Monday, July 24, 2017

Relaxing Travels?

My friend Mike and I started planning our summer travel just after the first of the new year.  He moved to Morocco a couple of years ago to teach at an English speaking school so we decided we'd meet up somewhere in Europe shortly after we finished up our school years.  We've both had several European adventures between the two of us so finding a destination neither had been to was a bit challenging.  After throwing around some places that peaked each of our interests, we finally settled on Scotland with a few additional days in the Lake District of Northern England.
Neither of us were terribly comfortable taking on the task of driving in the UK, so we decided public transportation was the way we would go.  We made accommodation arrangements before we left as well as long distant train reservations for our long travel days.  After some research, we also decided we couldn't go all the way to Scotland without seeing the west of Scotland and the Isle of Skye, so we did arrange a 3-day tour that left from Edinburgh before we left.  I'm not a huge fan of "Tour Bus" travel, but we decided that was our best way for that particular destination.  Other than those plans we wanted to play the rest of the trip by ear, which is my favorite way to travel.
This trip was probably the MOST relaxing international vacation I have ever had.  I think that the stressful last few months of this past school year had a positive impact on this trip.  When I travel, I'm usually a serious researcher.  I like to know about the places I go and make sure I have at least some understanding of the history and culture and a list of things to do and see.  However, other than the basic information we looked at when deciding on where to go, I did NO additional research.  I had no preconceived notions and expectations about my destinations.  Actually, I had two basic ones.  First, I figured language wouldn't be an issue we'd have to worry about.  Second, having previously traveled to Ireland, there was an assumption that the two countries would be geographically similar.  I was correct about the first, and mostly incorrect about the second.  Anyhow, my point being, we traveled to the UK without a long list of must-sees or must-dos.  We went to bed each night without a plan for the next day, slept in each morning, and devised our day's activities over breakfast.  Being so far north, dusk didn't come until 10:30/11:00 so even though our days started later, we still had a lot of light left.  It was my dream schedule actually - stay out late and sleep in late.
I came home with over 900 pictures on my camera - the blessing AND curse of the digital camera age.  I have finally finished sorting through and editing them.  I'll share some in my next few posts.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Solution

So, with the results showing that I'm allergic to 61% of the things tested, what was the next step?  While I was glad that my cheese addiction or any other foods weren't the culprit, the reality is if they were, the solution would be quite easy wouldn't it.  On the other hand, environmental allergies are much harder to address because you can't just remove them from your life as they are everywhere.  That's where Allergen Immunotherapy comes in.  The point of this therapy is to build up an immunity to things you are allergic to over time, so eventually they are no longer an issue.  I know a handful of people who went for weekly allergy shots for several years, but I never realized that was the point of the shots.  I always thought they were just getting extra strong medication to keep them under control.  Instead, the shots are actually made up the very things one is allergic to.  The amount given increases over time, building that immunity.  So the thought of not struggling with allergies was very appealing.
The weekly allergy shot was an option for me and one that is covered under insurance.  Having to go to the doctor each and every week for what could be years was not appealing all.  But there is now a new alternative.  Allergy drops!  Rather than the allergens in a syringe the doctor sticks in your arm, allergen extracts are put in a jar that YOU drop under your tongue, in your own home!
Three vials and a recording sheet arrived in the mail about 2 weeks after the allergy testing.
 Each bottle is designed for a build up of the allergens and is a stronger version of the next.  I take one drop for a week, and then add a drop each week until week 4.  Then the bottle is changed and the process starts over.  I have finished the blue bottle and am on my second week of the yellow.
The first few days were a little strange because the drops have to remain under the tongue for 2 minutes.  Two minutes are A LONG time when you can't swallow.  But now, I'm used to it.  Because it's under the tongue, I rarely taste it, but if I do it just has a sugar water taste, so nothing too offensive.  I believe the red vial is the version I'll be on for the remainder of the time so once I finish that one, it will be a regular 4 drops each day until I'm "cured".  I will have an allergy test once a year to check the reactions.  Once each of the allergens shows no reaction, then I can stop the drops, and am supposed to be allergy free for about 20 years - assuming no new ones pop up.
On a side note, I had done some research ahead of time, wondering what to expect, how it worked, what it tasted like, etc.  At first, I was surprised to read that it was not FDA approved.  The process of Immunotherapy and each extract ARE approved, but what is actually in MY bottle is not.  That is because everyone's bottle is different, to meet their needs.  I found that fascinating.  I've found this whole process fascinating.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Test

As I've mentioned (a few hundred times) this spring wreaked havoc on my sinuses.  Our wet winter made for a gorgeous spring as far as plants and trees go and I spent about 3 months feeling like my head was going to explode.  I should have bought stock in the Kleenex company as I went through boxes of the stuff - about one every 3-4 days.  After three trips to the doctor, numerous decongestants, two rounds of antibiotics, two rounds of steroids, two types of inhalers, chest X-rays, and blood tests, the doctor asked, "Have you ever had an allergy test?"  For as long as I've suffered from allergies (and asthma) I actually have never been allergy tested.  They've kind of been a regular part of my life, an on-and-off irritant, but nothing that ever made me SICK and exhausted like they did this year. At the end of May, I had my first allergy testing done.
It was quite an interesting test/experience.  The tech had a box of 80 oils; each one containing one form of allergen.   She dipped panels of "needles" (10 needles per panel, 8 panels) into the oils and placed them on my back.  This isn't the same panel she used, but you get the gist.
It took her about 10 minutes to place the 8 panels on my back, and then I had to wait about 20 minutes for them to do their thing.  The first one started to do its thing almost immediately as she saw a reaction starting right after placing the first set of needles.  There was nothing painful about the test however it was a long time to lie there without moving (and tipping the needle panels over), especially after the reactions started and things got slightly itchy. She came back in twice to check on me and then again to read the results.  
The little dots that are just dots show where the allergen was placed, but do not show a reaction.  For example, the very last panel (bottom left in this picture) shows little to no reaction.  Anywhere that has a blotch or red that goes beyond that little dot shows a reaction.  The tech noted each one and the level of reaction. 
The reactions are rated from 7-13, with 7 being a reaction but the lowest and 13 being the highest. The results showed that I am allergic to 49 out of the 80 allergens tested.  No foods, some animals (including some reaction to dogs), but the reactions I had most were to trees and grasses.  So while I'm thrilled I don't have to stop eating cheese (I was worried about dairy being a culprit) or give my dog away, the bad news is I have no control over environmental allergens as they are everywhere.  

