“The Humans” — See It If You Can

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Fortunately, we had tickets for this Broadway play prior to its winning four Tony Awards. But you can still get tickets to this outstanding drama more easily and at less cost than ones for Hamilton. If you enjoy a universal story, wonderful acting, and a remarkably well written drama, see The Humans.

Everything about The Humans seems just right, from the set and staging, to the slowly unfolding story, and especially the superb acting by the entire cast.

The story revolves around a family in which each member is facing some personal crisis; a family that cares deeply about every other member; a family struggling to be understood by each other and ultimately to understand how their lives have gotten to this point. The 90-minute play has been called a “comedic drama” — an apt description.

I have always used Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author as one standard by which I judge drama. What has always intrigued me about that play was the playwright’s ability to get the audience to empathize with each of the six characters as they compete (in that play) for the sympathy and the understanding of the author and the audience.

Ironically (?), The Humans has six characters too, and as the play develops and as the life and struggles of each of the six characters are revealed, I found myself empathizing with all of them, despite their flaws and failings.

As many family dramas do, this one takes place largely around a dinner table. The parents, along with the father’s mother who is in an advanced stage of dementia, have come to NYC from their home in Pennsylvania to see their younger daughter’s ‘new’ apartment (in Chinatown), to meet her boyfriend, and to have Thanksgiving dinner together. Their elder daughter has come from Philadelphia to join the family for the day.

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Stephen Karam, the author, has avoided what easily could have been a sappy plot. The actors, under the direction of Joe Mantello, couldn’t be better. Jane Houdyshell as the mother and Reed Birney as the father have both won Tony Awards as best featured actors/actresses in this play. But the other four actors — Cassie Beck, Lauren Klein, Arian Moayed, and Sarah Steele — are equally wonderful in the roles they play.

When we were exiting the theater, we saw Lauren Klein, the grandmother, talking with a family who had just seen the play, and we overheard them say, “We’re from Pennsylvania too and that could have been our family on the stage.”

Rarely does every aspect of a play seem to get everything just right. In The Humans, everyone involved in the production does their job extraordinarily well.

Books MillersTime Readers Are Enjoying

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“A Best Friend Is Someone Who Gives Me a Book I’ve Never Read”- A. Lincoln

Not wanting to wait until December to report what books various MillersTime readers are enjoying so far this year, I asked all those who have contributed over the years to  ‘Favorite Reads’ to send me the titles and a few sentences about what they’ve been reading and enjoying in the first half of 2016.

Here are the results so far. I say “so far” as I hope this post will encourage others of you to send in what’s brought you reading pleasure over the last six months. When I get another batch of responses, I’ll post those too.

Thanks.

  1. Gabrielle Beaumont:

I loved Sweetbitter by Stephanie Daniel (F). Here’s what the NY Times had to say.

2. Elizabeth Lewis Goodman:

The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe by Elaine Showalter (NF) – she of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” fame, but it turns out of so much more.

I just finished this book, and the story moved me so much that I had to let you all know what awaits you if you pick up the book.  It is a scholarly, feminist piece –quite brief and written plainly.  The broad outline of the story of a 19th century woman endowed with artistic and political gifts who was hamstrung by “Victorian” society, her father, and her husband is a story you think you know.  And then it turns out you know nothing about someone who gradually threw off the restraints, travelled widely, read broadly, struggled with her own racism and social beliefs, and in 1908 went on to become the first woman inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters (the 2nd woman wasn’t inducted until 1930).  Her poetry is “mush.”  But her life is amazing.  Give it a good 3 hours; then give it to your daughters.

3. Emily Nichols Grossi:

A quick note that I am reading and loving Leaving Before the Rains Come by Alexandra Fuller (NF), an author whose work I like very much. I’m nearly done and really sorry to see it coming to an end. I love Fuller’s memoirs out her childhood in Africa (then Rhodesia) and her family who threads the needle between crazy and delightfully eccentric. This book is about all of that but also the dissolution of her marriage.

Just finished 32 Yolks: My Mother’s Table to Working the Line (NF) by Eric Ripert. It’s not a literary powerhouse but is a very enjoyable, illuminating read. The world of professional chefs is not one I’d ever want to be part of, but as I love to cook and hold great chefs in the light of admiration and esteem, I really enjoyed this peek into Ripert’s childhood and early culinary education and experiences. This book stops just as he arrives in the States, so nothing about Le Bernardin. But his childhood in St. Tropez and Andorra, the sad stories of his parents and parental figures, his years with Robuchon…it all makes for an engaging tale!

4. Fruzsina Harsanyi:

A Hero of France by Alan Furst (F) is also a good companion to Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale. I’m sure his hero and the Nightingale worked together.

Just finished Smoke by Dan Vyleta (F). It takes place in 19th century London. Part allegory, part science fiction, reminiscent of Aldous Huxley. Not my kind of book, but I couldn’t put it down. Somebody please read it so we can discuss.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (NF).  It’s likely to become my favorite this year and is right now my most talked-about book experience.  I will re-read it…and can’t wait to discuss it.

5. Kate Latts:

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly (F) was one of the best books I have read in a long time. Far exceeded The Nightingale and All the Light You Cannot See. I loved it!

6. Chris McCleary:

One book to suggest: Captain Riley by Fernando Gamboa (F), translated from Spanish).

7. Larry Makinson:

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (F). Two sisters take different paths in wartime France. This is a very popular book, which kept me from reading it at first. But it’s definitely worth it.

A Rage for Order, by Robert F. Worth (NF). Whatever happened to the Arab Spring? This book chronicles the chaos and unmet promises that followed. Excellent background as the drama continues.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (F). Cross-cultural love story, following a Nigerian woman who comes to the US, makes it, then returns to Nigeria to a life and former soulmate she had left behind. Absorbing and very wise.

Dark Money by Jane Mayer (NF). Definitive history of the billionaire ideologues – led by the Koch brothers – who’ve taken over American politics in the age of unlimited giving. Sobering, but ought to be required reading.

8. Ellen Miller:

I’m on a pretty good reading streak this year, and number of books have gotten four and five stars in my own rating system. (Five stars = must read; four stars = very good read).

