Kenny Smith | blog

Thursday, January 31, 2008

End of the month. Winter pivots this weekend, when the groundhog shows his face. Regardless of what he sees, or is apathetic toward, spring will be here in a few months. The first week in February holds that first sigh of winter. Pretty soon Jack Frost will get the clue and move on.

Hard to believe we're already through the first month of the new year, no? It isn't so new anymore. We had that one moment of considering a fresh chance to start over -- and then? -- continued on about our routine business. Now you're making spring break plans, or considering that summer vacation. How did that happen? There's still Christmas on the cards and tax season and how in the world are we going anywhere?

These aren't your problems, as you're a wise and thoughtful person -- all my readers are -- and have taken care of all of these things well in hand.

For example, my first two trips of the new year are already on the books. I might be shoehorning another one in the early going as well. Time will tell. For now though I'm just looking into the trees to see those first beautiful green buds. It was raining this afternoon, storming tonight, and that's good news for the spring. We're due some more, the weatherman says, so the blooms should be nice. The birds will be back any day now, I'm looking each afternoon, and then the cricket symphony and all the little insects. Finally spring will be at the peak of its powers, full of promise and potential and warmth and a little coy breeze.

So listen up you little groundhogs: there will be no shadows this weekend.

Incidentally, if you were going to see Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania the website says shuttle runs may take more than two hours. They start at 3 a.m., when the temperature in Punxsutawney is forecast to be 26 degrees.

As rituals go that's ridiculous.

They'll have a groundhog display at the local zoo on Saturday morning, and the site currently says they hope to see your shadow there. Your shadow is optional, but the groundhog has his marching orders for his 10 a.m. parade. The temperature is expected to be a slightly more reasonable upper 40s.

Tonight we had powerfully bright lightning, but little thunder. The sky would be violently lit and that piece of your body responsible for generations of gringing would sieze. The rest of your senses never delivered on the clap of thunder, confusing the more primitive aspects of the mind. This is way early man found his way into caves: He couldn't explain sheet lightning.

The rain came down hard and fast. And cold. Ultimately we'll add 1.16 inches to the precipitation column. That ends January nicely, about .8 inches short for the month. Considering the last two years the minor deficits almost seem like pluses. As of this evening 42 percent of the state remains in an exceptional drought. Some 14 percent of the state, the coastal region and part of the Black Belt, is out of their drought.

Soil moisture data is troubling but ... sorry. Sometimes the USDA site can just suck you into obscure concepts. We'll now continue with less weighty topics.

Ready for the Super Bowl? I am. Sure, why not? The commercials are said to be less impressive this year though. There was talk of a Super Bowl party but it now looks as if I'll be watching from the comfort and quiet of the sofa.

A friend who lives and works in the media in the shadows of Giants Stadium says he's tired of the hype. I hadn't even noticed. It is easy to avoid, I said, once you've stopped watching ESPN. There are three pieces of trivia I know about this game, and that is it.

So it struck me that the hype machine of the NFL is very good. The sports media is, of course, complicit in the effort. But it takes the willingness of the audience to consume and buy into the hype as well.

There's probably a scholarly paper in there somewhere. I've got tons of great ideas. Come see me if you need some.

Site stuff: There are new black and whites today. I've put three from the 1920s on the page. If you've been following along you can see them here. Or you can start at the beginning of the black and white section.

Something of a lax day around here today, but tomorrow you'll see a lot more. There's a bank trip -- always fun -- a car insurance errand -- always delightful, then barbecue and gymnastics. You won't want to miss out!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Today breezed by in every sense in most every general direction. I looked at the clock at work to realize it was 1:30 and it would be a good idea to put a podcast together. I called Dr. Larry Powell, who's a political pollster and a communication professor at UAB to see if he had time to talk politics.

Powell always has time for that. And it is always an education. If you're interested in the primaries and like to hear pundits give facts rather than opinions, listen here.

The terrific thing about Powell is that he just tells it like it is. He's still a working pollster and maintains an even propriety. He's extremely well-respected at his work and what he tells you today will be the conventional wisdom of a particular campaign aspect in the historical telling. He's very good.

Give it a listen, he won't tell you how to vote or how to think, but he's got a good grasp on what's happened thus far and what you'll see in the coming days and months on the upcoming campaign trail.

Full disclosure: Powell was my thesis adviser in grad school and, thus, I hold him in obvious high regard. He was a source I knew professionally before going back to school and he was one of the people who talked me into returning for another degree. I've learned an awful lot in five or six years of interviewing him and in those two years I spent studying with him.

I watched the first act of the second Star Trek movie tonight. It was a gift from The Yankee last year and I've been putting them in the DVD player every now and then. She gave me a set through Undiscovered Country and my plan is to go through and watch them all, and then watch them with the director's commentary.

This is the first time I've seen the remastered version of Khan, and perhaps the first time I've seen the director's cut. It is visually arresting, with the exception of the font they use for Vulcan subtitles. The 1980s font styles were in full effect there, to the chagrin of strained eyes everywhere.

Oddly enough, the backstory of this movie starts in 1996. The movie was shot in 1982, when 1996 was a still mostly inconceivable distance away. Many things in the futuristic timeline started in Gene Rodenberry's 1960s now seems a bit ambitious from our contemporary point of view, no? At least we've found extra planets and put robots on Mars. It is a start.

I scanned all my photos for the Glomerata section this evening and was preparing to crop and size them to upload when I realized that my scanner managed to save only one of the large handful.

I'll blame the two power outages we've had in the last 24 hours -- last night there was a massive windstorm with gusts to 55 miles per hour and today who knows the reason. I'll also blame operator error, as that's more often the problem than anyone would care to admit.

By this time, though, it was too late to start over again, so we'll just delay the new additions until next week and offer humble apologies. At least four of you will be distressed by this news, but the wait will be worth it, I assure you.

Instead I finished pulling out the last of those new black and white photos from the 1920s. I'll start adding those on the site tomorrow. There are several dozen in this stack, and there needs to be some sort of filtering system in place, but when they do get up they'll be interesting snapshots into the pre-Depression rural south.

It may as well be Depression-era though. As a country song from that region said, "We were so poor we couldn't tell."

There are two pictures from today to hold you over. We were talking with the phone installers at the office today when this guy threw a rope off the roof and climbed down to clean the windows. How often do you see a guy climb down to clean windows on the second floor of a short building?

We heard a rapid rustling noise, and then watched his ropes wave back and forth in the breeze, but we never saw him again.

Speaking of windows, I've stared at one set intermittently for seven years. I've mentioned this before but the building where I work once housed a radio station on which I broadcast. The studios were in the front of the little old building, my current office is in the back of the building. I've taken this picture many times before, but never like this. The sun was stabbing through the old panes at just the right moment, lighting up all that schmutz on the glass.

Where did that cleaning guy get off to?

One last thing for the day. I mentioned going through that old photo album. I've all but concluded that this was the keepsake book of a girl about to go off to college. Or perhaps a girl who's beaus were all moving on to campus. A few pages are filled with personal notes and odd mementos: a chewing gum wrapper, dance programs, newspaper clippings and a tiny aluminum spoon.

There's also a page with little logos from regional colleges. I've pulled them out, scanned them and stuck them together just for you. Maybe all those kids found their future at these schools.

Some of the school names have changed, but all those institutions still exist. Most of those fonts haven't been used by the schools in generations though. Which ones are your favorites? I have four.

A podcast, two pictures and a scanner offering, not a bad day. It would have been a feast for the senses of the scanner had behaved when it came to the Glomerata. You have my apologies for that shortcoming. Tomorrow the black and white photographs return -- presuming the scanner doesn't eat them -- and some other things will probably happen too.

You'll have to come back around to find out what.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Found myself sweeping the bed this afternoon. If that seems an odd thing to you now it seemed an even odder thing to me then.

I was sweeping, though, to clean up the remainder of the mess from my Saturday light fixture fiasco. It seems some of the mess had been overlooked in the previous cleaning. This is the extra bed in the extra bedroom, so I haven't been sleeping in debris, but rather ignoring it. The bed is presently in between a fresh change of sheets so as I swept I recalled the old tale of the princess and the pea. Would any of my guests ever notice? Really? But still things must be cleaned.

It will be alarming if I later learn that this is much like the Christmas tree, from which I am still recovering. A week ago I found needles in a curtain in the library. The location isn't so unusual since that's where the tree was displayed, but the preposition struck me as odd; the needles were in the curtain.

Monday I found a needle under the keyboard of my office desk. That's the desk where I am at work. How the tree followed me 20 miles into downtown escaped me. Two weekends ago I noted some of the needles had made their way into the engine compartment of the old car on the evening of removal. I can still follow the trail of bright green needles from the porch steps to the car in contrast to the withered and weather lawn.

Two weeks ago I flopped onto my bed, content to read the night away and found a needle there. That's upstairs and down the hall from where the tree was a-glow.

It has been several years since I've had the experience, but I can't recall having ever found any remnants of the artificial tree in any of those places. If the light fixture cleaning requires such persistence I will be displeased.

We have video at work now. We've had video but now we are hosting and uploading our own, the various papers and the end-users video as well. This is very exciting stuff. We're doing a soft rollout for it this week, meaning it will quietly grow, but this is expected to be a big aspect of the site. You can follow along right here.

Already I've been tasked to shot more video in the same town as the recent snow documentary -- done with Kelly's invaluable help.. I have one thing in mind for next month. After that it'll be a question of how often they let us out to do this sort of thing.

Ten years ago I was a junior in college. One of my jobs was writing for the paper, and another was doing radio. I would soon begin my internship where I spent a lot of time writing, photographing, uploading and hardcoding stuff to the Extension site. If you had told me then I would be shooting video for a website I would have laughed and asked you to repeat yourself.

At that time was still very new. Before long they'd become a power and soon thereafter ask me to come on board. They were already the most trafficked website in Alabama, but they've gone through so many changes in the last four years since I've been there. And grown so much.

The numbers are staggering, but all of that success is owed to people from top to bottom with great vision and the hard work of people determined to make it happen.

And now we're part-time videographers too.

I could go, but that would fall under the category of "But I do go on ... " Another day perhaps.

I helped the economy by buying things today. The backstory: I bought a bookshelf about four years ago, built it, but books on it and realized too late I needed a section, matching piece. The lesson learned: Always buy two, just for symmetrical purposes.

I've been searching for most of the time between here and now for the same bookshelf, but they've all disappeared into people's homes. I found some very similar ones that, hopefully, would look identical from across the library. I've held off buying them and finally earmarked this year's Christmas money to the project. And today was the day I was buying.

Or so I thought. The site I'd been considering for my purchase suddenly wasn't accepting my transaction. I thought it might be a firewall, a server error and then a browser, but it was none of those things. Finally I decided that the bookcases (Two. See? Learned my lesson.) would have to be purchased elsewhere.

That particular bookshelf is fairly common. In fact you can find it on many sites with the exact same promotional photograph. I began comparing bookcase not by the listed dimensions but by what was among the clutter on the shelves.

And then I found the bookshelves again, for substantially less, at OfficeMax. And then I found a coupon for OfficeMax. By the way, if you're buying anything online without searching for an online coupon you're just giving away an extra 15 or 20 bucks. I also discovered a promotion allowing for free shipping, which is a great deal for 80 pounds of wood that will soon be on the way to Stoic Oaks.

So I'm ultimately getting two bookshelves for the price of one from the first store. They are of the mission style, tall and slender with the slats on the side and a cherry stain. By itself it is a gangly piece, but it matures well with dusty old books stacked inside.

Turns out my subconscious is a savvy shopper. The problem with the first (and pricier ) transaction was purely human error, which ultimately led to getting two for the price of one. Merry Christmas to me.

Site stuff: There are new newspapers for you to examine. This section of the paper is winding up fast, these five additions mean we're just one week away from completing that particular project.

After closing out the 1960s with the Apollo 11 crew headed home we've moved into the 1970s now, featuring Nixon in China, Wallace's shooting and the end to the Vietnam War. Click the link above to follow along, as always. If you're new to this section you can start here and catch up on 70 years of regional and national history.

I've enjoyed creating the newspaper section of the site, but I'm happy to see the end now within reach. It'll be satisfying to write that last little page of thoughts and then put it away (until you point out the inevitable typos that need correction). There are, after all, other projects stacking up.

I hope you've found it half as fulfilling as your humble correspondent has. I hope you come back to see the latest from the Wednesday Glomerata project, which still has a lot of life left in it.

I hope you also find your fun projects continually interesting ... and that I've kept you interested enough to guarantee a return tomorrow. Until then, then.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Have you ever been so tired, so thoroughly and suddenly fatigued that you wondered if there might be something wrong with you?

There is nothing wrong, but for a moment or two I considered it. I began to wonder what could so suddenly overwhelm. It wasn't a cold or the flu, none of the symptoms were there, so perhaps it was something more malicious. But so sudden?

And then I recalled my sleepiness on the way home from work, how I slept about four hours last night and decided it was just a bout of the sleepies. Apparently my body now wants more than the four hours a night to which it has grown accustomed all these many years. OK then, five hours a night it is.

At home I put away many piles of laundry. This was a considerable effort and where I had my momentary concern. If folding towels wipes you out, I figured, there could be trouble. After dinner I dozed off midway through the State of the Union. Ah-ha, just tired.

Granted this president isn't the most dynamic speaker in the room, but one still shouldn't doze off. It has to be the sleepies.

I caught most of the speech though, bemused as always by the reactions of the room, having a good chuckle at the congressional members who organize the standing and the sitting and the applause and the silence. People should vote just on these reactions alone, they are as powerful an endorsement or indictment as anything else you could get out of a campaign.

If the guy at the microphone says something profoundly presidential and your representative doesn't clap then maybe he's not your fellow. Maybe his opponent would have cheered his hands into a bruised pulp. So long as you like it, so long as you'd cheer, you have your candidate.

The best feature was watching the members not clapping through the applause pauses. Those are telling telling reactions, even the ones they try to swallow down and minimize with years of practice.

Also the occasional chuckling between Vice President Cheney and Speaker Pelosi was a fun thing to see. You get the idea that they'd have to be separated on the back church pew. In a different world he might pull her pigtails and she'd make cross-eyed faces.