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

I'm Back!

After 3 months of being sick, a two-week trip to Scotland and England, and a week to recover (I'm almost nervous to say it), I'm feeling the best physically and mentally than I have in a long time.

I've got post ideas in my head and writing time planned in my planner, so new posts to come.  And I will be by to see you all soon.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Still Here, Sort Of

A blog break?  A sick leave?  A stress leave?  I have recently had to take a step back from blogging due to just too many things on my plate and not having the wherewithal to keep up with it.  I've been sick (and exhausted because of it) for about 3 months now and have just (yesterday) wrapped up the most stressful end-of-school-year I've had in a long time.  I've had things I've wanted to write about and comments I've wanted to make when I visit others, but nodding off to sleep anytime I'm not working has been a common occurrence and doesn't lend itself to keeping up with things.  I just wanted to post that I'm still here and still visiting your sites, even if I haven't been communicating.  School is thankfully over with until August, but I'm headed out of the country tomorrow.  I will catch up on writing when I return!

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Saturday 9

Allergies have kicked my butt this spring and I've been down for the count for a couple of weeks  now. A Saturday is about all I can muster up this weekend. This week's inspiration is Blondie's The Tide is High.  

1) This song was originally performed in 1966 by a Jamaican band called The Paragons. Jamaica is the most popular vacation destination in the Caribbean. What's your ideal vacation? My favorite traveling is to visit new places and really explore.  I don't mind a tour here and there, but I prefer to just wander with a map and my camera.  And I like to be in a place for multiple days, not rushing off to the next after only a few hours.  While I do love the ocean, tropical locations are not my cup of tea.  It's too hot and humid, plus I can only do beach "activities" for about 15 minutes before my skin starts to sizzle.  I prefer the cooler ocean life, further away from the equator.
(2) In this song, Debbie Harry sings that she's not the kind of girl who gives up easily. How about you? Do you hang on stubbornly? Or do you know when to say "when?" Oh, I'm pretty stubborn and can hang on for a long time.  However, I am also quite self aware and know when its not getting me anywhere.  When it's time to tap out, I tap out.
3) Blondie is a group that took it's name from the lead singer's most identifiable characteristic, her hair. If your band was named after your hair, what would it be called?  Hmmmm, Blondie?
4) Before her career as a singer took off, Debbie supported herself as a waitress. She even served drinks while wearing bunny ears and tail at The Playboy Club. Have you ever worked in food service?  Yes, hostess, waitress, and bartender.  Tending bar was one of my favorite jobs ever!
5) Debbie points to David Bowie as a major influence on her music and career. What's your favorite Bowie song?   "The Man Who Sold the World" and "Ziggy Stardust"
6) In 1980, when this song was popular, the best selling issue of Rolling Stone featured Robert Redford on the cover. Who is your all-time favorite actor?  Oh, I don't know.  It's not Robert Redford though.
7) In 1980, Ted Turner revolutionized how we watch TV when he introduced CNN. Do you have any subscriptions services in addition to cable -- like Hulu, Amazon Prime or Netflix?   I have Amazon and Netflix.  The streaming service from Amazon is an added "bonus" as I pay for Prime for the free 2 day shipping and the the free books.  I don't watch it too much, but there are a couple of shows "Bosch" and "Catastrophe" I looked forward to returning each April.
8) John Lennon was murdered in 1980. Today there's a specially landscaped section of Central Park called Strawberry Fields in his honor. If you had a day to spend in New York, what would you want to see?  I'd want to go to Canal Street for some handbag shopping, nearby Little Italy for a nice meal, and then a show, maybe Hamilton. :)  Of course that's a fantasy because you can't get tickets to Hamilton in NYC without taking out a second mortgage on your house.  However, I friend of mine just texted me last night that we have tickets to see Hamilton when it comes to LA in September!! 
9) We're going shopping! Which do you need to add to your wardrobe: underwear, shoes or a swimsuit? Shoes, I always NEED shoes.
Happy Saturday!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Some Changes

