Thursday, June 02, 2016

An Essay By My Mother, 1962: A Young Mother's Story

[[My mother, Ruth Shonyo Trask, is a free-lance writer who spent over 20 years working for the WPI Journal as a writer and an editor. She wrote this in 1962 when she was in her early 30s. While my father recently unearthed this essay after many decades of being MIA, the last page has not been found.]]

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Carrie, Ruth, Jeff, Laurie
1962
All our books on child development and psychology have been relegated to the deepest part of the closet. Time was when they were referred to daily. As an inexperienced, first-time mother it was reassuring for me to have an expert as close as the nearest book shelf. Now, after five years and three babies, I have finally decided that in child rearing, it is better to play it by ear.

According to the books, Laurie, our first-born, was almost certainly doomed to physical or mental retardation. Perhaps both. At age one she had not yet sat up alone. She had not creeped. She rolled. She was placid, sometimes almost to the point of inertia. She rarely uttered an intelligible syllable. After reading what the "average" child her age was doing, I began to be frightened.

The family doctor assured me that there was nothing to be worried about. But being an anxious, expert-oriented mother, I continued to worry until at least 18 months our "little laggard" finally took her first step. She hasn't stopped going of growing since.

Now, at five, she is a peppy, straight-backed extrovert whose strong will, emotions and off-beat humor are both our pleasure and our bane. Her exposes of family conversations keep us on tenderhooks.

Recently a very punctual professor friend who had suffered a heart attack was nearly an hour late for lunch. We phoned him repeatedly, but there was no answer. "Oh," I moaned, "I hope he hasn't had another heart attack - or something worse."

A few minutes later he rang the doorbell and Laurie greeted him with, "Why, Uncle Claude, aren't you dead yet?" (Luckily, he has a sense of humor.) [[Note from Laurie in 2016: I remember that day. He had a great laugh over it.]]

Anyway, since age one, Laurie has leaned to communicate. Sometimes only too well.

After Laurie came Carrie, 4, and Jeff, 3. Although, of necessity, the household was busier than ever, I did try to follow the book's advice, particularly in the matter of discipline. Nothing can be more frustrating, especially when the experts say:

    "Never Spank a Child. Reason with Him."

On the surface this sounds fine. I always tell my children what they are being punished for and why they should not do what they are doing. Then I ask them if they understand. This often works with the older youngsters. But trying to "reason" with a two year old when he is doing something dangerous (like darting out in front of an oncoming car) is utterly ridiculous. A sharp, open-handed spank kept our Jeff out of the road at two and today at three (the beginning of the "Age of Reason") he more clearly understands why he must be careful. The spanks are now few and far between.

On one point I heartily agree with the experts, but purely for practical reasons. In our case banishing the children to their rooms is to no avail as a punishment. They simply unlock their first floor window and slide down the bulkhead as soon as my back is turned!

If, after reasoning, et.c. the older girls continue to misbehave, warming their derrieres is still effective. Actually the worst punishment for them is taking away of special privileges. (Bribery in reverse.)

    "Never Bribe a Child to Make Him Behave."

In theory this seems sound and is aimed a eliminating the child's mistaken notion throughout life "If I'm good, somehow I'll get paid for it." There is an age, I am sure, when children can be successfully taught that "Vriture is its own reward." For most pre-schoolers (especially mine!) that concept is utterly incomprehensible. If giving a timid child a pressed leaf to take to Sunday School will get him there without the usual fuss, it seems sensible to do so. The dentist's "Good Patient" balloon lure our little ones in for a cleaning with hardly a murmur of dissent. Perhaps I should feel guilty but I just feel grateful. When they are older and more able to understand, they can elarn the adult idea of being good for goodness' sake.

    "Never Let Your Child Violate the Rights of Others."

Nearly everyone wants his child to respect the rights of his family and friends. Practically nobody wants him to be the bleak bully, the instigator of every neighborhood free-for-all. But after a pre-schooler has had his own rights violated it seems grossly unfair if he is severely reprimanded when he fights back. Naturally such altercations should be limited. No bites, sticks, or stones, please!

