Sunday, February 22, 2015

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Hello, world! I've been out of it for several weeks. First I got sick for about a week, then I was recovering from being sick, and then I decided that further rest was in order. But now I'm back! I'm still feeling tired and less energetic, and I blame that on the cold weather and lack of sunlight. I'm ready for spring and warmer temperatures. At some point I'm going to write a serious blog but today I just feel like thinking about things I like, so, without further ado, here's a list of some of my favorite things.

1) The sweatpants I'm wearing right now. My mom and I went shopping yesterday and she bought me some fabulous clothes for my birthday but I'm 100% sure that this pair of sweatpants is the best thing I've ever put on in my entire life. Cozy, non-staticky, front AND back pockets, loose but form-fitting. If I could wear these pants 24/7 I would. Also, they look more stylish than the usual sweatpants.

2) Cups of hot tea. I have about thirty kinds of tea in my pantry, some in bags, some loose leaf. Some black, green, and white; flavored and unflavored; caffeinated and decaf--it's all good.

3) Holly Black. She's not a Thing, but she makes the list because I just finished her newest novel, The Darkest Part of the Forest, and it reaffirmed how much I love her books. I started reading her novels when I was a senior in high school and I've continued to love everything she's published. As I stare out the window at the woods across the street I can just imagine that somewhere, nestled in a clearing, is a glass coffin where a beautiful fairy prince lies in eternal sleep, waiting for someone to break his spell...

4) Cats. Whenever I have a stressful day coming home to my two cats, Courbet and Alan, is an instant uplift. They're always so happy to see me and there's something amazingly therapeutic about holding a soft, purring cat. Every time I see strange cats outside I want to take them home. Yes, I am a little cat crazy.

5) Posters. I have TONS of posters. As a 26 year old I feel that I should have outgrown my love of posters and developed a more sophisticated decorating style but...not so much. Instead I have posters of pretty much everything I like: anime, Loki, famous artworks, maps, David Tennant, more anime...

6) Neftlix and Hulu. For the obvious reasons: I love watching TV series, movies, and anime.

7) Tomato soup. This is a staple in my life. Instant comfort food, no matter what time of year. Come home from work and I don't feel like making anything...where is that can of tomato soup? I should really find a poster of that Andy Warhol work, Campbell's Soup Cans.

This is not a complete list, by any means, this is just the top seven things that popped in my head while I was typing. My brain's in a bit of a whimsical state right now. If I didn't have to go to work tomorrow (and if I had enough money) I would head out for the mountains and go hiking and exploring. However, since that's not an option I'm going to bury myself in stories and dream.

Until next time...

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Jupiter Ascending

I believe in going to see movies based on your own instincts instead of going based on what reviewers say about a movie. I knew that I wanted to see "Jupiter Ascending" way back in 2013 when I saw the trailer. I didn't really know why I wanted to see it, I just felt like it looked really cool and it had Channing Tatum. Reasons enough, in my book. I saw the movie tonight and I absolutely loved it! My expectations were met: it was really freaking cool, Channing Tatum was pretty awesome, and it was so much fun.

Image from http://www.movienewz.com/img/gallery/
jupiter-ascending/posters/jupiter_ascending_movie_
poster_2.jpg
The plot in a nutshell: Jupiter Jones (played by Mila Kunis) is living in Chicago with her family (all of them Russian immigrants) and working as a maid with her mother and aunt. She hates her life--being broke, working all the time, sharing a room with two other women--but then her simple life is turned upside down when aliens arrive and try to abduct her. Yep, aliens. One the one hand you've got the super scary cool bounty hunter types who look like they've arrived from "Blade Runner," and on the other hand you've got the "Men in Black" classic alien types that are little scary dudes passing as humans. And then you have Channing Tatum as Caine, a "splice" (human spliced with wolf genes). Caine was once a mighty warrior but he killed an aristocrat so he's now working as a hunter. Caine is sent to retrieve Jupiter for Titus Abrasax. The bounty hunters were sent by Titus' sister, Kalique. The scary, classic alien assassins were sent by the other Abrasax sibling, Balem. Why do they want Jupiter? Because she's the reoccurance (think reincarnation) of their mother and, as a reoccurance, she is royalty and Earth belongs to her. And everyone wants Earth because Earth has a very valuable population of humans, humans that will one day be harvested and used to make an elixir that keeps the rich and powerful in the universe young forever; it's the lethal industry that has kept the Abrasax family alive and prosperous for millennia. In sum: the Abrasax are out for Jupiter in order to gain possession of Earth.

