Sunday, February 27, 2011

One Human Soul

Can one human soul be all that important?

I had a bit of a surprise as I sat curled up on the couch watching cartoons with Wesley yesterday morning. We had put in a DVD of "The Real Ghostbusters" cartoon from the late 80s.

The episode we were watching was "Night Game". Winston has been to a baseball game and witnessed some strange phenomena so he does a little checking and finds an ancient Indian legend of an epic battle taking place once every 500 years where Good and Evil duke it out. It just so happens that the stadium is built on the very spot where this battle has always taken place.

The other three are skeptical so Winston decides to go back alone that evening and check it out. He finds himself trapped in the middle of this battle. The combatants have always used whatever was at hand for their battle so Winston convinces them to play baseball.

Meanwhile, Egon, Ray, and Peter receive a call from a frightened security guard and rush to save Winston. After blasting their way through a cosmic wall of energy they discover the supernatural baseball game getting ready to start. The gigantic umpire confronts them and informs tells them what is going on. He tells them that nobody can remain neutral in this game so Winston chose to play on the good side. However it is too late to add more players so he tells them they can stay to watch. Concerned for Winston's safety they ask what happens to the losers. The umpire assures them that nothing happens to the losers.

Now this is where my shock came. Check out this dialog which I am quoting verbatim from the show:

"What are you playin' for?"

"The fate of one human soul."

"You guys hijacked an entire stadium, not to mention our buddy, Winston, and panicked the entire city for just one soul?"

Gigantic Ghostly Umpire
"JUST ONE SOUL?? Is there anything on this puny earth as important? Isn't even one soul worth all this effort....and more?"

Now I have to say I was absolutely blown away that this little kids show, all about ghosts and the supernatural, would put forward such a powerful message! The guys ask what happens to that one soul if Evil wins, and the umpire informs them it will spend the next 500 years in torment doing Evil's bidding.

Well, now that was quite a surprise but there is more.

The game starts and Evil is cheating every chance they get. Egon approaches the umpire and points out the cheating to him. They suggest that Evil should forfeit the game.

Here is another quote that impressed me:

Gigantic Ghostly Umpire
"Evil Cheats, that's it's nature, it does whatever unscrupulous or immoral thing it has to, to win. That's why we call them 'Evil'. Only Good is not allowed to cheat. If Good adopts the ways of Evil, it becomes Evil. So if Good cheats, Evil automatically wins."

Now, the game continues for eight innings with no score on either side. Finally in the ninth inning, Evil scores a run. When Good gets up to bat they get a couple of base hits. Evil calls a time out and replaces their pitcher. A gigantic elephant looking creature takes over, firing the baseballs from it's trunk with such power nobody seems to be able to stand against him. soon there are two outs and Winston is up to bat. The guys have guessed that it is Winston's soul in the balance so they are really scared for him. The umpire casually remarks that Winston would probably have a better chance against a different pitcher. The guys decide that since they are only spectators and not actually part of the game, they can do something. They prepare a ghost trap and their plasma guns and are about to fire on the pitcher when Egon remembers the Umpire saying "nobody can be neutral in this game". He jumps in front of the other two and stops them in the nick of time.

Well now, Winston is down by two strikes with two outs already in the bag. He steps up to receive the final pitch and nails it, sending it out of the park. With two men on base he has brought three runs in to win the game!

As the ghosts begin to vanish, the four of them stand talking to the umpire. Listen to this one last exchange:

"It was a test wasn't it?"

Gigantic Ghostly Umpire
"I told you no one can be neutral. You had to choose; would you cheat for your friend, or would you trust in fair play, and let Good win on it's own terms?"

As I said before, I was really impressed by this little kids show and the message this episode held! It got me thinking; how much value do I put on a single human soul? Would I do anything to see just one soul saved? Would I spend my whole life, living for God, being a witness for Him, doing His will, if I knew that only one soul would be saved? I think too often we want to make a BIG difference, we want to see evidence of our work in many people, but no matter what we do, if even just one person is touched, it is all worth it!

