Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Concerning Hamsters and Humans

Big day here at Off the Record. First of all, this is shaping up to be the last post of 2010, barring any miraculous back-to-back posts that could surface between now and the first. But let's face it - we both know that hasn't happened since early November, and it's not likely going to happen in the next two days.

Be that as it may, it's also been a SICK DAY here at OTR headquarters. My son started evacuating the contents of his stomach last night - my wife followed suit just hours later. So, I took the day off to stay at home and take care of the kids (read: video games and blogging) so my wife could get some rest and recover. As you can see, it has been a big, fat, hairy day, indeed... but I haven't even mentioned the most obvious of noteworthy events: The redesign of OTR. That's right - while you were off traipsing around during the holidays, reading everyone else's blog, OTR got a brand new look to usher in a brand new year. I trust you'll take sufficient time to bask in its awesomeness.

Now on to the subject matter at hand - hamsters. Have you ever had a hamster? I pray you haven't. Though, I must admit, they are a brilliant example of what masterful marketing can achieve. What's one thing the world has too much of? Mice. What do you do with all those pesky rodents? Well, you can trap them and kill them - but that can get pretty stinky. So why not change their names to hamsters, and SELL them to people? And who knew it would work. Sadly, I'm living proof.

My eldest daughter decided that for her ninth birthday, she wanted a fluffy rodent to call her own. Her request was so profound in presentation that my wife and I conceded. Shortly after, our home became infested with Butter Cup, the fluffy pet hamster. That was almost two months ago. In that time, I've made some observations that very well could shock the animal kingdom. I'm currently expecting a call from Jack Hanna.

In my research, I've discovered that hamster are, in fact, not unlike humans in the baby and toddler stages of development. In fact, their similarities are uncanny. Do you scoff at my submission? I expect no less from the average civilian. Before you dismiss me as a kook, however, consider these observations:

  1. Both hamsters and babies are known to poop quite often, and one can often find traces of excrement from both species wherever they may have been.
  2. Anyone who's spent any amount of time with either subject knows that both are fond of storing things - food, toys, excrement - in their mouths.
  3. Babies and hamsters are notorious for making lots of noise, which is complicated by the next fact.
  4. Hamsters, as well as many babies, are nocturnal. 
  5. The average observer would do well to note that both species are quite fast crawlers, which they both will make use of to avoid capture. 
  6. Both subjects are quite fond of burrowing, and will occasionally wallow in their own filth.
  7. Babies and hamsters are also known to bite from time to time. 

Well, as you can see, babies and hamsters have more in common than you might have guessed - or would like to admit. But the facts are staring you in the face... there's no more denying it. At the risk of being abrupt, however, I need to end this post...

... before I say too much.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Call of Nerf

What happens when you have a house full of kids and Nerf guns? The answer to that question is before you. The footage was shot at random, and the story was inserted later. Enjoy.

If you're having trouble viewing this video, please go here.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Santa Baby

Remember the days when you and your family would just spontaneously break into song? When adults and children alike could whimsically sing a cheery ditty about Christmas without a care? This, of course, was quite acceptable because - hey! - Christmas songs are, by very nature of the holiday they honor, appropriate for all ages. Sadly, far too many God-fearing Christian folk are stupid to the reality of the putrid filth that has infiltrated our adored holiday through the carols we sing. And I was one of them... that is, until recently.

My last post exposed one such song that is so riddled with carnal atrocities, that I shutter in retrospect - that very well may simply mean I should turn on the heat. Nevertheless, I'm back to reveal another such song that has put an acne scar on the face of Christmas: Santa Baby.

Don't be fooled by the fact that this song has "baby" in the title - it is anything but cute and innocent. On the contrary - it is quite the opposite of cute and innocent.

This song uses a subtle, but effective, strategy for lowering our sensitivity to its controversial lyrical content - it is almost always performed by a pouty, attractive woman. Or sirens, I should say! And we, the sailors led to our watery deaths under their captivating spell!

I digress.

As I was saying... the song is often sung by alluring women, such as Shakira, Madonna, Taylor Swift and Natalie Merchant. And they sing with such child-like expression, it comes across as almost cute and harmless. And so we often miss the deeply-seeded message of materialism and greed that saturates this song.

Consider the items the singer of this song has on her Christmas list:
  1. A Sable, which she later specifies as a convertible. 
  2. A yacht.
  3. The deed to a platinum mine.
  4. A duplex (and checks).
  5. A ring (presumably bought at Tiffany). 
Commercialism. Greed. An "It's-all-about-me" attitude. This is what Christmas would be about if this song had it's way. With such desecration to our esteemed holiday, is it any wonder that Eartha Kitt - the original performer of this song - died on Christmas day?

I've said too much.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Baby, It's Cold Outside

'Tis the season to drink eggnog, cut down pine saplings, curse shopping traffic, and - wait for it - listen to Christmas music! Look - I enjoy seasonal songs as much as the next guy... maybe even more. That's why I have a playlist in my iTunes library that is clearly labeled "Christmas Songs." I must confess, however, that many of these songs - some of my favorites, I'm afraid - reflect more of the consumerism side of Christmas. These are, after all, some of our most beloved strains. I'm sure you would maybe agree. Sadly, many of these famous Christmas songs, or so they have been called, are really just blemishes on the face of our revered holiday.

Before I go any further, you need to understand that what I'm about to share may change the way you listen to Christmas music. It could, in fact, turn your entire world upside down, leaving you void of Christmas cheer for generations to come. And so I offer this warning: If you enjoy the assumption that all holiday tunes are jolly, and also morally appropriate, then read no more. If you're in the habit of belting out every Christmas song that comes across the radio, then close your browser and sing on with ignorant bliss.

If you're still reading, however, do so with preparation to be shaken with a dose of reality as I expose some of the deep, subliminal messages that have been encoded within some of our most cherished holiday carols.

I give you, "Baby It's Cold Outside." It's charming presentation of a sing-song dialogue between a man and woman has captured many of us during these yuletide days of holiday nostalgia. Written by Frank Loesser in 1944, it has been recorded by the likes of Sammy Davis Jr., Mae West, Dean Martin, Jessica Simpson and Lady Antebellum, among many others. For years, I've sung this winsome tune at Christmas time without a care in the world. It wasn't until recently that I actually stopped to consider what this song is actually insinuating.

Listen carefully to the exchange as this young, innocent - and presumably attractive - woman who is simply trying to get home, where her worried mother, angry father, and suspicious sister are anxiously awaiting her return. But NO! This man, so called, is relentlessly trying to coerce her into - children, stop reading - STAYING ALL NIGHT! I'm quite certain his intentions are less than noble.

If you're still doubting this summation, I invite my more mature readers to consider these lyrics:

Woman: But maybe just a half a drink more
Man: Put some records on while I pour
Woman: Say, what's in this drink?
Woman: I ought to say, "No, no, no sir!"
Man: Mind if I move in closer
Woman: At least I'm gonna say that I tried
Man: What's the sense in hurting my pride
Woman: I really can't stay
Man: Oh, baby don't hold out

Appalling, I know. I can only hope that our children's children don't grow up listening to this kind of rubbish in the name of holiday cheer.

And now I've said too much.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Caffeine Detox

Settle in with me, if you please, as I recount some of the darkest days of my life (in the past month).  Before you accept this offer, however, you need to prepare yourself to be enthralled by a chilling tale of woes and sorrows - which happens to rhyme (note to self: write a song called "Woes and Sorrows"... sounds like a country song). Most of what you're about to read is absolutely true, with only liberal amounts of creative embellishment.

A month ago I decided that it was time to quit caffeine. I can't really recall as to why this rash decision was made, as memory loss is one of the side affects of quitting caffeine suddenly and inexplicably (which is explained later, should you continue reading beyond this point). Luckily for you, I kept a detailed journal of all that I experienced during the fifteen hellish days of my caffeine detox.

Before I lavish those details upon you, however, it might do the reader some good to know exactly what I was walking away from. On any given day I would consume as much as 700 mg of caffeine. That's roughly equivalent to drinking almost thirteen Mt. Dews in one day (curious as to how I figured this out? Simple - I Googled it). Needless to say - I was in pretty deep.

