it
I'm thinkin' about my doorbell, oh, oh well

Monday, November 23, 2009

Musical Interlude - Flyleaf

Hello, Loyal Readers, and welcome to the Monday of a short work week/school week. Yay! Here's a little music to get you moving. Flyleaf's long-awaited sophmore album, entitled Memento Mori, was released this month, and they did not disappoint. I must admit, I was concerned, because more often than not, when a band's debut album is super-successful (like Flyleaf's first album) they buckle under the pressure of living up to that standard when they make their second album. Luckily, that was not the case. In fact, I think they've really grown and this album is much richer and complex than their first album. Below is the first single, called "Again". If you like it, then I strongly recommend their other single, "Beautiful Bride." It rocks.

By Flyleaf

I love the way that your heart breaks
with every injustice and deadly fate
Praying it all be new
and living like it all depends on you

Here you are down on your knees again
trying to find air to breathe again
Only surrender will help you now
I love you please see and believe again

I love that you’re never satisfied
with face value wisdom and happy lies
you take what they say and go back and cry
you’re so close to me that you nearly died

Here you are down on your knees again
trying to find air to breathe again
Only surrender will help you now
I love you please see and believe again

they don’t have to understand you
be still
wait and know I understand you
be still
be still

Here you are down on your knees again
trying to find air to breathe again
Only surrender will help you now
The floodgates are breaking
and pouring out

Here you are down on your knees
trying to find air to breathe
right where I want you to be again
i love you please see and believe again

Here you are down on your knees again
trying to find air to breathe again
Right where I want you to be again
See and believe!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Return to American McGee's Wonderland

I've always enjoyed video games. I've saved the world with Missle Command on my Atari system, twisted Greek mythology with Altered Beast on my brother's Sega, helped Mario jump through Super Mario Brothers on the Gameboy, screamed through Resident Evil on my brother's Playstation, stayed up until 3 AM playing Diablo with friends at a LAN party, laughed with Toe Jam & Earl III: Mission to Earth, shivered through Half Life, survived the quests in Fable and helped Ash save the world again in Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick on our X-Box. Even now, I am addicted to the simple puzzle game Zombie Pizza on my iPhone. As much fun as all those games were, and as varied as they were in their technology, styles and challenges, I've never, ever, played anything like American McGee's Alice.

I'm a big fan of all things Alice in Wonderland, so of course I was already hooked by the idea of the game and I couldn't wait to get it home and try it out. I was pleasantly surprised at the terrific playability of the game and was immediately sucked in. It wasn't just a mindless shoot-'em-up. It Incorporated all the best parts of all the different game styles and all of these aspects were executed with superb quality. The story was rich, the puzzles were challenging and suspenseful, the first-person action was intense, and all of it was laced together with dark humor, gorgeous art direction and some of the most beautifully haunting music (scored by Chris Vrenna, former drummer for Nine Inch Nails). This game had it all. And the individual challenges, levels, puzzles, etc. all contributed to the story and led to an ultimate and satisfying goal. Game designer, American McGee, certainly knew what he was doing. He created a world that I thoroughly enjoyed visiting.

The game takes place shortly after Alice's "Through the Looking Glass" adventure. Alice's house is burned down in an accidental fire, killing her family, and leaving her as the only survivor. Because of her survivor's guilt, she tries to commit suicide and is institutionalized in Rutledge Asylum. Now a troubled teenager, Alice is summoned one night by the White Rabbit, who asks her to help save a radically altered Wonderland, which has become a twisted version of itself under the rule of the evil Red Queen. Since Wonderland is actually a dreamworld created by Alice's mind, it follows that it has been corrupted and turned macabre by her insanity. If Alice manages to save Wonderland, she will save her sanity as well. A sarcastic Cheshire Cat is Alice's companion throughout the game, frequently appearing to guide her (and the player) with cryptic comments. Here's the trailer for the original game:

Since my time with Alice, I've been disenchanted with most of the current games and have drifted away from playing anything. I've tried out Rock Band and laughed at my terrible faux guitar playing skills. However, most of the games nowdays seem very testosterone-centric and very violent, with a lack of story or character development. I figured my video game playing days were over, and I was okay with that. (In case you didn't know, video games are very time consuming!)

Then, my dear friend Raven, (also a fan of all things Alice), pointed me to a link online - an announcement that sent my little Wonderland heart aflutter - American McGee is currently in production on a sequel to Alice! We both proceeded to jump around the room in utter excitement. Below are two conceptual art images from the new game. It looks like the next couple of years will be the year of Alice, with Tim Burton's film, and now this video game. I simply cannot wait! To read my other posts about Alice, just click here. (I'm surprised, for as much as I am obsessed with these stories, that I haven't written more about them!)

Please leave me a comment about your favorite video game when you were growing up, or that you're playing right now. Know of any good iPhone games?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Musical Interlude - 30 Seconds to Mars

I'm still getting back into the swing of things, in life and with my blog. I have several blog posts "on deck" that just need to be cleaned up, finalized and posted. Hopefully, I'll have one posted tomorrow. Until then, why not enjoy this little musical interlude...