I also love the lesson that no matter how easy it might be to cut corners, or do something that is not quite right, even if it is for a good cause, we automatically lose. We have to remember that we are playing for the Good team and if we stoop to anything evil, no matter how insignificant it might be, we have automatically lost! Who knows what repercussion our actions might have? We have to trust that God can win any contest if we just put our trust in Him!!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Austere Academy - Lemony Snicket

The Austere Academy
By: Lemony Snicket
Published: 2000
Audiobook Read by: Lemony Snicket
My rating: Delightful

Ohhh....agony....misery....terrible horrificness! I weep....I wail....I heart bleeds for these poor unfortunate children and the execrable (a word which here means living in a filthy shack infested with tiny toe pinching crabs) conditions they are forced to live in!

In other words we really enjoyed this fifth installment of the wonderfully atrocious tale of the Baudelaire Orphans!

Mr. Poe has decided to change course and send the children to boarding school instead of trying to find another guardian for them. Apparently, there is a shortage of willing applicants in the guardian cue! Anyway, off they go to Prufrock Prep to further their education. Now, Prufrock Prep is no place for a child! The students there would be better off working in sweatshops I think! With Vice Principal Nero's six hour violin concerts, Mr. Remora's mindless stories, and Mrs. Bass' obsession with the Metric System, you would think the children unable to handle any additional calamity. However, wouldn't you know it, Count Olaf shows up (in disguise of course) to make things worse! Of course the children recognize him immediately, but do you think they can convince anyone else of his true identity? Well, they do! Finally they have made some friends, Duncan and Isadora, the Quagmire Triplets! These two are the first people the children have been able to turn to for a long time! But what will be the price of friendship with the doomed Baudelaires?

I think this book is my favorite so far. I have come to the conclusion that despite the intentional theme of woe and misfortune, there really does need to be some good things that happen, however minor they may be. The Quagmires are that "good thing" in this story. Their friendship and loyalty make all of the terrible things easier to bear for the orphans as well as the reader. This book also hints at a deeper more sinister plot that I assume will be developed further in future books. To coin a phrase; "The plot thickens!"

We listened to the audiobook read by Lemony Snicket. After three books, he still hasn't improved. His performance by no means ruins the book but we are very happy to find that Tim Curry will be doing the rest of the series!

Overall, this is yet another fun book in the series. Don't hesitate to give them a try, but start at the beginning to get the best sense of the storyline. As always, misery has never been so much fun! :)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Pale Blue Eye - Louis Bayard

The Pale Blue Eye
By: Louis Bayard
Published: 2007
Audiobook Read by: Charles Leggett

After listening to The Black Tower and Mr. Timothy and absolutely loving them, I was really looking forward to this one! I am very happy to say this was every bit as great as the others!

Augustus Landor is a haunted man. Tragedies of the past have become the catalyst for his future. Everything he does has roots in the memories that haunt him. He has become something of a hermit, enjoying no one's company, and desiring nothing from anyone save his solitude.

When atrocities rattle the fortitude of the leadership of West Point, Landor, unwilling though he may be, seems to be the only person who can solve the case. With his years of detective experience in the New York police force, he has the skills to ferret out the culprits of these heinous crimes. With the help of a young cadet, a poet by the name of Edgar Poe, serving as eyes and ears inside the barracks, Landor slowly but surely uncovers a hideous chain of events that lead to a deadly conclusion. However, things are not what they seem and beneath this horrendous series of crimes lies another, more surprising mystery that takes the cunning Mr. Poe to uncover.

Once again, Louis has crafted a masterpiece of historical fiction here and I was enthralled by it from beginning to end! The mystery has so many twists and turns that every time I thought I had an idea of the solution, a new bit of information would throw me into turmoil again! Indeed, when the final curtain fell, I had been completely taken by surprise by the true nature of the crimes and who the perpetrator really was! I was impressed once more with the beautiful way the story flowed along. Louis is a truly gifted story teller easily keeping me fascinated from beginning to end!

I listened to the audiobook read by Charles Leggett. Charles was absolutely perfect for the part, having exactly the right voice to portray Landor. His performance was stellar all the way through and I will gladly listen to another book by him any day!

