Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Gratitude Campaign

One of the nice things about writing a post read 'round the world is that I get to strike up, well, some pretty nice friendships, sight unseen with many people.

One of them is my friend Susan, who lives out East, and is a remarkable story in and of herself. She is many things, but I often think of her as a "wind beneath my wings" friend. Her sunny disposition and encouraging emails keep me working and writing and always trying to make what I do that little bit better for you.

She'll probably take me to task for pointing this stuff out, but honestly, isn't that what gratitude is for? Saying thank you to the people who need to hear our appreciation?

In that vein, I'm including a video clip that Susan sent me created by "The Gratitude Campaign." It's a shortened version that's been posted on YouTube. The full-length version which, frankly, brought tears to my eyes, is here.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Tag ... I'm It!

So my friend Lisa has "tagged" me to come up with "Seven Things About Me" and since I kind of like Lisa and have a tremendous amount of respect for what she does, I'm up for it. So here goes, pretty much just as I think of 'em.

1. My knees are double-jointed. Honestly, it wasn't enough that my genes were predisposed to give me diabetes and take away most of my hair, they added this little skeletal aberration, as well.

2. I'm a frustrated musician. Musician, because I play guitar, piano, and bass and compose my own music, though not as much as I used to do. I've even recorded three albums, though I only published two of them. Which is a pity, really, because the third is some of my best work. Frustrated, because I don't have time to learn how to play these instruments really well, and so I fall prey to that most truthful of axioms, "Only the mediocre are always at their best." I play piano and guitar like my fingers are walking through wet cement. I just kind of plod along. But I'm learning to be okay with just being okay in this department.

3. I find it hard to say "no." I have my hands in so many projects and pies, it's no wonder I can't lose any weight. Let's see, we have the usual items that most everyone deals with: being a husband, father, and holding down a full-time job. There's also:
Computer Lab Instructor
Leader of local band "Subject to Change"
Occasional Worship Leader at my church
Drama Director at my church
Treasurer for the Genesee Valley Choral Company
I play fantasy baseball in two leagues
I write, as you probably know, "Mark Mail" every weekday
There's the blog that you're reading
I've also been asked to undertake two other projects in 2008, both of which would be a MAJOR drain on what precious little time, resources and sanity I have remaining. But just you watch, I'll probably try to do them both.

4. I'm one selfish sonuva.... lest you think I have a giving spirit and just do everything I can to help everyone I can, no matter what it is, there's a reason I can't say "no" to some of these things: I like the way the work (and especially the results of the work) makes me feel. I like the heady aroma of power I get when people need me. And I'm just full enough of pride and cocky arrogance to think I can do the job better than most anyone else. I know I need to work on being more humble, and God certainly gives me enough reasons to embrace humility, so perhaps there's hope that I'll grow more mature in this area.

5. Speaking of God, I want to be more like Jesus. The longer I've tried to live a life of Christian faithfulness, the more I'm convinced it all comes down to one verse of Scripture: John 3:30. "He must become greater; I must become less." Christianity is the process of perfection (read Philippians 1:6) and so as I go and grow through life, I truly want to build into myself those principles and realities that will reflect more and more of my Lord and Savior.

6. I use facial hair as an outward sign of my life's changing circumstances. Hmm, that didn't sound as goofy in my head as it looks in print. But here's the deal: when something major changes in my life (son moves out, I get a new job, son moves back in, etc.) I'll change something on my face. Grow a beard, lose the beard, cut back to a goatee, maybe down to just a mustache, etc. So if you see something new going on with my face, you can be assured something has changed in my life.

7. I'm a compulsive-obsessive about neatness and order everywhere except my home. Does that make me a hypocrite? Honestly, though, if you were to look at the workstation there at my job, and then look at my workstation in my home office, you'd swear that space was occupied by two different people. But maybe this makes more sense than I think it does at first blush. At work, there's just work. At home, there always seems to be something else that is more fun to do needs to be done before cleaning and filing. So instead of a filing system, I wind up with a piling system.

Well, there ya go. Seven things about me ... some of them I probably wouldn't have chosen to tell you, but Lisa forced it outta me.

Okay, it's time to finish planning some worship music for the morning, wrap a couple of gifts, and see what excitement there may be in my dreams tonight.

Monday, December 10, 2007

12 Days ... and Toto, too!

Indiana University has a pretty talented men's a capella group known as "Straight No Chaser." Here's a video - with a tip o'the Mark Mail cap to Pastor Tim - of their mashed up version of "The 12 Days of Christmas" ... complete with a "Toto" classic!