Pretty much what you see now, only with more vitriolic words, just to spice up the soundbites.

Give them all this: The debates and disagreements are loud and sometimes bitter, but they are of words and phrases. Within the next year we'll have a new president and once again the government will change -- subtlety or drastically, one can't yet say, but peacefully.

I woke up to hear the television, and had a moment of fear that the local cable access guys had made public television and were now commenting on the State of the Union.

With that I woke up, realized I still feel fine, just tired. And now here we are.

New campaign buttons. We're traveling back in time to see LBJ and RFK. I've read a terrific book on Lyndon Johnson, mentioned here previously and linked to once again on that page. My knowledge of Robert Kennedy is a bit more limited, but nothing else I could learn about the man would trump what he said that sad and brave night in Indianapolis. That's the way he should be remembered.

Which is an interesting hinge point of history to discuss considering his brother's speech today. Ted Kennedy, stooped yet invigorated, put on a command performance drawing comparisons of Barack Obama to the early 1960s, rather than the baby boomer's amber-fixed period between the late-60s and the end of the century. Notice has been served and a rhetorical schism of "us" and "them" formed in the Democratic party at the line "The old ways will not do."

Got any campaign buttons? Send 'em in, we'll write about them all (the presidential ones at least) and occasionally make loose allusions to contemporary events.

Something to link to:Placed second in the Outside the Beltway caption contest. Not bad for a guy who's dragging.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

I love Sundays. All of the weekend freedom, plus just a tinge of the back-to-the-grind fear to make you really appreciate it. Saturdays could last forever and you'd grow used to them. A month of Sundays and you'd never really be sure: Is this the one?

Filled the hot tub this afternoon. Closed the valve, put the hose to it and watched the footwell fill up. Once the upper part -- the torsowell? -- is full then we can reset the entire mechanism to see if the breaker did its job and broke the circuit at the first signs of mechanical distress. I had a delicious grilled cheese sandwich for lunch with ingredients fresh from the grocery store while the tub filled.

So about the grocery store. I'm afraid they'll think I'm a troublemaker. They're probably developing codes and light patterns for my arrival. Today I knocked a sign over. And then I lost one of those little nerf footballs to the top shelf of the cereal aisle. They have toys, I'm compelled to play with them. No one ever really minds, but usually these things stay fairly well under control. Today was another one of those klutzy days. I must have seemed like the oafish dog convinced he's still a puppy: PLAY! In his world there are no reprecussions. In my world I'm trying to return the sign to the status quo before the dairy manager gets wise.

The shopping is a pleasure. The groceries are stored securely in the trunk and it is a quick 10 miles up the interstate back to home and a precisely chilled box that will hold many of these items indefinitely. It is moments like this in which I wonder what our great-great grandparents would think of all this -- big, clean, gleaming white stores an acre long with more food than the farm makes all season. So much there's boxes on top of the aisles of food because the storage room in the back isn't sufficient. And refrigerated too.

Then we get back in our nice, efficient cars and drive the short distance home -- that was a three hour trek for them -- and put our things away in a miniature version of the contraption that preserved the food at that store. The worst of it was pushing the cart from the store to the car.

What would think of our lifestyle? We have it too easy, would be one obvious possibility. There are more. We could speculate but ...

The hot tub is full. That's another one of those things. We're in a drought, I just filled a basin of water to heat in which to sit and soothe the body. Oh me of the rugged desk job.

Anyway. Off the deck and around the side we must venture to turn off the water and flip the breaker. Nothing happens. This is not good. I consult the fuses and the test/reset panel. I make knowing faces of intense concentration while turning a few dials and pushing a few buttons. I try the breaker again and hear a powerful roar as all of the jets and blowers come to life. We have juice!

The next question is whether it will heat. In theory a 50-degree pool is rarely fun to enjoy, particularly in January. An hour or so later I return for a status update to learn that the tub is now gurgling contentedly at 54 degrees. The heating function seems to be intact and so we add a few chemicals to make the process complete. At some point in the near future the hot tub will be of use again.

The cover might need to be replaced shortly thereafter, however.

I took pictures for the blog today. It has been fairly cool and mostly ickish the past few days and my camera has felt left out of things. So as the sun started its downward tilt I went out to shoot the branches. You can see a new one behind all of these words even now. I'm a glass-is-half-full guy, and so I take the moderate temperatures, cloudless skies and my use of sandals as a signt that spring is quickly approaching. I'm just waiting on the green buds to appear on the ends of all those otherwise depressing looking sticks.

Which means we're well enough along into this season to be fooled by it all. I distinctly recall a point late last summer where I'd just had enough. It had been so incredibly hot for such an interminably long period that an end never seemed possible. Any change at that moment, standing in a baking parking lot being seared by blacktop, would have been welcome.

I've never felt that way about summer before, but I was worn down in heat and drought. If it didn't all return I'd be fine with that. It is silly, of course, a visceral reaction to an intense or uncomfortable situation. The seasons will return of course, no matter how you feel about them, as if you had any control over them anyway. That initial and earnest thought was surprising to me in its sincerity. And it, too, couldn't last. I'm ready for spring and summer again, as if on cue.

Don't remind me of this come September. Who knows how I'll feel about it by then.

I cleaned the library and the dining room this evening. Threw a bag of garbage out, put three boxes away upstairs and five boxes away in the basement. A box fan was moved. Seldom used kitchen utensils were hidden in various drawers -- sealing their fate for the next four years of their obscurity. At the end of it all the two rooms still seem a bit busy. One because it is full, the other because it is full of books. And there's a stack of boxes in a holding pattern waiting to be shipped hither and yon across the country.

Next up this week is the laundry and all the closets.

I'm working my way up to another series of donations of to the local good cause of choice. This is the difficult round as last summer I donated all of the many things for which I no longer cared. That's actually an invigorating process, cleaning up the space, closing chapters, laughing at yourself, putting things that've been of value to you into the hands of people who'll find them inherently more valuable. This time I'll be donating things that I like, but have rare (if ever) occasion to use. The only thing worse than that would be to pawn off your favorite everyday things.

So bear with me in the coming days and weeks, or whenever I get around to it. That could be a slow and ploddingly painful scene.

Tonight, after a delicious pork loin dinner (the kind in which you really don't mind having just stuffed yourself silly) there was Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I haven't watched it in several years, but I've seen it enough to know the really fun parts and finally see some of the less useful stuff that was discussed by critics. It is neat to see the movie now, being a regular visitor to Savannah, "Oh that's Armstrong College ... There's Bull Street ... and the diocese ... I've been to Bonaventure ... Clary's looks different now." I would now be no fun at a party with this movie.

After that I started diving into this old scrapbook of photographs I recently discovered. A young woman put this together so it is full of her friends and family and her many beaus. Yes, they were beaus, because the book is from the late 1920s. This is rural Alabama from a time when that phrase would have been something of a redundancy.

I shipped off some letters, newspaper clippings and high school-related artifacts from this book a few weeks ago to that school. I figured they might find some use out of the items 80 years on. I'm interested in the photographs. Some of which are poor, some of which are lost to time, others which remain in terrific shape and still have stories to tell for the black and whites section of the site. I started two piles, a use and a discard pile. After a while, though, I began to think of what would happen to those photographs in the discard pile.

They'd get stacked, destined for no use until they were perhaps boxed and then later thrown them away. Their stories would end there, in a heap, on top of a food wrapper and under a paper towel tube. It hardly seems appropriate, these little glimpses into the lives of strangers from three lifetimes ago. If I can't use them on the site I'll donate them to the local historic society. They can rest where they played, and perhaps those smiling ghosts will find life again.

I only made it halfway through the book. Imagine the mood if I found myself staring at the back cover.

At any rate, I'll scan those in this week and hopefully the black and white section will get a fresh update this week.

But now the weekend feeling is losing out to the realization of responsibility. This is the moment when Sunday gives way, when it is late enough into the evening that you don't want to stare at the clock because your mind will reflexively do the math and cluck at you for allowing so little sleep to start the new work week. I love Sundays, right up until that moment. So I think I'll go read, because I can't see the clock with my face in a book.

Hope you've had a wonderful weekend!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

I worked on that light fixture that was discussed here earlier in the week. I've now washed my hands of it.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The day started with such promise. I slept in. It was chilly, but not bracingly so. Rather it was the morale defeating type of cool. The plan was to start the day, and thus, the weekend on a long sprint of productive housework. Things would get done! Stuff would happen! Progress would be made! Chores completed! Lists shortened! Old things donated! Junk thrown out!

Exclamation points overused!

So right away this morning I notice the dropping of things. The warnings are obvious, the signs are clear and I, so intent on doing the above things, ignore them all, but it was destined to be one of those days.

Finally I get into the attic to remove the junction box and the project is quickly halted. I'd concluded that I'd done all the damage that I desired to do on this project. I will happily write a check -- know any electricians of reasonable quality? -- and even more happily move on to another project.

So, to the hot tub it is. I must replace the drainage hose here. A few weeks ago it dipped into the severely arctic levels of freezing and the drainage hose was not stowed securely (and warmly) under the hot tub itself. The bit of water in the hose down by the bivalve ruptured the metal and, over a brief period of time, allowed all of the water to escape.

I could saw off the valve and replace it, but the wise money here is on replacing the entire hose. It is, after all, several years old and susceptible to dry rot any minute now.

I can tell that the hose has another connector just inside the paneling, the only question is one of accessibility. I remove all of the screws from the decorative corner panel to find ... another fiberglass panel. There doesn't seem to be a way to detach the length of hose. However ... I accidentally discovered that the ruptured valve itself is merely threaded on the end of the hose. Any easy fix!

This is exactly what I need now. I've exhausted and frustrated my every ability at carpentry and electricity with the other project and now, for a trip to the beloved hardware store and six or eight bucks I can fix the leaking hot tub problem.

Who knows? I could fill up the hot tub and the safety overrides could have actually worked, preserving the ability of the motor and pump systems ability to motor and pump. This could work out so very easily, which just goes to show that you should never be too quick to find a saw.

At the hardware store I returned the curved shower curtain rod. Remember? The standard rod is 60 inches and my shower is 58 inches. With money in hand I found a ceiling medallion, the one last thing about the light fixture that I will deal with short of calling a professional. I got help finding a valve for the hot tub. A nice older gentleman is working the floor and he's got it all under control. He had difficulty hearing me at first -- I tend to talk quietly in large places, so reverent am I amidst all the tools and materials -- but spoke up when I noted his hearing aid. For once I was only off by one aisle. He set me up, bemused at my requests, but he satisfied them every one. I turned to the cash register and escaped the place as quickly as I could.

For once the lady didn't ask for my phone number. Note to self: You get help here by wearing a suit, you get no phone hassle by wearing an insulation-covered t-shirt.

Back at home I empty the last bit of the hot tub. After much head scratching I finally removed the dirty old filter and replaced it with a crisp, clean white one. I wash and dry the fiberglass interior down with haste. At this point it is cold and I am running late for a mid-day meal.

After getting cleaned up I take The Yankee to the Momma Goldberg's in Homewood. There we meet Jeremy Henderson, writer of The War Eagle Reader which is a beautiful mix of current, future and past-tense Auburn information.

Jeremy has a thing for the old Glomeratas as well. While I am particularly taken by the 1940s and 1950s issues he's more fond of the 1970s installments. The guy is a fount of knowledge, full of stories and information about the good old days and knows every person who's name is whispered over the breezes on the rolling plains.

I thought I'd been learning some pretty obscure things from my old readings -- a hobby nurtured by Stephen, my college buddy and former Auburn townie -- but Jeremy can tell you the stories behind those stories. His blog is more often than not about sports, but even better are the tales about the people and the history. A certain generation is leaving fast, and he's quickly becoming a repository of their memories.

(In fact, Jeremy, when you read this take it as a challenge to post some of those interviews.)

In that time we met a young man and woman at the table next to us who ended up looking for, and finding, their parents in Jeremy's 1973 and 1974 Gloms. From that he found two more people to interview about an important period in the place's history and so his passion and storytelling will continue.

The only thing that would have made the whole thing better would have been if it had happened somewhere on campus. But maybe next time.

We ate as soon as we got to the restaurant, and by the time we left three hours later I was a bit hungry again. We drove around for a while and found this on one of the digital billboards just off the interstate in Homewood.

It has been 25 years since he died. One quarter of a century. Let Paul Bryant rest.

But he will not get such a peace. Not until another coach comes along at Alabama and wins umpteen championships as the man did. Only then will they write songs in his successor's honor. Until then the local minor deity remains one man, and one only. His face staring down upon the night's travelers, a bright red splash of color in the darkest of night skies.

But I can't help but notice that his eyes are concealed in shadow on that billboard, and that he's turned away from the road ...

Mexican for dinner, then. I had the soft tacos tonight instead of he enchiladas, which is my routine. The only REAL difference in my enchiladas and my soft tacos was the lack of sauce on top.

It was cold by now, so I headed for home to watch whatever the TiVo served up. The EvIl eye hasn't been busy lately, but tonight there's some new Brian Regan. The best jokes were about his son's dinosaurs jokes and blank inside cards. It is an hour show and will surely be on again in the future. If you laughed at that clip you should look for the whole show.

That's been the day -- a near perfect one when you forget about the light fixture trauma. I'm well on my way to blocking it out. Hope you're day has been full of positive and happy memories as well.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Every Friday should be the day that things go your way. Meetings should be pleasant and quick. Friends should be happy and full of laughter. There should be plenty of food around for snacks.

We had one of those workplace baby showers today. The father is the employee and the mother came to visit while signaling that the contractions could really start just any moment now.

We all stood around in a semicircle staring quietly at one another, waiting on the entire office to join us. Fortunately I know both the mother and the father. I went to school with the dad, attended their wedding three years ago, went to their first house party that fall.

Watched them open presents today. Ate cookies and cracker jacks with them both while learning the child's name. We should hear good news early next week.

That was at the end of the day, with the week and the sunlight falling away. I left the office in a hurry, intent to make it to the bank. It is nearby, but this is Friday and you can never guess the number of customers that will be on hand or the tellers that will be available. This needed to be a quick in-and-out because I still wanted to make it to the post office.

