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Three years ago I devoted an entire summer’s worth of Throwback Thursdays to doing a review a series of historical novels by American Girl (yes, that’s the doll company) devoted to a girl growing up in the 1970’s named Julie Albright. I thought it would be fun to comparing how the 1970’s were portrayed in those books with my own memories of growing up during that same era.

In the midst of doing those reviews, American Girl decided to revamp its historical line by retiring a few dolls and placing the remaining historical dolls under a new product line known as “BeForever.” In the process I found that the original six novels I had reviewed earlier that summer were combined into two large volumes with all of the original illustrations removed. In addition American Girl released another volume that was basically a “Choose Your Adventure” book.

By the time I finished reviewing that Choose Your Adventure book (A Brighter Tomorrow: My Journey With Julie), I had not only read and reviewed all of the books in that series, I was starting to burn out from doing this project. I briefly revisited this series last year when I did a review of a movie short that American Girl did based on the books called And the Tiara Goes to…

The last time I went to the American Girl Place in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, I found that a new Julie Mystery was published earlier this year called Message in a Bottle. This is the first new Julie Mystery book since 2013 (when Lost in the City was published) and the first new Julie Book overall since A Brighter Tomorrow: My Journey With Julie was released in 2014. (If you’ve missed the reviews I’ve done for other books in this series, there are links at the end of this post where you can read them at your leisure.)

I know that The Police had a hit song called “Message in a Bottle” but that song didn’t come out until 1979—two years after the events in this book. The closest song title that actually came out in Julie’s era (1975-1977) is Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle,” which came out a few years earlier in 1972.

The book was written by Kathryn Reiss, who wrote the previous Julie Mysteries The Tangled WebThe Puzzle of the Paper Daughter, and The Silver Guitar. The cover image was done by Juliana Kolesova and Joe Hinrichs.

All of the Julie Mystery books follow the events in the original Central Series books (which are now only available in the two-volume BeForever Books (The Big Break: A Julie Classic Volume 1 and Soaring High: A Julie Classic Volume 2) and Good Luck, Ivy.

Since this new book is the latest one published and since the events take place in the summer (while the previous Julie Mystery, Lost in the City, takes place during spring break), I’m going to assume that it follows Tangled Web, The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter, The Silver Guitar, and Lost in the City.

Like all of the other Julie books, this one was written for a target audience of girls between the ages of 8-12 so some of the hot button topics of the 1970’s (such as the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision, which legalized abortion) won’t be mentioned at all.

She’s back and all ready to solve another mystery!

Synopsis: Julie Albright is a white girl with long blonde hair and brown eyes growing up in 1977 San Francisco. Her parents are divorced so she spends most of her time living with her mother, who operates her store full of handcrafted items (some of which are made from repurposed and recycled clothes) called Gladrags, and her 17-year-old sister, Tracy, in a small apartment that’s located above her mother’s store. On most weekends she stays with her father, a commercial airline pilot, in the same home that the entire family lived in before the divorce. During her visits with her father, she gets a chance to spend some quality time with her pet brown rabbit, Nutmeg (who has to stay with her father because her mother’s apartment complex doesn’t allow pets), and play with her best friend who lives across the street, Ivy Ling.

It’s the summer and schools are currently closed until September. Julie has been spending most of it alone in her mother’s apartment reading library books. (Apparently Julie’s 11th birthday came and went since it’s on May 1.) Both of her parents are busy with their jobs. Her sister Tracy is currently working not one but two summer jobs so she is rarely home these days. Her two closest friends, Ivy Ling and T.J. (whom the book misidentifies as “CJ” so it’s pretty obvious that some editor screwed up big time), are currently out of town visiting relatives.

But then her mother receives a letter from her younger sister, Nadine, whom she hasn’t seen in 10 years. Nadine writes that she desperately needs her sister’s help on the commune where she lives with her son, Raymond, and she would like for her sister to come soon. She also mentions that she doesn’t have a phone so Mrs. Albright should just drive to the commune as soon as possible.

Apparently Tracy isn’t able to take time off from either of her two jobs so Mrs. Albright has arranged for her to stay at her father’s home and she also got her assistant at Gladrags to mind the store while she’s away. Her and Julie hit the road, driving north of San Francisco.

They eventually reached Sonora, the small town that’s located closest to Nadine’s commune. They decide to eat lunch at the outer space-themed Galaxy Cafe. They are waited on by a teen girl named Dolores who’s having such a hard time with arriving at her job on time from her break and messing up orders that the cafe’s owner, Mr. Coker, really chews Dolores out in front of Julie and her mother. Mr. Coker apologizes for Dolores’ mistakes and says that the meal is on the house. When Mrs. Albright mentions that she’s on her way to the commune to visit her sister, Mr. Coker says that Dolores lives at the commune herself. He also says that he had offered to buy the land from the commune but they keep on turning him down each time.

Julie and her mother arrive at the commune known as Gold Moon Ranch and Julie meets her Aunt Nadine and cousin Raymond (who’s around Julie’s age) for the first time since she was a toddler. As they are given a tour of the facilities, they learn that Gold Moon Ranch is supposed to be a self-sustaining commune where people live off the land and they make extra money on the side selling their homegrown vegetables and jars of honey. The commune includes a small cottage for each family unit along with a large central building, known as the Big House, where all the commune members eat their meals and gather for other events. The commune children are educated in a one-room schoolhouse on the premises and the adult members take turns serving as teachers. There is a large treehouse for the children to play in. There is also a separate bathhouse building with toilets (which are little more than seats on the ground over open pits) and with a water pump where the residents draw water to take a bath. (The commune has no running water or electricity.) They raise chickens, cows, and sheep while also growing their own vegetables. They make everything from scratch, including butter and wool yarn.

