Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Roadie: FDR Presidential Library & Museum

The FDR Presidential Library & Museum located in Hyde Park, New York. (9/3/16)
On Labor Day weekend, my wife and I once again made our way to New York City. Four years ago it was an anxious train ride to deliver my stepson to Columbia University for his freshmen year; this year, his final one as an undergraduate, was a much different trek. Having spent the summer in New York City, the majority of his belongings were already there, and rather than escorting him to campus, as he departed our home in Rochester, my wife and I left by car. When he arrived in town to settle in in on Saturday afternoon, we were arriving in Poughkipsee, New York, for some sightseeing before taking the train to visit the following day.

At this point Gregory really doesn't require much help moving, but we wanted to see his new dorm and decided to make a weekend out of it. Having Gregory go to college in New York City has provided Anne and I with many opportunities to visit a number of the historical sites in and around New York City, and this final September journey was no different--except that we were not solely in Gotham.

A National Historic Site, The Frederick Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, operated by the National Park Service, is located on the grounds of Springwood, the Roosevelt family estate in neighboring Hyde Park, New York. With Poughkipsee only a manageable two-hour train ride from New York City, its location was ideal as a base of operations for a day trip to the FDR National Park prior to heading to NYC. We would have liked to have spent more time in Hyde Park, as the four hours we did spend visiting was only enough to see a small part of the park's offerings. The library was built under the President's personal direction in 1939-1940, and dedicated on June 30, 1941. It is one of the thirteen presidential libraries under the auspices of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Close-up of FDR bust outside museum. (9/3/16)
Given their four terms in office, it is not suprising how quotable
President Roosevelt and his wife turned out to be.

Not a recreation, but FDR's working study in the museum during his life. (9/3/16) 

The President's desk from his time in the Oval Office. (9/3/16)

Busts of FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt welcome visitors to the museum. (9/3/16)
Picturesque park land immediately outside the museum. (9/3/16)
Looking back through these images from our visit to the FDR Presidential Library and Museum, I am struck by how poorly they reflect how incredibly entertaining and educational this historic site is. As someone with not nearly as deep an understanding of U.S. history as he should, while visiting places I am often more focused on taking the displays in than capturing the experience on "film". In addition to the few displays seen above, there are also six-minute films for viewing prior to each section of the museum. Each included archival footage and were thoroughly engaging. Ranging from FDR's childhood and early political life to an exploration of his lasting influence on the world, narrated by President Clinton, taken as a whole they provided wonderful context and background.

When we met Gregory the following day in New York City, both Anne and I highly recommended that he take some time to visit the FDR Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Comic Book Finds: Blair Witch Project (1999)

Panel from "Elly Kedward's Curse" illustrated by Tommy Lee Edwards.
The time-honored practice of comic book-movie tie-ins frequently results in some interesting comci book titles being published. 1999's little-horror-film-that-hit, The Blair Witch Project, built it's artificial mythology in the "real" (and reel) worlds in an unprecedented fashion. While most are familiar with the SciFi (now "SyFy"...ugh) Channel faux documentary, The Curse of the Blair Witch, the development of the story goes much further than many suspect.

Cover to The Blair Witch
#1 (First Printing)
Beyond even the commonplace novelizations that come with popular film releases, there was also a comic book one-shot. Rather than a retelling of the film's story in comic book form, Oni Press' The Blair Witch Project contributes an additional level of mythology to the key characters and events that, while important to its overall narrative, never actually appeared in the first movie.

With anticipation building for the third film in the series, Blair Witch (2016), to be released on September 16, the time seems right to rifle through some long boxes of older comic books in hopes of coming across the copy I knew I had purchased 17(!) years ago when it was first released. Filed nearby another unusual movie tie-in, Oni Press' Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai (2000) one-shot, I was pleased to see it had not been discarded by my wife.