Then one day, out of the blue, I just decided to quit caffeine. What followed next was a series of days that tested my resolve, and my bowels. If you must, those days are outlined for you below.

Days 1-3:
No big deal. I was feeling pretty confident. I may have even given a few high fives on several occasions on those first three days.

Day 4:
The headaches begin - mind crushing, soul scraping headaches.

Day 5:
Body aches in my shoulders and lower back. I hated life itself.

Day 6:
Profound inability to concentrate. I cursed the woman who gave me life.

Day 7:
Random outbursts of rage. My wife cursed the woman who gave me life.

Day 8:
A heightened appreciation for multi-player first-person shooter video games - though, sadly, simulated killing brought little relief.

Day 9:
Loss of bodily functions. My children abhorred me.

Day 10:
Facial contusions. I really shouldn't accredit these to my caffeine detox, as these were actually the result of repeated punches to my facial region by my wife, who was also in the midst of her caffeine detox.

Day 11:
Loss of fingernails and teeth.

Day 12:
Inexplicable impulse to howl at the moon.

Day 13:
The sudden ability to see in the dark.

Day 14:
Uncontrollable weeping.

Day 15:
A withered soul.

Days 16 through 30 have been steady improvements. I once again have the zeal for life that gets me out of bed every morning - only to engage in the pageantry of drinking a cup or two of decaf instant coffee.

I've said too much.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Cooking with Amanda

Last night I was downloading video and pictures from our digital camera, when I happened upon a set of videos that inspired me. A few weeks ago, we had plans to meet up with some family for a delicious meal together. Our mission: Bring the rolls. That's when my wife, Amanda, decided that she would break tradition and make homemade dinner rolls. She probably thought to herself, "Hey, I make my own deodorant! Dinner rolls can't be that hard!"

What I find most amusing about this scenario is that she had the foresight to video tape the entire process for your viewing and cooking pleasure. When I found these videos, I began to dream about the possibilities. The result of those dreams is on the screen before you. So enjoy our new family venture, Cooking with Amanda. Sit down, grab a spoon, and preheat the oven... you will be inspired.

Friday, November 19, 2010

I Have a Bad Feeling About This

Those words will forever bring to mind a time of child-like wonderment. A time and place when the world made sense, and mac 'n cheese was enough to satisfy my naive taste buds - even better when they were accompanied by fish sticks... ketchup on the side for dipping... chocolate milk to coat the palette. These were the days of my childhood.

These words are so much more than words. They're an anthem - the maxim of a generation. They will forever stand as a monument to a time and place where the magical was still possible, and wearing a set of Han Solo Underoos made you cool.

So, what does the phrase, I have a bad feeling about this, bring to your mind? A sense of foreboding, dread, or the onset of an ulcer? Or does it take your mind, like it does mine, back to all the countless hours you spent mesmerized in front of a TV screen watching Start Wars? That's right, this phrase makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. You might even say that I have good feeling when I hear I have a bad feeling about this.

Now, before I go any further, I realize there's a chance, however ridiculously unlikely it may be, that you have no idea what this phrase and the Star Wars movies have in common. I'm sure, then, that I don't even need to mention the fact that the line I have a bad feeling about this is used in every Star Wars movie. That's right, every Star Wars movie... sometimes more than once. You can hear this famous line uttered by Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, and C-3PO.

When I hear those words, I can't help but think about Luke, Han, Leia and the gang zipping about the galaxy, kicking butt and saving worlds (except for Alderaan - that was a shame). I think about the fact that Star Wars was more than a movie... it was my world. I think about the time I was so spellbound watching Empire as a kid, that I unwittingly broke the leg off a rebel pilot action figure that I had just received for my birthday... and I cried. Or the time that I passed up an Imperial AT-AT toy for something not nearly as cool... years later, I cried. Or how I used to pretend flashlights were light sabers... and how I always wanted to be Han Solo, but never Luke... 'cause Luke was kinda whiney, and Han was dating Leia. So many memories - some good, some sad - flood my mind at the mention of these words.

I hear that famous line, I have a bad feeling about this, and I get a good feeling. A good, good feeling... maybe a little too good.

I just said too much.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin

As a self-proclaimed music connoisseur (and yes, it took me quite a while to figure out how to spell connoisseur), there's a certain amount of satisfaction in following a band that 1) no one has ever heard of, and 2) has an incredibly unique name - bonus points if the band's name toes the fine line that separates cool/quirky/unique from just downright bizarre. Let's be honest, that's probably why bands like Death Cab for Cutie, Flaming Lips, Spoon and Jack Johnson have amassed the fan-base they have - name appeal... and that's about it. (I actually like all those bands)

So it's pretty safe to say I was elated with the discovery of this band, who's name is featured as the title for this post. That's right, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin. It's not just quirky... nor is it simply unique... it's downright ridiculous. What's worse, there's really no way to shorten it. It's not like you would go around saying, "Hey! Do you have the new SSLYBY CD?" Or, "Are you going to the Boris Yeltsin show tonight?" See what I mean? So... big bonus points on this one.

But don't let the name of the band fool you into thinking their music is equally off beat. Quite the opposite. After just a few listens to some tunes from their Broom album, I was an instant fan. The smooth, hooky pop is reminiscent of bands like The Decemberists and New Pornographers (a band who's name loses points for crossing the line into "distasteful" territory)... and the Shins, which I hesitate to mention due to their reference in my last post. But, as a mentor of mine once said, "When in Rome..."

Another element that brings some appeal is that their debut album, the aforementioned Broom, was literally recorded in their basement. And so far, as I've since delved into later works this band has released, it just gets better as their sound morphs with their maturity. Each tune is saturated with catchy pop hooks, clean-guitar-laden riffs, and fun upbeat toe-tappin' goodness - all of it packaged in a kinda cool, edgy, atmospheric retro rock vibe.

If you're having doubts, please just take a minute to check out some of my favorite tunes by the Boris Yeltsin band: I Am Warm and Powerful, Oregon Girl, Back In the Saddle, Sink/Let it Sway, and many more.

After all this, I have but one thing to say... you're welcome...

... and I've said too much.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Aging Music Lover

There comes a time in every man's life when he looks at himself in the mirror and realizes just how pathetically old he is. It's not the speckles of gray in his hair, or even the drooping chest that are most telling. No, that's just wisdom and gravity. I firmly believe, and have since I turned thirty, that age isn't what makes one old, per say. It's a state of mind. That's why I've recently adopted the philosophy that you're only as old as the bands you listen to. Which, incidentally, is why I was startled not long ago with the realization that the newest song in my playlist was by Taylor Swift... and what's worse, I loved that song. Even more disturbing was the realization that I had spent nearly a year downloading songs by the Eagles, Simon and Garfunkel, and Kenny Rogers. Depressed yet? So was I...

... so was I.

Then there came a defining moment for me. A group of friends decided to do a little music sharing via mixed-CD's. It sounded fun... until I realized that I had virtually nothing to offer. Allow me to run down my mix for you, if I may: Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, U2, Jack Johnson, Cyndi Lauper, Bon Jovi, Boston, and John Denver. Cyndi Lauper? Yes. I think you're starting to see just how dire the situation had become for me. Shortly after this little wake-up call, I mustered the will and determination to look at myself in the mirror one day. Right then and there I made a promise to myself... and to God. I promised that I would find new music... or I would die trying. Well, I'm still breathing, which can mean only one thing.

I found new music, indeed - starting with a band called the Headlights. Remember the music we grew up listening to? Bands like Def Lepperd, Poison, and Milli Vanilli? Well, the Headlights sound nothing like them. In fact, their sound is hard for me to describe. Theirs is a distinct brand of rock 'n roll that combines modern melodic structures and layering with a sound that harkens back to the HI-FI analog recording quality of a distant, simpler era. The vocals - both male and female - have a sort of haunting quality about them. They've intentionally traded pristine accuracy for quirky nuances that ultimately make them more likable, in my mind. If you're looking for a contemporary reference to help you out here, look no further than the Shins, Oh Inverted World.

