Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Looking Back In Thankfulness

As the new year readies itself to hurl unexpected twists and turns into life, I cant help but think back over the last year with love and thankfulness to all that made an impact in my life over the last 12 months.

Pardon me while I write this stuff down for me. For my recollections some distant time in the future. Its rather personal, and I would assume completely boring for anyone else, so you can leave now.

My Father (the heavenly one), for sustaining me, providing for my family and me, and for continuing to love me despite my failures, mistakes, sin, selfishness, anger and shortcomings. It never ceases to amaze me that there is nothing I can do that would make Him love me less, or more.

My wife Michelle, for her love and thoughtfulness. For caring so amazingly well for our children, me and our home. For the overtime hours she always works in managing the household, cooking, cleaning, taxi driving, grocery shopping, errand running and a million other things. She is an amazing woman and I am completely blessed to have her.

For my four beautiful girls. They are growing in grace and loveliness, with kind hearts and thoughtful minds, smart, funny, witty, musical, artistic, athletic, and so many other adjectives that I might exhaust the English language. I love them dearly and they have added so much to my life.

My parents, for always loving me even when I’m a sarcastic irritating jerk. For helping out just in the nick of time, and for loving my family so well.

My co-laborers, Steve, Lisa, John, Bob and many others, that are patiently and kindly teaching me a new business. And especially Steve for being such a great friend and supporter. I love him dearly and pray for him and his family as often as I can focus long enough to do so.

And of course my extended family and friends, for always being there for me and my family, for good times, impromptu coffee hang sessions, and fun celebrations and gatherings. They all mean so much to me.

As the new year begins, I can think of really only one resolution that matters- that I slow down and take the time to be thankful and express it to those around me as the year progresses, and not wait until Dec. 31st of next year.

Monday, December 29, 2008

And Another Thing…

A couple days ago I posted on a recent article in the UK Telegraph proclaiming “2008 Was the Year Man-Made Global Warming was Disproved.”

I’ve been dwelling on this for these few days and I have some thoughts to drop here on this post. I’m no scientist, heck, I can barely keep up with the gurus of smart that fill the pages of dying dinosaur newspapers spouting opinions (disguised as news) about the state of our climate and how all of us common folk need to get rid of our big cars, air conditioners and Christmas lights and start living in caves to save the world.

However, I do have something that I would like to share with anyone that might stumble upon this post- common sense.

Our lives and our world exist in the physical realm of time and space. And that existence is made up of, I would argue even built upon, cycles. The seconds pass and make up minutes. The minutes pass and make up hours. And so on. While one could argue that the length of time passing and the names for those increments are man-made, it really doesn’t matter. They add up to a couple cycles that are most certainly not man-made… the day and the year.

So much of our existence is based on the day and the year. The day, the time it takes the earth to rotate on it's axis provides regular times of day and night, times for working, eating and sleeping. The days add up to a year- the time it takes the earth to travel around the sun. So much of our existence, our sense of time, and our collective memories, knowledge and experiences are based on the sun. The sun is where it’s at. The source of our heat and light, keeping us warm, growing our food, providing energy and the very foundation of life, and time itself through the constantly repeating cycles.

It’s no wonder that man has marked the passage of time by the repeating seasons and “movement” of the sun across the sky.

But it seems that somehow the little human population down here thinks that the year is the ultimate cycle. The clock re-set. We see all the little cycles inside the year. With hours passing we see tides change, with days passing we see work and rest cycles, and with weeks and months we see all sorts of cycles within our bodies and in the world around us including harvesting cycles, lunar and heavenly body cycles, even women’s bodies enduring their monthly cycles.

And with each passing year we see and feel the world changing, including the climate, all within the repeating cycle of the seasons within a year. Here in Nashville we see temperature swings of over 120 degrees. From 10 below in the depth of winter, to 110 degrees in the hell of August. But no one’s freaking out about that climate change, are they? Why? Because we know it’s a cycle. We have lived enough years to know that on the coldest day in winter when the sun seems to have permanently disappeared behind thick clouds and ice covers the ground where we need to grow food that all will be ok. Summer is coming. The world is not ending.

Isn’t it also, then, logical to assume that there might, maybe, possibly, be a cycle beyond a year? Perhaps 5 or 1o years? What about 100? Or 1,000 years? If we mark a day as the time the earth rotates, and a year by our trip around the sun, what about the time it takes us to rotate around the center of the milky way? Might some galactic cycles impact the sun and its heat?

What if the earth has heating and cooling cycles that last 100 or 500 years and we’re in the middle of one now (by the way, it looks like we might be in a COOLING cycle rather than a warming cycle)?

Let’s look at the housefly. A disgusting little creature that has a life span of about 7-10 days. During a year, taking out 3 months for winter, there might be as many as 25 generations of flies in and around your house. Those same 25 generations in the human world would take about 1,000 years.

Now imagine if flies could think and talk. By about late September or early October panic starts to make its way through the fly community. Word is that the days are getting shorter and the air seems to be getting colder in the morning and evenings. As far back as anyone can remember (even going back a dozen generations or more), no fly has had to worry about cold. There’s always been plenty of warm sunlight to warm plenty of large manure piles, proving plenty of fun and nourishment for all the brother, sister and cousin flies. What they can't possibly know is that even though winter will soon arrive ending those warm summer days, the spring will arrive again, and after that, summer. The cycle will continue, and the flies need not worry about cutting down on their flight times or trying other silly tactics to save the world from climate change.

Greenland was once, well, green. Mountain caves once sealed under ice and snow for generations and now exposed due to “global warming” show signs of ancient dwellers. The cycles continue, the world moves on, and each of our lives are but a flash in the pan.

