Sunday, December 30, 2007

The last few days

I have been taking a bit of a blogging break during the meat of the Christmas holiday festivities, so I apologize for the last of posts.

While visiting my family in Tifton, Lynda, the girls and I enjoyed several things that I will run through in rapid succession, thereby completely defeating the purpose of even writing about it in the first place. (Trust me that all of this deserves more thoughtful prose than I am putting forth.)
  1. I enjoyed helping Muleskinner work on his latest woodworking project/historical reclamation. He is repairing (basically rebuilding) an old mirror frame that is supposed to belong to our great grandmother. I did a lot of watching while he drilled, glued, clamped, talked. I enjoyed it immensely, reminding myself of the times when we were both younger and I watched him build model airplanes and rockets. He glued, cut, decaled, and I listened and watched.
  2. I hung out a bit with my other siblings and their children, but I especially enjoyed watching my kids play and talk with their cousins. I wish they got to interact with them more than once or twice a year, but it is what it is. They all got along well and I hope the family ties were strengthened somewhat.
  3. Sarah and Grace got to experience the joys of picking up and cracking pecans from Pappaw's yard. They found that they like the taste more than they thought they would . . . and my hopes that I might be able to start including pecans in the weekend pancakes increased.
  4. We enjoyed the antics of two dogs in and amongst the fifteen other family members.
  5. We ate many great meals fixed by Mom and by MA. Thanks for keeping our stomachs full!
  6. I played golf with Dad, MSqured, and EB, thereby justifying the hassle of finding a spot for the clubs in the back of the van. Surprisingly, I played pretty well considering I rarely play.
  7. Sarah and Grace got slightly more skilled on their bikes, thanks to 1) the bike-friendly street and church parking lot across from MA's home (our secondary base and the site of my family's nightly bunk-down) and 2) the bike-wise mechanical skill of EB. This also justified the hassle of finding room in the van for the transportation of bikes.
  8. On the last night, we all had a weenie roast in the back yard, complete with smores for desert and banjo and fiddle music courtesy of Muleskinner. Even though EB had a scooter mishap and injured his hand, it was (until then?) a nice night for all.
  9. Most of all, we enjoyed being together marvelling at the 70/80 degree temperatures, bright sunshine, and everything good about the family at holidays.

I am taking advantage of Dad's timely posting of pictures to give you a brief snapshot of many of the things and places that I've glanced over here. I'll add more thoughts of the last few days of travel and holiday fun in a later post.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

I take it all back?

It's so much easier to travel than it is to host.

If your travelling, you've just got to show up and participate.

If you're hosting, you're cooking food for everyone, sleeping on floors, cleaning things up, buying extra food at the grocery store, keeping track of the time and the food schedule, keeping the peace.

If you're travelling, you're just eating the food, sleeping in someone else's nice bed, bringing the mess with you, NOT spending food on your own groceries.

THANKS to all of our hosts in our southern sojourn.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas time is here

I found out some disturbing stuff on Sunday night when we arrived in my hometown of Tifton, GA. Turns out the Ray Coniff album that I had written about recently and even featured (ironically) on my Christmas 2007 mix was NOT the craptacular singing group that my family made fun of when I was a youth.

It turns out, that group was "Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians." I hang my head in shame for getting it wrong. That makes me question so much of my childhood. . .


We've been in Tifton for about two days now. Mostly just hanging around. Muleskinner and I watched "It's a Wonderful Life" last night, a Christmas tradition that I am fairly certain is accurate. (No, I am sure that that much is true.)

We spent a quick visit in Waycross spending time with Lynda's brother's family. I greatly enjoyed some homemade Brunswick Stew from AT, and I scored the recipe as well. I'll post it for anyone who would like to give it a try. I might even bring some in to work or to the next party that I attend.

Last night on Christmas Eve, we attended the local Episcopal church for a Visit from St. Nicholas and Christmas Eve service. It turned out to be an odd convergence of our recent religious past. We found that the Episcopal church was currently without a permanent priest and the supply priest from Albany was none other than the priest that ran the church Lynda and I attended when in college over in Statesboro, and he was the priest that (along with Lynda's dad) officiated at our wedding. Add to that the fact that, since it was Christmas Eve and a "children's service" St. Nicholas came by to give a brief historical sermon about the religious underpinnings of Santa Claus. That might not be that unusual, except that the first church that Lynda and I attended when we moved to Ohio was named St. Nicholas of Myra, the very same historical figure that was visiting the children that night. We had a good time catching up with Fr. RD and Z, his wife. They were both important figures in our young adult lives and it was great to see them again.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

On the Road Again

Greetings from Blue Ridge, Georgia!

We drove from C-bus down to Blue Ridge, Georgia yesterday afternoon/evening. Lynda and I worked the morning hours and left a bit after lunch time. We had a bit of a struggle getting the suitcases, stuffed animals, girls bicycles, my golf clubs, Graces' new Baby Alive, some Christmas presents, snacks, drinks, DVDs, and books and activity workbooks in the van, but we found room for it all plus the all-important iPod. So, we were definitely entertained.

(I pack like Christopher Columbus--minimum needed to fit in a small space. Lynda packs like NASA--multiple redundancies and backups. I imagine that Columbus thought to himself: "I don't care how many cities are going to be named after me, the Santa Maria is pretty damned small and I don't want to be tripping on that extra barrel of salted cod all the way across the Atlantic!" Whereas Lynda thinks, "What if the the oxygen scrubbers go down? We'll need an extra filter, no, better make that TWO filters and the housing and some panty hose and a vacuum pump in case we need to construct a third scrubber if the two extra fail." Case in point--I packed four DVDs for the kids; Lynda added six more.)

The drive went well and the van came through like a champ again. It really is comfortable and I find it a very accommodating vehicle for interstate driving. I recommend it to everyone with the propensity to carry lots of stuff and people around with them when they hit the road.

I'm trying to remember the most interesting part of the 10-plus hour drive, and you know, my sleepy brain just isn't reminding me of anything. I knew I should have been taking notes as we went. As it is, this entry isn't worth much since it is lacking in the satisfying details that make all useful travel journals worth writing about. I mean, no one would have read Hemingway's travel books if he described it something like:

"We left that morning and made an easy journey from home to our destination. Nothing of any importance happened, really."

Boring as that is, it captures the Interstate travelling experience pretty well. The real fun doesn't occur until you swing off the exit ramps and hit the state highways. Take last night for instance. Driving east in northern Georgia doesn't lend itself to lots of four-lane highways, and the part of the trip where you have to pay the most attention is the part of the trip where you are the most tired. Nothing unusual did happen, but while we twisted and turned our way through the roads that take you up and down the Appalachian foothills between Dalton and Chatsworth, you do have to slow yourself down and pay attention. The fog thickened, the girls woke up (and Grace threatened to get car sick), and I worried about deer.

I found myself trying to remember the name of some strange Bigfoot-like creature that my siblings and I would joke about while we drove similar N. Georgia roads when camping as kids. It was something with skunk in the name, but I couldn't remember the rest--skunkfox, skunkbear, skunkwolf? None of those are right and I'm not giving you enough context to really understand what I'm talking about. I'll consult with MSquared, Muleskinner, and MA to see if they can remember.

Until next entry . . .

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas doin's

I will never be a successful, recognized, known blogger for the simple fact that I don't have the stamina to maintain the expected blogging lifestyle.

To be a good blogger that lots of people flock to, you've got to keep churning out the content, day in and day out, day after day, thought after thought, item after item. It's got to be tiring, don't you think?

Take me for instance.

This is the time of year where I might actually have stuff going on, events and parties to go to, people outside of my immediate circle off wife and children that I could interact with, have a beer with, find out something interest. You know, generate a little dialogue and create some content.

And, in fact, I did do just that last night. The family went over to a friend's house in our old neck of the woods on the west side and we had the annual Christmas meal and Ornament Exchange. It's always a good time, especially when we start stealing ornaments from each other. Lynda and I always think it's a successful evening when we come away with another snowman ornament for our snowman themed tree. (The one illustrated above is not the one we got this year.) Plus, the various participants in this party are our old church friends and godparents for Sarah and Grace, so they are getting presents from all of them (Christmas #1).

But Christmas #1 can only mean one thing . . . the annual invasion of plastic, cardboard, and other detritus that is guaranteed to make Surly Burb irritable and cause his blood pressure to rise. I thought about it during the drive home in the car, the collection of boxes, tissue paper, twisty things, molded plastic, etc. that would clutter up the house and make things look frightful.

