Friday, November 18, 2016

Two More Book Reports

Wisp of a Thing, by Alex Bledsoe.

Alex Bledsoe is one of my favorite relatively new authors.  His books are well written, smart, easy reads and just a ton of fun.  I've especially like his Eddie LaCrosse novels.  Swords & Sorcery noir.  I recently found his first Tufa novel, The Hum and the Shiver.  A cool take on urban fantasy, only not so much urban as back woods redneck.  He is an author that when I see a book of his at the library that I have not yet read, I will always check it out.

So when I heard Alex Bledsoe would be at the Brown County library, I had to go.  I bought the second Tufa novel, Wisp of a Thing and he signed it for me.  Mr. Bledsoe was a really nice guy.  It was cool to meet him.

He assures me the Tufa novels can be read in any order (like the Eddie LaCrosse novels).  After reading Wisp of a Thing, I'm glad I read The Hum and the Shiver first, just because the tension in Hum & Shiver is built around a mystery of who the Tufa are.  Some of that mystery might have been lost had I read Wisp first.

But I definitely recommend reading Wisp of a Thing.  After a personal tragedy, a young man named Rob Quillen is led by a vision of sorts to Cloud County Tennessee.  There he is swept up into a tragedy precipitated by Rockhouse Hicks, leader of one Tufa clan, upon a poor wisp of a thing.  The story is replete with interesting insights into right and wrong and the nature of fate.  And it's also just a really neat story with rich characters and exciting conflicts that you don't have to think too deeply about to enjoy.


Reaper Man, by Terry Pratchett.

It's been a while since I've read a Terry Pratchett novel.  But I found one at the library the other day that I hadn't read yet so I grabbed it.  It reminded me again why I absolutely adore Terry Pratchett so much.  Easy read, thought provoking, well written and incredibly funny.

I have to admit, though, this one is not so overtly hilarious as some of his other books.  It actually tackles a somber topic.  Death.  Death is a somewhat recurrant theme in several of his books.  DEATH being a recurring character, there are plenty of opportunities to see death through a variety of perspectives.  This book differs in that it is actually about the subject.

The Fates (or somebody) decides that DEATH has done a great job, but it's time for him to retire.  They gift him his own gold retirement pocket hourglass and let him go.  So DEATH learns what it means to have time, spend time, waste time, borrow time and ultimately gains a deeper appreciation for what it means when your time is up.

Meanwhile, while the new DEATH anthropomorphizes (or whatever) there is an awful lot of life force hanging around not dying.  It all gets channelled into something preying on the city of Ankh-Morpork, which finds itself quickly running out of time.

Or maybe the book is not so much about death as it is about how the spectre of death helps us (or should help) to appreciate our time in life while we have it.  There are some really touching moments in the book, made all the more poignant given Terry Pratchett's own death just over a year ago.

So there it is.  I've had a lucky streak picking books to read.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Two Book Reports

Julian Comstock by Robert Charles Wilson is a dystopian science fiction which begins in the year 2172. The apocolypse that led to this distopia was the end of oil. The end of the "Efflorescence of Oil" as the novel's history puts it. That led to a collapse of modern food production and transportation. Starvation and disease reduced human population dramatically, technology regressed to late 19th century-ish.

A religious elite grabbed power in the United States, establishing "the Dominion of Jesus Christ on Earth" as a branch of government. Society has stratified itself into an aristocratic class that controls wealth and production, an indentured class owned by the aristocrats and a leasing class of free citizens who don't actually own any property. The Supreme Court was abolished by Constitutional Amendment. The Presidency remains nominally an elected position, but in actuality an inherited one. The borders of the country extend from the Panama Canal (recently taken from the Brazilians) to Northern Canada, except for the Northeastern provinces which control the Northwest passage. The USA has been fighting a decades long war against the "Dutch" (shorthand for German controlled Europe) to retake those territories.

Julian is an aristocrat, 17 year old nephew of President Deklan Comstock. Percieving Julian's father as a threat to his own control of the Presidency, Deklan sent his brother fight the Brazilians for the Panama Canal. Instead of conveniently dying in the conflict, Julian's father is victorious, returns as a hero and is subsequently accused of treason by Deklan and hanged. To protect Julian from Deklan, his mother took him to a remote town called Williams Ford and assigned a very capable man named Sam Godwin to be Julian's protector and mentor.

In Williams Ford, Julian befriends Adam Hazzard, a young man his own age of the leasing class. Adam aspires to become an author and the story is told from his perspective. He writes an account of how he and Julian were swept up into the War, how Julian became a war hero and what the man behind the hero was like.

It's a fascinating story. The characters develop quite naturally from the narrative. They are fun and engaging. The story is thought provoking. There are themes of human nature of the role religion plays for us of love and family. I enjoyed the book immensely and now have to look for more books by Mr. Wilson.

