31 July 2010

Ivanhoe: A Romance

I finished reading Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott a few weeks ago. Actually I listened to it while I was exercising in the mornings. I downloaded the story from LibriVox. The first half of the story was recorded by Kristin LeMoine who did a marvelous job. For some reason Kristin could not finish reading the book but others picked up and also read well. But enough of that. On to the story.

Ivanhoe was written a long time ago, 1819 to be exact. And the story narration sound old. I rather enjoy it, but it is different than most books written today. The narrator often speaks directly to the reader giving necessary information or giving explanation for characters actions. It is kind of fun. It feels like you are listening to a story teller rather than reading a story.

Many of our favorite characters are weaved through the story, King Richard, Robin of Locksley, Prince John, and others. I received a new insight into these characters which I had never seen previously in other books or movies containing these men. It was also nice to gain insight into the history and culture of the earliest days of England. I suppose you could consider Ivanhoe one of the earliest historical novels. One of the aspects I liked in the book was to see the way the characters from different cultures treated each other. The generalization about each culture was perhaps exaggerated but it still gives a view into some of the prejudices the people held, either in Sir Walter Scotts day or in early England.

Overall I considered Ivanhoe quite exciting and fun to read. I would suggest it to anyone.

There is one dialog that I wanted to point out from chapter 29. The scene is one where Rebecca, the Jewess and healer, is looking out the turret window describing the war going on below to Ivanhoe who is anxiously lying wounded in bed.
"Alas," said Rebecca, leaving her station at the window, and approaching the couch of the wounded knight, "this impatient yearning after action—this struggling with and repining at your present weakness, will not fail to injure your returning health—How couldst thou hope to inflict wounds on others, ere that be healed which thou thyself hast received?"
"Rebecca," he replied, "thou knowest not how impossible it is for one trained to actions of chivalry to remain passive as a priest, or a woman, when they are acting deeds of honour around him. The love of battle is the food upon which we live—the dust of the 'melee' is the breath of our nostrils! We live not—we wish not to live—longer than while we are victorious and renowned—Such, maiden, are the laws of chivalry to which we are sworn, and to which we offer all that we hold dear."
"Alas!" said the fair Jewess, "and what is it, valiant knight, save an offering of sacrifice to a demon of vain glory, and a passing through the fire to Moloch?—What remains to you as the prize of all the blood you have spilled—of all the travail and pain you have endured—of all the tears which your deeds have caused, when death hath broken the strong man's spear, and overtaken the speed of his war-horse?"
"What remains?" cried Ivanhoe; "Glory, maiden, glory! which gilds our sepulchre and embalms our name."
"Glory?" continued Rebecca; "alas, is the rusted mail which hangs as a hatchment over the champion's dim and mouldering tomb—is the defaced sculpture of the inscription which the ignorant monk can hardly read to the enquiring pilgrim—are these sufficient rewards for the sacrifice of every kindly affection, for a life spent miserably that ye may make others miserable? Or is there such virtue in the rude rhymes of a wandering bard, that domestic love, kindly affection, peace and happiness, are so wildly bartered, to become the hero of those ballads which vagabond minstrels sing to drunken churls over their evening ale?"
"By the soul of Hereward!" replied the knight impatiently, "thou speakest, maiden, of thou knowest not what. Thou wouldst quench the pure light of chivalry, which alone distinguishes the noble from the base, the gentle knight from the churl and the savage; which rates our life far, far beneath the pitch of our honour; raises us victorious over pain, toil, and suffering, and teaches us to fear no evil but disgrace. Thou art no Christian, Rebecca; and to thee are unknown those high feelings which swell the bosom of a noble maiden when her lover hath done some deed of emprize which sanctions his flame. Chivalry!—why, maiden, she is the nurse of pure and high affection—the stay of the oppressed, the redresser of grievances, the curb of the power of the tyrant—Nobility were but an empty name without her, and liberty finds the best protection in her lance and her sword."
It seams as though war has brought conflict to the soul as well as to nations as long as it has existed.

30 June 2010

A Miracle Cure

I have been meaning to write about this for a long time. Living in the desert, the air is very dry. Because the air is very dry, my skin is very dry. Because I love to wear sandals, my feet are very, very dry. In fact, they crack and hurt. Hiking a lot also makes my feet worse. But I have found a miracle cure. Lanolin. Lanolin is a lotion often used by breastfeeding mothers, but I have found it to be the best moisturizer many occasions. Lanolin is not a standard lotion by itself, though it is used in many lotions. In its pure form it is more useful in treating serious dry cracking skin problems.

In the case of my feet, most other lotions just moisturized the top layer of skin, which seemed to soften and weaken the skin. Further sandal wearing just maked my feet hurt worse. Lanolin, on the other hand, seems to moisten deep into my skin. It actually helps my feet heal. Usually in just two days of my special lanolin application and my feet are almost entirely healed.