"Have you not been paying attention? Have you not been listening? Haven't you heard these stories all your life? Don't you understand the foundation of all things? God sits high above the round ball of earth. The people look like mere ants. He stretches out the skies like a canvas— yes, like a tent canvas to live under. He ignores what all the princes say and do. The rulers of the earth count for nothing. Princes and rulers don't amount to much. Like seeds barely rooted, just sprouted, They shrivel when God blows on them. Like flecks of chaff, they're gone with the wind." Isaiah 40:21 from The Message


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Scary Santa

Here's my late Christmas post for the season. I was bopping around the internet reading news stories and found quite a funny collection of snapshots showing young children reacting rather badly to being plopped onto Santa's lap and left there with a huge stranger dressed in bright red with a giant white beard holding on to them against their will. It's amazing to me that anyone gets a good picture of a kid with Santa.


Here's a link to the collection:



I posted my favorite one above. Hilarious. I imagine the only better picture would be one of John and Kate plus Eight with all eight kiddies losing their minds at once.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

How Insignifcant Man Is

Love this article from the UK Telegraph. I've touched on the topic of man made global warming before (here, here, here, here, and here), and am a firm non-believer. A warming athiest so to speak. The news keeps rolling in, doing far more damage to the globabl cultist than that silly Darwin has ever done to dislodge what we are hard-wired to know- there is a God.

2008 was the year man-made global warming was disproved
Looking back over my columns of the past 12 months, one of their major themes was neatly encapsulated by two recent items from The Daily Telegraph.

By Christopher Booker
Last Updated: 5:51PM GMT 27 Dec 2008

The first, on May 21, headed "Climate change threat to Alpine ski resorts" , reported that the entire Alpine "winter sports industry" could soon "grind to a halt for lack of snow". The second, on December 19, headed "The Alps have best snow conditions in a generation" , reported that this winter's Alpine snowfalls "look set to beat all records by New Year's Day".

Easily one of the most important stories of 2008 has been all the evidence suggesting that this may be looked back on as the year when there was a turning point in the great worldwide panic over man-made global warming. Just when politicians in Europe and America have been adopting the most costly and damaging measures politicians have ever proposed, to combat this supposed menace, the tide has turned in three significant respects.

First, all over the world, temperatures have been dropping in a way wholly unpredicted by all those computer models which have been used as the main drivers of the scare. Last winter, as temperatures plummeted, many parts of the world had snowfalls on a scale not seen for decades. This winter, with the whole of Canada and half the US under snow, looks likely to be even worse. After several years flatlining, global temperatures have dropped sharply enough to cancel out much of their net rise in the 20th century.

Ever shriller and more frantic has become the insistence of the warmists, cheered on by their army of media groupies such as the BBC, that the last 10 years have been the "hottest in history" and that the North Pole would soon be ice-free – as the poles remain defiantly icebound and those polar bears fail to drown. All those hysterical predictions that we are seeing more droughts and hurricanes than ever before have infuriatingly failed to materialise.

Even the more cautious scientific acolytes of the official orthodoxy now admit that, thanks to "natural factors" such as ocean currents, temperatures have failed to rise as predicted (although they plaintively assure us that this cooling effect is merely "masking the underlying warming trend", and that the temperature rise will resume worse than ever by the middle of the next decade).

Secondly, 2008 was the year when any pretence that there was a "scientific consensus" in favour of man-made global warming collapsed. At long last, as in the Manhattan Declaration last March, hundreds of proper scientists, including many of the world's most eminent climate experts, have been rallying to pour scorn on that "consensus" which was only a politically engineered artefact, based on ever more blatantly manipulated data and computer models programmed to produce no more than convenient fictions.

Thirdly, as banks collapsed and the global economy plunged into its worst recession for decades, harsh reality at last began to break in on those self-deluding dreams which have for so long possessed almost every politician in the western world. As we saw in this month's Poznan conference, when 10,000 politicians, officials and "environmentalists" gathered to plan next year's "son of Kyoto" treaty in Copenhagen, panicking politicians are waking up to the fact that the world can no longer afford all those quixotic schemes for "combating climate change" with which they were so happy to indulge themselves in more comfortable times.

Suddenly it has become rather less appealing that we should divert trillions of dollars, pounds and euros into the fantasy that we could reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 80 per cent. All those grandiose projects for "emissions trading", "carbon capture", building tens of thousands more useless wind turbines, switching vast areas of farmland from producing food to "biofuels", are being exposed as no more than enormously damaging and futile gestures, costing astronomic sums we no longer possess.

As 2009 dawns, it is time we in Britain faced up to the genuine crisis now fast approaching from the fact that – unless we get on very soon with building enough proper power stations to fill our looming "energy gap" - within a few years our lights will go out and what remains of our economy will judder to a halt. After years of infantile displacement activity, it is high time our politicians – along with those of the EU and President Obama's US – were brought back with a mighty jolt into contact with the real world.

I must end this year by again paying tribute to my readers for the wonderful generosity with which they came to the aid of two causes. First their donations made it possible for the latest "metric martyr", the east London market trader Janet Devers, to fight Hackney council's vindictive decision to prosecute her on 13 criminal charges, ranging from selling in pounds and ounces to selling produce "by the bowl" (to avoid using weights her customers dislike and don't understand). The embarrassment caused by this historic battle has thrown the forced metrication policy of both our governments, in London and Brussels, into total disarray.

Since Hackney backed out of allowing four criminal charges against Janet to go before a jury next month, all that remains is for her to win her appeal in February against eight convictions which now look quite absurd (including those for selling veg by the bowl, as thousands of other London market traders do every day). The final goal, as Neil Herron of the Metric Martyrs Defence Fund insists, must then be a pardon for the late Steve Thoburn and the four other original "martyrs" who were found guilty in 2002 – after a legal battle also made possible by this column's readers – of breaking laws so ridiculous that the EU Commission has even denied they existed (but which are still on the statute book).

