Sunday, December 01, 2019

to campbell, on your 8th birthday

Dear Campbell,

This is your annual letter - its meandering, because I have so much to tell you, so much to remind you of, to say, so just bear with me as I try to recap your accomplishments and struggles, and the year as a whole... 

I'm not sure what happened this year... I'm not sure when you turned the corner or at what point -- maybe minute, second, week, day, hour -- you suddenly became a premonition of who you are going to become. All this week, I've looked at your mom and whispered, "Can you believe we are about to have an 8 year old?" and she just shakes her head. Because I think Year 7 has been the biggest year yet for you.

Let's recap a little, okay?

My favorite book so far this year was a book about 9/11, but your favorite is a four way tie between "Me and My Dad" and "Mighty Mighty Construction Site" and "Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site" and "Going on a Bear Hunt".  A four way tie because I've read all four of those books to you just about every single night since probably early spring, when you edged Jack B Ninja out of the rotation.  My book goal for the year is 50, and I'm only on 34, so I probably won't get there, but I plan on counting those four, if only because I've read them so much, I know them by heart. Can't tell you how many times I've literally recited "Bear Hunt" front to back to you in Wal-Mart.

"Avengers: Endgame" ended the 10 year long Marvel storyline at the movies, and I'm excited for you to get into these in the coming years. I also loved "Knives Out" and "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood", though I don't expect you to see either of those for a while. On that last one, a long while.

Can't tell you a lot about TV, honestly -- there are over 500 TV shows on the air this year, and I watch hardly any of them... though Disney+ dropped in November, and boy have we been feasting on "The Mandalorian" and "The Imagineering Story" and the quirky Jeff Goldblum show.  And you've enjoyed a movie or  two here and there...

President Trump is still there, and as I said last year, politics remains a nasty business. But Trump did sign a pretty great autism bill this year that will hopefully help you for years to come (having said that, I don't know all the specifics, but it seems solid).  My contention has always been that I want you to make up your mind on what you believe, but know why you believe it, not just taking an opinion off of a news network or social media platform as gospel.  Otherwise, let's talk about this when you are older.

So many friends this year. Seriously... sometimes I want to tell myself, "The teachers are just trying to encourage you by saying he has lots of friends", but no -- I've seen it in action this year and last.  The kids around you love you at school... maybe its because your hugs are indiscriminate, maybe its because your affection is unconditional, or maybe its because you like to smile and giggle and laugh all the time. Either way, I hope it never stops.

We got to go to birthday parties at soccer parks and trampoline parks and gymnastic parks and more, and of course, a class field trip to McWane Center, where you were all over that "Itty Bitty City" display and that play firetruck set up. And one of your buddies, Jack, was all over you -- it was so great to see it.

Our trip to Disney World in March was fantastic... the awesome Cast Member gave us a short wait time for your new favorite ride, Slinky Dog Dash (dude... you LOVED that attraction...) but man, that head banging thing was terrible. We were worried about you for weeks and weeks, watching you just suddenly bang your head on everything. We hope and pray that is a phase that never, ever comes back.

Your first horseback ride was last December, right after
you turned 7, but you loved it so much you did it
here too. 
Your year also included more swimming lessons with Ms Keri, and some over the summer with Ms Beca, horseback riding with Ady's Army events, lots of playground and park times, and even riding in a race car around a racetrack.  You saw your first movie in theaters -- "Toy Story 4" -- and by "saw" , I mean "you ran around until Mommy and GG finally had to take you out because you were running crazy.  You did, however, get to see your first symphony concert, and we gave you a little room to move... and you lasted the entire 30 minutes. GO YOU.

And wow did your musical side come out this year -- you're already playing piano, and your teacher Ms Alaina is sure that you can tell tone. Plus, as much as you love to sing, who knows what you can do with that!

Remember how I've told you before that you got into movies like "Rio" or "Cars 2"?  Well this year, it was Toy Story movies.  I think I've seen Toy Story 2 about 388 times this year... and you know what, that's okay too. And let's be clear... you liked the commercials off of the DVR recorded movies just as much as the movie itself. Hence your fascination with Fiji Water and Liberty Mutual (Ibah-tee Ibah-tee IBBAAAHTEEE) and Farmer's (We Ah Fahmah Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba) and so on.

Your talking has gone through the roof. I don't know how many words you have, but I daresay in the hundreds, maybe thousands by now. You can site read like a beast -- at the end of the year "awards", your teacher Bette Davis Eyes gave you one, saying, "This boy reads every word he sees, so the Best Sight Reading Award goes to... CAMPBELL!"  And your classmates cheered as you wandered up front, got your certificate that your mom and I gooed over while you were just Meh, and came back and finished your ice cream I got you.

You're reading is incredible. You read words I didn't know you'd even know... that's my fault, I should always assume that you know what is up, but forgive me for not giving you the benefit of the doubt sometimes. Of course, we still can't make you fully grasp the concept of "If you eat breakfast, we can leave. But you can't leave until you eat. This then that." but we'll get there, I'm sure.

Mitchell's Place will always be a part of our family, as it truly
changed your life, our lives, and the trajectory of our family. And Jordyn
and Audrey (and Piper too!) were a part of that.
You finally ended your tenure at Mitchell's Place, and it was difficult. We loved Jordyn and Audrey, they were amazing with you, and I know you loved them -- and all your MP gals, like Whitton and Glenda and Emily and Emil-I-E and Emma Leigh and I'm not making those up, there were that many Emilies.  You still ask to go there from time to time... maybe one day we can visit. Or you can -- if you are old enough to read this, you might even be driving by now!

Myself and your mom had to make some tough decisions about you this year too. We had two therapies in front of us, one recommended, one fairly new but had seemed successful with those around you... so after weeks of praying about it, seeking wisdom and counsel, we went with the new therapy. And kid, you are rocking it.

I've been there when you are answering open ended questions, giving answers that proved you were listening, even though you were running around the room Mach 3 with your hair on fire. Several of the therapists have had the same conclusion -- you are brilliant. You are more perceptive and smarter than any of us know or give you credit for, we just have to figure a way to bring that out. I'm confident we will.  It's your world, Campbell, we just get to live here.

You left your beloved Mrs Carnes (aka Bette Davis Eyes) last year in kindergarten and moved to 1st grade, with Mrs Coston, who you also love. You got some new classmates, but some from last year were still in your class. I know you love you some Lilly, as it's been awesome to watch you two play together at Next Levl park or when we all went to the pumpkin patch -- she even asked to sit with you on the way back, and just last week, she all but ditched the friends she was with to run with you at Next Levl.

And your new friend Hillary is quite awesome too -- she loves your attention, and she loves giving you the same, and it's no wonder you guys are fast friends. I hope this keeps up as you get older, and both Lilly and Hillary, and several others, will know that they are a part of your story as you grew.

Watching Hillary read to you was pretty amazing,
and it might have been a little dusty on that
porch that afternoon.

Your anthem this year has to be "In the Light" by DC Talk. See, you used to go to kid's choir, until you finally just grew tired of it -- but we got a CD to play in the car, which you just lapped up in every ride. But I decided to add a little more fun stuff to it, notably the "Sister Act 2" version of "Joyful Joyful" and "In the Light"... took you a little while, but you got into it... and now you sing "In the Light" all day.

We know that God's word does not come back void, so singing a song about a desire to forgo ourselves and be immersed in the goodness of Christ is surely not being sung in vain. Even when you get upset and then ask me to sing "IN DA WITE SING IN DA WITE" because it comforts you...

No kid, you don't get that when you've disobeyed.

Same with your mom and "HOUSA FUN SING HOUSA FUN" (which is a song called "Get a Little Crazy", where he takes the line "all in this together and we're having fun" and turns it into "Housa fun".)

Okay, let's wrap this up... in the last few letters, I started introducing some things I wanted you to know about, including "respect" and "truth". I want to tell you about "kindness" today. I've watched people treat you with such pure and loyal kindness this year, I want you to understand it and not take it for granted.

Kindness is treating someone with respect, no matter who they are and where they are, and perhaps treat them with understanding, care, and love.  Perhaps going above and beyond for someone in a way they wouldn't expect. Like saying hello to the kid by himself on the bench, or even playing with him. By not joining in when other kids make fun of someone, or even sticking up for that person. By helping out someone who needs a hand, even if it inconveniences you.