Sunday, December 09, 2007

Baby Got Book

Usually I'm not one to approve of the Church copying a secular style/song/strategy ... if it has the word of truth, it should be able to stand on its own without being "sanctified" by Christians. All truth is God's truth, yes?

And shouldn't we who are in communion with the Creator be able to be CREATIVE? There's no need to make a poor shadow of a secular concept when, by right of spiritual rebirth, we should be on the cutting edge of what's new and innovative and different.

However, in the case of the video below, I'm going to make an exception. Despite being a rap parody, it is - and I use this word cautiously, given the subject matter - an elegant satire of a secular work.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Meaning of Christmas

The executives at CBS almost didn't air this Christmas special back in 1965. There was no laugh track, they thought the pacing was "too slow," and the whole thing seemed "a little flat." The voice talent was amateurish - why hadn't Schulz used adults instead of kids? - and whoever heard of using jazz music on an animated show? And, finally, they said "the Bible thing scares us."

But perseverance and an iron-clad contract won the day and we now have one of the greatest animated Christmas specials of all time. And a reminder of what Christmas is truly all about.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Your Proverbial Turn

Okay, it's about time I try to stir up a few reader comments and a little participation here. Finish these proverbs with your own creative, quirky, offbeat, and hopefully hilarious spins on these old saws.

"A man's home is _____."

"Silence is _____."

"Cleanliness is next to _____."

"Look before you _____."

"Laughter is the best _____."

For a fresh perspective, run these by your kids or grandkids who may not be familiar with the original and see what pops outta their brains.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Keaggy's Kool

So we went to a concert this past weekend - Randy Stonehill and Phil Keaggy, two stalwarts of the Contemporary Christian Music scene - and we're about thirteen rows away from the stage, on the aisle, good seats. For a short time, there was no one sitting in front of us. While we're waiting for the concert to begin, my wife kind of waves her arms at these empty seats in the row ahead of us and says, "Please don't let anyone sit here. Please don't let anyone sit here."

One of our friends says, "Amen. But that's probably not very Christian of us, is it?"

My wife then starts waving her arms at the empty seats and says, "Please don't let anyone sit here except Jesus. Please don't let anyone sit here except Jesus."

The concert, by the way, was fantastic. Phil Keaggy is one of the most accomplished guitarists of his generation, Christian or otherwise. If you ever get the opportunity to hear him, don't pass it up.

Here's a video I found on YouTube of "Salvation Army Band." It's about nine minutes long. He didn't play it this past weekend, but it will give you a really good idea of what he can do. There are no other musicians on stage with Phil. Everything you hear is done with just his guitar, his voice, his hands, and an electronic loop pedal.

By the way, several large someones eventually did come and sit in front of us, obstructing our view. Just goes to show that God never answers selfish prayers.

But it did nothing to diminish our enjoyment of the music. When Keaggy plays, I just want to go home and burn my guitar. I won't, of course, but yeah, he's that good.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

New Earth?

The Guardian reported this past Spring that astronomers at the European Southern Observatory have discovered another planet that could be very Earth-like in its development and could, in fact, contain an oxygen atmosphere and enough water to sustain life as we know it. The article is here.

The planet is called "Gliese 581c" and it circles a red dwarf star about 20 light years away. It's quite a bit closer to that star than we are to our own sun, but because Gliese 581 burns so much cooler than our sun, it all evens out. It's about one-and-a-half times as big as our home here on Earth. The temperature ranges from about 30 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit (or 0 to 40 Celsius).

The thing I found most interesting is that its orbit lasts only 13 days. That's the equivalent of a year in just under two weeks. I'm trying to wrap my head around that.

Using what measurements we know, you'd have to get paid about twice a day. Vacations and holidays would be measured in hours. You'd just be getting over one New Year's Eve party when, whoops, here comes another one!

"Hey, how old are you?"
"About a hundred and twenty minutes!"

At 20 light years and our current methods of space travel, it would only take about 375,000 years to reach Gliese 581c.

Hmmm. Better get started.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Palindrome Blues

Those of you who read "Mark Mail" know that I'm a lover of words. So I'm intrigued by things like palindromes, which are words or phrases that read the same forward and backward. The classic example is, "Madam, I'm Adam."

But Weird Al Yankovic has taken palindromes to the next level with this satire of Bob Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues.

