Monday, December 29, 2008

Movie meme: I have no life!

Supposedly if you've seen more than 85 of these films, you have no life. Mark the ones you've seen. There are 239 films on this list. Copy this list, then put x's next to the films you've seen, and add them up. I tag Michelle, Jean, Adam, Jolene, and Kirsten. Have fun.

(x) Rocky Horror Picture Show
(x) Grease
(x) Pirates of the Caribbean
(x) Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest
() Boondock Saints
() Fight Club
() Starsky and Hutch
(x) Neverending Story
(x)Blazing Saddles
(x) Airplane
Total: 7

(x) The Princess Bride
() Anchorman
() Napoleon Dynamite
(x) Labyrinth
() Saw
() Saw II
() White Noise
() White Oleander
() Anger Management
() 50 First Dates
() The Princess Diaries
() The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement
Total so far: 9


(x) Scream
(x) Scream 2
(x) Scream 3
(x) Scary Movie
(x) Scary Movie 2
(x) Scary Movie 3
(x) Scary Movie 4
() American Pie
() American Pie 2
() American Wedding
() American Pie Band Camp
Total so far: 16

(x) Harry Potter 1
(x) Harry Potter 2
(x) Harry Potter 3
(x) Harry Potter 4
(x) Resident Evil 1
(x) Resident Evil 2
() The Wedding Singer
() Little Black Book
() The Village
(x) Lilo & Stitch
Total so far: 23

(x) Finding Nemo
() Finding Neverland
(x) Signs
() The Grinch
() Texas Chainsaw Massacre
() Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning
() White Chicks
() Butterfly Effect
() 13 Going on 30
(x) I, Robot
(x) Robots
Total so far: 27

(x) Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
(x) Universal Soldier
(x) Lemony Snicket: A Series Of Unfortunate Events
() Along Came Polly
(x) Deep Impact
(x) KingPin
() Never Been Kissed
() Meet The Parents
() Meet the Fockers
() Eight Crazy Nights
() Joe Dirt
(x) KING KONG
Total so far: 33

() A Cinderella Story
() The Terminal
() The Lizzie McGuire Movie
() Passport to Paris
() Dumb & Dumber
() Dumber & Dumberer
() Final Destination
() Final Destination 2
() Final Destination 3
(x) Halloween
() The Ring
() The Ring 2
(x) Surviving X-MAS
(x) Flubber
Total so far: 36

() Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle
(x) Practical Magic
(x) Chicago
() Ghost Ship
() From Hell
(x) Hellboy
() Secret Window
() I Am Sam
() The Whole Nine Yards
() The Whole Ten Yards
Total so far: 39

(x) The Day After Tomorrow
() Child's Play
() Seed of Chucky
() Bride of Chucky
() Ten Things I Hate About You
() Just Married
() Gothika
() Nightmare on Elm Street
(x) Sixteen Candles
(x) Remember the Titans
() Coach Carter
() The Grudge
() The Grudge 2
() The Mask
() Son Of The Mask
Total so far: 42

() Bad Boys
() Bad Boys 2
() Joy Ride
() Lucky Number Slevin
(x) Ocean's Eleven
(x) Ocean's Twelve
(x) Bourne Identity
(x) Bourne Supremecy
() Lone Star
() Bedazzled
(x) Predator I
(x) Predator II
() The Fog
(x) Ice Age
(x) Ice Age 2: The Meltdown
(x) Curious George
Total so far: 51

(x) Cujo
() A Bronx Tale
() Darkness Falls
(x) Christine
(x) ET
(x) Children of the Corn
() My Bosses Daughter
() Maid in Manhattan
(x) War of the Worlds
(x) Rush Hour
(x) Rush Hour 2
Total so far: 58

() Best Bet
() How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
() She's All That
() Calendar Girls
() Sideways
() Mars Attacks
(x) Event Horizon
(x) Ever After
(x) Wizard of Oz
(x) Forrest Gump
(x) Big Trouble in Little China
(X) The Terminator
(x) The Terminator 2
(x) The Terminator 3
Total so far: 66

(x) X-Men
(x) X-2
(x) X-3
(x) Spider-Man
(x) Spider-Man 2
() Sky High
() Jeepers Creepers
() Jeepers Creepers 2
() Catch Me If You Can
() The Little Mermaid
() Freaky Friday
(x) Reign of Fire
() The Skulls
(x) Cruel Intentions
() Cruel Intentions 2
() The Hot Chick
(x) Shrek
(x) Shrek 2
Total so far: 75

() Swimfan
(x) Miracle on 34th street
(x) Old School
() The Notebook
() K-Pax
() Krippendorf's Tribe
() A Walk to Remember
() Ice Castles
() Boogeyman
() The 40-year-old Virgin
Total so far: 77

(x) Lord of the Rings Fellowship of the Ring
(x) Lord of the Rings The Two Towers
(x) Lord of the Rings Return Of the King
(x) Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
(X) Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
(X) Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Total so far: 83

() Baseketball
() Hostel
() Waiting for Guffman
() House of 1000 Corpses
() Devils Rejects
(x) Elf
(x) Highlander
() Mothman Prophecies
() American History X
() Three
Total so Far: 85

(x) Titanic
(x) Monty Python and the Holy Grail
(x) Shaun Of the Dead
() Willard
Total so far: 88

() High Tension
() Club Dread
(x) Hulk
(x) Dawn Of the Dead
(X) Hook
(x) Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe
() 28 days later
() Orgazmo
() Phantasm
(x) Waterworld
Total so far: 93

(x) Kill Bill vol 1
(x) Kill Bill vol 2
(x) Mortal Kombat
() Wolf Creek
() Kingdom of Heaven
() the Hills Have Eyes
() I Spit on Your Grave aka the Day of the Woman
() The Last House on the Left
() Re-Animator
(x) Army of Darkness
Total so far: 97

(x) Star Wars Ep. I The Phantom Menace
(x) Star Wars Ep. II Attack of the Clones
(x) Star Wars Ep. III Revenge of the Sith
(X) Star Wars Ep. IV A New Hope
(X) Star Wars Ep. V The Empire Strikes Back
(X) Star Wars Ep. VI Return of the Jedi
() Ewoks Caravan Of Courage
(x) Ewoks The Battle For Endor
Total so far: 104

(x) The Matrix
(x) The Matrix Reloaded
(x) The Matrix Revolutions
() Animatrix
() Evil Dead
() Evil Dead 2
() Team America: World Police
() Red Dragon
(x) Silence of the Lambs
() Hannibal
Grand Total: 108

So it's official: I have no life. And what probably makes it worse is that I've seen almost all of these movies in my living room. I rarely go to the theater.

Hope the day is treating you well. Bye!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Catching up a bit

Did you have a good Christmas? Mine was. Not perfect, of course. Illness, delays, etc., but it was still good despite everything. Or maybe because. My family came to see me, and we had a good visit.

I sure have enjoyed not being at work, but I return to what I affectionately call "the hell-hole" tomorrow. Whee. Somehow I am able to contain my joy.

Not much else to tell you. I've been working on a project that I've named "365 Days." Basically I'm attempting to write a list of one positive thing a day to do. These include: publicity for my books, weight loss activities, writing, improving my financial status, etc. You'd be surprised how hard it is to figure out 365 different things to do. Of course, some of them will be repeats, but for the most part, new and different each day. We'll see how that goes.

Walking to Jericho has stalled presently, but I'm going to restart it on January 1st. We'll see how many miles we can make in 2009. I hope the other participants join me again. It would be cool to get healthy together.

I'm on Facebook now. I'm not sure I mentioned that before. If you're on there, friend me! I'm also on Twitter, but I'm not sure how long I will be there. Seems to require a bit too much information, and I don't have that many interesting things happen to me during a day.

I guess that will be it for this evening. Have a great evening!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to you all!

I have to travel today so I won't be here until this evening if then. If you have to travel, be safe and be happy!

The Christmas Story

Luke 2:1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
2:2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
2:3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
2:4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
2:5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with Child.
2:6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
2:7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
2:8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
2:9 And, lo, the angel of the LORD came upon them, and the glory of the LORD shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
2:10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
2:11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the LORD.
2:12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
2:13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
2:14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
2:15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into Heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the LORD hath made known unto us.
2:16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.
2:17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this Child.
2:18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
2:19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
2:20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
2:21 And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the Child, His Name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before He was conceived in the womb.

Matthew 2:1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
2:2 saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
2:3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
2:4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
2:5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judea: for thus it is written by the prophet,
2:6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah:
for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.
2:7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.
2:8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.
2:9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.
2:10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
2:11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

A Christmas Prayer

We thank you for this place in which we dwell,
for the love that unites us,
for the peace accorded us this day,
for the hope with which we expect the morrow,
for the work, the health, the food,
and the bright skies which make our lives delightful
for our friends in all parts of the earth.


By Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894).

12 Factoids About Christmas

1. One acre of living Christmas trees generates enough oxygen to meet the daily requirement for 18 humans. Approximately 1,000,000 acres are used to grow Christmas trees yearly.
2. The top six Christmas tree producing states are: Oregon, Michigan, Washington, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. About 30,000,000 trees are harvested in an average year. Two to three Christmas trees are planted for every one harvested.
3. Mango and banana trees are Christmas symbols in India, where Christians use mango leaves for holiday decorations.
4. The poinsettia is named for the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, botanist Joel Roberts Poinsett. Poinsett introduced the plant that would become known as poinsettia into the United States in 1829.
5. The word yule, from Middle English, means "to cry aloud."
6. More than 3 billion Christmas cards are mailed each year in the United States.
7. With some 50,000,000 copies sold so far and still climbing, Irving Berlin's "White Christmas," recorded in 1942 by Bing Crosby, is still the best-selling single in history.
8. Geographically speaking, the North Pole is the point on Earth that is the true top of the planet where all lines of longitude converge. The Geomagnetic North Pole is the point on the Earth that marks the northern focus of the geomagnetic field that surrounds the globe. It lies in Greenland, 78 degrees 30 minutes North, 69 degrees West. Compasses, however, point to the Magnetic North Pole, which is about 1,000 miles south of the geographic North Pole, near Ellef Ringness Island in northern Canada. A lesser-known North Pole, the Northern Pole of Inaccessibility, represents the furtherest point in all directions from any coastline. About 700 miles from the nearest land, this pole is located north of Alaska at 84 degrees 03 minutes North, 174 degrees 51 minutes West. By the way, illustrator Thomas Nast was the first to put Santa Clause's home at the North Pole. In 1882, he drew Santa sitting on a box labeled, "Christmas Box 1882, St. Nicholas, North Pole."
9. There are about 5,000,000 reindeer in the world. They are threatened by habitat loss and global warming and are seeing their population drop yearly.
10. Making popcorn garlands is one of the few Christmas traditions born in the United States.
11. The post office handles more than 70,000 letters each year addressed to Santa at the North Pole.
12. The Twelve Days of Christmas traditionally started on Christmas. Many European counties still keep this tradition, particularly parts of Spain and France.
Sources: The Christmas Almanac, The National Arbor Day Foundation, The Association of Popcorn Producers, The United States Postal Service and MTV News.


One Christmas Star
By Stephen B. Bagley

It
does
not seem
much against
the darkness of this world:
one light in a midnight sky, a pinpoint
of illumination seen by Magi and lonely shepherds.
Yet, strange as it seems, nothing has
let us see as clearly as He
alone heralded
by that one
Christmas
Star.

© 2008 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved.


Carol of the Bells

Hark! how the bells, sweet silver bells
All seem to say, throw cares away.
Christmas is here, bringing good cheer
To young and old, meek and the bold
Ding, dong, ding, dong, that is their song,
With joyful ring, all caroling
One seems to hear words of good cheer
From everywhere, filling the air
O, how they pound, raising the sound
O’er hill and dale, telling their tale

Gaily they ring, while people sing
Songs of good cheer, Christmas is here!
Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas!
Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas!

On, on they send, on without end
Their joyful tone to every home
Hark! how the bells, sweet silver bells
All seem to say, throw cares away.
Christmas is here, bringing good cheer
To young and old, meek and the bold
Ding, dong, ding, dong, that is their song
With joyful ring, all caroling.
One seems to hear words of good cheer
From everywhere, filling the air
O, how they pound, raising the sound
O’er hill and dale, telling their tale

Gaily they ring, while people sing
Songs of good cheer, Christmas is here!
Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas!
Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas!

On, on they send, on without end
Their joyful tone to every home.
Ding dong ding dong


Here it is beautifully performed by the Tucson Boys Choir.


And now I have to get ready to go. Take care. Have a wonderful day!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

HSCC VII

Tales from Bethlehem:
The Tale of the Honest Spy


By Stephen B. Bagley

I am Manius Cassius Dentatus, and I am a citizen spy. Perhaps you are from some far reaches of the Empire and are not familiar with spies in general and citizen spies in particular. A quick précis: Spies discover hidden information and share it with their employer, usually for the government or the military. Citizen spies also discover hidden information and share it with their employer, but that employer is any citizen with enough coin.

Many spies exist in Judaea. Most are employed by King Herod or by his many enemies. I myself once served Herod, but when he started killing his wives and sons and anyone else whom he thought might be conspiring against him or could possibly conspire against him sometime in the future, I thought it prudent to find another way to place coins in my pouch.

Many noble citizens have need of my services. They seek to know if their wife is dallying with a slave boy or if their partner is actually selling the bushels of dates that he is reporting as spoiled or if their accountant is keeping the books as he should. What I do is find out. And I am known for my honesty. I report what I find, no more, no less. I am careful with this. I am not cheap in my services, and so I work to be worthy of my wages.

This is not to say I don’t have a price, but no one has offered it so far. Thus when I give reports, my employers listen. They might not like what they hear, but that is not my concern. My concern is the coin. That is my only concern. Understand that: I am honest because it allows me to charge more, not because I am seeking favor or reward. If there are gods, they do not concern me. But like most reasonable men, I do not think they exist. I have never seen a miracle from Jupiter or any of his quarrelsome children or their priests. In fact, I’d rather share a cup with a slave who knows how to do a good day’s work in the vineyards than with some foppish priest with his dirty robes and stinky incense.

So when Sextus Gabinius, the chief spymaster for King Herod, summoned me to his chambers in Herodium and told me what Herod sought from me, I was displeased for reasons trice. First, that the King had requested my services once again — you did not refuse a summons unless you wished to land on his enemy list. Second, Herod was notoriously slow paying. Third, it involved religion and even worse, the Jews.

I wondered briefly if I could claim to have the flux, but Gabinius’s stony face convinced me otherwise.

“So, noble Gabinius, what Jews am I following?” I asked. “Another group attempting to overthrow our good King Herod?” The slight twist I gave my words was not lost on the spymaster.

He favored me with a sour smile. “Not Jews,” he said. “Magi. Wise men.”

My face expressed my disbelief better than any words. Gabinius barked a short laugh.

“Our gracious King received visitors from the East,” Gabinius drawled. “They claimed to be following signs that herald the birth of a new Jewish king here in Judaea.”

I sat up straight on that. Herod, the self-styled King of the Jews, had murdered his own sons to protect his Roman-given throne. He would not receive this news gladly. If those wise men had been truly wise, they would have known better than to visit his palace.

Gabinius nodded at my reaction. “Exactly.” He drained his wine cup.

“How did our King receive that news?” I asked.

“Strangely calm,” Gabinius said. “Abnormally so. He offered them rooms for the night and sent for you. He intends to let them leave tomorrow with his ‘blessings.’ You will follow and report on their journey, particularly if they find a newborn king.”

“You can’t be serious!” I said. Surely even Herod wasn’t so far gone in his madness to believe in such tales.

“Our King is always serious these days,” Gabinius said with a smirk. “Deadly serious. I suggest you take the same attitude.” He tossed a small purse to me. The coins inside made a pleasant weight. “I want a full accounting.”

“Of course, noble sir,” I said and bowed too deeply. He laughed.

The next day, I was outside Jerusalem following a caravan. Or actually not following. Apparently these Magi traveled in the evening so they could see the heavens. I bought several cups of wine for one of their servants in a local tavern. This worthy supplied me with the names of the three main Magi: old white-bearded Melchior, red-hued young Gaspar, and ebony skinned Balthazar. They were astronomers who studied the stars and old scrolls seeking eternal truths. Although I pressed their servant, he steadfastly maintained that they were not frauds, that they did not peddle tricks to the unlearned and naive for coin. I sighed. Nothing was more annoying than fanatics. Who knew how long these madmen would wander the wilderness seeking this new king? I began to calculate how many days before I could reasonably abandon this job and not incur Herod’s anger. Or perhaps it was time to leave Judaea and seek my fortune in other parts of the Empire. A citizen spy can always find employment, and at least I’d be away from these Jews.

The Jews had always been a thorn in the side to the Romans, and it all resulted from their religion, which was unlike all the other many faiths that the Romans had embraced. That was the secret of the Roman Empire — they conquered and then assimilated the conquered people into the Empire, including their gods. But this Jewish god was different. He had no children, unlike Jupiter. He had no wives, no battles with half-brothers or mighty Titans. In fact, the Jews maintained their god was the only god. The Romans would have been quite willing to build a temple to this god of the Jews in the Temple Quarter of their cities if the Jews had accepted their god’s place among the gods, but the Jews held themselves apart. They were waiting for a “messiah,” my sources told me. They had been waiting for centuries for this mythic person. They believed this messiah would conquer the earth and lead the Jews to glory. You can understand how such beliefs didn’t endear them to their Roman overlords.