This is a movie that I wish I had seen in 3D. Watching Channing Tatum flying all around Chicago with his anti-gravity boots was so cool! And all of the alien worlds and space ships were incredible! I'm a sucker for slick, beautifully imagined futuristic worlds so I loved every moment of it. The costumes are so gorgeous, especially the wedding scene: those aliens are wearing what the people of The Capitol (Hunger Games) wish they could wear. Heck, I might have even contemplated marrying Titus just to have a chance to wear this fantastic wedding dress.
Image from http://www.glamour.com/images/weddings/2015/01/1-
mila-kunis-wedding-dress-pictures-jupiter-ascending-0130-courtesy-w724.jpg

Image from https://41.media.tumblr.com/
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Finally, Channing Tatum was amazing. His character design was like a mashup of bits and pieces of every paranormal romance hero: pointy ears, wolf fangs, angel wings (at the end of the movie), big tattoo, lots of scars, leather wardrobe, and a very fit physique. Not a fan of the facial hair, but no one's perfect. I like that his character was "complicated" but not overly angsty. The movie goes at a fast pace so you're not overly tortured wondering when Caine and Jupiter are finally going to get over the whole "You're a royal and I'm a lowly dog" issue. (Btw, I love Jupiter's response to this speech: "I love dogs!"). The Abrasax siblings were really interesting and it was especially fun to see Eddie Redmayne playing such as crazy character. And Sean Bean was in the movie which was a huge plus. His house was really cool: basically it's an old country home that's gradually turning into a bee hive. Oh, and this movie explains what happened to the dinosaurs. As one reviewer said, this film is that is "full of ridiculous and joyful moments." (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/07/jupiter-ascending_n_6632348.html)

What you can expect from this film: pure entertainment. That's it. It's the middle of winter and this movie brought quite a bit of enjoyment into my life. If I can scrounge up the money I'll try to see it while it's still in IMAX 3D because that would be awesome. Until next time...

Sunday, February 1, 2015

DIY with Dabney

What I look like when I'm trying to solve a problem/doing
research. 
This Saturday I finally did something that I've been wanting to do for about a year: I fixed my laptop. Last year my laptop started having all sorts of issues with the display. If I didn't have the screen tilted at just the right angle there would be all sorts of lines and blurriness. Towards the end the screen would randomly start having lines and blurriness even if it was tilted just right. I bore with it for as long as I could because I couldn't afford to have my computer fixed by a professional and I was nervous about trying to do it myself (I'm an English major/art minor, not an IT girl). I ended up borrowing a MacBook Pro from work and set about researching how to fix my laptop.

I got my laptop (Toshiba Satellite) back in 2006 as a high school graduation present from my neighbors, the Johnsons. Since then I've only had to take in my laptop for repairs once because it was overheating and subsequently shutting down. (Found out that there was a lot of cat hair in that computer...). I've also had to replace the power cord a couple of times, at least once because the kittens decided to chew on the cord. All that to say, this computer has been really reliable and it's well traveled. I've taken my Toshiba to four countries and all over the United States. By the grace of God I have managed to not spill anything on it, which is actually a miracle because I spill drinks and other things all the time (Breaking news! I just spilled coffee on the carpet! Le sigh). So, other than the screen malfunction that developed last year the only other problem I've had is that the CD/DVD drive stopped working, so I bought an external drive that you plug into the USB slot. Maybe I'll get around to fixing this one day but right now it's not an issue.
Pardon the image quality. FYI: the wallpaper is of Rin and
Haru from "Free! Iwatobi Swim Club."
Okay...so how did I fix the laptop? First I did some research to find out what was wrong. After visiting various sites and watching some Youtube videos I decided that there was probably something wrong with the LCD cable. I found a really great site that has step by step instructions, with photos, on how to take apart my model of laptop and how to replace parts. Here are the sites: 

