Bad Neighbor?

Every summer our neighbor – we’ll call her Paddington – tries to grow tomatoes on herIMG_8378 front porch. And every summer she only gets about two or three successful tomatoes because slugs and worms and critters vandalize her efforts.

Throughout the years you can see the evolution of her defensive tactics. One year she put a ring of salt around her pots. The next year she put eggshells in her soil. Then she started putting plastic bags of vinegar water in her pots.

But this year, she’s taking her tomato-preserving strategies to a whole new level.

havahartezsetracoonShe’s taken to setting up animal traps.

Now, if anybody is an advocate for more tomatoes in this world, it’s me. In fact, I say we don’t need any other fruit or root but tomatoes. Tomatoes are like cheese – they make everything better. (I think I inherited my unusual love of tomatoes from my father: he was a successful tomato planter and he would bring his own tomatoes with him when we went out to restaurants. I can’t blame him, to this day I’ve never had better tomatoes.)

Do you see this picture of the tomato? Just looking at it makes me salivate, and it’s only 8:40 in the morning!tumblr_mfsxqiD18k1re461do1_500

So my love of tomatoes is clear. But, thought I’m no tree hugger, I also love animals. Not in the way a twelve-year-old girl does. I don’t doodle glittery ponies on my notebooks or anything, but I get a sense of sadness if I see them in trouble.

I always pull my car over to check for tags if I see a lost dog. If it wouldn’t be so dangerous, I’d shoo deer off the side of the road so they don’t get hit.

But anyway, our neighbor, Paddington, set these traps out and every day since I’ve found squirrels trapped in the cages. They just look so scared and helpless; they just wanted a bite of that darn Fig Newton.

I don’t know. Maybe I still feel guilty for hitting a baby squirrel with my car a while ago, or shooting suirells with my BB gun in the backyard when I was a kid…

So I look all around to make sure the coast is clear and release the squirrels . Sarabeth told me that they’re going to see me as their savior now. (Maybe I’ll grow some tomatoes and they’ll leave them alone as a thank you, then I can give some to Paddington as a peace offering.)

PussInBoots1Today I went outside with the dogs and it wasn’t a squirrel, but a raccoon. The poor guy wasn’t even struggling, probably because he was exhausted from panicking all night. He didn’t even flinch when I approached. He just looked up at me with those big tear-filled eyes…

So of course I let the big guy out.

This probably makes me an incredibly bad neighbor, but there’s no proof that the squirrels and raccoons are the ones destroying Paddington’s tomato plants. Innocent until proven guilty, right?

So what do you think? Bad neighbor or rodent savior? Is growing a few tomatoes worth trapping animals for? You be the jury. You decide.

In the meantime, I’m going to run to the grocery store and pick up some produce.

 

Summer Smoothies! (Guest Post from My Wife)

SmoothiesIt’s summertime and that means smoothies and fruit drinks! We love blending things at our house when it’s 90+ degrees out and our dinners are usually fresh salads with fancy dressings.

Anyway, my wife was kind enough to write a guest post for you all today about some of our favorite homemade smoothies. Feel free to share your own recipes below in the comments section so we can all have some new drinks to try this summer! Oh, and don’t forget to follow my wife’s awesome blog while you’re at it (you might find some more recipes from her later on): From Flats to Lofts.

I lived on Jamba Juice for about two months once. My wisdom teeth were coming in sideways,JambaLogo-PDFX-Prime-CMYK but I had to wait until I could take a week off of work to have them removed. (Plus I may have procrastinated going to the dentist for a couple of weeks after they started hurting because I’m a chicken.) It was cold, and didn’t require chewing, so it was the perfect lunch option – day after day after day…

But, then I didn’t eat for a week, and couldn’t drink out of a straw anyway, so I sort of stopped my daily trip to Jamba Juice. I was now $25 richer at the end of each work week. And really, once the pain went away I was pretty much grossed out by the thought of another smoothie. This lasted for several months, and when I finally wanted one again we were about to move from Seattle (Jamba Juice everywhere) to Louisville (Jamba Juice nowhere to be found).

So, I started to make my own. It is simple enough – just fruit and liquid. The two we make the most are blueberry and peanut butter.

 

Blueberry:SONY DSC

1 frozen banana (slice it before you freeze it)

1/2 cup frozen blueberries

1/2 milk

Blend ingredients together until smooth and enjoy!

 

Peanut butter:peanut butter

1 frozen banana (slice it before you freeze it)

½ – 1 cup chocolate soy milk

1 large scoop of peanut butter

Blend together – adding more banana or milk if needed until you get the consistency you want.

