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Monday, December 31, 2012

Best Books of 2012

 
As some of you know, I like to make lists of the "best of" the previous year. I've done a better job of keeping track of my reading this year. Years ago, I developed a spreadsheet to track it all, but didn't do a good job of keeping it up to date 2008-2011. Since reading is often my escape a lot of what I read isn't too meaningful, but I used to try to make sure that at least half of my pages read were valuable for something besides entertainment. Although I managed to get (most) everything in the spreadsheet this year, I didn't make any effort to guide the choices into valuable channels. Sigh- we always fail at standards we set for ourselves.

OK... Here are the totals. I read 80 books (that I remembered to record- I think I might have missed a few). The ratio of valuable to escape wasn't so good. By number of pages, it was 1:4 with silly stuff winning. These are almost all mysteries. I suppose, now that I'm writing them, I can consider it research at some level, but it's still escape (if I'm honest).

Here are the 10 best in no particular order. Don't try to read much into the selection.

TitleAuthorGenre
Brief Review
UnbrokenLaura HillenbrandBiography
Since this has been a recent best-seller, you may be familiar with it. Someone gave me a copy. It's a biography of Louie Zamperini who was an Olympic runner, but then was shot down over the Pacific in WWII. He was taken prisoner by the Japanese and tortured. Yet his spirit was never broken and came to put his faith in God.
Washington's CrossingDavid Hackett FischerHistory
This is a 2006 book that primarily covers the winter campaigns of 1776-77 in the American Revolution from the loss of New York through the successful crossing of the Delaware, the two battles of Trenton, the battle of Princeton, and what he calls "the Foraging Wars," of the rest of the winter. He's used new documents that have come to light and re-evaluated a lot of existing ones. His conclusion is that the American forces really got their act together after New York, and those campaigns were a true turning point of the war. One of the many appendices was really interesting too. He gives an overview of the general attitude of historians from the diarists and memoir writers through the present day. That was as good as having an extra book.
American CreationJoseph EllisHistory
This is another recent book about the Revolutionary Era. It's focus is the writing and ratification of the Constitution. He points out how divided the participants were in their opinions, not unlike the political situation today. However, they did manage to work out a compromise. At the time, neither side was happy with it, and they weren't at all sure they had managed to create the lasting document it has become.
Animal DreamsBarbara KingsolverLiterary Fiction
I'm not a big fan of Literary Fiction, but this one wasn't so bleak as what seems to be the norm these days. A young woman, Codi, returns to the town of her childhood and takes a job teaching. Her father is failing, having Alzheimer's. The book alternates between the two points of view. She comes to terms with some of the difficult portions of her teen years, and her roots in the desert town.
Manchild in the Promised LandClaude BrownMemoir
Claude Brown recalls his childhood in Harlem, and how he managed to change his ways and escape from the slums. He really captures the culture and makes you live it with him. However, be prepared to be offended if you read it. The language is raw and reported just as it was. Interestingly enough, Brown grew up in the 40s and very early 50s before drugs were so pervasive. He credits part of his decision to get out of a life of crime to seeing what drugs did to some of his friends and enemies as they began to use them
The Boys from BrazilIra LevinFiction
This is now a fairly classic movie. With apologies to Gregory Peck, the book is perhaps even more chilling. Somehow the movie seems a little silly, but the book isn't. If you aren't familiar with the plot, it's a story of Nazi leaders who have escaped to Brazil after WWII and are trying to recreate the exact conditions of Hitler's youth in order to produce a new Reichfurer.
Dandelion WineRay BradburyLiterary Fiction
I can't believe I'd never read this book or even heard of it. It's a loosely autobiographical coming-of-age book by the famous sci-fi writer. His ability to get inside the head of a pre-teen boy is astonishing. I am always amazed at the adult writers who can still remember what childhood was like, and make us remember too.
In the Bleak MidwinterJulia Spencer-FlemingMystery
This is a mystery set in a small New England town. Because it has the small-town setting, and was so well written, it's one of the books I'm holding up as a standard for my writing of the Anastasia Raven series. The protagonists are a female Episcopal priest, and the local police chief.
BushwhackGerald ChicaloAdventure
This is a strange book. It purports to be true, and I was willing to believe that part way through. But then I decided it has to be fiction. It first appeared in serial form on a hiking forum. Truth or fiction, it's a gripping tale of poor planning and bad decisions made on a hike through a remote section of the Canadian Pacific Northwest. Since I've seen people make equally poor decisions (fortunately, with less dire consequences), I couldn't put it down and stayed up all night reading.
The TestamentJohn GrishamLegal Thriller
This seems different from some of the other Grisham books. Basically, an elderly man, not a nice man, leaves all his money to an illegitimate daughter that the rest of the family has never heard of. A young lawyer is sent off to the jungle of South America to find her, as it is discovered she is a missionary. She refuses to have anything to do with the money, and the relatives are all contesting the will. The book is mostly about how it all affects Nate O'Reiley, the young lawyer. Plenty of food for thought.
There you have it! Maybe I'll have a more balanced diet of books in 2013. Or maybe not.

