This year, the Pierce County READS book is Mary Roach’s Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War. I read it spaced over three days or so. I’ve never read anything by Mary Roach before, so I didn’t quite know what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect her to have a sense of humor along the lines of Dave Barry. Sure, there are far less booger jokes, but Roach can certainly turn a phrase in just the right way to make you laugh.
“I ask my hosts if it would be okay to try driving a Stryker. It would not. Like an obliging parent, Mark allows me to sit in the driver’s seat and turn the steering wheel back and forth.”
And she’s ridiculously smart to boot. Which makes it very odd to read in the Acknowledgments that, “I have no background in medicine or the military.” So apparently she’s just an extremely talented journalist who is incredible at networking with just the right people to get access to anywhere she wants to go.
“Though I’ll be traipsing through the missile silos with no security clearance? Yes, they said. Bring your notebook and your dingbat questions.”
There’s more science packed into each of Grunt’s chapters than in an episode of Mythbusters, but Roach still makes the science fun. There are plenty of crash test dummies and explosions as she discusses how to protect soldiers from roadside bombs, keeping cool in combat, and how corpsmen train to perform their duties under battlefield conditions. Plus she is really good at subtly referencing pop culture. Take Chapter 11’s title for instance, “Old Chum - How to make and test shark repellant.”
One thing that struck me about Roach’s writing style was the way she used quotations. In my work, I use quotations to convey information. Roach uses them to convey mood or develop character. It makes her authorial voice very distinct, but somehow she does it without making herself the central character in the narrative, which is pretty impressive.
“Somewhere Josh found blueberries for his salad. He goes at them with brisk, well-centered stabs. He’s going to ace the Bayonet Assault Course.”
Things I learned from reading Grunt:
“The real reason soldiers in the pre-anesthesia era were given a bullet to bite was not to help them endure the pain but to quiet their screams.”
“Full volume on an MP3 player is 112 decibels, enough to cause hearing loss after one minute.”
“...sweat isn’t cool. It’s warm as blood. It essentially is blood. Sweat comes from plasma, the watery, colorless portion of blood.”
In our Tuesday Men's Breakfast Bible Study we are working our way through the book of Hebrews. So far it has resulted in some great discussions, as Hebrews certainly has some difficult passages to process. One that really caught me off guard was this one.
"In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering." – Hebrews 2:10
I had grown up with the idea of Jesus living a perfect life, so thinking of it as not “perfect” until the very end caught me off guard, at least until I thought of it in terms of a baseball game.
Baseball’s first “perfect game” was pitched in 1880 by the Boston Americans’ Cy Young. The latest was thrown in 2012 by the Seattle Mariners’ Felix Hernandez. In between those two, throughout 132 years of baseball, you can find only 21 other perfect games in Major League Baseball history.
When a pitcher throws a perfect game, it doesn't go in the books until he gets the last three strikes across the plate. Up until then, it's only a great game. Jesus' death on the cross was the ninth inning of a great life, that ended in a willing sacrifice for the sins of all of humanity. So when people say we need to live more like Jesus, does that mean we to have to pitch a perfect game of our own?
Of course not.
If that were the case, and one didn't find out about Jesus until later in life, what chance would they have? Jesus tells us in the parable of the workers in the vineyard that it doesn't matter at what point in our lives we come to follow Jesus, we simply need to make the choice to follow him. So not only do we NOT need to throw a “perfect game,” we don't even need to throw a no-hitter. All Jesus is calling us to do is to “win” the game with the team of people God has put alongside us; be they our church, our family, or our friends.
So don’t be discouraged when the game gets tough. Finish strong, and remember, Jesus' perfect game has already made you holy.
"Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers." – Hebrews 2:11
I am consistently impressed with how much Siri actually “knows.” From answering mundane questions, to identifying songs on the radio, I can generally count on her counsel more often than not. So when she comes up short, it can be a bit surprising.
The other day I was driving to work enjoying a song on KING FM, Seattle’s classical music station. I asked Siri to ID the song that was on the radio so I could enjoy it again later on, and I got the following message.
I figured it was a fluke. Maybe the song was having to compete too much with the car noise and rain. So I turned up the volume and asked again.
No luck. Certainly not an “end of the world” problem, but like I said, simply surprising. So when I pulled into the parking lot, I pulled up KING FM’s website and found the song on their music schedule.
And then I found it on YouTube, so you and I can enjoy it now.