Being kind is the right thing to do. Truth isn't always kind, but telling the truth sometimes in the kindest thing you can do for someone. But don't let someone take advantage of your kindness -- if someone decides to abuse your kindness, then don't turn around and treat them with malice or anger. Just step back.  You should default to being kind to people, but hold strong to your convictions.

We love you very much.  Remember that Jesus loves you more than we ever could, though, and that he truly died for you and gave to you a gift that we could never match, and we always pray for you that one day you'll understand the gift of salvation.

Be respectful. Tell the truth. Be kind.  If you can do those things... continue to do those things... you'll be farther ahead than many people will get.

Eight looks awesome on you, Campbell Isaiah.

With love muchly,
Your Dad

Previous letters...
To Campbell, on your 7th Birthday
To Campbell, on your 6th Birthday
To Campbell, on your 5th Birthday
To Campbell on your 4th Birthday
To Campbell, on your 3rd Birthday
To Campbell, on your 2nd Birthday
To Campbell, on your 1st Birthday

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

the truth about free

As I get back into the swing of this writing thing, celebrating my own NaNoWriMo with what I like to call "NaBloWriMo", I've started working my way through my favorite playlist on iTunes, one I call "The Best Soy Latte That You've Ever Had and Me"... a collection of singer/songwriter tunes that I enjoy very much. And I'll list them as I write...

"One Hundred Years" by Five for Fighting

As someone who runs a small business, working solely on commission, I have to make every dollar count. So everything I do business wise results in one of two things -- either helping someone for free, or putting money in my budget. Either using the skills and experiences to give someone some free advice, or make some money to help put food on our table (or in Campbell's case, buy those expensive snacks he eats)

Thus begets the dilemma that nearly anyone who runs a small business runs into... how much to give for free before you charge?  And this isn't just an issue with at-home travel planners... its editors, photographers, website designers, life coaches, and anyone else who has a learned profession that can be shared with others.

"Jimmy Olsen's Blues" by The Spin Doctors

When someone comes to me and asks, "Hey, can you tell me the best time to go to Disney?", or "What is your favorite character meal?", I personally think its selfish and greedy to turn up my nose and say, "Nope, only if you pay me for that info."  Those are easy answers, even if a bit long.  At least the former is longer, as I have about 7 travel windows I always say... late January, early February, between Spring Break and Easter, between Easter and Memorial Day, late August, most of September, mid-November, early December... then again, do you want good weather? Low crowds? Lower prices?  Holiday decor?  Never a short answer.

The other is quite simply "Bon Voyage Breakfast" at Boardwalk.

Those are the same level of basic questions I may ask -- and have asked -- of a photographer (what is your favorite camera?) or a web designer (is there a ___ function on WordPress?) or an editor (do you put a comma if you are using an ampersand?).

"How Do You Mend a Broken Heart" by Rev Al Green

But then there are those -- and I never assume nefarious or shenaniganny reasons but rather they just don't know -- who will ask me flat out "Hey, can you give me a list of Fastpasses to get on which days?"

"Sure. Have you booked your trip?"

"Yep, we have a place to stay and already have our dining and tickets. We just need to know what Fastpasses to get"

(that happens more often than you'd think)

Or maybe "Can you tell me about Character meals?"

"Sure. Like what?"

"Oh, like do you have a list of all the character meals?  Which ones are hardest to get? Which ones would my kids like?"

(also happens)

And how do you find a way, without sounding rude, to say "I'm sorry, that information comes from experience and training that I have to reserve for those who have chosen to book their travel with me, and thus will me making me money even though they won't be paying on extra cent on their trip"?

I guess the answer is simply "That's the kind of info I get paid to help people with", but that does sound a little snotty, doesn't it.

"Something's Always Wrong" by Toad the Wet Sprocket, a little apropos of this post... 

I do just assume that most people don't know. I had one fella contact me with questions about his trip upcoming, and when I finally had to say that I couldn't really go on anymore without some sort of client agreement, he stopped talking to me... only to then contact me a week later to tell me that he had no idea this was a full time career -- he thought it was a side dish, something I just did for fun. He apologized profusely, I accepted happily, and we worked together -- sending his family was delightful.

Keep in mind that when you deal with Disney travel, especially to the theme parks, if you are on property, Disney will compensate the travel agent (or my agency, Upon a Star Travel and Concierge) and I get paid out of that... if you do it all on your own Disney doesn't cut that amount off of the price, they just keep it, so you pay the same amount regardless.

What does that mean exactly? Well, that means that you don't pay me anything for all of my help. I'm your virtual Disney assistant at no cost above what you are paying for your trip.

But... what if you are off property?

"There's a Light In Your Eyes" by Blessid Union of Souls

So if you stay off property and you ask for help, either I have to charge a planning fee, or I work for free. And you might be tempted to say "Oh come on, you are answering questions about Space Mountain and eating at the castle, what on earth do you have anything to charge for?", and to that I'd say that you'd be the person that would need my help the most if you were going.

"Possession" by Sarah McLachlin, my 4th favorite song of all time. 

Why do I charge $150 to help a family with a trip?  Because I've been dozens of times. Because I've spent on property what I estimate to be around 200 nights, and at least one night in every resort save for Old Key West, Contemporary, and Beach Club.  Because I've planned in what I'm estimating to be around 450 vacations for families by now. Because I read constantly, study before I do a Disney podcast, because I'm more prepared for your trip than you might ever be.  That's why.

"Sunrise" by Simply Red

But its the same for an editor... why does an editor charge thousands?  Because they've had thousands of hours pouring over page after page, trying to make you sound smart.

Why can a cake maker charge hundreds for a cake?  Because they've made hundreds of cakes, spending hours and hours on each one trying to make that Paw Patrol Puppy they made out of fondant pop, making you seem like a super parent.

How can a web designer justify charging $500 for a webpage? Have you ever tried to build a webpage? Not a custom page like Square Space or Wix, but a page that you design and build and host and own?  It's freaking hard. Its really, really hard.

Or the photographer, who has photographed 100s of weddings and has $10,000 worth of equipment... or the financial coach, who has helped hundreds of people pay off millions in debt...

"Wide Awake" by Katy Perry

You can absolutely hire that guy from Facebook for $100 to take some pics for you... after all, he bought a $400 camera, so he's a professional, right?

Just like you can get Sparky the Wonder Agent who went to Disney World in 2015 to help you with your trip, or you can ask the Facebook Moms for help... I've been on those threads, and trust me, Sparky and Facebook Moms are two sources you need to be careful of, because "I went in 2015 and I know all about it!" shouldn't be reassuring to you when planning your magical days.

Oh, this sounds so bitter, doesn't it? I promise you, it's not. It's really not meant to be bitter... and I can tell you why -- because when I first started, I would do anything I could to get business. I did stuff for free, I gave out information sheets that I had written for free, I handed out stuff to people for very little because I want them to like me, to work with me, and to refer people to me.

In fact, I had one family ask me a ton of questions once, all of which I happily answered. And I was pumped, thinking of the commission I'd get from this trip... once they booked.  Turns out, they booked on their own, using all of the intel I gave them.  I was very unhappy with them -- friends that they may be -- though I got over it. The Lovely Steph Leann?  She doesn't hold many grudges, but five years later, I'm still not sure she cares for them very much.

They've never booked a trip with me, though they've been a few more times.  They came back to me and asked more questions before going on their next trip... I answered pretty vaguely, which is what I do now, when I don't think I can trust where the conversation is headed.

"Creep" by Jena Irene (the American Idol performance, and by far my fave version of this song)

I'm not a selfish monster, however. I have helped people for free. Consulted with some people, giving information and experience to them for no cost, based on their situation.  I think most people with a service has done so in their life.  But I am at the point where I can pick and choose now, which is a great place to be.

"King of Pain" by Alanis Morissette (MTV's Unplugged version... magnificent) 

So now you know how it works. How I work.

Don't be afraid  to ask questions, because I'm usually very happy to help if I can... but don't be offended if I tell you that I can't give you all of that which you seek... you can spend the time on The Googles looking up the answers, or trying to navigate Disney's massive and many times overwhelming website... or you can just let me do it.

But probably not for free... because all these years later, I don't have to do it for free.

Saturday, November 02, 2019


My favorite playlist on my iPod is one called "The Best Soy Latte That You've Ever Had... And Me". As I type, I'll list the songs that play. I won't get through many, not tonight, but it's a start.

"Collide" - Howie Day


I miss you.

I do. I really do. I miss typing on this keyboard and making some sort of story happen, some sort of thought spell out in a way that perhaps I didn't know it would when I started the paragraph, or even the sentence.

