It’s A Wonderful Life: A hero Journey

We went to see The Last Jedi Friday afternoon; as I was watching yet another scene of the star ships bombing the resistance I got to wondering: is The Last Jedi a hero journey? I decided there are elements but not in its entirety. Then It’s a Wonderful Life just popped in my head. WHAT? That story is definitely a hero story.

To review:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.[The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton University Press 1949 p 29].

Here is a graphic from a great Wikipedia page on the topic

320px Heroesjourney svg

Often, but not always the hero journeys across water to start the adventure. i think in our culture that is because the oceans and seas were the barriers to the known world; so to come from across the sea is to come a long distance.

The threshold guardian is Clarence – his guardian angel. To save George from committing suicide Clarence jumps into the river knowing George will save him. Clarence then takes him through a journey to an unknown world – one where George never existed; one where Potter has taken control of the town. He has challenges such as fighting the man in the bar and upsetting Mary on the street. 

Through the journey, he sees that his life does matter and he is returned to the real world where all his friends and towns people have gathered more than enough to save the Bailey savings and loan company.

As you’ve read, the hero journey is one of my amateur passions. It amazes and astounds me that this archetypal story is so prevalent in the world – though I’m really only familiar with those of our western culture. I don’t think Dickens – A Christmas Carol – or the screenwriters for It’s A Wonderful Life went into their writing thinking “I’m going to write a hero journey story”. Instead, it is such a part of who we are as humans that it manifests itself in so many ways.

The great news is that It’s A Wonderful Life is on TV tonight (Christmas Eve) on NBC. Watch – if you have a chance – and let me know what you think.

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MarsEdit 4 Testing

I downloaded a copy of the MarsEdit 4 app which allows you to create blog posts then push up to WordPress.

One of the things that looks promising is the ability to load my pictures directly into the app then push it all to my blog. When using the WordPress web app I first have to upload all the images I want, then insert them.

So, we are going to see how it works. I already dragged and dropped the featured image (the banner photo at the top of the post)

It looked pretty simple to add my Blog Photos folder to MarsEdit 4; and I got some options how to size it. Here I resized to the width of the post

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The problem with this is that if you click the image you don’t get a larger image if you click on it.

Here is another photo that I’ll leave as original size.

20171208 DSC00454 DSC RX10M4  Ridgefield Trains and Birds

Um, yeah; posting full size doesn’t work – it overruns the margins on the web page. Hmmm. I’ll load it full size, then manually resize and see if I can then allow clicking to a bigger image. That worked; but I had to go into the WordPress editor to create the links.

20171208 DSC00272 DSC RX10M4  Ridgefield Trains and Birds

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Posole

For some reason I can’t remember I was talking with my buddy Frost about hominy – really, I have no idea how we got on that subject. If you start talking about hominy you are going to talk about grits or posole (pozole?). Grits are okay but posole really grabbed my interest. I had some delicious posole at the Cleveland Heath in Edwardsville, Illinois on May 13, 2015. I checked; the restaurant is 2,068 miles from Beaverton – too far to drive for a bowl of stew. I’d have to make my own.

I made posole back in November 2010. It was good but not great; but that may have been because it wasn’t what I was expecting. So, I took a fresh look at the recipe and looked at a couple of others to see what I could do to add a star to the rating. The original recipe came from Cook’s Country (warning: pay wall); My main alternate source was an America’s Test Kitchen recipe. I settled on three major changes.

  1. Use more pork shoulder. Four+ pounds with the bone instead of 2 pounds of country style pork ribs.
  2. 2 ounces of chiles instead of 3/4 ounce.
  3. Homemade chicken stock instead of canned. And 2 quarts instead of a quart and a half.

Let’s get started. I used fresh oregano; if you can find epazote I bet that would be more authentic to this Mexican dish. I wanted to use Goya brand hominy but couldn’t find it at any of the three stores I went to. I also considered getting dried hominy – since that was what Frost and I were discussing – but I couldn’t find it either.

Posole ingredients

Posole ingredients

While I was busy cutting and chopping I prepped some dried ancho chiles for the sauce. The first step was to roast them briefly in a 350° oven until they puffed up. I also used a couple small unidentified chiles that my daughter-in-law Sarah brought back from a recent work trip to New Mexico. Here are the chiles in their puffy aromatic state. Oh, roasting the chiles filled the kitchen with an amazing smoky, chili bliss.