Before Spring Break, the students in my class had kind of lost their minds.  Between some new students starting with us in mid January (which takes up a lot of my time) and new administration (who doesn't seem to have the same behavior management philosophy as the previous admin did), small behavior problems kept creeping up and the procedures I had in place were no longer working.  As it got closer to spring break (and report cards and parent teacher conferences) I didn't have the time or the energy to change the situation as I was merely crawling to the Spring Break finish line at that point.  I knew, however, that over break I needed to figure out some new procedures and gimmicks to solve some of these small behavior issues in order to make it until the end of the school year.
Both new students arrived in mid January, bringing a lot of baggage and drama with them.  It's impossible to wrap one's mind around how a seven year old can bring baggage and drama to a second grade classroom, but it happened, times two, and my class of sweet kiddos had turned into bratty teenagers before my eyes.  Fortunately for us, one of the student's family issues caused them to move again (sadly, for the third time this school year), which has helped some, but one thing we've worked on since returning to school last week is some classroom community building.  The tattling and blaming and not taking responsibility for one's actions had gotten out of control and coming together as a class to work on this was a must.  We spent the week learning about being a "Bucket Filler" and not a "Bucket Dipper", which are cute ways of reminding everyone to be kind.  We've also started a community circle each afternoon which is a time when we get a chance to share positive thoughts about each other.  It's amazing the change that has made in the room, even after just one week!
The other behavior issue I've been struggling with it the shouting out and talking during instruction.  In my relatively short (17 years) teaching career, this is a behavior that has been getting worse and worse each new school year.  Kids, by nature, are self-centered and impatient.  It's our job to teach them to wait their turn and learn how to be respectful when they aren't the center of attention.  In my observations, many kids aren't required to do that anymore at home.  Their parents cater to their child's whim, rather than the other way around.  And rather than a child be made to sit quietly and be patient, so often they are handed an electronic device to keep them busy, and quiet.  In my opinion, this has done a disservice to kids.  They no longer know how to just "be" and also do not know how to wait their turn.  In addition, with the change in curriculum to the Common Core and the need for student discourse, kids are talking all the time.  My group this year is mostly quite bright and very excited about learning.  Unfortunately, because of that, they think that they can talk out or with others anytime they feel like it.  I've struggled this year with not wanting to stifle this excitement for learning and not having multiple students shouting out at me at any given time.  After some research on some of the teacher blogs and using children's literature, I came up with a plan that I enacted last Monday morning.
The kids listened to the story My Mouth is a Volcano, which is about a boy who can not keep his thoughts to himself and interrupts everyone in his life.  Then one day some other students interrupt him when he's talking to the class, and he doesn't like it one bit.  Then we did some role playing where during discussions I interrupted whoever was speaking.  No one liked that very much, which was powerful.  The kids also did some writing on how they were going to keep their volcano mouth under control.  Lastly, I introduced "Blurt Beans".
Each student starts the day with 3 beans.  Anytime they blurt out/interrupt while someone else is talking or turn and talk to a neighbor during instruction, they have to return a bean to the blurt bean container.  At the end of the day, anyone who still has beans left (one, two, or all three) get to put them in the reward jar.  When the beans reach a certain level, they earn that reward.  It's been in place for about a week now, and so far the results have been favorable.  There are still the repeat offenders who just "can't help it", but after losing one bean (and the rest of the class being disappointed) they are able to keep things under control.  Using peer pressure for good is always quite helpful!  
I am a huge proponent of classroom management and feel that if kids aren't behaving, learning is going to be a challenge for them, as well as their classmates.  I spend a large portion of the new school year on classroom management, trying to invest in it heavily early on in order to reap the benefits of it for the rest of the year.  That usually is the case.  Sometimes though, there is a need to change things up,  As hard as it can be, I'm more than willing to give up some academic instruction time to nip poor behavior in the bud.  Everyone is always happier in the long run, especially the teacher!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

"Super" Bloom

Even though Southern California is essentially a desert, wildflowers typically bloom beautifully in the spring.  For the last 3 or 4 years however, springtime blooms have mostly eluded us.  The yearly poppy (and other flower) viewing visits have been planned but not carried out because the spring bloom has been fleeting, at best.  Due to all the rain we (finally) had this winter, this year's spring bloom has been newsworthy.
My mom came into town for a few days at the start of my spring break, and we took a drive to see what was blooming.  We first headed to Lebec/Fort Tejon.  The drive itself up the 5 freeway through the Grapevine and the Tejon Pass was worth the trip alone.  It's been so long since we've seen anything green growing on our mountains, so the scenery was spectacular.  The shades of green might even give Ireland a run for its money.  Unfortunately, the elevation in Lebec is about 3,500 feet and as we got closer to the areas with blooms reported we were socked in with fog and mist.  The flowers were all closed for business.  After waiting about an hour to see if it would burn off, it didn't we headed back down the mountain and took a little detour into Gorman which was just beginning to flower.
 It was quite pretty, but I'm sure by now the entire hillsides have exploded.  We were just a tad early.
After that. we continued to head south until we hit the 138/Lancaster Freeway and cut across to the Antelope Valley which is where the Poppy Reserve is, our next stop.  Both my mom and I like to take pictures so the quick drive was slower because we kept pulling off to the side of the road for photo ops.
The Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve is a state protected reserve which highlights our state flower.  Although we were again a tad early to see them in all their glory, what we did see was beautiful.
 On a side note, with the publicizing that has been done on the news and social media about the "Super Bloom", people are coming in droves to see them.  That is a good thing, but it has led to some poor behavior.  This was a section adjacent to the reserve.  I'm not sure if it's part of their property or not, but it's made very clear all over the grounds to stay on the trail, the poppies are protected, no dogs, and rattlesnakes live in the poppies.  In this section however, people were sitting in them, walking on them, one car even drove through the area.  There were two dogs playing in them.  Being such a rule follower, I had to walk away because the whole scene irritated the heck out of me.
There have been news reports of this poor behavior - destroyed flowers, rattlesnake bites, and altercations with rangers.  Gah!!!!  I had planned on going back up the Tejon Pass this past week, but then heard that due to this, the Fort has closed off viewing times and visitors can only come in by appointment only.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

A Dream, A Chuckle

As I think I've mentioned before, I don't dream (or remember my dreams) very often.  However I woke from one on Saturday morning, my first day of spring break, that made me laugh.  I'm not sure of the context, which is usually the case when I dream, but for what seemed like several minutes I listened to someone say, "business" over and over and over again.  But rather than annunciate the three syllables in the word it was said emphasizing the many "s" sounds in the word.  It was more like, "bisssss nisssss, bisssss nisssss".  I remember thinking, "Why do they keep saying that?" feeling irritated.  Then I woke myself up, and it was only about 6:00 am.  That's when I remembered that my bedroom window was open, and I heard a bird whistling in the same two beats the "person" was saying "business" in my dream.  With eyes still closed, I got up, closed the window and fell back into bed.  I wasn't going to let this bird interrupt my sleep or invade my dreams that early on the first day of break.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Saturday 9