That's right, while I'm home recuperating I'm pretty much just spending a bunch of time surfing the 'Net. Catching some pretty interesting - and, hopefully, funny - things in that Web, too.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

At Home with the Cat

So I'm in the second week of my recovery and the brain always seems to be ready to move on before the body, which means a little bit of tedium has crept into my days. At least I have the cat to keep me company, when she's around. Oh, that's "Spot," by the way. Like most cats, I'm pretty much ignored unless she wants some food, or attention. Then she's all over me. I confess the purring is pretty therapeutic. Hers, not mine.

When my wife lays down, the cat wastes no time in curling up right next to her. With me, she might sleep at the foot of the bed or, if I'm lucky, she'll lay down on my desk next to me while I'm at the computer.

Spot is the reason I found this video pretty dang humorous. Enjoy.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Slice. Dice. Very Nice.

I have made it through my surgery. With flying colors, thanks to your kind thoughts and generous prayers. Here it is Wednesday, the surgery four days behind me, and still a couple of weeks recuperation in front of me.

My gall bladder was, my doctors tell me, the worst they had seen recently and it began to break apart as they extracted it. I'm glad I didn't wait until January to have it out, as I was first tempted to do.

They also excised a chunk of scar tissue from a childhood surgery that they had first mistaken for a hernia. That left me with a five-stitch suture along with four other new holes in my torso.

Now, it's just rest, rebuilding my strength - which seems to abandon me after just a couple of hours - and adjusting my diet to make up for the lack of bile the gall bladder normally produces. My friend Larry sent me an article that explains what is going on with my body now.

Instead of concentrated bile excreted by the gall bladder after a meal, now I have a constant small trickle of the stuff produced by the liver. It can't keep up with the fat concentration in a normal diet, so that just turns to liquid and you get...well, let's just say you'd better NOT get far from a bathroom.

So it's low fat from here on out, or at least a couple of months until my body adjusts to this new way of digestion.

Yum. Sounds like fun. Man, getting old sucks.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


A friend told me about this sketch, but I couldn't find the video until it finally showed up on GodTube. Watch the video, read the lyrics, and then I have one final comment.

EVERYTHING (by "Lifehouse")
Find me here ... speak to me
I want to feel you
I need to hear you
You are the light ... that's leading me
To the place where I find peace again

You are the strength that keeps me walking
You are the hope that keeps me trusting
You are the light to my soul
You are my purpose ... you're everything

How can I stand here with you
And not be moved by you?
Would you tell me how
Could it be any better than this?

You calm the storms and you give me rest
You hold me in your hands
You won't let me fall
You steal my heart and you take my breath away
Would you take me in? Take me deeper now?

How can I stand here with you
And not be moved by you?
Would you tell me how
Could it be any better than this?

Cause you're all I want
You're all I need
You're everything, everything

When I was in college I roomed with a guy who had a similar heart to mine. We wrote songs together and played in a band together. He went on, in fact, to become a songwriter in Nashville and has penned at least one Number One hit. He once wrote a snatch of lyric to a song he called "Blow Your Mind" that goes like this:

Take a step toward the Lord
That's all you have to do
It doesn't matter where you're at
He'll take a million steps
Just to get to you

Amen. And Amen.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Set Phasers to Pause!

On November 20, CBS Home Entertainment is releasing a box set of DVDs of the first season of the original series of "Star Trek" (or TOS, which is Trekkie shorthand for "The Original Series"). The episodes have been digitally remastered, with a few extra details thrown in, and everything is in high-definition.

But the really cool part is if you order between the release on November 20 and the end of next February, Toshiba will throw in a remote control designed to look like a phaser (see pic above).

It even has phaser sound effects, people!

The link to the story is here.

Go. Vote.

Voting ends one minute before midnight on Tuesday, September 25.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

What Do You See?

I see a fish. What do you see?

My wife is turning into a pretty good nature photographer, with a keen eye for unique shots. If we had the time, I'd turn her photographs into large prints, matte them and then sell them to corporate offices and cubicle-dwellers and at craft shows.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

An Oversimplification

Like most everyone, I have serious doubts about such a heavy American presence in Iraq. When the war started, I could be heard telling anyone who would listen that it sure looked to me like it was going to be a Viet Nam in the desert. I didn't see any way we could "win." I really still don't, though I do, of course, care for our troops and pray for them and want them to stay safe and come home whole in body, mind, and spirit. Like many of you, I have family over there, and she's even headed back for a second deployment as I write this.

And I've been thinking. I keep reading how most of the suicide bombers don't really do it because they have a deep belief we are godless infidels who deserve to die, but rather because Al-Qaeda pays their family several hundred dollars, which is enough for them to live on for nearly half a year.

So it seems to me that what the insurgency boils down to is not necessarily idealism, but economics.