I was distracted from these depressing thoughts once when we turned into our neighborhood and I started paying attention to the decorative lights all around. We don't have lots of lights up, even in our most expansive years (which this is not). The last several years, we have had the snowman tree (with white lights) in the front room visible through the front windows of the house. Out front in the yard, we usually put some icicle lights around the porch area and maybe some net lighting in the small bushes around the tree in the front yard. That's it, but I would actually prefer to add some icicle lights to the eves, creating that snow effect. Unfortunately, I'm pretty much not allowed by Lynda to get up on a ladder and attempt to hand stuff like that, for fear of falling and dying (which would tend to put a damper on the holidays). And this year, the nets lights quit working so, we have even less lights than normal--and compared to a few of our neighbors, we've got nothing.

The point is, I wish we had a bit more in the way of decorations, but what do you get without becoming trashy? And what about buying new lights to replace the ones that blinked out since last year? I guess I could look into (for next year) the new-style LED Christmas lights, but those things are kind of freaky. They emit a strange, alien-like glow with a halo around them that just doesn't say Christmas. As other bloggers have said, in ten years, we won't blink an eye when confronted with the LED lights hard glow. But right now we still see the old electric bulb lights with a fondness for the cold warmth that says tradition.

Once we got home from the Party (with a new snowman), we got the kids to bed and I got started wrapping presents. We are leaving for the Christmas trip to Georgia on Friday, so we were going to have Christmas #2 here at the house on Thursday afternoon. But we hadn't wrapped anything up--it was all sitting in the basement. After a few hours of wrapping while listening to podcasts, the gifts were suitably festive and placed under the tree. "Santa's" gifts were also wrapped but were going to stay hidden.

This morning the girls immediately saw the placed gifts and were excited. But they knew that Santa wasn't coming until later. So, no opening of presents occurred this morning. When we all got home from work and had eaten dinner tonight, Lynda and I realized the flaw in our plans. If Santa was coming tonight (Wednesday night once the kids were asleep) how could the girls wake up on Thursday, see the additional Santa presents, and then get ready for school as if nothing had occurred?

So, Christmas #2 became Christmas #2a: The Intimate Family Opening. The girls opened and played with the items that we had purchased for them and Lynda and I opened out gifts from each other. (More on THAT below.)

By allowing this tonight, we of course also allowed that tomorrow morning would be Christmas #2b: The Santa Experience. Tomorrow morning, the girls get to opening a few more gifts and exclaim in wonder at the nibbled carrots, eaten cookies, and drunken (?) milk.

Frankly, that is one of the serious problems with traveling to see family for Christmas. By the time we arrive in Georgia, our kids will have experienced 2.5, almost 3 Christmas events. When they get to Lynda's parents home near Ellijay, they'll have Christmas #3. When we drive to Lynda's brother's place in Waycross for the day, it'll be Christmas #4. When we settle in my hometown for several days we'll have Christmas #5. It's frankly a bit ridiculous and it simultaneously reinforces the notion that Christmas is all about gifts while diluting the specialness of those gifts. One option is to stay here for Christmas Day and travel later, but that would only cut out 0.5 Christmas Events. We could, alternatively, stay here throughout the Christmas season, but that's tantamount to crazy talk and would guarantee that we would see none of my family at all during Christmas, since they simply don't travel here. (But I'm being peevish. Sorry.)

Now, back to Christmas #2a. I got Lynda to items--both sort of practical things. The first was a cookbook and the second was a replacement bag for her use when transporting papers and book from the office to home. (She had completely worn out the last one she had.) But the real story here is the cookbook.

I was meaning to replace the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook that we've had for many, many years and was so well-used that the binding had cracked and pages were falling out. When I went to the bookstore with Sarah to buy the new one, I could not remember the name of the book, so I told the clerk I was looking for the one with the red and white checkerboard cover. They acted as if they immediately knew what I was looking for and pointed me to The Joy of Cooking. It was a classic; that much I knew, but it didn't have the cover that I remembered in my head. Oh well, I thought, it's a new edition after all. Covers are changed. We bought it and I wrapped it up and put it under the tree.

Tonight, Lynda opened it and was very glad to receive a new cookbook. She's ready to get rid of the beaten-up, old one. While the girls were playing with new playdoh, I began flipping through The Joy of Cooking, convinced still that this was, indeed, the same cookbook that I had set out to find. To convince myself, I flipped to the Meat section, to check out the meatloaf recipe that we've used many times before. I was satisfied by what I found and just kept on flipping. Sure, I found some strange stuff here and there was was a bit odd, but I reassured myself that it was simply recipes we'd never wanted/needed to try before.

Cooking brains isn't that unusual. Just the other day I was telling coworkers that I'd actually smelled animal brains heated up with a laboratory probe once, and it smelled surprisingly good. I'm not saying I'd eat the stuff or even know how to procure the items in question but it wasn't too bad.

And then I hit on this page:

Suddenly, this was looking less like a cookbook and more like a survival guide written by Bear Grylls. If I ever find myself in need of knowing how to skin a rabbit, I hope I have this cookbook handy. But, it's not just the rabbit, which is a legitimate source of meat that, while a bit unusual, isn't out of the question. It's the illustration on the recto page (that's right page to you) that made me begin to doubt my original bookstore purchase.

I don't EVER recall the old cookbook showing you the proper way to skin a squirrel (!!), but I do appreciate the handy tip showing how a nice sturdy booted foot on the tail helps shed the tree rat of its skin.

So, yeah, I bought the wrong cookbook, something I have since confirmed by locating the original, dog-eared Better Homes and Gardens version. I guess I can take The Joy of Cooking back, but I sure hate to give up such nice blog fodder. Who knows what I might discover on the next page? And imagine what might happen if I started cooking some of this stuff? THOSE would be interesting posts indeed.

Christmas #2 has been interesting so far.

Bring on Christmases #s 3-5!!

Sarah's Beautiful Books

Sarah has a blog . . . have I told you that?

She wanted to create one a few months ago and I showed her how to set something up. I swear I didn't push for it and I don't pester her to write on it.

(You can see from this link that she doesn't go on it excessively, which I think is a good thing.)

She does the typing, with the exception of 1) the "Enchanted" movie review and 2) the most recent post, "Winter Wonderland"--which was originally a handwritten story that includes some illustrations that I may scan in later. I felt it was too long for her to type in alone.

Anyway, I've placed a link to it in my own list of sites in the right sidebar. If she places anything especially interesting over there, I'll probably mention it.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Trees are deadly

Not since J.R.R. Tolkien, or Canadian power trio Rush, have trees been seen as anything but leaky oxygen factories.

Environmentalists love them, sometimes chaining themselves to them in solidarity.

But did you know that trees are speculated by some to be stone cold killers?

Some say it's true.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Here they come a-caroling

Tonight we went to church for the Christmas children's "pageant." I put that in quotation marks because this is not the typical manger play. In what I feel was a good move, the organizer decided to simplify things by just getting the kids to learn some traditional religious carols and we all sang together, then had cookies and cocoa.

One additional nice touch was that in between each carol, the kids read little historical vignettes about when the carol was first written or the circumstance behind the writing. Sarah got to read one of the parts. I think she did a great job. Though the quality of my camera-produced video isn't very good, you can also see Grace singing along on the right side of the stage (Stage Left is, I think the technical term?). She got to carry a lantern in, which she was very excited about.

I'll apologize in advance for the singing that you'll probably pick up. I was trying to sing quietly, but we parents wanted to participate in solidarity with the kids--especiall since they were trying to sing from memory and we had printed words.

(The kids were wearing hats and gloves not because the heat wasn't working, but because we were trying to mimicking carolers walking around at night.)

Collecting up the random bits

I've had several different things on my mind lately--not of them particularly important things mind you, just things.

Amazon bought J.K. Rowling's Tales of Beedle the Bard. It doesn't seem that there are plans to publish the book for mass sales, but at least Amazon is providing a webpage that shows views of the book itself and gives some brief reviews of the myths within. There are a great many comments from many visitors, and while I'm a Rowling/Potter fan, I agree that sometimes the Rowling hoopla can seem to be a bit too much. The Soetheby's video message from Rowling to "the owner" is kind of creepy in it fetishism of the book--the guy stroking it with his gloves hands, the reverent holding, the oh-so-careful opening!

