Monday, 24 November 2014

Entertainment Monday: Chris Hadfield (Monday 24 November, 2014)

Chris Hadfield’s rendition of David Bowie’s song, Space Oddity was the coolest thing I have seen in a long time. Space Oddity is a song that David Bowie wrote in 1969 and is about a fictional astronaut called Major Tom.  1969 was the year of the moon landing and the space race between Russia and America inspired a lot of artists during that time.
In 2013, Chris Hadfield was an astronaut working on the International Space Station. He recorded a cover of Space Oddity while in space which lead him to become a YouTube sensation and reawakening the interest in space travel.
The music clip shows real footage of the International Space Station and Earth. It is beautiful to look at and a reminder of the fragility of life.

I’m a newly graduated elementary school teacher and I can see how I can use this music clip as an introduction to learning about space. Space is always on the science curriculum no matter how many times the government changes the curriculum. I hope to spark curiosity in my students as curiosity helps the learning process.   

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Cairns Holiday

It is summer in Australia and I find the days to be face meltingly hot. It hasn’t rained in a long time but today there seems to be a promise of rain. The school year is almost over and I am looking forward to six weeks of summer vacation!  I’ve decided to go on vacation to Cairns, Queensland. Cairns is located in north Queensland and is known for its beautiful beaches and rainforests. It is also located near the Great Barrier Reef which is the world’s largest coral reef system.

This is the first holiday which I will be organizing and paying for myself. I never went on holiday before as I could never afford it. I chose Cairns as I wanted to have a typical summer holiday out in the sunshine. I want to be outdoors, swimming at the beach, strolling through the rainforest and browsing through markets.

Here are some of the places that I want to see at Cairns:

The Great Barrier Reef

I want to take one of those glass bottomed boats and see the reef. I might go snorkelling as well. There are fifty tour companies that take tourists to the reef and the little tropical islands along the way so there’s lots to do there.


Kuranda is a small town located in the rainforest of the Atherton Tableland. It is a town known for its outdoor markets, boutiques and art galleries. One way to get to Kuranda is to take Kuranda 

Scenic Railway which goes through the rainforest. It is a tourist train that travels past waterfalls and there is ongoing commentary about the history of the railway line.
I’m also considering taking the  Skyrail Rainforest Cableway on the way back to Cairns. I’m not that crazy about heights but I might still go on the skyrail for the experience.

Cairns Regional Art Gallery

I always like to visit art galleries because it is relaxing to walk around and look at art. I also think it would place to go when it gets too hot as most art galleries are air conditioned.

Cairns Botanical Gardens
I like botanical gardens as they feature exotic plants and landscapes. I’ve been to the Brisbane, Canberra and Gold Coast gardens so I would like to see what Cairns has to offer.

Lastly, I’m going to be spontaneous in Cairns and see what it has to offer. I plan on going in January 2015 and I will post my adventures later. 

Monday, 17 November 2014

Entertainment Monday: Chess (The Musical) - Monday 11/17/2014

A month ago on the night of October 17, 2014 I went out to see a free musical being performed by a local acting troupe called the Not So Common Players, at Shenendehowa High School, the High School nearest my work place in Clifton Park, New York.  The Not So Common Players, based in Upstate New York's Capital Region, consists of a group of community members who love theatre, acting and singing.  They all give of their time to put on 4 free performances for the public every year.  Several of the performers are involved in theatre through their professions, whether that be teaching or as members of professional acting troupes.  Others though who make up the cast and crew of the performances are merely local community members who have chosen to get involved in providing a little free entertainment and culture to the residents of the Capital Region.

Not So Common Players

The Not So Common Players rely upon donations from the community to put on their performances and as such the funds for putting on these free performances are a bit limited.  So the production is not what you might expect when going to Proctors, the Schenectady Theatre which puts on professional performances.  Given the funds and the time constraints the cast and crew have in putting together a show though, the quality of the performance is quite impressive. 

