Review: Avengers – Endgame

Avengers: Endgame came out two weekends ago. I saw it that Sunday night at 9:20 pm. It’s a 3 hour-long movie. I didn’t get home and in bed until 1:00 am.

I don’t regret any of it.

Granted, it’s taken me over a week to actually type this up, partially because last week was Finals Week at work, and I’ve been busy with All The Things since school was done. At the same time, having a few days between seeing it and writing this has yielded enough time to digest what I saw. There were countless spoiler-laden articles available to read in the intervening days, plus YouTube videos, reviews, and more. The Russo Brothers have been hitting the interview circuit post-release, even going so far as lifting the spoiler warning ban this past Monday so that social media feels more free to brazenly release images, memes and headlines that are more brazen in exposing the key plot points (they had previously implored fans to not post spoilers…)

Again, definitely glad I saw it when I did. Endgame is a movie that is best seen with as little foreknowledge as possible, aside from a deep exposure to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This movie does more than just revisiting the “greatest hits” of the MCU: it toys with the viewers expectations, pushes them to their limits, and then does exactly what you want to happen while still doing the unexpected. And for being a 3 hour-long movie, it still leaves you wanting more.

If anything, after it was over, I think it felt like I binge watched a miniseries. It was long enough that they fit multiple complex story threads together while also tying up loose ends from 22 other movies in the MCU. And physically revisiting aspects of those movies and making them feel more relevant – seen from a new perspective.

Endgame was awesome. It was sad. It was powerful. It was emotional. It was everything you could want after that many movies. It lived up to the hype and then some.

And that’s all I need to say. I pre-ordered it right when I got home. I look forward to watching it again and again.

Did I mention it was 3 hours long? And still awesome?

P.S. They totally do the whole “signatures” thing like they do at the end credits for Star Trek VI. Yes. This movie is that good.

Garden Update: 04.27.19

We have been gone every weekend for the past month and a half, so thankfully, our first weekend in town for that long ended up presenting us with a beautiful (albeit windy) day.

As you can see, we’ve got some lettuce coming up in the new raised bed, though they aren’t growing as fast as I’d like. The radishes and spinach in the plot further on in the frame are moving along a bit nicer, especially the radishes. I haven’t put any grass clippings between rows yet, but for now, we’ve been able to keep the weeds out by hoeing between.

Brooke picked up some strawberry plants at Stark Bros two weekends ago, so she planted them in the plot we’ve been using for sweet potatoes. I’m sure we’ll still plant some in a few weeks when we inevitably get some plants from my Aunt Marie, but we can put them just about anywhere. The strawberries are all varieties that should start producing in June, but realistically, we’re talking about next Summer on that front. We’ll see!

Other than that, we haven’t planted anything else. Tomatoes usually go in the weekend of graduation, which is next week, so that’s probably next on the list. Brooke did plant carrots in another plot, but we still haven’t seen anything pop up from them.

We did, however, start another project yesterday…

We’ve been talking about moving the gardening implements out from the garage to a small shed closer to said garden. This year, we finally pulled the trigger. The plan is to put a patio in the back yard sometime this Summer, so this was a good trial run to work out the kinks. Brooke ordered the stuff (sand, pea gravel, bricks, shed…) from Lowe’s and it arrived this week.

Brooke took care of this part last night while I was at a school function, so that sped things along for this afternoon pretty well. The Rubbermaid shed was relatively inexpensive, though it still didn’t go together as easily as we’d like. It took a bit to figure out where to put the screws and how to get the thing assembled properly. We ended up having to find one of our own screws that was long enough to hold the wall down to the floor of the shed, but other than that, I think it turned out alright!

We’ve got the garden tools, some of Brooke’s plant pots, and a few other small trinkets in there now. We’ll need to pick up a padlock in the near future, but other than that, it’s all done! As we were putting the thing together on the pad Brooke built, we realized we need to caulk the bricks a bit to hold them in place better, as the pea gravel and sand shifts enough that pushes the bricks out just a little bit.