See Books and Trees for the best books of 2011
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Answers to Vocabulary Dec 2012

 
vocabularyI'll be doing two posts today so I can give these answers, and also post something new.

My new words this month and the multiple choices to guess are found at Vocabulary Day Dec 2012. There are also some great daffynitions from Chuck and Ann, you might want to check out.



1. berlin
b. a type of carriage- it was named for the city of Berlin where it was developed. It was an enclosed carriage with two seats and a hooded exterior seat at the back where the footman sat.

2. entrepot
c. a warehouse- a place where goods are stored, sometimes a duty free port
d. repartee are you thinking of entre nous?

3. bombazine
a. a twill fabric with a silk warp and wool weft- it was often made in black and used to make mourning clothes
d. a person who is too full of themselves you are probably thinking of a bombast

4. thalassocracy
b. a country that rules the sea (has naval supremacy)- from thalassa (Greek for sea) and kratein (to rule)

5. fustian
a. a strong fabric of cotton and linen
c. high-flown or affected writing
both of these are correct

6. polymath
d. one who has a wide range of knowledge- what we might call a Renaissance person

7. putative
a. belligerent are you thinking of pugilistic?
b. boating in small craft one sort of small boat is a punt
c. reputed- both words are from Latin putāre to think, consider, reckon,

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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Vocabulary Day

 
vocabulary Two months in a row! I really do want to do this monthly. I got on a kick of reading more books about the American Revolution this month. That necessarily results in finding some words that are descriptive of things no longer in common use. I'm not slinging all of those at you (just a few). You are welcome to guess the answers from the choices, or throw daffynitions into the comment box.

Here are some of this month's new or re-learned words:

1. berlin
a. a type of muffler
b. a type of carriage
c. a cold wizard
d. a fabric of wool and heavy cotton

2. entrepot
a. potpourri
b. a chamber pot
c. a warehouse
d. repartee

3. bombazine
a. a twill fabric with a silk warp and wool weft
b. a canister shell with exploding shot
c. the person who loaded the canisters with exploding shot
d. a person who is too full of themselves

4. thalassocracy
a. a government patterned after the Greeks
b. a country that rules the sea (has naval supremacy)
c. an undifferentiated government (absolute monarchy)
d. a compassionate government

5. fustian
a. a strong fabric of cotton and linen
b. one who fusses
c. high-flown or affected writing
d. the fuse of a cannon

6. polymath
a. quadratic equations
b. fuzzy logic
c. one who delivers cutting criticism
d. one who has a wide range of knowledge

7. putative
a. belligerent
b. boating in small craft
c. reputed
d. pouting


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Saturday, December 29, 2012

If It's Snow, It Must Be...

 
... snowshoeing.

Nothing very profound. I'm a little stiff from yesterday. But we got a little bit of fluffy snow on top of that crusty, icy base. So I had to go snowshoeing!

snowshoe tracks

See Snow- Yesterday and Today
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Friday, December 28, 2012

Mail Room

 
Today was my first work day at the Ludington Daily News mail room. Don't think mail. Think stuffing newspapers with all those advertising flyers you get every weekend.

mail room

Let's just say this is an amazing machine when it is working right. Today wasn't one of those days.

It can add up to 8 inserts to a paper. Actually, more, because if several have already been pre-bundled they can count as one.

We did about 10 different runs for different papers, with a total of about 13,000 papers stuffed with inserts for Saturday delivery.

The machine acted very very badly today, making everyone a bit nuts. They assured me it isn't usually like this.

It was interesting, and since it's all new and I am still learning things I didn't find it boring. However, 11.5 hours on my feet means I'm more than ready for bed.

Same time next week.