I bought a nifty little screwdriver kit at Walmart that has 72 different screwdriver bits so I was all set to handle those really weird screws that are used to hold a laptop together. I also got some compressed air and a paintbrush for any cleaning/dusting, a bright little flashlight, some tweezers, and tape. With much trepidation I turned on my Pandora playlist and set about disassembling my laptop. I took the laptop apart about three times and messed around with some of the cords to try and figure out if the LCD cable was indeed defective or if it just wasn't secured properly. Through trial and error I decided that I would need to ordered a new cable (in the meantime I inadvertently made the problem worse...the screen was almost totally dark unless it was almost all the way closed). I wish I had pictures for this whole process but my camera is on the fritz. Fixing the camera is my next project.
The tools. Again, sorry for the blurry picture!
I got a new cable ordered from Hong Kong for about $14 with free shipping and then I waited about two-three weeks for it to arrive. The package got here last week and yesterday I finally got to do the repair work and replaced the cable. And it worked!! I can't tell you how pleased I was. This was a major accomplishment for me because I started out with no knowledge or experience but was able to learn and fix a technical problem. I'm really glad this worked out! Right now I'm doing more research on how to improve my laptop (make it run faster, etc.). 
The source of the problems: the LCD cable. To be fair, this
guy has been plugging away for almost ten years.
What I've learned from this experience is that taking apart electronics is really fun and interesting. You can find the answers to almost anything on the Internet, as well as good advice on what to fix yourself and what you should send to the professionals. I gained confidence in my abilities to learn and follow instructions, even when confronting a problem I don't know anything about. Finally, this project helped me appreciate being resourceful. I like DIY projects, everything from sewing to cooking to repairs. If you want to try something for yourself, then go for it! The resources are out there to help you learn and succeed.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Catching up

It's Sunday, the first day of the week and the last gasp of relaxation before the work week commences. I like to keep my Sundays as freed up as possible: church with my parents followed by lunch at their house, then back to Milledgeville to do laundry, clean, read, and prepare for Monday. I'm a pretty solitary person and since I work in a public library where I am constantly interacting with people, I greatly value my alone time after work and on the weekends. This is when I can catch up on projects, books, and just life in general.

Right now I'm catching up on books. I have a stack of books checked out from the library and I need to finish them STAT. That's the great thing about library books: you have to bring them back so there is extra motivation to get down to business and read. I love to buy books but I usually don't read them right away. Weird, I know. Here's a brief synopsis of my most recent reads.

Image from
http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1337026387l/12954620.jpg
Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes. I picked this book because of the cover. I mean, just look at it! It's totally intriguing. This young adult novel is high fantasy and set in the land of Mytica. Mytica is comprised of three countries that have dwelt in peace for a hundred years but unrest has been brewing and all signs point to war. Caught up in the political and magical turmoil are our host of young characters: Cleo the princess of Auranos, Magnus the prince of Limeros, Jonas a rebel from Paelsia, and Lucia a budding sorceress and princess of Limeros. Each character has their own set of problems and flaws that they try to resolve throughout the course of the novel but, since this is a series and not a stand alone work, the novel ends with them all being in rather unpleasant situations. As I read the book I kept thinking, "Can't these kids catch a break?!" Nope. Things keep going from bad to worse. But I think there's hope for them. I'm looking forward to the next book in the series, Rebel Spring.

Image from
http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1322539112l/12891107.jpg
King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. This is book two of The Broken Empire series. The series follows the rise of Jorg Ancrath, a young prince who endured a horrible childhood before running away to lead a group of bandits and then return to reclaim his rightful place. Jorg is a really, really unpleasant character. As a bandit he committed practically every crime that he could and walked away from them all without remorse. He's hellbent on revenge against those who wronged him as a child and murdered his mother and brother. He's volatile, violent, and cunning. But in the war plagued world of The Broken Empire Jorg uses all of his horrors to become not just a survivor, but a conqueror. Is Jorg a hero or a villain? I think he's an antihero and I have no idea what he will do next, which is what makes this series so interesting.