From "She Needs Me: Coffin Rock"
illustrated by Guy Davis.
This single issue (later followed up by a three issue mini-series entitle The Blair Witch Chronicles) contains three faux-adaptations of Cece Malvey's "Wood Witch Said" journals, "original" pages of which are shared on the last page. The unifying creative thread among these three stories is writer, or the individual hired to  "annotate and adapt" according to the credits boxes, Jennifer Van Meter. In the Foreward on the inside cover, it is revealed that Van Meter was offered the writing assignment by editor-in-chief Jamie S,. Rich because the author likes "weird crap." While not the most normal criteria for matching writer and material, here it works.

The pairing of each individual story with artist is equally impressive. The individual artistic styles of Tommy Lee Edwards, Guy Davis, and Bernie Merault are used effectively to create unique looks for each time period setting. While each of the three artists' styles vary, the common visual element of being inked solely in black and white lends cohesion to the proceedings. This combination of common writer and visual nuance, along with the varying artistic styles create a visual sense of progress that further contributes to a sense of movement through the narrative. Each short story covers Blair Witch background beginning with the origination of the curse and concluding with a glimpse at the Rustin Parr murders that are the precursor to the now iconic final shot of the Blair Witch Project film was derived.

A portion of the detailed appendix from the back
cover. Here, the numerous footnote from throughout
are explained in detail, supplying an even deeper level
of meaning to the Blair Witch mythology.
It has been a few years since I have seen the film (which is currently not available on wither Netflix or Amazon Prime for free streaming), but after reading this comic book I am confident I never watched the film in light of its mythology as fully as possible. A tribute to the story-within-a-story writing of Van Meter, as well as its carefully crafted "authenticity", it was difficult not to begin searching online through the names of the supposed writers and false historical events. Down to its footnotes and annotations, The Blair Witch Project comic book effectively reads like a visual representation of the person whose thinking it is intended to reflect--the educated and increasingly crazy Cece Malvey.

A brief synopsis (cribbed, in small part, from a promotional entry on MyComicShop.com) suggests the historical scope presented in the single comic book issue:
  • "Elly Kedward's Curse" art by Tommy Lee Edwards. In 1785, Elly Kedward was driven out of the Township of Blair in North Central Maryland. A year later, her accusers started disappearing under mysterious circumstances. Fearing Elly had cursed them all, the people of Blair fled, abandoning their town and giving birth to a legend.
  • "She Needs Me: Coffin Rock" illustrated by Guy Davis. In 1886 Burkittsville, a young girl is lured into the woods where she becomes a vehicle for a measure of graphic revenge against the men of the community levied by Elly's spirit.
  • "Left Alone: The Rustin Parr Killings" by Bernie Mireault (BEM). In a more modern setting, loner Rustin Parr is prompted by a voice in his head to kidnap and murder children from the local community. Readers are given insight into Parr;s thinking whcih reveals the familiar "voice" of the Blair Witch's guiding words.
With a new film being released, and one with ties to characters to the first, there is a good chance that the background revealed in this back issue bin survivor may increase one's level of enjoyment of the film. Even if it is not "officially" part of the new film's canon, The Blair Witch Project is both an interesting cultural artifact and an interesting example of well-researched modern myth building. The original single issue one-shot was originally priced at $2.95 and carried a "Mature Readers" label. It is very likely available in the back issue bins of your local comic shop at cover price or can be ordered online,along with other related Blair Witch titles for significantly less than cover price.

From "Left Alone: The Rustin Parr Killings" illustrated by Bernie Mireault.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

August Backyard Wings & Things

Northern Flicker. (8/29/16)
Despite the loss this past spring of our American elm tree, one of the main attractions to the space for a variety of birds, the aviary action has continued these past few weeks. August's dog days are much more manageable with the entertainment created by birds and rabbits at play in the grass and gardens. Especially exciting to have the Northern Flickers drop in for a spell on a number of occasions throughout the month.