One of their songs that immediately grabbed me is off their Some Racing, Some Stopping album. It's called Get Your Head Around It. I'm serious... I could listen to the intro of this song for a very long time before losing my mind... and the entire song is great. From the opening lines "I read a book about a man who made mistakes all of the time," to the rhythmic change up at the bridge, to the closing, "In silence we'll both walk away"... this song is a great listen, over and over again. The only unfortunate thing about it is that the opening melody - which is so hooky, it will loop repeatedly in your mind for days - isn't revisited anywhere else in the song. Teenage Wonder from their Wildlife album holds a similar appeal for me, but features their female lead singer.

You know what, I just wish you would take a minute out of your day to follow the links I've provided above, and give those songs a thirty second preview. You might like what you hear.

Then again, I'm sure I've said too much.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Director's Cut

A few months ago, I was given the task of creating a video to promote a campaign at church in which we would launch new small groups. So I engaged the help of my good friend to make this movie. Due to time constraints, however, the movie was reduced to a mere shell of what it was intended to be. So now I bring to you the director's cut: The Quest for Hosts. Brace yourself for movie-making mediocrity.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Cloudy With a Chance of Swedish Meatballs

When two worlds collide, it often creates a scene of complete chaos. In the literal sense, it creates the ending of two worlds. Let's face it, colliding like that is pretty destructive. But in the metaphorical realm, it's not always that messy. It can, at times, even be a bit amusing. Like this time... I hope.

Recently I found myself pondering the implications if one were to combine my favorite animated comedy featuring the voice of Bill Hader, with my favorite Swedish furniture manufacturer. That's when I conceived this little chestnut: Cloudy With a Chance of Swedish Meatballs! You may be asking if there's a reason why these two things should be lumped together. And I answer with another question: Is there any reason they shouldn't be? Now that you're convinced, I'll dive into this double-feature quasi review post.

To kick this off - which in no way calls to question the validity of the prior two paragraphs - let me direct you to a blog that actually reviewed this movie (just click the words that look yellow). I'll admit that, for me, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs was a bit of an acquired taste. It started with one of those occasions when I discovered that it was offered as a free "On Demand" selection, so I put it on for the kids to watch. Through several viewings, I would lackadaisically happen upon a scene, or two, and think, "Hmmm... this movie is kinda funny." Finally, after my kids had been through it darn near a baker's dozen, or so, times, I sat down and watched it start to finish. And boy was I delighted. From the decidedly 80's artistic style, to Flint Lockwood's zany "inventions-gone-amuck," to the witty dialogue accompanied by hilarious animation, this movie cracks me up every time. Some have said it's the funniest animated comedy since Emperor's New Groove - but I say it's even better; perhaps even funnier than Kopps. And that forced mention of an obscure Swedish film is just the segue I need...

... and brings me to the other topic of this review: Swedish furniture manufacturing. Or, as most of us know it, IKEA. You may or may not be surprised to know that we're the only people in the world who call it "eye-KEE-uh." That's because everyone else in the world has the sense to pronounce it with the proper European sounding "ee-KAY-ah." With that awkward correction behind us, I'd like to share with you a brief tale of my last visit to the wonderful land of IKEA. We were already familiar with the territory, which we knew included a restaurant on the top floor. So, after we bought some furniture, we went upstairs and ate some Swedish meatballs... and they were delicious. I'm seriously hoping to go back there soon so I can have another helping of Swedish meatballs. Seriously. The furniture is neat, too.

Well, I've said a lot more than I intended to.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Buttoned On the Hanger, Please

Could I be any more OCD? Probably. With a little intentionality, along with the kind of dedicated hard work this country was founded upon, I'm sure it's possible. Will I make such an effort? Probably not.

But I find myself faced with a little Catch 22, if you will. A "no win," as it were. A real pickle, if you prefer. You know what, just call it whatever you want.

Here's the skinny. I prefer my button down shirts hanging on the hanger with the top button closed. The reasons for this are quite simple - it has to do with the shaping of the shirt as it hangs on the hanger. You see, as it hangs with the top button left open, the collar gets all droopy and misshapen. What's worse, it will likely reamin wide open at the neck and all twisted weird when I wear it. And then all the other pastors in the office will make fun of me. So I prefer the top button closed when it's on the hanger so that the collar will retain its shape, and it will wear more nicely at the office. Having said that, however, my loving and selfless wife, who masterfully does our laundry (more often than not) often leaves my shirts hanging in the closet with the second button closed, but the top button (gasp) open.

But here's the deal. Because my wife works so hard, and I truly appreciate how much she does to keep our house together, I don't say anything to her. After all, I could do my own laundry. But since she's willing to do that for me, I feel like a real jerk critiquing how she does it. I mean, what kind of husband would do that? You'd seriously have to be a real dead-beat to go and instruct your wife on how she should hang your shirts in the closet. Seriously, man.

And yet, my shirts are continually hung improperly. My options: I could lovingly confront the situation - maybe with a flower in hand just to show much I appreciate her efforts, but openly communicating my preferences. I could even offer to hang my own shirts from now on. I could, in fact, just iron the shirts and get over it. Or I could write about it in a blog post, which she'll undoubtedly read at some point. My choice is obvious.

Have I said too much?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Up In The Air

Occasionally I'll watch a movie simply because of the hype its received by the "Academy" on Oscar night. Slumdog was the first, and this was the second. Each time I go into a screening like this, I give the movie thirty minutes to hook me. In both cases, the hook was effectively embedded in approximately thirty seconds.

Have you ever found yourself roughly half-way into a movie and thinking to yourself, "I can already tell I'm going to like this movie." I'm not gonna lie to you, that's a pretty foolhardy thing to say. I mean, you have no idea what will unfold in the second half. The main character could get hit by a bus, or drown, or join the Navy... the entire world could explode in the final moments of the movie, making it the worst movie ever. Then, you'd have to live with the fact that you - if only inwardly - had declared your affection for a terrible movie. And that's a painful thing to live with, trust me.

Well, on this occasion I threw caution to the wind and found myself daring to make this inward statement halfway through Up In the Air... and it didn't disappoint... and yet, strangely, neither did it satisfy. Hmm... It might appear that I'm poised quite comfortably on the fence. But I'm not. And here's why. I'll just tell you straight up: I liked this movie... a lot. Start to finish, it was a great story. So why the him-haw on the "satisfaction" comment earlier? You need to watch the movie.

But before you do, I need to offer this disclaimer: This movie contains some language that most will consider just downright foul. In addition to that, there are a few dicey encounters, though merely implied, between a couple who aren't married. In light of these things, one mustn't overlook the "R" rating.

But here's why I liked this movie - in the end, you see why the "dicey" lifestyle just doesn't work. While I don't condone any of the aforementioned shenanigans, there's definitely a redeeming quality in this story, and I found it to be a powerful message on the basic fundamental need for true intimacy, and deep relationships. And if I may, I have a real soft spot for "secular" media that ultimately proves what we've been trying to say all along... but if I say what that is, well then I just might get all preachy.

And I've already said too much.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Funny (0) Interesting (0) Cool (0)

Someone in the blogging industry thought this would be a good idea; I shake my head in sadness. Is it a "fun" and "interactive" way for readers to offer their response to your heartfelt post? Or an empty promise that has left countless bloggers with crippled dreams? I submit to you the latter.

I've seen this a hundred times... if not a thousand. Bright, young, ambitious bloggers start out with stars in their eyes, and dreams in their hearts. They spend countless minutes writing their posts with the hopes of one day going viral. And what's better than writing a blog? Someone reading your blog. And let's face it - we don't want awards, or accolades, or money. All we want to know is that it left some kind of mark on our faithful readers... an impression, if you will. It doesn't necessarily need to be life changing. But if we knew that it was at least funny... or interesting... or cool... then our fulfillment would be complete.

Then Blogger extends the proverbial hand with this little gem. With the "Reactions" feature as part of your post, you can see what readers thought of your wit and candor. Or so they would have you believe.

Sadly, too many of us find that, post after brilliant post, these aspirations remain just a wishful hope. We write, we post, and we check - with tenacious obsession - to see how our audience was impacted. What started with naive optimism too often ends with the same disappointment. Funny: 0. Interesting: 0. Cool: 0. But there's an unspoken category that gets the biggest tally of them all: Dejected.

Thousands experience this. And I'm one of them.

I've said too much.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Lamentation for Krispy Kreme

I long for doughnuts. Yet I find only crap in doughnut's clothing. To whom will I go to satisfy this longing in my soul. The days have turned to night, and the nights have turned to winter, and the winter has turned to wastelands where no one dares to cry. Alas, the tears are all they have left.