Onward, Summer!

Garden Update: 03.17.19

Relative to 2018, we’re a bit behind. We’ve had so much rain, freezing rain, ice, snow, blizzards, and glaciers this year that it’s been too wet to till up the garden, let alone burn the brush off of it from last year. In the meantime, we’ve had it in mind for awhile to add a raised garden bed between our new patio and the rest of the garden, so we took advantage of one of the first nice days we’ve had in 2019 to get started on it.

We went with cinder blocks to get it started, along with PVC pipes to not only lock it down to the ground, but also serve as places to stick some re-bar hoops in to let us cover the plot in winter. Brooke also saw a post online where we could just put down cardboard to kill off the grass, while letting it biodegrade slowly. We also had some leaves and brush around so…we threw that in there… Why not…

Brooke had me pick up quite a few bags of dirt to throw in this plot. We put 5 bags of topsoil on the bottom layer, directly on top of the cardboard.

This was followed with a layer of peat moss. That stuff was a bit more “solid” than we expected, likely because it was so compacted in those giant bags. Believe you me, that 3 cu. ft. bag took up more space in the car than the 5 bags of top soil did…

Lastly, we put four bags of compost down, followed by a final layer of 5 more bags of top soil.

Finished product! The plan is to put lettuce and some herbs in it as soon as we can. We’ll put the re-bar in the PVC pipes this Fall and then find some thick plastic to cover everything, hopefully to keep things growing into January 2020. As I’m sure you know, more pictures to come as 2019 continues!

Review: Captain Marvel

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL..Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson)..Photo: Chuck Zlotnick..??Marvel Studios 2019

There have been 20 movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 19 of them have centered on a male lead. One of them (released last year, no less…) at least had a female character listed in the title.

The 21st movie in the MCU, and the first one that features a woman as the lead and title character, had big shoes to fill. Lest we even get into the fact that Avengers: Infinity War ended with 50% of all life in the universe being destroyed, and Captain Marvel being the potential solution…

So, to back up a moment… The character of Captain Marvel goes back a long way, but the version being portrayed in the movie, Captain Marvel, is a more recent addition to the comics. Carol Danvers’ version is described as one of the most powerful heroes in Marvel comics, one that apparently was difficult to bring to the MCU because the whole thing had to be grounded in some semblance of reality first, before the space-faring characters from Guardians of the Galaxy, or Thanos, could really be brought into the fold.

And so, it was decided to hold off on the power of Captain Marvel until later in Phase 3 of the MCU, giving time for stories of Captain America, Iron Man, and the other Avengers to come to a close (and end some contracts along the way). In some ways, I think this was probably the right decision, as her entrance onto the scene is given a great deal of weight: literally reversing Thanos’ “snap” and fixing the events of Infinity War as no one else could.

Oddly, they had to spin things back to the 1990s in order to set things up, so the movie is something of a “period piece,” complete with landing in a Blockbuster Video and waiting for a CD-ROM to load on an old Windows machine. As a child of the 90s myself, I very much appreciated this, though I could imagine many of those details flying over my kids’ heads someday.

The trailers didn’t inspire me with a ton of confidence for Brie Larson‘s performance. I can’t put a pin on why, exactly, as I’d seen her in other movies and thought she did a great job. Perhaps it was knowing that Brie Larson and trying to square that with the characters across the MCU I’ve grown to love over the last 20 movies. Still, those concerns were dashed aside early on: she did a great job and Marvel Studios can absolutely build a franchise around her. Her comedic timing was quite good, despite the fact that she isn’t known for her roles in comedies. Her buddy-buddy banter with Samuel L Jackson was also very good (and the make-up job they do to “de-age” him was really, really impressive).