I love 30 Seconds to Mars and I practically wore out their last CD, A Beautiful Lie, which was released in 2005. So I was very excited to finally hear new music from them. This is the song "Kings & Queens" from their new album This Is War, which is being released on December 8th. Jared Leto might be an eccentric and bizarre actor, but boy can he sing!

You Tube won't let me embed the video, so just click on the picture below and it will launch the You Tube video in a new window. If you like this song, why not check out their video for A Beautiful Lie, The Kill (the video is an homage to The Shinning), or From Yesterday. All their videos are very cinematic.

by 30 Seconds to Mars

Into the night
Desperate and broken
The sound of a fight
Father has spoken

We were the kings and queens of promise
We were the victims of ourselves
Maybe the children of a lesser God
Between Heaven and Hell
Heaven and Hell

Into your eyes
Hopeless and taken
We stole our new lives
Through blood and pain
In defense of our dreams
In defense of our dreams

We were the Kings and Queens of promise
We were the victims of ourselves
Maybe the Children of a lesser God
Between Heaven and Hell
Heaven and Hell

The age of man is over
A darkness comes and all
These lessons that we learned here
Have only just begun

We were the Kings and Queens of promise
We were the victims of ourselves
Maybe the Children of a Lesser God
Between Heaven and Hell

We are the Kings
We are the Queens
We are the Kings
We are the Queens

Monday, November 09, 2009

Musical Interlude - My Chemical Romance

My Chemical Romance is probably one of my all-time favorite bands. There. I've said it.

For those of you who aren't in the know... My Chemical Romance (a.k.a. MCR) is an American rock band, which formed in New Jersey in 2001, one week after the September 11th attacks. The lead singer, Gerard Way, was working in New York and saw the planes crash into the towers. This prompted him to re-evaluate his life and he decided not to waste anymore time, but to go ahead and chase his dreams of having a band. He's also said that he wanted to make a positive difference in people's lives through music. Their music has been described as alternative rock, pop punk, and emo (which it is most definitely not), but I think it's just good straight-up rock and roll.

I'd always intended to include MCR on one of my "Musical Interlude" Monday posts, I just didn't think it would be this song. I was going to post a different song, but when "I'm Not Okay (I Promise)" came up on my random playlist on my iPhone this morning, it was the right fit. This is not the first MCR song I heard that made me fall in love with them (that would be "Helena"). It's not even the best song in their portfolio (although it was their first single and it did receive a lot of radio play), but what it is, simply, is a good fast song to wake you up and get your blood moving first thing on a Monday morning.

The song is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek break-up song, about the frustration with a relationship that just didn't work. I also think it's a humorous response to one of those situations where someone breaks your heart or you've just been hurt really bad for some reason, then the person has the gall to ask if you're going to be okay, and most of the time, we answer, "Yeah, I'll be okay," to dimsiss them and let them off the hook, or to save face. This song starts out by saying, "If you want me to be honest, that's all you had to say, and no, in fact, I am NOT okay."

If nothing else, the video is clever. It's filmed like a trailer for a movie, and references a lot of the high school movie cliches, about being social outcasts. I especially like the little references to Heathers (one of my favorite movies) and I love the final joke at the end. I hope you enjoy it, but if not, that's okay. Variety of opinions and artistic expressions are part of what makes the world more interesting!

By My Chemical Romance

Well if you wanted honesty,
that's all you had to say.
I never want to let you down or have you go,
it's better off this way.
For all the dirty looks,
the photographs your boyfriend took,
Remember when you broke your foot
from jumping out the second floor?

I'm not okay
I'm not okay
I'm not okay
You wear me out

What will it take to show you
that it's not the life it seems? (I'm not okay)
I've told you time and time again
you sing the words
but don't know what it means (I'm not okay)
To be a joke and look,
another line without a hook,
I held you close as we both shook
for the last time
take a good hard look!

I'm not okay
I'm not okay
I'm not okay
You wear me out

Forget about the dirty looks
The photographs your boyfriend took
You said you read me like a book,
but the pages all are torn and frayed.

I'm okay
I'm okay!
I'm okay, now(I'm okay, now)
But you really need to listen to me

Because I'm telling you the truth
I mean this, I'm okay! (Trust Me)
I'm not okay

I'm not okay
Well, I'm not okay.
I'm really not okay.
I'm not okay
I'm not okay(Okay)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

13 Days of Halloween - More Lessons Learned

Hello, Faithful Readers! I apologize for not living up to my promise to do another 13 days of Halloween this year. Life happens, and unfortunately, the blog sometimes has to take a backseat. Even though I was unable to do all 13 posts, the good news is I think I can squeeze in one tonight!

For those of you who don't already know, Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I thought I'd share another quick list of helpful things I've learned from Halloweens past. I'll summarize my list from last year, then continue it. If you'd like to read the breakdown of items 1 thru 8, you can read it here.