Our eldest is sometimes a too vigorous protector of her rights while the younger ones often let others take advantage of them. Some day they will have to learn to take their place in life without being pushed aside. Again, as they grown older, they will all learn, I hope, that good humor and common sense are better defenders than fists.

    "Never Let Your Child Feel Insecure."

Unfortunately this chestnut has led many innocent parents (myself included) into a maze of trouble. We are drawn into overindulgence of the grossest kind. We are so afraid that our children might undergo a moment's insecurity that we are constantly at their beck and call, give them expensive gifts, pre-plan too much of their time, fight their fights, and in the process erroneously teach them that life is one great featherbed of togetherness. What a shock when they get out into world and discover they aren't the only pepples on the beach!

I believe that if we truly love our children and demonstrate our love verbally or with a pat on the head, that coupled with the providing of the basic necessities and a disciplined, decent home atmosphere is all that should be expected of us parents. From such an encouraging climate there could emerge a sensible brand of "security;" a security which allows for some individual independence.

    "Never Break a Promise to Your Child."

This, of course, goes hand in hand with the "security" problem. The idea seems to be that if enough promises are broken the child is bound to be insecure. Theoretically this is probably true.

However, in practice, it is sometimes impossible to keep every promise. Conditions change. The bicycle promised in September may be an economic impossibility by Christmas. If such an unhappy occasion arises, a reasonable explanation is in order.

Perhaps the best way to get around the "promising" block is to try to keep promises at a minimum and, most of all, to keep them. We are having better luck with the "We'll see" tactic which does offer some hope of fulfillment without the ensnarement of a real promise. [[Note from Laurie in 2016: I agree with an awful lot of what my mother wrote in this essay, but I hated "we'll see" because they did use it quite a lot in childhood, especially my father. From an early age, I thought of this as the "parental indefinite." When we had Leslie, I avoided it as much as possible, though I tended to do many of the things Mom recommended here - read childrearing books to a point then did what seemed sensible.]]

Actually if things do not always turn out as expected by our children, it may be all to the good. It teaches them at an early age that life is unpredictable and that they will have to accept the bitter with the sweet.

Enough of books and experts! They are fine for occasional reference but often misleading and unnerving as a daily diet.

We parents must lear to fend for ourselves and use the system that works best in raising our particular families. Most of all, we should remember that we are...[[[Note from Laurie in 2016: Page 5 lost]]

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[[Almost anyone who knows me know would agree with the observations Mom made about me back in 1962. I am a trifle mellower at least.]]

Friday, May 13, 2016

Why I Love the Always Hungry Diet: Obese, Post-Menopausal Woman on the Journey to Being "High Normal"

I've been a fat person for nearly 50 years, an obese person for nearly 33 of those years, and a morbidly obese person for about 3 of those years.

With bad cholesterol, high blood pressure and the like, I've known I needed to be a thinner person for a long time.

Ever since I was very small, I always preferred processed carbs and protein. Didn't like any vegetables except for potatoes (of course), carrots and corn. Not a fruit lover either.  Major junk food fanatic.

Usually I was a kid looking at the camera, but here I am at about 5, staring at a friend's birthday cake.

But I really didn't get fat until I was about 9. The year was 1966, Twiggy was the major role model and being thin was more than in.  By the time I was 11, I looked more like this.

Being a fat girl in high school in the '70s was a miserable experience.  I was harassed about my weight every single day.  But I kept on eating, kept on feeling depressed and angry, and hated gym glass most of all.

I decided to go as far away to college as I could afford.  That would be about 550 miles - from central Massachusetts to southwestern Pennsylvania and Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh.  By the time I got to college, I'd started reading science fiction and hanging out with science fiction fans.  Fans were much more accepting of people of all sizes.  I understood I  should accept myself no matter my size and not be a self-hating fat person.  And I met & fell in love with Jim Mann who was a fan who loved me back.  So, we got married, had a daughter, worked hard in the computer industry...and, over 20 years, I ate my way up to 255 pounds, even though I was happy most of the time.  Should note - I only gained 20 pounds when I was pregnant, but while I lost 15 pounds right away, I gained most of the baby weight back.