The Musical I went to see was called Chess which was based off of a book by Richard Nelson.  The music was composed and arranged by Tim Robbins for the original Broadway performances of Chess.  During the Cold War Era in the United States most any sporting or intellectual event became fodder for  Politicians as the United States and Soviet Union fought for supremacy in virtually any arena you could think of.  There may not be many people today who know about the very poignant role the game of Chess played in these battles for supremacy.  The musical Chess was based off of this history and the lead characters for the musical (Freddie and Anatoly) may have been inspired by the enigmatic American Chess Genius Bobby Fischer and his Soviet counterparts Viktor Korchnoi and Anatoly Karpov.

picture credit from above link  (Freddie on left, Anatoly on right, Moderator in middle)

In the Musical, Chess becomes a metaphor for the Cold War struggle, much as it did in real life.  While history set the groundwork for this Musical the storyline is where poetic license is used as Freddie's "manager" Florence whose job it is to keep an eye on the Soviets and ensure fairness in the competition, becomes romantically involved with Anatoly.  So the Musical itself is as much Florence's story as it is a commentary about Cold War Politics. 

Florence and Anatoly, who is married prior to his relationship with Florence have their romance compromised by both their Governments and Freddie who is kind of free wheeling, almost drama queen. 

I liked the music in the Not So Common players performance of Chess and it is obvious that the leads in particular have a great deal of musical talent.  I thought that some of the songs Freddie had to sing had a few rough spots.  I don't know if Brandon Jones who played Freddie made Freddie's songs seem harder then they were, or, if, in fact they were just the most difficult vocally.  In fairness the range required for a few of his songs seemed almost barbaric.  I don't think he even missed the notes, it just looked like a struggle to get to some of them.  On the whole I thought Mr. Jones did a great job though and his acting performance was spot on.   Molly Rose McGrath who played Florence and Heather-Liz Copps who played Anatoly's wife Svetlana easily had the best singing voices, while Shawn Hahn who played Anatoly was close behind the two lead women. 

picture credit from above link (Svetlana on left, Florence on right)

I thought that Jones, McGrath and Hahn all did a great job acting.  I got lost in the story which is a good sign when watching a play.  I always find it to be a bad sign when you're in tuned to the things going on around you in the theatre.  That was not the case, as the actors delivered their lines almost flawlessly.  Adam Coons who played the Chess match moderator had a few slip ups on his lines during the performance.  I feel it's a little harsh to point out, especially seeing as these people give a free performance and put a lot of time and effort into doing this for the community.  As a good actor will do though, he did not let those slip ups roll into an utter disaster and he recovered well and quickly from them, not lingering on the errors.

The producer of the production Sally Burke explained prior to the play that it did not do well on Broadway, or have a long run and that her adaptation of the play tried to do justice to the character of Florence, whom the story most centered around.  She mentioned that the book the musical was based off of was wrought with problems that in part contributed to the musical's struggles on Broadway.  The way she spoke of the book's negative or controversial influence was almost as if the audience had an understanding of the book and it's relevance to the play's somewhat challenged history.  I for one did not possess that understanding, as I have never read the book nor previously heard of the musical until I had read about the free performance in the local paper earlier in the week. 

So the vagueness with which she tried to impress the point of the books issues with someone who had no prior knowledge of the play or the book it was based off of, caused the exact reasoning this book was so problematic to be lost on me.  Perhaps if I read it some day I will understand better what she was getting at.

All in all it was an enjoyable night though.  Prior to the play Ms. Burke mentioned they would pass around a bucket for donations after the musical finished.  Once it ended I waited a bit and saw no bucket coming around.  I also looked for one outside the exit and could not find one, so I feel badly that the $20.00 I was going to donate, remained in my pocket instead. >.< 

For a free performance it was a night out well spent though and I came away impressed not only with the fact that people loved theatre so much to do it for free, but also with the quality of the performance and production they produced.  I would like to see them again and will make it a point of finding out where to donate so I do not end up leaving without showing my appreciation. 

Monday, 10 November 2014

Entertainment Monday: A Walk Among the Tombstones (Monday 10 November, 2014)

It was my best friend’s birthday a few weeks ago and I decided to treat her to lunch and a movie. I told her she could pick any movie and she chose Liam Neeson’s latest film, A walk among the tombstones. The film is about an ex cop Michael Scudder (Liam Neeson) turned unlicensed private detective who is offered a job from a drug trafficker, Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens). The job is to find the person who killed Kenny’s wife. She was kidnapped and held for ransom only to be murdered. Later on, he discovers that he is dealing with serial killers.

