Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Masters & Johnson Diet

      The late great 4-Star chef Louis Saismara once said, "There are two great joys in life: food and sex. And food lasts longer if prepared properly and stored correctly." There, you have it from straight from the mouth of a Frenchman (which sounds unsanitary, but the quote was washed before you read it): Food is better than sex.
      Food has always been attracted to me. It's a curse that I eat under. The good Lord knows I've tried to be less appealing to the vittles. I carry a health-club card around and point it at any German chocolate coke that comes too close (that is, within a mile to me). I wear jogging suits because I've been told that sweat scares food away. I've tried, honestly, I've tried. Do you think I like eating this much?
      But nothing works. I'm just irresistible to food. The minute I go into a restaurant, cherry cheesecakes begin to smile sensuously, and potatoes brush sour cream away from their eyes to wink at me. Tarts pull down the corners of their pastry coverings, revealing the rich, dark blueberry fillings. Lush Italian pizza pies slink toward me, their large pepperoni somehow poking through their thick covering of cheese and tomato sauce.
      "Nothing's better than beef," a steak sizzles. "Sink your teeth into me."
      "The setting sun and pounding surf will satisfy your every appetite," a lobster leers.
      "Lettuce entertain you," the salad bar says, its eyes dressing me with blue cheese and buttermilk ranch.
      "Be strong like a sailor man," the spinach quiche says.
      "Why don't ya just skip all them and let me show a really good time, big boy," a cream pie suggests, swirling its white topping to show me just a glimpse of red, ripe strawberries.
      "We're the best, above the rest," the fried shrimp chant. (For some reason, shrimp always speak together in bad rhymes; I know that's fishy, but it's true.)
      "Are you trying to start something?" the steak asks bullishly, shoving the lasagna. The spaghetti cracks its noodles like a whip at the tacos. The lobster slithers sinisterly toward the cheesecake which heaps more cherries on top of itself in an attempt to be more appealing to me. The shrimp cheer on the steak which intends to defoliate the salad bar.
      A food fight is about to break out. I must choose one of them quickly. But which one? Steak or lobster? What about the salad bar? And those desserts ...
      Then it comes to me, the solution to the problem. I hand the menu to the waiter and say, "I'll take everything."
      It's a curse, I tell you, a curse.

Copyright 2006. All rights reserved.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Closing The Book

It surprised me when I swept off
all the books on the shelf. I thought
I had long since spent my passion
in purchasing your faithless heart.

You feel uncertain of our life,
you tell me. What you mean is your
better love than me may still be
out there. Why settle for less here?

So go. Leaving is how you show
how little you care, how little
you understand the rarity
of love in this non-fiction world.

If this were a story, you would
come back broken and I would let
you love me or even better
introduce you to my new love.

Since this is not, I will pick up
the scattered books and set them back
on the shelf, being sure to set
yours to one side to box later.

Copyright 2006. All rights reserved.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Not boring but not interesting either

      I've had a computer problem all weekend. Not fixed completely, but my computer can continue to limp along a bit longer. The time is coming for a new one, but I hope this one will hold on for a few more months.
      Otherwise, I've not done much to blog about. Read a couple of books, saw The Island, which was a better movie than I expected. Filed a few things, did housework and laundry, worked on Darkness, Oklahoma, enjoyed the rain we received and prayed for more. That's about all for this weekend, and it is all for this post. Catch you tomorrow. If we're lucky, I'll be more interesting then.
     Before I forget, Crystal is fine. She doesn't have her computer set up yet, but maybe we'll see her online sometime in February. And now, good night.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Occasionally

      Occasionally life decides to shock you. It's like that. It wants you to pay attention. So every now and then it throws a surprise at you. Sometimes those surprises are good. Sometimes they're bad.
      Today I was reading blogs at lunch. I have several that aren't my regular reads, but I still have them in my favorites, and I drop by from time to time.
      On one of them, in its latest entry, I noticed an odd reference to a loss. I scrolled down and I discovered the blogger's husband had been killed in a traffic accident in August. I was floored. Somehow I had missed those few posts where she talked about his death, the memorial service and what came after. I don't really know this person. We've been in the same chat room a few times at Forward Motion and exchanged a few "Howdys," but that's it. I know she writes. I know she's friendly with several people that I'm friendly with. How did I miss hearing about the accident? Was I that oblivious to what was going on? I wanted to tell her now how sorry I was to hear of her loss, but it's been several months. Maybe she doesn't want to be reminded of her pain. And after all, we don't know each other. I don't want to cause her any additional pain. I guess I can just remember her in my prayers.
      While wondering about that tragedy, I went to another blog. Mostly to see if it had been updated. The last time it had a new entry was in September. Still no new posts, but I noticed that the last post had several new comments. I had read the old ones before. I opened the comments page and scrolled down to the end to read that the blogger had passed away in November. He caught pneumonia, went into the hospital, and then picked up secondary infections while he was there. He slipped into a coma and never woke up. His blog will continue, I guess, unless Blogger finally decides to do away with it. Until then, his blog remains, a memorial of sorts in cyberspace, a remembrance of what he thought and wrote as ephemeral and fleeting as our lives are but still making an impact on those who surf by.
      If you're expecting a conclusion to this, some grand sweeping statement, sorry. I don't have one beyond the banal and obvious: Life is short. We never know what tomorrow will bring. Today is the first day of the rest of your life ...
      It just makes me think. Uncomfortable thoughts. The ones I push to the dark corners of my mind. I see them, but I steadfastly ignore them, concentrating on what I have to do to get through another day. But they're still lurking, their eyes gleaming yellow. Hear that faint noise? The click of tiny claws. The rustle of paper. Sometimes, just sometimes, when your mind is quiet, when you don't expect it, you feel their hot breath on the back of your neck.