Journey Into America’s Pastime

img_0042_2Summer is well under way, and many of you are probably planning vacations and road trips across the country.

If you find yourself, for any reason, traveling down Interstate 65 through downtown Louisville, Kentucky, you’ll notice the handle of a giant baseball bat peaking above the buildings. Nestled in the northwest corner of Louisville’s downtown area, the Louisville Slugger Museum is just a few pitches distance from the great Ohio River, and close enough to Slugger Stadium to walk. The bat is a replica of Babe Ruth’s own, and leans against a five story brick building engraved with the name Hillerich & Bradsby Co. Just across the street is the genealogical research library, America’s Heritage: Sons of the American Revolution. It seems fitting that a library preserving our country’s history would neighbor one dedicated to America’s favorite pastime.

Sometimes it seems we’ve forgotten the charm that baseball once brought to our country. But an afternoon spent in the modestly priced museum at the north end of Museum Row will reinstate one’s faith in the game that many baseball loyalists recall with fond memories from their visits to Fenway, Wrigley, Yankee, Slugger…

Come with me and discover why attendance records have been broken in the short span of 2013 alone (January, 6,000 visitors; February, over 13,000; March, 25,000 – all during the off-season!). Let’s take a peak behind the tinted glass doors and see what has been drawing people through them since 1996 (and, based on the length of their lease, will continue to draw people in for the next 183 years).

You are greeted by a gift shop on your left that baseball naysayers will be drawn to after completing the museum’s tour. If that’s you, rest assured that sites like Trip Advisor are filled with positive reviews from even baseball cynics. (As of this writing, it is currently ranked #1 of 58 attractions in Louisville.)

If you’re lucky, you just might get a glimpse, like I did, of the company’s president, Jack Hillerich, grandson of the founder John A. “Bud” Hillerich (b.1866-d.1946). Or maybe you’ll run into Dale Murphy or Ben Revere, just a couple of the major league players who have made their way through the museum in the last six months alone. I missed him, but Chuck Harmon, the Cincinnati Red’s first African American player, stopped in the day I was there.

Baseball lovers of all ages will appreciate the up-close view of the production line. Here, tourists are brought through the step-by-step process of the conception of a Louisville Slugger at eye level.

Tour groups are lead through the process by a knowledgeable guide. At the start of the tour, you are greeted by stacks and rows of billets, cylindrical pieces of wood, shipped in from Pennsylvania and New York mills. Some are destined for the shelf of a retail store, and others will shine under stadium lights in the hands of major league greats.

On the tour, you’ll witness the work of lathes – wood carving machines – that cut and shape each billet to exactness (precise down to 1/100th of an inch), specific to the needs of the players. But these machines didn’t become the go-to for crafting bats as far back in history as one might think. Slugger bats have been hand-turned up until a shockingly recent date. (Hint: It’s very likely Johnny Bench and Rod Carew hit with hand-spun bats.)

Next, the bats are carted to the sanders, on the very carts that once carried Gehrig’s, Cobbs’, and Lazzeri’s bats. Here, they are sanded down to a smooth, silky texture. These sanders produce up to 15,000 lbs of sawdust a day.

Once the sanded bats are dipped in a water-based lacquer – 400 bats per hour – they’re taken over to be foil-branded, where the brand new Louisville Slugger’s shiny gold logo is meticulously placed on each bat. This year is the first time in 33 years the logo has been updated. There’s another brander, a century old, for unpolished bats where they are branded the old-fashioned way, by an iron. Be sure to smell it for that old-fashioned campfire smell.

At the end of the factory tour, you’ll be given a mini Louisville slugger bat to take home with you. And don’t forget to pay the $1 fee to hit your choice of ten fastballs or ten softballs with your favorite player’s bat. (I was only able to just barely skim the ball once with Hank Aaron’s anvil of a bat.)

Who knows who’s bat you’ll see brought to life when you tour the factory. It’s possible that when you watch David Wright crouching over home plate (another recent visitor), that might be the very bat you saw take its first breath of air in the bat factory in downtown Louisville at the Slugger Museum.

Jaws was Real!

SchleisserandShark-2

A couple of years ago I read Peter Benchley’s Jaws. It had a great story, but I was turned off by the overuse of needless profanity and ridiculous sex scenes. Needless to say, Spielberg’s 1975 rendition surpassed the book in terms of, well, everything.

But it turns out, Benchley’s tale is not all that fictitious. If you’ve driven the up the New Jersey coast anywhere between Beach Haven Inlet and Matawn Creek (yes, creek), you’ve followed in the wake of a true-to-life vicious man-eater, not unlike the immortal Jaws.

