Sunday, January 31, 2016

ABC's "Last Man Standing"...A Show We Just Discovered

I knew the show had been on the air for several seasons, but we'd never watched a single episode. Then again, there's MANY shows which we've never watched. I guess if we did watch them, we'd like them, then we'd do nothing but watch TV shows.

And we don't necessarily want to do that.

But, the other day I watched one of the best movies to be made about "Geek Culture," Galaxy Quest, and I had forgotten just how good Tim Allen is as a comedic actor. About a week ago we fell asleep to a movie. The TV is then set to the last channel we were watching before the put on the movie. And when we turn on the TV late in the afternoon or evening, Last Man Standing was on. We wouldn't watch it, though.

This time, however, I decided to watch it, and we've watched many episodes since. If, like us before last week, you're not familiar with the show, Tim stars as Mike Baxter and Mike works at "The Outdoor Man Sporting Goods Store. I guess it's like a Cabela's (even though I've never been in that store either...).

Mike has three daughters, one of which is a single parent raising her son. Mike's not your average television character. He's a conservative and our current president is the butt of many of Mike's jokes, as are other current "hot button" topics. Back in the day, we watched Home Improvement, but not religiously. It was a great show, too. I always admired Allen's acting ability. I think had not Jerry Seinfeld been so big, Tim Allen would have gotten more respect as an comedian-turned-actor.

There was another show long before Last Man Standing, Home Improvement or even Seinfeld. It was called, All in the Family. It centered around an opinionated conservative character, too. Archie Bunker became an iconic figure, something that's become a derogatory thing to call someone in today's society. Baxter is no Bunker, not to me, anyway. But I can see why people might make the comparisons. 

The best thing about finding a series five years after it first aired--we can binge-watch.

* All photos used without permission from the American Broadcasting Company

Saturday, January 30, 2016

It's Just Yard Work...

 The other day, as I shoveled the driveway after the latest storm, a thought came to me. It was one of those thoughts that you want to throw out when someone says something and you want to respond with a comment that's well thought out, something that you believe smart people say at the drop of a hat.

Okay, this thought isn't all that "smart." But it was something I could have said when people say something like, "Oh, I just LOVE yard work! I cannot get enough yard work! If I could do nothing but yard work, my life would be complete! Yard work is great--yippie!"

Yeah, during those times.

I thought that when someone can't believe how much fun it is to be outside in the spring/summer/fall pulling weeds and dealing with sneeze-inducing pollen, virus-infected mosquitos and melanoma-causing sunburns, I could just turn to them and say:

"But I'll bet you hate shoveling show in the winter. Why? I wonder. After all, that's yard work, too."

I've blogged before about how much I really enjoy winter. I think that the world covered in a blanket of snow is one of the most beautiful things God ever made. Sure, it's a pain to drive in it sometimes and shoveling show all day can sure do a number on your back (and heart...), but for me, it's worth the price. Many of my friends tolerate winter because they know it leads to spring. For me, I tolerate the rest of the year because I know in just a few month (like, nine...), the days will get shorter, the temperatures will lower and snow will once again cover up all of those summer responsibilities. 

So next time it snows, don't complain--just think of it as a little bonus yard work. Enjoy!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Can Joe Hill Teach Anything...To Us Today?

Books have been written, so have songs. It's been over one hundred years since Joseph Hillstrom was executed in Utah.

Before I took this picture a few days ago, I didn't know much about Joe Hill. And, after checking out a few websites and doing a little reading, I know slightly more about him than I did before.

Looking at this picture reminded me of how things go today, how we view things today. And what I mean by that is this is we live in a society where we believe we are right, in politics, the environment, social issues--you name it. We hold to our beliefs to tightly that we reject opposing opinions even when facts are presented. I look at this huge painting, an ode to a dead man and I think that those who believe Mr. Hillstrom was murdered (as indicated on the painting...) will never change their mind about it. They'll never be convinced that his execution was nothing but illegal and it was murder.

Now, I admit from my scant research there's a good chance he did not kill the two men he was convicted of killing. Then again, most of the websites I checked were written by people supporting him and his causes. There's a lot more written by his supporters than by those representing the other side.

Today we have our views and they're right. They're the only views that are correct. We corner the market on truth. Then someone comes along with opposing views and they have their own "facts" to support their crazy notions. They show us their "facts" which are in conflict with our established facts. We know they can't be right because we are.

I don't know if I had lived in the days of Joe Hill if I would have agreed with the verdict or the other side. If the law ended an innocent man's life then those responsible will pay a price. The painting on the side of a used book store in downtown Salt Lake City reminded me that, as a people, we really don't change very much over time.