This week's song link is Asia's Heat of the Moment...
1) What's something you did or said "in the heat of the moment?"   Most of my life “mouth” has gotten me in a bit of trouble in all sorts of moments.  Now that I’m old older, it’s no longer worth the aggravation that it causes me vs. the point I’m trying to make.  C’est la vie
2) Asia's founder and bass player, John Wetton, passed away in January. One of his bandmates remembered him as a reliable performer who made everyone around him look better. Do you enjoy being the center of attention? Or would you, like Mr. Wetton, prefer to play a supporting role?  No, I do not like being the center of attention and would prefer to play a supporting role.
3)  When were you in the car for than an hour?  Most of my hour car rides are for a drive that is, by mileage, quite short.  The traffic here is atrocious most of the time, so none of my hour car rides are exciting adventures...just trying to get from one side of town to the other usually.  Today, we are going wild flower hunting though.  So we will probably be in the car for a longer, adventurous drive!
4) The song refers to disco hot spots, which apparently, by 1982, no one wanted to go to anymore. Let's make that negative into a positive. Describe your perfect night out with friends. Where would you go?  These days, my living room’s couch sounds like a nice place to hang out with friends.  But if we’re feeling motivated, I evening out to the theater or one of the museums for an interesting speaker.  Add in a nice meal, and it sounds like a fun evening to me!
5) In 1982, the year this song was popular, someone laced bottles of Tylenol with cyanide. That's why we now have tamper-proof caps on many products. Have you used anything in a tamper-proof bottle yet today?  I remember the Tylenol scare as a kid!  I have not.  It’s the first day of spring break so there are NO aches and pains.
6) In 1982, Time Magazine's Person of the Year wasn't a person at all, it was "the computer." What do you use your computer for most often?  There is very little these days I DON’T use the computer for. 
7) 1982 also saw the premiere of The Weather Channel. Where do you learn the day's weather forecast? (Watching the local news on TV, checking your phone, looking out the window ...)  The Weather Bug and Accu Weather apps on my phone. Although, my phone has phantom photos on it that are taking up storage but aren’t actually there.  I have had to delete a whole bunch of apps, just to use my phone until I can hook it up to the computer and wipe those photos from it. 
8) In 1982, Arnold Schwarzenegger's movie, Conan the Barbarian, was a hit in theaters. When you settle down to watch a movie, is it usually a fantasy, like Conan? Or do you prefer another genre?  My preferred genre of movie/show is drama/suspense/thriller and if its about detectives or spies that’s even better.  I also like comedy, if not too slapticky, romance comedy, if not too sappy, and action if there is some semblance of a realistic story in it.  Fantasy or pretend is not a genre I tend to watch at all, but I have seen all the X-Men/Wolverine films, and do like those! 
9) Random question: What is something you try to avoid?  Mayonnaise (listening to it, seeing it, or eating it) and having my picture taken.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

A Treasure. A Benign Post.

My level of frustration with our federal government's new administration is on red alert, and if I were blogging about that, I'd have plenty to say.  Trying to bite my tongue and stay away from posting about politics has felt a little stifling which has led to me not really wanting to write about anything.  Writing benign posts feels mostly uninspiring...but I think I've got one today!  :)
My dad spent part of the 60s in the navy.
Part of his enlisted time was spent in Korea and the rest he spent in Japan.
Growing up, I vividly remember a tea set that he had brought back from his time in Japan for his mom (my grandma), who then gave it to my mom.  The delicate pot and tiny cups were white, decorated with a red and gold dragon.  I have vivid memories of getting this tea set out every-so-often and playing with it, because what made it so special and fun to a little kid was that when the tea cups were tipped up towards the light, there was a shadow of a Geisha.  You would have no idea it was there unless it was in the right light.  I found them so fascinating.
The set was housed in my mom's china hutch.  But sadly, in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, that china hutch fell over and most items in it were destroyed, including the tea set.  We don't have a lot of family treasures or mementos, but I would have considered that one so it was sad when it was gone.
Fast forward to earlier this year.  I was visiting with family at my aunt's (dad's sister) house.  Before I left, she told me she had something for me.  She went behind the bar and came out with a bag.  Inside the bag was a Japanese saki set with the same red and gold dragon design.  Come to find out, my dad had also brought back this saki set for my aunt and uncle.  My mom and aunt had somehow touched on the subject of it the last time they were together, and my mom mentioned how special I found the tea set.  My aunt decided to give me the saki set.  That just warmed my heart and made me sentimental over it.  The best part of the set...the little cups also have the geisha shadow in it.
Since I'm even less of a saki drinker than I am a tea drink - I rarely drink tea - this set is residing in  my sideboard which is much less top heavy than a hutch.  Hopefully, it will remain safe there.

Saturday, February 18, 2017


I often want to hide my head in shame after posting about the weather here in California.  We get such little weather that when it does happen, as I've mentioned, we kind of lose our minds. As I also stated a couple of weeks ago, every few years we get torrential rains which makes us sound like babies, "Oh, it's going to rain a lot in this storm."  But the reality is that while the rains that come might be few and far between, they really are quite powerful.  Storm Lucifer has been talked about all week. It was predicted to bring a lot of rain and wind and with that some damage.  Below are some snippets of the news spliced together.  The most fascinating are the two sink holes.

It did rain VERY hard and it was so windy.  Luckily, due to the four day Presidents' weekend I didn't have to go anywhere.  And I didn't.  We mostly stayed holed inside the house listening to it, and again hoping that the very tall palm tree across the street that was blowing wildly in the wind didn't uproot itself and fall onto my house (which is a regular rainy day worry).  Anyhow, about midday it was time to coerce Rigby outside before she exploded.  Before opening the door to the yard, something moving on the grass caught my eye.  At first I noticed it was a bird, but then I soon realized that there were several.  They kept landing on the grass area and jumping around in the bushes and the fence.  I counted upwards of 10 at any given time.
 They're terrible pictures, but if you enlarge them you can clearly see some of them.  I've never seen birds that look like that before.  We have the little brown sparrows, the mourning doves, and the mockingbirds that come out in droves, but these colorful ones were a mystery to me.
 I tried to go outside without the dog to get a closer look, but as soon as the door opened they all flew up into the nearby trees.
I asked around and learned that they are American robins.  I had no idea we had them here!  I also learned that they usually are sighted in the spring.  Which makes me chuckle.  Of course they would arrive in my backyard on the most non-spring day we've had this year.
Not having the best of luck when it comes to wildlife in my backyard, I was a bit worried they were planning on making my yard a place to birth or die (neither have been successful in my yard) and I really wanted them to take their business elsewhere.  The dog went out shortly after that and so I didn't see them the rest of the day.  This morning, there were a couple in my yard and when I got home this afternoon, there were several flying around and singing in my trees.  I'm still hoping they realize I have a dog and they'll plan whatever they are planning at one of the neighbors' instead.  It's not looking that way, but my fingers are crossed.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