Image from
http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/moviemom/
files/2014/08/the-giver-poster.jpg
The Giver. I read this book way back in the seventh grade and therefore I really don't remember much about it. I recently watched the movie adaptation that came out last year and I enjoyed it. It's one of those cautionary tales of what can occur when humans try to force everyone into a life of peace and sameness. In this futuristic world, humanity lives in isolated communities where everything is highly controlled. Every person is medicated to keep them from feeling emotions. There is no such thing as love or hate. Jobs and families are assigned. Babies are engineered and then given life by birth mothers. The world exists in black and white for color would cause differences and disrupt the sameness. All of this is enacted in order to avoid crime and war, the darkness within humanity. But as one boy is given the memories of mankind's history, he begins to see the flaws in the system and wonder if there is a better way. Ultimately, it comes down to the problem of free will. Should humans be forced into a peaceful but empty existence or should they be given full knowledge and the opportunity to choose a different path? It's a thought provoking film and I now want to go back and reread The Giver and the other books in the series.

The Fall. I've been watching this BBC show while I walk on the treadmill. The episodes are an hour long so it's extra motivation to keep on walking. Basically, it's one of those intriguing shows about the cat and mouse game between a serial killer (played by Jamie Dornan) and the police officer heading up the investigation (played by Gillian Anderson). It's a chilling show, particularly because Jamie Dornan is a very attractive man and his character seems to have everything (wife, kids, job, house) and yet he is still driven to stalk and kill women. Gillian Anderson plays a strong, highly intelligent, and independent woman who is given the task of hunting him down. Of course there's lots of other stuff happening in the show and each episode you're left dying to know what will happen next.

And that's all for now. Time to go do laundry. :)

Saturday, January 17, 2015

At the movies

Greetings! This weekend I have four days off work due to the yearly upgrade of Evergreen (all PINES public libraries use Evergreen). I definitely think that there should be a four day weekend once a month. :) So far I've been using my time off to get lots of sleep, read, and watch movies. On Friday I saw "The Imitation Game" with my dad and today I saw "Taken 3" with one of my Milly (short for Milledgeville) friends. Here's a brief recap of what I thought of these movies.

Image from
http://www.farawayentertainment.com/wp-content/uploads/
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The Imitation Game. My initial reaction once the credits began to roll was a deep introspective sadness. This movie is about Alan Turing and his team that worked at breaking the Nazi Enigma code, but the triumph of this amazing feat is set against the background of Turing's tragic life. I say tragic because his life ended when he committed suicide at the age of 41. The film flashes between three stages of Turing's life: his youth when enrolled at Sherborne School, his late twenties when he worked at Bletchley Park, and 1951, when his apartment was broken into and he was later arrested for indecency (being gay). What is portrayed is a moving story of a man who was different, both in his genius and in his lifestyle, and those differences led to alienation from others. It's painful to watch the bullying he endured in school, the social awkwardness of his adult years, and the fallout of his arrest and subsequent court mandated hormonal "therapy."

However, the movie is not a downer. There is the wonderful excitement of watching a group of people working frantically to solve what was deemed an impossible puzzle. There's that British humor that is so dry. And there's the bittersweet friendship that develops between Turing and the female member of the group, Joan. The acting is superb. Benedict Cumberbatch was so good. I just wanted to hug him and I don't even like hugging people. So all rambling aside, I highly recommend this movie. It's a great balance of intellectual and emotional. I'm also planning on finding a copy of the biography the movie is based on, Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges, and comparing the two.

Image from
http://i1.wp.com/www.heyuguys.com/images/2014/12/Taken-3.jpg
Taken 3. You don't really need to see the first two Taken films to follow the third (and hopefully final) film. All you need to know is that Liam Neeson has special skills and you better hope that he doesn't come after you. Honestly, you think the bad guys would have learned their lesson in the first film, but no, they had to come back for more. I'm not going to talk about the plot of the third film because I don't want to give away any spoilers. My overall impression of the film was that it was mediocre at best. I dunno, the plot and dialogue just felt flat. Liam did his usual crazy escape artist/action hero business but it didn't do anything for me, it just felt average, like yeah I've already seen this. Which is a shame. Also, the villains were disappointing, just generic Russian bad guys who use way too much ammo and still can't hit Liam. (What's up with that?) So yeah, for me, this movie was just blah. The only part I really liked was, what I call, the League of Kick Ass Godfathers, also known as Liam's best guy friends. They're old, sweet, competent, and dependable. I wish they were my godfathers. And Liam was good, bless him. He's very honorable and skilled and I wish that this movie could have been better.