Overall, this is another SPECTACULAR example of Louis Bayard's work. Of the three books I've listened to I would be hard put to pick my favorite, they all have different but equally wonderful qualities. I think after listening to this book, I have no choice but to declare Louis my favorite author! I can't wait for his newest book, The School Of Night, to come out next month!

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Shapeshifter: Going To Ground - Ali Sparkes

Going To Ground
By: Ali Sparkes
Published: 2007
My rating: Wonderful

Once again, we have been entranced by this series as we read this third installment! The adventures of these children have kept us on the edge of our seats throughout all three of the books we have read so far!

Following the destruction of Tregarren College, the COLAs have been sent home while a new location can be made ready for them. Despite close surveillance, Dax, Lisa, Gideon, and Mia still manage to slip away. Lisa has sensed a grave danger and they have no idea who they can trust! It takes all their wits to remain free of the grasp of the government searchers, but they manage to stay ahead of them as they lead them on quite a chase across the English countryside! As the danger becomes more and more apparent, they realize they are no match for it! They have to find someone they can trust to help them, but who? Help comes from surprising places and in the end after a harrowing experience they finally feel safe once again. But is the danger really past? As they move into their new home they are faced once again with a huge shock that nobody ever expected!

As in the previous two books, I was impressed with the easy flow of the storyline. Ali does an amazing job keeping the reader's attention without giving too much away. My wife and I were just as caught up in the excitement as the kids were and we looked forward very much to the time we got to spend reading. I am impressed at how each book can stand alone but as we are reading them in order, we are also discovering a deeper, very subtle plot unfolding throughout all of the books. It is important to read them all, as one would completely miss this by only reading one or two. I am looking forward to finding out more as we move on to the last two books in the set!

Overall, these books are wonderful for the kids but very engaging for adults as well! If you have kids, don't hesitate to get these to read to them! However, if you don't have kids, I won't tell on you if you decided to indulge your inner child a bit! :)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

What to Do When You're A Bored Kid

Cheyenne has a friend over today and after a day of playing in the woods, running around the house, hide and seek, and who knows what else, they couldn't figure out what to do.

When I realized what they were doing, I just had to get a video of it! I sneaked out the back door and went around the end of the house. I was holding the camera around the corner so I was out of sight but, as you can see they still caught me! :)

They basically chased me back inside where I was going to stay until Wesley decided to join them. Well I just had to get another video of the three of them! After one failed attempt to sneak up on them from the far side of my truck, I crawled up on my garage's flat roof and was able to catch them again:
If you look close, each of the girls is wearing one boot and one shoe. They informed me they were counting the number of honks, (10) and "VROOOM VROOOMs" (2) that they were getting. They did inform me that they were not doing anything if a police car went by! :) As you can see, Wesley just wasn't into as much and soon after I came in, he was back inside stating the fact that it was cold.

So, the next time you're bored, give it a try, you never know, you just might have fun! :)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Three Rivers Rising - Jame Richards

Three Rivers Rising
By: Jame Richards
Published: 2010
Audiobook Read by: multiple readers
My rating: AMAZING

In an effort to broaden my horizons, I took the plunge into verse novels with this one. I didn't go in blind though, my friend Valerie over at Something To Write About, reviewed this one and piqued my interest. Despite my aversion to poetry I decided to give it a try and let me tell you, I was blown away!

Celestia is a young lady of the upper class in the late 1800s. Her family vacations at the elite South Fork Fishing And Hunting Club, where her father enjoys a good round of sport with his fellow businessmen, and her mother gossips with the ladies. A quiet girl, Celestia spends much of her time by herself reading, seeking out the peaceful out of the way places to get away from the smothering atmosphere of the social elite.

When love finds her in one of these secluded spots, little does she know how drastically her life will change. It seems that her world begins to slowly crumble around her as first her sister, and then herself, fall from the good graces of their father. Unfortunately, those petty concerns pale in comparison to the tragedy that is poised to take place.

As the heavy rains continue, the lake rises until the poorly maintained South Fork Dam can no longer contain it. The raging flood takes no mercy on the towns and villages below, as it cuts a swath of destruction across the Pennsylvania countryside. As the full impact of the tragedy unfolds, each player in this tragic drama must re-examine themselves and their relationships to those around them.

