Friday, January 31, 2014

How to.

Step One:
Do this.
$165.06 as of November 30
$265.06 as of December 13
$255.06 as of December 20
$305.06 as of December 21
$380.06 as of December 26
$680.06 as of January 3
$840.06 as of January 8
$1000.00 as of January 10

Step Two: 
Have generous family members who are willing to match what you save.

Step Three: 
Get a small loan for the rest.

Step Four: 
Withdraw all the money from the bank and give it to the people giving you a loan, and feel like you're doing something illegal by holding all that cash.

Step Five: 
Drive to Idaho Falls.

Step Six: 
Come home with this.

Meet our new car! 
A 2002 Toyota Sienna we have named "Billfold," or "Billie" for short. 
She's got good gas mileage AND a VCR.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Truth in comedy, internet addition

The internet can be a crazy place. But it can also be a really funny place. Here are a few things I've recently seen online and liked. There is no rhyme, reason, or uniting factor. Just enjoy.

Some English teacher humor.

I don't think this photo turned out quite the way this woman imagined it...

Here's truth.

This is truth, too.

Oh, brain. You and your shenanigans.

This is an example of brilliant captioning.

And this is wonderful.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Howling At the Moon


Back in March last year, Jon Peter Lewis and Ryan Hayes got all four judges to turn around and root for them with their rendition of "Folsom Prison Blues" on NBC's "The Voice." They made it through to the 11th episode, when they were eliminated during the first "Knockout" round. But they created a huge fan base who were soon clamoring for an album, and in February of this year, through the generosity of Kickstarter backers, Midas Whale fans' dreams are coming true.

Their first album "Sugar House" is set to be officially released in February. (I don't have any links to places you can buy it, so just keep an eye on their Facebook page.) But Kickstarter backers get first listen. Jacob and I are Kickstarter backers, so we got to listen to the album this week. And I loved it enough to do a review of it.

I'm trying really hard to not reduce these tracks to the things they remind me of, but sometimes the homage is worth talking about. Midas Whale is grounded in all kinds of influences--I can hear everything from Johnny Cash to Simon & Garfunkle, but Midas Whale is mostly just themselves. As well they should be. Here's a track-by-track breakdown of my thoughts.

Track 1 - Before I Leave
Groovy guitar riffs that are grounded in surfer rock, played excellently by Robbie Connolly, to whom I tip my hat. And that uptempo change in rhythm on the chorus? Try to NOT move to it. And here's the awesome thing about Midas Whale and their producers. They know when and how to utilize a trumpet.

Track 2 - Howling At the Moon
This is a track that Jon and Ryan played on a television spot a few months back. I liked it then and I like it now. That howly pedal steel is just what this tune needed. There's also a great music video to this one.

Track 3 - A Good Wind (Get A-Going)
I hear a lot of Elvis Presley in this one. Maybe a little Johnny Cash, too? The clip-cloppy percussion is whimsical and exactly right.

Track 4 - My Father's Son
A driving, slightly darker tune* that Jon KILLS. I love the deep bassy backup vocals. This tune kind of reminded me of "Ghost Riders" from the 1980 Blues Brothers film. The main selling point on this track is Jon's total vocal commitment. That boy can sing. Oh, and the other selling point is the righteous organ.
* It's actually not that dark, but it's one of the darker songs on the album. 

Track 5 - Bright and Early
A sleepy, delightful tune with KILLER HARMONIES! Jon's built up some fame as a singer over the years, but Ryan's got pipes too, and he can hold his own alongside Jon any day. This song proves it beautifully.

Track 6 - Pacific Way
This song fills me with an insanely huge urge to go on a spontaneous road trip. I can practically see the slideshow/short film rolling in the background...jumping into rivers in the sunshine, riding down the highways with bare feet outside of the rolled down windows, sitting around a campfire. Ugh. This is killing me. I need summer. Right now. Because that's what this song is. Summer.

Track 7 - A Little More
See? Ryan's an awesome singer. Probably the "quirkiest" song on this album...think Fiona Apple's 2005 album "Extraordinary Machine." Musical enough to be palatable, and odd and distorted enough to make you shift in your seat a little, in the very best way.

Track 8 - Thanks A Lot
The lyrics of this song are a satisfying mixture of affection and sarcasm. I like that. And it's set against this great upbeat "That Thing You Do!"-esque tune and arrangement. I like that too.

Track 9 - What Might Be
This is one of the most beautiful songs on the album. I want to learn it and sing it as a lullaby to my children. And I mean that. I don't know how to say that in such a way that conveys my deep and tender love for this little song. I'm given to hyperbole so when I really mean something sometimes it's hard to convey how I feel. Jon and Ryan's harmonies are lovely, and the simple guitar picking is lovely, and the lyrics are the loveliest part of all.

