Coffee keeps me alive

I love my wife, books, video games, movies, friends and coffee. Either your with me or against me but at least come by my house, drink some coffee with me, and we can talk about it.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Summer starts with a 12 pack of Summer Ale...

That is when you know that summer is here, when Sam Adams Summer Ale is back on the shelf. At least it is one of the many beautiful signs. This summer has already been packed with several amazing trips and lots of great time spent with friends. My wife and I took an awesome trip to New Orleans where we saw the sights and had more great food than we should have had time for. We saw the Magazine St. stores and the WWII museum. We found a really cool cigar shop that rolls and presses all its own cigars. There really is nothing better than waiting on a table at Cafe du Monde while smoking a stogie. We also got to spend a fun weekend in Sevierville, Tennessee with my parents, my sisters and my awesome nieces. We stayed at a hotel with a huge water park where we were able to slide down huge water slides as well as play with my nieces in the kiddie pool. We have had Weird Beer Night III and IV and the results will come in a new post soon. All in all the first half of the summer has been awesome and I can't wait to see what the next two months before football season brings.

Fantasy baseball has been quite an exciting new addition to my summer time days. My buddy Barrett got me into a league last summer and i enjoyed it but was not able to draft my own team because of shift work. This year has been alot more fun, I was able to draft my team and on top of that I have been able to follow my team better with the droid. I am holding onto first place in our league at the halfway point of the season but alot can change after the all star break.

My wife is amazing and she encourages me to strengthen myself in many ways. One of those is the way of the handy man. With her amazing gift for design and the skill to put her ideas into action she continually pushes me to learn how to do things that years ago I didn't know what to do. Recently we have been tiling a first for me and it has been a slow but gratifying procedure, check my wife's blog for the updates. 

One big part of every summer, especially my summers, is summer reading. This summer has been a good one too. I have found some really neat books so I will forgo some of the ones that have been on the shelf waiting to be blogged about and hit my summer reading this time.

Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy - Melissa Milgrom (5 out of 5) What an amazing find this book was. It was an book of the month a few months ago and it really caught my attention with the awesome cover. What makes this book so unique is that is a book about taxidermy but it's not by a taxidermist. It is written by a woman who found taxidermy interesting and so researched the heck out of it. It covers the WTC, that's World Taxidermy Championships for you newbs, as well as everything from the Smithsonian professionals who make the dioramas to a Canadian who builds amazing extinct and protected animals out the pelts of other animals. After learning everything about the profession she actually stuffs her own New York squirrel and enters it in the WTC under the watchful eye of a master of the trade. Just good.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest - Stieg Larsson (4 out of 5) The final book in the millenium trilogy follows Lisbeth Salander as she recuperates from a gunshot wound and the journalist Blomkvist who is doing everything he can to keep himself alive while also keeping Lisbeth from ending up in a straight jacket for life. It brings the story that starts in "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" to a great close. I wouldn't recommend it without reading the others, but for a thriller it is really a fun read that really shows that this author will be missed. The original plan of five novels, he only finished three before he died, would have been fantastic.

The Help - Kathryn Stockett (4 out of 5) Continuing the summer streak of great books. This was one recommended to me by several girls that I know and I will be honest I was slow to purchase this book but I can't think of a reason why now. Set in Mississippi in 1962, it follows a young southern college grad who is trying to explain to herself why the city she lives in is the way it is. She wants to help the world see the connection between black helpers in southern homes and the children that they raise. The way the author bounces between three narrators, two maids and the author skeeter, is seamless and really draws you into the book.

Beatrice and Virgil - Yann Martel (2 out of 5) Probably a bigger letdown for me because "Life of Pi", the authors previous book, was soo good. It has great characters and in a funny coincidence a heavy taxidermy story line. The narrator is an author who is trying to run from his fame and befriends a taxidermist who is very skilled and wants the authors help finishing a play he is writing about a donkey and a monkey (beatrice and virgil) that seems to be about the holocaust. It is strange and never really grabbed me.

There are several books I am working on now but those are the ones I have finished. Stay tuned for more summer blogs as well as weird beer updates.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Chris Columbus & Some Other Guys: The Title Thief...

I have probably made it pretty clear in the history of this blog that I love books. I also love movies but books definitely are my number one media with movies a very close second. I am the guy who most of the time has already read the book when the trailer comes out but if I haven't there is a good chance I'll read it before I see it. I love the written word. Being able to see a story from the point of view of the author's choosing. With a movie it is only third person. The only way we get inside someone’s "mind" is with a voice over. I appreciate a good book to movie translation but I absolutely loathe a mediocre one and feel like a rewrite is akin to murder.