I did periodically diet a little and would sometimes lose 20 pounds...then gain back 25 pounds.  I lost weight when Leslie was a toddler and had to chase after her, but gained 30 pounds in a few months when I went to work full time and was sitting at a desk.  And we had pizza a lot in those days.   But I really hated dieting as I was hungry all the time and still didn't like most vegetables, though I would sometimes eat salad and had learned to like cooked broccoli and tomatoes that hadn't been turned into sauce.

Here I am at my 20th high school reunion, the time you want to be exceptionally thin.  I was close to my all time high weight (I might have weighed as much as 260, but I didn't have a scale in those days).



I was torn.  On the one hand, I honestly believe we should like ourselves and never hide ourselves away no matter our weight.  We shouldn't harass fat people. Being fat is not inherently bad or mean that you're lazy, stupid, non-sexual or have a character defect.  But...being fat can be unhealthy.  My blood pressure and cholesterol were already creeping upward.  I wasn't particularly active. 

It wasn't like I woke up one day and started eating better and exercising.  Very gradually over the next few years, I started doing simple things like parking further away when I went places.  Trying to eat a little less and a little better. Having a little less junk food in the house.   And I finally bought a scale.  By the time I was 40, I was down about 15 pounds and noticed I could stand longer and walk a little more.

So between the ages of 40 and 55, I continued working on a very gradual weight loss and activity increase. But by my late 40s, my cholesterol had gotten bad enough that I went on Lipitor. Later, I had to add a blood pressure drug.

In my mid-40s I developed severe insomnia.  I want to note that I was down about 25 pounds from my all-time high weight, was walking more, and when I finally had a sleep study I did not have sleep apnea.  Women in my mother's family tended to have insomnia from about the age of 45 until they were through menopause.   I wound up going on Ambien.  That gave me about an extra half hour of sleep a night...and, an odd side effect - Ambien depressed my craving for carbohydrates.  While on Ambien, I lost about 5 pounds a year.  However, Ambien stopped working as a sleep aid after a few years, as it inevitably does, so I went off it and the renewed carbohydrate craving, combined with going through surgical menopause, led to a 5 pound weight gain overall.  Not horrible, all things considered, but kind of depressing.

As I was generally unemployed due to my lack of sleep and we'd moved out to the country, I took up walking more seriously in 2012.  I started walking 2 miles a day and the next year 3 miles a day most days.  But, being post-menopausal meant my weight would rarely budge.  When we traveled, I would always gain a little weight, and when I got home, I would get back to the pre-vacation weight pretty quickly...except the weight wouldn't go any lower.  Here are Jim and I on a Game of Thrones tour outside of Belfast in August 2014.  I weighed about 220 in this photo.  During a 3 week trip to the UK that year, I walked 75 miles but gained 12 pounds.  I lost 10 pounds pretty easily when I got home.  When I got back from that trip, I realized there was a Diabetes Prevention Coach working in the same building as my doctor.  Given my weight issues and the fact that there have been a number of type two diabetics in my family,  I started going to see Joellen Brewton.  It was helpful to go and talk about food issues, weight issues.  She encouraged me to avoid juice (which I was able to do) and avoid carbohydrates (which I wasn't having as much luck with).  While I wasn't working, I was doing a huge volunteer project in 2015, which meant I didn't walk as much as I'd hoped and I often found myself snacking.  I was also achy and generally not feeling very well even after the volunteer job was over.

In late 2015, realizing 2016 would mark 50 years of being a fat person, I felt I had to make changes.  I decided I would walk at least 1,000 miles and would start dieting very conscientiously, on January 1.  And I did, but I was having the same problem I always had when I dieted - I was always hungry.  

In early January 2016, I was listening to the radio and heard Dr. David Ludwig, an endocrinologist, talking about dieting.  Yes, he had a new diet book out and it was called Always Hungry?.  Everything he said sounded extremely reasonable. Hmmm.  I think I ordered the book from Amazon before the show was over.  What did I have to lose?

