Saturday, December 24, 2011

Toys from the Past

I found this in the downstairs toy storage of Nana's and Poppa's cabin. This should be a cautionary tale to all children who don't know how boring and disinteresting previous childhoods used to be.

Welcome humans!

Credit: David Martin, et. al. I found this by searching "Why Won't You Grow" and most of them came up me. So, I've got that going for me . . . which is nice.
If you are happening upon my blog for the first time, due to the recommendation of my friend Dean, then welcome to Why Won't You Grow?!

If you are wondering how I know Dean, we work together. I've visited his house, drank his wine, and eaten his wife's pizza. We've played Dungeons & Dragons together. He's also been to my house several times and even brought his children. I someday plan to sneak up on Arya and whisper "Winter is coming." to see what she might do.

So, what else might you want to know about me? Well, if you follow the links along the top of the blog, you can learn more about me and WWYG?! as well as visit my other digital sites on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. If you are interested, you can ask me questions here or on the Tumblr site.

What else should you know? Well, most of my best ideas come to me in the shower . . . but they never seem to make it on screen as well as I'd like. For instance, I had lots of witty things to say in this post as I cleaned up this morning, but nothing new seems to be making in on this screen as I type.

Most of my recent posts show up on Twitter and Tumblr these days, so I welcome any new followers there. But if you aren't subscribed to those spaces, you can visit here. Anyway, welcome to the one or two of you that might show up here. And even hello to the inevitable spambots that might sneak this way.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Cookie time

Credit: David T. Martin
Today was the day that we made our first--but perhaps not the only?--batch of Christmas cookies.

And that means making the dough, chilling the dough, making the icing, mixing the colors, cutting the shapes, baking the cookies, cooling the cookies, spreading the icing, shaking on the sprinkles, letting them all set . . .

. . . and then giving them away?

We'll see.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sewing childhood memories

Credit: David Martin
Yesterday the family ventured into JoAnn's Fabrics. Lynda was getting material to line the inside of her Girl Scout vest. As Lynda was choosing an appropriate bolt of fabric, I watched Hannah wander through the aisles of ribbons, buttons, sewing patterns, and all the Christmas ornaments and decorations.

As Hannah tried to convince me that we needed some kind of Disney-themed ribbon, I was reminded of the many days of my childhood where I was in Hannah's position. I was the one spending time in the fabric store while Mom searched the sewing patterns and the catalogs. This most often occurred when I was frequently visiting my orthopedic doctor in Albany, GA--and when Mom was sewing and knitting lots of clothes, sweaters, and blankets for us kids.

There is just something so Seventies about the entire experience. The books, the buttons, the no-nonsense warehouse-y feel of the stores, devoid of flashy screens, music, or mod decorations. Just white walls, plain floors, and aisles upon aisles of do-it-yourself materials.

I actually enjoyed the rows upon rows of ribbons, buttons, spools of thread, and all the rest. Perhaps that is what I like about the Things Organized Neatly Web site . (Or maybe that is just a manifestation of my own neatness issues.

No word yet on whether Hannah is similarly affected.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

She's certainly committed to her persona, I'll give her that!

Yesterday morning, driving to work, listening to Morning Edition on NPR, I heard an interview with entertainer and cultural gadabout Martha Stewart. And, I listened, because I like the types of things that she talks about and I enjoy her final products--even if I think she is waaaaay too determined to be the absolute best at entertaining to a microscopically insane degree.

The part of the interview that really caught my ear, however, was near the end when she made mention of the clay Nativity set that she made by hand while incarcerated a few years ago. (You can see a NPR-provided picture of the set below.)

As she explained, while in the minimum-security institution, she unearthed the molds to this Nativity and then scrimped, traded, and saved her rationed goods to purchase clay to make each figurine. I imagined her joining up with a Red-like figure and negotiating a-la Shawshank Redemption to get whatever she needed to make this happen.

It just surprised me, and perhaps proves once and for all that the person Stewart presents to the camera is in-face who she really is. Because only the TV-personal Martha would make creating such a Nativity while in prison a priority above other things. So, if that makes her authentic . . . I guess I should applaud her.

Friday, November 25, 2011

NaBloWriMo #22: What's Next? Is that it?


All holidays have a post-holiday letdown. Christmas certainly does, as it is the most over-hyped holiday and, in the end, it only lasts one day--just like all other days. And when it is over the mystery of the boxes are solved and you are left with empty boxes and ripped wrapping paper and it is just trash that is an obstacle when you sit down to drink coffee and think about writing (or in my case, too often ) not writing your Thank You notes.

And so, what of the Thanksgiving holiday letdown? People may extend the fun with Black Friday combat . . . if that is your sort of thing. And the turkey sandwiches are always nice and flavorful and the turkey tastes different when its cold and paired with mayonnaise or some of the leftover cranberry relish.

But the football is over . . . if that is your sort of thing. And the pies are mostly eaten and the pie crust is getting sort of flabby from the refrigerator. And gravy doesn't heat up well because it sort of separates. And really, what you want right now is a nice pizza.

When you were a kid, you could go outside and throw a football in the neighbor's yard. And you could watch your breath fog as you tried to get a spiral, just this once . . . ! But it ended up being a floppy, wobbly mess, sort of like what is left of the chocolate pie if you combined it with some gravy. Yuk. But it feels good to run and get a little sweat under your corduroy shirt. And maybe you dived a bit to try and make a catch on the Frisbee, because you abandoned the football and went to something that you are better at throwing. You fell on your knees and got them muddy in the soggy ground of your neighbor's yard. But that is okay because you are running and the turkey is in the refrigerator and maybe later you'll play a card game with your family and have some hot chocolate to warm you up from being outside.

So, embrace the time off. Breathe some fresh air that doesn't have a turkey smell. Take a walk. Carry a book with you on that walk and find a dry spot to sit in the autumnal sun and read.