And I'm pretty sure I'm right about this.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Dave Butler's "Snake Handlin' Man"...A Book Review

Tonight I finished Dave Butler's Snake Handlin' Man, Book #2 in his Rock Bank Fights Evil series. There's just nothing like a Dave Butler story.

This one is no exception.

The story picks up where Hellhound on My Trail, Book #1 in the series, leaves off. The band is kicking back at a diner, but because this particular rock band must fight evil, evil shows up. Now, to say the author has an active imagination is an understatement. The concept of flying killer snakes requires some thought. Butler kicks it up a notch when he explains where the snakes come from.

The band does not escape the battle unscathed. Because one of them is injured, they must now find a cure to the deadly venom, and this leads to an even deadlier, even more bizarre battle than with the flying snakes.

Like Book #1, this is an incredibly fast read. We follow our heroes to a preacher who may hold the secrets on how to defeat their latest enemy. Soon the band find themselves in the basement of a Sears big box store in the middle of Nowhere, Oklahoma battling evil in a scene that can best be described as Indiana Jones meets Caligula meets H.G. Lovecraft. It's pretty wild, man!

As I finished the book, I was amazed yet again of Mr. Butler's vivid and entertaining imagination. Luckily for me (and for you...), there are several other books detailing this band's unending fight against evil. On to the next!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Bill...The Unbeliever

The other day I was looking for a picture in one of my old high school yearbooks, my freshman year yearbook, to be exact. I found the picture I was looking for (the local 7-Eleven for my 7-Eleven blog post...). After finding the picture, I did a little memory lane stroll by checking out the yearbook pages.

And I checked out some of the notes and comments from my friends.

That's where I saw a comment from a Bill Shunn.

If you know Bill, you'll know he's one colorful guy...well, as colorful as a white guy from Utah can be, but you know what I mean. Bill is a published author. In fact, for as long as I've known him, he's been an author. Back in jr. high school he wrote stories; the first story of Bill's that I ever read might have been called, The Magic Bus, or something like that. A group of students got on a bus and then the spookiness began. There are specifics of the story that I have forgotten, but I do remember how impressed I was at his talent.

That was decades ago, almost four decades, and Bill's been writing ever since. But what caught my attention from my yearbook was the The Unbeliever part of his well wish. Some might think Bill's an unbeliever, especially those of us still in Utah. I'm here to say Bill is definitely a believer. 

Of course, it all depends on how you define "believer," doesn't it?

Bill--I believe I did have a "slummer of a summer," in the days and weeks following your kind note. And thanks for signing my book all those years ago!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Taking The Stairs...Now It's A Push

For the past several months the elevators in our building have been iffy. We were "encouraged" to take the stairs, and I have. I've tried taking the stairs over the past fifteen or so years I've worked in that building.

But since it's a new year and many have resolutions to improve their health, there's some new artwork in the stairwells complete with pens. We're not encouraged to not only take the stairs but let others know we're doing it. I guess it's a cross between peer pressure and camaraderie. 

I thought I'd show some of the tactics used in this life-changing champaign. Of course, some of the comments aren't really associated with the "Choose Health, Choose The Stairs" effort. I guess that's what happens when you put Sharpies and paper in public places and tell them to "express themselves."

Will it work? We'll find out!

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Kaysville 7-Eleven...No Mas

My wife and I were driving last weekend in a town that in many ways, fells like my hometown. I attended jr. high and high school in this town. I ran those streets with my friends. I cruised those same streets on weekends and it's just a great place to live.

I have many memories of Kaysville, Utah, and one of them has to do with the local 7-Eleven. The convenience store opened Homecoming weekend, 1980. I remember because I was a freshman (when you're in high school, the world revolves around high school and its students...) and before the Homecoming parade (my brother helped make one of the floats...), we all stopped in at the recently opened store. It was new and shiny. They even gave it precious real estate in the 1981, Vol. 67 Davis High School Yearbook.

But, as all material things are created, so must they end. We drove passed the store last weekend and it's boarded up. It's gone. Downtown Kaysville, in many ways, looks as it did decades ago, especially when you're driving by. But when you take a closer look, you'll see the changes, the new high school, the different businesses, the effects of time.

It's kind of like when you look at those of us who used to run and cruise the streets. From a distance, or when you're driving past, we kind of look the same. But, up close you can see the changes, the wrinkles and yes, some of us are no longer here.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Typos...Does Anyone Even Care?