Readers were equally generous this year in rushing to the aid of Sue Smith, whose son was killed in a Snatch Land Rover in Iraq in 2005. Their contributions made it possible for her to carry on with the High Court action she has brought against the Ministry of Defence, with the sole aim of calling it to account for needlessly risking soldiers' lives by sending them into battle in hopelessly inappropriate vehicles. Thanks not least to Mrs Smith's determined fight, the Snatch Land Rover scandal, first reported here in 2006, has at last become a national cause celebre.

May I finally thank all those readers who have written to me in 2008 – so many that, as usual, it has not been possible to answer all their messages. But their support and information has been hugely appreciated. May I wish them and all of you a happy (if globally not too warm) New Year.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Two Thumbs Down For A Christmas Story

I realize what I’m writing here, about a movie treasured by millions, may cause great anger and resentment from most people that happen to read this. I get the feeling, based on comments I’ve heard, that the movie “A Christmas Story” is a treasured Christmas favorite that has touched the hearts and funny bones of millions of people, and to criticize it is akin to standing in the midst of a Code Pink rally with a “Support our Troops and Make Our Country Safer! Win the War on Terror!” sign.

I can’t stand it.

I don’t know how, or why, but I totally missed this film growing up. It came out in 1983 (I was a junior in high school), and I don’t remember a thing about it. Last Christmas, some 25 years after its release, my family was visiting my sister Carla and B-I-L Josh’s house for Christmas dinner. When my sister found out I hadn’t seen the movie (she was absolutely aghast. Not only had I not seen it, I had NEVER heard of it), she suggested we all watch it together.

And so the movie started, on their killer new giant HD TV. I awaited a magical Christmas movie experience that I assumed would rival classic holiday films like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” or “Miracle on 34th Street.”

30 minutes in and I started to check the news on my Blackberry. That’s a bad sign. I also read up on the film and how popular it was (checked IMDBPRO.com to see its StarRating, comments, etc. It did seem that millions LOVED this movie).

I endured it, if only to be able to say I had seen the whole thing, and I was left wondering why. That pretty much sums it up. Why. Why do people like this movie? Why was it considered such a classic? Why do people think it’s funny? I just don’t get it. Its no “Elf.”

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Will Apollos Now Water?

I watched a very interesting video clip last night of Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller fame). I’ve always enjoyed watching and listening to him, and find his often brash but humorous approach to various subjects refreshing.

I’ve also often cringed at his tirades about Christians during his atheism or faith oriented monologues. Why does he always seem to find, along with most others that are critical of followers of Jesus, the fringe representatives of the faith?


He certainly has been “fortunate” enough to run into a plentiful supply of religious wackos to provide him context for his critical thinking about those who profess to follow Jesus.

And that’s why I found this video clip so interesting…



So a stranger shows up at Penn’s show and hands him a Psalms version of the bible. They exchange a few kind words, something that probably happens to Penn a dozen times a day over the last 20+ years (doing some quick math, that would be about 87,600 short conversations with fans), and this one exchange is somehow impactful enough to get a spot on Penn’s video blog on Crackle.com?
And Penn states so matter-of-factly in the blog “I know there isn’t a God.” Well, let’s explore a bit of scripture that I think pretty accurately covers this incident:

“ …We each carried out our servant assignment. I [Paul] planted the seed, Apollos [contemporary of Paul’s traveling the region preaching about Jesus] watered the plants, but God made you grow. It's not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process but God, who makes things grow. Planting and watering are menial servant jobs at minimum wages. What makes them worth doing is the God we are serving. You happen to be God's field in which we are working.”
-1 Corinthians 3:5-7 (The Message)

Let’s call this stranger at Penn’s show “Paul.”
And Paul has most certainly planted a seed with Penn. Now who will come to water him? I suspect somebody will as this encounter and resulting impact in Penn’s life is not chance in my opinion. These types of encounters and discussions happen countless times a day all over the world- we just happen to have a little window into this because of the platform Penn has to share about what’s going on in his life.

A few observations from the video clip:

The stranger, Paul, seems to have made a real impact on Penn for a few reasons. He was kind and reasonable (Penn refers to this as “sane,” calling him that 3 different times), he was polite (2 times), he looked Penn in the eye (that’s a strange one, isn’t it? Three times mentioned), he seemed to “care about me,” was honest, and a good man (2 times, with the second preceded by "very, very, very”).

A few times Penn seems to be struggling to find the right words, which is not something common for such a rapid-fire fluid communicator.

The most amazing moment in the clip is when Penn all but urges, firmly, Christians (at least those that are “good” people that are also kind and polite- as in, the sane ones) to hurry up and get out there and spread the Good News. Time is running out. There’s a huge truck bearing down on the people of the world and everlasting life or death hangs in the balance.

Who would have ever thought God would use Penn Jillette to prompt believers to get out there and fulfill the great commission?

“How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean if I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe it, that truck was bearing down on you, there’s a certain point where I tackle you, and this [eternal life] is more important than that. ”
- Penn Jillette, 12/8/08



Thursday, December 18, 2008

Don’t Make Me Your Escape Goat

One of my favorite bits from Friends was when Joey said “…this is all a moo point.” Unlike some language purists and English professors that get their panties in a wad when people abuse the language, I find it endearing and hilarious. I’ve been guilty myself of mixing metaphors and assaulting analogies.





