Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve!

Christmas Eve has changed a lot in my house over the last few years.  I'm going through my second adulthood it appears, putting away childish excitement and dealing with the day-to-day.  Evidently the rest of the world is doing the same.  I'm seeing all kinds of post Christmas sales, store hours opening on Christmas, and the local McDonalds is open all day on Christmas.  Weird.  I remember when the whole town used to shut down for Christmas, except for 7-11.  Now it's like the holiday is hardly a speedbump on the way to the end of the year.

As the father of five kids, Christmas Eve always promise a special kind of mischief all its own.  Kids remained underfoot while my wife and I baked and tried to finish wrapping presents in secret, and struggled not to go crazy.

Then my four oldest kids grew up and moved away.  My 13 year old gets excited about Christmas these days, something he didn't do when he was younger, to the chagrin of his siblings.  They could wake him up on Christmas morning and he'd just go back to sleep.  They got aggravated because I always held that no one could open presents until everyone was opening presents.  Then we all opened them in order and celebrated what was received.

This year my mom passed away and we don't have the Christmas journey to make that was always a standard, weather permitting.

Over the years, the promise and wonder of Christmas has seemed to have gotten more tarnished than ever.  I've never been a big Christmas person.  The season has always gotten on my nerves because there are tense people everywhere.  It took me years to figure that out.  I didn't know why I didn't enjoy Christmas the way other people did, but I never have.  Still don't.  I tend to pick up on emotional energy from people around me, which is why I seldom get around in groups and only do so when I'm teaching or doing presentations.  Being around others exhaust me.  It's a wonder I survived a houseful of kids, but now I understand why I'd come home worn out from teaching, coaching, and conventions.

All those things I do out of love, but they take a toll on me.

Today Sherry is watching two of the grandkids while trying to bake.  Needless to say, she'll be exhausted by end of day.  Chandler is playing WOW, hoping to level up enough today to become a Death Knight.

And I'm working, thinking about Christmases past.  When my brothers and I were small, we all had to sleep in the same bed on Christmas Eve.  We got very little sleep but the excitement of the day always tired us out.  My older kids were like that too.  Chandler has reminded us over the last few days how many days were left to Christmas.  He's excited, but that hasn't deterred him from killing orcs or goblins or trolls or whatever it is he's battling.

Tomorrow we'll be joining one of my boys at his house for Christmas supper.  Lately we've been able to get together as a family again.  All of us were together for my birthday, and nearly all of us were together for oldest Matt's birthday.  Sherry and I have got to build an addition onto the house so we can fit all of us into the house for family nights.

For me, the togetherness is best of all.  So maybe some things haven't changed.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Lincoln Lawyer

I read the book and really enjoyed it.  The movie looks like it's going to be a blast as well.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ranch Diablo Hangrope Law Now On Sale At Amazon!

James Reasoner has written the second volume in this stirring tale of the Old West.  Sam Blaylock and his family are still settling into their new home west of the Brazos River when trouble rides onto their spread.  The arrival of Orion Pike brings lawmen and owlhoots to the Blaylocks' door, and Sam has to stand tall to keep his family safe.

By it for the Kindle here.  It's a lot of Old West adventure for $2.99.  And you can download a FREE sample.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Batman Arkham City

The trailer for this one just rocks my boat.

The last Batman game had an excellent mix of gameplay and story.

Here's hoping for more of the same.  :)

OU Finals Bring Out Heroes????

It's Finals Week at OU.  I can't decide if the students just aren't stressing like normal, or if maybe the stress got to them.  Of course, that's assuming there is a "normal" for college students.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Zombie Plan of Action

My thirteen year old constantly amazes me.  Of all my children, he's the one that looks at the world most like me. Which is to say, with equal parts curiosity, paranoia, and a willingness to believe almost anything.  I picked him up from school yesterday and he couldn't wait to tell me about the plan he and some of his buddies designed to deal with a potential zombie apocalypse.

To begin with, most parents don't have kids to look at zombie apocalypses realistically.  I choose to believe I'm blessed with my son's imagination.  His mother says she is going to get back with me on that.

As I drive out of the parking lot, Chandler details what he and his friends will do.  He and one his buddies are responsible for weapons.  Both of them already have swords, and Chandler pointed out that having a sword is important because you don't have to reload a sword.  (See?  He does think like me!) The other boy's father also makes armor for medieval fairs and the like.  The third boy will handle communications.

When the apocalypse breaks out, Chandler and his friends will meet up at the Golden China restaurant, although Chandler isn't exactly sure where that is.  He's going to find out.  After that, they will fight their way to Wal-Mart, grab all the guns in the sporting goods section, and find the closest two story building they can.  They will board up all the windows of the lower floor and take up positions.