I used to be a writer, a long time ago... stop me if you've heard this before, and you did if you've read my post number 1000 , or even my sporadic "Imma blog again!" posts that declare that... well, Imma blog again.

Life is so busy. I have three podcasts... did you know that? Three. The Deucecast Movie Show, which is a show about movies... My Kid's Got the Autism, which is a podcast about the fact I'm a dad who has no clue what I'm doing... and Magic on a Dollar, which is my Disney podcast.  Am I good at podcasting? No idea. I've been told I'm a good speaker, I guess given the topic I can be, and I've been told I'm a pretty good storyteller, which is one of my favorite compliments I can receive.

But I know I can write. I've been doing it a long time. Not saying I'm the best, I'm not saying my words on a blank screen will fill your heart with joy and your life with purpose, but I've been known to cut a page or two in my day.

"Clarity" - John Mayer

November is known to authors as a time to write a novel... National Novel Writing Month - or NaNoWriMo for short, pronounced Nay No Rye Mo. Like Settlers of Catan, it's fun to say, hard to accomplish.  Basically, you take November and you write a novel. Work out your word count per day and see what you come up with, and put that novel on paper.

I've got a novel in me somewhere. And a movie book. And even a book about being an Autism dad. Somewhere. I'm 44, so I'm pretty much cresting that hill where time will start going faster and faster and I'll be done sooner than later -- that's morbid, and I'm not predicting my untimely death at 47 or something... I'd like to think I can hit 80. But if I do, that means I've got less than half of my life left -- if I'm still at the halfway point, I'll be 88 when I see Jesus up yonder way.

All that is to say, if I'm going to do it, I should. I think I could make people smile. Maybe.

My laptop is littered with pieces of a book... about a guy who moves to Nova Scotia... about a guy named Peter who is getting married, and thinks about the points of his life that got him to where he currently stands... about a group of friends who converge on a college weekend...

"You & I (both)" - Jason Mraz

...and they get caught up in something very bad.... and of course, the list of my 500 favorite films.

Those books are in there.

But the decision I have to make is... do I continue pursuing the auditory aspect, with the podcasts, or do I finally embrace the written word and try to master what I'm already pretty good at (I can say that, and can imagine someone like KB Hoyle thinking "I've read your stuff... don't get too sure of yourself. You're not that good."  She's amazing, by the way. And beautiful. And that's not me being fresh or anything, she truly is a beautiful person. And so freaking talented.)

So thus, the first post of "NaBloWriMo", or National Blog Writing Month.  A month I'm going to take and try to get my mojo back and see what happens.

I'm not even going to promo this post on Facebook... I'll let it find it's own audience, if it does, and if it doesn't, that's okay too. I can write for others later, but I probably need to write for me for just a little bit.

"Love Song" - Sara Bareillis (my 2nd fave song ever)

Okay. That's it. As Alanis says (and will say later in this playlist) "These R the thoughts that go through my head"

Let me go link and format really quick.

Hold please.

"Not the Only One" - Sam Smith

Ok, that's it. It's likely super grammatically incorrect -- no one tell The Peacock Quill, who is my editing hero deserving of hero worship. Love her. Also a beautiful person. Also not fresh.

Good night Westley. Good work. Sleep well. I'll most likely kill you in the morning.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

once upon a blog... in hollywood

So, I have now seen "Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood", Quentin Tarantino's 9th movie. His movies are somewhat events nowadays for many movie fans, of which I am no different. I've seen everything he's done at the theater, save for Reservoir Dogs (came out as an indie film, and I'm not even sure my podunk theaters in Enterprise, AL, even had this film) and Jackie Brown (More on this later). Everything else I've bought a ticket for, and for the last few, have treated his movies like must-see events.

The obvious question is, did I like the movie?  And the answer is... I have no clue. I really don't know. I might wake up tomorrow or sometime in October and decide this movie is brilliant, or decide this movie is just plain awful, but I don't know what I think just yet.

No matter what you think about the film, you have to give it to these
guys -- they are pretty fantastic in this.
Sometimes a movie does that to me and it's a negative... I think about it too much and I talk myself into not liking it.

Other times, like "The Proposal", it sticks with me for a few days and I end up loving it... yes, that Proposal, with Sandy B and Ryan Reynolds.  It currently sits at #151 on my Top 500 films ever.

And that's not a typo. I love that movie.

Really quick -- the movie focuses on Rick Dalton (Dicaprio), an aging Hollywood actor who was mighty popular in the 50s, but now in 1969 (when the movie is set), finds his parts dwindling and his relevance even smaller.  His best, and possibly only, friend is Cliff Booth (Pitt), who is his stunt double, driver, fixer upper and jack of all trades, though he carries his own baggage. Margot Robbie is Sharon Tate... for you older folk, yes, that Sharon Tate... who is living the Hollywood life as the star of the silver screen. Several stories intertwine until the all weave together, as you would expect from Tarantino.

Since I literally got home 40 minutes ago from the showing itself, I'll just not overthink it and do a little word vomit, giving you some random thoughts that I thought I was thinking while both watching the movie and after the film...

  • Okay. It's been an hour. Should something happen by now?
  • Leonardo DiCaprio is unbelievable here. Revenant, Schmevenant, this might be the best I've ever seen him on screen.  Truth be told, Michael Fassbender's performance in "Steve Jobs" should have won the Best Actor Oscar over Leo's win in 2015. but Leo should have won Best Actor for "The Departed" in 2006 (and Mark Wahlberg should have gotten Best Supporting too, but still)
  • Focus, d$, focus. It's too late for tangents.
  • Brad Pitt might be the most underappreciated actor working today. He is brilliant in this film and he somehow does it by doing almost the same schtick he did in "Inglorious Basterds", only he's talking 1969 Hollywood lingo, and not 1943 Killin Naht-zee lingo. You could argue that this is his film, not Leo's, and there's no doubt he is the lynchpin of this movie.
  • Margot Robbie isn't real. She cannot be. No one can look that perfect and not be CGI. 
  • Also of note, I found out later that Tarantino met with Sharon Tate's sister Debra and got her blessing for putting the Sharon Tate character in the movie. Robbie even wears some of Sharon's original jewelry.
  • I was promised Chuck Manson in the trailers. So I have questions.
  • Is it possible that a MacGuffin can come in the form of an entire plotline? 
  • This movie is gorgeous visually. The outfits, the cars, the scenery, the MUSIC.  It is almost too gritty to be beautiful, but that may add to it's outstanding look
  • I can totally see how a Tarantino fan would love this movie. I can also see how a Tarantino fan would hate this movie.
  • Though there are a few somewhat gristly death scenes, the violence is actually kept to a minimum.  It's not nearly as gory as some QT movies, and nothing approaches the Bear Jew taking a bat to a Nazi skull in Basterds
  • But there is lots and lots of language.  Less violence than many QT films, no sex, no nudity, but the F-bombs flow freely.
  • There is a hilarious mid-credit scene, so stick around for that... you can leave once that's done, but the credits are stylized and nearly over when the scene ends anyway
  • As the movie progressed, I can tell you that this film is definitely a slow burn for the first 90 minutes or so. Looking back, I can tell you when Dakota Fanning looks through that screen door, take your last pee break if needed because the film is about to take off. 
  • There are several "one scene and done" faces you will find familiar... Scoot McNairy, Martin "Karate Kid's Krease" Kove, Maya"Scoops Ahoy Robyn" Hawke, Michael Madsen, Zoe Bell (the Aussie chick from Death Proof), and Luke Perry, in his final film appearance.
Don't be fooled by her incredible good looks -- she's got
some real talent. Her "I, Tonya" performance is
wonderful and nearly flawless.
I'm honestly leaning towards "Yes, I liked it", but nowhere near "I loved this movie so much". I was eagerly anticipating it as the opening date approached, even thinking to myself "What if it's as good as Endgame? That's my favorite film of the year, but what if this is as good?"  I just knew that this would rival the top of the QT rankings for me, as it just seemed like my kind of film.

Honestly, I have no idea where to rank it amongst the 9 movies Tarantino has made... I know my list tops at "Pulp Fiction", followed by "Reservoir Dogs" and "Inglorious Basterds"

The next section, in 4th would be "Jackie Brown", which I saw for teh first time this year, and loved.  I loved the linear storytelling, and it was a different style for QT, likely because its the only previously published work he's ever adapted from -- its an Elmore Leonard novel, and I'm a fan of Elmore movie adaptations, notably "Get Shorty".

