It Was 24 Years Ago Today…


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24 years ago today, Sous Chef was born and each-and-every year with her has been a blessing. 

I cannot precisely tell when the line of demarcation is between your children being children and your children becoming your friends, but the Sous Chef and I have surely passed that. In any list of best friends I would compile, she would be in the top five, without question. Strong, funny, resilient, compassionate and accomplished, she is my favorite person to play a game with and to laugh with about inside jokes. She is my favorite daughter. And, for the next 364 days, she is my favorite 24-year-old in the world.

Happy birthday to you, Sous Chef. I hope and pray for an incredible year ahead!

A photo essay of recent shots:

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“Don’t Tell Your Mom” – Thinking of Dad 11 Years after His Death



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What is the statute of limitations on secrets one held with his father?

These secrets, I am sure they were not mine alone. I have little doubt that my two sisters have similar secrets that they may not have told my mother or, for that matter, each other. 

“Don’t tell Mommy,” Dad would say as he handed me a couple hundred dollars.

I remember these moments happening fairly frequently when I was growing up, when I was in the early stages of my adulthood, when I was a young father. Again, I am certain this scene played out with my sisters, too.

Dad would come by cash now and again for his work running jobs for folks on the printing press (no Kinko’s in the day, friends!) or in his work for the Church and would know that we needed it. And he would give it to us.

“Don’t tell Mommy.”

Dad did not have a lot of money growing up. Frankly, as he had devoted his life to the Catholic Church for his vocation, he did not have a lot of money as an adult. We lived comfortably, to be sure, and I never remember wanting for a thing. 

But, when he came by money, he gave it away.

He gave it to his children.

I know me and I know my sisters. This is another lesson learned, Dad. 

Even after you have been gone 11 years, the lessons keep on coming – thank God.

I miss you, Dad. I love you.

And I thank you.

“Don’t tell Mommy.”

I have a sneaking suspicion that Mom knew all about these moments. I do not think Dad could hide much from her… I know I never could.

Dad putting a plate on the press to print the Sunday
bulletin for our parish.

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Out of My League – Happy Birthday, Cinnamon Girl


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For four years, I had an office in Washington, DC. Early in my tenure at that position, I put together and mounted a photo collage on a bulletin board of pictures of the kids and of The Cinnamon Girl so that, when I was working in that office as I did about a week out of every five, I could see them and her.

Capture

This is one of my favorite pictures from that bulletin board.

At one point, during my years operating in that office, a friend and his family traveled to DC when I was not there and had occasion to visit that space. When I returned to the office, I noticed that my friend had affixed a sticky note to that picture:

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He was right then. He is right now.

I have moved that bulletin board across the country and from office to home a half a dozen times since that note was pasted to her photo, making sure it stays put.

The Cinnamon Girl is absolutely out of my league. I remember this every day. I remember it today on her birthday. Happy Birthday, baby.

I continue to try to get called up to your league.

I won’t ever stop.

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Downton Abbey A New Era – A Movie Review


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DowntonTHE FILM 

If one is expecting this movie to break new ground (despite its title) after hundreds of hours of Downton proceeding it, one will be a bit disappointed. If, however, one is expecting a comfortable, charming, engaging two hours with characters and situations with which they are well familiar, one will get what they came for, and perhaps just a bit more. Downton Abbey: A New Era is written by Julian Fellows, the mind behind the entire saga, and his grip on his creation is total and masterful. He supplies all of his characters with winning moments, allowing each to shine for the audience in what may be their last outing in the roles. Putting a twist on the typical upstairs/downstairs dynamic that propelled most of the series, Fellows separates his cast, sending a group to France on a journey of discovery with some clever twists and turns, and leaving a group at Downton Abbey to go into the movie business, a stroke of genius in plotting. Time continues to move on from the life that the Crawleys knew and Fellows’ plot underscores its passage. While the film itself does not rewrite the status quo for most of the characters, there are a few real changes afoot for more than a handful and I, for one, was glad to see resolutions for two long suffering characters in particular in Mr. Barrows and Mr. Mosely. The fact that most people’s favorite denizen of Downton, the Dowager herself, also sees the plot both circle around her and tie up loose ends was also very pleasant. The movie itself is very pleasant, indeed.
THE CAST At this point, the cast of Downton Abbey could likely play these characters in their sleep, but the whole company seems happy to be back together and no one is phoning things in. It is always a pleasure to see Hugh Bonneville try to hold things together as Lord Gratham or watch Jim Carter’s perfectly pitched indignation as Mr. Carson. The chemistry among the full cast is warm and real and they slip back into the roles comfortably. The “guest cast” of Laura Haddock, Dominic West and Hugh D’Arcy as actors and director, respectively, who have come to film at Downton are wonderful additions and they fit right into the flow of the main cast. D’Arcy’s work with Michelle Dockery’s Mary is worth a mention, as is West’s with Rob James Collier’s Mr. Barrows. If the audience only came to listen to Maggie Smith quip as the Dowager countess, the would not be disappointed.
THE VERDICT Downton Abbey: A New Era is pleasant and comfortable. There are worse things for a movie to be. Breaking very little new ground, the movie does supply all that we have come to expect from Downton Abbey. While the commentary on silent films giving way to talkies as a parallel for modern audiences moving towards streaming might be a bit too on the nose, the film is breezy and engaging, a delicious trifle from Mrs. Patmore’s kitchen and one well worth the trip.
DOWNTON ABBEY: A NEW ERA receives FOUR FRENCH ESTATES out of a possible FIVE

