Monday, June 28, 2010

Concerts I have been to...

Rock Music has been important to me for as long as I can remember.  I used to listen to my brothers' LP's and 45's when I was a little boy.  They were both more than ten years older than me.

The first LP I ever bought was Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road".  Great album.  Still a great album.  I am sad that albums are going away and I-Tunes is taking over.  We are becoming a "greatest hits" people.  When the album goes all the way away, we will lose what was great about them, the deep cuts.  Almost all the albums I have, I start spinning the hits first, and then find my way deeper in the collection.  That's where I find some of the richest music, some of the most meaningful.  The deep cuts become more important to me than the hits. 

I also remember saving money as a boy because every now and then I'd have enough to go to a record store.  I loved going to the record stores.  They always smelled like patchouli.  Seemingly endless racks of vinyl records in wooden crates, arranged alphabetically by artist.  The stores were dimly lit and there was always good music playing.  Only cool people worked at record stores.  There were always "cut-out" bins in the record stores as well.  Cut-outs were surplus albums that the labels weren't pushing anymore, didn't sell very well the first time around, so they would put a saw cut through about an eighth of an inch of the cover to mar it and sell it at a deep discount.  You couldn't go wrong with a cut-out because they were so cheap, and often you'd find a real good album.  I bought Heart's album "Magazine" in a cut-out bin.  I've always loved that album.  I recently re-bought it as a cut-out CD.

When I was in the sixth grade, The Carpenters were a very big deal.  They had a song called, "Sing" that had a children's chorus.  Their production manager contacted the local music teachers in every town they were to play in and arranged the best sixth grade class to sing onstage with them.  My sixth grade class was picked so I got to sing with Karen and Richard Carptenter.  I was the shortest kid in the class, so I was at the end and Karen put her arm around me and sang to me, looked in my eyes and smiled.  She had big teeth.  Steve Martin openened for them before he was big.

When I was in high school, Pocatello, Idaho was a stop along the concert way.  I never went to shows there for some reason or another.  A couple of the shows I missed and lived to regret missing were Fleetwood Mac and Van Halen in the late 1970's.

When I was in college, my favorite band was The Cars.  They had scheduled a North American tour and were scheduled to play at the University I was attending.  On the day the tickets went on sale, my friend and I were on our way to purchase ours and the announcement on the radio said that The Cars had disbanded.  Arrgh!

Then life happened.  I finished college, went to grad school and in my last year there, Sir Paul McCartney did a North American tour and played Ames Iowa which was just a few hours south of Mankato, Minnesota where I was living.  I bought tickets for my wife and I and we went to see him.

Paul McCartney
July 18, 1990-Ames Iowa
This was the tour when Paul finally acknowledged that yes, indeed he was a Beatle.  From the time The Beatles broke up until the 1989 tour, McCartney had avoided playing The Beatles catalog in his concerts, instead playing solo material and Wings material.  This concert blew my mind.  It was incredible.  I was really into The Beatles during graduate school, so this concert was very timely.  The concert consisted of about half old Beatles songs, and the other half was solo material and Wings.  He also covered John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance."  The concert ended with an eleven minute version of "Hey Jude" and we all sang along from the beginning.  Then the band left the stage and the lights came on.  We screamed for another ten minutes demanding an encore, and finally the lights went down and a pin spot picked up McCartney as he rose up on an elevator in the middle of the stage.  Just him and an acoustic guitar, and he played "Yesterday".  When he was done, he bowed and left the stage.  We all left because we knew that if he played anything else it would ruin the feeling we had right then.  It was almost sacred.

The Rolling Stones
February 1st, 2003-Denver, Colorado
My best friend is the world's greatest Rolling Stones fan.  For twenty years he had been trying to get me to see a show with him.  I had put him off because of money or location, or any other reason I could think of.  Finally, in July of 2002, I got a fairly terse phone call from him that went like this, "Gary, The Stones are going to be in Denver on February 1st.  I just bought you a ticket.  You owe me a hundred dollars!"  So I went.  And I had a great time.  The show was fantastic.  I told him after that he'd never have to sell me on a Stones show again.  During the "Forty Licks" tour, they featured a classic Stones album each night.  The night we saw them they hit "Let it Bleed" which at the time was my favorite Stones album.  Highlights of that show were, Can't You Hear Me Knockin', Gimme Shelter, Monkey Man, and Street Fighting Man.  The whole show was tight though.  It was awesome.  After the first couple of songs, though, a guy who looked surprisingly like Charles Manson was dragged kicking and squirming from the concert.  I asked the guy next to me what happened.  He said the dude was smoking pot.  That was interesting to me, because a girl on the other side of me was smoking it all night and the guards didn't kick her out.  She was pretty and blonde, and had her shirt tied up in a knot just below her perfect ladieberries so her belly was bare.  I wonder if that had anything to do with it?

The Rolling Stones
November 22nd, 2005-Salt Lake City, Utah
Okay, first of all, the concert was pretty decent, although it was right after Keith had fallen from a Coconut tree in the Carribean and had sustained some brain damage.  I think the brain damage was buffered by the copius amounts of drugs he had taken over the years.  The high points of this show were You Got Me Rockin' and Sympathy For the Devil.  I have to say that the Salt Lake crowd is terrible.  They were lethargic for almost all of the show.  It was as if they wanted to be seen seeing The Stones rather than just seeing The Stones.  When they finally did Satisfaction toward the end, the crowd finally got into it, demanded encores and didn't realize they'd already had two.  Were I Mick Jagger, I'd not play Salt Lake again.

The Best Two Days Ever
The Who and The Rolling Stones
November 13th and 14th, 2006-Salt Lake City, Utah and Nampa, Idaho
I've covered this in great detail in another post called "The Best Two Days Ever..."  Suffice it to say, The Who were inspired, and the Stones were incredible also.  Highlights of The Who show were all the hits, of course, but Eminence Front was astonishing, and the encore was a mini version of Tommy.  Then Roger and Pete came out with an accoustic guitar and played "Tea and Theatre" from the new album.  That's another of those deep cuts I was talking about earlier.  The Stones were in great form as well, and the highlight of that show was Keith singing, "You Got the Silver" with Ronnie playing slide guitar.

