Movie Review: Contagion (2011)

Contagion (2011)

3 out of 5 stars

I’ve actually seen better pandemic disaster movies, but I can’t recall the name(s) of them off the top of my head.  I agree with most critics that the science and especially the government bureaucracy and corruption depicted in Contagion reflected reality (or predicable reality).

I found fault with the sporadic evidence of the aftermath and consequences shown.  For example, we are shown empty sports clubs and malls, grocery stores being looted, trash left to pile up on the streets, nurses striking, police and fire departments woefully undermanned, yet the electricity, water and cell phones continue uninterrupted at the home of our ‘every man’ who is immune to the virus, but lost both his wife (the originating case) and his step son.  As far as I can tell, he never leaves the house, except to scrounge for food for himself and his remaining teenage daughter, although they hardly look like they are suffering from starvation or other modern amenities.

So I’ll give the film an above average rating for medical science and government portrayals, but a below average for disaster depiction.  Hence, my three out of five star rating.

And, no, I didn’t immediately rush out to my local pharmacy to purchase their entire stock of hand sanitizers.  Hot water and soap used frequently throughout the day to wash your hands works wonders as well, and is usually less expensive.

Hot June, Cool Moon

I backburnered my walking routine as the mercury topped triple digits the last week of June.  I just can’t submit Apollo, who is mostly black in color, to early evening walks, with the sun still beating down, making the asphalt and sidewalks very hot for his paws.  I managed to squeeze in four walks this last week of June, but only three the week before.  My best most consistent week came during the second week, where I only missed two days out of seven.  The first week became almost a complete wash, since I spent three days at an astronomy convention, one day observing a lunar eclipse and another day observing Venus transit across the Sun.

June 2012 Step Stats
Step Stats for June 2012

I didn’t take many photos this month with my cell phone while walking Apollo, probably because we walked very early or well after sunset most days, to avoid the heat and humidity as much as possible. I did capture a few flowers, sunsets, sunrises and quirky canine moments though and am sharing them below (click on the image to see the entire album):

Apollo returning home.
June Walks with Apollo (click image for rest of album)

I need to find a better way to get exercise for both of us during the summer.  My experience tells me July and August will not be any cooler than the last day of June.  I guess it’s back to doing Wii Fit Plus in the great room for the next couple of months.

A Pint Low

I donated whole blood today.  I have been unable to donate for nearly two decades, due to chronic anemia.  The last time I attempted (and failed to meet the minimum iron level) was either the immediately following the Andover tornado of April 1991 or the Oklahoma City Bombing in April 1995.  Apparently, April just isn’t a good month for me to donate blood (or to dodge tornadoes and bombs).

I solved my anemia problem last fall and have felt much less tired these past few months.  I thought it was time to try to donate again.  I really disliked not being able to donate because I’m a universal donor and I am Rh negative (somewhat rare).  When an e-mail came out at work a couple of weeks ago concerning a sponsored blood drive for the Community Blood Center of Greater Kansas City, I took the plunge and scheduled an appointment.

For the last two days, I made sure I drank plenty of water, something I routinely do anyway. I got a fairly good night’s sleep last night, albeit only six hours instead of seven. Summertime late sunsets encourage me to stay up past my bedtime most weekdays.  Today, I ate a good breakfast, continued drinking water throughout the morning, and ate a light lunch immediately prior to my appointment, set for high noon on one of the hottest days of the year (thus far).

The library in the lobby of the building where I work provided the space for the blood drive.  I took myself, and my photo ID, downstairs and arrived a few minutes early, knowing I’d have paperwork to fill out and questions to answer.  I waited at the door for a few minutes, but got through the registration process fairly quickly.  My draw number was twenty-five, so I settled in to wait, reading  a book on my Nook and sipping on a bottle of water.

I barely got two pages read before my number was called.  Now I had to pass the health screening.  My blood pressure came in at 126/76, slightly elevated from my most recent readings.  I put that down to nervousness.  My pulse was 85 and my temperature at a cool 98.4 degrees.  The final test involved a finger prick to gauge my hemoglobin levels.  I held my breath as the small desktop testing apparatus analyzed my blood.  After a few seconds, a reading of 13.5 appeared on its screen.  I let out my breath and grinned.  The minimum level required is eleven.  My forearms were reviewed and approved for puncture.