A Show

Anytime someone speaks or writes about their favorite band/musician, I'm always perplexed a bit in coming up with an answer because I have a lot of favorites.  Other than "country" music, I pretty much enjoy all music, and my favorites would probably depend on the day of the week or musical interests at the time.  If a gun were held to my head and I had to give an emphatic answer it would be Sting/The Police AND The Dave Matthews Band.  I've narrowed it down to them because they are both artists that have been around a long time, have an enormous collection of albums/songs, and while both have changed up their music over time they remain consistent to their "sound".  And maybe most importantly, they both give an amazing live performance.  I've seen DMB five times in concert, and two of those were three day shows.  I have seen The Police in concert twice (when the reunited in 2007) and Sting four times.  I don't go to concerts regularly like I used to, but make a point to if either of these are playing.
Sting came out with a new album, "57th & 9th" this past year and has been touring for the album since February 1.  This past Thursday night (yes a school night, and I'm paying for it this weekend) he was in Hollywood, and I got to go!   As usual, it was a great show.  I've only ever seem him (and The Police) at large outdoor venues like The Hollywood Bowl or Dodger Stadium.  This was at the  Hollywood Palladium which is a much smaller, indoor venue.  Other than some sections that have seats reserved for groups around the floor, it's general admission for standing around the stage. He was so close we could have touched him.  It was amazing!
On a side note, I don't usually film or photograph at shows because I just want to enjoy it while I'm there.  However, I did try to get a few moments on camera to share but my iPhone and I are having a battle these days over storage, so I didn't get much.  I found this on youtube and the person behind the camera seems to be in the seating area right behind where we were standing so what it shows is what I saw.  It's most of the show (minus 3-4 songs).  I love that it shows how close we were!
For this show, he is touring with his son, Joe Sumner, and a band from Texas called The Last Bandoleros, both of whom opened the show.  Then they were his back up singers for the rest of the night.  I saw Sting this last summer with Peter Gabriel at The Hollywood Bowl, which was an incredible show with a lot of spectacle.  This one was parred down and so intimate - it was different than the big venues but wonderful in its own right.
He played a little bit of everything - new ones from the recent album, older ones since his solo career, and then several from The Police.  Here's the set list for the show.  It was a good one.  Thankfully he included my favorite song of all during the 1st encore - at 55:07.  (sigh)

Thursday, February 2, 2017


Kilauea, the Big Island of Hawaii's active volcano (familiarly known as "Volcano" by the locals), has been very busy for quite a few years now.  When my parents first bought property there, maybe 25-30 years ago, it was labeled an active volcano, but its actions were small.  The first time I ever visited Volcano we walked in the caldera (just a short step inside).  Other than some active steam vents (one even burned my ankle) and some orange lava visible underneath the already hardened lava rock on our walk towards the ocean, there wasn't much going on that was visible.  The one thing that was interesting to my on that first visit was the size of it.  I'd never seen a volcano before, so what I had imagined was that upside-down triangle shape that spewed a plume of smoke with lava spilling down the sides.  This volcano is enormous.  Because it's so massive you can't even tell it's a mountain unless you are viewing it from far away to actually see the slope of it.  The drive around it and "up" to it is summit takes quite awhile.
After that first trip, Volcano started to get more active.  Since my mom has lived there full time (about 12 years now) it has been very active.  She has taken several photography trips by car, boat, and helicopter to see it.  And pretty much every time I go visit her, we make a day trip to see it.  Usually, "it's been very busy" with the promise of a lot to see.  And every time I have gone it's not doing a darn thing.  I can't tell you how many miles we've hiked out in the intense heat, over uneven and jagged lava rock, in the dark (at least on the way out) to see a whole lot of NOTHING.  The things I have seen haven't been all that exciting, but they are quite interesting.  The crater that we walked in on our first trip has since fallen and is pretty much full of lava most of the time.  Visitors can no longer get anywhere near it, and it is now a viewing attraction at the visitor's center.  Also, because of the slow, but fairly constant flow of lava the road we drove in on has gotten remarkably shorter while the hike in has gotten longer.  The lava has taken out roads, street signs, structures and now those areas are covered in igneous rock.  Even though all those trips have been a bit disappointing to not see what we can see in videos or pictures, it is still incredible that we've witnessed the earth literally changing in a matter of years

While I have vowed to never go back to that volcano AGAIN to see nothing, this past week has brought about some significant activity.  After a collapse inside over the New Year, the lava is now coming out like a faucet - just pouring out.  They call it a "fire hose".  If that isn't fascinating enough, it is also creating little explosions when it hits the ocean.
Now, that would be something to see!  

Monday, January 23, 2017

Raining Cats and Dogs

Southern California, especially LA County, is known for its little rain.  In fact, we've been in a serious drought due to record lows in snow pack/rainfall over the last several years.  Last year's El Nino was supposed to bring us some inches, but in the end as per the more recent norm, that weather pattern fizzled out, leaving us with another year of hot dry weather and a very serious concern over lack of water.  This year, La Nina has been predicted.  La Nina is a wet weather pattern like El Nino, but with colder ocean temps/weather instead of warmer.  These predictions have fallen on deaf ears over the the last few years due to their non-existence.
However, this year La Nina HAS arrived.  We've had more rain/snow so far this winter than we've had in the last 6 winters combined.  It is a GOOD thing, but I'll tell you, it is such a nuisance.  The thing about the rain here is that when it rains, it pours...and pours and pours and pours, with very little let up for days on end.

I tried to get the gist of it on the video.  It is just pouring, but there are only a few seconds where the lighting shows it off.  Poor Rigby went out to take care of business while I took this and she was just about to go when that wind picked up and knocked her off course.  She had a lot of stops and starts this afternoon. 