As you can see in the above pictures of my heel (kind of gross, I know), after only one day of lanolin use the cracks in my skin are healing. Well, maybe you can't see that very well. The second picture is so blurry. It's hard to take pictures of the bottoms of your own feet.

The secret to effective lanolin use is to apply the lotion to the dry skin and leave it there to work its magic as long as you can. My special lanolin application method is really quite simple, but very effective. I apply a generous amount of lanolin to my dry, cracked heals. Following the application, I put my socks and shoes on. This keeps the lanolin on my feet all day long. I don't usually put lanolin on while wearing my sandals because it makes my sandals stink. Lanolin is not a nice smelling lotion. I have found that Lansinoh brand lanolin has the least offensive smell.

A word of caution. Many people are allergic to lanolin. Make sure you are not allergic to lanolin before you use it. It can cause sever rashes and make your skin problems worse if you have an allergic reaction.

23 June 2010

Father's Day Dinner

Sunday was Father's Day and I was treated to great company and great food. It was a wonderful evening. I wanted to share the recipe's from the dinner because it was so exceptionally good. The main dish was rosemary pineapple chicken. We got this recipe from a good friend and neighbor Lorie Fleischer. Their was a side of freshly baked focaccia bread and fresh snapped green beans. The focaccia bread we dipped in olive oil and balsamic vineger. I can't stress enough the importance of buying good oil and vineger. We finished the night up with a wonderful Godiva chocolate cake with a cheese cake layer. An all around all star meal!

Rosemary Pineapple Chicken
12 chicken tenderloins
1 T. butter
1 t. salt
1/2 t. minced fresh rosemary
1/2 t. ground fresh ginger
1/2 t. paprika
1/4 t. pepper
1 medium onion, thinly sliced and separated into rings
12 oz. pineapple juice

In a large skillet, brown chicken in butter on both sides. Transfer to a greased 9x13 baking dish. Sprinkle with salt, rosemary, ginger, paprika and pepper. Place onion rings over chicken; pour pineapple juice over chicken. Bake uncovered, at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until juices run clear. Optionally add fresh pineapple chunks.

Focaccia Bread
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 T. sugar
1 package active dry yeast (2 1/2 t.)
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 t. salt
1 T. extra virgin olive oil

Olive oil
Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper

In a small bowl, dissolve sugar in warm water. Sprinkle yeast over mixture and let stand for 10 minutes. In a large bowl, combine flour, salt and yeast mixture. Mix well. Knead dough on floured surface for 10 minutes, adding what is needed of the remaining flour until dough is not sticky. Place dough in a well greased bowl, turn once to coat, then cover and set aside in warm place for 1 - 1 1/2 hours. Sprinkle corn meal on a cookie sheet. Punch the dough down, then stretch out and place on cookie sheet. Drizzle olive oil over dough and spread evenly. Sprinkle on toppings. Make dimples in dough with fingers gently. Let rest for 10 minutes. Bake at 375 for 30 - 35 minutes.

Godiva chocolate cake with a cheese cake layer
Cheesecake Layer:
2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 bar (1.5 ounces) Godiva Dark Chocolate, coarsely chopped

Chocolate Cake:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
5 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup sour cream

Make the cheesecake layer:
Beat together cream cheese and sugar in bowl until smooth, using electric mixer at medium speed. Beat in vanilla extract and egg. Set aside.

Place chocolate in microwave-safe cup. Microwave on medium (50% power) for 1 minute. Stir. Microwave 30 seconds more or until chocolate is softened. Stir until smooth and let cool.

Make the chocolate cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 8x2-inch square baking pan. Line bottom of the pan with parchment paper and butter paper.

Mix flour, cocoa powder, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl.

Combine eggs, melted butter and sour cream and whisk until blended. Add to dry ingredients and mix just until combined. Spread batter into prepared pan.

Spread cream cheese mixture over the chocolate batter. Drizzle with melted chocolate. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until top is set and golden and a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out with only a few moist crumbs clinging to it.

Cool in pan on wire rack. When the cake is completely cooled, cut into squares to serve.

13 June 2010

The Jungle

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair is a very powerful, very disturbing book that everyone should read. It should not be read until you are a little older so that the subject matter can be understood. If you have never tried to find a job, if you have never tried to support a family, if you have never had to uphold your morality in the face of possible sever consequences then you may not be ready to read this book. Then again, you may want to read it knowing that you may need to do these things in the future.

