Drinking Speeds

•January 27, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Have you ever thought about how long it takes you to drink something?  I have (hence this post)!

Obviously drinking speeds can be quite adjustable.  If you have a glass of water and are told to drink it as fast as possible you can probably put it back in very short order.  Also, with the same glass of water, you might be apt to drink it faster if you are thirsty having just come off some physical labor or exercises, versus if you just had a glass but didn’t feel any particular thirst.

But there is more.

Some drinks are generally deemed “sipping” drinks.  Hot beverages and wine are both great examples.  It isn’t that you can’t take a big ol’ gulp of coffee or merlot, it is more that that is just not the generally accepted proper way of drinking.  Hot beverages the sipping drinking is obviously a product of caution to avoid mouth burning.  For wine?  I imagine it is to encourage more awareness of the flavors and characteristics.  Sip drinking, I suspect, slows down the overall drinking speed.

Then there is also the situation of drinking, specifically socially or alone.  I suspect, quite unscientifically, that people drink beverages (whatever they may be) faster in social context than they do on their own.  Why?  Because taking a drink is an acceptable break in conversation and filler action while listening. Alone  one might be able to nurse a drink for quite a while, whereas in a group the act of drinking is kind of habitual and occurs with more frequency.

In regards to my own personal drinking speeds?  I very often feel thirsty and so drink water with a lot of frequency and quite quickly.  On the other hand, I often drink tea or coffee (predominantly decaf now) at work, and have found that, as a rule, it takes me about an hour to get through one mug-full. Obviously I could drink it faster, but because I am working and only take sips intermittently it seems like an hour is about the bare minimum amount of time I have to get through a cup of coffee or tea. I think I used to drink beer and mixed drinks a lot faster than I do now, but I also think that I used to drink them for different reasons (to get drunk versus to just enjoy a beverage).  Other drinks I seem to consume at various speeds.

So what does this all mean?  You got me, I really don’t know, just popped into my head.

Happy drinking folks!

That’s Witchcraft!: God Damn-it Math!

•January 16, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Sometimes even our mathematics is subject to the dark arts of warlockery. If we can’t trust our numbers what can we trust? . . . *sigh*

It’s Cold!

•January 7, 2014 • Leave a Comment

This morning the thermometer at my house read only 6 degrees F.  I was not pleased with this. In the six and a half years I’ve lived in South Carolina this is the coldest temperature I’ve seen.  I’ll be happy if it is another six and a half years (or more really) before this kind of cold comes around again.

I think it is safe to say that there are “cold” and “warm” people in the world.  For these people one temperature extreme is clearly less desirable than the other (they may not care about the opposite extreme too much either, but it is usually less of an annoyance).  I am very much a cold person, and tend to almost always be cold.  Even in the heat of summer I keep a sweatshirt in my office because the AC is too cold for me. Sure, I don’t love being sweat drenched in 100 degree temperatures either, but I’ll gladly take a hot day over a cold one any time.

When I say I am cold there is a certain sub-set of people who like to laugh and say “But aren’t you from Vermont?”  Why yes, yes I am . . . your point is?  OH! . . . Hahaha! I see now, you think, just because I came from a northern state live Vermont, which is known for some real cold weather, that I must be totally cool with the cold? How silly of me! . . . and now I’m scowling at you.  Look, just because I was born and raised in a state that can experience wretched winter weather doesn’t mean I like the cold . . . at all.  Why do you think I’ve stayed in South Carolina so long (well besides because of my wife and job and all that stuff)?  It’s because it is warmer (and the wife and job and all that too, obviously)! Regardless of how much else I love about Vermont, and New England in general (went to college in the mountains in New Hampshire), I hate hate hated the cold winters.  So yes, it is generally less cold here in South Carolina, but it is still “cold” and I still dislike “cold” regardless of my previous habitation of even colder localities.

And for what it is worth, 6 degrees F is not the coldest I’ve ever encountered. In Vermont and New Hampshire I feel pretty safe saying I encountered at least a few days in the negative double digits F, add in wind chill, and it was real real nasty cold.