"Am I reading that right?" I asked my wife as we waited for The X-Files to begin.  I showed my wife the front page of Yahoo.

"Yeah, you're right," she said. On Yahoo's front page I learned there were 46 times that rich kids showed off to much on Snap Chat. I wonder who (or what...) this "Much" is? And, I also wonder, if this "Much" enjoyed watching rich kids show off.

Back in high school I had an English teacher, Mr. Cook. Mr. Cook was amazing. He would tell his students stories, stories of his life, his adventures. Those are the kind of things we remember. And I remember him saying one time that as a younger man he worked in the H.R. department of a company. This company hired teenagers for summer jobs. He told us that if the handwriting on the application was bad, he tossed it into the garbage. I don't know why but I've never forgotten that story.

Which leads me to, not necessarily handwriting, but spelling. I work with the public and have done so for almost thirty years. I've processed applications and reviews during that time and to say that we take spelling seriously is a joke. I should say at this point that I am not the best speller. Many, many times my wife has found typos in my blog posts and other writings, so part of this rant is directed squarely at me.

I read information from the public every day, but I also read information from co-workers, college educated co-workers and sometimes I have no idea what they're trying to say; their spelling is so bad. We're not talking about handwriting, but their typing skills. It's sad and there doesn't appear to be any push to try and fix it.

I saw the typo on the front page of Yahoo tonight and I wondered if anyone saw it, or worse, if anyone thought it was wrong. I know for one thing, if Mr. Cook were alive to see it, he would have thrown it in the trash.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

My Youngest, Star Wars And "When I Was I Kid..."

One thing I notice more and more as I get older is how often I find myself thinking, "When I was a kid...," or "Back in my day..." I don't know why but I never thought I would be the one to say those things. I always thought I'd be the one hearing them.

I guess that's what happens when you get old.

Tonight, while his two older siblings are out with friends, my youngest chose a video to watch. We don't have a lot of DVDs, but there's a few. He could have picked any number of films. Which one did he end up watching?

Star Wars IV: A New Hope

And I'm a happy papa!

Many of my friends on social media post pictures or little stories of their children voluntarily choosing a geek life. It's heartwarming. It makes one thing we've succeeded as a parent, or at least, partially succeeded. I'd like to think we did something right.

So what does that have to do with "When I was a kid...?"

Good question.

When I was a kid there were two ways to see Star Wars, or any movie. Only two ways. You could either see it in the theater, which is why a film like Star Wars was in the theater for over a year.

The second way to see the show was to wait until it was on one of three channels, ABC, CBS or NBC. That was it. Then came VCRs. However, there was a time between the advent of VCRs and the creation of the video store. Sure, you could record something, but it had to be on TV to do it.

When I was a kid, the very first movie I ever saw that wasn't recorded on TV (and without commercials, a pretty big deal...) was Star Wars. My friend, Steven Peel had an uncle that moved to Utah after having worked in the film industry in California. He had a tape of Star Wars. I thought that was the COOLEST THING! Imagine, watching Star Wars whenever you wanted!

That was the definition of awesome for a teenager in the late 1970s.

My son will never know that awesomeness. He'll never know the feeling in your gut when you have waiting literally for years for that one night when "the movie" will be shown on TV. You talked about it at school and you eagerly waited in front of the television on a Sunday night until the film began.

Back in my day, that's how it was done. And we liked it!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Takin' Down The Lights...

So, what do I do when the temperatures hit mid-50s in January?

Take down the outside Christmas lights.

Today was a beautiful day. Sure, I would have liked it to snow a foot or two (because I was home and didn't have to go anywhere...). But if you like sunny days in January, you'd have loved today in Farmington, Utah.

We don't put up a lot of lights. Our house lends itself to being a great house for Christmas lights, but I'm too chicken to crawl out on the west side and hang up lights. We also have some great tall pine trees just to the east of our house. It would take a cherry picker to put lights up there. One year I'd like to try. We'll have to rent some heavy equipment, but it would be fun. All the lights I put up can be hung with an eight-foot ladder.

Some leave up their Christmas lights all year. I understand that. I think if I did hang lights on the west side of the house, I would leave them up all year, too. But since our lights are relatively easy to put up, they're also easy to take down.

The lights are put away waiting to be pulled out and untangled. I'll bring out the ladder and put up the lights. And I'll be happy to do it because it will mean that Christmas is just around the corner.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Missing Sundance...Again

A few days ago, I was going to post a joke on social media. It was going to go something like this:

I forgot to buy tickets to the Sundance Film Festival. That makes 38 years in a row that I've forgotten to buy tickets.