I know and love my own Joey. A friend of mine just can’t help but have these jumbled word and thoughts pour out of him, and I LOVE to hear them. I never correct him, preferring to keep the opportunity to hear them again in a phone call or meeting. The down side is I find myself actually disengaging from the meat of the conversation and keeping my ear out for the next misused word or phrase.

Some of my recent favorites:

“I’m telling you, they way they’re talking about this project its all gonna get blamed on me. They’ll make me the escape goat and move on to the next thing.”

Yesterday it was this…

“I just said some things that were cuff, whatever popped into my head.”

And while he hasn’t used the classic Joey line exactly, he has said…

"The whole thing is a mute issue. No one wants to talk about it.”

Love him.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Confirmation, Finally, For John And Revé Walsh

In 2006 I had the distinct pleasure of working for 3 very fine people. Julie and Bill Clark (Julie is the founder and creator of The Baby Einstein Company) and John Walsh.

Together, Julie, Bill and John launched a child safety company named The Safe Side, focused on creating fun and informative safety videos for kids.

During that time I worked closely with Julie and Bill to launch the company, and communication with John was infrequent. Mostly faxes to his home as he doesn’t like to use email.

On one occasion I was able to spend some quality time with John during an extended dinner at the hotel we were all staying at in Washington DC. We were attending the annual National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Hope Awards benefit and congressional breakfast where John was keynote speaker.

During dinner he shared all about the horrible experience he and his wife Revé went through in the immediate aftermath of Adam’s abduction, the challenges he faced working with local law enforcement, and his certainty, though the police would not confirm it, that Ottis Toole was responsible for the crime. The announcement yesterday by police that the case has been closed and Ottis Toole confirmed as the abductor and killer of Adam is a much needed “period” to the awful chapters to date in their life. John said yesterday though that there’s not really closure. His mission and life’s purpose is still ahead of him.

I will never forget that dinner with John- It was heart wrenching listening to him recount the details (I kept thinking what I would have done had it been one of my four precious kids). Both the pain he showed as he told the story, and the determination that flowed out of him to have the case closed and to do everything he could to prevent another family going through what he went through was very motivating. I left that time together wanting to brandish a sword and chop something or other off every child abuser I could find.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Who’s That Girl?

Last week Franklin High School’s choirs put on a “Winter Performance” (winter of course being code word for CHRISTMAS). We dropped off our little K-girl and headed to dinner while the choir prepared for the evening.

I took Michelle and the three other girls to dinner at our favorite Thai spot- Chlay’s. We always enjoy seeing the owner Suwane (most people call her Pam) and catching up on family news.

After dinner, and placing an advance to-go order that we would pick up for K-girl on the way home after the concert, we headed down the road to Franklin High School. We took our seats and awaited the beginning of the show, Sony HandyCam at the ready of course.

I was a bit shocked. While I was certain we had dropped off little K-girl, what I saw on stage and on the viewer screen was not her. I saw an amazingly beautiful young woman. Absolutely gorgeous (she gets that from her mom for sure), and looking way to mature for my little girl.

video

It took me a full 5 minutes to recover. Flashing through my mind were images of a newborn K-girl crying at the bright hospital lights and then settling down as I shielded her eyes. Our little toddler pointing at everything in sight and awaiting the proper word and intonation from her mom or me. The stunning 5 year old trotting off to kindergarten with barely a glance back at us. And the uncoordinated and goofy tweenager starting to struggle with increasingly hard homework and the intricate web of life I call the female social structure.

She’s growing up way to fast. It’s no longer years and years ahead of us having this precious person in our daily life… we’re down to months now. About 32 of them. Oh man, this is starting to get real hard.

Monday, December 15, 2008

When Anchors Float

I sense that the world is experiencing a sudden awareness that in this physical realm there is nothing of substance to anchor oneself to. At least this latest generation is learning this lesson that has been learned for countless generations before.

The worldwide economic situation is unstable. Fear is rising. The super-rich are becoming distraught as billions of dollars of their wealth disappear. The average American is also now very concerned as neighbor’s homes are foreclosed, 401K values slip even further below what seemed for sure to be the floor in October, and the illusionary safe-haven of home value becomes a vaporous cloud.

Automakers on the brink, schools in shambles, the treasure of the next generation being squandered on the silly gamble of throwing good money on top of collapsing companies and industries. Things appear to be getting dire.

What are you anchored to?

What in this world can possibly provide stability and safety? Is it your home? Values are dropping and stray embers or bad weather can take care of that false stronghold in a moment. Not to mention your home owners insurance company may be on the brink of insolvency. Is it your wealth? Last week the world learned a respected and seemingly honorable financial giant was actually running a giant Ponzi scheme and $50 billion dollars disappeared overnight. Is it your family? Your wife or husband, parents, kids or friends that provide love and companionship? Any of us could be gone in an instant. Then what?

What are you anchored to that could possibly hold you steady during the storms of life?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Lost Generations

This past Friday the last of three generations of family members passed away.

I had the pleasure of getting to know and spend time with Great Grandma Clara, Great Uncle Raymond, Grandfather James and Grandmother Dorothy, Grandfather Antony and Grandmother Astrid and Great Uncle Richard.

My Great Uncle Raymond was the last of those family members, on both sides of my family, older than my parents that was still alive.

He was such an amazing link to the past. A true world traveler, merchant marine during WWII and beyond through retirement. He told stories of ports of call from the USSR to China, the Horn of Africa to Alaska, Australia to Thailand.

My parents rushed down to Florida to be with him. The hospital reported that he was only a few days away from leaving us. On Friday my sister Natalie flew down from the DC area and arrived just an hour or so after he died.

He was a good man. Kind, loving, dedicated to the family, and always there to help out in many ways.



I have such great memories of staying in his guest house as a kid in Miami, of Christmas Eve orange picking when his grove was hit by a freeze, of hanging out at his lake house in Umatilla FL and watching for the ever elusive alligator that haunted the neighborhood.


