Monday, January 31, 2011

Our New Toy, A Kindle

Staples recently sent me a bunch of store credit, a hundred and fourteen dollars in store credit to be precise.  They call it 'Staples Rewards' and I'm not exactly sure why they sent it to me, I guess we must have bought a lot of printer ink.  At first I wasn't sure what I'd do, I don't need a hundred dollars worth of spiral notebooks and push pins, but then I realized that Staples sells the Kindle.  So I spent my credit and an extra $25 to purchase my first electronic reading device.

Kindle surrounded by some of my treasures
Copyright Jeff Howick 2011

It's an incredible piece of technology, the Kindle.  It's very thin and even lighter than I thought it would be.  I quickly downloaded H. G. Wells' 'The Time Machine' (for free) and started reading it to see how it felt on my eyes.  In my opinion, reading on the Kindle is almost as nice as a real book.  I wish the background were a bit whiter, it's currently light grey, but it's clear enough that I don't notice once I start reading.  Downloading books is quick, easy and nearly all of the great classics in the public domain are available for free.

As nice as the Kindle is, we don't really need it, not yet anyway.  I get all of my books from the library, so the fact that ebooks are usually cheaper than their tree killing counterparts doesn't matter much to me.  And we don't do enough traveling to put Kindle's ability to carry thousands of books in its tiny package to real use.  But later this year my wife and I are planning to move to Japan, where English books will be much harder to find.  We bought the Kindle so that when we leave America, we won't have to sacrifice our ability to read any book we want whenever we want.  Buying a Kindle brings us one step closer to Japan, and I'm starting to realize how very close we actually are.

Friday, January 28, 2011

This Week's Bucket List Additions 2

Every week, I am inspired to try out new adventures and I've decided to keep track of new additions to my bucket list each Friday.  You can see what I added to my list last week here and this weeks additions below.

-Spend a night at an ice hotel. Difficulty rating: 7 out of 10
When I saw the British super-agent James Bond visit an ice hotel in 'Die Another Day' I knew I HAD to visit one for myself someday.  I think most kids dream of adventures in igloos and giant snow forts, I know I certainly did.  So when I realized that people really do build massive hotels out of ice, I was filled with childish excitement.  It seems that every December in Sweden they build the world's largest Ice Hotel from scratch, including a bar, a church, reception hall and enough rooms for 100 people.  It's not cheap, simple accommodations for 2 in a snow room with sleeping bags runs about $500 a night, but what a truly unique experience!  Plus there are all kinds of exciting things to do while you're there.  You can watch the northern lights from horseback, go dog sledding, watch cultural performances and even go on something called a 'moose safari'.  Moose Safari!  I'd love to visit the world's largest and first ice hotel, but there are several others I'd be just as happy to visit, including one in Japan.

Hanging out in an ice tunnel I built with my wife after a recent blizzard
copyright Jeff Howick 2011

-Try the new pretzel M&Ms.  Difficulty rating: 1 out of 10
I know I'm a little late to the bandwagon on this one, but I love it when new varieties of M&Ms are released.   A new M&M flavor is a tiny reminder that humanity is still making progress in our slow forward march toward utopia.  It's a very small step toward perfection, but it's exciting none the less.  Here are my top 3 flavors of M&Ms:  #1 Dark Chocolate.  Dark chocolate is always a superior choice to milk chocolate in my book.  #2 Mint.  Usually these come out around Christmas, so I have a lot of warm memories associated with them.  #3 Peanut Butter.  This is the first 'new' variety of M&M introduced in my lifetime, and it blew my mind.  I doubt the new pretzel M&M will make it into my top 3, but eating a new flavor of M&M is still worth a mini-celebration.

Hanging out in a previous Halloween costume
copyright Jeff Howick 2011

-Take dancing lessons with my wife.  Difficulty rating 4 out of 10
After watching 'Billy Elliot' on Broadway, I was inspired to add more dancing to my life.  So I decided to try and find a place to take dancing lessons with my wife.  Ballroom dancing would probably be fun, but I think I'd prefer something more like swing dancing or salsa dancing.  I guess we'll just see what options are available nearby.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Views From Bridges

I kinda live on an island.  I think it's technically a peninsula, but whenever I want to go somewhere I have to drive over a bridge.  Which is fine with me because I LOVE bridges, especially when I'm on foot.  Some of the best views in the world are from bridges.