For everybody in colder places than South Carolina today . . . I’m sorry, cold weather really sucks.  I hope you can wrap up in some warm blankets  and sit by a fire or something.

Stay warm folks, its nasty out there.

And Now its 2014

•January 2, 2014 • Leave a Comment

. . .Isn’t that nice?

I’ve never been big on the whole “New Year’s Resolution” thing, in part, because if I do not succeed, it just makes me feel like crap, and I don’t like feeling like crap.  The only thing I resolve to do this year then, is to turn 30, which will happen no matter what unless for some reason I cease to exist before the beginning of June (consequently I should maybe also resolve to “continue to exist, at least through June”).

Anything else?  Not really . . . I don’t care for January much because its still cold and dark (though slightly less dark than December).  So that is all I’ve got for now.

Until later.

Favorite Gifts of Christmas 2013

•December 30, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Howdy!  I’ve been absent for a bit, mostly because of the holiday season and having a lot of other stuff going on, but also just because I haven’t thought of anything to write for the past couple of weeks.  But I am back now, and thinking of several posts.  Only one day (besides today) left in 2013, and then another year is all wrapped up and packed away somewhere in memory lane. That’s cool.

Anyways, coming off of Christmas I thought I’d share some of my favorite gifts I got this year.  Before I start a few house keeping things about gifts.  First is that this isn’t a listing of what I liked versus what I didn’t like (where what I didn’t like isn’t listed), in part because I honestly feel like I appreciate and enjoy any gifts I get, always.  Eliza made a comment to me over the past week that I am, in her opinion, one of the easiest people to shop for gifts for, because I enjoy anything I get.  I appreciate that.  I like the thought of being easy.  I suspect a big part of it is that I really take the whole sense of what gift giving is to heart.  Gift giving is a very personal thing that says a lot about both the gift giver and the gift receiver.  I like being receptive to people, and so regardless of what I may be gifted, I find pleasure in the intimacy of what the gift giving entails and what the gift is itself. So yeah, I like any and all gifts and everything that I got this year was great (and what is below are just a few things that really stood out to me).

Secondly, for simplifying purposes I would like to lump my gifts into a few categories, which are Food/Beverages, Home Goods, Clothing, Books, and Miscellaneous (note: when I was younger I also had a category for “Toys” but now those kind of objects, of which I tend to get quite a bit less, generally fall into the “Misc.” category).

So here we go:

Food/Beverages

Food and beverage gifts are pretty commonplace for me in recent years, in part, I suspect, because I usually indicate that I do not need much more “stuff” in my life (I still like getting “stuff” and always do get some “stuff” I just never really need much of it). Also I love foods and beverages of pretty much all kinds.

Favorites from this year?  First are the homemade/handmade candies from my sister-in-law Lynne, which are just lovely and delicious and kind of that perfect mix of personal and homemade that really make for some of the best gifts I can think of getting.

Secondly was booze, of which I received a good variety this year.  I am a beverage person meaning that I really like to drink all sorts of stuff, both boozy and non-boozy.  Receiving some nice liquors or wines or beers as a gift always excites me, not because I’m a lush (I’m really not, I assure you), but because I enjoy the experience of getting to try and share these beverages.  Over the past several years I’ve been given the gift of some sort of alcohol annually, which is great for new beverage experience.  I still have several bottles of liquor from Christmases past (because I am not a lush and it takes time to get through whole bottles of liquor).  So this year’s exciting booze?  A few bottles of beer from Vermont which magically materialized here (they definitely were not shipped, because that would be illegal and wrong right?).  I love getting beer from my home state in part because they were some of the first beers I started to drink once I was old enough to do so, but also because they often are not available in SC.  Additionally, Eliza gave me two bottles of sake (and a sake serving set).  I’ve really come to love sake in recent years, so looking forward to trying these.  She also gave me a bottle of brandy, which, I am not ashamed to admit, is the liquor I am least knowledgeable about, and so was really excited to try it out too (we’ve discovered that it is superior to either rum or bourbon when it comes to making tasty eggnog).  Finally my mother-in-law gave me a bottle of Ricard pastis, and anise flavored aperitif liquor from France (the brandy was also from France).  I love all anise flavored aperitif liquors, and was almost out of my ouzo and absinthe and so quite excited for a new one.