In early January, I started tracking my eating and lost 2 pounds the traditional way--eating less of everything, being hungry all times and craving carbs a lot.  In mid-January, I got the Always Hungry? book and leapt into it (it encourages you to take a week to read the book and clean out your pantry).  Suddenly, I was eating eggs and full-fat yogurt and making shakes and not eating bread.  Aside from its Phase 1 which is pretty strict, it encourages you to adapt the diet to suit your likes, so long as you avoid processed carbs (bread, pastas, cookies, alcohol and also potatoes).  By following Phase 1 very strictly, I stopped craving breads and chips almost immediately.  Eating more full-fat foods and more vegetables (learned to like roasted cauliflower!!) made a huge difference.  And the recipes, developed by Dr. Ludwig's wife chef Dana Ludwig, were mostly excellent.

During January, I lost 7 pounds.  Yes, I know some of that was water weight.  But still - 7 pounds without feeling constantly hungry or wanting crackers.

I found a weird but good way to keep exercising even in the winter.  I walk 2-4 miles outside almost every day.  When it was too cold or rainy to walk outside, I'd walk around the rooms of the house.  It took about 21 minutes to walk about a mile in the house.  I'd also climb up to the second floor at least once a mile.  I've been able to keep walking 100 miles a month that way, well on the way to walking 1,200 miles this year, even more than I'd planned.

After 2 weeks, the Phase 2 of the diet encourages you to start re-adding whole grains and the like.  One food Always Hungry? recommended a lot was steel-cut oatmeal.  I found quickly that nothing, and I mean nothing, makes me crave more carbs as badly as steel-cut oatmeal does.  This diet encourages you to listen to your body about cravings, and I did.  So I stuck to either having eggs, a yogurt berry shake or a fritatta (more eggs) for breakfast - no oatmeal, cereal, or my longtime traditional breakfast of a piece of whole wheat toast, Smuckers all-natural crunchy peanut butter and a glass of skim milk.  We haven't had skim milk in the house since January which is very odd, but I don't generally drink whole milk either.  I've generally been drinking kefir (a yogurt-based drink) or water.  And generally one Diet Coke a day.  While the diet discourages artificial sweeteners (and there are some people who are quite fanatical about that), I like my Coke and appreciate having a little bit of caffein every day since I can't drink coffee.

Other cheats for me - some crispy-burnt hash browns when I have an omelette in a restaurant, small pieces of crusty cibatta bread, a few whole wheat crackers occasionally with peanut butter.  Generally limit alcohol to trips, and try to stick to prosecco but still enjoy a beer, red wine or Moscow mule from time to time.  But I was surprised by how well steamed cauliflower and white beans mashed together will substitute for mashed potatoes. And some of my favorite foods like unsalted peanuts and cheddar cheese are not cheat foods!

I've lost 17 pounds over 19 weeks.  Now, granted, that's not a huge amount of weight, it's slightly under a pound a week. My BMI is still in the obese range at 31 but it's getting closer to the merely overweight range all the time.  But as a post-menopausal woman who does, admittedly, cheat on this diet, it tells me I've finally found an eating plan I can live with and lose weight.  I'm down a total of 57 pounds since 1996, without gastric surgery.  I'm finally learning how to eat and exercise most of the time.  We travel some and I love to go to restaurants.  There I will eat and drink things I avoid at home.  I generally come home a couple of pounds heavier.  But I go back on Always Hungry Phase 1 diet pretty quickly, the vacation weight goes away in days and I go back to losing about a pound a week overall.

The thing I particularly like about Always Hungry? is that the carbohydrate cravings are gone.  Most afternoons, I can have fruit or cold (but cooked) cauliflower with hummus. Yes, I do sometimes get hungry between meals but mere hunger is much easier to deal with than carb cravings.  My diet counselor says that's a clear sign that my insulin resistance is in good shape.   And the second most important thing is that my cholesterol  and blood pressure are both better.  And...I still like food.  Dieters tend to view food as the enemy.  We need to eat and I'll eat unapologetically.  But I'll eat better and move more most of the time.