Darkness update

      You may have noticed that I haven't been blogging about Darkness, Oklahoma much. That's because I'm in trouble with it and haven't written my way out. I do know one thing that will become a rule for me: DON'T CREATE A CHARACTER TO FIX A PROBLEM.
      Here's what happened. I have a lot of people in the book who all have pieces of the puzzle. These people need to get together so that they can exchange information. The problem is that many of these people have never even met. I need, in a sense, a town meeting where our heroes can talk to each other.
      So … to fix this, I created a character. A sort of wise man. A player to move all the game pieces. My heroes would all get together because he would get them all together. I wanted him to be quirky and interesting. Wise and funny. Something out of the ordinary run-of-the-mill sages that seem to populate various fantasy books.
      However, this new character created a whole bunch of problems. Why was he withholding information? Why not gather everybody together at first and send them off to do what has to be done? Why play games when so much is at stake?
      Oh, okay, I'll fix that. There'll be a prophecy so that things have to be done in a particular order. But who will give the prophecy? Oh, I know, I'll create an ancient prophet and an ancient, powerful society. But if they were so powerful, why aren't they still around? Okay, there was a war or maybe the gods stuck them down for their pride. Ahem. Recognize the plot yet? If you read much fantasy, you do. And all of this came about just so I could get my heroes together. Which, by the way, still hasn't happened.
      I knew then what I had to do. The wise man had to go. I'd lose nearly 7,000 words, but he had to go. The prophecy stayed but in a much reduced and mysterious form. The ancient prophet and the ancient society, gone.
      I felt ill as I removed the wordage. I still feel a bit queasy. I saved the character in a different file. He had some cool quirks. Maybe I can use him in some other story someday.
      Anyway, that didn't fix the original problem, but at least I don't have all the new problems. Somehow these folks are going to share info. I don't know how yet, but it's going to happen one way or another. I hope you'll be reading the solution soon.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Explanation Of My Survival

When

Darkness draws close and I hunger
for the killing pain, the final fury
and the dead quiet ever after --
When I'm weary, sick of living
in this world where evil rages free
and good lies captive of fearful hearts --
When I long to finally shatter
and let the jagged bloody pieces fall
pass my silent and uncaring hand --

Then

I remember holding you in
the awkward cradle of unsure arms
as you looked at your three-month-old world
with brightly curious eyes and waved
tiny hands and actually smiled when
I made inane baby talk and in
that moment, I gather the pieces
of my heart, shake off my burdens and
let the light shine down on me once more.

Copyright 2005. All rights reserved.

Monday, January 23, 2006

How to beat blue funks

      Recently one of my friends seemed down. She had just fallen over a book bag that someone had inconveniently left on the sidewalk in front of the library. I helped her stand back up.
      "You seem down," I said, helpfully dusting off her clothes and receiving a slap in the face for my efforts.
      "Don't be fresh!" she snarled.
      I shrugged. Many times people don't realize they need help, but I didn't want to push so I didn't mention that she had torn the back of her skirt.
      "I've been in a blue funk lately," she said, sighing. "I guess it's winter."
      "Yes, it is winter," I said, amazed at her ability to grasp the obvious. "Was the 20 degree weather your first clue?" I picked up my book bag.
      "No, you idiot," she said in that sweet affectionate way that so many of my friends adopt when speaking to me. "I mean winter depresses me. The trees are bare, the birds are gone, and the days are short."
      I looked carefully at the trees across the street. Sure, they were missing their leaves, but what did she mean by bare? But I had focus on what was important: I wondered how long it would take for a cold draft to alert her to her torn skirt.
      "There are many ways to beat a blue funk," I said. "First, I'd find a stick --"
      "You do know that a blue funk means a depressed state," she said. "And don't say New Hampshire."
      "I wasn't," I said, offended since I was going to say Montana. "I'm going to tell you ways to get out of a blue funk."
      She raised an eyebrow. Of course, it belonged to a guy who walked past her and then did a double-take.
      "I know I'm going to regret this," she said. "What do you do?"
      I outlined a few quick methods to beat a blue funk without using sticks.
      1. You can count your blessings and realize how much better your life is than most of the world because you live in the USA, but most people think that's no fun.
      2. Wear a chicken suit to work. It will lift your spirits and those of your fellow workers and possibly give you more free time. But if you think that's too fowl and nothing to crow about, read on.
      3. Enjoy a whole, delicious, double-chocolate cake, but be sure to drink a diet Dr Pepper to cancel out all the calories.
      4. Streaking. This will definitely cheer you up as you dash breathlessly through the town, chased by dogs, the police and men with white coats.
      She interrupted me at this point. "Don't be ridiculous," she snapped. "I would never ever streak."
      "Really?" I said, opening the library door and letting her go inside in front of me. "Then you might want to fix your skirt."
      For some reason she blamed me, but her anger lifted her depression. So I had helped her, after all. I'm just amazing.

Copyright 2006. All rights reserved.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

"Are They Shadows"

      I've mentioned before how much I love poetry. I picked up that love early and have never wavered from it. Over the next few months, I thought I'd share a few poems that have always spoke to me.
      We'll start out with one by Samuel Daniel. Born in 1562, he was the son of a music teacher. He was educated in Oxford, worked in Paris and Italy, and returned to England to become a successful court poet, writing verses for special occasions, and penning dramatic entertainments. He died in 1619 at his farm in Somerset, England.
      This poem was probably written around 1610 after Daniel was the guest of honor at a masque commissioned by Queen Anne. (A masque was, in the words of Wikipedia, "... a form of festive courtly entertainment. ... Masque involved music and dancing, singing and acting, within an elaborate stage design.") But the poem goes deeper than its surface subject, as all good poems do, and illuminates pleasures remembered. As typical with untitled poems, the first few words are given as the title now.