A religion like that was ripe for charlatans and fakes, and ever so often, a new messiah would rise and attempt to rouse the Jews. Some of them led short-lived rebellions against the Empire. The Romans would put down such rebellions with brutal efficiency.

And now Herod had me following a group of madman through the wilderness on the unlikely chance that a king would be born, even though such a king would take years to grow up and Herod would be long dead before this new messiah could raise an army. I sighed. Only kings could be so paranoid.

The next few weeks, I followed the caravan as it traveled through the wilderness. Well, I exaggerate some. There were many small villages that we wandered through. Not that I could find a bed other than a rough camp outside the villages. Caesar Augustus had decreed that every citizen had to return to their hometown and be counted and taxed. Many of these villages only had one inn to begin with, and that was quickly filled.

But I was able to buy a cup of wine and more provisions with the coins Gabinius had advanced. I often bought liquid refreshment for the servants of the Magi. Not that they gave much news. The Magi were following a scroll that was leading them to this newborn king, a king of kings that would unite the world. The Magi would argue about this scroll or that scroll and what it meant each night. They seemed happiest when arguing, according to the servants. Eventually I drifted close enough to join the caravan. The servants, accustomed to me now, allowed me to share their fire without asking too many questions. I stayed vague on my travel plans, but professed the fear of bandits made me long for company. They accepted this easily enough, particularly after I shared a few skins of wine.

Soon I myself could overhear these arguments. Unfortunately, none of these arguments ever gave a hint that the Magi were giving up. No, they would argue about such things as whether the new king had already been born. Old Melchior maintained that the king had already been born when the stars were in the proper alignment several years ago. Young Gaspar, however, said the king was not yet born, and another sign would be seen soon. Not so, Balthazar would say. The king may or may not be born, but no more signs would be forthcoming because the prophets had spoken all the signs already. They could go on for hours like this.

Reluctantly I came to understand they were not tricksters, rather something worse: they were believers. A trickster would give up this mad quest as soon as it ceased to be profitable, but who knows when a believer would? I could be wandering Judaea until my dotage. I decided to stay with the caravan until the advance ran out, then I could return to Gabinius and tell him that these so-called Magi were on an endless quest. But the very night I decided this, things changed.

The three Magi were having a loud argument. Unlike their usual debates, their voices carried real anger. I skulked closer to their fire. I shouldn’t have worried. They were too caught up in their disagreement to notice me.

“The scrolls end here,” Gaspar said. “We have failed. Or the scrolls are wrong. It’s time to return home.”

I knew from the servants that Gaspar had several wives, and he missed their comforts.

“The scrolls are not wrong!” Melchior said. “But we need more knowledge. We should travel to Rome and consult with the Magi there.”

“No!” Caspar said. “We have traveled enough!”

“We must have faith,” Balthazar said. “Another sign will be revealed to us. We have followed the stars to this place. Here we must wait for the heavens to reveal more—”

“No!” Gaspar said. “We have spent three years on this quest. No more!”

The three stood in silence. Eventually Gaspar and Melchior retired to their tents. Balthazar sat by the fire for a long time. His shoulders were slumped, and I could see the discouragement on his face clearly. Perhaps their quest would end tonight — I could see the Magus clearly! I looked around in amazement.

“What is this?” Balthazar gasped. “What is this?” He pointed to the sky. Where the sun would rise, a star blazed, pouring forth a river of light as bright as when the sun stood overhead.

“We must ride!” Balthazar shouted, rousing the camp. Gaspar and Melchior came out of their tents, struggling into their robes.

“We must ride now,” Balthazar shouted again.

Camels, donkeys, and mules carried the caravan toward where the star sent down a blazing ray of light. I rode along with the servants; none questioned my right to join them. We raced over broken land and ended up on a road I recognized. We were headed toward the small village of Bethlehem. I had once followed a thief to Bethlehem. It wasn’t much of a town. An inn, a few homes, a small market, not the place that I would expect a so-called king of kings to be born in.

We galloped through the streets toward a small inn. I expected us to stop there, but the Magi led us past it to the stable in back where above the star blazed in glory. A small crowd of people had gathered near the stable, including several shepherds and apparently servants from the inn. I slid off my camel and walked toward the stable, wondering at all I was seeing. I threaded my way through the sheep. My breath came in clouds.

This cannot be, I told myself. The gods are myths told by dishonest priests to keep the peasants in line and keep their coffers filled with gold.

The night was strangely quiet, only the occasional soft sounds from the barnyard animals. A young servant and a serving maid stood near, holding hands.

The Magi, carrying gifts, approached the stable, but stopped outside. Tears glistened on Gaspar’s face. The shepherds knelt. It seemed as if the entire Empire, the whole earth held its breath.

Then through the clear, cold night filled with blazing light, I heard the single cry of a child.

A single cry of a babe entering our sad, tired world.

I found myself kneeling.

A perfect moment of stillness.

Free of the old myths, the old gods, and the old ways, the world finally woke.

My heart broke.

Later I would see the Child, the babe whom shepherds worshiped and wise men adored. I would understand He would change the world in a thousand glorious ways. I would realize He was truth made flesh. But my life was changed in the yard outside the stable beside a run-down inn when I first heard His perfect voice.
***
I was an honest spy. I was not a stupid one. I never returned to Gabinius. Herod never received word of this newborn king from me. A year later, when I had enough coin, I anonymously sent the advance back to the spymaster. Gabinius could figure out it was from me.

Now I work as a fisherman. It is a better trade than what I chose before. I am older, over thirty years older, but my back is still strong. And lately I have been hearing word of a new prophet, a teacher who is traveling the land. I go tomorrow to sit at His feet, the one called Jesus.

Copyright 2008 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

HSCC VI

Poor Christmas. It doesn’t stand a chance. All the pressure people put on it. New Year’s Eve is about starting over; no one expects anything from it except maybe a kiss at midnight. But Christmas is expected to redeem the year. To make better everything that passed before it, to rewrite our failures and sorrows, and to make all of the setbacks worthwhile.

Poor Christmas. The odds are against it. It has evolved into a shopping frenzy. Retailers place their hopes on Christmas sales each year. “We can get back into the black if the man in red shakes loose enough green.” Not that people don’t notice. There will be at least a million people blogging, preaching, griping, nagging, complaining about how commercial Christmas has become. People will proudly not celebrate it because they want to show their disapproval of this overwhelming greed.

Or maybe they’re not celebrating Christmas because they’re showing their disapproval of Christianity. They will bring up the Crusades and religious wars and The Inquisition or how the religious people disapprove of their particular affection for goats or Volkswagens. Not that the ultra-religious don’t attack Christmas, too, because it is based on a pagan holiday, you know, and the Christmas Tree actually is an instrument of the Beast Below and you don't want to know what a garland really means.

And let’s not forget how Nativity Scenes offend some people. In fact, the offended parties must often sue for millions of dollars because seeing just one Nativity Scene damages their psychological well-being to the point they can’t function and have suicidal thoughts, although sadly they never follow through.

Who doesn’t hate Christmas with its get-togethers and parties and all those presents people give us that are just wrong, wrong, wrong and obviously they don’t really know us and don’t care what we like and now we have to return them or re-gift them or finally throw them out with all the other trash? You’d have to be a fool to like this miserable holiday and all those boring, long elementary school programs it inspires. And there’s the endless, sappy, sad, stupid TV specials and movies where little Jo is dying, but the Prancer delivers the life-saving drug just in time for Romeo and Juliet to finally tie the knot and honeymoon in Paris.

Let’s be honest. We’re angry at Christmas. At the miracles never delivered. The presents Santa never brought. The people who leave us or pass away at the holidays. We don’t like our families. We don’t like our lives. We want something better, and we want it at Christmas, and it better deliver or else.

Poor Christmas. You could write a book -- and hundreds have -- about how Christmas became what it is and how it needs to change and why we’re so severely disappointed in it. And it takes the abuse because it must, although wouldn’t it be cool if one day Santa started packing heat? Or maybe those Wise Men would show how wise they really are and file a class action suit against humanity for our inability to grow up?

Christmas is what it is. It offers presents, trees, elves, Wise Men, stars, sales, family, tinsel, mangers, lights, decorations, food, and much, much more. We turn our noses up at it. It isn’t exactly what we want so we refuse everything because we want it our way or the highway. I don’t know why it comes back year after year.