View of my town in the Summer from a bridge
copyright Jeff Howick 2010

View of my town in the Winter from a bridge
copyright Jeff Howick 2010

Today when I was taking some pictures from one of our bridges, the whole world just seemed so peaceful.  It bothers me when bridges don't have pedestrian walkways.  There's a bridge we take every time we go into New York City that has a gorgeous view of the city's skyline.  But I can't take a picture because there's no sidewalk on that bridge.  At least the bridge has a pullover lane, so one of these days I'm going to fake a flat tire and take some pictures.

Some pictures from a recent trip to the Brooklyn Bridge

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

All Four Seasons in the Garden State

Before moving to New Jersey I spent nearly a decade living in the deserts of Arizona.  I went to high school in Phoenix, college in Tucson and encountered very little seasonal diversity during those times.  Arizona is a beautiful and unique place, but all the seasons feel a lot like summer. It rarely snows there and the botany mostly consists of cacti and imported palm trees.  Before I left the desert, I had vague memories of the four seasons from a childhood spent in Oklahoma and Tennessee, but I was not prepared for the strength and vibrancy of each season.  After moving to the garden state, I was completely captivated by the beauty and spectacle of the four seasons; I had to try and capture them on film (or SD card to be more accurate).  I've posted links to most of these albums before, but now that the project is finished I felt they should all be together.  Click the links below to watch my Flickr albums for each season.

I hope you enjoyed the change of the seasons as much as I did.  I think I'd like to focus another series on the four seasons, this time concentrating on the less glamorous phases of each season like dead, brown leaves in fall, dirty snow in winter, sweltering heat in summer.  Because I don't just want to capture beauty with my camera, ultimately what I'm looking to capture is truth. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Some Observations About Snow

This morning I woke up to discover that it was snowing outside once more.  They were giant, fluffy flakes that drifted from the sky so calmly it felt like the world was moving in slow motion.  Snow always makes me feel calm and in some strange way connected to the past.  A lot has changed in the few thousand years humankind has lived on this blue-green dot.  Our culture has changed, the earth's animals have changed, the earth's plants have changed, even the great big ocean is always changing.  But not snow, snow is one of the few constants in this world.  Sure there are different kinds of snow, and once it lands it never just stays pristine.  But this is how snow has always been.  Since the very first person saw their very first snowflake, snow has always been cold and white and beautiful.
© Jeff Howick 2010 - taken near the beach in Sea Bright, NJ

Some things I have observed about snow:

Snow is not as easy to tunnel through as I had imagined.  Tunneling is never easy business, even when it's through snow.  If someone ever says to you, "lets go make a snow tunnel!", be prepared to get cold, wet and tired.  It's still a worthwhile experience, just don't expect it to be easy.
© Jeff Howick 2010 - Taken after a blizzard in Sea Bright, NJ

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Blog about Billy Elliot and Dancing

I'm a big fan of Broadway Musicals.  I always leave the theater inspired to live more passionately (and sometimes outlandishly) and I always leave feeling lucky to live near NYC.  Thursday night my wife and I saw 'Billy Elliot'.

my wife outside the theater for Billy Elliot

It was the kind of show that other Broadway shows all want to be.  It's replaced the former champ 'Wicked' as my new favorite Broadway Musical.  'Billy Elliot' is about a kid who grows up in a small mining town and falls in love with ballet.  Billy fights to get others to accept a boy who loves to dance ballet.  Later his whole community fights to keep his dream of going to the Royal Ballet School alive when times are tough and the whole mining town is on strike.  Like 'Wicked', 'Billy Elliot' is all about being yourself and following your dreams.

my wife dancing with Donald Duck at her brother's wedding in Disney World

Also, it's a show about dancing.....a lot.  They talk about dancing, they sing about dancing, they DANCE about dancing.  I've never been very good at shaking a leg, but watching such high-caliber, joy filled dancing has inspired me.  It has inspired me to get in touch with my inner caveman, as Billy's ballet instructor would say, and search out some dance lessons that my wife and I can take together.  It should be a fun adventure and I can't wait.

Some of my favorite lyrics from 'Billy Elliot':

"Everyone is different / It's the natural state / It's the facts, it's plain to see, / The world's grey enough without making it worse / What we need is in-div-id-ual-ity."

"What the hell is wrong with expressing yourself? / For trying to be free.
If you wanna be a dancer, dance
If you wanna be a miner, mine
If you want to dress like somebody else,
Fine, fine, fine."

"It doesn't matter if your life's a mess,
the whole process will coalesce,
just try to effervescent,
all you really have to do is shine."