Dried and roasted ancho chiles for posole

Dried and roasted ancho chiles for posole

After the chiles cool, I took off the stems and emptied the seeds, then brought to a boil in 2 cups of chicken broth then let them steep until I was ready for them.

I was pretty confident in my ability to separate the pork shoulder into separate muscle groups and cut some large-ish chunks for browning and simmering. That confidence came from working with pork shoulders that had been smoked for 10 hours at which time the bone just comes out with a gentle tug. Connective tissue does just that – connects things. It took me more time than expected and I didn’t do a great job. But I wanted that bone for the broth! Using country style pork ribs – which are really cut from the shoulder – would work. Since the butchers at our local grocery store debones these themselves, I may go with country style ribs and get a bone that has already been removed.

Chop, measure, rinse, drain, smash and we are ready to cook.

Posole mis en place (roughly: things in place)

Posole mis en place (roughly: things in place)

Since this is a pork dish, I browned the pork pieces in lard rather than vegetable oil. I don’t use the Armor brand since it has preservatives and stabilizers; I get a one pint jar of pure lard to use for sautéing pork. It goes through less processing that vegetable oil.

Browned pork shoulder chunks for posole

Browned pork shoulder chunks for posole

After removing the browned pork from the pot, I tossed in the hominy for a couple of minutes just to get it lightly browned and fragrant. That comes out of the pot and is reserved for later use – like two hours later. Next into the sauté pan goes chopped onions. After they are softened we toss in the minced garlic for less than a minute. When done it goes into the blender with the steeped chiles and chicken broth.

Browned pork shoulder chunks for posole

Homemade chile sauce for posole ready for blending.

The blended sauce smells and tastes delicious. Everybody – except the hominy and lime juice- goes into the pot: chicken broth, pork – and bone -, chili sauce, oregano and a bit of salt and pepper. Bring to a boil then cover and stash in a 300° degree oven for two hours. Alternatively you can simmer in a closed pot. When done, the pork will be tender and the kitchen smells even better than before. Remove the pork to a cutting board with tongs and discard the bone; let cool and shred into bite size pieces.

Shredded pork for posole

Shredded pork for posole

While the pork is cooling and being shredded, simmer the hominy in the pot on the stove top for 30 minutes. At the end toss gently place the shredded pork into the pot, stir, and simmer for a few minutes until the pork is heated through.

Somewhere along the line you had time to prepare the toppings; shredded cabbage, sliced radishes, and lime wedges are traditional. We also included tortilla chips, chopped avocado, and sour cream.  Dish out the stew and pass the toppings.

A nice bowl of posole.

A nice bowl of posole.

Dinner is served

Dinner is served

This is a perfect winter dish; hearty and flavorful.  I’m not going to lie; it takes some effort and time to prepare; but it is worth the work – if you have the time. After a full day of cooking I admit that I can’t always accurately judge the result. But we had it for leftovers the next day and I really enjoyed it.  Everyone said they liked it – I don’t think they’d lie to me; would they?

Rating: ★★★★

You can find my adjusted recipe here.

Last winter Carla made another version of this dish which was delicious. I hope to get a chance to cook that later this winter to compare.

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Reading: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

I try to re-read this story every Christmas season. I feel like I “dropped the mic” last year when I was gobsmacked by the realization that Scrooge’s adventure is another telling of the universal hero’s journey “monomyth”. In this cross-cultural Myth (capital “M” to distinguish it from its common usage as a synonym for “lie”) a hero travels to an unnatural land where s/he battles a powerful force, then returns home with riches to bestow boon on his/her family.  The hero journey is my jam and I talk about it ad nauseam with my friends. The Wizard of Oz and Hansel and Gretel are two other examples of the hero journey.  Dorothy travels to another world; battles unnatural forces by killing two witches and gains a brain, a heart, and courage for her new family. (Parenthetically, I love the TV Guide description of this movie: “A stranger comes to a town and kills the first person she encounters; then forms a gang to kill again.”) Hansel and Gretel  travel to a land where they battle and kill the witch, then return home to their father and share their treasure with him. The hero story is hiding in plain site in so many modern books and movies.

In this year’s reading I focused on the confusing time scheme in the story. Marley’s ghost visits Scrooge on Christmas Eve to tell him three ghosts will appear on three successive nights. But after the ghosts appear, Scrooge wakes up on Christmas Morning. I figure one of two things is happening.