The other characters were pretty good, though somewhat predictable. Ben Mendelsohn has been in a lot of stuff recently and was good here, despite having his face covered in a prosthetic for most of the movie (and he was surprisingly funny in the role, too). Jude Law didn’t have much heavy lifting to do for his role, but he did alright. Annette Bening hit the interview circuit over the past few weeks and was able to hold back spoilers regarding the nature of her character, which was actually pretty good from a story perspective. Let’s just say that, among these three characters, there was a lot of bouncing back and forth between who is bad and who is good, and it kept the audience guessing to an effective degree.

Ultimately, it was a good movie. It got predictable at points, but again, it’s the 21st movie in a long line of films, so it’s to be expected. Still, the acting was great, the movie was funny, the build-up to “letting Captain Marvel” loose at the end was earned, and she proved herself to be a bad-ass.

Good thing Avengers: Endgame comes out at the end of April…

New Furniture!

I’ll be honest: I don’t exactly remember what sparked this. It definitely wasn’t me. Perhaps it was Marie Kondo

Brooke wanted to re-arrange the living room a bit, and as she thought more about how that would look, she also started looking at furniture. When we moved to Marshall, we picked up a really nice wooden futon that was just fine for our needs, but wasn’t particularly comfortable. We could have just picked up a new mattress for it, but it also kinda felt like it wasn’t “Real Furniture for Adults.” At the same time, having Sam has meant certain…compromises…with regards to furniture. The cat has claws and has taken them to our couches over the years. We got a pleather couch for Iowa that he made short work of. We had a microfiber couch in St. Louis that lasted a bit, but he still ripped up…

Thankfully, Sam’s a bit older now and doesn’t seem to be scratching at furniture as much. There’s no guarantee he won’t do the same thing to this furniture that he did to other pieces, but Brooke inherited a couch that we’ve had in the music room and, for the most part, it has survived shockingly well. Brooke also ordered a carpeted cat scratching tower, so hopefully Sam will eventually use it. To date, he has hopped off of it every time I’ve put him there. Figures.

Anyway, Brooke did some shopping and decided to visit one of the furniture places here in town. After looking around a bit at prices, talking with the sales folks at the furniture store, etc. she settled on a Lay-Z-Boy couch covered in blue velvet upholstery. So far as we can tell, it should hold up to cat claws relatively well (because the fibers are so tightly woven…he shouldn’t be able to get his claws in there…shouldn’t) The velvet is a “low pile” variety so it feels really nice, but doesn’t seem to catch much cat hair…yet.

Originally, the plan was to just get a couch, but for awhile, Brooke was looking at sectionals for additional seating. After thinking over it, she decided just getting another chair would probably be fine, so we got one of those, too, under Lay-Z-Boy’s England brand. She went with a gray fabric for that one that turned out really nice. I’m not sure how often we’ll actually sit in that chair (as it’s probably more likely to be used when we have company over), but Sam, so far, has liked falling asleep on it. And it definitely doesn’t catch cat hair all that badly…yet.

Anyway, it’s taking some “getting used to,” as the new couch sits up quite a bit higher, making it harder to use the coffee table as a foot rest. I’m sure we’ll make the necessary adjustments eventually, but at least for now, I can say they’re all quite comfortable!

When Is This Going To End……

So, as I write this, we’re going on Day Three of no school in Marshall. As in, Meg, Calvin and I are all off school. Brooke even canceled their office’s activities for Thursday. We had a Winter Storm warning for Wednesday that even included thunder and lightning that evening.

The town has been mostly dead, though we have seen a few cars go by here and there. Trash/recycle service was canceled, power was knocked out on at least one street (though we weren’t affected), and mail didn’t come yesterday. We did venture out to the YMCA on Wednesday, but their Kid’s Gym staffing was reduced because workers couldn’t get in.