I have some thoughts about recent J.J. Abrams projects here. The Omnimedia post is complete with lots of relevant links and even videos. Read and enjoy.

I've also got another review and my thoughts on Phillip Pullman/The Golden Compass over on Omnimedia.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Christmas Mix 2007

I have put together a mix of "eclectic" Christmas songs that has been spinning in my iTunes for days now. It is a very unusual collection, something that I started compiling mostly as a joke, but I've found that I like it more and more. The original intent of this was to be pretty irreverent towards the Christmas song genre (as you'll soon see), and I think I succeeded pretty well. Too bad all of you can't hear them as you read this.

Track 1--Here We Come A-Caroling, The Ray Conniff Singers (1965).
I know that I have told stories about the place that the Ray Conniff Singers holds in my own familial Christmas lore. Imagine Lawrence Welk-style Christmas squareness and you're getting the right idea.

Favorite lyric:
"We are not daily beggars out to beg from door-to-door/We're the Conniff Singers, whom you have heard before. Love and Joy come to you, and a Merry Christmas too . . ."

Track 2--Drop the Needle, It's Christmas, Dumbledore (2005).
Here is where the original intent of this Christmas mix begins to become apparent. This song was originally found on A Magical Christmas of Magic, a Christmas album put out by Harry and the Potters, a Wizard Rock band. You might not give a flying fig about HP and all of his adventures, but this is a catchy tune that suggests what it might be like if the Hogwarts headmaster decided to get down at the Yule Ball.

Favorite lyric: "Voldemort's back, but he's got no style. Dumbledore's here to drive the girls wild. On the dance floor no one's better, everybody wants to party with the Master. My Christmas rule is to rid the world of evil; let me hear 'Ooh!' from all the party people!"

Track 3--We're Going to the Country, Sufjan Stevens (2006).
I picked up the Sufjan Stevens Songs for Christmas album last year and really enjoy its country-fried spin on familiar Christmas tunes and hymns, along with some songs of Stevens own creation. (I think.) This song isn't "funny" per se, but I like it's sense of "otherness."

Favorite element: The mixture of banjo and sleigh bells.

Track 4--Skating, Vince Guaraldi Trio (?).
One of the musical interludes from Merry Christmas Charlie Brown, one of the definitive holiday TV shows of the last fifty years. My brother MSquared compiled his own Christmas mix several years ago to give to each of us and this and other songs from the VGT were prominently featured.

Favorite element: Syncopated piano beats and a brushed snare drum.

Track 5--The Sweater Song, The Hermione/Crookshanks Experience (2007).
No, it's not the Weezer song of the same name. This song is another Wizard Rock song from the recently released charity album Jingle Spells.It imagines what Hermione wants most of all for Christmas. (If you would like to purchase this album--all of the proceeds go to Book Aid International--you can now download it from iTunes. Just hit the iTunes site and search for Jingle Spells.)

Favorite lyric: "It's just a measly sweater, easy enough to have done. Ron Weasley, get your mom to make me one."

Track 6--Come on! Let's Boogey to the Elf Dance! Sufjan Stevens (2006).
This song, in typical Sufjan style, has a very repetitive rhythm to it. Some people (like Lynda for instance) find that insufferable. I think it adds a musical tension to the song. (And don't more Christmas songs need tension?)

Favorite lyric: "Santa is here/Sleigh bells are ringing/21 elves/they are all singing/K-Mart is closed/So is the bakery/Everyone's home/watching TV."

Track 7--Joy to the World The Ray Conniff Singers (1965).
Pretty straightforward song, the one everyone knows and cherishes. But what makes this one indelible is the doo-wop beat that the Conniff Singers present. Can you swing and be square at the same time? (The answer here is . . . emphatically . . YES!)

Favorite moment: One minute and 45 seconds into the song, a female back up singer has a sort of religious/choral orgasm. It has made me laugh every year for 30 plus years.

Track 8--O Holey Night Ministry of Magic (2007).
Now, here is a thing of satirical beauty. Imagine, if you will, what might happen if you take the imminently sacred song "O Holy Night" and recast it to be a meditation on what happened to George Weasley's ear in
Chapter 5 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Favorite lyric: "I'm falling off/my broom, and I can't hear/out of my left side./It all went black, as it became/the night I lost my ear/O Holey Night."

Track 9--Hey Guys! It's Christmas Time Sufjan Stevens (2006).
Here's a Christmas song with a driving rock n' roll beat! It provides a nice contrast to the actual lyricism of Ministry of Magic's "O Holey Night."

Favorite element: I don't exactly know what it is, but there is some keyboard-like instrument that has been distorted (sort of like listening underwater) that separates the verses. I dig it.

Track 10--The Twelve Days of Wizard Christmas
Gred and Forge (2007).
It's yet another rewriting of that venerable old Christmas tune. You'll either like this or you won't. I have no way of persuading you.

Favorite lyric: "On the sixth day of Christmas, Lockhart gave to me, six signed portraits . . . etc."

Track 11--Do They Know It's Christmas Band Aid (2001).
Yes, it's THAT song. The one where Bono "thanks God it's them, instead of Yooooouuuuu!" This is a Modern Classic that recalls a certain moment in people's lives. It's not, at all, my favorite song in the Christmas genre, but it seemed to fit the snarky tone behind this particular Christmas mix. Forgive me if you hate this song beyond all reason. (Apparently, you can't get an individual download of this song from iTunes these days. You can purchase the entire Now! That's What I Call Christmas album that it is compiled on, but I got the hook up from my professional DJ brother-in-law.)

Favorite lyric/moment: Bono has his own sort of musical/empathetic orgasm, as described above.

Track 12--Oh! Christmas Tree
The Whomping Willows (2007).
If you are in a Wizard Rock band called the Whomping Willows (named after the semi-sentient, cranky tree of the same name that pummels anything that gets close to it), and your "shtick" is that you--the human singer named Matt--is regularly possessed by the spirit of said tree to sing songs, what OTHER Christmas song would you care to sing? But wait! Don't sing when you rap badly! YES!!

Favorite lyric: "The Giant Squid is a hit with all the ladies. He'll get more groupies than Sebastian Bach did in the Eighties."

Track 13--O Tannenbaum The Ray Conniff Singers (1965).
Yep, they're back again, this time attempting to wipe out the Tannenbaum rap of the previous track with an uber-traditional version of the old German favorite that mixes English lyrics, German lyrics, and only Ray Conniff knows what else.

Favorite moment: Near the end of the song, the Singers fortissimo it up another notch, to really bring Tree-lovin' home in a big way. You'll never look at that blinking thing in the corner of your living room the same way again.

Track 14--Christmas With the Weasleys (Or What You Will)
The Remus Lupins (2007).
My favorite Wizard Rock singer helps bring this mix closer to an end with another fond look at everyone's favorite wizarding family.

Favorite moment: It wouldn't be a Remus Lupins song without a sing-along at the end: "This Christmas, let's make love last . . . the whole year."

Track 15--Linus and Lucy The Vince Guaraldi Trio (?).
Another shout out to Merry Christmas Charlie Brown. This is the song that the kids keep breaking out into dance with while Charlie/then Lucy are trying to direct the Christmas pageant. Try NOT to tap your feet to this one.

Favorite moment: Other than imagining the various "signature dances" of the Peanuts gang, I love when Schroeder's main piano line shifts into the more improvisational, jazzy interludes throughout the song.

Track 16--That Was the Worst Christmas Ever! Sufjan Stevens (2006).
Here's hoping you won't be saying this after listening to these songs. But, it seemed the best title to place here at the end, no matter what anyone else thinks.

Favorite lyric: I don't have one yet. I'll keep listening . . .

Monday, December 10, 2007

I'm never taking a day off again

I took today off to try and burn the leftover vacation days from 2006 that I didn't use this past year.

And I can tell you now that I'm not going to be doing that again.

What do you do on your days off? Do you relax? Catch up on a book that you've been meaning to read? Go see a movie that you missed? Plan a lunch with a friend you don't see very often?

Well, here's what I've done with my day off so far today.

1. I slept in about thirty minutes later than normal but I still had to make sure the kids were getting ready to go and everything. Lynda is still working too hard all the time and she's going to be working tonight, so I need to be here to keep up with the kids and pick them up this afternoon.