1. Temporary hair color isn't necessarily temporary.

2. If your costume comes with an explanation, you'll be better off finding another costume.

3. Never ever go first into the haunted house.

4. Wigs are itchy.

5. If the candy looks like it was made in the 70s, it probably was.

6. No one has the patience (or appreciation) for black and white horror movies.

7. Carving pumpkins isn't nearly as fun as it looks.

8. This tip is for all the kids... HIDE YOUR CANDY BAG!

9. If you've started a new job, ask around and make sure people dress up on Halloween BEFORE you decide to show up in costume.
There is nothing more embarrassing than showing up to work dressed as an evil witch with full-on face make-up and pointy hat, only to discover that your straight-laced uptight co-workers don't "do" Halloween. Well... I would imagine it would be. I mean, I would have never done that. Ahem...

10. If Halloween falls on a Friday or Saturday night, don't expect as many trick-or-treaters.
This may not be true for your neighborhood, but I've noticed that when Halloween falls on a weekend, instead of going trick-or-treating, people go to parties and such. In fact, each year, I've noticed a general decline in door-to-door trick or treating. This is probably because more people are participating in Trunk or Treat and other safer alternatives. Makes me kind of sad and nostalgic for the good old days, when neighbors all knew and trusted each other and you didn't have to worry about all the awful things parents worry about now days.

11. Fake blood stains EVERYTHING.
The label on the tube might say it's washable, but I have yet to find fake blood that doesn't stain your hands, stain your clothes, stain the countertop... So just use it wisely, keeping this in mind.

12. If you want a unique costume, check out Goodwill.
Most women are concerned about showing up to a party where someone else is wearing the same dress - a horrible faux pas. However, I'm always concerned about buying a pre-made packaged costume, for fear that there will be three other female vampires at the Halloween party, all with the same get-up. And I don't sew, which means I utilize Goodwill for creating my costume. One year I scored a lovely paisly headscarf, peasant top, old ratty crocheted shaw with fringe, and a really cool patterned, volumous skirt - I added a curly black wig and some big hoop earrings and was a pretty convincing gypsy fortune teller. I carried around a snow globe and would give it a good shake and forcast the weather. "Looks like snow tomorrow..." :)

13. Don't be THAT house.
You know, the one house on the street that passes out pennies or toothbrushes or pencils. If you don't have any candy, just shut the door and turn out the porch light. Word travels fast on the trick-or-treat streets about bummer houses, so you won't end up getting many visitors to your house anyway. The one exception I will make for this rule would be stickers or temporary tattoos, but only if they are really really good ones. ;)

14. There are lots of different kinds of horror movies - find out which ones your crew likes before you fire up the DVD player.
This could be an expansion or off-shoot of item #6. There are the thrillers (Rear Window), the gore-fests (Texas Chainsaw Massacre), the monster movies (American Werewolf in London), and the dark atmosphere type films (Sleepy Hollow) and the psychological thriller (Session 9). There's even the horror action flick (Alien) and humor horror (Shaun of the Dead). Find out where your viewing audience's preferences fall on the horror spectrum. It might turn out the most they can handle is It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. And that's okay. Be courteous, and don't give your Halloween party guests nightmares... unless of course, they want to have nightmares... bwah ha ha. :P

To read all 13 posts in last year's 13 Days of Halloween, just click here. Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Musical Interlude - U2

Today should be the start of my 13 days of Halloween here on my blog, but since it's Musical Interlude Monday, and since I'm attending the U2 concert tomorrow night, (YES!!!) I've decided to break protocol and share a little music from our boys from Dublin.

I will admit, I was a little late to the U2 party. When they were hitting it big with "The Joshua Tree" album, I just didn't get them or their music. I suppose I should mention that they were hitting it big around the same time in my life when I was listening strictly to do-whop and oldies music. (I was a weird kid.) So I just wasn't listening to mainstream radio period. Flashforward a few years, and I guess my listening ears had matured enough to appreciate them. I've grown to love them more and more ever since.

Here's my favorite song by U2, called "Stay (Far Away, So Close)" from their Zooropa album. I love this song because of the word pictures the lyrics invoke, combined with the music. It really paints an image in my mind. And the metaphors or language chosen for the lyrics seems so simple but at the same time is so complex. Bono is a genius at turning a phrase. I also love how the song starts out so quiet and intimate, and then it grows in power and intensity and Bono's voice just breaks through and soars on the choruses. There are better songs in their catalog (especially ones that showcase the Edge's amazing talent more), but I guess this song just hits me in the right spot. I can empathize or relate to the desperation and longing in the song. It vividly reminds me of a certain time in my life... pretty cool, when music does that!

You Tube won't let me embed the video, so just click on the picture below and it will launch the You Tube video in a new window.