And it was a quick in-and-out. Deposited a small amount of money, sighed at how the bank had yet to make a clerical error which would allow me to retire young and wealthy and then climbed onto the interstate to ... sit in merging traffic.

Weaving through the cars of people who obviously have nowhere to be and content to spend their Friday afternoon listening to the local classic rock station I finally found myself back on the proper side of town. The local post office was holding a parcel, and they close at 4 p.m. squarely on the nose, as if they were a union.

I made the exit at 3:57, now just three miles from the post office. I must now beat a red light. It is red when I top the hill, which means it will be green when I'm halfway down the hill and turning red as I enter the turning lane. The post office will surely close. I'll have to wait until Monday (they are open for precisely 58 minutes on Saturday).

I zip into the parking lot, quickly park, see the blinds open and trot to the door. One mustn't make too much of a commotion at a post office these days. I hand the friendly lady my orange slip of paper. She smiles, knowing I'm the last person of the day that she must attend. My parcel is delivered safely in hand. There will be no post office trip on Saturday or Monday for me. My week is done.

Except I must go to another post office tonight, which is really a far better story. It involves a trip to the library for voter registration, outdated voter registration forms, a guy working behind the desk who was Stephen Root's inspiration for Milton in Office Space and who's singlehandedly personifying all that in-the-box thinking your boss so passionately hates.

I could get into the story of the man working in a mall post office after 6 p.m. on a Friday night, but he is content with being the baron of tape, the lord of staples and the reader of arcane regulations. At this point in the evening his is the only postal game in town, and he knows it. The rest of us are but pawns in his 8x12 postal world.

And don't even think of touching his priority mail stickers. Or his red Swingline stapler.

Through all of this, incidentally, I've been listening to Michael Penn who just has the ability to sneak up and blow you away each time you forget about his music for too long. Guitar-driven power pop from a deftly clever lyricist is a good Friday chaser.

Pie Day was terrific, as usual. Ward suggested last week the turkey potato and I vowed to try it this time. When nothing else felt like the obvious choice for the night I went back to that endorsement and was not disappointed.

They brought the huge potato out with big thick slices of turkey dropped on top, but ultimately I got a chopped up juicy bird on a moist potato that was drizzled with barbecue sauce and butter. If you've just eaten that might sound bad and I apologize, but if you're hungry that might sound good. If that's the case I must say: No, you may not have the leftovers. That's going to be a Monday meal.

Taylor and I were both tired. I've noticed the last several weeks that right about the time the check comes is when I hit the proverbial wall. I found myself sitting there, wondering if I'd committed to any other errands or side trips on the evening and was greatly relieved that I could go straight home.

The company and the atmosphere is great, but the crusty old man inside me that occasionally wants to utter "Back in my day ... " is ready for a nice long nap.

So I'm home, contemplating a weekend of housework and productivity. Hey, anything is possible.

I hope your weekend has such promise and potential as well.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

I am very proud. I kept up my promises from yesterday, ignoring the light/electricity project in the spare bedroom (that's for the weekend) and not having a Coke and peanuts drink for old time sake.

Oddly enough that craving passes quickly, but comes rushing back just as fast every time I bring it up here. I should stop.

Haven't really found anything to write about, yet. So I'm two-for-three, which is Hall of Fame like numbers over the course of a career.

Staring at the blog page I know one thing: That background got old quickly. We must give it credit for sticking around longer than the actual snow itself, but already that seems like an age ago.

I'm fortunate to live in a place that is fickle and fast when it comes to winter weather. Since our disaster of flurries on Saturday we've had high temperatures of 34, 48, 46, 48 and will be in the 60s again by the weekend and through the middle of next week.

Meteorologists are also giving us a bit of good news. After almost two consecutive years of drought we're due for a season of average to matter better-than-average winter of rainfall. Down almost two feet since last summer and with every water source in the region looking the setting of a post apocalyptic ... we'll take the rain.

Meteorologists also tell us that in a few days a rodent will come out of the ground and see its shadow, which will indicate nine more months of presidential campaigning. Or it won't see its shadow, indicating nine more months of presidential campaigning.
We're really only sure about the months of campaigning as all of the instruments, including the groundhog, indicate that the conditions are optimal.

In fact central Alabama is under a Candidate Warning this weekend, with Democratic hopeful Barak Obama and Republican Mike Huckabee will both be stumping in the city.

In this one move you can see the subtle differences in their campaigns. Huckabee will be at the quiet campus just on the border of town in a small, intimate setting on lush grounds with well-wishers. Obama will be downtown at the larger institutions gymnasium in a medium, less intimate and more pavement-filled setting.

One of these guys might be out of the race by the time the pundits are finished interpreting the groundhog. It is entirely possible, some suggest, that the shadow means Huckabee will soon be gone from the race. It seems clear at this point that he or Rudy Guiliani will be stepping away after the creatively named Super Duper Tuesday. From there the plot will thicken, but only for some.

Following the debts? It isn't just the plot that is getting thick.

No black and whites tonight, as I have exhausted my first batch without having realized it before this evening. Not to worry, I have others, but they must first be removed from their old scrapbook. They've been sitting there for 80 years, and you'll start seeing them next week.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. We have a Friday to breeze through and a weekend to enjoy first!

Something to click on: Forgot to mention this, but I recently won a caption contest at Outside the Beltway. I didn't even think it one of my stronger efforts, but you just have to know how to read the judges.

One last note on that snow, and then we'll all just ignore the background until I replace it this weekend: That video has been viewed almost 500 times this week. Have you missed the rush? See it here.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Some days there just aren't walls sturdy enough on which to bang your head. It is at that point where you are wise to put the tools and other sharp or pointy implements away.

Discretion being the better part of drywall and all that.

To recap: The light fixture in the extra bedroom was destined to become a ceiling fan, only the weight of the fan seemed too much for the structural integrity and whirring fan blades falling on sleeping visitors isn't acceptable. I stopped the fan installation project. Lately I've grown disheartened to learn that the problem hasn't fixed itself. Hence the decision to hang a new light fixture in the place of the old one because the old one was in fairly bad shape anyway. Hence yesterday's enchanting trip to the home improvement warehouse of choice.

Today on This Middle-Aged House we're hanging the new light fixture.

First I turn off the circuit that powers the extra bedroom and the office. I stand on the bed, staring up into the junction box and realizing that I'd forgot which one was the hot wire and which was the neutral wire.

"Colors! The colors you non-electrician!"

Yes, but the house is a delightful home with 35 year old wiring and many of the colors are now a handsome shade of brown. I caught a lucky glimpse of one of them today to note that it was red -- I hadn't been able to determine that in the ceiling fan process. The other confusing thing was, of course, that three wires descend from the box with intertwined fates. The reason being, I've learned, is to give power to the outlets and make the loop for the office, which shares the circuit.

I am not, by the way, an electrician.

So I'm trying to remember which one is the hot wire. I'd helpfully fixed a piece of electrical tape to one of these wires in our previous adventure.

Was I noting the hot wire? Yes, yes I was! Or was I? Come on present-self, remember what past-self was trying to tell future-self.

Jotting down notes would have been helpful, but alas. A rolling piece of paper gathers no moss and would get buried in tools, discarded ceiling fan parts, clippings from copper wire insulation and bubble wrap. Basically I'd be right here with the same fears of burning and then renovating a bedroom. I called Brian, fixer of all things computer and some things electrical. I'd consulted him before and decided to refresh his memory, just in case his memory was fresher than my own.

His was note. He suggested a voltmeter, which would be good if I owned one. Rather than turning the circuit back on and wrapping my hand around the copper for 220 volts of alternating current I decided to impose on a neighbor. The neighbor provided me with two voltmeters. My cup runneth over and I give myself a crash course refresher on using the thing. Finally I decide what's what, but consult with Brian one last time.

Only he didn't like what he heard, and immediately suggested I call his father, an engineer who works with NASA.

I discussed the matter with him, with each new piece of information bringing on a new a-ha. He convincingly told me what was what, why it was and then gave me some advice for how to do a four hand job with just two hands.

The lesson here: Always call NASA.

So now I've followed all of this advice -- all of it good and productive and aimed at streamlining the process. The wiring is determined, wired, fixed and completed. All that's left to do is screw the base of the light fixture back into the recessed junction box and ...

Ahhh ... wire crimpers!

The screws that came with the new light fixture are too narrow a gauge for the box. No matter. Down to the basement for the Jug o' Nuts, Bolts 'n' Things. I find two potential replacements. Back up stairs to fix the light fixture back into the recessed junction box and ...

Son of a socket wrench!

The junction box has two locations for screws, one at nine and the other at three o'clock. The one at three o'clock was already damaged and so I was intent on getting a good attachment out of the other to bear the weight. But the nine o'clock one just crumbled and dissolved under the pressure of the screwdriver. This weekend I will now have to climb into the attic, disconnect all the wires, remove the corroded junction box, get a new one, feed the wires through it and then attach it to the frame.

I am not, by the way, an electrician.

I had dinner as a consolation. Where I promptly dropped the sauciest part of a spaghetti sauce down the front of a white shirt, onto the sofa and finally the floor.

Things got better. I cleaned the sofa and floor, realized I had a ready-made excuse to do laundry (Feel the excitement of Towel Wednesday!) and deleted unwanted suggestions from the TiVo. I watched a documentary on the search for the Israeli submarine, INS Dakar. The searches are always tedious and plodding and while nautical forensics is interesting, the end result is almost always the same sad tale.

And thus my interest in deep sea search programs has suddenly waned.

In other news I've completely emptied the inbox. My email has, for some time, become the To Do List of my life. Many tasks have been accomplished. Many items purchased, delivered or returned. Many favors have been fulfilled.

And, also, I just sent some of the offending Email into separate folders, lest I look at them too long. It was for the best, really. We'd been growing apart, not seeing eye-to-eye. We barely communicated. Those last few Emails just sat in the bottom of the inbox staring blankly at me. Unsure what to do, as if it were ready to leave, but afraid to go. We'll still be friends, though. Just friends from a distance.

I then promptly recovered a few notes that I'd sent so that they be mentioned here. It seems I might be a bit of a serial Emailer.

At lunch I was reading some of Al McIntosh's wartime columns from the Rock County Star-Herald. If you watched Ken Burns' The War, or read my riveting accounts of the documentary the name should be familiar. He was the owner and publisher of the paper in the tiny town of Luverne, Minnesota. Luverne was the big town in Rock County with about 10,000 sturdy souls during World War II.

I ran across this from Selected Chaff and had to smile:
April 1, 1943
"What is this younger generation coming to? The other night we saw Keith Connell and Dave Butler drinking the weirdest combination yet -- a handful of salted peanuts poured into their Coca Cola bottles. And Willie Oltmans instead of taking his girl for a ride on his bicycle calmly climbed on the handlebars and let the girl do all the work."
Putting aside the scandal of making the girl do all the pedaling on the bike let's concentrate on the drink.

People of a certain age, and people of certain locations recall that drink with happiness -- and are now craving one. I haven't had a Coke in years and am now wishing for one, if only for that delicious moment where the salt on the peanuts and the acids in the Coke mix and you get those salty suds at the top of the bottle. Heaven in a glass, that. And I'm suddenly curious about the history of the tasty beverage.

A quick search online finds a mention of a recipe (Can you imagine? Take nuts, pour in bottle.) in a 1950s cookbook, suggesting it was perhaps only just then becoming popularly common knowledge. Another mention notes that this was a drink for the girls only until one day he found a hiding place and sampled it himself.

There's probably not a solid answer as to the origin, but it makes you wonder when
this delicacy of sorts came to be.

Old friend and semi-retired blogger Terry Oglesby notes:
I guess it must have been earlier than the '40s, but I remember doing this myself when I was a kid. (Although I was a kid in the '60s.) I kinda figure this had to have started sometime after Planters started putting shelled roasted peanuts into a cellophane wrapper and called it The Nickel Lunch but I have no way to back that up.
Everytime Terry chimes in we learn something, so we'll split the difference from the ad he forwarded on and the time in McIntosh's column and call it a product that spread regionally around the 1930s.

A bit more history though from a later period. There are new additions to the Glomerata section of the site. Poke around on that link if this is new to you. If you've been following along you're ready for the remainder of the varsity sports section of the 1976 yearbook. The latest additions cover football (including audio of Shug Jordan), highly talented basketball players and future Olympians in track and in swimming and diving.

The clothes and hairstyles, of course, are in the finest styles of the mid-1970s. You don't want to miss it.

Tomorrow? Who knows. I will not be dealing with that light. I will not give in to the Coke and peanuts craving. I will find something to write about. But probably not this much.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

It was my bleary-eyed belief that the car's thermometer said it was 19 degrees as I pointed the headlights toward the road this morning.

And foggy. That or my eyes hadn't opened yet.

Stayed indoors throughout work, enjoying leftovers for breakfast and a delightful frozen pizza microwaved precisely 2.45 seconds less than required for a crisp crust. I worked through the day and somehow noticed it was 20 minutes after the time where one ordinarily leaves. Ten more minutes would have put me in the first wave of the early commuters. I gathered my things (there are many things when you bring breakfast and lunch from home) and walked outside into the still-brisk afternoon.

The rain started about the time I made the interstate. That was the place where everyone forgot they'd developed mid-precipitation driving skills.

I stopped by the Home Improvement Warehouse of Great Loathing as it is conveniently on the way home. Conveniently located, but not conveniently accessible. The exit is onto a one way street to the right, and I need to go left. Patience is tested in beating one red light, waiting out the next, going two-tenths of a mile and then doubling back, to meet another light and, finally, the parking lot of the place you'd like to see about as much as a DMV line.

I carried my old part (a dual lightbulb socket) to the aisle where logic dictated the replacement part would be (the light aisle). It was not there. I walked around until I saw a man in a nylon vest which indicated employment and a greater understanding of the stocking procedures and layout of the store. We walked through three aisles, survived an interloper with a price question and found ... nothing. We walked to a phone, paged someone. We received no answer. At this point I wondered if working here was like my experience shopping here.