The second book, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert C. O'brien is one I read when I was in grade school. Several times because I loved it so much. Tabby & I took a break from reading Redwall novels to read this one.

Mrs. Frisby is a mouse with a problem. Her son, Timothy, is very ill. Old Mr. Ages, a wise mouse, was able to concot a medicine for Timothy. He begins to recover, but can't leave the Frisby's sheltered home until the cool Spring weather turns warm or he risks falling ill again and not being able to recover. But the family must move. Farmer Fitzgibbon will soon plow the field where the family lives, destroying their home and surely killing anyone in it.

Through a series of events, an owl advises Mrs. Frisby to seek the help of the mysterious rats who live under the rosebush near the Fitzgibbon's home. She finds that they can, indeed, help her and they are willing to because of how her own family is tied up in their own fascinating tale.

It has been decades since I last read the book and it is every bit as awesome as I remember it being as a little boy. It is imaginative, thought provoking, a morality tale of what it means to be productive and good. And it is fun to read. It is no wonder it won a Hugo award.

Tabby loved it too.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Another Sad Day

Although this one almost had a happy ending.

It started a week ago Monday when Tabby noticed that her mouse, Springald was having trouble breathing. How serious is that? A cold? Pneumonia? And what do you do for a mouse with a bad cold or something anyway?

I mentioned it to the tech that took my blood at Biolife on Tuesday morning and she just shook her head, "I've owned a bunch of rodents - mice, hamsters, even rabbits and like, half of them before they died had episodes like that."

Ugh.

So maybe the internet has advice right? And it did! Get some tetracycline from the fish department of a pet store, make an antiobiotic paste to feed your mouse and watch it recover. To Petco! But they don't sell it anymore. Apparently the product was intended to treat fish and was being used by too many people for other purposes, so the FDA started regulating it. But they guy there recommended a vet we could visit who could give us a prescription for an antibiotic.

to the Vet! We actually had a great time there. A whole bunch of people were there, mostly with dogs. All really nice (both people and dogs). One guy was there with a bird ("meanie bird" according to Tabby, since it had bitten its owner) and there was a girl there with a ferret. Tabby loved the ferret and spent most of her time in line bonding with its owner. The vet, Dr. Wolf, was very nice, very good with Tabby and had good news. She had an antibiotic, give it to Springald twice a day for two weeks and she should be fine.

"Any hints for how to medicate a mouse?" I asked.

"You don't need any. Mice love this stuff."

Ha! Springald definitely did not love the stuff. She fought us feeding it to her every time. Mostly we just smeared it on her whiskers and fur and she got it by grooming. Then after 3 or 4 days, she started to get better. Her breathing returned to normal and she looked much more comfortable. You know how antibiotic regmines are, though, we continued to administer the medicine twice a day.

Then last night as she struggled against getting it, she twisted her left front leg. When I let her down, she couldn't support herself on it. She didn't squeak like she was in pain or anything, she just couldn't use it and she totally freaked out. Like trying to run, jumping to get away from us, flopping around, obviously in a complete panic until she suddenly just stopped moving and died. My guess is something like a panic induced heart attack.

Man, when we agreed to let Tabby get mice, it didn't even occur to us how fragile an animal they are. I mean, obviously, we knew we'd be dealing with the "death of a pet" issue eventually ... but not so soon! Or frequently.

We went to Petco and got yet another mouse. A black one this time that Tabby has named Mini Shadow. She is sooo tiny. Cornflower seemed somewhat distraught that Springald never returned to the mouse cage, running around frantically looking for something or someone. Eventually she and Shadow curled up together, groomed a bit and went to sleep, though.

Tonight we'll have another mousey funeral and bury Springald next to the first Cornflower under the apple tree.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Book Report: The Powder Mage trilogy

The Promise of Blood, The Crimson Campaign, and The Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan.

The Powder Mage trilogy is set in a world with two main divisions of magic, Privileged and Powder Mages.  The former is a more traditional type of magic you may find in other fantasy settings ... individuals who control elemental powers to fantastic, often deadly effects.  Powder mages are immune to Privileged magics and have their own unique ability: they can manipulate gun powder - igniting it at a distance, or altering the course of bullets in flight, for example.

A Promise of Blood begins with Tamas, powder mage and commander of the Adran army, overthrowing the brutally corrupt Adran monarchy in a violent, bloody coup, then sending his son to eradicate the Privileged mages who might threaten the newly established republic.  As the story unfolds we get a broader view of more nuanced magics in the world.  That system is as much a setting for the story as the six other nations surrounding Adro which attempt to take advantage of the upheaval through means military, economic or political.  The story itself is about how Tamas, his son Taniel and their friends stabilize the republic in the face of those threats and more. 

