Five Random Books: Best of 2009

I read a few books in 2009. So let’s look at the best. Unless you have somewhere else to be?

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Steig Larsson, 2008) – Steig Larsson tragically died in 2004 after delivering the manuscripts of three novels. This is the first. About a journalist solving a 30-year old mystery and a strange, genius girl who helps him. It will knock your socks off. You won’t stop reading it. Then pick up The Girl Who Played With Fire and read that too. Then wait until next April when the The Girl Who Kicked a Hornet’s Nest is released. If you’re having trouble waiting, re-read the first two.

Outliers: The Story of Success (Malcolm Gladwell, 2008) – there are no self-made men (or women if you strive for PC). You have to earn it. You have to practice your craft. You have to work hard. You have to have the right opportunities available at the right time. No exceptions. Even if you disagree with this premise, you will be completely immersed in the examples and case studies. Actually, you can’t disagree, it’s that convincing.

Made In America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States (Bill Bryson, 1996) – I’ve read a lot of Bill Bryson lately, and now I’m starting to get to his earlier work. As a writer or just a simple user of the English language, discovering the origin of words, slang, and phrases is very cool. Doing it in a way that is compelling and fun? That’s Bill Bryson.

Empire of Blue Water: Captain Morgan’s Great Pirate Army, the Epic Battle for the Americas, and the Catastrophe That Ended the Outlaws’ Bloody Reign (Stephen Talty, 2007) – if the sub-title doesn’t sink your battleship, than maybe you should actually read this. It’s not a thick tome, so if you have even the smallest interest in the history of the ‘privateers’ of the Caribbean (the English Crown endorsed Morgan, so he wasn’t a pirate for much of his career), and their cunning exploits in stealing from the Spaniards, you will not be disappointed. This is the stuff you should be learning in history class. The history of Jamaica? Yes. Port Royal? The epicenter city of its day. Now gone. Panama City? Burned to the ground. The city that exists today was built about 10 miles from the original site. Pirates? Oh yes, Johnny Depp would have fits.

Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution – And How it Can Renew America (Thomas L. Friedman, 2oo8) – climate change, globalization and a planet brimming with too many people. Any questions? Read this. Do this. Get off your ass. Peace.

Copacabana, Corcovado e Caipirinhas


On top of ol' Corcovado


Welcome, my children. With a warm embrace from Christ the Redeemer, I offer you your very own cut-out journey of Brazil.  Last year I went to Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, and somehow failed to share. Let’s correct that now. 

Cristo Redentor

Cristo Redentor, Corcovado  – Jesus, thats a big statue. Oops, I mean that’s a big statue of Jesus. At the pinnacle of Corovado, stands the 130 foot statue of Christ the Redeemer, overlooking the city and slums of Rio, the multitude of beaches and sunbathers, and the endless Atlantic ocean. Iconic.  



Feijoada – a humble stew of black beans, beef and pork that is such a hearty and filling lunch, you really do wish the siesta was practiced in Brazil. Best eaten over a long, lazy afternoon with a lively jazz band across the room. 


Farofa – a type of flour made from manioc that looks like sawdust (yet is edible and tasty) and is used as a topping for other dishes like feijoada.  

Ice cream flavors – I have to say that I love ice cream, but sadly I did not love the Brazilian flavors at all. Many of them, I couldn’t spit out fast enough. I can’t remember which ones I did like, but here is a sampling of some of the flavors available to give you an idea of the randomness of options one encounters:  

  • graviola – made from something that is kind of like a custard apple
  • cupuaçu – made from a chocolaty kind of fruit
  • açai – made from a fruit like a grape
  • milho verde – made from a type of sweet corn


Ipanema Beach


 Ipanema Beach  – deep, fluffy, white sand to squeeze between your toes as you stroll up and down this vista of tanned bodies, crashing waves and crystal blue sky. In three directions, mountains tower over this expanse of simple beauty. Granted you do have to hide your bemusement when you notice ‘the please don’t show skin people’ flapping in the wind or camped forever in the sand. You know who they are. To complete the journey, we did need to find the famous Girl from Ipanema from the song. Turns out the place is now called Bar Garota de Ipanema (called Bar Veloso when the song was written), but the girl wasn’t there to greet us. She’s likely too old and flabby by now, and probably already on the beach… 


A Painting of?

 Night market at Copacabana – artists out in force, ready to sell their wildly colorful and brilliantly alive paintings, or their pieces of shiny jewelery, or their statues carved of rock and wood, or their leather works, or their, well…just about anything they want. 



Fly Away

 Hang gliding – on paper it seems like a crazy idea. There’s a quick lesson and gear to fit into and glider to get strapped to. And when you’re overlooking the tableau of city skyline and the ocean is so tiny, maybe there’s good reason to have a fear of heights. It didn’t help that my ‘pilot’ didn’t show up until 30 minutes after my other friends had already took the leap and soared away. Literally alone with no one I knew and a faint unease, I stewed until the ‘pilot’ made his appearance. Some girl just ahead of us would not go, so finally they told her off and all the other waiting gliders had to back up and make room for her anticlimactic exit stage left. Then suddenly…my turn! A short spurt of running off the ramp, a slight downward arc and then…peace. Floating in space, overlooking all the postcards you’ve ever seen of Rio. It was so easy (of course, the ‘pilot’ did all the steering and work) and relaxing. The only advantage of having to wait so long is that my friend was able to take a long sequence of photos of my entire journey down. Cool. 