Most people report a lot of physical changes improvements from dieting.  I couldn't say the Always Hungry? diet made me feel better or sleep better.  In fact, I've felt like crap most of the last year.  And then I realized - a common side effect of Lipitor is body aches.  Maybe, even though I didn't have body aches the first 11 years I was on Lipitor, maybe I was getting them now?  So I took myself off of Lipitor...and the body aches went away over a week.  At the end of June, I'll ask my doctor if I can have another cholesterol test to see if the dieting is keeping the cholesterol low enough without medication.

So thanks, Dr. Ludwig and the Always Hungry? diet book for finally helping me to find an eating plan that will help take me from being an obese women to being a more normal weight.  And thanks to Joellen Brewton for providing excellent counseling over the last two years.  My goal is to get down to about 150.  I will probably still look a little fat at 150, but, technically, that's "high normal."  I haven't weighed 150 since college.  I will generally avoid processed carbs.  And any time I reach 160 pounds in the future, I will go back to eating Phase 1 of the Always Hungry? diet.


Laurie Mann, 5/13/16, 5'7", 198 pounds










Thursday, April 21, 2016

Quick Lower Calorie Smore

Desserts are often a sore point if you're trying to cut back on junk food. But sometimes you want more than fruit. Certainly eating a little 85% chocolate (thanks, Dr. Ludwig for my favorite hint from the Always Hungry? book!) helps to satisfy chocolate cravings. But what happens when you have a house with marshmallows and graham crackers after the first cookout of the year? Here's an easy way to have a smore without blowing your diet.

  • 1 graham cracker
  • 3 small squares of 85% chocolate
  • 1 marshmallow

Break up chocolate into small pieces over the graham cracker. Cut marshmallow into 2 or 4 pieces, put on chocolate. Heat in a toaster oven for a few minutes until the marshmallow & chocolate soften.

If you're tracking your foods on MyFitnessPal, the recipe "Quick Lower Calorie Smore" is in the database.

Calories 153
Total Fat 7 g 10%
Saturated Fat 3 g 15%
Monounsaturated Fat 0 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 1 g
Trans Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 0 mg 0%
Sodium 86 mg 4%
Potassium 25 mg 1%
Total Carbohydrate 22 g 7%
Dietary Fiber 2 g 6%
Sugars 10 g
Protein 2 g 5%
Vitamin A 0%
Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 0%
Iron 4%

For Always Hungry? fans out there, this isn't strictly kosher obviously. May be OK for Phases 2 or 3. I find this doesn't trigger junk food cravings for me, but I know different people crave different kinds of carbs. Could work well with chickpea flour crackers.


Thursday, January 28, 2016

30 Years After the Challenger Disaster

Just about half a lifetime ago, I was working for Stratus Computer in Hudson Massachusetts. During group meetings, we sometimes saw the famous wheelchair Boston marathoners Dick and Rick Hoyt train around the nearby reservoir. I had to run an errand at lunch. I was listening to the Challenger launch on the car radio as I was driving back to work...and...suddenly

....things were not going right.

I got back to work and ran upstairs where the word was already spreading. No Web with live video in those days, but everyone had E-mail, some people could lurk on USENET groups during the day and many had radios in their offices. One of the engineers had a little TV which he brought into the outer office. We just stood and watch replays of the take-off in shock for at least 20 minutes.

Most computer people were gung-ho space people so this was very traumatic for us.

It was also personal. Christa McAuliffe's younger sister Lisa was a Stratus employee. She was in Florida to watch her sister's launch.

A few months later, we planted a tree outside of Building 1 in Marlboro in honor of Christa. While Stratus hasn't been at that location in many years, I'll try to remember to visit that spot this spring to see if the tree is still there.

As an almost 30-year-old, I was cynical having already lived through the assassination of a president, deaths of 3 astronauts in the Apollo 1 fire in 1967, the Viet Nam War, Watergate, the ERA failing to pass and the election of Reagan. But I always loved space travel unreservedly. Still do.