Eric Clapton
March 8th, 2007-Salt Lake City, Utah
Eric Clapton was incredible.  The show was my birthday present to me.  First he had Robert Cray as the opening act, and as soon as the concert was over I went out and bought Robert Cray's "Live From Across the Pond" CD.  I've never done that before with an opening act.  He had two young turks with him, Derek Trucks from the Allman Brother's Band, and Doyle Bramhall III from his own band.  The way the three of them would solo was a clinic in great guitar playing.  Clapton always batted clean-up and blew the other two out of the water.  In the end, Clapton invited Robert Cray on the stage and they did an epic version of "Crossroads".  Unreal.

3 Dog Night
Idaho Falls, Idaho (don't remember the date)
This highlight of this show was the fact that I was able to go with my two daughters.  We had a "Daddy/Daughter's" date.  The three of us have always like 3 Dog Night, and we had a great time together.  The band really looked as if they should be playing Branson, Missouri, though.  I think they were all playing to a click track.  The vocals may have been live, but comparing them to The Stones, The Who, McCartney or Eric Clapton, it seems that time has passed them by.  The music was good, the set list was good, but the band really consisted of a bunch of old men.  The big highlight of the show musically was an inspired version of "You Can Leave Your Hat On."

Alice Cooper
Idaho Falls, Idaho (don't remember the date)
One of my buddies from church called me up and said he had a ticket to see Alice Cooper in Idaho Falls that night, and he couldn't make it.  He'd been called into work at the last minute and did I want his ticket.  Of course I said "Yes!"  I got out of the tub, got dressed and drove down to Idaho Falls and saw Alice.  Okay, it was the darkest concert I've ever seen.  In fact it's the darkest anything I've ever seen.  I want to see it again!  At no point did Alice ever call good evil or evil good, however.  The end of the show saw Alice hanging from a gallows.  Great shock rock.  I don't know why he's not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  It's a travesty.

Up and Coming
I have a ticket to see Roger Waters perform "The Wall" in November
I hope to see Al Green open for Buddy Guy who will then open for BB King at Red Rocks. 
The next night, Heart is playing the Paramount in Denver.  We hope to see these back to back.
Kiss is playing Salt Lake City, I hope to see them
Bob Dylan is playing Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  I hope to see him as well.

I don't know how many of these shows I really will see, but I already have the ticket for Roger Waters.

A Few Country Shows
I've been to a few country shows because I love my wife and she loves country.  I don't. 

I took her to see Reba Macintyre in Buffalo, New York.  Reba had a bunch of line dancers in front of her stage and I realized that country line dancing is just disco dancing with tight jeans and cowboy boots.

I have taken her to see Keith Urban twice in Salt Lake City, Utah.  What I've found about Keith Urban is that 75% of the audience is female.  The other 25% is male who are there because their wives are there.  He is a very good guitar player though.

I took her also to see Montgomery Gentry in Salt Lake City.  The audience there is so hit and miss.  For some shows they are loud and wonderful, but others they are lethargic and dead.  Montgomery Gentry was one of those.  The dude in the big hat couldn't work the audience up for anything.  Jeff Foxworthy opened for them.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Life ain't fair!

When I was in college, I had a terrible bout of illness that literally had me bedridden.  I don't remember if I ate anything, there was no-one to fix me meals.  I was so weak that one day I actually soiled myself and lay in the filth for several hours before I could move enough to clean myself up.

I was diagnosed with Giardia Lamblia which is a Rocky Mountain parasite.  I always thought you got parasites in South America or Africa or exotic places like that.  The doctor tested me for Giardia, by the way but never found any traces of them in my specimen.  For twenty-five years I dealt with the aftermath of Giardia Lamblia and everything that went along with it.  For twenty-five years I never went very far away from Pepto-Bismol or Immodium AD.

When I was a teenager, I was eating a celery stick and noticed that my mouth went numb.  No big loss, I could live without celery.  My sister Jolene also had a bad reaction to celery.  In total I have two siblings and my mother all allergic to celery.  Bizarre, I know.

I love shrimp, but about ten or fifteen years ago I noticed that every time I ate shrimp I got a headache.  I wasn't about to stop eating shrimp, so I combatted the problem by ingesting some Ibuprofen about twenty minutes before I'd eat, so no problem, right?  Well, about five years ago I performed my usual strategy, took the pills and then ate the shrimp.  They were butterflied and breaded prawns.  Delicious.  But then my throat constricted and I could no longer swallow.  Life just ain't fair.

I'm getting older, and more concerned about my health now, so I've been to the doctor and had tests done.  Turns out I have high cholesterol and am insulin resistant.  I also have sleep apnea, so now I sleep with a C-Pap machine.  Life just ain't fair.

Last July I went to the doctor to find out why I didn't feel good most of the time.  This doctor is unlike other doctors I have been to.  They are all interested in treating symptoms, but he goes for the source of the problem.  I like that.  He thought there might be a Cortisol problem, so we ran some tests to find out.  My Cortisol was just fine, but I found out that I am allergic to Soy, to Milk, and especially to Gluten.  That was one of the most discouraging days of my life.  Life ain't fair.

Turns out, I most likely never had Giardia Lamblia.  The doctor who treated me all those years ago didn't know anything about gluten intolerance, so he looked up my symptoms and came up with what he thought was most likely.  The cure was worse than the illness.  The horse pills I took for Giardia were horrible and did lasting damage to my guts.  That was another thing the doctor found out when he diagnosed me with the gluten allergy.