Don't forget that being thankful is not a once-a-year proposition. The hoopla and the hype comes and goes. It is what YOU choose to do with your time that is always the most important factor in how you feel.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

NaBloWriMo #21: Character study


While I wait for my turkey brining liquid to cool, I offer you this thought question.

I identify more with Barney Rubble and Ron Weasley.

What does that say about me?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

NaBloWriMo #20: The Morality of Larry Gelbart?

I’ve been watching the PBS series America in Primetime the last several weeks. (You can read about the series here. If you like television, I recommend the series.) During this past week’s episode, “The Crusader,” there is a brief moment where Judd Apatow is ruminating on the notion that he incorporated some of his sense of right and wrong by watching M*A*S*H twice a day, five days a week in reruns.
Since this perfectly describes how I also experienced M*A*S*H (which is one of my all-time favorite television shows), it got me wondering if I might also have learned something of morality from the likes of “Hawkeye” Pierce and Larry Gelbart. 
While I’m sure the lions share of the credit goes to my mom and dad and my hometown church, there is probably some truth to the idea.
It makes we weep for the generation who was weened on the likes of Fear Factor and the Kardashians.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

NaBloWriMo #19: Goodbye to a family friend

I didn't post anything yesterday, so I blew my post-a-day pledge that is the basis for the NaBloWriMo project.

But I'm back at it today and in preparation for the task, I decided to review my unpublished drafts of posts never finished to see if there was a kernel of an idea that I could elaborate on tonight. And to my surprise and chagrin, I found that I have the start of a post for one of my families oldest friends, written when I heard that she had died back in November of 2009. It embarrasses me to see that I started something for her, but (for reasons I can't recall) didn't follow through to the end and give her something of a remembrance.She was a dear friend to me growing up, a continuous presence in my childhood and at my church. She was almost like a second mother, or at least another aunt, someone who watched over me when I needed it and always wanted to know how I was doing. So, to finish what I started, here are some thoughts about Sally that I started almost two years ago and am going to finish tonight.

Sally Beaumont with baby Sarah

I heard earlier this week that a long-time friend of my family died in her sleep.

Sally Beaumont was, I think, 80 years old. She had lived a long, happy life with her husband and her three children. She lived in the house across the street where I grew up and I spent a great deal of my childhood playing in their house and in their yard. So much of what I know of her comes from the perspective of a kid that didn't really know much about what made people happy or when they might be sad. My memories of her are good ones, but they are the hazy, uninformed memories of a child. Sally's presence was always around me during my youth and I am sorry to know that she is gone--though I know she is feeling better where she is now.

I have a great deal of impressionistic memories of being with the Beaumonts on Woodruff Street. I played basketball in their driveway all the time, not to mention playing baseball in their yard, watching others play football in the same yard, or throwing a Frisbee. I also fished in their pond, played in their house, and generally spent many of my waking outside hours in or around their home.

In fact, it wasn't just when I was a kid. As these pictures of high school me playing basketball against college-aged Mike  prove, much of the outdoor activities on Woodruff Street ended up across the street at the Beaumonts. All of use played lots of sports in their yard. In fact, the only window I've ever broken was located directly behind the person that took this photograph, in the outside wall of their house.

Driving to the hoop against Mike
Trying, in vain, to block Mike's shot

It happened like this--one day I took a tennis ball and decided to spend my time bouncing it against the brick exterior of their house, in the rectangle of space between their driveway home entrance and the big window that brought light into their game room (more on that room below). I threw the ball against the wall and caught it in my baseball glove as it rebounded off of the driveway pavement and kicked up into the air. I imagined that I was playing infield for the Atlanta Braves, snagging hard hit ground balls to my left and to my right.

After many minutes of this play, I got off balance and threw the ball while leaning too far to the left. The ball sailed right and smacked right into the window, cracking the glass. I don't know if the ball went clean through the glass or just cracked it and bounced back towards me, because by then I had already spun around and was running as fast as I could down the driveway, across the street, and to my house. (I guess I was trying to get away from the scene of the crime as fast as I could.) I got to my house (seen directly in the background of the right basketball photo above) in what seemed to be 5 seconds. I doubt I've ever run as fast as I did at that moment. I was a sweaty mess, shaky with fear at what I'd done.

After I calmed down, I confessed my deed and went back over to their house to explain what had happened. I know I helped pay for the replacement, but I don't remember how much it cost or how long it took me. But I know that Sally and Joe weren't angry or dismissive of me.


Sally was also the organist at our church. As a fellow musician, she was a big supporter of my brother Andy during his musical training in high school and during college. She helped him arrange musical performances for various auditions he had over the years and always played an important role in his life as well.

Sally had an organ in her house that I played on many times as a kid, mostly just messing around with pretend chords and trying out the different tones, styles, and pre-programmed electronic beats by flipping all of the multicolored switches that electric organs have. In that same room where the organ was--a converted garage I believe, the Beaumonts also had a storage closet where they kept their fishing gear, assorted household stuff, and lots more. I remember standing in the closet sometimes looking up at shelves that seemed to be ten or twelve feet over my head, stretching up on my tiptoes to find something. I loved to go in there and look at all of their stuff. I didn't even know what half of it was.


The Beaumonts were a fixture throughout my childhood and, as a child, people that I took for granted. Sally was so kind to me throughout my life, showing pride in all of my small accomplishments. I hope that she knows how important to me she was, even if I wasn't mature enough to really tell her in the way that she deserved.

Friday, November 18, 2011

NaBloWriMo #18: Salty

Thanksgiving is less than a week away, so I thought I'd help you out by suggesting a simple way to make your turkey better.

Brine it!

You may not be surprised by this, as it has become increasing popular in recent years, but I can tell you from experience that it is the right way to prepare your turkey to ensure moistness and flavor. We brined our Thanksgiving turkey last year for the first time and it was a unqualified success. (And this was with a run-on-the-mill, grocery store box brine.)

