27 December 2009

100+ Reading Challenge 2010

In order to kind of jump-start my daunting task of reading the mass of books on my shelf that I own and have yet to complete, I have decided to join the 2010 100+ Reading Challenge from J Kaye's Book Blog. I only learned about reading challenges at all in October, so I was a little late to start on anything. The 100+ Challenge gives challengers a year to read pretty much any one hundred (or more) books, which is a pretty flexible enough set of standards for me to attempt. Feel free to go along with it by clicking the image or the hyperlinked text above.

Below I will list the books as I read them.  Hyperlinked titles go to my review of that book.  At the end of each item is the date I finished the book.


1. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (Jan 10)
2. The Ruthless Realtor Murders by David A. Kaufelt (Jan 23)
3. The Night Room by E.M. Goldman (Jan 26)
4. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke (Jan 31)

5. The Bone Factory by Nate Kenyon (Feb 14)

6. The Liberation of Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey

New America by Michael A. Smith
Walking Thru Hale by Angie PelphreyBeast by Peter Benchley

The Hot Zone: A Terrifying True Story by Richard Preston
A Time to Kill by John Grisham
Buzz Riff: A Novel of Crime by Sam Hill
The Absolutes by James Robison
1984 by George Orwell

26 December 2009

A Surprise Christmas Gift

The first Christmas Rebecka and I had together as a married couple was only after a little over a month of being married and just over a year of dating. So, Christmas 2009 was a little more exciting than 2008 because we had all that time to get to know each other more, to be able to determine what to get each other as gifts. Both of us apparently very much enjoy surprises but are just as proficient at surprising other people. That made this Christmas all the more exciting.

Having simmered on the decision for quite some time now to some day learn to play the piano, Rebecka very sneakily got the ball rolling for me by prepurchasing a month's worth of lessons. She also bought me a Crosley record player with USB connection so I can start recording my growing collection of records to digital files.

I countered her surprises with a fish tank, something she has been debating on getting for the better part of this year and which she was not expecting at all. She was also hinting at needing an electric razor, although this hinting was a little more overt. Well...to the point of basically asking me to get her one. So, I did.

Above all, however, Rebecka ended up trumping all of the Christmas gift surprises with something the Tuesday before Christmas, December 22nd. I came home from work and did my usual after work routine while she was completing dinner preparations. As I came out in the hallway, she was holding up two sticks of the Clear Blue brand, both brazenly declaring "Pregnant" in crisp, blue, digital displays. She showed me two because she wanted to be absolutely positive. (She actually took another the next day, just to be extra-absolutely positive. This will be summarily followed up next week with a doctor's visit to provide blood-test proof of her extra-absolute positivity.)

Yes, reader(s): I am a father. Wow. That's the first time I really wrote it like that, and it is very strange to see, especially having come from my own fingers.

I do say "I am a father" here in the present-tense rather than the future tense because I have already fathered a new life. The entity currently growing within my wife's womb is a living organism, having been created through the fertilization of two haploid gametes--one from me and one from Rebecka. The embryo has a set of genes distinct from either of us, making a brand new person, though tiny and encased as he or she grows.

Ahead of us, Rebecka and I have the rather scary path of nurturing, training, and teaching our child to be an adult; to train him or her up in the way he or she should go. The person growing inside Rebecka right now is an evidence of the awesome workings of God's almighty power. He who has a hand so large that He can hold the entire universe is also small enough to deal with us in a personal, loving manner, even to the point of meticulously designing the little hands being formed in utero.

I pray that God will guide us to make the right decisions as we seek to depend more on Him while this child is in our care. We do not take this responsibility and privilege lightly. Please remember us as we strive to train our new child to become a person after God's heart.

05 November 2009

1550 Books to Read

I am in the process of compiling a list of all the books on my bookshelf (loosely defined as anywhere my books are: on an actual shelf, in boxes, in the car, etc.). In the process I have come to the conclusion that I have not read or completely read most of them. Many of them are textbooks or reference books, so I have perused them in times past. A few of them (which I still want to include in my comprehensive list) are game books: crosswords, word searches, cryptograms, etc.

In the course of all this, I have discovered I actually own a few of those books deemed "Classics" by the people who deem such books in that manner. Further, I've discovered that I have not actually read most of those so-called Classics. In fact, when I think back on my required reading in school, we were never really instructed to read any of the Classics save condensed versions of books like Tom Sawyer or an entire part of a semester devoted to The Great Gatsby; as a result, much of my reading involved Young Adult or RL Stine books, until I grew into reading Michael Crichton books and the like.

So, I have decided to make it a firm goal to read as many of the most popular and highly recommended books as I can. I have compiled a list made from such Internet postings as this which encompasses a great deal of reading. There are roughly 1550 titles listed--a daunting mountain of reading material indeed.

My short-term goal is to increase my amount of reading. Since college, when I was inundated with required reading of textbooks and scholarly journals to prepare research reports, as well as spending a great deal of time rehearsing plays and learning lines, my reading frequency has reduced to just about nil, aside from whatever I read on the Web.

A great deal of my inspiration for my desire to read more is my sister. Sissy is the paragon of an avid reader, a quality that is mutliply aided by the fact that she works as a media assistant in an elementary school in the library. My niece Kayla (Sissy's daughter) has inherited that same quality (the reading enthusiasm, not the media assistant job--she's not of working age yet). Through conversations of what books they are reading and how much they enjoy it, coupled with Kayla's frequent re-reading of many of her books, I felt rather behind the mark. The over-achiever in me was finally revived.

My long-term goal is to have read all of these "must-read" books. I don't have a timeline for this just yet. However, my first step is to finish compiling my list of books I own. This is a three-fold purpose: 1) to see if I already own any of the books in my list; 2) to finally reorganize my books with a fully complete catalog (unrelated to my reading endeavor); and 3) to determine which of the books I own I have or have not actually read.

I have two middle-ground goals as well. Firstly, because I realize I have not read most of the books on my shelf, I want to start whittling away at them first. Most of them are not on my 1550 list, but it seems silly of me to start getting and reading new books when there are countless untouched ones in my possession. At the very least, I will find out which ones I don't like and can give them away.

My last goal is to be able to review the books I've read. This will encourage me to not just enjoy the books, but to read them analytically and objectively. In turn, I will engage myself in writing for a purpose once again, increasing my blog posts and hopefully leading to a point where I can write more freely. (Reading the books will help with that, also.)

So, with that, I'll get started on my task!

(Hopefully the reading increase will ameliorate my horribly short conclusions.)

20 October 2009

On Anatid Gifts

Call me strange, but I'm of the persuasion that if someone were to give me a duck, I would take the duck.

06 October 2009

On Choosing a Slogan for Your Product

Choosing a slogan for your product is so important it is often best to leave it to experts. However, paying an advertising firm to pitch your product with some creative and catchy bit of word play can be very expensive, particularly if it is your first product.

So, what can you do?

Firstly, investigate and research other jingles and slogans from products similar to yours in design or function. (Of course, it is best if your product is not too similar to already prominent products. Patent and copyright holders tend to frown on copycat products. Their lawyers, however, tend to grin behind their lawsuit.)

In your research you should notice a common theme occurring throughout the plethora of slogan types for your product. For example, if your product is something usable in the kitchen, the slogan will likely incorporate flash phrases like "slices and dices" or "low on fat, big on taste" or "less likely than the leading brand to sever the distal portions of your phalanges."

Comparably, if your product is a new kind of medicine, your research will turn up slogans like "works quickly," "makes your life happy," or something equally likely to be forgotten mere moments later (and for the following hour and a half) when the announcer tells you everything that could possibly go wrong after taking the medicine, conversely making the potential product purchaser confused whether the commercial is made by the product makers or by their competitors. The point is: don't market prescription drugs in commercials.

Next, should you continue to determine to come up with your own slogan, it is necessary to come up with something fun, catchy, and possibly humorous. Be careful, though, that your interesting slogan is not misleading. Take for example the possible rough draft of the slogan for a well-known poultry producer (who shall remain nameless unless some kind of product placement reimbursement is possible): "The Inedible, Credible Egg." Try to imagine the effectiveness of their ads with a slogan like that. Sure, it gives the consumer a product they can believe in; but will they buy an egg they can't eat? Unless, of course, the product is a type of egg-shaped digital dictionary made out of asbestos-coated lead dipped in bubonic plague.

Finally, when choosing a product slogan, it is vitally important that you let someone else read and react to it before presenting it to the general public. They can present a different perspective that can shape your slogan into something more effective and interesting. Furthermore, it can help eliminate poor planning and editing: something this informative piece would be if I took the time to look back at what I wrote and let someone read it before I posted it.

These pointers are just to help you get started in your slogan creation for your product. Assuming you have a product that someone needs or wants, a great slogan can make even those skeptical buyers look twice at your product. And, above all, avoid grinning lawyers.