But it does. Right before the changing of the year, it returns. It offers its gifts again and again and again. Unlike all the other holidays, Christmas tries. It attempts to bring out the best of us -- and does in soup kitchens and food pantries, with Meals on Wheels and Toys for Tots. Christmas has hope. Kinda silly really to keep believing after all these years that humanity is still worth it when so much evidence points otherwise, but Christmas refuses to learn better. It keeps offering a message of good will and good cheer, as tired and hokey as that is to our modern ears.

You gotta admire its sheer stubbornness. It keeps going. Year after year. Eggnog and fruitcake sustain it in ways science can’t understand. Every year it makes the trek to Bethlehem to a stable carved out of a hillside where a virgin gives birth to a king. All the smart people say it’s a fable or parable or who knows what, but Christmas doesn’t care. Christmas is only interested in that first miracle, the beginning, the chance for the world to start over, the beginning of what was to come.

Always when I think of Christmas, I think of that moment. That expectancy before the event. When the world held its breath. Shepherds and wise men would come later as would angel choruses and a thousand other changes as the world advanced, but not yet. In this moment, there is only a young frightened man holding the hand of a young frightened woman in a stable in an insignificant village.

The animals rustle in the darkness.

The air is cold.

The sky is clear.

A star is giving forth a river of light.

Then there is the cry of a babe.

And it all begins again.

Believe what you will. Make of Christmas what you would. Make everything meaningless if you can. But I won't join you. I never will. If you look for me, this is where you'll find me: kneeling at that manger. And if you'd like to give me a gift this Christmas, join me. We'll sit in the silence of the cold, clear night and listen for the sound of new life.

(Copyright 2008 Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved.)

Monday, December 22, 2008

HSCC V

A Christmas Joke

Three men died on Christmas Eve and were met by Saint Peter at the pearly gates. St. Peter said, "In honor of the season, you must each possess something that symbolizes Christmas to get into heaven."

The first man fumbled through his pockets and pulled out a lighter. He flicked it on. "It represents a candle," he said.

"You may pass through the pearly gates," St. Peter said.

The second man reached into his pocket and pulled out a set of keys. He shook them and said, "They're bells."

St. Peter said, "You may pass through the pearly gates."

The third man started searching desperately through his pockets and finally pulled out a pair of women's panties.

St. Peter looked at the man with a raised eyebrow and asked, "And just what do those symbolize?"

The man replied, "These are Carol's."

Michelle's Recipes

Michelle posted these delicious recipes in the 2006 HSCC. They're tasty enough to share again!

Potato Cheese Soup

5 lbs Potatoes peeled, washed and cubed
1 white Onion chopped
1/2 stick of butter
Milk
White pepper and salt to taste
Chicken bouillon to taste (I usually use 2 large cubes)
4-8 oz Velveeta (depending on how cheesy you want it)
Cheddar cheese
Parmesan

Saute onion in butter until transparent. Fill pot with potatoes and water just to cover. Add sauted onion, salt and pepper and bouillon. Bring to a boil and let simmer until potatoes are tender. Add Milk until broth looks creamy. Simmer for another ten minutes. Add Velveeta and Parmesan until melted. Add cheddar before serving (so as not to curdle the cheese). Serve with some fresh baked bread and a salad. Yum!

Snickerdoodles

This recipe says it makes 4 dozen but I usually get about 6 dozen.

1 1/2 cups sugar
1 stick margarine or butter
1/2 cup shortening
2 large eggs
2 1/2 cups flour
2 ts cream of tartar
1 ts baking soda
1/4 ts salt
cinnamon/sugar mixture (set aside)
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Heat oven to 400. Cream butter, eggs, shortening and sugar. Add flour, cream of tartar, salt and baking soda to form dough. Roll into 1 inch balls and roll in the cinnamon sugar mixture to coat. Bake 8-10 minutes. I usually under-cook them a little to keep them softer longer. I like my cookies chewy.

Refrigerator Fudge

If you aren't into candy baking like me, then this is a great way to get creamy fudge in just a couple easy peasy steps.

2 pkgs semi sweet chocolate chips
2 cans sweetened condensed milk

Mix both ingredient in a microwaveable bowl. Microwave in 3 minute increments to ensure that you don't scorch the mixture. Once it is thoroughly melted and mixed, pour into a glass baking dish (greased with cocoa powder to prevent sticking) and put in the fridge. In a couple hours, you have rich and creamy fudge.
You can sprinkle the top with crushed candy canes, nuts or broken up candy bars to make it look festive.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

(This is making the email rounds.)

December 14, 2006

Dearest Dave,
I went to the door today, and the postman delivered a partridge in a pear tree. This was a delightful gift! I couldn't have been more surprised or pleased, darling!
With truly the deepest love,
Agnes

December 15, 2006

Dearest Dave,
Today the postman brought me yet another of your sweet gifts. The two turtule doves that arrived today are adorable, and I'm delighted by your thoughtful and generous ways.
With all of my love,
Your Agnes

December 16, 2006

Dearest Dave,
You've truly been too kind! I must protest; I don't deserve such generosity. The thought of getting three French hens amazes me. Yet, I am not surprised -- what more should I expect from such a nice person.
Love,
Agnes

December 17, 2006

Dear Dave,
Four calling birds arrived in the mail today. They are truly nice but don't you think that enough is enough? You are being too romantic.
Affectionately,
Agnes

December 18, 2006

Dearest darling Dave,
It was a surprise to get five golden rings! I now have one for every finger. You truly are impossible darling, yet oh how I love it! Quite frankly, all of those squarking birds from the previous days were starting to get on my nerves. Yet, you managed to come through with a beautiful valuable gift!
All my love,
Agnes

December 19, 2006

Dear Dave,
When I opened my door, there were actually six geese a-laying on my front steps. So you're back to the birds again, huh? Those geese are dear, but where will I keep them? The neighbors are complaining, and I am unable to sleep with all the racket. Please stop dear.
Cordially,
Agnes

December 20, 2006

Dave,
What is with you and those stupid birds!? Seven swans a-swimming! What kind of sick joke is this!? There are bird droppings everywhere! They never shut up, and I don't get any sleep! I'm a nervous wreck! It's not funny, you freak, so stop with the birds.
Sincerely,
Agnes

December 21, 2006

O.K. wise guy,
The birds were bad enough. Now what do you expect me to do with eight maids a-milking? If that's not bad enough, they had to bring their cows! The front lawn was completely ruined by them, and I can't move in my own house! Just lay off me or you'll be sorry!
Agnes

December 22, 2006

Hey loser,
What are you? You must be some kind of sadist. Now there are nine pipers playing, and they certainly do play. They haven't stopped chasing those maids since they got here! The cows are getting upset, and they're stepping all over those screeching birds. The neighbors are getting up a petition to evict me, and I'm going out of my mind!
You'll get yours!
Agnes

December 23, 2006

You rotten scum,
There are now ten ladies dancing! There is only one problem with that! They're dancing twenty-four hours a day all around me with the pipers upsetting the cows and the maids. The cows can't sleep, and they are going to the bathroom everywhere! The building commissioner has subpoenaed me to give cause as to why the house shouldn't be condemned! I can't even think of a reason! You creep! I'm sending the police after you!
One who means it!

December 24, 2006

Listen you evil, sadistic, maniac!
What's with the eleven lords-a-leaping?!? They are leaping across the rooms breaking everything and even injuring some of the maids! The place smells, is an absolute mad house, and is about to be condemned! At least the birds are quiet; they were trampled to death by the cows. I hope you are satisfied -- you rotten vicious worthless piece of garbage!
Your sworn enemy,
Agnes

December 25, 2006

The Law Offices of
Badger, Rees, and Yorker
20 Knave Street
Chicago, Illinois

Dear Sir,
This is to acknowledge your latest gift of twelve fiddlers-fiddling which you have seen fit to inflict on our client, one Agnes Mcholstein. The destruction of course was total. If you attempt to reach Ms. Mcholstein at Happy Daze Sanatarium, the attendants have instructions to shoot you on sight.
Please direct all correspondence to this office in the future. With this letter, please find attached a summons for you to appear in court and answer these charges.
Cordially,
Badger, Rees, and Yorker


Talk to you tomorrow when HSCC 2008 continues.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

HSCC IV

And here's another quick and tasty recipe from my older sister. This is perfect for a holiday get-together.

Graham Cracker Cookie Treats

1 box of graham crackers
2 sticks of butter
1 packed cup of brown sugar
1 cup of finely chopped nuts
1 teaspoon of vanilla

Line rimmed cookie sheets with foil. Then lay out rows of graham crackers on the cookie sheets. Mix together butter and brown sugar in pan. Bring to boil over medium heat. Boil for two minutes. Add finely chopped nuts and vanilla. Pour over the graham crackers. Place cookie sheets in a pre-heated 350 degrees oven for ten minutes.