The commune got its name from the fact that it is located on the site of a former gold mine where gold miners used to dig during the California Gold Rush that went on from 1848-1855. The former mine has been boarded up in order to deter kids and trespassers from going in.

Nadine and her husband, David, founded Gold Moon Ranch and things were okay until her husband decided to join the military and fight in the Vietnam War. This decision was a shock because both Nadine and David were previously opposed to the war and so were all of their fellow commune members. It turns out that David joined because his twin brother was missing in action and he wanted to find him. He learned that his brother was killed and he was seriously injured not long afterwards. He relearned how to walk in rehab but he was unable to resume his work at Gold Moon Ranch due to his injuries so he has decided to take a part-time job at the library in Sonora. (Nadine mentions that things had become so strained between her and her husband that he decided to live in Sonora instead of the commune.)

David is described in the book as being very industrious and good with his hands before he went off to Vietnam. Ever since David went off to war the various commune members have been gradually moving out and it has gotten to the point where the remaining members can barely keep the place running and they are also having a hard time paying taxes. The reason why Nadine asks her older sister for help is because Mrs. Albright had been writing Nadine letters about how she had founded her Gladrags store and is currently doing well with it.  Nadine hopes that Mrs. Albright can put her knowledge and experience to work in helping the commune start its own store where they can sell their various handmade items.

Meanwhile Raymond has been distraught over his parents’ separation and he frequently talks about how his father had built many things on the commune and he basically misses his father. Julie tries to console her cousin by telling him that her parents are divorced and she once wanted her parents to reconcile but she has gotten used to her parents living apart. It’s obvious that Raymond hasn’t quite fully accepted his parents being separated while Julie has fully adjusted to her parents’ divorce because Raymond frequently talks about how much he misses his Pa.

If all that weren’t enough, there have been some pretty strange things happening at the commune. When Julie and her mother first arrived, they see the commune members trying to capture the chickens that had somehow escaped from the fenced-in area. Raymond tells Julie that the beehives are currently empty because the bees were somehow mysteriously driven away. Periodically Julie finds paper napkins scattered on the property that are the same ones that are used at the Galaxy Cafe. One night after midnight Julie follows her cousin to the entrance of the abandoned gold mine only for the two cousins to discover mysterious lights coming from that gold mine even though it’s supposed to be boarded up. Someone cuts the laundry cord while the commune’s freshly washed clothes were hanging outside to dry. Someone also manages to open one of the gates so the calf can run away while leaving her mother behind as the culprit leaves behind yet another one of those Galaxy Cafe napkins. (Julie finds the missing calf tied to a tree besides the river.)

During one of her walks with her cousin, Julie finds a perfume bottle along the river that runs near the abandoned gold mine. She later inspects it and finds that there is a message inside (hence the name of this book) while the bottle opening itself is sealed with wax. Julie manages to remove the wax, open the bottle, and take out the message. As she reads it she finds that it’s actually a poem about the downside of being a gold miner that has been signed with only the name Jack. Basically Jack wrote his poem to his “darling girl” where he expresses regrets ever becoming a gold miner and he now realizes that his love for her is a better source of being rich than gold.

What Julie saw at the commune raises all kinds of questions with her. Who really wrote that poem and why was it sealed in a bottle and thrown in the river? Who is behind all of those sabotage efforts on the commune and why is the person doing this? Is Mr. Coker doing this in an effort to get the commune to sell him the land? Or is it someone else, such as a disgruntled commune member? And what about those paper napkins from the Galaxy Cafe? Are they being left behind by accident or are they being left behind to send a subtle message to the commune that they should let Mr. Coker buy the property? Does that message in a bottle have anything to do with the sabotage that’s going on in the commune? Julie is determined to get to the bottom of all this.

The book ends with the two-page section titled “Inside Julie’s World,” discusses the rise of communes while mentioning the fact that the fictional Gold Moon Ranch is similar to a real-life Tennessee commune known as The Farm. The section mentions that these 1970s communes would later lead to the creation of co-housing and other forms of intentional communities in recent years (including co-housing for artists and senior citizens).

The section also goes into the plight of the Vietnam vets who returned home only to suffer through disabilities both physical and emotional while briefly mentioning veterans of more recent wars who have gone through something similar.

Music Mentioned in This Book

“Michael Row the Boat Ashore”

“Sweet Betsy From Pike”

“This Land is Your Land”

News and Other Stuff From the Era Mentioned

California Gold Rush
The Farm commune in Tennessee
Vietnam War

My Own Impressions Based on My Own Experiences With the 1970’s

I used to hear about people living on communes when I was growing up but my parents were never into living that lifestyle. I remember when there was a cul-de-sac court of four or five houses located across from the street where I lived and once a year that particular area would organize a block party that was especially for those houses. (I used to go to that block party with a friend who lived next door to me and we used to play with the kids who lived there. The adults never minded us being there at the block party even though our homes weren’t in that cul-de-sac. I remember having fun at those block parties.) My mother used to talk about how she was glad our house wasn’t in a cul-de-sac court so she wouldn’t have to get involved with organizing one of those block parties because she had enough to do with her full-time job (she was an office manager for a life insurance company that has long since been merged with another life insurance company).