2. I got the girls ready to go and they were off to their various schools by 8:30. But as I was getting out the door, I synched up my iPod, anticipating my next destination--the auto shop (more on that in a few minutes). I figured I could while away my time in the waiting room listening to the latest podcasts. I already had the grocery list in my pocket for after leaving the auto shop. (Sounds like fun already, huh?) But, as I was leaving the door remember, I finished synching the iPod, swung down the lid to the laptop and hear a crunching. Huh? Wonder what that was? Oh, the little plastic cover that fits over the end of my cord that connects the iPod to the USB port was still inside the laptop and got sandwiched. Sounded bad, but oh well, it looks alright and I've got to get Grace to daycare and get to the shop. If I get there early, I might not have to wait too long.

3. Got to the auto shop by 9 am. All I want to do is get my tires aligned, since they've been pulling and making noise. I know already that the tires are old and will need to be replaced soon, but I think I've got some more thousand miles to go on that and this isn't the main vehicle anymore.

Turns out I'll have to wait awhile. Well, not perfect, but it is a day off and I don't have other absolute plans. I've got the iPod and I grab a chair and wait . . . and wait . . . and wait . . . and wait . . . Should've had breakfast this morning. Wait . . . wish I could leave but I don't have the cell phone . . . wait. Man, my shoulder blade is hurting. Wait . . .

Finally, a bit after noon, I get the news. The alignment was pretty bad and needed correcting. But the tires are really worn and should be replaced soon. The guy gives me a quote and I'll take it under advisement . . . and compare prices first. But can it wait until after Christmas and bills? Probably, since we don't drive this car everywhere. As long as there isn't LOTS of snow . . . well, we'll see.

4. Get home at 12:30 hungry for lunch. Begin heating up some leftover stew and wonder about the rest of the afternoon. I've got until 3:30 and haven't gotten the groceries yet. I still need to make a doctor's appointment (maybe I'll swing by the office when I head out for groceries). But now I'm eating stew and wondering what's up on the internet. Swing up the laptop and get a smack of bad news.

Remember the crunching sound earlier in the morning? Well, that plastic doodad messed up my laptop screen pretty bad. It looks like someone broke an ink pen on the screen, smudging at the bottom and several nice stress lines spreading all the way up the screen on the right third. sigh

When will THAT get fixed? Who knows.

5. So, to recap. Spent all morning sitting to get expensive news on the car (is there any other kind?). Back hurts, Still have to get groceries. Computer screwed up. And (to be honest) I probably need to do some work-at-home this afternoon.

Days off SUCK!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Help someone today--come shovel my driveway!

The first snow of the winter came last night.

I've already shoveled the driveway and was immediately reminded what a fruitless task it is, because the half that I started on was already becoming dusted again when I finished. When I go outside in a bit to take the girls to school, I'm sure to be dismayed by the healthy layer of snow that will have already accumulated in the last hour and a half.

The girls are outside enjoying it now. They talk of snowmen, snowballs . . . but the snow isn't really that deep. It's enough to make things pretty, and that's always a good thing.

As you might have read from yesterday's post (scroll down to read), today is Darfur Fast. The idea is to fast from a single (or multiple) luxuries during this day, calculate what money you have saved, and donate to the refugees in Darfur, to help keep them safe and to make steps to end what is happening there.

I don't drink Starbucks on a regular basis and my main indulgence during a regular workday is buying lunch rather than packing or maybe buying a candy bar or a coke in the afternoon. But, adding those things up equals about $7.00. I can easily donate that, and this small amount of money can make a difference--especially if it is multiplied by many well-meaning people. I thought about calculating the amount of gas I use to go to work, the amount of soap and toothpaste and orange juice and milk and breakfast, etc. that I might use and then adding that total. (I figured that would be better than NOT using soap and toothpaste this morning.) But, I'll just add some more money to my donation.

If you want to help, you can read more information about Darfur Fast here.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Darfur Fast is tomorrow!

I'm very late hearing about this cause (and I heard about it through Pottercast, which partnered with the HP Alliance to raise money to help stop the violence in Darfur), but I'm going to do my best to participate in the Darfur Fast tomorrow, December 5th.

You can read about what Darfur Fast is by clicking here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Out of the office

I'm off to a work conference in San Diego, California tomorrow through late Sunday night.

I won't have my laptop with me, so I'll probably be out of blogging touch for a few days.

(Sorry! Really, don't cry.)

When I get back, I'll blog about Die Hard 4, if I can still remember how ridiculous it was.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Stop me if you've heard this before.

I really should lose about 15 pounds.

I just haven't figured out a good way to go about doing it.

It is particularly difficult to lose weight this time of year, since we're surrounded with cookies, pies, and everything else. And as the weather up here gets colder and less hospitable, the ability to even THINK about going outside for exercise diminishes. (Not that I have a particularly strong history of active exercising.)

Getting down to brass tacks, I'm lazy and unwilling (so far) to find ways to fit hard exercise--the beneficial kind--into my daily routine. Without that commitment to change, I don't see how I'm going to achieve the reality of what needs to be done. I've got to find an effective way to exercise.

I also need to find better ways to eat.

The only other time that I was able to effectively lose weight was when Lynda and I were doing Weight Watchers after Sarah was born. It helped a great deal that the cafeteria at work was actively participating in the program back then, so you could easily calculate the Points--which were displayed by the food items. Now there is much more guesswork and I haven't done a very good job of thinking about it all.

But, I don't like what I see in the mirror. Shame alone isn't cutting it though.

Random definition

Did you know that the word succinct originally meant "having one's clothes gathered up by a belt . . ." related to the word cincture? I like the connection between tightening up one's clothes with tightening up one's language.

I discovered that today when double-checking the spelling of said word in my dictionary.

I have a habit of marking the words I look up in the dictionary. I admit that I stole the idea from Diane Court (Ione Skye) the valedictorian object of Lloyd Dobler's (John Cusack) affection in the film Say Anything. Lloyd was intimidated by the number of words Diane had looked up in the dictionary, and I'll further admit that I like seeing the marks on the page when I flip through looking for another word. However, I am slightly saddened when I find that I have already marked a word that I am currently looking up. (Gotta improve that memory!)

NOTE: I tried really hard to find the appropriate moment from Say Anything to illustrate what I am talking about, but it turns out the internet CAN'T find everything you're looking for.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Let it begin!

The day after Thanksgiving . . . and we're all here together at home. No daycare, no work, no parade, no activity built in this afternoon.

Lynda, in a fit of familial consumerist madness, braved the After Thanksgiving Sales for a few hours this morning. Nothing horribly strenuous, but it signals that That Time Of Year has begun. The turkey leftovers haven't even been thought of and we're already seeing things in Red and Green (or at least those of you who aren't colorblind are).

I've got MSquared's Holiday music mix running on iTunes now as we all decide how to handle the rest of the day. Grace is playing with Barbie toys from holidays past (THAT is a Christmas miracle!). Sarah is thinking about being a Young Adult (taking showers in the morning, watching the news and the Weather Channel . . . seriously!), and Lynda and I wonder when we'll get out the trees, ornaments, and start baking up those Christmas cookies.


Trees are up and lighted.

Ornaments have been placed and tree skirts are down.

Boxes are still everywhere and I think I'm going to wait until tomorrow to tackle the yearly conundrum of outdoor lights--which ones work and which ones don't, what mysterious combination of extension cords and outlets combine to make it all function, whether or not I should put icicle lights around the porch or not. (This summer I put the icicle lights around the dining room nook for a Great Hall effect during Sarah's Harry Potter party . . . maybe I'll do that again?

Lots of holiday knickknacks are out and about in some rooms of the house. I always feel that some rooms get lots of decorations and other rooms nothing at all. (I always feel badly for those other rooms, such as every upstairs room.) But the minute a Santa statue or a small nativity goes down, the war begins. As soon as I turn around, here comes a kid with Baby Jesus in one hand and a snowman candle in the other. They won't leave well enough alone.

Christmas decorations are for the adults, attempting to recapture that innocence in their own memory. The kids participate, but they don't have enough foundation yet to make it truly special. They just enjoy the transformation of the everyday house into something Other. It won't be until later that they want to make that transformation for their own reasons.

So, right now I put out trees and hang ornaments, thinking of when I did it as a boy. And Lynda bakes batch after batch of cookies, cooling them in blank rows, awaiting the icing to come--all the while thinking of her mom.