Christmas Facts
(Some Of Which Might Be True)


Kissing under the mistletoe dates back to a 17th century English kissing game. Back then, a berry was removed from the mistletoe every time a kiss was made, which meant no more kisses when all the berries were gone, and then everyone would just laugh and laugh. Yeah, I know, but you have to remember that they didn't have TV so they had to fill their time as best they could. Mistletoe, by the way, was used by the druids in their secret ceremonies. The druids, a cheery group, used to place mistletoe wreaths around the necks of their victims before the victims were sacrificed by having their entrails nailed to an oak tree. You don't see that on a lot of Christmas cards, do you?

Christmas trees started in Germany in the 16th century. On Christmas Eve, Martin Luther was walking home under a starry sky, which was so beautiful that he wanted to recreate its beauty for his children. He decorated a large evergreen with lit candles. He followed his creation of the First Christmas Tree with the development of the First House Fire Caused By A Christmas Tree.

Since 1947, the people of Oslo, Norway, have given a Christmas tree every year to the city of Westminster, England. The gift expresses Norway's gratitude for Britain's help during World War II, despite the fact that the tree is never on Britain's Christmas list. Britain would prefer a gift card.

The first president to decorate the white house Christmas tree in the United States was Franklin Pierce. This is the only notable thing Pierce did while in office and as such should be remembered, but not by me. I've already cleansed it from my memory.

Traditionally, Christmas trees are taken down after Epiphany or whenever the husband has been nagged beyond endurance.

"The Nutcracker" is the most famous Christmas ballet and was used by the Chinese to break the wills of political prisoners. It is outlawed by the Geneva Convention as is the playing of "Jingle Bells" more than 1,754,322 times during the holiday season.

If you received all of the gifts in the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas," you would receive 364 presents, none of which you could return. By the way, why are there so many birds in that song? Doesn't it seem rather fowl?

Holly berries are poisonous, which does explain why holly berry cookies aren't popular even though there was a heavy marking push for them during the 1950s. It joined the ranks of other failed food products: stone ground hemlock bread, foxglove fajitas, poop pie, and of course, green tea.

In 1843, "A Christmas Carol" was written by Charles Dickens in just six weeks. Many of us feel he should have taken more time with it and added some spaceships and several hot alien females.

The first state to recognize the Christmas holiday officially was Alabama. Afterwards, Alabama had to lie down and wasn't able to recognize other things for years, which is one of the reasons they lagged so far behind in civil rights.

Christmas became a national holiday in America on June 26, 1870. When the news was announced, many retailers swooned, but got right up as their floors were dirty.

Coca Cola was the first beverage company to use Santa for a winter promotion. This would be the beginning of a lucrative career as Santa signed endorsement contracts for all sorts of products, including gardening tools (Hoe, Hoe, Hoe!), pies (Whole, Whole, Whole!), dynamite (Hole, Hole, Hole!), and even laser removal of facial disfigurements (Mole, Mole, Mole!). And no, we're not going to do a Viagra joke here.

The government actually banned a Christmas tree decoration. Tinsel was once made of lead. (It's now made of plastic.) The tinsel maker's jingle of "Decorate your tree with a silver rain; You'll be laughing as you damage your brain" was remade into a hip-hop hit in the 90s.

"Rudolph" was created by Montgomery Ward in the late 1930's for a holiday promotion. The rest is sheer greed and marketing history.

The Christmas card was started in England in 1843. Louis Prang, a Massachusetts printer, printed the first Christmas card in the United States in 1875. There’s more to the story, but I got bored. Feel free to look it up. Merry Christmas!

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

HSCC III

Green Tea & Christmas

(Dedicated to Kirsten and Michelle)

The little green tea people are after me because I made some unkind remarks about their elixir of life, their beverage of the gods, their cure-all for any and all ills including baldness and the dreaded creeping earlobe fungus. So I thought I'd send them into a stupor with a long discussion about the various teas. I'll also explain how green tea embodies the spirit of Christmas. On the edge of your seat, aren't you?

Tea is basically the dried and processed leaves of one plant species called camellia sinensis. (Herbal teas are not really teas, but simply dried flowers and/or herbs. They are more correctly called 'herbal infusions.' Remember that. It will be on the test.) Even though all teas come from only one species, there are three major varieties: the China, the India (or Assam) and the Hybrid. All have a slightly different taste. Americans are most used to the India or Hybrid teas, both of which are easier to grow than the China variety. (Which is why China teas are more expensive. Please note, though, you can grow the China variety in other places than China, but that seems sort of silly.)

You will find four main types of tea on the shelves: white, black, green and oolong. The difference in them is mainly in processing and, of course, how they're spelled. Basically, processing is taking the raw green leaves and deciding how much oxidation (or fermentation) if any should take place before drying them out. (This is not unlike what AA does for its members, but they stress the drying out portion and discourage the fermentation.)

Tea leaves have enzymes in their veins. Don't be shocked. They're supposed to be there. When the leaf is bruised or crushed, the enzymes are exposed to oxygen resulting in oxidation. The amount of oxidation depends upon how much of the enzymes are exposed and for how long. Just trust me on this, and let's move on.

White teas are the least processed of any tea and therefore taste the most like fresh leaves or grass. Yummy. They also have the lowest amount of caffeine and most likely have the highest antioxidant properties. Tea leaves meant for white teas are immediately fried or steamed after letting them air dry for a short period of time. (The steaming and frying neutralizes the enzymes, thus preventing oxidation.) There is no rolling, breaking or bruising of the leaves. The tea police see to this, and violators are forced to drink coffee. Black. No sugar. While standing on their head and balancing a box of knives on their feet. The tea police don't fool around.

Black teas are the most processed of the four types of teas. They are the highest in caffeine, but still have antioxidant properties, just not quite as much as others. They are rolled, crushed, bruised and generally folded, torn and mutilated and then allowed to completely oxidize, thus giving the leaves their blackened color. You can find places that boast that their teas "age three months," but that really doesn't mean anything, as the oxidation is pretty much complete as soon as the leaves turn black. We'll let them keep bragging about that because frankly if that's all they have to brag about, who are we to rain on their parade?

Green teas processing is similar to that of white teas in that they aren't allowed to oxidize. They might want to so that they can get that rich, strong, delicious taste of black tea, but once again the tea police step in (and then step out and put their right foot in and shake it all around. The tea police are good dancers, but let's be honest, our brave members of the FBI are much better.) After the leaves are plucked, they are laid out to air dry (or wither or Bushized) for about 8 to 24 hours. This lets most of the water evaporate. Then the leaves are steamed or pan-fried (or Clintonized).

Oolong teas are the hardest to categorize, despite having the most fun name to say. I often go into stores and ask the clerks if they know where the oolong tea is at. Oh, the look on their faces is simply priceless, I tell you, priceless. Man, I need a life. Anyway, oolong tea requires only a partial oxidation of the leaves. After the leaves are plucked, they are air-dried for about 8 to 24 hours. Then the leaves are tossed in baskets in order to bruise the edges of the leaves. Much rejoicing is heard from the happy leaves who never get to play in the fields. But it does leave them bruised. This bruising causes the leaves to partially oxidize because only a portion of the enzymes is exposed to air. Next, the leaves steamed in order to neutralize the enzymes and stop any more oxidation for happening. Oolong tea can have varying degrees of oxidation. Some are closer to black teas, and some are closer to green. Some would like to be orange or even purple, but they are whisked away by the tea police and never seen again, although I'm sure you've heard the rumors.

Now hopefully the little green tea people are safely asleep and won't take me away in their spaceship. But if they do, and you never hear from me again (although if the evening news starts featuring reports about someone running wild, naked and free through the suburbs and shouting, "The success of any serious relationship depends on complete honesty, true compassion and lots of duct tape," you'll know I'm still out there, watching and waiting and scratching) let me say right now that I love all green teas equally. I'll let you work that one out for yourselves.

You're probably asking at this point what green tea has to do with Christmas? But I can't answer all your questions. You need to do the research yourself so that you can grow as a human being and embrace your potential. (Hint: You can actually have peppermint and pine cone tea. No kidding. You really can. I won't, but you can.)

TEST

1. Isn't oolong a great word? Use it in a sentence in which you make it into a verb. For instance, I want to oolong with you.

2. Do you believe in alien abduction? Have you ever been probed for your genetic secrets? What are your genetic secrets? Come on, tell us. We know you have them after seeing your six toes.

