Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Last Lecture

I'm not sure how to define The Last Lecture, except to say that it's a cross between a nonfiction novel, a memoir, and a self-help book. The author, Randy Pausch, wrote it fully knowing that his days were limited—don't we all know this in some way?—and he wanted something that his kids could read one day and get to know him. It's this last bit, the fact that his kids wouldn't remember him, that broke me up inside. They would grow up, probably calling someone else Dad, and only ever know their first Dad as a shadowy figure from the beginning of their lives. Who, then, can blame Randy for wanting them to have a little something of him one day?

At the beginning of the book, we find out pretty immediately that Randy's dying, so it's no surprise. In fact, he doesn't dwell on this; he dwells, instead, on the life he lived, the dreams he realized, and the lessons he learned. In his last lecture at the Carnegie Mellon, he talked about realizing your childhood dreams. What's more encouraging and hopeful than that? He wanted to teach his kids to dream, but meanwhile gave them the advice to achieve those dreams because—let's face it—dreams don't just happen magically. Probably the best quote in the book and the last piece of advice he gives in the last chapter is this:
"It's not about how to achieve your dreams. It's about how to lead your life. If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you."
In other words: live well.

So the book was inspiring, no doubt, but more so were his little pieces of advice; real world stuff to apply in your own life:

  1. Don't try to give your kids self-esteem through coddling; allow them to build it.
  2. Spend your time on the right things.
  3. Show gratitude.
  4. Work hard: no job is beneath you.
  5. Be prepared by considering the worst-case scenario.
  6. Know how to apologize.
  7. Take responsibility—you know, action and CONSEQUENCES.
  8. Never give up.
  9. Always dream.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Dad and His Goody-Making Fun

Apparently my most popular posts aren't about running or reading or writing or even cooking. No, they're about my parents. So nothing I can ever do will as be as interesting as what my cute parents do, which I've come to accept. I mean, they are pretty adorable and quirky.

As many of you know, Dad loves loves loves to bake goodies and bring them to all his friends. Because my dad hasn't met someone who isn't a friend—even door-to-door salesmen (true story: I once heard him say to someone at the front door "Give your wife a hug for me!" Turns out that the gentleman he was speaking to was a salesman he'd just met 10 minutes before)—he has to make A LOT of cookies. It's a production. He cleans the kitchen because he needs all surfaces, gets out his buckets (I kid you not, he has a 10 gallon bucket he uses for his cooking projects), and puts on his cooking clothes—usually an apron and jacket because he someone manages to get dough everywhere. He's currently playing with the idea of getting a plastic drop cloth for the floor because, you know, the splatter factor.

Now, depending on whether he's making bread or cookies, his methods differ a little. Cookie dough is too stiff to mix even with his drill and goodie-making cement mixing attachment, so he has to knead in all the nuts and chocolate chips (his "Gary's mix"—it's actually called that in the recipe). So for all you who'd like to see him in action, here's a short video of him preparing the cookie dough:

And because 'tis the season, here's a video of Dad making his pumpkin bread (when he makes it, the entire house smells like magic: autumn and Thanksgiving and Christmas all rolled into one):

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Same Kind of Different As Me

I have to admit that I'm months behind in reviewing books from my book club. The Same Kind of Different As Me was the the July oops...

Although it hasn't been my favorite book club book so far, it's a good read. The book follows the lives of two men: Denver Moore and Ron Hall. They come from very different backgrounds — the 50s for a black man were NOT kind — but eventually they met and became best friends. However, I think the real hero of this story is Ron's wife, a forgiving, loving woman that spent her life helping others and was the impetus under which Ron and Denver eventually bonded. In fact, this quote from the book perfectly describes her:
“The Word says God don't give us credit for lovin the folks we want to love anyway. No, He gives us credit for loving the unlovable.” 
I think my favorite part of the book is Denver's matter-of-fact, accepting attitude. As a black man during the 50s, he suffered great injustices, and he lived a hard life, most of which was homeless and destitute. Yes, people treated him differently for both the color of his skin and his poverty, but he doesn't cry racism and build up this entitled attitude. He works hard and is true to himself, and eventually that pays off.

I also love how the book opens up about religion. The writers don't bother to hide it or make it less significant than it is. It was a major theme and continues to be so in the lives of Ron and Denver. So although it wasn't my favorite book, it's definitely worth a read. Plus, it gives you a better perspective on your own life. Just ask yourself: "Am I homeless? No? Then buck up!" or "What would Denver do?"