As an example of a small change take "The Runaway Jury" a John Grisham book turned into a movie back in 2003, the movie was very similar to the book only really changing the company being sued from a cigarette company to a gun manufacturer. Both are companies that produce a product who can harm but a person has to use the item to cause the damage. Not bad, same general story different bad guy in name and product only. An example of a cardinal sin of screen adaptation was "The Lost World" by Michael Crichton, Crichton by the way may be in the hall of fame of bad movie adaptations, "Sphere" and "Congo" were atrocious. In a little defense of "The Lost World" some of the issues were caused by changes in "Jurassic Park" but the beauty of Crichton was that most of his what-ifs were sooo close to reality they were an imaginable escape while reading. But seriously a T-Rex attack, Godzilla style, on San Diego. BOO Stephen Speilberg, shame on you. But I digress, back to the original point of this post.

My friend, Coach Mac, and I went to see "Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief" a couple weeks ago. I had recently read the book, which I will review below, on recommendation from said Coach. To say I was angry and frustrated during the movie would be an understatement, the characters names and movie title were the only things that were the same. The movie had a completely different story line containing a few choice events from the book that were so backwards it actually made the heroes look like idiots. Why would you travel the U.S. looking for three items to help you escape the underworld when three people were going down there to save a fourth. Simple addition says you need four, that is unless you are trying to contrive an event that happens accidentally in the book. I have never left a movie before it was over and I was literally contemplating it. The people behind me seemed to be enjoying the movie but I couldn't get over the changes. I don't even want to go into the injection of sex into a story that is supposed to be about 12 year olds because I need to review some books.

The Lost City of Z - David Grann (4.5 out of 5) An awesome "travel" book. The author follows in the footsteps of many who are trying to find mythical explorer, Colonel Fawcett, who along with his son disappeared in the Amazon in 1925. Grann goes through the history of Fawcett as well as the preparations for his own attempt to find "Z" a mysterious, large civilization that was rumored to have existed back in the days of the conquistadores, the mid 1700s. So well written and researched and about one of the most interesting and still unexplored areas of the world.

The Great Divorce - C.S. Lewis (4.5 out of 5) A great allegory written in 1946 by an amazing Christian writer who has a knack for putting everything in perspective. It's the story of a man who travels through heaven and hell meeting all kinds of people and supernatural beings that help him understand the consequences of his behavior on Earth. The fact that we must choose one or the other we cannot serve both is the central theme. "If we insist on keeping Hell we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell."
Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen (3 out of 5) Classic novel about Elizabeth Bennet as she deals with life at the turn of the 19th century. It is an interesting book dealing with social pressures of class and upbringing. I felt like the books focus on the female character is a big reason for its popularity among women, especially at the time of publication when most women had their lives chosen for them by their fathers. Elizabeth bucks tradition and goes after Mr. Darcy despite her father's wishes.

The Lightning Thief, The Sea of Monsters and The Titan's Curse - Rick Riordan (3.5 of 5) The first three books in the Percy Jackson & the Olympians pentalogy were good. I enjoyed the update of the old mythology stories that I haven't read since 8th grade. The idea behind the stories is that the gods are still cavorting with mortals and making demi-gods like Hercules. One of these demi-gods is Percy Jackson who shows up as a twelve year old that may decide the future of the gods. He is forced into action first when his father (Poseiden) is framed for stealing Zues' lightning bolt and he tries to retrieve it to protect him. The second book follows the same crew as they try to retrieve the Golden Fleece from a cyclops to save the camp they half-bloods call home. The third book follows Percy and his friends who are trained and now try to save new found demi-gods and find themselves trying to avert a war in which the ancient titans are trying to bring down the gods of Olympus. These books aren't as enthralling as Harry Potter but are a good, quick read.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Weird Beer Night the Second...

got a little weirder and a lot more awesome! This time around we had several more attendees, increased from five tasters to nine, and our "competition" beers increased from eight to twelve. My lovely wife made taco soup and we commenced with a viewing of "The Hangover" while our participants started tasting. We had one repeat from the first week, our winner Fat Tire. It again rated very high which showed how good it really was, scroll down for the post to see what we had for our first weird beer night as well as the final rankings.