One further detail totally cracked me up.  None of the boys know where any of the others lives.  They're going to keep it that way.  That way if one of them gets turned into a zombie, they won't show up at one of their friend's house ready to chow on brains.

That actually makes sense to me.  One thing I have decided, if a zombie apocalypses ever does happen, I want Chandler at my side.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Special: American Dad Kills Santa!

Some days I feel sorry for my wife.  She's stuck in a house with two guys (one 53 and the other 13 and together they hit an age of about 5 on most days) who love moronic and potentially emotionally upsetting humor.  I'm gonna be an adult and assume part of the responsibility.  No one should ever have left me in charge of children.  I tend to point out the macabre and twisted with the same passion I point out the noble and virtuous.  You just can't have one without the other, folks.  You don't get just one side of a coin.  Even a double-headed quarter will have more imperfections on one side than the other.  Ask Two-Face.

My wife and I grew up with Charlie Brown Christmas (which I ordered for her this week so she can show it to her class), and other Christmas classics involving Rudolph and Frosty the Snowman.  These were all cheery little productions designed to make kids feel all warm and tingly during the holiday season.

Chandler is geared more for Family Guy, American Dad, and South Park.  He gets all the insane humor, jokes, and twisted views of the world.  And he's corrupted me into enjoying many of the same shows.  Just for clarification, though, Chandler and I do watch Generator Rex, Batman:  Brave and the Bold, Sci-Fi Science, and Brink together as well.  We believe in heroes and we share an interest in science and emerging technology.

We put the tree up last night because we actually got behind this season with school and stupid sickness which I hope means we'll be healthy for Christmas.  Putting the tree up generally involves watching Sherry get everything together and make it all happen.  Watching her micro-managing Chandler as they put the lights and the beads on the tree was hilarious.  Much barking and emotional drama ensued, and it was only further complicated by the tomcat pouncing on the various strands of whatever they were working with.  It was a funnier Christmas tree decorating sessions than I've seen in a long time.  You'd think two people would pull this off easily.

While the tree decorating was going on, Chandler watched the Family Guy Christmas special, which was pretty funny when Stewie and Brian had to fill in for a sick and ailing Santa.  I mean, c'mon.  Who wouldn't love watching the two of them arguing over how Christmas was supposed to be done?  Only take a bite of the cookie and sip the milk.  Instead, Brian eats all the cookie, drinks all the milk, and decides to go into the kitchen to make a sandwich.  While there, the man of the house discovers them (they had to break in because they couldn't get the cannibalistic reindeer to cooperate) and they kill him and put him in the closet.

Sherry was shocked and offended by this "Christmas" special.  Chandler and I were in tears because we were laughing so hard.

In fact, Chandler got so immersed in the story that he started hanging all the Christmas bulbs on the same branch.  Sherry stopped handing them to him and him why he was doing that.  He looked at her and stated, deadpan, "It's hard to find really good branches."

I lost it and thought I was going to die.

Then we swung into the American Dad Christmas special.  Stan gets Steve an AK-47 assault rifle for Christmas so they can attempt to bond.  Steve accidentally kills a Santa standing unseen behind a snowman.  When Stan runs the guy's prints, they aren't in the system.  Francine discovers the body and makes the family bury it, and she gripes about the fact that they wouldn't let her cut off the dead man's hands and bash out his teeth.  Stan and Steve and Hayley are appalled, but Francine says they should do this right if they're going to do it.

After that, the family discovers it's all-out war and Santa has sworn to kill them.  Chandler and I were in stitches when Stan and the family break out automatic weapons and start gunning down Santa's elves and reindeer.  It was a classic war movie in minutes, and Chandler and I were laughing so hard we were about to pass out.

Poor Sherry.  She sat there trapped in the room with us and undoubtedly wondered how she could have gone so wrong.  Christmas with a bodycount!  Maybe it's not a new Christmas tradition many families can embrace, but Chandler and I know these shows put the fun back into the holiday spirit by spinning it on its ear and being so outlandish.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Thor Movie Trailer

When I was growing up on comics, figuring out why I always wanted to use my powers for good, I never dreamed that most of those heroes would one day end up on movies screens.  Adults just didn't get the comics heroes and didn't want to hear about them.  I can still remember when I found out the television show The Avengers was about British secret agents and not about Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, the Wasp, and the Hulk.  Of course, Diana Rigg made up for that somewhat in my adolescent years when I fell in love with the reruns.

I've got five kids.  Only two of them know most of the superheroes and their secret identities.  My two youngest boys are big comics kids too.  Don't know where I went wrong with the first three.

Today my son Shiloh hit me up with the info about the new Thor movie trailer hitting the internet.  He keeps up with these things better than I do.