Another interesting fact about rain in Los Angeles is that when we have it we are reminded that there is an actual river that runs through the city.  Most of the time it is dry, and because of that it is a familiar site in the movies.  

When we do have several days of rain, it doesn't take long to become a pretty fast moving river.  It's such a novelty, people are always needing to be rescued because of the things they try to do when it's flowing.  One of our newscasters posted this on twitter.  
Update: This was written Sunday afternoon (but never posted because the videos were giving me fits) and the rain hasn't stopped since.  We had a little break today around lunch time, so the kids could go out and play (Thank goodness since inside "recess" is the PITS!)  Other than that, the downpour continues.  Here are some additional pictures that show the river, and this site shows the flooding/damage the rain has caused.  What struck me most tonight was this view of the river in Long Beach.  It looks like ocean waves!
Here, "When it rains, it pours" is literal.  

Sunday, January 15, 2017

A Year in Review - 2016 Movies

I think I say this every year, but I feel like each new year brings about more and more movies that I don't wish to see.  This past year was no exception, in fact I saw the fewest movies in 2016 than any other year I've been posting about them.  After the January films (which were included in last year's post to tie in with Awards Season), I didn't visit the theater until May 2016, which is quite unlike me.  There were a couple I thought were wonderful, but most, while entertaining, weren't anything to write home about.  Since, it's been kind of a tradition around here though, I will share my two cents on those I did see....

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 - The first film was quite good and well reviewed.  It's sequel was cute.  Fourteen years later (it's supposed to be 20 in the film I believe), Toula and Ian Miller are still married and living on the same street as the rest of the Portokalos family.  Everyone is in everyone else's business, like the last one, but the Miller's have a teenage daughter who is annoyed by the whole Greek family.  Chaos ensues.

London Has Fallen - The sequel to "Olympus Has Fallen", Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is back protecting the president after saving the day in the previous film.  World leaders are set to attend a meeting in London, and upon their arrival several attacks coordinated by a terrorist mastermind kill most of the leaders.  Of course, Agent Banning is there to save the day.  There is a lot of action - explosions, car chases, crashes, etc.  It was what you'd expect but still fun.

War Dogs - Miles Teller and Noah Hill star in this film about 20-something arms dealers who won a $300-million dollar Pentagon contract to arm American allies in Afghanistan.  It is based on a true story but was directed by "The Hangover" director so while it is a serious subject matter, it is also hilarious.  It is very fast paced and witty - reminded me a bit of "Wolf of Wall Street" in that it was quite entertaining while being mind blowing and maddening at the same time.

Nice Guys - A detective (Ryan Gosling) and a "fixer" (Russell Crowe) team up in 1970's Los Angeles to solve a wacky missing person's case.  It was kind of a cross between a goofy detective film and film noir.  The writing was pretty clever and it was a entertaining.  I don't think it did all that well at the box office, but was a critic's favorite this year...kind of a sleeper.

Money Monster - A financial television host a la Jim Cramer (George Clooney) is taken hostage by a blue collar worker who lost all his money on investments recommended by the host.  The situation happens on the live TV, and the producer (Julia Roberts) has to make decisions to defuse the situation while keeping her host safe. The host and producer end up sympathizing with the man and looked into the shady business that caused him to lose his money.  It is definitely a social commentary on the rigged financial system and the divide it has created.  The film was entertaining, and while I agree with the moral of the story - "Follow the money, find the fraud.", it was a bit heavy handed.

Now You See Me 2 - Another sequel!  The first "Now You See Me" was a pretty clever detective movie about magicians who ran elaborate tricks on those who took advantage of others.  This was pretty much the same movie with different bad guys and different tricks.  It was also a bit sillier than the first.  Meh...

Hunt for the Wilderpeople - This was probably my favorite movie of the entire year.  Sam Neill was the only known "Hollywood" actor in this New Zealand film.  It is the story of wannabe punk/city kid named Ricky who is put into foster care with an older married couple (Bella and Hec) in the NZ bush.  Ricky struggles at first being out in the middle of nowhere and bonding with his new family, but soon finds love with them.  When tragedy strikes, Ricky finds out he will be taken out of the home and put back with child services.  He decides to run away into the Bush.  When Hec goes to find Ricky, the authorties think he kidnapped the boy and the manhunt is on.  There are laughs throughout and even some tears.  I'd describe it as a comedy/drama/adventure film, and it is wonderful.  SEE IT!

Secret Life of Pets - Normally I won't go see a kid movies at the theater.  While often they have some redeeming quality for adults, I just don't want to pay the money to watch a cartoon.  If there's anything I really want to see, I can get it from Netflix and use it as a movie for a classroom party.  Some pet-loving friends and I decided to go see it due to the subject matter (That movie trailer was sure cute!)  It was a fun movie, but like with many of these films, a lot of the funny parts were shown in the trailer.  It had a crazy adventure story which was not as fun as the day-to-day "what does your pet do when you leave for work" parts.

Our Kind of Traitor - Based on the John le Carre's novel, Ewen McGregor and Stellan Skarsgard star in this spy thriller.  While vacationing in Morocco, a man (McGregor) and his wife become part of a Russian money launderer's plan to defect.  Upon returning to London, the couple becomes the go-between for the Russian and MI-6.  The Russian is able to link several British businessmen and politicians to the Russian mob.  It is a typical le Carre story - not a happy ending per say and you must pay very close attention as to not miss any of the intrigue.

Bad Moms - A funny (sometimes slap sticky) film about moms who have had enough of husbands, kids, and judgmental peers.  Over the top, but definitely funny.  Kathryn Hahn is a brilliant comedian and a scene stealer of the film.  Most of her lines in the movie were not written for her but made up on the spot by her, which is impressive since she had the best lines.

Jason Bourne - After sitting out the fourth Bourne film (Bourne Ultimatum), Matt Damon returned for the fifth film in the series.  I am a big fan of the Bourne books and, even though they are completely different, the movies.  In the film, Jason Bourne continues to find out information about his past and how he came to work for the CIA.  The Agency, once again, tries to cover up this info and tries to kill Bourne.  I don't think it was as good as the previous films, but they did leave it open to another in the series.

