Monday Morning Musings — I Love the Rain

Rain

Rain

I love the rain.  I especially love the rain when it comes on a Saturday morning–thereby preventing me from doing the list of Saturday chores that currently reside on my list of things to be done.  You may think I say this with irony, but I am absolutely sincere when I say, I love it when Saturday chores get rained out.  It means I get to spend more time with my children, more time with my wife, and more time relaxing.  Plus, as an added bonus, the desert area I live in gets just a bit more moisture that is so necessary for life.  And so, with gratitude, I say thanks for the rain and the for the rest.

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Book Review — The Lies of Locke Lamora

The Lies of Locke Lamora

The Lies of Locke Lamora

The Lies of Locke Lamora is the first book in the Gentleman Bastard series Scott Lynch.  I came across this book at a B&N and purchased it on a whim.  I’m glad I did.  The book is based in Camorr, a fictional city similar in my mind to Venice–but bigger and much more chaotic and lawless.  The hero of the book, Locke Lamora, is an orphan that ends up in the care of a respectable rascal by the name Chains.  Chains is a thief who forms a gang of youth and trains them in the fine art of confidence games.  His goal is for them to one day destroy Capa Barsavi–the man who brought all the gangs of Camorr under his thumb and rules them with an iron fist.  The book is entertaining from the first page.  After the characters and the scene have been set,  Locke and his fellow Gentleman Bastards Jean Tannen, the twins Calo and Galdo Sanza as well as Bug, their apprentice, go about running a con on one of Camorr’s wealthiest citizens — Don Lorenzo Salvara.  Their con has multiple layers to it and begins perfectly.  In the middle of the con, they get interrupted by a war that breaks out between Barsavi and the Gray King.  Locke owes allegience to Barsavi but is unwillingly co-opted into working with the Gray King through blackmail.  Then their con gets even more disrupted by the appearance of the actual Spider of Camorr, who just happens to be one of the people Locke Lamora was  pretending to be in the con the Gentleman Bastards are running.   I could go on, but I don’t want to ruin the story if you haven’t read it yet.

The plot is incredibly fantastic and the characters are a delight.  Don’t read the book if swearing and foul language bother you–swearing must be a fine art in Camorr because the characters swear like sailors.  The writing is smooth and fast paced.  The main plot is interspersed with flashbacks to the training of the Gentleman Bastards through their youth.  This is a great swashbuckling read if you enjoy fantasy and action.  I thing the thing I enjoyed most about this book is the structure of the book.  Lynch has done an amazing job with this one and I look forward to reading the next few books in the series.

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Burning Down The House

Stop Sign

Stop Sign

I’ve got to assume the statute of limitations has run out on this story. I hope so, because I don’t want to get anyone in trouble.   Either way, I’m not naming names.  Back in 1987 I would travel to school early in the morning.  I had a 0 period.  Yes, our High School was rather strange like that.  Don’t bother just creating an 8th period, instead make it so students have 0 through 7th period.  0 period and 7th period were somewhat optional–you had your choice.  You could start early or stay late.  I took early so I could have a class I really wanted.  But it was early.  I would arrive at the High School around 6:30 in the morning.  As I walked to school that foggy morning, I couldn’t see beyond about five feet.  If you’ve ever lived in Holllister, CA you know exactly what I am talking about–it was a January pea soup fog that was thick, cold and clammy.  By the way, San Benito Joint Union High School, as it was known back then, has State Route 152 that runs right though it.  Yes, you read that right.  There is a CA state highway (freeway, whatever) that runs right in between two blocks of my Alma Mater.  To facilitate the movement of students between the two sides of the HS, the school employed three crossing guards.  They rotated through the day.  And on one side of the road, they had a little guard shack.  Little as in maybe four feet by four feet.  It was about seven feet tall, had a pitched roof as well as a little window the guards could look out of and see if there were students coming that needed assistance crossing the streets. The guards would stand in there to stay warm.  I think they kept their coffee in there.  Probably some notes about disrespectful students and such.   If you crossed the street without the assistance of one of the guards it was an automatic misconduct.  A misconduct was four hours detention to be served at your leisure.