They are very exciting books.  Well written.  Fun to read.  The setting is intriguing.  The characters are varied, engaging.  I cared about them and some were just plain fun.  I'm thinking specifically of the Chef Mihali.  He's crazy.  Or maybe he's a god.  Either way, I think it's fair to credit him with saving the world.

And that's the series in a nutshell.  Mages & marksmen reshaping the world through violent conflict that would all work itself out better if we would only just sit down for a nice meal together, wouldn't it?

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Rough Week

This week was a rough one for poor Tabby.  Though it started well enough.  Saturday morning was the Magic: the Gathering prerelease events for the new Kaladesh set of cards.  I went to an early morning event and did horribly in my matches.  1-1-2, and I was lucky to eek out the two ties.  But you know, there are worse ways to spend a morning than playing a fun game with good friends, even if you do poorly in the game.


What I was really excited about though is the Two Headed Giant event.  Two players put together decks and play as a team against other 2HG teams.  They do the event every prerlease and I'd like to take Tabby, but they don't start until 6 PM, which means not finishing until nearly 11 PM.  Kinda' late for a nine year old.  This time, however, they had a 2HG event Saturday afternoon at 2 PM.  Perfect! 


And Tabby & I kicked butt. I put together two decks for us that were okay individually; good, synergystic cards.  The real strength was how they complemented each other, though.  I mostly had spells that killed our opponents' creatures and Tabby mostly had creatures with a real high power to cost efficiency.  So I killed blockers while Tabby threw out attacker after attacker after attacker and steamrolled our opponents.  We went 3-1.  Two of the games ending just ridiculously quickly.  And the one game we lost was very close.  Like, we could have won if I'd drawn just one of my 8 swamps.  And even that round, we won a door prize.  Literally, we won something every round.  It was a lot of fun.


One hint of problem though.  As Tabby & were chatting between rounds about her mice, she mentioned that poor Cornflower had an injured paw.  Like, having trouble walking.  So she had carefully put her in a soft kleenex bed.  In a kleenex box on her dresser.


Me: "Did you remember to put her back in the cage before we left?"
Tabby: "Yeah, I think so."
Phone call.
Becky: "Jack, there's a problem, Tabby left her mouse cage door open and I don't see the mice anywhere."
Me: "Hm.  Maybe check the kleenex box on her dresser?"
Becky: "What?  Why? Seriously?"
pause
Becky; "Sure enough.  They're back in the cage."


So we got home flying high after the tournament, check on the mice and found a terrible shock.  Cornflower didn't have an injured paw, she'd actually broken her back.  She couldn't move her back legs or tail at all.  She could just scoot around by pulling with her front paws. It was so sad.  Tabby cried and held Cornflower as much as she could all night.


We figured out that Cornflower actually got around okay.  She could reach her food and water and crawl all over the cage.  She could even climb the tubes in the cage.  Getting up the tall tube took a couple tries, but she managed it.


Tabby had planned on making a YouTube video.  She's been doing research about getting a rat as a pet, which involved watching videos, and she found a wonderful content maker called the Rat Guru who has inspired Tabby to create some of her own.  After finding Cornflower with a broken back, though, she changed her plans to make a video tribute to how strong Cornflower was.  It's a short, sweet video taken with a bad camera ... but it's pretty good for a nine year old's first ever video content.


Monday I kind of got the day off work.  The intranet connection between Green Bay and Indianapolis was broken.  All my work is on the Indianapolis server. All of it.  So I went home and did yard work.


When Tabby got home from school she got Cornflower out of her cage and sat down to pet & cuddle her while watching YouTube videos.  I walked downstairs about an hour later or so to see how it was going and found Tabby in tears, "Cornflower passed away, Dad.  She just fell asleep and now she's dead."  Oh man, it was so sad.  I held Tabby while she cried and cried and cried.  I felt awful.  Even Becky, who never really liked the mice, felt awful.  "Gah, why do I feel so sad about a stupid mouse?"  But she did.


So we had a nice mouse funeral Monday evening and buried Cornflower under the apple tree out back.  We also ran to the PetSmart and bought another mouse so that Springald wouldn't be alone.  Another albino, Cornflower 2.


Tuesday morning also started out fun: Daddy/daughter breakfast at Tabby's school!  We were excited about it all morning, had fun with the short clue hunt around the school before we got our food.  Sat down to eat and Tabby said, "I don't feel well."  When it turned out she couldn't even take more than a sip of her juice, I decided I'd take her home.  On the way to retrieve her stuff from her locker she just exploded.  Projectile vomit across the floor.  At least she aimed down and managed to hit a spot where no one was walking next to us.


Poor Tabby.  She gets that way sometimes and we're not sure why.  Stress maybe?  She'll get sick, throw up all morning, take a nap and wake up fine.  By lunchtime she was all better.  could probably even have gone back to school, but we don't quite feel comfortable with, "Our daughter is better now, we're letting her go back to school."