So yeah, we’re on a 5 day weekend, at this rate. And if the post that precedes this one is any indication, it’s been a ridiculously long winter. Meg and Calvin were sledding back on November 26th, so it feels like we’ve been dealing with this for far longer than we’re used to. It’s a good thing Brooke pushed for the YMCA membership this year, as I’ve used the treadmill more in the past month than I’ve been able to be outside. It isn’t even that it’s been that cold (though it’s been really cold…it’s 8 F outside right now…), but the icy conditions, the foot+ of snow that lingers on the sidewalks, etc. all get in the way of outdoor exercise.

That and it’s hard to get in a rhythm at work, where we were supposed to have our first exam on Wednesday. Then it was pushed to today. Now it’s pushed to Monday. I ended up sharing YouTube videos of my lectures to make sure the students keep up with everything so we can stay on track prior to Spring Break in early March.

Yes, “Spring” Break is in less than a month. Letting that sink in, too…

I’m so done with this…ug…

Blizzkrieg 2019

Early last week, they started forecasting snow for this weekend, but depending on which site you looked at or which day you checked, the estimate varied from 2 to 10 inches. Thankfully, most forecasts thought the bad weather would hit on Friday rather than Thursday, making it more likely it would head into the weekend, therefore not disrupting work or school.

It turned out that a Winter Storm Warning went into effect at noon on Friday. With everything heading in, Calvin’s school (and mine…) were called at noon and Meg’s at 1:00. Brooke new the bad weather was coming and “battened down the hatches” at work, so she was ready to come home a little early, too. I went ahead and hit up the Y before picking up Calvin so I wouldn’t feel the need to run on Saturday.

The snow started right around noon on Friday…and kept going…and going…and going… We had maybe 4 inches late-afternoon on Friday before settling in for the night. By morning, we had 8 inches on the ground.

And it kept going from there.

About mid-morning, Meg and Calvin were invited over to a friend’s house to sled and make snowmen. With the depth of the snow, I wasn’t sure how sledding would go, but they packed it down well enough to get a few good runs in. Otherwise, the temperature was in the low-30s, so they still had fun just messing around.

Brooke and I drove out to their house twice, so we got to head around town a bit. Odell was fine, but our street was…bad. Thankfully, the Forester handled it like a champ, though it did struggle in our alley a bit. The slush in the intersections was difficult to get started in if you were moving slowly, and we ran into a few drivers that caused us to come to a complete stop. The second time around, we drove in from the northern end of the alley, and that was the better call. We also ended up helping to push a few cars, getting them moving again.

After coming home, we did lunch and rested a bit before going back out later.

Eventually, we clocked at least 12 inches in the alley, though it continued to snow more as it went along. I don’t know the official tally, but when I looked out the window a bit ago, my driveway was covered….again… I wouldn’t be surprised if we had over 13 inches.

Anyway, the kids went outside again later in the afternoon, so I watched them from the window while playing on the Switch. Much warmer that way… 🙂

The last time Brooke and I saw this much snow, we lived in Iowa. The crazy thing is, we apparently recorded 10.7 inches that day in early February, so this was more by a substantial amount. Granted, the snow drifts up in Iowa were considerably taller than anything we had here, but still.

Hopefully we’ll get more sledding in tomorrow! Who knows if they’ll have school on Monday – probably depends on how many rural roads get cleared tomorrow. Regardless, we had fun today! The kids loved the ridiculous amount of snow!

New Year, New You II

So, this post gets a “II” because, technically, I already used that post title back in January, 2016, and frankly, I’m too lazy to come up with anything more clever…so it’s a sequel.

To be fair, it’s probably worth an update, 3 years later. Back then, we had just picked up the bicycle trainer in hopes that we would use it. We actually did use it a fair amount that year, and a little the winter after. But then I started running quite a bit more and didn’t use it at all last year. These past few seasons, we’ve set it up downstairs, but Brooke only uses it periodically, mostly because it’s cold and boring down there. Brooke found that, earlier in the Fall, she’d stay on the bike longer if she had a magazine available to read while she was doing it, but for the last month with the holidays, it’s been harder and harder to get down there.

