Friday, November 13, 2015

Sometimes Time Blurs By ...

So ... very ... busy ...

My brain is writing blog posts I cannot yet post because I cannot get enough time to compose them on a keyboard.

Oy vey!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

AGH. The Nightmare of Updating Blogger Templates

Yeah. There goes my sidebar.

9 years (with one re-build somewhere in there already) of adding and sculpting a sidebar with like 100+ links to Things I Really Like (and kept tabs in this way because I was just too lazy to put them in my browser booksmarks) all gone in an instant because of a silly notion of updating the template. sob!

There should be emojis in this new template. :/

I thought updating would be nice, cause I'd get all those neat social media widgets on the posts, right?

Argh. Now I have to replace all those categories!!  :O   

Okay. I'm trying to make lemonade out of lemons. Let's just say it's very Zen and it's just time to update everything and do something fresh! (I still really prefer my centered title block, though. wah!)

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast


Laughing and crying at the same time is such a strange sensation. The emotions that have to come into play to make that happen are SO intense and layered. It's very surreal.

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant made me laugh so hard I actually cried -- several times. This bittersweet memoir about her aging parents by cartoonist Roz Chast, was just really funny and sad and hilarious and beautifully told. I love her scratchy art and hand-written text telling stories about her mom and dad ... because it packs the cartooning/story-telling down into a whole deeper way personal-feeling level.

I love it for its frankness, for its sharing of the hard stuff that aging somehow has become for many folks. It's hard to watch ones' parents age; and in America we've been taught it's preferable to spread the family out; and with the need for two incomes to pay the bills, it's not convenient or easy having parents/grandparents return to live in the same house when they are aged and infirm because of the 24-hour care needed. It's a bittersweet memoir, and so worth reading.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Bad Onion Will Just Kill A Dish

4-something p.m. Tuesday

I was wondering what I was going to blog about this week, since I haven't gotten near any (now 3) of my book piles ... there'd be plenty to write about there if I had the time to read ... but working on deadlines is priority. Then I realized this afternoon, even as I wanted to cry over the epic failure of a dish, I thought at least being able to blog about the utter failure (IMO) might make me feel better.

Last week I blogged about my "fix it" obsession. And I guess to a degree my "fix it" obsession can be said to spread out to food. Maybe it's middle age, maybe it's the need to have something handy and ready to eat that's homemade (read: leftovers), or maybe it's just the sheer joy of cooking -- but I've really grown fascinated with (okay, easier forms of) cooking. I've been aiming to learn how to cook some of the Puerto Rican dishes my mom would make for us when I was growing up ... with the hopes that next time I visit I can impress her.

Today I'm making chicken stew. Or rather, I was trying to. We'll see whether it is in about an hour. Because like the title of the post headline reads -- a bad onion will just reduce a dish to uselessness.

I like yellow onions. They have personality. They're the ones you need when you're cooking Puerto Rican dishes. When they sauté in the cooking oil to become the base of just about every PR meal that is not a dessert, they are just heaven to breathe in. They smell like a meal unto themselves! Unless they DON'T, in which case you're in trouble. Real trouble.

I dunno if it was just an old one or if it was a sweet onion disguised as a yellow onion and I picked it up by mistake. ACK. All's to say, I didn't notice its lack of scent while I was cutting it up because I was too busy CRYING from the fumes!

But boy did I notice there was NO SCENT WHATSOEVER when I started to sauté them ... and did I start to freak out!

There's going to be no flavor in this stew! How do I save this dish?! I've had this happen before and because I was sharing that one with friends, the sofrito was simply thrown in the garbage for its amazing lack of flavor and I plum started over. But today I've got like 5 pounds of chicken that has to go in here! The kicker being I have NO MORE ONIONS IN THE HOUSE TO REPLACE THIS LAME ONE WITH! (I sure can't leave the pot to get in the car to get an onion. I'm on a deadline!!)

In my panic I grabbed small jars of minced onion and onion powder -- hoping that somehow one of these options might add that amazing--what do I call it? kick? piquant? tang? zip?-- add that flavor that makes the dish come to life.

I kept tasting and adding and tasting and adding and there was just no relief; it was all really just getting more grainy. PANIC. I had to stop while I was ahead and just throw in the bowl of chicken I had cut up. Sigh.

45 minutes later:
the graininess has subsided. The flavor is mild so it's not inedible but the sauce has no real personality. It does not bring that note of nostalgic contentment to my tummy with its taste. Sigh.

How to salvage this. I might experiment with hot sauce (now I like hot sauce but it shouldn't be necessary in this dish.) How sad. :(

P.S. Friday afternoon.
The leftovers the following day were slightly better. The flavor just didn't pop. But oy, lesson learned. Always have back up onions in plenty supply. LOL


Monday, August 10, 2015

TV Junkie: "Fix It" reality shows and Bar Rescue


I'm a fan of "Fix-It" shows.

Fix the house, fix the business. I just loooooooove these shows.

It's truly something of a mild obsession ... I tend to binge watch. When I'm aiming to be good ('cause it's a workday) I'll only watch one episode during lunchtime. Then when my husband is working late after dinner then I'll watch 2 or 3 in a row.

The ones I enjoy related to fixing up houses are Rehab Addict, Love It Or List It, Flip or Flop (here, why don't I just link you over to HGTV so you can see them yourself!? LOL) but my favorite shows of this type is anything hosted by The Property Brothers (they're twins!! Jonathan is a contractor and Drew is a real estate agent, so their teaming up is natural!) and my most favorite of all: Holmes Inspection. This is where the exceptional contractor Mike Holmes inspects houses in trouble and discovers where the original home inspection failed during the sale process. (Seriously, if I could afford to fly this man over here to inspect when I buy a house I would. He's amazing, scary-professional (in the best way) and his work crew  -- which includes his kids!! -- is just fantastic.) Mr. Holmes and his crew take apart whatever is wrong with the house then reconstruct it to Make It Right™!!

