Saturday, March 14, 2015

Sara's Hoose

There was a show on HGTV a few years ago about a Canadian woman who was fixing up an old farmhouse. But she pronounced it 'hoose.' In honor of Sara, who proved that with just a few million dollars and 24/7 access to master builders, you too can renovate a shell of a barn into an incredible dream home, this post is about our new hoose.

Kitcheny area
The backstory to the house is only really interesting to us, but mainly it comes down to finding exactly what we wanted in the exact right neighborhood and then getting a killer deal on said hoose. We found a highly rated realtor who wound up being an attorney who did real estate on the side, and she helped us get a great deal on the house and get the right things ordered in the property inspection.

The house was brand new, never lived in before. It was built by someone who wound up not getting their visa to move to the US and had to back out of the house (the area we moved to is right by the Goodyear and BMW and Nissan Leaf headquarters - there is a sizable Asian population). Though there a few really minor things we would have done differently (I would have put an automatic garage door opener in rather than wire the fireplace mantle for a flat screen TV which I never in a million years am going to use), it's almost exactly what we wanted.

And now, some pix. You can click on these to launch a viewer that will show them all bigger, but for some reason that will leave off the captions. These will skip around a bit randomly...

Living room. The fireplace is gas and is operated by a light switch, which is neat.

This is the front room ceiling. This, like 100% of the homes in South, this home has a formal dining room. We are going to switch out the chandelier for a ceiling fan and just make it a front room. We'll eventually get a piano and it will go in here.

'Nother view of the front room.

This is Madeleine's ceiling. Hers is my favorites room in the house.

Different perspective of Maddie's celing.

Part of Maddie's room. The girls have a connecting Jack and Jill bathroom, so they both have these vanities built in in their rooms and then you go through that door and you're in the bathroom/shower area.

The kitchen. Double ovens + gas cook top = good.

The eat-in dining area that we have turned into the full-time dining area.

The foyer with the front door and the front room.

Another view of the front room. The door on the left there is a good-sized under-the-stairs closet.

This is the room I was the most 'iffy' about. Officially, it's just some goofy loft space. We've turned it into a library, though, and will eventually get bean bag chairs or a nice small couch. We are a little worried about Emme having anything to climb on to hop over the banister, though, because it's like a 12-foot drop to the foyer below.

The dark area at the top there is the banister area of the previous picture.

The staircase + loft area.

This is the 3rd bedroom. It has a bathroom in it, so it's kind of a 2nd master.

Maddie's room - it's above the garage and has a potential storage area. That framed area on the wall is a spot where you can pop through and put a door if you want to access some additional room space. We'll see. Not a priority now but may look into that later.

Emme's ceiling.

Emme's room, with her crazy animal toys.

Another view of the family room. We got a rug so we could have a little cushioning. 

The ceiling in the family room.
Master bedroom - I even made the bed, just for this picture. 

Ceiling in master bedroom. I really like that ceiling.

Different view of master bedroom. 

Master bath. The closet is through that door at the far wall. There is a garden tub in between the vanities there under the bright window on the left.

The tub.

Looking back at the bedroom. The shower is on the left.

Laundry room.

2 extremely small cars-garage. I'm electing to park outside so we can make use of the 2nd bay. It's very tough to park in here - if we'd built the house we would have gone with one garage door rather than 2.

View of the pantry and fridge and stuff. It didn't come with a fridge! We had to buy one, and it was just 'counter depth,' which is lame, but that's all that fit the space. That means it's like not deep.

This is a view in the kitchen. You can see there that is has a desk area for when you want to do office stuff in the, uh, kitchen, and it has another space that's on the family room side of things. 

Back yard, in shadow.

Ceiling of the porch in the back yard.

Other view of the back yard. 

View of the stairs.

Cook top area.

That's it! We're super extremely massively blessed to have this house and these kids! Now we need people to come visit!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Book Reviews: The Colorado Kid & Variable Star

The Colorado Kid, by Stephen King

After the last Stephen King book I read, I swore I was done with Stephen King forever. Dr. Sleep wasn't horrible so much as boring, not scary, too profane, and massively overwritten. But with a limited # of years on Planet Earth, I'd decided there was better literature I could be reading instead. 

