Thursday, December 23, 2010

What a sentimental sap...

So, I was browsing around the movie channels this afternoon on this Christmas-eve eve, and I stopped on the last 45 minutes of the first installment of The Lord of the Rings. Now I am going to unabashedly and unapologetically claim to be an all things LotR fan. If it's got Tolkien, elves, dwarves, wizards, taverns & inns, etc... I'm all in it. The scene where Boromir dies... weeping. My son watches it with me every time, and is nearly as big a fan, but he was looking at me out the corner of his eyes as I wiped my eyes and sniffled my way through the scene... I cry at scenes that I've seen 100 times. I reread the first Harry Potter book... teared up at the end.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Mizzou has lost to Oklahoma the last 11 times, including twice in 2007 (the only two losses Missouri had in a year that featured a week at #1 in the polls and a trip to the Big 12 championship game). Last night's 36-27 victory finally exorcised that demon.

I have to be honest... I went to bed. After Oklahoma took the lead at 21-20 late in the 3rd quarter, and Missouri failed to do anything in the next drive; I figured "same *&#^ different year" and wasn't up for the disappointment. Again.

I'm glad I did and I wish I hadn't. Never mind, I DVR'ed it so I can watch and bask, safe in the knowledge that Mizzou finally looks like a team that belongs in the top tier; doing the things... playing defense, controlling the line of scrimmage, rushing the football; that top tier teams do. On to Nebraska... a team that after the last several years, Missouri no longer fears.

Could this be the year??

Sunday, October 17, 2010

My Annual Pilgrimage

Dauphin Island near Mobile Alabama. This shot comes from our beach walk taken in November 2009. I post this in anticipation of our upcoming trip. I hope to take ~10 high school biology students, along with ~20 8th grade gifted students to Dauphin Island Sea Lab. The Sea Lab offers classes (of which the beach walk & talk is one).

I LOVE this trip. I can't wait, and I eagerly anticipate it every year.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Ah... the 100 book challenge?

Remember back in, what was it?? January or so, I joined a book group on LibraryThing called the 100 Book Challenge in 2010. Wellll I'm here to report that I've SMASHED that goal of reading a 100 books! Actually I hit that tally better than a month ago... I'm up to 111 books and haven't read that much this month. My new goal is to read 150 books in 2010, certainly doable given that I'm rereading Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series and preparing to start Edgar Rice Burrough's John Carter of Mars series. Easy, quick reads all.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Matterhorn by Karl Merlantes

I cannot do a better review than this one for the novel Matterhorn by Karl Merlantes. All I can add is a few comments about a book destined to become a war classic:

1) the author manages to capture the fact that the entire USA managed to lose the Vietnam war. It wasn't solely the fault of the politicians, glory seeking ambitious officers, grunts in the field, or the protesters back home. The racial conflicts, the class conflicts, the indecisive political conflicts... all contributed to the unrest and unpopularity of the war. Merlantes describes all that.

2) War is full of injustices, and Merlantes spends quite a bit of time documenting those injustices... so much so that I quickly tired of it. Fighting in Vietnam was no different than fighting in Korea, or Guadalcanal, or Bastogne, at least for the foot soldier. Merlantes spends about half the book getting to that point.. but he DOES get there.

3) two small things really bothered me, and illustrates the absolute lunacy of war and those who attempt to wage it... first was the military policy on the scouts (recon soldiers using dogs); when the soldier rotated home, the dog was destroyed because they wouldn't or couldn't retrain the dog to work with another soldier... the scout in the book had reupped (volunteered for another 6 month tour) twice so that his dog wouldn't be killed. The second thing was that when a soldier was wounded and evacced to a hospital ship, he was basicly stolen blind. He had to PAY to get a new weapon(s) when he returned to his unit because the sailors on the damned hospital ship stole and sold his weapons.

There's not a lot of new information in this book about the conflict in Vietnam. I'm sure that in 20 or 30 years (maybe sooner) we will have similar books written about Iraq & Afghanistan.

Friday, July 2, 2010


I value family. It's one of my first and core values. So I suppose it's no surprise that I like the writing of Louis L'Amour. Nearly all of his westerns (and there's a bunch) place a priority on family.