Holmes Inspection is a great show. And I love how in this instance a total newbie to buying/owning houses and caring for their maintenance could watch, take notes, learn and actually prepare for owning a home! (Seriously, I'm taking notes -- because why not?) It's amazing! This is an entire education being supplied here -- we should be grateful! I know I am. Home buying doesn't have to be scary or a trap ... You can go in better prepared, and that's so helpful!

There's also a terrific short-lived fix-it show that straddled home and business called Construction Intervention where contractor Charlie Frattini repairs failed construction projects abandoned by incompetent contractors. I enjoyed this one, too.

On the business side for the fix-it type shows, I've enjoyed Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares. Sometimes outrageous and full of yelling, heck, I can understand why the man feels the need to scream when restaurants are supposed to be about enjoyment of food, clean (!!) food-handling and safe food storage!

Bar and Restaurant expert John Taffer
So my husband (knowing how I LOVE these types of shows) found and put on our queue my latest binge watch: "Bar Rescue" hosted by John Taffer. What a great show!

Anyone with any HOPES of opening a bar/restaurant should watch, take notes, then fly. This man knows what he's doing.

Where Gordon Ramsey aims to rescue failing restaurants, John Taffer aims to salvage bars on the verge of massive failure. I binge-watched two seasons in about 2 weeks (I know. That's a lot of episodes. Chris had a lot of working late this past week.)

I really enjoy this series because 1) Mr. Taffer doesn't play. He's there to save these owners their livelihoods  2) holy moley, Mr. Taffer can revamp a place.

I mean, yes, I'm looking at it dispassionately; I'm not the bar/restaurant owner who's getting their bar/restaurant business made over and probably re-named in the process. But golly, (without giving away spoilers) the man knows what he's doing and has the tools to make it work. It's impressive.

I like watching this series on a sheer running-a-business level. Although not obvious (since I sure don't plan to open a restaurant or bar!) the knowledge can be applied across-wise, because after all, a business owner is a business owner, and an entrepreneur is an entrepreneur ... there are going to be certain ground rules that are going to hold true across the board for anyone managing a business, like accounting, managing staff and being present in the business in a helpful (and not abusive or micro-managey) way.

If you like these kinds of fix-it reality shows, I totally recommend you try Bar Rescue!

Monday, August 03, 2015

Fallen World: Small Comfort

In Small Comfort, Jonah has a really bad dream ...


The third in a series of three mini-comics my husband and I created together (he wrote, I drew), I'm thrilled to finally post Fallen World: Small Comfort on my new comics website.

We'd printed the set up as mini-comics years ago, and have shared them with friends and folks at conventions and on Free Comic Book Day. It's great to share them online so there'd be a better chance of more readers finding them.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Exhortation

Some people's "superhero" power is prayer. If it's yours, use it wisely. Use it help others, as you have been told to.

You serve a mighty God.  :)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Fallen World: Small Load

Special Agent Nita Johnson

Last week I posted how one of my favorite comics projects that my husband Chris and I worked on was a mini comic run called "Fallen World". This was a supernatural crime genre idea we were developing ... and I hope someday we can create more of.

Since I've created a new website for my comics (our original, shared website, Studiowell, is now Chris' dedicated author website) I've had to migrate and upload the comics. This helps refresh my mind on what fun it was to work on the different projects.

Our first one, "Small Fortune" was 8 pages, and the second story in the set of three in Fallen World "Small Load" is 12 pages. Here we meet FBI agent Jonah Chang's partner, Nita Johnson.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Fallen World: Small Fortune -- Loading My New Comics Website With One of My Favorite Comics

Detective Jonah Chang re-reads his fortune cookie

Back when Chris and I were first married in 2002, we started making comics together right away. One of our first was a title called Fallen World. Part X-Files-y, part cop-story, we teamed up angry Jonah Chang with beautiful Nita Johnson and threw in weird happenings. We wanted to mash up some of our favorite genres together and see if we could pull it off.

We got to do three stories for Fallen World: Small Fortune, Small Load and Small Comfort. They were in mini comic form (hence the use of the word "small" in each of the titles) and their length made them easy for me to tackle as my first real comic projects. But by the time we finished the third mini-comic, Chris had just started on a new job and he re-thought the origins of a big section of this universe ... and it all changed and Fallen World got shelved. Sigh.

I enjoy re-reading most of the old comics I've drawn. Regardless of the lack of technical finesse on some of the artistry (I've learned to accept we really only learn and develop our craft of drawing by actually drawing, as cringe-worthy as parts of it may be) I enjoy the pages especially because they're emotionally charged with memories. I'll remember where I'd drawn them, or what I was listening to, or how much we really liked that particular story when we were working on it together.

So here is the first of those mini comics, freshly uploaded, linked here: Fallen World: Small Fortune.

This is a project I do hope we can revisit and lengthen into a good chunky story someday.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Sometimes It Just All Takes A Long Time (And That's Okay)

Sometimes it seems like you're jogging in place. Yes, you're doing stuff, but it seems to take just so incredibly LONG to get results.

Then sometimes things just click right into place -- and everything zooms into gear at 90 miles per hour and THERE. ARE. RESULTS!

LOADS and LOADS of them all at once.

And sometimes the workload is so intense, it seems like you're repeating the same putting-on-the-pajamas-and-going-to-sleep-moment, like it's a scene from the movie Groundhog Day ... until it gets incredibly SURREAL.

It has taken me a very long time to make sense of my circumstances. And now, nearing 50, it is finally okay that it has taken me this long to make sense of any of it. And the various seemingly polar parts of my interests are gelling into place and becoming what they are supposed to be. And that's pretty exciting.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Movie Junkie: Rise of the Guardians





I remember watching this trailer and thinking in the back of my head "I want to see this."

I thought the idea was really intriguing -- Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy and The Sandman join up with a new Guardian added to their ranks -- Jack Frost -- to protect the kids of the world from an old threat reasserting itself: Pitch Black (a.k.a. The Boogeyman).

We finally saw it this past weekend. I thought the movie came out last year and i was finally catching up -- but it had came out in 2012! Time flies entirely too fast.