Track 10 - Into the Unknown
This song is based on a poem by James Best. We all know I'm a huge James Best fan, and this arrangement of his words gives musical life to some already darn great writing. And Jon and Ryan rock those harmonies. Sometimes art doesn't translate well between genres, but this is one time that setting a poem to music worked BEAUTIFULLY.

Track 11 - Rise and Shine
I'm shy to admit this, but I had a sort of transcendent experience the first time I heard this song. I was listening to the album while driving along some back roads outside of Idaho Falls, on my way to look at a used car Jacob and I were thinking about buying. And when this song came on, I pulled over and looked out over the snowy fields and just felt glad to be alive. I felt hopeful about my life and proud of my friends for creating this art and filled with gratitude for everything I have. So for this song alone, I thank Midas Whale for this album.

Track 12 - Sweet Dreams
I don't know if Ryan would call himself a hopeless romantic, but I say that this song proves that he is. Think "slow dancing in the moonlight" kind of romance. Ideally in 1950s prom attire, with romantic string lights overhead. It's late and everyone is sleepily leaning their heads on each other's shoulders, and it's summer and all the stars are out and you can feel the grass beneath your bare feet. In that situation, this is the song that would be playing in the background.

Here's my only non-glowing thought about the album. "Rise and Shine" FEELS like a closing track. It feels like the note the album should end on. But "Sweet Dreams" sort of does, too. Maybe it's because of my powerful experience hearing "Rise and Shine" for the first time, but it felt strange to hear another song afterwards. But "Sweet Dreams" is so good that it does NEED to be on the album. I just don't know where it should be. Maybe between "Thanks A Lot" and "What Might Be"? "Sweet Dreams" is a good note to end on, but it doesn't feel quite as final as "Rise and Shine." I ain't no record producer, so my opinion can be totally disregarded. And my track order issue here isn't so glaring that it distracts me from adoring the album.

Closing thoughts:
This album is summery and folksy and wonderful. Part of my love for it is deeply tied to my affection for Jon and Ryan as people, I admit. But even that affection aside, this album stands on its own two feet. I'm a huge fan of Midas Whale, and when "Sugar House" comes out, do yourself a favor and buy it. Then put it in your car and drive around on a few back roads as you listen to it, and look out across the snowy fields and be grateful for wonderful music.

**I met Jon years and years ago, when he visited the Playmill in 2006. At one point, we were talking and his gum fell out of his mouth and landed on my shoe and he looked at me and said, "Well, we're friends forever now." We lost touch for a few years until Deep Love was born, and our friendship was renewed. I met Ryan because of Deep Love, I think? He did a songwriting workshop with Garrett Sherwood that Jacob set up, and Jacob and I were in a rock opera that his sister wrote, and I've helped out with Deep Love for the past few years. We've just sort of been in briefly intersecting circles for years, but I'm a big Ryan fan. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Adventures in hair

I just noticed a trend in the photos I've been posting on social media lately. "Ways My Hair Looks Like the Hair of Famous People."

Like John Lennon. (This is actually, like 7 years ago.)

Or the Chippettes from "Chipmunk's Great Adventure." 

And most famously, like Nigel Lythgoe. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

500 pieces of small, oddly shaped cardboard: Lessons from jigsaw puzzles

I'm a big fan of jigsaw puzzles. They're a pleasant, relatively inexpensive way to deal with the fact that it's 5 degrees outside. I've done three during this winter break, and I've got two more waiting to be done. (Parachutes and ice cream cones--both a nice challenge.) I have been known to spend hours spread out on the floor or the kitchen table trying to turn 500 cardboard pieces into a picture, a documentary playing in the background.

But I'm not the kind of person who saves puzzles after I do them. I don't have puzzle glue, or any desire to frame and display a completed puzzle. Because then I would be denying myself the pleasure of completing the puzzle again.

Because I do that. I complete a puzzle multiple times before sending it to the DI and buying another one from the dollar store. Over the winter break, while I was working on a particularly challenging bit of a jigsaw puzzle, I started to wonder what the appeal actually was. Maybe it was the general sense of cabin fever I was already experiencing, but I realized how insane completing a jigsaw puzzle actually is, especially if you don't save it. Why spend HOURS of time sorting through five HUNDRED pieces of small, oddly shaped cardboard, in order to put them together to create a picture that you will then destroy, putting all five HUNDRED pieces of small, oddly shaped cardboard BACK into the box?

Isn't this the kind of thing that certifiably insane people do?

For a while I thought that it had something to do with the visual aspect of it. It's a fun and interesting brain exercise to try to match shapes and patterns and colors. There is also the human imperative to order and create. But none of these reasons were quite enough to justify my pleasure in completing jigsaw puzzles.