And if we can do it, you absolutely can do it too.

The next question is . . . how?

Well, if you're reading this, you are familiar with the Internet, so searching for a turkey brine recipe won't present much of a challenge for you. If you do go that route, I suggest selecting anything created by Alton Brown. He's a good chef, an awesome guy, he lives in Atlanta, he puts up with TONS of unwanted Twitter hatred, and he created one of the best cooking shows every broadcast.

But, if we can get personal for just a minute, let me suggest you do what I am going to be doing on Wednesday. I'm going to be using my sister-in-law's brine recipe. You may recall that earlier this month, I told you that Amy and her sister were appearing on the Paula Deen "Best Dishes" Food Network program. So, you now know that Amy is good enough at what she does to be on TV. (And I happen to know that she just filming ANOTHER visit to Paula's kitchen just this week, so she's definitely good enough do it TWICE.)

Amy's turkey brine recipe & complete set of instructions:

2 gallons of water or vegetable stock
2 cups of kosher salt
2 cups of sugar
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 ½ teaspoons allspice berries
2 bay leaves
14-16 lb. turkey

Combine stock, salt, sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries and bay leaves in a large stock pot
Heat over medium high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt
Allow the broth to cool, add ice
Combine the brine and turkey in a 5 gallon bucket or a stainless steel pot
Place the turkey in the brine breast side down; making sure that the turkey is completely submerged
Cover and refrigerate for 8 – 16 hours

Remove bird and rinse inside and out, discard the brine
Pat turkey dry with paper towels
Make the compound butter (recipe follows)
Using a long, thin flexible rubber spatula or your hand, slowly slide the tool between the skin and the flesh of the breasts on both side of the breastbone
The skin is pretty tough and won’t tear if you do it carefully
Do this on both sides of the breast bone but leave the skin attached along the center of breastbone itself
Stuff the compound butter under the skin on both sides
Rub the butter on the skin of the turkey, legs and wings

Place the bird in a roasting pan, breast side up
Roast the turkey on lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees F for 30 minutes
Reduce heat to 350 degree
A 14 to 16 pound bird should require a total of 2 to 2 1/2 hours of roasting
Let the turkey rest, loosely covered with foil or a large mixing bowl for 15 minutes before carving

Compound Butter
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup finely chopped green onion tops
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons of fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons of basil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/4 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper

Whisk all ingredients in medium bowl.
Cover and chill.
Bring to room temperature before using
Spread lavishly under the skin of the bird

You WON'T regret this. But just remember to give yourself plenty of time to thaw the bird AND allow for the necessary amount of brine time.

(If you follow my suggestion, please leave comments on how things turned out.)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

NaBloWriMo #17: T-Shirts Strike Back!

In yesterday's post, I got all mopey about the fact that my clothes were boring and ordinary.

There was, however, a significant portion of my closet that didn't get represented in that sad assessment.

My t-shirts reminded me that they are quite colorful, very diverse, and anything but ordinary.

The only problem with that is, I don't get to wear them to work everyday.

Curse my corporate, office-based job!

(Actually, no . . . DON'T curse my job. I need my job.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

NaBloWriMo #16: Ordinary

Lacking any other idea for tonight's post, I thought I'd take advantage of an old standby and add another entry to The Clothing Project. But when I stepped into the closet and took a look at the options, I was confronted by the fact that I think I've covered all of the interesting clothes already. All that is left are nondescript khaki pants, suits, plain button up shirts with no story.

A purely adult, functional wardrobe of no discernible interest.

Is this what middle age is about? No flash, no nothing. Just . . . existing?


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

NaBloWriMo #15: Homework

As I type this, I'm listening to Sarah practice "Jingle Bells" in the kitchen behind me. Grace is listening to a math personal tutor video that is speaking to her over my right shoulder. And Hannah is playing on the iPad on the floor by my feet. It's educational bliss, right?

How did we get here?

It wasn't that long before this that Grace was upset with me for a criticism I made of something she was doing with Hannah. She was angry in the other room. In the meantime, we asked Sarah to practice her clarinet, and that led to the making of this video.

Halfway through the filming of that video, Grace--having calmed down--came into the room with her math notebook. I knew that she wanted to show the new things she learned today, so I made sure to take a video of her performing her new (and definitely impressive) math abilities.

Part of parenting is trying to provide equal time, trying to give each child the feeling that they are an important part of the family group and, at the same time, uniquely themselves. These videos are brief examples of me trying to accomplish this. When these video started, Grace was angry and I was frustrated. By the time this was all over, the calm had been restored and the anger had been forgotten.

Monday, November 14, 2011

NaBloWriMo #14: Birthdays

One of the things that I've taken on at the office over the decade-plus that I've worked there is organizing monthly birthday celebrations for the people in the department. Looking back on it now, I don't really recall what motivated me to start it, though I do remember the origins of a few elements.
As I think I mentioned on this site before, the department's birthday ambassador is Senor Picante, a 18-in tall stuffed chili pepper with a bristly mustache that is itself five inches long. El Senor wears a wide-brimmed sombrero and generally presents a spicy, sassy attitude. How he came to be in my charge, my brain cells can no longer recall. When he is not acting as birthday ambassador, spending the day hanging out at a celebrant's cubicle, he sleeps off tequila binges (which are frequent) in an old, empty Hershey's chocolate bar tin underneath my desk. (He likes the darkness and the constant humming of the computers helps him fall asleep easier.

For a while, he was a solo act . . . until I was presented with the Birthday Helmet one year on my own birthday. It is a cast-iron, flat-brimmed, World War I style helmet that has a prominent dent in the rounded top (from when its previous owner went after the Kaiser?). But the most striking aspect of the Birthday Helmet, aside from its weight, is the many layers of paint that have been graffiti-ed on top of it, giving it a celebratory style that is quite different from its original intent. (Let's just say that I wouldn't try to sneak through no-man's land wearing it.)