However, one of my favorite shows that's still on the air (the list is extremely short these days), Haven, was apparently based on The Colorado Kid novella written by Stephen King. When I came across the audio book at the library, I wanted to make one last exception to see how well the TV show translated the book. 

The Colorado Kid, in a nutshell, is a story told by two newspaper editors to their new reporter as an example of a mystery that no one could figure out. It's about a guy who is found dead on an island in Maine in 1980 or so, and no one knew who he was or how he got there. There are few leads, but all they know is he had dinner nearby at 6 pm - a waitress remembered him.

Over the course of the story, the newspaper guys explain how they tracked the guy back to Colorado based on some cigarettes he had in his pocket (there was a Colorado tax stamp on them) and eventually found his identity. However, based on witnesses who last saw him, it would be almost physically impossible for him to have flown from Colorado to Maine in time to be seen having dinner at 6:00 pm. 

The reporter marvels at the story.....aaaaand then the book ends. No ending for you. That's it. The point is that 'some stories don't have endings,' I guess. So he was doing something kind of meta. The Colorado Kid story didn't have an ending, so neither does the book The Colorado Kid

And it's a shame, too, since the mystery was really interesting, the characters were pretty good and spoke in decently realistic dialogue, and it was building to something really unique. 

What if at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Nazis steal the ark from Indy and disappear into the night and the credits roll? What if at the end of Star Wars, Luke Skywalker flies his X-Wing in the opposite direction of the death star, never to return? What if...well, you get the picture. Stories need endings. It's a cheat to do otherwise. It's immensely unsatisfying. It's extremely frustrating.

No, Stephen King, I'm not going to 'write my own ending in my head.' That's your job. That's why I invested like a week in listening to this stupid audio CD. If I could make up cool mysteries in my head and end them in a clever and interesting way, I 1) wouldn't be blogging about other people's books, and 2) wouldn't have read yours. You're supposed to fill in the ending for me. Books have endings. It's like buying a car and finding out that the engine is sold separately. 

So I'm done with Stephen King. Again. The only exception I declare that I'll ever make is if he ever finishes the story and writes The Colorado Kid 2. Until then, I'll find some other hack to fill my pop-horror novel quota.

As for how the book integrates with Haven, it doesn't. About 2% of the book has anything to do with the Haven TV show at all. So Haven fans, don't read the book looking for an interesting back story on Haven or its characters or plot. At best, it shares a few character names and one or two extremely minor details. And that's it. I just hope that Stephen King doesn't get any royalties from Haven ever. That would be like if I wrote a book called Jurassic Park about a panda who likes snow cones but its name is Sam Neil. 

-0 stars out of 100 million stars

And speaking of stars...

Variable Star, by Spider Robinson and Robert A. Heinlein

Robert A. Heinlein is one of my favorite authors (my version of Ray Bradbury, pace my Cousin Robin) - a cool retro sci fi writer who kept it clean and always had some interesting ideas. Unfortunately, he died several years back.

However, he left a detailed outline for a book that he never wrote. He was friends with an author named Spider Robinson, and many years after his passing, Spider wrote the book. 

To keep it brief, a guy is dating a girl and the year is something like 2400 AD or so. As soon as the guy proposes, the girl reveals herself to be the grand daughter of the richest and most powerful man in the galaxy. Joel, the guy, asks the rich guy for permission to marry Jinny, the girl, and the rich guy, Conrad (stay with me now), tells him yes but that doing so will result in Joel having to take over the family business and sacrifice his every life plan in favor of being a powerful businessman.

He doesn't like that plan and runs away, so Conrad cancels his music scholarship and Joel is forced off the planet and onto a rocket that is on a 20-year trip to a distant planet to colonize it. 