Beyond that I got a ton of candy, which is awesome, because while I am not a lush, I am a huge sugar junky, and pretty much always want candy.

Home Goods

A category that has grown in relevance as I’ve grown older.  These tend to be practical gifts for around the house.  Interestingly, the two that stand out to me a lot this year, are both beverage based home goods (in addition to the sake set) – like I said, I really really like beverages of all kinds.

Eliza’s dad and step-mother gave me an awesome high quality ceramic growler from the Portland Growler Company. It’s super bad-ass and hefty and all around just awesome. I’d been wanting a heavy duty growler for awhile and so this was perfect.

Next was a porcelain French press coffee brewer from Eliza.  While I have significantly reduced my coffee drinking of late, in an effort to lower my caffeine intake (an effort I feel I’ve been hugely successful with fyi), I still enjoy a cup of coffee on a regular basis.  I have a nice drip coffee maker that I use all the time, but I’ve long loved the kind of simple quality of a French press, and have wanted one for years.  The one I got is a perfect size for making two mugs worth of coffee at a time (which, if I drink it in the morning, is about how much I want).  Additionally, French presses are great for use for loose leaf tea, and I love tea as much, of not more, than coffee, so it is a nicely multipurpose gift (it could also be used as a nice pitcher for milk or some other beverage if I desired).  Add this to the Sake set, a new water bottle, and a mix of other glassware Eliza and her mom gave me (we were needing some new glasses) and I am like totally set for beverage consumption in 2014 (except for orange juice – I hate orange juice thus none of my beverage consuming vessels shall be used for it).

I also got a lot (like a lot a lot) of nice bars of soap.  This may seem like a funny thing for a nearly 30 year old male to be excited about (its been pointed out to me several times recently), but you know, I don’t care, I like nice soaps.  They are like a simple and easy luxury in life and with a wide variety of artisan soap available it is a luxury I am happy to pursue.  I guess I voiced my feeling that our soap supply was lacking in the house, because now we have lots and lots of soap.

Finally, Eliza’s grandmother gave us a really nice and powerful LED lantern.  This was a gift I hadn’t expected, but was really excited to get.  I’d just recently thought how the only flashlights we have in the house are tiny and scattered and really wouldn’t serve well in an extended blackout. This will solve that issue, as well as come in handy in a number of other uses.

Clothing

Like home goods, the clothing category is one that I have become more and more fond of as I get older.  I got a good variety of shirts this year, which is good because I always feel like I could use some.

The clothing items that particularly stand out to me this year are a nice hat and scarf from Eliza’s mom and step-dad.  I love both hats and scarfs and hadn’t had any new  ones of either for some time.  The scarf is from Paris, with paried with the brandy and the pastis and the French press made this a particularly French feeling Christmas (I’m totally cool with that).

I also really dig the t-shirt my parents gave me (a shirt about hops – thus another beverage thing) and the strange but awesomely stylish purple polyester jacket Eliza found me at a thrift store.  I feel like I will be well dressed going into 2014.

Books

Didn’t get as many books this year as in the past, which is probably a good thing because I don’t even have room for all the books I already have.  I did get a few though (which is great because I do like books . . . books are good).

Favorite this year?  Probably the awesome Time-Life German cooking book from the 70s that Eliza got me.  Really I just want to cook all the German food now, which means I need to stock up on bacon because literally every recipe in that book calls for bacon. Also, I feel like I need to call all the dishes by their awesome sounding multi-syllabic German names.

Miscellaneous 

Didn’t get a ton of miscellaneous stuff for Christmas this year which, like books, is probably a good thing, because space is tight as it is.  Of what I did get I really likes the puzzle orb my mother-in-law gave me, as well as the antique blue glass hen egg holder (such a weird thing, you have to see it to understand it) also from my mother-in-law, the picnic basket from Eliza, and the Moxie sign from my parents (more beverages folks).

 

Anyways, it was a really great and generous Christmas this year.  Again, I fully enjoyed and appreciated everything that I got (even if not mentioned here) and look forward to having these gifts in my life. So thanks to all of you. I hope in turn that the gifts I gave appeal to those whom I gave them to.  So, happy merry Christmassy holidaying times everybody.