For the past many years, El Senor and the helmet have traveled to and from my cubicle. In addition to that duty, I've helped coordinate the gathering of eats and treats during the middle of the month. And I write a brief email celebrating the people who want to publicly acknowledge their birthdays for that month. (I try NOT to make any birthday presentations coercive. It should be fun, not a challenge.)

And so, things have been thus . . . but things have seemed more challenging in the last year or so. A large part of this has been the never-ending project that has made things harder to focus on. And my monthly reminders are less reliable than they have been in the past. (But I haven't taken the time to go back and reprogram my calendar to get things on a more accurate footing. See problem number 1 for the reason why this is so.) And so . . . I've missed a few days and Picante has slept when he should have been on the job.

And people are busy and trying to eat more healthy and styles and personnel have changed . . . and so I sometimes wonder if I should just drop it all and forget about it. But I really don't want to do that. I just want to do a better job of it. And I guess I want to recapture the imagination of it that has been lost over time. Sometimes it feels pretty routine and I don't feel that my heart is in it. So, much as I'm trying with the NaBloWriMo to revitalize my blogging interest, I need to find a way to make this work role more powerful to me.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

NaBloWriMo #13: It Gets Better . . .

I'm not posting my own contribution to the It Gets Better project. I was simply musing on the idea that, as you age, things can get better in life. The aim of the It Gets Better work is to give hope to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transexuals that the (likely) discrimination and (probable) bullying they receive is NOT the be-all and end-all of their existence. It is a result of youth, naivete, and ignorance. And by giving them public words of encouragement, the IGB posters are saying, "Hang in there! Time will make things better."

This sort of sentiment is not only needed by members of the LGBT community, however. I know that when I was in the midst of raising up my young children (as if I'm NOT doing that anymore?), but especially at their youngest and most needy ages, I could have used a succession of videos from parents telling me that it would get better . . . that the kids would continue to grow, mature, and use recognizable English. They would, in fact, respond to your jokes with laughter and smiles. They would grow ever more independent over time and begin to make their own choices. They would demonstrate an ability to NOT need you all the time.

It would get better.

Similarly, people adjusting to a new city or moving away from their family can also be encouraged that their isolation will change over time. They will gain new friends, new knowledge of their community, new opportunities to grow comfortable. They will make strangers their friends and make a residence their home.

It gets better.

People taking on a new creative task could also use such encouragement. In the beginning, there is probably excitement and there are so many ideas. But after several days of steady work, the thrill of the creative process becomes the tedium of the every day. Finding that inspiration to carry you to the summit of your task and hold you steady on the decent . . . that might be in short supply as tasks become routine. But if only someone could come along and provide those powerful words that things are going well, that your work is appreciated and might yield valuable fruit for yourself and possibly for others.

It gets better.

We can all use these words of encouragement from time to time. We all face challenges in our lives, some large and life-threatening and others small and inconvenient. But receiving that acknowledgement from others that you are NOT alone . . . that you're efforts will be useful in the end. There are few things in the world that cost so little but could mean so much.

It DOES get better, if you want to believe that it can.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

NaBloWriMo #12: Video stalling

We live in a world where we can do so many things with very little effort and not much planning.

For instance, yesterday at work, I was struck by the satisfying feel and sound of a new, crisp one dollar bill. And because I live in a time where I am able to pull out my portable video camera that is part of my phone, I can--for no reason other than I am able to do so--make a poor quality video that in no way properly captures the sensation of hearing and feeling that one dollar bill.

I can only hope that:

1.) you have experienced this moment for yourself at some time in the past and can therefore summon that tactile and auditory memory while you watch this and that,

2.) you forgive me for expecting you to take this as my NaBloWriMo submission for today.

Friday, November 11, 2011

NaBloWriMo #11: Alternative Nielsens? TWEETING IT!


It occurred to me (and everyone else probably) that Dan Harmon may have hit upon a way to get better information on his show's actual ratings in real time by embedding Twitter #hashtag content directly into the show.

In this way, he can gauge how many distinct individuals are involved in his Twitter-based content as it is happening (on both coast's distinct broadcast times).

Take THAT Nielsen ratings!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

NaBloWriMo #10: Hobbit News

I don't have a specific topic that I want to write on today, so I'm pulling this idea out of my back pocket of ideas that I use in case of emergency . . . news on The Hobbit.

I haven't written about Peter Jackson's 2-film adaptation of the Lord of the Rings prequel The Hobbit in quite a long time. While the film got off to a bumpy state, full of legal wrangling and diminished hopes that it would ever get made, all of that eventually went away and Jackson and his LotR team got to work quietly.

I believe the first of the two films is still planned for release next year (probably in the November season, as that was when the LotR trilogy was launched AND to avoid the Whedon-shaped hole that The Avengers movie will create in the summer months.

What you may not know--and which, I'll admit to being genuinely excited about--is that Jackson is conceptualizing and filming these films in 3D. And not the excessive, gratuitous 3D that has marked so many movies since the Avatar craze . . . but immersive 3D that truly (I hope) serves the telling of the story properly.


If anyone can do it, I'll put my money on Jackson. Even though I'll admit that King Kong was a wrong-headed waste, I still think that PJ can put together some impressive spectacle when his mind and his heart are in the film.

To learn more about Jackson's 3D techniques and to see behind-the-scenes footage of the film in progress, check out this longish video.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

NaBloWriMo #9: Frauds

The news out of Penn State has been pretty terrible for the past week, with lots of sordid details of extremely bad behavior by former football staff members. And I don’t know—or care to know—every bit of the story.
What is accused is that assaults were made, by a member of the football staff, upon a minor, within the athletic facilities. Penn State authorities—including head coach Paterno—were informed. It seems they did the absolute minimum as required by university policy and not much more?
What has me upset, and is the reason for this post, is that Penn State decided today to let Paterno finish the season before he retires. If it is true that the president of Penn State is out of a job before the football coach steps aside, then this is my final example of how insane and bankrupt the nexus between academics and athletics at these major institutions has become. (I have avoided adding university to the end of any mention of Penn State, because if they choose to allow Paterno more grace in the midst of this scandal than President Spanier, they have clearly indicated what is truly more important to defining their institution.)