We had quite a range of beers including our worst rated one so far. We have a rating system a one being the worst and a five being the best. Our lowest beer this time got a 1.9 ouch. And the host brought it, I went out on a limb and the limb turned out to be very untasty. Here is the line-up and rankings from our latest weird beer night.
  1. Delirium Noel from Huyghe Brewery in Melle, Belgium
  2. Chimay Blue from Monks from the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Scourmont (my kind of monks)
  3. Shock top from Michelob
  4. Honey Cream Ale from the home brew of Nick M. one of our tasters, kudos sir!
  5. Hibernation Ale from Great Divide Brewing
  6. Oatmeal Porter from Highland's Brewing Company
  7. 2o Below Ale from New Belgium Brewing Company (seasonal from Fat Tire brewer)
  8. Boddingtons Pub Ale from Strangeways Brewery (Manchester, England)
  9. Pete's Wicked Ale from Pete's Wicked Brewery
  10. Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout from Sam Smith's Brewery (North Yorkshire, England)
  11. Old Brown Dog Ale from Smuttynose Brewing Company
  12. Java Stout from Bell's Brewery
We had a great night and I think everyone tried a few beers they never would have otherwise. We will have another one soon so keep your tastebuds ready.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The End Of An Era...

has come to the McFee home. As of five weeks ago I officially finished shift work. I have been working southern swing, 7 nights (9p-5a) with 2 off days, 7 afternoons (1p-9p) with one off day and 7 days (5a-1p) with 3 days off for the better part of two years. I can't explain the relief and happiness that I am feeling being able to come home daily when my wife does. It was quite a shock when I was asked to come back to days and I really still don't know if I really get it yet. I think as the weekends that I don't have to work continue to stack up it will become more and more apparent to my mind that I am really done.

The work I got to do on shift, working as a shift supervisor, I would not trade for anything. I learned so much and genuinely enjoyed the work. It is missing stuff, events and get togethers, that I won't miss. The guys that I got to work with will be something that I will always get to look back on. But thank goodness it's looking back and still looking on. Day shift here I come.

I did do an interesting thing this year that this blog helped make possible. I was able to keep up with the books I had completed and was able to add up the pages that I had read. This past year I read 11,500 pages! I don't know if that is alot compared to my past or even alot compared to other people but that is almost 32 pages a day. I also listened to my first audio book which I will also review. I don't know if I will keep those up it was interesting listening to a book. It was close to nine hours on the iPod but I guess that may be how long it takes to read 325 pages. Anyway I won't make this one long since I took two months off from blogging.

The Elegance of the Hedghog - Muriel Barbery (3.5 out of 5) This was a really interseting story and told from two different points of view. One of them a very smart young girl in a rich family. She is smart beyond her years and all the things that being rich "entitles" people to are things that she loathes. The other narrator is the concierge (French Super) who though she runs a building full of rich people is considered lower class. The story is about what they learn from each other and the back and forth views is really interesting.

Superfreakonomics - S. Levitt & S. Dubner (4.5 out of 5) Great followup to the 2005 book "Freakonomics". Another great book that looks at people through the eyes of an economist. Not how people spend money but how they interact with each other. Cause and effect and statistics reveal some surprising information like it's more dangerous to walk home from the bar drunk than to drive drunk.Of course all these things come with caveats like the fact that it is only more dangerous for the drunk person since most times accidents involving a car and a person don't tend to injure the driver. Also the interesting ways that people figured things out through statistics and the scientific method. How they used algorithms to help track down terrorists before they commit acts of terror. A long list that includes things like not buying health insurance (since it wouldn't pay out anyway). Great book and a quick read, didn't get a five because it was so short especially after the four year wait for the followup.

The Girl How Played With Fire - Stieg Larsson (4.5 out of 5) Second book in a trilogy. I absolutely loved the first one and this one was great but the first was soo good it is hard to follow it. Follows Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander as they try clear Salander of a murder that she didn't commit or at least Blomkvist hopes she didn't. She is such a loose cannon that anything can happen around her. I am pretty sure I said this last time but this not my usual style of book but I really liked it. The movie for the first book "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is coming out this summer as well as the final book in the trilogy.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane - Katherine Howe (4 out of 5) A really neat book that pulled me in because of the cover art which I have discussed before is something that can draw me to a book I know nothing about. The story is about a young college professor looking to find a topic her big presentation that might take her to the next level. She spends the summer in an very old house that was left to her when her grandmother passed away. As she works to clean up the house to sell it she learns something interesting about a former inhabitant of the house. She was a witch that was murdered during the Salem witch trials and she happens to be a relative of the narrator. The more she learns about Deliverance Dane the more she finds out about herself.