Next, I was herded to a reclining bed/lounge chair and the real fun began.   A blood bag with hose and needle attached and several vials for blood testing were prepped and deployed around my left arm and side.  I was given a  ball to squeeze so the health care professional could find my veins.  She scrubbed my forearm for nearly a full minute and then stuck a rather large needle in my arm.  She instructed me to squeeze the ball for five seconds then relax for five seconds.  Apparently, in my enthusiasm to pump blood out of my veins, I squeezed the ball too hard.  She came back and told me to ease up and that I only needed to squeeze as hard as I would if I were holding hands with a toddler.  Whoops!  I would have crushed their hand had I continued as I had been.

After a  minute or two, I began to feel the affects of the blood leaving my body.  I’ve felt this before so I wasn’t worried.  But soon, I began to feel very light headed, very warm and my vision started to darken.  Apparently, my complexion also drained of color, because a health care professional came over to me and asked how I was feeling.  I said I felt a bit light headed.  So they reclined me until my head was lower than my heart, raised my knees and placed cold damp paper towels on my forehead and neck.  In just a few seconds, I felt completely normal again.  I continued gently squeezing the ball while lying down and after about ten minutes I had filled my pint bag full of blood.

Even though I was feeling completely normal again, the blood drive personnel took very good care of me and made sure I didn’t faint when I sat up or stood up.  I drank some apple juice and guiltily consumed two Oreo cookies.  I received a donation sticker and a blood drive t-shirt, as well as cast my vote in the police department v. fire department ‘Battle for the Blood’ campaign.  I also submitted an entry to win two tickets to the All-Star Game festivities.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed for that one.

I returned to my desk on the ninth floor and whizzed through the rest of the afternoon, hardly missing the pint of blood I left in the lobby.  I drank plenty of water, knowing the long drive home would be torture, driving west into the sun in 105 to 110 degree scorching heat.  No, I won’t be walking Apollo this evening.  I’ll be taking it easy with him on the couch, in the air conditioning, reading a book and sipping an iced tea.

Moview Review (Reblog): The Grey (2012)

I watched The Grey last night, and it left me thinking and dreaming all night long in the realm of nihilism. I cringed at writing an adequate review, as my understanding of the nihilistic worldview is hampered by my own Christian worldview. But I found this excellent review and decided to share it as a reblog. As far as a rating for the movie, I’ll give it three out of five stars.

Movie Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Perhaps I should have read the book first.  Or at least read a plot synopsis.  As much as I love hacker themes, I have a hard time swallowing and digesting violence, especially that perpetrated against women.  That being said, I still feel a bit disappointed in Lisbeth’s response to her assailant.  I thought she went too easy on him.

The ‘locked room mystery’ portion of the film held most of my interest, causing me to pause and rewind the BluRay several times, and play sections of it in slow motion.  I love a great mystery and I adore female characters who don’t slow down for inferior intellects.  Keep up, or shut up and get out of the way.

The ending convinced me to stick to non-contemporary literature for my fiction reading.  What has that got to do with this movie?  Well, as we all know, real life sucks.  As far as I can tell, contemporary literature, especially crime novels, which this movie was based upon, exists to expose us to the absolute worst aspects of humanity and society, leaving us with little resolution and a scarcity of hope.

Give me a good fantasy film like The Prince Bride (the debut film for Robin Wright who also appeared in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) any day.  At least then I won’t yell at my husband how much I hate men while watching it.  (Yeah, I paid for that comment for  hours after the movie ended).

Movie Review: Man on a Ledge (2012)

Man on a Ledge (2012)

3.5 out of 5 stars

A better than average thriller starring a couple of my favorite actors: Sam Worthington and Ed Harris (although the latter looked like he had recently been ill and lost some weight).  I enjoyed seeing Anthony Mackie again, whom I loved in The Adjustment Bureau, but can’t say I liked his character in this movie.

I can’t disclose too much about the plot without spoiling most of it (which is true for most thrillers).  Worthington is a police officer, who lost his appeal and faces twenty-five years in prison.  He knows he’s innocent (but haven’t we heard that from just about any convict?) and he’s got nothing to lose.  He escapes while attending his father’s funeral and then places himself on a ledge high above New York City streets, but not for the obvious reason.

You’ll be on the edge of your seat trying to keep up with the twists, turns and surprises.

Tour Guide for the Silent Tower

Thank you to everyone who voted in my poll to help me decide what novel to recommend as a Member’s Choice selection next month at the GoodReads SciFi & Fantasy Book Club.  Despite a tie in the poll, several members of the aforementioned group expressed their opinions in a discussion thread I started last week, which sealed my decision.

So, without further ado, my Member’s Choice selection for a group read in July 2012 is . . .

The Silent Tower by Barbara Hambly
The Silent Tower by Barbara Hambly (cover art on the 1986 edition by the late Darrell K. Sweet)

I took the initiative and contacted the author, Barbara Hambly, who graciously agreed to participate in a question and answer thread, much to my surprise and delight.