So in a nutshell:
High cholesterol-most meat is out
Insulin resistante-sugars and carbs are out
Milk allergy-even as an ingredient it hurts me (I knew about the milk allergy for a long time, by the way)
Soy allergy-it's getting increasingly difficult to find anything that doesn't have soy in it. 
Gluten allergy-almost everything is made with some type of wheat product.

So what can I eat?  Not very much.

The good news is I'm losing weight and I don't have the digestive problems like I used to.  Soy is a natural source of Estrogen, which would explain why so many men have man-boobs. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What my year is like

I'm 48 years old now, and my life has kind of settled in.  I used to feel like a fly, buzzing around waiting for a piece of rotten meat to land on, but now, we've lived in the same house for ten years.  This is the first time I have lived in a single dwelling that long in my whole life.  When I went to graduate school in Minnesota, after we had lived in our apartment for 8 months, I told my wife that that was the longest I had ever lived in one home, continuously in my life.  And it was true.

Now, however, I've settled into a pattern.  Besides work, I have several mania that occupy my mind and my time.  Most can be broken down by season, so I'll list them that way.

Of course Christmas and New Years are important holidays for us, and we celebrate them in style.  Usually we invite several friends over for both holiday eve's and eat alot of finger foods, visit, play games and enjoy ourselves.  On Christmas Eve, we put out Luminaries on our driveway to show that the Christ Child is welcome here. 

Winter is also College Football Bowl Season which I am compelled to watch.  I like any team that can come from a mid-major conference, bust into the BCS and win.  I keep hoping BYU will be that school someday soon.

In Winter I also plant my garden (inside).  I will plant somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 heirloom tomato plants.  I love them, and enjoy watching them grow.  It's the only thing I do that is slow, so it gives me solace.

Spring is when I really get the garden going.  I have a PVC greenhouse that allows me to plant a little earlier and keep things growing a little later.  I usually put the tomatoes and peppers in there.  I also grow peas, carrots, beans, radishes, beets, onions, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers and broccoli.  I love the garden.  I try to be as organic as possible.  I compost and don't use poisons on my garden.

I also start thinking about rocks and gemstones in the spring.  I'll usually make at least one pilgrimage to the Teton Dam to collect Jade each year.  There are also some cinder cones here that bear a plagioclase, sunstone material that is really pretty when cut.  Sometimes I'll plan a Montana trip to go digging for Sapphires.  Those are my favorites, and I like the Montana ones the best.

Of course the garden is still in full swing at this point, and we'll have the backyard looking really good because we like to entertain friends in our yard.  We have one of the largest yards in the town in which we live.  It wasn't intended to be that way, it's just the home we bought.  Both my wife and I love the big back yard.  When we drive up on the hill, we see the huge mansions set on very small pieces of property. My wife can't stand that.  I agree.  I'd hate to have a house that big and have neighbors that close.

Summer is a time for rockhounding.  It's been a hobby of mine for forty years.  I still can't get enough of it.

I'm a sucker for Halloween, and am determined to have a yard haunt this year.  I'm usually too busy to do that at Halloween time so this year I'm starting early.  I'm crafting a graveyard out front, and a witches lair for just inside the house.  I'm pretty excited for that.

By late fall, the garden has given me everything it can and it's time to can the food.  I do most if not all of the canning, jam making, dehydrating and food storing in our home.  I don't mind, I really kind of like doing it.  Both my brothers do the canning in their homes and I don't mind emulating them.  I hope I have a large harvest this year because I bought a whole lot of extra bottles.

The other thing that occupies my mind in the fall is college football.  I follow most of Division IA, but especially the teams that aren't from the privileged conferences.  I like whichever teams play against the power conferences, and it's made sweeter every time they win.

So there you have it.  My year in a nutshell

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

It's that time of year again...

My Garden

Heirloom tomatoes

Yesterday I put 26 Tomato plants in the ground.  This is a time of year that I love.  Gardening season. 

It wasn't always this way.  I used to till the garden for my wife, but beyond that I didn't want to be involved.  That all changed about nine years ago when she was pregnant and couldn't get around to do the garden.  She said, "If we're going to have a garden, you will have to do it."  So I did, grudgingly at first, but then it became a refuge, a place of solace, a place where time slowed down.

Her brother was living with us at the time, and he was, well, he was a piece of work.  Still is.  Don't get me started there.  All he wanted to do was play video games and talk about him playing video games.  When I'd come home from work, he'd start talking about the things he'd done in the video game that day and I'd walk out to the garden.  I'd start pulling weeds and he'd keep talking.  I would tell him that if he wanted to talk, he'd have to pull weeds.  He'd pull a few and excuse himself to get a "drink of water" and would be missing in action for the remainder of the time I was in the garden.  That was revelatory.

The next year, I took over the vegetable garden for good, and my wife has concentrated on the flower gardening.  I happened to notice an advertisement about heirloom tomatoes the second year I had the garden, and I studied up on them to see what they were.  The picture was really neat, it showed a tomato salad with a vinaigrette.  Nothing but odd shaped and colored tomatoes.  I had never seen anything like it, but because I'm a designer, I had to try them.  The next season I purchased a kit with five different kinds of heirloom tomato seeds and became an heirloom gardener. 

The first heirlooms I tried were:  Caspian Pink, Big Rainbow, Green Zebra, Tigerella and Brandywine.  They were very good, and different than any tomato we had ever grown before.  I really loved them.  The next year, though, I thought I was too busy to go to the effort of growing them from seed and purchased hybrid plants from the local nursery.  The tomatoes I harvested that year were perfect in almost every way.  Uniform size, smooth skin, perfect color, they all ripened at about the same time.  What more could you ask?  The problem was none of them tasted like anything.  They were so bland I could almost not eat them.  I vowed then that I'd be an heirloom gardener and have been ever since.

The picture above is a sampling of some of the heirlooms I planted a couple of years ago.  Every tomato in the picture is ripe, including the green ones.