A couple of quotes to keep you inspired:
“Sometimes to touch us, God touches someone that's close to us. This is what opens our eyes to the fact there is a higher power than ourselves, whether we call it God or not.”
“You was the onlyest person that looked past my skin and past my meanness and saw that there was somebody on the inside worth savin...We all has more in common than we think. You stood up with courage and faced me when I was dangerous, and it changed my life. You loved me for who I was on the inside, the person God meant for me to be, the one that had just gotten lost for a while on some ugly roads in life.”  

Sunday, September 18, 2016

These Running Shoes of Mine...on Dog Lake Trail

The view on the way to the lake. The trees opened up, and it was like magic.

Sometimes these running shoes of mine becoming hiking shoes (or even strolling shoes). I mean, I could run up to Dog Lake in Millcreek Canyon, but there are tree roots and I'm fundamentally clumsy. True story. I can trip on anything or nothing—usually nothing. Running on a paved path is hard enough without having to dodge rocks. On hiking trails, you actually have to watch your feet at all times, and I get distracted by the scenery.

In this case, the scenery was a ton of cute dogs. The lake was like a little dog oasis. In fact, there were so many dogs that I thought, "What if I just grab one? Who'd notice?" Not that I'd actually steal a dog. That's wrong...

Dog Lake. I caught the lake in a rare moment without dogs thrashing around in it (or trying to drag tree-sized "sticks" out of it for their owners).

Friday, September 16, 2016

What My Parents Have Taught Me about Marriage

It all started with a product description. As a lark, and because my dad asked me, I wrote up a product description, a "Get your Gary!" sort of thing. But then I started thinking about it. I had written a few pithy lines about Gary's selling points, but what got me was what I didn't see: everything else.

In a normal product description and depending on who you're writing for, you have 25 to 35 words to make your selling point. If anybody knows my Dad, that's not enough words. I added the big obvious things that his friends and family (his fan club, really), would recognize. Big hugs. Jolly personality. Cuddliness. But there's so much more that I neglected: service, love, devotion.

Most importantly, I didn't point out that Gary Weber is only half of a set. Without Karen Weber, he's all these good things, but lacks something. Mom could have her own product description. It would describe her love of family, her gentleness, her service.

As I read what I had written about Dad, and what I thought about Mom, I realized that this sweet older couple is something special. And maybe it's just because they're my parents, but as an adult child, I've been able to see in them what my child eyes never could: a true marriage.

Separately my parents are special, but together they are more than the sum of their parts. The 1 Gary and 1 Karen don't equally 2. They equal eternity. Infinity.

You see, their idea of fun is baking bread or cookies and taking them to the neighbors, gardening together and sharing the bounty, drawing a community around them of warmth and love. My parents aren't an island, unless the island is the world and everyone in it is their best friend. My parents didn't just grow old together, they grew better together, and the center of this world is love toward each other and others.

My parents are totally different people, but in their differences they perfectly complement each other. Together they make the perfect missionary team comprising of both love and vigor, hugs and sweetness.

So although this post is completely about my parents, it's also not about them at all. It's about what they have taught me about marriage just through their example:
  • It isn't about growing old together, it's about becoming better together.
  • If you grow together, then no matter how different or how similar you are, you'll complement each other
  • Together you'll grow into the perfect whole, the true purpose of marriage
  • It's not just enough to spend a lifetime together, you have to want to spend time together
  • Because you love each other, you're not just content as a duo: you want to spread that love to others

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Last Star

I'm not gonna lie, this has been one of my favorite trilogies. I know, you read the cover and think, "Aliens. Again? Why would I read this?" Because it's about MORE than aliens. It's about humanity. The beauty of the series is that you don't really realize this at first. You get little hints here and there when Cassie says, "I am humanity," but you don't really understand how the concept of the human condition is central to the series.

So, as a recap, in the first book we learn about the five waves of alien invasion, the fourth of which is the Silencers (aliens in human skins who kill any humans who happen across their territory) and the fifth of which are human children trained to kill other humans (who they think are aliens).

In the second book (close your ears if you haven't read it) we find out that—bah bah bah bum!—the Silencers aren't actually aliens. They're humans who THINK they're aliens. As babies, they were downloaded planting false alien memories with this program that booted up during puberty. This is important because it means that there are no aliens on Earth. In fact, there are no aliens in the mother ship orbiting Earth. There are NO aliens in the solar system or probably galaxy. What we do know (through one of the few humans working with the aliens who actually know what's happening) is that the aliens are attempting to save the planet and the humans. They are burning the village to save what.

"Whaaaat?" you ask. Exactly. You find out exactly how the aliens are trying to accomplish this, and it's rather brilliant. I give Rick Yancey credit that he came up with an amazing, unique concept in science fiction, so revolutionary that it really straddles that border between sci-fi and philosophy. It's an explanation of civilization, of humanity, and of the human spirit. And it all boils down to one word...