Stay (Far Away, So Close)
by U2
Green light, Seven Eleven
You stop in for a pack of cigarettes
You don't smoke, don't even want to
Hey now, check your change
Dressed up like a car crash
Your wheels are turning but you're upside down
You say when he hits you, you don't mind
Because when he hurts you, you feel alive
Hey babe, is that what it is

Red light, gray morning
You stumble out of a hole in the ground
A vampire or a victim
It depend's on who's around
You used to stay in to watch the adverts
You could lip synch to the talk shows

And if you look, you look through me
And when you talk, you talk at me
And when I touch you, you don't feel a thing

If I could stay...
Then the night would give you up
Stay...and the day would keep its trust
Stay...and the night would be enough

Faraway, so close
Up with the static and the radio
With satellite television
You can go anywhere
Miami, New Orleans
London, Belfast and Berlin

And if you listen I can't call
And if you jump, you just might fall
And if you shout, I'll only hear you

If I could stay...
Then the night would give you up
Stay...then the day would keep its trust
Stay...with the demons you drowned
Stay...with the spirit I found
Stay...and the night would be enough

Three o'clock in the morning
It's quiet and there's no one around
Just the bang and the clatter
As an angel runs to ground

Just the bang
And the clatter
As an angel
Hits the ground

Monday, October 05, 2009

Musical Interlude - Skillet

Here's a little music to round out our Monday evening. Take two guys and two gals who really know how to rock it out and what do you get? You get one of my favorite Christian bands (that actually gets played on secular radio stations - how cool is that?) - Skillet. My favorite song off their album Comatose is "Whispers in the Dark". Unfortunately, they haven't made a video for that song yet, so here's their video for another song off that album, "Rebirthing". Like what you hear? Check out the song "Savior". Their new album, Awake was released last month and the radio single "Monster" is worth checking out too. Enjoy!

"Rebirthing" by Skillet
I lie here paralytic
Inside this soul
Screaming for you till my throat is numb
I wanna break out I need a way out
I don't believe that it's gotta be this way
The worst is the waiting
In this womb I'm suffocating

Feel your presence filling up my lungs with oxygen
I take you in
I've died

Rebirthing now
I wanna live for love wanna live for you and me
Breathe for the first time now
I come alive somehow
Rebirthing now
I Wanna live my life wanna give you everything
Breathe for the first time now
I come alive somehow

I lie here lifeless
In this cocoon
Shedding my skin cause
I'm ready to
I wanna break out
I found a way out
I don't believe that it's gotta be this way
The worst is the waiting
In this womb I'm suffocating

Tell me when I'm gonna live again
Tell me when I'm gonna breathe you in
Tell me when I'm gonna feel inside
Tell me when I'm gonna feel alive

Tell me when I'm gonna live again
Tell me when this fear will end
Tell me when I'm gonna feel inside
Tell me when I'll feel alive

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Of Clockworks, Corsets and Iron Horses

Picture from Gail Carriger.

Among my many interests, I am in love with Steampunk.

Steampunk is a sub-genre within fantasy/science-fiction, set in a re-imagined 19th century, usually around the time of the Victorian era, where advanced technologies have been created, but are still operated by steam-power and turn-of the century means. It's the fictional realization of the future, the way H.G. Wells and Jules Verne imagined it. It's industrial meets romance, cyborgs meets corsets, and computers meet dirigibles. I love the creative and novel ideas of steampunk. Just like when you eat something that is sweet and sour, and how those contrasting opposites make for an exciting dish, I love how steampunk blends Victorian romance with gearhead sci-fi fantasy.

Occasionally steampunk slips into mainstream culture. If you've ever read or seen The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Prestige, Stardust, Young Sherlock Holmes, or H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, then you've had a glimpse into the steampunk world. If not, then just Google "steampunk images" or "steampunk costumes" or search for "steampunk" on etsy and you'll see some exteremly fine, hand-made examples. (I must resist the urge to buy up all the steampunk jewelry on etsy. I love, love, love it!) The Steampunk Workshop also showcases some beautiful work. If I had a zillion dollars, I would commission one of their computer/keyboard mods like this one. Isn't it just wonderful?

Speaking of which, I'm pretty sure that one of their computers appears in a new TV show that I'm kind of in love with right now on the SyFy network called Warehouse 13. The show follows two Secret Service agents, Myka and Pete, who are reassigned to a mysterious government warehouse, where dangerous supernatural objects are kept, such as Lewis Carroll's enchanted mirror, Edgar Alan Poe's cursed writing pen, etc. For each episode, they are tasked to retrieve missing objects and investigate reports of new ones, all under the guidance of their super-smart, yet bumbling superior, Artie, and with the assistance of young gearhead genius, Claudia. The show is set in the modern day, but the artifacts they retrieve and the tools they use to find and store them definately have a steampunk flair. Check out the picture below of their "tesla gun", named after inventor and electrical engineer, Nikola Tesla. Appropriately enough, their tesla gun shoots a bolt of electricity that stuns the victim.
In some ways it reminds me of another show that I used to watch from the late 80's called Friday the 13th (no relation to the movies of the same name). In that show, all the objects in an antique shop were cursed, and in each episode the team tried to recover an object before it hurt anyone. That show had more of a horror twist, whereas Warehouse 13 has more of a sci-fi/steampunk twist. The season finale of the show airs next Tuesday (sorry I didn't blog about it sooner) but you can watch full episodes on SyFy Rewind online. If you've been watching this show, I'd love for you to leave me a comment. What do you think - is it fun, or does it cross the line into campy? What was your favorite episode? Favorite character?