As I approached the road that foggy morning, I realized I had arrived before the crossing guards.  I reached the sidewalk opposite the guard shack.  Through the fog, an unbelievable sight met my eyes. The shack was on fire.  And not a little piddley fire.  To my eyes, it seemed that a pillar of fire had come down from the heavens.  The flames were at least fifteen feet high.  Within minutes, the shack was no more.  At the time, I had no idea who would have done such a thing.  But I admit, I felt a bit of a thrill being witness.  You must realize, our school was run like a penitentiary. The three crossing guards doubled as security guards.  Detention was handed out like candy on Halloween.   I witnessed one mouthy student receive 128 hours of detention in less than five minutes.  I once received a four hour misconduct for crossing the street an hour and a half after school had ended.  I was on the other side of the road–doing my own personal stuff.  The school was absolutely insane.  So I felt a thrill of joy at seeing someone take a stab at “the man”.  After enjoying the fire, I walked on to my class.  Later I heard who had done it.  He was a friend of a friend.  I knew they guy–but not real well.  I just knew you didn’t want to mess with him.  Story has it that one night, in a fit of anger, he went out on his front lawn and sledgehammered a car for eight hours straight.  Just because he was mad.  But the story becomes even more strange.

A couple of days later, said student was walking down Main Street in Hollister.  If you must know, it isn’t actually Main Street–instead it is San Benito Street.  But everyone local calls it Main Street.  He was walking down Main Street up to who knows what kind of mischief and runs across the only bag lady in Hollister at the time.  Everyone had seen her, but I’m not sure anyone actually knew who she was.  She steps up to him.  And then whispers, “I know what you did.”  And with that, she walked away, pushing her stolen grocery cart in front of her.  I often wonder what feelings of worry the student had.  Was he nervous she was going to blackmail him?  Was he worried the police would find out?  Who knows?  What I do know, is that when that little guard shack burned, there must have been three pairs of eyes watching.  The perp, the bag lady, and me.

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Monday Morning Musings — Have A Plan

It is said that 97% of people don’t have written goals.  I can’t imagine floating through life without at least a minimal plan.  At least in one or two areas.  I have a written goal for nearly everything I do.  I have found that if I don’t write it down, it just floats around in my head as a wish.  If you don’t have a written goal, why don’t you sit down right now and write one thing down that you want to accomplish.  You will be surprised at how much energy and focus it will give you.  Give it a shot–and then let me know how it goes.

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Game Review: Memoir 44

Memoir '44

Memoir ’44

About seven years ago, I picked up a copy of Memoir ’44.  This Days of Wonder game is played on a game board that features a beach invasion point on one side and the other side of the game board has a European countryside.  The game board has hexes, plastic figures represent your army, and play is determined by cards.  Attacks are resolved with six special dice.

If you are a “grognard” you will love the feel of the game.  Much more simple than a classic war board game, this is the perfect entry game for those who enjoy tactics but don’t want to get caught up in a whole bunch of rules and special situations.  I remember playing a game back in 1984 with a couple of my friends.  I don’t remember the exact game but it was based on WWII in Europe.  Specifically, I remember one situation where my two friends argued about some obscure rule for nearly three days.  We never did finish that specific game–it was just all too much and by the time the rule was finally resolved everyone was so mad that we never finished the game.  You will never have this type of problem with Memoir ’44.  The rules are simple, play is fast, and the tactics involved are surprisingly enjoyable.

Turns are taken in the classic IGO-UGO style.  Although some of the different scenarios are somewhat unbalanced, this can easily be resolved by having each player take a turn with each “side” of the scenario.  Then results can be compared as to who won in the most impressive manner.  Most of the scenarios take around 30 minutes.  This is definitely a game that young players will enjoy.  I played with my son several times when he was 10 and he understood the game completely.  In fact, we were evenly matched for the most part.

This is a game I will definitely recommend to you if you enjoy Axis and Allies or are just looking for a good tactical war game that doesn’t demand endless hours or reading to understand all the different nuances of the rules.  Quick, fun, and high replay value all combine to make this the kind of game everyone should have on their game shelf.  Check it out, it is one of my top twenty games.