See you in 2014.

That’s Witchcraft!: The Cubli

•December 20, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Ahh the Cubli, a magic . . . or perhaps demonic . . . cube that can balance itself on its sides and corners.  Oh, it can stand itself up too?  Isn’t that cute.  I am pretty sure that this is just some version of the puzzle box from Hellraiser.  Whatever it is, and regardless of the techno-babble in the below video, it is undoubtedly a product of the dark arts.

Signs of the Apocalypse: A More Mega Megavolcano

•December 13, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Good news everybody! Scientists have recently announced that the giant magma caldera beneath Yellowstone National Park is a bit bigger than previously thought . . . and by “a bit” they mean approximately 250% bigger.  How fun!  Add to that, that considering past eruptions of the megavolcano, we are likely in the geological time frame of another eruption, and it is like the most apocalyptic Christmas present this year.

In all seriousness, I file the eventual eruption of the Yellowstone caldera as a “real apocalyptic event.” The effects of an eruption of that volcano would cause some devastating effects to the world as a whole and to the United States specifically.  world climates would be effected for years.  Ash from the eruption would ground all flights across the globe. Ash fall would likely wipe out the agricultural functions of the vast majority of the Midwest.  Very likely millions of people will die. All around it is kind of a bad deal.

So yeah . . . there’s a sign of apocalypse for you.

10 Books That Have Stayed With Me

•December 12, 2013 • Leave a Comment

A friend and co-worker of mine shared the following with me on Facebook recently:

“Here’s another game of tag: Rules: In your status line, list 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes and don’t think too hard–they don’t have to be the “right” or great works, just the ones that have touched you. Tag 10 friends, including me, so I will see your list.”

Consider this post an “ignoring the rules” kind of thing.

I like this question a lot, but I’m a thinker, I really hate “Here, do this on the spot!” So I am ignoring the “don’t take more than a few minutes” part in the game, and taking my time and offering some reasons behind each entry.  Additional, I am going to try to provide some order to them (though I’ll admit that won’t be perfect probably). Considering the list selections below, my personal criteria for choices, beyond the above question, is that 1. I’ve read each more than once (and several more than twice or thrice) and 2. that I regularly talk about or think about these books in the context of reading in general. So, here we go, starting at #10:

10). A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

While neither the first book I read by Bryson (that was A Walk in the Woods) nor the most “WOW!” inducing book of science I have ever read (not certain on what that one is, possibly either A Brief History of Time  or Dark Banquet but not certain on either, or possibly some other altogether), A Short History of Nearly Everything nonetheless has a staying power with me.  A big part of it I think, is that Bryson’s desire to understand things, his seeming insatiable curiosity (a trait that is apparent in almost all his books) reminds me a lot about myself.  This book explores a ton of questions about how we know what we know about the world.  It is a fantastic primer on science history and theory in general, but furthermore, it is an accessible and easy read. Never pretentious or vain, Bryson successfully invites the reader to partake in the wonder of our understanding of the world.  And it works!  I recommend this book to people all the time, and when I speak to others who have read it themselves, they often have a similar response as I do.

9). Theory of Religion by Georges Bataille

During my undergrad studies in college I pursued a minor degree in Philosophy which means I had a chance to read a lot of philosophical works of various degrees and on various subjects.  I would say that a vast number of these works have had important influences on my life, but none so more than Bataille’s Theory of Religion. Georges Bataille is a little remembered French philosopher and author from the WWII and post war era in France.  His works cover a wide range of topics from economics to human sexuality.  They are often daunting and thick reads, require slow contemplation and repeated rereads to really pull out the threads of what he’s discussing.  As someone who has self-identified as an atheist and agnostic for the past decade or so Theory of Religion has provided me with the most complete set of tools for thinking about humans religosity and acts of the “sacred” and “divine.” Simply put, I find it a continually fascinating read. As is the case with probably all of Bataille’s works, this can be very polarizing material, where some folks (myself included obviously) really love it, while others revile it and think of it as trash.

8). ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

As folks who’ve read this blog or know me pretty well, are probably aware, I’m a big fan of Stephen King.  If asked, “Who is your favorite fiction writer?” I’d be very likely to say “Stephen King” (though depending on my mood I think that Philip Pullman – see below – or Iain M. Banks could be occasionally cited).  ‘Salem’s Lot was not the first book by Stephen King that I ever read ( I think it was The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon but I might have read The Shining before that), in fact I don’t even think it was in the fist ten of his books I read, but it is, my favorite of his (The Shining, fyi, is a real close second place).  A big part of it, I think, is that I really think ‘Salem’s Lot is scary.  I know the assumption about Stephen King is that most of his books are “scary,” and certainly to a degree a lot of his works do have frightening bits, but overall, most of his stories have never really significantly scared me.  But ‘Salem’s Lot does, and still does (having just read it again a few months back).  Additionally, I feel that ‘Salem’s Lot is second only to Stoker’s Dracula for contention for the title of “best vampire story.” Over the past several decades I feel like Vampires have gone through some serious de-fanging (pun entirely intended) and really just lack the monstrous qualities that I find appealing about them.  Not so with ‘Salem’s Lot (which admittedly, having been published in 1975, was a bit before this “de-fangathon”).  Hands down the vampires in this story are still tried and true monsters worthy of fear.  Add to that the nightmares of pale skinned floating kids tapping on bedroom windows at night, and you’ve got yourself a wonderful piece of horror.  As a note, which can probably be said of a lot of King’s works as they take on age, ‘Salem’s Lot can sometimes feel a bit dated at times while you read it.  I think this is in part because King, as an author, is so conscientious of popular culture and the general zeitgeist of the time periods in which he writes.  If you just remind yourself that the story is supposed to take place in the ’70s, it is not nearly as big a deal.

7). Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

So, initially I had this slot slated from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, (which is a wonderful and worthy book in many regards, and were this list extended to 20 books, would definitely make the cut), but really, if I’m to include a 19th century piece of literature on this list (which I really wanted to) then Frankenstein has to take the mark. I think, that very likely, Frankenstein was the first “required reading” book I read at school and walked away from thinking “I love this book! This is what good literature is!”  I am not even really sure why that was, but I do recall, reading it in 10th grade, and just being amazed at how much I enjoyed it.  It didn’t even feel like work to read it (how novel for a 10th grader who, I’ll admit, had a lot more on his pubescent mind than reading homework – and this from a teenager who generally loved to read).  Fankenstein had such an impact on me as a high school student that I willingly re-read it again two years later, as a senior, to write my Finals Term Paper.  Additionally, it was through having a conversation about the book with a professor at Plymouth University on a college visit, and being presented with a copy during that discussion, that I both chose where I wanted to go to school for undergraduate studies and determined what major area of study I wanted to pursue (English).  Since high school I’ve re-read Frankenstein at least three more times (and was just recently thinking of picking it up again).  I’ve enjoyed it just as much each time.  Really it is simply a fantastic book and one that’ll always have a place in my heart.

6). Dune by Frank Herbert

I really enjoy Science Fiction (and Fantasy, see below) and really could pretty easily make a list of the “10 Science Fiction Books that Have Stayed With Me” but Dune has long been my favorite.  I’m not entirely sure why this is, but I think that it really just has a lot going for it.  There is incredible world building. There is strange cultures and technology. It deals with grand scales of space and time (it feels “big”). And finally, like I think most good sci-fi does, it challenges the reader to look at the real world in different way.  There is a lot going on in the story, but essentially it is a kind of socio-political commentary, as well as a consideration of the power and influence of “faith” on people.  In the realm of sci-fi Dune is definitely not “hard sci-fi” and is, at times, almost more similar, thematically, to a lot of fantasy novels. At times, on more recent re-reads, a lot about Dune has felt kind of underwhelming or predicable (and not just because I’ve read it several times before) but then I have to remind myself, that a big part of that is because Dune has so heavily influenced the genres of science fiction and fantasy, and a lot of what it does has become a mainstay of the genres. That realization adds to my love of it.  I’ll note here, that a close second for this slot (and another that would show up in a list of 20 books) would be Isaac Asimov’s Foundation.