Today, we renewed our YMCA membership. Summer 2015 was the last time we used it, back when we thought Meg would do summer camp (note: she hated it). We let it lapse and haven’t looked back, but recently, in an effort to get some more exercise in, we opted to renew it because they run a sign-up deal in January like many other gyms do. Mostly, Brooke’s thinking that she’s more likely to get some exercise in if we set up a routine where the whole family goes: Brooke and I go to work out and the kids get to play in the ball pit play pen area they’ve got set up on the main floor. For my part, though i get plenty of jogging in (more on that in a moment), I’d still like to get more upper-body workouts in, so this gives me an excuse to go a few times a week to lift some weights.

Anyway, Brooke will probably check out some of the organized workouts for adults, and we’re still investigating if the kids are interested in any sessions. We may spring for swimming lessons before this summer, but we haven’t decided quite yet. At the very least, as Calvin is aging out of preschool, he’ll be home this summer and it’ll be a lot easier for me to keep up my jogging if I can drop him off at the Y while I work out or jog on the treadmill.

Speaking of jogging, the picture above is from yesterday when the weather was 63 F. On January 7th. In Missouri.

No, climate change totally isn’t real. Obviously.

I slowed down over the break, but was able to pick it up a bit in the last week. I’m trying to stick to a 20 mi per week average, but in an effort to “catch up,” I pushed it a little more this week.

Anyway, the temperature was awesome and I got to run in the afternoon, which usually goes better for me. I started out with a 7:22/mi average early on, which was a good 20 sec/mi faster than I ran last week, so that already felt great. I kept pushing it as fast as I could, slowing down a little bit toward the end, but still maintaining a 7:26/mi average over 6.2 mi (10k). In the end, I did it in 46:28 min, which is utterly spectacular for me.

Did I say I ran in a T-shirt and shorts? In early January? In Missouri? Seriously.

After I ran, I grilled some brats and hot dogs. Because it was 63 F. In early January. In Missouri.

And they were delicious.

…after I put them on the grill for a few minutes longer because it got dark and it was hard to tell…because…it’s early January

Review: Spiderman – Into The Spider-Verse

For the past few years, we have gone hiking for New Year’s Day. This year, a few movies came out in mid-December that we simply haven’t had a chance to watch, largely because we’ve been gone on weekends and the only time our theater in town has a movie at 3:00-ish …is on weekends…

Therefore, Brooke and Meg went to see Mary Poppins Returns (and they loved it!) and Calvin and I went to see Spider-man: Into The Spider-Verse.

Every since I saw the trailer for this movie, I wanted to see it. You can see pictures that get the idea across (“it’s ‘just’ an animated Spider-man movie”), but you really need to see it in motion to get a sense for how magical it is. It’s animated like a comic book. You see words from time to time on the screen (like Spider-Ham hitting a bad guy with a hammer and seeing the word “BONK” show up above his head). The animation is even “choppy” sometimes, as if you were paging through comics seeing each page a frame at a time. Seriously: the way this movie is animated is unbelievable and perfect.

Second, the voice cast was exceptional. Some of the actors I’ve never heard of (though they were all great), but others like Lily Tomlin, Liev Schreiber, John Mulaney, Mahershala Ali and Nicholas Cage are instantly recognizable. Heck, even Chris Pine is in it for all of 10 seconds.

However, it’s Jake Johnson, Shameik Moore and Hailee Steinfeld that are probably the three “primary” voices heard throughout. Respectively, they’re voicing Peter B. Parker, Miles Morales and Gwen Stacy. Without getting to “into the weeds” of Spider-man lore, there was a separate timeline where Peter Parker died and young Miles Morales took on the mantle of Spider-man with his own similar powers, but not identical (for example, Miles can camouflage himself while Peter could not. Gwen Stacy famously died at the hands of the Green Goblin decades ago, but in an alternate timeline, it was Peter who died and Gwen who was bitten by the radioactive spider, granting her powers instead (and going by Spider-Woman, or Spider-Gwen).