He will be, is, greatly missed, and I mourn for the lost generations of wisdom and experience from our family.


One of the things I loved most about him was his cool and calm demeanor and deadpan style. It was nearly impossible to tell when he was being dead serious, or when he was delivering the heapingest pile of BS you ever heard but were convinced it was true because of the delivery.



Even in his final years, well beyond 80, he cracked me up. Just recently he got a traffic ticket in Florida for not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign.

The policeman pulled him over and asked for his license and registration then asked Uncle Raymond if he knew why he pulled him over.

Uncle Raymond: “Yes.”

The policeman: “You didn’t come to a full stop at the stop sign. Didn’t you see it?”

Uncle Raymond: “Yes.”

Policeman: “Well, why didn’t you stop?”

Uncle Raymond: “If I’d seen you, I would’ve."

12 year old Raymond Dennis at his childhood home on
Brasher Avenue in Nashville. He's holding his dearly loved "Buck the dog."
The date is September 1936, and he has his whole life ahead of him.



Friday, December 12, 2008

Shocking Information About Women’s Restrooms

A few years ago while enjoying a family dinner at one of our favorite area restaurants, J. Alexander’s, I had to excuse myself to make a quick trip to the restroom.

While there, I took a few moments to get caught up on the news. No, I wasn’t relaxing on the porcelain throne reading through the newspaper often tucked into the space between the toilet paper roll and the wall in men’s public restrooms, I was actually standing in front of the, umm, urinal (I can’t find a nicer word).

Conveniently placed in front of the “P” spot (an imaginary little dot straight ahead on the wall in front of urinals where most men stare intently so as to not even CHANCE a stray glance), are various pages of the newspaper. Stall 1 is page 1, stall 2 is sports, stall 3 is business, and so on. Take your pick.

Not every bathroom is the same. Some have a collection of advertisements in front of the P spot (cigars, pick-up trucks, gas grills, sports tickets, all the manly stuff), and some even have televisions tuned to ESPN. A guy doesn’t need to know how many rating stars a restaurant has to judge the quality of the joint- what really matters is whether they care enough to provide something in front of the P spot.

Back to the story… when I came back to the table I told my family about an interesting story I had just read. My wife and girls were fascinated. “Where did you just read the newspaper?” asked one of them. I explained to them about how most men’s restrooms often have reading material in various places. They were flabbergasted and had never heard of such a thing- even my wife. I was amazed that they hadn’t- it was just so normal for men. We just assume women have the same thing in their restrooms.

My wife said once in a while, rarely, there’s one of those mini billboards with multiple ads on the back of the stall door, but that’s about it. Michelle and the girls had no idea there was reading material in front of men’s urinals and they thought it hilarious.

Well… fast forward to last week. I learned something about women’s bathrooms that I had never known, and I would guess a good number of other men don’t either. To say I was flabbergasted is an understatement.

Here it is- it is not uncommon for women or girls to get locked or trapped inside a stall and have to crawl on the floor under the door. Yes, you heard it right.

It turns out, according to my wife and confirmed by all four of my daughters…and two other women I checked with, that every so often women get inside a stall, lock the door, and then can’t get it unlocked. It’s sort of the bathroom equivalent of not being able to get a jar lid open in the kitchen without help.

While it’s more common in young girls, it happens occasionally to older kids and adults as well. I was told also that every so often a woman will go to open a stall, find it locked, notice there’s no one in it, and know exactly what happened- “Oh. Someone got stuck in there and had to crawl out under the door.”

My wife said one of the most horrible experiences she’s had (not including the incredible incident that took place at a gas station this summer while on our family road trip) was when she got trapped in a stall whose walls and door came down to within an inch or two of the floor. Horror.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Team Lifting at Target

Last night Michelle and I went Christmas shopping to wrap up most of the final gifts on our list. Afterwards we debated and disagreed on a spot for dinner. Back and forth we went- Thai, Chinese, Alexander’s, Logan’s and more. In a fit of frustration I suggested McDonalds and Michelle agreed. I headed that way until she realized I was serious and called me off.

We ended up at the local pub for a burger and beer. I was so hungry at that point I could care less where we ate.

Our shopping excursion was at Target and we about broke the bank. One of the items we bought is classified by Target as a “team lift.” This means 2-4 people, depending on the weight of the item, are required by company policy to help lift the item off a shelf or sales floor. This particular item listed the proper number as 3.

I asked for help getting the large and weighty item off the shelf and to the front of the store for check-out. A petite clerk answered my call from help (one of those “I need help” buttons in the aisle at Target I love so much. I’m working up the nerve one day to push the button and when help arrives, ask them for career advice). She saw what I wanted to buy and went to get more help. In a few minutes the petite clerk arrived with a flat-bed cart and one other short female clerk.

Now this items weighs at least 250 pounds. As they leaned in to lift it up I jumped in to help.

“Sir, you can’t lift this, it’s against store policy- we’ll take care of it”

So there I stood… a large and relatively strong man, watching as two little ladies struggled with everything they had to lift the item. I felt like a union boss or a construction supervisor.

As they lifted it (well, it sort of fell off the low shelf as they grabbed on for dear life to keep it from falling on them and ending their short lives) I noticed the back was totally scratched up. I asked for the other one that was behind it.

They had to move the original one they removed from the shelf nearby and lean it up against a wall while they struggled to get the second one on the cart. After several minutes and just a few life-ending close calls, they succeeded.

These girls have a great future in commercial and residential moving.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Digital Fur

This morning I changed my Google home page theme. I’ve had Coldplay “Viva La Vida” as my theme since early this past summer and it just starting getting old. I opted for the new “theme of the day” selection knowing each new morning I’ll have a little surprise to look forward to.