ARE THEY SHADOWS?
By Samuel Daniel

Are they shadows that we see?
And can shadows pleasure give?
Pleasures only shadows be
Cast by bodies we conceive
      And are made the things we deem
      In those figures which they seem.

But these pleasures vanish fast
Which by shadows are expressed;
Pleasures are not, if they last;
In their passing is their best.
      Glory is most bright and gay
      In a flash, and so away.

Feed apace then, greedy eyes,
On the wonder you behold;
Take it sudden as it flies,
Though you take it not to hold.
      When your eyes have done their part,
      Thought must length it in the heart.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

If you were wondering

      If you were wondering why I haven't been writing much this week, I've been busy working on my family's monthly newsletter. I finally received all the articles from the various family members, and I've been typing and editing for the past three days. I hope to finish tomorrow.
      If you were wondering how Crystal was doing in her move to California, I talked to her today. She's currently in Sacramento doing some sightseeing before moving into a temporary place on Saturday. A couple weeks after that, her apartment will be ready, and she'll move again into that. Her job will be near the Mojave Desert, and she and her son are looking forward to exploring the area. I hope they share photos with us. They made the trip fine, despite being pelted with rain, hail and some snow.
      If you were wondering how Darkness, Oklahoma is going, it's going okay. I should have something for my first readers to read at the end of February as per my plan.
      If you were wondering how my Debt Reduction Plan is doing, it's still on course. I'll pay off another credit card in October or November of this year. I'm hoping maybe sooner, but that will depend on how my job goes.
      If you were wondering how the diet is going, check The Great Slim Down 2006 for details.
      If you were wondering how Mikey is doing, he's doing okay. He and his mom have moved away from here, which is disheartening and I miss him a lot, but he seems to have adapted. Kids bounce back sometimes better than we do. I hope to see him soon.
      If you were wondering when I'm going to end this entry ... Now.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Sunset this evening


Sunset this evening.
Copyright 2006. All rights reserved.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Beautiful orchid

      My good friend AmberClear raises orchids, among her many other talents. She sent me this photo and allowed me to post it here. This particular orchid is a "potinara Danny Adams 'Edith North'" variety.
Photo is Copyright 2005 by AmberClear. All rights reserved.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Clarity

       Apparently I wasn't clear in my previous post about comment moderation as I received a couple of emails from people who believe that I am under an obligation to post their comments, however smugly snide they are.
      So this doesn't apply to 99.9 percent of the people who come here. But for that .1 percent, let's go over it slow, and I will use small words. This is my blog. I determine content. If I don't like your comment for whatever reason, I won't post it. I don't have to explain. I don't have to be fair. If you don't like it, don't come here. Why is this so difficult to understand? Apparently you want attention of some sort. You won't get it here. Move on.
      This is all the time I'm going to spend on this. I've changed my filter so that emails from those people will simply go straight to the spam filter. This is my final, high-handed, undemocratic word on it.

Comment moderation

      With great reluctance, I have enabled comment moderation. The troll returned today, posting profanity and vulgarity. Its comments have been deleted and will no longer appear.
      Comment moderation means your comments might have a delay in showing up, but they will eventually show up.
      I apologize to most of you. I welcome your comments and will attempt to check my blog often to allow them to show up quickly. I know this will cut down on the number of comments, but I'm willing to do that so that 51313 Harbor Street remains what I intend it to be: a positive, family-friendly blog.
      For those few who apparently dislike this blog or its contents, you are not welcome. The Net is huge place. I'm sure you can find some other blog that will welcome your profanity, vulgarity and insulting comments. Seek them out as you will no longer be allowed to comment here. Also, because of my email filter, I am able to never see the comments at all. You will be speaking into a void. I find that both amusing and sad.
      Anyway, once again, I apologize to my faithful readers for this inconvenience. Know that I value your input and your friendship. Thank you.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Recent reading

      A couple of days ago, Erudite Redneck asked what books his readers were reading. I meant to answer over there, but I didn't. So I'll share what I've read recently and what I'm currently reading.
      What I read:
      Ansel Adams at 100 by John Szarkowski. A short biography about and substantial number of photos by the famed American photographer.
      The Amorous Busboy of Decatur Avenue by Robert Klein. Klein's memoir is fast, funny and interesting as he covers his life until he's 25. I hope he writes more.
      Where Trouble Sleeps by Clyde Edgerton. A New York Times bestseller in which we learn some of the past of Edgerton's fictional Listre, North Carolina.
      The Goodbye Body by Joan Hess. This is the first of this series that I've read, but I'm going to find the others. It's a good, fast mystery with lots of humor.
      Side Effects by Nancy Fisher. A medical thriller (think Robin Cook) about a drug that restores youth but has a terrible side effect that someone is killing a lot of people to conceal.
      The Sugar House by Laura Lippman. Another mystery series, but I didn't like it as much as the one by Hess. Tess Mongaghan is a female detective, tough with lots of family problems. Not bad, but a bit grim.
      Origami: 30 Fold-By-Fold Projects by Paulo Mulatinho. Truthfully I only got this book because it had two folding models that I hadn't done or seen before. But it's well illustrated and accessible to a dedicated beginner if you'd like to try your hand at origami.
      Currently reading:
      202 Digital Photography Solutions by George H. Wallace and Chuck Gloman.
      The Complete Photography Course by Michael Joseph and Dave Saunders.
      A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.
      All these books, except for A Short History of Nearly Everything, belong to my local library and are, as of today, overdue. Sigh. Oh well, my fines will help them buy more books, I guess.