Also note that this is going on in the same time that many local communities in my state rejected levies that would raise property taxes to improve funding in local school districts. I fear that the resulting budget cuts are going to kill arts programs, music programs, and God-only-knows what next to pay for the teachers and the custodians and the electricity and the mortgages and everything else. But … if the voters knew that the first thing to be cut was local athletics? Well then, I can almost certainly bet that the results would have been different.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

NaBloWriMo #8: Sorry about this

Yeah, its yet another post about yet another dream. (Hence the title . . . ) But this was a recurring dream. When I woke up from it this morning, I was happy because I enjoy this dream. But I was also perplexed a bit because I was convinced that this dream is actually a remembrance of a movie that I've seen at some time in the past.
But I don't really think that is true  because I can't recall the name of the film and I wouldn't be able to figure out how to search for the film. And most importantly of all, the "film" is so full of cliches and movie tropes that no one but Brett Ratner would willing spend money to make it.

In the dream, the main character is a freshman or a sophmore or something. (Let's just say he's in high school.) And he's in the high school marching band. He and all of this friends are in the band and they all live together in a sprawling, Spielbergian suburb with one continuous lawn and sidewalk . . . no fences you see. Everyone knows everyone.


The central conflict of the dream/possible mystery movie is very similar to the story that drove the 1985 classic The Goonies. The kids in this suburb are facing encroachment from an adult, or an adult that represents some sinister corporation for some reason (details are sketchy in my dream, sorry). And the only way for the kids to fight off the adult plans of the adult are to engage in a . . . you guessed it . . . MARCHING BAND COMPETITION!
So, the kids team up and practice, practice, practice. And they're good. Sure, they were sort of good in school, but now their marching for their homes. And they commit like they've never committed before. The toes are pointed, the horn angles are high, the notes are pure. They are ready to go.

But when the competition begins, they find that they must defeat a ringer marching band (maybe something like The Cadets drum corps or something improbable like that. And . . . they seem to have pulled it off in the end! They performed the most amazing show they could ever do. And the crowd is really pulling for them and everyone just knows that the ragtag group of kids is going to win . . . until they don't. The judges scoring puts them in second place. And they are going to have to give up their homes.

Sad right? But at the very end of the dream, the ringleader of the band, the main kid in the story, he is feeling dejected and sad that he has failed. But the girl he's liked for years (but never had the courage to talk to) comes up and put her arm around him. She tells him she's proud of him and the hard work they did. They walk downstairs into the basement . . . aaaaand scene!

Sadly revealing, no?

Yeah, I've seen way too many 80s movies of this ilk. And I had a low opinion of myself back then. But, at least I inserted the plot twist where the kids DON'T win in the end!

Monday, November 07, 2011

NaBloWriMo #7: What's Today's Great Idea?

What should I write about today, after the sun has gone down and I'm tired and all I really want to do is sit and stare? But I've got this month-long commitment staring me in the face and I really want to go through with it? And so I'm sitting here in a brief moment of quiet, trying to think of something that I could write quickly but might actually be of interest to someone?

Since tomorrow is Election Day, I guess I could broach the topic of politics. But I hesitate to do that because I'm not really informed about all of the issues--as embarrassing as that is to publicly admit. (I mean, how can a seemingly well-intentioned, responsible adult NOT take a minimum amount of time to read through summaries of what are extremely important issues to make sure he doesn't inadvertently support something stupid, or (much more likely) NOT adequately support something that is important. But that is how I see myself right now. Stupidly unprepared.

Now, I am going to vote certain ways on some issues. And if I was going to take the time to really write on this topic, I'd explain why I am supporting things the way that I am. But to really, honestly do that writing justice and to give it the thoughtfulness it should get, I'd need to devote a lot more time to it than I am going to get tonight, in between washing the dishes, helping get the kids to bed, and crashing after a glass (or two?) of wine.

(And that, in case you ever wondered, is why I'd never make it as a semi-pro digital writer.)

It might be interesting, at a later date when I can better prepare, to go a bit more into my own personal political stances . . . probably in broad strokes. It might, maybe, provide some interesting insight into me? But we'll see. If I truly felt that anything I write tonight might affect someones vote tomorrow, I guess I'd feel more guilty about my cavalier stance. But I'm not under any illusions where that is concerned.

So . . . what then?


Lynda and I did rent Crazy, Stupid, Love last Friday night--the movie with Steve Carrell, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, and Ryan Gosling. Let me say that it was a great movie and one that I was not at all expecting based on what I remembered from the previews. Congratulations to the marketers of this film for NOT giving away all of the significant plot beats in this film (and there were some very significant ones) before anyone ever sat down to watch it.

This film did a good job of presenting an honest depiction of relationships. And it gave Lynda and I the opportunity to react to it, pause and discuss the decisions of a character at a given moment, condemn or support that decision, and then move on. I find that this is one of the things I enjoy the most about these sorts of romantic drama films. I can throw the scenarios at Lynda and ask her "What if that happened to us? Would YOU react that way if I did something like that to you?" It's kind of a game of hypothetical relationship Chicken. We're lucky (and smug?) enough to say That would never happen to US! We'd never have to do things like THAT! so we can play games with the events and indulge our relationship imaginations.

Our own games aside, the movie is quite good and each of the actors does a good job. I won't go into which character grows and changes the most, as I don't want to give things away . . . but you'll REALLY be surprised when Steve Carrell's character pulls a Crying Game!)