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Book Review : The One-Eyed Man: A Fugue, With Winds and Accompaniment

L.E.Modesitt--The One Eyed Man

L.E.Modesitt–The One Eyed Man

This book lands in the Science Fiction section because of the technology involved and the stage on which it is set.  There is plenty in the book for any SF fan to enjoy, but it doesn’t break new ground with new and exciting pieces of technology.  Instead, like most every Modesitt book I have read, it focuses most of the attention on the characters and what is happening in their interactions with others.  This book presents a main character, Dr Paul Verano, that you can immediately relate to on many levels.  His family life is falling apart and he is presented with the chance for a, shall we say, extended work trip.  He snatches at the trip that doesn’t quite turn out to be what he expected.  His professional training is as a freelance ecology consultant, but his skill is in understanding the truth behind the facade that people in his life attempt to present as reality.

The assignment he is given is to write an ecological report on the current impact of those living on Stittara.  Stittara is a distant planet. In fact, due to the vagaries of space travel, although his entire trip may only last about a year for him, by the time he returns to his home planet nearly 150 years will have passed.  Many things impede his efforts to create a fair and impartial report.  Not the least of which is the division in the very government that sent him–whichever way the report falls, he is bound to anger one group or another.  The biggest issue is the most important export from Stittara is a longevity drug that has changed human life on the home planet.  Because the impact of his ecological report could possibly have on the continued production of the drug, the stakes involved are huge.   Like most of us with work assignments, it is all too easy to create enemies when we are merely trying to do a great job.  As with nearly every book from Modesitt, a large piece of the story is what isn’t said–what is found between the lines of what the characters are saying versus how they are acting. In the background are the strange and mysterious “skytubes” that no one wants to really discuss.

I always love Modesitt and this book is no exception.  The situation is compelling, the issues are real, and the solution is fantastic.  This book is a bit slower paced than some of his books, but designed to make you think. If you haven’t read one of his books before–give this one a shot because it is well worth your time.

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Monday Morning Musings — Sharing the Book

Steelheart by Sanderson

Steelheart by Sanderson

When I was a teen, I absolutely hated “sharing” a book.  I define that as having two people reading the exact same copy of a particular book.  To wit, I pick up the book and read to page 45.  I go outside to do my Saturday chores.  I come back in the house when done said chores to resume my reading and find the book missing.  When I finally find the book, it is in the hands of someone else.  They are reading it.  That, in my book, is wrong.  Now, as an adult, I don’t mind so much.  Often I encourage it with my children.  I enjoy reading part of the book.  Then, while one of my kids is reading it, I can ask them questions about how they are enjoying the book.  And we can chat back and forth about what is happening in the book.  It actually makes the read much more enjoyable.  When they set it down, I pick it up.  Back and forth it goes. On Friday, the newest Brandon Sanderson book showed up.  Entitled Steelheart, I was extremely excited to read it.  If you haven’t read any of his books, Sanderson is amazing.  Not only is he good, but he just keeps cranking them out.  Prolific doesn’t even begin to describe his pace.

So on Friday night, I read about 50 pages of Steelheart.  WOW!  I was hooked.  But on Saturday I had a bunch of stuff to do–mostly involving finishing the chicken run that I set the posts for last Saturday.  So I went out and finished the project.  From time to time, as I came in to get a drink or another needed tool, I noticed my son was reading the book.  He and I share a similar taste in books.  I was excited to get his take on the book.  In the afternoon, I finished the fence. I asked him how the book was.  He was enjoying it immensely.  Later, he took off with some of his friends.  I wasn’t too sad because it meant I got a crack at the book.  I got about halfway done before other concerns took me away from the book.  On Sunday, we both finished the book.  What did we think?  We both think Sanderson has a winner here.  The action was fast and the characters were loads of fun.  There are enough twists and turns that the book keeps you guessing.  I am calling it right now–this book needs to be a movie.  My son agrees.  And of course, when you are done the book you are going to want to read the second in the series.  It isn’t out yet, but considering how fast Sanderson writes, I’m quite sure it won’t be long.

I’ve come to the conclusion that sharing a book is fun.  Especially if the book is great and the person you are sharing it with is one of the greatest.