In the 5 star category I have to agree with Richard that Peacekeeping, by Mischa Berlinski (NF), The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches from Syria by Janine Di Giovanni (NF)Redeployment, by Phil Klay (NF), When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi (NF), LaRose by Louise Erdich (F), and The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbes (NF), (high on last year’s lists) all belong there. I’d add another nonfiction piece to this list as well, The Boys in the Bunkhouse: Servitude and Salvation in the Heartland, by Dan Barry (NF), an incredible story of an effectively enslaved group of mentally disabled men, and the people who ultimately saved them.  And my final 5 star read thus far this year – especially a must for anyone visiting Iceland — is entitled Burial Rights, by Hannah Kent (F), the story of a convicted murderess set in the harsh landscape of that country which we visited last February.

9. Richard Miller:

A. Books suggested by other readers from the 2015 list (See earlier post — I’m Reading What You Recommend — for details on these):

New Reads (See earlier post for details on these):

PS – Son-in-Law BT claims I should have included the book in this ‘sneaked’ photo:

Waldo

10. Donna Pollet:

I saw that you listed Redeployment by Phil Klay (F) MillersTime. You may have already read, seen or heard about this title but just in case here is a story in the same vein that may be of interest…..Green on Blue by Elliot Ackerman (F).

11. Cindy Olmstead:

The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah (F). Excellent novel about two French sisters and their individual participation in the resistance movement in WWII. A very poignant read.

H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald (NF), her journey with raising a goshawk and how it helped in overcoming her grief for her father’s death. It is interesting but dense.

Lights Out: A Cyberattack by Ted Koppel (NF). Reveals the impact of a cyberattack on our power grids and the reality of it occurring.

12. Fran Renehan:

Find Her by Lisa Gardner (F). About a girl that gets abducted twice. Very dark.. But well written

Placebo by Steven James (F). An old books (2012). Mystery/Drama. OK. His later books were better.

The Last Mile by David Baldacci (F). An inmate on death row gets a last minute reprieve.The true story about the murder ensues!

13. Lydia Hill Slaby:

Oh! When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (NF)…yes. Yes yes yes. Heartbreaking, beautiful, wonderful read. I’m so glad it’s on this list! Oliver Sachs (On the Move) and Christopher Hitchens (Hitch-22) also wrote extraordinary terminal cancer memoirs…much longer, but if you’re engaged in the genre (maybe not for the summer), they’re worth reading.

14. Brandt Tilis:

I just finished The Arm by Jeff Passan (NF).  Read it!  Touches every part of baseball (youth levels, struggling minor leaguers, fringe major leaguers, and stars like Jon Lester).  It even goes into Japanese baseball.

15. Elizabeth Tilis:

You can probably see a theme here. Probably only helpful only for someone with a young baby. Nevertheless, here they are:

16. Carrie Trauth:

Two books I really liked:

The Lonely War: One Woman’s Account of the Struggle for Modern Iran by Nazila Fathi (NF). This tells her story of her life in Iran as a child and as a reporter. She explains the struggle between the people and the government.

Father, Son, Stone by Allen Goodman (F). Although fiction, much authentic history regarding The Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

17. Judy White:

Yes, Mike & I also loved When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (NF) and Being Mortal by Atul Gwande (NF) — by the way did you catch Atul Gwande in a visual version of the book on PBS last week?) And Mike just finished The Morning They Came for Us by Janine di Giovani (NF). So some of our reading has been on parallel tracks with yours.

A few others I’ve especially enjoyed this year:

The Water Is Wide by Pat Conroy (NF) — I’ve never been a fan of Conroy’s fiction, but this true tale of his year teaching on Dafuskie Island in the 1960s was delightful and very funny, taking me back to our year of teaching in D.C. about that time.

Crashing Through by Robert Kurson (NF) — Amazing story of a very talented man who became blind at age three and what he was able to do with his life. Kurson’s Shadow Divers (NF) is a big favorite of Mike’s.

The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge (NF) — The latest research about the workings of our brains, complete with lots of good stories. Like the previous book, there are so many exciting and riveting real-life stories that I rarely read fiction.

A Dog Walks Into a Nursing Home by Sue Halpern (NF) — This book has more substance than the title and cover would suggest. Halpern’s experiences bringing her therapy dog into a nursing home illuminate all the choices we have — and don’t have — about growing very old. (Helpern is married to Bill McKibben, by the way.)

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If you’re looking for book suggestions from last year’s MillersTime readers’ favorites, you can get to the list in any of three ways:

MillersTime Readers Favorite Reads of 2015. This post includes a list of the favorites of the favorites as well as individual comments by every reader who contributed to the list.

Favorite Books Listed by TITLE, (non-fiction then fiction), then author, then the MillersTime contributing reader. A quick way to scroll through the list, bypassing what readers’ said about each book. You can easily print out this list.

Favorite Books Listed by the NAMES of the Contributing MillersTime readers, followed by title, (non-fiction then fiction), and then author. A quick way to check out what people whom you may know liked best. You can also easily print out this list.

August Tickets for the Nats

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I’ve got some tickets available for Washington Nationals game in August.

They’re free if:

  1. You go with me. (You may have to buy me some peanuts, however.)
  2. You take a ‘kid’ (broadly defined), in which case you can have two tickets for that game.

You reimburse me for the tix (at the price I paid) if:

  1. You want two but don’t plan to take a kid.

Available Games

  1. Friday, Aug. 5, 7:05 vs Giants, includes parking next to the stadium

2. Wednesday, Aug. 10, 4:05 vs Indians, includes parking

3. Thursday, Aug. 25, 7:05 vs Orioles, includes parking

4. Saturday, Aug. 27, 1:05 vs Rockies, includes parking

5. Sunday, Aug. 28, 1:35 vs Rockies, includes parking

Let me know of your interest by Wednesday, July 13, and I’ll do my best to accommodate (not doing a ‘first come, first serve’).

I also have a bunch of tickets (with and /or without me) for Sept. and will put those on Millerstime around mid August.