The smooth, evenly glazed glory you once displayed so proudly has left only misery in my mouth. There is none who can match your sweetness. "Hot Now!" How now? I see no glowing neon-light-laden visage to guide me. My ways seem lost, and my waist has withered.

When will this nightmare end? I weep and gnash my teeth in vain... nothing will wake me from this horror. I drive by the dwelling that once brought forth such joy. But another has taken your place. Have they forgotten, oh sleeper? Have they forgotten your systematic conveyer of deep-fried splendor? Your rushing falls of glistening glaze? Have they forgotten your majesty?

Oh, Krispy Kreme! Oh, Krispy Kreme! My voice cries out, though no one hears. Alas, they have returned to the south where my wailing cannot be heard. Let the children weep tonight, and mothers curse the moon. Let the dogs lie in the street as their urine fills the gutters. Let the nations close their mouths and spit upon the barren north. The end of this age will only bring respite from the aching in my soul.

If only I'd said this sooner.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Pacific

Finally, it has come to this. My list of the three best war movies ends right here... right now.

This past winter we changed our cable company and took advantage of a promotional package that boasts the best rates... of course, those rates only apply for a year. After that they show up at your front door and demand your firstborn. I've seen it a hundred times.... Anyway, along with this promotional package came a complimentary subscription to HBO. This was about the same time they were just starting to promote The Pacific - their epic follow up to Band of Brothers. Tears were streaming down my face just watching the promos.

As was mentioned in my first post in this series, BoB follows a company of soldiers through the war in Europe against Nazi Germany. The Pacific, however, follows three Marines through the entire war in the Pacific (hence the clever title) fighting the relentless Japanese soldier.

I want to be very clear about something. I've already stated my views on what war movies should embody. The simple fact of the matter is that Band of Brothers and The Pacific set the standard. Period. The Pacific went immediately to my top three as I made my way through each episode earlier this year. Like it's predecessor, The Pacific went to painstaking details to recreate each conflict and character vignette. Again, the characters on screen represent real people - names have not been changed. And once again, Hanks and Spielberg collaborated to bring unbelievably life-like production. It really feels like you're watching each battle as it's happening.

The Pacific, by its very nature, however, faced some challenges right off the bat that make it hard to live up to its big (band of) brother(s). First of all, the timing of the production created a challenge in finding surviving veterans to provide the setup for each episode. As was mentioned, that was such a rich part of the experience in BoB. It wasn't altogether missing, here, but lacked the overall participation from some of the leading characters - most of whom had passed away years before the film was made.

Second of all was the scope of the story. The U.S. involvement in the Pacific war lasted from 1942 to 1945. And within that timeframe, there were a number of campaigns launched, and even more battles fought on numerous islands. It was a big war in and of itself.... huge.

The final challenge for this movie was the lack of an existing cohesive story. What made Band of Brothers so great was that the story was packaged and ready to go. Steven Ambrose had already written the book about Easy Company in the 501st Airborne. From their training days to the end of the war, which was only a little over a year, their story was ideal to tell in miniseries format. The Pacific, however, was missing that. Instead of having one literary piece to inspire the movie, they drew from a few memoires written by Robert Leckie and Eugene Sledge, two of the main characters; and then well documented historical data on the well-known war hero John Basilone. And because of that, the story is a bit fragmented and the characters are harder to connect with.

What The Pacific did for me, however, was reveal in a very vivid manner the horrific nature of war. There's nothing glamorous about it. What these men and women endured in their service to our country literally - at the risk of sounding very serious - broke my heart. Fighting a relentless enemy who would not surrender; fighting in extreme heat, constant rain, and mud that was knee-deep; fighting off malaria; being under-supplied and cut off; seeing women and children used as weapons against them. The atrocities that were depicted in The Pacific were absolutely appalling -  many of them things I had not seen or heard of before. And you watched how these dehumanizing conditions began to affect each one of them.

These three movies - Band of Brothers, Black Hawk Down, and The Pacific - remind us that war is absolute hell. They tell the stories of brave men and women who fought for our country out of a sense of patriotic duty. These men didn't step up seeking a fight or wanting to kill. They answered a call in a time of need. Each time I watch one of these movies, I ask myself, "Could I do that?" And I'm not so sure I could. You may be against war. I don't like it, either. Regardless, the bravery and the sacrifice of these soldiers is something I deeply, deeply respect. And I'm thankful we have these movies to tell their stories.

I've said what I needed to say.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Freudian Typos

So I'm trying to do this "30 Posts in 30 Days" thing to launch this blog. It's an antic I borrowed from my friends at Two Bibliofreaks (or something like that). Sure - they did 45ish in 30 days, and that's way cooler... but whatever. Well, I'm literally only days away from completing this mission. And don't worry, I have plenty to write about. But it all came very close to a sudden, whiplashing, back-snapping stop tonight. At a "one hour" family gathering, something went terribly wrong and turned it into a two-and-a-half hour family gathering. Though the food was good, and so was the family, it meant that we got home close to ten o'clock. Which isn't a big deal, except for the fact that I have to get up at 5:00 am! My plan, therefore, was to get home, put the kids the bed, and then dive into bed for a good seven hour slumber. Imagine my utter disappointment when I realized that I had yet to write today's post. There I stood, staring down the computer, weeping bitterly, peeing my pants. Did I consider skipping this post? Yes I did. And that's no lie. But no... I WILL have a post for today, or I will die trying. Let it be known that I'm NOTHING if not dedicated to bringing you meaningless words to read on a daily basis for the next six days! That's my promise to you, the reader.

Moving on (this is where I actually write about the topic of the post): Very rarely does one like to point out their own mistakes. Truth be told, most of us will go out of our way to minimize - or dare I say hide - our mistakes. Kinda like the time when I was a kid and I tried to hide the mud on my clothes with WD40. Turns out it was a huge backfire. Not only did my mom see the mud, but she also smelled the chemicals I'd sprayed all over my body. It wasn't funny at the time. Thankfully, I still have my skin, though most of it is now covered in hair.

Occasionally, however, I pick up on a mistake - the typo kind of mistake - that seems to be a bit more common, and even recurring. What's even more peculiar are the typos, themselves. It's almost as if my subconscious is speaking through my mistakes. Stange, I know. Paranormal... maybe. Regardless, It's a bizarre enough phenomenon that I thought it would be blog worthy. Notice, however, the amount of filler to this point. Let's just cut to the chase, and hopefully you'll see what I mean.

On more than one occasion, while using my cellular phone equipped with SMS (Short Messaging Service) capabilities - which is the fancy euro way of saying "texting" - I began tapping the letters gingerly with the intent of spelling the word "love". This being a text message to my lovely wife, the usual intent is to string enough words together to spell "I love you." On multiple occasions, however, I will look to find that I've inadvertently typed "I LIVE you." I think to myself, "Well, yes... I do live her. She's (dramatic soap opera-ish pause) my life." A typo, nonetheless.

In fact, on a separate occasion, while trying to type the word "wife" on my cellular device, I discovered that I had, in fact, spelled "LIFE" - again, true - she is my life. But, still, an unforgivable error that should have been corrected. I'm deeply embarrassed.

I've said way too much.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Black Hawk Down

Consider this my second post in a series of three in which I expose the best war movies in the last one thousand years. That's right, a millennium of war movies... most of which being made within the last eighty years. My list, however, only accounts for the last ten years... because those are the years that count.

To be honest with you, I wouldn't have placed Black Hawk Down in the top three until I watched it again just recently. And that was only my second viewing of the film. Did I like it the first time I watched it in theaters almost ten years ago? Yes I did. So why the delay between viewings? The answers to that question are the very things that put this film in the number two spot. But I'll get to that in just a moment.

Before I get to the good stuff, allow me to offer a little commentary. This movie should have been called Black Hawks Down, as there were two choppers shot down in this battle. It needed to be said. Don't know what it's about? Man... I'm full of questions! Well, here's the quick intel: This movie tells the story of the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu, in which U.S. troops were called in to extract key Somali warlords. It was designed to be a 30 minute, in and out mission, which turned into an 18 hour stand-off when two U.S. Black Hawk Helicopters were shot down by enemy RPGs. And before all you D&D fans get all excited, RPG stands for rocket-propelled grenade.