Jame has integrated this fictional drama seamlessly into the true story of the Johnstown flood of 1889. Using historical figures for the basis of some of her characters and filling the rest in from her amazing imagination, she has crafted a story that is heartbreaking on one had and beautiful on the other. The tragedy of the Johnstown flood is brought to life through these verses in vivid color. I found tears in my eyes many times as I felt the heartache and agony of those many victims. I was also appalled at the image of social bias and the way families of class and distinction could act like inhumane savages.

I was leery of the fact that it was a verse novel but I very much enjoyed the rhythm of the verses. It didn't feel like poetry at all and by the end, I had pretty much lost myself in the story not even remembering that it was in verse form!

I listened to the audiobook read by Eileen Stevens, Joshua Swanson, Kevin Pariseau, Elizabeth Rodgers, Suzy Jackson and Joe Barrett. Their performance was beautiful and added another layer of life to this already vivid story.

Overall I was absolutely AMAZED by this book! I was left with a deep sorrow for the loss of life sustained in the Johnstown tragedy, but also held entranced by the fictional part of the story. Jame has created a masterpiece here and I strongly urge you to get this book and experience it for yourself!

The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern - Lillian Jackson Braun

The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern
By: Lillian Jackson Braun
Published: 1967
Audiobook Read by: George Guidall
My rating: Wonderful

If you remember, I listened to The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers and really didn't like it. I decided to give the series another chance by getting the very first one, The Cat Who Could Read Backwards, and was very pleasantly surprised. Now, with this second volume in the series, I am once again thrilled to say, I LOVE IT!!

Jim and Koko have to move because the house they have been living in is going to be demolished. But where to move to? Jim's salary isn't going to allow for much. But he has a surprise awaiting him when he arrives at the Daily Fluxion! A new supplement is being added to the Sunday paper and Jim is tagged as the man to be in charge! The big question in everybody's mind is, "How is Jim Qwilleran, veteran crime reporter, going to handle writing a supplement on Interior Decorating!?" Indeed, this is the foremost question in Jim's mind as well until he finds out the assignment comes with a raise!

As he immerses himself in the world of Blanched Almond drapery, Majorelle Blue upholstory, and Moss Green goat-hair rugs, Jim discovers that the decorating world can be a dangerous place! In no time at all he finds himself surrounded by theft, fraud, and murder, sending his crime reporter's instincts into a frenzy of activity! Koko as usual, has to help him solve the mystery, while at the same time convincing him he is a lonely cat who needs companionship. As the mysteries are being cleared up, romance is taking hold. For Koko? For Jim? You'll just have to read the book to find out!

This was such a fun book! I loved the antics of Koko and the view of interior design from the odd perspective of Jim's less than fashion conscious mind! It was so much fun seeing Jim try to fit in with these decorators, and the hilarious outlook of his photographer, Odd Bunsen, is priceless! The story itself is so well written and flows smoothly from beginning to end. As before, the mystery isn't particularly deep, but is well conceived and gives the book a great plot to carry it through.

I listened to the audiobook read by George Guidall, who does an absolutely phenominal job of bringing it to life! I love his voice, and the way he handles the cat noises is great! He is fast becoming my favorite narrator! Don't be surprised if I begin to pick books because he is the reader over any other reason!

Overall, this is another wonderful book in this fun series! If you haven't already read the first one, go read it and then read this one, you won't be disappointed! I am so very glad I didn't let my first impression stop me from the enjoyment I am having in these books!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Miserable Mill - Lemony Snicket

The Miserable Mill
By: Lemony Snicket
Published: 2000
Audiobook Read by: Lemony Snicket
My rating: Delightful

And now we find ourselves miserably listening to the horrible calamities that befall the unfortunate Baudelaire Orphans as they find themselves at the detestable Lucky Smells Lumber Mill in this fourth book in Lemony Snicket's awful series. We loved it!

Sunny, Klaus, and Violet, have the privilege of being Lucky Smell's newest employees. However, despite the fact they get chewing gum for lunch, live in one big dormitory with all the other workers, and never see the face or learn the name of their new guardian, the children aren't happy! With all this wonderful charity being bestowed upon them, one would think they would be ecstatic! I mean, it's not just anyone that gets to work at such a prestigious establishment! How could they turn their back on the kindness of a man who offers such bounty?