I should also note that Miles is a person of color, the son of a black man and a latina woman. He’s also still in high school. The central part of the Peter Parker character when he was first introduced was that he was “just like you, Dear Reader, with real-life problems like homework and girls and rent and getting a job.” As Peter Parker got older, he moved away from that life, just as we all do. What better way to make Spider-man relevant in the modern world than by thrusting him back into high school in Brooklyn?

Now, with decades of Spider-man lore across multiple comic series, timelines, characters…how could one tie that all together? How about having a villain create a super collider beneath New York with the purpose of trying to bring his family back to him from another dimension…and then accidentally pulling Spider-people together into “our” world instead?

Yeah, it’s kinda dumb…but I can’t think of a better way, so we’re going with it. And honestly, seeing all of those characters together in the same universe was cool. Star Trek has done similar things over the years, so I can’t really complain.

Overall, I loved it. Because I’m not as familiar with the Miles Morales “Ultimate Universe” side of Marvel Comics, some of the events were foreign to me, so it’s nice to be surprised. The movie is produced by Sony, so it also kinda tied together the Tobey Maguire Spider-man movies into this one, which was fun.

The movie was genuinely funny, too. There’s a part in the movie where Miles’ uncle is teaching him how to meet girls by putting his hand on her shoulder, looking into her eyes, and saying “hey” in a sultry way. In the movie, Miles struggles to replicate what his uncle is doing, but it serves as a funny moment. After this happened in the movie, Calvin leaned over, put his hand on my shoulder, and said “hey.” And it was hysterical.

So yeah, day one purchase for me when it becomes available. It was very good and showed what animation can bring to to these movies rather than always relying on live-action Marvel films. Highly recommended.

State Park #7: Prairie State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

Prairie for as far as the eye can see.
Prairie for as far as the eye can see.

We returned from Pittsburg, KS from Taylore’s wedding back in August of 2016 and, at Brooke’s suggestion, we looked for a Missouri State Park near that region that we otherwise wouldn’t visit for a very, very long time.  She ran across Prairie State Park, which happened to be just over the Kansas/Missouri border.

In all honesty, it doesn’t seem like there’s all that much to do there.  They’ve got multiple hiking trails, including one we went on that, literally, involved walking through a field.  There are some backpacking trails that are a bit longer and further out, but again, given the terrain, I’m not sure that it would be all that “hilly” or otherwise difficult to make good time on a long trail.  Shade was certainly at a premium out there…

...the boy was very slow...
…the boy was very slow…

The “claim to fame,” at least so far as we could tell in our limited time there, was that this open field we were hiking through also contains bison and elk.  When we first drove in, the sign informed us that there were free roaming elk and bison moving through the area and, while we didn’t see any, unfortunately, we did see signs of them…

Ew...
Ew…

…but with multiple buffalo patties around, it was clear that large animals move through the area frequently.  They were easily identified by their similarity to their other bovine brethren (and the fact that we saw tons of the elk variety in Colorado and it looks nothing like this).

A nest for something...big...
A nest for something…big…

We also saw multiple spots in the grass that clearly used to bed some kind of large animal.  It wasn’t obvious to us whether we were seeing elk or buffalo “beds,” but they must have been recent, as the grass looked like it would pop back up given enough time.

"You may experience bison/elk"...is that a combination organism?!
“You may experience bison/elk”…is that a hybrid organism?!

Overall, it was a nice, brief little stop.  They’ve got camping, but we didn’t see much of a shower house available: only a single in-ground outhouse near the picnic area.  It looked like mostly primitive camp sites and, although they actually looked pretty nice and spacious, only one was reserved for the coming days.  I suppose August isn’t exactly prime camping season.

We want to go back and see some bison up close, though!  Perhaps another time, when we happen to be down in southwestern Missouri!