Son of a Witch - Gregory Maguire (2.5 out of 5) Good but nowhere close to as good as "Wicked" which this book is the followup too. It is the story of Liir, Elphaba's son, as he tries to find his childhood friend who was in captivity at the end of wicked. It was a disjointed story that I never really felt like I was part of. Still a great idea for a story and I am sure that I will still read the next book focusing on the cowardly lion.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Weird Beer Night The First...

was a huge success. It was a tradition that was started back in college when a few buddies of mine and I got together and decided that we wanted to try new things. We all liked good beer and decided that we wanted to expand our horizons and try a few new kinds. But what do you do on a students salary or more importantly what do you do when you buy beer and you hate it. Just throw away the other five? No you gather up your friends and get them to try the crappy beer and see if they may like it. Everyone has different tastes some like the hops, some the maltier the better, others like it as light as water. The taste is the key, beer is to be enjoyed like a fine wine. So that is what we did. The rules are simple, actually THE rule is simple. Everyone brings a beer that they have never tried before. This can be hard normally especially since I have been "of age" for seven years now and have tried most domestics. I haven't had a weird beer night since I graduated college.

The signing of "Gourmet Beer Bill" in May 2009 thanks to the Free the Hops campaign opened up a whole new world of beers to Alabama. The increased alcohol content is not the exciting part, it is the doors that it opens. Many breweries will not ship any of their beers to Alabama if they can't send all of them. This means more microbrews, more foreign beers and just generally more of everything. There is still some ways to go as you can see by the site but this enhancement in our beer choices gave me an idea. Weird beer night in Montgomery!

A month or so ago I got together five of my buddies who were good beer lovers like myself and we inaugurated this new bill with a beer tasting of sorts. Eight different beers were brought to the house and I had two others that didn't enter the "competition".
-Gaelic Ale from Highland's brewing company
-Delirium Tremens from Huyghe Brewery in Melle, Belgium

The other eight were rated very partially by the judges and finished as follows, one being the highest rated by average and eight being the lowest but still good beer.
  1. Fat Tire from New Belgium Brewing 
  2. Butt Head Bock from Tommyknocker Brewery
  3. St. Bernardus Tripel from Belgian Family Brewing
  4. Winter's Bourbon Cask Ale from Anheuser-Busch Company
  5. Hoptober also from New Belgium Brewing
  6. He'brew The Chosen Beer Messiah Bold from the Shmaltz Brewing Company
  7. Rogue American Amber Ale from Rogue Ales
  8. Jack Whacker Wheat Ale also from Tommyknocker Brewery
It was absolutely awesome. Hopefully soon we will be able to do it again and we can use my certified best gift of Christmas 2009, my new Sam Adams glasses.

Designed for the perfect pint of beer. Check it out here. My sister and brother-in-law got me a set of four and I am so excited. I will update with another list next time we get together to sample the mead.

Monday, December 21, 2009

On A Cold Day in December... 

my father and I made a drive to Nashville. But I need to start at the beginning. I rarely have a weekend off (about once a month) and so we took the opportunity to travel to my parents house and have Christmas a little early since I have to work on the actual holiday. I got a random text Friday night, "Dad got 2 free tickets to Titans/Dolphins game Sunday, Noon. Would you want to go?". I was like what, sure, maybe I'm dreaming, free tickets to one of the most exciting matchups of the weekend. I wasn't. After an awesome pre-Christmas Christmas day where we watched "Elf" and "Christmas Vacation" in an amazing holiday double feature, opened presents and had a big family dinner, we headed up the road to Nashville. The pops and and I swooped into the 37o stadium fully layered and ready for some football. With both teams facing elimination from the playoffs with a loss this game had a lot riding on it. We were treated to an awesome game worthy of it's importance...

The Titans were winning 24-6 with 5:40 left in the 3rd quarter and it was looking like they were going to pound the Dolphins when they did what they have done all season and slogged back into the game. Helped in big part to an absolutely improbable catch (it's about 3:06 in the highlight reel) where the ball is almost intercepted then knocked away then caught for a long first down. The temp dropped to a lovely 35 about mid game before the wind finally let up and the sun came out right before overtime started. That's right OT, it was my first NFL overtime and I have to say that I LOVE college footballs overtime setup and have been a frequent nay-sayer of the NFL overtime but man it's crazy watching it. The Titans intercepted a Chad Henne pass on the first drive and kicked a game winning 47 yard field goal... WOW!