But the last time I emptied a box of 500 pieces of small, oddly shaped cardboard, it hit me. I figured out the appeal.

It's the satisfaction of completing a seemingly incomplete-able task.

This is going to sound a little crazy, and maybe I've been inside for too long, but come with me on this.

When you open a jigsaw puzzle box, it's daunting. Every one of those pieces looks up at you as if to say, "We are chaos and you will never make sense of us. This is an impossible task and you are a mere mortal. Just close the box again, knowing that we defeated you." But you empty the box anyway. You sort through and find the edge pieces. You put the border together. You find the pieces that connect to the border. And the pile of chaos gets smaller, and the voices that say "This is impossible" get quieter. And then suddenly, you're fitting the last piece and you've done it. You've made sense of the chaos. You've accomplished the impossible task.

I don't save puzzles as a witness to my ability to accomplish impossible tasks. I take them apart so that I can have another opportunity to remind myself of my ability to accomplish impossible tasks.

And also to remind myself that it's okay if most of my accomplishments aren't permanent.

As Latter-day Saints, we teach that the things we do have an eternal impact. But we also teach that the things of the mortal world are mortal. That house you built will crumble. The wealth you've accumulated will become meaningless. Our sun does have an expiration date. Granted, it's 5 billion years from now, but when that time comes, all of the stuff we've created will wither and disintegrate. Every puzzle we've ever completed will be taken apart and put back into the cosmic box somewhere. But that's okay. Because the puzzle isn't the thing. What we become by completing the puzzle is the thing. There's something permanent in what we become.

Come, my friends.
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,--
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
-- Alfred Lord Tennyson, "Ulysses"

photos via and via

Friday, January 3, 2014

In other news...

2014 is here! Here's our family newsletter for the year 2013.


A Chapman Family Newsletter is forthcoming, but in the meantime, let's talk about documentaries.

We got Netflix. And I have an addiction.

In my defense, it's an addiction to learning, so I could be a lot worse off. I also still watch stuff on and youtube, but most of the docs on this list are on Netflix (hence the lack of links). (I've also been on a body image/gender issues kick, you'll notice.)

I'm also at around 90 documentaries on the ongoing list of recommendations, so I'm in the process of organizing them by topic. In the meantime, that beast of an unorganized list is available by clicking on the "documentaries" tab at the top.

Elizabeth I: Killer Queen
Because we share the same name, I always liked to think that Queen Elizabeth was a kind, wise and noble ruler. The jury's still out on whether or not she actually killed anyone, but either way, she was mean. She once stabbed the back of one of her ladies in waiting's hands. She did write lovely poetry, though, so there's that.

The Last Days of Anne Boleyn
A bit more Tudor history. Anne Boleyn is such a set of contradictions to me that she's becoming more and more fascinating. I don't know whether to applaud her or dislike her. Either way, she was influential. One of my favorite things about this documentary is that it shows LOTS of different perspectives. They interview lots of authors and historians, and none of them really agree on certain aspects of Anne Boleyn's history.

The Great Inca Rebellion
Not quite as fascinating, but a nice glimpse into Inca history. Some interesting stuff about how myth and history get tangled up together, and how sometimes one informs the other and vice versa. History is written by the conquerors, but even they don't have perfect memories. Graves tell their own story.

Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's
Step into the glamorous world of fashion! This doc tells the tale of New York's snazziest department store, the rich and famous clientele who frequent it, and the place it holds in the hearts and minds of designers everywhere. And how about those windows?

Born Into Brothels
I actually watched this one years and years ago, but it's one I think about often, and it deserves to be on this list. A photographer visited Calcutta to photograph the women in the red light district and in addition, began to teach photography lessons to the children of the women she was photographing. This film examines the reality of growing up in the red light district, with a hopeful emphasis on the power of art to change lives.

My Penis and I
The reality is that women don't have penis envy. Men have penis envy. But why? What's the social focus on penis size? Does it really matter? Does it affect confidence? One "non-well-endowed" British man seeks to find the answers.
(WARNING: Full male and female nudity. There's also a point at which the narrator visits the set of a pornographic film for his research.)

Another documentary about male body image. This one is lighthearted but fascinating. It's also interspersed with candid scenes of Will Arnett and Jason Bateman discussing what it means to be a man while they receive spa treatments, so that's amazing. Everything from facial hair to identity is covered.

Busting Out
One about women! This one examines America's obsession with breasts, both cosmetically and clinically. It's an interesting documentary because it covers breasts (ha) in the context of body image and in the context of disease--how women with breast cancer deal with the experience of losing a breast.