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New Reads, Recent Favorites, Part II

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To follow up the previous post on books recommended by MillersTime readers, here are six (‘new’ ones) that I’ve enjoyed in the last few months. Not sure if all of them will be on my year end list of most favorites, but I thought you might consider putting some of them on your summer reading list.

When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanthi (NF). This wonderful book will certainly make it as one of my favorites, probably THE favorite of the year. Just as Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal was/is an important book for anyone concerned about the late stages of life, so too is Paul Kalanthi’s book about his struggle with illness and ultimate death a gift to all of us. It’s a short book that can be read in just one or two sittings, though a second reading, as is often the case, is maybe even more valuable than the first. It certainly allows for appreciation of his gift of using language as art.

The story is simple. Kalanthi was a neurosurgeon who was diagnosed with terminal cancer at the age of 36. In the 22 months that remained in his life, he was able to write brilliantly, honestly, with great feeling and great clarity about what gives life meaning and how to face death with integrity. The first part of the book (“In Perfect Health I Begin”) tells his story until he must face his mortality. The second part, and overwhelmingly the most important part (“Cease Not till Death”), is simply superb, and if there is such a thing as a “must read,” then this it.

In a Foreward to the book, Dr. Abraham Verghese (author of Cutting for Stone) says it perfectly:

Be ready. Be seated. See what courage sounds like. See how brave it is to reveal yourself in this way. But above all, see what it is to live, to profoundly influence the lives of others after you are gone, by your words. In a world of asynchronous communication, where we are so often buried in our screens, our gaze rooted to the rectangular objects buzzing in our hands, our attention consumed by ephemera, stop and experience this dialogue with my young departed colleague, now ageless and extant in memory. Listen to Paul. In the silences between his words, listen to what you have to say back. Therein lies his message. I got it. I hope you experience it too. It is a gift. Let me not stand between you and Paul.

 

Redeployment, by Phil Klay by (F). This one was a National Book Award winner in 2014 and one of the NYTimes Best Books of 2014. While it is fiction, essentially a series of short stories, each told in a different voice, it reads more like a memoir. Klay is a former Marine, and this book tells of the Iraq War and what it did those who Americans who fought there. Just as Tim O’Brien (Going After Cacciato, 1978 and The Things They Carried, 1990) has become the human voice of the Vietnam War, Klay helps us understand how fighting in Iraq affected our soldiers and the families of those soldiers.

In his review of the book for the NYTimes, Dexter Filkins’ writes, “It’s the best thing written so far on what war did to people’s souls.” Read Filkins’ review. Even better, read Klay’s Redeployment. You may know much about this war, but I suspect you will moved by Klay’s writing of “how it changed the lives it (did) not consume.”

The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches from Syria, by Janine di Giovanni (NF). In this series of ‘dispatches’ – Giovanni was a foreign correspondent and is currently the Middle East Editor of Newsweek and a contributing editor of Vanity Fair – we learn what the civil war in Syria (at least in its early stages) has meant for ordinary people as their world has disintegrated around them. “Syria began,” she writes, “as a peaceful (revolution), but as I write this four years in, the revolution has since spiraled into a gruesome, a brutal, a seemingly forever war.”

This award winning author has experienced similar events in Bosnia, Chechnya, and Sierra Leone and says, “After all the lessons we had learned from the brutality of the wars in the 1990s — Rwanda, Somalia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Chechnya — we were allowing it to happen again.” When she was asked to go to Syria, she was warned by a friend, a diplomat, not to take the job “because you will be angry all the time and it is an anger you never will be able to reconcile.”

Fortunately, for the world, she did not take that advice and instead went to Syria where she applied her reporting skills and insights to the effect of war on women, children, and families. She writes to bear witness to what these individuals (a doctor, a nun, a musician, a student, etc.) experience and because she too believes the world must know and never forget these events.

It’s a powerful account of horrors that are still taking place today, and The Morning They Came for Us indeed “bears witness” and will help readers understand why thousands and thousands are fleeing Syria. It’s a difficult book to read, but it’s an important accounting of events that deserves to be known and passed on to others.

And three others that I enjoyed recently:

The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien (F). Her latest is about a man who mysteriously appears in a small Irish town and passes himself off as a healer. I’ll leave the details of what happens for readers to discover on their own, but the questions the story raises and explores are not so far from what Janine di Giovani was writing about in The Morning They Came for Us (see above) – “the limits of our own blinkered vision, the fragility of our own safe havens.” O’Brien is a wonderful story teller who uses her ability to involve us in her stories in order to see a world beyond our own.

Peacekeeping, by Mischa Berlinski (F). His second book, another good story, well told, and one that gives outsiders an insight into the culture, the politics and the way of life in Haiti. You’ll cheer for some of the characters — both Haitian and non-Haitian — and dislike others, and along the way you’ll learn about a society that you may not know but that in many ways does not seem unfamiliar. The book is set in the time period just prior to the Haitian earthquake

LaRose, by Louise Erdich (F). Her newest one after her wonderful award-winning novel of revenge, The Round House. (See previous post, How Come I Didn’t Know About Her?) 

Set in 1999, this story begins when a man (an Objiwe Indian) accidentally kills his best friend’s five-year old son. To make reparations, he and his wife give their own young son (LaRose) to the grieving family, saying, “Our son will be your son now.” As both families try to come to terms with these losses, Erdich takes us back through four generations of family members named LaRose and forward to how each of the main characters deals with the fallout from a parent’s worst nightmare — the loss of their child. Erdich is wonderful at drawing and developing her characters, and her writing in LaRose is every bit as good as it was in The Round House.

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And once more, here’s how you can get to the favorites from last year, and earlier:

MillersTime Readers Favorite Reads of 2015. This post includes a list of the favorites of the favorites as well as individual comments by every reader who contributed to the list.

Favorite Books Listed by TITLE, (non-fiction then fiction), then author, then the MillersTime contributing reader. A quick way to scroll through the list, bypassing what readers’ said about each book. You can easily print out this list.

Favorite Books Listed by the NAMES of the Contributing MillersTime readers, followed by title, (non-fiction then fiction), and then author. A quick way to check out what people whom you may know liked best. You can also easily print out this list.

For those of you who may want to see the lists from previous years, simply click on which year you want to review – 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014.