Someday, our kids will remember. Right now they can only wait.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Giving Thanks

Right now I'm thankful for good friends who invited us over for a wonderful amount of food that I am struggling to digest in a wakeful state. Our normal Thanksgiving meal with RoF and her family was put aside this year, because she's very busy and has got lots of stuff going on in her life besides.

Jack T. and Cordelia invited us over this year and we had lots of delicious turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, squash, mashed potatoes, green beans, and something else that I'm sure to be forgetting. We brought along some of my mom's best fruit salad recipe.

Everyone had so much to eat and that was followed by delicious homemade pecan and pumpkin pies.

I reflected on how many time since we've moved to Ohio we've had the benefit of eating this meal with friends and (almost) family. It is a great luxury to have such people in our lives when we are many miles from our own family.

Not to mention the comfortably warm house and warm clothes we enjoy without thought each and every day. We have lots of luxury and blessings in our life, including our many other friends that enrich our lives.

Thanks to you all. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

vt 2 a: to stir up : AROUSE (~ interest) b : to bring into being : START

I first read about the Kindle on another blog that I visit daily. I am intrigued by it because I wonder when (as I'm now sure Jeff Bezos does) book readers will finally threaten wood and paper books for delivery mechanism of choice. As these things go, it seems like the Kindle has the best shot of any to be the warning shot that something new is coming. But will it usher in a new future for reading?

I am sure that some people want to say that this new device will captivate new readers and encouraging reading in this modern world of television and video. I'm not sure about that. I do wonder if it will do for book buying what the iPod has done for music purchasing--i.e. make it easier to do for those already inclined to do so. For example, I would not characterize myself as a audiophile. I don't search out obscure bands, argue with people about which band is better than the next, troll through reviews of bands. I just know What I Like and occasionally see if this new thing also fits What I Like. Since I've had the iPod, deciding to buy What I Like has become much easier and so, I do it more often.

That's what I think a device like the Kindle can do. It is intelligently designed, making it simple enough for anyone to operate as a basic reading device. And it is connected to Amazon's ever-growing catalog of books. So, people that like to read already may find it simpler to purchase that book they read about. But will it make people WANT to read who aren't already wanting to read? I doubt that. Let's face it, the wood and paper book is a pretty simple device. If you don't like that experience, will the digital version of it seem more palatable?

Newsweek has a big cover story about the importance of the device. The article is full of sociological blather about what the book has meant historically and whether a new digital age will radically change things. I laugh at Amazon's attempt to assuage Luddite fears by designing it so that "in sleep mode the Kindle displays retro images of ancient texts, early printing presses and beloved authors like Emily Dickinson and Jane Austen." Will that sort of thing really work? Would enough people even recognize their faces to be soothed?

I'm more concerned about the possibility of digital books shuttering the library buildings that serve as more than a warehouse of books but as a community gathering place. What will happen to the underclass that can't afford $300 for the privilege? Already record stores can't survive the iTunes revolution. Will libraries fail as well? Does Bezos care about that? Would anyone ask him?

At least for the moment, the Amazon home page has a letter from CEO Jeff Bezos describing how important/wonderful he thinks the Kindle is. I wish he'd better explain why he chose the name. As I (and the Newsweek article) have already indicated, the name is to evoke Prometheus. But, as I did my definitional research, using an old fashioned dictionary, by the way, I found an alternative definition of kindle that might suit Bezos just fine--"vt : BEAR -- esp. of a rabbit ~ vi : to bring forth young--used esp. of a rabbit."

Happy shopping.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

He shall squeeze no more, forever

Last night's post about The Flintstones might be an appropriate way to segue into today's news that Dick Wilson (Mr. Whipple of "Don't squeeze the Charmin" fame) died at the age of 91.

What must it be like to be best known (to the nation, at least) as a guy obsessed with toilet paper? I am sure, to his family, friends, and community, he was much more than that. He probably grilled the best chicken on the block and gave out muffin baskets at Christmas, but we don't know that.

I would much rather see him patrolling the grocery store aisles than the cartoon bears that sell Charmin today. The pleasure they evidence when preparing to wipe their ursine butts with the super soft Charmin is not a pleasant reminder of what that product is all about.

Thanks Mr. Wilson. I won't squeeze, I promise.

(Anyway, I--as always--am sure Tom Cruise is behind this. But all I can say to Tom is . . . there are more effective ways to get Suri potty-trained.)

See also: The Orphanage of Cast-Off Mascots.

Monday, November 19, 2007

"There's a splinter in your eye that reads 'React'."

Crisis #1 (a minor problem)--Do you remember cassette tapes? Because I didn't have lots of disposable money in college and was therefore late to the CD revolution, I had about one hundred cassettes back in the Nineties. But ever since I bought my first CD stereo system when Lynda and I got married, I slowly phased cassettes out of my auditory life. I've replaced a number of my original tapes with CDs leaving me around fifteen or twenty cassettes left.

Today, when I was at work, I got an email from MSquared (my eldest brother) about an R.E.M.-related blog that I am alternatively impressed by and angry that I didn't think of it first. So, as I got in the van this afternoon to pick up Sarah, I dug out Reckoning, one of the few R.E.M. offerings that I don't have on CD yet. But, then I was confronted with the crisis--how to figure out which side of the cassette is being played on the cassette deck. Remember how that works? As I remember, some tape decks played the "bottom" of the tape first while on other decks, the decks played the "top." Since I haven't listened to a cassette in a while and since I had never yet listened to one in the new van, I was completely unaware of how this one worked. I sat there in the parking lot with the engine running while I pondered what to do. So, I stuck in the tape (which was wound to begin on side two) and looked at the sound system display. It showed a downward pointing arrow as a song began and I hit the fast forward button. I wanted to listen to the album from the beginning. As the tape wound, I experienced the auditory memory of hearing that magnetic tape spool through the plastic case, speeding up as the distribution became more and more lopsided. I realized that I haven't heard that particular noise in a very long time. But, once the tape finished fast forwarding, I realized that I still was confused about whether I had Side 1 pointing up or down, so I wasn't sure what I was learning. I ejected the tape and gave it a look, but my mind was still unable to figure out the operating rules of the van's tape deck. (I realize this is a pretty simple problem that I was struggling with, but I was trying to drive out of the parking lot and up the road as I pondered these issues.) In the end, I sort of gave up and just started listening to the songs, trying to sing along as I drove. Anyone who has tried to sing along to 80s era R.E.M. knows that "singing along" is a bit of a guessing game. The lyrics are notorious opaque and Stipe's style back then was heavy of the slurred words and mumbles. Part of the fun, I guess, is trying to keep up. More than anything, I just enjoyed hearing those old familiar rhythms. I'll be listening along as I read the posts over on Pop Songs 07.

Crisis #2--After I finished picking up Sarah and Grace, we got home. Sarah immediately told me that there was a bird's nest in a backyard tree and she wanted to look inside it to see if there were any eggs. If there were, she informed us, we could take them inside and hatch them and take care of the baby birds. I tried to deflect this by wondering how we would take care of these birds. Sarah was confident, however, that we could go to the pet store to get "seeds" to feed the birds and then, when summer came, we could let them free. I didn't get into a discussion of mother birds regurgitating predigested food for their children. Grace seemed to back up my skepticism that we might not be able to handle this, but Sarah was sure it would somehow work out.
When we got outside, Sarah tried several different ways to climb the tree in question. I helped her make it to the lowest branches, but she was never going to be able to make it up to where the nest way, about ten feet above the ground. I told the kids that even if there was an egg in the nest, there must be something wrong with it because healthy eggs would have hatched before autumn. I was just trying to prevent Sarah from feeling like she had failed in her attempt to discover what was in the nest, but she started crying. Apparently, what she really wanted was a pet, and she thought that this might be her way of convincing Lynda and me to give them one.
I tried to calm her down by explaining that now (with Hannah coming) wasn't the best time for us to introduce a pet into the mix. We've told both girls this before, but they remain firm in the hope that Lynda or I would change our stance on the issue. Every time I say no, I feel a bit guilty, but as the same time I am not ready to introduce a pet (and all that comes with it) to the family. I decided to deflect their disappointment by reminding them that Lynda had checked out a DVD from the library this weekend, and wondered if they wanted to go in and watch it. (The complete third season of the Flintstones!)
This seemed to appease the kids and so we went inside. I got the DVD running and began to think about supper options. Listening to the cartoon from across the room, I realized how much I loved the Flintstones as a kid and how nice it was hear the familiar jokes, Barney's laugh, and especially how great it was to hear that music. Easily some of the best cartoon music ever.