Fun Fact: Because they eat ants and beetles, flickers
are commonly found on the ground eating. (8/29/16)
Cottontail rabbit. (8/11/16)
Cottontail rabbit and young American Robin. (8/11/16)
Mystery bird? (8/7/16)
Female Northern Cardinal on a wire. (8/7/16)
Two well-camouflaged Northern Flickers. (8/1/16)
Northern Flicker. (8/1/16)
Northern Flicker doing his "wing-thing". (8/1/16)
Northern Flicker. (8/1/16)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Striking Back With Empire Cards

The cover and a page from the hardcover book Star Wars: The Empire 
Strikes Back: The Original Topps Trading Card Series, Volume Two.
You know time has passed when the collectibles you purchased as a child find their way to nostalgia-inducing coffee table books. That was the feeling, along with curiosity over who might actually purchase such a publication, I experienced last weekend while wandering the book shelves at Barnes and Noble. In an a time when the demographic (white male nerds, 45-50) to which I belong are willing to part with hard cash for a nostalgic charge, it is not surprising that the hardcover "book" Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back: The Original Topps Trading Card Series, Volume Two is now available. The book is exactly as advertised, each page has both the front and back of one of the 132-card base set and 33 stickers that compromised the original wax packet release.

My collection of the original Empire Strikes Back Topps Picture Card Series Two.
Fortunately, I still have a complete card set (though only a partial sticker set), so can save my funds for other fanboy passions. An important aspect of card collecting that is lost with the transition of looking at the cards in book form as opposed to card is the tactile charge of flipping each individual card over. One never knew what to expect, but it would be something exciting whether cool facts, silly quiz questions or behind the scenes production secrets.

Here are just a few representative cards (with caption comment) from my collection:

Straight from 1980... the "title" card for my set of The Empire Strikes Back
Topps Picture Card Series 2.
Card 138: Back before any mystery was blown up by the prequel trilogy,
all things related to Boba Fett, like his ship Slave 1, were super cool!
Card 164: A suitably Eighties caption to this standard Vader shot.
Card 174: This one is interesting as it pre-dates the current practice of
referring to our robot friend by his government name R2-D2 rather than the
much more humanizing Artoo.
Card 207: Clearly the Star Quiz questions were intended to make young fanboys
like myself feel really confident in their Star Wars trivia knowledge.

Card 261: Prior to the Internet, these special cards, complete with
alliterative caption, were the best way to see any behind the
scenes shots. I still love looking at this sub-series.
Card 263: As a kid, I hated getting these cards (they lacked cool pics!) but now
appreciated knowing what cards I am trying to get when you get down to
only a few left for a complete set.
The original packs came with a single sticker so it was not so easy to get a complete set.
Sadly, I have very few of these as I used most of them spelling out cool things with
the letters, such as the word "Awesome": ah, childhood!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Summer Reading: Dirty Inspirations

Using a popular structural approach, the tone and message
of each chapter is established with a quote.
In my roles as both a weekend warrior and high school coach, I am always on the lookout for books that can provide motivation to the athlete-in-me, as well as break down challenging sports-psychology concepts for those interested student-athletes with whom I work. Dirty Inspirations: Lessons From the Trenches of Extreme Endurance Sports by Terri Schneider is that rare collection of essays that is capable of doing both. A champion endurance athlete turned sports psychologist, Schneider draws on her broad array of competitive experiences (ranging from Ironman tri-athlete to Eco-Challenge team member).

A world-class athlete, Schneider has personal experience battling the mental demons that come with endurance sports. Endurance sports, as defined by the Farlax Free Dictionary, are activities performed primarily by an individual "in which key muscles are exercised at submaximal intensity for prolonged periods of time," and within this competitive arena, the author finds multiple anecdotes illustrating a practical psychological approach.

What Schneider's anecdotes and experiences do so effectively is to add meaningful meat to the bones of  tired coaching code such as "Hang in here" and "You can do this if you try." Anyone who has engaged in athletics at any level (from recreational to professional) have heard ad nauseum, further reinforcing the reality that for many coaches (myself included), the real sports psychology employed is limited to motivational phrases. In the spirit of "physician, heal thyself," Schneider shows how her own application of these theories has resulted in both personal competitive successes and failures.