"You mean the girl that threw up all over our floor about three hours ago?"


Hm.  So she got the whole day off.


This weekend we're going to Chicago.  And Ben is taking some SAT specialized subject tests.  Should be exciting.  Hopefully it turns out to be all good instead of the ups and downs of the past week.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Recent pictures.

9/15 - 9/18 we took our annual trip to the Chequamegon Fat Tire Fest.  Only this time we went up a day early to do some touristing.  We stopped at an old fire tower that had been converted into a Bayfield county museum.


And stopped at a park where everyone climbed trees.  Even Grandma.



The highlight of that first evening, though, was a boat tour of the sea caves near the Apostle Islands.  These are the same caves that freeze over most winters.




We saw some bald eagles.  Including a couple of juveniles that didn't yet have their white feathers.






Moonrise was cool.


We had a great time playing around on Lake Delta.  Tabby even decided that this was the year she'd get a Kayak all to herself.









We had planned to hike up to Morgan falls and St Peter's Dome.  But this dirt road?  Washed out in the summer flooding.  Up a bit from this beautiful scene the road gets awful.  I'm sure there are vehicles that could get through to the hiking trail ... but not our minivan.


Of course Becky took the chance to walk around and shoot some fabulous pictures.



The bike race happened!


Ben showing off his new hat in the cany store.


Winner! At least of the three in our party


Evidence that Mike finally beat his Dad.




Once again we stopped at Copper Falls on the way home.




Just this past Saturday, Santi played in a soccer tournament.  We crushed Fond du Lac 8-0 on Friday night, then lost 3-1 to Pius.  This is the Pius game.




Thursday, September 15, 2016

Pictures! Late Summer.

It just wouldn't be summer without waterskiing with Uncle Mikey.







Or without Becky taking us on excursions to beaches.  Or other settings to snap pictures.  Though I suppose that's not unique to Summer.  Just more daylight hours to capture in the Summertime.




One such excursion took Tabby and her friend, Ella, to Cave Point.  Apparently there's a trail that we never before followed to its end.  Which is a shame.  At its end there is a really cool beach covered with rock piles.






I mentioned that Tabby got mice, right?  Her albino is named Cornflower.  She also has a black & white named Springald.


Reading Redwall, Of course!



Tabby turned 9!




This year, they choreographed dances with sparklers.


Early August there is a national safety day, or something like that, on which neighborhoods are encouraged to hold activities and invite community emergency responders as a kind of get to know you thing.  Ashwaubenon is a great community, I really like our neighborhood and that we do this is one of the reasons.


The highlight is when the firetruck comes by and foams up a lawn for the kids.






My nephew Ryan graduated from high school last year.  In August he held his graduation celebration at Eau Claire Dells.









Mid August, the Ore to Shore Bike race happened.  I had to work this year, but Sam, Ben and Tabby all went up to the UP Michigan with Becky.  They hiked around some,




Played at the cabins,



and of course, saw the race.




Tabby's annual pictures turned out fabulous.




The last week of August, Santiago Yrayzoz arrived from Spain.  Or from Paris, actually.  He's from Cรกdiz, but lives in Paris.  That first day we drove out down the river to visit the dam in De Pere.


The next week Becky took him, Ben and Tabby to meet up with Ryan Chadderdon at Eau Claire Dells again.  Probably her very favorite place to photograph.









First day of school!

First weekend of September was the annual Kite Festival in Two Rivers.  Jackson and Sam came up to hang out with us at Neshota Beach.





At dusk, Becky had fun playing with ghosted images.



On Labor Day we hung out at Bay Shore Park for a bit.



Santi plays soccer.  His first game here was in Sheboygan, so Becky & Tabby took the opportunity to go visit Jack for a bit, then watch Santi's game.



They won, like, 5-0.  In fact, the team is in third place in the conference now at 8-2.  Which is spectacular considering that they only won 8 games total last year.


September 10th was advancement testing in Tae Kwon Do.  See the girl on the left here, getting ready to kick that guys butt?  That's Michelle, she lives up the street from us and Tabby absolutely loves her.  Michelle walks our neighbor, Mary Ann's dog every morning and hangs out with the kids at the bus stop for a bit with the dogs.  Turns out she's taking TKD too!



A bit after she tested, us white belts got our turn.  Tabby & I both passed and will get our yellow belts next time we have class.


Woo hoo, Chon ji!


Showing off our side kick form!



 One step sparring.


September 11th the student exchange program held an orientation at Peninsula State Park in Door County.


And there we go.  Caught up just in time to fall behind when Becky takes a billion pictures at the Chequamegon Fat Tire Fest this weekend.  It's going to be an awesome time.  I'll tell you about it later.