America the Beautiful
About halfway through this documentary, I realized that I'd seen it before, but was happy to rediscover it. I think about it often, but had no idea what it was called. It follows one man's journey to understand America's body image issues (and we have a lot). He discusses Dove's "Real Beauty" campaign, the modeling world, an obsession with plastic surgery, and how to help the rising generation deal with the confusing messages surrounding appearance.

How the Universe Works (series)
So much awesome science!!! The first episode covers the Big Bang, and then the series discusses everything from black holes to supernovas. To space enthusiasts, there's a nice balance of common knowledge and new info. I was most fascinated by the episode on alien solar systems. There are so many billions of stars out there, and many of them have planets orbiting them, just like we do our sun. But sometimes they're so crazy! And it illustrates how AMAZING our own solar system is. Did you know that if Jupiter didn't exist in its current state, the earth would probably have been destroyed a long time ago? The gravity of the huge planet pulls in anything hurtling towards earth. Thanks, Jupiter!

Tales From the Script
A great and inspiring documentary that writers and film enthusiasts will especially enjoy. Screenwriters discuss their experiences in Hollywood...the huge challenges to writing films, and the times when things go amazingly well. It's a nice sort of disillusionment in a way. You watch this documentary and realize that Hollywood can be this soulless pit and that you probably won't ever actually make money writing for the screen. But you also realize that if you've really got talent, and have a strong center, and have important stories to tell and know how to tell them, you can pour some soul back into Hollywood.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams
THIS DOCUMENTARY BLEW MY MIND!!!! There's a cave in France called "Chauvet Cave" and it houses the oldest known cave paintings on the earth--as in 30,000 years old. They can date them by dating the layers of [insert geological material that I can't remember the name of here] that's grown over the initial layers of paint. There was a rock slide that sealed the caves off for thousands and thousands of years, so when the cave was discovered in the 90's, lots of people thought it was a hoax because the paintings looked so fresh. And they are BEAUTIFUL paintings...full of motion and life. I actually cried.

Out Late
This documentary tells the story of 5 people--two women, two men, and one MTF transsexual--who all came out to their friends and family after the age of 50. Each of their stories are totally different, and some of them lived "straight" lives for many years before choosing to embrace their identity as lesbian or gay. It's heartwarming and honest, and if you're seeking to understand more about the LGBT experience, this is a pretty beautiful set of stories.

Jacob discovered this one and watched almost the entire thing, and then right at the climax of the film, he stopped it and insisted that we watch the whole thing together. It's incredibly difficult to explain this film clearly, but it follows one man's attempt to understand religion. He creates a fake identity as a guru and begins a religion as an experiment--to see if he can gain followers and how far their devotion will go. But he begins to have transformative experiences of his own along the way, and the end result is pretty uplifting.

This one has been recommended to me a few times, and it's currently a pretty popular film on Netflix, which is pretty important. It's almost an expose. It tells the story of humans' complicated relationship with killer whales, focusing on how we use them in the entertainment industry. And you'll probably never want to visit SeaWorld again. Did you know that whales have structures in the emotional centers of their brains that humans don't have? So killer whales live incredibly rich emotional lives that we can't even conceive of--we don't even have the equipment in our brains to understand it. And their family units are so tight that orcas from different families speak different dialects--they can't even communicate with each other. This documentary was very difficult to watch, but I felt a moral imperative to watch it, and I'm glad I did.

This was especially interesting after watching the film "District 9," actually. This focuses on how cities are designed, how slums are created and good ways to address them, and ways that changes in cities can change societies as a whole. There was a weird bit at the end that focused disproportionately on Germany and one controversial remodeling project, but as a whole, it was a cool look at city design.

Page One: Inside the New York Times
Will the New York Times survive into the digital age?! Newspapers have it tough in the age of instant information, and many a newspaper has ended up on the chopping block. This documentary gives an inside look at the workings of the Times, and what journalism means today. They interview several reporters, talk about the legal traps and the social responsibility of journalism, and how newspapers have succeeded and failed.

Nova: Mystery of a Masterpiece
In 2007, an art collector paid $20,000 for a particularly striking Renaissance portrait. But somewhere along the way, someone said, "This looks a heck of a lot like the work of Leonardo da Vinci." (Which would make the portrait worth close to $100 million.) So, blending forensic science and art history, they set out to figure out who painted the portrait.

Series: Prophets of Science Fiction
I'm in the middle of this right now, and I'm enjoying it SO MUCH! This series starts with Mary Shelley as the true founder of science fiction and covers Phillip K. Dick, H.G. Wells, Arthur C. Clark, Isaac Asimov, Jules Verne, Robert Heinlein, and George Lucas. It covers the authors' lives, how they influenced the world of science fiction, and how their predictions have since come true. Any avid reader or film enthusiast or history buff will enjoy this series. (Oh! And it's hosted by Ridley Scott! And Michio Kaku makes appearances in every episode!)