In 5th, "Kill Bill Vol 1".  After 5, we enter the territory where "Once Upon a Time" might fall. I'd probably put "Death Proof" in 6th, "The H8teful Eight" in 7th, "Kill Bill Vol 2" in 8th, and "Django Unchained" in 9th... but you can't read into that bottom of the list thing, because all of these are great films. I'm just not sure I'd sit and watch Hateful Eight, Kill Bill Vol 2, and Django again.

If you do the math, that means there are 10 films -- "Death Proof" only sort of counts as it's half of a double feature called "Grindhouse", which QT did with Robert Rodriguez.  They each directed one film, with Rodriguez' film called "Planet Terror" and honestly, its the better of the two.

So there you go. Did you see "Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood"?  If so, did you like it, and if you are a Tarantino fan, where does it fall in the listings for you?

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

summer end quick

While I work hard on your magical vacations, my kid is currently upstairs crying because:

1) He can't ride a bus right now.

2) He can't ride an elevator right now.

3) See mommy, who is at work.

4) wants Cool-ay, of which i have no idea what that means. And yes, the first thought is "Kool-Aid", but trust me, I'm pretty sure he's not saying "Kool-Aid".

5) I won't wear a Greystone shirt to match the one he just put on, because he thinks we'll be going to McWane Center if we wear them.

6) he can't play with our suitcases, of which I've had to pile in a locked up bedroom because of this problem

7) his head hurts, which hurts because he bangs his head on anything he can find.

8) I got onto him because when I went to the restroom, he turned my computer completely off in the middle of something I was working on

This isn't a multiple choice. He's crying for all of these things simultaneously.

Also, its very quiet right now. Unsure how much time I give it before I actually go check on him.

I need summer to end quickly.

Monday, June 10, 2019

why am i still awake

I refuse to let this blog go! I just refuse to do it!

It's currently 1:38 in the morning central time, and here are some random thoughts that aren't cohesive, and aren't really related, but I just wanted to write something.

I'm doing an Autism dad podcast.  Like, I'm the dad of a kid with autism, and I'm going to do a podcast and talk about it.  Monday mornings is when it will release. I've got three episodes done, and will upload all three sometime in the next 10 days.  Hope you listen.  It's called "My Kid's Got the Autism"

I've seen "Toy Story 2" about thirty times in the last two weeks.  My kid, Campbell, loves riding Slinky Dog Dash at Hollywood Studios.  He watched the Slinky Dog Dash videos on YouTubeKids. He sees squeeze penguin Wheezy, the character at the end of the ride, and knows Wheezy was in Toy Story 2... he gets his squeaker replaced, and says "I feel a song coming on!", then launched into "You Gotta Friend in Me". So Campbell sees Wheezy in the video, then wants to see Wheezy in the movie, plus at the end of the movie, there is a scene in baggage claim where suitcases are all over the place, and now he wants to roll suitcases around.  Autism sucks.

Just saw a movie called "Set It Up" on Netflix. It's cute, but not memorable. At the end of the film, I had to ask The Lovely Steph Leann "What was the name of the movie we just watched?"

We also watched "Always Be My Maybe" on Netflix.  That movie is a jewel.  Love it, love Randall Park, love Ali Wong in this film, and the Keanu Reeves cameo (though he's in it for a good 10 minutes, so I'm not even sure its a cameo really) is priceless. And the song at the end of the movie, about punching Keanu Reeves, is nothing short of amazing.

There is water in our garage.  Signature Homes is the company that built our neighborhood in 2008, and the fact that water trickles in when a heavy rain comes is maddening. We also replaced our dishwasher last week -- under the washer when it was moved, they found two cigarette butts and a couple of food wrappers. Meaning those had been there since the day the house was built and when we moved in, in 2008.  I hate shoddy work, and companies that put up with it.

"Bad Night at the El Royale" was one of my favorite films of last year, and its now on HBO... I'm pretty excited about seeing it again, to see if I like it as much the 2nd viewing.  Is it "Bad Night"?  Or is it "Bad Times"? I honestly cannot remember

Update. It's Bad Times.

Time for bed.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

a mueller report chat

A conversation that probably happened between Robert Mueller and the Democrats when the Mueller Report came out and had no evidence of Russian Collusion...

Robert Mueller: So, we found that Trump is guil--


Mueller: No, he's--

Dems: YES!! Guilty! We always knew he was guilty. He and his followers are too stupid to win that election over the honorable Hillary Clinton. She had this election stolen from her! She won the popular vote!

Mueller: You know that the Electoral College elects our president, right? Dems: Who cares. We'll get rid of that as soon as we can.

Mueller: But you've never had a problem with it until Hillary lost...

Dems: Your point?

Mueller: (shrugs) Back to the report... I think you misunderstand me. In the report there is very lit--

Dems: Sure, only a little evidence, that's fine. We only need a smidge of evidence to impeach him!

Mueller: You may want to do more inves--

Dems: No, no... we are done investigating. He's guilty. If we look further, we may find things that don't support our cause.

Mueller: So you are done with this investigation?

Dems: We don't need any more. You said he was guilty. We're ready to kick him out! Socialism, open borders, killin viable born babies and calling it the "right to choose", free college for errbody! It's time we let the world know how we really need to be ruling this place (massages fist and grins evilly)

Mueller: No, you idiots. I was trying to say in this Russian collusion, Trump is guilt FREE. There is no evidence to support any claim of such.

Dems: Wait... what? You said there was a little evidence in there...

Mueller: No, I was trying to say there was very little in there that even pointed that direction, much less connected him to Russia...

Dems: Wait. You are telling me that idiot and his redneck, racist followers actually beat Hillary fair and square?

Mueller: Yes. He won the election lawfully and by the rules set forth in our Constitution

Dems: Oh, come on, you know we only use the Constitution when it suits our narrative.

Mueller: So like, hardly ever? Dems: Whatever. This is an outrage! We demand an investigation! You aren't looking hard enough, Robby!

Mueller: Um... I looked for 2 years and spent $35 million dollars. Millions of pages of documents. Usually a special council is given a special crime to investigate... we weren't even given that. I was just told to go find something. No one gave me any limits. Trump had every right to fire me and he didn't do it. Bottom line is, Trump didn't work with Russia to rig any election.

Dems: LIAR. We demand an investigation.

Mueller: Ok, like... we just finished an investigation

Dems: We demand an investigation into your investigation to investigate what your investigation didn't find!

Mueller: Face it. Trump won because Hillary sucks. As a candidate. And frankly, as a person.

Dems: NO! HE DID IT! HE DID SOMETHING... He colluded... with... Russia to collude the election. He election colluded with the Soviets to elect... I mean, to collude... whatever. HE IS GUILTY! We won't stop until we find out what happened!

Mueller: You mean like Cory Booker swore to not stop until he discovered the truth behind Kavanaugh with Dr Ford? And how we haven't heard anything about it since?

Dems: No, we actually care about this issue. We'll tell the media! They'll keep reporting that the Mueller report is bunk, and that there is obviously something there.

Mueller: But you have no proof. The media has never really had any proof of what they have been reporting

Dems: Bob... (stares blankly) When has a lack of evidence ever stopped any charge we make? Or any life we ruin?

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

the super bowl was all fine

A few rambling, disjointed thoughts on the Super Bowl, of which I didn't do a running diary or really watch all of...

So, the game happened. And it was fine. And that's a hot take, because most of the world has condemned it as the most boring game they've ever seen, and much of those condemners also have shared similar feelings about Maroon 5's performance. 

Both were fine.

Full disclosure, I saw kickoff, a few of the commercials, and then The Lovely Steph Leann asked me the question that puts countries at war, bucks up internal strife, sometimes destroys marriages... "What do you want to eat for dinner?"  The Aunt was here, keeping Campbell, so despite the Super Bowl being on, I told her that we could go out and have dinner.  We ended up at Urban Cookhouse, and it was a win-win because nothing happened while I was gone. When I returned home, Adam Levine was singing something onstage.  I left the Aunt and The Lovely Steph Leann (and the kid) downstairs and came to my room to watch the game streaming on my iPad.

The game itself was a defensive battle... and yeah, it was sort of boring, but that's not the fault of the Patriots or the Rams, that's the fault of our own need for excitement and action.  If everything happened exactly the same, except one team scored a single touchdown in each quarter (1st quarter, 3-3, 2nd quarter Pats 10-3, 3rd quarter tied 10-10, final score 17-10), the complaints would be much quieter, because there would have been some scoring.  But, like me at all four high school proms I attended, the scoring was minimal... which is sort of a bad analogy, because  nothing happened for me at any point of any of my proms.