Now, if I may, I'd like to actually share a thought or two on why this film makes the top three. For starters, one of the biggest reasons why it made a quick, and very recent, jump to the top is simply for the significance of the story. In my experience, there are far too few good war movies that depict realistic modern warfare. On top of that, the conflict itself isn't as well known as WWII, Vietnam, or even Desert Storm. I love how it brings this obscure battle to light, and depicts the modern soldier.

The second reason would have to be the general realism of how the story is told. As I said in my last war movie review, a good war movie is one that honors our military veterans with realism - not Hollywood hype. And if you want to know why it took me almost ten years to come back around for another viewing of this movie, it's because this movie is nothing if not realistic. To be honest, there are many parts that are just difficult to watch. And while it doesn't come close to the realism of Band of Brothers, with real life men portrayed on the screen with matching names, it comes pretty close. My understanding is that every character in Black Hawk Down was inspired by a real person... in some cases, multiple people.

When writing a review for this movie, you can't ignore the non-stop action. There's maybe 20 minutes of setup at the beginning, but then it's on... and it's on hard... until the end of the movie. This movie is literally one big battle scene that rarely lets up. And the action is so intense, a diaper is advised while viewing. That's a mistake I made on both occasions.

Finally, the last reason why this movie was so good was the lack of screen time by Orlando Bloom. But you will enjoy performances by Eric Bana, Ewan McGregor, Josh Hartnet, Jeremy Piven and a few other guys you've probably seen is some other war movies.

Listen - this is a good movie. Some of the "buddy soldier antics" in the beginning are a little cliche. But those moments are fleeting and forgivable when the real story is unleashed. When it's all over, you'll be thankful you weren't an Army Ranger in '93... unless, of course, you were. In that case, my hats off to you.

I said a lot.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Shower Brainstorming

Ideas come to me, like whispers from an unknown wellspring of whispering things, in the most peculiar of ways. It's a curse, really... a burden. What good is an idea when it will simply be lost without means for memory or use? On the other hand, where are the ideas when you actually need them? It's almost as if ideas have a mind of their own... like fickle cats that will grace you with their presence on their terms. Just think what man could accomplish if ideas were more like dogs? Or elephants? Or moles? Then I'd have a backyard full of ideas! That is, if they were more like moles... I have no dogs... nor elephants, for that matter.

Where was I going with this? Oh, yes...

I often do my best thinking in the shower. Maybe it's the hot water pounding against my head, but ideas - whether sought after, or not - just come rushing into my brain. One may be quick to assume this a good thing. Oh, but I would beg to differ... beg to differ, indeed. As you will see, this can only lead to a frustrating cycle of over-washing and memory loss.

Idea birthing is - by definition - terribly distracting work. For example, in one shower I may spring forth a myriad of new ideas - amazing ideas, in fact - ideas that will set mankind on a completely new trajectory into a brave new world. But by the time those ideas have come to full realization, I've forgotten what I've accomplished in my shower to that point. Have I washed my hair? My face? I can't remember! I was too busy shaping ideas to remember what I did just moments before! I'm left with no choice but to go back to work on that which I believe is yet to be done: Washing my face (as an example). It's only after I'll start washing my face that I remember... yes, I've done this before. Thus, my face is doubly clean.

Sadly, the brilliant ideas I had just moments ago are washed down the drain. While my face will smell of home-made organic soap for hours to come, tomorrow's bright future is lost forever.

I'm convinced I once unlocked the mystery of time travel, but by the time I washed my hair for the third time it had completely escaped me. Of course, when I sit at my computer - where my amazing, life changing ideas can be recorded and researched... I got nothin'.

What will I dream up the next time I'm in the shower? Perhaps a method of recording my shower-inspired ideas. Of course, it'll be gone by the time I suds up the loofa... for the fourth time.

I'm sure you'll agree... I said too much.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Band of Brothers

I think by now, this being my twenty-second post, it's fairly common knowledge that my writing tends to be a little cheeky, if you will. Admittedly so... such was the intent. Having embraced that fact, it's with a certain amount of trepidation that I walk into this post. How can I be true to the character of this blog, while simultaneously conveying my utmost respect for the subject matter at hand? Well, let it be known that, while I may insert the usual over-stated dramatic sarcasm here and there, this post is for reals.

Before I go much further, I want to clarify something. In my mind, a good war movie isn't one that sensationalizes war. I'm not interested in the suped up Hollywood action scenes, the cheesy characters and their cheesy one-liners, or larger than life stories of heroism (which more often than not have been glammed up to meet studio's demands). I want to hear the real stories, from real guys who were really there... who became heroes - not because they were trying, but because they did what they had to do. I've identified three movies that I think capture that. I'll give one post to each of those movies.

I remember the first time I saw ads for HBO's miniseries called "Band of Brother." My immediate response was, "That looks dumb! Looks like somebody's trying to remake Saving Private Ryan!" Well, I couldn't have been more wrong. In fact, if I had known then what I know now, I would have punched myself in the kidney for even thinking that. True, there's an obvious resemblance in the styles of the two films, which stands to reason as Spielberg and Hanks collaborated on both projects. And what they were able to do with Private Ryan, they far outdid with BoB. Incidentally, I'd like to point out that Private Ryan did not make my top three.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, it follows a company of paratroopers from their training days before the invasion of Normandy, all the way through the end of World War II. Because it's a miniseries in ten one-hour episodes, they had a lot more time than your average movie and were able to tell a much bigger story. But there are a few things that make this movie so stinkin' good, and really put it in a different category among war movies.

First of all, what makes this story so great is how deeply you connect with the characters. As you can imagine, there are a lot of characters to follow. And at first, it may even seem overwhelming. But because of how the story is told, you quickly learn who these guys are as you watch them fight their way across Europe. Guys like Winters, Nixon, "Wild Bill" Guarnere, Lipton, and many others will start to feel like good friends. That's why, with each new campaign, and each new battle, you cringe as you watch these men rise and fall in the barrage. You realize pretty quickly that these aren't just characters in a movie any more...

And that brings me to the second reason why this is such a good movie: Before and/or after each episode, you hear the real guys share their stories. Let me slow down just in case you missed that: You hear the real guys... as in, the veterans who actually fought in this company... tell their stories. What you discover is that these elderly, white-haired men who are telling their war stories to the camera are the real-life Winters, Guarnere, Lipton, and so on. The characters you see on the screen are matched to real-life people, many of whom were still living at the time the movie was made. In essence, you're watching their stories unfold in true-to-life fashion. And just to make sure we're clear, they haven't even changed the names. Richard Winters - the real man - was portrayed as Richard Winters in the movie.

And let me tell you, there's something so deeply touching, and profoundly moving, as you watch these men tell their stories. Many times, even sixty years after these events went down, they break into tears as they talk about it. I'll be honest with you - if you aren't reduced to tears and snot in those moments, there's something seriously wrong with you. I'm man enough to admit that I weep like a girl watching this movie... every time. And that's how you know it's good.

Finally, the icing on the cake is the movie itself. The production, from cinematography, to directing, to the sets, to the realism of the action... all of it is lightyears away from what Hollywood has been able to do. And that, in and of itself, is a big reason why this is the best war movie in the last one thousand years.

Bottom line: If you want amazing white-knuckle epic battles that have been recreated to detail based on historical data and first-hand witness accounts, BoB has plenty. If you want rich character development, and story lines that delve deep into the psychological and emotional effects of war, BoB has that too. If you're all about the realism of war, BoB is loaded with it. If you want a love story... you should probably watch something by Nicholas Sparks.

I've never served in the military or fought in a war. But I have a feeling that Band of Brothers is about as close as you can get to watching it as it really happened. No glitz, no glamour... just history made into a movie. And that's a big reason why it tops my list of best war movies... ever.

You'll forgive me if I forgo on my standard sign-off.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Organic Discoveries

I remember hearing a very wise being, who we've come to know as Kermit the Frog, share this bit of wisdom: "It's not easy being green." Well, Kermit, going green isn't much easier.