"We walk proudly, and we walk strong
All together we will go as one
The ground is empty, and cold as hell
But we all go together when we go."

"Solidarity, Solidarity.  Solidarity for ever."

I'd be happy if I could live my life in a way that others might say it was like a Broadway musical; sometimes life was good, sometimes life was tough.  But through it all he sang and danced and tried his best to inspire.

Friday, January 21, 2011

This Week's Bucket List Additions 1

I'm constantly discovering new places I want to visit or thing I want to do.   I think it would be fun to keep track of new additions to my bucket list once a week here on my blog.  Maybe it will even help me have better follow through pursuing some of my goals and dreams.  So here are this week's additions:

-Fly around in a Zeppelin dressed in a suit and top hat:  Difficulty rating 6 of 10
I can't imagine why Disney World doesn't have a fleet of Zeppelins to carry people between their parks and hotels.  If you really want to focus on the journey rather than the destination, what better way to travel is there than by Airship?  Airships have the romanticism of hot air balloons, the freedom of movement of helicopters, and the luxury of cruise ships.  Unfortunately zeppelin travel is not cheap or plentiful.  But at least it is possible,   Zeppelin NT offers several flights over Europe and San Francisco.  One day I'll be soaring through the skies in style with no hurry to land.

captured from a highway in Southern California, on our way to a friend's wedding

-Visit Every Town in America: Difficulty rating 9 of 10
When I was in high school, one of my teachers told me, "a lot of people say that America is a melting-pot where other cultures come and they all blend together.  But I think it's more like a salad bowl; each piece of the salad keeps it's own flavor, but together they make something great."  I hear a lot of people talk about 'American Culture' and 'The American Dream', and usually they mean 'my culture' and 'my dreams'.  That's fine, but I think American is much less homogeneous than most people think.  I want to see all of America's diversity and hear each town's story.  America is such a huge, diverse place this goal will not be easy to accomplish.  But even if I don't finish, I think the journey will be well worth it.

captured on a trip to Scranton, setting of the American TV show 'The Office'

- Display some of my photos at a library: Difficulty rating 5 of 10
I love to take pictures, and like most people I love to share my passions with others.  I visit my local library once or twice a week and I always love seeing the new art exhibits.  We all have the ability to make the world better through something we've created whether it's art or science or a child.  One day I'll have my own exhibit in a library and share some of the beauty I've seen in this world with others.

taken on the beach in Sea Bright, NJ

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Throwing Starfish into the Sea

snapshot of our beach today

Today, I went for a walk along the beach with my wife.  Since we moved to Sea Bright last July, we've walked along this beach many times and I've become very familiar with it.  But today I found something I'd never seen at our beach before.

a starfish on our beach

I've scoured that beach a dozen times, and I'd never seen a starfish before.  But today I found three of them trapped by the low tides in the ruins of an old dock.  When I first found them, they were covered with dry sand and I thought them no longer alive.  But after my wife had recovered one, she said it still felt squishy and asked if we should return it to the sea.  I thought we should try, even if there was only small chance it would help.  As soon as the first wave touched it, the starfish returned almost immediately back to life and my heart filled with joy for this tiny ocean creature.

dock ruins where I found three starfish imprisoned

We returned all three starfish back to the sea, and one clam that we found along the shore as well.  Returning these starfish to the sea was a unique, life affirming experience.  Of course I've heard the parable about the boy throwing starfish back into the sea that teaches us even a small gesture can make a big difference to those in need.  But to live out that story in the real world was a beautiful gift.  I think helping is always a gift for both parties.  What a pleasant reminder these starfish gave to me; pay attention to the world and help where I can.

tossing a clam back into the embrace of the sea

Monday, January 17, 2011

Steampunk State of Mind

I'm saving up money to purchase a top-hat and there are several British accents wandering around my head.  Some of them even pop out when I'm asking my wife about her day.  I constantly wonder what it's like to fly around in a zepplin.  Yes, I'm reading 'The Affinity Bridge' a steampunk novel and I'm having a little difficulty separating my fantasy world from quotidian life.  Does this happen to everyone?  For those that don't know, steampunk is a fantasy genre set in an alternate universe where people usually dress and talk like they are from Victorian England, ride around in Hindenburg-esque airships, power everything with steam and make crazy clockwork gadgets.

Collection of common Steampunk goggles for sale at NY Comicon.