Image from
http://cdn.collider.com/wp-content/uploads/
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If you want to see a really good action film check out "John Wick" staring Keanu Reeves. This film came out last year and I loved every single second (even the sad parts). The action sequences were slick and exciting, the setting was beautiful and alluring, the villains were good at being bad, and Keanu is looking good for a man his age. :) This is a classic vengeance movie where the "good guy" isn't really that good but you can't help rooting for him. I was rather pleased that Keanu gets his butt kicked and takes some bullets because, really, when you go up against a ton of Russian mobsters you shouldn't walk away unscathed. I'm planning on rewatching the movie sometime and possibly buying it.

Just to prove that I'm capable of watching things that are lighthearted, I recently watched an anime series called "Orenchi no Furo Jijou" (The Circumstances in My Home's Bathtub) which is a comedy anime about a high school boy who rescues a merman. The merman ends up living in the boy's bathtub and each episode (only four minutes long) is a short comedy sketch about something ridiculous.

That's all for now! Until next time...

Monday, January 12, 2015

So what music do you listen to?

I was trying to think of what I wanted to write about as I was driving back from Macon tonight and I kept coming back to the idea of music and how what we listen to is often used to define us. As an icebreaker people will ask what kind of music you like or who your favorite bands are. If you are a sensitive person this can be a stressful situation because what if the person ridicules your favorite band? What if they immediately write you off because you listen to a certain artist? Hopefully most people aren't that judgmental, but I still think revealing your musical preferences can be intimidating. I vividly remember the awkwardness of going to college and moving in with a stranger. I was terribly worried that she would judge me because of what I listened to and, therefore, I didn't play my music but let her play her music. We ended up bonding over Beck and, as Humphrey Bogart says in "Casablanca," "Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship." And it was and is.

A big part of my job is working with middle and high school students and they are very self-conscious about a lot of things, including music preferences. I try to encourage them to like what they like and to ignore the haters. I'm finally at the point in my life where I am okay with liking a pop artist like Taylor Swift. At the same time I also love classical rock, dj/dance music, oldies, etc. I'll listen to just about anything so long as I like the music and the lyrics aren't overly offensive. Music, for me, is about emotion. If I connect with a song then I could care less if the singer says the same phrase over and over. Speaking of, here's a video for one of the songs I'm loving right now, Rudimental's "Feel the Love" featuring John Newman. Just so I don't come off as a poseur, I don't know a thing about Rudimental and I know very little about John Newman except that I like his voice. I just saw the video, gave it a listen, and fell in love. And while I generally dislike music videos I do think this one is really cool.


Music preferences change. When I was in high school my favorite bands/musicians were Relient K, the Foo Fighters, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Killers, and Flogging Molly. After I went to college I got into indie music because of my subscription to Paste Magazine. I started listening to Bon Iver, Patrick Wolf, Sufjan Stevens, and Paolo Nutini. I also liked Snow Patrol, the Postal Service, and Death Cab for Cutie. Through the influence of my classmates and my roommate I also gave up my aversion to pop and hip hop and was able to admit that, yes, I do like Outkast. I "discovered" a new favorite band at a music festival and for awhile I was obsessed with the Flaming Lips. Bob Dylan was a favorite (my dad and I actually went and saw him in concert).