If the book is about 400 pages or so (I had the audio CD), then everything I just described was in pages 1-40 or so. In pages 41-350 or so, absolutely nothing happens. Joel gets better at the saxophone, gets a job on a dirt farm on the ship, dates some women, hangs out with his friends, and so on. In the last 50 pages, someone makes an insanely clumsy and dumb and insulting and ridiculous speech about how the Iraq war led to 'hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths' and led to the downfall of civilization because the US 'could not forgive.' And then it has a really good but very rushed ending.

But apart from the Iraq thing, I'd almost pretty much recommend it, or at least the audio cd of it, because Spider Robinson is an excellent narrator and the book is hilarious. Almost every line is clever or funny in some way. It's really enjoyable. He wrote it in about 2005 or so so I guess he had the war on his mind and decided to do something stupid with that. But it's his editor's fault for not deleting that entire section, not his for writing it. It's poorly written, takes you out of the book entirely, and even worse, has absolutely no bearing on the overall plot of the story whatsoever. The guy makes a speech, everyone slow claps, and you never hear from the guy or of the revenge story line ever ever again. Pointless. Poor editing. 

And that's the only thing (other than too much language, again. Heinlein would have never loaded the book with profanity like that) that I didn't like about the book. I didn't even mind its languid pace or lack of a plot, because the writing was so enjoyable. 

I don't get why people (mainly liberals) feel like they have to make up reality if actual reality doesn't conform to their expectations. Why else would you write up a false future in which the political outcome you didn't prefer leads inexorably to the collapse of civilization? It's like a Jeff Goldstein quote I love:

[Obama is] most like Matt Damon: his genius, such as it is, comes from having written a script in which he gets to play the role of a genius...
Anyway, good book, uneven, get the audio cd version if you're going to read it!...

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Book Review: The Fire of Faith, by John H. Groberg

The Fire of Faith, by John H. Groberg

I was a big fan of John Groberg's The Other Side of Heaven and Anytime, Anywhere. Both were very good, and highly spiritual, filled to the brim with interesting stories and incredible miracles. The Fire of Faith was kind of like a 'deleted scenes' from those books, with stories that were gentle and nice...and gentle....and mild...and not really stories...

The book is mainly about him being a mission president in the South Pacific in the late 60s and then a general authority in Hawaii in the 70s. The stories in this book are mostly about the preparation he did for a 50th anniversary jubilee of opening the Tonga (I think) mission. So right off the bat, you know that it's not going to be as miraculous as his other stories where he survives being thrown overboard and surviving a major ocean storm, or meeting and talking with people who had passed on, one of whom teleported him to Hong Kong and spent the day with him. I'm making all of that sound kind of weird but it was all super cool and spiritual in the original books.

The miracles in this book are mostly about catching a flight on time, or having a good meeting, or calling the right person. He does have a vision of the Tonga temple once, which was cool, but most of the entries are like this:
"I was sitting on the plane, finally. I was exhausted. I closed my eyes for a long time. When I opened them, we were in the air. I looked out the window and saw the little light at the end of the wing. How much like that little light are we? Always blinking...going on airplanes... [3 more pages of going on about the wing light analogy]"
Still good stuff, but less 'meaty' than his other books. It took me a LONG time to read. I started reading this book when we still lived in Miami over 9 months ago. It's been on my bedside table for a very long time. I tried to get through more of it but it was pretty difficult to really get into. 

So definitely recommended for the Groberg buff in your family, but not for the impatient. 

I give it one airplane analogy out of 2 mission calls.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Movie Review: Jack Ryan - Shadow Recruit

Extra Large Movie Poster Image for Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

I initially thought Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit was a totally fine TV movie kind of film that was mildly diverting. Then I went to sleep and woke up at like 4:30 AM thinking of all of the plot holes and other general things I didn't at all like. So I don't go crazy, here is a list of all of them. [Spoiler alert]