As soon as I clicked “add this theme” my new iGoogle page was redesigned by Dolce & Gabbana… out with the Coldplay, in with the leopard skin. Imagine that- a fancy European designer yet again exploiting animals for profit.

It looks interesting, and though I don’t like it much I know it will be gone tomorrow. What I’m wondering though is this… how do extremist animal rights people view digital animal products?

I’ve seen leather texture files for designers, and of course all kinds of other images online. I did an image search on Google (“animal skin textures”) and got over 200K pages. What is a radical to do?

I see a whole new fundraising angle for PETA here. Imagine, hiring Chinese or Russian hackers to use Photoshop and airbrush blood on various image files at photobucket.com, shutterstock.com or istockphoto.com. Keeping tabs on celebrity blogs and sites and launching huge protests if Lindsay Lohan or Rosie O'Donnell use a zebra skin border on their blog. They can place banner ads on various sites and seek donations to help stop the gratuitous use of animals on the internet and in print. Let the cash continue to roll for PETA folks!



Friday, December 05, 2008

We Are Now Dog People

I grew up with dogs my whole life. I can barely remember the ones from my early years- Chocolate (killed by a neighbor with a shotgun when he messed in his yard once too often), Smoky, a Dalmatian, and then Daisy. Our cute cocka-poo.

She was followed by Ringo that on well beyond the time I moved out from home.

And that was it, for more than 20 years, until a few weeks ago.




We have a tradition where each of our girls gets to choose their heart’s desire for their 13th birthday gift (you can read more about that here), and L chose a dog. We spent several months thinking about the breed to get and finally found a cute Yorkshire Terrier pup.



I fought it off for along time… fearing the dog-smell and inevitable messes around the house, but I finally gave in.

Our new little girl, Bella, has already found a place in all of our hearts, despite her insistence to not use the facilities outside.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

One Of The Many Reasons I Despise Government

Check out this lame story:

City To Cut Back On Plowing Snow On Side Streets
CHICAGO (CBS) ― Mayor Richard M. Daley said Tuesday that city crews will cut back on plowing side streets this winter in an effort to save money. The mayor said the city will only plow side streets during weekday union business hours this winter, rather than during overtime hours

But as CBS 2's Derrick Blakley reports if there's one city service Chicagoans demand, it's outstanding snow removal.

"I expect for the streets to be cleaned for my tax money," said Chicago resident Sarah Lockhart.

"That's the kind of spending we need to maintain," said Chicago resident Madeline Norris.

"That's not an area I'd like to see services get cut in because it would affect a lot of people," said Chicago resident Howard Williams.

Despicable. This government blackmail is becoming more and more common. Find the essential services the community relies on and limit or cut back on the service, crying poor all along the way and whining about needing more tax dollars. All the while, spending away on non-essential services (and new government cars, desks, office improvements, Barack Obama’s multi-million dollar block party in Chicago, pay raises, extra vacation days and new Blackberry’s for the whole government office gang).

Imagine how this would go down at home:

My wife calling me on my new iPhone while cruising in the 2009 F-150 truck I just bought headed to a Titans game, club level, with the flatbed packed with steaks and imported beer for the big pre-game tailgate party:
“Hi sweetie. I’m at Kohl’s with the girls and wondering if we have enough money in the checking account to get a new jacket. Little Sally’s winter coat from last year is too small."

Me, responding to my wife in Kohls:
"Honey- things are real tight right now. When I checked Quicken this morning I noticed we were over budget on clothes. I think you should hold off for a month or two, and also you might want to cut out your weekly lunch with your friends. We should build up enough in the clothes budget to maybe get her a light jacket by March or so."

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

It’s A Small Internet After All

I’ve never been a big believer in coincidences. The world is just too vast, and the chances of any one thing happening or not happening at a certain time too many. When something aligns, or a chance encounter or random thought enters the mind, I really believe it means something. There’s some prompter or power at work.

I was taught at an early age that if an old friend or a family member comes to mind during the day, stop and take a moment to pray for them. Appreciate what they mean to you, and even reach out to them if you can (quick email, text or even a Facebook poke).

That worked the other way around just recently. A bizarre thing happened last week. I got an email from a guy named John who contacted me after visiting this blog and seeing my profile picture:

From: John
Sent: Thursday, November 27, 2008 11:35 PM
Subject: you look familiar

Young man, your picture on your blog reminds me of an old USAF buddy from Brooklyn. But, that was back in the early 1960's. I haven't seen Richard and his wife, Marilyn since August 1970.

Happy Thanksgiving.

John

Well- my dad’s name is Richard, he was indeed in the Air Force, and his wife, my mom, is named Marilyn. And the time frame fit. Wacky.

I forwarded the email to my dad and he confirmed he knew John. The next step for me was to find out how John found my blog and recognized by picture:

From: DigitalRich
Sent: Sunday, November 30, 2008 9:06 AM
To: John
Subject: RE: you look familiar

Hello John. You found the right guy. My dad is Richard and his wife is Marilyn. I sent your message to him and he confirmed he knows you. I’d be very interested to know if this was a total coincidence and how you found my blog and recognized me as looking like my dad. Did you just stumble on the blog, or did you search for my dad and find my blog? Please let me know!