It seems like steampunk might further be finding it's way to the mainstream, not just with this show, but with a new video game coming out from Disney called Epic Mickey. The game will be released for the Wii, and will be a trip through a fantastical dystopian Magic Kingdom. Below is a concept art image from the game.

If you've never heard of steampunk before, leave me a comment and let me know what you think. (It's okay to say it's weird.) Also, if you like the genre, I would definitely love any book or movie recommendations! Until next time, keep your goggles firmly on your head!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Musical Interlude - Muse

I promise that a real post will be arriving shortly, until then, enjoy this musical interlude. I've done a post like this in the past, but I'm thinking about making this a regular Monday installment. Yeah, yeah... I can hear you now. "But D, you can't even stick to your Tue./Thur. regular posting schedule. Am I to believe you're going to add another posting day to your non-routine?" What can I say? All I know is that it would be fun to start out each week with a little music to get our blood pumping.

This is a live video of the band Muse playing "Hysteria" from their album Absolution. I think the album is near perfection, and this song is one of my favorites. The bridge/guitar solo in the middle of the song is near genius and takes me to my happy place every time I hear it. They made an offical video for this song, which is kind of trippy and reminiscent of a scene from Pink Floyd's The Wall (you can watch it here if you're curious), but I wanted to link to a live video so you could see them in all their awesomeness. When I first found out they were only a 3-piece band, I couldn't believe it, considering the massive sound they create. I figured it was all studio magic, that is, until I saw them live in concert. These three guys worked HARD and ROCKED the house! I was impressed.

Their new album, The Resistance, will be released tomorrow; just in time for my birthday next week...ahem... for those of you to whom that information would be of importance. (wink wink, nudge nudge). Does my husband even read my blog anymore?

So enjoy the video and, if you know nothing about Muse, be sure to check out their other videos for "Starlight", "Time is Running Out", and "Sing for Absoultion". While you do that, I'm going to sit here and see how many seconds it takes for Raven to leave a comment about how she dislikes this band and the lead singer's "whiny" voice. (By the way, I welcome dissenting opinions; it's part of what makes life - and art - interesting.)

"Hysteria" by Muse

It's bugging me,
Grating me,
And twisting me around.
Yeah, I'm endlessly,
Caving in,
And turning inside out.

'Cause I want it now.
I want it now.
Give me your heart and your soul.
And I'm breaking out,
I'm breaking out.
Last chance to lose control.

It's holding me,
Morphing me,
And forcing me to strive,
To be endlessly cold within,
And dreaming I'm alive.

'Cause I want it now.
I want it now.
Give me your heart and your soul.
And I'm breaking out,
I'm breaking out.
Last chance to lose control.

And want you now,
I want you now.
I'll feel my heart implode.
And I'm breaking out,
Escaping now,
Feeling my faith erode.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Bloody Awful List (i.e. Put a Stake In It!)

Several years ago, I wrote an open letter in poetic form titled "Dearest Dracula", in which I lamented that our culture had marketed and commercialized Dracula and his kind to the point of unrecognizability in movies, books, etc. I told him that humans no longer feared him, but that I still knew the truth: that he's a cold-blooded, cursed, undead monster, who sees us as nothing more than lunch.

Things have not gotten any better in successive years. Case in point: one of my co-workers had the Life & Style section of the Arizona Republic sitting on her desk today, and the whole top section was covered with a photo montage of the latest "vampires" from Twilight, True Blood, and such. The title of the article was "Undead Dreamboats".

There are so many things wrong with that title... I don't even know where to begin.

Those of you who know me well, know that I'm a goth girl deep in my black little heart. (How that reconciles with my Christianity is another blog post for another time.) Those of you who know me especially well, know my interest in all things vampiric. Dearest friends of mine... I'm warning you in advance... make sure you're sitting down and brace yourself, as I hit you with the following revelation...

I'm really sick to death of vampires.

Have you picked yourselves up off the floor? Shocked? I guarantee you that wasn't a typo. Yep, it's true. I think vampires should crawl back into the dark grave they came out of... or at least the so-called "vampires" of our current culture. Vampires started out as monsters. Yes, there is an element of empathetic sadness one can feel for vampires and their plight, but on the whole they are not and should not be considered "dreamboats" or love interests. I'd like to borrow a quote from Berni Wrightson, horror comic book illustrator, who echoes my view so succinctly:

Funny thing about vampires: I don't especially like them. They're too cold, inhuman. I've always favored monsters who didn't want to be monsters. Frankenstein's monster, werewolves - I felt for those guys - but vampires... pfui! All we are to them is dinner. However, every time I sit down to draw one, at first I keep my distance, show them for what they are: filthy, bloodsucking devils. But little by little I find myself empathizing with them. What would it be like to be laid to rest but never resting, losing your taste for ice cream and hamburgers and everything, only to be replaced by a need for blood. Crawling up through the cold, wet mud every night, hunting, clawing back down to a moldy, rotting box before sunrise. It's horrible. Nobody wants to be a vampire!*

But today, everyone wants to be a vampire. I don't get it. Vampires are monsters. Even if they are tortured, sympathetic monsters, they are still monsters. I have always found the vampire/horror genre intriguing, because of the discussions of good and evil that are always contained within them, and how cursed vampires can reflect the dark side of the human condition. But I can't help but admit that I have a deep concern that our culture has blurred those lines so much, that we now find ourselves rooting for the monster, and no one wants to be the good guy. The evil of vampires has been stripped or lessened considerably, and all that's left is a cool sexy aloofness, the promise to live forever, superhuman strength, flight. Sounds great, right? I guess I shouldn't be surpised that our literature and movies reflect the morals (or lack of them) of our generation. We want to have all the carnal fun - sex, violence, whatever - and we strip it of any of the sin-implications so that we don't have to feel guilty and can sleep at night. But I digress...