[before continuing on, know that I'm going to go on to summarize the rest of the book, more for my own benefit than for yours. So if you haven't read the book, STOP here]


Yup, it all comes down to love. Which I already knew, but the way Rick Yancey incorporates that is amazing.

So back to burning the village to save it. Aliens have been studying human civilization of thousands of years. They watched as humans built up civilization to such extent that it threatened the Earth (now, for the sake of argument, let's pretend this is happening. I'm of the opinion that the Earth is much stronger than puny humans). The aliens decided that in order to preserve life, that of all the living organisms on Earth including humanity, they had to purge the Earth of most of the people because people are apparently the problem. So during the five waves, the human population was whittled down from about 7 billion to 140 million, 2 percent of the original number. In fact, the final step or wave (the sixth?), is the aliens bombing every single remaining city—and by aliens, I mean the humans doing their bidding—resulting in only a few million humans.
However, this isn't the only solution to the "human" problem. During the millennia of recon on humanity, the aliens realized that the essence of humanity is trust and cooperation. It's in our nature to congregate and build, so just destroying 99.9% of the population won't accomplish anything because we will eventually rebuild. The aliens knew that to keep humans from rebuilding and bringing the Earth to the brink of ruin again, they had to change the fundamentals of human nature; they had to destroy human nature.

To this end they came up with the five waves. Each of the waves was designed to destroy human trust in each other. For instance, the EMP destroyed communication; the tidal waves destroyed everybody who lived in close proximity to each other (and the coasts); the virus taught humans not to be close to others in fear of catching the disease. The Silencers taught humans that nobody could be trusted. The fifth wave trained the next generation to kill, to give over humanity to revenge and blood. The last wave, the bombing, was meant to destroy all the remaining cities and cities are the oldest human settlements, the conglomeration of human knowledge and civilization. It was to be the crowning moment and destroy the essence of human nature. All survivors of the waves would lose the ability to trust others, to form bonds and trust and the ability to cooperate and build. We would be little better than animals.

That was the plan. Destroy humanity to destroy the human problem and preserve the human race. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Simple as pie.

Right now, you're saying, "What about love?"

Back to our favorite characters: Cassie and Evan. Evan's a Silencer, a human who thinks he's an alien. He's also in love with Cassie, and the head human-who-knows-he's-a-human-but-is-willingly-helping-the-aliens (he's a jerk, right?), Vosch, wants Evan Walker because somehow the alien program downloaded into him has a glitch in it. They need to figure out what went wrong so they can fix the program. The entire alien plan hinges on the program, on the idea that take away humanity and you take away the human.

So Vosch captures Evan, and Cassie goes after him. Not only does she find Evan, but she finds out how to destroy the mother ship and destroy the last wave before it can level all the cities: she takes a pod up to the ship and blows it and all the bombs, and herself, up.

This sort of self-sacrifice was a product of love. Evan's inability to kill Cassie as the alien program dictated was a product of love. The answer to the alien invasion was, in fact, love. Because despite trying to destroy humanity, the aliens never understood and couldn't destroy love. Love will always bring humans together.

Before you assume that this is the type of book where the humans somehow rally and destroy the aliens, don't. The humans win in that they avoid the last wave, save millions of lives, destroy the mother ship (even if it is alien-less), and keep their humanity. In the end, we see Cassie's friends, including her little brother, starting to rebuild, teaching the next generation to love and trust. Love truly is the most powerful force on Earth:
“Love is forever. If it wasn't, it wouldn't be love. The world is beautiful. If it wasn't, it wouldn't be the world.”
“Because love is the most dangerous weapon in the world. It’s more unstable than uranium.”
While I'm at it, here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:
  • “Thinking about the bacon - the potential of bacon - gives me hope. Not all is lost if bacon isn't.” 
  • “But I am even more than this. I am all those they remember, the ones they loved, everyone they knew, and everyone they only heard about. How many are contained in me? Count the stars. Go on, number the grains of sand. That's me.
I am humanity.”
  •  “Pain is necessary. Pain is life. Without pain there can be no joy.” 
  •  “Some things down to the smallest of things, are worth the sum of all things.” 
  •  “We bear the unbearable. We endure the unendurable. We do what must be done until we ourselves are undone.”  
  • “Hello, Earth. So this is how God sees you, sparkling blue against the dullest black. No wonder he made you. No wonder he made the sun and the stars so he could see you.” 
  • “Cities are more than the sum of their infrastructure. They transcend brick and mortar, concrete and steel. They're the vessels into which human knowledge is poured.” 
  • “Beautiful is another word we tossed around too casually, slopping it over everything from cars to nail polish until the word collapsed under the weight of all the banality. But the world is beautiful. I hope they never forget that. The world is beautiful.”