My wife and I love the romantic and quirky style of steampunk, and have already decided that our next matching costumes should be steampunk. (Our first costumes were Star Trek uniforms)  I'm so glad I married someone who likes to get all dressed up and pretend to be someone else (or Cosplay as the kids are calling it).  There's a parlor in New York City that won't let you in unless you're dressed in steampunk style that I can't wait to visit.

from the now defunct Nippon Airship Corporation  (seriously, how cool is that name!?)

I also had grand plans for flying above Tokyo in a zeppelin airship dressed in a black suit and top hat once we moved to Japan.  But sadly, I just discovered the company that gave tours of Tokyo in a dirigible, the Nippon Airship Corporation, has gone bankrupt.  I guess not enough people wanted to pay twelve hundred dollars to slowly drift over Tokyo in style.  But it looks like another company operates several airships in Europe and San Francisco, so perhaps we'll take a ride in one of those Zeppelins one day soon.  

If, like me, you are looking for awesome steampunk accessories, is a great place to go.  Do a search for 'Steam Team' or steampunk, and you'll be amazed at the level of quality you'll find.  Now if I can just find a good top hat store.  Honestly, if anyone has any recommendations where I can find a nice top hat, PLEASE let me know.

Well, I must head off to find out if detectives Newbury & Hobbes can solve the mystery of who sabotaged the crashed zeppelin and stop the zombie plague terrorizing the slums of London.  If you want to learn more about steampunk, check these out:

And a taste of steampunk culture from the TV show 'Castle':

Friday, January 14, 2011

My Wife's New Coat

My wife is not usually a fashionable person.  Beautiful, yes, but fashionable, no.  Her wardrobe consists of several pairs of jeans, two dozen T-shirts, two dresses for special occasions, and a suit.  My fashion is even worse.  It's not that we don't like nice clothes, we just save our money for other priorities, things that we find more important, like tickets to Broadway shows or gas money for road trips.  But recently, thanks to a few gift cards from our parents and some department store holiday sales, my wife has been upgrading her style.

My favorite new purchase is her white pea-coat.  I find it completely enchanting, and each time she puts it on I feel like I'm married to a famous movie star.  In my eyes, that pea-coat is the epitome of NYC fashion.  When I see her in it, I'm reminded how lucky we are.  As a kid I dreamed of living in New York City.  Now I live on a beach with a view of the Empire State Building, work in Manhattan, and have a beautiful wife.  I can understand how some people get addicted to the thrill of shopping or the pursuit of fashion.  What we wear can transform us, which I learned from Batman.

"Fashion is only the attempt to realize art in living forms..." ~Sir Francis Bacon

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Summer, a nice place to visit

My wife and I recently went back to Tucson to visit with some family for the holidays.  The Southwest has a unique, exotic beauty.  The sky is never so open as it is in the desert.  My wife finds a certain freedom and joy in such wide open skies and distance horizons.  While I on the other hand find it somewhat...oppressive.  At least during the day.  The sunsets are certainly beautiful in the desert, and at night the stars are spectacular.

An Arizona sunset captured while on vacation

It felt really good to visit Arizona during the winter and get a taste of warmer weather.  A blizzard had just hit the East Coast, and it was nice to have a quick escape.  But it was even nicer to return to glorious winter after our brief vacation.  My world just doesn't feel complete without four seasons.  Enjoying warm weather during winter is like eating breakfast for dinner; it's a fun, exciting change on occasion, but I wouldn't want to do it all the time.  I love summer, but if I get too much it loses it shine.  I spent a decade or so living in Arizona and I grew very tired of summer and sunny days.  Constant summer is like eating your favorite meal everyday, without variety things begin to taste bland and boring.  

But I don't just love winter because it makes me appreciate warmer weather.  Cold weather forces me to live in the moment, which is sometimes hard for me.  The cold can make even an ordinary day an adventure or a battle. Winter tests us all and keeps us sharp and strong.  And how could I go without the beauty of snow or the joy of sledding and snowball fights and building snow tunnels and snow men!  Hot chocolate never tastes as good as it does in the winter.  Yes, my soul needs winter.  Although sometimes, like exercise, I don't realize how good it is for me until I have it.

Our beach shortly after returning home 

I love winter as much as I love summer, spring and fall.  And though I loved taking a brief vacation from winter, it feels so good to return to normal.

"If all the year were playing holidays, to sport would be as tedious as to work." -William Shakespeare   King Henry IV Part I  Act 1 scene 2

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