Let's be clear... there's a big difference between family and family values. The phrase "family values" has been co-opted by certain groups to mean things very different than what I'm talking about.

Let's use L'Amour's Sackett family as an example. Traced through several hundred years and 17 books, nearly every book and member of the family reminisces about the previous generations and hardships they faced, and how the current family member would like to improve the lot of the overall family. Take Tyrel and Orrin Sackett in The Daybreakers. Brothers moving west in the years after the Civil War, settling in northern Arizona and one of their first priorities is sending for their mother and younger family members to set them up on a ranch. Or Tell Sackett in Mojave Crossing; where he crosses paths with another family member, Nolan Sackett, from a different branch of the family(Cumberland Gap vs. Clinch Mountain... fodder for another post). Tell and Nolan are ostensibly on different sides of the fight... but in the end find that blood truly is thicker than anything else.

In short, when faced with any kind of difficulty, the Sacketts could count on family members backing them up. Not all of the Sacketts were angels, nor always on the right side of the law, but generally they shared a certain rough morality of right and wrong.

That's my take, and this post went in a much different direction than I intended... I'll try again later to write what I actually meant to write.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Theme songs...

Every so often I'll drive my family crazy by playing favorite songs or clips of new artist obsession. This time it's Michael Franti's "Say Hey" as seen on Weeds: Season 5 Episode 1. Michael Franti is my new favorite musical artist.

2010 Six-month Reading Roundup

Through June 30th:

Books read to date: 66/125 (bumping my challenge to 125)
Male to female authors: 52/14 (I counted Diane and Michael Preston as female as her name was first)
Traditional Science Fiction: only 7?! (wow, not so many years ago that would have been a much higher number. I did not count the apocalyptic fiction books, though...)
Fantasy: 2 (not surprising..)
Non-traditional Science Fiction, i.e. Vampire books, Jasper Fforde, etc: 5
Apocalyptic fiction: 7 (I think... the boundaries are a bit blurred anymore. I counted The War of the Worlds as apocalyptic)
Non-fiction: 7/66
Character series books: Sookie Stackhouse (2), Travis McGee (8), Sackett (6), Flavia DeLuce (2), Lisbeth Salander (2), Last Survivers (3), Honor Harrington (1), Anna Pigeon (1), Meg Lanslow (1), Tess Monaghan (1), Agent Pendergast (1)
Rereads: only 2 (well except for all the Travis McGee and Louis L'Amour, but it's been 20+ years on those)

Most fun new series or character: Sookie Stackhouse written by Charlaine Harris; while not new at all (the first book, Dead Until Dark was written in 2001), Sookie is gaining in popularity thanks to Stephanie Meyer's Twilight books and movies focusing attention on the 'vampire' genre. Sookie is so much more likeable and fun than Bella, it's hard to understand why Ms. Harris isn't the multi-gazillionaire and Stephanie Meyer isn't... well anyway, these books ARE fun and readable. If you like them, try the HBO series True Blood.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

It's the end of the world as we know it...

Well, an asteroid hits the moon, knocking it into a closer orbit which in turn messes with the Earth's tides, climate and tectonics (lots of volcanic eruptions which also messes with the climate). A family in Pennsylvania (in the first book) and in New York City (in the second) learn to cope with the new post-apocalyptic world. This generally consists of less food, loss of services, uncertainty about family members not immediately local etc. The 'event' occurs in May and people spend a lot of the first summer waiting patiently for the government to put things right... and then in a panic when that doesn't happen. The first winter starts early and is brutal with many many people dying of starvation and disease.

The first two books tell essentially the same story from two different viewpoints through the first year, with the first being a better story and having more sympathetic characters. Book three brings the survivors of the two families together through the second year. I did not like the third book nearly as much, the main characters lost all the sympathy that you built up in the first two books by acting incredibly selfishly and... well, this isn't a spoiler post so I'll leave it at that.

All three books are a quick read and of course, required reading for post-apocalyptic fans.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Girls..tattoos..dragons..what's not to like?

This book has often been reviewed as very dark with explicit rape/torture scenes, poorly translated, jumpy narrative, etc.