On a whim I bought the Oregon Trail card game at Target in the hopes we could bond as a family while we all died from dysentery. So far it’s worked pretty well. Oregon Trail is a cooperative card game, and the object of it is to get at least one of your party to Oregon, which is 50 “Trail cards” away from your start in Independence, Missouri. Naturally you suffer many hardships along the way, up to and including death.
The first night we played the game three times in a row, and lost every time. The closest we got to Oregon was 34/50 Trail cards. At that point I was the lone survivor of our party, having lost each family member to a different and terrible fate. But suddenly my wagon broke down and I died alone on the side of the trail. During another round I died three cards out of Independence due to a snakebite. I guess I should have stayed home. But that’s not as bad as my wife, who died one game on her very first turn – also from snakebite.
That difficulty level is something the original computer game had in spades. You played Oregon Trail because it was fun, whether your won or lost. The only times I got upset with with my Apple IIe was when I died before getting to go hunting. That was my favorite part. There's not a lot of hunting in the card game, but it's still a lot of fun to play.
Later in the week, our family finally made it to Oregon after playing our sixth game. Of course, when I say "our family," I mean I made it alone. My son drowned early on in the trip fording a river, my wife and daughter both died from snakebite, and as I played the 50th card, I was one turn away from starvation, and suffering from cholera and measles. In Oregon Trail, that's called a win!
“All important movies start with a black screen.”
From it’s opening narration – as Batman comments on the various production logos – to the LEGO Phantom Zone that is filled to the brim with character cameos (The Wizard of Oz, Gremlins, Lord of the Rings, Doctor Who, Harry Potter, etc.), The LEGO Batman Movie features so many jokes, both visual and verbal, that it’s hard to keep up with them all. The film practically demands repeated viewing, so you can catch every sarcastic comment, pun and reference it dishes out. And after my first viewing, I was happy to put it immediately on my list of movies to watch again.
After the blazingly fast opening action sequence, the film slows hilariously to a crawl as Batman arrives home to the Batcave and goes about his day to day activities. The microwave scene is particularly perfect.
“Batman works alone. That’s my motto. Copyright: Batman.”
The film offers ample references to old Batman movies, the main players being Tim Burton’s first Batman film and the 1960s film and TV show, a scene from which even interrupts the animation – which is done in the same pseudo-stop-motion style as the LEGO Movie – for a brief dance number.
“Remember kids, if you want to be like Batman, take care of your abs.”
The Batcomputer is voiced by Siri, which is a fantastic piece of product placement, Michael Cera is great as Robin, and Will Arnett’s spin on Batman is one for the ages. There are also vocal cameos by a surprising number of famous people who only get one line, and a great live action cameo by Jerry McGuire, the movie.
“Guess who got a PhD in smoke bombs? Doctor Batman.”
I was left with one question following the film, and was happy to find that DC Comics had already thought to answer it for me. Yes, the Condiment King is a REAL Batman villain.
This little owl traveled 5,414 miles – all the way from Beijing, China – to land in my mailbox. It took him 26 days to get here. He was my 240th Postcrossing postcard I've received.
As the kids get older, our family movie nights sometimes delve into less family-friendly fare. Recently we watched two of my favorite films, one a vampire action/horror movie and the other a mildly inappropriate comedy. I’ve reviewed both films already, but thought I’d link to them here since they’re slightly harder to locate, as they reside on my old Blogger site.
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)
I am Legend (2007)
Nothing blends the imagination with history quite like Sherlock Holmes.
Yesterday I reviewed the movie Mr. Holmes, where we find Sherlock at the ripe old age of 93, living in the country keeping his bees. He is not only living in the world of Dr. Watson’s stories, which are published in the Strand, but also in the world of the Sherlock Holmes films, starring Basil Rathbone.
When one takes charge of the Sherlock Holmes character, an author can utilize him in a number of ways. Either by accepting his fictitiousness and pairing him with the strange and unusual, or by pretending he is, in fact, a historical figure and having him interact with real crimes in his day.
It’s Watson’s writings that really help to blur the line between reality and fiction. In the stories he publishes Sherlock’s adventures in The Strand magazine. And in reality, they actually were published in The Strand by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. So it’s easy prey for an author to pretend Watson’s writings are fact. Or that they are at least based on truth and simply elaborated this way or that, leaving the historical truth somewhere in between the lines. This was Doyle's most brilliant play.