I humbly suggest that anyone who is enamored with the recent crop of so-called vampires, go back and read Dracula by Bram Stoker. Dracula is what started it all. He is a corrupt, manipulative, unmerciful, unrelenting, diabolical predator. Not someone you'd want to date. Yes, evil can be attractive, but it is a lie wrapped in a pretty, deceptive package.

This blog post was prompted because friends of mine have asked me to comment on the Entertainment Weekly magazine's all-vampire issue that was just recently published and, more specifically, their list of Top 20 Greatest Vampires. I will close this post with a quick critique of that list, but I would hope you already know my stance, from what I just discussed. Read on, if you are curious. Otherwise, feel free to leave me a comment about the vampire genre, your favorite vampire movie, etc.

1. Lestat, Interview With the Vampire
Yes, Lestat is an egotistical, selfish, sometimes frightening and cruel, vampire. Yes, Anne Rice's first three novels were some of my favorites. But he should not be in the number one slot. I might even be tempted to suggest that Claudia should be on this list instead of Lestat, being the first fully-realized child vampire in literature. She was more frightening to me in some ways than Lestat was.

2. Christopher Lee's Dracula (Movies)
Yes, I agree with this one. Not sure I'd rank him at two, but he definitely should be on the list.

3. Bela Lugosi’s Dracula (Movies)
Why is he number three? Bram introduced Dracula, but without Lugosi and this film, I'm tempted to say that the vampire genre wouldn't exist in our pop culture.

4. Edward Cullen, Twilight
Any so-called vampire who "sparkles" should not be allowed on this list. That's all I'm going to say. And no, I haven't read these books and I'm not going to, because I don't care for romance novels, let alone young adult romance novels. That's what the books are - romance novels dressed up in a vampire setting. And that's fine for those who enjoy them. I wouldn't presume to take that away from them. But they are not horror novels and they're not for me.

5. Bill and Eric, True Blood
I haven't read the Sookie Stackhouse mystery books that this TV show is based on, so I can't really comment on this one. One of the books has been loaned to me, I just haven't gotten around to reading it yet. I'm a little more willing to try these ones out, to see what the author does with the genre.

6. Asa Vajda, 1960’s Black Sunday
I concur.

7. Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Meh. See my comment about vampires not being something you would want to date.

8. Mr. Barlow, Salem’s Lot
This one needs to be higher than number eight. Stephen King re-imagined Dracula with bone-chilling success when he wrote Salem's Lot. I had to sleep with the lights on days after reading this book.

9. Schuyler Van Alen, Melissa de la Cruz’s Blue Bloods series
I've shied away from these books as well, because they also look like young adult romance novels.

10. Gary Oldman’s Dracula (Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula)
No. No. No. Don't get me wrong; Gary Oldman is one of my favorite actors. But this movie was ridiculously awful. I was so jazzed about seeing this film, I stood in line for hours to get into the midnight premiere... only to find myself wanting to get up and walk out about 20 minutes into the film. Bad acting, bad dialog, just an overall bad interpretation of the book.

11. Klaus Kinski’s Dracula (Nosferatu the Vampire)

12. Zoey Redbird, in P.C. and Kristin Cast’s House of Night series
More vampire romance... set in a vampire finishing school... uh, no. I think I'll pass.

13. Jean-Claude, Laurel K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series
Yet still even more vampy romance, only with gratiuitous sex scenes. Whatever. Pass.

14. David, 1987’s The Lost Boys
This movie is near and dear to my heart. Even though this movie might have started the whole "vampires are cool" movement, David was cruel, manipulative and a monster to the end, so he deserves to be on this list. Even he knew there was a downside... "You'll never grow old, Michael, and you'll never die... but you must feed..."

15. Miriam Blaylock and Sarah Roberts, 1983’s The Hunger
Meh. This movie is mostly style and atmosphere. Not sure they are good examples of vampires. I suspect they only made this list because of the raunchy sex scene they have in the movie.

16. Blade, the Blade trilogy
He's technically not a full vampire, but I'll allow this one, because this comic book and series of films have done a lot of fun things with the vampire genre.

17. Eli, 2008’s Let the Right One In
YES! This one needs to be much higher on the list. This film haunted me for days after watching it. And Eli is a perfect portrayal of what it really means to live forever. Her manipulation of mortals is so subtle, so artistic... which makes it all the more sinister.