Following is a brief description of some of my favorite heirloom tomatoes that I have grown:

  1. Besser-Cherry-Red:  This is the best and sweetest cherry tomato I have ever grown.  They are like candy and are extremely prolific producers.  I have six children but only one boy that likes tomatoes.  He and I will go into the garden together and eat the Besser's right off the vine.  This is a grand tomato.

  2. Big Red-Beefsteak-Red:  This is a very good tomato for canning.  I like to can stewed tomatoes and the large fruits from this tomato are easy to process and tasty too. 

  3. Brandywine-Beefsteak-Pink or Red:  This is the king of heirloom tomatoes, but I admit not my favorite.  Don't get me wrong, it is a very good tomato and I grow them every year, but there are others I like better.  The flavor is great and they put up very well.

  4. Caspian Pink-Beefsteak-Pink:  This is a fairly large tomato with fruits averaging around 12 oz.  It's big and meaty and a very tasty tomato.  Great for hamburger slicing.

  5. Mortgage Lifter-Huge Beefsteak-Pink to Red:  This is the largest tomato I have grown.  Fruits up to 24 oz.  Big tasty beefsteak.  Great for processing.  I'm growing two of them this year.  Story goes the man who developed this strain sold the plants and then the fruits at the side of the road and paid off his mortgage in four years.

  6. Tlacalula-Pleated-Red:  This is the oddest tomato I have grown.  It's ribbed all the way around and has little channels inside where the seeds go.  When you slice it horizontally, it looks like lace.  It's also a very tasty tomato.

  7. Costoluto Genovese-Pleated-Red:  Another of the ribbed tomatoes.  Very tasty and very pretty when sliced horizontally.

  8. Opalka-Paste-Red:  This is a Roma or Sausage style tomato.  I use them for drying.  I blanche, peel, srpinkle with Itallian seasoning and dry them in my dehydrator.  The plants are very prolific.

  9. Banana Legs-Paste-Yellow:  This tomato is almost exactly like the Opalka, but is yellow instead of red.  Also good for drying.

  10. Yellow Pear-Pear-Yellow:  This is another of the small tomatoes I grow each year.  These are also like candy.  My son and I will munch these off the vine as well.  They produce like Zuchini, so don't plant more than one of them.

  11. Black Krim-Beefsteak-Purple to Black:  By far the ugliest tomato I have grown, but it is also my very favorite.  It has an earthy, dusky taste that is rich and full, powerful.  When you slice it, it looks positively rotten, but the flavor overrides any ugliness.  This is my number one heirloom.

  12. Cherokee Purple-Beefsteak-Purple:  Whereas the Black Krim originated in Russia, the Cherokee Purple originated in North America.  These are very much like the Black Krim in taste and texture, but are slightly prettier.  Another of my favorites.

  13. Paul Robeson-Beefsteak-Purple to Black:  I had to grow this one merely because it was named after the great actor/singer, Paul Robeson.  I worked in "The Paul Robeson Theatre" in Buffalo, New York.  Had to grow it out of principle.  This is a large tomato and very tasty.

  14. Green Zebra-Plum-Green on Green Striped:  This is a created heirloom, so it doesn't follow all the rules, but it is open pollinated.  The taste is tangy and it's cool looking besides.  This is my wife's favorite.

  15. White Wonder-Beefsteak-Ivory:  This is another of the weirder tomatoes I have grown.  It's ivory colored when ripe and is positively the best hamburger slicer I've ever had.
I have grown forty or fifty varieties over the last ten years and these are my favorites.  This year I planted twenty varieties, many of which I've never grown before, many I have.  Throughout the season I'll keep this blog posted on the progress of the tomatoes.  I'm sure I'll love some of the new varieties and they'll become part of the usual rotation. 

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Robin Hood Begins...

First of all, Let me say I really wanted to like Ridley Scott's Robin Hood.  There is so much to like about the character of Robin Hood from the original literature, of which almost nothing was gleaned by Scott or Russell Crowe to make this particular incarnation of the outlaw remotely likeable.  From the revisionist history, through the wooden acting of Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett (could they make her more manlike?) to the anachronistic props, awkward cinematography, cheesy soundtrack and words thinly disguised as a script, this film was a misuse of millions of studio dollars and a colossal waste of two hours and twenty minutes of my precious time.

Of course I shouldn't expect an accurate portrayal of history from a Ridley Scott film.  One needs only to look at Gladiator and his liberal use of revisionism to know that he is rarely impeded by the truth in storytelling.  It's as if he believes his audience will be so enthralled with the story he is telling that they will forget to look up the facts.  Or maybe he thinks he is telling the truth in some alternate Blade Runner universe.  The closest encounter with historical fact in this film was that Richard the Lionheart was killed by a crossbow bolt to the neck.  The events preceding the fatal injury and the events following bear no resemblence to the incident portayed in the film I saw tonight. 

There was the intimation of the rebellious barons of England forcing John to sign the Magna Carta but alas, John evaded that in the movie while his alter ego in history did not.  In this version, John Lackland seemed to have the upper hand in everything, while being a snivelling, pompous, arrogant, conceited, buffoonish two dimensional stock character.  That could have been the fault of the actor, but this reviewer believes it is more likely caused by poor script writing.  These are just a sampling of the liberties Ridley Scott has taken and continues to take with history when he is making films.  Heaven forbid he should be shackled with the truth.
This being said, it is almost certain that the character of Robin Hood is a literary figure, not an historical one.

Unfortunately, the filmmakers couldn't capture the literary essence of Robin Hood either.  The beginning placards talked about how Robin Hood became an outlaw by stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, and yet there was almost no other reference to it in the entire film.  He wasn't even labled an outlaw until the last few lines King John spoke at the end of the film.  The Sheriff of Nottingham who is a pivotal character in the story of Robin Hood was barely seen as a minor character with no real bearing on the action.  Sir Guy of Gisbourne, Robin Hood's arch nemesis wasn't even mentioned, instead he was replaced by the antagonist Godfrey who is historically out of phase with the mythos by about a hundred years, give or take a decade or two. 