Share

Finally, let others know what you’re reading and enjoying, or perhaps what books to avoid, by listing those titles along with a comment or two in the Comment section of this, or the previous, book post.

Thanks.

“I Want My Country Back”

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From time to time I link to or quote an article that seems to explain something that is going on in this country or abroad, something that resonates with me.

So this morning, I draw your attention to a column in the NewStatesman, Britain’s current affairs and political magazine. It doesn’t cover everything about Brexit (for instance there is nothing about the poor turnout of millennials who ‘backed’ the Remain side of the ballot – Brexit Is What Happens When Millennials Don’t Vote), but it does explain and react to some of what has occurred in the United Kingdom.

Don’t many of us, no matter our political views, feel “hiraeth“? That’s the Welsh word that roughly translates as a deep desire for home, “a home you can never return to, a home which may never have existed at all.”

See Laurie Penny’s I Want My Country Back, published yesterday in the NewStatesman.

 

I’m Reading What You Recommend

I try to read at least one book a month that was recommended/highlighted on last year’s Books Most Enjoyed by MillersTime Readers (2015).

Here are a few I’ve particularly enjoyed so far, including some of the comments from contributing readers.

The Door, by Magda Szabo (F). Larry Makinson wrote: “Story of a cantankerous but unforgettable character in postwar Hungary.” Larry was in DC when he was reading this one and kept raving about it. So it was the first book I read in 2016, and I’m delighted I did.

Largely it’s a character study, two characters actually, and you will long remember one of the two. The Door was a NYTimes ten best in 2015: “In Szabo’s haunting novel, a writer’s intense relationship with her servant — an older woman who veers from aloof indifference to inexplicable generosity to fervent, implacable rage — teaches her more about people and the world than her long days spent alone, in front of her typewriter. Szabo, who died in 2007, first published her novel in 1987, in the last years of Communist rule; this supple translation shows how a story about two women in 20th-century Hungary can resonate in a very different time and place. With a mix of dark humor and an almost uncanny sense of the absurd, she traces the treacherous course of a country’s history, and the tragic course of a life.”

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson (NF). Sal Giambanco wrote, “This may be the the most important book of 2015. With racial injustice and inequality in the headlines, Bryan Stevenson tells the story of Walter McMillan, and he makes the clarion call for compassion in the pursuit of justice in this country”.

And Emily Nichols Grossi was equally enthralled: I haven’t been this moved by a non-fiction, book length work in some time. Written by Bryan Stevenson, co-founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama, it is both memoir and fact-based call to action on behalf of the grim, unequal system of “justice” meted out in America. Stevenson grew up poor in Delaware. His great-grandparents were slaves. His grandfather was murdered on the streets of Philadelphia. And yet he forged on, graduating from Eastern University and then Harvard Law School before moving south to represent impoverished clients facing death row. We are taken through Stevenson’s incredible life story through the lens of several of those he represented and tried to free from what were often completely fabricated claims. The systemic racism that pervades the American justice system is undeniable; if you doubted before and are willing to read with an open mind and heart, you will doubt no more once finishing this critically important work. Stevenson is a lovely writer and a hell of a person.”

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League, by Jeff Hobbs (NF) (Recommended by Anita Rechler,Cindy Olmstead, High Riddleberger and Matt Rechler). For those of you who have read this Hobbs’ book, Just Mercy is a fascinating and uplifting companion bookIn this case, though the early years of both individuals were difficult, what Stevenson was able to do with his gifts is a story that deserves attention. Stevenson is a true, modern day hero, and what he has done and continues to do is vitally important and deserves to be better known.

The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough (NF). Contributor Lance Brisson wrote, “If you think you know all you need to know about the Wright brothers, think again. Relying primarily on letters, diaries, news articles and other written materials from hundreds of sources in the U.S. and Europe, David McCullough has crafted a fascinating biography of the Wright brothers. He tells the story about how they, first and foremost, and other aviation pioneers literally changed the world. Early on the book reminds the modern reader, who likely takes airplane and space travel for granted, that just a little over a century ago birds were the only creatures that could truly fly in the sense that they could control their speed, altitude and direction. The idea of humans engaging in mechanical flight was derided by many as an impossible dream pursued by cranks. The Wright brothers, designers and makers of bicycles in Dayton, Ohio, had the passion to pursue this dream in the face of countless obstacles, including great personal danger. The details of what they did, how they did it and the people their lives intersected help make this book so interesting. McCullough has a knack for bringing to life historical figures that the reader thinks he or she already knows well. He has done this once again with The Wright Brothers.”

I have added Wilbur and Orville Wright to my list of heroes, not just for what they accomplished but also for who they were and how they conducted their lives. We can learn much from their story.  A good and valuable read.

The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah (F). This book was second to All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (F) on readers’ most favorite fiction of 2015. Initially, I thought maybe Hannah’s book was ‘chick lit’ as all those who listed it were female readers. But those readers were all friends whose judgment I trust, and when I saw that Hannah was going to be in DC for a book talk, I read it.

Kate Latts summed it up pretty well, writing, “I am not usually a Kristin Hannah fan, but this was a solid WWII story focused on women fighting in the resistance in France. The two central characters are sisters trying to cope as best as they can during the hardships of war. One takes the more passive route and the other as an active resistance fighter. Moving and engaging story.”

Usually we read about WWII, and other wars, through the eyes of men, whether memoirs, histories, or fiction. Hannah believes there are many untold stories about women’s experiences and actions that need to be told. In The Nightingale, she models one of the two sisters after a woman who indeed played an important role in helping downed Ally pilots get to safety. In addition, the relationship of the two sisters and the role of their father add to what is a good story.

Martin Beck Detective series, by Per Wahloo and Maj Sjowall (F). I mentioned these books in my 2015 favorites as did several readers. Whenever I simply want to escape, I pick up one of the ten of these and get lost in the wonderful character development, detail, and mystery that each one offers. They don’t have to be read in the order in which they were written, and if you want to try one, check out Roseanna, The Man on the Balcony, or The Laughing Policeman. Also, try listening to one while you’re exercising, walking, or traveling. It will help you get the Swedish names and places set in your mind. These folks ‘taught’ Erik Larsson and others what good detective writing is all about.