I know it's not that funny, but it's 100% true. I've never attended the Sundance Film Festival. I could say that I haven't really missed out, but that's not necessarily true. I'm sure had I gone I would have had a good time--maybe not every time, but most of the time.

But we're not "activity" people. We don't go see movies in the theaters. That's mostly an income issue. But we also don't go see plays or sporting events. Nor do we go to the park or go skiing or do other things. Getting tickets to a movie playing in Park City or Salt Lake during January--not really our cup of tea, and if someone gave us tickets, we'd most likely give them away.

Maybe one day we'll go to the Sundance Film Festival. Maybe one day we'll become "activity" people. I guess you never really know what the future will bring. But for this year's film festival, we'll be missing it, again.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Frank L. Cole's "The Afterlife Academy"...A Book Review

If you want to know what Frank Cole's The Afterlife Academy is all about, just look at the cover. It pretty much covers the story you'll find behind its pages.

The Afterlife Academy focuses on two main characters, Charles Dewdle, who is living, and Walter Prairie, who is not. You could say it's a buddy story, two opposites who must work together to fight a common enemy, and in the process, they end up saving each other.

Cole has created a great world in which to place Charles and Walter. In the first paragraph we find out that Walter has died, struck down--literally--with his whole life ahead of him. But, we don't have time to mourn this teenager because the next thing Walter knows, he's given an assignment. He's now Charles's Guardian Agent. And even though he's only been dead a day, he bypasses the Afterlife Academy and is sent to protect his HLT or High-Level Target.

And Charles desperately needs protecting. He's stumbled upon a book that has the power to unleash unspeakable evil upon the world and it's up to the least qualified agent to save Charles, his family, a schoolyard crush and the rest of humanity. There's baddies, plots, baptism-by-fire learning and heroes finding themselves in one pickle after just escaping the previous one.

Can Walter do it? Will Charlie be saved?

Oh, it's a great little story! It's the kind of story that even though it's intended target audience is middle-grade, there's no reason this should stop anyone from picking it up and enjoying the fun. If you're looking for a book you kids will enjoy, I recommend this one. Because you'll like it, too.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

So...Who's Next?

By the time the news of Glenn Frey's passing hit the news, may lamented, "Another one? When will it end?"

The answer is, it won't.

January 2015 has been a tough month for celebrity deaths, and the month's not over. My guess is before it ends, there'll be a few more famous people pass away.

We live in a world where we are so connected. If we want to watch REO Speedwagon perform live from 1981, we can; it's out there somewhere. We can binge-watch an entire series of TV shows from the 1970s to today; it's available as well. We get to interact (or, interact as much as we can...) with those celebrities, rock stars and famous people in a way that wasn't possible a few decades ago. And those who we watched and listened to for all those years are reaching an age where people pass away.

Some say that when these things happen, they happen in threes. That's pretty much bunk but it's what we remember. Our favorite stars are getting older and we feel connected to them in ways no other people have ever experienced. 

So, like it or not, there will be more and we'll be saddened and wish we could watch and experience more of what made them so special. But, it's not all bad--we can enjoy so much of what they gave to us whenever we want. Yes, we live in an interesting time.

Monday, January 18, 2016

"Vernon Can Buy 'Em Lessons On The Clarinet..."

A couple of weeks ago in church a couple performed a musical number. She played the piano and he played the clarinet.

It was beautiful.

And it made me re-think the clarinet.

In jr. high school I played in the band. I first played trumpet then switched to baritone. I quit when I got to high school. Looking back, I probably should have continued, but I didn't. Being a brass player, I didn't think a lot about those who played instruments with reeds. Honestly, getting a sound from a little piece of wood sounded like a monumental task.

Many years ago we came across a clarinet at our local thrift store. We picked it up for $35 and spent a few more dollars getting it cleaned up. I thought maybe one of my kids might be interested in playing and if so, we wouldn't have to go buy one. Once it was refurbished, I tried playing it and found that, though tough, I could get a somewhat decent sound out of the thing. And when I hear the word "clarinet," it reminds me of the line from one of my favorite movies, Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?"

I never thought that the sound a clarinet makes was particularly beautiful until I heard someone play it, someone who really knew how to play the clarinet well. Funny how hearing a master can change our perceptions. Yesterday I got out of the old instrument, assembled it and tried it again. Oh, I have a long way to go to get to the point where I would consider myself "good," but it made me happy that I was able to get that little piece of wood to make sounds.