The Jungle is an intense discussion about the horrors that humanity inflicts upon itself in the name of greed. It points out the destructive behavior of capitalism. It brings to light the problem of the inhumane treatment of a poor, ignorant workforce. It points out the deceitful nature of politics when connected to monetary gain. It speaks of the apathetic, arrogant, and disillusioned rich in their efforts to subdue the poor more fully and elevate their position to greater heights. If you think this sounds like the book may be propaganda for socialism, you're right. Interestingly, being written in 1906 it was yet to be seen if socialism would solve the ills of capitalism. Having the history we have today allows us to note that socialism, at least that backed by communism, exhibited many of the same problems attributed strictly to capitalism in this book.

A push for socialism was clearly not the only purpose in the writing of The Jungle. The topic of socialism is really only discussed in the last three chapters of the book. Most of the book describes the hopeless plight of the working class, the disgusting circumstances that they lived in and their fight for survival. The descriptive nature of the writing deliberately turns your stomach and tears at your heart. This major purpose, to create an awareness and sympathy for the poor workers of America, was delivered very successfully.

Producing an awareness of the struggle that the poor constantly have is critical in our world today. While there is still a great struggle between labor groups and businesses, America has come a long way in creating more reasonable working conditions. But America is not the only country in the world. Much of the world is rapidly developing and falling into the exact same destructive behaviors described by Upton Sinclair in 1906. A quick look at the Human Rights Watch website shows that there is still a lot of work to be done.

If you have not read The Jungle, you should. I have added a link to purchase the book on Amazon above, or if you would like to listen to it, Librivox has a great recording available.

17 March 2010

I'm Giving Away My Birthday

This year for my 33rd birthday I've decided that instead of asking for gifts, I'm asking for $33 or more from everyone to build freshwater wells for people in developing nations. I am doing this through the charity: water organization. You can find my project at http://mycharitywater.org/bbq.

I have been very impressed by the charity: water organization. Charity: water gives 100% of all its public donations directly to water project costs, and each donation is "proved" and tracked to the village it helped when projects are complete.

A billion people in the world are living without clean water. Millions contract deadly diseases from contaminated water. 45,000 people will die this week alone. The lucky ones won't, but still walk hours each day to get dirty water to give to their families.

My birthday wish this year is not for more gifts; it's to give clean and safe drinking water to some of the billion living without it.

I learned about this charity from the daughter of some very good friends of ours that is getting married soon. They put up a website detailing the wedding logistics. The site showed when, where, had engagement pictures and so forth. My wife and I looked at the section for the gift registry and found something I had never seen before. The couple elected to have everyone give to a charity instead of buy them presents. They are a good middle class american family. They are doing fine but, speaking from experience, when you are starting life out together it is nice to have wedding presents. This is the first thing that touched me: the selfless nature of this wonderful couple, especially during a time that should be focused on them.

Due to this feeling, I immediately followed the links to see how I could donate a little bit. The charity they chose to donate to was charity: water. After reading a little bit about this charity I was very impressed. I asked my wife how much we could donate. She said that she had $20 left over in the grocery checking account that she would donate. Our kids were in the room while we discussed it. Our 9 year old daughter spoke up and said, "I have $5 that I can give." (This is the point when a parents heart wells up.) All the kids then came over to see what we were doing. I showed them a short video clip from the website and they all started saying, "I will give my $20," "I will give my $12." This is the second thing that touch me. Our kids have been saving this money for a long time but were immediately willing to give it all to some children they don't know at all. They just knew the kids needed help. Everyone donated a little and it added up to more.

I then thought, what can I do? The charity: water website was very helpful in pointing out a few things I could do. One suggestion was to give away your birthday. Instead of receiving presents, have people donate to your own water project. So, I have asked everyone to donate here instead of give me birthday presents this year. I am asking everyone to take a moment and consider if they can donate a little to help bring fresh water to those without.

Thank you.

10 February 2010

Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians

A friend at work told me a bit about Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson and he happened to have a copy available to read as we were talking. So, I borrowed it and read it over a weekend. I enjoyed the book immensely. Alcatraz was creative, witty, and fun. The book is written in a first person point of view which I felt was refreshing. It gave new expression to the reading. The book being written in the present day and in the first person, the author was both the character and the author. This allowed for a feeling of really being told a story from an adventurer.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the humor. It was quick witted and fast paced. There were jabs at current literature and entertainment (nothing was called out by name, but you know what he is talking about). There were jabs at the "all knowing" educational institutions and their professors. There was a bit of witty sarcasm about everyday life and events that everyone is dealing with or has dealt with. This allowed the story to bring a bit of humor into some of the drab parts of life.

Now, while I enjoyed the story and had a hard time putting it down, I will not be reading any of the sequels. This book would have been best as a stand alone story. *On Soapbox* Why does every fantasy story have to be a series! *Off Soapbox* The style of writing and the humor became monotonous at the very end of the story. Wit repeated becomes much less witty. The plot was cute but juvenile, which did not really make me want to read more. I read because the humor made me smile (even laugh out loud at times), not because the plot was engaging.

I definitely suggest this book to anyone who would like a quick, fun story to read.