I'll say that after I watched it, I wanted to make some sort of comparison between it and American Beauty. (Which is a compliment, in case you were wondering.) Both deal with the ups and frequent downs of the marital relationship. Both deal with the notion of mid-life crisis. Both present interesting views on misunderstandings of various sorts. Both play off middle-aged relationships and young relationships. Crazy, Stupid, Love was the more unexpected of the two . . . and American Beauty had the better score. But there were both good, I think.

If you haven't seen Crazy, Stupid, Love why not give it a try? And leave a comment telling me what you thought of it. (But be mindful of spoilers.)

Sunday, November 06, 2011

NaBloWriMo #6: Here's to Mary!

Do you have a sister? Is she older than you? Have you grown up with her? Did the two of you play together when you were younger, spending lots of time walking to school or playing imaginary games on the weekend?
Did you sort of lose touch with her while the two of you were making the transition from elementary to middle school (but she did it before you)? Did you grow apart even more as she became a "girl" and you became a "boy"? Did you not worry about it so much, because, well . . . you were a boy and a young one at that. You weren't thinking much about those sorts of things then.

And you were worried about your own stuff most of the time anyway. But she was always there. And you spend many family trips with her even so. Do you remember the camping trips? Do you remember all the hiking and  the rain? Remember when the bugs kept getting attracted to the lanterns at night and how she hated having those bit flapping wings close to her face? Remember how she shrieked and ran away time and time again?

Do you remember how, when you got older again, you sort of reconnected in jr. high and high school? Remember, she had the car, right? And remember how she had to drive you around in the mornings and afternoons? I'll bet you haven't forgotten cramming into the small car with her and her friends, listening to 80s rock and rap at high volumes, going here and there. You never minded squeezing in the backseat, because you got to hang out with the older, cool kids.

My great sister.
Remember how much fun it was to hang out together in college? Things had changed again and you were closer to being friends than just "brother" and "sister." You were both older and figuring out how to be YOU on your own. And wasn't it fun to hang out together on your own? And even though you've both grown up and moved on to your own families and lives, isn't it nice when you have the chance to get back together again. Isn't it great to see her laugh, sometimes to laugh so hard that she bends over, looking for lost breath, then lifting back up again to wipe away tears of happiness? Those are the best times.

When you have to go apart again, isn't it nice to give her a hug, an honest, loving hug of friendship and family? Stop and think about that. Aren't you lucky to have a great sister like her? And aren't you lucky to stay friends with her, even now? That is a great thing.

So, even though these thoughts are short, rushed, and not deserving of reflecting who she really is . . . here's to Mary! Congratulations on who you have been and who you are and who you are yet to be. Thanks for being my sister, in all of the ways you were and are. I love you a lot! Happy birthday to you.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

NaBloWriMo #5: Saturday spills

Today was such a nice weather day that I pumped up the air in my bicycle tires and hooked up Hannah's pull cart to go on a bike ride.I even convinced Sarah to ride along with us. Grace was over at a friend's house, or I would have asked her to come along as well.

We decided to ride up the bike trail and then swing over to the Hoff Woods park to play on their playground. Things got off to a rough start however, as I was maneuvering my bike and the pull cart along the tight turns of a sidewalk ramp. My front wheel didn't ride from the grass to the sidewalk edge at enough of a perpendicular angle and the tire slid along the concrete like a skateboarder catching a rail.

I lost my seat and my balance and came down across the sidewalk. I wasn't going fast, so nothing serious was hurt, but when I put out my hands to catch my body on the way down, I must have jammed the middle joint on my right middle finger. It feels a bit stiff and sore right now and won't move without the slightest bit of hesitant pain. Plus, my left hand got pushed up into my chest, up under my left pectoral and that feels a bit sore as well. I've probably got an abrasion on my left thigh as well . . . but enough about me. It was still worth it to get outside on a pretty day. I got back up and we hit the trail.

Once we got to the park, the three of us spent some fun time climbing, pretending to be pirates, and doing the sorts of things that you do when you're watching kids. Sarah volunteered to be a rival pirate enemy and Hannah and I had to be vigilant in protecting our treasure from her pilfering ways. Luckily, we always had the upper hand, and if she ever was able to find out where our treasure was hidden, we tracked her down and got it back pretty quickly. 

Once only, when she was posing as a disguised deck hand did she manage to infiltrate our pirate ship and win our trust. After cooking us a large meal and getting us drowsy, she found the treasure hidden in the crows nest and managed to get away. 

It was about that time that Hannah had a spill of her own. While jogging from the sand pit onto the sidewalk that surrounded it, she caught her foot on the lip of HER sidewalk and tumbled face first. Her glasses got a bit stretched the wrong way and she scraped her forehead slightly. But there was no blood mixed in with the tears. (And we had a spare pair of glasses at home for just such eventualities.)

Hopefully she doesn't feel as sore as I do right now. But then again, she's several decades younger than me, as well.

It's probably a good thing that the weather will be changing soon and snows will make it harder to get outside. I'm not certain that our medical expense account could handle the clumsiness of Hannah and I.

Friday, November 04, 2011

NaBloWriMo #4: Why the Funny Laugh?

Going to middle school isn't fun, let me tell you. But if you're older than me, you already know this. When you are in middle school, you old enough to know what you want, but never old enough to get what you want, you know? The number of times that I saw the older kids at the high school across get in their cars with their girl friends, to get a pizza before the football game . . . well, that was only one thing that I wanted.

But that isn't what this is about.

Like I said, I'm old enough to want things, but not old enough to understand why or even sometimes how. And so, I've been trying to figure out what all this means to me. Because, as far as I can tell, middle school is when you're supposed to figure out who you are and then as you get older, you get on with the business of being that person that you have figured out you should be. Right? And so, if I'm supposed to be figuring out who I am and stuff like that, then why am I always changing that definition of myself?

Here's the latest example to help you understand what I'm trying to get at.