Cool photo


A cool photo of my friend Randall that he took of
himself with his camera phone.
Copyright 2005 by Randall. All rights reserved.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Why I had to blog today

      Today I wasn't going to blog because I was feeling down about the troll yesterday. Yes, I know that I shouldn't let his/her opinion matter to me, and I know he/she isn't worth the time, but it happened, and it got me to thinking about how easy it is for us to be cruel to each other and wondering why that is so.
      Don't think that I'm going to go and on about how worthless humanity is, because I'm not. We're the best and brightest to come along so far, and we do some pretty amazing things. We also do some really stupid things. And I've been wondering lately how is that going to balance out. When will we tip the scale toward the light finally and permanently?
      Of course, a lot of people believe we won't get better. That eventually we will get so bad that the world will have to be destroyed in fire. They back this up with a lot of Biblical scholarship. And they're probably right. I certainly haven't studied the issue enough, but I think that it will be sad if that is so. I find many good things in this world; I'd hate to think of them fading into that long night. But that's me in a nutshell. I'm always hopeful, but I plan for the worst.
      Considering how hard this world is, how many burdens we all carry, you'd think we'd try to be kinder to each other, even to those who have opinions and lifestyles of which we disapprove. But we're not. We shout at each other, we blog terrible things about each other, we attack beliefs, faiths, lifestyles, politics, their very lives. And we give no quarter and take no prisoners. We smile when the other guys are hurt or humiliated. Because we know we're right, we don't feel pity. Just contempt.
      Are we so small? If that is all we are, then bring on the fire. Let it all be swept away. I'll strike the match.
      But.
      Then I think of other things.
      Like my babies, some of whom have grown up and are having babies of their own.
      Like my siblings, who have traveled this wild road with me so far.
      Like my friends, some of whom have known me for more than 30 years now, and we're still close.
      And you, my blogging buddies. Those folks whom I've never met in "real" life, but still care about me and are cared about by me.
      And all those people out there working to make the world a better place in hospitals, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, schools, homes, churches, small towns and large cities, all those keeping themselves above water and helping others stay afloat.
      And finally the God I serve, a God of hope, a God of joy, a God who enjoys a good joke and maybe a Dr Pepper every now and then between creating universes. A God that is my friend however unworthy I am.
      And so maybe this troll did a good thing because as I thought about those things, I realized I didn't feel sad after all.
      What I feel is, what I mean to say is that we are blessed. And it's still a pretty good world. So let's not have that fire just yet.
      That's what I wanted to say and why I had to blog today.
      So good night, pleasant dreams, and someday we will rise to greet a new, wondrous world.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Troll

      Well, if you've been watching my comments today, you know that I've been dealing with a troll. At first I responded, but now I've simply deleted everything he/she has said as well as my responses. Life is too short, and I should have never given him/her the attention. He/she may continue to comment, but I will be deleting them.
      I appreciate those that defended me so much, but I've deleted your comments, too, since they didn't make any sense without the troll's. I will continue to delete his/her comments until he/she gets tired of this and goes somewhere else to play. I don't want to turn on comment moderation since that's a pain, but I will if I must. 51313 Harbor Street was never meant to be a place to debate anything. Those who wish to do so should check out the blogs of 4 Rows Back or Erudite Redneck. You'll find plenty of people there who like to rumble.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

We Move In Darkness

We move in darkness
We know our way
around our bodies
where the touch
dissolves in sinsation,
where my/your breath
becomes our breath.
where we forget
what we've been told,
where our words fall
and moans shout

We untangle dreams
We know how
to gingerly do that,
to take what we need
while leaving enough,
to focus on ourselves
without losing sight,
to satiate without
extinguishing,
to fall into heavy night
and land to walk away

We know these things
We've learned the art
of giving only so much
that we are not taken,
of going only so far,
of keeping ourselves,
on safe ground,
careful to never lose
ourselves wholly,
of not going where
we couldn't return.

If only we could hurtle
into the empty night
our bodies ablaze
with glorious hunger,
our flesh melting
into one creature,
our dreams meshing
into one far-off city,
our mingled passion
bringing forth
light in the dark.

Copyright 2005. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Why cavemen would be ashamed of us