I gotta tell you, this movie -- much like reading Neil Gaiman's Coraline last week -- made me feel like I was 9 again. There was just this thrill of the story and the wonderment in reading/watching both. Seriously, we rented it, and I watched it 3 times in 48 hours. 3 TIMES! I don't usually do that. In fact, I very rarely do that in such close proximity. I mean, yes, I'll binge-watch, so we'll watch a bunch of episodes over say, a weekend but that's usually episodes of a TV show. And yes, there are movies (The Apartment, Pollock, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Herb and Dorothy) that I will watch over and over or play and just listen to as I draw my comics, but I don't usually sit and watch a movie several times in the space of 2 days!

I'll tell you why I fell in love with this movie and its art direction.

Firstly, it's based on William Joyce's Guardians of Childhood children's storybooks series. I discovered William Joyce when I first moved to Nashville. While I drew, I would play the PBS channel and watch his cartoon, George Shrinks. (It's like Stuart Little except it's a teeny little boy instead of a teeny little mouse.) His artwork is beautiful and the cartoons were mellow, fun, inventive and pretty to look at. The animating team on Rise of The Guardians did an amazing job taking his work all to the next level and beyond.

The art direction is jaw-droppingly beautiful.

Not only did I enjoy the story immensely, but the visual details were amazing -- like Santa Claus had tattoos! And spoke with a Russian accent! The Easter Bunny was a bad-a**, was the size of a kangaroo and wielded boomerangs!! The Tooth Fairy and her little fairy army were all dressed like iridescent hummingbirds! And The Sandman was adorably  -- and appropriately! -- squishy, cuddly-pillow shaped and mute!

How can we NOT love these elves??!!
And the Elves, Yeti, and Stone Eggs were just fantastic-looking and great characters!

The story further fell in to this theme I've bumped into since watching Tomorrowland a month ago. (And I love when a theme happens; makes you pay attention, doesn't it?) Mainly the one about overcoming FEAR and aiming for and protecting dreams and imagination and Hope.

Here in Rise of the Guardians, The Sandman guards Dreams, Santa Claus guards Wonder, the Tooth Fairy guards (childhood) Memories, the Easter Bunny guards Hope, and (newly appointed) Jack Frost guards children's sense of Fun (appropriately timed I thought, considering the new threat of children staying indoors too much more than they ought to and not having as much outdoor fun as earlier generations have had.)

Even the Yeti are adorable!!
I loved that they were Guardians, because in a very simple way it helped me resolve a puzzle I have been struggling with for years and years. And I'll be blunt.

I'd been raised Catholic, so I knew all these legends.

When I became a Pentecostal after I was 18 we were taught "not to mix with the world" -- no Christmas trees, no TV, no movies (!) etc., etc., a lot of rules that are essentially supposed to help us to focus on Jesus Christ and on each other. I understand the point: the rules are supposed help us to not create idols out of the everyday so that we can focus on what's actually important, loving one another. Only nobody says it that way. Instead it's all about "these things are evil and are idols and don't get carried away by them, so keep away!" It's all approached in a more fearful-of-getting-World-cooties, in a way, instead of teaching each other how we need to be mindful of what we put into ourselves so we don't put out garbage.

So what do you do with all the things that used to delight you with their prettiness? You throw them away. Or stuff em in a box and pretend they are no longer there.

But I loved the premise of Rise of the Guardians, which is part of this greater theme I've been seeing: the simplicity of -- without making them idols -- just guarding each other's sense of wonder, each other's hopes and dreams, even guarding memories and fun because without those, the vaccuum has to get filled by something. And fear is not an acceptable substitute. And yeah, yeah, the Religious will argue 'Yes, but fill the vacuum with God' -- and so I will say, "Yes! These are all good things and are all of God, because He is the Author of all Good Things."

So I finally understand their appropriate place now. Why we share these sweet little legends that make childhood so much fun. Not for them to become idols and make holidays plastic. There is just no substitute for God and the Life He offers. But just to make the sharing of Life with each other more enjoyable and happy.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Neil Gaiman's "Coraline"


Yesterday, Chris had to go to the dentist and I went with him, so we could get groceries afterwards. I brought his copy of Coraline with me, to read while I waited.

We're both Gaiman fans, but Chris started reading Gaiman's prose waaay before I ventured to (literally yesterday). Not sure why it took me so long -- I collected his Sandman comics from the beginning for example, so I knew he's a brilliant writer -- but I'll be the first to admit that my bookpiles tend to be stacked high with graphic novels, biographies or something church- or art-related. In other words, I don't read a lot of fiction without pictures (!). Especially lately.

I LOVE THIS BOOK.

I started it in the waiting room and finished it before going to bed (yeah, I KNOW! Why did I read it before bed!!?? It's a scary story!). But it was SO great, I had to find out what happened to Coraline because I knew I otherwise would not sleep.

(And actually, I slept really well afterwards!)

While I read it I felt like I was 9 years old again -- reading a spooky delicious book that was challenging and TRUE! Because you know little kids can see things some grownups can't, and it was just amazing how Gaiman wielded the narrator's voice ... that perfect simplicity of storytelling that was yet so captivating.

From the neighbors getting Coraline's name wrong ('it's not "Caroline"') to Coraline resolving to be very brave in the face of a mysterious other trying to capture her, I felt a wonderful kinship with this marvelous little girl, and re-inspired bravery by reading this book.

If I had kids I would totally read this with them!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee Season 6!!


I'm doing a happy dance because season 6 of Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee is out.

My favorite parts are when Jerry's guests make him laugh!

Been too busy uploading comics to write up anything special for this week's post (another reason why I'm also a day late & my apologies for that, because writing posts definitely helps me work on my writing overall) -- but I'm glad, glad, glad that between all the work I can enjoy these new episodes of one of my favorite online shows!

They've changed the release time to 11:30 pm EST Wednesday nights (I know it's all on demand but the new release time is now kinda like a late night show timeslot in a way) but that only means I will PROBABLY watch it Thursday at lunchtime!

Watch and enjoy the laughs with some of your favorite comedians!

 

Monday, June 08, 2015

A Church Called Graffiti graphic novel previews are Free Online


The Graffiti Mission celebrates its 40th Anniversary next Sunday, June 15th.