Titans won and we headed home. We left the house at 9:15am, walked into the stadium 30 seconds before kickoff and were back in Hartselle right at 6pm. An awesome day with my kick A dad.

Also I joined the twittering phenomenon this weekend, I have yet to tweet but I am following several folks to get the feel. Look me up - JohnMcFeeIII. Follow me and I will follow you or whatever the kids call it these days. Actaully I am going to announce this blog post on Twitter by tweeting a tweet about this bweet or bleet or tweelog.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Now winter is half over...

and this is my first blog in 3 months. Not going to happen again but then again it may. The winter is here and my wife and I both absolutely love this season. Maybe for not all the same reasons but we do share at least one major crossover. We love to spend time with family and friends as we celebrate the cornerstone of our beliefs. Without His birth he couldn't have died and given meaning to this crazy race we call life. We get distracted this time of year by presents and football and worrying about how we are going to get to everywhere we have to go. But we cannot forget the reason for the season. I will get off my deacon soapbox and continue on to other things.

It is a great time of year for reading. I know that I read year round but this time of year is when coffee takes on a new life. Christmas blends at my favorite coffee shops sipped slowly at home or at the shop itself. Starbucks at Eastchase or Cafe Louisa in Cloverdale are outstanding venues for a cup of coffee 'for there'. I forgot how much fun it was to just slow down and finish a mug of coffee, something I took for granted all those years at Taylor's Bakery in Auburn. I figured that in order to catch up on my 3 month drought of posts I could go through a few interesting books that I have read in the last few weeks. As most of you know who read my blog I am an avid movie fan as well and as mediums go only books are better. So it only stands to reason that I would rather read a book before seeing the movie and alot of times I have already read a great book before they even decide to make a movie out of it. So four of these are topically relevant all but one I have also seen the movie.

The Blind Side - Michael Lewis (5 out of 5) - An amazing story about a black boy born in the worst part of Memphis who through a series of events ends up at a private Christian school thanks to a grandmother who new there was potential in her grandson and left money for him to attend a private school. Michael Oher wasn't the grandson he was just a friend of the grandson who went along for the ride. A caring family who found out he didn't have a place to stay took him in and helped him qualify for high school football as well as adopt him giving him a family for the first time in his life. The book continues on through his college recruitment and an investigation by the NCAA when he chooses his adopted parents alma mater 'Ole Miss. The book a ton of info about left tackles and their development as one of the highest paid positions in the NFL second only to quarterbacks. The movie is also outstanding and does a great job of telling Michael's story.

Twilight & New Moon - Stephanie Meyer (3 out of 5) - Unless you are a dude or a girl living under a rock you have already heard about these books. I have called this many times 'girl porn' as it appeals to the most basic want for girls to be sought after feverishly by a godly being of a person who is willing to forsake his own needs to be with her. The first book is about Edward and Bella meeting and cementing their love for each other and felt more like a prequel than a full story. The 3 out of 5 is more of an average Twilight got closer to a 2 and New Moon closer to a 4. New Moon starts with Edward leaving Bella after a very tense event where Bella cuts her hand in a room full of vampires, and he realizes the danger he is putting her in. Jacob her friend and soon to be werewolf falls for her and again she is swooned over by a guy who never wheres a shirt. The movies were similair to the books Twilight was ok and New Moon was better. If it keeps improving the 4th book may just be great.
The Road - Cormac McCarthy (5 out of 5) - I don't understand why it took me 3 years to find this book. I can only blame Oprah's Book Club for picking it which is no excuse since everyone of the books on her list I have read has been great (Night by Wiesel and Million Little Pieces by Frey). It is about a father and son who don't ever even have names that are traveling through a post-apocalyptic world trying to find food in the ash covered world that is left after some nuclear event. People have resorted to eating each other and they are trying to find a place where they will be safe and maybe get out from under the clouds of ash. The father is trying desperately to show his son that life can continue on without resorting to cannibalism and loss of morality. The movie is in limited release now but I strongly suggest you go see it especially if you aren't planning to read the book. No spoilers but it is a heavy story so don't look down on a man who sheds a tear while watching.

Hopefully I will have several more posts before the end of the year to give some best of 2009 stuff and alot more book reviews. Merry Christmas!