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If you’re looking for book suggestions, you can get to the list of MillesTime readers’ favorites in any of three ways:

MillersTime Readers Favorite Reads of 2015. This post includes a list of the favorites of the favorites as well as individual comments by every reader who contributed to the list.

Favorite Books Listed by TITLE, (non-fiction then fiction), then author, then the MillersTime contributing reader. A quick way to scroll through the list, bypassing what readers’ said about each book. You can easily print out this list.

Favorite Books Listed by the NAMES of the Contributing MillersTime readers, followed by title, (non-fiction then fiction), and then author. A quick way to check out what people whom you may know liked best. You can also easily print out this list.

For those of you who may want to see the lists from previous years, simply click on which year you want to review – 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014.

Thru Ellen’s Lens: The Alligator Blinked First

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Whenever we travel, we try to add something on to the main trip, either at the beginning or at the end, something extra on the way or on the way home. We call this “A Travel Lagniappe”.*

esm.2We recently celebrated two family gatherings, one in Jamaica, followed immediately by one in New Orleans. So as usual, we added something at the end, spending 26 hours in southern Louisiana, where we enjoyed two swamp tours (Cajun Country Swamp Tours at Lake Morten, Breaux Bridge, LA and Cajun Man Swamp Cruise, Gibson, LA), one terrific meal (Grapevine Cafe, Donaldsonville, LA), an overnight at Maison Madeleine’s Guest House, QuirkyYurt, and a fais-do-do** (La Poussiere, in Breaux Bridge).

(*Lagniappe is a Cajun/French term used in the south and referring to “something extra thrown in.” Not sure if anyone has ever used it in conjunction with traveling, but why not?)

(**Fais-do-do generally refers to a Cajun dance party, and the origins of the term could have something to do with putting a baby to sleep in a cry room off the dance floor so the mother could get back to her husband before he danced with someone else, or it could just mean ‘make a dance,’ as in ‘make a dos-a-dos’. For more on this, see The Fais Do-Do)

Here are a dozen pictures from this “Travel Lagniappe,” followed by a link to a slide show with more pictures if these 12 are not enough for you.

PS – One of the alligators in these photos did blink while Ellen was ‘capturing’ him/her with her camera. Ellen didn’t.

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To see Ellen’s entire slide show (59 photos), use this link: Southern Louisiana & the Swamps.

For the best viewing, click on the little arrow at the top right of the first page of the link to start the slide show and see all the photos in the largest size possible (use a laptop or desktop computer if you have access to either).

 

 

Understanding Trump’s Appeal

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For a few months now I’ve been ‘loosely involved’ with a group of friends who are concerned about what is happening in our politics and who have been exchanging emails about where the country is headed. One of the intents of the individual who brought this group together was to answer the question about how we might direct our energies and move beyond the “divisiveness and denouncing the other side.” The questions he posed were these: “Isn’t it our obligation to seek to understand and look for ways to heal the schism and reduce the divisiveness? Isn’t that our best response to what we see happening at this time in our history?”

One of my bedrock beliefs and something that has formed the core of my professional life (working with troubled children, adolescents, parents, and families) is that before solutions to troubles are possible it is necessary to understand what is upsetting to each of the ‘parties.’

In that light, I draw your attention to a lengthy blog post by someone named James A. Lindsay whose somewhat provocative title to what he has to say is Liberals, Want Trump to Win? Keep Calling Him a Racist.

I hope you will take the time to read what Lindsay has to say. Not because I agree with all of it nor because I think all of his views or his conclusions are valid. What is valuable is that Lindsay writes from the ‘right’ and explains what is so upsetting to others like himself.

Probably the easiest way to read the article is to click on this link, but I am also posting it in its entirety below.

Continue reading »

Six Movies to Consider

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I’m not sure if there is a lack of good films available in the theaters just now, or it’s that we have been so preoccupied with other activities that we haven’t seen very many over the last few months.

But here are a two that we have seen recently and four that we saw earlier in the year in our movie club or at the Philadelphia Film Festival. The latter four are either in the theaters now or coming soon.

Eye in the Sky ****

MV5BNTY4Nzg5MTU0OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjY2MjU2NzE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_A ‘thriller’ of sorts that keeps you closely involved throughout its 102 minutes. The challenge is to capture terrorists, and in this film the emphasis is on using drones to carry out an operation.

However, what was supposed to be a capture assignment turns into a kill operation. And it becomes further complicated and tense when a young girl enters the kill zone.

The acting is terrific. Helen Mirren leads a very strong cast (in a role that was originally written for a male actor). All of the major performances are good ones.

Worth your time as a bit of escapism with some issues that are also worthy of exploring.

Ellen gave it five stars.

Sing Street ****

sing.MV5BMjEzODA3MDcxMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODgxNDk3NzE@._V1_SY1000_SX675_AL_You might have to look around for this Irish tale of a young boy and a girl who are looking for a way out of their unhappy lives. As often seems the case in Irish films, it is through music that an escape is sought.

Conor (well played by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is a 14/15 year old boy who wants to impress a slightly older girl, Raphina (also well played by Lucy Boynton) who has issues of her own. Almost on a whim, Conor starts a band, with some advice from his older brother who also is ‘leading’ an unhappy life.

The writer/director John Carney has some how avoided the pitfalls of a coming of age, feel good movie that could easily have gone wrong and been overly sentimental. The story (set in the mid ’80s), the characters, and the music all seem to work well together, and both Walsh-Peelo and Boynton are a big reason it all seems to work.

Ellen gave it four stars.

The Innocents ****

innocents.1.MV5BZTQ2ZTAwOTAtMzg5Ny00MzU4LWI3YTUtNzFlMDUyMmUzMGY2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTEwMTY3NDI@._V1_We saw this film earlier this spring in our film club. It’s set in Warsaw in 1945 just after WW II has ended. In a convent, a nun, without the permission of the Mother Superior, sneaks a French Red Cross nurse (Mathilde) into the convent to minister to a sick nun. The convent has always prided itself on its separation from the outside world and bringing in an outsider is forbidden.