Close-to-Shore-Capuzzo-Michael-9780767904148In his brilliant book, Close to Shore, Michael Capuzzo documents the terrifying shark attacks of 1916 – the first recorded shark attacks in American history. A time when the ocean water was just being tested out as a recreational swimming pool, women were arrested or beaten by the mob for wearing bathing suits that revealed too much skin, and scientists believed sharks – especially great white sharks – were no more harmless than bunny rabbits.

Unlike Benchley’s fictional account of the great white, Capuzzo’s non-fiction book does not offend with cursing nor promiscuity. But there is blood. And detailed accounts of gory attacks in the water of people of all ages. And the climax is so unbelievable that Benchley must have known that replicating it for fictional use would have easily had his book thrown aside as a joke.

I read part of this book on the beach of Florida on vacation. I didn’t go into the water at all. In fact, I had a hard enough time not letting my imagination get the best of me in the swimming pool. Here is an excerpt of Close to Shore:

Between dynamite blasts, men trolled the dark creek in boats, working in eerie ribbons of lantern light, dredging the creek bottom with oyster hoops, trolling the much for Stilwell’s body. During cease-fires, more than a hundred armed men in boats patrolled up and down the creek, scanning for ripples that signaled the man-eater. Reporters crowded closer to the townsfolk on the banks with their notebooks and visions of a village besieged by a sea monster. Despite the bright light of the waxing moon, there were no sharks in sight, but that hardly mattered as men shot and bombed everything that stirred. “The one purpose in which everybody shares,” the Times reported, “is to get the shark, to kill it, and to see its body drawn up on the shore, where all may look and be assured it will destroy no more.”

Have a safe and happy Labour Day, don’t burn the burgers, and stay close to shore! Get your copy here.

The Greatest Action Movie Ever (My Top 10 Movies No. 5)

All right men, and women who want to make your men happy, pay attention to this post. So far in my list of top ten movies, I don’t have action flicks listed. I have pointed out favorites of mine such as 127 HoursCatch Me if You CanFinding Neverland, Cinderella Man… all biopics for the most part.

But every now and then my testosterone overcomes me and I need to watch a movie charged with adrenaline and explosions. But I’m still me, and I demand a good story to accompany the action. I’m not much of a Fast and Furious kind of guy, nor do I give a rip about James Bond and all his glacier-surfing and ridiculous hijinks.

Growing up, I absolutely was hooked on the Lethal Weapon series with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. Despite the violence and ultra-multiple use of the F-word, I still haven’t been able to bring myself to get rid of them. I doubt I ever will, to be honest.

But as far as the best action movie I’ve ever seen in my life? Hands down it’s Mission: Impossible III. Hear me out, you skeptics and Tom Cruise haters. Just give me two minutes to convince you to watch it.

mission_impossible_iii_xlg

I can do (and have done) without the first Mission: Impossible movie. Didn’t hate it, but didn’t care for it either. The second one, however, was a complete insult to my intelligence and to this day, I have considered it one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.

Needless to say, it took a looooot of convincing to get me to see M:I-III. 

The genius of the movie is that it takes no more than 59 seconds to hook you. M:I-III is the great J.J. Abrams’s big screen debut as a director. He pulled a Christopher Nolan (Dark Knight trilogy) and completely disregarded the franchise’s previous two entries and started fresh.

The villan, played by the ultra-talented Phillip Seymour Hoffman, is a total and complete joy to watch, as he commands your attention in every single shot he’s in, as usual. And Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is extremely likable and relatable.

And not being one to get all drooly and ga-ga over sleek technology or fictional weaponry, I’ve got to say, this movie has some really clever espionage toys.

Since its release in 2006, I have yet to see an action film that compares to this one (though admittedly, I don’t watch many), but its follow-up, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, comes dangerously close (directed by Pixar’s Brad Bird).

So stay cool in the house this week, pull up M:I-III (and Ghost Protocol) on Netflix and settle in for one amazing, intense ride.

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of frenetic violence and menace, disturbing images and mild sensuality

Andrew’s Top 10 Movie Countdown: 10

Sarabeth and I often FaceTime (like Skype) with her sister and brother-in-law who have been missionaries across seas for the last couple of years. We all tease each other for certain things, and the thing I get teased for the most is how I happen to have a list of “favorites” for everything. Not only that, but it seems like every new movie I see or song I hear usually becomes my new “favorite.”

“Just read this new book, and it was awesome!” I’d say.