If she felt like that about an annual block party, I can only imagine her reluctance to live in a commune where everything was shared and people had to constantly take turns making the communal meals or educating the children. Besides, there weren’t any communes located anywhere near Glen Burnie, Maryland (where I grew up). Heck, I can’t even say if a commune had ever been established anywhere in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

My then-fiancee and I started attending a Unitarian Universalist church just a few months before I was married at 23. It was a usual religious community where people (both with and without families) would attend weekly Sunday service and get involved in extra curricular activities (such as book discussion groups, dinners, and other types of social activities).

My then-husband and I had been members of that UU congregation for a number of years when we got involved in a day-long workshop that was put on by the Unitarian Universalist Association at our church, which had guided activities that encouraged people to come up with ideas as to how to attract more people to our congregation and to UUism in general. This workshop started off with all of the participants being divided into small groups. Then we were given questions about the congregation’s history that we would discuss within the small group.

During the course of doing this exercise, it came out that during the 1970’s that some of the members of our congregation had started to meet in a smaller group where they discussed the issues of the day. In time they started to hold dances and other social events. These members had been dissatisfied with society in general after living through such things as Martin Luther King’s assassination and the Vietnam War. They began talking and this group started to express dissatisfaction with the whole idea of living in nuclear families and they wanted to explore alternative ways of living together in a community.

This group formed the nucleus of a movement where they would live together in a community and jointly share in the household chores and child raising, just like the commune described in the book. However, this group took things a bit further by exploring what was then called open marriage where married couples started having side relationships while staying married to their spouses. (Today it would be called polyamory.) I know that not all communes had explored anything like this and I can understand why American Girl would not even want to even hint about this in that book since their target audience are kids from 8-12 and they just did not want to provoke parental outrage.

There were two communes that they attempted to form. The first one was a group home in the Washington, DC suburbs but that one lasted just a few years. There was another attempt as a group decided to start a farm in Southern Maryland. I know that this farm still existed as late as the 1990’s (that’s because one of our longtime members had moved there because she wanted to live there post-retirement while being reunited with her old friends from the 1970s but she only lasted a few years before she moved back to our area) but I don’t know if it is still around or not.

I was amazed as I was hearing that story for the first time because none of the older members had ever mentioned anything like that to me before. I found out that it was because this group became controversial among other congregation members who weren’t into exploring open marriages or alternative ways of living together. I was told that quite a few members had left over this and it nearly led to a congregational split at one point.

By the time my husband and I started attending that church, this movement had pretty much collapsed and I guess that the other members just didn’t want to talk about a movement that had become very divisive within our congregation so I didn’t learn about this for years until I attended that workshop.

This led to a lay-led summer service just a couple of years later as the people who were active during that group’s heyday spoke about their experiences. I learned quite a lot from that service. For example, in the Message in a Bottle book I read it said in the “Inside Julie’s World” section at the end that it was young adults who had formed communes. This wasn’t the case with the people who formed their own movement within our UU congregation. One of the speakers said that the youngest person involved in the movement was 35 at the time. Another speaker said that her 25-year marriage disintegrated as a result of her and her husband getting involved in all aspects of that movement, including open marriage. Basically the majority of people who were involved were in their 40s, 50s, and even older during the movement’s heyday. Another aspect of that movement is that they had a no-drug policy and one of the speakers said that they had drummed out a few members for violating that policy too many times.

I later read in UU World magazine that this movement exploring alternative lifestyles and relationships was not unique to just our congregation. This article mentions how there was casual sex that took place among members of many congregations during the 1970s, including partner swapping, and how one UU congregation member said that she was frequently propositioned by married men.

The closest I had come to ever living in a commune was the time when I lived in off-campus housing just a half a mile from the University of Maryland campus in College Park. All except one of us were full-time students. (The one non-student was an aspiring DJ who worked as a busboy just so he could make ends meet.) We would socialize and stuff but we rarely ate our meals together because of our different class schedules. We had our own boyfriends/girlfriends and none of us had ever gotten into polyamory or anything like that. (It was hard enough juggling just one relationship with our studies, let alone trying to juggle two or more relationships.) I moved out after I graduated from school and moved back to my parents’ home in Glen Burnie. I moved out again 10 months later when I got married to a townhouse that I still live in because I got it as part of my divorce settlement.

As for the book itself, it’s not the first time Julie had tried roughing it with her relatives (see Julie’s Journey ) but this book had a much better-written plot than Julie’s Journey. The book provided some insight on what it was like to live in a commune. I found it mildly amusing when Julie admired certain aspects of the commune (such as seeing the stars at night with much greater intensity than in the streetlight-soaked city skies) while her cousin Raymond and teen commune member Dolores envied her because she has access to television and all of the amenities of big city life (such as a public library with a lot of books). Julie also took the point of view that it would be very difficult for some people to adjust to a lifestyle like Gold Moon Ranch. At one point in the book Julie admitted that moving to Gold Moon Ranch would mean not seeing her father or friends as much and she would also have to leave her current school.

The book became gripping when a commune member was trapped in the abandoned gold mine in the middle of a heavy storm that had the riverbanks flooding and Julie found herself in a race against time to help free that person before the gold mine became so flooded that the two of them would drown.

I also like the fact that this was a mystery where I wasn’t able to figure out what was really going on until the very end, unlike the earlier Julie Mysteries where I would guess the ending about midway through the book and I would be found correct at the end. I think making the mystery challenging enough makes the book more interesting.