Walked then to another phone, in another section; the paint section. Another person was called. Presumably a human answered. We marched to the customer service area, which is barricaded off in the finest tradition of the 1960s westerns, reminding one of a waist-high union fort. Our intrepid vest wearing assistant consulted another person. Two others came over. Long talks ensued. They glanced sideways at me, standing just outside of their fort admiring the Carpenters Digest magazines.

They huddled, gave the old "Ready ... break!" and came out. Four of them.

Four? I need the working part of a light fixture.

The man in the know, the man we spoke with from the paint department (where all good light hardware should be found) walked us back to another section of the lighting region. They did not, he said, sell the one simple piece with two wires I needed. However, I could purchase the whole assembly. He reached up and grabbed a package and handed it to me, "Five bucks," he said.

Ah, but do you have another model? I don't need one with a pull chain.

It was at this point that the conversation began to resemble something from Spinal Tap.

"But it has a chain ..."

I have a light switch.

"But it has ..."

Light switch.

He then found a sans-pull chain model, which saved me 50 more cents.

Even better. Thanks! I said.

They quickly scattered, off to conquer more vinyl vested challenges.

I looked over the admittedly thin, but aesthetically pleasing options. I only needed one portion of this box, the part the actual light bulb screws into. The second vested gentleman explained that this box had everything I'd need inside.

So now I will have one light of this style in the house and three festively decorated glass ornaments to festoon the ceiling.


I suppose I can rotate them lest the guests, of which there are few, grew bored. This light is going in the guest room. But are they all that different? Each glass is decorated with a variation on the leaves theme. Because leaves in glass looking down upon you in the darkness as you sleep focus grouped well, one supposes.

In checking out two registers were opened. One had no dutiful attendant. The other had a lady regretfully informed me she was tied up. Back to the first register to wait for the cashier to magically appear. She asked for my phone number, to which I politely declined. This level of familiarity seems a bit much for a $4.70 light fixture.

I decided to hang it tomorrow, because the rain meant it would be too dark to work in a remove devoid of power and found that I'd had plenty, thanks.

At home I've been looking for solutions to my present photo gallery dilemma touched on here recently. It did not get resolved. There will not be daily updates. I'm conducting further experiments with the site. It is in beta, but that can't be the reason that uploading old movies to the service produced the audio track, but not the visual component. More research is needed on my part. I emptied the TiVo's suggested programs and then whittled down the EvIl eye's upcoming scheduled recordings.

Delicious leftovers for dinner. Watched The Biggest Loser, which endeavored in one episode to prove the silliness of this game twice in one episode. Too arbitrary. But the gamesmanship was perhaps the most interesting in this episode of the two-plus seasons I've watched. What's more the likable contestants stayed. And next week: A trainer cries.

The writers may be on strike, but the promo guys are bringing their A-game to the studio every day.

On the economy, since you've been hearing about it continuously the last few days. The fed is down, that was unnecessary. Even if we have a recession it would be a middling burp to this economy. The Asian and European economies are the bigger worries. I must agree with my friend Wendy (and her new personal television hero of unexplained origination Glenn Beck) that if the government would stay out of this the stocks would dip. Numbers would dive, people would buy and the industrials would rebound. More than a few new millionaires could potentially be made.

The free market economies can create their own distribution of wealth, without external efforts because an attentive audience and natural pressures make the thing so fluid. The thing you and I want is to go from a paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle to hanging out with the Waltons and the Gates. But let's be realistic; that's the stuff of campaign rhetoric and empty promises. Market pressures scattering investors and shrewdly calculated manuevers during a time like this, though, can be a reality.

Somewhere in all this Wendy nominated me for president. I'm too young. But that gave way to an impromptu address to the nation in full Bill Clinton style -- pouty lip, thumb to fist and cliched and flowery speech. Many Clintonesque jokes were made. Meanwhile his wife wants to take your'n and give it to hers'n. And he's making up the soundbites as he goes along. When Jon Stewart is calling you out on it ...

Boston Legal was good tonight. Denny Crane was used only sparingly. Alan Shore got to thunder away on the inequities of abortion laws. Unfortunately ABC's revamped site doesn't give the option to link to or embed videos, so they miss out here. Shirley Schmidt fell a little flat on the other side of the argument, but she had to in a way. One of the more fun guest stars returned though, opposite one of the more annoying guest stars.

I keep thinking that they're out of episodes, but they keep showing teasers for new episodes, the next one guest starring Scott Bakula. Yet another Star Trek tie, but he seems to have a serious role, so I don't expect any inside jokes.


Oh my.

Site stuff: Three newspapers today as we focus on the latter part of the '60s from The Birmingham News' perspective. Go here if you'd like to start from the beginning.

We're now down to the last 11 front pages in the book. Sadly there were only three additions to the section today because I ran out of time, meaning the excuses for the rest of the week will grow increasingly thinner.

Monday, January 21, 2008

I had a dream that a man did not look at others with menace in his eyes. His neighbors wore no fear on their sleeve. The guy across the way was calm, happy, peaceful and kind.

My dreams are a bit short and vaguely to the point. Usually they end with a "that's swell" feeling or at least, "Wouldn't that be swell?"

It was a floating holiday for the company and some took the day off. I decided to spend the day at the office and read on the many Martin Luther King Jr. marches and prayer breakfasts and service day activities on this, the last holiday holding out against commercial advertisements. "Free at last, free at last. Consolidate your bills and be free at last!"

Leonard Pitts Jr. devoted his space to reminding us of the unsung heroes of the civil rights era. This is a fitting tribute taking in a few of the many important people of the civil rights era. Jack Ohman, cartoonist for sister paper The Oregonian penned a timely winner.

I read Letter from a Birmingham Jail today, as it has been a year or three since I've studied those thoughts. Given the day, given that I'd just yesterday looked at the jail cell door behind which King wrote that letter. It is at the Freedom Park just outside of Washington D.C. I saw it almost five years ago.

It stands alone. There are no walls to be stuck behind. No bars to prevent your progress. It is a stark, chilling reminder of a day when a person could be arrested for protest. King's plan "to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation" worked, the Civil Rights Acts were passed and the rest is history. And present, for that is still this generation. There may be a long way to go, but look how far we've come.

I'm an optimist.

Went to the library. Libraries are closed on Martin Luther King Day. Wouldn't it be nice if this were a day of learning, too? We could spend the morning reading important things about where we come from and, after a light lunch, go out with those lessons in mind and help shape where we're going. That's a swell dream.

That video made the front page of the site today. I made that for fun, but if I'd known the boss wanted it I would have put a little more effort into the narration. Even still, it creates many chuckles. The Southerners smile at it, the Yankees guffaw (the difference being in the accent).

Went to the Large Warehouse Store of My Membership Choice. The one being more popular than the other in this region, and having arrived several years earlier, my allegiances are there. I've stood in the doorway of the other warehouse store and stared. I can get tubs of mayonnaise at convincingly low prices at both so, for now, I'll stick where I am.

There were many meats to purchase, once the oblivious woman and her cart were bypasses at the main entrance. She was on her phone with one hand and in my hip with the other. A few moments later she was threatening to mow down all who dared slow to look at a product.

In the frozen food section I decided that she'd been so inattentive already that I could make jokes out loud. She never acknowledged my presence.

Chicken, pork, salmon were purchased in great quantities. A South American nation's economy was bolstered by my purchase of paper towels. Tissue paper for a platoon was picked up on the way to the cash register. The young cashier and I took turns giving one another grief. She picking on me because I couldn't find my membership card. I picked on her for destroying the styrofoam backing of the pork chops. No matter; they'll soon be frozen.

I complimented her boots and we made nice. By the time I made it to the door I'd momentarily lost not only the membership card, but also the receipt. It had fluttered down in between the many trays of meat. Finally the nice lady at the door let me pass.

After that a stop at the actual grocery store for Ziploc in which to freeze all of this stuff. I picked up a nice card with a lighthouse on it and bought some supposedly healthy frozen lunches.

At home I stored the paper towels. Four rolls upstairs in a flanking position on the kitchen, the remaining 672 in reserve downstairs in the basement. The toilet tissue was stowed safely in the bathroom closet. It was touch-and-go there for a while. The house was on the last roll of each before this shopping trip.

The pork, chicken and salmon were held in the basement freezer, where all meat and at least two servings of a full Thanksgiving meal reside. I've been considering that meal, since Thanksgiving, but I'm holding it off for a cold night when comfort food is the order of the day. For dinner tonight, spaghetti, with a finer noodle. It has a name of its own, but it is long, stringy and pasta and that's spaghetti to me.

Worked on the campaign buttons and now this. McGovern and Muskie tonight. Talk about a time when the Democrats didn't really have their act together.

Tomorrow: I'm doing one (or possibly two) errands, depending on when I leave the office. I will certainly embellish the re-telling of that event and present it to you here. Also, there's going to new newspapers and probably a mix of this and that to get you through. It should be worth your visit. So drop by and stay awhile.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The reviews on yesterday's little video are coming in.

"That was awesome!! Good to see that you survived the winter's fury."

"100 cocktails! We most heartily approve."

"Thank you Jesus for Southern California. Amen."

"How funny! And how true! Makes me glad I live in the frigid north where it never snows that much!"


"We are not sure what exactly it is that you do at work, but if this isn't it then you have truly missed your calling. Great storm coverage!"

One person wrote to say they didn't really understand ironic absurdity as a comedic form. The rest of us understand and sympathize.

You can see what all the fuss is about below, or you can go to my page.

I love this service. It is free, there's no realistic maximum file size that I'll ever threaten. The embedded versions can be to any scale. I have a clean and direct personal URL. Their tech support is fast and the whole service is so far very easy. About the only thing they're missing is a Facebook option, but I'm sure that's coming given the heft of that network. has my vote.

Here's the thing: I took the pictures, I recorded the audio -- which surprisingly timed out perfectly on the first take -- but I had help putting it together. All the real credit belongs to Kelly. She took the audio and the images and made it a video. She nailed it the first time and is a tireless worker doing thankless (and free) work.

So help me pay her back by paying her a visit.

Meanwhile we're all still trying to dig out from the blizzard that wasn't. I've spent the day watching football, listening as the Patriots advanced to the Super Bowl over the Chargers. Watched the TiVo version of the Packers-Giants game.

I'm still cold and I watched from the comfort of my recliner. There's no messing around there, four below zero is frigid. At what point does cold just become cold? At what point does it no longer matter if the wind chill is -21 or -29?

And why was there one guy on the Green Bay sidelines in only a turtleneck and shorts?
The Giants head coach, at the same time, refused to protect his face and if the news tomorrow is that he lost an ear or his nose to frostbite no one would be too surprised.

Since the snowdrifts are keeping us all inside -- my storm door opens outward and I can't push aside the four flurries still clinging to survival in the shade of the handrail -- I've spent the rest of my time in front of the computer.

I'm making new photo galleries. It is slow progress, but the galleries look great. If you go to the pictures page and start from the bottom you can see the new look. It will take a while to be caught up, and you'll need to be patient with me here, but that's the basic idea.

With some consolidation of random old galleries I'm now up to the summer of 2004. The images were still very small at the time, but they're about to get larger and more numerous. If nothing else it has been a fantastic trip up the memory river as I try to recall all of these events and right a brief little caption.

Anyway, since we're endorsing services today the new photo galleries come from a group called Airtight Interactive. I had to learn a bit more of php and xml and getting the file structure straight was slow going in the early stages this afternoon. Otherwise it is simple, light, and beautiful. It allows for thumbnails and there are only two quirky things to address.

There's supposed to be the option that allows you to download an image. I'm not sure how I feel about that, but I would like to be able to turn it off and on. So far I'm not having any success with it. Also, the thumbnails are automatically generated (which is great but the code calls for them to be generated out of a separate subdirectory, eating up extra service space (which is not so great).

If I can make it generate thumbnails out of the images subdirectory rather than having to upload the same image twice I'd be set. If anyone knows where to do that in the php or if that can be changed in the .js or the .swf that'd be great to learn.

So while you figure that out go look through some of the old pictures. Maybe by next weekend I'll be able to report a little more progress toward bringing all of the old archives up to the new standard.

Also updated on the site is snow video, of which we've spent so much time bragging. You can find that on the A/V page. You can also find it in yesterday's post and on Really, there's no excuse. Also, go visit Kelly for all of her hard work.

One last sad note: A former colleague lost his youngest son in a tragic accident this weekend. Rick Burgess has a wonderful family, a lifetime of friends and a huge audience that he reaches out and genuinely touches every day. And none of that can ease a parent's worst pain.

We can get many blessings in this life, but not so many that we can overlook them. Hug your loved ones just a bit tighter as soon as you have the chance.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

And so it snowed.

Truly it is a miracle that we're able to reach out to the rest of the world, such is the winter devastation.

Our little corner of things awoke to a world of white. As you can tell from the new background image Stoic Oaks is, for a time, Snowy Oaks.

There are more images to share. Here's a snowy bush in the front of the house. The snowy fence down in the pastureland. You can also enjoy a snowy cedar across the way.

Just one more time, to refresh your memory, we're talking about Birmingham, Alabama here. Snow doesn't come that often, which means the news crews get anxious -- they provided continuous coverage for hours -- and the residents get antsy.

Perhaps this is the best way to express the local impact of the devastating snow front.

That little video was done before the snow melted by the way. How we'll get out ... how the community will recover is anyone's guess.

Initially there was a very real, but minor concern about the melted snow refreezing in tonight's low temperatures, but the roads seemed dry enough. At this point it isn't the weather, but drivers out of their element is enough to keep right-thinking people at home.

Friday, January 18, 2008

It is supposed to snow tomorrow. We've been discussing it for a few days now. From Wednesday on we've studied forecast models that offered between one and six inches. Originally it was a Friday night snow storm. By this afternoon it turned into an overnight snow storm. The models are a bit in flux, but most tend to agree: snow is coming.

The forecast says we'll get one to two inches, with a possibility of four to six inches further south and outside of town.

For the new readers we should note that this is in the Deep South. It doesn't happen a lot and is a big deal.

Does this look like a sky preparing to drop snow across a state?