Now that I've pretended to know what going green actually implies, let me share with you what this post was really intended to be about. Recently, my wife made a decision for our family that has placed us in a whole new social classification. To some, that classification is known as organic. But to others, it's simply known as weirdo. Being that we're now in that social classification, we've adopted the former.

The reasons for this new way of life are many, and vary in size, shape and color. And while these reasons have been rising to the surface of our consciousness for a while now, it's important to note that they contain no preservatives or additives. Thus, the reasons themselves are organic. But there have been a few recent realizations that have pushed my wife to take drastic measures. And by drastic measures, I mean to say that my wife is now making a majority of our home cleaning and personal hygiene products. She's even threatened to make our own water... apparently water isn't organic anymore. As for the recent realizations, you'll have to read my wife's blog for that.

Please... try to stay focused for just a few more minutes. As I was saying, in light of this new lifestyle, we found ourselves perusing the local Three Rivers Co-op Natural Food Store. And let me tell you, this was an educational experience on so many levels. I could go on at length on the things we discovered there, but let me share just a few discoveries that were - in many ways - startling.

First of all, before I jump into the first discovery, I need to take you back a few years to an idea I had: Carbonated Tea. Yes, this was my idea. And I must say, it was quite brilliant. So brilliant, in fact, that someone stole it! Imagine my dismay when, as I scanned the "junk food" aisle, I discovered sparkling tea. You're welcome, obscure beverage maker. You're welcome.

The second discovery is less offensive, but confusing nonetheless. My gaze happened upon an interesting product that raised so many questions. There on the shelf, like a weird thing that takes you completely by surprise, I saw graham style crackers. Now, this could easily be something you would read quickly, and therefore miss the subtle hidden truth of what's implied: Graham style crackers. They're crackers, yes. Graham crackers, however, they are not. One must simply resign themselves to the reality that they are graham in style and appearance, only - a detail swiftly taken in stride by the average organic veteran. But for this organic rookie, it was a startling reality check of what's to come.

Well, that should do it for now. I won't have time to offer commentary on the cost of organic diapers, or the cardboard appearance of organic baked goods. Perhaps you could make your way to the local natural food store and discover for yourself.

Of course, I said too much.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Wisconsin's Glory

Wisconsin. Think about it. Let that word just sit on your tongue until you gag a little bit. Was it worth it? Don't get me wrong, Wisconsin is a fine place. So much natural beauty; so much cheese. For many, it's a dream come true. But seriously... what good has ever come from Wisconsin? ... besides my wife (love you, babe)... and her family who still live there... and the cheese. (And yes, I realize the irony of this statement coming from a guy who's lived in Indiana most of his life)

Well, I'll tell you the one good thing: It is the almighty butter burger.

I know what you're thinking: Grilled red meat smothered in butter... sounds real healthy. You're obviously missing the point. To the Cheese Heads' credit, they figured something out here. I'd like to meet the grillmaster Jedi who was sittin' around his dairy farm one evening firing up some flame-broiled goodness and wondered to himself, "I wonder to myself: How can I make these amazing burgers even better? Gee-wiz, why don't I do something useful with all this dairy product!" I wish I was there when, moments later, the first butter burger was slapped on a bun, then glided down into someone's stomach for the first time. Just the thought of it make me wonder if it really happened that way. Probably not.

While I may have been absent for the first butter burger, I do remember my first. And I remember thinking to myself, "Putting butter on a burger sounds kinda gross, but it tastes really good!" And it's the same feeling I get to this day. It never ceases to amaze me how, when biting into a fresh, juicy, greasy, double butter burger with a basket of fries, I can actually hear my arteries starting to clog - and it reminds me that I'm only a bite away from a heart attack. But man are they delicious.

Thank you, Wisconsin. From the bottom of my grease-stained heart, thank you!

Yep. I said too much.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Make My Coffee Instant

Most people come home from their travels with souvenirs. I came home with a new perspective... and souvenirs. But most importantly, perspective is what I brought home from my travels to Serbia this summer - new perspectives on faith, relationships, and coffee.

You see, in Serbia we discovered that filtered coffee makers are somewhat rare. They might even be considered luxury items that most people wouldn't spend their hard-earned money to buy. And I say, "Don't bother!" I literally just said that... in my mind. "Why?" you might ask. Simple: instant coffee.

It is, in all actuality, baby formula for adults. You just scoop in a little magic coffee dust, add hot water, and then stir until all the little coffee pieces supernaturally disappear. And you're left with a cup of coffee... instantly.  And here's the thing... it doesn't taste terrible! In all honestly, I actually quite like it. Let me share just a few reasons why I've made the switch to instant coffee since I returned home from the land of the Serbs.

  1. You can still run the water through your coffee pot to make it hot, and then use it to make your coffee... but that's not all.
  2. You can use that same hot water to make a cup of regular coffee, decaf coffee, hot tea, hot cider, hot cocoa, or hot water (if you're into drinking just straight up hot water). 
  3. You can use whatever water is left over in the pot to water plants... or just recycle it for your coffee the next day!
  4. You can adjust the "strength" of the coffee per cup to suite each individual's coffee tastes; more magic coffee dust = stronger coffee.
  5. No more having to throw away nasty coffee filters full of wet grounds, which, as is most often the case in our coffee maker, have likely been in there for several days. 
  6. It doesn't taste terrible.

Sure, instant coffee may not pack the flavor of a well roasted and freshly ground bag of Maxwell House. But once you experience all that instant coffee can do for you, I think you too will be willing to make a small sacrifice on flavor in exchange for a lot of versatility. And in case you're wondering, we enjoyed Nescafe in Serbia. Unfortunately, the Nescafe here in the states just doesn't taste as good, for some reason. So we prefer Foldgers instant coffee - regular and decaf.

Now I've said too much.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pour. Cool. Reheat. Repeat.

This blog post probably won't amount to much. Even as I write this, toys are strewn about the house as though rabid raccoons - also known as our children - tore through each room leaving behind the kind of devastation more commonly seen in the aftermath of a tornado. That's not to mention the dishes that are stacked in the kitchen waiting to be loaded into the dishwasher. At this point, there's no escaping the reality that a good husband would have taken care of these issues before taking time to write a blog. Of course, in the time it took to craft the wording for this paragraph alone, the house could have been thoroughly cleaned.

So, in honor of my lovely wife, I will honor her with a post dedicated to her. This is, of course, an attempt to abate her wrath. I have every reason to expect that it will fail.

In the eleven plus years that I've been married to her, and thus lived with her, it never ceases to amaze me that I still learn something new about my wife's personality, her preferences, or behavior patterns. One such behavior pattern has inspired this post - namely, her morning coffee ritual.

Day after day, my wife goes to great lengths to prepare her coffee just the way she likes it: Enough coffee to technically declare it coffee, then massive amounts of cream and sugar to completely mask any hint of coffee flavor. This sometimes takes several minutes, as she wants to get the mixture just right.

Next, my wife then sits her coffee, which has been prepared in her favorite hand-crafted coffee mug, down in a non-disclosed location somewhere inside our house. This is where the coffee will sit for roughly 45-90 minutes.

Sometime later, my wife will rediscover her coffee with great joy and zeal. At this point, seeing as how the coffee has cooled, she places her mug in the microwave, and will reheat the beverage to a desired temperature. Then, once again, the coffee will sit - more often than not inside the microwave - until just a hint of warmth remains. Inevitably, only half the cup of coffee will be consumed before it is thrown down the drain.

Observing these trends each day, without a doubt, has brought new joy and meaning to my life.

But I'm afraid I've said too much.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Too Young to Know, Too Old to Change

I have pretty strong opinions about music. So much so that I will often be heard saying, "I don't like that song." Or, "That song was pretty cool." It could, in fact, be the same song. I should also mention that I'm somewhat schizo in my musical intrigues, which is more of a recent development. But occasionally there's a song that comes out of no where and says something or strikes a melodic tone that touches somewhere deep within the fiber of my being. In those moments, I'm swept away in harmonious bliss. Music has that hold on me... and has for a very long time. 

I recently discovered a band that surprised me with such an occasion. It's a song by the band Loney Dear from their album Dear John - and the song is titled Summers. I don't know much about this band. I discovered them while sitting in Starbucks, and had to use my Shazam app to identify it. I'm so glad I did. I doubt my life will ever be the same. One thing's for sure... my iTunes library won't be.