This movie is not like Taken where everything is fast paced with slick fight scenes. Scudder is an old school detective who investigates by looking at newspaper headlines in the library, going to locations and interviewing witnesses. At the library, he meets a homeless boy named TJ (Brian “Astro” Bradley) who tries to help him in his investigation even though he does not want help. I actually think TJ was a useless character who didn’t really add to the plot.
While the investigation is under way, Scudder finds the time to regularly attend AA meetings as he is a former alcoholic. It was revealed that a tragic accident lead him to quit the police force and become sober. It’s always some death that causes the protagonist to leave the police force in these types of movies. It was a nice change that he became sober instead of a drunk. I was expecting this movie to be a typical action movie, where a guy has a wife and family who get murdered and he’s out for revenge. It was a nice change that Scudder wasn’t out for revenge and he had no family. I think he may have mentioned an ex-wife in the film but only in conversation.
Scudder with TJ
I thought there would be some plot twists in the movie but it’s a straight forward story. The bad guys were menacing enough and I was squeamish over how they killed people. I think people who watch action movies or horror films will find the gore pretty tame though. This movie is not something I would normally watch but I did find it entertaining. I found the plot to be predictable but I was still in suspense whenever Scudder checked out a location or spoke to some witnesses. I was always expecting some bad guy to ambush him.
Kenny Kristo played by Dan Stevens

What I liked about this film was that it showed good old fashioned police work can solve crimes too. There doesn’t have to be a team of experts and fancy technology. I think people who come into the movie thinking it will be like Taken will be a bit disappointed by the slow pace and lack of action. There are no car chases in this movie or big fight sequences. The movie is more of a thriller or a drama. 

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Jon Bear Journal: Election Day 2014

Jon Bear Journal: Election Day 2014

Election Day has a holiday type hype and atmosphere around it when you watch the television news programs in America and the various political pundits discuss the changing shape of American Politics as the Nation chooses it's new or returning leaders in Congress, the House of Representatives or the Presidency as well as in their state elections involving Governors, Comptrollers, Attorney Generals etc...

The sad aspect of this all from a very real standpoint is that all the excitement and buzz of election day seems to fizzle out shortly there after when the American public realizes that the only changes we see are the faces and not the rhetoric or action.  That's not to say that there are not many politicians who's intentions aren't to make a change or make a difference for their constituents, it's more a reflection of the process in today's political atmosphere.  The perception is that there is a lot of in fighting and an unwillingness to compromise among the members of the Republican and Democratic parties. In fact, it would seem to be the reality and not mere perception. If we give the benefit of the doubt to our politicians and the reality is a better version of what we see play out during the affairs that effect our public conscious then the problem still exists that the perception of our government is stagnation by virtue of pig-headedness. 

I'm not writing to suggest some cure-all solution to this problem.  I don't know it if there is one.  My mediation skills are not up to par with the kind of stubbornness that can be reflected in our two major government parties either.  I know I want things to change though.  How do you enact change without running for office yourself?  And even those who run for office with the grand idea of enacting change find the twists and turns of political gerrymandering dizzying.  I feel as if America's current political environment has Vertigo.

For the first several years I was of voting age I was a registered Republican.  I later switched to being a registered Democrat and for the last several years have been registered as an Independent, with no political leanings or affiliations with either party. 

This past November 4th was Election Day across our country and while there were many important National Battles playing out relative to which party would control the Senate (eventually enough seats were won by the Republicans to gain control, giving them a numbers advantage in both the House and Senate), my biggest focus or interest was on the election of our Governor in the State of New York.  Why should I be concerned with a race that essentially had a preordained winner?  As our incumbent Governor Andrew Como easily won re-election.  Well for me it just came down to reading and listening, and for once being able to make an informed decision on who I was choosing to vote for.  There was only one televised debate for the Govern ship of New York that I was able to see, and I'm fairly certain it was the only one shown.  I also took the time to read about this years candidates though and found that I most liked what Howie Hawkins of the Green Party had to say and how he went about saying it. 