After work I stopped by the bank where four of us stood in line, four ladies sat behind the counter all aware they were moments from closing. They did not care for doing us the favor of attending our petty banking needs.

Leaving the bank I saw this guy. That can't be a safe way to use a trailer. I wonder if he knows. Wooden palettes deserve all four tires.

Also, the Z in that sign in the background is backwards. I wonder if they know.

Here's a weather update: A chill is in the air and the sun is beaming down. We must remember, as always, that we live in Birmingham. We must remain in a believe-it-when-we-see-it mode about the snow.

I got stuck in a snarl of traffic on the way home. There'd been a nasty crash with a fatality. A lumber truck crossed the median of the interstate and hit another vehicle and one of the drivers died. That happened this morning but the scene was still being cleared as lumber, and parts of a neon yellow car, were everywhere. Two lanes were still closed four hours after the crash.

A nice long phone call with mom later -- she's been visiting north Alabama and was returning to Indiana before the prospect of any snow -- and it was time for Pie Day.

We stood in the cool, while waiting for our usual table, remarking that it wasn't yet cold enough for snow. Ward served us quickly, Taylor had the grilled cheese, I had a chicken sandwich and stew. Potatoes, nachos and grilled brisket were also enjoyed before the pie. We were loud and boisterous and probably annoying to the tables around us.

The group managed to get out of the restaurant in seemingly record time. Before 8 p.m. we were playing with balloons and saying our goodbyes.

After that The Yankee and I stopped by the grocery store to watch the customers prepare for the snow. We got in trouble with a manager as we walked out of the store because I was taking pictures. He was ready to play the mean manager role, but softened when I turned to talk and realized I was older than him.

He snickered when I mentioned that we were photographing his empty shelves. He almost seemed apologetic asking us not to do it again. They really do like to be accommodating.

And now I'm going to get ready to sleep so I can wake up early and enjoy the snow. Or not, depending. Believe it when you see it.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

After Wednesday's frustrations Thursday was earmarked for doing not much of anything.

For lunch Brian and I ventured out for lunch at Momma Goldbergs, where we discovered that instead of hanging old memorabilia on the walls they've found a workaround. "You know guys, the landlord said nothing on the walls, but he didn't say anything about the ceiling!"

Off to the side they have two two-by-two ceiling panels with markers, inviting you to graffiti up the joint. Two panels were already decorated and looking down on the gathering lunch crowd, offering a neon swirl of names and messages to the craning necks. These next two would go up soon. On one I wrote the work logo, on the other my name and graduation year. The next time we visit I'll offer profound thoughts.

This is just their evil plan to get me there weekly, and force me to gain six pounds.

This evening ... not much really. Sat around, watched a bit of a documentary on the Missouri River that turned out to be a good sleep maker.

For dinner I was treated to a gift card at Cracker Barrel, where I enjoyed a nice pot roast and the parent-child power struggle of a different generation.

"Tim! Come down from there. You must finish your studies and get cleaned up for dinner."

"No Dad! I don't want to do homework!"

"One. Two. Thr --"

"I'll shoot abnormally large and empty Chuck Taylor's at you with my eyes."

"I'm not kidding Tim."

"They will have mysteriously half-undone shoestrings and they will not match. One for your larynx and one for your forehead!"

Dad chuckles because Timmy always forgot how his father could create huge belts with his eyes. Children often forget their parents superpowers. There would be no comfort, canvas or otherwise, for Timmy on the tree branch in the near future.
There was also a throwback ad for Hersey's that wanted to fool you into thinking it was authentic. I took photos, thinking of a second joke, but realized that the eyebeams were a common and potent weapon of our grandparents as children.

I'd planned to go to the grocery store and watch everyone panic over bread and milk, but decided to wait until tomorrow. Snow is in the forecast.


Believe it when you see it.

What you can see right now, though, is a cute old black and white photograph. You can see them all if you start right here.

I started looking at a new way to present the photo archives on the site, but have simultaneously discovered that looking down at the monitor is one of the things that is aggravating this strained neck muscle. No need to sit here and be squirmy, I'm going to go rest the head.

Tomorrow, lots of pictures, Pie Day and the beginning of the third book of the week. You can feel the excitement of Friday from Thursday night!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

So today became a day of unaccomplishment. Given the wincing brought on by the seemingly random returns of neck (and now shoulder?) pain it was a day of doing not much.

We did not much for most of the day at work too. The network went down around 11:30. Being an internet company we all simultaneously said "That's lunch!" Fully expecting everything to be online when we returned, but dismayed to still be disconnected from the rest of the world, we cleaned desks, computers, threw footballs and read random things that we happened to have close at hand on our respective hard drives. Fifteen minutes before I left the office the network returned.

About the time the network went down it started snowing on us downtown. I joked that we should grab a dark poster board, a funnel and let it be our snow catch. When the network comes back up that can be the feature story. We could even contrast it to the foot of snow in New York and the 20 inches in Maine, making even more fun of ourselves.

I wrote The Yankee, a person eager for snow, who unfortunately lives this far south. I got a few snowflakes on my tongue; she was about an hour further south today and saw nothing.

The snow, and then sleet, caused no problems. This must be mentioned because we are in the Deep South where mentions of snow can bring a public institution suddenly quiet and grocery stories suddenly empty of food products. Alas, it was well above freezing, so there was little to it as a precipitation even. The meteorologists would be generous if they called it trace amounts.

Two businesses should be bragged upon. Since we spent so much time yesterday disturbed by the poor work of others it seems only fair.

The first issue was one of poor delivery times. I ordered a gift for a late Christmas party, chose three day shipping and 11 days later, and after the party, the package arrived. I requested the return procedure, ThinkGeek has streamlined the procedure to clicking a link in an Email, clicking a link on the subsequent page and then printing a custom return form. You simply attach that to the box and put it into the mail. No shipping.

Yesterday I got an Email notifying me that the purchase price had been refunded to my PayPal. However I was still on the hook for the shipping. Today I wrote the customer service people, politely asked why I was still paying for the part of the service that left me high and dry, the three day UPS shipping, and promptly received a reply that a second check would be delivered, returning me the eight bucks or so. There was a problem, ThinkGeek quickly and easily fixed it.

The second issue was a package I ordered just before New Years to discover soon thereafter it was on back order. Nothing was said for a bit. An Email this morning inquiring about the package, and I soon received a note saying it would be in Friday, and shipped out immediately with the "Oh, so sorry we goofed, here's your package yesterday" delivery system. I take it on good faith that that's happening. If so, I'll recommend them to you as well.

In all, two reasonable pleasant experiences to offset yesterday's joyless day.

So I wrote some letters this evening, talked with some friends. I played with a new website idea, but it is going nowhere. Instead I'll make some long desired changes to the current design. No promises on when, though. I've learned that lesson.

On XM yesterday I hear a David Mann song by Jo Stafford and Gordon MacRae called Dearie. Here are some of the lyrics:
Do you remember
when we waltzed to the Sousa Band?
My, wasn't the music grand?
When Henry Ford couldn't even fix
the running board under a Chandler 'six?'
life was cheery
in the good old days gone by.
do you remember
when we stayed up all night
to get Pittsburgh on a crystal set?
Keystone movies,
Coogan and Chaplin,
made you laugh and then cry.
Test your memory,
my dearie,
do you recall
when Orville Wright flew at Kitty Hawk?
The boxer John L. Sullivan, Gilda Gray, Man of War, Harry Lauder, the Chicago fire and Babe Ruth as a Boston pitcher also make the song. It is history and longing for a different time, a portrait of nostalgia from the mid-20th Century. But really it is a comic duet, because the chorus sneaks up on you with sweetness
life was cheery
in the good old days gone by.
Do you remember?
If you remember,
well, dearie,
you're much older than I.
The lyrics come from here, but I don't wish to burn your retinas with that background.

I have an old friend from high school and college that called people Dearie. I always wondered where she picked that up. Now I wonder was it her family or this song? Or did the family get it from the song? This was on the Big Band/1940s channel (home of terrific programming), despite being a song from 1950. And just look at the people that have recorded that tune. As it is with most everything else, I'd love to hear the Bing Crosby version.

I read books. Sometimes it feels like a lot of them. Usually I read slow, taking in the sentence structure, word use and paragraph place to try to gleam everything possible about the author's style, should it ever come up in casual conversation. but this has just been an usual week all the way around, so I may as well finish one book, start another and then finish it too.

The first book, mentioned within the last week or so, was Trest and Dodd's Wings of Denial, detailing the role of the Alabama Air National Guard in the Bay of Pigs invasion. They tell the story, for the most part, in a chronological fashion. And by the time the invasion starts you can anticipate how everything will go, even if you know nothing of the period.

The book discussed the survivors and what they would return home to and by then the tone has shifted just a bit. Earlier it felt the blame would be put on President John F. Kennedy (running a plan put into place at the behest of the Eisenhower administration) and the CIA. By the end of the book you're left thinking that perhaps it would be better if the CIA didn't do such sordid work, but that most of the fingers should be pointing at the Kennedy White House.

All seem to agree that if the air campaign hadn't been so hamstrung the tactical situation would have greatly improved for the invading Cuban exiles. In that sense many people, the book indicates had the opportunity to drive home the point, but all lost their will. In retrospect, then, it is a heartbreaking piece of futility which led directly to the Cuban Missile Crisis, foreshadowed American action in Vietnam and should have been a good hint about what not to get involved in.

So I finished that book yesterday during lunch hour and quickly started the next book, something I found just before the holidays. It turned out to be an almost tear-jerker of a book and I decided to give a copy to a few friends within the first two chapters.

Letters to Sam is just that: correspondence. The author is psychologist Dr. Dan Gottlieb, a radio show host, newspaper columnits and quadriplegic. He started out writing these letters at his grandson's birth, and through his young years, even beyond Sam's diagnosis with autism. It is one part sappy, one part spiritual and about 14 parts of what we'd all want the world to be.

It is a quick read. Reading the first few letters in public was not a good idea as they are particularly touching; I almost had to pretend that something was flying into my eye. I'm sentimental.

I finished that book during today's lunch hour (A book a day! I'm exhausted!) and must raid my stack of books again. This is the worst part. There are a dozen interesting books there. Which to choose? I don't want to alienate a book-giver if I don't read their book write away, but that would ruin the order. And what about those dusty old books I bought at that used book store? Or the ones that just appeared? Which one should I read next?

These are the dramatic moments of my life.

Tonight I watched a documentary on Pickett's Charge, couldn't get into a documentary on Jamestown. Now I'm thinking of going to bed early for the second night in a row.

This has all been so exciting, I know. Tomorrow will be even better when I ... gasp ... go card shopping.

On the site: The Glomerata section returns. We're back in 1976, taking glimpses at what life at Auburn would have been like in our parents generation. The place is very familiar, the women are beautiful and the pants are laughingly bad. This section deals with sports, so there are a few great pictures and finding out whatever happened to some of those young men and women. Click that link if you've been following along, follow this one if you're just getting started.

Thanks for stopping by. We'll see you again on your next trip. Make it soon, won't you?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

This has been, easily, the least fun day of the new year. I could complain, but lemons, lemonade and all that.

It does no good to mention that I spent two hours waiting for my car to have its oil changed, only to find out that the car had been ready but no one bothered to tell me. It means little that the mechanic got oil or grease on the leather interior, or that the door panel also seems a little more scuffed than when I left it. Oh, also, something is burning off the engine when it drives too, for another piece of automotive unpleasantness.

"Sorry" rings hollow when you've wasted an afternoon in a customer lounge that smells of burned coffee and those who should consider adding baths to their daily ritual.

Oh, also, something is burning off the engine when it drives too, for another piece of automotive unpleasantness.

All that and I paid three dollars more than at the place nearest the office, where I am in and out in 15 minutes. And I'd be leaving with a clean windshield, no less.

So I won't complain about that. To you. The dealership's service center manager, perhaps, not that it will do any more good.

I don't have much in life to complain about, really I don't, but experience tells you which ones will mean anything.

We could discuss how the Other Home Improvement Warehouse was out of the one item I needed. Give them this: two different men helped me to find out that tidbit. At their competitor's store I'd still be looking on my own.

I could discuss going to Comp USA to pick over the remnants of that store. Cynically I note the shallow discounts. Not the deep discounts. It's seven percent on that, 15 percent on this. You wonder about their original profit margins. And then you realize they couldn't have been very high or they wouldn't be liquidating the shelves.

I got home after 6:30 this evening. I'd been gone since before 6 a.m. Those long days are very long. I much prefer seeing daylight in my neighborhood at least once a day, but not today. So that'd be another frustration.

My neck is also uncomfortable again. It isn't a horrible pain, I'm not limited in any exercise or duty, but it is there, just enough to be annoying and just enough to be painful. I blame the lousy chairs in the smelly customer lounge at the car dealership.

Anyway, the thing I wanted to do when I finally got home was to lay down for a few minutes, but no position helped. So I've tried sitting, which was uncomfortable, walking around the hardware and dead-electronics store, which wasn't bad, and now the pillow and mattress were of no relief.

This could be a grumpy mood, but there was a delicious pork chop to enjoy. There was the guilty pleasure of watching snippets of The Biggest Loser, the one faux-called reality show that I enjoy (and then only in select segments). There was the satisfaction of knowing I'd completed my website task of the evening. I really did want to get ahead of the thing, more on that in a bit, but the afternoon's experience took that out of my hands.

There's also the joys of a new episode of Boston Legal. And Denny Crane was the star once again. Some woman killed her husband and he got the jury to find her not guilty on three counts with the very simple conundrum "Am I crazy? Or is she? That's reasonable doubt."

Far Eastern masters would be proud, sir.

There was a divorce-lawyers-are-dirty subplot that didn't really go anywhere. My theory is one of the people that wrote the episode had an ax to grind, but looked down at his manuscript and felt just as futile there as he did in court.

Once again at least two of the title characters were wholly absent or reduced to one line. Others are just treading through the oatmeal. They can create characters for this little world, but it seems they rarely know how they want to use them. I'll continue watching, of course, but I fear for the show; I'm afraid they've all but run out of steam.