“Oh? Is it your favorite?” they’d ask.

Yes. Usually it’s up there. So I’m an optimist. Sue me 🙂

Well, I’ve decided to share with you all my top ten favorite movies for you to check out during the summer. I love sharing my greatest finds. Many you’ve probably seen, and some you probably haven’t, and I would encourage you to check out. And I have excluded any Disney/Pixar movie from the list because they’re their own category of greatness.

So, with that said, number 10 in my list of top ten greatest movies is…

127-Hours127 Hours

Directed by Danny Boyle, the guy who directed the opening ceremonies to last year’s summer Olympics. This movie has a unique talent attached to it. Who would think that a movie about a guy stuck in a hole in the ground for five days would be at all entertaining?

Well, that’s the brilliancy of this movie. There’s not one boring moment throughout. Many people I know refuse to watch it because of the gory ending, but Sarabeth watches it with me, and she simply just closes her eyes as I narrate the amputation process.

Yeah, that can be fun.

But really, I cannot recall a movie that really quite literally makes me thirst for a bottle of water, that makes me feel as though I am completely and utterly alone, and fearful for my life.

The way the director strings it all together to tell a compelling true story about a young adventurer is completely mind-boggling to me. It’s kind of like one of those picture books without words. Somehow, it just works. I haven’t seen his other movies yet, but would like to soon. Clearly, he’s got unmatched talent spilling through his camera lens.

The story also begs the question, to me, anyway: What rock is keeping me from living my life? What do I need to sever to free me from it? Will it be worth the pain?

Have you seen it? Are you one who refuses to? Let’s hear your thoughts.

For Whom the “Bell” Tolls: My Thoughts on Velvet Elvis – Part 2

For the first part of this review, click here.

“Is the Bible the best God can do?” asks Bell. Apparently not, because he doesn’t seem to be sure God even wrote the Bible to begin with. He wonders if Corinthians, for example, is written by Paul or God or God through Paul or Paul through God. I wonder, as he’s standing at the pulpit on Sunday mornings preaching through 1 Timothy what he does with chapter 3 verse 16 (“All Scripture is inspired by God…”), but there’s really no reason for him to preach out of the Bible anyway, according to him. 

“The Bible is open-ended,” he says. “We cannot simply do what it says,” because it first must be interpreted. Meaning, “Someone has to decide what it means.” Yes, he’s saying that the Bible can be interpreted in any way we’d like. “When someone tells you what the Bible means, it’s not true.” It’s just their interpretation. Yes, this man is the pastor of a mega church. If you’re not yet wondering about the devastating effects of the gut-wrenching statements here, take the time to read some reviews on this book online. People really think this is deep, sound, theological teaching and many say it has changed their lives. I have no doubt their lives have been changed because Rob Bell the “superpastor” is releasing people from the obligation of obeying the Words of God. No one ever said a changed life is a holy life. 

To take this hellish theology further, he gives the example of a leader in his church who had a question about a section found in the Bible and after asking many learned people and consulting many references to no avail, she in the end, decided to just go right back to the Bible to see what it had to say about this topic. Bell’s response? That’s “toxic.” And if that’s not far enough, he says that Jesus Himself gives His followers permission to make new interpretations of the Bible (somehow he gets this idea from Matthew 16:9 and 18:18).

Earlier in his book he admitted that Jesus came to fulfill the Word of God by giving it flesh and bones. Now he’s telling his readers to do what they think Jesus is saying, not what He is saying. After all, it wasn’t until the 300’s the sixty-six books were agreed upon, according to Bell. “This is part of the problem with continually insisting that one of the absolutes of the Christian faith must be a belief that ‘Scripture alone’ is our guide. It sounds nice, but it is not true.” 

If you want to irk Bell, tell him that you attend a church that teaches the Bible. According to him a church that’s growing has an easy yoke. Do you want to know why that church has “easy yoke”? Because it’s not holding its congregation to the standards of the Bible. The church may present an easier yoke on Sunday, but what are the attendee’s lives like the rest of the week, being starved for the Word of God, and having it withheld time after time?

Many yokes seem easy, which is what people will likely flock to. People want the easiest dieting books, the simplest instructions, the lighter load, the church that has very few standards and does not convict with the two-edged sword of the Holy Word of God. Many churches like this will grow. And why shouldn’t they? They’re giving out milk and honey! But over time that trampoline will get overcrowded and the few springs holding everyone up will give way and the party will end when the whole thing comes crashing down. Did I mention that not once, if my memory serves correctly, does Bell make any reference to Satan and the unseen world? 

To be concluded…