A Magnificent Mind

It would have been so, so easy to dismiss him as useless. And many did, at first.

His father died when the boy was still in the womb, and his grieving mother gave birth to him early. He was a runty little thing whom nobody expected to survive.

He lived, but when he was three his mother remarried and trotted off to start a new family, leaving the toddler in the care of his grandmother for years.

The boy wasn’t a good student, and when he was a teenager, he was sent to work in the fields of the family farm, where he nearly drove everyone mad with his ineptness.  There were whispers that he was not quite right in the head. Unable to concentrate on the simplest tasks, he would wander the fields, staring at nothing, or fiddle with piles of rocks, allowing the sheep he was tending to escape.

It’s safe to say, in other words, that no one would have guessed that 350 years later, the brightest scientists in the world would still be referring to the boy’s mental gifts as “divine.”

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I’ll be honest. I tend to swoon a little, when it comes to smart-ies. Continue reading

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Into the (Not So) Deep

Hollywood has a long and fruitful history of making disaster movies that feature large quantities of humans being wiped out by “off-planet” forces: asteroids, solar flares, aliens, and so forth. From Armageddon to Deep Impact to War of the Worlds to Independence Day, we eat this stuff up like candy.

So how many people in history have been killed by space matter or aliens?

None. (Well, there was a dog that was allegedly killed by a meteorite in Egypt in 1911. But the single eyewitness account was pretty sketchy, so the story is considered to be the Egyptian version of crop circles, or Bigfoot.)

How about people being killed by events originating from this volatile, molten planet we live on? Well, last year alone, the figure was over 250,000.

You’d think we would have examined this place a little more closely. Continue reading

Japan’s Nuclear Crisis – a Q&A

Last night, I read this statement on CNN’s website: “A nation on the brink, Japan is coping with three disasters at the same time: a major earthquake, a sweeping tsunami and a deepening nuclear crisis. Any one of these would bring a country to its knees.”

The human, environmental, and financial impact of these disasters (only one of which is partially man-made) are staggering and heart-wrenching. Medical teams that flew into Japan, to help with the rescue efforts from the earthquake and tsunami, are now fleeing the country because of the nuclear crisis. Survivors who desperately need assistance are being abandoned in their hour of greatest need. Continue reading

Echoes of Truth

My little blog is six months (plus change) old, so to celebrate, I am having my first ever guest poster!

I met Tony Alicea through Twitter, and he has since become a dear friend – he is probably the nicest guy in my Twitter sphere. He lives in Florida, where he performs tech wizardry (he has rescued me from my ignorance, several times), listens to lots and lots of music, writes, and loves God; not at all in that order. Continue reading

We Are Who-ville

I used to think Planet Earth was a pretty big place. That was before I gained a little perspective.

A few months ago, my husband and I were driving to a friend’s house. While looking up at a streaky afternoon sky, I was jabbering on about how far away the moon was, since it was already visible. (I had only recently started reading up on the subject, and the whole thing was freaking me out, quite frankly.)

When I mentioned how big our galaxy is, my husband paused for a moment, then proclaimed, “We are Who-ville!”

And that’s a very good way to wrap your mind around it. Remember the book Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss? Our Earth (which seems so very, very huge to us), is equivalent to a speck on a clover being carried around by an elephant on top of something else that is the size of our Earth.

Except, actually, we’re much, much smaller than that. Continue reading

A Great Chef

My cashier at the grocery store was a young guy with a freckled complexion and tousled hair, maybe 20 years old, and he was talkative. The minute I reciprocated his greeting, I learned the following: he was fine; he was almost done with work; that fact was sort of good, but sort of not, because he’d only worked 4 hours that day, because he was only part-time. I asked if he was in school. He said he wasn’t, because he couldn’t afford it yet, but he was saving up for cooking school. He scanned and bagged quickly as he talked.

In answer to my question, he told me there were a few good cooking schools around: the Culinary Institute of America, in Portland, and the Cordon Bleu, although that one was too expensive. “Over-priced,” he reiterated. He told me about the cooking shows he watches, on TV.

“See what I do,” he said, “is take regular ingredients and make something of them. We’ve never had a lot of money but…well, the other night…” and then he eagerly rattled off a list of ingredients he’d used to make an ordinary pasta dish sing.

“Well, maybe you’ve got a good palate,” I encouraged. “They say that’s the most important thing.”

He was so hopeful, so sweet. I wanted to speak with him longer, but the next customer was pressing in behind me. The boy continued to talk even as I reluctantly inched away. I wish I could offer to sponsor him, I thought.

I loved the eager light in his eyes, his unusual dreams. I loved that he wasn’t just listlessly jamming groceries in a bag. Of course, I have no idea if he has any real talent; no idea how far he can really go. Maybe he’ll end up cooking dinners for his family, or frying bacon and eggs at the local IHOP.

Or just maybe, he’s the next Thomas Keller. Continue reading

Writing that rocks – Unbroken

Classification: Non-fiction

I can’t afford to buy brand-new books these days, and certainly not hardcovers (unless Alice Munro publishes a new book, in which case I am at the bookstore the day it is released.) But I made an exception for the new Laura Hillenbrand book, Unbroken. It was my early Christmas gift.

By just a few pages in, I was itching to tell you about it – yeah, it’s that fantastic. This true story is a sports story, and a war story, and an adventure story, all rolled into one. And it’s the most incredible survival story I ever expect to read, as long as I live.

All the usual adjectives fall short: unbelievable, harrowing, devastating, triumphant. If there is one book I’ve read this year that makes me want to grab you by the collar and insist, “Get your hands on this book,” this is it.

You can find an excerpt of Unbroken in Vanity Fair. But here’s a re-cap of the whole thing, because I want you to know this story even if you don’t read the book. (If you already plan to read the book, and you don’t want to know the ending, stop reading now!)

In the 1920’s, a small boy named Louis Zamperini was growing up in California and giving his Italian-American parents a run for their money. From the beginning, their son showed no fear and no restraint. He pulled pranks, he stole, he sabotaged, he set fires, he made messes, he got in trouble with the law. Fueling his mischief was his huge optimism; he always believed he could squirm out of any sticky situation. Continue reading