Rich

And his response blew my mind…

From: John
Sent: Sunday, November 30, 2008 7:47 PM
To: DigitalRich
Subject: RE: you look familiar

Rich:

I've been working 12 hour night shifts over the four day holiday and was getting bored because all work activity in the three state area that I control natural gas was non-existent. Soooooo. I was digging around for music to stream on the internet and started with http://www.tropicalglen.com/ and http://www.theradio.com/. The older music started me thinking about my early days in USAF and one of my good friends, your dad knows him, Sonny Jackson, used to like gospel (he hailed from Alabama - Georgia border. Somehow I ran across a site that had some DVD’s for sale for child protection sponsored by John Walsh. John's son was kidnapped from the Hollywood Mall in Fl about 5 miles from where I lived after the Air Force, so this caught my eye. I was just surfing and all of a sudden, the past is looking me in the eye. You look a lot like your Dad, your uncle, and your grandfather as well as I can remember. Your mom is in the mix too.

Where are you? California? Tell your dad that Terry and Mary Ann Lambert just sent me a post card. They visited the duplex that they and your parents used to live in right after they were married in Naranja, FL.

God Bless and have a wonderful holiday season.

John


Unbelievable. In 2006 I worked for John Walsh (of America’s Most Wanted fame) and helped him and Julie Clark (Baby Einstein Founder) launch a kids safety video company. I wrote a few posts about child safety and those got dinged by John’s Google search… he then visited my blog and saw my photo without knowing my name.

How crazy is that?

Monday, December 01, 2008

How To Build A Willow Tree Crèche

Well… it’s not a perfect replica of the famous (and pricey) Willow Tree Crèche, but it will certainly do as a great inexpensive backdrop to your Willow Tree Nativity set or any other nativity set in need of a rustic looking stable.

I actually think my version is better for a couple reasons: 1) It's larger, providing more space for various characters. 2) It's cheaper!

I’m posting this because I’ve noticed a good amount of traffic hitting here from Google searches with the search terms WILLOW TREE CRECHE BUILD. Last year I wrote a post about the crèche I built for my wife Michelle (Project Crèche Complete!). I didn’t give any detailed instructions or show photo’s, so I figured I’d do it this year in hopes of helping anyone that needs it to avoid the $75-100 cost plus S&H and build their own for up to 90% less.

First I should give you the bad news and good news. The bad news I’ve already mentioned- its not exactly a Willow Tree Crèche. The good news? It’s EASY to make and very inexpensive. I don’t have much experience in woodworking- this was only my 4th or 5th project. It cost a grand total of $30 and I got enough material to make 3 Crèches (so far I’ve made one for us and one for my mother-in-law).



Here are the detailed instructions:

Using any kind of wood you like (I used pine- cheap and easy to work with) create a base, backstop, platform, backdrop, crossbeam and Roof. Read through the instructions below carefully to make sure you get enough wood and other materials to complete the project.

BASE. This is the foundation of the crèche where all the remaining pieces (and the nativity set) rest upon.



1. Cut a piece of wood to the following measurements: 20” wide, 10” deep and ¾” high (fairly standard height for a plank of pine from Home Depot or Lowes).

2. Using a miter saw (or miter angle on your table saw) cut the length of the front of the BASE at a 45 degree angle.

3. Sand all edges and surfaces until smooth, especially the front sharp angle resulting from the 45 degree cut- I sliced my finger pretty badly on my first crèche.

4. Stain all surfaces except the bottom to desired color (SEE NOTE ON STAINING AT THE BOTTOM).

BACKSTOP. This is a lip at the back of the BASE that creates a slightly raised line along the width. I actually didn’t have to create this since the BASE I used was a discarded shelf that had this lip/backstop already on it.

1. Cut a piece of wood to the following measurements: 20” wide, ¾” deep and 1 1/8” high.

2. Fasten along the back of the BASE with nails ensuring smooth edges matching the bottom and two sides of the BASE.

3. Drill two ¼” holes, all the way through the BACKSTOP, for dowels (make sure you’re drilling down into the 1 1/8” height), 7” from each end.

4. Sand all edges and surfaces until smooth.

5. Stain all surfaces to desired color (SEE NOTE ON STAINING AT THE BOTTOM).

PLATFORM. This is similar to the BASE, but smaller and rests on top of the BASE providing a higher elevation to lift up the main nativity set characters.


1. Cut a piece of wood to the following measurements: 10 ¼” wide, 8 ¾” deep and ¾” high.

2. Using a miter saw (or miter angle on your table saw) cut the length of the front of the PLATFORM at a 45 degree angle (just like you did for the BASE).

3. Sand all edges and surfaces until smooth, especially the front sharp angle resulting from the 45 degree cut.

4. Stain all surfaces to desired color (SEE NOTE ON STAINING AT THE BOTTOM).

BACKDROP. The all important back of the stable creating the backdrop for the amazing scene of the birth of Jesus. There are actually 7 pieces to the BACKDROP- backdrop base, backdrop lip, beadboard paneling, 2 columns and 2 dowels. NOTE- It is important to have the BACKDROP be able to disconnect from the BASE and FOUNDATION to make it easy to store the Crèche flat during the year, so don't glue or affix the final BACKDROP to the BASE beyond just dropping the BACKDROP dowels into the holes in the BACKDROP/BACKSTOP. This will make more sense after you watch the video at the end.




Backdrop Base
1. Cut a piece of wood to the following measurements: 10 ¾” wide, ¾” deep and 10 ¾” high/tall.

2. Drill two ¼” holes, about 1” deep, for dowels on the bottom of the BACKDROP, 2 ½” from each end of the edges. IMPORTANT- prior to drilling holes, make sure the hole placements will match up with the dowel holes drilled into the BACKSTOP.

3. Sand all edges and surfaces until smooth.

4. Stain just the two outside edges, left and right, to desired color (SEE NOTE ON STAINING AT THE BOTTOM).

Backdrop Lip
1. This is similar to the BACKSTOP created for the BASE except it will be sitting on it’s side as compared to the BACKSTOP, creating a lip sticking out towards the front of the crèche.