  • Kiera Knightley looks like she's deaf. She makes numerous 'deaf' faces for the entire movie that you wonder if she is honestly specifically supposed to be deaf and that everyone talking to her is doing so in sign language just outside of frame. Without going back to re-watch the movie to get a few specific deaf screenshots, here's one from Google that's kinda close.
  • There's 1) No way that Deaf Kiera Knightley (Hereafter DKK) flies to Russia to follow Kirk to his audit, and 2) even less chance that she will be able to find his hotel that he's staying in and 3) find his hotel room in the hotel and 4) gain access to his hotel room and 5) when in his hotel room, find a gun in his nightstand.
  • After DKK finds Kirk's gun, she asks him to explain what is going on, and he admits he's in the CIA. Instead of saying 'really? seriously? Are you joking with me or are you serious?' or any other thing that a normal person would say, she is elated and hugs him and cries, "I thought you were having an affair!" This must be the murdery kind of affair because what does having a gun prove about an affair? 
  • For the entire time that a hitman tries to kill Kirk, they cut to a maid out in the hallway. She is vacuuming and keeps turning her vacuum on and off when she hears commotion in the room, like gunshots and screams. You are made to think that the maid is like a CIA protector or another Russian hitman or something, but apparently she's just the maid. The whole scene is confusing, and apparently after it's over you figure that the suspense was...I guess that she would hear the commotion and knock on the door or something? Maybe alert the management? Which doesn't matter because it's just a normal hotel - it's not like an enemy hotel or something.
  • Kirk's hitman poses as his bodyguard chauffeur and picks him up at the airport. He drives him all the way to his hotel and when they get there, he pulls out his gun when Kirk's back is turned and fires at him. Why not kill him in the car when he's cornered and completely unsuspecting? You don't even need a gun. He's not suspecting a thing, and you had time to prepare for his arrival. Why not roll up the divider window, lock the doors, and hit a 'poison gas' button when you're a block away from the airport? Plus, why kill him? At this point, no one knows he's in the CIA. Does Branaugh just hate audits that much?
  • After Kirk kills the hitman, the hotel room is trashed. Shot up, broken, etc. He meets with Kevin Costner for a bit and he then says 'Your room should be fixed by now.' Kirk return and finds the CIA has perfectly repaired his room! They had all the right hotel replacement parts ready to go and silently repaired the whole room with no one noticing in an hour. Also...why? That room wasn't important. Kirk wasn't going to meet a terrorist in that room or something. Why not check into another room? Or another hotel? 
  • Kirk invites Kenneth Branaugh to dinner and he clearly says no thanks. But then a few beats later in the conversation Branaugh says 'We see your girlfriend has checked in to your hotel. Bring her to dinner or we won't come.' First, it's weird that they would know that, and second, he just said no. Did he change his mind after a silent internal struggle?
  • Kirk figures out that they'll have to get to Kenneth Branaugh's computer to figure out this big terror plot, and to do that, they'll need to find 10 minutes in the dinner in which Kirk can leave. So they hatch a big scheme to get Kirk to act like a jerk and get kicked out of dinner while DKK will flirt with international terrorist and cruel madman Kenneth Branaugh. 1) Why not just send in a separate agent to hack into the office while Kirk and DKK distract him for like 2 hours at a charming dinner? 2) Why not send in a trained CIA operative to pose as Kirk's girlfriend? Branaugh hasn't seen her - it could be anyone. Why send in the untrained nurse practitioner real girlfriend when the fate of the US is on the line? This entire movie you get the impression that the CIA only has about 5 employees in the entire place.
  • Branaugh gets a notice that his computer has been broken into and grabs DKK and storms out of the restaurant. Kirk comes back, completely out of breath and looking extremely suspicious. He gets DKK and says 'Sorry to eat and run, gotta go.' Branaugh LETS THEM GO. He tells a henchman, "Follow them" and they kidnap DKK a few minutes later in a really high risk shootout. Why not kidnap them both right then, and/or shoot them dead on the street? It's Russia, no one will care.
  • Kirk steals DKK back a few minutes later after a brief car chase, and Branaugh tells him, basically, "There's nothing you can do to foil my terror plot, it will happen and the world will burn! Ha ha ha!" The CIA guys with Kirk say "Jack, we've gotta go, the cops are on the way!" Uh...why not grab Branaugh and torture him throughout the night to find out details on this terror plot? Instead they all run away, fly back to the US, and start trying to figure out the terror plot from scratch. 
  • DKK has just been kidnapped by a dangerous terrorist. When they get back to the US she tells Jack, "I'd better go to work at the hospital today. They might need me." Certainly being kidnapped and slapped around and flying back from Russia is worth one PTO day. Plus, you'd have to think she'd still be in some danger. She goes back to work at her same job using her same name. Branaugh could have sent someone there to kill her or kidnap her again.
  • They discover the terror plot is to blow up Manhattan with a massive van explosive. Kirk finds it and it has a timer on it for about 3 minutes. Instead of calling the CIA to find out how to disarm it, he drives the van through the city to get to the river to drive the van into the water so it will explode safely in the water. No way he gets there in 3 minutes. Infinitely more risky than just getting bomb disarming instructions on the phone.
  • While he's driving to the water, he notices that the Russian terrorist has climbed into the back of the van and is trying to manually set off the bomb. Dumb.
  • The van goes off the thing and into the water, but when you see the explosion it's like a mile out into the water. That's some jump!
  • Branaugh knows he failed and is summoned to meet his boss. He goes to the meeting, knowing he'll be shot. He is shot. Why not just take some cyanide at home? (We learn earlier in the movie that he has 3 months left to live due to liver failure, so no point of going on the lam. But still, why elect to be shot or tortured at the hands of you evil superiors?)
So enjoy Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, while I undoubtedly think of more things wrong with it.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Book Review: Wool