Well, as you and I both know, this is not the kind of life for three such wonderful children and after all their previous misadventures, it would be nice to say they had finally found a happy home. I can't say that honestly, so, nice as it may have been, I won't say it! In fact, I think they have found the second most unhappy home of their lives! And when, you know who turns up again, (I'm sure you know who I am referring to so I won't grieve you by mentioning Count Olaf's name here) their situation becomes even more pitiful! It seems that no matter how hard they try to get away from him, you know who is going to find them and make trouble! And trouble is what they have! Shirley is bound and determined to get her ugly hands on the children and uses every means at her disposal to do so! Things get rather grim when she manages to get Klaus to help her but thanks to the wonderful book, Advanced Ocular Science, Violet figures out how to stop him. In the end they foil you know who's plans once again and they continue on to live miserably ever after....or at least I'm pretty sure they will!

We enjoyed this book much more than The Wide Window. I think the friendliness of Charles and Phil gave just enough relief from the misery to make the entire book more fun. Despite the awful circumstances the children constantly find themselves in, and the way Snicket makes that theme so enjoyable to hear about, it seems to be important to have a small amount of goodness to temper the bad. We'll see how that theory plays out in the rest of the series.

Once again this audiobook was read by Lemony Snicket, and once again, we did not like his narration. He just doesn't give the book the life it could have, but that hasn't stopped us from enjoying it!

Overall, this is yet another fun book about pain and suffering that will leave you laughing! I have never encountered such entertaining misery in all my life as this series offers! :) Don't hesitate to read these....if you dare!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Washington: A Life - Ron Chernow

Washington: A Life
By: Ron Chernow
Published: 2010
Audiobook Read by: Scott Brick
My rating: Wonderful

This was my first foray into the world of non-fiction and I found I quite enjoyed it! Thanks to my good friend Sam over at Book Chase, I decided to give this book a try despite the daunting 33 CDs equaling 42 hours of listening! I was somewhat hampered in my listening by a series of projects at work that required mental concentration and left me little time for the enjoyment of my audiobooks, but after nearly a month, I have completed the book and am ready to present you with my review.

Washington, portrayed as a real human being as opposed to the legendary figure I had fostered in my imagination, turns out to be a truly great man despite flaws and shortcomings. Despite the heroic figure we generally think of, he really was a normal guy, living his life by the beliefs and morals he had been taught. He wasn't perfect and made his fair share of mistakes, both in his personal life as well as his public one. Growing up in the sometimes harsh conditions of the early American colonial life, Washington developed a love for his country and his fellow man that fostered a determination that bore him through trials that would have brought a lesser man to his knees. There was never a situation so grim that he lost his hope for a better future and his confidence endeared him to almost everyone he came in contact with. From his commanding of the Colonial Army during the Revolutionary War, to the debates that lead to the drafting of our Constitution, and on to his presidency of the young United States Of America, he never wavered in his belief that we, as a nation, could be great!

I really enjoyed listening to this book and learned a lot from it. I have never been much of a history buff but hearing the story of the birth of our great nation stirred me to learn more about our roots! I was impressed by Ron's willingness to reveal Washington's flaws right along side of his strengths, making him human to me and helping me to realize the conflicts our forefathers had to face as they founded our country. It was very surprising to me to learn about some of the major problems our government had to deal with and how often we faced defeat in our resolve to be a free people. The fine thread that bound us together was many times nearly broken and but for the visionary men such as Washington, would have left us a divided group of rebels without a cause!

I listened to the audiobook read by Scott Brick and was very pleased with his performance. He brought this book to life and helped me to learn much from our history by his careful narration.

Overall, despite the size of it, it really was an enjoyable book. I never found myself wishing it would hurry up and be over. I was fascinated by each and every chapter and was very impressed with the thoroughness of the account of each part of Washington's life. I finished the book with a deeper understanding of the founding of our nation and a much deeper respect for the man who made it possible! I highly recommend this book to anyone who has even the slightest interest in history, you won't find it a waste of time!!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My First Awards!! Yippeeeee!!!!