Based on a true story, it quickly becomes evident that the sick nun is pregnant, as are a number of other nuns, the result of a Russian occupation of the nunnery. What unfolds is largely the story of Mathilde’s interaction with the nuns who have been traumatized by what has happened to them.

The Innocents is a war story that differs from most, and this one is pretty good.

Ellen gave it 5 stars.

Viva****

Viva.MV5BMjE4MTc4Njk4OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTc4MDI3ODE@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,778_AL_Another film club presentation, and it’s probably a good thing I didn’t know anything about this film prior to seeing it. Directed by Paddy Breathnach, an Irishman, but set entirely in Havana and in Spanish, it’s about Cuban drag performers in a nightclub.

Jesus, the lead character, does ‘make-up’ for these performers and dreams about being a performer himself. When he finally gets his chance, it’s interrupted when his long-absent father, a former boxer, comes out of the crowd and slugs him. What follows is a father-son “love story as the {two} men struggle to understand one another and reconcile as a family.”

While Viva is about a ‘world’ I never knew, and didn’t think I particularly wanted to know, the themes of following one’s dream and of a father and son conflict and resolution could be set anywhere. I don’t know how our film club rated this film, but the audience, myself included, was entranced by it.

Ellen gave it three stars.

 

And finally, of the two we saw in films festivals, the first is worth searching for, the second is to be avoided. As I posted earlier this year:

Dheepan ****

cannes-dheepan

Though too long and in need of some editing, this film is an absorbing and consuming look at what the refugee experience is like for three, unconnected refugees from Sri Lanka. These individuals flee their war-torn country and end up in another conflict zone, this time in suburbs of Paris. I’m not sure the ending was in concert with the rest of the film or was largely just an attempt to make the audience feel good. Still, this is an engrossing, well acted, and well done film. Given the current events with refugees fleeing Syria and trying to get to Europe, Dheepan is not only timely but also gives insight to what it must be like for individuals and families who must leave their homes and their history in order to stay alive.

Ellen gave it four stars.

The Lobster * 

cannes-film-festival-2015-the-lobster-colin-farrellThis film was highly touted by the festival organizers and was apparently a big hit in Toronto. I couldn’t find much worthy in this one and was never sure what the director intended. Described as a dystopian, dark, comedic love story, it didn’t hold together and was simply weird. It was shocking to us that it was the winner of the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Festival. Maybe we just weren’t smart enough to ‘get it.’ (I should have followed my instincts and not the crowd, avoided this one, and gone to see something — anything — else instead.)

Ellen gave it 0 stars on my 1-5 star rating scale.

I Voted for Hillary Clinton Today

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Ballot

I live in Washington, DC, and the only ballot I can cast that counts on a national level is the one for the Presidency.

DC has a primary election on June 14, 2016 with three names on the ballot: Hillary Clinton, “Rocky” Roque De La Fuente, and Bernie Sanders.

Since I will be out of town on June 14th, I filled out and mailed my absentee ballot today.

I voted for Hillary Clinton.

It was an easy vote to cast.

Given these candidates, there is no doubt in my mind that the former Senator and Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, is the most qualified and capable candidate of the three.

While I am attracted to much of Sen. Sanders’ analyses of what is not right in our country, I could not vote for him. I do not believe his qualifications or capabilities match Hillary’s.

I understand the enthusiasm of Sanders’ followers and that of much of the younger generations’. I hope they will fight to the end of the convention for Sanders, and if he is not the nominee, then I hope they will get behind Clinton. (If, tho it seems unlikely, Sanders is the nominee, I will vote for him in the general election.)**

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that between Clinton and Trump which of those two candidates I would trust in the White House.

I will vote for Hillary (or Sanders if he’s the Democratic candidate) in the General Election.

 

**Robert Reich’s Advice for Divided Democrats.

More Things I Never Knew, or What I Learned Last Weekend

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We were visiting with our younger daughter, son-in-law, and three-month old baby last weekend, and once again we found out that there are a lot of parenting things we never knew (despite having raised our own two daughters and having been fairly involved in the early years of our other three grand children).

For instance, did you know that a baby is ‘talking’ to you almost as soon as it’s born?

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Yup. There are five types of crying (‘words’) that communicate five different messages, according to Australian mother and researcher Priscilla Dunstan. She has identified five universal sounds that babies all around the world ‘speak.’

When the crying sounds like Neh, with the emphasis on the n, that means the little tyke is hungry.

When it sounds like Owh, with the emphasis on the O, then the baby is telling you she’s sleepy or tired.

Heh, with the emphasis on the first H, the message is about discomfort.

Eairh, with the emphasis on the r, or the rh, then the kid has ‘lower gas.’

Eh, burp the baby.

You can see and hear more about these ‘crying words’ by going to this YouTube site, where Oprah extols what Dunstan has discovered and where you can get a short course in distinguishing the five types of cries.

So when my daughter told me about all of this, I, of course, wrote down all five cries/sounds and followed young Samantha around all weekend, listening to her cries and what she was saying.

For me, most of the cries sounded like Eh, the ‘burp me’ cry. But I know my hearing skills are questionable (I have trouble hearing what Ellen is saying to me when she is in the same room with her back to me).  Fortunately, my daughter told me that these five sounds really only work from 0-3 months, and I felt better.

I also learned there is such a thing as a “Mantra Cry” — something about the difference between a cry for help and one that is not calling for you to rescue.  This is a kind of ‘fussy’ cry, not one that demands any real action by its caretakers. Other things I learned had to do with putting the baby on its back in a crib, lots of new info about how much sleep the baby needs, why some babies don’t poop all the time, and info about the ‘right’ car seats. Also, apparently no matter what your question is about your baby, you can get endless answers/advice from the Internets, often directly opposing answers and advice.

How could we have raised our kids without all this information?

I think we were probably just lucky.

As for Samantha, it seems as if her parents are doing pretty well at understanding her and taking care of her needs.