The one thing I miss from this book that the older edition of the Julie Books had were the Looking Back section at the end, which were a multi-page spread that not only featured text but also vintage photographs and other illustrations from the era in which Julie grew up in. This new book, like the newer BeForever books, only have a text-only two-page spread titled  “Inside Julie’s Word.” It would’ve been more interesting to young readers had there been at least one photo of a real-life commune just so the kids could get an idea as to what one really looked like. Granted any kid could just Google “1970s communes” on a computer but I think it’s more convenient to have the visual information at hand while reading the text without having to interrupt reading the book, go to a computer, and do an online search.

I found the book to be a pretty good read but I still think The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter is the best of the Julie Mysteries because it was gripping at times with people following her and Ivy as they went through the streets of Chinatown and it also delved into the uncomfortable history of the racism against Chinese Americans.

That’s it for my book review. I have no idea if American Girl will come out with any more Julie Mysteries but if it does, I’m sure that I’ll probably buy it and read it. I’ll probably write another review for this blog.

I also noticed something about the Julie Mysteries. The events in the first, third, and fifth books (Tangled Web, The Silver Guitar, and Message in a Bottle) predominantly take place while Julie is with her mother. The events in the second and fourth books (The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter and Lost in the City) take place while Julie is with her father. If there is to be another book, it would be the sixth Julie Mystery book, so I predict that—if such a book is written and published—it will take place when Julie is with her father and her pal Ivy Ling will probably be there as well.

That’s the only speculation I’m going to provide about any possible potential future Julie Books because I’m not into spreading rumors.

If you want to buy this book and/or read my other Julie Book reviews that I wrote back in 2014, check out the links at the end of this post.

Where to Buy Message in a Bottle

Amazon
American Girl
Barnes & Noble
Powell’s Books

The American Girl Julie Albright Books List

The Original Central Series

Meet Julie
Julie Tells Her Story
Happy New Year, Julie
Julie and the Eagles
Julie’s Journey
Changes for Julie

The Best Friend Book

Good Luck, Ivy

The Julie Mysteries

The Tangled Web
The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter
The Silver Guitar
Lost in the City
Message in a Bottle

The BeForever Books

The Big Break: A Julie Classic Volume 1—A compilation of the first three Julie Albright Central Series books (Meet Julie, Julie Tells Her Story, and Happy New Year, Julie).

Soaring High: A Julie Classic Volume 2—A compilation of the last three Julie Albright Central Series books (Julie and the Eagles, Julie’s Journey, and Changes for Julie).

A Brighter Tomorrow: My Journey with Julie

Other Media Featuring Julie

And the Tiara Goes to…—A film short based on the Julie books.

Third Eye Comics has been around for a few years. The store had simply moved to larger quarters just around the corner from its former location. The store decided to have a grand opening event to celebrate this. Here’s a look at the entrance to the new facilities.

Third Eye Comics Grand Opening, July 8, 2017

This is a really cool example of trompe l’oeil.

Third Eye Comics Grand Opening, July 8, 2017

As you can see in the next few photos this event was well attended.

Third Eye Comics Grand Opening, July 8, 2017

Third Eye Comics Grand Opening, July 8, 2017

Third Eye Comics Grand Opening, July 8, 2017

There were all kinds of items available for sale, such as this Weeping Angel tote bag from the Doctor Who TV show.

Third Eye Comics Grand Opening, July 8, 2017

There were comic books, graphic novels, vinyl toys, coffee mugs, and other kinds of related merchandise available for sale.

Third Eye Comics Grand Opening, July 8, 2017

Third Eye Comics Grand Opening, July 8, 2017

Third Eye Comics Grand Opening, July 8, 2017

Third Eye Comics Grand Opening, July 8, 2017

Third Eye Comics Grand Opening, July 8, 2017

Third Eye Comics Grand Opening, July 8, 2017

Third Eye Comics Grand Opening, July 8, 2017

Third Eye Comics Grand Opening, July 8, 2017

Third Eye Comics Grand Opening, July 8, 2017

Third Eye Comics Grand Opening, July 8, 2017

Third Eye Comics also has a games store, known as Third Eye Games, whose entrance is located next to Third Eye Comics’ space.

Third Eye Comics Grand Opening, July 8, 2017

As you can guess from the name, Third Eye Games have all kinds of card games and board games available for sale, such as this Ghostbusters game.

Third Eye Comics Grand Opening, July 8, 2017

There were plenty of people playing games when I was there.

Third Eye Comics Grand Opening, July 8, 2017

Third Eye Comics Grand Opening, July 8, 2017

Third Eye Comics Grand Opening, July 8, 2017

I took advantage of the store’s special 20% discount on graphic novels to make my one and only purchase from that store. As you can guess by the cover, Deadpool the Duck is a mash-up between Howard the Duck and Deadpool. Having read it, I can tell you that it’s definitely hilarious. I would recommend picking it up if you have the chance.

Third Eye Comics Grand Opening, July 8, 2017

Sexual harassment in Silicon Valley: have we reached a tipping point?

Rare century-old images of the Inuit people taken by Canada’s first female photographer.

A Chelsea art gallery where artists have to be 60 or older in order to display their works.

Christina in Red: Gorgeous photos of a young woman in vivid reds from 1913.

What happened when Walmart came then left a small town in West Virginia.

Build your ecosystem wisely: the people I don’t want to make business with and why.

Download 300 knitting books published from 1849 to 2012 for free.

Would you like to crochet hippos? You can download a bunch of different crochet patterns where you can make all kinds of hippos.

Bad Bunny: True children’s stories of violent, drug-fueled family life presented as a kids’ book.