Graffiti Church serves the people of Alphabet City -- East 7th Street -- on Manhattan's Lower East Side.

Chapters one and two of my adaptation of Taylor Field's A Church Called Graffiti are now online. There are 11 chapters and it's about 270 pages long. The book is a memoir of when Pastor Taylor and his family joined the mission, back in 1986.

I will be adding 10 - 15 new pages a week  -- generally on Mondays -- until the entire graphic novel can be read online.

I'm pretty excited to be able to do this!


Monday, June 01, 2015

Dystopia, Utopia, Tomorrowland



The AMC Movie Talk guys and gals (link here to star interviews but the review was on the AMC Movie Talk Show itself) were surprised Tomorrowland only made 40 million over their opening weekend.

My husband wondered if that was because the trailer we saw (Disney's official trailer #3, as identified on YouTube) showed the two heroes in danger but escaping to Tomorrowland ... thus implying the danger was kinda over. Chris didn't think it was plain enough in this trailer that the danger was far from over -- let alone that it was Tomorrowland in danger.

I however, kinda always knew Tomorrowland was in danger. I knew the robots chasing after Frank and Casey (George Clooney and Britt Robertson's characters) in the trailer were part of the root cause somehow. I wasn't sure why I thought that -- but I rewatched trailer #3 three times to figure out why.

It's in the words "Fight for tomorrow."

Fight for tomorrow. The phrase actually chokes me up.

I'll admit, it's a less than perfect film. I really disliked the way it started -- with Frank talking directly to the camera. Blech. I really didn't like that at all -- but boy, that paid off at the end.

It was also a little preachy -- the message is super-important and wonderful and necessary to be shared. Fight for tomorrow!! The presentation of the need to fight was sometimes a bit heavy-handed in its sharing and could have used subtlety here and there. But it's a keenly needed message.

In the movie, Casey shared a story with her dad -- one that he had told her often. Paraphrasing it, it was something about there being two wolves fighting. One is darkness and Despair, the other one lightness and Hope. "Which one do you think wins?" she asks him. Her dad answers, "The one you feed."

We are either being reinforced by and reinforcing Despair, or being reinforced by and reinforcing Hope.

It is exactly a fight. Every moment of every day.

Which wolf are you feeding?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Then Free Comic Book Day Only Got BETTER ...!

The inking on this cover is beautiful.

It was so great to go to one of our local comic book stores for Free Comic Book Day. I have less time for the casual visit nowadays since I've had to prioritize completing certain things for school ... so having FCBD to set aside a specific time to catch up in person is really nice.

Usually we'd go to Rick's Comic City over in Donelson. For a store focused on All Things Comics, the location is clean, family-friendly, has an incredible range of GREAT comics choices on hand and is a flat out beautiful shop. And Rick (yes, there is a real Rick!) usually plans fun events and artist signings and some customers even dress up in costumes. It's pretty cool to go.

But I had a meeting in midtown that Saturday, so we decided instead to go visit The Great Escape on Charlotte Avenue. If you want to nerd out on old-school comics and All-Things-Collectible -- like vinyl records, posters, DVDs, and toys -- this is your place.

We went later in the day which was really helpful, since by then the line had thinned out. We also got our choice of 5 comics each, which was reeeally nice. It bummed me out that they were already out (no surprise) of the Sponge-Bob and The Tick comics, but we got a whole lot of other good ones: the Doctor Who comic, Scooby-Doo Team Up and Bongo Comics were my favorites out of the pile.

All trades and HCs were also on sale, so we wandered around looking to see what was available and maybe worth getting. What caught my imagination and eye was a volume of Roy Thomas Presents Planet Comics Volume 7 hanging out on the new(ish) side of the comic book shelves. The cover art by Joe Doolin was just gorgeously inked. Doolin's interior art -- he draws different stories depending in the issue -- isn't as pretty, but it's solid. What fascinated me was just the really simple layouts and the really simple coloring -- everything is the old style flat coloring. And it was super-interesting to observe that of the flat coloring there were clearly some that was bad and that was good. It all depended on how skilled the colorist was (but they were all uncredited!). I haven't painted in years now, so I thought it might be an interesting (as well as simple) study as I foray into coloring again. I've tried reading the comics, but I must admit, it's just not a great enjoyment. I have contented myself with simply flipping through and examining the artwork and coloring several times so far. Maybe over the summer I will try again to read certain stories.

Yay! My very own copy!!

The day only got better and more chock-full of comics, because when we got home waiting at the doorstep was our copy of Matthew Bogart's The Chairs' Hiatus GN, which we had bought through his Kickstarter campaign. He did SUCH a beautiful job packaging this book! The story is still on his website and can be read online for free -- and he has copies of the GN available for sale as well.

Comic Book Happy Dance!

Friday, May 01, 2015

Free Comic Book Day is Saturday, May 2!!


Tomorrow, Saturday May 2 is FREE COMIC BOOK DAY!

If you haven't been to a comic shop in a while -- or ever -- Saturday, May 2 is a great day to stop in to a shop near you, and sample a few free comics provided to you by your local comics retailer and loads of comic book publishers!

Go Go GO!!!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Happiness is Strawberry Mochi

Strawberry Mochi. YUM!

I became fascinated with the beauty of Japanese packaging and culture back when Hello Kitty invaded elementary school.

The darling little pink and white kitty-cat emblazoned scented(!) erasers and other teeny-weeny-yet-useful school items (tiny pencils, pads and itty-bitty crayons!) with their sheer adorableness captured our kid imaginations. It almost nonsensical they were so small, and certainly surreal to look at -- but that's what I loved about it all. It was like little girl princesses-dress-up-and-unicorn dreams packaging on everyday items. 

Still love the stuff.

Visiting Japanese restaurants followed in my mid-teens. My friends had interned at Marvel Comics, and there was an editor in the Epic Comics division that had befriended us. She was cool and amazing and knew Japanese and would translate Japanese comics into English. She introduced us to a really great Japanese restaurant a few blocks away from the Marvel Offices back when they used to be located down on Park Avenue South. I became quite the fan of sushi and sashimi. Wonderful food!