The Merry Men were sidenotes in this version rather than being integrel to the plot.  None of them were compelling enough in this film to convince me they belong in a (heaven forbid) sequel.  This film seemed to be more like "Robin Hood Begins" than it did Robin Hood.  Perhaps the sequel should be called, "The Green Knight."

Sometimes a poor script can be rescued with great acting performances.  This was unfortunately not the case in Robin Hood.  After Russell Crowe dogged Kevin Costner's portrayal of Robin Hood I expected so much more from him.  Frankly, Crowe's version made me almost forgive Costner of his equally bad version and I found myself wishing for the good old days of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.  Crowe's portrayal of Robin Hood was equally as wooden in his portrayal of Maximus in another Ridley Scott film, Gladiator.  There were times tonight I couldn't tell if I was watching Maximus, Captain Jack Aubrey from Master and Commander, or Robin Hood.  The strong silent tough guy routine is getting old.  Please, Russell, let us see the same passion in your acting that you exhibited when you were assaulting paparazzi. 

Cate Blanchett, whom I almost always like by default whenever I see her in a film, could not overcome the frumpy costume, bad wig and bad writing to become a likeable ingenue.  The costume was unflattering even though Scott tried to show how appealing she was by focusing shots through Robin's eyes at her buttocks and down her blouse as if he could in someway see something that was hidden from the rest of us.  Between the two of them there was almost no chemistry, with the small exceptions when Robin told Marian to ask him nicely.  Those two small moments were not enough to rescue this very long, very tedious film.

The one bright spot in the acting performances was an aged Max Von Sydow, whom I almost always like, and someone who has been acting for so long it should be automatic.  Max did not dissappoint.

For the most part, the design of the film appeared to be accurate and well done.  I especially liked the heavy chain mail that most of the characters wore during battle scenes.  Some of the ruins appeared to be modern interpretations of what a ruin ought to be, and for a set designer like me that was distracting.  I'm speaking specifically of the broken arch in Nottingham that people on horseback were shown riding through repeatedly as if they spent alot of cash building it and wanted to get their money's worth from it. 

The design of the film seemed very credible until near the end when re-tooled WWII Normandy Invasion landing craft were employed to storm the beach at Dover.  Never mind the fact that Phillip II of France never got past the planning phase of invading England, by the way.  Peter Jackson got away with the WWII landing craft in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers because it was a different world and a different time they were portraying, so perhaps Scott decided he could too.  Anachronism only works, though if you employ it throughout the film or you happen to be Monty Python.

As the film climaxed, I began to see out of place helicopter shots coupled with underscoring that sounded like it was trying to be heroic but somehow missed the mark.  Some of the countryside they showed was stunning and magnificent but the movie had to be put on hold while the director decided to get the most out of the helicopter crew and show us some really pretty scenery.  The shots reminded me of similar shots in The Lord of the Rings movies, but in those, the helicopter shots with the triumphant, heroic underscoring worked.  The out of place shots in Robin Hood tended to take the momentum out of the film which was already tedious enough.

Speaking of tedium, the script writing was obvious and at times preachy.  Sometimes it was downright ludicrous.  For example, at the end of the film when the English are meeting the French at the White Cliffs of Dover and Maid Marian shows up in full, too small, battle armor with a host of either hobbits or lost boys, I couldn't tell which.  It was as if the filmmakers were trying to have a Robin Hood meets Peter Pan, meets Lord Of the Rings moment.  In LOTR though, Eowyn only had one hobbit, in Robin Hood, Marian had about twenty. 

There were several moments in the film that hinted at a LOTR or Saving Private Ryan influence.  The lighting of the beacons on the beach were reminiscent of the beacon lighting scene in The Return of the King.  The beacon lighting in Robin Hood fell far short of it's counterpart, however.  The arrows flying overhead at the battle on the beach were like many such scenes in the LOTR trilogy and also like similar scenes in Hero and yet in scope they were somehow lacking that kind of power in Robin Hood.  It was like comparing a pea shooter to a bazooka.  In the beach storming scene, there were several underwater shots  reminiscent of the D-Day scene in Saving Private Ryan but with arrows shooting through the water instead of bullets.  In short, most of the really interesting moments from the film seem to have been lifted from other films.  This was so rampant through this film that I hardly think it was any kind of homage.

All in all I've seen at least six incarnations of Robin Hood, including my personal favorite, The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) with Errol Flynn and the 1922 silent Robin Hood with Douglas Fairbanks.  Of all the Robin Hoods, I would rank this one at or near the bottom battling with Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves for last place.  I tried to like it and I wanted to like it, but alas the filmmakers did not fulfil their part of the contract.  I'm fortunate that we waited to see it in the cheap theatre.

Recommendation:  See this one only if you are an insomniac.

*Note* This review is solely the opinion of the writer. *Note*

Friday, June 11, 2010

Deluxe Witches Broom

Deluxe Witches Broom

This is a variation of a broom prop I have made many times for different productions.  I will post pics of some of the others that I have done so readers can see the difference between the standard version and the deluxe version.  The goal with the deluxe version was to get a broom to look more like the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz.  I'll discuss both versions, and show where I diverged from the standard version.

1.  Materials:
Straw Broom (I bought a nice one for $13, but next time I do it, I'll buy a cheap one for about $7)
  1. Oil Funnel (about $3)
  2. Grass Skirt or Raffia (I found a bag of grass skirts at the local thrift store
  3. Hot Glue (lots of it)
  4. Fabric (ultra suede works well)
  5. Trim
  6. Spray Glue
  7. Spray Paint
  1. Bolt Cutters
  2. Utility Knife
  3. Pliers
  4. Scissors
  5. Glue Gun
  6. Band Saw (can use Jig Saw or Hand Saw)

Step 1-Demolition: 
First you need to remove the metal band.  Bolt cutters work really well for this.  On a cheap broom, there's often not a band at all.  Second you need to remove the plastic twine that holds the bristles in place.  This is done by cutting the twine with a utility knife and then pulling it out with the pliers.