I've been keeping up with the movie stuff pretty much, and I have to admit that I was pretty stoked when I saw the teaser that was on at the end of the Hulk movie.  After seeing the movie trailer, I'm a little wary but stoked anyway.  The plot looks like a redemption thing, which is pretty cool, but if Thor isn't in the costume swinging Mjolnir a lot of the time, I'm gonna be disappointed.

I loved the original Thor series by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.  There was a lot of power and pathos in the push/pull between Dr. Don Blake and Thor, about which one of them was the real man.  Of course, later those two identities got raked over the coals as writers tried to find new ways to twist the conceit.  Personally, I really like what J. Michael Stracyznski did with the series when he had it.  The idea of Thor living in Oklahoma was the bomb.

I think everyone enjoys a falling from grace story and a guy on the comeback trail, the kind of character that sees where he has done wrong and has a chance to balance the scales.  Very few of the Thor stories in the comics were like this, but the plot has been touched on.  The Norse mythos are rich with possibilities and interesting characters, so over the years much was added and twisted.

On May 6, I'm going to be in the theater cheering Thor on, and hoping they get this one right.  I've really liked the Iron Man movies, looking forward to the Captain America movie, and am wondering what they think they're doing rebooting the Spider-Man franchise.  But these are the heroes I grew up with and I'm getting to see something I never thought I would.  Bring on the heroes!  The fans are waiting!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Soap Operas With Zombies And Shootouts!

I've gotten my thirteen year old addicted to soap operas.  I didn't mean to, but it happened.  He likes stories with characters that go through trials and tribulations and come out better people.  Or just survive.  I've been reading books like that to him all his life that he can remember.

I didn't warn him about the addictive (and frustrating) nature of soap operas.

When I was a kid, my mom watched General Hospital.  She did up until the very end, and she's got one of my brothers hooked on it too.  I didn't care for them because they were painfully glacial in development.  I cut my teeth on Tarzan, Doc Savage, and the Shadow.  Pulp style stories where everything happened on every page and there was a neat ending.

You don't get that in soap operas.  Things move along and continue, and you keep waiting for the next penny to drop.  Instead, the writers tend to hold back the really important events and keep baiting you.

Case in point:  In The Walking Dead Rick Grimes was thought dead and doesn't know his partner Shane slept with his wife Lori.  Chandler and I are both waiting to see that particular nugget to hit the fan.  We thought we were going to see it in the last episode of this season's series when Lori scratched Shane for coming on too strong.

Didn't happen.  *sigh*  Now we're gonna be waiting for months.

So far, Chandler hasn't shown any signs of frustration.  He's just hyper interested.  I've been talking to him, letting him know that it'll probably be a while before we see that happen even next season.  I've read the comics and have seen the particular resolution on that, but the television series has already taken some wicked twists and turns so I'm not sure what's going to shake out in the long run.  Alternate history Walking Dead.

I got him hooked on another soap opera earlier in the year.  Thought Justified was just going to be a shoot 'em up cop show.  One of crime writer Elmore Leonard's most popular characters, Raylan Givens, stars in this series.  The premise is that he has to return home to the small Kentucky coal town he grew up in and deal with his criminal father, old friends, an ex-wife, and figure out where he's supposed to fit in all of that.

And whether he wants to stay.

Chandler and I sat down every Tuesday and watched the episodes, wondering what was going to happen next and how much trouble Raylan was going to get into.  Then we'd howl at the moon at where we sometimes got left.  But we're gonna be back for Season Two in February, and we're picking up the first season when it comes out on DVD.

I know Chandler and I aren't going to go around telling people we're watching soap operas.  Nope, we're gonna insist we're watching shows about surviving the zombie apocalypse and quick draw US Marshals.  We'll play down all that sissy stuff about waiting to see how characters end up (in love or not).  But it still matters to us.  We just don't want to admit it and lose man points.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Drive Angry

While watching The Warrior's Way this weekend, I caught the trailer for this movie and have got to go see it in January.  I love this kind of brainless action, and I enjoyed The Warrior's Way for the same reason.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

On the Road with Audiobooks!

Over Thanksgiving, my wife, son and i ended up taking a road trip that put us traveling 12 hours a day two days of that brief break.  Spending that much time in a vehicle is always daunting.  We have a media center that plays videos in the back, as well as allow video game systems to be plugged in, but it separates the group.

When the kids were smaller, that was okay.  They had their music players (and later the media center), and Sherry and I had audiobooks filled with mystery, suspense, and danger.  The older kids would occasionally listen in, but not many good audiobooks were made for kids.  Nothing really caught their attention.  And everybody (including Sherry) would die if I put in a Star Trek book or anything SF.


I love mysteries and suspense, but I want to spend part of my life exploring other worlds and solar systems.