At my most recent visit up to see my folks, my sister and I walked over to a Japanese grocery store specifically to pick up some mochi. Heavenly-tasting are these rice-doughy-filled-with-sweet-bean-paste dessert delights. My favorite is the pink-colored strawberry flavored exteriors.

I recently found a cute little Japanese grocery store here and they have strawberry mochi! Happy dance indeed!! I've bought 4 or 5 each time I've stopped in. What a treat!!


Monday, April 13, 2015

Countdown to the Graffiti Graphic Novel

I've spent the better part of 7 years adapting and drawing a graphic novel titled A Church Called Graffiti, and the past year figuring out what to do next. Probably not the most intelligent tactic not to have at least put pages up online while I was drawing it ... but hindsight is 20/20 isn't it?

So I'm working on getting them online. There's just always a ton of other "more urgent" things to do because they have to do with school/work/church right here, right tomorrow. And drawing always comes off like it's "an indulgence".  Except it's not. Drawing is one of the ways I express myself, and I'm learning to value it for what it is, a language of pictures and words that I want to be more fluent in ... and it's becoming abundantly clear that I'm going to have to make time for my books to BE. And other things are going to have to make way for them.

The Graffiti mission is celebrating its 40th Anniversary in June.  I have to get these pages online.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Running The Race ...

A friend and I were talking a couplea weeks ago; discussing the (psychological) growing pains of being an adult and folks not always filling each other in on life-events or things to be aware of as we mature into our journeys and paths.

Now mind you, I think in this information day and age we're getting way, way better at giving each other a heads-up on things. We're discovering stuff about ourselves and sharing it more, in case our frames of reference can be useful for one another, and I think that's really helpful. It's no longer a situation where we only read about composite lives through novels or watch them through movies (although those are certainly way more entertaining vehicles!). But it's good we now can share the very ordinary (or extraordinary) moments of our lives via blogs and websites and etc.,. We have more emotional and even spiritual reference points of everyday human beings right at our fingertips.

Today being the day after Easter Sunday (and we had been talking then in anticipation of Easter) we also threw into the discussion the whole being a disciple of Jesus Christ thing. Following Him and calling Him Lord should really be a pretty big deal, and it truly does change lives; but sometimes some folks can take that for granted. We forget sometimes to cut each other slack. And sometimes we forget we're only human: we do continue to adjust and improve and correct ourselves and get better as people as we age.  It's not like we hit 21 or 30 or 40 or 65 or 80 and once we get to that "specific age" we stop improving ... We keep learning and growing until we leave this place.

So in that context of discipleship we discussed the "Running the Race" passage from the Bible. I had to look it up because we both knew what we were talking about, but because I wanted to share, for this post I realized I needed to clarify -- plus I wanted to remember more than just the "running the race" part -- which is a paraphrase anyway! LOL

The passage we were talking about is in the Book of Hebrews, chapter 12, verse 1 and half of verse 2: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith." (For context, the rest of the chapter for the NIV translation of the Bible is on Bible Gateway.) 

So it says: "And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us," So does that mean running the race of life? That alone can mean very different things to each person who reads it -- and it did to the two of us. 

It says "persevere" so she saw it as a marathon; a test of endurance of conservation of energy, to get to the finish line. To her it evokes images of utter exhaustion, being out of breath, of getting crazy tired, cramps and fighting to finally finish. Weirdly, I had been mulling all this Running the Race business over recently. I used to see it that way, too -- as a crazy marathon -- but had recently started to see it way, way differently. 

I'm sure preachers have probably hit on this, so I'm not saying anything new, but I'm excited by the change in the POV:

It's a relay race!

Did you ever play relay races? Do you remember in elementary school? We used to have relay races and we would all be set on the playground at different points and we would wait and scream for the rest of our team to get to us to pass the baton, so we could then run to the next person on our team and pass the baton to them -- and so on and so on until all the teams finally won? 

Do you remember being little when your center of gravity was just so, and you could run and run and not get tired (just out of breath!?) Do you remember being so light that it felt like the wind helped you run SOOOOOOO fast, and how exciting and fun that was?

It's a relay race -- and it's supposed to be fun.

Grab the baton and run, my friend. Run your part then pass the baton to the next person! It's supposed to be a marathon -- but it's also a relay race and we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses cheering us all on.

It's a relay race -- and it's supposed to be fun!

Monday, March 30, 2015

How About Never? Is Never Good For You? by Bob Mankoff -- Gosh, I Love This Book!

The brilliant book I borrowed, but still must own!

Okay, so yeah, I didn't have ENOUGH to do, apparently ... or rather, I had SO much to do I desperately needed to take a mental break, and do something different, like read a great book.

Reading a great book that was brief (about 36k by Mankoff's admission) and that also made me laugh (which is good for the health!) made the absolute best of a squishy-time-situation.

I borrowed How About Never, Is Never Good For You? from the library because I had waited far too long to purchase it. I'd found out it existed sometime last fall and I really just wanted to finally read it already. I knew that putting myself in the unseemly position of having to read a book on a deadline (because I'd have to return it) was crazy -- in light of me having about 20 books that I already owned all piled around the house for me to read -- but I SO wanted to know what Mankoff had to say!

So I went and borowed it anyway -- and I LOVE THIS BOOK! I still have to buy it. I just love this book.

And I for one, am not a person who is afraid to Laugh Out Loud when I'm home by myself and reading something funny (or even in a coffee shop surrounded by strangers -- though I'm less likely to guffaw or allow myself to fall out of my chair then!).

Why do I love this book? Well, it goes beyond the whole I'm a fan of The New Yorker cartoon in general and of their many-faceted hilarious weirdnesses ... and it goes beyond the "I so wish I could cartoon this way but I'm not even going to try!" I'm not going to try because I KNOW it takes everything to make them funny and make them work. The writing and art of it is such an artform (YEAH, I SAID THAT) -- that the making of them deserves the cartoonist's absolute focus.

I love it because Bob Mankoff's sheer obsession is inspiring!

I mean, here's a guy who dedicates the book to all The New Yorker cartoonists -- past. present and future -- and even leaves blank lines for hopefuls to fill in their names because they may be included in future printings!! How great is that?