It's one strong symbol of progress, of looking forward, of taking that next giant leap for mankind.

Thinking about the Challenger and Stratus, made me dig out and digitize a photo of myself from the winter of 1986, while at a party at Stratus one Friday afternoon, and a 2015 photo with my sister-in-law, nephew & niece

March 1986 December 2015

Saturday, January 09, 2016

My Best Movies of 2015

I had a feeling when I first saw Spotlight that it would be my favorite movie of the year, and it is. Exceptionally intelligently written, one of the best ensemble casts ever, it brilliantly portrayed how difficult dealing with child abuse in general is and how very difficult it was to deal with it in Boston when the biggest perpetrators were employees of the Catholic Church. It's a powerful and painful movie that never lost track of the importance of the past in dealing with horrors of the present.

I lived in Massachusetts in the '80s and '90s. I was horrified by the former Father James Porter case and utterly dismayed by how little things changed after that case became oh so public. Spotlight insightfully portrayed why things failed to change after former Father Porter went to jail.

The writers, Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer deserve all best original screenplay awards for 2015 hands down. I didn't see another movie all last year that was as solid as this movie. McCarthy also previously wrote & directed The Station Agent (Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson & Bobby Carnivale) and The Visitor (Richard Jenkins) and wrote the story for one of the best animated features ever, Up. Almost everything he touches portrays real people like real people on camera and I love that (yes, even in Up).

I'd long been a fan of Michael Keaton and I'm very pleased that he's been in each of my favorite movies of the last two years (Birdman and Spotlight). Mark Ruffalo gave both a passionate and compassionate performance. And the actors who played the abuse survivors, particularly Neal Huff (Phil Saviano), Michael Cyril Creighton (Joe Crowley), and Jimmy LeBlanc (Patrick McSorely) captured the difficulties of telling their stories.

While much of this movie may come off as religion-bashing and a love letter to The Boston Globe, watch carefully because there were times when the Globe failed and other times when individuals in the Catholic Church tried to help and were rebuffed as no one (including the Globe) believed them.

When I look back at so many movies this year, I've seen many with great performances (like The Danish Girl and Concussion) but they seem to be lacking something in the storytelling. Spotlight lacks for nothing.

My Top Ten Movies

  1. Spotlight
  2. The Big Short
  3. Suffragette
  4. Grandma
  5. Bridge of Spies
  6. Room Youth
  7. Inside/Out
  8. Trainwreck
  9. The Martian
  10. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Honorable Mentions: Youth, Ex Machina, Spy, Steve Jobs, Brooklyn, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

I have not seen some movies as they either haven't played in Pittsburgh yet or were here very briefly and I've missed them: Room, 45 Years, Tangerine, Anomalisa. [[1/28 - have seen Room now and it's an amazing flick with a career-making performance by Brie Larson. So it's in my "Top Ten" and Youth has fallen to "Honorable Mention."]]

I don't go to movies that are overly violent, so I will not see Fury Road, Hateful Eight or Revenent in a theater, but I might watch them on cable someday. [[Have since seen Fury Road on cable (early morning of the day the Oscar nominations were announced). Charlise Theron and the production values were great. Felt the script was on the weak side, but the journey back to Theron's home was great.]]

I go to most movies shot in Pittsburgh. I tend to avoid movies that look bad to begin with, but saw The Last Witch Hunter as I worked on it. I was the worst movie I paid to see all year. Will Smith gave a great performance in Concussion but the script and photography killed it. Love the Coopers was kind of fun.


Saturday, December 19, 2015

Spoilers * Star Wars, The Force Awakens Comments and Spoilers

So if you really don't want to read spoilers, STOP NOW

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I went to this movie not knowing anything new (though I've just rewatched I, IV, V & VI). Always been a big fan of the first three movies (Star Wars: A New Hope, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi), and didn't care for the second three (Star Wars: Phantom Menace, Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith). I knew by the end of Empire that Leia was "the other," something I argued about for three years because an amazing number of Star Wars fans couldn't see Leia as having that potential.