02 October 2009

On My Avoidance of Sports

I once heard a sports enthusiast say:
"There are two kinds of people that matter in this world: Athletes and Athletic Supporters."

I think that's one of the reasons I never really became a fan of any sports...along with my natural aversion to anything involving forceful physical contact whereby I might get hurt.

21 July 2009



I haven't gone completely away from the blogging, but my busy schedule has gotten even busier. So, I won't be able to update much for at least another week or so.

In the meantime, I bring the following improvisational group to your attention: The No Pants Players. This is West Virginia's Premier Improv Troupe. They are based in Charleston, WV, and perform monthly at South Charleston's LaBelle Theatre.

Rebecka and I went to see them Saturday night (18 July). They are simply hilarious!

13 July 2009

Comments on "Song Time, Part Two"

"Chorus for a Country Song" was very random and involved Rebecka and me making fun of a country/gospel song we had heard on the radio. After many derivatives of random parts of the song, this came to mind.

This song is best understood if you sing it with a twang. "Sometimes" should be pronounced, "Sum-tahms," "washcloth" should be "warsh-clauth," and have a bit of a yodel at the end of each phrase.

Song Time, Part Two

Chorus for a Country Song

Sometimes I think I'm a washcloth,

Then I stop and look at the floor.

I go back to what I was doin',

And wonder what I did that for.

08 July 2009

Someone's Surprising Sarah

Setting: 7:00AM, Wednesday, 8 July 2009, Somewhere, USA

Seated in a chair, our secretary heroine stares contemplatively at a single book setting in the center of the otherwise empty desk. Sarah wonders where everything has gone: her computer, keyboard, notepads, phone, box of tissues. She hesitantly reaches to open the desk drawer to find nothing inside. Searching through drawer after drawer yields the same results.

Suddenly, the book opens of its own volition. Sarah jerked, causing her chair to roll back about a foot. She sat upright again, determined to figure out what was going on here. Scooting her desk chair forward, Sarah peered into the open book. She gasped at what she saw.

Standing in the center of the page, moving just enough to be noticed as something unusual, was a little figure. Sarah leaned in closer to see exactly what kind of thing it could have been. She saw what appeared to be a little man but with three sets of all appendages.

Shaking his fists violently at Sarah, the little man seemed to be shouting, though his voice was much to tiny for her to hear anything. Sarah leaned a little closer, causing the little man to step back and cringe into a shielded position. Slowly he raised up his head as he realized no danger befell him. Sarah began to speak, but his frantic fist shaking began again; this time, she was close enough to hear.

"Shhh--before you speak, listen to what I have to say!" the little man shouted as loudly as he could, although his voice barely reached Sarah's threshold of hearing at the tiny frequency the voice emitted. "Sarah, I have been sent here to bring you a message, and you must promise to listen." Shocked that he knew her name, Sarah's eyes grew wide and her breathing became shallow. She studied the little man's face a while before she realized he had paused, waiting to hear a response.

She stuttered out a quiet and meager "Sure." Sarah listened intently as the little man spoke slowly and clearly.

"Sarah, you may have wondered why your desk was empty, save for this book and, of course, me. Someone in management has sent me here in a very surreptitious manner to tell you this. Sarah, you're fired."

Sarah paused a moment, taking in the little man's words, making sure she got every little word. She jerked her head backwards as she realized finally exactly what he said. She just got fired! Sarah glared at the little man and quickly grabbed the front of the book. Slam went the book as the heavy cover met the rest of the open pages.

Slowly Sarah opened the book to the page where the little man had stood. She was not sure he was even real; but if he was, had she just killed him? Situated on the center of the page, just where he had been standing, was a light colored smudge. Sarah looked closer and saw that the smudge was actually paint, and written in the paint in tiny but discernible letters was the word "Surprise!"

Sarah stood up, confused. Streamers and confetti started streaming down from the ceiling. Salsa music started playing out of invisible speakers. Some of her coworkers started emerging from the walls as if they were at one point part of the drywall, but now back in human form. She looked at the desk again. Standing in the middle of the book where the paint had just been was the little man with three sets of all appendages smiling, waving, and shouting happily.

Somehow a cake rose out of the desk. Scribbled in sugary, blue icing was "Sarah, You're Fired!" Sarah was now very disoriented, feeling the room shift around her like water in a washing machine. She raised her hands to her face and would have screamed had her larynx not been frozen. She started to run away but, as if on a treadmill, she stayed in one place.

Suddenly the world stopped. Sarah found herself falling quickly until, finally, she sat up in bed. Sleeping beside her up until now, her husband woke up and asked if everything was okay.

"Sure, sure...just a bad dream," she murmured sleepily.

"Someone needs to stop eating pizza at bedtime," her husband warned warily.

Sarah nodded in silent agreement and began to lay her head back down to sleep, until she saw something that made her scream--out loud this time. Sitting across the room on her dresser was the little man with three sets of all appendages waving, smiling, and shouting happily: "Surprise!"

07 July 2009

(5) If I Were King of the Forest...

... my Chief Ambassador to the Kingdom of the Lake would be a squirrel, just because I'd like to see a squirrel swim.

06 July 2009

Fireworks Etiquette

Scores of people lined the riverbank as several different fireworks shows lit up the cloudy night sky, reflecting a distorted but beautiful light show in the river below. Bright, colorful bursts of sparks and fire arrived noiselessly until two seconds later when the sound finally caught up with the light that had already disappeared from view. Cheap snappers and sparklers popped and sizzled all around us, filling the pauses with peripheral sight and sound while the sky prepared for another rocket to pierce its blackness. One could be mesmerized in the awe of these moments.

That is could be mesmerized, if it weren't for several factors making the experience at times uncomfortable and generally annoying.
  • Huddled in a tight circle in the prime fireworks viewing spot, a group of about seventy teen girls (and I may be exaggerating: they could've been preteen) loudly, incessantly, and somehow simultaneously held conversations with themselves, punctuated by laughter that made even the exploding projectiles of fire form a finger and pair of lips to shush the girls, which made them laugh scornfully and even more loudly. Though their merriment may have held true with the spirit of the Independence Day festivities, I'm sure they were less concerned with patriotism and enjoying the fireworks than they were with, say, the Jonas Brothers or making fun of their parents.
  • Small groups of people on either side of my wife and me kept inching closer and closer to us, not unlike those rusty, spike-laden walls that creep insistently and horrifyingly inward toward the hero of an action/adventure movie. Except, in our case, we were less likely to procure tetanus or unwillingly obtain body piercings and more likely to get lung cancer because...
  • ...everyone in this area smokes! When I say "everyone," I do not actually mean to imply that absolutely everyone here smokes. I do mean to imply that the proportion of smokers to nonsmokers in any given outdoor event is about 25:1. The parents, their adult children, and some of their underage children huffed and puffed to their (and our) alveoli's discontent, being ever so careful to make sure they either stood upwind of us or turned their faces toward us when they exhaled.
  • The fireworks themselves were impressively unimpressive. At a rate of about one firework every 30 seconds, the audience's very short attention spans caused them to wander off mentally and physically. (In particular were some people (possibly inebriated) getting a little too close to the dropoff point of the riverbank.) Whoever directed the fireworks did not use a lot of creativity, unfortunately. Some of the 'works themselves were beautiful and appropriately loud, but there was no theme. By the time the finale came (which I think was more about getting out of the park before the rains came than actually completing the show), my wife and I were walking back home.

Thus ends my curmudgeonly report on the fireworks.

05 July 2009

Sunday Night Service

I do not recall ever experiencing a church service quite like the one tonight. People came to the altar and prayed. Several different people sang. Many people testified.

This morning, our Sunday School class (for which I was pretty late) was talking about the need for prayer in a Christian's life. Someone mentioned about how groups of people from the Bible would pray together for God's healing or protection or deliverance from the enemy.

In the worship service, a little girl was baptized and a teen rededicated her life to God.

In the evening service the choir, instead of staying up in the choir seats like normal, all came down and prayed.

The preacher preached 2 Chronicles 7:14, urging people to keep themselves from pride, pray and seek God's face, and stop doing things contrary to God's will--stop sinning. He urged us to pray for our country and our leaders. Someone from the congregation stepped up and walked to the altar, urging everyone in the church to come up and do just that.

The evening service lasted 2-1/2 hours, a short time when you consider some other types of churches who may begin at 10:00AM and stay until 3:00PM; but for our church, it was a welcome change from the ordinary.

I believe God blessed our service because people obeyed the Spirit and prayed like they had not done before.

02 July 2009

Biology Lesson of the Day: Arm Hair

Biology Lesson of the Day

Arm Hair

Adaptation to one's environment and habitat is essential for all creatures, from archaebacteria to humans, viruses to Sequoia trees. Otherwise, changes in those environments or habitats could prove fatal to the creature and spell doom for its species.