I find myself mimicking my friends when I talk. And I don't know why that is. Shouldn't I just talk like me and be done with it? I mean, getting the words out in the right order is hard enough some days--especially if you're trying to talk to a girl. But why mess that up even more by consciously (unconsciously?) adding a layer of someone else's personality on top of that? Am I that dissatisfied with who I am (or who I might possibly be able to be?) that I have to abandon all of that and start mimicking someone ELSE?

Do you get what I'm trying to say?

Here, let me explain a bit more. A while ago, a new guy came to school and he sits in my science class next to me. He's a nice guy and we became friendly pretty quickly. We have a few decent conversations every day, talking about what was on TV the night before, what movies we might want to see that are coming up in the theater, what bands we've been downloading lately, what games we're playing . . . stuff like that, you know? So, what I'm saying is that we've become friends. And, among middle school boys that is worth noting.

But what is got me worried is that I am noticing that I copy the way he says things. Why do that? For example, when he is responding sarcastically to something that I said, he adds a particular laugh at the beginning of what he's about to say. It's like he's giving me warning that "Here comes something funny!" And that is okay, because, well, sometimes we need to make things clear.

So, but the problem is, I'M now doing that to. I'm making the "Here comes something funny!" laugh before I say funny things. And it's kind of freaking me out. Why did I pick this up? Am I so insecure that I've got to reinforce our friendship with mimicry?

But if I try to stop it . . . then things are going to be even more awkward, you know? And middle school just doesn't need more awkward. 

It's keeping me up at night.

* Author's Note: This is NOT a picture of me in Middle School. (Not that there's anything wrong with this kid. I'm just saying . . .)

Thursday, November 03, 2011

NaBloWriMo #3: Community

So, I had a dream about my favorite comedy show on TV--Community, which airs tonight on NBC.

In my dream, I'm watching Annie and Britta hang out with Jeff. Pierce is somewhere around, but isn't really present in the foreground of the dream's plot. Troy & Abed are absent and I also don't remember Shirley being present?

Someone else is a character in the dream, but he is not a part of the stable of TV show characters. (He drives a semi-truck for some reason that I can't explain but is a factor later in the dream.) This truck-driving guy gets it into the heads that as a collective group, they smell "good." (I don't know where this comes from, but i worry it is somehow pulled from the part of my brain that remembers reading the Twilight books Is this some weird connection to Edward, who is drawn to Bella's scent? And, side questions--a.) how much does a very targeted lobotomy cost? & b.) how much damage to higher brain functions do you reckon such a procedure might cause?


For this next part of the dream, I am not an outside observer. Instead I am part of Britta's perspective. She leaves the rest of the group to meet up with the truck-driving guy and (she hopes) to flirt with him. This is when he drives up in a semi truck . . . an actual 18-wheeler, Optimus Prime, semi-truck. It's a very dramatic moment in the dream, where you may image a camera set low to the ground, somewhere around Britta's shoulder as the large truck pulls up from the left to the right, looming over here in gleaming chrome.

But that's not really important here. I'm just trying to paint you a dreamscape with words so that you can follow along and experience what I experienced. The true drama of the entire dream now occurs, as Britta gets the new from the truck-driving guy that, separated from the rest of the group, she doesn't present that intoxicating smell any longer. Britta is crushed to learn that she can only function and have power within the context of the group, to find out that she is less powerful as an individual. She reluctantly goes  back to experience that collective happiness and (presumably?) recapture the smell.

So . . .

What is going on in this dream. Is it trying to tell me something about the need to fit in? Or is it trying to better understand the group dynamics of the Community cast? (This HAS been a theme throughout the early episodes of this third season.) Also, what can be learned by the coda to this dream, in which Troy and Abed finally appear in a motorcycle + sidecar set up, waving colored flashlights as if they were light sabers? (Which they sort of . . . are?)


Wednesday, November 02, 2011

NaBloWriMo #2: Food

How do you go about the daily task of feeding yourself? Do you plan it out on the weekend, identifying what meals you want to have during the week, then constructing an all encompassing grocery list that gathers all of the ingredients?

Do you also spend time on the weekend cooking ahead for the work week? Do you schedule what meals to make on what days, somewhat based on your responsibilities for the week? Do you freeze and get things ready to thaw in a moment of crisis?

Me, you ask? What do I do?

Well, mostly none of those things, even though Lynda and I have talked about doing them over the years. And since Lynda is busy with her super-secret, "can't talk about it" project, I am the one who comes home every day after getting the kids from school, with the added responsibility of figuring out what the dinner for the day is going to be.

Some days, its not so bad and I do a pretty good job. (I've watched enough cooking shows on TV over the years to be dangerous in the kitchen, though occasionally I stumble across the correct technical sequence of actions to make the food do what I envision.) But I'm no culinary savant, by any means. And when I am trying to put together a meal from the same old ingredients that we always seem to have in the pantry . . . well, then it gets even harder.

Tonight, for example, I simply had no good idea what to do. And so I cooked hot dogs, made some macaroni and cheese, pulled out the potato chips that we normally only eat for weekend lunches, and that was that. (As we sat down to eat, I did remember to slice up some apples also. So . . . wipe that judgmental look off of your faces, okay?)

It wasn't my finest culinary hour by a long shot. But for this night, it got the job done.

I only wish that I knew now what would be a better option when tomorrow night rolls around.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

November NaBloWriMo
Today is the start of NaNoWriMo (also known by non-hipsters as National Novel Writing Month). In this time, aspiring authors or sadomasochists work themselves into a frenzy on a daily basis to create a novel in only a month.

I, like every educated American, have aspirations to be a novelist. (Why else would I occasionally write on this blog for no one to read?) My biggest problems are 1.) I don't think I have the time to write and 2.) I don't have much of consequence to write about. These tend to get in the way of my creating a readable story.

But, I feel that this is an opportunity that I shouldn't simply sit back and ignore.