I was really convinced going in to see The Force Awakens that Rey was Han and Leia's daughter, and, perhaps to protect her, they "hid" her away. She looks much more like their offspring than Adam Driver does. And I thought that helped to explain why she was instantly at home in the Millennium Falcon. But Rey is a great character, and if she's Luke's daughter, that explains a lot (except for her height). It is striking that when Daisy Riley has her hair done more "Earth style," she looks a lot like very tall Natalie Portman. Daisy Ridley was wonderful and I think she'll go far in the movie biz.

I'm not an Adam Driver fan, but I loved him as Kylo - he was basically the ultimate malicious fan boy but the object of his devotion was Darth Vader. If you noticed, he had some power, but he seemed to be barely tolerated by much of the Empire. His parentage was a great surprise and I'm glad that wasn't spoiled for me.

Really liked both Jon Boyega & Oscar Isaac (whom I met when we were working on a movie in Pittsburgh a few years back). Some people were critical of Boyega, but, remember, his character getting his bearings as an individual deserter for the first half of the movie and he was overwhelmed a lot of the time. That was appropriate. Both Boyega & Isaac were terrific and I look forward to them working together in future SW movies.

Adored the Mas character, one of the most realistic CGI characters ever. I hope she survived the bombing of her cantina.

When Han and Kylo both wound up on that bridge, I knew at least one of them would not walk off. That was well-done.

Thought the on-again/off-again relationship of Han and Leia worked very well.

The effects/production values mostly quite good. The practical effects were excellent. There's a tendency for full-CGI sequences to look very gray (particularly noticeable in Harry Potter movies and sometimes in LOTR movies). The filmmakers avoided this.

Loved the "Empire spaceship graveyard."

The bad things:

Not enough Carrie Fisher - Leia. After being a forceful, competent leader as a 19-year-old, Leia seems to have badly faded away. Hated that. Bad scriptwriting there.

Gwendolyn Christie was really underused. She might not have been killed so maybe she'll be back. She's wonderful with weapons and it was sad you never saw her with a light saber or at least a staff. [[Yes, I hear she'll be back YAY!]] Gwendolyn deserves the "best sport" award during the marketing of the movie because we had no clue that she was going to be so invisible in this movie.

The Empire seemed overwhelmingly huge and the Republic seemed incredibly tiny. This was a serious mistake. They needed to be slightly more evenly matched. The Rebellion can't survive with 10 X-wings and one base.

The new Death Star-ish weapon was just too powerful. With the Empire losing two huge weapons in the past, you think their weaponry would be better distributed and not in one basket like that. On the other hand, it was bizarre that the Empire destroyed all the planets in a system except for the planet where they knew the little droid was (since destroying the droid would have solved the problem of Luke's location getting out).

Since moviemakers can do anything with CGI, they did just that. As a result, we got an utterly unbelievable sequence with the Millennium Falcon flying very close to the ground. Sorry, that didn't work for me at all. The asteroid sequence in Empire, pre-CGI, is still the best science-fictional flight sequence ever.

There was way too much running around in the desert town in the first 20 minutes of the movie. Way too much. Pacing of the movie was generally frenetic after that, but usually made more sense.

A few too many convenient coincidences, especially R2-D2 "waking up" at a key moment in the plot (though a friend suggested R2-D2 may be sensitive to "the Force" and started coming around when Rey was in the area.

Finally, the overall plot is too much like the overall plot of A New Hope. Rian Johnson wrote the rather loopy Looper which I liked a lot and wrote the next script so I hope it's not so derivative of earlier Star Wars movies. He'll also be directing episode VIII.


Friday, October 09, 2015

"This Is John Lennon's 75th Birthday" and Other Language Mangles Around Death (a plea from Dead People Server)

I have always hated when people write things like:

Today is John Lennon's 75th birthday

No, no, a thousand times NO!

When people die, they stop aging. That's part of the point of death. John Lennon will never be older than 40. John Kennedy will never by older than 46. Marilyn Monroe will never be older than 36.