      As I have always pictured it, Marquis de Sade was sitting in his imitation-leather throne, resting his feet on Toady, his lawyer. Although the Marquis had just finished torturing some small children by making them watch presidential debates, he still felt displeased.
      "Toady, I feel displeased," he said.
      "Why, oh great one?" Toady asked.
      "Well, for one thing, the lack of wide-spread enthusiasm for torture," the Marquis sighed. "I had hoped that many people would discover the joys of this good, clean pastime besides the CIA."
      "You did sponsor those rap concerts," Toady pointed out.
      "Well, yes ..."
      "And what about your success with Paris fashions for women?" Toady continued. "Women are wearing uncomfortable rubber clothes that make them look like an explosion at a tire factory. What more could you want, mighty and huge lower colon?"
      "True, I have had my little successes," the Marquis said. "Still, if I could just involve more people, get whole families involved in painful and humiliating activities." He strode to the window, past the large portraits of heavy metal bands and television evangelists, and looked out over the wilderness. Suddenly inspiration struck.
      "I have it!" he announced. "The perfect activity that whole families will do together! It'll cause them pain and misery! They'll bicker, they'll fight, they'll try to stab each other with sharpened sticks! We'll call it camping!"
      "Camping?" Toady asked.
      "Yes, yes, people will go out into the wilderness and sleep in tiny tents that force them to bend their bodies like pretzels," the Marquis said. "They'll suffer with half-cooked food, horrible weather and fight off mosquitoes as big as albatrosses! There'll be snakes and bears and gigantic blood-sucking ticks and chiggers!"
      "I don't know, oh great and bloated one," Toady said, doubtfully. "You actually think it'll catch on? Surely people are too smart."
      Toady, of course, was wrong. Each year, millions of families spend millions of dollars to return to the wilderness that their forefathers spent thousands of years getting out of. It's enough to make a caveman weep.
      Now, don't think that I'm criticizing the great all-American sport of camping. I like being miserable just as much as the next guy. The way I look it, you just can't measure such things in terms of the number of mosquito bites and poison ivy hives. No, the proper way to rate a camping trip is how many weeks you have to spend in a hospital following it.
      And I know what I'm talking about. I went camping a fair amount in my teens because my parents forced my participation in the Righteous Rangers, a church organization similar to Boy Scouts. In fact, the only difference between us and the Boy Scouts was that we worked harder; after all, if we didn't get those badges, we knew we would suffer eternally in torment.
      Every Wednesday night, our parents would drop us boys at the fellowship hall of the church. Our commanders would lead us in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, the Lord's Prayer and, of course, the Ranger Credo (which went: "As a Righteous Ranger, I promise to be truthful, kind, honest and caring, and promise to obey my commanders in all things even though they don't have the combined intelligence of a wart-hog" or something like that).
      After which we would sing a few hymns and then devote the rest of the evening to discovering exactly how many ways we could burn, cut, fold, mutilate and spindle ourselves with the assorted tools of wood carving, leather working, knot tying, etc.
      A few words at this point spring to mind about our commanders, but they are mostly unprintable. I'm probably being unfair to those men. After all, they could have stayed home and watched television; instead, they gave up their hard-earned leisure time to come to church and make some boys very, very miserable. They were sick men.
      About once a month, our supreme commander would stand and announce our monthly camping trip. We greeted this with groans and pleas, but it was to no avail. Off we would go into the wilderness.
      I am exaggerating somewhat when I say wilderness. Usually we would camp in someone's pasture in which cows had thoughtfully left little surprises to keep us on our toes or actually to keep our eyes on the ground. In fact, our campsites taught us the joys of shoes. Most of us country boys ran around barefoot; that changed. After you've plopped your foot into a wet, cold pile of cow surprise and felt it ooze between your toes, you realize that shoes are a gift from heaven and not just something your mother wants you to wear for appearance's sake.
      After we set up camp, we would then work on the outdoor badges: stargazing, tracking, camp cooking, fire-starting, etc. Don't think these were easy, either. For instance, to get your fire-starting badge, you had to start a fire with only one match. You got one chance each camp-out. The wind would be blowing, the leaves and grass would be wet (it always rained on us), and you only got one match. It was practically impossible, but one camp-out, Harry Havelock actually did it.
      After he had received his badge, we boys took him off into the woods and forced the truth out of him. He had carefully soaked some twigs in charcoal starter and then slipped them into his fire teepee. With that information, several of us rapidly received our fire-starting badges at the camp-outs that followed.
      All of us would have claimed that badge, but Max Latimore soaked his twigs in gasoline. Not only did he start a fire, he also took his eyebrows and most of his hair clean off. The commanders finally caught on (probably the fact that a log in Max's fire took off and actually pierced the side of our bus was their first indication that something was wrong) and thereafter required us to gather the firewood and kindling while they watched.
      After we had a fire going, it was time for one of us to earn his camp-cooking badge by cooking breakfast, lunch and supper for the entire troop. For some reason, we all cooked the same things: scrambled eggs with bits of twigs and bacon and burned toast for breakfast, Sloppy Joe hamburgers (take one pound of hamburger and drop it on the ground at least twice; brush off the worst of the dirt; drop it into the skillet; add two cans of soup; spoon onto hamburger buns; tell everyone that you're not hungry) for lunch, and stew for dinner (some veggies, breakfast and lunch leftovers, and a couple cups of water). None of us
ever brought dessert, although Rolaids-Tums-Jello would have been perfect.
      After the last meal of the day, it was time to bed down for the night. I always dreaded this. The commanders assigned us our two-man pup tents in alphabetical order. This meant that I would share a tent with Rudolf Chester. Rudolf wasn't a bad sort, despite the fact that he was named for a cartoon deer. His problem was that his mother always packed him cabbage and corned beef sandwiches that Rudolf's stomach and lower intestine found hard to digest. There were stomach growls and belches and, ahem, other natural body noises. I won't go on, other than to mention that starting a fire with one match in our tent would have been easy. In fact, we would have gone up like a rocket.
      After the miserable nights would come miserable days. Days at camp would be given over to various activities, such as hiking up steep trails, falling off steep trails, running from hornets, treating stings, putting lotion on poison ivy, setting bones, etc. For some reason, every single one of us had his First-Aid badge.
      I haven't even mentioned the worst part of camping, which is the restroom problem; the problem being, of course, that there weren't any. Depending on the length of the camp-out, we sometimes had to dig latrines, but for the most part, it was find a convenient place near a tree and dig a hole. You needed to be near a tree so that you had something to hold on. Choosing the proper tree was important. It needed to be small enough that you could get a good grip on it or have a convenient branch for that purpose. The variety of tree is also important as Billy Watson once found out. He dug his hole near a small tree and squatted to do his business while holding on to the tree trunk, not realizing that he had chosen a cottonwood tree. Cottonwood bark comes off easily. I think we'll leave Billy's story there -- which is what we wanted to do with Billy afterwards.
      Now having said all this, you probably are thinking, "Hey, it couldn't have been that bad. Surely you have at least one good memory of camping." And to be fair, there were those glorious mornings when the sun would rise and spread a rosy symphony across the sky and a single bird would be singing softly in the evergreens. And the only other sound would be me gasping for breath in my tent.
      The Marquis would be pleased.