In the opening verse of this song, these lyrics emerge: I'm too young to know, but too old to change. Those lyrics flittered about in my soul like doves bathing in a puddle of angels' tears.  It would be a stretch to say I wept... actually, it would be a blatant lie. But you have to appreciate the ironic dichotomy expressed in that statement: Too young to know... too old to change.

It hits a little close to home for me, I guess. I feel like I'm in that stage of life where I'm still young. I have so much still to learn. And yet, I'm old enough that it's easy to feel a little set in my ways. Like the fact that I'm probably always going to leave the toilet seat up... or throw my jeans on the chair in the corner of my bedroom... or leave home projects only mostly finished... or write my blog while my wife is out with a friend and I should be cleaning up the kitchen. Hey... I'm just too old to change. 

Of course, with the right motivation, anything is possible. 

If you get a chance to listen to this song, I think you should. You may not like it. In fact, chances are you have pretty strong opinions about music, too. But if you listen to this song and you don't like it, then your opinions are dumb

I'm sorry... I said too much.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Button Pushing Deficiency

There's a tragic affliction affecting today's young adult that I fear many of us are largely unaware of. I, myself, was oblivious to this ailment until just recently. If you do nothing else today, please take the time to read this entire post. Educating the public is my number one concern.

Upon a recent visit to a mexican fastfood chain that urges us to head for the border, I was helped by a young man who was having a difficult time. I was bewildered by his challenges and, like many people, mistook this fine lad for being... well... lacking in effort. After pulling up to the window and handing him my card, however, I realized with horror what was actually going on. And I was shocked.

The young man - who's most noteworthy quality was his "punk-rock" hair style - revealed to me, as an older employee stepped in to offer assistance, that he "sucks at pushing buttons." And while I realize that a certain number of readers (assuming anyone reads this blog) may be offended by the use of the word "sucks," these were his exact words; I chose to keep it raw to impress the gravity of this situation. Please forgive me.

Having said that, I don't want you to miss what just happened. This young man, barely out of his teens (presumably), has a serious condition, and we need to consider the implications. The inability to push buttons may not have many professional implications; there are any number of career paths, with fastfood being the obvious exception, that don't require the pushing of buttons. But think of this: How will he text message his friends? How will he facebook? How will he play Xbox for hours with all the other kids his age? How will he microwave food, which, as we know, is the primary food source for many young adults? He very well may starve. Don't even get me started on riding in elevators, changes stations on the radio, or using a remote control.

So the next time you get frustrated in a fastfood line because it's taking longer than the phrase fastfood implies, just remember this: The person helping you may suffer from Button Pushing Deficiency. Cut 'em a little slack, and appreciate all that the button pushing ability affords you.

I fear I haven't said enough.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

In Your Dreams

In high school, I became well acquainted with the phrase "in your dreams!" Whether it was my career in athletics, or my romantic pursuits, this phrase always seemed to apply. Not to mention the fact that there was rarely a missed opportunity to remind me of such wisdom - be it from the class jerk, or my parents. It's ironic, then, that even as an adult, on occasion, I relive those high school years... in my dreams.  

Dreams are funny little things. It's like Bethany Dillon once sang in a song, "I am a dreamer." Or Jack Johnson, when he sang, "Girl, let your dreams be dreams." And while I haven't figured out how to directly apply those lyrics, they are decent songs.

You see, dreams have a way of taking something that's tucked away ever so neatly into our subconscious, and bringing it to the surface like a giant white-head pimple (something else I was well-acquainted with in high school). Of course, dreams are also often coded and symbolic - to such an extant that you need a prophet (or a therapist, if a decent prophet is hard to find) in order to really know what they mean.

Well, over the years I've a had a recurring dream in which I'm back in high school - a more specific depiction of these dreams would be nightmare. The school, classes, and schedules are different with each dream. But the common thread in each one is that I'm completely confused about what my next class is, where it is, or whether or not I had a homework assignment the night before. So I walk into each class unsure of whether or not it's even the right one. I survey the faces of my fellow students to try and peg which one will be the first to make some fun at my expense. Then I wake up in a pool of my own sweat. (the last statement was inserted for dramatic effect)

Usually I come away from those dreams with a deep sigh of relief that I will never have to attend high school again. But recently I've had a new variation of this dream. I'm sure all the prophets (therapists) out there will have fun with this.

So in this recent dream, I'm stressing about my schedule and all that. Then it dawns on me: Just put my schedule in my Android smart phone. Brilliant! I'll never have to worry about when or where my next class is again! I can even put my locker combination and assignments in my "notes" and "to-do" apps. What a relief! Never mind that when I was in high school, cell phones, which could only make phone calls in those days, were roughly the size of a shoe box. Just let me bask in the newfound comfort of my two worlds - adult me, and high school me - colliding to bring order and meaning to a once chaotic time.

Of course, as the dream goes on, and just when I start to think that I've got a handle on things and I'm gaining some confidence, I look down to realize that there's a giant hole in the heel of my sock... that I'm wearing under my Birkenstocks...

It was the '90's.

I've said... too much.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Better Parenting

Recently, our church hosted a parenting conference. It was a big deal. They had all kinds of people on hand to lead workshops on everything from how to discipline to your child, to how to adopt a child. In their planning, however, a major oversight occurred - they failed to ask me to lead a workshop. Well, everything worked out fine, as I took it upon myself to summarize my would-be workshop in this three minute video. Watch it, and become a better parent... instantly.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Dunkin' Do-NOT

Even at the writing of this title, I feel a bitter rage welling up within from the depths of my being in the pit of my soul. That's not a happy place. And trust me, this has nothing to do with the fact that I just served a tour of "target practice" duty in Call of Duty - sadly, I was the target that provided the practice for the other three players. But honestly, this has nothing to do with that.

If I could be completely honest with you - and I hope I can be - I will tell you that it has everything to do with the consistently poor service I receive at a certain establishment that prides itself in serving donuts that can and/or should be dunked... dunked in what is irrelevant. I personally don't dunk my donuts in anything. I don't know why anyone would. You only end up with a soggy donut, and a beverage full of floaties. What's the point? For those of you who love to dunk your donuts, they should make a specialty item on the menu. Just throw a donut in the blender with the beverage of your choice: Milk, coffee, Mt. Dew, or whatever. Blend it up, and serve it with an extra wide straw. There you go.

Now back to the point: We have one of these "establishments" just around the corner. My wife and kids love it, and I'd be lying if I said there weren't a time or two when I got suckered into going there completely against my will. And each time has been a disaster for me.

Let me ask you something. You don't need to answer this out loud, as it may startle the person sitting near you. How hard is it to listen to someone and retain what they've communicated to you - very clearly, I might add - long enough to provide the specific items they so eloquently articulated? Did you understand the question?

How hard is it to hear, "Large coffee with caramel and extra cream - no sugar, just the caramel," and then actually produce the item specified? Assuming you're resourced properly, it shouldn't be that hard! On two recent visits to this establishment, however, it proved to be a tall order, indeed.

The first of these visits, upon ordering the large coffee with caramel and cream, the intelligent young man behind the register gave me coffee with just caramel... that was it. No cream, just caramel. The next visit, though the order was the same, this nice fellow - same as before - gave me pumpkin spice. When corrected on our actual order, he simply poured out the erroneous coffee, and without wiping off the cup, refilled it with the correct, however illusive, coffee, caramel and cream. Thus, upon receiving my cup, I then had to wipe off the coffee that was left streaming down its sides.

Perhaps that's acceptable in a place where the defilement of perfectly good coffee by dunking is encouraged. But for this coffee lover, it is not.

I'm afraid that if I go much further, I just might say too much. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Adult Peer Pressure

We all remember those bygone years of yesteryear when our loving parents warned us of the inherent dangers of "peer pressure." They would recite modern proverbs about friends jumping off bridges, and others that I can't recall, just to engrain in us this understanding: Just because everyone else is doing it doesn't mean that we have to do it. For me, however, being the sheltered child that I was, that included all kinds of things... like staying up later than nine o'clock, or using the cheat codes on Contra (up, down, up, down, left, right, left, right...). What they should have been teaching us, however, is that this whole idea of pressure from the peers doesn't go away. Oh no... it just changes focus, and suddenly becomes acceptable. Well I cry foul, sir... I cry foul!