Attaching an age older than the age of a person at their death is just plain silly and it denies that they've died.

It is correct to say:

Today is 75th anniversary of John Lennon's birth

That acknowledges that time has passed since he was born, and that he is no longer with us.

Almost as bad is the all-too-common phrase

Today would have been John Lennon's 75th birthday.

Now, when a person dies fairly young, this is a common phrase, and it didn't start bothering me until recently. You expect when someone is murdered at 40, that they could very well have lived another 40 years or so more. But, somehow, once you start saying "X would have been 90" today, that gets much less likely. The vast majority of people don't live to be 90.

My tendency from now on will be to say:

Today could have been John Lennon's 75th birthday.

John Lennon could still have been hit by a bus or something at 41. Just because he was murdered young doesn't mean he would have lived to be very old.

I think acknowledging a dead person's birthday as "anniversary of their birth," while a little wordy, is much more accurate.

Finally, I really don't like the term "passed away," but I understand why people prefer to use it. It sounds less harsh than to say "died." But "died" is more accurate and more honest. So when I die, please say "Laurie has died." I haven't passed anywhere except into death.

Dead People Server


Monday, September 21, 2015

2015 Emmys - Even More Diverse Than You Think...

I'm really glad that Viola Davis, Regina King & Uzo Aduba won Emmys last night. Viola Davis is one of the finest actors working today. Congratulations!!

But the Emmys were even more diverse than most people realize.

For one thing, women-centered productions really dominated. In addition to the female winners mentioned above, Amy Schumer, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and Frances McDormand (who was the person behind bringing Olive Kitteridge to screen when she bought the rights to the novel years ago) all won Emmys for their work.

For another, a fantasy show finally won Best Drama. Game of Thrones really ruled. For years, even good SF/fantasy shows (notably The Twilight Zone and Star Trek: The Next Generation) rarely got Emmy nominations beyond the special effects and some production awards. But Game of Thrones won an acting award, a writing award & a directing award in addition to Best Drama last night, in addition to a pile of production Emmys.

It has been over 50 years since a fantasy show won an Emmy for writing - Rod Serling won two writing Emmys for Twilight Zone.

Voters also finally noticed Orphan Black enough to give the versatile Tatiana Maslany an Emmy nomination for Best Actress. Long overdue, and there's always next year for her.

And, finally, as a longtime Mad Men fan, it was very nice to see Jon Hamm get his due. He was brilliant from the very first episode of the show. And he's also wildly funny. As Saturday Night Live has been kind of shakey the last few years, he was awesome every time he hosted the show.

One entertainment commentator observed this morning that the Emmys expanded its voting pool this year, which could be why the winners were more diverse beyond the usual. I'm really glad they did that.

So congratulations, Emmys, for awarding all kinds of shows run by all kinds of people and starring all kinds of people.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Three Sane #SCOTUS Rulings in Two Days - Marriage Equity, Affirming ACA & Fair Housing

I'm very happy for these victories for modernity. However, we need to be ever-vigilant. Civil rights for all races, genders and religions hasn't rid our nation of racism, sexism or religious bigotry. Likewise homophobia will not vanish due to changes in the law. We can't be complacent because I assure you the people who would rather have theocratic, 19th century laws will keep up the fight to drag us back. FORWARD!

Monday, May 04, 2015

Obese Woman Walks 13.1 Miles and Survives!

Is that click-baity enough for you?

The actual title of this should be "Walking the Pittsburgh Half-Marathon Route," but these days you need an inciteful title to get any readers.

Anyway...

The last few years, I've been increasing my walking. I've walked over 2,450 miles since January 2012. I rarely walk a lot all at once; 3-4 miles a day tends to be my limit, except for a few days while on vacation. I've about walked 8-10 miles per day while on vacation a few times.

I can't run, but I've always been interested in walking a marathon. So I decided I'd try by following the route of the Pittsburgh half marathon.

Walking the Pittsburgh Half-Marathon Route, Saturday, May 2, 2015