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Father’s Day 2022 | The Lessons Live On



I am not a young man. I also like to think I am not an old man. In my early 50’s, there are enough days behind to feel that I have learned something of this life and enough ahead (I hope!) to teach me new lessons.

One lesson that I have learned and continue to learn is the importance of fathers. 

I have noted in this blog in speaking of my own father that I am aware how lucky I am to have had this man, not a perfect man, but a loving and generous man as my dad. I am aware that not all people are as blessed as I and my sisters were. Dad was a terrific father. I often conjure him up as something of a “Force Ghost” to this day when I need him. As he was when he was alive, he is always there.

Dad learned to be a dad from the men who he called father and they, too, must have learned something to pass the role down to Dad so he could impart some of it to me.

In thinking of my own 3 children, it is cliched but true that I often think “what would Dad do?”

To the men who “fathered” my father and shaped him to father me so I could try to father my children, thank you. Happy Father’s Day Dad, Grandpas, Great-Grandpas, Great-Great Grandpas. Thank you for being fathers whose lessons continue…

Capture

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You Can Do Magic… 15


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The last 15 years have been full of magic because The Cinnamon Girl is magic.

I mean that, 

In her spirit, in her energy, in her smile, in her laugh, there is magic.

If you know her, you know this. You know how she weaves spells in her stories. You know how she sees through you. You know how she brings you in.

She is generous. She is hilarious. She is compassionate. She is introspective. She is always searching to make herself better.

She is magic.

And I know. I know she is. I get to see her up close, every day.

Magic.

That I have been lucky enough to share that magic for the past 15 years of our married lives together is a blessing of which I am not worthy, though I try to be. 

She is one of the best things that ever happened to me…

I never believed in things that I couldn’t see
I said if I can’t feel it then how can it be
No, no magic could happen to me
And then I saw you
 
I couldn’t believe it, you took my heart
I couldn’t retrieve it, said to myself
What’s it all about
Now I know there can be no doubt
 
You can do magic

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The Best Sequential Art I Read Last Week | May 25 – 31, 2022

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 COMICS I READ LAST WEEK


THE BEST COMIC I READ LAST WEEK WAS DC vs. Vampires: Hunters #1

by Matthew Rosenberg, Neil Googe, Antonio Fabela, and Troy Peteri

I have been enjoying the DC vs. Vampires main series far, far more than I thought I would. It has been a delightful inversion of any number of tropes and series co-writer is very successful in delivering that same kind of joy in DC vs. Vampires: Hunters #1. The story features Damian Wayne, a character who – in the right hands and Rosenberg’s clearly are – is simply a lot of fun and full of pathos. The one shot pits Robin against a series of antagonists ending with the Vampire King himself (I guess I should not spoil that for those who have not read the series yet) and illustrates a truth about young Mister Wayne: he might be the most ruthless member of the Bat-Family while also being the most emotional. Rosenberg’s writing is completely supported by the art team lead by Neil Googe (let us see more of him!) and the entire issue is a delightfully fun if, at times, macabre romp. If the tie in issues for DC vs. Vampires are all as good as this one, sign me up (though Comixology has clearly already done so – and are we over talking about the poorly redesigned Comixology yet?)!


I am a comic book collector and happy to be one. Comic book legend Will Eisner (creator of The Spirit) is one of the most influential men even to put pencil to drawing board in the pursuit of making comics. So influential was he that the industry awards (think the Oscars or the Emmys or the Grammys) are named The Eisner Awards. He called comic books “sequential art,” which is the best, quick description of what comics are. This is my weekly reaction to the comics I read.

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Top Gun Maverick – A Movie Review


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MV5BMmIwZDMyYWUtNTU0ZS00ODJhLTg2ZmEtMTk5ZmYzODcxODYxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTEyMjM2NDc2._V1_THE CAST Let us hold the line on Tom Cruise for the moment. There are other people in Top Gun Maverick and they break down into two camps: the older characters who are either part of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell’s past (Jennifer Connelly who is terrific in a solidly written role and Val Kilmer whose presence packs something of an emotional punch) or are members of the establishment he so rails against (Ed Harris in little more than a cameo and Jon Hamm who should be in more movies). Then there are the young flyers all of whom are more than serviceable with Miles Teller as Rooster standing out from that group by necessity of story and by the fact that the guy is a really good actor. The supporting cast is more than up to the challenge here but, honestly, they are the supporting cast.