Four, you ask?  Cindy Howell to my junior and senior proms, and when I was a freshman in college, I went with Brandy S. and Cheryl H to their junior and senior proms, respectively. Add that to four fraternity formals, and I've spent a fortune in tuxedos. 

Back to the game.

It was fine. I didn't have a problem with it, and I was rooting for the Patriots, they won, went to bed.

I know, I know, you probably hate the Patriots, cause they are cheaters and Julian Edelman (the Super Bowl MVP) is on PEDs and blah blah blah. 

Tom Brady is the GOAT. At this point. He's been to 11% of all Super Bowls that have existed, and has won 8% of them. The man has 6 championship rings in what might be the hardest playoff to get through -- its a single elimination tournament. The NBA and MLB are tough too -- you have full on series, which means you may play upwards of 25+ additional games en route to the title, whereas with NFL, you play a max of four... but four brutal games that if you stumble in any of them, no matter how explosive you are (hello Rams), you are out. At least in the NBA and MLB series, you can afford a bad game and still survive.

If you want to pinpoint the worst parts of the game, you have to look at the LA Rams... Jared Goff played horribly, Todd Gurley was inexplicably missing from the action despite being probably the best player on the entire field, the punter got way more playing time than any punter should get in a Super Bowl, and it they just looked overwhelmed by the moment.

And even with that, the low score, the Rams being off kilter, the Pats not blowing up the scoreboard, it was still a game that you weren't sure who was going to win until there was maybe a minute or two left, so there is something to be said for that. I think everyone thought one of the teams, likely the Pats but maybe the Rams, would finally open it up on the 2nd half, or surely the 4th quarter, maybe some offensive explosion where we'd hear Tony Romo say stuff like "47 total points scored in the 4th quarter, a Super Bowl 4th quarter record!" but no, we got none of that.  We got a touchdown.

As far as the halftime show goes, I don't know why any artist would ever accept a Super Bowl gig, especially from here on out.  The gold standard seems to be Prince, but that might be because it was in the last decade or so, and "Prince" is synonymous with "Legend", but I barely remember it. I only remember my friend Paula being all excited because she's a child of the 80s... I remember the Timberlake/Janet Jackson halftime show, for obvious nippy reasons, but I can't recall specifics of nearly any other halftime show... I can't even tell you who performed last year.  When did Lady Gaga perform?  Were the Rolling Stones in there somewhere? 

Maroon 5 came out, they sang, they wore weird outfits, someone named Travis Scott came out and rapped, then Big Boi arrived... Big Boi is the half of OutKast not named Andre 3000, which prompted me to tweet that the NFL should have backed up the Brinks truck to Andre's lap and paid whatever it took to get OutKast together -- I mean, they are in Atlanta for gravy's sake, this is OutKast's hometown. I need some "Mrs Jackson", I am for real.

But nonetheless, what I liked about Maroon 5 was they came out, they sang, they left. No protests, no kneeling, no statements, They did their job, got their check (one that they donated to a children's charity, by the way) and went home. The fear from many was that there would be some sort of statement made in defense of Colin Kaepernick... and let's be clear, I'm firmly of the belief that Kap is a total idiot. And the reasons are several, and none of them include kneeling for the national anthem.  Kap and the supposed blackball of Kap are the reason many artists chose not to perform... which brings me to my earlier question of why anyone would choose to do this. 

We are in a Woke society, where everyone is offended by everything at this point -- even the commercials tried to tiptoe around comedy so as not to make anyone upset or triggered. This morning, I read another article that stated how some professor at some college has studied Mary Poppins and concluded that yes, the movie is racist. Why? Because in one scene Mary has soot on her face... then chooses to add a little more. And that makes it Blackface. You know, not because she's singing and dancing on the rooftops of London with a crew of chimney sweeps.  Blackface. 

So Maroon 5 plays it safe... and still gets roasted. Had they come out and Adam Levine stripped his shirt off (which he did, and there were comparisons to how Janet Jackson got destroyed for showing a nipple, while Adam in his male privilege gets away with it... I read that from one particular SJW chick who I find to be quite the blowhard) and suddenly put on a Kap jersey, or maybe had a quick 10 second musical sequence with a riff from the National Anthem which Adam kneeled -- the left would have gone crazy. Brave! Courageous! He Gets It! And the right would have hated it. 

Dunno what he might have done to have the right cheer while the left demands his resignation, but they played it safe and both sides hated it.  No win situation.

But it was fine. The game was fine, the halftime show was fine.

Okay, okay, I hated all of it.  Will you not unfriend me now?

Friday, February 01, 2019

they shall not grow old

I have to give full credit to my buddy Clay Shaver up in Detroit for really pushing me to watch more documentaries... since I met the guy in 2015 (well, in person... I've known him online since 2013... hashtag Love at AOL) we've discuss many a movie, and many of them have been documentary recommendations from him.

And 2018 was a strong, strong year for documentaries. "Won't You Be My Neighbor" is currently occupying my top spot in my mental list of "Biggest Oscar Snubs", and just as good -- and just as snubbed -- is the Gilda Radner biopic "Love, Gilda". On my agenda to watch in the coming days are "Minding the Gap" and "Three Identical Strangers", both films I've heard rave reviews on.

Image result for we shall not grow old
But I watched something last night that I just had to talk about, a documentary from Peter Jackson (the Lord of the Rings Jackson). He's a World War I buff and a project he's been working on for a while is this documentary. For me, it just kind of came out of nowhere, as I started seeing trailers for it at the end of December, leaving me wanting to see it.

I saw the Thursday night preview, so all following showing may or may not have what I was able to see -- a quick 2 minute intro from Peter Jackson, the hour-forty movie itself, then following the credits, a 25 minute "making of" feature, which is well worth staying for.

Jackson and his team pulled together over 100 hours of film footage and 600+ hours of audio, paring it down into what you see.  The narration of the entire movie is made up of voices of the veterans, each giving one or two lines at a time, sharing their stories. There are at least 120 different voices, so good luck trying to keep track, but the audio goes along with the footage you see on the screen (I doubt you'll much, if any, film of a soldier, with that soldier doing the narration).

Concentrating on the British war experience, the film takes you through the opening stages of the war, all the war propaganda and recruitment, then into the boot camp.  You spend a good chunk of the film in the front line trenches, those huge ditches dug at jagged angles all through the countryside (we are in Belgium for much of this), with the Germans a mere 100 or so yards away.  Bombs constantly going off, the narration voices tell us how they knew if you stood up too tall, or weren't paying attention, you could easily catch a bullet from a sniper.

Who knew that lice was as big a problem as the fear of bombs and bullets? The sanitation in the trench was pretty much zero, as shown by their toilet set up (imagine a pole on brackets, where you sit and take a dump, sitting next to four or five other guys doing the same thing). The rats were everywhere, feasting on scraps the dead bodies, bodies they couldn't do a lot with because they couldn't really risk going outside of the trench very far.

This is a remarkably done scene when you learn the lengths that Jackson's
team went to to figure out what the officer was reading (left). This pic gives
you an idea of the original footage vs the restored/colorized footage.
Remember, this was silent film, so any sounds made were done in this
documentary's production.

There is also a memorizing 15 minute sequence where the narration voices talk about the times when the soldiers would rush the Germans, the hand to hand combat, shooting people at will, even one voice cracking as he tells of shooting a soldier at point blank range, one who was mortally wounded and screaming in pain.

And finally, we see the terrible way the British soldiers were treated when they returned home upon the war ending.  No one would hire them, people were not interested in finding out their stories, they were basically ignored or treated as if they didn't just fight to save the world.

The after-credits feature is also a real gem, showing how Jackson and his team would scan the footage, do close ups to allow for panning, how they made the choice to colorize the film, how they synced up voices with what you see on screen and so many other decisions made to make this film come to life. The soldiers in the movie are never named, their ranks are never identified, its just a inventive and incredible way to show life in a British WWI trench, with pictures taken from 100 year old copies of War Illustrated to show the combat scenes.

Be aware, though it's not over the top, some of it is graphic, mostly through pictures of killed soldiers lying on the battlefield, many of which are missing parts of their heads, their faces, limbs and so on. And one guy's foot is totally jacked up due to gangrene. I mean, really jacked.  Yuck.