Today's Biology Lesson deals with an adaptation that we see in humans: arm hair.

There is no great debate that I am aware of over the origin and necessity of arm hair in human males. In fact, a quick keyword search of "why do guys have arm hair" will bring up mostly results regarding hair removal products, commentary on national and cultural differences regarding shaving, and, for some reason, pictures of Julia Roberts. Still, very little dispute can be found about the purpose of arm hair.

Arm hair is a result of the same stuff that causes other body hair: androgens. In fact, body hair in general is scientifically referred to as "androgenic hair." Androgens are those hormones (including testosterone) typically found in more abundance in males than in females and are, in fact, what stimulate the growth and appearance of all male secondary sex characteristics. A female can also have excess androgens in her system leading to the development of some of these same male characteristics. Contrariwise, a male can have too few androgens and not develop those characteristics.

Now that you understand where arm hair comes from, chemically and biologically, let us now turn to why I believe human males have adapted arm hair.

Picture this: a group of early era males is seated in the cold, shivering against the wind. They have taken care to cover their cores in loincloths (made from the skins of the animal they last killed for food) to block as much of the cold as they can. In an effort to keep their weapon use agile, they have not added sleeves to the loincloth. As a result, their arms are ready but freezing. Some of the men are bigger, hairier. Their bulk and extra covering from the hair keep them warmer for far longer than the smaller, smooth men. If anyone dies from the cold, it will be the latter.

They make their kill and take it home. They prepare it for their families and eat healthily. They feel the grease and other particles of food that stick to their mouths and facial hair. Napkins having not yet been invented, they reach up their forearms and wipe.

This happens year after year, generation after generation. The more hairy of the males outlast the less hairy, both because of protection from the elements and because of having extra food left over on their advantageous arm hair. The ones that outlive the others live to produce offspring likely owning the genes predisposed to growing more hair.

Today, we have sleeves and houses and jobs that typically don't require facing bitter wind to get food. The arm hair seems superfluous. However, we (and I am speaking mainly about males in the first person plural here) have learned to use this adaptation for another purpose. This new purpose is not entirely as necessary for survival against hunger and wind, but it is worthwhile.

This new purpose? Picture this: a guy is out cooking on the grill. He's got his sleeves rolled up (or if he's from Lincoln County, no shirt whatsoever) and the smoke is rolling off the grill. He goes to wipe his brow with a handkerchief? No! He wipes off his brow with his forearm, which is covered with (say it with me) arm hair.

Arm hair, once used to shield man against the elements, is now little more than a napkin. That is why still, to this day, men will always forget to get a napkin when they eat and instead prefer to wipe off their mouths with their forearms. It is just one of the advantages that have carried on through the millennia.

01 July 2009

Oh: Canada!

In keeping with my timely recognition of holidays, it is my duty to present to you today's holiday of choice: Canada Day. As many of you may know (but probably more of you do not), the First of July is Canada's Fourth of July. In much the same way that Americans celebrate Independence Day, Canada and Canadians around the world celebrate with fireworks, parades, and the annual arrival of the Canada Bunny to deliver sparkly treats and maple leaves. The celebration commences with a public singing of the Canadian National Anthem "O, Canada!" which is hummed along wordlessly around the country since, just like in America, the people don't really know the words to their anthem either--unless they happen to be acquiring or have a music degree.

Canada was officially born in 1867 as a result of the Canadian Confederation and a carefully designed delivery room. After a little bit of epidural and some parental coaching, Canada burst into the world to a room full of appreciative and happy people (and the father passed out on the floor). Like many new parents, the Fathers of the Confederation were not certain what to name this new creation. One of the great grandfathers of Canada, Jacques Cartier, had started calling the area "Canada" (based on the Huron-Iroquois word "kanata" meaning "village") in the 14th Century. The name stuck like a hair in a biscuit (or a cheveu in a bannock), until it came time to officially name the country. Then, every Canadian cousin, uncle, great grandneighbor, and sisters' ex-brothers-in-law showed up with suggestions, such as:
  • Victorialand,
  • Tuponia,
  • Superior,
  • Frances ("It was your grandfather's middle name. You do want to honor your grandfather, don't you?"),
  • Borealia,
  • Hochelaga, and of course
  • Steve.

Although I am partial to "Superior" for its anatomical accuracy and "Borealia" for its astronomical allusion (the Aurora Borealis would make much more sense to people nowadays), I wasn't around to give my suggestion. So: Canada it is!

Excited to have a new name, Canadians evidently forgot one of the most important parts of becoming a nation: conquering a foreign country. No, I'm sorry. I mean: making a flag. It was nearly one hundred years later before Canada had its own flag. Before 1965, Canada still semi-proudly waved the Union Jack in the corner of their flag. Prime Minister Mackenzie King ("King Mack" to his friends) tried to get a new flag created in the '20s and the '40s, but a couple of wars broke out (not related to his flag-making attempts) and he became too busy.

Finally, in 1964, Prime Minister Lester Pearson ("Pierce Lester" to his pointy stick-wielding boyhood bullies) established a committee featuring fifteen members of all different parties (conservative, liberal, social democratic, and ice cream social) and gave them six weeks to design a new flag for the nation. For five-and-a-half weeks, the committee labored and debated over what kind of sandwiches they should order for the next meeting. Finally, around the Thursday afternoon before the deadline, someone stepped up and suggested they all bring their own lunches so they can get down to the business at hand: how to celebrate their successful sandwich-ordering accomplishments.

Somewhere in there the red maple leaf (with 11 points representing the fact that a maple leaf typically has 11 points) and the red and white stripes were suggested and put on a sample flag. In 1965, the flag was accepted and has been flown proudly as the national symbol of Canada since.

So, happy birthday, Canada! The world wouldn't know what to do without you.

I close with the following tribute to Canada:

"O, Canada! Our home and native land.
Something something something all thy something hmm...
O, Canada! O, Canada!
God shed His grace on thee.
O, Canada! O, Canada!
How lovely is thy maple leaf!"

30 June 2009

(4) If I Were King of the Forest...

...I would try to improve communications with King of the Savannah, President of the Tundra, Emir of the Desert, Prime Minister of the Arctic, and Premier of the Mountain. Extra-regional outreach is important to maintain a kinship among all of our animalian and plantian underlings.

29 June 2009

Why I Have Never Been a BINGO Caller

If I ever had the opportunity to be a BINGO number caller, it would probably be my last opportunity. My time spent would be filled with false-starters like:

"B-4 I start calling out the numbers, I want to thank you for this opportunity to be your caller tonight."

"I ate ten sandwiches before tonight, so hopefully I'll be energized the whole way."

"N- case you were wondering, this is my first time ever at the BINGO board."

"G...it sure is nice to be here."

"Oh, 75 is the total number of possible numbers I will call. Just wanted to make sure you knew that."

I'm sure the old ladies would love me. Those BINGO cards flying at me after a few of my winning zingers would be signs of celebration of my awesome BINGO calling skills.

27 June 2009

Buying a House is Realtor Fun

Rebecka and I are in the process of trying to buy a house. Actually, we are already in contract and have the loan ready and everything. In the contract, though, is this wonderful clause we inserted that states that the contract is "contingent on acceptable house inspection report," which means that if we do not like what we see in the house inspection report (which we had to pay for), then we can walk away from the contract and the purchase of the house.

Now we work with a realtor who represents one realty company out here. The owners of the house work with a different realtor who represents another realty company and, incidentally, is a long-time friend of the owners. (We know this because there is some kind of requirement that family or close friends of house sellers must indicate to all potential buyers about this. I wasn't entirely sure why at the beginning, though I think I'm getting a handle on it now.) Having your own realtor working for you as a buyer is probably the best thing you could ever do as far as house-shopping.

Our realtor works for us to make sure we get what we want out of the house we will buy. She gets a commission off of the selling price, which is part of the selling realtor's commission. I'm sure the selling realtor is excited about us having a realtor. So, as a result, we do not have to talk to the sellers directly at all. If it wasn't for the paperwork, I probably would never have know their names.

When we started the contract, we had just come away from a house that we liked much better and was significantly lower in price, but that was sold before we really even got our offer faxed to the realtor. So, with this next house that was high on our list of properties we liked, we decided to ask the seller how much they would be willing to take. It had been on the market for almost a year, so we figured they would be willing to drop the price a bit, which they did, but only a little.

So, the offer they accepted was in the amount of the price they wanted. They almost did not take it because they had a built-in surround sound system. Of the few manly characteristics I have, one of them is the sheer masculine enjoyment of having the voices of news people surrounding my head with the subwoofer shaking with the baritone of the anchorman. Well, that and explosions.