I know that's a horrible oversimplification, but it sparked this idea: with what we're spending on the war, wouldn't it be cheaper to just give every family in the region twice what Al-Qaeda pays? That might even buy us six months of relative tranquility (with a lot fewer deaths all around) and the Iraqi government could concentrate on getting their feet on solid ground.

Just musing here, folks, just musing.....

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Pencil PC

This goes along with my Mark Mail post today on pencil trivia.

Er, sort of.

Thanks and a tip o'the cap to list member Daffy H.

(Check under "Archives" at my website for today's date.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Results Are In...

...and I don't have cancer. Yay! Thank you for your kind prayers and good thoughts. (See "Not Sure I Can Stomach This," posted August 8.2007)

It was a near thing, though. The first words out of my specialist's mouth when he walked into the exam room were, "Mark, I was sure I was going to have bad news for you today...."

In fact, he said he was so sure I had cancer that while he was performing the colonoscopy, he marked the troublesome spot inside my colon with surgical ink so he could find it more easily when he went back to remove the tumor, as he was sure he was going to be doing.

As it is, I'm merely considered "at risk" and have to endure another 'scope in nine months.

He also said my gall bladder has deteriorated some more and should be removed.

Personally, I think he's just looking for a consolation prize in the surgery department. Still, it's something we'll look at getting done sooner rather than later.

And oh, he put me on a diet.

'Bout time someone did.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Forgotten Words

I don't rightly recall what put me on to this line of thinking, but on the way home tonight I was trying to remember some very useful words that you just don't hear anymore.

Flapdoodle, for one.

Fun words. Words whose very pronunciation carries a good ounce of meaning without ever having to consult a dictionary. Words that usually upset spell check software.

Like tarnation.

Or gumption.

How about betwixt?

Poppycock and Balderdash, twin brothers of skepticism.



I invite you to share some of your favorite "forgotten words."

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Wonderful World

Trolling for material to put in my Mark Mail post next week, I ran across this, performed by Australian magician Ray Crowe:

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Commercial Education

So I watched a little network television tonight, and I forced myself to sit through the commercials (well, most of them, anyway), and here's what I learned:

  • If I buy a Jeep®, a hot blond will want me.
  • If I'm under 25 years old and anorexic, Old Navy's new line of blue jeans will look great on me.
  • There is now a hair spray for salads. I guess the lettuce was looking just too limp.
  • My children will get really mouthy with me - in a good way - if I buy them a "Go" phone.
  • Chickens can drive a car.
  • Even if I subscribe to Comcast's new telephone service, I'll still be an idiot.
  • Eating Jello's "Fruit Passion" flavor will make me dance in public and my clothes will turn into something hip and fashionable.
  • If I buy a Honda®, a hot brunette will want me.

This is why my finger usually finds the "mute" button during commercials or, if I'm just grazing, I'll move on to a channel with something I want to watch.

Though now I'm wondering which car I have to buy to get a hot readhead to want me.

Oh, wait, I already have that. Lucky me!

Monday, August 20, 2007

24 Years

This is a photo my cousin, Rowland, took of us at my wife's company picnic yesterday. Hmmm, I see it's time to go get some "Just for Men®" and get that beard darkened up a little.

As of tomorrow, my wife and I will have been married 24 years. God and time have been kind to us, I suppose. We have endured some sorrows, but not enough to make us bitter; we have known some serious joy, but not enough to make us careless; we have worked hard, but not enough to make us heartless; and we have played well, but not enough to make us foolish.

All in all, you can't really ask for more than that, can you?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Salute to Ace

My wife and I bought this car in the fall of 1993. That's nearly 14 years ago, folks. We paid $10,000 for it and it has turned out to be one of the best investments we ever made. I survived a minor collision in 2000, which gave Ace it's "blue eye" when a pickup truck turned in front of me and I broadsided it. No one was hurt, but due to Michigan insurance law, no one paid anything for damages, either, so we could never afford to get the body fixed.

Of course, we didn't call it Ace back then. It was just "the blue car" and then we'd whinny like a horse (obscure Young Frankenstein reference).

In the summer of 2004, we gave the car to my son, Matthew, when we finally purchased two newer vehicles. He was the one who christened the car "Ace."

He called me this past week to share the news that Ace had just ticked over 200,000 miles on the odometer. A testament to religiously changing the oil and periodically adding a little TLC.

Probably a lesson in there, somewhere.