Captain Fantastic - The Cash Family lives isolated from society in the Washington State wilderness.  The children are homeschooled.  They are very educated and adept at surviving in the wild.  After a tragedy, they must return to "civilization"  The father (Viggo Mortensen) gets their motorhome running and they take a road trip south to Arizona.  The children, while incredibly book smart, are grossly underprepared to navigate in society.  It's a quirky, independent film about parents who want to keep their kids safe and unexposed to the "bad stuff" life has to offer.  The realization that this lifestyle might be doing a disservice to their kids as they mature is heartbreaking for the father who thought he was doing the right thing.  Interesting dilemma, especially in light of the things kids are exposed to anymore.

The Light Between of Oceans - Based on one of my favorite books (by M.L. Stedman) of all time, this film had a lot to live up to.  Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender), a WWI vet, returns to Australia and takes a job as a lighthouse keeper on an isolated island off the coast of Western Australia.  Before leaving, he meets Isabel (Alicia Vikander) who eventually becomes his wife and goes to live in the lighthouse with him.  After several miscarriages and stillborn births, his wife becomes racked with grief.  Then one day, a boat washes ashore with a dead man in it and a young baby.  Because they are so far removed from other people, Isabel talks Tom into keeping the baby as their own and not reporting the man who died.  Everyone is happy until they visit Isabel's family and meet a woman whose husband and baby girl were lost at sea.  It is a heart breaking, gut wrenching, beautiful story and the film did a good job of telling it.  As per the usual, the book was much better than the film, but I will say it was a good adaption.  It was changed enough to keep it interesting, but I never felt the need to shout, "That didn't happen!" at the screen either.  The cinematography is amazing.

Bridget Jone's Baby - I wasn't so sure I wanted to see this film, even after being a fan of the first two of Helen Fielding's books made into movies.  I can pretty much quote verbatim "Bridget Jones' Diary" and "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason".  Based on the previews, the movie had changed things up with the books' characters (no Hugh Grant?!?!), and Renee Zellweger has had so much work done, she no longer looks like the normal "girl" like she did in the first two.  Even so, I acquiesced, and am glad I did.  It was FUNNY!  Bridget gets drunk at a weekend getaway and falls into bed with Jack,  a charming American, who she doesn't think she'll ever see again.  A few days later, she reconnects with her Ex, Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) at a baby's christening.  The two rekindle their romance for a bit, until Bridget finds out she's pregnant...but with whose baby?  It's definitely a chick flick, but I enjoyed it very much.  Many movies these days show all the "funny parts" in the previews so they're not as funny once watching the film.  The previews to this did not do that and there were a lot of funny parts.  One in particular, Mark and Jack trying to get her to the hospital once her water breaks, had the theater literally in tears of laughter.

Snowden - When Edward Snowden first made front page news I was with many other Americans in thinking he was a traitor who leaked sensitive information and hurt our national security.  As more information has come to light in various news stories and documentaries, I'm no longer part of that camp.  The issue remains controversial, so leave it to director Oliver Stone to make a movie about it.  As most who have followed the issue, I've seen a lot of interview footage and detailed stories about Snowden after the news broke of his whistleblowing.  This movie actually goes back into to time to tell Snowden's story right up to his time being holed up in a Hong Kong hotel room with the reporters (Laura Poitras and Glen Greenwald) who ultimately broke the story.  Joseph Gordon Levitt, who portrays Snowden, did a good job.  His mannerisms and speaking style were right on point, and his time leading up to leaking the information were without blemish or scandal.  The whole Snowden affair is quite fascinating, and this movie filled in some of those earlier gaps.

Girl on a Train - The best selling book's movie right's were sold almost instantly after the book release, and many (including me), were looking forward to its release.  I was pleasantly surprised.  As with "Gone Girl", thrillers like these are hard to make into a movie.  In both cases, there were twists and turns that made the books fun to read, but if you've read the book you know them and how it ends - there's no element of surprise.  If you didn't read the book, the twists and turns can be too much for a two hour screenplay.  I think that "Girl on a Train" actually did a pretty good job keeping it new and interesting while sticking to the overall plot.  One thing about the book that bothered me throughout is the characters had very few redeemable qualities and were therefore quite hard to like...any of them!  I enjoyed the overall story very much, but by the end I was just sick of how awful they all were.  The movie gave the viewers a bit more to hold onto character-wise which was a nice adaption, and Emily Blunt was very good in the main role.  I enjoyed it.

A Man Called Ove - A Swedish adaptation of the book of the same name (by Fredrick Backman), tells the story of Ove, a grumpy old man who mourning the loss of his wife.  He learns to enjoy life again after a young family (Swedish husband/Iranian wife) with two children move into his quiet neighborhood.  This is an AMAZING movie.  It follows the book quite well, and like the book, it is funny, happy, and emotional draining.

The Accountant - Ben Affleck stars as a math genius/autistic man who works as an accountant who helps criminals track inside financial corruption. Ironically, he also has "special skills" to take care of anyone who has wronged him or hurt others.  The Treasury Department is after him and his criminal connections as an additional twist.  This film was a lot of fun.  There was something for everyone - humor, action, drama, intrigue - my kind of movie!

The Edge of Seventeen - Hailee Steinfeld and Woody Harrelson star in this cute growing up film about an awkward 17 year old girl trying to find her place in life.  Her life at home and school are less than perfect and her only saving grace is her best friend - the two are inseparable.  However, she feels like her world is coming to an end when her best friend begins dating her brother.  Woody Harrelson is great as the disenfranchised high school teacher who helps her navigate the tough times.  It's no "Breakfast Club" or "Sixteen Candles" or "Say Anything" as far as coming of age films, but it was entertaining.

Allied - Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard star as British and French spies who work together on a difficult mission during WWII.  They both survive and she comes to London to be with him.  They marry and live happily with their family.  Then he is informed that she may not be who she says she is.  He is charged with leaking false information to her and if it the accusations are correct, he will have to kill her.  The reviews were mixed, but I liked it.  It was very fast paced!