Thankfully, kidlit has truly blossomed over the past few years.  Sherry, Chandler, and I absolutely LOVE traveling with kidlit audiobooks.  There's something for everyone in those stories.  And so many of them are fantasy or SF that provide plenty of interesting characters, active plots, and great dialogue.  Toss in a reader who has command of a range of voices, and it's definitely bliss.

Now we don't go on any long trips without loading up at the local library or buying some of our favorite series for the road.

I recommend:

The Pendragon series by D J MacHale
The Ranger's Apprentice by John Flanagan
Gordon Korman (anything because he's full of humor)
The Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull
The Last Apprentice by Joseph Delaney
The Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz
The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan
The Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
The Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld (although you're missing out on some really cool art!)

What we have discovered is that we enjoy sharing the story.  We stop the book from time to time and make guesses about what's going to happen, or we extrapolate on things we learned, or things that were just really cool.  Sometimes we adlib dialogue that should have been in the books or add our own plot twists that would have gone in very different directions.

I've imagined that this is what it was like back in the old days before television, before plays, and during times that even books were hard to get hold of.  A storyteller would descend in front of an audience, then spin out a tale that captured the imaginations of everyone there.  And the audience would whisper to each other, share thoughts and suspicions, and become totally immersed in the fiction.

If you haven't tried an audiobook during a long trip with the family, you should.  Everyone loves being read to, and you'd be surprised at how even teenagers will get sucked into a good narrative.  Experiment with authors and stories, and remember that you have to spend a little time developing an ear for this kind of entertainment.

My family loves it.  During this past Thanksgiving, we listened to three audiobooks.

Friday, December 03, 2010

The Warrior's Way

Okay, this is one my wife won't go see, but my kid and I are gonna occupy two of the seats this weekend.  Cowboys and ninjas?  How can you pass up something like that?

Chandler has always avoided the violent video games and movies, and I've been fine with that.  I believe kids are often better moral compasses for themselves than adults.  It's out job to keep them between the ditches, but they decide when they're ready for different aspects of adulthood.  So I've never forced him to watch violent movies or play violent games.  On the other hand, I don't steer him away from them as long as there's an underlying good versus evil storyline and he uses his powers for good.

I still believe in heroes, and some of them just kick butt.

Geoffrey Rush is in this one too.  He seems to be capturing a lot of screen time at the moment with a few movies coming out.  This role has pulp roots, just like his Captain Barbossa in Pirates of the Caribbean.  The movie may be historically wrong and way over the top, but I'm rooting for it.

And again, there is an underlying theme of honor in this film.  Even cheesy honor is worth something.  My son will grow up believing in heroes too -- they'll just have incredibly sword skills and be able to leap through the air.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Why Men Usually Choose Restaurants

It's Thursday, which means I'm working at home.  I teach at OU two days a week and usually read students' papers after Wednesday night deliveries.  Usually things are quiet and I get my work done.  My wife is teaching school and my 13 year old is getting taught.

Today, however, Sherry had a meeting at school with a scheduled lunch period, something she rarely gets.  So she called me and asked me if I had lunch plans.  (You see, males aren't the only ones who don't listen when spouses talk.)

I had no plans, so she wanted to do lunch.  I said sure.  I'm easy like that.

She came to pick me up, and I've never been one to turn down curb service.  Sherry still likes me, and she loves to talk to me.  I generally sit quietly and listen.  That helps out a lot because she's been under a lot of stress this year with her class.  Getting papers in, dealing with parents, trying to figure out how to get a system in place that works.

Needless to say, she was brimming over with the need to get it all out.  I climb into the passenger seat in her van and she starts in on me.  It's like walking into a buzzsaw.  I sit quietly -- run silent, run deep.  I've been married long enough to know to be quiet and not assume I can solve the problems of the world.

So she's driving, stops in the middle of her diatribe, and asks me where we're going.  You see, we hadn't decided that.  Before I could really say anything, she starts talking again.  We drive on a few more blocks.  She stops and asks where she's going.  I say I don't care.  She starts driving, she starts talking, and she stops again, once more wanting to know where we're going.

See, it's the guy's job to have a plan in place.  That allows women to just talk about whatever is on their minds.  This is the male function.  To set the trip destination and to listen.

This is how it works:  I suggest a restaurant and she agrees or tells me she'd rather go somewhere else.  That way her decision is a stimulus response.  She doesn't have to actually think about where we're eating.  She either accepts my suggestion or she nixes it and replaces it with one of her own -- all within the space of a drawn breath.  That decision is hardly a blip on her radar screen of chosen conversation.

After all these years of marriage, I have learned that I am there to provide a select and very important service:  to facilitate her ability to convey whatever concerns her at the moment without day-to-day business intruding.

I'm going to compare notes with a few male friends and see if they can relate to this experience.  I think I'm onto a whole new dynamic that I should have recognized years ago.