I will lead, or rather guide, the discussions online at GoodReads (follow this link to join in early).  Or wait the ten days until July and hit the ground running with me and several hundreds (perhaps thousands) of your new fantasy friends as we read The Silent Tower together.  All are welcome and I’m looking forward to meeting you and introducing you to a fantastic author.

An ebook edition is readily available from Open Road Integrated Media and at nearly all online book retailers (Google ebookstore $7.99; Kobo $7.69; Barnes & Noble $8.49; Amazon Kindle edition $7.69)

If you prefer a printed edition, please check with your local library, used book store or your favorite online retailer, like (who may have some new or nearly new editions available).

My Midsummer Night’s Dream

Every year I look forward to the summer solstice in June, not because I’m in love with the heat and humidity that pervades Kansas, but rather because it signals the beginning of the shorter days and longer nights.  Until recently, my amateur astronomy goals didn’t include solar observing, but twice in the last month I’ve been drawn into observing a solar eclipse and the transit of Venus.  I can safely say I’ve had my fill of the sun for the foreseeable future.

Diagram of the Earth’s seasons as seen from the north. Far left: summer solstice for the Northern Hemisphere. Front right: summer solstice for the Southern Hemisphere.

This evening at 6:09 p.m. CDT, less than an hour after I return home from work, the sun will reach the highest position in the sky, as seen from the Northern Hemisphere.  Tomorrow, and each succeeding day thereafter, the sun will ‘fall’ ever so slowly back towards the south (most notable at dawn or dusk).  Someday I hope to visit the far north, perhaps Canada or Alaska and experience the midnight sun, or rather a full day of sun, sans sunrise or sunset.

But for the next six months, I will take advantage of the lengthening nights to achieve some of my other astronomical observing goals, provided the clouds, humidity and winds cooperate.

In the short term, though, my yard and trees could really use some rain. You won’t catch me lighting a midsummer bonfire in my backyard tonight!  Too much chance of everything, including the house, going up in flames.

Welcome to Summer!

Venus Transits the Midnight Sun ~ NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day (for June 20, 2012). Click image to enlarge.

Soured on Sourdough

I tried valiantly but failed miserably twice this past weekend to bake a simple sourdough loaf.  I fed my sourdough starter and let it bubble for several hours Saturday before attempting the first loaf of Rustic Sourdough.  I read the recipe through quickly, but not very coherently.  I added the ingredients to the bread machine and started the dough cycle.  Thirty minutes before the cycle ended, Terry and I left the house to buy a handful of items at the grocery store.  I asked him to remind me to take the dough out of the machine when we returned, for shaping and final rise.  Instead, we sat down and started watching a movie.  Forty-five minutes later, the light bulb went off in my head and I remembered the dough.

As soon as I took the pan out of the bread machine, the dough deflated.  I quickly shaped the dough without kneading it too much and placed it in a loaf pan.  Forty-five minutes later, it had hardly expanded more than a half inch or so.  I preheated the oven and baked it anyway, even though it came out of the oven resembling a brick.  Terry tasted it and loved the flavor, so I’ll probably chop it up and turn it into croutons.

Sunday, I repeated the process with my sourdough starter, feeding it and letting it bubble for several hours.  I reviewed the Rustic Sourdough recipe again and again completely ignored one of the key ingredients, forgetting to add it to the bread pan of the bread machine before starting the dough cycle.  I didn’t forget about the dough, though, since we had already run all of our errands.

I took the dough out, shaped it, placed it in the pan, and put forty minutes on the kitchen timer.  As I walked away from the counter, another light bulb went on in my head and I rushed to my Nook to review, for the third time, the recipe.  I finally connected the dots.  The key ingredient I had forgotten happened to be the sugar, necessary to feed the yeast.  I had not forgotten the salt, which is also necessary, to keep the yeast from expanding forever.  Not once, but twice, I forgot to include sugar in the sourdough.

The dough rose slowly, but not nearly as much as it should have during the final rise.  It would have risen higher had the yeast had some sugar (beyond what it could glean from the flour).  I preheated the oven and baked the loaf, which now resembled French bread rather than Sourdough.  I even spritzed the oven with a water bottle to simulate a steam injected French oven.  The steam crystallizes the crust.

I haven’t sliced this loaf yet, but will taste test it this evening during dinner.  This second loaf may also be consigned to crouton duty.  Do I dare try a third time to capture the elusive perfect sourdough loaf?  Thunderstorms are forecast for Thursday, so I may take advantage of the low pressure system to try again on that day.