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John's Blog

Amador Wineries: Big Crush Oct. 6-7, 2012

Big CrushOur SoCal friends were in our part of the state again for a second major Amador Vintner's Assn event - The Big Crush! Celebrating that time of year when the grapes are ready to bring in from the vines and get crushed, stomped or what have you. The Baers and their kids were up, as well as Rick & Gulshen. The Favetti's didn't make it but the Baers created and laminated a 'Flat Tony' to carry along (and pose) with us.

The three kids (Jack, Amanda & Fianna) spent a lot of time with the El Dorado Bresslers (Fianna's grandparents), visiting at least one working farm with pumpkins, corn fields, and plenty of farm animals. They also took rides in the Bressler's cherried-out Dune Buggy and I believe some ice cream was involved.

'Big Crush' seems a much bigger event than 'Behind the Cellar Door'. More food, more wines, more live music and more people (but not too many). Almost every winery was serving up enough food to make a complete lunch if you tried everything. A degree of self-restraint was required because it was all good; tri-tip sliders, chicken sliders, greek salads, pastas, potatoe salads, sausages, exotic cheeses, chocolates and more.

Pictures and more after the 'READ MORE'. Yeah, I know I'm running a month slow.  

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A Year of Classic Science Fiction Books #2

man-plusI couldn't stop. Completed four more science fiction classics since the last article. These three were worth extra notice:

Man Plus (1976): By Frederik Pohl, whose writing style I greatly enjoy and may seek out some of his other works (see below). An ongoing cold war that threatens to heat up has convinced America that the only hope for humanity (and America) is to settle Mars. Unfortunately, the 'stock' human is not all that suitable to the task, which sets in motion a herculean effort to jury-rig one through a series of surgeries, cybernetic implants/replacements, and behavioral modifications. The story mostly follows the viewpoint of the character being adapted to life on Mars. A great story with a twist at the end. 

Gateway (1977): Another by Frederick Pohl. Gateway is a space station left behind by an alien civilization (the Heechee). On the space station the Heechee have left behind several dozen operating ships, each programmed to travel to a single destination. Only problem is... nobody living knows how to use the ships (other than how to get them moving) and where the destinations are set to. They learn by doing and dieing. Pohl weaves this and other observations into a story centering on a single individual who decides to seek his destiny in the stars.

The Dispossessed (1974): By Ursula K. Le Guin. I was no stranger to Le Guin, having read the Earthsea Books and Left Hand of Darkness but WOW, some deep thinking on political systems here... and I like it. The story thoughtfully hits on anarchism, capitalism, individualism and collectivism, providing readers with much to think on. Protagonist Shevek is a physics genius living on Anarres, a moon of Urras. Anarres is inhabited by anarchist revolutionaries who left capitalist Urras generations before to settle on the sparse moon. Shevek's accomplishments in physics result in his being the first of the revolutionaries to make a trip back to Urras. Comparisons & conflict ensue. Chapters alternate between planets. Also interesting to note that it's part of a 'cycle' of books by Le Guin called the Hainish Cycle. Since I've only read two out of the six, it added four more books to my 'to do' list.


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A Year of Classic Science Fiction Books

cities in flightRoughly a year ago, I obtained a 30-book series called "Masterworks of Science Fiction". Not a series in that each book continued the same story, but a series of what some consider the best Science Fiction novels since 1950. Many of these classic books had gone out of print, and the creators of the collection thought this a good way to bring them back... to the attention of a whole new generation of readers.

Since then I've been tearing my way through them. Fortunately, the version of the collection I stumbled on must have been about 10 years old. Since 2000 the complete collection has expanded from 30 to 73 books. Also, I had already read some of them. In all, I've made it through 17 straight and started three others. I still have a ways to go, but I was missing my usual History books. After a year of solid Science Fiction, I need a break.

Some authors were amazing in their ability to predict future technologies and their impact on society. Some were ominous, not due to accuracy in predicting future technologies, but by going a step further to where that technology would lead civilization in an even more remote future. Others were very effective at using a story to bring up evolutionary, sociological and even theological issues. 

I would do an inadequate job of reviewing all of them, but I would point out several that I think anyone might find worthwhile. I'd highly recommend you finding at least a couple of these classic books:


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All Things Disney & More: Summer Vacation 2012

Minnie MouseOur Summer vacation for 2012 was a Disney Dream Caribbean Cruise along with a few days spent at various sites in Florida.

We started off in the Orlando area, home of multiple Disney Theme Parks as well as other attractions. We visited a few sites there (The Magic KingdomDisney's Animal Kingdom & Gatorland) and then headed off to the Disney Dream and a five-day cruise in the Bahamas. On our return we visited Kennedy Space Center and Downtown Disney.

For most of the trip we were in the company of the Baers (Robb, Melinda, Jack, Amanda) and, sometimes, Robb's folks Pam & Steve. It's the fifth vacation I've taken with Robb & Melinda (Italy twice, China, Yosemite/Safari West, and this trip). It's the third vacation Fianna has taken with Jack & Amanda who she calls "My Guys". Do kids take vacations?

Pictures and details after the 'read more'.

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Goodbye Grandma Brown

Grandma BrownOn July 4th of last year my Grandmother Brown passed away at 88 years old. About six years before that she became suddenly ill, eventually suffering reduced use of her lungs and other issues requiring her to take prednisone on a daily basis, carry around oxygen, and have almost full-time care by a part-time nurse, my Mom and my Aunt Linda. Up until that time she had been very healthy for a woman of her age. My Great Grandmother Kirby had lived into her 90's, working regularly in her garden.

Grandma Brown always had a smile and kind words for just about anyone she met. As with many of Americans of her generation, she was very patriotic and devoutly Christian. She would often tell stories of her early family life. When she was a child the family lived week to week, moving wherever there was work and enjoying simple and rare pleasures, like an extravagant trip downtown for an ice cream sundae, the single new Christmas present she got one year, or 10 cent boxes of oatmeal. As a young adult at the time of WW2, she could relate how everyone pulled together in salvaging scrap materials and rationing goods. She'd never complain, just laugh about how different things and people are now.

I'd always wanted to save some of those stories. About six months before she passed, I asked if she would be interested in telling some of them with a digital tape recorder whenever she felt good enough. She said she would, although she could not talk very long in her condition. So I bought one for her and over the next couple months she managed to make 20 or so brief entries. After she passed, my Mom and I also found some 8MM video recordings in her belongings. She had quite a few of these at one time, but most of them had been stolen and trashed by thieves who had broke into her house once.

Very little of the video tapes were in watchable condition, and none of them had audio, but I did splice together roughly 30 minutes of them, in 4 short segments. I then added the audio clips from Grandma as a soundtrack. Some video clips are only seconds long, but they cover events from the 50's all the way to... I'd guess... the 90s. The audio refers to a time period much earlier than any of the videos.

Thank you Grandma for all the time you spent watching over and praying for me and all the members of your family.

Video after the 'read more'.

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