Cutting the twine.

Pulling the twine.

Demolition complete

Architecture of the broom.  If you pull back the outer layer of bristles, you will find a bundle of bristles inside that give the broom volume.  Cheap brooms will have a much smaller bundle or none at all. 

(At this point, by the way, you can choose to make a peasant broom by pulling all the outer bristles up and tying them to the handle with jute twine. That leaves the juncture between the top of the broom and the bottom very ugly, so wrapping that with alot of jute will mask it.)

Or you can continue on and make a witches broom...

Cutting the ferrule

Step 2-The Ferrule: 
 The Ferrule is made from an automotive oil funnel.  The end is cut off to allow it to sleeve down the length of the handle.  It's best to cut a little at a time so as not to cut the hole too big.  This should be a snug fit, and almost be difficult to slide down the broom.

At this point you could choose to make a standard broom or go on to make the deluxe version.  To make the standard witches broom, you need only decorate the handle, the ferrule and distress the bristles.
Decorating the handle can be whatever you like.  I've done it with wrapping leather and tying beads and finger bones into tassles.  You might pound brass furniture tacks into it.  The sky's the limit. 
To decorate the ferrule, I usually use spray adhesive and fabric to cover it, and then add some kind of trim.
To distress the bristles, you can cut them jagged on a band saw (be aware of where your fingers are at all times when using saws) or by hand with scissors.  Then paint them unevenly with brush or spray paint.

Or you could go on to the deluxe version...

Fitting the ferrule.

Step 3-Securing the bristles. 
When you remove the steel band and the plastic twine, you interrupt the integrity of the broom and you need to strengthen it.  This is done by packing alot of hot glue into the bristle array.

Step 4-Attaching the grass skirt. 
This grass skirt was designed for a table, I suppose for a luau decoration.  I started by hot gluing two or three rows around the inner bundle.  The next time I do this project, I will omit this step, because it was a big hassle and I believe it was unnecessary.

Step 5-Attaching the grass skirt part 2.
The grass skirt needs to be attached to the top of the bristle array.  This is done by hot gluing several rows around the top of the bristles where they attach to the broom. 

This is where I got frustrated with this project.  I finally cut most of the outer array of bristles off and just dealt with the grass skirt.  This is why next time I do this project I'll use a cheaper, thinner broom and not worry about the inner/outer bundles.

If you look at the Wicked Witch of the West's broom, you see that it's made of raffia, but has a rigid core which allows it to stand out for a ways before it droops.  This is the reason I didn't just glue the grass skirt to a stick.  I needed the rigid core to accomplish that.

Step 6-Decorating the ferrule.
The ferrule is decorated by applying spray adhesive to both the fabric and the funnel.  It's important to glue both surfaces for a permanent bond, and it's also important after you have sprayed to allow a minute or two of open time to allow the glue to begin to cure.  Don't give too much time, though because that is just as bad as not giving it as much.  Either way you compromise your bond.

Once the fabric is applied to the ferrule, then it's time to decorate the ferrule with fabric trim applied with hotglue.

Fabric attached to ferrule with spray adhesive.

Trim being applied with hotglue

Step 7-Ferrule attached.
The ferrule can be attached with either glue or a mechanical fastener.  I used a pneumatic stapler with 3/4" narrow crown staples

Step 8-Painting
First of all, this is not a good picture of the paint job.  I'll swap this pic for a good one when I get it. 
The painting was accomplished by spraypainting the bristles with Design Master Glossy Wood Tone, Design Master October Brown and Krylon Ultra Flat Black.

Things I'd do Different 
  1. I'd use a cheaper broom with less bristle
  2. I'd not worry about gluing the grass skirt to the inside bristle array
  3. I'd spray the bristles of the broom with spray adhesive to get the grass skirt to lay flat on it.
  4. I'd decorate the handle somehow (I still might) 
This is my first attempt at making a broom this elaborate.  I learned many things as I built it tonight.  The next time I build a broom like this I will update this tutorial.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

My love affair with Halloween

I think my first recollection of Halloween came at about age 5.  My sisters were busy at the elementary school with their Halloween preparations.  They could talk about nothing else.  I knew that there would be trick or treating and spook alleys and the annual Halloween Carnival.  And then the unthinkable happened.  I got sick on Halloween.  I couldn't go to the Carnival, couldn't do anything.  I was heartbroken.

So I did the only thing I could think of and made my own haunted house.  It wasn't much, but it did have a tunnel with cobwebs which I made from a child's table with string taped down on one end, and an electric chair.  My Dad came home from work and I had him go through my haunt.  He was a theatre teacher at the local college, so everything was a production with him.  He made a big deal about the tunnel and acted scared, then I asked him to sit on my electric chair.  He did and then he stood up really fast, because my electric chair consisted of a child's chair, a washcloth, and a straight pin stuck up through the washcloth.  When he stood up, the washcloth was attached to his bottom.

The next year, Mom and Dad dressed me up like a hobo and I went to the Halloween Carnival.  Dad, being a theatre teacher, applied a beard and mustache to my face with spirit gum.  It looked very real and a kid came up to me and yanked on the beard.  When it didn't come off, he was dumbfounded.

When I was in college, I was a Psychology major for awhile, and one of the cool things about the area I lived was that the State Hospital was in our town and every year they had a Haunted Mansion.  This hospital was in an old Gothic Victorian building, so it was already scary, then add to that the fact that all the ghouls were mental patients.  I was okay until the very end when a very big ghoul wearing a hockey mask and a trenchcoat came at me with a chainsaw, and it was going.  When he brushed it across my legs I thought I'd wet myself (for the record, I didn't)  Obviously, the chain had been removed, but the blade was still there. 

My wife has been very good over the years to make really cool costumes for the kids and we've always liked Halloween together.