The text is broken into sixteen easily digestible chapters, each illustrating a different psychological training principle through the lens of the author's personal experience. This stricture allows time for the reader to intellectually breathe and reflect upon the insights offered in each chapter. While chapter titles such as "Afraid of Fear" and "Painting Your Authentic Self" have  whiff of self-help pop psychology, given the practical experiences behind each principle, Schneider avoids the potential pitfall of celebrity how-to book. In addition to being an exceptional endurance athlete, Schneider is also an academic who has pursued education in sport psychology. Interestingly, the author often refers to her motivations for pursuing such training as events in her competitive life give rise to the possible need for it. If anything, it is her academic writer's voice that puts this text in the realm of psychology and training literature rather than purely adventure biography. This is not to suggest the words lack passion, but to remind that this really is, I believe, intended to introduce valuable ideas within the exciting context of adventure racing. It is one thing to run a 10k or half-marathon and describe what it is like to work through discomfort, and another thing entirely to address the subject having successfully completed a 100 mile foot race.
Author Terri Schneider.

Two chapters I found of especially meaningfully, given my own current state of affairs were "Probing Commitment" (pages 58-68) and "Finding Comfort in Discomfort" (pages 138-155). Next week, I will be embarking on my sixth (!) season as a high school Varsity Cross-Country coach, in all likelihood with a team comprised of young women with little prior experience at running the 5k distance competitively. Additionally, I very recently participated in a 20k that frankly did not go as planned, and during whcih I sustained an injury, that had me questioning whether to continue or not. In both instances, "professional" and personal, the necessity of commitment, to the individual as well as to those who rely upon them, is significant. Both chapters spoke specifically to questions I had around internal motivation and the necessity of powerful self-talk in persevering.

Dirty Inspirations: Lessons From the Trenches of Extreme Endurance Sports by Terri Schneider is worthy reading for both the competitor and coach. Unlike similar books which speak to sports psychology in a specific athletic endeavor (basketball coaching books for basketball coaches for example), the anecdotes and information in Schneider's text are readily transferable to any sport, especially as the athletic feats of the author imbue her words with instant credibility. I look forward to sharing parts of this text implicitly through some decisions I make this seasons and explicitly by sharing excerpt with the team.

Monday, August 08, 2016

What Did the Cat See?

Blackbeard the cat at his post. (7/26/19)
The majority of photographs of backyard wildlife posted on my blog are taken from the large windows that surround our kitchen counter. They open into our backyard. so when an interesting critter or bird comes into view--SNAP! I'll do this at many different times of the day, as reflected in the way that the different hues our lawn take son during the course of the day: sometimes appearing neon green when bathed in sun or deep, dark green when the shade dominates. This accounts for the occasional out-of-focus imagery and lens flare, but also for my ability to take pics when thy can't see us observing them. Blackbeard the cat is a constant viewing companion, so much so, that when we are outside working in the garden, he will prowl the windows to see what's going on. Most of what we see taking place among the tomato cages and bird feeders are, in truth, what the cat saw...

Catbird and sparrow on tomato cages. (7/29/16)
Common Grackles in the grass. (7/29/16)
Frazzled Grackle. (7/26/19)
American Robin. (7/29/16)
Cottontail rabbit with gang of Common Grackles. (7/29/16)
Grackle and Cottontail lunching together. (7/29/16)
Cottontail in the vegetable garden. (7/29/16) 
Male Northern Cardinal. (7/29/16)
Cautious Cottontail. (7/29/16)
Male Northern Cardinal with Common Grackles. (7/29/16)
Male Northern Cardinal. (7/29/16)
American Robin. (7/29/16)
Yakking American Robins. (7/29/16)
Cottontail rabbit. (7/29/16)
Black-Capped Chickadee on Nyjer feeder. (7/29/16)