3. Have you ever been herbally infused? Really? Did you feel used afterward?

4. Did you read the question number 2?

5. What about question 3?

6. How about this one?

7. Discuss the Boston Tea Party and why they didn't have any of those delicious almond cookies.

8. Are you dating anyone? I mean, in real life, not another of those creepy Internet things where you send fake photos back and forth and talk naughty and then meet and discover your netpal was Jabba the Hut's older, less mannered sister and get all upset even though your photo was of Brad Pitt that you PhotoShopped your head on, but enough about my life.

9. Would you like to date anyone? Say, someone that collects explosives and comic books? Why not?

10. I'm lonely. And I have lots of duct tape. Why does that seem to upset people, particularly the police? Answer true or false.

Time's up. Pass your papers to the front. Now, let's all take a break and have a nice cup of orange juice. I like orange juice.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Harbor Street Christmas Celebration II

Warning: Christmas Crafting may be hazardous to your health

      It was a few days before Christmas last year, and I was talking to Linda on the phone. "Do you want to come over and help me with my Christmas crafts?" I asked.
      "Good heavens, NO!" she shouted. "I'd rather strip naked and run through a rose garden that's been sprayed with lemon juice."
      "What time will you be here?" I asked.
      "I'd rather to be strapped to the speakers at a bagpipe concert," she said.
      "Is that yes or no?" I asked. "I don't understand."
      "You're not trying to," she said. "Rather than crafting with you, I'd sit through the presidental debates again! Sober!"
      "I'm beginning to get the odd feeling that you might perhaps be reluctant," I said. "Why is that?"
      "Because it's dangerous," she said. "People get hurt when you do crafts."
      I sighed. "Is Adam complaining about his eyebrows again?"
      "Stephen, they fell off!"
      "Actually, they peeled off," I said. "And I told him not to stand over the chemicals when we were etching glass. Well, I meant to tell him."
      "And about Cynthia?"
      "That was an accident," I said. "I had no idea enough paint fumes had accumulated to explode. But she'll be out of the bodycast in a couple of month. Personally, I think she's enjoying the rest despite her threats and the attempts to have me snuffed."
      "Yes, there's nothing more restful than having nurses turn you every hour and orderlies feed you through a straw," Linda said.
      "So you'll come over?" I asked.
      "Not that I'm agreeing, but what exactly are you going to be doing?"
      "Just papercraft," I said. "There's nothing dangerous in papercraft. We'll be tearing up paper and mixing the pieces with water and a few chemicals, most of which aren't toxic."
      "Well, I guess ... What do you mean most?! she snapped. "No, no, NO! Papercraft is out."
      "We could make Christmas candles," I said. "Those make good gifts."
      "Didn't you have a wax explosion a couple of months ago?" she asked.
      "No one was seriously hurt, and my kitchen has already been repaired," I said. "If I could find my cat, everything would be fine. I tried to follow the smoke trail she left, but the wind was high and I lost her around Oak Street."
      "No candles," she said firmly. "Don't you do wooden projects?"
      I used to," I said. "But the police took away my electric saw after that regrettable incident when I was trying to help those nuns repair a pew and I sneezed."
      "Oh, yeah, I forgot," she said. "Do you still get hate mail from Sister Mary Margaret?"
      "Just hate postcards now," I said. "I think she's getting over her anger. I hope so. It can't be good for her spiritual growth."
      "What about painting?" she suggested. "I mean, watercolor painting. Yeah, watercolors are safe. I couldn't get hurt doing watercolors."
      "Okay, we'll do that," I said happily. "Come on over."
      Later that night as we huddled under a blanket provided by the fire department, she glared at me. "How oh how did the watercolors catch fire?!" she asked.
      "Well, I thought they looked a little thick," I said. "So I thought I'd try thinning them with alcohol."
      She didn't say anything.
      "I think short hair is a good look for you," I said brightly.
      Fortunately they were able to pull her off me before she could finish choking me. Because she's a friend, I didn't press charges.

Copyright 2008 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved.

MBTA on Amazon.com

Murder by the Acre is finally on sale at Amazon.com! Wahoo! Just barely in time for Christmas. And it's priced at $17.95 instead of $18. I can't figure that out since Lulu.com has it for $18 and told me that it had to be $18. Whatever. I'm just glad it's on sale period! Now I'll be watching Barnes and Noble to see when it turns up there. (The hardcover remains exclusively on Lulu.com and won't ever be on Amazon.)



Click here to order Murder by the Acre in softcover from Amazon.com.
Click here to order Murder by the Acre in softcover from Lulu.com.
Click here to order Murder by the Acre in hardcover from Lulu.com.
Click here to order Murder by the Acre merchandise.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Harbor Street Christmas Celebration

And now we start our Harbor Street Christmas Celebration 2008 with a quick and delicious recipe from my older sister.

Microwave Fudge

1 lb. box of powdered sugar
1/2 cup of cocoa
1 stick of butter
1/4 cup of milk
1/2 cup of chopped pecans or crushed peppermint and 1/2 teaspoon peppermint flavoring
1 teaspoon of vanilla

Prepare an eight inch square pan by lining with foil and then buttering the foil. In a microwaveable container, mix the sugar and cocoa. Place butter on top of the powdered sugar/cocoa mix. Pour in milk. Microwave on high for two minutes or until the butter is melted. Stir and mix well. This mixing process will take a few minutes. When it begins to thicken, add chopped pecans and vanilla. (This recipe can be adapted using crushed peppermint instead of nuts and adding 1/2 teaspoon of peppermint flavoring.) Pour mixture into pan and let harden.
*

Things went okay at the doctor today. He couldn't rule out cancer, but he thinks it's unlikely. We'll know for sure after I have another test. So that was good news. As for the problem itself, he thought it might be a chronic infection in my lungs. This could be caused by a fungus, some disease process, etc. We'll know more after the test, but I feel better after having seen him because he really seemed know what he was talking about. He spent a lot of time with me and answered every question I could think of and some I hadn't thought of. I feel more optimist about this, something I haven't for a while. So it was good.

After the doctor visit, I met Erudite Redneck for lunch. We hadn't seen each other for over 20 years. We had a lot to talk about. He was as interesting and funny as I remembered, and that was very cool. It was a good lunch, over too soon. My roomie -- who drove me to OKC for the doctor's visit -- took a photo of ER and me together outside the restaurant. And here we are:



What good looking men! :)
Be back tomorrow with another installment of the Harbor Street Christmas Celebration.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Contest postponed

The Murder by the Acre 10+1 Contest is officially postponed until after the first of the year due to lack of participation. The contest was meant to publicize MBTA, but everyone is too busy to participate. So apologies to those who were participating, but I simply can't afford to have a giveaway where only two people are competing. And maybe it was a bit too hard. I like puzzles and have tendency to think everyone likes puzzles. Anyway, that's that until after the New Year. I'll hang onto the prizes, and we'll see what happens then.

Not much else to tell you. I go to a heart and lung specialist Tuesday next week in Oklahoma City. We'll see if he can figure out what's going on with my cough. I know I sure am tired of having one. I hope he gives me a magical pill, and then it will be all right, kinda like the way McCoy was on Star Trek. Wouldn't that be nice?

I've been attempting to work on Christmas. I put up my Christmas tree and Christmas village. I have a few lights outside. I think that will be it for the decorating.

I have started ordering Christmas presents. Yes, I know it's a bit late, but so far everything seems to be working out. I hope nothing is out of stock. That would be unfortunate.

I'm off this afternoon. I have to go to the eye doctor, the hospital, the library, the bank, the car wash, and finally back home to do laundry, clean the kitchen, and, I hope, take nap!

This weekend I plan to finish the December family newsletter as well as work on my Christmas cards. I'm late, but that's okay. I enjoy getting cards, and I enjoy sending them. It's all good.

Coming soon, I'll start the Christmas Celebration here on 51313 Harbor Street. Recipes, jokes, songs, photos, prizes, humor, and a few surprizes to help make your holiday brighter.

I think that's all I have to say right now. I hope your day is going well and that your holiday preparations are allowing you time to take a deep breath or two. Talk to you later.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Code 4

I have all this stuff to give away in the 10+1 Murder by the Acre Contest ... and only two people are trying to get it ... That's sad. Over $150 of books and merchandise is up for grabs, but only two people are participating. I didn't expect hundreds of entries -- although that would be nice -- but I was hoping for several more than two.

All this could be yours!

1 signed hardcover EndlesS,
1 signed hardcover Murder by Dewey Decimal,
1 unsigned hardcover The Ruby Key by Holly Lisle,
10 Murder by the Acre bookmarks,
1 Murder by the Acre kitchen magnet,
1 large Murder by Dewey Decimal t-shirt,
1 large Murder by the Acre t-shirt,
1 package of EndlesS postcards,
and one CD sampler of classical music.


Notice how the list gets longer each day. Don't miss out. Solve the Codes, although they're really puzzles rather than Codes.