Copyright 2005. All rights reserved.

Monday, January 09, 2006

List this

       If I have any claim to organizational skills, it's only that I live by lists. I make them almost daily. It keeps me focused on what I should be doing to have a productive day. Unfortunately, lists have a downside. At the end of the day, I can look at all the items not done and be really depressed.
       Be that as it may -- and that it may be -- here's my list for today.

       1. Make bed. I try to make my bed daily just because it's nice to pull back the covers at night and slide beneath the sheets. I like cotton sheets because I find flannel are too clingy and satin are too slick. You have to be careful with satin sheets. I once jumped into bed and slid clean off the other side.
       2. Clean fridge. This one has been on my list for about a month now. It needs to be done. I have leftovers in there from Thanksgiving. Right now, there's a three-bean salad that's plotting its takeover of the world.
       3. Fix the local theater web page. There's a minor formatting problem on it, and I need to add the audition dates for the play I'm directing as well as its performance dates. I did mention that was going to be March activity. I don't know if you've ever been involved in local theater. It can be a thrilling, fulfilling activity. It can also make you want to seek the nearest bell tower with your heaviest artillery.
       4. Wash whites. I'll need some clean undies soon. You were dying to know that, weren't you? Actually I always wear clean underwear because I don't want to be in an accident and have the EMTs refuse to treat me.
       5. Wash colors. Mostly shirts that all have to hung up to dry because they're 100 percent cotton and if you dry them in the dryer, they shrink.
       6. Wash dishes. A dream of mine is to have an automatic dishwasher. Or a maid. Really, I dream more of the maid. I already have her cute, tiny uniform picked out …
       7. Write on Darkness, Oklahoma. I'm not sure if "write on" is the correct way to put that, but I like the sound of it. Write on, man!
       8. Work on the family newsletter. The January issue should already be out, but it's barely started. I want to finish it this week. My contributors, however, need to submit their articles. I think we're all in the January doldrums. I need to call sister, sister, brother, aunt, cousin, aunt, aunt, aunt and aunt for their articles and info.
       9. Empty indoor trashcans into large outdoor container. Gotta do this every Monday and Thursday night because trash pickup day is Tuesday and Friday. And trash pickup waits for no man.
       10. File. I have this huge stack of recent bills, magazines, newspaper articles, computer program warranties, appliance manuals, business cards, notepads, address labels, article ideas, poems, poem ideas, notes, sheets of music, play information, patron stuff, meeting minutes, etc., that all need to find a home other than my desk. Truthfully, I will probably only pick out the important stuff, wait a couple of months and discard the rest. I try to be brutal about what I keep and don't keep since I'm a natural packrat. I'm always afraid I'll end up like those little old men who get crushed to death by piles of clutter in their homes.
       11. Pay bills and work on monthly budget. Sigh. This is depressing, but hey, I'm keeping up. Nothing is late. Or not so late that people are threatening to break my knees.
       12. Water houseplants. They appreciate this.
       13. Feed fish. They also appreciate this. But neither houseplants nor fish have ever bought me card or even said a word of thanks. Gratitude is a dying thing.
       14. Charge cell phone. I'm carrying my cell phone all the time now so I have this reminder to charge it each night so that I always have a full charge. I've been told this is bad for the battery, and then I was told that it wouldn't hurt it. I'll let you know how that works out for me.
       15. Blog on 51313 Harbor Street. Doing that now.
       16. Blog on The Great Slim Down 2006. Will do that later.
       That's it for today. I'll consider it a success if I check off 10 of them, which shouldn't be a problem barring unforeseen events. And I think we're all agreed that they should be barred and maybe locked in a cell, too.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

A fishy story

      I bought another fish this weekend to keep Churchill company. It's a fan-tail goldfish, and its name is Bo. Let's hope it survives for a while. The other fish at the store had apparently heard of me. While my back was turned, I quite clearly heard the phrase "aquarium of death." I ignored it.
      Churchill is now three years old and fat and healthy. So far he's outlived all the other fish I've purchased. There's something sinister about that. I've often wondered if he hasn't been doing the other fish in, but he seems totally innocent. Of course, he's a good actor -- you should see his portrayal of Hamlet -- but still, I think he's sincere. I've thought about asking him, but if he's innocent, I'll just offend him. And if he's not, I'll be tipping him off. He might decide that I need to be filtered.
      Sometimes as I sit in my recliner, I can feel him watching me, his unblinking eyes showing that unfathomable look. I try not to look at him then. I don't want to seem as if I know anything. I don't want to sleep with the fishes. For one thing, it's wet and cold, and I can never get comfortable.
      Don't misunderstand me. There are a lot of good qualities about Churchill. He did great in school. He never talks at the movies even though he does hog the popcorn. And he's a very safe driver. But still there's just something fishy about him.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Not much to say