Now days I find music by listening to the radio, watching TV shows, and Youtube and Pandora stations. At home I stream Pandora and listen to my Madeon station which features dj/dance/electronic music. Here's the video that got me interested in Madeon:


Becoming comfortable with who I am is an ongoing issue. Some people think I am incredibly confident and comfortable in my own skin, that I know myself. To a certain extent that's true but not entirely. I'm still finding out things about myself, I'm still changing. I'm not at all the same person I was in high school or even college. My life, character, and ideas are shaped, in part, by everything that I am experiencing. The music I listen to does define a part of me but even that part is not simple. I am a person who will sing along to Taylor Swift's "Shake it Off," Starset's "My Demons," and Kansas' "Carry On My Wayward Son." And I'm okay with that. Each song speaks to a different facet of me and every new song I hear creates a new facet.

And that is all for now. Happy Monday!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Maggie Stiefvater Strikes Again! (And stole my heart)

Greetings and Happy New Year! I spent the first day of 2015 following my usual, quiet routine: sleeping in and reading. I finally finished a novel that I had been working on, Rosie Thomas' The Illusionists. I loved it but it was a bit of a task for me since I am used to more "quick reads" and The Illusionists is close to 500 pages and spans a long period of time. I do recommend it if you like novels set in Victorian England and if you have an interest in theaters, magic, romance, and wonder. It reminded me, of course, of the movie "The Prestige" (Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine) and it had corresponding elements of revenge and competition, though The Illusionists ends on a more hopeful and redeeming note than "The Prestige."

When I haven't been reading I've been drinking lots of tea, petting the cats, doing small projects in my apartment, and catching up on TV shows. The currents shows I'm following are: Arrow, Supernatural, Constantine, Person of Interest, and The Mentalist. I've also been watching various anime and movies (most recently "The Chef"). I do not have cable so I usually stream stuff from Netflix or watch shows on Hulu or other sites.

The real topic of this particular post is that I have become a huge fan of Maggie Stiefvater. She is one of my favorite authors, right up there with J. R. R. Tolkien, Neil Gaiman, and Susanna Clarke and here's why.

1) Every time I read her works I am blown away by the honesty of her characters. I feel like I actually know them and that they exist. There is nothing two dimensional about her characters and none of them are the same. I love how the characters aren't described to death: you get the essence of them but there is still mystery. All of the books I've read by her are told from multiple characters perspectives so, for example, in the most recent novel I read by her, The Scorpio Races, you get the two main characters, Puck and Sean, telling the story.

http://maggiestiefvater.com/wp-content/uploads/Scorpio-paperback-website.jpg

2) She knows how to write a love story without it being all about the romance. The characters that are falling in love are not obsessed with their new feelings; they still have lives that they deal with (family, friends, work, school, etc.). This is really refreshing because in a lot of the young adult literature I've read the love interests become so consumed by their passion that it becomes their only focus; everything else is just an annoying distraction. In Stiefvater's novels, the young people are typically responsible and the love that they grow into is, in a way, taking a backseat to the other events in the plot. However, the romance is there and very well written and sweet. I wish that everyone could fall in love the way that Sam and Grace do (read the Shiver series!).

3) Stiefvater excels at description. Here's an example from The Scorpio Races:
"The water is so cold that my feet go numb almost at once. I stretch my arms out to either side of me and close my eyes. I listen to the sound of the water hitting water. The raucous cries of the terns and the guillemots in the rocks of the shore, the piercing, hoarse questions of the gulls above me. I smell seaweed and fish and the dusky scent of the nesting birds onshore. Salt coats my lips, crusts my eyelashes. I feel the cold press against my body. The sand shifts and sucks out from under my feet in the tide. I'm perfectly still. The sun is red behind my eyelids. The ocean will not shift me and the cold will not take me. Everything about me is exactly the same as it was five hundred years ago, when Thisby priests would stand in the frigid, dark sea and give themselves over to the island." (p. 255-256).

There's a lot more I couldn't say but I don't want to belabor it. If you feel like taking a dip in the water of YA (young adult) lit then I recommend her writing. The Scorpio Races is a stand alone novel with some fantastical elements (water horses), while the Shiver series is a trilogy about true love, werewolves, and so much more. She has another series that I haven't started yet called The Raven Cycle. Oh, and if it's not enough that she's a brilliant author, she's also a really good artist! Find out more about her at http://maggiestiefvater.com/

And that's all for now. I return to work this coming Monday and will be facing a daunting amount of shelving and other tasks.