Oh, the audacity of us to request the built-in speakers! How dare we ask for something like that when they "came down so far on the price"! Fortunately, their realtor was smart enough to say "don't lose this house because of the speakers."

We had a qualified and very professional home inspector look at the house. He looked at every little detail, took pictures, crawled under the house, climbed on the house, opened and closed doors and windows and vents. It was amazing. Afterwards, he showed us his key points of concern and then emailed us later a formal report detailing very clearly the problem areas and what may be needed to fix them.

So, now I come back to that wonderful inspection clause. One of the major problems with the house was that the land and driveway was sloped toward the house, causing excess moisture to end up in the crawl space. This led to a build-up of condensation underneath the house and on the insulation. This problem can further lead to rotting the underlying timbers, black mold, and weakening the foundation--none of these a small problem. As any good homebuyer would do, we had our realtor ask their realtor to fix the problem or allow us money in the mortgage to fix it ourselves.

Now this is where I started discovering the reason for the thing about the realtor being closely associated with the owners. Their realtor was appalled (and possibly even asilased) that we would ask such a thing. Were we trying to get out of the contract? (Note: If we had been just trying to get out of the contract, we could have just said, "Oh, we didn't like what we saw on the home inspection: see ya!" and it would've been justifiable and legal.) Our realtor responded that there were 29 problems that the inspection found and that we as the buyers were willing to take care of all but four of them (all four of which were directly related to the water problem).

So, as of today, we are still waiting to see if they will fix the problem and we get a new home, or if we are searching again.

UPDATE: 6/27/09 7:00PM

Seller decided that it would be better for him to continue paying on a house which has been for sale--and, in which he has not lived--for a year now than to pay a little bit of money up front to fix a (bad) problem so that we could buy it. Why can people not look at the big picture of things before they make incredistupid decisions? Oh, well: now on to find another more different house.

26 June 2009

Deaths of a Sidekick, an Angel, and a Superstar

What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death?

--Psalms 89:48

The past few days have been filled with expanded media coverage of notable people whose deaths have rocked the entertainment industry. Each situation was tragic.

Ed McMahon
Ed McMahon was once the late night television audience's best friend while he was Johnny Carson's announcer and sidekick for many years. In addition to that, he hosted, emceed, and regularly appeared on different shows, maintaining his welcome presence on television. Sadly, near the end of his life, he suffered from mold poisoning, broken bones, and great financial loss.

Farrah Fawcett
Naturally beautiful and famous because of that beauty, Farrah Fawcett lit up television, posters, and magazines. She was even a very talented artist. Her life, however, was cut short due to a rare cancer that seemed to very quickly overcome her despite a reportedly strong will to beat the cancer.

Michael Jackson
Popular music changed in a major way because of Michael Jackson. From boyhood stardom, he built one of the most successful music careers of all time, right up there with Elvis Presley. His later years were filled with controversy, eccentricity, and a out-of-this-world type of lifestyle. His life, too, unexpectedly and suddenly came to an end.

I feel sorry for the families and other direct parties whose lives are now forever changed by that one inescapable fact of life: death. It is not easy to deal with, whether someone dies of old age, or of a terminal cancer, or just out of the blue.

It is very difficult for me, however, to sympathize with the great sadness that seems to reverberate from the large fandom across the country and from around the world due to the passing of these common people who made it to worldwide fame. I found myself watching the extended news coverage; but I increasingly found that some of the people interviewed on the street, over the phone, or via some other blog/tweet/update placed too much expectation--too much of their self-worth--on whom I can safely guess were people they had never met. They acted as if their lives were dependent on the existence of this one actor or musician.

And the problem I attribute this to is idolatry. I guess we are all guilty of hero worship from time to time. When someone in the entertainment industry appears to have some of the same humble beginnings that common people like we have, it builds a kind of reverence to a person that we could have been. So we vicariously celebrate and enjoy the successes that person has and get angry when they do something stupid to hurt their name or diminish their fame, as if they had done it to us personally. They are, after all, representing us: the common people.

The media exacerbates this problem by contributing hours of coverage surrounding the announcement and investigations into the deaths of the celebrities. I find it very disrespectful, also, that they focus cameras on the ground and in the air to catch perhaps the dead body (the body of some grieving person's sibling, child, parent, or spouse) in transport. But, that's another topic for another time.

Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

--Exodus 20:3

Do you idolize a common person who happened to make it to stardom? Did you react to the deaths of these talented people (or any like them) more than as if it was a member of your own family? Do you plan a pilgrimage to their home or to build a shrine in their honor?

Then, my friend, I am afraid you have placed too much trust in and invested too much of your devotion to a common person. They may have had an impact on the entertainment industry, but of what lasting value is that? Music today is not the same as it was when Michael Jackson came on the scene; but neither is it the same as when Elvis changed it before him, nor as when some of today's stars have changed it today. The same goes for film and television.

Every human life on Earth is temporary. The fame, fortune, and fan bases of these three stars could do nothing to make their bodies immortal or to stop their souls from going out into eternity. Though I don't tend to go preachy with my blogs, I feel it is necessary in this case:

Only one person has that power over death. Only one person deserves the devotion that so many people had for the three poor souls whose lives have ended.

...I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.

--John 10:17b-18

And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.

--John 10:28

And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,

--Revelation 1:5, KJV

25 June 2009

Marketing Idea: Phone Numbers on Advertising

I've noticed a lot recently that company-owned vehicles are also used as advertising, most notably by having the company name, phone number, and website prominently displayed.

This is effective if you have a very limited company outreach. Otherwise, the company is limiting itself severely by missing potential customers:
  • All cell phone carriers who may see the advertisement and may want to call right then and there.
  • Out-of-state visitors who do not know the area code.
  • People in other states in which they may see the company vehicle or other advertisement.
  • People living around state borders who may have to call three or more different area codes daily and don't have time to ascertain out of which one the company is operating.
The remedy: make sure all advertisements, including the company vehicles, have the area code with the phone number.

24 June 2009

Misheard Song Lyrics

The way my brain works, simple things I hear produce fascinating results sometimes. Take, for example, lyrics that are somewhat difficult to understand in their recited form. (I neglect to put the word "song" here because some of these instances occur during rap tracks, which by no means could, neither should, be considered a "song.") I am certainly not the only who has misheard song lyrics, but I take great honor in being able to remember what I mishear and take it a few steps farther into what hopefully can be construed as, at the very least, funny.

The song in reference today is one by the group Queen, a group famous for being one of the groups I have actually heard of from my lifetime. In this particular instance, the title of the song is also a commonly misheard lyric: "Another One Bites the Dust." It is a song that I believe has something to do with a population of carpet mites that live off of the fallen epithelial cells of living organisms that walk along the carpet. If not, someone needs to write a song for these misunderstood, microscopic creatures. Of course, the only line I know from the entire song is "another one bites the dust." and that this is followed by a quickly spoken string of garble that has about six syllables and is repeated twice.

That brings us now to some of the results of my brain processing this information in its unusual and, some may say, insanity-reflective way:

  • "Another one fights the crust,"

  • "A brother incites the rust,"

  • "He smothers the rice and dust," and (with the subsequent line)

  • "A mother indicts the bust, and it's Millard Fillmore, and it's Millard Fillmore."

I just really like the image of someone's mother formally accusing a stone sculpture of the 13th US President of something like perjury or grand larceny.

23 June 2009

(3) If I Were King of the Forest...

...my royal robe would be made out of the finest leaves of ferns, dogwoods, maples, and oaks, with a nice cotton lining, 'cause I like to feel warm and cozy. No one wants a shivering, uncomfortable forest king.

22 June 2009

Right On Queue

By this point in my life, I have spent approximately three-eighths of it (or roughly twenty-one years) waiting in line. (The other five-eighths or so has consisted largely of other sedentary activities such as watching TV, writing, browsing the Web, eating, and the occasional mid-afternoon nap.) I feel pretty confident that I understand the basic techniques and courtesies involved in being an on-queue member. I've had a lot of practice and some stern but effective teachers (as evidenced by the fact that I always move to the right side of the hallway, use the right-side door, and occasionally hold my hand up to my mouth to be quiet as we walk through the napping Kindergarten part of the school).

Evidently I am one of a few members of society who has passed the "Waiting in Line" course (though my certificate must have been lost in the mail). Not only that, but it is apparent that, unbeknownst to myself until recently, I have been thrust into a major part of the uncertified society as an unwilling ambassador to hold high the torch of line-waiting excellence. This I do nonverbally and quietly, of course; this blog serves as my verbal reminder, I suppose, to those who do not see through the subtlety.