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Andalusia: Thru Ellen’s Eyes

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To celebrate an important birthday of andalucia-travel-mapphotographer and spouse Ellen Miller, we snuck in a quick ten-day trip to Andalusia in Southern Spain. We began in Seville (Sevilla), took a day trip by train to Cordoba (Cordova). After returning to Seville, we drove through hill towns and farming areas of Andalusia to Ronda where we stayed overnight. We then drove on to Grenada where we concluded our lovely introduction to Andalusia.

First, a few brief notes on each of the places we explored, then ten photos from Ellen’s Andalusia, and finally a link to her slide show:

Seville:

All of our time here was spent walking everywhere, one morning with a guide who asked our interests and proceeded to adjust his tour accordingly (!) and the other two and a half days wandering on our own throughout the city. We learned a lot about how people live, shop, and eat in this thriving tourist town, saw some of the modern touches to this ancient city (to wit an inexplicable public structure dubbed ‘the mushroom’), and wandered through the old tile-making area of the city, which is rapidly becoming a chic place to live, wine, and dine.

For me, the most memorable site in Seville was the Plaza de Toros, the bullring. I’ve never seen a bull fight (we missed one by just a few days), but simply sitting on a stone seat and taking in the scene before us was somehow magical. I had some of the same feeling as I did more than 60 years ago when I first entered Boston’s Fenway Park and saw that wonderful ‘temple’ and its famed Green Monster wall.

While the massive Cathedral (built on the ruins of a former mosque) and the Alcazar (Royal Palace) were worthy of a bit of time, mostly we wandered through the various neighborhoods — the most interesting of which was the alluring old Jewish quarter —  mostly enjoying the narrow streets and white houses with flower boxes and grilled fronts.

And food was a highlight. For a fancy meal, we loved Oriza and its main dining room. But mostly, we found tapas bars, using our guide’s recommendation to be sure the floors around the bars were dirty with napkins (because that’s how you can distinguish a place where locals go from a place where tourists go). We stood at the bar at El Rinconcillo, the oldest tapas bar in Seville, for close to two hours, mostly soaking in the atmosphere, trying to get the attention of the ‘waiters’ behind the bar, and marveling at El Rincolncillo’s unique way of keeping track of what you’ve eaten (in chalk on the bar).

And, despite the touristy nature of it (and our resistance to it because of that), we thoroughly enjoyed a 90-minute evening performance of flamenco dancing.

Cordoba:

mesquite

We took a 40 minute train ride from Seville to Cordoba for the day, primarily to see the historic part of this ancient capital.  We enjoyed wandering in the ‘Jewish Quarter’ with its winding, narrow (‘kissing’) streets and looking in on the colorful, tiled patios. As in most of the areas we visited in Andalusia, there are virtually no remnants of Jewish life.

But it was the Mesquita de Cordoba — The Mosque/Cathedral — that most entranced us. Unlike everywhere else in Spain, the Christians did not destroy this massive, columned mosque when they ‘reconquered’ Cordoba. Instead, they simply built a cathedral in the exact center of this enormous and unusual mosque. And thank God, so to speak, that they left most of the mosque alone. Even with Ellen’s photographic skills and my writing, it is hard to capture, in picture or in words, this place. We have seen nothing like the Mesquita in all of our travels. Truly an architectural wonder.

Ronda and the hill towns of Andalusia:

best rondaWe spent a good part of one day driving from Seville through various hill towns and rich agricultural areas on our way to the cliff-side town of Ronda, where we stopped overnight before continuing on to Grenada. The countryside was lush and fertile and filled with olive trees. (Someone told us that 80% of Italy’s olive oil comes from Spain.)

Ronda is in a mountainous area and in the center of Andalusia. The town is built on the side of an enormous cliff and above the Guadalevin River which divides the town in two. The most recent of the three bridges (Puento Nuevo) now connects the two parts of the town, which has become one of the more well-known hill towns of this part of Spain. It is also the home of Spain’s oldest bullring, still in use twice a year. Although not as dramatic as the bullring in Seville, it was lovely (tho I suspect the bulls would disagree).

Grenada:

GrenadaWe left our car in a rental car park at a train station in Grenada — no one was around to accept the keys, but we assume that it was safely received — and spent the next three days walking through what became our favorite stop of this trip.

Sometimes with a guide, and more often on our own, we crisscrossed this ancient city, spending most of our time in the cobbled streets of the Albaicin, a former Moorish neighborhood that has retained some of its heritage, and most of a day at the Alhambra, a partially preserved fortress palace that is another historic monument that almost defies photographic and written description.** An UNESCO World Heritage site, it is a fortress that included, at one time, seven palaces, castles, residential neighborhoods, military housing, watch towers, and extensive gardens. One of the palaces remains and is stunning in its architecture and detailed decorative walls and ceilings. The Albhambra dominates the city, and from every angle is stunning to see.

And as everywhere else we were on this short trip, the food, largely tapas, was memorable. The tapas in Grenada is often free and meant to draw you into a bar, where you’ll not only drink but also order more food. Los Diamentas and Bodegas Espadafor were two of our favorites. Both were filled with locals. The final night we ate at Restaurante Estrellas de San Nicholas where from the top of the Albacian we had a wonderful night time view of the Alhambra. Surprisingly, the food was almost as good as the remarkable view.

(** In being intimidated by the Alhambra, I’m in pretty good company when I say it is a difficult place to describe. Washington Irving wrote, “”How unworthy is my scribbling of the place.” But I did read his Tales of the Alhambra (1832), a series of sketches, stories, tales, myths, descriptions, and observations of the Alhambra, where he spent part of year living in a room within one of the palaces. It’s a good read, especially once you’ve been there.)

bullring

cathedral ceiling

mesquite

cordoba shadows

castles in countryside

best ronda

ronda village.

Grenada

alhambra

To see the entire slide show (68 photos), use this link: Andalusia: Thru Ellen’s Lens.

For the best viewing, click on the little arrow at the top right of the first page of the link to start the slide show and see all the photos in the largest size possible (use a laptop or desktop computer if you have access to either).

I Owe It All to My Grandson

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Scherzer

At every baseball game I attend I am looking to see something I have never seen before. Sometimes that’s not such an easy task.

Last night, it was a no-brainer.