Don't let me think I'm smarter than you! 'Cause I'm not. Put me in my place. SOLVE the Codes and enter the drawing!

And here's Code 4.

TAER GS IE RCAE HT YBRE DR UM

Have fun!

Click here to order Murder by the Acre in softcover.
Click here to order Murder by the Acre in hardcover.
Click here to order Murder by the Acre merchandise.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Alternate MBTA 10+1 Code 3

The crossword puzzle proved too difficult, except for a couple of people, so here is the Alternate MBTA 10+1 Code 3. Gloria Williams, by the way, solved the original Code 3 first and will be receiving a hardcover of The Ruby Key by Holly Lisle. Good job, Gloria! You can purchase your own copy of The Ruby Key from Amazon.com here and from Barnes & Noble here.

Here's the Alternate Code 3:

Unscramble the words. (Hint: Five letters will be left over.)

emdbharreytruecopski

Good luck!

And here are the prizes so far for the big drawing:
    1 signed hardcover EndlesS,
    1 signed hardcover Murder by Dewey Decimal,
    1 unsigned hardcover The Ruby Key by Holly Lisle,
    10 Murder by the Acre bookmarks,
    1 Murder by the Acre kitchen magnet,
    1 large Murder by Dewey Decimal t-shirt,
    1 package of EndlesS postcards,
    and one CD sampler of classical music.
There will be more prizes as I accumulate them.

Click here to order Murder by the Acre in softcover.
Click here to order Murder by the Acre in hardcover.
Click here to order Murder by the Acre merchandise.

5 cents & The Ruby Key

I've been working on getting Murder by the Acre published on Amazon.com and other online retailers. If you check Amazon for it, you will discover a listing that says the book is out of print. That should change, apparently sometime after the New Year. Sigh. No one has given me any real explanation on why this taking so long, but it means MBTA will not available for Christmas sales.

Another thing I've received no explanation for is why the price got raised by a nickel. MBTA will be $18 instead of $17.95. When I asked why, I was told: "The publishing process requires it." Huh? The help desk could give me no better explanation or wouldn't. I know it's just five cents, but when I worked so hard to keep the price down, I'm annoyed that they raised it without my consent.

Code Three in the 10+1 Murder by the Acre Contest has garnered no solutions. Accordingly, I'm going to post an alternative Code 3 tonight. However, I'm going to give a price to the the first person who solves the Crossword Code 3 and Unscramble the two Words and then emails me his or her results. The first person do that will receive The Ruby Key by Holly Lisle, hardcover, unsigned! The Ruby Key is a great novel, written for Young Adults, but enjoyable by everyone. It would make the perfect Christmas present. Here's my review of The Ruby Key as published on Amazon.com:

Last night I finished The Ruby Key, the new book by Holly Lisle. What a great book, perfect for any young person -- or adult -- looking for a good fantasy. Genna's world is a place that I hope Holly Lisle will return to time after time.

Here's the basic plot: The world is divided into day and night, day ruled by humans, night by the nightlings. Genna and her brother Dan discover that their "uncle" has made a horrendous deal with the lord of the nightlings: He has traded the lives of the people of their village for immortality. Genna and Dan make their own deal with the evil nightling lord and start off on an impossible quest to locate a child and return him to the nightlings. Along with them travel an annoying cat -- which is both more than and less than a cat -- and a young, bright nightling.

But naturally things aren't what they seem. Genna soon learns that the world is different than she had always been told and that her quest has far-reaching consequences. There are monsters and moonroads (you'll have to read the book to discover what those are) and villains and heroes. You will be both surprised and pleased at how it all turns out.

The Ruby Key reminds me of the best of Andre Norton. Genna has resources and bravery that she doesn't even know she does, and this book is the beginning of her journey. I'm looking forward to the next book.

By the way, The Ruby Key is gorgeous with a wonderful cover and neat flourishes throughout, a handsome addition to any library. Add it to your library today.
You can order The Ruby Key from Amazon here and from Barnes & Noble here.

A sandstorm has kept those of us Walking to Jericho in our little camp, but I think the clouds are clearing. I hope to be posting mileage again soon.

And finally the always interesting Adam has started a new blog. Check out 530Creative.

Talk to you later!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Hint-Filled Saturday

A few people have struggled mightily with the yesterday's crossword, so I've decided to give some hints. After all, I want to reward your efforts. Here are a few hints on the ones that seem to be the most baffling.

Hints:

ACROSS
1 The Nelsons own this
13 Real estate agent
DOWN
7 Priest
10 Lawrence

And on the scrambled words, here's a vowel to help you.
_ A _ _ _ A _    _ _ _ A _ _ _

I've spent most of this weekend sick. I'm sure tired of this. I was able to do a little housework today, and that make me feel a little less useless. I hope your weekend is going well. Talk to you tomorrow.

Click here to order Murder by the Acre in softcover.
Click here to order Murder by the Acre in hardcover.
Click here to order Murder by the Acre merchandise.

Friday, December 05, 2008

MBTA Crossword 10+1 Code 3

If you haven't bought Murder by the Acre yet (Naughty you!) you can still solve this crossword by consulting Murder by Dewey Decimal, the excerpts from MBTA published on this blog, this page on Lulu, the preview offered by Lulu, and the back cover of MBTA shown on Lulu and on this blog. (A special note for my wonderful proofers: Your copies of MBTA did not have the final changes on them so a couple of the crossword answers may have a different answer than what your proof copy shows, depending on when you received your proof. If you have the book, use it. If not, consult the above mentioned sources.)



ACROSS
1 Expensive gifts
5 Millie works here
9 Bernard's nickname
11 Lisa's nemesis
13 Tattoo sees a floor covering
14 Bernard's sport
15 Purrfection
16 Where Viet rules
DOWN
2 Lisa's middle name
3 Happy blank Place
4 Woman with dark powers
6 Right hand man
7 "Padre"
8 Ladies' man
10 Almost a toymaker
11 Aunt "star"
12 MBTA location

The blue squares will spell out two words when unscrambled. The two words are _ _ _ _ _ _ _   _ _ _ _ _ _ _. The two words are your answer to 10+1 Code Three. Have fun!

(Oh, we will be using this crossword again, so hold onto your answers to it!)

Click here to order Murder by the Acre in softcover.
Click here to order Murder by the Acre in hardcover.
Click here to order Murder by the Acre merchandise.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

No Code Thursday

I intended to scan in a little puzzle for y'all tonight, but my scanner is refusing to function. I'm going to have to find the install CD and install it again. So check back Friday afternoon or evening. We'll see if we can tax the little brain cells then. For now, I'm going to call it a night. I went to the Christmas Parade this evening and got thoroughly chilled. I'm ready for bed. Night!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

MBTA 10+1 Contest, Contest Code 2

Merry Christmas! Okay, it's still a bit early for that, but I thought I'd share some good news with you that does involve gifts. Or really prizes.

I started the Murder by the Acre 10+1 Contest yesterday. Hidden in yesterday's post was a code of sorts. Solve it, and write the answer down. You're going to need 10+1 answers, and that's the first. Ms. Roen has already solved it; have you? If you get all 10+1 answers to the MBTA Contest Codes, you'll get a chance to win over $100 of books, MBTA merchandise, and other items.

List of prizes so far: 1 signed hardcover EndlesS, 1 signed hardcover Murder by Dewey Decimal (I only have a handful of these left, and you can't presently purchase one anywhere), 1 unsigned hardcover The Ruby Key by Holly Lisle, 10 Murder by the Acre bookmarks, and 1 Murder by the Acre kitchen magnet, and 1 large Murder by Dewey Decimal t-shirt. There will be more prizes as I accumulate them. By the way, we'll be talking more about The Ruby Key by Holly Lisle soon.

Like the contest? I thought you would.

How is this going to work? Everyone who sends in the correct 10+1 answers will be entered in a drawing, and one lucky and smart person will win.

Oh, come on, it's not that hard. The codes will require no special knowledge, just cleverness.

Usually my contests are easier, but some very smart people read this blog. Time to test those eyes, ears, and wits. How smart are they? I'm curious to find out.

Seek the 10+1 answers, my friends. The MBTA Contest codes will give you the answers, but the questions won't come until the end. Clear as mud, eh? Don't worry about the questions now. Just concentrate on the answers.

Every answer has something to do with Murder by the Acre so a copy of that will be helpful, but not necessary. Now get to decoding. You won't want to get behind. Talk to you tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Meme from Trixie & Contest Code I

I've been memed by the lovely Lady Trixie. And to share the misery -- uh, fun, I'm tagging Adam, Kristen, Jean, and anyone else who wants to suffer -- play, too!

1. Five names you go by:
a) My real name
b) Tech
c) Issac Skye
d) Reeverah (WoW)
e) That's all my aliases, except for the secret ones that you have to take a blood oath to know.