The most common type of line I find myself in is a cashier's line. Whether it is in Wal-Mart, a grocery store, or a gas station, the rules of line etiquette still exist but are so often ignored or even trampled underfoot like an altruistic ant trying to carry its downtrodden comrade to safety during a parade. I think these rules can regain a foothold in society, and I am here to help. Here is a short list of habits I urge you to practice to become or maintain your place as a courteous member of the community of line-standers:

  • Keep an empty space between you and the person in front of you. It may help to judge how much space you need to leave by looking at the floor and visualizing your shoe-length plus a half between your toes and the heels of the person ahead of you. If you cannot look down and see your shoes, then visualize the same distance, only from the farthest point of your body in front of you (e.g. stomach, nose, beard). This should be adequate space to make you and the people around you comfortable.

  • Far too many times do people wait gawkily like a moose in a whirlwind until the very second the cashier reminds them (typically with a polite sneer or eye roll) that payment is required. Then, the frantic search begins. Have your method of payment planned ahead of time. If you plan to pay with credit card, have it in your hand ready to swipe or give to the cashier. You tend to have plenty of time while the cashier is scanning and bagging your items to reach into that preplanned part of your pocket, wallet, or purse and retrieve your currency.

  • Make sure you have everything you plan to buy before you get in line. I cannot count how many times I have seen someone lay their planned purchases on the counter, only to realize they forgot to get the hygiene product they originally came in for, along with a presumptive, "Would it be okay if I leave these here; I'll just be a second?" I am sorry: your place in line has become void upon the removal of yourself from that line.

  • By no means should you ever reach behind you to get your wallet and, instead, reach into the back pocket of the person behind you. I know this seems like common sense to most of you out there; but believe me, there are some for whom common sense is no more familiar than the postulates of non-Euclidean geometry.

  • If you are buying lottery tickets, cigarettes, or any other of the unsavory items that must hide behind the counter, do not (a) scratch off your numbers while you are still in line, making the people behind you increasingly willing to sacrifice a little composure--and if necessary, the heel of a shoe--to end your turn in line; (b) complain that they never have your favorite brand of cancer-causing, smoke-inhalation agent; (c) require the cashier to leave from behind the counter to go find you something he or she already told you they do not have in stock. If you simply must do any of these things, it is your penalty and duty to pay everyone in line behind you either half of your winnings (ha! 'cause you will ever win the Super Lotto Mondo Espresso Jackpot) or to add each person in line to your will as you will not be needing your money for very long.

  • With the inclusion of technological advances such as cell phones with text messaging and web browsing capabilities, a new element of line courtesy has been added. If you are texting in line, be sure to look up from time to time to keep up with the line or, more importantly, to not run into the person in front of you.

  • Finally, keep your cell phone conversation to a minimum while in line, particularly if you happen to be one of the following people in line: (a) the person at the head of the line at the register; (b) the concurrent caretaker of a rambunctious, inattentive toddler who is throwing things off the shelves and/or kicking other patrons in line; (c) incapable of speaking below the volume of an exploding steam engine; or (d) the cashier.

It is my earnest hope that citizens read and apply simple rules like those above, along with some common sense, to their daily routine of standing in line. We as a contemporary and interacting public society who come together frequently to participate in this long-standing, standing-for-long-periods-of-time activity should make it as comfortable and easy as possible. Take time to educate the unlearned and steps to penalize the unwilling.

I must now close as the line ahead of me is finally moving. If I can get this toddler off my foot and my wallet out of her dad's hand, I might get to buy my soda by the time he finishes cashing in his lotto ticket.

20 June 2009

Gas Station Annoyance #5

Top Five Gas Station Annoyances

5. Entering & Exiting

Blame it on the (already mentioned) poor parking design or simple carelessness on the part of drivers, but getting into and out of a gas station is no less difficult or treacherous than removing an abscessed tooth from an awake and irritated bear. As far as coming into the station, the entrance to the gas station comes straight off the main road, usually requiring one of two maneuvers: (1) crossing four lanes of traffic at just the right moment that you suffer only a lost rear bumper; (2) turning into the station at such an angle that your right front fender briefly touches your trunk. Upon escaping the cars flying by you on the main road, you must immediately swerve to miss the following obstacles:

  • a car backing out of a (most likely) non-existent parking spot (the driver obviously busy turning up the bass volume on his or her radio);
  • a pedestrian walking to their car from the convenience store at a snail's pace, his or her face showing full acknowledgment of the fact that you could run him or her over if you weren't such a nice person;
  • a pyramid of windshield washing fluid, inexplicably blocking the only available marked parking spot;
  • a car coming in the entrance diametrically opposite your current position but for some reason taking the pump nearest to you; and
  • a convenience store jumbo-sized Styrofoam soda fountain cup placed in your way by a now-absent adolescent such that the straw (about three feet long) would pierce your tire and/or gas tank if you attempted to squash it, (which would be much to the prankster's delight had he or she actually stayed around for more than five seconds to see the fruit of his or her labor after placing it there.)

Trying to leave the station is an equally insurmountable feat. Remember how you entered? Now you are to do it in the opposite direction. Thousands of other cars, waiting for that perfect traffic moment, are in line to speed across and into your path at speeds upwards of the rotational velocity of Jupiter (the planet, not the god of Roman mythology.) At any given gas station at any given moment, five hundred drivers are racing each other for the chance to make it into or out of a gas station with, at the very least, their cell phone conversations being filled with curses hurled at the other maniac drivers and, if possible, their lives.

I propose immediate action to help alleviate the problem of gas station entrances and exits. Of course, I can't do anything about it right now. I'm still waiting to find a good traffic moment to get out of this gas station.

19 June 2009

Gas Station Annoyance #4

Top Five Gas Station Annoyances

4. Employees

I have worked retail for a great percentage of my short working career. Having somehow overcome that role in the working arena, I do not envy anyone working with the public directly their jobs. In fact, I try to be as courteous and helpful as possible.

Having said that, I also know something about one's responsibility to customers as a retail worker. I am not too naïve to believe that all employees working with customers face-to-face feel the same level of responsibility as I do to make sure the customer's needs are taken care of above all other responsibilities.

But, evidently there is something in the gas station employee handbook that states that the least important thing they have to attend to is the customer. This extends to any and all customers, whether they be in the gas station store trying to checkout, at the gas pump waiting for the clerk to turn on the pump, locked in the bathroom because the bowling ball attached to the key has broken the key in two, stealing personal hygiene products from the rack, or on fire at their car because they failed to put out their cigarette before opening their gas lid and releasing the highly combustible gas.

Standing in line with my one drink, expecting perhaps a two-minute wait (speaking of naivety), I found that there was only one cashier. Given that I was hitting the store at the peak rush hour of gas stations (first thing in the morning so people can get their gas fill-up, donuts, cigarettes, lottery tickets, more cigarettes, and a jumbo-supreme coffee), this was slightly amazing to me. More so amazing than that, though, was that there were three other people visibly working throughout, all presumably with cashier training. However, they had more important things than to fool with the mile-long line of patrons.

The lone cashier, however, was attending to two customers at a time: one in the correct line where normal people check out and pay; and one who decided that as long as he could reach over the mountain of stuff blocking people from, say, putting their stuff down and paying there, he could put his stuff down and pay there. (I have to give this particular cashier credit for being an exception to my argument this morning, as she handled both customers with all the finesse and courtesy one might give a small but annoying child of 14 in need of juvenile detention.)

What about the other employees? Here's a quick overview of the things that were more important than letting people buy their stuff so they could get to work on time:

  • making sure both coffee pots (one caffeinated, one hyper-caffeinated) were in working order and full;
  • filling up the already full donut rack;
  • mopping one spot for the entire time I was there;
  • leaning against the counter conversing with a truck driver about the weather or the price of diesel or something equally inane (perhaps the fact that there was a line of customers reaching to the back door);
  • getting a fire extinguisher ready to whack a fly that had landed on the donut rack.

18 June 2009

Gas Station Annoyance #3

Top Five Gas Station Annoyances

3. Gas Prices

This is a short one, but it needs to be addressed. For far too long has the subject of gas prices been blatantly passed over by the media and shunned in public conversation. I cannot understand how this topic has been ignored over the past three years or so without an outcry from the general society of Americans. How can such a problem persist until our civilization of capitalism crumbles underneath the weight of civic discontentment this impropriety provokes?

I am speaking specifically, of course, about the little "9" superscripted at the end of the price-per-gallon of certain gas station signs. Have these people never had an algebra class? How do think they will ever sell a single drop of gas when they purport that their gas costs the price to the 9th power?!

Think about it: for the image hyperlinked above, the cost of a gallon of gas at $2.99 ^9 would be $19,100.32! Outrageous! Only the best-paid Donald Trumps of the world would be able to afford gas at the price suggested by the poorly planned sign.

This problem is not isolated to the gasoline industry, but it is akin to the common problem of grammatical incorrectness exacerbated by global acceptance of textual mediocrity. I urge you, VIPs of the gasoline industry, to fix this problem and ease the fury of unsettled citizens outraged by this blatant disrespect for mathematical formulae. Say what you mean and make sure that message you are sending out is understandable and clear. If gas is $2.99 and 9/10ths, you can just say $3.00.