When I got home I was a bit disappointed with the afternoon, but now I feel much better. Piddling around the house is cathartic, which is why I'm planning a full day of it for tomorrow. Presuming the neck and shoulder feel better. To that end I'm going to apply the heating pad for a bit.

So come back tomorrow, for details on the great snow that wasn't, domestic goofings and the new Glomerata additions.

Until then, enjoy the newest additions to the newspaper section. We're coming close to the end of that project. There were 100 historical front pages to look at and we're now down to the last handful. We're now in the tumultuous 1960s, and there's lots to cover there, so get going. Or you can start at the beginning right here.

That's all for now. Thanks for visiting. We'll meet again tomorrow, chipper and ache-free.

Incidentally, the best part of a frustrating day is the lemon stand of tomorrow.

Monday, January 14, 2008

I had a particularly vivid dream conversation this morning around 3 a.m. It sat me bolt upright and I could not fall immediately back to sleep as is often the case. After a few minutes I gave up, got up and caught up on the overnight Email and read a few journalism essays from Poynter.

I had breakfast. The cereal, milk and bowl were all surprised. Not the spoon. I keep the others in the dark, but the spoon has a way of getting a jump on things. He and his friends are always shiny and ready. I've no complaints with the silverware, they're a hardworking bunch.

Even made it to work a few minutes early. Later in the day while filling out the requisite time sheet I realized that last week was the first in a month or so where I was at the office each day. Much of December and January have been a string of three or four day weeks. Now we're back to full weeks. Not only did I work all of last week, but I'll work all of this week as well. The schedules are back to normal. The last two people I haven't spoken with recently asked, today, about my holidays. It struck me as a silly question.

That was so long ago. How was yours?

When I walked downstairs I saw the last of the holidays still proudly on display. You stow everything away, stacking the cards in neat bundles to put away safely. In a few months, or a year or two, you'll run across those cards and remember: They are what was so great about those holidays.

I'll put the cards up this week, along with the last few decorations hinting at a green and red theme. Oh everything is down, and within a respectable amount of time. They all just landed in symmetrically organized stacks in a rarely used room. Out of sight, out of mind and all that.

In other news today I did not go to the car dealership. I will do it tomorrow. I rationalized it as not having enough reading material in the car to occupy my time while the car was being serviced and replenished. That was a factor, but a small one. In truth I just wanted to be home. There were things to read and things to write. If I work quickly, I thought to myself I might get ahead of the website for the week for the first time ever

From such thoughts spring unrealistic expectations. But I am ahead. So much so that it crossed my mind to not only be ahead, but to do more with the leftover time. Will zeal carry me that far or will I sit back and read and watch DVDs? Not a bad dilemma: Which of my many pleasing hobbies will satisfy now that I'm ahead on some of my other pleasing hobbies?

Life is good.

Speaking of good: Here's the infamous dive from Saturday. Taylor's grandfather sent me that photograph. And I'm still a little sore.

While working on the site tonight I listened to a bit of the fifth season of 24 once again. The Chambers TiVo has been recording the program. While there's nothing much happening with the downstairs TiVo there is now a concerted effort to empty some of the space on this machine. The fifth season is good, and holds up well after watching the rest of the series. We started watching in a convoluted order -- 5th, 6th, 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th -- but I'm still pleased with pre-Chinese prisoner Jack Bauer.

It takes gumption to threaten to remove the eyeball of the White House chief of staff in front of the president.

The sixth season is universally held with a fair amount of contempt. There were high hopes for the seventh season prior to the writers' strike. Many people bemoan the strike, but I'm ambivalent. I still have television to watch, stacks of DVDs to get through and I'm still somehow finding ways to spend less and less time with the television. Somewhere in there is the lesson for the networks and the writers. A great many were already disenchanted before the strike, but now the two sides are creating new problems. Some viewers have found a silver lining and a saving grace. Many of us have found we can get along just fine, thank you.

Though I still advocate a return to classic programming as interim filler. Now with talk shows of nostalgic rememberance to pad the scheduling even further!

Yes, you'd watch Bill Cosby sitting in the round with the cast from his show. You'd all talk about it at work the next day too.

On the site: Two new sets of political campaign buttons to glance at. We just started looking at these last week, so you aren't too far behind if you start at the beginning. However, if you're ready to go straight to the newest addition, this is your click.

Also, I earned yet another honorable mention in the Outside the Beltway caption contest. It is a great photograph, and my caption was middling at best, but I aspire to one day regain the rare top spot. There's always the newest contest, but all the good captions were already taken by the time I chimed in.

Just for you: an alien limerick generator. The internet, full of as yet untold time wasters.

Tomorrow, when you tear yourself away from that generator, you'll find new newspapers here, an oil change tale, more discussion of books and whatever else passes our way.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

And now, to follow up on the Too-old-to-be-a-kid meme, we'll assess the injuries and soreness from yesterday's birthday party activities.

The worst thing today is the neck. I mentioned that last night -- how could I not? -- because it seemed painful and important at the time. I applied the heating pad for a while and wrestled with a comfortable way to sleep and drifted away into a bouncyland dreamworld of fun and activity where nothing hurts.

Aside from that the elbows are a bit sensitive from the joys of skin and rubber friction, otherwise I'm in pretty good shape.

In short: I'm not five, like all of the other children at the party. In fact, it seems I've had yet another birthday since the last time Taylor celebrated here. The body only reminds you of these things after the fact.

Last night, though, the neck wasn't playing well with the rest of me. This morning it was OK. I had moments today when there was no pain and a few moments when turning at the waist was the best move. Now, in the evening time, I'm cured. It is a miracle of rest and some of that anti-inflammatory smelly stuff.

As far as I can tell I hurt some muscle in the fun at the bouncy place. Sometimes you just land wrong and it aches for a bit. I'm fine; you needn't send cards, flowers, chicken soup or well-wishes.

Mostly I'm using it as an excuse to do nothing and watch playoff football.

Here are the late-night photographs from last night. We stopped downtown and walked over to the convention center for a few snaps. Here's the fountain by the east hall.

Here's part of the skyline from a perspective most people don't see on a daily basis. From left to right those are the Wachovia, Regions, Harbert Center and the AT&T buildings. People zip by from one direction to the next through the nerve center of the city and always on the freeway, but this little view is tucked between the downtown Sheraton and the BJCC and looks lovely, minus the orange tungsten lights.

Finally there's the Jordan and Bryant statue. It celebrates friendship, fair play and two pretty good football coaches.

Today there's been some of this and not much else. Pie Day was this evening, with Melissa coming by to steal food and school tips. She's the hostess friend who's already for college and starting to feel nervous about it. Now is the time she must write her entrance essay and so we talked a bit about the morality of man.

Given where she hopes to go to school I said she should begin with "I believe in work, hard work."

We had barbecue, talked about writing and had pie. Now I'm back home, winding down from the weekend and trying to remember the posture I had last night for comfortable rest.

And now, the prettiest picture of the day.

I hope your weekend has been as festive and restive as mine. Come back tomorrow for more serene fairy tales, new campaign buttons and the origin of the sore neck.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Following up photo dump Friday with photo dump Saturday!

Brian and Elizabeth's daughter Taylor turned five recently. Today was her party.

The fifth party was a lot like the fourth party, which is to say a screaming good time and back by popular demand. The event was held at the indoor bouncy place, where they make the kids watch a safety video, acknowledge that the kids ignore the rules and have a room monitor who's barely present. The kids shed their shoes and some of the adults, kids in bigger clothes, really, end up having as much or more fun.After an hour or so the kids are shooed into a side room for cake and presents.

Taylor and her uncle faced off in the giant boxing ring. Taylor beat him up.

Brian taught her how to punch.

I made a new friend, Gracie, who liked the mini-slide. I couldn't get her on the medium or the giant slides. She said that last year at one of these parties she broke her arm on them. While she wouldn't try the larger slides, this little girl did.

Gracie followed me around a lot. I thought we'd developed a nice friendship, but really I had become boxing ring fodder.

The Yankee was eager to show that those college gymnasts have nothing on her.

I was attacked by younger women. That's Taylor, the birthday girl, and Gracie in the pink. The girl in the middle, Kaitlin, was one of those children that was just a bit too aggressive. No kicking needed!

Whenever Gracie disappeared I knew she was back on her slide. I kept bumping into her there. She'd climb up the left side and slide down the left side. I never saw her use the identical one on just to the right.

"Still got it!" The Yankee says.

When the children were herded into the party room she broke out the flips. The Yankee, a teenage relative of the birthday girl and I each displayed our various levels of agility.

Taylor and the kids were eating delicious cake and cold ice cream. And then, as the children gathered around, out came the presents. Taylor got a DVD of The Little Mermaid that The Yankee picked up. Taylor proclaimed excellent with a kiss.

I learned, with some trepidation, that My Little Pony is now a step closer to realizing their grand scheme. Already able to talk, they can now sit up and walking upright. They're only an opposable thumb away from taking over.

Taylor got a baby and a carrier. When we loaded up the grandparents' car we put it in the trunk. We also learned that you can't go wrong with Disney or princesses for five-year-old girls.

After the presents there was the after-party at the church, where family and a very few select friends were invited for spaghetti. We played keep away from the kids with a super ball, which adds an entirely new spastic dimension to that game. We stayed there until 8 p.m., stopped on the way back through town for a few select night shots (which I'll share next week) and then I made my way home for the night.

Which is about when I started to feel the pain. Turns out I've had another birthday since Taylor's last birthday. I didn't feel it at the bouncy place, nor while tussling with the kids before dinner. I didn't notice it while taking photographs downtown in 40-degree weather.

As soon as I got home, though, my neck started aching. It seems I didn't protect myself very well on one ambitious leap across that giant boxing ring. Looks like it is heating pad time for me!

A great Saturday though, I hope yours was just as silly and wonderful. Come back tomorrow for adventures not yet determined.

Friday, January 11, 2008

This is a photo dump Friday!

After work, and a very easy and uneventful trip to the post office, the end of the week was celebrated by a trip to Tuscaloosa. "Hooray, weekend!" the sunset seemed to say.

The Yankee and I stopped by Gorgas Library and were helped by a young woman who was dedicated to the job, despite working on the first Friday evening of the new term. There were not many people still in the campus buildings at closing time.

The book we sought, the online service said, had been returned on December 8th, but never returned to the shelf. We looked through four carts where the book had lounged for the past month and picked up the text. We made jokes, but it is possible that the hiding place kept the book there for The Yankee to find while everyone else looked on the shelf and came up empty.

The Alabama library is also on the InterLibrary Loan system, which remains the neatest service dealing with dusty old books. I asked an older librarian about the participating libraries because the literature didn't discuss who took part. The UAB libraries, the Auburn libraries, Yale, the Library of Congress. You can get anything you want, all you have to do is ask.

Dinner at the original Dreamland, where we sat in the corner and ate ribs and banana pudding and found that life in the dining department was perfect.

We drove back to campus for gymnastics. The Yankee went in the student doors and I walked around to the general admission entrance and despaired at the line. A woman directly in front of me had an extra ticket and I took it off her hands. I paid five dollars for a six buck ticket because I'm a shrewd business man.

Alabama, who starts the season ranked sixth in the nation, hosted Illinois to open the season. I remembered difficulties of photographing the vault. Illinois had a nice start on the bars. I just took pictures rather than notes, so I'm not sure who's who, but the bars were the highlight of the night for the Illini.

The Alabama cheerleaders threw t-shirts into the crowd for each high score by the Bama squad, but they're pretty cheap with the shirts. A local Toyota dealership, however, was full of generosity, giving away everything in the Apple catalog over the course of the night, and a huge flatscreen television.

Alabama, by the way, is very good. This is the best vault shot of the night. Alabama's Olympian, Terin Humphrey, only competed on the bars because of a lingering injury. Illinois placed no higher than fourth on any individual event and this guy approves of Bama's dominance.

Sarah Patterson couldn't help but be enthusiastic as Alabama started their season strong. She had many fist-pumps, before quickly remembering to keep a focused composure as her team competed on the beam.

I couldn't get good floor shots from my spot. There were too many fans below and the teams crowded the near side. So I just focused on happy gymnasts. Is that a smile from Patterson? Here's another happy gymnast and another upside down one.

There's more joy from the floor. They like it there, or at least fake it well. But smiling is contagious, along with all of Alabama's high scores.

The Yankee tells me that this is called a planche. It turns into something like this. Seems like it would hurt your shoulders, but she says it hurts your wrists, wistfully remembering when she did that on the beam.

That was about as good as it got on the beam for Illinois. Everyone else fell off. Illinois watched a respectable meet turn into what The Yankee called a "good solid thumping" as Alabama posted its second highest season opening score.

And that was a good Friday. Need more photographs? There's a kids party tomorrow, which will likely mean a similar report here.

Hooray, weekend!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Lots of storms today. Finally some rain. No one worries about it, unless they're driving. We're so accustomed to violent storms, even in the winter months, that we just hold a wary eye on the radar all day. I can say that now that the storms have passed, dumped rain, weakened and caused scattered but mild damage. We have muddy yards for a change, a few unfortunate souls have upended lives.

Just as I was preparing to leave the office for the day, having timed the trip in between the storm cells, word came in that a coworker's mother's home had been damaged in beautiful Caledonia, Miss. A school bus was on the high school gym. Four or five neighboring houses destroyed. A church was flattened. The mother was fine, but had some wind damage and standing water. Even in relief the news is frightening. All of her family was accounted for, and even grainy cellphone photographs were being Emailed, but still the nervous stress was visible.

So we all watched a lot of radar all day and all night. You can get a sense of whether the storms will punish you and by no means does this replace modern forecasting, it does help you relax when the television and the online radar only show three shades of red rather than the more dangerous five.

Locally the day wasn't warm enough. The pressure never changed quickly enough. There was no hail. Everything thinned out between striking a few Mississippi towns and over rural west Alabama. All the schools close up early these days, but today they just closed for rain. No one criticizes this, not after Enterprise. Not even for raindrops. You never know what is bending out of those clouds. Even in January.

We received more than an inch of rain across the metro, meaning we're above pace for the month. That's good, since we're still about 22 inches behind for 2007 alone. The rain will help the winter crops, but we're still far below normal water levels. Still, it is a promising start.