In case you're interested, the car is a 1992 Saturn SL-1 with a 5-speed manual transmission.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Not Sure I Can Stomach This

So for about the past six weeks I've had a gnawing pain in my lower abdomen. Though it's mostly still a nuisance pain, it has been steadily growing a little worse, with a second spot of trouble popping up down there.

In fact, last night it kept me up a little bit trying to get into a comfortable position where it would let me sleep comfortably.

Well, my family doctor is thinking hernia - which is not unreasonable, given the fact I lift quite heavy things here and there every day - and so today (well, yesterday as I write this) I go to see an "Internal Medicine Specialist" to get everything checked out.

Folks, the good news is that I don't have a hernia.

The bad news is that I do have something. He just doesn't know what. So now I have to see about the "Big C" ... at my age, kids, that's COLONOSCOPY. That happens Tuesday. And then the following Monday I get a CT Scan of the whole abdominal/pelvic region, which requires a barium shake for lunch. (I think they call it that because it tastes so awful your taste buds just wish you would bury 'em.)

My wife's had a couple of those scope treatments where they look at your tonsils from the other end, so I have a good idea of what to expect.

My next blog entry may be posted from the bathroom.....

Sorry about that mental picture.

No, really.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Time for New Tech?

So my PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) just sounded its alarm, reminding me of an appointment I have today.

I opened it up and discovered it was reminding me of...

Groundhog's Day.


Time for another trip to the store, honey!

Friday, August 03, 2007

A Small Conversation

So in my disguise as a mild-mannered postal retail clerk, I had this conversation at my window yesterday.

A classic "little old lady" had walked up and purchased a few stamps, when she looked at my name tag and said, "My son's name is Mark."

I smiled and confidently replied, "It's a good name."

"He died."

"Oh. I'm sorry to hear that."

"When he was 41."

At a loss, I offered, "Was he able to leave you any grandchildren?"


"Well, I am sorry for your loss, ma'am."

"He had Crohn's Disease. He died two days after his fifth operation."

At this point, before I could muster another response, she said, "I had five sons. He was the youngest." And then she toddled away.

The selfish part of me was squirming. It was all, like, "thanks for letting me know my name reminds you of something tragic...." but the more mature spirit in me realized she just wanted someone to talk to about it. I had the sense this had happened in her life quite some time ago, not recently, but we honestly didn't talk about that.

And now I've talked about it with someone. The circle of life goes on.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Schooled By An Agnostic

If you read enough books by one author, you can generally pick up on his or her worldview. Terry Pratchett - I'm reading his Discworld series - is definitely an agnostic. The extent of his faith seems to be trusting that the cars will stop when the signal turns green. He believes what he can see. But recently, I ran across a passage in his book, "Carpe Jugulum," that put my own belief to the test and set a higher standard for living.

The first thing you have to understand is that the series is a fantasy and a satire, set as far away from our world as it is possible to get. Which means that he can, of course, write about truths in our own world that are as close as your next breath.

In the book, Esmerelda "Granny" Weatherwax is a witch. Not the demonic, Satan-worshiping type we fear, but the wizened old lady of the woods type found in folklore. Another character is called "Mightily Oats" and he's a priest of Om, one of the gods of the Discworld. At one point these two characters discuss their beliefs and Granny says,

"Now, if I'd seen him, really there, really alive, it'd be in me like a fever. If I thought there was some god who really did care two hoots about people, who watched 'em like a father and cared for 'em like a mother ... well, you wouldn't catch me sayin' things like 'there are two sides to every question' and 'we must respect other people's beliefs.' You wouldn't find me just being gen'rally nice in the hope that it'd all turn out right in the end, not if that flame was burning in me like an unforgivin' sword. And I did say burnin', Mister Oats, 'cos that's what it'd be. You say that you people don't burn folk and sacrifice people anymore, but that's what true faith would mean, y'see? Sacrificin' your own life, one day at a time, to the flame, declarin' the truth of it, workin' for it, breathin' the soul of it. That's religion. Anything else is just ... is just bein' nice. And a way of keepin' in touch with the neighbors."

And then Granny goes on to say,

"Don't chase faith, 'cos you'll never catch it ... but, perhaps, you can live faithfully."

I'll pray for Terry Pratchett. And I'll take his words to heart and try to rekindle the flame of my own faith, and I'll try to live faithfully. And I'll pray the Lord brings someone into his life who can do the same.

And if I ever meet him, I'll thank him for making me a better Christian.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Black Light Hands

Just watched this, thanks to "Pastor Tim" of the Cybersalt Community. It's to the tune of the Casting Crowns song, "Who Am I?" and though the word is overused, it is, well, awesome.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Cool Optical Illusion

Sent by my friend Brian. The "blinking" part really brings out the detail of this relatively blurry graphic.