My hope is that the people in charge of gasoline prices everywhere take heed to this very important request. I also hope it may lead to the alleviation of fears that people like you and me hold in these uncertain times.

17 June 2009

Gas Station Annoyance #2

Yesterday, I yammered on about the annoyance of trying to find a parking place at a gas station in the first of my

Top Five Gas Station Annoyances

2. Lottery Tickets

I am sometimes accused of being as gullible as most normal persons, but I just cannot buy into (or buy at all) lottery tickets. This has to do with a lot of reasons, but I will only deal with (a couple or one) today.

If you have gone to a gas station recently (and I am pretty sure most of them are the same as I have visited gas stations in more than two counties in my lifetime, thus making me an expert), you will have seen lottery paraphernalia prominently taking up most of the space on the cashier counter such that you cannot see the cashiers texting to their friends about random people they see in the security monitor and placing bets on who will be the next sucker to buy a lottery ticket.

Covering the front counter, windows, doors, refrigerators, newspaper racks, toilet seats, and the cashiers' faces are advertisements asking you--pleading with you--to play the newest Scratch 3 game. "You'll have fun," the ads say. "The State Lottery benefits schools, old people, and small pets," they promise. "The chances of winning are 1 in 72,523,144," very small type around the size of a molecule of cytoplasm indicates. The ads are hard to ignore.

Even harder to ignore is the ocean liner-sized lottery machine on the counter that replaces the part of the store where you were originally able to (and I may be showing my age here) put the stuff you were going to buy on the counter. (Reflecting on yesterday's blog, this may be part of the reason it takes people so long to get their money ready, having only two hands and all.) The large computer has two main functions: it (1) allows the cashier to input your numbers or to randomly generate similar nonwinning numbers, and (2) dispenses the ticket. For some reason the computer must be of the type used during World War II, perhaps for security.

The main problem I have with the lottery stuff in the gas station is that, no matter how many people are waiting, it takes 4-1/2 hours to process one ticket. Ok, maybe I am exaggerating a little. But, the two minute transaction to buy my soda instead required a nap and a bathroom break for everyone else in the line while Fred McTicketbuyer slowly and meticulously chose his numbers, paid with change (which is what I'm sure was all that was left over from his paycheck...but more on this for another topic), bought a good sized handful of instant win tickets, slowly and meticulously scratched off the spots, then cashed those in for another Super Lotto ticket.

I wonder why these things cannot be automated? Why take up a cashier's much needed time and attention to sell me my pop when the process of lottery ticket buying takes no more effort than paying at the pump? I mean, if you can pump your own gas, you should be able to waste your money directly and of your own power without troubling the gas station staff or other customers.

In fact, I think I will invent a Self-Utilizable Customer Cash Expending Renovator (SUCCER). All you have to do is insert your cash, change, check, credit card, debit card, food stamps, insurance policy, or coin collection, just like you would at a vending machine or ATM. There will be a teeth-shattering grinding sound as the machine converts the currency into a fine dust. In return, you will receive a card that says "Thank you for wasting your money playing the Lottery SUCCER," and "Odds of winning are best in the lottery world: 1 in 1 will win a card just like this!"

Of course, the fine dust is just for show. I would actually be in the machine taking the money. I wouldn't have anything else to do: I still haven't been able to buy my soda.

16 June 2009

Gas Station Annoyance #1

I had an interesting morning stopping by the local gas station to run in and grab a quick drink on my way to work. I had it all planned out: pull into the parking lot, park near the door, jump out of the car, run into the store, grab my drink, go up to the register and pay, and then jump back in the car and pull out of the parking lot back onto the main road. It should have been simple enough, taking maybe three minutes.

Should have been.

Of course, somehow in the jumbled assortment of memories lodged in my brain, I forgot the countless other times I went to the gas station to grab a quick something, only to find myself forced to wait behind other people (usually very rude and inconsiderate people) in every step of (what should have been) the quick process.

Thanks to the general populace of people who patronize local gas stations, and lucky for you reader(s), I now present my:

Top Five (or Fewer) Gas Station Annoyances

1. Parking
    For some reason during all of the planning, blueprints, and construction of the actual physical location and layout of a gas station, the designers forget to include any parking at a gas station. With my limited understanding of the building construction process, it seems to me that somewhere along the line, within the flow of the many different hands and eyes through which the plans and building materials passed, someone would have stopped and said, "Hey: where are people going to park?" More likely, though, someone did stop and say, "Hey: we need to get this done by Tuesday."
    As a result, you are left with either parking next to a gas pump (whether or not you actually need any gas) or are forced to improvise a parking spot somewhere along the perimeter of the gas station. Even then you are very limited in where you can park within the concrete polygon filled with varying obstacles.
  • If you park between the gas pumps and the store, you stand the chance of blocking someone in or being blocked in yourself by someone else creating parking spots out of the ether.

  • If you try to park along the concrete barriers dividing the parking lot from the main road...well, you can't, because all along the perimeter are such things as a line of 30-foot towers made up of 150-lb bags of mulch or road salt (depending on the season); a beer/snack/cola/cigarette truck blocking both entrances as well as three gas pumps while the product delivery guy chats up the cute gas station clerk for an hour and a half; aluminum stands bearing signs proclaiming "Cigarettes at Rock-Bottom Prices!" and "Sign up for our Credit Card today and get 100 Points toward your next gas purchase!*" and "It's hot outside! Beat the heat with a treat from our Beverage Cavern!" (the last one still hanging around in the middle of the coldest blizzard). *Actual cash amount toward gas purchase is $0.000112 per point.

  • In the rare occasion that lines designated for parking actually exist somewhere on the gas station property, someone will have taken it upon themselves to make sure their vehicle is parked perpendicular to these lines or otherwise decides that, since they'll "only be in for a second," they can park angled across two or three lines with their engine running, music blaring, children honking the horn, and dog howling out the slightly open window--all of this while they are inside for half an hour trying to get the attention of the cute gas station clerk chatting it up with the cigarette delivery guy.

Tomorrow, look for "Gas Station Annoyance #2." Feel free to post some of your own annoyances apropos to this subject.

15 June 2009

Flag Day

In case you missed it, yesterday was June 14th. I caught some of it, but part of the day I was driving with Rebecka from northern Ohio, with another significant portion of the day spent recovering from said driving. Then, we went on to church in the evening and spent time with some friends afterward at a Mexican restaurant (though most of the time at the restaurant was not spent eating as there were about veinte of us).

My point for today, however, is not to inform you of the minutiae of a random Sunday. No, today I come to you with another purpose: to inform you of the minutiae of a random day of the year, namely June 14th.

Most notably you may have noted the many news media notations of that notable American holiday of the year that involves the date June 14th: Flag Day. Now, with my Lincoln County Public Educational System (motto: "Where the students of today are prepared for tomorrow's snow day.") history education, I don't really know that much about Flag Day. I attribute part of this omission from the class objectives to the fact that Flag Day occurs during summer break and, therefore, did not allow for us to have a free day to spend every class making some kind of papier-mâché (French for "student-made art project filled with glue and paper") flag. Another reason I think Flag Day was not taught was because it is not an official federal holiday and, thus, no retail store sales advertisements.

Ultimately, I believe the main reason I never learned anything about Flag Day has to do with the fact that I was not what you would call a "sports enthusiast" or an "athlete" nor even an "athletic supporter." This in itself had never really presented any difficulty to me except for the fact that my history teachers were very sports enthusiastic. In fact, I am fairly certain it is a state requirement that all high school sports coaches have a history degree. To fill their time in between practices and ball games, the coaches have a secondary job to sit at their desks in a high school history class and recount old stories about games they should have won and how great the football team was this weekend, but that they need to step it up for the next game. These stories, I believe, counted in the content standards for history education.

Apart from all this, Flag Day is an important day to commemorate as I'm sure it has something to do with the American flag and patriotism and the fact that there are only about twenty more shopping days until July 4th, as indicated by the many flags that appear magically overnight on the many telephone and electric poles down every Main Street in the USA, probably put there by history teachers in an effort to recruit more athletes for the next school year.

13 June 2009

Comments on "Poetry Time, Part Nine"

"BD Class #2" was written in the same free class period as "BD Class #1." It has the same basic theme of my doubts about those particular students being in the Behavioral Disorders class because they only seemed to be rewarded for misbehaving in their normal class by being segregated into this different environment where evidently anything was game. I never had a chance to sit in with the normal teacher for this class, however, so I don't know exactly how the class normally went. But, as a substitute teacher, you can usually tell when things going on in class are common things or if they are just acting out in front of the sub. The actions in that class always felt like it was the normal run of things.