Meanwhile: snow in Baghdad.

And now, my unrepresentative of anything photograph of the week. I try to share photographs that tell a story, or pictures that look impossibly neat, but this one just felt artsy, so I took it. On the interstate. No one was nearby on this straightaway and the rain had all but stopped. For a time. It rained more, much more in the evening. Around sunset a lightning bolt kissed the earth a mile or two away and rumbled over the neighborhood for a long time. Mostly, though, we just had the rain.

Which, somehow, brings us nicely to the music.

This past week I've been kicking myself for even considering letting the free subscription to my car's XM radio lapse. At the 11th hour I finally bought a year, thinking that four comedy stations worth of jokes I could steal for my own would be worth it. Monday I listened to Bill Anderson's Legends show with country musician and all-around good guy Vince Gill. He played some really old stuff, like first single old, and some great conversation in just the few snippets I could catch in the car.

The next morning, on that same channel was Bob Dylan's Themetime Radio Hour. I'll be saying nothing new to XM listeners for the next paragraph or three, but here I realized that the specialty shows on this station are on a one hour loop. That crazy voice filled with too much Minnesota, Greenwhich Village and drug use has an addictive little tilt to it when he's reading his show prep. And from that there's no getting around how much music the man knows. He's still rubbing away at the borders and boundaries of musical division.

And while I generally don't care for his voice and the presumptive voice of a generation, there's no getting around his being a tremendous writer and a man with great taste. The shows are done in themes, this week's being walkin'. A guy named Patrick Crosley is archiving the history that Dylan is showing off. Here's the lineup if you're interested in seeing it before you visit Crosley. Just amazing stuff.

So I finally bothered to log on to the XM internet stream. All you need is your radio access code. Car and internet so rarely meet, so pulling that information required a trip out into the sprinkles of Tuesday night to get the right code. Now I can log in from anywhere and here, well, anything.

On the same day I discovered a new (to me) feature on Pandora. For the unitiated, the site is famous for letting you select an artist and then introducing you to artists of similar styles in your own custom stations. You'll get an education in your ears by spending an hour opening that music box. The new feature is a Quick Mix option where you can select among your favorite stations and listen to stylistic derivatives.

So between all of this, and Stew as discussed yesterday, I'm listening to some amazing things. Happiness to the eardrums.

I've also been in a classic country music phase lately (it happens every six months or so) and today I heard Ron Williams' "Where are all the girls I used to cheat with?"

Now that's a great song title.

And now I'd like all the musical historians and music theorists out there to chime in on the next subject. Getting off the freeway at home today I heard, on one of XM's country stations, Flaco Jimenez. That's Flaco Jimenez, the king of the squeeze box, was covering The Beatles' Love Me Do. It sounds like this.

So, my musical historian and theorist friends: Does changing one instrument constitute a change in the genre? Is it the artist? Is it a changing of the times?

Once I was protective of musical genre nomenclature, but that battle has been fought and won. Now just play us things that sound good and make us happy.

I read books: Since we're chatting about life's miscellany, I should mention completing No Kum-Sok's MiG-15 to Freedom. He didn't spend nearly as much time toward the end as I would have liked discussing his assimilation into the American society, but everything up to that point is filled with rich, if sometimes random memories behind the Bamboo Curtain.

You could be critical here, particularly of the writing style, but one must keep persective: For a fighter pilot and aeronautical engineer writing in his second or third language he isn't a bad writer. His story is almost thrilling beyond belief, and is worth reading for those memories alone. If you like memoirs, are interested in aerial dogfights or stories from inside the spartan horrors of communism, this can be a good read.

My mother got me that book when I took the folks to the Southern Flight Museum during their November visit. She also got Wings of Denial, by Warren Trest and Professor Donald Dodd, which details the previously untold story of the Alabama Air National Guard's role in the Bay of Pigs.

I'm about three chapters in and you can already tell the authors found the need to point a lot of blame. So far the CIA and the Kennedy administration both look equally inept in this telling of the story. Hindsight being what it is, it is heartbreaking. Even then, apparently, people on the ground and in strategy development saw what was about to happen.

Good book and a quick read. The chapters seem almost perfectly broken up to promote lunchtime reading.

Last fall I met Col. Joseph Shannon, who's featured prominently in the book. He's the last surviving pilot of the invasion, and was the first American pilot to land in World War II Italy. He's an amazingly modest man who's lived an incredible life. There's more details about that meeting here.

Two site notes: I'm joining Blog 365 -- brought to you by the same people behind NaBloPoMo -- with the simple premise of blogging everyday. Generally I don't join things like this, but I know some people who are a part of it that are enjoying a little extra site traffic. I figure: I already blog every day, why not?

From such rhetorical questions many interesting things have happened.

Lastly, the black and white photographs return. You can see the latest here. This is a photograph from an important and poignant day. I like it and you will too. See all the black and whites here.

Thanks for visiting today. Tomorrow I'll take you to the post office, to the library and to a gymnastics meet. You won't want to miss it.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

I am a bad, bad man. I took an alternate route home, going the two long sides of the isosceles interstate triangle home, rather than the more direct, shorter and usual route. I went out of my way to get the oil in the car changed, got there just as the place was closing up shop and thought: Meh.

Being particularly unaffected I completely dropped the ball on the nearby hardware haven, instead pointing the car directly home. Even still the sky was darkening when I got there. If the oil was emptied, disposed of in an ecologically friendly manner and replaced with something pulled from the earth a little more recently it would have been nighttime. I'll do it Saturday instead, dropping the car off at the dealership to determine by the scientific method just how much more money they want to take twice as long for a simple procedure.

These aren't troubling things today. I've made two terrific discoveries. While googling for the name of a local restaurant to find a lunch special I learned through Jo Ellen O'Hara that Momma Goldberg's was coming to Birmingham.

Six were planned within the next few years. And not only were they coming, but Momma Don had one of the restaurants open already. And nearby the office. Giddily I spread the word. Almost everyone in the office who knew the magic of Momma's Love went there for lunch.

When we walked up to the new downtown Homewood store the line was to the door. We stood in the threshold. I wiggled inside to grab a table in the small deli and watched the line back out onto the sidewalk and to the road.

They've been open for three weeks, so it is a good bet that the majority of the early clientèle are Auburn graduates, their co-workers and people who just work in the neighborhood. We joked about the need for six of them, but the pre-lunchtime rush was telling.

There were more neckties, per capita, in this restaurant than have ever been in the original Momma G's in Auburn. I know this for certain having had a few sandwiches over the year in the place while wearing a coat and tie. It earns you looks every time.

But this place is going for the classy look. Nice muted walls, dark wood tables and chairs and only two gorgeous flat screen televisions are on the walls. They even have plants. Is it because they are new? Were their rules from the landlord?

By contrast, have a look at the original. That's character assigned by years of effort. Maybe the Homewood shop will come to it naturally too, but the building feels too sturdy, moneyed and important to give this Momma G's that same old shack style.

So long as they have the menu, and the same laborious, steamed-while-you-order food preparation style, you'll never go wrong.

Unless you go at high noon. I think this Momma G's might be a skip-lunch-go-after-work restaurant.

And now I want lemonade and a football game.

This evening Adam Duritz gave me the gift of magic in his Down The Rabbit Hole column. It is a long, looooong collection of assorted things he likes. It can be a lot to read, but the man has great taste and he proved it again by giving us more than an appetite whetting of the band The Negro Problem. Later the band became Stew and after that returned to the original name. Apparently that's a part of the commentary, which is just drizzled in all of their work, but the music is amazing pop with incredible lyrics.

I won't go on and on about -- Adam already did -- but go read some of that and you'll get a lyricist's appreciation of a lyricist. And you'll get lots of toe tapping, soul clapping music links too. Just incredible stuff.

Go down the rabbit hole now! Click! Read! Or skim ... I do want you to come back here ... but be sure to listen to the music. There's plenty of embedded songs there to make you a devoted listener.

I also learned today that Counting Crows' new double disc CD is coming out in March, the same day as the third season of Battlestar Galactica is released on DVD. What to buy first?

I'll talk more about music tomorrow, a lot, perhaps, but I have one last thing for you to listen to today. I've been putting together a joke myspace page to entertain a few people and wanted to find some really bad emo music to put into the page. A search brought me to The Bridges, from up the street in Oxford. They call themselves Third Wave (Now newer than New!). You'll call them good.

Tomorrow the music we'll talk about will be of a far different style. Stick around for that.

But first you have to look through the new installments from the 1976 Glomerata. If you've been following along you can pick up right here. If you've no idea what this is about you can start here.

Tomorrow, more music as promised above. There will likely be storms, we'll talk books and the black and whites make their 2008 debut as well.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Some days just get away from you, rushing by, polishing the rocks of your life and moving on without much thought. If you stare at it until your eyes go glassy all of that thought will escape you, too. You'll end up walking outside entirely unaware how it is possibly already dark out, and with the promise of rain blowing through.

There might be four mixed metaphors in that little paragraph, a personal best.

I found myself at one of those home improvement warehouses this evening, a place which I've decided is one of my least favorite stores. It is such a pleasant place that I'll go to the competition's store tomorrow. Two steriod-laden hardware stores in one week, I'm a glutton for punishment I suppose.

Today's shopping agenda called for new keys, a shower curtain rod and a light fixture thing.

The lady that cut the extra keys was the same woman who was relieved last time at not having to be helpful. She was pleasant and efficient this evening, though, so perhaps she'd just been having a bad day. I could not find exactly what I wanted in the electrical department, but found something perhaps simpler and made a note of securing the exact item by bringing the old item to the competitor's store tomorrow.

I also got a curved shower rod, took it home, removed the old shower rod and learned that the curved rod is 60 inches and my shower is an improbably custom made 58 inches. So the new shower rod went back in the box, the old shower road went back into the wall and now I'll have to go to a home improvement business three times this week.

And then I discovered the hot tub is fairly broken, likely beyond my ability to repair.

On the flip side magic ferries came and gathered up the leaves from the front yard. You can see grass again, thanks to a blower, a big rake and a huge tarp. An awe-inspiring burn pile is waiting for the drought to be reduced a bit and then a good rush of gasoline. Before that four or five of the leaves will float off the burn pile and into the neighbor's yard, and for that I'm sorry. But not if it quiets their dogs for a few minutes.

And the drought got the slightest bit of relief this evening, as somewhere between .59 and .89 inches fell to the earth, depending on whom you believe. We won't quibble over three tenths of an inch while we're still down some two feet of rain over the last year and change. The weather is beautiful, and lulls you into forgetting about it. No one thinks of drought on Chamber of Commerce days, and 73 in January, friends, is welcome all week by the good people down at the Chamber. They'd even open every other weekend for that.

The storm finally came this evening after dinner while I was writing a few letters to friends, and that knocked down the modems for a while. It is a curious thing, to have cable, but not cable internet. A few mashed buttons and prayers to the gods of electronics restored order and contact with the outside world was resumed. How did we do this before the mid-90s?

I read more from books. I'm going to go do that now, in fact, even while the modem works. I've started David McCullough's The Great Bridge. The Yankee got me this book on the building of the Brooklyn Bridge for my birthday. Yeah, a book on a bridge, you think, but you'll think differently if you are familiar with McCullough. There's no escaping his talent for drawing the characters, bringing to life men and women long since gone. Their monument is a fixed piece of equipment that remains a marvel. McCullough marvelled over their work and you'd marvel over his imagery.

Go back to Amazon and read the reviews of this book, the top two reviews are from people who have a personal bond with the local history and the bridge itself. If it earned their respect then I know I'm reading something of quality. I figured as much two chapters in.

New on the site: The newspapers make their 2008 debut. We're now fully into the LBJ administration and just a few weeks from completing the series. I'll remind you more of that in the next two or four weeks. Now, though, is a good time to get started or pick up where we left off.

Tomorrow: Wednesdays? Who knows? The Glomerata returns, beyond that its a grab bag. Thanks for coming today, and don't miss tomorrow.

Monday, January 7, 2008

We're all back at it now. This is the first everyone is working again in something like six weeks. Or so it seems.

Is your voicemail overflowing? Inbox stuffed? Or have you been industrious, putting in a few hours last week to get caught up on the memos and requests?

We're fully staffed and back to normal once again. A new hire joined us today, even. A sports guy, seems like a nice guy and one more person to discuss college football and the many inherent conspiracy theories that come along with it.

The last of which is tonight. There was a small party for the game and when Brian knocked on the door, there was an ambush with the Nerf gun.

We went to the store for mustard. The Yankee made bratwurst. There was a Nerf gun war. Even as a non-combatant I was getting shot.

We watched the first segment of the new American Gladiators which is just as artfully bad as the original show. In the first commercial break there was a promo for the upcoming Knight Rider series. I took a Nerf bullet in the head and woke up in 1986.

We're staring at the rehashing of old shows, and that was when the writers were working.

The football was working as primetime entertainment tonight. Ohio State jumped out to an early lead, but LSU surged back with a team that wouldn't be stopped while the Buckeyes imploded with penalties and turnovers.

There's a running conversation on the sports blogs, and it is likely going again after that game, about the speed of the SEC. Ohio State has fast players and a good program, despite their last two bowl appearances. What those top-flight SEC teams have is team speed. The LSU defensive line washed over the larger, slower offensive line from Ohio State. The result was the inevitable blowout.

Pretty simple day. Pretty great day. Football, Nerf, friends, grilled food ... those are good ingredients.

One little update here for the night. There's a new section on the website, the long awaited political campaign buttons are making their debut. In the absence of a better idea I'm working in reverse chronological order. The writing is generally historical in nature, but the buttons are the best part.

Tomorrow: a hardware store, letter writing, leaves and the newspaper section makes it first appearance of the new year.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Where it once was cold it is now warm once again. I asked for spring, but truly didn't expect it so soon. I walked around in shorts this afternoon taking pictures in the yard (like the new background of tree twigs?) and enjoyed big blue skies busy with clouds.

Today many of the Christmas presents were put to use or stowed until they could be pressed into duty. Already I've broken in the golf stroke clicker. It will get lots of wear and tear and semi-angry jabs from an agitated thumb when we return to the links, so it may as well be put to the test now. It held up admirably, but it is plastic and, I fear, on an especially bad round it might not count high enough.

