Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Em and Julie Take Texas

For Em's 35th birthday (which was October 27th) I decided I wanted to surprise fly her to Denton. Airline tickets were super cheap, and I got my mom in on the action. I love surprises! Em was here the past three days and it was awesome.

We went to a pumpkin patch in Flower Mound. Neither of us have been to a pumpkin patch before, but it seemed like fun. At least, all my friends with young kids seemed to have a blast when they posted their yearly photos of pumpkin patch fun. What they fail to mention is that pumpkin patches are incredibly overpriced. Being newbies we didn't know what to expect; we noticed numbers on the pumpkins - 14, 25, 18, etc. I thought maybe it was the weight. I asked a gentleman, there with his daughter, if the pumpkins cost was related to their weight and that's what the numbers meant. He said he was pretty sure the numbers were the price, then said that people at pumpkin patches "paid for the experience" since you could get a pumpkin at Walmart for a quarter of the price.

 We nixed getting pumpkins at the patch and went to Walmart on the way home. I carved a cat with a pumpkin, and Em did a bat hanging upside down.

Monday morning we headed for Austin to check out the State Capitol. It's no secret that Texans love Texas, and that was very evident in the Capitol building. Which isn't a problem, just something that makes Texas "Texas". A few notes: the Capitol is brown - weird; it's taller than the US Capitol building; the Texas star is everywhere; Texas has a pretty fabulous history that includes "Six Flags over Texas".

We then tried to see the bats that hang out under the Congress Avenue Bridge. However, they migrate south to Mexico based on the temp, and it had turned cold over the weekend. We sadly didn't see any bats.

On the way home we stopped at Buc-ees. For those not from Texas, Buc-ees is kind of a big deal. It is a gas station in Texas that Texans love with a fierceness reserved for family members. I was feeling sick, so couldn't enjoy it fully, but I do get the love for it.

Tuesday was Em's birthday! When she turned 30 we took a trip to Vegas and ate at the Hard Rock Cafe. For number 35 we went to the Hard Rock Cafe in Dallas. We didn't spend a ton of time in Dallas, mainly because I think Denton is cooler!

We walked around the Square, then had some local pizza while watching Game 1 of the World Series.

Then she left early this morning.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Big Tex

The Texas State Fair is a three week event that takes over the art deco buildings and facades of Fairpark fairgrounds in Dallas. I knew I wanted to attend when I read this list of "39 Things You Should See in Texas Before You Die."

It lasts for three weeks, and I found the time to finally go on the second to last day. decided to do the "Dr. Pepper Half Price after Five" deal - bring a can of Dr. Pepper any day and get in for half price starting at 5pm. This good idea also seemed like a good idea to a lot of other people, too.

I had to stand in line to first get a coupon in exchange for my empty can. And I use the term "line" very loosely, as it's really a mass of people moving towards the same point. Once I got the coupon, I had to enter another "line" to redeem that coupon for an actual ticket into the Fair.

I was finally in though, and sort of already wore out. I'd been there almost an hour but hadn't done anything yet. However, I had to stand in another line to purchase coupons for food and rides. I was glad a friend from work told me about this - the Fair does not accept cash or cards in exchange for food. Coupons/tickets must be bought, and everything is sold for a number of tickets. This line ended up being longer than it needed to be because one of the three person-less ticket-dispensing machines ran out of tickets, meaning that line needed to merge with another line.

This may sound super complainy, and I guess it is. I'm just used to other Fair experiences. And a lot of it was of my own doing, as I chose to go on the second to last day at 5pm. Next year I think I'll take a half day from work and check out the Fair with more time.

I did get to see Pig Racing and other animals on display, which is my favorite part of any Fair. And ate a lot of fried food, including deep fried pecan pie (which I don't's a little too much!)

And, I took the train to the Fair, which was a win-win choice: I didn't have to bother with finding parking/dealing with traffic; and was able to read a large chunk of a very great book, Station Eleven. Transit reading is the best.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Start of Fall Movie Season

It was a rather lackluster summer in movies. At least for me. Perhaps as I get older I'm just more picky about my films. I've become the equivalent of a grumpy old man who yells at kids to stay off his lawn.

Avengers: Age of Ultron was the big summer movie but it underwhelmed me. So did Jurassic World. I actually spent a lot of my summer movie-going time watching already-released films in replays at the movie theater (Jaws, Double Indemnity, Psycho), and obscure-ish book adaptations.

So I have been excited for the start of Fall Movie Season. I let my subscription to Entertainment Weekly lapse, so I'm no longer in the know on what's coming out. Which is why I was curious about The Martian, because I had no knowledge of it until about a week ago. A few years ago this happened with The Debt and it ended up being one of my favorite movies of that year. I went into The Martian only knowing it was getting good reviews.