I loved this movie, and its sad to me that it's not Oscar eligible... they missed the submission deadline for this year's Academy Award eligibility, and because it's a 2018 film, they won't be eligible for next year's awards either. Which is sad because this was one of the 1 or 2 best documentaries from last year that I've seen, and even though its the 22nd "new to me" movie I've seen in 2019, its the only one that I give a 4-star rating.

It's worth noting that Jackson said he didn't involve historians in this movie because he wanted the veterans to tell the story through their own eyes. "It's a film made by a non-historian, for you, the non-historian"

And it 's worth the time.

And it's worth staying through the credits just for that ending song.

Friday, January 18, 2019

two docs, one fyre

There are two things I really enjoy in my entertainment life... pop culture and pop culture documentaries.  So when I got the word that Netflix was doing a documentary on Fyre Fest, I was hooked before I saw the first shot.

I checked my Just Watch app on Tuesday and was totally confused, as Hulu showed a documentary called "Fyre Fraud". I wondered if Netflix had loaned it's doc to Hulu for some reason, or maybe I misunderstood which streaming service would have it... nope, turns out, Hulu undercut Netflix and released their own doc a few days before Netflix could.  All's fair in love and docs, I guess (after Netflix bragged on Hulu during the Golden Globes!  Shade!)

Two docs about an event that most people had forgotten about
Here's the set up... In 2017, Fyre Fest was this massive paradise event down on a Bahamian island where thousands of people would converge for two weekends, see musical artists like Blink 182 and Ja Rule, hang out in cabanas and yachts and possibly meet up with the celebs and see lots of "social media influencers".  I am not sure that job existed 10 years ago, but apparently its a thing now.

Influencers like Bella Hadid and hundreds of others posted and promoted, including posting up a simple orange square, then telling people that Fyre Fest was the place to be.  In fact, Kendall Jenner was paid $250K just for posting said square.

But the event itself was a complete fiasco of the highest proportions.  Nothing was built, no musical acts were there, the infrastructure of the island wasn't stable, there was no food and water, barely any plumbing, and those yachts and cabanas turned out to be wet mattresses inside of FEMA tents that were left from Hurricane Matthew. Hundreds of teens and millennials and up were stranded on this small island with no place to go and no way to get home. And it got ugly fast.

So I saw "Fyre Fraud", the Hulu doc, first.  And it is fantastic.  Focusing on William McFarland, who was the man behind Fyre Fest, it follows him from his early days as a scam artist up until he was making real money conning people. And it all led to promising 1000s of people that the biggest concert around would take place in the Caribbean, with all the big names and social media influencers you could imagine... and it was both sad and hilarious at the same time, watching the Fyre Fest team shake their heads about the impossible position they were put in.

This one orange square posted and reposed 1000s of times helped sell out
Fyre Fest, including selling yacht and beach home spaces that didnt exist
Hulu seems to not only point a finger at Billy McFarland, but also a few of his associates, including the Jerry Media group he partnered with, and even some to rapper Ja Rule, who was involved as well. Another thing that has some people irked with Hulu was that they paid him to appear in their doc, but to me, it was worth it to watch him look so uncomfortable on camera, and say a lot of things without saying really anything at all -- he is obviously well rehearsed in how to dance around answers and never admit to anything. In short, he is a total scumbag.

So then, Netflix releases it's documentary today (Friday Jan 18), and I'm pretty much pumped as can be for it. Officially titled "FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened", it was actually made in conjunction with Jerry Media.  That did send up a red flag to me, as how unbiased can it be if the people in one documentary are helping to tell the story in the other?

Well, the Netflix doc (also fantastic) points it's Spotlight of Blame directly at Billy McFarland and doesn't let up. It jumps right into the Fyre Fest planning, starting 5 months before the festival.  Keep in mind that festivals of these size takes a year, maybe 2 years to put together, and that's likely after a plan is already in place.... McFarland thought he could do it in 5 months, and that's as he was shopping for an island to purchase.  Yes, this dude thought of the festival first, started promoting it, then went to buy an island for it. (purchasing an island once owned by Pablo Escobar. Yep. That's a true story)

Because you know it's a disaster, you watch with a sense of anticipation, knowing this house of cards that McFarland is trying to build is about to crash, but you just aren't sure exactly when... and it gets worse than you'd think. To the point where one of McFarland's assistants was instructed to go meet with a Bahama official to get a trailer full of bottled water released, and was told to... well, take one for the team and do something pretty unbelievable to get that water. It's mind blowing how many bad decisions, either knowingly or not, were made in this thing.

Both docs give you time frames of "5 months until..." and "6 weeks until...." and "5 days until..." and you just marvel at all the things that aren't done and won't be completed -- and how McFarland just keeps moving forward.

He wasn't featured in the Netflix doc, but his partners were, and they all tell the tale of how promising it sounded but how it quickly became unfathomable that it would happen. Netflix's "Fyre" is much more in depth than Hulu's "Fire Fest", not only in what happened on that island...

(one attendee talked about how when the sun went down, "the camaraderie was over", the looting began, tents on fire and so on. And honestly, I am shocked that neither documentary mentioned anything about sexual assault... either it didn't happen, or they just didn't report that)

...but also what happened legally when it call came crashing down .

(cut to Billy sitting in a massive NYC penthouse, with a small staff, sending out emails to people to sell them VIP passes to things like MET Gala, Victoria's Secret fashion ship, and meet n greets with Taylor Swift... it's important to note that the MET Gala is invite only, Victoria's never has VIP passes and TayTay doesn't do meet n greets.)

Someone in the Netflix doc makes the point
that it took 100s of models and celebs posting
an orange square to build Fyre Fest, but only
one picture of a cheese sandwich to bring it
all crashing down. 
After discussion the documentary on social media, I'm a little surprised on how many people have never heard of Fyre Fest, as it was a massive story in 2017.

Admittedly, I knew little about it as it led up to the event, because I didn't pay any attention to Bella Hadid or any Jenner or Kardashian or anyone else you could call a Social Media Influencer, so both of these movies really helped tell the story, both in their own way.  You could layer them atop one another and you'd get mostly different interviews with much of the same perspective. Hulu has one of the island workers who was trying to spearhead construction, while Netflix talks to one of the local restaurant owners.  The owner of the now infamous Twitter account @FyreFraud (his name escapes me) was in both movies, telling the same type of tales.

Both movies also show you the sheer power of social media, and the power of its users... when reports began to leak out about Fyre Fest, including the infamous picture of the cheese on toast, which really solidified everyone's fears and suspicions that Fyre Fest was truly a fraud.

Plus the ugly side of social media comes out when post after post is shown of people reveling in the misery of "rich kids", some of which sold all of their possessions,  their cars, quit their jobs and cashing out college funds  to come to the Bahamas.  As comedian Ron Funches says, "If you had $1000s of dollars to go on a trip to see Blink 182, that's on you.  That's Darwinism at it's finest." Indeed.

If I had a preference, I'd pick Netflix's version, only because it is deeper and more in-depth about the festival itself, but I loved how Hulu gave you the backstory on McFarland's previous scams, including the creation of Magnesis, which Netflix barely touches on.

See the both if you can.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

top ten books of 2018 (the final four)

Okay, so in this two blog posts that turned into four blog posts somehow (because why say in 500 words what we can say in 2400?), here are the final four books in my list of 2018's favorites.

But first... the links to previous stuff...

The Not Top Ten Books of 2018
Top Ten of 2018, Part 1 
Top Ten of 2018, Part 2 (review of "The Six")

The 4th Best Book I Read for the First Time in 2018

Excuse makers seem to put more time into crafting the perfect justification for their actions (or inactions) that into working and succeeding. We all do it. And it's time for us to stop. Excuses are the common denominator of failure. - Jon Taffer 

So, I'm a big fan of the Spike TV now Paramount TV show "Bar Rescue"...

First, does anyone else remember The Nashville Network?  America's country home? I remember watching  the nightly show "Nashville Now" hosted by Ralph Emery, featuring some puppet named Shotgun, while the country stars of the 80s and early 90s appeared, stars like Marie Osmond and Dan Seals and Alabama and Vern Gosdin and so on. This sounds like a blog post on it's own, so we'll come back to this later.

Anyway, "Bar Rescue" is this reality show that features business man and bar expert Jon Taffer who goes into failing bars and restaurants and helps turn them around with what can only be described as tough love. Usually, the bars are nearly bankrupt because of poor management, so Jon yells at them to get their act together, has his compatriots teach them bartending and cooking skills, and overhauls the bars.  The level of success is debateable, as I've read stories of how some of the rescued bars still fail, but overall, the show is awesome.