Did you know, however, that the above opening credits--which I bet we are all very familiar with--was not the original credits to the show?

Just when you think you understand everything, it gets all messed up.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Friday economics roundtable

I took the day off from work today. You see, I found out on Thursday that I had not taken enough days off from work and if I didn't start slacking off, I'd lose the vacation days I had on my account for last year. So, I kicked my sloth into high gear and decided to sit around the house doing nothing today. Of course, everything wasn't entirely solitary since Sarah hasn't been in school for the past two days. (Parent Teacher Conferences, doncha' know) If I was working, we would have her in daycare for the day, but since I decided to "take the day off" I could save a bit of extra money that we would pay for Sarah to be at daycare. So, Sarah was with me. But wait, Grace wouldn't take kindly to being at daycare slaving away over The Letter G and The Number 12 while Sarah messed about all day with her layabout dad. So, to keep the overall peace, my "day off" now the kids. And that's mostly okay.

Ah, but what to do with them? Well, when I woke up, a bit later than normal, Lynda was already set to head out the door. So, I hit the shower while the girls got up and about. When I was done, the question was what to do for breakfast. Since this was a bit of special day, I decided to drive them over to Krispy Kreme for delicious doughnuts.

Since life is all about choices, the next one was what doughnuts should we get? As we were selecting them, the dude behind the counter pointed out that it would become more economical if we bought a dozen. And, given that we were already at half a dozen, he was quite right. As we sat by the windows eating our fresh doughnuts and sipping coffee or milk, I explained to them why it made more sense to buy 12 doughnuts for 6.99 than 6 doughnuts for $0.99 each. This might have been reinforced by the ever-moving conveyor belt in the kitchen where hundred of donuts were rolling out every few minutes. I don't think they quite the exact voodoo that is Economy of Scale, but it might make a bit of sense to them one day?

Sarah said she wanted to sell doughnuts when she gets older(presumably when she's not working on the farm that she's been talking about a lot lately). The only problem was, she wanted to sell her doughnuts for $5 each. I told her that her doughnuts had to be pretty big to justify a price that large, reemphasizing the pricing structure on display behind the Krispy Kreme counter.

So, as you can see, our trip to Krispy Kreme, while not exactly nutritious, was certain educational. Hopefully they gained more than pounds for the experience.

On the way home, blood boiling with economic knowledge, we decided to pop into Meijer, in the hopes of finding a larger piggy bank for Grace. Her current one does not provide suitable space for her financial largesse. Sadly, piggy banks are not commonly purchased anymore since the habit of saving is discouraged in our current culture. While there however, another economic opportunity presented itself when I explained to the children why there were Christmas decorations everywhere before it was even Thanksgiving. So, the kids were able to understand that the potential for profits at this time of year is such that not a day goes by between the removal of Halloween costumes and the arrival of Christmas ornaments.

After this we went home and got our lunch out of the way--leftovers of pizza and homemade chili.

Then the kids watched a bit of TV and played while I finished watching Oceans Twelve, which I began last night. You know, I don't see why everyone was so down on this movie when it was out a few years ago. I found it to be fun and frothy with lots of enjoyability. Come on, just look at how fun the trailer looks.
The plot is one big knot of Christmas ribbon--pretty and mostly inconsequential--and the dialogue doesn't tell you everything you need to know, but the overall experience is lighthearted and very entertaining.

After an afternoon of fun inside and out, Lynda came home. We then had dinner and the kids watched Mary Poppins, so the economics lessons of the day came full circle as the kids went to bed with song of tuppence in their heads and hearts.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"Oh no, young Jedi. You will find that it is you who are mistaken about a great many things."

Today after lunch, an email thread started about film trilogies. I had been lamenting some pretty negative things a blogger said about Spiderman 3, one of the many trilogy films of this past summer. (I have been and am trying to remain faithful to Spiderman 3, even though it disappointingly lived up to my fears.) You know the thing about how film trilogies never work out well? Even trilogies that start out on a solid foundation--Godfather III--just fall apart in the end. Heck, consider the sordid history of movie trilogies--Major League: Back to the Minors? Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome? The Matrix Revolutions? God help us . . . Naked Gun 331/3: The Final Insult?!!

One of the participants in the email thread asked me what there was to look forward to since Spiderman III had come and gone, what was there to look forward to? The only thing I could think of was the upcoming birth of Hannah, my third child. So, inspired by that initial thought I am going to draw very inappropriate parallels between movie trilogies and trios of children.*

So, what movie trilogy should all of this be based upon? Well, for people of my generation, there really can be only one choice . . . the trilogy that defined the model.

Is everybody with me? Okay.

If having three kids is like watching the Star Wars films, then you may say that:

Kid #1 is Star Wars. You start out not knowing what’s going on and in those first moments, as odd people in strange costumes are walking around, you begin to think you've made a bad decision by purchasing this ticket. But as you get used to the plot and become more familiar with the characters, you start to settle in and decide to go along for the ride. Part one of a trilogy brings you into the story. It provides the basis for everything else to come. Part one is created with (what later seems to be) antiquated technology. In the beginning it takes hours to film an action sequence. By the time Film 3 roles around even bigger action sequences can be filmed in twenty minutes. Looking back from a distance, you can't believe Film 1 ever got made in the first place. Why didn't people see the wires hanging from all the models? All the actors seemed so young and inexperienced! In the beginning there's lots of disagreement with the director about the motivation of characters. Star Wars establishes the history upon which all the rest are to be compared (either fairly or unfairly). In a film trilogy, as in a family, individuals cannot stand alone, but must be judged in relation to its counterparts.

Kid #2 is The Empire Strikes Back. All your favorite characters are back again for Part two, but there are new characters and new things to absorb, like Lando Calrissian and Yoda. The Empire Strikes Back is more of what you loved about the original, but everything is bigger and more dramatic. The fight scenes are more elaborate, the special effects are more polished. Sure, some things are the same and you have a lot of familiar faces, but there are new plot twists, new wrinkles that could not have been predicted the first time. The Empire Strikes Back pushed the plot forward and drove it down paths unforeseen when you were young and naive, watching Star Wars, ignoring the wires, trying to remember all the characters. By now, you think you know everyone. So, full of confidence you plunge right in, paying attention to the smaller details now. But that means you're likely to be more critical of the second film. You have a basis of expectations. It's not fair and even the actors will tell you that each new film is a new experience. But you're a jaded moviegoer. You've seen it all. You're not a rookie and you're in charge!

Kid #3 is Return of the Jedi. All the loose ends are wrapped up (a cinematic tubal ligation, maybe?). Return of the Jedi puts a period on that cinematic/parental phase of your life. You might have bought lots of Star Wars action figures back in the 1970s, but there isn't a big market for Return of the Jedi action figures. You can just get your old stuff out of the basement when you need it. For one camp of Star Wars enthusiasts, Jedi is the culmination of a long project. But another, more cynical group feels that this film is unnecessary, too focused on marketing and less pure than the original. Jedi doesn’t get the same level of hype the first two received. Some bitter commentators may wonder about the motives behind the third film. Was there a real story that needed to be told or was the studio only in it for the money? Is Part three overlooked in the long run? And yet, can the group be considered complete without it? Film 3 generates the most debate from both sides of the argument.

Of course, the biggest, most damaging argument against my parental/cinematic fusion is that no amount of children will ever generate the profits that the Star Wars trilogy brought home to George Lucas. And lord help you if you choose to start another trilogy later in life. Think VERY carefully before you journey down that road!

*(I know that people are going to inevitably think I am completely using my three children as the basis for my thoughts here . . . and, sure, I can't completely deny it. But, I am also trying to get at social satire here. Do you think Jonathan Swift really wanted the Irish to sell their children to hungry Englishmen? And yes, I did just attempt to compare my writing to Jonathan Swift's writing.)

Monday, November 12, 2007

National outcry

At 9:08 pm Monday night, as Heroes went to its first commercial break, Lynda and every other person in the Eastern Time Zone watching the show cried out

"Why didn't they start the season there!?"

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Tour of the zoo

Watch out!
I'm going to inflict a video of my kids on you!