The ABCB type of rhyming scheme is my usual way of writing poetry. Refer to my Bad Poetry posting for my limited view of poetry and you will understand why most of my poems have a clear and simple rhyme patter, this one included. Uncharacteristic of my poems, though, I ended the poem with a break in the rhyming scheme, I think to express my discontent with the pattern I saw occur with students who were pretty much alienated by the system to get them out of the teachers' hair in as few years as possible. Either that, or I couldn't think of anything to rhyme with "rewarded."

Poetry Time, Part Nine

BD Class #2

Behavioral disorders,
Or BD for short.
Are they real disorders
With evidence to report?
Or are these misbehaving
Students set apart
Because the other teachers
Cannot their help impart?
Is ADD or anger to blame?
A disease or need for attention?
Surely these kids need much more
Than a week's worth of detention.
From what I know, from what I've seen
They are simply being rewarded
Because in this class they do nothing.
They graduate regardless of merit.

12 June 2009

Comments on "Poetry Time, Part Eight"

While substituting a Behavioral Disabilities class at Duval, I had one class period with no students. Most of the classes were small anyway, so if one or two students missed, it was free time for me. In fact, this particular class was filled with students who would skip school anyway, so this class was somewhat the easiest class I ever had to cover. There was only one period that had more than a handful of students in it.

It was during one of these free periods that I had nothing better to do than write. (And, really, there's nothing better to do than write most of the time anyway.) This class was also one of the first substituting appointments I had, if not the very first.

"BD Class #1" was written after having an interesting experience with the previous class period, in which I only had two or three students. These kids were between 14 and 16, and talking very openly about their sexual, drug-use, and other negative experiences in much the same way one would talk about having gone to the movies the previous evening. Their language was also filled with profanity. (There was a teacher's aide in the class, too. This being one of my first experiences, I followed her lead on how to handle the students talking about what and how they were discussing. She never batted an eye about it, so I didn't throw.)

Behavioral Disability was a separate class to try to handle students who had problems behaving in normal classes. Normally, this is for students with varying degrees of autism, ADD/ADHD, or otherwise prone to violent or disruptive behavior. In this case, I think some students were put in the class whether they were behaviorally disabled or not. To this end, I concluded that "[t]he students in BD lose," by which I meant they were separated in an effort to change their bad behavior, but their bad behavior persisted.

Poetry Time, Part Eight

BD Class #1

Foul words, bad deeds,
Taking drugs, smoking weed,
Having sex, causing trouble.
The students in BD lose.

11 June 2009

Comments on "Poetry Time, Part Seven"

"Early Reflections of a Substitute Teacher" was written during my first month of substitute teaching. I had been subbing and working the museum concurrently, making my subbing available on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays and working at the museum the other days (except Sundays). I ended up back at my original high school several times in that month, mostly due to my proximity to it from home compared to the other schools in the county.

I found it very interesting to be in the reverse role in identical surroundings. For six years (no, I didn't have to repeat two grades in high school; we had 7th through 12th grade in the same building) I had sat in the position of student, pupil, nervous test-taker and unsure speech/report-giver. Now, after college, here I was in the same rooms but at the teachers' desk, now assuming the position of teacher, educator, nervous test-giver and unsure speech/reprimand-giver. Those same feelings of adolescent student-hood were, by the walls of that school, reformatted into eerily similar feelings of early adult teacher-hood.

Just a few years of substitute teaching, followed by the almost completion of my Masters in teaching, led me to realize the futility of me being in a classroom of students whom I would have to keep in order. If I could be in the classroom, create lesson plans, and cooperatively instruct and guide the students, I am certain I would be a great teacher. I lack, however, that element of authoritativeness to keep a classroom in order. Thus, I gave up any hope of teaching in the public middle and secondary school sectors. I still think I would be a great college professor, though.

This poem, by the way, reflects my desire to teach in North Carolina. Before substitute teaching, I had gone to a teacher's consortium where I got to meet with several teaching recruiters from various states and boards of education. North Carolina had (and last I checked still has) some of the best teaching incentives in the country, including discounted groceries and housing, as well as a system of mentoring from experienced teachers to help the incoming new teachers. I would still like to get to live in NC some day, but it's not as much a priority anymore.

Poetry Time, Part Seven

Early Reflections of a Substitute Teacher

Duval High School
Orange and Black.
Who'd think after 5 years
I'd be coming back?
Not to learn so much as teach,
Substituting from 7th English
To 9th grade Speech.
Biology degree, so far, unused,
But one day this time will be excused.
When I have my own class (in NC, I hope)
I'll teach Biology (and theatre, if I can cope).

(This poem can be found at my Helium account.)

10 June 2009

Happy Birthday to Me

Today is my birthday. I'll be the insignifcant 2 - 7 (which added together equals 9, which is a multiple of 3, which is a prime number). I wasn't going anywhere with this. I just got distracted.

In lieu of gifts, please purchase Einstein Sings: A Play in No Acts. Better yet, tell me you want to produce the play. That would be an awesome gift!

After all, this is the big 2-7, a birthday with no more significance than, say, belly-button lint.

Speaking of becoming 27, there is a phenomenon or theory or whatever called the "27 Club". Evidently there is a running roster of famous people who die within the age of 27. Most of the people in this list were famous rock stars or some other similar musician-types who dabbled heavily in drugs and promiscuity, many during the '60s and '70s (decades infamous for their drug-laced cultures). I think perhaps that at age 27, after several years of basically murdering themselves physiologically from the inside-out, their bodies or brains couldn't take any more abuse.

Granted, I am not nor ever will be famous (at all). I have no proclivity to the various activities the 27 Clubbers obviously suffered from to their demises. In fact, for my 27th birthday, I'll be working, going home to my Rebecka, then to church where I'll be leading the choir nervously. Then, maybe I'll go to bed.

09 June 2009

Domestic Relationship Between a Canine & a Feline

My wife used to have a dog: a cute, little, yippy dog named PJ. She used to belong to Rebecka's parents (the dog, I mean, though Rebecka used to belong to her parents as well, I suppose), who then gave PJ to Rebecka, who was living alone in her own house at the time (Rebecka, that is). To make a long (and already to this point very parenthetical and confusing) story short, when we got married (Rebecka and I, not the dog) and moved to an apartment, we had to find another home for PJ. Fortunately, Rebecka's aunt in West Virginia took PJ, which was good because she (Rebecka's aunt) likes dogs and has a good-sized lot of land to let PJ run around on and sniff things.

Of course, being a tiny Pomeranian/Poodle (or what I affectionately refer to as a "pomepoo"), PJ is an inside dog. Already dwelling in the new home PJ was moving to was a cat. (For clarity sake, we will call the cat Fifi. I don't know the cat's real name, but most cats are named Fifi.) Conventional wisdom tells us that when two pets of entirely different genera (especially when one is a canine and the other is a feline) attempt to live together in the same household, trouble abounds. I would like to be able to tell you that conventional wisdom does not apply in this instance.

However, both PJ and Fifi have staked their claims to certain territories of the house. Once the other party enters into that claimed space, the old cat-and-dog fight imagery made famous by many cartoons past is reenacted. Most of the time this occurs late at night or while someone is on the phone or anytime it seems to be most inconvenient. But, for most of their time cohabiting the same household, PJ and Fifi just avoid each other's company, as if a mammalian force field undetectable to humans exists to keep them separated.

I am fairly convinced, though, that the late-night fighting and general avoidance of each other is all an act. See, I think PJ and Fifi, in an effort to eliminate the humans so they can have the home to themselves, have collaborated a stealthy scheme which involves carefully planned timing and artful dodging. In fact, I believe that PJ and Fifi sit around in the easy chair or sofa enjoying civil conversation over hot tea and crumpets while the humans are out working. As soon as the car door shuts, the pleasantries are dismissed to be replaced by the expected canine-feline interactions.

Like most lap-type dogs, PJ has a little doggie bed. For most of her stay at this new home, she'd sleep in the bed in the living room and, come bedtime, her new owners would move her bed to the bedroom to sleep. To eliminate this continuous process, they bought a second bed for PJ--one for each room.

PJ did not get to use this new bed the first few nights. She wasn't necessarily too attached to her first bed. It wasn't really even the fact that the new bed ceased the nightly ritual of which she was so fond. No, the reason she could not use the bed was because Fifi--in all its feline chicanery--fixed itself immovably on the bed, staking squatter's rights. After nights of trying to convince the cat to extricate itself, the owners finally had to buy a new bed.

This is the humorous part (so feel free to laugh at what comes next): The family now has three pet beds. Fifi (the cat) does not use any of them. Oh, the comedy of cat connivery.