5). The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

In some ways I can contrast my reasons for including The Sun Also Rises on this list with my reasons for including Frankenstein. Whereas Frankenstein makes the cut because I immediately loved it, The Sun Also Rises is here because, at first, I absolutely hated it. The Sun Also Rises was another “required reading” book in high school (I believe for 11th grade English).  I read it (well at least mostly) and hated every second of it.  I just didn’t get it.  What the hell was I supposed to like about this book about a bunch of arrogant self-absorbed lushes in France in the 1920s, bitching and moaning about their lives, while progressively getting tanked on wines and other kinds of booze that I knew very little about?  And then their was Hemingway’s famously minimalist writing style.  It just seemed empty and void and nihilistic and I could not understand, for the life of me, why this book would be worth reading, ever.  All and all I felt bitter towards it and Mr. Hemingway, and decided then and there that I was done with the both of them.  I was, however, wrong about that.  Some years later, while in college (either as a Junior or a Senior, I can’t remember now), having been deeply immersed in an English degree and having read a ton more books and learned a lot more about writing in general, I was working at the school library during winter break (I’d opted to stay on campus that winter).  Being winter break the library was quite quiet and so really I just had a good bit of time to get some leisure reading in (something that was a real pleasure in the literature heavy degree of study, which while it provided for tons of reading, little of it was “for leisure”).  There was a display in the front of the library at the time of the 100 Best English Language Novels of all Time (based on this list, which I think is actually an update of the initial list, but the important thing is that The Sun Also Rises is on it).  I’d taken the time to read one or two books from the list (Watchmen and Lolita) just because it felt like a good way to read some reputedly “great” books.  One day, while working the desk, one of my professors came into the library, and after browsing the display for a bit came over to me with a book in his hand.  He dropped it on the desk in front of me and said “Have you read this?”  I looked at the title, and as you might have guessed, it was The Sun Also Rises. “Yes,” I said, with no enthusiasm. “I didn’t like it at all.” My professor raised an eyebrow at this, “Really?” he asked. “Yeah, I thought it sucked.” This made him laugh and then he said “I dare you to read it again and see if you still feel that way.” You see, this professor had my number down pretty well.  For one thing, he knew that I wasn’t somebody to pass up a challenge like that, but for another thing, I think he knew more about me as a reader than I knew about myself at that moment.  I took his challenge and less than 24 hours later had re-read The Sun Also Rises and walked away from it with an entirely new opinion.  This book didn’t suck at all.  In fact, low and behold, it was amazing.  The writing style was ingenious.  The characters and plot were far more complex than I’d originally thought.  Simply put it was a fantastic book.  I later talked to the professor about it, and asked, “Why?  Why was it so good this time?” and he answered “Because you’re a better reader now.”  And that is why The Sun Also Rises makes this list.

4). Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

I first read the the William Shakespeare play Julius Caesar in 10th grade in high school (the same year I read Frankenstein).  Previously I had only read one other Shakespeare play, that being Romeo and Juliet in 9th grade, which I was less than amused with (I think I really just found it boring).  My reading of Romeo and Juliet hadn’t really made me view Shakespeare too negatively, but neither had it really enforced any enthusiasm for the Bard’s works.  Overall I think I was kind of stuck with the general young teenage stereotype that Shakespeare plays used a lot of “thees” and “thous” and were just kind of dull.  Julius Caesar changed my mind about that.  Here was a complex political drama about one of Rome’s most famous citizens.  Here was conspiracy and warfare and grandiose dialogues inflaming the masses.  It was intense and moving and oh so powerful.  It was brutal.  I loved it. And from there fourth I have been a huge Shakespeare fan, at this point having read at least half of his plays (re-reading Julius Caesar at least twice since).  Shakespeare is still taught, hundreds of years after his life, and that reason is simply that his works are really good and have amazing lasting potential.