      Not much to tell you about today or yesterday. I worked both days and worked on my weekly list at night, getting 16 items out of 20 done so far. Not bad. I'm making a new list for this weekend.
      I wasn't even going to post tonight, but Crystal is having to work tonight so I thought I'd give her something to read in the morning when she gets home. A shame it's not more interesting.
      I actually commented over on ER's blog today as well as Mark's. I don't usually comment on either because they're so political, but I rolled up my shirt sleeves and ranted into the battle. Fun but tiring. All the shouting gives me a headache after a while.
      We need rain here in Oklahoma. I understand that California has plenty. Please send us some rain, Frenzied. And quickly. Otherwise, we won't be a dust bowl as much as a burned bowl. Grass fires are everywhere, several apparently caused by cigarettes and fireworks. I wonder how they know. I mean, the fireworks, sure, you can see people setting them off, but cigarettes? How do they trace that?
      The Great Slim Down 2006 blog is doing well. We have seven team members so far, and we should have eight when Jeanne Diane accepts her invitation. If you'd like to join us in losing weight, check the blog out and see if you'd like to participate. I'd sure like to get a few guys on the team. So far, I'm the only one. Are all you guys perfectly fit? I don't think so.
      I've been working on Darkness, Oklahoma. Corrections, additions and plotting new scenes. I'm hoping to add another 30,000 words to it by the end of February. Then it will be off to my readers for their comments, corrections and suggestions. In March, I will be directing a murder mystery play for the local theater group. Then in April, I will be polishing Darkness, Oklahoma and getting it ready for agents and publishers. In May, I'll dive back into Dragons Gather and will devote the rest of the summer to it. In the fall, I'll be sending it out to agents and publishers. Then I'll be working on the outline for my novel for National Novel Writing Month in November. I hope I can convince some of you to join me in it. We had a good group from Oklahoma in 2005, but we need more Okie writers. Be thinking about it.
      Well, I've rambled on enough now. Good night and take care. Catch you tomorrow.

Christmas street lights in Texas


Another cool photo by Randall.
Copyright 2005 Randall. All rights reserved.

Christmas tree in Texas


Christmas tree photographed by my friend Randall.
Copyright 2005 Randall. All rights reserved.

I realize it's after Christmas, but I really liked this photo and decided to share it anyway since I might have lost it by next Christmas. Randall took this photo with his camera phone.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Resolutions 2006

      I always make resolutions the first week of January. Occasionally I keep them. Once I made it all the way to March before breaking the last one. Oh well. Anyway, I think I've mentioned I like lists so here's my list (plan, resolutions) for the new year.

      1. Be a better person. As I've said before on this blog, the whole point of Christianity -- and most other religions -- is to help us be better people. We're all imperfect. But we need to be working on being better people, being more loving, more giving, more supportive and more compassionate. Well, I do, anyhow. You may be fine.
      2. Lose weight. My goal is to lose 50 pounds this year. See The Great Slim Down 2005 for reports on my progress.
      3. Finish Dragons Gather and Darkness, Oklahoma. Both books deserve to be finished.
      4. Outline a novel for the 2006 National Novel Writing Month in November. (Yes, I'm plan on doing it again. It was worth the work.)
      5. Continue my Debt Reduction Plan and play off two credit cards this year. I'm already on course to pay off one, but it would be cool if I could figure how to do another one. This leads us to number ...
      6. Make more money and help my church, family and friends. I'd like to be able to ease some of their concerns.
      7. Continue to produce my family's monthly newsletter.
      8. Continue to maintain this blog and increase its content so that it remains clickable.
      9. Write more humor and poetry, and submit it to magazines. It can't get published when it sits on my computer and remains in my head.
      10. Don't get too upset if I don't keep all of these. I'm only human. I need to be kinder to me.

      Those are my resolutions. What are yours?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Crystal's great idea

      Crystal Diggory has started a new blog: The Great Slim Down 2006. Trixie, Michelle and I have joined as team members. (Frenzied Feline has been invited, but so far she hasn't accepted the invite. I suspect she has some secret plan.) We'll be encouraging each other to lose that weight and win the Slim Down race. We'll share tips, recipes, exercises, fitness sites, and more. Just anything to help us drop those pounds. Check out the blog and feel free to comment and to join if you'd like. We're all going to get thin together.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Excerpt from Darkness, Oklahoma

      Excerpt from Darkness, Oklahoma where an evil little man discovers exactly how small he is. Copyright 2005. All rights reserved. You may not copy it in any form. Otherwise you will be cursed with a really terrible curse. Something involving your armpit hair and angry fire ants.