You've been warned.

Sometimes Grace is a bit hard to understand when she speaks quickly and is not enunciating properly. Just be sure that she is describing each animal and giving the name of the animal in question.

Please note that each type of animal is housed in its own habitat and carefully separated from the public by barriers.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


It's been a typical sort of autumn Saturday in the Midwest today. Lynda let me sleep in a bit while she got up and got ready for the day. Then she went downstairs and got breakfast ready for the rest of the family. Then she left to go to the office for the rest of the morning. (It has become the typical thing for her to do this on weekends.)

I got some laundry done, changed the sheets around the house and then went outside to rake some leaves in the backyard. I got out my huge orange tarp and got about ninety percent of the down leaves onto it and then dragged the whole thing around to the front street curb. While doing all of this I thought of raking leaves and pine straw in the backyard of my childhood home. We used to gather up all of the pine straw and dump in along the side of the house in a sort of hollow that entered into the woods surrounding our house. On days when I wasn't adding to the straw pile (and don't worry, there were plenty of those days) I climbed that pile and jumped around on it and then out into the woods.

After working in the yard, I got some lunch ready for the kids, who had been playing together nicely all morning long. It was their typical lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. About halfway through lunch Lynda came home. After she got some lunch she laid down to get some rest and I took Grace on a bike ride around the neighborhood. It was nice to breath the crisp air and see Grace having fun on her Barbie tricycle. (Honestly, I don't know why we never pushed the tricycle thing when both kids were younger. It's got to make it easier for them to transition to two-wheelers later.)

Grace was having a lot of fun out-biking on her wheels as I plodded along behind her. She needed some help when she hit an incline, but look out whenever she hit the top of a hill. That is what's so great about Grace; she attacks life with such excitement and shows that excitement on her face all the time. She is so expressive in everything she does. True, that excitement does tend to create friction that I often rub against, but I have to admire the way she goes about things. And you can't deny the cuteness of a small girl, pedalling like mad on a pink tricycle while wearing a hooded jacket. Oh, and don't forget the constant talking and singing along with it.

Now, I am here (and most rarely of all) I am alone. Lynda (probably feeling guilty about being at work every Saturday morning) has taken the kids to the grocery store and then to the park. There is chili in the crockpot and sugar cookies cooling on the counter.

It's a good day so far.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

New Look . . .

Do you like it?

I am sort of tired of the old Minimalistic white thing.

(Don't worry, I saved the HTML text so I can recall it if I find that this one doesn't work the way I want.)

(At least, I think I saved it.)

Of course, there is some customization to be done, and I don't think I'll do it all today.

Give me feedback. As always, I am at your service.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

"She's like you."

Lynda and I were getting ready to go to bed a few Sunday nights ago, reviewing the events of the weekend, discussing what we did, when we did it, etc. and I said these words when describing how Sarah was awake in her room past 9 pm, drawing and coloring something in one of her notebooks.

"She's like you," I told Lynda while we were brushing our teeth. "She gets her head into some project and loses track of time."

This is very true about Lynda, a defining characteristic of her since I met her in college. I can't tell you the number of times at Georgia Southern and since during her professional career when Lynda has stayed up for a long time, completely unaware of what time it was because she was so immersed in the sentence she was writing or the problem she was designing. Heck, just minutes before, when we were downstairs (me watching a DVD, she on her laptop designing manuscript), I made sure to announce that is was 12:30 and we should go to bed soon. I was absolutely certain that she had been unaware of the time would have plowed on for another hour if I hadn't stopped her.

But, even as I said the words "She's like you" a bit of my brain shouted at me that I shouldn't do that to Sarah (and I also made a mental note then to write this post). To say "She's like you," while true in the spirit of how it was said, is a diminishment of Sarah's real personality. . . and it serves as a challenge to me (us) as a parent (parents). Biologically, Sarah and Grace (and Hannah to come) are a part of me and a part of Lynda, but the mystery and the thrill and, frankly, the reason to have children is to see how those parts of us become Them, something absolutely new. It's reassuring to see a bit of ourselves in our children, but if that is all you want to see, then you are missing the best part of it all.

I know what it was like for me to be a kid, but that was almost forty years ago. My kids have things going on around them that I never had, and I had things going on in my life that they won't ever have. So, I don't want to be a father to myself. I want to be a father to these unique kids that make their own choices and have their own, very interesting personalities.

I have to remember that when I slip into the short-hand of "She's like you" because they are NOT you and won't be. I don't want to diminish who they are and who they will become, and more importantly, I don't want to limit their opportunities and choices based on my own short-hand view of things.

They are themselves. And that means they are a mystery to me and to themselves. My job is to walk alongside them while they figure out what that means. Maybe right now I am holding their hands while we walk, but someday I'll have to let them walk ahead of me.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

WWY do whatever it is you're doing?

You know what's been missing on my blog?

I think it needs a slow video of a professionally-trained (presumably) dancer using his body movements to spell out the blog name.

And he should do it r e a l l y , r e a l l y s l o w l y.


Well, I guess now my blog is complete.

Friday, November 02, 2007

An update on my developing cataract

You may recall that a while back my eye doctor discovered a developing cataract in my right eye.

Last night, the car headlight "halos" were bothering me a bit as I was driving home with the kids from our Group meeting. This morning, I discovered that if I close my left eye, I really can't see anything clearly with my right eye alone anymore. It's just blurs.

So, I figure I've got to do something.

If technology was advanced enough, I could attempt an eyeball transplant (as shown by crazy man Tom Cruise in "Minority Report".

Or, I could do the cleaner, infinitely cooler mechanical eye replacement, a la Geordi La Forge in "Star Trek: First Contact."

But, I think I'll go with the more attainable solution sported by "Airwolf" mysterioso Archangel. Give me some black construction paper and some tape and I'm ready by noon.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween Videos

Happy Halloween and Boo from the Martins!

We had a good night. I took the girls around the neighborhood--Grace as a Witch and Sarah as a Cheerleader. I played the part of a friendly neighborhood wizard.

We wandered up and down cul-de-sacs and on both sides of the main road that we live on. It was a bit chilly, so I carried the girls jackets as well as Grace's witch hat that she kept taking off.

They had a good time, as almost all kids do on Halloween. They were very polite and didn't forget to say "Thank You" whenever they received any candy. But I noticed that they didn't say "Trick or Treat" very much. Perhaps they said it very quietly--I stayed on the sidewalk and let them go up to the main door, but it sometimes seems that that particular phrase is going out of fashion? At least I thought so until we all got home and the older kids were unfailingly saying it every time they came up to the house.

It was my custom in the past few years to sit on the porch and man the candy while Lynda shepherded the kids up and down the street. (That way I could keep up a running blog commentary on the kids that visited our door.) (You can read previous Halloween blogs by manipulating the Archive Calendar, situated to the right.)

But since Lynda was "heavy with child" she wanted to stay at the door and let me do all the walking. But we all joined forces in the end, each of us in our costumes, hanging out on the porch in the dark, feeling the sugar rush kick in and enjoying the night breezes.

You can see the evidence of our chocolate induced madness here:

and watch it head further downhill here.

Eventually we all came inside, turned off the lights, brushed our teeth twice, and hit the sack.

A good Halloween night for all. I hope your night was fun as well.

Suri Cruise must be allergic to nuts.

Emerald Nuts - Emerald Nuts: Robert Goulet

Posted Feb 04, 2007

Beware of Robert Goulet, for he will mess with your stuff once you fall asleep.

Sad news today. But a father has to protect his daughter.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Not a Robot

Really? Are you sure?

Let's think about this for a minute, shall we? You claim to "not be a robot," eh? Did you come up with that catchy phrase yourself? No? Then what's it from, hmmm?

Ohhh. It's a reference to a TV show. Are you the only one that watches this TV show? No? Then you're just like all the rest that watch a semi-popular show?

But, I guess you made the shirt yourself, huh? What? You bought that? From an online store? Hmm . . . again.

And then, there's that hat. Surely you've got to have some explanation for that hat, right? I mean, how many people up where you live have a hat like that. That "O" sure doesn't stand for "Original," does it?

Disappointing . . . very disappointing.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Twin Peaks on DVD!!

[Since my morning has been spectacularly unproductive, as I searched for (four) hours to find a document that has taken me months to complete, I though I'd wrap up the void before lunch with a brief post on a media matter.]