3). The House with the Clocks in Its Walls by John Bellairs

This book was the first book that ever scared me.  Admittedly, my first encounter was not my own reading, but instead was my father reading it to me.  I don’t remember how old I was at the time, though I am pretty sure I was still in elementary school.  And while I found The House with the Clocks in Its Walls to be suspenseful and often terrifying, I also found it exhilarating.  I fell in love with John Belllairs’ books (and the Edward Gorey illustrations that accompanied them) and proceeded to read pretty much everything he wrote.  Additional, John Bellairs was the first author whom I felt real heartache about learning he had died and would no longer writer any more books (a heartache that has been repeated with the death of many other authors since). The House with the Clocks in its Walls was my first delve into the genre of horror fiction, which has been a favorite ever since (see ‘Salems’ Lot and Frankenstein above).  I’ve re-read several of Bellairs’ stories in the years since my youth, and while it is clear that they are intended as childrens/YA books I’ve continually found myself impressed with just how creepy and scary they can really be.

2).  The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

I suspect that this book (or The Lord of the Rings trilogy) is apt to find itself somewhere on a lot lists like this one by other folks.  I think this because The Hobbit is simply that good and that influential (and hey, the next movie is coming out tomorrow, so there’s some lasting power for you). Here is my story why The Hobbit makes my list (and additionally ranks so high on it).  Prior to reading The Hobbit I liked reading okay, and definitely enjoyed it when my dad read books to me, but I wouldn’t have called myself an enthusiastic reader.  More often I read because I had to in school or because I had nothing better to do, but rarely was it because I just wanted to read and take pleasure in the act of reading.  The Hobbit changed all that.  A friend of mine lent me borrow his copy early on in 5th grade and told me I should read it, saying that it was “the best book ever!” I think at first I was skeptical because again, reading wasn’t really my big thing yet.  But I thought I’d give it a try.  My dad seconded that it was a great book, so that added to my interest a good bit (my dad has always played an influential role in my reading habits).  So I sat myself down with it and began reading. And then kept reading. And then read some more.  In fact, I think it became hard to pry the book from my hands.  And when I was done I immediately asked “what next?”  The flood gates had broken, I’d become a reader, and have been an avid one ever since. I sometimes think that it is likely I would have gotten to that point eventually, even without The Hobbit, but really the point is moot.  Hands down The Hobbit, more so than any other book, was the one that made me fall in love with reading. And it is a beautiful story!  Every time I re-read it I am just moved by how enjoyable and perfect a story it is.  I love The Lord of the Rings trilogy too, but at the end of the day I think The Hobbit is the far superior story.  It is an adventure and fantasy of a wonderful degree, and it, like the trilogy that followed has become an absolute pillar of the entire genre of fantasy.  A lovely wonderful read which I will pick up many times again in the future.

1). His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

Okay, I will admit that this number one slot is cheating a bit, because it is essentially three books (The Golden Compass – called Northern Lights in the UK fyi -, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass), but seeing as, since they’ve all been published, I always read them together in a whole single read, I feel okay with this lumping.  I am not sure how many times I have read them (obviously I’ve read The Golden Compass the most, as it was the first book published) but the answer is a lot.  In fact I think I have periodically re-read them about every other year for the past decade.  They are not just my most lasting books, but they are my favorite.  I love them more than  anything else I’ve ever read (and suspect I ever will read).  I can’t entirely pin down what it is about them.  They are fantasies and adventures and I’ve read plenty of others of those over the years.  They are at times somewhat predictable and typical of YA books.  In fact, in some regards, I think they are easy to overlook in regards to other YA fantasy novels (the Harry Potter books certainly overshadowed them) but to me they are perfect.  The world building, the sense of wonder, the suspense,  . . . just Everything! They work for me, and move me, and really hit the mark as the perfect books in my opinion.  I’m well aware that their subject matter has been polarizing (but seriously, find my a book that hasn’t been so) and also that some folks just don’t care for them all that much, but my point in writing this list was never defining an absolute for anybody else.  They are my number one, and I feel nothing but happiness at putting them in that spot.

Alright, so this is a hefty post, but damn if it wasn’t fun to write (I hope you who read it enjoy it too).  A few little Q&A things before I wrap it all up (because, hell, why not).