Footage from the time a fan smuggled a color camera into a taping of I Love Lucy in 1951.

Uber can’t be fixed—it’s time for regulators to shut it down.

A new book examines how the upper-middle class has enriched itself and harmed economic mobility.

The rise of the 21st century Victorians.

Brooklyn’s famous Green Lady explains her lifelong devotion to the color green.

The far-out sci-fi costume parties of the Bauhaus school in the 1920s.

It’s the end of the shopping mall as we know it.

How to deal with a 4Chan troll. There is some information that’s useful for anyone who’s dealing with any kind of online troll regardless of whether it involves politics or not.

Low-income workers who live in RVs are being chased out of Silicon Valley streets.

Feminist publication makes history by appointing black trans woman as editor-in-chief.

The sketchbook of drawings done in ballpoint pen by Nicolas V. Sanchez.

A look at the female pioneers of the Bauhaus art movement.

The fight for health care is really all about civil rights.

23 ways to treat yourself without buying or eating anything.

Glow-in-the-dark “toonie” coins celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary.

These bosses share the worst interviews they’ve ever seen and the results are stunning.

Browse a collection of over 83,500 vintage sewing patterns.

Bid on old computers, speakers, radios, and other junk from the bowels of RadioShack.

This transgender doll is making huge strides in teaching children about gender roles.

She took on Tesla for discrimination. Now others are speaking up.

A new kind of tech job emphasizes skills, not a college degree.

Women in tech speak frankly on the culture of harassment.

Over decades of poverty, Detroit’s have fostered a resilient informal economy based on trust.

GoFraudMe is a blog that exposes fake GoFundMe campaigns.

Rural America is the new “inner city.”

3 ways to be seen as a leader in your field.

Artist repaints mass-produced dolls to make them look realistic and the result is amazing.

Every Sega game ever made is coming to iOS and Android for free.

Edvard Munch’s famous Scream painting animated to Pink Floyd music.

Despite serving time in a Russian prison under Vladimir Putin, a member of the punk rock group Pussy Riot is still defiant.

This 106-year-old cooking show host is YouTube’s oldest creator.

On the Saturday during the Fourth of July holiday weekend, I decided to check out this toy show that was being held at the Maryland State Fairgrounds.

It was such a feast for the eyes as the toys and various other vintage items were displayed at various vendor tables. The whole show took on the air of a flea market with an emphasis on vintage stuff dating anywhere from the 1900s to the 1990s.

Toy Show, July 1, 2017

Someone had a jukebox for sale, which reminded me of my childhood when many of the local restaurants had them and people could choose songs to play for about a quarter each.

Toy Show, July 1, 2017

The jukebox played music during the entire event. (Which proved that it definitely still worked.) I couldn’t help taking pictures of the songs that were available on the jukebox. The majority of them were hits when I was a kid.

Toy Show, July 1, 2017

Toy Show, July 1, 2017

And speaking of music players, here’s a vintage 8-track player with an Elvis Presley 8-track tape. I once had a stereo system that included an 8-track player but I never owned one like that. But I could’ve sworn that one of my friends or maybe one of my cousins had a player just like that but I don’t know for sure. (Memory is one of those funny things where you remember something but you don’t remember when, where, or how you remember it.)

Toy Show, July 1, 2017

Late last year I did a series of blog posts with accompanying photos known as A Tabletop Christmas (so-named because I limit my Christmas decorating to just a single tabletop in my living room). Among the items I showed off was a small plastic Santa Claus puppet that I’ve had since I was a child. I didn’t know anything about the origins of this puppet. It wasn’t until I went to the toy show when I saw a tiny plastic Santa puppet on sale that’s identical to mine.

Toy Show, July 1, 2017

The only difference between the two is that this Santa still had its label at the base while mine doesn’t have any labels at all. (I suspect that whatever label it had must’ve fallen off a long time ago.) My Santa puppet is currently stored in a box with the other Christmas decorations in the attic but here’s a picture of my Santa puppet that I took last December.

photo15

At first I thought the animal in the next picture was a stuffed animal until I saw the dog move his eyes around. He laid there the entire time I was at that show.

Toy Show, July 1, 2017

This show also had examples of how the mighty had fallen. I found this book by disgraced former Fox News talk show host Bill O’Reilly on sale for only $1 at one of the tables. (LOL!)

Toy Show, July 1, 2017

There was one token of something new that I found. Someone was selling glow-in-the-dark versions of the hottest toy of 2017: Fidget Spinners.

Toy Show, July 1, 2017

By the way, you can check out a video I shot recently where I unboxed and played with one of those Fidget Spinners for the first time (and, no, the one I bought didn’t glow in the dark).

Everywhere there were visual treats, many of which harkened back to my own youth.

Toy Show, July 1, 2017

Toy Show, July 1, 2017

Toy Show, July 1, 2017

Toy Show, July 1, 2017

Toy Show, July 1, 2017

Toy Show, July 1, 2017

Toy Show, July 1, 2017

Toy Show, July 1, 2017

Toy Show, July 1, 2017

Toy Show, July 1, 2017

Toy Show, July 1, 2017

Toy Show, July 1, 2017

Toy Show, July 1, 2017

Toy Show, July 1, 2017

Toy Show, July 1, 2017

Toy Show, July 1, 2017

Toy Show, July 1, 2017

Toy Show, July 1, 2017

As I was walking back to the light rail stop I shot this photo of The Cow Palace building because it had a nice small garden.