The Sherlock stories are all very much set in history, hinting at scandals and historical people, but often enough Holmes comments within the narrative about how Watson is getting things wrong in his writings, leaving room for the reader to doubt, and allowing thoughts of an unreliable narrator to creep in.
Watson frequently hints at stories not yet told, and Doyle even leaves a wonderful three year gap in the fiction where authors' imaginations can play with free reign. It's quite a fabulous fictitious universe, and I'm thrilled to have been enjoying it this past year or so.
I’ve been on a Sherlock Holmes reading kick for some time now, ever since I discovered the BBC’s Sherlock with Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch. In fact, I only have two books of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock short stories to go through before I’ve officially read them all, and I’ve already started reading Sherlock stories from other authors that I’ve really enjoyed as well. In fact Nicholas Meyer’s The Canary Trainer is my favorite book of the year so far. It’s this Sherlock Holmes / Phantom of the Opera remix that is particularly pleasing.
So in this spirit, as the rain fell outside, I curled up on the sofa to watch Ian McKellen put his spin on Mr. Holmes.
“Is that him?”
Here we find Holmes as a 93 year old curmudgeon, stuck in his ways and having outlived all of his friends and acquaintances. In keeping with the lore, Holmes is retired in the country keeping bees as a hobby. His mind is beginning to fail him, but not as quickly as his body is.
The story focuses on three time periods in Sherlock’s life: his present life in the country, a recent trip to Japan, and a case long since solved, but existing now only on the edges of his memory.
The case involves a glass armonica, an instrument I had never heard of before, but found fascinating in the way a theremin excites the mind. And the film even gave me a new place to direct my literary lens, as it’s based on a book as well. Mitch Cullen’s A Slight Trick of the Mind quickly found its way to the front of my reading list and is different enough from the film to make it worth the while, even though I enjoyed the movie a bit more.
I recently heard someone say that, "Reading is like breathing in, and writing is like breathing out." It's a phrase that's really stuck with me, and I think it not only applies in the context it was said (about English Language Arts curriculum) but also in our everyday lives.
The thing that struck me is that what we breathe in is the same stuff we end up breathing out. If I'm reading John Steinbeck and then write a blog, it's going to be different, if only slightly, than if I'm reading Dave Barry. Because that feel of the language, and the way it's used, will stick with you. But it's not just in writing.
If I watch a lot of TV shows or movies where people are upset and yelling at each other, I'm "breathing that in." And in my social life, whether online or in person, I'm going to exhale that negativity all over someone who probably doesn't deserve it.
Does this mean we should sit quietly, read the Bible and begin a lifelong media fast? I don't think that would even be possible in today's world. But it reminds me that we need to remember to breathe in the “good air” every once in awhile. Whether it's going to church, reading a thought-provoking book, taking a class, or engaging in dialogue with someone you respect and want to be more like, filling our lives with more positivity and less negativity is an important part of centering ourselves, and not losing ourselves in the murky, sarcastic, cruel world.
In the opening credits we learn that Arrival is based on a short story, and I immediately thought of the world that opened to me the first time I discovered Philip K. Dick in the same way when I first saw Total Recall. I haven’t read anything by Ted Chiang before, but I am looking forward to sitting down with the book as soon as it arrives.
Arrival is the story of a first encounter with aliens who have no understanding of the languages of Earth. We follow the American team devoted to establishing relations with the aliens, focusing on breaking the language barrier, which is a difficult puzzle to solve.
On the whole, Arrival is a quiet mystery of sorts. And aside from a narrative piece that fast forwards the film a month or so into the future, the film does a nice job of letting us discover information for ourselves, as if we were on the team.
The political and military machinations feel very authentic, as if this is the way things would really progress in a situation like this. Of course, “progress” is actually the wrong word to use, it’s more like a downward spiral.
Once the language puzzle is solved we come to discover a brand new mystery, involving the nature of time, and the film leaves us with buckets of questions to ponder after the credits roll. I hope to find at least a few of the answers in Ted Chiang’s book.
I love hearing a jazzy spin on popular songs. Sometimes it works really well, as in Lavon Hardison's Come Together, and other times, it's just bizarre, like Karl Latham's spin on Gangster Paradise. I love both songs, but for completely different reasons.
This little zaunkönig, or Eurasian wren, flew in from Germany this week! It was sent from a Postcrosser who is studying to become a protestant pastor.
"It's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new life for me."
Two train postcards this week! The Mountain Thunder came from my nephew in Virginia, and the other from a lovely Postcrossing family in Canada!