  • Q: How do you re-read books?  I can never do that. A: I guess it’s not for everybody, but the way I see it it is kind of like re-watching a movie you’ve seen before (which is also not for everybody).  I have a lot of books I have enjoyed a lot, and so want to visit them again.  I’ve also re-read a lot of books that I didn’t enjoy too much the first time, but decided to give them a second chance (see The Sun Also Rises above as a good example).
  • Q: Are these all the books you’ve ever re-read?  If not, what are the others? A: Hahaha . . . not by a long shot, and while I’d love to share more, I think that that list would likely constitute its own books worth material.
  • Q: I can’t believe you have “_______” on your list.  That book sucks. A: Well, for starters that is not really a question, but I think I might still be able to field it.  You see, the wonderful thing about reading is that we each have a right and ability to choose for ourselves what we like and what we don’t like.  I have no doubts that there are folks who dislike every book on my list.  I have no doubts that I’d dislike many books on other people’s lists.  But in the end that is okay.  We are free to enjoy and take pleasure from what we will, and that is a good thing.
  • Q: I can’t believe you left “_______” off your list! A: Again, not a question, and again, kind of the same as above.
  • Q: Are there other books that are close to being on this list? A: Lots! I mentioned both The Brothers Karamazov and Foundation above as two real close calls.  Just off the top of my head I suspect that Moby DickHamlet, and Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series would all find a place on a list of 20 books.  There are more, and apt to be others in the future.  I suspect my recent reads of both some of Iain M. Banks’ Culture series and John Crowley’s Little, Big will have some major staying power with me in the years to come.  But, like the above question, I could really write a whole book itself in regards to the initial question, so for here I’ll keep it to 10.

Anyways, like I said before, this was a ton of fun.  I really enjoy thinking and writing about books that I have loved, and hope that maybe this post will encourage some people to pick a few of them up and give them a try themselves.

Peace

~Nathaniel

Signs of the Apocalype: Ceased Sriracha Shipments

•December 12, 2013 • 1 Comment

New rules in the state of California are apt to cause a shortage of Huy Fong’s famed Sriracha hot sauce in the near future.  I foresee hot sauce riots and looting soon to follow.  Stock up folks while you can, or you might find your meals lacking that lovely kick you’ve come to praise (fortunately Tabasco Sauce production seems to be moving along as per normal).

Let’s Talk About Radishes for a Sec

•December 5, 2013 • 1 Comment

I like radishes a lot.  I’ve like radishes for about as long as I can remember.  Honestly, I think it might be partially genetic, as I remember my grandfather really liking them too.  They’re crisp and often spicy and really just make for a great snacking vegetable. As such they are a common staple in my spring and winter gardens.

That being said, I think that radishes, at least in the United States, tend to be an under appreciated vegetable.  I say this for a number of reasons.  First off, most people, when they hear radish, tend to think of the simple round red grocery story variety even though there is quite a diversity of kinds, coming in a good number of different shapes, sizes, and colors. Secondly, and perhaps more unfortunately, radishes often tend to be regulated to use as just a fresh salad vegetable (which is a perfectly fine use in itself), neglecting all the other culinary potential. Finally, there is the whole spice thing.  Radishes are a Brassica and like many other vegetables in the family can, but don’t always, pack a nice punch (the spiciness of Brassicas like radishes, mustards, and horseradish is due to the chemical allyl isothiocyanate found in mustard oils), and some folks are really not into that.

All of this is too bad, because really radishes can be quite fun. They are quite an easy vegetable to grow.  There diversity of form can make for some colorful and interesting garden patches.  For eating, beyond fresh or in a salad, you can sauté them with a bit of butter to nice effect, or roast them with other root vegetables.  Also, they make an awesome addition to kraut or kimchi fermentation.  Depending on variety and age of the root, one can avoid the worst effects of their spiciness (older roots get spicier and spicier.  Daikons, the Asian large long white radishes, tend to be less pungent in general).  Oh yeah and you can eat the seed pods too, kind of like funky little spicy pea pods (see rattail radish).

So give the radish a chance.  I think you might find something you enjoy.

Large radish

A large elongated radish I picked from our winter garden this morning. At this size it was getting pretty spicy, but was still crisp and edible (much larger and the root would be beginning to get woody and tough)