Toy Show, July 1, 2017

I didn’t buy a lot of stuff at that toy show due mainly to tight finances. But I managed to snag a couple of things at bargain rates. I found the second season of The Simpsons DVD set for only $6.

Toy Show, July 1, 2017

I bought a Monster High doll for only $5. I was attracted to her pretty winter-themed clothes. At first I thought I may have purchased a relative of The Snow Queen until I did an online search and I was able to make a definite identification. Based on this web page, her name is Abbey Bominable and she’s described as the 16-year-old daughter of the Yeti.

Toy Show, July 1, 2017

Here’s a closeup of her hair, which looks like it has glittery plastic pellets weaved throughout the strands. It gives a really cool ice/snow effect, especially when the light reflects off of her hair.

Toy Show, July 1, 2017

Tired of the same old cheap paperclip? For $185 you can buy this special Prada paperclip to help make your life organized.

26 stylish seniors who refuse to wear old people’s clothes.

Why old women have replaced young men as the art world’s darlings.

America newest grocery store chain has an advantage that should terrify Walmart.

Philanthropist Agnes Gund urges collectors to sell their art to fight for justice.

Forgotten art deco marvels of a lost 1920’s Copacabana.

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Late last week I finished my latest animation, which is based on the song “Jack Sprat (aka Butcher the Hog)” by The Bachelor and the Bad Actress. Here is the video. I’ll write more about how I made it below.

I’m pretty friendly with a few local musicians. (None of them are major stars and all of them have day jobs since they don’t make enough money from being musicians to pay the bills.) A few months ago I did a short animation to Phil Shapiro’s song “Open Source is Yours and Mine.

Among my musician friends are a husband and wife duo known as The Bachelor and the Bad Actress. (I even went to their wedding that was held during the Crazy Quilt Festival in Greenbelt, Maryland a couple of years ago.) At one point I was communicating with Joe the Bachelor on Facebook (yes, he’s married now but he’s still known as The Bachelor because, well, old habits die hard [LOL!]) and I linked to the “Open Source is Yours and Mine” and I joked about offering to trash one of his songs the way I “trashed” the “Open Source” song. He really liked the video and was open to the idea of an animated music video to one of The Bachelor and the Bad Actress’ songs.

Meanwhile I’ve been going to the weekly animation meetup at Makerspace 125 and there is talk about all of us collaborating together on one animation but nothing has happened yet along those lines (as of this writing). When I mentioned this to Joe the Bachelor, he offered to let those of us in that meetup to each take one of their songs and animate it.

I brought it up with the meetup group but it was met with indifference. I decided to do one of their songs on my own and show it to the other meetup attendees just to show that it’s possible. I picked “Jack Sprat (aka Butcher the Hog)” because the lyrics were straightforward and I figured that I could do a comedic animation that’s reminiscent of the old Warner Brothers Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts from the 1940’s and 1950’s.

I used Moho Anime Studio Debut for the bulk of the animation. There were a few times when I had to use Adobe Photoshop for some scenes where using Anime Studio would’ve been frustrating. (Like most graphics programs, Anime Studio Debut uses layers. Unlike the other graphics programs, you literally cannot control the opacity in those layers. So I switched to Photoshop for those times when I needed to control the opacity of certain layers, exported the graphics as a .jpeg, then imported it into Anime Studio Debut. I’m going to stop here on the technical stuff since not everyone is interested in such details.)

This animation was my first foray into actual lip-synching. Anime Studio Debut recommended this free open source software called Papagayo, which churns out lip movements based on both audio recordings and what you type into the application. If you want to know more about this, I suggest getting it yourself, since it is free to download.

I originally planned on doing the entire thing in Anime Studio Debut while I would use iMovie only to put in the opening title and closing credits. There was a snag when I discovered that Anime Studio Debut can’t go any further than 3,000 frames and the song lasts longer than that. I was basically using the app’s default at 24 frames per second. If you do the math, you’d know that the maximum run time that the software can handle is 125 seconds or two minutes and five seconds. The song runs for two minutes and 31 seconds.

I found a workaround when I brought the song into Audacity and broke it up in two. Then I created two separate animation files, exported them separately, then brought them into iMovie where I managed to patch everything together into one file.

While I was working on this, I found out that Moby had been releasing animated music videos. The first one is a statement about people being addicted to their smartphones. The second one has become controversial because it makes an unflattering statement about President Donald Trump but that’s another story altogether. I was influenced by the end titles in both videos and they were my inspiration for how I created the end title in my own animation where I showed people where they can download or stream The Bachelor and the Bad Actress’ music.

Speaking of President Trump, I added some imagery of my own about The Donald along with a quote from George Orwell’s book Animal Farm. See if you can spot them while you’re watching my video.

I have to admit that this was my most ambitious animation to date and there were times when I was on the verge of burnout. And that’s because I was also doing some major job hunting using tips from a book that I had recently gotten a hold of.

I finally decided that doing two big things at once wasn’t good for my health. With the Fourth of July holiday coming up, I decided that I would finish the animation first then resume reading the job hunting book after the holiday. (If this book works for me and I end up getting a new day job to pay the bills, I will write another post praising this book and urging all my readers of this blog to buy it.) With another finished animation under my belt, I now have something recent I can show to any potential employer interested in my animation skills.

I’m also toying with starting a Patreon page where I would make short animations (meaning less than five minutes) for anyone willing to give me some money. Working on this animation has shown me what I can realistically do for a potential patron while setting a price that’s reasonable for the patron while not pricing myself so low that I end up making $1 or $2 per hour (which is impossible to live on anywhere in the United States of America).