I didn't find any of that to be true. Ok wait, the rape scenes were fairly explicit... but certainly not any worse than your fairly standard fare found in crime fiction published by several bestselling American authors (Coban, Patterson, Cornwell come to mind) or the details discussed and discovered in popular television programs like NCIS, Bones, and the various CSI series.

My feeling is that many of the reviews that I read (on LibraryThing and Amazon) suffer from a bit of prejudice... that a Swedish author could write such a good story with such compelling characters. While I didn't end up liking the main protagonist, Mikeal Blomkvist, very much at the end of the book... the girl with the dragon tattoo, Lisbeth Salander, was dynamite! I'll read the next two books just to find out more about her.

Lastly... the author, described as a radical, Nazi-hunting journalist with communist ties, died in 2004 at the relatively young age of 50. While the circumstances aren't terrifically suspicous (massive heart attack).. it does leave the door open for conspiracy enthusiasts, and has almost certainly contributed to the popularity of these books.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


And that's why we watch, folks! How exciting was that?? A goal in the 91st minute to take the US from not getting through to the next stage, to winning the pool!

edited to add ESPN snarky comment... ESPN had the soccer win as the lead story on their afternoon edition. Alexi Lalas (retired American soccer star) and some South African (retired soccer star) analyst talked with the ESPN analyst (who was obviously less than interested in soccer) for all of about 5 minutes. They showed some video... talked about it, and then cut to commercial. When they came back, the soccer guys were gone, and the ESPN announcer then spent the NEXT TWENTY FREAKIN MINUTES talking about the marathon Wimbledon match between two guys no ones ever heard of with video of point after point after point after point. Sure, that match broke (totally smashed) every tennis record for longest match ever. But it's only interesting in a kind of train-wreck fascination kind of way, and only one of the guys was American (Isner)... who came off as surly and pissed-off in his brief interview (opposed to Mahut who was gracious and excited to be part of something amazing). As of this morning (June 24) they still haven't resolved the match...

Give me the soccer story anytime and all the time. Thanks.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Things I like but not like me...

As I poke around the links to blogs that share interests with my own, I came across a few that are not remotely like me. For example, I clicked on the link to bloggers who also like to nature journal. Woooooo... lots of homeschool, religious types there. And while I am not opposed to homeschooling per se, nor am I opposed to religion (in small controlled doses), I cannot in good conscience suggest that I am in any way interested in those two subjects. But I do like to sketch, draw and write about the outdoors; taking notes while standing in the rain by a rocky outcrop was something I learned to do as a geology student. And I like it.

I've occasionally used this idea of writing and drawing about nature in my science classes... with mixed results. As one would expect, some students really enjoyed it and performed superbly, providing me with excellent examples of nature journaling. Others... not so much, even to the point of wondering what my 'agenda' was in promoting something so touchy-feely in a science class.
So it struck me as odd that something I enjoy is so often related to others things that I don't enjoy or care about.

Pictured is an example of a nature journal page found on this site:

Sunday, June 13, 2010

World Cup 2010

I didn't grow up playing soccer. My first exposure was in college on an intramural team... where it took about 10 seconds for me to realize that I knew absolutely nothing about the game. The St. Louis kids made it look so easy (at that time St. Louis was the soccer capital of the USA). My second exposure to 'big-time' soccer was during my NROTC cruise to Italy during the 1978 World Cup. Visiting Rome during one Saturday while Italy was playing, one could walk down a street and hear the game on every radio and TV in the city. And nobody on the streets or in the shops and markets.

Despite intense marketing and promotion, the game has never really caught on in the US. We cannot handle the long stretches where nothing much happens. A 0-0 game? Where's the fun and excitement in that? And... I confess that sometimes I watch and wish that something would happen. But the pure athleticism, the chess-like strategy, and the heart-pounding excitement when something DOES happen.... is unsurpassed. So I'll be watching this year, cheering when the USA ties England 1-1, grousing about yellow cards, or what should be yellow cards. And maybe dream of retiring to a place where soccer is a national passion.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

modern technology

Like this picture? Real time from South Pass Wyoming. I spent 3 summers knocking around out there ~25 years ago courtesy of the University of Missouri's 6-week geology field camp. This website has real-time webcams all over the state... fun to check in on occasionally and you often get reminded as to why few people actually live in some of these places. The one below is the same view on a 'normal' summer day.