Twin Peaks is coming out in a complete seasons 1 and 2 boxed set. Yes, it's been on DVD before, but fleetingly and then it disappeared.

(You can read David Lynch's thoughts on the DVD release here and get an EW review of the Gold edition boxed set here.)

Twin Peaks is one of the defining television shows of my youth? high school salad days? young adulthood? neonatal media awareness? Whatever time it was, the show meant a lot to me. I found it insanely quirky, strange, so unusual that it demanded to be watched.

I was one of those fanatics that held Twin Peaks parties at my house, serving pie and coffee to my nerdish brethren as we tried to unravel the details of Laura Palmer's murder. (I even dressed up in a suit to honor Kyle McLaughlin's FBI Agent Dale Cooper.) We fanatics--without the benefit of today's message boards, Internet fan sites, all everything else, tried to understand the strange things the denizens of Twin Peaks did and why they did them. I loved it all . . . and while I absolutely acknowledge that season 2 was a slowly developing train wreck that gave answers in the most confusing way possible, I still hung on to the bitter end.

My reactions to LOST today are hardwired by my experiences with TP back in 1990. My desire to sit through Lynch's mixture of good and bizarre films stem from this show . . . and Blue Velvet. If I'm honest, a lot of the reason that I have watched this year's show Reaper is because the actor playing The Devil is the one and only Leland Palmer--father of the deceased Laura.

To this day, I doubt I could coherently explain the ultimate resolutions (if there was one), but I desperately want to buy the DVDs and relive the entire experience. (I wonder if I'll be as frightened when Killer Bob crawls out from behind the couch. Along than Samara coming out of the TV in The Ring, that image of Bob is one of the scariest moments in my life.)

I'll bake the cherry pie, brew up the coffee, and give you a call.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

New Blogger feature to pay attention to

Hey everyone.

Just a quick note to point out a new feature on Blogger (generally) but on my site specifically.

If you, like so many of my readers, want to comment on one of my hilarious and insightful posts, but you also want to know what others are saying about the same post--so you can get back into the conversation--there is now a way to do that directly from the comment screen that you are already familiar with.

When you decide to comment on my post next time, down where you select your identity and do the word verification stuff, you'll also see a new field where you can "subscribe" to the comments by inputting a email address. That way, when another comment is added, you will receive notification and will be completely up-to-date.

Previously, this feature was only available to me--the administrator of the blog. But now everyone can enjoy.

You can read more instructions on how to use this via this link. Have fun and I'll here back from you soon.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Watch Pushing Daisies!

It'll probably be cancelled (Don't believe what you read. Be constantly ready for disaster.) since it's visual, clever, not explainable . . . all the stuff that never makes it on TV. (It reminds me of Twin Peaks in this way.)

It's got an Addams Family sensibility and color palate. Especially since Barry Sonnenfeld was involved.

There's women' cleavage everywhere. Seriously! I'm a bit surprised by how prevalent this unexpected element is in each of the episodes that I've watched.

It's freaking narrated by Jim Dale!

Some stranger's Wikipedia page about the show is here.

Television Without Pity recaps of the episodes you missed are here. You can also watch streaming Internet episodes of the show on Last night I caught up with the three episodes I missed while wasting my time with NBC's Bionic Woman.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Cell phones suck!

This is somewhat related to Flip's post . . . and Lulu's response, but I built the anger while I was driving from work to pick up Sarah at school this afternoon.

I realize that cell phones are an indispensable fact of life and I am no Luddite. I would absolutely LOVE my cell phone, but for one problem . . . I have NO WHERE to put the $#&^ thing!

I don't have a belt holder because the only kind I've ever had are the cheap clip on kind that stick halfway up my belt and dig into my torso whenever I sit down. (Yeah, I suppose I need to lose ten pounds and do some sit ups and crunches to get rid of the fat rolls above my hips. Don't change the subject!) So, I don't want my phone digging into my less-than-sculpted physique every time I sit down . . . and my job requires me to sit frequently. They've given me my own desk and everything.

OK, then what next? Put it in your bag? Well, that defeats the purpose of the phone's portability, doesn't it? I'm not going to carry around my bag--and no, Joey, I don't care if it IS European. I'm not doing that.

Well, I could put it in my pants pocket, but here are the problems with that:

1. I've already got my keys in my left pocket--and cars today demand big heavy plasticky things to automatically open up your doors and start your engines and set off your panic alarms and water your grass and shave your face and God forbid you've got TWO modern cars with TWO big plasticky things (that cost $100 to replace if you ever lose them). So, no, that pocket's out.

2. I've usually got my iPod in my right pocket--at least when I'm walking around at the office, so I can't very well have my iPod AND my phone in there, right? (Obviously, I don't have an iPhone. Don't even suggest it unless you give me $300.)

Sure, I know that when I'm actually driving, I don't have either pocket encumbered--keys are in the ignition and iPod isn't in pocket. But then the REAL problem occurs. What if I'm driving (with phone in pocket) and I actually DO get a call? Have you tried to keep driving, snake your hand into your pocket, past my coat, around the lap belt, grabbing the phone--that's already on the third ring now . . . hurry up or it's going to voicemail, nope, got to unhook the seat belt--YES, kids I know my seat belt isn't on, but I've got to get this phone call. Crap, I can't get it, it's wedged sideways in my pants and the pocket is all bunched up. Almost got it . . . shoot . . . gotta open it up, click seatbelt, turn down radio . . . WAIT, hit the brakes!!

Aww crap! Went to voicemail.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

It seems that selecting Michael Gambon is making more and more sense as time goes on.


Michael Gambon, the British actor who has portrayed Harry Potter character Albus Dumbledore since film 3 (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) has always drawn criticism from the fan base.

Gambon famously said that he didn't read the books, which I understand is his prerogative as an actor trying to create his own embodiment of the character, but since Dumbledore is such a pivotal character, it might be helpful now and then to see how the author originally intended him to act.

How to act is a critical piece of the ire focused on Gambon over the years. He always seemed too gruff, too business-like, too distant, too hard than the slightly off-center, humorous Dumbledore of Rowling's books. Gambon's most famous gaffes (in my opinion) are:

1) when, near the beginning of the Goblet of Fire film, when Harry is selected as a Triwizard champion. While Harry waits to see what the teachers will do, Gambon's Dumbledore rushes at him, bodily shakes him and shouts at him to see if he put his own name in the Goblet. Very aggressive, very cold, very abrupt.

2) Later, when the teachers are meeting in private to discuss whether they should allow Harry to compete in the dangerous tournament, Gambon chooses for Dumbledore to sit on the floor, head in hands, seemingly defeated by this turn of events. Not at all the Dumbledore of the books that never seems confused or perplexed by the constant turn of events.

Richard Harris, the actor who portrayed the Hogwarts headmaster in the first two films, seemed more approachable, kinder, more in line with what the fans wanted Dumbledore to be. He seemed to play Dumbledore slower, more patiently, as someone who was willing to let things play out, with a confidence that he would maintain control of the situation. Gambon's Dumbledore sometimes seems to be swept up in the tide of events, barely able to stay ahead of disaster.

But, as we were confronted with a Machiavellian backstory to Dumbledore in the final Harry Potter, it made it a bit easier to take this hard-edged Gambon-style Dumbledore. Certainly, the Deathly Hallows Dumbledore is a man that compartmentalizes his emotions to enable him to manipulate Harry and drive him to his final destiny. This new portrayal of the Headmaster shows someone who is indeed playing a very long-paced game with fate, someone perfectly willing to push people around on chessboard to achieve the ultimate goal of Voldemort's defeat.

So, maybe Gambon had it right? But, now the fans are confronted with this new bit of news via J.K. Rowling as she tours three U.S. cities this week and next.

This will surely upset some people, and it will definitely fuel the fire of some of Rowling's critics--especially those on the religious right, who were uncomfortable with all the magic. I'm not at all worried about the occult argument, since anyone can see the deep religious themes that flow through the books, explicitly stated or not. But, sexuality will cause some to speak up. It doesn't bother me at all, frankly, but I'll admit to be surprised by it. Sexuality never really entered into my viewings of the books, outside of the various schoolyard crushes that developed in the course of seven books. It just provides another element to the story, one that critics and fans alike will begin processing now and will speak out on. I am very interested to see how everyone takes it.

(image of Dumbledore taken from "The Harry Potter Lexicon website.")