Wool, by Hugh Howey

Wool is the kind of book that aspiring authors such as myself love to hate. This is because:
  • It's a good book idea, competently executed
  • The author self-published it on Amazon Kindle one novella at a time
  • The book became hugely popular
  • The author got a 'real' book deal out of it and released all the Wool novellas as one 500-page Wool omnibus that reads as one consistent novel
  • The book is being made into a movie now by Ridley Scott
Argh. I'm always jealous of authors who do something like this that seems in retrospect so easy. This book is good, but it's by no means brilliant or important or special. It's just an interesting (if slow) read that takes a few interesting turns. And the guy wrote it and released it bit by bit, picking up a bunch of fans along the way who wanted to see how the story turned out. This seems SO DOABLE. 

I wish I had the time and talent to do this. 

The book is about the whole known world living in a huge silo in the ground, because the air is toxic and humans can't be exposed to it. The silo is never described from the outside because the story is from the perspective of the people who live inside. The worst thing that can happen to a person is to be sent for 'cleaning,' which is to be banished outside the silo to clean the sensors that relay video images of the outer world onto a massive screen inside. 

Along the way, some people voluntarily get sent for cleaning. You get the impression that the air is actually OK to breathe and that the silo people have been lying to the occupants for hundreds of years. But the novel takes you through several twists and turns, so it's not all that easy to predict. Which makes for a good read.

But it is slow. Very slow. The first half of the book is extremely slow. It took me 3 weeks to read through that part alone. I almost gave up on the book. But then it got good and I finished the rest of the book in 3 days. So if you give this a shot, hang in there for a bit. And they do tend to kill off a lot of good and interesting characters. I never give authors or TV people credit for that. Yeah, we get that no one is safe. But when the characters are just disposable, you learn to not get attached to or invested in anyone. Especially if they are older or have a handicap or have an unresolved relationship or...

There's some sparse language - pretty much just from one character named Bernard. It's out of place because the rest of the book is really quite clean. And I will say that many of the twists get 'softened' subsequently. Like (minor spoiler) some person is attacking people and nearly killing them and it turns out to be a confused teenager. So the build up was for this scary dangerous serial killer type and then it was just a kid. That happens a few other times. Big threat/big lead up/weak payoff. But it does have the effect of being a page turner at the end, and I did like the ending. Could have ended many different ways, too, which is interesting. You get to write your own alternate Wool novel in your head. Which we all know you are dying to do.

3 1/2 out of 5: Two steel wool sensor cleaning pads up!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014