      Inside a circle drawn with animal blood, Troy Bing waited in the old barn at his parents' vacant farmhouse. His parents had lived in the Hintz Senior Village for the past three years. Troy wanted them to sell the old place, but they weren't willing yet. Eventually Troy would have to force the issue, but for now, it provided a secluded place for his ... activities.
      He was nervous. He had Summoned what the coven had unknowingly birthed last night. He wasn't exactly sure what it was, but he knew it was powerful. The old book that he had found in a pile of trash outside his office gave few details. He often wondered where the book came from. Most of its pages were gone, but the ones remained carried true power.
      He had tried a small one, a spell to increase his ability to influence other people. Its effects were immediate and impressive. He became the top car salesman at the lot. Soon after, the owner decided to retire and sell the business at a huge discount to Troy. The spell benefited him in other ways. The women he had bedded numbered in the dozens now. Any woman he hadn't had, he believed it was because he hadn't tried to get her. And it allowed him to completely control his wife Holly. She raised their three children and made few demands on him. She totally supported his run for mayor just as she supported everything he did.
      But there were people who seemed immune. His parents, for instance. And some of the people he worked with. In fact, some people seemed to have an instinctive dislike for him now. Not only did were they able to overcome the spell, they seemed capable of freeing others. Troy couldn't have that.
      Troy wanted to be mayor and then state representative. Then state senator. After that, governor or senator. He wasn't sure if his ambitions included the White House; that seemed too far to dream. But he knew he needed an edge. He was certain that other politicians used magic. After all, look at some of the losers who got elected.
      He saw the coven as necessary evil. He discovered that he needed a group to cast the stronger spells. Without sufficient people, backlash could kill a caster. But a coven was dangerous. The more people who knew that he was a pagan, the more chance that the wrong person would hear. Let the media found out that he dabbled in the Art and his career would be finished. But if he could gain the power he wanted, the coven could be taken care of. Plenty of politicians built their careers on convenient automobile accidents and suicides.
      The strongest spell in the book called a Power into existence. A Power that would be beholden to him. The coven hadn't realized that it would kill the Marked man. He knew that David White's life was forfeit from the moment he agreed to the Mark, but when no Power manifested itself immediately, Troy had been as panicked as the others. Only later after the body was dumped and Troy had a time to think did he realize what some of the more obscure passages of the spell could mean. By that time, the police had arrived, and Troy didn't dare make his interest known.
      So he taken the book and found a Summoning spell. Now he waited in the decaying barn, feeling sweat trickle down his back and bead up on his forehead as the day warmed. Perhaps the spell had failed. Or they had cast it wrong. He didn't think he could convince the coven to cast it again.
      "What have we here?" A woman's voice broke the silence.
      Troy turned, his heart pounding. A tall woman stood in the barn door.
      She walked toward him, her hips moving on a slow, seductive motion. Her shoulder-length black hair fell in lush cascades. And any movie star would envy her full breasts, narrow waist, and rounded hips. Could she be the Power?
      She stopped in front of him outside the circle.
      "I seek the Summoner," she said, her voice low and throaty reaching all the way to the bones of his body.
      Troy licked dry lips. "Yes." He remembered the phrase from the book. "I have called you by life, I have called you by death, I have called in you by blood, now give your will to my Purpose!" He threw up his arms.
      She cocked her head and then stepped toward him. She smiled, revealing too many gleaming teeth. Troy had the impression of something huge, something twisted around her body, as if heat radiated from her.
      Troy panicked. "You cannot cross the circle! I am protected!"
      She looked down at the circle and then back at him. She began to pace around the circle like a huge cat stalking its prey.
      "You found a book," she said. "You used the book. You used others. You thought to Summon a Power to turn to your uses. But I cannot be bent. You sought a slave. But I cannot be mastered."
      This was going all wrong! Tory thought frantically. He had to end this, stop this madness. He had been a fool. He dug into his jacket pocket and pulled out a handful of pure salt. "Begone!" he shouted. "Begone!" He flung the salt in the air.
      She stopped. The salt fell around her. Then she stepped forward, crossing the circle.
      "Fool," she said. "Fool. From where did you think your spells drew their strength? They are the language of the Void, and I am the Void's Chosen Vessel."
      Troy backed away.
      He turned and ran.
      About three paces before he was grabbed and thrown across the barn to land against a stall. The old wood collapsed beneath his weight. He looked up to see her stride toward him. Her mouth split further open to reveal rows of gleaming teeth.
      "No!" he screamed. "No!"
      Easily she picked him up with one hand and held him in the air.
      "Such a stupid creature," she said. "To summon one as vast as the universe when you are tiny. Such is the lot of man."
      She pulled him close. Her tongue reached out and licked the side of his face, not sexual, but tasting. His bladder let go.
      She laughed.
      "I have the Mark!" he babbled. "I have the Mark! I have the Mark!"
      She paused.
      "I'll do anything," he wept. "Anything! Don't kill me! Please don't kill me! Please." He sobbed.
      Closing her eyes as if she heard beautiful music, her hold loosened. She dropped him into his urine. He started to scramble away, but a gesture from her stopped him.
      "Show me," she said. "Show me your Mark."
      He fumbled with his shirt buttons, his fingers clumsy with fear. He opened his shirt to reveal the design he had copied from the book onto his stomach using a black marker.
      "You chose the Mark freely?" she asked as if astonished and amused.
      "Yes, yes," he said, hardly daring to hope. "I thought ... I didn't know ..."
      "Yes, it's clear to me now," she said. "I see it in your mind. You tricked others into birthing me. You thought you could control me. But you doubted. You were afraid of the spell. You are a true coward and only care for yourself. And your soul is so empty. You have no faith, not even in yourself. So you Marked yourself as one of my creatures. But why should I allow one such as you to serve me?"
      "I can help," he said urgently. "I have contacts. I can help you do whatever you want."
      "Unlikely since I seek something that has been hidden for eons," she said. "But you might have other uses."
      "Anything," he said. "Just tell me what to do."
      "Address me as your Queen," she said. "And you can serve me until I have no further need of you. You may thank me."
      "Thank you, my Queen," he said, tears running down his cheeks. "Thank you."
      She reached down and picked him up. "But we must do one thing." She smiled slowly. "My Mark is given in fire."
      She drank his screams like poisoned nectar.

Copyright 2005. All rights reserved.

A bit more

      I've got another five minutes or so before we leave for dinner so I thought I'd blog a bit more. One of my Christmas presents this year was an HP Scanjet 4670 See-Through Scanner. I installed it today. Major cool and highly recommended so far.
      And now we're going. Be back in a bit.

What begins

      It's been a busy day, and it's not over yet. I'll be back later to post an excerpt from Darkness, Oklahoma, and to talk about what my plans are for the new year. I hope you are doing well and survived the turning of the year with all your fingers and toes intact, both physical and emotional.
      Frenzied Feline and I are co-running a race to lose 50 pounds this year. Crystal may join us since FF and I are going to sign a non-aggression pact in which we won't mail fattening food to each other ...
      Speaking of food, I'm going to go eat dinner now. Probably Subway since it's easy to know your Weight Watcher's points with them. Catch you in a bit.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year!