In recent years I've gotten into extreme  pumpkin carving.  Sometimes I carve portraits, sometimes I carve a pumpkin in a pumpkin.  Usually we have between 8 and 10 carved pumpkins on our porch. 

In the last couple of years, I have been designing the Halloween Concert for the Music Department at the University I teach at.  They have offered to pay me, but I only take a portion of what they offer and take some of the props I built in lieu of full payment.  That's how I ended up with two corpsed skeletons and 4 of my skulls.

It's June 9th and I'm already starting getting my haunt done for next Halloween.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Necronomicon Tutorial

The Necronomicon Tutorial

This is a tutorial for changing the cover of a book, using found objects.  Because most of the items were found kind of happenstance at a thrift store, I don't expect anyone to actually replicate this, rather to use the steps to create your own appliqued books
Many of the steps are covered in more detail on The Dragon Book Tutorial on this blog.
(Click on any of the pictures for a larger image)

1. Ingredients: This project came to be because of a fortuitous trip to the local thrift shop. I found a large book for $4.00, a rubber eye necklace for $.50 and an old "Hippy" belt for $1.00

2.Applique:  For this step, I hot glued a portion of the Hippy belt to the spine, leaving the danglies in case I wanted to tie human finger bones or beads or stones into them later.

I also filled the medallion with hot glue to give it body as it was rather flimsy.

Then I applied the medallion to the book, also with hot glue.  Because the medallion was made of rubber, it didn't take the hot glue very well, so I also nailed it to the book with four brass furniture brads.  They look okay because I worked them into the design.

Step 3.  Substrate:  This step is covered in detail The Dragon Book tutorial.  Do Not Skip This Step.  I use either Jaxsan 600 or ViCryl, but I think Monster Mud would probably work if it were applied very thinly.  Basically the substrat is used to give things a common texture so it will look uniform when painted.

Step 4.  Layout:  I picked an Art Nouveau font for this book because it seemed appropriate.  I laid it out by counting the letters in the word, dividing by two, finding center on the book, starting in the middle of the word laying it out in both directions.  That way the word is centered.  I laid it out in pencil first then inked it with a sharpie.

Finished inking, now onto the next step.

Step 5.  Raised Lettering:  On the dragon book my daughter said I should do raised lettering, I didn't want to do it, but in between that book and this one, I decided I should try.  After it was laid out and inked, I went over the inking with hot glue, trying very carefully to fill in all the black lines.

Done with the raised letters.

Step 6.  Painting:  This step is also covered in more detail in The Dragon Book Tutorial.  I am fortunate to have a spray booth where I work, so I do my spray painting there and avoid toxic fumes.  The first step is to base coat, and I did this with a red and a magenta spray paint.  (note, I also taped out the eye medallion before I started to keep the paint from it.)

Then I did the spray and daub technique described in The Dragon Book Tutorial.  The paint color I use for this is Design Master Glossy Wood Tone.  It is sprayed on the book and immediately daubed off with a paper towel, leaving a very convincing faux leather look.

Step 7:  Nailheads:  The book didn't look finished to me, so I added some nailheads (brass studs that can be found in the craft area of most fabric stores)  The nailheads look a bit bright here, but not to worry, they'll be knocked down in a later step.

Step 7:  Metal Leafing:  This step is also covered in greater detail in The Dragon Book Tutorial.

Applying the adhesive

Applying the metal leaf

Burinshing the leaf with a clean, dry brush

Leafing and burnishing done

Step 8:  Schmutzing:  Actually, I really only posted this tutorial because I didn't have my cameral available when I did this step on The Dragon Book Tutorial.

If you have applied metal leaf and nailheads, now is the time to dim them with a light dusting of Glossy Wood Tone.

Schmutzing is one of the details that give the book an old look, a used look, a dusty look.  It makes the book look credible.  It's acheived by taking some dark brown junk paint and laying it out randomly on the book, and then immediately dipping your brush in water and watering down the paint you have just applied. 

Oh Oh, this looks bad, doesn't it?

You can also use the paper towel to remove the wet paint from areas you don't wish it to be.  This will also take the glossy appearance away from the Glossy Wood Tone.  I think that is essential for a credible project.  I also gilded the edges of the pages with gold spray paint, also in the technique described in The Dragon Book Tutorial.

After the Schmutzing is dry (and I always use a hair dryer to help me get it that way because I'm impatient), I like to add a bit of flat sealer because I don't like the way the Schmutz paint feels when I hold it.

Voila, the finished book!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Gallery of oddball props

I have been a professional properties master at the regional theatre level, I put myself through college as a properties master, and now that I'm a college professor, I teach a properties class.  Here are some examples of prop work I have done.  Some of it is for the class, some of it is for plays, some of it is for Halloween, and some of it is just for fun.

You can click on the images for bigger pictures.

Sven Forkbeard-Prop head I made for demonstration in my props class last semester.
I used a modified "skullandbone" technique.  The tutorial for this can be found online at
Sven-Showing cause of death

The Book of Count-This is a joint project.  We built this book for the play, "Everyman".  Jules Isaacs built the insides and I did the cover detail, build up, leafing, nailheads, painting etc...  The book was built on the "Magic Coloring Book" premise.  When Everyman looked through the book at the beginning, it was blank, but after he had scourged himself and repented of his sins, he opened it and all the pages were full.  It caused some ooh's and aah's from the audience, because he did it in full view and the book never left the stage.  pretty cool effect.

A full sized Bucky corpse that I did for the pirate themed Halloween concert at the University I teach at.  They offered me cash, I took the skeletons!

The other full sized Bucky skeleton for the Halloween concert.  This one lives in my office and mysteriously finds himself in my office chair, or hanging in the elevator from time to time.  I don't know how that happens, but every now and then I get a note from the custodial crew...

A grail I made with a student for the play, "Everyman".  We used a technique that I came up with.  Basically you frankenstein a brass bowl and a brass candlestick together.  This one we silver leafed.