Tangentally it reminds me of what I love about the documentaries "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" or "Bill Cunningham New York" -- it's the absolute devotion to the development of one's craft and vocation.

Just inspiring!

We get to know Mr. Mankoff's background, his obsession with the history of The New Yorker cartoon -- which helped not only drive his development as a TNYer cartoonist but also equipped him to become their Cartoon Editor -- and he even gives you pointers on what makes a New Yorker cartoon what it is (to put it super-simply), and how to give their Caption Contest the best go.

Any serious cartoonist of any genre would do themselves a huge favor by owning this book.

Monday, March 23, 2015

RE: Lack of Affordable Housing in Nashville ... and What To Do About It?

Two weeks ago in the Nashville Scene, reporter Abby White asked "Everyone knows Nashville is hurting for Affordable Housing. What are we going to do about it?

Like she stated in the article, some people think when they hear "affordable housing" that it means Section 8 and living in The Projects, but affordable housing is not just about being that close to or under the poverty line. It's also about just being an average person who doesn't want to live paycheck to paycheck because they're paying half of their monthly income for their rent or mortgage. The average person is the retail worker, the cop, the teacher, the fireman, the state employee; even entrepreneurs running their own small business -- who are also aiming to employ others -- is an average person around here in Nashville.

So how do we make/keep housing affordable? Well, here's a terribly unromantic, boringly practical approach: we have to address and examine 1) our greed as Developers and the 2) our lust as Homebuyers and Renters to indulge in buying things that we maybe just can't afford.

Now while I don't begrudge a person's right to make money, nor a person's desire to have their dream home, I do question the practicality of developers adding "luxury amenities" I didn't ask for, don't need, and really don't like. Why do I need to pay $500++ more a month for those things if I don't actually want them? I have plenty other things to spend that money on. I want a well-built, functional home that is not silly in sales price -- and that means scaling back on what is truly optional.

I also question the practicality of home owners wanting and adding "luxury amenities" when they can't afford them. Too often luxury finishes like the huge square footage to nowhere, excessively expensive kitchen appliances and countertops or enormous spa bathrooms with marble countertops (no, really, does anyone notice how easily marble stains?? It's great for a statue, but stupid used as a countertop. This is not a rock made for work surfaces!) while a huge selling point, also kick the selling price up far too much. I guess the problem is people are doing the buying anyway! How many do that because they've been taught or they have learned or are convinced they just HAVE to have this?

Why have we (and when did we) become so afraid to tell ourselves "No, we really can't afford that, and it's okay." The "Keeping up With the Joneses" is so mainstream now it's invisible -- and it's hurting all of us.

So while these luxury finishes are all beautiful and would be ideal to have, they're truly not necessary. We have to admit some luxury finishes push owning a home out of the realistic and comfortably achievable price range. And it leaves no margin for error left in the budget on the part of the buyer. Yes, it's kindof a chicken and egg situation, but it's one where an individual on both sides needs to make the choice to stop and reel it in.

We need to be supportive of developers who don't build crazy luxury but who also DON'T build subpar crap housing -- because somehow some of them think if it's not luxury, then it's not worth it. Then they go cheap -- so cheap that they hire incompetents who don't know that the plumbing under the sink actually needs the trap, for example, or that maybe they really should want to level the plate to the electrical switch when they screw it in, just so they look like they know what they're doing.

I'm sure there's a reasonable compromise people maybe have been avoiding because there's too much opportunity -- and it's just easier -- to make more $.

Developers have to stop making houses so big that 3 families can live in the square footage but it's supposed to be a house for just 4 people. That's crazy. I dunno about you, but I don't need to be heating the second floor of a 2-story foyer, where no one actually enjoys the warmth. I'm sorry. I know. I know it's a gorgeous sight to see the sweep of the stairwell or have a 20 foot high curtain! Let's finally admit it's just impractical for the average person to pay to heat a 2-story anything when you can't actually use that floorless square footage up in the 2nd floor air. Yes, it's beautiful, but I just have to make the choice to leave that 2-story open space to public spaces, because I don't like the electric bill that it entails and burdens on a family.

So how do we make Housing Affordable? Can we encourage those who can build housing to please build more nicely beautiful but simpler houses that regular people can live in? Can we encourage folks to maybe not go into crazy debt just to own a home?

Part of the wonderfulness of home buying is buying a house you can afford and feel safe in, but you have the option of either adding onto it or buying a larger one later. The house doesn't have to be dream home perfect right now, because insisting on that, and straying outside our actual budget ultimately makes the home buying process harder for everyone else ... and that's a scary thing to admit. Because it means giving a bleep for the Joneses ... not just coveting their stuff.

It's okay that we all don't have celebrity salaries. It's nice to pay the bills and be able to afford groceries anytime and buy gas for the car and braces for the kids if they need them. It's nice to have and be a middle class, because the middle class does include business people and entrepreneurs. And it's nice to NOT pay half the month's salary on rent or mortgage, because that's just unreasonable math.

So I ask along with Ms. White: What are we going to do about Affordable Housing, Nashville?

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Invisible Ones

One of my uncles passed away last month; he was the latest in a string of uncles who have died in the past two years. Until now, however, it had been my mother who had lost siblings.

Mom had 9 of them, and many had been ill over several years. I think she's down to 5 now ... maybe it's 4 ...? The terrible thing is I'm not actually sure, because they all mostly live in Puerto Rico and I've not met the bulk of them. Or if I have, it was when I was a little kid. Aside from the 3 sisters of hers that I do remember meeting (gracious, and they all look SO related!) I don't actually remember meeting any of her brothers.

When I was younger that was just the way it was. Communication between far away places was difficult. Long distance calls were pricey. Plane tickets to go visit were a luxury. I have a good idea of what it's like to have left "the old country" ... and that some never looked back is amazing for the sense of loss. It's only now that I'm older that it makes me sad to not have known these aunts and uncles. I know technology is supposed to help ease that for future generations, and I hope for their sake it will, but I still find it sad. Camera-time is not the same as in-person time.