Taffer offers the same level of pull-no-punches instructions to the readers as he does to the Bar Rescue viewers, but this time talks about the things that get in our way and keeps us from being successful -- fear, knowledge (or lack of), time, circumstances, ego, and scarcity -- and it all boils down to a simple "Stop making excuses and get your crap done."

I found the direct line of coaching to be pretty refreshing, and I think this is a great book for anyone who needs to pull a Toby Keith (put a boot in your a**, its the American way) and get their stuff done.

The 3rd Best Book I Read for the First Time in 2018
Image result for republicans buy sneakers too
"Sports united us and the games themselves entertained us. They helped to keep us sane amid an increasingly insane political and global environment. Until, that is, everything changed and ESPN, the most powerful source in sports media, decided to turn into MSESPN, the nation's most far-left-wing mix of politics and sports, and every other sports media entity followed their lead" - Clay Travis

Okay, first up, you may hate Clay Travis. And if you do, then keep scrolling, because I'm obviously going to talk about how much I liked his book. So don't @ me.  (is that what the young folk are saying? Don't at me? Only using the @ sign? Is that like a clapback?  I'm so old now)

I don't listen to Travis' morning show, but I do listen to the (mostly) daily 30 minute Outkick the Show podcast, which is a humorous take on sports and news of the day.  Travis will tell you himself, and has many times, that he worked on the Bill Clinton campaign in the 90s, and voted for Obama twice, so he's not a Republican, but he hates the hypocrisy that is all up in our politics from both sides of the aisle, and this book spells out much of that.

If you listen to him on podcasting, you'll know his take on how ESPN let Jemele Hill slide on something awful she said on Twitter, while firing Curt Schilling over something he said in private, and the media embrace of Lebron's claim that someone vandalized his home (no evidence) and Michael Bennett's claim to have been racially profiled in Vegas (evidence to the contrary) and some stuff about Trump and how ESPN has gone full-on left wing.  And a chapter on Michael vs LeBron politically, which lends to the title of the book, based on something that Michael Jordan is alledged to have said.

Think he's a punk and full of crap?  Well, Clay Travis called the ESPN ratings collapse two years ago, as we are beginning to see some of that now.  And he's made several more predictions of that kind, and they've come to fruition.

I like the guy, as he makes me laugh. I don't agree with many things he says, but some things are dead on. And if you like him, you'll enjoy the book like I did... and if you don't... well, like I said, keep scrolling.

Image result for the art of workThe 2nd Best Book I Read for the First Time in 2018

"This is not a book about miracles. It is a book about finding your calling, about how you discover what you were born to do. A calling is that thing you can't not do, an answer to the age-old question, 'What should I do with my life?'" - Jeff Goins

I've been a fan of Goins for a while, especially since I finally met the guy at The Thing conference last May. He basically writes about the creative process, including writing actually about writing, with books like "Real Artists Don't Starve" and the aptly named "You Are a Writer" (which I really enjoyed).  

This is a book about finding your calling, but more than that, finding out what you were meant to do -- including being a writer.  Each chapter is based on a theme, from Awareness to Discovery to Profession and so on, with sharing a real story from each theme.

It goes through subtle, and not so subtle, hints in life about embracing failure... when trying isn't good enough... learning from unexpected teachers... building a legacy and much more.  Ultimately, it tries to help you answer the simple question of "What were you meant to do?"

For some folks, you'll find an answer, for others, you'll be reassured of what you are doing now (like me), and maybe for some, you'll be just as lost as before, but with more wisdom and soundbites in your head.

And of course, it doesn't hurt that Goins pulls a great theme from the Michael J Fox magnum opus "The Secret of My Success" to discuss happiness and opportunity. And if you really want to know what the Secret of My Success is, then just ask the 80s band Night Ranger... "The secret to my success is working TWENTY FIVE HOURS A DAAAAAAAAAAAY"


"Marketing is the act of making change happen. Making is insufficent. You haven't made an impact until you've changed someone. You can do this by creating and then relieving tension. By establishing cultural norms. By seeing status roles and helping to change them (or maintain them). But first, you need to see it. Then you need to choose to work with human beings to help them find what they are looking for" - Seth Godin

Image result for this is marketing
Not that I have a bookshelf full of marketing books, but I've read a few here and there, and can tell you hands down, this is the best marketing book I've ever read. Without question. And that even surpasses some of Godin's other marketing books.

Quite simply, the book is about storytelling. And being someone who sees the needs of others, those you are trying to serve, as you market to them the product or service you want to serve them with.  Its the seeing that most people miss.  According to Godin, "Marketing isn't a battle, and it's not a war. It isn't even a contest. It's the generous act of helping someone solve a problem. Their problem."

The book is a tweet factory, as I felt like I could have tweeted out 3,000 statements and one liners from the book itself, as it uses various examples from companies both big and small in marketing ideas.

I don't even know what to tell you about this book other than if you have a small business, or a large one, and your marketing scheme doesn't seem to connect -- then get it. The audio is great, as Godin reads it in his dry tone, but I'm really wanting the workbook now that will go with it.

And I want to read it again, this time to absorb more of it and try to not just read, but soak it in.

Well done, Mr. Godin. Well done.

And there you are... the best books I read for the first time in 2018...

Friday, January 11, 2019

top ten books of 2018: the six by kb hoyle

Before you hit the top five, you can check out the rundown of other books read in 2018, and the first part of my Top Ten books of 2018... and this was going to be numbers 5 through number 1, but I ended up writing 700 words on this one book, my favorite fiction book of the year, and thought it deserved to be its own blogpost.

The Fifth Best Book I Read For the First Time in 2018
This one had been a long time coming... as I mentioned before, I don't really dig on YA Fantasy.  I am only 2 books into the Chronicles of Narnia, I've made a life decision that I'll likely never read any of the Lord of the Rings books (and from all accounts, the 2.5 hour, or 14 hour directors cut, of the movies serves the purpose) and while I really enjoyed the first two Hunger Games, the third was lacking. Heck, one Divergent book and I was ready to throw myself off of a bridge -- and don't even mention the Twilight crap.

So enter K.B. Hoyle with this book series called "The Gateway Chronicles", and the lead off book, "The Six".  I resisted this for a while... I own it on Kindle, and I started it once or twice, got a few pages in and put it down. Nothing to do with the writing, as it starts with normal kids at a normal summer camp, but more of me thinking "once this gets going and dives into Narnia Divergent Maze Runner territory, can I finish it?"  And I begged KB to put this on audio, asked for it for years.  Finally, probably for me -- yes, likely because she wanted me to read it, she commissioned the audio... thank you, KB, and to the fans who wanted audio, you are welcome, glad I could get it done for you.  

So I started it, and lo and behold if I wasn't sucked right in. Darcy is your lead, a selfish 13 year old (I could have just said "13 year old") who attends a summer camp with a few kids that are friendly enough, but have a hard time accepting her... or she makes it hard for them to do so, including the chubby kid Samantha, who is the definition of a "good friend who does not give up on anyone". Darcy and Sam find a portal to another world, bring the others along and suddenly, we are in a world called Alitheia. And as you'd expect, she and her friends find themselves in a position to save Alitheia from sinister forces that wish to destroy it for bad purposes.

The book is descriptive, maybe to the point of over descriptive sometimes, but it paints a clear picture of the wonder and rich beauty of the new world; however, it's the character development that drives the story.  Darcy, Samantha, Amelia, Louis, Dean, and Perry are "The Six", and to me, its Samantha that's the linchpin of the group. When Darcy screws up and the others consider her an outcast, it's Sam that stands in the gap... the narrator, Dollcie Webb, does a great job overall, though at first, I found her interpretation of Sam annoying -- but then realized that's how KB intended for us to feel about Sam.  Annoyed, but amazed at her loyalty and friendship regardless. Without Sam, Darcy would end up alone in Alitheia and the story would stall.  We don't get enough of Louis and Dean, but I am guessing they'll have much bigger roles in the coming books.

The end of the book wrapped up a little too neatly for me, though (and this is sort of a spoiler but not really, but sort of) the book being told from Darcy's perspective, so as with Louis & Dean, it may be another case of  "a little bit now, with much more to come later".  If you read it, you'll know what I mean. 