Caipirinhas – made with healthy amounts of cachaça (say: ca-sha-sa), dollops of sugar, ice and a few lime wedges, it goes down smooth and fast. This is Brazil’s national drink, so try to keep up, because we’re about to go… 

Samba – dancing in style. At a seemingly random neighborhood in São Paulo, we walked into Bar Mangueira to the blast of a live band rocking samba music. The place, with its funky atmosphere, soon became overcrowded with enthusiastic revelers moving to the beat. An impromptu dance lesson from our wonderful host, an unhealthy amount of caipirinhas, and the rubbing of shoulders with what quite possibly was a clique of the  Brazilian mafioso, gave us just what we needed to get into the spirit of things. Forget that we all had to attend the last day of a conference in a mere 3 or 4 hours… 


Not Me

Me, Way Up High

Nice View


Coming in Fast

Landing in Rio


2009: A Better Year

Last year I shat out a blog about the complete ineptitude of Seattle sports teams (see 2008: The Worst Year Ever). It came out sideways and it hurt.

This year, I’m happy to report, has been a bit rosier. Not brilliant, mind you, but definitely encouraging going into 2010.

Let’s see what happened:

Seattle SuperSonics (NBA – basketball)

errrgg…they are gone to the sorry, pointless city of Oklahoma City. Yes, you heard me. Sorry and pointless. I predict public interest in the team will precipitously drop after about 3-4 years and the NBA will look to move the team somewhere else, with egg all over their face. Bastards.

Do I Care Indicator: 0 out of 10

Seattle Mariners (MLB – baseball)

Finishing with a respectable 85-77 record, the Mariners improved on last year’s dismal season by 24 wins. It wasn’t quite enough to make the playoffs, but it bodes well for next year. 2009 also saw the return of Ken Griffey, Jr., and the Kid brought some serious energy to the clubhouse. And he got into tickle fights with Ichiro. Don’t try that at home, kids. Also, King Felix Hernández had a Cy Young worthy season (19-5, 2.49 ERA), but lost to Zack Greinke (16-8, 2.16 ERA) in the voting. The Mariners do need some more hitting to compliment Ichiro’s standard brilliance, so we shall see how that goes in the off-season.

Success Indicator: 7/10

Seattle Seahawks (NFL – football)

The Seahawks are strange this year. Sometimes they are listless, sometimes they are world beaters. But mostly they are underachievers. So far they’ve only managed a 5-7 record. It’s almost assured a playoff berth is out of the question this year, but they are doing better than the apathetic 4-12 team that didn’t bother to suit up last year. Now if they can only find a good running back and keep Matt Hasselbeck healthy, they might stand a chance.

Success Indicator: 5/10

Seattle Sounders FC (MLS – soccer)

The expansion Sounders FC* made their debut in 2009 and took Major League Soccer and the USA by storm! They did indeed do quite well, finishing with a 12-7-11 record (47 pts). That was good enough for 4th best in the league and a spot in the playoffs. They lost in the first round, but we can forgive them that because during the season they won the US Open Cup championship against DC United. I was there! Winning this domestic tournament also qualifies the Sounders to play in next year’s CONCACAF Champions League tournament with 24 other clubs in North and Central America. Very nice. Finally, the Sounders set MLS attendance records by averaging a stellar 30,897 fans per match in Qwest Field.

Success Indicator: 9/10

University of Washington Huskies (College Football)

Let the Steve Sarkisian years begin! With exciting wins over #3 USC, #19 California and an Arizona team that finished ranked #20, the Huskies played well at times and pulled off a 5-7 record (4-5 Pac-10), a vast improvement over 0-12. They lost a couple heartbreakers (I hate Notre Dame), but they also crushed the hapless Washington State Cougars 30-0 in the Apple Cup. Oh yeah, watch out for next year!

Success Indicator: 7/10

University of Washington Huskies (College Basketball – Men’s and Women’s)

The men’s team went 24-7 (14-4 Pac-10) and won the Pac-10 Conference regular season crown for the first time. They lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament and finished with a #16 ranking in the nation.

The women’s team went 8-22 (3-15 Pac-10) and pretty much sucked.

Success Indicator: 8/10

University of Washington Huskies (College Softball – Women’s)

They won the National Championship, baby! Woo hoo!

Success Indicator: 10/10

A. Better. Year.

*FC refers to Fully Cocked. Or Fans Crying. Or Football Club. I can never remember.

What I’m Thankful For

In the spirit of the holiday season, here are a few things I’m thankful for:

Good friends – I’m thankful to all of you for enduring whatever I dish out. Thanks to my friends in Washington, D.C. Thanks to my friends in Washington State. And thanks even to those that move away or live in places where I don’t see you very often.

Family – I’m thankful for a crazy bunch of people, just like me. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Cheryl Stock – I’m thankful for having known her. For her being the first person I met at World Vision. For her being the first friend I had at World Vision. Even for her letting me house sit and feed the cats. Cheryl just lost her battle with cancer and she will be missed.

Thanksgiving and Christmas parties – I’m thankful to my friends who organised and hosted great parties.

Opportunities – I’m thankful for the opportunities I have , the places I can go, and the things I can do, whenever I want. It’s a very small percentage of people who can lay claim to that, and it shouldn’t be taken for granted.

You – I’m thankful for anyone who happens to read this. Thanks for your time.