If you follow sports at all, and baseball in particular, you’ve already heard Max Scherzer, the Washington Nationals’ $210 million dollar — for seven years —  pitcher, struck out 20 batters in nine innings, to become only the fourth pitcher in MLB history to accomplish that task (Roger Clemens did it twice, Randy Johnson and Kerry Wood did it once each).

I suspect the Nationals were pleased to fork over the million dollars ($30 million a year divided by 30 starts) for that performance. Scherzer had been having a not-too-good year prior to last night as his ERA going into the game against Detroit was 4.60 and his won-loss record was 3-2.

It was an evening I will not forget, especially since I am putting in writing what I saw. When Scherzer struck out his 17th batter, I turned to a fellow Nats’ fan, Don, and said, “I once saw Pedro Martinez strike out 17 at Fenway years ago.” (However, when I tried to confirm that Pedro had indeed done that, I couldn’t find it in the records, although Pedro did strike out 17 Yankees once in Yankee Stadium.)

So much for the accuracy of my memory.

Anyway, here are some of the highlights from last night:

1st Inning: After getting the first batter to pop out, Scherzer strikes out the next two batters, including his friend Miguel Cabrera. Total: two strikeouts.

2nd Inning: Scherzer gives up a single to Victor Martinez and then strikes out the next three batters. Total: five strikeouts.

(Note: I mentioned to Don that Scherzer had already struck out five of the six batters he faced. But most fans didn’t seem to focus on that yet as they were carefully watching former Nats’ beloved pitcher Jordan Zimmermann return to Nationals’ Park for the first time since he left the team this past winter. He got an enthusiastic standing ovation/reception and was even ‘forced’ to step out of the batter’s box to acknowledge the well-earned applause and appreciation for what he accomplished while he was with the Nats.)

3rd Inning: Jose Inglesias, not one of the Tigers’ better hitters, leads off the inning with a first pitch home run that just got over the left field wall. Scherzer then strikes out the next three batters. Total: eight strikeouts.

4th Inning: One strikeout, one ground out, and one fly out to right. Total: nine Ks.

5th Inning: Two strikeouts and a fly out: Total: 11 Ks.

6th Inning:  Ground out and two strikeouts: Total: 13 Ks.

7th Inning: Cabrera strikes out again, but then Victor Martinez singles and Justin Upton doubles. Men on second and third. Only one out. Score at this point, Nats 2, Tigers 1. Scherzer strikes out the next two batters to get out of the inning and preserve the lead. Total: 15 Ks.

(Note: Up to this point, Jordan Zimmermann and Scherzer were in a terrific pitchers’ duel, despite all of Scherzer’s strikeouts. Now with the Tigers threatening, Scherzer was at his best, ‘easily’ putting away James McCann and Justin Upton. In the bottom of the 7th, Danny Espinoza adds an insurance run with a home run off Jordan Zimmermann to make the score 3-1.)

8th Inning: Scherzer strikes out the side. Total: 18 Ks.

9th Inning: Lead off home run for J.D. Martinez. Score goes to 3-2. Cabrera strikes out for the third time on a 97 mph fastball before Victor Martinez singles and goes 3-4 on the night. Scherzer then gets Upton to strikeout swinging and ties the record for most strike outs in a nine-inning game. Two outs and James McCann up with Scherzer, the rest of the Nats, and the 35,695 fans cheering for him to break the record. After a first pitch strike, McCann weakly grounds out third to first.  Total: 20 Strikeouts.

(Note: Far from being disappointed, Scherzer pumps his fist and grins so every one of the 35,695 fans can see how pumped up he was and excited to beat his old team and get back on track, dropping his ERA from 4.60 to 4.15. Overlooked in the excitement of Scherzer’s terrific game was Zimmermann’s good performance, giving up three runs and seven hits over seven innings, dropping his ERA from 1.10 to 1.5, still far ahead of Scherzer for the season. Basically, Zim made one mistake, the home run pitch to Espinoza, which allowed the Nats to win 3-2.)

And a few other things of note:

**In his complete game outing, Scherzer threw an amazing 96 strikes out of his 119 pitches (80.6%) — significantly better than the other three pitchers who also have struck out 20 and a MLB record. Also, no walks and six hits over his nine innings.

**Eighteen of Scherzer’s 20 strikeouts were swinging strikeouts. Kinsler, J.D. Martinez, Cabrera, McCann, and Gose all struck out three times. Victor Martinez got three hits and was the only Tiger batter who did not strike out.

**Scherzer had first strike pitches to 24 of the 33 batters he faced, a 72.3% rate.

**Scherzer now has defeated all 30 MLB teams. John Lackey is the only other active player to do that.

**Despite having Jonathan Papelbon warming up for the 9th inning, Nats’ manager Dusty Baker chose to stick with Scherzer in the 9th, even after he gave up a lead off home run, making the score close to 3-2. It’s doubtful Baker could’ve gotten Scherzer off the mound and out of the game in the 9th, at least not without the fans (and Scherzer) going bersek.

**Baker’s moving Daniel Murphy to batting forth and dropping Ryan Zimmerman to fifth paid off as Murphy drove in two of the Nats’ three runs, and would have had a third RBI if Harper had not been thrown out, on review, on an attempted steal. Murphy is now hitting .409 and no doubt better protects Harper from being walked than Zimmerman was able to do.

**Jason Werth’s batting average dropped to .196 as he went 0-4 and left five men on base.

**Dusty Baker who has played in 2,039 games and managed 3,210, said, “That’s the best pitching performance I’ve seen in person” — quite a complement for someone who has participated in a total of 5,249 games, witnessed numerous other games in addition, and is one of baseball’s most astute observers of the game.

For those of you who were not privileged to be at the game, did not see it on TV, or watch any of the replay, you can see in a third of a minute, what Scherzer did. (Please bear with the 12 second ad at the beginning of the video below):

Scherzer’s 20 Strikeouts in 20 Seconds

Oh. And why the “I Owe It All to My Grandson” headline of today’s blog?

I went to the game with the expressed purpose of getting the MVP Byrce Harper Bobblehead giveaway for my seven-year old grandson.

Otherwise, I doubt I would have had the great pleasure of attending and witnessing Max Scherzer’s wonderful performance last night.