The uncle that passed away last month was my Dad's brother. He was second-oldest. They both had gotten sick enough that neither was able to travel to visit the other for close to two years, and they only lived a state away from each other. This is the first sibling on my father's side to pass away, and it was pretty shocking, because they had all been tightly-knit. This is an uncle I actually knew.

When we were all small, 4 of the 5 siblings stayed in the NY area, and we visited each other regularly. Once us cousins all got to be 16 - 18 years old, though, there seemed to be less time for bigger family gatherings. And once cousins started to get married, forgeddaboutit. I still haven't met most of my cousins' children (9 and counting, I believe it is ...). It's pretty shameful. Some of us moved out of state, and visiting each other, well, really just became a thing of the past for most.

What struck me about this uncle's passing were two things; the first one was my father had visited his brother a few years back, when his brother was still healthy, and they'd had a lovely conversation. My uncle had made dinner, and they had a wide assortment of desserts. The wives had fun catching up, and they'd all had a great time.

Later my Dad expressed surprise at how he wished he had spent more time with his brother in a comforting, big-brother way. Their mother had died when the 5 of them were all under the age of 13, and my Dad was left to take care of the other 4 in the shadow of an alcoholic and mostly-absent dad. While they were growing up, since this brother was second oldest, my father took for granted that this brother would also be mature and look out for the 3 much younger siblings, like my dad was doing. He told my dad he would have liked more big-brother time. That honesty was a good moment to share.

The second thing that struck me was a conversation I had with the husband of my father's sister (my aunt is mostly mute because of a stroke.) This uncle had been best friends with my blood-uncle, and we reflected on how ill the 3 siblings had been for the past few years. In light of the illnesses the 3 had been going through, no one, however, expected this brother to be the first to go. He was the strong and brave one; the beautiful, dark-haired, caramel-colored, tattooed brother with the ability to fix any car and put in a new kitchen if you just asked. He was the quiet one that didn't say much but people figured would always be there. He had been the invisible one.

Who are your invisible ones?

Monday, February 16, 2015

To Teach: The Journey In Comics by William Ayers and Ryan Alexander-Tanner


We get a lot of Divinity School students -- folks studying to become ministers -- over at church. One day it came up in conversation that I draw comics, and one of our members mentioned how one of his divinity school friends was reading a graphic novel in their class. I HAD to know what it was. What kind of graphic novel would they be reading in divinity school?? Fortunately the school mate was visiting that day, and I immediately sought him out, introduced myself and asked what the book they were reading in class was, and he told me "To Teach: the journey, in comics".

Kind of an essay, with a little bit of memoir, To Teach is a book written by a teacher for those who love to teach and have the heart to learn how to serve those who wish to learn. It's quite simply, a beautiful little book. The writer is a kindergarten teacher -- and the story pours from the perspective of a person who really enjoys the process of teaching little ones, big ones, and himself.

On his first day of school Ayers is peppered by the questions of his 5-year-old students: "Why is the sky blue?" "Why does the ball bounce?" "Why is your skin pink and mine brown?" "Why did my dad have to go to war?" The questions are the moment. The questions are what we ask, what we want to know ... it's what makes teaching so beautiful, irritating, magical, exhausting, energizing ... it doesn't matter that these are five-year-olds asking -- they have the same questions we all do, at every age. And Ayer's big question is: "What is a teacher and what is teaching?"

Yes. "What is a teacher and what is teaching?"

Is teaching giving extra help to the child who is in need? Labeling the kid who doesn't act quite the same as everyone else? Is it debasing individual kids into piles of faceless national percentiles of abilities and achievements? Is it applying standardized tests to children who are not standard, because there really can't be just one standard across a country as large and as varied in its makeup as America (which is kind of the very point of her? Yes, I did just have a soapbox moment there. My apologies. Back to the book.)

Reading/seeing Ayers face school system bureaucrats who don't understand about students' growth, who don't get that the constant interruption of a school-wide intercom can be really CREEPY and see them interfere with methods that work because they just "don't understand" because they weren't taught that way (oh yes, the irony, right?) was nail-bitingly frustrating.

I LOVED the journey of this graphic novel. It is an adaptation of a textbook Ayers had written -- but I think it fits the graphic novel format wonderfully. It is a thoughtful reflection on the process of teaching and becoming better at it. And it's adorably drawn by Ryan Alexander-Tanner.

Chapter 7 opens with a terrific quote I will share in part here:

"Teaching is the vocation of vocations, a calling that shepherds a multitude of other callings. It is an activity that is intensely practical, and yet transcendent, brutally matter-of-fact, and yet fundamentally a creative act."

I think that's a rather lovely observation.

 

Monday, February 09, 2015

Yumminess of Baking and A Shout Out to Two of My Favorite Online Cooks


Hilah's No-Knead Bread

I've been negligent in thanking the various wonderful cooks who share their great recipes and help make cooking so much fun!

I'll aim to thank them more often ... I need to start by taking pictures of the food I make from their recipes and posting them. I tend to forget to take the pictures and just eat! LOL

First I want to thank Hilah Johnson over at HilahCooking.com for her many great recipes, (including for meatball and hummus) which have just made it easy for me to overcome a minor fear of cooking things because sometimes recipes seem too complicated. Hilah makes cooking look fun and easy and I highly recommend her videos and her recipes (I totally have to buy her books now!) Because I remembered to take a picture this time, I have to thank Hilah for the deliciously yummy No Knead Bread Recipe, which is super-low on yeast, tasty and SO AMAZINGLY CRUSTY!! (This bread either buttered or with a jam on it is LOVELY!!)

I LOOOOOOVE this bread. I've made it several times so far it is so enjoyable. I am at last posting a picture of one of them before it is devoured! Yes, it is an investment of time to make this one -- don't freak out -- because since the yeast level is SO low, you have to let the bread rise overnight before you can bake it, so you need to build in serious prep time.

But oh my goodness it is SO worth it!

Another terrific recipe and cook I want to thank is Angela Kim over at TheSquishyMonster.com for her Monkey Bread Recipe. OH. MY. GOODNESS. Another great recipe!

We had a friend visit this past weekend who suggested we make Monkey Bread.
Monkey Bread so good, we almost forgot to take the picture!