Ladies and Gentlemen! 

Let me present the latest Stylish Blogger:
Andy Schafer

Thank you...Thank you...You are too kind...Please...You're making me blush now!

Ok, well, I'm humbled and honored to have been chosen by Jane over at Country Bumpkin to receive this wonderful award. MY FIRST BLOGGING AWARD!!! I'm very excited! :)

So, part of the rules for this award is for me to tell you seven things about myself and then award this to seven other bloggers. I'm going to have to cheat and not pass it on to seven people because I really don't have that many followers that I think would appreciate it!

So first lets get personal! Let me see, seven things. I'm pretty open about myself so this won't be too hard.

  1. To start out, I'll give you one I hope you have already figured out. I am a born again, Bible believing, Church attending, Heaven bound Christian and proud of it!
  2. When I was a kid I was bound and determined to be a cowboy and went so far as to wear nothing but cowboy boots, jeans and flannel shirts, topped off with a big ole hat and many times a bandanna tied around my neck! That phase lasted from about 12 years old until I was 15!
  3. I am a computer nut and have tinkered around with web design and currently have a web server here at my house hosting a site for work that includes a scheduling program, a messaging system and a database of all my maintenance activities. I also have 3 laptops, and 3 desktops in operation here at home!
  4. I spent several years being very rebellious during my late teens and landed myself in jail for a while. I'll tell the whole story sometime! :)
  5. My full given name that as listed on my birth certificate is Andy Schafer. No middle name and it really is Andy, not Andrew.
  6. I am a bit of an inventor and have designed a tool that is in regular use at both of the hotels I work for.
  7. And now for the last one. I should make it a doosey but I already revealed my criminal background so what can I say? hmmmm let me see, I know! One time when I was 16 I was driving down the interstate doing about 120 MPH and lost control of my car and spun it around two complete revolutions in the middle of the road. I ended up in the median facing the same direction I had been going with no damage so I just took off and kept on my way! I slowed down after that! :)
So, there you have it, seven completely random tidbits of information about me. I hope you enjoyed them! :) Now I have to pass this along to some other bloggers. So here they are in no particular order:

  1. Cheilsea at The Brownings I know you got one of these not to long ago but I wasn't following you then and I think you're a pretty stylish blogger so you get another one from me! :)
  2. Sam over at Book Chase I'm not sure if you're into this kind of thing but you really are a great blogger and I really enjoy your reviews and other posts. You have turned me on to some really great books and I respect your opinions on the books you review.
  3. Fiftyodd You have given me many laughs and a lot of food for thought! I really love reading your blog! 
  4. Nancy at Boomers, Scribblers and Saints You have a wonderful blog and I love reading your posts. You were also one of my first followers and have helped to keep me going with your many comments and encouragement!
  5. Bernie at Old? Who? Me? You always have something interesting to say and I love to hear your stories and read your thoughts on so many different things!
Well, I made it up to 5, how's that? I would have given one to my great friend Darlene but she has already received three in the past couple weeks and I'm afraid she might dump a truckload of snow on me if I tried to give her another one! I would also love to give one to my wonderful loving wife Tammy, but she told me in no uncertain terms that I wasn't allowed to. Then I would have given one to one of my newest friends here, Amanda but she got one from Jane as well so I guess I won't. They are all three very Stylish Bloggers though and I enjoy all of them very much!

Now...drum roll please...not only did Andy get the Stylish Blogger Award...he got the

Liebster Award!!
 This award was given to me by Cheilsea at The Brownings!
This award is for blogs that are not very well known but should be.
I am very honored that you feel that my blog deserves this award and I thank you very much for it!
Now, I must pass it along to someone else that I think is deserving so here goes!

Even though I just gave her the Stylish Blogger Award, I am also going to give
the Liebster Award as well! She has a wonderful blog and deserves to have many more followers find her!
So there you have it. I am now the proud recipient of two wonderful awards and I again would like to thank Jane and Cheilsea for these great honors an a big thank you to all of you who take the time to read my posts and give me so much encouragement in this wonderful blogging experience!