  1. Dickens wrote this in serial form and simply forgot the original plan foretold by Marley. This doesn’t make a lot of sense; after all, the whole point of the story is to have Scrooge wake up on Christmas morning.
  2. Dickens is trying to tell us something else. What, I don’t know.

Well, isn’t that what Google is for? This topic was touched on in SparkNotes:

Dickens uses the temporal inconsistencies to emphasize the supernatural powers of the spirits–when they are around, normal earthly standards, including the flow of time, have no effect.

That makes sense; given that this is a hero journey – where the hero travels to the unknown – it is understandable that time doesn’t matter.

Anyway, this is a great story, and if you are concerned, not overtly religious. You still have time to read it before Christmas/holidays. It is short and readily available. I think there is a free Kindle version on Amazon; or get an audio version and listen while you prepare for the holidays.

Too busy to read? Watch the 1984 version of A Christmas Carol with George C. Scott as Scrooge. It is on AMC a few times during the season and, I imagine, available on streaming services.  I’ve watched a lot of the movie adaptations; this version is, I think, the closest to Dickens’ work. Much of the dialog is taken directly from the book.

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Reading: Eventide by Kent Haruf

Eventide (Plainsong, #2)Eventide by Kent Haruf

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Finished: December 9, 2017

 

Sometimes in life you find yourself lost and alone. If you are fortunate, you get another chance. That second chance gives you a better appreciation of your luck. The old bachelor McPheron brothers played a secondary role in Plainsong – the first book in this series. The twins are the center of this book. They became ranchers of their place at 17 when their parents were killed. They’d been together ever since with no wives or girlfriends. Ranching is all they know. In Plainsong they take in an abandoned teen, Victoria Roubideaux. When Eventide picks up the story she is ready to move to Ft Collins for college. She will leave them more lonely than they were when she came into their lives: Raymond tells her

“‘We’re going to miss you too, he said. We’ll be about like old played-out workhorses once you’re gone. Standing around lonesome, always looking over the fence.'” [p 4]

Later Raymond and Victoria are talking on the phone when Victoria is feeling a little homesick. Raymond tells her how much his brother misses Victoria and her daughter

“and as he went on in this vein it was clear to the girl that he was talking as much about himself as he was his brother and she felt so moved by this knowledge she was afraid she was going to cry.” [p 43]

I admit I teared up at this. Haruf knows ranching; his set pieces are clear and dramatic. I love the chapter about the cattle auction with the brothers bringing their cattle in for sale and then sitting through all the auction waiting to see how well they will come out. In another scene they are separating the cows from their calves. It’s like we are there. Later, Tom Guthrie and his sons help out at the ranch and once the cattle are separated, one of the sons notes how the cows and calves, separated by a fence:

“They make an awful amount of noise, Ike said. They don’t seem to like it much.” [p 153] The father responded “they never do like it, he said. I can’t imagine anything or anybody that would like it. But every living thing in this world gets weaned eventually.” [p 153]

This theme of loneliness reaches every part of the story; even cows and calves end up alone. Raymond and Harold were the best part of the excellent Plainsong; they get a thorough treatment in this book. Sometimes in fiction you have various characters who all sound the same – not here. They have a collective distinctive voice (if that makes sense) sounding nothing like the other characters in the book. All the characters are distinct. Similar to Plainsong we follow different families in snapshot fashion as they work their ways through problems. It opens with two ineffective parents trying to manage life while being beset and overmatched by their relative Hoyt. There is also DJ a middle school student taking care of his grandfather; and the neighbor girl he bonds with. I can’t say more without revealing too much.

The book was a bit slow the first few pages as we are dropped into these lives with little in the way of introduction. But once Haruf gets out on the ranch with the McPheron brothers I was hooked. I read all but the first 30 pages in one day – I sat in my chair and read; took a break for lunch, then read some ore; later tore myself away to swim some laps but came right back to read more; then we had to take a break to have dinner with friends. Finally I got back home and read until I finished about midnight. Without being extensively plot driven, this is an exquisite book with realistic characters dealing with what life doles out. I love this book; it takes me back to Terms of Endearment which I read in the early 1980s. I count that novel as one of the best/favorite books I’ve ever read; Eventide matches it. Come for the McPheron brothers and stay for the whole story. Read it.