Now that I'm in my adult years, I may not have "friends," so called, who are trying to turn me on to the latest drug on the streets. But that doesn't mean the "peer pressure" beast doesn't show it's ugly face, from time to time! At the risk of being a little graphic, let me share two specific examples that have happened to me in the past eighteen months - both involving food.

The first example that comes to mind happened at a Christmas party. The host made a "delicious" - or so she would have me believe - desert that involved peanut butter and something crunchy. Incidentally, both of which are things I'm not particularly fond of. She offers. I respectfully decline. She insists - asserting that it was the "best thing ever," and that I "had to try it." I caved. Even now, I hang my head in shame.

The second example isn't unlike the first. At a friend's house playing an obscure board game, said "friends" offer me a brownie... a brownie to end all brownies, and will most certainly change my life. Knowing that I only care for box-mix brownies covered with cream-cheese icing, I declined. They threatened me with idle and harmless threats. Again, I caved. Yet another victim of Adult Peer Pressure (APP).

Even now, I'm reminded of the timeless advice we received under the Reagan Administration when we were encouraged to "just say no." Well, I tried, Nancy... Lord knows I tried. But they just wouldn't listen.

I've said too much.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Splendor That is Chick-fil-a

Once in a gazillion years (according to the Mayan calendar) heaven touches earth - if but only for a brief moment - and leaves us with a flaky residue of its glory. Such is the case with the Chick-fil-a chicken sandwich - and, arguably, the infamous waffle fries, as well.

If you've never had the opportunity to enjoy one of these savory morsels, I would strongly urge you to stop what you're doing (unless, of course, you're in childbirth), and high-tale it to your nearest neighborhood Chick-fil-a. Before you go, however, here are a few things to keep in mind:
  1. Order extra pickles. You won't be sorry.
  2. Say thank you. Hearing them say, "It's my pleasure," is more soothing than you know. 
  3. Remove your chicken sandwich from the NASA-designed thermal insulated pouch - designed to keep your sandwich at a mouth-melting temperature for hours - and let cool.  This is where your waffle fries come in handy, as they provide a nice distraction. WARNING: This step is vital to ensure that all functions of the facial area remain in tact.
  4. Once your sandwich has cooled to a reasonable temperature... enjoy. 
On a side note, I would argue that reading a blog of any kind during childbirth is not a good idea.

Now I've said too much.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

If All Goes According to Plan

I would like to start off by posing a question. In actuality, I just started off by making a statement, which, incidentally, introduced a question. It's a minor technicality, and hardly worth noting... and yet here we are. Nonetheless....

Have you ever found yourself using the same word or phrase repeatedly in a short span of time? If you haven't noticed it, your friends and/or co-workers no doubt have. Just ask them, and they'll tell you. It's probably driving them nuts. In college I once had to give a speech in "Public Speaking" class. They made us video tape it and then watch it in fast-forward to exaggerate our nervous habits. But, sadly, that really doesn't apply here.

Let me tell you something. Last week I couldn't help but use a common phrase over and over again - and even I was starting to go crazy from hearing it. The phrase was simply, "If all goes according to plan." It's harmless, really... no real danger in uttering such words. But after using it darn near a million times, it dawned on me that I was using it far more than any decent person really ought to. And for that I apologize. 

The truth is that last weekend was a big weekend for us. I won't bore you with the details, but it involved my wife leaving town, my kids staying with their grandparents, and me playing some video games. There was also some other stuff going on at church, too, but like I said... I won't bore you with the details. And everything was hinging on the fact that my kids would be with Grandma & Pa... and virtually the only thing that would keep that from happening would be some kind of sickness... of which, our children are frequent harborers. 

It was with this nagging feeling that something would go wrong in the final moments before everything was about to transpire that I would oft remark with this very phrase. I would say, "I'll be there... if all goes according to plan." Or, "It shouldn't be a problem... if all goes according to plan." Or, "If all goes according to plan..." Sigh. I'm doing it again. 

Well, I'm happy to say that everything went according to plan. And I must admit... I love it when a plan comes together. 

And I nearly said too much. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Fumbled Curse

Call me startled... and I'll answer with a wide-eyed, teeth-gnashing jolt. Why? Because I've just become aware of something that very well could be (but probably isn't) true... and I'm ready to blow the whistle.

I was locked into a conversation earlier today when I heard an interesting, and seemingly innocent, comment from a respected colleague. My "friend" was relaying the weight of the responsibility his role carries within our church. It was at this point he used an interesting phrase. He said, and I quote, "Lord, I don't want to fumble this."I remember it because it struck me as an interesting choice of vocabulary. Little did I know the ripples that would be set into motion with those careless, and yet somehow deplorable, words.

My "friend," who has openly expressed his longstanding fondness of the "Bears," and is therefore a presumed hater of the "Colts," uttered this very phrase just hours before the "Colts" would narrowly conquer the "Redskins" Sunday night. "So what?" you ask. Well, I'll tell you what: The "Colts" nearly lost that match because they fumbled... [pause for dramatic emphasis] the ball... [additional pause] four times! Intriguing, isn't it?

I'm not saying he tried to curse the "Colts"with his "clever" and "heartfelt" statement... and I'm not saying he didn't.

But I've said too much.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

What's Up with Google Reader?

Every once in a while in this journey called life, there comes a discovery that has the power to revolutionize the way you define revolutionary... like Facebook, or Trapper Keepers, for example. Google's free online RSS and Blog "Reader" may not be one of those discoveries... but it's pretty darn close.

First of all, it doesn't matter what anyone is talking about; as soon as they say Google, you generally don't need to go any further. Whatever follows will likely be the next big thing... with one glaring exception. Of course, I'm referring to Google Buzz, which was a day late and a dollar short in the social networking game (in my opinion). And then there was the failed Google Wave, which... I'm not actually even sure what that was or what it did. But it's gone, now, so it doesn't matter.

Those minor missteps aside, Google is doing a pretty awesome job at taking over the world via the internet. Even now, you're reading a blog hosted by Google. You may even be reading this on a mobile device powered by Google's Android, or in Google's Chrome browser. Pretty soon, you'll likely be able to do all this, and much more, with Google TV. Yes, it's happening. And what's more, Google has a vast array of free online apps that could very well change the way you approach following and reading blogs, news headlines, web design, and even desktop productivity. And all of it is freely available to anyone with a Gmail account.

Earlier this week I discovered something that has simply become a "game changer" for me, and I wanted to share this new joy with you. It is, of course, Google Reader. I know this has been around for a while, and you may have been using this little gem for quite some time. For me, however, it was as if the heavens opened up and a loud voice bellowed, "Partake, and find that it is good!" As a chorus of heavenly beings provided the soundtrack, I discovered a single application that can manage all my blogs and news feeds in one place that follows me wherever I go, no matter what computer I'm using.

I don't know about you, but I enjoy reading a variety of blogs. It's like the advice someone once gave me, though I really can't remember what he was talking about... but he said, "Diversify." And I believed him. And it's with that timeless truth in mind that I approach blogging. Some of them are just for fun, while others are professionally & spiritually enriching. In all, I'm currently following eleven... and the list is growing. And following a variety of blogs like that can be challenging. Not all blogs can be followed in your Blogger Dashboard. Most email clients, like Outlook (crap) or Mac Mail (awesome) will also subscribe to RSS feeds, but that means you have to be on that computer to read them in one place. If I'm away from that computer, that means I have to go to each blog individually and sort through what I haven't ready yet. And let's just face it... that's too hard.

Well, for those of you like me who need their world neatly packaged in a simple, yet easily accessible - and if possible touch-screen - world, then Google Reader is the solution for you. The beauty of Google Reader is that it will automatically sync all your blog feeds into one interface. The newest posts appear first, and as you read them they are automatically marked as read; kind of like email. And the best part is, you have access to your Google Reader anywhere you can login to the internet. The other best part is the fact that this is something you already have with your gmail account (assuming you have one). So next time you login into Gmail, check out the links at the top left. Find "Reader" and give it a whirl. Make sure you include this blog in your subscriptions... it's the least you can do.

As I look back over the length of this post, it's becoming all too clear... I've said too much.