Miss Sloane - Jessica Chastain stars as a Washington DC lobbyist who leaves her big firm who happens to represent the NRA and joins a small firm who is representing gun control.  The film is interesting and you must play close attention to it.  But it is a depressing look at all the closed door dealings between lobbyists and politicians.  Regular people need to start hiring our own lobbyists to stand a chance anymore.

Office Christmas Party - A struggling computer company holds an outrageous Christmas party to woo a client and save their business.  I must admit, I am not a fan of slapstick/silly movies at all.  I wasn't so sure I wanted to see this film, but there wasn't anything else out, so I did.  I am really glad I did.  Jason Bateman, Kate McKinnon, Olivia Munn, and Jennifer Anniston star.

Manchester By the Sea - Lee, (Casey Affleck) who left his hometown due to a personal tragedy,  has to return after his brother dies and he becomes the guardian of his teenaged nephew, Patrick. Dealing with his own demons and self-loathing he doesn't believe he has the capacity to take care of his nephew.  Ironically, while they figure out what to do, Lee does help Patrick navigate the loss of his dad, dating, and just being a teenager.  It's a wonderful movie, but heart wrenching.  A reminder of what grief can do to a person.

Sing Street - In 1980's Dublin, the Lalor Family is struggling financially.  Youngest son, 15 year old Conor has to leave his private school and attend free public school where he struggles to fit in.  Upon meeting an older girl who lives across from the school, he tries to impress her by telling her he is in a band and they need a model for their first video.  He proceeds to recruit misfits from the school to create a band.  With the help of his older brother Brendan, an 80's music expert, the band actually creates music, makes some videos, and performs at school functions, all to get the girl.  I saw the preview for this film a couple of months ago at an independent movie theater and then never heard that it actually came out.  While snowed-in on Christmas day in Minnesota, we found it on Netflix.  Clever writing and nostalgic music...fantastic movie!

Other than Manchester By the Sea, I didn't see any of the Golden Globe (probably Academy Awards too) movies.  Many didn't actually come to the theater yet (my yearly complaint) and some (like La La Land) I didn't really care to see.  As per the usual, a few will come out this month with the awards promoting them.  If so, I'll add them to the 2017 review.
My intention was to write just a quick one-sentence review like Kelly does on her site, but I'm too long winded for that.  :)  Sorry about the length.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Bag Ban

After the insanity of the November election, most of the political focus in my circles has been on the presidential outcome.  However, it has to be mentioned that our state elections had some interesting outcomes.  California is notorious for having all sorts of propositions on the ballot each year.  All it takes to get on the ballot is 200 signatures, so a lot of what ends up on it are very narrow in scope and usually will benefit just one group (or even one person).  They are always convoluted and our ballot is enormous.  This year was the worse I've ever seen it.  Our election booklet was the size of a phonebook trying the explain the 17 propositions we were voting on.
California did legalize the use of marijuana for those 21years or older.  I will write about that one at a later time.
The state also voted to uphold the ban on single use plastic bags that was on the books from a previous election.  The ban required customers to provide their own bags or pay the store 10 cents per recyclable or biodegradable bag taken from the store.  I'm not too sure about the previous ban because some of our stores stopped using them and others didn't.  Some stopped using them and then started using them.  My regular grocery store didn't stop using them, so I didn't worry too much about it.  A yes in November's election meant the bag ban stood while a no rejected the ban entirely.  Our Earth seems to be suffocating by the abundance of trash/plastic, so the majority of California voted to keep it as it was which has opened my eyes to the bag ban.
The very next day, I am not kidding literally THE VERY NEXT DAY, every grocery store in California stopped giving out regular bags (plastic or paper) and were ready to sell the biodegradable ones.  What law ever voted on goes into play the very next day?!?!  The answer is none.  Government doesn't work that way.  Most of the ours start the following January 1 or even a year or two after the election.  This one though caught everyone off guard.  Droves of people showed up at their local grocery stores bagless (and a little irritated) that first week.  And even now, almost 2 months later, many of us still walk into those darn stores with our reusable bags sitting in the car.  Even worse, apparently the ban didn't really start the next day, but the grocery stores started it anyways in order to take the 10 cent per bag for themselves while everyone was forgetting their bags.  That was irksome.
I have been trying to use reusable bags for a few years now, but never did very well with it.  I have them, but unless I drape them over my body every time I drive the car I leave them in the car.  And since my store wasn't doing it previously for some reason, the habit never stuck.  Another issue I am having with the change is that I didn't use these single use bags only one time.  There are many uses for these bags once home, and while they eventually made their way to the trash, it was after an additional use or two.  Now we don't have them.  The new 10 cent bags are quite different - larger and thicker - so don't really work.  So now instead of lining my trashcans (or whatever) with the free store bags, I'm going to buy plastic trash bags from the store and eventually they will get thrownout.  It seems like maybe this proposition had a few business interests in mind, more so than the environment.
The bring your own bag things has slowed things down at the grocery store as well.  You send your BYOB bags down the conveyor belt and those who bag the groceries fiddle and fool with them because they don't sit up right and they fill them fuller than they ever filled the plastic bags.  The lines at the store have gotten much longer.
I've been eying these bags for awhile now, and finally broke down and bought them a couple of weeks ago.  The checkers comment on how much they like them and how much easier they are.
 They pull out and hang over the sides of the grocery cart.  You can then toss stuff inside while shopping.  Once finished, the groceries are very easy to grab from the cart.  From there the bagger (or checker or me) sets the items inside the bag without the inconvenience.
 On this shopping trip I was only grabbing some ingredients for cookies for a cookie swap and a couple of things I keep in the house.  The bags aren't very full in this case, but they are roomy enough for a big shopping trip.
 Once to the car, the bags slide right off the cart,  the handles are attached together, which closes the bag to keep everything inside.
I like them a lot!  Still leaving them in the car 50% of the time, but my percentage is growing.

While I'm almost a bleeding heart liberal, and I am very concerned about the environment, this ban has been a huge inconvenience.  It's HARD to do the right thing!