Saturday, January 30, 2010

Cruise Adventure

Suzanne and I returned last week from a four-day cruise (Long Beach, CA, to Cabo, Mexico). We had never been on a cruise before (assuming you don't count riding the ferries around Alaska), so this was a real adventure and treat for us. It all came about when my mother and my siblings latched onto a really good deal, then we decided to all go along as sort of a family reunion. Four spouses joined my mom and her six kids, so there were eleven of us.

We were looking forward to an exotic few days in warmth and sunshine, but it didn't quite work out that way. A huge winter storm hit southern California, dumping record rains and wind. Carnival (the cruise line) decided to change the itinerary to Cabo so we would go further south to get better weather. That part worked out great, as Cabo was sunny and 70's. We all hopped into a van in Cabo and got an interesting tour of the area, plus a water taxi ride out to the arches.

The long trip out and back in the ship (about 40 hours each way) encountered stormy and unsettled seas, so there was a lot of movement. Suzanne got a little seasick one day, but everyone was taking medication to combat that. Everyone experienced what some call "cruise head" for a couple of days after getting home, where you continue to experience swaying and slight dizziness even though back on solid earth. I found that more amusing than troublesome.

We also didn't spend as much time out on the deck as we had planned, even though we brought clothes for some cold and wet. Suzanne was still on crutches, so getting around on the swaying boat was a challenge. We rented a wheelchair to help.

We all ate dinners together at the nice onboard restaurant. As expected, there was lots of food and we enjoyed that aspect. Some of us visited the karaoke lounge a couple of evenings and we sang several songs.

But even with the rough seas and some sickness we all had such a great time together. We are all talking about when we can plan our next cruise!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Books read in 2009

I read 39 books in 2009. As I've noted previously, most of these I listened to on my mp3 player, which is how I get through so many.

I'll list the first four as the ones that I enjoyed the most, or found most enlightening or inspirational. For most of the others I'll include brief comments.

A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson
The title is pretty accurate. It seems to cover about everything, as it recounts the history of scientific discovery of a very wide range of topics. I found it exceptionally interesting.

Guests of the Ayatollah – Mark Bowden
The Iran hostage crisis was an agonizing and frustrating world event for Americans, and those of us who lived at that time may find this book even more interesting than it already is.

Black Hawk Down – Mark Bowden
I was pleasantly surprised at how informative and moving this book was, in addition to the action and suspense. I found myself thinking about it and many related things for days afterwards, the true mark of a good book.

Stalin, Breaker of Nations – Robert Conquest
I don't know if the book itself is all that great, but the subject matter was astounding. I came away convinced that Stalin was the most evil man, the greatest mass murderer of the 20th century. Hitler was a Boy Scout in comparison.

The Fall of Troy – Peter Ackroyd

Flags of our Fathers – James Bradley

In my hand, memories of a holocaust rescuer -- Irene Opdyke

Mountains Beyond Mountains -Tracy Kidder
Inspirational account of a doctor making a difference in disadvantaged areas of the world.

The Mormon Way of Doing Business – Jeff Benedict

Blood Diamonds – Greg Campbell
I count my blessings living in the USA.

Moscow Rules – Daniel Silva

My Detachment – Tracy Kidder
I've read several books by Kidder, and, though good, I've grown somewhat weary of the excessive profanity.

In Plain Sight – Box

Hunger Games – Collins
Wow, what a creative writer! Couldn't put it down.

Mornings on Horseback – McCullough
Interesting account of Teddy Roosevelt's early life.

The Best Game Ever – Mark Bowden
Ahhh, the Colts win the championship game. Pro football and athletes in a different era.

Stars in their Courses – Shelby Foote
I love listening to Foote's southern accent as he narrates his books.

Shiloh – Shelby Foote

Follow Me Down – Shelby Foote

Alive – Piers Paul Read
This account, along with those of the Donner Party, really makes me appreciate each meal.

The Host – Stephanie Meyers
I think I liked it more than Twilight.

Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
My first foray into Tolstoy, and some reviewers regard this as the greatest novel ever written. I enjoyed the time and setting (19th century Russia), and it was insightful in several ways. Didn't make my top books list, though.

Andrew Jackson – H.W. Brands(?)
What a violent time in American history, and what a violent man!

Ablaze – Piers Paul Read
USSR in its twilight. And what a monumental disaster Chernobyl was.

The Templars – Piers Paul Read
I actually got into this account of crusades, knights, and interesting historical figures.

The Brothers Karamazov – Dostoyevsky
Another account from 19th century Russia in a highly acclaimed book. I think I liked it better than Tolstoy.

A. Lincoln – Ronald White
Great book, but it just didn't work for me this read (listen).

One Minute to Midnight – Michael Dobbs
Fascinating inside look at the Cuban Missile Crisis, which I lived through.

Massacre at Mountain Meadows – Ronald W. Walker
How is such a thing possible? And perpetrated by God-fearing men? This book does help answer the questions by setting the context. But still.

The Coldest Winter – David Halberstam
Interesting account of the first months of the historically neglected Korean War. And all the politics behind it, and short bios of all the key players. Actually, a prelude to Vietnam.

The Virginian – Owen Wister
Great book.

The Count of Monte Cristo – Dumas
Long, long book, but still hard to put down.

1984 – Orwell
The most depressing read imaginable.

The New Testament

The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
Thought provoking and insightful. Perhaps should be in my top list.

The Worst Hard Time –Timothy Egan
Unimaginable hardships on the high plains during the Depression.

Deep Survival – Laurence Gonzales

Collision – Jared Diamond
I found some accounts of failed civilizations fascinating. Scary implications for modern societies.

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
I enjoyed the German setting.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Winter road trip

We drove from Beaverton to the Idaho Falls area and back this past week. I'm not a fan of driving in snow or ice, so I was a bit apprehensive about this winter road trip.

Fortunately, two years ago I found some near new studded snow tires on steel rims on craigslist and bought them for about $150. Even though they are noisy and ride a little rough on the highway, they provided peace of mind and we put them to good use on this trip.

Leaving 6AM Tuesday morning we hit just a bit of pre-dawn snow and some wind just a few miles east of Portland in the Columbia Gorge. This slowed us down for five or ten miles, but after that the roads were clear and we made great time, arriving in Idaho Falls about 7PM. We had a full van, with Jeremy, Bridget, Miriam, Magdalena, Suzanne, Steven, and myself. The girls behaved very well all those hours in the car confined to their car seats. I was glad to share the driving with Bridget and Steven.

I think it snowed a bit each day we were in Idaho, and though the highway remained mostly clear, we drove on snow packed roads a number of times. On New Year's Day we drove a couple of hours in snow to get to our snowmobile destination and back. This was the most use I have ever gotten out of those snow tires, and it felt good driving on them.

We left Rigby, ID, about 7AM Saturday for our trip home. An inch or two of new snow had fallen, and now the highways around Idaho Falls were snow packed. So it was a bit of a slow start (about 45 mph), but as we drove south on I-15 the roads began to clear within 20 miles or so. From there we had dry or wet roads the rest of the way. In Boise it was a warm and sunny 45 degrees, with not much snow in sight. Ontario turned foggy and 33, with lots of snow around, but the summit in the Blue Mountains was 40 and dry. We arrived home around 7:30PM.

So we felt fortunate to encounter good weather and roads this trip. And it was fun spending time with all my kids and five grandkids (but that should be another post).

Oh, I should mention that later on Tuesday, after we left town, a surprise snow storm hit Portland with about 3 inches and totally shut the place down, with hundreds of people leaving their cars stranded on the roads. I guess we were lucky to leave town when we did.