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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Fun Food

 
We did some fun food things today. If you've been on the internet at all this year you've seen variations on the first picture. I couldn't resist. I had to try it. It turned out to be pretty easy. I didn't work very hard to make it spectacular since it was just for us. However, it went together fast enough that I would consider doing one or two for a party.

Just FYI, it takes two whole bunches of broccoli to cover the cone. Om said, "too much broccoli!"

vegetable tree
We munched a fair amount of that, and then moved on to much less healthy stuff. This was our one Christmas dessert this year. Seriously, I didn't bake anything else for Christmas. However, we made up for the previous lack of decadence with these: mocha walnut cookies.

mocha walnut cookies

goat and ducksFinally, you might wonder what this picture has to do with food. I'm adding this to today's post, not to brag, but because one of the things I most enjoy doing at the end of each year is shopping the World Vision Gift Catalog. This year, I chose to give a goat and four ducks to some family, for high-protein eggs and milk. I just like the idea that I have some control over where my money is going. During the year I can think about and pray for "my" goat, and perhaps some child who is milking it. Maybe it will have babies to sell, or to begin a small herd. These gifts are a lot more personal than just throwing dollars into the great unknown.

There are lots of kinds of gifts one can give, for as little as $10, up to thousands of dollars. There are short videos at the site to show how the various kinds of gifts are used. If this appeals to you at all, I highly endorse World Vision. They also run a small business loan program, similar to Kiva.

See Two Chickens and a Goat
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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Buck and North Hills

 
I love it when I see a familiar place from a new perspective. Today I did that, and also learned something new. It was a work day, and I took a different north-south road than I usually do.

As I came over a hill on Yates Road in eastern Manistee County, this was the view to the north.

North Hills

I stopped and took a long view, and also zoomed in a bit. I thought I must be seeing Crystal Mountain, although the shape didn't seem quite right.

North Hills

Then I started to drive on, and came just a bit farther down the hill where the view opened up to the west. Wow! There was Crystal Mountain, no question.

Crystal Mountain

I was so surprised! I didn't know there was another lump of big hills up there. Turns out there are these two, plus another one even farther north, that roughly line the northwest side of the Betsie River. Crystal Mountain (a ski resort) is on the southernmost, called Buck Hills. The next one, the one I saw first is called North Hills, and the third one, not seen today, is the Turtle Lake Hill.

Remember, this is Michigan. These are not rocky hills, just some huge piles of sand the glaciers dumped and the wind sculpted before vegetation stabilized them.

None of these is a county high point. They just look impressive because they stick up from the surrounding area. Of course, I'm wondering if some of the North Hills is public land where one could explore.

See It's Winter Somewhere
See Explosion? Fire? Foggy Valley?
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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Strangest Christmas Ever

 
Although I know this won't seem like anything odd to most of you, it was so unusual for us that it has to be the topic of the day.

Om and I spent a very quiet Christmas with no one else. We stayed up late last night watching old TV shows (Alfred Hitchcock and Burns & Allen), then we slept in. I got a small jigsaw puzzle in my stocking, so I put that together while Om played on his computer.

Breakfast was red Texas grapefruit with maraschino cherries (a favorite fruit mix of Om's mom).

Steve actually called, and we talked for a while. But he has the flu so he feels awful and mostly wanted to go back to bed. Josh didn't show up at all. Om put some more ornaments on the tree. He's decided he's going to add some each day for the 12 days of Christmas.

I put Christmas music on all day. Since I haven't been doing this for the past month I wasn't jaded by it all, and it enhanced my holiday feelings.

Om got me a X-country ski ornament, and I got him an eagle.

ski ornamenteagle ornament

We had our big meal in the middle of the day. We just wanted to eat in sight of the tree, so set up a card table in the living room. We had pork chops baked in barbeque sauce, sweet potatoes and peas. Nothing fancy on purpose. Trying to keep the calories under control, and we did have some extra candy for the holiday. We were going to bake cookies, but didn't get around to it, and the candy satisfied our need for chocolate.

Can you tell who loves Christmas? The picture doesn't show the socks that go with this outfit.

Christmas dinner

Don't forget Miss Maggie Sweet Potato Pie. She got her Christmas meal too.

dog licking baking dish

I went out on the snowshoes for a short while. The snow wasn't great, but it was good to be out, and now I know how out of shape I am!

This evening we went to see the Hobbit. Classic Jackson Tolkien epic. I have to re-read the book immediately. I think they added a lot of extra swordplay and slashing and growling and stuff that isn't really what the story is about. They did include a lot of history from the Silmarillion. I'm fine with that.