08 June 2009

Memories of Walter

I've been waxing nostalgic lately. Maybe it's because of my upcoming birthday (and the flurry of familial birthdays that surround it). Perhaps it is due to the way my mind does circles and loops all the time, bringing images from my past to the front of my mind causing me to pause, sigh, and then let it cycle again to the region of the back of my mind from whence it came. Mayhaps it is what countless other people do at the same rate as I. At any rate, I apologise in advance for the haphazard quality of this particular blog.

Whatever the reason, one of those flashback memories came to me Sunday. While living in Lincoln County, I attended a church where I really started forming my spiritual and musical roots. I started going there in my later teen years in high school all the way through my senior year in college (or thereabouts). A sequence of wildly various events has led me to not be able to go back there again, but I still have fond memories of days gone by.

At this church I got my first taste of singing in a group. I can't remember exactly how it happened, but at some point I started learning to sing bass in the choir or the congregation or something. My friend Jeff (a piano player and natural baritone singer) helped train me while we were singing near each other. At the same time I was singing along with the bass singers on CDs (or maybe tapes back then) of Gold City, the Cathedrals, and Peace of Mind, among others. So, somewhere in there I started forming my ear for hearing bass.

Someway or another I was convinced to start singing in front of the congregation with three older guys: Norris Keeling (lead and, incidentally, the church choir leader), Walter Dunlap (tenor), and Rick Dunlap (baritone). The back story I am not entirely clear on, but they went by the "Canaan Land Quartet" years back. They had a bass singer as well back then named Winford Curry (previously a pastor at the church and also a great evangelist). With Winford pastoring elsewhere, the guys sang trio at church from time to time. Somewhere in there I had the chance to sing bass with them.

The few times singing at church led to us singing at other churches for a short while. But, at the time I was starting college and didn't really have much time to go with them very often, though it would have been great. Summarily, we went back to just singing less and less frequently until Norris passed away (just a few years ago).

This flood of memories has been brought back again because of the passing of another of those men who helped shape me into who I am as a singer and as a Christian. Over this past weekend, Walter graduated to Heaven. Now I find myself thinking fondly back to those times, wishing there was someway to do it again for at least one more song, knowing that there is one more everlasting day coming where we can sing forever more in the presence of Almighty God.

I close in prayer for all the people close to Walter Dunlap (and there were so many). I also close with the chorus of the song that has been running through my head (in his voice) ever since I first read of Walter's passing. This is the song I first heard him sing, and he sang it many, many times before and after that time. Now he is with the One who wrote his name in the Lamb's Book of Life.

He Wrote My Name
(O.S. Davis (c) Thompson Music/BMI)

"He wrote my name way up in glory.
He saved my soul from sin and shame.
I never shall forget the day
When my Savior wrote my name."

Marketing Idea: Pop Bottle Lids

During the semi-quarterly contests that pop companies have where you buy a bottle to see if the lid says that you won a free t-shirt or whatever, I think that instead of having "Sorry Play Again" on the underside of soda bottle lids for losing bottles, they should have something a little less sterile.


"Ah, dude...sorry. You just missed it."

"The guy here just before you got the winning lid."

"You win this bottle of (name of drink), but not the good prize."


06 June 2009

Comments on "Poetry Time, Part Six"

"Logan's Roadhouse" was a poem I had originally subtitled "A Poem of Customer Satisfaction". Working at the museum at the time, I attended a meeting during which we discussed customer service and interaction between coworkers. One of the major points was positive reinforcement.

The meeting coordinators encouraged us to reflect on a time of positive customer service. I had just eaten for the very first time at Logan's Roadhouse a night or two prior and was very pleasd with the price and quality of the food, as well as the customer service. And, of course, throwing peanut shells on the floor is an endlessly satisfying activity, as long as I don't have to clean.

Poetry Time, Part Six

Logan's Roadhouse

All of my needs were satisfied;
None of my wants were denied.
My expectations were exceeded.
Logan’s gave me what I needed.
Plus, I got throw peanut shells on the floor,
An added pleasure I adore.

(This poem can be found at my Helium account.)

05 June 2009

Comments on "Poetry Time, Part Five"

"The Dime" has very little to explain. It is obviously nonsensical. I was working the register at the music store in the mall. Another of the cashiers was up there with me. It being a remarkably slow day with no shipment to put out and not much desire to clean anything, we just kind of fiddled around at the register. I scribbled this little rhyme on a piece of scrap paper and handed it to the other cashier. She looked at it, laughed, wrote her own silly poem (something short about being bored, without much rhyming); and then the moment was finished.

By the way, Zombie Nation was one of the artists playing on our playlist (which I only know because of the fake, corporate DJ mentioning it before and after the track). I couldn't think of anything to rhyme with "denomination", so I went nonsequitir with it. I still have the scraps of paper we wrote on somewhere, I do believe.

Poetry Time, Part Five

The Dime

The Dime is a lonely creature.
It only has one distinguishing feature:
Although it's a coin of
Rather high denomination,
It's the smallest coin.
Now, here's Zombie Nation.

04 June 2009

Comments on "Poetry Time, Part Four"

"The New Student" was probably one of the first unassigned poems I ever wrote. Well, at least it's the first one of which I have record present. I was in eighth grade at the time--the quality of my poetry writing skills don't seem to have grown any sense then; and I was having an okay time at school, as much as junior high students can have at school. Then, this punk kid gets transferred to our school. He was the stereotypical bully: big, dumb, and full of profanity.

Looking back, I cannot even tell you this kid's name. I'm only dimly aware that he did not end up staying at the school. With my present understanding of the middle school student mindset, I can safely assume this kid--who probably got transferred more than his fair share of times--came from a home that was either too lenient or mostly uncaring. It would not be surprising to find out that he had a very dysfunctional family background, maybe even adolescent drug use.

I wrote this short verse with the intent to get my feelings (which I believe are collectively referred to as "teen angst") out on paper, something I found myself doing increasingly more often as I matured. In fact, most of the times that I wrote to "get my feelings out on paper" end up erased, scribbled out, thrown away, or (as I later began typing more than actually writing) deleted entirely.

Poetry Time, Part Four

The New Student

From a large city he came
To a rural town. (A shame
He had to enter my place
Of rest and grace.)
Now my world is upside-down
With his words so profound,
And his essence of evil ways.
Why did he have to come to this place?
In his home he was more adapt;
Here he just carries wrath.

03 June 2009

On My Chicken Spaghetti Recipe

I am a huge fan of food. Please don't take that to mean I am physically a huge fan of food insomuch as I eat a lot of food and, thus, huge. (Based on my height-weight ratio, however, I should probably be a few inches taller.) I am also not a motorized, multi-appendaged cylinder which induces airflow.

I have a growing collection of recipes at home. Some are neatly assembled into a 3-ring binder (although not necessarily categorized in any certain order.) Others are alphabetically arranged in a 3" x 5" card box. Still more are hastily thrown into a shoebox. The majority of these recipes have been collected by cutting them off of the backs or sides of boxes, removing them from can labels, or ripping them from magazines and newspapers.

As such, some of the recipes have ragged edges or do not quite fit inside the card box (hence the shoebox). I have transcribed some of the recipes onto index cards. I plan to sometime do the same for all of the loose recipes. (I even write it on my semi-monthly "To-Do" lists, in the same column as about fifteen other things that I plan to do. These include transferring the rest of my records and tapes to digital format, completing a distance-learning course for bookkeeping, exercising, and building a theater.)

Unfortunately, I don't really get to cook very often. My current job gets me home somewhat late in the evening, so my wife more than happily (and more than tastily) has dinner in the works by the time I get home. This way we don't have to starve as I try to invent some new concoction that we will never taste while gulping it down hungrily. Consequently, most of the recipes in my collection lay in the box on the bookshelf, quietly sobbing and despondent about their lack of fulfillment.

However, once I get to make something, I usually make the same thing. (This is usually at my wife's request.) If there is one thing that I can make well, it is Chicken Spaghetti. It is not really my own original recipe. I ate it somewhere and got the ingredients from whomever was there to tell me about the ingredients. Anyway, it is a recipe that has stuck with me, much like the cheese sticks to the pasta.

In order to broaden the reach of such a tasty dish, I posted the recipe to my Helium account. At the time, there was not a category for "Chicken Spaghetti", so I created one. I reiterate that I was the one that initiated the category of "Chicken Spaghetti" on Helium's site. Now, if you'll look at the site ranking for recipes within this category, you will note that there are seven (as of today) articles, with mine ranking 7th--last place. I find it funny.

Anyhow, I encourage you to try the recipe. It is super tasty. It only requires chicken, angel hair pasta, processed cheese, and diced chiles & tomatoes. If you are a vegetarian, grow up and eat some meat! No, wait: only joking. In fact, we have made the dish without chicken, and it is just as tasty without it. (I call the meatless version "Pasta Mexitaliano".)

Let me know how it turns out.