Friday, July 20, 2007

You Know You're Getting Old...

...when the year you were born no longer appears on the drop down list of birth years at websites.

...when the baseball card you clothespinned to your bicycle spokes now sells for more than a grand.

...when you realize that you can either stay up late or get up early, but you can't do both anymore.

...when even your eyebrows start to go gray.

...when you begin to enjoy going to the bathroom.

...when the radio presets in your vehicle are all oldies, classical, NPR, or other talk radio stations.

...when you go see your doctor to follow up on one thing and talk about the two or three other things that are now wrong with your body.

Just a few observations.

How do YOU know you're getting old?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Taste of the Celtic

Every year the little town of Saline, Michigan hosts a Celtic Festival. Their sister city is Brecon, in Wales, and the festival began in honor of that relationship. You can read more about it here.

We went down with four good friends last Saturday and, mostly, enjoyed the day. The picture above was right near the entrance and let us know immediately that we were at a Celtic Festival. One assumes that this event happens, presumably, *before* you've eaten the Haggis.

I say we "mostly" enjoyed the day because Steve made a mad dash for the shuttle bus just after we'd parked the van and ripped a hamstring muscle. He insisted we stay and enjoy ourselves, so we did, but the poor guy limped around the grounds all day and just had to be in nine kinds of pain.

The weather called for scattered showers and so my wife didn't bring her good camera, leaving just my cell phone to snap some photos, which I did. They are now up on my website. There's only five of them, including the one above, but there ya go.

Best line of the day? From the band "Tartan Terrors" when they said, "What's the difference between England and yogurt? Yogurt has an active culture."

Friday, July 13, 2007

Just Checking In

Trying to keep my promise of posting at least once a week. Enjoy the photo, sent to me by my buddy, Tim.

I'm still in the minivan stage, longing for the mini-SUV stage.

Well, maybe not with these gas prices, but I'm just about due for a little mid-life automobile change.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Vacation, Thy Name is Offline

Okay, so I didn't post "later today." I *would* have updated the blog while I was out on vacation, except my furshlugginer laptop decided to kill my wireless Internet connection and so I was completely offline for the past two-and-a-half days.

Traumatic, indeed.

At any rate, above is my favorite picture from our trip to Ludington, which sits about an hour north of Muskegon, which is about 30 minutes north of Grand Rapids, which is about 2 hours west of our home, to give you some idea of perspective. Our hotel was only a block away from the Lake Michigan shoreline, which was very nice.

We had walked out to the North Point Pier Lighthouse, and the photo was snapped by my photog wife on the walk back. It's our son, Matthew, and his fiancee, Jenn. They had decided to jump over the cracks in the cement and Bonnie captured them mid-jump ... looks like they're levitating, doesn't it? For as much as they love each other, they might as well be walking on air.

I'm back at home and back to work, now, but hey, anytime you're away from the job and the city with some people you love, it's all good.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Anybody Got A Feather Duster?

Wow. Look at all the dust in here. Layers of it on this blog.

Blog. What's a blog? Well, kids, it's the "shorthand" name for a Web Log. You know, a log, as in "Captain's Log, Stardate....." It's meant to be a diary of sorts, for all the WWW to see. You know, a diary, as in a recording of events in your life.

I confess I've been an awfully poor reporter of late.

But that's going to change. Truly. If I don't start posting here at least once a week, I'm going to bring this thing to an end. Put it out of my misery. Write it off. Call in the dogs. Put out the fire. Turn out the lights.

Well, you get the idea.

I'll be back later today with the first of my vacation posts.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Baseball Glossary, Part 1 of 5

Since the Boys of Summer are in full swing, and I am a big baseball fan, I thought I'd do you a little public service and go over some of those colorful expressions the announcers use as you watch the ball games. I won't attempt to go into the etymology of these words or phrases, as that would go into extra innings, but I will give you a handy little reference guide. Today we will discuss some of those quirky terms that describe some of the plays in baseball. But first, one general definition:

Bush League - The minors. You've heard explorers in Africa talk about going out into the bush, which essentially means the wilderness. The same reasoning applies here. All major league teams are in major cities, leaving the minor league teams to find support in the "wilderness" of small town America. (Well, smaller town America.) Places like Peoria, or Wilkes-Barre, or Grand Rapids. Interestingly, this has also become an insult in our culture, as in, "That was really bush league, George," meaning not professional, or intentionally small-minded and mean.

Can of Corn - an easy fly ball. (As easy to catch as a can of vegetables tossed to you lightly, and hit about as well.)