The lights, the Santa decorations, the paper, the gift bags and more were all tucked haphazardly away, more of the tree remnants were removed from the premises. Originally just a joke about Hansel and Gretel yesterday, I learned today that if you walk into the yard you can follow, quite clearly, the trail I made from house to car. It is the dark green on the yellowed grass.

I think I mentioned a possible new design to the site. While I love the current, simple, clean, easy layout I like to see new themes. This idea just came upon me and I was laying it out in my head, evening considering some of the HTML and CSS code, until I realized that many of the collection pages wouldn't fit this new design. I counted them out, I have six sections that would fit, and ultimately will have at least six that will not go into the new style. What to do?

No idea. I'll let you know.

I owed The Yankee the last part of her months-long birthday celebration tonight. I picked up tickets so that she might see the best musical, comedy, play ever, Annie, and the show was tonight.

It was an all-new production from Broadway Across America, starring a 10-year-old girl who's already earned more acting accolades than many celebrities you could name. She was great and one of the other young actresses playing another orphan absolutely stole the show.

Oliver Warbucks has a great line where he speaks of his love for New York City, "After New York, everything else is Bridgeport."

The Yankee, being a Yankee, might have been the only person in the performance hall that got the joke. Afterwards she explained Bridgeport and it made perfect sense, but they could have said the same thing of Jasper. Or Oneonta. Or Insertcityhereville. She also got completely wrapped up in the songs (I'm told she once dressed as Annie for Halloween), so we'll have to forgive her for her knowledge of all things Annie.

I excuse it because I was probably the only person who got the Harold Ickes joke in the White House scene. Henry Morgenthau, Jr. was there too. These were serious men in serious times, but they were funny goofs here. They played Franklin Roosevelt like a fool too, but the six-year-old girl sitting to my left observed to her mother that the set looked just like the president's office. Somethings just won't stay historically accurate in theatre.

"Solo for the President" he said, and then FDR belted out a riff from "Tomorrow."

Someone behind us said that the guy that played Rooster wasn't really close to the original, but he played the role well. He's also an aspiring country musician. Miss Hannigan was outstanding, and altogether its a great show. See it if it plays in your town.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Do you have the neighbors that refuse to take down their exterior Christmas lighting? These people aren't allowed in our neighborhood. The lights must come down promptly and by the end of the first week of January, maximum. It is an unwritten rule, sitting comfortably alongside the rule which states that no yard may be in more disrepair than my own.

And to my neighbors: I'm sorry. As soon as all the leaves fall at Stoic Oak I'll figure out something to do with them. Right now a good 15 percent are still clinging to the limbs, as if to prove a point, and there's no need in starting a Sisyphean task.

The leaves will come down. I can wait, and then I'll blow them into big dark bags or chop them into oblivion.

What must that be like for the leaves? We made it this far, the new whippersnappers will be along soon. And now, to rest. To float gently down and laid among colleagues and brethren. Hey! What the? We're been stirred around and ... into that dark maw. Aw , cripes. Not the aliens!

So the leaves have a few days to frolic over the grounds. The lights are down. Two swift yanks had all the external lights at my mercy last evening. I carefully removed the delicate ornaments from the now brittle tree.

It was time. It was a beautiful thing, but a quick hard stare brought needles to the carpet below. Sometimes knowing when to let go is a big emotional hurdle. Other times it is a relief.

With the ornaments down, though, the light removal was a big chore. The tree had, almost overnight, become so dry and frownful that friction with the wrong material might set the whole room ablaze. No polyester blends for me then. After checking my clothing tags I moved in to run the reverse circle dance of light. Not nearly as fun as the circle dance of light, which is full of hope and promise of the season. The counterclockwise effort is one of nostalgia and that thing that is opposite of whimsy.

Oh yes, the nadir of the season. It is here where the line has been drawn. The last of the presents must be stored and pressed into service in their logical locations. The decorations must soon be moved into their solemn rest for another 11 months. Now we are out of holidays. Now we've only the cold before the spring. Only the manufactured events of Valentine's and Groundhog's Day will try to sustain our merriment.

And the memories of this Christmas, joyful as it was. The memories and the needles, which are suddenly in rooms the tree never visited. It will take weeks to remove the forensic evidence of the evergreen. Christmas, it seems, will never leave us.

The tree is no more. I lashed it to the roof of the old car and disposed of it in a culturally acceptable ceremony. Driving down the street I thought the tree was falling off the roof, but in truth I was denuding the branches of their dignity. When it was time to remove the tree from the car it weighed 18 percent less. The added bonus was the ease of finding my way home. Hansel and Gretel would have been proud. John Muir, perhaps not as much.

I considered a trip to the shop with the new car today, but the afternoon is sneaky, and the shop's hours of operation tiptoed past.

I watched a bit of football, my step-brother's school, Ball State, was outclassed by Rutgers in the International Bowl, held in Toronto, Canada, home of the empty stadium seat. There was no defense, and little interest.

I took a nap and then played on web pages. I updated a link here or there for others, changed the art on my front page (Now with less Christmas theme!), considered a new scheme altogether and put forth the December photos for the pictures page.

Tonight the Yankee and I went out to see Dan in Real Life:
A morose romantic comedy. Touching and depressing with funny and formulaic moments.
I think we were both expecting more romantic comedy, but there were a few moments were you wanted to climb under the seat. This being the dollar theater that's probably not the best idea. There were other moments, where you hoped the camera never moved and that the conversation only grew richer. Dane Cook was almost funny in places and Dan's little girls made little boys sound like the wiser alternative.

Mexican after the movie, where we talked of scholarly research. If people ever sit in a booth nearby and wise to eavesdrop they're almost certainly disappointed. Overhearing academia can't be high on your list of gossip. We enjoy it though. And if the waiter keeps bringing drinks and chips the fun could last all night.

At home the neighbor's kids were out playing in the mild evening air. Shooting my new Nerf gun one of the next door ladies offers to bring out the paintball gun. Now we know to whom to be nice.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Two day work weeks end so suddenly. That's why we like them. Clearly I'm spoiled and five consecutive days of "Up and at 'em" next week will be a rude awakening. But that's for next week, there's a weekend in between.

My head is recovering nicely from its haircut. Of course the more-exposed scalp is now enduring the coldest temperatures of the season. It was 24 this morning for the newly clipped head. Still couldn't figure out the heater, but I did remember the seat warmer, so at least my core stayed nice and warm during the 20 minute ride into work.

My head, now vulnerable to the elements, was a bit chilled. I stopped by a rush 'em through salon yesterday afternoon. Put my name on the list, and was immediately called to the back of the room. On the way I passed a guy who was putting on mascara, and complaining it wasn't dark enough -- though it did offset his bleached hair nicely. There was another employee who had Grace Jones' haircut from Conan the Destroyer.

My guy was the most respectable looking of the lot, though. Four gold rings, two gold necklaces, gold mini-hoops in each ear. He was dressed all in black, sported a narrow beard, smelled of menthol cigarettes and wore a rounded fedora. We spoke in clipped sentences to one another, with a lot of sirs. He set the tone early, this was an artistic endeavor, and he was hard at work.

The haircut that normally takes 15 minutes here took almost 45. And his art was painful, jabbing me with the trimmer as he was. When he worked up to the clippers I was concerned for my ears, but the man moved deftly with the pointed blades.

It is one of the better haircuts I can recall having. It is high and tight and holds the position you request. And now my head is chilly.

My head is chilly because I've been standing outside singing helium songs after Pie Day and then playing with my Pie Day Christmas present. We all got together and exchanged gifts over barbecue tonight. Ward got a Doomsday Device. Taylor got mermaid books and two Ken dolls.

The back of that box quotes Ken as saying he's all about cargo pants and a cool belt. I think I've discovered why Barbie and Ken are no longer an item.

Brian and Elizabeth got a night on the town and free babysitting, of which they were very proud. Almost as much as The Yankee and I are of the Nerf guns. Hence my chill, I've been out in the yard shooting the cars, the doors and the night sky. All agree that little gun is a lot of fun, only you need more than six shots at a time.

Tomorrow the neighbors might see me playing with this gun. I'm probably the only 30something with such a toy. And thus I'm the neighbors' kids coolest neighbor, but the adult neighbors' worst example. I'm told they sell replacement Nerf missiles by the bagful. I'll be investigating that rumor.

Note to Nerf gun toting friends: Don't shoot missiles at the face. They tend to sting.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

First day back at work since Friday. First day of work of the new year. First day of the bitter cold.



It was 16 through the morning drive. I realized that 16 is a heck of a time to learn that you don't know how to use the heater in your new car.


Apparently at some point it got down to 13 degrees, but what's the difference in three degrees at that point?

A quiet day at the office. Next week things will pick up once again. Until then, we remember that the second best thing about a five-day weekend is a two-day work week.

I got caught up on the daily work, fortunately light the last few days, and the accumulated Email. Did it all, happily, just as the day was ending.

This evening I caught up on the latest from Iraq with Michael Totten, who's doing incredible work. He's in Fallujah just now, and this is what we've learned:
"Have a Plan to Kill Everyone You Meet."

Complacency kills.

Combat operations in Fallujah are over.

Most of the Marines I spoke to were stunned by this development, especially those who had previously served in Fallujah when it was still the catastrophically violent city most Americans think it still is.

Some Iraqis only pretend to be friendly, but it's obvious when you meet someone who isn't pretending. Human emotion and its expression is the same across cultures.
Totten is on the ground, outside of the Green Zone and doing fantastic work, work to be envied.

Did I mention it was 16 degrees this morning? Going to be just as cold tomorrow morning.

Is it spring yet?

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Watched the Auburn game again. The thing to note here isn't the first half stumbles, they put in (parts of, at least) a brand new offense in only nine practices. The thing to really pay attention to is how fast the game moved. No huddle, up and down the field, mounds of yards.

"Downright Playstation like" as my friend Jay Coulter observed. In 90 plays Auburn gained 423 yards of total offense -- 190 on the ground and 233 through the air -- while collecting 24 first downs.

They did that with a non-system quarterback playing in his last game while setting personal bests. They did it against one of the better defenses in the country. There were things to improve upon, surely, the coaches are already talking about it, but all seem giddy. They should; the old offensive scheme wasn't producing anything close to those numbers.

Here's the highlights. While you're at it, that same person has selected the Top 10 plays of the season. Hard to quibble with his selections. Three, two and one are all well-chosen.

After the game we watched old Johnny Cash, discussed here and an old Boston Legal, discussed here.

We watched new football as well, West Virginia pummeled Oklahoma, who's becoming the Notre Dame of BCS bowl games. The Mountaineers were too emotional, too fast and too good for a flat Oklahoma team.

The Yankee and I opened the last presents of the season, making it the best Christmas ever. Hope your holidays have been as fulfilling as mine. I return to work tomorrow, but for that the holidays could go on forever. Now that would be perfect.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

I noticed, last evening, my eyes are clear and bright and white. Usually they are bloodshot. I don't sleep enough. Never do. At Thanksgiving I slept more than I have in a decade, I believe. And over these last few days I'm equaling that feat.

Others' eyes might be bloodshot from too many festivities last evening, but not me. Pretty basic night. Had a big dinner at a steakhouse chain, watched the Auburn game of course and then started the New Year's festivities. The neighborhood kids were launching powerful fireworks, which are best viewed from the hot tub. There was dance fighting and something called sparkle fingers.

I've no idea, but she kept going on about it. Eights and sparkle fingers until after the ball dropped.

That was pretty much last night. Slept in this morning a bit and then played Catmas. Here are six gratuitous cat pictures composed for ahhs and page hits.

This one has been checking out every package. This one has been eating the tree and batting around the ornaments.

Here we see a cat toy known as a Bonker Ball, which is good, since she headbutts everything with a resounding BONK! Cats like mice. My rocking chair is turned into a jungle gym for only the best gifts. She also enjoys opening gift bags. There were many contented Catmas faces.

Had a late lunch at an empty Panera, lingering there for a while before walking to the neighboring bookstore.

I didn't buy anything, but I did thumb through an interesting book on the Mayflower. I once read in my great-grandmother's memoir that she and others had traced the family back to the Mayflower. It isn't anything I've researched before, genealogy not being my strongest interest, but here I found myself peeking through the index and found the family name. There we were. Or he was. Turns out there were two Rogers on the Mayflower. One of them was a pilgrim, signed the Mayflower Compact, and then died that first brutal winter. His teen son, now an orphaned adolescent, lived on, with the rest of the family coming later from Holland.

There's a group of amateur historians, The Thomas Rogers Society, out there trying to untangle the next 600 years. Not without controversy, it seems. We know for certain that John and Joseph were Thomas' sons. After that there's several generations spelled out, sometimes embellished. I'll leave it to others to figure out. Genealogy is interesting to read, but I'd rather research other things.

But still, the new year starts with intrigue, mystery, and knowing one extra tidbit on who came before. At this pace I'll have it all figured out ... roughly ... never.

More football today. Before lunch I found Tennessee tied with Wisconsin; they won. Missouri was embarrassing Arkansas. Florida was in trouble against Michigan; they lost. I was peripherally aware that Virginia and Texas Tech played, so guns up, as the Red Raiders say.

In the evening we all gathered round to watch USC toy with Illinois. Nothing like those halftime blowouts that say quality big bowl gane. The Rose Bowl, brought to you by Who Are We Kidding? and co-sponsor Vote USC Number One for Next Season Now.

Unless you vote for Georgia, who ragdolled Hawai'i, the team who would be upstarts, if only they could cope with speed, speed and more speed at every position. Hawai'i coaches were overheard to remark that even the Bulldog water boys were faster on the field than they looked on film. This was not a pretty experience for the Warriors. I watched for three quarters, glad that Auburn doesn't have to worry about this part of Amen Corner for another 10 months or so.

Tomorrow there's more football. I'll re-watch the Auburn game with Stephen and try to figure out the new offense, already dubbed Spread Eagle. There are portions of the game that didn't register last night, mixed up with conversation, recording, dinner and general comings and goings. Stephen was there and so we'll both see it again for the first time.