She'd never made it and neither had I (!) so we had to find recipes online ... it being one of Chris' favorite breads (that I have postponed learning how to bake) I thought, well, okay, lemme finally look for it! It'd be really nice to know how -- if it'll taste good.

Fortunately, Roku has a CAKE CHANNEL that we just recently added!! And there was Angela, in the "New" section, with her Monkey Bread recipe video, God bless her! YAY!

I watched the video (several times) to get comfortable with the process. I liked the recipe ingredients and felt yeah, this is worth the effort, because this again, is another bread where you need to build in almost two extra hours to let the dough rise (twice).

Oh my goodness, was it ever worth it!!

I highly recommend a visit to these ladies' sites and to print out their recipes and try them out. Especially if you enjoy the cooking/baking process, you will definitely find these delicious foods worth the effort invested and they will become family favorites!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Walked Over 7 Miles in 5 Days; There Were 2 Children's Musicals, Then The Flu in Time For Christmas ...


Replacement Society of Illustrators mug!
... and suddenly it was January.

Time to go back to school, write and administer Spanish tests, grade them and then post report cards, which I finally wrapped all up last week. There was no time to blog or draw during
those 8 weeks, as much as I wanted to ...

Sigh. It's been a busy and honestly kinda tough nearly two months. There was good in there, but it was also tough.

December had started out nicely. I was able to join the DC Production Department's Farewell/Christmas party. My previous supervisor invited alumni to see how many of us could get to McGee's Pub on the evening of December 5th. We usually had a Production department party as well as the general office party for Christmas ...  but let's face it, it's going to be way tougher for the bulk of us to "drop by" when the DC offices finish moving to California this April!

I flew in for the party, and for other things. I had graphic novel business to attend to with my writer, and one of my uncles was terribly sick and I really needed to visit, because it had been far, far too many years since I'd seen him.

The party turned out to be during a cold and rainy night. But it was a good turnout and it was pretty great to see so many familiar people amongst the huge slew of brand new faces. I caught up with a handful of former co-workers; folks I had lost contact with and it was so interesting to realize how much I liked who they are and missed working with them. It's interesting to also realize how much you can really like folks but how distance makes it hard to keep up with them properly ...  Everything else already in your immediate vicinity takes up time and effort ... and it's such a stretch to really be there for everyone as it is ... Sigh!

In Nashville we have to drive everywhere, but in New York City we can walk everywhere ... and that's just what I really needed to do -- walk and look at things. And boy, did 1! I visited the Society of Illustrators and bought myself a replacement mug with their logo on it. I walked past the Museum of Modern Art (but didn't have the time to go in!! ARGH!!) and noticed they had a Matisse cut-outs exhibit. Oh, so sad to have missed that ...!

I know I walked more than 7 miles in those 5 days I was there ... because by sheer block count alone it was already 7+ miles.  In Manhattan 20 blocks (the numbered streets) going North and South equals about a mile. But going East to West (across the Avenues) is trickier to measure, because those block widths vary. So it was way more than 7 miles. I can't guesstimate better because calculating crosstown streets is tricky -- they can be way longer than N/S blocks. And in walking at my usual fast pace I noticed I was slightly short of breath ... surely I hadn't lost my street legs that badly ...?

Pastor Field in a panel from the A Church Called Graffiti GN.
Drawn by me.

I saw my uncle on Saturday, and that was a blessing to see him and my aunt after so many years. I didn't realize he would be starting a new round of chemo that following Monday. My sisters and I found out just as we were getting ready to leave. It was good to have made the time to see them; they had moved way out into New Jersey some years ago, and it's tricky to visit when you don't have a car at your immediate disposal.

My trip was book-ended on Sunday by a coffee/tea with the Pastor from Graffiti Ministries. Pastor Field and his wife and I met at the incredibly cool Everyman Espresso to discuss our next steps for our A Church Called Graffiti graphic novel. He got his rights back from the Publisher who'd commissioned it and now we have to figure out how we're going to publish a 265+ page graphic novel -- BY THIS JUNE!! That's the 40th Anniversary of the Graffiti Ministries and it's a pretty big deal, so the timing would really be great. We will definitely put up a website very soon to preview the entire book, so I'll keep ya'll posted so ya'll can read it. The work they do in the neighborhood and with the homeless has been impactful. And they've branched out and opened other missions in other boroughs and even in other cities.

The children's musicals were for both school and at church. Egad -- on back to back days, no less! The latter musical was a fundraiser where my friends and I host a spaghetti supper and the funds raised go to the Children's Choir so they can buy sheet music and etc. This year I made the spaghetti sauce ... !! Almost freaked out when that happened but, hey, the transplanted NuyoRican with Italian roots somewhere back there on Grandma's side did okay! Yes, the sauce came out garlicky and spicy ... Cooking that for like 80 people turned out to be pretty fun.

And then there were the two weeks we came down with the flu. Egad! That explained the shortness of breath during my walks ...  (I've since been to the gym and the high incline/fast walking pace is now all okay to do, so it has cleared up, thank God.) It would have been nice to have had time to do things over the Christmas break, but on the other hand we both really needed the rest it provided ...!

The uncle I visited during my trip passed away a week and a half ago. The chemo was just too much for his weakened body to take. I was grateful to have had the opportunity to see him while he was still alive, be able to pray with him and kiss his cheek when it was time to leave. I had a lot of uncles pass away recently -- most of whom I didn't know well at all, because they mostly all lived in Puerto Rico. But this one was one of my Dad's brothers and one I saw often when we were growing up.

When I saw him that Saturday, it had been so long that I saw him with an Illustrator's eye. First, I was shocked at how much he truly looked like a more compact version of my own Dad, their faces were so similar, especially now that they're older and with their hair cropped so short. I kept searching his face, noting the family resemblance. My Dad and me have noses shaped more like my Grandfather's nose, more Romanesque ... but Tio had a small, beautiful slopey nose, with a lovely shape of the nostril, like his sisters' noses ... so I realized with surprise he must have had my Grandmother's nose ... I wish I could have drawn his portrait.