A few more grails, some more elaborate than others.  It's my goal to have as many grails as the knight in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" by the time I retire.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

How my Dad died

My Dad was larger than life.  Everybody who knew him knew that.  It was funny too, that at his funeral several people almost argued over which one of them was my Dad's favorite.  The truth was that they all were.  Dad had the singular ability to make anyone he met feel special and important.

He was an actor and a director of plays.  He was quite the showman.  Whenever he entered the room, it always seemed a little brighter around him.

Several years ago, Dad survived Leukemia.  It took alot out of him and he confided that he never wanted to go through chemo again.  He never seemed to have as much energy after that experience.  Nevertheless, he tended his orchard, cared for a prodigious vegetable garden and made countless doll cradles for his granddaughters.  Sometimes he found time to golf a few holes.

About a month and a half before he passed away, I had borrowed his pickup and was intent on returning it.  I called him up with the intent to return it and he began melodramatically describing his horrible golf day and claimed it was over, he could die now.  He went on and on, as he was wont to do.  So I asked rather innocently, "Does that mean I don't have to return your truck?"  He sputtered  a bit and said I needed to return it.  It was all in good fun, but as I look back there was a bit of self fulfilling prophecy at work.  A month an a half later he was dead and I ended up with the truck.

Dad didn't feel well that day, but he and Mom decided to go on an Alaskan cruise anyway.  Dad looked really unwell in the cruise pictures.  When they got back, Dad went to the doctor and found out that he had Melanoma, and it was all through him.  It was terminal.  All of us had always considered Dad to be an immortal, so it came as quite a shock to us when we found out he wasn't going to beat this one.

Dad was a quick study, though.  Once he found out he was terminal, he was ready to get on with it.  He went downhill really fast, and then he kind of leveled off for a few days as if he didn't know what to do.  He hadn't ever died before so he needed some direction.  They went to the oncologist again and the good doctor told them what to expect.  He also said it could take weeks or months to go through the next steps.  When he got home from the doctor's office, it was as if he said, "alright, now I have a script, I can get to work."

What the doctor said would take weeks or months for him to do took days and weeks.  At the very end, he leveled off again, and the hospice nurse came in and told us what to expect, and she said it could take days or weeks.  Once she gave him his next "script", it took him hours to finish the job.

I got a call on November 10th that the end was nigh and we needed to come and see him.  Halfway there, I told my wife, "Dad won't die today, he'll wait until tomorrow."  She thought I was ridiculous for saying that, but I explained that Dad's favorite play was "Seventh Heaven".  In a nutshell, it's about Chico and Diane, two lovers during WWI.  Chico goes to war and is presumed dead.  Diane tries to make do as best she can, but her evil sister tracks her down and starts to beat her and is going to sell her into prostitution, but then miraculously, on Armistice Day, November 11th, Chico returns, blinded but saves the day and casts the evil sister out.  I told her that Dad would wait until Armistice Day to die.  As a kid, I remember Dad pointing out every 11th of November that "on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the armistice was signed".  It was an important day to him.

Dad stabilized, and we went home.  The next day, Armistice Day, my wife and I drove to Rigby to see him.  My family all gathered and at 11 O'clock we had a family prayer and my brother, Lloyd gave him permission to die.  After that I read him one of his favorite poems that he had read at countless funerals, Tennyson's "Crossing the Bar."  When I read the line, "I hope I meet my maker to his face when I have crossed the bar.", Dad squeezed my hand.  He still had a strong grip to the end.

He lingered throughout the day, and we took turns sitting with him.  Mostly he slept.  One time when I was in with him, he awoke and said he had had a dream.  I quizzed him about it and he indicated that someone in his dream was asking him to come with him.  He wasn't sure who it was.  About four O'clock in the afternoon,  my sister Paula ushered us all into the room and Dad was thrashing around on the bed.  He was saying over and over again, "I'm cold!  I'm so cold!"  My sister-in-law, Renee ran to the laundry room and got hot towels from the dryer and draped them on him which calmed him down almost immediately.  Then he got a surprised look on his face and proclaimed, "I'm dying.  I'm dying!  I have to go.  Let me go!"  Then he threw the covers off and started to crawl out of bed, reaching towards someone we couldn't see.  Mom and my brother Bruce both grabbed his hands and stroked them and told him it was okay, he could go.  We'd all miss him desperately, but he needed to go and they gave him permission to do so.  Dad settled back onto the pillow, took some deep breaths, sunk into the "death rattles" and passed from this life.

I told the oncologist this story and he told me that it was remarkable because people with cancer that far advanced usually can't feel temperature and at the end are usually unable to speak.  Of course it wasn't remarkable to me, because it was my Dad.  He lived extraordinarily and he died extraordinarily.  That was to be expected of him.  He died well.  Anyway, the oncologist said, "Gary, you don't understand.  Your Dad made and exit!"  And that was a great way to characterize that great actor's demise from this world.

When we organized the funeral, we decided to honor Dad by making the funeral one hour.  He always liked promptness when he directed a show.  My oldest sister, and my two brothers each gave speeches, my other sisters, the granddaughters and one of Mom and Dad's friends who is a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir all sang songs in between the speeches, and I also read four poems from Dad's favorite book of poetry in between the speeches.  The program looked like it would be a very lengthy funeral, but we honored him and kept it right to an hour.  Prior to the funeral, we told the bishop of their church, who was to preside over the funeral that if he wanted to say anything he could do it at the beginning of the service, but that we didn't want him to do so at the end.  We had it planned out to the last detail and didn't want him to ruin the climax (the Mormon Tabernacle Choir lady's solo) with some homespun platitudes.  He honored our wishes and it was a glorious funeral.  Since he was a WWII veteran, an honor guard from the Idaho National Guard gave him a 21 gun salute, and my nephew, Brett who was in the Marine Corps assisted in folding the flag and presented it to my mother.

I miss him.