2. Three things you are wearing right now:
a) A dark blue long sleeve shirt from Lands End
b) White socks, white briefs, leather harness, sword belt, knife sheath
c) Flame retardant, bullet resistant, metal fibered blue jeans

3. Two things you want very badly at the moment:
a) To be healthy, dang it!
b) To sell a few -- any -- copies of Murder by the Acre

4. Three people who will probably fill this out:
a) Don't know. I hope all of them will, but I know December is a busy time, particularly for Kirsten who has moved to a new place very recently and Adam who has just completed his first hyper-atomic razor.
b) See above for answer
c) Again, see above for answer, and stop being so pushy!

5. Two things you did last night:
a) Worked on the family newsletter and started printing it
b) Watched Chuck and Boston Legal, the two best shows on television

6. Two things you ate today:
a) Oatmeal, my morning gruel
b) Milk, 1 percent, to take my meds

7. Two people you last talked to on the phone:
a) Crystal
b) Kent

8. Two things you are going to do tomorrow:
a) I hope to get some more drugs from the doctor
b) Mail November newsletter, and start on December newsletter

9. Two longest car rides:
a) My family drove to Colorado and then to New Mexico when I was very young. I don't remember much about it.
b) I don't travel much -- or very well, if truth be known -- so maybe from Weatherford, Oklahoma, to Muldrow, Oklahoma.

10. Two of your favorite beverages:
a) Root beer. I prefer Barqs. Over ice in a glass or a frosty mug.
b) Cherry Sierra Mist, mixed by a local hole-in-the-wall drive in near my office.

Click here to order Murder by the Acre in softcover.
Click here to order Murder by the Acre in hardcover.
Click here to order Murder by the Acre merchandise.

Monday, December 01, 2008

A brief moment of your time

Ahem. Excuse me. Just wanted to drop you a note to let you know that I'm still alive. I've been sick again. Sigh. Yes, yet again. I was somewhat better today and went to work, but was exhausted by the time the day was over. Story of my life lately. I sure could do with some miraculous healing right about now. I have a lot to do, and being sick is slowing me down in a major way.

Have you bought Murder by the Acre yet? I think it's a good book. I'd like to know what you think. We'll be having our first MBTA contest later this week. Well, I think the bookmark contest was the first one, but this will be the first major MBTA contest. More details later. Oh, I still have some bookmarks left. If you'd like to receive one, email me your snail mail address, and I'll send one right out to you.

And I think that will be all for tonight. I hope your day went well. If not, chin up. Tomorrow's another day. We do better then. Night!

Click here to order Murder by the Acre in softcover.
Click here to order Murder by the Acre in hardcover.
Click here to order Murder by the Acre merchandise.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Note




Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giving thanks

I'm thankful that I'm still here. That despite all the endless health problems, I'm still kicking. Maybe not as vigorously as I once did, but there's still a two-step or even a -- if I'm lucky --
pas de deux left in me.

I'm thankful that my problem is over-eating and not starvation. The grim fact is most of the world doesn't have enough food. I suffer from a lack of willpower and not a lack of substance.

I'm thankful that the good guys still outnumber the bad guys in the world, despite all the press coverage given to the villains. Each day millions of us get up and go to work and love each other and do the best we can. We keep the world working. We are the true heroes.

I'm thankful that Americans are the most generous people in the world. Yes, we're wealthy and certainly spoiled, but we give more money to the less fortunate than any other country in the world. We fight poverty, starvation, ignorance, and disease, and we pray and hope people find better lives and sometimes we stumble in our eagerness, but we try.

I'm thankful that books have always been a part of my life. I have spent most of my live in worlds that don't exist and living lives that could have never been mine. I'm thankful for all the wonderful authors who have touched my life: J.R.R. Tolkien, Terry Pratchett, Stephen R. Donaldson, Mary Stewart, Holly Lisle, Glen Cook, Susanna Gregory, Jim Butcher, Jack McDevitt, James Rollins, Clive Cussler, Rita Mae Brown, C.S. Lewis, Neal Stephenson, Caroyln Hart, Tony Hillerman, Mary Brown, David Brin, Robert Jordan, Robert Asprin, Lindsey Davis, Arthur C. Clarke ... The list goes on and on.

I'm thankful that we can remember to laugh even when we don't feel like it. Humor is an uniquely human quality. I'm thankful for humorists, such as: Bob Hope, Dave Barry, Jean Kerr, Patrick McManus, Mark Twain, Ellen Degeneres, Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Don Knotts, Tim Conway, Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Eddie Izzard, Elayne Boosler, Dawn French, and many others.

I'm thankful for my readers, those of this blog and my books. Their feedback and support makes the writing flow easier. Many times I'm discouraged and think I should give up, but then I'll get an email or comment or someone buys a book, and I keep putting those words on paper.

I'm thankful for science. Admittedly, it has made horrible mistakes, but it has given us amazing things and opened the universe to us. It's humbling to look at all the things I don't know and exciting to think of all the things I can learn. We can use technology to make our lives and environment better. All things are possible, and science helps make those possibilities into realities.

I'm thankful for my family and friends. Without their love, I don't know what I'd be or where I'd be, but I suspect I wouldn't like it. They enrich, exasperate, excite, and exalt my life. I wouldn't have it any other way even if I could.

I'm thankful for my faith, my many blessings, and my connection with God. Life is good, despite its problems or maybe because of them. Life's ironies and surprises keep my interest as nothing else can. I hope I live a long time. I hope you live a long time, too. Let's grow old together, and be thankful for our long years.

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith "A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!"
Robert Browning

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Press conference

Hello. I'm Stephen B. Bagley. Thank you for coming to this press conference. Today we're going to be talking about the recent release of my latest mystery novel Murder by the Acre, the sequel to last year's Murder by Dewey Decimal. In the new novel, librarian Bernard M. Worthington and reporter Lisa Trent stumble on the body of a local jeweler and ladies’ man in an underground house. As the young couple and Police Chief Donaldson investigate, they find themselves drawn into a confusing mystery of lies and alibis that involves the upper crust of Ryton, Oklahoma. Questions abound: Who killed him and how? Why doesn’t the widow care that her husband is dead? Why doesn’t his mistress? What does the mysterious Aventura Corporation have to do with the murder? What is the corporation hiding? Soon events spiral out-of-control as the killer strikes again and again. As the three dig for the truth, they upset powerful, vengeful people. The chief might lose his job, but Bernard and Lisa could lose their lives. We'll open the floor for questions now.

Will it keep zombies away?

Uh ... what?

Will it keep zombies away?

Sure. Whatever. Next question.

What about evil aliens from distant stars?

What? Yeah, of course.

Does it come with a guarantee?

Of what?

That it keeps evil aliens away.

I don't ... Why don't we move on?

On the zombie question, I'd like to follow up. Why do zombies always want to eat brains?

Good question!

Thank you. I felt like it needed to be asked. Livers, sure. Kidneys, certainly. But brains?

I really have no answers on any zombie questions. Murder by the Acre is not horror or science fiction. It is a murder mystery set in a small town in Oklahoma. Let's stay on course. Does anyone have a question regarding my book?

Yes, I do. Why is there so much sex in the book?

Sex? There isn't. I mean, there is some adultery because of the nature of the mystery, but it's not a ...

So when you think sex, you think adultery.

... sex book. No, that's not what I said. Did you read the book?

I find reading the book only confuses the issues.

Exactly.

Oh, good point.

I'd really like to get the zombie question settled.

I do find it interesting that he never answered it.

"They" probably got to him. The military/secret service. The men in black. Don't expect any answers from him. I pity him.

Is there anyone who has a question about my book? Anyone?

I was probed once.

How exciting! Was it the greenies or the grays?

Anyone? I'm beggin' you.

My second cousin knows a man whose brother's wife's uncle's son was probed. It changed his life. He became a free-range Methodist.

I once dated a Methodist. Don't they wear those skullcaps?

You're thinking of Northern Baptists. They wear skullcaps?

The beings who probed me wore skullcaps. Could they be connected to the Northern Baptists?

I guess we'll close. You can order Murder by the Acre below. I need an aspirin.

Click here to order Murder by the Acre in softcover.
Click here to order Murder by the Acre in hardcover.
Click here to order Murder by the Acre merchandise.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cold

I have a terrible cold. Can't hardly breathe. Drowning in snot. Coughing up various organs. The usual aches and pains. Sigh. At least I have Thursday off. That will be nice. Hope things are going well for you. I just have to make it through work tomorrow. Talk to you later.

Click here to order Murder by the Acre in softcover.
Click here to order Murder by the Acre in hardcover.
Click here to order Murder by the Acre merchandise.