Caution on going to KB's website... as you read a brief overview of each book, including the next in the series, "The Oracle" (which I'm told will be on audio soon), when you get to Book 3's brief description of "The White Thread", there is a major spoiler from Book 2.  Proceed with caution.

Anyway, if you have tween and teen readers and up looking for something clean, compelling and not corny, but actually with a good story, try The Gateway Chronicles.

And KB has written a crap ton of books, including another series called "The Breeder Cycle", which I have no clue or concept about, but apparently steers more Young Adult Dystopian.

On a more personal level, I gotta give props to KB Hoyle, who has always been willing to engage in book conversation, writing chat every now and then, and successfully pulled off something that I can only assume is very hard:  World Building in a story. She truly is one of my writing heroes. 

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

top ten books of 2018 (the first part)

If you haven't read the 2018 book recap, then you can click here. If you have read it, or haven't and don't care, then please proceed...

So, while I didn't hit my goal of 50 books in 2018, I did manage 42.  So while making the top ten out of 42 books seem easier than out of 50, it's still an honor that authors should be proud of.  They should print out this particular blog and frame it, putting it on the wall above the mantle, next to the pics of the kids, bride in the wedding dress, and that odd picture of the family at the lake where Uncle Jake has his eyes closed but you went with it because then-3 year old Ashley Morgan was finally looking at the camera.  Uncle Jake, deal with it.

But first... an honorable mention.

PET SEMATARY by Stephen King. The reason this isn't a top ten inclusion and actually an honorable mention is because I've read this before.  Yes, it was back circa 1988 in paperback, in anticipation of the new movie coming out with Dale Midkaff and Herman Munster, but still, I've read it.  
The original cover art, from the
hardcover book I had when I was
a member of the Stephen King book club

When I started with back in what. 2010, I started to collect Stephen King books all along, as the new were released and the old were re-released, probably on audio for the first time.  Firestarter! Christine! IT! The Stand! So many books out, and a ton I've finally read through (though I'm still trying to get into Bag of Bones...) but the one outstanding was Pet Sematary.  Why was it not on audio?  Where was it?  Cujo finally came out. Then Desperation and Insomnia.  Needful Things. All four parts of Four Past Midnight... but no Pet Sematary??  Then, in late 2017, they announced that it would be coming out in March, and was pumped.  I pre-ordered, and on the morning of March 18th, 2018, I uploaded it to my iPod and began the journey to Ludlow with the Creed family, and onto the Micmac burial ground where you can bury your deceased pet and see them again in a day or so... only, just not the same.  Michael C. Hall narrates it, and it's thrilling.  Even though I knew what was coming, and I knew what was in the last paragraph, I still had goose bumps.  

I loved this book, and its one of my all time King Favorites.

The 10th Best Book I Read for the First Time in 2018...
I have the print copy of the book, and have read some of it, but its so long, I never got through it.  They released the audio some years ago, but it contained the word that no true Audiophile wants to hear: "Abridged".  So I listened to the audio, all 8 hours of it, and it was good.  But then in June, the whole shebang came out, all 28 hours and 18 minutes of it. I dove in, and it's wonderful.  

I'm a big fan of oral history recollections, where the whole story is told in anecdotes and bits by individuals involved, and this is SNL from before the show ever started, even to the early days of Lorne Michaels, up until the 2013 season (I think), with stories and remarks from the original team, like Chevy Chase, Dan Akyroyd, Lorraine Newman and Garrett Morris to the 80s with Joe Piscapo, Charles Grodin, Martin Short, and Jeanine Garafalo, to the late 80s hey day with Dana Carvey, Jon Lovitz, and Victoria Jackson all the way through the Tina Fey, Jimmy Fallon, Will Ferrell, Molly Shannon, and beyond to modern day. Guests like Steve Martin, Tom Hanks, Peyton Manning and more are sprinkled all the way through, telling stories like Damon Wayans' infamous on-air F-Bomb to drunken drug parties to losing it on camera to the emotional broadcast after 9/11.  

Whether you like it or not, especially nowadays, you may love, like, hate or even hate-like the show, but one cannot deny the impact it had on television and entertainment history. It's long, but it's worth the ride. 

The 9th Best Book I Read for the First Time in 2018...
The book opens up with a high school coach, beloved across his town, suddenly arrested on the field -- in front of the fans, his friends, his family, arrested for a horrible, despicable crime.  Seems obvious he did it, right? Witnesses, evidence, fingerprints.  But how could such a beloved coach, father, friend do such a heinous thing?  This is so early in the book, you know there is more to come... and there is.  

The first part of the book is a tense thriller, with unknowing twists and things you know are for sure that turns out to be nothing you know at all.  It slowly morphs into a supernatural horror for the back half, though not so horror filled that it keeps you up at night.  It even includes a smart, awkward female investigator named Holly -- and if you've read King's "Mr Mercedes" trilogy, you will know all about Holly.  

Great build to the end, great climax and satisfying finish. Because it's one of his longer books, its not one I'll return to anytime soon, but "The Outsider" is a fine outing for the horror master. 

I always love a good cover, and this was
one of my faves of the year
The 8th Best Book I Read for the First Time in 2018...
"ONE OF US IS LYING" by Karen McManus
I don't read a ton of fiction, mostly because I'm more fascinated with real life stories, be it origin stories of SNL or business acumen, so if it's not Stephen King or John Grisham (I know, boring choices) or a few select others, it really has to grab me.  And this one did.

A jock, an outcast, a popular chick, an introvert, a gossip king... they all end up in detention.  And if this sounds very Breakfast Clubby, you aren't too far off, but in the movie, Bender didn't end up dead. Being the only other people in the room, the other four students are instantly suspects in the case. The story progresses, told from each student's perspective, allowing you to piece together the truth based on everything they are telling you. And though I'm someone who is pretty good at figuring out where certain stories are going, this one had me guessing until the book was nearly over (I did grasp the ending before I got to the ending, so that's a point for me).  I'll admit the ending wasn't as satisfying as I wanted it to be, but overall, I really had a good time here.

The 7th Best Book I Read For the First Time in 2018...
In addition to not reading a ton of fiction, I also don't go through a ton of true crime.  Truth be told, I love true crime (I've read every single one of Kathryn Casey's Texas murder true crime books, save for the latest which isn't on audio), but I'm picky about it. I need it to be smart, I need it to be interesting, to stay away from trashy and cheap, and keep it intelligent while breaking down things that I only know about from watching 15 seasons of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation...

(which by the way, had one of the worst endings in any series ever -- they pretty much just dumped on Gil Grissom, who made that entire show, and having him and Sara Sidle speed away in a boat? Stupid.  Where was I?)

So McNamara spent years investigating, and yeah, obsessing over a serial killer in California known as the Golden State Killer, and this entire book is that chase.  Bit by bit of evidence, discovery, interviews and all well told and well laid out.  She passed away from an illness a few years ago, and never got to see the actual arrest of Joseph DeAngelo, who committed more than 50 sexual assaults, 100+ robberies and 13 murders from 1974 to 1986.  This book is credited with helping to bring him to justice, which is pretty fantastic, and a great legacy.  Her widowed husband, comedian Patton Oswalt, gives a great afterward, filling in the blanks from the time of her death to the capture of DeAngelo.

This, plus the book mentioned in the previous book post, "Evil Has a Name", is a great 1-2 punch for the Golden State Killer case.

The 6th Best Book I Read For the First Time in 2018...
"SOMEDAY, SOMEDAY MAYBE" by Lauren "Lorelei Gilmore" Graham
I mean, I have to start off by telling you that it might take Lauren Graham writing "I hate Republicans" on a napkin 17,000 times for me to not like what she writes... so I went into this knowing I'd likely enjoy it.

Thankfully, in this debut novel from 2013, she doesn't do that... she actually writes a sweet, breezy story set in 1995, in the middle of my favorite decade.  Franny has set herself a 3 year deadline to succeed as an actress in New York City.  Well, that was 30 months ago, and she has 6 months remaining before she either finds some modicum of success or packs up her stuff and moves back home to her family.

Her roommates Jane and Dan are there to support her as she goes back and forth on what to do. Maybe she should just move home, as her ex-boyfriend is back home and would take care of her. But fellow actor James has also caught her eye.

And yes, this likely blurs the line in breezy story and Chick Book, and maybe it sorta is, but I love the quick wit and snappy delivery of the words, and I related to, and liked, the dreams and the deadlines and everything else that comes with jobs right out of college.

Of course this is a long post, so let's break it up into two... next part up tomorrow