I read that voting for Howie Hawkins this year was in essence a "protest vote" for Democrats who wanted to make a statement that Governor Cuomo was deviating from the things they found important, with regards to many of the hot topics of today, like Fracking, Education, Political Corruption, Pay for Women, Pay in general and even the proper handling of the Ebola risk.  A protest vote is seen as something of a safe vote.  For people with leanings towards the left of the political spectrum there was no real risk this year of Rob Astorino the Republican candidate being elected Governor of New York, so by voting for Howie Hawkins they did not have to worry about a Republican getting in office but could still show their disapproval with Governor Cuomo. 

Wikipedia Link

That was not my reason for voting for Howie Hawkins.  I voted for him because he was likable, seemed to be well spoken, well informed and most importantly I agreed with what he had to say.  I decided for once I did not care if the candidate I wanted to win had a real chance or not.  I wanted to support the candidate who I would pick if all things were equal.  Which in the political world they rarely are, especially when you get into spending, advertising and the like.  I voted for Howie Hawkins because I wanted him to be our Governor.  Not because I was trying to make a statement of disapproval against Mr. Cuomo and not because of any dislike of Mr. Astorino. 

I wish I had always voted that way and that we would all vote that way in the future.  So many times we let outside voices influence us in the choices we make.  I think it's important that we make decisions for ourselves and stand by those decisions.  When our candidate does not win I think it's important to try and find compromise on positions with those who were the elected officials.  We don't have to give up our convictions, just realize that the person in charge may have a different agenda and instead of stonewalling we need to single out the most important issues and concerns we have and push to make that part of the agenda of the elected official.  How do you do that?  Well, you have to push to make it part of the agenda of the community, because ultimately 4 or 6 years from now (depending on which office/position is being voted for) that's who the elected official will be beholden to upon re-election or removal.   Share with others in your community the issues and solutions that are important to you.  Then come election time maybe some of the issues will resonate with your neighbors and the ones that resonate most will get shared across a broad spectrum. 

One thing I heard constantly during CNN's broadcast of the Senate races that went on during this election was how voters did not like either candidate.  Well, I say, "vote for someone you like then!".  There is no rule that you have to vote Democrat or Republican.  There is no rule that you have to vote for the people listed on the ballot.  We have the option to write-in and vote for any person we like.  Find someone you agree with and vote for them. 

I DO think voting is important, because it's a right we have that is not given to everyone.  Therefore
I would not suggest that people not vote if they did not like either candidate.  I don't think that should be taken for granted.  Even if it may not seem to "mean much" there is an historical significance to the right to vote and we owe it to our ancestors who paid the price to make it possible for the rest of us. 

Those are just some thoughts I have in the wake of our most recent election.  I know that my own opinions and the things I find important to me change over time, so even come next year and then two years from now during the new presidential election I will have shaped and reshaped my own views on the major election topics (which more often then not involve the economy at the top spot).  So who will I vote for?  A Democrat?  A Republican?  An Independent?  I don't know yet.  I just know that my vote will go to whom ever I agree with most, and not who SHOULD or is EXPECTED to win. 

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The Giver (Novel) by Lois Lowry- Review by Carlyn


I decided to buy The Giver when I was at the thrift shop. I think it was only 50 cents or a dollar. I really enjoyed the movie so I wanted to read the book. The Giver is the story of a boy named Jonas who lives in a utopian society. The society believe in sameness so everyone has the same type of house, clothes, food as it’s the differences that causes conflict. In the mornings, everyone takes a little pill that helps them remain calm and compliant.

Life is set out for everyone. Children are born at the nurturing centre by official birth mothers then given to a family. The family units consist of a mother, father, boy and girl. There are no natural families where the mother and father have produced the children. Once the children grow up, the parents quit the family unit to live in the houses for childless adults. They spend the rest of the time working an assigned job until they get too old. When they grow old they live in the House of Old until they die.