18. Countess Bathory, 1971’s Daughters of Darkness
Believe it or not, this is one vampire movie I haven't actually seen, so I can't comment on this one.

19. Selene, the Underworld trilogy
No. No. No. Wearing skin-tight black leather does not qualify you as a vampire, and that's pretty much all Selene does. Oh, and her eyes turn blue. The werewolves are much better than the vampires in these films. Even Marcus and Victor are more convincing, scary, intimidating vampires than Selene. She just runs around looking hot, shooting weapons. Whatever.

20. Caleb and Mae, 1987’s Near Dark
I concur.

There are two glaring omissions on this list. One is Max Schrek as the vampire in the 1922 silent film, Nosferatu. That movie still gives me the creeps, even without sound, and it paved the way for Dracula and all the other movies to follow. The other one is Willem Dafoe as Max Schrek in Shadow of the Vampire, the movie that gives a fictionalized account of the making of Nosferatu. Dafoe should have been nominated for an Oscar for his performance.

*Quote taken from "The Stephen King Companion", Edited by George Beahm

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Resources for Bookworms

I thought I'd write a quick blog post and share some of my favorite resources, that help me with my daily obsession with books. If you are a hopeless bookworm like me, you know that we need all the help we can get with managing our addiction. :-)

Need to find a book? Before plunking down full price at your local Barnes & Noble, why not try looking at your local used bookstore? If you're in the Valley of the Sun, I recommend Thrifty Joe's Books & Music. If you're an online shopper, there's Alibris, an online used bookstore. However, you'll have to pay shipping, so I only use this site when I'm on a quest to find something really rare, or if I have a coupon that makes it worth it.

If you're looking to go cheaper than used, there's Paperback Swap, an online book club where you swap, trade and exchange books for free with other members (all you have to pay is shipping). Of course, there's always your local library, which has come along way since you were there as a kid. With an electronic database of all the books available in the library system, you can now reserve books, have them transferred from another branch, etc. and you can't get more "free" than the library. I'm not sure when I got out of the habit of utilizing the library, but I need to get back into it.

Lastly, if you do want to buy a new book instead of used, there is also an online movement, encouraging readers to support their local bookseller (instead of the big chain stores like Borders, Barnes & Noble, etc.) however, I've yet to find an adequate independent bookseller in my area. I've heard good things about the Changing Hands Bookstore but it is way over on the other side of town. Not convenient for me.

Okay, painful as it is for me to type that, I will admit that getting rid of books is a necessity, unless you want to wall up your home with books. Those of you who have been following my blog know that I'm currently going through a massive decluttering project in my house. The management of our book collection is a huge task. We made some hard choices, and decided to purge some of our books. There's more paring down to be done, but where do you take them to get rid of them?

Well, you can sell it back to a used bookstore, if it's in good condition. You can also sell it on Amazon, or swap it on Paperback Swap. If you're not interested in recouping some of your investment, you can donate them to a library. If you have children's books, you can donate them to a women's shelter or other charity that works with children. You can leave it in a random place for someone else to discover, a practice explained at Book Crossing. You can also donate them to soldiers, through Books for Soldiers.

When you have a large collection of books, and tend to loan things out to people, it's hard to keep track of it all. We use software called Delicious Monster to catalog our books and DVDs. All you do is hold the book up to your computer's webcam so it can "see" and scan the barcode. Once it's scanned, then it instantly adds it to your list, so no data entry is required. You can mark the status as "Checked Out" along with the name of who you loaned it to. Most importantly, you can store the database online, so if, heaven forbid, you have a fire or some other disaster and lose your collection, the database can be presented to your insurance company as proof of what you owned.

You can also put a book plate into the front of your books, or you can emboss the first page with a personal embosser. We have one of these, and it's pretty fun to use. Of course, we only use it on the books that we know for sure that we're going to keep in our permanent collection.

Just as I-Tunes and the I-Pod have changed how we purchase and store music, the digital age is slowly hitting the literary world as well. If the Kindle electronic readers weren't so expensive, I'd probably already have one. I still like the textile experience of reading a real book - the feel of the new pages under your fingers, the smell of the paper, the illustrations - however, I think the Kindle could really help us with our storage issues, especially for all of my husband's research and reference books. For those of you who have I-Phones, Amazon has an application for a Kindle reader that can be used on your phone. Of course, storage space on an I-Phone doesn't compare to the storage you'd have on the Kindle.

Booklovers are finding new and creative ways to marry technology with reading. One example is DailyLit, an online service that will e-mail you installments of a book, so that you can read it over time. Always wanted to read Oliver Twist? Just tell the service what you want to read, when you want the installment sent to you (daily, weekly) and to what location (computer, I-Phone, etc.) Another really cool online movement, is the posting of epistolary novels as blog installments. I'm currently re-reading Dracula this way. An epistolary novel is a novel written as a series of letters or diary entries. The blog owner publishes each diary entry as a blog post on the day that it was written by the narrator so that the audience can experience the drama as the characters would have. You experience the story in "real time." It's such a cool idea, and I'm enjoying Dracula in a fresh new way.