By the way, if you like the song, “Jack Sprat (aka Butcher the Hog),”  you can purchase it or stream it through The Bachelor and the Bad Actress’ Bandcamp page.

Here’s my latest book review about Planet Heartbreak by Vikki Stark, which is a companion piece to Stark’s previous book, Runaway Husbands, which really resonated with me on a personal level. I decided to write a text-only review because I know I would totally lose it if I even attempted to do a video review.

In September, 2011 I underwent hip surgery. My loving husband took great care of me before and after my surgery. He took a temporary leave from his NASA job so he could take care of me while I recuperated. He drove me to my outpatient physical therapy sessions. Once he had to return to work a couple of months later, he lined up various friends who drove me to and from physical therapy. One of my friends later told me that when we went to their home for a Christmas party they threw we seemed so happy together. On Christmas Day he made a lovely dinner for the two of us where he said he used beer as a themed ingredient while he made French onion soup and a seafood dish in a beer broth.

Imagine my surprise when, just three days after Christmas, my husband arrived home from work. He had a wild-eye look on his face as he blurted out “I’m moving out,” said that he had rented a room, and threw three pieces of paper in my direction before bolting out the door. I looked at the three pieces of paper. One was my first alimony check. One was a schedule to separate our finances he had written out that would culminate in our eventual divorce. The third was a letter where he essentially blamed the fact that I had purchased a doll the day before my hip surgery as a reason why he had to leave home because the doll added to the clutter of our home.

At first I thought he had just snapped. I knew he was under stress from my surgery, the stresses at his job (he was working on a major satellite project at the time), the fact that he was battling bronchitis, and he had just been diagnosed with high blood pressure. But he refused to speak with me even though I tried leaving voice mail messages (he refused to pick up when I called his phone), text messages, and emails. I found out through friends that he had left me for one of our friends who has been battling severe depression for most of her adult life (she had just been granted SSI disability shortly before he left me).

In the wake of his leaving me, I did a Google search on “my husband ran away from home” and I was directed to this website that also served as the promotion for a book written by Vikki Stark called Runaway Husbands. I ordered that book from Amazon and even paid extra to have it rush-delivered to my home. I read and re-read that book so many times over the past few years that I think I have gotten it memorized by now. It was such a great help to me as it helped me to brace myself for whatever horror my husband threw at me (such as the fact that nearly a year after he left home he sent a divorce petition in a .PDF format that was attached to an email he sent on Christmas Eve). My ex-husband married the other woman just two months after our divorce was final.

In one of our very rare and brief face-to-face conversations my husband said that it was my fault that he had to leave home and hook up with that mentally ill woman. I later found out through friends that they saw him flirting and actively pursuing that woman at the cafe where she used to work two nights a week while I was home recuperating from that surgery. Given his current state of mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if he blames me for the fact that he married this woman soon after our divorce was final.

Not too long ago I found out that Vikki Stark had published a companion volume to Runaway Husbands, which I have recently finished reading. This one is called Planet Heartbreak and it’s a series of essays written by women whose spouses have abruptly left them. While the original Runaway Husbands book had testimony written by women whose husbands had left them, they were interspersed with Vikki Stark’s writings about her research into not only the abrupt demise of her own marriage (her husband suddenly walked out on her the day after she returned home from a tour promoting her first book that she wrote about sister relationships) but other women’s marriages that had also met a similar quick end.

Planet Heartbreak is different in that it consists entirely of essays written by women whose marriages had ended with no advanced warning that their marriages were even in trouble. Vikki Stark included women who had young children, women with adult children, women who never had children, young adult women, middle-aged women, even senior citizens who had been married for a few decades. There is even an essay written by a woman who had been in a long-term same-sex relationship with another woman until her spouse abruptly left her and their two adopted children. In short, there are essays written by women who come from all walks of life.

The one thing that struck me as I read these essays is that all of the husbands are depicted as suddenly switching from being kind and loving spouses to being incredibly cold, indifferent, distant, and even nasty. This fits my ex-husband perfectly. He has gone from being a very sweet, friendly guy who had a great sense of humor to being this totally distant unfriendly stranger—the kind of person I would never even consider dating in the first place let alone marry him.

The only silver lining is that many of our longtime friends have noticed a change in him as well. They have told me about how unhappy he looks these days and his second wife also looks unhappy. Sadly I can’t do a thing about this, especially since he divorced me. He was the one who left me for a mentally ill woman. He was the one who sued me for divorce and married her just two months after our divorce was final. It’s like what Dr. Phil frequently says on his TV show, “When you choose the behavior, you choose the consequences.”

At the beginning of the book Vikki Stark advises the reader to try not to read the entire book in one sitting, which I personally think is good advice. Many of the stories in these essays are gut-wrenching to read at times. Some women had to sell their marital home because they couldn’t afford to keep it. Some women with minor children still had to deal with the minefield of coparenting with a now-hostile ex. One of the women wrote about how her husband has not only cut her out of his life but has also cut out their adult son and 8-year-old grandson as well.

There were two essays where the husbands regretted what they did and wanted to reunite with their wives. One of the women decided to remain separated for the time being and just take things slowly by seeing her ex once or twice a month. The other woman, who’s a devout Christian, welcomed her husband back into their home as he told her that Satan made him leave her and she has basically forgiven him for what he did to her. Those two essays are a far cry from the fairy tale ending “And they all lived happily ever after.”