To be fair, South Pass is at about 8000 feet of altitude. It's called South Pass because it passes just to the south of the Wind River mountains on the Oregon Trail. Off to the left in the pictures (you can't actually see them from the highway) are two mining ghost towns; South Pass City and Atlantic City. There are a few people who still live in these two towns, and a rather well-known saloon is a bit of a tourist attraction.

Friday, June 11, 2010


Who knew? Showtime series presents ... Weeds; five seasons of comedic drama based on surburban family (sans dead dad) in the pot-selling business. Hilarious in the beginning, becoming darker and deadlier later on. Strong language, sex, marijuana in all shapes and uses... pretty good show. I've watched all but the last few episodes of season 5 over the last 3-4 days. Kinda warped me I think. I like seasons 1-3 better than 4 & 5; less dark drama, more comedy. Season 6 starts this fall on Showtime... I'll be watching.

On to jollier things

Tired of naval gazing... soooo

I've been rereading John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee series, at least the ones I can find in the local library. I first read these stories when I was stationed on the USS Kitty Hawk CV-63. To fill the time between watches and ship's work, I hid out in the ship's library and grabbed the first few off of the paperback rack. I was hooked. Paperbacks make great time fillers while standing in line, of which there is a lot of on a large ship... waiting for chow, to get paid, to get a haircut etc.

I like and admire Travis's take on life, his philosophy, and his ability to find a way out of almost any problem he found himself in. I think there are worse role models. I'm probably going to get a tattoo of his houseboat on my back... right shoulder blade I think.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Catching up...

Spring has definitely sprung (80's tomorrow finally) and my reading pace is picking up. For some reason I always read more in warm weather, maybe it has to do with my being a teacher and having summers off? Not sure that's it since I seem to be just as busy with activities in the summer as any other time. Anyway here's an update on some of my reading... as always check the entire list to the left.

Butcher's Hill by Laura Lippman; third and best so far in the Tess Monaghan in Baltimore series; when I was young I lived in D.C. for a year and a half. My dad took me to several Baltimore Orioles games, back when they were very good (Frank & Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer etc) and playing in the old Memorial Stadium (right). Pictured above is Baltimore's "new" stadium: Oriole Park at Camden Yards which is one of the first "retro" stadiums built. I would very much like to see a game there.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe; liked this very much

The Cabinet of Curiosities by Douglas Preston; Agent Pendergast & The Museum of Natural History... very good

Friday, April 2, 2010

Smart is the new sexy?

God I hope so! I don't normally reflect much on my TV viewing habits... sports, favorite movies, and a few shows that I tend to watch over and over (Everybody Loves Raymond, NCIS) make up my television viewing. But the Big Bang Theory is one of the funniest (at least to me) shows on TV. I actually watch the current show on network TV which is something that I've NEVER done. I far prefer the daily repeats on USA or TBS. Granted I didn't actually START watching until season 3... but still.

What's the attraction? Physics for one. The main characters all work or teach in Caltech's department of physics. I teach high school physics. David Saltzberg, a real physicist, works as a consultant on the show and writes a blog discussing some of the actual physics that appears in each episode. Secondly, Kaley Cuoco. She's gorgeous, funny, & sweet. The very best scenes in the show are not between her and Leonard (her boyfriend), but between her and Sheldon. Finally, my son LOVES the show. My son is pretty smart, is kind of geeky, and I like that he can watch a popular show that says that it's ok to be smart and geeky.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Happy er.... New Year?

My 2010 (dosKX as my students put it) resolutions include reading 100 books (see here), completing Wood Badge (here), and losing a few pounds (as always). I don't get too ambitious about New Year's resolutions, recognizing that failure is not the end of the world.

My reading through January includes:

1) The Coral Thief by Rebecca Stott; received as an ARC.

2) Jubal Sackett by Louis L'Amour

3) Wicked by Gregory Maguire

4) Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam (I'm amazed that I had never heard of this guy until last summer)