And I loved it. Matt Damon plays astronaut Mark Watney, who, after a storm on Mars, gets left behind by his crew as they think he's dead. He's not dead, though. But he is on a planet with no life and will be there for a good amount of time. Which means he needs to find a way to grow food. Good thing he's a botanist! There are a lot of good jokes in the film in reference to his profession.

Mark has such a great attitude about being left behind on Mars. He immediately inventories the food available to him. He decides to make plants grow. He decides to make water. He thinks about the problems before him and then, in his words, sciences his way to a solution. That's pretty awesome. I wish I reacted to my problems in the positive, how-am-I-going-to-solve-this way that Mark does. 

While Mark is on Mars doing awesome things, the people of NASA are trying to get him back home. Many of these scenes reminded me of Apollo 13, one of my favorite movies. It came out in the summer of '95, and twelve-year-old Julie loved it. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Martian: How to Handle A Bad Situation

I used to be subscriber to Entertainment Weekly, which means I knew a lot about upcoming movies. But I let my subscription lapse months ago and now live a pop-culture knowledge-free life. Well, not entirely knowledge free but it’s a lot less than what it used to be. Without the subscription I have to find things out for myself. Which means lots of times I have no idea about a movie until the week its released. 

Such was the case with The Martian. I gathered that it was based on a book, starred Matt Damon, and involved space. Oh, and that it was directed by sci-fi “auteur” Ridley Scott (I use auteur in quotes because, while he’s made some great, classic sci-fi films like Blade Runner and Alien, it’s not his only genre; see: Thelma and Louise and Gladiator).

The film exceeded my expectations, which were based on the above information and a viewing of the trailer (which I am glad to say did not tell the entire plot of the film). It helps that Matt Damon plays a very likeable character in botanist/astronaut Mark Watney, who in the beginning of the film gets left behind on Mars by his crew. There was a stand storm and he got blown away by a flailing piece of equipment; the logical assumption was that he was dead. 

He’s not dead, though. And his reaction to being stuck on a lifeless planet: how can I science my way out of this and survive? He has such tenacity. And excitement and just overall positive attitude. A problem is before him and he works his way through it using the knowledge he has – math, science, chemistry, botany. It’s remarkable. He also has some pretty great 70s disco music to get him through. And sure, he has setbacks and gets angry, but then he decides how to solve that problem too. I wish that's how I approached my problems.

Mark also has help from the NASA team on Earth. These parts of the film reminded me of Apollo 13, one of my most favorite films. Everyone is working their hardest to figure out a way to get Mark home. They even get help from another space program. 

The film is chock full of great actors playing great characters. I’ve always liked Michael Pena, an actor who generally flies under the radar but has been in some great films. Sean Bean plays the Ares director, and there’s a great Lord of the Rings joke that, while funny in its own right, is more so because Bean was in the first Rings film. 

The Hollywood Reporter had this to say, and it captures my sentiments:  The director and screenwriter downplay the conventional melodrama inherent in the situation in favor of emphasizing how practical problems should be addressed with rational responses rather than hysteria, knee-jerk patriotism or selfish expedience.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Things Happen

Every once in awhile I hear a song that is so unforgettable and moving that I become obsessed with it. Currently that song is "Things Happen" by Dawes. I know nothing of the band.Or any of their other songs, really. I heard the song at least twice back in April/May because Shazam tells me so. However, I heard it again earlier this week and knew I needed to get this song immediately.

Wikipedia tells me that Dawes' genre is "Folk rock, indie folk, indie rock." Which is literally my cup of tea when it comes to music. I also learned that one of the members (who actually just left the band a couple days ago for "musical differences") is the son of actor David Strathairn.

I love the sound of the song. I know nothing, really, about music except how it sounds. And I like this sound of guitars and keyboards and a xylophone. Then there are the lyrics. I am notorious for finding a way to relate every song I hear to my life. The title of the song is practically a sum up of my last couple relationships, Things Happen.
     "I don't know what else you wanted me to say to you. Things happen, that's all they ever do."

Or this really fabulous line:
     "Sometimes we're lovers, sometimes we're friends.
       Behold the magnetism between two dead ends."

And then I watched the video on YouTube and it solidified my love for the song even more. The protagonist of the music video is a street musician, and on this day he gets interrupted and followed by a bunch of wacky street performers (Charlie Chaplin, Elivs and Marilyn Monroe impersonators, along with a dancing crazy person). He rides the bus home looking dejected and annoyed with how his day went (presumably he wanted to make money, or just share his music with the people of LA).

When he gets home he is surprised by a birthday party in the backyard, full of people who love him. His grandma hugs him, he blows out candles, and general fun and merriment occur. I just love that! When we feel kicked around by life and like we can't catch a break, there are people who love us.

That's true for me, and I hope that's true for you.

(There's also a stripped down live version, which I also love. )

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