The movie is Cruise’s. Period. Stepping back into a role he has not played in over 30 years, Tom Cruise makes no mistakes. He is engaging and entertaining. This Maverick is older, perhaps a little wiser, and is a movie hero through-and-through. The bravado the character displayed without caring about the future in Top Gun is replaced by a courage that is all about caring about the future in Top Gun Maverick. It is a necessary and welcome evolution and Cruise pulls it off beautifully. If Tom Cruise is the last of the American movie stars, he shoulders that burden very well here.
THE FILM Top Gun Maverick knows what it is and does not try to be more than that which is one of its great strengths (right up there after the magnetism of its star). Director Joseph Kosinski, along with a bevy of screenwriters and surely assisted by Cruise himself, knows what the audience wants and gives it to them. It respects the source material while not retreading it and provides ample twists and turns along the way. And massively entertaining set pieces. It provides those, too. Highway to the Danger Zone, indeed. The movie takes many of the themes and narratives from the original and slightly reimagines them, updating them for the audience of 2022, a very different audience than the one for the first film. Maverick, still the establishment outsider, is reminded of past losses while being confronted by consequences of his choices in ways he never considered previously. A healthy walk down memory lane provided by flashbacks and musical cues reminds the audience where Maverick has come from and sets it up to wonder where he might be going. It may not be Shakespeare, but it certainly works. One can see why Cruise used his ample muscle to refuse to let the movie go direct to streaming during the pandemic. Its rousing action is meant for the big screen and the audience in the theater in which I saw the movie applauded the film more than once. I have not experienced that since Avengers: Endgame.
THE VERDICT Top Gun Maverick is a tremendously entertaining summer movie with more than enough meat on its narrative bones to keep it in a viewer’s mind long after Lady Gaga’s wonderful Hold My Hand has dissolved into the end credit score. At almost 60, Cruise is in absolute command of the movie and the experience is all the better for it. Wry, knowing and magnetic, Cruise’s Maverick makes a very, very welcome return to the movies. Top Gun Maverick hits all the right notes.
TOP GUN MAVERICK receives FIVE GREAT BALLS OF FIRE out of a possible FIVE

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A Quarter (Century) for Your Thoughts…


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My thought: I cannot be sure of future… I do not know what is to come next in the life of my beautiful son Stretch, who turns 25 today. I can imagine many things: that this intelligent, confident, wonderful young man will have amazing success, will touch hundreds of lives, will live and love and thrive. All of that, I can imagine.

My next thought: what I know, right now, is this: for the past academic year, Stretch has worked in my school, has taught across the hall from me, has been on my staff, has inspired students and delighted colleagues. What I know right now is this, the now completed 24th year of his life is one that we have shared in a way we never have as adults.

We have started most days together, often before dawn (because that’s when he comes to work…). We have ended most days together, often later than we should (because he says “goodbye” to me before he leaves. We have worked alongside one another and that is a gift that I will always, always cherish.

My most important thought of the day: Happy Birthday, my son. Happiest of birthdays. I am one proud father.

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Thunderstruck – A Book Review


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I am a very big Erik Larson fan. As a teacher, I first encountered him when my wife and I team-taught an American History/Literature class and we used Isaacs’s Storm as one of our texts. Short, terse, brilliant, it was a wonderful book. From there, I moved to Larson’s magnum opus (as far as I am concerned): Devil in the White City. What an amazing book by a fascinating and engaging author. Larson’s particular hook is to blend a major historical event or discovery with a personal story taking place contemporaneously. I love the conceit and it works for me every time. I believe I have read all of Larson’s books. All are very good. Some are absolutely brilliant (Isaac’s Storm and Devil in the White City). Most are simply excellent.

Put Thunderstruck in the “excellent” category.

The two stories juxtaposed here are Guglielmo Marconi’s invention of the wireless telegraph (or was it really his creation?) and Hawley Crippen’s murder (it really was murder) of his wife. These contemporary stories would seem to have little in common, but Larson uses the wireless to tie them together. It is a very effective combination.

Larson typically moves back-and-forth, chapter-by-chapter with his plots until they find their way to connection. I suspect that some readers of Thunderstruck will greatly enjoy the ins and outs of Marconi’s history and the business intrigue in which he embroils himself. For my part, I came more for the Crippen murder and the fairly shocking nature of the unfolding of that story. Either way, Larson serves both audiences well. I note that the interlocking chapter notion falls by the wayside of the book near the work’s conclusion and we find ourselves entirely engaged in the Crippen narrative. That is fine with me as Larson tells it in a most gripping fashion, or as gripping as possible when one knows the outcome by reading the book jacket.

Erik Larson is a master of non fiction narrative. His works are ingenious, enjoyable and engrossing. Thunderstruck may not be A+ plus Larson, but it certainly earns an A.

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