2. Cut a piece of wood to the following measurements: 10 ¾” wide, 1 1/8” deep and ¾” high. Fasten along the back of the BASE with nails ensuring smooth edges matching the bottom and two sides of the BASE.

3. Sand all edges and surfaces until smooth.

4. Stain all surfaces to desired color (SEE NOTE ON STAINING AT THE BOTTOM).

Beadboard Paneling
1. Using light wood beadboard paneling (found at Home Depot or Lowes) cut a piece to the following measurements: 7 ¾” wide, 9 5/12” high.

2. Sand the outside edges (but not the front surface) until smooth.

3. Stain just the front surface to desired color (SEE NOTE ON STAINING AT THE BOTTOM).

Columns (make 2 of exactly the same piece below)
1. Cut a piece of wood to the following measurements: 1 ½” wide, ¾” deep and 9 5/12” high.

2. Sand all edges and surfaces until smooth.

3. Stain all surfaces to desired color (SEE NOTE ON STAINING AT THE BOTTOM).

Dowels (make/use 2 of exactly the same piece below)
1. Cut a ¼” wide dowel to 2” long.

ASSEMBLING BACKDROP. Now that you have the 7 pieces comprising the BACKDROP, you’ll assemble them into a single piece:

1. Lay the Backdrop Base down on it’s back and arrange the 2 columns (on the two opposites sides) and beadboard paneling (in between the columns) to ensure they tuck smoothly under the Backdrop Lip, are flush to the Backdrop Base sides.

2. Sand or trim cut to fit if it’s not. NOTE- there will be a gap below the columns and beadboard paneling where the Backdrop Base will be showing.

3. Place the PLATFORM on top of the BASE. While holding the Backdrop Base together with the columns and beadboard in place, ensure the assembled piece will sit flush on top of the BASE, BACKSTOP and PLATFORM. Sand or trim cut if necessary.

4. Using wood glue, glue the 2 columns and beadboard paneling in place to the Backdrop Base. Let dry.

5. Glue or fasten firmly the two 2” dowels into the holes in the Backdrop Base.

CROSSBEAM. A simple strip of wood that will sit on top of the BACKDROP (resting also on the two columns) providing some additional depth to the BACKDROP.




1. Cut a piece of wood to the following measurements: 12 ½” wide, ½” deep and ¾” high.

2. Sand all edges and surfaces until smooth.

3. Stain all surfaces to desired color (SEE NOTE ON STAINING AT THE BOTTOM).

ROOF. You’re almost done! These are the last two pieces. Two simple pieces of wood that will lean together (or you can glue/fasten them) creating an illusion of a roof.



1. Make 2 of exactly the same pieces.

2. Cut a piece of wood to the following measurements: 7 ½” long, ¾” wide and 1 ½” high.
Using a miter saw (or miter angle on your table saw) cut a 45 degree angle on both ends creating a trapezoid.

3. Sand all edges and surfaces until smooth. Ensure the two pieces lean together and balance/stand.

4. Stain all surfaces to desired color (SEE NOTE ON STAINING AT THE BOTTOM).

5. If you prefer, you can affix the two roof pieces together with glue or a framing nail. I didn’t connect them and just lean them together on the final crèche. While they fall down easily if the crèche is bumped, this is a delicate connection and for ease of storage its better not to affix them.

STAINING. This was actually the one part that I was most afraid of. Sure, I can paint- can’t everyone? You buy a gallon of interior, a roller and drop cloth, and whammo- slap the paint on the wall. But special effects and finishes? Frightening. Fortunately, the folks at my neighborhood Woodcraft Store helped me. They had a display from “General Finishes” paint products that allowed me to easily spot the look I wanted and what materials I needed to create the look. In my case, I wanted an old barn-wood look (slightly grayish with black and dark highlights) and the chart showed exactly what I needed to do. The instructions below are for the color I chose, but you can finish any way you like.

1. Purchase 1 pint each of "EF Products by General Finishes, Buttermilk Yellow Water Based Milk Paint" and "General Finishes Pitch Black Water Based Glaze Effects." I’ve made two crèches and have only used about half of each of the pints I bought.

2. Test the following on a few pieces of scrap wood (the same wood you’re building your crèche out of) to make sure you get the technique / look right. I can’t emphasize enough how inexperienced I was, and how easy this is. Once you get it right, repeat on the final pieces of the Crèche.

3. Using a lint-free cloth (code words for old t-shirt cut into multiple easy to handle pieces roughly 5” by 5”) and starting with the Buttermilk Yellow paint, dab directly into the paint can getting about as much paint on the cloth as you need for the piece you’re working on. For a big piece like the BASE or PLATFORM that might be about a tablespoon or two, much less for smaller pieces.

4. Hand-rub the paint over the desired surfaces of the piece you’re working on. Be sure to rub and dab deeply into the rough ends of cut wood that is across the grain.

5. Allow to dry (at least a full hour, best if it’s two).

6. Using a fresh cloth, and using the Pitch Black Glaze Effects paint, dab directly into the pain can getting a small amount (much less than the initial coat of yellow). Hand rub over the dried Buttermilk Yellow painted piece and watch the magic of yellow and black creating a rustic old barn-wood grey look. (NOTE- Pay special attention to painting the beadboard and make sure you get the yellow and then black paint deep into the beadboard grooves.

7. Allow to dry (at least a full hour, best if it’s two).


You’re finished! Wasn’t that easy? Now, check out this video to see how easy it is to set up the completed Crèche each Christmas season:



video


Whether you actually used these instructions to build a crèche, or just read through this far and watched the video for the fun of it, I hope you found this interesting and helpful. If you have any questions or need something clarified feel free to email me.