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Ridgefield Winter Trains and Birds

NOTE December 15, 2017. This week I updated my Adobe Lightroom (Classic) to get the latest updates. Word on the internet is that the updated Auto Tone function in the Basic panel has improved; it now adjusts clarity, vibrance, and saturation. Wow; I was really happy with the changes. I usually fuss with the Basic sliders a bit until it looks “nice” (a subjective term). To demonstrate the difference I thought I’d share the before and after of some photos and update others with the improved versions. They generally apply more vibrance and saturation than I do.

You can compare before and after by clicking on the images and they will open up in larger format in a new tab.

I got the opportunity to shoot with the new Sony RX10 IV; I spent a few days getting used to the settings and controls and shot pictures in the house.

Train ornament

Train ornament

After applying Adobe LightRoom Classic Auto Tone setting

After applying Adobe LightRoom Classic Auto Tone setting

This camera has Phase Detect Auto Focus (i.e. fast focus) paired with a 24-600 equivalent zoom lens. The perfect camera for photographing moving objects like kids playing soccer, birds in flight and trains.

Trains! Yeah, I should get out and grab some pictures of trains! Our normal winter weather is low clouds with all the drizzling rain you could ask for. But nature has given us an early winter break thanks to a huge high pressure system east of Washington and Oregon. This means plenty of sunshine and a rare opportunity to get some nice outside pictures. So, I texted my buds Jay and John asking if they wanted to get up early Friday morning grab some coffee and donuts and head up to the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge for a photo shoot and finish up with breakfast. John had a work commitment, but Jay – the local bird expert –  was willing to give up a toasty bed on a cold morning for an adventure.

Our first stop was a little strip mall near the house that has both a Starbucks and Sesame Donuts. We picked up coffee at Starbucks and donuts at the donut shop. Properly outfitted we got on I5 and headed up over the Interstate Bridge to exit 14 and headed west to the refuge. Adjacent to the entrance to the River S unit is a great spot for spotting trains; but BNSF and Union Pacific roll north and south between Seattle and Portland.

First job: look south to check out the signals to get a hint of train direction and activity.

BNSF Signal Lights at Ridgefield

BNSF Signal Lights at Ridgefield

 

Hmm, red lights probably indicates the block is occupied by a northbound train. Sure enough within the first minute a BNSF freight comes into view. I barely had time to get my camera set up for continuous shooting with continual auto focus before it barreled by.

BNSF at Ridgefield Washington

BNSF at Ridgefield Washington

BNSF at Ridgefield Washington

After LR auto tone adjustment. BNSF at Ridgefield Washington

Just a few minutes later an oil train come up the line.

BNSF at Ridgefield Washington

BNSF at Ridgefield Washington

After LR auto tone adjustment. BNSF at Ridgefield Washington

After LR auto tone adjustment. BNSF at Ridgefield Washington

Then we had a lull in the action so I got out to grab some winter-at-the-refuge pictures. I found the moon dropping behind some bare trees.

20171208 DSC00255 DSC-RX10M4 Ridgefield Trains and Birds

Here we see a dramatic improvement from the Lightroom auto tone adjustment. The blues are much more pleasing.

20171208 DSC00255 DSC-RX10M4 Ridgefield Trains and Birds

Soon, Union Pacific had the right-of-way and boomed along north.

LightRoom auto tone adjustment applied: Union Pacific at Ridgefield, Washington

LightRoom auto tone adjustment applied: Union Pacific at Ridgefield, Washington

 

20171208 DSC00272 DSC-RX10M4 Ridgefield Trains and Birds

Three trains in less than half an hour; time to head over to the refuge. Bam! No sooner had we entered then we saw a Great Egret. Note: if I get the names wrong, it’s because I wasn’t paying attention to Jay, not because he gave me the wrong names. The LightRoom changes are even more apparent in these photos – in some cases dramatic. I think the detail of the birds’ eyes is much better.

 

Great Egret at Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

Great Egret at Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

After LightRoom auto tone adjustment: Great Egret at Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

After LightRoom auto tone adjustment: Great Egret at Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

Then a black bird; a female red-winged blackbird like we saw back in May.

Black Bird at Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

Black Bird at Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

20171208 DSC00305 DSC-RX10M4 Ridgefield Trains and Birds

Then Great Blue Heron hunting for mice.

After LightRoom auto tone adjustment

After LightRoom auto tone adjustment

And another going fishing (love the reflection here).

Great Heron fishing at Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

Great Heron fishing at Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

After LightRoom auto tone adjustment: Great Heron fishing at Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

After LightRoom auto tone adjustment: Great Heron fishing at Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

And as we headed out another Great Egret.