So, (and I'm quite sure I am not the first to coin this term) I'm going to try and do a NaBloWriMo instead. I'll try to blog every day during the month.*

So, what will I blog about? Well, I have no idea . . . but I can tell you that my floors need vacuuming and I really do need to get the front side gutters in the house adjusted. Every time it rains, the water spills out and makes a muddy mess in the front window bed and at the foot of the front door steps. Also, I need to refocus my eating habits and be more intentionally healthy with my eating--especially as the holidays are approaching.

Speaking of the holidays . . . my year with Mr. Mustachio is coming to a close and so I need to start deciding who will be Forkmaster for 2012. If you have any thoughts on what my criteria should be, feel free to leave a comment.

And here is another NaBloWriMo question. Do you think it is okay if I post a video during this effort or does that stray too far away from the writing basis of the original challenge? If I don't hear any comments, I'll just assume that a.) no one is reading and so I can do whatever I feel like doing, and b.) no one cares.

So, here we go. Let's see what I can come up with in the next 24 hours or so.

*Now that I think about it for two seconds, I realize that NaBloWriMo once went by the name of BEDAu (for Blogging Every Day in August) and I think I actually did accomplish that one year in the past. But this time, I'm going with the more complicated acronym to ensure that I mistype it constantly. (And with a bit more searching I did find this . . . but it seems to be more focused on women?)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Turning 40

Everyone makes a big deal of turning 40 and I have steadfastly maintained over the years that age is what you make of it. So, now that I'm officially forty, here are some thoughts on the day to see if I am true to my word.

First, I realize that my life with Lynda equals exactly one-half of my total lifetime. And friends, let me tell you that this is a very good thing. No other choice that I could have made in life has been a better one for me or has generated so many good things and guaranteed good things yet to be. If I never do anything else right forever, I can at least point to that twenty-year-old choice and be secure in the knowledge that it was unequivocally the right one.

We celebrated on Sunday by going out to dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. This allowed me to enjoy some nice mole sauce on my enchiladas and to get a ridiculous margarita (but a. made out of lime, b. not frozen, and c. not fruited up . . . because I'm still a man, you see). As I'm eating the meal, Grace (on one side of me) is trying to get Sarah's approval (on the other side of me) to deliver something.

Now, I know that it is probably a birthday card that I had heard was in the works, but I'm being the good, clueless dad and not acknowledging the events for Grace's sake. Halfway through the enchiladas (and two-thirds of the way through the ridiculous margarita), they present me with this wonderful card which I reproduce and interpret below.
This is the front of the card, which obviously says "Happy B-Day!" For some reason, they chose not to include  my excellent winter beard in the image rendition. Perhaps they don't like the way it scratches their faces?

Here is the important, special part of the card. On the left is me, regal in my provided birthday crown.
On the right are my three kids, watching over me. The text of the card is as follows:

"Dear Dad: We love you so much. I hope your having a fun time on your birthday. You are awesome. You are the best Dad in the world. You are really silly. Dad, we love you at all times. I'm happy that you never give up on us.
We are happy that you are our Dad. Here are the top five reasons why you are great:

1. Your funny.
2. Your awesome.
3. Your handsome.
4. Your nice.
5. Your like a friend.

We love you Dad.

And on the last page, they apply their signatures. Hannah's is the big "H."
(Whenever she sees an H anywhere, she always says . . . That's Me. That's an H for Hannah.

Now, I ask you . . . how could any meaningless construction of a decade-based birthday possibly overshadow such love and wonder?

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Why Didn't They Just Name it HAL and Begin the Enslavement?

This text was cut and pasted from the New York Times Live blog of the Apple products announcement today (featuring the iPhone 4s). The commenter below got it correct when they say that it presages the first steps in the doom of the human race. (The microphone icon in the picture below even reminds me of HAL's malevolent red eye if I squint just right.)


2:14 P.M. Better Voice Control for the iPhone
"We left one thing out," says Mr. Schiller. "It's about our voice." This is the fruit of Apple's acquisition of Siri, a startup that has been working on voice-control features. Siri is now a feature on the iPhone. "It's an intelligent assistant that helps you get things done, just by asking."
"Probably the craziest thing you can do is do a voice-recognition demo on stage, live," says Mr. Schiller. "But we're going to do it anyway."

2:16 P.M. Demonstrating Voice Control on the iPhone
Scott Forstall, Apple's iOS chief, is back on stage. He asks the phone, "What is the weather today?" The phone replies, "Here is the weather for today," and displays the weather screen.
Mr. Forstall asks, "Do I need a raincoat today?" The phone replies, "It sure looks like rain today," and shows the weather screen again.
"What time is it in Paris?" he asks. The phone replies with the time in Paris and shows a clock. "Wake me up at 6 a.m.," says Mr. Forstall. "O.K., I've set an alarm for 6 a.m. tomorrow," the phone replies. This is amazing. And freaky.
Apple's set up a partnership with Yelp as well. "Find me a great Greek restaurant in Palo Alto." The phone says: "I've located 14 Greek restaurants. Five are in Palo Alto. I've sorted them by rating."
Mr. Forstall: "Do I have any meetings this Friday at noon?" Phone: "You don't have any meetings on Friday at noon."
You can ask Siri for directions. It can read text messages to you. You can reply or ask it to read them again.

2:22 P.M. More Features of Siri, Voice Control on iPhone
iPhone 5 announcement
Siri can schedule events in your calendar, read messages, take dictation, all by voice. You can create a reminder by voice. "Remind me to call my wife when I leave work," says Mr. Forstall. Siri, based on previous conversations, knows who your wife is and uses geolocation to remind you when you leave a location. You can search Wikipedia by voice.
Apple has also linked up with Wolfram Alpha to provide data and definitions for Siri to access. "Define mitosis," says Mr. Forstall. Siri generates and reads back a definition.
We are clearly headed to Terminator/HAL territory here. Humans are doomed. Deal with it.
Mr Forstall asks Siri, "Who are you?" Siri replies, "I am a humble personal assistant."
That's just chilling.