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Keeping Chickens

Most Recent Chicks

Most Recent Chicks

About a year ago I started keeping chickens.  Ostensibly I purchased them to create a steady supply of food for the family table.  In reality, I think I have them just because I harbor dreams of living on a farm and being completely self-sufficient.  I already have several beehives.  But I digress.  No, we do not eat the chickens.  Just the eggs.  After having the chickens for over a year, I have decided that I really like having chickens and just received my next batch of baby chicks.  Before ordering, I had my children pick their favorite chickens so they could have them as “pets”.  Each of my girls got to pick their favorite.  My boy showed no interest in picking a chicken.   We ended up with a Rhode Island Red, two Barred Plymouth Rocks, a Partridge Silkie Bantam, a Blue Silkie Bantam, a White Crested Black Polish and a Golden Spangled Hamburg.  I purchased them from mypetchicken.com (who, by the way, are excellent to work with).  They showed up this past week.  I can’t wait until December–that is about when they should start laying eggs.

To detail the chicken saga, it started one day with a conversation between my wife and I.  She mentioned the greenhouse was not working.  It seemed to broil all our plants.  The weather just changes too fast where we live.  So I asked if I could take it down and build a chicken coop. It was agreed upon and work began.  I had practice building things since I finished our basement several years ago.  Quickly I laid out a plan, poured a 10 x 8 pad of cement, framed the walls, and then sheathed the frame with some nice outdoor paneling.  Then I stuck some sheeting on the roof, laid down tar paper and shingled it.  Finally I painted the whole inside a hideous color green because I had several gallons of leftover latex from a recent project.  It sounds really easy and fast–it was pretty easy overall but the fast part wasn’t happening.  ( In fact, the coop outside didn’t get painted until June.  And then, it only got finished because my wife and daughter finished it off one weekend when I was out of town. ) Then I moved the first batch of chickens in.  They seemed very happy.  I let them out frequently to run the yard and they absolutely loved those runs.  It took about four months until they were all laying.  Most days we get 4 to 6 eggs.  Quite a delight.  I think we only have purchased eggs from the store twice in the past eight months–once for a party we were hosting where omelets were to be the main meal and the second time for a heavy run of baking that cleaned us out.  If you are thinking of getting chickens–just do it.

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Book Review: Touch for Health

Touch for Health

Touch for Health

For several years now, I have been very interested in the power of the body to heal itself.  Attendant to this concept are the many various schools of thought and ancillary practices including such things as acupuncture, energy healing, meditation, prayer, herbal medicine, as well as many other practices.  About a month ago, I received an invitation to a class that would center around the book, Touch for Health.  The book was written originally by John Thie and the most recent edition is an updated version compiled by Matthew Thie.

The basic concepts of the book are that you can use the energy fields that flow through the body to test the major systems of the body for functionality and health.  For instance, you can test the health of the heart by having a person hold their arm at a right angle with the forearm pointing down.  Think of how you position your arm to signal a stop when you are on your bicycle.  The person testing you will then gently hold your elbow in order to isolate the muscle to be tested and then pull your forearm forward while you resist.  Interestingly enough, for those who have never had a muscle test, your ability to resist is directly impacted by the overall health of the organ being tested.  This test is done with both the right and left arms.  Typically, if a patient has some form of blockage or issue, either the right or the left will test weak.  The book then shows the practitioner which acupressure points to touch, tap or massage in order to get the energy flow moving properly again.  After doing the appropriate repairs, the muscles can again be tested.  This time, if all went well, the two arms will test equal and strong–the book calls this “locked”.

Touch for Health Assesment

Touch for Health Assesment

Before I started this class, I had been introduced to basic muscle testing.  I knew the concept but was unable to regularly accomplish much with the concept.  Perhaps I hadn’t practiced enough or perhaps I wasn’t really  giving it a solid try.  After three weeks of training, I feel I can adequately test the 14 major body systems and get enough information to help someone.  I never plan on practicing this as a career–I just want the information and skills so I can help family and friends when appropriate.  With more practice, I am sure I will become fairly adept.  Along with the basics from this book, the class is also being taught some basic facts about healthy nutrition and several techniques acupressure that will help the body when it is unbalanced.  Yesterday, the major takeaway from the class aside from learning to test and restore the triple warmer (endocrine system) and the circulation system, we were given some basic steps to put a person’s hormonal system back into balance.  It involves some basic tapping on a few key points on the shin, Achilles, big toe, near the collar-bone and on the forehead.  I wasn’t sure how much it would do but I was willing to give it a go.  I can’t tell you how amazing it was to wake up this morning and feel so at peace and in balance.  I have not felt this centered in a long, long time.