Frozen Rope - a baseball hit very hard on a line drive to the outfield. Hit so hard it almost leaves an after-image on your retinas, hence the frozen rope image.

Seeing-Eye Single - kind of the opposite of a frozen rope. This is a base hit (meaning the batter hit the ball and reached base safely) that more or less dribbled through the infield and none of the fielders were able to reach it and make a play on the ball.

Texas League Single - a cross between the previous two. It generally defines a ball hit in a little "flare" of an arc and it lands softly - and safely - between an infielder who went back to try and catch it and the outfielder rushing forward to try and catch it. The Texas League wasn't quite up to major league standards, and neither is this base hit.

Grand Slam - Despite both tennis and golf appropriating this term, it refers to a home run hit when the bases are loaded, driving in four runs. The "grand" refers to the bases being full of runners and the "slam" refers to the home run.

Ducks on the Pond - this means there are runners on base for the batter to try and drive home with a base hit.

Walk Off Homer - a home run hit in the bottom of the last inning that gives the home team the victory. You hit the homer and then everyone can walk off the field because the game is done.

Bunt - this is a play where the batter intentionally tries to tap the ball just a few feet from home plate, attempting to force the first or third baseman to field the ball so the runner on first (usually) can safely move to the next base. It is also called a "sacrifice" because the batter has sacrificed his turn at bat to move up the runner. (The batter is almost invariably thrown out.)

Swinging Bunt - this is kind of a comedic version of the previous. The batter takes a full swing, but catches just a small bit of the ball and the result dribbles in front of home plate just a few feet, as if he had intentionally laid down a bunt.

Squeeze Play, or "Suicide Squeeze" - this is a bunt with a man on third base, who comes screaming down the third base line attempting to slide home when the ball was hit just a few feet from the plate. You don't see this in major league baseball much anymore.

Hit and Run - technically this is a "run and hit." The runner on first base takes off for second, drawing the second baseman back toward that bag, thinking the runner is attempting to steal. The batter then attempts to hit the ball between first and second base, which - theoretically - should be open because the second baseman is sprinting toward second base. The success of this play usually depends upon the batter having what is called "good bat control." If he misses the ball, the runner is usually thrown out stealing. If he hits the ball but not where he should, the play often results in two outs instead of one.

There you have the first installment. Hope that helps. I'll also be doing "glossaries" on hitting terms, fielding terms, and pitching terms over the next couple of weeks.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Of Unicorns and Alligators

I woke up this morning with the refrain from "The Unicorn Song" running through my head. Y'know, that old hit by The Irish Rovers that some radio stations drag out every March.

You got your green alligators and long-necked geese
Some humpty-backed camels and some chimpanzees
Some cats and rats and elephants
But sure as you're born
Don't you forget the unicorn

Only in my dream/wake version, I was singing "You got your blue alligators."

Why? Why?? WHY??? Why would my brain do that? Any armchair psychologists out there?

I left a window cracked open last night. You think maybe I was just cold? You can't get much more cold-blooded than a blue alligator, am I right?

Am I right?

Idiots Are Among Us

First of all, let me tell you right up front that I say that with love.

The other day I read in some random "Overheard in the Office" pages about one worker saying to another coworker, "Hey, it's not my fault the guy is an idiot. Though it was probably my fault that I told him so." The tag line was, "But in all fairness, he didn't seem to know."

I confess I laughed until I stopped.

Let me give you an example from my everyday life. One of the things we do at my job is process applications for United States passports. The questions are really pretty basic, and one of them is your height. The State Department doesn't care about your weight, apparently, but they want to know how tall you are.

I overheard this conversation transpire between one of my coworkers and a passport applicant.

"Ma'am, you put down that you're 10 feet, 6 inches tall?"

"I did?"

"I don't think you're 10 feet tall, ma'am."

"No, I'm not."

"See right here? Where you wrote 10?"

"That's my shoe size."


"Well, it says 'feet'!"

In all fairness, I don't think she knew she was an idiot.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Signs of Spring

I saw the first real signs of Spring just a couple of days ago.

I saw my first housefly of the year.

I saw a blonde in a convertible, hair flapping in the wind.

This weekend I experienced something that tells me Spring is finally here for sure.

I mowed my yard.

What are your signs of Spring?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Short Rant

"By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done." (Genesis 2:2)

The Seventh Day. The Sabbath Day. A holy day. A Day of Rest.

As Christians, we supposedly believe this.