We actually did a tiny splurge at the theater. We bought a small bag of popcorn with butter. It's been years since I've had theater popcorn. Very yummy and a wonderful treat.

I've done a lot of family posts this week. No particular reason... this blog is just potpourri- you get whatever happens to grab my attention. Tomorrow is a work day, so perhaps there will be something outside again. Who knows?

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Monday, December 24, 2012

Progress on Holiday Trappings

 
Anyone who has known us for very long will recognize this post as a monumental, fundamental, archival quality shift in a traditional event.

Om agreed to have a smaller tree this year.

I'll let the statement stand on its own two legs. Watch for the disclaimer at the end.

Christmas Tree on car

undecorated Christmas Tree
putting star on Christmas Tree

Christmas Tree
The disclaimer? He agreed to this on the promise that this doesn't commit us to having a small tree for the rest of our lives.

See Our Own Private Elf
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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Behold the Lamb of God

 
Not much Christmassy happening around our house. I'm a perpetual Scrooge, and Om can't lift much yet. With no one coming, neither one of us is very motivated.

But tonight we went to a production at a local church (Crossroads) of a musical program by Andrew Peterson called "Behold the Lamb of God."

Behold the Lamb of God

It was a combination of music, narration and media. It's hard to describe. The music was more modern than classical, yet there were several classical instruments. It wasn't rock or folk or traditional Christmas music. Om says he would call it "folk-country."

Behold the Lamb of God

At any rate, it tells the story of God's love beginning with Moses and moving through significant events of the Old Testament, and culminating in the birth of Jesus. With the exception of putting a different tune to "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks" all the words were original.

The subtitle is "The true tall tale of the coming of Christ." As with any unfamiliar musical production, I had some difficulty understanding some of the words, but the program gave the general idea of each song.

Behold the Lamb of God

If you think someone looks familiar, the pastor of this church is the same man who played Bob Wallace in White Christmas at the Ramsdell earlier this month. In fact, that's how I found out about this program, after we became Facebook friends. I seem to keep making an awful lot of connections for someone who is a self-proclaimed hermit.

It was really nice to enjoy a live Christmas program that also gives a bit of a different perspective on such a familiar story.

I am putting a lot more pictures on Facebook if anyone is interested. That way more of the cast can see them.

We nibbled a few cookies (safer than having dozens at home to eat and add pounds). We saw several friends that we don't run into very often (they had driven from other towns to see the program).

Altogether, an excellent Sunday before Christmas.

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Polka Dots and Stripes 3

 
Not much going on here today. I was working at the computer most of the day. Yesterday was Josh's birthday, but since we were doing 50 mph winds I didn't go out. Today, I took a little bit of cake over to him.

cake

He wasn't home, but I anticipated that and had it in a box I could leave on his porch. Also, his cake had coconut on it, but I made ours polka dotted.

The sun came out and made some nice striped shadows.

shadows

Nothing spectacular, but that's ok!

See Polka Dots and Stripes 2
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Friday, December 21, 2012

Sometimes It's the Little Problems...

 
Do you remember an un-named project I teased you with at First Skiing and ???? The wood sat untouched until today. Why?

I had bought a new sabre saw a while ago. OK, a long while ago, and hadn't needed to use it yet. But it's a requirement for this project. So I got it out of the box and discovered the blade was not installed. No screw to hold the blade in like old saws. No big deal, check the manual, right? Found the picture and the words for how to change the blade. Hmmm. It makes no sense and the picture looks like some sort of Picasso work.

I had to go to Lowe's a few days later. I talked myself into swallowing my pride and asking how to install the blade. Did I remember to take the saw? No. I asked the tool guy if he knew how to do it. They don't sell that model any more and said I should bring it in. Grrr.

Managed to get back to Lowe's a week later with the saw. Talked to Dave the tool man. Ha! He was stumped too! Now I definitely didn't feel so bad. He quit looking at the Picasso and began playing with the saw. It accidentally "opened" to allow the blade to be inserted. Success! He said he'd never seen one that worked that way. Me neither, for sure.

Hitachi sabre saw blade change

So, then I had a saw with a blade. However, I didn't seem to have any time. Until this afternoon, when I spent another hour or so working on this.

rails for snowshoe frame

rails for snowshoe frame

This is as far as I got. I'll let you guess this time, too. Next time I feature this, I'll tell you what's going on and then document the project through, step by step.

snowshoe building frame

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