The book starts off with Jonas turning twelve and nervous about what job he’ll be assigned in the future. Every child is monitored closely so that the elders know the suitable occupation for a child. Jonas is assigned a very special job. He is to be the next Receiver of Memories.   The Receiver learns about the history of the community so that they can advise the council of elders when they face new problems with knowledge from the past.

Jonas meets the current Receiver who he calls the Giver. The Giver shows him memories not just from the community but life before when everyone was different. He shows Jonas the history of human civilization and concepts such as love and war. Jonas realizes that their society has given up so much  for peace.

What I liked about this book was that it wasn’t set in a bleak and grimy future where there are ruined buildings and charred rubble. This book is not action packed like other books in this genre and focuses on how stifling life can be with too many rules and conformity. It was a different experience to read about a world where the people weren’t struggling and there is no secret band of rebels. 

When I read this book, I was reminded to appreciate the small things in life. Jonas found the smallest things like seeing in colour and feeling the breeze ripple through the leaves on trees to be amazing. It was something he never noticed before he became the Receiver.

The book also explores typical things that people worry about when they are leaving their childhood. Jonas worries about his future occupation, keeping in touch with friends and growing feelings. In the movie, Jonas is sixteen instead of twelve. I think it would have been better if he were older in the novel as being sixteen is more a crossroad than twelve.

I found this book to be a bit philosophical and I enjoyed musing about it while I read the book. As a teacher, I want to read it aloud to a class one day to see if they will enjoy it too. I think it is a thought provoking book and I would love to have discussions about it with a class.

You can check out Jon Bear’s review of the film here.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Entertainment Monday: James Mercer (The Shins and Broken Bells) - November 3, 2014

James Mercer: The Shins and Broken Bells

The Shins have been one of my favorite bands for much of the past decade.  For several years I thought that they were from Australia, because they had a song by that name, but one day not all that long ago Carlyn pointed out to me that they were from New Mexico and not in fact from Australia.  I like New Mexico too though so the new knowledge about the band did not dissuade me from enjoying their music. 

James Mercer is the sole original member of the Indie Rock/Pop Band the Shins.  When Mercer wanted to take the band in a new direction he reconvened the band with all new members save for himself.  Mercer remains the bands front man functioning as the song writer, lead vocalist and guitarist.  The Shins first came together in the mid 1990s and had a small but loyal following until they were propelled into the public spotlight by their hit song New Slang, off their studio album Oh Inverted World in 2001.  New Slang was used in the movie Garden State which helped it's (the songs and the bands) popularity to explode.  I have never seen the movie, even though it has come well recommended from a few friends, but having heard New Slang on the radio I was immediately taken by it's somber and melodramatic lyrics. 

wikipedia link

While I liked New Slang I did not pay much attention to the Shins until they came out with their third album Wincing the Night Away in 2007.  That is when I really became a fan.  I had heard the song Sleeping Lessons on a television advertisement for a running shoe.  When I searched on the internet to find out more about the song I saw that it was performed by the Shins.  Already having been familiar with New Slang I figured I should purchase an album, now that I knew I enjoyed two of their songs.  I now own Oh, Inverted World (2001), Chutes Too Narrow (2003) and Wincing the Night Away (2007) their first three albums.  They have one other album Port of Morrow (2012) which I have heard some songs off of and also enjoy even though I do not own the album.

The Shins have also released a single for the movie I Wish I Were Here in 2014. 

What really interested me about James Mercer though is when I found out that he was a member of a duo with Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse) from Gnarles Barkley.  Their collaboration is called Broken Bells.  Broken Bells debut album was released in 2010 but I had only heard one of the bands songs and never made the connection between Broken Bells and James Mercer.  It was when their second album After the Disco came out this past February, 2014 and I heard the single Holding on to Life that I researched Broken Bells and discovered Mercer was part of the duo of a new band I loved to listen to.

wikipedia link


I feel as if back in the 1960s and 1970s several artists collaborated with each other and made some great music as members of a variety of bands.  I'm sure that collaborations probably happen frequently today still but there are not too many artists I can think of whom have been members of two bands that I consider among my favorites.  I hope that both the Shins and Broken Bells will continue to produce new music and that I will continue to enjoy Mercer's writing and singing.