Great Egret at Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

Great Egret at Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

Great Egret at Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

Great Egret at Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

We saw plenty of other birds including some American Widgeons (sp?) ducks and geese.

The banner photo for this post (look up on top) is a flock of geese on the wing.

Birds in Flight over Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

Birds in Flight over Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

After LightRoom auto tone adjustment: Birds in Flight over Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

After LightRoom auto tone adjustment: Birds in Flight over Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

I had a hard time deciding which banner photo to use; here are a couple of other candidates.

20171208 DSC00294 DSC-RX10M4 Ridgefield Trains and Birds

After LightRoom auto tone adjustment

After LightRoom auto tone adjustment

BNSF at Ridgefield Washington

BNSF at Ridgefield Washington

After LightRoom auto tone adjustment

After LightRoom auto tone adjustment

We exited the refuge and headed over to a diner next to the freeway. As we walked in the diner the waitress said “sit anywhere you’d like” that is my favorite set up. I walked over to a nearby table and told them she told us we could sit anywhere so would they please move. Fun time. 🙂 It was pretty good; the hashbrowns weren’t covered in oil. When we finished the guys at the next table told us “hey we paid for your breakfast but you have leave fast! Don’t let her catch you!” Fun times!

The best part of the diner is the beautiful view of Mt St Helens; so after eating we crossed the street to get grab a couple of pictures. Those of us in the Willamette Valley have to take pictures of our mountains when we can during the winter just to prove to ourselves they are still there behind the clouds.

Mount St Helens

Mount St Helens

After LightRoom auto tone adjustment. Mount St. Helens

After LightRoom auto tone adjustment. Mount St. Helens

Let’s try that zoom.

20171208 DSC00547 DSC-RX10M4 Ridgefield Trains and Birds

After LightRoom auto tone adjustment. Mount St. Helens

After LightRoom auto tone adjustment. Mount St. Helens

I’ve been to the RidgeField Wildlife Refuge a few times – mostly with Jay.

Or for the full list; search for “Ridgefield” in the search box (or just follow this link).

If you are so inclined leave a comment with your thoughts.

Posted in Foliage and Landscape, Photography, Trains, Wildlife | Leave a comment

Reading: Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Manhattan BeachManhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Finished: November 30, 2017

Note: I’m not trying to be coy in this review; I’m trying to describe it without spoiling the story for you.
Jennifer Egan won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel “A Visit From the Goon Squad”. I read the reviews and thought the plot structure might be a little confusing so I picked up “Manhattan Beach” to become accustomed to her style.

Before World War II young Anna accompanied her father on his errands and quick meetings members of the underworld. But when he switched employers he stopped inviting her along. And then he disappeared. “How could he stay away when she was waiting so hard? She had never cried. When she’d believed he was about to return, there had been nothing to cry about, and when at last she’d stopped believing, it was too late. His absence had calcified.” [p59]
Then we find her a few years later when she is working on the New York navy docks during the war. We follow an excellent tale of her growing up and moving on after her sick sister dies and her mother leaves for Minnesota. As a single woman she is disliked by “the marrieds” at her job: “they treated her with bruised politeness, as if their husbands had whispered her name in their sleep.” [p 129] Anna is a strong willed woman who, against all odds, is determined to be a diver – in the old suits and brass helmets with air supplied from an overhead barge – to repair ships.
Eventually Anna connects with one of the men whom she visited with her father and gets closer to the secret of what happened to him. The book is a bit slow at the beginning but from this point forward is a riveting page turner full of drama and suspense.
This novel has a beautiful structure. We see foreshadowing and parallel relationships throughout. During one visit with her dad Anna helps some kids who are having a hard time putting together a train set. “They always looked [at the pieces], which was as useless when assembling things as studying a picture by touching it.” [p 5] I originally highlighted this because I loved the description but later found it was a foreshadow of her first test in a diving suit.
There is also a parallel between and exhausted Anna climbing the ladder in her diving suit and a difficulty another character had. Both found “there was just enough each time for one more [movement].” [p 359]
We also find a parallel relationship between the Third Mate on a tramp steamer and the bosun; and Anna with the Lieutenant in charge of the diving program.
It’s not all about the diving; Anna has other struggles through her efforts to find out what happened to her father. But she continues to adjust and move forward with every challenge.
This is an excellent book with great characters and a tense well-paced plot. It’s easy to see why the author won the Pulitzer Prize with her earlier work. I’ve found another seam of ore in my book mining.

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