"The 1916 Baldwin 2-8-0 steam locomotive "Mountain Thunder" prepares for the 16 mile trek from Cumberland to Frostburg, where its direction will be reversed on the turntable and it will then head back down the mountain."
"New CN Rail Dash 8-40C units 2416 and 2421 (4,000 h.p., class EF-640a; General Electric, Montreal, 1990) ease a westbound priority container train down the Pelletier Sub to the St. Lawrence Valley near St. Antonin, Que."
“Laws control the lesser person … right conduct controls the greater one.” – Mark Twain
I’m a rule follower, which I suppose in the eyes of Mark Twain makes me a “lesser person,” but I’m okay with that. I just really enjoy a good list of rules, especially when they have to do with the "Christian life."
So it’s nice to have Paul’s practical guide to life, as found in 1 Thessalonians 5: 12-24. Here we find a checklist for living well. Our church recently broke it down into a to-do list, which I loved, and have copied below, as well as posted on our fridge.
1. Honor those who work hard among you.
2. Get along with each other.
3. Counsel those who are stuck to get going.
4. Encourage the stragglers.
5. Help those who are exhausted.
6. Be patient.
7. Don’t snap at each other.
8. Look for the best in each other.
9. Be cheerful.
10. Pray all the time.
11. Thank God no matter what happens.
12. Work with the Spirit.
13. Be open to new ideas (they might be better than you first think).
14. Don’t be suckered by the glitz (if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is).
Anchors Away is musical comedy known for its Gene Kelly and Jerry the Mouse dance sequence. The story of the film follows two sailors on leave in Hollywood. Clarence (Frank Sinatra) is shy and likes to spend his leave in the library, while Joe (Kelly) is a tomcat who is always looking for a wild time and a wilder woman. Clarence decides to follow in Joe’s footsteps and learn the ways of the Force, as it were. But the two are distracted and pulled off course by an orphan, who happens to have a very attractive Aunt (Kathryn Grayson) that both men fall for.
The three adults have misunderstandings and misadventures together, and in the end, two of them will end up together – and it probably won’t be Clarence and Joe, although the way Clarence looks at Joe sometimes, you can’t help but wonder.
It’s a slow go at two and a half hours, and none of the song and dance numbers are all that memorable, except for the one Gene Kelly shares with Jerry the Mouse. TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz said that scene cost $100,000 to produce and required 10,000 hand-drawn frames of animation.
Jerry even talks during the scene, which was a surprise, and Tom the Cat shows up too. Mind you, none of this has anything to do with the plot of the film. It’s all a dream sequence that probably should have been released as a short film.
There’s another unnecessary scene where pianists play Hungarian Rhapsody Number 2 at the Hollywood Bowl that does nothing more than make the film longer. However, I do love that song, so I’ll forgive it.
And there’s another, “official” US Navy song that feels in poor taste, not just against Aunt Susie, whom it’s directed at, but also against Clarence and Joe, whom we’ve begun to like. This song sours their characters and makes them seem less like clean cut sailors, and more like jerks.
There’s a few laugh out loud moments scattered throughout, but at 2.5 hours, a tighter script would have worked a lot better.
Resolution: Cook one new recipe every other week.
Status: Only made three new recipes in February, but I'm still ahead of schedule.
New recipes tried in February
The Best Crockpot Beef Stew (We did not find this to be the "best.")
Campbell’s Beef and Broccoli (This was a pretty tasty recipe from the side of the soup can.)
Refried Beans (This was a recipe from a friend of mine. The beans were excellent.)
Resolution: To read 50 books and 10 graphic novels in 2017.
Status: I added 14 books to my list in February, for a total of 27, 5 of which are graphic novels.
14. Best. State. Ever.: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland by Dave Barry
15. The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
16. Generally Speaking by Lawrence Block
17. You Can Date Boys When You’re Forty by Dave Barry
18. The West End Horror: A Posthumous Memoir of John H. Watson, M.D. by Nicholas Meyer
19. Mr. Monk is Cleaned Out by Lee Goldberg
20. The Vision Volume 2: Little Better than a Beast by Tom King
21. The Sherlock Holmes Handbook by Ransom Riggs
22. The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Titanic Tragedy by William Seil
23. Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life by Bryan Lee O’Malley
24. The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson
25. The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
26. The Autobiography of James T. Kirk by David Goodman
27. Dave Barry Turns 40 by Dave Barry