Enough about me.  The book is great.  It takes some effort to become acclimated to the layout and basic procedures.  It isn’t complex, it just takes effort and practice to become familiar with all the steps.  I am certain that anyone with a little experience will have an easy go of it–for a complete novice like me, it is a bit more effort, but well worth it.  I am amazed at how much is packed into this book.  As you test each of the 14 major systems, any systems that exhibit weak can be further tested and explored.  For instance, if the stomach tests weak, there are four subtests to further isolate the exact issue and then restore the energy flow so that the major system will then test properly.  In listening to the teacher, it seems that if someone tests weak in any specific area, they may need to be tested and adjusted several times over a period of time to get the system to flow properly and stay flowing properly.

I heartily recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in muscle testing and or acupuncture/acupressure.  It costs less than $30–and in my mind if it saves even one trip to the local clinic it more than pays for itself.

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Game Review: Ticket To Ride

Ticket To Ride

Ticket To Ride

Best Game Ever!  If you are looking for a game that you can play with your kids, Ticket to Ride is what you need.  If you worry that it will be boring for adults, have no fear.  This is one of the most enjoyable games on the market for all ages.  Not only is it simple to learn, it also creates the perfect amount of challenge, intrigue, competition and fun every time I play it.

So a quick review of how the game is played.  Each player, and there can be from 2-5 players, picks a color.  They then are dealt four Train cards.  These cards will be used throughout the game to create train tracks across the map. (As an aside, the game board is a basic outline of the US with most major cities shown as destinations).  Each player is also dealt three Destination Ticket cards.  Each of these cards show a pair of cities between which the player will attempt to build a train track of their color.  For instance, if I am the blue player, and I drew a Destination Ticket card that showed Montreal to Toronto, then I would attempt to place three of my trains on the three spaces shown on the board between Montreal to Toronto.  Here is the fun part–after you draw your three Destination Cards, you can choose which ones to keep.  Once you have decided to keep a Destination card, you must keep it through the whole game.  If you build a track between the appropriate two cities, you score the number of points shown on the card.  If you fail to build the track, you lose that many points.  Each player is competing for spots on the board.  I may be trying to build a track from New York to Los Angeles and everyone else may be in need of the same track positions.  In which case, if they “block” me out by taking all the available routes, then I am going to lose points instead of gain them.

At the beginning of each turn, a player can choose to draw Train Cards, Claim a Route, or draw Destination Ticket Cards.  A player may only do one of these three actions.  If they choose to draw Train cards, they can either pull from the four showing cards or from the deck (which will give them an unknown card).  If they choose to Claim a Route instead they must have enough Train cards of a specific color to play.  To do this,  they play their Train cards and place a corresponding number of train pieces on the board.  To play, you must be able to build out an entire segment.  For instance, if the segment is six green spaces long, I must have six green Train Cards to play (or I can mix in a few wild cards to meet my requirement). Or for their turn, a player can draw more Destination Ticket cards.  If they choose to do so, they draw three and must keep at least one of them.  This can be risky, but provides a player extra chances to score.   Scoring comes from several things.  Points are scored for placing trains on the board.  A longer section earns more points.  Points are also earned or lost at the end of the game for finishing a Destination Ticket Card.  If you finish one of these, you keep it secret from the other players until the end of the game.  Ten points are also scored at the end of the game by the player that has the longest continuous train path on the board.

The rules of this game are simple, the strategy is fun.  This is a great game for family and friends of nearly all ages.  My seven-year old daughter plays with no help–and frequently wins.  If I could only have one game in the game closet, I think it would be Ticket to Ride.

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