Vikki Stark wrote that Planet Heartbreak is meant to be a companion volume to her previous book and people should really read the first book before reading her latest one. For me Runaway Husbands helped me deal with what to expect regarding my husband. Planet Heartbreak only further drove the point that what happened to my marriage wasn’t really 100% my fault and there was absolutely nothing I could say or do to get my husband to change his mind and return home.

While Planet Heartbreak isn’t required reading for those who are dealing with their own runaway spouses, I would recommend it for anyone who’s still reeling from an unexpected divorce and has read Runaway Husbands so many times that they have memorized it because reading other people’s stories does provide a chance for healing and hope for the future.

I have one minor quibble with the book. At the beginning of each essay there is a mention about how long each woman had been separated from her husband (which ranges from two months to over 10 years). I wished the essays had been better organized according to the length of the separation (meaning that the essays written by the newly separated would be in front of the book while the longer separations being located towards the end) because it would’ve been easier for someone who’s been separated for—let’s say—three months to find the essays from the recently separated while people who’ve been separated longer can find the essays from the women who have also been separated for over a year or more. I think grouping the essays according to length of separation would provide one with an idea of how it’s possible to recuperate from something as traumatic as a spouse who has ran away from home.

For me reading Planet Heartbreak has helped me to accept the fact that the man I once knew is gone for good and some stranger with an unfriendly personality is currently inhabiting his body. I don’t regret getting this book.

I remember seeing my parents reading William Peter Blatty’s bestselling novel The Exorcist when I was growing up. A couple of years later the controversial movie came out and I remember when the Catholic Church denounced it and people were horrified to see a young Linda Blair simulate sex with a crucifix and spit up green pea soup. I wanted to see the movie but my parents wouldn’t let me (I was 12 at the time) so I had to content myself with reading Mad magazine’s parody of that movie. A couple of years later the movie was re-released. I was 14 by then and I was finally allowed to see that film. I remembered being totally scared shitless so much that I had a hard time falling asleep that night. That film was re-released in order to prepare the general public for the sequel (which I saw and it’s basically forgettable enough that it didn’t scare me at all). I saw it again as an adult when an extended-director’s cut was re-released to the theaters in 2000 and I found that it still held up as a scary movie after all these years.

Parts of the movie were shot on location in Georgetown. There are a set of outdoor concrete stairs located at the corner of Prospect and 36th Streets, Northwest that are still referred to as the “Exorcist steps” by the locals because the film’s climatic scene was shot there.

Even though both the novel and the film were set in Washington, DC, the story was based on an incident that took place just over the DC border in Maryland. Basically an exorcism was performed on a teenage boy after he constantly acted out and there were news stories about that exorcism at the time. When William Peter Blatty wrote his novel based on what he remembered reading in the local newspapers, he changed the kid’s gender and made the kid just a few years younger than her real-life counterpart while shifting the action from Maryland to DC.

For years I have heard that the events really took place in Mount Rainier but I never got around to checking it out or even look for that home. In the days before the Internet, it would’ve entailed me doing some intense research at a few libraries and I wasn’t that inclined to do so. (I had done enough library research when I was a student at the University of Maryland.) Even after the Internet made tracking down that house easier I didn’t get around to it even though I do go to that area on a regular basis for various art events.

After I made my latest trip to Mount Rainier to attend a meetup of local artists and filmmakers I finally decided to make a visit to that home once and for all just so I can say that I did it at least once in my life. I did a quick Google search and I discovered that there are not one but two potential locations of the original Exorcist home. According to local legend, the Exorcist house was located at 3210 Bunker Hill Road in Mount Rainier, Maryland. That house has long since burned down and a small public park now sits in its place with a nice looking gazebo.

Here is where things get really interesting. A local writer named Mark Opsasnick decided to do his own research into the original story behind The Exorcist and he found that the boy’s family had never lived in Mount Rainier. Instead they lived in the nearby town of Cottage City (which is only located about three miles away from Mount Rainier) at 3807 40th Avenue. That home still exists and here’s a photo of it.

As you can see, it’s a typical family home that’s located in an older suburban neighborhood. There’s nothing unusual about it other than the fact that it’s located across the street from the Cottage City Town Hall (where the local Cottage City officials meet) and it happens to be located along the walking trail that retraces the various places where British troops landed when they launched the Battle of Bladensburg during the War of 1812. (I actually went on that walking trail a couple of years ago so it was ironic that I actually waked past the reputed Cottage City Exorcist house without even knowing it.)

Why is there a discrepancy over where the boy really lived? The only clue I could find was at this link where a longtime Mount Rainier resident who knew the boy’s family recalled that the family did live in Cottage City but they subsequently moved to the Mount Rainier home in an attempt to get away from the strange happenings that had started in Cottage City. However there are other accounts that dispute this, as you can see in the comments section at the end of this blog post about the Exorcist house.

As for any Exorcist fans interested in visiting either home, keep in mind that the Cottage City place is a private home so you’re only going to be able to view just the front of the house. As for the Mount Rainier location, since it’s now a public park, you could always pack a picnic lunch, eat a meal under the gazebo, and try to imagine the story of a child who got possessed by the devil in such a peaceful location. Just keep in mind that the park is closed between sunset and sunrise so you can forget about doing any nighttime searches for demons or other things that go bump in the night.

If you want to read more about the real life story behind The Exorcist, you can read either Mark Opsasnick’s very long, detailed, and thoroughly researched article or, if you’re pressed for time and/or you’re not into reading long stories, you can read a shorter version on the Wikipedia.

Ramadan

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