Monday, February 19, 2007

Arthur Itis and Me

Well, according to my doctor - and several x-rays - I have officially joined 35 million other Americans who have Osteoarthritis in their joints. I knew I had it in my fingers, which is not too bad yet, but now it seems I have a touch in my left elbow (it goes well with my golfer's elbow), and quite a bit more in my right hip, which is also suffering a 50% loss in cartilage.

Yep, I've reached the age where my vocabulary revolves around learning words ending in -itis, -oscopy, or -ectomy.

My condition was, apparently, brought on by my job, which involves standing for eight hours a day. Well, that and being too ding-dang fat.

USA Weekend says I should start taking glucosamine and lose weight. Yes, I'm trying. Mind you, the pain is certainly tolerable at this early juncture, but I am getting a sneak preview of what the future holds and Bette Davis was right:

"Old age is no place for sissies."

Anybody have any home remedies?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Everyone's on a Diet

According to Webster's Dictionary, the first definition of diet is "food and drink regularly provided or consumed." Your diet is simply that which makes up the sum total of what you put in your mouth and stomach. So everyone's on a diet.

Some diets are good. Some diets are bad. Some diets are very bad, indeed.

Part of the problem with losing weight is this tendency to think in terms of goals: 10 pounds, 20 pounds, etc. As soon as we hit our goal, we think the diet is over and we slip back into our old routines and before you know it, the weight is back. I actually lost more than 40 pounds about six years ago and now here it is, all back and I'm bigger than ever. The weight I lost found some friends while it was away and now they've all come home and they're having a party on my torso.

So I need not just a new diet, but a new diet lifestyle. A permanent change in the way I think about and consume food so that when the weight goes, it stays off.

It's not just a matter of finding a thin person and eating only what he or she eats, it's a matter of finding the right balance between caloric intake and caloric burn-off. To lose weight, you increase burn or reduce intake (preferably both if you want to lose weight more quickly). To keep it off, you find the balance. This is where your metabolism comes into the picture.

I suspect people have the wrong idea about metabolism. They think that fat people have a poor metabolism. The truth, as I understand it, is exactly the opposite. Skinny people have the bad metabolism. It's horribly inefficient. They can eat and eat and their body does nothing with those extra calories. They simply fall through the holes in their inefficient metabolism and run right out the other ends.

People with weight problems, on the other hand, have an exquisitely efficient metabolism. Not even one calorie can sneak through without being stored as fat for possible later consumption. I even look at a piece of cake and I gain a half pound.

So, like many things in life, it comes down to simple mathematics. Doctors J. Arthur Harris and Francis G. Benedict developed the gold standard of metabolic rate in the Harris-Benedict equation. The formula is different for men vs. women, but here it is in a basic form:

MEN: (13.75 x weight) + (5 x height) - (6.77 x age) + 66.5
WOMEN: (9.56 x weight) + (1.85 x height) - (4.68 x age) + 655.1

These calculations give you your "basal metabolic rate," or BMR. You can do the math yourself or visit one of several handy calculators found on the web. Like this one. This result is approximately (and studies show that's just what it is: approximate) the number of calories you would burn if you stayed in bed all day. It was essentially designed to figure out the caloric requirements of bed-ridden patients in hospital so they could be fed nutritionally and not gain weight.

But here's how you use the figure: eat just about what your BMR is, and you should lose weight, once you consider that most of you are NOT bedridden and you will burn up some of your stored fat simply by being up and moving around in the normal course of your day. Of course, if you exercise, you'll burn up even more.

The hassle in this whole deal is learning the caloric value of every stinkin' thing you put in your mouth, and that ain't easy. But it gets back to that lifestyle change thing and making the commitment to get the weight off and keep it off.

The next time I talk about this stuff we'll discuss how many calories it takes to lose a pound.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Mixed Message?

Pretty dresses, aren't they? I saw them on the "Mental Floss" blog. They're made by Brazilian artist Adriana Bertini and they're on display at the Fowler Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles until March 11.

Here's the kicker: the dresses are made entirely from discarded condoms that
couldn't pass the quality control test at the factory. It's part of an AIDS awareness push and there are 14 outfits in the entire collection.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. I do know that unprotected sex outside of marriage is not good. For that matter, any sex outside of marriage is probably not a good thing, but it would be sheer lunacy on our part to think it's going to stop.

Now, unprotected sex inside of marriage leads to a whole different set of issues, but I'll leave that by for another time.

Of course, no one has yet come up with a better solution for preventing sexually-transmitted diseases than abstinence.

But if a woman had the nerve to wear one of these things, I'm wondering what kind of message it would actually send...?