I could talk about books, my love of books, and anything related to books, all day long. How about you? What are some of your favorite places to find books? Do you have a large collection? Do you collect bookmarks? (I do!) What do you think of the movement into digital media? Do you have a hard time getting rid of books? Leave me a comment and let me know.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Great Purge of 2009 (Part 4)

I've been occupied over the last several available weekends with a huge de-cluttering, de-junking, and organizational project, which I like to refer to as The Great Purge of Ought Nine. In my last post, I discussed the de-cluttering of my living room, family room and linen closet. Today I’ll talk about how I conquered my two bathrooms and guest bedroom.

The front bathroom didn't really need much de-cluttering. Neither myself nor my husband use this bathroom to get ready every day. In fact, for the most part, it only gets used when company comes to visit. So the only thing I had to sort through was the medicine cabinet. I combined all the band-aids into one container, so we wouldn't have two or three boxes with only a couple of band-aids in each. I went through all the over-the-counter medicines and pitched anything that was either really old or we no longer needed. I also re-purposed some bath items from a gift basket I had received, and put them under the sink for our guests to use in case they forgot their shampoo, or soap, etc. All the other drawers and cabinets have remained empty, except for extra towels so, like I said, not much de-cluttering here. I did give it all a thorough cleaning though, and conditioned the wood on the cabinets. It was so sparkling and shiny when I was done!

Then I moved on to the master bathroom. The biggest problem here was all of our toiletries and my makeup. Let me just make something clear upfront; I've never been an uber girlie girl. I'm not into having makeup for every occasion or outfit or trend. I hardly ever paint my nails or give myself manicures. I keep my makeup routine down to a simple minimum. Yet when I actually stopped to evaluate the situation, I realized that there was a mountain of old makeup, lotions, and lipsticks everywhere in the cabinet under my sink. Where did all this stuff come from? (It wasn't the first time I'd asked that question during this Great Purge, and I'm sure it won't be the last.) Do they breed in the night? I wonder... The decluttering went quickly, as I threw out anything that was old, mostly empty or was something I had tried and just didn't like the scent or color, but couldn't bear to throw away. (So instead of throwing it away, I paid rent to store it, allowing it to take up useful space in my cabinet. Duh!) You can click here for some guidelines on the shelf life of makeup and when to throw things out. Just like the kitchen, it's amazing how much you will actually use the things you have if you can see them and easily get to them. I found a couple of my favorite lotions that I didn't even realize I had!

I went through the medicine cabinet and threw out all the old prescription medicines we had. (Did you know medicine - even pills/tablets - lose their effectiveness over time? So if you're not going to use it again in the next few months, it isn't worth it to keep it. In fact, you should probably just go to the doctor instead.) I thew out old brushes I no longer used, travel containers for toiletries that were broke and no longer worked, and all other kinds of assorted riffraff that had made its way into our bathroom cabinets. When I was all done, I lined the drawers with cabinet liners, to protect the wood from toothpaste, spilled makeup, etc. I also gave the place a thorough cleaning and conditioned the wood on the cabinets.

Next was the guest bedroom. I will be honest here *gulp* and admit that our guest bedroom had become a catch-all for junk, unfolded laundry, and all sorts of random things. I think most people have this problem. I cringe when I think of how many times I have said, "Let's just put it in the guest bedroom for now, to get it out of the way, and we'll decide what to do with it later." That's why there was a computer monitor, music equipment, books, stationary, wrapping paper, holiday decorations, wall art and luggage in this room. Plus, the clean laundry ends up on the guest bed too. Not so much because I hate folding laundry but because the closet and drawers in our bedroom are jammed with clothes we don't wear or that don't fit. (This is precisely why the master bedroom is my next stop on the decluttering journey.)

Most of the decluttering in this room just consisted of me finding the proper place for these items and putting them there, simply because I didn't take the time to do it in the first place. For example, I had bought some lovely wall art for the living room that I'd never taken the time to hang, so I finally took the time to hang it up. Sad, that I could have been enjoying it all this time, but instead it was leaning up against the wall in the guest room. *shakes head in shame* It's just silly, the things we humans do.

One of the problems with living in Arizona, is that you can't really store things in your attic or in the garage, especially delicate items. The summer heat bakes everything. It melts holiday candles, evaporates the water from snowglobes, warps plastic wall hangings, etc. So I have holiday decorations stashed away in almost every closet of the house - especially the guest bedroom closet. For now, I'm focusing on condensing all the decorations I come across during my decluttering to one central location, and then, once I can see everything I have, I'm going to go through it all to see what I want to keep, sell or toss. This means that sorting through my holiday stuff will be one of the last things I do. Hopefully I can pare it all down, so that it only takes up one side of the guest bedroom closet and the other side can be left free and open for guests to hang their clothes, etc. when they visit.

Life has been full of drama and has been very challenging for me lately, with other responsibilities taking precedent over this decluttering project. However, I think we are currently experiencing a calm between storms, so hopefully I can tackle the decluttering of the master bedroom, master closet and the office soon! Everything in its place, and a place for everything!